A/N: I've been thinking of doing a Naruto/Hinata bond story for a while now. The idea of a bonded couple in a story isn't mine. I've adapted it to the Naruto universe from the numerous Harry/Ginny bond stories that I've read. Those were some of my favourites in the Harry Potter fan-fiction world. I highly recommend them to all of you.
When it comes to bond stories in the world of Naruto fan-fiction, I've seen two on that are worth mentioning, "The Sealing Of Naruto" by Trilonias and "Stalker" by hinatasgreatestfan. I read them after I had the idea of writing a bond story and they've inspired me to put my own out for everyone to read. I also have to give a nod to hinatasgreatestfan for helping me sound out ideas. It was while chatting with him that I had the idea for the pranks in this chapter. He also helped me refine Kushina's note. In addition to all that, hinatasgreatestfan is beta-reading this for me. That's one awesome person. If you haven't already, go check out the stories he wrote!
I know that the council consists of just Koharu and Homura in canon, but I've changed it to something I like better in my story! I've also deviated a bit from what we've seen in the Konoha history arc. I claim artistic license.
Edit 16th March 2012
Nope, I don't own Naruto, Masashi Kishimoto does.
Chapter 1: Naruto's Uzumaki Inheritance
Naruto Uzumaki was having a good day. It isn't every day that you see Sasuke flustered after all, much less get beaten up by a girl. He wasn't going to let Sasuke live that down for...well, ever!
It all started a few days back during recess at the academy. Naruto had just been turned down by Sakura for a date, only for Sakura to almost immediately turn to Sasuke (who was in class for recess that day, wonder of wonders!) and try to win his favour. His heart hurt from her refusal, and his head from her fist. It was totally worth it though, in his opinion. At least Sakura acknowledged him. She never ignored him or made him feel like he didn't exist, and he would cling to that feeling she gave him with all his strength.
He saw Sakura wilt as Sasuke ignored her advances, before she straightened up and plastered a smile onto her face, ready to try to win his affection again. If Naruto admired any one thing, it was determination and the will to never give up. He would be dead years ago if he had given up and given in to the loneliness, after all. So he decided to do something noble that day: make a sacrifice. He'd have to back down on his word and give up on Sakura, if she was ever to succeed. He couldn't have it both ways after all. Now, Naruto wasn't the most subtle of all people. So he decided to talk some sense into Sasuke directly.
Just as the recess was coming to a close, Naruto hopped on the desk in front of Sasuke and glared at him. Sasuke glared back, managing to look bored at the same time.
Meanwhile, in the specialized taijutsu training ground 32, Might Guy felt his Kakashi senses going off. "Damn you Kakashi! Your hip attitude is being passed on and dampening someone's flames of youth!" Elsewhere in Konoha, a masked Jonin sneezed and fell out of a tree, "Icha Icha" book in hand, right onto the person in the bench below. Kakashi's eye slowly turned to the skewer of dango lying on the ground. Time seemed to slow down as he turned his eye, to the person whose lap he had fallen on. He noticed Anko pulling out a rusty kunai and an old spoon with a crazed smile on her face and an "I'm going to castrate you with these" look in her eyes and paled. It was a damn shame, too. He had been in the perfect position to get an up-close look at her ample bosom.
The whole class stared. Naruto had just rather bluntly, and very loudly asked Sasuke why he wouldn't go out with Sakura. Sakura was just preparing to rush towards Naruto and brain him (again!), when Sasuke began to speak. "Go away, you're annoying." Sasuke turned his face away, summarily dismissing the blond. Naruto, enraged, asked him why he couldn't like Sakura. Couldn't he see that she tried so hard to get his acknowledgement and affection? Did her pretty smile not affect him at all? Did he not see her kindness? (She never ignored even him!) Having all his arguments fall on deaf ears pissed Naruto off further. Sakura on the other hand did hear his arguments and that stayed her hand. She had had no idea that Naruto had thought that highly of her. Even if he was annoying and usually got in the way of her love, he might not be that bad after all.
