“Naruto… was here?” The words that came out of Karin’s mouth were heavy. Distressed. If there had been anything that would undercut the joy in learning that Sasuke and Sarada had been there earlier, it was the fact that Naruto had come with them while she was away.
That he saw Hanami.
“Did you know he was coming?” she asked Orochimaru while the two were in the monitor room, alone.
“Not when you left,” he answered from his seat at the monitor desk, tapping on the keyboard. “The child sensed the arrival of others from quite a distance away, but with no reference she couldn’t identify them. Had I known that he would have been coming, then I would have respected your wish and sent her off to her room.”
Karin had a moment of doubt, but it passed. After all, he had been honest with her in every aspect since Hanami was conceived. Respecting her own wishes and requests where it was within his ability. To think that he arranged for it to happen was… ludicrous.
She changed her question. “Does he know?”
“He does.” He brought up the camera footage from her office. It showed Naruto using the DNA analysis machine and then the results. “I did try to deflect any answers and went ahead and erased the analysis from memory banks so that Hanami didn’t discover it by accident once they departed. But he left a number in my possession and asked that you contact him as soon as possible. If not, he would be visiting again.”
Of course he would. A gnawing itch prickled her chest. He knew about Hanami now, so she shouldn’t be surprised that he would try to get in contact with her. But exposing her to him now would mean…
Orochimaru observed her indecisiveness for a moment in silence before rising from his seat. “Viewing it through the lens of an experiment, there can’t be a change in the dependent variable if there is only a constant.”
She stiffened at his words because she understood the underlying meaning.
“My part in this experiment has long since been fulfilled,” he continued. “I had the chance to improve upon the modifications that you yourself underwent to a genetic level, and that data proved useful. Since I have no interest in projects that stagnate, you can proceed as you wish.”
Standing in front of her, he then held up the number for her to take. “However, if you’re going to properly test if everything you’ve done has had any merit, you must observe how the dependent variable changes in response to multiple independent ones. Ideally while they are still things you can control.”
Karin accepted it reluctantly. “I… understand.”
As Orochimaru left out, Karin found herself staring down at the direct line to Naruto’s personal cellphone. As a scientist, she understood his point perfectly. To experiment meant to expose something to different stimuli and processes to see the effects they had on it.
If Hanami was the dependent variable, she and the others in the base had been the constants. As long as nothing changed, then she would remain as she was. And that was fine as far as Karin was concerned. Let the world around them remain frozen for all she cared.
But… life wasn’t a constant. Karin knew that as well. It hadn’t been for her. It hadn’t been for her mother. That was why she put Hanami through everything she had the moment she learned she was pregnant and well after she was born.
There’s no getting around it. It was better to get it out of the way sooner than later, so Karin picked up the phone and dialed the number. Her feet paced the room while she did so, until it rang thrice.
Then Naruto’s voice came through at the end. “Hello?”
Her feet stilled her. Legs locking into place and her throat tightening, she was frozen where she stood by fear. She couldn’t answer.
“Hello?” he asked again.
This is pathetic, she told herself as she leaned against the wall. Letting another man stir up these feelings inside of her was something she just couldn’t help but feel ashamed at. They couldn’t be more different, yet the thought of either one of them and what they could do to her left Karin afraid enough to nearly make her legs give out.
As the silence dragged on, there was a pause. Thinking, no doubt. Then he asked, “Karin, is that you?”
She forced herself to swallow the lump in her throat and answered. “It’s me.”
He sighed over the line in relief. “How have you been?”
Karin didn’t want to drag this out longer than she needed to. “Is this line secure?”
She took his word for it, paranoid as she may have been. If anyone had a secured line, it would be the Hokage. “You know Hanami is—”
“My daughter.” He sounded somewhere between hurt and angry. “I’ve had a few hours to think on it now that Sakura is safe. I know that Orochimaru agreed not to cause any sort of commotion, but to hold leverage like that and not use it now that I’ve succeeded Kakashi-sensei means that there had to be another reason besides his own interests.”
While Orochimaru had been pardoned, that did not mean his sins were forgiven. He was constantly under watch for a reason since Kakashi had been made the Sixth Hokage officially. Now that Naruto had succeeded him…
Well, Naruto wouldn’t even consider a request that would endanger the village. But he wouldn’t endanger his daughter either. It would still be leverage that he could have used in some way or other.
“Karin, why didn’t you tell me?”
“You weren’t ready for it at the time,” she told him. “There was nothing between us but that night. Knowledge of a child born between you and a subordinate of Orochimaru could have cost you your reputation. You found someone else. I can give you a number of reasons why I didn’t tell you about her, and all of them would be valid.”
Which was true enough. The last thing he needed then was for it to come out that he had a dalliance and then a child with her. Even now, if this had gone public, he could only think of the trouble it would have caused Hinata, Boruto, and Himawari. Not to mention the sort of pressure it would put on Hanami herself and that it wasn’t just him would who harbor the blame.
The last thing a child should have to suffer from is being blamed for simply existing.
Or for being an outsider.
Even Naruto, as he was now, could admit that. “I won’t say you’re wrong. But it wasn’t just for my sake, was it?”
Karin didn’t answer him.
And the silence dragged on again until Naruto was sure he wasn’t getting an answer. So he changed the question. “…Karin, do you still think that things would have been better if you never came out of it at the end?”
Burning anger welled up inside of her chest at being reminded. “I never thought going right for the jugular was a thing you would do.”
“You know I didn’t mean it that way.”
“The answer is no.”
“Karin, if you still think you would be better off—”
“I SAID NO!” Her answer came out louder and more forceful than even she expected. Her Mind’s Eye of Kagura snapped awake as she checked to make sure no one was within hearing. Then she exhaled, letting the frustration and tension leave her body as she slid down the wall until she was sitting on the ground.
“…Sorry,” he said over the line. It was even sincere.
“I never should have told you in the first place.” She pushed up her glasses to rub her eyes at an abrupt, stinging itch. Tears had formed. Sucking in a sharp breath, she held it and then let it out slowly before she spoke again. “I just thought… that if anyone could have helped me, it would have been you.”
The Fourth War had consequences for her. Specifically, the Infinite Tsukuyomi. It was supposed to show everyone who fell under the illusion their happiest dream. But for her it was different.
She relived her past. Remembered how she and her mother were used as tools for the right to stay in a village constantly at war. They weren’t people, they were assets. Given the bare minimum to stay alive and then used up when needed. Never appreciated, never treated as one of their own.
Karin had been a tool to be used. To exhaust herself to death for the sake of letting their soldiers keep fighting. And she was supposed to do it with a smile on her face.
She only really felt elation at the end. When she finally had the chance to kill the man responsible and then died after seeing Sasuke smile, having helped him with his goal. Revenge and death afterwards. That was the only path of happiness that she could grasp in a dream where anything could happen.
The very thought haunted her afterwards when she returned to the waking world. That no matter what she did, only those two things would make her happy. If that was the case, then what was there any worth in living aside from a fear of death itself?
So many times, she had tried to change that. She couldn’t on her own. And who else could she go to?
Sasuke was either traveling or… not emotionally available. Anything he would have suggested was probably something she would have tried anyway. Juugo was nice, but not really someone she wanted to talk to about this. Suigetsu… not if the world was ending.
Orochimaru knew her past. He knew her pain. He had offered a balm to it in the past when he took her in. He made her feel as though she belonged and gave her power and knowledge. But he couldn’t offer her what she needed.
So that left Naruto. At the time he was the man who could do anything, having fought against overwhelming odds during the Fourth War and then made Sasuke change for the better. Despite Sasuke suffering so much, Naruto could relate to his pain and bring him back from the self-imposed misery he was going to put himself through to maintain peace through fear.
So, if anyone could have helped her, she was sure it was him.
She desperately wanted it to be him.
That was why she…
“…Karin, the world has changed since those times,” Naruto told her. “A lot of people our ages suffered from the war in the same way, so Sakura and Ino have established a system to help them. You don’t have to go through this alone. Let us help you.”
“I don’t need it,” Karin told him. “I have been since then. I’ll handle it myself.”
“Then what about Hanami?” he asked. “You can’t believe that raising her in isolation with those people is a good thing. She doesn’t even see a family as anything more than their genetic code. You can’t tell me that’s normal for a girl her age.”
“So you want to take her from me?”
“That is the last thing I want to do,” he said. “I just want her to have a chance to experience the world as it is, rather than seeing it in such an inhuman way. She needs to have a chance to make friends, otherwise she might end up worse off than both of us. You can’t keep her sheltered from the world forever.”
