The End of an Era, Onto New Beginnings
"Which door was it again?" A shout rang down an empty hallway into Minato's ears. Minato used his foot to scoot the box in front of him closer to the wall and responded. "The second on the left!" He heard a mumbled thanks and the opening of a door.
Naruto placed the boxes he was holding down near the single window and stood up straight. The room he was standing in was a decent size, about the size of his brother's room in his old apartment. The walls were an off white colour and the floor was covered in a grey-green carpet. It had taken Minato and Kushina nearly a month to find this place, but they both seemed satisfied with it. Footsteps muffled on the carpet behind the blonde and he turned just in time to get out of the way of someone carrying more boxes than he could see over.
"Which side of the room do you want?" Naruto asked, and Kakashi let his boxes drop the last inch or two unceremoniously. He shrugged but Naruto didn't let up. The ten year old rolled his eyes and said, "I don't care. Fine, the right side." Naruto nodded and pushed his boxes to the left.
The blonde followed the silver haired boy out into the main living area of the apartment just in time to see Himawari sweep in through the door carrying Naruto's potted plants. Himawari looked at him and wrinkled her nose. "Why are you wearing your uniform? You're off duty." Naruto feigned offense and brushed the shoulders of his Chuunin vest. "Lady you have no idea how long I have waited for this vest." Himawari rolled her eyes and said, gesturing to the potted plants in her arms, "Where would you like these guys?"
Naruto took care to place each pot carefully on any available window sill he could find. Himawari followed him into his room as he placed the last two plants on the bedroom sill and put her hands on her hips. "I never pegged you for a gardener. Did you just pick it up recently?" The blonde shook his head. "I was really young and hungry one morning and I got caught filching an apple. The old bag that owned the stand threw a flower pot at me. I caught it, stuck my tongue out at her, and took off with it. Instead of throwing it away somewhere I decided to take care of it. I remember that I got in trouble a few times for skipping school to go to the library to read up gardening skills. It eventually evolved into a hobby." Himawari's interest was piqued. Naruto rarely talked about his childhood. She assumed it was a bit of touchy time since even Minato seemed hesitant to talk about it.
"Kids this isn't time for a break, I bet you three could get the rest of the stuff from the old place in one more trip. In fact if you can, you can pick what we eat for dinner tonight. Himawari-chan, this includes you if you want to stay for food." Himawari's face dropped slightly at Minato's interruption, but the line of thought was completely lost on the excited attitude of Naruto and Kakashi as they ushered her out of the apartment building.
Kushina stepped out of her and Minato's bedroom only to be pushed back inside with a squawk of protest that was soon muffled as Minato covered her mouth with his own. When the redhead came up for air she said breathily, "What if someone walks in…" Minato paused, letting his kiss linger on her collar bone and said, "Then I guess they get to enjoy a show." Kushina giggled and gasped again.
"And my, what a show it is." Minato whirled his head around and Kushina shrieked in surprise. When she saw who was standing in the door way however, she covered her face and groaned. Minato was exasperated.
"Sensei, what the hell are you doing here? Don't you know how to knock?" Jiraiya laughed and said, "You left all the doors unl-err-open in your throes of fiery passion there. I was making sure you guys hadn't already been robbed." Jiraiya faked a sniffled and wiped away an imaginary tear. "I'm hurt, Minato, hurt that you would think I think about anything other than your personal safety." Minato rolled his eyes and reluctantly let go of Kushina. The redhead turned her body and buttoned her shirt up. Minato had crafty hands.
Jiraiya's lecherous smile lingered for a second longer than what was considered comfortable and then dropped as his face turned serious. Minato straightened. "We need to have a talk." The older man said.
Naruto shoved another bunch of his stuff hastily into a box before he piped up. "Hey Kakashi, where's Obito? Aren't you guys like glued at the hips?" "Are not! He just follows me everywhere! He's babysitting today." Naruto paused. "Who would he be babysitting?" he paused a second time, "Is he responsible enough to babysit? That's probably the better question." Kakashi shrugged.