Naruto stewed for a few moments before bursting out in anger, "If I had a chance with Sakura, I wouldn't hesitate for a moment. Were all the Uchiha cold-hearted, or is it just you?" Sasuke's head whipped towards Naruto as he fixed Naruto with a glare. The class fell silent. Sakura stood wide-eyed next to Naruto, her hand still raised over her head in a fist. Even Naruto, clueless in most social situations (through no fault of his own) realized that he had just crossed a line in trying to get the one person who ignored his existence most effectively to answer him, give Sakura a chance, and, hopefully, stop ignoring him as well. Naruto hadn't meant to hurt Sasuke and felt bad. His anger had dissipated and his glare vanished, as he opened his mouth to apologize, but it was too late. Sasuke exploded, his fist shot out, toppling him from the desk flat onto the floor below. Sasuke moved so quickly, that he seemed to vanish from his seat, reappearing with his foot on Naruto's neck.
Sasuke stared coldly down the length of his nose at Naruto, making him shiver. "You are unworthy to even utter the name of Uchiha. Don't you dare, don't you dare…ever speak the name of my clan in such a disparaging way ever again. You, you? Have a chance with Sakura? That'll be the day! You are so annoying and pathetic that you'd make her run away, even if we could exchange places for a day. As for giving her a chance, why would I let an annoying fan-girl with no ninja skills to speak of get close to me? Everyone I ever loved was torn away from me! Bonds! Bah! Why would I want to go through something like that for a bond again? Why would I let such things distract me from my task, take me away from my training, prevent me from gaining power to avenge my clan? Hmph! Why indeed?" Sasuke stood, red in the face and panting, after his angry rant at Naruto. Naruto, for his part, was still squirming under Sasuke's foot, feeling defeated and humiliated. All thoughts of apologizing were blown away by his anger, and he decided to get Sasuke back for this humiliation. Sasuke whipped his head around, directing his cold gaze at each of the girls in the class. His eyes seemed to see through them like they didn't even exist and yet to judge their very being at the same time.
Many girls were turned off that day. Many girls swore off their crush. Others pitied him. But Sakura? That was the day that Sakura fell in love with Sasuke. She had glimpsed the true Sasuke that lay underneath his indifferent exterior. It blew away all her fantasies of him and made her see Sasuke, the person. Sakura was a practical girl, she knew that he was affected by losing his clan, but that day it was made real to her. In choosing to care for him anyway, with all his baggage, she became the only girl to love him. It was also the day she started training seriously so that she could be with Sasuke and help him form bonds again.
Sasuke spat on the ground, lifted his foot off Naruto and turned to return to his seat. He wanted to retain what dignity he could after that uncharacteristic outburst. He had been missing his parents a lot that day and his thoughts had been on his hated elder brother. Naruto's words had hit a nerve, and he had blown his top. Sasuke was embarrassed; after all, no decent shinobi gave in to his emotions.
Naruto shot up from the ground, glowering angrily, and lunged towards Sasuke. Iruka Umino, their new Chunin teacher for the year returned just in time to grab Naruto and stop him before the situation turned into a full-out fight. Sakura remained in the same pose, with her fist raised in the air, staring at Sasuke, as if seeing him for the first time, with a soft smile on her face. Some of the girls had tears leaking from their eyes and the boys looked decidedly uncomfortable. Deciding to be professional, he yelled at the class to settle down. He then proceeded to berate Naruto for fighting, made him apologize to Sasuke and sent him to do a hundred push-ups at the back of the class, over Naruto's loud protests that Sasuke should be punished as well. That done, he calmly began his lecture on the history of the Sannin of the leaf.
Naruto was walking home, grinding his teeth, when he started thinking about ways to get even with Sasuke. No one got away with insulting Naruto Uzumaki. Believe it! He had been sincere in his apology, even if he did do it under Iruka's orders. Sasuke had just brushed him off though. How was it fair that he got off scot-free for reacting violently? Why did they ignore his existence and favour Sasuke?
Naruto then proceeded to plan different ideas, only to discard them one after another. Naruto remembered Sasuke's words, "Even if you exchanged places with me, you'd just make her run away." "Exchange places, exchange places for a day," he thought. "Exchange places, that's it! I'll make him look stupid in front of Sakura. She's sure not to like him after what he said about her yesterday! Now, she'll feel better about it and be able to move on. Operation humiliate Sasuke starts now."
