"...We're back in Konoha?" The bridge-builder asked, looking around confused. "How long have I been out?"
"Two days." Kakashi replied from where he sat beside his remaining students. "By all rights, I should have left you behind. I would have if it would've done Team 7 any good."
"What do you mean?" Tazuna asked, dreading the answer."
Instead of answering, Kakashi turned his attention back to his unconscious students. Tazuna followed his gaze and-
Where was the blond brat? Where was Naruto?
"... Where's sensei?" Sakura asked Sasuke quietly, and he shrugged.
"Said he wanted to talk to Hokage-sama, since someone you knew would be here when you got up." There was a pause. "... What happened in Wave? He wouldn't say a word."
"I- The fake hunter-nin beat you and - and Naruto." Sakura said, her voice breaking, and Sasuke glanced over to her, a mix of concern and worry in his eyes when he saw the tears forming in hers. "I was guarding Tazuna, but the hunter-nin didn't seem to care, and teamed up against sensei. Sensei retreated to me, and told me to check on the both of you. Naruto was..." She took a breath to try to steady herself, but the tears started to come.
"We could find no signs of life." Kakashi said. "And the places the senbon were sticking out-" He shook his head. "No chakra either."
There was a long moment as Sasuke processed the information. Sakura curled up on herself, and started to weakly sob.
"You're not really here." He said.
"No, I'm angry, so I'm actually trying to work that off so I don't accidentally kill someone."
"Requesting permission to return to Wave for Naruto's body." Kakashi said, wearing the same emotionless mask that he'd worn during his years in ANBU.
"Permission denied." The Hokage said flatly. "You couldn't face Zabuza and his accompliance on your own before, and I cannot afford to send another jounin with you."
A pause, so quiet you could have heard a senbon drop.
"... What." Kakashi said flatly, and lightning arced along his skin - not as a threat. His emotions were starting to get out of hand.
"They will have destroyed his body, Kakashi." The Hokage tried to reason with him. "He was like a grandson to me-"
"Then let me go!"
Sarutobi could see the parallels between this and an encounter with Kakashi just days after Minato's death, where Kakashi had demanded to be allowed to raise Naruto.
Back then, the only negative reprecussion was Kakashi going into ANBU. Who knew what would happen after this conversation?
"Kakashi, I can't." A short pause. He didn't want to do this, but Kakashi wasn't backing down. "Go, and you will not return to Wave for Naruto's body, that is an order from your Hokage."
"... You're expecting me to believe Hakate did this to the Forest of Death because he lost his temper?" Kurenai asked Anko, staring at the destruction.
"He was angry." Anko replied. "I tried to do the same after..." She shook her head, as though that chase the memories away. "He was still angry when he left, just not quite as angry. I think he said something about finding Gai."
"You're sure he's not going back?" Kurenai asked.
"Hokage's orders." Anko said, as though that explained it. "If he does then he could be branded as a traitor."
Slipping past them was easier than it should've been. After all, Zabuza was an S-class nin, and his accompliance was A-ranked.
Still, considering that he had been ANBU at one point he shouldn't be too surprised. He had slipped around larger groups of guards.
Now all he had to do was listen for word of his student.
"Can't believe the brat decided to throw himself off the bridge just so we couldn't -"
"Kakashi, I thought I told you that you weren't allowed to go back to Wave."
"I didn't. I rather thought your ANBU that you have watching me would've told you that."
"Then explain how Gato and all of his men are dead."
"I dunno. Does this mean I can go after Naruto's body then?" Please, please, please....
Buried under his dogs the words kept repeating on loop-
Threw himself off the bridge-
Threw himself off the bridge-
"He survived." His voice was weak. "He was alive and we left him."
He had survived, and had been captured, only to escape and find that his team had abandoned him.
So he had taken the only choice left to him.
The fox was waiting on the shore of the island when the boy washed ashore.
