D/C: Disclaim, disclaim, disclaim; that's always how we got to start this shit. Obviously, I do not own the rights to Naruto, nor do I own the series of Avatar: The Last Air Bender. This is an experiment, so whether anything comes out of it is still up in the air. I just hope you people enjoy this. Here we go!
Thunderous explosions rocked the water filled basin of the Valley of the End as two souls clashed like a pair of angry gods, tearing up the landscape in their attempts to out fight one another. Toe to toe they flew to take down the other; blow by blow they fell only to arise again; one to save the bonds of friendship, the other to sever it. Their war of attrition and battle of wills was soon to reach its climactic end.
Rising from the crater at the foot of the first Hokage's statue stood a blond boy by the name of Uzumaki Naruto. The Kyuubi's fiery red chakra enveloped him like a mantle of dancing flame, imposing upon his flight form the silhouette of a spectral fox. His normally sun bright blue eyes were a smoldering red; his whisker marks six jagged black slashes across his face.
On the far side of the valley, crouching beneath the statue of his age old ancestor, Uchiha Sasuke glared across the water way at his former teammate and friend. The cursed seal branded into his neck flared with sickly energy, staining his features in deathly tones of pale browns and grays, his Sharingan eyes burning amidst an oblivion of black. Like a demon set free from the nine circles of hell a pair of massive deformed hands jutted out from his back, flapping and fluttering in a grotesque mimicry of wings.
Sasuke grimaced as lancets of pain streaked through his left shoulder. Naruto stared worriedly at his left hand, which was starting to go numb despite the power radiating within. Seeing that tell tale look of concern caused the Avenger to rise to his feet with a smirk.
"You can feel it, can't you?" Said the dark prodigy with a detached sort of laugh. "Of course you can. This battle is about to end. It seems I'm not the only one who's reached his limit. Don't worry, Naruto; one way or another, all this will be over soon." He concluded with the same disconcerting tone. "Enough talk; let's end this."
With an almost careless efficiency Sasuke performed a familiar sequence of seals, clutching his right arm to the ground as jagged bolts of black lightning crackled violently in his hand, filling the valley with the sound of a thousand birds. Naruto stared sadly after his friend as he too extended his hand. A small but powerful corona of swirling blue chakra spun to life in his palm, glowing an agitated purple as the nine tail's power conjoined itself with his.
A fleeting moment of finality passed between the youths staring across the once peaceful ravine.
It did not even last a second as the two shinobi rushed recklessly ahead.
Sasuke was the first to fly into action, lightning enshrouded fist cocked behind him for the critical blow, his misshapen wings fully extended, keeping him aloft. Not to be outdone Naruto crouched low and leapt forward with an impressive burst of speed, the whirling maelstrom of chakra whistling between his fingers in preparation to intercept the other's incoming strike. Sailing across the river basin, it seemed they were destined once again to meet in another stalemate. Having already reached a similar outcome only minutes before Konoha's number one surprising ninja had long since gambled for something different. With the distance between them rapidly decreasing the blond cried out a single word.
Unexpectedly the placid river surface erupted beneath the flying Uchiha's feet. He caught a brief glimpse of orange as a shadow clone hurled itself free from the water to latch hold of the boy's left hand. Flight path gone awry by the copy's forceful tug, the avenger's charge still managed to cleave a searing line across the real boy's right shoulder...
But not before Naruto's spinning Rasengan tore through the flesh and bones of his right wing. Wincing in sympathy at his teammate's scream of agony, Naruto held his hands out for his clone who obligingly grasped him and threw him with all its might to land. Nodding in satisfaction the clone dispelled itself as the Sharingan wielder tumbled uncontrollably through the air, crackling right hand still extended, plummeting in a winding spiral into the river below.
The earth shattering detonation of the black Chidori imploding in the river would later be said to be heard as far as the Village Hidden in the Rocks. When the hazy smoke cleared much of the tributary had evaporated completely and gone. What had once been a proud river way was reduced to an almost dry river bed, and laying at its rocky bottom was the crumpled form of Uzumaki's twitching former friend.
For a second it almost looked as if the raven haired boy was lost to the outside world. His skin smoked, his arms lay slack, and his body almost lay still. Then Sasuke's eyes slowly opened to reveal a pair of dull black spheres that swiveled ever so slightly to stare at the one who many called the dead last.
"When-did-you...?" The delirious youth painfully rasped out. Gray and brown gave way to his normal skin tone as the cursed mark receded into the seal on his neck. "How-could-I..."
"I left him under the surface when we caught you in that clone chain. You flamed me and most the others when we launched you into those cliffs, but I left a back up behind as a surprise." Naruto's genial smile held no mockery nor malice as he approached the other's side, completely oblivious of the red chakra mantle dissipating from his slight form. "You should have expected it, you know. I am Konoha's number one surprising ninja, after all."
Even wounded, and drained, and unable to stand the traitor still exuded a strong aura of bitterness and loathing aimed at his 'friend.' With a surprising will of strength he grabbed the Kyuubi jinchiruku's shoulder, smirking as the boy's kind smile gave way to a wince of pain.
"You just...Don't know...When to quit. Just tell me why is it...That you are so determined to drag me...Back to Konoha?"
"Did you really have to ask?" Answered the blond despite the pain numbing his shoulder. "Silly bastard, everybody who loves you, who worries and cares for you are waiting for you to come home."
