I DO NOT OWN NARUTO
So, as Naruko is still a baby, some of the jinchuuriki might be different. For instance, the Ichibi's jinchuuriki and the Nanabi's jinchuuriki will be OCs, and Bee won't be the jinchuuriki of Gyuki yet. The rest will be the same, just with different ages than in canon.
The only ones who can understand a jinchuuriki are other jinchuuriki. It didn't matter if they were from Konoha, or Suna, or Iwa or even Taki. All jinchuuriki were treated the same in every village. That's why the older jinchuuriki decided to form a Jinchuuriki Alliance, unknown to the world. Every time there was a new jinchuuriki, they were added to the Alliance, regardless of who they were or where they came from. Right now, most of the jinchuuriki were teenagers, with the exception of one or two.
They were family, and they rejoiced, mourned and did everything together as a family.
That's why, when Kushina Uzumaki passed away after entrusting her child to the Jinchuuriki Alliance, they took it upon themselves to raise her by themselves.
As the figure who held the baby who was barely a day old approached the Jinchuuriki Alliance's base, another figure appeared at the door. He had sandy-brown hair and bright magenta eyes. He took one look at the face that was heavy with grief and immediately led her in.
When the two went deep enough until it opened into a house-like interior, the figure sank onto the couch while gently cradling their load. The sandy-haired boy left to fetch his other family members, and soon they all came into the "living room", waiting for the woman to explain. They were all grieving as they could guess what news the baby in her arms implied.
"So," the redheaded man around his early thirties spoke, breaking the silence. "She's gone, isn't she?"
The young woman on the couch nodded her head, and pushed back her hood to reveal dirty blonde hair, fair skin and onyx eyes. "Yes," she whispered. "Kushina's gone. She died protecting her village... and her."
The man walked over and sat down beside her, peering into her arms. Mesmerizing blue eyes met his, and he smiled at the curiosity that sparkled within them. He curiously but softly traced the whisker marks upon the infant's cheeks, chuckling when she attempted to grab at his finger. He waggled it for a second before letting her minuscule fingers latch onto his bigger one.
He looked up a snicker and found the sounds of amusement coming from the sandy-brown haired boy. "Never knew you were so fond of babies, Roshi-jiji," the boy commented with a slight smirk on his lips.
The redhead, or now known as Roshi, merely scowled at the younger. "I happen to want to know Kushi-chan's daughter, Yagura. And stop calling me that, I'm not even that old yet!"
"Yet," Yagura snickered.
"Stop being disrespectful," a teenager with chin-length brown hair and brown eyes chided his fellow Kiri shinobi monotonously. He stood by the arm of the couch and blew a bubble through his pipe, watching with a small smile as the baby giggled and cooed. Not taking his eyes off the little smiling mouth, he asked, "Don't you have to attend training with Mizoru-senpai?"
Yagura frowned at his best friend. "That's not until tomorrow, Utakata," he corrected, crossing his arms. "And I would like to get to know Kushi-chan's daughter as well."
"Her name is Naruko," the woman on the couch informed them. "Naruko Uzumaki-Namikaze."
Roshi lifted an eyebrow. "Namikaze? So Kushi-chan married the Yellow Flash..."
"A problem, Roshi?" the woman raised an eyebrow with a warning edge to her voice.
"No no, not a problem at all!" Roshi exclaimed, recoiling and waving his arms. "It's just... the Yellow Flash is an enemy to Iwa. He's killed so many of our shinobi, and that doesn't sit well with many, of course. If people knew he had a daughter, and that he died before they could get their revenge on him, and add to the fact that she's a jinchuuriki... well, I fear for her life." Roshi gazed down at the cooing infant who was mesmerized by the bubbles Utakata created. He smiled softly at the carefree innocence she displayed.
The woman sighed. "Well, Kushina entrusted her to us. She didn't trust her own village enough to leave her daughter there, so we have to take care of her. It's our duty as Kushina's family."
"Well, I for one wouldn't mind taking care of her, duty or not," a young girl said as she sat down on the woman's right, smiling at the baby.
"Mio?" the woman glanced in surprise at the normally shy girl.
Mio Akiyama smiled at the woman. "You know, I've always wanted a little sister, Yugito-nee."
Yugito Nii smiled gratefully at the current jinchuuriki of the Nanabi, and then turned to the rest of her family for confirmation and their agreement.
Ritsu Tainaka, the jinchuuriki of the Ichibi no Tanuki, smiled brightly at her with a thumbs-up. Yagura Karatachi, the jinchuuriki of the Sanbi no Kyodaigame, gave her a cocky smirk, which was his way of saying "go for it". Roshi, the jinchuuriki of the Yonbi no Saru, poked Naruko's cheek and Yugito took that as a yes. Han, the youngest of the bunch and the jinchuuriki of the Gobi no Irukauma, gave her a nod. Utakata, jinchuuriki of the Rokubi no Namekuji, was still playing with the baby by entertaining her with his bubbles, so Yugito took that as another yes. Mio had already given her acceptance, so Yugito turned to the only one left.
He was standing in the shadows, leaning against the wall, a little ways apart from the group that had surrounded Yugito and the baby in her arms.
"Blue B?" she called softly, and was answered with a grunt.
Blue B was the current jinchuuriki of the Hachibi no Kyogyū, and had trouble controlling his beast at times. He loathed himself for his lack of prowess when even young Han and Mio could subdue their Bijuu to non-harmful levels, and when Kushina could fully restrain a beast stronger than his. While they all assured him that it wasn't because he was weak, he still thought himself to be and isolated himself from the group for fear of endangering them, despite their best efforts to include him in their little makeshift family.
Blue B raised his head slightly to see them all staring at him expectantly, and gave a heavy sigh as he pushed himself off the wall. "I have no problems with the child staying here."
Yugito raised an immaculate eyebrow expectantly. "You will also help in taking care of the child, you realize."
Blue B decided not to argue and nodded. "Yes, I will take part in her upbringing."
"And if I find you avoiding your tasks and this base, I will hunt you down and drag you all the way back here," Yugito promised, and Blue B knew she meant it, quickly discarding his earlier plan of pretending he was too busy to come around anymore. Not that it would've worked anyway since both he and the scarily perceptive female jinchuuriki lived in the same village.
Ritsu looked over at him and a smirk came across her lips as she lifted a hand. Blue B gave a start when he realized that the female jinchuuriki was manipulating her sand to bring him over to the group. Knowing from previous experience that struggling would do him no good, Blue B gave up before he started and walked over to them with a perfectly blank expression.
He glanced at the infant's face and immediately found himself unable to look away, lost in the depthless blue orbs that somehow managed to pierce into him and find his soul. The gaze never wavered, warmth and something that could only be described as fascination, or even adoration, glittered in the infant's eyes.
The surrounding jinchuuriki smiled as man and baby stared at each other. Ritsu let her sand fall away from the grip it was holding on Blue B's wrist, and somehow everyone in the room knew it was this baby, Kushina's daughter, that would be the one to change the Jinchuuriki Alliance.
For the better or worse?
They all had a feeling it would be for the better.
Yugito stood before a bubbling pot, the world outside the few windows already darkening. It had been around three weeks since she had brought the baby home, and already Yugito could barely remember what life had been like without the little bundle of sunshine. Despite being a mere month old, Naruko was already giggling at nearly everything, her bright smile was infectious and her simple presence could light up an entire room.
