The Fox Contract
It was a day like any other in most ways. Clan affairs devoured her time as usual. A few matters of her personal household required attention. The children happily kept each other entertained, thankfully without getting into too much mischief. Morning sickness struck again.
Oh, how Hitomi loathed the nausea that accompanied pregnancy and everything else that came with it. She’d thought Hinata had been hard to carry to term, but this new one was killing her. Her everything ached; her back especially reveled in spreading its misery. All the weight Hinata had put on her came back with a vengeance. If felt like her bladder sent her to the bathroom as soon as she left it. Why had she ever thought it’d be a good idea to have another child?
Hitomi breathed slowly and forced herself to relax. Pregnancy was no fun. She’d known that even going into it the first time. She’d known it would utterly ruin what little remained of her career outside the Hyūga walls for a year at least. She’d known what a miserable experience it would be and had gone ahead with it anyway because it would be worth it.
Hitomi’s hand came to rest over the new life growing inside her. Yes, it most certainly would be worth it.
At any rate, as typical as today had been so far, that was about to change. Hiashi had sent word. It was time. The mission they’d commissioned had finally borne fruit: they had the fox contract. The hokage had delivered the summoning scroll into their possession only a few minutes earlier. Now they needed to reach a final decision on what to do with it.
Technically, they’d paid for it using clan funds. That made it clan property. Long-standing and very dusty rules from the Warring States period governed the dispensation of summoning scrolls should one ever come into the clan’s possession. They were arcane, hardly just, and probably hadn’t ever been tested, but their mere existence would give the Hyūga elders a point to pressure them on. Besides, it would be good for the clan if more than just Hinata could contract with the foxes.
On the other hand, the Hyūga existed as a strict hierarchy that made clan funds almost synonymous with the clan head’s personal funds. They only had to provide a reasonable excuse to justify its use, and securing the lifelong loyalty of a jinchūriki certainly qualified. Because summons were notoriously picky about their summoners and the dispensation of their scrolls, it would better sell Naruto’s cover story if the contract fell into Hinata’s personal possession.
It was something of a dilemma, a choice between clear, substantial benefits to the clan in the short-term and more nebulous long-term returns.
Hitomi let herself into her husband’s office. There she found him not hard at work, as he usually would be, but rather idly fidgeting with the fox contract while lost in thought. It was the first time she’d ever seen one in person. While Hiashi was neither short nor lacked for muscle, the scroll would stand at least waist-high against him and had more girth than his arm. Her poor daughter might not even be able to lift it even with chakra to assist.
But such was a concern for another time. “You have a very indecisive look about you, dear husband,” Hitomi said as she crossed the distance between them. Upon arrival, she leaned down and stole Hiashi’s lips for a less than chaste kiss. “May I assume,” she breathed close enough to drive him to distraction, “you’re of a mind that two heads are better than one?”
“I…” Hiashi visibly shook himself from his daze. “Yes, I would appreciate hearing your thoughts on the matter. Have they changed since we last spoke of this?”
After first seating herself in seiza beside Hiashi, Hitomi shook her head. “Largely, no. If you make a gift of the scroll to the clan, I suspect the elders will be more annoyed with such frivolous spending than interested in the contract itself. Especially if the foxes forbid them from signing.”
Hiashi hummed in agreement. “A choice between damage control and a more perfectly executed scheme.”
“I would say it’s between ensuring the children’s happiness and pleasing frumpy old men.”
With a smile as good as full-blown laughter for Hiashi, he said, “One might think you’d pick the former to spite the latter.”
Well, Hitomi would, but that was setting the bar fairly low. She had no love for the Hyūga elders. She’d refuse them anything and everything if she could get away with it. Those stubborn relics were the last generation raised by those of the Warring States period and needed to go for the good of the clan. Their traditions and beliefs were outdated and held the clan back.
Hiashi’s smile fell into a frown, and his eyes fell to the scroll lying on his desk. “I’m inclined to gift this to our daughter.”
As was all too often the case, Hiashi needed a bit of gentle coaxing to share his full thoughts. Hitomi reached up to cup his cheek and said, “But…”
A moment passed before Hiashi found the words to reply. “But I wonder how colored my decision is by my wish to make amends for my poor parenting.”
Oh, this again. “You are not a bad father.” Hitomi stole a lingering kiss to banish even the shadow of such thoughts. “I admit your many talents do not lie with children, but a bad father wouldn’t keep trying to do better.” Then because Hitomi knew the message hadn’t gotten through yet, she added, “Hinata loves you, you know. When you rushed to save her from that Kumo filth, she leapt right into your arms and cried all over you. If you could just…loosen up. Children are emotional creatures and respond accordingly. That dour frown does you no favors.”
“I will try,” Hiashi conceded as he ever did. A lifetime of indoctrination was not so easily discarded, but he made a genuine effort, which, alone, was more than most could claim.
A long few moments passed as Hiashi frowned in thought.
When that had gone on long enough, Hitomi asked, “The scroll?”
Hiashi heaved a sigh. “Very well.” He wrapped a hand securely around each side of the summoning scroll and rose to his feet. “Let’s see if the foxes will accept our daughter as a summoner.”
Now that was what Hitomi had wanted to hear. Given the ruse they wished to pull on the entire village, she very much doubted the foxes would do anything but leap to support this plan. Should their reputation prove true, how could they resist the urge to be part of such a grand prank?
