Chapter 21:

A Father’s Influence


Soon I shall cease to be

When I am beyond this world,

Can I have a memory

Of just one more meeting?

-       Izumi Shikibu




“I know you didn’t ask, but I could sense you were curious anyway. Consider it a gift from Itachi and me.”


Before I could open my mouth to ask what the hell he was talking about, Shisui slapped a dossier against my chest; that strange smile still on his face. We were the only ones in the hallway now, as Karin had ‘kidnapped’ Haku for God knows what, to her apartment, while Shika had already gone ahead without me. Gingerly, I held the beige folder between my hands, noting that there was really nothing written on it to tell what it contained. In addition, it felt relatively light – not much to read – and yet there was a ‘weight’ that fell upon me as I slowly put two and two together. The dossier could only contain one thing; a solidification of what Itachi had revealed to me at the clinic.


“When Asuma told us about you, we were a little curious; me especially because of your features,” Shisui continued quietly. “It wasn’t so much the scars, but the life you had lived up ‘til now. So I did a little digging and that is the result.” He nodded at the folder.


“As you already know, I wasn’t around when your father was still active, but I did manage to find a former member of the Syndicate who was willing to talk. It’s pretty damn hard getting those guys to reveal their secrets, but Jiraiya-sensei was willing to share...after all he mentored your father for many years before officially retiring. Besides, he considers it poetic justice that you learn the truth now that he knows you exist.”


The smile on Shisui’s face withered a little. “Bottom line, everything you read there was written by Jiraiya-sensei himself. Whatever decision you come to at the end of it all...I hope it’s the right one.”


He squeezed my shoulder gently and made as if to leave when I stopped him; more to perhaps keep him around and stall the inevitable. For though I had claimed curiosity in wanting to know about my family, a part of me still felt I ought to let sleeping dogs lie, to return this folder back to Shisui and pretend as if this conversation had never happened to begin with.


/Remember your promise to make peace with the past.../


Yes, but then again...just how much peace could come from knowing that your father was a member of the most feared yakuza group in the world?


“Where is this Jiraiya-sensei?” I asked.


“Who knows?” came the enigmatic reply. “He’s even worse than you are when it comes to traveling. It was a lucky break, on my part, to finally catch him when he was in Osaka. For all I know, he could very well be in Russia at this moment.” He shrugged and waved a hand as if in dismissal. “Besides, you’re better off not knowing for now. If he wants to see you, he’ll definitely find you. No doubt about that.”




But Shisui was already gone before I could stutter out a suitable reply; leaving me standing like a moron in the empty hallway with my fate within my hands.


“All right, Naruto,” I whispered to myself while taking a deep breath to calm my suddenly pounding heart. “Let’s get this show on the road already.”


I knew I wouldn’t be able to read it in the apartment with Shikamaru around, so I made a beeline for the narrow blink-and-you-just-might-miss-it door that stood between the janitor’s closet and the bathroom. Shika and I had discovered it the other day while exploring our ‘boring’ floor, but it was no secret passage way to treasures untold (as much as we wished it was). Opening the door simply led you into a cramped, stuffy space with enough room for a flight of six graffiti-infested steps, which led to another door that took you to the rooftop of the apartment complex. About the size of a soccer field, it was a dizzying maze of water tanks, heating and cooling systems (which shot up faint clouds of smoke every now and then) as well as low, narrow slabs of concrete to demarcate one section from the other. Someone had tried to create an aviary - or something of the sort - at the far end of the roof, but there was now nothing left but a ramshackle of a large bird house, discarded feeding pans, many bird droppings, and the lingering stench of said droppings. Steel poles, which must have once been used for clothes lines, stood naked and swayed ever so slightly with a gust of the wind. Every now and then, a crow or two would land upon it to peck at some unseen snack before hopping around aimlessly.


I leaped over several slabs in an effort to get to the opposite end of the maze, where I could at least get a little shade from the largest water tank. It was a beautiful mid-morning all things considered; not too cold and not too hot, with a breeze that brought along with it a soothing caress on my heated skin, as well as mingled smells of the river, garbage, laundry, and decent cooked meals. From my vantage point, I had a good view of the other apartment rooftops, some of which had clothes lines set up with washed sheets and clothing flapping in the wind. I also had a good view of some of our neighbors’ balconies, where there was a man shaving, and another with a mother cradling her wailing baby, and another with an old lady trying to sweep it clean; just regular folks doing everyday things. Nothing really extraordinary.


Next to the complex, the out-of-place winding river glistened as it continued to flow ever so silently, where a few children could be seen running alongside or daring to wade into it. Across from that, the construction site (for probably another apartment complex) was in full swing with its bulldozers and trucks looking like toys from this distance. There was a baseball game being played on the field not far from that location, and seeing that brought a hard lump to my throat. There was something rather depressing in knowing that there were folks out there who could live their lives with no worries, while we were confined in this place until God knows when.


(at least it’s a million times better than sitting in some underground dungeon counting the minutes until you die)


The faint cheers that arose from a winning home run had me shaking my head and forcing myself to concentrate on what was before me. This was no time to sit around moping and feeling sorry for myself. I took a deep breath and opened the folder, where I was immediately accosted with a smiling visage of a handsome young man who could have been about my age or maybe two years older. Even if his name hadn’t been typed and pasted across the bottom of the picture, anyone could tell that this guy must have been related to me in some way.


Mi-na-to Na-mi-ka-ze...


(my father)


The lump I had thought gone returned with a vengeance as a trembling finger reached out to caress the photograph. It was clearly an old one, but still good enough to reveal a face that was friendly and open; hardly the features of a hardened killer as my imaginations had so wildly perceived. His hair was like mine; spiky and blond, and though he had no scars on his cheeks, we had both inherited the same eye color...and smile (‘all teeth’ I used to be told by Sakura). He looked like a freakin’ happy-go-lucky guy! Relaxed and not at all fazed or worried about who was taking the photograph. It almost made you want to crack a smile as well...except my heart was still doing the tango even as I noticed there were a few more photographs attached behind the initial headshot. Here was one with Minato posing beside a pretty damn cool motorbike, looking like a kid who had just won the lottery. Here was another of him reading a magazine with a toothpick stuck in the corner of his mouth – must have been a candid shot since he wasn’t paying much attention to the camera. Here was another of him eating from a giant bowl of ramen (my favorite food too!) while grinning at the camera. I don’t know about you, but seeing these pictures made me feel even more depressed. These snapshots told of a guy who might have been a killer, but at least he did know how to have a normal life outside of his chosen profession. He looked cool...kind...just freakin’ awesome...and the realization that such a person had not been a part of my life...




We could have had the best time if he was still alive, you know?


Angrily, I scrubbed away the drops of tears that had fallen upon the photographs, squeezed my eyes shut and threw my head back to control myself. Geez. If the waterworks were already beginning, how would I manage when I was done reading this Jiraiya-sensei’s account of my father’s life? When I was sure the tears had stopped, I lifted my lashes and focused on the documents again; time to get to reading.


Ah...wait a minute...


There was one more photograph; a much smaller one of passport size actually. This was another old image; one of a beautiful young woman with extraordinary long hair as red as Karin’s and piercing green eyes that reminded me of Sakura. She wasn’t smiling...well it was more of a small smile, and she was dressed in a high-school uniform.


Again, even without being told, I knew this was my mother, because I could see my face in hers. And though my memories of her were nothing more than faded, fuzzy images, there were a few things that crept into my consciousness every now and then; that hair for one thing. I guess it was because it was so damn long; I must have used it as a blanket when I was a baby.


