Actions

Work Header

Seal Me Inside

Chapter Text

Naruto hunched over the one of his secretly acquired scrolls, intently tracing the diagrams in the dirt next to him. He had read this particular scroll several times already, but by the third time, he had found that there were hidden meanings in everything written, a deeper implication between each surface one uncovers.

Through the three scrolls Naruto had discovered a year ago, he had become an avid fan of the researcher and subsequent author- a man so passionate in his experimentation, that it bled into his frustrations and victories he marked down, causing the reader to feel the man’s every emotion as he discovered the subjects.

Naruto had found three separate scrolls in the forest while he was training. This was at the beginning, when he was clumsy and got more injuries through taijutsu than beatings from the villagers. He had been using too much chakra while attempting to tree walk, and went flying backwards into a semi large boulder with enough force to make it move, uncovering a hole with a sealing scroll. He had eagerly opened it, finding three large parchments encased within.

The first was marked with a blue ribbon tying it together. Inside was a highly detailed, but most likely illegal experimentation on how to change the human DNA to be more. At first, he took it at face value, just reading the science and trials, asking his canine companion for clarifications when his five year old brain couldn’t comprehend things. The second time, he read it with a better understanding, a journal ready to take notes so he could learn more. The third time was for much the same as the second, however this time he found discrepancies in the text, revealing more. He looked at it through a new eye this time, taking in the subtle way certain words were more slanted than others, spelling out another experiment with ways to combine human and animal DNA, making someone have inhuman abilities, such as flying, or breathing underwater. After that, he looked for other codes, hidden meanings.

The second scroll was tied with a green ribbon, giving different ways to go about creating powerful jutsus; how to know what signs to use, and how to think of one. On the surface it was fairly innocent, but like the one before, it had codes, ones that detailed the writer’s invented jutsus, including the vaguely illegal means that he tested them.

Last, but most definitely not least, was a scroll with a seal instead of a ribbon. It took weeks to crack it, but it was completely worth the effort. Encased inside was a detailed description of how to achieve something called senjutsu, also known as Sage Mode. It was the ability to tap into nature’s powers and use them completely, sensing every living thing, and every drop of chakra. Within the scroll was data of all the times the author attempted to achieve Sage Mode. Naruto could feel the man’s frustration as every trial failed. The man had researched everything about the ability, including studying someone named Jiraiya who had supposedly achieved Sage Mode. He had analyzed every possible outcome, and every way that one could conceivably tap into nature’s powers, but every test failed. Naruto read as the man grew more and more desperate, the tests becoming more reckless and dangerous, the meticulous script becoming choppy and thick, like the man was putting his frustrations into each and every letter, until finally, the last sentence:

 

Jiraiya laughed at my frustrations, and I couldn’t take it. I destroyed all my experiments in my rage. I give up. I have better things to do with my time. I don’t need nature’s power. I am poison, and death, and I will become immortal. This scroll will be sealed, my other research destroyed. My next project will be countering this god forsaken ability. I hope Jiraiya rots in hell for his fatuous smug face. I am DONE.

~Orochimaru

 

Naruto had never heard of Jiraiya or Orochimaru, but he knew that they were of Konoha, as the scrolls had the leaf symbol on the sides, but he figured they were long dead, if the yellowed and aged pages were anything to go by, unless Orochimaru had unlocked the secrets of immortality as he said he was looking forward to. Either way, Naruto wished he could meet this brilliant man that had helped his training so much.

Despite how evil Orochimaru probably was, Naruto felt for the man. Perhaps he was only five, and didn’t quite understand the ways of the world, but he was a genius, and he had read through the several pages and the large thick scroll, and he felt like he knew this man. Maybe his ways were illegal, and he had probably hurt several people, maybe even killed them, but Naruto had read through everything. He knew about how this man’s mind worked, he read as the man penned his experiments on unwanted, sickly children, saw how his penmanship hesitated with every detailing as he wrote what he did to the defenceless kids, saw the old water stains of fresh tears and his desperate justifications that if it worked, he would be giving them a better life, and they were going to die anyway, he might as well give them a reason or a purpose. Naruto had felt as the man penned his regrets every time a subject died, or every time he had been forced to end the suffering. He had experienced with the man as he was waiting for the results to come forth, the swinging hope that this was the one, this time it would work , and then the dull, almost lifeless way Orochimaru wrote when it was a failure.

He had studied the little sentences about his life that Orochimaru put into his research, so obviously passionate about his work that he could hardly control what he wrote, just writing whatever his flowing mind could think of. Naruto read about the man’s family, how they had all died, and how much he wanted to see them again. How much Orochimaru was obsessed with living, not because he feared death, but because he wanted to be there to help his family when they were reincarnated, and wanted to live long enough to see them again. He wrote about his team interactions, how Jiraiya was an idiot obsessed with females, and Tsunade was scary but Orochimaru quietly looked up to her; it wasn’t expressly written, but Naruto could see it in the reverent way he talked about her, even though it was mostly dignified complaining.

So yes, although this man was angry, misguided, and probably a missing nin if he was still alive, Naruto looked up to him, knew he had a conscious, even if he buried it miles under smirks and heartless experimentation, Naruto knew that he was just trying to help. Through everything that Naruto read, he understood one resounding thing: Orochimaru thought he wasn’t worth love and kindness, and that he deserved to go to hell, but that for everyone else to live a safe and good life, he had to sacrifice his morals, and everything that makes him human. He would damn his soul, he would take the fall, if it meant those he cared for would be safe and have no worries. Because he thought no one cared. He saw the comments Jiraiya made as mocking and slander, words of hate and disgust, and he viewed the attention Tsunade gave to Jiraiya as her wishing Orochimaru was not a part of their group, and that he wasn’t worthy of attention.

Orochimaru cared so deeply for his teammates, but he felt unwanted and unneeded; the creepy genius that people keep around because he would be dangerous left to his own, but he’s no better than the strength he can provide.

And that, above all else, is the reason Naruto understands Orochimaru. Because they were the same.

Naruto loved Konoha. He adored the nature, the Hokage Mountain with the great view, he loved watching the citizens interact on the street, the shinobi drunkenly fighting over who has the sharpest kunai. He enjoyed the smell of happiness and the sound of laughter. He entertained himself by finding the hidden ANBU and trying to guess who was under each mask. The ramen stand with the only citizen that would smile at him, giving him free food sometimes. And he loved the Hokage, and his kind vissage, yet underlying strength.