That. That was why she didn’t tell him. She didn’t tell him because Naruto would have wanted to take her out into the world. There was no way he would keep her a secret and let her be raised in private. Not after how he had grown up.
“I can try,” Karin told him. Even if the chance was next to nothing so long as Naruto was alive and as powerful as he had been back then, she wouldn’t risk it. Hanami wouldn’t end up like Karin did. Not like her mother did.
“Karin, at least—” Click!
She hung up and turned the phone off. Nothing he could say would make her change her mind. Then, rising to her feet, she walked the long corridors of the base towards her daughter’s room.
She was sure he wouldn’t try coming for them so soon. He’d try to convince her again before he made any overt move. But most likely she’d have to move away with Hanami soon. Orochimaru had limited influence compared to when he was free, but it wasn’t as though she hadn’t made contingencies in the event it was necessary. She already knew someplace nice where no one knew who they were, and they could start over.
Karin was partway down the corridor to Hanami’s door before it opened. Suigetsu came flying out, his body in a semi-fluid state as something rummaged around inside of him, pressing against the outline of his body enough to stretch without breaking. It was almost comical as he fell to the ground, rolling down the hallway while laughs came from her daughter’s room.
Then Suigetsu spotted Karin and clung to her ankle as he demanded, “Get it out of me!”
Karin sighed as she crouched down. “Vilu, what have I told you about swimming in filthy water? You might catch something.”
The rummaging stopped as out popped a slender, foot-and-a-half serpentine figure from inside of his shirt. Crimson, glistening scales that reflected the corridor light gave way to a black dorsal fin that ran along its spine until it came to a stop with a black tuft of fur on its tail. Short legs with webbed feet and black claws flexed as it set foot on the ground next to him. Then turning around, its pointed ears unfastened from its head, and its black eyes looked towards her.
Vilu, as he was named was an artificial creation turned pet. A chimera of sorts that combined the aspects of aquatic animals, serpents, and foxes. A gift for Hanami’s birthday years ago based off some of Orochimaru’s old work. “Good boy. Now go back to her room.”
“I can’t stand that thing,” Suigetsu groaned as he rose back to his feet while the creature scurried back from whence it came. “Science goes too far sometimes.”
“Quit whining,” she told him. “I can tell from his size and chakra he didn’t absorb any of your body this time. You should be fine.”
Suigetsu looked her up and down without saying anything as he rubbed the back of his neck. Silently appraising her. Then he smiled mischievously with a shark-like grin. “So, you and Naru—”
The pointed tip of a chakra chain at the base of his throat shut him up.
“One word,” she warned him. “One word and you will never recover from what I do to you.”
The lump in his throat shifted as he swallowed. A single nod showed the message carried. Then he, quickly and quietly, walked around her and went elsewhere.
Dismissing her chakra chain, Karin exhaled slowly and then forced herself to smile as she walked back down the corridor to her daughter’s room. Hanami was sitting at her desk, though her swivel chair was turned facing the doorway, allowing for the young girl to jump up. Mother and daughter embraced.
“Sorry I was gone for so long,” Karin said softly while they hugged before pulling back somewhat. “Still, what did I tell you about Vilu and Suigetsu?”
“He did that on his own,” her daughter told her. “I think he wanted to cheer me up, so when Uncle Sui came in he jumped inside of him. It was funny though.”
“Even so, he’s your pet so you should take responsibility for him,” Karin said, releasing her to just listen about her day. “And what upset you enough that he needed to cheer you up while I was gone?”
“We had guest today!” She sat back in the chair and looked up to her mother with an excited smile. She guessed Vilu’s antics did the trick after all. “There was an Uzumaki like us with really warm chakra. Then there was that man from your picture, Sasuke Uchiha. His was kind of dark, but it was calm too. And two girls around my age, with one of them being his daughter.”
“Sarada,” Karin said fondly. “Did you get along with her?”
Hanami’s smile faltered. “I… tried to. But she didn’t seem to like me.”
“Why do you say that?” Karin asked. She had something of a soft spot for Sarada after helping deliver her after all. It was probably the only time she saw Sasuke smile at her in thanks. One of the happiest notes in her miserable dream.
“Because she got upset when I suggested trying to transplant her Sharingan into my eyes, even though I was going to give one of them back when I was done evolving it.” she said, turning to face her desk and then laying her head down in her arms. “She even got mad when I was going to suggest using the eyes of that person they were chasing instead, telling me it wasn’t right.”
Karin brushed her hair. “Not everyone is comfortable about the thought of transplanting sensory organs. Especially people who have abilities related to the part in question. Losing them is terrifying, more so since they can’t be easily replaced.”
“I still don’t understand why she was so reluctant though,” Hanami said. “I mean, if she had the Rinnegan, wouldn’t that make her parents love her more?”
Karin’s brows folded in. As far as she knew, Sarada’s relationship with her parents was very well. To imply that either could love her more was to say that they didn’t love her with every fiber of their being, which Karin very much doubted from what she knew of those two. “Why do you think that?”
“Because she won’t be able to get the Rinnegan on her own like her father,” her daughter explained. “She won’t be the perfect hybrid of her parents’ genes and pass that on in the future to her children. So they won’t love her as much as they could, and she won’t love her kids as much as she could.”
Hanami looked downcast at the very thought of a parent not loving their child. “That’s so sad, I think.”
…The phone in her pocket abruptly felt heavier as Karin found herself afraid to ask how she came to that line of thought. The hesitation ensnared her throat and wrapped its cold, clammy fingers tight. Choking her to avoid the words leading to a worse experience.
But she had to ask. “Do you really believe that a mother won’t love a child if they’re not perfect on a genetic-level?”
Hanami didn’t hesitate for a second to nod, sitting back up. “I mean, that’s why I went through all of those tests, right? So I could be perfect for you.”
Karin’s mind froze as she remembered those tests of her genetic modifications. Hanami couldn’t meet the same end as her mother had. The moment Karin found out she was pregnant, she knew she had to do everything she could to protect her.
The secrecy was one part of it. If no one else knew she existed, then no one else could take her. But that wasn’t enough. Just in case something did happen, she needed to be able to survive no matter what. That was when Karin turned to Orochimaru.
‘I know it hurts, but I’m doing this to make sure you’re perfect,’ Karin had told her to justify it while she cried on her lap from how painful that particular series of tests were. She explained how genetics worked and how she had the potential to be greater than both her Karin and her mother ever were. And her children would have that same potential as well.
That way Hanami didn’t end up experiencing the pain that Karin had. So she that she never needed to fear it happening to her own children either. She wouldn’t end up like her own mother had before she passed away, used up and then tossed away.
Karin didn’t love Hanami because she was perfect. Because no self-respecting mother would want her child to think that they had to be perfect to be loved. She wanted her to be perfect because she loved her.
And somewhere along the way she hadn’t passed that message along to her daughter, whereas her own mother had been able to do the same for her. Did I make a mistake after all?
“Are you okay?” Hanami asked, her head tilting as her violet eyes stared into Karin’s crimson pair. “You’re crying.”
“I just remembered something a little painful,” Karin said as she pushed up her glasses and rubbed away her newly-formed tears. Like father, like daughter it seemed. They knew just the thing to say to hurt her in ways others couldn’t anymore.
“I’m going to need to step out for a little bit. But when I come back, you can show me that theory you were working on before I left. Okay?”
Hanami seemed enthused at the prospect. “Sure!”
Karin gave her daughter a kiss on the cheek.
Then she headed out to redial Naruto’s number. Apologizing was never something she was fond of. And she still didn’t think that she did the wrong thing in raising Hanami as she had to keep her safe.
But that didn’t mean she hadn’t hurt her daughter in other ways without realizing it.
Hopefully it wasn’t too late.
Summary: While searching for Shin Uchiha, Naruto paid a visit to Orochimaru to find answers. He got more than he expected when he found a child named Hanami Uzumaki there alongside of him. Long red hair set into a bun, violet eyes that mixed red and blue, and a single whisker mark on each cheek. Had it really been around thirteen years since that night? Why hadn’t Karin told him anything?
“Lead me to Orochimaru.” A single demand made by Sasuke as they confronted two members of his old team. They needed answers about the person who’d taken Sakura, implanted with Sharingan.
Naruto entered Sage Mode immediately to avoid others having the drop on them again. His senses expanding as he caught the presence of two other people within the base. One was further out, but the other was nearing. “It doesn’t look like that’s gonna be necessary.”
Their eyes were drawn down the corridor, whereupon Naruto laid eyes on Orochimaru with a face that looked much younger than it had any right to. That, in itself, was a surprise for Naruto given that fifteen years had passed since the Fourth Shinobi War and the pardon had been issued—albeit with a guard stationed to watch him at all time.
