It’s Just That Any One of Us Is Half Without Another One Is You – Chapter Twenty-One

The shinobi world starts to settle down again and reach for new equilibrium, and our heroes all get on with their lives. Drama, I-3

Hidden Sound had to find a bigger room, this time, to fit in everyone who wanted to attend the summit. Or perhaps, Kakashi amended as he settled beside Jiraiya at one of the tables making up a large, hollow square, everyone who wanted to hear this after-action report. Even Hanzou of Hidden Rain had come, though it was always possible he just didn’t want his heir going without him; as it was, Kanon sat demurely beside him, hands folded on the table in reassuringly plain sight, while Hanzou smirked at anyone who showed discomfort. Even the Master of the Waterfall had shown up, which only left…

The Raikage stormed into the room and pointed at Kakashi and Jiraiya. “Where is she?” he bellowed. “Where is that thieving little—”

Kakashi winced.

“Senju Tsunade,” Jiraiya cut over A, straightening up with a forbidding look, “is still unable to travel after defeating Uchiha Madara by her own hand.” Sacrificing herself for the sake of us all, his tone implied, and don’t you feel like a horrible person for attacking a woman wounded in the line of duty. Kakashi had to admire his delivery.

It wasn’t a complete lie, either. Tsunade had torn her chakra pathways with the jutsu she’d used on Madara, and Naruto’s chakra transfusions did little good if they couldn’t mesh with her coils. He and Shizune had worn themselves to rags trying, and Tsunade was walking around and even yelling at her Council again. But it would be a while before she recovered her full strength, so here Kakashi was to deal with the leaders of the other villages in her place. He suppressed a momentary desire to swap himself for a handy scarecrow and take to his heels while he still could. Truthfully, it was far too late for that.

A opened his mouth and closed it again, glowering at them. B, coming in behind him, tossed Jiraiya a two-fingered wave and clapped his brother on the shoulder. “Come on, Aniki, it isn’t that bad. You’ve still got us.”

“Indeed,” Terumii of the Mist said, raising one elegantly arched eyebrow, “considering that Hidden Cloud is one of only two villages to still have any Sacrifice at all, I think other considerations come first.”

A grumbled audibly, but did stomp over to take a table, brother trailing behind him. Naruto grinned and waved from Jiraiya’s other side, and B returned a thumbs-up.

“Since this is clearly a major concern,” Naridasu of Sound murmured dryly, “may I ask how many villages have seen their erstwhile beasts at all?”

“The Six-tails has been seen on the islands again, not far from Mist’s boundaries,” Terumii volunteered. “The Three-tails… well. It has been sighted in the ocean, but seems determined to stay away from humans. It has been without a host for some time already; I suppose it isn’t all that surprising.”

“Interesting.” The Tsuchikage rested his chin on his clasped fists, eying the rest of them under bushy brows. “The Four-tails has also returned to Earth, and he seems determined to roam over the whole damn country. He’s scared one or two settlements empty, but he hasn’t attacked anything yet. The Five-tails, we haven’t seen.”

“The One-tail will attack if he’s approached,” Gaara said quietly, “but, if left alone, he too he seems content to roam the country.”

“The Seven-tails has not been seen at all.” The Master of the Waterfall folded his arms, giving the room an impartial glare.

A’s glare topped it effortlessly, and the muscles of his arms flexed menacingly as he folded them. “Our Two-tails is malingering around Leaf.” He looked at Kakashi’s delegation like he suspected them of luring the Two-tailed Cat with a gigantic bowl of milk or something.

“She appears to enjoy the company of one of our jounin,” Kakashi told him smoothly, all innocent smiles. “I believe,” he added, over the Raikage’s strangled sound, “that the man in question was fond of Nii, the previous host. Two-tails appears to remember her with some fondness as well, and enjoy his reminiscence about her. If you send a few potential hosts of similar temperament, to contract with her, I imagine she might be willing to return.”

Most of the room was staring at him, and he smiled impenetrably back, stepping discreetly on Naruto’s foot when it seemed like the boy might just stand up and cheer or something equally unsubtle. The other villages need to be coaxed, or possibly stampeded, into this. Warning the target ahead of time was always bad tactics.

“Contract?” the Kazekage asked quietly, fingers steepled, dark eyes sharp.

Kakashi flicked his fingers at Naruto and B. “Beasts in cooperation with their hosts get better results. That much is well demonstrated by now, I think.” The other village leaders looked promisingly thoughtful at this appeal to self-interest.

