A/N: There are quite a few 'banish-Naruto-and-then-drag-him-back' stories out there. I have a few objections to the way most of them play out. Here's a short story as a response.
Uzumaki Naruto felt the eyes on him as he walked from his field. He paused and tapped his sturdy shoe against a tree stump. Hours spent in the field could build up quite a muddy crust. He breathed in and out a few times. Yes, there were five watchers.
Five. A mere five watchers….
He continued back to his small house. His network of informers had told him this day was coming, but he hadn't expected it to be this soon.
…To send only five – it meant Konoha didn't know who he was now. They didn't understand what he could do. They had totally ignored him for the last few years, giving him a chance to thrive. They viewed it as him fading away; he thanked the unmerciful Kami as time to get ready.
If he was nothing else now, he was ready. For anything. Especially five idiots staring at him from the forest outside his farm. He suppressed a smile as he entered his home and shut the door.
He spent a few moments preparing instant ramen once he entered his home. He hated the stuff normally, now that he had access to a wide range of fresh food, but he was putting on a show for his watchers.
After all, Uzumaki Naruto loved ramen and hated the three minutes needed to cook instant ramen. That was all anyone seemed to remember about him. They didn't know anything else…and Naruto had no intention of tipping them off.
Wouldn't his watchers experience surprise when they learned that Naruto had changed, had grown?
He went to bed a few minutes after the sun set. It was midsummer and sunrise came fast to a farmer. Plus he wanted to give his watchers more time to work up their courage. He placed mental odds – one chance in three – that his watchers would become his would-be abductors this evening.
Naruto woke just after two in the morning. His watchers were trying to enter his home.
The blonde ninja rose from his bed and wrapped a robe around his bare torso. He picked up a special package of senbon and stepped without a sound from his basement bedroom.
He ghosted up the stairs. He didn't even need the feedback from the sealing arrays all over the house to tell him there were only five intruders. He could hear them; he could smell them. Once he got to the main level, he'd be able to see them in the dark.
That wasn't to say that the ninja invading his house weren't good. No, not at all. Maito Gai, for his oafish off-duty behavior, was all business when on assignment. His student, Hyuuga Neji, was as taciturn as always. The other three, obviously skilled at masking their chakra signatures, were experienced jounin. Naruto didn't recognize them by smell, but Konoha had had over three hundred jounin when he'd been banished. That was six years earlier.
People came and went in the ninja world. It was one of the very few truths that always held. In six years, even Konoha could find and mold some new talent. Not everyone was held to an impossible standard by incompetent politicians. Like council elders who expect a basically raw genin named Naruto to perform a retrieval task without injuring a fleeing ninja who was unwilling to stop flinging around assassination jutsu.
Of course Sasuke was going to get injured.
Sasuke had a few shredded muscle in his arm and upper chest and a few broken bones. The medic corps had him back in top shape within a week.
The whole hearing had been a farce…and Tsunade had just frowned the whole time. Even if people had objected to the show trial, no one had argued for him. No one had defended him.
Banishment, as hard as it was to accept, was actually the best thing to have ever happened to him. Freed from a hateful village, freed from well meaning, if ineffective (Iruka), lazy and uncaring (Kakashi), and powerful if easily distracted (Jiraiya) teachers…Naruto had had to learn on his own. He had had to question what he really wanted after the tantalizing apple of the Hokage role was gone.
Now…now, Konoha was back for good or ill. He wouldn't have it. Was he to be blamed that Sasuke escaped again a few weeks after Naruto's banishment – or that Sasuke's broken body had been found in Rice Country? Naruto had been in Spring Country talking with Princess Yukie when all of that happened. Of course, even a Daimyo's word wouldn't be enough for people who weren't interested in the truth.
Konoha had just ended the unofficial truce Naruto had declared with them. This breaking into his home was an overt act done by known Konoha ninja. They would pay – for their actions six years ago and for their actions this day.
