Heir of the Sage @themetalsage
New Year, New Problems

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 IX: New Year, New Problems

January was meant to be one of the coldest times of the year, even more considering the location of the Institute, but Naruto felt pretty warm when he woke up. The grip on his arm clued in him instantly. He didn't even need to open his eyes to know that Kitty had once again phased through the wall and snuck into his bed.

He didn't mind really. She was smaller and didn't have the same natural heat he had to keep her warm. Kitty was his friend and it only made sense that if one's friend was cold, he was going to do whatever he could to prevent that. The downside to it was that he had to be a little smarter when it came to performing his nightly escapades. He'd been recently forced to leave a clone sleeping on the bed to keep appearances and dispelling it as soon as he came back.

The other problem was that Kitty preferred to sleep in. Naruto could see the light seeping in from behind the curtains but the figure at his side remained still, with her arms wrapped tightly around his of course. In that sense, the petite mutant was deceivingly strong.

Kitty had returned a couple of days ago; right after the end of the special week called Hanukkah, with a newfound energy, a big smile, and carrying a box of delicious pastries named sufganiyah for Naruto. She'd been the last to come back. Jean had been the first, her family living only a little over an hour's drive from the Institute. Scott had arrived a few days later with a tan after spending some time in Hawaii with his recently found brother. Then it had been Kurt, straight from Germany, and Logan had arrived without telling them soon after.

Tired of lying in bed Naruto finally pried Kitty off of himself and woke her up. "We need to get back up." He may not have been an early riser himself, but this was getting ridiculous. "It's back to school next week."

Kitty groaned. "Don't remind me," she slurred her words. "I need to take that test for the Stark scholarship. You're taking it too, right?"

Naruto nodded. Jean had insisted on him taking a shot at it. There were only so many times someone could refuse, even after telling everyone that he didn't want to take someone else's place, but his justifications were always ignored, with Kitty being even more vociferous about it than Jean.

"We're in the home stretch… but that one's always the hardest… so tired," sighed Kitty but still stood up with a small yawn and a shiver. "I guess having all your college expenses paid for is motivation enough." She phased through the wall and back to the room that she and Rogue shared.

Naruto knew he should hit the books as well. It was easier when he could only fail tests, at least back then he had an excuse. The idea of sabotaging himself crossed his mind on more than one occasion; there would be no need for a scholarship back in Konoha, but Kitty and Jean would know about it, or at least question him extensively. It's very difficult to lie to a telepath.

Once he ate breakfast, Naruto walked back to his room and dug all the way back in his closet for his nighttime gear. There was no training tonight and he wanted to get started early. Even criminals took vacations apparently, and just like with honest and hard-working people, they came back to their job with additional energy.

Meeting Mike had been a stroke of luck; the informant seemed to be able to know the location of every single illegal activity that was happening around the city. During the past weeks, he had fought everything from Italian gangsters to Irish and even motorcycle gangs that were either shipping or distributing illicit merchandise. Petty crime was rare and now he felt that he and Spider-Man were going against the big players and not the stooges.

Hence, it was only a matter of time until their paths crossed with the Devil of Hell's Kitchen again.

"This is the last chance I'm taking with you," Daredevil warned Naruto and Spider-Man. "If you get a civilian killed, I will consider you an enemy." Naruto thought that the older man was still overreacting but nodded.

"Don't worry, 'careful' is our middle name," responded Spider-Man. "Spider-Careful-Man… I guess it's not that catchy."

They spent the rest of the day following leads, eventually leading to another warehouse guarded by armed gangsters. They were easy to deal with.

"Drugs. Straight from Latin America," commented Daredevil while they were checking the scene. "That means they're from the cartels – very dangerous people. They prefer to operate on the open, and do their violence in public."

"Wouldn't that make them easier to catch?" asked Naruto as he looked at the IDs of several of the unconscious thugs. Most of them were Mexican nationals. He'd be willing to bet they didn't pass through any legal means to be in the country.

"It does… it also means they don't care about how many people get in their way." Daredevil searched a crate filled to the brim with some type of illicit drug or another before turning towards Naruto. "Where is the next place you told us about?"

After calling the authorities with a nearby payphone as they always did, Naruto led his two companions to another dock. This time, instead of unloading containers off the ship, the armed men were loading them into the large carrier. These ones looked different than the Mexicans, but no less dangerous if the military grade rifles were any indication.

"Russians," murmured Daredevil after overhearing the voices. "We'll be taking this silently and cleanly, just as before. Move to take out the sentries first and then we'll progressively make our way to the center. How many of them are there, Maelstrom?"

"Forty. Five on the rooftops, six in the warehouse, and the rest by the containers," responded Naruto after silently dispelling the scouting clones he'd sent earlier.

The number of foes had been increasing lately, and this time it was no different. Ever since Naruto, Spider-Man, and Daredevil had started their activities, the gangs and organizations had either taken notice of them or at least seen how it was affecting their bottom line. Now, instead of half a dozen criminals at time, they were facing dozens, and instead of being armed with fists, bats, and knives, they were sporting handguns, shotguns, and assault rifles.

Unfortunately for the criminals, Naruto and his two partners already had situations like these down to an art form. The first to go down would be the ones on the rooftops and watchtowers, then, like wolves silently taking out a herd, they went for the stragglers first and further in until the last few were alone and defenseless against the brute force of Naruto's clones.

Daredevil looked quite satisfied, not a single shot had been fired this time. "Keep this up and I'll continue to work with you," he said, looking at the thugs, reaching into their pockets and retrieving passports. "Russians. Probably taking cargo from here." Those other ones look different, though.

"Oh… man!" gasped Spider-Man from inside the warehouse. Naruto went inside to see a body tied to a chair, blood pooled all over his clothes and the floor, there was only a clean stump above his neck. On the table nearby was the severed head.

