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Alternate Decisions

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Itachi realizes a moment too late what Shisui intends and lunges.

He’s not able to stop him from going off the cliff, but. He doesn’t think it through, just goes after him anyways, determined to stop him. It’s not until he almost has his arms around the idiot that he realizes that he’s just jumped off a really damned tall cliff and flails a little, hitting Shisui under the chin hard before getting ahold of himself and grabbing him properly so he can turn his attention to getting the both of them down alive and in one piece.

Fuck dying gloriously to change a bunch of prideful assholes minds! Shisui and his naivety. Suicide restores one’s honor, but it’s also a statement of being too weak to be worthy of respect. It’s what one did when driven into a corner with no way out, it’s dignity, but it’s also scorn. Suicide of one barely respected to begin with? It will only confirm the elders’ opinions that they are right.

More to the point, Danzo has proven himself just as bad as the worst of the Uchiha. And… Fuck it. He’ll think about that later. Right now he has to get them close enough to the rocky wall of the sheer canyon to use chakra to slow them down so they don’t end up a messy splatter in the raging water and tumble of rocks below.

It’s not until he’s standing on the rough water below and shivering and panting from near-death terror and exertion that he understands why Shisui didn’t fight him despite telling him not to stop him. Apparently he accidentally knocked him out cold when he spazzed out about finding himself (them) diving off a massive cliff. Well, at least this way they’re both alive. Itachi can’t do this without his best friend. He refuses.

Blowing out a weary breath, he trudges over to a flat spit of rock along the canyon wall before his chakra runs out and they both drown ignominiously. He lays Shisui down with less care than he probably should, but he’s tired, and flops to sit beside him. If he can’t do this without Shisui (he can’t), and Shisui can’t do this anymore (suicide? really?), then they obviously need to think this through and make better plans.

Maybe, he thinks despairingly, they should just grab Sasuke (the only innocent in this mess that he knows will come unquestioningly with them), graffiti the Hokage’s tower with Danzo’s crimes, and run for it. Being a missing nin can’t be that bad, can it? If they send clones to be seen on the way to Suna, and henge themselves, they should be able to make it to the coast and then disappear into Shikkotsu Forest, right? They can leave all the bitter, greedy fools to fight it out on their own. For a touted ‘village of peace’, Konoha sure falls short of the ideal. How is this peace?

Shisui stirs beside him, and Itachi scrubs at his dripping eyes irritably, then stills, feeling sick as he stares at the blood on his hands. No, no, no, he will not do what he knows, knows, Danzo will want him to do. He left Shisui alive, not from mercy, but because he thinks he can force Itachi to obey him despite his theft. Either with Shisui’s Mangekyo (how would that be even possible?) or by threatening something Itachi cannot afford to lose (Sasuke).

Itachi hates killing. He won’t, won’t, won’t do whatever atrocity Danzo will demand. And he can’t, can’t, can’t lose Shisui or Sasuke. Just can’t.

“What’s wrong, Itachi?” Shisui asks, surprising him with concern instead of raging at him for keeping him alive.

“I…I activated my Mangekyo.” He manages, because he knows Shisui will comprehend the subtext like only an Uchiha could. That’s the only reason there’d be blood under his eyes, because nothing hit his face on the way down.

Shisui goes still beside him for a long moment, then says in a tone as if the air has been punched out of him, “Oh.”

They are silent for several minutes. “You want your eye back now?”

“What good is a one-eyed man?” Shisui snorts.

“Better than a blind man. I can’t take care of Sasuke on my own, you know.”

“What?”

And okay, he knows the idea is insane and he feels a little unhinged right now, but it’s better than Shisui lapsing back into pointless moping, right? So he tells him. Their dilemma has reached the point of no return, but at least he can make Shisui laugh and rag on him for a few moments before they have to get serious again.

Except…Shisui doesn’t laugh. Instead, he looks thoughtful and gets all quiet for several minutes. His expression indicates that he’s thinking of something he wouldn’t normally, but Itachi can’t tell what exactly is going through the idiot’s brain.

“Oh, give me back my eye.” He finally huffs and sits up awkwardly. “I think it’s doable, and I don’t see any other options if you’re right. Shikkotsu’s a good destination. We can stay there for long enough for the search to die down and then find a less dangerous place. It’s not the Forest of Damp Bones for no reason. I don’t think we can survive there long-term. Particularly if we have to use the Mangekyo much.”

“Wha-? You think it will work?”

“Well…, we probably should come up with something more condemning than ‘Danzo is a betraying eyeswipe’, but yes.” He pauses pensively. “We can frame him for my murder and then anyone looking for you and Sasuke wouldn’t think to look for a group of three and wouldn’t know you have back up. Murder is always…useful in motivating conflict. Since we can’t stop it, we may as well use it to hide our tracks.”

And Itachi…boggles at this. Sure, it was his idea, but… No, no, no, he will not lose Sasuke, and Shisui is the only one who cares about peace besides Itachi. Danzo obviously doesn’t. Doesn’t want it. No wonder his father and the elders have been unable to make peace with the Hokage with Danzo in the way. “Hn.”

It takes both of them to get Shisui’s eye back in place and working right, and involves some inordinate clumsiness and periodic swearing. Then they rest and hash out the plan in more detail.

~

The next morning, Konoha wakes to find chakra-protected graffiti all over town, proclaiming:

Danzo Shimura is a traitor. Danzo Shimura is guilty of kekkai genkai theft.

Public opinion is important, after all.

~

Sandaime Hokage finds morning greets him with a hard to miss message emblazoned on his office tower:

Konoha has betrayed the agreement of the founding clans. The Uchiha clan is thus free of any obligation to stay or cooperate. Danzo Shimura is responsible for the death of Shisui Uchiha, who only wished for peace between the Uchiha clan and Konoha, and stole his eye for his own use. Counselor Danzo Shimura has plotted the isolation and murder of the Uchiha clan.

–Itachi Uchiha, Anbu Captain.
P.S. I resign.

He finds himself…well, impressed at how much was fit into the message while keeping it large enough for anyone to read easily from a distance. Impressed at the absolute political havoc it will trigger. Impressed at the sheer gall of it. And, reluctantly, impressed at the claim itself.

He knows better than anyone how much Shisui and Itachi long for and work for peace. And sadly, his old friend is in a place that could make him responsible for such problems. Even if the accusations are a lie, they will have to be publically investigated. And that’s far from the worst of it. Either way, he’s about to have a whole clan of furious and possibly homicidal Uchihas on his hands, and if he’s lucky they’ll just insist he destroy Danzo before they pick up and leave. Worst case is that they simply declare open warfare on Konoha. And if the accusations are true… He shudders to think of the damage Danzo could do with the Uchiha kekkai genkai if he masters it and uses it against Konoha. There’s a reason Danzo is his councilor. He’s smart, and he’s cold enough to make Hiruzen look past his tender heart to see the negative outcome of various ‘merciful’ actions. If Danzo really is a traitor, this will be a nightmare. And if not? He’ll probably be forced to sacrifice him anyways.

So yes, he is impressed at the sheer amount damage this accusation (these accusations; he did see the lesser ones plastered around town on his way here) has made to public opinion, politics, and the fragile peace. He’s impressed with the sheer amount of hassle about to land on his shoulders.

All because one pacifist has snapped and said, ‘Enough’.

If Hiruzen is any judge, the boy is far, far away from here by now.

~

Fugaku is drinking his morning tea, wondering idly where his sons are, when Mikoto’s scream brings him to his feet. He finds her in Sasuke’s room, holding a crumpled paper in her shaking hands.

Father, Mother,

I will not stand for my other brother to die as well. Danzo stole Shisui’s eye, and it is probable that he can use the Mangekyo for his own ends. The body was thrown into the Naka River gorge. Kill him. Run. I care not. Do as you like. Beware Root.

-Itachi

Two hours later, Fugaku has shown the letter to the elders, whose expressions are as grim as he feels. If fearless, peace-loving Itachi thinks his best option is to abscond with Sasuke and advise the clan to ‘Run’, then Danzo needs to die. Repeatedly, in pieces, if necessary. The Uchihas do not run from anything. At least not until they win and can retreat in a stately manner.

~

By nightfall, Hiruzen is so tired he wishes someone would just cut his head off so he can rest in peace. His ears are ringing from all the enraged people he’s faced today, his brain hurts from dealing with so many issues, and he had underestimated the problems one painted message could evoke.

He hadn’t even considered the impact Itachi resigning with that accusation would have on ANBU and the regular jounins. Itachi wasn’t very…well, likeable, really, but he was highly respected. For him to publically announce his secret rank and retire with that accusation meant that his own ninja including most of ANBU were ready to rebel if he didn’t investigate the matter now.

There’d been no lack of volunteers for the mission to arrest Danzo. And between the Uchihas and ANBUs and regular jounin crowding into his office, he really didn’t have the option of not making it into a mission.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that Itachi was mistaken or lying, because Danzo resisted arrest by way of using the stolen kekkai genkai to hypnotize two of the jounin into attacking their companions, convinced that Danzo is innocent and worthy of worship. At which point, men under Danzo had joined in the fight, too, as he then went on to attack others in person with amazing proficiency given his ‘obvious disabilities’.

People have died. Some of them among his very best.

Including Danzo as well.  The Uchihas who had shadowed the mission had jumped in when things went to shit, further making it go to shit, but likely salvaging the mission and saving a few lives, so he can’t be too angry. But Danzo is dead. Very, very dead. The Uchihas had insisted on ‘killing’ him four separate times as far as he can gather from the reports he’s received so far, and the body is…well, in pieces. Medical is still getting back to him on what exactly Danzo had done to himself besides stealing Shisui’s eye, which the clan retrieved somehow before killing Danzo the first time.

At this point, making Itachi a ‘missing nin’ isn’t really a valid option unless he wants to earn the eternal enmity of his clan. Hiruzen is still not certain if the Uchiha will consent to stay or not.

It could be worse.

At least they hadn’t gone directly for bloody revolt. But he has no idea what their terms will be if they choose to stay. Or leave. Or…

Hiruzen bites back a whimper and lays his head on the desk. He doesn’t know whether to hate Itachi or thank him. But he can’t really blame him. Not when his friend was murdered and he feared for his little brother’s life.

He’d always thought he was upholding Tobirama’s command to take care of the village, but now he can’t avoid the fact that he has and all his advisors have allowed Tobirama’s own prejudices against the Uchiha to carry over from the past instead of following his actual words of advice. He has failed. Once again. This time it’s somehow worse than letting Minato and Kushina die in the Kyuubi attack. Hiruzen is too old for this. All he wants is his bed and retirement. Preferably in that order. Maybe he’ll get lucky and not wake to chakra infused propaganda graffiti, not wake to a killer headache, and wake to the Uchihas peacefully cooperating with the village with Minato still alive and in office. Too bad he’s never had that kind of luck. He’s going to be doing paperwork and damage control forever, no matter what the Uchihas decide. Kami take it!

~

Itachi and Shisui reach the coast in record time, henged as an unremarkable blondish couple in their twenties with a two year old daughter, blonde and feverish. No one remarks on them taking passage to Kawagoe. And from there to Kagero. No one pays attention as they travel north on foot to where Neck’s road swings out along the coast.

They disappear there. But no one at all notices a boy and a teen, both with eyes that turn red, as they water walk across the channel to Shikkotsu Forest in the middle of the night, one of them with an unconscious younger boy slung over his shoulder.

~

Fugaku rubs his temples and sighs. The elders have been debating to stay or go for hours, and the real question is where would they even go if they left? Half the clan ninjas have kill orders on them from various countries. “Well, if all else fails, I suppose the Land of Eddies is unoccupied.”

Silence falls abruptly, and he looks up to find everyone staring at him.

He blinks.

“We’re taking Kushina’s son with us.” Mikoto says abruptly from behind him, a tray of tea in her hands. “It’s his birthright, after all.”

And that’s… true.

But he’s also the jinchuuriki and Konoha… Konoha doesn’t have the ability to dictate to them any longer, now does it?

“That monster?” one of the elders, Karuki, protests with distaste.

Mikoto calmly dumps the tea tray over his head, smiling sweetly while he screams and curses, jerking away. “You know very well that Minato was a genius with seals and he would never endanger his son’s life with one that could allow him to be overtaken by the Kyuubi. It does not befit the Uchiha elders to act like ignorant civilians.”

Elder Raiku intervenes before a full-fledged fight can erupt between the two. “More to the point, do we wish to leave the jinchuuriki in Konoha’s hands?”

There is a dead silence at that is broken only by mumbled curses and hisses of pain from Karuki, who nonetheless looks horrified at the notion.

“Mikoto has a point as well. The child is mistreated by the civilians, much as we are treated with suspicion and growing hatred for no reason other than baseless fear. He seems like a rather sensitive child when he’s not playing loud pranks. And while his pranks anger many, they do not seem to be mean-spirited in any way.” Raiku continues. “And the boy is the last known Uzumaki, which gives us a legitimate claim on the island if we take him in and treat him well.”

There is another silence as everyone absorbs this.

“Let me put it this way.” Mikoto finally breaks the silence with an even sweeter smile. “I have lost both my sons to Danzo and Konoha. Kushina was a friend. I will not see my friend’s son lost to this place as well. Fugaku and I will adopt him and raise him to be the Uzukage so the Uchiha clan will have a place it is valued. And if you ever treat my new son as a monster, I will END you.

She tosses a look at Fugaku, who knows when agreement is imperative to survival. His wife is not taking the disappearance of both her boys well. “So, we are all agreed, then. We shall inform Hiruzen that the Uchiha clan chooses to leave. The boy will come with us and Mikoto and I will raise him. And if Konoha figures out where he is, well, they can hardly demand that the Uzukage come to live as a common ninja, unwanted as they have made him, despite who his parents were.”

“We are not- grrrck!” Karuki’s protest cuts off abruptly as Mikoto kicks him where it hurts. Hard.

The other elders wince and several cover themselves reflexively, and there are hasty nods. There is a hurried babble of, “Yes, yes, agreed!”

“An excellent solution.” Raiku praises, sounding very amused.

~

Snatching the boy goes smoothly.

Except for the part where the kid’s academy teacher notices and attacks them in an effort to protect the six year old. And isn’t that shocking? They’d thought everyone except the Hokage barely tolerated the kid.

Naka and Tekka trade glances as the young teacher slumps bonelessly to the ground. The kid is starting to look less frozen in shock and more upset.

Tekka nods. “Bring him too. He seems to care for the kid. He’s just a clanless chunin, so not many will raise a fuss, and Mikoto-sama will be happy to have more teachers around.”

The kid swivels his head to stare up at him, and fortunately doesn’t fight as they bring him and his teacher to where the Uchiha clan is waiting, ready to leave now that they’ve packed and cut ties with Konoha.

Mikoto-sama only raises a brow, briefly, at the unexpected addition. “Iruka sensei? A good choice. He actually enjoys teaching children, from what I’ve seen.”

“Are we going on a school trip?” the boy pipes up from Tekka’s arms, looking surprisingly eager.

Mikoto-sama smiles at him. “No, Naruto. We’re moving to the place your mother came from. And since your mother was a friend of mine, we’re bringing us with us. Would you like me to tell you stories about her?”

“Believe it!” the kid cheers, almost popping Tekka in the nose with an overenthusiastic fist pump. He winces, having the creeping feeling that he should probably make himself scarce if he doesn’t want to end up on child-minding duty for the next ten years.

~

Hiruzen seethes.

Not only has he been forced to dismiss his other councilors for complicity and poor judgement due to the polite insistence of the Uchiha, who have not stayed, and have made it clear that they not only have a place to go outside of Fire Country that is none of his business, but they will refuse to have any thought of making nice with Konoha if either Koharu or Homura are allowed anywhere near Konoha’s decision making process in the future. An insistence backed up by quite a number of angry jounin, Anbu, and civilians. Because they still haven’t figured out how to overcome the chakra protection on the graffiti all over town, including his tower. But this…

Sandaime Hokage,

A couple of ninjas without clans have chosen to come with us and will now be considered as our own. We trust you can fix the paperwork.

-Fugaku Uchiha, Uchiha Clan Head

Naruto Uzumaki and one of the more promising Academy teachers have disappeared with them.

He’s not a fool. He has no way to retrieve Naruto without accusing the clan and in all probability setting off the very war they’ve all narrowly avoided. And maybe…maybe Naruto will be happier with them. Without Koharu and Danzo and Homura to answer to, there’s not many who will even notice the kid’s disappearance as a negative thing. But he can do something about Iruka Umino.

And then, he’ll have to do something about finding new, trustworthy councilors. Easier said than done. The three of them have been in office almost half a century. None had put forth successors prior to this mess. So now he needs to find three people not tangled up in clan politics, with superior political acumen, and not an existing group with their own agendas. Kami preserve him.

He doesn’t even have time or energy to touch the Itachi mess, and with the Uchiha leaving, he doesn’t have to. Though he has received word that the boy and his little brother were seen a couple times on the way to Suna. Which is entirely logical, and he really hopes he doesn’t have to face the Sharingan in the future in Suna’s hands, because that is a terrifying thought. Fortunately, they currently have a treaty with Suna, and Itachi dislikes violence enough that he’ll want to do nothing to change that.

He looks up to find Kakashi perched on the windowsill. “You do realize we have doors for a reason, Kakashi?”

“Maa, but opening them is such a hassle, Hokage-sama.”

Hiruzen snorts. “I have a mission for you. According to the Uchiha,” he taps the note on his desk, “Some ninjas have chosen to go with them, who might otherwise not be considered among their ranks. Now, I’m sure you understand why I can’t do anything about that legally. However, Iruka Umino, one of our Academy teachers is one of them. Which is believable, other than the fact that none of his belongings have been packed and taken. And he didn’t file anything to notify either the school or the paperwork desk that he was planning to leave.”

Kakashi tilts his head consideringly. “He’s the loud one always yelling about improperly done paperwork?”

“You know him? Good. I want you to find him and see if he’s with them willingly or not. If not, retrieve him. Quietly. Again, I’m sure you understand why.” He certainly hopes so, at least, because with Minato dead, Orochimaru cast out for inhumane experiments, and the Senju princess having sworn to never come back, he really doesn’t have a lot in the way of potential candidates to train up to take over for him.

“Maa, I’m sure it will be fine, Hokage-sama.” Kakashi says with an eye-smile that says he’s amused by the whole thing. Then he’s gone in a swirl of leaves.

Hiruzen chuckles. The boy is happier since his forced retirement from ANBU recently.

~

He finds Iruka Umino ensconced in an Uchiha wagon, wrists bound to his elbows in a manner that appears to have taken his comfort into account to an extraordinary degree, the look on his face absolutely fuming.

“Maa, sensei. You look a little tied up there.”

The teacher jolts, eyes widening as he takes in who has found him. “Kakashi Hatake?”

It’s not really a question. “Want some help with that?”

Iruku glowers, then surprisingly turns his head away. “No.”

“Hokage-sama is worried that you’re here against your will.”

There is a short (but surprisingly long coming from the hot-tempered young man) silence, before he sighs. “I am, but. They took Naruto. And he’s happy here. I’ve never seen him this happy outside of eating ramen or pulling pranks. I can’t- I can’t take that away from him.”

His uncovered eye widens.

Naruto? Surely there can’t be two sets of parents with such horrible naming sense? “Sensei Minato’s son?”

