“Game theory?” Naruto said. “I’ve seen it mentioned in a few books, I think. You mean the imprisoned-ninja’s dilemma, and stuff?”
“Yes, precisely,” the Hokage said. “Such exorbitant erudition is typically reserved for only our most elite jounin, seeking to train in the subtler methods of diplomacy, but you are nothing if not studious.”
Naruto usually spent most of his free time either holed up with a stack of books, or exploring the library for new material. Some years ago, in a moment of childish boldness he had demanded that the Hokage personally order the civilian overseer of the library to let him read as many books as he wanted, or else the librarian was “doing a treason” by keeping a ninja from his studies. He winced at the memory now, but it had paid off well over the years. Most of the townsfolk—civilian and ninja alike—still bore a grudge against him for the circumstances of his birth, and on occasion they would find various petty ways to take it out on him. But even then he’d known that obstructing his access to the library was a step too far.
“I shall ask you to interrupt me if you do not understand something,” the Hokage said. “This is important, so be sure to listen well.”
Naruto leant forward, nodding.
“You are, presently, and have always been, in great personal danger of assassination.”
Naruto’s eyes widened. “…Uhh…”
“There is no immediate threat, mind you, but your unique heritage dictates that from today you must be aware of this, always. The only reason you were not told sooner is that such knowledge can often do more harm than good to a child. As you are now of an age to be doing battle and facing peril, however, you must know what it is that you risk.”
“What heritage? My mother, you mean?”
“You are aware, of course, that your late mother was once the physical container of the Nine-Tailed Demon Fox, and that it was the event of your birth which broke that seal, causing the loss of many lives.”
“And you were informed that our beloved Fourth Hokage gave his life in the battle to defeat your mother, as she rampaged. He took that beast with him to the grave, where it remains until such a time as it shall undoubtedly return in the body of another, in lands we can only hope are far distant from our own… Such is the story as it is told, and such as it is believed by all in the village of Leaf, and all beyond, save for two who knew the truth of it, and guarded that secret in loyalty to the Fourth…”
The Third looked him in the eye. “That truth is that on that fateful day the beast was not in fact sent back to its temporary home beyond the earth, but rather was re-sealed inside you, a newborn child, as an act of filial love by your father. That man, your father, was our Fourth Hokage.”
Naruto stared at him, wordlessly. Too many objections went through his mind, and too quickly to find any real answers. Why wouldn’t he have been told? How could nobody else know? What would that even mean?
“I am… very confused,” Naruto said, finally. “…How—?”
“Alas, the misty workings of the ancients’ game theory may be too far beyond the ken of a child, but I shall take on my duty to explain.”
The Hokage gestured toward the sky beyond the window. “In the era of warring clans, long ago, our village-founder the First Hokage travelled the lands of what are now the five great villages, wielding a powerful bloodline unique to him with which he subdued all nine of the tailed beast-hosts. Then, in an act of unequalled benevolence, he gave away these powerful spirits to entice the formation of the villages, hoping that there might for once be a balance of power between the warring ninja clans, and that this new civic age would be an age of peace. But the tailed beasts proved to be a less useful weapon than he had hoped. It is true that a child bearing the seal from youth will manifest great reserves of chakra, in maturity, but in this new era he had made, an era of large coalitions, the power of a single ninja to sway a war had lessened, and with modern training and broader technique-libraries it is rarely the case now that the victor in battle will be determined by mere stamina. A jinchuuriki host to a tailed beast—one such as yourself, Naruto—when fully trained, might today be worth little more than any other skilful jounin on the field of battle. More creative attempts to make use of the beasts’ power have found little success. Kamikaze tactics, or attempts to safely wield some fraction of their deadly strength have all proven futile, for the beasts are very simple creatures, and if allowed free they will seize the minds of their host and make joy in destruction. The costs associated with these accidental eruptions, in combination with the very limited military potential, meant that soon it was widely acknowledged that to possess a tailed beast’s host was not in fact a valuable thing, for a village, and that indeed, a village would likely be better off without one.”
“But—but don’t all the great countries still have them?” Naruto asked. “Except Leaf, I mean. Or, or not except Leaf, I guess?”