However, a bigger surprise awaited them as he brought them into another room. The room itself was a laboratory. Monitors lining the wall, a solid steel table to the right, and three cultivation tanks with developing bodies within the center. Nothing out of the ordinary for the man who eluded death so easily.
But, in front of the tank with the most developed body, stood a young woman with her back to them. Long red hair set into a bun and decorated with a hair accessory. Dressed in a long sleeveless shirt that was plum in color and dark pants, she held her arms folded behind her back.
“It seems you were right, child,” Orochimaru said casually as the entered the room. “We have visitors.”
“One of their chakra feels warm. Radiant, as though I’m standing beneath the sun itself.” A slight turn of the head revealed her eye was a rich shade of violet, a blend of red and blue that had a single thin line beneath it. A shock ran through Naruto the moment their eyes met. “Are they guests?”
“I doubt they’ll here for long,” Orochimaru said simply as he came to a stop next to her in front of the tank.
“That’s too bad.” A bead of sweat rolled down from Naruto’s brow as the girl turned around to face them, the hair framing her face swaying to reveal the marking under her other eye to be a mirror image as she regarded them with curiosity. “We rarely have visitors.”
She’s a little taller than Sarada, maybe a little older. Naruto swallowed, but his throat remained dry. It can’t be…
Her curiosity drove her to approach the group. Tension threaded Naruto’s body as she passed him by. But either she didn’t notice, or she didn’t care as she came to a stop in front of Sasuke, her head tilted as she regarded him with a hand on her cheek.
“…You’re Mother’s old teammate, aren’t you?” she asked him. “Sasuke Uchiha… I’ve seen you in the picture, and Mother talked a lot about you.”
Sasuke regarded the child with a glance before shifting his gaze to Orochimaru. “Karin had a daughter?”
“Indeed,” Orochimaru said, holding his hand out towards her. “Introduce yourself, child.”
She did so. “My name’s Hanami Uzumaki. It’s a pleasure to meet you all.”
“Isn’t that Lord Seventh’s family name?” An uncomfortable number of eyes fell onto him at Chocho’s obvious question. Including that of the girl herself.
Naruto even heard Suigetsu mumble, “You know, Karin was always cagey on who the father was.”
But Orochimaru brushed it off with a dismissive, “One of my subordinates comes from the same clan as Naruto-kun.”
“Is that so?” Hanami mused as she took a step closer to him. “It doesn’t look like the dominant genes are present within his facial features or hair pigment. But I suppose some genetic variations should be expected given the different variables.”
Sasuke… couldn’t care less. Or rather, any curiosity he possibly had was buried beneath the mission. “We didn’t come here for that. We came here to find out about that man and child who had Sharingan they shouldn’t.”
“He’s an old experiment of mine named Shin,” Orochimaru explained. “You recall the arm that Danzo Shimura possessed, correct? That originally belonged to him. Since that child possessed a rare genetic trait that prevented rejection of tissue transplants, he was the ideal subject for experimentation with cloning.”
Naruto looked away from the girl at the familiar word. “Cloning?”
“Think of it as a Shadow Clone that won’t disappear,” he clarified. “A perfect replica of an individual down to their very genetics. Only it persists indefinitely.”
“If it’s like a clone that won’t disappear, then what do you do with them when you’re done?” Naruto asked.
“Your only option is to kill them, obvious.”
He naturally took offense to that. Life was sacred after all. To just dispose of them when they weren’t useful anymore disregarded the feelings and connections they formed. “Humans aren’t simple things to be discarded like that.”
“Humans are much simpler than you think.” Orochimaru turned to the cultivation tank with the largest body grown within. “Hanami has taken an interest in this particular field of study, so I suspect she can explain it.”
The girl nodded and then did so. “A person is basically determined by their genetic material. Skin color, abilities, everything can be traced to the genes that compose them. I look more like my mother and possess many of the same abilities as her because her genes were passed onto me, after all. So, for a clone who is made of the same genetic composition, there would be virtually no difference between them.”
“Exactly,” Orochimaru said. “The same applies to your daughter, Sasuke-kun. She looks like you because half of her genes were passed on from you. It’s all simply data recorded in an organic material, rather than an electronic one.”
…That’s not right, Naruto thought to himself while looking at the girl who bore his clan’s name. Those words weren’t something he ever wanted to hear coming from a child.
However, Sasuke took control of the conversation before he could voice it. “Why does that person call himself an Uchiha?”
“That’s his own doing,” Orochimaru said. “Though he is not an authentic Uchiha, he possesses the Sharingan and he ended up becoming obsessed with the Uchiha name. In particular with your late brother, Itachi Uchiha.”
“I see…” Sasuke closed his eyes for only a moment. Silently considering it. “Where can I find him?”
“Hmm… I suppose it would benefit me if your village were to capture him,” Orochimaru mused, before turning to Naruto. “Besides, I do owe you, Naruto-kun. How is that child doing, by the way?”
“…He’s doing well,” Naruto answered, albeit with more hesitation than he should have. “Though, if you’d told me that there was another child in your care, we would have accepted her as well.”
Orochimaru lightly chuckled. “That wasn’t my call to make. I only helped deliver Hanami, after all. Her mother was the one who decided to raise her as she has. All the questions related to that can be answered by her.”
Naruto breathed slowly through his nose as he caught the underlying message. “I understand.”
“Good.” Then he started to walk. “As for Shin, I’ll explain more in a room with a monitor. Follow me.”
Naruto did so, occasionally glancing subtly to Hanami as she walked behind them with Sarada. He knew he should ask the question, but he couldn’t find the words. Not right now, with Sakura’s life potentially at stake. But it gnawed at the back of his skull until he heard Sarada broached a question that drew the child’s interest.
“Your mother was the person in this picture, right?”
“Yes, when she was younger,” Hanami answered just as quietly. “I’ve seen that same picture in her office.”
“Is she here now?”
“No, she’s at a different place at the moment.”
“Oh… then, can I ask you something?”
Naruto watched out of the corner of his eye as the two girls went off. He knew that Sarada was doubting her connection to her mother from how she was behaving, but he had no doubts about it. Even if, by some chance, that Karin had given birth to Sasuke’s child and then passed her over to Sakura, the bonds between family through connections should be stronger.
But what about Hanami? Taking into account the nine months and Hanami’s appearance, there was very little doubt in his mind of her parentage, But, he didn’t want to think it was true, because Naruto didn’t want to believe that she lied to him thirteen years ago. Why didn’t she tell me?
He had to know that much at least. So he followed the girls to the office in secret and listened from next to the door, peeking through carefully.
“First we need a sample of your DNA,” Hanami explained, handing Sarada a buccal swab. “Simply rub the inside of your mouth with it and it’ll collect DNA samples. I’ll do the same with mine and then we’ll use this machine to analyze the data. If there’s enough of a match, then this will show that we’re related through the same mother.”
Once Sarada did as told and the analysis began, Hanami then added. “If I have to be honest, I hope that there is a connection.”
“Why?” Sarada asked.
“Because, if we are then we’ll be compatible enough for an eye transplant.”
Sarada tensed. “Huh?”
“If I gain the Sharingan while being a descendant of the Uzumaki Clan, then I’ll be able to test a theory on awakening the Rinnegan like your father has,” Hanami explained with a smile. “It’s exciting to think about, isn’t it?”
‘…Kurama, is that true?’ he asked. Until now the fox had been silent, observing without commenting. That in itself was worrisome.
‘Not likely. She’s not a direct transmigration of Father’s children as you and Sasuke Uchiha are,’ Kurama answered. ‘However, given who she has been studying under, the fact that chakra does transmit through genetics to some extent, and the fact that he hasn’t dismissed the theory itself, there’s a very faint possibility. More so if he managed to procure some of Father’s chakra during the War fourteen years ago.’
The implications of what he just heard made his stomach drop. Not because of the fact that those eyes even possibly returning in the hands of a child being raised under Orochimaru possibly spelled very bad things. But because he didn’t want to think that night, thirteen years ago, had been contrived for the sole purpose of making that outcome possible.
Sarada was naturally wary at the prospect, albeit for different reasons. “You want to take my eyes!?”
“Oh, not for good!” Hanami quickly added. “I’d give you mine until I awoke them and then I’d transplant one back. That way we’ll both have one, and there’s the potential for that to pass on as well through two different family lines with a little genetic modification. Though, if the Seventh Hokage has a male child then you could have a child with him as well and they could possibly inherit it.”
“I’m not having a child with Boruto!”
“Well, if you have a brother then I suppose that I could—”
“Are you seriously offering to have a child just because of the potential of their genetics!?”