If Daredevil was fazed in any way, he did not show it. "Decapitation – a cartel method. Guess that answers who the other side was."

On the side, Spider-Man looked like he wanted to do a quip, but the harsh violence was probably too much for him to handle. Even Naruto himself was disturbed by the brutality.

"Let's see if we can find anything else and then call the police," said Daredevil, closing the door to the warehouse.

Naruto looked around the ground, his clones picking up the weapons and carrying the bodies to the center where Spider-Man was silently webbing them to the ground. He searched for letters or maps or anything that might give away a second location but what little he found was written in the Cyrillic alphabet.

As he was picking one of the bodies in the outermost perimeter, he heard a muffled whimper come from the large containers that were being loaded into the ship. Naruto furrowed his brow; a figment of his imagination, or so he thought before the whimper became louder. Dropping the body unceremoniously on the ground, the blonde cut open the lock and opened the door.

The stench is what caught him first, not being able to see inside the dark metal box. Once he grabbed his flashlight, he managed to see what was housed in the blackness.

People, mostly young women but he also saw some children cramped inside the container. The only thing that they had was sweat-stained clothes and a few empty bottles of water. They were all huddled near the front since the back of the box was where the smell was emanating from. Their faces were terrified, wide eyed and hugging themselves but refusing to say a single word… all of them looking directly at Naruto.

"Err… guys!" he called out. "I… I think I found the merchandise!"

One of the prisoners – a scrawny young woman that may have looked a bit like Rogue if not for the malnutrition – timidly stepped out barefoot into the cold air and asked him something in some Eastern European language. He nervously shrugged his shoulders before she looked at the body he'd carried and called out to the rest of the people in a desperately thrilled voice.

Naruto saw as the rest of the container's occupants walked out, their faces straining to smile as if it were some alien expression that they didn't know how to do. Excited whispers grew louder and louder when they saw Daredevil and Spider-Man walking towards them, and turned into silent cheers when they saw the webbed bodies on the ground. Naruto held strong when the woman hugged him as tightly as he could, tears in her eyes and babbling words in the foreign dialect.

The rest of the containers housed more people. Some of them looked better, like the Americans that had evidently been put there recently, others looked hours away from death. There were many types imprisoned inside. Hard-looking men that would feel right at home toiling inside a mine, beautiful women that had been afforded marginally more luxurious boxes with more food, water, and even mattresses, then there were young children that Naruto did not want to think about why anyone would kidnap and sell. He heard languages from English, to Chinese, Russian, and even one young woman speaking French. All of them happy and cheering for the three mysterious strangers that had saved them.

Naruto had rarely experienced such joy. He'd been cheered at before, at Wave and during the Chūnin exams but even that was a forgotten shadow compared to this. He lost count of how many men slapped him on the back, how many women kissed his cheeks, and how many children jumped around him.

"The police will be here in about five minutes," said Spider-Man, who was just at the nearest payphone. "We should get going."

"Split up. That's enough for tonight," ordered Daredevil. "Good job… both of you. I'll find a way to stay in contact. You can always find me in Hell's Kitchen when the sun goes down."

Naruto high-fived Spider-Man one last time before jumping away, not the way back home, but to an alleyway besides a pizzeria.

"You were right," Naruto said to Mike, who was hidden in the shadows. "There was a big operation. Is there anywhere else?"

The young man he knew as Mike shook his head. "That's all for tonight. I'll see what I have next week."

Naruto grinned beneath his mask. "Right. See you… and thank you – you helped save a lot of people."

"Always a pleasure," drawled Mike before he got into a van and drove off through the mostly empty streets. Seeing the vehicle disappear into the dark he entered the pizzeria for a pie before jumping his way back upstate.

Just as he was about to leave the city, a sharp scream from what was clearly a woman reached his ears. Naruto turned around to where the cry for help had come from and saw a dark alley. Wasting no time, he jumped to the rooftop above, from where he saw a very tall and muscular man struggling with a shorter female form in the alley.

He dropped down, bending his knees as his feet hit the concrete, the assaulter probably didn't even notice him until he turned the man around, sent a knee and a punch and soon the massive body crumpled to the ground; the muscles offering no protection to Naruto's quick and efficient thrashing.

The blonde's attention then shifted to the victim, and he felt himself lost for a moment. She had to be one of the most beautiful women he'd seen… and he lived in the same place as Jean and Ororo. Red hair almost the same shade as Jean's, they even had a similar green eye color. Seeing her form made Naruto involuntarily tingle all over; a feeling he couldn't understand.

Come to think of it, he'd been uncannily interested in women's bodies a lot recently.

Just as he felt that he was regaining his senses, the woman jumped over to him with an embrace. "Thank you! Oh, thank you so much!" she gasped, holding him so tightly he felt her generous chest against his own body. Naruto immediately felt his manhood jump a little.

'Kami! What is happening to me?!' Even the smell of her made him feel lightheaded. It was not until the woman finally let go that Naruto felt he was fully coherent. "N-No problem!" he stuttered and took deep breath. "You should get out of here and call the police."

"I know," drawled the woman with a smile, "but… could I please see the face of my savior? I promise I'll keep a secret." Her voice was low, yet carried something that almost made Naruto want to obey her.

For a moment there, the blonde almost followed through but a deep breath kept him. "Sorry… I… I have to go somewhere," he stammered before flickering out of there as quickly as he could. Looking down at his groin; the source of the pain was soon answered as it looked like his manhood was struggling to form a tent with his pants.

Natasha remained in her spot for a few seconds, feeling just a bit foolish as she clasped her hands above her chest with a hopeful expression. When she surmised that the black-clad figure had gone, her expression dropped, turning around to the man who'd been assaulting her earlier and giving him a slight nudge with her foot.

"Get up – he's gone." Moans of pain where her only response. "Don't be a baby. He was only a kid."