“Yes, and if the people of these lands ask why, they are told such things as you might have learned in the academy. They are described as great and powerful weapons, enough to justify their continued presence, but the real truth, the truth understood by the heads of the great clans and the wiser ones among the jounin is that it is mere politics which keeps the jinchuuriki present in their villages. For the incentives acting on the village are not the same as those which act upon the clans who make up that village.”
“Yes. Ugly though it may seem, our beloved village is but another battleground—one in which the very ninja clans who make up our number divide into factions to struggle over power and influence in a perpetual tug-of-war. Each clan knows that the village as a whole is worse off for the presence of a jinchuuriki, but that their fortunes would be raised if it were a member of their own clan blessed with such uncommon strength, for these wars between clans take place on a much smaller scale than the wars between villages. The Uchiha clan, or the Hyuuga, or the Senju clan of the First and the Second Hokages, even my own Sarutobi clan’s position would have been greatly strengthened by the might of even a single jinchuuriki amongst our ranks. It is no coincidence that the jinchuuriki so often come from the families of the Kage who rule—or rather, one should say from those families who shortly find themselves in a position to rule. Even in Leaf, it was the First Hokage’s wife who took the seal of the Nine-Tails. She was an Uzumaki, but infertile, so her clan passed it in time to your mother, who, with your father’s sacrifice, passed it to you, and last night you felt that prized potential manifest.”
So that was how he’d done it. A thousand clones—he knew that couldn’t have been normal. He’d been drawing chakra from an unnaturally deeper pool.
“So I’m a catastrophic risk, to the whole village?” he asked. “My father sealed the Nine-Tails in me for—for the sake of my clan’s position? For his now-extinct clan that I’m not even in? Or for my mother’s Uzumaki clan, which only has me left in it? And, at the risk of the entire village of people he was trusted to protect?”
“It is not so simple to escape the wrath of a tailed beast,” the Hokage said. “True, your father chose you to be its carrier, but if the beast is loosed by any means it will roam wherever it wishes, and use your body to destroy whatever it can. Even from death the beasts return, but Leaf is the largest of the great villages, home to those best equipped to contain it, if the loss of life worries you. Most jinchuuriki go their whole lives without accidentally releasing their beast, however, so you needn’t fear the danger overmuch.”
“But—I still don’t understand why nobody was told,” Naruto said. “How is it even possible for no one to know that the Fourth Hokage was a father? Or that he put the beast in me?”
“The risks of the seal breaking at the climax of pregnancy were too great,” the Hokage replied. “Your birth was quite an event to coordinate safely, and it posed something of a security risk, if foreign countries should have been made aware of our brief vulnerability. It has become customary these days for villages to obscure as much of the romantic lives of their female jinchuuriki as is possible, even if it must involve the Hokage. The fact that female ninja are even considered for the role of jinchuuriki is a sad reminder of our inability to put aside these petty differences; intra-clan politics alone determine whose son or daughter warrants such esteem as to receive a beast, and domestic factors dominate such disputes regardless of whatever added risks might be borne by those not present in the discussion. In your particular case, if it had been known that you were fathered by the Fourth Hokage, and that your mother was gone, it would have been assumed by all that you carried the Nine-Tailed beast. You, a newly-orphaned child without clan or faction to advocate on your behalf would have been an easy target for any clan seeking to increase their own status at your expense, by stealing the beast. Thus, for your protection, the identity of your father was concealed.”
“But…” Naruto rubbed his head. He wasn’t sure if it was polite to even ask this, but it seemed relevant. “But what about your clan, the Sarutobi? You knew? And—and you did let me live?”
“Yes, I knew, and I wish I could tell you that it was virtue alone that stayed my hand, but in truth I was promised by the second of the two present—Jiraiya of the Sannin—that if I erred in some way, or did anything to suggest that you were any more than the orphaned child of a past jinchuuriki, he would know, and the Sarutobi clan would bear the cost of it. He was a friend to your father, too, though I cannot say for certain whether you shall ever have the chance to meet him… It has been years, now…”
The Hokage stroked the rim of his headdress with his fingers, thoughtful.
