Part II. The Waves Arisen by Dire Miscalibration
Kakashi crouched over Sasuke’s unconscious body, holding one of his eyes open and checking his pulse with his other hand. “Explain.”
Naruto hesitated—the other clones hadn’t even seen him show up. “Uhh—”
“I—uh, I can’t,” Naruto said, casting back for some plausible excuse. “Uchiha secrets.”
“You’re not an Uchiha,” Kakashi said. “Explain, before your teammate dies.”
“He’s fine; this was supposed to happen,” Naruto said. “And, even if I’m not an Uchiha, I think it would be a betrayal of Sasuke’s trust to tell you something he told me in confidence.”
“You two planned this?”
“Why is the mark of the sharingan on his forehead? Where is Hinata?”
“She’s sleeping. I left some clones back at the lodge.”
Kakashi made a single hand-seal and summoned a shadow clone of his own. It hurried off in the direction of the village.
“Any civilian with a pebble to throw could dispel one of your clones before they even knew what had hit them. Does she know where you are?”
“N—no, but—” Naruto said, “but she was sleeping. I didn’t want to wake her.”
Even Naruto could tell how flimsy that excuse must have sounded.
One of his clones standing nearby bit his tongue, and a mental reply came through a moment later from a clone bursting himself back at the lodge. All was well on their end.
“You reckless fools. Only luck has preserved you. Tell me quickly what has been done to Sasuke.”
“My clones just told me Hinata’s okay,” Naruto said. “Can we please wait until Sasuke’s awake before we talk about this? It should only be a few more minutes, now—I don’t want to accidentally say something I can’t take back. We have to be able to cooperate in the future too, right? Like, for teamwork.”
“You aren’t supposed to use ‘teamwork’ against the leader of your own team.”
Sasuke began to stir in response to their noise, turning his head.
Naruto moved closer to him, touching his shoulder. “Sasuke!”
“Sasuke, are you well?” Kakashi asked.
He came around slowly, looking back and forth at the two of them for a moment before pushing himself up onto his elbow, glaring at Naruto.
“You told him?”
“No! He just showed up,” Naruto said. “I only told him that we were doing this on purpose, and that it was a secret Uchiha thing.”
Sasuke took a moment to get his bearings.
“Right…” he mumbled, sitting up. “The Uchiha… secret technique. Did it work?”
“The mark’s there on your forehead,” Naruto said. “Looks just like the sharingan.”
Sasuke squeezed his eyes closed, concentrating hard.
“It’s meant to activate from contact with my chakra… I don’t think I can manually push any out the front of my head yet, though.”
“Try touching it with a finger,” Naruto suggested. “Careful, though. Don’t impale yourself.”
He nodded, and brushed his thumb carefully across the marks his forehead. The seal came immediately to life. Black swirls grew like flames in mottled patterns across his flesh, covering him from head to toe.
Kakashi recoiled. “What is this?”
Sasuke smiled, looking down at his hands. “It’s called… the third eye technique. It was lost to us for generations, but now, it’s awake again. I did it.”
Sasuke activated his sharingan as well, looking around in the dark.
“Try it out,” Naruto said.
Sasuke knocked his fists together, experimentally, before walking over to a nearby tree, drawing back his arm, and swinging full-force at the center of the trunk.
There was a dull crack as a puff of dust dislodged from the surface of the tree. Sasuke looked down at his unscathed knuckles. The tree bore a splintered indentation in the vague shape of his fist.
“Wow…” Naruto said. “You could break someone’s neck with that.”
“My skin tingles,” Sasuke said, admiring the black marks on the palms of his hands.
“Hey, try seeing if—”
Sasuke was looking at something over his shoulder.
Naruto turned around. Kakashi was watching them, silently, seated on a fallen tree trunk, with his mask pulled down off his face. Naruto had never actually seen his mouth before, but there was something other than anger in his expression. Something closer to tiredness… or disappointment.
“Uhh, I mean—we should probably be heading back, actually,” Naruto said. “We are in foreign territory, after all.”
“Sit down, boys,” Kakashi said. “Please.”
Naruto swallowed. Sasuke deactivated his techniques.
They sat down amongst the dead leaves and twigs.
“You’re strong, for genin,” Kakashi said. “Already. Both of you. You’re young ninja with a lot of potential and promise, but this is your very first mission outside of Leaf, and you’ve put yourselves into unnecessary danger twice today. Sasuke, it isn’t my right to make you reveal your clan’s secrets, but I would be highly suspicious if you told me that this was the most appropriate time and place for your ritual. I understand you may have grown impatient over the last few months, and that perhaps you took the first opportunity you could, with your new eye, but I strongly suspect that you made an error today, and Naruto, you made an error in cooperating. You must understand that nothing but good fortune has kept you alive. Good fortune cannot be relied upon. Any number of terrible things might have happened here, tonight.”
