The door closed behind her with a click. She took off her sandals with a smooth motion and neatly arranged them. The girl observed their alignment with a keen eye, squinting a bit, looking for anything amiss.
A nudge with her toe fixed the slight error in angles.
Izumi nodded in satisfaction.
She stood up and turned around, only to stop in her steps abruptly, a frown forming on her face.
A pair of small, blue sandals laid messily on the way, one of them turned upside down and the other one…
How did it manage to get itself into the flower pot?
She tilted her head. Her brother was as messy as they came when it came to order and rules. He talked while eating, threw his sandals away haphazardly, never finished his vegetables. Even his handwriting was quite funny.
Izumi returned the sandals to their designated place by the door, just beside her own footwear, and her face relaxed.
For all his flaws, she secretly hoped he never grows out of them. The day would be pretty sad when her little brother stops needing her help.
She made her way to the kitchen, and her mind wandered off to her friend. He wasn't good with crowds and attention, as opposed to her, who has always been the center of attention—primarily due to being the clan heiress. But the way he had almost frozen in the midst made her worry for him. It was not merely due to being uncomfortable.
Did he see something they could not?
"—ould they?! We—"
Someone was shouting. At this time? It was rare for them to have guests this late in the evening.
She followed the sound, walking through the corridors of her house, all the way to her father's study room, where she witnessed a peculiar sight. Her younger brother was leaning against the door, his ear set against it as he tried to listen to the voices arguing inside.
The boy jumped upon hearing the sudden, unexpected voice. He was already risking quite a lot by spying on his father like this. Although his face lit up upon seeing who it was.
"Nee-s—" he started excitedly but then covered his mouth with his hands. Izumi raised a brow out of amusement, a slight curl of her lips when Sasuke shushed her, a finger on his lips.
His face was grave.
He pointed towards the door to their father's room, mouthing something when she poked him on the forehead.
"Hey!" The boy took a step back, a pout on his lips as he covered his forehead with his hands, leveling an accusing glare at his sister.
"There's something in the kitchen," she whispered. Sasuke's eyes lit in surprise. In an instant, the younger Uchiha stopped sulking, an excited smile slowly forming on his face, his previous mood forgotten.
He didn't wait before running off.
She watched him go with a small smile on her face, which dissolved into a neutral line as soon as Sasuke disappeared around the corner. Izumi turned, facing the door to her father's room, and took a deep breath, exhaling through her mouth.
The door slid open with a slam before she could do anything. A man—elder Takehiko, she remembered—stepped out of the room, almost shoving her aside.
"We shall talk more about this, Fugaku-boy."
"No, we won't," Fugaku said, grunting, his arms crossed. "And I'm your leader. Not your five-year-old grandson."
The two men stared into each other's eyes, neither of them giving in. Izumi stood aside and watched them curiously.
"You're making a grave mistake," said Takehiko evenly, but Fugaku remained unfazed. The old man turned around when he realized he wasn't going to get his point across. His old and experienced eyes peered into Izumi's young, dark ones for a brief moment before he shook his head and slowly walked his way out of the clan head's house.
Izumi stared at his retreating frame until he disappeared around the corner. She looked at her father, her eyes asking a silent question.
Fugaku shook his head. "We're relocating."
"Yes." He didn't elaborate.
Izumi averted her eyes, looking down at the floor. She could see why the elders would react like that. Their first time relocating, she had been barely six years old, but she still remembered the unrest it had caused within the clan.
She looked up when she heard a cough. Fugaku kept his gaze to the side as he asked, somewhat uncomfortably, "So, how did you do…?"
It was a lousy attempt at changing the subject. The two of them knew it, but neither said it out loud. Slowly, a tiny smile crept to her face, curling her lips ever so slightly.
"The whole thing?" He raised a brow at her, his eyes widening just a bit. No one else would notice the minute difference, but she caught the detail almost instantly.
"Hm," she let out with a slight nod.
Fugaku's right hand twitched. Perhaps to put his hand on her head like he used to all those years ago. Or to pat her shoulder like he would with a comrade for a job well done.
In the end, he chose to fish something out from the sleeves of his kimono and handed it to her.