“I mean, isn’t that better than letting them die out if something happened to us?” Hanami asked. Worse, from her tone she was being sincere. “Our clans are endangered after all, but as long as our genes pass on through our reproductive cells then they can live on. That’s how life works in the end.”
“But having a child means starting a family,” Sarada argued. “It’s not just a matter of genes. There’s something more there. Something precious.”
“Families just people linked by genetic material,” Hanami counterargued. Chakra chains began emerging from arms as she held them out in proof. “It’s an assembly of DNA where strong one’s merge to become even stronger and weak ones die out. You’re a prime example of that, just like I am.”
Naruto… couldn’t listen to this any longer. It was like listening to Kabuto for a second time. He emerged from behind his cover and said otherwise, “That’s not what a family is.”
“Lord Seventh?” Sarada was taken aback. Likely because of her reasoning for coming here in the first place, despite the fact that her mother had been taken. “I…”
Before she could say anything to justify the feelings that had driven her, the computer beeped. The results were in.
“It looks like they aren’t a match after all.” Hanami sounded disappointed as her chains disappeared. Then she perked up. “Then again, if this Shin person has a Sharingan and their tissue won’t reject me, then it should be possible to transplant it that way.”
“H-Hey—” Naruto tried to stop her and explain his point, but she ran past him in the direction they’d came. Towards Orochimaru and the others. “Sarada, go with her. This is a sensitive matter, and I don’t think Sasuke would like the notion of someone transplanting those eyes at all.”
She ran off after her, leaving Naruto alone. He watched her leave before turning back to the machine. He had to know for sure.
So, he went through the motions with the buccal swab, taking out the one that Sarada had used and replaced it with his own. Then he set the analysis to begin. The results…
They were exactly as he expected.
He looked to the photo on the desk and a weight that pressed down on his shoulders. The memory of that night felt like a vice clamping around his heart when he considered everything he’d heard. He needed time to process it all.
But Sakura came first. Reuniting mother and daughter came first. Then, when that was done, he would have words with Karin.
About how she had lied. About how she hid his daughter. About how she let Orochimaru’s thoughts on genetics dictate what her definition of a family was.
He told his own son that to the Hokage, everyone in the village is family. Because a family was the bond between people, not just history or blood. It was the love between them that dictated who your family was.
Even if she hadn’t been his daughter, the fact that a child wasn’t able to understand that…
It meant that something was very wrong.
Author’s Note: The premise of this… random thing is that sometime before Naruto paired off with Hinata after the whole moon thing (2 years after the war if I remember right), he had a one-time tryst with Karin Uzumaki. However, she never told him that she was pregnant or that she gave birth afterwards. Then, over a decade later, the Sarada Uchiha story arc happens and Naruto runs into Karin’s child.
Naruto: Wind Monk Banishment 15 (Main)
Chapter 15: Selfish Desires
Tsunade nursed the mother of all headaches—no. No, a headache was too weak of a word. She nursed the mother of all migraines as she briskly walked through the corridors. She had to take her leave of that trip to meet the Wind Daimyo when a summoning had reached her with a short message containing six words:
Agents dead. Fox missing. Red Dawn.
Jiraiya could handle the meeting. That was the second worse combination of words she could have gotten in a non-coded, non-secure message. The worst would have been: Village destroyed.
Now she walked towards the medical room of the Anbu detainment facility, separate from that of the hospital because of the nature of both the work and those brought in, being briefed by one of her Anbu that had been on the scene. She supposed that was the first of the bad news—several key agents and assets were missing, including Naruto.
The second of the bad news was that Sasuke Uchiha had been on the scene, cradling his brother’s corpse while holding a hand over his eyes. They had to knock him out to get him away from her half-burned down home and he was currently in the medical room, recovering from what looked to be severe chakra exhaustion and moderate damage to the chakra system—consistent with that of a Gentle Fist-related injury. The corpse was in the morgue, just waiting to be dealt with by her.
The third was that the corpse of Hinata Hyuuga was found near the base of wooded lands her ancestral home was perched on, right around the time that her younger sister happened to have stumbled upon the corpses of several of their clan’s elders. Though an investigation wasn’t really needed since the suspect was obvious, they would carry one out regardless if asked out of obligation—though she suspected they probably wanted to keep that quiet.
The on-spot forensic investigation of Hinata Hyuuga revealed that she had more than one severe wound, with fragments of some kind of wood splinters found within them. They would need to be put under the microscope, but the fatal strike was the one done to her heart with extreme accuracy, possibly up-close. Yet her body was laid down neatly judging from the posture they found her in, rather than left to crumple to the ground, and no fragments of wood were found there.
Several facts were clear from that much alone: There had been at least three parties involved in the conflict, one of whom possessed expert intelligence-gathering and infiltration techniques considering she kept the location locked down and guarded by Anbu. Hinata clearly snapped and attacked Sasuke. And Naruto had very likely been taken in the confusion.
Entering the room, guarded by two Anbu on the outside and one on the inside, she bypassed them to find that Sasuke was awake. He wasn’t moving, only staring down at his hands. Nor was he responding to the questions being asked.
“Uchiha,” she said firmly. It got his attention as he turned the dull black eyes towards her. Oh she remembered having those after Dan died right in front of her eyes. Her voice was a little softer this time. “You weren’t supposed to be at the scene, so can you explain what happened before I need to get a member of T & I involved?”
He took a deep breath and nodded. The Anbu inside took that as a cue to start the audio recorder. “… I was on my way home after an evening out with my current relationship partner when I came across Kiba Inuzuka. He was inebriated, being carried on his Ninja Hound, Akamaru. He mentioned having seen Hinata Hyuuga outside of the manor, despite her being under House Arrest. After confirming it with Akamaru, I went towards the location.”
He continued on after that, droning lifelessly. His words painted a vivid, ugly picture as he recounted Hinata and her claims of not encountering the Anbu, meaning they had been killed well before she arrived, as well as the culprit responsible for planning on framing them for the death of Naruto while spiriting him away having both a Sharingan and Wood Release—two things that should have never been mixed given they belonged to opposing clans, and weren’t supposed to even exist anymore outside of three individuals.
The only good news was that Naruto had apparently woken up. But he was gone and possibly had been taken outside of the village—though the sheer destruction showed there had been a brief fight. There was a chance he might have gotten away, but they couldn’t bet on that given his body should have been overtaxed from the lack of motion while he was comatose.
“Show me your eyes,” she ordered, after hearing his description of the burning he felt in them at the end. He looked up and the black pupils were dyed red as the pattern came to the forefront. It reminded her of a Scarlet Trumpet in bloom. “Don’t use them until you’ve recovered. We’ll handle the investigation into what you’ve told us discreetly for now.”
“Itachi said he left a will for me in his robes,” Sasuke said softly as his eyes went back to their dark tone.
“…I’ll have it brought up shortly,” she assured him, before turning and walking out the room. There was work to be done—starting with getting this information to Jiraiya.
Fuu’s chakra-wings worked themselves at a steady, rhythmic beat as she crossed the cliffs that nestled far into Wind Country, far out of the way of most travel caravans and well-off the beaten path. The travel-bag slung over her shoulder drifted as a hot wind blew, and sweat dotted her forehead as the sun glared at her from above. The only shielding she had from its rays searing her caramel-toned skin was the wrap around her lime-green hair and the cloak that she slit two opening into so that her wings could work without compromising it.
Past the cliffs were desert grasslands that spread from the bottom of the craggy slope onwards, with bunches of grass that seemed as dust-colored as the ground surrounding it, only sparse outcroppings of bright green flora and twisted trees. A pack of coyotes lounging around lifted their heads when her shadow passed over them, as if contemplating to give chase, only to lie back down.
A pulse of chakra connected her with the insects that span the scope of her tenet’s understanding, instantly bringing them under the Beetle King’s thrall. While the Tailed-Beast focused on managing the information, she stopped and lowered herself to the ground beneath a tree that’s canopy fanned open like an umbrella. She sat down, giving herself a breather, and slaked her thirst with the canteen while she waited for a bit.
The reason she was traveling so far out was because word had reached her that Naruto had gotten away from the village by Kanna. It was the day after she had spent hours searching for that black creature to no avail, so they had to assume it fled. Whatever her admitted feelings towards the young Wind Daimyo were, she couldn’t pass up a chance to check up on Naruto, so here she was.
Sweat that cascaded from her forehead down to her orange-eyes stung, forcing her to wipe it away, when the insects picked something up. A lizard half the length of her body lay still within something dark, one of many that a few flies felt the bead-like skin with their legs. The tang of blood reached her from the mosquitoes that had laid claim to an opened wound. It could be a clue, given the Ferrets ate meat.