Iruka turns his head again to look at him, this time with curiosity. “Oh, that’s right. He was your jounin sensei, wasn’t he? Yes, Naruto Uzumaki.”

Something barrels into his back, knocking him sprawling flat on his face, which is humiliating for a jounin of his skill, even in a camp full of Uchihas. Except there’s little arms around his chest and someone is squealing excitedly, “Yashiro-san, Yashiro-san!”

Yashiro as in Yashiro Uchiha who is half again his age? Kakashi pities the man a bit if this is a common greeting for him.

“Naruto, that isn’t Yashiro-san.” Iruka says in a patient tone.

This is Naruto? Kakashi doesn’t resist as small hands attempt to roll him over, and blue, blue eyes stare down at him in fascination, and then small hands push up his hitai-ate.

“You’re an Uchiha too! I haven’t seen you before. Were you out on a mission? Was it a cool mission? Are you only half Uchiha? Is that why your eyes are like that? They’re so cool! Are you going to stay now that you’re back? You are going to stay, right? Right? Mikoto kaa-san says we’re taking all the good ones with us, so that means you’re awesome, right? Can you teach me a really cool jutsu? Pleeeease?”

Mikoto kaa-san? As in the Clan Leader’s wife?

He has been taken down by a six year old. A six year old who apparently wouldn’t know stealth if it bit him and has Minato-sensei’s puppy eyes half-down already. Which is patently unfair. Kushina would be laughing herself silly. With a sigh, he bites his thumb and puts his hand on the kid’s forehead, and summons Pakkun.

The brat goes down with a squawk, flailing as he falls backwards from the sudden weight of Pakkun on his face.

Pakkun disentangles himself and gives Kakashi a dirty look. “What do you need, boss? Do you need to rub my paw? Looks like you’re having a bad day.”

“Maa, it’s just that the Yellow Flash’s son is faster than I expected. Pakkun, I need you to run a message to the old man. And one to Shiranui, too.”

“The guy with the senbon fetish? Sure thing, boss.”

“I’ll go get paper from Mikoto kaa-san!” Naruto yells and dives out of the wagon, shouting for Mikoto.

Kakashi grimaces and sits up, pulling writing supplies out of his kit. It’s probably best to be doing something distinctly unthreatening when the Uchihas show up en masse.

Chapter Text

Hokage-sama,

Umino-san has an attachment to staying with the Uchiha, and arrangements have been made to ship his things to him. He is in good health.

As for me, a fishcake tackled me and convinced me to get permanently lost on the road of life. I’m sure you can take care of the paperwork. Umino-san insists that the proper paperwork be filed, so you will be receiving some in the near future. He’s loud.

-Hatake Kakaski

Hiruzen doesn’t even resist the urge to bang his head against the desk, ignoring the looks he knows his ANBU must be giving him. Apparently Kami is out to punish him for all his sins. It’s not as if he didn’t know that Kakashi is too soft-hearted for his own good, but it hadn’t occurred to him that Naruto would influence him, because the younger man avoids children like the plague when he isn’t failing them with the bell test. Which might also be construed as avoidance. Somehow he’d forgotten that the boy had been Minato’s student and might be inclined to be protective of Minato’s son.

His mistake has cost him one of the Leaf’s most effective ninja. But more than that, what will he do for an heir now? This whole mess with Danzo has made it clear that he needs one. If for no other reason than allowing him to pass off some paperwork before he dies of overwork! The fact of the matter is, though, that with the Uchiha leaving and the council gone, the Leaf looks weak and that’s never a good position for a famed ninja village to be in. Kakashi and Iruka leaving is just another drop in the bucket. He can’t leave Konoha unprotected.

Tsunade won’t be coming back. Senju are stubborn like that. Jiraiya is… He cringes. Much as he loves his student, there’s little doubt that he’ll be lynched if he makes such a pervert his heir. So that leaves…

Oh, sweet Kami.

~

Naruto looks around eagerly, because they’re finally, finally off the boats, even that was really cool! But the more he looks, he doesn’t see where they’re going. There’s no houses or anything. And this place is weird. There’s rocks everywhere, but barely any trees.

“We’re here, Mikoto-sama.” Baru-nii comes back to the wagon to say.

And Naruto flings himself gleefully off the seat and looks around again, because he’s obviously missed some great house and…he realizes that some of the rocks aren’t, and promptly breaks into tears. “Mikoto kaa-san! S-Someone was mean and broke all the houses!”

“That’s why we brought the wagons, Naruto. This happened a long time ago, before you were born.”

Baru-nii snorts. “That’s right, brat. We are ninjas, after all. We could have carried all that stuff in storage scrolls.”

Sad houses forgotten, Naruto turns to him with shining eyes. “Really? Really? That’s so awesome! Teach me? Teach me? Pleeease, Baru-nii?”

Baru-nii looks like he’s swallowed a frog, which is funny, but Mikoto kaa-san said that all the Uchihas are his brothers and sisters and uncles and aunts and stuff, so he can call Baru-nii that way if he wants, though he can’t make fun of him for looking like a frog or Mikoto kaa-san will scold him for being mean. After a glance at Mikoto kaa-san who is wearing that nice smile that others find scary for some reason, Baru-nii hunches his shoulders in defeat. “Fine. I can show you how to use them. I don’t know how to make them, though.”

“Yes! You’re the best, Baru-nii! Believe it!”

~

Hiruzen isn’t too worried when the Uchiha are reported as heading down to Yumegakure. Wood Country has always been fairly neutral and are likely to be quite friendly to the Uchiha clan despite a few past misunderstandings.

But then they disappear around Sora-ku, and it’s a week before his spy reports that they apparently got on several ships that were well-paid to take them somewhere. Where hasn’t been determined. And that’s not a problem if they’ve decided to offer their services to…say the Land of Tea or the Land of Noodles or Nadeshiko. Okay, Nadeshiko’s unlikely. But, and this is a big but, Kirigakure is out that way too, and they are the bloodiest of the ninja villages. And those taking passage to the Land of Tea are more likely to go through Yumagakure rather than sail the extra distance. Still, it’s possible that the Uchihas decided to avoid possible conflict by going the long way rather than passing by a hidden village. They’ve avoided bloodshed (other than Danzo) up until now, it isn’t unreasonable to think they might continue to do so until they get where they’re going.

He really, really doesn’t want to think about the consequences of Kiri in conjunction with Uchihas.

~

Orochimaru looks up to find Enma the Monkey King staring at him with a curiously neutral distaste and bites back a curse. “What do you want?”

“I have a message for you.”

He waits. And waits. And-

“Yes? And what is it?”

Enma snorts. “I really dislike you.”

“The feeling is mutual, I assure you. And no surprise at all. Was that all?”

“No.”

Orochimaru hisses in annoyance. “Are you planning to deliver your message or not? I do have other things to do than wait for you to say nothing.”

“I believe Hiruzen is mistaken in his judgement of you, however, I do know you keep your word once you give it. Hiruzen bid me to tell you that if you give your word to stop with the experiments, he will name you his heir.”

His eyes widen in disbelief. “Heir to the Sarutobi clan? Why would I want that?”

“You aren’t very bright, are you? He will name you the next Hokage.”

“Really? What brought this on?”

Enma cocks his head. “You are not aware of recent events? That seems unlike you.”

Orochimaru frowns. “The last word I got from my spy was something about indelible graffiti and having to lay low.”

Enma snorts, in amusement this time. “Well, I can tell you that the graffiti was Itachi Uchiha’s doing, Danzo Shimura was publically exposed as a traitor, the rest of the councilors were forced to retire, the Uchiha clan picked up and left, taking the Uzumaki kid with them, and Kakashi Hatake was sent after them and decided to stay with them. They then disappeared from the port near Sora-Ku.”

He blinks, processing this. “Ah, he’s out of heirs. Tsunade won’t go back, and Jiraiya would go missing-nin before he took the hat. And he’s worried about Kiri starting something, which Suna and Iwa would happily jump in on.”

The Monkey King just stares at him in silence, apparently waiting for him to refuse the offer.

“Hm. Well, the latest round of experiments was boring anyways. I give my word to limit my experiments to non-lethal and non-torturous to my subjects, and body transfers to convicted, vicious criminals if he keeps his word and appoints me his heir. There are a few test subjects I will have to bring with me, but I’m sure the fine people of Konoha can deal with that.” He smiles sweetly. “I can even release the ones who have no use and let them do as they like.”

He laughs when Enma grimaces and unsummons himself without replying. Hokage, hm? And here they’d always been so adamant that he wasn’t worthy of the position. Too bad about the Uchiha, but he’d rather have the power even if the eyes would be terribly convenient to have with his next body. Rubbing his new position into the retired council’s faces is going to be so much fun!

~

Hiruzen stares at the neat stack of forms on his desk in agitation before sighing and picking up the first. Not too surprisingly, it is Iruka Umino’s, informing him of intent to leave the village with the Uchihas. They’d had to come up with an official form for it, given that the entire police force, a number of genin, chunin, jounin and ANBUs and civilians were either Uchihas or in relationships with them. Or not in relationships and just really good friends.

It’s not filled out in Iruka’s neat hand, but it does have his signature. Kakashi’s dogs no doubt had carried it both ways.

The next is Kakashi’s, filled out in the same hand, again not Kakashi’s, but has his signature.

The third and final form is filled out in the same hand, which matches the signature at the bottom. Genma Shiranui. Kakashi must have told him about Naruto. He hadn’t even been aware that the two young men bothered talking to each other, much less were friends enough to rely on for things such as turning in ‘I quit’ forms to a Hokage who certainly doesn’t want to accept them.

Beside the forms there is a small storage scroll and he opens it warily. Three Leaf hitai-ate fall out.

Hiruzen gives in and whimpers. Not five minutes into his paperwork for the day, and he already has an impending headache.

~

Kanako Uzumaki is in Kusakagure recovering from chakra depletion when she first hears the whisper of news. “They say there’s people on Uzushio again.”

She thinks about it. If that’s true…

The second time she hears something, it’s been a good week. The village is healthy and there haven’t been any attacks for nearly a year. It’s peaceful. Her energy is topped off and she feels optimistic about life.

“There’s a ninja clan in Uzushio again, and a blond kid they call Uzukage.”

Blond is a weird hair color for an Uzumaki to have, but she needs to check this out. For Karin’s sake if nothing else.

She lets the village leader know of her intentions, and because her services haven’t really been needed lately, he wishes her luck and lets them go without protest. They don’t have a lot of belongings, so packing is easily done, what they do have fitting easily into a couple storage scrolls, and Karin is excited about the thought of seeing Uzushio again.

The journey is uneventful and they are buying passage on a fishing boat out of the southernmost port in the Land of Hot Water when Kusa is attacked without warning. The village leader ends up cursing himself for his lack of foresight in letting Kanako go, because it means a lot of people die who wouldn’t have otherwise.

~

Sasuke is upset, at first, to find himself far from his parents and all he’s known, in a damp, eerie place where the things that don’t try to eat them try to kill them other ways. But he has Itachi-nii and Shisui-nii and they’ve always been the ones to pay most attention to him and praise him when he does something right. And his mom and dad have been acting weird lately.

It’s cold and damp here. But other than a few crying fits and many near death experiences and having to move around all the time, it’s great. Itachi-nii and Shisui-nii give him all the attention he wants and he gets to learn to kill things and there’s no one around him to tell him all the time how he should be like Itachi-nii. Which, don’t get him wrong, he wants to be just like Itachi-nii, but he wants that because he loves his brother, not because everyone thinks he’s stupider than his brother. It’s not his fault Itachi-nii is years ahead of him. (Okay, and smarter too, because his nii-san is smarter than EVERYONE. But that doesn’t mean Sasuke’s retarded, okay?)

More importantly, both Itachi-nii and Shisui-nii are looking happier and healthier than they have in a while, even if Shisui-nii’s eye somehow got lost. Sasuke didn’t know eyes could do that. Sometimes he worries about his falling out and getting lost, except Itachi-nii tells him that they can’t on accident. Apparently you have to take them out on purpose. That’s a big relief. He still might have a couple nightmares about it afterwards, but Itachi-nii and Shisui-nii pretend like it doesn’t happen, so it’s okay.

In short, Sasuke thrives in the Forest of Damp Bones. The bones are a little creepy, but they make really good resting places. They even sleep on top of the tallest ones a lot of the time, because it puts them up out of the reach of most of the predators. Best of all, there’s no school to attend, no other kids to have to tolerate, and he gets to learn all kinds of taijutsus and jutsus because his nii-sans teach him themselves. Well, they kind of have to, because otherwise he wouldn’t survive here long, but he always likes a good challenge, so it’s okay.

Chapter Text

Karin watches the sea with its occasional whirlpools that the fishing boat steers around with professional ease with wonder. She doesn’t remember this place, has never been here. But it was her mother’s home, the place they are going, and she was happy here once. She knows that. She wants to go to the home her mother had always told her tales of. And her mother said there’s a new Uzukage, so they can. This time it’ll be safe. She thinks. She hopes. Karin bites her lip and clutches her mother’s hand a little harder.

A couple hours later, they step onto the shore where Uzushio’s harbor used to be. Her mother had carried her from the boat to the shore because Karin hasn’t quite gotten water walking down right and still falls through the surface now and then. No point in drowning so close to their goal.

She looks around and the place is a mess. Rubble of the harbor all around and many buildings still lay fallen closer to them. But there’s some that look intact. And in the distance, she can see people working on others.

A blond boy a little younger than her comes tearing down to meet them, distracting her. He skids right up to them, then trips. She dodges and he lands face first, but it doesn’t seem to bother him. He just pops right back up again, wiping the blood off his cheek like he doesn’t even notice, and starts chattering at them.

“Who are you? You have red hair! It’s really pretty! Are you Uzumakis? Mikoto kaa-san said lots of the Uzumakis have red hair. Are you going to stay? You are, right? Right?”

He beams at them.

“Who are you?” Karin demands, annoyed at the flood of questions practically shouted in her face. She’s never met anyone this loud who wasn’t being drunk and mean.

“I’m Naruto Uzumaki-Namikaze, Yondaime Uzukage! Believe it!”

“No way! You’re just a shrimp! And blond! Uzukages have to be strong, so they can protect everyone!”

“I am!”

“Prove it!”

He wrinkles his nose. “Fine. I hate this. Uchihas are so fussy about clothes.” Then he taps his forehead protector (and how does he have one at his age?) and she notices belatedly that there’s a hat symbol over a whirlpool symbol on it, which is just weird, and a Kage hat and robes pop into existence over his current outfit.

Karin gapes at him, because that is not normal.

~

“That is a very clever use of a storage seal, Naruto.” Kanako cuts in. “How did you manage it? And did you say the Uchihas?”

Naruto’s beaming smile seems to turn up a notch. “Shishi-nii found a scroll in a squooshed library and helped me with it so I could train and stuff without getting my robes all dirty. It’s cool, believe it! And there was paint all over town, so the Uchiha clan came here, and Mikoto kaa-san and Fugaku tou-san said I’m their son now, cuz they knew my mom and they could cuz they were leaving the Leaf! Iruka sensei and Shishi-nii came too!”

So, the Uchihas broke off relations with Konoha over some incident? Fugaku was the clan heir last she knew, but it has been a while. She hadn’t known of any other Uzumakis in Konoha besides Kushina, and Kanako heard that Kushina died in the attack when the Kyuubi no Kitsune had gotten loose. But with a name like Uzumaki-Namikaze… “Was your father Yondaime Hokage?”

He fist pumps, almost smacking poor Karin in the nose. “Believe it! My tou-san was the Yellow Flash and my kaa-san was the Red Hot Habanero, and I’m going to be just like them! I was going to be Hokage, but Mikoto kaa-san said that I can just be Uzukage instead, so I’m the 4th, just like my dad. And all the Uchihas train me with katas and stuff, cuz they’re family, and Shishi-nii helps me with seals and walking on stuffs, and Genma-nii helps me with the sentbomb stuffs. Which is really tough, cuz if I don’t do it right I get tingly and fall over. And Iruka sensei teaches me the boring stuffs. So I’m going to be the greatest Uzukage, believe it!”

If that’s true, which Kanako’s inclined to believe it is, this child will be terrifying in a few years. But given what happened to Uzushio the first time, that’s very reassuring. The Uchihas are a force to be reckoned with. Not for their seals, like the Uzumakis, but for the Sharingan, that can see through and copy any jutsu. A military clan far more than the Uzimaki clan ever managed with their obsession with finding the newest and best in seals.

“Senbon, not sentbomb, Naruto. You know Genma will give you the extra tingly ones if you keep saying it wrong.” A bored voice says, making Kanako twitch, because she’d sensed his chakra coming down the incline, but that level of speed says jounin not the mere chunin she’d been expecting. It’s a silver haired man with a mask and a tilted hitai-ate over one eye, crouching on a large piece of rubble, ostentatiously reading a scroll.

“Aww.” Naruto pouts for approximately five seconds. “Shishi-nii, what happened to your book!?”

This is ‘Shishi-nii’? Even she recognizes the Konoha S-rank nin, Kakashi the copy ninja of a thousand jutsus, listed in every country’s Bingo book as ‘flee on sight’ for anyone under A-rank. Well though, the nickname does mean pretty much the same thing. What is he doing here?

“Maa, maa, it’s nothing, Naruto. Mikoto-sama just had a little accident with the cooking fire.” The amount of gloom this manages to convey is absurd.

“Mikoto kaa-san keeps burning his Icha Icha.” Naruto stage whispers to them. “He keeps buying more, but Iruka sensei keeps telling Mikoto kaa-san on him, cuz he thinks they’re unhealthy and melt Shishi-nii’s brain cells, and Genma-nii says that’s true, but I don’t think he believes it, cuz he keeps laughing and helps Shishi-nii buy new ones.”

Kanako blinks, then laughs. “Maybe your nii-san would like me to teach him a high level disguise seal?”

“Really? That would be cooool! Teach me too!”

Kakashi lowers his scroll and stares at them directly. “My first impression? I like her.”

Her smile widens. “I’m Kanako Uzumaki, a medical nin, and this is my daughter, Karin Uzumaki. It’s nice to meet you, Hatake-san, Uzumaki-sama.”

“Medical ninja? That’s so cool! Can you teach Naori-nee and Izumi-nee? Naori-nee says it’s stupid that she’s the only one with any medical ninjutsus and she’s really bad with them. And Izumi-nee says she wants to learn too! So can you? Please, please, pleeeeease?”

“I’d be happy to, Naruto. Would you like me to teach you, too?”

The blue, blue eyes widen in surprise. “But Naori-nee said I probably shouldn’t cuz I’m a jinchuuriki and I make delicate jutsus go boom and that’s not good to do to patients.”

“That’s a lie! Jinchuuriki are monsters!”

Naruto looks like her daughter punched him. Like a punch would have been kinder.

“Maa, maa, that’s not true, Karin-san. I’ve known two jinchuurikis and neither of them are monsters. Do you call a policeman a criminal just because he locks away a criminal?”

Karin scowls at him. “It’s not the same.”

“No, Karin, he’s right. I didn’t realize you were listening to the villagers or I would have told you. Now apologize to Naruto. That was a very cruel thing to say.”

“But mom! Everyone says the Suna jinchuuriki is a crazy killer, and Naruto isn’t crazy, he’s just stupid!”

Hatake buries his nose in his scroll again, Kanako resists the urge to facepalm, and Naruto pouts and activates his storage again to put his robes away. “So what?”

