"That last attack took a lot out of me," muttered Naruto, rubbing a hand over the charka nullifier still stuck to his chest. "I don't know how much more I can do on my own." He glanced over his shoulder at them. "Get out of here. I'll let loose the red chakra... let Kyuubi out. He'll handle Datou."
"No... you can't do that Naruto-kun," said Hinata fearfully. "You'll lose yourself."
"It's the only way," he replied grimly.
"Incorrect," replied Shino quietly, a hand pressed against his side. When both of his teammates turned to him. "There is one remaining alternative. That technique."
Naruto frowned at that. "We've never practiced that in a real fight."
"I doubt we'll have a better opportunity... or a more desperate need," remarked Shino, indicating with a tilt of his head that Datou looked ready to make another attack.
Naruto hesitated. If it were just his fate at stake, he'd gladly gamble it away on a reckless plan. It was, after all, one of his own. But he had Shino and Hinata to worry about, and it was his duty on Team Eight to keep them safe. But that sort of camaraderie went both ways. They wanted to see him safe as well. Safe from the darkness lurking within him. And maybe they had a point.
The future Hokage only hesitated a minute, then nodded. "Alright then... let's do it!"
As Datou watched in shock and Koyuki watched in awe, Naruto thrust back his hand, palm up. Shino and Hinata moved in, and with careful precision began to apply their own pulsating blue chakra in precise fashion, pouring it into the boy's hand, letting it whirl around into a ball of pure energy, clutched in the Naruto's hand. This was the raw power of Team Eight, the dedication of their ambitions, their emotions, their courage, their love, their teamwork. Their power was purity to Datou's corruption, and it was now held in their heavy hitter, who intended to let Datou feel every last little ounce of their true power.
After the Sound's failed invasion, the Legendary Sannin known only as Jiraiya had approached Naruto and shown him a new technique, something that only he and the Fourth Hokage had ever been able to master, or so he said. It was called Rasengan, an A-rank technique that took Naruto's chakra and turned it into a weapon that could smash through virtually any defense or barrier. It had been hard to learn the technique under Jiraiya's tutelage and his rigorous program, but Uzumaki Naruto had learned a great number of ways to improvise and make the technique his very own, first switching to his spare hand to fill the first with a rotating ball of chakra, and then later using a Kage Bunshin that he'd been able to officially claim mastery of the technique.
However, it was when he'd shown it to Shino and Hinata that he'd learned the real power of the Rasengan.
And they'd experimented, and practiced, Shino's knowledge of chakra and Hinata's keen eyes coupled with Naruto's creativity. And they'd worked out a way to double, even triple the power of the strike. They'd never had a chance to formally test it, but now was as good a time as any. If it didn't work, they'd have nothing left. So they'd best give it their all.
This was the point that Yuuhi Kurenai had arrived, having pushed herself to be there for her team. But it seemed there was no need. She could only watch in amazement as she saw Shino and Hinata joining with Naruto to create some sort of combination Rasengan attack, and shake her head in awe. She really needed to stop underestimating these kids, she thought to herself.
"Naruto! Hinata!" cried out Koyuki suddenly. "I believe in you! The Unlucky Princess accepts you as the greatest ninjas ever!" the dark-haired woman shouted, finally, at long last, putting her trust in someone. Daring to hope. Daring to believe... that they could win.
Team Eight needed no further promptings from . As one, they ran forward, Shino and Hinata keeping pace with Naruto, charging up the whirling ball of raw energy in his palm. As they did, the sun finally peeked up over the horizon as the night ended and dawn began. But what was more amazing was when it struck the rainbow glaciers, it lit up in a brilliant display of colors. And these same colors washed over Naruto, Hinata, and Shino, and in particular around the ball of energy swirling in his palm, changing it from a brilliant blue to a myriad of colors. Flaming red. Shining orange. Bright Yellow. Forest Green. Ocean Blue. Nighttime Indigo. Passionate Violet. Seven colors swirling together to form one bright sphere of light.
"The Seven Color Chakra," Kurenai breathed in awe. "Just like the movie."
