Title: New Wind Nation: Alliance (Season 2)
Chapter 1: An Unlikely Ally ~ Worst Case Scenario
Summary: Having gained a good friend in Gaara, Naruto finds himself facing a crisis of the Kazekage's making. Now, it's a race to convince their leader to abandon his plans of an invasion, or they just might find themselves on the brink of a new war. (Sequel to New Wind Nation.)
Notes: Opening theme is Kaze no Hi by Ellegarden.
"During the third round of the upcoming Chunin Exams, Gaara will act as the spearhead of an invading force against the Hidden Leaf Village," the Kazekage stated shortly.
His tone was clipped and cold enough to make Kankuro cower and Baki tense reflexively. It was only natural — the Kazekage was not a man accustomed to repeating himself, yet he had been forced to repeat his plan, and then further simplify it into the condensed, watered down version he had presented.
But even so, Naruto continued to look at him blankly and shook his head bemusedly.
"I don't understand," Naruto repeated. "We're invading Hidden Leaf? Why?! That's stupid!"
The Kazekage's glare was murderous. "Your opinion is of no value. You will obey your orders." Baki suspected that if Gaara hadn't been watching the exchange closely, subtly posed to act, Naruto would have found himself facing a swift execution, at the hands of the Kazekage himself.
"Those orders are stupid!" Naruto shot back insistently. "What are you thinking?! Invading? A war? War is the worst thing, for everyone! Nothing good can come from war!"
Naruto had never been in a war, of course. He had never even truly seen the aftermath of it, since Kushina had carefully kept their travel routes through the safer, less damaged locales. But the pointless cruelty of war was the main theme of his favorite book, Tale of the Gutsy Ninja, and on the few occasions when she could stand to mention it, Kushina had said the same.
Kushina had lost her friends, her family, her entire homeland to war. Naruto had tried to imagine it sometimes, when it had been the two of them and later, when he had been alone. Even when Hidden Sand had still been a strange, not-yet-home place, the thought of losing it had been terrifying. Now, when he thought about his home and his comrades, and what the war he had heard about would do to them, Naruto couldn't hold back his reaction and refusal.
"I agree with Naruto," Gaara said, far too calmly. His words made the Kazekage turn a sharp, angry look toward him instead.
Caught between his instinctive refusal to explain himself to a pair of genin and his need for Gaara's cooperation, the Kazekage glared at them both for a moment.
Seeing the man about to simply order them to obey him, Baki spoke up quickly. "A decisive blow at the heart of their village will severely weaken Hidden Leaf, and destroy their credibility with the potential clients who will be attending the third round of the Chunin Exams. It will show Hidden Sand's power and raise our own standing," Baki explained, repeating what the Kazekage had told the council.
The expression Naruto made correctly reflected Baki's own opinion of this course of action. However, unlike Naruto, Baki understood that the Kazekage's orders were absolute. If their leader ordered them to invade Hidden Leaf, there was nothing they could do but obey.
Protesting would simply get him swiftly and mercilessly silenced. Unfortunately, Naruto's stubborn expression made it clear he would not back down or be placated — or intimidated.
"And then what? What are we going to do when war breaks out for real? Hidden Leaf isn't just going to roll over, you know!" Naruto snapped.
"Then," the Kazekage said coldly, "Hidden Leaf will fall to Hidden Stone and Hidden Cloud, who have long been looking for revenge for their prior loses."
Naruto flinched at this cold prediction of untold death and destruction, and Baki prayed he wouldn't say something that could be taken as sympathizing with their rival village. With Naruto's background, it could easily be taken as a sign of treason.
"With Hidden Leaf gone, our competition will be greatly reduced," the Kazekage continued, "we will claim their contracts for ourselves and greatly expand our influence and might."
Naruto shook his head slowly, momentarily at a loss for words. Even Kankuro, silent in the corner he had retreated too, looked stunned and faintly horrified. "You're crazy!" Naruto yelled. "You're going to start a war just to... to..."
"To conquer, as is the purpose of war," the Kazekage said.
"Because the last one went so well!" Naruto shouted, making both Baki and the Kazekage stiffen. The Third Shinobi World War was a sore point for the entire older generation, though Naruto likely did not understand the full impact of his words. "And you want everyone to go through that again?! You're going to bring our village to ruin!"