After that, Naruto had followed Sasuke around for the next two days, hiding in the shadows to learn his habits. He figured that it would be easy since Sasuke wouldn't notice another person following him considering his many stalkers. It wasn't always easy though, the fan-girls always took the best places! He'd been thrown out of more than one bush and even knocked into a hot-spring once. That had come as a blessing though. He'd found the perfect way to make Sasuke look foolish in front of Sakura.
He had seen an older man, with long white hair, peeking into the women's bathing area. Naruto wasn't fond of perverts and he saw the perfect prank opportunity. He sneaked up behind the man, poked him hard in the shoulder, and yelled, "Pervert peeking at the women! Perverted peeping tom right out here!" at the top of his lungs. Needless to say, this led to all the women in the bath coming out with towels tied and beating him up in a bout of righteous female fury.
When the beating ended, the pervert peeled himself off the floor and asked Naruto if he was a Genin. The man was very impressed when Naruto told him that he was an academy student. "Fancy that! An academy student sneaking up on a great shinobi like me!" he said.
"A great shinobi? You? I haven't even seen your picture in the famous ninjas class," said Naruto, surprised. The old man looked highly insulted at this and proceeded to execute a ridiculous-looking dance as he introduced himself.
"Women want me and men want to be me. I'm the toad sage of Mt. Myoboku and author extraordinaire!" said he and paused for dramatic effect. He bit his thumb, made a few hand seals, struck his palm on the ground and jumped up. He landed on a large toad that appeared in a puff of smoke and struck a ridiculous pose (which he no doubt thought was heroic and gallant) and said, "I'm the gallant Jiraiya of the legendary Sannin."
Naruto looked on in disbelief for a moment and then said, "Yeah, whatever!" and proceeded to walk away. Jiraiya grew depressed and huddled in a corner, poking his fingers together and complaining about disrespectful blond children.
Naruto had then proceeded to practice the transformation jutsu, in front of the mirror, based on his observations of Sasuke. He'd never even managed it right in class before, after all. Iruka would've fainted at his diligent practice, the amount of research he put in and the detailed notes on Sasuke that Naruto made. Information gathering was critical to shinobi. Naruto might have been the dead last academically speaking, but he sure applied the lessons beautifully in practice. His notes were in a variant of the Konoha coded shorthand. He'd come up with it himself when he got kicked out of class for snoring and disturbing others. Naruto also tested how long he could hold the transformation up by forcing himself to do various actions around his home while transformed. As a final test, he'd gone out in his disguise when he was sure Sasuke would be home and run around for a bit. He'd even thrown a stone at a Chunin from afar, who had then proceeded to chase him. Luckily for Naruto, the Chunin hadn't recognized him as the Uchiha since he moved away so fast. Content that he could maintain the transformation under stressful circumstances, he returned home, satisfied with his mastery of the jutsu. He'd mastered one of the academy jutsu, now they just had to pass him! Pranks were no reason to neglect his training to take the Hokage's hat, after all.
He'd set up layered traps in the Uchiha compound that night. He could personally attest that the sticky goo in the bucket over Sasuke's door would take at least fifteen minutes of washing to get out. He was certain that his rain-of-knives traps were perfectly set. He'd even dug a hole right under the front gate and covered it up with a thin layer of earth. Well, that and a transformation jutsu applied to the ground ensured that it looked the same as ever. He'd also set up a bunch of traps in the corridors. Confident that Sasuke would be delayed by at least half an hour and wouldn't get to the academy before Sakura, like he usually did, Naruto returned home.
Preparations complete, Naruto got out of bed early the next morning and hid in a tree. He waited in the tree, eating his cup-ramen happily until Sakura entered the academy. He then got down from the tree, disposed of the empty cup and went to the men's room. He safely activated his transformation there and began walking to the classroom. Just as he expected, he gathered a number of female followers. He then walked right up to Sakura.
Sakura blushed as she thought that Sasuke might have finally taken notice of her, even if he had been very critical in his assessment of her skills a few days back. Sakura froze looking into his eyes. That was such a rare thing. Sasuke always turned his breathtaking gaze to the side, so she could never look into his eyes fully.
Naruto then began the same dance as the perverted old man and said, "Women want me and men want to be me. I'm the number one rookie ninja of Konoha, the defeater of orange annoyances and blond fiends!" He paused for dramatic effect and took in the gazes of horror that the guys directed at him, never noticing that the fan-girls were looking at his display of emotion with great admiration. Had Sasuke finally gotten over his loss? Was this the chance they were waiting for, when Sasuke was able to act so happy and so silly?
