Naruto: Set In Stone

by The SOC Puppet

Chapter 1 – Life After Death

Summary: AU. When the Leaf Village abandoned Naruto to die as a baby, the last thing they expected was for him to come back as a shinobi – and perhaps an enemy.

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto or any of the characters in this story, except for originals that may pop up along the way. All jutsus are also not my property, other than the ones I think up.

" " – Speech

Italics – Thoughts

"Hokage-sama, it must be done. The village has spoken, and they simply don't feel safe leaving that…thing…alive. Wouldn't it be best just to dispose of it, and end the threat for good?"

The Third Hokage sighed, feeling the eyes of every Jounin in the room on him. He hadn't relished the idea of coming back from retirement after the Fourth's death, and now he hated the idea even more. Didn't they understand that every life in the village was precious to him, as it had been to all the Hokages? The Fourth had wanted the child, the vessel of the Ninetails, to be seen as a hero. Instead his comrades feared it, seeing the demon and not the child.

Still, this was no time to split the village apart, not with the Fourth dead and so many high-ranking shinobi dead or wounded. What other choice did he have? Perhaps in another time, another universe, he would have stood up for the child, but right now, the greater good took priority. Forgive me, my friend. This time I can't follow your wishes.

"If that is the wish of the village, then so be it. The vessel of the Ninetails will be disposed of. But let me say one thing. If you do not feel anything for a child that is not yours, do not be surprised when others feel the same about your children. I pray you will not come to regret this decision. This will not be done for your benefit, nor to ease irrational worries. I am simply doing it because you have left me no other choice that will keep this village intact. You have what you wanted. Now leave. There has been enough chaos for one night."

He couldn't tell if his words had made an impact, but the Third didn't really care. Having your hand forced by your own people…a fine way to reclaim the authority you gave to the Fourth, eh, old man? As the assembled group turned to go, the old Hokage called one of them over.

"Kakashi, stay behind. I have something for you to do."

He watched as a shorter shape detached itself from the dispersing crowd and appeared before him. 14 years old and already a Jounin, Hatake Kakashi was one of the young rising stars in the village, who had thankfully survived the Ninetails' attack, unlike many of his older comrades.

"Name it, sir."

"I wouldn't be so eager, my boy. You haven't heard what I want you to do yet. Come, walk with me. Right now I'd rather not see any more of this room."

"As you wish, Hokage-sama."

The Third and Kakashi were halfway up the path to the mountain memorial before the Hokage spoke, his voice sounding tired and worn.

"Tell me, Kakashi, what's your opinion on this whole mess?"

The young man took his time answering, glancing up at the still-unfinished face of the Fourth Hokage on the face of the mountain.

"They're scared, Hokage-sama. Everyone's always a little afraid for their lives when they go into battle, but that's different. A battle you can control. The Ninetails was a demon. It cost us dozens of our best shinobi and the Fourth just to seal it away. Nobody wants to see that happen again."

"A good analysis, worthy of someone who made Jounin so young. But I didn't ask what everyone else thought, my boy. I asked what you think about it."

The gray-haired Jounin sounded torn.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't scared too. But I was the Fourth's student, and I trusted him when he said it was over and the seal would hold. If that's the case, there's no excuse for them to be afraid of the kid. I mean, he's blameless!"

"He's more than just blameless, Kakashi."

"I don't understand."

The Third shook his head, continuing to walk up the mountain.

"No, of course not. The private life of a Hokage is seldom public knowledge. The vessel of the Ninetails is no mere child, Kakashi. His name is Naruto, and he is the son of the Fourth Hokage, the last living member of the Kazama line."

"He's WHAT!?"

"Keep your voice down, boy. What I am telling you was only known to myself, the Fourth, and Naruto's mother, whose name the Fourth told me I was not to pursue. He did not want her to become a target of violence if the village did not see his son as a hero. Rather ironic, isn't it? The Fourth sacrificed his own flesh and blood to save the village, and now they want to kill his only legacy."

"So tell everyone, sir! If they knew he was the son of such a hero, wouldn't they change their minds?"

"You said it yourself, Kakashi," the Third said quietly. "The villagers are too scared. They do not see a child, only a demon. They cannot be swayed, even by the memory of the Fourth."

"Why doesn't his mother step forward? Surely she'd want her son to survive!"

"From what I was told, Naruto's mother lost quite a lot of blood during labor, and she passed out before the doctors delivered the child by Caesarean section. She is hospitalized and heavily sedated. Besides, I doubt even her pleas would be enough to change anyone's mind as they are now. It would be best to simply let her believe the child was stillborn or died after birth."

Kakashi didn't sound too convinced.

"I guess so. But what do I have to do with all of this?"

"It's quite simple. I want you to take Naruto into the forest tonight."

"I can't kill him, Hokage-sama. Don't ask that of me. Anything else, you can order me as you please, but I will not kill my own sensei's son. The village can find someone else to do their dirty work!"

