A Meeting Between Heaven and Earth
Disclaimer: Naruto was created by Kishimoto, but he belongs to Konoha.
"This is our war we live in
We're up in arms, up in arms
With our heads pressed against the wall
And it's wearing thin, wearing thin
These are the screams
If we fly a white flag under a black and blue sky
Will the red sun rise?"
-Thursday, Marches and Maneuvers
"I drew an X on your city's name
LIGHTS OUT! BLACK OUT! BLOW OUT THE CANDLE AGAIN!
Spin the room around.
FALL DOWN! PASS OUT! GET UP! I CAN'T KEEP REPEATING!"
-Thursday, Division St.
"When the gods want to punish us, they answer our prayers."
Throughout his childhood, the idea of being respected and admired by all the people of Konohagakure no Sato was one of Uzumaki Naruto's greatest dreams.
The time to see this dream fulfilled had come for Naruto at age 16, not as a Hokage as he had envisioned so long ago, but at the humble rank of genin. No one could doubt his competency now, and the cold, distant treatment he felt as a child seemed like a half-forgotten nightmare.
Everywhere he went, the tearful citizens of Konoha looked upon him with gratitude, respect, and awe.
Uzumaki Naruto had always longed to jump in and save the day like a prince out of a fairy tale, and have everyone acknowledge him as the hero he always knew he could be. The funny thing about the playground games he and the other children played was that no one ever really died. At most, deaths on the playground only lasted as long a recess did. Pretend heroes didn't have to sift the ruins of their broken villages, knowing every second wasted could mean a life lost.
Uzumaki Naruto had always wanted to be a hero, but not like this.
Never like this.
When Pein came with Konan to Konoha, he gave no warning and showed no mercy. He cut down men, women, children, shinobi and civilian alike, pulping and piercing their fragile bodies, and ripping the terrified souls right out of them.
Like a vengeful god, he mowed down men like stalks of wheat, all for the purpose of uncovering the location of the jinchuuriki Uzumaki Naruto.
No one caved. No one cooperated. They defended him as a fellow citizen of Konohagakure no Sato.
For that insolence, they died.
After tearing the soul out of a terrified Shizune, Pein divined the truth he had sought as an ancient shaman might from the entrails of a sacrificial offering. Instead of a consecrated animal, he ruthlessly picked apart Shizune's mind, her very soul, to locate the information he wanted, carelessly rifling through her dreams, desires, and memories and casting aside the shreds like offal.
Even after shattering her cycle of death and rebirth by consigning her soul to oblivion, Pein had no regrets. She was just one out of many who he had sacrificed today in such a manner. Many, many more would follow if his plan were to come into fruition. If souls were the currency needed to fund his vision, he would gladly pay any cost.
Mount Myobokuzan, home of the Toad Tribe, was where Konoha's Jinchuuriki had fled to, possibly to learn the same techniques that had made Jiraiya-sensei so formidable, thought Pein. For all the good it would do him, it would be a futile effort by the jinchuuriki to put up a feeble fight.
Pein stood confident in his power. Ever since he had mastered his Rinnegan and its six paths of power, he had encountered no human equal.
With his objective complete, he decided to punish Konoha for its arrogant resistance. Pein's deva form, the once mortal body of his best friend Yahiko, gathered all his energies for his Shinra Tensei technique. The attack appeared in the sky over Konoha like a horde of eager demons ready to feast. Focusing his gravitational powers, Pein used his Shinra Tensei attack to crush the village under his heel.
Konoha collapsed under the weight of his ambitions.
Assassinating the Godaime Hokage Tsunade while her helpless forces watched was the only task Pein had left in this accursed village. The wreckage of what had been the strongest of shinobi villages would stand as a warning to the world.
Despair. Nowhere is safe. No one is safe.
For Uzumaki Naruto, the battle against Pein and his six paths was one of the most intense battles he had ever fought. Pein's attack consisted of six separate, dangerous bodies all coordinated perfectly with one mind.
Naruto leapt into action destroying one of Pein's bodies attempting to kill Tsunade. He fell upon his adversary with a simple Rasengan, striking him down with a force akin to divine wrath, leaving the body shattered at his feet.
It was a battle of luck, skill, preparation, and, above all, will.
Naruto fought perfectly with the aid of Gamabunta and his tribe, using shadow clones, Toad Sage techniques, his absolute mastery of the Rasengan technique along with its increasingly deadly variations, along with every dirty little trick he had ever learned or could come up with on the fly.