“But I do regret that one of such clear potential should have been raised in such an undignified manner,” he continued. “The Uzumaki name does not carry the weight it once did, and these days even their brothers, the Senju, seem almost forgotten… It would be your right, if you wished, to take your father’s name, but I fear that to reveal yourself as a jinchuuriki would be a grave error even now, and would as surely lead to your death as it would have when you were newborn.”
“Oh, yeah, I don’t think that would be a good idea, either,” Naruto said, “I wouldn’t want to go around advertising what a great target I am. I hope my father wouldn’t be too offended by that.”
The Hokage nodded “He would think you very wise. I shall of course be glad to grant you another audience, to answer whatever questions might arise, but is there anything else you wish to know while I am here?”
Naruto thought it over for a moment.
“Well, I guess one thing does come to mind, but—really it’s kind of rude of me to even mention it.”
“Ask, and I shall answer, if I can.”
“Well, it’s just… I’m apparently the son of a Hokage, right? So… even if I don’t take his name, is there, like, maybe some billion-ryu inheritance waiting for me down in the treasury, or a secret clan bloodline technique, or something?”
The Hokage looked pained. Naruto regretted the question immediately.
“Your father did leave a sum of money behind, which it would have been your right to inherit—”
“It was voted, by the council, in the absence of an heir, to be put toward the village’s reconstructive efforts.”
“Oh… Right. Of course. I hadn’t thought of that.”
“You have my personal apologies, Naruto. Many indignities you have suffered, for the circumstances of your birth.”
Naruto’s mind was still running through all the implications of the whole thing, but he forced a smile to put the Hokage at ease. “Heh, I can’t complain. Yesterday I was just a penniless orphan who couldn’t even pass the graduation exam. Now I’m—well, I’m still a penniless orphan who can’t pass the exam, but at least now I know who my father was. And if I’m ever able to graduate I’ll have an unusually large pool of chakra to fight with. That’s not bad.”
The Hokage raised his eyebrows. “Truly, you failed your examinations? I am surprised.”
“Not the written part,” Naruto hastened to add. “For some reason I just couldn’t cast the elementary transformation technique. I tried it afterward too, and I don’t know why—my hand-seals were good, and even the shadow clone technique worked on the first try.”
“That is strange…” the Hokage said. “Indeed, it shouldn’t even be possible. We chose that technique specifically because the seal-chain does so much of the necessary chakra manipulation for you. As long as you can form the seals correctly, and you possess ninja-blood, it should more or less perform itself.”
Naruto ran through the hand-seals to demonstrate, performing what seemed to his eye like a perfectly satisfactory sequence of Dog, Boar, and Ram seals. The Third Hokage was a notable scholar of ninjutsu in his own right, so Naruto was eager to take advantage of his well-trained eye in diagnosing the problem.
He spoke the words a little quieter than usual. “Henge!”
It was supposed to help, to call a technique by some name you could become familiar with, particularly for those not yet experienced with its use, but even that hadn’t been necessary for some of the other students.
The Hokage inhaled sharply. “Oh, yes of course! I see the problem. Try… Horse-Boar-Rat, appended to the beginning of the sequence.”
Naruto brought his feet out from under the covers to watch the illusion take hold, but he still saw no transformation when he tried.
“Hmm, perhaps… Horse-Boar-Monkey, instead.”
Naruto complied, and failed again.
This time Naruto felt the transformation take place as he completed the chain. A faint shimmering of the light, and a tickling sensation against his skin.
The Hokage rose to his feet with a smile on his face. “There we are! All better.”
Naruto grinned, his physical form now an illusory copy of the Hokage himself. Somehow, getting that technique to work felt like more of an unambiguously good thing than all the rest he had just learned.
“I suppose that means you pass,” the Hokage said.
“That’s amazing, sir. What did those extra seals do?”
