Disclaimer: Naruto belongs to Kishimoto
Author's Notes: here we go again
No one was sure what had happened. All of a sudden, a thick, hellish miasma had poured out from the heart of the infamous Forest of Death. It had reached just past the fence guarding the training ground, clawing at anyone who tried to come close, before just as suddenly it had withdrawn. In its wake, nothing human remained, not a single member of the 26 genin teams, none of the chunin proctors, none of the ANBU who had infiltrated the forest just prior to the energy being released, hunting, along with Anko Mitarashi for the traitor who had infiltrated the exam.
Almost immediately numerous members of the bolder factions had tried to lay the blame for at the feet of one of those missing genin. The hidden kyuubi jinchiruuki, Naruto Uzumaki. Their opinions had been rather savagely cut down by a more than slightly irate Jiraiya of the Sannin.
It wouldn't be until weeks later that the true source of the disturbance was uncovered by the unlikely group of Jiraiya, the Hokage and a livid Kazekage. The forest, hadn't been a forest at all. It had been a massive sealing array set in place by Hashirama Senju. A sealing array that had been slowly bleeding away a gate to hell, to the point where in just a few more generations, the rift would have been mended completely. Unfortunately, somehow someone had tripped its failsafe, pulling every soul in the forest through itself, before it was sealed up tightly once more.
When they had returned the three had been stone faced and impassive. They had informed the ANBU commanders of their respective villages, as well as the delegates of the various villages who had lost teams to the 'event' as they had come to call it. Then, they had adjourned to a private room in the secrecy of the Hokage's tower. Once there, several jugs of sake had been summoned forth, and their facades broke.
It had been the Kazekage, known for his ruthless, almost selfish drive for power who was the first to openly weep as the full weight of what he had lost hit him. His children, his legacy, the last bit of his family he still had were gone, and he didn't even have the simple solace of the knowledge they found some measure of peace. All the sacrifices he'd made, his wife, his brother-in-law, his youngest son, the distance he'd kept between his elder children, they all seemed so utterly pointless now.
As the Kazekage lost himself in the depths of what he'd lost, the Hokage was losing himself in the simple knowledge that he'd failed. He had been entrusted with the legacies of the two of the brightest flames Konoha had ever produced. It had been his job, his duty, his responsibly to watch over them, protect them, and he had failed. Horribly, in the worst possible way.
Distantly, he wondered how he could possibly explain things to Itachi that his little brother had been condemned to Hell. How he could tell Iruka that the boy he'd some to see like a little brother had suffered the same fate. How he could tell his own grandson that the boy who had inspired him so very much... He took a slow, weary sigh before he drained a saucer of sake.
Jiraiya... Drank. There was nothing else he could do. A part of him had always, always hoped that he'd get the chance to take his godson under his wing, that he'd be able to teach him as he had taught his father. That he could watch him surpass him just like his father had. A part of him, that was dying now.
Another part of him joined it. The part of him that had never quite given up hope for his best friend. The part that had never quite given up on the hope that one day, Orochimaru would wake up and come back to Konoha. That one day, the sannin could, would be whole again as they had been in their youth.
Now, all those hopes, those impossible dreams had crumbled into a bitter pile of ash. There would be no training of his godson, his student's legacy. There would be no reunion of the sannin, no redemption of his brother. There was only the knowledge that they'd both been condemned to Hell. One guilty, one innocent. Both lost to him, forever more.
It was days later that they finally held a ceremony for the departed shinobi. A bitter irony to them all that should things have been just a little different, it would have been on this day that the best of them would have been battling out against one another in the finals. That had things been different, it would have been on that day that the Will of Fire would have been put through a brutal test against the invasion of Sand and Sound.
Instead, before a solemn crowd, the Hokage stood, looking every bit the tired old man he was, before a single obelisk inscribed with over 100 names. Each of those who had been taken. Included among them, at the very bottom, almost hidden from sight was a name inscribed only for the Hokage and the sannin.