Sasuke nodded. “I know.”
“In the academy they would beat you when you misbehaved. You were children, then, but you are both soldiers of Leaf, now. Do you know how the misbehavior of a soldier is punished?”
They shook their heads. “No.”
“They are punished with beautiful gravestones,” Kakashi said. “They are given our remembrance, as heroes who sacrificed their lives for the sake of the village. Further punishment will be unnecessary, because you will be dead.”
Naruto and Sasuke remained silent.
“Not one in ten ninja will survive to reach jounin rank. Not one in ten. The chance that all three members of a genin team would make it is almost too small to consider, and it’s always the youngest who do most of the dying. One day you will make a small mistake, some insignificant thing that should have made no difference at all, and it will get one of your friends killed. Or get yourself killed. Or your entire team. It might even get the enemy killed. Maybe it will save your life, and it will be the best thing you ever did. Or maybe you’ll do everything perfectly, every day, and then your friends will be slaughtered anyway because of events far beyond your control.”
He tapped the forehead-protector that still covered his sharingan. “This eye came from one of the other ninja on my team, when I was about your age,” he said. “He was an Uchiha, and he gave it to me when he died because he wanted me to be stronger, for the sake of our other teammate. Maybe you already knew that, but what you probably don’t know is that it was my mistake that killed him. It was my own stupidity that put us in that situation, and his death hit me hard when I got back because my father had once made a mistake just like that, too, on a mission of great importance to the village. He’d got his team into a situation where he had to choose between the success of the mission and the lives of his friends. That error cost Leaf a lot, when he chose to save his friends, but eventually it would cost him those same friends too, because of the terrible shame he’d brought upon himself. So I cried over my friend’s empty grave, and I swore to become stronger, and I swore that even though it was too late for him, I wouldn’t lose the one friend I had left. And I did become stronger. My error had granted me a great boon, in this eye, but then, one day, she was taken from me anyway. She died, despite my strength, because it didn’t even matter. It wasn’t enough for me to be strong—it required no mistake from me. Shinobi die all the time, for no good reason at all. And I can’t tell you not to take risks—the way of ninja requires you to risk life and limb on every mission, and the greatest successes often require facing some chance that all will be lost, but please, do not take risks lightly… please, know what it is that you risk—don’t wait until the funeral to swear your oaths, like I did. Caution is a habit, so don’t accustom yourselves to accepting fruitless risks. Don’t condemn yourselves to live out your lives wondering what could have been, if only you’d been wiser when it had mattered.”
They left Sound village the next day, seen off by Gen’yumaru and his assistant Kabuto. Sasuke’s “third eye” was covered up by his forehead-protector, but Hinata had been informed it was nothing to be concerned about. Uchiha stuff.
The negotiations had been concluded to Kakashi’s satisfaction, and all the diplomatic aims met. The only hiccup had been Sound’s reluctance to participate in the biannual Leaf chuunin exams, which typically hosted participants from several of Leaf’s allies and satellite states. Kakashi had expected that they would be eager to make a public showing to reinforce their legitimacy as a newly founded village, but Leaf was the only great village in any position to contest their claim, so it was of little importance in any case.
On returning home Naruto was eager to resume his clone-training regimen, but he dutifully put aside a few bodies to work on planning out a kind of accelerated “curriculum” of books for Sasuke—a long list of some of the most important things he’d ever read, arranged into a sequence that could start with good foundations and build up from there. He would trim them down to brief summaries or extracted chapters wherever possible, making use of his old notes.
Sasuke seemed surprisingly eager to begin, even after learning how abstract some of the first subjects would be—studying the best practices of effective learning and study before moving into communication skills—the subtle but important mechanics that could underlie mere words, hopefully useful enough to help head off any future arguments between the two of them.
After a few days of experimenting with Sasuke’s new techniques—and confirming the cost of the sharingan matched the byakugan at 10 mc/sec, and finding his “third eye” seal cost a staggering 50 mc/sec—they settled into a routine of daily training together in which Sasuke took the lead, and offered what suggestions he could to improve Naruto’s form. It was no coincidence that one of the first items of reading Naruto had given him was a short essay on how much a teacher could benefit from explaining their knowledge to someone else, reviewing the foundational insights of their own understanding in the process.
He found the anxiety book for Hinata, too, and delivered it during one of their training sessions after making a fake dust-jacket to hide the front cover in case she didn’t want to be seen with it. The Hyuuga eye was surprisingly easy to thwart, in certain cases.