Himawari piped up from the kitchen, "Obito-kun is helping his aunt look after Itachi-chan today. According to Obito-kun he's just learning to walk and he's becoming a handful. Makoto-san needs all the help she can get." Naruto froze for a few seconds and was glad that he was in another room. Itachi… He had settled into this life so well he had almost forgotten the opportunities he had. "How old is Itachi now?" He called out, hoping Himawari knew the answer. And, to no surprise, she did. "He's about a year and a few weeks now." Good. He still had time. When the boy was a bit older he intended on taking advantage of some of the things Sasuke had mentioned to Sakura about his older brother. Maybe he could prevent the whole coup from ever happening. He would have to talk to his brother once he became Hokage, something Naruto had a feeling wasn't too far away. Naruto himself was slated to be born in about 6 years if he hadn't messed anything up too bad, so the blonde felt he had a bit of wiggle room to come up with something.
Unbidden memories of Sasuke popped into his mind and his fist tightened. "Naruto-kun, are you ok?" Naruto glanced up at the door and saw a concerned pair of lavender eyes gazing in his direction. Quickly throwing on a wide grin he quickly reassured his best friend that everything was indeed fine. Himawari nodded and turned back to her packing, but the fact that the blonde didn't even put an effort into making that sound believable left her with a niggle of worry.
Naruto and Kakashi split their bamboo chopsticks in unison and clapped their hands. "Itadakimasu!" They said harmoniously before digging into their respective dons. Himawari's choice as she had the idea to use chakra to both stick everything together for easier carrying and managing to get in some control practice while they were at it.
Six people were crowded around a few of the bigger boxes, sitting on crates and smaller boxes. Himawari was just as hungry as the two boys but being a Hyuuga managed to eat her food in a rushed but dignified matter. She and Kushina exchanged a few words every now and Himawari sighed internally in contentment. This felt very much like what she imagined a normal family would feel like. Not that she disliked her parents, but they were formal and stiff with her like every other Hyuuga, save Hizashi, was. Neither of her parents had working Byakugan or was a ninja so she had nearly nothing in common with them. When her engagement to Hiashi was announced shortly after her 13th birthday even some of her more distant cousins stopped talking to her with familiarity. If she hadn't met Naruto and let him brighten up her life, Himawari felt like she would have melted into a grey puddle of tea rituals and boring. She glanced down at the bowl on the box in front of her and lifted another glob of rice to her mouth. This was delicious.
Minato finished eating first and cleared his throat. "Kakashi-kun, after dinner can you go and inform Rin and Obito that we are going on a mission tomorrow afternoon?" Kakashi nodded quickly and swallowed his food. "What are we doing?" Minato had to suppress a smile. He didn't know how the blonde had done it but in the month since they had gotten back from Kusagakure Kakashi had turned from a sullen and lifeless boy into a relatively normal one, albeit he was still quiet and serious. Minato didn't think that was likely to ever change. At least he talked back with multiple word answers. He had once overheard Jiraiya tell Naruto that he should quit being a ninja and become a therapist. Naruto had just laughed sadly. The older blonde almost asked, but kept his mouth shut.
Continuing, Minato said, "As many D-rank missions as we can fit before dark. We need to get you guys in shape before I even start thinking about taking you on a C-rank." Kakashi groaned and Naruto barked a laugh. The silver haired boy glared at Naruto and said, "Even me?" "Yes. Even you." The silver haired boy pouted.
"But I'm already chuunin!" Kakashi whined. Minato leaned forward and said, "Then I guess you'll have to show them both up with hard work then, don't you. Unless you'd rather have the Hokage thinking Obito, a mere genin, was a harder worker than you." The look on Kakashi's face nearly made Naruto send chunks of rice flying from his mouth, and still Minato went on. "I mean, I guess Obito is a really hard worker. He never gives up, he never-" "Stop!" Kakashi yelled standing up.
