And here we are again~! YES, I LIVE! Sorry for going off the radar but my brain supplied yet MORE story ideas and I had to write out rough ideas/plotlines before focusing on anything else. But I will NOT post a new story until I've finished at least one of my current ones! Or at least I'm telling myself that because I really should update Lady Hero and Jade Dragon's Descent…
As always, I don't own Naruto, only my OCs and plot twists on this mad ride! I also do not own the song 'Into the West' from the Lord of the Rings! I did alter the lyrics a bit to better fit but it is mostly true to the original song. The votes have been tallied and the winner is-! Well, you'll find out if you read the chapter. Please remember to review and comment, it really helps!
Warnings: Major cannon divergence, fandom ideas/theories about Uzushio, sadness, FEELINGS and wtf moments
Now, let the show begin!
Hiruzen frowns around his pipe as he smokes, considering the situation before him. In the past, when Kushina was alive, they had done a few excavations at Uzushio to try and recover the Uzumaki libraries. But all of them had failed and Kushina hadn't been surprised by the results, using the failed missions as an additional reason for her to go search the ruins herself. But she was their jinchuriki and they were concerned about having their jinchuriki so far from home.
So Kushina was never allowed back to Uzushio, to her unending rage. And spitefully she never told them how to find any of Uzushio's treasures. The stalemate had only come to an end when Minato replaced him as Hokage and Kushina had confided that it would take an Uzumaki to unseal the libraries and vaults. With Minato supporting her, they planned to make a quick trip to Uzushio to recover what they could- but that had gone on hold with Kushina's pregnancy.
And now, he grimaces at the possible picks he has for the mission. Hiruzen does not feel easy with sending Team Seven alone with Team Toka, regardless of their battle prowess. Uzushio had become a no-man's land, with no one dumb enough to try and claim it after the first group had been blown to pieces by one of the many trap seals littering the island. Word had spread, with subtle assistance from Konoha spies, and the Shinobi world had chosen to leave Uzushio be. In all honesty, if it weren't for the fact he knows Natsuko would probably kidnap Naruto and bring him along anyways, Hiruzen would have Team Seven stay behind.
But he's dealing with an Uzumaki- and the Uzumaki were never known for being reasonable. So, a contingency must be put in place. Several, actually. Puffing out smoke, Hiruzen mulls over his options and summons an ANBU.
"Tell Toka Senju and Kakashi Hatake to meet with me in an hour's time." He orders the agent.
They nod and disappear.
Hiruzen pulls out the necessary paperwork while his three clones work diligently at their own desks. Many of his shinobi had double-taked the first time they saw multiple Hiruzens but they adapted, as shinobi do, and most no longer do more than glance before focusing on the original. A peaceful hour passes and a polite knock interrupts his reading of another inane proposal from the Civilian Council.
The door opens and Toka steps inside first, Kakashi sulking behind her as she moves towards his desk.
"You wished to see us, Hokage-sama?" Toka asks politely.
Hiruzen nods, steepling his hands and staring at them.
"Yes, it concerns an upcoming mission along with another matter. Please sit."
Toka raises an eyebrow while Kakashi stares at Hiruzen over his Icha Icha.
"I will stand, thank you." Toka declines politely.
Hiruzen nods and sighs before speaking.
"Toka, Kakashi-kun, your teams will be going to Uzushio to recover the Uzumaki, Uzuki, Umino and Yuki clan libraries and vaults. In terms of priority, the Uzumaki libraries and vaults take precedence. Now, you will not be going on this mission without backup." Hiruzen warns them.
Toka nods while Kakashi hums noncommittally.
"I am sending an ANBU squad with you. Neko, Bear, Eagle and Tiger will take care of threats; Toka, I am aware your team is skilled but let the ANBU handle it unless they are about to be overrun." He says sternly.
Toka raises her eyebrows.
"So, do not engage unless there is no choice?" She clarifies.
"Correct. And you will be wearing disguises for the duration."
Both jonin are surprised by the mandate.
"… is this just for Team Toka or..?" Kakashi asks eventually.
