Uzumaki Mito strolled along Konoha's streets as the sun crept towards its zenith. The air was growing chilly and was filled with the sounds of shouted instructions, hammers pounding nails, and saws slicing wood. The invasion one month prior had left a lot of damage in its wake and the craftsmen and genin of the village were busy repairing it.
She wore her usual drab, simple clothing and as she shuffled along she drew no notice from the villagers that she shared the streets with. The civilians had no idea who or what she was and she was perfectly content with that. Few ninja noticed or knew her either, and that was also fine.
This was her last day in Konohagakure no Sato and she wanted no interruptions.
Her first stop was the Hokage Tower. She stopped under a tree across the open square from it and admired the massive structure. Gray eyes traced over the claw-topped tower, the red siding, the kanji for "fire", and remembered a time when it was all just a dream, a sloppy sketch on scratch paper that might never be realized.
Turning her head, she could see the stone faces. There were so many more than there were the day that she had left the Leaf and ended her life as Senju Mito. It had been a little over two hundred and fifty years since the founding of the village and humans had short lives, especially ninja living in unsettled times, so she shouldn't have been startled by so many new Hokage's staring down at her. And yet a part of her was.
It really has been a long time, hasn't it?
Shaking her head, she moved on, taking a long and winding route through the village. She took care to visit the lands of each of the great clans so that she could take a moment and remember old friends and acquaintances long gone. And she also thought of how the places had changed and the new people that inhabited them.
In the beginning, when the clans had first gathered here, each clan kept to themselves in their own part of the embryonic village. It was the imprint of the end of the "Hidden Clans Era" where every ninja family was out for itself, fighting each other for land, work, and survival. They didn't completely trust each other back then and so kept concentrated for security and comfort.
It was different now. For many of the clans, there was no set boundary to where they lived. Yamanakas, Akimichis, Naras, Sarutobis, Senjus, and dozens of smaller clans could be found living side-by-side anywhere in the village. The Inuzuka and Aburame tended to live closer to each other, but only the Hyuuga and the Uchiha truly lived the same was as their ancestors had at the dawn of the Leaf.
The Hyuuga seemed static, completely unchanged from when Mito had last experienced them. They weren't any better, and they weren't any worse. That seal that Mito had never really liked was still used, unmodified. She understood the rationale behind its creation and use, but understanding didn't lead to liking. But perhaps with the way that the current clan head was dragging his heels on caging one of his daughters and confirming the other as his heir made her wonder if the Hyuuga's ironclad traditions might finally be bending.
The Uchiha were slightly worse if anything. She had hoped that after experiencing Madara's madness they would eventually mellow out after the sting of his shame had faded. But that had not been the case. Destroying the victims of the curse that their dishonored ancestor had brought to their land had become almost like a holy mission for them, an obsession.
But now, she mused as she paused outside of the gates of the Uchiha District, perhaps there is new hope for change.
After the invasion, the Uchiha had retreated to their district in some disarray. They were furious at the treatment of their leader and of the things that had been said about the Kyuubi. And they were frightened that they might lose their control over the Military Police and the mark that had been left on Fugaku's neck. But while most remained loyal to Fugaku and his view of things, some seemed to be gravitating to the heir, Itachi, and were being to question things.
A few days previously, Itachi had come and shared tea with her. The serious young man had wanted to know what she could tell him of his dreaded ancestor. He listened intently to all of her stories and never protested or argued, even when what she said contradicted what he had been taught. When he left, he even tried to apologize for what Madara had done.
I think I like him, she decided as she moved on. He's very serious, but he's open-minded. He isn't much like his father and he's nothing like Madara. Perhaps he'll be able to bring down the Uchiha's walls and guide his clan down a less…zealous…path.
Thinking of Itachi and the Uchiha, her mind was inevitably drawn to the past and Madara. She'd never liked him, even when he'd been relatively stable and sane. She had never understood why Hashirama-kun had respected him so much or tried so hard to befriend the arrogant bastard. She hated him for all the mad things he'd done once his eyesight had started to fail, the curse that he'd brought and forced on others, and all the suffering he'd caused.
Damn him and damn whatever ancestor of his might have possibly spawned the Kyuubi no Yoko!
Forcing away the old surge of anger, Mito continued on her way and turned her thoughts to more pleasant subjects.
She thought of Tsunade, her descendant, and the meetings that they'd had. She felt some regret for how she'd almost tormented the blond woman to get her to return to Konoha, but there just hadn't been the time to try more gentle coaxing methods. Conflict was coming to the Leaf and she knew that Tsunade's legendary medical abilities would be needed.
