Author Notes: Special thank you to black.k.kat for the visual inspiration for Uzuhsio. Their description of the Uzushio in their story Stormborn was very inspiring.
EAD 2023 Note: If you would like to read from the beginning, please navigate to the Lost Uzumaki series page. Starting with ‘Fire’s Voice and Shadow’, this story has not gone through the beta and it is a rough draft.
There and Back Again
After the days spent on Dokutsu no Takishima, day to day life on the Red Force settled into mostly familiar patterns once more. The Red Hair Pirates sailed the wide blue sea of the New World with an ease of practice and adaptability.
Sea kings were dispatched and harvested if the situation allowed; sea king meat being a staple food source on the Grand Line, after all.
Storms were weathered, or avoided if navigation was able to predict them far enough in advance, and repairs made as needed.
Rival pirate crews tended to either avoid the Red Hair Pirates at all possible cost or, knowing the Red Hair Captain’s reputation, come alongside the Red Force and propose a party.
Benn never really drank during these rival crew gatherings. Oh, he carried his bottle of wine, and he sipped, letting the chatter and party flow around him as he shadowed his Captain, but he never really drank to indulgence.
Shanks, for his part, was a bright splash of laughter and color during such gatherings; his boisterous attitude leading the rival crews to relax. As was the nature of getting drunk, inhibitions loosened and tongues began to wag. Information was gathered and rumors noted.
It was the nature of such things that some ships left the side of the Red Force with less crew, and sometimes none. Threats and spies were not taken lightly, after all. Benn made certain that any rumor the Red Hair Pirates did not want spreading ever left their ship. Shanks made certain those who would try to challenge the Drunken Yonko learned that, even drunk, the Red Hair crew was not to be trifled with.
More of the rumors began to focus on the name Uzumaki and questions about Shanks’ family. Many revolved around just where his crazy blonde nephew had come from and where he was now. These almost always struck a sour note with both crew and Captain.
Naruto had not returned for weeks.
Shanks laughed at it all in the company of outsiders.
When company was gone, he poured over the information with Benn and Yasopp, cross checking new information with what they knew was true and setting aside what they knew was false. Through it all, he trained. Bits of paper, corks from bottles, bits of rope and sail, all became the redhead’s toys and could be found spinning around and over his shoulders, arms, back, legs and even in his hair.
Uzumaki, the Red Hair crew began to realize, was not just Naruto and Shanks’ shared name, but something that the World Government did not want known or recognized.
Benn sighed as he watched his captain and friend take his self-assigned post at the rail near the prow, watching out over the sea as dusk faded to twilight. He strode forward and leaned on the rail beside his captain, his own back to the sea as he looked back over the ship. It was a common pose between the two, each guarding and watching the others’ back.
Benn stood silent, smoking and waiting.
“Am I becoming predictable, Benn?” Shanks asked.
“If you think that, you haven’t been paying attention. You have them nervous.” Benn answered.
Shanks snorted. “It makes me uneasy. If they start hunting…”
“I think there is more to it.” Benn stated before Shanks could finish the statement. “The World Government is trying to figure out what you know.”
“Just as they did with Ohara’s scholars. If they think we know something that they really don’t want known…” Shanks said quietly.
“They just finished a war with one Yonko, they will be licking those wounds for some time.” Benn stated.
Shanks chuckled darkly at that. “Whitebeard wasn’t there to destroy them. His crew— his family— was always the priority. Old man went easy on them.”
“You would have done differently?” Benn asked.
Shank’s gaze shifted to Benn from the corner of his eyes, his pupils glinting in the dark. “If Ace had asked to join us all those years ago…”
“But he did not.”
“You miss Naruto.”
Shanks winced slightly. “Brat got to us all. I don’t know how they can let him go at all.”
Benn smiled. “Probably for the same reasons you do.”
Shanks pouted, his serious mood finally lifting. “You never let me sulk.”
Benn rolled his eyes. “What do you want to do about it?”
Shanks said nothing for several moments, and then spoke quietly. “I want to see Uzu, Benn.”
Benn nodded, he had expected as much.
“Better keep training, then. I suspect the tree-climbing and water-walking abilities that Naruto displays so casually will likely be helpful in such a venture.”
Shanks eyes sparked with mischief. “Oh, I have that covered.”
Benn blinked then eyed his captain warily. “You have been waiting for his return to show off.”
Benn sighed, “I will keep your secret.”
Shanks grinned. “Knew I could count on you, Benn.”
Benn rolled his eyes. “You know my price.”
Shanks chuckled. “Of course; wouldn’t dream of making you the target of any pranks I may or may not instigate with said new tricks.”
Naruto felt a tension he hadn’t realized he had been holding release as he arrived in the dimly lantern-lit hold on the Red Force. He stood there for several moments and breathed in the now familiar scent of the ship, the sounds, and the rocking motions that indicated she was at sea.
He wondered idly, if it was really such a bad thing that this ship was starting to feel even more like home than his apartment. Then again, his apartment had never really felt like this exactly either. He loved Konoha, and the village itself was home; his apartment… well it wasn’t the same. He grimaced as he recalled the scrolls of legalities and stipulations Kakashi had dropped cheerfully into his hands during the first of several meetings with him in the last few weeks.
“I hope you realize the amount of extra paperwork you are causing.” Kakashi stated flatly, not really amused.
Naruto shrugged. “What’s so bad about applying for official Sage status? Ero-sennin never mentioned paperwork with it, and I would have heard about it those three years…”
“Jiraiya, enlightened soul that he was,” Kakashi began, “Did not voluntarily declare himself a member of every major shinobi village from the mounts of Rock to the waves of Mist.”
Naruto flinched slightly at the reminder of the clever, yet perhaps slightly short-sighted political mess he had created when seeking peace… and inadvertently ending his dream of being Hokage.
Kakashi sighed. “No one is making a fuss about giving you all the privileges and freedoms of one formally recognized as a Sage, Naruto. It’s just each village has their own set of processes and all of them have to be observed.”
Naruto nodded and began to peer through the first scroll, and then frowned. “Kakashi-sensei… this says something about contracts and… a wedding?”
Kakashi perked up. “Ah, that one is a compiled collection of all the proposed matches we have received on your behalf.”
Naruto stared at Kakashi and blinked.
“You seem to have become the most desirable bachelor in all the Elemental Nations, politically speaking at least. I’m told the Fire Daimyo’s niece has inquired about you quiet often. The young male nobles of the court are green with jealousy, according to the last courier.”
Naruto groaned. “I..”
“Fortunately, our laws prevent any such arrangements being decided on your behalf. The change of your official status to that of a recognized Sage also prevents any of the other villages you are now affiliated with from making any such arrangements as well.” Kakashi continued.
Naruto sighed in relief, and then tensed again at Kakashi’s speculative look.
“You will let us know if you would like to start a Harem? I’m sure it would be a great source of inspiration if you do plan to continue Jiraiya-sama’s work.”
Naruto glared at his once teacher and now leader.
Kakashi’s pout was visible, despite the mask. “No? Well, you will need to write a formal, but polite, decline to each of those before you go flashing off to battle sea monsters with your uncle.”
He had written the official responses five times over before they had been accepted as something that could actually be sent without causing political suicide. When he’d complained to Tsunade about it, she had just laughed and told him she’d had to make such statements from the time she graduated the academy, then asked if he had anything new for her.
Naruto had grumbled in response, but gave her the scroll with a selection of Shanks’ best sake anyways.
Naruto sighed at the memory and then stretched; looking around the hold once more before moving to head out into the corridor.
Benn looked up from the log and inventory books he had been reviewing as a now familiar feeling played across his senses. He quickly closed and put the books away before slipping out of the officer’s study and into the corridors of the ship. It was quiet, as silent as a ship out in the middle of the sea ever was, with all but the night watch asleep. Benn sometimes found it both strange and oddly fitting that the crew which was so often loud and fully of energy could so easily settle into such times of quiet.
He focused on his objective with movements mastered by long practice. There was a flash of silver light on metal followed by a solid thunk and a startled yelp.
“You almost took off my nose!” Naruto hissed in indignation.
Benn hummed in thought as he strode forward to remove his knife from where it was embedded in the wood of the corridor wall.
“So much for being aware of your surroundings; you haven’t been keeping up with your practice.” Benn chided, his tone serious.
Naruto blinked, “Uhh, yeah. Sorry, it was a little crazy…”
Benn snorted. “The Captain will be disappointed.”
Naruto slumped. “I…”
Benn rested a hand on the blonde’s shoulder, causing the younger man to look up. “He will survive. Welcome home, Naruto.”
Naruto blinked several times and then smiled.
“Tired?” The older man asked.
“Not really.” The blonde teen replied, “I take it Shanks-oji is sleeping?”
“He’ll likely pout that he missed your arrival.” Benn told him.
“Should I wake him?” Naruto asked, a little nervous.
Benn shook his head. “Let him sleep, morning will come soon enough. Come, you can help me with inventory.”
Naruto watched as Benn finished tucking away the knife he had just recently had a close encounter with, then followed after the older man.
Naruto waved to the lookouts as he followed Benn out onto the quarter deck and headed toward the officer’s study.
Benn motioned to the chair across the desk as he returned to his usual seat. “Coffee?” He asked reaching for the kettle kept on a low warmer.
“Ah, no thanks,” Naruto answered. “You probably don’t want to see me on coffee.”
Benn blinked. “I would have thought it had little effect on you, seeing as how you don’t get drunk.”
“Yeah, it doesn’t really last that long… but it hits me hard and fast.” Naruto said with a shrug.
Benn arched an eyebrow. “That sounds like a story.”
Naruto shrugged. “I don’t really remember the details, only that Ero-Sennin banned me from ever drinking coffee under punishment of no ramen, at least with him.”
“Your late godfather, right?” Benn asked.
“Here,” Benn said handing him a leather bound book. “Check the current stock values listed in here against this list here.” He said as he opened another journal to a page marked with a strip of thin silk. “If the stock is below what is on the list, we’ll need to add it to this list here for restocking.” He explained as he pointed to a loose parchment held in place by a metal weight emblazoned with the Red Hair Pirates’ Jolly Roger.
“Paperwork…” The teen said with a sigh.
Benn raised an eyebrow. “We may be pirates, but as you are well aware, this sea is merciless to those who do not heed it.”
Naruto nodded. “The less glamorous parts of any job, I guess.” Naruto mused.
Benn chuckled. “Shinobi have paperwork?”
Naruto nodded. “Mission reports.”
“Makes sense. Though I would expect it be a bit of a security risk to have all that information lying around.” Benn said, considering what the administration must be like for such a village.
“Most of it is sealed and requires your chakra and blood imprint on the key to open. I never really got very involved with it, but I was sort of apprentice Hokage in training until…”
“You don’t have to explain, kid.” Benn said.
Naruto blinked in surprise. “You—?”
“Who else do you think Shanks whines at? He was rather distressed on your behalf that you had lost your dream.” Benn explained.
“He was?” Naruto asked, his surprise evident.
Benn nodded. “Now, are you going to get to work on that, or would you rather take over the watch shift?”
The teen grumbled but set to work going through the entries.
Benn watched him silently for several minutes and smiled as he set back to work himself. It was really something how quickly the blonde teen had wormed his way into the crew and family, for he had no delusions about what this crew really was to each other. It had not been until after Shanks and Naruto had started to bond, that he saw how much not having a tie to his past had shadowed the Red-Haired Captain. He would never tell Shanks directly about it, but he would do what he needed to make sure Shanks and Naruto didn’t have to lose each other.
Following the Spiral Road
Kureha glared at the docks from where she stood at the rail of the Spiral Wind as it pulled into port. The port itself had grown since she had last past through here. Back then the port had been small but growing, as trade was flourishing between West Blue and the Grand Line. She wrinkled her nose in distaste; she had never been fond of large cities and this one had grown too much for her to want to spend any length of time here. Too many people in one place just irritated her; it was why she liked her castle up in the mountains of Drum. She would have to keep the visit short.
“You don’t look pleased to be here, Kureha-obasan.” Captain Takumi stated from where he stood at her side; overseeing as his First Mate shouted orders and the crew scurried from place to place across the ship to bring it in to dock.
“How long will you be in port?” Kureha asked, ignoring his statement.
“Three days; we have cargo already waiting to be loaded. Will you be leaving with us?” He asked.
Kureha cackled. “You’ll find out.”
The Captain nodded, “Very well. You will be visiting the Shop?”
Kureha glanced at him from the corner of her eye. “I don’t want any rumors being started. I will share what I’ve found after I’ve confirmed it.”
“Of course, Kureha-obasan, I look forward to learning what it was that could bring you out of the Grand Line into the Blues.”
“Kureha-sensei,” The First Mate called out. “We are at port, if you would like to disembark before we begin to unload?”
Kureha nodded. “Restock the good stuff, Captain Takumi, and tell your Ship’s Doctor I’ll be inspecting his infirmary.”
With that said, she walked down the waiting gangplank. It really had been a long time since she had been to this island and port. The Clan called it The Gateway of the Lost.
“You aren’t going to replace me while I’m gone?” Shanks asked, his lips almost in a pout.
“The crew would mutiny if he tried, Captain.” Yasopp said from Benn’s side, nudging the taller man in the ribs. “Benn’s too much of a stiff without you.”
“This Stiff can have you on scullery duty for the next month.” Benn stated in response to Yasopp’s prodding.
Shanks eyed his first mate speculatively. “You will take care of my ship?” Shanks demanded, losing the pout.
“Without a doubt, Captain, she will be in as good a condition, possibly even better than you leave her.” Benn answered, taking Shank’s demand in stride. It was like he had never left them for any amount of time before.
“You won’t party too much without me?” Shanks then asked, the pout coming back.
“Impossible, Captain, you’re the life of our parties!” Rockstar chimed in from the loose crowd gathered behind Benn and Yasopp on the main deck of the ship.
Shanks looked skeptic for several long moments, and then turned to the blonde teen at his side. “You are certain that your toad will be able to stay the entire time we are gone?”
The small toad waved at the red-haired Captain from where he sat on Lucky Roo’s shoulder.
“Won’t be a problem.” Naruto said, amused by his uncle’s fretting.
“And that he will be able to get word to you if needed?” Shanks then demanded.
“Certain.” Naruto responded.
“You will keep an eye on him?” Benn then asked.
“You got it!” Naruto responded just as Shank’s also spoke. “Or course I’ll keep an eye on him.”
Uncle and nephew both glanced to each other, slightly annoyed.
“Are you sure we shouldn’t send someone with them?” Yasopp asked Benn, now a little concerned.
“It would take the entire crew, and that would kind of defeat the purpose.” Benn replied dryly before addressing his Captain once more. “Everything will be fine, Captain, we haven’t spent the last month and a half planning this for nothing. Anything we can’t handle, we will make sure we call you for. We are not the crew of a Yonko for nothing.”
Shanks opened his mouth to say something, but then apparently changed his mind, closing it again as his eyes swept over the gathered crew.
“You are planning something.” Shanks accused.
Naruto rolled his eyes; at this point even he could tell his uncle was just being difficult.
Benn sighed, and met his Captain’s gaze steadily. “You said you wanted to visit the island of your birth; did you change your mind?”
Shanks blinked, tensing for several moments before letting out a long sigh. “All right, fine. I leave them in your care, Benn.”
“We will await your safe return.” Benn replied, simply.
“Come on, Shanks-oji, we’ll be back soon.” Naruto said, amused and a bit excited, grabbing his uncle’s arm and tugging him toward the hold that held his seal array.
The crew watched the pair disappear deeper into the ship, none moving until suddenly both uncle and nephew had vanished from the sense of all with Observation Haki.
Shanks groaned slightly when they appeared in the small one bedroom apartment. “That… that was worse than getting caught in a hurricane with nothing more than a dinghy…”
Naruto snickered. “It’s not so bad when you get used to it.”
Shanks eyed his nephew. “You’ve never been sick while at sea, have you?”
Naruto shook his head.
“Ever been sick at all?”
Naruto shrugged, “I drank some bad milk when I was still in the academy… but no, not really.”
Shanks blanched at the thought of the bad milk; he’d stick to his booze.
“Make yourself at home.” Naruto said, “I just have to grab a few things and then I’ll take us to a marker I have in the region where Uzushiogakure used to be. We’ll have to take a boat to get to the ruins themselves.”
“That shouldn’t be an issue.” Shanks said as he glanced around the apartment, noting that it was simple, and uncluttered. A few personal items, but not much that made it what most would probably consider ‘homey’. His eyes finally settled, however, on a large pile of scrolls. He moved to take a closer look, curious.