Naruto stood still on the top stair and listened. Two ninja were in his kitchen, just past the door in front of him. Two others were in his guest room. The last one had gone outside…to keep watch? Or to cause mischief? It was hard to tell what a ninja might do on any given day.
Naruto pushed the door in front of him open just an inch or two. The well-oiled hinges gave nothing away.
He withdrew two senbon from the package, pulled back his arm, took a breath and checked his aim, and then released the thin needles through a crack in the door less than an inch wide.
Naruto was in motion before the needles reached their targets. He had two more to deal with inside his home.
He was in a narrow hallway before he heard the thuds of two falling bodies.
The nose was just enough to bring the ninja out from his guest room. Two more senbon found their targets, the critical nerve clusters of would-be assassins.
A few moments later, Naruto determined where the fifth ninja was. He was attempting to stage some kind of an accidental fire near Naruto's home.
Naruto left the senbon alone this time.
He climbed through a window and stepped from stone to stone in his garden. He had purposefully kept a rather noisy selection of plants – dry grasses that crush under foot, for instance – in the space surrounding his home. The only way to move silently around this space was to know precisely where the paving stones were.
Naruto ran this course and others like it a few times a week to keep up his skills.
As he stepped off the last stone, ten feet from the window he'd exited, he bent down and pulled a sharpened stone from the ground.
Four hostages were plenty for interrogation purposes.
Anyone attempting to set fire to his home wasn't worth keeping around. A moment later, the distracted ninja, frustrated at the light wind that kept extinguishing his matches, didn't even notice when a six inch segment of stone entered the back of his skull. He flopped over dead, the fire he had been working on unconsummated.
Naruto bent down and turned this ninja over. He removed the man's obscuring mask. The blonde ninja didn't recognize his victim. He couldn't understand why someone would be so eager to set an innocent man's home on fire…but justice, in this case, was served.
Naruto lifted the bulky ninja and carried him to an outbuilding where he normally kept a few head of cattle or some sheep. At present, the building was empty, save for a cooling corpse.
Naruto spent nearly an hour getting his four 'guests' ready for their interrogations. He maintained a soundproofed room in his basement for tasks such as this – a rather sad commentary on Uzumaki Naruto's life post-banishment.
He had entertained several Leaf ninja over the years. Some claimed to be serving the betterment of society, but without authorization, when they came. Others refused to answer; refused to react much at all. It had taken Naruto some time to puzzle them out, but he determined them to be a special sub-branch of the village, an old institution called Ne. Still other ninja were hired by Konoha civilians or council members – some from recognized villages, some from unaffiliated clans, some missing ninjas from Cloud or Mist.
The first glowing embers of dawn were in the gray sky when Naruto woke his first subject, an aging jounin called Maito Gai.
"Wha…. Uzumaki Naruto?" The Leaf jounin had lights focused on him and could not see if his target was in the room with him. The man, for his ridiculous attire, did recover well from disorientation.
"I am here. Now, tell me, Konoha ninja, why you have entered my home this evening, why one of you attempted to set fire to it."
A scowl appeared on the Leaf jounin's face. "That was most unyouthful! I did not know that anyone would do something so…." The main struggled for a word that wasn't related to youth.
"Tell me why you are here."
"To recall you to service, Uzumaki Naruto. The Council…."
At that word, Naruto threw a senbon and struck a pain cluster in Maito Gai's arm. The jounin did not scream, but his face showed a momentary disruption as he struggled to adjust to the pain and not react.
"You would do better to speak only of yourself. The Council banished me six years ago. They told several people in the village that they expected me to die without the protection of the Hidden Leaf Village. I have no fondness for that bunch of shriveled husks. The Council, as you call it with reverence, is a subject you do not wish to resurrect with me."
Maito Gai bit back the pain and said, "Naruto, you must stop this. I must bring you back and see to your re-enrollment in the Ninja Force."
Naruto stepped in front of the lights used to disorient his subjects. He wanted Maito Gai to look at him, to see him without any dirt or grease on his face, without a bandana holding down the bulk of his hair.