A white envelope.
She took it with both hands, her dark brows furrowed. What could it be? She doesn't recall ever having friends who would send her a letter. She could count the number of friends she had had on one hand and still have fingers left.
She flipped the white envelope.
Dark eyes widened. A distinct sign that she was familiar with.
"ANBU… Why…?" She had never given it a thought, but she wasn't ready for such an elite organization at her age. Not yet.
"The Hokage recognizes your potential. And I do as well."
She looked up with wide eyes, only to watch as a smirk grew on her father's face, almost slowly. It wasn't the one that oozed with self-confidence or arrogance, the one that made her uncomfortable. Nor the one that inspired terror. He wasn't feeling any of that.
Her own lips curled up into a slight grin.
Although, joining the elite organization and working directly under the Hokage would eat up much of her time. She barely got much time for other activities as of now. Most of all, it would mean distancing Sasuke even further.
"I will need to think about it."
Fugaku nodded his head. "In any case, I know that you will do the right thing.
"After all, you're my daughter."
His violet eyes rested on her pale, tear-stained face. The whole ordeal had left the young girl exhausted, both emotionally and physically. She had fallen asleep probably as soon as he had arrived. As if knowing all would be right with him near her.
Even after what had happened.
The realization made him feel even more guilty. It would make sense for her to be afraid of him. The fact that she wasn't, spoke volumes of the trust that she had in him. But he couldn't do anything about the guilt until she wakes up. Kicking at the would-be killer's unconscious body only helped so much, after all.
The cold, chilling winds of the dark night whistled against his ears, caressing his face and making his blond hair dance along with it. He unconsciously pressed the child in his arms closer to his chest, closer to the warmth, and his sister snuggled against him in her sleep.
The words were not new for him, but he never felt anything associated with them. Thinking about Father never sprung any protective figure within his mind. Thinking about Mother never brought up feelings of warmth.
All it brought along with it was a hole in his heart that he didn't know what to fill with.
He had found his Family today. And almost lost the only one that he had left. What might have happened if he hadn't decided to look for her…
The mere thought made his heart leap in his throat.
Never, he thought to himself, looking at her sleeping face. Never will I let anything happen to you. Ever again.
The sleeping child seemed to relax ever so slightly, curling against him, her lips parted open.
It is my promise to you as your elder brother.
He closed the door behind him as he entered her apartment. The pungent smell of half-made noodles assaulted him instantly, making him scrunch his nose. It would seem like the little rascal had been living on instant ramen for the entire time he was away.
A cursory glance to the dirty sink only solidified his suspicions.
This would have to change.
But before that…
He navigated across the messy apartment carefully, not making any sudden movements. The pleasant wind blew in from the open window as he walked by the bed, ruffling the curtains. The green, cartoonish, toad-like pattern on it had him stifle a chuckle.
It was silly. But still, somehow, it suited her.
Although the toad wallet on the desk had him raise a brow.
He gently lowered her on the bed, being careful so that her head didn't smack against it when something caught his eye. Gingerly, he touched her swollen wrist, which had red finger marks on it.
"I'm sorry…" he whispered slowly, eyes filled with remorse. "You must have been really scared."
Soft, little fingers wrapped around his own. His voice got caught in his throat as he gritted his teeth, tightly clenching the white bedsheet under his palm. It was his fault. He had been weak. Weak enough to let his subconscious play games with him. Even if he knew that the Jailor and prisoner were entirely different entities, the correlation between the two was made. A seed of doubt was sown, so deep within. Unnoticeable.
His mind only capitalized on that.
A strong gust of wind blew the curtains apart, the moonlight sneaking in from the window, glistening through the clouds. Suddenly, he stilled; his forehead rested against the cold, smooth wood of the bed. For a moment, there was no sound in the room. He lifted his head up and pointedly aimed his gaze at the spot on the open window.
"You're not supposed to know that I'm here."
The voice apparently came out of nowhere. The air shimmered, making the moon seemingly flicker before a person materialized out of thin air, sitting on the window sill with a hand resting on his leg.
"Jiraiya-sama," he let out, no distinct emotion in his voice as he met the eyes of one of the Sannin.