Quite a few of them reminded him, at least a little bit, of the scroll that had first connected him to Naruto and that he still kept with him. Others were covered in various official-looking seals and colored ribbons attempting to signify their importance. “What’s all this?” He asked.
Naruto stuck his head out of the bedroom doorway and groaned.
Shanks raised an eyebrow in question.
“Paperwork… I’ll have to deal with it all before we go back… probably.”
“Some of it looks pretty fancy.” Shanks stated, poking through the pile.
Naruto grumbled. “Politicians seem to think I’m someone of note since the last war. They keep trying to get me to back them. I throw most of them away.”
Shanks snorted. Then a scroll that was not fully sealed rolled partially open. “’The following have been offered as potential partners’….” Shanks frowned slightly, “Naruto, are these marriage agreements?”
The teen yelped as a crash of what sounded like a bunch of the metal kunai and smaller shuriken hitting the floor filled the air. Moments later Naruto exited the room, “I thought I took care of all those last time…”
“Last time?” Shanks asked now even more curious.
Naruto frowned, “I’ll explain later. Come on; let’s get going before someone realizes we are here.”
With that said, Naruto rested a hand on his uncle’s shoulder and the pair vanished in a golden flash of light, leaving the room unoccupied once more.
Only moments later, there was a flurry of footsteps followed by pounding at the apartment door.
“Oi! Naruto! You in there?! Oi! Answer me, Damn It!”
Several minutes of silence followed before the voice was heard swearing again as its owner drifted away.
Gateway to the Past
The Shop, as Captain Takumi had called it, was in fact a peculiar little trade store that dealt in antiques, oddities, and last but not least, information. The Shop’s very nature made it the ideal place for local folk to bring in odd items they found washed up by the tides, and at the same time, to gossip. The small café that was next door further encouraged the gossip and information sharing. Neither business alone really drew particular crowds or much attention, but as the island itself served as one of the last ports in the West Blue before ships ventured out into the Grand Line, they did well enough.
Kureha sighed as she sat on a bench on the edge of a small open green space, across from both The Shop and The Café, and patiently watched the traffic coming and going. She appeared very much like an older woman just sitting out to enjoying the fresh air and sun, while watching the people come and go around her, and for the most part, she blended in. Kureha was glad she had never had to spend any time working at either The Shop, or The Café, but she knew her visit would likely attract way too much attention if she just strolled in during the afternoon with the amount of steady traffic she watched passing by. Those who tended both would likely know her, and she did not want a lot of fuss made over her arrival. This also gave her time to take note of the small Marine guard post that was just to the south of her park bench at the edge of the open park-like space. The Marines were getting bold in setting up a post so close; after all, for those who knew what to look for, there was no question that both of the two businesses were Uzumaki establishments.
Like The Spiral Wind, the clan symbol was fashioned into not only the woodwork, but also the metalwork around both shops. For example, the metal brackets that held the signs showing the names of the two establishments had been artistically crafted with the spiral nestled in amongst swirly crests reminiscent of waves. Likewise, a similar pattern was found in the metal braces of the chairs and tables that sat along the paved walk and open-air seating of the café. Kureha knew that the woodwork surrounding the doors and windows would likewise hold such patterns.
She eyed the Marine post once more and cackled. It seemed like it may be time to remind someone in authority that the Uzumaki Clan was not to be trifled with, and to keep their less knowledgeable subordinates from overstepping themselves. Something she could recommend when she sent in an official report.
The afternoon drifted into evening and Kureha remained on her park bench, watching and occasionally reading through the recent news bulletins she had picked up from stands by the docks. The New World was certainly a hotbed for trouble. She had just reached an interesting tidbit regarding The Surgeon of Death being named a Shichibukai when she was interrupted.
“Hey, Granny, you’ve been loitering on that bench long enough. Time to head home.”
Kureha ignored the Marine.
“Hey, Granny, you hear me?”
Kureha simply turned the page in her paper. She inwardly smirked as she heard a grumbled ‘senile old hag’, and was about to speak when someone else spoke up.
“Do we need to file another harassment complaint, Lieutenant Maho?” The voice of a teenage boy asked as he strolled up the path to stand beside Kureha where she sat.
The marine sneered. “Ah, if it isn’t Rubeous-chan.”
The teen narrowed his gaze. “That’s ‘Rubio,’ and I guess I’ll tell Kaasan that report is needed, then.” He turned to Kureha, ignoring the growling form of the still lurking marine. “Obaa-chan, Kaasan has your dinner ready.”
Kureha eyed the teen bordering on young man, noting the familiar facial structure and messy untamed red hair, a smile spreading across her lips as she let out a cackle and then rose to her feet easily. “Dinner time, eh?” She turned a mocking look back at the still growling marine. “Run along, Lieutenant-chan, you are not needed here.”
The Lieutenant sputtered as the pair walked away across the park.
Kureha eyed the boy beside her, amused. “How long have they had that post here?” She asked once they were well out of earshot.
“They opened just before the War of the Best happened at Marineford. It became fully staffed afterward.” Rubio explained his tone soft so it wouldn’t carry, but clear enough for her to easily hear.
“Nothing has been done to remove it?” Kureha asked, curious of the answer.
“Nothing directly; with the recent rumors coming from The New World, we thought it might be wise to be cautious of drawing too much attention.” He replied.
Rubio grinned, “I take it you think otherwise?”
Kureha eyed the now excited youth. “Oh, think you are up for it?” She asked, cackling once more.
Rubio nodded. “Lieutenant Moron back there has been harassing our staff and customers for weeks. I wasn’t kidding about the complaints.”
Kureha tsked as Rubio opened the door of The Shop for her, and followed inside.
“Welcome to the Gateway, Kureha-obasan.” Another voice spoke.
“Oh, so someone does know who I am after all.” Kureha said, chuckling as she eyed the man standing by the service counter of the small shop. “Daimon-chan, isn’t it?”
The man smiled. “I had hoped I had outgrown that, Obaasan, but what has brought you out of Paradise?”
Kureha rested a hand on her hip and grinned. “Records from about 28 to 30 years ago.”
The older man cocked his head as he reached up to scratch a red bearded chin. “That was a messy time period. Lots of things washed ashore during those years.”
“Any recorded as Lost and Found?” Kureha inquired.
The man shook his head, “That I’m certain of. We found lost dead, but none living.”
Kurhea hummed in thought. “We will have to go through the gossip logs.”
The man’s eyes widened: that would not be the easiest of tasks. “Who are you looking for?”
Kureha’s eyes glinted. “A boy by the name of Shanks.”
If possible, the man’s eyes widened further as his mouth dropped open in surprise.
The teen, who had come to stand at Kureha’s side, almost vibrated with sudden excitement. “Then it’s true! He’s one of us!”
Kureha chuckled once more as she glanced at the excited teen. “That,” She paused, thumping the teen before he could start bouncing off the walls, “is what I intend to find out.”
As their small ship approached the island, it was obvious where the majority of the fighting had happened. What had once been the village’s port was nothing but rubble. The sea itself had reclaimed large areas; the only remains being the fragments of what had likely been towers sticking up out of the water. In other areas, the sea had pulled away from the shoreline leaving behind rubble and wreckage. Above the high tide lines, and at least a third of the way up into the cliffy shoreline, the remains of what had likely been trade and merchant areas were more intact, but still nothing more than broken stonework, tile, and faded gilding. Above that, however, whatever had crowned the cliffs at the heart of the once thriving village was completely gone. A gaping raw wound in the landscape that reminded Shanks of damage caused by his duels with Mihawk was all that remained. It left a sour taste in his mouth, and a feel of unease in his gut.
All around him orders were being shouted, attacks launched, and people screaming. The earth shook and buildings groaned under the strain. The smell of smoke filled the air, making it more difficult to breathe; he filtered the smoke out as he had been trained at the academy. Hands on his shoulders guided him as he climbed into a small boat and was quickly set adrift.
There had been no time for goodbyes.
He hadn’t really understood that he was being sent away.
He hadn’t understood that he’d never get to go back.
“Uzushiogakure,” Naruto said in almost a whisper.
Shanks pulled his gaze away from the ruins and focused on the sea that still stretched before them. “We will have to be on our toes to navigate through all that.” He stated, studying the swirling eddies, broken currents, and riptides as the water was pulled into the greedy whirlpools.
“I’ve got a plan for that.” Naruto stated with a grin. Shanks almost panicked as his nephew’s hands flew through a familiar set of motions to end with his palm flat against the floorboards of their small ship. He braced himself for what he was certain would be a very quick trip into the ocean, when a familiar voice spoke.
“It is good to see you again, Naruto. How can I be of service?”
“Oh, it’s Gamatsukai!” Shanks said in sudden understanding.
“Ah, Shanks-san, welcome to the Elemental Nations.” The toad said nodding to the redhead. “Uzushiogakure, is it?” He then asked spotting the island in the near distance.
“Yeah, I was hoping you could guide us to shore.” Naruto stated hopefully.
The toad’s eyes shifted to take in the swirling waters. “I know the old safe routes, but none of them would hold true anymore. They change regularly from what the Sea Toad clan told me while I was tracking Shanks-san.”
Shanks hummed in thought, then grinned. “Sounds like home.”
Naruto blinked, then smiled, “Yeah, the Grand Line does this sort of thing all the time, doesn’t it?”
“Was there anything else you needed, Naruto-san?” Gamatsukai asked.
“Nah, you can head back. Shanks-oji and I will take it from here. Thanks again, Tsukai!” Naruto said, his gaze meeting that of his uncle before they both turned to face the waters before them once more.
The toad vanished without further word, leaving the Uzumaki pair.
“We should go now, before we lose all daylight.” Shanks advised after the toad disappeared.
“How many clones?” Naruto asked.
Shanks grinned. “None; just the two of us.”
Naruto looked at his uncle, eye’s wide. “Are you—” he cut himself off. “Right, Yonko of the New World.”
“Not just a Yonko, Naruto. I’ve been sailing the Grand Line as a pirate since long before you were even born.” Shanks admonished.
Naruto blinked. His uncle had not shared all that much of his own history with Naruto, except for his feelings regarding Ace and his relation to his former Captain. “Shanks-oji…”
Shanks grinned, “Later, after we reach shore.”
Naruto blinked and then nodded.
“You take the rudder; I’ll man the sail and give directions.” Shanks ordered moving toward the guidelines of their single sail.
Naruto moved to the stern of the small ship and the tiller bar waiting there.
“Ready?” Shanks asked, the guide-line of their mainsail slung over his left shoulder, across his back until it came out under his right arm along his ribs before going back up to the sail.
“Ready.” Naruto nodded adrenaline and excitement rushing through him.
Shanks gave him one last grin then faced forward and using his good hand unfurled the sail. The ship lurched forward as wind filled the sail, and in moments, orders began to fly. “To Starboard, 15 degrees on my mark!”
Naruto tensed, waiting as he held the tiller steady.
Naruto shifted the tiller and then held.
“Port, 30 degrees! Now!”
Sea-spray crashed against the small vessel’s sides as it plowed into the wave and sliced into the next current.
“Hard to Port!” Shanks shouted as he shifted the angle of the sail and used the wind’s strength to help them break from one current and slip into the next.
“Hold at Starboard, 5 degrees!”
A sudden wave crashed over the ship’s side, and had they not been expecting it, would have likely caused both sailors to lose their footing.
“Starboard, 30 degrees! Steady!” And so the orders continued, both uncle and nephew working in tandem to bring their ship safely through the turbulent waters in order to reach their destination.
As suddenly as the course of riptide currents had begun, they ended, allowing the small ship to sail almost calmly toward the small bay that Shanks had chosen as their landing site. It was several miles east along the shoreline away from the broken harbor that had once belonged to Uzushiogakure, but it had none of the dangers trying to reach shore at the harbor would bring.
The small ship groaned slightly as it reached the shallows and slowed to a stop, the waves coming in around them continuing to splash and send spray into the air.
Shanks turned to look back at his nephew, his eyes bright.
“Go; I’ll make sure the ship is pulled up so she won’t drift.” Naruto said, smiling softly. “I can always find you with a quick Hiraishin after.”
Shanks studied his nephew for several moments.
“Unless you need my help getting up to shore; those old bones must be getting creaky.” Naruto teased, smirking.
Shanks huffed. “I’ll remember that one later, brat.” But he hopped over the ship’s rail and into the shallow surf, quickly wading toward shore.
Naruto watched him go, a strange feeling swelling in his chest. “Welcome home, Shanks-oji.” He whispered quietly.
A Link to the Past
Shanks was not really sure what he had been expecting as he stood at the edge of a sheer cliff and surveyed the ruins cascading down to the swirling water far below. He supposed he’d expected to feel something more than he had earlier when they had first sighted the ruins while still miles off shore. He could only watch silently, with a strange sort of disconnect as the sun began to sink below the sea along the horizon and cast all the rubble in quickly fading hues of gold and orange.note [LH1]
He knew, without even a flicker of a doubt, that this was where he had been born. That once, years past, this had been home. Perhaps there was still a trace of that feeling, but it was faint, and really nothing more than memory. When he thought of home now, he thought of the smell of the open sea, of the creaks and shifts of the Red Force, and the comradery of his crew. A crew— no, a family, that the nephew he hadn’t even realized he had was also now a part of.
He turned away as dusk deepened into twilight; Naruto was waiting for him, after all.
It was full dark by the time he reached the bay where Naruto had pulled their small ship up out of the surf and onto the beach. It took him only a moment to locate his nephew a little ways further inland, and he quickly set out to find what was likely going to be their camp for the duration of their stay.
Naruto looked up from where he sat by the fire.
Shanks smiled easily in answer to the question in his nephew’s expression, and glancing around asked, “What’s for dinner?”
Naruto’s face shifted into a large grin. “Ramen!”
Shanks blinked, and chuckled. “I don’t think I will ever truly share your fascination with that stuff, but I suppose it will do.”
The teen enthusiastically mumbled something around a mouth full of noodles, that Shanks suspected was something along the lines of ‘Ramen is the best!’, but didn’t offer a reply as he picked up one of the waiting containers before him, then reached for the waiting kettle of hot water.
The pair sat in silence as they ate, the quiet only disturbed by the slurping of noodles.
Shanks eyed his nephew after a while; it was obvious the teen had something on his mind. He was never so quiet otherwise, and Shanks suspected he knew what it was that was occupying his thoughts. “What is it?”
Naruto almost choked on his mouthful of noodles and spent several minutes coughing before he could breathe normally and consider answering.
Shanks arched an eyebrow, “Well?”
“It’s just… this was your home, and … well it’s my ancestor’s home, but it’s not…” Naruto said, breaking off his thoughts before he could finish them.
Shanks reached over to ruffle his nephew’s hair, chuckling as the teen grumbled and dodged. “I haven’t told you about why I first became a pirate?”
Naruto shook his head.
Shanks leaned back and settled himself more comfortably. “Have anything good tucked away to go with the tale?”
Naruto rolled his eyes but pulled out a scroll and unsealed several bottles of sake, placing them within easy reach of the older man.
Shanks grinned and picked up one of the bottles, pulling out the cork with his teeth and taking a long swallow before he began to speak. “I was living on an island in West Blue after escaping the assault on Uzushiogakure and arriving in that world. I was alone and on the streets, constantly getting in and out of trouble, and almost always angry with those around me. My memories of Uzushio back then were still pretty clear, but I was lost and wanted to go home. I tried desperately to find someone who could take me back to that island, but no one knew of an island surrounded by whirlpools. Most laughed at me for it; the more kind ones tried to be nice about it… but I just got angry when they couldn’t help. It was my dream to find the Island only I seemed to know about… and that is when Roger found me.”
“The Pirate King, right?” Naruto asked.
Shanks nodded, and took another drink before continuing.
“Picked me up right out of a fight I was losing, and, once my opponents had scrammed, sat me down and asked me what I fought for; what my dream was.”
Naruto’s eyes widened at that, “He offered to help you…” he almost whispered.
Shanks smirked as he took another drink. “That’s right. So I became a cabin boy and apprentice to the man who later became known as ‘The Pirate King.’ He found me when I was lost and gave me direction.”
“But you couldn’t find Uzushio,”Naruto stated, his curiosity obvious at this point.
“We couldn’t find it. By the time Roger was executed, I thought it another causality of a Buster Call Assault by the Marines and World Government. But—” He paused then, eyeing his nephew in amusement as he took another drink.
“But?” Naruto asked, taking the bait dangled before him.
Shanks smirked and reached into his cloak, and after a moment pulled out a scroll, showing it to the blonde.
Naruto’s eyes widened. “That’s—“
“The scroll Gamatsukai first delivered.”
