Before a legendary sacrifice, the Yondaime made an unexpected request of a young Umino Iruka. Never did anyone imagine the consequences. AU, SasuNaru
His people . . . his people were dying, and he could nothing about it.
Around Kazuma Arashi, he could hear the frightened, dying screams of his people and the snarls of the nine-tailed fox demon and the roar of the flames, yet for a long moment, he could only stand frozen. His lungs howled in protest, but Arashi ignored them. Instead, his frustrated blue eyes swept over the pitiful, burned remains of what used to be a glorious artillery room. He had come here for inspiration and found only more shattered hope.
"Lord Hokage!" a hoarse voice shouted. Coughing weakly, Arashi watched as a battered chuunin leaped through what used to be the ceiling. With the smoke and the fire and the woman's own ragged appearance, Arashi could not discern the woman's identity. "We must get you to safety! Our forces are failing, and we are evacuating people to shelters. You should be with them."
/Flee/, a dark voice mocked. /Abandon the village. Abandon your home, your people/. Arashi snarled. In the distance, malevolent crimson eyes flashed through the coal-black smoke. The blond tore his gaze away from the demon to glare at the worried chuunin. The blood and burns marring the chuunin's flesh and clothes tore at Arashi. Dammit, he should have been able to stop this. It never should have gotten this far!
"I am the Hokage," Arashi gritted out. The chuunin's eyes widened. "I cannot abandon Konoha." He bared his teeth. "There must be a way!"
The woman faltered. "Lord Hokage-"
Shooting the smoking room one last disgusted look, Arashi whirled back to the woman. "Go!" he commanded. "Aid in the evacuation. I will not surrender yet."
After one last hesitant glance at the frustrated hokage, the chuunin salute and fled. Arashi did not watch her leave.
"There must be something," he growled. "Something, something, /something!/"
Why did everyone have to be so stubborn? Why couldn't they understand?
With a flourish of his stained robes, Arashi vanished from the room. Shinobi techniques were aimed at humans, to attack, defend, and heal humans. Against lesser demons, a strong shinobi could hold their own with shinobi skills. Against the power of a nine-tails, Arashi knew something extreme was needed, something beyond what most shinobi possessed. On the far side of the village, as of yet beyond the fox demon's reach, his ancestral home resided. What his family lacked in bloodline abilities, they made up for in determination and ingenuity. Family scrolls hid powerful shinobi techniques. While they were not enough to help the rest of his clan-he flinched inwardly at the remembrance-there might be something there to buy his people time.
His sandals barely brushed one crumbling roof before Arashi darted to another. With each crack of burned tile and enraged roar of the fox, the dead voices of his people arose. Arashi bit his dry lips to stifle a cry.
"My lord Hokage, welcome to our home."
The stench of blood mingled with the scent of the burning trees. Arashi leaped over another house and kept himself moving.
"Thank you for coming to dinner, Lord Hokage! You like sushi, right?"
With every ounce of discipline he possessed, Arashi concentrated on his objective. Reach his home, search through the scrolls. When this was over, then he'd grieve for the dead and dying beneath his feet.
"Lord Arashi, meet my daughter. She's going to join the Ninja Academy next year!"
They could have stopped this before it started. He could have stopped this before it started. He had been too arrogant, and his people were paying the price and he had to focus, dammit!
Other shinobi darted above the burning village, most running to the battlefield but others carrying the injured to safety or checking on their families. Arashi grabbed the arm of a young shinobi racing towards the demon. "Tell them to hold the front line!" he shouted, fighting to be heard over the flames and battle. The fox's rage seared Arashi's skin. "I will be there shortly!" The other shinobi nodded quickly and darted off, Arashi flying in the opposite direction.
The farther away he moved from the fighting, the clearer the air became, though Arashi still wheezed painfully. Arashi glanced once over his shoulder, only to whip his head forward again and quicken his pace. Still, the sight burned behind his eyes: the nine-tailed fox demon, framed by the burning village and his wildly thrashing tails, shinobi flying through the air like matchsticks. There had to be something in those thrice-damned scrolls!
A familiar mop of silver hair greeted him at his door. "Master Arashi," Hatake Kakashi breathed, his face visibly smudged with smoke and bruises, even with the omnipresent mask. His blackened clothes reeked of smoke. However, the large scrolls held gently in the younger man's arms remained clean and whole. "Gifts from the sandaime. He said they may come in handy."
Arashi nodded, weary eyes fondly looking over the young shinobi. It was people like Kakashi, his precious people, that kept Arashi moving despite his mounting exhaustion. "Anything would help right now."
Kakashi's usually lax form, already unnaturally tense, stiffened more. His face looked so young, despite the mask hiding his cheeks, jaw, and mouth. Too young to be dealing with this. "It's that bad?"