Fuu put the canteen away and then took back to the air towards it, just over two minutes away. When she arrived at the spot, something cutting through the air quickly reached the Beetle King through the gathering of smaller gnats and flies it had been amassing. The wings stalled briefly before she could be shot through the heart with an arrow that churned the air as it continued upwards and then fluttered to life again.
She looked down to see a larger-than-average ferret with a camouflaged bandana on its head, and what looked to be stalk of some kind in its mouth. It was crouched low in a spaced mound of taller grass, reaching back for another arrow from its quiver. She waved her hands and yelled out before it could nock another arrow, causing it to squint its eyes and then realized its mistake. It lowered the arrow into the quiver on its back and then pulled itself out of cover.
Fuu dropped low and frowned. That arrow had Wind chakra layered on the tip. It could have killed her. “What’s the big idea?”
“Sorry about that,” the male ferret said in a gruff voice as he pulled out a sack. The flies and mosquitoes she had been tracking were in it. The ferret had caught a bunch of desert lizards, some big and some small. “I thought you were a big bird. You take good pickings where you can get them, and we don’t get a lot of humans out here.”
“I bet….” She sighed. “I’m looking for the Ferret Village. They should be expecting me.”
“That right?” His nose twitched and his head came to a stop at her bag. “I smell something good there. Maybe a nibble will spark my memory.”
Fuu reached into her bag and then opened a smaller pouch within to pluck out two chunks of dried meat snacks. They were for Pace, but there were more than enough to share. The ferret plucked it out of her hands, pulled out a small jar it kept its it quiver, and dipped the meat into the sauce inside of it before taking a bite while Fuu crossed her arms and tapped her feet.
“Mmmm…” The ferret smacked its lips when it was done. “Quality meat. Not as stringy.”
“Satisfied?” she asked.
“Mm-hmm.” He put the jar back into the quiver and twisted around in a southwest direction. “Head towards an outcropping that way and you’ll find what you’re looking for. I’d advise walking when you get closer. Sometimes the hawks get cocky and try snatch up kits, so the others are liable to shoot more than once.”
Fuu took that to heart and kept low to the ground as she renewed her flight over the grassland, eventually coming along what seemed to be a large section of grassland that had been upturned to expose bare soil, surrounded by a ring of pounded dirt upon that reminded Fuu of a pathway and several mounds that had hobs and jills with bows similar to the one that pointed the path to her.
She halted her flight and started to walk, only for a small blur to rush towards her before she could reach the guard mounds. She went onto her guard until it leapt towards her face and decelerated, allowing her to make out what was in the blur. It was Pace.
“Boss Lady, you made it!” Pace chirped as he leapt onto her shoulder and started licking her face. “I’m so happy to see you!”
A warm smile came across her lips and she found herself laughing at the tickling sensation of his tiny tongue against her cheek. She crouched down and set him onto the ground, running her palm over the top of his head. “I get that you’re happy, but you shouldn’t be so jumpy.”
“I can’t help it!” He was so excited that he bouncing around, hopping sideways, leaping around, and bumping into her leg. “I’ve been practicing my Swift Release since I got caught and couldn’t help you guys the last time. It makes me jumpy.”
“You have a Bloodline Limit?” He nodded his head frantically. “I didn’t know that.”
“All of us ferrets have quick metabolisms because we have a natural inclination to Yang chakra, which is why we eat a lot when we have to do stuff and sleep most of the day unless you summon us,” he explained. “But some of us are born with strong ties to Wind chakra too rather than having to learn how to use it, so when we focus on them together we can go faster than the others and usually become messengers. Race is the fastest, but I’m going to learn how to use it to fight by practicing a lot, so I can help you guys next time…”
He trailed off as he sniffed the air and looked to her bag. “Only it makes me hungry too, so can I—”
“They’re for you in the first place.” She pulled out the pouch of meat snacks and set them down for him. “This is from both me and Kanna, as thanks for your help in getting Naruto to safety. We were both very happy to hear it.”
“Thanks!” He nuzzled her hands and then sat down to start eating—
—then there was another blur and the bag was gone. Pace’s head swiveled around until his eyes fell onto a ferret roughly twice his size, with a white pelage covered in black stripes. It plucked one of the meaty treats out of the bag and nibbled on it in delight.
“Give those back, Dash!” Pace demanded, making a soft squeaking noise as the hob swallowed it and licked his lips. “Those are mine! She said it! You heard her!”
“Hehehe,tooslowbro.Gottagofast!” said the very hyper hob before he grabbed the bag between his teeth and then took off in another blur.
“I said give it back!” Pace promptly crouched low, the wind around him swirling as a golden hue coated his pelage. “Giveit!Giveit!Giveit!”
Fuu had a small smile on her face as she watched him zip off into the distance after the other ferret, using the pounded dirt that rimmed the mounds as a racing track. If she had to guess, the rapid speech was due to being in that speedy state. It was cute, but he didn’t tell her where Naruto was.
After she got crossed the guard mounds, she reached down into her chakra reserves and surged it out in the form of a wave to connect to the insects within the village. She had to practice on her own rather than allowing Choumei to shoulder everything for her. It would be good practice for when she began recruiting.
There were flying insects here that she could link to, and when the wave went past them it marked them. More chakra followed, linking them like invisible threads that connected to her optic nerves and ears. She then set them to work, looking through their eyes with the Insect Spying technique in search of Naruto.
The ferrets built their homes into the smaller mounds, the entrances to them like caves that faced opposite the rising sun. They were cool inside and dark, but the mosquitoes that laid their eggs in the nearby water sources could track the different exhales of each one. The net closed and found him in one of the ones in the back.
She slipped in through the makeshift door and found him sleeping on bedding made of dried grass bundled into cloth. He looked peaceful and in good health, which was a relief considering the last time she had seen him had been at the ruins of what was supposed to be his village. She set down her bag on the ground and then lay down next to him, feeling his warmth next to her.
Fuu hesitated to take his hand though. A part of her was scared he wouldn’t accept what she told him about what she had been like and what she wanted. But there was no point in hiding it from him and giving birth to another shadow. So she grasped his hand with both of hers, holding it tight as she pressed to her head, and then she sank her consciousness into it and joined his mindscape with Choumei.
What she found was a dark-haired man writing on what looked to be a blackboard while the fox watched on. The fox, lounging like a large house pet, told him to turn around. He did, giving her a view of violet eyes and a smile that was decidedly Naruto’s. “Fuu!”
“Naruto!” She embraced him as he rushed to do the same to her. “What happened to you?”
“Ah.” He pulled back and ran his hands through the dark hair. “My features have been like that since I came to terms with my darker-half. It’s… I guess proof I didn’t just accept what my dark-half was saying was true, I embraced it. The desires that I kept hidden away haven’t overtaken me because I’ve took them as part of what I want. I’m simply moving in-tune with them in a way that’s constructive to my thoughts… does it look weird?”
“It’s not a bad look. As long as it’s still you, that’s what counts.” She tilted her head and looked over his shoulder to the board. There was an unfamiliar design on it. “Are you working on a new seal?”
“Not just a seal.” He walked back over to the board and tapped it. “A Grand Seal, Fuu. This is going to be my greatest seal ever. I’m working on refining the design before I come up with a cipher, and it’s not going well so far. I think this is the twelfth—”
“Fifteenth,” Kurama corrected lazily.
“—fifteenth design that I came up with that’s insufficient for the task,” he amended, shaking his head. “Hours spent on each of them, only to end up at a dead-end. If I ever meet someone who says seal design is easy, I’ll punch them in the mouth for lying horribly.”
“Well, what’s it going to do?”
“Stop everyone from using chakra and bring an end to the age of Shinobi once and for all.”
Fuu froze when she heard that. He had said it so casually, yet she couldn’t find the undertone that would label it as a joke. “Come again?”
“When I merged with my darker-half, I came to an understanding. The system established since the Sage of the Six Paths time is flawed, broken in so many ways that any effort to patch it will just be delaying the inevitable.” He sighed. “I could give you an excuse, saying it’s only a matter of time before someone snaps and develops some kind of super-destructive technique that threatens the world, but the truth is that I want it gone for all the trouble it’s given me. So I’m getting rid of it.”
She… could understand that. Fuu could understand taking your problems out on others very well. But it didn’t sound right coming from him. “But what will happen to everyone without it? Every major village uses it to some level, and not to mention medic-nins. What about them?”
“We don’t live in a chakra-dependant vacuum, Fuu,” Naruto said. “We live in a big world, I learned that much traveling when I was younger, but the only one we know is those of the Elemental Nations where chakra is prevalent. If I just stop with etching the seals on them, they’d go and conquer some other place to keep living their lives like they’ve grown used to. The loss of chakra over the years will force them to either adapt to a life without it or be ground into dust. If they can’t handle the change, then that’s unfortunate.”
