Itachi stared down from his perch at the two young children running down the street together. One had his spiky black hair cut short and was wearing a deep-blue shirt and a similarly-colored pair of shorts that both had the Uchiha fan embroidered on in order to display who he was.
The other was a blonde boy a few months younger than the Uchiha, but you wouldn't guess such if you hadn't already met the two boys before. He had a spiky blonde mop of hair atop his head that stood at least two inches taller than the dark-haired one. The blonde was wearing his traditional orange shirt that had the Konoha insignia on his chest and a crimson swirl pattern in the center of his back that resembled a whirlpool at first glance. The blonde's cerulean eyes and his unique whisker marks on his face were just as much a tell of whom he happened to be as the Uchiha Fan was on the other young one.
"Hehe," the whiskered child snickered as they both came to a rest at the base of the tree Itachi was stationed in and hiding atop. "I told ya we could lose 'em, teme!"
"Dope," the Uchiha child told him with a smile that belied the annoyance in his tone. "As much as I hate to say it, you were right. 'Tou-san's gonna be mad at me, but knocking those pale-eyes down a peg or two felt really good."
The unseen eavesdropper allowed a small grin to crack his face from beneath his mask at hearing of their recent exploits first-hand from the culprits themselves instead of through the ANBU communicator in his ear. Hokage-sama is going to have a rather miffed Hyuuga in his office soon, if not already. I wonder just what they did this time.
The blonde's prototypical toothy grin came out at his best friend's admission. "Told ya you'd love it! I can't believe you actually –"
"Yes, yes," the dark-eyed boy cut in before he could blurt out his deeds to the whole village. "Now, we need to make ourselves scarce, Naruto. ANBU might still be after us, and I'd rather not get dragged into your dad's office today."
"Dad won't care!" Naruto declared confidently. He then hurriedly added-on, "Well, in private he won't. He'll have to act like he will in public, but he doesn't mind some harmless fun, Sasuke."
"Even so," Sasuke told him, "my 'Tou-san will be mad when he hears about this, and I don't want him hearing about me being in on it. So let's keep moving."
"Spoilsport," the orange-wearing child grumbled. "Fine. 'Kaa-san said she'd have lunch ready soon. Let's head home and grab some."
"If we don't have ramen, then that's a good idea, for a dobe," the Uchiha said with a mischievous grin before running off and ignoring Naruto's indignant squawk back at him.
"You take that back, teme!" the Yondaime's son demanded while steam puffed out his now-red ears.
"Sure!" the blue-clad boy shouted over his shoulder as he continued to run. "Then it was a terrible idea, dobe!"
A tic mark appeared over the blonde's right eye as it twitched in annoyance. "That's it!" he howled. "You're next, teme!"
"Catch me if you can, dobe!"
Itachi watched as Naruto left a dust cloud behind him after he took off after his little brother with a smile of amusement hiding beneath his mask. Those two really are just how two brothers should be.
The Uchiha heir had always been resentful towards his father for his incessant Clan Laws that 'No Uchiha may show weakness,' and that he was expected to always to be the very picture of a perfect heir and shinobi had always left a sour taste in Itachi's mouth ever since he'd been able to comprehend what all that truly meant and entailed. However, Fugaku was still his father and all he ever wanted to do up until Sasuke had been born was try and impress the stoic Clan Head.
That had all been changed once he'd first met his little brother on July twenty-third six years ago. The very instant his eyes had met his infant brother's, Itachi had made a vow to himself: He would ensure his brother was always protected from the harsh, cruel world around him. He'd seen how harsh and catastrophic the shinobi world surrounding them could be on that day during the course of the Third War, and Sasuke would not be exposed to such cruelty and wanton death and destruction. He'd make certain of it.
His desire to keep his brother safe had been why Itachi had approached his father a time of one week after his brother's birth and had sworn to the man that he'd become the perfect Clan Heir for him in order to grant Sasuke the freedom he deserved from such a fate. Fugaku had watched him carefully for a few minutes with a stoic look before accepting his oath and simply informing him that a Clan Head of the Uchiha must become a great shinobi as well.
It was right after that conversation when the then-five-year-old Uchiha heir had began to practice the shinobi arts as best he could with an almost fanatical obsession. He'd gone into the Uchiha's private library and collection of all the accumulated jutsu and had spent days in there researching all the scrolls he could get his hands on and began to study about chakra and how to mold it the correct ways. He absorbed all the information he could, and he would've spent a few weeks in there had Shisui not found him and dragged him out by the scruff of his neck.
After spending so much time researching his clan's history and abilities in such a short amount of time, Itachi had been bursting with questions that Shisui took the time to answer and explain in great, careful detail for him. The ten-year-old fellow Uchiha had been a Genin when the war had ended and had been able to awaken his Sharingan when he was nine, so Shisui possessed the practical skills and experience that Itachi absorbed like a sponge through their conversations and practice sessions.
Eventually, the Uchiha he'd always seen as an elder-brother figure revealed to him that he'd unlocked the mythical Mangekyou Sharingan, but refused to show him it or even hint as to its unique abilities. All he'd told Itachi is that while each Mangekyou unlocks a few certain skills hidden within the Uchiha scrolls that you can't read without the mythical eyes, each is unique in that it grants the owner a unique ability that none can imitate or hope to create. Itachi had been mystified at the explanation, but upon Shisui's insistence he'd sworn to never reveal the secret of his Mangekyou's existence to anyone – not even his mother or father.
Itachi had then managed to convince Shisui to begin tutoring him in the shinobi arts and they'd grown even closer as time went by. Every day for the next few weeks the Uchiha heir would go over to his elder cousin's home across the District and would spend hours there learning as much as he could as quickly as possible.
That process had continued unhindered until the Kyuubi's assault on Konohagakure. Then, after things had settled down and his mother had agreed to help take care of Naruto, Itachi began to spend more and more time away from Fugaku and with the Yondaime Hokage.
The Uchiha heir had made no secret as to his distaste for his mother taking Sasuke out of the safety of the Uchiha Compound every day and placing him with an unknown in the Hokage's home, yet Minato never treated him as anything other than another family member. All the blonde father had given to him was kindness and encouraging advice when he'd found out that he was intending on attending the Academy as soon as he was able in order to become a fine shinobi like Fugaku had all but demanded he become. The only request that Minato, however, had ever made of him while they'd been basically living within his home was for him to help make sure Naruto stayed safe, and it hadn't been an order; it'd been an honest question of 'Will you' instead of 'You will.'
It had truly been odd for him in those first few months dealing with the distinct lack of expectations of him there. The blonde father never asked him to do anymore than he'd willingly submit to doing, and Itachi'd had no idea how to handle such a way of living at first. Back within the walls of the Uchiha Compound, everyone had certain expectations of him, especially his father, but Minato did not, and his mother didn't act like she did either whenever they were away from the clan. All of the sudden changes surrounding his day-to-day life had left him utterly befuddled, making him seek out Shisui for advice since his branch of the family had always been the black sheep since they never seemed to care about the image of the Uchiha at all.
His cousin had simply sat him down and explained that – while he loved his clan – the Uchiha were not ideal family material. To most civilians and quite a few other clans, family is about truly caring for one another and not caring about images or the like when it came to your own blood. Family was meant to be a term of endearment that was defined by how you felt towards a person or group of people, not an image that you should strive towards imitating or becoming. According to Kagome each person was created unique, and attempting to force someone to become something they weren't went against everything family was meant to be about. Itachi had been in shock when he had heard all of this.