Naruto wanted to impress Kakashi as well—or to avoid disappointing him again, at least. He was their captain, of course, but he was also an uncommonly skilful ninja in his own right, and he hadn’t even known how bad the risk really had been when he’d caught them in the forest. Naruto had never thought of himself as being a reckless person, before.
At Kakashi’s suggestion the three of them were planning to participate in the upcoming chuunin exams. There would be some danger in it, of course, but he thought they could learn something from the experience.
Naruto had heard that some of his other classmates would be entering the exams too, and he’d seen them around in training; they didn’t look much different than how they’d been in the academy, to his eye. Sasuke, though, with his newly awakened sharingan and his “third eye” seal could easily hold his own against an entire horde of shadow clones now, and Naruto himself had all the unusual advantages granted by his clones and the enormous pool of chakra he had available to exploit them with.
Hinata was reluctant, though. Her eyes had great utility, but from her perspective they seemed unremarkable, even after all the use they’d been put to in Sound. She felt she wasn’t ready.
“I’m—I’m just thinking, I don’t know that I could keep up with you,” she said.
They sat down to eat, together, after the morning’s training.
“I’m sure that you could pass the exams, Naruto,” she said, “and Sasuke is also very skilled, but—but my father says that the theme of this exam is ‘teamwork’, to celebrate the alliance with Sand. That’s why only full teams were able to apply this time—there’s meant to be some sort of challenge that involves working together, this time. I wouldn’t want to hold you back.”
“Did your father tell you not to apply?” Naruto asked.
“Well… yes. My father believes I am not yet ready,” she said. “But, I also believe that I am not ready.”
“We won’t make you do it if you don’t want to,” Naruto said. “But you are a pretty cautious person, just by your nature, I think, so it’s possible you might never feel ready.”
Hinata looked down at the untouched plate of food in front of her.
“…Do you think I could pass?” she asked.
“Get made chuunin? Probably not,” Naruto said. “But neither would I, I mean. Almost nobody actually passes. There’s, what, maybe a hundred genin competing each time? Only a few get made chuunin, and some of the others die, but most just discover whatever weaknesses they had and try again six months later.”
Naruto took a bite of meat, speaking while he chewed. “But you know—if we’re supposed to work together, this might actually be the safest time to do it. I mean, you’ll have us by your side, and with your byakugan there won’t be any surprises.”
“But… all the other teams will have the benefit of their teammates, as well…”
“Yeah, that’s true. I was thinking about our teamwork just recently, actually,” Naruto said. “I’ve read that there’s this huge gap in strength between teams that can fight well together and teams that don’t. Like, sometimes there are fights between two individual ninja, without any interference, where their individual strength is all that matters, but these days it’s almost all about teams fighting other teams. Fights like Uchiha Madara again the First Hokage just don’t happen nowadays. Instead, we get the three Sannin, the famous team. And how much do you even hear about them since the snake one died?”
“Yeah, him,” Naruto said. “Since he got killed, you never hear about the other two. They’re meant to be out there somewhere, roaming around and battling demons or something, and I’m sure they’re still really strong as individuals, but all the stories are about the stuff they did years ago, when they were a team. Or just look at Ino-Shika-Cho! That team’s so good that three entire clans have stuck together to coordinate the birth of their kids, just for the sake of reusing the incredible synchronization of their bloodline techniques. We need to be more like those guys.”
Hinata looked up at him. “You—you want me to be more like Ino?”
“Yeah!” Naruto said. “Or—well, not exactly. I mean, obviously their bloodlines are pretty crazy, but your byakugan’s easily on the same level, in a different sort of way. I just thought that maybe we should be figuring out how to fight better together, not just as individuals.”
“But, if I were injured, or no longer on the team, it might have been a waste of your time.”
“I guess if the team changed, yeah, we’d have to figure out something new,” Naruto said, “but I don’t think there’d be much use in getting strong as individuals if we stay weak as a team and die anyway. Unless—you’re not saying you actually want to change teams, are you?”
“Oh, no, no,” she said. “I want to stay with you. On our team.”
“Ah, good,” Naruto said. “I know it’s kind of selfish, but I really want to keep you with me. Just to be next to me, forever, haha… Your eyes are amazing.”
She must have taken a bite of something spicy—her cheeks were bright red.
“Okay,” she said, “I’ll try the exams.”
“Whoa—I wasn’t trying to guilt you into it, or anything,” Naruto said. “I don’t mind waiting.”
“No. It’s okay,” she said. “You were right. This is my best chance… going with you.”
“Alright then,” he said, grinning. “Great!”