Jiraiya raised both his brows, whistling. "So you're a sensor, huh?"
A moment of silence passed as the two stared at each other. The white-haired man heaved a sigh when Naruto didn't say anything.
"Look, kid. I saw what happened—"
"And you watched as it happened."
"No! I mean–I followed you when you bolted out, and you–you know you had it in control…" He stopped and looked away, clicking his tongue. "Look, I'm sorry."
He said it. But it wasn't for what had happened today. The two of them knew it.
"You could have taken her along with you. She would have been safer with someone like you."
Jiraiya shook his head and looked away. "I did think about it, but it wasn't a good option. The life I live is full of danger. I'm never at rest. The people I meet up with will all gladly stab me in the back as soon as the opportunity strikes. And besides, I did get her admitted to an orphanage before—"
"Before they kicked her out."
Jiraiya opened his mouth and then closed it. He lifted up a finger and opened his mouth again before he stopped. "Sensei had his ANBU agents guarding her," he said, but his voice was less sure compared to before.
"Where were the ANBU agents today? When that madman tried to kill her."
Jiraiya's face twisted in irritation. "Look–why are you being so difficult?!"
The boy lowered his head and shifted his gaze to the side, to his finger that was still in the grasp of the sleeping girl's palm. He felt her tense for a moment, her face scrunched into an uncomfortable expression, before her breathing evened out, relaxed.
"Because you say that you're sorry," he said, his voice sounding almost disappointed, "but you just keep making excuses."
Jiraiya looked at him for a moment before he let out a bitter, quiet chuckle. "I must be losing my touch if a brat like you can start calling me out now." He shook his head and sighed. "I just… feel like I failed your old man, you know. But it's tough accepting it since I was always so proud of him. Always thought of him as my own kid. But when it came to taking care of his daughter?" He scoffed. "I got cold feet. I ran away.
"I haven't got the best record with taking care of children, anyway."
Naruto looked at the Toad-sage's face and only found genuine sorrow etched over it. He didn't really have anything against the man, other than the fact that he left his sister alone in a village that seemed to loath her entire existence. But he could, somewhat, understand him. He could have taken her in as well when he had found her all those months ago, but he tried to shove the responsibility to someone else. He wasn't any better in that regard.
"At least, you sent her all those toads."
Jiraiya blinked before he grinned, scratching his cheek. "Caught me, huh? What gave it away? Damn, you must be as smart as your old man if you can track my trails—"
Naruto didn't bother correcting the man. He had read about Jiraiya's eccentric nature in the books, and seeing all those toads over her stuff, he flicked a knife in the dark. Who else would be crazy enough to send toad patterned curtains, wallet, and he swore he saw a toad lunchbox lying on his way here?
Apparently, it struck true to its mark.
"Say, Jiraiya-sama…" he interrupted Jiraiya, who had now gone off to a tangent about things that Naruto could barely care about.
Jiraiya raised a brow.
"Hm? What do you wanna know?"
The boy knew exactly what he wanted to know from the man. He had so many questions now that he knew who his dad and mom were. He really should have asked it before, but his gut had all but screamed at him to find Natsumi. He just had a terrible feeling about it. And he was glad that he listened to his intuition.
The more he thought about it now, the more curious it made him. And a bit suspicious. The Yondaime was known to possess one of the most clever minds of the generation. How could someone like Orochimaru, while arguably a genius on his own, manage to fool his dad into believing that he was truly dead? And the Sandaime must have known about this. He should have been able to figure it out.
There were only two people who could have the answers that he was seeking. He had no idea where the most wanted rogue criminal of Konoha was, but he did have the most gallant of the legendary Sannin in front of him.
Jiraiya's grin slipped, and suddenly, his entire presence seemed to change right in front of the boy. The goofy man who was laughing just now seemed to frown heavily. And for a moment, Naruto felt that he had asked something that should have not been asked.
He stared right into those steely eyes, with his own that were filled with firm determination.
He had all the right to know about it!
Jiraya leaped off the window sill and jumped into the room, and Naruto might have worried that the noise would wake his sister up, but he didn't have to. The Toad-sage could be exceptionally quiet when he wanted to. He looked out of the window and towards the tree right before it, his gaze not overly hostile but neither friendly. Then, without warning, a single white strand of hair shot from his wild mane with incredible speed, whistling, startling Naruto with the sudden move.