"What made you think...I would even want to come back?" Growled the avenger, clenching his fingers in rage. "I wouldn't think of leaving unless...There was something for me there."
Recoiling from his grasp, Naruto slapped Sasuke's hand from its place on his shoulder.
"Isn't it your goal to avenge your family and revive your clan? How can you achieve any of that if you are alone, and if you'd been branded a missing nin? And you know what the snake bastard wants from you! Why would you follow a traitor who's just going to use you?"
"Because...He has already proven to me that he can offer me...Real power."
"Proven himself?!" Uzumaki growled with narrowed eyes. "Oro-teme backstabbed Ojiji!"
"I don't know why I'm even bothering to reason myself to you," The Uchiha dismissively said. "It's not like any of this should concern you."
"Oh, it doesn't concern me; it concerns all of us," Retorted the blond with steadfast conviction in his tone. "We respect you. All of us, well, most of us want to help you achieve your dreams. You've got friends who-"
Sasuke's lips curved into a sneer.
"Friends?" The prodigy interjected in a way that made the word sound like a curse. "Oh, you mean like all my fan girls, like the rest of the rookies, or you? Do I honestly look like I care about any of them? Wake up; open your eyes, Dobe. It's like I've been saying ever since the academy; all you people have been doing is holding me back, just like you are doing to me right now." Smoldering black eyes flashed dangerously. "You shouldn't have come."
He was fast, but in his bloody and burnt up state the avenger was not fast enough. The kunai clattered against the smooth river rocks as the snarling blond stomped hard on Sasuke's hand, trapping the broken digits in place.
"All of you who came for me just wasted my time," He continued smoothly, easily, as if he hadn't just tried to raise a knife to his 'friend.' "Despite what you think, there is nothing here to save."
Naruto's heart swelled with conflicting feelings of anger, sadness, and pity as he stared straight into the unforgiving black eyes of Konoha's last Uchiha.
"You're right," Said the jinchiruku as he retrieved the gleaming knife from the Uchiha's bleeding grasp, "There isn't."
"Better kill me now, Dobe, or I promise you you'll regret this! You and everyone that you love-!"
Reversing the blade to its relatively harmless ringed handle, the blond regretfully slammed the blunt grip against Sasuke's temple. In a brilliant flash of white the raven haired boy fell instantly insensible and blissfully knew no more.
Staring up into the darkening heavens, Naruto closed his eyes as unexpected rain began to fall. He didn't move so much as a muscle as the downpour strengthened, and didn't even turn when a small pug and his worried Sensei burst out of the surrounding wood.
"Hey, Kaka-Sensei, Pakkun," He greeted his teacher and his familiar with a faint flicker of his usual grin. "I would have taken the bastard back to the village by now, but I'm kind of..."
Kakashi caught his exhausted student before he could topple face first into the ground.
Eying the changed landscape and the unconscious Uchiha (staring guiltily upon Naruto's chest at his healing scar) the copy-nin placed a hand to ruffle the semiconscious blond's head.
"Don't say anymore, Naruto."
"I kept my promise..."
"Oh yes. Yes, you did. And you did good," The man said with an eye smile. "I'm very proud of you. You can take it easy now. I'll take care of the rest."
Flexing his fingers into the ram seal, the masked jounin created a shadow clone to pick up his other student, and with Naruto comfortably resting upon his shoulder Kakashi sped off.
The hospitalization of four clan heirs (including Konoha's last 'loyal' Uchiha) along with two of the most widely respected genin was cause for great concern at Konohagakure's medical hospital. First their had been Akimichi Chouji, looking bloodless and pale, on the brink of death from overusing his family's strengthening pills. Hyuuga Neji had followed almost ten minutes after with a dozen gaping punctures dotting his shoulder, his stomach, and the upper part of his torso. Inuzuka Kiba was brought back to the gates by the puppeteer Kankuro, bleeding badly from a deep slash in his side, his canine partner out cold in his arms. Nara Shikamaru came back with the wind mistress Temari with a broken finger, and Lee Rock returned in relatively good health; cut, bruised, and strained, much like his escort Gaara was. Uchiha Sasuke and Uzumaki Naruto were the last to be brought back to village; Sasuke was immediately taken in to the hospital with a multitude of injuries ranging from a concussion to a broken wrist, to burns and tissue damage from exposure to severe electric shock. Luckily or unluckily for Naruto, the Kyuubi's healing abilities had sown up the bulk of his horrendous injuries, leaving him with only the need for maybe a weeks bed rest.
Between the constant fretting of Konoha's most prominent clan heads, the grueling efforts of the Hokage and her med nin staff, and the overall tie up of the village's already strained shinobi forces, was it any wonder that a heinous plot was about to slip through the cracks? It was not so much an opportunity as it was but one of many gambles, a scheme corroborated over the course of nearly a decade by skilled and patient hands, perpetuated in secret by a silent majority biding their time, all in hopes to achieve one common goal. At its root it had nothing to do with decency or duty, nor was it about doing what was right. Perhaps deep down in their heart of hearts some of the seated members of the civilian council knew that what they were doing was wrong; but invariably as it often is with people, past traumas, long held fears, and deep seated hate festered within them like a chancre on their souls, tainting and twisting it, never to let go. The fact that these self styled politicians, least those who really mattered, held sympathies for the last Uchiha only added fire to their cause. With the Godaime and her apprentice bogged down by hospital duties and with a number of notable clan heads absent from their posts someone had to have seen the opening. Someone did; someone important, and with authority of his position he raised a summons for a swift emergency meeting.