The jounin gave the gasp Naruto expected. "You died, Yondaime-sama."
"My…father did die. I, Naruto, am his son. Of course, no one from my birth village ever told me of my parentage; it was a bitter Iwa ninja who taunted me with the fact as he tried to kill me almost six years ago. 'You look like the man who slaughtered my sensei and my older sister all those years ago. But he was strong…and you are but a weak, banished idiot. Tell your father, that bastard Yondaime Hokage, that I despise him and will attack him in the afterlife.' He died a few moments later, although I was grateful for the information. So…Maito Gai, tell me why I would return to the village that I grew up in, that my father ruled, and that banished me."
Gai just stared.
"There is no good reason, is there? It's someone's whim to recall me. To lift this banishment, to drag me back to your pissant village. Obviously, I have my own opinions on this subject. But…I will permit you to tell me why you think I would even be interested in returning."
"I did not know, Naruto-sama. I did not know. But it is all the more reason why you must return…."
"Must?" Naruto's voice sounded bland, but those few who knew him recognized the danger lurking inside his question.
The taijutsu specialist nodded vigorously. "Yes, the new Hokage has recalled you."
"Oh, what happened to the last figurehead?"
Maito Gai looked troubled. "The Godaime succumbed to alcohol poisoning."
Naruto snorted. He had heard that already, but it sounded so odd for an acclaimed medic ninja to die from something so stupid even if she did drink like a fish.
He didn't believe it was the true cause of death…just that it sounded plausible to anyone who'd ever heard of Tsunade's personal habits. She'd sold her soul to that Council years ago – them using some threat or other to keep her pliant – and now she was dead by one of their hands.
Plotters have no place in civilization. When discovered, Naruto believed they needed to be ruthlessly dealt with – and ended.
"And who is this new Hokage?"
"The Council Elders selected a ninja called Ookawa Taizen…."
"It's not a famous name…." Naruto said.
"No, the new Hokage spent his entire career in the ANBU."
Naruto nodded. He filled in the blanks for himself. This ANBU had been Ne. The old ninja Danzo was too useless to become Hokage, but he lived long enough to place an adherent into office.
"Did this new Hokage tell you why I was being recalled?"
"To protect you…."
A grim smile lit up Naruto's face. "Protect? Me? I think not."
"It is true, Naruto-sama. The Akatsuki are still moving, trying to collect…well, trying to do unyouthful things."
Naruto smiled. The word 'unyouthful' was so odd, but it fit this strange man perfectly. He was nearing his fortieth year of age…and still judged everything by its youthfulness.
"I have no fear from the Akatsuki. Indeed, I suspect I'd be in more danger from your new Hokage…."
A gasp emerged from the jounin. "What an unyouthful thing to say, Naruto-sama! He sent me out to assist you, to bring you back to safety."
Naruto assessed his target for a moment. Was he lying or was he that oblivious? "Maito Gai, you claimed to have a rivalry with my former jounin-sensei. Did you never hear his admonition to 'look underneath the underneath?' No, I suspect you're a more straightforward person than that. If you can't see the world for what it is, I cannot change out your eyes for you."
"I do not understand…."
Naruto threw a senbon and rendered the taijutsu specialist unconscious. The man seemed to genuinely believe he was here to improve Naruto's life. He had likely been given different instructors from the ninja who'd been attempting to stage a fire. Too bad that dead man relied too heavily on chakra-based techniques – which could be detected, if used, during a forensic investigation – and did not know how to use matches well.
"It's true that you don't understand, jounin of the Leaf. The Hidden Leaf has fallen to an internal enemy. And you support your enemy without even realizing it. A powerful, foolish man you are."
Naruto spoke with his other three subjects. Neji was just like his genin team sensei: 'I am here to perform a mission to aid Naruto and improve my village.' The other two gave up almost no information and did not react to pain or threats: they were Ne.