He loved Konoha so, so much, but they hated him. He was unwanted, unloved. People would scowl at him, avoid him like the plague, throw trash at him, or heavier objects that bruised. Parents would tell their children to leave him alone, not to play with him or look at him. Shinobi would ignore him, ANBU were watching him, as if afraid he would blow up, and even though they were there, they would never stop the large, drunken men from beating him up, leaving him broken and bruised, never helping him as he dragged his way slowly, and painfully back to his small, one room apartment with the molding walls and rusted, leaking pipes.

He loved Konoha, but he also hated. He hated the slurs, the looks, the refused service, the beatings... but above all, he hated the families. The children would swing between their loving parents, laughing, smiling, and he would hate . They didn’t know what it was to suffer, to starve, to be completely and utterly alone and not know why. Why did he live like this? Why was he hated so much? Ever since he could remember, he had been shunned, looked at with fear and disgust, called a demon and a monster, and he didn’t know why.

At the orphanage, he had always been last. The matrons would let him sit in his soiled diapers until his crying grew too annoying, then they would reluctantly change him, leaving him in just the diaper until he was freezing, then they would put him in a rough blanket. He would always get cold milk that tasted just a bit sour, and the moment he was old enough to feed and clothe himself, he was kicked out, sent to live in the cheapest apartment they could find, and he was left alone.

The only clothes the thrift shop would sell him were bright, glaringly ugly orange jumpsuits. But he couldn’t complain, the thick coating was warm and made him look fatter than he was. It hid his visible ribs, and the way his skin clung desperately to his bones. It hid the bruises, and bumps in his skin where his bone was healed incorrectly. He normally healed quickly, but after a big beating from the big men, the evidence remained for weeks. The only people kind enough to feed him, were the people at the ramen stand.

He actually didn’t like ramen that much, it was salty, and noodles were a bit too slimy for him, but it was the only thing he could afford, and it was relatively kind to his malnourished body, so he said it was his favorite food, because he couldn’t eat anything else.

He always wanted to be a shinobi, ever since he looked out the orphanage window and saw the genins laughing and pushing each other as they hopped over rooftops, ever since he snuck onto the training grounds and watched the jounins sparring, using such beautiful and destructive jutsus and gracefully dancing around each other with taijutsu, and he thought, “I want to be like them.”

He had taught himself to read, listening to the matrons in the orphanage as they taught the other kids, and spying, eavesdropping from the hallway, his own, much bigger and more advanced book splayed open on his lap as he tried to understand what they said. It took forever, his mind working much slower than the other kids, things harder to understand and making no sense to him. The other children called him stupid, dumb, slow, and an idiot. They threw in his face that he couldn’t learn anything because he was too slow, and he would be stupid and dumb his whole life, that he would never be able to read. So he tried harder, staying up at night and trying to read by moonlight, silently sounding out the words, ignoring the incessant pounding in his head, until he could finally read, slowly, but surely.

Next, he went to the library, intent on finding books about how to be a shinobi, but he was kicked out. So he went to the Hokage, pleading with the man to teach him how to be a shinobi. At this point he was four, and the Hokage had smiled in a grandfatherly way, chuckling deeply, but with the hoarse sound of age.

“You want to be a shinobi, Naruto?” The boy had nodded eagerly, his dirty and greasy hair flopping around his face, “Then we can enroll you into the academy,” Naruto’s heart lifted in hope and excitement, “when you’re six.” And just like that, his hopes were dashed, his head pounding again. Two years was too far away when he wanted to start learning right now. “You’ll be old enough then, and all the other kids your age will be going in with you.”

Naruto sighed despondently. “I just wanted to learn now...”

The Hokage gave him a considering look. “Well, there’s no rules against getting a head start.” The boy’s hopes lifted again as he watched the old man rise from his chair and move over to a bookcase on the side of the room. “Now, I need you to promise me something, Naruto.”

Naruto nodded fervently, eyes glued to the dark red book in the Hokage’s hands.

“You can read this, and come to me if you don’t understand something, but I need you to promise me that you won’t try using any chakra without adult supervision. It can be very dangerous without someone there who knows what they’re doing. You could get severe chakra exhaustion and die, or you could get seriously injured. Do you understand?”

Naruto looked the man in the eyes and nodded solemnly, “I won’t practice without supervision. I promise.”

The Hokage smiled, his eyes crinkling merrily. “I’m happy to hear that.” He gently placed the large book into Naruto’s eager grabby hands. The boy nearly buckled under the weight, his small body not prepared for the weight. He took a small step back, and then secured his hold on the hard covered book, giving a large smile to the Hokage, thanking him profusely, before hurrying out of the Hokage Tower.

He almost started making his way back to the orphanage, but then he remembered that last week he had been thrown out like used tissue. With his mood dampened slightly, he walked in the opposite direction, taking the backways to the edge of the village, as far away from normal civilization as possible without being too obvious.

When he got into his small, one room apartment, he quickly surveyed the dirty sink, small, broken table, thin, sagging bed with a half eaten, scratchy blanket piled on top, the single, three legged, wobbly stool that he used to reach the sink, and the tiny, warm fridge. There was mildew on the corners of the walls, and the cabinets had either no door, or one that didn’t fit correctly and squeaked horribly when opened. They were all empty, as he had no food, and no personal items.

“Home sweet home,” he whispered. Casting one last sad look around the place, he shook himself and carried his new treasure to the pathetic bed. Sitting down, his stomach swooping dangerously as the bed creaked and sunk further downwards, morbidly curious if it would finally break, and remaining deathly still as it settled. He moved slowly and cracked open the book to the title page, trying to figure out what he was reading, as the cover had no words.

Haltingly, he sounded out the title, A Beginner’s Guide to Becoming a Shinobi. Naruto smiled brightly; finally, something was going right in his life. His head gave a dull throb, but he shook it off and settled in to read.

 

It took two months to read the book, and he spent every moment that he wasn’t sleeping or eating or exercising (as the book told him to do) reading the book. In those two months, he took more trips to the Hokage Tower than he had in his whole life, asking the old man to help him understand something, or helping him to read. Whenever the Hokage wasn’t in a meeting, Naruto would often read the book on the floor while the old man went over paperwork, so it was easier for Naruto to ask for clarifications.

