Author Notes: Ok by now there should be no doubt in anyone's mind about this but still for those who are hoping Mishimoto has finally recognized my skill and sold me his characters I must say it sadly isn't true. I still do not own Naruto or any of his world. So my dream of having a maid to clean my house and do the laundry is still just a dream though Hubby does seem to make a good substitute at times.
Anyway this is the last part of this tale. I know it's long and I could have broken it up into smaller sections, as chapters, but I liked the idea of posting completed parts instead. Hope you enjoy and remember reviews are always my best friend.
Part Three Begins
After a month spent at the cabin Natsu reluctantly packed her scrolls for the trip back to Konoha. She had enjoyed the peace and quiet of the cabin and knew that Kakashi had also. Though they had fought about whether or not Naruto was still needed, it was the most peaceful time she could ever remember living through. She was not so willing to trust the people who had made her early years a living brand of hell that far. Kakashi had assured her the people of Konoha had seen the error of their beliefs and would now protect her life above their own but instead of reassuring her this statement only caused her to squirm uncomfortably. She didn't want people who were untrained in defense trying to shelter her any more than she wanted them calling her names or overcharging her for necessary things. They had finally compromised with her agreeing to return and to actually stop ignoring the villagers, though he had to agree to letting her continue to be Naruto until she felt safe in her home.
Kakashi sent off a message to Tsunade via Pakkun to tell her of the compromise they'd reached so she could prepare the village for their return. He warned her that if even a single person spoke out of turn she could forget about Natsu ever willingly being herself in the village. He also warned her point blank that he would kill anyone who threatened his wife. Tazuna had insisted they actually get married before he let them go off to Natsu's cabin.
In the village, Tsunade sighed and wished Shizune had not hidden her sake again. While it was true that she was a better, more in charge, Hokage without the sake that didn't mean she liked to be completely sober all the time either. Danzo and his two sidekicks had gotten their spines back in alignment and had been steadily giving her a hard time as they tried to reassert their authority over her. Something that, now that she wasn't half drunk all the time, she would not grant them.
Hiashi had spent several uncomfortable days sticking close to bathrooms all around the village since Hinata had proven his words about her aid in the estate kitchen true. She had laced his food with herbs and powders designed to loosen stubborn bowels for three days straight. Unfortunately for the Hyuuga head he had no trouble with his bowels before he ate. Therefore he not only got a bad case of diarrhea, he had a very bad stomach ache as well.
Tsunade had to finally tell the gentle girl to lay off the herbs before she did serious harm to the man for which he was eternally grateful. Hinata had insisted that he deserved to be uncomfortable until her friend returned safe and sound to the village and that it was his own fault for the way he had treated Naruto during her lifetime. She said it had been one thing for him to treat her the way he had. She was his daughter and heir to the clan but to know Naruto was the Yondaime's child and still treat him with the same disrespect he'd shown her was unforgivable.
Tsunade had told Hiashi he needed to explain to her how it was that he'd allowed himself to be blind as to who Naruto really was. She had told him if he didn't want his intestines to stay a mess he would do it sooner rather than later. He had grimaced and balked until Tsunade made it clear to him Hinata knew more herbs than those she'd used to date reminding him the girl made her own medicines. Medicines she shared with her friends and that they would testify were more effective than what they could get at the hospital. She told him point blank you can't make good medicine without a full working knowledge of plants and herbs and if Hinata could make good medicine she could also make effective poisons. He paled significantly and left the office in a hurry. Tsunade didn't bother telling him Hinata probably would not poison him on purpose as she did love him.
Tsume and Shibi had set up their own guards around the village and in the forest to keep an eye open for either Natsu, Naruto or Kakashi to make an appearance. They wished to make sure that as soon as the couple entered Fire Country they had an appropriate escort and would not be dissuaded from their vigil. Hiashi sent some of his branch members to aid them in the vigil and it was this action more than Tsunade's words that convinced Hinata to stop lacing her father's food.
Hanabi had shot her mouth off one day about Naruto and said words to the effect of him being nothing more than a commoner and not worthy of the fuss that was taking place. She had stuck her nose in the air insisting the teen was beneath the notice of even the lowest of the Hyuuga and Hinata had heard every word. Hiashi, who was standing next to her at the time, took one look at her face and closed his eyes.
She had said, "Tousan, set up a spar between my arrogant neechan and myself. I think it is time I showed her what she has been too stubborn to see all these years." Then she turned away and went to her room. Over her shoulder she told him, "Do it now, Tousan. I am going to go change."
He had done so and she had cleaned her sister's clock. Hanabi never even managed to lay a single hit on Hinata. She was told upon every single hit exactly why she was getting her ass handed to her. In no uncertain terms, Hinata had told her little sister, "Just because you can hurt someone, it does not give you the right to do so. I learned this from Naruto. Having the ability to cause another pain is nothing to look down upon them for. Sometimes it takes more strength not to cause harm than it does to deliver it and if she truly thought herself so superior to Naruto than Hinata would set up Hanabi's next match with Naruto, himself. And when she got her butt handed to her by him, as Neji had, in those long ago chunnin exams, than she could just go crawling to the hospital as everyone else did for healing."
She ended the match by telling Hanabi, "I promised Kaasan I would look out for you and protect you. To me, that meant making sure I was not the source of your pain but I see now I have been lax in the discipline area of your education and that for a person to be well rounded some pain is necessary. I will not neglect this any longer. You will learn to get your nose out of the air before you drown, Neechan."
Hiashi thought her words were a tad bit harsh but his council changed their opinion of his heir. This battle had shown them what he had always suspected but never known for sure. He knew she had been a much stronger opponent before he had started her sparring against Hanabi but he had never known why she had stopped giving the spars her all. This spar had answered his questions. All of a sudden the council found more merit in the eldest daughter than they did in the youngest.
The branch family had stood proudly, smiling widely in approval. This was the girl they would willingly swear their lives to and it had been a long time since they'd seen her shine so openly. After the slaughter, for it really wasn't a spar at all, the branch members had dropped to their knees as a way of showing their support and favor of Hiashi's eldest daughter.
Hanabi was a puddle of tearfulness on the mat and Hiashi gave her a look of sorrow before beaming at Hinata. In those two looks, his daughters understood. He was disappointed in Hanabi but proud of Hinata and they understood it had nothing to do with the outcome of the match. He was supporting Hinata's position on Hanabi's attitude and showing his support and understanding of Hinata's protection of Hanabi since her mother's death.
For the rest of the month Hinata could be seen hiding from the Hyuuga council as they tried to corner her for lessons in what they expected the next ruler of the clan to act like and conduct herself as. She wanted nothing to do with their business as usual attitude and had absolutely no intention of allowing them to continue their suffocating attitude.
Finally Neji cornered her and explained to her that running away from them was not something Naruto would respect. He told the shy heiress point blank that she needed to confront them and state her position firmly to them. Hiashi had confirmed Neji's words letting her know he would back her move and Neji told her that so long as she stood true to her beliefs she would have the support of the entire branch clan as well.
The original Ino-Shika-Cho team were running a propaganda campaign in the village. They were trying to convince the people that neither Sasuke nor Natsu/Naruto were demons. The people had no trouble believing Natsu, who they knew as Naruto, was not a demon and even if he/she were he/she would not hurt them. But there was no way in hell they would agree about the Uchiha Brat. Each of them held memories of trying to aid the boy when he was younger and the loss of his clan was felt by the whole village. Everyone remembered how the boy had brushed aside their comments and gifts of kindness with a cold hearted glare and how demanding he had become whenever there was something he needed. But most of all they remembered he had been trying to kill the Yondaime's child at the Valley of the End with the use of his curse mark. None of them would believe the curse seal was affecting his thinking pattern and making him more aggressive than he would normally be. All of them remembered spars they had seen him in where he had done his level best to really injure his opponent, who was usually the Yondaime's child as no one else really wished to spar against him and he didn't really consider anyone else to be worthy of his notice. Every time the older Ino-Shika-Cho team came up with something to convince the village of the boy's normalcy they were met with a counter.
The younger Ino-Shika-Cho team didn't even try to argue for the Uchiha. And maybe, if their fathers had listened to them, they would have quit trying also. The younger trio knew Sasuke was still planning to kill Natsu. They knew the teen was just waiting for Naruto/Natsu to return before making his move and in his eyes he would make a strike against his former teacher as well since Kakashi had refused to teach him anything else or sponsor him for a promotion after the incident at the valley.
The rest of the rookies, as they were still referred to, took to shadowing the Uchiha everywhere he went just to be sure none of the villagers ended up dead to feed his need for power or glory. None of them trusted him an inch and, since they were ninja to serve their village for the protection of the villagers, they saw Sasuke as a threat. They had gone to Tsunade and asked to have him locked away but she had told them that until he actually did something untoward her hands were tied.
As for Sasuke himself, he was often heard to be muttering about needing to get back into shape for his upcoming fight with the Kyuubi. In his mind, Naruto did not and never had existed. Only the Kyuubi did and it was the Kyuubi he wished to test himself against. He had no doubts that the only reason he had lost the last time they had battled was because he made a mistake in his choice of terrain. He had chosen an area that was large enough to allow his opponent to summon that huge assed toad. But he would not make the same mistake twice. This time the battle field would be of his choosing and he would kill the Kyuubi.
Then Kakashi would realize who he served and quit dancing to a demon's tune. Kakashi would again be his teacher, teaching him all his tricks until he knew everything the Copy-nin knew. Then he would kill him as well for the betrayal he had suffered at his hands. No one was allowed to cast aside an Uchiha. The Uchiha were the elite of this paltry village. Not even the Hyuuga, who so many believed to be their superiors, were above the Uchiha.
Anko and Ibiki had refused to work on anyone brought to them for roughing up the Uchiha saying he more than likely deserved it since he couldn't seem to understand the change in his position in the village. None of the other interrogators would harm those they believed to have been merely defending themselves, their families, or their property. In fact, most the villagers brought in for questioning in an incident involving the Uchiha, ended up having a game of cards and a round of drinks with their interrogators. All the interrogators ever said was, next time don't get caught, before releasing them back to their lives.
Koharu, Homaru and Danzo were ready to spit nails because they could not get anyone to listen to them anymore. Even their normal backers of Haruno Kiku and Hyuuga Hiashi had changed sides and refused to cast votes their way if it went against what they believed their children would wish.
Kiku had learned the same lesson as Hiashi. It really was a very bad idea to piss off a ninja who was trained in medicine. Though she did have it worse than Hiashi did since her daughter shared her temper and had learned the secret of Tsunade's strength. That meant that when Kiku did or said something Sakura didn't like it ended up costing a lot of money and that was only if Sakura did not put her in the hospital for a few days first.
Tsunade refused to punish the rookies for the way they dealt with their parental figures saying the adults should have listened to their kids a long time ago as the kids were smarter than they thought they were. And really the only two that had any problems with their kids were Hiashi and Kiku. Though she did tell Sakura to quit sending her Kaasan to the emergency room. Sakura had growled and told her maybe she should tell Kaasan to learn to shut her big mouth then.
Hiashi wasn't asking Tsunade to take control of his daughter. He was proud of her. She was finally standing up for what she believed in and showing herself to be a true Hyuuga. She was bringing back the pride of the clan in the right way. He had seen the branch members holding up their heads again and laughing openly in the halls as they preformed their duties. His home rang with sound the way every home should and if some pain or discomfort was the price he had to pay, to see and hear that again, then so be it. He would gladly pay it.
Kiku however had discovered a true fear of her daughter. She had pushed the girl into becoming a ninja with the intention of controlling all her life. She had wanted Sakura to be the first wife of Uchiha Sasuke and therefore the matron of the new reborn Uchiha Clan. It was the only reason she had pushed the girl to become a ninja. How could she be expected to hold the boy's interest if she was a mere civilian? So when Sakura had proven herself capable of passing the classroom exam she made sure the girl was on Sasuke's team to keep her in his sights. That the Demon Brat was also part of the team didn't disturb the woman half as much as she pretended it did because she already knew the Demon would not hurt anyone from his own village if given a choice. In fact, she looked at that fact as a reason to encourage her daughter to diet against her sensei's wishes and use soft scented feminine products to make sure Sasuke never forgot Sakura was there. She encouraged her daughter to remind the boy at every turn of how pretty she was and how much she liked him. Now all that was coming back to bite her in the butt. She didn't understand how she had lost control over the girl but it was clear there was no way in all the nine levels of hell she would get the girl to consent to marrying the Uchiha now. Sakura only wanted to kick the Uchiha heir's butt and kick it hard.
Kiba was often on patrol with Akamaru at his side looking for any sign of either Naruto/Natsu or Kakashi to return. Sometimes they patrolled alone but usually Shino was with him and Neji as well. The trio talked over their genin days with Shino and Kiba telling Neji what a handful Naruto had been in the academy. They often laughed at the pranks the teen had pulled in his younger days and wondered aloud if any of that was part of his real personality or if it was all just a show for the male personality. They lamented the fact that they didn't know the real teenager they called their friend as well as admitted that they hadn't been very good friends in the first place since Naruto had not felt safe enough around any of them to even hint that he might not be a boy at all.
Kiba kept his mouth shut about not actually needing Naruto to tell him about Natsu. He had known from shortly after he had started at the academy but Kaasan had set him down and point blank told him to keep that information to himself if he ever wished to be trusted with a pup partner of his own. She had told the boy it was a clan secret and to blab it to anyone even the child in question would be a betrayal of the pack. Betrayal of the pack was a punishable offence that could and probably would lead to his being cast out of the clan never to receive his own partner. As far as Kiba knew that secret was still in place and he would not risk losing his clan.
They admitted to each other that they had a lot of make-up ground to cover when he came home and they only hoped Naruto/Natsu would give them a chance to do so. After all, they had chosen to be blind to the suffering Naruto went through and the bias of their village towards him Each of them admitted they had seen people hurling things Naruto's way and heard the sneeringly made comments of scorn and ridicule. They had all seen restaurant owners and other places turn him away, refusing him service or give him poor quality merchandise for which he was charged as if it was of the highest quality. They had seen restaurants serve him bad food or even spit in his plate before serving it to him.