It hit right under the branch of the tree.
He was just about to question the man's intentions when his eyes widened.
A dark shadow flickered away from the same branch and disappeared into the black of the night.
Naruto gulped quietly, feeling the dryness of his throat. Someone had managed to bypass his senses.
"How…? I didn't even sense their chakra," he said more to himself than the other man, his brows furrowed in thought.
"We can figure it out later." Jiraiya took out a blank paper from his haori. He bit his thumb and then scribbled something on the paper with his blood, his thumb concentrated with blue chakra. Without even giving it another glance, the man slapped his left hand on the wall, just by the window.
Black markings crawled over the walls, starting from around the paper and all the way to the other side. The room was illuminated with a bright light for a fraction of a second before it died down.
Naruto squinted. "It's…
"Still the same."
Indeed, nothing had changed in the room.
Excluding the very thick layer of chakra that he could now feel as it surrounded the entire room. But why? Chakra was transparent. How—
"It's a Genjutsu formula," Jiraiya grumbled. "The least you can do is act to be impressed. It's actually really tough." It really wasn't that tough to perform minor Jutsu with the written formula, but it was damn difficult to master it.
When Naruto still didn't look convinced, Jiraiya tried his final attack. "You know… the Yondaime was a master of Fuiinjutsu and Jutsu formulas," he said almost uninterestedly. Jiraiya couldn't help but smile when the boy looked at him with an all too eager look.
No. This was not Minato.
But the Toad-sage still laughed heartily. The two were so alike that they might as well be the same person. Minato was a shy boy. Very soft-spoken. But when it came to learning new Jutsu and techniques, there wasn't anyone as eager as him. Those violet eyes might remind him of Kushina, but the intelligence and conviction shining within them was all Minato's.
Although the scene that he witnessed earlier…
The son of Red Hot Habanero, indeed.
Minato's temper was cold. Like bone-chilling water. It made one's knees weak and arms heavy. He did not raise his voice. Ever. He never needed to. The softest of whispers carried the heaviest of weights.
Kushina, on the other hand, would burst like a volcano when aggravated enough. Her 'enough' was much too little for the people around her. He, sadly, had been on the other side of her temper many times. Too many for his liking.
Although what he wouldn't give now to witness it again.
He wiped the tears from his eyes, his chuckles dying out, and looked at the boy in front of him.
Why was the kid looking at him as if he were a chimp?
He didn't have to ponder for long when he found tearful blue eyes peering at him, along with flat violet ones.
The shadow flickered from roof to roof, quickly moving in the black of the night. It shot through a tree, ruffling its leaves, which were then swept away by the night breeze, swaying in the skies above the village of Konoha.
It jumped against the edge of a rooftop and flipped. The moonlight illuminated the figure's clothing: a dark, hooded cloak that covered all its features. Falling to the ground masterfully, without disturbing the silence, the figure bolted in the direction of its destination.
There was nothing special about the small hut at the southernmost edges of Konoha. Nothing special about its straw roof or muddy walls. Nor about the way its wooden windows creaked in the gloomy silence.
No such structure existed at that very place.
The shadow landed in a crouch right in front of the hut, narrowed eyes scanning the perimeter from the other side of the mask. The clearing was quiet, almost eerily so, with the only sound being the distant song of insects.
The cabin flickered in the dead of night before it disappeared altogether.
A desolate dwelling a moment ago was now an entirely different establishment: a stairway extending to the depths of the earth. At the end of it remained a door made of metal, a thin layer of rust over its frame. There was no hesitation in the person's charge. No uncertainty when the knuckles knocked on the door; once, twice, the sound echoed off the walls in the narrow stairway.
A monotonous voice sounded from the other side.
"You are the leaves that bathe in the sun."
The figure reached up to its hood and lowered it, revealing a blank, white mask. When the person spoke, their voice was distinctively masculine. But not deep enough to be an adult.
"We are the roots that grow in the dark."
The door groaned open.
Today was a bad day.