By the end of the second month, Naruto’s reading comprehension had gone up considerably, but he was still slower than a lot of other people. Things just didn’t make sense, and he couldn’t understand what things meant, or what it was trying to say. Even the Hokage had to explain some things five different ways before Naruto even began to understand.

The reading gave him headaches, his head pounding whenever he tried to understand something, or sound out a large word. But he kept on going, determined to have a purpose.

Then one day, while he was out exercising in the forest, two large men found him. He was struggling with pushups, listening to his heart pounding in his ears and focusing on forcing himself up, and down, and up and down, when suddenly pain bloomed in his ribs, the air was knocked out of him, and he was sent sprawling three feet from where he originally was. He wheezed, air coming to him in a tiny trickle, and through the sweat pouring into his eyes, he looked to his attackers, seeing to large brutes with bulging muscles and bushy beards. He recognized one as the blacksmith, but the other was unknown to him.

“Look what we have here. A little demon attempting to get stronger. Pathetic.” The unknown one spat, disgust screwing up his face.

“Let’s teach him a lesson. Monsters like you will never be better than us,” The blacksmith sneered, bending over Naruto’s prone body. Naruto saw a large fist flying towards him, and he closed his eyes, wishing to get away.

The pain felt like an echo, an impression, but it didn’t affect him like it normally would. Gulping in confusion and trepidation, he slowly opened his eyes that had been squeezed shut. What he saw made his brows furrow. He could still feel the impressions of pain, his body being hit and kicked, but before his eyes was not the forest and brutish men, it was instead a dank and musty smelling stone hallway. There were rusted pipes running along the ceiling, occasionally dripping into puddles on the floor, the sound echoing ominously in the corridor.

Naruto swallowed, confused, and a bit afraid, but he remembered the book from the Hokage, and Shinobi were above emotions like fear. He had two options, go the way he was facing, or turn and go the other way, but he figured that since he had been facing this way originally, then there must be something in that direction that would tell him why he was there. So he started walking, wincing when he got the impression of his arm breaking; that would hurt when he got out of wherever he was.

It felt like he was walking for hours, and yet only minutes, when he came to a large cavern, bisected by an iron gate that went so high, it was shrouded in shadow. The room was dark, illuminated by only two dim and flickering lanterns near the entrance of the cavern. He couldn’t see what was on the other side of the bars. It took the second look, but he saw a white paper in the center of the gate, where it would open. He carefully walked closer, noticing That it was covered in strange symbols in purple ink. He reached up to touch the bars, but a purple lightning shocked him, throwing him bodily back a few feet.

As he picked himself up, he heard a rumbling growl that vibrated his bones. Scrambling quickly to his feet, he gave a cursory glance around, wide eyes coming to rest on the gate, where from the darkness very large red eyes opened, glowing in the dim light. They raised steadily from where they were near the ground, until they were past the ceiling shadows. Naruto felt himself quivering in fear and wondering if the flimsy looking bars and purple lightning were enough to keep whatever it was away from him.

The lights suddenly flared, growing larger and brighter until a very large, malicious looking fox was revealed, it’s fur the color of fire, and nine tails swishing behind it almost agitatedly.

“So. You finally come, my captor.” The voice sounded angry, echoing deafeningly throughout the cavern, rattling Naruto’s brain in his head.

Naruto was confused, but too scared to ask what the fox meant.

It seemed to understand anyway. “I’ve been trying to get your attention for months. You made me wait, watching you struggle so fiercely, when if you talked to me, you wouldn’t have to.”

Naruto’s eyebrows furrowed further. “Where am I?”

“You are in your mindscape, your head. Or, if you want to be more specific, you are in a seal, where I was placed at your birth, and where I am now trapped. Did you ever wonder why everyone hates you?” Naruto’s eyes widened, but before he could demand answers, the fox continued, “Four years ago, your mother was the container for me, but when she was giving birth to you, the seal that traps me was weakened, and someone took advantage of that, and controlled me, forcing me to attack Konoha. Your father, the Fourth Hokage gave his life to seal me inside of you after your mother died giving birth to you.”

Naruto gasped interrupting the tale, “My dad was the Fourth Hokage? Why did no one tell me? Why does everyone hate me if my parents were heroes?” He was almost shouting in disbelief.

“Don’t interrupt me, kit. Your questions will be answered soon.” He waited for Naruto to nod in understanding. “Before your father stopped me, I was being forced to attack the town, as I said earlier. While being controlled, I destroyed homes, and many people died. It was chaos and war. Although it lasted for only a few days, families that lost people, and shinobi that lost their Hokage, all hate me. And I was sealed inside of you, so they take their pain and frustrations out on you.”

Naruto fell to the ground, trying to digest the information he was given. “So they are mean to me because of something neither of us could have controlled?”

The fox sighed, “It’s more than that, kit. It doesn’t matter that I wasn’t in control, people still lost loved ones, and they need someone to blame. Right now they’re blaming the wrong person, but that doesn’t matter right now. What matters is, after the attack, everyone was forbidden to speak of me, the nine tails, the Kyuubi, the strongest of the bijuu, being sealed inside of you. They didn’t want you to be pressured by being known as the son of the Yondaime, so they didn’t tell you. You were given the name Uzumaki after your mother’s clan.”

“I have a clan? I have a family?” Naruto interrupted again.

“No, your mother was one of the last Uzumaki, as the clan was destroyed years ago. But for the past two generations, I have been sealed inside an Uzumaki, so I could teach you their clan jutsus. I need you to do something first.” There was a pause, and Naruto wasn’t sure if he was supposed to say something or not, but then the fox continued, “I am sure you’ve noticed how difficult it is to learn? How things don’t come easily, and nothing makes sense? That is not how you are supposed to be. Someone, I have yet to figure out who, sealed your potential behind a powerful seal. It limits your brain speed, memory, chakra moldability, comprehension, and overall intelligence.”

Naruto gasped, and probably would have fallen over again if he wasn’t already sitting. “Can you get rid of it?”

“I can... but not alone. In this cage I have limited power. Neither of us are ready for me to come out of here, but I need to teach you what to do, and when the time is right, you will do your part, and I will lend you all the power I am able. Can you do it?”

He nodded determinedly, “I can.”