“So I don’t believe you.”

“Oh.” Naruto shrugs. “You don’t have to.”

“Okay then.”

Kanako bites back the urge to laugh. At least her daughter can tell when someone is not a monster. “I would be happy to teach your sisters, Naruto, and you as well, if you like. Your problems with delicate jutsus are probably more because you’re an Uzumaki than because you’re a jinchuuriki. It’s hard to work with that much chakra when doing delicate work, but you’re at a good age to start learning.

“I can? Then I want to! Believe it!”

~

There are some rumbles of discontent when Orochimaru is named as his heir and the village gets a good look at the Snake Sannin for the first time in over a decade, but releasing the information that the truly horrifying experiments that had gotten him thrown out of the village were at Danzo’s order soothes most of them very quickly. (And Hiruzen is aware that the information is only mostly true, but.)

So somehow he’s not expecting two more neatly filled out forms and hitai-ate to show up on his desk.

Orochimaru leans over to look with interest. “Withdrawal from Konoha forms? Since when do we have those?”

“Since not starting an actual war with the Uchiha clan and their dependants sounded like a good idea. After Danzo’s plans were revealed, Konoha was openly at fault so there was not much to do.”

“Ah. Speaking of which, how exactly did Itachi Uchiha manage indelible graffiti?”

Oh, right, Orochimaru’s endless curiosity.

“Infused it with chakra in a way that required a similar or greater amount to overpower so the paint could be removed.”

“Interesting. Tenzo and…ah, Anko. I suppose there’s no surprise there. They both have reason to hate me. Well, no matter. They aren’t much threat even if they do join an enemy village.”

He grimaces. “I’d thought better of Anko, considering you were able to deactivate your Cursed Seal at her request.”

Orochimaru makes a considering noise. “Deactivated is not gone, though it will disappear over time without my chakra to stabilize it. And she’s always been rather impulsive. Leaving after I helped her makes her look like the unreasonable one.”

Right. They can spin it that way. Hiruzen sighs and rubs his forehead. “I can’t even begin to tell you how much I look forward to turning over all this paperwork to you. I’m too old for this.”

And if he wants to pretend that Orochimaru isn’t laughing at him, that’s his business, now isn’t it?

~

Tsunade is in Iron, drinking her way through the taverns in Three Wolves when she first hears the rumor. “Someone has set up a tavern in Uzushio. Apparently they import all their liquor.”

That’s…interesting. Considering Uzushio is 20some years fallen and gone. Even the civilians in the smaller villages had deserted the place in fear. Well, maybe it’s worth checking out next time she wanders that way. If for no other reason than to see what brave soul is willing to take such an outrageous risk.

Not even Kiri has tried to claim it, fearing a curse or possibly Konoha’s wrath.

~

Anko stomps out of sight of Konoha’s gate, then stops huffily. “Now where do I go?”

A shadow detaches itself from a tree and she does not scream, does not scream, but only because she recognizes the man. “I wondered if you were going to leave, too. Want to come with me?”

She raises her brows at Tenzo. “What? You’ve actually got a place to go?”

“Yes.”

“Well that was real informative.” There is no answer and she throws her hands up. “Fine, sure, why not? So, where are we going?”

Tenzo smiles creepily. “The Land of Eddies.”

“Oh sure! Head for the place where the largest tragedy in the last fifty years occurred. That sounds reasonable. If you have wood for a brain! Come on, let’s go.” This time she ignores the creepy smile, because she can. He’d better have a good reason for heading there of all places.

~

Jiraiya doesn’t look up from where he’s bent over writing on some manuscript. Probably that Icha Icha stuff Hiruzen likes so well. Enma doesn’t sigh in disgust, but it’s a close thing, instead he waits patiently. None of Hiruzen’s students are particularly good at patience, though this one is surprisingly the best at it of the three.

“It must be important if he sent you.” Jiraiya finally says, without any other indication that he’s paying attention.

“Yes.” Silence falls, but Jiraiya doesn’t crack, doesn’t fidget or pause in his writing, doesn’t look up. “How much do you know of current events in Konoha?”

“You can safely assume I know nothing.”

“I see. In that case, Hiruzen bid me to tell you that Danzo Shimura stole one of Shisui Uchiha’s eyes before murdering him and dumping his body into the Naka River. Itachi Uchiha then exposed a plot by Danzo to slaughter the Uchiha clan by way of chakra infused graffiti prominently placed throughout the village, then grabbed his little brother and disappeared. As a result, Danzo was killed and the eye retrieved, followed by the forced retirement of Hiruzen’s other council members.”

Enma pauses to let him absorb that, then continues.

“After that, the Uchihas chose to leave the Leaf for an unknown destination and have dropped out of sight. Kakashi Hatake chose to join them and likewise, his whereabouts are unknown. None of Hiruzen’s council had heirs in place, and while new council members have since been chosen, it made it clear to Hiruzen that he needed an heir again. That being the case, he has decided to let you know that he has chosen-”

“Oh nonono no!”

A swirl of leaves replaces the large white haired ninja.

“Oroch-” Enma breaks off, left blinking at an abandoned pile of manuscript pages. Finally, he says, “Alright. That was not the reaction I was expecting.”

Enma’s not entirely certain that Hiruzen’s student understood the message properly, but he’s pretty sure the brat will come back for the manuscript if he holds it hostage. He reaches out to gather them up, only to have the papers disappear with a soft pop, replaced by a hitai-ate with half a messily written page.

No way in hell, old man! ~J

He shakes his head. Why are none of Hiruzen’s students reasonable humans?

Chapter Text

Kurama has been annoyed for a while. Not angry. Of course he’s angry; he’s always angry, seething with hatred. Humans are despicable and he’s been trapped inside one or another for a good century now. And every single one of them has been annoying. But the latest one hadn’t been too bad, sorta matching Kurama’s mood there for a few years in a watered down, weak, human way. But lately the brat has been blindingly happy, and it’s gone on too long.

It’s not all bad. The kid’s inner landscape has shifted from a dank, sloshing sewer to a large island. It’s still surrounded by water, but at least Kurama’s not trapped in it now. Now there’s sunny beaches and rocks and places with rubble of a fallen human city. Although lately some of the houses have been rebuilt and other new ones built, smaller, but reeking of new endeavor. That kind of pisses Kurama off, because he’d preferred the rubble, to be honest.

The mental currents of joy that bounce around are sickening in the extreme, but at least they don’t seem to be directed at him like a weapon, as his other containers had done. The brat definitely knows now that Kurama is inside him, but he doesn’t seem to care that he holds inside him a massive, malicious living chakra construct who would eat him alive in an instant if he could get free. Kurama knows his good points, okay? Malice is definitely one of them.

But this? This is the last straw.

Somehow the brat has fallen into deep water and is in the process of drowning. Absolutely not! He refuses to die so ignominiously!

*Don’t you dare die on me, brat!*

The brat shows up in the mental space, looking around in confusion, then spots Kurama on the other side of the bars, smack in front of him, and beams. Like an idiot.

“You can talk! I didn’t know you can talk!”

*And you’re drowning. I loathe you and I’m going to eat you as soon as I get out, but I don’t feel like dying this way, so I’ll loan you some chakra just this once. So don’t drown, brat.*

“That’s so awesome! My name Naruto and-”

Kurama swats him out with a rush of chakra so he doesn’t have to listen to the obscenely cheerful chatter while he’s in danger of dying because the brat can’t swim. He puts his paws over his nose in a silent whine. What was that stupid tomato thinking when she named the brat? If he needed to eat, he’d never look at a fish the same way again. Fishcake! Stupid tomato.

~

It’s a mistake. He knew it was a mistake. He should have let the brat just drown and end his miserable existence. Because the brat didn’t drown, but he also doesn’t stay away!

How does such a stupid brat figure out how to access his inner landscape at will after just one incidence? It’s torture. It’s worse than even the tomato or the snobby princess before her. Ugh, ugh, ugh.

Before he knows it, the kid is popping in at random any time he’s bored or supposed to be meditating or napping, and talking at Kurama. Talking! As if one of the Sage’s greatest creations has anything to talk about with a mortal child!

*Would you shut up!?*

The calculating look on the brat’s face makes Kurama want to kill something. Preferably the brat. Painfully.

“I will. For today. If you tell me your name. You have a name, right?”

And okay. That? Is offensive. *Of course I do. The Sage gave us all names when he created us.*

“The Sage created you?” The blue eyes give him a look of awe and wonder. “That’s so awesome! Tell me your name! Please, pleeease? If the Sage gave it to you, it’s gotta be really grand, believe it!”

Kurama is not flattered at all, okay? Not even the teensiest bit. *Kurama. Now leave me alone, brat!*

He smacks him out of the mental space irritably.

It gains him a whole five days of peace.

Giving the brat his name was definitely a mistake.

~

Rasa receives the news by way of a spy who is in the process of switching assignments.

While passing through the Land of Hot Water, I heard an interesting rumor. There are people in Uzushio again, and the fishermen claim that there is a new Uzukage.

Uzushiokagure, city of the seal masters, fallen around two decades ago. He looks out his window, not hearing the sandstorm blowing the last dregs of itself out on the other side of the shutters. Uzushio nin had been brilliant with seals, able to do things with them that he still remembers with a mix of wonder and horror after all these years, though he only met them in battle a few times. Perhaps…

For the first time in years, Rasa feels a spark of hope.

His youngest son is probably an irretrievably unstable weapon, blinded by a weak nature and unfixable at best, but if there are Uzumakis in Uzushio again….

It is over a year later before he gets a spy into Uzushio and gets a report back.

Respectfully, Kazekage, this place is insane. Their Uzukage is a hyperactive blond brat everyone pampers by teaching him insane ninjutsus and goes by the name of Uzumaki-Namikaze. The place is full of Uchihas of all things, and the brat’s bodyguards include the Copy nin, Kakashi Hatake. An Uzumaki woman around your age works as the city’s chief medic, assisted by her daughter and a couple Uchiha girls. Not even the brat Uzukage was fooled into believing I am not a ninja, but they don’t seem to care. They’ve put me to work building walls. Do you know how much I hate building walls? The only place that has alcohol around here is run by an ex-soldier from the Land of Demons who imports most of his liquor because the stuff he makes is something called Ogre Water, and I’ve seen half a glass of it knock a grown man out cold and only unwary visitors will touch the stuff even on a bet. Except the Uzukage brat, who seems to be under the impression that it’s just funny tasting water and is mostly unaffected by it other than to get more hyperactive for a time, possibly because he’s the jinchuuriki of the Kyuubi, which absolutely no one seems to care about. Did I mention this place is insane? Why do you always send me on the weird missions? Oh, and the brat is definitely an Uzumaki despite the hair. I’m pretty sure he was trying to use seals and learn how to air walk-

The rest of the message has a large stain over it, reeking of alcohol, and the writing over the stain is rather wobbly.

… The brat startled me and I knocked my glass over. Apparently he was reading over my shoulder and objected to the use of ‘air walk’, correcting that it’s going to be a ‘better shunshin’. He also said to tell you ‘Hi’ before he ran off to hide from the Copy nin for some reason. Given that he gets daily lessons from the Uchiha elders there’s no way that he doesn’t understand the significance of this correspondence, but he seemed quite friendly about it. I recommend sending an official representative, and next time assign me somewhere with decent liquor and no children. You should be nicer to me, you know. I’m only ten years younger than Chiyo, and she’s so old that she pretends to be dead and it’s believable. ~S

Rasa taps his fingers on his desk, thinking. Still a kid, and a jinchuuriki of the only bijuu more universally feared than Shukaku, and yet an Uzumaki and trusted enough to be made Kage. Konoha has always been strange, and the Uchihas are definitely from Konoha, which means their Uzukage almost certainly is as well. Particularly with the name Namikaze. No one who ever saw the Yellow Flash on the battlefield is ever going to forget Minato Namikaze, only son of a civilian family, Fourth Hokage, husband to the notorious Red Hot Habanero Kushina Uzumaki, and genius seal master, student of Jiraiya the Toad Sannin.

Namikaze and his wife had died resealing the Kyuubi after it broke free, and Rasa had never heard whispers of them having a child, though he knew Konoha had made a child their new jinchuuriki. But with that name there’s little doubt that the boy is theirs. Add in the fact that the child is apparently in the process of recreating the Hiraishin, something that reportedly even other top Konoha nin could only replicate in a team after being taught by Namikaze himself and Rasa can’t even bring himself to have the slightest doubt about his conclusion, and is sure that old Sedo came to the same one despite his erroneous attempts at humor. Moreover, the boy seems to have no prejudice against Suna, which is significant. He has no idea why the Uchihas are there with the kid, but…

“Summon Yashamaru and Baki. I have a mission for them.”

Maybe the Uzukage can help Gaara. And if not, he can just station his weak, sentimental brother-in-law there with Gaara as his ambassadors and let them be Uzushio’s problem instead of reminding him of his dead wife constantly. Uzushio can hardly object to a jinchuuriki on their island when their Kage is one too.

~

Anko steps onto a rocky beach and comes to a halt, bending over to pant for a bit. Whose bright idea was it to water walk at a run across the entire channel even if it is the narrowest part in the dark, anyways? Oh right, Tenzo’s. That absolute bastard. She is never listening to his opinions on how to avoid people seeing where they’re headed again. The next time some bastard steps out of a tree and asks her if she wants to go with him, she’s absolutely screaming and running the other way, even if it does make her look like a dumb civilian. At least civilians are entertaining. Unlike Tenzo. The wood-faced bastard.

She straightens up, pushing hair out of her and squishing her boobs so they settle right again, then leaps backwards on reflex as a senbon hits the gravel less than an inch from the end of her toes, only to slip because she forgets that there is nothing but water behind them, and fall backwards into chilly, calf-deep water with a shriek of outrage. Lunging out of the water, she’s ready to gut the bastard until a lazy, familiar voice says,

“Maa, Anko. Kakashi didn’t tell me you were going to come with Tenzo.”

Very deliberately, she stops and retrieves the senbon and tucks it into her own weapons pouch in retaliation. “Shiranui, you are a bastard.”

“You say that like it’s a bad thing. My mother was very proud of the fact, given who my father was.”

Scowling at the vague outline of him she can see in the dark, she demands, “Who’s your father?”

“Dunno. She never would say.”

Anko huffs and starts wringing salt water out of her jacket. She was overheated and sweaty from the run, but now she’s just cold. “So why the fuck are you and Kakashi out in the middle of nowhere with all the bones and broken buildings? There’s not even fishing villages left here.”

“Huh. Konoha hasn’t gotten word yet? Strange. Well, welcome to Uzushio. You can meet the Uzukage in the morning…that’s like half an hour from now. The two of you will probably get on like a house afire. But if you wake him now, Mikoto Uchiha will hunt you down like a dog and feed the scraps to the fish.”

Anko grunts, because she’s up for any good fight, but she’s tangled with Mikoto in the past and the older woman is terrifyingly good at revenge. There had been that incident where every dango stand in the city mysteriously sold out as soon as Anko got to the head of the line for an entire month. Her brat’s probably just as evil as she is. “So, with lots of screams of pain and suffering?”

Genma Shiranui just laughs, low and soft. “I meant quite well, but I suppose that might fit too. Kid’s a prankster. Just don’t drive off any of the civilians in the process. It’s hard enough to find ones who don’t care about having a jinchuuriki around.”

“Jinchuur- You bastards kidnapped Kushina’s son? I thought Konoha had been a little quiet lately.”

“Maa, that would be Mikoto. If you want to argue about it with her, go right ahead. She’s been pretty insistent that he’s hers now that her two have run off.”

“Fuck no. Do I look stupid?”

There is a short silence, broken only by the sound of their footsteps, breathing, and the now and then click of a senbon against teeth. “You want an answer to that?”

“Fuck you, Shiranui!”

“Maa, you’re not my type.”

“If there’s not some dango for me here, I’m going to gut you, bastard.”

“Wouldn’t that require an actual knife?”

“With my hands!”

~

Jiraiya pauses, several streets away and looks around for a moment. Well. Now that he’s let the overwhelming desire to never wear the hat overwhelm him and make him a missing nin, where to go?

Though…he supposes that everyone knows that the Sannin left Konoha with no intention of returning and Konoha’s never put a price on their heads before. Doing so now would be kind of awkward for them. Then again, he’d never taken his sensei for being fool enough to try to ever pass the hat off to him.

He shakes his head. Maybe he’ll wander over to Frost and drop out of sight for a while. Just to give the old man a chance to cool his head. It does make him curious as to where the Uchiha clan and Hatake disappeared to, though. That’s a large number of people to simply drop out of sight. He’ll have to keep an ear out for information. The old man can’t force him to take the hat if he can’t find him, after all.

Chapter Text

Hiruzen finally hears the news by way of a spy permanently assigned to Nagamachi up in northern Lightning Country. She had refused to stay anywhere near Konoha after the war, and she’d lost enough that he had compromised with the low danger assignment.

So, what’s this I hear about people in Uzushio again? A farmer from Hot Water traveling through mentioned that there’s a new Uzukage. He seemed pretty amused by it, but I don’t think he was lying. Then again, there was something about their best ramen shop up and walking off to go there, so I may be confused. ~E

He stares for a long time at the message before Orochimaru wanders in and asks,

“Is there something wrong, Sensei?”

“No…”

Orochimaru raises a brow and comes over to look. “Oh. Well, that explains why there was no word of them in Kiri or other likely places. And why they took the Uzumaki child.”

“Yes, I suppose it does.” Hiruzen admits wearily. “Unfortunately, I don’t know if their choice indicates that they will be more or less willing to agree to an alliance or even peace.”

“They’re hardly a threat at this stage, or even a consideration until they declare themselves officially.”

Hiruzen gives him a dry look, because he knows that intrigued tone. “Please remember that starting even little wars for one’s amusement is not something a Hokage does.”

Orochimaru pouts. “I wasn’t planning on starting a war.”

“Tell it to someone who doesn’t remember you trying to convince the Aburame to give up some of their beehives so you could test if bees make more or less honey when disturbed.”

“It was for science!”

“You could have just asked for the answer, since they already knew.”

“What’s the fun in that?”

“Orochimaru, you just made my point for me.”

The pout increases. “Fine. I wasn’t planning on starting a war anyways, but I’ll give Tayuya instructions to not stir up trouble.”

Tayuya? What makes you think that girl is a good choice?”

“She has the hair and temperament of an Uzumaki.” Orochimaru points out. “As well, she’s quite loyal. And this allows me to put significant distance between her and Jirobo before they manage to forget to not level city blocks in their bickering.”

Hiruzen winces, as that seems like a very real possibility. The two obnoxious redheads are like oil and fire mixing. “Very well. You’ll need to deactivate her Cursed Seal, however, as Kakashi will likely recognize it if you don’t.”

“Ah.” Orochimaru frowns. “How inconvenient. Are you sure I can’t-?”

“Do you really think a nine year old is Kakashi’s match?”

He gets a sour look as his answer.

~

Zabuza isn’t one for gossip, but when he hears ‘Uzushio has been refounded’ he pays attention.

Not because he cares about Uzushio, but because once it was so strong that people feared the place enough to cooperate and take it down, cutting it off from its alliance with Konoha. There might be weapons there that he can use to take down the Mizukage and stop his bloody reign. It’s infuriating that someone like Yagura has become so bad that even blood soaked Kiri fears his whim.

