The Hokage's Blessing
It wasn’t often she spoke with the Hokage these days, let alone privately in his own office. Marrying the head of the Hyūga clan did tend to limit one’s life as an active duty ninja. Regardless, Hitomi had come on a mission of personal significance to them both, and she didn’t intend to leave until she’d completed it.
Hiruzen Sarutobi sat behind his desk with all the patience he’d acquired over his long years, casually smoking from his pipe and dressed as ever in these peaceful times in his ceremonial robes of office. Upon request after invoking Naruto’s name, he signaled for his ANBU guard to depart so that they might speak in private. Four ninja emerged from their hiding places and quickly left in silence. The one wearing a dog mask offered a respectful nod to Hitomi on his way out. A brief activation of her Byakugan then confirmed that they were alone while the hokage triggered the security seals placed around the office to prevent eavesdropping.
Thus isolated from the outside world, Hitomi began crafting her conspiracy. “Hokage, I trust you know that my daughter has befriended Naruto Uzumaki.”
“Of course.” A warm smile grew on Sarutobi’s face. “I do believe they’ve become as thick as thieves.”
An apt expression. Hitomi, once her beloved daughter’s sole confidant, had drifted away and now shared most of her secrets with her best – and sadly only – friend. It was a natural part of growing up, even if it left Hitomi a bit lonely as their relationship evolved. Perhaps it was time to ‘convince’ Hiashi that they needed another child.
Setting that thought aside, Hitomi nodded in agreement with the hokage’s judgment. “They have, and I have a proposition.”
Sarutobi held up a hand. With clear and unfiltered regret in his voice, he said, “You cannot adopt Naruto into the Hyūga clan. If it were possible, I would have brought him under my direct protection immediately after the kyūbi attack.”
“Yes, yes,” Hitomi said with a dismissive wave of her hand. “There’s too much politics and prejudice overshadowing the poor boy’s life for that. I’m here to suggest an alternative arrangement.”
Now Hitomi had the hokage’s interest. He imbibed of his pipe with a long, slow breath and then exhaled the smoke with equal sloth. “Go on,” he drawled.
“Correct me if I’m mistaken, but the protection of our village’s jinchūriki is paramount amongst the, shall we say, more forward thinking of those in positions of power, is it not?”
The hokage, his tone deeply sardonic, replied, “The village does need its weapon.”
“Indeed. You have him under surveillance, of course, for his own good. I’m sure it suffices for its permitted purpose.” Hitomi stared directly into Sarutobi’s eyes with her all-seeing gaze. She knew everything. From which ANBU saw to it and how they went about it to what extent they could legally go to in order to protect their charge, nothing was hidden from her Byakugan. “Fortunately, I’ve not heard of anything more threatening than the rabble assaulting him, nor has he once complained of any violation of his privacy. Not yet.”
Naturally, Sarutobi hadn’t risen to his current rank by being slow on the uptake. “It would be very difficult to fabricate a credible threat in the shadows long-term. Even then, I would not wish to isolate Naruto. It does him no good for us to merely alter his suffering.”
“Ah, but I do not suggest we hide him away in the darkest corners of the Hyūga compound.” It was time for Hitomi to play her hand. “Instead, let him hide in plain sight. It is a little known fact that he prefers to take the form of a fox.” It was a strange quirk, to be sure, but she’d heard of far stranger in the ninja world and even here at home in Konoha.
Sarutobi, to Hitomi’s surprise, arched an eyebrow.
He didn’t know? Curious. Hitomi had assumed that information would have gotten back to him by now, but if it remained such a closely guarded secret, then perhaps her plan held even more merit than she’d thought. Regardless, this revelation changed nothing about her pitch, so she carried on.
“Assign someone trusted to live as he would. Tell no one. My family will care for him in secret. In public, we will simply say that the foxes permitted Hinata to sign their summoning scroll. No one will question a shapeshifting fox nor that it might feel indebted to my daughter of all people for some unspecified act of kindness.” The fox spirits justly had a reputation as tricksters, but none doubted their strange sense of honor. “If anyone presses for details, we will refuse to tell them when, how, or why as we would with any other clan secret.”
Sarutobi spent no small length of time in contemplation. “An intriguing proposition,” he eventually stated. “And should someone discover the deception?”
“Simple. We make the situation as real as possible. If one aspect is exposed, we merely point to the truth elsewhere.”