“What do I need to improve, for our teamwork?”
“Hmm… I haven’t really thought about it much,” Naruto admitted. “Maybe, uhh… well, they say it’s good to have a mix of close range fighters and longer range support, right? So maybe with your chakra control and your eyes you could be a good fit for the longer range stuff? I mean, I know your clan’s really proud of their gentle fist taijutsu tradition and stuff, but—I’m not trying to insult your clan’s traditions, here, but I don’t know if close combat is really the best place to make use of the byakugan.”
In truth, Naruto thought that the gentle-fist style was more like a costly luxury that the Hyuuga could afford. Maybe it was just that he hadn’t yet been exposed to a true master, but any technique that required sixty-four strikes just to disable a foe seemed like it was designed more to show off the special strengths of the byakugan than to actually win fights, when any one of those strikes could have plausibly been driven through the enemy and out the other side for an equally “disabling” result.
“I—I no longer consider myself bound by the opinions of the Hyuuga,” Hinata said. “My sister Hanabi will begin her training at the academy soon, and I will be marked as a member of the branch house… Once that is done, and she takes my place in the public eye, my behavior should be of less concern to them, so… so I shall do as I like.”
It seemed that that anxiety book was paying off already.
“If that’s how you feel, maybe we should focus a little less on your taijutsu, then, and train in other things?” Naruto asked. “I’ve got a barrier technique I’ve been practicing that would probably be pretty useful for you—I was going to try to work on my control so that I could use it faster, but you’re way better at that kind of thing. And if you do that, then I can shift some of my attention over to this other thing I’ve been working on.”
“That would be a relief… I have never had any talent for the gentle fist.” she said. “M—may I ask about the other idea you are working on?”
Naruto nodded, gulping down another next mug of free juice. “It’s a new technique I’m trying to create. I don’t really know how to describe it. I can’t actually cast it or anything, yet, but I guess I would define it as… hmm… sort of, just the strongest technique possible?”
When the prospect of attempting the chuunin exams had first come up, Naruto had naturally chosen to devote a few of his clones to discussing the problem of how to optimize his odds of success. One of the primary outcomes of that strategy-session had been, simply, to “get stronger”.
Thus, a second session was hosted on the subject of how best to get stronger, which rapidly devolved into an argument over semantics, wasting half the morning before it was finally agreed that an acceptable way to start getting stronger would be to learn the strongest technique or techniques. At that point, he was about ready to give up on ever actually working his way down to a single concrete suggestion, but he decided to give it one last shot now that he was sufficiently sick of hearing himself talk.
One of Naruto’s clones cleared his throat, sitting at what felt to him like the head of the circle. “Let me just begin by saying,” he said, “that as we still don’t have any way of deciding what the strongest technique is, and recent history suggests we are incapable of agreeing on a definition in any case, this whole endeavor must necessarily be a complete waste of time.”
“I disagree,” replied the clone seated opposite. “All we need is a simple working quantitative definition of strength—anything close enough to be useful—and then we can work backwards from the goal to reinvent—”
“Here we go again…” mumbled another clone, resting his head in his hands.
“—to reinvent the technique, from first principles, after which we would merely need to locate a viable approximation in the library—”
“If we knew what to do,” said another, “couldn’t we just invent the technique from scratch?”
“We don’t know a thing about jounin-level hand-seal stuff.”
“Can’t be that hard, right?”
One of the clones had already stopped paying attention, flipping idly through a textbook on his lap.
“Yes it can.”
“Well, hey, hand-seals are just a way to compress down various complicated bits of manual chakra-manipulation, right? Our manual control isn’t great, but we could easily brute-force our way through a single technique’s manual control if we put enough bodies on the job, assuming we knew exactly what to do, and it was simple enough.”
“If it has to be sufficiently simple then what are the chances that it could reasonably be called the strongest technique?”
“No, no—wouldn’t the strongest technique even more likely to be simple? You know, like, something really elegant and efficient.”
“This is why I said we should start by establishing a procedure for evaluating—”
“Or,” one clone interjected, “we could just start describing traits that the strongest technique might have. See what we come up with. And no criticizing bad ideas.”
“Alright. A giant… glowing… katana.”
“That is a terrible idea.”
“Wait—are we talking about the best within some set boundaries, or what, exactly? The question itself is dumb. There are plenty of techniques like the shadow clone that are hard to compare to anything else.”
“I declare an indefinite moratorium on all talk of abstractions. We’re talking about an offensive technique. We want the best, most offensive technique—”
“Giant, glowing katana shaped like my d—”
Someone jabbed him with a pencil and he burst into smoke.
