Hiruzen Sarutobi, the Third Hokage, sighed deeply as he read the scroll he had received from Anko Mitarashi via Kiba Inuzuka. He was having a hell of a time figuring out just what in the world had happened. Anko's message said Naruto had killed Orochimaru, though it didn't say how he had done this, said he had renamed the Sound Village to the Sun Village, without mentioning how he had the authority to do so, and requested that Anko be reassigned as envoy between the Hidden Sun Village and the Hidden Leaf Village. The Hokage could read between the lines; something had definitely happened that he wasn't being told here.
Turning his attention to Kiba, who was still standing in his office, waiting, he said, "Something happened that this message has left out. What happened?"
Kiba stiffened, confirming the Hokage's assumption. "Naruto...changed," Kiba said back after a moment.
Hiruzen pulled out his pipe and began to fill it. Lighting it, he said, "I assume this has something to do with the fox?" He puffed on his pipe while he watched Kiba's reaction to this.
Kiba jumped nearly a foot in the air at the Hokage's comment. He hadn't expected the Hokage to be quite that quick on the uptake. Sighing, Kiba said, "Yeah, it does. He says he was trapped in a seal by Orochimaru, and to get out of it, he had to fuse himself with the fox."
It was all Hiruzen could do to not drop his pipe at that revelation. He knew something was up, but he hadn't expected it to be that. "So...Naruto's not really himself anymore, huh?" he asked. Kiba shivered and nodded, remembering just how different Naruto was now. The Hokage nodded, knowing this was the reason Naruto had left; the boy clearly assumed the village could never accept him in whatever form he now had. "What does he look like now?" Hiruzen asked after a moment.
Kiba shivered, then gave the Hokage a brief description of Naruto's...not exactly human form. He mentioned the tail on the back of the blond's head, the fingernails that weren't quite claws, the lengthened teeth and face, and the crazy colors in the boy's hair. Then he said, "And the creepiest thing is his eyes. They're not blue like they used to be. They're like...a swimming mess of red, blue, and purple. I've never seen eyes like that before, and looking at them gave me chills."
Hiruzen sighed deeply again. This was...shocking, to say the least. Still, Naruto, Hinata (who Kiba had mentioned was there as well), Anko, and Sasuke were Leaf shinobi. He couldn't very well just allow them to create a new village, no matter how different Naruto was now. He understood easily why Naruto had left, and he wouldn't put a price on the boy's head or anything, but he knew he had to get his shinobi back to the village, and he had to do it soon.
Looking up at Kiba, Hiruzen thought for a moment, then pulled out a scroll and began to write. Kiba waited while the old man wrote. Eventually, Hiruzen handed the scroll to Kiba. "Return to the Hidden Sun Village with this," he said. "Give it to Naruto or Anko, it doesn't matter which. You may read it if you like. Return after they have read it."
Kiba saluted, then left. Taking a deep breath, he thought to himself, "Is this mission ever going to end?"
Hinata grinned. She was pretty sure she had it. She had figured out how the Curse Marks worked. The Mark was a seal. It tapped into the victim's chakra network, both to give the victim power and to maintain itself. Hinata theorized that if the appropriate chakra points were shut down, the seal should break, removing the Mark. She knew this would be incredibly painful for the victim, but if it removed the Mark, it would be worth it in the long run.
Turning to Sasuke, whose mark she was currently looking at, she said, "I want to try something, Sasuke. I think I can remove your mark. If this doesn't work, at worst, you'll just have some closed off chakra points for a moment, and I can undo that easily enough."
Sasuke took a breath. He knew how badly it hurt to have his chakra points closed. He hadn't ever experienced it, but he'd heard stories. He nodded. "Do it," he said simply.
Hinata activated her Byakugan. She focused chakra in her fingertips and struck at Sasuke's shoulder. She formed a circle around the mark there. Sasuke didn't react for a moment, then he grabbed his head and fell to the ground, screaming in agony.
Hinata, watching with her Byakugan, saw that the seal was desperately trying to draw chakra to itself. It was also attacking Sasuke somehow that she couldn't see. She could tell it was by how he was gripping his head. She figured this had something to do with what the Curse Marks actually were. They seemed to somehow have Orochimaru's influence in them. Hinata surmised that this invisible attack was the man's influence trying desperately to remain in Sasuke's very soul.
Hinata was torn apart as she watched Sasuke suffering like this, but she knew it was necessary. After a battle that seemed to Hinata to take years but was only really about a minute, Sasuke's Curse Mark began to fade as it found itself unable to draw any chakra to itself. Hinata grinned as the mark on Sasuke's shoulder slowly began to vanish. A minute later, the mark was gone, and Sasuke fell into a fitful sleep.
Hinata grinned at Anko, who was watching all of this from the doorway of the room. She had come running when she heard Sasuke scream. "It worked!" Hinata said happily. "His mark is gone!"