Baki winced at the heavy accusation, which seemed to resound in the shadowed chamber, but the Kazekage only looked back at Naruto emotionlessly, any expression hidden by his mask and the brim of his hat.
"This village," he said finally, "is already in ruin. I act only to save it. You have your orders."
Baki had to all but drag Naruto out of the room. The jonin's firm glare was barely enough to keep Naruto quiet until their team was alone in one of the administrative center's remote meeting rooms.
"You can't agree with this!" Naruto protested immediately, spinning around to glare at Baki.
"What can we do? The Kazekage gave us our orders. If we disobey, it's treason — execution," Kankuro pointed out pragmatically. He didn't sound happy by any stretch of the imagination, and his expression was deeply miserable. Under his breath, he wondered, "Urgh, is this why he formed this team? To have three genin and a jonin for the exam?"
'So I'm just filling in the spot, great.' It was a depressing thought.
"Then we have to make him change his orders," Naruto decided, scowling as if the nonsense he spouted should have been obvious. "Because they're stupid, and he's wrong."
"Father doesn't change his mind," Kankuro said flatly.
"The Kazekage is not known to reconsider once he has come to a decision," Baki agreed sighing. "And understand, Naruto, this was not a decision he came to lightly. He knows far better than you what war means and the dangers and losses that come with it. But the village is in a desperate situation, far more so than you know. If something — something drastic — is not done, Hidden Sand will wither away."
It was hardly unheard of, for an entire hidden village to be disbanded or to just fade away into nothing. The same had occurred in many of the smaller countries — in the Land of Hot Water, famously, and in the Land of Birds.
'To think the same would happen to one of the five great villages...' Baki thought grimly.
"How is going into a war going to make anything better?" Naruto insisted stubbornly. "If we're in so much trouble, we're not up for a war, that's for sure! The village could get destroyed, and then what?"
That was, after all, the fate of Kushina's birthplace, the Hidden Eddy Village, and its country, the Land of Whirlpools.
"We will not be going against Hidden Leaf alone," Baki said, after a moment's pause. He was treading close to secret information, even for Gaara's team. "For this, we have allied with another village — Hidden Sound."
"Never heard of them. Is some small village really going to be much help against Hidden Leaf?" Naruto said dubiously.
'I've never heard of them either,' Kankuro thought. Compared to Naruto, he knew far more about other countries and their shinobi, so that said much more.
"This village was created only recently, but their leader…" Baki hesitated, but he could already see Naruto wouldn't be satisfied otherwise and he was stubborn enough for that to become a serious problem, especially if Gaara backed him. "Their leader is someone very powerful. Powerful enough to stand against even a Kage."
"People like that don't just appear out of nowhere," Kankuro mused aloud. "For one of them not to have a village…"
"A missing-nin," Gaara judged succinctly. Kankuro had never considered Gaara as intelligent — or, admittedly, slow either — but the thought was unsettling at best. Sharing a glance with Baki, Kankuro knew the jounin shared his feelings.
"So we're trusting someone who already betrayed their homeland to not betray us?" Naruto said.
Despite the common sense of his statement, that sort of "trust" was commonplace in the shinobi world. In actuality, there was no trust involved at all.
"That... does sound suspicious," Kankuro admitted, though he would have never said so to his father's face. "I mean, what's some small upstart village doing, picking a fight with Hidden Leaf? There's no way they have enough power to make a difference against one of the big five, not if they just started out. They're probably planning to make us do all the fighting and then claim the credit. Either that, or they're just idiots overestimating their own strength."
Neither option bode well for Hidden Sand.
Baki shook his head. "This village… is different. It's filled with people that possess abnormal powers, and their leader is… Well, he is on the level of a Kage."
'There's not that many of those,' Kankuro thought. 'Especially not if they'd go around making a village. And would be willing to risk their necks against Hidden Leaf. And not to mention gather all those minions with "abnormal powers"...'
Preoccupied with his thoughts, Kankuro mostly missed Naruto's next comment. "So the Kazekage wouldn't do this without these allies? So we only need to prove we can't rely on them, and he'll change his mind?" he asked, still working along the same single track.
His stubbornness made Baki sigh, not for the first time. "Our village's intelligence network has investigated them thoroughly. What do you think you're going to find, that the Kazekage doesn't already know?"
