Naruto and Marvel belong to Masashi Kishimoto and Disney respectively.
AN: Special thanks to Meneldur for helping to beta the story and giving me plenty of ideas.
Chapter XV: The Calm
An inked brush met a large piece of parchment, and for what felt like hours, that was the only sound that reverberated through the dark room. His teacher floated silently around him, studying his work with a critical eye. Naruto tried to forget he was there, concentrating only on his work. Distracted for a moment, he looked at his progress and almost broke into a grin. There were definitely no errors!
A gentle and yet annoying tap on his shoulder made him grit his teeth. "What now?" Naruto asked, not bothering to hide his irritation.
The Sage touched a part of the work with his staff. "There. Your mind wandered for a few seconds. A wolf that howls his victories before finishing off his prey is destined to starve. Start from the beginning."
"It's only slightly longer than –"
"'Slightly' is enough. Start from the beginning."
Naruto grumbled, knowing that it was the only resistance he could muster. He unrolled more of the endless scroll and inked his brush again. Why was he doing all this? Sure, he could store things into scrolls, but what he really wanted was to learn some new jutsu. Clones and the Rasengan could only take him so far, and mind powers placed a serious toll on his head.
He remembered dark auburn hair streaked with white. Rogue… his friend – that's why he was doing this. With a newfound resolve, he placed the brush on the paper and started again.
"You have been improving," said Hagoromo, much to Naruto's surprise. It was not often that the old man praised anything. "And you do not complain as before."
"Only because I know you won't give answers," replied Naruto. Many times, he had asked the Sage about his heritage, and many times he had been told that he was not ready to know. Even though he had come close to dying when fighting against Magneto, the old man still refused to teach him new techniques.
"How are you progressing with the Mystical Palm?"
Naruto laid down his brush and concentrated on one hand, gritting his teeth until a green energy came to life. He held it for a few seconds, but it began to flicker like a dying fire until it faded away, despite his greatest efforts. "I told you it isn't for me."
"Medicine is the hardest of professions. It will take more than the few months you've been practicing to master that technique."
The blonde returned to his work without saying a word. The Mystical Palm was even harder to learn than the Rasengan, and it was far less useful to him. He wouldn't need to worry about his friends getting injured if he was strong enough to prevent any harm from coming at them anyway.
"Even if you are the strongest man in the universe, your loved ones will still get injured," said the Sage.
"Are you reading my mind again, old man? That's private stuff!"
"I didn't need to read your mind to know what you were thinking. I will say again that I will not teach you the means to take life without you first appreciating how to save them."
Naruto knew better than to argue with the old man after so many sessions with him. It wasn't all bad, especially when learning seals. It was something he'd taken to almost immediately. Why hadn't the Academy included fūinjutsu as a regular class? He would've aced it!
The old Sage cleared his throat. "You have settled in this land well. A leaf can only fly so far before it starts to grow roots."
Naruto frowned. "What do you mean?"
"It means that mere fondness of this place may grow into something more… permanent."
It was that uncomfortable subject again, the one that made him feel like a traitor to his friends, his village, his dream. He had learned to ignore it. It was easy thanks to Kitty being there to make him forget.
"I took an oath, one that ends only in my death. There's still so many promises I have to keep."
"Not anymore. There is nothing you can do right now."
"I'm a shinobi of Konoha!"
"When was the last time you wore your headband?" Hagoromo replied sharply.
Naruto's response died in his throat. When he arrived, he'd worn the headband daily. That stopped when Professor Xavier told him to not wear it in public so that he didn't draw attention to himself, especially since he'd been seen with it when he first arrived. Later, Jean made a positive comment about his forehead and he slowly stopped reaching for it every day, and it slowly made its way to the bottom of Naruto's drawer.
"That doesn't mean anything," replied Naruto. "My dream has never changed. I will become Hokage one day."
"And would you be so willing to leave what you have built here behind?"
Naruto didn't respond immediately. Less than a year had passed and yet so much had been built. He had new comrades and friends, as strong as the ones he'd built back home… and he had a girlfriend, something he'd never imagined he'd have back home. At times, he had wished he'd never gotten close to new people. But would he deny himself the pleasure? Even had he known back then that this would happen?
He had promised Sakura that he'd bring Sasuke back, and he had promised everyone that he would become Hokage. But… he had also promised to be there for his new friends. He had promised to find a solution for Rogue's problems, and he had promised Emma to free her from Wilson Fisk. So many promises he had made. Could he fulfill them all?
"I…I don't want to choose."
"Alas, fortune favors you. 'Tis not a choice you need not make yet, and if fortune continues to favor you, it may not be a decision you will need to make in the future," said Hagoromo, turning away from him and into the darkness. "At this moment, however, you have another test."
Naruto opened his eyes to the blaring alarm. Groaning, he reached for his side and was surprised at the lack of warmth. A look confirmed that Kitty wasn't there. She probably had spent the entire night studying and slept on her desk again.
At breakfast, almost everybody that had applied for the tests was nervous. In contrast, those who had not applied for the scholarship tests were excited at the last day of school before the two weeks break. Bobby and Sam were already talking about going to a game in the city.
"Did you hear? New principal arrived," said Kurt with a grin. "Let's hope this one isn't some agent for Magneto, ja?" He looked at Kitty. "What is it, Kätzchen? Your eyelids are bluer than my fur!"
Kitty rubbed her temples. "Spending the last week studying while being fueled on coffee will do that to you. You wouldn't know since you didn't take this scholarship seriously… nor any of our schoolwork, for that matter." She smiled at Naruto. "At least we managed to convince one boy to think about his future."
Kurt gave a sheepish shrug. "I already told you that my path isn't with a college. It's not my passion anyway."
"What is your passion?" asked Ororo.
He twirled with his scrambled eggs. "The X-Men for the moment, it's my home and the only thing I've felt passionate about. If that doesn't work out… there is one thing. Back at home, everybody shunned me, even the orphanages. All except for one place, an old priest at the church, and the nuns that attended it. He always helped everybody, no matter who they were or where they came from. Gave me this as a farewell present," he showed them the cross he always wore around his neck, "I always wanted to be someone like that."
"All in due time. Sometimes, our path will not reveal itself until its time," declared Professor Xavier just before the clock struck a timer. "Speaking of time. You don't want to be late today."
When they arrived at school, the same dichotomy stood. Most were already talking about their plans for the next two weeks, but the ones that had the tests only paid attention to their texts, eyes scanning furtively for last minute knowledge, only looking away when the bell rang. Instead of going to their classrooms, the teachers herded the students to the basketball court for an assembly.
The chatter died when a professionally dressed young woman took the podium. She stood prim and regal, with hair that was black as night and pale skin. Her eyes were hidden by a pair of red sunglasses.
"That a relative, Summers?" joked one of the students, prompting a few laughs.
The woman cleared her throat "Good morning, students. I am your new principal, Sage Thompson. I hope to be of service to you like Principal Darkholme was. I know you have tests now, so I will not take any more of your time. I wish you the best."
"Not very talkative, is she?" commented Kitty.
"I prefer that over a shapeshifter spying on us," replied Jean.
"Or yelling at us for being a minute late," added Kurt.
"Alright, five… maybe ten."
The bell rang once again and everyone who was taking the exams took a long, collective breath. Naruto joined Jean, Kitty, Ororo, Rogue, and Scott as they were taken to several empty classrooms. Inside were not their usual teachers, but specialized observers wearing the Stark logo. Each student had a reserved seat and only once everyone was seated did the observers unlock the briefcases containing the tests.
When he first decided to take the tests, Naruto only did so because Jean and Kitty had persuaded him to do so. He didn't really care if he got the scholarship or not. He didn't know what to study, and even if he would study. But it wasn't just for him that he took it. It was for Hank McCoy, who always told him that he could go far in higher education. It was for Kitty, who wanted to go to college with him. It was for Jean, who always gushed about his potential. So Naruto studied harder than he'd ever done before, despite wanting to do other things, all for today.
With pencil in hand, Naruto opened the test and started to answer.
The exams took the entire afternoon, with only two small breaks in between to eat lunch and go on bathroom breaks. Inside the classrooms, nothing but the tapping of calculators, scribbling of pencils, and the ticking of the clock could be heard.
