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Part One:

To Find Love

 

Chapter One

April 15, 2007

 

The night sky was beautiful. Gleaming stars twinkling amid the endless void of darkness. Miles away from the brightly lit village, the shining balls of light were even more prominent. Small gusts of wind blew across the meadow, the soft calm disrupted by the sounds of chirping crickets and wild animals rustling through the surrounding brush. A scene that would otherwise calm ones soul was wasted on the grief stricken ninja.

He sat silently, knees drawn up, his lonely profile radiating agony.

The pain was unbearable.

Worse than any broken bone.

Worse than any kunai wound.

Worse than any physical pain he’d ever gone through.

His heart was in tatters, shredded and bleeding within his chest. It was hard to breathe, hard to think.

Everything hurt.

He didn’t know what he was supposed to do, where he was supposed to go, how he was supposed to handle this.

He clenched his teeth, struggling to hold back tears.

He didn’t want to cry. He had been crying for days.

Crying wouldn’t change anything.

Tears wouldn’t wash away the agonizing truth. His fingers dug into the cool grass beneath him, desperately trying to hang on to his wayward emotions. His body shook, tremors wracking his body. Angry, frustrated, heartsick beyond belief, he gripped his hair, on the verge of ripping the golden locks from his head.

Ero-Sennin.

That perverted grin floated before his minds eye, that obnoxious laugh rang in his ears. Even now he could feel the warmth of that strong hand ruffling his spiky hair.

Gone.

No goodbye. No words of farewell.

No remains to bury.

Just gone.

Agony shot through his chest. He hunched over, his fingers tightening in his hair. Tears, unbidden, unwanted, dripped down his chin. His shoulders shook with the force of his sobs.

What had he gone through?

What kind of pain had he suffered?

What had his last few moments of life been like?

Had he died alone?

Had he been afraid?

The unanswered questions tore a whole in his gut.

Why?

Why him?

Why had Ero-Sennin been taken away from him?

The closest thing he’d ever had to a grandfather. A man he’d loved as family. He’d never told the old hermit what he meant to him and now, he’d never get that chance. That was one of the hardest, harshest realities bearing down on him. That he’d never get to say all the things he hadn’t known he felt, to put into words the happiness and contentment he’d taken for granted while at Pervy Sage’s side.

There was no way to tell him how much something as small as sharing a Popsicle on a hot day meant to him. How much he’d loved training with the old man. How overwhelmed he’d been when Ero-Sennin had bought him the new clothes he wore today.

Wave after wave of pain crashed through him.

He couldn’t take it. Couldn’t bear another moment of this horrific torture.

“Naruto-kun?”

His body jerked at the sound of the soft voice drifting over him. He didn’t have to look to know who it was. What she was doing way out here, he couldn’t fathom, but he could safely say, he wasn’t in the mood for company.

His teeth clenched.

He didn’t want to lash out at her and say something he’d regret later. His emotions were raw, his pain deep and fresh. As much as he craved the attention and regard of others, he repudiated it with as much contempt as he could muster at this moment.

He wasn’t sure he could control himself right now.

The rage he felt at the devastating news of Jiraiya’s murder was unchecked. He knew himself well enough to know he wasn’t coping very well. If he had to hear, “he’s in a better place now,” and “he wouldn’t want you to suffer because of him” one more time, he’d explode in an unrestrained tirade of ire and explain that he didn’t give a fuck about any of that.

He didn’t want to hear it.

Not right now.

All he wanted was to hurt and to grieve and to remember and regret and cry and process this horrible nightmare he was trapped in. He ground his teeth together, a dull ache radiating along his jaw.

Unwilling to unleash the ugliness he felt on a friend, he sat silently, hoping she’d take the hint and leave him to suffer alone.

He’d grown up alone.

He’d lived alone.

He’d struggled alone.

And he’d deal with this alone.

Her soft footsteps told him she hadn’t understood the significance of his silence. He bristled, anger bubbling to the surface as her scent, something gentle and floral, brushed his nose. Seconds later, he felt her take a seat next to him, the heat of her body close to his arm.

‘Leave,’ he thought silently at her, ‘I don’t want to hurt your feelings,’

Silence stretched. Seconds ticked by, and yet she remained quiet.

What the hell was she doing?

Why didn’t she say anything to him?

His patience was thin, his nerves frayed.

He wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed at the best of times, he could only focus on one thing at a time, and right now, he didn’t have the mental capacity to try and figure out why she was sitting quietly next to him.

He took a breath, prepared to tell her to leave, to risk hurting her feelings if it’d get him some much needed peace, when a soft hand touched him hesitantly. Gentle warmth smoothed over his back, rubbing in light circles.

Shock moved through him, turning his body to stone.

She didn’t speak, didn’t offer him pretty words of condolence or harsh rationale of life and death, merely offered comfort for him to take.

The silent strength, the quiet comfort of that caress ripped the anger from his mind, leaving sadness and a bottomless well of hurt.

He shuddered, a sobbing breath tore from his chest as he turned to her, crushing her to his shaking body. He held on for dear life, dimly aware that he was gripping her too tight, that he was probably hurting her, but unable to stop, unable to let go of the solace she presented, the single ray of light in his world of darkness. She didn’t pull away from his fierce embrace, didn’t utter a word of protest against the pressure of his hold.

Tears flowed.

Everything.

He let go of everything.

The hurt, the loneliness, the shock, the grief, the rage, the anguish, all of it.

And she held him through it, that tender hand stroking his hair, conveying without words that she was here for him.

That it was okay to feel the way he felt.

That he didn’t have to be strong right now, that he could be broken inside.

He could be weak.

He could be angry.

He could be hurt beyond words.

He cried for what felt like hours, a tidal wave of tears the likes of which he’d never shed before, leaving him physically and psychologically drained. Held against her soft bosom, he lay trembling in the aftermath of the emotional storm. The low, steady beat of her heart fluttered against his cheek, the sound as soothing as her gentle caress, even now, flowing over his neck and back.

Exhaustion washed over him.

He turned his head slightly, tired and swollen eyes taking in the night sky, calmer and less hurt than when he’d initially come. The twinkling stars became blurred, their shining brightness fading as he drifted off.

~

The heat of the suns rays woke him from a dreamless slumber, chirping birds filling his ears. Slowly, he opened his swollen, achy eyes. Bright blue sky and lazily drifting clouds greeted him. For long moments, he didn’t know where he was, why he wasn’t in his bedroom, all he knew was that he felt comfortable, peaceful even.

The smooth skin of a small palm brushing back his bangs startled him.

He looked to the right.

Gentle, pale lavender eyes clashed with shocked blue.

He blinked.

‘Hinata?’

It took him another few seconds to realize his head lay comfortably on her lap. Dull heat crept into his cheeks. He leapt up.

“Sorry!” he said, smiling awkwardly, rubbing the back of his head, “I don’t know why….”

The events of the night before unfolded in his memory.

His smile slowly vanished, his arm lowering to his side. He remembered the agony he’d been in last night and the relief she had offered with her soothing presence.

He looked over at her.

As was normal, at least around him, she was fidgeting, a bright blush staining her face, those pearl eyes trained on the ground, though stealing glances at him every once and a while. Her mannerism was just as weird as ever, in contrast with her behavior the night before. As weird as she was, she’d done more for him than any friend had last night, had been there for him when he needed someone the most. Even after he’d drifted to sleep, she’d stayed, hadn’t left him alone.

He didn’t know what to say.

“Thank you” seemed woefully inadequate for what she’d done for him. Hell, she’d pretty much held him together when he’d feared he would come apart.

What was the proper way to express gratitude for something as priceless as that?

He didn’t know.

“Hinata,”

“Y-yes?”

“Last night….What you did for me….”

“I-I hope I didn’t bother you, Na-Naruto-kun,” she worried, her index fingers tapping against each other in that familiar, nervous way of hers, “I know you probably wanted to be alone, b-but I thought….being alone…wasn’t good…”

His lips curled slightly, eyes sad.

“You’re right, I did wanna to be alone, but…I’m glad I wasn’t,”

He moved forward and gripped one of her fidgeting hands, his grin brighter than the sun.

“Thank you, Hinata. I don’t know what I’d do without a friend like you, dattebayo,” he said, “Hey, I know! How about we go get some ramen, my treat!”

Seconds ticked by.

Confusion bloomed.

She seemed frozen, her face redder than a tomato. He leaned in, nearly nose to nose with her.

“Hinata, you okay? Your face is really red,”

He placed a hand on her forehead, worried she’d caught a cold from being out all night with him. Her forehead didn’t seem unusually warm or anything, but the bright red shade seemed to deepen.

“Ah! Hinata! Are you alright?!” he exclaimed as she keeled over.

Leaning forward, he wrapped his arms around her limp form.

He shook her gently.

“Oi, Hinata,”

She didn’t stir.

‘Weird girl,’ he thought.

He straightened a bit, holding her against his chest. She hadn’t fainted like that in a while, but for some reason it always seemed to happen when he was around. It was weird, just like her.

He couldn’t help the smile that made its way to his face.

‘Really weird girl,’

~~~~~~~

 

Sitting at his large, messy desk in the dimly lit room, Kohei contemplated the hurried writing on the scroll before him, dark brows creased in concern. The intelligence gathering was proving fruitful, though the content of the correspondence was more than alarming. Jiraiya, one of the Legendary Sannin of the Leaf, had been murdered by the Six Paths of Pain.

Nagato had become more powerful than ever before to have killed Jiraiya single handedly and more vicious and heartless to have killed the man that had once shown kindness to him and those he loved. If ever they were discovered by his old sensei, Kohei knew he wouldn’t be able to defend himself, let alone protect his village.

Light brown eyes narrowed.

There’d be no talking, no negotiations, no reasoning with Nagato, he was damn sure of that. He leaned forward, elbows on the desk, chin resting atop his folded hands.

The Akatsuki had changed since his departure.

The people that made up that small band of ninja had the strength of an army and the soullessness of a demon. He no longer recognized in that bunch, the principles and values the Akatsuki had been founded on.

He knew what Yahiko’s death had done to Nagato, Kohei himself knew first hand the madness that could nip at one’s mind with the loss of someone dear, but he couldn’t help but wonder if Konan had even attempted to steer Nagato back to sanity.

From the reports he’d received, she seemed to be on board with the insane plot Nagato had concocted.

Dread unfurled in the pit of his stomach.

There were too many enemies surrounding them, too many angles to watch. The Akatsuki, the Five Great Shinobi Countries, the detractors within his own village pushing for action when observation and careful planning were needed.

Pain crept into his temples, the signs of an impending headache.

Their continued survival was looking bleak, enemies aside. The environment its self was a constant battle. Producing enough food, trading for the essentials, keeping their location secure and secret was becoming more and more of a struggle each day. Their resources were spread thin, the bulk of which was being used to cloak themselves from Zetsu.

He looked down at the damning words on the scroll.

They had to do something.

HE needed to do something.

This was his village, his nation, his dream, he couldn’t allow himself to fail. There were too many people relying on him, depending on him, looking to him for safety and a better life.

“Kohei-sama,”

Kohei looked up from the scroll, a frown coming to his lips at the sight of the man before him. Takahiro stood in the door way, his shoulder length, white hair pulled back into a low ponytail, his dark brown eyes shrewd and determined behind his circular spectacles.

The white coat he wore left no doubt that he’d come straight from the labs.

Kohei hadn’t even heard the door open.

He could guess why Takahiro was here, lobbying for more funding for his department no doubt. Why else would he enter his office without knocking and announcing his presence?

Kohei had been rebuffing the man for the past few weeks, hiding behind a closed door, unwilling to endure more of Takahiro’s attempts to sway him towards authorizing testing for their latest genetic project.

He didn’t want to be at odds with foster brother.

Didn’t want them to argue about the best way to protect the village but it looked like soon he wouldn’t have a choice. He knew Takahiro was loyal to him and the village, he didn’t question the man had their best interest at heart, but he’d become more insistent on taking risks and crossing lines Kohei wasn’t sure they could ever come back from.

Thanks to the latest news, Takahiro had plenty of fodder to bolster his argument for the use of genetic alteration of at least the shinobi that protected their village. Even Kohei couldn’t deny that their situation was beyond desperate.

He sighed.

He wasn’t certain he’d grant those funds even if the village had it to spare. Everything was moving fast, too fast in his opinion. He was no scientist and often differed to Takahiro in matters of a scientific nature, but in this, he wasn’t sure he could trust the lead scientist’s judgment.

Takahiro was growing impatient with their progress to establish themselves and stabilize the village. He worried about the moves the Akatsuki were making, the implications it would have for their village should the group’s ultimate goal come to fruition. It was a frightening possibility that kept Kohei up at night. He couldn’t say he didn’t understand the urgency driving Takahiro to take risks, but at what cost?

The lives of their people?

Their very humanity?

“I take it you’ve already read the message from the spy unit,” Kohei commented, closing the scroll.

Intelligence often times landed on Takahiro’s desk even before his. Kohei couldn’t be in his office twenty-four seven, there was too much to do, many tasks that forced him outside his office, so information of a more serious nature was delegated to Taka whenever Kohei couldn’t be reached in a timely fashion. It was a arrangement that had always worked for the good of the village, but now, was becoming a possible liability, considering Takahiro’s stance of late.

“We’re out of time, Kohei-sama,” Takahiro stated, shutting the door behind him.

Kohei sat back in chair, tension tightening the muscles around his neck and shoulders.

“Taka, I will not-”

“You no longer have a choice….sir,”

The tension in his neck and shoulders spread, encompassing his entire body. Light brown eyes turned sharp, cold even, as they regarded his adopted brother.

“No choice?” he repeated, the words clipped.

Takahiro hesitated. Foster brother or not, even he knew he treaded on dangerous ground.

“I take full responsibility for this…situation. A subordinate of mine and one of the testing volunteers have already began using the serum. We’ve only just realized what they’ve been doing,”

Ire darkened Kohei’s eyes, suffocating chakra filled the room.

Sweat beaded Takahiro’s upper lip and forehead.

Kohei didn’t believe that bullshit for a second.

Taka was beyond meticulous and exacting, not a damn thing slipped by his sharp eyes. He’d looked the other way on this, had forced Kohei’s hand. Not only that, he knew there were others that were involved in this. Others that were eager to push their agenda forward, no matter the cost.

They’d sent his brother to break the news and take the blame, knowing Kohei wouldn’t imprison or execute his brother for what could be viewed as treason.

“Kohei, we’re out of options,” Takahiro implored, taking a cautious step toward him, “If we don’t start testing now, all of this will be for naught. Everything we’ve done, everything we’ve trying to build, wasted. The Great Shinobi Nations and the Akatsuki are going to end up in a war, and we’re going to end up being collateral damage again. We have to make moves now,”

Kohei’s teeth clenched.

He knew what was coming. Had live through war times, could see the writing on the walls.

“How long?” Kohei demanded.

“.….Testing has been going on for at least a month now,” he admitted, “We need more people to be tested, more scientist to observe and analyze the results and form a more stable serum,”

Kohei was silent, the air in the room becoming heavier.

Takahiro felt drops of sweat slide down his spine.

He had seen Kohei get angry before, but had never been on the receiving end of this level of ire. It was the first time he feared his brother would actually do him harm. He’d stepped way out of bounds, he realized that, but whether Kohei knew it or not, Takahiro was attempting to spare his brother from having to soil his hands as much as possible.

Kohei agonized over the decision to either stain his hands with the blood of his people by authorizing wide scale testing or to sit back and do nothing and pray things worked out in their favor.

Either decision would lead to bloodstained hands.

‘Let me sully my hands,’ Taka thought, ‘Let me do what is necessary to realize our dream,’

Kohei stood and with great force swept his desk clean. Scrolls, ink wells, books, maps and other debris went flying, crashing to the floor and against the wall. Takahiro didn’t move, didn’t breathe. He stood watching, waiting as his brother collected himself with great effort.

Long moments passed.

Kohei moved, striding towards the door, nearly throwing it from its hinges as he stepped outside and made his way to the labs.

Taka released the breath trapped in his lungs, feeling dizzy.

Reaching up, he adjusted his glasses seated on the bridge of his nose, a nervous habit he’d thought himself rid of.

This was the right decision. He was sure of it.

It would work out, and when it did, they’d finally realize their dream. They were close, seated right on the cusp of success. All they had to do was reach out and grab it.

Composed, Taka turned and followed Kohei’s retreating form down the hall.

~~~

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Two

June 20, 2007

 

Naruto groaned, turning away from the luminous rays of light peeking through his curtains, disturbing his slumber. His eyelids opened half mast, lazily taking in the brightly lit room. The sounds of the rebuild effort beyond the walls of his bedroom reached his ears.

Reconstruction of Konoha was an ongoing but surprisingly quick endeavor.

Guess that was to be expected in a village of ninja, though poor Yamato-Taichou was running himself ragged providing wood and helping his fellow doton shinobi with landscaping. The rebuild was not only physical, but psychological. Working together, helping one another, being there for each other, went a long way towards repairing the wounds inflicted on the hearts and spirits of those that had witnessed and lived through the destruction Nagato had wrought with the Six Paths of Pain.

Direct attacks on the village had happened before, would unfortunately happen again, yet when placed side by side, even the previous attack on the village during the chunin exams, in which many shinobi lost their lives, most noteworthy of all, the Third Hokage, had not been nearly as traumatic as what had happened just weeks before.

The relative peace the villagers lived in had aided in the sense of safety they’d felt before Pain.

It was easy to forget how dangerous the world was beyond the walls of Konoha, how truly vulnerable they were and brought the harsh reality of shinobi life to the forefront in a way that couldn’t be ignored. The people of the Leaf had developed a new found appreciation for the ninja that put their lives on the line every single day. One ninja in particular was on the receiving end of their over zealous gratitude.

Turning over on his back, Naruto placed an arm over his eyes.

For a guy that had grown up largely ignored and sometimes out right hated, a guy that had fought his entire life for recognition and admiration, now that he had it, he wasn’t basking in the attention like he thought he would, but rather, he was avoiding it.

As thanks for his part in defeating Pain, his apartment had been one of the top priorities for reconstruction after the Hokage tower and hospital. The gesture had embarrassed rather than pleased him. It felt really selfish for him to have a fully functional home while everyone else were relegated to tents and makeshift shelters. He’d felt equally bad to decline the gesture, not wanting to seem ungrateful.

It was a confusing situation, one he’d never been in before, didn’t know how to deal with.

Hell, he was even worse when random people called out to him as though he were a cherished friend, smiling and laughing with him, asking for his autograph and to tell them the story of his epic battle with Pain.

It felt unfamiliar and to be completely honest, unwelcome.

Their actions felt suspicious. He was weary of the u-turn the villagers had made regarding his presence, in no way convinced the praise they lavished on him was genuine, that it’d last long.

He didn’t want to get used to this feeling of being admired and accepted only to be launched back into loneliness and indifference when the warm feelings wore off. When people remembered why they hated him the first place. When they remembered the failure he’d always been.

His teeth clenched.

Frustrated with his train of though, he sprang up, throwing the blankets off.

When had he become so moody and broody?

Who was he?

Sasuke?

No!

He was Uzumaki Naruto!

The guy who was gonna bring Sasuke back and then become the greatest Hokage that ever lived!

“Right!” he exclaimed with a nod.

Naruto slapped his cheeks before raising his fists with renewed determination. He wasn’t afraid of anything! He’d meet any challenge head on!

Nothing was gonna stop him!

“What the heck are you doing?”

Naruto turned.

Sakura was leaning inside his window, chin in hand, her face conveying annoyed confusion. A blush crept up his neck and into his cheeks. It seemed like he was always making a fool of himself in front of her.

“S-Sakura-chan, good morning,”

She sighed, ignoring his greeting.

“Tsunade-sama is calling for us. Probably another mission to buy more food rations and supplies from neighboring villages. She’s been putting all ninja on a rotation of building and supply runs. Looks like its our turn,”

“Really????” Naruto enthused.

Perfect timing.

This was his chance to get out of the village, away from all the fawning attention and clear his head. Once he had a chance to think things over, he was sure he’d figure out how to deal with all this.

“Let’s do it!” he proclaimed, rolling up his sleeve and holding up his fist for emphasis.

Sakura seemed less than impressed with his show of enthusiasm.

“Umm, you may wanna get dressed first. Somehow I don’t think pajamas are appropriate attire for a mission,”

Naruto looked down at his orange pj's, then back at Sakura. He let loose a goofy laugh, ruffling the back of his hair bashfully.

“Right, gimme a minute dattebayo,”

A speedy change of clothes and a quick toast of bread later, Naruto and Sakura walked through the streets of Konoha. Sakura watched with interest as they passed buildings in various states of repair, while Naruto finished off his toast.

“At the rate things are going, the Leaf will almost be back to normal in a few months,” she commented.

“Hmmm, think so?” Naruto mumbled over a mouth full of bread.

“Yeah, I mean they’ve got the framework of more than half the village done already and with Yamato-Taichou’s help, things are moving even faster than anticipated,”

“That’s-”

“Uzumaki-san!”

The two stopped, turning to watch as a man ran towards them. Within seconds, the man was toe to toe with Naruto, face full of enthusiasm.

“You’re THE Uzumaki, right?” the man questioned, “the Uzumaki-san that saved the village from Pain, right??? The hero of the Leaf, right????”

Naruto leaned back as the man leaned forward with every word he spoke. A nervous and uncomfortable smile made its way to Naruto’s face.

“U-uh yeah, I’m Naruto Uzu-”

“My kid has been talking about you non-stop, can I-uh he have your autograph???”

Sakura giggled at the disgruntled look on Naruto’s face as he took the pen and paper the energetic man held out for him.

Sakura smiled.

Who’d have ever thought that knuckle head would actually become famous? All that bluster and bravado had certainly paid off, though watching him fumble with how to handle his new status was nearly as painful as it was funny.

Sort of surprising too.

She’d have thought this kind of thing would have him preening and bragging. She’d even wondered how many times she would have to pound his over inflated ego back down to size. Strange, but he seemed like he wasn’t enjoying it much, let alone getting a big head over the fawning.

She wasn’t sure what his deal was and hadn’t really asked him about it.

She shrugged and chalked it up to simple social awkwardness. He was used to fighting to be seen, he probably hadn’t adjusted to not having to fight for a kind word any more.

He’d get used to it.

Naruto said goodbye to the man and the two continued on, stopping whenever someone called out to him. Twenty minutes later, Naruto had signed more than a dozen autographs and taken several very awkward pictures with excited villagers and shinobi. Fed up with the delays and unwilling to test Tsunade’s limited patience, Sakura grabbed the bumbling celebrity by the scruff of his collar and launched them atop the completed roof of a nearby building.

“T-Thanks Sakura-chan,” he said, taking a breath.

“Jeez, Naruto, don’t you know how to say no? Tsunade-sama called for us twenty minutes ago. You know she doesn’t like waiting. I’d prepare myself if I were you,”

“B-B-But it’s not my fault!” he whined, “The villagers showed up outta nowhere, I could hardly turn them down! She can’t beat me for that right?!”

Sakura sighed, rolling her eyes.

“Right, Sakura-chan?”

Ignoring him, Sakura hopped to another rooftop, heading in the direction of the tower.

“Sakura-chaaaaaannnnnn!,”

xxxxxx

Naruto gulped as they stood before the Hokage door. Sakura knocked and opened the door as casually as you please.

“Excuse the intrusion,” she called out.

Naruto felt sweat bead his forehead. Tsunade-baa-chan was scary when she got mad.

Sure enough, the Hokage blasted him the moment he stepped through the door. A vicious forehead flick sent him flying right back out into the hall.

‘How come she assumed it was my fault we were late?’ he complained to himself as he peeled himself from the floor and rubbed his throbbing forehead.

“Maybe you should have at least let him explain himself first, Tsunade-sama,” Shizune commented when he’d made his way back into the room.

“Hmph, I doubt he could come up with an excuse good enough to explain his tardiness,”

Pouting, Naruto crossed his arms.

“Oiii, how come you automatically assume I was the reason we were late Baa-chan?”

“Because Sakura has always had perfect attendance, while you barely make it in time to hear what the mission is about more often than naught,” Ino supplied, hand on hip. “Face it Naruto, you aren’t exactly the face of responsibility and punctuality.”

Naruto and Sakura looked over at the sound of the voice. In the back of the room, next to a bookcase stood Ino and a fidgeting Hinata. The pout left Naruto’s face at the sight of the blue-black haired girl standing silently against the wall, her face already flushed.

He hadn’t spoken to her since the fight with Pain.

Dull heat crept up his neck.

With everything that had been going on, it shamed him to admit, even to himself, that he’d forgotten all about her.

Hell, he hadn’t even checked up on her, to see how her wound was, to thank her for saving his life, to yell at her for being so reckless on his behalf.

He was grateful and angry about what happened.

It was a confusing clash of emotions. Friends had risked their lives for him before and outside of Sasuke, who he despised being saved by, he’d always felt gratitude and a sense of bonding with the person. With Hinata, it was different. It felt……

He thought hard.

Wrong?

Yeah.

It felt wrong for her to do something like that and he couldn’t pinpoint exactly why. She was a shinobi, strong and willing to risk her life in battle just like he was but there just seemed like there was something fragile about her, something too gentle to be crushed. Watching her be thrown about by Pain had torn him apart. Seeing her try so hard to save him when she could barely see through the blood dripping down her face, to move her body forward when only one of her legs moved properly had nearly done him in. He’d had to stop himself from begging Pain to take him away and leave her unharmed.

He’d thought that would drive him insane, but seeing her impaled by that rod, to watch her blood ooze over those jagged rocks.

Rage had sprang forth from the darkest pits of his soul. Hatred, the likes of which he’d never felt before consumed him. The urge to kill hadn’t been all the kyuubi’s doing. A large portion of it had been his own bloodthrist.

Never had he wanted to rend flesh and bone as he had at that very moment.

To have his sensei’s murderer try to do the same to Hinata right before his very eyes….

To see her so still on the ground. Her broken body bleeding and defenseless and he himself, unable to move, unable to do anything but watch.

