Smoke licked at the air in thick plumes around the group, the carnage gradually settling as the remaining villagers and ANBU combined their efforts to extinguish the flames engulfing their home. Kyuubi had been defeated, and the battle won in favour of Konoha. Though the mood was still terse, many had marginally brighter spirits at the realization that their village would survive, tending the blazes with renewed vigour. None of them yet knew the enormous cost of their freedom...
A little ways away, where the climax of the battle had occurred, Gamabunta still stood, so recent was their 'victory' that the wound on the old toads face from the fox still bled slowly. Atop his back, a small group of ninja stood around two more, whose sacrifices turned the tide of the battle and ensured they would live another day. Kneeling, the older, white-haired male rested his palm on the blonds shoulder, gripping it slightly. He didn't speak, knowing that if he did so, his voice would crack. He had practically raised the boy-turned-man from his genin days, and selfish though the thought was, always believed that he would go to his grave knowing he had been responsible for training Konohas greatest Hokage.
All that, it appeared, would be for nothing. Minatos sacrifice was the ultimate one; his life for the Kyuubis imprisonment as a result of the 'Shiki Fuujin' sealing technique. The village would survive, he had reasoned, with the loss of only one more life. Even now, the blond Kage could feel his life ebbing away as he held the whimpering bundle in his arms, the seal on the infants stomach clear as day. He regretted that he would never see his son grow, that he would never be there to support the boy in his life, but as the Hokage his responsibility lay to the village as well...If he could, he had to save them, with whatever means. It added a further sting that the boy would not even have his mother to raise him, and that had made the decision all the harder to make. She, sadly, had died during childbirth brought on during the attack.
Turning slowly to his former sensei, he raised his arm slightly to hand the boy to him, the strain it caused him evident on his face. Putting on a small smile, he would finally speak to him, along with the others that stood around him; the previous Hokage Sarutobi and Tsunade.
"I...guess this is it. The village....is safe now. Please....please protect them all....Make sure they see my son...As the hero he is....."
Without words, both Sarutobi and Jiraiya nodded with somber expressions, allowing the young man his last words without interruption. Tsunade, however, stood with her eyes closed, her fists bunched tightly at her sides as she kneeled down, exhaling slowly. Opening her eyes, she smiled warmly at the young Hokage.
Her team-mate glared quickly at her, grasping at her jacket and twisting her to face him, "Tsunade, have some respect for kami's sake!"
Oddly, without anger or her usual flash of temper, her eyes turned to the white haired sannin with the same warmth in them, her hand reaching up to wrap around his as she slowly prised it loose, using just enough of her strength to remove his hold. The wetness in her eyes restrained, no longer threatening to escape as she held onto Jiraiyas hand for a moment longer, caused the sannin to blink before speaking.
With a squeeze of his hand, she let go of him and looked back to Minato.
"He can make sure of it himself....", as the words left her lips, familiar black markings appeared on her face. Sarutobi, having remained quiet until now, spoke almost in unison with Jiraiya at the sight before him. Tsunades injuries from the battle were minor in comparison to most, and she would certainly have no need to activate this particular technique.
"Tsunade, what are you doing!?"
"I can save him." she replied solemnly as she stood again, looking at the aged ninja with a fierce determination in her eyes. Both of the males simply stared in confusion. Even Jiraiya, who had helped Tsunade construct the seal for her ultimate jutsu, couldn't understand her plan. She, however, didn't leave them in the dark for long.
"When we created the 'Sozo Saisei', Jiraiya, it was intended as the perfect healing technique, able to repair even the most hopeless of wounds. That much is of course true, but I experimented with the seal over the years. Mixing medical ninjutsu with the latent regeneration powers of the seal, I discovered another potential technique we didn't expect to come from it."
Both stood with baited breath as she continued, the infant gurgling quietly in one of Jiraiyas arms, "I give up some of my remaining lifespan to activate the seal, as you know, to regenerate my wounds. I started wondering if....if I could transfer the effects of my technique to revive the dead."
Jiraiyas head lowered, his eyes settling on his students unconscious body..."You wanted to bring back Dan and Nawaki, right?"
"It...It started out like that, but I realised that once a body has been dead a certain time, no amount of medical expertise can restore it. Every cell is dead; the body is just....just a husk. Newly dead, the body is still active at a cellular level. The fatal wounds can be repaired and any effects of the death can be reneged if I'm able to act quickly."
"But Minato wasn't killed by a physical injury, Tsunade." the former Hokage spoke up, voicing his thoughts, "It was his very soul being taken that killed him. Surely you can't--"
"Actually...I think I can."