It had taken a few days of constantly pondering over everything he'd been told and how it had compared to what he'd been growing up in up to that point until he was able to come up with his own conclusion, and what he'd decided to believe in had left him feeling a little liberated once he'd figured it out. Itachi had decided that he would take up his mantle as the Uchiha Clan Head when he was of age and help alter the aloof image of the clan and change how they portrayed what family meant to them.
However, as long as Fugaku was Head his word was law within the family. Because his father believed in the traditional Uchiha Values that the clan had been following since even before the founding of Konoha, he couldn't change anything that large yet. So he decided he'd bide his time while slowly altering the Uchiha from within on his own and he'd allow Sasuke to experience what family truly meant.
Over the last six years, Naruto and Sasuke had become brothers in all but blood, and even Itachi had come to see and treat the blonde as another addition to the family. The two young ones were practically joined at the hip they were with one another so often.
When Kakashi had approached him two months prior with an ANBU mask and an offer to be placed on Naruto's protective detail on his squad, the Uchiha had nearly pounced on the ANBU captain in joy at being selected. With this constant, two-month mission he was able to always be around and watch over his two little brothers and make sure they were safe.
A small rustling of leaves to his left broke Itachi out of his thoughts and set his senses back on high-alert. He was still on duty, and if someone managed to get the jump on him then neither the Hokage nor Kakashi would ever let him live it down. He was ANBU. The Best.
"Weasel," an emotionless, muffled voice came from his right, and he slightly relaxed when he recognized the muffled tone of his direct Captain, Kakashi. "Did the two pass through here?"
"Hai, Inu-taichou," Itachi dutifully reported, still feeling a little miffed at the Hokage's choice for his mask and codename every time it was used. It practically gave away his identity, for God's sake! "The two objectives arrived from the west approximately ten minutes ago. They each conversed for a time of five minutes before deciding to return to the mothership."
A few chuckles escaped from behind the silver-haired Jounin's porcelain mask. "Indeed. Neko reported in that they'd arrived at the mothership two minutes ago, and that they'd returned to a verbal lashing that's leaving her ears bleeding."
"Unsurprising," Itachi stated without emotion, like he always was while on duty. On the inside, though, he winced as he turned his ear-communicator's volume down so that he wouldn't be deafened by his mother's explosion. He'd received a few eruptions of Mount Mikoto himself, and they were not a side to Mikoto Uchiha that a person wished to experience.
"Indeed," the one-eyed superior replied, his voice no longer muffled as much once he'd removed his ANBU mask and revealed his usual mask. "Ah, that's better! Not so stuffy anymore. By the way, Taka's team has taken over as of one minute ago, so we're officially off-duty now."
One of Itachi's hands slowly rose and removed his ANBU mask from his face, revealing both of his fully matured Sharingan to his current conversation partner. The Uchiha's eyes then returned back to their usual, black color before he asked, "Is that why you came to see me in person? To tell me that we're off now?"
"Partially," the cyclops answered him with a noncommittal shrug before sealing his ANBU mask into one of his sealing scrolls with a small puff of smoke. "I also wanted to warn you about that tail you don't seem to be trying to shake off for some reason."
I should've expected you to notice Shisui, Itachi reminded himself. "I'm aware of who it is, and why they're doing it, Kakashi-senpai," he revealed carefully, his face betraying nothing. "Hokage-sama is also aware of it and the reasons for my inaction. If you wish to know the reasons behind it, then you'll need to ask Hokage-sama directly, as I'm not permitted to answer any further questions on that."
Itachi's naturally-sharp eyes saw the lone-visible one of Kakashi's sharpen slightly in intensity before the piercing gaze went away and was replaced with his usual laziness. "Maa, maa," the masked man spoke with a lazy swipe of his hand. "No need for that. I just worry about my comrades, Itachi-kun. I trust sensei's judgment, so I'll make sure nobody else on the squad says anything either. Just be careful, Itachi," he requested with a chilling seriousness. "Naruto would be devastated if anything happened to you."
The Chuunin gave his superior a brief nod before Kakashi gave him one of his infamous eye-smiles and vanished in a swirl of leaves. "I guess I should go –"
He looked down then at the ground below him and noticed that his mother had come to find him for some reason. "Yes, Haha-ue?"
"Get down here," Mikoto ordered him. "We're all going to Ichiraku's for lunch, and Ayame has been asking about you."
"It's only been a few days," her son reported confusedly as he jumped down from the tree and landed next to her. "She knows I wasn't going to be able to contact her at all."
"You men never understand us at all," the Uchiha woman grumbled under her breath, making him blink in confusion. "Let's go then," she commanded before turning around and starting to walk away.
Itachi simply fell into step behind his mother and followed her across Konoha and towards the local ramen stand he'd grown so accustomed to these past years. As his mother led him into the business, an orange and a blue blur both crashed into his chest.
The older Uchiha child looked down at his torso and noticed both Naruto and Sasuke were hugging him with their arms around his thighs. "Otouto," he greeted the two of them.
"Train with me!" both of the children demanded of him at the same time. Each of them then had a tic mark appear over their eyes before they both let go of Itachi and glared at each other.
"Oi! No fair, teme! You promised that it was my turn with Itachi-nii!"
"That was before you got to train with Jiraiya-sama last week!" Sasuke protested as their foreheads collided. "You lost your chance right then!"
"But Ero-jiji's not nearly as fun as Itachi-nii!"
"OI!" the white-haired Sannin spoke up in defense from the stool that he was sitting on. "First off, how many times do I have to tell you to stop calling me that, brat!? Secondly, how dare you even imply my training isn't fun!? I'm trying to teach you stealth!"
"No, Ero-jiji," Naruto deadpanned in response. "You're trying to make me peep with you."
"Without getting caught!" Jiraiya exclaimed in defense of his actions. "If you can't be caught by all the wonderful, fine kunoichi of the great Konohagakure, then you're a master of the art of stealth!"
"Then how come every time I find you peeping you get caught?" the blonde child asked with a foxish grin – which Itachi kept finding rather ironic considering his condition which Itachi had been briefed on upon his entry into ANBU.
"You find me!" the Sannin pointed out. "You truly think a brat like you could even hope to touch the awesomeness that is the Toad Sage of Mount Myoboku if I didn't want you to find me!? You'd never have a hope of finding me if I didn't actually want to be found!"
"Well, I got into the Hyuuga Compound earlier and gave those stuck-up pricks a prank they'd never forget…without getting caught!" Naruto declared with a dramatic unveiling.
"And it was a pretty good one," a melodious voice told them all from behind the counter. "A couple Hyuuga have already been here looking for 'the fools who'd dare dishonor the mightiest clan in all of Konoha like this,'" the beauty finished in an imitation of the Hyuuga who'd visited earlier, leading to everyone present chuckling at the action's absurdity.
"Good afternoon, Ayame-chan," Mikoto greeted the civilian girl civilly before taking her seat two down from the spiky-haired member of the Sannin.
"Is that Mikoto I hear?" the owner of the restaurant asked from behind the stove.
"Hai!" Ayame confirmed for him. "It's the usual group! I take it Hokage-sama and Kakashi-san will be along momentarily?" she asked the Uchiha woman.
"Yes," she replied with a frustrated sigh. "I told him that we're all meeting here and he said he'd be right along in a –"
"I'm here!" the blonde father's voice came from behind them all suddenly, nearly making everyone – except for Itachi, Mikoto, and Jiraiya – jump out of their skin.
"God damn it, Minato!" Mikoto whirled around in her seat and glared at the unabashedly grinning Hokage. "Will you quit that!? You nearly gave the old guys here a heart attack!"
"Oi!" both Jiraiya and Teuchi protested vehemently. "I ain't that old!"