Helpless.

Powerless.

He pushed aside the mental image of her that day.

Even now, he didn’t like to remember seeing her hurt that way.

It turned his stomach.

The rest of the battle was a blank emptiness of missing time in his memory. He’d been told he had transformed instantly into four tailed kyuubi, gaining more tails as the battle between him and Pain continued. The aftermath of his rampage had stunned him.

He was lucky his father had been there to help reign in the transformation. He shudder to think what more he could have done had he not been stopped….who he would have hurt.

Sakura elbowed him in the ribs, bringing him out of his thoughts.

“You four are next on supply run rotation,” Tsunade was saying, “You’ll leave here together and split up into two groups once you reach the crosswords along the eastern border. Ino and Sakura will head to the Land of Healing and pick up the supply of medical equipment. Naruto, you and Hinata will pick up the food rations from the Land of Rice. Hinata,”

“Y-Yes ma’am?”

“You’ll be particularly instrumental for this mission. The last shipment we received was contaminated either before purchase or somewhere along the way. You’ll need to use your Byakugan to inspect each bale of food for mold or insects before its purchased to ensure the rations are contaminant free at the time of purchase,”

“Of course, Hokage-sama,”

“Naruto, you’re pretty much muscle for this trip. We’re expecting a big shipment so we’ll need your clones to push the carts back to the village,”

“Ehhhhhhh? Push the carts?” Naruto sulked, “That sounds exhausting, dattebayo,”

“Oh quit you belly aching and get going. You’ve wasted enough time as it is,” Tsunade dismissed.

Minutes later, the group was headed to the eastern border, Ino and Sakura chit chatting ahead of Naruto and Hinata. In contrast to the two girl’s lively conversation, Naruto and Hinata walked in awkward silence.

Naruto brought his hands up, locking them behind his head as he walked, his blue eyes roaming the scenery, trying hard not to look at girl beside him. Hinata’s gaze remained downcast, her face a bright red beneath her dark hair.

Their reasons for avoidance couldn’t be more opposite.

Naruto was drowning in shame at his lack of interest in her health until now, while Hinata’s heart was pounding with trepidation over what he might say while they were alone.

She hadn’t spoken to him since she had confessed her love for him and attempted to save him from Pain. He seemed to be avoiding her since then, or at least hadn’t actively sought her out at all. Over the weeks as she recovered from her injuries, she’d come to the conclusion that her confession had ruined their friendship and driven him away. The sadness that had gripped her heart after coming to that realization had been painful in its intensity.

A true nightmare from the depths of her soul come true.

With them alone on this mission together, she was terrified he would use the situation to confirm her fears. That he’d tell her that he didn’t return her feelings, that they couldn’t be friends any more because of it.

For what felt like the hundredth time, she wished she would have kept her mouth shut or at least died as she had anticipated instead of walking here along side of him looking and feeling like an absolute fool.

She had cried so many nights, regretting she had ever said anything in the first place.

The only reason she’d told him was because she had been so sure she would die. She had been more than willing and ready to die to protect the boy she loved, but in a weak, selfish moment, she hadn’t wanted to leave this world without letting him know what he meant to her, what she felt for him, and how significant he was in her life. A moment she had thought would come with no consequences as she lost consciousness, believing she was drawing her final breaths.

….Only to wake up in a makeshift infirmary later on.

While recovering, she had gone over in her head what she would say to Naruto when he visited. How she would explain her feelings to him, but as weeks passed and she hadn’t caught sight of him, not even once, she had gotten the message loud and clear.

He didn’t want anything to do with her or her confession.

Depressed and heartbroken, she had instead focused on recovering from her injuries, hiding her broken heart and convincing Kiba not to “beat the crap” out Naruto for not even thanking her for saving him. The very thought horrified her. She hadn’t told anyone about her confession. Naruto and Pain were the only ones who had heard her passionate words. If Kiba did try and drag Naruto here, she was worried Naruto might think she was trying to force him to reply to her.

She didn’t want that.

She didn’t want to force him to do anything he didn’t want to do.

As much as it hurt, she had always suspected that this would be the outcome should she ever grow bold enough to confess to him. She had known for a long time she was out of her league with a guy like Naruto, not to mention he was very open about his feelings for Sakura.

She didn’t stand a chance.

He was strong, she was weak.

He was outgoing and confident, she was shy and meek.

He was smart and cunning on the battle field, and she hesitated even in training.

He was brave and fierce and she was timid and soft spoken.

He was everything she was not. A force of nature in his own right. A strong man that needed an equally strong partner.

Someone like Sakura.

It was a hard reality to accept. Harder than she had thought it would be. Watching him from a distance, she had always thought anything that made him happy would make her happy as well, even if he found that happiness with another girl. Now that her resolve to be happy for him had been put to the test, she was ashamed to find, while she did hope for his happiness wherever he found it, having definitive proof that it could never be with her had broken something inside of her.

Had shinned light on the small nugget of hope she’d been harboring, that maybe one day fate would smile down on her and give her a chance with the guy of her dreams.

To have that foolish wish dashed had left her with an emptiness inside.

When she was released from medical care, she had automatically sought him out, and as she watched him from her place in the shadows, she had felt the greatest of joy to see him so recognized and celebrated in the village, and the greatest of agony knowing she would never have a place at his side.

His smiling face warmed her heart while the distance between them chilled her soul.

After comforting him through Jiraiya-sama’s death, she had never felt so close to him. Had seen that night as a turning point in their friendship. Now, it was almost as if that night had never happened.

She peeked over at him, then back to the ground.

That wasn’t entirely true. Watching him for so long, she was intuitive to his moods and thought process. That night had given her a deeper understanding of what made him tick. It was surprising, but as open and blunt as he was, Naruto bottled up the worst of his feelings and emotions, preferring to deal with them alone.

“Alright, this is where we split up,” Sakura informed the group.

Jerked from her thoughts, Hinata looked up, surprised to find they were at the crossroads already. Her blush deepened, her heart pounding even harder.

“We’ll meet back here at dusk,” Ino chimed in.

“Try not to break anything while in town,” Sakura needled at Naruto.

Hinata couldn’t help the small smile that traced her lips at the sour look on Naruto’s face at the comment.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” he asked, lips pursed.

“It means be on your best behavior for once and stay out of trouble,” Sakura clarified.

“Pfft!” came Naruto’s sound of dismissal.

“As if I go out looking for trouble,” he mumbled under his breath, “Trouble comes looking for me….”

“I mean it, if I hear one word of-”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, I got it,” he said, moving passed the group and heading down the dirt road to the Land of Rice.

“Keep an eye on him, would ya, Hinata?” Sakura asked with a roll of her eyes.

“O-of course,”

Of course she’d keep an eye on him. It came second nature to her. It was why she had noticed that he was using that face lately. That placid expression he donned when he was highly uncomfortable and unable or unwilling to express it.

As she caught up to his silent figure she mulled it over.

During his mourning of Jiraiya’s, she had seen subtle changes to his normally bright and sunny disposition. Even at his saddest, he still exhibited a glow from within. That glow had been snubbed out completely.

The depth of his hurt had been there for her to see in the smile that didn’t reach his eyes, the slight tension in his jaw, the way he hunched his shoulders in discomfort, almost as though he were retreating within himself physically as well as mentally.

There’d been this panicked, trapped look on his face, like he couldn’t get away from everyone fast enough.

It was when she had noticed him retreat at a clipped pace away from the village that she’d known he had reached his limit. She hadn’t been able to stop herself from following, worried about him hurting alone. He made it a few miles, to a clearing atop a hill before a panic attack had driven him to the ground.

Tears had blurred her vision as she watched him gasp and wheeze for air, to see his strong shoulders tremble with such great force.

And when it was over, he had tried his hardest not to cry, not to give in to the pain eating away at his soul. Considering he had come out there alone, far from the village to fall apart left her in no doubt that he hadn’t wanted anyone to know the depth of his anguish.

Even so, she had been unwilling, unable to let him fall apart alone, with no one there to pick up the pieces.

Her mind hadn’t even registered her feet moving until she was halfway across the field. His silence in response to her calling his name had made it clear he wanted her gone. Rejection of her had radiated from him in powerful waves. A warning that someone as timid as her would normally heed. What strength she called upon that night to push forward, to comfort him in his time of need despite the rebuff was a mystery to her.

While not as severe as that night, she knew he was again burying his discomfort with the attention of the villagers.

He donned that face every time he singed an autograph or took a picture. She wanted to talk to him about it. To let him know if he wanted talk about it, to get some things off his chest she’d be more than happy to listen.

She couldn’t do that now.

Not after ruining their friendship the way she had.

“Hey….Hinata,”

She looked over at him, butterflies in her belly.

“Y-yes, N-Naruto-kun?”

He stopped, rubbing the back of his neck, a fierce blush staining his cheeks.

“About what happened, with Pain…”

Her breath caught in her throat.

‘Please don’t’ she prayed, ‘Please don’t say you can’t return my feelings. Please don’t say we can’t be friends anymore,’

She felt light headed and mildly nauseous.

“I’m sorry, with everything that’s been going on, I…sort of…forgot to check up on you,” he looked away, discomfort in the stiff way he held himself, “I know its no excuse not to check in with a friend that got hurt for my sake, and I’m not normally so inconsiderate,”

Hinata let go of the breath she’d been holding, stars dancing before her eyes.

That’s what he was worrying about?

Not only that, he’d called her a friend.

The grip around her heart eased a fraction.

“I-It’s okay, Naruto-kun. I-I know you’ve been busy and I didn’t hold it against you,”

“Still….I’m sorry. I know its a bit late to ask but, is your wound okay? Are you all better now?”

Pleasure unfurled in her heart. Smiling, dull heat in her cheeks, she nodded at his inquiry.

“I’m as good as new. Sakura-san took great care of me,”

His lips curled up.

“I’m glad you’re alright…but….there’s something else we need to talk about,”

Just that quick, Hinata was thrown back into a pit of nervousness and uncertainty.

‘Oh no…’

“Hinata,”

The look in his eyes turned fierce and determined, the way he said her name strong and forceful and deadly serious.

She was scared.

Scared of what had brought out such strong determination on his face.

The only thing she could think of was the words she spoken from her heart. She braced herself for hurt, gripping the bottom of her jacket and lowering her head.

“Don’t ever do anything like that ever again,” he grated, “If Pain had killed you…If you had died protecting me I wouldn’t…..Just promise you won’t ever do something like that again,”

She looked up, reeling at his words. Those fierce blue eyes stared back at her, not only determined but with a tinge of anger swirling in their depths.

“Y-you’re angry about what I did? Not about what I said?”

Confusion marred his blonde brows.

“Said? I don’t really remember what any of us said,” he admitted, “Just bits and pieces. Anyway, that’s not the point! Promise me you’ll never do that again!”

Relief crashed through her, threatening to knock her off her feet. He didn’t remember, didn’t realize her blunder. Fate had smiled down on her after all. She was getting a second chance.

Tears swam in her eyes as she looked at his beloved, confused face.

He didn’t hate her.

He hadn’t been avoiding her.

It was almost too much to take in.

Tears slipped down her cheeks.

“Oi! Don’t cry!” he exclaimed worriedly, waving his hands about frantically, “I didn’t mean to make you cry, I’m not mad at you exactly, more the situation a-and ah, crap. Sakura-chan’s gonna kick my ass,”

Hinata dried her tears with back of her hand.

“I really didn’t mean to make you cry, Hinata. I just…I’m upset that you had to step in. That you got hurt because of me. I’ve trained so hard, but I guess I’ve still got a long way to go. I’m sorry,”

Hinata shook her head, watery smile on her lips. She took his hand, happiness radiating from her very core.

“Don’t be. W-What I did was my choice. You’ve put your life on the line for everyone more times than I can count, of course any of us would do the same for you. That’s what friends are for, right?”

“Even so, just…..don’t do that again…” he said softly, “I couldn’t handle that a second time, Hinata. Promise you won’t,”

Promise to sit by and watch him be hurt or worse?

Never in a million years. She knew in her heart, that if given the same choice, she would stand and protect him with her last breath, without hesitation, over and over again.

She wasn’t going to lie to him about that.

“.…..I’m sorry…Naruto-kun. I can’t make you that promise, knowing I may end up breaking it….”

That spark of determination filled his eyes once more.

“If you can’t make that promise to me, then I’ll make it so you never have to protect me again. I’ll get stronger and-”

She squeezed his hand.

“You don’t have to do everything alone anymore,”

“Hinata…”

“Even the future Hokage needs someone he can depend on once and while. No matter how strong you get, your friends will be here to support you every step of the way,”

His smile, though small was like the sun after a storm.

“Thank you, dattebayo,”

He looked down at their joined hands.

“Ah! S-Sorry!” she exclaimed, face aflame as she dropped his hand.

He looked a bit befuddled before laughing.

“You’re so weird, Hinata,” he said with a grin, “but I like weird people like you,”

To hear those words again…such simple, nearly insulting words had the strange effect of warming her heart.

“Anyway, we better get going, dattebayo,”

She barely noticed as he turned and continued down the path. Her heart was full, near to bursting. She felt like laughing and crying at the same time.

Everything was alright.

“Oiiiiiiiiii, Hinata!!!!! You’re gonna get left behind!!!”

Wiping a rogue tear, she took off after the boy she loved.

She caught up and walked happily at his side, too overjoyed to be shy at the moment.

xxxxxx

Naruto looked over at her, wondering what had put her in such a good mood. Earlier she had looked more gloomy than usual, sad even. She’d gone from that, to crying to happy without much warning, and from what he could tell, no real explanation for the mood swings.

He just couldn’t figure her out.

Girls were really hard to understand, that was a given.

But it was pretty easy to figure Sakura out most of the time, she wasn’t shy about telling him how she really felt with words or her fists, Ino as well, come to think of it.

Heck, most girls were less complicated than Hinata.

“Oh yeah, you said something about what you said to me during that time with Pain,” he commented as the Land of Rice came into view, “What did you say to me that would make me mad?”

“O-o-oh that,”

She was back to blushing again, eyes to her feet. Naruto watched, fascinated and perplexed all at once.

“I-It was nothing, I-I don’t really remember myself either,” she stammered.

“Hmmmmmmmm….”

He didn’t believe that for a second.

The duo reached the village and sought out the shop filling their ration orders. The shop owner informed them it’d be a while before everything was loaded up and secured to the carts. They agreed to return for pick up.

“So what should we do while we wait?” Naruto asked as they moved through the busy village.

“Mmm….we could….uh….get something to eat…I ended up missing breakfast and could have something to eat….”

At the mention of food, Naruto’s stomach growled.

“Great idea, Hinata! I only got to grab a piece of toast on my way out. Hmmmmm, wonder where we should go,”

“Um, Naruto-kun,”

He looked over at her. She was pointing at a ramen stand a little ways away.

“Ehhh, nice going Hinata,”

Fifteen minutes later, Naruto was three bowls deep into ramen. It wasn’t as good as Ichiraku ramen but it still hit the spot. Though she was more delicate than him while eating, he was surprised to find Hinata was also three bowls deep with no sign of being done.

He was kind of impressed.

Most girls weren’t too keen on having more than one bowl of anything, let alone ramen. They were always on a “diet” or wanted something “better” than ramen to eat. As if there was such a thing as better than ramen.

More than that though, he’d been rambling on and on for the past ten minutes or so, doing his normal routine of boasting about past battles and future ambitions, something everyone he’d ever met got sick of within the first five minutes. He always felt the need to build himself up as something great whenever he talked to people, despite the fact that they tuned him out.

This time was different.

Hinata was actually….listening. Interested in the things he said. Attentive to what he was saying.

It was something he picked up on within the first two minutes of his blustering. She looked him in the eyes when he spoke, smiled and giggled when he made a joke, even asked him to elaborate every now and then in a soft, hesitant voice.

He didn’t know what to make of her.

She was easy to talk to, made him feel comfortable expressing himself without the fear of being ridiculed or dismissed.

As they left the ramen shop and moved to a less populated area of the village and closer to a grassy, tree shaded knoll, he found himself speaking about his newly acquired fame and his aversion to all the attention.

“I feel dumb complaining about something I’ve been dreaming about since I was a brat,” he was saying as he laid flat beneath a shady tree, arms behind his head, “It’s hard to explain…Its like…I’m not sure if….”

A cool breeze brought her gentle scent to his nose as she sat next to him.

“Are you worried that all the attention is only temporary?”

“Yeah, that!….What happens when I screw up again? Or I…do something that I can’t control…”

“Like lose control of the kyuubi’s chakra,”

Heavy silence.

“Yeah,” he confirmed, “With the Akatsuki after me, its bound to happen again. This time I was lucky, that I used the power to protect the Leaf but….I could just as easily….”

“.…..I can’t tell you that won’t happen, Naruto-kun, but I think you’re forgetting something important,” she began, tracing patterns on the grass beneath her fingers, “You have people that know your heart, know who you really are, people that would never look at you and call you a monster, even if you lost control,”

Naruto clenched his teeth as she laid bare one of his biggest fears. That the day would come that, not just the villagers, but his closest friends, the friends he’d work so hard to make, would call him a monster, would look at him with horror, fear and hatred.

That he’d end up alone again.

Hated and unloved.

“You’re not perfect and no one that cares about you expects you to be. You don’t have to be something you’re not just to please the villagers, and you don’t have to beat yourself up for not meeting someone else’s expectations. At the end of the day, you have to live with you, no one else. You have to look at yourself in the mirror and love or hate what you see there. The friends you made, you made them just being you and you’ll keep those friends, just being you. Even if you lost control, even if the villagers no longer looked at you as a hero, you have people behind you that would never abandon you, people that believe in you…people that will always be there to pick you up when you fall,”

His eyes burned.

Embarrassed, he threw an arm over them.

His jaw tensed. His heart hurt, but in a good way.

“N-Naruto-kun…..did I say to much?….I don’t meant to make you upset,”

He removed his arm, eyes wet, a grin on his face.

“I’m not upset at all, dattebayo,” he assured her, using an elbow to lift himself up to face her, “I’m glad to have friends that feel that way about me,”

Her smile was gentle, her lavender eyes soft and shinning with some emotion he couldn’t identify.

It made him feel strange.

“You know Hinata, we should hang out more, you’re really cool,” he frowned, “We’ve been friends forever but I don’t think we’ve ever really talked and hung out,”

Her eyes dropped away.

“W-well, ummm, I’m not very…outspoken and I get shy really easily….people think I’m really strange so I kind of keep to myself,”

Her words shamed him.

He was one of those people wasn’t he? Hadn’t he called her weird more than once, hadn’t he thought it almost every single time he saw her. Hadn’t he dismissed her as the weird childhood friend that he didn’t really care to be around?

He had written her off since childhood, thinking her too depressing and dark to spend any length of time with.

Shame reddened his cheeks.

“I’m sorry…I don’t mean it in a bad way when I say you’re weird,”

“Ah! I-I didn’t mean you, Naruto-kun, I never thought you were making fun of me,” that soft smile returned, “it never felt mean spirited. It made me happy that, someone as flawed as me, that you still like weird people like me,”

She giggled, a happy sound that puzzled him. Again, he couldn’t figure her out. She was happy he called her weird? She made his brain dizzy trying to find out what made her tick.

Guess he’d just have to unravel the mystery that was Hinata.

He was fine with that though.

He looked at her smiling face, feeling a churning in his gut.

He was more than fine with it.

Naruto laid back down and the conversation turned to more lighthearted subjects. He found out they had more in common than just their Nindo. They were both fighting to prove themselves. Him, to prove he was worthy of being the Hokage, her to prove she was worthy of the name Hyuuga. Thought they didn’t have much time for it, they both enjoyed playing cards and video games, something that shocked him, he couldn’t see her with a controller in her hand.

He was curious to see if she could beat him, but doubted it.

They both liked swimming and camping, something Naruto hadn’t been able to do at his leisure in at least a year. Strawberry ice cream was a favorite of theirs, and neither one of them were a fan of spicy food.

By the time they made their way back to the food supplier, Naruto knew more about Hinata in those few hours than he had over the years.

She was kind and really sweet, a great listener and seemed to know him better than most people, something that had really shocked him. Hell, some stuff she knew about him that even he didn’t realize. He’d gotten that gut churning feeling again after realizing that not everyone had shunned and ignored him his whole life.

There was at least one person that had paid attention to him even when he’d been a snot nosed brat pulling pranks for recognition.

They met up with Ino and Sakura a little before dusk and the group headed back home. The two girls carried square shaped backpacks on their backs and weaved baskets full of medical herbs. A crowd of Naruto clones pushed eight carts loaded down with rations behind the original Naruto and Hinata. As the group made their way back, Sakura and Ino couldn’t help but glance back at the two. The two were conversing comfortably, Naruto speaking animatedly while Hinata smiled and giggled.

“Hmmmm, those two certainly look comfortable, don’t you think?” Ino commented, a sly look on her face.

They looked more than comfortable. They looked really…intimate. Sakura frowned. Were they dating or something? What had happened between them?

And why did it….irritate her?

“What’s with that look all of a sudden?” Ino asked, snapping her from her contemplation, “Don’t tell me you’re jealous?”

“J-j-jealous? What the hell are you talking about?”

“You look like someone who just saw their crush kiss another girl,”

“You’re delusional,”

“Yeah right, I’ve known you too long. You had that same look whenever any girl got too close to Sasuke,” Ino leaned over, “Do you have a crush on Naruto now? I thought you were a hardcore Sasuke lover,”

She did love Sasuke…that wasn’t the issue. It was just….weird seeing Naruto take an interest in another girl besides her.

And not only that.

She looked back at him.

She’d never seen him smile like that. Had never seen him look so at ease, so interested in the person next to him.

It was different than how he was with her.

“Of course I don’t like Naruto,” Sakura hissed back, “And I’m not jealous. So drop it,”

Heat bloomed in her cheeks.

She was jealous.

“Are you kidding me Sakura? All this time, and now you’re interested in him? You’ve been his teammate for how many years now? If you liked him why didn’t you say anything? He’d have jumped at the chance. He’s been chasing you since the academy,”

Sakura endeavored to ignore the annoying blonde.

“Oh I see how it is. You were fine with leaving him on the back burner thinking shy little Hinata would never make a move, hmmmmm. No competition, no reason to seriously consider his feelings. That’s cruel, billboard brow, even for you,”

“Will you be quiet, Ino-pig, you have no idea what you’re talking about. I don’t have those type of feelings for Naruto, and you don’t even know if they’re going out now or not so this whole conversation is pointless,”

“Hmm, that’s true, but even if they’re not going out yet he’s definitely into her. They’ve got more chemistry than a chemistry class,”

Sakura couldn’t help but take another glance.

Hinata was tapping her fingers together, eyes on the floor and speaking softly about something that clearly had Naruto’s full attention. He was leaning towards her to hear, those intense blue eyes fierce and rapt, hanging on her every word.

Aggravation gnawed at her.

“Shut up Ino,” she said before the girl could utter a word.

Tightening her grip on the basket, she pushed forward.

She wasn’t jealous…

She wasn’t…

xxxxxx

Nagato was dead.

Kohei closed the missive, sitting back in his chair.

He didn’t know what to feel about that information. He felt no relief, no sadness and certainly no grief. He didn’t really feel anything. Were these his own feelings or a side effect of the serum in his veins?

He wasn’t sure anymore.

Nagato’s death, while beneficial, hadn’t changed their circumstances much. Removing one obstacle didn’t change the fact that the threat still remained. Madara was still pulling the strings of the Akatsuki, or what remained of the group.

He closed his eyes as a surge of pain pounded behind his eyes. He clenched his teeth, careful of his newly developed fangs, unwilling to bite through his tongue again.

This transformation was painful.

How long the pain would last was uncertain. Takahiro and the others were no closer to predicting when the side effects would end than they were several months ago. Stabilizing the serum seemed to be an impossible task. Several people had already perished, some driven insane. He was keeping the results as quiet as possible but didn’t know how long that would last. One of the turned test subjects had escaped last week, wrecking havoc on the unsuspecting villagers.

It wouldn’t be long before panic spread and people stopped volunteering for testing.

The agony engulfing his eyes receded, and he opened his eyes.

His eyes felt warm.

In the dark room, he could see a faint red glow, knowing it was coming from his iris’.

He lifted a claw tipped hand to them, feeling the warmth they emitted against his palm. His lips curved up. As painful as it was, he’d never felt more powerful, more primitive.

Bloodlust coiled through him.

He was hungry again.

A chuckle escaped his lips.

He was forgetting why they’d began testing in the first place. Didn’t remember why he’d been against altering the people that depended on him. This feeling, this strength, this power, all of his people, all of his shinobi would be transformed.

The would become….

His grin slowly vanished.

He was losing himself.

Becoming something he didn’t recognize.

There was something inside of, something coming into consciousness, fighting with his own sense of self. It almost felt like a sentient being but not quite.

He shook his head.

He’d taken in more of the serum than the testers, unwilling to let others be a sacrifice for harsher testing.

It was backfiring.

Rationality was harder and harder to grasp, his mind no longer weighing consequence but instead his body acted of its own accord, acting on instinct that was violent and ruthless. His ability to govern had become tainted with a lack of mercy and forethought.

He was making mistakes.

Mistakes that could draw the attention of not only Madara and the Akatsuki, but the Five Nations as well.

As strong as he was, as strong as his ninja were becoming, they weren’t ready to reveal themselves.

Not yet.

The door creaked.

Kohei was up and over the desk in a flash, hand wrapped around the throat of the intruder. Takahiro stood perfectly still, not an ounce of fear in his eyes.

“Your reflexes are incredible now, Kohei-sama. Your tolerance is a lot higher than the others to take in as much serum as you have and still retain civility, let alone your sanity,”

Kohei moved closer, unable to help himself. The sound of pound blood through veins was like siren’s call. His mouth salivated, his fangs throbbed, claws twitching in anticipation of rending flesh.