Aburame Shibi and Yamanaka Inoichi received the word through messenger nins popping up at their front doors. They ran into Nara Shikaku on his way back from seeing his injured son and dragged him along, informing him of the abrupt nature of the Council's pronouncement. Not knowing what to expect from the meeting since Tsunade herself hadn't called for it, the three clan heads dutifully left for the Konoha's council chambers, unreadable looks on their faces.
"...This is most irregular," Said the elder Aburame once the civilian council was settled and the meeting under way. "Tsunade-sama is not present, nor are half of the heads of the clans."
"It wouldn't be proper to start without them, now would it?" Seconded the Head of Nara.
"Our honored Godaime, as you well know, is attending to our fallen comrades, while their families and loved ones are keeping vigil over them," Said a slouched and crippled elder with bandages obscuring half of his oddly strong looking face. "There is no need for us to callously trouble them with the current matter at hand."
"You, as I understand, called for this meeting, Danzou," The blond patriarch of the Yamanakas frowned. "Tell us how this could be an emergency and yet not have the whole council present?"
"This is an emergency because the topic in question must be resolved immediately," Answered Koharu, a frail wisp of an old woman, former teammate of Sandaime Sarutobi and once a feared kunoichi in her prime. "I'm embarrassed to say we have been dancing around the issue for many years now, and like so many mistakes that we the council have made before it has come back to haunt us."
"May we presume you speak of Konoha's last loyal Uchiha?" Shibi asked, as always concealing his thoughts through his words. Their was an uproar of yells from the civilian council.
"No, you may not," The esteemed elder standing next to Koharu shook his head. "We are referring to the pariah of the village, the blight upon our proud heritage, the black sheep whom we allowed too long to run rough shod upon our land."
Three pairs of eyes blinked. Clearly, none of the assembled clan heads were expecting that.
"...Uzumaki?" Inoichi choked. "Don't be absurd Homura, what has he done to warrant this?"
"As I recall, it wasn't Naruto who set out to defect from our village," Shikaku frowned. "Have you forgotten who Orochimaru has been obsessing over all this time? It was your so called 'black sheep' who prevented the Uchiha from fleeing to Sound, and it almost cost him his life."
"...Damned demon, it's too bad it didn't," Someone murmured aside.
"What was that?" Inoichi growled, pinning the speaker down with a burst of killing intent.
"Enough," Chastised Homura. "We are here to settle matters like adults, not like a group of genin."
"From the way you say it, Shikaku, one would think Uzumaki came back with grievous injuries," Called a member of the civilian council. "Strange; according to the medical reports, all he seems to be suffering from is a lack of sleep!"
"By now I think we should all be aware of why Uzumaki-san has returned in top form," Shibi retorted in a deceivingly calm tone. "Laying that aside, injuries or not, it does not discount the selfless sacrifices of the boy, nor should it discount what Uzumaki-san has done."
"On that account we can all agree," Danzou said, twisting the man's words. "According to the nurses' reports, Uchiha Sasuke is currently being held in intensive care with multiple broken bones, second and third degree burns all over his body, nerve as well as tissue damage, and possibly a fractured skull! Clearly this is evidence of excessive force on Uzumaki Naruto's part."
"What is it with you turning our arguments against the boy!" An incensed Inoichi asked. True, the man never really thought much of Konoha's demon container up until now, but even a veteran of war like him had to respect the boy for his unwillingness to stop fighting against insurmountable odds. Seeing such an individual being torn down was something his pride as a ninja just couldn't stand. "You people make it sound like the Uchiha is not at fault!"
"Hold your tongue, Inoichi. You know it was clearly outlined under the Godaime's orders that Sasuke be brought back to the village. Nowhere did it say that he was to be beaten to within an inch of his life," Koharu coldly interrupted the blond man's rant. A smattering of applause filled the council chamber, causing the man's hands to twitch. "Then again, such incompetence from Uzumaki, I suppose, should have been expected. Our foolishly sentimental Sarutobi, Kami rest his poor soul, never should have allowed that boy to ever become a ninja. He always was too wild for any of us to control..."
"An oral assessment from jounin Hatake Kakashi says Uzumaki took a Chidori to the chest," Shikaku evenly said. "Clearly it was not the Uchiha's prerogative to end up back here."
"You are absolutely right, Nara-san. For the Uchiha's attempt at defection, we the council have only ourselves to blame."
Shikaku, Inoichi, and Shibi exchanged a couple of dubious looks.
"None of us can deny that Sasuke, last of the prestigious Uchiha clan, tried to flee from Konoha to join the Hidden Village of Sound," Danzou conceded seemingly deaf to the council's protests. "But that is not to say he acted without reason. In light of new information that I've received, I have since learned of the Uchiha's intentions, and I can assure all you, honored council, that they were strictly honorable. Misguided, perhaps, and twisted, but only due to the unfortunate influence of Orichimaru's Cursed Seal. What Sasuke has been seeking all this time was the power, no, the strength to finally avenge his family whom, as well all know, were slaughtered in cold blood by his treacherous older brother, the infamous nuke-nin Uchiha Itachi. Need I remind you how he was forced to watch his family die, to witness their last fleeting moments as they were ruthlessly cut down, again and again? The drive he has exhibited to vindicate his family's honor is nothing short of commendable. Our folly regarding the Uchiha was to leave him be and to do nothing; we were complacent with the Cursed Seal, and guilty of neglecting to provide the poor boy with the proper guidance when he needed it the most. As of today I am proud to say that we shall do everything in our power to rectify our mistakes and help Sasuke achieve his dream."
