Chapter 2 - A Little Over a Year Later:
No, no, Naru-chan! Don’t chew on that. That’s Kaa-san’s lottery ticket.” Tsunade scolded her precocious toddler. The kid had a knack for physical things and getting into trouble. He’d rolled over early, crawled early, and started walking almost immediately after. From the way he was eyeing the tops of the shelves in the convenience store they’d stopped in to buy supplies, she knew it wouldn’t be long before he was scaring the shit out of her by seeing how many things he could fall off of without breaking his head.
He undoubtedly took after his father. There wasn’t a self-preservation bone in his little body.
Shizune liberated the now soggy bit of paper from her nephew’s mouth and frowned to see he’d managed to scratch off a bit of it. The poor guy was teething like mad and nothing was safe from his tiny fangs. He had, oddly enough, gotten his canines in before his front teeth.
Tsunade juggled her purchases while trying to put her wallet away and stared fondly at her apprentice and son. Shizune was taking a closer look at the ragged ticket while trying to keep Naruto from grabbing it back in chubby fists. Suddenly her eyes grew large and she exclaimed, “Tsu-Tsunade-sama! You won!”
“WHAT?!” she nearly dropped the bags of groceries she’d just paid for. “Let me see!”
“Technically, the kid just won.” The amused store clerk pointed out, “he’s the one that scratched it off. You’ve got quite a lucky little guy there, yes, you do! Who’s a lucky little guy?”
Babies turned most people into even larger idiots than they normally were. It was Tsunade’s Rule of the Universe number 46. She was working on a theory that the maternal or paternal instincts in adult humans overrode at least 20% of their normal brain function when in the presence of miniature versions of themselves. The vocabulary centers were the first to go. No one was immune.
“Orange!” Naruto cheered, that being his favorite all-purpose word. He used it for everything for which he had no existing vocabulary and sometimes for things he just thought were more “orange”, than whatever the rest of the world felt they should be named. He’d even called Jiraiya “orange” until his mother had taught him the word “pervert.”
Finally able to set the bags down without upsetting anything, the Legendary Sucker snatched the winning ticket from Shizune’s hand and stared at it. “I’ll be damned.” Well, it was only fair, she supposed, in the cosmic scheme of things, if the kid got his dad’s recklessness, it should be balanced out with proportionally good luck.
Somehow, this didn’t make her feel better.
Probably because Naruto had begun eagerly pointing to the tops of shelves again, and yelling “Orange!” excitedly.
Tsunade handed the ticket back to the clerk to cash it out and wasn’t surprised when the woman didn’t even flinch at its kind of disgusting state. She would have had to stop cooing ridiculously at a dumbfounded Naruto in order to notice.
She and Shizune always made it a point to talk to the kid as if he were a real person whenever they could free themselves from the Baby Effect. This caused Naru-chan to be supremely confused when other adults babbled in length at him in high-pitched, nonsense phrases for great lengths of time as the store clerk was doing. He got the most adorable look on his face and those huge blue eyes blinked several times as if he were trying to puzzle out what kind of strange disease she had and if it were contagious.
“What that?” he asked, pointing at the starry-eyed woman as his mother pocketed his winnings and picked up the bags of groceries again.
“That’s a babbling moron, Naru-chan! Can you say, ‘moron’?”
“Sensei!! Stop teaching my nephew to insult people!”
They left the store to the indignant sputtering of the offended woman behind the counter.
Back at the small house they were renting by the month, Tsunade took Naruto from her apprentice while Shizune went to put the supplies away. With a somewhat steady income generated by the lack of a blood phobia preventing Tsunade and Shizune from privately hiring out their healing services or working at local hospitals or clinics whenever they needed ryo, they’d taken to staying in places for much longer than they’d been used to because all the parenting books said kids needed stability.
She was pretty sure the authors of the books had never seen a baby thrive on absolutely everything like Naruto did.
He wasn’t scared of a damn thing and absolutely loathed routine. Every time he had a new experience, or they went somewhere he’d never been before, he damn near wet himself in excitement. He was the single most vibrant and simply alive thing she’d ever run across. There was no way something as terrible as the Nine Tails could be influencing the brat. He wouldn’t know hatred if it walked up to him and started making faces and babbling like that store clerk.
