Chapter 10:

"Are you sure?"

"You've got a mission."

"That's not what I asked!"

Her words made him smile.

"I'll be all right, Ten-chan."

She eyed him warily, like she didn't quite believe him. He hoped she didn't press too much.

He was still trying to believe himself, after all.

"Wait here," she finally said, ducking back into her house.

He waited at her door, turning to look out at the village. The sun just cresting over the mountains, rapidly chasing away the pale grey of the early morning.

He took a breath, trying to steady what nerve he had before he heard her footsteps draw closer again. He turned back to her door only for something to be shoved into his chest.

"Take it," she said firmly as he fumbled for whatever she was giving him.

He finally got a look at it.

"I might not be back by tonight. So there's the spare key."

Chocolate brown orbs looked up into his with a stern anger that made him smile.

"If you go off to the forest for another week I swear I'm gonna find you and kill you."

She plucked the key out of his hand and stuffed it into his top pocket.

His fingers closed, he felt his eyes sting as he swallowed, looking down at her stern glare as he smiled and offered a nod.

She didn't say anything. He didn't give her the chance to. With a burst of chakra he retreated from her, his body vanishing in a cloud of smoke as he reappeared nearly a city block away. If he stayed any longer he might lose his nerve entirely.

He stood in the middle of the street for a moment. In the early morning hours, the village was still asleep, a fact he was thankful for.

His hand pressed against his upper pocket, feeling the thin metal of the key under his fingers through the cloth.

He lingered where he stood, wondering if he was really… okay. If he could, in fact, do this.

He was always one to go in headfirst. Tackle the problem, face the bad guy. No problem.

But right now… right now he was terrified.

He stayed still a moment longer.

With a breath, he placed one foot in front of him, then another, and another, marching forward.


He stood at one of the bridges that overlooked the canal. The waters lapped at the stones below, green with moss and algae.

He remembered swimming in the canal back when he was a kid. Hiruzen had stopped him after a while. Said the water wasn't safe to swim in, that he could get sick.

He swam in there three more times before the old man gave standing orders to the Anbu and Chuunin of the village to fish him out whenever they caught him.

He remembered being mad at him for that. He didn't talk to the old Hokage for nearly a week.

His perspective now made that seem stupid… small.

He leaned on the railing. One hand pressing against the wood as the other pressed against his breast pocket, feeling the key again as the sun just climbed over the edge of the monument, a crown of light over the four stone etched Hokage.

"Hey, kid."

She didn't sound like herself. That was the first thought that came to him.

She sounded meek, sad. Maybe even a little scared.

"Hey Tsunade."

Her name tasted strange on his tongue. He never really used it. She was always Baa-chan to him.

He didn't feel like he could call her that right now though.

He didn't look up from the lapping waters, but he felt her shift where she stood, hesitating before marching closer.

"I expected you'd want to meet. Didn't think it'd be here though." She commented.

"Your office is too crowded. People keep walking in and out," he explained, still not looking her way. "And I need… a few minutes. Do you think I can have that?"

She shifted her weight, taking a slow deep breath through her nose. "Of course you can. We're still the same people you've known for years, Naruto."

He scoffed a bitter laugh that tasted like acid at the back of his throat. "That's… not so reassuring, right now."

He could feel her wince.

Good, was his immediate reaction. Then felt ashamed at the wayward thought. He took a breath, trying to release the bitter feelings coiling tightly in his chest and seeping into his blood like a black poison.

"How long?" he asked.

"Depends what you're asking," she answered quickly, easilly. Crossing her arms she continued. "How long have I known she was alive, or how long have I known the specifics of your… situation?"

"Both?" He shrugged.

"I never heard of Kushina dying," she answered. "So I always assumed she was alive. Her name is known. So her death would have caused ripples. But as for you… well…"

She trailed off, then shrugged. "I thought she was with you, frankly. She'd gone so low key… I figured motherhood agreed with her and she was semi-retired. When you showed up to go get me with Jiraiya-"

"That's when you found out," he concluded. "So four years."

"I didn't know the situation," she said. "So I said nothing. It wasn't till I got my hands on the medical records and the Kage files that I got the full story. All Jiraiya would tell me is to never mention Kushina." She shrugged "So if you wanna get technical about it, I found out a month after I took the job, give or take a week."

