Red strands shifted to hang across brow and eye as the Captain of the Red-Haired Pirates leaned forward, staring intently at the blonde teen who sat across from him. The older man blinked and then grinned as his blue-eyed nephew eyed him warily.
“What…?” Naruto asked, his tone expressing he wasn’t sure he really wanted to know.
“It’s so warm!” Shanks cooed with his stupid grin. “Makes me just want to cuddle you!” He exclaimed cheerfully.
Naruto gave an exasperated sigh. “You are drunk.” He stated flatly to his uncle.
“Well, yes.” Shanks answered, not bothered in the least. “But I’d cuddle with you sober. Your haki….. It’s just so warm!” with that said, the red-haired man reached out and pulled his nephew over to him.
Naruto let out a startled yelp, too surprised to fight, as he found himself cuddled like a teddy bear. “Really?” He asked under his breath. “Aren’t you supposed to be a bad-ass pirate captain?”
“I am a bad-ass pirate captain.” Shanks responded while leaning his chin on his nephew’s shoulder and letting out a sigh. “I remember Kushina-nee holding me like this when I was little. It’s one of the clearest memories I have of her. And I remember her always being warm.”
Whatever argument Naruto was about to make was lost as he realized just what his uncle had said. “She…” he whispered suddenly, wanting to tell his uncle everything. “She died saving me.” He said quietly, and felt the arm wrapped around him tense. “There was a great creature sealed away that was released the night of my birth. She was already…”
“You don’t have—“
“No! I want to tell you.” Naruto interrupted Shanks before he could stop the story from spilling out. “The creature released was known as the Kyuubi, a nine-tailed demon fox. My father was the Hokage of Konoha, the leader of the village, and a hero from the Third Shinobi War. He managed to stop the one responsible for Kyuubi’s release, but the fox could not be killed. The Kyuubi is a creature of chakra: pure energy and emotion; it could only be sealed. Both of them… Mom and Dad… took fatal blows defending me from the fox as my father sealed it away again.” Naruto stopped there, his mind full of memories his parents had left him by sealing the last of their own chakra into the seal as well.
“They loved you a great deal.” Shanks said gently after Naruto was silent for several moments.
Naruto smiled. “Yeah, they did… do.”
He remained quiet for several more moments; letting Shanks hold him as if he was still a child that needed such things. He decided to share the rest. “My childhood sucked, and I was mostly alone growing up, but… my parents… they believed in me. They believed I would protect the village from the hatred of the fox. It took a long time, but Kurama, that’s his name, is my partner now and the village no longer hates me for being his jailor.”
Shanks blinked. “Wait, you mean…”
Naruto shrugged taking advantage of his uncle’s surprise as a chance to escape his teddy-bear hold. “Yeah, the fox is sealed inside me.”
Shanks blinked. “Huh. Wonder if it’s anything like a Zoan Devil Fruit.” Then he grinned, a sparkle of mischief in his eye. “Can you transform? Do you get ears? How about a tail; wait, you said nine tails, so it would be nine tails for you too, right?”
Naruto stared at his uncle in shock but then felt laughter well up and break loose.
Shanks only grinned and took a drink from his waiting mug, happy to see the shadows chased away from his nephew’s expression.
Ninja vs Pirate
Naruto blinked and then eyed Yasopp skeptically. The older man had apparently declared himself Naruto’s tutor in all things sailing ever since the first impromptu lesson. (Shanks had threatened Yasopp with removal of his hair if he tried to tutor his nephew in piracy.) This had started with learning sailor knots; a practice that had gone fairly well considering Naruto’s clones had “only” managed to tie themselves into the knots about two thirds of the time, but Naruto was seriously beginning to think Yasopp might be trying to pull one over on him when it came to the sails.
“So let me get this straight; the foremast is on the forecastle and has the foresail mounted on it.” Naruto recited as he pointed to the mast closest to the bow. “Then comes the main mast on the main deck with mainsail, main topsail, and main topgallant.” He continued as he then pointed at the central mast starting at where it met the deck and then moving upward as he named each sail. “Third, on the quarter deck is the mizzen mast, mizzen topsail, mizzen topgallant and mizzen royal.” Naruto finished carefully making sure he pointed to each of the last sails as he named them.
“That’s right.” Yasopp answered with a grin.
“But you expect me to believe this is the poop deck and this sail is called a spanker?” Naruto asked his voice filled with skepticism.
There were several snickers from nearby crewmen and Yasopp chuckled with them. “That’s right.”
Naruto looked down at the deck and carefully pulled his feet up beneath where he had rested on the railing so he perched on it in a crouch. “Why would you name part of your ship—“
Before the blonde could finish his statement, there was a snap and the afore mentioned spanker sail shifted and collided with the blonde which sent him flying off the railing.
Yasopp stared wide-eyed and quickly grabbed the line to secure the boom of the loose sail while calling out. “MAN OVERBOARD! SHANKS! NARUTO WENT OVERBOARD!”
“WHAT!?!” Shanks shrieked.
The sound of rushing feet filled the air as the crew scurried to the ship’s aft and Yasopp finished securing the sail line to prevent the driver sail from hitting anyone else. Yasopp turned and found himself looking at a crowd of backs as the crew stared down behind the ship, frozen.
“Can you see him? Can he swim?!” Yasopp asked worried.
Shanks did not answer but just continued to stare down at the ocean and then reached back to pull Yasopp up beside him.
There on the ocean surface, several yards behind the ship, was the missing blonde teen running back towards the ship.
“Yasopp, I’m not drunk this morning, am I?” Yasopp wasn’t quite sure how to answer as he stared at the sight. In moments, the teen would catch up to the ship. Yasopp looked away and hollered, “Oi! Someone toss the kid a line!”
“Why?” Naruto asked from right behind the blonde-haired pirate.
Yasopp turned, “How…”
Shanks blinked, stunned. “He ran up the side of the ship. Just ran right up it. “
Naruto grinned, very amused.
Shanks poked the kid in the side. “He’s real. You haven’t eaten a devil fruit; how did you…?”
Naruto’s grin only got wider as he glanced between uncle and his supposed sailing tutor before answering. “Ninja.”
Naruto stared at the island the Red Force had dropped anchor at with both curiosity and disbelief. His eyes scanned the snowcapped mountains and ice floating in the ocean all around the ship in large chunks. “This,” he paused and turned to face his uncle, his breath forming small clouds in the air before him, “is where you keep your treasure stash?”
Shanks grinned and handed his nephew a piece of parchment. “Not the only stash, but one of my personal favorites. This is the map leading to the stash, care to lead the way?”
Naruto blinked and unrolled the piece of parchment, studying the map on it. “You just drew this today, didn’t you?” he asked noticing the hurried smudge marks covering the paper.
Shanks just grinned at him. “You wanted a bit of adventure, this island has more to offer than you may think.”
Naruto resigned himself to playing along with his uncle’s whims; it reminded him a bit of some of Kakashi’s supposed “training exercises” and D rank missions. Naruto watched as a long boat was lowered into the ocean and various crew began to descend down into it. “Right. Well, I’ll meet you on shore, then.”
With that said, the blonde hopped over the edge of the ship and in moments could be seen jogging across the ocean’s surface toward the shore line. Shanks watched him go and then turned to Benn who came up beside him. “Do you think he would teach me?”
Benn chuckled. “If he does, I’m sure the crew will enjoy watching you get soaked in the process.”
Shanks grumbled, but was smiling as they followed the others down to the waiting boat.
The map was simple in nature. As with most maps of land masses, it indicated the overall shape of the land, and within its borders outlined particular features of interest including mountains, rivers, forest, canyons, and what Naruto suspected were cave entrances in many different places. What made this a treasure map, however, was the pronounced black ‘X’ as well as the simple skull and crossbones used to indicate something dangerous. Naruto had half-expected the skull and crossbones to match Shank’s Jolly Roger, but this was the more classic marking and so he suspected it indicated something more. Inked along the outside edges were directions and warnings. Traps, then. Well, there was nothing unusual about that for him. He glanced back at the approaching boat, grinned, waved, and set off. He was sure the Red-Haired crew would catch up soon enough and he had a few ideas of his own for this little adventure.
Further inland, Naruto frowned as he studied the map and passed through a gap in the cliff side. The map gave some warning about icy depths and eternal darkness, but all he could see around him as he exited the gap, was a sort of deep basin surrounded by cliffs and blanketed with ice and snow. If this island had been in a warmer climate, he imagined it would have held a lake, also indicated by what he thought was a frozen waterfall at the far end of the basin. He shrugged and set out across the ice-covered expanse towards the dark opening he could see on the other side, his sandals leaving faint imprints in the snow.
It was the startled yelp of one of the crew, and then the unmistakable sound of shattering ice, that alerted Shanks to the fact that something had gone “not quite right.” He rushed ahead and watched as two crewmates pulled a third from the brink of his death in the ice-filled ravine. The ravine itself was often covered in a thin layer of ice hiding the chasm filled with icy spears, and it was the first trap that the Red-Haired Captain had made use of when setting up the defenses for his favorite stash.
“Oi, you know this trail, why did you try to go out onto the ice?” Shanks asked frowning.
The crewmember sat sprawled on the edge and blinked, “Footprints. The kid’s tracks went right across the ice.”
“Are you certain?” Shanks demanded, looking out across the ravine and trying to spot some trace of tracks on the unbroken sections.
“I can see them, Captain.” Yasopp spoke, “They lead as if he went right across the middle.
Worried, Shanks turned quickly and headed into the dark shadows to the right, vanishing amongst them as he traveled the hidden pathway that lay there.