“It’s not just that,” Naruto spoke up into the quiet, and Kakashi stifled a sigh. Timing. They had to work on Naruto’s timing if he was ever going to do this political thing. “The tailed beasts… they all have their own stuff going on, you know? They have their own lives. Their own purposes.” Naruto looked down and added softly, “I think that’s why things have been so bad since the beasts were captured.”

“So bad?” Oonoki was watching Naruto like a rock-cat about to pounce.

“Well, I mean!” Naruto waved his hands. “Sixty years, right? And wars every time you turn around! The villages were supposed to make things better, to keep everyone from fighting everyone else all the time, right?” He made an expressive face. “Yeah, that really worked. I asked Hinata; the Hyuuga records go way back. She said there are even more casualties now than there used to be, and even more destruction!”

“What do you think the beasts have to do with that?” Oonoki probed. “I suppose the greatest destruction comes when they’re used but they haven’t been used often at all.”

“That’s not it.” Naruto pulled his hands through his hair, looking frustrated. Kakashi really wondered if he’d ever have the patience for diplomacy. Naruto was doing better than he’d expected, though, incorrigible honestly and all, so he leaned back and just watched.

“Nine-tails says his purpose is to destroy corruption,” Naruto said finally. “He says that’s what he is. An… an embodiment of that. And the last thing he wanted to destroy? Was Madara. You see?”

“Naruto.” Gaara leaned forward. “Are you saying that the tailed beasts controlled our corruption, before they were sealed?”

“Along with everything else.” Naruto spread his hands wide. “It’s hard to put into words. The fox… when he talks about it he gets all mystical and shit.” And then he made a face and glanced just over his shoulder. “You do so,” he muttered, and a moment later, a bit more loudly, “You talked out loud, so I get to talk out loud!”

Kakashi had to admit, the expressions on the faces around the table, as they watched Naruto backtalk to an ancient spirit of destruction, were pretty priceless. Business before pleasure, though. He crossed his ankles, looking as relaxed as possible. “Of course, this brings up the point that even the Nine-tails needed human assistance to defend it from human interference. That logic was sufficient to lead he and Naruto to form a contract. Surely similar logic would be compelling to the other tailed beasts.”

“We would all have to be quick about it, before the beasts lose human language again,” Terumii put in, thoughtful. “But it seems worth an attempt, especially considering the casualties that a forceful sealing usually entails.”

“And the Five-tails hasn’t been seen back in Waterfall, hm?” Amused malice gleamed in Hanzou’s smile. “I imagine it would find Rain just as congenial.”

The Master of Hidden Waterfall started up in his chair. “You dare!”

“On a related subject,” Naridasu interjected smoothly, “several of the villages have expressed a desire for new treaties between us, for the extraction of S-rank criminals. I’m sure none of us wish something like Akatsuki’s recent campaign to happen again.”

As the Masters and Kage started bickering over this new topic, Kakashi murmured, “Naridasu’s good.”

“So are you,” Jiraiya returned, just as quietly. “I think they’ll all at least try the contract route.”

Kakashi had to admit, that did seem to have worked. Which implied that, yes, he was going to be good at this.

Damn.

He sighed and slumped lower, hands shoved in his pockets.


“So?” Tsunade demanded, leaning over her desk, which made Shizune shift like she wanted to bundle Tsunade back into a recliner or something. “How did it go?”

“We got everything you really wanted,” Kakashi reported. “Though I shudder to think what the first few actual cases of extradition are going to look like.”

“Like a hot mess. Welcome to politics.” He couldn’t help twitching at that, and she relented a bit. “Good job. Go on, then, pick up a nice mission to settle your nerves. There are a few A-class missions gone begging while everyone heals up.”

“Thank you, Tsunade-sama.” He bowed a little and escaped. Maybe he’d see if ANBU needed an old hand along on something strenuous. They were almost back to treating him like a normal captain, now Tsunade was back on her feet.

Almost.

He landed on the railed walkway around the administration building’s sixth floor and gripped the rail, head lowered. The really terrifying thing was, he’d started to not mind.

“Starting to catch up with you, hm?”

Kakashi berated himself for being so far gone he had let even someone of Jiraiya’s skill sneak up on him; he’d better not go into the field in this condition. “What is?” he asked as evenly as he could, looking over at the older man leaning against the rail beside him.

Jiraiya gave him a stern look. “The fact that you’re pretty much a born leader, Kakashi-kun.” He softened it with a small smile. “You’ve never been a loner, looking for the solo missions. Not like me.”