"Team Toka is very distinctive- the genin at the very least need to be disguised to help throw off suspicion. Toka, so long as she is not wearing her clan symbol, is difficult to recognize to any but the most effusive of historians. Naruto-kun will need a disguise as well- he is too similar in appearance to his parents to be completely safe. Haruno will not draw much notice but Sasuke-kun will have to make do without his clan clothing. Kakashi-kun, you are fine as is. The mission is set to start in a day's time so ready your teams." Hiruzen tells them, passing the mission scroll to Toka.
Both jonin nod and exit, leaving Hiruzen to his paperwork.
Outside, Toka sighs as she considers the logistics.
"I'll have Toshio and Natsuko whip up hair-dye seals- Amaya's hair is going to be a mess to deal with but if we braid it while it's wet it won't be as much a hassle…" She muses aloud.
Kakashi glances at her over his porn.
"Maa… this won't be dull, given our genin." He remarks.
Toka glances at him but nods.
"Have your genin at the Senju compound by in an hour then we'll get started." She tells him before shunshinning away.
Kakashi sighs mournfully and looks up at the sky.
"So bossy…" He pouts.
An hour passes…
Team Seven together enters the Senju compound and blinks at the sight of Toshio and Natsuko arguing- over colors?
"Brown is so boooooring-!"
"I wanna be blond-!"
"No. Black or brown, pick one."
"I wanna be blond!"
"For the last time, NO. Blond isn't a common hair color in Hi no Kuni- you know this!" Toshio snaps.
Natsuko puffs up her cheeks and pouts. Toshio is unsympathetic as he finishes the final touches on the sealing tag he is working on. The second it is done Natsuko snatches it and slaps it violently on Toshio's back, making him grunt and cut a glare at her. She sticks her tongue out at him and he rolls his eyes before channeling chakra into the seal. Silvery hair darkens to seal brown and even his eyebrows change to the darker color!
Sakura gapes, Naruto grins at the sight and Sasuke simply stares at how odd Toshio looks. Kakashi is mildly impressed by how easy the application of the seal is- and there's no scent of hair dye to give Toshio away. Toshio shakes his bangs out of his eyes and nods to Team Seven.
Kakashi eye smiles at him.
"Maa, so this is what Toka wanted to do?"
Team Seven glances between Toshio and Kakashi, confused before Sasuke cottons on.
"Disguises- you're going undercover?" He asks.
Natsuko tilts her head with a cute frown.
"Ehh, not really? More like a precaution..?"
"We're too recognizable, so in order to go to Uzushio we have to look different enough that no one looking would peg us as us at a casual glance." Toshio explains bluntly.
Sakura nods in understanding, kunoichi studies had covered undercover tactics and she can easily see how they are very noticeable. Natsuko crosses her arms and huffs angrily.
"I don't get how Amaya-chan gets out of dyeing her hair too-!"
"Her hair is black." Toshio deadpans.
"So?! It's super fluffy, how is she gonna deal with that huh?!" Natsuko points out, clearly thinking she won the argument.
"Braids." Amaya's voice answers as she steps into view.
Everyone's jaws drop.
Amaya's hair, normally barely contained with a ponytail, had been ruthlessly braided tightly against her skull and exposing her face. Sakura counts three separate braids; two on the sides and one on the crown of her head, meeting at the back of Amaya's neck to combine into a long thick braid that sways as Amaya walks. Toka chuckles at their expressions as she also steps into view as well.
"Well? What do you think?" She teases.
"Waah! Amaya-chan, we can see your face dattenabe!" Natsuko gasps, covering her mouth.
"Yeah, you look really different dattebayo!" Naruto adds on, nodding to himself.
"Dobe, that was the point." Sasuke groans.
"It looks nice!" Sakura compliments Amaya.
Kakashi just eye smiles in answer.
Toshio is silent as he stares blankly at Amaya; Toka hides a smirk at his expression.
Ah, puberty. She thinks, amused.
Amaya quirks an eyebrow at Toshio's expression.
"..." He looks away, picking up another sealing tag.