But even if there hadn't been a need to find Tsunade, though, Mito would've sought her out. She was curious to see what had become of her branch of the Senju and it wasn't healthy or beneficial for Tsunade to run away from her wounds the way that she had been. Since the support of her teammate, Jiraiya, or the freedom granted by her old mentor, the Hokage, seemed enough to straighten her descendant out, Mito felt that it was her turn to try.
When Mito started giving Tsunade the explanations that she had promised, her descendant hadn't believed her. Mito had had to show her dozens of lost hidden passages, scrolls, and seals before the blonde woman had been able to accept her story. And then, understandably, she'd been less than happy with some of the implications of her tale.
"So you're telling me that I'm part demon?"
"After so many generations without any fresh infusion of Kitsune blood, you're just as human as any shinobi, Tsunade-chan."
Her feet carried her through a peaceful park; the same one where she had observed the invasion. Many small children played on the playground equipment while their parents watched them, while couples and small groups strolled along the paths or enjoyed picnics by the side of the pond. Everyone sought to take a little time and enjoy the weather while it was still fair, but not all park-goers were happy.
Mito paused as her gray eyes landed on a black-haired boy huddled in the shadows at the base of a large tree. Young Sasuke looked profoundly unhappy as he watched younger children play without a care in the world. The fox woman found that she couldn't blame him one bit.
The theory was that since his curse mark had been active at the moment of Orochimaru's death, instead of it going permanently dormant like it had for the rest it remained at least partially active. The mark that had been the center of his curse was gone, leaving the supernatural energy that sparked his transformations to sit in his chakra coils just like it was thought to for werewolves. No one knew what the long-term effects on him would be, whether he could spread it by biting, or if any children he might father could inherit it, and so his future was murky and uncertain.
It reminded her of her own struggle to decide whether or not she would bear children or adopt orphans after she'd married her husband so long ago. It had been dangerous enough to live so prominently within a village full of hunters out to exterminate her species. Birthing hanyou children would've blown her cover and probably would've led to a quick death. But, in the end, she had risked it—importing an Uzumaki midwife, excluding everyone else including her husband from the birthing room, and devising seals to brand her children (and later her grandchildren) with so that their demonic traits would never show.
As she watched the melancholy boy, a smile came to her face when she saw Uchiha Mikoto approach him and coax him into the sunlight and towards a picnic with Kushina and Naruto on a nearby hill.
Have hope, young Sasuke, she silently advised as she started walking again. Your future is uncertain, but not bleak. If you are strong, if you trust in your precious people, if you fight off your doubts…I believe you will be just fine!
Her thoughts then shifted to her current favorite relative, Kushina. She was happy that the girl had made it through the battle, that she was reunited with her adorable son, and that she had her mate back. And she was also pleased that her brothers weren't causing her too much grief over her…unorthodox little family.
There was a brief twinge of guilt towards the boy—yet again she wished that she hadn't just watched him and thought of her long-dead children and grandchildren when he'd still lived in Uzushiogakure no Sato. At least he had found happiness here, though. It probably could've gone better for him, and he certainly could've done without the Uchiha's assassination attempt, but he was now an accepted part of Konoha's shinobi force. His future seemed promising and bright, and she hoped to see him again, maybe when he was older.
She personally had no trouble with the young vixen's chosen mate. Her little meeting with the infamous Namikaze Minato had been quite interesting and rather enjoyable. His open honest face, polite manners, and friendly nature had quickly dispelled any lingering fears that she'd harbored that he was anything like Madara. The information that he'd been able to share with her about werewolves had also been quite enlightening.
I do hope he was able to get those leftover wolves from the invasion safely away, she thought as she browsed a few shops. Those poor things deserve a chance. And what better place for them than with other lycanthropes?
It was disappointing that it had taken so long for some of the mysteries surrounding werewolves to be revealed. And it was horrible that so many generations of humans had been acting under so many false assumptions—that so many victims of the curse had suffered and killed themselves when it hadn't been necessary. But now, she fervently hoped, things regarding werewolves would change at last, and for the better.
And it's not just werewolves that are getting a more positive spin, she smiled as she checked some prices. Kitsune are finally getting the benefit of the doubt. Hmm, I wonder if Hiruzen was serious about letting a Kitsune teach some demon-lore classes…
The disguised vixen made a few purchases before continuing on to her final destination.
The current Hokage, she decided, was a good man. He was old and tired and more than ready to retire, but if he couldn't find a successor he could keep up his post for at least another decade before he had to give it up. Mito idly wondered whether he would be able to persuade Jiraiya or Tsunade to take up the hat, or if he would find a way to get Minato into the position.
