Naruto guessed something was up when he was reverse-summoned back to Mount Myouboku. Even when he'd left the village this time around, the toads hadn't done this, and the act must've meant something serious had occurred, or they wouldn't have bothered. He was hoping it was just Jiraiya harping on them to do it so that he could talk to Naruto, or Gamabunta wanting a drink - something stupid that would take up, like, two hours and would let him get back to traveling towards Ame and trying to decide if Snake-Face should accompany him or not.
But when he saw the face of Gamabunta, he couldn't breathe for a moment.
He'd always felt tiny next to him. In general, Gamabunta made him feel small, with his deep voice and his way of throwing his weight around, both literal and metaphoric.
"Naruto Uzumaki. You were my son's summoner."
"Gamakichi? ..W..Were?" Naruto blinked rapidly, "W-Where is he?" He felt his heart sink down to somewhere near his large intestine.
"We were hoping you could tell us."
Naruto's heart beat in his ears. "He…" He swallowed. His mouth was dry. "The last time I spoke, I asked him to talk to Jiraiya, about how I was with Tsunade and she would be coming home…?" He felt the beginnings of tears build up behind his eyes, "Why?"
"The jutsu that allows us to dispel upon life-threatening danger, which keeps our young from dying when they are accidentally summoned by new additions to the scroll - it also keeps tabs on them. Gamakichi disappeared from the scroll yesterday." There was no need to explain what that meant.
Hot, fat tears began spilling onto his face. "H-How? How the hell can that happen?" Naruto didn't care about the way the toad boss was watching him silently or how his dusty shirt was probably leaving streaks on his face. How the hell did a jutsu that wasn't even touched in the previous timeline, that hadn't been thought twice about by him before, fail?
Gamabunta was still quiet. Watching him. This would be the first time they met this time around and it wasn't going at all like Naruto had hoped it might. The first time around was better. Less tears, snot and grief settling over everything.
Finally, the giant toad sighed, "It wasn't you. You didn't kill my son."
Naruto swallowed, salt bitter in his throat, and glared back at the gargantuan summon. "I would never ask him to do anything that I thought would hurt him," he said, gritting his teeth. "I don't use my friends!"
Gamabunta closed his eyes and sighed wearily, "Jiraiya is being reverse-summoned next. You need to focus on where you were before so we can send you back before he comes."
"No," Naruto breathed, "I need to talk to him." He scowled, and felt Kurama's chakra unravel from his stomach and spread through him like the warmth from a stiff drink, extending his canines and bleeding into his irises. "I need to find out who did this."
Jiraiya didn't even wait to hear the reason behind his summoning. Upon seeing Naruto, he dealt the blonde a swift blow to the ear and watched him fumble around before the jinchuuriki attempted to return the hit with what little balance he had.
"Dumb pervert, 'the fuck was that for?" Naruto growled, not really upset with Jiraiya but happy to let some of his anger out.
"You know what it was for, brat!" the older ninja growled, "Don't think you're getting away from me after this!"
"Jiraiya," Gamabunta boomed, "Stop screwing around!"
The seal master stilled and turned to look at the toad, features smoothing out as he took note of the boss' tone. Naruto hadn't thought anything of it earlier (no time), but now he acknowledged that the normally rambunctious summon was much more subdued. Despite the toad's affinity for water, they would as a group forever be described as 'fiery' by Naruto, but Gamabunta just sounded tired. Looked every inch the old soul that those who'd seen battle were. It wasn't fair when children died before their parents.
Nothing was so eerie as seeing Jiraiya's face pale when Gamabunta described how they'd found out about Gamakichi.
"Damn it!" the Toad Sage cried, sinking to the ground and punching it so hard his knuckles popped. "I made that damn seal! They asked me for it! I thought it was for dealing with crow summons from Grass!" He punched the ground again, not hesitating despite how his fingers were limp.
Naruto felt the urge to destroy things build again, but held it back, allowing his newly-formed claws to dig into his palms and keep him grounded. "So, that's how they trapped him. But how did they get him in the first place?"
Then he remembered: Hinata. The seal that he left her. The one Gamakichi responded to.
"Oh, please, no," he whispered under his breath.
Two heads turned to him. He stared back at them with wide eyes, "I left Hinata a seal to contact me with. Gamakichi went back and forth between us once, right before I sent him to you," he said to Jiraiya.
Hinata had turned it in? Hinata was the reason…?
"...She wouldn't…" he said quietly, trying to fathom why she'd turn him in if - if she really - it had never been a question before - did Hinata love him back? Had his departure spurred a complete one-eighty in regards to her feelings for him?
"No, she wouldn't," Jiraiya said to him. Naruto hadn't thought of Jiraiya in a comforting way since he'd met him here again, but there was something reassuring in the words. Granted, it could be that the sage was just trying to keep him from losing it, knowing that Hinata was part of the reason for his defection and not wanting to deal with an emotionally-compromised container of the Nine Tails, especially so close to so many young toads, but it was mitigating all the same. "Did anyone else know?"
"Hiashi would." Jiraiya ceded. "And then, if he turned the seal in, Danzo would find a way to use it."
Inside Naruto, something snapped. "Danzo," he breathed, malicious chakra leaking out and poisoning the air. That utter bastard. It wasn't ever fucking enough with him, was it?
"So this Danzo," Gamabunta said, ire now seeping into his sober tone, "He is the one who killed my boy?"
And then Naruto realized how precarious the situation was. They were literally about two seconds away from Gamabunta going on a rampage in Konoha until he found the ROOT leader and slaughtered him in revenge. Which wasn't likely to happen: Danzo had an entire army of brainwashed soldiers ready to keep him alive, and another army who would defend their councilman, invasive policies or not, against a rampaging beast without even first pausing to think why a toad, traditional ally of Konoha, was attempting to kill him.
He nervously met Jiraiya's eyes, and the two of them shared a moment of panic before they turned back to the mammoth summon and attempted to calm him down.
Naruto wasn't really a vain person, but he was immensely relieved when the toad's medic managed to replace his chipped front tooth.
"It feels bigger," he told the brisk healer, tonguing the white square tenderly.
"It is. You'll wear it down to normal size by eating and doing what you usually do," she said coolly, then offered him a green popsicle, "Here. Suck on it, it'll numb the pain."
Spotting what looked like an iced grasshopper leg sticking out the side, Naruto gave an uneven smile and shook his head, "Polite pass. I can barely even feel it, honest." A lie, but he'd take the throbbing in his mouth over crunchy bug bits any day.
She huffed, "Men. Always trying to be tougher than you are smart." The toad let him go after that, though, and he met up with Jiraiya, who was nursing two black eyes and a broken finger outside.
The seal master met his gaze and there was a moment where the two of them just smiled slightly at each other, thankful the day hadn't ended with a feud between Konoha and the toads, until Jiraiya smacked the back of his head.
"You're a little shit."
Naruto inhaled, then winced when the cold air hit his teeth, which were all sensitive for some reason. "Lemme tell you what I've been up to."
A/N: Short as hell, I know. Like I said, I want to switch back and forth between Naruto and Hinata and I just ain't doing that in the same chapter.