A deep, rumbling hum emanated from Sarutobi as he considered the matter further. A frown etched itself upon his face. “The Hyūga clan would have to pay for the retrieval of the summoning contract,” he said almost absently.
Hitomi refrained from rolling her eyes. “Hokage, we are by far the wealthiest clan in Konoha. Even the Uchiha fall short.” It wasn’t as though they wouldn’t be getting their money’s worth anyway. Summoning scrolls were worth every ryō.
Better yet, as a matter of standard policy, the retrieval mission itself and the circumstances surrounding it would remain classified due to its difficulty. Summoning scrolls were much prized and well protected possessions. However, the transfer of so much ryō at once would not pass unnoticed in the financial world. Anyone questioning the more fanciful story of Hinata stumbling into possession of the scroll could put the pieces together without actually learning anything of value. They would then either cease their investigations with the smug satisfaction of having uncovered the secret or would hit a brick wall when they asked the more important question: why did the Hyūga develop a sudden interest in the fox contract?
“So you are,” Sarutobi mused. “And we never did discover how the kyūbi escaped Kushina. Minato should have had it contained when she gave birth. Perhaps Jiraiya could report a shocking new lead in the investigation. Was it a plot to destroy Konoha, or did someone fail to steal the beast?”
Hitomi smirked. “Who could say, Hokage? But you would be very wise indeed in either case to conceal Naruto’s true location. And to inform as few people of as few details as possible, of course, lest the ruse be discovered.”
“Quite,” Sarutobi mumbled. He considered the matter for a moment longer. “Very well. I will want to speak with Naruto first before we proceed. However much freedom this would grant him, posing as a fox summon, even one fully present in our world, would be a difficult lifestyle change. But I tentatively approve of the idea.”
Inside, beneath what Hyūga stoicism her clan had managed to instill in her, Hitomi danced in glee.
The pair of them must make an odd sight, a tiny slip of a girl in a kimono with the great kyūbi stuck as a tiny, adorable fox reading in her lap while she absently pet his fur. Oh, he’d resisted at first, but he enjoyed the attention too much – certainly far more so than when the maids fussed over him in human form. Besides, was it not the duty of a high priestess to attend to him as such?
Admittedly, Hinata hadn’t figured out what that actually meant yet. She only had a vague notion of what was expected of her from her mother’s bedtime stories. But she took her responsibilities very seriously!
Kurama turned a page, shifted and craned his neck to peer at the backside of it, and then set it down as it’d started. He then reread a few passages. His not quite human paw slid across the pages, stopping on the text in question. He tapped his paw’s digits as he dwelt upon whatever wisdom the words revealed. Hinata, having only recently started learning how to read, only knew that it involved something about chakra.
“Ah. Yes, I understand now,” Kurama said to himself. “This is so much easier when I have access to research material.” A flick of his tail beneath Hinata’s chin brought her full attention to him. “Kit, remind me in a decade or so to eat the current Konoha librarians.”
Hinata tilted her head to the side. “You can’t eat people.” That wouldn’t be very nice, and they wouldn’t fit, anyway. How would he even do that? He could start with the fingers, she supposed, but then what? He’d surely explode if he tried too hard.
“Uh-huh, sure,” came Kurama’s dismissive reply. “Anyway, I think I figured out how my father shared chakra.” He tapped the book a few times. “Probably. Humans aren’t really built for processing energies not their own. This might take me a few tries to get right. Or a few dozen.” He faked a cough that sounded more like a cute bark.
“On the bright side, mastering the conversion process yourself should be good preparatory training for you. Taking in and utilizing another person’s chakra is the antithesis of your clan’s gentle fist. Learn this well, and you will be unstoppable within these walls. In theory, you could take the technique even further and rip chakra from your enemies. Your only limit would be how much power you could safely contain within yourself at any given moment. Ah, you will be glorious.”
Lacking any more intelligent response, Hinata echoed, “Glorious!” She wasn’t sure what that or half of what proceeded it meant, but by the way Kurama said it all, it sounded like something to strive toward.
“For now, however, be ready to activate your Byakugan. I’ll attempt to limit the power I give you to a trickle, but you’ll want to burn off the excess quickly. Your chakra coils are tiny and undeveloped. They might rupture if placed under too much stress.”
