Naruto belongs to Kishimoto Masashi and the other various companies that own the distribution rights. I'm just pretending that I'm allowed to play with these toys.
While it's not remotely a good idea to start a new story, I'm tired of sitting on my hands to keep from posting this. Updates will be very sporadic.
Bushido Code Virtue: Honor
The Great Traitor of Konoha, Sasuke Uchiha, was being allowed out of the village for the first time in four years. However, the trip did not taste much of freedom when his wrist was bound with a heavy chakra cuff. Less so when he had been ordered to leave and forced to go on a humiliating goodwill tour. Sasuke liked cutting out all the superfluous bullshit and getting right down to the heart of the matter. Which was this: he was being forced out of his village to grovel for forgiveness in front of all the world leaders in their own dens.
Turns out he had offended a significant number of them. Attacking a summit was the most effective way of doing so, apparently.
Nevertheless, the new Hokage was optimistic that Sasuke's grand undertaking would be successful. Sasuke doubted it. He did not have Naruto's charisma and almost supernatural ability to talk anyone into taking his side.
But Naruto needed to prove he did not play favorites. For this, at least, Sasuke would be a pawn. Only for Naruto.
"I think I see the border!" Tenten shouted, trying to squint past the blowing snow.
Hampered by the precipitation, Sasuke and his chaperones slowed to a walk. By this point they were using chakra to keep from slipping into a waist deep drift. Ideally, they would have dug out a snow cave, but as Kakashi pointed out, they were in a country that did not look kindly on any Konoha nin. It was dangerous to stay there more than the few hours it took to cross into the Land of Iron.
Sasuke fell into a simmering rage. He did not mind his companions so much. Tenten, being the wielder of the Bashōsen, accumulated some kind of muted renown among weapon enthusiasts around the world. Kakashi, the former Hokage, was judged to be the best diplomat available… Both of them were more than enough to neutralize a weakened Uchiha.
He flexed his wrist in irritation. His control was honed to a fine point but he felt like a baby genin with only enough chakra to channel to his feet. If they were caught in a fight, he would not be able to activate his Rinnegan without sinking.
Kakashi said something only half a second before Sasuke lifted his head.
Out of the white; gray, black and brown smudges slowly materialized on the horizon. The Konoha shinobi slowly moved to meet them. Their convergence point was a large signpost made of stone. He could not make out the symbols carved into the surface, but Sasuke could guess.
Sitting on the largest horses Sasuke had ever seen were a group of six samurai in full battle armor, towering imperiously over the newcomers. Their chakra simmered with warning. Despite himself, he remembered of the stories his mother used to tell him about ghosts who lived in the snow and would kidnap wandering children. Impressive at the time but Sasuke had forgotten what fear felt like.
They were human. Just like him.
The one in the lead slowly reached up a gloved hand and pulled down his respirator so his voice could be heard over the wind.
"Welcome to the Land of Iron. On behalf of Mifune-sama, we will be your escorts."
Three samurai came to be even with their leader, guiding three rider-less horses next to them.
"You will ride." The leader commanded before replacing his mask, cutting off any chance to argue with him.
Tenten visibly grimaced and Sasuke agreed with her. He had ridden mounts before, but there was something about horses that every nin seemed to disagree with. When a nin got used to hurtling themselves through the trees on their own power anything else almost seemed like cheating.
"Our thanks." Kakashi smiled with his eyes and nimbly launched himself into the saddle. Frost was slowly freezing on his mask.
Sasuke approached a horse, noting the strange wooden squares attached to their hooves. He realized they were literally snowshoes a beat later. Clambering on, he tried to take the reins but they were jerked out of the way and the samurai who had a grip on them led both the horses in their grip around in a half circle. Sasuke clamped his thighs to keep his seat, and without something to hold on to, he gripped the pommel with his lone hand.
Incensed, he looked at Tenten and Kakashi only to see they were receiving the same treatment. That did not stop him from sending a glare in the direction of the person next to him. Unexpectedly, the samurai was staring straight at him, boldly enough for Sasuke to see something was strange about their mask. The warrior titled their chin up in challenge before they turned to face the front.