A pale hand on the Yamanaka's shoulders spared the man from blowing a massive coronary then and there in the middle of the council room. Steadying himself under Shibi's unwavering gaze, the blond yielded the floor to the elder Aburame, who coolly and concisely conveyed the angry clan head's thoughts for him.
"Oh? And how do you intend to do that? By teaching Uchiha-san all the jutsus Konoha has to offer? From perhaps the Scroll of Forbidden Seals, and should that not prove enough, our clan jutsus, as well? Do you take us all for fools, Danzou? Will all your efforts be enough to keep that boy loyal, and will you have our forces bend backwards just to satisfy him? You would go so far to sacrifice Uzumaki-san, a loyal nin, just for that? I intend no offense, but are you and the civilian council so blind not see the Uchiha for what he is?"
"The future of Konoha!" Voices from the civilian section rang out. Inoichi turned his face away in disbelief. Shibi said nothing; it wasn't like he had expected them to heed his pointed words. The clan head of the Naras glared around the room, having an all too real inclination as to why an emergency meeting was held with the absence of the most influential clan heads.
"Now, as is customary when adjourning the council let us put it to vote," Declared Homura once the hubbub in the chamber began to die down. "All in favor of reinstating the Uchiha?"
"Don't bother," Shikaku cut in, arms crossed in front of his chest. "Why should we give you the satisfaction? It's obvious how this game was played. Should've known you'd pull something like this behind Lady Tsunade's back."
"Very well, Nara-san," Danzou acceded. "Shall we put to vote the sentence of young Uzumaki, or shall we skip the vote for banishment and proceed straight to the boy's execution?"
Kikai bugs buzzed ominously under Shibi's cloak.
"Proceed," Shikaku stonily said.
"First, all for execution...?" A trio of grim faces blanched. Thankfully only a smattering of hands thankfully rose up for the tally. Danzou, surprisingly, was not among them.
"...Those for banishment?" Homura continued. Danzou raised his hand; dozens followed the cripple in response.
Overwhelming cheers drowned out the sound of Inoichi's disgust.
"By the majority vote of the council, Uzumaki Naruto shall henceforth be banished from the Land of Fire within a week's time, never to set foot in Konoha again, under pain of death."
Shikaku, who joined his comrades to storm out, whirled around upon hearing the last pronouncement.
"You know already that this will not stand," He spoke slowly, deliberately, just as stone faced as his fellow clan heads. "I don't care how much sway you hold over the members of the council; none of you had the right to trample over us as you did. Mark my words, you old war hawk, the Lord of Fire shall hear of this. Why you even bothered with this farce is beyond me. Of all the people in this room, you should know the power to absolve a missing nin's status, the power to exile a nin from our land, and the power to decree punishments is not yours, nor the council's! It-"
"Used to have been the sole responsibility of our esteemed Hokage," Danzou coolly stated. "Yes, that was during Lord Sarutobi's time. Pursuant to the Sandiame's untimely demise at the hands of his treacherous student, our village was left very much out in the open, vulnerable and helpless without someone to lead. Since then we the council have sought to safeguard our village's security during times whenever our Hokage is, for whatever reason, incapacitated and unable to attend to his or her duties. Clearly this is not an abuse of authority as you've implied; I hope you can see that. Feel free to inform Lady Tsunade to petition your case if you still doubt my sincerity. By all means, see what the Daimyo of Fire has to say," The aged cripple said as he began to hobble slowly to his feet. "He would never have signed those amendments if he had had reservations concerning my views."
"If you still doubt the authenticity of these documents or if you'd like to contest the legality of today's verdict, you have the leisure to schedule an appointment at my office at any time. Should you require it, I will even petition the Lord of Fire himself so you or a chosen delegation may go meet him in person yourselves. If that is all, Aburame-san, Yamanaka-san, Nara-san, I bid you good day, and thank you for your time."
Accompanied by Koharu, Homura, and his silent contingent of personal bodyguards, Danzou departed the council room chambers with an enigmatic smile on his slightly wrinkled old face. Lingering council members congratulated one another up and down the halls, and the two elderly advisors at his side couldn't help but match the mood of their cohorts, holding their heads up high with just a touch of pride. Fools, the man mused as people acknowledged him along the way. So blinded were they by their prejudiced beliefs that none of them had realized the dangerous game he had been playing behind their backs all that time.
Less than a half hour later Danzou was quietly composing several drafts on his desk when the doors to his office suddenly blew off their hinges, sailing off and embedding themselves into opposite ends of the sparsely furnished room. Without so much as a twitch of fear or annoyance he set his documents aside to address the persons who were responsible for breaking down his doors.
"I've been expecting the both of you, Tsunade-sama, Jariaya-sama. Normally my secretary should have announced your arrivals, but I can see that you've seen fit to do it yourselves. May I assume from your hostile stances that Shibi, Shikaku, and Inoichi have filled you in?"
"So you senile old fogies actually did it," The white haired Toad-senin not-so-calmly gritted out. "The civilian council has always had a reputation for being a pain in the ass, but this? Banishing a loyal nin, and for succeeding a dangerous mission, no less? You people never fail to amaze me with how far you'd go just to sink to new lows!"