Naruto hopped on the teacher's desk, folded his hands across his chest, turned his head and adopted an exaggerated version of Sasuke's usual brooding demeanour. "Hn! I'm the great Sasuke-sama, say hello to the new me!" he cried. It was then he realized that the fan-girls were looking at him adoringly with hearts in their eyes. He heard muffled whispers of Sasuke looking cool, even when joking around and doing silly introductions, and paled. He barely managed to dive out of the classroom window, land on a convenient tree branch, and shimmy down to the grounds, as the fan-girls ran to glomp him. Naruto ran for his life.
Sasuke, in the meantime, hadn't had a good start that day. After half an hour of washing goo from his hair and jumping out of his window onto a tree, he proceeded to move towards the weapon store to buy some more practice shuriken before heading to the academy. Fortunately for Sasuke, Naruto had missed that he sometimes took the window out while heading for school, in researching his habits, and hadn't set any traps there.
Naruto ran at his top speed; he was surprised that the fan-girls were almost as good as the Chunin who sometimes chased him after he played pranks on the village. While he was confident that he could give them the slip, he was worried that the fan-girl horde was gaining mass as he led them on a merry chase around Konoha. It was sheer chance that he spotted Sasuke enter the weapons store and the fan-girls didn't. Rather fortuitous chance at that. He decided to run ahead and then circle back to the store. With a little luck he'd be able to deliver Sasuke to the horde. He'd need to dispel the transformation jutsu as he turned the corner and hope that Sasuke came out just then. In the worst case, he'd have enough time to flush Sasuke out into the waiting arms of the horde. Fan-girl hordes took some-time to disperse, as he knew from prior observation.
Sakura was running at the very back of the horde. She'd been delayed for a few critical moments, stunned by Sasuke's routine. Was he acknowledging her? Why else would he do that introduction routine after walking to her? She would find out! True love would win today! Above all, Sasuke would not be driven away by all those other hussies! She was going to get him no matter what! As it happened, Naruto led them past Sakura's home, on the way back to the weapons shop.
As they passed under the kitchen window, Sakura's mother leaned out and called to Sakura, who stopped immediately. "It's time for a more forceful approach. Brain him and bring him back. Sometimes a girl needs to do these things. Desperate times call for desperate measures, after all," said her mother. "And you should brain the competition too," she added as an afterthought, as she handed Sakura a frying pan and a length of rope. Sakura grabbed both and put on a burst of speed to catch up to the horde, which was nearly out of her sight by then.
Naruto turned the corner and dispelled the transformation jutsu, just as Sakura caught up. It went off perfectly, right down to Sasuke exiting the store as the horde turned the corner. It was at times like these that Naruto appreciated that he had the devil's luck. He watched the events unfold in a mixture of amusement and horror, thankful that he himself wasn't caught in the massacre that happened.
One loud cry of "Cha!" and fifty dizzy fan girls later, Sakura stood panting before Sasuke with a crazed look in her eyes, a pretty blush on her cheeks, and a frying pan clutched firmly in her hands. Inner Sakura was screaming her mortification at letting Sasuke see her like that, but Sakura was too tired to care.
Sasuke grew afraid, very afraid. He backed up and his hands felt up against a wall seconds before Sakura brained him. Years later, he would look back fondly on the moment when fighting Itachi.
Sakura was seen dragging a tied up bundle that looked vaguely human across the streets later that day. Sasuke woke up, bruised and dirty in the Haruno home, and screamed…
Meanwhile, Naruto walked off, grinning at the successful pranking and humiliation of his rival. It didn't exactly go the way he had planned, but this outcome was so much better anyway. His gaze turned towards the Hokage monument. "Maybe if I carved my face up there, people would notice me too. That's why I want to be Hokage, after all. Everyone will have to acknowledge me then! But what can I do for now? Besides, I can't carve my face on the mountain, I don't even know how!" He just caught his reflection in a mirror that two men were carrying into a shop at that moment. Naruto smirked evilly! He'd just had a very interesting idea …
The sun rose over the Hokage mountain spreading its glorious rays over all of Konoha. The weather was fine and a few cotton-wool clouds, tinged red and purple at the edges, floated by gently. The sun's rays touched a grinning blond who was packing up his equipment and getting rid of paint cans and brushes.