It was a close battle at several points, but one thing was fortunate. This was an enemy he could hurl everything at without regret, without restraint. This was not a recovery mission like one against Sasuke at the Valley of the End where he was hamstrung by mission objectives and personal feelings.
Uzumaki Naruto's mind was calm, his rage icy, and his purpose clear. He had to protect Konohagakure no Sato at any cost.
Even as desperate at this confrontation proved to be, it would be a taste of heaven compared to what waited for him afterward.
His hands were bleeding, scraped and cut. His fingernails had broken and torn. Still, he dug and sifted through the rubble of his village.
The boost provided to him in Sage form was long gone. His formidable stamina taxed, Uzumaki Naruto could only form less than a dozen Kage Bunshin, all as wounded and exhausted as their creator. Still, they continued to work.
It had been a good while since he had located anyone alive. The civilian school was the worst as he uncovered tiny broken body after tiny broken body.
God, his hands hurt, but not nearly as much as his heart.
Looking at the sky, it looked like the sun would rise soon. His friends and comrades implored him to rest, to recover. Naruto shook his head no. The only thing that mattered was "the count." Even the bodies he recovered would provide closure for the families of Konoha.
Finally, the news he had been waiting for had been delivered to him by his teammate Haruno Sakura.
"Naruto, please stop! We've been able to account for everyone. Please."
Naruto felt the miraculous energy that had sustained him through the night escape him like a mortally wounded man's last shuddering breath.
"What's the final toll, Sakura-chan?" asked the blond teen, becoming unsteady on his feet.
"438 people lost, largely civilians. That number is expected to hold since most of our patients are stable now," stated the Hokage's apprentice softly.
"Thanks..." whispered Naruto, losing consciousness and collapsing where he stood.
The pink-haired medic caught him carefully before he hit the ground.
The majority of leaf ninja and some civilians were aware of Uzumaki Naruto's past exploits having heard or seen the incontrovertible evidence but, for many, the rumors sounded entirely too outlandish.
"Really, an apprentice to the Jiraiya of the Sannin? You're fucking with me."
"I heard he defeated Gaara of the Sand during the invasion."
"I saw him use some crazy technique on my last mission. It sounds crazy as all hell, but I think it was the Yondaime's Rasengan."
"You heard about how that Uzumaki kid took out an S-rank nin named Pazuzu or something with a single hit?"
After the Akatsuki leader came to the village, it was extremely difficult for even the most callous and misinformed of Konohagakure no Sato's citizens to even attempt to maintain their long held opinions about Uzumaki Naruto as a talent-less troublemaker, insufferable brat, or precariously caged monster. If they could not witness it firsthand, those who had been left conscious in the aftermath of Pein's devastating Shinra Tensei technique were informed by the Godaime's slug summons stabilizing their injuries that Uzumaki Naruto was fighting Pein single-handedly.
The reactions of the people of Konoha were varied.
"Really! That kid? Huh, times have changed," muttered a middle-aged merchant.
"Shit, I guess it takes a monster to fight a monster. Whatever. I just hope that brat fucks that monster up," nodded a bitter old woman, who had lost her only son to one of the Kyuubi no Yoko's attacks.
Grudging respect came from even the most virulent of Naruto's detractors for his fight against Pein. His usefulness and competency could not be questioned now. Uzumaki Naruto's power now inspired respect and some measure of fear in the people who did not know him. For those that did, they felt awe, and no small degree of pride, after overcoming their initial shock.
Despite the seriousness of the situation, even Umino Iruka could not suppress the small grin that appeared on his face when he informed of the news that Naruto had crushed each incarnation of Pein in defense of Konoha.
After defeating the formidable Akatsuki leader, Uzumaki Naruto forever cemented a new reputation for himself inadvertently with his next actions. With a familiar seal, he summoned as many Kage Bunshin as he ever dared. A veritable sea of clones, too numerous to count, appeared ready to follow his orders.
"Listen up!! Split up into teams of 8 or more! We don't rest until we recover everyone from the rubble! Everyone! Move!" roared Naruto.
With that, the Konoha's only Jinchuuriki spearheaded Konoha's rescue and relief efforts.
It's one thing to witness a powerful ninja defend his village against his powerful enemy. It's quite another to see the same shinobi roll up his sleeves and pull the village up from the jaws of catastrophe with his bare hands. Bands of Naruto's clones paired with other able ninja, along with toad and slug summons, to clear out rubble from destroyed buildings to recover the injured, dead, and dying.