"And you… what? Decided to jump on the bandwagon with everyone else around here? Just like that?" As hard as he tried, he could not keep the bitterness from his tone and the wood of the bridge railings creaked and groaned beneath his grip; fingers clutching tightly as he took deep breaths to steady himself.

"None of this," She hissed, voice low with a note of anger underneath it.- "-absolutely none of this has been easy for anyone, Naruto. Don't think we kept this secret with a smile on our face."

"You've been smiling at me easily enough!"

He felt her approach, long before her fingers gripped his shoulder, pulling him away from the railing to face her completely.

"You wanna know the truth?" she snarled, chocolate brown orbs glinting with fury. "Yeah. Keeping you in the dark was easier."

The words cut into him like a knife and he felt the air leave his lungs in a rush before he yanked his arm out of her grip, she let him go, glaring with a hot anger in her brown eyes.

"Smiling and pretending was easier because none of us, not a single one, wanted to hurt you. Look at you, Naruto!" She gestured over him. "When was the last time you ate? When was the last time you slept? You're a complete mess right now."

"Sorry If I didn't just take it all in stride like usual." He protested.

"If I, if any of us didn't give a shit, this would be easy. We wouldn't care."

"None of you had the right," he snapped, now clutching at the anger he could feel smoldering in his chest. He wanted to be angry.

Because anger was easier than the alternative.

"Maybe not." She shrugged, meeting his eyes with her steely gaze filled with a grim resolve. "Maybe we completely fucked up. Maybe we made everything infinitely worse. Maybe every single decision we made was the wrong one. But we're trying to make things right, and who knows. Maybe we fucked that up too. Maybe you were happier with the way things were. In not knowing. But don't mistake screw ups for not giving a shit, because I know every single person who has been lying to you, none of them, absolutely none of them did it out of active malice. It may not excuse it, but take that for what it's worth."

"And what the hell am I supposed to do with that!" he snapped, feeling the tears stinging the back of his eyes. "What am I supposed to do with all of this!"

The angry, stern look on her face crumbled away, revealing something softer, the hard edges of the lines of the Hokage's face melting away to allow Tsunade through again.

"I don't know," she answered. "It's a shit answer. It's not what you want to hear, but I can't tell you what to do here, kid. There's a lot of baggage that you have to work through, that you need to choose how to approach. Which is a chance I think you deserved."

The sun was rising fully now, and the first sounds of the village hustle and bustle were beginning to reach their ears.

She noticed too.

"I have to go. There are still a lot of repairs and logistical issues to deal with, from the attack. Find me at the end of the day if you still want to talk." she said.

She looked at him, the softness of her eyes still there before she leaned forward, offering a soft kiss to his whiskered cheek. "For what little it may be worth right now, I am truly sorry, for everything."

She pulled away, not waiting for his response, or looking for his reaction.

Perhaps for her benefit as much as his own, their time was up.

He stayed at the bridge for a time, listening to the water below and the waking village in front of him.

Barely ten minutes and he wanted to head back home.

He sighed.

Don't give up.

That's what he always preached right?

Don't give up.


He didn't find Jiraiya in the hot springs, where he was typically wont to be.

Nor did he find him in the sake house, his second choice of haunts.

No, he sensed the Toad Sannin to the western side of the village, near the Uchiha compound, and found him at the lake that dominated the village's western walls, lying down on the small pier, little more than a half bridge hanging over the water.

The man was taking a page from the Nara family, passing the day gazing up at the clouds.

Naruto stepped close, and though his footsteps were light and quiet, Jiraiya didn't even need to look as he spoke his greeting.

"Hey, kid."

Just like Tsunade, he didn't sound like himself. An undercurrent of melancholy tinged his voice.

But unlike Tsunade, who exhumed an air of worry, even perhaps a feeling of dread, Jiraiya seemed almost… resigned to however this conversation would turn out.

The old man grunted, stretched once, and slowly rolled off his back and onto his feet.

Standing at his full height, his sensei stuffed his hands into the pockets of his red vest, looking at him like a man awaiting a death sentence and being perfectly fine with it.

The silence between them stretched on for a moment. Jiraiya looked him up and down.

"You look like hell," the Sannin surmised.

Naruto's scowl was immediate. "Yeah, thanks for that."

The older man shrugged. "Wanna take a swing at me? You have that right, after everything."

He did. He really, really did.

And he wasn't one to resist his instincts much.

His swing came from home field. Pulled all the way back with his full weight thrown behind it.