“Techniques can be long ranged or short. They can be expensive or cheap. Area-affecting or precise. Slow or fast… um…”
“Hand-seals or no hand-seals.”
“Obviously no seals. Every jounin works to trim down their hand-seals eventually.”
“And we already decided hand-seals suck.”
“I don’t remember deciding that.”
“Fast to use is better. Costly we can afford with our chakra. A basic offensive technique probably doesn’t need particularly great precision or a wide area affected. Long or short range, though… I don’t know.”
“Short is best. Longer means throwing and aiming, that’s transit time midair… hard to hit. It’s simpler to be physically close and place the hit yourself. Especially with clones to reduce the risk.”
“Unless someone’s got a thorny aura.”
“Then we’ll throw things at them, but for most people we’ll want something better than a stupid knife to attack with.”
“Knife made of chakra?” one suggested. “Knives are shaped that way for a reason.”
“Chakra blades are a real technique.”
“Penetration would be even better with an almost infinitely-thin spike. Like a straight line. No risk of snapping like a thin metal blade would.”
“No no no, volume is what you want. This is chakra, not steel; the more we hit them with the better it works. Why wait for bleeding from a puncture wound when we could just tear off a limb?”
“Stabbing still seems kind of important to me…”
“What we need is a committee, distinctly purposed toward designing the structure of future committees, so that—”
“A-ha! I’ve got it!” said a clone. “The shape with the highest ratio of volume to surface area is: …the humble sphere.”
“…You expect us to just… punch a ball into someone?”
“Not to mention how difficult it would be to manipulate chakra into that shape outside of the body. We’d need to… somehow… constantly redirect it inwards, from all directions at once. That’d be pretty difficult with anything less than three hands.”
“We’ve got a few spare hands between us, why don’t we just—”
“What? Summon a clone every time we want to hit something? That’s ridiculous.”
“Yeah, sorry but that is pretty dumb.”
“Not one of our best ideas.”
“Get a load of this moron…”
“Hey! What happened to ‘no criticism’?”
A bored-looking clone sat up straight, his eyes wide. “…Oh. I’ve had stroke of genius.”
“This should be good.”
“I’m gonna have a stroke myself, in a second.”
“Shut up, shut up. Listen. See what shape my hand is making?”
His fingers were extended, coming together at a point with his thumb perpendicular to his palm.
“Uhh, like a ‘J’ shape? Or a ‘C’?”
“It’s two and a half sides of a triangle, basically,” he said, “and I could mold chakra like this, inside the edges to make a solid triangle, right? But then… we aim the chakra that comes out of our fingers a little, so that it flows out to one side, like this.” He pointed in through the triangle, toward his palm.
“And why would we want to do that?”
“Because then, over here we pull on the chakra with the edge and the back of our hand, once we’ve learned how to do that, and that will make it circle all the way around, over our knuckles and back to where it started!”
“…and what w—”
“It would be pretty difficult, sure, but I think that if we just practiced that exact motion, and stopped reading the least important stuff until the exams, we could probably get it done.”
“We could… twirl a triangle?”
“Not just twirl it, you handsome fool. It would be a constant stream of chakra, spiraling back into itself around our hand, with a triangular cross section. The tip could come together to make only a very narrow opening around our fingertips, like a sharp point. Do you know what shape that makes?”
“A hollow… pyramid.”
“It makes up a considerable volume of chakra that can still stab the heck out of something. That’s what.”
Almost all of Naruto’s free clones were put to work on the new technique, for the following weeks. Kakashi saw how hard the three of them were training and managed to avoid having them assigned to any more missions outside of the village. There was often less genin labor available before the chuunin exams due to teams being busy in training, and afterward too, due to the casualties. New academy graduates filled up the gap once a year, but on the other occasion the teams who chose not to compete could rely on a steady stream of relatively well-paying jobs.
Naruto had to sell his comfy old chair to afford living expenses, with the lowered workload, but he was only getting a fractional use of it anyway, these days, with so many clones around. If he ever actually managed to make chuunin rank he might not need to worry about money ever again. He wouldn’t be rich, but a single good B-rank mission might see him fed for a year. Most chuunin wasted their money on flashy gear, but Naruto already knew exactly how little he really needed to get by.
For whatever reason, though, Kakashi felt that this was a good time to introduce them all to the basics of elemental chakra manipulation. Naruto had known that this was essentially the other half of all manual chakra control, but he had assumed it was mostly irrelevant tweaking on top of the main job, and that for the time being it could be safely ignored. What he hadn’t known was that apparently merely learning to focus his raw chakra into some ideal elemental form would significantly increase the destructive potential of whatever he was doing, and that if he ever learned to manipulate a second element at the same time, then the combination of the two would double the power. A third element added to the mix would double it again, for potentially insane multipliers if you were good enough. This was enough at least to entice a few clones away from training shape manipulation to practice at elemental manipulation, but at the rate he was progressing he was already unsure whether he’d have the technique functional by the time of the exams, let alone with the added difficulty of infusing it with water, the element he supposedly had the closest affinity with.