"W-Well… that k-kid's been eating his Wheaties," groaned Natasha's partner. He'd suffered a liver shot; that never failed to send someone down. "Next time, you're the one that gets beat up and I get to be the damsel in distress."

"Most young boys aren't going to be distracted enough to slip a transmitter if they've been hugged by someone sporting a Y chromosome," replied Natasha before holding her earpiece. "Black Widow to Fury. I've made contact. The GPS signal should be reaching headquarters now."

"Report back to base." That was Nick Fury alright. Not even a compliment for a perfectly executed operation. Natasha breathed deeply as her partner tried to get up but collapsed. She sighed before holding her earpiece again. "And send a medic team. I'm not carrying him back."

Going back to school was clearly not a joyous affair for the students of Bayville; they looked more like zombies than teenagers, trudging along in winterwear from one class to another, bleary eyed and resigned to three more months of work before spring break. Even Kitty and Jean – the most academically gifted of the Institute – seemed less excited than usual.

"I wanna go back to sleep," mumbled Kitty, tiredly munching on a biscuit. The cafeteria menu seemed the only thing that looked the same during the first day of class. "You said you were doing something today?" She was sitting at his side. Today was apparently not a Xavier's Institute table day where all the mutants sat together. Jean and Ororo were with the female football team and cheerleaders, Scott was all by his lonesome and Kurt was with some other classmates.

Naruto nodded. "Mr. Fantastic told me that he wanted me to meet someone. I'm going to Manhattan after school."

"I'd go with you but I have dance classes." The exhaustion left her eyes. "When are you going to come see me? I have a recital next week."

Naruto didn't get to respond in time before Rogue suddenly walked to the table and swiftly sat by his other side. The blonde didn't really mind so much; he'd gotten used to her being with him during mealtimes all throughout the winter holidays, but Kitty furrowed her brows and went silent.

"Hey," greeted Rogue, specifically to Naruto.

"Okay…" drawled Kitty. "I don't think we have a meeting today."

"Ah know," responded Rogue, not paying attention to her plate. "Jus' eatin'. Pretty sure that's still legal."

"Right…" sighed Kitty and Naruto felt her shuffle closer to him. "So… you wanna go out for dinner if you come back? I saw this nice Indian restaurant that just opened."

Naruto didn't get to respond before Rogue did. "Naruto… remember that you told me that you'd help me with trainin'?" Food or training? Both were equally good but he did not make a decision.

"Um… like… we've been planning to go out for weeks now. He can help you with training another day," said Kitty, her voice uneasy but sharp as a spear. Naruto could almost see the tension between both his teammates, but for the life of him, could not understand this newfound hostility.

Naruto took a moment to swallow a huge bite of a sandwich. "Why don't we all train today and go out tomorrow."

"No way. She takes waaay too many hours in the bathroom," said Kitty. "That make-up takes time."

"Ah've never heard you complainin'. 'Sides, you don't even use the bathroom."

"Don't think anyone can even navigate with all the white hair dye," muttered Kitty.

"What hair dye? Mah hair color is all natural!" snarked Rogue. "First come first serve. You ain't an early riser. Where do you go in the mornin'?"

Kitty back went straight as an arrow. "Just… going for an early snack is all."

"And here I thought raidin' the fridge for a midnight sausage wasn't kosher. Shows what Ah know."

Kitty coughed on her milk and recovered with narrowed eyes. "What's your problem with me indulging in some… midnight snacks."

"You can indulge in anythin' you want… but Ah happen to have a specific diet." Rogue showed her gloved hand. "So maybe you should back off the one thing Ah can indulge in."

A loud sigh left Kitty's mouth. "Whatever," she derided. Rogue looked on silent a little before looking back at her meal. Naruto's mind was captured by the pile of food in front of him, but still noticed that both Rogue and Kitty shuffled just a bit closer to him.

'It's still winter. They must be cold,' Naruto didn't know why both girls were getting so nervous. Sausage tasted good and he sometimes went down for a midnight snack… but Kitty hadn't. It's like they were speaking in a completely alien language than him.

The rest of the conversation went the same, with Kitty and Rogue talking to each other and ending with both sets of eyes set in glares until the bell sounded and they had to go back to their scholarly routine. Naruto's next didn't have either of them, for better or for worse.

"Welcome back to class!" greeted Professor McCoy. "Now, I know you are all still wishing you were on vacation, but hopefully you'll return to your normal selves. Let's start this semester with something simple – Planck's constant!"

If there was ever a teacher that made Naruto actually excited to learn something, it was Professor Hank McCoy. The man was built like a wrestler with bulging muscles and a broad frame. Indeed, he even doubled as the PE teacher, and yet his passion really showed when he was either quoting classical literature or he was talking about science.

Naruto waved the rest of his friends away as they left to go back to the Institute while he jumped all the way to Manhattan until the Baxter building was in view. He nodded to the guard who had probably been told in advance that he'd be coming and gave him permission to access the upper floors.

The first thing that hit him was the smell. The blonde jinchūriki had never been someone that kept a place tidy, but even he widened his eyes at the state of the pigsty that the Fantastic Four's base had become since the last time he'd visited. The floor was cluttered with objects that he could only imagine how they'd gotten there in the first place. Cheap takeout was all over the place: pizza, tacos, Chinese, burgers, and hotdog remains combined into a rancid smell while in the middle of one of the couches, Ben Grimm was snoring loudly.

"Hey Naruto!" greeted Johnny as he came from the kitchen with another bag of fast food, adding it to a small mountain of remains. "Reed's waiting for you at his lab."

Naruto gave his fellow blonde a deadpan look. "You really need to get Sue back."

"C'mon! You know that we guys can't give up that easily." The older teen let out a cringe as a mountain of mess collapsed. "She needs us more than we need her." A small explosion coming from the kitchen rocked the building. "There's nothing that she can do that we can't." Johnny quickly sidestepped just in time to avoid a piece of the ceiling that was about to fall on his head. "We'll live."