I turned the photograph over and written behind it were the barely legible words:


Sorry, this was the only photo of Kushina I could find. Rest assured; she was much older when she met your father. ;)


Hah. At least it’s good to know Dad didn’t go looking for jailbait. Not that I would have blamed him if he was attracted to the Kushina in the photo. She was a looker indeed. No way could you resist a babe like her if she came walking your way.


I set the photographs aside to focus on the neatly typed (thank God for that! not sure I could have read anything illegible) words with its rather personal opening statement.




To Uzumaki Naruto,

If this finds you well, and I hope it does for I trust Shisui will deliver it safely to you, I hope that you read this with an open heart and the knowledge that your father was indeed a good man and one you can be proud of. We all make decisions in our lives – whether good or bad – and though your father was not always in the right, he did his utmost to make the best of whatever situation was presented to him. I believe this is a mentality you must have inherited as Shisui has told me a little about the life you must have led so far. To be honest, I was quite surprised when he told me about you; for I had no idea Minato had a son. He must have wanted to protect you at all costs for good reason. I did know he had found true love with your mother, Kushina, but that was the last time I was in direct contact with him. However, I digress and I beg your forgiveness for rushing into things. Perhaps I should start from the beginning...from the moment I became aware of who your father was and just why he made quite a few formidable enemies in his lifetime.


As Shisui must have told you, I am no longer a member of the Syndicate. I am now too old and prefer to spend my days writing while traveling and exploring God’s beautiful earth. However, many moons ago, I was a shateigashira of one of the many gangs beneath the Bakufu Syndicate umbrella. Our headquarters was in Aichi, where I governed over a thousand members and an extremely lucrative ‘business’. Our turf was untouchable, and every now and then high-school kids with no money or little prospects came seeking for an opportunity to become a member of the organization while doing the most outrageous or stupid things to get attention. It wasn’t as if your father went out of his way to gain permission into the group. It was actually quite interesting when I look back now, for it was a clear sign that Minato was just no ordinary high school kid after all...





Thirty Moons Ago:


He heard the commotion long before about five of his men dragged in the bloody but defiant young man into his office. Though sporting a swollen jaw and his left eye almost shut, the kid couldn’t have been older than fifteen. With his wild shaggy blond hair and piercing blue eyes, he glared daggers at Jiraiya as if he was the one responsible for his current condition. He was dressed in a pair of jeans and a tee-shirt. However, it was the blood-stained white apron with ‘DOKI’S BAKERY’ written on it, as well as the half-chewed off loaf of bread tucked beneath his arm, that seemed to tell the whole story. The kid was clinging to the bread as if it was a lifeline, and though it was also stained with blood (as if it had been dipped it in actually), he wouldn’t let it go.


“Here’s the brat, oyabun!” Mitsuki panted as he all but kicked the kid on his ass to send him sprawling onto the fine Persian rug Jiraiya had just installed last week. Mitsuki’s pristine white suit was just as messy; with bloodstains that made it look as if he had been involved in a gunfight. “Son of a bitch almost killed Urashi!”


“With his loaf of bread?” Jiraiya drawled in amusement. The kid was still glaring at him, but was slowly rising to his knees (heh, perhaps finally realizing he was in the presence of someone great), but no...he was actually standing up again! Jiraiya had to give him kudos for being so brazen.


As for Mitsuki – who was a monster of a man – he turned red in the face at the assumption, which wouldn’t have been far from the truth.


“We were only doing our patrol,” he began explaining. “And we went to get our payment from Saitou-san, when this...this...bastard came charging at us with his damn bread!”


That would have been the understatement of the century. So yes, they had begun haranguing the old geezer in the kitchen, even though he was on his hands and knees begging them to give him one more week to get enough funds to pay his debt. Urashi, a relatively new member and still flexing his yakuza muscles, had placed a foot on the old man’s head; sneering and calling him names in an attempt to crush his spirit. No one had really taken notice of the skinny blond kid who was helping to stack loaves of bread in the oven, but just as Urashi kicked the geezer in the jaw (and his fat wife had begun screaming like a banshee), the kid went psycho on them.


Just like that.


First came the tray of sizzling hot buns to fall on their faces and bodies, and then ‘BAM!’ a fist came hurling next, which sent Kazu (another junior member) flying across the kitchen and landing almost head first into the oven. Urashi would barely have the time to gather himself before the kid threw an uppercut that shifted his jaw and caused a fine mist of sprayed blood to erupt from the crushed appendage. Urashi’s howl galvanized Mitsuki into action, and he did manage to grasp the kid by the elbows and deliver a blow to his stomach. His victory was short-lived, however, as the kid sprang up like a fucking jack-in-the-box and with a damn loaf of stinkin’ bread in his hand, used it to smash into Mitsuki’s forehead with such force, Mitsuki was sure he blacked out for a second. He was like a fucking maniac! And it had to take all five of them – with Urashi barely able to move a muscle – until they had him subdued enough.


Jiraiya listened to the embellished tale and gave an inner sigh. This was not the first time he had to listen or deal with his members getting into skirmishes like this. However, he took pride in running a district where the civilians treated them with respect. If his gang continued to abuse their power like this, what stopped a revolt starting up or other rival groups seeking to control their turf? Mitsuki was a ticking time bomb and Jiraiya was getting sick and tired of having to put up with their behavior.


“Mitsuki,” he began quietly with a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “When was the last time you offered a finger to me?”


The subordinate blanched and immediately fell to his knees to bow in surrender; a motion that was immediately copied by his comrades. “Please forgive us, oyabun! We promise it will not happen again!”


“Promises, promises,” Jiraiya replied tightly. “You are skating on thin ice. Next time...I won’t even see your face, do you understand?”


Oh, Mitsuki more than understood, for looking up meekly at the huge man behind the desk with that long shaggy white hair that looked like a lion’s mane when angry, reminded the yakuza of who was really in charge. Jiraiya was no doubt one of the most respected and feared members of the Bakufu organization, and people literally died just to be in his favor. Mitsuki knew he couldn’t screw this up, and with a final heartfelt apology, he ushered his pathetic crew out of the office and shut the door behind him when it was clear his boss wanted to be left alone with the boy.


“What is your name?” Jiraiya asked absently. He had a shitload of paperwork to complete; mostly related to an incoming shipment of artillery from the Philippines.


There was stone cold silence for almost a full minute before the muttered ‘Minato Namikaze’ filtered into his ear.


“Hn.” Jiraiya grunted and scribbled some more. He wasn’t familiar with the family name, but then again, who said he had to know every damn person in the city?


“And how old are you?”


“I’ll be fifteen in two months,” came the surly reply. “Listen...”


Jiraiya looked up with a raised brow. “Listen”? Had the boy really spoken to him as if he had other important matters to attend to? Under ordinary circumstances, Jiraiya might have left his seat to teach the brat a personal lesson, but there was still that something rather intriguing about the kid that had him actually dropping his pen, forming a tent with his fingers and focusing his attention on the bloodied face.


(still defiant as ever)


“Am I going to be punished or what?” Minato asked. “I was only trying to stop them from hurting Saitou-san. They had no right to kick him like that especially when he was begging them for mercy.”


“You are right.”


“Huh?” Minato’s comical look of surprise at Jiraiya’s frank agreement had him blinking his one good eye. It soon narrowed, however, and was filled with caution again.