Sasuke seemed to once again be tearing off ahead on natural talent alone. Having the sharingan seemed to make it even easier for him to train off of Kakashi’s example, and he was quickly approaching a working version of a technique Kakashi called the chidori—essentially just the chakra blade Naruto had previously envisioned, but imbued with enough lightning to cut through solid rock. Naruto was so impressed that he briefly considered abandoning his own unproductive work to see if he couldn’t just mimic them and fashion some kind of… watery skewer.
Hinata managed to pick up the basics of the barrier technique pretty quickly just by watching Naruto toying around with it. There was no obvious cap on the size of the shield, other than the rapidly increasing chakra cost for supporting it. A 600-foot radius would theoretically burn through his entire reserves in about four seconds, and the same would be true for Hinata at a radius just under half that. His chakra advantage actually seemed a lot less important there than normal, since the price grew with the size of the radius squared.
He looked for ways to turn it into an offensive weapon, but it seemed to exert only a very weak force when he was expanding it against any kind of resistance. Maybe if he physically walked it forward, too, from the inside, then he could shove someone on the other side with a reasonable force, but he’d probably be better off just pushing them with his own hands. Oddly, he wasn’t able to smother a small fire with it, even though the smoke didn’t seem to be escaping. Maybe it was the little gaps letting in a bit of air around the rim, near the ground, or it wasn’t perfectly solid, but it could hold water. It solidified above the ground, wherever it could, or into any open space along the curve of the surface if it got the chance, which made it kind of difficult to move around with. Leaping between trees was completely out of the question; he’d bounce right off. Even going a little above the ground wouldn’t work. A steady walk, at best.
If it had been able to solidify even through the dirt, then he could have used it like a blade to cut things—he could have formed a tiny shield through the opponent’s neck, to behead them, but even a bit of soft bread seemed to put up too much resistance.
The shield could float on water if it was full of air, or he could form it inside the water and float around in a little personal bathtub, but even if he could manage to lift himself back onto dry land like that, dragging the weight of the water he’d captured up with him, he’d be stuck in a bubble, rolling around—suspended in the center, midair if the bubble was large enough. None of it seemed very deadly, though, and he was beginning to feel guilty for playing around while Hinata was hard at work. He didn’t want her to think he wasn’t pulling his own weight.
Scarcely two weeks from the beginning of the exams, Hinata came to him with a proposition.
“I’ve—I’ve thought about it a lot,” she said, “and I—I really think that you should have one of my eyes.”
Naruto blinked. “Uhh… you mean, like… to have one?”
“In my actual skull? The way Kakashi has the sharingan?”
“Yes. I’ve already confirmed with him that he’s capable of performing the surgery for us.”
“Uh, wait a second, hold on,” Naruto said. “Where is this coming from?”
“I know it sounds strange, but I’ve thought about what you told me. You said that we should do what’s best for the team, and—”
“I didn’t mean you had to give me your eye.”
“It makes sense though, doesn’t it?” she said. “I’ll still have as much use of the byakugan as I did before, and after we do it, so will you. You always—you always say how useful it is, don’t you? And having a second user could only be more useful, right?”
“I know it would be useful, but… but it’s your eye,” Naruto said. “Wouldn’t the Hyuuga, like, hunt me to the corners of the earth for that? Is giving away an eye even legal?”
“There is no law in Leaf against it, though the Hyuuga do what they can to keep our eyes within the clan, of course. They would have no legal recourse against an eye freely given, though… it might be wise to keep it covered up with something, anyway. Not to hide it from them, of course—just to—to avoid making their shame so… public.”
“Uhh, I’m not really eager to shame the Hyuuga at all.”
“I am confident that they would not be willing to spend the political capital necessary to assassinate you, just for your role in it.”
“What about you? Wouldn’t they all hate you, forever?”
“They… they can do nothing to me that they have not already done…” she said. “I never wanted to be the heir, but I have—I have very little value to them now. And once I’m marked as a member of the branch house, it will be too late for this to work. They will have the power to—um, to limit my byakugan.”
“This is, just—this is really unexpected,” Naruto said. “I’m trying to think of what exactly is wrong with the idea, because I’m sure there must be something. It can’t be that easy to get such a huge power boost, or else everyone would be doing it.”