Reed's lab was better, if only slightly; the only thing he could really complain about were the gadgets and tools cluttered around the tables and the floors, but at least it didn't smell like an animal had died. The leader of the Fantastic Four was, as always, oblivious to anything that was not absorbed in his work,

Naruto had been so focused on the genius scientist; he initially didn't realize that there was someone else in the lab with them. The figure was tall, older, with the white hair at the sides of his head bearing some similarity to Reed Richard's, but other than that, there were no other things that would say they were related, especially when taking into account the difference in clothes.

The man was dressed in in a blue shirt with a sort of white symbol etched in the front. A gold sash tied around his waist and below that a pair of black trousers with boots of the same color. What immediately caught Naruto's attention, however, was the billowing red cape that went from the man's collar all the way to his feet, with gold patterns etched into the edges. Finally, a golden talisman in the shape of an open eye rested around his neck.

"Ah, Naruto. You've yet to meet Dr. Stephen Strange," welcomed Reed, finally tearing his gaze from whatever he was working on and turned towards him. "I brought him in to see if he can help us at all with the mystery of your interplanetary travel."

Dr. Strange nodded his head, keeping his gloved hands to himself. "Pleased to meet you, Mister..."

"Naruto Uzumaki."

"Can you show us the sphere you made last time?" asked Reed. Rarely had Naruto seen the brilliant scientist get away from his work so the blonde wasted no time in summoning a clone and molding chakra into his right hand until the blue ball was spiraling on his palm.

Dr. Strange widened his eyes if only slightly and directly observed the Rasengan. "How are you doing this? Is it some power that you obtained?"

Naruto shook his head. "I learned the technique from my sensei but I do it by molding chakra."

"Chakra?" asked Dr. Strange.

"Yeah. Everyone has it – even you, but I guess it's a special ability of ours to be able to mold it and use techniques with it." Naruto spent the next hour explaining chakra, jutsu, and his world to Dr. Strange. He'd told so many people now that he doubted Konoha would care at this point.

"So, you're not different from others in your world, then? I had assumed you had come to your powers through some accident or technological means." Dr. Strange's eyes continued to observe, likes spears trying to pierce any little detail.

"What do you think?" interrupted Dr. Richards as he took several photographs of the blue ball.

Dr. Strange straightened himself. "Well he's from this universe, at least. Not from this planet, but definitely from our reality."

"That doesn't really tell me much," deadpanned Naruto, dispelling the Rasengan. "What I need to know is where my planet is located."

"The universe is vast. Finding a single planet would be like finding a grain of sand in all of the beaches of this Earth." The cloaked man pointed at his hand. "What I can tell you is that that was not what brought you here."

"What do you mean? I told you that I used this jutsu against another jutsu and after that I was sent here!"

"That may be so, and that might have contributed to it, but that technique – as powerful as it is – is not enough to send you from one planet to another, let alone the distance you must have travelled from another exoplanet."

"Then how did I get here?" questioned Naruto, heart galloping so hard that he could feel blood pumping to his head. "What is the explanation?"

"The universe holds many mysteries. Some we can learn; others are far beyond our comprehension. I cannot tell the answer of this one yet, but perhaps we can learn in time." Dr. Strange took out a piece of paper with something scribbled in it. "Come to me when you've cooled your head and we may yet discover something." He then turned his back on Naruto and a sparkling circle appeared in front of him. The tall man stepped inside and out of Reed's office before the circle disappeared, as if it had just swallowed the mysterious man.

"I'm sorry we couldn't find out more," spoke Mr. Fantastic. "Once I had heard Dr. Strange talk of other universes and I thought that was a possibility. Believe it or not, we've actually narrowed your place of origin to our universe – that's a big step forward."

"I guess," muttered Naruto. He'd have to return to the Mansion again, not that being in the Xavier Institute was a bad thing; they actually treated him better in many ways than his friends in Konoha… but it'd gotten a bit tense with Kitty and Rogue for some reason or another. He put it down as one of those "girl things" that Sakura had beat him a lot over when she got into a fight with Ino.

But it wasn't just Kitty and Rogue. There had been a recent tension inside the Mansion especially after the ordeal with Mystique. Scott was even more distant than usual, Jean was like that as well, though that could be attributed to the combination of midterms and her boyfriend being a douchebag. Ororo barely spoke to anyone, Wolverine pushed them harder than usual… and was doing whiskey shots harder than usual, and the Professor barely left his office.

"You're smart," Naruto pointed out to Reed Richards. "Do you know why girls… do what they do?"

Reed didn't look away from whatever he was tinkering with. "I don't bother… have never bothered. There is no formula for women. Trying to understand them is futile. Their wants, I have found, are often contradictory."

Naruto groaned. "I'm having problems with two of my teammates."

"Female teammates, I assume," muttered Reed, sounding as if he was talking to himself. "Might be their time of the month. Do not ask them if they are, however – I learned that the hard way – the symptoms are very obvious: an emotionally irritated mood, delirium, and a constant state of passive-aggressiveness. It should wear out in about a week," he instructed before going silence. That told Naruto that it was time to go.

'Time of the month? What does he mean by that?' wondered Naruto but thought it best not to ask any of his female teammates. Perhaps Logan would know.

As he would soon find out, Wolverine had gone again on a personal mission for the Professor. At least Kitty and Rogue had gone to different areas to train for the day, and neither of them asked him to accompany them like the last time. Working his frustrations on the danger room, he arrived at his bed to sleep for the night, this time with no Kitty.

Sleep was, however, without rest, as he soon found himself ankle deep in water, standing in front of the floating Sage.

"You have been more diligent in your efforts," commended the old man. He wasn't even using his hand to draw the seals; the brush danced gracefully to form perfect symbols on the white scroll with telekinesis, far more advanced than both Naruto and Jean were capable of.