People who had only known Uzumaki Naruto by his unsavory reputation, and those that avoided, mistrusted, discriminated against, and even hated him in the past found themselves owing their lives and those of their loved ones to the efforts of a blond genin and his many clones.
The brutality of Pein's assault upon Konoha was unmatched by anything in recent memory, save for the Third Great Shinobi War. The Sand-Sound invasion of Konoha during the chuunin exams was successfully countered and repelled with a comparatively small loss of life on the side of Konoha's forces. The devastating blow had been the loss of the Sandaime to Orochimaru's treachery. Even the attack by the nine-tailed demon fox which had cost dozens of shinobi their lives, including that of the Yondaime Hokage, had been halted before it could reach the village proper. In each of these previous attacks, the lives lost belonged mostly to the village's military forces.
Pein's attack brought this brand of misery to the Konoha's civilian populace. Although Tsunade utilized her summon Katsuyu in an attempt to protect all of her people, Pein's Shinra Tensei proved especially fatal to those unused to reinforcing their bodies with chakra. In the massive shockwave of Pein's Shinra Tensei, pieces of shrapnel flew finding deadly targets in the bodies of Konoha's untrained citizens. Buildings that had stood since the reign of the first Hokage had collapsed under the attack, crushing and impaling those inside.
Any lingering animosity on behalf of the people of Konoha towards Uzumaki Naruto evaporated instantly as he pulled them up from ruins one by one, and reunited them with their loved ones, both living and dead.
How could you hate anyone who held you as you shuddered with sobs over a lost loved one, who rushed like a man possessed to find your dying child a goddamn medic, guided you to shelter, and provided you with warm food when your tears had all but dried up?
Naruto awoke atop an unfamiliar cot inside of a sizable canvas tent. Someone had bandaged his hands as he slept, but he was fairly confident that they were completely healed, leaving no scars as always...at least on the outside.
Jiraiya's apprentice felt recovered physically, but exhausted mentally. As the memories came back to him, it felt as if his recovery efforts lasted not for the greater part of a day as it truly had, but for days, weeks even. Because of his repeated use of the Kage Bunshin technique, he experienced the aftermath of the attack on Konohagakure several times over. It was something Naruto would not have wished on anyone else.
"Please help me, Niisan. I-I feel so cold now," whispered a young, brown-hared girl, 7 or 8 years of age, bleeding out after being skewered by length of rebar.
Naruto couldn't move her for fear of exacerbating her already grievous injuries. All he could do was hope that the medic-nin he had requested would appear and perform a miracle.
"Reika, right? Just keep talking to me. You'll be all right," lied Uzumaki Naruto through his teeth, holding her bloodied hand in his.
He hated lying.
He hated everything about this situation.
Naruto had removed his coat to provide her with a makeshift blanket, but she was still shivering badly.
Naruto didn't know what happened to her after the stressed male medic-nin took over. All he could do was keep moving forward on pure momentum, knowing if he didn't he would crash, and crash badly.
For Reika and others like her, Naruto let himself feel a glimmer of hope. In so many cases, he was far too late. Dozens? Hundreds? Thousands? It was hard to tell as their crumpled and torn forms all started to bleed together from different perspectives. He could remember the wails of the brokenhearted, and of those simply broken. Their cries echoed in his head as the perfect soundtrack to the panorama of hell his memories created.
Naruto sat on his cot, trying to get his head straight. His hands were shaking like an old man's. Wiping his watery eyes, he stood up and pushed aside a tent flap. There were things that needed doing, and weeping like a little kid wasn't going to make them get done any faster.
He walked into the light.
Danzo sat in his reinforced underground bunker (of what had been the former headquarters of his disbanded Root organization) calmly awaiting whatever judgment lay in store for him. He knew that, by choosing to intercept Tsunade's message to Mount Myobokuzan to recall Uzumaki Naruto, simply being killed would be the least of his concerns. He had assassinated the toad summon bearing the Hokage's orders so that Konoha's ace in the hole, its Jinchuuriki, would not be put into play prematurely. He had no intention of fighting, begging, or pleading for his life.
The thick steel door of the bunker flew off its hinges before slamming into the opposite wall. Despite Danzo's expectation of seeing a furious Godaime Hokage in the space his door had previously occupied, this feat of strength belonged to Uzumaki Naruto whose eyes appeared to glow eerily in the dim candlelight of the room. Apparently, the accounts he had overhead about the fight with Pein had not been exaggerated. Tsunade trailed behind him with a half-dozen masked and armored ANBU members.