"Thank you all for coming." The voice was almost soft as it left the Hokage's lips as he looked out at the assembled ninjas and dignitaries seated in front of him. "What happened here... Words cannot fully express how much of a tragedy what happened was. As shinobi, we're prepared to lose our lives, our comrades lives. In our missions, in our wars... But to lose so many seeds of the future... In such away..."
For a moment, the words stuck in his throat and he couldn't bring himself to continue. And for that moment, a thick silence hung in the air, before he forced his head to lift up and look out across the small sea of faces, with a sudden fire in his eyes. "And then I hear about how one of them was sent where he belonged. Only, this one, wasn't my student, wasn't the traitor who betrayed us all and fled. This one they spoke of, was a mere BOY! A boy who's only dream was to become this village's protector."
As several shifted uneasily in their seats as the God of Shinobi spoke with the steel in his voice fully unsheathed. "A boy who lived a life in solitude and suffering to protect every man woman and child in this village. And despite all that cold hatred, those walls they forced around him... He continued to fight to be acknowledged. He continued to fight for his dream."
There was a sudden, cold, bitter chuckle escaping the man's lips as he locked his eyes onto the suddenly oh so uncomfortable looking villagers, and for an oh so brief he saw a flash of smug satisfaction on Danzo's face. "That boy... most of you know as Naruto Uzumaki, son of Kushina Uzumaki. The boy who should have been known as Naruto Namikaze, son of Minato Namikaze, Konoha's Yellow Flash and Fourth Hokage."
As the ripple of shock shot through the assembly, Hiruzen Sarutobi suddenly found a strength he'd almost forgotten he had. "I watched as again and again you belittled him, you shunned him, you ostracized him. As you saw him as nothing but the demon he kept you safe from.
"I watched and I despaired as your greatest hero's Legacy had to resort to screaming like a fool, and childish pranks to even be acknowledged. I watched as the boy meant to be a hero was treated like trash." He took a slow, deep breath before his gaze swept out across the suddenly nervous crowd. "I endured that... I allowed it... though it broke my heart. But I when I heard the villagers I love so celebrating that boy... that HERO being damned to hell?!"
The restlessness had broken into a sea of soft murmurs as a sudden look of shock fell across so many faces. Through it, a pale but grim faced Hiashi nodded his head grimly as he gently held his hand on the shoulder of his remaining daughter. All around him knowing looks rippled across various faces in the crowd.
For the briefest of moments Kakashi Hakate was able to smile, if slightly as he stood surrounded by the senseis of the other lost teams. Still, his single visible eye locked onto the new memorial, as a dark weight clutched at his chest. He'd lost another team. And once more, he was all alone.
It was then, as they quickly found themselves lost in the sea of confusion from that revelation, that suddenly they again felt the sudden outpouring of hellish energies saturating the very air itself.
In a flash, without even a moment's thought Kakashi had vanished, making a beeline towards the source of the feeling. He didn't have to pause even a moment to narrow it down. There was only one place it could be.
Others were only a moment behind him, reacting only slowly enough to give him enough time to pull so far ahead, even the Hokage himself was racing to catch up. As one, those who truly knew that Copy-cat, pushed themselves as they hard as they could. As one, they raced after him because they knew that what the man raced towards, it wasn't to defend, or to avenge.
No, Kakashi Hatake had left them all behind for one simple reason they knew. He raced forward, with the simple hope of finding death's embrace waiting for him.
The air rippled and twisted for a moment, before suddenly the very fabric of reality seemed to stretch, then tear apart into a gaping maw of darkness. For a moment, there was nothing but stillness to the air, before a single figure stepped through the darkness and slowly glanced about. As the portal spewed out the twisting, hellish energies, the figure glanced around, before a slow growing smirk curled over those lips and its head was thrown back over its shoulder and a sudden, feminine laugh escaped its lips.
"Home at Last! Get on out here, ya bastards!" Her lips broken into a toothy grin, Anko Mitarashi stepped forward as the black hide trench coat fluttered about her legs.
For a moment, there was nothing, before then, cautiously two more figures exited the rift, and carefully glanced around as well.