He knows the chances are slim. Even Kubikiribōchō will only give him an edge in what would otherwise be a desperate attempt with a low chance of success. Even with it, there’s only a 50/50 chance of success. The odds of him finding another weapon of its caliber, another ace in the hole, are depressingly minimal.

Still…

If nothing else, he wants to make sure Yagura never has a chance to get his hands on Zabuza’s best tool. Haku is ridiculously soft hearted, and if Zabuza fails, the worst option is not that Yagura will probably keep him alive just long enough to make him watch Haku being slaughtered, but that Yagura might not, and will instead make Haku kill and kill and kill. His lips tighten at the thought. He needs a safe place to stash Haku. A place that will give him back once Zabuza becomes Mizukage.

~

Gaara is fairly certain he’s being thrown away. The voice in his head is restless and annoyed as they travel further from the familiar sands of home, the air is moister here, and the green goes on as far as he can see. There are trees that are taller than houses!

But Yashamaru is with him, the one person who has always been nice to him, so he doesn’t mind very much. Baki is too, but Baki has never been mean to him either. He feels like they’ve been walking forever. And the people here are strange. They don’t approach him as they pass on the road, but they don’t look at him in fear and horror, either. It’s…nice.

He wonders what the place they’re going will look like, and if the people there will be scared of him or not. Gaara doesn’t know what an ambassador is, but he thinks he might be okay with being thrown away to be one if it means people aren’t scared of him. Maybe he’ll be able to make a friend and play games like the other kids if they aren’t all scared of him.

Rain begins to patter around them, and Gaara flinches. Why does it rain so often here?

~

Anko lands hard on her back, the breath whuffing out of her. She doesn’t know what the heck hit her, but at least she’d gotten her arms up in time to defend her face. Wheezing and unfocused, she curses the moment she ever thought following Tenzo was a good idea, then blinks hazily as a face looms over hers.

“Are you okay?” The voice is quite young, and she realizes after a moment that the face isn’t that large, it’s just close, an aggravating mix of the 4th and his wife, with the addition of whisker marks.

“Brat! I’m going to kill you!” She wheezes.

“Maa, she must be okay, Naruto. She’s threatening you.” A lazy voice says too cheerfully.

Naruto doesn’t appear to hear him, frowning at…her shoulder? Oh. Her curse mark. Suddenly the kid puts out a hand coated in chakra so dense it’s visibly blue and puts it over her hated mark and if she could breathe she’d roll away, but she’s too slow. And…

It burns, the pain so stunning that it wrenches a scream out of her, and…

The sensation fades to warmth and she finds herself curled up in a defensive ball, panting for breath. She is gonna kill the little brat peering down at her still! Just as soon as she can move again.

“Naruto, how many times have we told you to not- Oh.”

Again Naruto ignores Kakashi. “There. The bad thing is gone, oba-san. It can’t come back again now.”

Anko has no idea what surprised Kakashi or what the brat means, but she can figure it out after she kills him and catches Kakashi to peel his skin off with her fingernails.

“Maa, Anko, aren’t you glad? The Uzukage figured out how to remove your Cursed Seal.” Kakashi says with false cheer, but she knows him well enough to hear the undertone of faintly spooked in his voice.

“Huh. It is gone. Didn’t Orochimaru say the best he could do was deactivate it?” Tenzo sounds curious and a little impressed. Impressing Tenzo is kind of a lost effort unless one is Kakashi.

“Orochimaru?” Genma asks, voice falsely casual.

“The Third declared him his heir around two weeks ago.” Tenzo answers, voice notably cool instead of his normal blank tone. “Konoha took it rather well after information was released that Orochimaru’s past offenses were at Danzo’s orders.”

“Right.” Kakashi says in a tone that indicates flat disagreement.

“Oba-san, how come you’re all wet? Did you go swimming?”

“Braaaat! Don’t call me ‘oba-san’!”

The brat sits back on his heels a little and says in a reasonable tone, “Well, I don’t know your name.”

“My name is Anko Mitarashi and you’d better remember it, brat!”

“Ooh, Mitarashi? Like dango syrup? Do you know how to make it? It’d be great if you did!”

“Brat, I am going to kill you!

“I didn’t happen to hear you threatening my son just now, did I, Anko?”

Anko moans and covers her face to hide from Mikoto’s gaze. “Tenzo, you bastard! I hate you and don’t think I won’t get revenge for this!”

“Senpai, Anko is being mean to me!”

The lack of answer and the brief whisper of air against her back means that Kakashi has decamped rather than get in the middle, the coward.

“Maa, Mikoto-sama. Anko-chan is just grumpy because she fell in the ocean and then Naruto didn’t warn her before he fixed her curse mark.” Shiranui intervenes, but probably only to prolong her death at Mikoto’s hands and his amusement at her expense.

“Aww, did my little boy make you scream, Anko?”

Anko shudders in horror. That is so, so wrong. Mikoto has gotten even eviler than she remembers her.

“Oh, by the way, Anko, we haven’t been able to procure ingredients yet, so there’s no dango on the island.” Mikoto says in a sweet tone and walks away.

Anko whimpers. This is hell. Hell.

But if the mark is really gone? She doesn’t care that this is clearly hell. She’ll stay here and follow that damned brat forever.

~

Neji is seven when he finds his cousin sobbing her heart out in a corner a couple weeks after the Uchiha clan departs. For the first time in years, he feels something for her besides resentment and bitter disdain. She’s a weak, cowardly girl and she doesn’t deserve the position of clan heiress. His father had died because of her and his haughty, cowardly uncle. But…

She sniffles and cowers a lot, but he’s never seen her cry like this before, like she’s lost something really precious to her. “Is something wrong, Hinata?”

“H-He’s gone! He s-saved me and he s-said h-he’d be o-okay, but he’s n-not! He’s gone! An-And it’s my f-fault! Th-They’re always mean to him, a-and they must h-have ki-killed h-him b-because h-he h-helped me!”

He frowns, because that’s a serious accusation. “Who, Hinata?”

“I d-d-don’t know!” she says wildly. “All the adults! Th-They’re all m-mean to him! A-And th-the kids, too! W-Why Neji? W-Why d-does everyone d-die for m-me? I h-hate it!”

Neji swallows hard, realizing that Hinata might not remember his father, but she knows he died because Kumo tried to steal her and his uncle stopped them. And maybe, just maybe, she hates it as much as Neji does.

~

Somewhere in the next two months, Neji overhears someone from another clan complaining bitterly that her daughter had gone with the Uchihas because she’d filled out one of the Withdrawal from Konoha forms even though she’s still legally a minor, not even a genin yet. Neji knows the girl is half-Uchiha, because she’d been in his class, so he doesn’t think much of it until the complaining expands to lament that even non-Uchihas could fill the thing out and saunter off leaving their responsibilities and families behind.

But here’s the thing. Neji isn’t stupid. At all. He’s angry, he’s quiet, but he isn’t stupid. He knows exactly what the form represents. If he can get the form approved without his clan finding out first, he can leave and his clan can’t do shit about it. … Except hunt him down and kill him, of course. He should probably wait until he’s old enough and strong enough to actually get away and make it stick.

Neji throws himself into training on his own time with a vengeance. And if he helps Hinata sometimes after his uncle has been too hard on her, well, that’s his own business. It’s not like she asked to become the clan heiress.

~

Baki is not sure what to think of the tan, grey and red blur until he realizes it’s headed right at them and not stopping. Unfortunately he doesn’t realize this until a split second until it crashes into him and Gaara and hurtles them back a good twenty feet. He’s not an elite jounin and member of Suna’s council for nothing, and he has a wind blade at the boy’s throat even as they stop moving.

“Hey, sorry about that! I wasn’t looking where I was going and then I couldn’t stop in time and that’s a really cool wind jutsu, will you teach-”

“Give me one good reason I shouldn’t just kill you!” he hisses.

“Um. Because if you do, I’ll drop him, and I don’t think he can swim? And then you’ll have to rescue him while my really pissed off bodyguards try to kill you?” The boy offers meekly.

Baki looks down and blanches. The boy is, indeed, holding Gaara up by a grip on his clothing, a rather impressive feat for a kid who’s barely bigger than Gaara himself, just barely above the ocean that sloshes indifferently below them. And they are standing on air. It takes him a bare moment to realize there’s a very thin layer of blue chakra under his feet as well as the boy’s and if he doesn’t want to end up in the ocean, he’d probably better not kill the boy. Cursing mentally, he deactivates the wind sword.

Then the word ‘bodyguards’ sinks in, and he looks around. On the dock are two jounin, postures deceptively lazy as they observe the scene. His heart sinks as he recognizes both of them from the Bingo book. Hatake the copy-nin, and Shiranui the assassin. Both of them give him little waves with the tips of their fingers, insultingly amused at his predicament. Yashamaru looks like he’s about to have a heart attack, gaze fixed on Gaara.

“Maa, maa, Naruto. You didn’t tell us you were expecting visitors from Suna. They’re not used to this much water, though, so how about you bring them back to shore, ne?”

Baki blinks in bafflement. The copy-nin calls his charge a fishcake? What?

A gut-wrenching lurch of movement distracts him and he finds himself safely on the dock. The kid now kneeling beside Gaara, pat-patting him to make sure he’s alright and Gaara is allowing it. His sand isn’t even trying to prevent it.

“Naruto, were you expecting visitors from Suna?”

It’s a name!?

The boy looks up, bright blue eyes under blond hair, whisker marks over a round face. “Um, sorta, Genma-nii? I mean, I told the wall-builder guy to say ‘Hi’ and he was writing to the Kazekage, but I just figured he’d send a letter or something, not people. So, uh.”

Shiranui clicks his senbon with his teeth, then answers, “Well, since you invited them, maybe you should introduce yourself to the Suna ambassadors, Uzukage-sama?”

Yashamaru freezes midmotion while reaching for Gaara. Baki goes still with dread. This kid is? He’d threatened the Uzukage?

“Oh, yeah!” The blond kid bounces to his feet with a blinding grin, taps his forehead protector which activates…something, and dresses him in miniature Kage robes, and gives a very formal little nod of acknowledgement. “I’m Naruto Uzumaki-Namikaze, Yondaime Uzukage. It’s nice to meet you, believe it! Sorry about running into you and scaring you. I’m still having trouble getting the stop part down of the better shunshin thing. And Kurama says I should get you to teach me that cool wind thing, cuz it’s awesome!”

“Kurama?” he asks faintly. Better shunshin thing!? The only thing he’s ever heard of or seen that’s a ‘better shunshin’ is the Hiraishin, and that definitely wasn’t it.

Naruto’s grin manages to brighten a notch. “Yeah! The Kyuubi no Kitsune? I’m his jinchuuriki, y’know! Believe it!”

Actually, the Kazekage had mentioned that, just…well, being hit by a speeding brat had kind of knocked it out of his head. Baki gets ahold of himself and gives a formal bow. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Uzukage-sama. I am Baki, a member of Suna’s council, and with me are Yashamaru, the Kazekage’s brother in law, and Gaara of the Sand, youngest son of the Kazekage, and jinchuuriki of the Ichibi no Shukaku.”

Naruto’s eyes widen like saucers as he turns to look at Gaara again. “You’re a jinchuuriki too? That’s so cool! Believe it!”

Gaara stares at him uncertainly, poor kid, and then says, “Does that mean you’ll be my friend?”

The fearless kid drags Gaara to his feet excitedly. “Yes! We’re going to be the bestest friends forever! Believe it! This is so awesome! The Kazekage sent me the best present ever! Gaara, have you ever listened to a seashell? Have you, have you?”

“Um, no?” The little redhead looks dazed, but his sand still isn’t reacting, so Baki breathes a little easier.

“You gotta! It’s really cool! They roar inside, like the ocean, and Mikoto kaa-san says it’s a sound flection. An’ I don’t know what that means but it sounds really cool when you listen, believe it! Come on, come on!” And with that, the blond has somehow disappeared his Kage robes, and is dragging Gaara off at a slightly boggling speed, though at least not as terrifying as the one he’d arrived at.

“This might be a little impolitic, but did your Uzukage just kidnap my nephew?” Yashamaru asks in a baffled tone.

“Mmn. About that.” Shiranui admits in a contemplative tone. “He’ll bring him home for mealtime, though, or Mikoto-sama will tear a strip off of him with her tongue.”

Baki blinks slowly, then realizes that he doesn’t mean the phrase literally. For a moment there he was visualizing some woman with a very frightening jutsu or body modification.

Chapter Text

Tenzo has no idea why the Uzukage kid is dragging him into a bar and asking for drinks for both of them. Well, not so much asking, as the owner asking Naruto if they’re here for drinks and the kid agreeing. He’s not sure what the intent is here. “Um, with me having the Mokuton, I am not able to get drunk.”

This doesn’t dent the kid’s friendly demeanor in the least. Instead, he just beams. “It’s just Ogre Water. Nobody gets drunk off of it!”

Okay then. Tenzo raises the glass to his lips, and pauses to lift a brow because by the smell of it ‘Ogre Water’ is high-proof alcohol which suggests that Naruto is sadly mistaken. Perhaps the boy doesn’t realize, given that he’s a jinchuuriki and the bijuu probably burns the alcohol out of his system as fast as the Mokuton does for Tenzo. Well, it’s not like he can get drunk, so he may as well play along.

The taste isn’t bad, it burns a little, but it’s on the smoother end for liquor, so he sips at it steadily. He giggles a little as he gets to the bottom of the glass. The bar is made of boring grey stone and it would be sooo much better with some flowers. Then Naruto is crouching in front of him on the bar, holding one of the flowers with a curious look.

“These are pretty. Are they real?”

Tenzo squints. “They need roots.”

He nods, then checks to make sure his head didn’t fall off cuz it kind of felt like it did when he nodded. But it’s still there, so he doesn’t have to figure out how to put it back on. So instead he focuses and makes sure the pretty white flowers have roots. Roots are good. But only for people, not plants. No, wait. Other way around. Plants need roots, roots are bad for people. Yup. That’s it. He giggles again and somehow finds himself looking at the roots where they are happily growing into the ground at the bottom of the bar. Happy plants! Plants should be happy! This is good!

Then someone is carrying him, and he’s pretty sure it’s the kid, but that can’t be right, cuz he’s twice the size of the kid. Maybe three times. But it’s alright, cuz the plants are happy!

Then Kakashi is there, staring down at him. Tenzo flings himself at him, wrapping him in a hug. “You’re my only friend, senpai! I’m so happy to see you! And the rock thing was all sad and gray, like your eye, but now it’s happy cuz it has flowers! Happy white flowers!”

~

Baki and Yashamaru stare down at the two boys cuddled next to each other in sleep, one blond, one a red head, the colors washed out by the dimness.

“Should we move him?” Baki asks reluctantly. “They did prepare a bed for him.”

“Let’s not. I’ve never seen Gaara not wake when someone walks in before.” Yashamaru’s tone is fond.

The little blond stirs slightly, turning his head to look at them, eyes glinting in the flickering lantern light. “Kurama says that Shukaku knows better than to disturb his sleep, so Gaara will sleep better next to me. And this bed is better than that dumb ol’ cot any day.”

He closes his eyes, yawns, and smooshes his face back into the pillow.

Yashamaru smiles gently. “Goodnight Gaara. Goodnight Naruto.”

They exchange a glance and back out of the room, pulling the door closed with as little noise as possible. Well, hopefully Mikoto-sama won’t be upset.

There is a quiet laugh and they turn to see her standing there with a small smile on her face. “Let me guess. My cuddlebug son refused to let you take him?”

“Hai.” Baki agrees.

“They are very cute. Gaara does not normally sleep that well.” Yashamaru adds with a doting smile.

Mikoto’s smile drops. “Naruto does not sleep well without company. Life was not kind to him before we were able to adopt him. Most nights he ends up in someone else’s bed or brings one of the other kids home to share with.”

“May I ask? I’ve never heard of a jinchuuriki being treated with such lack of fear.” Baki ventures.

Her eyes darken for a moment, then she nods. “I’ll let Fugaku explain it to you fully, but what it comes down to is that the Uchihas were treated with as much distrust as Naruto was after the Kyuubi attack and Naruto is my best friend’s only child. My own boys are gone because of Danzo, but I wasn’t going to leave Naruto there to face that alone when we had the chance to bring him with us. It also gives us a legitimate claim on Uzushio, though I’m sure that’s obvious.”

There’s not much to say to that, Baki thinks. Not when they’ve been promised a fuller explanation.

“Yes, it is.” Yashamaru agrees in his soft voice, so reminiscent of his late sister’s. Baki knows very well why Yashamaru was sent on this mission, and it wasn’t for Gaara’s comfort. “But not in a bad way, I think.

~

Tenzo wakes to the worst headache ever and whimpers. This draws Kakashi to come stare down at him with the most obnoxiously amused eye-smile ever.

“Congratulations, Tenzo. Whirlpool now has a new meaning for the phrase ‘out picking daisies’. Apparently you like to grow flowers when you’re drunk. Happy white flowers. We’ll have to remember to take you outdoors when we take you out for drinks next time.”

“Senpai?”

“Yes, Tenzo?”

“Could you stop talking? My head hurts. Ogre Water is evil.”

Apparently Kakashi is evil too, because he just laughs. “You know, most people pass out cold after half a glass of that stuff.”

“Naruto said no one gets drunk off of it.”

“No one does, ne? Passing out means they miss all the fun parts of being drunk and half the bad parts too, and it only makes Naruto extra hyper for a bit. Guess we’ll have to change that to ‘no one except Tenzo gets drunk off of it’, though.”

Tenzo whimpers again and pulls the pillow over his head in self-defense. Kakashi’s going to make sure he drinks that stuff again, isn’t he? Maybe he’ll stick with half a glass, next time. The happy flowers were fun, but he doesn’t like this part at all.

~

Jiraiya gets nearly to the border of Frost Country, which really doesn’t get that much frost but does get chilled by winds off the northern sea, before he pauses to listen to gossip, and what he hears makes his jaw drop.

“…So, I ask the guy why there’s flowers growing up onto the bar and blooming all over. And he tells me, ‘Well, the Uzukage brought a friend of his in one evening and his friend got drunk and grew it.’”

“No way!”

“He must’ve been lying about that.”

“Yeah, I thought so too. And then I actually saw the guy out growing trees like it was nothing, which let me tell you was the definitely the second craziest thing I’ve ever seen.”

Jiraiya quits listening at that point, because 1. that has to be the Mokuton and there’s only one living user of that to his knowledge, 2. if there’s an Uzukage, that means the bar is probably in Uzushio, 3. Uzushio has been fallen and any survivors scattered to the winds for around 20yrs now and he still has nightmares of the devastation Konoha had found because no message had reached them to call for help, and 4. there is an Uzukage, none of the men had questioned that.

Does that mean some Uzumakis besides Minato’s son have survived? Enough to rebuild the place? And why is Tenzo in Uzushio of all places? Why? Why? Why? Had Konoha lent Tenzo out to help Uzushio rebuild? Enma had said nothing of it, though. What else had the stuffy old monkey left out?

“Customer-san, is there something wrong with the tea?”

He blinks at the waitress, too stunned to flirt even though she’s pretty, and then at the mug of rapidly cooling tea in his hand. “No, not at all. I was cloud-picking, is all.”

Jiraiya downs the tea to prove it and then shudders. It’s cold.

The waitress bites her lip in worry. “Is there anything I can do, customer-san?”

“As a matter of fact, bring me the bill, if you will.”