Currently, it was just the Kumo kunoichi and the baby. Everyone else was either checking in with their family — Blue B apparently was "forced" to have a weekly dinner with his uncle, the current Raikage and his son — or on a training trip with their personal sensei — Ritsu — or were on a mission as either backup or the original squad, as was the case for the remaining jinchuuriki.
It wasn't often Yugito had Naruko all to herself, and the Jinchuuriki Base did seem a little eerily quiet without them. But either way, come tomorrow morning, all jinchuuriki would once again be under the same roof. The mere thought of something that seemed so much like family made Yugito smile. Despite the fact that nearly all of them came from different villages, they had all become close as close could be, and had their predecessors not decided to take action, they would've been strangers and not known the true meaning of love.
A soft cry startled Yugito out of her thoughts. Quickly turning the gas fire down so as to not overcook her dinner, Yugito swiftly stepped out of the kitchen and strode down the hallway, past two doors and stopped outside the third on the left.
Opening it slightly, the nursery came into view. Due to the Base being in... well, a cave, the nursery was quite small, but the jinchuuriki had decorated it best they could — the floor was partially covered in a rug with a checkered pattern of beige and orange, and a white rocking chair with an orange seat cushion stood by the corner of a window that looked to the "backyard" of the Base, which also served as training grounds. Pressed into the far left corner was a small wooden cot with white railing. Four white boxes were under it, holding clothes and other necessities. A four-shelf bookcase was at the foot of the cot, holding toys and books. The walls were painted a soft orange, and two random frames were hung up on the walls surrounding the cot. There was even a fan on the roof for the unbearably hot summer days.
The soft cry grew louder and Yugito walked in, reaching down to quickly pick up the bundle of orange. A lullaby she had once heard somewhere in the distant past, she couldn't remember who from, floated to the front of her mind as she started to walk around the room while rocking the baby who had become like her own daughter.
(1) "Let me sing a lullaby,
As you close your eyes.
And as you're drifting off to sleep,
How I hope that the dreams that you find are bright."
The Nibi's jinchuuriki leaned down to press a gentle kiss to Naruko's forehead as she walked out of the room and to the kitchen.
"Love, can we meet again soon in the bluest of skies?
Where a tomorrow waits for you and I.
So hold me tight one more time but don't kiss me goodbye,
Cause I know that I'll see you on the other side.
I will think of our song when the nights are too long.
I'll dream of you for that's where I belong.
Love, can we meet again soon in the bluest of skies?
Only in my dreams do we meet again..."
It had been a year since Naruko Namikaze had been brought into the Jinchuuriki Alliance, and most of the members found themselves staying overnight most of the time. Unless you were a ninja of the Hidden Mist where you had training basically every day, much to Utakata's and Yagura's annoyance.
The little girl had quickly crawled her way into the hearts of each of the jinchuuriki raising her, and her bubbly laughter was heard nearly all the time. Strangely, she never cried, only laughing and gurgling.
Then came the day when Naruko said her first word.
"Buii!" she cried gleefully as the Hachibi's jinchuuriki was feeding her. The man froze and stared at the baby with wide eyes.
"W-What did you say?" he whispered in a cracked voice, too stunned to do anything else.
"Buii!" Naruko repeated, laughing happily.
"Y-YUGITO!" Blue B shouted, still staring at the baby in shock. Footsteps came thundering and the door was flung open, revealing a panicked blonde woman. More thundering and the rest of the jinchuuriki was right behind her.
"What happened?!" they all cried at the same time.
"Buii!" Naruko giggled. They all stared at her, then back at Blue who looked back at them helplessly.
"I think she said "Blue-nii"," Yagura said slowly, trying to interpret what the baby had said. She wasn't far off the mark, he mused, and the expression on Blue's face was incredulous.
"Me?" the man asked quietly, obviously still shocked.
"Well what do you know," Yugito chuckled, her body relaxing now that she knew that no harm had befallen her child. "Her first words: "Blue-nii"."
"That's beautiful," Mio smiled dreamily.
"She really likes you, huh," Yagura smiled as he walked over to poke a whiskered cheek. "And what about me, hmm? Where's my name in your little brain?"
Naruko gurgled. "Ya-Ya!"
Yagura blinked. "Wait what...?"
Blue burst out laughing, and everyone stared at him. Blue B never laughed. Heck, he never even showed any genuine emotions so openly before today.
"S-Sorry," Blue chuckled. "It's just... Naruko said the first syllable of your name immediately after you asked that question, and you looked so shocked that I thought for a second what it would be like if your face froze like that."
Yagura gaped at the man as everyone else started laughing, imagining what the jinchuuriki had spoken of. And it was interestingly creepy how Naruko had immediately responded to Yagura's question. It made them wonder if Naruko was growing up faster than a normal child, since she was the jailer of the Kyuubi.
Yugito leaned against the doorway and let out a silent sigh, smiling with content as she watched her laughing family. She let her gaze rest on Blue's laughing face, and then it travelled down to the baby who was gurgling with childish happiness.
She allowed herself to be in awe once more at how easily the jinchuuriki could now be so openly emotional. Yes, they had been family, but they were still strangers. And then this baby, Kushina's baby, started to bring life and true familial bonds into the Jinchuuriki Alliance.
Yugito frowned as she thought about when she would have to tell her ball of sunshine that she bore the burden of being a jinchuuriki. The blonde quickly pushed the thought to the back of her mind. Naruko was still only a child, not even a toddler yet. She didn't have to know right away. She wouldn't even understand at this age.
The blonde woman decided to discuss it with everyone when she thought Naruko would be the appropriate age. Young, but not too young to not understand. And not too old that she would think her whole life was a lie. She had to be at the right age, the age where she had maturity but still held some childish innocence and trust, enough that she could quickly adapt to the truth...
Yugito lifted her head from where she was reading a book in the living room couch, looking with a fond smile at the doorway where a blonde, whiskered four-year-old girl was running through. "Yes, Naru-chan?"
The jinchuuriki had quickly and happily adapted to the roles Naruko had given all of them. Ritsu and Mio were her "big sisters", Yugito was her "mother", Yagura, Han, Utakata and Blue were her "big brothers" and Roshi was her "grandfather", the Iwa shinobi having gained his title after Naruko witnessed Yugito call him "oyaji" (2). So by her logic, if Roshi was her okaa-chan's oyaji, then Roshi would be her jiji.
"Okaa-chan, Blue-nii is coming home soon!" the little girl said excitedly. "Can you help me do something for him?"
Yugito looked at her "daughter" and asked gently, "Naru-chan, do you know what makes a place home?"
Naruko paused and thought about what her mother asked. "Home... is a place where someone you care about... is there to say "Welcome home"," she said at last.
Yugito's eyes widened a bit. She had been expecting Naruko to say something like "where your heart is", or "where your family is". She hadn't expected that answer, but Naruko was right. She just gave a different explanation on what her version of what home was.
So Yugito gave her a gentle smile. "Yes, Naru-chan. You're right. That's what home is."
Naruko nodded slowly, and realized what she could do for her beloved older brother.
A few hours later, when an exhausted Blue B came into the Jinchuuriki Alliance's base, he was surprised when the door opened just as he was about to push it. He looked down, surprised, and saw the large, sparkling sapphire eyes of his adoring little sister.
"Okaeri, Blue-nii!" Naruko said sweetly, smiling brightly up at him.