Amaya twitches in annoyance. Thankfully, Naruto interrupts before Amaya can snap at Toshio.
"Ne, ne, what're we doing here? I thought we weren't having dinner tonight dattebayo!" Naruto glances from Kakashi to Toka and back.
Toka smiles at Kakashi and both genin teams.
"We are going on a joint C-rank to Uzushio. Hiruzen has insisted that we be disguised to reduce chances of enemy shinobi identifying us." Toka explains.
"Mhm, meaning Naruto and Sasuke are getting a makeover." Kakashi says.
"Eh?! Nuh uh, Sakura-chan too! Her hair is really bright and there were some Uzumaki with more pink hair so we should be careful all around dattenabe!" Natsuko protests.
Sakura self-consciously touches her hair, looking down at the dusty ground.
Sakura blinks and looks up at Toshio, who is artfully drawing seals without looking up once.
"What hair color do you want? Blond isn't a good idea, nor red for obvious reasons." He asks businesslike.
"A dark purple would look nice on her," Amaya muses, walking closer to critically compare Sakura's features.
"Or an indigo- black washes her out too much and as much as you adore brown hair it's not believable for most of the squad to be brunettes."
"How rich considering most of your clan had black hair." Toshio retorts.
Amaya shrugs with a smirk.
"What can I say, we have good genetics."
Toshio looks up and deadpans at her. Her smirk broadens, silently challenging him. His golden eyes narrow fractionally-!
"Wait, why does Sakura-chan get to have a fun color?!" Natsuko complains loudly.
Her teammates snap out of their staring contest to look at the sulking redhead. Toka laughs softly and looks at Team Seven.
"Please sit- we'll be here awhile yet." She remarks, eyes twinkling with amusement.
Eventually, it was decided that Natsuko would also have purple hair since she and Sakura have similar features while Naruto would be a brunette. Toka makes certain to show Naruto and Toshio how to use make-up to hide their facial markings. After that the jonin (with Amaya's help) swap out Naruto and Sasuke's clothes for more general shinobi wear while Natsuko drags Team Seven into the main house to cook dinner. Toshio writes a storage seal for each member of Team Seven as a gift for their first C-rank.
Amaya sweat drops at the sheer amount of orange jumpsuits Naruto has.
"Is this all he could afford?" She wonders, frowning slightly.
"It's possible, given the state of his apartment." Toshio answers quietly.
"… then he can keep these." Amaya decides, folding up several pairs of black and navy shinobi pants.
Toshio nods as Amaya puts several mesh armor shirts and variously colored t-shirts aside, giving Sasuke the darker navy turtlenecks with differing sleeve lengths.
The next morning Teams Toka and Seven meet at the main gates of Konoha. Toka is wearing typical jonin wear but replaced the general long-sleeve shirt with a muted battle kimono. Naruto fidgets in the unfamiliar clothing his eyes scrunched up while Sasuke glowers- Toka had pulled his hair into a mini-ponytail to tame his spikes. Sakura is flushed as Natsuko side-hugs her, chattering away. Toshio, Amaya and Kakashi bring up the rear.
After filling out their paperwork, the teams walk along the road and occasional consult Natsuko and Kakashi for the best routes to Uzushio.
"We should take to the trees, it's faster than walking dattenabe!" Natsuko remarks after the first hour.
Toka quirks an eyebrow at Kakashi and the silver-haired jonin thinks it over before eye-smiling.
"Maa, that's not a bad idea Natsu-chan."
Natsuko beams and the teams take to the trees, tree-hopping at dizzying speeds. Toshio notes Team Seven is faster than before but not as quick as him or his teammates. Idly he wonders if peacetime had lowered standards for shinobi. He represses a frown as he feels four jonin-level chakra signatures follow them at a discrete distance but since they came from Konoha Toshio gives them the benefit of the doubt- for now.
Time passes rapidly and it is soon sunset- the jonin start hunting for an ideal camping spot and find one in a grove of trees. The branches had woven together in many spots, increasing their natural cover. The genin set up camp with a few false starts (Naruto tripped and fell on a tent) while Toka sets up a genjutsu to hide their campsite. Natsuko pulls out a scroll and lays it on the ground; the ink within escapes and forms a circular fuinjutsu barrier around the camp.