Yesterday wasn't any better, in retrospection.
Two of the three Sannin had stormed into his office–now, how dare they?—and had all but kidnapped him from up there. His master plan of escaping the place had failed before he could even execute it.
What followed was a session that the blond bitch had called 'Therapy.' He had been strapped to a chair and all but gagged with something that smelled terrible—oh god, it stunk worse than a dead animal. With no idea about his location.
And then came the questions.
They had all but grilled him out, squeezing every drop of information that he had on him about the operation from all those years ago.
Of course, he had refused and spat on the bitch's face when they took off his gags.
That wasn't one of his most intelligent decisions in hindsight.
The skank had shown just why she was famed as the most excellent medic in the entire world. He had no idea he could scream like that. Or that his legs could hurt so much. Or chest. Or his fingers at that. Perhaps, some other time, he might have jumped at the opportunity to have a one-on-one chat with the blonde woman over the topic of human anatomy. Certainly would have made for an excellent hour or two.
And then the bitch had the bright idea to heal him and repeat it.
Again and again.
That had gone on for roughly half an hour before he had had enough and nodded and ejaculated all his knowledge about the activities that had taken place twelve years ago—on the account that they let him go after that.
A case of four missing teeth was still better than being dead.
They had let him go. But the only place that the duo had sent him off to was Konoha Jail. A person of his mental fortitude and skills was not made for jail. What ridiculousness!
He wasn't actually counting on anyone bailing him out of jail.
Scheming with a traitor was a horrible crime, apparently.
So, indeed, he was all too happy to see a somewhat friendlier pair of eyes. Or just an eye at that. And it was only fitting that another person who was guilty of the same crime—one who hadn't been caught yet—had come for his help.
"Danzo! Y–you came! I knew I could always count on you. We should–ah, talk more. Yeah."
The man had looked at him with an apathetic gaze—not that he could tell since the man almost always kept his good eye squinted to ridiculous levels. But he assumed if the bandaged man had opened his one good eye, his gaze would have been apathetic.
Danzo had only nodded to someone to his side. A subtle action.
And the next thing he knew, he was being carried like a newly married woman in her husband's arms, his shaggy blond hair in a disheveled mess and the ends of his once-magnificent-now-ruined lab coat flapping in the wind as the person carrying him bolted.
Forgetting about his embarrassment at that, it was difficult to be sad at his predicament. The jail time for traitors extended till their deaths. Either by natural causes or by their fellow inmates. And that was if they were allowed to live after being caught.
Although, Kyosuke didn't know what to feel when the man had said, "You shall be of great use to us."
It almost made him consider going back to prison.
He settled on crying instead.
Jiraiya flailed his arms as he tried to calm down the screaming girl.
"Hey! Hey!" he danced, jumping from leg to leg. "Shhh Shhh."
But the girl wasn't even looking at him! Why was she still screaming? Wasn't he awesome enough?!
Children were supposed to love him!
"Shit! She's crying."
He was a little surprised when Naruto actually glared at him and had the decency to look a little sheepish. But it wasn't his fault! He hasn't babysat in—ever! How was he supposed to control his tongue?
"I'm almost happy you didn't take her with you." Naruto squinted his eyes. "Who knows what inappropriate stuff you might have taught her?"
Where was all of this coming from?! Whatever happened to 'Jiraiya-sama?' What happened to all that respect he was getting?
Jiraiya was prepared to show off a magic trick that he had come by from a prostitute in the brothels of Kusa when the girl jumped off the bed and into the arms of the boy.
Naruto just looked at him in shock.
"Naaruu!" she cried out, throwing her arms around his neck and smashing her snot and tear-filled face on his neck. "I was so scared! Iruka-san said he was gonna help me but then he said something about his mom and I said something and he got really sad. He asked me about a fox monster but I said 'no' 'cause I really dunno any fox monsters. Then! Then! He said he was gonna hurt me and I got s-so scared and it hurt when he pulled on my wrist! I was so happy when you came! At first I was angry at you 'cause you looked at me like the others and yelled too. But I wasn't gonna stay mad forever. I swear! 'Cause you saved me. If you really really hated me you wouldn'ta done that."