"Oi! I said we're home! Why the hell is everyone waiting?" Anko growled softly as she gave a slight glare at the pair.
"Excuse us for not taking your word on it." The young woman snapped back as gripped tightly on a pair of bone hilted swords. "Remember what happened the LAST time you said that?"
"Oh, come on! You think I didn't figure out how to make sure this time, Tenten?" The woman sounded almost offended as she glared back at the other woman before shifting her eyes over to her partner. "Oi, Neji! Am I right or not?"
"… This once, she's right." The young Hyuga's formerly pure white eyes were black pits of shadow as the veins around his cheeks bulged for a moment, before fading as the darkness faded into a muted, charcoal grey. "It looks like we're home, and we've got incoming."
"Joy." Tenten shook her head before calling out over her shoulder. "Get the lead out! This is home, but we've got incoming! No idea if they're hostile or not."
Immediately three figures stepped forward, one a hulking man rippling with muscle, a tetsubo slung haphazardly over his shoulder and dressed in a well maintained, but battle worn armor. Next to him, a second man, lean and slender moved with an almost lazy efficiency, as he kept his eyes in constant motion with a slim senbon sticking out of his lips as his hands were buried in dark grey pants. At his side, a woman, her long blonde hair falling clean and neat down her shoulders as she walked with a knee length dress, slit well up her hips and colored in a deep purple.
"Ino, 3 o'clock." Neji called out without even glancing at the woman as he settled back into a loose tension. "Got a reading?"
"Fear. Anger. Hope…" The blonde woman frowned a moment, her brows furrowing for a moment before grimacing at a familiar revelation. "Hope for release, for death. Too many emotions clouding em for me to get a more precise reading."
"All right people, you know the drill!" Anko grinned again as she settled back a bit and glanced around back towards the portal. "And hurry the hell up back there!"
It was then that a pink haired woman walked out, dressed in a loose approximation of a crimson kimono, accompanied by a lavender clad woman riding a massive cream colored dog. As pale eyes glanced around, the rider took a moment to take a slow deep breath, before glancing down at her mount. "Well Akamaru?"
"They're right." The voice was soft, gruff as it left the animal's maw. "We're home."
"Do you hear that, Sakura-chan?" There was an almost visible relief as the woman relaxed into the dog a soft smile curling over her lips.
"Yeah, but it doesn't look like we're quite out of the woods yet, Hinata-chan." Sakura responded as she noted the tension rippling through the battle ready foreguard. "Let's get out of the way so everyone else can get through and close this off."
"Right." Akamaru grunted again as he padded forward, taking up a position behind Neji as his body grew tensed and ready.
It was then that five more figures stepped forward through the rift, lead by a silver haired man who carefully glanced around, before adjusting the steel rimmed glasses on his face. "So… 'home' again… Interesting."
"Quit trying to be cool and get the fuck on the way already, Kabuto!" A red headed woman, dressed in a mix of miko garb and battle armor swatted at the man, who casually leaned forward just out of reach.
"Touchy, touchy, eh Tayuya-chan?" Kabuto smirked back at the woman as he lightly pushed the glasses up his nose. "Whatever would Naruto-kun say?"
"Kabuto, Tayuya, give it a rest. We're finally home, you two can bicker later." An athletic blonde woman glared a moment at the pair as she meaningfully gripped the fan slung over her back, before she turned towards the shorter, red haired man at her side. "How're you holding up, little brother?"
"Tired." The man answered her with weariness as he lightly glanced around them with dull jade eyes. "I really don't want to do that again anytime soon."
"Relax, Gaara." Another, dark haired woman put in as she lightly prodded at his arm. "We're back. No need to rip open the veils again anytime soon."
"… How many times now have I been told that, Kin?" Gaara asked almost rhetorically as he glanced at the woman before slowly turning his head back to the portal. "Let's get this finished already."
