"Are those six hundreds?" Commander Dragon asked his subordinate. She nodded and he believed her. She was a good daughter of ANBU. As he stalked around the surgical suite to make sure he had all he needed he thought about his wayward son. Clearly his hound dog had forgotten his discipline since he'd left Dragon's family but like a good patriarch, he did not abandon his children even upon their departure. He would help his son, even if it hurt and impress upon him the need to take better care of his future son. But that was for later, he had a more pressing matter to attend to.
He looked at the fool who wasn't long for this world. Of all the people to kidnap he picked the Old Man's grandson during a time the man was already walking around like a fire-breathing dragon. The sheer idiocy of it. Add to that, ANBU had to make sure none of the medical staff knew who paralyzed the fool for they'd have refused to treat him. Never cross a chef, lover, or medic in the world of ninja for there wasn't a faster way to depart from this world. And the medical staff loved their chibi, loved that the son of the Yondaime was a healer.
He couldn't guarantee a mystery blood clot wouldn't have found its way into the traitor's brain if they knew how and why he got knifed twice in the spinal column and got his trachea crushed. Which, doing while coming out of a shunshin was pretty impressive. He'd have a new son, yet. He'd just have to get the Old Man to see reason. Or get him a special "tobacco" blend.
Three slaps woke the foolish traitor up. The man blinked in confusion, eyes adjusting to the mostly darkened room; the only light positioned directly about the traitor. He tried to squirm but stilled when he saw the mask. Dragon smiled behind it as the fool's expression gave it all away. Oh that fear, that was the genuine reaction but pride forced a sneer on the lips of the fool. He went to say something, likely something snarky about how he wasn't afraid or wouldn't be broken. As if you got to be the ANBU commander without the ability to break all Chunin. He slapped the man again before the words could leave his mouth.
"Understand one thing, Onion, I'm a busy man. If I'm not asking you a question you are not to speak. Are we clear, Onion?" The man frowned but nodded. The response earned him another slap. His jaw likely couldn't take much more.
"Why?" he asked and was answered with another slap.
"When I ask an onion a question I expect a verbal response, are we clear?"
"Yes," he responded promptly
"Now, as I am feeling magnanimous I will allow you one question, you may ask it now."
"Why do you call me an onion?" Dragon wasn't surprised but amused by the question. At least the man wasn't lying to himself nor going to fake innocence. That was good.
"Oh, it's simple really; you non-ANBU are loud, unable to work alone and usually not worth a damn until a generous amount of heat is applied to you. Alright, I think I should inform you what is about to happen. See, I'm only really interested in one question but I have to assume you're going to lie to me. True, I could torture you until I believe you've divulged the truth but I have a lot of my plate and can't spend all day dicing an onion. So, I've come to a compromise."
Dragon grabbed one of the fluffy, all white towels, from a nearby surgical stand and slid a water filled bucket next to Mizuki's bed. "This is a six-hundred-thread-count towel. I'm going to wet one end of it and force it down your throat. Admittedly, a lower thread count would make the initial ingestion easier but I've found the results inconsistent, so you get the six hundred. Well, Onion, when your stomach acid starts to digest the towel I'm going to yank it back up, bringing your stomach lining with it."
The Chunin had a mixture of disbelief and bone deep fear on his face, as if one was a defense for the other. Dragon didn't begrudge the man his self-deception. Reality would become too painful to deny soon enough.
"Twenty-nine hours, forty-seven minutes is the average length of time people last when they endure this. Nearly thirty hours of excruciating pain. I figure a full day of this and you'll tell the truth just so I end your misery."
"I'll talk!" the man yelled. He was slapped for his slip in decorum.
"Of course you'll talk, Onion. You'll tell me whatever I want to hear but I only want the truth not what you think I believe the truth to be. In order for that to happen you need to endure this trial. Endure and then I can believe you."
"No… no, I'll talk. I'll tell the truth!" he pleaded. This guy really didn't want his stomach lining removed. He almost felt bad for slapping him again.