“Mitsuki and his crew are not exactly known for being the most patient of people,” Jiraiya explained with a small smile. “So you were right to defend your master. Not everyone can do that when the yakuza comes for a visit. It shows your bravery. I can appreciate that, Minato. So...what say I tell them and everyone else in my organization to stop harassing Saitou-san, hmm?”


Minato’s good eye flashed with excitement. “Really? You’d do that?”


“Of course! I’m a generous guy after all.” He burst out into good natured laughter that brought a tentative smile to the kid’s face. He wasn’t sure of what was up with this guy (he had heard terrible stories about the feared oyabun of their district of course), but at this moment, he didn’t seem all that scary at all.


“Thank you,” Minato finally sputtered. “Really. I’m sure Saitou-san will pay up eventually. Business has been a bit slow lately, but with the Christmas season coming up, I’m sure he’ll make enough to complete his debt.”


“Hmm...I wonder...” The laughter had stopped and Jiraiya was now rubbing his chin gently. “Do you know just how much Saitou-san owes us?”


“ much?” came the worried query.


And at the sum Jiraiya mentioned, the kid all but groaned in misery. There was no way in hell that Saitou-san could pay up that much even if he worked non-stop for the rest of his life! How the hell had he...?!


“An obsession to gambling,” Jiraiya replied to the unspoken question. “Once he started, he couldn’t stop. He mortgaged his home and sold his oldest daughter just to keep up with his addiction. Trust me, Minato, I have been more than lenient with him over the years, but I have lost a lot of money on that man and there will come a day when he’ll have to pay the ultimate price.”


“No...” Minato moaned in misery. Saitou-san – that good, kind-hearted but sometimes absent-minded old man – had taken pity on him and given him a job for such pitiful pay, and to know that this was his was just too cruel.


“That is life unfortunately,” Jiraiya sympathized with a gentle nod. “However...there is a way we can end all of this with happy results all around.”


Minato perked up again; eager to find a way to do anything to help his mentor for the past two years. “What? What can I do, sir?”


“You can come work for me.”




“You heard me,” Jiraiya said with a smile. “I like you, Minato. You’ve got that little extra something that’s rare in my men these days, and I’d like you to become a member of my organization.”


Minato’s eagerness had dissipated faster than a wild horse left on the streets. He scowled and straightened up. “No, thank you, sir. I’d rather not.”


“Really?” Jiraiya toyed with the expensive looking crystal paperweight, in the shape of a toad, with his fingers. “Are you sure you should be so quick to refuse my request? If you worked for me, I can guarantee that Saitou will never be bothered for the rest of his life. His debts will be cleared and he can consider himself free.”




“How much does he pay you now?”


“Enough,” Minato muttered.


“Enough, huh? Last I heard, you probably only get a few meals here and there, sleep in the attic above his home, and not much left for pocket money, is that correct?”


“I get by.”


“And your education?”


“I study.”


“You dropped out of school, didn’t you?”


Minato turned a bright shade of red and scowled even harder at the rug. “I am saving up my money and I go to cram school -”


“I can provide you with a better home; an apartment all for yourself, more pocket money – weekly – than you know what to do with and even better, let you go to the best school in the district.”


“And all I have to do is learn how to kill and harass people, right?” Minato asked with a sneer.


Jiraiya sighed and pretended to look hurt. “Is that really all you think about us? We do some good work for the civilians. We rescue failing a price yes, but still! Without us, where would this nation be? We are the backbone of society, don’t you forget it.” He took a deep breath and tried again. “So...what do you say? I will personally mentor you and keep you away from all the scary guns and fights, if that’s what you’re so worried about.”


Minato burned at the insinuation that he was a coward, but he did not lower his gaze from the intense dark eyes highlighted by twin trails of red paint on Jiraiya’s cheeks. It was supposed to make him look intimidating and frightening, but perhaps Minato saw something else beneath the outward appearance; something in those eyes that told him that this man really was ‘good’ beneath the tough guy façade he put up.


“Well?” Jiraiya prodded with slight impatience. “I am a very busy man, Minato, and would like to get an answer as soon as possible.”


“Can I at least think about it for a few days?” Minato asked. “You can’t just expect me to change my whole life in the space of a few minutes.”


“I didn’t have that option,” Jiraiya mumbled beneath his breath, but he shrugged. “Fine. Take a few days. However, you have only until the end of the week. If I do not hear from you by midnight, Friday, consider this conversation as never haven taken place and all you’ve ever known will be destroyed. Good day.”




Looking back now, I realize how cruel my offer must have been; knowing full well that it was my ultimatum that pushed him into the lifestyle. Many nights I have wondered if I did the right thing and how I could have done things differently, but no other solutions were forthcoming. Minato was sent to me for a reason and for a purpose. He was a child of destiny and he proved me right in that aspect as the years went by. Unlike my first impression of him, he was not a hothead at all, but a man who took the time to think things through before coming to a decision. It was something many of my subordinates lacked, and it didn’t take long for him to become a respected member of our organization by the time he was only seventeen. He was loyal to a fault; never forgetting Saitou-san and always visiting him whenever he was in town. He worked hard at his studies and read everything in sight whenever he got a chance. However, it was his proficiency in combat that made him simply outstanding.


You are already aware of his hand-to-hand combat fighting skills, and when it came to mastering the weapons, he was a natural. He was proficient with kenjutsu, but when it came to the gun, Minato was simply the best. I had always prided myself in being the fastest draw in the organization, but your father put me to shame at the practice range so many times, I finally had to relinquish my title. Not an easy thing to do, if you know me.


In those first five years with me, I did my best to keep Minato out of any ‘dangerous’ situations. He would only deal with the administrative side of things; helping to keep the peace while I was away on business or overseeing civilians who needed help with their affairs. Many in the community loved his fair-minded way of handling problems, and it even came to a point where they would deliberately seek him out instead of me. I didn’t mind the shift in power. It was only more confirmation of my initial assumptions of his charisma and charm as a leader. In fact, looking back now, I realize I was indeed grooming him to become a leader. I just had no idea someone else had taken an even bigger interest in him until it was much too late.




“What’s that?” Jiraiya asked as he lowered the wash cloth from his eyes.


“I said I was visited by the kumicho’s private secretary yesterday,” Minato replied quietly.


They were sitting in a magnificent man-made onsen within Jiraiya’s lavish home, enjoying a much-needed soak after a long day of business meetings with some Taiwanese officials. The mist made it a little difficult to make out Minato’s expression, but from the young man’s tone, Jiraiya could tell that this was a topic that made him uncomfortable.


“What did he want?” Jiraiya finally asked; though he had an inkling of what it was about already. Minato’s popularity within the organization was growing, and it wouldn’t have been a surprise if the big dogs in Tokyo finally got wind of him. It was only natural they’d want to see the wonder kid for themselves.


(and if they’re really interested...I might never see him again...)


“They want me to come to Tokyo. They’ll provide all the necessary things I need, so I don’t have to worry. Apparently, the kumichō wants to have a meeting with me.”


There was a long heavy silence before Jiraiya broke it with a boisterous cry. “What are you moping about for? Do you know how many kyodai would kill to be in your position? You’ve only been here for five years and you’re already going to get the opportunity to share sake with the big boss himself. You should be proud of yourself.”


Minato slid Jiraiya a look that was a mixture of pain and confusion. “But...what if I don’t want to join them? You swore I wouldn’t get involved with the darker side of the organization, and I get the feeling when I get there...I might...I might...” He lowered his head and seemed to slide lower into the water. Jiraiya could barely make out the next words Minato muttered, but he was sure it sounded something like “never come back.”