As he approached the far side of the basin, Shanks felt tension ease from his shoulders as he spotted his nephew’s tracks leaving the ice ravine and entering the first of many cave tunnels on the other side. He had not expected his nephew to go on ahead of them, he had thought they’d be together as they encountered the various traps and tricks that were the defense of any pirate’s treasure stash. From the moment he had heard that his nephew’s tracks went out across the ice the realization that his nephew could be seriously injured by one of those traps had his stomach in knots. He wondered if his nephew had even been aware of the danger he had been in, and this was no clone that would simply vanish to be replaced later. He set off into the tunnel once more when he sensed that the rest of the crew following him had cleared the ice ravine.
Naruto couldn’t keep the grin off his face as he finished setting the final wire of his current project. He let his eyes travel back across the wire toward the snow-covered pines and the waiting trap at its other end. He turned as he caught sight of movement out of the corner of his eye and then blinked as he noticed the strange small creature staring back at him. Both remained still for several moments, then long ears twitched and the furry form vanished over the cliff edge. Naruto quickly moved to peer over the edge himself, and watched as the furry creature slipped along narrow paths, leaping between them when they were not connected. He glanced back at his trap thoughtfully; maybe he would be able to watch when it was set off after all. It took only a moment with a quick gathering of chakra and another furred creature appeared. Long ears twitched between curving antlers as the creature blinked large eyes. One large foot moved to scratch the mottled fur on the back of its head before it then turned and settled itself amongst snow and rock, blending in with the landscape.
Naruto turned his attention to the map once more. It seemed like he’d be weaving in and out of a network of caves for a while. He quickly moved to the next cave opening and then turned to look back over the ground he had just covered. He glanced down at the snow, and with a careful application of some wind chakra, erased all evidence of his movements save for those leading from the previous cavern to the next one. He smirked and then continued on his way.
The sound of something snapping suddenly had the Red-Haired Pirates tense and glancing around. Benn’s eyes widened and he leapt forward just as several feet of snow came sliding down off the nearby pines and ledges to cover all those who had been behind him.
Shanks turned and blinked as he studied his half-buried crew. “Oi, what are you lot goofing around for?” He asked, amused.
Yasopp glared and a quickly made snowball flew at the redheaded Captain before he began digging himself out.
Shanks laughed as he dodged the snowball and moved toward the next cavern, waiting for his crew to pull themselves out of the snow before continuing.
Benn paused as he spotted something move and then eyed the small furry creature that sat watching them, ears and nose twitching. He narrowed his gaze, why had the jackalope not startled and run? As if sensing the attention the jackalope suddenly tensed and then disappeared over the cliff edge.
“Benn! Quit staring at nothing!” Shanks called out as he headed into the next cave. The Red-Haired Pirates’ First Mate grunted in response but moved to follow, as it seemed he wasn’t the only one who had noticed something slightly odd about the jackalope.
Naruto glared as he studied the skeleton propped up on a ledge, silently grinning at him. He glanced down at his map and then scratched his head. “When the skeleton drinks…what kind of direction is that?!”
He then looked up at the cave wall above the skeleton and the words etched onto the stone. “When the skull speaks…”
Naruto all but growled. “When the Hell does a skeleton drink or speak?!”
He studied the skeleton again, with its dead grin, and noted that the left arm was extended with a finger pointing. He followed the direction to see one of the tunnels clearly indicated. He glanced back at the skeleton noticing this time that the other hand held an empty rum bottle.
“Maybe I have to give him booze?” He mumbled to himself then shook his head in amusement. “Shanks-oji would drink with a skeleton.” With that decided, he unsealed a bottle of a clear liquid and carefully poured it into the empty rum bottle. As he did so, the hand holding the bottle lowered causing the extended arm to shift bit by bit. Once the skeleton’s bottle was filled, he traced the path the other hand pointed to, and a different tunnel was marked. Naruto grinned.
He took several steps then paused. He summoned two clones who grinned at his side then performed a henge. In moments both had joined the skeleton on his perch, bringing the number of waiting skeletons to three. That should unnerve some of the crew at least. With that task done he headed off down the indicated tunnel.
He had only traveled a few dozen steps down the path when there was a faint click and the ground dropped out from beneath him. Naruto yelped as he found himself suddenly sliding down. Sheer ice covered the stone surfaces leaving nothing for him grip. As his feet went out from under him, he completely lost control over his path while he slid down the tunnel.
“Damnit! That skeleton was lying!” he cursed as he tried to get a grip on the ice with his chakra and slow his slide.
Shanks giggled as he thanked the skeleton for the drink before emptying the bottle and giving a satisfied sigh afterwards. That had been some good stuff.
“Captain…” Benn said flatly.
Shanks inwardly grimaced. Benn had never liked the skeleton trap.
“There are three.”
Shanks blinked, there was indeed, three. It was at that moment that two of the skeleton’s turned to stare at him.
“Oi Redhead! Share the drink!” The left one demanded.
“Yeah! Not nice to just guzzle up another fellow’s booze.” The one to the right chimed in. The middle one chattered its teeth in what he could only assume was meant to be a skeleton’s chuckle.
Behind Shanks and Benn the crew screamed, yelped, and several shots rang out in the cavern.
Yasopp clobbered those who had fired as he muttered something about not wanting to be hit by friendly fire due to idiots.
Shanks chuckled, “It seems my nephew has an amusing sense of humor, wouldn’t you say, Benn?”
“Indeed.” Benn replied, and moments later, the two extra skeletons vanished in a familiar whoosh of displaced air.
Shanks considered this for a moment. “I wonder how many of those things he can make at once…”
“Captain! The ice chute trap has been tripped.” Shanks nodded, he had thought as much when the skeleton’s rum bottle had been full.
“At least it wasn’t the pit. We’d have to actually fish him out of that one.” Shanks stated. “I’m sure he can find his way out of the ice chute’s cave. Wasn’t that the one full of nice soft snow powder when we set this up? Well, time to keep heading onward, if the kid doesn’t turn up later on, we’ll come find him. Thanks again for the drink, Sam!” with a final wave at the now-lone skeleton, Shanks headed off down the tunnel that the empty rum bottle angled toward, his crew following quickly behind.
Naruto groaned as he dug in the snow under his back and pulled out the object that was poking him in the ribs and kidneys. He blinked as he stared at the object and then grimaced as he tossed the skull away. “That’s just nasty.” He muttered, though at least it hadn’t been human. He slowly pulled himself to his feet and studied the cavern that his crazy ride down a slide of pure ice had deposited him in. Like the tunnel he had slid down, the walls were covered with ice and it filled the space with a deep chill. From the ceiling, long icicles formed around stone stalactites stretching downward, some meeting midway to the ground with ice covered stalagmites.
The sound of scurrying paws caught his attention and he stood, quickly glancing around. “Oh it’s you again.” He stated when he spotted the familiar pair of antlers and long ears peeking up above a snowbank. Ears twitched at his voice but no other movement was made. “So, did you fall down Shanks-oji’s stupid ice slide too?” Naruto asked, not really surprised when all he got for response was another ear twitch.
Naruto sighed and continued to study his surroundings. It seemed the snow bank he’d landed in was the only reason he wasn’t more bruised from the ride. He frowned as he studied the walls, not spotting any openings or ways out. “Well I doubt Shanks-oji would leave me down here to freeze, so there should be a way out.” With that said, he began to take a closer look at the walls and then grinned when he found an opening hidden behind an outcropping of ice. “Here we go. Come on,” he said to the furry creature still silently watching him. “Let’s get out of here.”
Suddenly the small furry creature perked his ears, alert, and darted past Naruto in a blur. “Hey what’s the big idea?!” Naruto shouted after the small animal and then stilled as his voice echoed. As the sound of his reverberating voice began to fade away, there was another sound, like splintering ice. Naruto glanced backwards once more, his eyes opening wide. He quickly turned and took off after his furry friend while cursing under his breath. “Spiders! ICE Spiders! What the Hell is wrong with this place!”
He skidded to a stop as he met a dead end, the small furry creature resembling a rabbit with antlers crouched low and cowering against the ice wall. Naruto glanced back over his shoulder and spotted the swarm of what looked like a moving ice wave beginning to fill the passage behind them. He looked up and spotted an opening a few meters above him, hopefully he’d be able to actually stick this time. He scooped up the cowering creature and then ran up the wall, heading toward the waiting tunnel.
Naruto made good progress up the ice covered tunnel, this time managing to scale the walls of ice without losing his grip, unlike his unexpected downward ice-slide experience earlier. He glanced back as he heard the tinkling sounds of ice and groaned as the spiders similarly had no problem climbing upward. It was at that moment that his passenger squirmed and Naruto looked forward just in time to skid to a stop before flying over a cliff edge. He quickly scanned the suddenly open space and then edged along the narrow path to his right. This had to be how his furry friend had ended up down in the ice cavern to begin with.
He didn’t have long to consider this as within heartbeats the spiders began to spill out of the tunnel. He glanced around quickly and decided to take a page out of Sakura and Tsunade’s book. He slammed his free hand back into the cliff side as hard as he could. At first, there was little result, and then snow began to rain, then pour down from above. Naruto looked upwards and winced. “Oops.”
He began running along the cliff side as quick as he could, trying to get out of range of the coming wave. The snow rushed forward in a rapid avalanche, sweeping to engulf the path before and after him. At the very moment he lost his footing and hung in the air, weightless before the fall, a large fur-covered shape appeared under him and his small passenger, jumped, and began to run UP the falling snow. Naruto blinked and then grinned widely, yelling in glee.
Shanks glanced back over his shoulder to the owner of the voice and raised an eyebrow at the stunned-looking man. His jaw hung open and his hand pointed above them, his eyes wide. Shanks shifted his gaze to match and blinked as his own jaw dropped.
