Early in the morning Mito was at work taking care of some of the initial paperwork for the village. While annoying, there were some parts to this task that were indeed vital. Making sure the right funds went to the right place. Checking qualifications for Anbu schedules and duties. Keeping the coffee machines full and not decaf. The usual. Still, that didn't mean the occasional break wasn't welcome.
There was a knock at the door. "Come in." She said, glad to have just this break.
That is, until she saw who it was that knocked. In walked Mebuki Haruno, a retired chuunin who these days worked as a property manager for several civilian businesses. While not an official member of the civilian council, she did have their ear since she was a business owner and in the few times civilians actually wanted the advice or input of a shinobi she was one of those they turned to, claiming that she was more likely to understand their concerns since she was retired and living more like them now.
However, Mebuki was not a person most liked being around. She had a reputation as a notorious faultfinder, which was annoying in its own right. Back when she was a kunoichi she specialized in information gathering and spotting her opponent's weak spots. It helped her keep an edge over her competition, both as a ninja and as a business owner. However, she wasn't satisfied knowing how to best punch someone or what dirty secrets a person might be hiding. No, Mebuki played hardball, and wanted everyone to make sure no one was going to win except for her. When she wanted someone dealt with, they were either blackmailed into servitude or destroyed with no reputation left to salvage. She had already ruined several people's careers and relationships this way, and rumor has it she would have done the same to the Yondaime and Kushina had she been given enough time.
And that wasn't even getting into her views on the transformed children. Several parents had disowned their children after they became demons, and Mebuki had been one of them. After that, those same parents and a few childless adults had formed a group who to this day still lobbied the Hokage about their 'concerns' regarding the demonic child. Concerns about public safety, property damage, and 'an inherent inability to be loyal to the village'. Mito had always tried her hardest to assure the adults that they were overreacting, but they still seemed determined to not see any child as anything other than dangerous to 'normal, descent, and kami-fearing villagers'.
Since then, Mito had taken a more firm approach compared to Sarutobi and made it clear the children were here to stay whether they liked it or not. And she made an example of those that thought otherwise and tried to prove it, executing them all. Since then the assaults had stopped, but that didn't prevent people like Mebuki from forbidding the child from entering any property they own or occasionally trying to tamper with public services to the Namikaze estate.
"Yes Mrs Haruno?" Mito greeted, her politeness more than a little forced.
"It's been some time since the children have become official genin. Have any of our concerns come to light yet?" Mebuki asked, trying to sound like she was just making an inspection.
Mito sighed and stood up. "As a matter of fact, no, all the children are performing and behaving perfectly normal. Almost as if them being demons doesn't really matter now does it?"
Mebuki frowned and clenched a fist. "You may not admit it Hokage-sama, but it does matter. These children-"
"-are exactly that, children. And I am freaking sick and tired of you people condemning an entire generation before it even grows up." Mito stated firmly, stepping around the gate. "You don't like the fact that they're demons now, I get it. I don't agree but I get it. You and the others that agree with you are entitled to your opinion, but you do not have the right to punish them before they actually do anything."
"They are dangerous. They could turn on us at any moment." Mebuki insisted.
Mito smiled. "If it pleases you, I actually do have a contingency plan in place for just such an occasion."
Now Mebuki looked confused. "Seriously? All these years of saying we should treat them like equals, and you've never once mentioned a contingency plan?"
"For one it was and still is none of your business. I say this only to get you to shut up. But yes, should there come a day that it seems the demon children cannot stay here in Konoha anymore without there being a threat to life, I have a plan to enact."
Now Mebuki smiled. It seemed their demon-loving hokage wasn't quite so demon-loving after all. "Thank you, that will make several of my associates happy to hear. Can I know a few things about this plan?"
Mito shook her head. "No, as I said it is none of your business. And just because it exists doesn't mean I am hoping to ever have need of it."
Mebuki nodded. "Of course, but as a concerned citizen of Konoha I and several others who agree with me have spent years trying to learn about these demons and what they are capable of. I may know some things about how to stop them that a certain redheaded Uzumaki might not want the hokage to know about."