The older man felt his heart tighten with an emotion he thought he had lost with the death of his wife after the birth of their stillborn child. She had committed suicide; considering herself the cause of their child’s demise. Jiraiya had been an emotional wreck for years, but he had kept it all hidden by burying himself with work and rising to the top of the Syndicate. Now, all so many years later, that once scrawny kid who had stood bloodied and defiant in his office was now going to be taken away from him. He should have known the fantasy wouldn’t last forever. This was the harsh reality of being a yakuza after all.


“Don’t be silly,” he said gruffly; realizing he’d have to be cruel if necessary so Minato wouldn’t leave with a feeling of guilt. “This is an honor, Minato, so you should take it with pride. It would have been foolish to assume that your life would have been peaceful being a member of the Syndicate.”


“But -”


“But nothing.” Jiraiya pinned him with a look cold enough to freeze steam. “Tomorrow you will leave for Tokyo and do whatever the kumichō requests of you. Ikegami-sama’s rules are absolute. I have no more say in your fate from now on.”


He couldn’t bear to look at the agony on Minato’s face, and the younger man’s plaintive cry seemed to make his sorrow even worse.


“That’s it? ‘Go to Tokyo and do whatever they want?!’ Is that all you’re going to tell me?!”


“There is no need to raise -”


“Bullshit! I thought you...I considered you...” Minato’s voice broke and the tears burst free before he could control them. He wasn’t usually this emotional, but damn it! He had come to see Jiraiya as more than just his ‘boss’ over the years. This man had protected and cared for him, treated him with respect and showed him how good life could be despite the business they were in. To think that Jiraiya could discard him so hurt. It hurt a fucking lot.


“Get a hold of yourself!” Jiraiya snapped as he rose to his feet to tower over the other man. “Are you a yakuza or just a sniffling cry baby?! After all these years with me, this is how you’re going to embarrass me in front of the kumichō?!”


Like a douse of cold water, Minato felt as if he had been mentally slapped; his heart aching and yet gradually aware that this was actually happening. Jiraiya was actually letting him go this way; no attempt to make him stay and no reason to fight for him to remain under his wings. He really was nothing but a tool after all.


“Is that all I mean to you?” Minato asked hoarsely as he lifted his tear-streaked but now impassive features to the man he had considered a mentor and father. “Is that it then?”


“This discussion is finished,” Jiraiya stated icily. “Wipe your tears and walk out of here like a man. Remember who you really are now, Minato Namikaze. That is all.”


With that, Jiraiya spun on his heels and left the onsen without looking back.




For the first time in as long as I can remember, I shed tears that night in my office all alone. Minato would never know how much it pained me to say those words to him, and how much of a son he had become to me. I loved him, and I am not ashamed to admit that. Still, I did my best to keep up to date with all he did while under the wings of Ikegami Tsubasa; the most feared and respected leader of the Bakufu Syndicate even if he was getting old in years. I was told that almost immediately, Minato found favor with the kumichō despite him having a son – Ikegami Ryoichi - who was clearly next in line to being the Syndicate’s leader.


You can already see where the strife begins.


I should also mention that by this time, a former military leader –Shimura Danzo – had become a major ally to the Syndicate. Perhaps ‘ally’ shouldn’t be the word, but rather a sleazy, son-of-a-bitch, who used his power as a member of the DIET to gain favor with Tsubasa. With his connections to the police force – Byaku-Shinkyou – as well as its head Uchiha Fugaku, Danzo set new regulations that made the Bakufu considerably weaker than it was. It even got to a point where nothing could be done without Danzo’s approval. I have attached a photograph of him so you see what he looked like then. The years must have changed him by now, but at least I felt you ought to see the face of the man who influenced your father in more ways than one.


I knew Danzo was ruthless, as I had met him quite a few times in the past, but little did I know just how far he would go to achieve his goals. I would never have known about his true intentions when it came to being in charge of not just the Syndicate but the police force as well, if it wasn’t for your wonderful, dear father returning to see me  when I least expected him to.


For almost four years, I had not heard or seen Minato in person. I was always under the assumption that he and I were no longer going to keep in touch and I had resigned myself to that since I felt I deserved his animosity. However, I was stunned to receive the phone call from him. For starters, he was the only one who had the numbers to my private line, and perhaps for sentimental reasons I had not bothered to change them since our farewells. So you can imagine my shock when at about three in the morning, it rings and I get to hear that voice I thought I’d never hear again call for me as if afraid of my wrath. If I could kiss that man through the phone, I would have, but I settled for agreeing to meet with him in an undisclosed location the next day.




He had changed.


In just four years, the happy-go-lucky kid had been replaced with a man who could only smile as if grimacing. Still - in that moment - as they stood looking at each other, Jiraiya could only see that scrawny blond kid with the sharp, blue eyes. He could only see that young man who had shared sake with him on many nights, traveled to so many places, and had been his confidante when he needed a listening ear.  


(my son...welcome back)


He had not planned to do this, and goodness knew if any of his subordinates had seen him acting like so, they might have been surprised, but at this moment, Jiraiya couldn’t care less what they thought. He spread out his arms, not really expecting Minato to accept so quickly, but he was wrong on that account as well. The younger man gave a harsh sob of gratitude and all but flung himself into Jiraiya’s embrace; his arms strong and nearly crushing as they returned the hug he so desperately longed for.


Jiraiya couldn’t stop his tears even if he wanted to. He placed tender kisses on the blond hair and brushed it gently as if trying to comfort Minato.


“I thought you’d never want to see me again,” he confessed when their emotions were finally in check and they had made themselves comfortable on the narrow bench. “You are looking...well?”


Minato gave a shaky laugh and smiled weakly. “I don’t. I have been battling the flu in the past few weeks, so I know I look a little out of it. However, I had to see you. It’s been so long, hasn’t it?”


“Indeed it has.” Jiraiya reached out to trace the outline of Minato’s face; feeling his heart break even more when his hand was clasped tightly and held to the heated cheek as Minato’s lashes drifted closed.


“Please...” he begged wearily. “Let me hold it like this...for a minute more. These hands of mine...they’ve already been stained with so much blood. So much blood.” His voice broke and he literally seemed to shiver.


“Tell me,” Jiraiya cajoled with heaviness in his heart. “Tell me everything.”


“Where do I even begin,” Minato replied with another shaky laugh. All the same, he began to speak; of how his life had done a complete 180 the moment he stepped out of the car before the kumicho’s impressive abode. He hadn’t met Tsubasa that first night, but was instead ushered to a wing of the compound where he was to reside.


“It was like living in a mini-palace,” Minato confessed. “A mixture of traditional and modern was so...overwhelming. I barely slept that first night. In fact, I’m not sure I slept at all.”


By mid-morning, the next day, he was finally taken in to see the kumichō, and Minato had been struck at how the most powerful underground leader had appeared to him.


“He looked tired and frail, but there was still intelligence in those eyes that was impossible to ignore. I thought he would be more harsh and formal with me, but he was quite the opposite.”


Tsubasa had invited Minato to share a cup of sake with him on that very first day – an unheard of situation when it came to a relatively new member to the gumi. Ryoichi – who was present at the time – had watched all this unfold with astonishment and intense envy.


“I did try to be friends with him,” Minato said with a weak laugh. “But I knew it was going to be next to impossible. No matter what I did, he was determined not to like me at all.”


Either way, Tsubasa had a long talk with Minato that night; a talk that resulted in Tsubasa wanting Minato to continue the role he had with Jiraiya. Minato would become a saiko-komon who would work directly with Tsubasa and the first lieutenants; an adviser role which was one of the highest honors anyone could receive.