The questions were easy at first, but got harder as it went on. It was divided into several sections, each one contained a subject they had seen in class. Naruto managed to solve them quickly; he wouldn't have been able to do it without the knowledge of his clones. By the time the final section was over, his head was hurting.
The final bell was greeted with excited cheers from the students in regular classes as they poured out of the entrance, eager to get their break started. The test-takers breathed a sigh of relief and were the last to leave, all energy spent.
"How did it go?" asked Jean as they all met at the gates after everyone had gone.
"Mmm…" groaned Kitty as she stretched her arms. "I feel like I'm going to collapse. But other than that, I think I did fine. I just hope that it's enough."
Rogue yawned. "An', I just hope it's worth it. Y'all were the ones that roped me into it. Heh… college girl… who would've thought about it?"
"I definitely got it!" said Naruto once Jean's gaze turned on him.
"That's great to hear," responded Ororo.
Scott nodded. "Alright. Time to go back to the Institute, if you're up for it I think we should all have a training sess–" Four pairs of tired eyes glowered at him. "Oh… right. Sleep."
"I'm up for training," said Naruto.
"That stamina, I swear…" muttered Kitty, jumping behind his back and grabbing a hold of his neck. "Me, I need to get to bed, or I'm sleeping on you."
"You already sleep on me every night," whispered Naruto.
"Hmm… good point," giggled Kitty.
As soon as lunch at the Institute was done, Kitty and Rogue went back to their room. There was no training session that day. Ororo was spent, and Logan was still absent from that long trip he said he was taking. Emma had told him that there were no targets that night. Even if there were, Peter would also be too tired from the tests. Naruto lay down on his bed and looked at the ceiling. There was nothing for him to do.
Two weeks… what was he going to do for two weeks?
'Just practice with what the old man told me, I guess.' He looked at his hand and concentrated his chakra until it took a green hue. It was like trying to guide a massive flood into a small, tranquil stream. At first it was not so hard, but maintaining it for more than a few seconds was impossible. Unable to stop the torrent anymore, he let go of his chakra control and the green chakra on his hand disappeared.
Grunting, he stood up and went to his desk, completely filled with books that he'd been studying. He quickly started to take the books off and summoned a clone to take back the ones that belonged in the Institute library. At the bottom of the pile were not books, but scrolls. Naruto looked at the array he was doing before the intensive study regime.
It was a seal to store chakra, usually a fairly easy seal, but this one was modified so that it let out a steady, almost miniscule level of chakra constantly. It was a seal he was making for Rogue, so that her body was layered with an invisible coating of chakra to prevent her powers from harming others when she wasn't fighting.
Naruto grinned and retrieved his brushes and ink, eager to continue his work.
The array for storing chakra was done, but the problems started after that. How much chakra was needed for Rogue to safely touch people? How did he maintain a steady output of chakra without it going out of control? How much chakra could he place at a time? He could easily deactivate the seal, but what about Rogue? If a fight started and she couldn't use her powers, it would be trouble.
All of those questions were fixed on his mind as he spent the next few hours working on the seal. Dozens of failures followed. Either the chakra stopped flowing or it flowed too much, or worse, didn't flow at all. He tried it on himself first, just to make sure it wouldn't hurt him.
Finally, after hours of work, he looked at his latest design and stored some of his chakra. Activating his eyes, he activated the seal, and was rewarded with the sight of a steady release of gentle chakra.
Feeling a wave of energy rush through him, he grabbed his ink and brush and ran to the room next to his, frantically knocking on the door. There were a couple of voices at the other side and the door was soon opened to the sight of an annoyed Rogue, with Kitty sitting on her bed.
"What is it?" Rogue asked, not looking annoyed anymore, but absolutely exhausted.
"Take off your shirt!" he blurted out excitedly.
Rogue's green eyes forgot their fatigue as they widened. "Wh-What?" she stuttered, her cheeks turning pink.
"Naruto!" yelled Kitty.
Naruto held up his large scroll and showed them the seal he'd been working on. "I think I finally got it!" They gave him confused looks. "If this works out, it could be a solution for you to control your powers."
Rogue widened her eyes again and looked at the seal. "What do you mean? How would this help me?"
He grinned. "Hehe, I think that the reason why you can touch me is that my chakra naturally creates a shield all over my body," he said excitedly.
She nodded. "Alright… and how is that supposed to help?"
Naruto showed the scroll again. "I've been working on my fūinjutsu. I figured that if I can store some of my chakra into a seal and place it on your body, it can constantly release chakra automatically." He exposed his stomach and channeled chakra for his seal to appear. "Sorta like mine."
Rogue didn't think too much after that. "Alright." She grabbed the hem of her shirt and pulled it over her head, leaving her only with a black bra. "What do you want me to do?"
"Just lay down," instructed Naruto and grabbed his supplies. Rogue slowly lay herself on the bed while Kitty pushed forward a table so he could put down his ink and brush. Naruto dipped his brush into the pot of ink and slowly brought the tip to Rogue's stomach. She gasped and slightly shivered; Naruto stopped his work. Only after a reassuring nod did he continue.
Working on a human body was far harder than in a scroll. For one thing it was not a completely flat surface despite Rogue's toned stomach, and even though she was trying to keep still, there were still slight uncontrollable movements when she took a breath or shivered due to the cold of the ink. All of that took more time than he was used to, and far more concentration.
"These inks ain't permanent, right?" asked Rogue as she lightly tilted her head to see his work. "Not to look at a gift horse in the mouth or anythin'."
Shaking his head, Naruto showed his stomach and briefly passed chakra over it to show his own seal. "They disappear if chakra is not used. The ink will fade but the seal will remain etched on your skin until I remove it or it stops working."
A curious Kitty stood beside him as he continued working. "So these are those seals you've been staying up late for? I thought they were for storing things."
"Storing, protection, defending, attacking, enhancing… there's a lot of things you can do with seals. They weren't taught at the Academy back home. But they really should have! They're easier than anything I was taught in regular classes."
"That's easy? I can't understand any of it! Are you sure you're not some seal genius or something?"
Naruto laughed bitterly. "I was always the dead last back in the Academy. It's only after going to school here that I started being good at studying." He stopped with a final swipe of ink near Rogue's chest. "Alright… the moment of truth." His hands hovered above her navel and steadily poured chakra on the seal, stopping when it glowed a green color. "Done. You can stand up now."
"Is that it?" asked Rogue as she went over to the mirror to see the array of seals. "I don't feel any different."
"There's only one way to find out." Naruto turned towards Kitty. "Why don't you try giving her a little touch?"
Naruto raised his hands. "Just enough to see if it works. One small tap isn't going to do much harm."
Kitty sighed and looked at Rogue, holding out her hand. "Alright, but you better not like, lay me out."
Rogue nervously undid the glove of her right hand, flexing her bare fingers. Both approached their trembling hands as if each other was on fire. They stopped just as they were about to touch, only going further after looking eye-to-eye. Finally, both fingers met, at first a small tap… nothing.
With widened eyes, both girls tapped each other again… nothing once more. Next, they touched their palms together but the result was the same. Rogue went further and passed her hand along Kitty's entire arm.
"Oh my God!" cried Kitty as she launched herself on Rogue with a full bodied hug. "I'm so happy for you."
"Ah… Ah dunno what to say," muttered a still wide-eyed Rogue. She stopped staring at her hands to look into Naruto's eyes. "Thank you. Ah can't believe that–"
Suddenly, the seal started to glow again, brighter each second until it was blinding to the eye. A wave of blue chakra burst from her body, leaving the seal back in the color of its black ink. Shaken, Rogue stood up and looked at her body for any harm but found none. Naruto made sure that it was completely harmless.
She looked at Kitty again and both brought their hands together. This time, it was different. They withdrew their fingers as soon as they met, each of them shuddering.
Everybody's smile dropped.
Naruto grit his teeth. He was sure that it was going to work this time! Why did the chakra escape? Where was the mistake? Or did he have to add more to it to make it permanent?
"Sorry," he said, hanging his head in shame. "I thought this was it. I was completely sure that it would work." A hand grabbed his chin and guided him to Rogue's eyes.
"It did work. Ah didn't know that you were workin' on this, and Ah never asked you. But still… thank you for everythin'."