Naruto looked from the scroll to his uncle, both confused and surprised. “You kept it. Why?”
Shanks smiled fondly, “A piece of my childhood had just shown up from what I had could have sworn was a drunken dream. This was the proof it wasn’t my imagination. With this, and then later your visits, I began to realize that the island I had spent years searching for may still be out there after all.”
Naruto fidgeted, not quite sure what to say. This wasn’t like when he had defeated Gaara and taught him about precious people, or when he had made that bet with Tsunade to bring her back to Konoha. Those had both been, in a way, about survival; saving those he cared about. But this, this was different. This was someone he had not even known about and one he himself had searched for on the tiniest chance he might have clan and family still in the world. A hope he had desperately needed after Jiraiya had died. And, eventually, he had not only found this someone, but also brought them back home.
Shanks nodded. “You’ve helped me reach my original dream, Naruto, thank you.”
Naruto blushed in embarrassment, sputtering, “But you—I mean— but you…”
Shanks laughed brightly, and then finished off his open bottle. “Don’t worry, I’m not about to give up my life on the Grand Line. This may be where I was born, but home is the Red Force.”
“They are your dream now.” Naruto said quietly.
Shanks turned to him and held his gaze steadily, his expression soft and warm. “Don’t worry, Naruto. You will find your own dreams again.”
Naruto sighed in exasperation, but relaxed and leaned back on the bedroll he had laid out earlier, looking up toward the stars. His heart swelled and ached at the same time, as he remembered doing similar activities with others he considered family. He only hoped he wouldn’t have to lose Shanks like he had lost some of his surrogate family
“I’ll take first watch.” He said after several long moments.
Shanks hummed in agreement as the pair fell into comfortable silence for the night.
Early dawn light found both red-head and blonde standing at the same cliff edge that Shanks had stood the previous evening, watching as the sun’s light slowly reached over the rest of the island to paint the ruins in hues of pale pink and gold before reaching full daylight.
“I’m surprised there isn’t much left except broken stone.” Shanks said, as they looked down over the ruin and rubble. “Even after all these years, I doubt nature would have left so little of the people themselves.”
“When I told Baa-chan that we were planning to come here, she told me a bit about what to expect. Even though the help sent by Konoha arrived too late to prevent Uzushio’s fall, they made sure that the dead were properly put to rest. And, well, shinobi horde their secrets jealously; whatever the attacking nin didn’t make off with, Konoha probably took or disposed of.” Naruto explained.
Shanks frowned. He understood the concept, but something about the lifestyle bothered him.
“Come on,” Naruto said after another few minutes, “There should be a memorial further inland just past the ruins.”
The pair traveled quickly as they found what remained of stone lined pathways and stepped terraces that were slowly being overtaken by vegetation. The paths branched out several times, some heading deeper into the city while others continued to lead down to a valley hidden behind the seaside ruins. Shanks found himself pausing often as they came to the split paths, his eyes traveling into the city, though often as not, collapsed buildings blocked the paths. Each time Naruto waited quietly, but was always ready to continue once Shanks himself moved forward again.
It was after passing through a vine-covered archway far below the rising terraces, now behind them, that they found the memorial.
The path leading through the arch spread out into a paved path that eased around a large stone spiral which started out low near the ground and rose up to meet a center pillar. Across the stonework’s surface names were inscribed filling the space.
The two Uzumaki walked along it slowly, fingers lifting to trail lightly across the names as they moved in and around the spiral.
“So many lost,” Shanks whispered, his tone somber.
“There is a monument for those who have been lost serving Konoha as well,” Naruto said as he stopped and looked at a set of names more closely. “When I first graduated from the Academy, Kakashi-sensei told us it held the names of the village’s heroes.” He paused, a wry smile gracing his lips, “I told him I would make sure my own name was added. It was then that he told us they were those who had fallen in battle.”
Shanks glanced at his nephew, “You were a real brat, weren’t you?”
Naruto turned, glaring at his uncle for a moment, before his focus returned to the stonework before them. “It was later on that I went back and studied all the names for hours, trying to find my family, to find Uzumaki.”
Shanks reached out to rest his hand on Naruto’s shoulder. “You found them.”
Naruto traced another line of names, and smiled softly once more. “Yeah, I did.”
They had spent the rest of the day going over the names on the memorial. Naruto had watched silently when Shanks found his own name and stood frozen, unmoving. Naruto had been about to speak when the older man pulled his sword loose from its sheath, revealing just enough of the blade to nick the pad of his thumb before letting it slide back home. He pressed his thumb to the center of his name, and watched it glow and then slowly fade from the stone.
“How did you…” Naruto asked, eyes wide.
“The stone is of Uzushiogakure, the village knows her people.” Shanks whispered, the words slow and said with a certain nostalgia.
Naruto blinked once, his eyes still wide in both surprise and amazement. “You remember it?”
Shanks shook his head. “Only bits and pieces, but this… this also just felt right.”
Naruto understood what his uncle meant with the statement. He had come across that feeling of ‘just knowing’ himself; sometimes, when learning a new jutsu, or when he began to really get into fujinjutsu.
They decided to spend their second day on the island of Uzushio going through the fallen ruins and looking for anything else that ‘just felt right’, as Shanks had put it. Naruto hadn’t been sure they’d find anything, but he had been excited to look regardless and so far, their search had been moderately successful.
This venture led them to various activities in the ruins, including clearing a damaged fountain of debris and then watching as water began to flow from the damaged stonework at its center and fill the chipped and cracked basin. They had been able to identify that some old fujinjutsu was responsible for the event, but not able to determine its extent or source.
They found similar traces of things throughout the ruins that were obviously powered by seals, but nothing that was left undamaged enough to restore as the fountain had been. That is, not until they reached what looked like it may have either been an academy training ground or just a plain playground for children.
Stone forms that resembled various creatures filled the area, many of them somehow untouched by the damage that filled the fallen village.
“Monkey… Hare… Boar…” Naruto began to name the creatures as he walked around, slowly picking up pace as he went. “Horse… Tiger, Ox, Dragon, Dog… they’re the hand seals!” Naruto exclaimed, eyes going bright with excitement.
Shanks chuckled at his nephew’s enthusiasm, and then paused, standing next to the one that did in fact resemble a dog. “It’s more than that…” he whispered, bits of memory trickling to the surface. “It was a game…”
He crouched down and ran his finger along the fine dirt that lay around the statue’s base, some of it clinging to the tip of his finger. He then traced a swirling pattern onto the dog’s chest, the stone glowed a faint golden brown as he did so. Once he removed his finger the entire statue glowed with the faint brown light, the mark showing bright on the statue’s chest. Shanks studied it, memories continuing to trickle through. “It’s a training exercise… but also a game… meant to help us learn the very basics… of sealing…” He said, the phrases coming slowly as he pulled the information from memories long buried.
Naruto came over to study the statue with its glowing figure. “You used chakra to infuse the soil and it became the medium of the seal you wrote on the statue.”
Shanks blinked. “Huh.” He hadn’t even thought about what he was doing, just did what had felt right.
Naruto glanced up at his uncle with a grin, “Seems you remember more about chakra than you realized.” He then turned back to studying the still glowing seal once more. “Earth and Dog… it’s a foundation seal, one of the most basic that are used when building anything else with fujinjutsu.”
Shanks looked around, feeling like there was something else he should do. His eyes settled on the dragon shaped statue and he repeated the pattern for Earth on the chest of the Dragon. Just as with the Dog, the statue glowed with the same golden brown light. He moved on to the next, the Ox. The motions were coming almost instinctively now and no sooner had he finished the third than he moved on to the Ram. When the Ram, was complete, the four with glowing sigils all pulsed brightly before the glowing light sunk into the ground and traced invisible lines to a large metal circle inlaid on the ground at the center of the clearing before moving to a smaller circle set in the center of the larger; the symbol for Earth now glowing brightly within it.
Naruto looked from his uncle to the glowing circle. “How…”
Shanks shrugged. “It… I think I spent a lot of time as a child doing this.”
Naruto looked around the clearing full of statues once more. “I’ve never really been good with theory; always been more hands on… but when I first started learning fujinjutsu, the scrolls I used to study from went on and on about elemental affinity’s but never really explained it… but when I worked on the actual seals, things just fell into place and made sense. I never really thought too much about it… but this… this feels like it matches that.”
Shanks looked down at the large circle and noted the four remaining discs that were the same size as the one now glowing for Earth. He looked up and around the clearing once more, spotting a basin directly to the north of the large circle, he went into motion once more.
He dipped his fingers in the shallow water the basin held before approaching the Rat statue. In moments, a new symbol was drawn and glowing with blue light. He moved onto the Pig, drawing the seal on the stout animal’s side, and as when he had finished the Earth symbol on the Ram, both the sigils for Water on the Rat and Pig pulsed brightly before traveling toward the central circle and spilling into the northern-most inner circle and setting it alight.
He paused then, trying to remember the next step as he surveyed the clearing further, noting Naruto’s gaze on him watching intently. “Fire…” Shanks muttered as he continued to search the clearing for something that would help.
“Maybe you need to just use chakra, since fire isn’t exactly something that can be touched, well usually anyways.” Naruto offered.
Shanks frowned, it was true, but something about it didn’t feel right. Then his nephew’s word choice caught his attention. “Usually?”
“Well yeah, fire jutsu and stuff.” Naruto answered, suddenly fidgety.
Shanks eyed his nephew, but decided he would pursue it later as the current puzzle held his attention. Then he remembered.
He quickly moved directly south of the basin where he had found water and began to brush away debris and loose dirt. Naruto came to help after a minute and it didn’t take long for them to uncover a small pit. “There used to be some sort of brazier that was kept here, always lit.” Shanks said as he studied the small space.
Naruto brushed away some more dirt and then grinned as something caught his eye. He focused carefully and channeled chakra into a nearly invisible marker on the ground. Orange spirals filled the space, suddenly glowing with heat. “That— is cool.” Naruto stated, eyeing the Uzumaki clan spiral that glowed as if made of embers. “Simple to use, but a pretty complex seal design.”
Shanks picked up a dried out stick that lay nearby, poking his nephew in the shoulder with it. “Show off.” He stated before pressing the tip of the stick to the glowing spiral long enough for the sticks tip to glow orange then moved toward the Horse Statue. Once again he drew marks on the chest of the statue, soon completing the base seal for Fire and leaving red glowing lines as he moved on to the Snake. It only took a few moments before the glowing red lines joined together and filled the waiting circle at the center space.
Naruto grinned, “Wind next?”
Shanks chuckled, but nodded.
“How will you add wind as the medium?” Naruto asked.
“Incense. Have any?” Shanks answered.
Naruto frowned but shook his head no, “Never needed to have it on hand before.”
“Maybe we can find some laying around, if the weather hasn’t destroyed it over the years.”
It was at the Eastern most edge of the clearing that they got lucky. They found a large stone storage bin, its cover still in place. When opened, it revealed neatly tied up bundles of incense stored safely away from the elements. Several bundles were completely crumbled, and large piles of what looked like dust filled the bottom of the container.
“Guess they kept this place pretty well stocked.” Naruto said quietly as he found a few intact sticks and pulled them out before putting the lid back in place. Shanks took one of the slender sticks from Naruto and then returned to the seal brazier they had uncovered earlier, using it to light the incense before heading toward the Rabbit statue. Shanks concentrated carefully guiding his chakra up the slender stick as he ran it just a breath away from the stone surface, allowing the faint trail of smoke to touch the stone before it rose into the sky. Pale green light glowed steadily in the character of Wind when he finished.
“They taught this in the academy here then?” Naruto asked as he watched his uncle, now finished with the Rabbit move toward a sitting Tiger.
“I’m not sure academy is the right word for it,” Shanks explained. “The memories themselves are fragmented, and it’s the feeling of it more than anything. But, I do remember mastering this having some special importance.”
“I would have sucked at this as a kid.” Naruto stated his eyes following trails of pale green light as the second Wind seal was finished and moved to join the others in the center circle leaving only one smaller circle still dark within the large one.
Shanks glanced to his nephew surprised by the almost bitter tone his statement was filled with. “Why do you think that?”
Naruto sighed, but then shrugged. “Chakra control, the precision needed for this… It wasn’t until after I had started to master Nature Chakra that my control really got anywhere near good enough.”
Shanks considered this, but he really had no insight to offer. “Hand me a kunai?” He asked instead, placing the still smoldering incense stick in a tiny hole that was obviously meant for it along the edge of the pale green glowing disc in the center.
Naruto pulled out the requested weapon, “Shouldn’t the last one be Lightning, not Metal?”
Shanks looked at his nephew amused by the question. “You really think they would have children playing with lightning for a game?”
Naruto shrugged, he would have done it, even if he did get shocked.
“It’s symbolic, and metal can be used to help guide lightning.” Shanks offered as further explanation as he headed toward the first of the last two statues, the Bird.
Just as the tip approached the stone, sparks began to fly between metal tip and stone work, back and forth leaving a glowing white line as the tip was used to trace the seal for Lightning. It remained crackling when complete; the light it glowed with was almost glittery in nature. Shanks glanced at Naruto and smirked at his wide-eyed look. He moved on to the final statue and began to mark the Monkey just as he had the Bird.
With a crackling shower of light, the final seal was finished and the light sparked as it crossed the ground before reaching the only remaining round disc and the symbol for Lightning appeared, just as the others, glowing white.
The outer circle pulsed several times and then there was a shift as the stone circle made a groaning sound before slowly beginning to rise. Shanks and Naruto watched, tense and nervous, Shank’s hand rested on his sword hilt, while Naruto already had a kunai in hand.
A foot into the air and the round slab of stone ceased moving. Shanks and Naruto crept forward, studying the spaces revealed. Inscribed in the stone all around, but previously hidden by the ground, were the words ‘Fujinjutsu Apprentice Level One’. Below the words were twelve small recessed shelves, and in them were scrolls.
Or well, what remained of them.
Naruto let out a pained noise as the first one he touched fell apart. Shanks’ first attempt to retrieve one didn’t fare any better. And every one of them had signs of water damage, or the remains of dirt and leavings of small animals.
“I know they had to be beginner stuff… but to find this and then have it fall to pieces…” Naruto said quietly, the feeling of disappointment and loss evident in his voice. The teen crouched down and tried to carefully lift another scroll from its resting place, this one remained in one piece though bits of debris fell off it as he lifted it gently. No sooner had his hand with the scroll cleared the stone form then there was a loud click and the entire structure sunk down into the ground once more.
Naruto focused on the tattered looking scroll in his hands and carefully unrolled it. The faintest remnants of ink filled the surface, but it was unreadable. At the best of places, it was so faded that you could hardly tell ink had been there in the first place, in others it had smeared, blotted and ran.
Naruto groaned in disappointment letting himself sink to the ground in a slump.
Shanks reached out to rest a hand on his shoulder. “The fact that this clearing remained intact is miracle enough. Uzushiogakure was victim to an attack that intended to destroy her completely, that much is clear both from what your history has recorded, and the signs of damage we have found here.” He said as he studied his nephew’s slumped form. “I am glad we found this despite the knowledge that is lost.” he said, turning his gaze to pass over all the statues once more, the glowing lines that he had drawn earlier now all faded from sight. “Come on, we should head back to camp: eat some of that ramen?” He suggested, smiling.
Naruto perked up at the word ramen and then gave the clearing another long look. “Yeah, that sounds good.” He said, though it was apparent his mind was still on the puzzle of the clearing.
Shanks poked his nephew in the side, “Don’t tell me you are losing interest in ramen?”
Naruto turned his full attention to his uncle, his expression twisted in shocked horror. “How could you even suggest that?!”
Shanks laughed and exited the clearing, Naruto quickly scrambling back to his feet to follow.
Birthright of the Lost
Shanks blinked sleepily and yawned as his gaze and senses swept across the small clearing he and Naruto had made camp in while they stayed on the island of Uzu. He didn’t necessarily like what he found, though he wasn’t really surprised. He had, after all, noticed several occasions upon which Naruto had been presented a new puzzle or exercise to master, and in each of those occasions the teen had pursued the exercise to the point of fatigue and even injury to see it finished or mastered.
He glanced across the clearing to the clone heating water over the fire for the morning’s round of ramen.
Shanks eyed the clone speculatively. “He’s back at that clearing, isn’t he?” Shanks finally asked after several long moments.
The clone looked up, eyes wide, laughing nervously, “Uh, what do you mean ‘he’?”
