For one little boy, the fiercest shinobi team in the land would go up against unknown peril to bring him home. And for the people he loves most, one little boy will begin to uncover his destiny wi...
Chapter Two: To Be Brave
He had broken the seal to the mountain safe room just seven minutes after depositing Hiashi on the nurses' station counter at the hospital. The Hyuuga leader was alive, Naruto had informed the startled kunoichi on duty, and he had better stay that way.
I swear... if anything happens to you...
Not even two minutes later and he had the sword in his hands, Kusanagi's new sheath a compound of seals that would hopefully protect the outside world from the deadly blade.
Hold on, kiddo...
And forty-seven seconds after that she was on him, throwing him bodily against wall of the closest building. His head cracked against brick and mortar audibly, though he didn't feel the impact in truth. Adrenaline always had been his favorite pain killer. Her face twisted into something he couldn't read, and that bothered him more than the assault.
"You were planning on sneaking off? You were going to just go without telling me; without at least saying goodbye?! Did you really believe I would let you do that?" She spoke to him in a way that nobody else had in four years; nobody had the balls to chew Rokudaime out, after all. And even though he respected and admired her greatly, he knew that she had no idea what she was asking of him right now.
"What should I do? Let Tadashi die? Do you really think I give a shit about the kyuubi getting out right now?"
"You won't even ask for help? You won't even try?" Her anger and fear were bubbling over and she shoved him into the building again, raising frightened gasps from the people who skittered around the outskirts of the confrontation. "Where did you get the idea that this is your decision alone?"
"Because it's my life they want in exchange!" He knew she couldn't understand wh-
A long, slender finger shoved into his chest and her flushed face moved inches from his. "No! It's not your life! It's our life! What makes you think I'd be able to go on without you?" He couldn't believe what he was hearing; not from Hinata.
Well, there was the one major reason off of the top of his head. "You'd have Tadashi again."
"You mean you don't remember?" White eyes sparkled brightly. "Four years ago when Tenten asked why I could touch you while you channeled the kyuubi. You told her that I was the other half of your soul. Kami, Naruto, did it ever occur to you that you are the other half to mine?! Tadashi is my heart and my joy and my hope. But you are my soul! A person can't live without their soul, Naruto!"
Naruto's throat flexed as he worked to swallow the lump that was growing there. "Don't say that. You're tough, Hinata, and you'd stay tough for Tadashi." She shook her head slowly, some of the heat fading from those intense white eyes.
"I may be strong, but if I lost you I wouldn't-" Her face was smashed against his chest, cutting off her words as his arms pulled her close.
"Stop it already." He didn't know what to do anymore. It had been easier moments ago. He could go knowing that Hinata and Tadashi would be all right. He understood what it was to be willing to die for someone now. He had sneered at the idea as a boy, but now that he was a husband and a father he understood. Some things really were worth dying for.
And then there was Hinata, telling him that his death would destroy her, and he knew that he couldn't let that happen to her. Not his Hinata. He could never let anything like that happen to her.
Not to his savior.
"So... so now what? If I can't do what they demand how do we..."
"That's why you need to ask for help."
"Alright," he resigned into her hair, "alright, Hinata. I'm asking."
"Not me," she shook her head, "we've been in this together from the start. We have to ask the others."
The team. Yeah. Yeah, if they should be asking anyone for help...
"We'll start with Tsunade then." The one person he had hoped to keep out of the situation at first. The only one, he had stupidly thought, who had the power to stop him from going. He should have known that if anyone was going to stop him it would be his bride. With the exception of Tadashi, no other person in the world could truthfully claim they kept a hokage in their back pocket. He'd do anything for those two.
He'd die for them.
He'd live for them.
He didn't like these people. They were scary and mean. That smiling man had hurt him! Tadashi had cried and called out for grandfather, but the mean man had laughed and cut Tadashi's head anyway, wiping Tadashi's favorite toy, a stuffed fox he'd had his whole life, on the hurt and on the kunai. Then he threw the toy, Kyuubi, on the floor next to grandfather - who looked like he was sleeping - and took Tadashi away.