Blue's eyes widened and he stared at the little girl. He couldn't remember the last time someone had welcomed him home. Not his cousin, A... or his uncle, the Sandaime Raikage, or anyone.
So Blue merely smiled and knelt down to the girl's height, ruffling her blonde spiky hair.
Six-year-old Naruko smirked deviously as she slipped out of her older brother's room, paint splattering her old shirt. She looked both ways before hurrying to her own room and softly shut the door.
There was a moment of silence before there was a roar: "NARUKOOO!"
The blonde girl cackled within her room as she quickly exchanged her paint-splattered shirt and shorts for an orange shirt and jean overalls, whipping her hair up in pigtails on each side of her head. Once she was satisfied that no paint was on her the slightest, she ran out of her room and found her fuming brother.
"Yes, onii-chan?" she asked innocently as she tried to withhold her laughter.
Yagura was covered in bright pink paint, a shade bright enough to match his eyes. And Kami was he angry — he had just come back from a mission with tiresome teammates and a nagging sensei. He was irked at the fact that one of his temporary teammates was a fangirl, and that the other, Utakata, was merely laughing at him the entire time. And now he was covered in bright pink paint because of a prank that his little sister thought would be funny. When and where did she set up those paint bombs anyway? For the life of him, Yagura couldn't understand how she managed to set it up so when Yagura flopped onto his bed, paint would explode all over him. And what did she put in it, anyway? It was literally impossible to get off.
The rest of his family members came running at his furious roar, and Yagura internally groaned. Thank Kami Utakata was doing the mission report right now, or he would never hear the end of it from that annoying brunette.
"Yagura!" Mio gasped, and then laughter overtook her when the boy turned around to show his front, which was completely pink. Bright, fluorescent pink.
Everyone in the household absolutely hated pink. Yagura was, understandably, pissed off. But in all honesty, a pink-covered, pissed off Yagura was a funnier sight than a scary one.
It wasn't strange at all that Naruko had decided to use the household's hated colour — in fact, it was a common occurrence when she was making her pranks. Naruko was careful not to use the favourite colours of each individual jinchuuriki, since she didn't want to spoil it for them; Ritsu's favourite colour was yellow, Yugito's was amethyst purple, Yagura's was light grey, Roshi's was maroon, Han's was white, Utakata's was celeste blue, Mio's was turquoise, Blue's was emerald green, and Naruko herself liked orange.
"Yagura," Yugito said, struggling not to smile, "go and clean yourself. We'll have a... talk with Naruko."
Yagura huffed, still angry, and threw a glare at a giggling Naruko before turning and slamming his bedroom door.
"Naruko," Yugito sighed, smile falling as she placed her hands on her hips. "You know Yagura was tired and grouchy from that particular mission."
Naruko smiled brightly. "I know! That's why I did it!"
"What do you mean?" Mio asked.
"Well, I thought Yagu-nii might want something to cheer him up!" Naruko chirped happily.
Everyone started chuckling at the thoughtfulness of their blonde fox cub. She didn't go about it in the best way, but she was only six after all. They couldn't expect her to read the mood and act accordingly. She was a child, and her natural instinct was to cheer someone up when they were sad, regardless of what they wanted.
Suddenly, there was rapping on the front door and everyone froze, narrowing their eyes at the door.
Yagura's door was flung open to reveal said jinchuuriki clad in only grey sweatpants and a short-sleeved grey hooded jacket which he left open. If Yugito wasn't so wary with whoever was at the door, she would've scolded him for the "lack of clothing".
"Yo, is anyone home?" a young male voice called. "This is the Jinchuuriki Alliance, am I right?"
Yugito gestured for them to stay back and marched towards the door and flung it open, Utakata and Ritsu flanking her sides, the former ready to blow a bubble to capture the intruder and the latter already having her sand about to crush him.
He was tanned and had platinum blonde hair and shades, around between Yugito and Roshi's age. He was vaguely familiar to Yugito, but she couldn't place her finger on it. "Yo! I'm Killer Bee, jinchuuriki of the Hachibi!" the boy rapped while grinning at her.
Yugito's eyes widened as she processed the information. Jinchuuriki of the Hachibi? But that meant—
Yugito's hair shadowed her eyes as she softly murmured, "I see. Come in... Killer Bee."
Utakata and Ritsu, also understanding what his presence meant, stepped aside with subdued expressions. Ritsu's sand dropped as Utakata tucked away his bubble-utilizing pipe. Killer Bee stepped past them, looking around him.
Yugito placed her hand on his shoulder as a casual gesture, but she immediately drew herself into the boy's mindscape. "Gyuki... what happened?"
Gyuki opened his eyes. "Yugito. What a pleasant surprise."
"Get to the point, Gyuki. What happened to Blue B?" Yugito demanded in a worried tone.
Gyuki sighed heavily. "Blue B's sleeping pills were laced with genjutsu and they paralyzed him as some snake drew me out of him." The Bijuu watched as grief overcame the woman's features, and he took pity on her. "Blue knew that if he failed as a jinchuuriki, Killer Bee would be the next one. So he asked me, that if anything happened to him, that I tell you this: "Help Bee find that something to fill up that hole in his heart. It can be anything, just help him find that something to give him strength"."
Yugito nodded slowly. "I-I will, Gyuki. Thank you. For telling me."
Gyuki merely grunted and closed his eyes as Yugito drew herself out of the boy's mindscape.
"Yugito?" Ritsu asked softly.
Yugito's eyes were sad as she turned to her fellow jinchuuriki who were all watching her with light apprehension. "This is Killer Bee. He's the new addition to the family."
"Naru-chan, we need to talk."
Seven-year-old Naruko looked up to see her mother staring down at her in concern. The blonde put down her book and sat up from where she was sprawled out on her bedroom floor. "What's wrong, okaa-san?"
Yugito hesitated slightly before sitting down cross-legged in front of the whiskered girl. "Naru-chan, I'm about to tell you something about everyone in this house, including you."
Naruko blinked. 'Including me...? I wonder if it's about that voice that keeps me company when everyone is out on missions.'
"Kit, focus! Your "mother" is talking," said voice spoke and Naruko hurriedly snapped to attention.
"Everyone in this house holds something inside of them," Yugito was saying. "We hold demons inside of us, and people like us are named jinchuuriki. Literally meaning, the power of human sacrifice. We have demons sealed inside of us to serve our villages, but more often than not we are not treated kindly. This is why we created the Jinchuuriki Alliance, so that all the jinchuuriki could find a home with people like them."
Yugito paused to make sure Naruko understood before she continued. "The demons we hold are called "Bijuu". The number of tails they have indicate their power. The numbers go from ichi to kyuu, and at the moment, every Bijuu has a jinchuuriki, or a jailer."
"So everyone here is a jinchuuriki?"
Yugito nodded. "Ritsu, for example, was the jinchuuriki of the Ichibi no Tanuki, until she died. Now his jinchuuriki is Gaara, which is why he came to us at the beginning of the year. I, myself, am the jinchuuriki to the Nibi no Bakeneko. Then there's Yagura, who is the jinchuuriki to the Sanbi no Kyodaigame. Roshi, jinchuuriki of the Yonbi no Saru. Han is the jinchuuriki to the Gobi no Irukauma, Utakata is the jinchuuriki of the Rokubi no Namekuji and Mio is the jinchuuriki of the Nanabi no Kabutomushi. Blue B was the jinchuuriki of the Hachibi no Kyogyū, but now the role belongs to Killer Bee. And you... you are the jinchuuriki of the Kyuubi no Kitsune."