She hadn’t seen a single sign of the Kyuubi influencing her son’s actions, and she’d been looking. She wanted to be ready if they had to track down Jiraiya and get him to look at the seal.
So far, the early teething and whiskered birthmarks were the only things that even showed her son wasn’t a normal, unpossessed, baby. The seal was always visible, which worried her a little since Jiraiya had seemed to think it should only show up when his chakra was active, but his energy flow was really steady for a toddler’s, something that ran in her family, and she hadn’t ever sensed the demon at all. Of course, that also contradicted Jiraiya’s theories about the seal. He’d seemed pretty sure the fox would manage to throw Naru’s control all to hell by constantly throwing bits of his chakra into the normal coils, a downside to the seal’s natural, built in ability to slowly merge the power of the Bijuu with the boy over time.
If that were the case, Tsunade’s medic senses should have been able to feel it, at least every now and then, but she’d hadn’t noticed even the normal, spurts and starts most children – at least those not directly descended from the Shodaime – seemed prone to. Unfortunately, she wasn’t a Hyuuga, so she couldn’t be sure what exactly was going on, but a few of her jutsu could give her a pretty good picture, and it seemed to her that the toddler’s body was dealing with his prisoner much better than expected.
Nevertheless, she’d put the word out that she wanted to see her old teammate about something important, and she expected him to show up looking for free food and board any time now.
Naruto yawned as they padded through the house and she decided to put him down for a nap. He usually balked at naps like you had suggested he bathe in filth instead of rest for an hour or two, but he was still only a baby and he got sleepy in the afternoons. They’d found if they didn’t mention the word “nap” and just sort of wandered around the house holding him until he dozed off, it saved everyone a lot of accusatory exclamations of “Orange!” and heart-wrenching pouty faces. It was something about the too large blue eyes and sun-colored hair. No one was cold hearted enough to resist that face.
It had been really useful in getting away from debtors, actually. “You don’t need the money right now, do you?! Look at that face! You can’t take money away from me that I could be spending on him!” The Baby Effect definitely came in handy, despite its inherent annoyances.
Naru-chan’s eyes had closed now and he’d begun to chew on her shirt absently in between soft snores. Tsunade grinned. He was just too damn cute, even when he was drooling all over her favorite green gambling coat.
She gently laid him down and smoothed a few locks of blond hair out of his eyes, frowning a bit at the odd emerging birthmark on his right cheek. If it continued to darken, it might obscure the whisker marks somewhat on that side, but it was kind of strange. She wondered if Minato had been related to some Inuzuka after all.
The quiet mother and son moment was broken by the sound of the outside door slamming open and a cheerful greeting of, “Hey, Shizune-chan! What’s for lunch?” ringing through the hall.
Naruto’s eyes immediately popped open and he snapped up like a jack-in-the-box, hands making grabby motions to his mother to be picked up and carried to see the visitor, “Ero-jiji!” he begged, practically vibrating in happiness and Tsunade sighed. It was nice that the two got along so well, Jiraiya was his godfather, after all, but she swore on the blood of her ancestors, if that bastard influenced her son into being a pervert, she’d make sure he’d never be able to enjoy those tasteless books he wrote EVER AGAIN.
“Where’s my little godson?!” said pervert boomed, strolling into the room like he owned the place. Tsunade couldn’t begrudge him when she saw Naruto’s eyes light up even more, if that were at all possible.
Jiraiya’s brows furrowed in thought as he studied the seal on the toddler’s stomach. The little tyke had been all too happy to ditch his shirt. You couldn’t keep clothing on the kid to save your life unless you reminded him that big, strong ninja always wore their shirts for their mommies and didn’t argue about eating their peas.