The blond man who was with her bent down, and tenatively checked to see if he was still alive.
Then gently picked him up and carried him into the village.
"Hokage-sama." Kotesu said as he landed in the man's office. "Um, there are two shinobi at the gates, claiming to have been sent by the Uzukage. What should I do?"
Hiruzen's head shot up to look at the chunnin, eyes wide.
"I- I'll see them myself." He thought for a moment as he stood to his feet. "Send for Kakashi."
Within a matter of minutes, Kakashi was at the gates with the two remaining genin of Team 7 - and how that hurt, to think that the student Kakashi had looked the most forward to was the first one that he lost.
The two shinobi were waiting patiently.
The first had shoulder-length red hair, and eyes that were a dark violet, standing nearly six inches taller than Kakashi, wearing the attire that had been common during Hiruzen's visits to Ushizo.
The second... Was barely shorter than Kakashi, with blond hair falling out and around the mask that he wore. It was remarkably similiar to an ANBU mask, though it didn't bare the mark of a village (though that was a fairly common practice), it was clearly representing a fox, unlike the Kohona mask - which had two blue markings on each side of the mask - his had two red horizontal lines on each side of his face, a red outline of a triangle on the top of his face, two vertical (-ish) lines coming down from either side of his face, and a red triangle on the bottom of his mask, with fox ears on top, as if someone might not realize what the mask was supposed to represent.
"Hokage-sama." The first was the one that spoke. "The Uzukage sends his greetings." He gave a low bow, before straightening. "My name is Uzumaki Akio, my companion here shall be called Kitsune." He motioned to the blond man. "We're here on behalf of Ushizo. Arashi-sama wishes for our genin to compete in the chunnin exams."
"Surely you didn't need to send two shinobi just for that." Kakashi protested, glancing back and forth between the two Uzu-nin.
"I'm simply here for the transportation seal." Kitsune spoke softly. "Uzukage-sama didn't wish to take any risks with the genin teams. This is the first actual chunnin exams Ushizo has participated in since it's supposed destruction. No doubt if word got out the future of our village would be ambushed."
Kakashi's shadow clone took the genin to his apartment where the real Kakashi was buried under his dogs.
"Sensei?" Sasuke asked, tone guarded.
"We just left." Kakashi said. "We-" he stopped, before reluctantly pushing himself up into a sitting position. "He was alive and we just left him."
Kakashi looked absolutely horrible. He'd been on the floor for some time, and it was only his shadow clone's actions that had kept him fed and alive.
The guilt was weighing heavily on him.
"You couldn't have known." Sakura argued, horror filling her. What had happened to their other teammate?
"I- I went back." Kakashi said. "But - I was too late."
There was a pause as his students considered the implications of that statement.
"They killed him?" Sakura asked, shaking, because death-
"No." Kakashi said, the word sounding bitter somehow in his mouth. "No, they would have tortured him until death would have been a mercy." He shook his head. "Naruto - he had already took matters into his own hands before I arrived."
"What are you saying?" Sasuke asked, horror filling him as he remembered the days after Itachi's Tsukuyomi - he had wanted nothing more than death, but the need to avenge his clan had stopped him from taking that step.
But Naruto wanted to be Hokage. He - he couldn't have-
"He broke out of where they were holding him." Kakashi said, voice bitter. "But no one was there to help him get back to us. They cornered him - of course they did, Wave is an island - and they were on Tazuna's bridge and rather than let them catch him again he jumped from the bridge."
Sasuke closed his eyes and imagined it. If it had been him-
Wondering why no one was there. Running and running and running until he couldn't anymore. With Gato's men at his back and the sea at his front-
Would he have done the same?
"He's dead." Sakura choked. "Oh, kami. He's dead and gone and I can't-"
Hours (or days, Kakashi couldn't tell) later a figure landed in his window, quiet, but making just enough noise to wake Kakashi up.