Her eyes narrowed slightly. “But shinobi aren’t the only ones who use it,” she pointed out. “What about Insect Summonings and the Ferrets? Pace is working hard to help us.”
“Sapient animals can use chakra, and it can be used as a catalyst in their formation, but they don’t need it to exist,” Kurama vouched. “They gained their sapience from the third source that acts as the wellsprings of life within the earth—evolutionary oddities compared to the norm.”
“Even if that wasn’t the case, I’ve made my peace with the fact that all plans have unexpected casualties,” Naruto said firmly. “If it turns out to be detrimental to their intelligence, I’ll work in a way to allow them to maintain it once everything is in place. I owe them that much, but I won’t stop because of just that.”
Fuu was lost for words for a moment and looked to her Tailed-Beast for a clue on how to handle this, but Choumei gave the equivalent of a shrug. When she accepted her darker-half, she just acknowledged everything she was holding back. Did merging with his flip a switch of some kind?
She rubbed her forehead and then tried again. “How?” she asked desperately. “How would that work?”
“Essentially, it’s going to create an inhibitor on a spiritual level that will make it difficult to meld spiritual and physical energy together over time,” Naruto said. “Chakra is made of a balance of the two, so I’m going to artificially disturb that balance. Over time, it’ll strengthen until it becomes virtually impossible to mix them as long as they live on the planet—like water and oil.”
“And you don’t think someone is going to try and stop you?”
“Which is why I won’t tell anyone who doesn’t need to know,” he said. “Of course, there’s also the chance that someone could figure it out, but I won’t talk. I suppose they could kill and resurrect me with something like the Impure World Resurrection to compel me into it… I’d really rather not etch a seal into my spiritual body so that upon death my soul goes into the Death God like my father did to take half of Kurama’s chakra, but it might be on the table.”
“I want that back, by the way,” Kurama chimed in.
“And I’ll get on that later,” Naruto said. “Since the technique is basically a summoning to bring forth the spirit bound to a mask brought over and set into a temple when Mito Uzumaki moved to what would become Konoha, I can get to them if it’s still there.”
“…Naruto,” Fuu said cautiously, after a good long pause in thought. “I want you to think carefully about what you’ve told me. You just explained to me that you intend to carve seals into several places across the world, drain people of their chakra—”
“I’m just stopping them from producing it in the first place and returning them to the state they were before the Sage of Sixth Paths taught them how to link their spiritual energy to other energy sources,” he corrected. “Draining chakra on that scale would kill them, and I’m not aiming for extinction of the human race.”
“—and then potentially sealing your soul into the stomach of a Death God for all eternity just to make sure you aren’t made to undo it after death,” she finished.
“I know how it sounds, but it’s all I got for the moment,” Naruto said in a tone meant to placate her. “What I want is get rid of a system that was broken from the start. No, I have to do it, but I only know Seals so it’s all I can do. If more options become available over time then I’ll work them into the fold—as long as the system is torn up from its roots.”
“Then you need more people on this,” Fuu stated. “I can think of a lot of ways this can go wrong with just you personally, not including the fallout or screwing over our friends.”
“Well, I can’t tell Gaara any of this because he’d try and stop me,” Naruto said. “He’s the Kazekage—a good one that brought his village back from the brink that led them to betray the Leaf in the first place. His deepest desire was to be accepted, and he got it. But if he learns of my plans, he’ll try to reason with me for the good of the village he’s taken as his domain and the people he cares about.”
“And you won’t listen?” she guessed. “So he’ll be forced into stopping you personally and you’ll fight.”
Naruto looked down at his feet, rustled his dark-hair, and sighed. “If he kills me, it’ll be the same as when his Uncle got killed and it’ll drive him mad again. Likewise, I don’t want to have to kill Gaara, or risk him spreading it to the other villages and starting a manhunt for me before I can get it in place and it’s too late to matter. That’s why I’m nipping the problem in the bud by keeping him in the dark and lying to him if I have to—I don’t want it to come to that with someone I care about, because it will force two of the things I want into conflict.”
“Then why are you telling me all this?” she asked.
His eyes softened. “Because you can understand me on a level closer to the surface, even if you don’t agree. I can feel it. We both suffered because of the system, so it’s natural that we want to do something about it. We tried to get away, and they chased us. They’ll keep chasing us because that’s what the system has taught them—chakra is power, and who has more than a Jinchuuriki and a Tailed-Beast?”
The logic was sound, if a bit extreme. And… damn, she could understand why he’d reach that point after everything. But, strictly speaking, it went against what she had planned—chakra was essential as a means of power, like he had said.
She ruminated silently as he watched her. It was clear from how he spoke he was firm in his convictions. No hesitation in what he wanted, no doubt in what he would do to reach that point. However, if the ends were set then it’s the means that she could do something about to influence that.
“I don’t object to the end goal of your plan,” she told him. “But some parts of it go against what I want. If you’re willing to deal with those then I’ll help you, because it’s what I want as well and the way to get it.”
“Okay.” He clapped his hands together. “Name them.”
“The first is that you’re going to change that part about shunting your soul into the stomach of a Death God,” she ordered. “I’m not letting you damn yourself for eternity just to stop yourself from being summoned on the chance that someone might believe you’re responsible for this. I’ll put up with a lot of things, but that crosses the line.”
“Technically, I only said there’s a chance that it would be—”
Her tone was firmer this time. “Change it.”
“—it’s changed. Next?”
“The second is that you put in something that will allow certain individuals to produce chakra, like the Ferrets and my Insects.” The thought of Pace trying so hard only to have it taken away by one of the very people he wanted to protect didn’t sit well with her. “You’re right on the system being broken and that it should be torn apart, but you haven’t said anything about what would take its place. If we limit who can access it, we can use then to give structure to the world and focus them under a proper leader.”
“Maybe…” Naruto scratched his chin. “But there’s an issue with that.”
“They’re only mortal,” he said. “They’ll make mistakes, and can be swayed by emotion. Even if you have someone who is the greatest and kindest person in the world calling the shots, what happens when they die and someone worse takes their place?”
“You mean like our Pops?” Choumei guessed.
Naruto nodded. “Kurama’s been giving me insight into him since I’ve decided on what I was going to do. He intended to for people to link their hearts on a spiritual level, essentially allowing everyone to empathize in order to stop warring around… except the moment he died, things got worse. The fighting continued on a greater scale, and both his descendants turned on all of you—one who had a god-complex and the other who sold you off to different villages to barter for peace that failed given the number of wars we’ve had.”
She guessed he was referring to the First Hokage in the case of the second person.
“They failed in the simplest thing possible, linking like-to-like, spirit-to-spirit,” he continued. “A world of empathy and understanding, where people don’t have shitty childhoods and children don’t have to fight and kill or be labeled as different because some masked asshole led to his parents being murdered—probably out of some bullshit sob-story related to someone doing him wrong in the past too. No, humanity abused the gift they were given and turned it into a weapon that I’m taking away.”
It clicked for Fuu then, listening to him. “Naruto… you don’t have faith in humanity anymore, do you?”
“I have faith in individuals, but as a whole….” He shook his head. “The point I’m making, Fuu, is that there’s a cycle to all of this. I can’t be the only one who has noticed, but I’m the only one who’s doing something about it by taking away the root issue—yes, they’ll go back to fighting, but better swords and arrows than village-destroying techniques and human sacrifices.”
Fuu went silent in thought. He’d given it more thought that she gave him credit for… no. She should have expected that much with the way he spoke and the conviction that rivaled her own—he understood why he was doing it. But all the same, she wouldn’t give up either.
“If the issue at the core here is that they’re mortal and die…how about we let the Tailed-Beasts do it.” She turned to Choumei. “They’re not mortal, and they’re the ones who would know what the Sage of Six Paths would want best. I’m assuming your seal won’t affect them since Kurama is backing this.”
“No, they’re actually fully-formed chakra entities rather than something that’s melded from physical and spiritual energy….” He looked to Kurama scratched his head in thought. “To be honest, I’m not sure how they exist with any of the corresponding elements that we know of. You see shinobi shape chakra into animals and stuff, but these guys are a cut above them by a long shot. My father literally used a technique meant to rip souls out and only pulled out half of his Yin chakra instead.”
Kurama’s tails swayed softly at that. “My Old Man’s workings surpass the watered down arts of your age. The method you proposed won’t affect us in the slightest.”
“And you aren’t going to tell me about it?”
“It’s not something anyone other than he can replicate. There’s no need for you to waste your efforts pursuing it.”