Shanks narrowed his gaze at the clone and frowned. “I have been able to detect your clones for months now. I’m surprised you even thought such a trick would work on me.” Shanks stated then let out a sigh, “It’s much too early in the day to be murdering my nephew.” He followed this statement by flicking a nearby pebble and watched with satisfaction as it hit the clone like a bullet between the eyes, causing it to yelp as it dispersed.
Another clone strolled out of the forest edge to replace the first in tending the kettle. “Was that really necessary?” The clone asked.
Shanks shrugged. “He was foolish.”
The clone glared at him, but set about pouring out the water, first into a waiting cup of instant ramen, and second into a waiting cup for tea.
Shanks was amused, but not surprised, by the order of priority: ramen and then tea. “So what exactly is he trying to do?” He asked the clone.
The clone shrugged. “Not sure at this point. He wasn’t really sure when he summoned us and we haven’t had any updates from him since then. Just orders to keep watch.” He said while moving around the clearing to deliver the cup of tea to Shanks.
Shanks accepted the offered tea, sipping as the clone moved back to get the waiting ramen.
The clone continued on with its business, tidying the camp and banking the fire for the day before it gave him a wave and disappeared into the forest edge once more.
Shanks watched the clone go as he continued to sip his tea before moving on to the waiting ramen and let his mind drift.
It was strange, he thought, to be separated from his crew and not in the Grand Line. He had taken short shore-leave trips away from his crew in the past— usually to visit Mihawk— but they had always been just on the edges of his Observation Haki if he focused. But this was different, and he wasn’t quite sure how he felt about it. He wasn’t really worried; after all, they had Benn to keep an eye on them, but they were his crew, his friends, and his family. Family was here in this world as well, Naruto had drifted into his life like a lost boat at sea, and Shanks had latched on to the treasure it had held quickly.
He had enjoyed their trip through the Elemental Nations so far; it was a pretty country and reminded him of several islands he had visited in the past. Yet, it was missing something that he had learned to love in his life on the sea. It was that something that he now knew would always call him back. Even if Naruto chose to stop visiting, Shanks would never come to the Elemental Nations except to visit, though he suspected he wouldn’t need to worry about Naruto not returning to the Red Force… and on that note he should probably make sure his absent-minded nephew didn’t blow himself up, along with the rest of Uzu.
It didn’t take him long to return to the now familiar ruins of Uzushiogakure. Once there he moved through the rubble and fallen buildings to return to the Fujin test clearing they had found the previous day. He slowed as he approached the area, reaching out with his Observation Haki to determine if it was safe to enter the space without some advance warning. What he felt had his eyes opening wide, as he quickly moved past the last obstacles of rubble to see it with his own eyes.
The entire clearing was alight with glowing fujinjutsu, and interspersed amidst it all were clones of his nephew, each one focused on their individual tasks. Each of the statues had a clone sitting before it with the seal glowing in the air between the statue and the clone. Scrolling lines flowed between and around them all, meeting in cardinal points with another clone at each anchor point. In the center, the stone slab was once more raised from the ground, unlike the short foot or so it had risen before, it now rose closer to six feet, its entire form covered in glowing seals. It was at this centerpiece that he identified the single non-clone of the group.
Shanks watched as the blonde teen moved slowly around the stone pillar, a brush in one hand and a dish of ink in the other, eyes focused completely on the faintly glowing lines his work was leaving on the stone. Shanks let his eyes travel over the elegant lines, how they interacted, how they moved around and through each other. How this one anchored those, how these added guidelines for this one over here, how this group all worked together to achieve this, and then he understood.
He, who had never had any formal training, found himself beginning to understand how they worked, why they worked, and what was needed to make them. He could not sit down and start doing what Naruto was doing at this moment, he would never be able to in fact, but he found he understood it regardless.
His nephew was recreating the very seal that had created the puzzle. Shanks was certain now that the original had been the work of several masters of fujinjutsu. Naruto was doing it all himself, and if Shanks was interpreting correctly, enhancing it and adding more. It was amazing, beautiful, and perhaps a little scary, just how much talent his nephew had; who while technically still a teenager had perfected his craft to master’s level.
It was in the same moment that Shanks came to this realization that all motion within the clearing came to a stop. The seal work pulsed, once, twice then faded from site, the clones vanishing in a cascading series of pops and displaced air. As the light faded the stone pillar at the center, it began to sink downward just as it had the day before, disappearing into the ground until once more, it rested flush with the ground around it, a circle of stone inlaid with five discs of lighter color.
Shanks looked from the stone in the ground up to his nephew who stood above it, looking downward, a satisfied smiled on his face. “That is incredible.” He stated quietly, catching Naruto’s attention.
The teen looked up, startled, and then blinked before blushing. “Umm, well… you, I wanted to understand it and I’ve always—“
“Learned best hands on. You completely rebuilt the entire piece, and even added to it.” Shanks stated, cutting the teen off. “You did in a single night, what others probably took days if not weeks to build.”
Naruto rubbed the back of his head, embarrassed by his uncle’s focus on what he had just done. “I just—“
“Have you slept at all?” Shanks asked, cutting him off yet again.
Naruto blinked, surprised by the sudden change of topic. “Uhh no, I couldn’t stop thinking about the seal and, well, sometimes it just happens when I’m working on something.” He offered in way of explanation.
Shanks shook his head in amusement, “Let’s get you some breakfast before your clones eat all of it.”
The blonde yelped and then grabbed his uncle’s hand to drag him along behind him, grumbling as he went. “Those bastards… I warned them about eating my ramen, like I wouldn’t know they had done it….”He all but growled under his breath as they went.
Shanks laughed, the antics of his nephew’s clones always causing mischief and entertainment.
Kureha chuckled as she poured herself a glass from the bottle Captain Takumi had offered her with a flourish after she had boarded The Spiral Wind once more. She had grinned and told him to put her newest traveling companion to work while they were on board.
Captain Takumi and Rubio had faced each other for several long moments before grins broke out on both their faces.
“So my little brother is finally being let out to play?” Captain Takumi said, amused.
Rubio grumbled at being called little, but mostly ignored his older brother’s jibe. “Aunt Belle is mad that you didn’t come to see her. She said to tell you that floating around on a wooden toy is not an excuse for not visiting family.”
Captain Takumi grimaced, The Spiral Wind was no wooden toy, but it was well known how Aunt Belle felt about sailing. She had traveled to the Gateway of the Lost while pregnant, and the experience had left her with very strong feelings about ever sailing again. “Go find Tiberious, you know my first mate, and get to work, brat.” Then he turned back to Kureha, “Obasan, my cabin is yours once more. Please, make yourself at home and I will join you to discuss things once we are underway.”
That is exactly what she had done. He had heeded her request to stock up on the good stuff and now she could start compiling all that she had learned into a formal report to send back to the home island. Arrangements would need to be made, and contact established.
She had learned, through pure chance and luck, that Uzumaki Shanks had arrived at The Gateway of the Lost, and before being found had been picked up by Gol D. Roger. From that, and his lack of claiming the name Uzumaki, he had completely slipped past detection by the Uzumaki clan. They would have to remedy that fact, as they never abandoned their own. Then there was the new blonde, the one who had revealed that the famed Yonko was in fact one of theirs. He was still a nearly complete unknown. From all reports, he was young, but incredibly strong. But one fact was certain, this new blonde who claimed to be family, had never passed through The Gateway. This brought on further questions and possibilities; things Kureha wasn’t even sure she wanted to fully consider. They had built and thrived here in this world, but she knew there were those that continued their search for a way back.
The Uzumaki did not want to stay lost.
Not so Different
“Is killing your own clones assisted suicide, or attempted homicide?” Shanks asked, bemused, as he watched his nephew tend their camp fire.
The teen looked up, his expression dark. “The asshole asked for it! My clones know what happens if they eat my ramen.” He growled.
Shanks chuckled, noting how his nephew began to unwind from his ramen defense inspired outburst as the smell of the noodles now steeping drifted out of the waiting cup. He wondered if any of the teen’s past foes had ever tried to use ramen against him. He even wondered if this particular instance of ramen theft by clones had been somehow initiated by his own teasing comment to the blonde when he had suggested they return to camp.
“Not like it hasn’t happened a million times before.” Naruto muttered.
“You killing yourself, or stealing ramen from yourself?” Shanks asked and then tilted his head to the left to allow the suddenly airborne stone fly past his head. Perhaps it was time for a subject change. “Or do you mean those marriage arrangements you said you’d tell me about?”
Naruto visibly winced, then seemed to deflate, saying nothing as he checked the status of his waiting ramen.
Shanks waited, and when it became apparent his nephew was not about to speak, continued. “Just what is going on here in your home world, Naruto?” Shanks asked, more gently this time. “Benn and I have both noticed that you are running from something, but we didn’t want to press.”
Naruto remained silent, staring into his cup of noodles as he scooped up his first mouthful.
Shanks pressed on. “Whatever it is, you know it changes nothing with me, my crew, or your place with us.”
Naruto did not answer at first, and Shanks waited patiently as Naruto continued his meal. He slurped the last of his noodles before he answered. “Being seen as a hero wasn’t what I expected it to be.” He finally answered quietly, staring into his empty cup. “For as long as I can remember, I’ve just wanted to be recognized, to not be ignored, to be able to protect what was important to me. We won the war, I lost a lot; everyone did, but…”
Shanks had a feeling he knew where this was going, but said nothing to interrupt.
“I never expected all that recognition to be its own kind of trap. I mean, I knew being Hokage would have some restrictions on it. I knew that even as a kid. Jiji tried to make time for me, but he was always busy. Once Tsunade-baachan became Hokage, I began to recognize a bit of why, but that didn’t stop me wanting to be Hokage. My reasons for why changed, but never the fact that I wanted it. Then came the war and I lost more than I had realized in the name of lasting peace.”
It was at this point that the teen sat back, looking up at the darkening sky. “I’ve been able to accept the loss of that dream,” he said as he turned to look at Shanks, meeting the older man’s gaze steadily. “You’ve helped me with that, a lot.”
Shanks smiled at that, glad he had been able to help with the pain he knew his nephew had been carrying.
“But now everyone wants something from me. At first, I thought it was kind of a joke, there was no way I would ever really abandon Konoha after all, but now… they keep trying to tie me into political promises and use my position for their own benefits.”
Shanks frowned, he did not like the sound of this. He stared into the fire as he considered just what this meant. He was no stranger to politics after all, being a Yonko directly opposed to the World Government was a political position in some ways more than it was one of true power.
He glanced up to see Naruto gaping at him and glared as Naruto suddenly broke into a fit of laughter.
“Your face…” The teen gasped between breaths.
“I do not like the idea of them trying to steal your freedom.” Shanks stated, not seeing the amusement.
“They haven’t.” Naruto said simply after the laughter faded. “It took some time, but Kakashi-sensei, well he’s the Rokudaime now, but he’ll always be Kakashi-sensei…” he trailed off, realizing he had started to ramble. “Well, you know what I mean. Anyways, we’ve managed to push through a request for Sennin status throughout all the villages I’m affiliated with now, and that pretty much guarantees my freedom. As a recognized Sage, I sort of have ‘political immunity’ is how they explained it.”
“Sennin… Sage?” Shanks asked.
“It’s basically a glorified title for a hermit and is what Ero-Sennin was, at least within Konoha. He traveled all over the place. As a Sennin, he could visit other villages without really causing too much diplomatic issue as his loyalties were recognized first to the teachings of the toads and Mount Myouboku and second to Konoha. His status as an established author helped with that too.”
“So because of your affiliation with the toads, you can also claim that title?” Shanks asked.
“Not really because of the toads, though that probably helped. I think my status as Jinchuuriki had a lot to do with it, since it helps balance the power between all the villages. That, and everything that happened in the war with everyone allied together.” Naruto explained.
“You played an important part in that.” Shanks stated.
Naruto shrugged. “I did what I could.”
“Which was quite a bit from what little you and Kurama have said.” Shanks added, amused at the almost embarrassed humility his nephew was now showing.
“Yeah, well I couldn’t not try. What Madara was trying to do would have pretty much turned the entire world into mindless puppets.”
“So you fought for freedom.” Shanks said, grinning.
Naruto smiled at that, “Yeah, I guess I did. Guess I’m not so different from you, after all.”
Shanks laughed, “Not so different at all. So, about that ‘potential brides’ list?” He asked.
Naruto shrugged. “Civilian politics mostly, they try to win favor with the villages. It’s something about how civilian politics work, or so Shika tried to tell me. The Sennin status prevents any of the villages from trying to use me as a political bargaining chip. So I can’t be forced into any marriages for political reasons.”
“They don’t interest you at all?” Shanks asked, curious now. “Or has your heart been taken by that teammate of yours you keep saying isn’t your girl.”
Naruto blanched and then shuddered, yet again very glad that his teammate was not here to hear that statement herself. He really didn’t want to have to heal a smashed up nose… again. “Never say that to Sakura. Ever.”
Shanks just chuckled. “Why does it bother you so?” he asked after a moment.
“Sakura is my teammate. I love her a lot, but… not like that.” Naruto said, his voice more reserved.
“‘Not like that’?” Shanks asked, curious as to just what his relationship with his teammate was. She was the only girl he ever talked about, after all.
Naruto blushed but then shook his head. “I had this huge crush on her in the academy. She was one of the top of the class and so smart. But she only had eyes for our teammate. As we got older, that never changed and I began to realize that while I did really care for her, love her even, it wasn’t in a ‘romantic’ way. She’s the sister I never had…” He paused then, giving a wry smile to his uncle. “She’s Nakama.”
Shanks smiled and nodded, understanding now why Naruto spoke so fondly of her.
“The fact that she can punch me through walls without batting an eye also makes her scary as hell.” Naruto muttered.
Shanks raised an eyebrow at that. “Afraid of a strong woman?” He asked, teasing.
Naruto shook his head. “No, I admire how strong she has become, but that doesn’t make her any less scary. It’s just…one of the people I lost in the war… she… she sacrificed herself to try and help me in a fight when Konoha was attacked by Nagato back when I was fifteen. I was literally staked to the ground and she got between me and Nagato. She said she loved me and he struck her down right in front of me while I could do nothing. I kind of went berserk when she fell; almost released the fox. Things happened, and everyone except Nagato survived, but I never got a chance to talk to her about it. The war came and everything just spun out of control. She didn’t survive the war and I never got a chance to really see if I loved her back.”
“What was her name?” Shanks asked quietly.
Naruto looked skyward again, a soft, yet sad smile on his face. “Hinata.”
Shanks smiled at the tenderness in the blonde’s voice.
“What about you?” The blonde asked a moment later, smirking at his uncle.
Shanks blinked. “Me?”
“Yeah, you have someone you love?” The teen asked.
Shanks chuckled, “I only have one true love, and that is the Sea. She is a tough mistress, but I always come back to her.”
Naruto started at him in silence for several long moments. “Bull shit.”
Shanks grinned. “It’s true! Any real pirate, let alone sailor, knows it!”
“You love your sake just as much, I think.” Naruto pointed out.
Shanks considered the statement, “Well…”
“Ah!” Naruto suddenly exclaimed. “You’ve got a thing with Hawkeyes!”
Shanks stared, stunned. “What!?!”
“That’s why you weren’t that upset about me leaving you there, right!?” The blonde continued, grinning.
“That’s ridiculous! Do you want me dead?!” Shanks exclaimed, aghast.
Naruto hummed, and considered it. “I suppose Mihawk is pretty uptight; would have thought he’d be a bit more laid back if that was true.”
Shanks relaxed: he got enough teasing from his crew about his supposed relationship with Mihawk; he didn’t need his nephew to join them on it.
“It’s Benn then, isn’t it? You guys have a special Captain-First Mate bond, right?” Naruto asked then, a smirk on his face.
Shanks gaped, stunned by the fact that the statement was coming from his nephew. It was nothing he hadn’t heard before, and was a common implication made between a Captain and their second, but he never expected to hear it from Naruto. His gaze narrowed, “Yasopp put you up to this, didn’t he?”
Naruto grinned again, “So there is a special bond.”
Shanks chuckled. “You might want to avoid saying that around Benn, he tends to take special pleasure in correcting such misconceptions.”
Naruto pouted. “So there’s never been anyone?”
Shanks shrugged lifting his tea cup to take a drink.
“Wait… does this mean you’re a virgin?” Naruto asked.
Shanks spluttered, the remains of his tea sizzling as it hit the campfire.
“Of course not! I’ve had many lovers in ports all over the seas!” Shanks exclaimed, then sighed. “There are risks involved in being that open with someone when you have a price on your head. Even for a passing tryst, it leaves whoever I choose as a partner as a potential target. It’s not a danger I wish to expose others to lightly.”