Naruto nodded. She was right. It had worked, even if for just a moment. The moment just needed to be made longer, no matter how much time and effort it took. He grabbed the brush with a newfound vigor and looked at Rogue. "It didn't work this time, but I promise that I'll make it work one day. Believe it!"
She gave him a slight smile. "Don't lose your sleep over it. Ah've gotten used to it. Ain't gonna make you waste your vacation on my problems."
Naruto grinned and returned to his room, fully intent on using his new available time to finally fulfill his promise.
"Alright! That's all for today!"
Tired sighs of relief echoed through the dance hall, even from Kitty herself. Usually, she would finish dance classes wishing for more. That would have been the case if this class had been in Bayville, but she was no longer there. Now, she was with her new, absolute slave driver dance instructor.
It had only been a couple of days since the routine dance recital in Bayville. As expected, Kitty had landed the main role. Little did she know that in the crowd was one of the most illustrious figures in the world of dancing. When she was done and Naruto had picked her up for the follow-up date, the two were intercepted by a young, dark-skinned woman named Stevie Hunter.
Kitty had heard the name before. A famous dancer that had unfortunately sustained an accident that left her unable to perform professionally, but her expertise was such that she founded her own academy to train the newer generations.
Her father made good money from his small bank, but even she knew that an apprenticeship at Stevie Hunter's dance academy would be far too steep for someone like her. So she had been completely elated when Stevie had offered to train her at a discounted price due to her talent, enough for her to afford it. A call to her father had solidified the deal and that was it – goodbye rookie Bayville classes, hello exclusive dance academy in the middle of Manhattan.
With exhausted groans, all of the students walked out of the dancing hall and into the showers. The hot water cleansed Kitty's clammy skin from the cold sweat. She couldn't be more thankful for spring after being cold for so long.
"Miss Hunter lives up to her reputation," said a voice to her right. Kitty turned to see the long red hair and blue eyes of her new friend.
Before she had left her small town, Kitty never believed she would see someone as beautiful as Mary Jane. She'd seen movies, to be sure, but always assumed that the makeup artists and special effects enhanced the looks. It was only after she arrived in the Institute that she had seen the stunning beauty of Jean, Ororo, and even Rogue.
Unlike the pretty girls she'd had the displeasure of meeting back in Deerfield, Mary Jane was actually nice. The redhead never frowned; she always had a smile even when she was briefly slighted for her humble background. Her revenge was to show up every girl with a stunning dance. A girl that beautiful could never be sad.
"Oof… glad that's over with. I usually don't mind a little workout… a little workout," said another voice to her left.
Kitty turned around to see a girl around her height. When she first met Janet Van Dyne, she was turned off by the rich dilettante's comments. By the end of their second class, however, Kitty realized that Janet didn't mean any harm, but her lofty upbringing constantly made her ignorant of the economic limitations of other girls. The same could not be said by the other wealthy girls in the class, who liked to flaunt their expensive equipment in front of the dancers with grants such as Kitty and Mary Jane. Janet and Felicia, on the other hand, had willingly befriended them despite being mocked by the rich girls.
"Thinking of quitting already? And here I thought you were made of sterner stuff, Jan."
Felicia Hardy was another beauty. Taller than all of her new friends, with platinum blonde hair and green eyes like Rogue and Jean Grey. She was also the most athletic out of all of them, even more so than Kitty herself, and with a stamina that was only surpassed by Naruto and Logan. She had barely broken a sweat throughout the intensive first class.
"Oh, you wish. I may not be as insane as you, but a girl has to keep her figure!" responded Janet with a smirk. "And Ms. Hunter told me she will teach us some dances that make the boys go wild."
"So that's where your mind is at," teased Felicia. "Don't let the nuns hear you saying that. They're already riding you for those Maelstrom drawings."
Janet huffed. "If the nuns made all the rules, I'd be flogged for exposing my bare ankles, and it's starting to get too hot for the uniform. I don't feel like being a prude for the rest of my life."
Felicia grinned. "Aww, Miss Van Dyne is starting to grow up, and all it took was a kidnapping." She tugged at her bra with a frown. "And you're not the only one growing up. I need an upgrade. Wanna go shopping tomorrow?"
"Every day is great for shopping, but not tomorrow. Me and the rest of the club are going to protest the Daily Bugle for telling all those slanderous lies about the world's greatest hero," responded Janet.
If there was one thing Janet obsessed over even more than shopping, it was the Maelstrom. Kitty knew that Naruto had saved her and Felicia during the attack on Stark Tower, and ever since that day, Janet had used her resources to form the "Maelstrom Fan Club", of which she proudly considered herself the first card-carrying member and leader of.
When she said card-carrying, she meant it literally. Janet had little restraint at flashing it around with the coveted first number. Apparently they were up to a thousand now. And that was only the beginning. Maelstrom bags, notebooks, pendants, stickers, and even a Maelstrom plushie. An actual plushie!
Felicia turned her eyes towards her. "And what about you, Kitty Cat? Fancy going for a little spree?"
"I'd totally go with you any other day… but I have plans with –"
Murmurs erupted from the wealthy girls; Kitty turned her gaze to see the reason and she immediately grinned. Naruto stood uncomfortably in the waiting hall, awkwardly peeking into the dancing room, a red rose in hand.
Grinning widely, she strode confidently to her boyfriend, seeing his face brighten up once he caught sight of her. Taking the rose in one hand, she stood on her toes to give him a kiss, brief but clear enough for everyone to realize their relationship. From the corner of her eye, she saw some of the girls looking at her with goggled eyes and open mouths.
A surge of confidence welled inside her. 'Oh yeah. Money can't get you this. It's all charm.'
"Hey, handsome. Thanks for coming all the way down for me."
"Hey, Pretty Kitty. You know I'd never leave you to walk alone. Ready to go back to the Institute? I think Ororo left you some grilled fish in the fridge."
Kitty shook her head and took his hand. "I know that I should be watching out for carbs and all… but after the week we've had? I like, totally need a chicken parm, and you probably need around four."
Her boyfriend grinned sheepishly and nodded. "Do any of your friends want to come?"
Felicia strode forward with a mischievous smile. "Yeah, 'Pretty Kitty'. Don't you want to introduce us?"
Now it was her turn to look sheepish. "Yeah, this is my boyfriend, Naruto Uzumaki. Naruto, these are my new friends: Felicia Hardy, Janet Van Dyne, and Mary Jan –"
"Hey, MJ," greeted Naruto.
"Hey, yourself," replied Mary Jane, showing her pearly white teeth with a small smile. "You seem to keep appearing in my life, tiger. Don't you find it strange?"
Kitty looked at both of them. "You know each other?"
"Yeah," replied Naruto with a grin. "We met over at Stark Tower… before the… uhh… well you know."
Janet closed her eyes and shivered. "It was the most frightening moment of my life. When they took me… I thought I was going to die!" She looked down for only the briefest moment, and suddenly broke into a smile. "Thankfully the Maelstrom saved us, didn't he Felicia?"
"With your daily reminder, how could I forget?" Felicia grinned and thrust her hand towards Naruto. "Nice to finally put a face to the name. Kitty Cat hasn't stopped talking about her boyfriend since we met. Name's Felicia. If you're looking for a specialist in art, jewels, antiques, or anything that costs an arm and a leg, just look for the name 'Hardy'."
"Yeah… nice to meet you," Naruto said nervously.
A black sedan with tinted windows rolled near the entrance, stopping only to let a burly man in a suit and glasses step out. "That's me!" chirped Janet with a grin. She took out a pen and paper and wrote down a number before giving it to Kitty "Give me a call if you want to go shopping! See you next time!"
Another vehicle with tinted windows came for Felicia. With a smirk she turned to them. "See you around," she said as she elegantly strode to the door a short but muscular man opened. Naruto didn't stop looking until the black SUV was swallowed by night.
No car came from Mary Jane. Offering a pearly-toothed grin, she waved at them, specifically at Naruto. "You can call good ol' Mary Jane anytime you want. Though, with how we tend to meet unexpectedly, I don't think that's necessary."
Naruto put up his hands. "I swear it's all a coincidence." Kitty pursed her lips. How many times have these two seen each other now? "Do you want us to take you home? It's dangerous out there."