“Certainly, customer-san.”

A few minutes later, bill paid, Jiraiya is on the road again, this time headed south. Some rumors bear investigation.

~

Rasa opens the message from his spy in Uzushio, grimaces, then manfully begins to read.

Respectfully, Kazekage, I would have appreciated a heads up before you sent Gaara here, but I suppose you know what you’re doing. Your decision seems to have been a sound one, as Gaara and the brat Uzukage are now fast friends, even sharing a bed at night. I couldn’t say why that they do, but the boy seems to have a little healthy color in his cheeks these days because of it. Funny, because I always thought Gaara was naturally that pale. I hope you aren’t planning to try to recall Gaara any time soon, because I’m pretty sure he’d refuse, and wouldn’t that be a fine mess?
 Your gesture of trust has been well received by the adults around here as well, particularly by Mikoto Uchiha, who is the brat’s adoptive mother. It seems she misses her own two boys, who seem somehow to have been the trigger for the Uchihas leaving Konoha. No one will give details on exactly what happened though, not even the civilians. I’ve been avoiding your brother in law, since he knows me on sight, but he’s been helping out in their small hospital in case you need to know. I still hate building walls. If I wanted to build walls I’d be a civilian, not a spy. Also, the Ogre Slayer bar has been renamed the Daisy bar, for reasons that you likely have no interest in. Have I mentioned lately that you’re a very uptight person? Apparently the new guy with a helmet likes flowers and is growing some there. Baki came close to causing an international incident before he realized that he and Gaara weren’t attacked, merely victims of the ‘better shunshin’ being wonky as usual. He has been giving the Uzukage a bit of instruction in the use of wind chakra as an apology. I’m not sure it’s helping the brat, but it’s certainly bound to be interesting. ~S

He blinks at the message a few times, then rereads it and scrubs a hand through his hair with a sigh. Gaara making a good impression was the last thing he expected, but making a friend? Uzushio is nuts. It’s official. Who in their right mind would allow their Kage to be friends with Gaara? Not that the boy doesn’t try, but Shukaku makes that a gut-wrenchingly hazardous risk. And how badly had the Uzukage messed up this ‘better shunshin’ that Baki of all people thought he was being attacked?

It’s probably good that Baki’s giving him instruction if he’s that bad with his chakra. And that Uzushio is pleased to have Gaara is an unlooked for bonus. If he can negotiate a token alliance with them, then he can keep Gaara there on the pretense of providing their ally with additional defense against another potential attack like the one that had wiped out the place the first time around. Even if he gains nothing else from it, Uzushio’s name still bears weight, and there’s a slim chance that the Wind Daimyo will quit giving the best missions to Konoha instead of Suna. The man is a fool, not seeing how he weakens them all with his actions. A weapon he cannot control in exchange for better economic stability? He’ll take that.

Chapter Text

Aoba would really like to know what he’s ever done to deserve being stuck as a council member with Gai and Kurenai. Oh, right. He’s a ‘young, capable and trustworthy shinobi’ and not a part of one of the clans. Also, not smart enough to make a run for it while the getting was good like Iruka and Kakashi had done. The bastards.

How the hell has a shinobi village ended up with a civilian-elected shinobi council? Oh, right. Danzo. Yeah, and the only reason that name isn’t being struck from the history books is as a warning and so people won’t name their kids after him on accident.

As for Gai and Kurenai, anyone who has ever met them knows they’re as soft hearted as they are dangerous and absolutely trustworthy. Aoba doesn’t know what that says about him in others’ eyes, and he’s pretty sure that he doesn’t want to know either. At least they’re both intelligent and informed people, and Gai isn’t nearly as innocent about people as his boisterous proclamations paint him. And watching him make the stick-up-their-collective-ass Clan heads’ (and elders’) eyes glaze over at his hyperbolic enthusiasm is funny. The Ino-Shika-Cho trio look like they want to laugh outright. Orochimaru is staring at Gai like he’s a fascinating puzzle he’s not sure he wants to solve. Sandaime-sama is smoking his pipe to hide his laughter. Cheater.

Still… He winces as Gai derails the Hyuuga Clan Head with a particularly loud exclamation of “what an innocent and youthful attitude you have, most esteemed Hyuuga Elder!”, acting as if he has no idea (yeah, right; Kakashi doesn’t hang around dense people) that he’s being completely random and vaguely insulting (Konoha’s Green Beast knows exactly what he’s doing; there’s no vague involved), and wonders if he can get away with wearing earplugs to meetings after this if he puts a genjutsu on them to hide them. If he can’t get out of being a council member, he’d at least like to not go deaf at a young age.

~

Iruka would like to know (but knows the virtue of not asking questions he really won’t like the answers to) why his student brought his roommate a giggling drunk jounin, and his roommate promptly tucked him into his own bed and spent the night watching over him with a fond expression. Of course, fond is…questionable when one is dealing with Kakashi, since he wears a mask, but Iruka can tell by the way he just sits, patiently staring at Tenzo, rather than reading one of his disgusting novels while giggling softly.

Of course, he’d also like to know how he ended up as roommates with Kakashi Hatake of all people. He still can’t quite follow the chain of events and he’s gone over the memory many a time by this point. And why all attempts to change this are promptly overturned in creative ways that he’s pretty certain, but unable to prove, all lead back to one Kakashi Hatake. Logically, this means that Kakashi’s at fault for them becoming roommates in the first place. But for the life of him, Iruka can’t see anything in it for Kakashi. He’s quite aware that he’s loud, impatient insistent, and a stickler for doing things right. Pretty much Kakashi’s opposite.

What he would not like to know is how he ended up the sole Academy teacher for 14 Uchiha brats, one Uzukage (brat), and apparently one Gaara of the Sand, the Kazekage’s youngest (a sweet kid who is weirdly clingy when it comes to Naruto). He remembers how that came about very well, thank you very much. In fact, he’d kind of like to forget it. Although at least Naruto is doing well in classes these days, due to the extra lessons he gets daily, now he spends too much time talking about the most recent cool jutsu he’s pried out of whoever is the latest victim of his rapid fire talk/begging/ramble paired with the bluest puppy eyes around. Iruka doesn’t fall for it, of course, but he can’t say the same for the Uchihas or anyone else on the island. And while the Uchiha brats aren’t really jealous of their Uzukage, they are competitive. And anyone who says an entire class of competitively attentive students is a teacher’s dream has never added the word ‘Uchiha’ to the equation, because they’d know better otherwise. It doesn’t help that only a few of the standard textbooks are available, and anything he doesn’t know by heart he’s having to supplement from a hodgepodge drawn from various eclectic Uchiha libraries brought along.

At least they have Kanako to teach medical jutsus and practices. Because the only relatively low level medical text they have is a seduction manual utilizing medical jutsus in ways that result in easier and more thorough seduction of a target. Which is creepily fascinating, but hardly the sort of thing suitable for those who are between six and twelve to learn medical basics from. And the only other volume they have is a highly advanced one, so esoteric that parsing it gives Iruka a headache, and is decades out of date anyway.

And thank Kami the oldest seven brats had ‘graduated’ before the youngest four had joined his classes. Also, Uzushio really needs to formalize classes into an institution with actual teachers (beyond Iruka) and a principal before someone starts questioning the quality of their ‘education’.

(And yes, he’d really, really like to know what Tenzo is to Kakashi, but, again, he’s not stupid enough to ask for an answer that will probably give him nightmares if he’s any judge of Kakashi’s answers. Which he is.)

~

Kakashi is honestly baffled at Iruka’s insistence that he’s a poor roommate for him. He’s quiet (compared to Gai), undemanding (compared to Gai), righteous (like Gai), and loyal to a fault (like Gai). He fought for a kid he has every reason to hate (the Kyuubi’s rampage orphaned him, Kakashi knows) and then chose to stay when it became obvious that the kid was happier where he was. He doesn’t disturb Kakashi’s morning tea with grand plans for the day (unlike Gai), fuss about him wearing his mask around the house, or do more than blink if Kakashi leaves it off. He doesn’t issue importunate challenges at the drop of a leaf (unlike Gai) although Kakashi sort of misses those, because he’s too busy himself.

He’s not a clannish bastard an Uchiha (or Genma) with a warped and vicious questionable sense of humor. He’s not a civilian. (Kakashi’s seen Iruka’s reaction to shinobi coming home from a mission covered in dirt and gore. It consists of Iruka rolling his eyes and making them wipe their hands before filling out their reports, or alternately, sending them to the hospital with instructions to fill out their mission report properly while there.) So there will never be superfluous terrified screams over minor inconveniences like blood on his uniform.

And living alone would attract flies sex fiends and nosey nellies bothersome people in swarms large unwanted numbers because Uzushio is too small to live anonymously. Iruka’s territorial and no one will question Kakashi’s inability to bring home sex partners lovers or delusional idiots significant others. He’s tidy (an important trait, sadly foreign to some shinobi), doesn’t try to sneak into Kakashi’s bed or mess with his things, and doesn’t mind Kakashi’s ninken being around. He’s kind enough that people complain to him about Kakashi rather than complaining at Kakashi. He even publically worries over Kakashi’s mental health by way of getting Mikoto to burn Kakashi’s Icha Icha books.

In short, Iruka Umino is the perfect roommate for Kakashi and the world can burn there’s no way he’s giving him up. It’s too bad the chunin has an inferiority complex, though, because it means that Kakashi has to periodically waste time thwarting misguided attempts to ‘helpfully’ move out, but he can live with it. The benefits vastly outweigh a minor neurosis, after all.

~

Jiraiya would like to know why he’s seeing things without being drunk. He’s positive he just saw two kids go past the boat in a blur of red and blond, tan and grey. But not on the water, over it. That’s clearly impossible. But he can’t think of anyone he’s passed on the boat or dock who would have any reason to drug him.

He blinks as he sees it again, this time going the other way, trailing laughter this time. He shakes his head. “I’m seeing things, aren’t I?”

The fisherman near him looks up with a laugh. “Nah, that’s the Uzukage and his friend. Crazy little brats, aren’t they?”

“The Uzukage’s a kid!?”

The man scratches his jaw briefly. “Yah. Naruto Uzumaki-Namikaze. The blond. Cheerful kid. Runs his guards ragged, and has those Uchihas wrapped around his fingers.”

His godson!? What’s he doing here? And what do the Uchihas have to do with it? Does the old man know this is where they’ve gotten to? No, wait. He’s not a spy for Konoha anymore. There’s no need to report to Hiruzen. But speaking of which, why had the old monkey not mentioned Naruto’s disappearance? Suspicion settles into Jiraiya’s gut. He forces his lips into a guileless smile.

“Huh. That’s something else. I’ve never heard of a Kage being a kid before.”

“Yah, well. The Kage’s supposed to be the strongest, right? I’ve seen the kid do a few things. And it’s not like Uzushio is hiring out as shinobi. They’ve still got a lot of rebuilding to do first. So the kid’s got time.”

“Oh, so they’re playing that game. Pretty smart.” Jiraiya comments, keeping his smile easy. Inside of him something twists unpleasantly. The man isn’t lying, but he’s just a civilian. What Jiraiya hears isn’t that his godson is crazy strong for his age, it’s that the Uchiha have taught him some flashy tricks so they can use him as a figurehead. A painted target for any enemies.

He may be a shitty godfather, but like hell he’s going to allow that. His grip tightens fractionally on the railing.

~

Genma always enjoys watching the boats come in, seeing which curiosity seekers have washed in this time, but he’s definitely not expecting to see that face in the crowd. He nudges Kakashi, who follows his gaze and goes from lazy alert to lethally battle ready without moving a muscle. Ok, that’s not good.

Kakashi’s obviously expecting more of a threat than he thought from the man. Darn.

Mentally he catalogues what he has on hand, then gives a faint nod. He has enough sedative (and poisons) on him to take down even one of the legendary Sannin if Kakashi can distract him long enough. Which isn’t actually a given, but they have a fair chance of surviving (about 8%) if it comes to a fight. Not exactly the way he’d want to go down, but not all that unexpected for a shinobi, particularly a body guard.

He likes his incorrigible brat of a student/Kage, and all he and Kakashi have to do is hold Jiraiya long enough for Anko, Tenzo and a clan’s worth of overprotective Uchihas to clue in and get the kid to safety. It’s a worthy enough way to go out.

It doesn’t take the man long to notice them. Not surprising, given who he is. His demeanor is jovial, but the eyes give it lie, cold and flat. His eyes widen fractionally, though, surprised at something about them. Probably recognizing Kakashi, who has a fairly big reputation. His approach is the faintest bit wary.

“Hatake. Shiranui. You’re party to this madness?”

“Madness?” Kakashi’s tone is light in a way that a stranger could be forgiven for not hearing the ice and growl in it. “Oh, you mean the part where he’s loved and cherished and happy? Or maybe the part where we teach him how to protect himself instead of…hm, what was it Iruka said they were calling him?”

“Monster.” Genma supplies, knowing nothing is going to stop this little spiel unless the Sannin attacks immediately.

“Yes, calling him that and telling him he should die?”

“That’s not what I meant!” Jiraiya hisses, but looks shocked. “He’s a t-”

And of course Naruto chooses that moment to skid to a halt between them with Gaara beside him.

“Target.” Jiraiya finishes, sounding like he swallowed a bug, his eyes glued to Naruto.

Gaara stares at Jiraiya, apparently sensing his hostility. Naruto glances back and forth in confusion.

“Hey, Shishi-nii, Gemna-nii, who’s the old guy?”

Kakashi eye smiles. “Maa, Naruto. This is Jiraiya, your godfather and also the author of my beloved Icha Icha series!”

A look of dawning pleasure fights for space on Jiraiya’s expression as he realizes he’s facing a fan.

Naruto gets a funny look on his face and joins Gaara in staring. The attention discomfits Jiraiya, who sort of freezes up in consternation, then pastes on a smile and bends down to be friendly.

“It’s nice to meet you, Naruto. I-”

“Did my tou-san really make this pervy deadbeat my godfather?” Whiny distaste is thick in Naruto’s tone.

Mildly shocked offense displaces the strained smile on Jiraiya’s face. “Hey!”

“Yup.” Genma supplies, getting where Kakashi is going with this now. He hadn’t realized that Naruto was old enough to understand that ‘godfather’ means ‘should have been there to take care of him’, but then again, with all the lessons Fugaku and the elders manage to pound into Naruto on the basis of politics, he can’t say he’s shocked by this insight either.

“I think Iruka sensei is right, Shishi-nii. You should just let Mikoto kaa-san burn those. They really will melt your brain if this guy wrote them. Hi old perv. We’re gonna go see Anko now because your bloodlust is stirring Shukaku up, and Gaara doesn’t like killing people.”

The shocked offense on Jiraiya’s face deepens, then turns to startled realization and his gaze snaps to Gaara, seeing him for the first time, but it’s too late. Naruto and Gaara are gone a second later.

Genma smiles. “You can tell the Hokage that it’s a little too late to send you to try to retrieve him. If he tries again, it’ll be war, because none of us trusts Orochimaru with the kid.”

“The old man didn’t-” the Sannin begins in a slightly offended tone, then pauses, shock and utter confusion taking over his expression. “Orochi-? What!?

Genma clicks his senbon with his teeth, thoughtfully.

Kakashi’s eyesmile deepens. “Maa, Jiraiya. Didn’t you know? Orochimaru was named as the Hokage’s heir a few weeks back.”

Genma wishes he could take a picture of Jiraiya’s expression to show Anko. The look of slowly building horror is worth sharing.

“Then I went missing nin for nothing!”

He laughs so hard that he has to catch his dropped senbon before it hits the dock.

“Maa, maa, Jiraiya, don’t be like that. Now you have all the time you want to spend with your godson, ne?”

Chapter Text

Sasuke ducks under the spray of slug acid and leaps for a different tree, a small one that wouldn’t support a grown man but is a perfectly fine perch for an almost-eight year old, when something cool and slimy drops down the back of his shirt and he spazzes a little, thinking ‘Leech!’ before he realizes that this part of the forest doesn’t have leeches dropping out of trees and it must be that drippy algae stuff instead, but it’s enough to make him miss his jump entirely and splat into the slightly slimy water below instead. He surfaces in time to see a spider the size of a small dog creeping up on Shisui-nii’s blind side and yells, “Spider!” before lunging out of the water onto the small tree that had been his goal in the first place.

Shisui turns his head, sees the spider and shunshins repeatedly, bouncing off of various trees so fast it’s like a shuriken ricocheting, but more importantly shakes the trees enough that it scares off the various spiders and knocks some of the slugs to lower perches before he comes to a stop higher up on the same tree Sasuke is occupying.

Sasuke frowns. Shisui-nii isn’t a grown man, but he’s close and the extra weight… “Shis-”

The tree creaks, groans and gives up, falling into the marsh and taking them both with it. He flails to the surface, spitting out gross water, and shoves hair out of his eyes. “Shisui-nii!”

“Ugh. I know, I know. I’m sorry.” He apologizes, trying to tip water out of one ear.

“They’re not even poisonous.” Sasuke sulks. “They’re not that scary.”

“Yeah, right. Tell me that again after they paralyze you and then proceed to run their creepy insect feet all over you for hours!”

“It wasn’t hours. Itachi-nii noticed right away. At most it was minutes. And you’ve scared off all the game. We’re supposed to be hunting.”

“So we can gather bird eggs and plants inste- Crap.” Shisui-nii breaks off and shunshins towards Sasuke, who ducks on reflex, even knowing that it probably won’t be enough to escape whatever is trying to eat him this time, only to lose all the air in his lungs as Shisui-nii catches him around the waist and changes his trajectory and drags them both up into a larger tree several yards away. The spraying water from Shisui’s movement falling back and rippling back to flatness even as a large tangle of branches smacks into the water right where Sasuke had been a moment before, kicking up another fountain of water and ripples.

Then Shisui sneezes.

“Did you get water in your eye socket again?” Sasuke asks suspiciously.

Shisui-nii just sighs, which is answer enough.

“Itachi-nii’s gonna get mad at you again.”

“Worried is not the same as mad, Sasuke. You’ve got to quit thinking the way your father does things is the way other people do them. Especially when it comes to Itachi. You know that.”

He does. But Itachi-nii’s form of worry when it comes to Shisui-nii’s health involves feeding him lots of healthy plants for a week after, no meat allowed, which Sasuke’s pretty sure equates to being mad. Which is awful, because Itachi-nii’s the only one of them who can cook halfway decently, and Shisui being restricted to ‘vegetables’ means that Sasuke is too, and the plants in the Shikkotsu taste nothing like tomatoes or other vegetables he vaguely remembers from Konoha, and the ‘healthy’ ones taste almost as bad as marsh water. “I’d say I won’t tell if you clean it out, but…”

Shisui-nii grimaces. “But he’ll know anyways and then we’ll be eating burnt vegetables. Thanks for the thought, though.”

Sasuke wrinkles his nose and wriggles until he’s standing on the tree instead of slung over Shisui-nii’s shoulder at a weird angle. The shoulder of his shirt gives away abruptly, and he looks at it and realizes that the slug acid hadn’t entirely missed after all. The upside of falling in the water twice within the space of a minute, though, means that he doesn’t have an acid burn this time. Well, the sleeve part is still intact, so it should be ok. Probably. His clothes are too small anyways. A little extra room to move can’t hurt.

“I miss tomatoes.” He complains.

