I cannot tell you how many times I have posted this chapter trying to get it to work. I'm sorry for flooding your inbox, but apparently ffnet had a glitch. If you're seeing this, they fixed it. Enjoy.
Naruto woke to find his mother laying next to him on the hospital bed. For a second, he just laid there, blinking, and then the memories came back. Why that… that… Teme… He was going to—
His mother's voice interrupted that thought.
"Sakura told me what happened," she said softly, somehow sensing he was awake. "Why did you try to come after me, Naruto?"
The genin grit his teeth. "They wouldn't let me go! You were in trouble and they stopped me!" And if he wasn't strong enough to get away from them now, he'd have to get better so it wouldn't happen again!
"They did the right thing, Naruto."
"How can you say that?" he asked, pushing away from her so he could see her face. Or so she could see his – see how upset that made him.
"They hadn't released you from the hospital yet."
"I was fine," he returned with a slight growl. Why didn't she understand this? "I am fine. The stupid fox…" he stopped then, not wanting to go into that any further. Did she even know? He thought she did, but he wasn't sure.
She shook her head sadly. "Naruto… I died protecting you once, and I'd do it again. That's what a mother is supposed to do. It's my job just as much as it's my job to be a Kunoichi. It's not your job to protect me. Not yet. And if you died… I couldn't bear it."
"Do you think I could bear losing you?" he exploded. "Do you think I'd feel better than you if you left me alone again?!"
The expression on her face was so utterly heartbroken it stopped him in his tracks. "I'll never be able to apologize enough for that," she said, putting her hands on his shoulders and bowing her head down. "We took all precautions, we fought our hardest… Because of that, I know I can't promise I'll always be here, but you can believe I will give everything I have to stay by your side this time. I'm not leaving any time soon."
He felt himself begin to relax at that, but only a little.
"You can't promise that," he whispered, voice choked. "That fight, at the Hokage tower… That happened just now. You…" He took a deep breath. "No one has ever destroyed the Hokage tower before."
She sighed. It was weird to hear dead people breathing, but he treasured the sound nonetheless. It meant she was here. "I suppose I can't," she agreed. "But I can promise you that I will do everything I possibly can to stay until you are ready. I know it isn't much of a promise in the ninja world, but I wasn't a half bad of a fighter, even when I was alive. I could even survive a bijuu getting ripped out of me so—"
Naruto's head whipped up so fast, he almost hit her jaw.
She blinked. "You didn't know even that?" She sighed again, but it sounded harsh and frustrated. She also shot a glare at the window and the broken Hokage Tower in the distance. Then she looked back at him, expression softening. "I carried the burden of being Konoha's Jinchuuriki since I was five. I came to live in Konoha because finding vessels who could handle the Kyuubi's chakra is… not easy. Uzumaki tend to be the best – the only – candidates.
"When I found out I was pregnant with you," she paused and a loving smile crept back onto her face, "your father and I were so happy." Then the smile faded again into something sad… at least Naruto thought it was sad. Normally he had what Iruka-sensei had called a sixth sense about what people were feeling, but he wasn't sure he could feel anything right now. He was too… full, somehow. Did that even make sense?
"The problem is that when a Jinchuuriki gives birth, it weakens the seal. A lot of my memories are fuzzy but I know someone attacked me, despite our preparations. He was able to release the seal somehow. That's why the Kyuubi attacked on your birthday.
"Anyway, usually when a Jinchuuriki has their bijuu removed, it kills them. It didn't kill me, not immediately." She looked proud of that for a moment, but then the look faded and she slumped. "But I'd just given birth and had my seal ripped apart… I was on borrowed time. I just remember that it hurt and I felt so… empty."
She didn't seem to be looking at Naruto, head tipped to the side and staring into the distance. "Your dad fought the attacker and drove him off somehow, but the Kyuubi was still attacking and he had to find someone to seal it into. He couldn't even use the same seal as what was used on me because that required a functioning chakra system and babies don't have that yet. He used a particular seal…" she faded off, brow furrowing. "I didn't realize until he brought us to the place where he had to seal the fox. I…" she shook her head and cleared her throat.