He nearly pitched forward, catching his footing at the last moment as his fist cracked against Jiraiya's jaw.

The Sannin stumbled, seemed to catch himself, stumbled again and then fell to one knee, blood pouring from his open mouth.

He groaned, laughing after a second. "Oh yeah… this is familiar." He rubbed at the impact sight, cradling a rapidly bruising jawline. "She hit me just like that when she saw me again too."

Naruto whipped his open hand across the air, trying to relieve the pain.

He'd really hit the Sannin hard, and the man apparently had a jaw made of raw iron.

"Somehow I don't feel so bad," he hissed in answer.

The kneeling Sannin gurgled out another laugh, spitting out a wad of blood onto the wooden boardwalk.

"Yeah." He nodded. "I'm glad you've got that clear."

The Kyuubi Jinchuuriki felt his nose scrunch up in confusion. "Got what clear?"

"That if there's anyone you should be mad at-" Jiraiya grunted, reaching his feet as he wiped at his split lip with the back of his hand. "It's me, I fucked up. More than anyone else, and a lot of people I said I cared about suffered because of those fuckups."

"That simple, then?" Naruto scoffed, crossing his arms with a glare. "You're the bad guy and she's not responsible for anything? What about the old man?"

Jiraiya looked at him with a forlorn sort of sorrow, the lines of his face growing deeper and more pronounced, as though he was aging right in front of him.

"Don't you get it, kid?" he asked. "I wasn't there. Not for any of it. Minato trusted me to take care of you and her if something happened to him. She was counting on me to help if something ever happened to Minato. Even the old man probably wouldn't have done what he did if he knew I wasn't gonna come back. I wasn't there!"

"You're just trying to absolve everyone, put a bad guy in front of it and make things simple. I'm not an idiot! So stop trying to treat me like one," Naruto challenged. It sounded paranoid even as he said it and perhaps even a little unfair to the Sannin he'd grown to know…

But then again. How much did he really know him? He certainly never would have suspected Jiraiya would have ever lied to him as consistently and egregiously as he and everyone else apparently had been.

"I'm not trying to treat you like one." The Toad Sannin shook his head, imploring him to understand. "But it is that simple. Sure, we can all share some of the blame, but if you really want to lay everything you've been through somewhere, all the wasted time and years, you don't have to look further than this guy right here, kid. I gave up, Naruto. I gave up on myself, everything and everyone. I wasn't running a spy network for thirteen years, I was running the hell away when I should have done what I promised to do. It is that simple."

The older man stepped forward, looming over Naruto with that uncommon height of his before he raised his hands, visibly hesitating for a moment before placing them on his shoulders.

Naruto didn't resist the touch.

"I know that this hurt you. More than anything else. I know that there's a part of you that ran into that forest and thought long and hard about coming back here."

Naruto felt his eyes sting, but he refused to cry even as the weight of Jiraiya's hands alone nearly made that resolve crumble as soon as it formed.

"I do understand. You have every right to be angry. At everyone and everything, too. But don't repeat my mistake. Don't compound our collective failure. Be angry for as long as you want, as long as you need to but don't… don't hate, her for it kid. Her or Tsunade. Her hands were tied before she ever walked into the village. Don't hate them. Because that'll be the same as giving up. And you can't give up. If you have to hate someone, hate me. You have that right and I won't ever begrudge you for it if you do. But… take this chance. This can be a fresh start for you and for her, but only if you don't give up now."

"It's not that simple," he protested.

"Things that are worth it never are."

"What the hell am I even supposed to do here!" Naruto shouted up at the man. "Seventeen years! People don't just… pick things up after seventeen years! I don't even know anything about her. I don't-"

He stopped, Jiraiya's hand falling over his head as the closest thing Naruto ever had to a father lowered himself to stand at eye level with him, unperturbed by his shouting, or his anger.

"I know you're scared. I know you're frustrated and you can barely even look at the people you thought you could trust." The man nodded, his whole demeanor filled with a patience seldom seen in the normally loud and boisterous Sannin. "No one is asking you to be a son over-night. I don't think anyone would expect that, or even believe it if you tried to fake it. No one is asking you not to be afraid. Or to figure everything out by lunch tomorrow. All I, all anyone can ask of you is that you take it one day at a time, kid. But if you never want to believe another word I say, believe this. It may not work out, but if you don't even try, you'll regret it forever. And I think you know that. This is a chance you deserved to have."