He had buried himself back under his dogs once his team had left. Of course he had. Outside of missions, it was how he had survived his sensei's death and not being allowed near Naruto.
He stood once he saw the second of the two Ushizo-nin that his shadow clone had mentioned earlier.
"You're Kitsune." He said, voice a touch cautious. "Why are you here?" How do you even know where I live?
"Because I could sense your misery from the other side of Kohona." Kitsune said, voice carefully soft and- "May I enter?"
A moment's debate - did he want to let the other shinobi in, did he want this mentioned to the Hokage - "Sure."
The man dropped in silently and moved from the window, and Kakashi studied him, looking for anything his shadow clone had missed.
"He's not dead, you know."
"What?" Kakashi demanded, the sentence entirely unexpected. "What - who are you talking about you-"
"Uzumaki Naruto. He's alive, and in Ushizo."
"Prove it." Came the growl.
"Ushizo has maintained itself since it's destruction since it's supposed destruction. If the Kyubii Jinchuuriki were to wash up on Ushizo's shores, however, they would still be obligated to return him."
"That can't be true." I can't get my hopes up again.
"He looks like his father, doesn't he?" The unknown shinobi said without seeming to notice the S-ranked secret he had stumbled into. "The Yondaime?"
"How could you possibly know what the Yondaime looks like?!?"
"I had hoped you would figure that out on your own, Hakate-san."
With that Kistune was gone.
"A request, Hokage-sama." Kitsune was perched in his window with ease, as though he were a Kohona shinobi.
"I cannot guarantee that I will grant it, but I will hear you out." He replied. "But nothing comes for free." Kitsune gave a small nod to show that he had heard, and Hiruzen continued. "I want to know who you are, behind that mask."
There was a pause as Kitsune considered the request.
"Someone that you have met." He said, sounding faintly amused. "You trusted me, once upon a time. Then you lost me to the embrace of death."
Sarutobi closed his eyes as he pondered the vague statement. He had trusted Arashi, and then thought him dead. He had trusted a multitude of Kohona shinobi who had died - Minato and Kushina being prime examples - but there were too many options for him to be sure.
Kitsune saw his fustration, and spoke again. "The mask will come off sooner or later, Hokage-sama. Just not yet. My request?"
Hiruzen sighed, before nodding.
"Call the Sannin Jiraiya back to Kohona. He will be needed shortly."
"He will be brought back, Kitsune." He replied, and Kitsune gave a nod, and then was gone.
It is Kakashi who falls into step beside Kitsune, having taken a couple days to think about the man's words.
"You are sure he's alive?" He asked, and Kitsune nods without hesitation. "I want proof."
"You will get it, Hakate, when we use the transportation seal." Kitsune replied. "Your student will arrive alongside the Uzukage and his genin teams."
Which was... An odd way to phrase things. Kitsune acted as though he weren't an Ushizo shinobi.
"When will this be?" Kakashi asked, and Kitsune paused as though he were thinking about it.
"A week before the Chunnin Exams begin. The Uzukage thought it best."
There it was again. Kitsune was - perhaps deliberately - dropping the '-sama' from the Uzukage's title.
"Well, Kistune-san. Would you like to spar?"
The man turned, and his voice was softer than ever when he spoke.
Meanwhile, across the sea...
"How bad is it?" Arashi Uzumaki asked the medic that was tending the Kyubii Jinchuuriki.
"Well, considering his injuries, it could've been worse. His psych seems to be in one piece, Uzukage-sama." A short, thoughtful pause. "As of now, we cannot afford to reintroduce his chakra - or the Kyubii's - to his system."
The kage frowned, remembering the injuries.
"He'll have scars forever." He commented, and the medic-nin nodded. "He will live, then?"
"Yes." She replied. "What will we do once he has physically recovered?"
The man frowned thoughtfully, "Well, we will have to find a way to return him to Kohona sooner or later. Still, unless we make him forget his time here, the world will learn that we are not destroyed, and because of the Kyubii I'm not sure we could make him forget, even if that was the solution I was considering."