Chapter Text

Kurama looked up at the large gates before him, feeling a sense of determination and excitement, with just a dash of apprehension and fear. His story was sound, and he had been training for two years for this moment.

He wasn’t very proud of how he got the money to buy his new clothes, stealing was never his favorite thing, regardless of how much he needed to do it sometimes. Regardless of the means of obtaining it, he loved his new outfit. He had a blood red scarf that wrapped around his neck twice, covering the bottom half of his face and letting the tails trail behind his back. It was his favorite purchase despite being more than half the money he had stolen. He used the rest to by the standard shinobi bandages (lots of them) and the standard black leggings, black shoes, and metal plated fingerless gloves. With his left over clothes allowance he bought a black sleeveless blazer that had four buttons at the bottom and an open collar that exposed his chest. With the bandages, he secured the bottom of his pants in place, and wrapped them around his torso, giving a bit of protection (it was kind of sad that he couldn’t afford a shirt, but it looked cool, so he made himself not care).

He had also stolen a weapons allowance so he could buy a pouch, the kunai and shuriken he would need (not buying the more expensive ones with an exploding tag, as he could make much better ones himself), and his pride and joy, two curved short blade knives with another serrated blade that went from the top to bottom of the hilt, positioned directly over the knuckles. The curved main blade was as long as his forearm, and sharp on both sides. The best part- they were chakra conductive. He bought them sheaths to wrap around his back, positioned at his shoulderblades. It had taken a week and several cuts to be able to quickly grab and pull them out without impaling himself on the sharp knuckle protectors, but he eventually mastered using them.

Kurama felt ready. He took a deep breath and strode purposefully forward, walking through the large gates, subtly picking out the patrolling ANBU and watching the chunin that were guarding the gate as they assessed him. He nodded briefly at them and started walking on his way.

The purple haired girl with pure white eyes stopped him, “Do you have official business in Konoha?” Her tone was formal, but her eyes were hard and cold.

“Ah, I suppose so?” He gave a nervous laugh and ran a hand through his messy, nondescript brown hair. “I actually want to meet with the Hokage. Can you take me to him?” The girl gave a narrow eyed stare. “I promise it’s just to talk. Nothing bad. You can even have several guards there, whatever makes you feel safer. I promise I mean no harm.”

She looked around, and then scratched her ear, most likely some sort of signal, before she rolled her eyes. “Follow me. You’ll be dead before you try anything, so don’t. Jorin, man the gate,” she sternly told her chunin companion, who nodded his head.

They started walking the familiar path to the Hokage Tower, but as this was supposed to be Kurama’s first time in Konoha, he looked around with new eyes, not that it was that hard- it was extremely different to walk down the streets and not have five feet between him and every other person, regardless of how crowded, and it was strange to have no one sneering at or insulting him. Plus he was taller. So it wasn’t too difficult to look like a newcomer that was fascinated by the people and architecture.

The two of them walked in silence, and the girl would send him suspicious looks every once in awhile. Kurama had to admit that he was fairly surprised that they were taking the streets instead of the rooftops, but he figured it was so they could give more time for the ANBU to crowd into the Hokage’s office to protect him if necessary.

They only stopped when they were in front of the Hokage’s office, where the girl knocked twice, waited for the confirmation that they could enter, and opened the door. “Hokage-sama, this man wishes for a meeting with you. He didn’t say why.”

‘Because you didn’t ask,’ Kurama thought to himself.

The Sandaime gave him an assessing look, eyes roaming over Kurama’s form, before he gave a fake grandfatherly smile, his eyes crinkling, “Thank you, Chiyo. That will be all.” Chiyo bowed low and backed out of the room, closing the door behind her. “Now then. How may I help you?”

Kurama gave a slight bow, “My name is Garo Kurama, and I was born and raised in a little village in the forests of the Land of Fire. I am nineteen years old and a self taught shinobi. I finally raised enough money to travel here from Guulan in hopes of becoming a shinobi of Konoha.” Here he took a deep breath, looking over the Hokage’s carefully blank face, “Please sir, I am willing to undergo any tests you need me to. I don’t even know if I’m good enough to be a shinobi, as I had no one to test myself against, but I know a few powerful ninjutsus and sealing.”

Here the Hokage’s carefully grafted mask broke, surprise shining through, “Sealing?”

“Yes sir.”

The old man stroked his beard thoughtfully. “Garo Kurama, was it?”

“Yes sir.”

“Well, Garo-san, you’ll have to pass several tests, but I don’t see why you couldn’t become part of our Konoha team.”

Kurama grinned behind his mask, his eyes curving in a genuine smile, “Thank you so much, Hokage-sama! I promise I won’t disappoint you!”

The Sandaime smiled as well, “Garo-san, Crow will take you to your first test.” From the shadows came a short human with long black hair and the mask of a crow. The Hokage bent over his desk and scribbled a short note before handing it to Crow, “Give this to Inoichi-san. If he passes that test, take him to training ground 24. His rank will be tested there.” Turning back to Kurama, he continued, “I hope you pass; you seem like a strong young man.”

“Thank you, sir.”

The man nodded genially, “You best be on your way, Garo-san.”

Kurama bowed lowly, and followed Crow out the door. This time they took the roofs, hopping across the village to where Kurama knew the Torture and Interrogation headquarters resided. He was a bit nervous, as he had heard stories of people poking around in others’ heads, but he’d had help to be able to pass this test, so he shouldn’t be too worried. He just hoped all his planning worked; he wanted freedom to do what he was meant to.

They walked into the large concrete building, it was grey and menacing, the doors were barred gates that made him feel like he was entering a giant cage more than a workplace, but then again, this was a holding cell for criminals. That thought made him even more nervous.

There was a front desk of sorts, really just a glass window imbedded in the stone with a bored looking man sitting behind it, his chair bending back, and his feet propped on a desk filled with papers. Behind him was half opened filing cabinets with files pouring out messily. The man’s eyes rolled towards them lazily, a senbon he was sucking on switching to the other side of his mouth.

“Nautan, we need to see Inoichi,” Crow said, his voice surprisingly high pitched, causing Kurama to think he was actually a preteen.

‘So probably Uchiha Itachi,’ Kurama thought, thinking of all the child geniuses he knew about.

Nautan regarded them with a bored gaze, then pressed a button so the gate perpendicular to him opened with a near silent swing. Crow nodded in thanks, then gestured Kurama forward. They made their way through several confusing hallways that felt like a labyrinth, and if he had even tried keeping track of what turns they took when, he would have been lost on turn three.