Yet not once had they done anything but be disgusted, as he took the treatment, or, in Kiba's case, laugh at him for not realizing what had occurred. Now, though, they could see the small frowns and hurt in his eyes that had been quickly hidden under a too bright smile or too loud laugh or comment. They could see the glisten of tears that were not allowed to fall and understood Naruto had been protecting them from his taint by absorbing everything the villagers threw his way and playing it off as unnoticed so they would let it slide as well. But now they regretted not standing up for him. Now they regretted thinking him too stupid to understand an insult. Now they regretted not being a better friend.
It was true the friendship with Neji was not as long standing as the friendship between Kiba and Naruto and that by the time he had gotten to know the Blond a lot of that type of behavior had dwindled to a stop. After all, it was right after his defeat at the hands of the Blond, as Neji would forever call him, that Naruto and Sasuke had battled at the Valley. First the Blond had defeated Kiba, whom everyone had expected to win the bout. Then he had battled Neji and handed him his first remembered loss. Then he'd gone up against the Sand demon, Shukaku, and again won, this time making a friend in the process.
A trip with the white haired Sennin had returned Tsunade-sama to the village, who swore the only reason she had returned was to keep the seat warm for Naruto until he was old enough to take it from her. Then he'd gone after an arrogant bastard, who should have known better than to leave the safety of the village and kicked his butt. Well, he hadn't really kicked his butt. Summoning a ten story toad to grab your opponent and swallow them did not qualify as butt kicking. Just humiliation. All in all, they hadn't had a lot of time to discover much about each other before the villagers began wising up.
Plus after those four battles, and the return of the Medic Sennin, the council had begun sending Naruto out on random missions to prove his worth to the village and make the time and money the village invested in him and his training begin to pay off. During the course of the last three years Naruto had spent more time outside the village on missions the council hoped he would not return from than he had at home. Neji had picked up the angry murmurs of the villagers that they did not see their Blond-haired prankster any more or if they did it was too briefly to suit them.
Now on patrol again he asked the other two boys about the frequent missions. "Why do you think the council kept sending Naruto on so many dangerous missions? He's only a genin still and I thought it was against our policy to send genin into high-risk situations."
Kiba sighed. "I asked Kaasan about that also. She said the council would not agree to give Naruto the rank he deserved because they feared it would go to his head and then he would turn on the village. In short, she said they fear him becoming like that other thing he was on a team with." Kiba never referred to Sasuke by name anymore. He had never really liked him to begin with but now he positively hated him. Sasuke had turned on the pack and as far as Kiba was concerned he needed to be put down like a rabid dog would be.
Shino said, "That wasn't really it though. My Tousan said the council is hoping he gets killed on one of those oh so dangerous missions into hostile territory they keep sending him. But Tousan always tells Tsunade where they are sending him and she has always had Kakashi follow her and extricate her from the mission if it proves necessary. Just because the council wants our friend dead does not mean our Hokage does or that Hatake does either."
Kiba nodded. "Sounds about right. That man always did look after Naruto. But Kaasan says they messed up somewhere because now it is really dangerous for Naruto to go anywhere outside this village."
"What do you mean?" asked Neji.
"Kaasan said Naruto is listed in the bingo books of several different nations for crimes committed by carrying out his orders given by the council. So is Natsu. And they are each wanted as separate entities but Kaasan says it won't be long before the Countries figure out that the two are one and the same, now that our Hokage has told the village. Kaasan is a little upset with the Hokage for that but she understands why Tsunade-sama did it. Naruto needs to feel he/she can be herself here. But so long as none of us knew who she really was it wasn't going to happen."
"Tousan says she is hoping that Natsu gets pregnant soon and that would have forced her to admit she was a girl anyway."
"But that would mean she can't do missions," said Neji.
"No one has any intention of allowing her to so much as stick a toe outside the village again anyway," said Kiba.
"She is the daughter of our village Hero. She herself is a Hero of the People. Not to mention she is the next Hokage," added Shino.
"No, I think it's safe to say her mission days are over. She's made enough changes in the world. Now it's someone else's turn to shake things up," laughed Kiba.
Just then Akamaru spun around and began barking excitedly with his tail wagging. Kiba, Shino and Neji looked over their shoulders. There stood Kakashi and Naruto. "Whatcha' doing out here guys," asked Naruto.
"Waiting for you. Please allow us to do our job and alert the other patrols that you are home. The people demand that you be given an escort into the village."
Kakashi's brow went up as Naruto tilted his head to one side, a finger automatically making it's way to the corner of his mouth. Kakashi reached out and pulled it down. Naruto flicked him a small grin before turning his attention back to the quartet before him. "An escort huh? I wonder why? Could it be because they don't know where I went?"
"Not at all. They merely wish to let you know things have changed. You are no longer unwanted in their eyes. Actually, you haven't been unwanted for quite a long time now but you have grown use to not seeing or hearing them and so have not realized the change," said Neji.
Naruto frowned and once more tried to raise his thinking finger to his mouth. Kakashi just reached out and stopped it again, pushing it back down. Naruto tossed the frown at him to which he just smirked. "I told you," Kakashi said. "The villagers don't dislike you any more. And those who can't seem to let go of their hate are being kept away from you by those that have. You did what you set out to do. You gained the respect of the people and you didn't even have to become the Hokage first."
"So you say but. . .how? Why now? What happened?" asked a bewildered Naruto.
"You were you. This is what you do. You find hate, bitterness, sadness and you can't just let it be. You have to make it go away," explained Kakashi.
"You smile and it brings out the sun. It makes others want to smile also and forget why they were ever sad," said Kiba, "Which really sounds very corny coming from me. If any of you tell anyone I said that I'll deny it to my dying day." Everyone smirked and those who were used to laughing did so.
"You talk," said Neji, once the laughter had died down. "And when you do, you answer questions no one ever could before. Questions the person in pain never realized they were asking."
"You offer the hand of friendship to everyone who needs a friend no matter why they need one. You are always there for whoever needs you," said Ino.
"You repay harshness with kindness," said Shikamaru entering the clearing where they were waiting with the rest of thier group.
"You bring laughter where there was only tears. Usually by playing a prank that hurts no one but teaches us all something every time," said Sakura. "Many is the time I have been cheered up simply by a prank you played and many is the lesson I have learned from those pranks as well."
"The truth is Naruto, we, the whole village have used your vacation away from us to reconsider everything we thought we knew about you and discovered that we really don't know much at all. While you were busy being everything we needed you to be, none of us were ever really concerned about being what you needed us to be," said Chouji.
"That's why we came to be your escorts home. We wanted to apologize and say we are your true friends come hell or high water. Hell Kyuubi could get loose and I would stand shoulder to shoulder with you to battle her back to hell because I know you do not desert your friends or let your friends suffer," said Tenten.
"We all do, Naruto-kun," spoke up Hinata. She didn't stutter or blush the way she always had before. She just gave him her soft, gentle gaze along with that same soft smile she'd always shown him.
Naruto stood stock still. His mind was still processing everything the rookies had said and not quite sure what to make of it all. He blinked several times but didn't move or make a sound other than trying to nibble his thinking finger again.
Kakashi just waited patiently, moving the finger away every time it neared it's destination while the words were processed. He'd known Natsu hadn't believed him when he'd told her all of this at the cabin but now she was hearing it from her peers. He hoped that would make the difference and she would drop the transformation. He wanted to take his wife into the village. Not that escorting his former student wasn't a good thing, but he wanted to be with his wife more. "Now will you let me take my wife into her home village?" he asked quietly.
Naruto looked up at him hope shining clear in those very blue eyes. "Can I really. . . be me. . .finally?" she whispered, tears forming but not falling as if she didn't quite believe it yet.
"Hell yes," screamed Ino. "I want to meet the girl I haven't had a chance to meet yet. How can I talk to a Boy about fashion and the latest trends?" The grin on her face took all the sting out of the words and was reflected on the faces of Sakura, Tenten and Hinata as well.
"Um. . .Ino? I still don't really get into that stuff," Naruto said quietly. Then he took a huge breath and shuddered. Another look at Kakashi and he stood up wrapping his arms around her as the henge transformation dropped. Safe in her husbands arms she watched as her real form was absorbed by her friends.
Kiba looked at Kakashi and said, "Man you are one lucky dog but if you ever hurt her. . ." He left the rest of the sentence unfinished but Neji finished it off for him, "There will be no rest for you in the village."
Kakashi smiled. "I have no intention of hurting her. To do so would only be hurting myself. She is not just my wife. She is my mate. Our souls have been united since the day she was born."
"Ah,"sighed the other girls before each one smacked their current boyfriend. Tenten had been dating Neji while Hinata was seeing Shino and Ino was seeing Chouji. Sakura had gone out with Lee a couple of times before deciding she liked her old academy teacher better. Iruka had been uncomfortable with her at first but then he settle down and now they were pretty happy as a couple. Iruka was also responsible for the change in Sakura attitude towards her Kaasan's crap. However since Iruka wasn't there to get smacked she swatted Lee instead.
All the guys who were unattached simply rolled their eyes or smirked at the others. Natsu giggled, turning all eyes back to herself. "Well, are we going home guys?" she asked. Or are there still more people we're waiting for?"
Shikamaru spoke up. "Not exactly. But we do need to give you a warning. Please do not be alone with or spar against Sasuke. He has been heard more than once saying he will kill you to prove his strength is greater than yours. He is still on his power trip where power is everything and ever since the last time the two of you sparred, he believes that by killing you he will prove he is the stronger and more worthy ninja."
The sun that had been her smile disappeared and several of the group growled at Shikamaru. "She needed to know."
Sakura sighed and added, "Besides, now he is saying he will kill her in order to make Kakashi suffer for abandoning him as well. He doesn't just want to best her in a spar. He wants to kill her but only after he makes sure she is hurt and humiliated."
With a tear hanging from her lash Natsu said, "I guess it's time I sent that message to Itachi, Kashi-kun. He needs to come home and deal with his little brother." With a deep sigh she told the group, "Please wait here. I can not have any of you see what I am about to do."
Everyone was shaking their heads in denial. Kiba put their refusal most eloquently when he said, "Kaasan said she would have Hana castrate me with a rusty scalpel without even the luxury of an pain killer if I let you out of my sight once you came back." The other rookies all nodded if their parents or other adult they cared about was a Naruto/Natsu supporter.
"Kakashi will be with me and he is all the protection I will ever need this close to home. But really I need to do this and I can not have you see it. I promised and you all know how important my promises are to me." Reluctantly they all nodded and she walked off with Kakashi.
They weren't gone for long but when they came back they brought Itachi with them. He wasn't wearing his Akatsuki robes anymore or his ring. Natsu had sent a pulse of Kyuubi's chakra into the ring to burn out the mind control that would have ended Itachi's life if she hadn't. And Itachi had immediately agreed to come home to deal with his foolish little otouto.
Now the rookies were awed. How the hell had Itachi showed up so fast and why didn't any of them sense him? "Guys, close your mouths. You're beginning to catch flies and I really don't want to go fishing right now so I don't need the bait," snickered Natsu.
"Ew," screamed Ino and Sakura together. "Naruto! That's just gross." Tenten and Hinata just laughed after discreetly spitting on the ground to make sure they hadn't actually caught any real flies.
Natsu giggled again and said, "It worked didn't it?"
"Hai but it was tacky, Natsu-chan," said Hinata demurely.
"Ehh. Maybe so but Naruto is a part of me and sometimes tacky works best of all. Now can we go home please?"
"Hai," everyone said together not even bothering to ask any questions about Itachi or his sudden arrival or why he'd even showed up.
Once they neared the wall Natsu stopped everyone. "I know I promised to let you guys escort me into the village but Itachi must go straight to the Hokage before anyone else sees him. So we, Kashi-kun, myself and Itachi are going to teleport straight there. Wait here for me and I will be back as soon as Tsunade-sama lets me come back. Then we will do the escort thingy you all seem to think the villagers want for good reasons."
It was clear to everyone her apprehensions had returned but they also understood why. It was one thing to accept that your friends accepted you but something totally different to believe that people who had, on more than one occasion, tried to kill you now wanted nothing but what was in your best interest. They nodded their agreement and watched as the trio disappeared in a small storm of leaves.
"She really is a lot stronger than anyone wanted us to know, isn't she," asked Lee to no one in particular.
"She was always strong and good of heart but I do truly believe she is the best of us all. Her upbringing was the harshest of harsh and yet she turned out so very well," said Shino.
"Not to mention she's drop dead gorgeous. Man, if Kakashi ever let's her go I'd take her in before she was out his door," said Kiba. Akamaru barked angrily at him. "I know they are mates, Akamaru. Sheesh I'm not an idiot." The dog barked at him some more and the rest of the teens just smirked. They all knew the white dog was giving his partner a doggie style what for over lusting after the mate of another Alpha. "Akamaru, I didn't say I was going to try and do anything. Settle down. The dog barked at him some more sounding quite angry and Kiba paled before saying in a panicked voice, "No Akamaru. Don't you dare tell Kaasan or Hana that. I promise. No more comments about Natsu. I promise, ok?" The dog stuck it's snout in the air and seemed to gloat causing all the teens to laugh at Kiba's misfourtune. Whipped by his own partner.
"Kaasan was totally wrong when she said it was Naruto I needed to watch out for. Naruto was never the problem on Team Seven. It was always Sasuke who would rush us into battles over our heads and Naruto who got us out of them. It was always Sasuke with his cold shoulders and his stuck-up Hn's that caused the arguments and fights. Always Sasuke who refused to do his share of camp set-up or break down. Always Sasuke."
"Well, that's why she brought Itachi with us I guess," said Shikamaru.
"What do you mean now Lazy Bum?" Ino asked.