"Yes you are," both present blondes stated flatly, making the two oldest men grumble and everyone else to briefly chuckle. Father and son then glanced at each other and sprouted their almost-identical toothy grins.
"The two of you are too alike," the dark-haired woman said tiredly. "Both of you are bad influences on the other."
"I'm not that bad," Minato responded to her as he sat down in-between her and Jiraiya. He then apologized, "Sorry it took so long, but Kakashi had to give me a report over what didn't happen today."
Itachi fought the urge to roll his eyes, but his mother had long ago lost the same battle when it came to two certain blondes. "You and your paranoia," Mikoto stated.
"You're not paranoid if they are actually out to get you, my darling Mikoto," the blue-eyed father told her with a dashing grin.
A small dust of red wormed its way onto the beautiful woman's face before she mercilessly squashed it and returned to her normal demeanor, but not before Itachi's sharp eyes had noticed the byplay. So I wasn't wrong after all, he thought to himself as he took his seat on Mikoto's opposite side.
"Maa, maa, it seems lively in here," Kakashi observed lazily as he walked in and joined them all.
"You're late again, Kakashi-nii!" Naruto informed him as the masked man took his seat next to Jiraiya.
"Sorry about that," the Jounin prattled drearily. "I ran into an old lady on my way here and decided to help her out a little. Next thing I knew I was locked in a broom closet and had to tunnel my way out with two kunai and a string of ninja wire. I ended up back at the Hokage Tower and had to take the long way around to avoid that trap again."
While the youngest pair present both stared at the masked young man with flummoxed expressions Jiraiya merely turned and asked, "Seriously. Do you practice these excuses? Because they're getting better every time."
"Nope," Kakashi revealed with an eye-smile while he placed his order for a bowl of pork ramen with two eggs. "They just come to me in the heat of the moment."
"Not bad," the Sannin complimented while Itachi caught Teuchi handing a few ryo to a smug-looking Ayame out of the corner of his eye. "That one actually gave me an idea for my next story," he mumbled while pulling out his pad of note-paper and writing down whatever his new idea was. "Icha Icha: Tunnel Love."
"I expect royalties," the Jounin told him.
"By the way, Ayame-chan," Minato called to girl after she'd finished taking everyone's respective orders and handing them to her father. "Are you gonna be able to make it to Naruto's birthday party next week?"
The ramen waitress' brown eyes shot over to Mikoto's other side briefly and gave Itachi a small glance while answering, "Unless things have changed, I'm gonna be there."
"Woohoo!" Naruto exclaimed with his arms in the air and he started spinning on his stool. "Ayame-nee-chan's coming!"
"Who else is invited?" Mikoto asked the blonde sitting next to her.
"The only ones I haven't heard back from yet are the –" He was cut off by a cloud of smoke coming into existence on the counter right in front of him.
An orange toad – Itachi never intended to make the mistake of calling them frogs ever again – appeared from the smoke holding a sealed green scroll. "For you," the toad croaked as he held his package out for the Hokage. "From Suna, just like you asked."
"Thanks, Gamabora," Minato told the summons. He then took the correspondence from the toad and it disappeared back to wherever it called home in another puff of smoke. The Hokage then opened the scroll after breaking the seal and read whatever the message contained, and as he read the blonde's grin slowly grew bigger.
"Well?" Mikoto prompted of him.
"Everyone's coming," he told them all, and his son 'whooped' in joy and began to spin even faster.
"Well that's wonderful," Kakashi noted while he placed his forefinger atop Naruto's head as the child began to spin so fast that he became little more than an orange blur. The whole appearance made the boy look like a spinning orange top.
"Dobe! Slow down! You're making me feel sick!" Sasuke screamed at his friend, his head somehow enlarging temporarily while he spoke.
"Ma-a-a-a-a-ake me, teme!" the spinning child challenged.
Itachi simply observed the scene with a small smile and a soft expression on his face. He shook his head slightly in bemusement at the site while everyone else laughed as the two children broke into another one of their arguments – this one present with a scruff in a dust cloud that had limbs appearing in random places.
The Uchiha heir then looked up and found Ayame staring at him with an intense gaze that caught him by surprise. He met her gaze and she gestured with her head to the ramen stand's back entrance. He nodded once before standing up and following her outside while ignoring the remarks coming from everyone – including his mother.
"So," she began after turning around and facing him with an accusing stare. "Have plans changed, Itachi?"
"Not that I know of," he answered, dumbfounded as to why she sounded a little terse and was acting like he'd done something wrong. "I'm supposed to meet you here next week and then –"
"That's not what I'm talking about, Itachi," Ayame informed him with a sharp tone.
"Then what is it?" the black-haired shinobi asked, honestly unable to ascertain a reason to why she seemed so angry.
"I think you know," she huffed before crossing her arms over her chest.
"I honestly don't."
"I saw you the other day, Itachi," the brown-haired girl growled, and the young ANBU was surprised to feel actual Killing Intent coming from her directed at him for some reason. "With that…girl. The one with the purple hair."
"Yuugao?" he asked.
"I suppose that's her name."
"We're friends who graduated the Academy together, Ayame," Itachi told her. "We were just catching up with each other is all."
"Is that really all?" the waitress asked with a slightly less-tense air about her.
"Yeah," he replied. "Apparently, Hayate-san and her were out practicing their kenjutsu together where I usually train, so we ran into each other. We then all went out to her favorite restaurant and traded stories of the past two years. She's about to enter ANBU and asked for a little advice since I joined before her."
"Who paid?" Ayame asked, instead of demanding him.
The brown-haired girl let out a relieved sigh, causing his befuddlement to grow even further as to the whole purpose of this conversation. "No reason," she told him with a content smile. "Just curious is all. I just want you to know that I trust you, Itachi, and I won't ever doubt you."
Not wise, he wanted to tell her, but couldn't bring himself to give the words he needed to voice. I only wish I could –
"Hey, Itachi," Ayame spoke to him in a low whisper. "Do you really like me?"
The Uchiha blinked in confusion at her question. "Uh, yeah," he answered her. "I do, Ayame."
"I mean really, really like me," the girl clarified for him further in a small voice.
"I do like you, Ayame," he reiterated for her, confusion written all over his face for this turn of events. "Why do you ask? Is someone bullying you?" he asked her in an icy tone. "Because if it's that no-good Hyuuga again I'll –"
"No," she cut him off with a grateful smile on her face. "I'm not being bullied anymore since you joined ANBU, Itachi. I just wanted to ask you a question is all."
I need to thank Kakashi for that, Itachi made a mental reminder. Ayame can't really defend herself and I can't be around all the time to keep her safe.
Ayame then closed the short distance between the two of them and wrapped her arms around him in an affectionate embrace. "I'm so happy," she whispered into his chest. "I've got such a caring boyfriend, even if he's a little clueless at times."
"Am not," the Uchiha defended himself while he returned the gesture, causing the girl in his arms to let out a peal of soft laughter.
"No," the girl told him, "you are. But I'd never have you otherwise. Then you wouldn't be my Itachi-kun anymore."
Minato was sitting at his desk in the Hokage's office he'd been occupying for over seven years when he heard a knock come from his doors.
He lifted his head from the piece of paperwork he'd been going over at the moment and looked at his clock that Mikoto had gotten him two years ago so that he'd have no more excuse to be late anymore. "Wow," the blonde noted absently. "Is it that time already? Come in!" he called out to the door.
His office's red doors opened slowly and in walked two faces he'd grown familiar with the past three years since they began to visit Konoha periodically. The pair of people then closed the door behind them and walked over to his desk.
"Temari-chan, Baki-san," Minato greeted each politely while standing from his chair. "Welcome back to Konoha. I admit, Naruto has been rather anxious for your bi-monthly visit since we received Kazekage-dono's letter."