"There! Oh, who's cooking tonight?" Natsuko asks, looking from face to face.
Amaya shrugs and unseals the food she had sealed away.
"Sakura, come on." She tells the other kunoichi.
Sakura nods and helps cut up vegetables while Amaya fillets the fish and cuts them into thin chunks. Soon a simmering fish stew is bubbling over a fire that Sasuke started and the teams relax slightly. Naruto bounces excitedly, glancing around.
"This is so cool, dattebayo!"
"Have you never gone outside of Konoha before?" Toshio asks, tilting his head.
Naruto and Sasuke shake their heads while Sakura nods.
"Eh? Really? Sakura-chan, you've been outside Konoha before?" Naruto asks, stars in his eyes.
"Well, my dad is a merchant so he travels a lot for work and I got to go on some of his trips with him when I was little." She explains, handing out bowls of food.
"That's useful." Amaya comments, carefully ladling out more soup.
Toka nods, wondering why her stomach is rolling at the smell of the soup.
"Your infiltration and social skills are likely better as result. Merchants are good at reading someone and determining when to cut their loses or push to close a deal." She murmurs.
Sakura ducks her head but most of the group can see her ears are rosy.
"Maa, we should figure out who gets what shifts." Kakashi remarks, his bowl abruptly empty.
Toka hums, stirring her soup idly with her spoon.
"Toshio and Sakura first shift, Naruto and myself second shift, Sasuke and Natsuko third shift, Amaya and you pre-dawn shift." She proposes to Kakashi.
Kakashi considers it then nods.
"Pairing up, hmm? I don't have an issue with it." And he doesn't.
The troublesome pairs (Naruto/Sasuke, Sasuke/Sakura, Amaya/Toshio and Natsuko/Naruto) are separated and at least one more experienced shinobi or kunoichi is in each pair. Even considering how there is an ANBU team on watch, it's good practice for both teams.
Naruto protests, demanding to be with Sakura or Natsuko until Kakashi gets tired of it.
"Naruto, you won't always get to work with the people you want. Think of this as practice for when you're a chunin."
Naruto pouts but doesn't argue any longer, sulking for the rest of the evening. Toshio notes the chakra signatures hovering nearby are the same ones following them Konoha and signs to Kakashi.
[Four shinobi. 1 kilometer. Engage or hold position?]
Amaya silently reaches for her weapons while Natsuko opens her war scroll, Toka watching them with silent approval as she eats half of her soup. Kakashi blinks at Toshio's question before signing back.
[Allies. Hold position.]
Toshio nods and his teammates relax. Kakashi's mind is whirling as he takes the implications of Toshio's sensing- he knew the genin's chakra sense was acute since he detected Danzo's bloodline theft solely from his chakra. But Kakashi hadn't thought his range was that big! As Kakashi struggles with his new found observation, everyone cleans up and settles in for the night.
Sakura and Toshio stand guard, carefully observing the woods for threats. All is quiet before Toka suddenly jolts up from her sleeping bag and vomits, clutching her stomach. Toshio and Sakura dart over to her.
"Toka?!" Toshio's golden eyes are wide with worry.
Sakura glances between Toka and Toshio, biting her lower lip as she rubs Toka's back. Toka grimaces, dry heaving before wiping her mouth.
"I don't think the soup agreed with me…" Toka comments wryly.
Toshio glares at her.
"Has this happened before?"
Toka shakes her head, letting Toshio barrage her with questions- it is just the way he shows he cares, after all.
"But the rest of us are fine after eating the soup…" Sakura comments, thinking hard.
"It is probably a one-time thing. If it happens again then you can be concerned." Toka tells them.
Reluctantly, Toshio and Sakura leave her be while Toka buries the vomit. The rest of the night passes fairly easily, everyone doing their watch shifts before setting out again. It takes them two more days to reach the ocean, Uzushio in the distance. Natsuko beams, bouncing at the visage of her homeland but Kakashi and Toka has the group halt before crossing in the morning. The next day dawns bright and clear, making the ocean sparkle.