Jiraiya whistled in appreciation and pride. “Wow...that quick, huh?”


Minato nodded; a pensive expression on his visage. “Unfortunately, that had to be put on hold for a while.”




“Do you know who Shimura Danzo is?” Minato asked with his hands clasping tightly as he all but spat out the name.


Jiraiya sighed. “Don’t remind me. Who doesn’t know that asshole?”


Minato nodded. “Danzo had other plans for me and it seemed he had a meeting with the kumichō about my new role in the organization. He had learned of my skills with weapons and felt I would do much better working directly for him. I protested my involvement with this line of work to Ikegami-sama, but the old man was too easily influenced especially with Ryoichi and Danzo being in the room and insisting that I become Danzo’s shadow. Tsubasa had no choice; hence I was just about sold off to that spawn of the devil.”




“I was forced to become anonymous; to change my identity and live in the shadows.” As he said this, Minato turned to lift up the back of his jacket and shirt. On his lower back was a tattoo of a seal that was a cross between a yin and yang symbol and illegible script written around it. “He made me get this; a special tattoo to show what I had now become.” Minato lowered his shirt and sat back with a heavy sigh.


“At first it was little jobs. Get rid of one or two people who were genuine threats to the organization. I was provided with the weapons for the job, dossiers of who these people were, where they frequented and where to assassinate them with the least possible attention. I confess that I was terrified on my first job; realizing I was going to have to take a life even though I knew it all came as part of being in the Syndicate. I can still remember it like it was yesterday.” Minato held out his hands to stare at them as if seeing them for the first time. “To feel another man’s blood on my hands thanks to slicing his neck as cleanly as was strange. I felt empowered and yet sickened at what I had done. I was ready to quit the next morning, but when a large envelope with more money than I ever thought possible landed on my doorstep as well as instructions on who my next target was, I realized I was now in too deep and couldn’t escape even if I wanted to.”


“This went on for months and months; the little fries eventually became important figure heads...politicians...businessmen...anyone who was bound to get in Danzo’s way. By this time, I think I was beginning to lose my humanity. All I had to do was read the dossier filled with every damn sleazy thing those bastards had done, and I felt more than justified in killing them. A part of me felt I was doing the world a damn favor by getting rid of them. I looked forward to my assignments, and Danzo exploited my eagerness for all his worth. Hell, I would even travel as far as Hong Kong to get a job done, finish it in one night, and be back in my hotel room in Tokyo the next morning. I just didn’t give a damn until...”


“Until?” Jiraiya prodded when Minato stalled.


“Until my latest mission,” came the barely audible words that seemed to slip out through lips that were frozen. There was a haunted expression in the blond’s eyes now, and Jiraiya had a feeling Minato was simply recalling the night of the incident.


“It started out as any ordinary mission; a dossier and envelope dropped at my doorstep which I picked up to begin reading. To say I was shocked when I saw the photograph in the folder would be putting it mildly.”


“Who was it?”


Minato gave a bitter smile. “Uchiha Fugaku.”


Jiraiya’s jaw dropped. “Uchiha... Fugaku? The commissioner of police?! Is Danzo crazy?!”


“Heh...that was the same question I asked myself. I actually had to call the guy to make sure he wasn’t kidding me, but no...Danzo wanted him dead and my job was to eliminate the guy; no matter what. According to the document, the best time to take him out was when he planned to visit Tokyo for a conference. My impression was that Fugaku would be alone on this trip, but I was dead wrong.”


“How so?”


“He came with his family; his wife and son,” Minato replied with a weak smile.


“Ah ...”


“Hm. Now, if there’s any policy I have in this business, is that there would be no kids involved. Either that or I walk away. I was under the impression that Danzo understood that, but apparently not. So there I was on the rooftop right across their hotel room with the crosshairs of my sniper rifle aimed at the back of Fugaku’s head. Perhaps I would have done the job and walked away within that second. However, everything changed when his son suddenly came running out to sit on his lap.”


Minato moaned and covered his face. “I got such a bad case of the shakes, I almost passed out. I had this horrific image of me blowing that guy’s brains out and having it splatter all over the kid. How the hell could I live with myself if that happened? I know I didn’t exactly have the right to feel sorry for myself now or have thoughts of self-righteousness after all the people I’ve killed so far, but ...there...there was just something about seeing that happy family that stirred something inside of me. I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t.”


“So you walked away.”


Minato nodded. “As you can well imagine, Danzo wasn’t all too happy with my failed mission and made me pay for it. I’d show you the scars of my flogging, but I’ll spare you the sight. All the same, I didn’t care. Getting beaten was a small price to pay for sparing that family’s life, and I felt that I could at least gain a little favor with God when I eventually got to gates of Heaven or Hell.”




“But I’d be lying if that was the only reason,” Minato confessed as a light blush dusted his cheeks. Jiraiya raised a brow.


“Well? Don’t keep me in suspense,” he prodded when it seemed like Minato would never speak.


“I met...well...I met this really cool girl,” Minato finally mumbled and scratched the tip of his nose. “Her name is Kushina and...we’ve been going out in secret for a while. It was because of her...her influence on me...I was beginning to get a know...soft, I guess.”


“Oooh....” Jiraiya grinned and felt his heart burst with the pride of a father watching his son finally reveal he was no longer a virgin. “Do you have a picture of her?”


Minato gave his first genuine grin of the evening and reached into the pocket of his jacket to whip out the photograph of the girl who had stolen his heart. “Like I said, her name is Kushina,” he said with a little more excitement in his voice. “We met about a year ago at a library, and we hit it off on the spot.”


Jiraiya whistled. “She’s beautiful.”


“Isn’t she?” Minato agreed with a smile that spoke volumes. Jiraiya was painfully reminded of how he had felt when he met the love of his life.


(ah...if you had only lived my precious Tsunade...)


“Does she know what you do?” Jiraiya asked aloud; forcing himself out of his morose reverie.


Minato sighed and shook his head. “Not really. I just told her I work in sales and she seems content with that, even though I’m sure she doesn’t believe me. I’ve had to keep our dates a secret, but I fear now with Danzo’s wrath, he might want to do something to her to teach me a lesson.”


“But he doesn’t know she’s your girl, right?”


“I hope not,” Minato muttered thoughtfully. “I just get the feeling that I’m being watched all the time now. Even meeting you today was a huge risk, but I had to get this off my chest...all of it.”


Jiraiya nodded softly in understanding; though his heart was thudding fast as he realized just how dire Minato’s position was. Danzo might be a crazy bastard, but his craziness was clearly the one that could sometimes see no reason. If he was determined to eliminate anyone in his path, he would stop at nothing to do so...not even if it was the very man he had trusted to become his assassin.


“...if push comes to shove,” Minato was saying carefully. “I’m considering running away...leaving this country altogether with Kushina. We can start a new life together...”


“ know as well as I do that it’s not easy to leave the Syndicate, Minato,” Jiraiya interrupted with a firm hand on Minato’s trembling ones. “I know you love this woman, but you’ve got to think about your lives now if you decide to do anything rash.”


“Not doing anything might end up killing her too,” he hissed in desperation. “I...I have to protect her...I have to.”


Jiraiya sighed and ran a hand down his face. “All right...all right, do what you have to do, but remember that if you need me for anything...anything at all, I’ll always be here.”


Tears of gratitude sprang to those baby blue eyes again. He could barely choke out the words “thank you” before he was engulfed in another warm embrace that made him feel like he was finally home.