"Thank you, Hokage-dono," Baki returned the greeting with a respectful bow from the hips. "It was no problem to bump up the planned diplomatic envoy a few days so that we might attend your son's celebration."
"Indeed, Hokage-sama," the desert-blonde nine-year-old girl spoke next with another respectful inclination from the hips. "It is an honor for you to allow us within your home for such a wondrous occasion."
"It's not a problem," the Kage informed the two of them. "And can we get rid of all the formal talking now that the niceties have been given their traditional once-over? I have to deal with enough suck-ups on a daily basis as is."
"Sure," Temari agreed quickly while her body visibly relaxed. She then asked him bluntly, "Where's the blonde dolt I'm supposed to house-break?"
"With Mikoto at the moment," the father grinned as the young girl he'd grown quite fond of came back out. "She's making sure he's presentable for his party."
The girl snorted before telling him, "He's probably leading her around your village on a merry little chase to avoid being 'prettified,' as he likes to call it."
Her escort let out a few chortles as the blonde man's grin grew a little bit more at her words. "You'd be surprised how forceful Mikoto can be when it comes to these things," the blue-eyed man told her.
"Hah!" a rather smug voice they all recognized came from outside his open window. "I told you I'd get away, 'Kaa-san! Nobody gets to prettify the great Naruto Uzumaki Namikaze!"
"Told you," Temari simply said with a rather pleased grin at being proven correct to the smallest detail before she walked over to the window. She leaned over the windowsill and noticed the younger blonde boy hanging onto the office's window with one of his hands before screaming at the top of her voice, "OI, DUMBASS! How'd you get up here?"
The unexpected verbal assault on his eardrums surprised Naruto so much that he lost his grip on the wooden windowsill and plummeted down to the ground three stories below with a comedic yell while he fell. A small cloud of dust was kicked up upon his impact with the ground that completely obscured his form from sight to the three in the office.
Once the small cloud of dirt had dispersed, the whiskered child sputtered out a few coughs after sitting up before looking up and a wide, toothy grin appeared on his face. "Temari-chan!" he exclaimed in delight once he recognized her. "It's great to see you again! How you been?"
The blonde girl rolled her eyes in an annoyed fashion as she witnessed him basically shrug off a thirty-foot drop on his head. "Bored, but alive," she answered. "You?"
"Pretty good. I've –"
"NARUTO!" An extremely annoyed Mikoto Uchiha roared so loud the world around them seemed to shake while she sprinted up the street, knocking aside people, food carts, and various animals ranging in sizes from pigs to cows as she ran. Temari let out a low whistle at seeing the path of mayhem and destruction the black-haired woman left in her wake while chasing her pseudo-child. "You are going to get it when I catch you!"
"I gotta go!" Naruto hurriedly declared as he jumped up to his feet in a flash, making the observing trio in the Hokage's office each slightly smile at how energetic he was. "I'll catch ya later, 'Mari-chan!"
The girl above him turned a slightly reddish color at hearing his little pet-slash-nick-name for her. "How many times do I have to tell you not to call me that!?" she screeched at him while he quickly bailed at top speed, kicking up a dust cloud behind him nearly as large as his pursuer's.
The Hokage allowed a few chuckles to make their way out of his throat as the nine-year-old girl pouted and grumbled under her breath. "You know," he decided to tell her, "he'll keep doing it so long as it continues getting a rise out of you."
"Yeah, yeah," the girl groused, still annoyed from the name.
The Suna Jounin still in the room shook his head once in amusement and spoke up, "We need to go get ready ourselves, Temari-sama. We've taken up enough of Hokage-dono's time as it is. He no doubt still has many things left to do before he can leave."
"Don't need to talk like I'm not here," Minato grumbled good-naturedly while he maintained a small grin. "But you're right, Baki-san. I still have a few things to finish before I can join everyone at the party. And you don't have to worry, Temari-chan," he told her. "This will be a private gathering. There will not be many people there aside from a few of Naruto's friends. The rest of the Konoha populace will be attending the festival that's held every year."
"Well that's somewhat of a relief," she answered with a slightly grouchy touch. "I guess we'll see you at the party then."
Baki then led his charge for the diplomatic envoy out of the Hokage's office and disappeared behind the doors as they closed. Minato simply fell back into his suddenly-uncomfortable chair and returned to his job during peacetime: Pushing Papers.
He'd had to have scanned over a few hundred more pieces of paper as he felt his eyes begin to hurt once more like they always did when it got to this time in the day. The cerulean-eyed man closed his eyes and leaned back into his chair once he managed to finally put the last piece of paper in the 'Out' pile.
The Yondaime Hokage felt like jumping on top of his desk and dancing a merry jig once he opened his eyes and they'd confirmed for him that he was, indeed, finished before nightfall for once. However, his vision glanced over to his time-keeping appliance and he realized that there was another person due to arrive any minute for an important meeting about their future as a shinobi under him, so he simply settled for pumping his fist in the air out of celebration for his achievement.
"I must say, I'm impressed," the voice of his appointment came from his window. "I'd heard you never finish before seven."
"Mitarashi-san," he greeted the woman whom he'd noticed a few minutes before she'd revealed herself to him. The fact that even his personal, hidden ANBU hadn't detected her until just a moment before she'd allowed them to notice her proved that this meeting was warranted to him even more. "Please, come in."
"Well, you called," the purple-haired nearly-eighteen-year-old told him with a shrug before leaping off of his windowsill and trotting over to his desk. She plopped down in the guest's seat like she'd gotten used to over the last six years before asking, "So what's this about, Hokage-sama. It's not quite time for our monthly check-up yet. Ibiki was almost actually smiling when I told him you'd called."
The kunoichi sitting before him with crossed legs was a much different woman now from when she'd been brought back to Konoha six years prior. Now, she was a much more confident woman who wore a fishnet, mesh bodysuit that made Jiraiya go crazy whenever he was around which covered from just below her neckline all the way down to the top of her knees with a brown short skirt that had a black belt wrapped around her hips. Anko now wore a full-length beige trench coat at nearly all times that seemed rather plain at first glance, but upon closer investigation, up on the coat's collar directly over where her former sensei had left the Cursed Seal of Heaven on her, you could see the insignia of Konoha. Her violet hair was done up in a hairstyle that resembled the one most Nara males were known for – it vaguely resembled a pineapple – and she was rolling a spent dango stick around in her mouth.
"If that sadist nearly smiled, then this has to be pretty big news," she concluded.
"It is," Minato nodded to her. "Did Ibiki tell you about how Chuunin are promoted and which promotion warrants what criteria?"
"He did," Anko replied with a nod. "That scarred bastard told me that a straight-to-full-Jounin rank was rare, but not unheard of. Since most people specialize in a certain area of the shinobi arts once they hit Chuunin, Sandaime-sama instituted the Tokubetsu Jounin position because a bunch of shinobi were promoted because of their specialized abilities but were unprepared for the full responsibilities of a full-fledged Jounin."
"Correct," the Hokage confirmed for her. "Now, do you remember what you said to me six years ago?"
"Damn straight I do," she grinned at him while chewing on the dango stick. "Oh, and the seal's still working like a charm, before you ask. Still ain't heard a peep from my Hickey from Hell in nearly six years now."
"That's good to know."
"But of course I remember my promise," the Chuunin told him with a serious look. "I made a solemn vow to you, Hokage-sama, and I still and will still have every intention of keeping my word. How is the brat by the way?" she changed over quickly to a semi-amused tone. "I gotta say, what he did to those Hyuuga made me nearly piss my pants I laughed so hard. 'Nai-chan had to help me all the way home, and I hadn't even had any sake!"