“…There are not so many Hyuuga who care for their teammates more than they care for these eyes…”
Naruto could actually imagine that being a bit of a roadblock. The byakugan was really prestigious; spreading it would be like an insult to the whole clan, and for what benefit? So that someone else can be stronger, and the donor strictly less useful to their team? The fact that nobody even brought it up said enough. Even he hadn’t thought about it, and he’d been on a team with Kakashi and his sharingan for months.
“What about Sasuke? He might—actually, no; he’d have to give up one of his sharingan, I don’t think he’d like that, but I should talk to him, though, before we do it. If we do it.”
“Do we even know it can be done?” Naruto asked. “Obviously the sharingan can be moved, but has anyone ever tried it with the byakugan?”
“There is a ninja of Cloud who defeated a member of the main family, some years ago, and took one of his eyes. It worked for him.”
“He only took one?” Naruto asked. “Why not both?”
“He meant it as a gesture of peace, leaving the other eye intact. He was hoping to avoid an aggressive retaliation.”
“…And did it work?”
“…No,” Hinata said, “but it’s different this time. You’re a ninja of Leaf. And you have my consent.”
“Hmm…” Naruto said, wondering aloud. “I don’t really know what to think. Obviously it’s amazingly generous for you even to suggest it, but I’d need to put a whole lot more thought into a decision that big. I uh—I might have been a bit too reckless, lately.”
“Well, it’s just that the exams are starting soon,” Hinata said, “so if you wanted to have time for it to heal, and time to get used to it…”
“Oh, damn… Yeah. I guess that’s a problem too. If you’re really serious about this I can set some clones to thinking about it and probably have a decision by tomorrow. Is that okay?”
“Yes, but please don’t tell anyone,” she said. “I don’t trust the Leaf medic-nin to keep it secret. If they inform my father, he’ll want to stop it before it takes place. That’s why I was thinking Kakashi should do it. He did his own eye out in the field, at our age.”
“You’ve seen the scar he has though, right?” Naruto said. “Are you sure you’re okay with that?”
Hinata nodded. She looked as resolved as he’d ever seen her.
“Well, I guess I’ll let you know tomorrow, then.”
Even immediately after their conversation, there hadn’t really been much doubt in Naruto’s mind that he would have to accept her offer. It was just too good a technique to turn down. Those eyes alone were what made the Hyuuga such a prominent force in Leaf; they hadn’t produced a single outstanding jounin that Naruto could name, yet even the weakest members of their clan were widely respected, and carried a kind of prestige that went beyond their mere value as teammates.
Nevertheless, he considered it in some detail with his shadow clones, trying to make sure it really was a good idea. He was getting a little better at cooperating with himself now, too, with so much practice. It seemed important to have a hierarchy in place where certain clones could work solely on managing the rest and delegating the work such that he wouldn’t waste too much time and brainpower repeating the same thoughts in ten different bodies, and others could devote themselves entirely to a tiny sub-problem without being distracted by questions of whether it was really important, or whether he shouldn’t actually be thinking about some other thing instead.
Hinata seemed to think the idea was safe enough, and she had a much better understanding of these sorts of political things than he did, having grown up amongst real clan intrigues, and having been groomed to someday take the reins of the Hyuuga family.
When their work was done, his clones coalesced again into one body and he felt in his collected mind the consensus that his many brains had collaborated to reach.
He would do it.
After burning his chakra almost completely down to nothing in one final burst of training, putting more than a hundred clones to work simultaneously on his new technique, he met up with Kakashi and Hinata back at his apartment, where they had prepared a space on the floor for the surgery, with tools Kakashi had managed to borrow from a medic-nin he knew. Hinata had suggested that the matter would be best presented fait accompli, with everything done quietly to offer the Hyuuga as much plausible deniability as possible. She’d be staying at an inn until the exams began, “on a mission”, and wearing her goggles with a bit of dark cloth behind one lens.
Kakashi had said it was possible to transplant an eye so quickly with a little medical ninjutsu that one could even make use of it in the very same battle it was acquired. That was what he had done, with his sharingan, though he’d had to cut it out again later to readjust it because of all the errors he’d made in his haste. This time he planned to anaesthetize his patients.
“Last chance to change your mind, Naruto,” Kakashi said. “I cannot myself say whether this choice is wise.”
“I almost don’t want to do it, anymore. I’m getting nervous…” Naruto said, “but any decision I make now is probably going to be inferior to the one I made back when I had a clearer mind, so I’ll trust my past self and do what he thinks is right.”