Naruto merely stared at Jiraiya with a dumbfounded expression as the girl babbled inaudibly, crying on his shoulder. Jiraiya could only shrug. It wasn't like he understood a word of what she said either.
The girl stilled all of a sudden before she wiped her nose and tears on his shirt. Naruto, to his credit, only looked mildly uncomfortable. She turned around flippantly and crossed her arms. Jiraiya didn't see it, but he had a feeling that the girl might be pouting, what with that aura around her.
Naruto only raised a brow. "What happened, Natsu?"
The girl rounded upon him with a growl and started hitting his chest. "You stole my name, you name-thief! I heard it! How could you?!"
The boy looked surprised, but only for a moment before he smiled. He blocked her punches within his palms without any effort.
He had to lean back to avoid a vicious headbutt.
"The name belonged to our mother," he said, effectively freezing the thrashing child. "And since my little sister is the only one left with that name, I thought it would be nice to share something with her."
Her jaw lowered as she stilled. Blue eyes trembled, searching for any lies or deceit, only receiving the gentlest of smiles and sincerity. Her eyes were wide open, and Jiraiya thought that the girl might start crying again as she fell back on the bed, her lower lip trembling.
"You lie." Her voice was small and lacked any real intent.
"I do not. When have I ever lied to you?"
"You're not lying..?"
"Then… then you really are… my brother?" The word sounded foreign on her tongue.
"It's what the Hokage said. Do you think he lies too?"
"No," she says with a small laugh. "Old man doesn't lie. He's really kind. He treats me to ramen too!"
She didn't say anything for a while, and Jiraiya thought that the girl might have fallen asleep.
"Uzumaki Naruto sounds better than just Naruto, anyway," said the boy.
The girl giggled a bit before she sat up and leaned forward excitedly, wiping her leftover tears with the back of her hands. "Yeah! Just Naruto sounds silly. Uzumaki is an awesome name. Just like me!"
His pout only made her laugh harder. Naruto grumbled something under his breath, but it lacked any irritation.
A warm smile inched on his face. The two of them were blatantly ignoring the giant man sitting near the wall. He might as well be invisible. It was time to get himself introduced. After all, this would be his first time meeting his goddaughter. That one time in the crib did not count.
He really should have known that children do not take well to strange people infiltrating their home.
And Jiraiya was as strange as they got.
But on the positive side, he finally got to perform his magic trick. That seemed to work its charm and stopped the shrieking demon. Not demon as in—no! No. Jiraiya would never do that. He was better than that. He was Jiraiya, the gallant! The manliest man among men! The strongest of the Sannin and the only man in the world to bed over a thousand women (whoever says all of them were prostitutes was a big liar. Or Tsunade.) The hero of children, the savior of the oppressed.
And then the two kids had the gall to laugh at his fabulous introduction.
The night stretched long, and the three of them didn't get much sleep as they talked about the times long passed. Although it was just Jiraiya talking and the two kids listening, with an excited remark by the girl after almost every line.
He told them as much as he could about their origins without getting into trouble. While he had good intentions at heart, his sensei hadn't made the most excellent of decisions regarding her status. She should know why the villagers disliked her rather than her coming up with ridiculous theories. Most of the adults seemed to know. It was only fair that she did too.
Although, being blunt hadn't helped.
"Noo! I ate a fox?!"
The girl had tried to vomit out the fox.
He had a tough time explaining the basics of sealing to a child who didn't even have an inkling about chakra. The boy seemed to be relieved, on the other hand, when he had said that the fox had no way of getting out unless the seal was opened.
That was close to impossible. Namikaze Minato's sealwork was as magnificent as ever.
When eventually asked about their parents' childhood, Jiraiya had little to no remorse in spilling the beans.
"Your dad was a wimpy brat, and your mom was a tomboy."
He had a good laugh watching their faces.
Years had passed since he had fought alongside his team. Years had passed since his heart had been at peace. Years had passed since he had felt at home. And years had passed since Jiraiya felt everything was perfect.
At the cusp of dawn, as the sage sat on the edge of the rooftop with a smile adorning his face, his only company being the sun's earliest of foggy rays, he wasn't sure if everything in the world was perfect.