Naruto walked out into his fields just before noon. He had a plan to develop. He had long ago realized that physical labor, doing something with his hands, helped his thinking.
He'd farmed non-stop for three days and nights when he heard of Jiraiya's death. The man had been one of the very few to ever show an interest in him, to help him, to try. He had been more obsessed with his pornography than with Naruto's progress, but Naruto still treasured his memories of the man, still vowed vengeance. Naruto could realize the man's failings and still mourn what might have been at the same time. Jiraiya had been a final important connection to his father, to what life would have been without the Kyuubi's attack all those years ago.
He spent two solid days and nights out here after Itachi and Kisame finally tracked him to this location. After he met four of Pain's bodies – and heard how Pain was a student of Jiraiya and had mocked his sensei even after killing him – he cut down a large patch of forest and put in new vegetable gardens. That had taken five days and nights.
Now…now, he needed to decide what to do. Konoha had become even less friendly. The useless old lady he'd helped convince to become Hokage was dead; someone more useless and corrupt was now in power.
Konoha had proven itself no longer a bunch of backstabbing assholes. No, they had just moved themselves into the enemy category. The unofficial truce was destroyed by their action. It's one thing to send anonymous Ne fodder. It's something else to send two renowned taijutsu specialists like Gai and Neji against a banished genin well known for his lack of taijutsu skill.
They were enemies now. Uzumaki Naruto did not treat his enemies well.
He worked well past sunset in the field. He worked past the rising of the full moon. He worked until he finally recognized dew collecting on his rake and hands.
He had a decision. He walked into his storeroom and pulled a vial of a hypnotic drug he'd learned how to fashion from a Grass ninja three years ago. He had some…suggestions to make to these Konoha ninja.
Maito Gai dragged his dead and half dead teammates back to the Hidden Leaf Village. Neji was blind in one eye. The one called Baumara had a wound on her leg that reopened once every few hours. One of the two who hadn't volunteered any name was without an arm; the other was dead.
It took him an hour to move two miles with so many wounded companions. Once he got within border patrol range, he had many more helpers to get his team back. By sunset he was in the hospital getting examined. Neji was sedated. The fatality count rose to two. Only Baumara was still alive of the three unfamiliar ninja.
The Hokage sent a messenger demanding a report at eight o'clock. The heavily wounded jounin walked from the hospital to make his report. He hadn't said anything about youth in days.
Maito Gai began coughing ferociously as he walked up the stairs of the Hokage Tower. No one stopped to ask after him or check on his condition. The Leaf had changed a good deal since Old Sarutobi's death – first a slide into general indifference under Tsunade and now a total freezing of emotion, care, and concern under the Rokudaime.
In that moment, Maito Gai made his decision. He was retiring from active service today. He would leave this place…soon. Maybe tomorrow or the day after. It wasn't the best sort of place to retire to. It no longer felt youthful. It hadn't for a long time, not since his student Rock Lee had perished on a mission.
He finished pulling himself up the stairs. Then he was made to stand – as the Hokage had removed all the seats from his waiting area – for twenty minutes waiting for the summons to enter.
The pain in his calves and thighs was almost unbearable. He didn't remember precisely how he'd been wounded so badly – he could only think of being flung by some type of explosion. When the door opened and the ANBU stepped out of the way, permitting Maito Gai inside, he felt a bit of gratitude…which didn't entirely wash away the anger for being forced to make this report under these circumstances.
The Hokage was seated behind his desk. The man was in his early thirties. Maito Gai knew almost nothing of the man's techniques or prowess. He did know that the man had never trained a genin team…but then Tsunade never had, either, just a sole apprentice. The man was a total unknown.
"Where is Uzumaki Naruto?" the Hokage asked, in a dead tone of voice.
"He is dead," Maito Gai responded.
The Hokage blinked a few times and then stared at the jounin in front of him.
"Excuse me. Please explain yourself."