"Let's go, let's go dattenabe!" Natsuko cheers, vibrating in place.
"Yeah dattebayo!" Naruto yells in agreement.
"Maa, someone's excited." Kakashi eye-smiles.
"Hn." Sasuke grunts, wary of Natsuko's energetic mood.
"What were you expecting? She's an Uzumaki." Toshio snorts.
"Toshio…" Toka says warningly.
"It's to be expected- she hasn't been to Uzushio in nearly one hundred years." Amaya points out.
"So did she come to Konoha with Mito-sama?" Sakura frowns, puzzling out the logistics.
"Aa. Mito-oba-san decided Natsuko would benefit from seeing more of the world than staying in Uzushio." Toshio explains.
"Yup! Okie dokie, everybody listen closely dattenabe!" Natsuko cheers.
"Normally I would be leading you over on foot but it's been a long time since I've done this so we're gonna have an awesome guide help out~!" She grins as she bites her thumb and slams her bloodied hand on the sea.
A massive poof of smoke tells Kakashi and Toka the summoning was successful- but nothing is there? Naruto squints, looking around. Sakura sweat drops and Sasuke huffs.
"What a letdown…" He snarks.
Natsuko, rather than look discouraged, laughs. And the sea shifts as a massive creature reveals itself, a tall fin slicing through the water. Seawater slides off of black and white skin as the orca surveys them with a judgmental gaze before settling on Natsuko.
"Natsuko-chan… it's about time!" the Orca snaps.
Natsuko bounces in place, all but vibrating with energy and happiness at seeing her summons again.
"Sorry Manami! A time-space seal went wrong and we ended up eighty years in the future dattenabe!" Natsuko explains.
Manami sighs, examining other members of the party with a pitch-black eye critically. Amaya and Toshio bow slightly to the summons while Toka nods in greeting.
"Who are the others?" She demands, staring at the unfamiliar shinobi.
Natsuko grabs Naruto's and Sakura's hands, grinning while Sasuke deliberately retreats.
"This is Naruto Uzumaki, my cousin, and this is Sakura Haruno and the boy who's refusing to get close is Sasuke Uchiha, Amaya-chan's cousin! And the weird guy with silver hair is Kakashi Hatake!" She introduces Team Seven.
Manami blows seawater out of her blowhole, showering them with a fine mist.
"Have you come home, Natsuko-chan? There isn't much left." Manami warns her.
Natsuko's grin falls away, leaving a grim expression on her face.
"I know- I know it's not gonna be the same as it used to be but I- we still need to see it dattenabe." Natsuko fumbles her words as she squeezes Naruto's hand.
He glances at her worriedly while Manami watches their interaction for a moment before coming to a decision.
"Fine. You wanted an escort, didn't you?" Manami asks her.
Natsuko nods, releasing Naruto and Sakura as she approaches her summons.
"If you don't mind Manami!"
Manami huffs, tail lashing under the surface.
"Well? Hurry up!" The Orca snaps.
Natsuko, Amaya and Toshio step onto the water without hesitation, Naruto and Toka swiftly following. Sakura, Sasuke and Kakashi bring up the rear and the Orca turns to point herself at the island in the distance.
"Keep up!" Manami warns them and surges forward with a powerful flick of her tail.
Natsuko breaks into a run, chasing after her summons. The rest of the group quickly follows suit, the newer genin adjusting swiftly to the different surface changes. Manami leads them on a seemingly random path but keen eyes can see a subtle disturbance in the water that points towards the infamous whirlpools of Uzushio. In the distance, the ANBU team sweat drops as they are left behind. It takes several hours to reach Uzushio and everyone had made it on their own two feet- not to say they weren't exhausted, but none of them had to ride Manami to the island. Manami watches them walk ashore and nods.
"Be careful. Uzushio is not what it once was." She tells them seriously before dismissing herself.