"Now, now. I already told you I can look out for myself." She looked at Kitty, as seriously as Mary Jane could look. "Besides, it's rude to be a third wheel. Have fun!" Before either of them could say anything, she had already sprinted to the other side of the street and disappeared into the subway entrance.
Kitty grabbed Naruto's arm. "Ready to go?"
Naruto wordlessly looked around the mostly empty streets. Crossing his fingers, he made a clone that instantly transformed into a random passerby and just as quickly sped after Mary Jane. "Let's go," he said finally.
"Most girls don't appreciate being followed," she stated dryly.
"It's just until she gets home. It'll dispel itself after that," he assured her.
Even so, she felt her stomach twirl a little but paid it little mind. 'It's hunger,' she told herself.
The discomfort ended as soon as she felt fingers on her hair. Kitty had rarely been confident about her hair. It wasn't as striking as Mary Jane's or Jean's red, not as pure as Ororo or Felicia's white, not even as pretty as Janet or Rogue's auburn. She also preferred it straight, but her natural curls formed when she didn't take care of it regularly. That didn't seem to matter to Naruto. He could never keep his hands off of it.
With her worries sated for the moment, Kitty felt her playful side come up. She went behind her boyfriend and jumped on his back. "You know what? I'm not all that tired. All work and no play makes Kitty a dull girl. Let's have some fun!"
He grinned. "Where do you want to go, Pretty Kitty?"
Kitty looked around until she found a giant Ferris wheel. She remembered her parents taking her to the county fairs when she was a child, and as she became older, the rides seemed smaller. The size of this one made her remember still being six years old. They didn't make them that big in Deerfield!
Knowing what was coming next, she held on to his neck as he flashed into a rooftop and began jumping towards their destination, only slowing down when they got near the entrance. Before she got her purse out, Naruto had already paid for both of their tickets. After he'd done it on so many dates, she knew better than to protest.
"Where do you want to go?" asked Naruto
She took a look around at the attractions. There were the rides for kids that she enjoyed once, and the adrenaline pumping ones she'd been too young to get into, but given how much she rode on Naruto's back and the general excitement of mutant life, they seemed almost mundane.
"Come here, come all! First to get all targets wins the big prize!" Their heads were drawn to the man in the shooting gallery. He looked directly at Naruto. "You have the look of a good shooter, young man."
'Oh, you have no idea." Kitty giggled as Naruto walked up to the man and paid for the gun and some pellets. Several seconds and a few repetitive tinkling sounds later, all of the metal targets were down, along with the jaws of the man and all the spectators.
The man chuckled nervously and went for the giant bear at the center of the gallery. "Didn't think this would go so early in the evening."
"Wait," she interrupted, looking at the other prizes until her eyes settled on a small little stuffed toy. "The dragon!" she decided with a grin. Visibly confused but nonetheless grateful, the man picked up the small purple dragon and gave it to her.
"I didn't take you for the type that liked dragons," said Naruto, stuffing a handful of popcorn in his mouth.
"Dragons can be cute," she retorted with a laugh. "That was amazing, by the way."
He chuckled. "It's pretty easy. Just aim down the sight and pull the trigger. You don't even have to think about force or stability like with shuriken or kunai. Catching goldfish with a paper scooper, though? That's hard."
"Still, you've only been here for less than a year. How did you learn to shoot like that?"
He made a smug grin, flashing his eyes red for a brief moment. "I get shot at fairly regularly. Some of those guys are pretty good."
Kitty nodded but pursed her lips. Being the Maelstrom's girlfriend had been quite an experience. She obviously could not reveal his real identity to anyone aside from people in the Institute, and sometimes he had to leave suddenly, especially at night, only to come back later smelling like dirt and gunpowder. Yet she never felt like she was dating two people at the same time, like it was portrayed in hero movies. Naruto is the Maelstrom, and the Maelstrom is Naruto. Anybody who knew the two could realize it.
She knew she should be proud of him, and she totally was. But at the same time, Naruto's double life worried her. The memory of how easily he was willing to give up his life on Asteroid M never left her mind. He acted on impulses alone, noble as those were. A hero's girlfriend was supposed to be supportive, but how could she be expected to ignore the anxiety brewing in her stomach every time he left at night?
"Let's get on the wheel," said Naruto, pointing at the biggest ride. "I want to see the city."
Kitty giggled. "I would've thought that you'd be bored of heights by now, being able to fly and all."
"I'm still new to flying, so I have to concentrate a lot on not losing my balance until I can get to Jean's level."
There was no line to the ferris wheel. They were actually the only people riding on it, in fact. Most of the children were not interested in the slow ride. Children had been more visible in the city in the last few months; mothers were more willing to let them out thanks to recent nosedive in crime. All of it was thanks to Naruto's work. Naruto and his friends, of course.
The wheel moved slowly, a contrast compared to most of the rides. She preferred it that way. "What are you doing on vacation?" she asked, resting her head on his shoulder.
He shrugged. "Work. We're getting close to something big. I can feel it. Also, I need to keep working on the seal for Rogue, and –"
"Have you ever thought about some 'you' time? Rogue said that you don't need to spend all of your vacation working on it. Try to do something you like."
"I am," replied Naruto. "I'm spending time with you."
Kitty smiled. "I know that you have responsibilities, but… just be careful, okay? For me?"
"Yeah." He grinned and gave her a thumbs up. "Don't worry about it."
She rested her head on his shoulder again, finally turning to see the city. It was filled with light and noise, and she didn't think she could ever get used to how busy it was compared to her home, but she still loved it, especially when she came with Naruto. It was filled with new friends, new challenges, and… food.
A rumbling erupted from her stomach. Red-faced, she remembered just how hungry she was. Pursing her lips, Kitty turned to Naruto. "It was fun and all, but could you –"
"Get you a chicken parm?"
He undid their belts and stood up. Kitty almost reflexively jumped on his back, wrapped her arms around his neck and held on tightly just as Naruto took to the skies. It was far more stable than his jumping, and made the rest of the rides in the fair look like a total bore. It was a hero girlfriend perk she could totally get behind.
"Are you still helping the Professor with that girl in the asylum you talked about?" asked Kitty as she took a big bite of her meal. The restaurant was one of her new favorites. Delicious and perfectly affordable, although the price mattered little since Naruto always insisted on paying.
Naruto stopped eating his third meatball hero. "Wanda? Yeah. She's been getting better… at least I think she is. I can't imagine living in that place for over five years. Anybody would go completely insane going through what she's been through. I've tried to tell everyone in the hospital to give her a chance, but they won't let her go…"
Kitty pursed her lips when she saw the look in Naruto's eye. She had known him long enough to know he would never stand by when there was someone in need. It's the reason why he had become a vigilante in the first place. It was unbelievably sweet, but just as dangerous.
"You can't save everyone," she said. "What you already do is more than enough." She grabbed hold of his hand. "But if you need help with anything, you know that I'm here for you."
He looked at the table for a few seconds, deep in thought. His gaze snapped forward and he used both his hands to grab hers. "Are you sure that you can help me?"
"As long as it's not something crazy." His head dropped a little. "I mean like, totally insane," she added.
He looked at the waiter and ordered two big sandwiches for himself plus an order of pasta to go. After waiting for the food and paying, they went behind the restaurant to the alley where he stored the food into a seal and told her to grab hold of him again. Kitty felt herself growing more and more nervous by the minute.
"What are you planning?" she finally asked just before they took flight.
"I'll tell you when we get there," he replied and took to the night sky once again. They flew over the city until the lights turned into roads, grass and trees. They were going back upstate, but they passed over Salem Center and the Institute, following the roads until they reached a wooded area, occupied only by a set of dim lights in the middle of a small forest. Naruto finally made his descent.
"Salem Center Mental Health Institute," she silently whispered the words atop the front gate. "Is this where…" he nodded, "and you're planning to…" he nodded again. "Are you planning to commit yourself? Cause this is totally crazy!"
"I'm trying to do what is right."
"I know you are, but there are other ways of doing this. You're not going against criminals here, Naruto. This is a legally operated mental health institute. What you're planning to do goes beyond being a vigilante. You said that her powers are they're trying to help her."