"Obviously she promised Itachi that if it ever looked like Sasuke would not stay loyal or looked to be insane than she would call him home and let him deal with the issue. I am not saying Itachi will kill Sasuke but there is a good chance he will since Sasuke has Orochimaru's hickey on his neck and he seems to like it there."
"Oh." Ino said quietly. They were all quiet waiting for the return of Natsu, and hopefully Kakashi, since he seemed to reassure her. A few minutes later a swirl of leaves heralded the arrival of the duo.
"Ok we can get this monkey show on the road now? Sheesh. I can't believe she set all this up. What was she thinking?" Natsu continued to grouse as Kakashi guided her into the center of the group and they made their way to the road and up to the Konoha Village gates. Kotetsu stood to the right side of the gate while Izumo was on the left. "Did something you shouldn't have again Izumo?" called out Natsu.
"Um. . . Not this time, Naruto. This time I wanted to be here. Welcome home."
"Un huh. . .like I'm gonna believe that one. What did you do? Really."
"Well, I might have said something about certain women weighing more that they looked like they should. And I might have complained about having bruised feet after said heavy female stepped on my foot. But really that's not why we drew guard duty today."
"Let me guess. The heavy female was Baa-chan right and your foot wasn't even stepped on by her, was it? You were just tired of standing at the office door and thought she'd be sympathetic if you claimed a bruised foot and allow you to sit down."
At the other side of the doors Kotetsu was rolling. "That's it exactly Naruto. But he is correct also. We were given a choice of being down here to open the gates for you or standing guard on the Uchiha compound to make sure He doesn't attend the festivities. We chose the gate."
"Ah I see," she said sadly. Kakashi took her arm.
"It'll all be over soon for him. Believe in Itachi and you know, once he calms the chaos in Sasuke's mind, you can break that seal. Soon he'll be back to normal. This has been a long nightmare for him but between you and Itachi it has an ending. Believe in that."
She nodded, her eyes bright with unshed tears as he pulled her close in a tight hug.
"How can you still care about him? He wants to hurt you, humiliate you and then kill you," demanded Kiba.
"Because that's who she is," said Kakashi, answering for her.
"It's who she has always been, Kiba," added Kotetsu. "If it wasn't, she would have left us all a long time ago," added Izumo. "And if she had, I would spend a lot more time in the doghouse than I do. She gets me out of the trouble my big mouth and slow brain keeping getting me into."
"Finally he admits it!" shouted Kotetsu throwing his arms in the air dramatically.
"Oh shut up," groused Izumo, causing everyone to laugh. The duo made a production out of opening the gates to allow the party entrance and Tsunade who was standing in the front of the crowd grumbled, "Took you long enough. What were you doing out there? Trying to remember how they work?"
"Uh, sorry Hokage-sama," muttered Kotetsu, shame-faced.
"My fault," exclaimed Natsu happily. "I decided to talk to them for a couple of minutes like I always do when I come home." Still holding Kakashi's hand she moved through the circle of her friends to the front of the group as she was speaking, only to freeze and go wide-eyed at the size of the gathering. She paled and gulped holding Kakashi's hand in a grip that had him struggling not to wince. "Holy Kami on a short stick," she whispered as she let her eyes rove over the gathering.
Sakura gave her a light slap across the head and said, "Mind your manners, Natsu."
Reaching up with her free hand Natsu turned to look at her friend and said louder, "What manners Sakura-chan? You always said I don't have any. Remember?"
A ripping wave of laughter rolled through the crowd as Sakura smiled back at Natsu. "Hai but it's time you got some."
"Ah. But I liked not having any," Natsu pouted.
"Anyway," Tsunade interrupted their play to get the show on the road. "We gathered here today to welcome home the True Hero of the Leaf, Namikaze Hatake Natsu Sukai. Long may you live and be at peace here in the village you have saved every day just by being yourself."
"Here here!" shouted the crowd. Someone started clapping and everyone else joined in as Tsunade stepped forward and grabbed Natsu away from Kakashi. Kakashi never took his eye off her as she was passed from person to person receiving either a hug or a handshake from each one who wanted to personally welcome her home. Some just wanted to see her true form for themselves but everyone she was led towards seemed to be genuinely glad she had come back. Tsunade stayed at her back just in case though she really didn't expect there to be any problems.
Though most of the council was present at the gathering she did notice the absence of Danzo and his two main flunkies, Koharu and Homaru. But their absence didn't make much of an impact on her as she was too overwhelmed by the large turnout from the village. When she began to tense up and fidget Kakashi was at her side in an instant guiding her skillfully away from the crowd. She was too used to being alone and ignored to take being the center of attention for too long a period of time. Her friends stood a few paces away trying to give her the space she needed while Kakashi just held her and hid her form with his own.
"Can we go home yet, Kashi?" she asked quietly.
"Had enough Brat?" asked Tsunade understandingly from behind Kakashi.
"Hai, she has," he answered for her. "She's shaking. I really think she's had more than enough."
"Ok. Get her home and I'll make sure everyone understands. They kind of already know anyway but this is no more than they deserve for taking their sweet ass time figuring things out," Tsunade said.
Kakashi performed the teleportation jutsu and transported both himself and Natsu to her dug-out home where he knew she would be far more relaxed and comfortable than living with him in his apartment. Besides her home was a lot more secure than his and, as much as she wasn't ready to fully trust the village, neither was he. He knew she did still have enemies and those enemies would not stop plotting just because they'd lost their support.
When he'd sent Pakkun with the message about their return he'd also requested a team to move his belongings into her home explaining that Natsu would be more comfortable in her own home rather than any apartment. He was pleased to note when he entered his things were there still in the packing cases the team had used to move them in.
He ran a bath for Natsu and made her get in when it was ready. Then he lit some scented candles and turned off her chakra lights. Turning on soft music, he left her to relax in the water as he went to unpack his things.
His Icha Icha books went on a high shelf, out of the normal view range, in the library. He didn't need them any more but he'd spent too much time and money collecting them to just get rid of them now that he had his mate to be with. He took his clothes and a basic supply of weapons into the bedroom he would share with her and put them all away neatly beside her things. He put the weapons in different places throughout the room so that no matter where he was or what he was doing he always had a weapon within arms reach. Protecting Natsu was his job and he would do it even if they lived in a seal protected home.
Then he moved around the rest of the house hiding weapons for easy access in places where most would not expect a weapon to be. He would need to make it clear to Natsu not to let the seal dissolve as she got more comfortable with being accepted. It was their greatest defense and she was a highly wanted individual by almost every single nation in the Elemental Countries and her fame would only grow as it got out who she was. He knew it was time for her to retire but he also knew that being a ninja was her life and he wondered how Tsunade had planned to handle that.
Natsu climbed out of her bath when the water had cooled off and dried herself slowly wishing Kakashi hadn't left her alone for so long. She wrapped her robe around her body and made her way into the kitchen and then the livingroom looking for him. She found him in the dojo. She leaned against the wall next to the doorway and watched as he worked his muscles.
When he was finished he walked over to her and leaned down to whisper against her lips, "Did you enjoy watching me, Love?"
"Mmhmm," she smiled. He kissed her softly slowing deepening the kiss as he felt her leaning in to it. Her arms wrapped around his neck, her hands working their way into his hair and pulling him even closer, as he wrapped his own arms around her waist. Lifting her up, he carried her to their bedroom, never letting go of her lips.
In the morning, they went to the Hokage's office to see what they were expected to do now that they were home again. Kakashi was proven correct in his assumption that Tsunade would have figured out it was time for Natsu to retire from active ninja duty. Tsunade informed the girl that now that she was free to be herself in the village it was time she began her studies to become the next Hokage.
"But what about doing missions?" Natsu asked. "I'm still just a genin."
"Oh, I took care of that Brat. You see every country that has you listed in their Bingo books I wrote, asking them what level ninja they thought you were judging by the skills you displayed during the commission of the so-called supposed crime you committed against them."
Natsu giggled and Kakashi smirked, "This ought to be good," he said wryly.
"Oh, it was when I got their replies. Most asked why I was asking, using a whole lot of not-so-polite language to ask, but all proceeded to tell me exactly what she, or he, had done to commit the crime, or to us, complete the mission. All of them agreed her skills are at least high jounin level if not on par with my own or even Jiraiya's and that's the reason for the question marks next to the rank section. They simply can't believe we consider her to be a genin."
"What did the council say?" asked Kakashi already seeing where Tsunade was heading with this. Natsu was clueless as usual but then she still believed she needed to become a chunnin before she could make jounin.
"Most of the council laughed their butts off when they read the responses but the old hard heads did not find it at all amusing. I mean she basically just pranked Iwa to death."
"Hai. That was hilarious. I had the dickens of a time staying hidden on that mission because I kept wanting to laugh and give her away," he said with a chuckle.
"Well, sorry but the situation was perfect for a prank and I hadn't pulled one in forever," grumbled Natsu. "I figured no one would ever know if I did them somewhere else."
Tsunade smiled when Natsu began to pout. "I don't care, Brat. It was great way to play that mission. You gave the people of Rock something to laugh at and that's something they haven't had in a good long time. Every time our ninja have run across rock ninja in the field since then our ninja get told to tell Natsu thanks for the laughs. The prank you pulled gets told when our nin don't know what the rock nin are talking about and we have a peaceful confrontation instead of a bloody one. So I don't mind at all. The rock get their nin home safe and sound and we get ours back the same way."
Natsu was blinking in surprise. She'd had no idea her work would or could have such a long reaching effect. But now that Tsunade had explained it, she had to admit it made sense. Her thinking finger, as Kakashi called it, headed for her mouth again and Kakashi pushed it down without even looking, causing Tsunade to smirk. "Wow," she said once she had filtered everything. "So no more missions? At all? Even if Danzo and crew call for me?"
"Especially if they call for you. Danzo, Koharu and Homaru are still convinced that you are the biggest danger this village has ever faced. They refuse to believe you aren't and that they no longer have the support of the people to back them up. So you will not answer any call from the council without me. As my apprentice to this seat you answer solely to me. And I say you are not to leave this village without my express permission and a crew of bodyguards. You are, whether you like it or not, not only the most important person in this village but likely one of the most wanted people in our world," answered Tsunade grimly. "Danzo has been throwing you into situations too dangerous for most our nins for years now but there will be no more missions to lands that want your head on a platter for either your sins, Naruto's sins or your Father's sins. You will stay here where the whole village can keep you safe and learn to be the Hokage."
"But what about the rank thing? A genin can't be a Hokage."
"Oh did I forget to tell you? You aren't a genin anymore. By unanimous vote of the Council, you are now known as the Fox Sennin. Because your skills have grown to the point where it would be unfair to make you go through all the different steps of achieving the rank the council has always denied you I just skipped it all. Jiraiya and I agreed that you were qualified in your own right, and in spite of his lame teaching style, to join our rank. Even Orochimaru grudgingly sent a note with his approval of your new rank. So when the three present Sennin agree the council has no choice but to agree as well."
"Neat trick but how did you get the Pedophile to agree?"
"I sent a slug to tell him I wanted to promote you to Sennin and why. Believe me his hatred of the Leaf is so great that the idea of sticking it to the Council with their bias was right up his alley. As for whether or not you were qualified, I told him to ask the countries who want your head how you performed your mission in their countries since I didn't really want to give him a play by play of all your true skills. I guess he did because the next thing I knew there was a snake on my desk with a message from him saying he approved. Somehow I think he asked Iwa how you did the mission in their territory because I got the feeling the little snake was laughing, which generally means the summoner was laughing when they sent it off."
Natsu shuddered. "That's just creepy Baa-chan. Don't sssay things like that."
Tsunade laughed and Kakashi was chuckling. Well, anyway if a Sennin can sit in this seat once than a Sennin can sit in it again after I leave it. We'll have the announcement party as soon as you're settled in and comfortable again.
"A party? Do I have to attend?"
"Uh yeah," answered Tsunade with a smirk. "It'd be kind of lame if the guest of honor didn't show up don't you think?"
Natsu groaned. Smirking herself she said, "You just want a chance to get plastered without Shizune Nee-chan taking it all away."
"Not true Brat but it does sound like a good idea. Every time a new Sennin is named it is a cause for celebration. Even Orochi will be here though he will be under guard the whole time and escorted out of our territory at the celebrations end. I will not take a chance with him and would not have even invited him if it wasn't required."
"Huh? What do you mean required?" asked Natsu.
"Nevermind. It really doesn't matter. We'll just keep and eye on my old teammate and I really don't believe even he would pull anything while he is here for this. Maybe that's naive but this is a once in a lifetime and it marks you as a part of a very select group of people. It wouldn't matter if the next Sennin came from Cloud or Rock village. The living Sennin would show up to welcome the newest Sennin to the group. It's just the way it is."
"So you're saying he'll show up because his title as a Sennin still means something to him even though he has no other redeeming qualities," Natsu said shrewdly.
Natsu thought that over, her thinking finger once more beginning it's journey. Kakashi pushed it down again while still pretending not to be interested in their conversation. "Kashi-kun stop that," mumbled Natsu.
"Hmm?" Once again he lowered the finger, causing her to growl at him. "Quit chewing it," he said.
Tsunade just watched the duo. "Ok on to the next order of business. Though I would have liked for Itachi to remain in place as a member of Akatsuki I understand why you called him home. And truth is Sasuke does need his help more than he knows. I've delayed as much as I can having him picked up and incarcerated but sooner or later he is going to go too far and kill someone. So what I want to know is when will the two of you do what you plan to help him?"
"Now. The longer we wait the harder it will be. I need a good medic to go with us though. After Itachi calms his mind using his eyes, I will break him free of that silly hickey but he will need a medic to monitor his vitals both while we work and afterwards. He will be unconscious when we finish, Baa-chan. There's no way he won't be. Also I want Inoichi to enter the mindscape with Itachi. He can help Itachi a lot by taking things and locking them away while Itachi alters other things," explained Natsu.
"Ok. I don't pretend to understand that but I'll give you Shizune and Sakura as medics. Out of everyone in the medical field I think those two will do their best to be a proper medic."