As it turns out, even Datou was affected by the implications of the light, and couldn't do more than stand there in stunned silence for more than a few minutes until Team Eight came in close, ready to tear him to pieces. He swung out with an arm to stop Naruto and his attack before it collided, but it flew clear over his head, even as Hinata and Shino came to a stop a few feet away, their part done. With his attack having missed, Datou was wide open, as Naruto reared back his hand.
"Eat this! RASENGAN!"
Naruto thrust out his hand and slammed the ball of chakra into Datou, and for a moment, it seemed as if time slowed to an absolute stop. And then the full fury of raw chakra slammed full into Datou with the force of a meteor strike, pummeling at him again and again relentlessly as Naruto grimly held on. The force cracked his chakra armor further, shattering the gemstone power source in the center, and then further breaking the armor down until it was practically pulverized into iron dust. A hurricane smashed into Datou, or so it seemed, sending him flying, spinning wildly out of control, through the air. His impromptu flight was halted by one of the stone pillars as he crashed into the side of it on his back hard enough to shatter the foot-thick ice.
For a moment he simply hung there, suspended, and then Datou came crashing down to earth, landing unceremoniously beneath the bottom of the glacier. But no one was paying the slightest bit of attention to him now. They could only stare as their breath was stolen away by an even greater sight.
As the ice shattered on the glacier, it seemed as if a wave swept over the landscape. As they watched, snow completely vanished in seconds, not melting, completely vanished right before their eyes. Replacing the snow was grass, grass as green as any found in Konoha, and cool blue watery ponds and lakes. Flowers sprouted up everywhere, a myriad of colors. Red, yellow, green, blue, violet. The seven colors of the rainbow, all encompassed by the bright green that filled the senses.
Shino, unable to believe his eyes, removed his ever-present sunglasses to get a proper look around, his own eyes wide in astonishment. Hinata's view was much the same, her tiny mouth was open wide in a voiceless gasp. Even Kurenai felt like pinching herself. This couldn't be real... could it? But it was, she realized. Real grass beneath her feet. She leaned down to pluck some up and be certain. It even smelled real. This was no genjutsu. Somehow, the machine, the old technology, had been properly reactivated. It had brought back the one thing the Snow Country had thought lost forever.
And there was something else. As they watched, an image formed high up in the sky between the ice glaciers. Some hidden projectors that were in the old technology were conjuring up a very old image, blurred and indistinct on the edges but undeniably there. It was a little girl. A little dark-haired girl of maybe six or seven, and it did not take a genius to note the similarities of the dark-haired girl image and the dark-haired Princess who stood on shaky legs below, watching in awe.
"Believe in the future," came a kindly male voice, echoing in the valley from hidden speakers. "If you believe, Spring will come. Koyuki... what would you like to do when Spring comes?"
"I want to be a Princess," replied the image of the girl above, with all the enthusiasm of a child behind her.
"Oh?" came the kindly male voice again. "What sort of Princess?" asked the voice. A voice the older Koyuki recognized.
"Father... " she whispered, her eyes wet with unshed tears.
"A kind, strong one," replied the younger Koyuki. "A princess who..."
"... believes in justice..."
"... believes in justice!"
"That's going to take a lot of hard work," the voice replied again. "But if you don't give up, and keep on believing in your dreams... one day, for sure... you will become one." As they watched, the image above blurred faintly, and another figure joined the first, a tall, kindly-faced man who's resemblance to Koyuki and Datou was readily apparent in his long, dark hair and his blue eyes. He wore a set of stately robes and a pair of glasses rested on his nose. But whereas Datou's face had been twisted by arrogance and cruelty, this face was marked by kindness and compassion. This was the real lord of the Snow Country, who had passed away, but still watched over it... and over his daughter, the Princess.
As Koyuki watched her father, who seemed to be smiling down at her in particular, she couldn't help herself any longer, and the tears streamed down her cheeks as she cried. Not just in sorrow, but with joy. Her father's dream, of a Spring, had been realized. And as she came to understand that, she turned her head, and regarded her companions in new light.