A flood of snow was hurtling down the mountainside toward them. Above the crest of the avalanche was a large rabbit-deer-like creature he had become familiar with while visiting this island. The creature was running up the avalanche and on its back was a familiar orange clad figure.
“Impressive.” Benn stated calmly, “Your nephew managed to befriend the jackalopes; looks like he’s having fun. Oh, and we should move if we don’t want to be buried in the snow.”
Shanks turned to Benn with teary eyes. “I want to ride the jackalopes too!”
Benn just sighed, and moved around his Captain to head into the next tunnel. “I refuse to dig you out if you get buried, Captain.”
That seemed to be enough to get the man and the rest of the crew hurriedly moving out of the way of the incoming wall of snow.
Naruto looked down from the cliff edge where his furry mount had stopped. He stared, eyes going wide as he took in the hidden valley spread out below. The fact that it was a hidden valley wasn’t what was most shocking, though, it was the greenery that overflowed from within and the warm air that drifted up to tease his hair. Naruto had to admit it; his uncle sure knew how to pick a hiding spot. This place was a treasure all on its own. To have such a hidden abundance of green and growing things on the frozen island, he had no doubt that the valley below held a collection of hot springs. Then something caught his attention as his gaze followed the cliff edges surrounding the valley. He frowned trying to figure out what it was, only to be distracted by the shifting creature beneath him.
“Ah! Sorry about that.” He apologized and quickly hopped off the large mottled creature’s back and then patted it on the shoulder. “Thanks for the ride back there.” The smaller rabbit-deer chattered at him from where it now sat, still perched on the larger one’s back. Naruto only grinned back at it. “Don’t worry about it. No one wants to become spider food, after all. Perhaps we can go for a ride again before I leave.”
The larger creature seemed to study him intently for a moment then nodded its head once before taking off down a narrow trail that descended into the valley. Naruto watched them go and then stared out across the valley again, his eyes widening in sudden realization. “No way…” He quickly pulled his map out and studied it before glancing back at the valley. His eyes traced the edges carved into the landscape and then he quickly turned to the nearby large conifers that shared the plateau he stood on and climbed up. Once at the top he looked down with a better vantage point and grinned widely at the twin valleys that crossed each other. “X marks the spot, all right.”
“You think Naruto found the spot?” Yasopp asked, following behind Shanks and Benn as they exited a dark tunnel and entered the hidden valley.
“When we last saw him riding a jackalope?” Benn asked.
“Good point.” Yasopp answered. “No way he couldn’t end up here.”
Shanks chuckled ahead of them, then sighed and stretched as he stepped out into a large open clearing surrounded by green and growing things. “Ah it’s good to be here again.”
At that moment, a large jackalope standing on a small hilltop turned its head to face them. His majestic rack of antlers twisted and branching several feet above the top of his long ears.
“And look, the king-stag is here to greet us.” Shanks said with a casual grin.
“Didn’t you break one of his antlers the last time we were here?” Benn asked.
Shanks laughed nervously as they strolled out into the clearing and began making their way across it. “I’m sure he’s forgotten all about it.
The king of the jackalope herd bellowed and pawed the ground as everything stilled. Then there was a sound like thunder as the jackalope charged with dozens more appearing on either side of him in a rush.
Yasopp’s eyes went wide. “Oh Shit! Stampede!”
The Red-Haired Pirates began to run; shouted curses filled the air as they rushed for the tree line and the hot springs that were just beyond.
There was a rush of sound as bellows and the clattering of horns on wood filled the air. The pirates quickly slipped into the heavy forest line, which prevented the large jackalopes from following. Shanks sighed as they all caught their breath and then slowly continued deeper into the trees and came out in a new clearing filled with pools of water and rising steam.
Naruto looked up from where he sat soaking in one of the nearby pools and smirked. “Took you long enough, Shanks-oji.”
Shanks approached his nephew without saying a word, and clobbered him as soon as he was within range. “Brat! You trying to give me a heart attack, running off ahead like that?!”
Naruto rubbed his head and grumbled. “You gave me a map!”
“Then why the hell did you go straight across that ice!” Shanks demanded.
Naruto blinked as he tried to recall the ice. “Oh… Come on, you think I can walk across water and not across a thin layer of ice?”
Shanks blinked and then pouted. “Stupid kid trying to give me gray hairs.”
Naruto only grinned as several of the Red-Haired Pirates chuckled behind them.
“Come on, kid, you can finish turning into a prune later.” Shanks admonished before turning to head toward the cliff wall behind the springs.
Naruto looked around the cavern Shanks had unsealed by way of a cleverly hidden sliding doorway with awe. There were easily hundreds of chests of various sizes and bags holding oddly shaped items filling the cavern. Gold coins lay scattered here and there, though most of it did seem to be kept contained within the chests, bags and other containers. “There’s so much…”
Shanks only grinned. “What did you expect? We are Pirates. Now, for the real treasure here,” with that, Shanks wound his way through the chests and shoved several aside before triggering another sliding door, this one flush with the ground. Moments after he had the new passage opened, he vanished inside of it. Naruto peered down curiously and blinked at the large cavernous space lined from wall to wall and floor to ceiling with barrels, jugs, and crates full of glass bottles. Shanks looked back up at Naruto with a sparkle in his eyes. “My favorite booze is all stashed here and we need to pick up a particular bottle before we head off to meet Whitebeard.”
“You would treasure booze more.” Naruto said with a shake of his head.
Shanks grinned and winked. “Pirate.”
Naruto glanced back over his shoulder at the piles of treasure stored in the space above, and then back down at the second room full of booze. Yeah… he thought, Shanks-oji and Tsuande-baa-chan would get along just great.
Uzumaki Were Here
Blue eyes widened at the sight of all the sails bearing the blue gull mark that filled the waters ahead of the Red Force. He had never seen so many ships in one place before.
“So, we’re going right through them all?” Naruto asked as he continued to eye the sails.
Shanks grinned, “Straight on through.”
“Why are they trying to blockade you?” Naruto asked.
“We are heading into Whitebeard’s territory and two Yonko meeting up always make the Marines very nervous. They try to discourage it.” Shanks said as he shrugged nonchalantly.
“Ah.” Naruto answered nodding in understanding. “So, why are we heading to Whitebeard, anyway?”
Shanks smirked, “I need to meet with the Old Man, and he refused the message I sent with Rockstar.” Shanks’ mind drifted back to the report of that refusal he had received. No, the old man had not only refused the letter, he had shredded it. Then he told Rockstar that Shanks could come himself if he wanted to talk… Oh; and of course, to bring booze and the kid. Whitebeard had always had a soft spot for family, and it didn’t surprise Shanks much that he’d taken an interest in the family relation Naruto’s bounty poster had revealed. It had been over twenty years since he’d last seen the Whitebeard Pirates in person; it would be good to see the Old Man.
Naruto suddenly grinned, “Hey Shanks-oji, can I help take out the Marine ships? I can take out… hmm… three or four, I bet, before we even get in cannon range. More if they stay all clumped up like that group on the port side, there. I’ve wanted to test Sage Mode here, anyways.”
Shanks raised an eyebrow. “You better back that bluff up, kid.”
Naruto just smirked. “You’ll like this.” He turned and scampered up to the forecastle and then the figurehead before finding a perch and settling down into a meditative position. Being still, while on an object in motion was going to be a bit of a trick, but already he could feel the air around him was saturated with nature energy. It was almost like being back with the toads; the energy came easily. His awareness expanded and he could feel the chakra of his uncle behind him. It was a different feeling, colored by other energies intermingled with it. Similar energies seemed to flow in and around quite a few of the other crewmembers whose chakra seemed to be civilian level at best.
Shanks shrugged when Benn arched an eyebrow at him in inquiry. There was still a good bit of time before they would be in what he considered range of the marine fleet. Shanks focused his haki on his nephew and then blinked in surprise. There was something going on with the energy around the kid, and whatever it was doing was making him very hard to sense. The boy was there, visible and unmoving, but, to his haki senses, it was like he was suddenly not there.
“That should do it.” Naruto stated as Shanks approached behind him. Shanks gaped as Naruto turned to look at him; his normally blue irises had turned golden and his pupils, instead of round, were horizontal and rectangular, like a toad’s. A dark orange color had filled in the space between his eyes and eyebrows extending just past the outside edges of both. “Watch carefully.” Naruto stated as a clone suddenly appeared standing on the rail just behind the teen. Naruto held out his hand and focused, his clone using its own hand to help mold what Shanks could only assume was the energy called chakra in the original’s palm.
Soon a loud shrieking sound began to fill the air and members of the Red-Haired pirates began to groan and cover their ears. Naruto just grinned, though, and turned his focus to the approaching marine fleet. Shanks watched intently as the glowing white sphere of what almost looked like condensed air appeared in the boy’s palm, looking barely contained. Spinning blades of light and wind formed and the shrieking noise rose to a new pitch. Then the kid threw it.
“RASENSHURIKEN!” The teen shouted and the ball of condensed energy and whirling blades surged forward across the ocean sending water streaming out of its path as it flew and expanded.
Shanks’ eyes widened and his mouth opened in shock as the sphere reached the ships. There was a roar of screaming: wind, wood, metal, and men as the sphere connected, expanded, and then exploded. Water surged into the air and waves rolled. Ships that had not been in the direct line of fire, or clipped in the explosion, rocked wildly until one capsized, spilling marines into the ocean. Of the ship that had been the primary target of the attack, there was only some debris and a faint red tinge to the sea and air. The debris itself could have even come from the ships that had been nearby, as there was nowhere near enough of it to account for the ship that was now, in fact, completely gone.