The horse underneath Sasuke was spurned into movement before he realized it. This samurai's mask did not have any holes for their eyes.
The group carefully picked their way over already packed snow. If they were to fall into a snowdrift here, they would never recover the horses. But the animals seemed to know their way, choosing footholds that Sasuke could not have guessed were more stable than the others.
In front of the group, the leader, visible only for the russet cloak of animal furs he was wearing, steadfastly guided the way. The Konoha nin and their escorts followed. Behind them, the rest of the group fanned out in a defensive formation.
Strategically, if Sasuke wanted to flee, it would be difficult indeed. However, he was not one to run in the face of adversity. This so-called hardship, wading through a snow storm to talk nice to a diplomat was nothing in the wake of training for years under Orochimaru and his two-year penance in Konoha.
The leader raised a fist and the party stopped. Seemingly from nothing, a gray expanse materialized from the haze of white. Sasuke recognized it for what it was. The walled city of the samurai.
However, the city was more of a compound than anything. If he had to describe it to others, he would say it was a city in a box. Everything, from the buildings to the market to the stables was enclosed in a cage of iron.
The front gates slowly opened and Sasuke took a last, yearning breath of fresh air before they headed into the enclosure.
After leaving the horses in the care of the stables, five of the samurai that were in their party, including the one with the cloak, escorted the nin through a maze of metal tunnels and creaky elevators until they were sufficiently in the bowels of the complex. The leader informed them they were in the residential area and soon enough, wood floors were replacing concrete. They did not go so far to have paper screened doors, but had frosted glass ones instead.
The Konoha nin were escorted into a set of rooms, complete with a bathroom, a private room for Tenten and another across the main area for Sasuke and Kakashi to share. They were given an hour to prepare and then were locked in from the outside.
Kakashi threw himself down on the tatami mats next to an electric heater in the shape of a lantern and sighed. "Cozy."
Tenten inspected a large fern in the other corner. "At least this thing is real. Helps with the air filtration, I bet."
Sasuke wanted nothing more than a hot shower to forget what cold even felt like, but settled for taking care of the basic necessities. He stalked to the door. "I'll take the restroom first."
"Do you want me to lay out your kimono?" Kakashi called, teasing.
Sasuke snorted and closed the door behind him.
The three Konoha nin kneeled in front of Mifune. Just as the samurai leader was free of an official title, he also refused a lavish setting. His meeting room niggled at Sasuke's blurred memories. A large tapestry representing the Land of Iron hung behind a highbacked chair. The dais it sat on was only high enough that Mifune could look down on his audience, but not enough that he had to crane his neck to do so. A small table was placed to his left, holding only a scroll and a glass of water. His katana lay across his lap, like a sleeping viper. Light streamed from the cavernous ceiling, casting his face in harsh shadow.
Simple, yet effective at conveying power.
Sasuke bowed low enough to let his fringe brush the ground before sitting back on his heels on the cushion provided. Behind him, Tenten also kneeled. Kakashi's place was next to Sasuke's, but the former Hokage took advantage of his status and sat slouched and crosslegged, resting his elbow on his knee.
"As much as I respect and understand the importance of peace," Mifune opened, "it is within my right to demand your beheading."
Sasuke inhaled deeply. The regulation of his breath helped slow the amount of chakra the bracelet was sucking. The last thing he wanted was to pass out in the middle of arguing because his emotions caused the shackle to get the best of him.
"I've found that apologies are hollow." Sasuke stated. "Nothing I say will bring your samurai back. And I won't pretend that I saw them as anything other than a means to an end."
He paused. Mifune was a warrior that was less prone to make decisions based on emotion. This was far easier than trying to reason with the Raikage. Mifune might understand better.
Sasuke continued. "I have been paying penance in Konoha. But you and your community deserve something as well. I offer a portion of my family fortune to be distributed to the families of my victims."