"Kakashi, Kakashi. What did they teach you at the Academy about making assumptions? When did I say I wanted you to kill him?"

"But that's what you just agreed to do!"

"Listen more carefully next time, my boy. I told them I would dispose of the child. I never said I would have him killed."

"How is abandoning the kid in the forest any different from killing him?"

"Admittedly," the Third sighed, "there isn't much difference. But Naruto would have at least a fighting chance at survival. Who knows? He could be raised by animals, or someone could find him and take him in. The closer you can get to some kind of civilization before you abandon him, the better. Don't leave the forest, of course. You want to be able to say you disposed of him there."

Kakashi hesitated for a brief moment.

"I want to say I agree, but what if he's found and raised as an enemy of the Leaf? Surely you wouldn't want that, Hokage-sama."

The old shinobi shrugged, the expression in his eyes hardening into cold fury.

"If it happens, the villagers have only themselves to blame for not looking past their fear and thinking rationally. I can't say I'd feel much sympathy for them."

"Even if he should attack the village?"

"He will not."

"How can you be so sure?"

"The blood of Hokages runs through Naruto's veins, Kakashi. He's not just a member of the Kazama Clan, but also the Morioka Clan of the First Hokage, through Tsunade's sister, who married the Fourth's father. The very spirit of Konoha is within his blood. Try though they might, no one will be able to take it out of him. Even if Naruto never becomes an ally of the Leaf, I know he will never attack us."

"No offense, sir, but that isn't much comfort."

The Third snorted, turning to look up at the Fourth's unfinished memorial.

"It is all the comfort the people of this village deserve. Go now, Kakashi. You will find Naruto in my chambers, on top of the mountain. You are to tell no one of this mission, not even future Hokages, other than that you disposed of the child. Return here as soon as you place Naruto in the forest. I will not have rogue hunter-nin pursuing the boy if indeed he survives, so it is best that neither of us knows his true fate."

Seeing that he would not get any more information from the Third, Kakashi nodded, accepting the mission.

"Yes, sir."

The old Hokage watched his subordinate go, and made a silent wish.

Let someone find this child, and raise him to become the hero the Fourth wished him to be. If not for the Leaf's sake, then for Naruto's sake.

"What a bunch of pansies! They're scared of a kid? Give me a break."

"Shira, shut up and keep moving. You can complain all you want when we're back in the village!"

"Are the two of you done waking up every Leaf-nin for a mile around? I'd like to make it home without having to hack my way out."

Yamazaki Mizuki shook her head at the antics of her two teammates. Iguchi Shira and Yamazaki Yuki had long been famous in the Hidden Stone Village for having very little in common; so little, in fact, that they inevitably found something to argue about any time they met. Putting them on the same team had been the equivalent of trying to mix oil and water. Then again, Yamazaki Kantaro, the retired Fourth Tsuchikage of the Stone, Yuki's father and Mizuki's father-in-law, had never really been good at controlling his daughter's behavior. Perhaps he'd figured Shira would do a better job. But why stick me in the middle?

In truth, Mizuki knew pretty well why her father-in-law had stuck her with the eternally bickering pair. Kantaro was one of the few people left in the Stone Village who still doubted her loyalties, six years (and three children) after her marriage to his son Daimaru, now the Fifth Tsuchikage, had sealed an alliance between her native Mist Village and the Stone Village.

On top of that, she had been something of a disappointment to the former Tsuchikage, bearing three straight daughters to Daimaru when Kantaro expected at least one male heir to the Yamazaki line. After her last pregnancy, the doctors had said having more children would present a serious danger to her health. Kantaro, true to form, hadn't taken the news well. Clearly displeased, the old shinobi would gladly have sent her back to the Mist, except for that little part in the treaty about it being grounds for war between the villages. Well, that and Daimaru had threatened his own father with violence if he so much as tried to ship her back home.

Mizuki considered herself lucky to have gotten an arranged husband like Yamazaki Daimaru. Political marriages were almost never love matches; most spouses attached in them barely spoke to each other from the start. The two of them had begun like that at first, trying to get past their mutual distrust and find something to make the relationship more meaningful. Ironically enough, their shared annoyance with Kantaro was what had finally broken the ice between them, and turned a marriage of convenience into something better.

The Fifth Tsuchikage was nothing like his father, something Kantaro regularly lamented when his son angered him. As easygoing as any man in the laid-back Stone Village, Daimaru couldn't have cared less that he only had the three daughters.

"I look at it this way," he'd said one night when Mizuki asked. "You can threaten to beat up a kid who tries to seduce your daughter. What are you going to do to the girl who your oversexed teenage son got pregnant, scream at her? It's just not done."