“Oh…” Naruto said quietly, “I hadn’t thought of it like that.”
Shanks snorted, “Just look at how quickly they put a bounty on your head after learning you were my nephew.”
Naruto nodded, understanding now. “That kind of has to suck.”
Shanks chuckled at the understatement. “It is the life I chose, and I would not change that choice.”
Naruto eyed his uncle carefully. “So there really hasn’t been anyone?”
Shanks returned his nephew’s gaze for a moment and then smiled gently. “One. About ten years ago, in East Blue.”
Naruto grinned. “Name?”
Shanks simply smiled, eyes looking to the sky as his nephew had earlier, “Makino.”
A Hero’s History
“I don’t like it.” Yasopp muttered. “They just decide to drop by now, when the Captain isn’t here?”
Benn didn’t reply but kept his own gazed locked on the ship that was approaching them. There was no mistaking it for anything other than the ship of Monkey D. Dragon.
“Why would the revolutionaries suddenly seek out a Yonko?” Yasopp muttered, though it was obvious he wasn’t actually expecting an answer.
Lucky Roo approached the two from the galley. “What’s the plan, Benn?” He asked, his usual snack absent for the moment.
“Let them come along side. “ Benn said finally, “Full alert, but nothing aggressive. We will see what message Dragon carries for the Captain and proceed from there.”
His words led to a flurry activity as those who had been waiting for a command scurried to work.
Shanks had suspected Naruto was the target of some hero worship from what he had learned of the shinobi war, from both his nephew himself, and his furry tenant. But this… this was unexpected.
They had left Uzushio the previous day, finding that navigating the whirlpools out and away from the island was much easier than navigating them to the island. From there Naruto had led them to a small country he called Wave, explaining he had some old friends who lived there and that they could stay with them for the night before they set out inland to Fire Country and Konohagakure.
The whole family had been thrilled to see Naruto, and when Naruto had introduced Shanks they had stared silently for several moments, inspecting the redhead before finally smiling and stating anyone who called Naruto friend, let alone family, was welcome in their home. They were friendly enough folk, and it was obvious the old grandfather of the family, Tazuna, respected Naruto a great deal despite calling the blonde a short brat. Shanks had politely not corrected the man who was in fact, at this time, shorter than his nephew. The old man’s grandson, however, idolized Naruto and was in no way subtle about it, although Naruto seemed unaware of the fact himself.
That night he had heard the story of how just over six years ago Naruto and his genin team had saved their entire country from poverty and a tyrant merchant by the name of Gatou. Shanks had enjoyed hearing it and promised to share it with his crew who would also enjoy a tale from Naruto’s youth. Naruto himself had actually seemed a bit embarrassed by the whole thing.
However, one fact had stood out to Shanks. A fact he didn’t think the family or Naruto had meant for him to take notice of. Naruto’s teacher had been mentioned by name, as had the girl on his team, Sakura. Yet, they never named the last member of Naruto’s team, though the fact that there had been three genin present was mentioned, and that intentional removal of the unknown individual bothered Shanks. There was more to this story than he’d been told. He decided not to bring it up immediately, however, suspecting Naruto would only dodge and try to change the subject.
Shanks had thought he might ask about it now as they began to travel across the bridge that connected the small country to the larger continent. He had just opened his mouth to voice the question when a plaque displayed proudly midway across the bridge caught his attention. Approaching a bit closer, he began to realize just how important a part Naruto had played in this country, even more now than with the stories of the night before. He turned to his nephew who was also staring at the name plaque anchored on a raised pillar mounted evenly within the stone parapet.
“The Great Naruto Bridge…” Shanks read aloud and eyed his nephew from the corner of his eyes. “You didn’t know about this?”
Naruto blinked, glanced to his uncle and then back at the plaque, “No, I mean, maybe a rumor of it but I never…”
Shanks chuckled. “You get into these types of situations often?” He asked.
Naruto groaned. “I’m not trying to! I just—“
Shanks patted his nephew on the back and started walking once more. “So why are we walking to Konohagakure instead of using your Hirashin?”
Shanks glanced back over his shoulder. “I’ve dragged you all over the New World at this point, it’s not like I’m going to be bothered by a bit of foot travel… I just prefer to be at sea.”
“I thought… well you might like to see more of the land I grew up in.” Naruto said quietly after a few moments.
Shanks paused, letting Naruto come up beside him, and smiled as the teen stopped at his side. “I would be honored.”
Naruto grinned. “Great! There’s a great hot spring resort along the way. This time I won’t have to worry about being kicked out because of Ero-sennin or Baachan.”
Shanks snickered, “Sounds like fun.”
Naruto’s smile soften, “Yeah, those were good times.”
It was while the pair was chest deep in hot water with sake floating on a tray between them at the promised hot spring resort that Shanks decided it was time to bring up his earlier concerns. “Naruto… who was the third genin of your team when you were on that mission in Wave?”
Naruto froze, his eyes going wide for a long moment before he relaxed, poured himself a cup of sake, and quickly downed it.
Shanks watched silently, waiting.
“Uchiha Sasuke,” Naruto said quietly.
Shanks considered this for a moment, “Why would no one say his name? Why have you never spoken of him?” Shanks asked gently. He almost hoped to hear that the now named individual was dead, but somehow he knew there was more to it.
Naruto took another drink and let out a loud sigh, resting back further and raising his gaze up toward the twilight sky. “Sasuke is… well Sasuke. And nothing with Sasuke has ever been simple.”
“He’s important to you.” Shanks stated, easily reading how even the discussion so far was affecting his nephew.
“Sasuke was my rival, my best friend… my brother in every way that mattered, right up to when he abandoned the village and his team in a quest for power and revenge. He nearly killed me then, and we fought each other many times after that. He was with the enemy at the start of the Fourth Shinobi War and he made a lot of enemies.”
Shanks frowned, that explained why Tazuna’s family had not mentioned the boy.
“But he was still Sasuke and I had sworn a promise to Sakura that I’d bring him home.” Naruto said his voice taking on a distant timbre. “The war got a bit out of control and things happened, but in the end I kept my promise… I brought him home.”
“And now?” Shanks asked his actions casual as he poured both himself and Naruto another cup, but he was very aware of Naruto’s aura and mood as he spoke.
Naruto shrugged and accepted the offered cup. “He’s on some kind of probation and lives in a small compound outside of the village. Mostly keeps to himself. A bit hermit-like I guess. I haven’t gone to see him since I started traveling to your world. Family is a touchy subject with him.”
“You don’t think he’d take it well that you found lost family?” Shanks asked.
Naruto snorted, “His beloved older brother massacred his entire clan when we were seven. He later killed his brother only to find out afterward that Itachi was blackmailed into it because the clan was planning a coup. That’s why he was fighting with the enemy when the war started.”
Shanks hummed and then shrugged, he supposed that was a good enough reason to not be fond of family.
Naruto sighed again, “I suppose I should introduce you while we are there.”
Shanks eyed his nephew, and then flicked a fistful of water into the teen’s face, chuckling as the blonde spluttered.
“What was that for?!” Naruto growled, glaring at the older man.
Shanks grinned. “You were getting much too mopey! We are at a resort, it’s time to relax, have fun, party!”
Naruto glared, but then settled back into the water again. “No parties. I’ve seen you party. I don’t want to get thrown out… again.”
Low chuckles followed by the sounds of splashing and the beginnings of a full-out water fight began to fill the air.
“I still can’t believe it.” Naruto said as they walked along the well-traveled road. “I got banned…”
Shanks reached over to sling his good arm over his nephew’s shoulders. “Oh it’s not all that bad, and I have to say summoning the toads to join the fight was genius. We’ll have to use that against the crew some time.”
Naruto rolled his eyes, but grinned. “That was pretty good.”
Shanks chuckled, “We could pay a visit to Kazanonsen on Seacon Island; the crew hasn’t been there in a while.”
It was at that moment that they cleared a bend in the road and the tall wooden gates of Konohagakure appeared before them, standing open to welcome travelers.
Naruto stood straighter and stopped moving, a grin on his face. “Welcome to Konohagakure, Shanks-ojisan.”
Shanks stood up straight and studied the gates. This is where his sister had gone when she had left all those years ago. This was where Naruto had grown up. He considered this as his gaze swept across the open gates to the arch above them, noting the leaf like symbol that held pride of place at the crest of the arch. He turned to face Naruto once more, “Shall we go in then?”
Naruto nodded and stepped forward. “We can go to Ichiraku!”
“Don’t you need to ‘check in’ first, Naruto-kun?” A new voice spoke up as they stepped inside the gates. “Not that you followed procedure and ‘checked out’ in the first place.”
“He’s got Sennin status now, Izumo.” Another voice spoke up. “He can come and go as he likes.”
The man identified as Izumo pouted, “But he’s hard enough to keep track of as is with that Hiraishin jutsu, Kotetsu!”
Naruto grinned as he approached the two men sitting behind a table just inside the guard booth. “Izumo-san, Kotetsu-san, this is Uzumaki Shanks, my uncle. I’ve brought him to visit the village.”
Both men leaned forward with grins. “Oh, so the rumors are true about you finding a lost Uzumaki.”
Shanks smiled at the two men. “Ah, nice to meet you, I’m looking forward to seeing the village Naruto and my late sister called home.”
“Ah, then Ichiraku’s is definitely a must stop. It’s not only Naruto’s favorite, but was a favorite of his parents as well.”
“So it is a family thing, then.” Shanks said, amused.
“And time to introduce you to the tradition!” Naruto called out and grabbed his uncle’s arm to drag him into the village. “Come on!”
Shanks managed to keep from stumbling, but just barely as the two gate guards laughed.
They had moved off the main street and were entering what looked like a market district when they were stopped once more.
“NARUTO!” A voice almost snarled as a sudden blur tackled the teen. “You can’t leave me alone with her again!”
“She’s nearly killed me a dozen times and your so-called village leader just laughs!”
Shanks gaped at the raven-haired man who had flattened Naruto to the ground. There was no mistaking this young man for anyone else, and yet… “You’re supposed to be dead.” He finally said quietly, still too shocked to truly react further.
Brown eyes turned and met the shocked gaze of the elder Uzumaki, and then blinked. “Well, shit.”
It Only Takes a Spark
The raven-haired young man leaned down closer to Naruto before whispering, loudly, “You didn’t tell me you were bringing Red Hair.”
Naruto laughed nervously and then poked the man pining him down on the road in the ribs. “You didn’t give me a chance before you decided to tackle me.”
The raven-haired one turned away from the older Uzumaki to look down at the blonde one he did, in fact, have pinned. “Yeah, well, you keep disappearing before I get a chance to talk to you. I sense you in the village and then poof you’re gone again.”
Shanks frowned as he listened and watched the byplay, then spoke again. “You are supposed to be dead.”
The raven-haired man turned to face him again, “You said that already.”
Before further word could be said by any party, a new voice entered the conversation.
“PORTGAS! You put out that fire before I use you to put it out!” An enraged female voice demanded, the owner of the voice landing on the street with a tremor spreading through the ground, evidence of her temper.
Ace flinched and quickly reversed his position with Naruto, using the blonde as a shield to hide from the enraged pink-haired shinobi.
Sakura blinked. “Naruto, you are back.” She said, the rage suddenly gone. She then glanced to the side to see Shanks, and studied him for a moment, “You must be Naruto’s uncle.” She then turned back to the still hiding figure behind Naruto. “Portgas I meant it!” She then hissed and reached around Naruto to yank the raven-haired man out from behind the blonde. She then paused, turning back to the older red head and bowed, pulling Ace over with her. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, sorry I can’t stay to visit, but there is a fire that must be dealt with at the moment.” With that said, she started dragging the raven haired man back up the street, ignoring his protests and struggles to break free. “I will not have another entire training field destroyed because you are a lazy idiot.” She continued her tirade at her captive as the two vanished from sight.
Shanks blinked suddenly once they were out of sight, still stunned, then turned back to Naruto. “He’s supposed to be dead!” He then exclaimed.
Naruto laughed nervously again, “Yeah, that might not have entirely been true…”
Shanks’ gaze narrowed and he reached out to clasp a hand on Naruto’s shoulder turning the teen to face him fully. “You will have to explain it in more detail than that.”
Naruto slumped, but nodded, before perking up a bit more. “Over ramen?”
Shanks stilled and then found himself chuckling despite the shock. “And sake.”
Naruto grinned, “Ramen and sake, got it.”
The two began walking down the street as they had before, when Shanks paused suddenly. “That was Sakura?”
Naruto turned back to his uncle and then nodded slowly, not sure how his uncle was going to react at the moment.
“I see.” Shanks then answered without further comment.
Naruto let out the breath he hadn’t even realized he had been holding.
“She isn’t going to kill him?” Shanks then asked, looking at his nephew from the corner of his eye.
Naruto shrugged, “He might wish she would, but no. She won’t cause any more damage than she can easily heal.” Naruto considered, “Though if he set fire to the hospital… again… she might let him suffer a bit.”
Shanks hummed in thought. “Are you sure your friends aren’t actually pirates?”
Naruto blinked, “Of course I’m sure; we’re shinobi! Why?”
Shanks chuckled, thinking of some of the female pirates, and even a few marines he had met over the years. “No reason.”
Ace sighed as he spotted the building fire; refusing to look back over his shoulder at Sakura who he was certain was still glaring at him.
“I don’t know what you were thinking.” She muttered.
Ace frowned. He had been waiting for Naruto to return for what felt like forever, and after missing him the last time, he hadn’t wanted to risk another miss. The instant he had identified the blonde’s unique haki signature, he had gone.
“Well, what are you waiting for?” Sakura demanded. “The sooner you get this fixed, the sooner you can go find Naruto and his uncle again.”
Ace glanced back at her surprised.
Sakura met his gaze evenly, “The fire?” She reminded him.
Ace turned back to the growing inferno and then walked into it. The fire swarmed around him, welcoming like an old friend. This was how fire had felt to him since the day he ate the Mera Mera no Mi. The first time he had stepped into a blaze after eating the fruit, he had become part of the fire and relished in its power and freedom. It was only afterwards that he realized the damage the fire had done while he was melded with it, an entire forest area reduced to ash. He had been shocked, and so very grateful that the island had been completely wild with no settlements. Control had become a priority at that point, and it had become a priority again now. He wasn’t one with the fire anymore. It was still in him, part of him, but different, something had changed between the time he took a magma fist through his chest and when he had woken up in this world.
Fire had always felt like a part of him as a Logia of Fire. Any fire he chose to touch, became an extension of himself, and once he had touched it, remained so until extinguished or Ace chose to release it. Now though, the fire was its own personality. It spoke to him: told him what it found, told him what it wanted, called him to it. In turn, fire came to him; even when he didn’t call it, even when he was asleep.
This was why Sakura was so irritated with him. He had burned down an apartment complex in his sleep as well as a few training grounds when he decided to take a nap. The only place he could sleep without causing something to burn down was the hospital room he had woken up in; the room that had been sealed by Naruto to allow the medical staff to treat him.
Ace focused on the fire he now stood in, and began to call it back to himself. Returned the very spark of its heart back to the core of himself where he had called it from earlier that same day. He opened his eyes slowly, taking in the charred and slightly smoking area, and grimaced. No wonder Sakura had been upset.
“Well at least you are getting better at that.” Sakura said lightly, the underlying tension that had been in her voice before now fading.
Ace sighed, and then winced when she punched him in the shoulder. He knew it was coming, but she was right, he had been stupid.
“We should be able to find Naruto at Ichiraku’s.” She said, turning to head back toward the village.
Ace froze in place with his head bowed; staring at the ground. He needed to see Naruto and talk to him, but he had not been expecting to see someone from his own past… here in Konoha. He was dead to those who he had sailed with, to all who lived in that world, and he wasn’t sure he had the right to go back.
Sakura turned back when she didn’t hear him follow her, then paused noting the tension in him. “Will you go back with them?” She asked softly.
Ace looked up to meet her emerald gaze, and then smirked. “Anxious to get rid of me?” He asked, a mocking laugh in his tone.
Sakura rolled her eyes. “Don’t be an idiot. Naruto told you, we won’t force you to go back, but we won’t keep you trapped here, either.”
Ace looked down, but stepped forward to follow her when she began walking once more. “I don’t know.” He finally said to answer her question, knowing she deserved at least that much. “I… I haven’t decided.”
Sakura nodded, expecting as much. “Well you don’t have to decide today. Come on.”
Ace smiled unsteadily but kept up as she picked up the pace.