"Give me Doctor Mori also. He honors his oath and will keep the girls in line. After all, he's been my personal doctor all my life."
"Ok I can do that. Kakashi I trust you will be there as well?"
"Of course. I have heard what he plans for my wife and it will not happen. I will kill him first."
"No you won't. Itachi will since he has to start the process and he will be in Sasuke's mind as soon as they lock eyes," chastised Natsu. "Don't forget anything you do to Sasuke will effect Itachi as well."
"I will not let him hurt you," said Kakashi, anger very close to the surface.
"If you don't promise to control yourself you will not go," responded Natsu. "We do not need a bunch of Male Pride filling the air while we try to work."
Itachi snickered from his corner of the office where he had been listening to everything. "She is correct, Kakashi-taichou. (sp?) Sasuke-otouto will not have a chance to hurt her with all of us there. And once he wakes up we will see how much of his rage is really his own. Then, if he stills needs his rear kicked, we'll take turns doing it until he learns better."
Kakashi growled but kept his peace, knowing he would accompany the duo there no matter what Natsu said. Tsunade sent for the trio of medics and Inoichi. Within minutes the group arrived at her door. The mission was explained to them and the medics agreed to keep an eye on the younger Uchiha's vitals while Inoichi and Itachi went into a more detailed talk of what they would each be doing in Sasuke's mind. The mind was a delicate thing and two people trying to alter the processes could leave a person as nothing more than a vegetable so each had to know exactly what the other could and would do. Finally the group was ready to go but Tsunade had one more order.
"I know Itachi, Natsu that the two of you really believe Sasuke can be saved. I know you both believe this is just because of the bad trip from the first time Itachi mindwalked his brother and the effects of his curse seal but that does not mean I will allow him to harm a valued nin under my command. So the rest of you are charged with seeing to it that no harm befalls any of the team that will be attempting this rescue. And if it turns out that his hatred of Natsu/Naruto has nothing to do with the curse mark or the effects of your trips into his mental lanascape then I do not wish him to survive this process. I know it will be a hard thing to do but it would be better for him to just go to sleep and never awaken than to be killed by Kakashi because he tried to hurt Natsu. The village would demand he be cast out as a traitor should that happen, denying him a proper burial. I would prefer to avoid that if possible. Have I made my wishes clear?"
Behind Kakashi stood Hiashi, Tsume, and Shibi. They would go along as protection just in case the rescue team could not reach the lost Brat. Each had thought about bringing their strongest member of Natsu's friends but given how the rookies collectively felt about Sasuke, each had decided against it. Gai, Asuma and Kurenai were also there and Tsunade was counting on them all to make sure Natsu did not get hurt trying to save another soul.
Everyone nodded their heads and responded with a "Hai, Hokage-sama" before she let them leave her office. The large group moved through the village with Itachi and Kakashi staying close to Natsu. Itachi because of his missing nin status and Kakashi because he felt like it. People stared and pointed as the group moved through the village heading for the Uchiha compound. Several other ninja fell into line behind the party following them as they went. By the time they reached the compound they had gathered just about every single person who had nothing better to do that day.
They found Sasuke in his backyard training himself in old techniques he already knew to the point of silliness. Itachi and Inoichi stepped forward out of the crowd and when they were in place Itachi called out to Sasuke, "Foolish Otouto why are you practicing that old technique?"
Sasuke spun around. "Itachi," he screamed. Then his eye fell on Natsu standing next to Kakashi. Kakashi held her hand and Sasuke's anger flared out of control. "Kyuubi!" he roared. "Let my Sensei go!" He charged up a chidori and tried to take off on a run for Natsu's position. Itachi wasted no time. He grabbed the hand that held the chidori and spun Sasuke around to face him. With his other hand he lifted Sasuke's chin so he could look him in the eye. Itachi had been hoping everyone had exaggerated how sick his brother had become but that little display proved they had understated things. With tears running down his cheeks he locked Sasuke in the Tsukinomi(sp?) World where he controlled what his brother would see and feel. Being as gentle as he knew how to be he began to go through his brother's mind.
A few minutes later Inoichi joined him and together they went through every door looking for the beginning of the trouble. They finally found the memory of when the clan had been massacred and Inoichi began repairing the memory allowing Sasuke to see who had truly killed his Kaasan. Though Itachi had shown him the truth at the time, Sasuke had loved his Otousan and had not been able to accept that Fugaku had not loved his wife. So his mind had twisted the event to show him a mere shadow in his father's place. Over the years Itachi's presence had assumed gigantic proportions until it truly seemed to him that Itachi had killed the clan. Then his rivalry had begun with Naruto and no matter how much Kakashi had taught him or not taught Naruto he could never seem to measure up. The more Sasuke had grown in power and ability the larger he had made his brother.
Inoichi found the door that held the true reason Sasuke felt inferior to Naruto and showed it to Itachi. Sasuke had recognized Naruto was a better person than he was. He saw the reason behind Naruto accepting his challenges as a pure belief that by doing so he was helping Sasuke to grow and develop. To Sasuke's way of thinking this made Naruto superior to him and the Uchiha Clan had always had a hard time accepting that there was someone they did not outclass.
Both the mindwalkers sighed as they realized the sheer amount of work they needed to do if they were to save Sasuke from himself. Plus, they still needed to find the tie in from the curse seal. Naruto could not burn it out until they found the mental connection and severed it.
They got to work and eventually altered enough of the memories to leave a peaceful but confused young man. Itachi had filled in the shadowed shape of the man with his right hand plunging a katana deep into Mikoto's form while his left had dragged a kunai across her vulnerable throat. He reminded Sasuke that there were only ever four people their Kaasan would not have fought for her life. Them, the Hokage and her husband. He reminded his little brother of the clan laws that would have given Fugaku the right to take her life for any offence he felt deemed it appropriate. And in Fugaku's eyes her coddling of them was justification enough. She would not stop comforting Sasuke or making their favorite foods or lying for them both when they were just too tired for more training.
Inoichi had wanted to lock that whole memory away but Itachi had insisted it stay. "He needs to know why I do not honor our Otousan and why he should not either. It will not do to have him believe a just and fair man died needlessly. Only his fear of my strength allowed his young mind to transpose me for Otousan. He is older now and will not do that again if we do not let him."
Inoichi gave in and let the memory stay. He was uncomfortable since he caught the implied rebuke in Itachi's words. It was true that although he had seen Sasuke a couple of times after the massacre he had been reluctant to mindwalk the child for fear of making things worse. But if he had, then he would have seen the transposing as it was occurring. He would have locked the image away until Sasuke was older and more capable of handling it.
The duo had then gone looking for the connection of the seal, locking way other harmful memories as they went. They had found it and that had led to a fierce battle with both the seal and Sasuke.
Sasuke was convinced he needed the seal and the power it gave him if he was to save his village from his enemies who were of course Naruto, as the Kyuubi, and Itachi, as a mass enough he did not see Orochimaru as an enemy of the village. Both mindwalkers could understand why he wouldn't see Orochimaru as his own enemy but to see the man as a friend of the Leaf village was just strange. In his mind, there was no way he could defeat either the Kyuubi in human form or Itachi without the aid of the seal and so he fought violently against their efforts to sever it.
The seal itself fought back also not wanting to lose it's host. The seal was more of a parasite feeding off the strong dark emotions of the person it was attached to. It took those emotions and grew stronger each time it fed. Sasuke had used his seal so much that the connection was more like a metal chain than a thin sliver.
If he had continued to use it, the seal would have begun to feed off every emotion Sasuke had instead of just the strongest of them. Eventually, it would reach the point where he would be unable to control when and where he used the seal. The seal could and would take over for him. And what really upset Itachi was that Sasuke seemed to be willing to allow this change. He seemed to believe it was necessary in order for him to accomplish his goals. And never breaking his word was the one lesson he had learned from Naruto. He was determined to carry through on his promise to defend the Leaf village from both Itachi and Kyuubi. He absolutely could not understand that neither one were a threat. In his mind he had convinced himself that the Kyuubi had long since killed his friend and was laughing at everyone but mostly at Naruto by walking around in his form. To Sasuke, when he killed the Kyuubi he would be allowing Naruto to rest, something the Kyuubi was denying him.
He had a similar reasoning for why he needed to kill his brother. Not only did his brother have the deaths of the clan on his soul but so long as he lived he could not atone for those deaths. Therefore he could never make amends with their Kaasan and so long as he lived Itachi would be tormented with the knowledge of what he had done. To Sasuke, it was such a terrible crime he could not see how his brother could not be tormented by it.
When they'd finally succeeded in cutting the connection both men collapsed on the ground though Inoichi did not let go of Sasuke's mind until he felt the scream ripping through the teen. He knew then to get out fast if he did not want to experience the pain himself and launched his consciousness back into his own body with a shudder.
Natsu had called on Kyuubi to help her break the seal. She channeled just enough of the red chakra into her fingertips to burn the seal off Sasuke's neck. When there was nothing left of the seal but a faint marring of his skin where it had been she removed her hand and passed the other hand over his face. This time her hand glowed with a soft white light no one had ever seen her use before. She whispered, as the hand passed over his face, "Sleep, Sasuke. Your nightmare is over now. Sleep in peace, my friend."
The medics gathered Sasuke, Itachi and Inoichi up and had them teleported to the hospital. Natsu followed behind them with Kakashi at her side as always. "It's nicer to have you at my side than it was to have you hiding behind me all the time, Kashi-kun," she said quietly.
"I like this better as well," he agreed with a smirk.
They were almost to the hospital when Danzo and the two elderly councillors walked up to them and thrust a folder into her hands. "Here's your next mission. Do a good job and you can return when it's finished. Fail and don't bother to return at all," sneered Danzo.
"Oh I don't think that will be happening," said Kakashi. "My wife was just told this morning by the Hokage that since you have made her one of the most well known nin in the world she will not be allowed any more missions at all."
"Oh she will go," said Koharu. "She already knows the penalty of refusing a council approved mission."
From behind them Tsume, Hiashi and Shibi stepped forward. "We approved another missions for Natsu? Since when," snarled Tsume. "I do not even recall a meeting of the council having been called."
"You three wouldn't be plotting the demise of the True Hero of the Leaf and the holder of the title Fox Sennin now would you," asked Hiashi.
"It would not be good policy if they were," said Shibi.
"Gentlemen I have my orders from Tsunade Baa-chan so I will follow those orders. I will take this mission to her for her approval and if she agrees then I will do it. If she does not she will handle the situation as she sees fit," interrupted Natsu. "But first I will see to the comfort of my friends in the hospital." So saying she moved around the trio of irate councillors and entered the hospital with Kakashi and the others not far behind.
Once again her reception startled her. Usually, she received sneers and cold shoulders from anyone who worked at the hospital. Today all she got was warm smiles and helpful assistance. She asked which way Sasuke had been taken and was directed to his room number. One of the nurses even guided her and Kakashi to Sasuke's room.
Walking away she had a puzzled frown as she made her way through the halls to his room. "What's wrong Natsu?" asked Kakashi.
"Is it just because they can accept me as a girl where Naruto scared them all? I wonder how they would have reacted if I came in as Naruto?"
Kakashi scratched his chin thinking about the question. "Well, I guess it depends," he finally said. "If Naruto had entered in his usual fashion with the group you are in today he might have received a few frowns for being too loud but there wouldn't have been anything else. If he'd been quiet and composed, something unheard of for Naruto, they would have all been too shocked to do or say anything." Behind them the councillors snickered as Natsu frowned up at Kakashi.
"Naruto wasn't that bad," she pouted.
Kakashi fake shuddered. "The only time Naruto wasn't all that bad was when he was either sleeping, getting ready to prank someone or away from people."
She couldn't help it. She giggled. "Well, he did have a role to play that was expected of him, you know. How would people have reacted if he wasn't wearing Kill Me Orange or bouncing off the walls and screaming to Kami at the same time?"
"Probably with joy at first," muttered Hiashi.
"But then they would have grown worried," added Shibi.
"Everyone would have wondered what was wrong with Our Sunshine," said Tsume.
"See?" asked Natsu.
Kakashi nodded. "But then I always did understand why Naruto was so loud. Remember, I've watched over you all your life."
"As have I and my clan," said Tsume. "You have never disappointed us with your creativity and smiles."
"My clan has always understood as well," said Shibi. "Truthfully if you had not been hidden under the henge transformation you would have found yourself living in isolation within the clan walls of my home. We would not have wished for you to suffer the fate of unwanted little girls."
"You would have had a fight about that decision," growled Kakashi.
"Ok Testosterone stays in the hall," interrupted Natsu much to Tsume's delight as she opened the door to Sasuke's room and the Nurse who had been their guide snickeredas she walked away.
"Oh like hell you're going in there first, Natsu," said Kakashi, pulling her back from the door and entering the room himself. He found Sasuke in one bed placed in between Inoichi on the bed closest to the door and Itachi on the bed by the window.
Anbu were stationed inside the room as well. Tsunade wasn't taking any chances and the Anbu were ordered to protect all the room's occupants but they were also to make sure Sasuke did not attack his roommates when he awoke. Natsu ignored her husband as she entered the room and checked on each of the sleepers before pulling a chair to Sasuke's bedside and sitting down.
A couple of hours went by before Tsunade herself came to check on them all and Natsu handed her the mission folder. "They want me to go to Iwa again."
"No way in hell," said Tsunade. "That would be like sending Hinata alone to Cloud. It's not going to happen in my lifetime."
"Just because I am his daughter does not mean I am incapable of handling myself," said Natsu.
"That's not it at all," countered Tsunade. "After you all left for the compound, I received a messenger from Iwa requesting me to turn you over to them for punishment. Not just for the missions you have done in the past against them but also because they know who's child you are and wish to make a public display of you before they have you executed for Minato's sins."
"How did they find out so fast?" asked Tsume.
"Don't really know but it really doesn't matter. It could have been someone from here like a merchant or a visitor who was here when the announcement was made. Or it could have been our old warhorses on the council. For that matter, it could have just been they have finally figured out beginning math and learned to put two and two together."
