And yet another chance for ownership passes by... like a leaf on the wind


Kusari no Naruto


Ame no Kuni's name was well-deserved. The rain fell in heavy sheets, and from what he had heard it was nearly constant. It couldn't be of course, it would be impossible to grow food if it rained every day of the year, but apparently it rained enough. Naruto let it soak over him, circulating his Chakra to keep him warm.

"I didn't think funerals were your kind of affair," Haku said. She had been smart enough to bring an umbrella, although he was certain she wouldn't have minded the rain either. Cold really didn't bother a Hyoton-user.

"They're not. I think they're pointless wastes of time," he muttered back. All the same, he kept his voice low enough that Konan and Jiraiya couldn't hear. He couldn't explain it, but it felt wrong to make such disparaging remarks surrounded by such a solemn atmosphere. "But they gave me a good fight, and Jiraiya insisted I be here."

He couldn't see why. Tobi might have been the one to kill Nagato, but without the destruction of his Paths, he wouldn't have been nearly as vulnerable. Still, Konan hadn't objected to his presence, so here he was, in the back-end of Ame no Kuni, standing outside of some random cave system. It must have had some significance to Nagato and Yahiko, but nobody had deigned to tell him what that was.

The graves were simple, dug into the hard rock with doton ninjutsu and ornamented only with a small pile of stones. On one, Jiraiya had inscribed a simple design resembling the Rinnegan, on the other he engraved the symbol of Amegakure, scored through like a missing-nin's headband. Konan had proceeded to place a paper flower on each grave and each said some words. Naruto had stayed at a distance, feeling profoundly out of place. He was thankful he'd had the foresight to bring Haku along with him. With her here, he didn't feel quite so awkward.

He was confused by the lack of animosity between Konan and them. They had effectively killed her last friend, but she was treating Jiraiya as an old mentor again. She was technically the leader of Amegakure now, which was likely the reason she wasn't in Konoha's custody. Apparently the Sandaime had thought the potential instability in a region as strategically valuable as Ame costlier than allowing a leader of the Akatsuki free.

As much weight as that title had anymore.

Konan had confirmed it herself, the members of the mercenary group had disbanded almost as soon as they realised Pein was dead. It was a mixed blessing. As a group, they were more organised and potentially more dangerous, but also easier to keep an eye on. As rogue agents, they were less effective in what they could do, but more spread out and difficult to track. Konan had provided a list, but it was of little use now.

Still, like a wolf that had caught the scent of prey, Naruto felt anxious.

He had, admittedly, been feeling somewhat indecisive over what to do with himself. Before, his goals had seemed so vague. Become strong. Make people recognise him. The fight with Pein had thrown those into sharper focus and he now found them… lacking. The threat of the Akatsuki on the horizon had been a good distraction. With them gone, it was once again up to him to decide how to proceed. Thanks to that list, he now knew exactly what he wanted to do.

The thought of all those S-class fights was intoxicating.

"Are you going to say anything?" Haku whispered, bringing him out of his thoughts and making him realise that Jiraiya and Konan had moved to the side, talking between themselves.

"And say what? They're dead."

Haku shrugged, moving slowly up to the two nondescript graves. They seemed oddly unremarkable considering who lay in them. A man with legendary eyes – although the Rinnegan had been destroyed by Konan, to make sure nobody else abused their power – and a revolutionary.

"You came, didn't you? That must mean something."

"Like I said, Jiraiya made me." He was brought up short by the soft smile she gave him.

"We both know that isn't true."

He looked at her a moment before clicking his tongue. "I let you get away with too much nowadays."

She surprised him by folding her hands demurely, lowering her head. She still couldn't completely supress the small smirk she wore. "You'll have to punish me later Naruto-sama."

He almost laughed, only stopped by the otherwise sombre atmosphere. "You seem… different."

Haku shrugged, standing up straight again. "I've had a lot of time to think recently, about my place in life, about what I want to do with myself."