Naruto stared at the damage verifying the attack had been successful, and nodded, grimacing slightly. “That might have been a bit of overkill… but, well, there’s no way to make that attack non-lethal anyways. I had figured it would shred the ship… never used it on a group of people like that before though.” He turned back to his uncle, taking in the still wide-eyed expression. “I have enough nature energy gathered for two more shots, but I’d rather not make it a complete massacre. The first one kind of got the meaning across, don’t you think?”
Shanks took a deep breath and met the strange yellow-eyed gaze of his nephew. “No, a massacre is not needed here. That is quite the attack, kid.”
Naruto grinned and scratched the back of his head. “Yeah, it’s the completed form of an attack my dad first created. It’s not something just anyone can use though, that’s for sure, and even I can’t use it safely outside of Sage Mode.”
Shanks scoffed. “Doing that without a Devil’s Fruit ability, you really are unpredictable aren’t you?”
Naruto laughed. “’Konoha’s Number One Most Surprising Ninja,’ that’s what Kakashi-sensei always called me.”
Shanks chuckled, and then turned to his crew. He would probe his nephew for more details about this Sage Mode and nature energy later. “All right, boys, we can’t let Naruto here do all the work for us. Let’s remind these marines that we are pirates and free to sail wherever we damn well please!” Shanks’ call shook the pirates out of their shock, and there were varied shouts of agreement and glee from all around as the Red Force finally came into cannon range.
In moments, the air was full of the sound of cannon fire, screaming marines, and shouting pirates. No sooner had the Red-Haired Pirates sunken one ship than another closed in to take its place. The entire marine fleet that had been acting as a barrier between the unofficially declared territories of the Yonko not even a full hour before was reduced to broken timber, shredded sailcloth, and frantic marines. It was only as the Red Force moved out of cannon range, past the sinking marine ships that Shanks realized someone was missing.
“Oi, where is Naruto?” He called out, frowning. He knew the kid had been fighting with them and had seen him doing very well on his own at several points throughout the battle. He stretched out with his senses, hoping whatever nature energy the kid had gathered earlier would not block him from sensing him. He cursed as he found the unique warm energy of his nephew somewhere behind them and rushed to the aft of the ship looking back towards the cluster of destroyed marine vessels.
Shanks stared hard at the bits of ships, then blinked and began to chuckle, which soon shifted into full-out laughter. Every sail left hanging from a yard had been vandalized. Huge red circles with a dark spiral marked inside covered them all. He knew that mark. Knew it from long forgotten memories and echoes of time long past.
The sound of a blade slicing through the air caught Shanks’ attention, and just as it passed within a foot of him there was a yellow flash catching it out of the air and Naruto landed lightly on the deck and turned, grinning at his uncle.
“Uzumaki was here?” Shanks asked, bemused.
Naruto grinned. “Uzumaki were here.” Naruto agreed.
What’s a Sage?
Shanks nodded in satisfaction as he overlooked the various tasks being carried out on the Red Force. They had a good wind in their sails and the course was currently set by an Eternal Pose. Until they received contact from Whitebeard, they would continue on this path. He glanced back at Naruto, who had been shadowing him ever since their battle with the Marine fleet. Now was as a good a time as any, he supposed, to find out just what it was Naruto had done to hide from his Observation Haki.
“Come on, kid, let’s leave them to it and have a chat.” Shanks said as he headed toward the large red and white umbrella that shaded a comfortable lounging area on the main deck.
Shanks let out a sigh of content as he settled into his favorite chair and smirked at his nephew who sat down and made himself comfortable on the deck in front of him.
“What did you want to talk about?” Naruto asked, curious and a little wary.
Shanks narrowed his eyes at the blonde teen as he studied him. “What have you learned about haki in this world?”
“Haki? Is that something you eat?” Naruto asked puzzled.
Shanks chuckled, once again reminded of the similarities between Luffy and his nephew. “No, it’s not something you can eat. Haki is… how to put it: the manifestation of one’s will on one’s self and surroundings. Yeah, that sounds about right.”
Naruto blinked. “Huh?”
Shanks scratched his head and frowned. He’d never been very good at this type of thing. “Well, you’ve heard of Devil Fruits, right?”
The blonde nodded.
“Well the Logia class of Devil Fruit, as well as some of the Paramecia ones, makes their users virtually immune to various types of damage. Take Luffy for example, his Paramecia Devil Fruit makes him a rubber man. Blunt damage literally does nothing to him, but he can still be cut. Similarly, an old acquaintance of mine from when I was on Roger’s crew has a Fruit that makes him immune to any sort of cutting damage. The Logia ones, however, literally become their element. Punches, cutting strikes, and even bullets will pass right through their bodies without causing damage; save for maybe distracting them for the time it takes them to reform. Makes fighting them a bit tricky if you don’t know those facts, right?”
Naruto nodded, intrigued.
“Haki generally comes in two different common forms. Armament Haki is like a shield made by the strength of your will and spirit that surrounds your body either in part or whole. This shield of haki will then reinforce your body making it much, much harder to inflict damage on. Likewise, this shield, when used offensively, will allow a fighter to bypass the natural defenses of Devil Fruit users. Using haki is the only reliable way of defeating a Logia Devil Fruit user.” Shanks explained.
Naruto blinked and frowned as he considered what he had been told. “I can do something kind of like that already with chakra. A lot of shinobi do, actually. Using chakra to reinforce and enhance our own bodies and weapons.”
Shanks raised an eyebrow, seemed there were more parallels between this chakra and haki than he had first suspected. “Interesting, we’ll have to test your chakra enhancements against Armament Haki some time.”
Naruto grinned, “Sounds fun.”
Shanks chuckled at his enthusiasm. “The second common form is Observation Haki and is much less obvious. I think a demonstration might be best. Let’s see… OI BENN!” Shanks called out.
Benn approached the railing of the quarterdeck and looked down at the pair. “Yes, Captain?”
“Help me give Naruto a demonstration of haki.”
Benn exhaled a long breath of smoke. “Standard training exercise?”
“Ah, that will do nicely.” Shanks replied.
The silver-haired man descended to join them on the main deck while pulling a long piece of dark fabric out from his jacket and proceeding to tie it around his own eyes. He then stopped in front of Shanks with his back to the red-haired man. Shanks grinned and winked at Naruto as he stood and pulled out a long staff that had been tucked away behind his chair. “Now watch.” Shanks instructed. With that said he began to swing quickly and unpredictably at his first mate’s head.
Naruto watched with widening eyes as Benn shifted his head in various directions. The movements were precise and calculated, there was no wasted energy as the older man moved just enough to dodge each strike and then returned to a full upright position. This continued for several minutes.
“How…” Naruto asked with wide eyes. If he hadn’t known better, he would have thought Benn was using Sage Mode. Naruto recognized those type of movements from what he could do while in Sage Mode, himself.
“Observation Haki,” Shanks replied. “It allows you to read your opponent’s attacks before they happen, and if you have the training, gives you time to react accordingly.” There was a sudden loud THWAK, as the pole connected with the side of the first mate’s head and Benn cursed loudly.
Shanks grinned. “Now, if Benn hadn’t used Armament Haki to protect himself, I probably would have killed him.”
“But he was sensing all your attacks…” Naruto said a bit confused.
“He was, but I also have Observation Haki, and was able to read his dodge and respond accordingly. The stronger your haki, the more you can overpower other haki users as well. Intimidation can play a factor too.” By the time Shanks had finished speaking, Benn had removed his blindfold and revealed the darkened skin along the side of head where the pole had connected. “And that is what Armament Haki looks like. Thanks, Benn.”
The silver-haired man rose gracefully to his feet with a grumble and a swipe at Shanks’ head with his ever-present rifle. Shanks merely laughed as he dodged the attack. “There are some that refer to Observation Haki as Mantra, and it is often described as hearing the voices of those around you.” Benn added, before moving to return up to the quarter deck.
Naruto’s eyes went wider at that. “Sage Mode is kind of like that! Except it’s not a voice… but… well, almost a color and feeling. I can sense the chakra of everything around me for miles if I focus while using Sage Mode.”
Shanks made an interested hum as he considered his nephew’s words. “Sage Mode, that is what you used with that Rasen…shuriken attack, is that right?”
Naruto nodded as he grinned.
“So what is Sage Mode, exactly?” Shanks asked as he settled into his chair once more.
Naruto almost bounced in his excitement. “Sage Mode is what it’s called when someone is using nature chakra. The toads taught me how, which makes me the current Toad Sage of Mount Myouboku.”
Shanks blinked. “Nature chakra?”
Naruto nodded. “Yeah! It is chakra from all of nature around us and is really potent. If you don’t know how to channel and balance it properly it can turn you into a stone toad! Fukasaku-jiji kept hitting me with this stick while I was training to learn how to balance it to keep me from turning into a stone statue, but it still turns my eyes all funny.”
Shanks eyes widened in realization. “You mean the toad eyes and orange eye-shadow?”
Naruto nodded. “I’m pretty good at it, though. Fukasaku-jiji said it was a near-perfect transformation. Ero-Sennin would get a huge nose and warts when he used it, along with the eyes and markings.”
Shanks scratched his head at the new names being thrown at him. “And who is Fukasaku-jiji and … Ero-Sennin?”
Naruto smiled softly. “Ero-Sennin was my godfather, Jiraiya, the Toad Sage before me, and my sensei. Fukasaku-jiji and Shima-baa-chan are the eldest toads beside the Great Toad Sage and are the ones who taught me how to use Sage Mode.”
“Huh.” Shanks said, somewhat surprised. Apparently, the Toad Clan was more established than he could have guessed from his previous meetings with Gamatsukai. He hadn’t missed the fact that his nephew had referred to his godfather in past tense, however. Did the kid have anyone he could claim as family before coming to find Shanks himself? He let the thought go for now. “Interesting; your Sage Mode has some added effects here, I believe. When you used it earlier you vanished completely to my Observation Haki. I was standing right next to you, but if I had been blind I never would have detected you.”