Mifune raised an eyebrow. "Only a portion?"
Sasuke went for his version of brazen honesty. "You're not the only person I pissed off."
Mifune gave an amused snort. He leaned forward as if he was enjoying this. "Tell me, last Uchiha. What did the Raikage ask for?"
Sasuke saw no point in being obtuse. "My other arm. Or the Rinnegan."
"And the Tsuchikage?"
"Hmm," Mifune hummed. "And when was the last time you used the Rinnegan?"
"Two years ago. Then I was shackled."
"Yes, I noticed. It always makes me a bit proud to see our technology used by other nations."
Sasuke felt his anger spike and knew he was being bated. Mifune probably did want Sasuke to be overwhelmed by the chakra drain. To humble the arrogant Avenger.
The questions came fast now. Sasuke appreciated it. He was tired of going over the same things.
"Why did you return to Konoha?" The samurai asked.
"Naruto asked me to. My brother also wished it." Sasuke responded.
"Do you still want to destroy the village?"
"Do you still want to be Hokage?"
"What are your plans now?"
"I will serve my village to the best of my ability."
Mifune tilted his head to the side. "And what does that really mean?"
Sasuke shrugged. He could do literally anything now, even with his family's wealth depleted.
"Hmm I see." Mifune leaned back. It was clear he was done talking. Perhaps he had already made up his mind before the conversation even started. "We will consider your offer, Uchiha. You will be summoned when you have your answer."
"One last thing." Sasuke drawled. He could feel Kakashi and Tenten's gaze fall on his back. This was not in the script.
Sasuke reached into the sleeve of his haori and rested a palm on a small seal tucked right where his arm ended. He had just enough chakra left to activate it. Naruto made sure of that. A scroll materialized and he pulled it out to present it on an outstretched hand. Weaponless, Kakashi and Tenten relaxed from their ready stances but Mifune's guards still kept a grip on their swords.
He lifted up his errand like an offering.
"A message from Naruto." Sasuke intoned. He knew his wards were confused that he had been a willing messenger but not exactly surprised that Naruto put the Uchiha up to this.
Mifune exchanged a look with Kakashi before nodding to his guard. The samurai snatched the scroll before returning to his post.
"Anything else?" Mifune queried. "Then you are dismissed."
The team lounged in the main room. Tenten busied herself with sharpening a kunai, Kakashi with his book and Sasuke simply laid on the tatami and stared at the ceiling.
With his hand behind his head, it seemed as if he was lazing around. Instead, he was carefully cycling his chakra flow through his body. Without this practice, the chakra sometimes built up in certain spots or completely deserted others. This time, he was paying careful attention to his numb toes and fingers.
"So…" Tenten drawled without looking up from her task. "What was in the scroll?"
Sasuke did not flinch. Instead, he closed his eyes. "I didn't read it."
She gave up all pretense and put down her weapon. "But why not? Out of all people, I thought you'd have the least problem with looking at Naruto's mail."
His response was drier than the Suna desert. "I'm reformed."
Kakashi snorted behind the pages. "If only all former terrorists were like you," he sighed wistfully.
"I'm one of a kind."
"That you are," Tenten drawled sarcastically. She huffed. "Knowing Naruto, literally anything could be in that scroll. It could be state secrets or Naruto could just be asking about the weather."
The pages of Kakashi's book rustled softly as he turned a page. "It would be bad form to trust Sasuke with state secrets. It'd have to be something important. Symbolic enough to show that the Hokage personally trusts Sasuke but not any information that could compromise village safety."
"And what would that be?" Tenten prodded.
Kakashi hummed, obviously stalling. He liked having people's full attention when it came to any kind of gossip. "I can only think it's the Hyuga affair."
Sasuke slitted an eye open in time to see Tenten's eyebrows slam together.
"Ahh…" Kakashi sighed. "What a shame that the younger generation has no knowledge of history."
Sasuke fully opened his eyes just so he could roll them.