Naruto shook his head. "No they're not. They're not doing anything with her. Wanda has nobody to help her. Not her parents, not her brother, not even the doctors want to help her, and she needs help! But they don't bother because they can't understand her. So they just force her to take pills all day, lock her and throw away the key to forget that she ever existed!"
"If the monster inside of me came out, would you also say that I deserve to be locked up forever?"
Kitty couldn't find it in herself to raise any more protests. Even if she did, they would be too half-hearted to convince anyone, let alone Naruto. "Alright," she said. "There's a first for everything, including breaking the law."
Naruto smiled and grabbed her hand, leading her to a part of the wall that was covered in darkness. She instinctively phased both of them to the other side, and again upon reaching the building's wall. They entered a dark storage room that smelled like it hadn't been disturbed since the building's foundation.
"Great! I knew that this room was abandoned," whispered Naruto. His red eyes shined even in the darkness. "There is a guard walking around the halls, and we have to be careful about cameras. Let's go right."
She gave a nod. "Do you know where she is?"
"No. They only let her out for the meeting rooms, but I've never seen where she sleeps."
She tapped her chin. "We should search for a ledger or something, otherwise we'll be running around the place all night and we'll probably get caught."
"There's a reception desk on the left… but I saw cameras the last time I was here. We'll just have to get rid of them without security noticing," said Naruto.
So they had their plan. The following rooms on their left were filled with cabinets, the one beyond seemed to be a rest area of some sort with a fridge and two microwaves, and when they finally emerged from the rooms, they did so in a hall, with the reception Naruto mentioned at the very end, illuminated with a dim light. On its path, was a series of security cameras.
"Wait," whispered Kitty when she saw Naruto about to charge at the first camera. "Allow me." She approached the camera slowly, making sure there was not another one behind her, and phased through the wall, rising until she reached the top of the ceiling, and swiped her hand on the device. She smiled at the sound of the electronics dying inside the camera.
She continued doing the same for the next few cameras, even when it was seemingly unnecessary. No guards were coming out to check the now destroyed surveillance equipment. Even the reception was completely unguarded, and Naruto said that the only staff on the floor were chatting near the exit.
"Wanda, Wanda, Wanda…" Naruto muttered as he started to check the ledger, Kitty keeping an eye for any guard Naruto might have missed with his special eyes. "Got it! Wanda Maximoff! Let's go."
The room was thankfully nearby, and she only needed to deactivate a couple more cameras until they reached a reinforced door. Nodding to Naruto, she slowly phased inside, deactivating one last camera before pulling him inside the room. It was completely undecorated, with only a metal table and chair, access to a small bathroom, and a bed, where a restrained figure rested.
"Wanda!" Naruto whispered loudly and the girl woke with a violent jerk, stopped only by her restraints.
"N-Naruto? Is that you?" she asked. "What are you doing here?"
Kitty narrowed her eyes until she could focus them on the darkness. Naruto had been accurate about Wanda's looks – green eyes and auburn hair, slightly tall for her age, with pale skin from lack of sun. What he hadn't told her was that, despite the greasy hair and the sunken eyes, she was very pretty.
'They're always pretty. Every single one.'
A dark part of her wondered if Naruto would be this insistent on helping her if she was not pretty, or anyone else for that matter. Felicia was pretty, and so was Janet, and he was sending those clones after Mary Jane. How many times had he risked everything to help Jean and Ororo? How many more pretty women did he help out at night? Would he be so ready to help if they were not?
Her thoughts stopped when she saw Wanda looking back at her. Kitty shook her head and savagely buried those thoughts. Of course he would help! That's who he was. He would always help… and so would she.
"Hey there, name's Kitty. Kitty Pryde," she whispered and slowly placed hand on Wanda's restrained arm. "Don't freak out, alright." Green eyes looked at her inquisitively before widening as her body was phased out of the binding mechanism.
"What are you doing?" she asked, looking back at the bed and door as if she expected guards to storm in and place her back any second.
Naruto gave a single chuckle. "I told you that I always keep my promises… one way or the other. Come on," he said, picking her up and nodding to Kitty, "let's get out of here."
Kitty grabbed onto his neck as he jumped to the ceiling. She closed her eyes and phased all three of them through the roof, letting out a breath in the still chilly air. Her body was getting tired now.
Naruto wasted no time in taking to the sky, and though his flight was a little shaky when supporting three people, they still managed to get out of the literal woods with little trouble. Just as Kitty's eyes started to feel heavy, the trio saw the colonial style architecture of the Institute. Naruto did not land near the entrance, as he usually did, but near a small field that the school had been carefully constructing into a garden.
After a full minute, Wanda let go of her tight grip and allowed her bare feet to settle on the grass. Despite the darkness, she could only stare at the sight with wide eyes and an open mouth. Her toes dug into the rich soil and her hands lightly traced over a freshly planted flower. A confusing sound erupted from her mouth that almost sounded like a cry if it hadn't been brimming with joy.
Wanda looked at Naruto. "Why did you bring me here?"
"This is the Institute. The one that me and the Professor told you. It's where people like us come because we need help to control our powers. We're going to be helping you from today on."
"B-But what if you can't help me? What if they tell me that I need to go back?"
He placed a hand on Wanda's shoulder. "I won't let them," he stated simply. He was dead serious.
Wanda looked at the ground, eyes still doubting. She even pinched herself at one point as if she were dreaming. After years of being locked in a single building without leaving, Kitty imagined that it all must be surreal.
"Me and Ororo are still building the garden, and the library is closed right now, so no books." Naruto unrolled one of his scrolls and unsealed the food he stored earlier. "But I did get you some pasta. That's at least half of my promise."
The moment Wanda took her first bite, she pursed her trembling lips, but could not stop the tears rolling down her cheeks. Just minutes before she was a forsaken soul, completely devoid of love and purpose. Now, life was once again present in her eyes, now sparkling like emeralds.
The look on Naruto's face said more than a thousand conversations Kitty had in the past. He was smiling, not expecting anything back, just to help people. When one looked beyond his goofiness, they would see a young man that would not falter against any enemy, so long as he did what he was was her boyfriend – the hero, Naruto Uzumaki. Nothing would ever change that.
Because at the end of the day, being a hero felt good.
Naruto took a deep breath as he looked at himself in the mirror. For some reason, Naruto felt the need to look proper every time he met with Emma. Not in the same way as with Kitty. He felt comfortable enough with his girlfriend to keep some of his style. But Emma was a mature woman, in many ways than one. Far younger and more refined than some of the older women that he knew back home. It was hard to compare Emma to Tsunade.
Once he felt comfortable enough with his naturally spiky hair and his outfit, he walked towards the wooden door and he knocked on it.
"Door's open. Come in," came the regal voice from the other side.
His nose immediately met the pleasant scent of incense and perfume that accompanied Emma's usual jasmine fragrance. The room, despite its small size, was richly furnished with a large mahogany table and leather furniture.
"Take a seat, darling," spoke Emma, who was busy near the small bar at the corner of the room. "Want anything to drink?"
"Just some water," he said, sitting on the expensive couch.
Emma turned with a devious smirk. "Come on, darling. You won't leave me to drink all alone, will you?" she asked while sashaying to his seat and taking her place right next to him despite the spacious furniture.
"I'm under twenty-one."
"That makes two of us."
"Really?" Her eyes twitched at his blurted remark. Wincing, he remembered what he heard Jean say about women being sensitive about their age. One of those "tact" issues he'd been working on. "I-It's just that you are very smart and mature compared to the other women I know!" he said quickly.
Her smirk swiftly returned. "It should be clear by now that I'm much more than the common riff-raff, darling." She elegantly sipped on her drink. "You're the same. I don't just bring any pedestrian off the street into my place. You have to be special for me to give you some attention."
Every time he was around Emma conjured a storm of feelings. He felt uncomfortable and excited when she got physically close, and she never hesitated to touch, or persuade him to touch her, despite the fact that he was not her strip club client anymore. Ego boosts came when she complimented him, which was often, even for the most minimal things, like his abilities, and even just existing. She was the most confusing woman Naruto had ever met.
"Ermm…" Naruto mumbled. "You said you had new targets for me?"