"How do you mean? I can confidently speak for the civilian council when I say that they did not overstep the boundaries of Konoha's laws," The War hawk almost haughtily said. "They acted within reason. Can you, Godaime-sama, and you, Jiraiya-sama, say the same after breaking down my office doors? A heartfelt apology would be appreciated, of course-"
"Oh, well then I'm sorry to disappoint," Godaime Tsunade baldly cut the schemer off. "Never did suit my tastes to pander or prostrate myself before others. I still have my honor and pride, after all. Unlike a number of cowards whose names are better left unsaid, I don't have to go skulking behind peoples backs like a filthy little cockroach on the run."
"Careful what you insinuate, Hokage-sama. I'm sure you don't intend the council to get the wrong idea."
Gold honey brown eyes narrowed with barely restrained fury at the crippled old man.
"Justify your actions however you will, Danzou. Whether you have the backing of the Fire Daimyo or not, it does not change the fact that you all used a blameless genin, Uzumaki Naruto, as your convenient scapegoat! Don't play it off like it isn't; all of you are over the moon for the last Uchiha, and it's no secret you've had it in for his teammate since the start. You, the advisors, the council, and Kami help us that traitorous Uchiha, and he's not even conscious to tell the tale! Not only did you conspire to take advantage of Konoha's tumultuous situation; you took advantage of me, of our wounded, and our shinobi forces as a whole! I knew you people could be heartless sometimes, but this crosses a line. How dare you do this to Naruto? After all he's done for this village, this is how you repay him?"
"Am I right to assume that you'd like to take this up with the Daimyo himself?"
"You gave my student less than a week to pack his bags from Konoha!" Jiraiya roared, channeling Tsunade's temper as he slammed his fist down on Danzou's cluttered desk. "Even if we tried to get an audience from the Daimyo, the appointment will come weeks if not months too late! Naruto will be long gone from here, and there won't be a retrial because the accused can't be present, lest he be killed under the law!"
"My apologies for my oversight. It was not my intention to offend. You must have stopped by for this," The War hawk said as he produced an official looking scroll from a nearby cabinet. "Archives already has a copy lying around, but at least this ought to save you the trouble of scrounging in the dust for it. Every amendment that has been ratified since before you, Godaime-sama, took office is outlined in there. Please, take your time with it; I'm in no rush."
"Why, thank you," The pigtailed blonde politely replied, resisting the urge to knock the papers right out of his hands. Glancing gratefully to her former teammate, she said, "I'll do everything I can to find every loophole and bylaw to get the brat out of this mess; I promise."
The white haired Spymaster's smile looked noticeably strained around the edges.
"Don't beat yourself up if you don't, Tsu-hime. Even if things don't pan out, at least the brat will still have me to accompany him beyond these walls."
"Perhaps you presume too much, Jiriaya-sama," Danzou said, instantly regaining the Sannins' attention. "Uzumaki has been banished, and where he is going none of you will follow."
"Oh ho, now that's a fine one!" Jiriaya guffawed openly in defiance. "What are you going to do, Danzou, are you going to revoke my traveling rights? No more 'emergency powers' to back you up this time, I'm afraid! As an essential Spymaster of Konoha, Tsunade will do nothing to stop me," He gleefully said, "And neither shall you!"
"I see I was not clear enough with my last statement," The man said, a strange glint in his eye. "Where the council has determined Uzumaki is going, none of us, and that includes even you, will be authorized to follow."
"Clearly the power has gotten to your head," Tsunade quipped despite the gravity of the situation. "Or has senility finally set in? Perhaps you should get looked at but don't take it personally if it's not by me. Wouldn't want your lapdogs to try something else while I'm 'incapacitated.'"
A bit of Danzou's smug demeanor slipped in that instant, momentarily revealing something colder underneath.
"Then know this; Uzumaki has been consigned to be deported to the lands in the far east."
Just as abruptly as it had for the War hawk, the merriment winkled out of Jiriaya's frozen face. Frozen fear turned to a slow, boiling anger that not even Tsunade had seen on his face.
"...You people must be real proud to be spitting in the face of the Yondaime's sacrifice. As if banishing the boy from his home and destroying his dreams weren't enough, you bastards went and did this. Have you people grown so twisted with hate that you'd go so far to punish an innocent child?! And you wonder why we left this village in the first place! We are talking about a place further than the Village Hidden in the Mist, aren't we?"
Despite her confusion, Tsunade noticed the odd inflection of her teammate's tone.
"Exactly what am I missing here, Jiraiya? I was not aware there were any occupied territories beyond the Countries of Lightning and Water."
"Quite frankly, I'd be surprised if you knew," The Gama-Sannin informed her woodenly, as if it pained him to say anything at all, "And the only reason why that place is not widely known is because we haven't had much contact with those nations for almost a hundred years. What little I've heard from people who've come and gone by that way often say that those are wild and barbaric lands that have always been engaged in a brutal and endless war; one of oppression, and tyranny, and more than their share of bad blood. An entire civilization of people were wiped out in a single raid..."
"So like as it often is in our world, only on a far greater scale," Danzou declared, causing Tsunade to pale. "Your reputation as Konoha's top Spymaster is not unfounded, Jiraiya-sama. Too few of our number are still aware of the lands beyond the Mist. Or should I call it the Veil, as it was referred to nearly a century ago. An immense Fuuinjutsu barrier separating our worlds, created by those whom time forgot. There's only one way to get across."