None of them were former Root Anbu, Danzo noted idly. Their body language reflected way too much anger, and too little emotional control.
"You son of a bitch! I only have one question for you. Why?!" demanded a furious Tsunade.
Danzo felt like smirking.
"I swore to protect Konoha at ANY cost. Deploying Konoha's ultimate weapon before it could be properly forged and sharpened would have cost us the game. I could not allow it," stated the old one-eyed man.
Naruto interjected first, his calm voice betraying the barest glimmer of his rage like the moonlight reflecting of the edge of a matte black standard ANBU-issue sword.
"Do you call losing the lives of 442 of Konoha's citizens a game, you bastard?"
Danzo had the audacity to chuckle, and, at that moment, Naruto wanted to make him eat a Rasengan and watch as the teeth flew out of his head. Tsunade's firm, reassuring hand on his shoulder cautioned him against doing so.
"I call the loss of 442 lives a drop in the bucket compared to what we lost during the three Great Shinobi Wars. It would be a bargain at twice the price as long as you, Konoha's sword, existed to cut down her enemies," reflected Danzo.
The former village council member's words struck a painful chord within Naruto like the tip of a rusty and chipped kunai scraping against his ribs.
"I am not your goddamn weapon! I would gladly lay down my life to protect my home and those I hold dear, but not as an emotionless tool. The reason why everyone suffers so fucking much is because we only see each other as tools, sacrifices, or obstacles instead of people!"
The bandaged man scoffed at the Jinchuuriki's idealism.
"A simple question for you then, boy. What would you do if another enemy came along wanting and willing to burn Konoha to the ground and its people along with it? An enemy that couldn't be talked at, bargained with, or even reasoned with," challenged Danzo.
Quickly musing over the question, the blond genin remembered the lifeless bodies he recovered, the friends and comrades he would never see again, and his eyes unwaveringly met Danzo's.
"I would kill them where they stood," stated Uzumaki Naruto, uncharacteristically subdued.
Danzo could recognize the steely resolve in Naruto's eyes and in his words. He nodded once, sharply.
"Take good care of Konoha then, Uzumaki," stated Danzo.
"That's enough," decided Tsunade.
She gestured to her ANBU guards.
"Take him into custody."
Danzo surrendered without a struggle, knowing that he would most likely be tortured and disposed of. Despite that, he felt better than he had in decades.
Despite the fanciful words, Konoha's weapon had been sharpened to a keen edge, and, in his own tired frame, the village would have its scapegoat.
Danzo's work was done, and he was content.
With Konoha's defenses so weakened, the Hokage ordered all the nin she could spare with specialties in intelligence gathering to set up a far reaching defensive network around Konoha and throughout Fire Country. Many of these shinobi were Hyuuga, Aburame clan members, or those with particularly useful summoning contracts linked by radio. A number of them were partnered with Uzumaki Naruto's shadow clones.
Their orders were to observe any threats, but not to engage them. Too many lives had been lost already, so they were urged to fall back and report about any possible threats, and to dispel their clone partners to send information directly to Konoha.
The Godaime hoped that these measures would simply turn out to be paranoia on her part, but she knew a crippled Konoha might provide too tempting a target for enemies of the leaf.
Not even three days after Pein's invasion of Konoha, the first intelligence reports poured in before daylight broke across the darkened sky.
A frantic ANBU member shouted to get the Hokage's attention.
"Lady Tsunade! We're receiving reports of Akatsuki members heading on a course set for Konoha. There are four of them, one of which appears to be the missing-nin Uchiha Sasuke!"
Tsunade's attention was immediately pulled away from the patient she had been treating.
"How far are they?" asked the worried and angered leader.
"A few hours at most, ma'am," replied the raccoon-masked soldier, handing over a scroll.
"I'm calling an emergency assembly at the command tent in 10 minutes, locate all capable jounin and chuunin, and as well as Uzumaki Naruto."
The debriefing was a quick, but not painless process. The last Uchiha's newly revealed allegiance was a demoralizing blow, a steel-toed kick to the teeth of an already fallen Konoha.
At the news, half-formed plans started to tumble out of people's mouths, desperate for a solution.
"I'll handle it," stated Uzumaki Naruto in a tone that left absolutely no room for argument.
