Team Konohamaru had been relieved to make it back through the gates, completing their most recent escort mission without any big issues for once. Their sensei had offered to take them all out for dinner to celebrate a peaceful mission, which Sarada and Mitsuki had agreed to eagerly. Boruto shook his head though, “Mom’s probably got dinner almost made, I should head home. She likes me to head straight there after a mission.” Boruto also hoped his father would be home soon. After the attack during the chuunin exams, Naruto had agreed to delegate some of his work, and not use his clones around the village as much. All of which meant that he got home earlier, and wasn’t as exhausted all of the time.
Boruto parted from his team and ran home. He passed a number of people on the way there, mostly civilians. Normally he might get a head nod and a smile from the ones who recognized him as the son of the Hokage, but for some reason they are all avoided his eyes, staring straight ahead. One woman, who Boruto recognized as a neighbor, winced when she saw him and then looked away. ‘Huh, people are acting weird today,’ thought Boruto as he jumped over the gate of his house and ran through the front door.
“I’m home!” shouted Boruto as he sat down to take off his sandals. His father’s usual pair sat by the doorway, which caused his stomach to lurch slightly with excitement. It wasn’t often his dad was home this early, maybe he’d have time to play some video games with Boruto after they were done eating. He had just bought a new one before his mission and he hadn’t gotten to try it out yet.
He hadn’t gotten a response, so as he padded down the hallway he yelled out again, “Mom? Himawari? Dad? Anyone here?”
Footsteps hurried down the stairs as Hinata appeared next to him with a finger against her lips. “Boruto, welcome home. But you need to keep it down, Dad’s resting,” she said in a whisper. His mother seemed paler and more tired than usual and she lacked that quiet joy she normally carried around with her.
Boruto bent his head in confusion, “Eh? Resting? It’s not even 6 o’clock yet. Has he gone back to exhausting himself with too many clones again?” Dread filled Boruto’s stomach, the last couple of months had made him so happy, he didn’t want to go back to how they were before.
Hinata shook her head, “No it’s not that. He’s, um, well, he’s recovering. He needs his rest.”
“Recovering? Did he get sick? I didn’t even know Dad could get sick.”
Hinata shook her head again, twisting her hands in her apron, “No, he’s not sick. Well he has been running a fever off and on. But it’s because, well, he’s injured.”
Boruto’s jaw dropped, “Injured? What? When? Was there another attack? How has the Nine Tails not healed him yet?” The boy’s voice was starting to get louder as his questions got more demanding.
Hinata waved her hand to silence the boy, and then pulled him into a quick hug. “Shhh, it’s alright. There wasn’t an attack, let’s go in here, I’m got soup on the stove,” she said as she released him and walked into the living room/kitchen. Boruto followed, his face twisted with worry.
“Where’s Himawari?” asked the boy, looking around the room. “She’s with her grandfather and aunt, you can fetch her later if you’d like,” said Hinata.
Hinata went to the big pot, taking off the lid and stirring it a bit. Boruto stood on the other side of the bar, waiting for his mother to continue. After she had replaced the lid, she sighed and turned to her son, “Boruto, have you ever heard of the Ita clan?”
Boruto shook his head as he followed his mother to sit down in the armchairs, facing one another. She continued, “I guess you wouldn’t, they aren’t shinobi after all, they are a civilian clan. Their lands lie close to Konoha’s borders. And while they aren’t shinobi, they have employed Konoha ninja before to help guard their forests and they have used ninja techniques to keep people out of their lands. Seals and boobytraps and the like.”
“What are they protecting? Do they have treasure or something?” asked Boruto, wondering what this had to do with his father’s injury. Surely a civilian clan hadn’t managed to injure the great Naruto Uzumaki.
“Animals,” answered Hinata, “They are dedicated to protecting certain types of animals: birds, lizards, types of wild cats. Their lands are a sanctuary for these rare creatures that have almost been hunted into nonexistence. They have strict laws in place for anyone caught harming or trying to steal any of these animals. Ones that the daimyo upholds. They are notorious for the harsh punishments they deal out to poachers who would defy them.”
“Okay,” said Boruto, fidgeting in his seat “And what does this have to do with Dad?”
“Two weeks ago, shortly before you left on your mission, a man was caught by members of the Ita clan trying to sneak out of their lands with a bird he had caught. The bird’s feathers are thought to have medicinal properties and are sold on the black market for a fortune. This man was a civilian citizen of Konoha and so they they dragged the man back to the village and the headwoman of the Ita came before your father and told him what the man’s punishment would be.” Hinata paused, he pale eyes becoming shadowed.
