Chapter Three: Countdown Part 2

The Royal Gardens, Genosha, Two Days Ago...

Naruto found himself in awe of the garden's beauty; there were flowers of every kind and water flowed from the most magnificent fountains. It also boasted a hedge maze and an orchid of fruit trees. The young ninja had always had an interest in horticulture and aside from killing one of his own plants with an excess of plant food he had done fairly well. Wanda had given him a few tasks in the Royal Garden to handle. Not long ago Naruto knew he would've pitched a fit over being given such a "boring" task. Now Naruto was a little surprised at he found such peace in something as simple as trimming the hedges or weeding.

He found himself getting lost in the tranquility of it all until he saw Wanda playing with her daughter. Raven stood near them, ever vigilant. Naruto's attention was focused on the girl; she was the exact same shade of blue as Mystique and she even had the same gold, pupil-less eyes. She also had a long, spade tipped tale and pointed ears. The little girl was wearing red overalls over a pink t-shirt and was currently clapping with joy as Wanda sang to her while playing with a plush rabbit. He remembered seeing mothers do things like that with their children back in Konoha.

"Is that my mom would've been like with me?" Naruto felt his heart ache at that thought. He had come to terms with his childhood but moments like tore at him once in a while. The pain and loneliness he felt as a child was what had driven him to train when he was younger. He wanted to know what it felt like to be a part of things, to have friends. Then when he finally found friends he pushed himself even harder to protect them.

It brought him a great deal of happiness it did, but he still sometimes thought of what he had missed out on. He had known people who had come circumstances as bad, if not worse then his own. Comparatively he had done fairly well, hell by the literal grace of the Gods it would seem he had been permitted to cheat death. Was he being greedy?

Naruto sighed and got back to work with his job, forming a hand sign he summoned a hundred shadow clones and set about dividing them up into groups. He dispatched them to different parts of the garden while Wanda and Raven watched in amazement. Talia started fussing because her mother had stopped singing "Little Bunny Foo Foo".

"I had no ideal he could make that many copies," Wanda's tone was surprised but thoughtful. Raven felt a little conflicted over what she was seeing. On hand it was unnerving that spawning a hundred copies didn't even faze the strange boy, that meant she and the Scarlet Witch could very well only be seeing the tip of the iceberg. On the other hand Mystique realized she didn't have to worry about Naruto having hostile intentions considering he was an instant one man army who could have overwhelmed them at any second and had chosen not to. It was possible the boy was biding his time but Mystique ultimately suspected he lacked the capacity for manipulation or deception of this sort.

"There are a couple of areas where we're suffering from a lack of man power." Raven pointed out,

The clones set about weeding the flower beds and picking fresh produce. Meanwhile Naruto became lost in his own little world as he carefully tended to the rose bushes. Seeing him space out worried Wanda "Maybe once he get's a better handle on his...personal issues we could try giving him a few more jobs." The sorceress wished she could speak to him without having to use an interpreter. Honestly she wanted to give him a hug and help him pick out less hideous clothing.

"Bunny foo foo mama!" Talia cried out, Wanda looked at her daughter and smiled softly. Moments like this with her child were rare, Kurt got to spend even less time their daughter then she did. His visits though brought them both happiness. Especially Talia who had her papa wrapped around her little finger. Wanda smile and resumed singing to Talia's delight.

An hour or so later Wanda had some snacks brought out to them. Glancing over she could tell Naruto had almost finished his work from the way he had started to dispel his copies. One by one they vanished leaving behind puffs of white smoke, "Raven could you see if Naruto would like to join us?" The shapeshifter gave a quick nod. The blond-haired ninja was putting up his tools when he heard Mystique coming up behind him.

"(Yo Raven-taicho.)" Naruto said without turning around but he could imagine the surprised look on Mystique's face.

"(Impressive boy,)" Raven admitted, "(I wasn't trying to catch you off guard though.) The boy looked at her and gave an insufferable cocky grin. He pointed at himself and said:

"(Lady I practically invented that excuse.)" Raven narrowed her eyes, her expression fully conveyed her irritation. Under the scrutiny of her gaze Naruto's ego deflated rapidly "( do you need something?)" He asked nervously,

"(Wanda-sama wished to know if you wanted to join us for lunch?)" Naruto blinked in surprise,

"(Um sure, I'd be honored,)" The boy though seemed nervous about something, "(Should I change clothes or something?)" Raven thought she understood his uneasiness now. From the awkward way he handle himself around the Scarlet Witch he clearly wasn't used to interacting people of authority much less dinning with them.