“Well, there’s that one berry that tastes kind of-”

“No! The trees were all wavery and pink for hours after we tried that one, and you swore the slugs were singing and-!”

“Fine, fine. Picky. I don’t know what you have against mild hallucinogens in your food, Sasuke. It’s-”

“Ugh, stop! Just stop!”

Shisui-nii laughs at him.

~

Gaara’s dad, Yondaime Kazekage,

Thanks for sending Gaara to play with me be my companion cuz he’s my bestest friend ever and I’m not sending him back I would appreciate it if he could stay indefinitely. I was thinking of teaching him some of the same stuff I’m learning cuz his sand isn’t fast enough, y’know, but Gaara really, really hates hurting people is a pacifist so Genma-nii is teaching him senbon instead, although he kind of sucks at it still has just begun learning the basics. Shishi-nii says I should offer you liance an alliance cuz of your gencity generosity for letting Gaara stay here forever indefinitely. Do you like fish? We’ve got lots of fish. And we could send you some wagons of it with seals to keep it fresh if you can send guards for it cuz Fugku-two-san Fugaku-tou-san says we can only send one guard cuz we’re still bilding rebuilding and I’d really like to try some of those dayt things dates that Gaara says are sweap sweet. Do you have enough Anko-nee could make sirp syrup out of them? She really likes dango!

Best gaurds , Sincere regards,

Naruto Uzumaki-Namikaze, Yondaime Uzukage

P.s. Uzushiokagure’s council agrees with this offer, although it was the Uzukage’s idea to set up a trade agreement.

Rasa scowls at the letter, which is a mix of childish handwriting and darker corrections written in between the lines by someone older and more tactful. He can’t believe they let a child write an offer of alliance in his own hand, even if he is the Uzukage! If he hadn’t already been trying to figure out how to keep Gaara there in exchange for a token alliance, he would likely consider it a massive insult and the boy’s clear intention to keep Gaara as an open threat. Calling Gaara a pacifist is just as bad. A jinchuuriki is a weapon, not a pacifist, for Kami’s sake! He runs a hand through his hair, tugging at it absently, then laughs.

Being upset is foolish, given that he has been offered more than he’d planned to ask for. Dates are a luxury trade item from Alnokura to rich foreigners, but one Suna has never bothered much with exporting. A few barrels of dates in exchange for a few wagons of fresh fish is a more than fair trade, and Uzushio is probably the only place that could make that offer casually, given how expensive preservation seals are. The Uchiha must have found some in the ruins and learned how to recreate them.

He rereads the letter and has to admit that senbon is probably a good choice of weapons for Gaara given how impenetrable a defense his sand has proven so far, though he can just feel Yashamaru being all smug about it given that it’s usually a medical nin’s type of weapon. And the boy’s mention of Gaara’s sand being too slow is…worrisome. But he’s not sure if it’s a ‘Gaara has a potential huge vulnerability against fast ninja’ or a ‘the Uzukage is inhumanely fast (plausible, as a jinchuuriki and the son of Konoha’s Yellow Flash) and he’s still only a kid, think how much faster he’ll be all grown up’ kind of worrisome. Or both. Still, with Gaara not factored into their defenses (given he’ll be in Uzushio) and Uzushio being an ally, neither are really something he needs to worry about as long as Suna and Uzushio remain allies.

The fact that Uzushio allowed a child to write the alliance offer and that the trade offer was the boy’s own idea is interesting on several levels. It hasn’t been rewritten as a clean draft, meaning that they don’t care that he sees the crossed out sentiments. There’s no attempt to apologize for the child or do more than correct some spelling and rephrase a couple things to sound a bit more diplomatic, which means that they probably don’t disagree with the sentiments, just the phrasing. It’s also quite obviously in the boy’s own words, which means they probably have a fair amount of respect for his intelligence, if nothing else. He pauses to review what little he knows of Uchihas as a whole and decides that there’s no probably about it. There’s no way such a prideful clan would allow such an imperfect letter if they didn’t consider the boy to be a real Kage. That the trade offer is apparently entirely the boy’s own idea indicates a surprising level of intelligence and canniness that mere lessons don’t necessarily impart. Rasa certainly wouldn’t have known to offer it at that age.

Perhaps the child is much less a figurehead than he’s assumed.

He opens the next letter.

Kazekage,

You will be pleased to know that our reception here has been quite friendly. The Uchiha clan head, Fugaku, and his wife, Mikoto, serve as the adoptive parents to the Uzukage, whose name is Naruto. Apparently his parents had an obsession with some book character by the name. Gaara has joined Naruto in lessons on chakra control, taught by an Uzumaki woman by the name of Kanako. She is quite a skilled medical nin. Gaara has already shown a significant improvement, rather to Naruto’s frustration, since the boy struggles significantly with fine chakra control, likely due to already having more of it available than most chunin. I have been informed that Naruto is intending to send you an offer of alliance. Something about fish and dates? I’m not really sure on the details, though, of course, you will have those when the offer arrives. I can assure you that it is sincere, and the Uchihas seem quite pleased that he thought to offer alliance of his own volition, though I’m certain they are aware that an alliance was what we wished for to begin with. Gaara is doing well here, and has been sleeping quite soundly with Naruto nearby. Naruto claims that it is because the Ichibi is afraid of annoying the Kyuubi, which I’m a little puzzled by, but see no reason to dispute his claim.

~Yashamaru

Well, that explains Sedo’s comment about sleeping together, at least. Rasa pinches his nose briefly, then determinedly ignores the broad hint that Gaara is getting training as a medical nin. And the mention of the boy’s excessive chakra does better explain why the Uchihas are willing to call the boy Kage. Beyond his clan name, of course. He sets aside his brother-in-law’s letter in irritation. Useless, sentimental…

He opens the third letter, this one from Baki. Finally.

Kazekage,
As reported, the Uzukage is a child. His ‘better shunshin’ is not, as I had supposed, the Hiraishin. Nor is it the shunshin. It is, however, extremely fast, and I’m afraid I mistook the use of it as an attack upon first contact when he knocked Gaara and I clean off the boat by accident. Fortunately he accepted my apology and was willing to take lessons in using wind chakra as reparation. The ‘better shunshin’ is an ingenious and possibly irreplicable usage of wind chakra, I believe. The Uzukage has the strongest wind affinity I’ve ever seen, and has somehow managed to teach himself how to wind walk well enough to support others as well if he wishes. He was kind enough to move Gaara and me back to the dock without dropping us, although the experience was rather nauseating because of the high speed. To be explicit, this is not the spotty version of wind walking that wind affinity jonin like myself can manage in order to ascend or descend high places, but a very stable version akin to water walking. If he ever learns how to stop properly at high speed, he will be terrifying to any opponent.
He often takes Gaara out on lower speed runs, which Gaara seems to enjoy. The Ichibi has been shockingly well behaved since arriving and Gaara is treated with a lack of fear by the residents of Uzushio (including civilians, of which there are a surprising number) that I can only attribute to being used to having the Uzukage around as he is, as reported, also a jinchuuriki.
The Uzukage is possibly even friendlier than Yashamaru and extremely cheerful and sincere. As well as prone to outrageous pranks if left at loose ends for long. Needless to say, a fair bit of effort is put into keeping him occupied with various lessons. Besides regular lessons with the Academy’s sole teacher along with the Uchiha children, he receives history and political lessons from the clan elders, chakra control and medical ninjutsu lessons from an Uzumaki medical nin, and supplementary lessons in ninjutsu, taijutsu, fuinjutsu and basic genjutsu from various Uchihas and from his main bodyguards, Kakashi Hatake and Genma Shiranui, who he refers to respectively as ‘Shishi-nii’ and ‘Genma-nii’. In case you were wondering who those names designated in his letter, as I suspect he will have referenced them in regards to Gaara’s training.
 Shiranui has been training Gaara in the use of senbon and sedatives, while Hatake set up a basic strength training regimen for him after demonstrating that sufficient speed can get past Gaara’s sand defense temporarily and insisting that as the Uzukage’s friend, Gaara needs a secondary line of defense. Gaara has been surprisingly enthusiastic about learning both, considering his rather apathetic attitude prior to this.
~Respectfully, Baki

Rasa pinches the bridge of his nose, feeling a headache coming on, and opens the last letter.

Respectfully Kazekage, do I look like a messenger pigeon to you? (Don’t answer that.) Send some proper messengers with your reply. I’m a spy, for Kami’s sake, not the postal system! ~S

He rolls his eyes. Of course he’ll use formal messengers for an alliance agreement. He is a Kage, not an idiot.

~

Shigezane Hoki pauses just inside the door of the Kazekage’s office. “Um.”

“What is it, Shigezane?”

“Kazekage-sensei, are you aware that your hair is, er, standing on end on one side?” He finds something interesting out the window to look at while Rasa curses and smooths down his hair frantically.

It’s a good thing the man has the hat to keep his hands out of his hair during formal meetings since the state of his hair is a pretty good indicator of his stress levels. And stressed and embarrassed is always a dangerous combination when it comes to his teacher. Everyone respects him, but some of the elders aren’t above poking fun at inopportune times.

Chapter Text

“Lady Tsunade, Lady Tsunade! Where are we going?”

Tsunade ignores Shizune to ask the nearest fisherman, “Is this the boat that goes to Uzushio?”

“Not that one, woman. The captain thinks the place is haunted by insane spirits.” He doesn’t bother to look up from his task, merely points at a smaller, shabby looking boat. “If you want a cheap passage, that guy will take you for 10 rin.” Then he points at a larger, nicer boat. “Or if you want to feel important, that one will take you for 40 rin.”

She’s not made of money, so of course they take the cheaper boat. She ignores Shizune’s squeaks as the old sailor leers during the ride, passing a little too close for comfort whenever he can. Apparently he likes brunettes or just isn’t suicidal, because he doesn’t leer at her.

He lets them off at a pier and politely gives directions to the Daisy bar (what kind of name is that for a bar?). The place is a far cry from the bloody ruin she remembers. The pier and dock are new, and there’s actual civilian buildings around the bar which is very close to the dock. And Uzushio. Uzushio is climbing out of the ruins, a city rebuilding. No one had mentioned this. There’s still wrecks of buildings listing tragically where they were broken two decades ago and looking worse for the time passed. There’s still rubble everywhere. But a fair bit of it has been cleared away, buildings rebuilt, new buildings constructed. How had this happened? When? Who is behind Uzushio rising again? Is it rebuilding? Or just replacing? She needs a drink. Good thing her destination is a bar.

The first thing she notices in the bar is that there’s a weird plant blooming all over the bar, and apparently the reason for the name. The flowers look remarkably daisy-like.

The second thing she notices is that there’s a blond brat in a hitai-ate at the bar, drinking casually out of a large glass. He looks familiar for some reason. She squints a little, but no, she doesn’t know anyone who looks like that. But the hitai-ate, that’s a spiral. They are rebuilding Uzushiokagure, not just putting a civilian city in its place.

“Hey, brat, aren’t you a little young to be drinking?”

He turns wide blue eyes on her, then beams cheerfully. It makes him look stupid. “It’s just Ogre Water. What’s your name, old lady?”

She narrows her eyes at him. “It’s rude to ask others’ names without giving your own.”

“I’m Naruto! Nice to meet you!”

“Hmph. I’m Tsunade.”

He stills, abrupt interest in his eyes. Weird, she’d thought he was interested before. “Tsunade Senju? You’re a medic nin, right? Are you going to stay? Kanako-nee could use some help. You’re planning to stay, right? Right?”

She snorts. “No way, kid. I swore I’d never return to Konoha; why would I ever want to join another ninja village? I just came to check out the bar. I heard it imports all its liquor.”

“Aww, why not? Why don’t you want to stay? You’re an Uzumaki and you’ve got kin here, so why not?” The whining tone makes her snort again, even as she notes that he knows a ridiculous amount about her.

“Look, kid, I’m not even a med nin anymore. I hate the sight of blood. So just give it up.”

“I never give up, believe it!”

Great, well that brings up memories. She takes a seat at the bar and turns to a concerned Shizune. “Shizune, go eat and find out if there’s a place we can stay for a couple days. I’m going to stay here and try all their liquor.”

“But Lady Tsu-”

“Shizune!”

Shizune gives her a disapproving look, but turns and leaves, Tonton trotting at her heels.

“I bet I can drink more than you can, and if I win, you have to stay and be a med nin.”

Seriously? The brat’s still at it? “Yeah right, brat. No-”

“What? Afraid a little kid can outdrink you?”

Her eyes narrow in outrage and she glowers at him. “You’re on, kid! Don’t ask me again when I win.” She smacks a fist on the bar (without chakra, she doesn’t want to break it). “Bartender! Two of your strongest!”

The bartender doesn’t even blink, just pours two glasses of alcohol so strong it makes her eyes water, but has a smooth flavor going down. The kid throws his back as fast as she does, which is ridiculous and-

Damn, this liquor is strong! She doesn’t remember the last time one glass was enough to get her drunk enough to make the world fuzzy and off kilter. If she drinks any more she’s going to pass out, but at least she’s wo- Oh, no. Wait. Why is the brat still not passed out? The brat gives her a surprised look for some reason, then holds his glass out for a refill. The bartender pours him about one finger before stopping.

“Whas that about? Brat no’ allowed more?”

The bartender gives her an amused look. “Lady, I’m impressed you haven’t passed out yet, but unless you’re going to drink more, the kid’s won if he just drinks this much.”

Ugh. She points an accusing finger at the brat as he downs the measly finger of liquor just to taunt her. “Wha makesh you shfink I’d honor a besht witsh a brat?”

Naruto gives her a wide, wide grin and she can see the evil in it, yesh she can. “Because no one would take bets with you again if it got out that you didn’t honor a bet with the Uzukage.”

“Wha? ‘zhukage?”

He gives her a little fingertips wave that reminds her of some smartass brat she can’t quite place at the moment. “Naruto Uzumaki-Namikaze, Yondaime Uzukage. I told you, right?”

He most schertainly had not! And he’s a kid. No one makes a kid a Kage. She points her finger at him again, then tries again when she ends up pointing at the bartender instead. Her hand is shaking visibly now, but at least she’s making her point. “Ish no’ nishce to lie, brat.”

“Maa, Tsunade-san, Naruto didn’t lie about that. He really is the Uzukage.” Some very vaguely familiar brown haired man who her brain hazily identifies as some smart mouthed brat and has appeared out of nowhere with a metal toothpick senbon in his mouth says from beside the brat. “And you’re really something. Only other person I’ve seen still capable of speech after an entire glass of Ogre Water is Tenzo.”

“Wha abou’ the brascht? He’s schtalking.”

“Oh, him. It just makes him hyper. Thanks for that, by the way.”

You. Yous dischreshpectful.” She accuses, not pleased by his tone at all.

“Maa, you’re the one calling my Kage a brat and a liar, Lady Sannin. And now he’s your Kage, too, ne?”

This is a plotsch, she knows it is. The brat gives her his evil, evil sunny grin again. “Welcome to Uzushio, baa-chan!”

She slams her glass on the bar and glares at the bartender who is definitely laughing at her, she knows what that blanksh facshe means. “Give me another!”

“Whatever you say, lady.” The bartender says in a skeptical tone.

Tsunade chugs what he pours for her, coughs, and eyes him suspiciously. “Did you shor-?” Everything goes black suddenly.

~

Naruto is bored, bored, bored!

Genma-nii has handed guard duty off to Anko-nee while he carries Tsunade baa-chan to the clinic, and none of his guards will play when they’re on duty, the bar ossan has kicked him out until he’s “less excitable”, and Yashamaru-san took one look at him and told him Gaara has other things to do for the next few hours. Which is a lie, but he knows Yashamaru means well and Gaara does look a little frightened when he goes too fast, which he does tend to do for a little while after he’s drunk some Ogre Water, especially when it’s twice the amount he’s normally allowed. And (the kids) everyone else is busy with homework or practice this time of day and he’s not allowed to interfere when he’s got this much energy because Shishi-nii and Mikoto kaa-san and Fugaku tou-san and the elders all say that it discourages the others or maybe that it makes them try stuff they aren’t ready to do yet and that’s dangerous. He’s not really sure which. Maybe both?

But anyways, he’s bored. Even Kurama is curled up tight in his cage and refusing to talk to him. Bored.

So when he looks up from kicking at weeds irritably to see a boat he doesn’t recognize stop a ways offshore on the Kiri side of the island and then two people get off and start water-walking to shore it’s like a gift from the Sage. Or Kami. According to Kurama, Kurama is his actual gift from the Sage, which admittedly is a really awesome gift cuz-

*Would you shut up, brat?*

Right. Kurama gets grumpy when Naruto calls him old.

Unwilling to wait longer, he rushes down as the two strangers, a tall man with a sword almost as tall as he is followed by a girl a few years older than Naruto, as they step onto the beach, ignoring the nearby rotting ruins of a dock. Uzushio had a lot of those.

“Wow! You’re really tall! That’s a really big sword. Can you use it? What are you doing here? Are you staying? Is she your daughter? What’s your name?”

“Buzz off, brat. Is there an adult around here I can talk to?”

“Well, I’m-”

“Naruto, he said he wants to talk to an adult. Shoo.” Anko-nee interrupts, stepping up behind him.

Well, okay then. If she needs him, she knows where to find him, and in the meantime, there’s still the girl to bother make friends with.

~

The genin brat with the horrible name must be some noble’s kid to have a ninja guard. Zabuza eyes the big breasted woman with wary interest. She doesn’t seem hostile, so she probably doesn’t recognize him. Kiri and Uzushio weren’t exactly friendly back in the day. Not a redhead either, so probably some other ninja clan decided to move in rather than the Uzumakis coming back. Assuming there are any Uzumakis left, of course.

She gives him a leering once over. “So, Muscles, what do you want to talk about?”

“I’m…looking for a weapon, and was hoping Uzushio would be willing to lend me one.”

Her posture doesn’t change, but both brows lift. “And why would one of the Seven Swordsmen of the Mist need with a weapon from Uzushio?”

Well fuck. “Yagura’s a madman. He needs to be stopped before he destroys Kiri entirely.”

“And you’re afraid that Kubikiribōchō won’t be enough to stop a jinchuuriki, hm? Or are you trying to get Uzushiokagure’s support for a coup? Because I can assure you that won’t go over well. And sadly for you, no one’s found any unbroken weapons on Uzushio.”

“Well fuck.” He doesn’t think she’s lying, though she’d probably say the same thing if she was. “Then I need to talk to your elders or your Kage? about letting me leave Haku here so he can’t be used against me.”

“Lord Zabuza!” Haku protests.

Zabuza ignores him, because he knows the kid will do as he says, no matter what he thinks about it. “He’s my finest weapon, and if I fail, I don’t want Yagura getting his hands on him.”

Her expression cools. “We-”

“Haku can stay!” the genin brat chirps cheerily. “I like her!”

“Naruto! Go get Shishi-san and Fugaku-sama, and tell them that Zabuza Momochi is requesting political asylum for his companion.”

“Aww. Okay, Anko-nee.” The kid zips off with a startling amount of speed for a genin.

Smart move on her part, getting her charge out of danger without alerting him something is wrong.

Except the kid comes back, which kind of defeats the purpose. And the group he comes back with…Fuck. He’d heard something had gone down in Konoha, but he hadn’t realized it was this bad. Because those are fucking Uchihas and that’s Kakashi Hatake the Copy Ninja, and he doesn’t know who the Suna nin is, but he’s pretty sure he’s seen him in a copy of Kumo’s Bingo book at some point. He raises his hands in surrender, because he’s here to beg a favor, not die.