“What was the punishment?” asked Boruto cautiously. Hinata made eye contact again with her son and said, “200 lashes across the back.” Boruto winced and Hinata continued, “And it’s not just with a regular whip either. They use a shinobi tool they poisons the chakra that comes in contact with the wounds it leaves, meaning that you won’t be able to immediately heal the wounds with shinobi medical care.”
“But that would just be a death sentence! Especially for a civilian,” said Boruto, “Why not just execute the poacher? Though that’s a pretty ridiculous punishment too, but at least it’s not torture!”
“Because they want to make an example of those that would go against them. They do the whippings publically in the perpetrator’s home village. It’s a highly effective strategy actually, they haven’t had to hold a public demonstration in decades.”
“So let me guess,” said Boruto, “Dad didn’t like this.” The boy couldn’t see him father going along with having a person’s torture publicly displayed for the whole village to witness.
Hinata smiled slightly, but her eyes looked sad, “No he didn’t. The poacher was an older man, and begged his case to your father, saying that he was just trying to provide for his family. His son-in-law had died and he was trying to care for not only his wife and her elderly mother, but also his daughter and her small children. He said that he had just lost his job and he and his family were going to be out on the street soon if he hadn’t done something. His family members also made appeals to your father, claiming that he was a good man and didn’t deserve such a severe sentencing. Your father agreed, and he met with the headwoman to see if there was a deal they could come to, to spare the man’s life.”
“And did he?” asked Boruto, he enraptured by the story at this point.
“Yes,” said Hinata, her tone becoming strained, “She told him there was only one way the man wouldn’t face the whip: if someone offered to take the punishment instead.”
Boruto’s heart sank, coming to the inevitable conclusion.
“Your father agreed to be the one to do it on the spot,” said Hinata, “His subordinates tried to argue against his decision, offer themselves up in his place, but Naruto said that his healing abilities and stamina meant that he could handle the punishment the best. He had made up his mind and couldn’t be talked out of it.”
Boruto was reeling from the revelation, “But that’s--that’s not fair!”
Hinata shook her head, “None of it is fair, Boruto. But your father knew he couldn’t change the Ita with the time he was given, all he could do was save one man.”
“So Dad let himself be whipped?” asked Boruto in a horrified whisper. Hinata nodded, “Yes, they set up a post in one the training grounds and it happened four days ago. It was supposed to be for public viewing but there wasn’t anyone there except his closest advisors. And the Ita demanded the local news outlets also attend but, they refused to take any video, they only reported on it.”
“Were you there?” asked Boruto.
“Yes,” said Hinata, her eyes getting shiny with tears, “Of course, I couldn’t let him go through that alone. Afterwards, after they untied him, he amazingly wasn’t unconscious, that’s how strong your father is. He said he wanted to go home, not to the hospital. So we brought him back here, Sakura saw to the wounds and gave me instructions on how to care for them, and he’s been recovering here ever since.”
Boruto was struggling with his own tears pricking at his eyes, and Hinata stood up, leaning over her son and placing a hand on his shoulder, “He’ll probably be fully recovered in a couple of more days, and because of the Nine Tails there won’t even be scars. Dad’ll be okay.” Hinata cupped her son’s cheek in her palm as the boy sniffled and nodded. She used her thumb to wipe away a tear that escaped from his eye and asked softly, “Are you angry at him?”
Boruto shook his head, “No, I’m just scared. I’m scared one day he’ll die because he’s also gotta be such a hero, you know?”
“I know, sweetheart. I get scared too, but Naruto knows that if he dies he can’t protect the village or be here for his family. And he promised to do those things, and you know how your Dad is with his promises.”
Hinata smiled and stood back up, walking back over to the stove, “Why don’t you go wake him up? I’m sure he would be so happy to see you back safe, and he needs to wake up to eat dinner soon anyway. He had a fever this morning, but he’s been doing alright the rest of the day.”
Boruto gave a quiet confirmation and then headed up to his parents’ room. He pushed the door opened quietly and peeked in. There was his father on his side of the bed, laid out on his stomach, his arms cradling his head under a pillow. His back was wrapped in thick bandages and the side table was littered with fresh wrappings and various salves and painkillers.
Boruto approached the bed cautiously, and called out, “Hey Dad” as forcefully as he could without startling his father. In the past he would aim for that, shocking his father awake was a favorite pastime, but now the thought of aggravating one of his father’s wounds made him want to flee the village. When his father didn’t move, his breathing staying even, he called out again, “Dad?”
This time, Naruto grunted and squeezed his eyes before blinking them open, and looking up confused at his son. When he recognized the boy, he smiled, “Oh hey Bolt, you’re back from your mission, I see. It go well?”