"We have to try! Or else…"
"We?" Baki repeated.
"You don't agree with this either, taicho!" Naruto pointed out, but seeing the jonin's expression, he huffed. "Fine then! Gaara and I will save the village!"
Frowning, Baki responded almost reflexively, "Gaara won't be allowed to just run around somewhere, investigating Hidden Sound."
"But I can?" Naruto asked, and Baki knew he'd been played, in a very basic way.
For a moment, the jonin closed his eyes and thought. Several months with Naruto had shown him that once Naruto had an idea in his head, there was no dissuading him. Unfortunately, Naruto also tended to succeed in the end, so that tendency had never quite been broken.
Naruto decided he wanted to go on a C-rank mission? He went on C-rank missions, and a B-rank too, even if that meant a teammate who might flip out and kill him at any moment.
Naruto decided he wants Gaara to stop listening to Shukaku and killing innocent people? He convinced Gaara not to fight against Shukaku's will and the non-enemy casualty rate, which had already been steadily decreasing, had dropped completely once they returned from Land of Rivers.
Naruto decided he wanted to persuade the Kazekage to call off an intricate, desperate maneuver to invade another village? Well… Baki was afraid that if he forbid Naruto from trying to find evidence to support his position, the boy would come up with an even more insane method of achieving his goal.
Even worse than that was Gaara's apparent support of this — of Naruto. If the Kazekage ordered their team to follow through and Naruto refused, Baki had little doubt that Gaara would also refuse. And while Naruto could be imprisoned or beaten into compliance, Gaara… well, the Kazekage could subdue Gaara, yes, but not without great cost and likely not to the extent that the plan would still be workable.
Perhaps Baki did not like this plan either, but he knew there was little choice but to obey. Civil unrest was the last thing they needed. The village would collapse in on itself.
"I will get you a permit to pursue an independent investigation, even outside the village," Baki said, coming to a decision — the only decision he could make, at that point. "But you will return in time to begin the mission, and if you have not found sufficient evidence to convince the Kazekage, you will stand down and obey. Is that clear?"
Swallowing heavily, Naruto squared his shoulders and nodded. "I promise," he said.
"Gaara?" Baki prompted, turning to the redhead, who nodded in turn.
Now, all that remained was to convince the Kazekage to grant Naruto's leave of absence. Somehow, it still felt like an easier task.
The Kazekage listened to Baki's report on his team's status silently and without giving away any opinion.
"Your team is on standby until the Chunin Exams," he said finally, without turning away from the panorama of the village seen from his office. "As long as it is not to the detriment of the village, it is of no concern to me how they choose to spend that time."
He could feel Baki's surprised, uneasy silence behind him, but, as a council member, Baki was too self-controlled to question the Kazekage's uncharacteristic lenience.
"Understood," Baki said instead. "My team will be ready in one month's time. By your leave."
He flickered out of sight.
However, the Kazekage was not alone for long. Once Baki had departed, Gaara stepped out of the shadows, though he did not approach further. The two stood in silence for several long moments, before Gaara finally spoke.
"If something happens to Naruto while he's out of the village, I will hold you responsible," Gaara declared.
The Kazekage shot him a flat glare. He hadn't planned to stoop to assassinating Naruto while he was in the field in any case, though it was unsurprising that Gaara would consider that option.
"Do you expect me to assign him a guard?" the Kazekage asked mockingly. "A weak fool like him will get himself killed quickly, especially if he plans to interfere with those far stronger than him."
Gaara didn't rise to the bait. "Hmph. Don't underestimate Naruto," he said instead. His expression softened as he half-turned away, and there was the faintest hint of a smile on his face. "When he sets out to do something, he doesn't give up until it's done. Start coming up with other plans. You'll need them."
Having said his piece, Gaara stepped back into the shadows, and the Kazekage was left to consider his words — and, more importantly, his changed demeanor. It was subtle, but Gaara's calm was different from his occasional apathy. The atmosphere around him was not the same — no longer like facing down a half-rabid beast, but a dangerous, reasoning, human opponent.
When had Gaara changed? Why?
It wasn't Baki's doing — Baki, who had changed himself. The councilor had always been cautious, so it was no surprise that he was wary of the invasion plan. But because he was so cautious, it was uncharacteristic for Baki to be so open in his disapproval.