Because of a dispelled Kage Bunshin, Naruto was one of the first in the village to receive the news about Sasuke, even before this emergency meeting. It left him almost numb with anger. By taking up one of those goddamned black cloaks, especially now, Sasuke had drawn a line in the sand. The Akatsuki's black and red cloaks were a symbol of innocent people being sacrificed for some obscure ambition, a red dawn they were attempting to build atop the corpses of his loved ones.
For Sasuke, there would be no turning back.
Naruto wasn't interested at all in hearing his former teammate's justifications. Reasons were fucking worthless to the hundreds of people who died when Pein razed Konoha to the ground.
Every time he closed his eyes, Naruto could see them burned into his mind's eye. In his head, he could recite the names of the fallen like sutras.
"...Hitomi, Aoi, Kisuke, San, Jun, Tadanobu..."
Naruto could forgive almost any offense to his person, but not to his village. A Chidori crackling though his lung, he could forget. He was tough and could endure, and would endure if it meant sparing his precious people the suffering. He would gladly take the hits meant for them without complaining.
"...Rin, Shiina, Giichi, Saburo, Tatsu, Reika..."
The blond teenager could perfectly understand now why Old Man Sarutobi died with a smile on his face. Hokages lived and died enduring, because they loved the villagers, and had faith in Konohagakure no Sato and all that it stood for.
Danzo was wrong. Uzumaki Naruto wouldn't be Konoha's sword. He would be her shield to protect her from danger, as well as her spear to strike down her enemies at a distance.
Naruto made eye contact with all of the shinobi gathered now, noting the painfully conspicuous absences of both Kakashi-sensei and Shizune-neechan.
Enough was enough.
"I'm going to send all of them Konoha's sincerest regards," stated the Toad Summoner icily as he stood. "Anyone who wants to argue will just have to try and stop me."
No one at the meeting disagreed.
"What are you going to do in the meanwhile?" questioned a somber Shikamaru.
"I'm going to grab a bite to eat, and then I'm going to meditate like a motherfucker."
After the meeting ended, Haruno Sakura caught up to the only other original member of Team 7 left.
"Hey Sakura-chan! You hungry, too?" asked Naruto cheerfully as he turned around.
He was caught entirely flatfooted when she nearly barreled him over with a hug. His ribs strained a bit. She was a lot stronger than she looked.
"Please don't..." cried Sakura into his shoulder
"Don't what?" wondered Naruto, puzzled.
"Don't try to talk him out of it. Sasuke's not coming back. You don't have to keep that stupid promise to me."
Naruto smiled, not a confident grin, but something small and something true.
"You know I would never break any of my promises, especially to you."
She squeezed him even tighter.
"Idiot, I don't want to lose you. Not now, not ever."
"You misunderstand me, Sakura-chan. I promised I would bring Sasuke back to the village. I didn't specify how."
Sakura looked up at her best friend, eyes widening in understanding.
"I brought Kakuzu back to Konoha, didn't I?"
The pink-haired young woman could not help but giggle at the blonde's newly found sense of black humor, muttering "idiot" affectionately.
Before they broke apart, her lips found his whiskered cheek impulsively, awfully close to his lips.
Their faces both flushed cherry tomato red.
"Uh... So just come back safe, okay?"
Naruto nodded, speechless for a change.
"Jeez. Get a tent you two," interrupted a bandaged and limping Inuzuka Kiba.
"Fuck you, Kiba," replied Naruto, annoyed.
"Maybe, when I'm healed up," quiped Kiba. "I'll be up for a threesome then. Can we flip a coin for heads or tails, then?"
He waggled his eyebrows at Sakura suggestively.
Composed now, the medic nin summoned glowing energy to her right hand letting her impeccable control slip, forming a vicious looking chakra scalpel. She growled, "If you don't shut the hell up, I'll make sure you'll never be 'up' for anything ever again."
Wisely, Kiba limped away with all the speed he could manage on crutches.
Uzumaki Naruto sighed before turning to his companion.
"Still want to join me for that meal, Sakura-chan?"
Naruto sat cross-legged as he meditated, gathering and channeling energy.
Senjutsu, or the Sage Arts, were unlike any other paths to power Naruto had ever encountered in the shinobi world. According to Fukasaku's recollection of Jiraiya's accounts, the Sharingan couldn't copy its techniques or powers, and, in Naruto's hands, the Rinnegan failed to counter its potency. This was not due to Senjutsu being a freakish aberration, a forbidden anomaly, or an exception to the rule.