What would he do if he didn't have his Kyuubi to save him? Kyuubi protected the boy, just like daddy's kyuubi protected daddy. Tadashi's Kyuubi had saved him from the monster in grandfather's well. He'd made Tadashi brave when mommy had come home from a mission bleeding. He made Tadashi feel better when he was sick. Tadashi didn't know what to do without Kyuubi.
Now he was in a dark, dark place. It was so dark he couldn't see his fingers when he held them up in front of his eyes. And it was small, too. They had put him in a funny wooden box and then closed the lid. He wasn't scared of the dark; only babies were scared of the dark, and Tadashi wasn't a baby anymore he told himself. But he didn't like this dark place. Those mean men could come back and hurt him again.
Tadashi wanted his mommy and daddy. He wanted grandfather, or Neji. He wanted Kakashi or Sakura. He wanted someone that he knew to come and get him. He wanted someone to make the hurt on his head go away. Sakura and mommy were really good at making hurts go away. Ino was okay, too.
Tadashi wanted to see something else besides the dark. He wanted to watch for mommy and daddy. Daddy was really brave, and he still had his kyuubi. Daddy would come and get him, and make the mean men sorry for hurting his boy.
He whimpered, wanting his mommy and daddy to hurry.
Daddy was always saying that Tadashi was a very big boy. He was so big they were going to send him to school early. Tadashi was smart, and he was brave. He never cried when he had to go get a shot. He never asked to sleep with a nightlight. Daddy was always very proud of Tadashi. He told everybody about what a big boy Tadashi was.
Big boys didn't cry because of the dark, Tadashi remembered. Big boys were brave, and they were strong, too. Tadashi had to be brave and strong, because daddy had told him he was a big boy now.
So Tadashi bit down on his lip and stared into the dark with his meanest face. Maybe he could scare the dark away if he tried hard enough. Maybe he could look so scary that when the mean men opened the box they'd be afraid of him. Daddy and Neji had scary faces when they got mad. People always told Tadashi that he looked like the two big men.
Tadashi squinted up his eyes, and screwed up his mouth until his bottom lips stopped quivering. When daddy wanted people to know how brave he was he would say tell them that he was Uzumaki Naruto and he wasn't afraid. Neji would say his whole name, too. Lots of people did that in Konoha. Maybe whole names scared bad people. The boy stared into the dark, thinking to the blackness that it should be scared, because he was Uzumaki Tadashi, and he wasn't scared of the dark.
He did this for a really long time, it seemed. Nothing happened. He squinted harder.
And then the dark was scared! Everything turned white and shadowy and the dark ran away, letting Tadashi see everything again. He could see the men outside of the box, walking around, talking to each other. He could see the dark shadows of funny pieces of paper stuck on the lid and the nails that were stuck in the wood. He could see the trees that were all around them. He could see a funny little house with no windows.
But that was behind him. Tadashi could see what was behind him! He could see everything, even though it was all white and shadowy. It was making him feel fuzzy in his head and a little funny in his tummy, but he was too excited to close his eyes and make it stop. Maybe that's what happens when you scare away the dark.
He could see his fingers again, and his feet and his legs and -
The big boy smiled in the white shadows. He jammed a little hand into his pocket, pulling out his treasure; a stick of blue chalk.
Tadashi was big enough to scare away the dark. He was big enough to be brave without Kyuubi.
He was big enough to be brave like daddy and Neji.
Big boys knew how to be brave.
Hyuuga Neji couldn't concentrate.
A squeal of innocent laughter bounced between the walls, piercing every eardrum within a fifty foot radius. A tiny blonde tornado with sharp white eyes barreled down the walkway, his ever faithful companion, Kyuubi, tucked into chubby little fingers against his side.
Tadashi knew that the fox demon lived inside of his father; his parents decided not to hide that fact from the boy. But where he and Hinata had agreed to tell the boy about the kyuubi, they disagreed on how they would characterize the thing for him. Naruto wanted to distance himself from the thing, but Hinata wanted the boy to have no fear of the beast. To fear the demon was the same as not trusting Naruto, and she trusted her husband with their son's safety, no matter what form he'd taken.
After all, the demon's power had never been able to hurt/ her/, she reminded with a gentle smile.
So, despite Naruto's protests, the ratty little toy had been dubbed Kyuubi, though it sounded more like 'Cubby' when spoken through a toddler's lisp.