Naruto, who lay on the grassy ground with a goofy smile on his face. He worked hard for his dream of becoming Hokage, but he also worked just as hard to protect, to help, to save people and show them that they could have their dreams as well, if they really tried. And then there was Hinata, the shy, plain girl with hidden strength and beauty inside of her. And Shino, who seemed so logical and calculating but really was as caring and selfless as any of them. Kurenai, fighting for her team, her dream to see theirs fulfilled. Sandayuu, who died trying to see this world. Even the film-makers and the cast of the silly little movie. They'd worked hard for their dream of a happy ending.
"But I am not quite decided yet," the image of the younger Koyuki said. "There's one other thing I want to become..."
"Oh?" asked the image of her father, seemingly surprised. "What's that?"
"... an actress..."
Tears streamed down Koyuki's cheeks, as the hard ice around her heart had melted, and she let herself go freely with the emotions that surged through her. But she wasn't sad. She was laughing as she cried, even as the image of her younger self and her father faded away. She knew they would always be with her. The young Princess she'd been hadn't died so long ago, as she'd sometimes thought. She'd been with her all along.
Lying on his back, completely exhausted after his Rasengan, Naruto managed a smile as the image above faded away.
"And this... is a very, happy ending," he said, before his eyes drooped shut and he lays his head back down and lost consciousness. A butterfly landed on his forehead protector, and he didn't even notice. He was completely drained. But completely happy. Even fast asleep a big smile refused to leave his face.
In the many weeks following the battle at the Rainbow Glaciers, things had been very, very busy indeed.
First of all, the film crew had regrouped and gathered up the sleds, helping to move the Princess and her escorts down to the village they'd originally been headed for, taking up temporary shelter there while Team Eight healed. Fortunately, injuries weren't quite as bad as they'd feared. Naruto, though completely exhausted, was unmarked once his torn clothes had been removed and replaced. They'd even managed to find a retired medic-nin in the village who was able to finally remove the hated chakra nullifier, though Kurenai had done her best to direct the doctors away from the blonde-haired boy while he rested lest they notice his unusual recovery. Content he was out of danger, she had them focused their efforts on Shino and Hinata instead, who were in much worse condition. Shino had fractured a rib during the fight with Datou, and it was nothing short of amazement he hadn't blacked out long before the final blow had been struck from the pain. Hinata was relatively fine, if covered in bad bruises and with a split lip that seemed to hurt every time she smiled. And she simply couldn't stop smiling. But both of them would be alright with a day or two of rest. Or at least able to travel.
Less than a week later, Team Eight and Koyuki entered the capitol of the Snow Country, as the reformed Princess assumed the mantle of leadership following the defeat of Kazahana Datou, her uncle. One of her very first executive decisions was to have him locked up in a dungeon in the very farthest, iciest regions of the north (where, apparently, the generator's power could not reach). There he would languish in the cold he so preferred.
Her second decision was to disband the Village Hidden in the Snow and declare them fugitives, to be jailed on sight. Most of them fled south, towards warmer climates, and found themselves employed to other Hidden Villages or running wild as missing-nin. Some even, or so it was rumored, wound up in Hidden Sound as experiments for the snake-eyed Orochimaru, who was curious to learn more about the ice-jutsu bloodline that some of the Snow ninja shared.
It was snowing in the streets the day of Kazahana Koyuki's coronation as Queen, but it wasn't snowing particles of ice. It was snowing showers of white flower petals. Whole legions of people had turned out to see her ascension to the throne, not the least of which was Team Eight, who stood in the very front row. Naruto yelled and waved, while the others also looked enthusiastic, if slightly more restrained in their cheering. For a while, Koyuki was a little scared, but all she had to do was think of them, think of their courage and their wisdom, the wisdom of children, and know she's set herself on the right course of action.
Fireworks exploded overhead in the seven colors of the rainbow.
After the ceremony, when things quieted down, she met with them again. One last time before Team Eight was scheduled to return to Konoha. Koyuki had briefly considered offering them a home here, positions of honor, personal bodyguards of the new Queen. But she knew they'd never accept. This wasn't their home. Just like the Fire Country wasn't hers. Besides, Naruto would never leave. Not until he was Hokage, she thought with a smile.
But for right now, they had some time to talk. And she had some time to make amends for past mistakes.