"Ok, Onion, I'm going to give you one chance to avoid the most painful twenty-four of your life. Were you ordered to kidnap Konohamaru Sarutobi as some kind of dead man cell scheme by Orochimaru?"
"No! I just knew he'd been captured and thought he'd reveal I'd been working for him. I resented the Sandaime and the Kyuubi brat so I thought kidnapping Konohamaru would be revenge."
"And you planned to, what, escape with the Honorable Grandson? Maybe send pieces of him back to the Sandaime before you killed the kid?"
"Yes," Mizuki said, almost pleading to be believed. It worked.
Dragon patted the man on the shoulder. "Good news, Onion; I believe you. I won't be pulling your stomach lining out through your mouth. But there is some bad news, too." the other agent appeared next to Dragon. "This is Captain Monkey. That means nothing to you, it shouldn't. However, if you could remove your mask, Captain; we're all friends here." Mizuki really started to squirm when he saw the Captain's face. "Yes, you tried to kidnap Kanna Sarutobi's son and well, Onion, you went after my family. What's the penalty for that, Captain?"
"Onion gets diced," she replied neutrally.
"And there is no one better for the job. Well, my part in this is over. Take as much time as you need, Captain, the room is yours."
"Thank you, Commander," she said as she removed two karambits from her back mounts. As Dragon departed he could see the glow of the katon chakra infused blades reflected in the window. That took care of one bit of business, now to another. Then the leader of the special operations ninja could get some lunch before he spent his afternoon attempting to calm the Old Man down with the help of Danzo, Sage save him.
The hospital staff was kind enough to provide him a temporary office so he could settle all matters before heading back to the ANBU barracks. As he entered the small room, Hound stood at attention. It was good he, at least, remembered that much. It didn't stop Dragon from putting the slightly taller man in a headlock nor punching his crown a few times.
"Hound," Dragon began but his son dared to interrupt him.
"Kakashi," he said. Silly child. He punched his head a few more times to get it working correctly.
"Hound?" the upward inflection letting the erstwhile agent know it was a question.
"Yes, Commander?" Ah, a few love taps always worked.
"When I put Uzumaki Naruto in your custody for the day were you unclear of my expectations?"
"And do you believe your summons are an adequate replacement for your direct supervision?"
"In some resp-" He received a few more love taps as he was backsliding. "No, sir. But Sasuke requires a delicate touch, especially as Naruto reminds him of Itachi. I cannot let him think I favor Naruto or encourage any competition between the two. He's doing better but he still has some pronounced triggers, sir."
"Excellent reasoning, Hound but that's why clones exist."
"Who wants to expend the chakra for that?" Hound asked and received several more love taps.
"You've lost your way since you've left my den, Hound. Don't you worry, Papa is here for his children. I know you've been working your way back but I'm going to expedite the process. Everyday you are in the village you will report to me before you train your students or take missions. Am I understood?"
"Yes, sir," Hound said in complete compliance. Ah, there was his good doggy.
"Fantastic; you can leave," Dragon said, releasing the Jounin. As Kakashi reached the door, Dragon stopped him with a final warning, "If you arrive late or flake on me I'll beat you strictly with body shots and then tie you up, maskless, by the ladies' onsen." He saw the normally unflappable man shiver. 'Good,' he thought. The pretty bastard would want to protect his peace by not having his real face revealed.
"You gotta let us know when you make Chunin, little man. We promised Minato-sama we'd take you out on the town so Kushina-sama would only be mad at us," Iwashi said. Naruto had been sitting with the trio as they arrived with Hatake-sensei. He introduced them as part of his father's Guardian Platoon. Apparently, it is up to the Hokage if they want an ANBU detail or regular forces. His Oji-san seemed to prefer ANBU but his dad was different.
He had to inform Commander Dragon of what transpired but had returned to the waiting area with the three. They seemed nice and had stories about his parents that not even Hatake-sensei or Jiraiya knew. They said they were designated his fun Uncles. He wondered if there were more around selected to be his unfun uncles but decided to worry about it should the need arise.