"By an exclusive ferry that comes and goes for every other week of the month; that much I know. I also know that the nearest port is located on the outskirts of Wave, and that the keepers strictly enforce the rule that ninjas, no matter their status or how much they're worth, are to be 'discouraged' from obtaining tickets themselves, but it's not like most ninja could afford the asking price in the first place. Only the wealthiest merchants could afford to throw away that much ryo at one time, I understand."
"As the Hokage, I could never in good faith approve of such a gross expenditure," Smirked the Godaime, "And since Naruto is still a genin, that automatically disqualifies him from being able to go..."
"He was a genin," The ancient schemer drawled. "Or have you two forgot? Since he's no longer a part of this shinobi village the boy is no longer entitled to keep his shinobi rank. Uzumaki is a civilian now. As for the cost of his travel arrangements there should be no reason to take it out from Konoha's coffers," He continued, smiling thinly at the dawning looks of trepidation on their faces, "Because I have already dispensed with that expense myself."
"Let me guess," The Slug Sannin murmured with the audible crack of flexing knuckles, "You had the ticket bought and paid for before the brat's 'trial' began."
"Of course not, Tsunade-sama," Said the cripple, sounding astonished, "You know it's not a healthy sign when you see your allies plotting behind you at every turn. No; I've dispatched a runner with a scroll sealed with the necessary funds not twenty minutes ago. Under Uzumaki's name, of course, as we've processed the paperwork to prove his civilian status."
"Seems you've been in a real rush to move things along," Jiraiya observed mistrustfully. "Out of morbid curiosity, I'd like to ask when the ferry is scheduled to leave..."
"I was beginning to wonder when you were going to ask."
Danzou, to his credit, remained steadfastly unconcerned when painted nails gripped handfuls of his robes and lifted him effortlessly off of his feet. It was a clear testament to the strength and arrogance of his will that he refused to quail in the face of the furious Godaime's wrath.
"You'd be wise not to test us, Danzou. Stop playing games; when does the goddamn ferry depart?!"
Knowing full well that he was pushing it as it stood, the War hawk advised, "If you are so concerned for the boy, then I would say that here should be the last place you ought to be, Hokage-sama, Jiraiya-sama. The ferry shall set sail for the far east in six hours-"
"-And taking into account the distance from Konoha to Wave, Uzumaki will be given approximately an hour to impart his farewells upon any loved ones he might have before he is to be expected to appear at the front gate. From there, he shall be escorted by an entourage of ANBU to the land of Waves, and should arrive before the ferry's expected departure from port."
"Even after all the damage that you've done, you dumb fucks still have the gall to lie," The Slug Sannin said. "You didn't even give Naruto a week..."
"In all honesty, it was decreed that Uzumaki leave within the week. He is leaving within the week. The council has not lied."
Danzou, who fidgeted slightly now under the suffocating weight of killing intents being directed solely at him, turned his single black eye upon the clock display on the opposite wall.
"No disrespect intended against you, Godaime-sama, but if you wish to see the boy before his departure I suggest you do that now. Time is ticking by, and Uzumaki currently has less than a half hour to turn in his headband. Little less than twenty minutes, at that."
"We'll be having another chat very soon," The irate woman hissed. Jiraiya grinned, "You can count on that."
The cripple's breath was knocked right out of him as he was shoved roughly against the wall, hard enough to make the scrolls posted upon it to slither and shake. By the time the war hawk picked himself off of the floor the Sannin had shunshined and gone. Danzou smiled triumphantly despite his throbbing back. It promptly fell at a buzz from his intercom.
"Master Danzou, Clan Heads Akimichi Chouza, Inuzuka Tsume, and Hyuuga Hiashi are here to see you...And they really must insist."
"Let them in," He said, pinching the bridge of his nose. The work of a schemer, it seemed, was never done.
Perhaps it was expected that Naruto was nowhere to be found in the hospital once the word had gotten out. The civilians, naturally, had wasted no time taking the celebrations out to the streets, laughing and cheering fit to burst and setting off light shows of fireworks everywhere. Several members of the shinobi forces, they found to their unbridled disgust, had joined in the feasting and festivities, reveling with an abandon that made the Sannins want to wretch. Drinks flowed freely; effigies of the nine tails were burned; and people made merry, all at the expense of one misfortunate boy whom they found sitting by his sensei atop the Hokage monument. Kakashi, for once, had set his Icha Icha Paradise aside, trying not to look as if he wanted to take a Raikiri to the villagers down below. Naruto, on the other hand, was slowly eating up a bowl of ramen, trying to act his usual self despite his situation. It was indescribably painful for both of them to see the anguish and agony dying to break free behind that calm and smiling face.
"Oh, hey, Ero-sennin, Tsunade Obaa-chan," Naruto greeted them with a friendly wave. A gust of wind blew around him, teasing the boy's short blond spikey locks. "It's been a long day, hasn't it?"
"Kid," Jiraiya awkwardly began. Half a dozen openings came to mind, none of which felt adequate enough to express what he felt in his mind. "Shit, I don't even know where to begin."
"If it's about my...My voyage then don't sweat it," The boy said. "We already know about that, and although I'm still not sure whether to be angry or sad over the whole thing, I guess, in a way, I was kind of expecting it..."