There is an awkward pause before Natsuko rolls her shoulders back and turns to silently lead the way to Uzushiogakure. A sea-breeze constantly blows, bringing the scent of salt further inland as they walk past signs of heavy fighting. Skeletons of shinobi wearing hiate-ates from Kiri, Iwa and Kumo are a common sight- along with the remains of shinobi with a familiar swirl on their headbands. For every one Uzushio shinobi there were at least five enemies lying dead with alongside them. Team Seven is stunned by the sheer amount of carnage while Team Toka seemed to have expected it, if the clenched jaws and steely expressions are anything to go by.
It doesn't take long to reach the boarder wall of Uzushiogakure, crumbling in places but still mostly intact. Sasuke goes to climb it with the tree-walking technique only for his chakra to fail to connect to the stone, much to his surprise.
"Not that way." Natsuko tells him quietly.
"The walls were designed to repel chakra so they couldn't be climbed or broken easily dattenabe."
Natsuko walks up to the wall, biting her thumb before making a series of hand signs and slapping her hand on the wall. Seals flare blue and the stone grumbles as a passageway appears. She gestures for the others to follow her as she enters the tunnel. Sakura studies the tunnel warily, wondering if they were going to run into more bodies. Naruto huddles close to Toka and Toshio, trying very hard to ignore the looming possibility of ghosts. Kakashi and Sasuke notice Natsuko's stiff posture as more of the devastation of her homeland becomes apparent.
Amaya walks forward, catching up to Natsuko and bumps her shoulder, silently offering her support. Natsuko gives Amaya a startled glance but then smiles faintly in thanks. As they exit the tunnel, everyone can see a shadow of what Uzushio might have once looked like. Tall clan houses built towards the sky, cobble roads of sandstone, festive colors and seals everywhere- all in ruins. Many buildings have collapsed, to time or the attack itself, and the roads cracked and damaged from jutsus or seals. There are bodies but most are hidden under the rubble.
Natsuko pales, every muscle tense with fury and despair as she takes in the ruins of her home. Naruto stares wide-eyed at what was his clan's homeland, feeling a yawning emptiness at the senseless destruction. Sasuke's eyes flicker to Natsuko and feels a moment of kinship to the Uzumaki kunoichi. He knows what it is like to see your home destroyed and violated- but he doesn't know what is worse. Seeing it fresh or as old ruins with the dead still unburied. Amaya stays right by Natsuko, a stoic wall to support her friend. Toshio steps forward too, nearly as stricken as Natsuko, as he surveys the ruins of the village he visited several times as a child.
Sakura glances between the older genin, unsure of how to act so she focuses on trying to gather details from the scene. Toka breathes a long long sigh, grey eyes filled with sorrow as she looks at the remnants of the Uzumaki clan. Kakashi observes and feels a surge of pity for Team Toka; seeing confirmation of a massacre is not the same as hearing about it. Natsuko wordlessly forms a hand sign and creates a small army of clones.
"Find our dead. Prepare a pyre." Are her only instructions.
Amaya studies Natsuko and isn't pleased to see how closed off the normally expressive Uzumaki girl's face is. She creates clones of her own, telling them to find the Uzumaki dead and bring them to the pyre when it is built before nudging Toshio into action. He makes more clones and sends them out as well. Natsuko blinks at Amaya in muted surprise and Amaya sighs.
"You don't have to do this alone." She reminds the other girl before walking forward.
The group moves slowly forward and Sakura notices something odd.
"Is this road a spiral?" She asks.
"Yes. Rooftop running is-" Toshio pauses, the ruins taunting him for his slip and makes himself start again.
"Was the preferred method of travel while the road is used by merchants and the civilians. On New Years everyone would light a red lantern and, starting at the docks, walk the spiral until they reach the top of the island where the Uzukage building is- was located." He scowls at himself.
Naruto's lower lip trembles and Natsuko's tension ratchets up even higher. Amaya grimaces at Toshio and shakes her head minutely, warning him off. Toshio looks away, silently admitting to himself that he is awful at comforting others. Kakashi looks at Toka and sees her force her grief away, a kunoichi first and foremost. But Kakashi knows, perhaps better than anyone, that burying grief doesn't make it vanish. At most it buys time. So he, for the first time since being assigned to Team Seven, steps up.