"I have been promoted," Naruto said. The three looked at him with wide eyes. In his experience that could denote surprise or even disbelief. True, he wasn't in his vest. His Oji-san requested he not wear it until after the exams and his departure from his protective detail. "I assure you, it is the truth."
"We believe you, Naruto. It's just, being promoted mid exams has never happened. We have to celebrate!" Genma exclaimed.
"It's the middle of the day," Kakashi rained on the triad's parade as he returned. "Besides, there is a Team 7 tradition I have to do with my newly promoted Chunin. I'm sure you understand," the Copy Ninja said as he ushered Naruto out.
"Fine, tonight, Kakashi! We promised Minato-sama," Raido yelled. Kakashi waved, dismissively but knew he'd have to allow the outing. He just didn't want his chibi getting influenced by those dorks just because Minato-sensei was too kind to them. The two left the secure hospital entrance and made their way back to a main street.
"Hatake-sensei," Naruto called.
"Hm?" Kakashi answered.
"Can I go see Kono-chan before we conduct the Team 7 ritual?" he asked. Kakashi mushed his hair a little and eye smiled.
"Of course, we can hurry right over." He performed a shunshin expecting chibi to keep up, which he did. Upon arrival at their destination, a small, boy-shaped projectile launched at Naruto. He easily absorbed the impact. The boy mumbled something that not even Kakashi's keen hearing could decipher.
"I can't understand you, Kono-chan. What are you saying?" Naruto asked. The Sarutobi breathed in deeply and broke away from his surrogate brother. Kakashi could tell he was forcing himself to meet Naruto's eyes.
"Nii-chan are you the Kyuubi?" That had not been the expected question. Kakashi swiftly concluded that the traitor must have told Konohamaru in a moment of spite or to demoralize the boy, maybe both. He wondered how Naruto would react to having his largest, and most poorly kept, secret revealed to not only Konohamaru but Haku as well as not even the normally serene kunoichi could hide her surprise. This could be a major turning point and Kakashi wondered if Naruto would deny it outright, fearful of reject-
"I would seem to lack the requisite tails, Kono-chan," he answered.
"Nii-chhaaannnn!" Konohamaru bellowed which allowed Kakashi to realize chibi wasn't being overly literal but teasing his little brother. Kakashi didn't know he knew how to tease someone.
"Why don't we take this inside," Kakashi suggested, as the balcony of one's apartment isn't the place to discuss S-class secrets. Everyone took a seat, the three youngest on the couch with the bunny taking residence on Konohamaru's lap. Kakashi thought the bunny was way too alert for a pet and wondered if a guardbunny was a thing; he then wondered if he could get Pakkun to train the rabbit up a bit. A guard rabbit seemed cool.
"Ok, I'm assuming Mizuki Toji told you something he shouldn't have. Whether Naruto answers any questions, this is an S-class secret. I know you know what that means Haku-chan but for you Konohamaru that means if you talk about this with anyone without Hokage-sama's or Naruto's permission you could be put to death. Now, are you sure you want to continue?" he asked but he knew the answer, the boy's head nod was perfunctory.
Naruto lifted up his shirt and channeled chakra to reveal Minato-sensei's last work. "I am not the Kyuubi but the Yondaime did seal him inside of me when I was a baby."
"Why do you call your dad "Yondaime" instead of your dad?"
"Until recently, it was supposed to be a secret and I haven't gotten adjusted to it not being one anymore. Anything else?"
"Have you met it?" Konohamaru asked.
"Yes," Naruto answered easily but that shocked Kakashi. Was he supposed to meet with it? Was that concerning? He knew chibi was a sealing genius but you didn't just talk to bijuu did you?
"What was he like?" Konohamaru kept up as if Naruto had simply met a fellow traveler on the road to life.
"He had three whisker marks like me," Naruto said as he ran three fingers across his cheek. "Big, sharp canines that stuck out like this," he pantomimed using his index fingers. "And two fluffy ears."
"Did you get to pet them?" Konohamaru asked and Kakashi was getting worried about the sanity of the Sandaime's grandson.