"Neji was my genin teammate, but we never really talked about his family. I know he was adopted into the main branch." Tenten mused.
Kakashi eagerly said: "He was adopted into the main family because the original heir was banished. Here."
"Banished!" Tenten exclaimed. "What did he do?"
"She was kidnapped by a nin from Cloud. The nin was killed and as restitution, Cloud demanded that she be executed. Instead, the Hokage negotiated that she be disowned and sent here." From the tone of Kakashi's voice, he was enjoying being the storyteller.
Tenten obviously was falling for Kakashi's bait. She gasped. "Oh no, how old was she?"
"Hmm… Little. Three? Four?"
"She's lived her whole life here! What could Naruto be asking on her behalf?"
There was a pause and Kakashi sounded a lot more subdued when he did speak. "Maybe he is asking for her." Sasuke could feel two gazes fall on him. "Our Hokage does have a habit of rescuing Konoha's lost children."
Sasuke turned on his side so his back was to them.
Turns out Kakashi was completely correct. Not surprising, considering as former Hokage, Kakashi intimately knew all of Konoha's dark secrets. Sasuke wondered if Kakashi had also tried to ask for the Hyuga's return.
When the trio returned to the meeting room, a samurai was kneeling in front of Mifune's seat, like a faithful vassal would kneel in front of their master. Sasuke was quick to notice that this was the person that lacked the goggle-like eyeholes in their facemask. He tried to get a read on their chakra but could not. He suspected the armor did something to block his.
"You came claiming to give me restitution, yet you ask for one of my most valuable citizens." Mifune rumbled.
"These two things are unrelated." Sasuke murmured, not even pretending to be unaware of the situation. "I only had my suspicions once I handed over the scroll."
"And why should I give her to you?" Mifune scoffed. "There, she is clanless. An outcast. Here, she has purpose as a samurai."
Eyes hooded, Sasuke could only stare. The parallels between him and this woman were ridiculously obvious even to him. "Naruto collects strays."
Mifune laughed and the sound echoed through the large chamber. The force of it threw his upper body forward and he rested most of his weight on an armest, boxing out the other arm.
"What say you, Hinata? Are you willing to return to the Land of Fire?" Mifune chuckled.
The samurai shuffled on her knees so she was now facing the lord. She bowed with her forehead plate touching her gloved hands. The respirator filtered her voice, making it genderless.
"I will go wherever you send me, General."
His voice softened a touch. Only a touch. "Then it would please me to send you home."
Mifune stood. "As for you, Uchiha, I have agreed to your terms."
Another samurai guard ran over to deliver a scroll. Kakashi accepted it before opening and reading the contents.
"I have added only one condition." Mifune continued. "You are to safeguard Hinata as you did not willingly safeguard the lives of my men. If you allow any harm to come to her, then our agreement is void. I will come for your head."
Sasuke glanced back at Kakashi. Kakashi nodded. Sasuke accepted the parchment and bit his thumb hard enough to draw blood. Swiping the liquid over the correct spot, he sealed the deal.
When they stood at the main gates with their horses, a large party of samurai surrounded them. A far larger group than the ones who had escorted them in. The reason was clear once the group parted and a lone woman led a mare through the gap.
Sasuke took the time to inspect the female he was now bound to. She was far shorter and thinner than her armor would suggest. Sasuke wondered just how thick those plates were. Her hair was long and loose and swayed behind her. A silky, black veil obscured her face down almost to her nostrils, fit over the crown of her head and cascaded down her hair. A naginata was attached by a leather belt to her back, but no other weapons or armor was visible. She was dressed simply and for warm weather. Swathed in furs, she looked mysterious.
Probably was super high maintenance too, Sasuke mentally snorted to himself.
Two other samurai flanked her, one of them being the one with the fur cape. Unlike her, they wore full armor.
"Our General has offered these horses and my companion and I as escorts." The man in the fur told Kakashi. "We will accompany you to your village."
"Maa, that's nice of you." Kakashi drawled, knowing full well that the escort was not for the nin. "Well, I'm Kakashi."