"(You don't have to know the finer points high dinning etiquette.)" Mystique assured him, "( Remember your table manners, just like you would if you were guest at someone's house.)" Instead of calming down Naruto seemed to grow more uneasy.

"(I-I-I've never been a guest over at someone's house!)" He blurted out, his face red from embarrassment. Raven seemed incredulous for a moment, then it all started to come together in her head. The odd array of eccentric tendencies he had displayed coupled with his lack of social graces probably meant he was socially retarded. It made more sense the more she thought about it.

Naruto looked more and more nervous, that lack of emotional control again had her questioning his claims of being a ninja. Raven felt the beginnings of another headache as she tried to understand this boy and wondered if he was a danger. She knew she was out numbered on this front, the Scarlet Witch looked upon Naruto with an almost maternal affection. Furthermore several of the younger women who worked the palace had asked her about the "cute whiskered boy" working in the gardens. Mystique groaned and pinched the bridge of he nose,

"(Don't eat like a pig and if you want something ask for it don't just reach for it)" Naruto nodded, his child-like eagerness returned quickly enough. He gave a stylish salute and said:

"Hai Raven-taicho!" Lunch would turn out to be quiet enough affair until Talia noticed Naruto's facial markings. The little elfin girl wound up becoming quite attached to "Mitter Whickers" as she called him. Under Raven's supervision the Leaf Ninja played with Talia while the girl's mother took a break. Naruto made a complete fool of himself while the two older women watched the heart-warming scene.

"Looks like Talia's adopted a big brother." Wanda said with a smile as Naruto did the little girl's bidding. "I think we should return his personal effects." Raven let out an inaudible sigh, she had a feeling that was coming.

"Including the weapons ma'am?" Mystique asked rhetorically,

"Yes, do you honestly think he intends us harm?"

"No," She answered warily, "I highly doubt he's even capable of malicious thought. But that doesn't mean he doesn't pose a danger to us." Mystique went on to assure Wanda that everything would be returned to the boy. All the while she watched him play with Talia, it was a fairly adorable sight. But if any harm came to her granddaughter because of the blonde buffoon he would die like a dog.

A coffee shop somewhere in Genosha...

Despite his psychotic dislike of milk Edward enjoyed lattes, cappuccinos, and the various milk-heavy coffee drinks this world had to offer. An iced latte loaded with sugar helped wake him up and cooled him off in the tropical climate. He had spent the entire night going from bar to bar hoping to pick up rumors about the Drifter. Drunk soldiers gossiped like there was no tomorrow, even about the most sensitive subjects.

Of course Ed considered the possibility that no one realized the a Drifter was among them. Genosha's population was almost exclusively mutant meaning that some one with powers wouldn't exactly stick out. Further more there were people from virtually every nation and culture on the planet so someone could get away with dressing or acting in ways that might get noticed in the United States. When his cell phone rang the Alchemist let out an exasperated sigh. Without bothering to check who was calling he answered,

"Dammit Tony I told to stop calling me! While were at it if you ever send me photos like the one you sent me last night I will stick my foot so far up your a-"

"I would strongly suggest you avoid finishing that sentence Full Metal." Said someone who was most certainly not Tony Stark.. Elric winced a little when he realized it was Fury.

"Sorry Nicky I thought you were someone else." The was a brief, pregnant pause.

"I'm going to assume your in public place." The SHIELD leader said dryly, "Have you found the new Drifter?"

"Not yet Nicky, finding a tea house is a little hard considering how many coffee shops there are." Ed said keeping his tone friendly, his little outburst had drawn enough attention.

"I was afraid that would be a problem," Fury said, "Trying to find a nail in a stack of needles is even harder then finding a needle in a haystack. But your one person I can count on to figure this out," This weirded Ed out a little, praise from Fury was rare,"Oh," He added lazily but managed infuse the single syllable with an ominous undertone, "I am honestly considering Rogers request to officially add you to the team. Your performance on this mission though will have a major influence on my final decision."

"Fuck!" Out loud he said:"I understand Nicky, your crazy about your tea." There was no attempt to hide his irritation.

"Listen Mr. Elric," Nick said firmly,"it's imperative that you find him." All humor was gone from Fury's tone, Ed knew that was a bad sign.

"Why?" He asked in the same no nonsense tone his superior was using.