"And everyone says I'm rude," muttered Natsu.
"That's because it's true Brat."
"Baa-chan, Naruto is rude. I'm just truthful." Tsunade snorted as everyone else laughed.
"Anyway Brat we need to get back to the tower and get started on teaching you how to be Hokage. And the first thing to do is find a different team to handle this council be damned mission."
"Don't worry about the Councillors themselves Tsunade-sama," said Hiashi. "I think it is time we started controlling our wayward members ourselves." Shibi and Tsume both nodded and Kakashi sighed.
"I was gonna wait until later to announce the resumption of my hereditary seat but if you promised not to let her wander around on her own, Tsunade-sama, I will go with them and see to setting Danzo and his cronies straight on the folly of trying to get my wife killed."
"I think there are a few other people we should pick up as well before we go to confront them. Several other villagers hold seats that they have not filled in a long time and I believe it is time they did so," said Hiashi.
"Though it is a shame we can not wait for Inoichi and Itachi to awaken so they may be present also," said Shibi.
Just then Inoichi groaned and cracked his eyes open. He put a trembling hand to his forehead and licked his lips before saying, "Something else I need to do?"
"Rest, Yamanaka-san," said Natsu. "Whatever they are planning will just have to go forth without you for now. Ino would kill me if I let you push yourself too far."
"Hai, she would try. But just give me a few minutes and I'll be alright."
A few minutes later Itachi also woke up. Like Inoichi he was weak and had a splitting headache but otherwise he would be fine as soon as the headache subsided. "Tsunade-Baachan, could you heal Itachi's headache, please. I want to see if I can heal his eyes for him and it will be easier if he isn't wincing in pain."
"What's wrong with his eyes?" asked Tsunade moving to do as requested and checking the optic nerve at the same time. "Oh," she said. "I see. I don't know how you can heal that Natsu."
"Well, you could heal it also if you had my tenant. Kyuubi is how the Sharingan began and Itachi has impressed Kyu so the demon wants to fix this little flaw for him. I'll just be the medium that allows for the correction."
Everyone blinked processing what she had said slowly before Hiashi asked, "How often do you talk with the demon, Natsu?"
"Pretty much all the time. I am the only one Kyu can talk to and it keeps him calm when I don't ignore him. How would you feel if you were locked away from the world for fifteen years and only had one person you could talk to who wouldn't talk to you at all? I talk to Kyu because it keeps the demon sane. Plus how can Kyu learn why this happened if I don't? Someone needs to explain human behavior to him. He is a demon you know."
Again the whole room blinked. Most of them were remembering when Kyuubi had attacked their village and how demented it had sounded but they also were recalling the other things they had learned about that attack and Kyuubi's true purpose for being on the mortal plain. None of them could imagine the hell that would have been Natsu's life if she had ignored the Demon when it wanted to talk to her.
Natsu continued, "If it hadn't been for Kyu I would have died a long time ago. I never would have become a genin because I never would have entered the academy. There have been many times since then when I would have died if not for him so if talking to him makes him happy then it's a small price to pay for my life. I also have him to thank for boosting my own natural abilities and bloodline. So what is a little bit of chatter compared to that?"
"Bloodline?" questioned Hiashi.
"Hai. My immense chakra is one point of it but also the insane rate at which I heal from injuries. Tsunade-Baachan can tell you more about that and why it's unique. But also the white chakra I used to send Sasuke into such a deep sleep is a part of my bloodline."
"What?" asked Tsunade. "What white chakra and what does it do?"
"I don't know exactly. I just know that when I use it what I want most, if it's for a non-selfish reason, will happen."
"Call on it. I want to check it out," ordered Tsunade. Natsu shook her head.
"It doesn't work that way, Baa-chan. I haven't got that kind of control over it yet and can't just will it like I do with my regular chakra or even Kyu's. There has to be a compelling enough reason for me and your curiosity isn't good enough."
Tsunade frowned but shrugged, "Ok. Well, his headache is gone so you and Kyuubi can fix his eyes now if you wish."
"Hai. Itachi I need you to keep your eyes wide open. Do not blink or move the focus of your eyes at all. Hold as still as you possibly can." Itachi nodded and Natsu went to work. A few minutes later the red glow on her fingers disappeared and she told him he could blink if he wished.
"Ouch," he said as he blinked several times.
"The repair is set to be an on-going thing. It will take a few days before it is finished but when it is your vision will be restored to one hundred percent and the use of that technique will no longer weaken them. However Kyu said to tell you that if you misuse it just once you will immediate go blind as was the original side effect. He never kids about things like that so I'd take it seriously. He meant that level to be something your clan could use to aid your fellow man with and the curse of blindness was only meant for those who achieved it and then used it for harm."
"So by using it to help Sasuke this afternoon he decided to repair my vision?" Itachi questioned.
"Hai. That and the fact that although you could have used it to kill, you never have. You have also never used it against anyone who was not attacking you at the time and the first time you used it against Sasuke it was to instruct him rather than with the intention of harming him. However, he also says to tell you Sasuke will never be the innocent boy he used to be. He has been changed by this experience too much to ever go back to who he used to be."
"So long as he retains his sanity I can work with him to restore his morals," said Itachi slowly. "I never should have left him here."
"It was the better option at the time," said Tsunade.
Silence fell over the room with everyone looking to the comatose teenager in the middle of the room. Finally Tsunade sighed and said, "Well, we'll just have to wait and see when he wakes up." She motioned Natsu to follow her and led the way out of the chamber after indicating that the Anbu should remain on guard.
The others stayed in the room including Kakashi waiting for both Itachi and Inoichi to be ready to go. The two took a few more minutes to gather their strength before they all left the hospital together. They went around the village spreading the word of a council meeting to deal with council issues of a minority trying to act in the name of all of them. They suffered through a visit with Gai in which none could actually say for sure whether he had agreed to show up or not as they had all tuned him out early on into his declarations about the unyouthfulness of such behavior. From there they went to the Sarutobi household and spoke with Asuma and then to Kurenai's home. Both Asuma and Kurenai knew immediately what the real issue was and agreed to come along. Genma and his girlfriend Yuugao both agreed to show up also, as did Raidou and Iruka. Hiashi had blinked when Kakashi had led them to the homes of so many active ninja. But Kakashi pointed out that each of these jounin or in Iruka's case chunnin by choice had long held a seat on the council as head of their family and a ninja of the leaf. He pointed out one did not need to be elected to their chair to serve on the council one only had to have been the head of a family that served the needs of the village. Only civilians who had never had a family member as a ninja needed to be elected.
Two hours later they all met in the council chambers. Hiashi, being the senior member with the complaint to air before the full council tried to start things off. Immediately he was interrupted by Danzo. "I move that we clear the chambers of all non-council members if you intend to whine about our more elite members."
"I see no need for that as the only person here who does not currently hold a seat on this council is here to learn what a Hokage must do rather than to participate in the proceedings," countered Tsume.
Homura looked over the assembly and after a few moments announced, "My fellow councilmen is correct, Danzo. The only people in the chambers at this time other than Namikaze-san are current registered seat holders. Though most of them do not often appear for sessions there is no penalty or rules governing when they can in fact choose to attend."
"You're kidding me," shouted Danzo while Koharu looked at her old teammate waiting to see what else he had to say.
"Actually they have held a seat since the invasion of the Kyuubi with the exception of Kakashi-san who needed to wait to reach his majority to claim his seat vacated by his father when he was six," said Homura.
Danzo deflated and Koharu gulped. Somehow she had a feeling she would not like the direction or the decisions this afternoon's council reached. Suddenly she spied Itachi in the crowd.
"He doesn't hold a seat here. He is a missing-nin. Why is he not in a cell right now? Guards!" she called loudly. Anbu appeared in the chambers and she pointed to Itachi sitting in the traditional seat of the Uchiha clan. "Arrest him for treason and lock him away until we can set the date and method of his execution."
"Belay that," called out Tsunade. "Itachi has been cleared of all charges and has been re-instated for his actions in saving the life and sanity of a Leaf Ninja. His seat is his to hold as the head of the Uchiha clan." Koharu looked poleaxed as Tsunade handed the documents to Homaru for filing. To the Anbu she said, "You may leave now." They nodded and left with a small poof, since there were so many of them.
Homaru looked over the documents and then looked to Itachi and said, "Welcome home, Itachi-san. I hope this time you plan to stay here instead of running off after performing a distasteful mission."
"Hai. Thank-you. I will stay to care for my otouto until he is well again before I begin once more to take missions. His health is my utmost concern at this time."
"Fine way you have of showing it," muttered Koharu. "If it wasn't for you he'd. . ."
"Have been dead," Itachi answered her flatly. "You also."
Several gasps were heard throughout the room and Tsunade asked Itachi to explain from his point of view what had led up to the massacre of his clan.
He nodded and sighed. "Several weeks before the massacre I got wind of a plot the Uchiha clan council were hatching to overthrow the government of the village. They sought to make my Otousan the ruler of the village to prove once and for all the superiority of the Uchiha clan. I reported to the Sandaime and he told me to try and gather proof and find the names of his targets if it was at all possible. I did as he ordered and several times I was called to my Otousan's private office to report on the Anbu and other jounin level ninja. I figured he was trying to figure out which jounin he could afford to leave alive and which would need to be reassigned or outright killed once he took control of the village."
"It was during this time period he pulled most of the clan out of the Ninja field and reassigned them to civilian positions in the police force. Several civilians disappeared from society and no one noticed. But I noticed that those civilians were connected to several clan members receiving upgrades on their sharingan. However it wasn't until Otousan lied to me about my friend Shisui that I made the full connection. I received the final level of our sharingan by killing my friend in the mistaken belief that he was a threat to my little brother."
I did notice over the following week a lot of clan members were sickening and those who were getting ill were the same ones who'd received upgrades in their sharingan. Due to my own upgrade I was . . . concerned so I went to Otousan. He got angry and refused to give me any information but while I was there a lesser member of the clan who'd never managed to activate his own sharingan came in to report the death of one of the men I'd been watching. I did research and found out the truth then of what he'd been doing. He was having the best friend of clansmen arrested and then called the clansman to the station. Once the clansman arrived he was told to prove his clan loyalty by killing the person in the cell. All of them complied knowing it was not just their own death they risked but the death of their spouse and children as well. Most were probably happy to do as he requested until they began to grow ill."
"I started reading every clan scroll I could find and discovered why they were dying. Otousan was trying to upgrade barely opened sharingans to the final level with a method that was only supposed to be used for the final level and only when all other tomoe had been achieved. I did discover that since my sharingan was at the proper level for the final step I would not get sick like the others but all those who had used this method to upgrade their own sharingan would die within the week. Again I reported my findings to the Hokage. He sent me back in to compile a more finite timeline on the revolt. My otouto disappeared and Kaasan was frantic with worry. I got the full details of Otousan's plan and ran immediately for the Hokage. We, my friends and I, returned to the compound and slaughtered everyone we found. None of the living were innocent of the charge of treason. It was my Aunt and Uncle who had tricked Otouto into going with them to the chamber Otousan planned to perform the ritual in. And it was my Grandfather who delivered Kaasan into Otousan's hands. So we slaughtered everyone but we were still too late to save Kaasan though Sasuke had been found and released. My foolish little brother ran straight home and interrupted Otousan as he was finishing off Kaasan."
"He has never once realized how close he came to dying as well as my Otousan was by that time completely mad. I pulled Sasuke out of the room and locked as best I could the image of Otousan in Sasuke's mind so he would never forget and never honor our Otousan in memory of our Kaasan. Kaasan had been the only person other than the children we had planned to leave alive because she was the only one we believed to be uninvolved in the plot." Itachi's voice had dropped to barely above a whisper as he laid out the details of the massacre. He was not used to saying so much but it was more than that for him. He had never spoken about the mission with anyone since the night it occurred. And though his voice was quiet there wasn't a sound in the chamber so everyone heard him just as if he'd been speaking in a normal voice. His grief, when he spoke of killing his friend over a lie and the kidnap of his brother leading to the betrayal by people he'd obviously trusted to look out for Sasuke, not to mention the death of his Kaasan was apparent to everyone in the council hall.
Natsu, with tears flowing from her eyes walked over to Itachi. her hands were starting to glow with that same white light she'd used on Sasuke earlier that day. "Wait, Natsu."
"Itachi who exactly was on the kill list if the clan had been allowed to carry through with their plans other than your brother and the Hokage?" asked Tsunade.
"Danzo, because he was a threat with troops loyal only to himself, Koharu, Homaru because they were teammates of the Hokage during his genin days, Haruno Kiku, because he did not like her for her pretensions of beauty and stature, the clan heads of the other ninja clans, but most of all every person who held Hyuuga blood in their veins whether they had the white eyes of the clan or not. He also planned a move that would have led to the death of Natsu who he thought to be Uzumaki Naruto. Those are the ones I found out for sure were targeted but as for the ninja there were a lot he planned to expel from the village once he took control and then if they were listed in the bingo book inform the country of the listing where they could be found. They would be unable to defend themselves because he planned to reinstate the old laws of expulsion and have each one branded before sending them to the work camps."
"Is anyone in this room someone who was on that list? And what about the Sennin? What were his plans for us? Surely he didn't think he could beat us as well?"
"Oh he thought you could be killed if the numbers facing you were plentiful enough. He knew the Sennin had not risen to their rank without making a lot of enemies in the process and he planned to call them in in force. As for the people in the room hai, several of them were targeted not the least of which is anyone who had a greater reputation at the time then his own. The Copy-nin, Sarutobi's son, the Green Beast, a lot of them were on his list. Only the women would be spared but that was only if they agreed to serve him by marrying into or servicing the needs of his clan in other ways. He did not approve of women earning their own way and being out from under the control of the men. No woman would have been allowed to retain her ninja rank and all the girls would have been expelled from the academy." He trailed into silence.