"Let's find a spot to make camp before proceeding." Kakashi says to the group.
The teams nod and they set out, eventually finding a mostly intact clan house that is serviceable for the duration of their mission. It doesn't take long to make it habitable since no one really wants to sleep on the ground if they don't have to. Setting up a defensive perimeter gives them all something to focus on and Kakashi takes a moment to track the clones. They move in a steady stream towards the cliffs overlooking the sea where a massive pyre is being built and the bones are carefully placed atop them.
The clear diligence makes him uncomfortable- it had been decades since the Uzumaki fell yet none of the dead were laid to rest. Even history books rarely mentioned Uzushio or the Uzumaki anymore and Kakashi wonders if Danzo was the one behind the information blackout. Shaking his head to clear his thoughts, Kakashi scans their surroundings and notes the ANBU made it to the island to his relief. Bear appears and signs to Kakashi.
[What are they doing?]
Kakashi signs back.
Bear pauses then nods.
[Understood. Maintaining perimeter.]
He withdraws and Kakashi looks thoughtfully over at his team and Team Toka. Most of them were shaken and he is surprised to note how Sasuke is showing concern towards Natsuko and Naruto. Although it's not exactly obvious but the way he is positioning himself to be at their backs, on guard for surprise attacks, is telling to the jonin. He hums as he thinks but ultimately decides to leave it be- Sasuke is proving to be a bit of a tsundere.
A few hours later, a clone of Amaya's arrives.
"The pyre is ready."
Natsuko inhales shakily at the news, feeling her clones dispelling themselves and memories of far too many bodies filtering into her mind. Amaya nods to her clone and they poof out of existence. Toshio grimaces, kneading his forehead at the headache at the sudden surge of memories. Naruto glances at Natsuko and bites his lip in worry.
He doesn't know what to do. Does he try to comfort her? How? Everyone in the village had told him he didn't have a filter and Naruto knows this requires some delicacy. Gloom starts to set in at the thought- delicacy isn't a skill of his!
Sakura and Sasuke notice his growing depression and they frown before it dawns on them what must be bothering Naruto. They glance at each other before Sasuke speaks up.
"How can we help?" He asks Natsuko and the rest of Team Toka.
Natsuko blinks, focusing on his words.
"Uh… well, can you gather forget-me-nots, dattenabe?" She finally says, head aching.
"As offerings to send them off."
Sakura and Naruto nod, standing up and head out with Sasuke to find the flowers. Toka sighs and goes with them while Kakashi stays with Toshio, Amaya and Natsuko. Toshio is busy writing seals- a coping mechanism Kakashi notes as he glances at the girls. Natsuko is leaning her head against Amaya's shoulder and shaking silently while Amaya rubs her back in soothing circles. Onyx eyes meet Kakashi's lone eye and hold.
"Maa… what are the Uzumaki burial rites?" He finally asks.
Toshio and Natsuko flinch but it's Amaya who answers the jonin.
"Uzumaki burn their dead and scatter the ashes into the sea at sunset. Offerings are burnt on the pyre and the mourners sing a lament before returning home to tells stories of the deceased." She outlines a typical funeral for him.
Kakashi nods slowly.
"What is the song?" He inquires, somewhat curious.
Natsuko turns her head enough he can see the redness of her eyes.
"It's… an old tune dattenabe." She says roughly, her voice thick with tears.
"'Lay down your sweet and weary head… Night is falling, you have come to journey's end… sleep now and dream of the ones who came before- they are calling from across the distant shore… Why do you weep? What are these tears on your face? Soon you will see all your fears will pass away…'" Natsuko's voice trails off and Kakashi awkwardly pats her head.
"It's… a good song." He clears his throat gracelessly.
Amaya snorts, giving him a dry stare before standing.
"Come on- sunset is near." She warns the trio.