“Just a sort of filter, you might say, to make sure the technique is not oversupplied with chakra. I hadn’t ever supposed that the very automaticity of the technique might lead to such a failure. It was attempting to feed itself a fraction of your chakra, usually an amount well within the bounds of functionality, but in your case even that fraction was too much. Those extra seals will unfortunately be necessary for you, until you can develop enough manual control to go without them, and you may find similar difficulty with certain other techniques in the library, so I would suggest prioritizing that domain in your studies if you would avoid having your chakra pool impose such a dangerous handicap on you… And yet—to require even the Tiger seal… your reserves must be truly remarkable indeed. I might estimate it to be perhaps several times larger than that of shinobi within the normal range. I had not known such extremes were possible to those made jinchuuriki so young.”
Naruto nodded. He might well have been in more contact with the beast during his developmental years than any other jinchuuriki in history, from conception in the womb and then without any respite even after birth. Having to step through three extra seals on any of his techniques would be a huge burden in battle, though. “I’ll train manual control then, definitely. Or I’ll orient my technique set around whichever ones do work properly.”
“Good lad,” he said. “And if that is all, I shall take my leave of you now.”
Naruto thanked him, bowing forward in his hospital bed.
“If you feel up to attending the team assignments this afternoon, you should find you’ve been fit into the list. Good day, Uzumaki Naruto.”
“Good day, sir.”
Kabuto cleared his throat to report. “A chuunin due from Leaf missed the rendezvous last night, sir. Presumed dead.”
His master opened a weary eye. “…Anything else?”
“Very well… I suppose we could afford to take that team from Waterfall, now. Send the message once the Sand embassy departs.”
“Not the group from Hot Springs, next?”
“Patience, child… the shinobi of Hot Springs will have nowhere else to turn. We need only seem inviting at the moment of their fall—accelerating now would only cost us in leeway.”
After leaving the hospital, Naruto spent the rest of the morning in the library, looking for which section of the written law governed the use of jounin-restricted techniques. He was glad to learn that apparently it was only illegal to teach such techniques to those beneath jounin rank, and not to use them if you already knew how, since the main concern was technique theft by foreign torture, which could not be avoided simply by ignoring knowledge you already had. That was all assuming the technique in question belonged to the village, rather than to a clan, who could do whatever they liked with their own secrets. That fit with his observations that a number of his classmates had already been inducted into the mysteries of their various clans’ powerful bloodline techniques.
So, after all that, it seemed that his plan had actually kind of worked. He’d risked his life, stupidly, in a way he really shouldn’t have, but he’d done it all in the hope of sneakily acquiring a jounin-restricted technique younger than he was supposed to, and now he had in fact done just that. And he’d been allowed to graduate, too. And he’d gotten away with it.
He’d briefly tried casting the shadow clone technique again, after leaving the hospital, just to be sure he had memorized the seals correctly, and this time he’d been able to do it on a scale such that only three clones appeared. He’d only meant to summon one, but it was pretty good for a second try.
Now he would be made a member of a proper genin team. He would have to determine later how the shadow clones actually worked, once he had some time to experiment, but the scroll had mentioned something vague about their accumulated injuries being split between the clones, which seemed like a good reason to be careful. He could easily imagine developing an unwarranted sense of security after seeing so many barely-injured clones harmlessly bursting, and if he ever chose to dispel a few extra bodies by leaping off a cliff he might find himself crippled with 75% of a broken neck—or whatever that would even mean.
The thought of death brought back the thought of his teacher, Mizuki. Genin were supposed to be accustomed to death by his age, but in the classroom they’d never had to practice killing anything larger than a kitten. It made him a little queasy to think about—and he’d seen it all from so many different angles. He had the memories of looking through a thousand pairs of eyes, each with their own distinct experience… But that was the role of those born as ninja: to fight, to kill, and then someday to die. Nothing could really be done about it. The wise ones knew not to dwell on it too much.
After a quick stop in at his apartment to change out of yesterday’s dirty clothes Naruto made his way over to the academy to attend the team assignments, and to find out which of his classmates would be stuck working with him from tomorrow onwards.
The classroom was already full when he arrived, but the noise of their conversation died down quickly, their heads turning to look at him as he came in through the door.
Oh, of course they’d heard what had happened. It wasn’t like a village full of ninja should be able to keep anything secret.