The soft impact of a shakujo rung through the air as another figure stepped through the portal, dressed in the garb of a priest with the wide straw hat pulled down low to mask his face, revealing only the pale skin of his lower face. For a moment, the figure paused, his tongue flicking out as if to taste the air itself, before smiling as he let loose a quite little chuckle and stepped forward once more. With each step, the rings on his staff rung out, the heavy, steel capped but almost gingerly pressing into the earth.
"I know I've had years to get used to it, but still if that doesn't make me wanna stare and drop my jaw every time I see it." Anko groused before glancing back into the forest. "Hurry up your scaly ass, we got incoming."
"Really, Anko-chan, no need to be rude about it." The man chuckled softly as he quietly walked through the group to stand next to her. "Besides, what would our dear, dear, Yomikage-kun say?"
"He'd say stop being a creepy fuck and get into position already." A new voice barked out as a final figure exited the rift and looked around with brilliant blue eyes. "All right, you know the drill. Anko, 'Rochi, Tayuya. Get into position and let's lock this thing back up."
"Whatever you say, oh fuckin' revered Yomikage." Tayuya shot out with a smirk as she settled into position to the west of the portal, even as Anko took her position to the east and the apparent monk took the south. "Let's just get this thing done before company arrives."
From his position north of the rift, the final figure nodded his head, letting his blonde hair sway slightly in motion before he glanced around. "Ready?" At their nods of affirmation, he continued. "On my mark. Three, two, one, MARK!"
In unison, they all flashed through a series of hand seals, each moving in perfect unison with one another, before suddenly roots exploded up out of the ground and wrapped up around the black rift. For a moment, there was silence as the four continued their signs, then, suddenly the energy permeating the air cut off, as the roots wrapped together. Merging, they grew into a trunk, then branches, before finally leaves burst into place as the last of the hellish energies were consumed but the new, massive tree.
"Heh. Well, that was fun." Shaking his head the man called Yomikage slowly glanced around as he looked at his 14 compatriots. "So, home at least, huh?"
"Who are you, and what the hell just happened here?" The voice cut in, as a figure materialized in front of them, followed moments later by a pair of Kages, a sannin and a number of battle ready jounin.
"Neh, really, Kakashi-sensei, is that any way to say hi to an old student?" The blue eyes sparkled as the blonde man crossed his arms about his chest and just smirked back at the silver haired jounin.
"Wha… Naruto?!" Kakashi simply stared in absolute shock at the smirking man who stood with his arms crossed about his chest, a black jacket trimmed in crimson swaying softly about his frame. "Bu-how?!"
"Neh, complicated, convoluted rules and shit like that." Naruto waved his hand slightly. "Ask one of the girls to explain it to you if you really wanna know. Long story short? We went to hell, a lot of people died, now, here we are, years later and well…" He paused a moment, before squinting back at the group in confusion. "Huh, come to think of it… you don't really look that much older."
"Naruto…" The Hokage spoke up slowly and carefully as he looked over the 15 individuals and their dog before continuing. "You've been… gone, for only a month. We were just holding a memorial service for all of you."
"A… month?" Naruto froze for a moment, his eyes widening before he suddenly whirled around and pointed a finger accusingly towards the monk. "You knew this was going to happen!"
"I knew it was possible." The man answered hedgingly as he nervously twisted the staff in his hand. "It was all theoretical though. I mean, no one's ever BEEN to Hell and back as far as we know, how could I have known there'd be such a drastic time differential?"
"He's got a point, Naruto." Sakura spoke up as she slowly shook her head. "It was all theory until we actually got back… But still… All those years… Wow."
"Great, wonderful, terrific." Naruto threw his hands up and sighed a bit before he looked around him for a moment. "Just…"
"Do you have to be so troublesome, Naruto?" Shikamaru spoke up with a grunt as the lean man shook his head slowly and sighed. "So, to them we were gone a month, while the rest of us…. Yeah."
"Wouldn't that mean that there's a bigger chance Itachi is still around?" The massive, muscled Chouji spoke up helpfully before smirking just a bit as he watched Naruto's face light up.
"Right!" Naruto paused a moment, before glancing at the assembled and staring nins. "Does anyone know where I can find Itachi Uchiha?"