Shanks let out a contented sigh as he finished off his second bowl of ramen. Naruto was right about this stuff being good. He could do without the instant stuff his nephew seemed fond of on the road and the ship, but the real thing he could definitely grow to appreciate. He glanced at the still growing stack of bowls next to his nephew and shook his head in amusement before reaching to pour himself a cup of sake. His mind drifted back to the raven-haired young man who had pounced on Naruto, not more than an hour ago.
Portgas D. Ace.
Roger’s son, was alive.
He took a moment to let the truth of that fact settle. In the end the ‘how’ didn’t really matter, he supposed; only that Ace was, in fact, alive. But why had Naruto hidden that fact? He knew they both still had their secrets: everyone did and he didn’t think he’d ever tell Naruto everything, nor did he expect Naruto to ever tell him every little thing either, but this… he didn’t really understand why Naruto would keep this hidden.
“Thanks, Teuchi-san! It was great.” Naruto’s voice spoke, interrupting Shanks thoughts.
Naruto glanced to his uncle, the smile fading. Taking a deep breath, he plunged into the story. “Ace was clinically dead when I brought him to the hospital here, that’s what Sakura told me afterwards. At the time I arrived, he wasn’t breathing and he had no heartbeat. The only thing that had me believing there was even a chance was that Kurama and I could sense the faintest flicker of his devil fruit. We did everything we could to keep that tiny flicker from fading as he was immediately put into surgery.”
Shanks remained silent, but tense, he would let Naruto tell it as needed.
“It was a very long process. I fell into a trance near the beginning of it and didn’t come out of it until one of the nurses roused me. I came to awareness to see Shizune and Sakura ordering a new surgery room and moving Baa-chan to a stretcher. Others were preparing to move Ace to a recovery room: he was alive but unconscious. We almost lost Tsunade then, she helped with Ace’s surgery because I asked, and it almost killed her.”
Shanks frowned, he had known something had happened to the older woman Naruto thought of as a grandmother, but he had not suspected it was tied to Naruto’s attempt to save Ace, an attempt that now proved to have been successful.
“She will never be able to heal again.” Naruto said, his voice distant. After a moment he seemed to shake himself and then reached forward to pour himself a cup of sake. He took a moment to drink it, then spoke again. “Sakura explained to me after she had recovered from both surgeries, that Ace was in a coma, and there was no way of knowing if he would ever wake up. If he did wake up, there was no way of knowing what state he would be in, if he would even know who he was or anything. I… I decided to keep his survival secret. I thought it was better to not get your hopes up, since there was no way of knowing if Ace would ever be able to go back, or want to. I know why he was being executed… and well, there may have been some side effects of my involvement in his healing. I saw some of what had to be his memories, and I wouldn’t blame him if he never wanted to go back. Here he could have a chance to start out fresh…” He paused there, turning to face Shanks, “So Sakura helped by arranging for a look-a-like body and I brought that back to you and the Whitebeard Pirates.”
Shanks sighed then: he didn’t like it, but he understood the reasoning. “Regardless of how, I’m glad he is alive.”
“Ace woke up about a month ago, and has been working on recovering his strength ever since.”
“Which all too often has included out of control fires,” Sakura said as she came up behind the pair and wrapped her arms around Naruto in a hug. “Welcome home, Naruto.”
Naruto smiled, “Hey, Sakura-chan.”
Shanks smiled, “So this is the infamous Sakura-chan.”
Sakura smiled, “And you must be Uzumaki Shanks-san, I hope Naruto hasn’t been telling too many stories about me.”
Naruto blanched as a fist suddenly found his left ribs.
Shanks chuckled, “Oh nothing bad, just that you are an amazing healer and a very talented shinobi.”
Sakura smiled, “I’m sure there was more to it than that.”
Shanks grinned then, “Well, he failed to mention how charming and beautiful you are.”
Sakura blushed brightly.
“Oi, Red Hair, you have a death wish?” A familiar voice spoke from behind the three.
Shanks turned, ignoring the impressive growl that came from Sakura’s direction. “Hello, Ace, it’s been awhile.”
Ace smiled, remembering the party when he had visited the Red Hair pirates while still a captain of his own crew. “Yeah, it has…” but then his expression turned more serious. “You saw Luffy.”
Shanks met the brown eyes steadily, “I did, though he was not conscious at the time. I would have liked to spend more time with him, but the situation did not allow it. Last I heard he was training with Rayleigh.”
Ace blinked at that, eyes going wide, “Dark King Rayleigh is training Luffy?” Then his eyes narrowed.
Shanks chuckled and scratched the back of his head, a motion very similar to one Naruto used often. “I may have had something to do with it. I told Rayleigh about Luffy ten years ago when I first returned to the Grand Line after giving him my hat. Seems Luffy met Rayleigh in Shabody before his crew got separated and made an impression of his own; heard he even punched a World Noble.”
Ace’s eyes widened further at that. It explained, at least in part, why Luffy had been without his crew at Marineford. Marineford… and the war. He had read the papers. The ones not controlled by the government had made a big deal about the Red Hair Pirates showing up and putting a stop to the fighting, and how Red Hair himself had requested they be allowed to take their dead in peace. Ace bowed formally, “Thank you. Thank you for helping my family.”
Shanks expression softened. “No thanks are necessary. We may have been rivals on the sea, but I bore no ill will with Whitebeard. It was the right thing to do.”
“Will you two be making an order, Sakura-san, Ace-san?” Teuchi asked after the moment seemed to pass.
“One miso please,” Sakura said brightly, taking a seat at the bar beside Naruto.
Ace hesitated before taking the open seat on Shanks right. “I’ll take a Pork Ramen, thanks.”
Shanks, “Ah, Teuchi-san, another bottle of sake and a third cup, please.”
Sakura frowned, “Ace shouldn’t be drinking.”
Shanks paused in mid motion, his face twisted in surprise. “Are you still that unwell?” He asked turning to look at Ace.
Ace fidgeted, “Not exactly. It’s got more to do with my devil fruit…”
Naruto frowned, “Still flaring out of control?”
Ace nodded, a bit embarrassed. He had been in full control of his powers when he had last seen Shanks, and was a bit uneasy about admitting the weakness in front of the Yonko now. “It’s like learning it all over again. Nothing works quite the way I expect or remember it.”
Shanks considered this, “This must have to do with the complications Naruto hinted at.”
Ace looked up sharply at that, and Naruto laughed nervously.
Shanks considered, “There is something that is bothering me as well: we have heard rumors of the Mera Mera no mi being found, but no one has come out in the open with it.”
Ace stared at that, his eyes going wide. “But I’m not dead.”
“Technically speaking, you were, from a clinical standpoint.” Sakura chimed in.
Ace glared at the pink-haired shinobi. “You don’t get it. The devil fruits are unique, there is only ever one user or fruit of a kind at any one time. The Mera Mera no mi should not have reappeared.”
Sakura glared back. “As I said, you were technically dead, and has anyone with these devil fruit abilities ever crossed into another world before? For all we know that alone was enough to cause it to appear.”
“She makes a valid point, and it is an unconfirmed rumor still.” Shanks added and then leaned back to peer at Ace’s back. “Have you always sparked like that?”
Ace startled and then cursed as he began to focus on putting out the budding embers of fire.
“I’ll take that as a no.” Shanks stated. “So, just what kind of complications are we talking about?”
“The long story kind,” Sakura stated before either of others could respond. “And it’s about closing time, so maybe this should be continued back at Naruto’s place?”
Naruto grinned, “Sure, I’ve got drinks and cup ramen stocked up there too.”
Sakura sighed, but didn’t comment further, she was well aware that trying to curb Naruto’s ramen tendencies in any form was basically a lost cause. “You three go ahead, I have an early shift tomorrow.”
With that said, the pink-haired shinobi exited the small ramen stand and quickly disappeared from sight leaving the three men to find their own way.
Ace was tense, he couldn’t help it. The appearance of Red-Haired Shanks had put him completely off balance when he had been barely treading water as it was. Until the moment he had recognized Red Hair, he had mostly been able to pretend Marineford was just a bad dream. That he hadn’t basically died in front of Luffy, that his family had not gone to war for him, that his adoptive father had not died. However, the red-haired Yonko being here, now, drove home that the dream had not just been a dream. That he was hiding from his problems, pretending they didn’t exist, that they weren’t real. He hadn’t wanted to think about having to go back, about having to face all of it, of having to find Marco and see what had become of the Whitebeard pirates after the war.
The only hope in all of it, his one regret, was to see Luffy make his own dream come true, and he felt like he didn’t even have the right to that. This was the truth he didn’t want to have to face, and yet, as he followed Naruto and Shanks, the near panic and dread began to fade. Watching the two interact, he realized what he had been ignoring before: Naruto really was kind of like Luffy. Naruto, who he knew deep down, understood Ace’s own fears without even asking, who had been there when he had first woken up from the nightmare…
The first sensation he noticed, was warmth. Now, he had always been warm; ever since the day he had eaten the Mera Mera no Mi he had stopped feeling cold altogether. The only time he had ever felt that fade, was when he had been shackled in sea-prism stone, but this was different. He could feel the usual heat of his devil fruit powers coursing through him, but it was subdued, contained even and it was from that containment this warmth emanated.
He blinked slowly, squinting at the sudden light and then blinking again as the room came into focus. White… white ceiling, white walls… Whitebeard.
He bolted upright gasping, his eyes wild and feeling tongues of flame dancing across his skin.
“Oi! Careful, you’ll injure yourself and set the room on fire!”
Wild eyes snapped to his right side where he spotted a blonde haired man reaching out to him to either brace him, or push him back onto the bed.
“Where is Luffy?!” He demanded, heart beating in his ears and thoughts racing.
The blonde man smiled, “Alive. Safe.”
He took a shaky breath and tried to calm himself as his eyes continued to take in his surroundings. He was in some kind infirmary, the blonde beside him the only other person in the room. He refocused he attention on the blonde. “Who…. you were there.”
The blonde nodded and then smiled, offering his hand. “Uzumaki Naruto.”
He glanced down at the hand, frowning, he had heard that name from somewhere, another pirate? He accepted the handshake carefully and found himself answering as he had been taught by Makino years ago. “Portagas D. Ace, nice to meet you.”
The blonde grinned in response in a way that reminded Ace all too much of Luffy before he answered.
“Nice to meet you, Ace.”
Ace glanced around the room once more realizing it was still, no signs of the ever rolling motion of a ship. “Why am I here?”
Naruto snorted. “To heal; isn’t that the usual reason for waking up in a hospital bed?”
Ace blinked. “Ahh… I guess so.” He said relaxing slightly. “You know Luffy?” He asked.
“Only by reputation, really. He was pretty out of it by the time I showed up at Marineford. Shanks-oji loves to tell stories about him though.” The blonde answered.
“Shanks… Red-Hair!?” Ace exclaimed eyes widening once more.
“Ah, he’s my uncle. He arrived just after I had left with you. According to Benn, he made a nice grandstand of it and ended the war.” The blonde explained.
Ace blinked in surprise, even Red-Hair had come to Marineford? “Did Shanks rescue Luffy?” he asked, knowing what he did of their past, it wouldn’t be surprising. Though how Shanks could have known Luffy would be there…
“Nah, another rookie… umm Supernova, yeah that’s it, who was a doctor or something got him out of Marineford I was told.” Naruto answered.
Ace clenched his fist. Luffy was always pulling crazy stunts and making the most unlikely friends, but another Supernova? Not his own crew? “How do you know he is alive, let alone safe?” He demanded. He had been ready to die to save Luffy, should have died on that battlefield. He needed to know he hadn’t failed and given up on it all for nothing.
Naruto turned toward a nearby side table, picking up a stack of newspapers before turning and dropping them in Ace’s lap. “See for yourself.”
Ace scanned through the papers quickly for information about Straw-hat, his eyes blurring in the process as he read of Whitebeard’s death, his own presumed death, and the unknown status of his brother. He quickly flipped to the next paper in the stack and stared at the image of his little brother wrapped in bandages, hat pressed to his chest in what was obviously a moment of respect for the fallen. “Luffy…” he whispered, gripping the edges of the paper tightly as a few wet splotches blossomed onto the paper.
“No one knows where he went after that.” Naruto said quietly. “We’ve heard word that visit to Marineford was a message for his crew. To regroup and meet again in two years; Shanks-oji is pretty sure Rayleigh helped him with that.”
Ace froze. Silvers Rayleigh, The Dark King, … and Luffy. Gol D. Roger’s First Mate helping his brother who dreams of being Pirate King. It took him a moment to realize the laughter he heard was his own.
Luffy would do it. Ace’s choice to save his brother and his own belief in Luffy’s ability to reach his dream in those final moments wasn’t just a last desperate hope. His brother really was going to do it. He released the paper before he could tear it and clenched the bed sheets at his sides, eyes squeezing tight to try and prevent the tears that wanted to escape.
After several long moments he spoke, “Why… why did you save me?” raising his head once more to see the blonde’s face.
Naruto’s expression turned somber, but there was a spark of something bright in the blue eyes that met Ace’s own gray orbs steadily.
“Because you deserve to live.” Naruto said quietly.
Ace felt himself tense and nearly flinch as emotions boiled inside. “How can you know that!” he snapped.
Naruto’s face split into a huge grin once more, “Because everyone who knows you, everyone you call friend, everyone you call family believes it.”
Ace started, wide eyed. “My father—”
“Isn’t you.” Naruto cut him off, almost sounding angry as he did so.
“Why do you care!?” Ace snarled then, trying to get his own emotions under control. This entire situation and discussion was leaving him too raw, too open.
Naruto met his gaze steadily. “Do I need a reason?”
Ace frowned and turned his gaze away, his focus falling once more on the stack of papers still on his lap. He paused and then shuffled through them once more. “This says I’m dead.”
“To them you are. You’ve been here since I brought you here nearly six months ago.” Naruto said quietly.
“Some kind of healing sleep.” Naruto said with a shrug. “I don’t really understand the details.”
Ace stared at the papers, there was little mention of what had happened to the rest of the Whitebeard Pirates. “Does my crew know?”
Naruto fidgeted for a few moments. “No. They think you died on that battlefield. We didn’t know if you would ever wake up, so we decided it would be best to not get their hopes up. Not even Shanks-oji knows. I’m the only one who knows you survived that day. I’m sorry.”
Ace stared at the wall ahead of him, eyes glazing over. Portagas D. Ace really was dead. He blinked then as the last statement caught his attention and turned to stare at the blonde again, frowning. “How can you say that if I’m here in a hospital?
Naruto chuckled nervously, “Umm well, you see, you aren’t in the Grand Line anymore.”
Ace blinked. “One of the Blues?”
“Not there, either.”
Ace frowned. “Where exactly are we then?”
“Well to be more accurate, would be to say no one from your world of seas knows that you aren’t dead.”
Ace blinked again. “My world…”
The blonde grinned yet again, “Welcome to the Elemental Nations, specifically Konohagakure of Fire Country. Welcome to my home.”
The raven haired pirate stared. Blinked. Then stared some more. “WHAT!?!?!”
Naruto winced and then groaned as he rubbed his ears. “Do you gotta be so loud?”
Before Ace could respond there was a knock at the door and a voice spoke up, “Is it safe to come in?”
Ace’s head turned quickly to focus on a pink-haired woman standing in the doorway. “I’d really like to do an examination now that Ace-san is awake.”
Naruto grinned. “Ace, meet Haruno Sakura. She helped heal your guts and stuff and has been looking after you while you were in that healing sleep.”
“It’s called a coma, Naruto.” The pink haired woman admonished, rolling her eyes at the blonde before smiling at Ace. “It’s nice to officially meet you, Ace-san.”
Ace eyed her nervously, something about her made him wary. She reminded him of some of the nurses on the crew in that pretty but dangerous way. “Nice to meet you.” He answered after a moment.
Ever since he had first woken up, he had been struggling with not being overcome by grief. The welcome distractions of Naruto, being in a different world, and the changes in his abilities and control over fire had been enough to keep him from tipping over that edge. But even knowing Naruto did not judge him, understood him in a way no one had, he still felt on that edge as he followed behind the Uzumaki pair up to the blonde’s apartment.
Naruto opened the door and the two went inside, but Ace found himself stopping just outside, suddenly feeling like he was intruding on something he had no part of.
Naruto turned to look back at him, “Hurry up and come inside, Ace! This is your home now, too.”
And just like that, just like Luffy had managed to ease the bands around his heart all those years ago, Ace relaxed and stepped inside, closing the door behind him.
Fire’s Voice and Shadow
“I don’t like it.” Naruto sulked.
“She didn’t ask if you liked it.” Ace replied with a smirk.