In his silly little boy way, Tadashi was trying to emulate Naruto. A kyuubi of his own, just like his daddy.
Neji tried to listen to the discussion in the hokages' office, but the memories played in his mind against his will.
'Neji!' A tiny voice had called out to his second cousin with typical glee. 'Neji! I want up!' Most of the words were still slightly garbled, but Neji paid it no mind. The boy was learning remarkably fast! His parents were enrolling him in the academy next year, and he was only three years old. Gossip among the instructors was already comparing the toddler to Kakashi in terms of prodigal talents, and Shikamaru in terms of intelligence.
Their friends often teased Naruto that his son had already surpassed him. Naruto would laugh and admit that he hoped they were right.
Pale hands had scooped up the bouncing boy. In a move as brash as anything his father may have done at that age, Tadashi pulled down Neji's hitai-ate and poked the Cursed-Seal upon the elder's forehead with a little finger. 'What's that?' Neji affected a tolerant smile. Neji knew the boy would be asking about the mark as soon as he had seen it for the first time. Tadashi was always asking about everything.
'That says I'm grown up enough to keep the people I care about safe. That means you, little man.' And with a sweetness that had obviously stemmed from his mother, the toddler stretched tall in his cousin's arms and kissed that mark with an exaggerated smacking sound.
Days later Neji had walked into Hinata's home to find the toddler sitting amidst his toys, scribbling across his forehead with a pilfered stick of blue chalk.
'Look!' Tadashi had cried proudly and pointed to the mess on his face. 'I'm big too, Neji!'
In Naruto and Tsunade's office, a string of expletives burst from the man and he drove a hand through the plaster wall behind him. All conversation paused as team stopped to stare at the mature one. The composed one. The friend who never lost his cool.
The man who had just given Naruto and Tsunade a new window in their office.
Tenten moved awkwardly and wrapped her arms around a chest that heaved with rage, burying her face in his back, murmuring something no one else could hear. He twisted in her arms and pulled her to him, careful not to squeeze her too hard.
"Better now?" Tsunade's question wasn't teasing or angry. Gondaime had felt the urge to ruin yet another desk when Naruto had given her the news. She had been able to hold herself in check for the sake of the parents before her, and was surprised that out of all of them Neji would be the one to react so violently.
Maybe his impeding fatherhood was giving the man a new perspective. Tenten would be making them parents in less than three months.
And it was obvious to everyone that the expert marksman was miserable at the idea of not being able to join them in this mission.
"Forgive me," the calm Hyuuga had returned though his cheeks were still flushed.
"Nothing to forgive," Tsunade replied and refocused her attention of a pair of distraught parents. "So they're threatening to kill him if we try anything. But they said you can bring us with you? Wouldn't it just be easier to say 'come alone'?"
"It would have been. But that would go against their plans. They want us all there." Shikamaru announced from his crouch against the wall. His brows were drawn in over closed eyes and his fingertips connected in his favorite thinking position. "They said you can bring the team if you like, but what they mean is that they want all of us there with you."
Naruto watched his friend closely. "Why's that?"
"Because they want to see us; to be able to track us. We make them nervous."
"Oh, we'll make the shits more than nervous," Ino growled and slid the edge of a kunai against her thumb, drawing out a thin line of red.
"Without a doubt." Lee punctuated and Sakura leaned into his shoulder, trying to soak in some of her fiancÃ©'s conviction. She loved that little boy like he was her blood and the idea of him in the hands of those... those monsters scared the life out of her.
"Judging from the letter," the thinking man continued, "they're familiar with this team. My guess is that they've been researching our group; our strengths, our weaknesses, our personalities, the works. They specified that you can bring 'the others', meaning the team, but any other shinobi will not be welcomed. You can count on that."
"So whatever we do, it's gotta be only us. Okay, we've tackled big trouble with just ourselves before." Chouji's confidence met with a few grunts of agreement, but Shikamaru wasn't one of them.
"Things are a bit more complicated than that." Shikamaru pointed out. "Now we've got a hostage situation; someone who can't fight back if he's attacked. I doubt they'll do anything to Tadashi," the tactician raised a comforting hand to the boy's mother when she groaned; "they need him. He's the only leverage they have. What's more they know that if the kid dies Naruto will go ape-shit. Probably let the demon have his way with them."