Both of them, supporting that boy...
What was it about Naruto? What made them believe in him?
Naruto was shuffling through his weapons, trying to decide how much of what to take. He had already packed everything else for an extended mission, but how many kunai would he need? How many shuriken? He couldn't carry his entire stock of both, that much was for sure. Sitting in the middle of his bed with his face screwed up in thought, surrounded by sharp, pointy things, Naruto made quite the picture.
That was how Kankuro found him, when he threw open the unlocked door to Naruto's apartment. "Oh, for… just put them in a storage scroll!" Kankuro barked, as he strode in without waiting to be invited.
"Oh yeah…" Naruto muttered, slapping a palm to his forehead. Then, he chuckled, "It's been so long since I made any. Not since I was traveling with Mom… I hope I still remember how to do it."
That sounded rather ominous, but Kankuro only closed his eyes for a moment and resolved to ignore it. "So you're really going to do this?" he asked instead. "Do you even know where to start? Or are you just planning to wander outside the village and hope you coincidentally run into something?"
"I was going to go to this Hidden Sound Village," Naruto said blankly. "I'm not sure what country it's in though…"
Kankuro muttered something uncomplimentary under his breath, but managed to keep from facepalming. "It's in the Land of Rice Paddies," he said. "But our shinobi would've already checked there, not to mention that you haven't got the skills to sneak into a foreign hidden village. I knew it was going to turn out like this. You're totally hopeless, you know? You're lucky I looked into it!"
"So you found something out? Nice! I guess you're not totally useless after all!" Naruto said brightly.
"Who are you calling useless?!" Kankuro protested.
"Well, it's not like you do anything on our missions," Naruto said reasonably. "Gaara and I do all the work."
"Gaara does all the work," Kankuro muttered. He sighed. "Fine, whatever. Just listen. I was thinking about what Baki told us about this village's leader. Guys on the level of a Kage are rare, and they don't just appear out of nowhere. So for one of them to be able to start his own village… he's got to be a missing nin. And that means…"
Kankuro held up a nondescript book, the sight of which made Naruto's eyes widen. "Is that…?"
"He's got to be in the Bingo Book," Kankuro concluded with a smug grin.
"I thought genin weren't supposed to have those," Naruto said, squinting dubiously. "Is that really a Bingo Book?"
"Of course it is!" Kankuro burst out. "Who do you take me for? I'm no ordinary genin! I used my connection to get hold of one."
Actually, he had just bullied an unfortunate record keeper into handing it over, mostly by shamelessly invoking his connection to the Kazekage. But that didn't sound as impressive.
"Anyway," Kankuro continued, "I'm pretty sure I know who it it. Someone willing to go after Hidden Leaf, with an interest in human experimentation… It's got to be this guy."
Opening the Bingo Book to the right page, Kankuro held it out to Naruto. "Orochimaru of the Sannin…?" Naruto read out the name of the listed shinobi.
"That's right. One of the Sannin is definitely Kage-level," Kankuro said, nodding along as Naruto scanned the rest of the entry. "He defected from Hidden Leaf a while back — on, get this, changes of human experimentation. But he just disappeared off the map for years. If he's been building his village, it makes sense. Not to mention, he's practically the only one who's enough of a big deal to make Father decide on something so crazy…"
Naruto hummed thoughtfully as he considered the information in the entry. He didn't even think of doubting Kankuro's conclusion.
"Anyway, here's what I was thinking," Kankuro went on. "Hidden Sound or whatever might be the face of his operations, but it can't be his only base. Try to find out what he's been doing all these years. Or just find out about him in general."
"Got it," Naruto muttered, tapping at one section in the entry — the teammates and known associates part — then beginning to flip through the pages in search of something.
"But, Naruto, you gotta understand… Not just any info will do," Kankuro said, frowning. "Father won't be convinced to change his mind easily. Even if you prove this Orochimaru guy has his own agenda, Father won't care. Even if he's just using us, we're basically just using him too. And he's not gonna care that this freak experiments on people, or anything like that. You have to prove he's going to betray us and leave the village off worse than before. Do you get that?"
Finally, Naruto looked up. "I get that," he said seriously, meeting Kankuro's gaze. "But I'll definitely find it. There's no way a guy like this isn't planning to betray us." Suddenly, he grinned. "Thanks, Kankuro. This'll really help. I've already got a good idea about where to start!"