Naruto had been practicing, of that there was no doubt, using the kit that was gifted to him during the holidays to try and improve the drawing of the complex seals. Until now he had never thought of the application of the art of fūinjutsu as anything other than a method to seal weapons into scrolls and chakra monsters into shinobi… and then he remembered something.

"Can any of these seals store chakra? Make it so it covers the entire body?" asked Naruto, dropping his brush and concentrating his gaze away from the white scroll and into the Sage's ringed, purple eyes.

The Sage, as always, was never direct with his answers. "Why would you wish such a thing? Your body is already covered in chakra naturally, more than regular chakra users."

Naruto shook his head. "Not for me… I'm thinking maybe I can make it so somebody else can have an effect similar to mine with a seal. Not to use it but more as a… shield."

"Am I to assume you wish to grant this shield to the troubled woman with the white streak on her hair?"

"Her name is Rogue... and yes, that is what I'm thinking. If I can't help her with this then what good are seals for?"

The Sage was still, cool as ever, and yet Naruto could still see the ghost of a smile touch the older man's features. "You will come to realize that seals have more applications than you know… in time of course. But I am glad that you have found an altruistic reason for using your talents. Fūinjutsu is an indispensable art to your family's history."

Naruto felt his stomach dropping like a stone at the mention of family. He'd not asked the Sage about it. Maybe Rogue was right. Maybe it might be better if he never knew about it. In his dreams, his mother was beautiful and kind; his father brave and strong, no matter what some villager might say in a drunken stupor… and yet he had the Sharingan: the red eye that could only come from one bloodline… a dishonorable and cursed clan. He tried to find a way to deny it. Blonde hair and blue eyes were just as common in the Uchiha as pigs in the sky.

And yet, he had the Sharingan.

The thoughts devoured his inner peace. It should be absolutely impossible, just as it was impossible that he was in any way related to the Shodaime. The Uchiha clan were all massacred, and even before that not one would come and claim him. No uncles, no aunts. No cousins or grandparents. Not a single time did any of the dark-haired shinobi spare him a second's glance.

And yet… he had the Sharingan.

His mind returned to Rogue and Kitty, the latter of which had thankfully not chosen to sleep with him tonight. It was much more comforting to think of them, or Jean, or Ororo than anything to do with his parentage. Mental images were happily welcomed, and soon Naruto was thinking of Jean's crimson hair, Kitty's smile, Ororo's long legs, Rogue's curvy body… no! Back to Jean. Jean with her emerald eyes; the icing on a perfect face, with full lips that made him hunger… stop!

'Oh, Kami! It's happening again!" Naruto looked again at the Sage, desperate for help for something he hadn't even identified yet. "Can you tell if I've been poisoned."

"Poison? Highly unlikely. It'd have to be quite potent for it to harm you."

Naruto grunted while looking at the ground. "I don't know what's happening to me. I should go see a doctor."

"What is this phenomenon that you're experiencing?"

Taking a deep breath, Naruto steeled himself for an explanation. "Well… I guess it started a few months ago and it's been getting worse. Sometimes when I'm close to my friends… I start to feel warm and tingly and I can't think straight. Now that I think about it… it's almost like the Kyūbi wants to come out!"

If the smile before had been a mere ghost before, then this time around it was at least visible. "That is not poison or your tenant… that's hormones."

"Hormones? What do you mean?" asked Naruto. He'd heard the term before in some class that he should've paid more attention to but it hardly answered his question.

"Puberty is upon you… and it's cutting through you like a fine blade through the gentlest grass."

A loud groan echoed throughout the empty room. "There you go with your lingo again, old man. Puberty? What the hell is that and how do I get rid of it?"

"I am to assume you did not listen to your instructors… either that or it was not taught to you. Unfortunately, I am not the one to impart this lesson to you, young descendant… as a matter of fact, we're done for now."

Naruto didn't even have the time to breathe a response before he came to the familiar sight of his room, still dark, only illuminated by the full moon. "Liar," grunted Naruto. "Just another thing he's weaseled himself out of." He'd have to ask the Professor now, or at least Logan.

He couldn't really go back to sleep now; the ending of the sessions with the Sage always left him with a racing heart rapidly pumping blood into his brain. Trying to regulate his breath, he stood up and changed.

Logan was downstairs, nursing a beer, nary a soul besides him. He looked outside a window. "The sky ain't falling… you must be a clone then." Naruto shook his head. "Huh… never thought I'd see the day you woke up before sunrise."

"I can't sleep," admitted Naruto, opening the fridge but quickly saw that it was empty. Of course, today was grocery day.

"Sometimes your brain doesn't let you sleep… too troubled to do anything," agreed Logan, forming a fist just in time for three adamantium coated claws to spring up. "Best remedy is to tire yourself out. Stabbing things always works. Breaking them is even better… and we have a whole room downstairs for ourselves."

Any other day and Naruto would have been against being in the Danger Room at such an early time, but with nothing to eat and everyone else asleep, having the chance to go all out on virtual foes was infinitely appealing. With any hope, he might be able to completely wipe his mind from everything that had been going on with the old man that lived inside his mind.

It was a good thing that Naruto was truly awake; Logan apparently did not believe in the concept of warmups. "If Magento comes around, he ain't going to wait until you're finished with crunches, brat," justified the older, more experienced mutant. "You have to be able to retaliate at any time… or you're dead."

Naruto dodged another rain of high-speed bolts. "I know that. I'm a shinobi." It never hurt to practice, especially since he had more trouble than Sakura and Sasuke when it came to detecting enemies. He'd been working on developing his "sixth sense". For some reason, it'd been easier since his travel to Earth, even without the Sharingan.