“So. Zabuza Momochi.” One of the Uchihas, a man a few years older than him, states neutrally.

“You have the advantage of me.” He says, turning the ploy back on them to see what they’ll do.

The man gives him a sharp look before introducing himself and his companions. “Fugaku, head of the Uchiha clan. Raiku, an elder of the Uchiha. Tekka, Taiko, and Baru Uchiha. Kakashi, head of the Hatake clan. Baki, counselor of Suna, our ally.” Then he tilts his head at the large breasted woman still standing in front of Zabuza. “Anko, head of the Mitarashi clan. I presume you’ve met Naruto.”

“The brat? Yeah.” He’s never heard of the Mitarashi clan and he’s fairly sure the Hatake clan contains a grand total of one member, so it’s probably half bluff, but he could be wrong.

“So, am I to understand that you are asking political asylum for your daughter because you’re planning a coup? Or have you already attempted one?”

Zabuza frowns, because really kids make shitty messengers and Haku isn’t his kid. “Haku’s a boy. And I haven’t done anything yet.”

“Well, we should hash out details, but Naruto has already said Haku can stay, so your request is granted.”

His eyes widen slightly. “Not that I’m not grateful, but do you commonly let genin make political decisions?”

“I’m not a genin, believe it!”

“You are a genin.” Hatake says repressively.

“Awww. Shishi-nii-”

“Naruto, did you introduce yourself earlier?” Hatake interrupts him.

Shishi-nii? Wait. Oh, that was sneaky of the Mitarashi woman, using a nickname.

“Well, he wouldn’t answer my questions cuz he wanted to talk to an adult, ne? So I didn’t have a chance and then Anko-nee sent me to find you and Fugaku-tou-san.”

What?

“Why don’t you introduce yourself now? I think our guest is confused.”

The brat bats his eyes at this notion, then turns to Zabuza and gives the slightest bow ever and says in a polite tone, “Sorry for confusing you, big sword ossan. I’m Naruto Uzumaki-Namikaze, head of the Uzumaki clan and the Namikaze clan, and Yondaime Uzukage. Um. Welcome to Uzushio. And Haku can stay! Permanently.”

Zabuza doesn’t know whether to cry or laugh. Seriously? What the hell had happened in Konoha for this to happen? He crosses his arms. “Not permanently. Just until I come back for him.”

“But you said-!”

He sighs. Of course little pitchers have big ears. “Or yes, if Yagura wins and I die, protect him from Yagura. Not that I’m going to die. And Haku’s mine not yours. Got it, brat?”

The brat fucking pouts and the puppy eyes are almost enough to make him feel guilty, but he resists because this is not up for discussion.

“Fine. But if you do die, Haku’s mine. And Haku’ll be sad if you die, so you can’t die.”

Wha-?

“You’re a weird brat, you know that?”

The kid beams at him. “Baru-nii says that all the time!”

Kami save him from idiot brats.

~

She wakes up to an arm covered in bite marks in front of her, but before she can react, it’s withdrawn and a red haired woman a decade or two younger than her is peering down at her.

“Tsunade-sama, you’re awake.”

“Obviously.”

The woman laughs softly. “Your companion has been worried for you. Seems you had a drinking contest with our Uzukage? Someone should have warned you about the Ogre Water beforehand. Most people get through half a glass or less before they pass out. Shiranui-san said you’ve agreed to be one of our medic nins. I have to admit, it’s a relief to have someone of your skills on staff. So far I’ve been the only one with formal training and have been attempting to train the others with some success, but it will be nice to be able to share the burden and exchange techniques. I’m Kanako Uzumaki, head of the Uzushio medical ninjas.”

“Agreed, like hell! That little brat tricked me! How does he stay sober? Is the bartender in on it?”

“Well, he is the jinchuuriki of the Kyuubi no Kitsune.” Kanako says in an amused tone, not looking sympathetic at all.

It takes a moment for that to sink in. Then she swears.

“Urgh! I’m going to flatten that little brat when I catch him!”

There’s a child’s giggle from close by, and Tsunade turns her head to see a girl with Uzumaki red hair laughing at her.

“Something funny, brat?”

“Good luck catching him! Naru-baka-sama is fast!

“Karin!” Kanako scolds lightly. “What have I told you about taunting patients with hangovers?”

The child puts on a serious face. “To get them a glass of water instead, kaa-san.”

“Well?”

The girl runs off obediently and Tsunade raises her brows at Kanako.

“I beg your pardon for my daughter’s rudeness. We were living in Kusagakure for several years and it seems she picked up some bad habits while we were there. Although, she isn’t incorrect about Naruto’s speed, I’m afraid. It requires a shunshin to keep up with him, even though he’s still perfecting his technique. He’s not the son of the Yellow Flash for nothing.”

Tsunade gawks at her. Minato’s brat is already messing around with time-space jutsus? That is…frightening. Only two people in history have ever mastered the Hiraishin, and both of them did it later in life, not as brats. “He’s teaching himself the Hiraishin?”

“What? Oh, no.” Kanako shakes her head emphatically. “He has a strong wind affinity and is determined to invent a ‘better shunshin’. Well, you’ll see.”

The prediction makes dread crawl up her spine. She really doesn’t want to see. She knows two things about Uzushio already, and neither make her happy. They’re insane enough to choose a child jinchuuriki as their Uzukage. And their ‘Kage’ is even more insane, a being of bratty malice and evil pranks. Being trapped on an island of madmen is not her idea of a good life.

“Kami hates me.”

Kanako chuckles like she’s made a joke. “Jiraiya-sama says you’re Naruto’s great-aunt and his godmother. You must be so happy to see him again.”

Like hell she is. She opens her mouth to elucidate on why she is not happy to see the brat, then pauses.

“Jiraiya is here!?”

“Why yes. Although I’m not sure he’s actually on Uzushio at the moment. I believe he was put in charge of overseeing the construction of an onsen, and may have gone to find experts.”

“Jiraiya defected from Konoha!? For this place?

“Ah. As I understand it, he defected because they threatened to make him the Hokage? He mutters a lot about it being ‘all for nothing’ and not believing that ‘Orochimaru is the Hokage’s heir now’ when he’s not trying to coax Naruto into actually talking to him. Naruto seems to have a grudge against him because he writes the Icha Icha series.”

“Orochimaru is what!?

Kanako eyes her in concern. “Perhaps I should send for Mikoto-sama to explain current events? I would have thought you’d have heard, traveling as you do.”

“Tell me right now!”

Chapter Text

Neji has always worked hard. When he was younger, it was to prove how much his father had been worth, how much the main family had thrown away because they were cowards, fools. And then the Uchihas had left. Since then, since he found a way out, he’s worked harder. Not to prove anything, but so he can leave and not be dragged back. The change in goal and Hinata’s grief have…made him more accepting of her, willing to help her without bitterness. Though he will never forgive his uncle or grandfather and can’t be bothered to acknowledge Hanabi unless forced to. He has no use for spoiled brats.

The past two years, he has all but driven himself into the ground, not just practicing main branch techniques on his own time, but pushing forward in school, determined to graduate sooner. No one’s questioned his drive to succeed. The clans have all been pushing their children to do better, graduate faster with the Uchihas’ defection, so Konoha doesn’t look weak. He thinks it’s fools’ logic, but it’s useful as a cover for his own motives. In between school, official practice with Hinata under the supervision of the Clan head and Elder, practice on his own time, he spares time for an extra daily session with his timid cousin well out of sight of any clan member or anyone who might bother to notice them.

Not because he has any particular wish for Hinata to be Clan head, but better than that brat Hanabi. Well, he doesn’t really care either way, given that he’s leaving, but. He’s not so cruel as to ignore the fact that if she can’t overcome her inability to harm someone, her life will be even more miserable than it already is.  The sessions aren’t long, but they are intense. And Neji’s actually rather proud of her. She’s been doing far better lately, out from under her father’s eye.

However.

It’s frustrating, so frustrating to see her backslide in the official training sessions. He knows they have doubts about her ability to uphold the mantle of Clan heir. Which is ridiculous. She hates it all, and she does it anyways, does her best and pushes herself beyond it. Every. Single. Day. He just- It’s frustration that makes him slip. He wants them to see how good she is.

And.

Neji forgets for a few seconds that the Clan head and Elder don’t know that he trains regularly using KI against Hinata to help her build up her courage to instinctive. So he’s not intending to harm her, he just wants- It’s so frustrating that he forgets, and-

He forgets that others might see it as actual intent to kill. Until his uncle deflects him, something Hinata could have done well enough on her own, and throws him halfway across the room with humiliating ease, then makes hand signs and his world becomes pain for a short eternity.

Later, Hinata brings him a cool cloth to lay over his still-burning eyes and apologizes on the verge of tears, promising she’ll do better and try harder. She knows why he did it. Of course she does. It’s nothing they haven’t done before a few hundred times. But there’s nothing she can do. She can’t tell them about their extra training sessions or they’ll suspect her when he leaves. Neji makes her promise not to tell, finally claiming that they’ll punish him worse if they find out when she disagrees. He applauds her kind heart, but he won’t be here to suffer when he’s gone.

Still, he doesn’t expect what happens next. The day he graduates, before they are assigned to teams, instead of congratulations (which he never expected, despite graduating at nine) he is more or less ignored as those in the clan house are called together to watch a mock battle between Hinata and Hanabi. He frowns, having an inexplicable bad feeling about this, and makes sure to keep to the edges of the crowd, well out of the Clan head’s and Elder’s sight. If something goes wrong, he doesn’t want his expression to make them suspicious.

The fight is almost a farce. Hanabi’s excellent…for a three year old, and Hinata is clearly much, much better. But there’s no way Hinata would risk harming her beloved little sister. Hanabi, secure in the fact that her sister is far stronger, never hesitates, never holds back. And she…wins. Not because her blow hurts Hinata or really does anything to her, but because it landed solidly and if she’d been older, more experienced it would have ended the fight.

Neji fights the brief urge to throw up when Hinata’s father proceeds to disinherit her on the spot in favor of Hanabi, to the three year old’s complete bewilderment.  He’s not sure the brat has any idea of what just happened.

His jounin sensei looks like death warmed over and has a perpetual cough that can’t be healthy, and his teammates hate his guts for being three years younger. Neji honestly can’t be bothered by their opinions and does his best to work with them as a team. Fit in, fit in, fit in. Don’t draw attention. He even has a grudging fondness for his sensei.

But, after two weeks of seeing Hinata treated alternately like she’s invisible or a complete bother, he’s had enough. He had meant to wait until he was a chunin to leave, but Hinata has just had everything she’s worked for wrenched away from her and she’s just not going to hold up that long.

~

Orochimaru, in his official role as soon to be Hokage, does most of the Hokage’s paperwork these days, amused that his former sensei uses it as an excuse to not do it himself. The apparent allergy to paperwork is hilarious. Paperwork is useful. He eyes two unexpected Withdrawal from Konoha forms neatly filled out in childish handwriting and thinks about the probable chaos the requests will bring, then stamps them Approved.

Not, mind, that it matters either way. Technically the forms are legal with or without his approval. Still, if there’s one thing he’s good at, it’s avoiding headaches by way of giving them to someone else peremptorily.

And seeing Hyuugas bluster impotently is always vastly amusing.

He is not disappointed.

Well, okay, a little disappointed. It’s a good week before Hiashi Hyuuga storms into his office, finally having noticed his missing children.

Hayate Gekko had reported his missing genin within hours. Granted, with two sniveling genin in tow, convinced that it’s their fault that the boy decamped. Neither man had bothered to correct them, because Konoha’s credo is teamwork and they obviously need the lesson rammed home before their lack turns lethal for someone. Excelling beyond the norm is hardly a valid reason to shun a person.

So maybe he tunes out Hiashi’s rant in favor of watching all the involuntary twitches that accompany it, which would be full-blown flailing in anyone not so conscious of their dignity. My daughter…blah, blah, blah…my nephew, blah, blah…main family, branch family…kidnapped…bring them back. Yup, just the expected rant. How mundane. He’s half asleep from boredom by the time Hiashi winds down, only the entertainment of watching a Hyuuga flail keeping him from napping. Though he has learned that Hiashi is more attached to his nephew than he probably should be given the clan customs.

He resists the urge to giggle, and puts on a serious expression.

“I fail to see what you expect me to do about it. The forms were properly filled out and approved over a week ago. I certainly had no reason to think the Hyuuga clan would care about a mere branch family member and their discarded heiress choosing to leave. Of course, if it had regarded your heiress, I would have hesitated and brought the matter to your attention first, but it’s too late now. They are legally no longer citizens of Konoha and would be well within their rights to treat any attempts to retrieve them as hostile. You may, of course, choose to act on your own interests in this matter, but you will receive no support from Konoha in doing so, and the children will have the right to publically appeal their case should you retrieve them.”

This incites an intriguing almost silent expulsion of air through gritted teeth that, if he’s not mistaken, would be a vicious growl in anyone not a Hyuuga. He wonders if he can incite a repetition.

“Perhaps you might be able to lure them back if you first did something about the conditions in your clan that caused them to leave in the first place? It seems like a better use of your time, if you will pardon my opinion, given that retrieving them against their will is quite likely to devolve into airing the customs of the Hyuuga to the judgement of common civilians.” There’s no reason to point out that the social judgement is sure to be extremely harsh, given how recent Danzo’s sins are in the public mind still. Legally, no one can infringe on clan customs, but that won’t stop people from casually ostracizing them. Just look at how isolated the Uchiha had been as the result of mere semi-plausible rumors. Hiashi is a fool, but he isn’t stupid.

Orochimaru half hopes the Hyuugas do drag the children back. Konoha could stand a couple more promising genin sticking around, and he can use the ensuing public trial to crack the clan like an egg and force them to admit that their so-called ‘protective seals’ are no more benign than his Cursed Seals. He doesn’t, of course, care one way or the other about what the clan chooses to do to themselves, but cutting political high ground out from under their feet? Well worth it. He’ll ensure that the trial is very, very public and make sure the gossip gets spread liberally.

Maybe some of his thoughts show on his face, because Hiashi’s eyes narrow, then he gives a stiff little bow. “Perhaps you are right, Orochimaru-sama. I will consider your wisdom on the matter.”

Then he retreats politely.

Huh. Well, opportunities lost and all that, but this is certain to be interesting in its own right. From Hiashi, the civil words are practically a loud vow. ‘My clan will change or suffer until they regret being born’. It’s so cute how all the clans have their own individualized subtextual behaviors and languages.

~

The attempt on Yagura fails. Not just fails, fails epically. Zabuza grimaces and admits ‘epic’ is more like ‘pathetic’ in this case. The demon brothers at least got away, but they’re both so injured that it’s simply a matter of time before they’re caught unless fate spares them on whim.

Not that he’ll be around to find out either way. Kubikiribōchō failed to stand up to the might of a jinchuriki, and Zabuza himself is losing too much blood, too fast. He’s not going to survive long enough to-

He wakes up alive some unknown time later, hands chained to the floor of a strangely clean cell. With a grimace, he lifts his head enough to look around and notes the torture instruments hanging neatly on the walls. Oh. No wonder it’s clean. Their Torture and Interrogation head is a passionate neat freak, and he recognizes this as being one of the rooms used for particularly dangerous and troublesome prisoners. He’s flattered. Really. Except that he’s really not.

There’s no reason to save a traitor, even if he’s not a traitor. No reason at all except to torture information on his comrades out of him, or to make him watch them killed before putting him out of his misery.

He tries moving around and realizes that not only are his ankles chained as well, they’ve used chakra suppressing cuffs. Fuck. Unsurprising, of course. He’s not one of the Seven Swordsmen just for his skill with a sword. Or even with the giant fucking cleaver that Kubikiribōchō basically is. Too bad, though. It would’ve been useful to have been underestimated for once.

~

Gozu pants quietly, wrapping his injured ankle with his last roll of bandages. The rest already used to bind other worse wounds earlier, or given to Meizu for his. Not that it had mattered in the end. Meizu, his twin, is dead. Taken down and killed by those hunting them. Not thinking about it, not thinking about it, not thinking about it. With Meizu…gone, and Zabuza almost certainly dead by now, given how much blood he’d been losing when they’d been forced to flee, there is no chance left of overthrowing Yagura and staying in Water will only make him a dead man.

Kubikiribōchō cracking ominously under the combined skill of Yagura and the power he wields as a jinchuuriki. Mizukage intent on taking down one more challenger and Zabuza… Kubikiribōchō holds despite its cracked state, but one of Yagura’s guards sees the opening and darts in. Blood spills like water, drenching Zabuza’s chest, side and thigh.

“Run. Go! I’ll hold them.” Zabuza grits.

Meizu hesitates, but Gozu knows better and an instant later his twin follows, fleeing even as the others fall around them or likewise flee, leaving their doomed leader to guard their backs for however many moments he can still manage to fight before blood loss alone kills him. It won’t be long. No one survives that kind of blood loss without immediate medical attention and no one will spare that for one who tried to kill the Mizukage and failed.

Gozu and Riku and Meizu are the only ones to get away from the initial pursuit intact. But the hunters don’t relent that easily. Riku is the first to fall, caught by a simple trap that normally none of them would miss seeing. There is nothing they can do other than hastily stash a couple explosive tags on the corpse and hope the timing is right to catch some pursuers too arrogant to be on guard. No one left but them. The rebellion doomed to failure without Zabuza alive to head it.

The hunters catch up with them again shortly after they paused to bandage wounds so as to leave no blood trail to follow. Gozu’s throw is perfect, but Meizu’s sandal slips on a piece of loose bark and it’s enough. His chains are caught, he’s all but disarmed, and Gozu only has enough time to see the rage and defiance on his twin’s face as a sword pierces his heart before he wrenches away and runs and runs and runs.

Gozu swallows hard, because throwing up isn’t an option. Too noisy, too smelly, too likely to get him dead, just like the others. Somewhere in his flight he’d twisted his ankle badly, but hadn’t noticed until his body had rebelled and he’d collapsed for a few minutes. It’s bad enough he shouldn’t be putting weight on it, he knows this, but he also knows that he can’t afford not to. Dark has fallen and he only has a few hours at most before dawn arrives and the hunters are on his trail again. If he’s lucky. But a smart hunter rests, knowing a weary prey will be easier to catch.

Unfortunately for Gozu, even resting won’t make him less weary in time for it to do him any good. No, he has to keep moving and get the hell away from Kiri and Water before he loses his chance to leave. Permanently.

Where to go, though?

The large nations all have bounties on him and Meizu, and so do a couple of the smaller ones. Not large bounties, but large enough for some bored jounin to think worth the effort if he’s spotted. Maybe Wood. Yumegakure doesn’t have a bounty on him, and they’re pretty indifferent to missing nin as long as they stick to taking out lawbreakers. A henge will get him on a boat if he times it right. It won’t fool his trackers for long, but he’s not important enough to pursue long once out of Water territory.

~

Iruka scowls at his roommate as he stumbles in not long before dawn, but Kakashi doesn’t even seem to notice his presence much less his expression. That being actually true is unlikely, of course, since Kakashi is a jounin and an excellent one at that, but his roommate is certainly not above pretending just to provoke reactions. With that in mind, he keeps his tone very calm as points out, “You’re rather late.”