In fact, it was something greater.
Amazed at the progress of Jiraiya's apprentice during training, the old toad Fukasaku threw around words like "spiritual aptitude" and "transcendental purity" attempting to explain relationships and mechanisms Naruto had difficulty putting into words. The aged toad was bewildered and delighted.
All that the blond could describe with any accuracy was how it felt.
The traditional shinobi arts of taijutsu, genjutsu, and ninjutsu revolved around manipulation, force, and control. The Rasengan was an ideal example of perfect control and perfect manipulation. Genjutsu required flawless mental manipulation of your opponent. Taijutsu was the efficient manipulation of a user's body in relationship to an enemy or enemies.
Senjutsu, on the other hand, was not a damn thing like any of that. You could rage all you want, call up as much energy as you had at your disposal, and use whatever foul kinjutsu you wanted. If you couldn't connect, you were shit out of luck. As with anything, communication was a two-street street. Lie all you want, but you could not fool nature, and you could not manipulate nature.
A ninja could perform elemental jutsus, but just because a ninja could convert his chakra into a fireball, an ice wall, or even a wooden vacation house did not mean they were actually communing with the world around them. Elemental manipulation was just that, still manipulation, and not cooperation.
Being a Toad Sage meant opening yourself up to the world and in return having the world open itself to you. For Uzumaki Naruto, that meant finding out he was much bigger, and at the same time much infinitely smaller in the grander scheme of things than he had ever considered.
Many of his traits that people in the past had criticized as weaknesses unbecoming a proper shinobi had only made him a better Toad Sage. The tendency of his to speak his mind freely, and his habit of keeping his emotions open and unguarded, had provided him with the vulnerability and spiritual stillness to hear the natural world and be heard in return.
Deception of self and others made it impossible to connect to the world, and "proper" shinobi were nothing if not masters of deception.
Even attempting to learn Senjutsu required a student to have massive stores of chakra, because, once you connected, you have to have the strength of mind, body, and soul to act as one of the world's tenketsu.
Despite the advantages of Sage Mode, there were serious dangers involved. Balance was required so that one would not be swept up and overwhelmed by the tide of nature's energies. Those that did found themselves losing their human forms, turned into animals or turned to stone.
It was fortunate for Uzumaki Naruto that, besides being an extraordinarily open individual, he possessed a stubbornly defined sense of self. It was almost frightening as, regardless of his accomplishments, there were levels and layers of the world he could not yet comprehend.
Further meditative exploration could wait as Naruto opened everything he had to the world around him, his anger over Sasuke's latest betrayal and impending assault, his almost overwhelming sadness over the Akatsuki's attack on his home, his giddiness over the affection that Sakura showed him, and his hope for the future.
A sense of peace washed over him as he felt the weight of the world disappear from his shoulders. Instead, he became aware of the world supporting his own weight, along with innumerable other things filtering into his perception in bits and pieces.
The small brown bird that appeared on his right shoulder continued to chirp its simple psalm of joy.
Naruto could sense the presences of his friends and comrades throughout the village, sometimes with brief glimpses or their actions. It was not an exact science, however.
Tsunade-obachan treated an old man's splintered leg.
Sai performed a puppet show for some recovering children with his ink techniques.
Burning at the furthest edges of his perception, the young sage unmistakably felt Sasuke's twisted chakra, wound tightly like a spool of barbed wire.
Uzumaki Naruto's now golden eyes snapped open.
After rising to his feet, he summoned two shadow clones to channel nature energy as insurance.
As Old Man Fukasaku instructed him, the first foundational technique of Toad Sage taijutsu that Naruto learned was the Toad Leap, a technique useful for transportation and for initial attacks.
Focusing the all the abilities at his disposal, Naruto pushed the technique further and faster than either Fukasaku or Jiraiya would have ever considered possible, leaving his village, and any regrets behind.
With the sun shining down upon him, Uzumaki Naruto broke through the clouds and silently greeted the open sky.
Thanks to Karin's chakra sensing abilities, the members of Team Hawk swiftly approached Konohagakure no Sato by avoiding its sparse patrols. Konoha had to have been smarting from Pein's assault if this was the miserable state of its defenses, thought Uchiha Sasuke.
As soon as he had been informed of Pein's plans for Konoha by Madara, the youngest Uchiha had mobilized the rest of the members of Team Hawk, Juugo, Suigetsu, and Karin. All were previously aligned to Orochimaru's former village of Otogakure no Sato, as unwilling experiments or resources to be used up.