Mito looked like she was giving it some thought. "I am aware that there are quite a few citizens that still do not accept the aftermath of what is now called the Great Change. The children themselves are probably desensitized to it, but Kushina and myself seem the looks in many people's eyes when you look at them. We see the looks of contempt, of fear, of hate. So I am well aware of what you and many others have been thinking, and plotting all these years Mrs. Haruno."
"But you obviously agree with us to some extent, otherwise you wouldn't have this contingency plan in the first place." Mebuki justified.
"What I agree with is inevitable, I am Hokage and it is my job to be prepared for what may happen in the future. Including what should happen if one side of Konoha attacks the other. I have a plan, and should the need come I will put it into play. Until then, I have no need for your advice or plotting. So please, go home and leave these children alone, for the good of both you and them."
Now the Haruno matriarch frowned. "You can't please both sides of this issue Hokage-sama. There will come a day you have to choose who deserves to live in Konoha, us or them. And if you choose them, you better be willing to deal with the consequences."
"Oh I am." Mito warned. Mebuki then turned to leave. "One last thing before you go, like I said before, the children have probably gotten used to the looks that the villagers give them now. But they are starting to go out into the world. I don't think it will be too long before they notice the difference between your eyes and the eyes of a non-Konoha civilian. And when they do, you better be willing to deal with the consequences of that."
Mebuki silently fumed, then left the office.
It was the early afternoon of the next day when the two teams of Leaf shinobi saw the gates of Konoha come into view. The sight of their home being within walking distance was a welcomed view to all of them.
"Ah, good to be home ain't it guys?" Naruto said with a grin on his face.
"Tell me about it. I can hear my coffin calling me." Sasuke remarked with a yawn, the heavy exposure to the sun had tired him out.
"In the wrong context Sasuke that would sound morbid." Sakura commented.
"Screw context, I'm looking forward to sleeping in my own coffin too tonight." Kaede agreed.
"Well, I was going to ask everyone if you were up for training this afternoon, but I'm getting the feeling you all want some downtime instead." Kakashi noted.
"You got that right Sensei." Naruto remarked.
"Well, this was your first big mission, so go ahead and take the rest of the day off. But don't slack off too much, for all you know Hokage-sama will assign you guys another C-rank mission tomorrow." Kakashi playfully warned.
"Let one of the others try it this time. I've earned a break."
"Not until after we report to the hokage kids." Anko reminded them.
"And after that I am gonna get me a nice big bowel of ramen." Naruto added, rubbing his hands together in anticipation.
At that Yakumo came up and latched herself onto the kitsune's arm. "Oooh would you care for some company, Naruto-kun?" She asked with a slight purr.
Before Naruto could say anything Sakura suddenly grabbed his other arm. "Hey, if anyone is going to have ramen with Naruto it's going to be me."
"Hey I asked him first!" Yakumo protested, pulling one way which resulted in Sakura pulling the other.
"Yeah but I've known him longer and he would prefer me!"
"Gaaaaah come on girls! Can't you both wait till we actually get inside the village before you rip me in half?!" Naruto pleaded.
Meanwhile Sai was sketching the scene playing out in front of him and Anko too watched the spectacle for a moment before she clapped her hands together. "Alright, break it up you lot, you can fight about who is prettier later. We've got a report to make so let's hop to it."
Both girls released the boy, who rubbed and stretched his arms for a moment, then everyone resumed marching forward. Though Sakura and Yakumo couldn't resist giving each other a death glare.
While walking, Anko maneuvered to be a little closer to Naruto. "Also FYI kid, ramen is a terrible meal to have when you return home from a mission. Every shinobi knows dango is the best." She said with a cat like grin.
"I'm going to let you get away with that because you only have a weak human tongue." Naruto cheekily replied.
"Oh is that a fact? Boy I could kill you with my tongue if I really wanted to, but I think your girlfriends would rather do that with their tongues instead."
Yakumo and Sakura blushed violently at that, but neither one denied it.
When they had arrived at the Hokage tower, they had been greeted warmly by the lady Hokage herself. And she had sat quietly at her desk and had listened calmly as they explained what had happened on their mission. She never interrupted except to ask a short question or two, as was standard during debriefings.