Arashi's brilliant blue eyes blazed. "Not bad enough to defeat Konoha!" he retorted. Gathering the scrolls from Kakashi's fatigued arms, he carried them through the old house, dropping them on the first flat surface he came across. After the chaos of outside, his house seemed eerily quiet. Arashi took a deep breath and allowed himself a selfish glance down the hall; little Naruto's room glowed a vivid orange at the end. Kairi had been so proud of it, aiding in the painting and decorating despite her growing girth. At first Kairi had been so frustrated about being torn from her ANBU duties. After several months-
His chest aching, Arashi tore his eyes back to the worn scrolls. Desperately, he reviewed the old techniques, struggling to keep his mind concentrated on them. Kairi and little Naruto were safe with Sarutobi in his cabin, camouflaged in the forest and out of the demon's line of fire. He could focus on more important matters.
As Arashi evaluated the information, Kakashi took the time to glance around the house. His sharp gaze spied the baby room in the back. "Did you ever name the child?" he inquired.
Arashi didn't look up. "Yes, it's-" He paused. Very, very slowly, he raised his head. "I thought you came from the sandaime's quarters. Kairi is there now. She would have been able to tell you."
Kakashi's gaze froze on little Naruto's room. "There was no sign of her, only Lord Sarutobi. Lord Sarutobi was helping the genins lead the evacuation when I saw him."
An odd numbness swept over Arashi. He sucked in a shaky breath. Glancing at the scrolls one last time, half-formed ideas running rampant through his mind, Arashi straightened. "Go to the front line. They could use your skills. I'll be there shortly."
The silver-haired youth hesitated. Behind his mask, Arashi could see the barest hint of movement, like Kakashi was deliberating on comforting words. Arashi smiled tightly at him.
When my son becomes a shinobi/, the thought popped up randomly, /I want Kakashi to be the one to teach him.
With a quick nod, Kakashi vanished. Taking another deep breath, Arashi gathered up the scrolls and took off towards Sarutobi's home.
The older man's home was located deeper in the forest than most of Konoha's inhabitants. Already, the trees around the village were catching on fire, the flames spreading despite the strongest efforts of water-oriented shinobi. Arashi's heart pounded as he heard the fox's furious roars growing closer and closer with each movement of the hokage's feet and flash of his chakra.
They're fine/, he chanted to himself. /They're fine. Kairi will be sitting in Sarutobi's cabin, dear Naruto sleeping restlessly within her, as is his wont. I'll see for myself, and then I'll head to-
"Lord Yondaime!" a deep voice broke through his thoughts. Vibrating with tension, Arashi paused on a tree branch, waiting impatiently and balancing the scrolls in his arms. A moment later, a jounin appeared on the tree branch beside him. To Arashi's surprise, the jounin wasn't alone; he held a weeping, squirming child in his arms. A child only a little younger than Kakashi, the only child of two fierce, loyal shinobi: Umino Iruka. Just the other day, he had seen little Iruka's parents treating him to ramen, unsuspecting of the chaos soon to descend upon the village.
Thoughts of the loving family reminded Arashi of what was waiting for him. Yet Iruka's tear-stained face and a painful sense of foreboding stilled him. "What has happened?" he demanded hoarsely, legs tense.
At the question, Iruka resumed squirming frantically. "My parents, they're fighting the demon!" he cried. "They're still out there!"
One glance at the other shinobi's face answered Arashi's silent question. He momentarily closed his eyes. More loyal shinobi, lost in this foolish war. Arashi composed his features and extended a disciplined, steady hand to young Iruka. "Come with me," he commanded. "My wife and child are in the forest somewhere, and I wish to check on them before rejoining the battle. Two pairs of eyes are better than one."
Iruka's distinctive scar wrinkled in dismay, even as the jounin smiled in relief. "Good luck, Lord Arashi. We will see you shortly."
Arashi nodded, but his blue eyes were already darting towards the forest. Recognizing that he had lost his hokage's attention, the jounin gently set the shivering child on a branch and vanished into the smoke, leaving the two alone.
"Quickly," Arashi ordered, ignoring Iruka's despairing face. "This way. I trust you can run."
After a small hesitation, Iruka nodded, and Arashi set off again towards the cabin. A moment later, Iruka bounded across the treetops at his side. His small face hardened with a new purpose. Arashi did not look at him. He trusted the young genin to keep up. The Umino family was well known for their excellent chakra control and intelligence, necessary for their bloodline limit. Young Iruka would be-
Arashi silenced that thought.
Naruto . . . I want to see you grow.
The air grew heavy with heat and smoke, but Arashi could detect neither fire nor any major signs of destruction. There was no sign of the cabin yet, but Sarutobi kept his home humble. Not even the fox's sharp eyes saw it as important, something all three shinobi had been counting on.
Keeping his senses sharp for danger, Arashi caught the moment the boy's step faltered. "Lord Yondaime!" he called. "I hear something!"
Arashi hesitated, his sharp ears catching the sound as well. His careful composure shattered at the sound, his rationality fading as the soft noise carried over the flames, over the roars, over the screams of the dying.
"Naruto!" The name tore involuntarily, obliviously from Arashi, and he plunged down from the tall branches. Only his strong sense of duty compelled him to check to see if Iruka was still following. Thankfully, Iruka followed him step for step, a determination Arashi had never seen on his face.