“With all the data we’ve collected, we’re making a new serum, a bit different and more potent, its still years in the making but by that time, most of the population will have been turned, we may not even need it at that point but it never hurts to plan ahead,”

Kohei listened with half an ear. He was more focused on keeping his hand lose around his foster brother’s neck.

He took a breath, and let go, stepping back.

“Keep me posted and make sure we have surveillance on the upcoming battle. War is coming and we must keep our eyes on it at all cost,”

“Of course, Kohei-sama,”

“Takahiro,”

“Yes?”

“.………..I’m hungry….”

There was a pregnant pause.

“I’ll prepare your meal…”

xxxxxx

This chapter takes place in the time after Pain destroys the village and before Naruto goes through sage training, just in case I didn’t make that clear enough. Any questions let me know. Any mistakes let me know as I don’t have a proof-reader for this.

Tell me what you think of this chapter!

Laters

~Sessakag

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Three

October 16, 2007

 

Naruto sat quietly, watching as the nurse re-wrapped his bandages. Finally done with all the poking and prodding, he was eager to leave. He never liked staying in the hospital despite how frequently he ended up there.

“Everything looks good, Uzumaki-san,” the doctor across the room said, “Aside from that arm and a couple of bruises, you’re in very good shape. Your healing capabilities are quite impressive,”

Naruto smiled, ruffling his hair.

“Yeah I get that a lot,”

“Also, the nurse that’s been assigned to assist you is due to return to her duties today, have you been able to find a replacement to help you while your prosthetic is being constructed?”

“Yeah, she said she’d meet up with me here after I get done with you guys,”

“Excellent, so that’s taken care of. Be sure to take your medication as prescribed and if you have any pain use the painkillers, but make sure you only use them sparingly, opioids are highly addictive. Any sign of fever, return here immediately. Any color changes to the wound, return here immediately, its very important, Uzumaki-san. Ninja or not, you have a serious wound and it needs to be monitored carefully,”

“Gotcha doc,” Naruto said grinning as the nurse moved away from his amputated arm, “I’ll be careful, ‘ttebayo”

“Good, now I have some information here for your caregiver about wound care and your diet,” he said, holding up a folder full of paper.

“Diet?”

“Its important that you stay well nourished with a balanced diet in order to ward off infection as well as make sure you’re in the best possible condition for the prosthetic attachment surgery. Ramen isn’t going to cut it,”

“Ah, yeah, right, got it. Balanced diet,”

‘Psh, I’ll get my hands on some ramen, one way or another,’

“That’s all for now, if you have any questions feel free to come back and talk to us. You’ll need another check up in about a month but if you have any concerns before then, come back and we’ll check you out,”

“Do you know how long it’ll be before my prosthetic is ready?”

“Hmmmmm,”

The doctor pulled glasses from his white coat pocket and placed them on his nose before turning to Naruto’s medical chart and flipping through its pages. He stopped at one particular page and read silently.

“It’ll be at least four to six months before Hashirama’s cells mature enough to craft a prosthetic, maybe longer,”

“I see,” Naruto pouted, a bit bummed out he’d be out of commission that long.

“Cheer up, the time will pass before you know it. Besides, it’ll give you a nice little break for once. It must be tough, being a shinobi, especially at your age,”

Naruto grinned.

“Yeah, its tough work,”

“Well you’re only seventeen, you should enjoy your youth. Hang out with friends, find some girl you fancy,”

A blush stained Naruto’s cheeks.

He doubted Sakura-chan would be interested in going out with him now that they’d brought Sasuke back. Though Sasuke had already left the village again and hadn’t taken Sakura with him, nor had he said when he’d return.

His blush vanished and a frown formed on his lips.

He had always liked Sakura and with the prospect of finally going out with her was a tangible possibility, he couldn’t say he was all that excited about it. It was a strange place he found himself in now that he had time to think about it.

That time she “confessed” to him, he hadn’t even stopped to think for a moment that she had really meant it.

Surprise, shock, he’d felt those emotions when the words left her lips.

No excitement.

No elation.

Nothing.

Even if she hadn’t been serious, shouldn’t he have felt….something? Isn’t that what he had always wanted?

He didn’t know any more.

He was pretty sure he still liked her.

Hell, he had nothing to really compare his feelings to. He didn’t really know what it meant to be in love with a girl. Outside of Sakura, the only other girl that was close to him was Hinata and his feelings towards her were far more complex and confusing than with Sakura, she made him feel…things he couldn’t really put a name to. He didn’t think he liked her like Sakura. It was a different kind of like he had never experienced before.

Hmmmmm…

How was he supposed to know what it was like to love a girl?

Maybe he could ask someone.

A perverted Kakashi reading Icha-Icha sprang into his mind.

He couldn’t help the sour look that came to his face. That was almost as bad as asking the pervy sage for advice on girls.

Hmmmm….

Iruka sensei might be able to help him. Maybe even one of the guys. Shikamaru was pretty mature and he seemed to be going out with Temari.

But he was getting ahead of himself.

He hadn’t even had the time to ask her what was going between her and Sasuke now, if anything at all.

He was too busy getting hounded by reporters and villagers and girls and anyone else that happened to see him. He’d thought the fame after the fight with Pain had been crazy, this was beyond insane.

He had people from all over the world coming to thank and speak with him, world leaders, famous celebrities, people from all walks of life. He had received metal after metal, donations and gifts, so much so that he had had to take out a few storage units to place it all in and still, it kept coming.

For a guy that had been struggling financially since coming of age to support himself, the amount of zeros on his newly opened bank account still shocked him. He wasn’t rich by a long shot, but he would definitely be comfortable for at least five or six years if he didn’t go on a spending spree.

Baa-chan had said she would get him an accountant to manage his finances, make investments and put away money for his future children’s educational needs.

He was only to happy to leave it up to her.

Mathematics was not his strong suit. He would probably be broke in a year if left alone with that much money.

But it didn’t end there.

Statues in his likeness were being crafted, books about his life were being written, he had even heard some ideas of a holiday in his honor being tossed about, of making his birthday an international holiday world wide.

It was so damn embarrassing it was a wonder he could even muster the courage to show his face around town.

Unlike the last time, however, there was no fear, no trepidation, no suspicion when the people that used to hate him now showered him with admiration and even love. And it wasn’t just because he no longer had to worry about losing control of Kurama’s power, thought that did go a long way in easing his fears, but the words Hinata spoken to him, all those months ago were still lodged firmly in his mind.

He’d gotten this far as Naruto Uzumaki and he’d remain Naruto Uzumaki. He didn’t need to play the hero or pretend like he was something he wasn’t.

He’d take all the attention in stride and remain true to himself and if his true self wasn’t what the world wanted, then so be it. To those that loved and cared about him, he was more than a “hero”, he was Naruto Uzumaki.

A comrade.

A friend.

It was more than enough for him.

He had worked hard to get where he was. He would enjoy the attention for however long it lasted and be fine when it was over, maybe even glad when it was over. He wasn’t really cut out for this kind of thing.

Besides, he still had his dream to achieve. He had enough money to live comfortably for a while, but he wasn’t going to quit being a shinobi.

It was in his blood after all.

He would continue to work hard and one day, he would be named Hokage.

“Ah yeah,” Naruto grinned, “Maybe I could use a break in that case,”

Folder in hand, Naruto thanked the nurse and doctor, promising he would let them know if he had any problems and left the hospital. As he was walking outside he spotted Sakura moving towards him.

“Hey Sakura-chan. Here for work?” he asked when she reached him.

“No, I was looking for you actually,”

“For me?”

“Yeah. So what did the doctor say?”

“Ummmm, just some stuff about taking care of my arm and getting a good rest,”

No way was he telling her about his diet. She’d make it her mission to keep him away from Ichiraku’s.

“How’s the new apartment?” she asked.

“Hmmmm, pretty big. Not used to it yet,”

Another perk for the great hero.

They had moved him from his smaller apartment to a bigger, nicer one nearly smack dab in the middle of the village. The move was good and bad. It was big enough to provide extra space and a spare room for his caregiver and not only that, he had actual neighbors now. Sai lived above him, Kiba to his left, Shikamaru below, and more of the Konoha eleven were expected to fill the vacancies once they became of age.

It was nice not to feel so isolated like he had back in his old place, but at the same time, the bigger apartment felt even more lonely when it was only him. There was so much space and no one to fill it.

The first two days he’d been there by himself had been hell before the nurse moved in.

He’d wanted to make clones just to fill the silence with another voice only to discover that losing an arm had taken away more than just his ability to eat properly.

He couldn’t form seals and mold chakra with only one hand.

He hadn’t slept at all the first two nights.

“The nurse is going back to the hospital today, right?”

“Yeah,”

“I was expecting to hear from you by now. You need a full time caregiver now right? How come you haven’t asked m?,” she asked, “And don’t say you don’t need someone to help you because you do. Its harder than you might think to function with one arm,”

“Even I know that Sakura-chan, I already asked someone to help me,”

“Oh, who-”

“N-Naruto-kun? A-are you ready to go?”

Hinata stood a few feet away, her face flushed a dull red, index fingers tapping against each other.

xxxxxx

“Hinata?” Sakura questioned, unable to keep the disbelief from her voice.

Naruto had asked Hinata to take care of him?

Why hadn’t he even thought to ask her?

His teammate?

His closest friend outside of Sasuke?

Irritation flared, something ugly, something she didn’t want to put a name to, unfurled in the pit of her stomach.

“So when did you guys start dating?” she asked, arms crossing.

She sounded bitchy even to her own ears, but she was hard pressed to do any thing about it. Ever since that supply run mission before the war Naruto and Hinata had been damn near inseparable when ever they had free time. She couldn’t even blame it all on Hinata either. The moment they got back from a mission and made their report to Tsunade, Naruto was rushing off to find Hinata to get ramen and tell her all about how his day went.

Like she was his girlfriend or something.

She already knew Hinata was head over heels in love with Naruto and had been for as long as she could remember. Everybody except Naruto knew that. But everyone also knew that Naruto was head over heels for her.

At least he claimed to be.

It didn’t feel like he liked her anymore, if he ever had in the first place and that irritated her to no end.

It felt like he was rejecting her.

Like Sasuke.

Her jaw tensed.

She was tired of guys jerking her around.

“D-D-Dating??? We’re not dating!” Naruto stammered, “You’ve got the wrong idea Sakura-chan. We’re just really good friends,”

The hurt expression that crossed Hinata’s face took the starch out her spine. Her eyes lowered.

What was she doing?

She of all people should know how hard it was to love a guy that didn’t seem to know how you felt.

Heat filled her cheeks.

She wasn’t in love with Naruto, right?

So why was she acting this way?

“I did ask Hinata to help me out, Hinata said she was willing and when I asked Baa-chan, she thought it’d be a good idea too. I hadn’t really realized it but Baa-chan mentioned Hinata has some experience in formal meetings and stuff being the heir of the Hyuuga clan, and with all the important people coming to interview me she said it’d do me good to have somebody that knew how to handle it with me otherwise I’d make the village look bad,” Naruto said with a rueful chuckle, “More importantly, she said the Hyuuga were good at managing pain with their Juuken and Byakugan so it just made even more sense for Hinata to be the one to help me,”

“Of course,” Sakura said, “Anyway, I better get going. See you guys around,”

“.….Sakura-chan?”

She avoided looking at Hinata as she made a speedy exit, feeling like an idiot.

xxxxxx

Naruto watched her go, confused.

She was acting weird again. Like she was mad at him about something.

“Umm, Naruto-kun,”

He turned to Hinata, her familiar shy fidgeting more pronounced today than it had been in a while. He felt that click of connection he always felt now when she was around.

“I-If you want, you can ask Sakura-san to care for you…..I don’t want to….to cause any problems between you two,”

His head tilted in confusion.

“Cause a problem between us? Why would you be a problem for us?”

“It just seemed that maybe Sakura-san really wanted to help you this time. I don’t want her to feel like I’m…trying to…get in the way of anything,”

Get in the way of something?

Now he was even more confused as to what she was talking about.

“Don’t be silly, Hinata, you aren’t doing anything wrong,” he assured her, “Actually you’re doing me a huge favor taking off time to do this for me when you really didn’t have to,”

He grinned, bringing his right arm up to the back of his head, only to realize he couldn’t exactly scratch the back of his head bashfully with the nub his arm had become.

Heat bloomed in his cheeks as he lowered the stump.

“Guess its easy to forget I don’t have a right hand anymore, huh?”

Her expression turned tender as she took the folder he was carrying from his hand.

“It won’t be for long, Naruto-kun. You’ll have your new prosthetic in no time, until then, I’ll help you get through this,”

Of that he had no doubt.

Over the months she’d become a quiet pillar of strength for him.

“Thanks, Hinata,” he said, his voice soft, “Thank you, for everything really. For that night back when Ero-Sennin…for being there when I needed help ever since then, during the war, even now….I’m grateful, Hinata,”

She looked bashful yet really happy. Those lavender eyes brimming with that gentle yet intense emotion that she always looked at him with.

“Y-you’re welcome…Naruto-kun,” she said just as softly, “….I’d do anything….to help you….”

Heat bloomed across his cheeks. He didn’t know why, but those words made him feel like he was being twisted in knots.

“U-u-uh, we should get going, ‘ttebayo,”

Wanting to avoid a big publicity situation, they stuck to back routes and avoided densely populated areas.

xxxxxx

“So was your dad okay with this?”

Hinata thought about the argument she had had with her father. Or rather being yelled and lectured at only for her to tell him calmly, yet firmly, that she was doing it whether he like it or not.

In the end, he had conceded to her wishes but wasn’t really on board with it, but then, he didn’t really have a choice. She had told him what she was going to do, and no amount of blustering, belittling and bellowing was going to change her mind. Father had accused her of putting Naruto over the well being of the clan, and she’d told him he was right.

That before anything else, Naruto came first.

He had stared at her as if she had lost her mind. She wasn’t so certain she hadn’t lost her mind. It was rare that she defied her father. She had bent over backwards to please him, to try and win his affections for years upon years, but when it came to Naruto, all that went out the window.

She glanced at him, feeling her heart turn over.

How could it not?

She was certain now, could say without a doubt, after all the bonding they’d done, both on the battle field and off, getting to know him and he her, that Naruto Uzumaki was her soul mate.

The other half of her heart.

Her love for him was as deep and endless as the universe they inhabited.

She couldn’t explain, how or why, just that it was.

“Yes, he’s okay with it now. There isn’t much he can do, though. I’ll be seventeen in December, old enough to get my own place and have more independence,”

“Ehhhh, your birthday’s coming soon huh. We should have a party!”

“A-a birthday party?”

“Sure! My place is bigger now, we could have all our friends over and celebrate! We don’t have many birthday parties in the village but with things more peaceful now a lot of us have some down time so more people could come,”

His happy and excited smile, how could she turn that down?

“I-if you think something like that would be okay…I’m sure our friends would enjoy it. Thank you Naruto-kun,”

“Haha, don’t sweat it Hinata. Its the least I can do for you. Besides, I’ve never been to a birthday party before,”

Her heart ached for him.

“N-Next year,” she mumbled, “I’ll throw one for your birthday,”

He grinned down at her.

“Thanks Hinata! That’d be awesome,”

“Oh!,”

xxxxxx

He stopped, looking down curiously at her.

“What’s wrong?”

Her face was a bright tomato.

Confusion, his new best friend around this particular girl, showed up. Why in the world was her face so red?

“Hinata? You okay?”

“Y-yes, I-I just remembered that I…”

She shifted a bit, avoiding his curious gaze.

“You what?” he urged.

She shifted again, clearly uncomfortable, before reaching into the pocket of her jacket and pulling out a small rectangular box tied with an orange bow.

“Hmm? What’s that?”

“.…With everything that’s been going on and the war and…Neji…I almost forgot to give you this. Happy birthday, Naruto-kun…”

He stared at her silently, his blue eyes gleaming with surprise.

“.…It was your birthday six days ago, right? October tenth?”

A smile broke out across his lips, his cheeks flushed with pleasure.

“Really?” he gushed, eyes shinning, “For me?”

“Yes, s-s-sorry I’m so late getting it to you,”

Naruto reached out, awkwardly pulling the bow loose and pulling the cover off. He got quiet again as he looked inside.

“I-I know its nothing special, and it doesn’t have the power the last one had and its not really that high quality b-but I hope you like it anyway,” she blurted out as he reached inside the small box.

He pulled out a gleaming necklace, much like the one he’d lost during his fight with Pain. It was a luminescent crystal shaped like the one Tsunade-baa-chan had given him, though inside, seeming to float among the prism of colors was another crystal, its color familiar. It had been crafted in the form of the Uzumaki crest. At the top, on both sides of the primary gem, where the gem met the black cord were two more crystals, though these were more of a really light lavender.

“I-I was able to find some of the shards of your necklace during the clean up …but it wasn’t enough to reconstruct your necklace, so I thought a few of them would be good enough. I’m sorry I couldn’t repair it for you…”

xxxxxx

She hadn’t intended to collect the shards. During clean up a week or so after the Pain attack, she, like other Hyuuga had been in charge of locating anything of value with her Byakugan, food, coin, medicine, anything that would offer relief to the displaced villagers. She’d seen the shards glistening and had went to see if they were of value. It wasn’t hard for her to identify what it was and who it belonged to considering Naruto had bragged nonstop about the necklace Tsunade-sama had given him for several weeks after receiving it.

He had been so proud to wear it.

She had felt ashamed that his precious necklace had gotten shattered, especially since her being injured had lead to Naruto’s transformation in the first place. Determined to at least pick up the shattered pieces and return them to him, she had searched around for more, though most of it had been completely disintegrated and scattered in the wind.

She had held on to the pieces for a while before deciding to send them to another village to be constructed into a necklace for him.

The finished piece had only reached her three days ago, where it had sat in her room until she happened to catch it gleaming in the sunlight from her window.  

“Hinata…..I don’t….even know what to say,”

His smile was bright as he wrapped his arm around her, hugging her as tight as he was able with one arm. Hinata was sure there was steam coming out of her ears. Her heart pounded so hard against her chest she was sure Naruto could feel it.

He pulled back, white teeth gleaming.

“That necklace really did mean a lot to me,” he admitted, looking down at the luminous crystal in his hand, eyes soft, “Even if it is just a little piece, thank you, for returning it to me, Hinata,”

He held it out to her, smiling ruefully.

“Can you put it on me? I know I’d look like an idiot trying to do it myself,” he said with a chuckle.

Happiness crashing though her, she held her hand out for the necklace. A moment later, she had it tied around his neck. He lifted it up to examine it.

“What kind of crystal is this?”

Suddenly shy, she relied upon her age old habit of fidgeting to relive the anxiety as she spoke. She was sure he wouldn’t grasp the significance of rose quartz but it was still embarrassing for her to say considering she understood its meaning.

“I-Its rose quartz….its normally a soft pink color but I had the gem crafter grind it down until its almost clear because I wasn’t sure you’d want to wear a pink necklace,” she couldn’t help but giggle at the thought, “He used a special technique to make it luminescence, though he wouldn’t tell me how. The two gems at the top on either side of the necklace are called lithium quartz,”

“Waaaaaa, you really did something like that for me?”

Those beautiful blue eyes were shinny and shifting with emotion. He looked happy, elated even. Lost in his gaze, her lips moved of their own accord.

“Of course I would, because I lo-”

Her mouth snapped shut.

His head tilted, that confused curious expression she loved coming to his face.

“You what?”

Her face had never felt so hot. Her mind scrambled for an excuse to cover her blunder.

“B-because I’ve lost something before a-and I-I would appreciate if someone did something like that for me,”

“Hmmm, that’s true. Thanks Hinata! I won’t lose this one, dattebayo!”

She smiled, her heart full.

“Please keep it close to you,”

Rose quartz was the symbol of unconditional love, said to contain an energy of compassion and peace, tenderness and healing, soothing emotional wounds and calming fears and resentment. She believed that with all her heart. This necklace was a physical manifestation of her love. Whenever he felt uncertain, unloved, she hoped, prayed her feelings would reach him through it. That he would keep it and by way her love, close to his heart.

They continued walking.

“By the way, even if it had been pink, I still woulda worn it, ‘ttebayo, its not like I’m a stranger to crazy colors,” he said with a bright grin, “Hell, I’m probably the only bright orange ninja in the village, maybe even the shinobi world,”

She giggled.

“That’s true,” she agreed, “You’re certainly one to do and wear things to make statement,”

His cheeky look was hilarious.

They made their way to his apartment building and climbed four flights of stairs before reaching his door. As they neared the door, Naruto stopped, body going tense.

“Naruto-kun? What’s the matter?”

His eyes were sharp and fastened on the door.

“Something doesn’t feel right,”

Reaching back, he pulled a kunai from his ninja tool bag.

“Hinata,”

“Y-yes?”

“Can check things out with your Byakugan?”

“Of course,”

Gathering chakra behind her eyes, she activated her second sight.

Inside, she saw several chakra networks. They were hiding in various place inside the apartment.

Her smile was hidden behind his back.

“I don’t see anything dangerous, Naruto-kun,” she said, not wanting to lie to him but unwilling to spoil the surprise.

Of course, Naruto was trusting his instincts.

“Something’s off, dattebayo. Open the door slowly, then get behind me,”

She followed his instruction.

Kunai lifted, he move into the apartment. It looked undisturbed.

“Alright, whoever you are, come out and-”

“Surprise!!!”

He blinked, a bit shocked and more than a little confused as to why the remaining members of the Konoha eleven, along with Sai had let themselves into his apartment. Ino was holding a cake, Kiba had chips and a radio, Choji was eating chips, Tenten was sitting covered dishes on his kitchen table and Shino was holding a cooler.

“What are you guys doing here?” Naruto questioned with shocked delight.

“We didn’t get a chance to throw you a house warming party when you first moved in so I found out that we were all in the village together today and decided to throw you one,” Ino said with a wink.

“A House warming?” he repeated.

“Yeah dude, haven’t you ever heard of a house warming party?” Kiba asked as he flopped onto the couch, Akamaru moving to lay at his feet, “Though technically you’re sharing the house warming with me, Sai and Shikamaru,”

“Yeah! Let’s celebrate! Our springtime of youth will never fade!” Lee exclaimed, hooking an arm around Shikamaru.

“What a drag,” Shikamaru complained, moving his ear away from Lee’s loud mouth, “How’d I end up here?”

The party kicked off from there. Laughter, games and food was shared. Even Sakura seemed to be in a better mood than before. The group talked about their experience on the battle field, Naruto’s part in the war, their plans for the future and of course, they reminisced about the good ‘ol days when Neji was still alive and well, talked about parents and other friends lost. A few tears were shed but even so, the fond memories brought a smile to their faces.

By the time everyone had said their goodbyes, night had fallen.

Hinata put away the excess food and cleaned dishes while Naruto gathered trash and tossed it into the bin.

“Did you enjoy yourself, N-Naruto-kun?”

Naruto chuckled, grinning over his shoulder.

“Yeah, it was awesome! When did you guys have time to plan that?”

“I didn’t know until we got here that they were throwing a party. Ino said it was spur of the moment since everyone was in the village today and that since she knew I was coming to your house that she didn’t want to waste time trying to find me when they needed to get things set up,” she replied, “Ah, sorry about earlier. I didn’t want to lie about who was in the apartment but I didn’t want to tell you the truth and spoil everything. I did sort of lie though,”

Naruto laughed.

“It wasn’t a lie. You did say you didn’t see anything dangerous, which was true,”

She smiled.

“Maybe not a lie, but it was kind of misleading,”

He grinned.

“Its alright Hinata, I know you wouldn’t tell me a lie. You’re not that type of person. I know I can trust you,”

Face beet red, she focused harder than necessary on the cup she was washing.

“T-Thank you Naruto-kun,”

Once the apartment was tidy, Naruto showed Hinata around the apartment and then to the guest room next door to his bedroom.

The apartment was really nice, she noticed now that the party was over.

The living room was spacious, furnished with a long, tan sofa, accented with bright orange pillows, a dark brown coffee table sat atop a white and tan rug. Framed metals of bravery, valor and courage decorated the bright orange walls.

A dark brown entertainment center dominated the wall across from the couch. It contained a decent sized flat screen and a slew of games and DVDs. Video game were shelved neatly on one side while DVDs were stacked on the other. Below the television, sat the newest gaming system.

With the long, high ceiling windows surrounding the room, it made for a really pretty picture.

The kitchen was pretty state of the art, the appliances new and gleaming jet black. The cabinets painted a color that wasn’t quite gray and not quite blue. The kitchen table was a simple, square shaped surface with room to seat at least six people. The whole floor was hardwood, unscratched and shiny.

She wasn’t sure what the master bathroom looked like as she only peeked in at his bedroom, but his room was certainly amazing.

His bed was huge, fitted with a dark hardwood headboard.

In true Naruto fashion though, the bed was unmade, his white sheet and black and white bed spread hanging off the bed. His walls were tan, and a red Uzumaki crest was painted above the bed. His dark dresser had clothes hanging out of the drawers and there were scrolls and ninja tools littering the floor. Another flat screen sat atop a dresser across from the bed, another game system, controller and headphones thrown haphazardly next to it.

Posters decorated the walls, one of which made her laugh aloud.

It depicted a giant bowl of miso chashu pork ramen and below were the words: “Ramen or nah?”

Along side the silly posters were more framed accolades.

Despite the mess, there was a beautiful space opposite the bathroom that was curved out into a semi circle, the floor raised two steps higher than the bedroom floor. A long, orange window seat with dark gray pillows curved around the wall. Large windows, much like the ones in the living room followed the curve. With its high archway, it looked like a mini living room.

It too had suffered the carelessness of a teen and had orange sweat pants bunched on the seat.

He’d moved on rather quickly, bashfully asking her to excuse the mess. She’d only smiled as they moved on to her room. The walls were painted a mild blue, the bed a soft looking queen size, that was made up with a white sheet and blue and black bed spread.

There were two black dressers, one fitted with a flat screen atop.

Next he showed her the bathroom she would be using.

Much like everything else, it was modern and shinny. It was decorated in a forest green and boasted a pretty sizable tub and shower.