Naruto blinked, then after several long moments of thought he whooped and grinned. “All right! Super stealth mode!”
Up on the quarterdeck Yasopp leaned against the rail beside Benn and cast a wary gaze toward the umbrella area of the main deck. “Hearing them like that… makes me a bit nervous.”
Benn chuckled. “As long as the kid doesn’t teach Shanks this ‘super stealth mode’ of his.”
Yasopp considered the possibility and a chill ran up his spine. “Yeah… we don’t really need those prank wars to start up again…”
Before any further comment could be made, there was a flash of blue fire and a bird’s call filled the air. Benn and Yasopp turned to face the large blue flaming bird that now perched on the ship’s railing. The bird stretched one talon-tipped foot forward and dropped a small package on the deck, its intelligent gaze meeting that of Benn’s before it gave a nod and then shot skyward again.
“Damn cocky blue chicken.” Benn muttered before going to pick up the package and then called down to his captain. “Captain! Special Bluebird delivery!”
The Fox and the Bluebird
Shanks settled his sword more comfortably on his hip before grasping the carry rope attached to a very large bottle of sake. “Ready, Naruto?”
The blonde teen turned away from his conversation with Benn and nodded with a grin.
Shanks looked from nephew to first mate and back again. “Is there something I should be worried about?”
Benn quirked an eyebrow but remained silent.
Shanks suppressed the chill he felt whenever he knew Benn was planning something. He would have to be careful around his first mate for a few days. “Right… Okay, then. Naruto, I’m about to do something cool, so pay attention. “
Naruto nodded and followed his uncle as they made their way to the gangplank that now connected the Red Force with the much larger Moby Dick.
“Oh, and don’t faint.”
“What do you mean—“
“We’re receiving Red-Haired!” an unfamiliar voice called out cutting Naruto’s question off.
At that moment Naruto sensed it; an incredibly potent aura that spoke of strength, power, and more. Wow… he thought as he followed his uncle and began to see the affect it had on others around him. His uncle’s comment about not fainting suddenly made sense. Naruto grinned as he grew accustomed to the feeling, despite its adverse effect on those around them. He really needed to get his uncle somewhere where they could have a good spar, but that would come later. He took note of the various pirates watching them as they crossed the deck of the other Yonko’s ship and finally came to a stop across from a huge man with a large white mustache.
“Sorry about the intimidation, this is an enemy ship after all.” Shanks offered in an amused tone. The large man chuckled.
“Seeing your face again, makes the old injury from Him ache.” The man known as Whitebeard responded his voice deep and rumbling.
“Good thing I’ve brought some healing water, then.” Shanks responded with a grin as he offered the large bottle he had been carrying.
“Oi! Red-Hair! Look at the mess you’ve caused!” A voice called out from the nearby group of pirates. Unlike many of the others, none of this group had collapsed.
Shanks faced the blonde-haired man and smiled, “Oh, Marco is it? How about you come join my crew?”
“SHUT UP!” The blonde man snarled back.
Naruto snickered as his uncle chuckled.
“So, this is the kid?” Whitebeard asked, his gaze settling on the blonde-haired teen standing a step behind Shanks and to his left.
“Are you some kind of giant!?” Naruto asked excitedly, this guy was even bigger than A and Bee.
Silence fell across the deck as Shanks smirked.
Whitebeard laughed. “I like you, kid. How would you like to become one of my sons?”
“WHAT!?!” Shanks shrieked, his jaw dropping and several more of the surrounding whitebeard pirates fell unconscious. Shanks looked from his still grinning nephew to the older Yonko and frowned. “Whitebeard…” Shanks nearly growled.
Naruto rested a hand on Shanks shoulder, a small smirk on his lips. “Sorry, Jiji, I think Shanks-oji might have a heart attack, and then Benn would complain endlessly about me not taking care of my uncle and how much work it was going to cost him.”
Whitebeard grinned. Shanks grumbled, but it was apparent that Naruto’s answer had relaxed the redhead a bit.
“Captain, should we?” One of the crewmembers in the group that stood behind the man identified as Marco spoke up.
“Ah, seems there will not be a fight today. Leave us alone to talk. And Marco, take the kid with you.” Whitebeard responded.
“Hey! My name is Uzumaki Naruto! Not ‘kid’.” Naruto defended himself, glaring at the much older Yonko. Blue eyes met the steady gaze of the captain of the Whitebeard Pirates, without flinching as the deck went silent once more. Several long moments passed before both older Pirate and blonde teen grinned. Naruto patted his uncle’s shoulder once more and gave his uncle a nod to indicate he would be fine. Shanks nodded in understanding and watched his nephew move off to join the group of Whitebeard pirates.
“Cheeky Brat you found there, Red-Hair.” Whitebeard said, amused.
Shanks continued to watch his nephew move away with the commanders, a soft smile on his face. “I didn’t find him. He found me.” He replied and then turned his attention back to his fellow Yonko. Both Captains’ eyes met in a steady gaze as the impact of what finding family meant passed understood between them.
Naruto followed the blonde pirate and the group of others as they all began to move toward the forecastle; leaving the main deck of the large Moby Dick to the two meeting captains.
“So is it really true that you flew to the Red Force as a big blue chicken to give Benn the log pose we used to find you guys?” Naruto asked as the group began to settle down on the foredeck. The entire group froze for several moments. The older pirate, who Naruto had spoken to, stood rigid with his back to him as several snickers were suddenly heard from the surrounding group. The man with strange spikey blonde hair only growing on the crown of his head turned and glared.
“I’m a Phoenix-Zoan, yoi. Not a chicken.” The man stated slowly, clearly annunciating each word. “Che, Brat.”
Naruto grinned. “Is it true that you are made of fire?”
Marco twitched and glared at the blonde teen again. “Red-Hair put you up to this?”
“Put me up to what?” Naruto asked looking puzzled. Behind them, there were was full laughter breaking out.
Marco turned to his crewmates and growled at them to shut up.
“So, are you?” Naruto then asked again.
Marco sighed. “Yes, yoi.”
“Can you show me?”
Marco stared at the blonde. “You act like you’ve never seen someone with a Devil’s Fruit before?”
“I haven’t.” Naruto replied. “Is it true that you can’t swim, you just sink?”
“I suppose you’d like a demonstration of that too, yoi?” Marco replied.
“Would you!?” Naruto asked excited. Marco groaned and his crewmates began to snicker again.
“Careful, kid, or he might toss you in for a swim.” One of the others said, amused.
Naruto blinked and then frowned. “Why would he do that?”
“Good grief, he really is related to Red-Hair…” someone said in shock from the back.
Marco glared at his crewmates but then decided he’d better answer the kid’s questions before the young blonde came up with some other idea. “No, I will not go for a swim just so you can be entertained.” And before the kid could say another word, there was a whoosh of blue flame as the majestic form of the phoenix took over the space on the railing where the Whitebeard Pirates First Division Commander had stood moments before.
Naruto’s eyes lit up in glee and he hopped forward reaching out to touch.
The phoenix’s eyes opened wide and he pushed back with spread wings to hover just as the boy’s hand came near touching him.
The Whitebeard Commanders then stared in shock as the boy kept going over the rail and down toward the ocean.
“Shit.” One of them cursed stirring them all into motion as they rushed forward to look down.
“What the hell!” exclaimed another.
“Oi!” Naruto shouted from below. “That wasn’t nice!” He admonished as he proceeded to jog across the water from where he had landed and then up the side of the Moby Dick.
“How?!” “What in the world…” “Did he eat a Devil Fruit?!”
Naruto only chuckled as he finished jogging up the final bit and then leapt upwards. There was an indignant squawk as he passed near the still hovering Marco and then landed nimbly on an empty section of nearby railing.
Naruto stared at the feather that still flickered as he ran it between his fingers, his eyes wide. “Wow…” he whispered as he studied the plumage carefully.
There was a flurry of wings and then the feather in his fingers vanished as the blonde commander stood before him once more. “That wasn’t very nice, Brat.” Marco said coldly.
Naruto looked up and chuckled nervously. “Ah… um…”
At that moment there was a reverberation of the clash of steel and the clouds above rolled.
“Gotta go!” Naruto said hastily and vanished in a yellow flash.
“Shit, if he gets killed…” one of the commanders said stepping forward.
“Relax,” Marco said, eyes narrowing in thought. “Red-hair isn’t about to start a war. And the kid is smarter than he lets on.” Then he chuckled, “Too bad Shanks would do more than just go to war if Oyaji tried to kidnap the kid.”
There were several other amused grins and chuckles at that.
Naruto reappeared in a golden flash behind his uncle, his gaze focused on the enormous man who was as known Whitebeard. The man’s gaze shifted slightly from the Red-Haired Pirate’s Captain and their crossed blades to the teen and then he seemed to take a deep sigh, a smile tugging at the edge of his lips.
“I think you’ve overstayed your welcome, Brat.” Whitebeard said focusing on the Red-Haired Captain. He withdrew his pole arm slowly and stood up straight. “Worry about your own.” He added as his gaze shifted fully to the blue-eyed teen.
Naruto gave a feral grin. “Don’t’ say that, you’ll make him turn gray if he worries so much.”
Whitebeard chuckled. “You are welcome aboard the Moby Dick, Kid; seek us out if you ever get tired of this Brat.”
Shanks frowned as he glanced between his nephew and the old pirate. Just what was his nephew up to?
Naruto smiled, “Thanks, Jiji. Tell Marco I said goodbye!”