That sounded eerily reminiscent of his own thoughts as of late.

"And?"

She just smiled at him impishly.

He let out a long sigh before nodding slowly. "Fine, let's try this out… however pointless it is." He moved over to the two graves, bypassing Yahiko entirely. He may have fought the man's corpse, but he didn't know him at all. Instead, he stood at the foot of Nagato's, struggling for a moment over what to say.

"I… didn't know you," he trailed off, feeling incredibly foolish all of a sudden. He sent a pleading look Haku's way, but the girl was looking over at Jiraiya, probably wondering about the man's arm. Tsunade hadn't been able to reattach his original limb, but had instead fashioned him a replacement from the same white goop that had comprised Tobi's. He was sure that to a medic-in-training like Haku… and now he was just wasting time.

He let out another pained sigh. "This seems ridiculous. But, you were a good fight. You might have been trying to kidnap me so you could make some super-weapon, or whatever, but you clearly thought what you were doing was… right. To be honest, I think peace sounds boring, but then, I guess you did call me a feral beast, so you might have been right on that front. I suppose what I mean is… I have no idea what I mean."

He sighed, and Haku appeared at his side again, looking at him expectantly. "Feel any different?"

"No," he groused. "It was just as pointless as I thought. Just a corpse in a ground, and me talking to myself."

The girl shrugged carelessly. "Maybe it's not for everyone."

"What did you say?"

"Me? Nothing. I didn't know either of them."

The blond rounded on her, only to catch her giving him that impish smile again, and he deflated.

"You did that on purpose."

"Should I expect a much harsher punishment then?"

"Damn right," he growled, which only seemed to make her even smugger, much to his ire.

Jiraiya chose that moment to walk over. Unsurprisingly, Konan didn't join him. Naruto got the feeling she only barely tolerated his presence here as it was.

"I think we're about ready to wrap up here. Konan needs to get back to her people, and we need to report back to the old man. We've got a lot of reports to fill out."

Both Sage and Jinchuuriki shivered at that.

"What'll happen to Amegakure?" Haku inquired, genuinely curious. "From what you've told me, they looked to Pein as a God. I can't imagine it will be an easy transition."

Jiraiya shrugged. "Apparently Nagato didn't make that many personal appearances, and for a while at least Konan should be able to imitate him with her paper clones. She'll have plenty of time to figure it out." He smiled fondly as he turned to watch the woman grow wings and fly away, quickly disappearing into the heavy rain. "She's a smart girl, and I've said I'll come by every so often to see how she's doing."

"She seems to have accepted you rather easily after everything that happened," Naruto pointed out as they themselves set out into the rain.

"Konan was always a reserved little girl; I can't imagine all of this ever sat right with her. I genuinely think she'll make a good leader for her village."

"You didn't really answer the question."

He only received a belligerent grin as a response.

"And you still have told me what was up with that weird-ass transformation you pulled back then."

"Didn't you hear Fukakasu? Toad summoners only. Unless you've finally accepted the brilliance that is me and decided to let me take you on as an apprentice."

"Nice try, but I prefer learning useful techniques, not the best way to spy on women in an onsen."

"Ah my young pupil, you would be surprised by the overlap between the two. Besides, I'm sure I could come up with some especially creative applications for your chains. Your young lady friend will love it, I can guarantee."

"Pervert."

"Brat."

"Cripple."

"Dungeon master."

Haku watched them bicker a few steps behind, smiling fondly. It became more apparent to her the more she saw, that shinobi were all inherently broken people. But the more they were packed together, the better chance they had of holding each other up. She was glad that Naruto had found so many people to fill in his jagged edges, and she in turn was glad to have found him.

"Haku, get over here. I'll hold him down, you freeze his hands off. The old hag was too generous in giving him the opportunity to keep writing that garbage."

The girl smiled brightly as she hurried to catch up. It was an unorthodox relationship, but right now she couldn't imagine it any other way.


A/N: And that's a wrap people. See you in Plucking Strings.