The father allowed a few chuckles from himself as a memory of a certain Hiashi Hyuuga storming into his office a week ago with his white, traditional noble robes turned a solid pink and his hair dyed a bright, vibrant orange re-surfaced briefly. It was only through sheer force of will that kept Minato from falling over laughing, but his former sensei hadn't had the desire to hold it in at the Hyuuga's expense. "He's doing well," he answered the woman before him. "And if what he did last week was any indication, then he'll be a wonderful shinobi one day."
"I'll say!" Anko barked out in laughter. "The kid was able to sneak onto the Hyuuga Compound and avoid their 'all-powerful eyes' like it was second-nature. The kid's a natural, I tell you!"
"Jiraiya-sensei said the same thing," the blonde told her with a small smile.
"Great minds think alike!"
"Indeed," Minato said to her, his face now reflecting utmost seriousness. At noticing his change in expression, Anko ceased laughing and adopted a business-like posture. "What I called you here for was to inform you of a few certain matters I've discussed with Ibiki at great length, as well as a few other of my shinobi whom you work with daily. I asked each of them to provide me with an honest assessment and comments on your capabilities as a shinobi, Anko.
"Unsurprisingly, your ability when it comes to the activities of the Torture and Investigation Department was the one thing that all five of them agreed completely on: You're the truest natural and best apprentice that Ibiki has ever had. They all believe that you'll eventually be better than Ibiki at interrogation and that your ability to gather accurate information out of captives is nearly as consistent as Inoichi's had been before he decided to retire two years ago."
"Meh, I just enjoy what I do," Anko shrugged. "It's just a really cool bonus I'm really good at it."
"Indeed," Minato repeated while he gave her a small grin. "The information you got out of that nuke-nin from Kiri last week was invaluable, Anko."
"Just doing my job, Hokage-sama," she told him modestly, which only elevated his opinion of her. "It was pretty much dumb luck the guy had information on Kisame Hoshigaki and the other members of the Kiri no Shinobigatana Schinin Shuu (Seven Ninja Swordsmen of the Mist)."
"Nevertheless, that information saved lives."
"Lucky me," she told him with a toothy grin.
"Your peers greatly differed in their opinions when it came to your skills in the other areas of the shinobi arts, however," Minato informed her as he steered the conversation back to its original purpose. "I was able to have someone I trust secretly evaluate you to verify my theories, and they were proven correct. Your skill in genjutsu is nowhere near your friend Kurenai's natural ability, but you seem to have a firm ability to at least recognize when a genjutsu is cast on you and are generally capable of dispelling it quickly unless it is one of A-Rank or higher."
"Comparing me and 'Nai-chan in genjutsu is like comparing the values of a lump of coal and a diamond, Hokage-sama," she retorted dryly. "I don't think there's a person in all of Konoha with as much potential in that section of the library as her, and that's including all those weird eye freaks with the fan."
"I'll give you that," he conceded. "She has the makings of Konoha's first Genjutsu Mistress since Nidaime-sama's wife.
"Next is your ninjutsu. Ibiki listed in his report that the reason your ninjutsu repertoire hasn't expanded in the past two years is because you've become so focused in your potential as an interrogator. Is this true?"
"Sorry I'm no Sharingan no Kakashi, but yes, that sounds about right," Anko answered him sarcastically. "T and I has taken up most of my time ever since Ibiki took me on."
"I'm not criticizing," the Hokage placated her with this information. "I'm simply asking. To be honest, I'm glad you've spent so much time with Ibiki in his department. As I told you earlier, you're already one of the best at it and have an above-ninety-percent success rate at getting accurate intelligence without breaking into the captive's minds, which is nearly super-natural. You're beginning to earn somewhat of a reputation amongst the other ninja nations."
"Good," she snorted in amusement. "That makes it all the more satisfying when they claim I'll never get 'em to squeal. Everyone has a breaking point, the trick is finding it and exploiting it."
"No wonder Ibiki's in love with you," Minato noted absently after hearing the slightly-unstable Head of Torture and Investigation's mantra.
"Old Scarface ain't got a chance," Anko laughed merrily. "He gets off on breaking people, and I ain't no M either."
"Anyway," he quickly got away from that avenue of conversation. "You're taijutsu has been found to be adequate as well, so I'm promoting you to Tokubetsu Jounin ranking effective immediately."
The Hokage's proclamation was met with stunned silence from his sole audience member. The violet-haired kunoichi had frozen stiff and the dango stick she'd been chewing on tumbled out of her mouth and hit the office's floor since her jaw had dropped and she remained gaping for a minute. Her brown eyes were both wide and filled with astonishment and disbelief while the only sound in the office now was pure silence.
"B-But…" Anko managed to stutter out through her shock. "The…The Council… They don't think –"
"I am Hokage," Minato interjected sternly, making her jaw clamp back shut at seeing the hidden rage behind his cerulean orbs. "I have the final and the only say when it comes to my shinobi. Let those parasites bicker and complain if they wish. They will not alter my decision, and I will put any who try to back in their place.
"You are a wonderful shinobi," he told her, his tone remaining soft yet stern enough to broker no arguments at all. "I trust Ibiki's judgment and he trusts you. I have been watching you closely these past years, Anko, and you are possibly one of Konoha's most loyal. Regardless of whom your first sensei had been, you have proven yourself to me, and that is all that matters.
"Now, will you accept your new position and all it entails?"
"Uh, y-yeah," she responded, trying to shake her head out of its current state of shock. "I-I've been hoping I'd get it sooner or later, but I didn't think it'd be this soon."
"You are already second only to Ibiki in the interrogative arts, Anko," the blonde man reiterated for her. "Merely on those merits alone you warrant this promotion. I believe that a few more years of training your other skills would warrant you a full Jounin title, and all of the other boons that come with it: Like being able to choose to take on an apprentice and Genin Team, should you wish to," he finished in a cunning whisper.
At hearing the reminder, Anko Mitarashi quickly regained her composure and jumped right out of her chair. "Hai, Hokage-sama!" she declared with the traditional bow. "I, Anko Mitarashi, hereby accept my new ranking of Tokubetsu Jounin. I also swear to earn the title of full Jounin before your child graduates so that I might keep my vow to you, personally, Hokage-sama."
Minato stood from his desk and walked around it until he was standing directly in front of the still-bowing woman. "Rise, Tokubetsu Jounin Mitarashi," he commanded. "Prove your vow is genuine and I shall trust you with what I cherish most in this world: My own flesh and blood."
Anko's brown eyes lifted upwards from the ground and met Minato's blue ones with pure determination the only thing present for him to see behind her chocolate orbs. She then stood up and declared to him, "I shall endeavor not to betray your trust, Hokage-sama."
"I know you will," the father gave her a kind smile, and he witnessed happiness appear in the now-Tokubetsu Jounin's eyes. "You may return to your duties or whatever else you were doing before we had our little talk," he dismissed her with a kindly grin. "That's all I wished to speak of to you."
Anko gave him a huge, toothy grin before brightly nodding and saying, "Man, 'Nai-chan's gonna lose it when I tell her about this. I told her I'd get promoted first!" she declared with a fist thrown into the air victoriously. "Now she owes me all-I-can-eat dango!"
The woman then gleefully leapt out of his open window while screaming out as loud as she possibly could about her new promotion. Minato felt his lips twitch upwards as he shook his head while figuring that he'd probably have an irate Council Member or two to deal with in the next few days once word had traveled, but at the current moment he couldn't care less. He had a party to get to and a talk to have with his son.
He'd held off on telling Naruto for six years now, and it was time to let the fox out of the bag.