After what seemed like an hour of nonsensical wandering, they stopped at a nondescript wooden door. Without knocking, Crow opened it, and they both found a blond head sleeping on top of a large stack of papers. The room looked like a tornado had hit, scrolls and files strewn across the floor and every available space. There was a stack of books that looked like a harsh breath could capsize it.

“Inoichi-san.” Crow didn’t raise his voice, but it reverberated nonetheless, causing the man on the desk to jerk awake, a kunai pulled out of nowhere and poised to throw. His hair was rumpled and sticking up at odd angles, the left side of his face smeared with drool, but his eyes were sharp and clear. After a moment of assessing the two unannounced visitors, he lowered his kunai and ran a hand over his face, wrinkling his nose at the drool.

“What is it this time, Crow?” His voice was deep and smooth. Crow didn’t say anything, only placing the note from the Hokage on Inoichi’s desk. The man picked it up, his lips moving silently as he read it, before his sharp eyes snapped up to Kurama. “You want to be a Konoha shinobi?”

“Yes sir.”

“Why?”

At least he could tell the truth for this one, “Because I need a purpose. In my village, I was the orphan no one wanted. I was ignored, insulted, and and outcast. But then I heard of shinobi, how they all unite together with a singular task, protecting their village. I am okay with working in the shadows, so long as those without the strength I bear, can live a safe and unburdened life. I want the freedom to be myself, something I was never able to do in my village. And I feel that the only way I can truly do that, while also fulfilling my parent’s legacy, is to become a loyal Konoha shinobi.”

Inoichi regarded him carefully. “I like your conviction, kid. Alright, to make sure of your intentions, I just need to poke around in your head for a bit,” he started looking around for a chair, spotting one in a darkened and desolate corner, covered by wilting and sad looking papers. He uncaringly shoved them to the floor and halfheartedly dusted off the chair before placing it directly across from his own seat. “Sit down, you’ll fall if you’re standing.” Kurama sat. “Now then, this will feel a bit odd. Don’t fight it.”

Kurama nodded and braced himself. Inoichi raised his hands and formed an odd looking sign, which Kurama made sure to commit to memory, but then everything went black and he was forcefully dragged into his mindscape.

They both arrived in the by now familiar dank concrete corridor with the leaking pipes. Inoichi examined the walls with mystified awe, “I can’t say I’ve ever seen a mindscape that seems so... real. Most of the ones that I visit are blurred. Why is yours so clear?” He turned his curious eyes to Kurama.

“I don’t know? I suppose it’s because I visit here a lot. Meditating in the mindscape helps chakra control. That’s what I read, at least.”

Inoichi hummed, looking around once more before his focusing back on Kurama. “Now then. As I am sure you’re aware, you cannot lie in your mindscape. So I am just going to ask a few questions.” Kurama nodded his assent, “What are your intentions towards Konoha, and the Land of Fire in general?”

This one was easy, “I wish to protect the land and the people to the best of my ability. I plan to be loyal until my dying breath, giving all I can and more to Konoha and her people.”

“What do you plan to do once you are a shinobi of Konoha?”

“Serve the Hokage with whatever he needs.”

Inoichi nodded a few times to himself, taking another cursory glance around the place. “Well, it appears you harbor no ill intentions towards Konoha or the Land of Fire. I don’t have any further, relevant questions. So I officially state that you have passed the exam.”

Before Kurama could thank him, they were both expelled from his mind, and in the outside, where Crow was waiting. Inoichi repeated that Kurama had passed, and as they were leaving, he expressed his gratitude to the blond man, getting a warm smile in response.

“Anyone with that much Will of Fire should be a shinobi of Konoha.”

Kurama bowed to him, and then left with his ANBU guide. They took the winding pathways that were still as confusing the second time around, but without the nervousness clouding his mind, he found that he was actually highly intrigued by the structure and general atmosphere of the place. Despite how T&I should feel- dark, gloomy, and echoing with screams and malice- it felt friendly, surprisingly warm, and from a few of the rooms, he could hear laughter resounding against the walls.

When they were exiting the building, Kurama found himself wanting to go back in, map the winding hallways, and learn the secrets of the place. He didn’t know what it was about the place that made him feel so comfortable where other people had told horror stories of the infamous T&I building that struck fear in the toughest hearts.

“Let’s go,” Crow said, and Kurama realized that he had stalled outside the door, looking back at the once-intimidating large concrete box. He shook himself subtly, then followed Crow over rooftops until they reached a large clearing with several older people sitting on setup chairs, clipboards clutched in their withering hands. This was the council, and Kurama had never had a good experience with them. But the Hokage was there as well, causing Kurama to relax a bit. In the center of the circle was a man with bright silver hair that seemed to be defying gravity. His hiate was tilted, covering his left eye, a black mask covering the lower half of his face, and he was wearing a very prominent jounin vest.

“Ah! Garo-san,” the Hokage said cheerfully when he noticed the two enter the clearing. “I’m so glad to see you have passed. This test is easier, I assure you. The task is to spar with our jounin, Hatake Kakashi, and we will judge if you are genin, chunin, or jounin based on your skill.”

Kurama smiled nervously. “Yes sir. I warn you, though, that I have never fought against another shinobi- my sparring partners have usually been trees or shadow clones.”

One of the council members grimaced. “Simply do your best. We shall judge you.”

Kurama bowed to them all, “I shall try my hardest.” With that, he moved to the center where Hatake was waiting with a lazy stance. They both bowed to each other, Hatake lifting up the left side of his hiate, revealing a swirling sharingan as the two got into stance, beginning their fight.

Hatake lunged, a kunai in his fist, poised to strike, but in that time, Kurama had equipped his short blades, and parried the stab easily, twisting out of the way. They continued slashing, chakra limited to giving them extra strength and helping them maneuver, but neither got a hit in until Kurama performed a self-created jutsu that didn’t require hand signs, sending wind blades out of his knives, catching Hatake’s shoulder and drawing the first blood. That was the move that unlocked the ability to use ninjutsu.

Hatake’s hands blurred as he formed signs, fire shooting from his mouth. Kurama quickly retaliated, throwing out a powerful wind jutsu that cut the ball in half, sending the heat wave back to the original caster.