Hinata nodded and began forming the necessary hand signs for beginners.
“No, not yet.” With a swat of his bushy tail, Kurama interrupted the technique. “Wait until you can feel my chakra flowing into you. As I said, this will take a few attempts to get right.”
And it did. Time passed far beyond what anyone would ever call ‘a few attempts’. With nothing better to do, Hinata’s eyes wandered her room until they landed on a flower vase. It struck her with inspiration, and she rose to fetch it so she could rearrange its contents into a prettier configuration. Upon Kurama’s insistence that he needed physical contact while he learned how to share chakra, she placed him atop her head. He weighed little more than a pillow and, unlike a real animal, knew how to stay put without digging his claws into her skin. It was a little awkward, she admitted. Her shoulder would have been much easier to work with. But she preferred to hazard a strange sense of balance rather than risk damaging her kimono and suffering a scolding.
Halfway through her planned redecorating, Hinata felt a strange prickling across her skin. Then an odd pressure of sorts grew inside of her. It didn’t hurt, but it felt somewhat like she’d overeaten at dinner only with her entire body being her stomach.
Then Hinata remembered Kurama’s earlier instructions. He’d told her to activate her Byakugan, so she did. The feeling of being overfilled with chakra didn’t stop, but it did slow down a little. Her eyes, it seemed, burned through power less quickly than Kurama sent it to her. Could she fix that if she tried to expand her vision to a larger radius?
As it turned out, yes, she could. Pushing more chakra through her eyes was a little uncomfortable, but better that than learning firsthand whatever ‘rupture’ meant.
A few seconds passed as Hinata enjoyed how natural and comfortable it felt to have her Byakugan active. This was the way she was meant to be, she was sure, even if she didn’t like how it bulged the veins out around her eyes. Maybe with enough practice she could prevent that from happening.
Without warning, Hinata’s stomach growled. She blushed a little and excused herself to liberate a few snacks from the kitchens.
Kurama, being on her head, of course went with.
Hitomi watched her daughter hurriedly step through a corridor perpendicular to the one she was in with the hokage. The stride Hinata made could only come from someone burning through chakra to move faster than was physically possible. In her arms, she carried a bowl wider than she was overladen with sweets that would ruin her appetite. Atop her head, Naruto sat in his fox form.
The whole scene went by so quickly that Hitomi actually doubted her eyes. She activated her Byakugan to get a better second look, and sure enough, that was her daughter stealing desserts. Hinata even had her Byakugan active and actively used it to avoid bumping into authority figures that would confiscate her ill-gotten gains. And was Naruto feeding chakra to her? That explained so much but simultaneously raised so many more questions.
As a Hyūga, being placed under a genjutsu without noticing was all but impossible. Even so, Hitomi asked, “Did I just see my daughter run past with Naruto?”
“Indeed you did,” Sarutobi replied.
“Burning through more chakra than she has?”
Not missing a beat, Sarutobi said, “You would know your own daughter best.”
“That he gave her.”
“A distinct possibility.” Sarutobi didn’t bother to hide his smirk now.
“With a bowl full of what might as well be sugar?”
A rumbling chuckle, a consequence of his horrible smoking habit, escaped Sarutobi. “Precocious little things, they are. I dare say they’ve earned it if they can escape. I find children develop most quickly when they face obstacles worth overcoming.”
While Sarutobi probably had a point – he’d not earned the epithet ‘The Professor’ for his poor teaching skills – Hitomi didn’t think it would be good parenting to let those two get away with this. Then again, what lesson would they take away from it? Not to get caught in the act? That would be better taught at the Academy when they were older. She was going to need to think about how to approach this one. Maybe Hiashi would – no, he tried, and she loved him for it, but he really didn’t know how to raise a daughter or a troubled boy like Naruto. His own mother and father hadn’t exactly set the best example for supportive, loving parents.
Regardless, Hitomi needed to have a talk with Naruto. Life had been hard to him, but he neither had to steal to survive here nor had to fear asking for something he wanted even if the answer was no. She hadn’t made that explicitly clear to him yet, and she suspected it would take some time before it finally sank in even once she had.
“At any rate,” Sarutobi said, drawing Hitomi from her thoughts, “I see that my agents have not misinformed me. Once you steal from the cookie jar together, you have a friend for life.”
Hitomi all but broke decorum and covered her face with a hand.