He held his finger up threateningly and said, "Fine! I'll go get Rin and that moron and I'll show you who the better worker is!" Kakashi stormed out the door and Naruto, Jiraiya, and Kushina all burst into laughter that soon became uncontrollable. Minato winked at Himawari who was merely giggling and her cheeks rosied up a bit.
Naruto wiped more tears from his eyes and stopped to catch his breath. "Oh man I remember acting exactly the same way when I was about his age. I think my sensei even said the same thing to me! Oh I was so gullible!" Kushina finally caught her breath and she leaned back. "Your sensei?" Naruto flashed the redhead a small smile. He hadn't meant to let that slip really but he couldn't help the memories that came flooding back of when he was a petulant child.
"Heh, yea, it wasn't like a squad or anything," The blonde lied, "I remember this one guy always came and stayed at a cottage in the winter time. He said where he came from winter was too cold for him so he bought a cottage. He was an old fart with grey hair, but he was one of the nicer ninja, ex-ninja, whatever, and would teach us stuff properly. He said pretty much the exact same thing to me about a boy my age that I was trying to be rivals with. It was really stupid thinking back about it, but the friendship I had with both the boy and the old guy had been great while it lasted." Minato and Himawari were smiling with interest and Kushina was just smiling as she didn't really know how rare it was that Naruto talked about his childhood.
Jiraiya had a smile on his face but was studying Naruto carefully. The white haired man was constantly trying to pry more than just important events out of the blonde. He knew that almost all of his stories that he told Minato were true with details changed about who he had interacted with, and interpreting them became almost enjoyable. The last major detail he had managed to pry out of the blonde was how the Hokage had died in his timeline. The cold fury he felt towards Orochimaru still flared when he thought about the pale man. The next time he set foot in Konoha he was going to have a nice long talk with him.
The thick golden light of the pre-sunset sun was spread liberally across the entirety of Konoha, occasionally catching on tiles and leaves giving the illusion of stars twinkling when the wind blew. This was Naruto's favourite time of the day to sit on the roof and reflect among his potted plants. When a large hand settled on his shoulders, Naruto nearly jumped out of his skin. Turning his head he relaxed when he saw Jiraiya.
"Hey kid, come with me. We've got someone to see." Naruto frowned when Jiraiya did not explain further. His frown furrowed deeper into his face as he realized that Jiraiya had been leading him to the Hokage's office. Was Jiraiya going to make him tell the Hokage? He wasn't sure if he was ready.
"Why are we going to the see the old man?" Naruto asked, keeping all traces of anxiety carefully hidden. Jiraiya glanced down at Naruto, winked and slapped his shoulder with enough force to cause the blonde to stumble. Naruto's confusion only heightened.
The climb around the large red building that he was never able to claim as his was short, but Naruto, like most ninja, preferred the roof and windows as an entrance to the Hokage's office. It was odd climbing the stairs and almost felt nostalgic. The snide assistant was still behind the desk doing assistant things and when she glowered at Naruto and Jiraiya, not even a wink from the legendary sannin moved her face an inch. The defeated look on Jiraiya's face alleviated some of the anxiety Naruto felt.
Sarutobi sat behind his desk with an unlit pipe handing from his mouth. He was not wearing either his robes or his hat and Naruto saw the beginnings of a bald spot forming. It was still an odd feeling to see the grandfatherly old man he grew up knowing in his prime with a head full of dark hair. The scratching of his pen on the scroll brought him back to the present and he saw Sarutobi quickly glanced up at them before hurriedly scrawling the rest of the paragraph he had been writing.
"Ahh, Jiraiya, Naruto. So glad to see you!" Naruto bowed but Jiraiya didn't. Sarutobi pursed his lips. "It's nice to see that at least the children have manners in this village." Jiraiya's face, to his credit, didn't look an ounce petulant. He did have an amused spark in his eye though.