Tsunade motioned for Natsu who was nearly beside herself to do as she wished and the council watched in awe as she lifted her hands, each one glowing with that strange white light, to each side of Itachi's face. Her fingers spread to the facial pressure points and her voice came soft and low, chanting in a strange tongue. Those who could see her eyes later told Tsunade they had glowed. Her chanting slowly rose to fill the chamber and it didn't matter that no one had the least little bit of an idea what she was saying. It was the feeling that mattered. The white light from her hands grew and swelled until the chamber was filled with the unearthly light. Some swore they could see Natsu clearly in the center of the light while others could not see anything.
Itachi felt his grief lifted and the sense of remorse he'd felt for his best friend dissolved in a flood of tears he had never allowed himself to shed believing that as he had murdered him he was not allowed to mourn him. By the time Natsu collapsed he felt revived and more at peace with his actions than he'd been since he'd learned of the planned betrayal.
Several others in the chamber also felt remorse trickling away under the pressure of the white light though none could say why. Tsunade was one who had been able to see Natsu at the center of the light as was Kakashi and Tsume who had not dared to take their eyes off her. Hiashi felt all his guilt over losing control of his own clan to the point that his own wife was killed dispersed. Kakashi's continued grief over the loss of his genin mates disappeared as did several other people. Gai's mental instability was corrected and for the first time in years he felt as if he could actually think clearly again, something he hadn't been able to do since childhood though he'd been pretending to do so for so long that no one knew of the instability. Iruka felt the pain of Mizuki's betrayal disappear though he did not forget it. But by the time the glow disappeared Natsu was a spot on the floor with tears running down her face and making a puddle on the floor.
Kakashi reached her before anyone else and carried her back to his seat where he could hold her until the meeting was completed than take her home. He knew she was fine but greatly in need of sleep, peace and quiet. He knew what she'd done and knew the peace and quiet was the highest required thing she needed right now.
Tsunade made her way over to them to check on Natsu. "She's fine Hokage-sama. She's only sleeping. That takes a lot out of her and taking on the pain of everyone here the way she did is going to leave her crying for a few days. So can we please get this over and done with. I'd like to get her home and to bed as soon as possible," said Kakashi.
"Oh I think it would be ok if you took the little Demoness out of here," sneered Danzo. "I'm sure no one will miss either of you and your vote really isn't needed on anything."
Tsunade turned on him. "How dare you! She is not a demon or a demoness. They use red chakra. She just used the purest chakra I have ever in my life felt." Kakashi shook his head at her and then nodded towards her seat at the head of the table. Reluctantly she walked back over and sat down.
"Now this meeting of the council has been called because someone got the bright idea to send Natsu into hostile territory on her own without any kind of back-up to protect her knowing full well that I would not approve. I know I informed this council that all missions were to go through me before being assigned to anyone and I know I also informed this council that I would never approve of sending an unbranded Hyuuga to Cloud or anyone of the Namikaze line into Iwa. Yet that is exactly where Natsu was to go. I also know I told this council of the unreasonable demand by Iwa that we turn her over to them so they could not only punish her for the missions she already did, without my approval, in their territory but also because they know she is of the Namikaze line. That being said this council went ahead and approved another mission for her into their territory. Now just why, Danzo, Koharu, Homaru did the three of you feel it was necessary to bow to the wishes of such a small and insignificant nation as Iwa?"
"She is a threat to the village and the people wish to be rid of her presence," said Koharu in a small voice. In truth she was not feeling very well at the moment. Her mind was replaying her own guilty little secret of the invasion of the Kyuubi. When the Demon had attacked, Koharu had been so scared all she could think of was to hide.
She hid in the small area her son had designed to hide his children should they ever need to hide and not be able to get to the shelters. The demon attack qualified as such a time but with Koharu in it and refusing to leave the children had been forced to run for the shelters. They had been running under a threshold when it suddenly collapsed and buried them both, killing them instantly.
Instead of taking the blame for their deaths herself Koharu had blamed Kyuubi. Claiming that if the Fox had not attacked the children would not have been there and they would have been just fine. The white light sent throughout the chamber had forced her to remember the truth and she was having a hard time remembering it was not her fault the twins had died.
Homaru was dealing with his own guilt. Being a bookworm, and unusually observant of his fellows, he had known full well that Natsu and Kyuubi were two different individuals. During the course of his studies he had become very adept at reading seals. He knew the seal kept the Kyuubi confined and separate from Natsu. The only thing he hadn't known was that the child was not the boy he believed him to be but a little girl instead.
While Koharu hated Naruto for the guilt she felt over the death of the twins and her own cowardice, and Danzo was busy building his Ne forces for the day when he would eventually be in control of the Leaf, Homaru had worked to rid the village of the demon. He knew he could not have the child killed because that would free the demon from the seal but he hoped by having Naruto attacked and denied basic necessities he could make the child so broken emotionally that the Kyuubi would surface just enough to convince both the council and the Hokage to seal the child away somewhere until a time when killing the child would ensure the demise of the demon also.
Now he was facing the fact that he had wished the child to be the demon because he was afraid Naruto would not be able to resist it's call and would use it's power against them all. He too had been a coward and he couldn't even claim ignorance of the seal or of the demon itself. He couldn't even claim ignorance of why Naruto had been chosen over the other two possible candidates. His love of books had told him point blank why Naruto was the only child who had a chance of containing the demon as well as the demon's true nature. In short he had no excuse for what he had done except his own fear and belief that Naruto would not be strong enough to do what he knew he could not have done.
Danzo on the other hand was not feeling anywhere near the level of guilt of his cohorts. He truly did not feel any guilt over his behavior and so the white light had not effected him at all. He had fought the Kyuubi. It was how he had lost an eye and the use of his arm as well as ended up with a stump for his leg. The Kyuubi had forced his retirement from the only job he considered worth doing but it had also opened his eyes to the fact that he was a natural leader. At least he thought he was. He did not and indeed could not see that if you have to brainwash people to get them to do as you wish, you aren't much of a leader. In his mind the Hokage's chair was his to fill and on the day that he acquired it he would lead the Leaf to a fuller glory than anyone that had come before him. That he would do so by slaughtering tons of innocent people did not bother him. The innocent always died to make way for the strong to thrive. He planned to thrive on the backs of all those who would stand in his way. Those who would not willingly serve his rule such as Natsu were objects in his way that needed to be removed.
"Iie, Koharu," said Inoichi. "The people have accepted Natsu as the True Hero of Konoha or didn't you pay attention when Tsunade-sama ordered us into the streets last month?"
"Of course I listened," she snapped trying to summon up her usual amount of scorn. Unfortunately she felt too guilty to pull it off well.
"Then you must not have listened very well," said Hiashi. "Everyone I spoke to told me how very proud they were of the girl and how they wished to let her know how they felt."
"Several informed me that anything she needed it would be their honor to provide as a way of repaying their debt for past behavior," said Ibiki. Anko standing beside him added, "And we know exactly what behavior they were talking about." Her eyes were glued onto Homura, who squirmed in his seat.
"What is she doing here?" asked Danzo belligerently. "I know damn well she doesn't hold a seat on the council as because of her old treasonous behavior in following her master from the village we rescinded her right to ever sit on this council."
"Yeah well, what you take away wrongly I can re-instate. So I did. Anko now holds the chair of her father," answered Tsunade. "Anyway, we are here to decide the punishment of those who chose to disregard my orders regarding missions in the Leaf village and the assigning of said missions. Because these three accepted the mission I have no choice but to send our ninja out on it and it may very well be a mission they will never return from since those who signed off on it have most assuredly alerted Iwa to expect the arrival of Natsu to fulfill the mission parameters." She eyed the trio of old fools and watched as Koharu and Homaru squirmed uncomfortably while Danzo merely glared.
"Since this mission will most likely mean the loss of assets valuable to us I can not go lightly on the perpetrators of this fallacy. But I will leave it up to the full assembly of the council to decide their punishment." She sat down.
Natsu whispered something groggily to Kakashi and he nodded to her. "Natsu has a request," he said declining to stand up since she was in his lap. "She requests that they be banished from the council forever more never to hold a seat of any importance in the running of the village. In other words, she wants them retired. Her words to me just now were "They should be forced to retire like Jijii wished to do but didn't due to needing to protect me."
"That's a good idea as far as it goes but Leaf Nin may die to complete this mission and if they do I don't believe that knowing the idiots who accepted a mission into hostile territory for us and then more than likely informed the enemy we were coming is sufficient," frowned Asuma.
"If they did truly inform Iwa to expect Natsu than it is treason we are dealing with here and the rules governing treason are pretty straight forward," said Kurenai. "They don't change just because the traitors are elderly."
"So we can postpone a stricter punishment until we know for sure they have betrayed us," added Gai. "Punishment held back on can always be administered at a later date but punishment dished out can not be recalled."
Several people blinked at him in total shock. Not one mention of youth? Who was this person in Gai's skin? was the thought running through several minds at the moment. Even Tsunade was blinking at him in shock. She knew better than most, well except maybe Kakashi and his genin team, how well Gai could work the word youthful into any sentence he said.
Even Danzo was staring at the green clad jounin. For once the man was not wearing a goofy grin. In fact the look on his face promised that if it turned out Iwa was expecting the team they sent then Gai himself would administer his own form of punishment onto the guilty parties.
"Perhaps there is something you would like to own up to," asked Ibiki, giving them all a look of interest.
"I will admit to nothing of the sort," exclaimed Danzo. "We only accepted this mission because we felt it was something that needed to be done and was well within the abilities of the Kyuubi Vessel. She has often done missions that would be beyond the abilities of lesser mortals such as normal men. Therefore that is proof she is indeed not mortal as are the rest of us. The only non-mortals I know of are Gods or demons and since it is clear she is no god than I say she is the Demon she supposedly guards us from. I call for her arrest and execution as the demon has taken over the mortal she used to be."
Before Kakashi could move to deny the charge or anything else Tsunade asked for his proof. "I cite her previous missions undertaken under the guidance of this council. No mere human could have successfully completed those mission yet she came back from each one faster than was expected and relatively unscathed."
Itachi spoke up. "And are you then discounting the fact that she may have had help in completing said missions?"
"No I am not denying that at all but I know for a fact that some of those missions she did solo. There was no one to help her and yet she still came home without a serious injury."
"She always had help," growled Kakashi. "Do you honestly think I would have allowed you to send my mate into a dangerous area without being her back-up?"
"I myself aided her on some of her more troublesome missions you sent her on trying to get her killed," said Itachi.
"But why would you do that," exclaimed Homaru.
"Because I was not a traitor to the Leaf and she was not the demon you believed her to be. I knew what you were planning and so I made sure to keep watch over her to make sure it did not happen. I did not go through the massacre of my clan to protect this village to let you fools undo all that I and my friends accomplished. Naruto was doing his best to be there for Sasuke until you idiots separated them and sent Naruto off on foolish suicidal missions preventing them from the conversations my brother had grown to rely on. Those evening conversations were something Sasuke needed but something you feared."
Kakashi added, "Naruto needed them also. Those talks provided him with a connection, however small, with the people of this village and helped him to resist when his spirits were low and the Kyuubi was angry. By talking with Sasuke when no one else could hear what they said and criticize them for it Naruto gained a reason to protect rather than destroy."
"So you are saying we destroyed both of them?" scoffed Homaru. "We would never have hurt Sasuke-kun. He was hurt through those unsupervised chats. The demon did something to him and twisted his thinking. He is responsible for the horror the Uchiha orphan has had to live with these last three years. I call for the execution of the Demon also." It was a move of desperation on the part of Homura since he knew full well the full council would never consent to executing Natsu with the villagers behind the girl.
"Iie!" Shouted Tsunade. "Natsu shall not be executed because you are a bunch of scared old bitties. You will either resign from your seats or I will have you hauled off as traitors and worry about the evidence I need for the charges later."
"You can't do that," sneered Danzo.
"Why not? You have been for years. Here are the orders for you to disband your Ne organization and no matter how many papers I have gone through I can't seem to find any that gave you permission to restart the organization. Yet Ne is still in operation as evidenced by your repeated request to enlist Natsu here in the organization." She held up a batch of request forms for the council to see. "So either resign or die as a traitor."
"Fine. I will retire," said Koharu in a broken voice not having the heart to fight anymore. She knew the trio were guilty as charged and could see no point in forcing a confrontation on the issue. As far as she was concerned that would only tear the Leaf apart.
Homaru looked at her in shock. He studied her countenance for a few minutes before she would look back at him. In her eyes he saw her acceptance of the charge. He had always followed her and now in their golden years was not the time to stop. Always before she had led him true and so he nodded and gave her a small smile. "I will resign also. There is no need of a trial to force the issue. I admit I knowingly sent her on missions I hoped she would complete but fail to return from. However I will not admit to treason. I acted in the best interest of my home to rid us of a potential destruction. That is not treason."
Both old people turned their eyes to Danzo but he would not budge. He was confident in his belief that Tsunade did not have the proof or the control she needed to force him out of office and even if she did mange to force him off the council he still had his Ne forces. They were loyal only to him and would never serve the will of such a weak person as she. He smirked at Tsunade and sneered at his former cohorts. "I do not believe you can make good your threats. I will hold my seat."
"As you wish. Anbu!" Tsunade called out. Instantly the same Anbu who had poofed inside earlier came poofing in again. "Please arrest Danzo and escort him to a holding cell. Make sure to post security on his cell and remove any contraband items. Be sure you do a thorough search for those items. He is a former ninja. Also put him in an isolation cell and allow no visitors other than myself."
"Hai, Hokage-sama but what are the charges?"
"Suspicion of treason sounds good to me. He is suspected of deliberately endangering the welfare of his fellow Leaf Ninja."
"Hai," they said immediately moving to secure Danzo before he could move to counter the arrest. In seconds they had him secured and poofed out of the chambers with Danzo in custody.
The meeting adjourned shortly after that and Kakashi took his sleeping wife home. He stripped her of her outer clothes and slid her between the sheets of their bed. He sat watching her rest for a bit before deciding he was hungry.