Hinata, with her Byakugan still active, noticed their visitors before they called for her. Quickly, she hid the evidence of their recent excursion underneath her bed with a guilty conscience. She also had Kurama, thankfully, who pointed out that she had crumbs all over her face that needed wiping away as well. That would have been a serious oversight.
Once she was all tidied up, Hinata moved quickly. It wouldn’t do to make it seem like she’d been stalling. She misjudged her step, however, as she leapt and face planted straight into her door with a thump. Getting used to having so much chakra available would take a while yet.
The door slid open of its own accord. On the other side, Hitomi looked down and worriedly asked, “Are you okay?”
Hinata nodded. Her forehead stung a little, but it wasn’t bleeding. Then she turned her attention to the old man with her mother. He wore strange robes and an even weirder hat with the symbol for fire embroidered on it. It almost looked liked he had a kite on his head with drapes hanging from it instead of ribbons. It looked silly.
“Ah, Hinata, dear, this is the hokage, Hiruzen Sarutobi.”
Hinata’s mouth widened in a silent, “Oh.” Now she felt really bad for thinking the hokage looked strange.
“Good afternoon, Hinata,” the hokage said amicably. “And to you too, Naruto.”
After being formally addressed, Kurama canceled the transformation keeping him in fox form. It had the side effect of abruptly snapping the flow of chakra between him and Hinata. He’d managed to get it working at short distances already, but operating it entirely independently of other techniques still gave him the occasional trouble. But while Hinata staggered momentarily from the loss of power, he didn’t miss a beat and said, “Hey, old man,” as he made himself comfortable once more atop Hinata’s bed.
“Naruto,” came Hitomi’s gentle but stern rebuke. “The hokage is the leader of our village. Please show him the proper respect.”
A request like that had a rather predictable outcome for someone who knew Kurama as well as Hinata did. “Of course, Lady Hyūga. Good afternoon, military dictator. May all tremble before your might.”
Hitomi looked scandalized, but the hokage just laughed.
Curious, Hinata turned to her mother and asked what a dictator was.
“Nothing you need to know at your age,” Hitomi whispered back.
That response was worth every bit of the pout she gave it. Hinata would just have to ask Kurama later.
Meanwhile, the hokage regained control of himself. “Ah, I do so enjoy our chats. May I come in?”
Kurama shrugged. “It’s Hinata’s room.”
“Of course.” The hokage turned to Hinata and asked, “May I?”
“I, um…” It was a friendly face, certainly, but under the weight of who wore it, Hinata grew nervous and only managed to nod. She moved aside to let him pass, if one could even count someone not even waist-high as being in the way, and felt her mother’s hands settle on her shoulders a few moments later. There was an unexpected tension in their unusually firm grip, but when she looked up, she only found her mother’s usual smile.
“How have you been since we last saw one another?” the hokage asked.
As if no other answer would do, Kurama enthusiastically replied, “Great! Hinata is super nice and fun!”
The girl in question flushed. Sure, Kurama was putting on his Naruto act, but she knew the words were far from hollow.
“She invited me to come over whenever I want.” Kurama brought a hand up and scratched the back of his head, affecting a nervous look. “I guess I’ve kind of taken advantage of that. But I really, really like it here! It’s way better than living alone. Um, not that I’m not grateful. The apartment you gave me is nice.” At a mutter, he added, “Doesn’t stop the other problems, though.”
“I see,” the hokage said plainly. With surprising ease for a man so old, he sat down on the edge of Hinata’s bed beside Naruto. “And if you could live here?”
Hinata thought that was genuine surprise she saw on Kurama’s face. “I would like that very much.”
“Yes, I thought you might. Do you remember the discussion we had before about your living arrangements?”
It was a rather sarcastic, “No, I forgot how you told me I’m so unloved the council made sure I couldn’t be adopted,” which Kurama replied with.
The hokage winced but didn’t deny the words. Hinata tried to go to Kurama who definitely needed a hug, but her mother’s grip was like iron and held her closer.
“Yes, well, therein lies the trouble.” The hokage heaved a heavy sigh. “Hitomi would like to take you in. She even proposed a way around it. But, and this is very important, it would require you to make sacrifices. Your belongings, your appearance, even your name – you would have to set aside every connection to your past while you’re here.”
Kurama, as Hinata expected, replied, “With pleasure.”