"Well, maybe we can talk about that part later. But basically, he couldn't seal the fox back into me. My coils had gone through too much damage. I was dying and he knew it. There was only one other option available."
Naruto looked down at his bed and the hands grasping the blanket there. "Me."
He felt her hand on his shoulder, and while he didn't accept it or move towards it, he didn't reject it either. He hadn't had anything like that, ever, but he didn't want to be close to her right now either. She'd been so involved in everything that had caused him so much pain for so long… and it was hard to think about it all. He didn't feel like he'd really understood everything she'd said, not because he was dumb but just because there was so much there. Like she'd tried to take an ocean of information and pour it into his head.
She put a hand on his cheek and he looked up at her, only then realizing his eyes had filled with tears.
"It wasn't supposed to be like this," she whispered. "We were supposed to be a family. You, me, and your dad."
Naruto felt a lump in his throat and looked down, nodding. He wanted nothing more than that, himself. It helped to think that that's what she'd wanted too, but it also hurt, and he didn't understand why. He didn't like that he didn't understand it. He hated it, actually.
And his father…
He didn't even know who his father was! Someone who could fight the fox until the Fourth Hokage came and finished it off.
She brushed her hand over his hair. "That's a lot to take in, I know. But to get back to the original point, I'm sorry I scared you. Thing is, it's a kunoichi's job to fight for her hidden village."
He bit his lip as he looked up through the teras. He'd never let anyone see him cry since the Old Man, and that had been years ago. But he didn't mind his mother seeing him.
"I'm a ninja too," he said.
She sighed, a sad smile on her face. "I know, and I'm so proud of you. And wanting to protect the people of the village can give you great strength and determination. But it doesn't make you invincible. Please, please remember that, okay?"
He felt like he'd missed something there, but he didn't want to ask what. He didn't want to look stupid in front of her. He already looked weak… he could take one, but not both.
"Only if you promise it too," he replied, mouth set determinedly.
His mother blinked at him, then relaxed into a smiled. A warm, relieved smile. Then she laughed.
"I promise to remember that even though I'm undead and an Uzumaki, I'm not invincible."
Naruto grinned. "Me too." He paused and thought about that. "Except the undead part." His mother laughed harder and his own grin widened. He would never not be a ninja. It was in his blood. It was in his mother's too, apparently. He didn't want her to fight. He wanted her to stay here and safe.
But… he couldn't bring himself to ask her to do more than promise to remember him – to try and not leave him alone. And now that he had someone to leave behind, he'd do the same. Well, he'd try.
They sat there in a comfortable silence for a couple of seconds beore another question crossed his mind. "How did you know I was awake earlier?" he asked. "I did what ninja are supposed to do and stayed all limp and stuff." Then he felt a little spark of excitement. "Do you have one of those bloodline things? Can you read people's minds?" Not the best ninja ability ever, but he could totally work with it.
She snorted. "No. I'm no Yamanaka."
He frowned. Like Ino? Oh, right, she could use jutsu that let her read other people's minds. Was that a clan thing, then?
"Your breathing changed," his mother said, drawing him back to their conversation.
He couldn't help but feel a little let down. That was it?
Then he paused and realized she was breathing too. "Hey… why are you breathing?"
She blinked at his sudden question, then smiled. "I think it's a habit. I don't have to." With that, she took a breath and stopped… which was just as weird as her breathing, actually. "Besides," she went on, "it's difficult to talk without breathing and it calms me down." And then she started back up again.
He paused, thinking about that for several seconds. "Does that mean you could go under water for a long time?"
She blinked at him, then thought herself. "Well, as an undead, I should be able to go into many situations that would be deadly for living people. Poison gasses, fire to an extent, water and anything else that would affect breathing would be mere annoyances to me." Then she grinned vindictively at Naruto.