Whitebeard chuckled .
“Come on, kid, let’s head back before Benn worries himself bald.” Shanks said, deciding he could question his nephew on his antics later on.
It wasn’t until the Red Force had cleared cannon fire range that Shanks realized something back at Whitebeard’s ship was tickling the edge of his senses. He turned to his nephew, “Naruto, did you leave a clone…”
There was a load birdlike screech that echoed across the ocean from the Moby Dick.
Naruto grinned widely as he turned to Benn. “Mission Accomplished.”
Benn grinned around his cigarette. “Good job, kid.”
Shanks looked between the two several times and then edged over to stand by Yasopp and whined. “Yasopp, Benn is corrupting my nephew—“
Naruto turned to his uncle, “You say that like you haven’t already tried!”
Shanks blinked at that then chuckled and shrugged. “So what was this mission?”
Naruto smirked, his blue eyes twinkling. “Oh, Marco’s hair just matches the color of his flames now.”
Shanks’ laughter started out small and soon filled the ship and drifted back toward the Moby Dick where a fuming commander glared at the departing ship, his crewmates snickering behind him.
It was sometime later that Yasopp managed to pull Naruto aside. “Well?” Yasopp asked anxiously.
Naruto grinned widely, “They do stay on fire.”
Yasopp’s mouth spread into a wide grin of his own and he almost bounced in excitement. “And?”
Naruto patted the older man on the shoulder, “It vanished as soon as he changed back from the phoenix form.”
Yasopp’s grin vanished and his shoulders drooped. “Bummer, I really wanted to use some for arrow fletching.”
Naruto watched his uncle stare out at the ocean as the Red Force sailed onward. It had been several hours since they had sailed away from the Moby Dick and twilight had begun to turn the sky dusky rose and violet. Of those hours, Shanks had spent most of them by himself, staring out at the waves as they passed beside the ship, or further out at the endless horizon. Naruto finally sighed and approached his uncle, tired of the considering glances he kept seeing the other crewmen give his uncle and then himself.
“You are sad about something.” Naruto said quietly as he leaned against the railing beside his uncle.
Nothing was said and Naruto began to worry that maybe his uncle wouldn’t talk to him. Then, the older man spoke. “A bit; worried perhaps is more accurate. And I find myself remembering the past.”
Naruto fidgeted, but then decided he might as well ask the question he had wanted to ask ever since he had eavesdropped on his uncle’s conversation with Whitebeard. “Shanks-oji, who is Ace?”
The redhead let out a sigh, he had been expecting this question, but then a smirk tugged at his lips. “I first heard about Portagas D. Ace when he was a rising supernova in the Paradise half of the Grand Line. At first, he was known as the Ace of Spades, Captain of the Spade Pirates. Wasn’t too much later that he got a new alias, Fire Fist Ace. He had eaten the Mera Mera no mi, Logia class, the kid was literally fire. It wasn’t either of his aliases that drew my attention to him, however, but his name. Portagas. I had known it from my time sailing with Roger, and there was something about the look of the boy, but I couldn’t be sure, so I kept an eye on his progress.” Shanks fell silent for a bit, then, as if considering his next words carefully. Naruto waited, sensing that if he interrupted now he would miss something important.
“It wasn’t too long before he entered the New World, and even turned down the position of Shichibukai, I heard. Then, one night in the middle of a snow storm on a winter island, he and his crew arrived in our camp.”
Naruto’s eyes opened wide. He had heard many stories from other crewmembers about rookie pirates who would try to challenge the Yonko foolishly.
“I knew who he really was the instant I saw him in person, but I said nothing about it and merely asked if he wanted to challenge me.” At this Shanks chuckled, “The cocky kid, he laughed and then bowed and properly introduced himself. ‘My name is Portagas D. Ace’, he told me, and then said ‘I just wanted to meet the man that saved my little brother in person and thank you properly.’”
“Little brother?” Naruto queried unable to keep the question silent. Shanks smirked.
“Not by blood, they had not met yet when I had saved the kid.” Shanks explained.
Naruto considered for a moment then his eyes widened. “Luffy? The kid you left your old hat with?”
Shanks grinned, “That’s right. We had a good party that night. Shared all sorts of booze and stories about his brother and the trouble he would get into.”
Naruto smiled, but then frowned after a moment, “There’s more to this isn’t there?”
Shanks nodded. “Ace told me that night that he wanted to go after Whitebeard’s head. I knew then it was because he was the son of Roger, my old Captain, but unless Ace himself mentioned his father, I would not. The identity of his father had made him a wanted man before he was even born, and I would not bring that manhunt down on him if he did not choose it. He deserved the right to live free of his father’s shadow. If I had thought he would join my crew, I would have offered, but I could see the fire burning in him for his own dream.”
Naruto smiled sadly at that.
“It was several months later that I heard Whitebeard had taken him underwing; the nerve of that old man, claiming his rival’s son as his own. I met Ace once more after that, and asked him if he enjoyed being with Whitebeard. The kid had smiled, and all but glowed as he talked about Whitebeard and his crewmates. I knew then, that Ace had found something with Whitebeard he hadn’t even known he was looking for.”
Naruto sniffled and Shanks smirked at him and ruffled his hair. “Ah, getting all sappy on me now, are we?”
“Shut up.” Naruto grumbled but didn’t move away. “You keep mentioning your old captain, and it sounds like he was someone important, but no one has told me who he really was.”
Shanks blinked, a bit surprised, and then chuckled. “Gol D. Roger, known by most of the world as simply Gold Roger, the Pirate King.”
Naruto’s eyes opened wide, “Your old captain was the King of Pirates? How can Pirates have a King?”
Shanks laughed. “Good question! It wasn’t a title he chose for himself. Captain Roger loved freedom more than anything. He claimed it for himself, his crew and conquered all the Grand Line. This of course put him at odds with the Marines, and pretty much every other Pirate crew out there. It was Roger that helped me find my own dreams. You would have liked him, and I think the Captain would have liked you too.” Shanks said, his smile softening in memory. “I’ll have to introduce you to others who were part of the Roger pirates when we run into them. Maybe even send you to visit Rayleigh, the Roger Pirates’ First Mate, sometime.”
Naruto couldn’t keep the grin from his face. “What happened to him? How did you end up starting your own crew?”
Shanks smile faded and sadness filled his gaze as he turned to the ocean once more. “It was part of what drove Roger so hard there at the end to sail all the Grand Line. The Captain… he had a terminal illness and our doctor could do nothing but treat the symptoms, so Roger sought his dream and sailed to the very end of the Grand Line. He disbanded the crew soon after, and as his illness got worse, he chose to turn himself into the Marines. Decided he’d rather go out in style then die sick in a bed.” Shanks smirked. “I think he had it all planned out, though. The Marines made a grand spectacle of his execution: he was the Pirate King after all, and it was his last words that changed the world. Someone from the crowd called out to Roger, asking what he did with all his treasure. The Captain, with his big grin, told them he left it all at the end of the Grand Line for the world to find. With those final words, he was executed, the smile still on his face.”
Naruto blinked his eyes wide as he imagined the scene then snickered. “He really pulled one over on the Marines didn’t he?”
Shanks grinned back. “The Pirate King’s legacy was to launch the world into a whole New Age of Piracy, and inspire a whole new generation of Pirates.”
“I bet he liked pranks.” Naruto said.
Shanks blinked, and then laughed. “Oh yeah, he would have definitely liked you.”
“Anyways, life went on, and I formed the Red-Haired Pirates. It wasn’t until recently that I began to feel uneasy about something big coming. Mihawk sent word that he had heard of a man calling himself Blackbeard causing havoc in Paradise. More so, that this man was rumored to actually be a former Whitebeard pirate by the name of Marshall D. Teach. Now, most pirate crews will lose members from time to time, as betrayal is part of the whole package as far as most are concerned, but for this to have happened with a Whitebeard Pirate is unheard of. Teach was no rookie on that crew either, he had been with Whitebeard since before Roger died. The entire setup just stinks of Teach being up to something big. The rumors I’d heard of Ace also roaming Paradise alone then made sense: he was hunting Blackbeard.”
Naruto frowned, “What’s wrong with that?”
Shanks sighed and turned toward Naruto. “Teach, is the one responsible for this scar.” He said, pointing toward the marks that crossed his left eye. “I have known there was something odd about Teach for a long time, but he kept quiet under Whitebeard’s flag. As strong as Ace has become, Teach has been hiding his own strength for a very long time. I do not want to see something happen to Ace over a quest of revenge. That is why we met with Whitebeard. Something big is coming on these seas. I’m not sure what it is… but ever since I learned of Teach’s betrayal and Ace traveling separate from Whitebeard; I’ve sensed something building. You’ve mentioned a war back home; I don’t want to needlessly drag you into another one here.”
Naruto flinched at the word revenge and looked down, studying his hands. “One of my first teammates; a kid I had known at the academy… He was… my first true friend… my brother…” Naruto whispered the last, his voice trailing off as Shanks now studied him. “His family was massacred when we were only seven. By the time we had graduated from the academy and become teammates, he had already set himself down the path of vengeance. He threw everything else away for it: our village, our friends, our team… he nearly killed me for it. Revenge is a dark and terrible thing…”
Shanks smiled sadly and reached his arm out to pull his nephew in for a hug. “Revenge is unfortunately a word that all who fly the jolly roger of a pirate are familiar with. There is always someone who was wronged by a pirate and so blames all others for it. Pirates almost live and breathe vengeance and revenge on a daily basis. I think it is what twists so many men into little more than monsters.”
Naruto stiffened at his side.