"An ANBU came by Naruto's hospital room about fifteen minutes ago," Continued the Copy Nin. "He gave us the gist of the council meeting as well as their final decision. For some reason, he seemed to think it was funny to hold that over my student's head. About halfway through his jeers the guy must have realized he had places to be as he mysteriously flung himself out the window. Idiot must've forgotten he was way up in the fourth floor. We snuck out in the confusion while the medics tended to the unlucky man."
"That so? Well I'm sure that will be a very interesting incident report," Tsunade managed to say, deeming it inappropriate to show any evidence of being amused. "I'll look forward to it."
"Believe me, so will I," A suddenly cheerful Kakashi said.
Naruto imparted a foxy smile. The Toad Sannin coughed and choked back a laugh.
"Silliness aside," Tsunade pressed, sobering up, "Are you sure this is where you want to be, brat? You have less than a half hour left before you go, you know. Don't you want to say a few last words to your friends?"
"Well, I already met up with Iruka, Old man Ichiraku, and Ayame-chan at the noodle stand, and here I am hanging around with all of you." Naruto cocked his head. "Isn't that enough?"
"Do you really have no friends your age?" Jiraiya almost whispered under his breath. "No one you played with long ago, no one you trusted your secrets with, no one you'll miss?"
For the most fleeting of moments, several faces flew threw his head. They were the faces of his classmates, his past rivals and that of his crush, some of whom had indeed once played with him - but then again, how many of them had actually known him for him? Had looked past that paper thin facade to who he was underneath? Only one boy had come close to understanding him and respecting him as a friend, but now all that Naruto had left of that person was a memory of his harsh twisted voice reverberating with frightening clarity in the back of his head.
"Better kill me now, Dobe, or I promise you you'll regret this! You and everyone that you love-!"
"No," He admitted, a faraway look in his slightly watery ocean blue eyes, "I don't. But you know what, maybe it's a good thing I'll be leaving here soon. The ANBU might've said a lot of bad things about where I'm going, but who knows?" Swinging his legs atop the Yondaime's head, Naruto turned an expectant gaze to the sky. "Maybe I will find real friends on the other side."
"Knowing the way you work brat, war torn land or not, I'd say that that's very possible. I'd drink to that, but unfortunately I haven't brought any sake," The Godaime pouted, glancing imploringly upon a straight faced Jiraiya.
Rolling his eyes, the Toad Sannin whipped out a scroll with seals written across its front and performed a small chain of hand signs over its centermost point. There was a poof of smoke as several large clay pots appeared, along with a small stuck of wine glasses to accompany it.
"Fine, we'll all drink to that. Oh yes, even you brat. Hey, don't look at me like that. And don't you dare spit it out just because you don't like the taste! This is the good stuff! Actually, I was planning to share these with you on the day you reached sixteen, but I suppose with the way things are going right now there's no better time like the present."
"Are you sure you guys aren't doing this just for any excuse to drink?" The boy quipped.
"Perhaps," Kakashi smiled. "Well, I'm all up for a toast, but are you sure that Naruto can handle it?"
"He'll be fine; knowing his tenant, it'll just burn up the alcohol in his system. Pity he'll never experience the simple glories of getting drunk..."
"Well it's not like I'm in a rush to know what it's like to make a fool of myself," The blond grumbled.
"Oh, don't be that way. Like you said Jiraiya-san, no time like the present. To friends new and old."
"To friends new and old," Everyone else echoed in agreement.
Despite his own misgivings Naruto accepted the cup if only for the ceremony's sake. Watching the others hold their cups to the air, the blond mimicked the gesture and then gulped his down in one go.
All the adults chuckled at the constricted look on the boy's face.
"Hey, slow down brat. Just take your time," Tsunade grinned. "We've still got a few minutes, so relax and enjoy. You are among friends, after all."
Minutes passed as the quartet relaxed in a companionable silence, content in sharing their moment of peace.
"Listen kid," The Toad Sannin said, swilling another cup of sake while shutting his eyes,
"With the way the council's been throwing their weight around, I wouldn't put it past those bastards to do everything in their power to send you off defenseless. Anything that you intend to carry that may be related to the shinobi arts - kunais, ninja wire - hell, even a med nin kit - will probably be confiscated before you leave this place, so don't bother to bring along all that dead weight."
"Just wait until I'm finished, kid. Those old farts may think they took away your identity as a shinobi, but we'll be damned to sit back and let them take what you've earned. We can't do anything to repeal their decision, but they're not the only ones who know all the loopholes in our rules. No, we aren't going to do anything illegal, and neither are you, so don't worry. If all goes well none of us are going to get into any trouble, so long as you follow what I say. Simple plans are always the best, so listen up; here's what you'll do..."
If the ANBUs who arrived minutes later thought it strange to find the Godaime, the Gama Sannin, and the famous Copy Nin drinking sake with the blond jinchiruku, none of them allowed it show.
"Uzumaki Naruto, we have come to escort you to the West Gate."
"We'll be coming along," Kakashi lazily said. "And we've still five minutes, so don't mind if we stop by Naruto's apartment to pack his things."
"...Very well," The pair allowed at Tsunade's agreeable nod. "If that is what the Hokage wishes."
Nothing more was said as six shadows fled from the monument.