I remember we talked for hours that day, but I had the feeling that Minato wasn’t telling me the complete truth and now, I know why. The fool was concerned about me, and felt that if he revealed too much, Danzo would come after me as well. It was the last time I ever saw Minato in person. In fact, it was the last time I ever heard about him – even from my reliable sources. Minato seemed to have vanished without a trace, which only reminded me of his promise to protect Kushina and to run away from all he knew, just so he could start anew.


It was frustrating to know that he did not trust me enough to seek my help. With my connections, I could have taken him to China or further still, until Danzo grew weary of seeking him. However, I was wrong and naïve in my thinking for that man was more determined than I gave him credit for. With the help of Ryoichi’s henchmen – who for his own reasons wanted Minato dead to secure his position as next in line to becoming the kumichō – a nationwide manhunt began for your parents. This part I write because I only came to know of the news via Shisui’s intensive research. I will do my best to recount it as I have been told.


Minato and a very pregnant Kushina fled from town to town in the space of a few months; never settling in one place for more than a few weeks at a time. Minato would have, of course, tried to sneak out of the country, but thanks to Danzo’s connections; all the ports were on high alert and watchdogs stationed to arrest him the moment he was spotted. You can only imagine the toll this must have taken on your poor mother or the stress your father had to go through; living day to day while wondering if it would be their last.


He finally made his way to Miyazaki, where by this time; Kushina was barely hours away from giving birth to you. Living on limited funds, he was at least able to gain the kindness of an elderly couple who opened their doors to the weary couple. All night long, your mother labored while your father sat by her side to usher you into the world. Finally, in the wee hours of October the 10th, you gave your first lustful cry and was welcomed to a world that would only end in a blood bath. For you see, a neighbor – who as fate would have it, had connections to the underworld – had noticed your parents’ arrival. Hence, barely half-an-hour into your birth, with just enough time for your parents to give you a name and your father to hold you...there was the deafening sound of machine gun fire as that small home was just about brought to the ground by over ten syndicate members who had surrounded it. Even ‘til this day, I do not know how your mother survived, but she did somehow. Perhaps they assumed both you and her dead or they did not care about you since they considered you’d be dead soon anyway. All they cared about was Minato and bringing his head back to the man who sent them. Literally.


The final insult was to burn his body to ashes; leaving absolutely no trace of a man who had once given so much to the Syndicate in his own way. While with Tsubasa, Minato had made such forward-thinking propositions and ideas, which was why he found favor with the kumichō. Under Minato’s charge, there was no doubt the Bakufu would have become a more legitimate and respected organization. This was something Tsubasa longed for in his old age, something he knew his hot-head son did not appreciate or understand. In fact, it was clearly believed that Tsubasa’s Will had Minato Namikaze as his sole heir, disowning Ryoichi when he learned of his involvement with Minato’s assassination. Ryoichi must have burned or destroyed that Will, but if I know Tsubasa, I have no doubt there are still living loyal members who have the proof of your rightful inheritance.


As I type this, it is with a heavy heart for I realize how painful and difficult this must be for you to digest. All your father ever wanted for the woman he loved and a son he barely got to be with, was for a happy and peaceful future, and I am sure even in death, he would still wish for you to continue down that path if possible. All the same, I would be a fool not to believe that the fires of revenge would be stoked within you, and I will not blame you for wanting to punish those who brought such pain and suffering to your life.


I am an old man now, Naruto, and barely as active as I used to be. The Bakufu of old is no longer around, and those I could have considered friends have abandoned me or been eliminated by Shimura Danzo. However, I will make you the same promise I told your father all those years ago; if you should ever need me for anything...anything at all, please do not hesitate to seek for me. I have attached a way to get in contact with me and though I might not be available when you do call, be rest assured that I will get the message as quickly as possible.


In conclusion, I sincerely wish you the best of luck; that you remain brave, courageous, and of good heart as Minato was. For despite his sins, our good God saw it fit to bless him with a living legacy. You are that living legacy, Uzumaki Naruto. What you make of it from here on completely up to you.


-       Jiraiya no Gama Sennin






It should have been a jovial, festive atmosphere, considering there was a hot pot going and we were all in Karin’s apartment trying our best to enjoy it. However, there was a noticeable pall in the room; an unspoken awareness beneath the layer of false gaiety everyone tried to put up, and it was slowly beginning to irritate me.


The blond idiot was not with us.


Haku was picking at his piece of meat absently, every now and then glancing toward the door as if hoping it would open soon to reveal the missing participant. But no...not even his favorite drama show being on T.V. at the moment, could cheer him up. Shikamaru looked just as pensive, though he was at least eating. Even my brother and Shisui – though they had tried to start up conversation – had lapsed into thoughtful silence. I never thought I’d ever get to feel sorry for Karin, who had really outdone herself with the hot pot meal, but was forced to now act like a party host in the midst of a funeral.


I slammed my chopsticks and bowl down.


That’s it. I have had enough.


“Where are you going?” Itachi asked as I reached for my crutch and forced myself to my feet.


“I’m going to bring him back,” I muttered as I began to hobble toward the door, causing Haku to promptly rise to his feet to follow. “No...stay,” I commanded. “You said he probably went to the rooftop, right?” This question I posed to Shikamaru, who nodded with an inscrutable expression on his visage.


“The door between the janitor’s closet and the bathroom is the way to get to it, but be careful, we’ve got stairs there.”


I nodded and left the room; almost giving a deep sigh of relief as I was met with blissful silence and no longer having to deal with the doomsday atmosphere in the apartment. Who knew that bastard would have such a potent effect on everyone?


(you included)

(shut up!)


Shikamaru wasn’t kidding about the steps. They looked treacherous and not particularly safe (at least with a guy on crutches). All the same, I managed to hoist myself up, one step at a time, and by the time I got to the roof itself, I was huffing like a goddamn steam engine with a light sheen of sweat on my skin.


Damn it all to hell and back! Why do I have to go through all this for that son-of-a-bitch?


“And now where is he?”


It was evening, and there weren’t exactly a lot of lights illuminating this area of the building. If it wasn’t the faint glow of the street lamps below as well as the glow from other apartments across ours, I might as well be walking blind. Still, I struggled to walk through the badly built maze of heaters and concrete slabs before...




...spotting the lone figure sitting on a protruding steel beam against the water tank. How he managed to climb up there, I’ll never know. I also wasn’t sure if he was sleeping because his knees were raised to his chest and his face was buried against them. He didn’t move a muscle even though I was sure the ‘clack-clack’ sound of my crutch, on the ground, was loud enough to wake up the dead. I stopped to catch my breath when I was close enough, and it was then that I noticed the opened dossier with some photographs and documents that had scattered about...probably thanks to the breeze. It was a miracle none had flown off the building.


What had Shisui said earlier...something about wanting to talk to Naruto, right? So...was this what it was about then? The history of his father? Just what the hell happened to make him like this? Could it possibly be worse than what happened to my parents?


“Naruto?” I called out tentatively, then cleared my throat and tried a little louder. “Hey...Naruto. Are you sleeping?”


Thinking I was going to be ignored, it took him almost a full minute to finally lift his head. He looked ahead blindly, before slowly turning his attention to me. What I saw in those my ‘eyes’ and heart felt in that moment was enough to nearly knock me off my feet.


(pain, anguish, sadness...such sadness...and anger...beneath all that...there is a simmering layer of hate and anger...why?)