His ramen was cold.

He'd arrived, he'd ordered it, and had barely taken a single bite of it.

So now it sat in front of him, little more than cold sludge.

He was grateful for his own foresight to have not gone to Ichiraku.

He didn't think he could take the questions, or the worried looks right now.

His conversations with Tsunade, and more recently, Jiraiya, bounced around his skull endlessly, their words blurring together, adding to his turmoil and confusion, rather than relieving it.

One thing Jiraiya had said though was that he'd thought long and hard about coming back.

He was right.

And a part of him was ashamed of it then, and a part of him was ashamed right now as he sat in this ramen stand, staring at cold broth.

Konoha's Jinchuuriki took a deep, slow breath, hand rising to press against the key still held in his top pocket.

He shoved the bowl away, leaving enough money on the table to cover the uneaten bowl before making his way outside.

The sun was high now, with the villagers moving about as the midday rush started to reach its peak.

The streets felt too crowded, too shut in and tight. He never remembered being this claustrophobic around people before, ever. He wasn't sure if it was the years spent training with long intervals of isolation or the latest… developments but he found, quickly, that he needed to get away from the noise, needed to get away from the movement and the people.

He took to the rooftops, breathing a sigh of relief as the sun hit him full in the face and the breeze overhead brushed across his hair.

His relief was short lived as his eyes found the monument.

Three of the five Hokage burned into his thoughts with that same, gnawing feeling of betrayal welling up in his gut.

Perhaps that was unfair to the Yondaime, but…

Fuck being fair right now.

Before his thoughts could spiral downward into the wallowing mire as it'd been doing for quite a while now, he felt a harsh tap on his shoulder.

"Oi, idiot."

Naruto turned, and he allowed a smile come to his face, something not entirely forced or fake.

"Hey Sasuke. How's the new house treatin ya?"

"The plumbing sucks. My walls sound like they're screaming when the upstairs neighbors take a shower." The Uchiha deadpanned before turning, jerking his head to the side. "Come on. I need to burn some energy before tonight's shift."

"Ehh." Naruto grimaced. "I'm… really kinda busy today. I don-Ack!"

Before he could finish the thought Sasuke grabbed him by the scruff of his jacket and teleported them both to his chosen training grounds.

The blonde's features scrunched up, batting his long time friend's grip aside. "Oi! The hell's the big idea!"

Sasuke shrugged. "Didn't wanna waste another hour looking for someone."

"I already said no!"

"Like I give a damn."

Naruto's face and voice were utterly flat. "Thing is… I know you're trying to piss me off so you get what you want by me just wanting to kick your ass."

The dark haired Jounin smirked with a shrug. "As long as it works."

"You're an ass."

"I'll start caring shortly."

Reaching to a scroll in his vest Naruto unfurled it to reveal a gleaming, sharp spear. "Alright! Get ready to get your cheaty-bullshit-eye-using ass kicked."

"It's called the Sharingan, idiot."

"That's what I just said," he answered cheekily, taking his stance.

"You think you're funny."

Their fight was fast, and if one were to see it, they'd be hard pressed to say that the two of them were just Jounin, never mind that one of them was still, strictly speaking, a genin.

It dragged on for minutes. To Naruto's surprise, Sasuke limited himself to Tai and Kenjutsu, no illusions or ninjutsu at all.

As Sasuke's kunai deflected a spear thrust and stepped into Naruto's guard the blond stepped forward to meet him, shoulder checking the Uchiha before brute forcing him back the way he came with a hard shove, and turning the spear to smack him with the counterweight, a blow which was caught by Sasuke's armored forearm, but not without, again, forcing the clan heir back even further, widening the distance.

"Why a spear?" Sasuke asked, pacing a little in front of the pointed tip, no doubt trying to measure how he could close the distance again.

Naruto let him, truth be told, it was always fun watching people try to think up ways to mitigate the reach advantage. They usually failed spectacularly.

"Ji-The old man uses Enma, the Monkey King as a staff summon, the spear is kind of similar in its fundamentals, only it has a business end."

"You would go for something just because it has a sharp attachment."

"Actually, when we were practicing the Guan Dao was my favorite. Too heavy for our fights though. So I do have some criteria beyond 'Pointy end can go into the other man'"

".I'm surprised."

"What, that the Guan Dao was too heavy?"