Anko gasped and ran to Sasuke. Searching his shoulder for the Curse Mark, which she was certain couldn't have been broken, she eventually looked up at Hinata with tears in her eyes. "It...really worked," she said, her voice full of emotion. "Please...do mine."
Hinata sighed. "I don't think I can watch that again. Please...help me get him to a bed so he can rest, then we'll get someone to help once yours is gone, then I will," she said after a moment.
Anko nodded and picked up Sasuke. After carrying the boy to a bed and making sure he was secure, she returned to Hinata. She found, to her complete lack of surprise, Naruto was there now as well. "Well, we have help now. Please, Hinata, get rid of my Curse Mark now," she said.
Naruto patted Hinata's shoulder softly. Hinata took a deep breath and braced herself. Then she activated her Byakugan, found Anko's Curse Mark, and, after blinking, struck the chakra points connected to it.
Hinata turned away as soon as she was done, deactivated her Byakugan, and covered her ears. Sure enough, Anko grabbed her head and fell to the ground, screaming. Hinata squeezed her hands tighter over her ears.
Naruto watched the display in amazement. He watched as the Curse Mark on Anko began to fade, then completely vanished. After a moment, Anko fell into a fitful sleep, much as Sasuke had.
Naruto looked at Hinata, not sure what to do. "Get her to a bed, she needs rest," Hinata said after she uncovered her ears. "The Mark is gone; she should be fine now."
Naruto reached out and picked Anko up with two huge chakra arms. He chuckled to himself as he did. "Yeah, yeah, I know, just another broken seal," he said to no one in particular. Hinata didn't react to this. She had gotten used to Naruto's random non sequiturs after a while. She wondered who he was talking to when he said that kind of thing, but she figured if it mattered, he would tell her.
Naruto walked out of the room with Anko, took her to a bed and laid her down. He got her settled, then turned to leave when the door to the room where Anko and Sasuke were now resting opened. Kimimaro was standing there. "What's going on, Kimimaro?" Naruto asked.
Kimimaro bowed briefly. "Lord Taiyokage, the boy from your old village has returned," he said back.
Naruto thought for a moment, then said, "You mean Kiba?" Kimimaro nodded. Naruto nodded. "Take me to him."
Kiba was waiting in the throne room. Kimimaro had met him there. He had told Kimimaro he had something for either Naruto or Anko, and Kimimaro had vanished into the hallways around the throne room. Kiba wasn't sure which one he hoped the other boy would return with, but he was resigned to the fact that he was going to have to deal with a weirdo, either way.
After a few minutes, Kimimaro returned with Naruto in tow. Kiba nodded to his friend. Kimimaro bowed to Naruto again, then left the room. Naruto chuckled, knowing his guard was letting him talk to Kiba in private. "Kimimaro tells me you have something for me?" he said to Kiba.
Kiba nodded, pulled out the scroll the Hokage had given him, and handed it to Naruto. Naruto opened the scroll and began to read. It said, "The Leaf Village hereby extends an invitation to the denizens of the Hidden Sun Village to be our guests at a festival in your honor. Please do us the honor of attending. The festival will be held in one week from the date of your reception of this message, unless this does not work for you."
Naruto considered the scroll for a moment, then pulled the scroll out further to write a response. He formed a tail of chakra and used it as a makeshift brush. He wrote, "We are not currently able to travel, as two shinobi here are currently recovering from a medical procedure. If you can postpone the festival until a month from the current date, we will attend." Turning his attention to Kiba, Naruto asked, "Are you aware of what this says?"
Kiba nodded. "The Hokage said I could read it. Are you going to come to the festival?"
Naruto sighed. "I really don't want to, but I don't think we can very well refuse to attend without causing an international incident. I have asked for a delay so that Anko and Sasuke may recover, but after that we will attend."
Kiba chuckled. "Everyone has really underestimated you, haven't they, Naruto?" he asked. Kiba himself had learned that lesson in their battle in the preliminaries of the Chunin Exams, but it amused him just how much everyone had underestimated Naruto.
Naruto shrugged. "I'm used to it. I just wish I could have been there to beat Neji into the ground," he said with a feral grin.
Kiba shivered at the grin. He knew it was still Naruto in there, but that grin was creepy. Kiba took the scroll from Naruto when the ex-blond offered it. "I'll deliver this to the Hokage. I look forward to seeing you all at the festival," he said. Naruto nodded, and Kiba left.
Naruto sighed. Seemingly to no one, he said, "I don't trust it, either, but I don't think there's anything I can do."
Hinata sighed. She was in the room with Sasuke and Anko. The two were sleeping, but it was clearly far from peaceful, despite their Curse Marks being totally gone. They both kept tossing and turning in their beds, and Hinata kept wishing she could help them somehow. She knew, in the back of her mind, that she was being foolish; she had already helped them as much as she could. Still, she wished she could help them rest more peacefully.