The light wasn’t good, but it didn’t deter from the fact that his face was tear-streaked and those blue-eyes now bloodshot. Goodness knows how long he’s been crying to himself, and if I had meant to sneer at him or berate him for keeping us worried, it all dissipated in that instant. This was definitely not the time to start acting petty.


“Uum...” I struggled to find something to say. I had no idea what to do! Do I apologize? For what? Did I tell him that everything was going to be okay? Hah. Even I have to laugh at that pathetic clichéd line of comfort.


“What do you want?” came the question filled with weariness and hardly the venom I would have expected from him.


“Food,” I blurted out stupidly before shaking my head to say what I really meant. “I mean...Karin made a hot pot and everyone was worried about you. You’ve been out here all day. You must be hungry...right?”


“I’m not hungry,” he murmured and returned to lowering his head.

“She took the time to prepare it -”


“I said I’m not hungry, goddamn it! Leave me alone!” came the irritated snap that had my hackles rising. So much for keeping it in check.


“I didn’t have to come up here -”


“Then go back -”


“Gladly,” I snapped back. “You’re not the only one who has to deal with bad news, you know.”


“I swear to God -”


“What? So what? Your father got killed, right? Is that what’s written in there? So you feel bad about it, right?!”


He lifted his head again, and this time, the anger I had felt had risen to the surface. If looks could kill, I’d probably be mince meat by now, but I held my ground.


“I know it hurts,” I stated firmly. “And trust me I know what that feels like. I don’t know your story or how your parents died, but I don’t think there’s anything worse than having to watch them be murdered in front of you...for no damn good reason.”


I hated the way my voice broke at the end of that, so I cleared my throat again and forced myself to continue staring into those eyes that now seemed to waver between doubt and annoyance. “I know...what it’s like to feel like you’re all alone in the world, Naruto...”


“Yeah right,” came the snort of derision. “You lived in a fucking mansion...”


“...with someone I hated and did not know was responsible for the death of my family.”


“At least you have Itachi again,” Naruto grated back. “Who’s gonna come back from the dead for me, huh? Gimme a fucking break.”


He turned away to show me his back, but not to be deterred (and I really have no idea why making this stubborn idiot understand was such a goddamn priority), I cursed beneath my breath and began to walk toward him...or I would have, if I wasn’t in such a damn hurry and my crutch didn’t hit one of those blasted slabs.


The fall hurt like a bitch, I’ve got to say, and I was sure I scraped my elbows and knees in the process. However, this seemed to get Naruto out of his funk to jump down to where I was lying like a murder victim. Damn if my thigh wasn’t throbbing like hell too.


“You have got to be the clumsiest guy on a crutch I’ve ever seen,” he said with a shake of his head, before he offered his hand to help me to my feet. I stared at the offered appendage for a long minute, before reaching out for it and...


“OW! What the hell?!” he cried out as he landed next to me after a particularly hard tug of his hand. Still holding onto it, I dragged myself upright and him along until we were both sitting side by side beside the lower section of the tank. I was a mass of ache and struggling to catch my breath, while he was rubbing his shoulder gently.


“I shoulda left you on the ground,” he finally muttered.


“And I’d bet you’d walk over my carcass if I was laying dead on the street too.”


“No doubt.”


I shook my head and sighed heavily. “You really do piss me off, you know that?”


“Ditto to the max,” he grumbled and tried to flex his fingers to see if there was still circulation going.


I noticed one of the photographs was close to me, and I reached out to pick it up. It was a picture of a beautiful red-haired girl in a high-school uniform. It was hard to really make out in the gloom, but I could tell that Naruto had inherited his features from her.


“She’s...she’s beautiful,” I complimented quietly.


For a long minute, Naruto said nothing before he reached out to snatch the photo from my hand. He looked at it for a minute longer before biting his lower lip and nodding softly. “Yea...yeah. She was...”


He tucked the photo into the pants of his pocket and raised his knees again to his chest while wrapping his arms around them tightly. There was a long awkward pause before he began in that same soft voice. “I really don’t remember much about her. I mean...if it wasn’t for this picture, I really couldn’t tell you what she looked like. All I remember was her hair and how long it was...that’s it...”


“She died when you were still a baby, right?”


“I musta been around three or so, but yeah...pretty young. She was sick a lot...” His voice trailed off, and I wondered what I could say.


“My mom...” I began and suddenly felt my cheeks burning with embarrassment. Was I really about to talk about my mother to this guy? Why would he care to listen to me? And besides, would talking about her really make him feel any better? Guess I should just shut up and –


“What about her?” came the quiet question that had me blinking in surprise. I shot him a wary glance; wondering if he was just indulging me, but there seemed to be genuine interest there, and I had to admit that a part of me felt that he cared enough to want to know about her.


“She too,” I started and promptly kicked myself inwardly for sounding so love struck at the thought of the woman who had meant the world to me...perhaps second only to Itachi on the love scale. “You know the smell of fresh bread?”




“Whenever I smell that, it reminds me of her,” I admitted with a blush staining my cheeks. Boy, was I glad it was dark so he couldn’t see how humiliating this was. “Does any...uh...smell remind you of your mother?”






He gave me a weak smile that was borderline cheeky. “I’m kidding.” He sighed and looked ahead again. “Sometimes...when I was with Sakura...whenever I held her, I’d sometimes think of my mother. I guess there was this smell she had that triggered those memories.”


“...I see...”


We fell into another heavy silence, though it wasn’t as uncomfortable as before.


“That it?”




“Is that all you’re going to tell me about your mom?”


“Oh...” I blinked in bemusement. “ want to know more?”


“Sure.” He shrugged. “What kind of stuff did you use to do with her?”




“It’s okay...I won’t start bawling and shit just because I didn’t get to share any of that stuff with my mother. can tell me.”


“Ah...well...” I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and for the first time in years...years!...I shared all the memories of my mother with the most unlikely of listeners. Surprisingly, I wasn’t interrupted a lot, and though he laughed and chuckled at some stories I told, he was respectful and didn’t insult me once. I have to admit that it really felt good to let it all out like this.


This really was better than any purification rite I could go through.


“You’re lucky,” he finally said after I was done. “I don’t mean the death of your family...but that you still have memories with them that will never be forgotten. You should hang on to that...hang on to it for your dear life...”


It was then that I noticed that his eyes were too shiny, and that his breath had hitched a little at the end of his sentence. Damn it! I knew I shouldn’t have said anything about my family.


“Naruto...” I began, planning to apologize, but he stopped me with a firm shake of his head.


“Don’t...don’t say anything. All right?” He scrubbed at his eyes and took a deep breath, before rising to his knees to pull the rest of the dossier and scattered photographs closer to him. I watched as he arranged everything neatly, when suddenly...the next words out of his lips had my bones chilling with the bitterness in them.


“That dude...the guy who was sitting next to Snake Dude during Gudan...that was Shimura Danzo, right?”




Naruto threw me a dark look over his shoulder. “He was the one Itachi shot, right? The one in hospital right now, yeah?”


“...yes...Naruto what are you...?”


“Promise me something, Sasuke,” he interrupted as he rose to his feet.


“What am I promising?”


“I know you’ve got beef with both Snake Dude and this Danzo guy...but...I think I’ve got even bigger beef with him than you do.” He seemed to grip the dossier a little tighter. He turned to look at me; his eyes dark with an intensity that sent shivers down my spine. I was looking into the features of a ruthless killer; the one capable of taking a life with no remorse whatsoever.


“Danzo is mine,” he stated firmly. “If that’s okay with you.”


“Naruto -”


“I’m going to kill him personally. You can have Snake Dude, but I want well as that asshole leading the Bakufu Syndicate right now.”