The next day Natsu woke up for a brief time. Kakashi had been watching her sleep again, not at all surprised by her flowing tears. But when she woke up she was hysterical. Shuddering, and screaming at the anguish she had absorbed from the people in the council chambers, she could only speak brokenly of the problem.
Kakashi held her close trying to understand what she wanted. "Too much. . ." she screamed at him. "Kyu. . . NO! . . . Ack. . ." He decided to get Tsunade here as quickly as he could. He set her down and went into the kitchen where Natsu had a special seal that was connected to the Hokage's office. Sarutobi had installed the seal due to all the crap Naruto had suffered at the hands of the villagers when he was younger. The seal was designed to let the Hokage know that someone had managed to get into the dug-out and Naruto was in trouble. Kakashi knew that it was still active when he poured a drop of Natsu's blood, from a vial she refreshed every few days onto the seal and watched as the seal glowed with a blueish white light in Natsu's unique chakra signature.
A few minutes later Tsunade stood in the entryway of the dug-out. "What's going on?" she questioned.
"I'm not sure. She woke up a few minutes ago but she's hysterical and in great torment. She said something about Too much but I couldn't understand what was too much and then she said Kyu and screamed out No. Then she was just screaming and crying."
They went into the bedroom to find the bed a mess and Natsu bathed in the red glow of Kyuubi's chakra. She was muttering and delirious. "Too much bad. . . Kyuubi's feast. . . No. . .must hang. . . on. No . . . hang. . . on. . . Control. . . Too much. . .Ahhh. . . Neeed. . . .he. . .lp. . ."
"Hold on Natsu. Help's here. Just focus ," murmured Tsunade, running her glowing hands along Natsu's form trying to figure out how to help the girl. Natsu's hand started glowing white as Kakashi moved to hold her and keep her on the bed. Her glowing hand reached toward Tsunade and she whimpered. "No," she whispered, whimpering and crying. "I can't. . . . No more pain. . . .Can't . . . han. . .dle. . .more." but still the glowing hand reached for the Hokage.
His visible eye going wide Kakashi grabbed the glowing hand and pulled it away from the Hokage. "Kyu. . . ban. . . quet. . . . Drunk. . ." she was shivering and shaking and Kakashi was doing his best to hold her still as Tsunade was piecing her broken comments together. Suddenly her eyes went wide as she understood the problem.
"Oh Crap," she muttered.
"Nani?" asked Kakashi.
"When she used that white chakra yesterday on Itachi we assumed she meant to fill the chamber with it. What if she didn't? What if it got away from her? I know I felt better after that light hit me than I've felt in years."
"Hai. I did as well." He was quiet for a few minutes as he realized he hadn't felt the need to go to the memorial stone yet. He didn't feel as laden with guilt as he usually did. But those feelings of guilt had to have gone somewhere. All of a sudden he realized she had absorbed them. And if she had absorbed his then she had definitely absorbed Itachi's as well and probably anyone else's that was in the room.
"So that's what she's talking about," he said. "She has too many negative emotions running around in her head right now and Kyuubi gorged itself on them. Now she is fighting the demon because the demon is too drunk to control itself and wants more of the feast."
"Well, that's all fine and dandy but how do we help her?" snapped Tsunade trying to evade the glowing hand again. "I can't even come in range because she keeps trying to touch me with that light again. I don't think whatever she wants with it is what she needs right now."
"Hai I agree." Natsu was squirming around trying to force her hand into contact with the Hokage. She could sense the torment the woman was holding and the Kyuubi wanted that torment to feast upon. "Natsu quit it." Kakashi told her trying to pry her hand back to her side. The seal on her belly glowed through the tangled mess of the sheet. Her shirt had ridden up in her twisting around allowing it to be seen. Tears were still pouring from her eyes in a river of pain and anguish. "How do we help you?" Kakashi yelled at her.
"Knock . . . out. . . Kyu," Natsu gasped as her back arched and she tried to break Kakashi's grip on her wrist.
"How?" He asked. He knew he was no seal master and he wouldn't want to mess with hers under any circumstances if he could avoid it.
"Neck. . .lace. . . point. . . center." Her free hand pointed to the seal, a faint white glow beginning to become visible on that hand as well.
"Ah," said Tsunade. "I get it. Grab both of her hands and hold them tightly. I'll get her necklace and do what needs to be done."
Kakashi climbed onto the bed and grabbed Natsu's hands pulling them away from her body. He held them as tightly as he could without hurting her but prepared to leave bruise if he had to in order to keep her from touching either one of them. Tsunade stepped forward and removed the necklace from where it hung around her neck. Then wrapping the cord around her fist she pulled back the sheet and let the crystal dangle over Natsu's belly button. Slowly the crystal pulled towards the seal as if it sensed what was needed. Tsunade's shock showed clearly as the crystal buried itself in the belly button of the girl as if her navel and the crystal were a lock and key. The crystal glowed green as it snapped into position. Slowly the green light bled into the lines of the seal and Kakashi was struggling to hold Natsu in place as the Kyuubi fought against the power being pushed at it from the crystal. But when the last symbol of the seal glowed with the green light Natsu let loose a scream of pure torture and then went still. Tears still rolled from her quivering form but the white glow disappeared from her hands. She slumped back down on the bed as Tsunade ran a quick medical check. When she was through she motioned for Kakashi to join her in the outer rooms.
Then she told him, "She obvious needs rest to process and do whatever with all the negative emotions she picked up yesterday. It could be that she hasn't used that chakra enough to realize it would react the way it did. Natsu is not a reckless girl so I am going to go with the out of control scenario until she is coherent enough to tell me otherwise. For now just keep things calm and peaceful for her as long as you can. The less that is going on outside her head the quicker she'll be able to deal with everything in her head."
"Ok but what was that with the demon, the seal and that crystal?"
"As near as I can make out, Kyuubi being a demon doesn't eat food like people would. It's sustenance is our emotions. . . . I think. Anyway, all those negative emotions of pain and grief that Natsu absorbed yesterday was like presenting a smorgasbord to the Kyuubi who has only had Natsu's own negative emotions to feed on for fifteen years. That would explain why Natsu has always been able to deal so well with everything that has ever been thrown at her over the years. Kyuubi keeps eating all the bad stuff."
"So basically she lost control of the white chakra and got an overload of negative emotions. Kyuubi gorged itself on the feast and then tried to overpower her will and force itself out?"
"I think so. If you think about it the red chakra wasn't really acting rationally. I think the Kyuubi was more like punch drunk. Instead of trying force it's way out it was trying to make her gather more of the negative emotions from us, like a drunk person automatically tries to get more alcohol."
Kakashi contemplated what she said and then asked, "So what was the deal with the seal and the necklace then?"
"I never knew about that at all. But it shouldn't have surprised me all that much. The crystal is rumored to have the power of subduing demon chakra so when I aimed it point first at the center of her seal that keeps the Kyuubi locked away it did what it was supposed to do and lent it's aura into the seal to help control the demon for Natsu. The Kyuubi is asleep right now but I have no idea how long it will sleep or if we need to do it again when she wakes up. All I know is giving her the crystal was the right thing to do. No wonder I lost that bet." She was quiet for a few minutes before she smirked, "Come to think about it maybe it isn't so much that I lost that bet as it was that Konoha won."
Kakashi smirked. "Hai," he said chuckling. "I know she's been much calmer since she got that necklace so maybe it has been helping her all along. I wonder how we missed it for so long though?"
"The council hasn't let her stay in the village long enough for anyone to really even know she was here since she brought Sasuke back from the Valley. You and she have been on the run for so long that most of your friends have taken to visiting me to find out when the pair of you were scheduled to return so they could waylay you both. Damn stupid fools." Tsunade sighed. "Well, anyway just keep an eye on her and try to keep things quiet for her. I'll check back at the end of the work day to see how she is. I would get Inoichi to visit her but he's busy helping Itachi with Sasuke and I think it'd be a bad idea for him to enter her mind anyway."
"Ok. Don't worry about her. I'll take care of her." Tsunade left and Kakashi went back to check on Natsu. Then he took a shower and fixed himself something to eat before spending the rest of the day holding his wife as she slept.
The next few days passed in a blur of quiet activity. Most people just went about their daily business but a few were getting the gathering hall ready for Natsu's ceremony/party. Mostly those were the former members of the rookie nine plus three. They chatted excitedly as they prepared the hall. None of them wanted to even think about the fact that the snake sennin would be in the village for the ceremony. But all of them wanted to talk about one of their own joining the Sennin family.
In the hospital Itachi stayed by Sasuke's side. He only left to shower and eat. The nurses got used to his presence in the room and had even moved a reclining chair into the room so he could sleep more comfortably. Every day he and Inoichi would enter Sasuke's mind to monitor what was going on with his memories. The nurses kept Sasuke unconscious at Itachi's request since he believed it would be easier to fix his brother's mania if he was sleeping at the time. Tsunade had agreed when Inoichi confirmed it was easier to shuffle a sleeping mind memories than it was to do so with a conscious mind. By day five the nurses had begun bringing Itachi breakfast, lunch and dinner so he only needed to leave the room for fresh clothes. By day seven he didn't even need to leave for that. The nurses collected his soiled garments and the hospital laundry washed, pressed and returned them to the nurses so the nurses could give them back to him. Itachi took it in stride knowing the nurses were only showing their approval of his care for his brother and wanted to make sure the older Uchiha was there when the younger woke up.
The day after the incident with Natsu, Tsunade had Danzo interrogated by Ibiki's team. They learned nothing from it except that the old warhorse seemed to be immune to most the regular methods they used. The more extreme methods they couldn't use until they knew for sure he was a traitor. As a member of the council, the normal rules of conduct did not apply to him and Tsunade was growing concerned. Her teams that she had sent to investigate his home and office had found nothing more incriminating than that the man had unusual sexual preferences and, as weird as that was, it was not illegal. The teams were now in the process of searching the headquarters of the Ne organization.
Natsu woke up again the day after Tsunade's visit but this time she was a lot calmer. Her mind was still a mess of turmoil but she spent a peaceful day with Kakashi and by the time the sun went down her color had returned and she was feeling a lot better. The morning after she went back to work. She checked on Sasuke at the hospital and both Inoichi and Itachi told her what they were doing for him. She agreed that it was probably a good idea to keep him sleeping but told them both to call her if they ran into anything they couldn't get his unconscious mind past. Reluctantly they agreed. She wouldn't leave until they did but neither was comfortable with it since Tsunade had told them what had happened the last time she'd used her white chakra.
Inoichi had stopped her in the hall to ask if she needed his help with the emotions she'd absorbed from the council chambers and she told him, "No I think since Kyu is sleeping right now I can get rid of enough of it before she awakens. Kyu overfed on them before I realized the problem and I couldn't shut the power off before I took on too much for quick processing. That's all. I just need to remember not to use it in a room full of people."
"Ok. Well if it becomes an issue send for me and I'll help you. You've done so much for all of us that it's the least I can do for you in return." She had smiled but escaped without promising any such thing.
Koharu and Homura both spent their days peacefully. They didn't venture far from their homes other than to visit each other every afternoon for a peaceful teatime. Koharu finally asked Homaru why he'd always stood behind her and supported every action she'd deemed necessary and he'd told her the truth. He'd explained that he'd had his own reasons for wanting Natsu out of the village and away from the people of the Leaf. Koharu had followed Danzo's will and since it met with his goals so had he. But unlike them he had not wanted the child injured too severly when she had been younger. He explained that he knew if she lost her will the Kyuubi could have taken over and he knew it would be impossible for any of them to control her if that happened. He'd only wanted to show everyone the Kyuubi wasn't a non-entity as the council had assumed it was. He figured if they could get it to react in a way that left Natsu in control but showed it was aware and awake the council would order the child confined or run out of the village where it could not destroy them when Kyuubi took over. In his mind there had never been any doubt Kyuubi would take over Natsu.
Koharu had sighed and told him why she had been so against the girl. She explained it had really had nothing to do with either the Kyuubi or the girl herself but rather with her own guilt for being such a coward that her grandchildren had died needlessly. She talked about the white light that had filled the council room and how she'd felt when it died away.
Homaru had sighed and agreed, saying he'd felt much the same way. But then he'd surprised his old teammate. "I think we really underestimated the wisdom of the Yondaime. He knew what he was doing choosing her to be the vessel over the Nara boy or the youngest Uchiha."
"Hai. That chakra. . . I'm sure it's helped her a great deal in keeping the beast confined." The two elderly people sat and rocked in silence for a bit sipping their tea. "But I wonder where it came from. I don't remember either the Yondaime or Kushina ever using it."
"I'm not sure but I see now why those who took the time to get to know her always said she is better than we are. Now I get it and I'm so damn old I don't know if I have enough time to make the amends I need to stay out of hell."
"Me either my old friend," Koharu sighed. "Me either."
That night both the old friends passed painlessly into the Shinigami's embrace. Their families went to awaken them and found them dead in their beds with peaceful smiles upon their faces. Koharu was holding a picture of her deceased grandchildren while Homaru had died with his finger holding his place in a book on seals. The page described a seal that was eerily similar to the one used to contain the Kyuubi.
They were laid to rest side by side. Partners in death as they had been in life from their genin days onward. Tsunade had insisted their names be engraved on the memorial stone even though they had not died in combat. She had said they had served the village with honor and had never really thought their decisions were anything but in the best interest of the village they served. And even though neither of them had seen combat in the memories of the fighting force, that did not mean they had stopped fighting for the well-being of the village.
The day before the celebration Sasuke woke up. Immediately he had looked for his brother all tense until he had seen him there in the room. He'd sighed and relaxed immediately and everyone else breathed a sigh of relief themselves. That he had not gone to immediately attack Itachi was far more reassuring then anything else would have been. Natsu had been kept away from the room just in case he still wanted her dead but Itachi and Ionichi had assured Tsunade that they didn't think he would. They said they had been required to block off so much of Sasuke's memories that it was completely unlikely that he would even remember her let alone wish to kill her.
"What do you mean?" asked Tsunade.