He seemed overly excited to have company and didn’t try to hide that fact at all. He smiled a lot, and talked animatedly though he admitted he didn’t know a thing about decorating but the people that had done it for him had done a great job.

Minutes later he left her to bathe.

She wasn’t concerned about him going alone, she’d been informed that Naruto was completely capable of bathing himself and getting his underpants and pajamas on. Putting on a shirt was an entirely different matter though.

Her clothing and personal effects, delivered by the Hyuuga clan, had already been placed in the bedroom, though still in boxes and suitcases.

She had almost unpacked everything when a shadow fell across the door.

Naruto stood in the doorway, hair wet, button up pajamas open and a hard blush staining his cheeks.

“Uh…..I uh, can’t get the buttons closed,” he said by way of explanation.

Red stained her cheeks.

She moved towards him, striving for nonchalance. She didn’t want him to feel uncomfortable asking her for help. She was here to make his life simpler until he was whole again, not make his life more complex. Her palms were sweaty, her heart beating a mile a minute, but she managed to stay upright as she crossed over to him.

“Of course, N-Naruto-kun,”

His chest was amazing.

The muscles were defined and looked hard under his tanned skin. She wasn’t a stranger to the male chest. She was a shinobi after all, the guys often trained without shirts. But something about his was different. Kiba, Neji, and Shino did nothing to illicit a response from her. They didn’t even inspire a blush.

Naruto however….it didn’t feel like looking at just a chest, it was like looking at the chest of a man.

Her eyes moved over his muscular pectorals, her breath catching at the luminous necklace resting between them. Her eyes continue their way down his six pack to the v-shaped cuts disappearing beneath his orange pajama bottoms.The dark ink of the seal surrounding his naval was tantalizing.

Her face, she was sure, had to be so red it was turning purple by now.

She felt warm and light headed. It wasn’t the normal heat from a blush, no this was different…

It pooled low in her belly and spread all over her body. Her heart pounded as she moved closer to him. She couldn’t help but draw in a breath of his scent, heady pleasure filling her head.

Her fingers moved nimbly over the buttons, fastening as she went.

“All done,” she said once finished, stepping back.

Her eyes drifted down and to the side. She was awfully aware of his presence.

“Thanks Hinata….so uh….I guess I’ll go to bed now. You can have a bath if you want to and if you need anything don’t be afraid to wake me up though you might have to shake me a awake. I’m a really heavy sleeper,” he said with a chuckle.

Her fingers moved, bumping against each other as she stole a glance at his face. He had a small grin on his face, though his cheeks were a dull red. She wondered if it was just the intimacy and embarrassment of someone buttoning his cloths or if he felt even a sliver of what she’d felt.

“T-Thank you, N-Naruto-kun. I-I hope you sleep well,”