Natsuko scrubs her face frantically and Toshio puts away his fuinjutsu supplies methodically. They make their way to the pyre and see the other four already there. Naruto, Sakura, Toka and even Sasuke are holding forget-me-nots along with other flowers like daisies. Sakura nudges Naruto, who gulps before offering his clutch of flowers to Natsuko. Natsuko stills and her green eyes soften as she pulls him into a hug.
"Arigato, Naruto." She whispers into his ear.
Naruto, hesitantly, hugs her back and they stand embraced for a moment before the sky begins to burn crimson and gold. Natsuko releases him and they turn together to face the pyre. It is a massive construct, nearly one hundred feet long and every spare inch is filled with bones. Her eyes close as she inwardly braces herself before reopening her eyes and activating a seal. Oil sprays over the bones, soaking them and the wood beneath. Nodding in satisfaction, Natsuko steps back with Naruto and Amaya approaches.
Amaya glances at Sasuke and jerks her head at him. He blinks but joins her as she makes the hand signs for Katon: Great Fireball Technique. They spit out impressively sized fireballs that instantly set the pyre alight with a deafening roar. The shinobi wince at the sudden wave of heat that licks at their faces as the wood and its burden burns a strange blue-green color.
Sakura glances at Toshio, Toka and Kakashi in confusion.
"It's mostly drift wood- the sea salt makes the flames change colors." Toshio tells her in an undertone.
Sakura nods and watches as Natsuko throws her flowers onto the flames, clapping her hands three times before stepping away. Naruto goes next, fumbling a bit but recovers, his facial expression very solemn as he throws flowers then claps. Toka and Toshio step forward together to pay their respects to their sister clan, adding a bow before backing away. Amaya goes next, the flames reflecting in her eyes as she tosses her bouquet onto the pyre and claps loudly three times.
Kakashi goes next, to Sasuke and Sakura's surprise. He pointedly ignores the questioning stares from his students as he gives his offerings and pays his respects. Kushina might not be here but he is and the least he can do is this. When he steps back, Sasuke and Sakura place their flowers into the scorching flames and clap together three times. The sky fades to shades of purple and pink as the first part of the funeral is completed.
Natsuko takes a shuddering breathe and steps forward once again- only for Naruto to seize her hand and not let go! She turns to give him a startled look only to see his determined expression.
"Toka-sensei taught me the song, so you don't have to sing it alone dattebayo!" He exclaims.
Natsuko's expression softens and she gives him another hug.
"You're a good cousin, Naruto-kun." She whispers.
They let go, face the flames and begin to sing. Natsuko's voice is a rich alto while Naruto is still a tenor.
"Lay down your sweet and weary heads…
Night is falling, you have come to journey's end…
Sleep now and dream of the ones who came before- they are calling from across the distant shore…
Why do you weep?
What are these tears on your face?
Soon you will see all your fears will pass away…
Safe in our mother sea's arms, you're only sleeping…
What can you see on the horizon?
Why do the white gulls call?
Across the sea a pale moon rises…
The ships have come to carry you home.
Dawn will turn to silver glass,
A light on the water…
All souls pass.
Hope fades into the world of night,
Through shadows falling out of memory and time.
Don't say we have now come to the end…
White shores are calling- you and I will meet again.
And you'll be in mother sea's arms,
Toka and Toshio join the song at 'why do you weep', weaving their voices with Natsuko's and Naruto's. Amaya waits until 'what can you see on the horizon' to join in, startling Sasuke with her high soprano. Kakashi, Sakura and Sasuke stand there, unsure if they should join only for Amaya to notice and gesture for them to sing. Hesitantly, Sakura then Sasuke and lastly Kakashi add their voices while Amaya signs the words to them so they don't mess up. At the end all of their voices trail off, the only sounds are the waves crashing below, the pyre burning and the soft sobs from the Uzumaki.
They stand sentinel until the wood is little more than coals and ash, the bones long gone. Only then do they return to camp and go to sleep under the distant stars.
And that's a wrap! Sad scenes are not easy for me to write (I have to be in a mood) but I honestly don't think skipping it was an option this time. Anyways, please review and comment! I always enjoy hearing from y'all! Please stay safe out there!