"That you know what criteria means."

The voice came from behind him and Naruto was forced to rush forward, shoving the pommel of the spear back behind him as Sasuke dodged, spinning red eyes languidly following the weapon's movement."

The Jinchuuriki frowned. "Cheaty-bullshit-eye-using-ass. I thought that we weren't using chakra."

The Jounin shrugged. "Don't blame me for your stupid assumptions."

Despite himself, the blonde grinned, feeling the energy surge through the Tenketsu of his arms and hands. This was starting to get fun.

As the fight ebbed and flowed, taking longer still, Naruto almost lost himself in the deadly dance of strikes, footwork and balance. The problems of his life bled away if only for a moment, allowing him to exist in this instant of whistling steel and tactics as the village and all of his troubles within it ceased to be.

Before he knew it, it was over.

Sasuke was breathing heavily through his nose, and despite his legendary stamina, Naruto found himself a little winded as well, arms shaking with the fading adrenaline, fingers twitching over the haft of his spear.

He found himself grinning, and saw Sasuke nod.

"Feel better?"

The blonde blinked. "Huh?"

For the first time in… ever really, Sasuke looked… embarrassed?

"I found out, Naruto," he said. "When I saw you on the roof, you looked like you needed to get your mind off of things for a while." He shrugged. "So here we are."

Naruto found his brain trying to click back into place.

"But… like. You have a training ground reserved."

"It's one of the Uchiha private grounds, and most of the clan knows it's my favorite, so hardly anyone comes here without asking." He shrugged again.

Naruto's mouth opened and closed several times, struggling to find words before he sighed. "Who told you?"

"No one," Sasuke answered flatly. "I'm the village's foremost Genjutsu master, and one of the top stealth experts as well. Getting into places and reading files is kind of a thing I do."

"You could get in trouble."

"I probably will if Tsunade finds out. But I was curious, and this seemed important enough to warrant it."

"I… thanks?" He wasn't sure if thanks were warranted since he wasn't entirely sure if the "important" part was Sasuke's curiosity or Naruto himself.

"Considering it took me a few days to even start wrapping my head around it, I can imagine you're still coming to grips with the situation too."

Naruto sighed.

And nodded.

"It's been… an interesting few days," he admitted haltingly.

There was a silence between the two.

Then, finally, Naruto broke it.

"What's she like?"

He didn't need to specify.

"... Sad," Sasuke quietly admitted. "For the longest time she always seemed sad. I don't think I've ever seen her smile beyond what was necessary to seem polite more than a few times." He shrugged. "Guess I understand why now."

Naruto's smile was a bitter thing.

"She sucks at cooking." The Uchiha smirked at a memory. "She could burn cereal if you left her around the kitchen too long. Except soups. She's good at those. She enjoys riddles and word games."

Finally, the Uchiha took a deep breath and sighed. "I can't… picture it. For the life of me I can't picture the Kushina I know, doing what the reports say. Not in a million years.

Naruto's smile was small. "A part of me wants to be angry at you, ya know?"

"For having her as an aunt?"

"It's stupid," the blonde admitted. "I'll get over it eventually. I just… I can't help but resent the fact that you did have your mom and mine. Not really fair."

"It isn't." Sasuke shrugged simply. "Nothing I, or anyone can do about that now. Only thing that's left to answer is what exactly you are gonna do. Everything from here on out is in your hands."

"It's just…" He struggled to find the words. "I want to know why? Ya know?"

"Tsunade's notes on Postpartum Depression were very exten-"

"No. Not why she did what she did. Why for everything after. It was years, Sasuke. And not just from her, from everyone."

"You could always ask."

"So far no one's given me any kind of satisfying answer." He tried not to growl, he really did. "And if they do… I'm kinda scared I won't like the answer."

"You ain't happy without the answers, likeable, satisfying or otherwise."

Naruto took a breath, letting the silence linger for a while, hand unconsciously rising to press against the key.

"Guess it really is that simple then."

With an unfurled scroll and a puff of smoke the spear was sealed again.

"Thanks, Sasuke."

He started to walk back towards the village.

"For what it's worth," his longtime friend called behind him, "I do believe the two of you can help each other. And that you both deserve that."

The blond's steps halted for a moment, hesitating before he resumed.

Then… a thought.

"Hey." He turned, curiosity in his eyes. "Is it true that Mikoto-san and Kushina are-"

"Shut up."