"I initiated contact with Uzumaki. We spoke for a few minutes near his house. He seemed interested in the idea of returning to the Hidden Leaf, then a loud explosion rocked the area. Three men in black cloaks were soon upon us…."
The Hokage sighed and held up his hand. "Describe the cloaks."
"Identical to what Uchiha Itachi wore. The Akatsuki cloak."
"I was clubbed by a massive sword. Everything else, I don't know what happened. Neji told me that one of the ninja summoned other ninja – perhaps clones of some sort – and leveled everything. The one who clubbed me unconscious with the sword ended up blinding one of Neji's eyes. He didn't see much at all since the pain of losing half his Byakugan, while active, drove him unconscious."
"And Uzumaki? You're sure he was killed?"
"I found the remains myself."
"I had thought the Akatsuki intended to capture, not kill, him…." the Hokage muttered.
"In the midst of combat, it's unclear whether anyone can really be that precise."
The Hokage frowned and nodded once. "I will record this as a mission failure, then. The Council will wish to discuss this disaster at a later date before you resume your duties. This will certainly be a…dark spot on your record, jounin."
"I understand, Hokage. I offer my resignation."
The Hokage looked surprised for a brief moment. Then he gave a single, measured nod. "Accepted. Your career is over as of today. You will be responsible for your own medical bills as of tomorrow."
"I understand." Maito Gai bowed and then left the office. He felt much better. He was done working for this Hokage. He felt severe pain as he walked out of the secure floor and down the stairs. He didn't care.
He no longer thought about the Hokage or about being a ninja. That was the past.
He was so focused on his new future, Maito Gai did not notice when a secret door popped open and an elderly, crippled man step out and began to speak with the 'Hokage.'
One week after Maito Gai left Konoha, a tall man wearing a black cloak with red clouds on it approached the main gate. The two chuunin on guard duty saw him only a hundred meters out and sounded the alarm.
It was too late.
The stream just inside the village walls was filled with water elemental sharks. The ANBU who attempted to come out and aid the chuunin at the gate died. The chuunin died when a massive sword shaved off the tops of their heads.
From the south a massive explosion rocked the walls of Konoha. A crazy, laughing blonde riding a bird of some type lobbed bomb after bomb. Buildings and people exploded.
Very near to the center of the village, near the Hokage Tower, two ninja dropped the illusions they wore. One began swinging a massive, three-bladed scythe. The other began using unusual elemental attacks.
From the west, a female blonde ninja made a series of handseals. Then five other ninjas, of all different shapes and appearances, shimmered into view.
One leveled a hundred meter section of village wall and housing. A hundred civilians and a few ninja died in less than a second.
All across the village, the Akatsuki – even the reputedly defeated and killed members – wreaked havoc.
Uchiha Itachi let loose his feared Black Flames in the Market District. A woman who commanded paper like it was sentient walked straight inside the Hokage Tower and killed everyone she came across.
The puppet user used a mass of puppets to pull every child from the orphanage before setting it alight with all of the adults locked inside. He left the children unharmed before moving off to do battle with a newly arrived ANBU squad.
Inside the Hokage Tower, the paper user was joined by the scythe user and his stoic partner.
It took them less than a minute to find the Hokage. The middle-aged ninja stood in front of an ancient ninja and protected him…as if the Hokage were a mere bodyguard for someone else.
The paper user said, "We have come for Maito Gai and the team that interfered with the capture of the Kyuubi sealed into Uzumaki Naruto. Turn them over and we might leave some part of the village intact."
The old ninja began to speak, before the paper user threw a kunai made of paper through his throat. The looked at the man dressed in the Kage robes and hat. "You are the Hokage. Speak for yourself."
"You killed Danzo-sama!"
"You were a proxy then," the woman said, disappointed and annoyed. "Hidan, he's useless to us. You may have him for Jashin."
The bloodthirsty priest-ninja smiled and began his ritual. The woman and the old ninja left the room as the screams began. She began to pull paper from her sleeve, each marked with complex explosive seals. She covered the top floor and then the stair well in these explosive seals.