"No," Naruto, of course answered, as it was obvious as far as Kakashi was concerned. "I asked but he said maybe some other time." And it was at this time Kakashi realized he'd have to be more worried about the amount of Kushina his student had in him.
"Ok, I think that's enough questions for now. Naruto and I really need to be going. Haku-chan, if you could escort Konohamaru-kun to the Sarutobi compound I'm sure his grandfather would appreciate it."
"Of course," she responded but he could tell she was digesting the latest reveal.
"Haku-chan," Naruto said to get her attention. "Thank you for looking after Kono-chan." She smiled in such a way that would break the hearts of many because Kakashi suspected that smile would only ever be aimed at one person.
"Of course I would, you're my friend." Naruto nodded but said no more, mushed Konohamaru's hair and departed. The pair returned to training ground three and while Kakashi would report that Naruto had been in contact with the Kyuubi, it wasn't a pressing concern. He pulled out a single bell.
"Everytime one of us got promoted, Minato-sensei would redo the bell test. As Sasuke can't train today and Sakura is busy elsewhere it'll just be the two of us. Hold nothing back and come at me with the intent to kill. You have two hours to get the bell and keep it. Any questions?" he asked. He dodged the incoming kunai meant as Naruto's response. Momentarily distracted, he lost sight of his student. He didn't even mind chibi didn't wait until he said go. He smiled believing this was going to be a lot of fun.
"Sakura-chan," a soft voice called out to the genin. She blushed at having been caught not paying attention. The pinkette was just so nervous to be here, in this office for reasons unknown. She admired the woman's decor, clean and classic compared to the more modern look in most of the village. She was beyond shocked when an advisor to the Hokage requested to meet her.
"Sorry, Koharu-sama," Sakura apologized.
"Think nothing of it, dear," Koharu-sama said. The elderly woman's eyes were still sharp and Sakura felt every inch of her was being measured as she sat across from the senior ninja. Whatever she was looking for must have been located as Koharu-sama began to speak again, "You must be a very special kunoichi to be on a team with the last Uchiha and the Yondaime's only child."
"Uhm," Sakura answered, she really didn't know what to say but she didn't feel special.
Koharu-sama laughed. It was slight, controlled but still felt genuine. "You doubt it? I understand. It was not easy to judge myself against Hiruzen but it taught me early on that there were a lot of ways to be effective and wield power. I would be happy to tutor you how, to show you the effectiveness in soft power; if you're willing to do something for me," Koharu-sama offered. Sakura was so happy that she didn't unthinkingly accept the offer as a part of her was ready to jump at it.
"What would you have me do?" she asked instead. Koharu-sama said nothing at first, instead passing a file folder to her. Sakura inspected the contents but was confused as they were all pictures of Naruto with various people. 'All women,' her mind corrected. Hinata, Haku, Ino, Tenten were there. The examiner from the second part of the Chunin exams, Team 8's sensei, Senju Tsunade-sama and even the kunoichi from Suna and some dark skinned woman from Kumo.
"Since the time of the Shodai, there has been a legend amongst the elite shinobi of Konoha. A belief that one would arise and give an air of respectability to their lecherous desires. One who could seduce and ensnare kunoichi as easy as a genin uses the replacement jutsu. The long awaited "Gentleman" has never emerged and a dedicated coterie has worked to insure he wouldn't. Every shinobi with the potential to become the prophesied one has found themselves taken fully by one of the brightest, strongest kunoichi."
"You want me to date N-Naruto?" Sakura stuttered, which earned another bout of laughter.
"No, dear girl. We never set them up, we just made sure their paths crossed but I know of your affection for Sasuke. No, dear, this is where soft power comes into play. Because of how Naruto was reared and his development issues we assumed he would ultimately not be an issue. We were wrong and because he did not have a lot of direct guidance, he is more open to heterodox lifestyles. But, it wouldn't do for the son of the Yondaime to be known as a lecher or frivolous playboy. What I'm requesting is you play more of an older sister role to help direct him to the right path."