Eventually, he was joined by Ororo and Scott, followed by Jean and Rogue, Kitty trailing behind them, and Kurt was the last. By then, Logan had lowered the difficulty, if only a tad, just enough for the rest of the team to not get sliced in half by a flying buzz saw or incinerated by lasers. The impromptu session was not just breaking stuff, either. Now they were faced with a hostage situation; the AI designed to be immune to telepathy much to Jean's chagrin. An entire family was being held at knifepoint, one member in every room; one member for everyone in the team.

"We all have to go together at the same time," said Jean through the team's telepathic link. Each member was situated at a point of entry, silent as they could – any noise could be potentially fatal to the hostages.

"Ready… get set… now!" messaged Jean and Naruto immediately knocked open the door, concentrating on the realistically simulated artificial intelligence's knife, and used his mental powers to wrench it from his hand before rushing forward and taking the thug out. After a few seconds longer, the simulation ended, and the suburban house they were in turned to the high-tech gray walls of the Danger Room.

"If we ever come across a hostage situation," grumbled Logan while looking at Scott, Ororo, and Rogue, "you three are staying put." Their hostages had died. Scott missed the target while Ororo and Rogue could not reach them in time.

Both Ororo and Rogue seemed to understand, albeit with the former looking just a bit miffed while Rogue brushed it off. Scott, on the other hand, stared at the floor with a hardened jaw and clenched fists. Obviously, the self-appointed leader of the team felt that he should lead by example, more than likely why he spent every minute of every day training.

"I should've been more careful," Scott berated himself for the tenth time – Kitty had been keeping count – while they were sitting for a late lunch. Naruto did not know how he came up with the leadership position; he already seemed to have that when the blonde had arrived. Whether he had risen up the ranks or appointed by the Professor, he clearly took the position seriously.

Or, as Jean had put it, he took it too personally.

"We're going back to the Danger Room after lunch," proclaimed Scott. He didn't even have time to sit down again before everyone sighed.

"No," responded Jean, voice as firm as a rock.

"But… Jean…" started Scott but the redhead stood still, voice firm as a cold wall.

"My idea of a Sunday is not exactly to spend all day inside a simulation, Scott. I understand that we must train, but our lives cannot revolve around that."

Naruto did not interfere. Training was good, and the fact that it was being done with actual practice as opposed to the more theory-driven shinobi education he'd received from the Academy made it even better. He was, however, quite aware that not all his new teammates had the same appreciation for training as he had.

Almost immediately, Kitty stood up from her seat. "Yeah! I'm already tired and I have dance classes tomorrow. My teacher is totally a slave driver!" she exclaimed, proving Naruto's assumptions.

"Ja! You don't have to worry about teleporting into a wall and getting crushed! I need a breather!" agreed Kurt. The rest were silent, but that said more than words.

Scott's jaw was tight, looking at each of the team before breathing deeply and stepping out of the table. "I'll be training outside, then," he proclaimed, stiffly marching away and closing the door behind him.

Naruto was tempted to follow for more training, even with the five inches of snow that covered all of the courtyard, but before he even had a chance to make up his mind, he felt Kitty's arms enclose around his own.

"Come on." She pulled him towards vast entertainment room – a place that Naruto had admittedly never entered.

There were several tables for board games, both family friendly ones and those intended for the games regularly played at the casino. At one end of the room, there was the beginning of a small library. Unlike the larger one upstairs, the books were not academically oriented. Novels, more than anything. The centerpiece of the room was a large screen, surrounded by a large sofa that could easily fit around a dozen people.

If Naruto was told to look underneath the underneath, he'd say that the Professor made this room with more than just six students in mind.

"Too bad they bought only the new equipment," sighed Jean, kneeling down at the contraptions beneath the screen. "My dad has a huge VHS collection."

Kitty was not of the same mind. "We started the year two thousand and three less than month ago – the future is DVD. Movies look better in them, too," retorted Kitty while looking at the movie collection before picking one case. "The guys back home loved this one last year," she said, looking directly at Naruto.

Truthfully, Naruto wanted to go back and train but as soon as Kitty turned on the screen, she jumped back to him and pulled him down on the sofa, sitting at the right of him. Ororo did not seem painfully interested in the movie, neither did Jean. Kurt on the other hand, was already smiling with a large bucket of popcorn. Rogue… she had promptly sat down on Naruto's left side.

The movie was fun. Filled with explosions and action but at the same time it told a nice story of a young man who found himself with new powers and learned to use them for good, while his best friend, who also gained similar powers, became the bad guy. Kitty got especially clingy when the good guy and a girl ended up kissing but he was a little more into the rivalry between the two friends.

Every time he tried not to think about home, something pulled him back.

Halfway through the movie, a sour looking Scott had entered the room and sat down on one end of the sofa, saying absolutely nothing. Naruto only took a few moments to see that he looked as stony-faced as ever but still watched the movie with no complaints. "Well… I think it was good," he finally said when the ending credits rolled.

"It was awesome!" agreed Kurt

"I think it was dumb," said Jean, with Ororo slightly nodding. "But I guess this is the stuff that sells."

"Brainless fun," said Kitty. "Not every movie needs to be an auteur masterpiece."

"It's not all brainless," defended Scott, straightening himself out on his seat. "I think there was a message there about how heroes should act. It's inspiring."

Jean sighed. "Are you seeing a bit of yourself in the protagonist?" Naruto did not know if Scott did, but could not deny that he did feel that he could understand the main character of the movie… though he still wouldn't reveal that.

Scott nodded. "Well… we kind of are heroes, aren't we? Or at least we are the good guys. The Professor is training us to be benefit humanity and –"

"The Professor," stated Jean, loudly and clearly, "is teaching us how to control our gifts, not training us for war. I am here to learn how to protect myself and others, not harm them."

"You have to be ready to fight if you want to be a part of the team," retorted Scott.

"Defend myself, maybe," responded Jean, closing her green eyes. "I am here to learn control… that's it. With all gratitude to Professor Xavier, I don't expect to stay in this mansion forever. I'll graduate, go to college, fit in with the rest of society… do something with my life besides being a mutant."