Choumei stirred in an unsettled manner. “Unless things get really bad and the—”
“Don’t,” Kurama warned. “That won’t happen, because if it did we would cease to be. That knowledge stays with us no matter what. ”
Fuu looked back and forth between the Tailed-Beasts for a moment and then walked over to Naruto. “Back on topic, why don’t we do this?” She pointed at his stomach, where his seal was. “Have them brand people they deem worthy with a bypass-seal and allow them to mold chakra. They can select the wisest of the candidates after I pass away.”
“Okay, but you do remember that there are nine of them, right?” Naruto asked. There was no malice in it. “I don’t think that they’ll all get along and select one person together, or even agree unanimously on the same thing. That little exchange before being my point.”
Choumei buzzed his wings a little in thought. “He’s got a point. Saiken and I don’t really agree on much of anything, and Kurama never did get along with Shukaku.”
“So they’ll likely split up,” Naruto continued. “They’ll choose their own domains and gather followers to give the use of chakra. Then they’re going to inevitably expand and start warring against each other. We’ll end right back up where we left off with super-powered villages attacking each other—the same cycle.”
“Well, the only flaw I see is the human error,” Kurama pointed out.
Both Jincuuriki shot him a look at that.
He shrugged it off and continued. “You said it yourself, the issue is that humans need to expand and can’t be trusted with that power. I’m willing to acknowledge individuals like the Old Man, but as a whole there just aren’t enough humans wise enough to handle that sort of power. My kin and I are different.”
“Shukaku,” Naruto pointed out. “I’m guessing he knew straight-off that you were inside of me when Gaara and I fought, but he was intent on killing me. And you, if for a few years. If that’s an argument between siblings, what the hell is a real fight between you going to be like?”
“He wasn’t always that way,” Kurama countered, eyes narrowing in displeasure at the mention. “Being sealed hasn’t boded well on his mental state.”
“The point remains that if he’s malleable to human thoughts, then what’ll happen to the rest of you?” Naruto asked. “You have it worst—you can literally hear malicious thoughts and negative emotions, Kurama. What happens if you suddenly feel the people who are supposed to serve you have unhappy thoughts about how things are run constantly? How long before you eventually decide you’ve heard enough and gotten rid of them? How long until one guy who’s a cut above the rest eventually turns against you and seals your kind away again like the First Hokage?”
Kurama grumbled at that, but didn’t utter a word.
“…To be blunt, no matter how you slice it there’s not really a good answer here,” Choumei chimed in, after listening carefully. “I can’t say whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, but either way you need to take it one step at a time, think everything over as you do, and do the best you can.”
Naruto sighed. “…Fine, I’ll work on it,” he conceded. “If anything, the Toads and Ferrets should have that right. Either way, we’ll have plenty of time to discuss it. What’s the last condition?”
She swallowed the lump in her throat. No turning back now. “You need to pick between me and Kanna. I don’t want to share anymore.”
“…Why?” Naruto asked, almost confused.
Fuu groaned softly. He had to make this difficult. “Naruto, would you be happy seeing me and her sleeping with some other guy?”
His answer was a very blunt, to the point, “No.”
“Because you want us to only love you in that way, right?” He nodded. “Then that’s why. I don’t want to share you with anyone else romantically, and I don’t think it’s fair to me and her that you get that option when we don’t.”
“So you want to be allowed to—” He cut himself off at seeing the frown that was forming on her face. “No, you don’t want to have to share at all with Kanna… but why?”
“Naruto, I need to be loved unconditionally,” she explained. “I want someone to give me all of themselves. And I’ll do the same to them.”
“Fuu, I’m willing to fight S-Class Shinobi for you. I think it’s clear I’m in love with you.”
“You’d do the same for Gaara,” Fuu pointed out. “And I’m going along with your plan to bring the culture, history, and system that we’ve been raised into to an end, so I think it’s clear I’m in love with you too. If you think this will make you happy then I’ll help, if only because seeing you happy makes me happy too.”
“Then what’s the problem?” he asked. “I’m happy with both of you.”
“Seeing you happy will make me happy as well, just not as much as being loved unconditionally when it comes to romantic love,” she clarified. “I need both to be truly satisfied, Naruto. And as long as you have someone else you love in the same way, it’s only unconditional on my end.”
“… But I still don’t want to decide,” he said. “I love you both too much to have to be forced to choose. Pick something else. Anything else within reason, and I’ll talk terms.”
Fuu frowned. “We just had a minutes-long debate on essentially governing the remnants of humanity… yet you’re being more inflexible with exclusivity?”
“That’s a distant problem, dealing with other people, over the course of a lifetime,” Naruto pointed out. “This is more immediate problem, dealing with us. My priorities are perfectly straight as far as I’m concerned. Is the problem Kanna?”
“Kanna’s…” Fuu looked down as she trailed off, bringing her tanned arms around to hug herself. “She honestly makes me a little jealous, but she’s so damn nice that I can’t hate her for it. That’s her nature, and I always feel like I have to compete with that when I know that deep down I’m not.”
“You’re fine, Fuu.” He stepped forward. “You’ve been just as kind and caring and—”
Her mint-green hair swayed as she shook her head. “Naruto, I’m…” She hesitated for a moment to take a deep breath and steeled herself. “Naruto, we may have both known what it was like to be abandoned by our villages because of what we are, but we didn’t end up the same. You held yourself together, but I took my problems out on others—especially after I tried getting together with Shibuki and realized he would love the village more than me.”
Naruto blinked twice at that, a look of minor surprise on his face. “Shibuki and you?”
“It happened when we were younger and was one-sided,” Fuu said, waving her hand as though to brush it aside. “I was… love hungry, I guess. Aside from Suien, I was trained by another man named Suika. He went missing-nin along with him, but was caught by some of your peers—the Aburame that looked like a drug dealer.”
“What do he and Suien have to do with Shibuki and you?”
“They betrayed me.” Her shoulders shook. “I had no one else but them. They were abusive assholes, especially Suika, but they taught me how to fight and actually seemed to care when the rest of the village just forgot I was out there defending them. I… believed in them—or at least Suien—with everything I had, enough to get Shibuki to tell me where the Hero’s Water was. And then, the moment I decided not to tell them because I wanted to believe in Shibuki after he called me a treasure of the village….”
Naruto caught on when she trailed off. “They turned on you.”
She nodded. “They started to try and beat it out of me, but Shibuki showed up in time before they could get too far. He had a hunch something was off, but he couldn’t fight both of them and live. So I reached out to Choumei and begged for help to save him. He answered, giving me a shroud of chakra to fight them off and save my only real friend.”
“I don’t enjoy the thought of kids being hurt,” claimed the Beetle King. “I mean, they threw her into a pit of spiders that could rot the flesh from bones when she was nine years old. I may not be human, but I have standards.”
Kurama grumbled lightly at that, musing he had been stealthy insulted. “I was angry and had just been released from the hell-hole of a seal his mother had and then had my mind violated. I saw a chance and I took it.”
“I became colder after that,” she continued, holding Naruto’s attention. She wanted to get this out of the way immediately. “If I couldn’t trust them, who could I trust besides Shibuki and Choumei? And it’s not like the other villagers would make the effort to pretend to like me either, so I stayed outside of the village alone—having minimal contact with any of the others assigned to oversee me after what Suien had done.”
“I am so glad I killed him,” Naruto said bluntly.
“Oh, I laughed when I learned you killed Suien—I mean, the most fearsome Jounin of our village got killed by a Genin still doing C-ranked missions at best while empowered by the Hero’s Water.” In her defense, she didn’t know he was a Jinchuuriki then or his mission history. “But I was also a little mad.”
Naruto’s mouth opened, probably to ask why. Then it closed. He extended a hand, gesturing for her continue on.
“He died too quick,” she explained. “He was the man who had me kill a small boy when I was a child for the supposed good of the village—the man who stole my innocence and naivety. I dreamed of making his suffering last for days in the Worm Pit, and you killed him in minutes. Then came the day when they caught Suika.”
A predatory smile came across her face. “I had it all planned out what I was going to do to him. I was prepared to make his suffering legendary… but I let him talk before we began—I wanted to hear him beg for mercy after all the abuse he put me through. Not that it would have helped him.”
“It didn’t go as planned, I take it?” Naruto asked. He seemed pensive learning all of this.
Fuu felt her stomach churn as she recalled what happened. “He told me that I should have been grateful that they bothered to fake caring about me for that long, since no one would love me. He told me they didn’t make me do anything I wouldn’t have wanted to do—that I was a monster they trained up to attack on command, leashing the beast with a few soft words. They were just words, but they weren’t the ones I could stand to hear at that time and I… I…”
Choumei spoke softly. “Fuu-Girl, you don’t have to tell him the next part. It’s not something you could have helped.”