"Yeah, well, you should be grateful," Kankuro grumbled, glancing away and flushing a little under his warpaint. "You definitely owe me one. I'll make you pay up after we deal with this mess."
'...Do I actually think he can do it? I've really lost it,' Kankuro thought as he headed back outside. He had to bite back a groan. Gaara was one thing, but him believing in Naruto was just ridiculous. After all, Naruto was undoubtedly a stupid brat with more guts than brains, and a mouth bigger than both combined. So why was he acting like he actually thought Naruto had a chance?
Then, he really did groan. "I forgot to get the Bingo Book back!" he realized.
Being called into a meeting with the Kazekage twice in as many days should have been a cause for concern and would have left almost any Hidden Sand shinobi deeply worried for their future and well-being, but Naruto only looked surly as he stalked into the Kazekage's office.
"Reporting as ordered," he drawled in his most confrontational tone, though he sounded more petulant than anything.
The Kazekage regarded him with silently, and though the man's mask hid his expression, Naruto was somehow certain he was being looked down on with disdain. Unfortunately, Naruto wasn't one to back down, even when it was the far smarter choice. "You can't stop me!" he burst out, pointing at the man. "I've got all the stupid papers I need, and I'm going to show you that you're totally wrong about this!"
It was very tempting to remind Naruto that the Kazekage could in fact stop him very easily — that was part of being a military dictator.
"Watch your tongue," the Kazekage said instead. "Those words could be considered treason."
"What, I can't tell you you're wrong?" Naruto complained, screwing up his face into an even deeper scowl. "It's not like it's the first time! You were wrong about Gaara too!" The Kazekage couldn't entirely hide the way he tensed at the mention of that sore subject. However, Naruto didn't notice. "I bet there were lots of other times too! You should be glad I'm going to show you how wrong you are before it ends up a total mess, like—!"
"Enough!" the Kazekage barked.
Most likely, he woudn't have been quite so angry if Naruto's words hadn't echoed thoughts he had been trying to avoid. He had been wrong about Gaara, there was no doubt about that — the greatest failure. But he had comforted himself with the thought that there had been no right answer, that Gaara had been doomed from the start.
But Naruto had found a way to help Gaara, all the while echoing the words of a woman years since dead. The Kazekage had never forgotten Kushina's steady, piercing gaze as she told him that "love" mattered far more than any seal. No matter how he tried to dismiss her words as an attempt to cover up her own failure to change Gaara's situation, he had never quite been able to.
Her son had the same eyes.
Was that why Gaara, Baki and Kankuro all believed in Naruto and supported him in their own ways? What had they seen while they were on Naruto's team that made them change?
"Why do all three of them support you?" he spoke without meaning to. "You're only a child, with childish delusions. What is the secret value you hold?"
"Huh?" Naruto wondered, completely caught off guard.
Irritated with his own uncertainty, the Kazekage shook his head. There was no point in asking the boy.
If he wanted to know… he would have to see it first hand.
"You will depart in three days, at the western entrance," the Kazekage instructed in clipped tones.
"I'm ready to go now," Naruto protested, scowling. He didn't have any time to waste. That was three days he could be using to find something.
"You will be accompanied by a jounin, who will relay your findings to me," the Kazekage went on, seemingly ignoring Naruto's words. "Don't try to falsify your reports. I will know."
"As if I would!" Naruto yelled, offended.
"Dismissed," the Kazekage said simply, turning away and summarily ignoring the genin. Naruto had no choice but to storm out of the man's office, all the while muttering curses under his breath.
"Did you pack…"
"Yes, I packed it! I packed everything! Stop nagging, Kankuro!" Naruto complained, throwing up his hands in exasperation. "I already got this whole thing from Baki-sensei!"
"Quit whining!" Kankuro shot back. "Remember when you went on that mission without only two kunai? Or the one when you forgot your…"
"Argh!" Naruto let out an articulate yell, cutting off what Kankuro had been about the say. "Okay! Okay! But I'm serious. Baki-sensei already checked everything. I never realized you were such a nag… Are you worried about me? Heh, thanks!"