"Yeah!" yelled Kitty, still holding onto Naruto. "I'm here to learn how not to phase all the way down to China, but I totally want to be normal in the end."

Rogue snorted. "Some of us can't be normal."

"Ja," muttered Kurt, not bothering to hide his blue, furry form with the image inducer.

"We must all try to fit in this world, even when our path is now yet clear to use," offered Ororo, always the most reasonable one of the team. She turned to the blonde jinchūriki, silent throughout the debate. "Do you not think so, Naruto?"

"I…" Naruto could not respond. The circumstances in which these people found themselves in were much different than his own. Back home, he'd chosen to get into the shinobi program, chosen to wear the headband, dreamed of becoming Hokage. Jean, Scott, Ororo, Kitty, Rogue, and Kurt… they never had that choice – fate had taken that role.

Fate. A word that reminded too much of Neji, born into the world with a curse marked on his forehead just like Naruto had one on his stomach. A curse was a way in which he'd heard Kitty call her powers at one time, and more than once from Rogue. New powers did not seem like a curse to him, not the way he grew up, at least… he thought he had been cursed the day Mizuki had told him about what was inside of him… but it was only a curse if he let it be.

"I don't know why things happen to us," started Naruto, everyone silent while he spoke. "Seems like some things were just predetermined to happen. We didn't ask for it… and yet here we are." His mind travelled back, to Neji, to Gaara, to Sasuke, and back to himself. "But I don't think we need to be ruled by it. If you want to go about on your normal lives, that's fine. If you want to do something more with your powers, that's fine too, as long as you do it for the benefit of others."

He remembered just a few days ago when he had helped liberate those people from the containers; the deep wave of satisfaction that crashed into him just as hard as when he'd helped Izuna during his first mission in Team Seven. "It's good to help people, that's what we should do. Whether you want to do it by helping them directly or by beating those that would harm them, either way is great."

Not even the whisper of sound was heard, Naruto didn't even bother counting the seconds before Jean finally spoke up. "Couldn't have said it better myself. Now…" She looked at the library of movies and pulled one out with her mind. "Since I assume your need for computer generated explosions is satiated, I think it's the ladies' turn," she said, revealing the cover to be a time-piece drama.

Naruto wanted to groan just as loudly as Kurt but was once again pulled by Kitty onto his seat.

In the rare times all of the crime bosses of New York met together, the tension was always palpable. None of the people liked each other; if the circumstances were right, they would not hesitate to betray each other for just one small piece of turf. Even now, Wesley saw that his boss, Wilson Fisk, kept a guarded poker face when faced against the heads of New York's criminal organizations.

Sitting at the opposite side of the round table from Mr. Fisk was the boss of one of New York's most ancient clandestine institutions. Silvermane may have grown frail in his years, but despite pushing towards his nineties, those eyes were just as ruthless as ever. Where muscle was needed, one only need to look behind him to look at the perfectly square headed Hammerhead. The Maggia had survived all these years for a reason.

There were others as well: Chinese triads, the Japanese yakuza, the Russian Mafia, the Irish, and the Mexican cartels. All of them represented with their regional boss and accompanied with at least two bodyguards. Wesley was only here as an assistant. Bowers and Clinton were the ones chosen to protect Mr. Fisk tonight

Not that Wilson Fisk ever needed protection, of course.

The silence was broken by Joaquín Gutiérrez, who slammed his fist against the table. "That's another one of my shipments taken! I swear that I end up losing more cristal than I sell! La policía then confiscates it! I thought we paid them?!"

"It's those vigilantes," responded Mr. Yoshioka. "The police are getting paid enough but even they can't do anything if they find a warehouse full of poison."

"Then pay more!" responded Gutiérrez.

Silvermane coughed. "The ones that aren't paid are the ones too noble to be paid."

"Kill a few of them, then we'll see how many of them refuse. Plata o plomo – silver or lead. Two clear choices."

"Chyort!" came the voice from Gutiérrez's, where Vladimir Ranskahov was seated. "My shipment for this month! Gone! All because of those freaks!"

Wesley turned briefly to see the ghost of a frown appear on Wilson Fisk's face for only a second. Wesley's boss disliked everyone in this meeting, but none more than Gutiérrez and Ranshakov, especially the latter. There was one enterprise that the Russian specialized in: human trafficking. The only person willing to stomach that vile trade was Gutiérrez. Even Silvermane looked like he had eaten something awful when looking at Ranskahov.

"What about you, Fisk?" asked Gutiérrez, face distorted into a glare. "The Japanese have been hit, the Chinese have been hit, the Russians, the Irish, I've been hit more than anyone… even fucking Silvermane's been hit… all but you."

Wilson Fisk disguised his disgust better than a professional poker man. "I am someone that finds himself with one foot on legal business and the other with you. It took some time and a lot of money, but a well-built infrastructure lasts better than one quickly built. I don't rely on pushing drugs to children or taking people to and from Russia, Mr. Gutiérrez."

The Mexican laughed. "So, you are telling me to get into a suit, call some lawyers, and get fat? Spare me, Señor Fisk. You are the one that knows the police and the mayor. Is it not a coincidence that you're the only one that isn't suffering?"

"The police, the politicians, and the public will find it easier to ignore accounting errors than methamphetamines on the streets and missing women and children," retorted Wilson Fisk.

Before Gutiérrez could say any more, Silvermane interjected. "The problem is clear to all of us." The voice was tired and raspy, to be expected from a man so old, and yet Wesley could hear the steel underneath. "These vigilantes – the Spider-Man, the Devil, and the Maelstrom. When these… pests are gone, we can go back to normalcy."

"Indeed," responded Fisk. "Though, lacking the muscle that you… gentlemen possess, I'm afraid I can do little to help."

"You can, Fisk," growled Silvermane. "Tell your police friends that we need access to their files and records to track down these outlaws and bring them to… justice."