“Uh, yeah,” said Boruto, shuffling his feet, “It was fine. Kinda boring really, Sarada ate a mushroom she swore her mom said wasn’t poisonous and threw up, and Mitsuki got slapped by the lady we were escorting at one point, this lady who kept flirting with Konohamaru-sensei. But that was all.”
“Good, you’ll learn to appreciate those boring missions after a few not-so boring ones, trust me, you know?” said Naruto with a raspy chuckle.
“Um, Mom said dinner was almost ready.”
“Oh good, my favorite part of the day, I get to sit up. You know the worst part about all of this is how bored I’ve been. Think you might could entertain your old man? Maybe I could watch you play a video game or something.” Naruto pressed his face down into the pillow, before taking a deep breath and looking back up at his son, “Guess Mom told you what happened, huh?”
Boruto nodded stiffly and Naruto asked, “Do I need to worry about you kicking my ass? Just wait until I’m at my A-game again, okay buddy? Wouldn’t be fair to kick a man when he’s down.”
Boruto shook his head, his blonde hair swinging erratically, “I’m not mad at you, okay? The only ones I’m mad at are that stupid clan!”
“Hey,” said Naruto as he reached out to grip his son’s hand tightly, “It’s done with. I’ll be fine in a couple of more days, and some other family didn’t lose their father because of a rash act of desperation. We Uzumakis don’t go in for grudges, okay?” Naruto released the boy’s hand and made his into a fist, which Boruto bumped with a sigh.
Boruto folded his arms across his chest, scowling, “I still don’t see why it had to be my Dad who had to pay the price. You can’t take the blame for every one of the villager’s mistakes.”
“I don’t normally, Bolt. People face justice all of the time. But that man didn’t deserve to die. Him paying the price would’ve meant his life, you know? All he did was try to steal a bird. I was the only one who could take their punishment, and it’s part of my responsibility as the Hokage and the jinchuuriki of the Nine Tails, a role your grandfather entrusted to me.”
Boruto scoffed, “You’re lucky you got Mom to take care of you, you know.” Naruto laughed weakly, “I sure am! It’s such a privilege to have you guys as a family. I thank whatever powers may be every day.”
That made Boruto deflate, and Naruto took the opportunity to lighten the mood, “Hey I ever tell you about my mission to guard a real life princess when I was around your age? Now that wasn’t some boring escort mission.”
Boruto rolled his eyes, “Yeah, sure. Sounds made up.” “It’s true! Aunt Sakura and Grandpa Kakashi were there! Not to mention Sasuke! She was in those Princess Gale movies!”
“Wait, Yukie Fujikaze? Dad, you do realize she was an actress and not a real princess, right?” said Boruto with a raised brow, as he sat down in a chair that had been placed close to the bed.
“She’s a princess and an actress! She still in movies?” asked Naruto. Boruto nodded, “Yeah, she played this wise magic woman in some movie I saw with Shikadai and Denki a couple of months ago. So how did your mission go?”
Naruto entertained Boruto with the story of his adventure in the Land of Snow until Hinata came in with a tray containing a bowl of soup and some tea. She placed the tray down and her and Boruto helped Naruto sit up so he could eat, and they pulled a folding table out to place the tray on. Hinata sat close next to her husband as he ate, just in case he needed help. Naruto managed though, happy to have his wife close to him just so he could steal a kiss or two.
“You can go get your sister Boruto, I need to change Dad’s bandages,” said Hinata. “Ugh, yeah, you don’t wanna see that, it’s like really gross, you know,” said Naruto, pulling a face. Hinata waved him off, “You’ve mostly healed dear, and your chakra is all back to normal from whatever that whip did to it. Oh and Boruto, you can get some money out of my purse if you want to pick up something to eat, Himawari probably already ate. I know seaweed soup isn’t the most appetizing meal after a mission.”
“I have my own money, Mom, I don’t need to raid your purse,” said Boruto.
Naruto smiled wide, “Our son, so grown up!” but Hinata said, “I’m still your mother though, I still get to take care of you until you’re eighteen at least.” Naruto slurped down some soup loudly, “Yeah appreciate her handing out money while you can.” The man put a hand up guarding his mouth from his wife, “Hey bud, you think you can get me some ramen while you’re out?” Hinata tapped his thigh, “No ramen! We will go out when you are healed okay?”
Boruto left his parents to their gentle banter, his father seeming almost completely well in his mother’s presence, and slipped out to go fetch his sister. What had happened to his father still weighed heavy on his mind and heart, and he knew he would never be okay with the burdens his father accepted. But his dad was okay for now, joking lovingly with his wife and slurping down seaweed soup, and so Boruto would just be grateful for that.