“You too Hinata, goodnight!”

~~~~

Naruto groaned, teeth clenched as he shifted in bed.

Pain radiated down his arm, excruciating in its intensity. Sweat rolled down his back and face. His eyes squeezed shut as he tried to brace against the uncomfortable sensation. It felt like someone was squeezing the life out of his right arm while stabbing it over and over with a hot serrated blade.

He rolled again, blanket and sheet twisting around his legs.

He tried to move his arm, to wiggle his fingers. He couldn’t feel his fingers at all. They were numb or something. More pain vibrated up his arm and over his shoulder. He woke fully, jackknifing up and reaching to grab his throbbing forearm, only to grab an empty sleeve.

It took him a moment to realize why he was grasping at air.

He looked at the nub of his arm.

With a sigh that was more of groan, he reached up and smoothed his hand over his heated face, then up over his damp locks.

Sharp pain shot up his amputated arm.

Phantom Pain was what the doctor said it was. Sometimes a person that had a limb amputated experienced pain from an area of the body that was no longer there. Something about the brain and spinal cord causing it or some fancy medical explanation that he hadn’t understood at the time and still didn’t get now.

All he knew is that it freaked him out sometimes because he could swear his arm was actually there when it hurt like that.

Unable to stand the throbbing, he slid to the side of the bed and stood, walking over to the bathroom.

He searched the medicine cabinet for his pain medication.

“Where’d I put it, ‘ttebayo,” he questioned in frustration.

With a sign, he made his way out of the bathroom, through his bedroom and into the darkened hallway, glancing at Hinata’s bedroom door. He hoped he didn’t wake her, but he needed his medication otherwise he wouldn’t be able to sleep.

He moved as quietly down the hall as he could, thankful his apartment was brand new and therefore had not developed any creaky floorboards yet. He squinted, trying to make out shapes in the dark living room. The moon barely provided enough light to see his hand in front of his face. He looked around for an orange pill bottle but came up empty. He was searching under the couch when the light came on.

He looked up.

Hinata stood in the entrance to the hall, her hand on the light switch, her other hand clutching together her robe.

“Naruto-kun, are you alright?”

He couldn’t stop the dull heat in his cheeks as he took in her disheveled appearance and mussed hair.

He’d never really though of her as being a female before…

Sure he knew she was a girl but it hadn’t really….registered in his mind before, what that meant. He was usually too distracted to worry about anything like gender when among shinobi. Sure he noticed with specific girls like Sakura and Ino, but this was a shock to his system.

Sakura didn’t have near as many curves as Hinata apparently did.

The lavender robe was thin and silky, outlining the generous curve of her hips and the gentle swell of a pretty big chest…..that he hadn’t really noticed until now.

His flush deepened.

“Naruto-kun?”

“A-a-ah y-yeah, I was uh looking for my pain medication,”

Concern bloomed on her face.

She moved towards him and he found himself hard pressed to keep his eyes from the sway of hips. He wasn’t that eager to remove the pain now as it was the only thing that was keeping a certain something from rising and embarrassing him beyond belief.

He was beginning to think this break from shinobi life was going to be more trouble than it was worth.

With no immediate danger to focus on, his mind was wandering in strange and unfamiliar places. Sure he’d had dirty thoughts and fantasizes once and awhile, but they were usually about Sakura, a girl he liked, or Ino, a girl that wore clothes that sometimes left little to the imagination.

Never in his entire life could he say he had ever fantasized about Hinata while masturbating.

She was so shy and innocent and covered herself up with a bulky jacket that the thought had never crossed his mind. While she certainly wasn’t indecently uncovered at the moment, the curves she displayed now were sending his mind for a loop.

“I can do something about your pain now if you want, we can find you medication in the morning so you can get some rest,” she suggested, kneeling as he was in front of the couch.

Suddenly his mouth felt really dry.

“U-uh yea, if you wouldn’t mind.

She smiled.

“Of course, Naruto-kun,”

Her hand slipping into the open neck of his shirt was a shock to his senses. Her touch was infinitely gentle and warm, the skin of her palm and fingers soft as they glided over his skin.

His breath hitched and a shiver crawled up his spine.

“N-Naruto-kun? Are you okay? Did that hurt?”

“Uh, no,” he mumbled, “The pain is fading,”

And it was, with each touch of her hand and chakra the agony was releasing its strangle hold. Unfortunately, it was eliminating the only thing he had right now to counter the inappropriate feelings that were churning in his gut. While she worked, that robe had slipped, bearing a smooth shoulder and the blue strap of something just as lacy.

He looked away, face beet red, focusing every drop of inner strength he had to keep his pajama bottoms from tenting.

Long, slow minutes crept by.

Her delicate scent reached his nose. He felt heated sensation skirt over his skin. He gulped, sweat beading his temples as he watched her move. She was completely focused on her task, giving him time to observe her in an unguarded moment. Her dark lashes were think crescent moons on her pale cheeks. Her hair looked velvety smooth, made his fingers itch to run through the mussed mass.

Her lips looked soft and lush, her little upturned nose rounded at the top.

She was really…

Beautiful…

Her heated fingers slipped over his shoulder and down his shortened arm. He bit back a groan at the softness of the caress. The unfamiliar sensation of someone else touching him so intimately sending heat to his groin.

“How’s that feel?”

Her voice was soft, sliding over his ears like the softest of silk.

“Naruto-kun? Is it better?”

He snapped back to reality.

“Ah, y-y-yeah, its much better, p-p-perfectly better,” he stammered, eyes wide, heart pounding.

He nearly collapsed in relief when she pulled back, deactivating her Byakugan.

“That should do at least for a few hours. Are you sure you’re feeling okay, Naruto-kun?”

“I-I’m fine, g-great actually. Well I better be uh, getting back to bed now, sorry for waking you up like that, see you in the morning,”

He barely waited for her reply as he stood and beat feet to his bedroom.

“Ah, uhm, no problem, N-Naruto-kun. Goodnight,”

xxxxxx

Hope you enjoyed.

Thanks for reading.

Tell me what you think.

Laters

~Sessakag

Chapter Text

Chapter Four

October 17, 2007

 

Naruto lay face down in a pillow, snoring as if his life depended on it, drooling the drool of a good, deep sleep. He turned over, arm stretched wide across his bed.

A tantalizing scent enticed him from his peaceful slumber.  

Blue eyes opened slowly, taking in the cheerfully bright bedroom.

He sniffed the air.

The scent of something delicious had his stomach growling ravenously. He sat up, yawned and scratched at his head. Swinging his legs to the edge of the bed, he stretched, feeling oddly relaxed, his muscles looser than they’d ever felt before. It was a few moments before he realized it was the effect of Hinata’s Juuken last night.

He felt himself blush, thinking of what else had happened last night.

He’d gone to bed rock hard last night, too embarrassed and ashamed of the thoughts he’d had about her to actually do anything about it.

Anticipating a terribly long night of discomfort, he had decided that would be his punishment for thinking perverted things about someone as innocent and sweet as Hinata. Though the Juuken had taken his self imposed punishment considering his muscles had been so relaxed that he had fallen asleep the moment his head touched the pillow.

It made him feel worse that he hadn’t paid for his perverse thoughts.

She was helping him out, and here he was panting after her like that. It just didn’t feel right, like he was doing something wrong. Weird because he didn’t feel that way when he fantasized about other girls.

Somehow, Hinata was different.

He scratched his cheek, mulling it over.

She was….special to him.

It felt like he was cheapening their bond by lumping her together with other girls. She didn’t deserve that. Yet here he was. Behaving in a way with her that he would any other girl. She was more to him than just a girl to stroke himself off to at night.

He frowned, confusion and guilt settling in his gut.

To him, she was…..

What?

“Gah!” he cried out in frustration, mussing his hair roughly before lying back on the bed and staring up at the ceiling.

….…What was she to him exactly?

Friend seemed too tame for what he felt.

A friend was Rock Lee, Shikamaru and Ino.

She was a girl he liked, but not in the way he liked Sakura.

He didn’t think of Sakura nearly as much as he thought of Hinata and he certainly didn’t feel comfortable bearing his soul to Sakura like he did with Hinata, so she didn’t fit that either.

He was sexually attracted to her.

But he was attracted to pretty much any girl that struck his fancy so again, she didn’t fit there either.

When he thought of her, what came to mind was safety, peace, acceptance, laughter, and gut twisting emotions that were so intense, so unfamiliar he didn’t know what to do sometimes.

What was she to him?

This was so damn confusing.

A knock at the door disrupted his thoughts.

“N-Naruto-kun, I made you breakfast if you’re awake,”

He sat up quickly, his heart pounding, face flushed.

“Uh, I’ll be right out! Thanks!”

He listened as she moved away from the door.

He stood for a moment, watching the drifting clouds beyond his window. She was just like those clouds. Soft and gentle yet nonconforming, refusing to be condensed into one shape or another, ever changing and shifting.

She felt as elusive and intangible as a soft billowing cloud.

He sighed.

Unfortunately, this cloud was turning him inside out, unable to figure out which way was up or down.

He turned towards the door and moved forward, stepping over and on the junk on his floor. The scent from the kitchen was mouthwatering. His inner turmoil forgotten for the moment as his stomach rumbled. He gripped his belly as he walked.

It felt like his stomach was touching his back bone!

He was freaking starving!

The kitchen and kitchen table came into view. To his surprise, Kiba was seated at the table, Akamaru sitting on the floor next to him.

“Kiba, what are you doing here?” he asked, surprised.

Akamaru wagged his tail, coming over to bump his head against Naruto’s hand. Naruto pet the wiggling dog as he made his way over to the breakfast table.

“I’m sorry Naruto-kun,” Hinata said turning from the stove, worry etched on her face, “I-I wanted to get your permission first but-”

“But who needs permission when we’re all friends, right?” Kiba asked with a grin.

“Ehhhh, what a pushy guy so early in the morning,” Naruto commented with his trademark, closed eyed, slightly annoyed expression on his face, “Don’t worry Hinata, I already know this guy just barged his way in,”

Kiba grinned, shrugging his shoulders at the accurate statement. They both knew Hinata was too sweet to tell him to take a hike. Besides, it didn’t really bother Naruto to have his friends come by his place.

“So what the heck are you doing here so early for anyways, Kiba?” Naruto questioned, petting Akamaru’s head as he spoke.

Kiba tapped his nose, fangs gleaming as his lips spread into a bright smile.

“This nose can smell Hinata’s cooking fifty miles away,”

“Hinata’s cooking?”

“Of course! Her bentos are legendary, dude,” Kiba explained, “Haven’t you tried her cooking before?”

“K-Kiba-kun,” Hinata stammered, embarrassed.

She held two plates in hand.

Naruto felt his cheeks heat.

She wasn’t wearing her normal jacket and pants.

Her clothing was casual.

The lavender dress sprinkled with pale blue flowers that she wore really suited her. It wasn’t tight but definitely flowed over her body in all the right places. The sleeves were loose, billowing over her hands, the hem of the skirt an inch above her knees. Her long hair was loosely braided and flung over her left shoulder. A white apron was tied around her waist, accenting those curves he’d only got a glimpse of last night.

She placed a plate in front of him and Kiba, then straightened again, her pearl eyes questioning.

“Is everything okay, Naruto-kun?”

“A-a-ah yeah! I’m fine, just…surprised. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you wearing a dress before,”

She looked down, her cheeks reddening. Hands coming up to fidget.

“I-I’ll be off for a while and thought it’d be n-nice to dress casually, but Hanabi only packed clothes she thought best suit me….Do I….look bad, Naruto-kun?”

“Of course not!” Naruto exclaimed, disturbed that he might have hurt her feelings, “You look really nice, Hinata,”

Her face was as bright as any tomato as she shuffled her sandal encased feet.

“T-Thank you, Naruto-kun,”

“Told you, Hinata,” Kiba said, swallowing a mouth full of food and grinning over at her , “Hanabi’s right, you look really cute when you’re not swallowed up in that jacket,”

A small frown curled Naruto’s lips at the word “cute”. Kiba’s complement kind of rubbed him the wrong way. Like he had suddenly smelled something really distasteful.

Did Kiba….like Hinata?

As more than just a friend and long time teammates?

His brows lowered.

The questions bothered him.

Searching his memory, he couldn’t recall a single instance between the two that would suggest there were or ever had been more than friends.

Still…

“Naruto-kun, you’re not eating…..is something wrong? Are you in pain again?”

“U-Uh no, I’m fine,”

Setting aside his disquiet, he picked up his chopsticks, awkwardly trying to arrange them in a way that felt comfortable.

Akamaru trotted over to Kiba for scraps.

Five minutes later, he was ready to just stick his head into the food and eat that way. He could not get a decent bite of food, worse, the food was delicious! It was torture! Some sort of sick joke!

Kiba laughed at him as he dropped his chop sticks and pouted instead.

“Oi, its not funny, I’ll die of starvation!” he whined.

Hinata took a seat next to him. Wiping her wet hands on her apron, she picked up his chopsticks and pulled his plate closer to her.

“Hinata?”

Her cheeks were dull red again, though her eyes were soft with concern.

“I’ll help you eat breakfast and we can practice using your left hand to eat later,”

“Are you seriously gonna feed him, Hinata?” Kiba asked, sour expression on his face.

“Kiba-kun, Naruto-kun needs help. H-He’s really trying his best,” she insisted, “Please be nice,”

Kiba sat back with a roll of his eyes and a petulant pout of his own.

“Thanks Hinata,” Naruto said with as much smugness as he could muster, grinning deviously at Kiba.

Kiba narrowed his eyes, stuffing his mouth and chewing viciously.

Hinata shifted, drawing Naruto’s attention. He watched as she loaded a bite of food between his chopsticks, blew on it softly and leaned forward, offering it to him.

Red stained his cheeks as he leaned in to accept the bite.

He hadn’t known being fed by a girl could feel so…..intimate….

While she prepared the next bit for him, Kiba took the time to stick his tongue out at him from across the table. Shyness obliterated, Naruto sent him a smug, sly glance before turning to Hinata.

“The food is delicious, Hinata,”

Her smile was shy, her cheeks crimson with pleasure.

“T-Thank you, Naruto-kun, I’m so glad you like it,” she said, holding out his chopsticks to him again.

He accepted another bite, watching Kiba bristle from the corner of his eye. He was viciously chewing again. Naruto held back a chuckle as he and Hinata settled into a routine to clear his plate.

Served him right.

He wasn’t sure if Kiba liked Hinata or not but he doubted she was interested in him like that. He and Hinata talked about pretty much everything and that mutt’s name had yet to come up in more than a passing comment.

Although…

He glanced over at her.

She didn’t seem to be sparing Kiba the least bit of attention, was instead waiting patiently for him to finish chewing to feed him more.

It wasn’t like he had asked her if she liked anyone. She knew he liked Sakura, he had told her so and complained about his lack of progress with her, but Hinata always seemed quiet when he brought it up that he kind of got all wrapped up in talking that he didn’t even think to ask her about her love life.

Did she have a crush on someone?

He accepted another bite with a small frown.

The thought of her answering that question with the name Kiba or anybody else disturbed him. The attention she showered on him had become something he looked forward to at every opportunity, her presence giving him a sense of peace, and she did all that just as friends.

He could imagine the guy she got with would command all her attention….something he was loathe to share.

He felt incredibly selfish and guilty for even thinking that, but it was true.

He didn’t want to share her with anybody. Didn’t want someone to become more important than him to her, to come along and shove him to the side. Hinata was the only one that understood him on a level he’d never thought possible. She was a soothing balm when he felt hurt, a guiding force when he felt lost.

She didn’t ask anything of him.

Didn’t expect anything of him.

She accepted him.

All of him.

With no hesitation, no reservation, no second guessing.

She made him feel necessary, worthy.

How could he be expected to give that up?

More food filled his mouth, flavor exploding over his tongue.

Eventually, he wouldn’t need her to care for him once he got his arm back. He’d have no real excuse to keep her so close to him then. He couldn’t very well keep her all to himself could he? It wasn’t really fair to her and he didn’t think she would appreciate him running guys away from her.

But still….

If she didn’t know he was doing it…

He glared over at Kiba who returned his narrowed gaze with one of his own.

Hmph!

Until Hinata made clear she was interested in a certain guy, he saw no problem with making sure no one tried to take advantage of her. She was notoriously sweet and gentle and it was hard for her to say no or tell some over zealous guy to take a hike. He had no problem doing it for her.

Wouldn’t bother him to toss a few guys out the window, starting with a certain mutt.

She was special to him.

He’d be damned if he let her get used or hurt.

The very thought was repugnant.

“Hey Hinata, me and Akamaru are going to the lake later on, wanna come with us?”

Naruto felt his eyes narrow as he brought his cup of orange juice to his lips.

“Sorry Kiba-kun,” she replied with an apologetic smile, “Naruto-kun has a couple of interviews today and Tsunade-sama wants me to help him with those,”

“Ehhhh, interviews,” Kiba pouted, “Why don’t they interview everyone then? We were all there during the war,”

Hinata giggled.

“Because Naruto-kun was essential to the war and turned the tide all by himself with his clones.” her smile was proud, “He saved us all, more than once.”

“Hinataaaaaa.” came Naruto’s touched response, a hilariously emotional look on his face.

Hinata smiled at his exaggerated expression.

“It’s true Naruto-kun, your strength is incredible. You’re booked solid for at least the next two months for interviews, a couple of photo shoots and a handful of sculptors are begging Tsunade-sama to allow you to sit for them.”

Naruto leaned back in his chair, head hanging over the back.

“I’m exhausted just thinking about it, dattebayo.”

“So Tsunade-sama asked you to help baby sit this idiot so he doesn’t embarrass the village, eh, Hinata?”

Naruto sat up and scowled at Kiba.

Sure, that’s exactly what Baa-chan had said but still, he didn’t have to rub it in!

“That not it. Talking to the press can be tricky if you’re not used to it, no matter who you are. The smallest mistake can end up being taken out of context,” Hinata explained, clearing their empty dishes, “I don’t think Tsunade-sama really meant Naruto-kun would embarrass the village, more so she wanted to protect Naruto-kun from bad press.”

“Psh! No way, the guy’s an idiot, that why,”

“What was that, dog boy?” Naruto exclaimed, leaping to his feet, fist bunched in threat.

Kiba threw an arm over the back of his chair, a finger in his ear as though trying to tune out Naruto’s loud mouth.

“So loud and obnoxious,” Kiba complained, “they should be interviewing me considering I’m going to become Hokage,”

Naruto’s brow twitched.

“Why you….”

Hinata moved to the table, a wrapped container in hand.

“Kiba-kun, Naruto-kun’s interview is going to start soon,” she said with a small worried frown, “he needs to get ready for it….”

Kiba stood.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m going,”

She offered him the container.

“Thank you for stopping by to share breakfast with us. Here, you can have the left overs,”

“Really?” he gushed, eyes twinkling.

Hinata smiled warmly.

“Of course, Kiba-kun, be sure to share with Akamaru.”

Akamaru barked in excitement, his tail wagging furiously as Hinata gave him a scratch behind the ears.

Naruto pouted as he watched the exchange.

Left overs in hand, Kiba and Akamaru made their way to the door.

“I-I’m sorry, Naruto-kun, Kiba-kun isn’t usually so rude.”

Petulance gone, Naruto grinned at Hinata.

“Don’t sweat it, Hinata. We weren’t really serious anyway.”

She smiled, seeming relieved.

“Your interview is at 10, Naruto-kun, if you need help getting ready, please let me know.”

A defeated sigh left his lips. At least two months of annoying reporters asking him the same questions the one before asked over and over again. Now he understood how Shikamaru felt when he had to do something he felt was tedious.

‘Interviews….what a drag….’

Hinata’s giggle caught his attention. He opened his eyes, looking over at her.

“What?” he questioned, confused.

“I’m sorry, Naruto-kun, its just you have this closed eyed expression on your face that’s really funny.”

His head tilted.

“Closed eyed expression?”

She nodded cheerfully.

“Yes, you’ve done it since the first time I met you, back when we were kids.”

He grinned, hand ruffling his hair.

“Guess that’s true.”

“Naruto-kun….”

“Yeah?”

“Do you…..need me to undo the buttons on your shirt for you?”

A blush stained his cheeks, last night’s disheveled Hinata came rushing back. He swallowed, and looked away.

“Ah, if it wouldn’t be too much trouble.” he mumbled.

“O-of course not,” she said moving towards him, “That’s why I’m here, Naruto-kun.”

He breathed in her delicate, unique scent, watching with lowered lids as her fingers moved over the buttons of his shirt.

 

March 3, 2008

 

Naruto leaned over the book, blue eyes intense as he read silently.

It was getting a little easier to concentrate for longer periods of time. A year ago, hell, a month ago he wouldn’t have thought himself capable of studying let alone retaining the information as well as he was, but if he wanted even a taste of that delicious smelling ramen coming from the kitchen, he had to get this concept down.

Not only that, he needed to know this stuff in order to get closer to becoming a jonin, and later, the Hokage.

The last five months had been a whirlwind of activity.

He’d been bounced around town from one person to another. Reporters, artists, fans, and everyone in between had gotten a piece of him and now, the village was finally beginning to quiet down. With Konoha calmer, he had more time to focus on the things he needed to get done.

Kakashi, the new Hokage, had informed him that, though his power was that of a Kage, rather than a jonin, he still had to go through the process just like everyone else.

Genin.

Chunin.

Jonin.

Kage.

There was a set tier, a chain of progress that had to be observed.

With their relationship as former sensei and pupil, the new Hokage could not give the appearance of favoritism by simply promoting him without him passing the required physical and written assessments.

He wasn’t the least bit concerned about the physical.

He was more than battle tested and ready for anything they tossed his way. It was the book work that had him concerned.

To motivate him, Hinata had made a deal with him, that if he really tried hard to study, she would make him ramen or they’d go to Ichiraku’s as a reward, breaking the strict diet he’d been on since leaving the hospital. At the time, he hadn’t had the heart to tell her he’d been sneaking out to get ramen on the days she went out to do grocery shopping or catch up with clan duties or any other time she was absent, but once he had seen how worried and concerned she had been about him passing his exams, he’d vowed to uphold his part of the deal and stopped sneaking ramen.

That had probably been the hardest decision he’d ever made and he had dreamed of nothing but eating himself into a coma on Ichiraku’s ramen for nearly two weeks after.

Little by little though, his cravings had dimmed and seeing how proud Hinata was when she review with him, erased any regret he may have felt.

He frowned.

Breaking a promise to Hinata was damn painful.

It was harder to break a promise to Hinata than anyone else because there was no punishment! It was weird but that bothered him more than anything. If he did something wrong, something that upset her, she didn’t beat him up like Sakura, didn’t call him an idiot like Shikamaru or Kiba, didn’t sigh in annoyance and aggravation like Baa-chan or Kakashi-sensei, she did something worse.

Far worse.

She hurt.

She’d look at him with those lavender eyes and look so sad and then proceed to tell him not feel bad about screwing up. It almost felt like she was taking the blame instead of placing where it belong.

The guilt would eat him up faster than acid on a thin sheet of paper.

It drove him insane because he knew she wasn’t trying to make him feel like shit but still he couldn’t help but feel like scum to put that look on her face. He’d rather she get angry and yell at him at least instead of let him off the hook.

And so, he found it impossible to tell her one thing and do another.

To be honest, even looking at the Ichiraku’s shop made him feel guilty, let alone going in to sneak a bite.

How the hell could he take the risk of her finding out about it and hurt her feelings?

She would probably say something like, “I’m sorry Naruto-kun, I didn’t mean to make you feel like you had to sneak to do what you love.” No way was he gonna let that scenario go down again.

Twice was enough for him.

With all this to consider, he found himself more tolerant and receptive to studying.

A frustrated growl across from him gained his attention.

He looked up at himself seated on the floor in front of the coffee table, leaning over a map, sour expression on his face.

“This is hard, dattebayo,” the clone said.

“Of course its hard, these are jonin level battle plans,” came the clone on the other side of the couch, opposite the original, “and we’re an off-script type ninja,”

He limited clone studying to two, any more than that and he would get a vicious headache once he undid the jutsu to gain their knowledge.

He was able to create clones and perform simple jutsu with one handed signs, thanks again to Hinata. It was hard to manipulate and allocate the appropriate amount of chakra with only one hand to form seals, so the two of them had worked on chakra control together, everyday until he was able to use his trademark Kage Bunshin no jutsu. He’d only just got the hang of it a week or so ago.

Being able to use jutsu again had done wonders to improve his mood.

He’d been in a slump, not being able to go out on missions or to have some outlet for his over active, over abundant energy. Depressing, the guys called him when they hung out at his house and listened to his bellyaching. Maybe he had been more down in the dumps than was normal for him, but he had plenty of reason to feel that way.

Training was hard to do considering the fan girls that chased him up, down and around the village and when he did train, he made more mistakes than he usually did, often depending on an arm that was no longer there when he really got into it.

Ironically, his ineffective training had led him to his first taste of “Hinata guilt” and subsequently led to them training together to perfect one hand seals.

He could still remember the day crystal clear…

 

After a particularly frustrating day of running from girls and villagers, screwing up his training session, getting the cold shoulder from Sakura for unknown reasons and having a bout of phantom pain he had been in an absolutely atrocious mood coming home. Aggravated beyond belief, throbbing pain shooting through his body, no mission in sight, he had been spoiling for an argument and had found an easy target for it.

If he were honest, on top of all that was the underlying tension he always felt around her since that first night she’d come to his apartment. Like if she looked at him too closely she’d see into his perverted mind, would sense the guilt he felt about the dirty things he thought about her, the fantasies he couldn’t stop when he masturbated at night.

He was strung up tight, combating feelings and emotions he didn’t recognize or understand.

That day she had come to welcome him back as he stepped through the door, wanting to know how his day had went, just like always, looking more beautiful than should be allowed, the pretty pink dress and jean jacket doing little to cover her feminine figure.

He remembered being so frustrated, mentally, physically, sexually that he’d snapped at the innocent question, voice raised, laying out for her all the shitty things that had happened that day.

She had stood there, silently, eyes full of hurt while he damn near bellowed at her, listening while he poured it all out, though he’d had enough sense not to mention anything sexual.

It wasn’t her fault he was a damn pervert anyway.

When he finished making an ass of himself, he’d stormed to his room, slamming the door.

Seconds later, shame and guilt had nearly knocked him over.

‘What the hell am I doing?’ he remembered thinking in the silence of his bedroom, wondering if this was part of the “raging hormones” Iruka-sensei had spoken of after their man to man talk about girls.

A talk that had been really awkward but informative.

Iruka-sensei had explained a lot of things to him, about the changes his body was going through, about going from boy to man and what that meant. Iruka-sensei thought he was a “late bloomer” because of all the distractions he’d had and that now it was catching up to him. While physically, his body had gone through puberty, mentally, he hadn’t caught up to his body.

He was a boy in a mans body.

The simplistic reasoning of a boy didn’t always line up with the complex needs and wants of a man.

With no distractions, he was going through the transition of child to adult.

Too embarrassed to come out of his room, he’d taken one of his pain meds and spent most of the evening lying down, kicking himself for yelling at Hinata, and trying to sort out how he was going to apologize and explain himself.

Hours later, when his room had gone dark, a soft knock had brought him from his self-recrimination.

“.….N-Naruto-kun…..” had come her gentle voice.

The hesitancy had made him feel worse than shit.

“I….I-I know i-it was your day to make dinner….but I….went ahead and made it….if you’re hungry….”

His teeth had clenched with remorse to hear her so nervous with him. Unable to open his mouth, he’d listened as her footsteps moved away. Sitting up, he had sat on the edge of his bed for a moment, getting together the courage to show his face. Hardening his resolved, he had left the room and gone to the kitchen table where Hinata was already seated and eating silently.

The two had eaten in silence until the tension had nearly driven him insane.

“Hinata-”

“Naruto-kun-”

They’d both stopped. Surprisingly, Hinata had taken advantage of the silence to speak first.

“Naruto-kun, I’m sorry about earlier,”

The words, so softly spoken, filled with remorse, had shocked him.

What the hell did she have to be sorry about?

“I know you’ve been under a lot of stress with every thing that’s been going on, dealing with your wound and not being able to go on missions for now,” she had said, her fingers coming up to fidget, “I haven’t really taken into consideration how hard its been on you. I know sometimes, when a person is having a bad day, the last thing they want is to be bombarded with questions right at the door. I should have-”

“Don’t!” he’d burst, unable to bear to hear her blame herself for his stupidity, “You don’t have anything to be sorry for. I shouldn’t have taken my frustrations out on you like that. I’m……happy when you greet me at the door and ask how my day is….”

The admission had brought a blush to both their faces, but he’d been unwilling to let her think he wasn’t happy that she welcomed him back when he could just as easy be back in the gut wrenching, painful hell that was coming home to an empty, cold and lonely apartment.

“It wasn’t you at all. I’ve been feeling kind of…..useless….lately. I’m a ninja, I’m used to constant movement, constant conflict and fighting. Being idle….I guess its starting to get to me. I’m sorry that I yelled at you…I’m really sorry, Hinata,”

Her look of concern had only rubbed salt in his wounds.

“Its okay, Naruto-kun, I understand how hard this must be for you,” she’d smiled, recalling some memory she hadn’t shared with him, “You’ve always been very energetic for as long as I can remember….I think maybe we can do something productive training wise that will make you feel better, though its not as exciting as a mission would be,”

From there she had explained that one hand seals could be learned, though it was a really tricky thing to master. It was more than tricky. The focus and concentration he had acquired during senjutsu training had really given him an advantage, otherwise he knew he would never have been able to learn how to do it.

“Do you think that will help you feel better, Naruto-kun?” she’d asked after they discussed the details.

Her expression had been so genuine and concerned that he had wanted to create a couple of clones to beat the crap out of him for hurting her. He was used to having outside forces correct his behavior, this was new and jarring for him and a hundred times worse than a punch to the gut by Sakura for being an idiot.

Wanting to make her happy, wanting to see her smile, he’d told her it would make him feel a lot better to work on one-hand seals with her.

Her happiness at his response had twisted his gut.

After that, she seemed to have dismissed the one sided argument he’d had with her all together, returning to her quietly cheerful personality, no longer hesitant with him. And right after dinner, they began practicing chakra control.

Several months later, he had finally gained enough control to perform jutsu.

Funny thing is, the moment he had summoned his clones one-handed for the first time, they had glared at him. He had been in the mist of celebrating his success and debating whether or not to hunt down Hinata to share the good news when one of them had cleared their throat loudly to gain his attention.

He had looked at them curiously as they moved closer to him.

“What is it, dattebayo?” he had asked the four copies of himself.

“We’re gonna beat the crap outta you for upsetting Hinata that time,” one of them declared, pointing at him.

“Huuuh?”

“Don’t play dumb, ‘ttebayo!” another piped up.

“Don’t you remember wanting to make some of us to beat the crap outta you for taking your anger out on Hinata? Well we’re still mad about what you did so we’re gonna beat the crap outta you,” said the first clone.

“Yeah!” agreed a third.

“You got some nerve hurting her like that, idiot!” said the fourth.

“You guys are me too so that makes you just as much to blame as me!” Naruto had pointed out.

The glaring clones had quickly turned on each other, and in true Naruto fashion, the original had jumped in to pop things off. Minutes later, bruised and battered, Naruto had lay sprawled on the living room floor, satisfied he’d finally gotten his punishment for the Hinata incident, though he had had to make up an excuse for his beat down to Hinata when she came home later that day….

 

“Would you guys be serious?” complained original Naruto, “Hinata’s giving us a quiz on this stuff next week and I’m not about to fail,”

He had barely scraped by the last quiz and was lucky he had been able to guess the last question correctly. Hinata was shockingly strict and unforgiving when it came to the learning material. No extra credit, no partial credit and no retakes. It was all or nothing, high stakes testing. Her soft spoken words still, somehow, conveyed a hint of steel, of no-nonsense that had kept him in line.