The words died on his lips, but the curiosity shone behind his eyes as the cogs of his mind kept turning.

"Wait. Does that mean that you and I are-"

"Utter one more word, and no medic or sealed demon alive will be able to fix what I do to you."


His knuckles rapped over the door with a confidence that sounded more firm than it truly was. The buoyancy from his talk with Sasuke kept his mind a little more detached than it was before, a little more distant from the mire.

The door opened.

Kakashi stared back at him with an unreadable look, a pregnant silence hovering between the two before Kakashi stepped aside, wordlessly allowing him in.

Naruto entered.

His longest-standing Sensei's home was rather clean, or better to say, there weren't a lot of things that could be used to make a mess. Even by his rather low standards, the place seemed spartan. There were a couch, two seats, an empty coffee table, beyond that the kitchen and what he assumed was a door leading to Kakashi's room.

Kakashi quietly closed the door behind him, marching past him and into the kitchen.

Naruto stood at the entrance, slightly worried by his sensei's silence before he saw the man grab a tea kettle, filling it with fresh water.

"You're not one for tea, I know," Kakashi finally said. "But I figure it'd be better to have something to drink for this."

Naruto nodded, marching to one of the seats before settling himself down into it and waiting.

The water took too long to boil, and simultaneously not long enough, with Kakashi serving the both of them before Naruto felt he'd gathered what nerve he'd already seemingly lost.

"I take it you have a lot of questions."

"Would you believe me if I said 'Not really'?"

Kakashi raised an eyebrow, turning towards clear surprise on his masked face.

"I've already asked my questions… most of them, anyway." Naruto shrugged, looking down into his steaming tea cup. "I asked when they told me, I asked earlier today. I'll probably ask some more when I think of some. But right now I want to get the other side."

"Other side?"

"Your side of things."

"Didn't realize I had a side Naruto."

"Seems like you did." Naruto blinked curiously. "Out of everyone, apparently you didn't want to tell me. Why?"

The copy nin took a deep, slow breath leaning back in his seat, almost sagging into it. "Ahh."

Naruto looked at the man demanding more than that simplistic sigh.

"The truth isn't pleasant, Naruto," his sensei warned.

"Name one part of this that's been pleasant," the blonde challenged.

The copy nin stared at him, his jaw visibly working beneath his mask.

"I don't know what they told you-" he finally began. "-How they sugar coated things. But you're better off alone than interacting with Kushina. She's reckless, dangerous; and even at your age the damage she'll cause is something I'd rather not think about."

"You think she'll attack me?"

"The emotional damage she'll do to you is far worse." Kakashi said, leaning forward in his seat. "How many nights did you stay awake dreaming of having a mom and a dad Naruto? How many little fantasies and idealistic ideas did you hatch in your head?"

"Too many to count." The blonde admitted.

"She'll fall short. By miles. Even if I'm completely wrong and she does her very best, she won't live up to that dream you had. You can count on that."

"Why are you so sure? Jiraiya seems to think different-"

"Jiraiya is stuck in some romanticized version he's got in his head," the older man all but growled. "He wasn't here. He didn't see it, and he didn't ever confront it. He may think he's doing this to help you, but it's honestly to help his own guilt."

A silence fell between the two of them, and for a long time Naruto looked at his sensei, a strange foreign sort of calculation in them.

"So you didn't want to tell me because you think I'd be happier if I never knew?"

The copy nin nodded. "Your mother died a long time ago. Best she stay that way."

"I know now, though," Naruto protested, shrugging his shoulders.

"Then forget it," the man answered simply, and though he was staring right at him Naruto could see the man's single visible eye wasn't focused precisely on him. "You deserve to forget."


Where had the day gone?

The thought came to him as he noted the fiery red of the clouds.

Somewhere, time had burned away and the day, which seemed to last a small window of eternity as he spoke to each of these people he'd trusted, had all but vanished.

A part of him wanted to take the excuse, to take the key still in his pocket and return. To take time to rest, wrap his head around everything.

Another part of him knew he shouldn't… couldn't.

There was one other person he needed to speak to. One other person he needed to confront, or he'd lose his nerve entirely.

The one person he trusted the most. Who he believed in for the longest time.


The maid entered the room, bowing once low at the waist.

"He will see you."

Konoha's Jinchuuriki nodded, unable to speak with the apple suddenly lodged in his throat, seeing the fiery light of the setting sun cast the hallways into splashes of orange and long shadows.