"Naruto…" The Hokage interrupted for a moment, before slowly and carefully changed the subject. "Where… is everyone else?"
Naruto froze in place, as everyone else in the group suddenly shifted, unable to quite meet the Hokage's eyes as every ounce of cheerfulness seemed to drain out of the man. "They… Didn't make it." As he watched the slow look of dawning realization cross the faces of those assembled, Naruto swallowed thickly and continued. "You have to understand… We were in Hell. Literally. Take every tale you've ever been told about how horrible it is and then multiply it by things that you don't want to even begin to imagine."
He took a slow, deep breath before shaking his head. "If it wasn't for Anko and 'Rochi to keep us alive at first, none of us would have made it back. What we faced…" His eyes faded for a moment, growing distant before he continued. "We had to watch comrades, friends… die in some of the most horrible ways imaginable."
"Look on the bright side." 'Rochi' spoke up with a semi bemused smile visible on his face. "You're now the most powerful genin the Elemental countries have ever seen."
"Wait… Rochi…?" Jiraiya spoke up, his eyes narrowed into slits as he fixed his gaze on the 'priest.' "As in…"
"Oh, heya, Jiraiya." Pushing up the straw had revealed the amused face of Orochimaru who shrugged slightly in turn. "Been a while!"
"… Anko, why the fuck didn't you just gag the idiot again?" Naruto groaned softly and hung his head as he watched the immediate ripple of battle ready tension flash across the crowd, before he sent the snake sannin. "I am so going to get you for this, you snake bastard."
"Promises, promises Naruto-kun." Orochimaru answered back before humming to himself as he sat down on a rock and leaned his staff against his shoulder. "But, I think they're expecting an explanation."
"Fine." Growling out, Naruto turned his head and glared at the assembled ninja. "Look, I know he's been an evil fucking bastard. I know he's done some downright unfucking forgivable things. To be perfectly fucking honest, I'd love to hand him over to all of you to try and execute him or lock him up in a dim, dark little cell for the rest of his unnatural life."
"I'm hurt, Naruto-kun, I really am." The sannin was practically pouting, even as he ducked back out of the way of black kunai flashing just past his face. "You too, Anko-chan?"
"We're home again, you do remember that, don't you 'Rochi-kun?" The sweet way the woman drawled out his name made the man wince slightly. "The truce is off."
"Anko, stand DOWN." Naruto snapped out with a growl as he sent the woman a look, and to the immediate shock of those who had known the woman prior to their trip watched as she immediately slipped into a far less aggressive stance as she pouted back at the blonde.
"I wasn't going to hurt him…" The petulant look she gave him made the blonde roll his eyes visibly.
"I know that, you know that, hell HE knows that." Naruto agreed with a nod of his head, before jerking his thumb over at the crowd. "But our audience doesn't know that."
"I'll have you know I was afraid for my life, Naruto-kun." Orochimaru spoke up as he just grinned back at the younger man. "Honest! She could have…"
"Gaara, how soon before you can rip open a hole to the pits?" Naruto spoke up as his eyes never once left Orochimaru's.
"Depends on whether or not you mind me being out of commission for a day or so." The red head responded as he lightly leaned against his sister. "If you don't… I can shove him down there right now if you'd like."
"I'll be good!" His hands held up in surrender, Orochimaru shook his head. "I was just having a little bit of fun, that's all!"
"Right." Naruto drawled out before shaking his head and glancing back at the crowd. "So, I suppose I should make some proper introductions…. I'm Naruto Uzumaki and we've just spent a few decades dragging our asses out of hell and number of other little wrong stops along the way as we tried to get home. We've lost a lot of friends and comrades like I said. As you might've known, there used to be around 100 of us. Note there are only 15 now."
He paused a moment, taking a slow, deep breath as he steadied himself, his eyes falling shut before a quiet voice spoke up to correct him. "Namikaze."
Immediately, his eyes snapped open, and he turned his head to lock onto the speaker, a white haired man he'd never seen before in his life. "What?"