Naruko nodded slowly. "But what about what happened to Blue-nii?"
'That's right, we never actually explained to her,' Yugito thought. "Well, when a jinchuuriki has their Bijuu taken out of them... typically they do not survive the extraction."
"When a Bijuu is taken out of the jinchuuriki by force. Bijuu are basically powerful and very large beings made out of chakra, which is why you can't kill them. When the jinchuuriki has adapted to hosting that much chakra, it becomes deadly when such a large amount of chakra is removed so suddenly from them," the Nibi's jinchuuriki explained.
Naruko's eyes moved to her hands as she slowly comprehended what her mother was saying. "So... Blue-nii... was killed?"
Yugito's eyes widened. "That's not—"
"Yeah, he was. The voice said so," Naruko said quietly as her hands curled into fists and then released to show a flame flickering in her palm.
"Voice?" Yugito echoed, staring at the small flame.
Naruko nodded with some enthusiasm, the flame growing into a ribbon as it fluttered and twisted between her fingers. "When everyone's out on missions, the voice always talks to me and tells me jokes and keeps me company. We have a lot of fun together!"
Yugito's eyes widened. "Can you talk to it now?"
Naruko paused for a moment before a smile spread across her face. "He's quite indignant at being referred to as an "it"," she reported with amusement in her voice.
Yugito withheld a chuckle. "Well, when your mother was the jinchuuriki of the Kyuubi, she didn't talk to it often so we didn't really know what it was like," she said without thinking.
Yugito stiffened and then sighed. "Since today is a day for truths, you might as well know this one as well." She took a deep breath before speaking. "You didn't always belong to this family. When you were born, your parents were attacked by a masked man who was threatening the village your father ruled over. The masked man knew that a jinchuuriki's seal weakened during childbirth, so he chose that moment to attack, when your mother was at her weakest. Your birth mother was Kushina Uzumaki, the Red Hot Habanero, and your father was Minato Namikaze, the Yellow Flash of Konohagakure no Sato."
Naruko was silent for a full minute. Yugito was starting to get a little nervous when a soft chuckle erupted from the blonde in front of her.
"Sorry, okaa-san. I-It's just... Kura-kun was just telling me about this time that my mom first visited him, and she scared the crap outta him!" Naruko cackled. "She made it very clear that the cage was to protect him from her, not her from him. Damn, I would've liked to see that!"
Yugito was too dumbfounded to scold her daughter-figure for the use of curse words, no matter how mild they were. "You're not surprised?" she asked at last.
Naruko shrugged. "What's there to be surprised about? I knew from the beginning that there was no way we could all be family. I mean sure, some of us have similarities in our physical appearances and sometimes, personalities, but either way it's kind of impossible. And before you ask, it was Kurama... er, the Kyuubi, who told me."
Yugito sighed with relief, feeling as if the weight of the world was lifted off her shoulders.
Naruko tilted her head, a smile tugging on the right corner of her lip. "You were really worried about telling me, weren't you?"
Yugito smiled sheepishly and nodded. Naruko laughed and then got up, walking over to sit on a surprised Yugito's lap and put her arms around the woman's neck as she rested her head on her mother-figure's chest.
"Either way, you're still my okaa-san, Yugito. Always have been, and always will be."
It has now been ten years since the Jinchuuriki Alliance took in and started raising their little bundle of sunshine that brought them such joy.
By now, Naruko has already lost her remaining older sister — Mio the Nanabi's jinchuuriki. She was replaced with another girl her own age, which brought Naruko both joy and sadness as she had new playmates, but she had also lost her two older sisters. When Naruko was six, Shukaku's new jinchuuriki had arrived; sweet and a little timid with an occasional cheeky streak, Gaara possessed crimson red hair and unique seafoam-green eyes. He was apparently the youngest son of the Yondaime Kazekage, and the seal masters in Suna were absolutely hopeless — worse than the ones who did Ritsu's seal — and the poor jinchuuriki had a cracked and unstable seal, according to the Bijuu himself. Naruko had always played around with seals after discovering her natural aptitude for it, but now she had a purpose to study seals, and that was to try and help ease her friend and brother's misery.
Chomei's new jinchuuriki was a bubbly, enthusiastic green-haired girl named Fuu, so very different from the shy and loving Mio. She was from a minor village, Takigakure no Sato. She was actually quite similar to Naruko, personality-wise.
So it was only a matter of time before the three of them became inseparable. If Naruko was studying in her room, you would find Fuu and Gaara quietly playing in the same room. Basically, if you found one of them, you found the other two.
Now at this point in time, the family's resident Kiri shinobi had just come back from a mission. "Alright you," the shorter male snapped his fingers towards his room door, "we need to talk. Into my room, now," he ordered, grabbing the front of Utakata's neck and backing him into the bedroom. "What the hell was that?"
"What the hell was what?" Utakata said blankly, blinking uncomprehendingly at his friend.
"Did you not see how our client was literally molesting me?" Yagura fumed. "Hell, even Mei saw and she tried to do something about it!"
Suddenly the door opened and Naruko, Fuu and Gaara entered the room, each of them carrying small chairs. They plunked them down and sat on them, looking expectantly at the older boys. "If we missed anything stupid would you start over?" Naruko asked hopefully, and was met with two deadpans.
"Kids, get out of here. Go to bed — get outta here." Yagura shooed them out. "And don't worry, the dumbass—" he jerked his thumb at Utakata, "—will do something just as stupid tomorrow."
"It's the afternoon," Gaara emphasized.
Yagura groaned. "Just... get outta here, alright? Utakata and I are done talking anyway."
"Yes, you imbecile!" Yagura growled before grabbing his collar and dragging the brunette down the stairs and into the kitchen, where the rest of the "adults" were waiting. "Sorry to keep you all waiting — I had to yell at Utakata for letting our earlier client molest me," Yagura muttered angrily as he practically threw his teammate against the kitchen counter.
"Do we want to know?" Yugito said with a concerned, albeit slightly disgusted, expression on her face.
"No, you really don't," Yagura said plainly as he backed up to lean on the pantry door. Han raised an eyebrow at Utakata who shrugged with an amused expression on his face. "Alright, stop looking so damn smug and amused!" Yagura snapped. "You saw what was happening and even saw Mei try to stop it, so why the hell didn't you do anything about it?"
"Okay, enough with the drama, you two can sort this out later," Bee interrupted. "Right now, we have some more... pressing issues to talk about."
As of right now, the "adults" were having their monthly meeting while the "kids" were playing in the living room — and that meant shouts, laughter and threats would go on for a very long time before a period of complete, tense silence in which the older jinchuuriki that were talking in the kitchen would feel compelled to abruptly start whispering.
"Before Ritsu died, she managed to gather some information on the Akatsuki," Yugito was saying as she leaned against the kitchen bench, hands crossed over her chest.
Yagura frowned. "Akasuna no Sasori joined the Akatsuki shortly before she... departed. I'm starting to grow suspicious of one of my present comrades, Ki—"
"Hey Naru-chan, what's "Canvas of Neon"?" Fuu's voice shouted from the living room.