"Well, we had to go all the way back to before the massacre to find the root of all the bad stuff. Apparently Otousan was messing with his head to make him more biddable and susceptible to his wishes long before he actually had him drug into that chamber for the ritual. That's why he was so dead set against Kaasan offering Sasuke any comfort or praise for the things he did. But in the process of taking care of that we also had to erase his knowledge of the Kyuubi. As a result, he shouldn't even know the Kyuubi attacked the village at all."
"I will need to re-educate him on things he should know and I'd like to keep him isolated until he knows enough not to have all our work undone. If I don't keep him isolated one wrong word could release all the information that is still in his head as a torrent and he'll be worse than he was before. The only difference will be that he won't be able to transform or access the power of the curse seal since he no longer has it."
Tsunade thought it over and agreed. "But where will you take him?"
"The compound is isolated enough. Inoichi and I can work with him there but I will need a teacher for the historical things. Can you recommend one?"
"The best teacher we have is very fond of Natsu. He isn't very happy with Sasuke but I can't think of anyone better suited to teaching him. Let me talk to him for a few days and see if he can do the job."
Itachi took his brother home that night after the village had gone to sleep so there was less chance of running into anyone who would blab about anything they didn't want Sasuke to know yet. His recovery was only just beginning and damned if Itachi was going to have it blown unnecessarily.
The next day Orochimaru arrived for the celebration and announcement of Natsu's new rank. He came prepared to get his head medic back and damned the consequences. He knew Kabuto was being held in the deepest level of the prison in the isolation ward since he was deemed too unpredictable to be in the general populace. He also knew they wanted to get rid of Danzo but had no proof of his wrong doing to accomplish it. He however did.
When Danzo had been arrested he had ceased being useful to Orochimaru as Koharu and Homaru had also resigned their seats at the same time. Orochimaru had not been the only outside force working with the crippled councilman and he knew who else had gotten information from him. He had contacted the Akatsuki and they had sent him documents that showed Danzo's involvement with their group as well. Orochimaru added it to his own evidence of the involvement with Sound Village.
"Tsssssunade, I am interesssssted in dissssscusssssing a trade with you. You hold ssssomeone in your prisssson I have a great need of. I hold in my posssssesssssion information you need to rid yourssssself of a greater enemy than my poor little medic. What do you sssssay to a trade?"
"Hmm. So you want Kabuto back and in exchange you'll give me evidence that will allow me to lock up someone else. Someone who's usefulness to you has outlived the point of being useful anymore. Yet I am sure this person is considered less of a threat to you then Kabuto is a bonus."
Jiraiya, who was in the office since Tsunade wasn't letting the old hermit out of her sight until after the ceremony, asked Orochimaru, "What's the evidence and who's it against?"
"I believe you are trying to gather proof of Danzo'sssss wrong doing. Are you not? What would you sssay to having that evidence in black and white and speaking to you?"
"You have proof he's a traitor to the village?" asked Tsunade sharply. "And all I have to do is agree to give you Kabuto in exchange?"
"Yesssssss. I have need of his sssskillsssss that are going to wasste in your prisssson."
Negotiations began and carried on for three hours with Orochimaru showing but not handing over his evidence until he was given Tsunade's word that Kabuto would be released to Orochimaru as he crossed the border of Fire Country. Tsunade would not waver on that point. She said the medic would be sent to the border and be waiting for him. She did not promise him the medic would be unrestrained or in good condition when Orochimaru got to him but she did promise the medic would be alive.
Orochimaru promised to leave his evidence in the hands of his personal escort who would escort him to the Fire Country border. He also had to promise to cause no trouble while he was in the Leaf village for the ceremony. Natsu deserved to be acknowledged without another incident that would forever overshadow her elevation to Sennin rank. Orochimaru had blinked in surprise and agreed. He had assured both his fellow Sennin he had never intended to ruin the girls elevation ceremony. He was evil but he wasn't heartless.
The ceremony went off without a hitch much to the surprise of the villagers when they saw Orochimaru on the stage. Each of the present Sennin gave a short speech saying why they felt Natsu was fit to become one of them and everyone was surprised when Orochimaru's speech included things she had done on missions most of them hadn't known she had ever taken part in let alone missions she had done solo that would clearly have led to their own deaths should they have been part of the mission. He had said point blank that if he could have he would have tried harder to convince her to be a part of Sound village under his leadership. That if he had known she would grow as powerful as she had he might have chosen to give her his curse seal as well as the Uchiha vessel but hindsight is twenty-twenty and it was definitely too late now since his old teammate had already promised her the leadership of this village when she retired. He had stated ruefully that no one was stupid enough to play second fiddle when they could play first seat. After all why be the pauper when you could be the king?
After his speech Natsu was brought onto the stage and the tattoo that would mark her forever as a Sennin was affixed to her upper arm by use of chakra from all three of the existing Sennin. A symbol of a fox head and nine tails wrapping around her arm and pointing in all different directions was her mark. Jiraiya smiled grimly as he saw the symbol appear. One thing that was true for every one of the Sennin was that none of them knew what their mark would be until the mark appeared but he reflected he should have known she would get the image of a red fox with nine tails. His own tattoo was a much smaller image of a toad in battle armor while Tsunade's was a slug spitting the poison gas that was their attack of choice. Several small slugs littered the edges of her tattoo as several smaller toads did his. Orochimaru had a snake nest for his tattoo.
After the tattoo had appeared Natsu gave her own speech giving thanks to the three Sennin for elevating her to share their rank and promising to do her level best to live up to the reputation they had each given the rank. That comment caused Orochimaru to snort and mutter how she had already surpassed his reputation as a Sennin. She had gone on to say that, although she would strive to emulate their greatness, that did not mean she would go out and seek a bad habit just because they each had one. The audience had laughed as all three Sennin had flushed in embarrassment as she said she would not become a gambler or a drunk or a pervert or grow obsessed with living forever as that would just be boring. The older Sennin all looked as if they wanted to punch her but restrained themselves as what she had said was true for them. Then she had released everyone to partake of the buffet table, relax and enjoy themselves. Kakashi came up and wrapped his arms around her waist as the Sennin all stayed by her side. Several people came forward to congratulate her on her ascension and the celebration drug on. Music was played and Tsunade disappeared to the gambling tables as Jiraiya headed for the drinks and the dance floor.
Orochimaru made sure to tell Natsu he really did think she deserved the new rank before he went to see if there was any fun he could have at this party. If it had been a party in Sound he would have looked for young boys but he'd promised Tsunade and Jiraiya he wouldn't cause any trouble and he really wanted Kabuto back. So, although he watched the boys running around, he kept his distance from them all. When the parents took all the cute ones home he wandered over to the tables where Tsunade was losing a great deal more money than she had and she convinced him to join the game.
No one even saw Natsu and Kakashi slipping away from the gathering but Natsu still was not comfortable with large gatherings for long periods of time and Kakashi still preferred to be alone with her. They walked along the quiet streets hand in hand just enjoying the moonlight and the peace and quiet as they made their way home.
The next day Orochimaru was escorted to the borders of Fire Country and when he saw an obviously worse for wear Kabuto put the evidence he had promised Tsunade into the hands of his escort before walking over to his medic. The guards backed off and he released Kabuto's bonds. In the trees Natsu watched the pair just to be sure they did not double back to cause problems but Orochimaru just gathered his medic up and headed back to his base. Natsu followed just far enough to be sure of his intentions before returning to Konoha.
Kakashi had stayed inside the borders while she had followed the Sound pair. Though he didn't like her going off on her own after such a dangerous pair he knew she could hide her signature much better than he could. Still he was relieved when he saw her come back safe and unharmed.
They caught up with the escort team who gave the evidence from Orochimaru to Natsu and they all went home together. The escort team had known their mission was two-fold when they'd accepted it. Not only were they to escort Orochimaru and get the evidence at the border, they were also to escort Natsu back home once her mission was complete. Giving the evidence to her to give to Tsunade was only a matter of common sense.
As soon as they were in sight of the gates the escort peeled off and went their own ways leaving Natsu and Kakashi to deal with the guards. Once again it was Kotetsu and Izumo.
"Izumo! When will you learn to think before you say something to upset Baa-chan?" asked Natsu, not even bothering to ask why the pair were on guard duty this time.
"Me! I swear Natsu. It's not my fault this time," Izumo whined. "He got drunk last night." He pointed to Kotetsu.
Natsu looked to a very sheepish looking Kotetsu. "And what did you do that Izumo will never let you live down?"
"Ummmm." There was a long pause before he mumbled, "I really don't think I remember."
"That drunk huh? Somehow I doubt that."
"Yeah me too," said Izumo glaring at his partner. "He forgot to check his six and was shooting his mouth off about the different attributes of the available girls and comparing them to those he'd sampled the wares of before. That probably wouldn't have been all that bad but then he started in on the guys and comparing them to the girls they were with. Still we probably wouldn't have wound up here for the next two weeks if he hadn't then moved on to comparing the couples to animal types. Calling the present Hokage an elephant in a china shop crossed the line especially when he compared that pink haired medic to a bull in the same china shop."
"Oh dear," snickered Natsu. "When you decide to mess up you do it right, don't you?"
"Ummm. Hai. I guess so," Kotetsu muttered in obvious pain. "I couldn't even get anyone to cure my headache this morning."
Still laughing at his misfortune Natsu charge a small amount of white chakra and passed the hand briefly over his forehead. "Don't tell on me or next time I won't cure you either."
"I won't. I'm never getting drunk again." He paused and scratched his chin before adding, "Well, not in public anyway. For the right girl a drink or two can help ease the way."
"I don't think you need to worry about girls for awhile," said Izumo, acidly. "I think the only way you'll get one now is if they are punch drunk and you the target practice dummy."
Natsu and Kakashi reported to Tsunade with the evidence provided by Orochimaru and the remaining council was called into session. Itachi showed up while Inoichi and Iruka, who had been convinced to re-teach Sasuke stayed with the younger Uchiha.
The Anbu brought Danzo, in chains, into the chamber to answer to the crime of treason and even Danzo could not refute the proof Orochimaru had given the Hokage of his guilt. Tsunade presented each piece of evidence one at a time and showed the council the recordings of his meetings with different members of both the Sound Village and with the Akatsuki. Danzo was asked for any logical explanation he could provide for those meetings before the sound was turned on for the recordings. Tsunade wanted the council to hear just how far Danzo would go to cover his trail and they learned that there was no bridge he would not cross or lie he would not tell. He implied he was meeting with both groups to try and find out the identity of the traitor in the leaf. He said that he met with the representative of the Akatsuki because he was trying to discover why they wished to capture all the vessels and why they had taken the Nibi as well as the Tanuki from their host.
Then Tsunade replayed the recordings this time with the sound activated. There was no denying that he knew full well what the plans of both organizations were. The council heard him give locations for Natsu's whereabouts to representatives of the Akatsuki and locations for the whereabouts of Sasuke to people from the Sound Village. The council had heard Danzo promise aid to the Sound when and if they would agree to helping him oust the peace loving Hokage and put him in the Hokage's seat. He had done the same with the Akatsuki, though the Akatsuki weren't interested in attacking any of the established villages until they had acquired their weapon for which they needed to finish collecting the tailed demons.
Sound had tried several times to attack the Leaf and each time a few of Danzo's Ne were seen actually helping members of the Sound either retreat from the confrontation or get into the Leaf for the attack. Each of those people were right now enjoying a visit with Ibiki's people and were in the process of spilling their guts. By the time the three day trail was over the council had more than enough evidence of Danzo's betrayal to order his execution and on the fourth day it was done. Danzo was beheaded in front of a full assembly of the village. His crimes against them were read to the village and the villagers had thrown whatever they had in their hands at the hooded man. By the time the axeman had separated his head from his shoulders Danzo was glad to go meet the Shinigami. No one in the village cared to inscribe his name on the memorial stone except for those who he had brainwashed into following his orders. His body was taken into the forest and thrown out for the scavengers to pick over. Tsunade followed the wishes of the council and had Danzo's name stricken from every record of the village. Future generations wouldn't even know someone named Danzo had ever been born.
Natsu and Kakashi never left the boundaries of the Leaf village again and shortly after the birth of their first son, two years after Danzo's execution, Natsu took over for Tsunade. Tsunade settled down with Jiraiya, who had gotten over his resentment of Natsu surviving in place of Minato and finally earned Tsunade's forgiveness for how he had treated the girl when he was supposed to be training and protecting her. Kakashi served as one of her main advisors as did Sakura. Sasuke eventually recovered but he was never quite the same as he had been before the return of his brother. Itachi and Inoichi had been required to block too much of his growth to cure him of his madness and though he was an able ninja he could never move beyond the rank of chunnin. But he was happier in that low rank than he had ever been during the days when the Council had filled his head with nonsense. Hinata took over the position of Clan Head from her Tousan, though he still held the seat for the Hyuuga on the village council. He was a firm supporter of Natsu, knowing all too well his daughter would be very angry if he ever voted against Natsu. Hinata had made her feelings about the clan seal clear and after the seal had been modified every Hyuuga now wore it. She said if it was important to protect the eyes of the Branch Clan with it then it was just as important to protect the Main Clan as well. Neji served as her advisor and main supporter on the clan council as well as her personal bodyguard. The only sad note was the casting out of Hanabi. Hanabi just had not been able to come to terms with either the elevation of Natsu as someone more important than anyone in her clan or the elevation of Hinata over herself. She had bitterly bemoaned her loss of rank and had several times attempted to waylay her sister in an attempt to prove her own superiority. This led to the clan council demanding the girl be cast out for the safety of the Clan Head. Though Hinata did not wish to do this she only agreed because Itachi promised to take Hanabi in and when the time was right see to it that she was wed to Sasuke, thereby granting her a rank that while not as high as Hinata was sufficiently high enough to suit her birth. Itachi himself settled down with Ayame, the daughter of the Ramen stand owner.
End of Part Three
Author Note: Ok I know it took a long time to get here but that's the end of this story. I hope you have all enjoyed it and had a happy new year. This was my way of greeting the new year.