None of them had ever really liked him much, in the first place, so he didn’t let it bother him, but he did hope at least that his two new teammates wouldn’t make a big deal out of it. He’d been dreading the prospect of having to make friends for weeks now, right up until he’d failed the transformation technique and been excused from graduating entirely. Somehow it seemed a little less intimidating, now.
An instructor arrived to begin proceedings soon after Naruto sat down. Naruto recognized him as the dangerously-overweight leader of one of the younger classes. Daikoku was his name.
He took attendance, and reminded the class that their teams were not necessarily permanent, and that nobody should worry too much about not being on a team with their friends, because the most important thing was to become the best ninja you can be, and so on… Naruto assumed that the speech was meant to be encouraging, but everybody knew that the main reason genin teams got shifted around so much was that genin died like flies as soon as they had to actually fight anything.
The instructor began reading out the team assignments, splitting the graduating class of thirty into ten teams of three, each team being matched with one of the village’s jounin to serve as their leader for a few years, until whenever they qualified as chuunin and could be relied upon to act independently.
Three by three the students of the class were informed of their arrangements and told where to meet their jounin. Some groups left the room right away, but others weren’t needed anywhere until later, so they shifted around in the classroom to begin chatting with their new partners. By the time Naruto’s name was read out he almost didn’t hear it over the noise.
“Uzumaki Naruto, Uchiha Sasuke, Hyuuga Hinata… You three will be with Hatake Kakashi, and he’s left a note here saying to meet him tomorrow morning at 0900 by the bridge, outside the academy…”
Naruto scanned the room, locating Hinata and Sasuke in their usual seats. It was probably an intentional move to put the three loners of the class together, to minimize the number of viable ninja teams put at risk by the alienated or less-cooperative members of the class. Even now, Sasuke seemed to be paying no attention to the teacher, staring out the window instead. Hinata was fiddling with the drawstring of her jacket, her eyes downcast and hidden behind her fringe.
Uchiha Sasuke was probably the best prospective ninja in their class—as an individual, at least. In the practical exercises he always performed well ahead of the pack, and while Naruto had him beat on the written exams, even he wasn’t about to pretend that those really meant anything in the real world.
One of the members of Sasuke’s clan, Uchiha Itachi, had gone crazy a few years back and killed all of the other Uchiha, except for Sasuke. Sasuke probably felt like he had to carry the whole weight of his prestigious old clan on his shoulders now, but still, that was no reason to be rude. He trained hard, but he had the kind of standoffish personality that more than one of the library’s books had warned against; he would be a very valuable teammate if—and only if—he could be coerced to cooperate effectively with a team of ninja less naturally gifted than he was.
Hinata, on the other hand, seemed like she was just too timid to have ever made any friends. Firstborn and heir of the powerful Hyuuga clan—perhaps the most powerful clan left in Leaf since Uchiha Itachi’s massacre, especially with lady Tsunade, the last of the Senju, out roaming the world, and years past childbearing age. Hinata was the kind of girl who might honestly have been better off born a civilian; she tended to shrink away from any kind of interaction with other people, and nobody could realistically expect her to survive more than one or two proper battles. She did have her clan’s incredibly powerful byakugan eye-technique to draw upon, but from what he’d seen in the physical combat exercises she bore none of their reputed talent for taijutsu martial-arts.
Neither of Naruto’s two teammates seemed to be making a move to greet either of the others, so it would fall on him to be the proactive one. He didn’t have much of what could be called “natural charisma”, but the three of them would have to learn to get along for the sake of effective teamwork. Temporarily, at least.
He walked between the desks, heading over to Sasuke first. He was wondering what to say by way of greeting when Sasuke looked up at him.
“So. Heard you managed to scrape through after all…”
Sasuke usually liked to act like he wasn’t even trying when he topped the class in their exercises, so of course he’d never acknowledged Naruto’s superiority on the written exams. It felt oddly satisfying to know that he had been paying enough attention to even notice Naruto’s failure.
“Yeah, I got some help with the transformation. And I don’t know what the rumors said but they’re probably wrong.”
“You didn’t kill the instructor for failing you, then?” Sasuke looked unsurprised, like he hadn’t believed it in the first place.