Kakashi raised his visible brow. This from a man who’d been part of the village’s most famous and stable team, at least until Sakura, Sasuke, and Naruto came along? “Neither are you, Jiraiya-sama,” he murmured.

Jiraiya actually grinned. “There, see? How many people in this village would call me on that to my face?”

Kakashi was starting to have a little sympathy with Sasuke’s complaints about how sneaky Jiraiya could be, when he wanted to get a point across. “I know I’ll be able to do it,” he said quietly, looking out over the town’s bright roofs again. “It’s just… the whole village, this time.”

Jiraiya sighed extravagantly. “Does no one actually listen to a word I say?” he asked the sky mournfully. “It isn’t something you do alone!”

Kakashi’s mouth quirked behind his mask. “Minato-sensei listened. I listened. Eventually.” Quieter, he added, “But I’m not sure I’ll have a choice, when Tsunade-sama steps down. Even if it’s before her death, she won’t want to interfere with my authority.”

“Mm. I expect she’ll retire to take over the hospital, yes.” Another moment of quiet, and then Jiraiya added, softly, “I’ll still be here for you, though.”

That startled Kakashi enough to look over at him. “You…” He hadn’t thought he was anything to Jiraiya that would call for that kind of promise.

“What’s so surprising?” Jiraiya asked, brows arched. “You’re the student of my student. That makes you my grand-student, so it’s part of my job to look out for you.” While Kakashi was blinking at this line of logic, he rubbed his chin. “Hmm. You’re also Sasuke’s teacher, so you’re my teacher-in-law too. Two significant bonds! I don’t see what you’re startled by.”

Kakashi opened his mouth and closed it again, feeling unbalanced. He wasn’t used to being on this end of that kind of teasing.

Jiraiya smiled wryly and reached out to close a strong hand on the nape of Kakashi’s neck. “Kakashi. I’ll be here.”

Kakashi froze, eyes wide. This… this was his gesture. His reassurance to his students or subordinates. It wasn’t something for him. But as Jiraiya shook him gently, he could feel his own shoulders relaxing, his head bending, feel himself leaning into the kind of support he hadn’t felt in too many years. Not since… not since Minato-sensei; perhaps he should have wondered where Minato-sensei had gotten it from. He had to swallow before he could speak, and even then it was husky with that sudden awareness of connection. “Yes, Jiraiya-san.”

“We’ll find the ones to help you carry it, Kakashi,” Jiraiya told him quietly. “Don’t worry about that.”

Kakashi just nodded, wordless, and let that reassurance soak in.

Maybe it would be all right, after all.


Sakura walked quietly down the river path to the Memorial Stone, fingers wrapped lightly around a spray of white bell-flowers.

This was the first time she’d visited the Memorial Stone like this, and Sasuke and Naruto had offered to come with her, but she’d told them to stay at home so she’d know where to find them afterwards. Neither of them were comfortable with the Stone. Sasuke had too many family names on it, and Naruto always felt guilty for the years when he hadn’t recognized his own father and mother’s names there. Sakura had no family on the Stone. The Haruno family had always been civilians; her grandparents had moved off the farms and inside the village bounds to keep shop, but none of their children had felt called to the field the way Sakura had.

But there were a handful of new names on the Stone, this season, and one of them had been a friend.

Noriko had been part of the Torture and Interrogation unit. Sakura had known her in passing for years, and she’d been present at Sakura and Ino’s debriefing about interrogating Sai, when they’d returned from the Island Turtle. She’d taken them out, afterwards, and poured drinks into them until their hands stopped shaking. And she’d been there a few days later, when Sakura had come face to face with Sai in the entrance to Intelligence and frozen like stone, torn between the urge to attack him and the guilt of having screwed with his head to get information out of him. Noriko had been the one to know it was going to happen and the one who’d been there to talk Sakura down. To tell her she wasn’t a horrible person for having done it, or a weak person for being disgusted by it.

"You did what you had to, when you had to," she’d said softly, watching the stream of water as she’d run a glass for Sakura. "That’s the best any of us do." It had helped.

And now she was dead. She’d been killed by one of the black and white attackers, creating an opening for her team to destroy it.