Overall, Mito had been glad to hear that things had gone well for the two groups in Wave despite the seriousness of the situation. She was considerably impressed to hear that they had killed the infamous Zabuza and his unknown accomplice, Kiri and the Land of Water had placed a huge bounty on their heads.
But the part that probably pleased her the most was the fact that the kids had managed to keep their secret hidden from the world outside Konoha. At this time, the secret of their condition was still of the utmost importance. After thanking them for their services and giving them their receipt so they could collect their fee for the mission, she dismissed them.
Sasuke and Kaede quickly went off to their respective homes, each of them waving goodbye to their friends and teammates.
After a short little spat between Yakumo and Sakura, Naruto realized that he would not be able to indulge in his comfort food and declared that he was going home to tell his mother how his first mission went. This promptly ended the cat fight between the two girls with them parting ways; though Yakumo had given Naruto a wink, saying that he was welcome to come 'eat ramen' with her any time before running off.
Now alone, Sakura and Naruto walked on together since they lived together towards the Namikaze estate.
"Hey Naruto, are you feeling...like you're being watched?" Sakura whispered to her teammate as they strolled down the street.
"More than usual?" He asked back for clarification. He had gotten so used to being stared at and whispered about by 'normal' people that he had personally just started to ignore it, at this point it was like white noise to him.
"Yeah, I but, I don't know it just feels kind of... I'm not sure how to describe it." She went off, fumbling over her words. "But it's not like the looks we got back in Wave Country."
"Well that's obvious, there people just saw us as normal kids, these people know we're demons." Naruto whispered. But as he said that he was now looking at those around them, studying their gazes and now he could see what Sakura meant, something was not right. "Weird, they look the same as they always have, but now it's like they're monitoring us."
"Like they always have?" Sakura repeated, her mind confused but starting to piece together a possible explanation. "Naruto, are you sensing something I'm not?"
"Not sure, but it's... like it's more obvious they're watching us than before." In the past, the 'normal' villagers had just watched the 'altered' villagers out of the corners of their eyes rather than looking at them directly.
"Has anything changed while we were gone?" Sakura asked.
Naruto shrugged. "No idea, but if they're not attacking us or throwing things at us that's good enough."
They continued on towards the Namikaze Estate, though Sakura kept her attention focused on the people around them. She really couldn't brush it off, she really did feel like there was something to the stares they were getting that was different. She just couldn't put her finger on why. But it still made her uncomfortable and Naruto could see that.
It was then that he reached over and he took Sakura's hand into his own and held it tightly. The moment he did that, Sakura could feel a blush forming on her face. "Let them stare all they want at, Sakura-chan. There's nothing wrong of us, and as long as we know that, their stares cannot hurt us."
Sakura felt her heart beat a little faster and a small smile appeared on her face. So long as Naruto was with her, she no longer felt the eyes of the villagers on her.
However that blissful moment did not last long, because right then, Sakura saw one of her least favorite people in the village. She had just come from around a corner, with a group of other Konoha women, a bag of groceries in her hands. And their eyes met, the entire world seemed to go quiet for a brief second.
"Oh, it's you." The other person sneered, as if personally insulted by Sakura's presence.
"Surprised you can still recognize me, Mother." Sakura replied saying the word 'mother' like it was the single biggest pejorative in history.
Mebuki stared coldly at Sakura with her green eyes. "Don't call me that. A demon like you doesn't have the right to call a human like me that." She said spitefully.
Sakura narrowed her eyes slightly. "Well, thank Kami for that, I'd hate to have a mother like you if you can hate your own child this easily." The grey-streaked pinkette then pulled Naruto forward so they could hurry past this woman.
"At least I know you'll get what's coming to you someday." Mebuki added when her former daughter went right by her, then she went on her way.
Naruto felt Sakura clench his hand tightly, and when he looked at her, he saw tears starting to well up in her eyes. "Come on, let's go home." He said softly and soothingly.
Sakura nodded her head and as they walked, Naruto looked back over his shoulder and narrowed his eyes as Mebuki Haruno, who stared back at him for a moment with a self satisfied smirk on her face. That smirk made him growl, but fortunately for her that was all he did for now.