Minato then let his blonde secretary know he was going and flashed into his own private bedroom. He walked over to his closet and left his Yondaime cloak on a hanger for him to throw on in the morning when he had to go back into work. He'd left Shikaku in charge for the rest of the day and had left explicit orders not to be disturbed unless Iwa had decided to attack – which he found unlikely to happen so long as he lived.
The blue-eyed father walked out of his room and heard noises coming up from the floor below, and he felt a small grin grow when he heard Naruto's boisterous laughter and declaration of greatness. He truly was a good mix of him and Kushina, he realized once again.
The blonde man walked down the stairs and his eyes darted around the room and out the door and widows in order to see who all had actually shown to the celebration. The young Yamanaka girl and a pink-haired girl she'd introduced to be her best friend, Sakura Haruno, were both playing a party game with the Hyuuga heiress – who turned as red as a ripe tomato whenever Naruto came near. Itachi and Ayame were both with Kakashi with the ramen waitress' face red in anger since the Jounin communed while brazenly reading the newest Icha Icha right in front of them. The Nara boy was hanging out with his best friend, Chouza's son, away from their mothers with a shogi board between them that Minato noticed was heavily stacked against the rotund child. Sasuke and Naruto were both currently fleeing from a rather peeved, red-faced Temari – who had a rather large blue stain on her golden yukata – with an absurdly large battle fan in her hands – where she'd gotten it, he had no idea. Sitting on the couches in the lounge room and observing everything play out in front of them were Baki, Jiraiya, and the beautiful Uchiha matriarch.
"Where is everybody else?" Minato asked as he took his seat on the loveseat cushion next to Mikoto.
"Well, Hiashi-san didn't wish to be anywhere near Naruto after what happened last week," the raven-haired woman reported with an affectionate smile sent his way.
"Not surprising," Jiraiya continued. "Hinata arrived with a branch member earlier. Said he'd be back to pick her up at nine."
"And the others?" the father asked.
"Tsume told me that an infection was beginning to spread in her clan's ninken (ninja-dogs) kennels," the Uchiha woman told him, "so she had Kiba and Hana stay and help her take care of things. Shibi told me that his son sends his regards, but would feel out-of-place in such an occasion and chose to remain behind and work on building his kikaichi hive."
"That's too bad," the blue-eyed man answered sadly. "I'm not all that surprised about Shino, since he and his father are basically clones of each other, but Kiba was really excited about coming the last time I saw him. I kind of feel bad for him."
"If those kennels are as bad as they smelled earlier," Baki included himself in the conversation, "then I do as well. That smelled horrible."
"Par for the course," Jiraiya chimed in with a shrug.
Minato and the other adults then enjoyed themselves by engaging in simple small talk for the most part. There was a brief time when he and Mikoto had been so deep in conversation with each other that neither had realized they'd been abandoned by the other adults until Naruto pointed it out as loud as he could with the 'K-I-S-S-I-N-G' song Jiraiya had taught the boy against Mikoto's wishes. That had made the two who'd raised the blonde together both turn scarlet and avoid each other for a time while Jiraiya and Naruto had rolled on the floor in uproarious laughter and caused Sasuke to scream at his best friend that his mother and his friend's father did not like each other.
Eventually, things began to wind down when parents and escorts showed up to take their children and charges home. The guests all traipsed out of the Namikaze home slowly until only the pair of father and son were left with the three Uchiha and Ayame. Itachi offered to take Sasuke home – he no doubt was astute enough to suspect what the two parents wished to tell the younger blonde alone – and the two brothers then left with Ayame. That left only three.
"Naruto," Mikoto began gently as she helped him sit down in a lounge chair directly across from both her and his father. "Your father and I have something we need to talk to you about," she finished softly as she took her seat next to Minato on the loveseat.
"Am I gonna get a real little brother?" the child asked with an innocent expression on his face.
Mikoto and Minato both blushed at his question and each sputtered out something that might've been a denial. How'd he – the father began to wonder to himself before the dark-haired woman answered his son's query.
"No. You're father and I… We're…" she seemed to hesitate defining what they were to one another.
"We're not married, Naruto," his father explained to him patiently, making the whiskered boy tilt his head to the side curiously. "Kushina – your birth mother – and I were, and we both had you together. Two people need to be married before they can have kids," he attempted to explain while staving off the whole 'birds and the bees' talk, "and Mikoto's married to Fugaku…"
"Why?" Naruto's innocent question made the woman freeze stiff. "Papa and 'Kaa-san like each other, right?"
"Look, Naruto, it's –"
"Then why don't you get married?" the child sent back brightly, as if it were that simple. "Itachi-nii told me 'Kaa-san likes you, and you like her."
I'm going to kill him, Minato thought towards Itachi for creating such a mess by saying that. Mikoto's married. I can't be with her, no matter –
"Naruto," Mikoto's voice interrupted his thoughts with her stern tone directed towards his son. "The relationship between your father and I is none of your business. We'll work out anything on our own. Now, we're not going to discuss that any further. We are here to tell you something important about you."
"Yes, you," Minato reiterated for him, grateful for his partner's response to Naruto's confusing train of questioning. "Do you remember what we've both told you about your mother?"
"Not me, Naruto," the dark-haired beauty interrupted with sadness in both her eyes and voice. "Your real mother, Kushina." She directed to a photo of her and Minato that had been taken at their wedding.
"Yeah," the younger blue-eyed male told them. "You said she died protecting me from the Kyuubi, and that she loved me a lot."
"More than you could ever know," the woman revealed with a slightly depressed air. "I'm sure your father still wishes she could be here with him."
"I still love Kushina," he said to his son, and Mikoto's shoulders slumped defeatedly. Minato felt an odd churning in his chest at seeing the woman so downtrodden for some reason, but he suppressed that train of thought so that he could get this revelation out of the way. "And your mother loved you so much, Naruto, that I found a way to…" he trailed off, realizing that neither of the two present needed to know that right now.
"To what?" both Naruto and Mikoto asked him curiously.
"Sorry," he apologized, "but let's get back to what we need to discuss."
The woman next to him had a flash of hurt and betrayal travel over her face before turning away from him and speaking to Naruto directly, "Your mother wasn't just a regular shinobi, Naruto. She was the supposed last of the once-great Uzumaki Clan of Uzu no Kuni (Land of Whirlpools) and possessed a unique, hereditary kind of chakra that had the power to suppress a biju's power."
"Really?" the child asked with wide, starry eyes, and she deflated even further for some reason.
"Yes," Minato took over the explanation. "Because of your mother's natural abilities and the alliance between Konoha and the Uzumaki, she was chosen to become what is known as a Jinchuuriki. A Jinchuuriki is the term used to describe a person whose body houses a biju within them through some art of fuuninjutsu.
"Now, around the time you were born, certain events occurred that caused the biju Kushina held in check to break free of its seal."
"What happened?" was the boy's question with childish excitement.
"You'll find out when you're older," his father told him sternly, making the child pout since he never got his way when the blonde man used that tone. "Things got out of hand with this biju and the situation escalated too far too fast, so we had to find a way to re-seal the beast in order to stop it from rampaging any further. Kushina was too weak at the time to survive the re-sealing of a biju as strong as this one into her, even with her Chakra Chains, so it was decided that it would need to be re-sealed into another with the potential for your mother's unique talents."
"Who was it? Who was it? Who was it?"
"…You," the blonde man revealed hesitantly, making the child stop bouncing in his seat with excitement. "You bear the same burden as a biju's jailor that your mother did, Naruto."
There was a silent spell cast upon the revelation so heavy and thick that Minato felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. The two parents simply stared at the child they'd raised together in morbid curiosity, waiting for the explosion to come. They'd prepared for any kind of reaction, and his sitting there stock-still unnerved the two of them more than they'd like to admit.