"Hey, that's my stuff! Were you going through my bedroom?" Naruko snapped as something was, presumably, slapped out of someone's hand. "What do you not understand about the word "privacy"? Seriously, is it really too much to ask that you stop rummaging through my stuff and behave like normal people for once?"
"Normal is overrated," Fuu and Gaara chimed at the same time. "We know no boundaries, Naru-chan. You know that," Gaara added as an afterthought.
"And I wonder who taught you to be like that... YAGURA!" Naruko started sarcastically and then screamed the last word.
In the kitchen, Yagura shrugged. "Not my fault, squirt! Lock the door next time!" he called and then turned serious again. "As I was saying, Kisame Hoshigaki seems like the next most likely to defect to the Akatsuki."
"Kisame Hoshigaki," Roshi murmured. "That guy's a powerhouse. He's a Tailed Beast Without A Tail, right?"
"That's what they call him," Yagura nodded affirmatively.
Yugito hissed through gritted teeth. "The Akatsuki are formidable opponents, and even with our skill sets combined, there's no way we can take them down."
"Especially with Kisame on their side," Utakata added. "We don't know for sure yet, but we're keeping our eye on him just in case. As far as we know, we don't have anything on him, except for what you already know."
"We're just lucky no one from Kumo seems to have a motive for joining the Akatsuki," Bee commented with a sigh.
Han then spoke up. "Roshi, do you remember the Tsuchikage's granddaughter?"
"Kurotsuchi," Roshi nodded. "What about her?"
"She has this "big brother" she plays with, Deidara I think his name is. He possesses the kekkei genkai of the Explosion Release. He once mentioned in passing he has a desire to reach "even greater heights" with his "art". Onoki's been grinding down on him, telling him to focus on other aspects of his skill set. They've been having really bad arguments lately."
"Hmm, yes," Roshi grunted in agreement. "I have been hearing of their shouting matches more and more lately... definitely more than usual. Everyone knows they're on bad terms right about now, and it seems Onoki just doesn't understand where Deidara's desire to discover more with his explosions is coming from."
"I wouldn't put it past Deidara to put forth an attempt to steal our village's forbidden jutsu. You know, the one that allows a person to knead their chakra into substances? And once he finds the "art" he so desires, he might wind up as a rogue and potentially offer his—"
"Dammit Fuu, I was working all week on that!" Gaara shouted, and there was the sound of him jumping to his feet.
"It's just a sculpture!" Fuu's voice responded. "Besides, you make dozens of these with your sand! How do you do that anyway?"
"But that was special!"
"Everything is special to you," Fuu retorted.
"No they're not!" Gaara exclaimed defensively. "There are things that I like but aren't special, Fuu."
"To answer your question, Fuu-chan, it's a Shukaku thing," Naruko's voice answered lazily. "It's like how you can fly and how I can play with fire and sense negative emotions. Also, you two are aware that you are bickering like an old married couple, right?"
"WE ARE NOT!"
"Suuuuuuure," Naruko's voice replied sarcastically with a tinge of amusement.
"—services as a bomber and eventually wind up in the Akatsuki," Han finished, not at all fazed by the interruption.
"So one of the main problems are partially covered," Yagura spoke as he pushed himself off the pantry door he was leaning on, barely hiding his amusement at the sudden screaming match. "Now, about the... other thing." The mood visibly dampened and Yagura winced. "Sorry guys, but you knew it had to come up at one point, what with all this new threat and everything."
"No. Don't be," Yugito sighed. "We don't... there's no other way."
"Yugito, you should be very proud of them," Roshi said gently. "Those three children have come a long way from where they once were. They did, after all, grow up with the best of them all." He winked at Yagura, who smirked back at him, even though his fuchsia eyes were tinged with regret at what their discussion implied for their future.
"I am proud of them, Roshi," Yugito reassured with a tight smile. "But I'm also worried..." Her eyes strayed to the hallway connecting the kitchen to the living room. "How far can they go, on nothing but courage?"
No one answered, and the atmosphere was so thick you could cut it with a knife. Even the living room was quiet—
"You son of a—! Give me back my bishop!"
"No, I took it fair and square!"
"Like hell you did!"
"Both of you sit down and shut up! You're giving me a migraine and I do not appreciate it!"
Nope, spoke too soon. And where did Fuu and Gaara pick up that language from anyway? Yugito narrowed her eyes suspiciously at Yagura who was raising an eyebrow in the direction of the living room. He was clearly curious about what was going on.
Yugito sighed and pushed herself off the kitchen bench. "Come on," she said, forcing a smile. "Let's go tell them now, so they have some time to process and prepare."
"I still can't believe we're doing this," Utakata muttered.
Roshi put a hand on the younger jinchuuriki's shoulder. "It's for the best, Utakata. We cannot let the Akatsuki get their hands on such young, promising children... shinobi. Jinchuuriki. We have to do what's best for them... for they are the future."
Earlier that morning, when the "adults" first walked into the kitchen, the three children had a suspicion about what it was. So while the meeting was going on in the kitchen, the three mini-devils decided to have a "meeting" of their own.
"Okaa-san's been acting strangely lately," Naruko mused as she laid down on her stomach on the floor of the living room, playing with a ribbon of fire, as she was wont to do when she was either bored or thinking hard on something. "And so has Roshi-jiji and Bee-nii, and Yagu-nii has been very snappy lately."
"I wonder what's wrong?" Gaara mused.
Fuu sighed and rolled onto his back. "It's been fifteen minutes into their little meeting already. Do you think we can, I don't know, spy on them? Eavesdrop?"
Naruko pursed her lips. "I once asked okaa-san about ninjutsu, but she said she'd teach me when I'm older."
"So naturally, you snuck into her room, read a scroll and practiced behind her back," Gaara said flatly in his monotone.
Naruko beamed at him. "Awww, you know me so well, Gaa-chan!"
Gaara rolled his eyes, but that didn't stop the small smile and faint blush creeping across his porcelain face.
The resident fox jumped up and put her hands in a sign, a grin on her whiskered face. Not long after, three exact copies of Naruko poofed into existence. Fuu sat up in interest as Gaara looked them over, trying to find any flaw. When he found none, he nodded in satisfaction and turned to the creator for an explanation. "I managed to read up about Shadow Clones before okaa-san came back to her room," Naruko explained in a conspiratorial whisper. "And like Gaa-chan said, I've been practicing, so it's perfect now. When they dispel, they give you their memories."
"So you can send them to spy on them in the kitchen while we sit here innocently playing!" Fuu exclaimed with a gleeful look in his eye.
"Exactly," Naruko grinned, and her three Shadow Clones transformed into flies and flew off. At the surprised looks, Naruko added, "I also learned to transform, though that was by accident. I was originally trying to perform the Henge." (3)
The other two rolled their eyes in fond exasperation as the blonde nodded, pleased with herself. "Of course you did," Gaara sighed, but he was smiling. "Now, while your clones execute your eavesdropping plan, we should make some noise so they don't get suspicious."
"My stuff," Naruko suddenly piped up. "You know I hate it when you go through my stuff. So today, just this once, I'll let Fuu pick one thing — and one thing only — to bring it to the living room. For the sake of not being suspected of eavesdropping."
Fuu grinned wickedly and then disappeared into Naruko's bedroom. The latter sighed and then stared at Gaara, who stared back. By the time Fuu came back five minutes later, Gaara was fiddling with one of his less impressive mini-sculptures while Naruko herself rummaged around for a shogi board.