"Wow, what's got you so upset today Sakura?" Hinata asked when she saw the banshee go off into the kitchen later that night. Dinner was over and several of the kids at the Namikaze Estate were sitting down to some ice cream listening to Naruto as he described the mission to Wave. All had been listening in awe to hear a true account of what it was like to be a ninja in active duty. Sure some of the adults had told stories too, but Naruto was a demon like the rest of them, so his account made it more relatable to them by comparison.
Then Sakura came down and the room quieted, tension rising on account of her clear bad mood.
Sakura sighed and waved them off. "Sorry everyone, don't mind me. I just had an encounter with a really bad person earlier today. A demon hater."
That earned her some sympathy points.
"Who was it?" One of the kids asked.
"They didn't hurt you did they?" Another asked too.
Sakura shook her head. "No, they couldn't hurt me, not if they tried at least. They just... said some nasty things." She then put on a confident smile, one that Naruto and Hinata knew wasn't really as confident as she wanted it to look. "Too bad for them I've got a meaner voice, isn't it?"
A few of the kids smiled and even cheered for her, praising her for getting back at those that still hated them just for being different.
"Now, why don't you go back to listening to Naruto's story? I'll get some rest then I'll be sure to tell you all what really happened in Wave. We all know he's more trickster than storyteller anyway." She joked.
Several kids laughed and Naruto made a show of looking hurt by the accusation. Sakura went to the kitchen and had a drink of water, then she went back upstairs and things went back to normal, but not before Naruto gave Hinata a small nod. After a bit she stood up and started to walk away.
"Where you going sis?" Hanabi asked.
"Oh, just bringing Sakura some ice cream too." Hinata explained, going into the kitchen. She gathered a bowl, some milk, some flavoring that she knew Sakura liked, and with a little ice power suddenly there was homemade soft serve ice cream. Getting a spoon for the final part, she went upstairs and opened Sakura's door.
"Oh, hi Hinata." Sakura replied, laying on her bed staring at the ceiling. "Sorry if I'm not good company right now."
"That's okay, we all know this is a touchy subject." Hinata replied, sitting on the edge of the bed. Sakura sat up and accepted the ice cream. "This hater, it was someone you used to know personally, wasn't it?"
Sakura nodded. "What gave it away?"
"It's easy to ignore strangers, it's harder to ignore someone you know."
Sakura nodded. "It was my former mother."
Hinata blinked. "Oh, sorry, that had to hurt."
Thanks to living together since the Great Change, Hinata and Sakura were rather familiar with each other. The former Hyuuga was very aware that Sakura's former family was a touchy subject to her, one she tried to put behind her all these years. But still, the feeling of being rejected by one's own family was very painful.
Hinata and Hanabi's father still came to visit them occasionally, and he always sent them a gift on their birthdays. He kept himself distanced for sure, but at least he still tried to remain in their lives. Most of the other children who lived at the Namikaze estate were not so lucky and had not seen their parents since the day they had been dropped of here like foundlings outside an orphanage.
But over the years, everyone here had come to regard each other as family, with Kushina as mother to them all. Everyone had each other's back, and if Sakura had asked, not a single one of them wouldn't do something horrible to the Harunos on her behalf.
Sakura had some ice cream, finding comfort in the frozen treat. "I know Mrs. Namikaze doesn't want us to attack or antagonize any of the humans, but at what point are we allowed to say we won't take it anymore?"
"We just need to prove we're better than them." Hinata assured.
Sakura rolled her eyes. "Why? Why do we have to prove we're better than a bunch of people who hate us for what they caused over six years ago? Maybe they forgot, but we didn't cause the Great Change. They did. I think we don't owe them anything, let alone proof that we're not monsters."
"But what would you have us do? Be the monsters they think we are? Kill them all and let Kami-sama sort them out?" Hinata countered.
Sakura shrugged. "I dunno, but I get the feeling someday we'll have to do something, and I'd rather live as a monster than die as a victim."
In his dream, he saw his master, he saw Zabuza, lying dead on the ground in front of him. And yet, the closer he moved to try and reach him, the further Zabuza seemed to become. Then, from the shadows he saw a pair of glowing red eyes staring at him with predatorial hunger. Pale hands reached out from the shadows and took hold of him, dragging him kicking and screaming backwards and even further away from Zabuza. When he tried to call out no words came from his mouth. And as he dragged into the shadows he suddenly felt a sharp pain in his neck and a numbing pain throughout his body.