Naruto came into the room after a while. "Oh, there you are," Hinata said. "Where did you go?"
Naruto told her about Kiba returning and the festival. Then he said, "I'm nervous about going back there, but I don't think we can really avoid it."
Hinata reached out and patted Naruto's shoulder gently. "We'll all be with you," she said, looking directly into his swimming eyes. She had come to actually like the swimming colors in his eyes; to her, they were beautiful, although she knew no one else was likely to see them that way. Clearing her throat and looking away with a blush, she added, "I hope these two are ready to leave in time for the festival."
Naruto nodded. "I hope so, too. It would be rather pointless to go back without them," he said. "I'm not sure what's going on, but I doubt this festival is just to honor us."
Hinata nodded. "That's probably the case," she said. "Still, I think we can trust the Hokage. He wouldn't be trying to lure us into a trap or anything."
Naruto chuckled. "Yeah, that's true. Well, guess we better figure out who all is going to go with us," he said. Hinata nodded. Naruto sighed. "I wish we could get the marks off everyone here and take them all with us, but...I don't think we can trust them all."
Hinata nodded. "Honestly, I doubt we'll find many people here we can trust," she said. "Kimimaro may well be the only person here we should take with us to this thing."
Naruto nodded. "That's probably true," he said, sighing. "Well, we better figure this all out. We only have so much time before we have to leave."
A Month Later, at the Leaf Village
Naruto sighed as he looked at the walls of his old home. He hadn't expected to be back here, especially not so soon. Turning to Hinata, Anko, Sasuke, and Kimimaro, he said, "Are we ready?"
Hinata grasped Naruto's hand in hers, and the other three just nodded. Hinata said softly, "We're ready when you are, Naruto."
Naruto nodded. "Let's get this over with," he said, returning his gaze to the village. The five then walked toward the gate.
The gate guard stopped them briefly, then allowed them all in once they said who they were. One of the two Chunin stationed there said, "The Hokage is expecting you. You may proceed to the Tower."
Naruto nodded. "Thank you," he said politely. It wasn't easy for him, but he knew better than to mouth off to anyone just now. As the small group made their way through the village, Naruto noticed the looks people were giving him. To his companions, he said, "This is why I left. I knew the people here would never accept me like this." His deep, gravelly voice was full of pain as he said this.
Hinata came closer to him and wrapped an arm around his waist. "Don't worry about what they think," she said. "You're still Naruto, and we all know it. You're not alone."
Anko and Kiba both nodded at this. Kimimaro spoke up from behind Naruto. "You are Lord Taiyokage. I will protect you, no matter what," he said. "I don't care what they think of you."
Naruto smiled. "Thanks, guys," he said sincerely. That said, they made their way to the Hokage's office in silence.
Upon arriving at the Hokage's office, Naruto knocked on the door. He would normally have burst in without knocking, but just now he was admittedly kind of nervous and also acting as Taiyokage, so he felt it was important to be as proper as possible.
Hiruzen looked up when he heard the knock. "Come in, please," he said. When Naruto entered, the Hokage was shocked to see just how different the blond he knew so well really was. Kiba had described the boy to him, but actually seeing it with his own eyes was an entirely different thing.
Naruto stood in front of the Hokage. When Hiruzen made no move to start the conversation, Naruto said, "It's good to see you again, Old Man."
Hiruzen chuckled. "It really is still you, isn't it, Naruto?" he said. Naruto nodded with a toothy grin. Hiruzen smiled back, despite the chill running up his spine. "I get it, Naruto."
Naruto took a moment to figure out what the Hokage meant by that. He figured he meant he understood why Naruto left. "Why I left, you mean?" he asked. When the Hokage nodded, he asked, "Then why the hell did you practically force me to come back here like this?!"
Hiruzen sighed. "Well, I am the Hokage. I couldn't very well let my shinobi be out there, creating a new village, could I?" he said.
Naruto thought about that a moment, then sighed. "I suppose I get your point, but would you want to be dragged back to a village that shunned you for having a demon in your belly when now you are the demon?"
Hiruzen looked embarrassed at this. "No, I wouldn't," he said back. "Naruto, if you hate me, I totally understand." He took a breath, then said, "All the same, if you all are amenable to it, I brought you here to invite you to rejoin the shinobi ranks of the Hidden Leaf Village." Taking note of Kimimaro, he added, "And you are welcome to join the ranks if you wish."
Naruto considered this. His dream had always been to be Hokage. He really didn't want to let that dream die. Coming back to the village would be the only way he could ever be Hokage. Still, since becoming Taiyokage and watching Hinata learn how to break the Curse Marks, he had realized there were things in this world that were important besides being Hokage. Some of them, he thought, might even be more important, in the grand scheme of things.