Naruto gulped after another few moments before timidly speaking, "Which…Which one? Ero-jiji told me there were nine biju, so which one do I have in me?"
"The Kyuubi, Naruto," Minato revealed steadily, not allowing the pain he felt at seeing the complete and utter betrayal on his son's face from hearing that show on his own facial features.
"You're…You're joking!" the child desperately accused, but both adults simply shook their heads at him with stony expressions to assure him that they were deadly serious about this. "No… No way," Naruto breathed out in shock. "I'm… I'm the Kyuubi?"
"You are not the Kyuubi, Naruto," Mikoto interrupted harshly. "You are the beast's jailor! Look at that picture of your mother. Do as I say!" she roared at the shivering boy, making his gaze travel over to the picture of the wedding again. "Does your mother look like some gigantic fox!? Does she!?"
"N-No," the child responded shakily.
"That's because she was not the Kyuubi!" the woman yelled at him as she stood up and glared down at him. "Kushina was my best friend, Naruto," she suddenly revealed in a small whisper, making Minato stand with her and place a comforting hand on her shoulder. She slightly leaned into the hand before continuing in a steady voice, "We were sisters in all but blood. We did everything together. We liked the same things," when she said this, her eyes flickered over to the blonde's father, but he didn't notice. "We loved each other, Naruto. And I promised her I'd help take care of you. I know I raised you not to think that way."
"Maybe…a demonstration of what we mean is in order?" Minato piped in as an attempt to calm the raging woman down and to help Naruto get away from the fear he was experiencing. Mikoto nodded tersely before she and the blonde man both sat back down on the loveseat together. "Here," he said as he pulled out a standard kunai and a sealing scroll. This is what we mean by sealing, Naruto."
The fuuinjutsu master unrolled the sealing scroll and laid it flat on the coffee table between the two parties. He then took the standard-sized kunai and set it in the middle of the sealing array on the piece of specialized paper. The blue-eyed man next ran through a small series of hand seals in illustration until he ended on the I (Boar) and the kunai disappeared from sight with a small puff of smoke.
"What just happened," the Yondaime began to explain to the starry-eyed child, "is a branch of the shinobi arts that very few study and even fewer learn to master: Fuuinjutsu, or the art of Sealing. What I just did is seal that kunai within this piece of paper here on this scroll. Now, let me ask you, Naruto: Is the paper now the kunai?"
"N-No," came the answer.
"Precisely," Minato nodded once. "The paper is still the paper, and the kunai is still the kunai," he told his son before another poof of smoke appeared atop the sealing array and the kunai from before sat right where it had been earlier. "Just as the paper did not become the kunai, a Jinchuuriki doesn't become their biju; they hold the biju in check."
"So what…what do I do now?" the scared child looked up at the two parents. "I mean… What do I…"
"That's up to you now, Naruto," Minato assured him. "Jiraiya-sensei and I could both help you train to use the Kyuubi's chakra when you get older, but not until you make Genin at least. Both of us hold an intimate understanding of the seal on you and how it works, so either of us could help."
"But before then," Mikoto cut in with a small glare at the blonde sitting next to her. "Why don't you ask the Kyuubi its name?"
"Its name?" both father and son parroted.
"Yes, its name," she repeated with a prim sniff. She then leaned over and whispered directly into Minato's ear while Naruto was currently mulling over her suggestion, "I don't want him hurting himself, so we need to point him away from training with something else. I doubt it'll work for long, but we can come up with something better later."
"Good thinking, Mikoto-chan," the blonde complimented with a sincere smile, not noticing the small blush on her face before she averted her eyes.
"I'll do it!" Naruto then exclaimed and caused both adults to shift their gazes over to him. He then asked them, "Has anyone ever found out that fur-ball's name before?"
"No, they haven't," Minato informed his son. "You'd be the first to find out the Kyuubi's name." And probably the only to ever even ask, he silently added.
"Yosh!" the whiskered child screamed energetically as he jumped out of his chair and threw a fist in the air. "I'll make my legend even bigger by finding out Kyuubi's name before anyone else, dattebayo!"
"Before you go, Naruto," the Hokage interjected coolly, causing the six-year-old to freeze as if coated in Hyouton (Ice Release). "You can't tell anyone anything we just told you, understand? Not even Sasuke."
Seeing that both adults had no trace of humor on either of their faces at all, he shakily nodded in acceptance of the judgment. "I-I won't tell anyone. Promise."
"Good," the father sighed in relief. "You can talk about it to anyone who already knows, but right now you need to go to bed. I'll come get you in the morning and then we'll all go out to your favorite spot for a picnic. Sound good?"
"Woohoo!" the child yelled in glee, like he'd not just had a reality-shattering conversation at all. "I'm gonna eat breakfast on top of your head, dad, dattebayo!"
As soon as Naruto felt himself drift off into dreamland, where he expected to find himself surrounded by rivers of ramen, he suddenly felt slightly off. He didn't know why, but he knew he wasn't in dreamland for some reason or another.
The whiskered blonde opened his cerulean eyes and found himself in water that went halfway up his calves that went as far as he could see and noticed that he was surrounded by dreary yellow walls. He looked at his surroundings with a curious expression while his eyes traveled up and down the corridor he was currently in and noticed doorways and other hallways that branched off of the current one at random intervals.
A drip of water down from the ceiling into the calf-deep pool echoing within the cavern behind him made Naruto turn around and his gaze fell upon a particular hallway about thirty feet in front of him. There didn't seem to be anything that made this one hall different than the others and he couldn't explain what reasons he had for doing so, but his feet seemed to move on their own and carried him towards that same corridor. If asked, he'd say that he'd just gotten a certain feeling from that doorway.
As soon as he rounded that corner and passed into the doorway, a wave of despair and fright washed over him so hard and so fast that it nearly forced him to his knees while he gasped for breath. The child's hands gripped his throat – which suddenly felt very raw – and his knees clattered against one another beneath him. The force upon him was so great that he was forced to push one of his palms onto the wall next to him in order to prevent himself from falling and allowing him to steady himself somewhat.
A few moments passed by agonizingly slowly for the whiskered blonde while he continued to rasp for breath before the perpetual grim feeling had left his body enough to where his legs ceased their quivering. Whatever this is, the Jinchuuriki thought as he placed a closed fist over his chest while he finally managed to slow his breathing back down, it's very bad.
The blue-eyed boy then began to continue his trek inwards in this odd sewer-like labyrinth he'd found himself in, but oddly didn't feel out of place at all. Fearing another shockwave of despair, he slowly trudged through the murky water below him while keeping a hand on the wall to his right at all times. Common sense should've been telling him to turn tail and run instead of going towards the source of those harsh feelings, but curiosity was more powerful in this instance, so he never looked back while he descended into the darkness further.
Eventually, after a few more minutes of traversing down the hallway he found the end and stepped through it and into the light. The blonde let out a shocked gasp as he entered a room so cavernous and humongous that he wasn't even able to see the ceiling above him even if he looked straight up. His eyes darted from side to side and he noticed pipes traveling across the dull, brownish-yellow walls towards the one site that made Naruto do a double-take in order to make sure he wasn't seeing things.
There, directly in front of him and barely fifteen feet away, was the largest cage he'd ever seen. Like the room, its exact height was unknown since its top disappeared into the blackness above. It stretched from wall to wall and had huge, reddish-orange colored pillars thicker than even the trunks of the largest trees that surrounded Konoha. Naruto then realized that the cage must've been made for something a lot bigger and more powerful than him, because he found that there was enough space between each of the pillars for him to walk through easily. His cerulean eyes rose up a little and widened in shock when he saw something that made him realize just what he'd found: On the cage was a single piece of paper with the kanji for 'seal' on it.