For a moment, he was baffled. The seal seemed to be working absolutely perfectly and just how it had been designed to function. The only explanation he had for its constant visible state was if the kid were constantly molding chakra for some reason, which even his age aside, was pretty much impossible. He’d heard that some of the rarer blood limits dealing with elemental manipulation could cause a constant, small drain on the bearers, but Yondaime and Tsunade weren’t carriers of any special traits that he was aware of aside from the usual flavors that ran through certain ninja family lines - advanced chakra control in Tsunade’s case, and speed in Minato’s.
The kid was too young for the speed, even if it had developed into something on the level of a bloodline in his father. While his chakra flow was a little steadier than most kids his age, that could be explained by practice and the small natural aptitude males of the Shodaime’s line inherited – he was always using it for whatever the hell it was doing so it made sense that he’d be pretty good at it. Jiraiya doubted this was a sign of his mother’s godlike control.
Besides, control didn’t explain what the chakra was doing, or why Kyuubi’s essence was entirely undetectable in the kid. The fox was in there – he knew that, he’d seen it sealed with his own eyes, and the kid had the whiskers to prove it.
Idly, he tried to brush what looked like a large smudge of dirt off of Naruto’s cheek while he thought.
Hmm, the damn spot was kind of stubborn.
He rubbed harder and Naruto began to wiggle in protest.
“What the hell have you been playing in Naru-chan?” the older man frowned, squinting at the stubborn stain – it almost looked like it was underneath the skin…and the shape was kind of weird.
Tsunade was shocked speechless when she came in a few minutes later. “Jiraiya, are you drawing on my baby’s face with a marker? That had better be non-toxic! …and washable!” her fist clenched and began to rise slightly.
“Wait, wait! I can explain!” he hastily backpedalled, babbling in his haste to avoid dismemberment and change the subject; in truth, he didn’t know if the marker was washable, but he wrote himself notes on his hand with it all the time, so he was sure it was safe. Sometimes he didn’t have paper on hand when great inspiration for a novel happened to strike. “I think I figured it out, and you’re not going to believe it!”
“You figured out what’s wrong with Naruto’s seal by drawing a weird floral design on his face?” He could tell she didn’t believe him because her face wasn’t looking any less thunderous, and the heavy threat of violence still hung in the air around her.
“I didn’t draw it, I TRACED it, and it’s not really that floral – I think they’re more like vines and leaves. It’s not clear enough to tell, yet.” He hurried to explain.
It didn’t take her long to connect the darkening spot on Naru-chan’s cheek with Jiraiya’s stint at face painting. She leaned down and squinted at the design, though it was hard to get her son to cooperate and turn his head properly so she could see it in the light. He seemed to have given up on understanding adults some time ago, and decided they must be playing a new game that involved grabbing each other’s faces.
“Shit.” Tsunade finally agreed, “What the hell?”
“You’d have to do a bloodlimit test to be sure, but from what I can tell, there’s no other explanation.” Jiraiya grinned, “Shodaime’s Mokuton and Bijuu controlling abilities have turned into a properly inheritable kekkei genkai. The sort of one that acts at least somewhat subconsciously, and is always at work keeping the Kyuubi in line.”
Tsunade frowned and licked her finger to rub at the marker on her little boy’s face in the kind of utterly gross gesture only mothers can get away with, “That would explain why Grandfather’s techniques weren’t copyable and hadn’t presented themselves until now. It’s not uncommon for something like this to go dormant for a generation or two while it transforms from a specific individual’s genetic predilection into a family trait. Many of the clans started that way.”
“Yeah, well – I don’t care about the specifics. This is great!” Jiraiya exclaimed, “He’s got a natural talent for dealing with the Fox! It might not ever bother him at all! He might not even know he’s got it! The natural drain might even act like chakra pool training. The kid’s capacity will be HUGE before he ever even learns to use it”
Tsunade didn’t seem to be sharing his enthusiasm, “Well, I guess, but it would probably make his Mokuton jutsu harder to use, the kekkei genkai would almost have to multi-task to keep the fox’s raw chakra from leaking out with the assimilated chakra; on top of that, what if he ever does use Kyuubi’s power? His natural system is built almost as its antithesis. There’s no telling what kind of effects that would have.”