"T-that's not it!" Kankuro sputtered. "Like I care about you! It's just that if you mess this up, we're really going to…"
The reminder of what was at stake made even Naruto's good cheer dissipate, and he fell awkwardly silent, fiddling with the straps of his backpack. Kankuro winced, also falling silent. Maybe it would have been better not to say anything...
Walking next on Naruto's other side, Gaara said calmly, "Don't worry. It'll be alright. You'll figure it out. I believe in you."
Naruto stared at him in surprise, then broke into a wide grin. "Thanks! I won't let you down!" he promised. "See, Kankuro? That's how you should… Ouch!" He yelped as he all but ran into his teammate's back. "What's the big idea, stopping like that?!"
Kankuro didn't answer. He lifted a shaking finger to point ahead of them, toward the western side entrance — really just a narrow tunnel through the cliffs around the village. A man in the plain black clothes of a shinobi was waiting there, leaning nonchalantly against a boulder. Naruto didn't recognize him, but Gaara's eyes narrowed dangerously, with a shadow of something that might have been confusion or uncertainty.
"Yo!" Naruto greeted the man. "Are you guy who's coming with me?"
"C-coming with you?" Kankuro stuttered, his head snapping around toward Naruto. "Him?!"
"The Kazekage said he'd be sending someone with me. So I didn't lie or something," Naruto scowled, rolling his eyes to show what he thought of that. "Is that you?"
The man nodded sharply. "Yes. I will be accompanying you. But my orders don't include assisting you. You're on your own." He paused, as Naruto frowned but nodded, and added, "Call me… Kaze."
"Y-y-you?! You're coming with him?! But what about…" Kankuro gestured widely, at seemingly nothing in particular — or perhaps everything. The man, Kaze, pinned him with a cold glare before he could say anything further. Next, the sharp look turned on Gaara, who stared back without expression. Finally, Gaara seemed to come to some conclusion and shrugged, looking away.
"Don't hesitate to use him as a shield," Gaara advised. "He's strong, so he'll be fine."
Kankuro made a choking sound.
"So you guys know him?" Naruto asked, glancing between his two teammates and the jonin who would be traveling with him. Along with his forgettable outfit, the man had a rather forgettable face, the cold expression and the narrow eyes making him look like a thug. Even his hair was a dull, forgettable auburn color. Although, there was something familiar about him...
'As I expected, he doesn't recognize me,' "Kaze" thought. 'With those observation skills, how does he hope to find anything?'
It was not entirely surprising. After all, the Kazekage had worn a mask that concealed half his face, along with the wide-brimmed Kage hat, every time Naruto had seen him. There was no reason for him to be familiar with his leader's face. There was probably no need to even use a pseudonym, since Naruto was almost as unlikely to know the Kazekage's given name.
"The council will handle everything," Kaze said to Kankuro, his cold look keeping the oldest genin silent. "The operation will commence in less than a month. Prepare well."
"You don't need to worry about it," Naruto pointedly cut across his words. His smile was almost menacing in its wideness and good cheer. "I know! Since you'll be on down time until I get back, why don't you guys mentor a trainee? It really helped me a lot when Temari-sempai mentored me, and the academy is always looking for help."
There was, he implied, no need to train or prepare otherwise, since he would make sure the insane invasion operation was called off.
Turning to Kaze, Naruto beamed aggressively. "Let's get going, Kaze-san! I'll make sure you have lots to tell the Kazekage."
"Have a good trip," Gaara said blandly.
"We'll be back before you know it," Naruto assured him.
So, season 2, eh? You have no idea how many times I changed my mind about my plans for this. At first, I was planning to have the invasion go ahead up until right before the third exam. But I couldn't imagine Naruto, as I had written him so far, shutting up and just going along with it quietly. He's not that smart or mature.
Fortunately, for him, he's got Gaara in his corner, and even the Kazekage hesitates before angering him. And, well, making up its own thing is how NWN rolls!
Wait, so the Kazekage is traveling with Naruto? Yes. The Hidden Sand council is probably pretty capable of handling things in the Kazekage's absence. They're used to it. I mean, first the Third went missing in the middle of a war, then the Fourth got killed, and it's not as if Gaara could have taken over at age twelve. The reason he goes with Naruto is to see what is Naruto's deal first hand. He's got no idea what he's getting into.
Yes, his pseudonym is stupid. But Naruto still doesn't catch on.