It was then that he woke up.
However, when Haku opened his eyes, he thought that he was still asleep because he was floating. He turned his head from left to right as he tried to get his bearings. He was submerged in some kind of fluid within a cylindrical tank. There was some kind of apparatus placed against his mouth with a hose attached to it that allowed him to breath.
Haku squinted his eyes so that he could peer through the glass of the tank, but outside he only saw darkness. He tried to recollect his thoughts in order to figure out he had come to be here, but that the last thing he remembered before succumbing to the oblivious of unconsciousness were golden snake-like eyes.
Moving slowly through the fluid that he was submerged in, Haku performed the hand signs to perform the ice release technique to free himself. But, much to his personal shock and dismay, nothing happened.
That was when Haku heard something from the darkness. "Kukukuku, I am afraid that your kekkei genki won't be of much use to you, that fluid isn't water."
Haku looked around but even with Zabuza's training he still could not tell where the voice was coming from.
"Fascinating, truly fascinating, I had thought all of the members of the Yuki Clan had been exterminated following the last great war. And yet here you are, alive and well." The voice paused and then laughed again. "Kukuku, or alive at least. You were at the point of exsanguination when I found you, frankly I was surprised you survived long enough to be treated."
Haku's eyes widened, this voice, this had been the figure with the snake eyes that had found him on the beach. And since he could not speak with his mouth covered to express his surprise or voice his questions, all he could do was listen and look into the darkness as the voice continued to explain.
"What you are submerged in is a special synthetic chemical substance of my own creation. Specifically, the fluid was designed to promote rapid regeneration of organic compounds." The voice paused and gave Haku a moment to absorb some of the information before speaking again. "Even with it, I had to give you an emergency blood transfusion to keep you from dying of hemorrhagic shock. A few more days of being submerged within this tank will give your heart and other major organs time to recuperate."
Haku clenched his fists in the tank. He was not grateful for this rescue, rather he had wished this person had just let him die there on the beach. He had wanted to die. He had failed his master, he was no longer a weapon perfectly honed to kill enemies, all he was now was a broken blade. And a broken blade should only be discarded.
However, at that moment the voice in the darkness laughed again. "Kukukuku, I know that look in your eyes. The look of a person who has lost their purpose and their will to live. I have seen it many times before. What if though… I could offer you something to live for?"
Haku stared into the darkness, wondering what exactly this individual could offer him when he had already lost everything.
As if reading his mind the voice answered with a single word. "Revenge."
That immediately struck a chord within Haku. His mind immediately flashed back to his battle with the Leaf village ninja. Two of them especially, the two vampiric genin who had feasted on his blood and then thrown him in the water to drown. The thought of them filled him with a type of rage that he had never before experienced.
"Kukukuku, I'd like to make a proposition to you my young friend, for once your body is healed you will have two options. First, you could leave, and should you come close to death again this time it will not be me that saves you, if anyone. Or, you could work with me and I will give you not only the power but the opportunity to take revenge on those who killed your master and wronged you so grievously. So, what do you say? Do we have a bargain?"
As he floated in the tank, contemplating the offer that had been placed before him, a thought entered Haku's mind. Earlier he had believed that when a weapon had been broken it needed to be cast aside because it was no longer of use. But, sometimes a weapon could be reforged into something greater and often times, deadlier.
Since he could not speak, Haku gave a slow nod of his head.
It was then that Haku saw someone emerge partly from the shadows. It was a man, with some of a white and purple kimono visible. The man's skin looked as white as the purest snow, his hair black as the darkest night, both features emphasized by the shadows remaining around him. His eyes though, his eyes were unblinking, cruel, and merciless. The golden eyes of a snake. "Kukuku-" The man said as he placed his hand on the outer glass of the cylinder. "Oh my young friend, together you and I will do extraordinary things."
It was then that Haku knew.
He knew that he had just made a deal with a devil. A deal that he suspected would eventually cost him his very soul. But the truth was, he didn't care.