Rising to his feet, Jiraiya turned her enough so he could look at her, the expression on his face enough to speak volumes. "Tsunade..."
Leaning over, gently taking the infant from his former students' arms, Sarutobi edged away from the pair as they stood opposite one another, Jiraiya with a few patches of dried blood littering his person from earlier wounds, and Tsunade with the seals for Sozo Saisei adorning her face. Without another word, the wild-maned sannin drew the blonde into a tight embrace, caring little for the ninja rule that emotions should be discarded at the present moment. Whispering in his ear, Tsunade let her words be heard only to him and nobody else, causing a small prick of tears to break onto his eyes before they were quickly stifled.
"You'd better not go dying anytime soon, you old ass. The boy's going to need a good teacher while his father is busy running the village."
Pushing him away slowly, she knelt down beside Minato and rested her palms on the dead blonds chest and forehead, the familiar green glow of healing chakra emerging for a few seconds before the aura around the pair intensified massively, surrounding both Tsunade and Minato in a near blinding light. Unleashing her chakra in a massive release, Tsunade whispered quietly.
Both Jiraiya and Sarutobi were left wincing from the light coming off of Tsunade, shielding their eyes to prevent glare from the brightness that engulfed her and Minato, leaving them out of sight for the next few minutes. It was all they could do to watch for the time being, a horrible feeling rising in the other sannins gut. As the light began to diminish, it was Jiraiya who moved first, dropping down to lift the blonde woman up at the waist, resting her back against his chest.
"Tsunade..." getting no answer, he spoke again, louder."TSUNADE!!!"
A light smack to his leg startled him a little as she leaned her head back to look up at him, "Moron, don't be so loud, I'm right here...."
He sighed, smiling wanly and squeezing the blonde tighter a moment, knowing that she wouldn't live for much longer. The pair knew it, and knew that nothing would benefit trying to fight the inevitable now.
"How what, idiot?"
Rolling his eyes at the comment, he carried on. "How did you manage to revive him?"
Smiling up at him, she flicked her eyebrows in a momentary display of amusement despite her weakening body, "Uh-uh, that one's dying with me...Nobody should have such a technique, even I never planned to use it, considering the exchange required."
A soft sigh escaped the blonde sannins mouth as she leaned back, her head tilting to look over at Minatos body, "He was willing to give his life for the entire village, for that, he deserves to live more than any of us."
Before she could carry on, a sharp coughing fit took over Tsunade, wrenching her body forward as she gripped her chest weakly and causing Jiraiya to tense up behind her. "Baka, stop worrying about me. I made my choice; this is the way things should be. A son should not outlive his father, the old should not outlive the young...We've had our time in this world. Besides, if I'm lucky...."
Her words trailed off as she smiled softly, a light chuckle leaving her lips before she spoke on, "If I'm lucky, I'll be able to be with Dan and Nawaki again."
Stifling back the emotion he had trained himself not to feel, the white-haired sannin gripped her tighter for a moment, almost unnoticed to anyone as he nodded behind her. "Yeah, you will. I know it, Tsunade." he said through the more laboured breaths he gave as he held back the tears. His teammate, lying near death in his arms, tilted her head back to look at him again. Her face was that of her true image, the older woman she really was, and Jiraiya knew she would leave the living world soon. Her chakra was down to its last reserves, her reversion to this visage the telling point, and the walls in his heart collapsed. Silent tears ran down the sannins face, staining his faintly aged skin as he brought his head forward to embrace Tsunade.
"No, not yet! Please, Tsunade, not yet!" the sannins argument was futile however, he knew it as did the blonde, and with a turn of her head she planted a kiss on his cheek, one of her hands lightly clasping his forearm.
"Take care of yourself, you old lecher, I'll be...watching over you."
With those words, the legendary sucker and one third of the sennin, Tsunade-hime, closed her eyes for the last time. The grand-daughter of Senju Hashirama, Konohas first Hokage and co-founder, she was renowned as the greatest medical ninja to have lived. Her death fitting of her legacy, her life was lost saving another's; the future of Konohas.
With a furious roar of anger and sadness, Jiraiyas head reared back as he screamed to the heavens, cursing them. Collapsing forward, he clutched at the body of his former teammate as the sobs wracked through his throat. A few minutes passed before he could bring himself to let go of her, and he gently laid her down atop Gamabuntas back, whipping the jacket from his back in a single motion. Draping the cloth over her body, he smoothed it out neatly before turning to his former students form. He had full faith in Tsunades belief she could revive him, but to see the young mans chest rising and falling again, not least after utilising something as powerful as the Shiki Fuujin, he was still stunned for a moment.