The timing of Pein's attack was fortunate, as Sasuke recently learned of the self-destructive nature of his newly activated Mangekyo Sharingan. Continued usage of the highest form of Sharingan would deteriorate his eyesight over time.
It only made sense to attack Konoha when it was at its weakest, and while his eyes still possessed their full measure of strength. On an intellectual level, the teenaged Uchiha was peripherally aware that attacking an already devastated village was in no way fair or just. On a more apparent emotional sense, Sasuke could not give a damn.
This was the same village that had orchestrated the massacre of his entire clan. He only hoped that Pein spared enough of Konoha left to make this assault worthwhile. Even if only cinders were left, Sasuke would salt the earth so that nothing ever grew there again.
The only regret Sasuke had about attacking his former village was that he could no longer summon Manda to add a certain dramatic flair to his attack.
Maybe if anyone survived, they could rename the charred husk he planned to leave behind, "The Village Hidden in Ashes."
"All right, Konoha is almost on the horizon. If any of you don't want to participate, just provide back-up then, but if you get in my way, I'll end you. Understood?" shouted Sasuke addressing the rest of Team Hawk.
"From this point on, we kill anything that moves," ordered the red-eyed missing nin.
Sasuke scanned the horizon for any approaching forces with his Sharingan. None. Nothing was out of the ordinary.
Shortly after the members of Team Hawk proceeded with an assault formation towards Konoha with Sasuke on point, the earth shook as if an asteroid had slammed into it.
Ignoring the thin atmosphere and cold temperatures at the apex of his jump, Uzumaki Naruto focused on the chakra presence of Uchiha Sasuke. He was but a pebble in a stream, but Naruto had no difficulty tracking him.
Naruto let the stream guide him to Sasuke as he fell, faster and faster, ever closer to his target.
A most curious thing about being infused with nature energy was that Naruto did not give off a presence like any normal nin did.
No killing intent. No surging chakra, not unless he chose to employ ninjutsu. Nothing out of the ordinary, just Uzumaki Naruto intertwined indistinguishably with nature in a profound and powerful manner.
Uchiha Sasuke had always been a goal-oriented individual, sacrificing short-term relationships with comrades for his long-term goals of revenge, for good or for ill. For this reason, he kept his eyes, bubbling over with hatred, firmly pointed in the direction of his former village, scanning the horizon occasionally.
He never bothered to look up, having supreme confidence in his doujutsu, and fearsome skills.
When Uzumaki Naruto wordlessly pounded him into the ground like a railroad spike using an instantly formed Rasengan as a sledgehammer, Uchiha Sasuke never even saw it coming.
It was the finest expression of a Toad Leap Uzumaki Naruto could manage, both as transportation and as well as an initial attack.
At the bottom of the sizable crater holding Sasuke's crumpled and understandably mangled form, Naruto formed Kage Bunshin to cover him as he worked. Grabbing his former rival by the hair, the genin quickly unsheathed a kunai in an ice pick grip, inserted it between the cervical vertebrae at the base of Sasuke's skull to separate them, before severing the head cleanly and staking it, face first, to the wall of the crater.
He waited a few moments to Rasengan the hell out of any weird shit that may have popped out as a result of Orochimaru's experiments, before joining his clones.
Naruto had been able to take out Sasuke for free, but was more than willing to pay full price for the rest of them.
Karin was the first to get back to her feet after the shockwave of the mysterious impact knocked the rest to Team hawk on their asses. A massive crater stood in the space Sasuke previously occupied, but before she could check up on him a red and orange figure blurred towards her.
When Karin screamed, her other recently roused teammates motioned to help her, but a fast moving chakra distortion originating from the direction of the crater passed through Suigetsu, and expanded to engulf Juugo while they focused their attention on her.
The blur slammed into the red-haired girl, sending her flying. After hearing multiple cracks belonging to her bones, she rolled to a stop on her back.
Looking at the sky, she spotted a young blond with determined look on his face falling towards her with glowing spheres of chakra in the palm of each hand.
Not able to meet her demise head-on, Karin closed her eyes as tears trailed down her cheeks.
Long past the point of squeamishness with dead bodies, Naruto confirmed his other kills, and prepared the corpses for retrieval.
It would only be a matter of minutes before the hunter-nin came for Sasuke and the other guys.