Shanks squeezed the teen’s shoulder in reassurance. “I swore a long time ago to never lose myself in a quest for revenge. For myself, I will never seek vengeance for petty insult, but nor will I ever let nakama be hurt without making those guilty answer for it.”
Naruto looked up not sure if he liked his uncle’s statement or not.
Shanks smiled sadly before speaking once more. “I will not abandon my nakama for the sake of revenge.”
Naruto felt relief wash through him and he returned his uncle’s smile with one of his own. “Never abandon nakama.”
Shanks stared at the now-empty space where his nephew had disappeared in a golden flash. Something had not been right. He glanced to his left, where Benn stood by the hatch of the store room. “You saw it?”
“There was something he didn’t want to face at home, something that hurt him deeply.” Shanks stated seriously as he turned his gaze back to the empty space. “Just what was he hiding all this time?” He wondered. His nephew had spent a month with them since his first true arrival, and not once had Shanks picked up any indication that there had been something seriously wrong back in the boy’s own world. He sighed. No choice now but to wait; Naruto had said he shouldn’t be gone for more than a week.
“Come on, Benn. Let’s find an island with a good bar on it. I need a good drink.”
The silvery haired man only shifted his weight and then followed his captain, taking a moment to close the hatch behind him.
Naruto let out a long breath as he opened his eyes and the familiar view of his apartment in Konoha came into focus. He was back, and there was no more running. His mind drifted briefly to his last return to the village. He had just completed a long diplomatic mission to all the other hidden villages and was looking forward to completing his report to Tsunade-Baa-chan and then going to see his uncle. His report with Tsunade had not gone as he had expected, though.
“Baa-chan, I’m back!” Naruto called out as he entered the Hokage’s office.
“GAKI!” Tsunade had yelled back, but then sighed and simply motioned for him to sit down. “I’ve gotten messages back from all the villages you visited. You did very well, Naruto. Jiraiya would be proud of you, as would your parents.”
Naruto smiled sheepishly but was pleased with the praise. “I wasn’t sure it would work, but it was better than letting them start fights over which villages I was associated with.” He answered.
Tsunade smiled, “I doubt they would have been so quick to try and enlist you if they knew how much paperwork you cause.”
Naruto only chuckled.
Then Tsunade sighed, her mood turning somber. “Naruto…” She began her voice hesitant. “I’m going to resign in just over a month’s time.”
Naruto’s eyes opened wide. “But…”
Tsunade silenced him with a look. “The war took a lot out of me and I can’t keep up with all I need to do. I’m needed in the Hospital more than as the Hokage and I do not have the strength left for both. Naruto… I won’t be naming you my successor… in fact,” and at this there were tears in her eyes. “No one will ever be able to name you as Hokage.”
Naruto froze, his eyes wide in shock, his body going rigid.
“You pulled off miracles in the war, and even more with this mission of yours.” She continued; pain at having to tell him this apparent in her voice and posture. “Unfortunately, the deals you made to solidify the alliance: becoming an honorary member of ‘every’ Hidden Village, there is no possible way for you to ever be the leader of just one. Doing so would unravel the alliance faster than you could imagine.”
“I need to go.” Naruto said as he stood and then used his father’s signature Hiraishin jutsu for the first time in front of Tsunade as he vanished from her sight.
Naruto had arrived back in his apartment and immediately set to work on sending a clone through to the world where his uncle lived. He had finished all his tests while traveling and finalized the seal design to allow him to make the jump himself. Modifications had to be made to the anchor seals on both sides before he could make the jump. He summoned several clones who immediately set to work. One began to modify the anchor seal here; the other began the process to create a sealed Bunshin. He sat down and wrote a message. A little over a month, that was all the time he would take. He would have to come back when she resigned and the next Hokage took over, even if it killed him inside to see it happen. He left the message lying on his kitchen table along with the sealed Kage Bunshin, they could reach him that way if something happened, but for now, he needed an escape.
Naruto looked at his kitchen table, the letter was gone, but the sealed Bunshin scroll remained. He wondered if Tsunade had requested it be left here.
He sensed the familiar chakra just as the voice of his sensei reached his ears. “I’m glad you came back. I wasn’t sure you would.” Kakashi said softly, as he perched in the now open window. “I’m sorry, Naruto.”
Naruto smiled sadly, “It’s you?” He asked, but not really needing the confirmation.
Kakashi shrugged. “Paperwork is going to be a drag.”
Naruto couldn’t help but chuckle at that.
“Your father would be so proud of you, you know that? Using his jutsu to cross worlds… you really are ‘the number one most surprising shinobi of Konoha’.” Kakashi said softly, warmth in his tone.
Naruto smiled at his sensei, “Thanks.”
Kakashi smiled in return, “Oh, and a word of warning, Sakura is rather upset with you leaving like you did.”
Naruto winced and groaned.
“How about some Ichiraku’s?” Kakashi suggested.
Naruto’s eyes lit up immediately, then he paused as memories of another teacher filled his mind. The war had taken so much from everyone…from him. He took a deep breath, steadying himself, and then smiled at the silver-haired man. “Your treat… Hokage-sama?”
Kakashi groaned and Naruto snickered, but then he nodded and they were off.
When Kakashi had warned him that Sakura was upset, he had expected getting punched in the face. He had expected to maybe even need to use Kurama’s chakra to heal the damage. He had not expected this.
“Naruto, you idiot.” Sakura choked out around tears as she buried her face in his jacket, her arms wrapped almost painfully tight around his chest. “Tsunade said you used your father’s jutsu and just vanished. Did you have any idea how much I would worry?! How much everyone would worry?!” She scolded and hugged him tighter. Naruto winced.
“Too tight—Sakura.” He wheezed out. Sakura just held him tighter for several long moments before loosening her grip and then taking a step back and wiping away stray tears.
Naruto took several careful breaths as he took note of the quickly fading pain in his side. He was pretty sure she had bruised, if not broken, a rib.
Sakura sniffed and then glared at him. “You could have at least sent a message back telling us you had made it there safely! You take such risks without thinking of the consequences!” She admonished, anger edging her tone, her fists now clenching.
“We…” and then she turned away unable to voice the rest of her thoughts.
“What she means to say, is we really didn’t know if you would even want to come back.” Shikamaru said as he settled down on an open stool next to the pair.
Naruto frowned and then sighed, hanging his head. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to worry everyone.”
The others seemed to relax a bit and soon it was as if he had never left as stories were traded and ramen eaten.
“Boss…” a small strained voice reached Naruto’s ears.
The blonde teen turned away from the view of the village spread out below. He studied the brown-haired genin for a moment and then smiled softly. “Hey, Konohamaru.”
The genin hesitated only a moment more before he launched forward and wrapped his arms tightly around the elder teen.
“Hey now! Take it easy, you’ll knock us both over the edge.” Naruto chastised but wrapped an arm around the smaller boy. The younger shinobi held on, keeping his face buried in the older one’s jacket. Muffled words drifted up, and Naruto smiled, amused. “You know I can’t understand what you’re saying, like that.”
Watery brown eyes peered up at him as Konohamaru loosened his hold and pulled back a little bit. “It’s not fair!”
Naruto sighed and pulled the younger teen over so he sat next to him, their feet dangling down over the spikes of stone that represented the Fourth Hokage’s hair. “What do you see Konohamaru?” he asked softly.
The genin sniffled. “The village.”
Naruto smirked. “And?”
Konohamaru sighed. “The people of the village.”
Naruto nodded. “Sarutobi-jiji took me up here, once. Told me he could see all his precious people from here. That all Hokage could.” He sat silent, then, for several moments. “I can’t see all my precious people from here.”
Konohamaru frowned. “But Naruto-niisan, your dream! Our dream! You said I had to surpass you!”
Naruto winced. “You’re right, and I did say that… but, I can’t see them all. They are in Konoha, and Mist. They are in Suna, Lightning and even Rock. If I can’t look over all my precious people, how can I be Hokage?”
“It’s still not fair.” Konohamaru sniffled.
Naruto smiled sadly. “We’re shinobi; fair doesn’t apply to us.”
They sat silently together for a long time, and the sun began to set before Naruto spoke again. “You’ll do it for both of us.”
Konohamaru looked up at Naruto with wide eyes. “Naruto-niisan…”
“What, you can’t do it?” Naruto asked, smirking.
Konohamaru growled and punched the blonde in the shoulder. “Of course I can!” he shouted.
Naruto laughed. “Good.”
Konohamaru settled down again, his face turning serious. “You are going away again.”
Naruto flinched. It had been a statement, not a question. “I found my mother’s brother… my uncle.” Naruto said softly.
Konohamaru’s eyes went wide, but then he sniffled. “But… aren’t we family?”
Naruto turned to the boy, surprised, and then sniffled himself. “Of course!” He said quickly, “But…” He then turned to look out over the village again. “You’ll look after them for me, right?”
Konohamaru snorted, like any of Naruto’s friends and adoptive family would let him, but he would try. After all, they were all part of the village and therefore his precious people too. “As if a future Hokage could do anything else!” he finally declared.
Konohamaru’s expression turned worried once more. “You’re coming back… right?”
Naruto blinked, surprised. “Idiot! Of course I’m coming back!” but then he turned melancholy again. “I… I just need some time: it hurts to remember so much. And Benn needs all the help he can get looking after Shanks-oji.”
Konohamaru studied the older teen’s face for several long moments, but finally seemed satisfied as he then proceeded to launch into stories of his latest missions with Moegi and Udon.
Naruto couldn’t stop the small smile that raised the corners of his mouth as he approached his sensei and stood beside him. The man would be late to his own funeral, but they could spend a few moments more, at least. Naruto stepped forward and crouched down beside the memorial stone and ran his finger along the edge of all the newest names; so many had been lost in the war.