Jiraiya frowned, “Good point. Well, I can’t say one way or the other. All I can tell you is that the seal is working exactly as it was designed to do, and that birthmark on his face looks an awful lot like plant-life to me. I’d put money on it being the physical manifestation of a bloodlimit, and something’s keeping Kyuubi’s chakra from only getting into the kid’s system after it’s been completely changed over into his own chakra type. Signs point to Mokuton.”
Naruto seemed to have sensed the seriousness of the situation and instead of squirming around and trying to grab their faces; he’d taken to chewing on a lock of Jiraiya’s long white hair. His huge eyes stared up at them solemnly.
“I’ll use the kekkei genkai testing jutsu,” Tsunade stated, “but I’m inclined to agree with you. I guess we’ll just have to see what kind of effects this has on him in the long run.”
“Want Orange.” Naruto complained as Jiraiya tried to deprive him of his current chew-boy.
Confusingly, but not surprisingly, ‘Orange’ was also the name of the boy’s favorite stuffed toy – a red frog with stylized black lines running over its plush body. He always wanted it when the adults around him had him upset, though he wasn’t nearly as attached to it as Jiraiya’d heard some kids got to things like that. He’d bought it for the brat’s birthday because it reminded him of Minato’s favorite small summon, and he wanted the kid to have as many small bits of his father as he could manage to give him. The sage was surprised to see it was still in pretty good shape when they finally managed to find it under the bed’s dust ruffle.
“He loves this damn thing.” Tsunade muttered, attempting to knock some dust-bunnies off of it before giving it over into Naruto’s grabby hands. “You and Orange go help Shizune in the kitchen.” She commanded the little boy, lifting him up and tapping his butt in a playful swat to get him moving. The kid giggled like a lunatic as he took off on short, chubby legs, dragging Orange by large plush flipper, and yelling for his ‘Zune.
“Were you ever that cute as a kid?” He knew he shouldn’t have said it as soon as the words left his mouth, but he’d never been very good at not saying the wrong things around her.
Later that night, with Naruto safely tucked into bed with his ironically fluffy frog toy, the adults sat around the kitchen table with sake (in Jiraiya and Tsunade’s case) and tea (for Shizune).
“Well, the jutsu confirmed it.” Tsunade said, taking a small sip from the saucer in front of her. She’d cut back a lot since she’d had her son, but she still really liked to indulge. Gambling just wasn’t the same without sake, after all.
“So Shodaime-sama’s ability to perform Mokuton jutsu has become a kekkei genkai in Naru-chan?” Shizune fiddled with her cup, “I never would have expected –“
“Well, we don’t know exactly how it’s going to manifest now that it’s a bloodlimit rather than just a natural proclivity. It could be more or less powerful and controllable. It might even have entirely different effects. Odds are it’s still plant-based, and it definitely effects demon chakra. That’s about all we know for sure.” Tsunade clarified.
Jiraiya nodded in agreement. “You can never tell with a new bloodline limit; that’s why a lot of ninja families never try to develop their natural skills into more advanced genetic ones through breeding and stuff, like established clans with known bloodlines do.”
“I see.” Shizune looked thoughtful. “This isn’t going to be unhealthy for Naru-chan, is it? I know it hasn’t hurt him so far, but if I understand what you told us about Yondaime-sama’s seal, it’s built to let him use the Nine Tail’s power to some extent. What if it reacts violently to his system?”
Tsunade nodded, she’d picked well in Shizune. The girl had real talent and the smarts to back it up, “We already talked about that. There’s really nothing we can do about it until we have more information. It may never come up. It could be that Naruto’s body will simply not allow that part of the seal to activate.”
“-What if he’s really hurt, or runs out of chakra?”
“…Well…then, that could be bad.”
“If it comes to that, there’s always a five point seal. It should block off Kyuubi’s chakra completely, but it could also throw his system out of whack so I don’t want to try that unless it’s necessary. He’s managing the fox much better than I ever dreamed possible as he is, and I’m a big fan of ‘don’t fix what isn’t broken.’”
Tsunade had to agree, she just hoped it didn’t come back to bite them all in the asses later. She’d never forgive herself if Naruto died and they could have done something to prevent it.