“Portagas, don’t test me.” Sakura stated without looking away from where she was healing burns across Shanks right arm. “If I smell even a trace of smoke or hear the flicker of a flame I will toss you into the nearest lake and I won’t open the window or door to do it.”
Shanks chuckled and gave the pink-haired shinobi a charming grin, “My Lady, if I thought I could persuade you to a life of piracy on the open sea, I would sweep you off your feet.”
Sakura blushed. “Oh well, I’m flattered really, but I have responsibilities here…”
Naruto rolled his eyes. “Oi, quit flirting with Sakura-chan.” He said, scolding his uncle.
Shanks looked back over his left shoulder at his nephew, “There is nothing wrong with a bit of flirting.” He flinched then, turning back to look at his forearm and the glowing green hand over it. “I’m simply impressed with how pirate-like your friends here are.”
“Pirate-like?” Sakura asked, curious. “Aren’t pirates really just a bunch of marauding thieves on the seas?”
Shanks grinned in near-leer-like fashion, “Oh no, Lady, we are much more than that.”
Naruto groaned, he had been subject to more than once such discussion about what real pirates really were… it seemed to be one of his uncle’s favorite topics.
Sakura blinked in surprise. “Really?”
Naruto sighed in impatience before quickly ducking out of the way, causing Ace to yelp as he dove to the floor, to dodge the kunai that embedded itself in the wall behind them. Sakura glared at her teammate. “Honestly, Naruto, don’t be rude.”
Shanks only chuckled, “Why don’t I explain while we walk, my nephew doesn’t seem to want to hear the tale.”
“I still don’t like this.” Naruto stated with a whine his expression then falling into a pout.
“Naruto, it just makes sense. Kakashi-sensei and Tsunade-shisho both want to meet him, and you need to work with Ace so he doesn’t keep trying to burn buildings down, like your apartment.” Sakura admonished. “You can meet up with us at the hospital later this afternoon… that is if you figure out a solution. We can’t keep that hospital room reserved in Ace’s name forever.”
Naruto sighed again, “It’s not like it’s the first time someone has tried to burn down my apartment. At least this time it was an accident.”
All three of them turned to look at the blonde with various expressions of surprise and concern. Naruto raised his hands in surrender, “That was years ago!”
Sakura shook her head at him. “We’ll see you this afternoon. Come on Shanks-san, Hokage-sama has time to see you this morning, but we’ll need to get there soon.”
Naruto and Ace watched the pair leave before Naruto finally reached up to pull the kunai out of the wall.
“How would we tell his crew that Red Hair was killed by your teammate because he kept flirting with her?” Ace asked solemnly as he and Naruto headed toward the door.
Naruto shook his head, “She’s letting him get away with it… I can’t believe she hasn’t punched him yet.”
Ace hummed in agreement, and then paused. “You realize you just let a Yonko out to stroll through your village.”
Naruto snorted. “He can’t really do anything worse than I already have.”
Ace eyed Naruto, not buying it. “You have been to one of Red Hair’s parties, haven’t you?”
Naruto froze, and paled. “Shit, well… Sakura will be with him, and she’s not likely to let him go to any bars…”
“Red Hair is flirting with her… and she blushed.” Ace added.
Naruto groaned. “I’m going to get murdered for this.”
Ace patted him on the back. “At least you know Sakura is likely to heal you afterward.”
Naruto snorted at that. “Yeah, right, with my luck she’ll expect me to heal myself and then Kurama will whine.”
Ace shook his head. “I still find it weird that you have a demon living in your gut.”
Naruto snorted, “Says the one who ate a fruit supposedly containing the spirit of a devil.”
Ace grinned, “Yeah but it doesn’t talk back to me.”
Naruto stared in the direction his uncle and teammate had vanished for a moment longer before turning his attention fully on Ace. “Come on, I know a good training spot. It’s time we got you talking to your devil.”
Ace blinked. “Wait, seriously?” He asked surprised as he followed after the blonde.
Naruto shrugged, before reaching out to grab Ace’s shoulder allowing them both to vanish in a flash of gold.
Shanks smiled as he watched his escort through the village being greeted by various members of the village as they passed by. He had only known her for a day at best, but he could already see why both his nephew and the village liked her. He was also aware of the growing whispers that spread behind them as they walked. He noticed Sakura glance at him after a particularly loud ‘whisper’ of “Is that the one claiming to be Uzumaki?”
He considered this and what it meant; perhaps he should ask. “Sakura-san, do we have time to stop for a drink? There is something…”
Sakura frowned, glanced skyward, and then back to him with a nod. “There is a nice café-style tea shop nearby.”
It took only a minute or two more for them to reach the small shop and soon they were seated, with orders placed.
“I’m sorry about the whispers, for a supposedly hidden shinobi village full of secrets, we have a surprising number of gossips.” Sakura said softly.
Shanks chuckled. “Oh, that doesn’t bother me.” He said with a smile before his expression turned a bit more serious, “But Sakura-san, I get the feeling you don’t like me.”
Sakura stiffened, eyes widening in surprise for a moment and then she bowed her head. “I’m sorry, it’s not really your fault; it’s just…”
“Naruto.” Shanks spoke for her. “You love him.”
Sakura looked at him startled, and then smiled, thanking the waitress who delivered their tea. She looked back to Shanks as she took a sip from her tea cup. “Naruto is my teammate, and the brother I never had, or wanted, but would not give up for the world. But… he hasn’t been happy since the war and it is not something I can change. He is happy visiting you, and I just can’t help but worry that one day, he’ll never come back.” She stated, speaking quietly.
Shanks considered her words as he drank his tea. He had wondered if Naruto really had anyone in Konoha that cared for him, that made him feel wanted, before they made this trip. The number of times he had found his nephew being quiet and lost in thought had not seemed to match his loud and almost always cheerful personality. So, Shanks had done what he could to make his own home, his ship, a haven for his nephew, but he knew Naruto would never stay with him forever. Shanks finally smiled, and drank the last of his cup of tea before speaking. “Tell me, Sakura-san, do you trust him?”
Sakura blinked, “With my life.”
Shanks practically leered then, “Then you should know, he’ll always return.”
Sakura blushed brightly, her gaze resting on the cup between her hands. After a moment her posture relaxed, a tension she had been holding onto finally letting go. She placed some money on the counter and rose to her feet. “Come on, we have an appointment to keep.”
The pair remained silent as they continued their journey, soon arriving at the Hokage tower, and then the Hokage’s office.
Sakura knocked politely before she opened the door. “Hokage-sama, I’ve brought Uzumaki Shanks-san here to see you.”
“Ah Sakura, I’m glad you are here. I just received word from the hospital; you are needed there.” A voice said smoothly from behind a large office chair.
Sakura frowned. “But…”
The chair turned, revealing a man wearing what Shanks was beginning to recognize as some form of uniform standard among the shinobi. What was not standard, however, was the silver hair standing almost straight up on the man’s head and the manner in which he wore the now familiar hiate: covering his left eye. His attention, however, was not on the man and woman who had just entered, but on the orange book in his hand.
Sakura frowned. “Hokage-sama….”
The man made a tsking sound, but still did not look up from his book.
“Kakashi-sensei!” Sakura then hissed.
The man, now identified as Kakashi sighed and closed the book as his gaze finally rose to rest on the two now standing before him. “Run along, Sakura-chan. I’m sure Uzumaki-san and I will get along just fine.”
Sakura glanced between the two men who now stared at each other and then grumbled before turning to exit without another word.
Kakashi watched her exit and smiled through his mask. “She’s probably going to be rather angry at me later.” He stated with fondness in his tone.
“There was no message?” Shanks asked.
Kakashi shrugged non-committedly. “So, ‘Captain Shanks of the Red Hair Pirates and one of the four Yonko of the New World’ is what they call you?”
Shanks chuckled, “Ah, but just Shanks will do, Hokage Hatake-san.”
“Ah, just Kakashi please; Kushina-san would have approved, I think.” Kakashi answered.
Shanks blinked, surprised, he had not been expecting this turn in conversation. “You knew my sister?” He asked.
“Not very well, but she was in a relationship with Minato-san, so our paths crossed more often than they may have otherwise.” Kakashi explained.
Shanks considered this, “Perhaps, Kakashi-san, we can arrange some time for you to tell me about her, but not today I think. Today is about Naruto, after all.”
“So you suspected that?” Kakashi asked, not quite sure what to expect of this man who was family to one of his students and a lost relation of the woman his own teacher had loved.
Shanks shrugged as he settled himself in a chair across the desk from the other man. “I suspect anyone who truly cares for my nephew is concerned about his association with me. Sakura-san has already breached that wall this morning.”
Kakashi smirked at that. “She is good at breaking through walls.”
Shanks studied the man without saying anything more after that. This man, for all accounts, was important to his nephew, one of his first teachers, and yet this man had been in part responsible for the loss of his nephew’s dream. Unintentional or not, Shanks wasn’t quite sure he could forgive him for that particular transgression.
Kakashi spoke. “Well then, what are we to do, Shanks-san, by all rights Naruto’s continued absence in your company is costing the village quite a bit. Such long-term mission parameters and the fee for them have not been addressed.”
Shanks gaze sharpened, and then he relaxed, slouching in his chair with an air of indifference. “Ah, but with Naruto being a Sannin and not on the active duty roster, he is not in a position to accept any such mission postings. The very position requires him to be free of those very limitations; it is why he has other avenues of income, is it not?”
Kakashi leaned forward, his focus sharpened, his interest tangible in the air between them. “Are you telling me, Shanks-san, that Naruto-kun has started writing?”
“Are you sure this is going to work?” Ace asked as he strapped the mask over his nose and mouth, muffling his sense of smell.
Naruto shrugged. “I had a really hard time sensing chakra and nature chakra at first. Fukasaku-jiji was able to amplify the nature chakra to make it easier for me to pick up on it. I can’t amplify your sense of the fire, so we’ll have to dull your other senses instead.”
Ace let out a sigh before picking up the waiting ear plugs, then lifting and tying the blindfold across his own eyes, blinding himself. He then laid his hands, palm up on his knees while he sat cross-legged on the ground. He felt Naruto tap twice in his right hand, the signal he was going to start.
Ace frowned, as for the longest time he didn’t really sense anything. The mask kind of smelled funny, and there was a small rock that was starting to poke him in the ass, but he tried to ignore it. He could sense Naruto moving around the training grounds with Observation Haki, and wasn’t really surprised when he noticed several more of the blondes start flickering about.
He caught a yawn, and frowned, this wasn’t the time to sleep. He sensed something flicker and then vanish from the edge of his senses. Had that been…? He felt it again, stronger this time. He reached for it, but just as he almost had it, it was gone.
This continued: every time he thought he might be feeling something, it would disappear before he could grasp it. First to his right, then behind him, and then to his right again before moving ahead and to the left, constantly moving, shifting until there was more than one point constantly flaring against his senses.
A picture began to form in his mind, flashes of information- bits of sound, smell, and something he couldn’t describe. He sat stunned, absorbing everything, amazed as with each passing moment everything became clearer.
Then he reached out and grasped control.
After tapping Ace’s palm to signal that they were starting Naruto quickly summoned a dozen clones who scattered around the training ground at different distances from both Ace and each other. He nodded. Each clone pulled out a box of matches and began taking turns lighting them, then just as the flame would have reached the clone’s fingers, blowing it out.
Naruto himself, however, began to watch Ace. His own senses focused on trying to identify if there was any sort of chakra- normal, elemental, or even nature chakra itself- involved in whatever abilities it was that Ace had that linked him to fire. He had a few ideas after the three of them had spent a good portion of the night talking about Ace’s situation. His recent activities in the ruins of Uzushio had helped form those ideas as well.
For a long time, he couldn’t really pick up anything, except for Ace’s fidgeting, but then something shifted and he watched as one of the clones leaped forward to smother a flame that had leapt toward where Ace was sitting. The next clone quickly lit his match, but nothing happened until 2 more clones had lit their own matches. Once more the flame tried to separate from the match and float to Ace only to be stopped by the clone again.
Naruto signaled for them to start lighting the matches in groups of two or three, some of them next to each other, some opposite. More and more frequently the tiny flames were drawn toward Ace, and each time Naruto was able to pick up on traces of chakra, but it was tricky. It wasn’t regular chakra, or even chakra carrying an elemental affinity. It also wasn’t really nature chakra, but that was the closest to whatever it was.
“It is the very heart and voice of fire itself.” Kurama said softly in Naruto’s mind.
Naruto blinked, a little surprised at the fox’s sudden input.
“You’ve been quiet lately.” Naruto replied to the fox, but continued to focus on the faint whisper of fire’s voice, as Kurama had called it.
“Your jumping between worlds still makes me sleepy, but I’ve been considering what it was about your fire boy there that felt familiar and this was it. Fire’s voice echoes from him.” The fox replied simply.
Naruto considered this information. “Is it anything like nature chakra?” he asked.
“In a way, being able to resonate with an element’s voice is something that is part of almost any bloodline ability to some degree.” Kurama explained.
Naruto blinked at that, but from what he was just barely sensing now, it made sense.
It was at that moment that several of the clones all yelped. They had again increased the number of them that had a flame active at one time and Ace had responded. A circle of flickering flames about 4 feet across spun slowly around the seated man with Ace at its center. It hovered at an even height with Ace’s eyes and ears.
Naruto tensed to react quickly if the fire started to go out of control, but willing to wait and see what Ace would do. He didn’t have to wait long. Soon Ace had the fire moving higher above him and twisting into different forms, snaking in and around itself like a serpent.
It wasn’t until the fire condensed into a tiny sphere, glowing so bright it looked like a little sun, that Ace’s control faltered.
Flame exploded and Naruto‘s voice let out a variety of curses as both Naruto himself and all his clones responded, quickly using a variety of water jutsu to douse the quickly growing blaze.
Ace, looking unharmed but partially drowned, glared at the blonde shinobi after removing ear plugs, face mask, and blindfold. “Was drowning me really necessary?”
Naruto shrugged, but then grinned. “I think I know what we can do.”
Ace perked up at the news and grinned back.
It had not taken long for the two men to settle into comfortable discussion about Naruto’s current publication projects, and the potential likelihood of him continuing the series beyond what was already written. Shanks had been a bit surprised, and then just plain amused as Kakashi explained that Naruto’s godfather, the Sannin of Mt. Myouboku, Jiraiya had used the series as both a way of earning income and gathering information. Shanks had been intrigued and impressed that the man had made such a flamboyant cover and then used it to run a spy network. This had also shed some light on Naruto’s interest in getting his godfather’s work published on the Grand Line; there was more to it than just carrying on his godfather’s literacy legacy.
“Shanks-san, will you tell me just who Portagas D. Ace is to you?” Kakashi asked, changing the focus of their conversation.
Shanks had almost been expecting this question, though perhaps not so directly. He studied the other man for a long moment before answering. “Ace is the son of my former Captain, Gol D. Roger.”
“This is why you joined in that war over his life?” Kakashi asked.
Shanks shrugged non-committedly, “It was one reason of many.”
“From what I have been told, Ace is not part of your crew, and in fact joined a rival crew? You let this happen?” Kakashi asked his tone even.
Shanks eyed the man carefully and then grinned. “You don’t understand what it is to sail as a pirate on the Grand Line, Kakashi-san. As long as Ace was happy and pursuing his dream, that was enough. I could tell when I first met him that he was my Captain’s son, but he did not seek me out for that reason. Ace had come to find me because of his younger brother, Luffy, to thank me for looking out for that younger brother when he was a boy. Ace told me then that he wanted to surpass Roger, and that he was going after Whitebeard. I knew it was likely Whitebeard would recruit him.”
Kakashi arched an eyebrow at that. “You let him join an enemy?”
Shanks chuckled. “More of a rival, really; Whitebeard and Roger had been drinking buddies as much as rival pirate crews. Never really allies, but never really enemies either. I think our crews fought more for the fun of it.”
Kakashi refilled the two sake cups that had remained empty between them for the last several moments; and proceeded to sip from his own cup before he spoke again. “I like Ace, and I think his presence here has been good for Naruto.”
Shanks paused mid motion from sipping from his own cup, sensing the ‘but’ that had not yet been spoken. He downed his cup in a single gulp before speaking, “Something about it bothers you.” Shanks finally said as he set his cup back down on the desk between them.
Kakashi closed his single visible eye. “Shanks-san, has Naruto told you about Sasuke
Family Guard Dogs and Reunions
Naruto looked up with fondness at the forest giants that filled the Forest of Death. “Think you’re up for some treetop travel?” He asked before turning back to look at Ace, only to find the other frozen in place and staring.