"My intel says Magneto has had his lackeys stealing tech from across globe. I won't say much more given your current situation but it's clear he's got something big in the works. The X-Men wouldn't play ball last time I talked to them, we agreed your brother wouldn't be a part of this, and Spiderman's still too green for SHIELD or the Ultimates. I need a little extra talent in the ranks, appeal to him, her or it as a fellow outsider."

"If talking to the owner doesn't get you that discount you wanted what should I do then?"

"Then it would be time to go into what Anakin Skywalker would call aggressive negotiations." Ed rolled his eyes at Fury's odd compulsion to make movie references, "If he's to much for you then I'll call in the big guns."

"The Ultimates in Genosha!" Ed glanced at the other patrons; they weren't paying much attention to him any more so he spoke a little more plainly: "Are trying to start something!"

"I'm trying to prevent something!" Nick shot back coldly,"I suspect the Witch still maintains ties to her father and we're not going to take the chance of another Drifter winding up the Brotherhood. That telekinetic has proven to be a serious pain in the ass. You want to keep things from getting ugly? Do your job Full Metal, Fury out." Ed downed his latte wishing it was a little stronger. He had checked every source imaginable trying to turn up a lead.

"This mystery boy just dropped out o' da did sky he Cessily?" A girl with a Scottish accent asked, Ed looked at the table where two young women around his age were were sitting. The auburn haired Scot was talking to a silver-skinned girl he assumed was Cessily,

"Pretty much, we found him half dead on the beach with all these crazy weapons." The Alchemist's eyes widened, he couldn't believe his luck. The silver girl continued her story, "His wounds started healing on their own as soon as we got him to the hospital. When he was healed up Mystique took him to meet with Lady Maximoff in private who gave him a job working in the Royal Gardens but I bet it's a cover. The rumor is he's a lone freedom fighter who lost the girl he loved in an MRD raid. Swearing to avenge her tried to assassinate Senator Kelly himself." Ed rolled his eyes but leaned in closer to hear in case they really were talking about the Drifter, "The Sentinels arrived in time to stop him but not before he punched out the Senator and escaped!" Cessily let out a dreamy sigh, the Scotswoman seemed somewhat skeptical.

"Noo why didn't we hear a lick aboot oor dashin' young avenger on da news? Have ye any proof o' this wild story." Cessily crossed her arms and glared,

"It's romantic and there for doesn't need proof." She said in a matter-of-fact tone, "I've seen him working in the garden, sometimes he gets this haunted look on his face." her tone became a little more subdued, " his hole world fell apart."

"Not many o' us have happy backgroonds, he may have have just got the crapier end o' the stick an' our fair'n'noble ruler gave him a job where he could find a bit o' peace." The two redheads became rather quiet, the alchemist guessed they we're reflecting on their own unhappy backgrounds. Ed on the other hand reflected on what he had overheard. Maybe the gardener bit was a cover until Maximoff could figure out how best to use his abilities for some "mutants take over the world plot"...the older Elric sighed knowing that was probably a load of bull. From what it sounded like this Drifter more likely just wanted to be left alone. Fury wouldn't allow it though,

"I need to get to this guy quick, this place has gone through enough trouble. This is now just as much about keeping Genosha safe as anything else," Edward imagined Fury's pompous face as sat at his desk, "One day Fury, if there really is any justice in the multiverse, you're going to meet someone who's going to screw with your life as badly as you've screwed with everyone else's lives." The alchemist's face broke out in a shit-eating grin over that thought. Hell he'd have to shake hands with any SOB who could take Nick down a peg.

"So whut does oor mystery lad look lahke?" Cessily perked up as did (unbeknownst to her) Ed, who needed a description of the guy.

"He's a lean, golden-haired, blue-eyed dream, but the thing about him is that he's got this...charm. He's like the anti-Edward Cullen." The boy with the same name at the nearby table raised an eyebrow, "He's not attractive in a dark, smooth, and dangerous way. He seems silly, kinda klutzy, and warm." Ed figured he had enough information to be able to track the guy down. He sat some money down on the table and got up to leave when Cessily added: "Oh Rhaine there's one more thing about him you have to know : He has these adorable whisker markings his face." The older Elric was so pleased with this bit of info he didn't even notice the waitress glaring daggers at him as she walked past him.

"Even in Genosha that oughta narrow it down a bit. Worse case scenario I visit him at work, though I'd really rather not resort to breaking into a well guarded palace. Yep this was a lucky bre-"

"Excuse me Cessily," The afore mentioned waitress said to the silvery-skinned red head, "I think that creep over there was listening in on you and Rhaine's private conversation." The hair's on the back of Edward's neck stood up.