"That'll just make it all that much harder to get rid of me, I suppose."
Naruto just returned her grin, full force.
Homura Mitokado sat at a lone table at his favorite restaurant, gazing out the window at the people passing by, picking at his food. Normally, he'd be accompanying his family – his adorable granddaughter loved to come here as much as he did – but today he'd needed some time to himself to think. Unfortunately, he hadn't come up with any good conclusions.
He felt her presence before he saw her but didn't react until she spoke.
"May I join you?"
Mitokado looked up at his former teammate, Koharu Utatane, and nodded. Then he went back to staring out the window.
After several seconds of silence, he finally spoke. "It's just as amazing as anything we ever dreamed," he said softly.
Utatane followed his gaze and sighed, nodding. "It is."
"I sometimes wish I could remember the warring clans era," Mitokado continued, shifting his glasses further onto his nose. "Just for the comparison. But I only remember a Konoha that was barely a conglomeration of ninja clans and lone ninja only half-trusting each other. We, as one of the first academy class graduates, were supposed to rise above that." He turned to look at the old woman sitting across from him. "Somehow, I think we only became worse."
She didn't have a rebuttal to that, so they fell back into silence until a waiter came by and asked for Utatane's order. She simply asked for some tea and then went back to more silence.
Finally, she broke the heaviness between them. "Why did you call young Uzumaki the 'demon brat'? You know how sealing arts work and you know how Hiruzen feels about the boy."
Mitokado knew that was coming. He sighed. "I hold no grudge against the child – although my family has been a target of some of his pranks."
Utatane snorted softly. "Who hasn't?"
"True, but still. We both agreed that Hiruzen was getting soft in his old age. We both sided with Danzo more often than not. We still followed our Hokage's orders, but I know I wasn't the only one who took my position as advisor for granted."
The old woman sitting across from him didn't flinch, but he could tell it was a near thing.
"I didn't like how he was using our Jinchuuriki. Danzo approached me and asked me to help keep up the reminder of the boy's burden. Not that the town would ever forget, but I was just keep the awareness up. It was supposed to drive the boy to become better – give him hardships to overcome."
"He's a child," Utatane said softly.
Mitokado didn't respond, which really showed his acquiescence better than anything he could have said. "I think I've forgotten what it's like to be a child," he finally said. "And then I wonder if I ever knew. In the last hundred years since this town was founded, we've had three wars, Utatane. And there is a distinct difference between the genin that were broken in during a war – as we were – and those that weren't. We were pushed to graduate at such a young age…"
"It kept us alive," the old woman pointed out.
"But at what cost?" the old man asked, voice barely a whisper.
A beat, and then she answered. "I used to think I knew. Now… I am not so sure."
Mitokado chuckled mirthlessly. "I've come to a similar conclusion."
The waiter brought Utatane's tea and Mitokado used the opportunity to try and choke a few more bites of food down. It tasted fine, but he just… didn't want to eat. However years of conditioning himself to take what food he could get when he could get it overrode any discomfort he may have felt. Barely.
"I called the boy a demon brat because that was simply what I was used to calling him. I fell into habit."
Utatane frowned. "Dangerous."
Mitokado nodded. "Yes. Especially over something I did not feel strongly about. It was just a habit because it was just a favor. Which is why I agree with Hiruzen that I am no longer fit to be an advisor or a council member." He was only a member because he was an official advisor, but the point still stood. He looked back out at the crowd. "This… hasn't been our Konoha for a while. In some ways it's better… in some ways it's worse, but I can no longer adapt to it. Not like Konoha needs me to." He sighed again. "I'm old, I'm set in my ways… and I have lost the trust of both my friend and myself."
The old woman frowned. "There was no way you could have known about Danzo–" she started, but he shook his head.
"Wasn't there? Or were we just so convinced of our own superiority – of his superiority – that we couldn't see what was right before us? We couldn't see the traitor in our midst… and how much of our advice has hurt the village because we allowed that man to taint our vision, Utatane?"