Sakura mulled over Koharu-sama's request. She didn't know if she could do it as she wasn't exactly close with Naruto, even as her esteem for him had skyrocketed after the Forest of Death. Wouldn't he see her as a nuisance? And, possibly more importantly, wouldn't Hinata kill her if she interfered? That thought led Sakura to another thought and question, "What about the kunoichi you put in his path? Was it not Hinata?"
Koharu-sama shook her head and appeared to sadden for a moment. "Hinata-chan was much too meek for her to play such a position and while she's gained a great deal of confidence over the years, she credits it to Naruto-kun's influence. She's already under his sway. Her and that Yuki girl. If your friend, Ino, isn't careful she'll be next.
As for who I had slated for that position, it was an older girl. She was his guard for a short time but she's no longer an option, to my great disappointment. So, will you help me, Sakura-chan?"
"Yes, I will."
Hours later, Temari was found resting comfortably in her bed. She'd trained hard all day and enjoyed a post dinner shower. She was asleep shortly after her head hit the pillow. Her dreamless sleep was interrupted though and Temari wondered if she'd gotten too comfortable in this village filled with enemies. The feeling of a kunai grazing her stomach and the pupil-less eyes of one of the proctors screamed that she'd indeed gotten too comfortable.
"Finally, Cookie," the woman said. "I was wondering if I'd actually have to stab you to get you to wake up," she concluded. Temari went rigid, an amateurish mistake but she couldn't understand how this woman got past Baki-sensei, Kankuro, and Gaara. Gaara didn't sleep and was always at the ready for assassins.
"How," Temari voiced but the tip of the kunai being pressed into her with just enough force to not draw blood stopped her.
"Cookie, I get into and out of places I shouldn't be on a daily basis but I have no interest in discussing my infiltration techniques. We have a more pressing matter. See, Ol' Anko don't care about much and even less about most people. My gaki, though, is a different matter. So, when I see a foreign kunoichi, one prepared to attack Konoha I wonder why she's making time with my gaki. Could it be genuine? Maybe? Did she know who he really was and wanted to claim the Yondaime's son either as a kill or to seduce and compromise him?
Those thoughts… I shouldn't have to tell you, filled me with the most sincere desire to commit acts of grievous bodily harm. I have to say, I'm hard pressed to think of a reason not to disappear you just to be safe."
Temari put together who this woman's "gaki" was and kicked herself for not realizing Naruto would of course have murderous psychos dedicated to his protection; Konoha was lousy with them. She needed to say something to placate her. Always quick witted, Temari went for the first idea she had.
"If you kill me, Konoha and Suna will be at war."
"I thought about that and war is bad, blah, blah, blah. But I'm inclined to think my gaki is worth it. What else ya got, Cookie?"
"We're just friends!" Temari spat. What else was there to say if this woman didn't give a damn about sparking a war?
"And is that all you want? To be his pal?" Temari paused and broke eye contact, a mistake by the feel of the kunai breaking her skin. It was a familiar and unwelcomed sting.
"I don't know," she said.
"How are we going to have a fruitful relationship if you're lying to me, Cookie? I'm asking you, what do you want from Uzumaki Naruto?"
"I like him, ok? He's sweet, nice, and attentive," Temari blurted out.
"I think that's about as good as we're going to get, Anko-chan," a new voice said. A voice attached to a person Temari had no idea was also in her room.
"Aww, Nai-chan, that doesn't really say what we should do with her. I vote unmarked grave!"
"You always vote unmarked grave," the "Nai-chan" woman said.
"It's always the right answer," the psycho before her said with a pout. "How do you feel about shallow graves, Cookie?"
"I'd rather not end up in one," Temari responded. It made the two women cackle.
"Well, no one who wound up in a shallow grave wanted to be there. You should try to be more helpful in the future… ya know, assuming you have one. Now, Nai-chan does that mean you're against my idea?"
"Yes, yes I am."