Kakashi jumps spastically and almost falls into the wall before catching himself. He pushes up his hitai-ate from where it’s slipped down over his good eye. “‘ruka?”

“Where have you been?”

“Dunno. Icha Icha, maybe? There were women. I think. Heaving breasts. Pash-Pass-Passionate lips. An’ hair. Think I was dreaming. Am I dreamin’?”

Iruka raises both brows and wonders who managed to get Kakashi this drunk. He doesn’t bother answering, because Kakashi’s gaze has wandered off to stare dazedly at the ceiling. Taking pity, he leaves aside the pile of grading he was working on while waiting for Kakashi to turn up, and steadies the other man, helping him to bed. Surprisingly, he smells more like women than liquor. Maybe someone slipped him Ogre Water and a couple of the kunoichis helped him home. That would explain a lot. A number of the Uchiha kunoichis tend to treat Kakashi like a cute brother who is endless fun to tease, but he’s usually good at dodging them. Of course, he’s usually good at avoiding Ogre Water too. The prankster in Iruka really wants to know who managed that and how. Then again, his roommate is excellent at getting humiliating revenge, so perhaps not knowing is in his best interests.

Chapter Text

Shisui curses as he tips water out of his ear, and then starts sneezing and resignedly removes his patch so he can tilt his head to let the murky salt-marsh water drain out of his eye socket. He wades out onto one of the meager dry patches of land in this eerie marsh, still sneezing.

“Here.”

He stops and holds still while Itachi uses his very minor healing skills to make sure no infections take root. It’s a routine he’s thoroughly sick of by now. It’s honestly amazing that he hasn’t gotten some lethal, flesh eating infection given the semi-frequent dunkings that surviving here induces. “I need a waterproof eyepatch. This is ridiculous.”

Itachi nods. “It’s been two years, so any pursuit should have died down by now. We could find another place that’s not so dangerous. At the very least we need to get Sasuke new clothes before he ends up naked.”

“You can just give him your too small ones.”

His cousin looks amused. “You mean the ones I’ve been wearing for the last two years? They aren’t in a great deal better shape than Sasuke’s. And no offense, but yours are in worse shape than mine so I don’t want to wear them.”

Shisui laughs. “Alright, coz. We’d better go buy clothes for him before we let him around other people though. He looks like he’s been raised by acid-spitting spiders or rabid dogs, not humans. Where do we go after that? Because I totally agree that it’s time to move on before this forest manages to kill us by way of something wet and nasty or fanged and multi-legged.”

“Uzushio, I think. It’s deserted, and they would have thought to check there by now. No one will notice three people staying out of sight there.”

“Uzushiokagure!” Shisui perks up.

“No.” Itachi says drily. “You may not start up ghost rumors. If you do, someone is sure to come looking.”

“Awww!”

~

Tsunade wakes up with a hangover, which isn’t unusual, and a man in her bed, which is. She moans and opens one eye, then growls. “Jiraaaaaiya! What the hell are you doing in my bed?”

He moves so fast that the covers float for a moment before falling and covering her head and back. When she sputters and fights her way out from under them to glare at him, he’s already plastered against the far wall looking slightly terrified. “I swear it wasn’t my idea, Hime! You were drunk and wouldn’t take no for an answer.”

How the hell did she get that drunk? She’s never been drunk enough to jump one of her former teammates before. She narrows her eyes, because she knows Jiraiya too well. “I’ll bet you didn’t resist too hard.”

“Um. I was supposed to? … No, wait. Wait, wait! It’s morning and I still respect you?”

That would hold more water if you weren’t staring at my boobs.” She informs him acidly.

“But they’re really nice breasts! Erm.”

She gets up to kill him, then ends up dashing for the bathroom to throw up instead. Wobbling out of the bathroom a few minutes later, she finds the idiot still there and snaps her fingers imperiously. “Tea, now. And if this ends up in one of your appalling books, no one will find your grave because I’ll ship the parts to Orochimaru for experiments.”

Jiraiya gulps and meekly makes tea while she sits at the tiny table, head in her hands.

Seriously, what the hell? She doesn’t even remember. Maybe Shizune is right and she needs to start cutting back a little. At least it was just Jiraiya. It could have been worse. She could have jumped that civilian kid whose face reminds her a bit of Dan. She may be vain, but she doesn’t need traumatizing a civilian for life on her conscience. Or she could’ve jumped an Uchiha, who would’ve likely then decided that he was required to marry her and…yeah, not going there. So not going there.

He sets the tea down in front of her gingerly before taking the seat across from her. She stares at it, willing it to cool to drinkable faster.

“You okay there, Tsunade?”

She flaps a hand at him in dismissal and otherwise ignores the question. And for once he’s smart enough to keep his mouth shut. Finally it cools enough to not burn, and she gets to the bottom before she realizes that it’s appallingly strong and almost spits out the last swallow. “How can you be so horrendous at making tea when you drink so much of it?”

He sighs. “Generally by paying someone to make it for me. Is it too weak or too strong this time?”

“If you’d put any more in, it’d be stew, not tea. I’m surprised it didn’t walk off before I could drink it.”

Jiraiya grimaces. “Sorry, Hime.”

You are acting weird.” She accuses, pointing a finger at him, then scowling when it shakes visibly.

“Well, you haven’t tried to kill me yet, so I’m worried about you.”

Okay, that’s fair. “Make me some toast and I’ll go back to bed. I can kill you tomorrow.”

“Can we just skip the killing part?” he asks plaintively, getting up to burn some bread to settle the little demons sword dancing in her stomach.

“Maybe. If it’s actually toast, and not charcoal.” She agrees, feeling too woozy to care. She needs to find out what she made the mistake of drinking last night because never again. If she’s going to make horrible life choices like Jiraiya she’d at least like to remember it afterwards.

~

Ten rin apiece. Neji blinks at the old fisherman and swallows hard. They don’t have 20 rin left, only 7. And only because the last store they ate at thought Hinata was adorable and gave them the meal half price. Beside him, Hinata pales and clutches his hand. He could offer to do chores in exchange, but all he knows of the man is he owns the boat and Neji knows nothing of boats and nothing that could benefit one.

At their silence, the old man looks curious, then nods before Neji can figure out what to say. “You two Uzushio ninjas?”

“Y-Y-Yes.” Hinata speaks up, sounding surprisingly firm, but Neji’s never been good at deception and answers plainly at the same time. “Not yet.”

The old man looks amused. “I’m feeling generous today. Pay me what rin you have and I’ll take the pair of you over.”

“R-Really?” Hinata brightens.

“Yes, really, missy. Just don’t do any ninja things to break my boat. I can’t afford repairs over a couple of brats.”

“Uh-um. W-we wouldn’t d-do that. Th-that would be b-bad m-manners.” Hinata assures him earnestly.

Neji just busies himself counting out the 7 rin, and then on whim, the shogi piece he found in the dirt in the middle of town. It’s not money, but he doesn’t know what else to do with it, and he thinks that civilians sometimes trade items instead of money.

The old man stares at the shogi piece, then at him, but in the end just gestures them onto his boat without comment.

~

Naruto is sitting on top of one of the lower buildings when something catches his attention and he decides to hang upside down to get a better look. Both the boy and the girl go into a defensive stance in reaction to having him suddenly upside down in their faces, but he ignores that. “Wow, that’s a nasty seal. Can I get rid of it? I mean, if you want to keep it, I can change it so it’s safer for you, but it might take me a couple days to figure out how and Shishi-nii would probably have to help.”

They both relax, though the girl pales for some reason.

The boy says stiffly, “Shouldn’t you be concerned about her seal too?”

Naruto spares her a brief glance, and thinks she looks familiar. “Nah, hers is just paint. Should probably wash it off before someone gets ideas, though.”

“Na-Na-” The girl stutters and faints.

The boy looks down at her in worry.

“So, do you want to keep it or not?”

“I do not!” There is bitter venom in the older boy’s tone.

“Huh. Okay.” Naruto reaches out a blue-glowing hand and lays it over the mark on the boy’s forehead, ignoring the reflexive flinch. It is a little tricky, nothing like that bad thing that had been on Anko-nee, but it takes him a minute to puzzle it out and get rid of it. “There you go. All gone, believe it! You’re a Hyuuga, right?”

He flips down to stand in front of the probably-Hyuuga boy because the blood rushing to his head is getting uncomfortable.

“I am Neji Hyuuga and this is my cousin Hinata. You are an Uzushio ninja?”

He ignores the question because his hitai-ate clearly shows the answer to that. “What are you doing here? I thought Konoha was still pretending Uzushio doesn’t exist.”

A puzzled look crosses Neji’s face. “Konoha is aware the Uchihas moved to Uzushio. I did not wish to remain a branch house member, and after Hinata was disinherited, I decided to bring her with me when I left Konoha. While the Hyuugas and Uchihas do not get along, we felt that they would be more likely to be willing to use our skills without harming us than the other hidden villages.”

Naruto frowns for a moment, because he doesn’t really get why any village would harm ninjas willing to join them, then beams as he realizes that Neji intends to stay. “That’s great! Believe it! Mikoto kaa-san will be really happy! You’ll have to have kids, cuz you’re the Clan head, but not right away or anything, and we just finished three more houses so you can have one of them. Some of the others will complain, but they already have places to stay so it’s not a big deal, they can just wait for the next ones, and-”

Neji scowls and interrupts. “Who are you? And if anyone’s Clan head, it should be Hinata. She has the training for it.”

“Nah, you’re stronger. And older. So you’re Clan head.” Then he realizes that he’s been asked who he is and grins. “I’m Naruto Uzumaki-Namikaze, Yondaime Uzukage. Fugaku and Mikoto Uchiha are my kaa-san and tou-san. Welcome to Uzushio!”

The girl on the ground stirs and sits up shakily, staring at him like he’s a ghost. “Na-Naruto? Y-You’re a-alive?”

“Believe it!” he grins at her. Then tilts his head. “Oh, you’re that girl those boys were picking on that one time, right? I told you they wouldn’t hurt me. Then Mikoto-kaa-san and everyone decided to come here and brought me with them. Don’t worry, we’ll fix you up with a house and everything. We even have a school here! Iruka sensei and baa-chan and Kanako-nee teach stuff there, and then after school everyone gets training with katas and stuff. And if anyone picks on you, just tell me and I’ll set them straight.”

She starts crying, and he scratches his head in puzzlement. “Um, is she okay? Does she need to eat or something?”

“I believe she was under the impression that you were dead and those are happy tears.” Neji says in a tone that tries to sound detached, but mostly ends up sounding worried.

“Oh. Okay. If you say so. Come on, I’ll show you where Mikoto kaa-san is, and you can talk to Fugaku tou-san later if he’s not there too.

~

Mikoto-sama freezes a little when she spots them and says in a neutral tone, “The Hyuuga heiress and her first cousin. What brings you here?”

Neji recognizes that tone. It’s one that often ends up with something he dislikes happening. He opens his mouth, but before he can speak, Naruto jumps in excitedly. Neji’s still not sure he believes the claim of being Uzukage, but is also uncertain as to why he might lie about it. It’s an easily disproved claim, after all.

“Mikoto kaa-san! Neji and Hinata decided they didn’t want to live in Konoha anymore, so they’re moving here instead! We can give them one of the new fixed houses, right? Neji’s gonna be Clan head. And Hinata needs to eat, cuz she was crying. And you said we should have some Hyuugas too, right?”

Neji frowns. “I’m not Clan head.”

Hinata grabs his arm. “I-I don’t mind, Neji-nii. I’m w-weak, an-and you’re always s-showing me stuff and tr-training me. And you’d be a good Clan head!”

He frowns harder in disagreement.

Mikoto-sama smiles and her tone is amused as she replies. “I did say that. Of course they can have a house and we’ll feed them. And Neji? I’m afraid if Naruto says you are Clan head, then you are Clan head. He is Uzukage, after all. Has he explained that in order to make sure the smaller clans don’t die out in Uzushio, all members are asked to have children at some point?”

“He did.” Neji says in a flat tone, too stunned at going from being a runaway branch house member to the leader of a new clan of Hyuuga in the space of an hour to really take it in. He’s fairly sure that bit about children had been somewhere in the loud blond’s earlier ramble.

Hinata bites her lip and gives him a worried look. “Uh-um. If you don’t want to, I can have m-more kids, Neji-nii.”

He pats her hand, because it’s a kind offer, but unneeded. “I am perfectly capable of begetting children, Hinata. How many, Mikoto-sama?”

She smiles at him approvingly. “Preferably at least two each, so there is less pressure on the next generation. Though of course you may have more if you like.” Then she glances at the fake seal painted in pale green temporary dye on Hinata’s forehead. “Unlike Konoha, however, we will not tolerate the continuation of the tradition of branding any branch clan members with what equates to a slave seal.”

It shocks him. He’s never heard anyone state so bluntly what the Caged Bird seal is. Much less that someone will not tolerate it. It’s always been a fact of life. A bitter, hateful thing he’s had no hope of changing until Naruto just…eliminated it like it was a minor thing. “I agree. If you would lend Hinata some soap and water, she can wash that one off.”

Mikoto blinks. “Oh, of course. You would have wanted to discourage ideas about doujutsu theft while traveling. I assume yours was real and Naruto removed it?”

Neji nods. “I had not known it was possible to remove it until he offered.”

“Yes, between his Uzumaki heritage and the Kyuubi and the fuiinjutsu he’s been learning, my son does have some rather unique skills. Naruto-” She pauses and looks around, but Naruto is gone. She sighs. “That boy. Come with me, Hinata. We managed to salvage a rather nice bathroom. If you like, you can take a bath as well, while I fix food. Do you have a change of clothes with you? Or do I need to find a clean set for you?”

“O-Oh.” Hinata tears her hopeful, pleased gaze away from Neji’s forehead and lets herself be guided towards the bathroom. “Uh-um. W-We brought our things along in storage scrolls, s-so that’s n-not necessary, Mikoto-sama. Th-Thank you, though.”

~

Naruto refrains from bouncing as he waits for the three people water walking in from the Water country side to get close enough to talk to, but only because grumpy baa-chan Tsunade said it made him look like an idiot. The north side docks have been rebuilt and get a lot of traffic, but no one’s bothered even picking up the mess yet on the east side port, so the dock is still in ruins and they haven’t worked their way down this hill on buildings yet, either, so it’s just a bunch of rubble. So only ninjas come in this way.

As they come closer, the three of them look really familiar, but he doesn’t know any of them. At least he doesn’t think so. They look kind of like Uchihas, except for the one with curly hair, because he’s never seen an Uchiha with curly hair, even Naori-nee’s is only wavy, and he’s sure he’d remember if he had. The youngest one, about his age though…he really-

“Oh! You look like Mikoto kaa-san!”

The taller two look suddenly more curious than wary, but the one his age bristles.

He hurries to reassure him. “Don’t worry, I don’t think you’re a girl even though your hair is long, cuz Haku’s prettier than you are and he’s a boy too!”

For some reason this just inspires the other boy to move into a fighting stance, exuding killing intent.

Naruto brightens, because killing intent always means one thing. “Spar! Yay!”

Then he’s being snatched back and a booted foot to the stomach gently kicks the other boy into the man whose hair isn’t curly, and Shishi-nii says,

“Maa, maa, Itachi. Do teach your otouto better. Even if he was provoked, trying to kill a Kage is just not done, ne?”

“But Shishi-nii-!”

Itachi looks startled as he catches his brother easily, not even staggering from the impact which means it was a really, really gentle kick and probably didn’t even hurt. “Hatake? What-?”

“Your parents will be glad to see you again. As you can see, they’ve adopted Naruto in your absence and everyone moved out here to rebuild Uzushio again. Naturally as the last Uzumaki, Naruto is the Uzukage. And no, Naruto, you may not spar at the moment.”

“Awww!” Then Naruto realizes that the name ‘Itachi’ sounds familiar and why. These are his older brothers! That means the curly haired one with an eyepatch must be Shisui, even though everyone thought he was dead. And Shishi-nii is always saying that a ninja needs to look ‘underneath the underneath’, and everyone’s been looking for two people when it’s been three all along, and that’s a really neat ninja trick! But it also means- He represses a sigh, cuz being all formal sucks, and taps his hitai-ate to bring out the robes. “Shisui Uchiha? I have something for you.”

Shishi-nii breaks off his staring contest with Itachi-nii to look down at him, and then sets him down finally.

Shisui leaves off looking amused at their expense to look surprised and a little wary. “Oh?”

“Yes.” He nods and taps his storage seal again, because not only his robes stay in there. He holds the item out. “It was left in my care for safe keeping.” He glances at Shishi-nii to make sure he got the right phrasing and receives a tiny nod of approval.

Shisui’s eye widens in shock. “My other eye! How-? Danzo had it.”

“Maa, maa, it’s not that hard to understand, is it? Shimura-san simply got killed a few times for the crime of kekkai genkai theft, and the clan decided that leaving it in the Uzukage’s hands was the best way to keep it from being used for unsavory ends. Simple, ne?”

Naruto expects him to bristle, because Shishi-nii has that effect on people when he’s pointing things out, but even more astonishment plasters itself on Shisui’s face and he is suddenly right in front of him and picking up his eye almost reverently. Like he’s afraid it will break or disappear. Or maybe like he thinks it’s broken already.

“If it doesn’t work, Tsunade baa-chan can fix it. Or if she won’t, Kanako-nee, can. Believe it! Baa-chan teaches medical classes and chakra control, and so does Kanako-nee, but not as much since baa-chan came, cuz she also runs the hospital.”

Shisui just flips up his eyepatch and pops his eye back in and blinks a few times, then startles Naruto by ruffling his hair. “Thank you very much for returning my eye, Uzukage-sama. Do you happen to know where we could get a meal around here? Ship food is kind of gross.”

He wrinkles his nose and puts away the robes. “You can call me Naruto. And why would you make food out of ships? But if you like ramen, we’ve got an Ichiraku’s! It’s the best ramen ever, believe it! We got Teuchi-san’s cousin to move his here, even though Teuchi-san and Ayame-chan couldn’t move here.”

“Ichiraku’s sounds good. Does Teuchi-san’s cousin make as good of ramen as Teuchi-san does?”

“You can’t steal my kaa-san! She’s my kaa-san!”

Naruto startles at the venomous screech from his nii-san, the one whose name he can’t remember. He frowns at him.

“Sasuke-” Itachi tries.

“You can’t have her!”

“Tell you what.” Shisui says, and swings Naruto up to sit on his shoulders. “You point me in the direction of Ichiraku’s and we’ll go there while Itachi explains the concept of ‘sharing’ to Sasuke. Sound good?”

He eyes the screeching boy who is struggling wildly, murder in his eyes, and is glad that Itachi-nii is still holding onto him. A quick glance at Shishi-nii lets him know that Shisui’s okay to go alone with, so he points. “Yeah! That way!”

A few seconds later he’s screaming in laughter, because Shisui is really fast. When they get to Ichiraku’s Shisui pauses to peer up at him. “You okay up there, kid?”

“Yeah! You’re almost as fast as I am! That was fun!”

“Hey! No one’s faster than me! They call me Shisui no Shunshin for a reason, you know!”

“Nuh-uh. Cuz the better shunshin is faster.”

“Oh yeah? Prove it!”

Naruto gives him an aghast expression. “But…ramen!”

Shisui grins at him. “Okay, fair point. After ramen then?”

“Yeah!” Having someone to race is going to be fun!