Hinata carefully held her brush in one hand and put ink to paper. She stroked down in a neat line. She then lifted her brush and returned it to where she’d begun. A longer stroke followed this time, right and then down with a little flourish at the bottom. To finish her work, she carefully added two more from left to right, one in the middle and one connecting the end points of the first two lines.
Not far away, Kurama watched on with approval. He found no reason to object, declaring the character for sun to be perfect.
Hinata beamed. Writing was hard, but she was getting better quickly under Kurama’s extra tutelage. She already knew all of her hiragana!
“Now repeat it a hundred times,” Kurama then instructed.
A moment passed.
“It’s an important radical. It shows up in many other kanji, not to mention your name.” With that, Kurama turned back to the book he’d been reading. He idly added, “Ingrain it into your muscle memory. When you write, you don’t want to think about the act itself, only what you intend to say.”
Hinata looked to the brush in her hand, the mostly empty paper before her, and then finally at the book laid open before Kurama. Her head spun just trying to read the few and scattered parts she could make any sense of whatsoever. How long did it take to reach that level?
Feeling eyes on him, Kurama glanced up. He then followed Hinata’s gaze to his book, and his tailed swished once.
“The sealing arts are not something you should judge your progress by. Most adults find this an esoteric field and have difficulty penetrating its basics even with a teacher. Even I, to my century-long frustration, never bothered to learn it.”
Hinata tilted her head to the side.
“You’re doing very well for your age. Finish your studies for today, and we’ll do something you enjoy after.”
Well, that certainly qualified as motivation.
Hitomi proceeded without delay straight to Hinata’s chambers with Hiashi in tow carrying the scroll. When they arrived, they found their daughter explaining the art of flower pressing to Naruto. It included both a visual demonstration of the process and, given the general disorder of the room, what was clearly meant to be a gallery of the prior works she’d created. While it was hard to read his expression as a fox – something they would all learn to do in time, no doubt – Naruto gave off a bemused air rather than any real interest. Still, it was nice of him to at least humor her. Most boys twice his age wouldn’t even bother.
But, sadly, they’d not come to watch the children play together. Hitomi nudged Hiashi to take the initiative. Perhaps this would assuage his concerns about being a bad parent a bit.
To his credit, Hiashi did his best.
“I see we’re interrupting something.” It could have sounded indulgent, fond, teasing, but none of those played particularly to his strengths. Instead, Hitomi wanted to facepalm. That delivery reeked of politics, and it didn’t get any better. “Perhaps you could spare us a moment of your time?”
Hitomi whispered, “We’ll work on that,” and swept in to save her husband. To the children, she said, “We have a surprise for the two of you.”
While Hinata’s face predictably brightened, curiosity and eagerness taking firm root, Naruto’s eyes immediately zeroed in on the summoning scroll in Hiashi’s arms. His tail swished from side to side slowly and with a deliberate uncurling. They’d all learned to read that as a sign of cautious interest. At a guess, he’d probably already figured out what was about to happen.
“Do you both remember the talk we had with the hokage? Well, this here” – Hitomi gestured to the summoning scroll – “is the fox contract. Hinata, it’s yours if you promise to take good care of it.”
Naturally, Hinata eagerly agreed. “Can we sign it?”
Neither Hitomi nor Hiashi missed the ‘we’ in that question. They’d debated whether or not to let Naruto do so almost since the moment they’d chosen to move forward with this plan. Ultimately, they’d decided that if he was to effectively pose as a fox spirit, they should let him try. It’d be best if he had as strong of a connection to the foxes as possible even if it left a little extra paper trail. Why would a fox sign its own contract, after all.
As such, Hiashi replied, “Of course.”
It didn’t take long to clear the room to roll out the scroll to the first free space for a new name. Hiashi explained the process, remarkably without terrifying the children with the required bloodletting. To provide a tiny bit of additional obfuscation, they had Naruto go first. Who could say what had happened to the scroll between its initial retrieval and when it’d been delivered to the Hyūga? If a small child, a known associate of both the hokage and the Hyūga, had somehow managed to get his hands on it during that intermediary period, well, accidents happened.
In a smooth motion, Naruto returned to human form and bit into his index finger hard enough to draw a good flow of blood. He used it to write ‘Kurama’, the name he’d chosen for himself for public use, on the scroll before they could stop him. Hitomi, at least, had no idea how summons felt about aliases. That nothing bad immediately happened she took as a good sign. For now. While she fretted, he added a bloody impression of his five fingertips below his name as was custom.
Hitomi exchanged a look with Hiashi. What was done was done. They could only hope this turned out well.
As might be expected, when Hinata stepped forward to take her turn, she proved more squeamish and hesitant to injure herself. She eventually gave up trying, covered her eyes with her free hand, and offered up her finger to Naruto.
He bit it. He gave no warning. He just bit it.
Despite the cry of pain Hinata made and the tears pooling at the corners of her eyes, Hitomi nodded approvingly at him. It was best to get these things over with quickly before getting worked up over them. That could have been much worse had Hinata had time to fret and worry over it. She placed a hand atop his head and ruffled his hair, an act to which he responded by readopting his fox form.
Meanwhile, Hiashi helped Hinata write her name properly. However quickly she was picking up reading, writing was an entirely new challenge for her. The kanji for Hyūga especially gave her trouble, but she pulled through brilliantly. The last part, adding her fingerprints, thankfully also went by without incident.
With this unpleasant business over with, Hiashi set to cleaning up while Hitomi healed the children. Their wounds, generously put, had already sealed off. A simple healing technique finished the process, leaving them both no worse for wear.
And then both children vanished.