"Your name. It's not Naruto Uzumaki. It's Naruto Namikaze." The man paused a moment, before shrugging just a bit. "Cat's already out of the bag thanks to sensei, so I figured you might as well know."
Orochimaru sat there a moment, staring from Naruto to the white haired man, before leaning back and letting loose a wild, full blown laugh. "Oh… AHAHAHAHAHAHAA! Oh, man… I should've known. Talk about priceless, oh the irony!"
"Irony?" Naruto just arched a brow at the seemingly hysterical sannin before sighing just a bit and pinching lightly at his nose. "I know I'm going to regret asking… I really am, but…"
"I trained the brat of the man who was chosen for Hokage over me. I trained the son of Jiraiya there's best student… Heh." Orochimaru paused a moment, before grinning at Anko. "And, of course there's the fact that…"
"Don't even say it."
"Great, lovely, delightful." Naruto grumbled just a bit and shook his head as he saw the incredulous looks on their audience's faces. "Yes, I've had training from Orochimaru. We ALL have. We were in hell, we did what we had to in order to survive."
"Don't mind Naruto-sama." Hinata spoke up as she lightly rested atop Akamaru. "He hasn't had a good fight or a good… well you know." She blushed slightly as everyone's attention drifted back to her. "Since Dosu-kun died… He's cranky."
"Hinata, we're back in Konoha. Can we please, please cut the Yomikage bullshit already?" Naruto pinched the bridge of his nose even more. "Ya know what? Fuck it. I don't wanna do this in front of an audience." He took a moment, studying everyone before shaking his head once more. "Anko, Rochi, Kabuto, Kin, Tayuya, Temari, and Gaara, you're with me. Old man, we'll be waiting in your office, keep who you're bringing reasonable."
And then, suddenly, Naruto just seemed to distintegrate into floating ash before their eyes, as the various named shinobi followed his example moments later. Shrugging his shoulders Orochimaru offered Jiraiya and a suddenly staring Hokage a smile. "Well, he's the boss." And in a flicker of leaves, vanished himself.
"… Did Naruto just leave us to deal with everyone on our own?" Chouji spoke up as he uneasily shifted his weight from one foot to the next.
"No, he's not that troublesome." Shikamaru shook his head as he nodded towards where the Hokage was quietly speaking with a few other figures. "He took the brunt of everyone's attention and is leaving us to talk to our families and teachers."
"Hum…" Ino blinked slightly for a moment before shaking her head vigorously. "Ugh, dammit. Everyone remember what Orochimaru told us about S-class mission debriefs?"
"We don't say anything that hasn't been cleared by the Kage." Tenten offered up as she carefully sheathed her blades. "So, how much has he cleared."
"Neji and Tenten are cleared to talk about Lee." Ino spoke up as she furrowed her brow in deep concentration. "Hinata and Akamaru are cleared to say what happened to Kiba and Shino… No spilling the beans on combat tech until he's had a chance to clear things with the Hokage, and if Sakura and I don't keep our… HEY!"
As they saw the brilliant bright blush flashing across Ino's face, Sakura blinked a moment and arched a brow at her friend curiously. "Do I want to know?"
An instant later, Sakura's eyes grew distant, dilating as a pink flush moved across her cheeks. "Oh…. Is that supposed to discourage us?"
"That's the carrot. The stick is knowing that we COULD have had that and we blew it." Ino grumbled slightly and shook her head with a sigh. "Ugh. Dammit, too many people thinking at me." She paused a moment before shaking her head slightly. "Huh, did you know Naruto's the son of the Fourth?"
"… Well, that figures." Shikamaru shrugged in response before glancing around a bit. "Meh. Ya know… How pissed do you think Asuma'll be if I hit on Kurenai in front of him?"
"Shika-kun. She's about to learn what happened to Kiba and Shino. Have some decorum and at least wait." Hinata shook her head and sighed slightly at the man with a look of long suffering annoyance.
"Nice thing about demonesses, they never care about all the troublesome stuff." Shikamaru muttered slightly before shaking his head a bit. "Ah well."