It went like that for hours, one would send an offensive jutsu, the other would defend, sometimes they would rest their chakra and use weapons or taijutsu, but they were at an impasse, no wounds barring the first.

Their spar was eventually called to a halt, the council having all the information they needed. The two fighters bowed to each other, shaking hands and giving curved eye-smiles.

“Congratulations!” The Hokage called, “You are on a jounin level. That rank comes with certain benefits- more money from higher class missions, an all-expense-paid apartment in the shinobi district, and more respect from peers. Sadly it will be at least a year before your name could potentially be put into the pool for becoming an instructor, but for the meantime, you could find a job here in the village or be more of someone who goes out frequently for missions. In the meantime, while you think that over, I will have Kakashi take you to the shinobi district so you can choose an apartment. You should get yourself acquainted with the other jounin of Konoha- you’ll be spending a lot of time with them.

“Tomorrow I will give you your hiate, and tell you more about the expectations for jounins.” He paused and smiled warmly, “I officially welcome you to Konoha, Garo Kurama.”

Kurama nodded in thanks and understanding. “I appreciate this chance you are giving me, Hokage-sama.”

Hatake took his elbow and started steering him away, “This way, Kurama-san!” He sounded cheerful in the way that could only be terribly fake. Kurama said nothing.

This was the beginning of his new life- a life where he could be known as someone other than Naruto, the demon container. Of course, he was no longer purely one person. From now on, he would be the powerful jounin Kurama, and the village idiot Naruto.

He just hoped he could keep up the charade.

Chapter Text

He felt trepidation to his core, and he suddenly regretted all of his life decisions that lead up to this point. He also felt it was fair to blame the current situation on his fox resident, as it was because of his new namesake that he was being lead to the jounin lounge and about to be introduced to every Konoha high rank ninja.

Kurama had never been good at meeting people. Everyone had already known him, and introductions to the Hokage as Garo Kurama had gone smoothly, because he already knew the man, and relationships with a superior are always easier than making friends. He’d never had a friend before, and he didn’t know what they did. He had observed those that were his Naruto age play with toys and on playgrounds, and he had seen jounin friends, go out drinking, laughing, and throwing sharp objects at each other. He didn’t think that was how you made friends, and the jounins were too old to play with plastic blocks- he was too, mentally at least.

“I think I’ll just go home. Meet them later.” Kurama said, trying to get his arm out of Hatake Kakashi’s grip.

The silver man laughed, “Nope. You aren’t getting out of this.”

Kurama decided that Kakashi was actually the devil incarnate. “I can’t do this Kakashi-san! I’ve never had any friends, I don’t know how to act. Give me a day or so to research, and I think I’ll be ready.”

Kakashi turned to Kurama with incredulousness shining in his eyes. They stood in the middle of the street in silence for a moment, and then Kakashi started laughing, large belly laughs that shook his whole body. Kurama shifted from foot to foot awkwardly wondering what was so funny. Finally Kakashi quieted down, wiping tears of mirth from his eyes, “Kurama-san, friendship isn’t something you can research. It’s like you can’t study what happiness feels like without experiencing it. Come on, stop being a baby.”

Kurama had no time to say anything as Kakashi hurriedly dragged him a few more blocks, and before Kurama even knew what had happened, he had been forced into a nondescript building.

“Everyone! Let me introduce our new jounin, Garo Kurama. This lonely little soul came begging to our Hokage this morning, telling a sad story of having no family, or friends, and wanting wooden to save the rest of the world from that feeling...” He wiped away a fake tear. “It was heart warming.”

Kurama blushed, dragging his scarf up higher to hide his burning cheeks.

Blank stares greeted him, before most of them went back to what they were doing before the eccentric Hatake Kakashi burst in. A few people though kept looking at him, their eyes filled with curiosity. The first brave one to greet him was a spunky looking girl with bright purple hair and a full mesh shirt barely covered by a tan trench coat and a short, dark orange skirt.

“Kurama, huh? Weird name. Reminds me of a type of plant. The name is Mitarashi Anko. You can call me Anko, everyone does.” She gave him a very slow once over. “I’ve decided that you’ll be my best friend.”

He could say nothing to refuse as she linked her arm with him and dragged him over to the couch where another man was resting. This man had scars everywhere. His sleeves were rolled up, showing thick fire scars along his skin. His face only had two large slashes, but Kurama figured it was the only part of his body that was mostly untouched. He turned his heavy gaze towards the two that just sat down, watching them with unblinking eyes.

Kurama didn’t get an uncomfortable feeling from him. To his attuned senses, it felt more like a little kitten that was attempting to be fierce, and Kurama couldn’t stop his smile from being visible. “I’m Kurama? And you are?”

Kakashi scoffed, “You are comfortable around him, but me smiling at you makes you flinch.”

Kurama gave his own fake smile, “That’s because your smiles are promises of harm. This man is a teddy bear.”

The man in question gave a small smile. “My name is Morino Ibiki. You have good observational skills. Have you ever studied psychology?”

“No, I can’t say I have. I just get feelings and impressions of people’s true feelings, unless they’re a master at burying them so deeply, they don’t feel it.”

Ibiki’s eyes widened, “You’re an empath? Fascinating. I’ve never met someone like you before. I think you’d be a great asset to my team. How do you feel about Torture and Interrogation?”

Anko groaned loudly, “Don’t pester the new kid to join your group of weirdos.”

“You’re just sour that you were kicked out, Anko.” Ibiki started whispering desperately to Kurama, “She was too creepy to be a part of our group of creeps.”

A startled laugh fell past Kurama’s lips, “Yay me.” But then he remembered, “I was actually at T&I earlier today, and I thought about how cool it would be to work there.”

If Ibiki had eyebrows, they would be flying off his face, “Really? No one goes in there and thinks it would be a fun place to spend time. You, kid, are an odd one. But done. I’m the head of T&I. Drop by tomorrow and we’ll work out your schedule and pay. Just ask Nauran at the front to get me, I know that place it a maze.”

Kurama couldn’t believe his luck, he had been a bit daunted at the prospect of finding a job, being so used to having even the simplest services denied him, but this was perfect- a job at somewhere he’d most likely enjoy.

“Well!” Anko cut in loudly, “Now that that’s settled, my best friend and I are going to go eat some dango. Excuse us!” She grabbed Kurama’s hand and dragged him off the couch. He had barely enough time to wave goodbye to Kakashi and Ibiki before they were out the door and running through the sunkist streets, the sun setting behind them.