Turning to the Hokage, Naruto said, "I believe I speak for all of us when I say it is an agreeable proposition you have posed. However, I do have a couple conditions."
The Hokage raised an eyebrow at this. "Conditions?" he asked. "Like what?"
Naruto took a deep breath. "First, if I am going to return here, I need free reign to carry out a few missions of my own," he began.
Hiruzen interrupted before Naruto could go any further. "What kind of missions?"
Naruto sighed. "While going through Orochimaru's records in the old Hidden Sound Village, I found files detailing where his other hideouts are. I intend to make raids on these hideouts, save anyone who can be saved, and destroy any of his failed experiments who are better off dead anyway. Also, anyone who has Curse Marks on them in those hideouts and wants the marks removed, we will offer that service to them."
The Hokage considered this. "All right, that's acceptable. What else?"
Naruto nodded his acknowledgment of this, then said, "Second, if I am to be assigned a team, I must be given free reign to choose the team from shinobi I trust. If not, I cannot be sure they won't judge me for being what I am now."
Hiruzen chuckled. "I don't think that will be a problem," he said.
Naruto gave a grin. "Kimimaro here is my personal guard. He will probably not allow himself to be assigned to a team," he said. Kimimaro nodded his confirmation of Naruto's statement. Naruto continued, "As such, he is to be assigned to me. He will not be an active shinobi, technically, he will simply accompany any team I am on."
Hiruzen sighed. "That is acceptable within limits. If your mission requires a smaller number of shinobi, he may have to stay behind," he said.
Naruto nodded. "That's fine. In those instances, he will remain at my home," he said. Then a thought occurred to him. "Speaking of which, where will I be living? I assume my old apartment has been rented out to someone else by now."
Hiruzen nodded. "It has. I have found a larger apartment that the owner is willing to rent to you, however," he said.
Naruto nodded. "I appreciate that, Old Man," he said sincerely.
Hiruzen laughed. "It's nothing, Naruto. You saved the village, after all," he said. Naruto blinked in confusion. "On your way out of the village, you stopped the jinchuriki of the One-Tailed Tanuki from attacking the village. That's why this festival is being held, by the way."
Naruto considered this, then nodded. "I see," he said simply. He wasn't sure what else to say.
"Speaking of the festival," Hiruzen said then, "we should get you down there. You're the guest of honor; the festival just won't be the same without you there."
Naruto grinned toothily. "It'll be nice to have everyone acknowledge me for something good, for once," he said.
Hiruzen laughed loudly. "Come on, you clown," he said. "We have a festival to attend." That said, the six ninja left the Hokage's office and made their way downstairs. They were looking forward to the festival; it was a rare moment when a shinobi could just relax and have fun, and they all knew to savor those times when they came. This was no exception, and all six of them immensely enjoyed themselves that night.
Once the festival was winding down, Naruto found himself sitting atop the village wall, watching the fireworks display that had been arranged as the finale of the festival. Hinata was sitting beside him.
Turning to the blue-haired girl, Naruto said, "I'm glad we're back, even if things aren't exactly how I thought they would be."
Hinata smiled. "I am, too. It'll be nice to see everyone again. I just hope our friends accept you. I would hate to disown any of them," she said.
Naruto nodded. "I hope they do, too. Regardless, I'll be fine, as long as you're with me," he said.
Hinata blushed. "I'm not going anywhere, Naruto," she said simply.
Naruto wrapped his arms around her. "Thank you, Hinata," he said. Hinata looked at him in confusion. "Thank you for being here with me. Thank you for accepting me."
Hinata wrapped her arms around Naruto and pressed her face into his chest, inhaling his scent lightly. "You don't have to thank me, Naruto," she said softly. With his newly-enhanced hearing, Naruto heard her clearly. "I will always be here."
Naruto took a deep breath, memorizing Hinata's scent. She was precious to him. He realized, in the back of his mind, that, in that moment, he was feeling very possessive of Hinata. She was his, and anyone who tried to take her from him would suffer his wrath. Naruto was about to say something to Hinata when the tail on the back of his head reached around and smacked him in the face. Naruto said, to no one in particular, "I said she's mine, and I meant it."
Hinata blushed when she realized he was talking about her. "I'm his," she thought to herself. Squeezing Naruto tighter, she focused all of her energy on not fainting.
Naruto smiled as Hinata's grip tightened on him. "She is just too adorable," he thought to himself. Wrapping her more securely in his arms, he rested his chin on top of Hinata's head. The two sat like that until the fireworks were over. Naruto had never felt so peaceful, and Hinata had never been happier. It was the most perfect moment of their lives, and they would never forget it, as long as they lived.
A/N: Well, there you have it. This chapter just wouldn't stop there at the end. I hope you all enjoyed this one. This ride is getting fun.