I nearly choked in surprise. “Are you serious?” I cried out in disbelief. “You want to take on the whole Bakufu Syndicate on your own?!”


He said nothing, but the firming of his lips told the whole story. This guy wasn’t kidding.


“’re insane,” I breathed.


“Maybe,” Naruto replied with a cruel smile. “But I’m going to do it, and no one’s going to get in my way. Not even you or your brother or Shisui.” can’t...


“At least wait until we get rid of Orochimaru and then we can all defeat the Syndicate together,” I blurted out with something akin to desperation. What Naruto was planning to do was suicide, and I had a sinking feeling that he didn’t care if he died just as long as he got those guys out of the way.


Naruto raised a brow. “Together?”


“Yes, you hotheaded maniac.” I tried to rise to my feet, and didn’t think he’d assist until he reached out to yank me up. “We’re all in this together. Isn’t that what Itachi said? We have to plan this out, and you rushing head long into the Bakufu territory is only going to make things worse. We do not have the firepower right now. What can five of us do against an army of thousands?”


I could see the man hadn’t really thought the whole thing over, and thinking I’d have to literally shake some sense into him, he finally sighed and ran his fingers through his hair as  if in frustration. “Damn.”


“Exactly,” I mumbled. “I know your frustration. If I could march into Byaku-Shinkyou right now and stab Orochimaru in the chest, I’d do so gladly, but you heard Itachi, we’ve got to get our bodies back in shape and practice with our weapons.” I flexed my hands. “Feels like forever since I swung a katana.”


He gave me a wry smile. “Just as long as it’s not pointed at me, I’m good.”


“Likewise. Keep that nuzzle out of my face and you won’t get hurt.”


He smirked and pointed his fingers at me as if holding up a gun, but I slapped it away and returned with a tentative smile of my own. There was an awkward pause before he cleared his throat and asked quietly.


“Wanna see him?”




“My dad.”


“Oh...” I nodded; wondering why his decision to show me the picture would make my heart skip a damn beat. Either way, he opened the dossier and handed me the head shot of the handsome smiling young man who could very well be a clone of Naruto...well besides the scar-less cheeks.


So this was the famous Minato Namikaze, huh? He doesn’t look as if he could hurt a fly.


“My dad was cool,” Naruto said, and looking up at his face, I could see the pride and determination in them; as if daring me to refute his words.


“Yeah...” I agreed with a small smile. “He looked cool.”


“He would have been the greatest dad ever.”




“We would...we would have had the best time, you know? Could talk about motorbikes and share bowls of ramen and...and...”


He was crying again, but he didn’t know it, and what did I do? What did a stupid idiot like me do in this moment?


What I never thought I’d do in a million years.


I let the crutch fall to the ground and for the first time in as long as I can remember, I – Uchiha Sasuke -  initiated the first genuine hug I had ever given in what felt like an eternity.








In actuality, it was more of a ‘lunge-and-grab’ than an actual hug, which pretty much left Naruto quite confused and a little concerned at the sudden turn of events.


Was Sasuke just using him to steady himself again because his crutch had fallen off? And if so, why the hell were his arms around Naruto’s upper arms (at least he wasn’t squeezing his injured shoulder) in this awkward sort of embrace that was a bit uncomfortable? As if that wasn’t bad enough, Sasuke had pulled him so hard, that their foreheads had almost hit each other, before Naruto managed to duck aside only to find his chin resting on the other man’s shoulder.


What the hell is he doing...? came Naruto’s panicked thought, which was quickly followed by the realization that this was the first time they were actually this...well...close without trying to kill each other.


Sasuke wasn’t saying anything, but Naruto could still feel everything.


The warm breath against his ear and cheek, the soft tickle of Sasuke’s hair against his skin, the hard ba-dum ba-dum ba-dum of someone’s heartbeat...maybe his...maybe Sasuke’s...who the fuck knew at this point? Either way, Naruto could feel his cheeks beginning to burn with a heat that he was more than glad Sasuke could not see in this darkness. Even more embarrassing was now becoming more aware of the fact that he had been crying like a goddamn kid in front of this guy.


Would Sasuke use that against him in the future? Oh man...


His hands still hung stupidly at his sides, because to be honest, he had no idea what to do with them. Should he drop the folder he was clutching to return the hug...because this had to be a hug, which was unbelievable in itself. Or should he just remain in this awkward embrace without doing anything? He figured he could at least pat the guy on the back a little to let him know that he accepted the gesture, but in the grand scheme of things...just what did this mean?


Was Sasuke feeling sorry for him? Was he finally willing to become buddies even if they didn’t agree on over ninety percent of different issues? And why in God’s holy name was he over thinking this anyway?


(he smells great though)


Like a mixture of whatever shampoo he used on his hair as well as something edible...maybe the meal he was talking about. As if on cue, his damn stomach decided to growl loudly; effectively ruining a ‘moment’ that sent both blushing men finally releasing each other with embarrassed half-smiles.


“Sor...sorry,” Naruto muttered with a scratch of the back of his head, and his features still crimson. “You made me hungry.”


“...wh...what?” came the slightly breathless query; for if Naruto was glad for the darkness, Sasuke even more so. He felt sure he was never going to live down this ‘hug’ for as long as he lived, and it would  have taken nails being driven into his body to get him to confess just how good it had felt to have Naruto in his arms.


(the one who ignites you...)


“You smelled like good food,” Naruto confessed and bent to pick up the crutch to  hand it to Sasuke. He failed to notice the brief flash of disappointment that came across the other man’s face. “Here you go...”


“Thanks,” Sasuke mumbled. God, he felt like such a fool, but then again, just what had been expecting? His first hug given to someone he had once loathed and what did he get in return? That he smelled like good food. Pfft. Typical. Should he have expected anything different?


He spun on his heels and began to hobble away; now angry at himself for caving in to a primal, deep-seeded action that was unlike him. It would take wild horses to get him to touch that bastard again or show some kind of sympathy or –


“Hey, Sasuke.”


“What?” he snapped with a glance of irritation thrown over his shoulder. Naruto had been walking behind him quietly; the dossier pressed tightly at his chest. He wasn’t really looking at Sasuke as they both came to a stop, and if anything, Sasuke was sure that Naruto was looking a little...flustered about something.


“Uum...” the blonde began thickly, before he took a deep breath and looked up to face Sasuke squarely. “Thanks.”


“Huh?” Sasuke blinked in disbelief. Talk about being gob smacked. It really was amazing how Naruto had the ability to make him switch emotions with just a word or two.


“Thanks,” Naruto repeated; his lips quirking upward until a flash of his brilliant smile filled the darkness. “For what you did back there. I appreciate it.”


“” Way to go, Sasuke. Forming a complete sentence is pretty hard for you now, isn’t it?


He blushed and tried to find something coherent to say, but he was saved the trouble as Naruto gave an exaggerated yawn and began talking quickly.


“Man, I hope you guys didn’t finish the whole thing. I am starving!” He stretched his arms over his head and grinned at the still stupefied young man beside him. “Come on, already! I ain’t waiting for you or helping you down the stairs either.”


“You bastard,” Sasuke muttered beneath his breath as he did his best to catch up to the man that was now showing off by leaping over the concrete slabs with near feline grace.


God, he hated that guy, and yet, he couldn’t stop the small smile that came to his face or the hopeful leap his heart had taken at the notion that maybe...just maybe this could be the start of a friendship he so desperately needed.





Chapter 22

Naruto Home










Web page layout designed and coded by {suser:ladyoz}