Koharu and Homura greeted them at the disused gate. Danzou was not present, and for that everyone with Naruto felt blessed. No doubt he was busy entertaining several outraged clan heads.
"Ox, Tiger, if you please, search him for contraband."
Prompted by the advisors' commands, the ANBU began to search Naruto's person and his pack. There wasn't all that much to take exception to; unopened ration tins, blank scrolls, ink pots, brushes, camping equipment; the only thing that the advisors did not approve, surprisingly, was the stack of the blond's trademark jumpsuits.
"Just what do you intend Naruto to do without clothes?" An unimpressed Kakashi asked. "I've heard that the lands to the east are savage lands, but I would think they'd be past the point of being comfortable in their birthday suits."
"Ninja attire would raise too many questions amongst the keepers of the ferry," Koharu explained. "Since we would like to avoid unnecessary misunderstandings, we the council have seen fit to provide the boy with a sample of garments befitting of those from other side."
Several sets of loose fitting clothes were handed over to the pouting Naruto.
"Wait," Jiraiya said. He and Kakashi accosted the outfits and proceeded to carefully examine them, thread by thread.
Much to their confusion, what they beheld in their hands weren't flimsy beggar's rags; no, there was almost nothing but silk. Fine silk, on top of that, which considering the council's stance was an immediate red flag for them. Surmising probable ill intent, Tsunade checked for poisons; Kakashi eyed them down for chakra signs; and Jiraiya subtly fingered the fabric for seals. Being the best that they were, it didn't take them more than a minute to deduce that there was absolutely nothing wrong with the outfits; which only meant there was still something there that they just couldn't see.
All told, it was a harmless looking ensemble, consisting of orange lined wrist bands, an orange belt, and a strange orange half way cloak that only slipped as far as the boy's narrow shoulders. The loose shirt and slacks that accompanied the cloak were a tanned mustard yellow, and the strapped knee-high boots were of good quality leather. Jiraiya, who was no stranger to impressing women with his money, had a good idea how much the shoes alone were worth, and he had no illusions in his mind that it was more dough than his student had ever seen. Something about the entire set up was wrong; he just couldn't place his finger on what. Kakashi and Tsunade's exchange of uneasy looks attested the same.
They were still sorting out their misgivings when Naruto emerged from the nearby gatehouse, newly decked in the foreign style clothes. Their thoughts on the color scheme aside, the entire set fit the twelve year olds' frame like a glove.
"I'm sure there's a story behind those threads..."
"Danzou always was fascinated with the history and culture of the other world, Hokage-sama," Homura admitted. "Has been, for a very, very long time, perhaps in due part to their seemingly endless war. One can say it's been a hobby, or better yet, an obsession of his to collect anything he can find from traders passing through those lands. Information isn't all he seeks..."
"But enough of that," Koharu declared. "Civilian Uzumaki, here is where you shall finally part your ways. If you have any last words to impart upon your elders you are to say them know."
Sidestepping his soon to be escorts, Naruto shook the hand of Kakashi, bowed cheekily before Jiraiya, and found himself trapped in a bone crushing hug compliments of the emotional Tsunade.
"Take care, kid...," Jiraiya clapped him on the back.
"You always had a certain knack for brightening up the world," Kakashi said. "Whatever happens out there, don't lose that."
"Konoha's going to be real quiet without you, brat," Tsunade said, hanging her head, almost looking every bit her age. "I can't tell you how sorry I am that we couldn't do more."
"Hey, hey. No need to get mushy on me," The blond laughed. "Don't be sorry, and don't be sad; this is not the end. You can all bet on that."
Returning back to the pair of ANBU's side, the blond stood straight and threw them all a goofy salute.
"Ero-Sennin, Kaka-sensei, Obaa-chan, it's been a pleasure knowing you all, so, farewell. As for you two sourpusses," He said, about facing upon Homura and Koharu, "Eh, I'm not even going to pretend. I wish I could say no hard feelings for the things I've done, but if I did that I'd be lying through my teeth, so you know what, screw you."
Ignoring the offended squawks of the two members of the council, Naruto inclined hid friends to his three trusted friends, smiled, and waved. The small heartfelt smile he sent just before he fled out the gates would be the last they would see of him in several years to come.
A/N: Review and tell me what you think, if you please. Honestly, I can't even believe I'm writing this. I told myself it was impossible to competently combine Naruto with elements of Avatar. Sure, they're slightly, and I mean slightly, similar in spots, but at the same time they are too far apart to explain under the same vein. One hundred and twelve year old savior of the world of the Avatar world meets twelve year old knucklehead jinchiruku? No thanks; not going to happen, was my initial stance. Unfortunately, the idea kept getting stuck in my head, to the point where I couldn't right my other story until I put it to paper, so then I thought, hell with it, I'll just give this a spin. This, like all my others stories, is a flight of fancy, so we'll just have to see how far it goes. Will it be easy? Hell no. Fun? Maybe... :) I'll upload this before I loose my nerves.
Oh yeah, I hate goody two shoes, but for once I'll try to keep Naruto in line with the type of person he's supposed to be...Try being the operative word. Don't be surprised if he isn't all blatantly stupid as sometimes can be in the Narutoverse. How blockheaded can people be, really? Taokaka of Blaz Blue might be just as oblivious but I find her mannerisms charming and cute; knucklehead idiot martyr...Just no. Naruto can't be that much of an idiot to beat Pain in canon, and he shouldn't be if he's going to tussle with Madara...