"I do," said Emma as she twirled her drink. "But it's still early in the evening, isn't it? Take a breather. This place is safe. Not even Fisk knows of it. You can relax here, take a drink, even sleep a couple of hours if you want. Or…" she smirked, "you can keep me company."
Naruto nodded, leaned back on the couch, and closed his eyes. Emma had such comfortable furniture, and such wonderful smells compared to the usual congested smell of the city. He once again smelled the jasmine scent, and the light incense, and the… meat?"
He opened his eyes again to see Emma placing a plate in front of him, filled with a mouthwatering steak and potatoes. His stomach growled.
Emma laughed. "Well, if you don't want a drink, perhaps I can offer you a meal? Go on."
Naruto grinned and grabbed the utensils. It took all of his willpower to not just shovel the entire piece into his gullet. Jean had already taught him table manners and by Kami, Emma was a woman that deserved his most polite behavior.
As soon as he bit into the meat, his mouth exploded with flavor. It was juicy and tender, and cooked to perfection. Without a doubt the best steak he had ever tasted in his life. "This is amazing!" he said as soon as his mouth was clear.
"It's Wagyu beef, darling. Although in the lower grade, I'm afraid. Usually I prefer to get the Kobe cut for my guests but alas, it was not available. This sufficed for my tastes, but any lower and I wouldn't dare serve it to you. Only peasants eat below prime grade."
He continued to eat the meal while Emma made idle chatter. That's always how it started. At times, Emma told him about herself. Not much, but for him to know that she was from Boston, and that she came from a wealthy family but ran away, and fell on hard times. That's why she had fallen under the control of Wilson Fisk.
"Don't you ever want to return to your family?" Naruto asked as he was finishing the last bites.
Emma shook her head. "I know living without a family must have been hard, darling. But some families are not worth being born into."
Sometimes, being around Emma was more comfortable than being around the girls of the Institute. She always listened to him and, without knowing, he ended up spilling up more things to her than he intended. Already she knew about Konoha, the Hokages, and about Orochimaru. Last time, he was extremely close to telling her about the Kyūbi and the Akatsuki.
Her finger traced his jaw, gently pulling his face towards her. "You look like you're carrying the entire city on your back? Trouble in paradise?" Naruto shook his head unconvincingly. "It's about girls, isn't it?"
Naruto tried to give an excuse but he choked on his own words. "How did you know?"
She smirked and twirled her drink. "It's always about girls with boys your age, trust me. Men are incredible at many things, but it's always the fairer sex that vexes them. You can talk to me about it. I'm a bit of an authority on my gender."
"I don't really want to be a bother."
She smiled. "It's the least I can do for you helping me, darling. I'm a great listener, and I promise I won't tell anyone."
"I don't know where to start," he mumbled.
"How about your girlfriend," suggested Emma. "Kitty, was it?" He confirmed with a nod. "What's happening? You can barely stop talking about her any time you come with me."
"I don't know, really. I think she doesn't like it when I go out at night, and she keeps telling me to concentrate on my studies. I mean… it's nice and all but I'm a shinobi – fighting is what I'm supposed to use my skills for. I don't see myself settling down as a doctor or an engineer."
"Who's talking about settling down?" she asked, waving her hand at him. "You're still young and have your whole life ahead of you. Do you really think she's considering marriage? I don't think so, not at her age. Most women don't get married until after college these days. She's just worried about you."
He looked at the ceiling. "Back at home, shinobi marry quickly. Only the most powerful live past their twenties, and even most of those die off around their forties, so you need to have enough kids to take your place before you're killed. It's part of our duty."
"Your home sounds like a dangerous place," commented Emma.
Naruto nodded. "But we accept the lifestyle. No shinobi dies of old age. Even the old man, the Third Hokage, died before he could truly retire. The only one who didn't die in battle was the First, and it was because of a disease."
"And yet there must be some that are stronger than others, no? These Hokage are some of them. They all came from powerful clans, yes?"
"Not all of them. The Fourth Hokage didn't have a clan. He was an orphan of war, brought as a baby to the village. The First, Second and Fifth were of the Senju clan, and the Old Man was from the Sarutobi clan."
"Most of them come from powerful clans, though. Clans that must have some special abilities. Those special eyes you told me about… they are inherited, right?"
Naruto wondered if that was the case. "My eyes," he started, "are called the Sharingan. They came from an old clan in my village. How I got them, I don't know, but I remember how people looked at the Uchiha in fear and hatred, even more than me. Everyone always said they were a cursed clan. They all got killed by one of their own…"
She placed a hand on his shoulder and made him look at her again. "People hate what they cannot understand, especially when it comes to power. Someone like you, who has a litany of gifts, is bound to be feared and hated… but also admired."
He nodded, remembering his time in Konoha and how he slowly started to gain recognition despite his "gift". It had only been one gift then, though. Now, he had several more, and he wondered if his new abilities would be an even bigger taboo than just the Kyūbi.
Just as he was about to ask again for the targets and leave, Emma turned the conversation back to women.
"What about this other girl you told me about? The one you want to help? Rogue, was it?". He nodded. "Do you desire to grow closer to her?"
"Of course," he responded swiftly. "I wish to get closer to all my friends. "
Emma laughed. "You know that's not what I mean, darling. Do you want to get closer to her?"
He held up his hands. "N-No… not like that. I mean… I have a girlfriend! I don't want to cheat on her. This is all because I want to make her stop worrying about me."
"I wasn't talking about cheating," she said with a grin as she once again toyed with her drink. "People are not all that different from animals. Have you ever thought of that? How close many of our behaviors are to our beastly cousins?"
"I never really thought much about it."
"The animal world is not as forgiving as our own. Especially to those of lower stock. Nature is not kind to those that do not pass useful traits to their offspring, especially the males. Sometimes, it's better for the ones with better traits to live on and reproduce as much as possible. For the betterment of genes, of course."
Genes. That seemed to be Emma's favorite word. Every time it came out of her lips it was with reverence, and a passionate fire would light up her blue eyes. She had already asked him a lot of questions in previous meetings. Questions about his heritage, and shared his disappointment when he could tell her nothing aside from likely relations to the Uchiha clan and, if the old geezer was to be believed, the Senju clan.
"These Senju and Uchiha clans. They were quite strong, I presume?"
He nodded, trying to remember the few times when he'd paid attention to Iruka's lessons. "Those were the two clans that created our village. The first two Hokage were of the Senju clan and the Uchiha were powerful… even though pretty much everyone disliked and feared them except for other shinobi. They even had to live outside the village proper."
"Hmm… like the executioners of old," she mused. "Men that were forged for gruesome tasks, yet were unquestionably necessary."
He quickly channeled chakra into his eyes and turned it off just as quickly Despite the Sharingan being stronger than when he first got it, he wanted to use it as little as possible. Each time he resorted to using them, the reality of being related to the Uchiha clan filled him with dread. He knew it was hypocritical, the clan being only one rung above him in the Konoha scale of social contempt, but it was nonetheless disturbing to believe that he and Sasuke had blood relations.
"Oh? Those are the eyes, right? The Sharingan you talk about? Can I see it again, please?"
Naruto turned on his eyes again and watched as Emma studied him meticulously. The eyes always brought fascination even back in Konoha, and here it was no different.
"Phenomenal… absolutely phenomenal. You are special, indeed. You and those eyes. You also told me that you had stronger chakra than most. That was one of the things that the ones called Senju had, right?"
Naruto thought for a moment before shaking his head. "No, not really. There's no reason to believe that I have Senju ancestors, and there are other shinobi that also use the Sharingan that aren't Uchiha. There's no Uzumaki clan to my knowledge."
Of those two statements, the first one was something that he believed. The Old Man was the only one that told him about it, but he would think that if he was honestly related to the First Hokage, he would have been able to quickly identify it. It's not like Konoha's founder's descendants could simply disappear. Granny Tsunade was partially famous for her blood relation to the First and Second Hokages.
As for the Uchiha…
There was ashinobi that used the Sharingan that was not an Uchiha – Kakashi-sensei … but he had most definitely gotten his eye from an actual Uchiha. It didn't take a genius to see that Kakashi wasn't a born user. He had a deep scar over the eye that housed his Sharingan, and his control over it wasn't as good as Sasuke's. In comparison, Naruto had it in both eyes, and he could activate and deactivate them at will. Nobody had done an eye transplant as far as he knew. Maybe when he was a baby, just as it had been done with the Kyūbi?