Naruto felt like laughing bitterly. Technically another dream of his had been fulfilled, just not like how he'd imagined it once again. Sasuke would be returning to his home village---not in triumph, but in chunks and sealed in a storage scroll.
"Will things ever turn out the way I imagine them?" wondered the orphan out loud.
He hoped that that medic-nin he requested would make good time as well.
Jiraiya's apprentice looked off in the distance and observed the red-haired girl he had spared, despite his personal feelings about the Akatsuki. Naruto had promised to lead a shinobi existence without regrets, and killing a crying lady would have been pretty damn regrettable. He had the faint inkling that Jiraiya would have agreed, and probably would have derived a plotline from it for his book series.
Mercy or not, after knocking her out with the ring of a kunai to the temple, he bound her with ninja wire and had a shadow clone observing her, a ways off, just in case she tried anything screwy.
Uzumaki Naruto sighed, feeling much older than he appeared.
Shit. He had a ton of things to do.
Konoha was still in shambles, and needed to be rebuilt from the ground up.
For the Love of Konoha
A few weeks ago if you had asked Uzumaki Naruto to meditate for a few hours in silence, he would have pointed behind you, exclaiming someone had dropped a large wallet crammed with money, then blinded you with the dust from his kicked-up heels as he hauled ass in the opposite direction.
Now, Uzumaki Naruto appreciated the peace and quiet sitting in silence provided. While his clones found new and amazing ways of electrocuting themselves while learning the ins and outs of installing wiring or new ways to acquire stumps with carpentry, he could clear his head.
Ever since starting on the path of becoming a sage, he even kinda dug the fact that animals, plants, and even insects now seemed to adore him. It's a given that he was a little weirded out when he first witnessed a giant centipede dancing a little jig out of respect near the Forest of Death, but it was a thrill when one of the notoriously ornery Nara deer finally consented to having Naruto pet him.
What was even better was that, the more he communicated with the natural world, the better his listening for it became. He knew deep down he was on the cusp of something huge, like understanding a part of the world that yearned to be heard. You could even say it obsessed him a little bit.
Never let it be said that Uzumaki Naruto did not go out on a limb to make new friends.
To that end, Naruto was perched on his favorite place atop the Hokage Monument again, sitting in quiet contemplation. He could almost feel it now, pulsing below layers of reality he could not yet fathom. It was a pulse, a heartbeat beating in tune with his. Naruto reached out with everything he could give and...
...and someone flicked his face.
"What the hell, lady?" exclaimed the blond teenager rubbing the tip of his nose, and rising to his feet.
"It looked like you were thinking waaaay too hard," exclaimed the newcomer cheerfully, "Uzumaki Naruto, right?"
"Uh, yeah. Just don't spread the word around, I've got a hard-earned reputation as a knucklehead to maintain," joked Naruto, his brief anger already spent.
Anyone who could sneak up on him and give him one was worthy of regard, decided the (mostly) former prankster.
She looked about as old as he was, with tanned skin, and hair and eyes a curious shade of forest green. Her feet were bare and she wore a kind of brown slip and...
Her gown fluttered in the breeze, and Naruto pinched his nose to staunch any oncoming blood flow.
...and not a damn thing under it.
"I wanted to thank you for everything, you know?" she said softly, looking out over the entire village.
That statement sobered Naruto up like a bucket of ice water. Unconsciously, his fists clenched slightly.
"I only wish I could've done more. I swear to spend every waking second making sure nothing like that ever happens again to Konoha."
Naruto closed his eyes briefly, and was once again reminded of the carnage.
"You really mean that, don't you?" she turned around, hints of happiness apparent in her eyes.
"Yup, I'll even get my face carved here on this giant rock one of these days to prove it," smiled Naruto.
She walked to Naruto and embraced him.
"I want to help you then, to rebuild, and to protect," whispered the green-haired girl.
To Naruto, she smelled like the crisp, clean morning air in the woods after a rainfall.
She tilted her head up to meet his and she tenderly pressed her lips against his. An intense warmth spread from Uzumaki Naruto's lower abdomen to his entire body, as she molded herself to him.
"I don't even know your name," mused Naruto, a little weak in the knees.
"I've got a bunch of names," she replied, amused.
"How about you start with one?" suggested the Toad Sage.
She smiled warmly.
"Hashirama-kun always referred to me as Konoha, but I want you to call me Konoha-chan."
The blond genin's eyes widened in recognition.
Laughing, she kissed his stunned form once again before vanishing into a swirl of green leaves.
Comments and criticism are welcome. :)