Hiruzen Sarutobi was not having a good day. One would think that the life of the Hokage, military leader and dictator of Konoha, would be easier, but today seemed to bring him nothing but trouble. He'd entered his office this morning to find that the pile of paperwork in his in tray had grown three inches. He'd long entertained the notion that paperwork propagated like bunnies. Not even two hours later, he had been called into a meeting of the Konoha council, which consisted not only of the two old busybodies he had once called teammates and his 'eternal rival' Danzo but also the heads of all the shinobi clans, some of the best ninja of the village, and, of course, several prominent businessmen. If that combination of people in a single room wasn't enough to give him a headache, then the inane issues brought up by the so-called civilian half of the council for over three hours definitely was. Honestly! What was Tobirama-sensei thinking when he decided to make a council to help the Hokage govern Konoha? Add the panicking Chunin who was reporting Naruto's latest prank to all that, and Hiruzen was ready to leave it all behind and take a long dip in the nearest hot spring.
Sarutobi, the esteemed third Hokage, climbed to the top of the Hokage mansion, took one look at the Hokage monument, and burst into a fit of hearty laughter. The Chunin who were assembled on the roof and pointing at the monument paused at their Hokage's unusual loss of composure. While Sarutobi was known for his kind demeanour and smiled often, to see him laugh so openly was a rare sight indeed. Regaining his composure, he turned to the waiting shinobi and asked them to bring Naruto back to him unharmed, his eyes gaining just a bit of steel as he warned them. The Chunin snapped off a sharp response, moulded chakra, and leapt off the roof in search of Naruto.
Naruto ran as fast as his legs could carry him. He had long since learned that moulding chakra would allow him to run faster than normal. He had no idea, of course, that this principle, when applied to its fullest extent, was what shinobi used to move incredibly fast to perform the so called body-flicker jutsu. He spared a quick backwards glance at the two Chunin in pursuit as the buildings flashed by. Quickly jumping up to the top of a nearby shop, he took the chase to the rooftops.
The Chunin doggedly followed the prankster. The first one took to the roof, while the other took a short-cut and tried to head Naruto off. Naruto expertly evaded them, not fooled for a moment. He'd done this dozens of times before, sometimes even under life-threatening circumstances. Naruto was fleet-footed and wily, quite capable of fleeing from attackers and evading their traps. What he didn't count on, however, was Iruka passing by.
Iruka spotted the fleeing boy and realized he was up to no good and probably going to miss classes at the academy again. He shot out a hand and snagged Naruto by the collar, dragged him back, and grabbed him in a choke-hold. Iruka then proceeded to scold him, in a paternal manner, for being irresponsible while proceeding to truss him up like a chicken. It was then that Iruka finally noticed the Hokage monument. He was nearly overcome by a fit of giggles, seeing all the dignified Hokage sport three thin black whisker marks on each cheek. It was quite funny really; it was just a pity that Naruto had vandalised a national monument. The two Chunin in pursuit finally caught up and came to a halt, panting, in front of Iruka.
A few minutes, a couple of explanations, and a bump on the head later – he did stick his tongue out and call his pursuers losers, after all – he found himself in the third Hokage's office, held firmly in place by two glaring ninja. Sarutobi dismissed the two Chunin, who moved out with a bow, and sighed. He moved to his chair and proceeded to light his pipe, taking his time about things, watching Naruto squirm a bit. He didn't want to return to the God awful paperwork too soon, after all, and messing with Naruto was much more fun!
It took five minutes but Naruto finally cracked, "Old man, I'm so awesome you've got to let me..." Naruto trailed off as Sarutobi levelled an even stare at him.
"Naruto-kun, I am very disappointed in you. You've been told often enough that painting public property is wrong. Why did you do it?" asked the Hokage.
"I just wanted to get my face on the Hokage monument, old man, and I don't know how to carve it!" said Naruto plaintively.
Sarutobi sighed, "You know only the Hokage can have their faces carved on to the mountain; have you given up on your dream?"
Naruto looked determinedly into Sarutobi's eyes and proclaimed, "Never old man! I'm taking that hat from you!"