But damn if it didn't feel close.
The silly clouds floated aimlessly in the lazy blue skies above him, almost unnoticeably slow. Bodies of gas and condensed water vapor, they were thick enough to hide the vicious glare of the Sun to an admirable extent. They went wherever the gentle winds carried them, had no minds of their own, had no sentient thought process. Their path was carved, guided by the winds that were their master.
At their core, they were dead.
He inhaled deeply, feeling the delightful rush of sweet, natural air filling his lungs, surrounded by the luscious, thick flora in the middle of the green forests.
Nature could be observed and separated into two categories: Incognizant and Cognizant. Dead and alive. Conscious and Unconscious. It required little thought process to conclude the category that the animal and human life belonged to.
While it might be comparatively challenging to observe with the naked eye unless one performed one's own intelligent examinations, plant life did indeed have its own consciousness. It wasn't an instantaneous observation for him either. After it completes its cycle, a leaf abandons its parent tree as it dies, changing its youthful green to the dead reddish-brown of autumn. It is entirely possible to separate the leaf from its tree prematurely, just as possible to end a human life before it completes its cycle.
He closed his eyes and directed his calm, blue chakra towards his ears, amplifying the melodious music of the flowing water, the excited chirping of the little birds, and the rhythmic creaking of the swaying trees.
With the eye of his mind, he saw far past the boundaries, further than what his mere ocular prowess allowed him to.
And then he exhaled.
At once, the clearing around him changed its entire presence. A powerful gust of wind spun around him, disturbing and lifting up the topsoil with its intensity. Chaotic and random, angry and impulsive.
It started as a rumble, deep within the ground, as something traversed far beneath the surface. The earth trembled, angry and vengeful, as he called upon it, willed it to his command. Yet, his feet stayed firm, his posture taut, and his chakra controlled.
Then there was silence.
The tension in the air reached painful levels, tugging at his chest as a bead of sweat rolled down his brow. Yet, his expression remained unchanged, relaxed.
He brought his palms together, fighting against the natural flow as he molded his chakra, willing nature on his whim.
A tremendous shower of sand and chakra. Thick vines shot out of the earth, entwining against each other, climbing the heights too far above him, growing wider, thicker. They surrounded him, entrapping him within their secured confines, shielding him.
Naruto lost his balance, stumbling backward as he fell to the ground. He groaned, nursing the top of his head with his hands, the lump on it throbbing with pain.
"That's enough, my student."
Naruto had half the mind to glare at the stoic man but controlled his emotions. He would bring nothing but further misery upon himself by the activity.
He took a calming breath and faced the man.
"Why did you hit me?"
"That's enough. My student."
He eyed the man darkly. "…See how you drag around when I steal that cane of yours."
"Nothing! Nothing, I was just mumbling to myself."
Danzo seemed skeptical, but he let it go. Although it was hard to make out with his never-changing expression.
"Your progress has been satisfactory up till now, for the past few months that we have been training. But it is still not anywhere near what I had in mind for you." He shook his head. "You lack the main ingredient, which is, in turn, forcing your growth to stunt."
A gentle wind blew in the clearing, ruffling his hair, cold like ice on his sweaty skin. He met the eye of his instructor, tilting his head ever so slightly.
"Well? Aren't you going to tell me?"
Danzo averted his gaze to the ground. He was always tough to read, and the action didn't make it any easier. The bandaged man turned around without saying another word and started walking away.
He stopped at a distance, still facing away from him.
"I agreed to guide you. To teach you. Do not mistake what I said, Chunin Uzumaki. I never promised to hold your hand throughout the way." He started walking again. "Although, the answer is so blatantly obvious… that it was always right in front of you."
The only thing in front of him was a ruined clearing.
"And…" the man stopped and looked over his shoulder, his eye containing the barest hints of amusement. "You are a hundred years too young to steal my cane, boy."
It had been over three months since he became a Chunin, and his life had turned upside down.
For once, he was looking forward to getting back to his home at the end of the day. The reason would be apparent, as he wasn't living alone anymore. His sister—the word never failed to bring a smile upon his face—had completely ditched her own apartment and had claimed his bed as her own.