"Hey Naru-chan, what's "Canvas of Neon"?" Fuu asked, a thick leather-bound book that was labelled "The Prankbook" in her hands.
"Hey, that's my stuff! Were you going through my bedroom?" Naruko yelled angrily, slipping into character as she snatched the book out of the other girl's hands. "What do you not understand about the word "privacy"? Seriously, is it really too much to ask that you stop rummaging through my stuff and behave like normal people for once?"
"Normal is overrated," Fuu and Gaara chimed at the same time. "We know no boundaries, Naru-chan. You know that," Gaara inputted his ten cents.
"And I wonder who taught you to be like that... YAGURA!" Naruko started sarcastically and then screamed the last word.
"Not my fault, squirt! Lock the door next time!" Yagura called from the kitchen.
Naruko paused and then sat down on the ground. "They're talking about the Akatsuki."
"Akatsuki? As in the supposed-mercenary-group-that-is-really-an-organization-out-for-world-peace-by-committing-genocide Akatsuki?" Gaara sat down opposite Naruko, who nodded, a frown set in her normally bright face. It unnerved Gaara, seeing the young blonde look so solemn. The deep frown and pinched eyebrows didn't suit her, but the expression vaguely reminded him of Yugito, which amused him to no end.
"Committing genocide," Fuu rolled her amber eyes with an amused half-smirk. "Well I guess if they plan on murdering us all just to capture our Bijuu..." she pursed her lips and shrugged. "Yeah, that's genocide."
"For our age we are talking about this topic way too lightly," Naruko muttered under her breath before speaking a little louder. "Okaa-san said that a shinobi named Sasori has joined the Akatsuki — Akasuna no Sasori. Yagu-nii and Uta-nii suspect a Mist nin, Kisame Hoshigaki, will join the Akatsuki soon. Roshi-jiji calls him "the tailed beast without a tail"," she reported. "And Han-nii is talking about—"
"Dammit Fuu, I was working all week on that!" Gaara shouted, jumping to his feet as he saw Fuu playing with his half-finished miniature sculpture of Shukaku.
"It's just a sculpture!" Fuu responded as she fingered the intricate carvings. "Besides, you make dozens of these with your sand! How do you do that anyway?"
"But that was special!"
"Everything is special to you," Fuu retorted.
"No they're not!" Gaara exclaimed defensively. "There are things that I like but aren't special, Fuu."
"To answer your question, Fuu-chan, it's a Shukaku thing," Naruko answered from where she was lazily sprawled on the floor. "It's like how you can fly and how I can play with fire and sense negative emotions. Also, you two are aware that you are bickering like a couple, right?"
"WE ARE NOT!"
"Suuuuuuure," Naruko replied sarcastically with a tinge of amusement as she smirked at them before re-burying her nose in the book she was currently intrigued with.
A few minutes later, as Fuu was flipping through Naruko's Prankbook, said blonde sat up suddenly and the two turned to her expectantly, already knowing that one of her clones had most likely dispelled. "They're going to tell us something today that is making them all depressed," Naruko informed.
Gaara pursed his lips. "I think I know what they're planning. If the Akatsuki find this base, then they essentially find all of us."
"And so they want to separate us... and probably send us back to our own villages," Naruko murmured in realization.
"And by doing that... they'll effectively..." Fuu swallowed past the growing lump in her throat, "break up the Jinchuuriki Alliance." There was silence for a few minutes before the Nanabi's jinchuuriki sighed, breaking the silence. "They won't make us leave right away though, right? They'd give us time to prepare and let it sink in."
"True," Naruko nodded slowly.
"Hey Gaara, why don't we play some shogi?" Fuu's eyes were gleaming almost maliciously as she spied the shogi board Naruko had set up earlier.
Naruko let out a low groan. Fuu and Gaara had an unending rivalry over shogi, both of them having lost and won equally against the other. It was maddening sometimes, and often it involved a lot of screaming and sometimes it could even get physical. Naruko had to restrain both of them nearly every time they played shogi, a supposedly quiet and peaceful game of strategy.
Fuu and Gaara quickly stared playing, making it very obvious that it was fairly one-sided.
"You son of a—! Give me back my bishop!" Fuu shouted, lunging across the board when she noticed the sudden stillness.
"No, I took it fair and square!" Gaara shouted back, scrambling backwards as he held the Fuu's bishop "captive" behind his back.
"Like hell you did!"
"Both of you sit down and shut up! You're giving me a migraine and I do not appreciate it!" Naruko roared from where she had been sketching a seal for one of her newer ideas.
"Hai, Naru-chan," both of them replied instantaneously and went back to playing shogi, albeit a little bit quieter than before.
As six jinchuuriki entered the room, Naruko looked up from where she was separating Fuu and Gaara from lunging at each other. "Oh good, you're here. This idiot was about to Sand Coffin Fuu and she was about to wrap him in some of her sticky substance, whatever that is," Naruko said plainly with a blank face. However her blankness was replaced with a scowl when Fuu and Gaara started to go at each other again when her attention was diverted. Naruko gripped the back of their heads before bashing them together as hard as she could. The two jinchuuriki let out identical wails of pain as they fell to the floor, clutching their heads and rolling around in agony.
"Owww, Naruko why did you do that?" they cried.
"Because you were being idiots," she scowled down at them. "For Kami's sake, it's just a game!" The blonde glanced at the shogi board. "A very one-sided game, might I add."
Yugito lifted an eyebrow and Naruko sighed under the reprimanding gaze.
"Next time don't make such a ruckus," she muttered under her breath before plopping herself down on the large red sofa that was in the middle of the living room. "What's up, okaa-san?"
Yugito forced a smile as she observed the careless freedom which the three children had. She would be lying if she said she never once wished to be them, young and carefree to do whatever they wanted while the adults worked things out for them, and they just went along with it. Well, not all the time, but you get the point.
"We're here to tell you something very important," Roshi said, causing Fuu and Gaara to sit up and stop whining. It was very rare for their beloved grandfather to sound so serious, so the two child-jinchuuriki scrambled up and sat down on either side of Naruko.
Naruko stared at Yugito for a moment before she got up wordlessly and entered the kitchen. When she returned, she had three glasses that had water, orange juice and watermelon water. Ignoring the strange looks, the blonde set down the water in front of Gaara and the orange juice in front of Fuu before sitting down between her two friends with the cold glass of watermelon water nestled in her tan hands.
Yagura pursed his lips at the odd action but continued anyway. "This is going to be very hard, and we understand completely if you get shocked or angry. This may take a while to process as well, but please try to understand that we are doing this for you. Your safety and future is our top priority. That has and never will change."
Naruko, Fuu and Gaara exchanged looks before returning their attentions turned back to the other jinchuuriki — who were still standing — when Yugito took a deep breath.
The Nibi's jinchuuriki exhaled slowly and then looked each of the children in the eye in turn. "Okay, we are going to tell you three something very, very important right now."
"Take a sip, follow my lead," Naruko muttered to her companions, who did as she said in the most casual way possible. As their mouths were filling up, Yugito broke the news to them.
"We're breaking up the Jinchuuriki Alliance."
As if on cue, the three mini-devils spat out their drinks in unison. "No!" they exclaimed as if it was simultaneously the most fascinating and shocking statement of the year.