The two made it to the food district in record time, automatically getting bombarded with the scent of salty ramen, savory okonomiyaki, and sweet dango mixed in an overwhelming and yet delicious way. Kurama felt his stomach growl, but he resigned himself to not eating, as he had yet to get any money. But he had eaten yesterday, so he would be fine for another three days, at least. He usually avoided the food district because of the tantalizing smells that made the gnawing hunger infinitely worse, but if his new self-proclaimed best friend wanted to get dango, than who was he to deny her.

Anko shoved her way through the streets, uncaring about the nasty glares sent her way, and pushed into the dango shop, which was surprisingly empty. They stood in line behind three other people, and Anko greedily looked at the menu.

“What do you want, Furball?”

Kurama blinked in surprise, “Furball?”

Anko spared him a brief look, “Have you seen your hair? Yes. Furball. Now, what do you want?”

Kurama self-consciously touched his fluffy, untamable hair, “I’m fine. I don’t have any money.”

She turned back to him just so he could see her roll her eyes. “Yes, I was aware of that, thank you. I’m paying. Obviously.” He tried to refuse, but she cut him off, “Listen, Fuzzy, I dragged you along, and I want dango, but I’m not going to eat it in front of you, because that makes me uncomfortable. So you better order something, and let me pay for it, and you will eat it. Because I said so.”

He stared at her for a long moment, weighing the pros and cons. “I’ll just have whatever you’re having,” he said, shifting uncomfortably.

She gave him a blank look. “Get whatever is your favorite.” He awkwardly scratched his head, not really wanting to admit that he’d never had the most popular sweet, but she gasped anyway, “ You’ve never had dango? This is a crime.” Right at that moment, it was their turn, so Anko slammed her hand on the counter, startling the shopkeeper. “I want a box of everything.”

The man’s eyes widened comically, “E-everything?” Kurama himself looked up at the menu and gaped, there were at least fifty choices.

“That’s unnecessary, Anko,” he tried.

She just waved him off, “Nonsense. How can you find a favorite flavor without trying everything? One of each, please.”

Then and there, Kurama decided that his new best friend was insane.

 

Kurama exhaustedly slumped into his new apartment, two heavy bags on each shoulder, one carrying the leftover dango of his favorite flavors, and the other holding books on psychology. He dropped the heavy sack of books on the floor as he slunk towards the fridge (that actually worked) to put away the bag of dango.

All he wanted to do was fall into the bed (that wasn’t pathetically thin) and sleep until the world iced over again, but he had some reading to do. If he was going to have a job dealing with the mind, then he had to know at least a little bit about how it worked. Dealing with Anko’s specific brand of crazy had made him want to know how he could deal with someone like her. And there was nothing that soothed his frazzled nerves like research.

Cracking his neck, he grabbed one of the books at random, and settled down on his extremely comfortable bed (at least compared to his old one) to read away most of the night.

The hours flew by, but he hardly noticed, so encased in the wonderful information flowing into his mind. He was so fascinated, sleep didn’t even occur to him. At least, until a echoing voice spoke in his mind, “You need to sleep, kit. At this point you will only get three hours.”

He blinked, noticing that his blood seal had faded, and he had returned to being Naruto. The clothes that had fit his Kurama body now dwarfed his little six year old body until he was nearly swimming in them. He quickly looked outside and saw that, indeed, dawn was approaching, and he had to get up early to head to T&I for his interview of sorts. He yawned and stood up, setting the clothes aside and settling into bed naked. His mind was still filled with new terms and meanings, the thoughts swirling around, not letting him sleep.

“Kit.” The voice came again. “You forgot to sort.” Naruto sighed, but dutifully sunk into his mind, arriving at the dank sewer system. Instead of heading towards the fox, he went the opposite way, wandering until he reached a massive archive, the place he stored all his memories and all the information he’s ever learned. With it completely organized by subject, year learned, and importance, he never forgot anything, but his mind would also be clear, unburdened by useless thoughts and facts.

When he was done, he walked back to his permanent head-mate. “Kurama, did you see how wonderful today was? It was amazing!” Naruto gushed, sitting against the wall across from the fox.

“It was indeed great, kit. However, it appears the blood seal only lasts twenty-four hours. You need to find a way to make it last at least a week. Re-applying it every day will be inconvenient if you get caught in a situation that requires constant surveillance. And what of the blood clone? What if they happen to be doing something important, or they’re with someone, and then they pop. It needs to be fixed.”

Naruto frowned, mind turning over several possibilities in the span of a second. Grabbing charcoal that he thought up, he sketched his ideas on the floor, muttering to himself the whole time. “Well, if I put this line here, and this symbol there, that would give me durability... which is needed, so I’ll keep it. But if I switch these around... yes... and add... one more... There!” He gestured to his new creation excitedly, “How does that look, Kurama?”

The fox studied it for a moment, then gave a toothy grin. “That could work, kit. You’re already better than your father was at sealing.” Naruto beamed in pride, having heard how amazing the Yondaime was at his sealing abilities, and that he taught the legendary sannin, one of them being almost godly in his sealing, all which he learned from Namikaze Minato. “Now, you better sleep, kit.” Naruto silently agreed, saying goodbye to his other personality’s namesake, and heading back to the real world, where he fell into a peaceful sleep.

Sometimes Naruto dreamt of his life before the Kyuubi got his attention and they broke the seal. He would dream of overwhelming loneliness, of watching people laugh, and wondering how they did that, because he didn’t even know if he could make a sound like that. He remembered looking in a cracked and dirty mirror, seeing a skinny and dirty boy with aching hurt in his eyes, and beyond that, an everlasting numbness, and watching as that boy tried to practice how to smile, splitting his lip from the stretch. He would dream of sitting in the shadows, hidden, just to observe how people acted when he wasn’t around, wondering what a hug felt like, or what it was like for a touch not to hurt, or thinking that all skin contact might hurt, might leave bruises for weeks, but others could smile and laugh at it. But he was just weak, so he cried. There was a time that happiness was a foreign concept. He didn’t know what it felt like, couldn’t even imagine it. So he would smile and laugh, thinking that everyone else was faking it. That everyone else was just as dead inside as himself. That you have to hide it, because if you don't, you’re a freak, a monster, a demon. So he practiced smiling in the mirror, his lip splitting and his eyes too dead to look anything but fake. He tried laughing when he was alone, but it was hollow and bitter. And he wondered how people could do it. How they could reach this ‘happiness’ that was all just a facade to hide the dead inside.