"I'd paint the forest with their blood," the blonde man growled in such a way that made the Nara's hairs stand on end.
"Uh... right. So this is where things shift from black-and-white to shades of grey. Akatsuki has threatened Tadashi's life to get what they want. They know how important the kid is, and that Naruto would do anything to save him. They could panic if we're stupid and make good of their threat; we can't ignore that possibility. However, if they kill him they lose instantly, and I'm pretty sure this hasn't escaped their notice, either."
"So does this mean you have a plan?" Hinata felt her heart flutter. Shikamaru never put so much effort into anything unless there was something worth-while at the end.
The youngest Nara took a deep breath, noticing the hope that was slowly gathering in the Uzumakis' eyes.
Man, this is gonna suck.
"Yeah... I do."
She had stopped listening to her husband's commotion. He was still after Shikamaru, but for whatever reason the calculating man wasn't willing to part with all of the details of his plan just yet. Perhaps the plan still had a few loopholes that he was waiting to fill in. It certainly wouldn't be the first time he'd wait to see the situation before planning the next step. Now Naruto was fuming pissed and for once Hinata didn't have the energy to quiet him down.
Shika had promised that her family would survive. He'd promised that neither the father nor the son would die. And for Hinata that was enough right now.
She dabbed the corner of her sleeve to her tongue and brought the damped fabric down on the little stuffed toy in her hands. But the blood was dried by now and it would take more than a little spit to wipe away the stain.
She couldn't give the toy back to him covered in blood. She'd have to clean it first. Hinata stood and left the room in silence, staring only at Tadashi's precious Kyuubi as she moved. Naruto's boisterous demands died when the door knob clicked in her hand. There was a water fountain just down the hall, she remembered. That should work.
Cool water trickled over her fingers and with great care Hinata began rinsing the crusted toy clean. She was careful not to soak it, though. A wet toy just wasn't huggable, the mother in her knew.
The office door opened, filling the hallway with the muted sounds of the conversations within.
"Hinata? What are you doing?" Naruto approached his wife slowly, watching her hands' methodical movements. "We have to get ready to go."
"I'll only be a second;" her voice was way too calm, "Kyuubi's filthy."
"Oh." What the hell? "Okay." The water running over his wife's fingers began to turn a deep scarlet as she brushed at the toy carefully. Her jaw locked up so tightly Naruto wondering if she wasn't grinding away at her teeth, but still she kept working.
"They hurt my baby, Naruto," she whispered, and though her hands worked with great care over the stuffed fox, Hinata's posture was anything but gentle. Naruto would normally have been wrapping his arms around his wife, trying to comfort her, but not this time. This time, something in her appearance held him back. With tremendous care she set the fluffy thing in the fountain's basin, stepped back-
-and smashed a palm through the wall behind the fountain. The pipes behind the plaster broke apart and spewed water throughout the hallway, drenching the woman and her husband.
"They hurt my baby!" She screamed at her husband; at their friends, who had burst from the office to investigate the commotion. It didn't matter to whom, really. She just needed to say the words; to feed her fury. "They drew his blood! I'm going to cut their throats; / every last one of them/!"
Steam rose from Naruto. The kyuubi's aura answered a rage provoked by his wife's outburst.
"Kill the bastards." The rumbling growl purred from the blonde. His clawed fingers rolled against his palm, as if savoring some imaginary feeling against his skin. "Kill them all."
"Holy shit..." Ino had never gotten used to seeing her friends at the height of their rage. Four years of peace had faded the image from her mind, and to see this rage once more sent shivers down her spine. Chouji was behind her, echoing the profanity in shocked awe. He'd never seen the pair so furious, and it had clearly rocked him.
"The man who killed Orochimaru and the woman who killed Uchiha Itachi." Shikamaru drawled. "You almost have to feel sorry for the poor bastards stupid enough to threaten their kid."
"No," Neji gritted out, "you don't."
"Naruto, save it," Tsunade ordered as calmly and carefully as she could, "save it for them." It took a few moments and a throaty rumble but the demon's power was wrestled back into control. Yet Hinata's rancor wasn't as easily doused.