He was still fascinated with this new unraveled facet of her personality.

Just when he thought he had a pretty good idea of what made her tick, she would do or say something to throw him off kilter again. If he was the number one most unpredictable ninja in the Hidden Leaf, she was certainly a close second.

At least he thought so.

The clones grumbled but returned to their studies once more. They were apart of him, so he knew they felt the same driving need as him. The desire to move closer to becoming Hokage…….the desire to make Hinata proud.

“Naruto-kun, the ramen is ready,”

He looked up to see Hinata standing in the doorway. The green sundress was very flattering on her, even with the apron covering most of it. Her long shinny hair was loose today, flowing down her back and over her shoulders.

“Thanks, Hinata,” all three Narutos said at once.

She smiled.

A knock sounded at the front door. Hinata turned to look in the direction of the door before turning back to him.

“I’ll get that, I’ll be just a moment, Naruto-kun,”

As she left to answer the door, Naruto dispelled his clones, taking a moment to absorb the new information. Once finished, he closed his book and headed for the kitchen table, wondering who was at the door but having a pretty good idea who.

Damn mutt face just couldn’t keep his nose out of his kitchen.

Sure enough, Kiba walked in, but this time, he’d brought back up.

“Naruto! What’s up?” Ino all but shouted as she took a seat at the table.

“Good evening,” Sai greeted, pulling out a chair.

Kiba sat his irritating self in the seat to Naruto’s right, while Akamaru headed for the living room. He was almost too busy glaring at Kiba to notice Shino walk in.

“Good evening, Naruto” Shino began, “please excuse the intrusion. Why? Because-”

“We just happened to be in the neighborhood and thought we’d drop by,” Kiba purred.

Naruto pursed his lips, broadcasting his disbelief.

“Who knew having you as a neighbor would be so annoying, ‘ttebayo,”

Hinata walked into the kitchen and began gathering bowls.

“Here, I’ll help you,” Ino said, standing and moving to grab a bowl.

“Thanks Ino-chan,”

“You’re hardly the ideal neighbor, I can’t even go outside the apartment building without wading through a group of fan girls and losers asking me to get your autograph,” Kiba retorted, rolling his eyes, “Way to block the entrance with all your pathetic fans, douche,”

“Psh, its not my fault I’m cool as hell,” Naruto said with all the smugness he could muster, “You’re just jealous nobody’s interested in you,”

“But you don’t even like the attention,” Sai pointed out, “You run and hide most of time,”

“Hey you’d run too if you were in my shoes!” Naruto declared.

“I think all the attention would get overwhelming eventually,” Shino put in, “Why? Because-”

“Hmm, well I read in a book that people that are insecure avoid the spotlight,” Sai said, “Have you become insecure, Naruto-kun?”

“Quit calling me that! I hate it,” Naruto pouted.

“Hinata calls you that all the time,” Sai pointed out calmly.

“She can, you can’t,” Naruto pulled a disgusted look, “Its creepy and gross when you do it, especially with that weird smile of yours, dattebayo,”

“I’ve been practicing, Ino-chan says its not nearly as creepy anymore. Here, watch,”

Naruto and Kiba cringed at the stiff curl of Sai’s lips.

“Better?” Sai questioned.

“Creepy,” Kiba offered.

“It’s worse than creepy, ‘ttebayo,”

Sai frowned.

“I think it looks fine, Sai,” Ino said, placing a bowl of ramen in front of him.

“Meh, your vote doesn’t count, you’re his girlfriend, of course you’re gonna say nice stuff,” Kiba dismissed.

Ino stuck her tongue out at Kiba as she sat a bowl in front of Shino.

“He has a great smile, doesn’t he Hinata?” Ino asked.

“Ah, w-well, I think Sai-kun has a nice smile. It’s unique to him,” she said, setting a bowl in front of Naruto and Kiba.

“Hinata doesn’t count either, she doesn’t have a mean bone in her body so of course she’ll say something nice,”

“What about Shino?” Naruto asked.

“Shino doesn’t count either, he’ll take too long to make a decision and start rambling on and on until he puts everyone to sleep,”

“K-Kiba-kun, that’s not nice,” Hinata admonished, sitting down with her own bowl.

Naruto snickered, though he agreed Shino had a habit of going into more detail than was necessary the few times he spoke up.

“That’s a load of crap, Shino should get a say,” Ino said, “Go on Shino, what do you think,”

Ten minutes later, Ino sorely regretted she’d asked. Shino was way off topic and was, for some reason, telling them about the best environment for one of his bugs to lay eggs. Less than interested, Naruto and Kiba had moved on to bigger and better things to argue about and were completely ignoring the rambling guy. The dinner ended on a high note, and once everyone had gone home, Naruto helped Hinata wash the dishes, rinsing the suds from the bowls and drying the best he could.

“Dinner went well,” Hinata said with a smile.

“Hmmmmm,” Naruto pouted, “That jerk Kiba,”

Hinata giggled at the face he pulled.

“You two argue like cats and dogs,”

“That’s ‘cuz he always finds himself at our door any time you cook, hogging all the food,”

Hinata laughed again, draining the dirty dish water and helping rinse and dry the left over dishes.

“It’s okay, Naruto-kun, even if he eats it all, I’ll make you as much as want,”

He looked over at her smiling face. Her hair was tucked behind her ear, giving him an unimpeded look at her graceful throat, delicate jawline and plush lips. His mouth was drier than the desert.

Without a doubt, Hinata was the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen.

A blush stained his cheeks and remained there throughout their clean up and nightly routine of buttoning his pajamas, checking his pain levels, reviewing his study materials and finally saying goodnight.

xxxxxx

In the darkness of his room, he lay in bed, blanket and sheet pushed to the bottom. His shirt was pushed up, his pajama bottoms at his knees.

His breath came out in soft pants, sweat doting his brow.

Slowly, firmly he stroked himself, the glide of his hand feeling unbearably good.

His body felt tight, tension thrumming thorough his limbs, heat pooling low in his abdomen. He closed his eyes, remembering those plush lips, imagining them wrapped around his shaft. Could almost feel the heat of her mouth engulfing him, her tongue teasing his heated flesh.

Pillow soft lips pressing heated kisses to his hard length.

He groaned, his hand moving to the tip of his throbbing dick.

Gathering the moisture that had escaped, he rubbed the head of his cock in a circular motion, imaging her tongue swirling around the sensitive flesh.

He shuddered, biting his lip against the overwhelming need to cum.

“Hinata,” he gasped.

He thought of her plump, wet lips stretched around his cock, her delicate throat working as he pushed his length deeper. His fist tightened, stroking harder, faster as her moon colored eyes peered up at him through thick dark lashes, her raven hair plastered to her naked, glistening body.

He imagined her kissing and licking his cock, her breasts swaying gently, one hand gripped around his length, the other between her legs.

Pleasure unfurled in his gut, pounding through his veins.

His body twitched, abdomen tightening.

He bit his lip against the moan threatening to break the silence of the night. His chest heaved as his hand moved faster, pulsating waves of pleasure crashing through him. His fantasy shifted.

A rounded bottom filled his mind’s eye. Hinata, on her hands and knees, her back to him, cheeks raised and waiting sent intense stabs of lust straight to his throbbing cock. She looked over her shoulder at him, her face flushed, eyes heavy lidded. She was panting, pouty pink lips parted and moist.

Those lilac eyes were begging, pleading with him to touch her.

To fuck her.

“Naruto-kun…….please…..”

The sound of flesh meeting flesh was loud in his ears, but he couldn’t stop. It felt too good. The thought of Hinata offering her body to him, begging him increased the tension tightening his body to an unbearable strain. Ecstasy explode through his veins as he thrust into his own hand, his heated flesh unbearably hard and aching. The pulsating throb winding him into a frenzy of need.

His hand moved faster, his mind empty of everything but Hinata and the impending orgasm pounding in his balls.

He held his breath, pressure building at the base of his dick.

His heart slammed against his rib cage, his eyes squeezed shut. Grinding his teeth he squeezed himself tighter, imaging Hinata’s big titties naked, jiggling and covered in his cum. Pink nipples shiny with his semen…

His groan was long and loud as he came, the hot liquid of passion coating his fisted hand and dripping down his balls.

His eyes opened, rolling into the back of his skull, the sensation of cum erupting from his cock indescribable.

His body jerked and twitched as he squeezed the wet tip of his cock, drawing out the pleasure with long tight strokes of his hand. His lungs heaved as he rubbed his thumb over the sensitive head, smearing cum. Relief flowed through him. The painful sexual tension easing for at least another night.

Muscles trembling, he stroked himself again, the slippery friction eliciting a low groan, before relaxing.

Sweat cooled against his skin.

Euphoria spread through out his entire body.

He lay there, dick in hand, panting softly.

Minutes ticked by. He stared up at the dark ceiling, basking in his orgasm until the air felt uncomfortably cold against his shrinking cock.

He swallowed, then kicked off his pajama bottoms and boxers. He sat up, grimacing at the sticky mess on his hand and genitals. Clean up was a swift and familiar routine. A couple of minutes later, Naruto was back in bed, fully clothed.

He’d done this so many nights it was beginning to become apart of his nightly ritual.

He sighed, his eyes sleepy.

He felt replete, guilt waiting at the fringe of his mind.

Something else that had become a part of his nightly routine. No matter how many times he tried not to, he couldn’t help fantasizing about Hinata. Maybe it was their close proximity, maybe her clothing change, whatever it was, had turned on a switch in his brain and he didn’t know how to turn the damn thing off and deep down, he wasn’t certain he wanted to turn it off.

He was always harder than normal when he pictured her naked and aroused. Orgasms were mind blowing, the satisfaction deeper when it was her he was thinking about.

Even now, those lush lips, that breathy sigh of his name was enough to twist his gut with desire.

He covered his eyes with his forearm as his cheeks burned.

He was becoming obsessed.

xxxxxx

Hope you enjoyed this chapter. Would Love to hear what you thought.

Laters

~Sessakag

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Five

May 17, 2008

 

Naruto awoke dizzy and bewildered. The room was blurry and it felt like his eyes were crossing. He could hear someone talking but for the life of him, he couldn’t understand a word of what they were saying. It sounded like they were talking underwater. He listened harder, wondering if he was drunk or something. Laughter reached his ears, at least he thought it was laughter.

Hard to tell what the heck he was hearing.

More talking, more jumbled, garbled speech from multiple places around him.

Someone was close to his ear, the inflection of their voice seeming to imply they were asking him a question.

“Whalttt arrreyouuu saaayling, da….datthtabaayooo?” he asked, voice slurred.

Laughter again, more speech he couldn’t understand. His eyes began to close, exhaustion taking over. Whoever was talking could come back later when they figured out how to talk without sounding like they had a bag over their head.

~

He awoke again, a little less confused, though his head felt floaty and his mouth was dry as hell. He had no idea how much time had passed since the last time but at least he could make out his surroundings this time.

The room was a bright white, a television mounted on the wall across from him. A window to his right was open, letting in light and a cool breeze. It didn’t take long for him to realize he was in the hospital. Remembering why he was here, he looked down at his right arm, a little shocked and disturbed to see a bandaged hand and forearm attached.  

It seemed surreal.

His brows creased as he tried to move the fingers of the hand attached to him. They twitched slightly.

The amount of effort it took just to do that stunned him.

“You’re awake, Naruto-kun. How do you feel?”

It took just as much effort to turn and look over at the owner of that voice. Hinata sat in a chair next to his hospital bed. Her smile was bright, and she looked incredibly happy.

“.….Dizzy…….” he licked his lips, “thirsty…..”

She stood and reached over to a bed side table. He heard the sound of water being poured into a glass.

“You’re so spoiled, Naruto.”

He turned his head to see Sakura standing in the doorway, arms crossed. He couldn’t tell if she was serious or not, though he couldn’t really argue one way or another. It was a pretty accurate assessment. It was the new running joke among their friends that Hinata absolutely spoiled him rotten. Even he knew it was true, but he was hard pressed to change it. If Hinata didn’t mind it, why should he? Besides, he was just as indulgent with her as she was with him. They both were fine with the way things were. While everyone seemed to take it in stride and laugh about it, Sakura seemed to get more and more irritated.

“The guy’s in the hospital, cut him some slack, jeez billboard brow.” Ino said, bumping her out of the doorway.

Hinata brought a cup to his lips and cool water ran down his parched throat. Peering over the rim of the glass, he watched Sakura roll her eyes at Ino and sit down with a huff in one of the chairs across from his bed.

A flicker of annoyance flared through him.

He was getting really sick of her attitude lately. Every time he was near her, she’d make some kind of snide remark about him and Hinata or give him a dirty look. At first he had been really, really confused as to what he had done to make her so irritated with him. He had even asked her a few times what her deal was and each time she would blush and claim it was nothing.

Now, he had had just about enough of it.

Now, she wasn’t just giving him dirty looks, she was making snide comments at Hinata too and for him, she was crossing a line and venturing into dangerous territory.

He’d finally put a label to what Hinata was to him.

And that was, his best friend.

Hinata set the now empty cup on the bedside table, her cheeks bright pink.

Hinata was his best friend, the person he felt the closest to, the person he was able to be himself around, the person that cared about him more than anyone else in the world, had proven that time and time again with action and word. He and Sakura were great friends, they were close from years of fighting together, rescuing Sasuke together, but he would not allow her, or anyone else to disrespect Hinata. He didn’t want to argue and fight with her, but he was done letting her take out whatever her problem was on him and certainly not on Hinata.

When he was up and on his feet, he was definitely going to demand to know what the hell her problem was and wouldn’t take “nothing” as an answer.

Sai walked in, holding a basket of fruit, that disturbingly placid smile on his face.

“The book suggested fruit baskets as a get well soon gift when a friend is in the hospital,” he said by way of explanation, placing the basket on a table near the door..

“Uh…thanks, dattebayo,” he said, an uncomfortable smile on his face.

That guy just did not get human emotions and etiquette. It wasn’t really a kind gesture if you waltz in and announced a book told you to do it with a creepy, robotic smile on your cold face.

“Isn’t he just the sweetest,” Ino gushed.

“Ah…yeah,” Naruto agreed reluctantly.

“Psh, as sweet as a damn lemon,” Kiba scuffed as he walked in, Akamaru at his side.

“What was that, dog breath?” Ino asked, fists on hips.

“I think you heard him Ino-pig,” Sakura chimed in.

“Who asked you? I think he can handle himself. He doesn’t need your giant five-head to protect him,”

“Why you bloated-”

“What a drag, do you guys always have to fight?” Shikamaru asked as he stepped into the room, his girlfriend a step behind him, both wearing mission gear.

“What’s up Shikamaru?” Kiba greeted.

“We just wanted to stop by and check on Naruto before we head out for our mission,” Temari said.

Naruto grinned.

“I’m great, got a new arm, dattebayo,”

“How’s it feel?” Shikamaru questioned, “Can you move it?”

“Hmmmm,”

Naruto looked down at the bandaged appendage, trying hard to make it move. It was more of a struggled than he thought it would be to make the appendage work. His brows creased in concentration. Slowly, his fingers curled one after another, the amount of effort it took for just that small a movement was taxing.

“Uhhh, looks like its gonna take some work,” he admitted bashfully, “I’ve gotten used to having one arm so I guess its gonna take a while before I can move this new arm without having to think so hard. At least I know it works, or uhm, at least the fingers do,”

“Tsunade-sama said you should practice using it as much as possible and over time it’ll feel like you never lost it,” Sakura said, “its been crafted specifically for you,”

“Won’t he need rehab for that?” Temari asked.

Sakura shook her head, looking over at Naruto.

“There’s a couple of exercises you can do at home, the doctor will let you know what they are. You might want to start training with it too. Kakashi-sensei said missions are about to start picking up again so we’re going to need every available shinobi,”

“I’ll be ready!” Naruto said, raising his left fist enthusiastically.

It took a moment before it dawned on him.

“Wait, aren’t we still under a peace treaty with the other nations?” he asked, “Why’s work picking up? What’s going on?”

Shikamaru crossed his arms and leaned against the wall.

“The treaty is on its last leg,” he admitted, “People are turning up dead, whole villages ravaged over night. I can’t go into too many details but its happening all over the Great Five and everywhere in between,”

Naruto sat up, the seriousness of the situation not lost on him.

They were depending on the treaty.

Konoha had lost more than half of their shinobi forces and it’d be years before they returned to normal numbers. Right now, not just the village, but the entire Fire Country was in an incredibly vulnerable position. Suna and Kumo were in much the same boat having suffered similar, devastating blows among their shinobi rank. Should one of the nations suffer a crisis, they would have no choice but to rely on the good nature and kindness of their neighboring countries to lend a hand, something the struggling nations may not be in a position or inclined to do.

An alarming realization affecting all five elemental countries almost equally.

Why any of the nations would be willing to jeopardize their positions by disrupting the peace was beyond him.

With the agreement of peace firmly in place, the prediction and consensus had been that the ceasefire between nations would allow for the replenishment of the Great Nation’s diminished number of able bodied shinobi over the course of the next decade or so.

National Security was of particular concern for all five Great Nations. Konoha more so than the others. The village was still undergoing repairs, their economy struggling and many villagers were still displaced, having lost everything during the destruction. The Leaf needed that projected time period of peace more than any other nation. Should another attack anywhere near what had happened with Pain, let alone during the war occur now, the Leaf village could find themselves in dire circumstances.

“Are you serious?”

“Yeah, everyone’s on edge and suspicious of each other. Treaty or not, the Kage is responsible for the well being of their people, and will do anything to ensure their safety, even if that means going against the treaty,”

This was news to Naruto, he’d been so focused on recovering, and studying to become a jonin, he had kind of lost track of world events going on around him. His hand clenched, gripping the sheet.

Already.

Already it was starting again.

The cycle of death and hatred.

Hinata slipped her hand into his bandaged one. It wasn’t hard this time to move his fingers. Without much thought, he wrapped them around her small, warm hand.

She didn’t have to say a word.

He knew what she was trying to convey to him.

‘You stopped this cycle once, you can do it again. Don’t give up hope,’

“We’re trying to keep this as quiet as possible,” Shikamaru continued, “Even though I’ve been appointed Lord Sixth’s adviser, there’s some details even I’m not aware of. Temari and I are headed to Suna to speak with the Kazekage on behalf of the Hokage regarding the situation. Speaking of which, we better head out, Temari.”

“Later, Naruto,” Temari said, turning to follow Shikamaru out the door.

“Bye guys, tell Gaara I said hi,”

“Will do,”

Naruto looked down at his new hand, entwined with Hinata’s, determination filling him. He had to get used to this arm right away. If things went to shit, he would need to be ready.

The time for rest was over.

 

May 29, 2008

 

Naruto ran his hand over his hair, frowning as he looked into the mirror held up before his face.

“Hmmmmmm,”

“I think it looks great,” the barber commented, “Especially with your new mission gear. Very mature,”

Naruto turned his head left and right, trying to get a feel for his new haircut. It was shorter than he’d ever had it and it certainly gave him that maturity feel he had asked the barber for.

It was….different.

Didn’t really look goofy or anything.

He slid his new head band around his head.

Actually, he kind of liked the new look and it did compliment his cool new gear.

Maybe he needed to get a second opinion.

He reached into his pocket for Gama-chan and paid the barber, leaving a generous tip.

“Come back when you need a fresh trim, Naruto,”

“Of course,” Naruto grinned, waving as he moved to the door, “Later!”

He left the shop, enjoying the breeze against his shorter hair. He couldn’t help reaching up to touch the short locks again. It felt weird. Like his head was too light on his shoulders.

He shrugged.

Like his arm, he supposed he would get used to it.

His arm was as good as new now, better than before actually. He found it really easy to mold chakra with it and was working on a few techniques to take advantage of it. He couldn’t wait to show Hinata not only his new moves, but his new hair and clothes.

His frown was uncertain.

He hoped she liked his new look.

He sighed.

He really missed her. Eight days ago she had moved out and into her own place near the Hyuuga compound now that he was fully functional, and yesterday she had been given a mission with Kiba and Shino and wouldn’t be back for at least a week, maybe even longer.

He’d been bummed out ever since.

His apartment was so damn cold and empty now. He couldn’t stand being there longer than it took him to eat and sleep.

Sure his friends still came over but it wasn’t the same. They didn’t fill him with calm and peace and happiness the way she did with just her presence. With her assignment to help him over, she had gone back to being the Hyuuga princess, barely able to spare a minute for herself, let alone him. Not once had he seen her since she moved out.

The separation was driving him crazy.

He hadn’t even gotten the chance to see her off on her mission.

He pouted.

That damn Kiba was the only one he had gotten to see off and that was completely by coincidence.

Kiba had been late to the rendezvous point and he and Akamaru had been running through the street trying to catch up with his team. That big dumb idiot and his dog had run him down. As he lay in the street, bewildered, Kiba had offered a laughing apology about how he was late to meeting Shino and Hinata for a mission and that he’d see Naruto in a week or so.

By the time he had peeled himself off the ground, Kiba had been long gone and the words “Hinata” and “week or so” had bounced around in his head.

He sighed again.

It sucked that they weren’t on the same team.

“Wow, Naruto, is that you?”

He turned to see Sakura walking along side him.

He observed her silently.

She seemed like she was in a good mood, but that could change easily, though the last week she had gone back to her usual self, and not only that, invited him out more than she normally did. She was still acting weird but had gone in the opposite direction. Instead of being incredibly grouchy and snippy she was nicer, more hesitant to use her fists on him whenever he said something she thought was dumb.

He was suspicious of this continual flip-flopping.

“What’s up, Sakura-chan? We finally get a mission?”

She shook her head.

“No, I was coming from the hospital and just happened to see you,”

She was wearing her mission gear as well. It looked really cute on her, though it didn’t differ much from her previous outfits. Her red, sleeveless top stretched down mid thigh, slit on both sides to reveal short black shorts.

She looked really pretty.

His mind wondered what Hinata’s new gear looked like.

“What made you decide to cut your hair?” she asked, refocusing his attention.

“Well my new clothes didn’t really go with the long hair so I figured I’d cut it,” he admitted, reaching up to rub it, “Does it look okay?”

Pink stained her cheeks and she looked away. His brows lowered in confusion.

‘What’s with her?’

“Ah, well, I think it looks really good on you, Naruto,” she said finally, “……actually….there’s something I wanted to talk to you about,”

“Hm? What is it?”

“Not here, somewhere private,”

He raised a brow. Was she finally gonna tell him why she’d been so weird and cranky lately? With Hinata moving out and him picking his training back up he had forgot to confront her about her attitude.

Maybe he wouldn’t have to now.

The two walked towards the hilly country side surrounding the village. They stopped a bit away from the town atop a knoll.

Sakura stood silently, seeming incredibly fascinated with the ground.

Just as he was going to ask her why she had dragged them out here to talk and wasn’t saying anything, she broke the silence, throwing him for a loop.

“Naruto, you still like me don’t you?”

His mouth hung open, blue eyes wide. To say he was shocked was an understatement. Why would she ask him that?

“Sakura, what-”

“You said you liked me, do you still like me now?” she asked, turning to look him in the eye, “Its a simple question, Naruto, yes or no?”

Simple his ass. Things were a lot more……..complicated than when he’d been a kid chasing after her.

Did he still like her?

Hell.

He didn’t know.

He hadn’t really thought of her in those terms in a while, hadn’t had the time.

“Ah…..well….I do like you but-”

“Then let’s go out,” she said.

That wasn’t really what he meant.

“Well….”

“Well what?” she asked, seeming irritated.

He didn’t know.

This felt kind of….weird, like he was doing something he shouldn’t. Like he’d be betraying someone. Sasuke certainly would fit that role of “someone” right?

“What about Sasuke, Sakura-chan,” he asked, “Why go out with me if that’s who you’re in love with?”

Neither of them had heard from Sasuke since his departure. He knew Sasuke would get in touch with them eventually though. Before he left, he and Sasuke had had a heart to heart. Naruto understood and respected his friend’s decision to repent. He wasn’t the least bit worried he had left the village behind again.

“You’re making a lot of assumptions, Naruto,” she said, “Sasuke has been gone a while, he hasn’t tried to contact us at all. This time, its not because he’s in trouble or needs help, he left and hasn’t said a word since. I don’t know if I still love him or what it even means to love a guy.”

Her cheeks were full of color again. He didn’t think she had ever blushed so much before.

“I know I’ve been acting…weird lately… but its only because I’ve been trying to figure out what I really want. Being in the village and seeing everyone starting their lives with someone they love, I just kind felt like I needed to re-evaluate my life, my priorities….and lately I’ve been….noticing you a lot more than I have before. I’m not saying I’m in love with you or anything like that but I….want to know what I feel for you.”

He blinked.

At least she was being honest about it this time. That day in the Land of Iron, it had been painfully easy to see she hadn’t really meant what she was saying when she had confessed to him. This time seemed genuine.

Except this time, he wasn’t eager and desperate to hear those words.

He reached up, rubbing the back of his head nervously, uncomfortably.

“I guess we’re kinda in the same boat,” he admitted, “I’m not really……sure if I still like you the same way I did before….”

She looked away, a hurt expression on her face.

“Ah! T-that’s not to say, I-I mean you’re still a great person and really cute its just….” red stained his cheeks, “things are kind of…..different now, somehow. I can’t really explain what’s changed though.”

He was really messing this up. Here was his life long crush finally interested in him, something he had dreamed about for years and he didn’t know what to do.

How many times had he imagined this scenario?

How many times had he practiced his response to her?

After all that, why the hell couldn’t he figure out what he wanted to say?

“We’ve grown up, Naruto.” Sakura said, “We’re not thinking like kids anymore. Back then, neither one of us knew what it meant to be in love with someone. Things are different now….I’ve changed…you’ve changed…. Listen, we’re both single, its not like we belong to anyone. Let’s just see where it goes. We don’t even have to tell anybody about it.”

His gut tightened with an emotion he couldn’t put a name to. If they were straight forward about it, maybe it’d be okay?

It would give him a chance to either write a new chapter in his life with the girl he’d always wanted or put an end to it for good. To be honest, he was tired of being in limbo too.

It was true he didn’t know what it meant to love someone in the romantic sense, at least this way he could at least get some experience with which to weigh and compare his feelings when he did find a girl he thought he loved.

“I guess….we could try and see,”

 

June 10, 2008

 

“I shouldn’t have drank so much, dattebayo,” Naruto mumbled.

He sighed and stretched out on the couch, staring up at the spinning ceiling fan. Taking his hands from the front pocket of his orange hoodie, he placed them behind his head. He wasn’t drunk by a long shot but he was definitely a little tipsy. Just back from another outing with Sakura, he was kind of surprised he had drank as much as he had. Bored and needing something to do, he had poured back the sake reflexively while pretending to listen to whatever it was Sakura had been saying.

He frowned, pondering the situation.

Spending time with Sakura wasn’t what he’d thought it’d be.

It was mixed bag.

Sometimes he would really enjoy himself when he was out with her, and her aggressiveness kept the fan girls and boys away a lot of the time, though it wasn’t much fun when he himself was on the on the receiving end of it. Other times, his mind would wander, like tonight, to a certain pale eyed girl and he’d have a hard time looking Sakura in the eye. The days he would see Sakura after a night of naughty fantasies about said girl were the worse.

Then there were times where he got frustrated because he would say something that she would think was incredibly stupid and they would get into a mini argument about it. He’d sigh and think to himself “Hinata would have gotten it”, or “Hinata doesn’t think it’s stupid,” and then feel bad afterwards.

He couldn’t help it.

Missed the hell out of her.

Hinata’s mission was lasting longer than expected and he was anxious to see her again. The move had been bad enough but this was like the icing on the cake. Shino and Kiba would take care of her, h knew that, but still, he was worried about her. This was her first mission in several months, how could he not think about her?

Still…

He and Sakura were supposed to be dating now so why the hell couldn’t he get his brain to focus on her?

He was so damn confused.

Even though they had agreed to keep it under wraps, he was planning on telling Hinata that things were finally moving forward between him and his long time crush and yet when he pictured himself telling her that, he felt uncomfortable and uneasy. Like telling her that he was dating Sakura was taboo between them.

He was starting to get the sense that maybe Hinata wasn’t what you would call, “a best friend” after all. Why would he be afraid to share what should be good news with his best friend?

She felt like his best friend, no doubt about it, but was it normal to want to fuck your best friend?

He wasn’t sure about that.

The feelings he had for Hinata were becoming even more complicated.

But as complicated as things were though, he wanted Hinata at his side so damn bad right now. Even if he didn’t know what to say to her, just having her near him would settle his racing mind and soothe his nerves.

He brought his right hand down, his fingers caressing the hard surface of his necklace, bringing the luminous gem up to study. He rubbed his thumb over it.

It felt warm and calmed him a little.

It was the next best thing to her. He examined the multicolored jewel in silence, remembering her smiling face when she gave it to him.

Naruto-kun…

He thought of her lips forming his name. Desire coiled in the pit of his gut, his cheeks heating. Maybe he was a little more than tipsy if he was starting the perverted thoughts already. Hell, he wasn’t even in bed yet.

He frowned.

He was happy to at least have this reminder of her but…

It wasn’t enough for him. Not nearly enough.

He sighed and dropped it back against his chest and stared at his wrapped hand.

With little effort, he molded chakra, entwining his and Kurama’s, forming an orange Rasengan. One handed Rasengan was so damn simple now. The arm he had now was incredible. It was like he had never lost an arm and the things it could do were pretty incredible.

He increased the Rasengan’s size.

He needed to get his head on straight, sleep the liquor off.

He had a mission tomorrow morning and couldn’t afford to be distracted.

Dispensing the Rasengan, he focused even harder, molding three mini Rasengan’s at his finger tips.

He was determined to do whatever it took to keep the peace among the Great Nations and to do that he would need to be on his toes. Maybe he could arrange to speak to the Kages, smooth over tensions if possible. He and Gaara were great friends, he was sure he had some leverage there. The Raikage would be trickier, but maybe Bee could help out there.

The Tsuchikage was kind of stubborn, he’d be a real pain in the ass if things got dicey.

He didn’t really know the Mizukage well but she seemed to be triggered by certain words and there was really no telling what word would set her off and why. He would have to be careful with her.

A knock at his door interrupted his thoughts.

Dispersing his chakra he sat up, looking over at the front door. A quick glance at the wall clock read half past ten.

“Who could that be this late, dattebayo?” he wondered.

Another knock sounded as he made his way to the door.

“Yeah, yeah,” he began, opening the door, “I heard you the first……time,”

“Ah, I-I’m sorry for coming by so late, Naruto-kun,”

Hinata stood in front of him, her lovely face worried. She was wearing a pink and red, knee length dress. Her hair looked damp and was gathered at her right shoulder in a loose ponytail. Her pale eyes were gentle yet shinning with excitement.

Her fingers came up to fidget, feet shuffling.

“I-I just got back from my mission and I thought I’d come by and see you after I got cleaned up.” she smiled up at him, seeming happy just to see his face, “I missed you-”

It was a moment before his brain registered what he was doing. One moment he was standing there in the door way, shocked and more glad to see her than he thought he’d be, the next second he had pulled her against him and into the apartment, slamming the door shut and sealing her lips to his. To see her standing there, looking so damn beautiful, wanting to see him as bad as he had wanted to see her, saying she had missed him, he had moved without thinking.

Her lips were soft and warm against his, her body a swell of curves against his own. He shuffled them towards the living room as his body went up in flames.

How many times had he fantasized about this very moment?