The baby's wails led Arashi and Iruka through the growing smoke and debris, leading them away from Sarutobi's cabin and closer to the demon. The fox's near-constant howls were almost deafening, but Arashi didn't notice. That baby . . . was that his baby? His little Naruto?
No, no/, Arashi snapped inwardly. /I'm just being paranoid. Kairi had no reason to leave the cabin. If she left for any reason, she would have headed home, not towards the demon. Kairi would not allow her baby to be born in such a dangerous situation. It would be insane!
Yet he could not calm the raging in his heart.
The sobbing, high wail continued, and Arashi struggled to keep calm. He extended his sense to search for chakra signals. Beyond little Iruka's, he could sense only one.
"Lord Yondaime-" Iruka started anxiously.
Fierce blue eyes glanced at Iruka, then darted back out into the shadows. The ground rocked beneath them as the great tails slammed into the earth, and the baby's screams rose. Through the trees, he would find the abandoned child. A little farther and his shameful fears would be put to rest.
The dense, battered trees fell away, and Iruka slowed down at Arashi's side. His brown eyes widened with horror. "Lord Hokage," he choked.
All Arashi heard was the baby's crying. His baby's crying. Naruto's crying. He himself felt too cold to weep, the scrolls falling from his dead arms. "Kairi?" he whispered. "Kairi?"
Iruka hesitantly touched his hokage's trembling fingers. Automatically, Arashi gripped Iruka's hand. He never even felt Iruka's small fingers intertwined with his own.
The pale, bloodied infant lay sobbing on his mutilated mother's breast. A fallen tree covered the woman's legs; blood drenched the now skinnier form. In one limp hand, the one not cradling the hysterical newborn, a kunai lay. The woman's blood glistened on the blade, still fresh from her own stomach.
My son is blond/, Arashi thought dizzily, swaying on his feet. /Kairi, you were right . . . he takes after me.
"Lord Yondaime!" Iruka tugged on Arashi's icy hand. "The fox is coming this way!"
The fox . . . why? Why did Kairi leave the cabin? Why did she go closer to the fox? Why?!?
With a shudder, Arashi released Iruka's hand and trudged closer to what remained of his family. He fell to his knees beside his wife's corpse. Naruto wept and shivered, staring at him with beseeching blue eyes. Shaking,
Arashi reached out and gently pulled his child into the warmth and safety of his arms.
"We're shinobi," he whispered, not knowing if he was telling this to Iruka, Naruto, or himself. "We're shinobi. Death is inevitable. You must do what you can for the living and carry out your duty."
Naruto's wretched sobs lessened, and he curled into Arashi's grip. He whimpered, and Arashi tenderly fingered his bloodied blond hair. "Born in blood, baptized in fire," Arashi murmured, feeling his wife's chilling body against his side. "My beautiful Naruto. You know what's happening, don't you?"
Iruka's trembling hand touched Arashi's shoulder. "We have to leave," he coaxed, his white face pointedly diverted from the corpse. "The fox-"
A brave young man/, Arashi thought vaguely, still stroking Naruto's hair. /He will be a fine shinobi someday.
Slowly clearing blue eyes deliberately looked away from his dead wife. Taking a shuddering breath and almost choking on the stench of blood and smoke, Arashi focused on the scrolls he had dropped upon seeing-- He shuddered and tightened his grip on the anxious infant. Mentally, he reviewed the scrolls. Never before had he imagined his and Sarutobi's fireside discussions would be used in such a manner. Alone, not a single one of those techniques would work against the fox. Human techniques meant little to S-class demons.
Alone, they were nothing.
Arashi bowed his head. A single tear fell on Naruto's bloodied face. Wet blue eyes met wet blue eyes.
"My sweet baby," he whispered. "I love you so much. Your mama loved you, too. Neither of us will be able to see you grow into the fine shinobi I know you'll become. But I know you'll be strong. Born in blood, baptized in fire. You'll be strong, and I know I can trust you with this duty. If I can't trust you, I can't trust anyone."
Shivering, Arashi stared at Iruka's pale, confused face. "Iruka. You're a shinobi, too. Your parents were brave shinobi, dying in service of this village. Now, I have a mission for you, in service to this village. Most importantly, as a personal favor to me. I need you to do this. Please, Iruka."
Bewildered and frightened, Iruka only nodded.
Arashi closed his eyes and kissed Naruto's face. Blood stained his lips. "I love you, Uzumaki Naruto." His grandmother's family name sounded odd on his lips. Kazuma Naruto, he had declared proudly only days before. His first born. Kairi had declared the first of several. She didn't want her baby to be an only child like she had been.
"Take care of my child, Iruka," Arashi breathed, resting Naruto on his arms so his hands would be free for the seals. Above them, the fox roared.
The fires eventually faded. The ground paused and settled once more. The survivors stopped and looked around, confused and startled. On the front line, Kakashi fell to his knees and looked around wildly.
"Master Arashi?" he called weakly. "Master Arashi?"
In the distance, a scarred child screamed, and another scarred child wept.