When this happened, he would wake up with wet cheeks and a clogged throat, wanting to scream at himself that he wasn’t alone anymore. But a demon in his head doesn’t really mean he isn’t alone. Kurama takes care of him, but they’re forever separated by iron bars, the prisoner willing to forgive, and the captor that doesn’t know what to do. So he decided to create an alternate personage that could do what he, as Naruto, would never be able to do- laugh, smile, be hugged, show his true intelligence. Kurama had warned him at the beginning that he would never be able to show what came from the broken mind seal, because whoever put it there will be powerful, and always watching.

He trained, and he studied until he was ready to create Kurama, named after the one that made it all possible. It was a perfect name, because for all that everyone in Konoha knew about the Kyuubi, no one knew that he had a name. Hiding in plain sight, as it’s said.

Shaking himself out of thoughts of the past, Naruto wiped away the last remnants of his tears, and stood up to stretch. It was still relatively dark outside, which meant it was early enough for him to create his blood clone and send it off before he had to get ready to head to T&I.

The first thing he did was seal off the doors and windows so no one would come in to disturb him during this delicate time. Next he grabbed some parchment and a brush so he could create a guideline of what he had drawn yesterday. Quickly, he did a rudimentary transformation into Kurama, his body looking exactly as it was supposed to, with no flaws (except for the iconic and recognizable whisker marks he couldn’t figure out how to get rid of), but it was weak, something even a genin could see through. But that didn’t matter for the moment. Rummaging through his Kurama clothes, he came up with a sharp, clean kunai, positioning the tip at the top of his thigh.

This was the difficult part, he had to focus obscene amounts of chakra into that single spot so that nothing would heal, while also powering the seal and carving delicate lines into his skin. Taking a deep breath, he took one last look at the guideline, then focused completely on the medium sized spot on his thigh.

He clenched his teeth against the pain, steadying his hand. He could see the Kyuubi’s point of why he needed to make it last longer, if only so he didn’t have to do this everyday. The blood started oozing from the open wound, so he gently wiped it away with his left hand, his right never stopping.

It took about a half an hour, and ended up being bigger than he had thought, spanning across the whole top of his thigh. To the untrained eye, it looked like scribbles, intermixed small lines and thick carvings, the flesh skinned off in some parts rather than just sliced. It was morbidly beautiful, disgusting, and yet alluring, the elegant lines swirling and twisting, reaching outwards, yet protecting the design in the center.

Several symbols were placed inside, each taught by the Kyuubi, as they were ancient and forgotten, lost to time. In the middle was the recognized mark for shadow, the lines swooping and artfully curving, beautifully painted in crimson. The other symbols were lines, appearing grotesquely out of place, and yet drawing the whole together skillfully, creating a picture that was difficult to look away from. On the top, facing North, of ‘shadow’ was Mannaz, a rune meaning change or transformation directed by one’s own will. East was taken by Berkana, a symbol of love and new beginnings. To the South was Ehwaz, for trust and teamwork, and to the West, Laguz was placed, meant for healing. These were the main four, but between each was another, no less important symbol. Uruz for strength, Thurisaz for protection, Jera for success, and Nauthiz for endurance and survival.

Together, added with the outward design that gave the seal a continuous flow of chakra, and stabilized it, the foundations for a Blood Clone was laid. It was a seal drawn in blood to signify a sacrificial offering of pain and life force in return for help from the gods, and it was stronger than any other clone. By doing this, he was making another person, also himself, that would bleed, feel, and exist. He would have complete control of both himself and whichever one the clone was playing, one half of his mind being one person, the other, feeling and experiencing whatever his clone was doing at that exact moment. The protection, strength, and trust incorporated into the seal gave him the ability to easily be two people, sorting his thoughts so it wasn’t overwhelming.

Not only did this create a clone, but he added in something that would actually make him a different person. It took several months of studying anatomy and Orochimaru’s DNA changing research, before he finally understood what made up the human body, how to switch his DNA just enough that he wouldn’t be linked to Naruto (except for those pesky whiskers), and how to quickly grow his body, switching pigments in his hair, eyes, and skin. As Naruto, he had lightly tan skin, sunshine blonde hair, and ocean blue eyes. However, as Kurama, his skin tone changed to an exotic olive, his hair into a fluffy medium ash brown, and his eyes became pale green. Where Naruto was unbearably skinny (sadly he could not change the appearance of the original body), Kurama was lean, and lightly muscled.

The only thing that would disperse the clone is when the seal time ran out; when the wound healed. His problem the day before, was not having the rune for endurance, and not adding in a slow healing seal, usually used in torture, but strengthened considerably due to his enhanced regeneration.

Another aspect that could be viewed as a drawback, was that he had to spend the same amount of time in both bodies, as in, at the most, a month in Kurama’s, and a month in Naruto’s, otherwise, one or the other would cease to be, winking out of existence with little forewarning. But he didn’t mind being both. Regardless of how much he would enjoy the freedom that being Garo Kurama gave him, Naruto was him. And no matter that bad memories were attached to Naruto, that’s what made him who he was, and he wouldn’t ever give it up.

This would be a revolutionary jutsu if he were to reveal it to others, but truth be told, he was the only one that could pull it off without severe consequences. What it did, was pull a constant supply of chakra from the body, constantly feeding the seal. It wasn’t a cycle, as half of whatever chakra you have, goes to the clone so they can still do jutsu, and half of the remaining gets sucked up by the seal to keep it active. If a normal person were to attempt it, they would be run dry in seconds, never mind actually using any jutsu.

But Naruto had the Uzumaki chakra reserves, which was triple the normal shinobi’s, on a good day, but he had been training it for years, and it had doubled. On top of that, he had the Kyuubi’s chakra that, while dampened by the containment seal, was still almost four times as much as what Naruto had. So, although, while using only a fourth of his chakra, he still had about eight times more chakra than everyone else.

He knew it was technically cheating to use the Kyuubi’s chakra while no one knew he was a jinchuuriki, in the shinobi world, everything counts, and well, he wouldn’t want to go easy on people.