'Only you could defy the Shinigami himself, Tsunade-hime.'
Smiling at the thought of his team-mate flipping off one of the most powerful otherworldly entities in existence, he approached Minato and kneeled beside him along with Sarutobi, who rejoined the small group. The small bundle in the aged mans arms stirred quietly at the movement before returning to its slumber, and with his free hand, the old man set a palm on Jiraiyas shoulder. Without words, the pair knew what was being said in that moment.
'Even at the end, her will of fire burned as brightly as it did when she was a child...' he thought, curling his arm a little more to contain the boy safely. He too was still stunned by the realisation of his successor living again.
"GAMABUNTA!" Jiraiya yelled sharply.
"What is it, Jiraiya?"
"The battle is over, you can return now. Thank you for your help."
"You're going to owe me some serious amounts of sake for this, brat. Still, it'll be good to rest. Take care for now!"
With a massive cloud of smoke, the frog dispersed himself as Jiraiya formed a single kage bunshin to lift Minatos body, the original lifting Tsunade himself as they landed on the ground. Immediately, a number of ANBU appeared around them, dropping to a knee in the presence of two Hokages and two of the sannin in respect.
"Jiraiya-sama, what are your orders? We have contained the flames, the last of the civilians are evacuated to safety as well." one of them said quickly behind his 'dog' mask. The white haired man knew it was the son of Konohas white fang behind it, Kakashi Hatake.
"We have won, 'Inu', the Kyuubi has been defeated. Have your men run damage control, gather up the injured and have them brought to the hospital.", he replied sullenly, knowing that he had to issue an order despite his grief.
"Hai, Jiraiya-sama.", and with those words the group flashed off in various directions in search of the wounded, with the exception of Inu who stayed where he was.
"You have your orders, ANBU, carry them out." Jiraiya said sternly before Inu rose back to his feet, bowing slowly.
"Forgive me, Jiraiya-sama, but is Tsunade-sama not injured herself, as well as Hokage-sama? I can take them to the hospital for you if you wish."
Mentally slapping himself, the white-haired sannin shook his head. "That will not be necessary. The Hokage has no serious injuries and will require only some bed-rest; I will escort him myself...."
Nodding, Kakashi was about to inquire further about Tsunade before he saw Sarutobi shake his head from just behind Jiraiya. Paling behind his mask, he nodded again and shunshined away quickly.
"We'll have to make an announcement soon, Jiraiya. People will need to know what happened." Resting a hand on Jiraiyas shoulder, Sarutobi spoke in a hushed tone as he stepped up to stand aside his former student.
Lowering his head, the toad-sennin agreed silently as he looked into the face of the blonde woman in his arms. She looked so peaceful, as if she was just sleeping....
'But you're not going to wake up, Tsunade, are you..?'
The next day: Konoha hospital
The figure in the bed twitched slowly, the light coming in from the uncovered window shining onto his face enough to disturb his rest. Pulling the cover over his head, he turned from the light and lay comfortably again before his eyes snapped open.
Throwing the light blanket off his form quickly, he sat bolt upright and blinked, looking down at himself. Prodding his legs and stomach, he stared at his hands in confusion, trying to make some sense of the situation.
'I'm...alive!? Did I somehow get the sealing wrong? Naruto!!'
Before he could lunge from the bed, however, a voice from the other side of the room froze him in his tracks.
"You're not dreaming, Minato. You're quite alive, and so is Naruto. The sealing went perfectly."
Shifting himself to look over his shoulder at his former sensei sitting on the window ledge, the blonde furrowed his brow silently before shifting to sit fully on the bed again, crossing his legs under him. "How, though? The Shiki Fuujin should have taken my life, but I'm here. What happened?" he asked before noting the slight drop in the sennins expression.
"You actually did die, so the technique was executed perfectly in that regard, but...."
The hesitation in his former sensei's words made his blood run cold. Few things could make Jiraiya do such a thing, and Minato knew immediately something serious was wrong.
"Jiraiya-sensei, tell me."
Sighing, the white-haired man nodded. "Tsunade used a technique I've never seen before, something she developed as a side-effect of her Sozo Saisei seal. She gave up her life to revive you. I don't know how she did it, but she did."
Hanging his head, his eyes closed, the younger blond shook for a moment as his fingers clenched at the sheet under him. His knuckles white from the action, he didn't lift his head back up as he spoke. "I'm sorry, Jiraiya-sensei. I truly am...--", he stopped, interrupted by a swift, but half-hearted strike to the back of his head.