On that note, he really needed another bed. Sleeping on the sofa wasn't the height of being comfortable. Or maybe a bigger apartment? He had been saving money for as long as he could remember. It wasn't a conscious action—he never was that big of a spender. And ever since his promotion and his initiation to his new team, money wasn't exactly a problem.
He increased his pace and took a left turn as the apartment building came into view. The sun was almost set; it should be late in the evening—quarter past seven if he guessed. He was usually home by this time, and the two of them would prepare for dinner as he listened to Natsumi's senseless babble and rant.
The girl had been surprisingly uncaring upon realizing her status as the Jinchuuriki. Or maybe it was that she could not grasp the gravity of the situation. Jiraiya had left the next day, not a word of farewell or goodbye. He respected the man for all that he was, but his dirty mouth must stay away from his sister at all costs.
Naruto climbed the stairs and walked towards the last door in the corridor but stilled when a high-pitched scream escaped from within. His eyes widened in horror. He feared the worst, remembering the incident from back then, his fingers barely brushing against the doorknob.
He kicked open the door a little harder than necessary, but he couldn't give a damn. Someone had managed to break into their apartment and was doing god knows what with his sister.
His narrowed eyes flickered left and right, angry and impatient. He might have spared the man the other day, but he had no qualms with getting rid of any home invaders, now that he had something to protect.
Although, Naruto had to stop abruptly, processing the scene playing in front of him with confusion.
"You're so cuteee!"
His eyebrows furrowed as the tension left him.
Why was a pig doing inside his apartment? Currently oinking its way out of Natsumi's grasp, the pig wriggled its tiny arms and legs.
Naruto backed up slightly as the pig freed itself from his sister's deathlock and charged at him in what looked like fury.
The pig scurried hastily and through the gap between his legs, out of the apartment. He raised his head slowly, meeting the blue eyes of his sister, and raised a brow.
"You let him go!" She messed her red hair in irritation. "And we were getting along so well!"
"I don't know…" he scratched his head. "It didn't seem like that from where I was watching."
"You wouldn't know." The girl shook her head quickly. "Aunt Tsuna said he likes me!"
"Aunt—Wait, who?!" He lowered his stance, feeling a powerful presence in the other room. One that he did not recognize. He quickly made his way to Natsumi, who looked at him in confusion and picked her up under his arm.
"Hey! What are you—"
"Shhh." He covered her mouth with his hand and whispered, "there's someone in our house."
"Mmphhh." Her eyes widened as she tried to say something, but he shushed her again. Finally, the girl stopped, but she didn't look too happy.
"Stay here. I'll deal with them."
He raised a brow at the dismissive tone but shook his head. She probably didn't know any better.
"Hey you, brat." A groan alerted him instantly, putting him on his guard. It wasn't even a moment later that Naruto had pulled out a kunai from his pocket, a scowl on his face as he turned around, aiming for the neck.
The power behind his swing would have been enough to cut through skin and bone, killing any home intruder almost instantly.
That was why he was so confused when the knife was stopped.
By a finger.
"You're… too loud." The woman in front of him groaned again, her bloodshot eyes making him cringe internally.
He grunted, trying to remove his knife from her finger—there wasn't even a cut!
It was a lost cause.
He looked at the woman's face again, and his own paled slightly.
That forehead mark…
"You are…" he trailed off as he felt his instincts scream at him. To be anywhere! Anywhere else!
Just not in front of this mammoth.
The obviously sleep-deprived woman brought back her clenched fist, smacking away his knife with the other.
"You… are too damn loud!"
The slug-princess punched.
The chapter was going to be longer, originally. But the last few weeks have been really busy, so progress was slow, and any longer would have taken another week. This one mostly dealt with the aftermath of the whole situation, and the next portion starts from the next chapter, so I understand if it might seem boring compared to the previous one.
Also! I realized that I've been doing a lot of 'Head-hopping.' Changing POVs too quickly. Now that I'm aware of this, it seems like a huge flaw to me, and I'll try to minimize it in the coming chapters. So, it's okay if there is something that you do not like in my writing and point it out. I would be happy to hear your opinion.
—Until next time—