When she exited the building with her aged companion, the Hokage Tower exploded. Who cared if Hidan was already out? He'd survive just about anything.
She headed off to where Pain was waging battle. As she went near the Academy Building, she saw a disagreeable little ninja in an orange mask killing left and right, but never any of the incapacitated students.
By the time she reached the outskirts of the village, the place was in ruins. None had found Maito Gai. But…the mission was a success in a way. Enough survivors remained to spread the story of this devastating attack.
The reputation of the Akatsuki would grow, even if the Nine Tails was dead.
The other members made their way to the centralizing point. The orange-masked Tobi was the last one. "The Nine Tails burned when he went into battle; he lit entire countries on fire. But he's dead, so this village burns instead!" At the top of his lungs, everyone within two hundred meters heard.
It was enough. Pain's God Realm made a single handsign and the collected Akatsuki left the area.
The story would wind its way to every corner of the world within a week.
The Akatsuki was on the move again. Even the supposed strongest ninja village could fall before their might.
Uzumaki Naruto walked off his field and back inside the small home he lived in. He walked down into his basement – where his bedroom and his interrogation chamber were located – and then unlocked the door to a secret stairwell. He walked down another twenty feet underground. Inside the small room he'd carved out were his greatest treasures, treasures he didn't like being forced to utilize.
He had the Raven Contract from its last user.
He had a chakra-eating sword called Samehada.
He had a massive, three knifed scythe.
He had five odd masks, each in the style of a particular animal.
He had a block of a clay-like substance that could blow his entire house up.
He had a small collection of puppets and a large collection of sealing scrolls with even more puppets inside.
He had a scroll detailing the process for becoming a paper user.
He had an orange mask with a black swirl upon it and one eye hole.
He had a collection of piercings – enough for six bodies – that he kept in a special crystal bowl.
He had fifty or sixty other mementoes from important, dead foes.
He learned from those he fought, from those who attempted to kill him. He took from them: their techniques, their skills, and their reputations.
Akatsuki was dead to a member. But…it was more fearsome, more alive now than it had ever been.
Naruto had more surprises in this secret room if he ever needed them. He pulled a scroll from his dirt stained jacket. He swiped blood over a seal and out fell an orange jacketed book and a cloth mask, his newest acquisitions.
It had taken his Shadow Clones he'd left behind as scavengers some time to acquire these items. Even a useless ninja like Hatake Kakashi would live on in death, his reputation growing every few years.
Naruto would just need to learn the Chidori to make the mimic effective. Not that hard compared to Shinra Tensei or how to use paper-based jutsu (which most thought tied to a bloodline…no, Konan had just been a genius of near epic proportions). Thankfully, mimicking a lazy ninja was always simpler than one with skill. Getting his Itachi performance correct or his Madara – those took time and skill. Even Kisame took nearly three months to master. Kakashi would take a long weekend.
Naruto turned around and climbed the stairs. He sealed up his hidden room and went to fix himself some dinner. He'd steam some vegetables he grew and a fish he'd caught.
It wasn't much of a life, but it was better than what Konoha would have offered. The risk of betrayal from such people grew and grew. It was good he'd had a few years outside their notice to become truly strong, to be ready to survive.
Now…Naruto was a peasant farmer. But Akatsuki and Konoha Ne and Sharingan no Kakashi and so many other legends were ready to reappear from time to time and grow their legend.
He turned his enemies into his shield and sword.
Naruto would remain a peasant farmer…and the world would explode from time to time when the Akatsuki destroyed a village or when Hatake Kakashi visited a village in Earth Country to level it.
Safety in obscurity. Naruto used his chopsticks to lift his steamed fish onto his plate. His vegetables would take a few more minutes. He sprinkled some salt and began to eat. It was a simple dish for a simple life for a simple ninja.
For a superior ninja.
For the one who never forgave and never forgot.