“Well I, uh… I did kill him, but it wasn’t a fair fight or anything,” Naruto said. “He attacked me for an unrelated reason, and I had a restricted technique that he wasn’t expecting, and I still almost died, but—”
Sasuke sniffed. “Mmm… cool story.”
Naruto wasn’t certain what exactly Sasuke was like beneath the fifty layers of sarcasm and disdain, but he was a pretty dedicated ninja, and Naruto didn’t fear the possibility of official punishment quite as much as he feared having a teammate he couldn’t rely on. Making friends was the top priority, here.
“Hey, uh, maybe I could show you the technique later, though, if you want? Since we’re teammates now?” Naruto said, lowering his voice conspiratorially. “It’s called the shadow clone.”
Sasuke heaved his pack over one shoulder and stood to leave. “Yeah sure, whatever,” he said. “Later.”
Naruto let him go, hoping that he might have at least made a positive impression with the offer. A few other teams were still chatting with each other around the classroom, all of them somehow on perfectly friendly terms already. Hyuuga Hinata was still sitting at her desk, sitting conspicuously still. Wringing any solidarity out of this team was definitely going to be a new kind of challenge, but the books he’d read on battle tactics all agreed that well-synchronized ninja teams were worth a lot more than the sum of their parts. Naruto had no intention of letting a little awkwardness determine his odds of survival.
He sat down next to Hinata, introducing himself by name in case she didn’t remember.
Instead of the shy reply he was expecting, she started blurting out words as if she was reading from a script. “Father-said-to-invite-my-teammates-to-the-manor-so-he-can-meet-them-would-you-like-to-come-over-please?”
Naruto cleared his throat. “I mean, uh, yes. Of course.”
One did not lightly refuse a request from the clan head of the Hyuuga.
“Should I run and catch Sasuke?” he added, gesturing at the open door.
“Oh—um, no, um—father won’t mind. He will know who I mean.”
Right. The Hyuuga clan head could be expected to know of the last heir of the Uchiha. Naruto felt suddenly aware of the fact that both of his teammates were of unusually noble lineage. He should have felt right at home, being the son of the Fourth, but a lifetime of scraping by on the orphan-nin allowance built strong habits of thought, and tended to force you to acknowledge your position relative to others. Ninja without a clan were not considered particularly trustworthy—a small step above civilians in the eyes of most ninja, and any kid who caused trouble without a clan to protect him was living a very dangerous life.
He accompanied Hinata to the Hyuuga compound in awkward silence, still a little nervous about making a good impression on her, and on her clan head. He asked her on the way whether she had any idea who Hatake Kakashi was, or what he was like, but she only replied that his father had once failed an important mission, and killed himself in shame. That had ended the conversation pretty quickly.
A civilian servant of the Hyuuga greeted them at the entrance and informed “lady Hinata” that her father was praying at the family shrine, with some of the retainers, but that he would surely want to see her.
Naruto followed her deeper into the compound, through the exquisitely-kept garden where a young guy around their age was training with a girl some years his junior, their eyes both pale white, like Hinata’s—that characteristic blankness of the byakugan, the Hyuuga’s prized bloodline technique, which supposedly allowed perfect 360-degree vision, and even sight through solid objects, making the flow of chakra visible inside a ninja’s body.
“Are they your siblings?” Naruto asked.
“My sister, Hanabi, and my cousin Neji of the Hyuuga branch house.”
“They’re very skilled,” Naruto said, genuinely impressed.
He heard low chanting carrying on the wind, from the temple complex. “Te-re-bi-jon… te-re-bi-jon…”
It all seemed so dignified, here.
Inside the building, open to the air, he saw a semicircle of finely dressed men and women kneeling in awed silence around a carved wooden altar, upon which rested an unfamiliar artifact of ancient design. It looked like a square box, with two bent metallic antennae rising off of it, and a glass surface on the front that had probably not originally been broken.
An elderly man seated nearby whispered sharply to his associate. “Do you feel its power?”
The young man replied in an excited whisper. “I feel it, master!”
Naruto admired the infinitely-straight brushwork of the silver lettering, and leant over to whisper in Hinata’s ear. “What do those old runes on its surface say?”