They walked through the winding halls.

Finally, he was there, The Sandaime Hokage sat peacefully in a room, a ready tea set resting in front of him. Dressed in robes of white.

He looked...older… thinner. And it was suddenly hard to reconcile this man as the same one he'd looked up to for so long, loved, trusted and now resented and felt betrayed by.

All at once he was these things… and yet, a complete stranger…

The maid at his side bowed respectfully and walked away without a word, leaving both of them in privacy.

Hiruzen Sarutobi nodded.

"I believe you deserve some answers, my boy."

Naruto nodded back.

"Yeah…" He breathed. "You can say that."

He reached behind him and closed the door.


Kushina wanted to leave.

There were few things that could evoke this kind of feeling in the S class Kunoichi, but for the last two days that had been the most pervasive feeling running across her mind.

They'd told him.

They'd told him and because it could harm her 'recovery' Tsunade hadn't told her until two goddamn days ago after the poison had been fully purged from her system and she was on the mend during her convalescence.

Her reaction had been everything from panic to horror to anger, all of which near smothered a fluttering, barely tangible sense of relief.

Finally her emotions after hours of turmoil had settled on the desire to do nothing more than leave the village. Leave and come back maybe three days after never.

She hadn't been cleared to leave the hospital, courtesy of Tsunade she suspected, the guards at her door were also from the Hokage's… attentive services.

But the excuses were up, she was fully mobile again, her vitals were strong, and the toxicology reports were all clear.

She could leave. And she was going to.

She looked out the window, the morning sun's rays turning the night sky into greys and soft purples.

She was a big enough girl to admit that it was cowardly, that she was running away, from her own son no less. More specifically, from his judgement of her. But-

The door behind her opened.

"Don't pull out another excuse to try and keep me here, Tsunade, I'm-"

"I'm not Tsunade."

His voice stopped her cold.

Kushina felt as though her heart fell into ice water, her fingers tingled as every muscle in her body froze in a palpable, abject terror.

For a long, interminable moment, she remained perfectly still, too afraid to even look to the door before she finally mustered up her courage and forced her feet to turn her body to the entrance.

Naruto stood at the doorway, blue eyes looking to a spot by her feet, his right fist clenching and unclenching as he fidgeted where he stood.

A muscle in his jaw worked , twitching as he kept his eyes averted.

"Am I keeping you from something?" he asked. "I can come back later if you're-"

"No!" She nearly shouted before catching herself, lowering her voice to a more reasonable level. "No. No I…"

She trailed off, unsure of how to continue, leaving the both of them in a painfully awkward, tense silence, with neither of them knowing what to say or how to continue.

Kushina took a deep breath, steeling her nerve.

If ever there would be a moment to act as a… mother. Something she had utterly failed at for the whole of his life. This was it.

"You should leave."

The words stabbed into her guts like a thousand rusted nails, tearing at her insides as she forced her choking throat to force out the words.

"You deserve a lot better than… than me, Naruto." She forced herself to look up, meeting his eyes as she forced herself to continue with a tremulous smile. "You've become… someone good, better than so many other people in spite of me and my failures. So you should…" She swallowed. "-just forget about all of this…"

She fell into silence after that, and he was quiet too as she turned her eyes to the floor, losing her ability to look his way.

"Kakashi said the same thing," he finally breathed.

She looked up and saw his hand touching at his pocket.

"You know what's funny?" He let out a chuckle under his breath, the sound bitter and sad all at once. "Everyone's been real eager to tell me… all damn day, what it is I deserve." He sniffed, wiping at his eyes quickly before looking straight at her. "Not one person's bothered to think that I've earned the right to decide for myself what I deserve."

She felt the wind knocked out of her, felt her lower lip trembling as she tried in futility to hold back the tears that poured down her cheeks.

As Kushina felt the broken pieces of her heart crumbled into shards, Naruto finally stepped into the room.

The sun was rising over the village behind her.

Why couldn't she stop crying?


Well folks, here's the end, my thanks go to my Beta reader for his help, but this is the end of "Unfit".

I know that some people will be dissapointed in the conversation with Kushina not being significantly longer but honestly, this is a relationship that can't be resolved in a single conversation, no matter how detailed or long it is. As such, it was always going to be open ended. I hope you've all enjoyed. I can mark this one with the complete feather :)