Hinata lay unconscious beside him on the hardwood floor. Naruto intertwined his fingers with hers as he lay down. She really was making an unusually big sacrifice for the sake of her team—it had been entirely unnecessary, and all of her own volition. He felt a little guilty for having first mentioned the idea of focusing on teamwork to her, but it would have been unfair not to give her full credit for the notion, and for offering herself up as the sole sacrifice for this peculiar sort of physical cannibalism.
Kakashi carefully measured out the dose of anesthetic water and offered Naruto the cup.
The last thing he saw before fading into unconsciousness was his jounin captain peering down over him with his prominent red sharingan, and his fingers curled around a spoon.
Naruto came around gradually from the mental fog, dimly aware of a piercing pain in his eye. He tried to move and heard the clatter of metal nearby.
He could feel the absence in his skull—an emptiness beneath his eyelid. Was it not done? Why was he awake already?
The pain was building rapidly. He tried to sit up—Kakashi recoiled from him.
“Annnesthetic…” Naruto mumbled, fighting the dullness of his senses, more aware of the pain with every passing moment. “I need… mmmmore.”
His hands flailed for the bottle, knocking it over and spilling its contents out on the floor.
Kakashi righted it, moving it out of his reach before gripping him by the shoulders. “Naruto, you can’t drink more! It’s dangerous—you could die!”
“No—my claaan!—it’sss sssafe, please?”
Kakashi scrambled to pour out a second measure, but Naruto snatched the bottle from his hands and swigged directly from the neck, gulping down what he could only hope was enough to keep him under for the rest of the procedure.
He felt himself coming dimly around, already annoyed with himself for not having considered the effects of his regeneration beforehand—and for drinking anesthetic straight from the bottle, too. One mistake after another, one reckless choice after the next.
But things felt quieter now. The pain was dull, and there was no longer a gaping emptiness where his eye should have been.
“Are you well, Naruto?” asked Kakashi.
“Y—yeah, I think,” he replied. “How’s Hinata?”
“I’m here,” she said, from somewhere behind him.
“Did it work?” he asked. “Can you see through my eye?”
“I’m still letting it rest,” she said, “I can see chakra trickling out already, though. A—a stream of it, slowly swirling into me… forever…”
“Can I try it out, yet? The byakugan?” he asked.
“It will be sore for a while, but that is mostly inflammation,” Kakashi said. “I have already healed everything back into place—if it is at all like my sharingan, it should be functional already.”
“If you try using the Tiger seal… you can focus your chakra in through the back of the eye,” Hinata said.
Naruto followed her instructions.
Immediately the world seemed to expand, falling away around him.
His right eye saw forwards, but his left had a vision of the spaces all around him at once, from every angle, through walls and floors, ranging about as far as his natural eye would have been able to see on flat ground. And it saw more than just the visible things—through his own flesh he saw streams of luminous chakra flowing around in his body, some of it feeding into the byakugan. An eye that could see itself.
“I think I’m going to throw up.”
Hinata smiled into her knees—he could see it, behind his own head.
“It—it takes a while to get used to it,” she said, “but… eventually, it starts seeming strange to look at things any other way.”
It was unfortunate that his transplanted eye wouldn’t feed Hinata its chakra at his rate of regeneration. It probably would have actually been better to have a team of three ninja with 17 times the normal regeneration rate than just one ninja with 50 times. Blood transfusions might have been one way to do it—but at least he wouldn’t lose his own regeneration this way.
“I’m definitely going to have to put some clones to work practicing this.”
He tried summoning a shadow clone, experimentally, and saw the chakra flow out in response to his will. It stunned him for a second, how pretty it was.
“Maybe, um, not too many, so soon,” Hinata said. “A group of glowing single eyes would be more noticeable to the other Hyuuga.”
Already it seemed so much more natural to direct and shape the streams of chakra, now that he could see what had once only existed in his imagination.
“Hold on, let me try something,” he said, dismissing the clone.
Naruto held his hand out, palm down, thumb out, forming the “J” shape he’d been practicing with for weeks—the core of the technique, but the shape more compact and pointed now that he was getting better at it. The chakra flowed out and around the back of his hand, spiraling at his direction into the familiar vortex around his fingers. Then, for the first time, he touched the surface with his other hand and effortlessly imparted to it the nature of the water element.
It felt so easy, like he’d been practicing it his entire life. Liquid chakra whirred around his fist in a fury, a bubbling maelstrom.
“That looks a little dangerous to be using indoors, Naruto,” Kakashi warned.
“Finally got it to work, huh?” Sasuke said. “They should just promote us already; these exams won’t even be a challenge.”
“What is it called?” Hinata asked.
Naruto grinned. “Not much of a choice with a clan like mine,” he said. “It’s called the whirlpool.”