"What can you apologise for? Tsunade made this choice of her own volition; none of us knew that she could do what she did. Be happy you're alive, and that you can ensure your son grows up seen as a hero. Speaking of which, Sarutobi-sama has the boy at his family's compound, we figured that with his son and wife at home just now, he would be in better hands there than anywhere else until you woke up."
"I want to see him, Jiraiya."
Nodding, the white-haired sennin gestured with his head over at a small cabinet on the other side of the room. "I asked for your housekeeper to deliver fresh clothing for you, they're in there. I'll wait outside for you."
Shifting back and leaping from the ledge, Jiraiya left his former student to dress in privacy as he dropped down to the ground in front of the hospital. Almost as an afterthought, he reached for his coat and fished out a photograph, leaning against the stone wall as he looked at it solemnly. On it, he and Tsunade were hanging off of each other in a rather drunken state, clearly having enjoyed a ridiculous amount of sake. His mind flashed back as he remembered (vaguely, of course. Nobody drinks that much and keeps a clear memory) that they'd been celebrating the end of the Iwa-Konoha conflict. Minato had been the one to take the picture, if memory served, but by the time it was taken, he was surprised he could remain standing.
'Good times, Tsunade-hime. Good times.'
Leaping across rooftops with a clear measure of haste in their step, the pair approached the Sarutobi estate in relative silence. Silence on Minatos part for his impatience to see his son, and on Jiraiyas for his contemplative mood. Normally, the journey would have been about half an hour by walking, but with their increased pace, not to mention the roof-hopping, they would make it in no more than ten. Even from here, they could see the roof of the estate, and Minatos pace instinctively picked up a little more.
The more he thought about it, the more he knew he should embrace the fact he was still alive. His wife had died, and while he had yet to properly grieve for her, his priority rested with the child he had believed he would never see. Now, he would be able to do just that.
Letting the pair into the house, Sarutobi stepped to the side to let them past him, "Come in, Naruto just woke up, my daughter-in-law was just getting him dressed so you've got perfect timing."
Giving a courteous nod to the former Hokage, Minato walked slowly with Jiraiya beside him as the aged man led them through the house to a sizeable lounge. In it, a couple sat with a small infant cooing away in front of them on a blanket, its little arms reaching in exploration to the world around him, settling to grasp at the blanket he lay on. A smile crept onto the new fathers face at the shock of blond hair and impossibly blue eyes, framing a face marred only by the three darkened scars of what could be best described as....whiskers? Taking a few steps into the room, his eyes never left the infant even as the couple spoke to him. Giving a distracted smile and raise of a hand to them, he kneeled down and lifted up his son, staring at him all the more.
"My boy...My little Naruto...."
The smile this time was all the warmer as the most powerful ninja in all of Konoha was reduced to the same mental state as all new fathers. Nothing around him registered as he held the boy until one of the pudgy little hands reached out and clasped onto a few locks of the Hokages hair, tugging at it and startling his father back to the conscious world. Blinking, he shifted his arms to hold the infant out a little from him and grinned.
"You're a feisty little guy, aren't you? Just like your mother, that's for sure. Would you like to meet your godfather? I bet you would, oh yes, you would." he laughed softly as he turned to Jiraiya, smiling and approaching his former sensei before carefully handing the boy to him. With a shift of his arms, the toad-sennin cradled the infant lightly and waggled a finger in front of the boys face to amuse him, inciting him to reach out and grab it, something the child managed with little difficulty. When the boy's hands began to reach up, straining for something out of reach, Jiraiya stopped for a moment, puzzled, and looked over his shoulder in search of what the boy was reaching for. Behind him, though, was a plain wall. Nothing to catch a child's eye, unless....
"Is it...this you like?" he said, more to himself as he reached up and angled his unique hitai-ate, letting the shimmer of light roll across it and causing the boy to gurgle in contentment. The wild-haired sennin chuckled at the reaction and leaned his head down to let Naruto reach out and palm the metal. Once the boy's curiosity was sated, he leaned back and handed him to his father once more. The light moment invariably had to be brought to an end however, and the three men sat.
Sarutobi spoke first, exhaling a quiet sigh as he did so, "ANBU reported to me that most of the civilian evacuees have been returned to their homes now that the fires are extinguished and the danger spots from demolished buildings are cleared. We can't hold off on announcing what has happened any longer, Minato. The people need to know."
A sullen look in his eye, the young Hokage nodded, "Agreed. We'll do it this afternoon, and after that begin preparations for the memorial service for the fallen."