Sakura stepped out from under the trees and hesitated, seeing someone else already at the Stone. But the slanting afternoon light struck messy silver hair that she recognized, though she hadn’t known Kakashi-sensei was back from what Sasuke had dryly called his vacation mission. After a moment she walked up softly and knelt down in silence beside him. She laid down her bell-flowers by the lilies already there and bent her head for a breath, whispering Noriko’s name in her heart and wishing her spirit all luck and speed. When she looked up, Kakashi-sensei was watching her, visible eye dark and quiet.

"She told me," Sakura said into that quiet, "the best we can do is what we have to, when we have to."

"Wise words," Kakashi-sensei murmured.

"I thought so." She looked down at the flowers. "So I wanted to thank you."

"Hm?" He cocked his head. "What for?"

Sakura slid her hands through the eighteen seals for silence, stilling the air completely for a meter in all directions. Into the faint flatness of their sphere of sound, not moving her lips, she said, "For killing Danzou."

Kakashi-sensei went completely, dangerously still beside her.

"I know I shouldn’t speak about it, even with safeguards," she said, eyes still on the pale flowers. "But I needed to say this to you, and this seems like the right place to say it. Thank you. He was poisoning our village. What he did to Sai, what he wanted to do to Naruto…" her teeth set hard just thinking about it. "So. It needs to be said." She scooted around on her knees and bowed over them, formally. "Thank you for the care you have taken of us."

After a long moment, Kakashi-sensei sighed and touched her shoulder. "Where did you hear of this, Sakura?"

She straightened up and shook her head. "No one speaks of it. Not directly. But I think someone in ANBU is pulling for you, because it’s all over half the village that you braved Madara’s sword to rescue Danzou. Even though he had already taken fatal damage." She smiled crookedly. "And that’s something you would do, Kakashi-sensei, which is why people are buying it. But I was there when you spoke to Sai, when you swore to bring Danzou down. I saw how furious you were. I can believe you didn’t want Madara to kill him. But you would never have left him alive." Her hands clenched in her lap, and her voice turned harsh. "And you were right not to!"

She could just see the faint quirk of his mouth behind his mask. "You’re going to be the strict one of Naruto’s first councilors, I can tell."

Sakura smiled. It was the first time he’d teased any of them properly in weeks. "Yes, Kakashi-sensei," she said demurely, and dismissed her soundproofing. Mission completed, on all counts. She stood, dusting off her pants, and nodded to the Stone. "It was here, wasn’t it, that you told us, the first time: those who abandon their comrades are less than trash. You’ve never done that before; and you haven’t now either."

"I suppose not." Kakashi-sensei traced one name with light fingers before he stood too, and strolled with her back down the river path. "So what were the three of you up to while I was gone?"

Sakura laughed. "We’re starting a campaign to get Nine-tails accepted by the village." She smiled up at him, sidelong and coaxing. "I don’t suppose you have any thoughts about that?"

"Hmm." Kakashi-sensei rubbed his chin thoughtfully, and Sakura could tell that he was smiling. "Well, I suppose you need to get people used to seeing him around, for starters…"


Nine-tails bounded across the trees of another forest valley, and behind his eyes Naruto laughed; he could feel the wind blowing past Nine-tails ears, could smell the scents of trees and earth, damp from a recent rain, of quick forest animals, of smoke from a nearby town. Sakura, perched on Nine-tails’ neck whooped with glee at the speed, and when Nine-tails was in his own form like this Naruto could feel the brilliance of excitement in her chakra, and the warmth of Sasuke’s pleasure, just behind her. Even if Sasuke refused to yell with the fun of it like him and Sakura.

Hmph. Foolish kits. The fox sounded very nearly indulgent, though. Naruto had already figured out that he liked Sakura, especially after getting a good whiff of her when her seal was activated, that night at the south gate. Sasuke and the fox seemed to have reached a mutual agreement to ignore each other, but that was way better than the growling and snapping, so Naruto called that a win too.

And, okay, so the shinobi on the walls still tended to check their weapons when Nine-tails strode up under the sunlight like this, but Naruto was working on that. When he and the fox switched, today, he kept the tails out.

“Naruto?” Sakura rose from her landing and cocked her head at his waving tails. “Did you want to spar for a few rounds before lunch or something?”

He grinned. “Not exactly. Come on, let’s see what’s at the market.”

Sasuke gave him a sidelong look. “You’re volunteering to shop for real food instead of agitating for ramen. Definitely up to something.”

Naruto grinned, innocent as could be, and grabbed their hands to drag them through the gate. People turned and looked, but, hell, Naruto had been used to that all his life. He concentrated on trotting cheerfully among the produce stalls and arguing volubly with Sasuke over which fish to get for dinner. Finally, after he’d hooked one of the shopping bags over a tail to carry, ignoring the incredulous noise the fox made in the back of his head, the lady with the turnips and potatoes dared to ask, “Er. Uzumaki-kun. The… the tails? Why?”