"WHAT!" The deep-throated snarl compelled him to turn around. Cessily had shaped her left hand into a wicked looking serrated blade. Rhaine though took the cake; the auburn haired Scotswoman had by all appearances turned into an honest to God werewolf. The scientific aspect of his brain was fascinated by both girls shapeshifting attributes. The great majority of his brain and penis were screaming:

"RUN!" And so he did...

Above the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning, One Day Ago...

Logan checked the various screens to make sure everything was running the way it was supposed to, "Everything's green Rogue," Logan said as he input the coordinates for Genosha,

"I'm not blind sir." Rogue said flatly, the rest of the team went quiet, "Permission to set it to autopilot sir?" Logan was quiet for a moment, debating about rather or not to try and talk about what had happened earlier. He decided at this point that would only make things worse.

"Granted." Judging from the glare she gave him before turning her attention to the controls that was not the correct way to handle it. The young woman got up and headed toward the back, again he wondered what to do, "Maybe I should go and try to talk to her." People skills had never been his strong point, they probably never would be.

"You want a piece of advice mon ami?" Someone asked, the Louisiana accent and the smell of cigarettes could only mean-

"Gambit," Logan growled, "I'm not in the mood." The thief was a relatively new member of the team and as far as Logan was concerned not a welcome addition. This feeling not only stemmed his own past with LeBou but also from the Cajun's recent interest in Rogue. To top it all off the British Canadian in him held a deep mistrust of all francophones.

"Trust me, I've made a career outta angerin' women."

"I'm shocked." Logan said dryly, "So what's yer brilliant solution?"

"Leave her be for now, Rogue's ticked at ya but she won't let that get in the way of the mission and once we get home apologize like it's goin outta style. Maybe offer to watch a movie of her choice wit her." Logan hated to admit it but that was sound advice.

"I'll consider it Cajun." That was as close to a thank you as Gambit would get out of him, "Oh ask Polaris to give her sister a ring and let her know we're coming."

"Bein sur Wolverine." With that Remy turned and left the cockpit.

Royal Gardens, Genosha, The Present...

For the first time in nearly two years Naruto seemed to know true peace. He sat in the shade of a tree as he enjoyed some freshly picked mango. A score of shadow clones was picking fruit from the other fruit bearing plants. Naruto couldn't help but feel the weight of the weapon's pouch on his belt though. It seemed heavier to him, he only had a few kunai and shuriken along with a pair trench knives that he had burrowed from one Nara Shikamaru. It had been Uzumaki's hope that they would've helped him counter Sasuke's Kusanagi. But the Uchiha's kenjutsu was to much.

Naruto shuddered as he remembered that final clash with Sasuke. His hand trace the diagonal line that ran down from his left shoulder where the Uchiha had eviscerated him, "(Memories,)" Naruto murmured as he thought of the weapons, "(They're heavy with the memories.") He looked up at the tropical sky as munched on the mango. He then abruptly smacked his forehead, "(Fuck!)" the Jinchuriki cursed , "(That's the kind of emo crap Sai or Gaara would have come out with.)"

Deciding that being idle wasn't good for his psyche he picked his fruit and decided to go for a walk through the trees. It helped clear his head a bit, he helped himself to the different fruits, many of which he had never seen before much less tasted. The walk worked a little too well as Naruto was so engrossed in what he was doing he didn't notice a boy in a flamboyant red coat step out from behind an orange tree.

Edward had been following the human traffic cone for a full five minutes. The alchemist had heard the guy muttering to himself in a language that was definitely not English. That pretty much ruled out the possibility of talking him into coming quietly, "This isn't personal." Ed muttered as he clapped his hands together and then slammed both hands onto the dirt path. What looked like blue lightning illuminated the earth as it traveled from Edwards hand's to a surprised Drifter.

Naruto dropped the fruit and made several hand signs as the ground around him molded itself into a pair of giant stone hands that grabbed him. Ed blinked in surprise at how easy it seemed until the other vanished in a puff of smoke leaving behind "A log!" The Elric's confusion was short lived as Naruto appeared before him in a blur of orange and delivered a powerful right hook that sent the Full Metal Alchemist flying. As soon as he hit the dirt Edward pulled off a lightning fast recovery and like a cat he wound back up on his feet. Both young men were now crouched and ready to spring into action.

AN: Next chapter: Zero Hour! the fight anime fans have long wanted to see: Naruto Uzumaki vs. Edward Elric! Any questions or request let me know ^_^!