The reminder of Tsunades death caused Jiraiya to tense up, and his lips drew thin as he thought about it. Regardless, now was not the time for his personal grief. He nodded his acquiescence, and with a quick flare of chakra an ANBU soldier shunshined into the room. He noticed that it was Kakashi again, under his 'Inu' guise. Tilting his head briefly, the ANBU dropped to a knee out of respect in the presence of his Hokage, speaking to the white-haired sennin.
"You summoned me, Jiraiya-sama? How can I be of assistance?"
"Have the entire village gathered later today at the Hokage tower, four o'clock. Make this a priority. After that, have word sent for the council to gather at five in the meeting chambers."
"That will be all, thank you. Dismissed."
With a small 'poof', the ANBU disappeared to carry out his orders, and the three men rose from their seats in silent acknowledgement of the task ahead, the only noise the burbling and cooing of the infant in the blond Hokages arms.
Hokage Tower, 4pm
Tugging and adjusting the robes, he paced loosely in the office as he steadied his nerve. For all of his renown as a ninja, the 'Yellow Flash of Konoha' had yet to get used to this aspect of his duty. His first speech from the tower, he'd come close to throwing up beforehand, and that was just, effectively, to say "Hi, I'm the new Hokage!". This time, he had to somehow tell his village that they had lost one of the greatest ninja ever to grace it. Leaning against the desk, he took a few long breaths before looking over at the open doors to the balcony, then the clock hanging on an adjacent wall.
'Three minutes...Kami, how did Sarutobi do this so easily?'
Closing his eyes, he sighed and tilted his head back, knowing he couldn't keep the jitters for too much longer. He also remembered feeling better once he'd actually gotten out there and started speaking...
Picking the hat from the desk, something he still thought was very cool even from his youth, he set it on his head and took a look at his reflection in the glass door to the balcony. It was now or never, and he stepped out near enough exactly at four pm.
The noise was booming, absolutely unreal to think of when you were in the crowd and a part of it, but to stand on the balcony and look down at the mass of people, to have it directed at you, made it feel all the louder. He humoured the first few moments of the noise before raising his hands out, hushing down the crowd who cheered for their savior.
"People of Konoha, you have been called here to hear this with your own ears. I ask that you hold your words...."
Clearing his throat quietly, he began to speak again clearly, utilising a simple jutsu to allow his voice to carry further.
"Two days ago, the most powerful of the nine bijuu; the Kyuubi no Kitsune, attacked our village. We were lucky enough to have seen it coming, and were able to evacuate the majority of the civilians before it even graced our walls. During the attack, we lost many ninja, but in the end we were victorious and defeated the beast."
Cheers began to emanate through the crowd as a few of the rowdier citizens decided to express their...joy.
"In the process, along with a number of ANBU and jounin, one other ninja lost their life. It pains me to tell you all, but Senju Tsunade of the legendary sannin is among the fallen--"
Before he could continue, the murmuring had grown to a ripple of incredulity and barely contained sadness. Surely not one of the sannin, the three Konoha ninja believed to be easily as strong as the Hokage?
"QUIET!", he forced the words out roughly, causing the crowd to ebb down again, and he continued. "Tsunade is dead, and Tsunade gave her life to save my own, bringing me back from death itself with a unique jutsu only she knew. She is one of two heroes that will be honoured for this battle. The other....As I stated before, the Kyuubi is defeated, however it was not killed--"
At this point he was able to accept the fact the crowd would kick up a loud murmur, but with his hands held out he once again silenced them, this was going to be the hardest part..."The Kyuubi, a being of pure chakra as it was, was not something that could be simply removed from existence. Instead, the Kyuubi has been sealed away, its powers nullified and its threat negated, into a newborn. The seal is known as the 'Shiki Fuujin', and to put simply, seals away the essence of its target at the price of the essence of the executor. Only Tsunade managed to trump the death god himself, hence why I stand here before you."
The silence was eerie for the moment, the crowd rapt as they waited for their Hokage to conclude what he was saying. Taking a breath, he silently thanked that none of them had lost the plot upon hearing that the demon fox had been sealed into a child. Likely the effect of it coming from his mouth, he mused, but he had no doubt that the council would have more to say about the matter. Still, he concentrated on the crowd for the moment.
"Konoha honours two great heroes amongst all those who gave their lives in this time of mourning. The first is Senju Tsunade, who sacrificed her life to save my own, an act so great that nothing I do in life can ever repay her. The second..."
One last breath before he forced himself to say it...
"The second is the child who will live as the jailor to the Kyuubi, Namikaze Naruto, my son..."
Fukkou Yuukon - Revival of lost souls
There's a second part to this prologue I'm finishing up at the moment, it should be posted up in the next day or so I think. If people show enough interest I'll continue the story. ^^