Naruto just didn't like to think about it. Being the jinchūriki of the Kyūbi no Kitsune was far less disturbing than being related to Konoha's cursed clan.
Damn it! He was brooding again!
"Even so, you didn't get these gifts out of nowhere. Even your normal chakra abilities are magnificent. None of us can use them." She rested her chin on his shoulder. "There's so much you can give to the world. You do know… it's only natural for creatures with exceptional genetic components to have an increased desire for propagation. Perhaps if your Senju and Uchiha clans didn't restrict themselves with conventional reproduction practices, they would still have survived." She finished her drink with a smile. "Oh well… perhaps a lesson for the future."
Naruto nodded absentmindedly despite not really understanding what she was talking about. "It's getting late and the others are waiting for me," he said, standing up.
Humming in disappointment, Emma finished her drink and went to her desk for an envelope. Naruto noticed it was smaller than usual. "These are the targets for tonight. He's noticed you now, darling, so you'll have to come to me every night for an update. Don't be surprised if some of these are decoys, either."
He frowned. "None of the other ones did these things when we started to hit them."
"There's a reason Wilson Fisk is in the place he is. You're dealing with a far cannier individual than the conglomeration of imbeciles you've faced until now. Stay safe, and remember that you can always come here if you run into any kind of trouble."
He grinned and gave a thumbs up. "I'll be back tomorrow. Thanks for everything!" He put on his mask and walked off the room and the building.
The alley he walked out to was unlit by design. This was Emma's hideout when she was not in Wilson Fisk's clutches and she wanted to keep it secret. As soon as he levitated into the air, he saw the countless lights of the city flashing in front of him. The cold had been slowly giving way to spring, though it was still chilly at night. The noise did not change.
He landed on top of the rooftop and didn't have to wait long for a thudding noise to signal the arrival of Daredevil. Before either could say a world, Spider-Man landed gracefully on the metal vent.
"I got our targets for today," he said, pulling out the folder that Emma had given him. "Do we divide them like last time or do we go in as a team?" Daredevil stood silent, looking at the ground. "What happened?"
Daredevil nodded towards Spider-Man. "Show him."
Fishing into his backpack, Spider-Man brought out a laptop and opened it. Naruto walked to him as the screen started to flash. Images started to pour forth showing a scene of savage violence. Bodies of once living men laid that were now nothing but heaps of flesh, with other images showing the casings of heavy duty ammunition.
"Who were they?"
"Maggia and Irish mob. They were doing a big transaction of weapons and heroin before… well before that happened," responded Daredevil.
"Where did you get this?" he asked Spider-Man.
"Remember that experiment we were working on? Managed to get through a backdoor to the police database. It's been a week and they still haven't realized it."
"So the two gangs killed each other off? Better than if they killed innocents," commented Naruto.
"No. Notice that none of the casings are beside the bodies. They didn't have time to pull out their weapons before they were killed. The suspect is the one we've talked about before. The media is calling him 'The Punisher'. He leaves no survivors," said Daredevil.
Naruto nodded. "So he's another vigilante like us. When do we present ourselves to him?"
"He's not like us!" snapped Daredevil. Naruto had never seen him this infuriated. "We fight in the name of justice and leave the judgement to the rightful system – he's a murderer, plain and simple."
"But he got rid of the criminals. Isn't that the important part?"
"It's true that we operate outside the law, but we are agents of justice, not the judge, jury and executioner. If a criminal deserves death, then he will get it after the proper process takes place."
"Sometimes, it'll be easier to kill them ourselves rather than giving them a chance for them to hurt more people in the future."
"You're right, it's easier... too easy. We do not kill, no matter how bad it gets. Not to preserve their lives, but to ensure the survival of our souls. We may justify when we kill at first and our souls are tainted only once, but the next time, our judgement will be swift, and with less clarity, and so our souls will be less burdened each time, until sin becomes as easy as breathing," said Daredevil.
Spider-Man kept on scrolling through the images, showing the faces of the dead criminals. He saw one last, and managed to recognize it despite the ruined forehead.
"Stop!" he yelled. "Go to the last one." The top of his face was almost unrecognizable, but he knew that lower half: the mouth, the nose, and the two moles on his cheek. The taste in his mouth turned to ash.
"What is it? Did you know him?"
Naruto nodded. "That was Mike… my informant." He hadn't spoken to him since Asteroid M. Many times he tried to find him… now he had, but it had been too late. "He was the one that tipped us before my new informant. He must have been gathering information. Why did he get killed?"
"You see? Once killing becomes easy as breathing, innocents will bleed," whispered Daredevil. "We follow the criminals, find out their plans, and stop them, but we do not kill. Is that clear?" Spider-Man nodded quickly, Naruto slightly less so. "Good. Divide out targets and finish as quickly as possible."
All three nodded and jumped from the building, off to another night on the job.
"Alright, honey. It's all over."
"Not quite – I'm still breathing!"
Naruto stared at the screen in confusion as another laugh track boomed from the speakers. He didn't really understand the comedy from the black and white show on display, nor why the situation was so funny. He shrugged and continued watching. It wasn't really for him, but for Wanda, who broke into a smile at the spectacle.
Professor Xavier hadn't really been surprised when he and Kitty brought Wanda from the asylum. The reprimand was half-hearted at best and before an hour had passed, Wanda had been given her own room right next to Jean's. No mention of the mental health hospital had been made since that night.
By the next day, most of the other students had welcomed the new student. Some eagerly, others less so, but she had been welcomed nonetheless. There hadn't been any tension until Jubilee had asked about Wanda's powers. That darkened Wanda's mood and she could only respond that she didn't know much about her abilities, other than they were difficult to control. As such, she was currently excluded from mutant training. She wasn't bothered by it.
There hadn't been any problems with Wanda's powers since her release, and she looked visibly happier when surrounded by her comforts: pasta, books, the Institute grounds, and the bizarre old sitcoms that she watched. Oftentimes she was joined by other students, who must have seen the shows when they were younger. Naruto himself was never big into television, rare as they were back home.
His memories were interrupted by two hands on his arm that started to pull him from his seat. Kitty was donning one of the bathing suits she'd bought back when he'd first taken her to the city. She'd been ecstatic to try out everything she couldn't wear in the cold climate.
"Wanna come with, Wanda? I'll tell Rogue to lend you some of her swimsuits."
Magneto's daughter just waved her hand, not looking away from her show. "I'll be fine. Have fun."
Kitty shrugged and grinned at him, pulling him towards the wall and phasing both of them to the other side.
The rays of light hit immediately pricked his skin. After a long winter filled with chilly winds and heavy snow, the spring sun had been welcomed with enthusiasm by everyone at the Institute, even by Bobby Drake. Ororo made extra sure that they got clear skies for their first day of vacation.
Vacation. That was a term that Naruto had yet to grasp. In Konoha there were only a few days off from the Academy, and while shinobi could take days off, they were always meant to be ready for service if the Hokage ever called for them, no excuses. Vacations were only for the children that had been enrolled in civilian schools. It was a completely normal concept to the students of the Xavier Institute.
Kitty was not the only one enjoying the warmer weather. Bobby Drake and Roberto were off in the field, accompanied by Sam. They had been discussing earlier the difference between football and American football. Most of the students were by the pool, even the normally reserved Dani was smiling as she took in the sun.
There were some exceptions. Kurt genuinely preferred the cold due to his fur, Scott didn't care so long as he was training, and Rahne...
"Clothe yeselves! Dinnae y' feel any shame prancing 'round in yer underclothes like the antique heathens?! 'Tis na' proper!" chastised a scandalized Rahne, fully clothed from neck to toe despite the heat. "In full view o' the men, no less! Nae… y' too, Dani? Och, the shame o' it!"
Jubilee grinned and wrapped an arm around the Scottish redhead. "Underclothes? Calm down, Rahne. We're just having some fun. Besides, how else is the skin going to get some color?" She uncapped a bottle and poured some white liquid on her legs, spreading it with her hands.