“It transliterates as… panasoniku,” Hinata said, enunciating carefully. “All-hearing and all-speaking, like our eyes are all-seeing.”
She explained that clan records told it was a Hyuuga who first brought it down from the mountains, in the time of the ancients, when the world was a hundred times larger and the people a thousand times more numerous—a time before even their most-ancient blood had joined with that of the second son of the first ninja to found the Hyuuga ninja clan. Naturally this gave them a good excuse for their rivalry with the Senju and Uchiha clans, who both claimed to have come from the first son of the first ninja, and who were therefore obliged to hate each other only a little more than the Hyuuga did.
Naruto knew that a lot of clans liked to tell impressive stories about their history, but with the Hyuuga anything might well be true, and the object was unquestionably of ancient design; he found himself in awe of what great wisdom must have been required to create a thing so far beyond the wisest philosophers of the present day to comprehend. He couldn’t imagine the world ever again reaching such heights, and only more could be lost with time. Perhaps even the stories would vanish, someday.
Waiting by the threshold, they were soon approached by a man in white robes.
He bowed in greeting, and they returned the gesture.
“Father, I have brought my teammate as you requested. This is Naruto, of the Uzumaki clan.”
Hinata’s father looked down at him, blinking impassively.
Naruto bowed again. “Hello, sir. It’s a great honor to meet you.”
Hinata steeled herself, continuing. “I believe you will agree he is a very skilful ninja and a… a very fitting companion. Yesterday, he captured and executed a rogue chuunin for the safety of the village, and he bears the noble blood of the old Senju who called themselves the Whirlpool branch, the Uzumaki whose prominence was such that even now the jackets of Leaf proudly bear their spiral crest…”
She swallowed. “My other teammate is Sasuke of the Uchiha, heir to all the holdings of his ancestors—they are both ninja of great distinction in the academy. Our jounin was delayed by an important mission, but I was assured by my instructors that his skills are of the highest caliber and—and his long record of service remains unblemished.”
Naruto tried to stand a little straighter, to aid in Hinata’s attempt to present her clanless orphan of a teammate in a more palatable light, but it still felt strange to be addressed as the “heir” to anything, let alone to all the majesty of the Senju clan. “Whirlpool” was the original meaning of his family name, Uzumaki, which didn’t fit very well with his first name, “Naruto”, which he had heard could also mean whirlpool, or maybe something like “becoming”, but becoming a whirlpool hardly seemed any better. What little he’d read on the subject seemed to indicate that the Senju-Uzumaki split went back at least a few generations, and that his inward-looking ancestors had proven so unable to get along with anyone else that at the time of the founding of the great villages sixty years ago, when even the Uchiha had joined their ancient Senju enemies to raise Leaf, the Uzumaki “branch” chose instead to found their own village on an island in a stormy sea, where they could just be left alone, supposedly “to contemplate the nature of the sea”. Needless to say, the wars had not been kind to them. Their village was gone, and now he was the only one left.
Hinata’s father sighed, tiredly, “Mmmyes… one must be very pleased with such august company… and who is the jounin?”
The question had seemed to be addressed to Naruto, so he replied in the form that Hinata had used. “Kakashi of the Hatake… he is, uh—”
“Mmm, that is well enough.” He smiled mirthlessly, turning back to Hinata. “Your practical examination scores were very disappointing, Hinata. Poor by any clan’s standards. I have consulted at length with your tutors, and intend from now to prioritize their time refining your sister’s talents.”
“W—what? Father, no!”
“I shall be leaving all further training to your new captain. You may consider Hanabi to have succeeded you, from today, as heir apparent to the house of Hyuuga.”
Hinata grasped at his sleeve. “No—I’ll train harder! I’ve been getting a lot stronger lately, and now—”
“The elders have already acceded to my request,” he continued, unaffected by her display. “You will not take the mark of the branch house until Hanabi enters the academy later this year, but henceforth you are to address her as your superior.”
“F—father, please!” Hinata cried, tears welling in her pale eyes. “Please—I’ll do better…”
She collapsed to her knees, sobbing as her father strode dispassionately away.