How many times had he touched himself, imagining what the curves beneath his hands felt like?

Lust pooled in his gut. He sucked at her lips, tumbling her to his couch. His hips sank between her thighs, the heat and softness there incredible even with the barrier of his sweat pants between them.

His hands smoothed up her sides, ascending until the softness of her breasts filled his hands. The pliable flesh spilling over, too big for his hands to cover fully. The speed in which blood pounded to his cock left him stunned and dizzy. Nearly out of his mind with arousal, he pressed his hardness tight against her core, groaning at the pleasure that shot through his body.

Her nipples were hard beneath his squeezing palms.

Turned on, he massaged her breast, fascinated with their size and overwhelming softness. They jiggled beneath his palms, the sensation leaving him breathless.

Her fingers speared through his hair, her lips meeting his over and over again.

His wet lips moved down her throat and collar bone. He inhaled her scent, that heady scent that only she exuded. Reaching down, he ran his hand up her thigh, pushing her dress higher until the tip of his finger brushed against the thin, lacy strap covering her most private area.

“N-Naruto-kun….”

Her breathy whisper of his name was like a stroke to his dick. He fused his mouth with hers, his tongue sweeping in to taste. Silky moisture met his seeking appendage. Groaning against her mouth, his pressed his mouth harder against hers, desperate for more.

Her squeal of surprise was muted.

He tongued her mouth, brushing against her hesitant tongue frantically, rocking his hips in an effort to ease the ache in his balls. Pleasure clawed up his spine. The friction against his hard cock driving him crazy.

He wanted her.

So damn bad.

He gripped the side of her panties, tugging them down slowly.

He wanted to touch her.

Needed to touch her.

To bury himself balls deep in the softness of her body.

His chest heaved, his head swam. He tugged again, excitement thundering through his veins as they slipped down over her rounded hip.

She pulled her mouth away. Undeterred, he attacked her neck again.

“N-Naruto-kun….w-wait….”

He could barely hear her over the blood was pounding in his ears. Her hand covered his, stopping his tug at her panties.

He lifted himself up to look down at her, panting, his brain confused and lust-ridden. Her face was flushed, lips glistening and swollen, pale eyes shinny and heavy lidded. Desire twisted his gut, and he leaned down, intending to capture those plush, pouty lips again.

Her other hand pressed against his descending lips, stopping him.

“N-Naruto-kun….does this meant that….that you…..”

He couldn’t have been more shocked than if someone had poured a bucket of cold water over his head.

He blinked, feeling like he’d just come out of a hazy dream.

What the hell was he doing?

Was he that damn tipsy?

He jackknifed up, shocked. His cheeks were on fire as he looked at her. She lay with her back against the armrest of the couch, dress pushed up her spread thighs, enough that he could catch a glimpse of sky blue panties. The straps of her dress hung below her shoulders, her hair loose and in disarray around her body.

Pushing her dress down, she sat up, blushing furiously.

Guilt blasted through him.

He looked away.

What the hell had happened?

Cock throbbing beneath his sweat pants, he struggled to come up with an explanation, an excuse for his behavior.

“Hinata…..I’m sorry…..I shouldn’t have-”

She leaned forward onto her knees, grabbing both his hands. Shock widened his eyes as she took both his hands and cupped them around her breasts again, squeezing his hands in encouragement.

“N-Naruto-kun…I-I don’t mind if you touch me….for a long time I…..”

He sat frozen, wondering if he had fallen asleep and was dreaming.

“I love you, Naruto-kun. I’ve loved you for so long….”

He couldn’t have been more shocked than if Kaguya came through the door and slapped the whisker marks off his face. His mouth moved up and down like that of a fish, his eyes wider than saucer plates.

He hadn’t heard her right.

His alcohol glazed mind was making up shit.

She couldn’t have said what he thought she just said.

“What…….What did you say?”

Her blush spread, though happiness bloomed. She moved his captured hands up, pressing her heated cheek against them. That intense yet gentle look that always shinned in her luminous eyes now had a name.

“I said I love you, Naruto-kun,”

His heart slammed against his chest, the words bouncing around his malfunctioning brain.

‘I love you,’

‘For a long time,’

‘I’ve loved you for so long,’

‘Naruto-kun,’

‘I love you,’

He was speechless.

Absolutely speechless.

Hinata…..was in love with him?

“Do you….feel the same for me, Naruto-kun?” she asked softly, “Is that why you…..”

Why he’d had his tongue down her throat and his hands up her dress.

Shame crashed through him, his entire face bright red.

Love had been the last thing on his mind when he had been feeling her up. The only thing on his mind had been getting into her panties.

Did he love her the way she loved him?

He didn’t know.

Maybe….

Was the painful twisting of his heart when they were together mean he was in love? Did the even more painful loneliness that gripped his chest when they were apart mean he loved her?

“Hinata….I….”

The silence was uncomfortable and strained.

What the hell was he supposed to say?

His body knew what it wanted but his brain was so mixed up.

Shit.

Speaking of love, how the hell could he be here kissing her when he was supposed to be...involved with Sakura? The guilt threatened to consume him.  

He couldn’t look at her as he spoke.

“Hinata…..” he began, barely able to force the words past his lips, “……me and Sakura…..are….”

The silence was loud and heavy.

He swallowed, sweat beading on his forehead. He felt his hands being lowered.

He risked a glance at her face and wished he hadn’t.

Her head was bowed, shoulders hunched, their entwined hands resting in her lap. She didn’t move, didn’t speak. Her profile looked so lonely….so hurt.

“Hinata! We’re not…..we’re not official or anything, we’re just…..and I’m not saying I don’t…..love you…..I just….you’re my best friend. I don’t want to lose that. That kiss was….I was drinking earlier and I guess I had too much….”

He gripped the back of his neck, uncomfortable as hell.

He was making things worse, wasn’t explaining himself well at all.He didn’t even know what he was saying, or what he wanted to say. He took a breath and tried again.

“Hinata-”

Gentle fingers pressed against his lips, stopping him.

“Don’t…..say any more, Naruto-kun,” she whispered, head still bowed, “I’m sorry……I think… I’ll go home now,”

She stood quickly, moving for the door.

“Hinata!” he called, taking off after her.

He caught her as she opened the door, his hand gripping her upper arm.

“Hinata, please don’t go yet. Let’s-”

“Please Naruto-kun!”

He stood stunned. She had never raised her voice before. Her body was trembling in his hand, shaking like a leaf in a hurricane. She didn’t look at him as she spoke again, her voice whisper soft and shaky.

“Please….not now…..Naruto-kun,”

The pain in those words slammed into him, loosening his grip on her arm. He swallowed against the lump in his throat, his heart squeezing painfully as she moved away from him. Guilt and remorse tore him apart.

The sound of the door closing was deafening in his ears.

Hinata was in love with him…

And he…

xxxxxx

I figured I’d post the next chapter before the storm hits. I think its supposed to start tonight if I’m not mistaken. Its hitting South Florida last time I checked, I’m in Central Florida so I don’t think we’ll be getting the full force of it and I haven’t seen any evac orders for my area so maybe the rain won’t knock out power but ya never know with hurricanes. To any South Florida readers, please be safe and make sure you take any evac orders seriously.

Also, a few people have been happy that the chapters are coming out fast, but I must warn that these are pre-written and have been sitting on my computer for several weeks so don’t get used to the quick updates, lol. I’m only pre-written up to chapter 7 so things are going to slow down soon, maybe even longer if the hurricane fucks with the power so yeah.

I know some people are probably thinking “Why she got to make Naruto so damn dumb and oblivious?” and my defense to that is this is that this is the same Naruto (At 19 years old if I’m not mistaken) that thought the love of food was the same as romantic love, lol. Those who have seen The Last know what I’m talking about. He is kinda oblivious and I was just trying to capture that aspect of his personality and turn it into some drama. So I’m sorry, lol.

Let me know what you think so far, the bit of feedback I’ve already received was infinitely helpful in the construction effort of chapter 8.

If I made any errors or anything, let me know. I’ve gone over the chapters but some times I don’t see the errors because my mind knows what I meant and I kind of just gloss over it like a brainless twit XD

Anyways, please review and I’ll see you guys in the next chapter!

Laters

~Sessakag

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Six

June 12, 2008

 

“Naruto.”

Naruto-kun

“Hey, Naruto.”

I love you, Naruto-kun

“Helloooo, Naruto.”

For a long time….

How long was “a long time”?

Why didn’t she tell him sooner?

“EARTH TO NARUTO!”

Naruto jerked away from the loud voice in his ear. He turned to glare at the culprit, rubbing his abused ear.

“What the hell’s your problem, Sakura-chan?”

“My problem?” she questioned, hands on hips, “you’ve been spacing out since we left the village, what is going on with you?”

He blushed, eyes drifting away.

No way in hell was he gonna tell her what was going on in his brain. A fist full of Sakura fury didn’t sound the least bit appetizing, though he had to admit he really did deserve it after the mess he had created with his bumbling and clumsy actions. His mind was still reeling from how quickly things had gone down hill that night. One moment his hands had been full of the softest curves he’d ever felt, the sweetest lips fused to his, and the next his mouth had opened and without much thought, he had inserted his foot into it.

“Nothing.” he mumbled.

Even as he said it, he knew she didn’t buy it.

“Sure, Naruto. You’ve been gloomy and depressed for the last two days,” she countered, hands on hips, “Look, whatever it is, deal with it later. This isn’t a routine, run of the mill mission, you need to focus.”

He knew that without her telling him. Kakashi had made clear that what they were assigned to do was risky and would require not only highly skilled ninja but sharp observation. Team 7 was headed to the remnants of a village, ravaged and annihilated over night. Their objective was to collect any evidence that could help uncover the source of the attack. Their mission was extremely important, and potentially, very dangerous.

They weren’t the first group dispatched to this area.

Though it wasn’t a high number yet, a few ninja sent out to investigate had not returned and the recovery team sent to retrieve the injured or the deceased never seemed to find anyone, dead or alive. A situation that wasn’t unprecedented, but given Konoha’s tenuous situation at the moment, one missing nin was one too many. They needed every shinobi they could get right now.

Naruto was confident in his skills as a shinobi, more so than anyone, but he couldn’t afford to let his guard down.

As strong as he was, he’d be an idiot to think someone wasn’t stronger.

It was rule number two in the study material of the jonin rank.

Never mistake power for invincibility. Even the strongest fall.

He knew all that and he really was trying to keep his mind clear, but when there wasn’t much to do, or there was a lull in their search, his mind couldn’t help but turn over the stunning events that had happened two days ago, especially since he had left without setting things right with Hinata.

Gentle, sweet Hinata, who had left his apartment hurt and heartbroken over him.

His shoulders sagged, thinking about her trembling body and grief stricken voice.

He released a breath.

He hadn’t even told Sakura what had happened between him and Hinata. How could he? He didn’t want to hurt Sakura too and he knew she would dislocated his jaw for feeling up Hinata. If he could put it off , at least until they returned to Konoha, maybe he could figure out a way to phrase his words in a way that wouldn’t lead to broken bones. On top of that, he was going to have to break off this….whatever they had going on completely before he saw Hinata again. That kiss and Hinata’s confession had changed things.

His feelings for Sakura had become clear. The like he had for Sakura wasn’t what it was years ago. With absolute certainty he could say he did not love Sakura the way a man loves a woman.

A good friend.

A sister.

That was what he felt when he compared her to Hinata, to what he felt that night.

He frowned, rubbing the anxiety from his stiff neck.

When had his love life gotten so complex?

He remembered wishing for girls to be all over him as a kid, of being jealous of Sasuke for being Mr.Popular. What a stupid wish. Now he knew what the meaning of the phrase “be careful what you wish for, because you might get it” truly meant.

A shadow passed over head, giving him a reprieve from his thoughts..

A giant white bird lowered next to the duo, Sai seated atop its back.

“The town is up ahead, but I don’t see any movement.”

That wasn’t a good sign. The hope had been that maybe the recovery team had missed survivors. The search and rescue part of their mission would probably prove fruitless now.

“We’ll check it out.” Sakura said.

Sakura was team captain of this expedition, having reached jonin rank a month ago.

“Naruto, keep an eye out.” she ordered.

Naruto opened his eyes, having anticipated the order and activating sage mode. They took off at a jog. Naruto let the flow of energy wash over him, identifying and dismissing the familiar chakra of his teammates in favor of searching their surroundings for those he didn’t know. He didn’t sense anything up ahead. No indications of an enemy, but no sign of civilian chakra either.

Dread settled in the pit of his stomach.

If there were any villagers or shinobi in the village, they were either dead or close to it.

“Sakura-chan, I’m not getting anything, enemies or otherwise,”

She nodded and the three of them increased speed.

It was worse than they thought.

The village had been ravaged, homes burned to the ground, the smell of death hanging heavy in the air. The bodies, blood and body parts of men, women, children, shinobi and civilians alike littered the street. It was an absolute horror scene, as though a pack of wild animals had ravaged the gathering of human beings. Gore pained the walls of burned out buildings and homes. Severed heads tossed carelessly. The bodies that were intact smelled horrible, their skin wrinkled and blue, as though some creature had suck a straw into their flesh and sucked out everything inside, leaving a skinny husk being. Chunks of flesh had been torn from their necks and limbs, their pruney faces twisted in terror and pain.

“How horrible,” Sakura whispered, covering her nose against the stench.

His stomach turned, bile at the back of his throat.

This was worse than he expected.

He could understand now why the peace treaty was in so much trouble. If one of the Five nations was responsible for this massacre…

Even he couldn’t forgive such a thing.

Sharp blue eyes moved over the carnage.

What the hell had happened here?

“Spread out,” Sakura commanded, “Search for any life and anything suspicious.”

The three of them moved cautiously though the village, securing the location, scanning for enemies and clues. It was a long and tedious exercise, one Naruto was prepared for. His eyes moved careful over the destruction, searching for anything remotely useful to an investigation.

Their search turned up nothing substantial. Unfortunately, with no indication of what had happened, their only source of information would have to come from the remains.

Several bodies were collected and sealed in a scroll for examination back at the village.

Naruto summoned several clones and the group proceeded to bury the dead, feeling a little better that at least the poor villagers would receive a proper and respectful burial in their home town.

The sun was descending by the time they finished.

Tired and dirty, the group returned to their camp near a river for a bath and rest. Sakura bathed first, while Sai and Naruto gathered material for a fire. Once the fire was taken care of, Sakura started dinner while Naruto and Sai cleaned up.

Naruto was glad to get clean.

Yesterday, they hadn’t even utilized the river, too focused on planning out their route to the town and what to do in case they met up with opposition. With two days worth of grime on him, he was more than ready to jump in head first. He couldn’t help but feel nostalgic about being out in the field again, though he wished his first mission back hadn’t included dead people.

He sighed, pushing the gore from his mind, something he’d learned to do not only as a ninja, but a veteran of war.

If there was on lesson he had learned over his years of life as a shinobi, it was that in this line of business, purging horrific memories and clearing the mind of harsh realities that couldn’t be changed was essential to the mental health of a ninja. Seeing death, causing death, facing death on a daily bases could drive in the strongest insane or at the very least a deep depression.

He stripped off his clothes and moved to the river’s edge to soak the sleeve of his black uniform jacket.

Naked, he washed the blood and dirt from the garment and hung it over a nearby tree before moving back to the river to bathe, soap and a wash cloth in hand.

“Hmmm, guess you need a new nickname, Naruto-kun.” Sai commented.

Naruto stepped into the water, looking over at the bathing male briefly.

“I told you not to call me that, dattebayo. It’s weird. And what do you mean a new nickname?”

With that creepy smile, Sai pointed at Naruto’s crotch.

“Dickless is hardly appropriate anymore,” he explained, as though they were discussing the whether, “you’re a late bloomer but boy did you bloom,”

Naruto turned away, cheeks red, glaring over his shoulder.

“W-what the hell is up with you and my dick Sai? Sorry to disappoint you but I don’t swing that way!”

Sai waved the comment away.

“If I were into guys, you certainly wouldn’t be my first pick.”

Weird as it was, Naruto felt a little offended at that.

“And who exactly would be your first pick?” he pouted.

“Lee-san.”

Naruto felt his brow twitch as his mind conjured a mental image of Sai and Lee locking lips.

“I don’t even wanna know why.” Naruto mumbled.

Taking the soap, a closed eyed aggravated expression on his face, Naruto lathered his wash cloth and began to wash his body. Minutes of solitude ticked by. He was washing his hair when Sai opened his big mouth again.

“Hmmm, how about monster cock?” Sai pondered aloud, “Elephant trunk? Dickzilla? Hmmmm. The hung ninja of the Hidden Leaf?”

Naruto made sure the soap he tossed at Sai’s head had quite a bit of force behind it. He went back to bathing the moment he heard the thunk of the bar breaking over a thick skull.

xxxxxx

“So what do you think about all this, Sakura-chan?” Naruto asked.

The trio lay spread out around the campfire. Naruto stared up at the night sky, arms behind his head. The cold hard ground beneath him brought back so many memories. He hadn’t realized how much he had missed being out in the field. Camped out, the endless night sky twinkling overhead.

“I’m not sure,” she said from across the fire, “I’ve never seen anything like it though. From what I could tell from a preliminary examination, it looked like their blood had been drained down to the marrow….not only that, the pruning of the skin seemed to be caused by the draining of chakra quickly and completely, and there were really tiny burns, like their tenketsu had been seared shut.”

Naruto sat up, shocked.

Sai turned his head towards her.

“The blood and chakra drained and the tenketsu sealed?” Naruto repeated.

“Its only a preliminary assessment, so take it with a grain of salt. I don’t have the Byakugan so I can’t really say if that’s what happened to their tenketsu but that’s what it looked like to me. When we get back to the village we’ll be able to examine in depth and gain a better understanding of the cause of death and maybe even draw up a profile of who or what attacked these people. Sai, did you-”

“I’ve sent the scrolls ahead of us,” Sai said, “If there’s anything to learn from those bodies, the medical staff will find out,”

“Hmmm.” Naruto hummed, laying back down, once more observing the night sky.

Besides the Hyuuga clan, he didn’t know of anything or anyone else that could stop tenketsu, and even then, the Hyuuga certainly didn’t melt it closed. He had never heard of anything like that.

He sighed.

Wouldn’t do him any good to stress about it right now. He’d have to wait until the medical team had more information.

The bright moon caught his attention.

His heart ached.

He was anticipating and dreading returning home. He wanted to see her, to see Hinata’s happy, smiling face and yet he was scared to face her. He didn’t have a reply to her confession. What he said that night was true. He had been drinking, and had not been touching her out of love, but out of lust. While he didn’t love Sakura, he didn’t know if he loved Hinata and was terrified of ruining the deep friendship they shared if he hadn’t already done so.

He ran his fingers through his hair, brows creased as guilt and shame threatened to bring tears to his eyes.

He clenched his teeth.

He had never in his life seen her so hurt. Even now he could feel her trembling body against his hand. That night he had been so damn stunned and shocked he had not gone after her and was still kicking himself because of it.

What he would have said, he would never know.

But at least he could have held her, soothed her hurt, if only a little.

His hand fisted.

Even if he didn’t know what to say, as her best friend, as a guy she was in love with, couldn’t he have offered her a shoulder to cry on? Given her comfort and ease when she needed it the most?

Pain tightened his chest.

Hadn’t she done that for him whenever he need it?

Without hesitation.

Without asking for anything in return?

He couldn’t think of one time where she had demanded his comfort, his support for herself. Even when they talked she was reluctant to lay her burdens on his shoulders, not because she didn’t trust she would explain, but because he had been through so much, was still going through a lot with his missing arm. At every turn, she had placed him above herself and had not uttered a word of complaint. Had seemed happy to do so.

His cheeks colored in shame.

He was selfish.

Cruelly selfish.

He turned his back on the fire, staring at the trunk of a tree a few feet away.

When he returned to the village he would make things right with her. He would be honest with her, tell her he wasn’t sure if he was in love with her but that he wanted to give it a chance, just as he had done with Sakura and if it strained their friendship, they’d deal with it.

Together.

They didn’t have a choice, because whether his feelings for her were love for a woman or love for a close friend, he couldn’t live his life without her in it.

Resoluteness filled him.

October was right around the corner.

He was going to be eighteen years old.

It was time to man up.

He was no longer a child, hadn’t been in quite a while and he couldn’t keep behaving like one. He had to get his act together. If he was ever going to become Hokage, to become a man that was decisive and respected he would have to start now.

He closed his eyes, determination flowing through him.

There were a lot of things that he was going to have to prioritize, to pay attention to. His path to jonin, his path to Hokage, this new threat to the peace, his love life.

He was more than up for the new challenges adulthood offered.

Butterflies filled his stomach.

He hoped….

xxxxxx

June 14, 2007

 

“I’m surprised the medical team doesn’t have more information,” Sakura commented as she, Naruto and Sai left the Hokage tower after giving their report and the debriefing that followed, “Having the actual body to study normally results in at least an immediate hypothesis of cause of death.”

“Hmm, I think that maybe because the situation is so sensitive since its an issue that’s not just local but international, they’ll have to be really careful about information released to the public. They may have classified the results of the initial exam. The wrong information heard by the wrong people and we could have a panic on our hands, not to mention tension and suspicion among shinobi from different regions,”

Naruto walked with his hands behind his head, his mind a million miles away. Tension had tightened his belly, leaving him slightly nauseous and his palms sweaty. He was trying to find the balls to take Sakura aside and tell her what he had decided to do about them.

He hoped she wouldn’t take it hard.

Hurting one girl so important him was painful, and he didn’t want a repeat of the situation with Hinata.

He took a breath.

“Umm, Sakura-chan….”

“Hm? What is it?”

“Can we….talk?”

The group stopped. Sakura looked up at him, confused at the seriousness of his tone.

“Talk about what?” Sakura asked.

“Well…….”

Brow twitching in irritation, Naruto slowly turned to the third wheel that clearly didn’t know how to take a hint. That offensive grin on his pale face, Sai stood uncomfortably close to them both, clearly intent on listening in on whatever words the two were about to exchange.

“Do you mind?” Naruto asked.

“Not at all, go ahead,”

“Get lost Sai, I need to talk to Sakura-chan alone,”

“Ahhh, I see this is one of those situations. The book-”

Sakura sighed, cracking her knuckles.

“Sai, would you like to walk away on your own, or do you need help?” 

“I think I will head home now,” he said, “Lot of painting to do. See you later, ugly, cockzilla.”

“SAI!”

“WHO THE HELL ARE YOU CALLING UGLY?”

He was gone before they could move.

“That guy….” Sakura growled at his retreating back.

“That idiot.” Naruto commented, cheeks ablaze.

Sakura sighed.

“Now, what did you want to talk about?”

He lifted a hand to his neck, feeling incredibly uncomfortable and nervous.

Shit.

He absolutely did not want to hurt her feelings, but he couldn’t afford to let things go any longer. He was determined to set things right with Hinata and see if she was willing to explore things between them before the day ended. In order to do that, he had to have a clean break from Sakura.

“Listen, Sakura-chan, I’ve been thinking, and……” he trailed off, eyes focused behind her.

“Naruto?”

Sakura turned, trying to locate what had his attention. A few buildings down Hinata, dressed in a bright yellow sun dress was coming out of a restaurant, a tall white haired man next to her. He held the door for her, smiling down at her as he spoke. One of his hands came up to her lower back, ushering her through the door.

The handsome man wore an expensive suit, his hair neatly combed, ice blue eyes warm and intent on the woman he spoke to.

The stood out in the street now, facing each other as they spoke. The man smiled, reaching down to capture her hands. Even from a distance Naruto could see the redness spreading across her cheeks.

Anger coiled in the pit of his gut. Jealousy sharp and overwhelming. Blood pounded through his veins. The urge to rip her away from the polished man curling his hands into fists.

Who the fuck was he?

He had never seen the guy before, of that he was damn certain. He made a note of men that interacted with her and the list was very small and of that short list, not one of them held her interest. Not enough for her to be out on a date while he was gone on a mission.

He felt…..betrayed, as inappropriate as it probably was for him to feel that way considering his situation with Sakura.

Hadn’t he done the same thing while she was gone?

Gotten with Sakura while her back was turned?

Is this how she had felt when he told her?

His teeth clenched.

Still, hadn’t their kiss meant anything to her? Before things had gone south, she had been just as into it as he had been. Not for a moment did he believe that he had only imagined her lips pressing back against his, her hands running through his hair, her thighs wrapped around his waist.

It had damn sure meant something to him, even before her confession.

He knew he had messed things up afterwards, had bumbled through the situation like a freaking idiot, but couldn’t she at least give him a chance to fix it before she moved on to someone else?

Wasn’t she in love with him?

Hadn’t she confessed to him four days ago?

“Is that Hinata?” Sakura questioned, turning back to him,“Who’s that guy? I didn’t know she was dating any……one,”

Sakura was a little taken aback at the wrath on her friend’s face. She had seen him angry before but it normally took a lot to upset her normally laid back, happy-go-lucky friend.

“...Naruto?”

Angry, hurt and burning with jealousy, Naruto strode towards the pair. He could hear his heart pounding in his ears, muscles tensing for a fight. Thinking of her with someone else had always irritated him more than anything, but to see her with someone else was worse than anything he had dreamed of.

It made him crazy.

“.….very tasty, Hinata-san,” the man was saying, “I had a really good time,”

“Y-you’re welcome, Toneri-san. I…I’m very happy that you-”

“Hinata,” Naruto called out, his voice hard and impatient even to his own ears.

She looked over at him, her eyes wide and surprised. He stared back at her, trying to figure out if she was shocked to see him or shocked that he’d interrupted her…..date.

“I’m sorry, I don’t think we’ve been introduced,”

Blazing blue eyes cut to the speaker.

The man’s voice was frigid and arrogant, the sound grating, repugnant to his ears. The words rubbing him completely the wrong way. The man moved slightly, positioning his body between Naruto and Hinata, as though she needed protection from him of all people.

Naruto narrowed his eyes, the move pissing him off.  

His spine stiffed at the insult.

Naruto had been her protector and defender long before this polished asshole had rolled up on the scene.

Ice blue eyes clashed with azure.

Intense distaste mutual between both men.

The air felt tense and suffocating as the two glared. Hostility at first sight was rare for him. He was usually open to giving anyone a chance or at least getting to know them before he made up his mind about them but at this moment, he could honestly say he couldn’t stand the man across from him.

That smug look, his close proximity to Hinata, the way he had put his hand on her like he had a right to.

All of it was irritating the fuck out of him, increasing his agitation.  

“T-Toneri-san, this is Naruto-kun,” Hinata introduced, “N-Naruto-kun, this is T-Toneri-san,”

The two didn’t even attempt to shake hands.

“Nice to meet a friend of Hinata-san’s,”

His jaw ached as his teeth clenched.

Friend.

He was more to her than a friend.

Aggravated beyond belief, Naruto reached out for Hinata’s hand, tugging her away.

“We need to talk,” he mumbled.

They only got a few feet away from the irritating man before she spoke up.

“Ah, N-Naruto-kun…w-wait I can’t leave yet. Toneri-san-”

He stopped and turned to look at her.

Was she really taking that guy’s side?

Was it really that easy for her to fall out of love with him that quick?

Irritated, with her, with himself, he let go of her hand.

“Didn’t take long for you to find someone else,” he accused, unable to stop the ugly words coming out of his mouth, “I know what I said that night….and I know that I hurt you….but I didn’t think you’d move on that quick after claiming to love me….Four days and you’re already on a date with someone else,”

He turned away from her, unable to look her in the eye. This was exactly what he had worried about, had dreaded. Hinata tossing him aside for some else. Someone else becoming more important to her than he was.

His gut clenched.

He was being selfish again.

She didn’t belong to him, they weren’t together, he had no reason to feel and act the way he was and yet he couldn’t help it. His emotions felt raw and out of control. To be faced with losing her to some other man now that he realized what he wanted to be to her was twisting him in knots.

He had to get out of here, to calm down and think about things. He turned to leave.

She reached out and grabbed his hand.

“N-N-Naruto-kun t-that’s not-”

He snatched his hand away.

“Go back to your date,” he mumbled.

He barely noticed Sakura as he passed her, pushing chakra to his feet and leaping away.

xxxxxx

Night was falling.

The town’s lights dimming, people on the street making their way home. Naruto sat atop the Hokage monument, over looking the quieting city. He sat silently, arm thrown over one of his up drawn knees.

He felt like an idiot.

With his head cool and time to think, he had had to face some hard truths.

He had no right to expect fidelity from her when they weren’t in a relationship and not only that he still hadn’t ended things with Sakura himself.

Hell, he had no right to ask anything of her.

She had every right to be with anyone she wanted.

And it drove him absolutely crazy.

She drove him crazy.

“Naruto.”

He turned to watch Sakura take a seat next to him.

“You wanna talk about it?”

He remained quiet. He didn’t really want to go into detail of how he had made a complete ass of himself.

“.…This isn’t working out between us, is it?”

“No……I’m sorry Sakura-chan.”

“Mmm, I figured that out a while ago, probably knew it before we even started,” she said drawing bother her knees to her chest and wrapping her arms around them, “I think I should…apologize to you Naruto,”

He looked over at her, surprised.

“I was….using you…” she said, “I thought what I was feeling for you was something that it wasn’t it. I…was jealous of how close you and Hinata were becoming and felt lonely because…with Sasuke gone, you’re all I’ve got really, the only thing left of our original group and….I guess I was feeling lonely. Scared I was losing you too. I’ve always loved Sasuke, I still do but sometimes I feel like I’m in love all by myself…”

She hesitated, her face red with discomfort.

“That I’m fooling myself into thinking he’ll return my feelings one day.” she admitted, “The moment he had the chance, he left me behind again…and hasn’t been in contact with me since. I know he said he wanted to repent, I know its important to him, but I can’t help feeling…abandoned sometimes. Ino has Sai, Shikamaru has Temari, you have Hinata and I’ve got a childhood dream that seems farther and farther away…I’m sorry I dragged you into this, Naruto. It wasn’t not fair to you….or to her…Hinata…..she’s been in love with you for years,”

Hinata…

His eyes lowered.

Even though she had confessed, had admitted to loving him for a long time, it was still a shock for him to hear, let alone to comprehend.

“How long has she….”

“Since the academy at least,”

He thought back to those childhood years, the fainting around him, the stutter, the fidgeting and soft intensity in her eyes. It all clicked, like puzzle pieces finally coming together to form a picture that had been right in front of his face the whole time. He felt stupid in a new way, and angry at himself for not realizing sooner.

That night, so long ago, after Jiraiya’s death, he hadn’t been comforted by a childhood friend, he’d been held by a girl that longed to be with him.

Thinking back, the incident with Pain chilled him to his core.

She hadn’t been risking her life to save him as a friend and fellow shinobi. She had been risking her life as a girl in love with him.

“Why the hell didn’t she say anything? Why did she wait all this time?” he burst out.

“Because Hinata is Hinata. She’s a girl in love,” Sakura said softly, her voice wistful, “To her, you come first. The kyuubi, Sasuke, the Akatsuki, Jiraiya, Pain, training, the war, your arm, all the publicity and everything in between, when would have been a good time to tell you something like that?”

He could find nothing to refute that with. His life had been a constant roller coaster of drama, tragedy and heartache. He knew himself now and back then and knew without a doubt that he would not have handled something like a love confession well at all.

Red stained his cheeks.

Considering how he had handled Hinata’s confession now that his life wasn’t as chaotic spoke volumes.