It was a fashion trend that was alien to Naruto. Tanning, they called it, using the sun to slightly darken the skin. But they needed sunscreen to protect the skin from burning too much. Women in Konoha did get some skin treatment, but nothing to change the color. Noble girls especially liked to keep it pale to distinguish themselves from working commoner girls.
All around him, Naruto saw the girls helping each other. Ororo and Jean, Amara and Dani, Shan and Jubilee.
"Don't be such a sourpuss, Rahne! Come and enjoy the sun. I'll lend you one of my swimsuits," offered Amara.
"Nae! I will na' be dragged into this ritual o' sin!" declared Rahne as she picked up her skirts and stomped back to the mansion.
"That girl needs to lighten up. Ain't many guys that are turned on by scripture nowadays," muttered Rogue.
"Naruto…" cooed Kitty, who was laying face down on a lounge chair and waving a bottle of sunscreen at him. "Do my back, pretty please."
Nodding, Naruto grabbed the bottle and slowly started to spread it over her back. Her skin was soft, but her muscles tense from training and dance classes. As he worked over her back, she let out a small moan. The sound made him kneel down so that others didn't notice his swimming trunks getting tighter in the front.
"It's almost like being at the beach. We should totally go in the summer," said Kitty with a grin. "We could propose it as a trip with the school… or maybe we just go ourselves? What do you think?"
"I'd love to, but I still need to work on –"
"Come on. Heroes need vacations too, otherwise they'll like, go insane. The city isn't going to fall apart just because you're gone for like a week or two."
Naruto smiled and nodded. "I'll try."
A voice coughed behind him. "Mind if Ah borrow your boyfriend?" asked Rogue with her own bottle of sunscreen. "Ain't got a partner to do my back. One that won't be spendin' the day in the hospital anyway."
Kitty nodded, her eyes still closed. "Sure, just don't forget to return him as soon as you're done." Well, if Kitty was alright with it…
Rogue had set herself apart from the rest of the girls. It was rare for her to show this amount of skin, especially around other people that were showing just as little. A single mistake and one of the students would be spending the weekend at the infirmary.
Grabbing the bottle of sunscreen, he got to work. Despite normally not showing anything below the neck, Rogue still made sure that her skin was soft. She shuddered at his touch, but he saw her smile.
"I've been working on it… the seal. There's still some things I need to do, and hopefully I'm able to find out a way to stabilize the chakra flow, but when I tried to find another solution, there was a problem with–"
"Naruto," she moaned. "Don't worry about it."
"But I want you to have it as quickly as possible."
"There ain't many people Ah wanna touch right now. It ain't so bad once you start gettin' used to the precautions. Please, you don't have to go around worryin' 'bout me all day. 'Specially not when it's interferin' with your life."
"Kitty told me I should relax, but –"
"She's right. You should relax. You ain't goin' to make much progress if all you do is work an' work. Ah told you already that Ah can wait. Irene once told me that you shouldn't hate the calm, cause you may not like the storm. Enjoy yourself."
He bit his lip and nodded, looking back at the Institute and what he had built. "You're right… I'll try to take it easy," he said, closing the bottle.
"Yosh!" He jumped from his seat and set his eyes on the pool. Why shouldn't he enjoy himself? Exams were over, Magneto was nowhere to be seen, nor Akatsuki and Orochimaru, and he didn't have the means to go back to Konoha. They even had the bad guys in the city running scared. Life has never been better!
He sprinted towards the water and jumped several meters into the air, forming his body into a ball just as he was about to crash, sending water everywhere. It was nice and fresh thanks to the shining sun. "Naruto!" he heard Jean cry out when he surfaced and he could only grin in response.
Really. What was the worst that could happen?
Wesley had never seen his boss so angry. Granted, Wilson Fisk rarely showed any emotion in his ever-present poker face, but after spending so much time as his right-hand man, Wesley could say that he knew some of his boss' tendencies. It wasn't even the sudden spark of fury such as the time with Gutierrez where the reasons with his annoyance could be swiftly dealt with, but a slow and simmering anger that he couldn't take his frustrations out on.
Everything started when Mike couldn't get into contact with the Maelstrom. It hadn't angered Fisk as much as it had annoyed him that he had to rethink his plans. Mike promised his boss that he would get in touch with the annoying blonde and get him back to work, and in a few weeks, he managed to track down the vigilante… and that was the least of his revelations.
The bad thing was that the blonde idiot, as Mike liked to call him, hadn't stayed put in the meantime. He had gotten a new informant apparently. One that, most worryingly, knew about his boss' operations.
Since then, the Maelstrom and his friends had been hitting them, and hitting them hard. The first domino to fall was a money laundering operation. After that, a nightclub, and later an insurance scam system they operated. Those were operations that had gone under the radar for long, posing partly as legitimate businesses, but now they were targets for the vigilantes. It was clear that they were being informed by one of Wilson Fisk's enemies.
At least being hit meant that the Mexicans, Russians and the Maggia were dropping their suspicions. They were already being troubled enough by the new problem.
Mike had promised Wilson Fisk that he would get in contact with the Maelstrom, and in that mission, he had proved most resourceful. Now he was focused on figuring out who the new informant was, and to silence them if at all possible. Last communication had him tracking the movements of the Maggia and the Irish.
Then Mike died.
It hadn't been the Maelstrom, nor his friends that had done it. They never killed. Beatings until they broke arms and legs? Sure, but not death. It had been a headache to threaten their arrested men into silence, even more to silence those that could not be trusted. The man however had killed everyone – the Irish, the Maggia, or Mike. The Punisher never showed mercy.
Now Wilson Fisk was furious. He had lost his agent, his tools, and now he was steadily losing his business to the same tools he once controlled.
His anger came in stages. The first was a gritting of teeth, followed by an impromptu sparring match with the men that had displeased him that week. It was what came after that bout of physical violence that was truly terrifying… the silence. The endless, absolute silence that heralded the utter ruination of Wilson Fisk's opponents.
Just as they started to plan their moves, a new party had decided to show itself.
"You called us here. What is it you want to show us?" asked Fisk, no cigar this time. "And why do you expect me to fund you?"
The man was middle-aged and of average height, with dark hair and a pencil mustache. He approached Fisk with a smile. "Good to meet your Mr. Fisk. I've heard much about you."
"And I've heard nothing from you," responded Fisk. "That can be both a good thing or a bad thing. For your sake, I hope it's the former."
"Ah… that's to be expected. Nobody looks at a shadow, no matter how imposing it may become. Even when it becomes more capable than its caster. And I… well I have spent a lot of time as SHIELD's shadow."
"Why would you leave SHIELD to be your own man?" asked Fisk.
The man chuckled. "I was loyal to SHIELD in my own way, helping them design weapons to defend humanity… until they decided to protect the abominations they swore to annihilate." Fisk raised his eyebrow. "Yes, you know what I speak of, Mr. Fisk. The mutants that must be exterminated from the Earth, who have caused you so much trouble already, and who at the moment have plans to do much worse to our kind."
The man paced around the room. "So I decided to forge my own weapon, to save our kind from the monstrosities that plague our society… only SHIELD decided to not fund my project. Worse still, they approached the mutants as friends! But I continued on my own, oh yes. On my own to save the world from them. A weapon designed to defeat the mutants. They still need to be completed, but with your financial backing..."
Lights flashed around the large room. Behind the man stood a dozen human-like machines made out of metal. Each stood at least six times the size of an average adult, colored in gray and purple.
"... I will unleash my Sentinels on our enemies."
Wilson Fisk reached into his pocket and pulled out a cigar. Wesley breathed in relief; no mess to clean up today.
"Oh, and pardon my manners, Mr. Fisk. The name is Trask. Bolivar Trask."
The Maelstrom, Naruto Uzumaki, was about to learn a painful lesson. Along with all his mutant friends.
AN: Well, another one down. Hope you all like the chapter. It took some time but like I said previously, my time was limited due to work and classes. The good news is that since then I've gotten a new job this last month that not only gives me more time, but I also have access to a laptop in that time to write in the meantime. So hopefully that speeds up the process
I'll be returning to my other story for a few chapters but I'll return to this eventually, hopefully to release a chapter or two before the end of the year
If you liked this chapter, or wish to leave your opinion, please leave a review. You can also join my Discord server.
Until next time!
The Metal Sage