"Shikamaru, are we ready?" Hinata wasn't asking, she was telling the man. He had better be ready, because they were leaving. Now.
The tactician conceded. "Let's get going."
Without pausing for anything but the stuffed toy, Naruto and Hinata strode down the hallway for the exit.
Sakura watched her friends' backs as they walked away.
But Neji was right; she didn't feel one bit sorry for the members of Akatsuki.
And that loud and angry part of her, the one that she had heard so little of since Lee had proposed, was shouting along side her friends, demanding the bastards' blood.
He was trying not to become angered at the sheer waste of it all. Years of his life; of planning and plotting and groveling; all for nothing. The planning and plotting didn't bother him so much. It was all of that sniveling he had done that had him gnashing his teeth.
That loud-mouthed dimwit had proven his superiority not once, but twice. Twice the Uzumaki brat had destroyed his careful planning. Twice the man had been a key figure in killing off the instruments of his victory. The first time had nearly devastated the glowering man and almost forced him to abandon all hope of his success.
Until he had learned of the blonde's Mangekyo Sharingan. Then hope, and a plan, had flared brightly within his head once more. The hope still lived now, though the plan had failed.
He cursed Uchiha Itachi and the ego the dark man had possessed; the ego that had cost the now smoldering man his true prize. The thing he had sought for more years than he cared to admit. The prize he had crawled on his belly like a dog to obtain; though it had nearly cost him his one true position in life.
If Itachi had somehow survived and managed to return, he would have ripped the Uchiha's head from his neck personally; oath-be-damned.
A knock at the door to his small room did little to bring him from his anger. "Leader?" Deidara's muffled voice called carefully.
"What do you have to report?" There was only one reason the man would be disturbing his leader.
"They have left the village, sir."
"All of them?"
"Yes." The man outside made no attempt to enter. "All but the one we already knew of. They are moving east as directed."
The man within mused as to which form he should use when greeting the Konoha shinobi. Which form would gain the greatest reaction?
He supposed that, at the moment, things like form didn't matter much.
"Begin the welcoming preparations." And a muted scuffling reported that the man outside had gone to do as he had been bidden.
Soon years of waste would know satisfaction. Soon his life's purpose would be realized.
Jus as soon as that predictable young fool brought his friends. As soon as they brought the fight Rokudaime had been expressly forbidden from attempting.
The man inside of the dark little house smiled in anticipation.
This battle would mark the end of Konoha's Team Naruto.
And the end of Akatsuki as the world knew it!
First off I need to apologize to all my WONDERFUL readers out there. This chapter was kind of dull for how long it took to write, I know. But I can explain.
I've been sick - well, I thought I was sick. So I went to the doctor and... my hubby and I are going to have a baby!!!!! SQUEAL! Morning sickness; that's been my problem. Though it's not limited to the morning. It actually hits me hard and all day; which makes typing out a story a little tough (along with sleeping, eating and basically functioning like a normal human being!) So that along with the family and friends have made writing a lot harder to do recently.
So, I just wanted to let you all know about that. Come November I'm going to be a mommy! Guess that means it's time to grow up, huh? LOL! Yeah, right. We may be able to act responsibly, but I doubt my husband and I will ever actually grow up!
Now, back to the story. This one was dull, I know, but I've gotten the over-all plot sorted out in my head, and from here on I'll have you guys on the edge of your seats for the rest of the story! Now I just have to add the flare that makes my stories fun to write (and read, I hope!) Unfortunately, I can only add flare while I'm sitting in front of a keyboard looking at the story, and that's tough to do right now. I'm not going to stop writing. No way. Writing is an outlet that I absolutely thrive on. But I am going to slow down a bit. Sorry, but it can't be helped right now.
I sincerely hope you guys will all keep following my story, because it will come out. I just seriously doubt I'll be able to pound out a chapter every day or two for a while. :( I know some people got used to the fast pace I could use when banging out chapters, and I am truly sorry for the increased delays that may/probably will follow.
But I'm going to keep my word, and give my best effort to make this story surpass "Promise"!
Thank you to everyone who has read and appreciated my stories! Stay tuned, folks!