Sarutobi smiled at Naruto's determination before he remembered that Naruto was still in trouble. "All right then, Naruto, why did you do it?" he asked patiently.
Naruto looked down and mumbled something before looking back up with his too-wide grin and said, "Because I'm awesome like that! No one else dares to do it. Besides, who else will keep your Chunin on their toes?"
Hiruzen wasn't fooled for an instant; he had been seeing Naruto's mask for a very long time, after all. He was, in all likelihood, the only one who cared for the boy in the entire village. He had high hopes that Iruka's kind heart would allow him to see past the nine-tailed fox demon's shadow that had hung over the young boy since the very day he was born. This hope had led to him convincing Iruka to become the home-room teacher for Naruto's class. Truth be told, he hadn't been able to find any willing candidates to teach the troublemaker. While Hiruzen did what he could to help the boy, he was powerless to change the minds of the villagers and often felt like he didn't do enough. "I did manage to protect him, but it isn't enough. I wish that I could do more. Even so, I cannot take it easy on him now. I must guide him as well as I can and help him grow into a fine young man," thought Hiruzen, with a mental sigh.
"No, Naruto-kun! You know you don't have to pretend with me, even if you are in trouble. Out with it now!" said Sarutobi sternly.
Naruto gulped and looked down, poking his fingers together, and answered in an uncharacteristically quiet voice, "If all the Hokage look like me, everyone will know who I am. No one will ignore me anymore." Sarutobi felt for the boy, he really did, orphaned and ostracised by the village as he was, but he needed Naruto to learn that vandalism was not the right thing to do. Sarutobi rose up from his chair, knelt near Naruto, looked him in the eye, and put a comforting hand on his shoulder.
"You are never alone, Naruto. You'll always have me, remember that," said the old man kindly. He then looked stern again and said, "That doesn't mean you are off the hook! You'll clean off the Hokage monument once your classes are done today." Naruto nodded, not protesting his punishment for once. He had been touched by the old man's reminder that he had at least one person in Konoha who cared.
Sarutobi returned to his seat and began, "Now if there is nothing else, Naruto-kun..."
"Oh! Old man, I have a request," Naruto began, nervously. "Can you tell me anything about my parents? You've only ever told me that they were ninja of Konoha and that they died fighting the nine-tailed demon fox. You've never answered my questions before," said Naruto.
Sarutobi sighed tiredly, "You know that I can't tell you about your father, Naruto-kun, not until you are a Chunin. I have to keep you safe from his enemies, after all, until you become a strong young ninja. Just know that he was one of our finest shinobi."
"That's not fair, old man! Well, fine! Can't you at least tell me about my mother then?" asked Naruto. "Do I even have a mother?" he mumbled, looking down sadly. Sarutobi managed to hear his second question, even if Naruto didn't mean for him to hear it.
"He is so sad and lonely. Maybe it is time I told him of his mother. I think I will put my faith in his ability to keep her name secret and hand him what he inherited from his mother. If nothing else, it should bring him some peace. I won't leave him to suffer any longer," thought Sarutobi. He looked Naruto straight in the eye and said, "I can do you one better, Naruto. There is something your mother left for you and I can give it to you today, if you give me your word of honour that you will never tell her name to anyone else, without my permission, until you become at least a Chunin. Can you do that? Do you swear?" Naruto felt a rush of emotions, here was an opportunity to learn of his parents, at long last! He didn't have to think much more. He was willing to do anything, if he could only learn of his mother.
"Old man, I give you my solemn word, upon everything that I hold dear, that I will not reveal her name to anyone, without asking you first, until I am a Chunin," said Naruto in a steady voice.
"I will ban you from ever eating ramen in Konoha, if you do break your word to me," said Sarutobi.
While Naruto would normally have gulped and paled at such a dire threat, he didn't flinch the slightest bit this time. He stared determinedly into Sarutobi's eyes and calmly stated, "I will never go back on my word. It is my nindo, my ninja way." Sarutobi was immensely proud of Naruto's behaviour and reassured of the correctness of his decision. He bent down, pulled open a desk drawer, pulled out a box, and handed it to Naruto.