A werewolf 'Kage…now that would be something!
As she was about to bypass the Memorial Stones she noticed a small group of shinobi clustered there.
Hatake Kakashi stared at the black stone that bore the names of his lost teammates, his one visible eye unfocused in deep thought. Namikaze Minato stood nearby dressed in jounin gear instead of ANBU armor, his blue eyes flickering over all the names that he knew. And the white-haired Jiraiya waited a few feet back, watching the both of them solemnly.
"Well!" Jiraiya said suddenly as he strode forward and threw his arms around the younger men's shoulders. "I think we've been here long enough. Let's go get drunk!"
"It's the middle of the day," Kakashi pointed out blandly.
"You know I don't drink," Minato replied with a frown. "And I was going to meet up with Kushina and Naruto after lunch."
"Who cares what time it is?" Jiraiya snorted cheerfully. "And what are you afraid of, Minato? Think you're going to go mark some territory and howl at the sky?"
Mito swallowed a giggle and left down a half-forgotten trail.
I do hope Minato-san gets around to formalizing his relationship with Kushina-chan. It would make her very happy. And if Kenjiro or any of her brothers decides to interfere, well…I'll just have to straighten them out for my dear great-great-grand-niece, won't I?
It had once been a paved path, but many stones were now missing and parts of it were so overgrown the trail almost disappeared. Unruly bushes and low-hanging tree branches made the going challenging. But with her memory as her guide she followed it all the way to a small graveyard that had been swallowed by the forest.
With slow steps she weaved around tree trunks and stepped over toppled grave markers. Any gravestones that were still standing were badly weathered so that the characters chiseled into them were mostly illegible. And when she reached a dark gray stone leaning up against a fat tree trunk, she stopped and knelt.
Sorting through her earlier purchases she used a kunai to dig up a few ugly weeds on the grave and plant bulbs that would flower in the spring. She lit incense sticks and inhaled the aromatic smoke with a faint smile. Then she closed her eyes, prayed, and remembered…
It was late autumn, the trees were all almost bare, and it was cold enough that the gray cloud overhead would probably produce snow. A young man, sixteen years old, dressed in black and red, with tanned skin, dark eyes, and long black hair, stood at the base of a dormant cherry tree. Sitting on a boulder not far from him was a girl about his age with pale skin, gray eyes, coppery red-gold hair done up in twin buns, and dressed in a fine kimono of green, black, and gold and patterned with leaves.
"I hate autumn," she pouted and snapped open a fan decorated with white spirals on a rich blue background. "Everything turns an ugly brown and dies."
"The leaves turn such beautiful colors before they end, though," the boy said as he traced one hand over the cherry tree's dark bark. "For a little while, it's like all the trees are on fire."
"But then they all go brown and fall off and the trees all look like skeletons!" she huffed, holding the open fan over the lower half of her face. "And then winter comes and it's even worse! It gets so cold and dark for so long, and sometimes it even snows!"
"What about spring and summer?" he asked curiously.
"In summer it gets much too hot," she frowned and briefly fanned herself as if remembering a blazing heat wave. "But spring…spring is the best. Sometimes it's chilly and it can rain a lot…but there's all the birds singing, all the new babies, the new leaves, all the flowers…" She sighed wistfully and glanced at the barren tree her companion was touching. "I love flowers."
He watched her for a moment before grinning. "Would you like me to make the sakura bloom?"
"You can't make that tree bloom!" she laughed.
"Care to bet on that?" he challenged.
"Certainly!" she smirked. "I'd love to have a slave for a week!"
"Well, prepare to become my slave!" he boasted.
"Sure, whatever," she scoffed.
He ignored her and placed both palms on the tree trunk with an expression of deep concentration. For a moment, nothing appeared to happen. Then buds began to swell on the ends of twigs, a scattering a fresh leaves unfurled, and then countless delicate blossoms with pale pink petals opened, filling the chilly air with a sweet perfume.
"I win," the teenage boy declared smugly.
The girl was too busy gaping in wonder to reply.
A breeze tickled the back of Mito's neck like ghostly fingers and she opened her eyes again to stroke the rough surface of the gravestone with a sad smile.
"I'm sorry, Hashi-kun," she whispered. "I don't mean to make you wait so long, but I promised you that I'd look out for your village for the rest of my life. I can't very well cheat to met up with you again sooner and properly honor that promise now, can I? So please, wait for me…I have so many new stories to tell you!"