"I'm Tenten!" The woman in question chirped, waving a bit. "And that's Sasuke."
The leader inclined his head. "I am Arata and this is Kouki." He then motioned to the woman next to him. "This is Hinata-sama."
She bowed. "It is a pleasure to meet you," she said in an airy voice. "I hope we can become friends."
It took all the nin by surprise, even Sasuke. Kakashi lowered his book (a normal piece of literature this time). Tenten stuttered out a polite response. Sasuke blinked. Her voice was extremely different from the robotic one of before.
Even through the filter, Arata sounded amused. "Are you ready to depart?"
Sasuke waited for Tenten to mount her horse and take point. Kouki followed, then Hinata, then Sasuke and Kakashi with Arata taking the rear. The crowd pressed in, either placing their fists on their hearts as Hinata passed or reaching up to hand her gifts. Both samurai and civilians were present. They handed her what looked to Sasuke to be meaningless trash. They gave her dried flowers or vibrant green leaves, tangerines, even a folded piece of paper from a child or two. She nodded with each gift, carefully tucking them into a drawstring bag at her side.
Sasuke's brow furrowed.
If Kakashi continued to peer over his book with a knowing gaze, Sasuke was going to set it on fire. Sasuke grunted.
They had wanted to avoid digging out a snow cave for the horses, so they had pushed forward through the night to find a tiny village with their one inn. Apparently, the samurai knew this place intimately and the owners had gladly accepted them in despite the late hour.
The rest of the party were still in the dining room, trying to warm themselves by the fire pit. However, Sasuke had decided to turn in and someone had to accompany him. Their rooms were separated by genders, due to the innkeeper's insistence, so Sasuke and Kakashi had some semblance of privacy.
Kakashi wanted to chat.
"What?" Sasuke snapped.
He sat on the futon and tried to do some breathing exercises before turning in. They were hard this time. The travel had fatigued him more than he wanted to admit. This weakness of his sickened him.
Apparently tired of being coy, Kakashi spoke. "You know you've just claimed responsibility over Hinata?"
Sasuke snorted, ruining his rhythm. "Do you think Naruto would have let me leave without her? It's his problem now."
Kakashi turned a page, seemingly uninterested in this conversation. "But it's your name on the legal documents. If something happens to her… Mifune will want you hung."
Shrugging, Sasuke responded. "It wouldn't be the first time."
"You'll have to make sure she's settled," Kakashi continued in a sing-song voice. "Has a good job, is reasonably content, gets married to a decent person if she wants to…"
"You're making this up." Sasuke hissed.
The former Hokage went in for the kill. "As much as you make fun of Naruto, he's not the only one who picks up strays."
Sasuke finally looked at Kakashi. "Have you gotten any word about Jugo?"
Kakashi met Sasuke's glare. "Tsunade says he's doing well in the psych ward. His new coping mechanisms are working. They're thinking about letting him stay at home soon."
Sasuke looked down at the wooden floorboards just past his blanket. He had been surprised when Konoha let Jugo stay. Even more surprised when Jugo asked to be experimented on, to see if they could help him control his rages. For two years, they had only been allowed to see each other in short visits and only in the bowels of T&I. When they moved Jugo to the hospital, Sasuke had been relieved. T&I felt too much like Orochimaru's hideouts for his liking.
While waiting for Jugo to recover, Naruto had taken off Sasuke's chakra inhibitors off so Sasuke could raze the Uchiha district himself. Now, most of it was a giant plot of grass, save for the small manor that Sasuke lived in. It was too big for him, but having another person in the house could surely chase out some of the lingering shadows.
"Jugo has space when he's ready for it." Sasuke said simply.
Kakashi's gaze lingered in Sasuke for a long time. "You're responsible for two people now," he rumbled in a rare moment of seriousness.
The unspoken message was clear. Don't fuck it up.
Do you have questions? Good. Let me know, and I'll do my best to make sure they are answered in story. Thanks for reading.