There was one thing, however, that puzzled Shino, and he disliked puzzles. "What happened with that old technology... if it worked, why didn't Kazahana Sousetsu activate it years before hand?"
She smiled at that. "It was incomplete," she stated. "When Naruto threw the traitor into the glacier he broke something... and re-awakened it, I think."
Naruto had the good grace to look sheepish at that, rubbing the back of his head. Kurenai could only shake her head ruefully. The boy made the impossible possible... and without realizing what he was doing half of the time. He was less a shinobi than a force of nature.
"So there's going to be winter again?" asked Hinata, tugging down lightly on the collar of her formal white kimono. She'd never felt completely comfortable in such formal garb, but Kurenai had insisted Team Eight be presentable at this function. Naruto looked much the same in his black formal robe and hakama. Shino didn't look phased, but then again, he rarely did. Kurenai had been grateful for a chance to remove her chuunin jacket, and was adorned in a ruby kimono that complimented her eyes.
"No, not at all," replied Koyuki, holding the amethyst pendant hanging from her neck briefly. "We will study it properly, and figure out how it works. And if... when," she corrected herself. "When we figure out how to refine it, the Snow Country will be called the Spring Country. Someday."
"It will be a shame though," said Hinata, eyes downcast. "I mean, you won't be able to continue your acting if you're a Queen..."
"Who said I was going to quit?" asked Koyuki lightly, a smirk on her lips as she saw the stunned reactions of Team Eight. "As monarch and actress, I will do show that you can do both," she stated firmly. "After all... it is foolish to give up on your dreams, isn't it?" holding up a script underneath her arm.
Kurenai's ruby eyes grew wide at the sight of the title. "T-that's...! Oh noooo..." she moaned, clasping a hand against her forehead. Kakashi was never going to leave her alone after this. Not after he found out she knew the woman who starred in the movie adaptation of Come Come Paradise! Why?
Giggling softly behind her hand, the monarch of the Snow Country knelt down and gently took Hinata into her arms in a warm embrace. "Thank you for everything. All of you," she said, as she released her and gave Naruto one as well, ignoring how undignified her staff would've called her. Right now, she didn't care. She hesitated when she came to Shino, but ultimately gave him a hug as well, though it was exceedingly brief. She drew herself up to her full height then, and bowed formally before them. Team Eight returned the gesture.
"Farewell!" she said, lifting up her robes and making her way off. However, if Queen Koyuki hoped to make a quick escape, she quickly found her way cut off by a hoard of small children begging for her autograph. However, unlike before, this time she took the time to sign a few, smiling, giving words of encouragement. She was a changed woman. And she owed it all to them.
As the ship pulled out of the harbor, and Team Eight bid farewell to the Snow Country and their mission, returning to Konoha. The life of a shinobi had it's wonders and it's fun but always at the end they had to make their way home for the next mission. Idly, Kurenai wondered if they would start pulling A-rank missions the way her team was doing so well in their time in the field. Or even S-rank. Koyuki had even been generous enough to fund their mission in the light of Sandayuu's tragic demise. And she'd slipped a little bonus to Kurenai when her students had been out of sight. It was a tiny package she showed them now. Anxious to see what lay within, Naruto urged her to open it, and she dutifully obliged on a small crate nearby so they could all see it's contents.
Inside... well... not quite what they'd expected. Money, to be sure. About a ten percent extra that the mission's original cost at a rough guess. But something underneath. Brushing the money aside, Kurenai reached in and drew them out.
"So this was what she had in mind... clever..." remarked Kurenai.
During the formal ceremonies, seemingly on a whim, Koyuki had requested the team come by in full shinobi gear for a special photograph she had in mind, and rejoined them in full costume and make up as Princess Fuun. One of the photographers from the filming crew had snapped the picture of them all striking heroic poses around her, not unlike her regular companions Tsukuyaku, Shishimaru and Brit. It looked like a screenshot from an actual movie, if a fantastical one.