"It's one to one," Anko pointed out. "We need a tie breaker. What do you think, Tsunade-sama?" Temari paled and became as white as a sheet. She may not have known these other women but she knew of the Sannin. The Queen of Potions and Elixirs and the strongest kunoichi in existence. She was possessed by a fear greater than any she'd ever felt. Not even Gaara at his most psychotic scared her like Tsunade did.
"I say we take a wait and see approach. But if she ever causes harm to my student I'll hit her so hard every internal organ inside of her will liquify."
"Now, that sounds like something I'd want to see. Well, it looks like you get a pass for now, Cookie. You sleep well, ok?" Anko said. The three left soundlessly, though Temari was too in her head about what just transpired. So many questions but the most vexing was, why was she slightly turned on?
Naruto, drunkenly, made his way to his last destination of the night. He rather liked his dad's guards. They were jovial which was nice to be around and Genma was really good with senbon, much better than the Uzumaki which explained his state; everytime he lost at senbon darts Naruto had to drink a special concoction inspired by his mother's heightened tolerance. No one but the barkeep knew what was in the Habanero Death Shot but it was potent enough to get a jinchuuriki drunk.
At some point, Anko-chan arrived with Tsunade and Yuhi-sensei. The two younger kunoichi congratulated him on his promotion, Yuhi-sensei even gave him a kiss on the cheek. He looked forward to taking her from Asuma-san. The night was quite enjoyable and even Hatake-sensei seemed to enjoy himself but Naruto couldn't shake the feeling that something had been missing. Not just tonight but for a while. He stepped out of the bar to get some air but soon found himself a place he'd been often.
"I… I wanna see Hinata-chan, dattebayo!" he exclaimed with an unusual amount of vigor. The guards snickered but he didn't care. One entered the clan compound but upon his return he saw someone who decided wasn't Hinata. For the second time today he felt the need to hurt someone. He started to roll up his sleeves but Hyuuga Hiashi-san's grip on his shoulders stopped him.
"That won't be necessary, Uzumaki-san," Hinata's dad assured him. The Uzumaki wasn't so sure but relented anyway. "It is quite late, what is so important that you call upon my daughter at this hour?"
"I wanna see her, dattebayo," he said with a tinge of confusion. Hadn't he been clear with why he's here?
"I understand," the larger man said with a laugh. "I'm asking why you want to see her."
Naruto looked at the man that refused to talk sense. "Because I do." He wondered if his consumption of alcohol made everyone else a little less intelligent. He heard Hyuuga Hiashi-san sigh.
"Uzumaki-san, can I request a favor from you as Hinata's father?" Naruto nodded once. "I would like you to forgo seeing my daughter until after the Chunin Exam Finals. She's made great strides over the years due to her efforts and the support she's received from you but I don't want you to be a crutch or for her to doubt she couldn't succeed without you. I'm asking you to endure this separation so I'll know my daughter is ready to become a Chunin."
Naruto nodded again. The man was finally making sense, at least a little. He should just agree but for some inexplicable reason he didn't want to. Not seeing his best friend for two more weeks didn't strike him as tolerable, which confused him. But she often did. "I'll do it but I don't want to, 'ttebayo," he finally answered.
"Good man," Hiashi said as he patted the newly minted Chunin on the shoulders.
"I guess that's our cue to be off, ne, Naruto-kun?" Hatake-sensei said from behind him. He didn't know how everyone else was so confident about this but he followed his sensei anyway but vowed to make sure his best friend was never beyond his reach again.
The Chunin Finals will deadass be next chapter and then we're sprinting toward the end of part one. I want to thank you all who continue to read and review and inquire about this and my other works. Some have inquired about ways to support me but I never felt comfortable with a for my fanfics. It's free, and it should be. But like a lot of other authors, I do inspire to more professional writing (though not novels). So, I've created a substack (or a private newsletter that will be emailed directly to you). There, I'll talk about various topics, like ideas I've rejected for Seals, pop culture I do and don't like and maybe some more series topics.
How successful this is won't affect the fanfics, I'm dedicated to finishing this one. But if you'd like to support my other venture I'd greatly appreciate it.
Subscribe at slythefoxx2 dot substack dot com if you're interested.