The old woman's mouth thinned. "We can only do our best," she said.
He shook his head. "I no longer think our best is good enough."
She looked down at her tea. "Konoha deserves better," she finally said.
He smiled sadly at her. "Yes. It does."
"So we'll just have to do better going forward," she finally said, voice firming up.
He chuckled, feeling his spirits lift. "Your determination and willingness to move on is why you're still a good advisor. Do well in your role, Utatane, if Kushina-san still keeps you on. Do better than we did before."
She nodded firmly. "I will."
His smile widened and he felt lighter. "Good."
"No way!" Naruto practically bounced up and down in front of his mother. After their conversation earlier, she'd finally said he needed a distraction and had told him the news. "Jiji wants you to be the Fifth Hokage?! How is this not awesome?!"
Kushina humphed. "It's my luck that I'd only get it after I died."
"But my mom's going to be the only undead Kage in the elemental nations!"
The red-head looked over to her son, blinked, then cleared her throat. "Um, about that…"
"Kushina-san!" A man in red armor came bursting into the room.
"Show more respect," hissed a white-haired man behind him. "We're in a hospital, Nii-san."
The red-clad man waved a hand nonchalantly. "The best thing for recovering ninja is a little noise. Otherwise it's too quiet."
The white-haired man put a hand to the bridge of his nose. "How could I ever miss this?" he muttered to himself. Meanwhile, the first man walked up to Kushina with a wide grin on his face.
"We've come to say goodbye. It was lovely meeting you and getting to fight beside you."
Kushina looked a little torn between irritation and hero worship. "Th-thank you, Hokage-sama."
The man waved his hand again. "No, you don't need to be so formal. My time has passed. I'm just Hashirama now."
Naruto, looking very fox-like with his puffed out cheeks and disapproving scowl stood with his arms folded next to his mother, glaring up at the two men. "Who're you?"
Kushina deflated a little. "Naruto, dear one, meet the First and Second Hokage."
Naruto's previously narrowed eyes widened comically. "Eeeeehh?"
"Ah, you must be the Naruto that little Saru likes to speak about. It's a pleasure meeting you!" Hashirama held his hand out to Naruto, who looked at the offered appendage like it would attack him.
"Are you really a Hokage?" he asked skeptically.
Behind Hashirama, his brother snorted, a small smile coming to his face. "Unfortunately, yes."
The dark-haired man frowned and turned to his companion. "Ototou-chan," he practically whined.
The second man went back to rubbing the bridge of his nose – a useless gesture seeing as they didn't have the internal organs or even blood circulation to imitate pressure points. They had a chakra system, supported by the seal, but it wasn't the same. "If I'm the younger brother, why was I always the responsible one?"
The first man pouted. Actually pouted. "I'm responsible enough."
Tobirama scoffed, loudly.
"These guys are undead too?" Naruto asked his mother, who nodded. "And they're Hokage?" Another nod. "But they weren't Hokage while they were undead, so you're still the only undead Hokage," he eventually concluded with a satisfied nod. Kushina snorted.
"You truly are my son."
Naruto beamed as she ruffled his hair.
"I still don't know if I can tick something off my bucket list if I accomplished it after I died, but I promise you I'll be the best Hokage ever, 'ttabane!"
"Of course you will be," Hashirama said, smiling brightly. "I have complete faith in you. Anyone who would be willing to stick around in the land of the living like this deserves the title Hokage."
Naruto frowned, but Kushina just smiled sadly, looking over at her son and ruffling his hair again. "Well, this one needs me. As does the village, apparently." Her smile softened as her gaze lingered on her son, who looked between the adults, confused. "But mostly this one."
The blond's eyes landed and stayed on his mother, a dopey smile stretching across his lips.
"Well, it was a pleasure meeting the Fifth Hokage," Hashirama said with a bow. "A shame we couldn't meet the Fourth."
Kushina looked out the window at the Hokage Monument fondly, smile still melancholy. "Minato would have loved to meet you."