But even if Daimaru said he didn't care, treating their daughters like little princesses, Mizuki found she did care. She hated agreeing with Kantaro, but it was important to her too that the Yamazaki line should continue. She'd seen the kind of fighting and strife that could erupt over successions. If a ruling family died out, entire clans and families could perish in the battles over who would take power in their stead. The Stone didn't need that kind of chaos. But what could she do about it? There was no Yamazaki cousin to adopt; Daimaru's only siblings were Yuki and an older sister, Mana, and Mana's children were all girls too.

Her meditations were cut off by the faint sound of a baby's crying. What could it possibly mean, so far out in the forest? The three Stone shinobi had been sent to the Leaf to see what all the commotion about this "Ninetailed Demon Fox" had been about, but none of their intelligence had said anything about Leaf-nins living this far away from the village. That left one conclusion based on what they'd learned in the Leaf Village proper. Could it be the child they wanted disposed of? The one their Hokage sealed the demon inside?

There was no time to sit around and think about it. For every moment that she, Yuki and Shira spent lingering in the forest, their likelihood of a safe retreat decreased dramatically. If she was going to check it out, she had to do it now. Letting out a sharp hiss, Mizuki snapped off a command to her teammates.

"Yuki! Shira! I just heard something off to the northwest! Follow me, and do it quietly!"

The bickering ceased immediately. For all their faults, Shira and Yuki knew when to shut their mouths and get down to business. Following closely behind Mizuki, the two Stone ninja made no sound as the team advanced through the forest.

The wife of the Tsuchikage shook her head a little as the cries got closer. Why did she even care? Was it just some irrational thought that this was the answer to her problems? It didn't make any sense! Even if the child was a boy, he was no Yamazaki. Kantaro would never accept a foundling…or would he? Why even take the risk of bringing a demon into the Stone? Even as she neared the source of the sounds, doubts ran rampant through Mizuki's mind – and then, in a single moment, all of them vanished.

Even in later years, when she was asked about it, Yamazaki Mizuki could never quite explain why she had decided to disregard all common sense and do what she did that night, simply because of the sight of a baby boy wrapped in a thin blanket. The best explanation she could give, even to Daimaru, was that a sort of inarticulate rage had come over her.

Maybe it was because she herself had no sons, or just that she and Daimaru treasured little Aoi, Azusa and Yoriko so much. Or was it just jealousy that the Leaf had so many male children that they actually felt no remorse about wasting one? Whatever the reason, her thoughts finally agreed on one thing – a question, more than anything. How dare they? How dare they blame this child for a sin not of his doing?

Even if he was not destined to be a Yamazaki, or anything special, the child deserved a chance to live. Yamazaki Mizuki would give it to him, and the Leaf be damned! Striding over to the swaddled form, the young woman reached down and gathered the child into her arms. Immediately, she heard Shira gasp.

"Mizuki-sama! What are you doing? That seal…a baby out this far in the forest…this is the child that the Leaf-nins wanted disposed of! It has to be!"

"Your point being?"

"What happens if the seal breaks? What happens if the Leaf finds out and tracks him to us?"

"We'll worry about that if and when it ever happens. Besides, I thought you just called the Leaf Village a bunch of pansies for being scared of a child. Don't tell me you want to join their ranks, Shira."

That shut the massive Jounin up in a hurry. Meanwhile, always ready to counter her teammate, Yuki asked her sister-in-law a simple question.

"Nee-sama, I just wanna know one thing. Will Dad be pissed off if we bring this kid back to the Stone with us?"

Mizuki just grinned.

"Are you kidding? The high-and-mighty Fourth Tsuchikage? He'll hit the roof."

"Then what are we waiting for? Hand him to me and let's go!"

"But…but…"

Mizuki smiled and leapt into the trees, Yuki alongside her.

"Shira, you're outvoted. And besides, my father-in-law's only going to blame me for this. So stop hemming and hawing, and let's get moving!"

"In for a penny, in for a pound. You've seldom been wrong before, so I suppose I can't argue."

"That's the spirit. Move out! We're going home!"

As the Leaf Village receded in the distance, Mizuki glanced down at the sleeping child she cradled, and spared the other Hidden Village one thought. You had your chance, people of the Leaf. This child could have been yours to raise, yours to love. Now he's ours, a child of the Stone. Don't blame me if you don't like how he turns out. Consider this your only warning, because it's all you deserve to get.

Turning back towards the direction of home, the wife of the Tsuchikage vanished, leaving only a silent forest behind.

AUTHOR'S NOTE

Yes, I know I have two other stories posted already. But updates are progressing well for both of them, so don't worry. This story idea came to me so fast and so detailed, I had to get it down on paper and get it out there.

And before anyone asks, just like Bloodlines and Eye of the Beholder, this story is non-yaoi. Don't ask me for pairings, don't even ask me for hints of shonen-ai, because it'll just be a waste of breath.

Next: Mizuki has made her decision and taken baby Naruto back to the Stone Village with her! What will the people of the Stone think, and can Naruto become a part of the Yamazaki Clan after all?