A tidal wave of hot air shot out of the cage with such sheer power behind it that merely the maelstrom of wind forced him to fall backwards and splash into the water that persisted in this room as well. "So," a deep, booming, powerful voice rumbled in the room, "six years is how long it took."
Naruto sat up, dripping wet now, and sputtered out some water that had somehow found its way into his mouth. He coughed a few more times before looking up again and he felt everything down to his soul freeze in sheer terror at what he witnessed.
In the murky blackness from within the gigantic cage, about thirty feet in the air, was a single, bloodshot eye with an iris even redder than Itachi's Sharingan. The sheer malicious intent behind that ruby eye made the child nearly wet himself in fear.
The Yondaime's son gulped audibly in an attempt to send his heart back into his chest before sputtering out, "K-K-K-Kyuubi."
Another wave of hot air came from the cage, but with less force behind it a second time. "Indeed," that same voice told him, and the rest of the gigantic beast's body became illuminated for him. "What do you want, insect?"
The blonde then felt his heart fall down into one of his feet once he witnessed the full, monstrous size of Kyuubi for the first time. The fox was lying on its stomach with its paws beneath its deep-crimson fur. Each of its nine tails – each thicker than even the cage's bars – curled around its body while it merely laid its head on its front paws.
It-It's even bigger than the Hokage Monument! Naruto wanted to scream once he realized just how large the legendary biju truly was. "You-You're big," he greeted lamely.
Two of the creature's humongous tails flicked in annoyance while it let out a feral growl at him. "Indeed," what Naruto assumed was the Kyuubi's voice agreed. "You are lucky that foolish father of yours created such a seal as this one, insect, else you would already be naught but a speck for your insolence! I am the greatest of the biju!"
"S-S-S-Sure," the terrified boy nodded hurriedly. "Um…"
"Leave me," the beast dismissed lazily. "I have no care for your conversation attempts. A child like you is not worthy of more words."
At being sent away so disinterestedly, Naruto suddenly felt unbridled rage build up in him. "Oi!" he roared at the fox as he jumped up and raised a fist at the beast. "I don't care who or what you are, nobody treats Naruto Uzumaki Namikaze like trash!"
A single red tail moved so fast that the child didn't even see it until it was stopped from exiting the seal and piercing the boy's chest by an invisible barrier that sent an electrical shock back up the tail. Naruto's blue eyes were wide in fright and his face pale as the beast let loose a feral growl. "Be grateful for this seal, trash, for without it you would be dead," the Kyuubi told him as it slowly brought its tail back and wrapped it around its body again.
The whiskered blonde let out the breath he'd been holding as he replayed what had just played out in his mind. However, he realized something rather interesting after a minute of thought and grew a sinister grin once he realized it.
The Kyuubi couldn't leave its cage at all – not even a tiny bit. This meant that no matter what he said or did, so long as he stayed on the outside of the cage, the biju couldn't harm him. A great, crushing weight left the blonde's shoulders once he'd come to that realization and he suddenly felt a lot more at ease.
"Well," Naruto began, "looks like you can't get rid of me even if you wanna." The Kyuubi's lone-visible eye glared at him with utter loathing and the fox let out an angered growl that sent shivers down his spine in response to the observation, but the blonde was able to shake it off by reminding himself of the seal's strength. "That means I can sit here and bug you as much as I want and there ain't a thing you can do about it, fuzz-ball."
"Silence!" the biju roared in rage with such power and force behind it that the walls shook, the water rippled, and Naruto's blonde locks whipped around his still-grinning face. "Leave me, you infuriating human!"
"What if I don't feel like it?" Naruto kept his shit-eating grin plastered on his face. "What'll ya do then?"
The gigantic beasts tails – all nine of them – began thrashing around from within the cage with its fury, but not a one managed to get out of the barrier. "You do not wish to anger me, child," the Kyuubi warned him while its tails all re-curled around its body once more.
"Looks a little late for that," the child pointed out, purposely trying to aggravate the gigantic beast.
"Ask your questions and be gone," the biju demanded of him. "I would rather be left to silence than listen to your pestering."
"Well that's just mean," the blonde pouted over-dramatically. "Okay then! Are you a boy fox or a girl fox?"
"I am no vixen," the beast answered curtly.
"Huh?" A question mark appeared over the boy's head at hearing the answer. "What's a 'vixen,' and how aren't you one?"
"I am not female!" the beast's eye glowed in pure loathing as it roared in annoyance.
"Oh," the child realized. "So that means you're a boy fox, right?"
"Indeed," was the short reply.
"So what's your name?"
Naruto's query was met with nothing but unadulterated silence.
The child frowned at the lack of answer before asking, "Do you even have a name?"
"Of course I possess a name, boy!" the beast thundered in rage. "But an insufferable piece of trash like yourself is unworthy of hearing it even uttered!"
"No fair!" Naruto shot back heatedly. "You know my name! Why won't you tell me yours?"
"No mere human is worthy enough to know my name," the fox informed him matter-of-factly. "Now, I have satisfied your curiosity, so leave me!"
"Not until I hear your name," the boy stated stubbornly before crossing his arms over his chest with an annoyed huff.
The two both merely glared at one another, and Naruto stubbornly refused to break the stare-down first. Neither moved an inch or even twitched for so long that Naruto lost track of time within the gigantic room.
"Fine," the blonde eventually sighed in defeat, realizing a futile battle when he saw one. "But," he added after standing back up in the water with a determined glare, "I will get that name out of you sometime."
"You will fail."
"I promise you, I will win," Naruto swore back evenly. "You can count on it. Until you're gonna tell me your name, I'm gonna visit you every day and ask for it. I promise that, and I don't ever break a promise, Kyuubi."
The gigantic fox snorted in what could've been misconstrued as amusement. "Good luck, trash. I have lived for countless years. If there is one thing I possess which you lack, it's patience. I have all the time in the world."
Naruto's eyes shot wide and he sat up in his bed, sweating profusely. His hands frantically went over every inch of his body and he was able to confirm that he was alive. He let out a weary, relieved sigh before looking up and realizing that he was in his bedroom.
"So that was the Kyuubi, huh?" he asked nobody in particular. "A mythical creature who's said to be so powerful that a single swipe of his tail crumbled mountains and created tsunami, and a simple piece of fuuinjutsu was enough to stop him dead in his tracks." A rather feral grin crossed over his features as he told himself, "Yeah. I'm definitely learning that."
A/N: Yes, I'm back. No, I haven't abandoned my stories. And Naruto now has learned about the Kyuubi.
Things with Minato have reached their mid-section, so there's only gonna be about five or six more planned chapters with him before we get to experience the new life of Naruto together.
I hope you all enjoyed the Itachi Point of View, I know I enjoyed writing it. It was nice to expand a little before things get really intense for Minato in the next few chapters.
Well, all that being said, I have no desire to turn this Author's Note into another essay, so I'm just going to leave it like this and call it a night. I'm tired from going a week straight and pumping out three chapters for my stories in a measly eight days, and the way I write that has left me drained. So I'm going to take tomorrow off and recoup before putting my shoulder to the plow and taking care of my number one story as well as an idea I've got ready to go.
So you guys who enjoy all my writings will get another treat next week and will hopefully continue to get one every week for a little while. Granted, I just got Lightning Returns and Black Flag the other day and they're calling out to me rather enticingly.
I'm stopping that here. Let me know what you thought about what all happened here in my longest chapter ever. It would be greatly appreciated.