Naruto's eyes widened and he bounced excitedly. "You knew the Fourth Hokage?" he asked.
The red-head blinked, then looked back at her son, blankly. "Of course I did! He was your father, dattabane."
Then, after almost a solid minute of utter stillness (which was alarming in and of itself for anyone who truly knew Naruto), "My… father?"
Kushina rubbed the bridge of her nose. "It looks like I need to have another talk with Hiruzen."
"What great luck! We were about to go see him to say goodbye!" Hashirama exclaimed.
Tobirama looked like he wanted to die on the spot. Or kill Hashirama, maybe. "Nii-san," he practically growled.
Hashirama, completely ignoring his brother, grabbed Kushina's hand and dragged her out the door.
"I'll be back, Naruto," she called over her shoulder, noting her son's worried expression. He did seem to relax a little at that, and nodded. He was still a patient after all. He would have already been released if the nurses hadn't found him unconscious – not asleep, but full-on unconscious – just before his original scheduled release, thanks to Sasuke.
Kushina agreed with the hospital keeping him for observation for one more day.
She didn't particularly agree with being dragged through the hospital by a loud, dark-haired undead man dressed in red and black, even if it was one of her childhood heroes.
Tobirama just shook his head and followed the other two out the door.
It hadn't really occurred to Kushina that she would have to kill them.
Well, not kill them, per se, but she was the only one who knew their seals well enough to be the one to release them. That, and she didn't want the weaknesses of this Edo Tensei to get around. Not if she wanted to keep traitors and assassins away from her own potential weaknesses. Edo Tensei was an amazing jutsu. It wasn't infallible.
Still, watching the first and second Hokages give Saurtobi one more goodbye hug (well, Hashirama did, Tobirama simply shook the man's hand and patted his shoulder) made something in her chest, about where her heart should be, ache. She wasn't supposed to be here. She'd died. This world was for the living and she could feel… something telling her that this was wrong.
She pushed it to the side as she had since the battle with Orochimaru and stepped forward so the Hokages could bid her farewell with a clasped hand and a bow. Then, she put her hands on their necks and channeled her chakra. They dropped into the two graves that had been prepared for them.
But she couldn't ignore it when she saw their faces revert to the host bodies' natural faces. This version of the Edo Tensei used an already dead – freshly dead – corpse as a medium. The two boys – for that's what they were, children just a couple of years older than Naruto – lay there in what would likely end up being an unmarked grave, and she didn't even know their names. She wondered who had died to bring her back and her stomach churned at the thought. Not that she could get sick like this…
She didn't belong here.
She needed to return to where she should be…
But she couldn't.
She wouldn't. Not as long as people here needed her.
Not as long as Naruto needed her.
She thought back on the last words Hashirama and Tobirama had said to her. "Don't force yourself to stay too long," from the first and, "We never tested to see how long the jutsu lasted," from the second. A warning and an entreaty.
Well, she'd just have to make sure she could stay as long as she needed to. She'd have to wear armor on the back of her neck – the last thing she'd need would be something like one of Orochimaru's kunai (she'd taken a look at those things – disgusting didn't begin to cover it) or someone who could figure out seals to come after her. Plus, she had no idea if she was more susceptible to certain jutsu like this. They hadn't gotten into a fight, so she had no idea if she could withstand burns or ice (she had a theory that cold would be very difficult to combat without circulating blood in her body) or genjutsu or what.
She had a lot of testing to do before she took that hat from Sarutobi.
And a little boy to get back to.
AN: Well... I have to say I'm overwhelmed by everyone's response to this. It was honestly meant as a gift for a friend and I didn't expect it to take off like it did. As such, I had ideas for future chapters, but nothing written. Yes, I do plan on continuing it, but updates will be slow. Still, this story has almost 600 follows, over 400 favs and is in over 15 communities. AFTER ONE CHAPTER.
I'm still mindblown.
Thank you for your support. I hope you enjoy this. :D
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