Yagura blinked and then shoved his way forward. "Hold the mother phone!" He squatted in front of Naruko and peered intensely into her eyes. Naruko lifted her eyebrow but indulged him as she kept up the staring contest. "You knew!" he cried, pointing an accusing finger in the whiskered face as he jumped a good yard back. "You knew we were breaking up the Jinchuuriki Alliance!"
Naruko lifted her other eyebrow and took a dainty sip of her drink. "No sugar honey iced tea, Sherlock," she said sarcastically.
"I wonder what gave you that idea," Gaara scoffed sarcastically.
Fuu snorted. "It's all for us, the Akatsuki are on the move, if they find this base they'll commit genocide and we can't let that happen, yadda yadda ya, we get it."
The "adults" gaped at the green-haired girl who was calmly swishing her orange juice around in her glass. "When—"
"This morning. And possibly all of last week."
"You were acting suspicious and depressed."
Yugito's head whipped to her daughter-figure who was finishing the rest of her watermelon water. "Naruko!"
"Way to leave a soldier to die alone, Fuu-chan," was Naruko's chagrined response.
Fuu shrugged unrepentantly. "Sorry Naru-chan."
Naruko sighed. "Yes, so I decided to learn the Shadow Clone Jutsu and how to literally transform as a more advanced technique of the Henge, but whatever, you don't really need to know that. No real harm done and we found out about the "news" early, and we're not freaking out. It's all good."
Yugito sighed, deciding to give up.
"When do we leave?" Gaara asked in a monotone, and Naruko narrowed her eyes slightly at the redhead.
This time it was Utakata who sighed. "We leave next week."
Fuu choked on her juice. "Next week?"
Roshi nodded somberly. "Gaa-chan, you will return to Sunagakure. Bee's leaving with Yugito for Kumogakure. Yagura and Utakata are returning to Kirigakure permanently. Han and I will go back to Iwagakure. Fuu-chan, you're going back to Takigakure. And Naru-chan..."
"I'm going back to Konohagakure," the blonde finished softly.
"But Iwa hates Konoha!" Surprisingly, it was Han who objected.
Naruko smiled gently at her normally amicable older brother. "It's okay, Han-nii. It's where I was born... but you don't have to worry, because that will never be my home."
They all stared at her in surprise, even Fuu and Gaara.
Naruko looked at each of them in turn, her eyes lingering slightly on her mother-figure. "Konoha might be where I was born, but I don't belong there. I belong here, with all of you. My home is with all of you, and even a world-ending apocalypse won't change that."
Everyone smiled back at her. For the next week, they would enjoy each other's company and slowly start to say goodbye. It would be hard, especially when there was no form of contact whatsoever as they had to keep their relations to each other secret, but they could deal with it.
They had to.
The Jinchuuriki Alliance was gathered outside the base for the last time, taking in every detail that had been their home in the past ten years and more, for some other people. The place held so many precious memories, the most precious of them all being when Naruko first came into the Jinchuuriki Alliance, and all the bright times that had followed afterwards. Some were not so happy, but precious nevertheless.
The group, after saying their personal goodbyes to the home of ten plus years, started to move east to where the Hidden Villages were. After five day's journey, the first to depart from the little family of nine were Roshi and Han who were returning to Iwa, and then Gaara's would follow shortly for his destination, Suna.
"I guess this is it, then," Roshi said as he forced a grin on his face, stuffing his hands into his pockets to hide their shaking, fisted form. "Iwa's just to the left in about two days' journey."
"Take care, both of you," Yugito said as she hugged Roshi and Han in turn.
"Will do," Han said, presumably smiling behind that white cloth that hid his entire face except for his eyes. "Make sure to take care of yourself too. All of you."
Naruko smiled as she ran at her tallest brother before jumping into his waiting arms which were already outstretched to catch her. Naruko wrapped her arms around the boy's covered neck and snuggled closer, basking in the hold of her brother. "I love you," Naruko murmured before stretching up and whispering something in Han's ear. The eyes on the male's face widened before his eyes formed an upside down U (4) and he nodded at the girl, who smiled at him.
Naruko did the same to Roshi, who merely ruffled her hair in response and gave her a grin that rivaled her own Uzumaki Grin.
That was all they had time for, and the two red-clad shinobi then departed to the left for Iwagakure no Sato.
About seventy-five minutes later, it was time for Gaara's departure.
Naruko forced a smile on her face and turned to her redheaded companion, who was already facing her. She slowly raised her eyes to meet the seafoam-green orbs that she didn't know when she would see again. Extending a hand which Gaara slowly took, the girl surprised the young boy when she suddenly yanked him forward into a hug.
"Goodbye, Naruko," Gaara said softly, getting over his initial shock as he closed his arms around the blonde.
"Don't say goodbye, Gaa-chan," Naruko simply replied as they pulled back. "It implies you'll never see each other again."
Gaara chose not to voice the doubt that was filling the minds of all the jinchuuriki, and merely smiled at the blonde girl he had grown increasingly fond of. "You're right. We'll see each other again soon, I'm sure. And remember," the Ichibi's jinchuuriki smirked impishly, "if you don't try new things, you'll never know what you're missing out on."
Naruko smiled and leaned in to whisper something into Gaara's ear which made his eyes widen. The seafoam-green orbs then softened and he nodded at the girl, smiling back before turning and beginning his trek to the right, through the desert to Sunagakure no Sato.
As the blonde Uzumaki stared after her redheaded best friend, she felt her heart grow heavy with all the losses she was experiencing. Three family members dead, three others gone back to their villages... and her departure was next.
The atmosphere was somber now that three of them had already left. Naruko didn't try to start up a conversation, and Yagura didn't either. The sadness and tense expectation was so thick and suffocating Naruko felt like she couldn't breathe properly.
When the lush green forests came into view after a three days' journey, Naruko didn't know whether to feel relief, panic, horror or desperation.
She settled on neutrality.
Her face was perfectly blank, her breathing even and body language giving nothing away as the group came closer and closer to the forest, and the tense air grew thicker, if possible. Just at the edge of the forest, the group stopped.
Naruko had to tilt her head back just to see the tops of the trees, and blue sky peeking above as the sun shone high in the sky, signalling it was about noon. Yagura came to stand beside the soon-to-be Konoha shinobi who was staring at the thick foliage.
"First day in Konoha starts when you exit that forest," the Kiri shinobi said softly. "You ready?"
Naruko paused. "Firsts can be exciting... but they're also scary, ya know?"
"Well, yeah. I remember a real exciting first time for me," Bee grinned as he came up beside them. "I had met a real nice girl, Marissa. At first I was kinda nervous but then Marissa, she kinda... got friendly and..." Bee stopped when he saw Yagura's look of complete and utter disbelief. "Let's just say first times can be great," Bee said quickly.
"Not. A. Helpful. Story," Yagura ground out through his teeth.
"But darn entertaining," Naruko piped up, winking at Bee with a slight, amused grin.
"Bee, I think we need to have a talk about what stories you deem appropriate as examples and what aren't," Yagura ground out as he grabbed the Kumo shinobi's ear and dragged him off somewhere.
Naruko giggled at them before turning her gaze back to the lush forest as memories of her childhood flashed unbidden into her mind, causing her earlier merriment to die away and be replaced with a heavy, sinking sadness.
"Hey," Utakata said quietly, coming up behind her. "You okay?"