"So the world will know."
"We were lucky to keep it quiet all these years." Arashi corrected. He stood. "Send for me once it is safe to unseal his chakra. Your job is to heal him."
"Who are you?" The Jinchuuriki asked. "And why are you helping me? And why do you have our spiral on your headbands?"
"Let's start with the last question," Arashi replied. "The spiral is the symbol of Ushizo, the village where you are now. We... Were Kohona's greatest allies. We have been thought destroyed since before the third shinobi war. I'm the Uzukage, Uzumaki Arashi."
"Uzumaki?" The boy asked, suddenly sounding so lost and alone.
"Yeah. Just like you, I'm a blond Uzumaki. Most Uzumaki - like your mother - have red hair." He waited for the boy to nod in realization, but his eyes widened in surprise.
"You know my mom?"
"Uzumaki Kushina." The frown was back, and the Uzukage was bewildered. "She left to become the Jinchuuriki shortly before - before Iwa and Kiri tried to destroy us. Why wouldn't you know-"
"I-" The boy frowned, trying to sort through his thoughts. "How can you be so sure I'm an Uzumaki?"
"Kid, just about anyone else would've died before washing up on our shores. Not to mention that only Uzumaki have enough chakra to survive being the Kyubii's Jinchuuriki for too long, much less the twelve and a half years you've had it. Still, I don't know your first name. You don't have to tell me if you don't want to though."
"Meet Jorui." Arashi said, bending down to pat the kitsune on the head. "She's a kitsune. Most members of the Uzumaki clan have their own kitsune partners and I was wondering if you'd like her as yours."
Naruto's face lit up with joy, and he shot forward, pulling the both of them into a hug. "Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!"
The boy - Naruto - was engrossed in the fuuinjutsu scroll, and Arashi allowed himself a small grin.
A couple of hours later, Naruto looked up and noticed him.
"Oji-san!" His surpise made his voice a couple pitches higher than it normally was, and both of them winced.
The librarian a few feet from them raised her one of her fingers and touched it lightly to her lip, glaring at them as she hissed, "Shh!"
"You enjoying fuuinjutsu?" Arashi asked, with a small fond grin. Naruto nodded eagerly. "Well, I'm afraid that you won't be able to take any scrolls to Kohona with you, except for the few that are shared with Kohona." Naruto's eyes widened, looking almost comical, before his hands flew through a few hand signs.
"Kage bunshin no jutsu!" He whispered and there were suddenly another thirty of them and they split up and began searching. Naruto's attention returned to Arashi. "Is there a reason you came?"
"Yeah. I had a few jutsu that I though you might like."
"I only have half of the Kyubii sealed inside of me, Oji-san." Naruto said, landing on his window.
"I suppose it was only a matter of time until you figured it out." He stood. "Let's find an empty training ground, shall we?"
It only took them a matter of minutes, and Arashi spoke.
"The seal requires a sacrifice." There was a pause where Arashi bent his head at the neck to look at the sky as he pondered how to phrase this. "Whoever sealed the yang half of the Kyubii into you would've known that, but as a baby you couldn't have possibly survived having the whole Kyubii inside of you, Uzumaki or not. So, since you're an only sibling, the seal master would've sealed the other half into herself, and it would be with her inside the Shinigami's stomach."
"... Then there's no way to get it back." Naruto said, slumping over in disappointment.
"No. There... Might be a way. Still, I want to make sure you're sure. After all, then there'll be two Jinchuuriki, each with half of the Kyubii. It won't merge with the Kyubii inside of you. Think about it for a couple of days."
"Have you decided?" They'd returned to the same training ground, and Arashi had sent the genin training off to lunch with plenty of money to keep them occupied for some time.
"Yes, Oji-san." Naruto said. "I- I still want the other half free and - and I want whoever's in there with it free too."