"Well Naruto, I suppose you've been wondering why I have asked you into my office today," he paused for effect, "I have a mission for you and Jiraiya." The blonde was surprised, but any traces of nervousness fled and was replaced with excitement.
"This mission is voluntary due to its length and rank. This is an A class mission with a predicted length of 3 years. The mission itself is a series of smaller missions from a variety of clients from all over the continent. You will be accompanying Jiraiya as he completes these missions and as such I am officially designating you, Chuunin Naruto, as Jiraiya's apprentice. When you return, if you do decide to go, you will most likely be eligible for the Jounin exam, should you wish to take it."
On top of being excited Naruto was a mixture of feelings. To be Jiraiya's apprentice again was a dream come true, but 3 years away from his brother? After a long and heavy moment Naruto bowed again and said,
"Thank you for this opportunity, Hokage-sama. I would be honoured to accept this commission." Sarutobi nodded as if there had been any doubt of Naruto's acceptance and said, "Jiraiya will fill you in on the rest. Good hunting, Namikaze Naruto, and congratulations on achieving rank of chuunin. I heard an account of your matches and I am impressed." Naruto grinned and straightened his vest before bowing again and leaving with Jiraiya.
Naruto patted Obito's black bed of spikes as the Uchiha buried his face into Naruto's stomach. He mumbled, "I don't want you to go!" He smiled kindly at the boy and glanced up at his teammate who was wearing the same look on her pretty face. Once he managed to pry Obito off of him Himawari replaced him with a strong embrace.
"You have to promise to write, and to come to my wedding! I've managed to talk Hiashi into putting it off a few years, but I don't know how long that will hold out." She sniffled and Naruto reddened, he hated it when she cried. He stroked her hair and Himawari reddened with a small smile, but didn't let him see it.
"I'm pretty sure Ero-sennin will let us visit at least once, and I promise to write and attend your wedding." Himawari sighed and let go reluctantly. Naruto at least managed to get in a breath before Minato wrapped his arms around him.
"I just got you back and now you're leaving!" Minato had been moping since Jiraiya had told him of his intents a few days prior. Naruto sighed, but not too hard as he would miss the blonde probably the most. He returned the embrace with enthusiasm. Minato had been nothing but the best, if sometimes overbearing, brother anyone could have wanted. He had never been happier as much as that thought led to the guilt of what had happened in his previous life.
Minato reluctantly let go at the insisting of Kushina as it was her turn to say her good byes. A short hug and several kisses on his cheeks spoke volumes. What she whispered to him filled his stomach with an emotion that he never could quite identify. "I won't ask why but my little friend is giving his regards." Kushina paused "I promise I will tell Minato soon. You're right. He deserves to know. Good hunting little brother." She flashed a wicked grin at him and Naruto was strangely reminded of himself. It was going to be odd to knowingly be so far from the Kyuubi and he silently wished the old fox a farewell.
Kakashi did not move to embrace him, but Naruto stooped down so that he could look the boy in the eyes. "I need someone to look after my plants while I'm gone, can I count on you?" Kakashi nodded, his eyes shined with wetness. "Write to me as often as you can about the stuff we usually talk about. I may not be there in person, but I'll be there in spirit. Don't be afraid to talk to Ni-san if your nightmares get bad again." Kakashi nodded again and looked down to rub his eyes. Naruto pulled him into a gentle embrace before ruffling his silver hair and standing up.
Finally, as he stalked out of the village following the long spiky haired man who had gleefully taken over the role as surrogate father in two of his lifetimes, he glanced back at his village memorizing the site. He had seen it fall and he had seen it rise and he was going to miss it.
END CHAPTER 27
Hey guys! Please don't expect much more anytime soon(So many papers to write! So many exams to study for!), however it is almost summer and you never know!