Naruko slowly nodded, her eyes not leaving the sky. "I knew about this for a while, you know, but when it all comes down to it, it seems so... unreal," she murmured. "Because even if you know what's coming, you're never really prepared for how it feels. And that place we left behind, the base of the Jinchuuriki Alliance? That was my home for the ten years I've been alive... and I'm never going to see it again. Ever."
Naruko then turned to Utakata, and the brunette man noted with surprise that the blonde had fear shining in her brilliant blue eyes.
"And I don't know if I will ever see any of you again."
Utakata sighed through his nose and smiled gently at his blonde fox, bringing her into his light embrace which she accepted without struggle. "Like you said, Naruko, no matter what we'll always be family, and we'll always belong with each other. We'll find a way to see each other again, that much I can tell you."
Naruko sniffed slightly and gripped her brother's kimono. "You promise?"
Utakata looked down in the large pools of cerulean blue and tears and smiled, lifting his pinky and intertwining it with Naruko's.
Naruko's lips quirked up and Utakata smiled at her, looping his left arm around the blonde's shoulders and ruffling her hair. "And even if we never see each other again, and this is completely hypothetical," Utakata leaned down to whisper into Naruko's ear, "remember this: as jinchuuriki, it is our duty to protect our designated villages. But we are not weapons, tools to be manipulated. We are humans. We are jinchuuriki, the power of human sacrifice. This is what we are, and what we will be until the day we die."
"But... what if I don't fit in?" Naruko's smile fell, insecurities rising. "I'm... different from them. With you, I don't have to be afraid because are the same. But in that village, I'll be the only one. Roshi and Han have each other, and you have Yagura, and Bee has okaa-san. How do I act around them? How do I—"
Utakata placed his finger on her lips, silencing her with a soft smile. "Naruko, all you have to be is yourself. And if you aren't accepted right away, or even for a while, then remember this: you are the strongest person I have ever met. You are unique. You are special. And that's what makes you strong."
Naruko nodded and laid her head on Utakata's chest as she thought about his words while listening to his heartbeat so she could try to drown out the thought of her moving to Konoha without any of her family.
"Hey hey hey, are we being left out of some goodbye moment?" a cheeky voice intervened, causing both to scowl at the source. Yagura was standing with his hand on a cocked hip, a cocky grin on his face. "With the way you two are standing and your pinkies intertwined, if I didn't know better I'd say you were lovers!"
Yagura snickered as Yugito snapped, "Oh hell no!"
Naruko's face resembled an overripe tomato as she turned around and buried her face in Utakata's back to hide her embarrassment. The latter was also rather red.
"Leave them alone, Yagu-kun," Fuu scolded lightly as she walked over and pulled Naruko away from Utakata. "If anyone's having this fox, it's me," she added with a mischievous smirk.
"Fuu-chan, you know I don't roll that way! Stop teasing me," Naruko whined in Fuu's hold.
"I know," the green-haired girl grinned. "But if you did, I'd definitely turn gay for you!" she teased and kissed the blonde's whiskered cheek, chuckling when Naruko whined in embarrassment.
(A/N: I have nothing against gays or anything, and this is just a little joke used in my family and not meant to offend anyone)
"I don't think so, Fuu," Bee smirked as he strode over and took Naruko in his own arms. "I call dibs for when she's older."
"Bee!" Naruko smacked his chest playfully, but her cheeks were still flushed.
"Alright you two, knock it off," Yagura smiled as he walked over. "Bee, you've got at least ten years on her, and Konoha don't like Kumo. Naru-chan don't swing that way Fuu, so logically, if anyone gets dibbing rights on this baby girl... it's me!" he exclaimed triumphantly with a gleeful expression. Naruko let out a wail of embarrassment and, throwing away all dignity she had left, buried her face in Bee's chest in a miserable attempt to hide herself.
Ten minutes of last-minute teasing, mock-flirting and threats later, Naruko finally faced the person she dreaded saying goodbye to.
"Naruko, it's "Yugito" now," Yugito said lowly. One could only hear the tears choking her voice if they knew her really well, or they just had excellent hearing.
Naruko swallowed and nodded.
"We have no history."
"And we... never knew each other."
Yet another nod.
Yugito sighed. "I'm sorry, Naruko. But we have to do this for the sake of everyone... for your sake."
Yugito sighed again. "Take care of yourself, alright? Eat well and make sure to get enough sleep, alright? And remember, you don't need too many friends, just those that you are completely sure you can trust."
A smile tugged on Naruko's lips. "I can take care of myself, you know."
Yugito swallowed. "And don't you dare forget to—"
She was cut off when Naruko lunged at her, wrapping her arms around the older woman's torso. Yugito blinked, a bit taken aback by the sudden action.
"I'm ten, Yugito. I can take care of myself," Naruko smiled up at the blonde kunoichi. "You don't have to worry so much anymore. You've got your own life now, and I've got a new one about to start. So stop worrying, I'm not a baby anymore."
The woman cleverly hid the flinch at being called her first name from the girl she considered her daughter. Sure Naruko had called her by her first name once or twice, but never like this. She never dreamed she'd have to hear her beloved girl speak to her like this. And while she knew it was for a good cause, it didn't make the pain any less bearable.
Naruko then lifted herself onto her tippy-toes to whisper into Yugito's ear. "No matter what happens... no matter where I go, and wherever you go... you'll always be my mom, the one who raised me and taught me to be who I am today, and the one I'm eternally grateful to."
Yugito's eyes started to well with tears. "And you'll always be my daughter," she whispered as she hugged Naruko tightly.
"Thank you... thank you so much for taking me in, for taking me away from the place where I would've been at the mercy of the people who don't know the difference between a scroll and the kunai sealed within it," Naruko continued as she forced the tears back. "Thank you for letting me know what it's like to have a family to support you... and for letting me know what it feels like to have a mother's love."
"No, thank you. For bringing such joy into my life, and for letting me know the joy of raising a child... of raising you," Yugito murmured.
Naruko smiled and her hold tightened as she whispered four sentences into her mother-figure's ear — the last four sentences she would ever speak to Yugito for quite a few years.
All too soon, Naruko was gone from Yugito's grasp and when the woman's eyesight cleared from tears that were blurring her vision, Naruko was running into the forest with a light skip in her step. Just as she was about to fade from view, the blonde turned around and waved, the typical Uzumaki Grin lighting up her face. She lifted up her hand, forefinger sticking up and thumb out to the side, the back of her hand facing them. (5)
It was that image that was etched deeply into the minds of the remaining jinchuuriki as they continued onward to Kumogakure no Sato and Kirigakure no Sato.
Yugito had a small, sad smile on her face as she continued walking to Kumo with Bee as her only companion. Naruko's last words were ringing repeatedly in her head, and the woman found them as a source of comfort.
I love you, okaa-san. I may not be able to see you, and there may be hundreds of miles between us, but I'll always be looking your way. I'll be watching over you forever. I promise.
(1) AmaLee's English version of "Isabella's Lullaby" from Promised Neverland
(2) Oyaji = Father/My old man
(3) Basically the Henge that Tsunade uses, that is pretty much permanent and uses little to no chakra, and only dispels when she is drained of chakra. So due to being a jinchuuriki and having advanced skills, Naru-chan will be using this instead of the normal Henge which dispels when one is injured or attacked
(3) Kakashi's eye smile
(4) Fairy Tail's hand sign
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this chapter! There is still more to come, and I hope you stay with me all the way!