Hyuuga Neji, Maito Gai… Lee had been devastated for days before throwing his grief into training. He had seen Kakashi running laps on his hands more than once since the war as well.
Nara Shikaku, Yamanaka Inochi… Their son and daughter were now the heads of their clans.
Akimichi Choji… Shikamaru and Ino still seemed out of balance without the third member of their group.
Akamaru… Kiba was almost always quiet and reserved these days.
Umino Iruka… Tears threatened to fall as his vision began to blur.
Hyuga Hinata… They had never really had a chance… he had never been able to tell her what she had done for him.
Naruto swallowed the lump in his throat, took a deep breath, and slowly let it out. He then rose to his feet and backed up to stand beside Kakashi.
“Being late to your inauguration… what kind of Hokage will they think they’ve chosen?” Naruto asked, quiet amusement in his tone.
Kakashi only continued to stare at the stone.
“Come on, Sensei, its already two hours. They sent me to find you after 30 minutes; I took my time finding you.”
Kakashi blinked and then turned to face his student. “Only for you, Naruto.” He finally answered after several moments, and then smiled mischievously. “Shall we make an entrance?”
Naruto smirked. “If you are going to arrive late, might as well arrive in style.” Naruto agreed. With that said, Naruto rested a hand on Kakashi’s arm and they both vanished in a yellow flash of light.
“If there is going to be some war, why are you getting involved?” Sakura asked, her displeasure about the situation clear in her tone.
“He’s not a teammate, but… Shanks-oji is nakama.” Naruto paused in his packing, his gaze distance as he tried to explain. “If… if something happened to him and I wasn’t there…”
Sakura almost flinched at his words; she knew what the war had done to Naruto. She knew, and yet, she understood that despite all that, he would not… no, could not withhold his help from someone he had claimed as family. “You will be careful, right?” Sakura asked as she watched Naruto seal crates of instant ramen into scrolls.
“Of course.” Naruto responded without even turning.
Sakura fidgeted. “You’ll come back if you get injured so I can treat you?”
Naruto paused and raised an eyebrow at that. “Sakura…”
She huffed. “I know you don’t need it most of the time, but still.”
Naruto smiled and walked over to her to pull his pink-haired teammate into a hug. “I’ll come back and let you fuss over me if I get injured. I promise.”
“You’ll bring your uncle to visit?” Sakura then asked; she wanted to meet this supposed family member. Naruto was her family; she couldn’t just let him be taken in by anyone.
“When I can,” Naruto agreed. “He is the Captain of his ship after all, and looks after a bunch of islands.”
Sakura sat back, and Naruto handed her a familiar tri-pronged kunai. She looked at it in surprise. “I’ve given one to Kakashi-sensei and Tsunade-Baa-chan as well. The seal has been modified. If you swipe blood on the seal on the handle and add chakra, I’ll sense it even when I’m there.”
Sakura’s eyes widened as she ran her fingers over the handle and the seal work that covered it. “Naruto… this is…”
Naruto grinned, then paused. “Take care of Tsunade-Baa-chan.”
Sakura scoffed. “Of course I will.” She sighed. “I worry about her; she hides it well, but…”
Naruto rested his hand on the kunai she held. “If you need me, just call.”
Sakura nodded. “Anything you want me to tell the others?” She asked as she watched him tuck the rest of his supply scrolls into his pack.
Naruto paused for a moment, “I… I don’t know.”
Sakura nodded. “We’ll miss you, all of us.”
Naruto smiled, “I’ll miss you too, Sakura.”
He stood up, settled the pack, and moved to stand on the intricate seal that filled a good portion of his living room floor. With a cheeky grin he vanished in a bright gold flash.
Sakura blinked away tears and looked around the empty apartment before heading out the front door and locking it behind her.
He had made sure he had a smile on his face as he left Sakura behind, but he could not find the energy or reason to keep it when he could no longer see his pink-haired teammate. Shifting shadows greeted him as the softly glowing lantern swung gently from side to side with the motion of the ship. Naruto slowly sunk to the floor and slouched over, his eyes falling to rest on the floor before him.
“My name is Uzumaki Naruto and I’m going to be Hokage!” He flinched as the memory flared and flickered away. “I never go back on my word!” He groaned, and slumped over sideways against a nearby barrel. “I won’t give up!” Eyes closed tightly as tears began to gather. It was gone. It was all gone, and there was no battle he could fight to bring it back. There was no enemy to defeat, no challenge to overcome. It was just gone…
He barely even noticed as the storage room hatch was opened and the boisterous voices of the crew filtered into the room. He didn’t turn to see who had opened the door and entered the room. Did not even raise his head as a warm body stood over him for several long moments before settling down against the barrel and leaning casually against his own back. Naruto’s heart clenched painfully at what his uncle must think of him like this, but as tears slipped down his face, somehow he just couldn’t bring himself to care enough to move.
For quite some time nothing was said.
“The day that Captain Roger disbanded the Roger pirates,” Shanks voice began softly, “I wasn’t sure if I could ever really sail on the Grand Line again. How could I, with my family torn apart and scattered? For a while I was even angry at him for choosing to do that to us, my dreams suddenly ripped away.”
Naruto flinched at the word dreams, but fisted his hands tightly and squeezed his eyes closed tighter as more tears slipped their way free.
“I nearly got myself killed a hundred times in the following year. I had become reckless, and had almost no care for my own life, but I decided to make the journey to Loguetown when the Captain’s execution was announced. Despite what the disbanding of the crew had done, I could not stand the thought of not seeing him at least that last time. It was the Captain’s final words, and watching how they affected everyone there, that brought me back to life. It was at that moment that I decided I would gather my own crew and continue on to find my dreams myself.”
Naruto continued to not move, though tears till dribbled down his face and sniffles could be heard every few moments.
Shanks turned his head slightly to study the back of his nephew’s head and felt tears threaten to spill from his own eyes. His nephew was so broken. He began to speak again, keeping his voice soft and gentle. “Since then, I have seen many men with broken dreams, and of those, nearly all of them have died in sad and lonely lives. Some, however, find the courage and the strength to move on, to let their dreams evolve and grow and not limit it to what it was before.”
Naruto stiffened at these last words, his bleary blue eyes sliding open slowly.
“You worked so hard to find me, Naruto…” Shanks said softly. “That is not the sign of a man who just gives up.”
Naruto winced, but sat up a little straighter and then turned so his side pressed up against his uncle’s side rather than his back. He looked upward and waited for the tears to stop slipping down his cheeks before he spoke, his hoarse voice barely above a whisper. “For nearly all my life, that I can remember, I have dreamed of becoming Hokage of Konohagakure; of becoming the leader and greatest of the village’s shinobi and to wear that old man’s hat. I didn’t even know what it really meant when I first decided. I just watched how all the villagers treated Sarutobi-jiji and I wanted that. I wanted to be noticed, to be loved, to be acknowledged. Even though I didn’t know why they all hated me, and called me demon; I wanted them to see me and acknowledge that I was there. To recognize that I existed, and that I could not be ignored. It was later on, sometime between my last year or so at the academy and becoming a genin, that I started to understand it meant something so much more.” He stopped there and said no more for several moments.
Shanks smiled softly and waited.
“True strength is found when protecting something precious. The Hokage’s strength wasn’t just his own, it was what he gained from fighting to protect the village. I had thought I’d understood that strength after Sarutobi-jiji gave his life fighting for the village. I thought I understood it when I fought against Nagato when the village was already half destroyed, but then when I found out who my father was; I learned it all over again. Then came the war…so much was lost… but we were so close to real peace. My efforts in the war made me well-known and popular in all the hidden villages, not just my home. They all began to deem me an honorary member of each village. This helped solidify the alliances and treaties. It was not until it was all done with that I learned the price. No shinobi who was a member of two let alone more than five different villages could ever lead just one. Becoming Hokage… is out of my reach… forever.” he finally finished, his voice flat and tin sounding.
Shanks fought the wince he felt at the sheer pain and loss he could hear in the blonde teen’s voice. He considered his words carefully before giving them voice. “Dreams… are not meant to be rigid and unyielding. Nor are we limited to just one. It would be quite boring if we were; after all, what do you dream of once you have achieved that dream if that’s as far as you ever let yourself go? Perhaps…” He paused here, not quite sure how his nephew would react. “It is time to let your dream grow into something more?”
Naruto blinked slowly and turned to meet his uncle’s gaze. “I don’t want to… I mean, there isn’t anything above the Hidden Village Kages.”
At this Shanks smiled, “Ah, but what was it that you said being Hokage really meant?”
Naruto seemed confused for a moment and then his eyes widened, the deep blue lightening in color, before suddenly darkening again. “But… I failed so many. There were so many that died in the war. That died trying to protect me…”
Shanks’ expression turned serious and he nodded in understanding. “War is a terrible thing. I have seen many, living my life as I have here. So many people have these huge dreams of winning glory and honor in a war, but in truth everyone loses. It is impossible for any one person to protect everyone around them from everything, especially in a war. I have lost and buried more nakama over the years then I ever would have imagined when I first set out to sea. To gain friends, family, and people precious to us, and then… at some point further on in life, lose them. That is the nature of things. You can only cherish what time you have and do your best.”
Naruto sniffled. “Shanks-oji… I…”
Shanks smiled and chuckled. “Don’t worry kid. I don’t plan on being lost again for quite some time. No, I have a job to do after all. This bratty kid of my sister’s needs looking after and help with letting his dreams grow, after all.”
Naruto grinned and then wrapped his arms tightly around his uncle causing the older man to wheeze slightly as he laughed.
Shanks could barely hear the muffled thanks. He reached up to ruffle the blonde hair pressed against his chest and smiled. “Anytime kid. Anytime.”