"Bite your thumb, draw blood, and pull it over the top of the box. It's a blood seal," explained the old ninja. Naruto did just that and the box popped open in a puff of smoke. Naruto reached in with trembling hands and pulled out an old photograph of a beautiful woman, garbed in a Konoha Jonin's uniform, wide smile on her face, and her long red hair blowing gently in the breeze. Naruto's heart ached, even as he felt the joy of gazing upon his mother for the first time. He put the photo away and carefully pulled out a necklace with a single strand of red hair set in a hexagonal glass pendant. He gazed at it reverently for a moment before putting it back in the box. He would always have a part of his mother with him now.
Naruto finally unfolded the only other thing in the box: a letter from his mother. It was faded and stained and appeared to be written in a great hurry, but Naruto was simply delighted to see his mother's handwriting and read her last words to him. Naruto smiled softly and turned his gaze upon the letter.
I'm leaving you a part of me, to help you find a part of you: a part to love, cherish and hold, a part to drive away loneliness and make you happy.
With all my love,
Naruto was puzzled and just a bit disappointed. "I wish she had written more. I'm holding in my hands the proof of her love for me, but I can't help but wish for more.
"Mom, there is so much I want to ask you, so much I wish you had the time to tell me. I'm not smart, but even I know that most people in the village hate me. How would you have dealt with it, Mother? I don't know, but I'm going to do my best to make you proud, since you loved me so much.
"I don't understand what you meant when you said your gift would help me find a part of myself. I wish you'd said more," thought Naruto. Knowing that the Third Hokage was very smart, and that he knew his mother and was probably the only person in the entire village who might explain things to him, Naruto decided to ask Sarutobi about his mother's letter.
"Old man, I'm confused! I don't understand what my mother meant in her letter. I know she loves me now, but what on Earth was she talking about when she said that she'd left a part of her to help me find a part of myself? I mean, she's obviously talking about the necklace she left, but how can that help me find any parts of me? I have my whole body here, two hands, two feet, eyes, nose, a mouth, all my parts are here!" said an utterly befuddled Naruto. Sarutobi smiled, remembering his marriage to his beloved Biwako. Asuma had been equally confused when he'd called Biwako his "better half" in front of him. Sarutobi laughed and began to explain.
"Naruto, your mother really was a genius. She's left you a gift that will help you find your other half, your better half," began Sarutobi.
"But old man, I have both halves of my body, see? It doesn't make any sense!" protested Naruto.
"It isn't like that, Naruto. My wife was my better half," said Sarutobi, a little sad that Biwako was no longer with him. "Most people go through a lot of dating and often a lot of heartbreak to find the right person.
"Someone whom you love and who will love you back. Someone who will make you complete in a way that has you realizing how incomplete you were before. Someone who will hold your hand and be your shoulder to cry on. Someone who will never let you be lonely. Someone who willingly does all those things for you and thereby earns them from you in return. Someone precious, wonderful, special," said Sarutobi passionately.
"The necklace is something that will help you find the perfect match for you and hopefully avoid all the heartache and pain that most people go through. To give you a lucky break and give you a loyal friend, a caring lover, and most importantly, family. That, Naruto," Sarutobi paused, "is your mother's gift to you."
Naruto still looked a little confused. "But that won't help old man. No one in Konoha would love me," he said, then paused. After thinking for a moment, he added quietly, "Or want me as family for that matter." Sarutobi looked at him sadly. "We both know that, old man. I know my mother loved me, that is enough. Her gift is thoughtful, but I'll never fulfil that hope of hers," he continued.
"That is not true, Naruto-kun," Hiruzen said rather forcefully, "you will find someone to love, right here in Konoha, or, if your heart leads you to someone elsewhere, so be it. But know this Naruto-kun, your mother believed in you and hoped for you and I do too. Don't give up on that. Make it your dream and don't look back, ever. I'm certain you'll succeed in that," said Sarutobi and added with a grin, "you'll never take my hat though!"
Naruto choked out, "Old man, you really... you really believe in me, don't you..." Sarutobi moved around his desk for a second time and just held Naruto to his chest. "Thank you old man, thank you," choked out Naruto, tears trailing down his cheeks.
Sarutobi pulled back, swiped the tears away and said, "You are most welcome, Naruto-kun, this old man will always believe in you."
Naruto walked away, his heart just a little less empty than before. He didn't know yet how the necklace would help him, but the old man believed in him and his mother had loved him and that was what was important. "I will make them proud... I will make them proud," he thought determinedly.