Naruto blinked at her, wide eyed. “Oh, well, they’re kind of handy you know. Like extra hands almost.” He squinched up his face, thoughtfully. “Course that isn’t always an advantage. I mean, sometimes the fox gets pissy about me using them, and then he…” he yelped as a tail slid under his arm. “Hey, hey, cut that out!” Another snaked up under his shirt and he batted at it. “Cut it out, that tickles!”

What are you doing?! the fox demanded, outraged.

I’m fixing your reputation, shut up and let me work, Naruto answered briskly and continued tickling himself with their tails, ignoring the fox’s sputtering. The stall keeper had her fingers pressed to her mouth, but her eyes were starting to dance.

Sakura had a hand over her face, which Naruto could tell was totally hiding snickers, but probably looked exasperated to anyone else. Sasuke just rescued the bag from Naruto’s tail and rolled his eyes. “We’ll take three of the sweet potatoes,” he said, ostentatiously ignoring his squirming, laughing teammate; which, of course, was perfectly normal.

There was disbelief on a lot of faces, but the start of amusement also. Possibly even vindication on a few, the people Naruto had pranked most often as a kid. Naruto bundled the tails up in his arms and grinned, breathless, at Nine-tails’ appalled silence in the back of his head.

Total win. He’d have to see if Kakashi-sensei had more ideas. Or maybe Iruka-sensei. Yeah; he’d ask Iruka-sensei. He laughed as Sasuke turned back for home, shaking his head, and Sakura linked arms with him, pulling him along.

They were going to change things.


Tsunade wandered through the Residence library, contemplating the shelves of restricted scrolls and smooth, burled wood pillars. She paused in one corner to trail her fingers along the personal records of the ones who’d come before her. Minato-kun, Sarutobi-sensei, her great-uncle. Her grandfather.

“You didn’t know what would happen,” she told his memory quietly. “You were doing the best you could for your people. All of us… just doing the best we can and keeping on.”

And by that measure, Naruto might really be the best Hokage they’d ever had.

“Tsunade-sama?” Shizune called from the doorway. “It’s almost time for the monthly meeting.”

Tsunade sighed and pulled her mind back to business. “Anything I need to know before we go in?” she asked, striding for the door.

“A message from the Mizukage just got in, saying Suigetsu might show up here soon and would we please send him home again.” Shizune handed over the message strip for her to read as they paced down the Residence halls to the front doors.

Tsunade laughed out loud as they came out into the chill of the afternoon air. “Tell whoever takes that mission to wait until he’s finished his drink; we don’t want more busted up bars than we can help.” She had to admit, she liked that kid’s style.

“Yes, Tsunade-sama,” Shizune said repressively. “There’s one other thing. The master of the last Fire caravan to pass through Hidden Rain says that he saw someone matching the description of Yakushi Kabuto.”

Tsunade’s eyes narrowed, seeing for one moment that lying smile instead of the trees that lined the way to the administrative center. “So the little snake has surfaced again. Don’t let Sakura hear about this,” she ordered. “Not until we confirm it. I don’t want her taking off after him into the middle of Rain, and most likely her team with her, without full information.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Shizune murmured.

Tsunade paused at the gates to the administrative center and looked back out over her village, hands on her hips. The streets were busy at this time of day, and a handful of shinobi had taken the roof path, flickering from shadow to shadow. “We’re not doing too badly, are we?”

Shizune smiled. “Not badly at all.” Of course, then she had to add, gently, “The meeting, Tsunade-sama?”

Tsunade sighed. “Yeah, yeah. I’m going.” She straightened her haori and prepared for yet another hour or two of frustrating wrangling. “At least this time the old goats won’t be able to claim Naruto and Sasuke haven’t earned every bit of their promotions, along with Sakura.”

She tossed one last smile over her shoulder, at her busy, lively village full of busy, fractious people, all of them living on that thin line between service and selfishness. Sometimes they fell, one way or the other. Sometimes she fell, like she had for years before Naruto pulled her back. The point wasn’t not falling. The point was taking the hand that reached out to pull you up again.

Maybe it was time for her to start keeping her own personal record, as the Fifth. Maybe that would be what she wrote down, to start it.

“Let’s go, Shizune,” she said, still smiling.

End