"The captain that these vigilantes call is one of the untouchable ones," said Fisk, fingering the top of his cane. "George Stacy has no price."

Vladimir Ranshakov grinned, showing yellow and chromed teeth. "Every man has a price, even if it's not money. Does this man have a wife? A son?"

"A daughter," confirmed Silvermane.

"Even better," continued Ranshakov. "Fathers always have a soft spot for their daughters."

These people were walking on egg shells now, Wesley realized. To talk of kidnapping a police captain's daughter? Had the Russian lost his mind? Both Silvermane and Gutiérrez seemed to be warm to the idea. He did not need to see his boss's face to see that Fisk disapproved, as well as Nobu Yoshioka and Madame Gao. Finn Cooley from the Irish mob did not seem to care either way.

"I believe that you gentlemen have a plan," said Fisk, standing from his seat. "I will let you plan amongst yourselves. Hopefully you will be able to bring down these troublemakers." The large man stood from his seat and offered his arm to the grateful looking Madame Gao before leaving with Yoshioka speeding ahead.

"You know that the Mexican and the Russian will be following," said Madame Gao in Mandarin. Thankfully, Wesley was able to follow the conversation.

"I have foreseen this," assured Wilson Fisk while helping her get into the back seat of a black car with tinted windows.

Madame Gao smiled. "It is necessary to clean the house before the neighborhood… and we have a very dirty house."

"Of course," said Fisk while closing the door and watching both the Yazuka and Triad delegation speed away through the rain filled night. Just behind them, the rest of the heads got into their own vehicles, leaving the lonely construction site behind.

Before they could get into their own car, however, the Mexican delegation's truck reversed into theirs hard enough to destroy the engine, followed by Gutiérrez and his driver getting out with guns. From behind, Wesley heard two more men step outside the darkness. Bowers and Clinton reached for their side-arms but Wilson Fisk raised his hand.

"Not so mighty now, eh… pendejo?" gloated Gutiérrez, holding a revolver directly at Fisk. Bowers and Clinton had been disarmed and forced to kneel on the ground along with Wesley while Wilson Fisk stood calm and defiant.

"You do realize what you are doing?" questioned Mr. Fisk, taking out a cigar and lighting it, never once losing his cool. "You do anything to me and the entire city will come for you. The police, the mayor… everyone."

"Fuck you! This is my city now, cabrón! I will take over from you!" growled Gutiérrez, prodding Fisk's stomach with the barrel of his gun. "The police will answer to me now! If they do not, I kill them! If this Stacy man does not do as I say, I take his daughter, then I kill him! If the rats that take my cristal do not stop, I kill them! If the mayor does not do as I say, I kill him! You are old news, fat man!"

"House of cards," whispered Wilson Fisk, taking a long drag of his cigar. "New York is not Mexico. You cannot kill everyone against you."

"There you go with your arrogance again. Where is your giant criminal empire now, eh? I have more men than you! I have more guns than you!"

Fisk took another drag of his cigar. "The funny thing about a house of cards… it's easier to build than most people think. The problem is not building it – the problem is maintaining it. A wrong touch, a soft breeze… a small movement…"

One of the men holding a suppressed assault rifle stepped back from his two comrades and quickly aimed at their heads, firing two shots in the blink of an eye before they both hit the ground, with blood oozing on the pavement. Before Gutiérrez could react, Wilson Fisk sent a mighty slug towards his face, revolver falling to the ground.

"… and the house of cards comes tumbling down."

Bowers and Clinton stood up wordlessly and retrieved their firearms, quickly surveying the area to see if there were any onlookers. Highly unlikely, Wesley thought. This place had been chosen specifically because few people ever came to this area. That might change once the building was rebuilt into Mr. Fisk's new five-star hotel, but that project was still two years away.

"I knew you were a rat. I knew you were the one behind those men!" spat Gutiérrez once he recovered from the blow

"I am not, but they have done a spectacular job at cleaning up your filth," drawled Fisk while taking another drag from his cigar. "You had a lot of men, but quality always trumps quantity. Only hire those that you can trust… is that not correct, Wesley?"

Wesley nodded and then turned towards Clinton, who quickly nodded back before he raised his gun towards the traitor's head and shot him; the body soon joining those he had betrayed.

"Heh… not willing to pay him?" spat Gutiérrez.

"Hardly, but he betrayed you for money, he would have betrayed me as well. Quality over quantity."

"You think it's over with me?! My brothers will come from Mexico! The entire cartel will be out for you! Thousands will come to avenge me! I –"

Any other word was silenced by Wilson Fisk's meaty and powerful fist. Gutiérrez fell to the ground but didn't have even the time to get up before being pummeled again. "You… will… not… spread… your… filth… in… my … city… again!" roared Fisk, punctuating each word with a mighty pummel.

The calm man that Wesley knew was gone in an uncontrollable rage. He sighed – it was going to get messy again.

The anger stopped after exactly five minutes. Where Mr. Gutiérrez's face once was, now there was only a red sludge that combined skin, cartilage, muscle, brains, and fragments of bone in a gory pile of mush. Even then, Wilson Fisk glared at the remains before straightening his suit and tie, noticing the stains of blood on them. He took out another cigar and lit it before taking a drag and looking at his watch.

"Call the restaurant and tell them to push back my reservation… and get in contact with the crew to clean up the… trash." Clinton and Bowers had returned with another car and Fisk got inside. "Remember that I have dinner with the senator tomorrow. I want no inconveniences."

Wesley nodded firmly before taking out his cellphone and allowing himself a quick sigh. He hated when things got messy.

AN: There we go with a new chapter. Hope you liked it. If it was not clear before with the comments of the World Trade Center, the story takes place in the year 2003. Of course, real-life people and politicians are not the same but I'm hoping to reflect the zeitgeist of what was happening during the events of that time.

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Until next time

The Metal Sage

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