“I swore I’d let Naruto know the real me.” Her expression turned cold. “I snapped, Naruto. I went into my chakra form and everything went red. They said my roars could be heard around the village, but I didn’t remember any of it. Shibuki and the others who oversaw the Worm Pit in Suien’s place found me in shock, lying in a pool of flesh, pounded organs, and blood.”
He grimaced. Anyone would at the sight.
“It was only when I woke up in a private room with some hospital equipment, bound by restraints on my arms and my chakra sealed, that I could remember his screams and taste his insides on my tongue.” She looked into Naruto’s eyes. “Did you ever fall that far, Naruto?”
Naruto sucked in a sharp breath… then slowly shook his head. “There were times when I wanted to, like with Haku. But someone was always there to stop me, or they were too strong and I calmed down before I could act. When I was older, I had enough control and received enough teachings from the monks to make the kills quick and to the point, and Kurama was less of a jerk.”
Her orange-eyes turned downwards, and a bitter smile came across her face. “I wasn’t that lucky. Choumei cut the flow before I hurt Shibuki, but he was too slow to stop me from ripping Suika to pieces. Everyone who heard my roar and saw me that day had their worst fears confirmed by the time I woke up. Only Shibuki smiled when he saw that I was awake and hugged me… he was so warm. ”
That was part of the reason she cared so dearly for him. Next to Naruto, he was the most important human in her life. “But even after his death, Suika’s words haunted me for years—a ghost in my ear whispering how a monster like me could never be loved or accepted. I wanted to prove him wrong. So, when I filled out a bit and gained a bit of a libido, I practically threw myself at Shibuki. I mean, he smiled at me after seeing that I tore a man to pieces, so he could love me unconditionally, right?
It seemed so logical at the time. She never knew parental love, and hadn’t had enough friends to comprehend the divide between the love one would feel with a romantic partner and friendship strong enough to rival it. It was a natural, if mistaken, conclusion to draw.
“Shibuki loves me, but only as a childhood friend.” Her fist clenched. “I didn’t understand it completely, but it felt like Suika was right and it hurt, Naruto. So much so I took it out on everyone I could in a way that wouldn’t trouble Shibuki since I didn’t lose what we had after that. The Grass learned to fear the forest around the Waterfall after I got creative and did unspeakable things with my bugs, but I couldn’t stop this feeling inside of me.”
“Like Gaara,” Naruto realized.
“The things you told me about what Gaara did to his victims back then were child’s play to what I would do,” she said pointedly. “I mean, he can only crush with his sand. I have an entire ecosystem of ways to make someone suffer. I was grateful they reinforced the seals in the Worm Pit after my previous outburst, and I made sure that Shibuki was never remotely close to coming when I was in the middle of an interrogation.”
“She’s not kidding either, if you have any doubts,” Kurama said to Naruto, who turned to him. “I’m purposely not allowing you to hear it, but everything she’s saying is true for her.”
“And then you came along, trespassing in my forest—not affiliated with any village but knew where the entrance to ours was… At that point, I didn’t see the boy who killed Suien, but someone else I could take my anger out on to make it stop just a little. I was going to kill you horribly until Kurama’s chakra reached Choumei and he wanted me to listen to you.”
Another grimace crossed his face.
She sighed and felt tears burning the back of her eyes. “It seemed like a miracle. Another Jinchuuriki who didn’t want me dead, someone who could hopefully understand and love me… I had to have you. No matter what I had to do, or hide, or accept. I took advantage of you to fill in a void, becoming someone you had to love and wanted to protect. And it worked.”
“… It doesn’t matter if it started on a lie,” Naruto decided. “It was real enough to me and it made you happy. But, Fuu, Kanna’s had it rough too growing up—”
Fuu raised her hand to stop him. “I know, and that makes it worse. All three of us have had horrible things happen to us, but I turned out the worst—someone who’s selfish when it comes to love and ruthless when angry. I’m not going to be as bad as I used to be, but I will be doing things my way to get things done and it won’t be pretty. I needed to let you know that.”
He frowned. “Then it didn’t do anything for you in the end.”
“I’m a better person because of you, Naruto,” she assured him, holding her hands over her heart. “You gave me love that Shibuki couldn’t, companionship that Choumei couldn’t, and introduced me to the Bugs of Isle of Insects and the Ferrets. But because I had to hide my darker parts, I started making mistakes and holding back when I shouldn’t—lessening myself. The old me wouldn’t have let what happened in Uzushio go the way it did, and I lost you to Konoha for it.”
Fuu walked up to him and cupped his cheeks with her slender hands. “I don’t want you to pick me because you think it’ll make me help you, or because you pity me after hearing that. You can choose me permanently over her and any other woman, and be truly happy about it—” She strongly stressed that last part. “—or I can see you happy with her and find someone else who will love me unconditionally, now that I know I can be loved and be worthy of it. Either way, I’ll find satisfaction on that front—but I need it Naruto. ”
“…Akatsuki first,” he said after a pause, leaning his head back. “Then I’ll decide. Making a choice when we’ve got targets on our backs doesn’t do anyone any good.”
Fuu nodded. “Okay.” She pulled her hands back to her chest. “Where do we start?”
“Locating the other Jinchuuriki is one step.” He turned back to the blackboard. “But another is a power-source for the Grand Seals. I can’t use chakra to power a seal that stops people from generating it in the first place, otherwise it’d fail.”
That was an obvious problem when you looked at it. “Then what can you use?”
“That third source Kurama mentioned—Natural Energy.” He gestured to the air and ground. “Not only is it abundant in nature, but its constantly being produced by the planet and in the atmosphere from what I learned from Kurama. As long as the intake of the seal is below the amount it uses after it reaches capacity, it can be sustained indefinitely without too many negative effects.”
“I guess that sounds fine.” She nodded. “Then we’d need to ask around.”
“The Toads are out since they might like me, but they are allied with Konoha and I don’t want the Pervy Sage getting word about any of this.” He tapped his chin in thought. “It’ll be hard, but if we could find another authority on melding both Natural Energy and Seals, we could get this done in a few years than decades.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Fuu said. “The Ferrets, the Insects… maybe I could get bugs on the mountain with the Toads and spy on them. I’ll do that before I head to the Earth Country on business.”
She hadn’t been kidding when she said Naruto needed help, and she needed to start building her swarm to command. It was best to start with other Insect-users, and there was fledgling clan there that would be ripe for assimilating there. She just needed a bargaining tool, since making them serve by force would inevitably backfire.
“Oh, one last thing before you go,” Naruto added. “When you get back out, can you have the Ferrets leave an axe and give me about a day after I wake up before they come in.”
Fuu’s eyes narrowed in suspicion. “Why…?”
Naruto held up the back of his hands, showing the seals on them in reflection to his real body. “I can’t give this my all if I’m hampered by these seals. I thought that it was proof of my freedom, but now I know freedom isn’t just being able to go where you want or do what you want. It’s about the drive you have to live in order to accomplish something as well—and I need to give this my all. So, I kinda need to my hands to work for this.”
She caught on immediately. It was a miracle she kept her expression flat and her tone dull. “I’m not a fan of that way of getting them off.”
“I don’t want to waste any time,” Naruto insisted. “And Kurama has reasonably assured me that I can grow them back in my Chakra Mode state, but it’ll take around a day and I’ll have to keep refining his chakra in my mindscape during that period of time.”
“… I’m in love with a madman,” Fuu decided as she turned to the fox. “If his hands don’t grow back perfectly, you’d better start praying to your father.”
“Noted,” was all Kurama said.
In a faraway place, isolated from others by miles of ocean water, Kabuto struggled as he felt the invasive nature of his master’s blood working to overtake him after his previous exertion. Not that he’d expect anything less. Regardless, he’d need a few moments to reorient himself.
“You’re not going to keel over, are you?” asked the red-haired young woman with glasses as she watched him from her perch against the wall. Blood and viscera caked the floor elsewhere, leaving it one of the few places still clean.
“I’ll be right as rain soon enough, Karin-chan.” There was no way he could die before he set out and completed what he wanted to do. “But about that matter we discussed. Have you made a decision?”
“Well, since you’ve gone out of your way to slaughter everyone I was supposed to be keeping locked up and Orochimaru is dead, I really have nothing better to do.” She pushed her glasses up by the rim. “As long as you keep your end of the bargain, I’ll help you.”
Kabuto smirked. “Of course. Now, just give me a moment to gather myself and we’ll be on our way. We do have others to collect, after all.”