“There was a giant snake… he got bit by the snake man… she was crying…” Ace muttered, his eyes almost glazed over.
Naruto froze, his own eyes going wide in shock. There was no way that Ace should know that. Naruto had not told him about his experiences during his chunnin exam and he thought it very unlikely that Sakura had either. It sounded like Ace was speaking from memory… not repeating anything he had been told.
Ace shook himself suddenly, “Sorry about that, must’ve dozed off… haven’t had that happen in a while.”
Naruto stared at him intently for a long moment.
“What? Something on my face?” Ace asked as he reached up to wipe off whatever it was.
Naruto shook his head, “Come on, and keep up. Pretty much everything in here is overgrown and eats humans.”
Ace’s mouth split in a wide grin. “Sounds like home.”
Shanks found himself suddenly standing outside a modest but obviously well cared for traditional styled home. He wondered just what it was that had triggered Kakashi’s sudden insistence that it was time to go; followed by his rather forceful escort out of the Hokage’s office… where did the leaves come from, anyways?
“Well don’t just stand out there lurking.” A woman’s voice called from within the building he had been dropped off at.
He stepped up onto the raised wood floor platform to the main door and slid the door itself open. He stepped inside, peering into the space, “Ah, forgive my intrusion—“
“Close the door behind you.”
Shanks had not spotted the owner of the voice yet, but did as he was told regardless. He suspected he knew who this woman was.
“You can channel chakra; do so into the seal to your right, add just a drop of your blood before you do so.”
Shanks hesitated for only a tiny moment before he did as he was told, releasing his sword just enough to nick his thumb on the blade. He felt the rush of energy leave him as he studied the seal that glowed brightly with his own energy before fading back to look like nothing more than ink painted on the wall. He found his gaze traveling over the various lines, and understanding, as he had when watching Naruto, some of what was there. There was a shield and lock of some sort, and the key was tied into a blood connection.
The woman’s voice snorted in a brief disbelieving laugh. “Oh you are Uzumaki all right, no one else looks at seals like that.”
Shanks startled and he found himself blushing as he turned to look in the direction the voice had come from. “Ah well, I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage, Lady…”
He spotted her then, sitting in a comfortable looking chair on the porch which surrounded an inner courtyard and garden.
“Tsunade. Well don’t lurk at the door, come in and have a seat. I hope you don’t disappoint me, Naruto has brought me quite a few interesting samples from your stash.”
Shanks chuckled outright at that, relaxing as he crossed the first room to find another chair waiting empty just outside the next doorway.
“I’ll have to put him to work restocking when we go back.” He mused, though he didn’t really mind the thefts as much now as he had at first.
“Good. He needs it. Now, cousin, let’s take a good look at you, hmm?”
Shanks found himself shocked and stunned. “Cousin?”
“Naruto didn’t tell you? Well I suppose it’s not really anything that came up between us. His mother’s father, your father that is, was the nephew of my grandmother.”
Shanks stared at her, stunned.
Tsunade smirked, “The sake?”
Shanks almost absentmindedly reached into a hidden pocket of his cloak to pull out a rather recent addition to his standard gear, a scroll.
Tsunade smirked, “I see he’s been teaching you a few tricks, or was this something you already knew how to do?”
Shanks smiled then at that, “Oh, this is a new trick for me. If I had the ability as a child I lost it as I learned to adapt to the world I found myself in.” He unrolled it a good length, and then with a moment of consideration selected one of the marks before unsealing its contents with a small pulse of chakra. “I learned to do this after I had some coaching with my chakra control from Shima-san.”
Tsunade arched a delicate eyebrow at that. “You’ve met the Elder Toads?”
Shanks nodded as he unsealed two more of the smaller marks to produce two sake cups to go with the bottle that had appeared from the first. “There was a small issue with Naruto’s control when it came to summoning while on the Grand Line. Whether this problem holds true outside of the Grand Line or not, we have not had opportunity to test. The Grand Line itself however, particularly the area known as the New World, seems to be heavily saturated with what both Naruto and the Toads called Nature Chakra.” He went on to explain as he filled both of their cups. He picked up his own after doing so and raised it, “To your good health, Lady Tsunade.”
She smiled wryly but took up her own cup and mimicked his gesture before they both downed the cups’ contents. Her eyes widened slightly. “That—”
“My private stock, for special occasions only,” Shanks explained, smiling in amusement at her reaction. “I have a few breweries that offer me special private brews, this is one of my particular favorites.”
Tsunade studied him speculatively, but silently, for several refills of their cups before she spoke again.
“What is it that you want from our Naruto? From all accounts you are well established in your own world. We will not tolerate him being used.”
Shanks returned her steady gaze. “I want him to be free.”
Tsunade met his gaze, her brown eyes intense in their focus. It wasn’t Conquer’s Haki, but it was something like it, the killing intent Gamatsukai had spoken of during those early meetings, perhaps.
After a long moment, she spoke. “There isn’t a soul in this village that doesn’t know that Naruto is our Hokage in everything but name. That being said, we would all follow him into the unknown of your world if he but asked.”
Shanks smiled, “I’m glad that he is so loved. I had worried, as he often seems lost and sad while thinking of home.”
Tsunade’s own gaze sharpened further, and Haki or not, Shanks knew a lesser man would have been at her mercy from that look alone.
“I will not allow him to be used, not by this village, not by our allies, and not by you, cousin or not.” Tsunade then said, and it was very evident, that despite the potency of the sake, she was not affected by it in the least.
Shanks turned an almost feral grin in her direction as he refilled their cups with the last of the liquid in the bottle, “Then we are in agreement, Lady.”
“You sure that was a good idea?” Yasopp asked as they watched the Revolutionaries’ ship sail away.
Benn shrugged. “I believe the Captain will want to hear what Dragon has to say himself. It is impractical to have the leader of the Revolution sit here cooling his heels while Shanks is away. It puts everyone on edge.”
“We could have called him back.” Yasopp offered.
Benn snorted, “And reveal to Dragon that we could.”
“But you gave them Naruto’s marker! What if—“
“I do not believe it possible for anyone living in our world to unravel the mysteries of Naruto’s seals. There is also the energy requirement; not even Dragon himself will be able to change that.”
It was Lucky Roo who added additional insight unexpectedly. “What if Captain wasn’t the only one to come through?”
Benn and Yasopp turned to look at Lucky, surprised, then at each other.
Benn frowned, “It would make sense… and I have a feeling that might be just what Dragon wanted to talk about.”
“Captain’s been awfully interested in how the Marines seemed to know the name Uzumaki.” Yasopp added.
“We will just have to wait and see. The log is set; we head for Jizake no Shima come morning.” The other two nodded but none of the three moved away from the ship’s railing and the view of the horizon beyond it.
The trip through the so called ‘Forest of Death’ had been amusing, and somehow nostalgic. Although if that was because it reminded him a bit of the forests of Goa where he had grown up, or if it was something else that he just couldn’t quite place, he wasn’t sure.
What had come after that, however, had been anticlimactic.
Naruto had led the way into a large tower, and then down into one of the lower levels until they arrived at a large empty room. A few clones and several torches later, and the feeling of ‘dungeon torture room’ still hadn’t quite gone away, even if it was missing anything that looked like a device that would be used for actual torture. However, it became quickly clear, that the space had been used for large scale sealing works before as Naruto and his clones set about mixing up ink, pulling out brushes, and even mapping out some preliminary framework on the ground with chalk and kunai.
That had been interesting to watch… that is until Naruto had him sit down dead center in the middle of it. Since then, the clones as well as Naruto himself, had been busy scurrying all around leaving trails of ink in their wake. Ace was really kind of surprised he hadn’t dosed off again already.
“So when are you going to explain just what this is all about?” Ace asked, trying to stave off yet another yawn.
The real Naruto, at least he thought it was the real one, stopped what he was doing and deftly walked through the intricate maze-work of ink to where Ace was sitting at the center.
“You need a way to control this fire thing you have going on. No more threats from Sakura for burning things down, right?”
Ace nodded, but really wasn’t grasping the connection.
Naruto rolled his eyes, but then pulled up his own shirt to reveal his stomach and after a moment black markings in a strange spiral pattern appeared across his midriff.
Ace blinked, surprised, “That’s—“
“The seal that originally bound Kurama into me, yes.” Naruto offered with a fond grin and let his shirt drop.
“But I don’t need it sealed away!” Ace stated, about ready to make a run for it.
Naruto snorted. “Relax, I don’t know if I could completely seal it, even if I wanted to, which I don’t. No this one is all about control. You know that diamond that Sakura-chan has on her forehead? It’s a seal. One that is way more complex than even this one will be. The point is, it gives her a framework for a specific jutsu, allowing her to control it when she lets loose a lot of stored up power.”
Ace relaxed and thought about it, then frowned, stiffening once more. “I don’t want some diamond on my forehead.”
Naruto and several of the clones broke into full out laughter at that. “I thought I’d work it into that tattoo you already have on your arm; hide it in plain sight.”
Ace relaxed again, “So what will it do for me, then?”
Naruto shrugged. “Muffle it down a bit so you have to actively be looking for it in order to call fire to yourself. Add some restraints so you can’t go supernova on us and blow up everything around you. To be honest, we won’t know exactly all it will do until we test it.”
Ace blanched yet again, “So now I’m your guinea pig.”
Naruto just reached out to tousle Ace’s hair, causing the raven-haired man to lean away in exasperation. This caused several clones to curse as they had just been about to start painting marks on Ace himself.
Naruto grinned widely. “So just sit there a bit longer, we are getting to the really touchy parts.”
Ace sighed, but settled himself a little more comfortably and continued to watch.
“This isn’t going to actually change the appearance of my tattoo, is it?”
They all froze and Ace tensed in response. “Naruto—“
“I would never dishonor your memory of Sabo that way.” Naruto said quietly as the other clones all glanced around at each other before setting back to work.
Ace didn’t relax, his eyes going wide. He had never told anyone about Sabo. The only ones who knew about the real meaning behind the crossed out S in his tattoo were Luffy and the others who were back on Goa. He looked up at Naruto, suddenly feeling very uneasy. “How do you know that name?” He asked, the tension now running through him evident in his voice.
Naruto sighed, but managed to find a space not covered in ink large enough to sit down. “The same way you know I fought a giant snake in this forest when I was eleven years old.” Naruto said quietly.
Ace frowned, of course he knew about that, Naruto had told him… but he hadn’t… “The dreams…” he whispered.
Naruto nodded. “Our memories… yet another side effect of what I did to try and keep you alive. I didn’t think you had gotten mine like I had gotten yours. I’m sorry, no one should have to see all of that.”
Ace suddenly found himself very angry, not at Naruto himself, but at his constantly cheerful attitude as he realized he knew just what Naruto had lived through. Demon child, son of a devil, outcast, hated… Ace had gone looking for that darkness, had even welcomed it as he tried to understand why he lived when his mother had not, but Naruto… Naruto had not known why for a long time. Naruto never had a Luffy in his life, and yet he still smiled. “How can you do it, how can you be so happy?” He asked, his voice almost choked with the emotions now roiling inside of him.
Naruto fidgeted, but in the end just shrugged. “There’s no point in getting mad at people who are just scared. In the end, I’m going to do what I need to do regardless of how they feel. If I let my happiness depend on them… well I’ve seen what that can turn people into and I don’t want that.”
Ace shook his head in both disbelief and amazement.
Naruto smiled, “So don’t worry about your tattoo. We won’t do anything to damage it.”
Ace nodded humbly, but smiled, and this time instead of being bored, he found himself considering what he really knew about Naruto.
The scene that Sakura found when she finally managed to open up the seal barrier Tsunade had somehow managed to activate around her home, was so… Naruto. It was so Naruto-esque in its level of ridiculousness that she found herself looking for the blonde as she knew he simply had to be involved. Her eyes trailed again across at least a dozen empty sake bottles, all of which she was sure had contained a high quality and potent vintage. They then trailed to her mentor who was flushed, giggling, and very obviously drunk.
The Godaime Hokage of Konoha, who drank liquor more than she drank water, was drunk. And giggling.
The situation was so surreal she could almost ignore the red-haired man who was also giggling as bits of paper, corks, and some bits of twine and such danced in his hair… or was his hair dancing with the bits of things. She really couldn’t be sure…
In the end, Sakura really did the only thing she could ever do in such a situation.
Family Connections (Working Title)
Shanks blinked, and then winced.
This had to be some sort of torture.
He had been quite pleasantly drunk, now he was quite unpleasantly not.
“Sakura…” Tsunade growled as she raised a hand to hear head.
“You know you aren’t supposed to be drinking, and you know why!” Sakura hissed back at the older woman, not sympathetic in the least. She then turned on Shanks. “You are just as bad as Naruto!”
Shanks eyed the pink-haired young woman. “Sakura-san, Tsunade-san is old enough to make her own decisions. As a trained medic, I’m sure she is well aware of the risks.”
Sakura blanched, and then huffed, muttering. “Why is it always the most skilled shinobi that are the worst patients?”
Tsunade snorted, not bothering to answer the question. “Fix the hangover, Sakura, only clearing the intoxication is sloppy and petty.”
Sakura met her mentor’s glare then before reaching out to touch both Tsunade and Shanks with gently glowing hands once more. “Why do I even try,” she muttered.
Shanks smiled, “Because those you care for don’t really mind the fussing as much as they pretend to.”
Sakura eyed the older man suspiciously. “And I suppose you would know something about that.”
Shanks grinned. “One must keep their subordinates on their toes after all.”
“And what about friends and family?” Sakura asked, a bit amused at this point, though still exasperated at the behavior of the two supposed adults.
Shanks shrugged helplessly, “Well we can’t be boring after all.”
Sakura rolled her eyes at that, but then settled herself on a nearby chair, “Well, I have something I wanted to talk to you two about anyway.”
“Sakura…” Tsunade said quietly, a note of warning in her voice.
“I’ve thought about this quite a bit recently, Tsunade-shishou.” Sakura said to her mentor, then turned back to face Shanks. “Shanks-san, I want you to participate in a medical procedure to help us save someone.”
Shanks straightened, a frown crossing his features. “Sakura-san, I’m sorry, but I’m not a shinobi, nor a member of your village, why would you ask me?”
Sakura smiled softly then, “Because you are family. Naruto trusts you, and Tsunade-shishou has already added you to her family seal. If I cannot trust either of them, then I can’t trust anyone.”
Shanks blinked in surprise at that, glancing to Tsunade. “Family seal? When? You haven’t…” he trailed off as his eyes widened in sudden understanding, “The drop of blood.”
Tsunade nodded to him, but her expression was serious and her focus was on her pink-haired student.
Shanks hummed in thought, “What do you need of me? I have duties and a life back in the other world, after all.”
Sakura nodded. “It’s not something that could happen immediately, but soon I hope. What the procedure would do is, under medic-nin guidance, it would flood the patient’s chakra network with your chakra and guide it in strengthening and rebuilding the patient’s own network.”
Shanks let a low whistle out at that. “Sounds complex.”
“It is.” Tsunade said quietly. “It can be dangerous and is not something we would consider doing lightly. It requires the donor and the patient to have certain… similarities, and if the donor does not have enough chakra reserves of their own, it could be fatal for both.”
“Shishou—” Sakura began frowning, but Tsunade cut her off.
“Tell him, Sakura.” Tsunade ordered as she closed her eyes and settled back in her chair.
Sakura looked back to Shanks, sadness in her eyes. “Shanks-san, Tsunade-sama is dying. Her own chakra network has been slowly breaking down and if it cannot be repaired, it will kill her. We have been able to slow it down, but nothing we have tried has done anything to heal the damage and stop it from getting worse. She needs a complete transfusion of chakra from a family connection if we are to even have a hope of changing those facts.”
Shanks glanced from the older woman he had been sharing drinks with to her pupil. “I think I understand, but why not Naruto? He has to have just as much of a family connection as I do?”
Sakura shook her head sadly. “Naruto might have been able to, if he had never been host to the Kyuubi. As it is now, his chakra and his chakra network adapted from the day he was born to handle the foreign chakra and has made that chakra his own now. Using chakra of that nature in a procedure like this… would only kill the patient faster.”
“I see, and there is no other living relative who could be the required donor… I will have to think on this.” Shanks said after a moment, “Forgive me Sakura-san, Tsunade-san, but I am no hero and have others I am responsible for.”
Sakura looked down at her hands, “I understand.” She then looked up to meet his gaze, determination now burning in her eyes. “Please consider it and let us know if you have any questions.”
Shanks nodded and rose to his feet. “Excuse me ladies, I think I’ll take a walk.” With that said, he left the small house behind.