Kazahana Koyuki (or Princess Fuun, as she was in the image) stood dead center, ceremonial sword upraised as if to unleash the power of the Seven Color Chakra to whomever was gazing upon them. Standing in front of her and slightly to the left was the green-clad, spiky blonde image of a thirteen year old shinobi boy, who'd palmed a trio of kunai between the fingers of his fist, ready to let them fly. Further to the left and behind both of them was the dark sunglasses and afro of another boy with arms upraised, black kikai bugs streaming from underneath his sleeves, frozen into a black cloud in the image. To their right, and also before Koyuki in a crouch was a white-eyed girl, arms upraised, palms out in a classical Jyuuken stance. And slightly behind her and further right was the image of a ruby-eyed lady in alternating black and white, hands clasped before her in the seal of the tiger, though what jutsu she was about to unleash, none could say.
And the Queen had made four copies, and signed all of them. One for each member of Team Eight. Unable to contain herself, Kurenai read each one aloud as she passed them to their respective new owners.
"Uzumaki Naruto," handing it to the blonde boy with the eager smile. "Never give up on your dream of becoming Hokage. Fujikaze Yukie." She must've decided to use her stage name in an effort not to confuse those who were unaware of the events in the Snow Country the past few days.
"Hyuuga Hinata," handing the next to the white-eyed, shy girl. "Keep smiling, because you are beautiful inside and out. Fujikaze Yukie." And she did smile at that.
"Aburame Shino," as she offered the copy to the bug-user. "Best of luck in whatever you work towards. Fujikaze Yukie." Shino accepted it quietly.
"And... Yuuhi Kurenai," she added, examining her own more closely. "Never be afraid to show the world what a woman can do. Fujikaze Yukie." She smiled at that. Most of them did.
"First thing I do when I'm Hokage is frame this in my office," Naruto stated proudly, eagerly tucking the picture into his pack for safekeeping. Hinata smiled at that. She'd be keeping hers safe, she doubted many in the Hyuuga complex would enjoy seeing their Heiress degrading herself by posing with a silly movie actress. But right now, she didn't give a damn what they thought. She liked the picture. And she'd treasure it always and forever.
Their mission money divided up (equal shares four ways, as was Kurenai's way) and their autographed photos stashed away for safekeeping, Team Eight settled back to enjoy the voyage home with varying degrees of eagerness and reluctance. After all, the Snow Country hadn't been so very bad as all that. Not counting the wolfish Snow ninja and Datou, and maybe some bad weather. And lack of hot water for showers and ramen, things which Naruto missed most of all whenever he was away from Konoha.
No, not so bad as all that.
All in all, the team was rather subdued as they voyaged back to the Fire Country and to the Village Hidden in the Leaves, their home. This hadn't been their first mission outside of their own borders but it had certainly been memorable, and it was doubtful any of them would ever forget it.
The first night out, Naruto was so exhausted he slept like a log, but found himself up early in the morning to catch the rising sunlight. So once again he trailed his way up the stairs from below deck and his cabin, leaving Shino to sleep. Or, leaving Shino lying down, at least. Naruto had never been one hundred percent certain which was the case with his Aburame teammate. So he strolled the deck, arms outstretched, letting the still cool but no longer biting cold air rustle his blonde locks. He felt invigorated. Somehow, he felt he'd taken a big step towards become Hokage on this mission. And it thrilled him. The moon wasn't visible, the sky was almost a pale purple as the sun started to rise on the horizon, bathing the ship in a golden glow. It also illuminated, standing by the bow once more...
"Hinata," he called out, though not too loudly. The crew of the ship had been up early but it was still a bit early for yelling.
She started, but gave a big smile as she saw who it was emerging from the early morning shadows. "Naruto-kun," she said. "Can't sleep?"
"Nawh," he replied, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly. "Way too restless. You?"
"The same," she replied, stepping aside to give him room. He joined her at the bow of the ship, resting his arms on the railing to peer out at the dark ocean. "Just... thinking."
"Me too. This was a good mission," he declared.
And they stood there side by side, watching the horizon. And watching the future as it unfolded.
Hope you enjoyed. And if you haven't read it already, go read S'TarKan's "Team Eight" story. Rasengan has never been used in a fashion such as described above, but given that it's created by Kage Bunshin for Naruto it doesn't seem all that big of a stretch for other people to feed it as well. Especially Hinata, given her channeling of chakra for Jyuuken techniques.