“You’ve been going through a lot in your life, she didn’t want to make things harder on you by burdening you with things like love. You weren’t ready for something like that. You barely are now from the looks of it.” Sakura said, unknowingly echoing his thoughts.

He lowered his chin to his knee.

“Not only that, Hinata has always been a shy girl, her self-confidence is really low, and with you howling about being in love with me, why on earth would she speak up?”

It made sense he guessed, but he wasn’t a guy that was hard to approach was he? Did she think he would have laughed at her? Made fun of her or something like that?

“I wouldn’t have been mean to her if she had told me…” he said, “Even if she was really shy, why couldn’t she have wrote me a letter or something. I’m not the type to make people feel bad.”

“From what she’s said over the years, to her you are her dream guy,” she giggled, “goofy smile, air head and all. She didn’t want to take the chance of missing her only chance to confess properly.”

He couldn’t smile at that.

“Did she really…..think that….about me?”

“Of course she does. Whenever me and Ino could coax her to open up, you were all she talked about, even as children. You’ve always been her ideal guy.”

He couldn’t imagine he was any girl’s ideal man. He was really dumb and oblivious, he didn’t have smooth good looks like Sasuke or that Toneri bastard, he was loud and blunt, obnoxious most people said.

Sure he had power now, and even the admiration of a lot of people, but he had been such a loser the majority of his life and here Sakura was telling him Hinata had loved him when he’d been nothing more than Naruto Uzumaki; the reject of Konoha.

That she had waited patiently for him, silently supporting him from the shadows, cheering him on while everyone else put him down.

It made his heart ache to think of it.

To realize he’d hurt her far longer, far worse than that night four days ago, or even with the ugly, stupid words he’d spewed at her hours ago.

“I’m a fucking idiot, aren’t I?”

Sakura sighed.

“Yep…..but you’re not alone in that, Naruto. I…hurt Hinata too,” she said.

He looked over at her in confused surprise.

“I was being selfish, not wanting to….be alone, using you to feel better about myself. Sasuke….left without me again. He hasn’t come back to visit me or sent me a single letter. I was feeling lonely and hurt and instead of dealing with it, I tried to convince myself I felt something for you that I didn’t, even knowing how Hinata felt about you,” her fists clenched, “I knew she only wants for you to be happy, even if that isn’t with her. I took advantage of that and….I’m sorry, Naruto,”

Even more puzzle pieces clicked.

Her attitude over the last several months made sense now. Why she seemed angry with him, why she snipped at Hinata. Even if he hadn’t realized it, he was much in the same boat as Sakura.

“I’m sorry too, Sakura-chan…I’ve been confused about what I feel about Hinata for a while and I was using you too…I was trying to figure out what it meant to like a girl…so I could compare that to what I was feeling with Hinata…”

Silence lasted for several minutes.

“What a pair we are huh?” Sakura chuckled after a moment.

Naruto smiled a little.

“Yeah, but if it hadn’t been for this, I wouldn’t have figured out something important,”

“That you like Hinata?”

“No….that I love her….more than anything….”

“Then why are you sitting here moping, go tell her,”

“I can’t…..you saw for yourself….she was….out on a date with someone else,” he muttered, heartsick all over again, “I think maybe I….waited too long…”

“Did she say that or is that how you took it?”

His lips thinned just thinking about that smug asshole with his hand on her back.

“How else should I have taken it?” he demanded defensively.

Sakura sighed, face palming.

“You’re so dense. Do you really think a girl that’s loved you for over a decade would suddenly stop all of a sudden?”

“It’s more than that!”

Blushing furiously he admitted to the events that had taken place in his apartment four days ago. The back of his head stung so bad when she was done with him.

“I deserved that,” he muttered, rubbing his sore head.

“More than that,” Sakura agreed, fist raised, “Tipsy or not, that’s no excuse to treat her like that! You should be ashamed of yourself!”

“I am, dattebayo,”

Sakura sat down with a huff.

“That explains why you were so spacey on the mission,” she said, “Even so, I don’t think Hinata would suddenly stop loving you because of that. She may be hurt, but moving on just like that? Not a chance,”

He felt like shit, but hope bloomed in his chest.

“So that guy….maybe it wasn’t…”

“You’re forgetting that Hinata is still the next in line to take over the Hyuuga clan. She meets with a lot of people that do business with the Hyuuga. Its more logical that that’s what that was about. Not a date,”

Heat filled his cheeks and crept down his neck.

Was that all it was?

His heart slammed against his chest.

“Go see her, Naruto. This whole thing is probably just a big misunderstanding. She probably really wants to see you, to talk to you,”

Remembering earlier, he sighed.

“She probably doesn’t want to see me after the stupid shit I said to her,”

“Huh? What you said? I wasn’t really close enough to hear anything. What did you say?”

He repeated the harsh things that had come from a place of ugly jealousy and out of his mouth.

This time, he saw stars from the blow she gave him.

“Ow! Damn Sakura-chan!” he hollered, crouched over, holding his abused head, “I think you gave me a concussion this time, ‘ttebayo!!”

“You deserve it!! Consider yourself lucky I don’t put you in the hospital for being so stupid!” she yelled back, “I know Hinata would never give you what you so richly deserve so I have to step in and do it for her!”

He massaged his head, blinking back tears of pain.

It was true, Hinata wouldn’t want him to feel bad, even if he made her feel bad. He dropped his hand.

Suddenly he wasn’t as upset about the lump on the back of his head. Before returning to the village, he had resolved to becoming a man. To put his childhood behind him and at the first test of that resolve, he had failed horribly.

He stood, facing his long time teammate and friend

He wouldn’t go back on his word. He was going to go talk to the girl he loved no matter how terrified he was of her response. No matter how hard it was to speak the words churning in his heart.

“.…..Thanks Sakura-chan,” he said after a pause.

Her eyes were slightly sad as she smiled.

“I’d give anything to be with the one I love, Naruto. You have a chance I don’t right now. Hinata is right here, she loves you, wants to be with you. Don’t screw it up, ok?”

“I won’t” he promised, turning to leave.

He spoke again before departing.

“Sasuke cares about you too, Sakura-chan. Don’t give up,”

That said, Naruto leapt down into the darkening town, taking off in the direction of Hinata’s apartment. He wasn’t really sure how late it was but knew this couldn’t wait until tomorrow. He couldn’t rest until he said everything he needed to say to her.

xxxxxx

His heart was hammering against his chest, nerves bringing droplet of sweat to his forehead.

The talk with Sakura had help a lot, but his confidence was shaky. So far, he’d manage to screw this up twice with her and wasn’t really sure he would do better the third time but he had to try. He was sure of his feelings now, could put name to that twisting in his chest whenever she was near.

He was in love.

He loved Hinata.

Her apartment door on the third floor was like the door of doom to him. For several minutes he stood in the hall, staring at the piece of wood, hand raised as if to knock.

His palms felt sweaty, his lungs tight and his stomach slightly queasy. His Adams apple bobbed.

‘Come on, dattebayo! Man up!’

He filled his lungs with air, then let it out before taking the plunge and knocking on the wooden door.

Minutes ticked by and not a sound came from beyond the closed portal.

Dread knotted his stomach.

Maybe she had used her Byakugan and knew it was him and was refusing to answer the door?

He shook his head viciously.

She was probably just sleeping, it was the middle of the night.

‘One more time,’

He raise his hand to knock again when the door knob rattled.

The thumping against his chest grew louder. He felt disturbingly light headed as she appeared in the small crack of the open door. She was dressed in a silky robe, her hair braided and hanging over her right shoulder. Those pale eyes were shocked and wide. Her cheeks slowly pinked.

“N-N-Naruto-kun, what-”

“Please, Hinata…can we talk? I’m sorry I came by so late, but I wanted….I needed to see you,”

“.…needed…to see me…” she repeated, seeming a bit dazed.

“Can…can I come in or do you want me to wait while you get dressed?”

She blinked.

“Hinata?”

“Ah, of course, N-Naruto-kun, come in,”

She opened the door wider, letting him into her apartment.

xxxxxx

So far so good on the storm front, so here’s another chapter. Thank you guys for reading and reviewing, I enjoy hearing your thoughts.

I’m done, see y’all later.

~Sessakag

Chapter Text

Chapter Seven

June 14, 2008

 

Her apartment was decorated in light lavender and blue. It was a bit smaller than his, but cozy. He’d only been in it once but that brief glance had been before the furniture was brought in.

She gestured to the blue couch.

“H-have a seat, Naruto-kun…”

He sat down, heart hammering. She flipped the lights on before taking a seat on the couch as well, an arms length of space between them.

The silence was uncomfortable.

He swallowed, mouth dry as cotton. He raked his brain for the right words to say. He knew what he wanted to say more or less, how he went about that without making things worse was the greatest source of his anxiety.

Her quiet voice shattering the quiet made him jump.

“You…cut you hair.” she murmured “…It looks really good on you.”

His smile was strained as he let loose an awkward chuckle. He pulled his headband off and ran his fingers through his short locks.

“Ah, yeah. I got my new mission gear and thought maybe a haircut would suit me. I kinda looked goofy with this outfit and long hair.”

She lowered her eyes, looking off to the side.

“It looks good….”

He pouted a bit, shoulders sinking.

Great, another thing he’d ruined. He had envisioned her lilac eyes widening and brightening with astonishment and appreciation at his new look, but now the surprise felt more like an after thought, idle chatter to break the awkward atmosphere.

A real let down.

They lapsed into silence again. Minutes ticked by.

‘Come on, ‘ttebayo! Get it together! Talk to her!’

He gulped, sneaking a peek at her face. Her hands were in her lap, fiddling against each other. Her eyes were turned away from him, shifting over the wall and TV. She looked as nervous and worried as he felt.

He took a breath, heart pounding against his rib cage.

This was it.

His chance to make up with her and hopefully become more than just friends. Everything was riding on what he said next. He opened his mouth.

Nothing came out.

He clenched his teeth, frustrated.

The ball was in his court. She had already expressed her feelings. Was waiting for his reply. Now was not the time to get cold feet. He had come here with a purpose, not as a boy, ignorant of her feelings and of his own, but as a man that knew what he felt and what he wanted.

‘Man up!’

“Hi-Hinata,” he burst out suddenly.

“Y-yes, Naruto-kun?”

“I…….”

Damn.

Where should he start? Should he apologize first? Confess his love for her?

He didn’t know what he was doing. What he was supposed to say first, second and last.

Cleaning up his mess first seemed logical to him in this situation.

He sighed and opened his mouth again, hoping something coherent came out.

“I’m sorry….about what I said to you today….what I did four days ago…. and for not realizing how you…felt about me….all this time, you’ve been…..”

He trailed off, feeling like an idiot. He wasn’t making much sense.

Not only that. The apology felt inadequate. Like trying to place a band aide over a amputated leg. He was several years late, trying to repair damage.

“I’ve been so blind this whole time…”

“Ah! Don’t feel bad about that,” she rushed to assure him, “You don’t need to apologize for that, Naruto-kun. How were you supposed to know what I felt if I never said anything?….And besides, during that time you had-”

“A lot going on, I know. That’s still no reason for you to have to go through that. Hell, even you know I’m an idiot but I want you to know I wouldn’t have made fun of you if you had told me. I can’t really say…how I would have responded,” his cheeks heated, thinking of how he had responded a handful of days ago, “but even so, I know I would have been happy to know that….someone loved me even when I was nothing,”

“You’re not an idiot, Naruto-kun and you’ve never been nothing,” she refuted, “you’re someone that’s kind and sweet and strong and-”

“You’re all of those thing too, Hinata,” he proclaimed, leaning forward to grasp her hands, “Everything you’ve done for me, being there for me even when I….”

Even when he was being stupid and oblivious.

“The things I said to you…when that guy….I’m sorry. I was jealous….and scared that you were moving on because of the stupid way I acted that night before I left for my mission,” he admitted painfully, “I want you to know, Sakura-chan knocked some sense into me for being so dumb,”

Ah! That’s right! He hadn’t cleared that up either.

“Me and Sakura-chan talked tonight and agreed we can never be more than friends. I realized that the night we…..kissed…I’ve never felt that way with Sakura-chan and seeing you out with that guy, seeing him touch you like that,” he swallowed back his anger at the memory, “made things even more clearer for me.”

“N-Naruto-kun, Toneri-san…it wasn’t what you were thinking. Toneri-san is a ninja puppet crafter. Father invested in his company several years ago. The profits are exceeding expectation and so Toneri-san is thinking of expanding by setting up an additional shop here in Konoha and I was asked to escort him around town and go over financial information with him….I swear, it wasn’t a date,” she rushed out, “I don’t…..”

She blushed, peering up at him through thick lashes.

“I-I don’t have those type of feelings for anyone but you Naruto-kun…I never have…and I never will…”

His face was blazing red, heart twisting in his chest.

The weight of those words slammed into him like a boulder.

Hinata.

Loved him.

Only him.

His brain could barely comprehend the significance of her shy confession. To hear her voice the depth of her love for him left him drowning in a kaleidoscope of emotions. Elation. Painful happiness. Shock. A burning sense of guilt that threatened to knock him over.

Even if he could forgive himself for not seeing how she felt over the years, his most recent behavior was certainly unforgivable.

He couldn’t imagine the hurt he’d feel if Sakura behaved the way he had towards him.

The little crush he had been harboring for Sakura had been painful enough for him to deal with over the years. That was nothing in the face of this.

“I’m sorry I’ve been acting so stupid lately, but I…I’ve never been in love before,” he admitted, “I didn’t even know what it meant to love a girl until now. That’s not an excuse, and I know that, but I just want you to understand why I’ve been doing stupid stuff, and saying even stupider things. I know I don’t deserve your forgiveness and that apologizing doesn’t take away the pain I put you through, but I want to be with you.”

The words, when they came, were torn from the very core of his heart and soul.

“Hinata, I love you.”

Those moon colored eyes widened in shock, her lips forming a small “O”.

“The things you make me feel whenever you’re around…the pain and loneliness when we’re not together. The peace I feel when its just two of us…how I can just…be me when I’m with you,” he pulled her hands to his chest, “When I’m with you, I’m so happy my chest hurts. I didn’t know what that meant but now I do, I love you.”

There.

He had confessed.

Nerves twisted his insides, the blood in his cheeks warming his skin but he charged on. Determined to get it all out.

“If you still love me, if you can find it in you to forgive me for being an idiot, I want us to be together.”

Her lower lip trembled, tears glistening in her lilac eyes. Her face crumbled as she threw herself against his chest, crying softly.

“.……O-o-of course I…..w-w-want to….be with you…..N-N-Naruto-kun,” she sobbed.

Tension left his body, muscles unwinding at her muffled words. Happiness unfurled, threatening to sweep him away. His arms clamped around her, fingers threading through her hair.

He closed his eyes, absorbing the stunning reality of Hinata in his arms, loving him, forgiving him, still wanting to be with him.

He lifted her head.

Gently, he kissed her tears away, each one a blow to his heart. He couldn’t stand to see her cry, to know she was hurting.

“I’m sorry.” he whispered each time his lips touched her skin.

And he was.

Sorry he had ignored her for so long.

Sorry she was hurting because of him.

Sorry he had wasted so much time.

Time he could have spent being loved, time he could have spent loving her.

She cried for a while.

And clung to him as though afraid he would get up and walk out. It tore him up to feel her little hands clenched so tight in his jacket the material cut cross his skin. To witness the fear the depth of her love for him caused her.

It was a fitting punishment for him.

To sit there and suffer, unable to wash away her years of hurt and longing.

One that he would remember until the day he died.

His hands smoothed over her shaking shoulders, down her back, desperately trying to comfort the distressed girl, something he should have done that night she had left his apartment trembling and upset.

Minutes ticked by before the tremors subsided and the tears dried up.

“I’m sorry….” she said after a while, “I didn’t mean to cry like that. I just….I’m scared. So scared this isn’t real. That I’m dreaming.”

Pulling back, he brushed her bangs from her forehead, pressing his lips there. He kissed the top of her nose, resting his forehead against hers.

“This isn’t a dream.” he told her, “I love you.”

To his consternation, her lilac eyes misted over again, her plump lower lip trembling. He smiled at her, ocean blue eyes liquid pools of emotion.

“You’re gonna run out of tears eventually, ‘ttebayo.”

Her lips turned up, a snort of laughter leaving her lips. She looked up at him, her smile bright, tears still shimmering in her eyes. He reached out and wiped away the stray droplets.

“That’s better.” he said, unable to keep the tender smile from his lips.

She gripped his bandaged wrapped hand and pressed it against her cheek. Her eyes closed, tears leaking, smile gentle and radiant.

He felt his heart clench painfully as her soft words reached his ears.

“Naruto-kun, I love you.”

xxxxxx

June 15, 2008

“Hmmmm,”

Naruto leaned into the mirror, pushing back his short locks. Turning his head left, then right, he examined each angle.

“Hmmmmmmmmm,” he hummed, the sound slightly more agitated.

He dropped his hand, letting the spikes spring back up.

Definitely not slicked back. His hair was too short for that to look good on him. Reaching up, he ran his fingers through his hair again, blue eyes intense and focused as he arranged them carefully.

Once finished, he stood back, hands on hips as he assessed the look carefully.

It was as good as it was gonna get he supposed. Turning, he left the bathroom and walked into his bedroom, eyes moving over the piles of clothes strewn across his bed. Most of his clothes were orange, something that had never bothered him before, but now, felt limiting and repetitive.

He hadn’t bought new clothes in a while aside from a few hoodies and sweats to accommodate his growth spurt over the last six or seven months. All of which sported orange in one way or another.

Hardly trend setting.

He sighed.

He wasn’t good at this type of thing. What did a guy wear for his first date with the girl he loved?

He was absolutely clueless!

The sound of his doorbell ringing was a godsend.

He hoped it was someone that could help him out with this. Ino or Sakura-chan, hell, even Shikamaru if he was back in town. Anybody but that mutt Kiba or that robot in human skin Sai.

He pulled on a shirt, and slid a pair of sweats over his boxers and padded out to the front door.

Lee, Ino, Kiba and Sai greeted him.

“Ino! I’m glad to see you! I need your help!” he exclaimed.

Naruto let the group in and moved over to the living room.

“Where’s Akamaru?” Naruto asked.

It was rare to see Kiba without Akamaru at his side.

“Sis said she needed to borrow him for a few hours.” he explained, dropping onto the couch.

“So what do you need help with Naruto?” Ino asked as she unceremoniously took a seat on Sai’s lap.

“You see, I’ve kinda got a date and I-”

“A date?!” they exclaimed.

“A date? With who?” Ino demanded.

“Hinata. I know, you’re probably shocked but-”

“About time.” Ino interrupted.

“That finally came to fruition.” Sai injected.

“I thought you’d never get it. Took you long enough.” Kiba poked.

“Finally, two hearts have connected in a fiery inferno of youth and passion!” Lee chimed in.

Naruto stared. They weren’t shocked? Weren’t surprised?

They knew how she felt this whole time??!

“You guys already knew?” he sputtered, “Why didn’t you tell me she was in love with me?!”

His blonde brow twitched at the looks and responses he received in return.

“Guy sensei told me that you must never interfere in the blooming passion of youthful love! Two hearts must find the path to become one naturally! Only then can their love remain hot blooded and youthful!” came Lee’s reply.

“I wasn’t gonna be the one to put Hinata on the spot like that. I figured, if she wanted you to know, she woulda told you or asked someone to tell you. Most guys would’ve figured it out anyways. A girl blushing and fainting around you all the time? How dumb do you have to be not know what that meant?” Kiba reasoned.

“You never give away a girls secrets like that! Matters of the heart are not to be taken lightly! A girl’s heart is incredibly fragile and delicate and must be handled with care! Of course there was also the fact that even a brain dead monkey could tell she was crazy about you.” Ino shrugged.

“The book I read on love and relationships explicitly warned against interfering in the relationships of others. After the chaos my interference caused with you and Sakura, it was only natural I keep it quiet in this instance. I figured you already knew but didn’t want to complicate things so you pretended not to know she was in love with you.” Sai said.

“I wouldn’t do that to her!” Naruto refuted angrily.

“But then I remembered how stupid you are and realized that even though she practically telegraphed how she felt about you that you wouldn’t get it unless someone slapped you and tattooed it on your forehead. By then I had already read the book so I wasn’t going to interfere again.”

Naruto glared at the bunch.

‘Are you guys really my friends?’ he thought gloomily.

So he was a dumb guy, he got that. But still, a little help, a tiny little hint would have been nice!

He sighed.

No use crying over spilled ramen. He knew now, and had returned her feelings. Now it was up to him to make up for all the lost time. To give back to her what she had been giving him for so long.

“Anyway, me and Hinata are going out today and I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, dattebayo,”

“Say no more!” Ino said with an enthusiastic smile, shooting up from Sai’s lap, “The first date is very important and sets the tone for the relationship.”

She grabbed his arm.

“You’ve come to the right kunoichi. Let’s get you cleaned up and looking sharp. Hmm, you don’t seem like the tuxedo type, maybe a nice button down shirt and slacks…hmm…”

“Ehhh? Hinata’s not the type to care about all that extra stuff. You could show up in a card board box and she’d be thrilled.” Kiba pointed out.

“Oh can it Kiba, what would you know about dates anyway?” Ino huffed, “I’ve yet to see you go out with anyone other than Akamaru. So what if Naruto wants to make a good impression? He’s trying to be serious about his relationship. I think its really sweet.”

“I think Naruto should give it his all!” Lee enthused, smile gleaming as he directed a thumbs up in his direction.

“I’m not saying he shouldn’t be serious about it!” Kiba pouted, “Just saying that Hinata’s not that type of girl is all.”

“Ohhhhhh really now, and what exactly do you know about what type of girl she is?”

Cheeks ablaze, Kiba glared at Ino.

“Just enough to know she doesn’t care about all that stuff.”

“Talk about obvious. Give it up Kiba, just like the whole village knew Hinata was head over heels for Naruto, we all know about your little crush on Hinata.”

“Ehhhh??!!!” came Naruto’s shocked response.

“Except for this idiot, again,” Ino sighed.

He had suspected of course, but to have confirmation was a different ball game. The thought of any guy being in love with her disturbed him, but Kiba had had all kinds of access to her over the years. He wondered if anything had ever happened between them.

Kiba crossed his arms, face red. He turned away from the assessing eyes as he spoke.

“So what? Hinata’s really sweet and really pretty and has a nice scent, what guy wouldn’t want to date her? It was just a little crush so wipe that look off your face Naruto. Nothing ever happened. Hard to try and get close to a girl that always has her eyes on another guy.” he declared gloomily.

Naruto was hard pressed to ignore the stroke to his ego the admission elicited.

“Hmph, whatever. You got her now, but she’s fair game the moment you screw up.” Kiba announced.

Irritation brought back the twitch to his brow.

“Like you stand a chance even if I did screw up.” Naruto dismissed, “You’ll get Hinata over my cold dead body.”

“Psh, aren’t you real cocky all of a sudden,” Kiba mocked. “You didn’t even know how she felt until recently so don’t get all arrogant now. What a girl like her sees in a idiot like you, I’ll never understand.”

“What was that fleabag?!”

“Jeez, what a loud mouth.” Kiba exaggerated, one finger in his ear.

“How’d you like to leave here with no ears?”

“A battle!” Lee exclaimed, popping up from his seat next to Sai, all fired up.

“Alright, alright, settled down guys. We don’t have time for the male dominance routine, Naruto has to get ready for his big date with Hinata,”

Naruto sent Kiba a smug look which was returned with a rude finger gesture as Ino led him down the hall. The others followed at a sedate pace.

Minutes later, Ino wasn’t so certain there was hope for her brainless friend.

“Orange….” Ino mumbled, collapsed on the floor in despair after rummaging through his wardrobe, “Its like I’m drowning in a sea of oranges….everywhere I turn is orange. Why in the world did you buy this much orange?!”

Sai, a plastic smile on his face, patted the shoulder of the distraught girl.

“There, there, gorgeous, I’m sure you’ll think of something.”

Naruto ruffled the back of his hair bashfully, an uncertain smile on his face.

“Ah, well, I usually just buy what I’m familiar with. Orange is my favorite color and it looks good on me so it seemed like a good idea at the time. Shopping really isn’t my thing.”

“No…no kidding,” Ino sighed.

“Don’t worry Naruto, for I too have a closet full of nothing but green spandex of youth! Who needs variety when you’re bursting with passion!”

“Uhh, thanks Lee.” Naruto chuckled.

“I guess I should have expected this,” Ino said standing, “Sai’s closet used to look like he was attending a funeral every day.”

Naruto looked over at the guy in question, only just now noticing he was wearing a dark green polo and light gray slacks. He didn’t exactly look like a rainbow, but that was more color than Naruto had ever seen him in.

“When did you start wearing stuff like that?” Naruto questioned.

“So oblivious,” Ino commented from his closet, “I upgraded his wardrobe months ago.”

Sai nodded.

“The book states that girlfriends often take the initiative to rearrange the living conditions of the boyfriend as a way of bonding. Clothing is incredibly personal so that’s one of the first things to change.”

“In other words, pushy girls like Ino start to stick their nose where it don’t belong and switch your stuff around. First its your clothes, then your hair and before you know it your porn mags under the bed are headed for the trash.” Kiba put in.

Naruto hoped Kiba was just bumping his gums without really know what he was talking about. While he hadn’t really touched them since he’d begun bringing Hinata to his minds eye when he felt the need to relieve the ache in his balls, he still didn’t want them thrown out. Those mags had fond memories and there was no telling if he would ever find himself in a place where he needed them again. Hinata wasn’t a pushy girl though, maybe he was worrying needlessly.

He just couldn’t imagine his sweet Hina confronting him over the dirty picture books under his bed….and on the top shelf of his closet….and underneath his socks in the middle drawer of his dresser….

He ruffled his hair uncomfortably.

So he was a perverted guy?

Big deal.

What could anyone expect after he’d spent so much time with Kakashi and Jiraiya?

She could understand that, right?

Lee looked decidedly sick at the mention of “magazines” and “trash”. He turned to Kiba, lips curled into a sad frown.

“They’re not all like that are they?”

“Probably not but I’d stay clear of the aggressive ones just to be on the safe side.”

“For a guy that’s never had a girlfriend, you sure run off at the mouth like an expert.” Ino clapped back.

“He doesn’t have experience but is surprisingly accurate.” Sai commented, “My magazines met the same fate two months ago.”

“Sai had magazines? Think I’m gonna be sick.” Kiba mumbled, nose scrunched in distaste.

“The thought of you doing normal guy stuff like that is really disturbing, dattebayo. We’re not even sure you’re human yet.”

“Poor Sai!” Lee sniffled, wiping his eyes with a forearm, “I can’t imagine the frustration.”

“Actually, you don’t really miss them once you and your girlfriend start fu-”

Ino covered Sai’s mouth, her blue eyes promising a death more horrible than the imagination could conjure. It was the first time Naruto had ever seen true terror on Sai’s face, but there was no mistaking the naked fear on his pale visage.

“Remember our little chat about offering more information than necessary?” she all but hissed.

Sweat beaded Sai’s pale forehead as he nodded slowly behind the hand pressed against his mouth.

“You wouldn’t want to have to have that conversation again, would you Sai sweetheart?”

A slow shake of his head was her response.

“Good.” Ino said with a cheery smile, turning back to the closet.

“.…Girls……girls are scary, dattebayo….” Naruto muttered into the silent room.

“.….yeah…” Kiba agreed.

Sai gulped, too afraid to voice his opinion. He did not want to have that conversation ever again. He’d barely survived the last time.

“.….Tenten is just as scary….” Lee whispered.

Forty-five minutes later, Naruto stood ready for his date. After putting up several shirts against his chest, humming and nodding or shaking her head, Ino had settled on a light gray undershirt and one of his dark gray hoodies with orange stripes. The zipper in the front had apparently been the selling point, Ino had nodded sagely, stating “Its going to get chilly later, offering your coat to a girl on a date is sure to earn you all kinds of bonus points! Girls love to be surrounded by the warmth of their guy.” then she’d sighed dreamily and looked over at Sai.

Next she had given him the corresponding ankle length sweats, saying “Its not the most polished ensemble but its the only thing that looks pretty new and it does lend you a look of maturity.”

Surprisingly, when she got to his hair, she did the opposite of what he’d tried to do.

Instead of trying to tame his golden locks, she’d mussed his hair even more commenting, “you’re not the slick back handsome type at all. More of a wild, rugged good looks type guy.”

Whatever that meant.

He was just glad it was over.

Trying on clothes to get a “feel” for them had never crossed his mind before today. Ino had introduced him to the concept and enforced it harshly. Outfit after outfit, and through it all he had yet to get a “feel” for anything other than irritation and overwhelming boredom. He never wanted to go shopping with Ino…..ever.

Clothes were meant to be worn and that was it. What the hell was there to “feel”?

He still didn’t get it.

“Naruto-sempai!”

He stopped, blue eyes moving over the crowd. A group of girls were headed his way, one or two of them looked familiar but he could not, for the life of him place their names. He turned, silently watching the group of six approach.

He hoped they wouldn’t hold him too long.

He really didn’t want to be late.

“Naruto-sempai, good morning!” one of the girls chimed the moment they reached him.

“Good morning.” he replied, “Listen, I’m in a bit of a hurry, what-”

He may as well have been talking to a brick wall. The girls spoke rapidly, talking over each other and him, some shoving and elbowing those closest. They fired off a series of weird questions, though they asked so fast, one after another, that he had no chance to answer any of them had he been inclined to answer.

Was he busy later tonight?

What was his favorite food?

Did he like girls with long or short hair?

When was his birthday?

Did he wear boxers, briefs or nothing at all?

The one sided conversation quickly dissolved, and Naruto left the girls arguing among themselves, befuddled and a little annoyed they’d stopped him to ask questions that made no sense. He side-stepped a few more groupies and fans before he made it to their agreed upon meeting place. He looked around at the unfamiliar shops and attractions. He knew every inch of Konoha, but he could honestly say he wasn’t too familiar with this district, probably even more so after all the construction that had taken place since Pain.

It certainly looked bigger than he remembered, and a lot more modern.

Shinobi rarely had time for fun and games. Even during down time between missions, the vast majority of ninja devoted that time to training, developing new techniques and upgrading or repairing nin tools.

Considering this was a shinobi village, most of the shops catered to that clientele, selling weapons and scrolls, food pills and paper bombs.

This area in contrast seemed more civilian entertainment oriented.

He was fascinated by the variety of restaurants he’d never heard of, food he had never smelled before, parks he had never seen before, live entertainment shows he had definitely never been to. The streets seemed lively, brimming with excitement.

Caught up in the atmosphere of discovery, he was peering though the window at a rambunctious group of puppies when Hinata called his name.

Her soft voice glided over his ears and just that quick, his heart began to pound.

The events of last night came rushing back.

Heat bloomed in his cheeks.

He had said some really embarrassing things last night. He didn’t know how he was supposed to behave with her now in the light of day. This was uncharted territory for him. Should he act natural? Like they normally did or was he supposed to behave differently now that they were together?

Damn.

He should have asked Ino when he had the chance.

“N-Naruto-kun?” she called again.

He gulped.

Too late now and he could hardly ask Hinata. The date hadn’t even started yet and he wasn’t keen on embarrassing himself already. If he was going to make a fool of himself he wanted to at least wait until the date was half way through.

Slowly, he turned to face her.

His girlfriend as of last night.

His very first girlfriend.

Meeting up for their very first date.

Heat spread from his cheeks to his neck. Even to an idiot like him, he could tell she had taken extra care in her appearance today. She looked even more beautiful than normal if such a thing were possible.

The soft, forest green dress, snug enough to hint at the hidden valleys and peaks of her body, yet loose enough to leave the imagination working over time, ended mid thigh, thin straps hanging below her pale shoulders, leaving him to wonder how the hell the dress maintained its position instead of sliding off her body. Her hair was gathered atop her head, several strands spilling over her neck and collar bones, drawing the eye to the heart shaped bust that covered just enough to tease at cleavage. Her mid-calf, heel-less boots were shinny and molded to her lower legs.

Her ensemble was quietly seductive, modest where it counted while whispering of treasure yet discovered. The low hum of a siren’s call he felt unable to ignore.

Her fidgeting hands brought him from his daze.

His eyes snapped to her face, taking in her pink cheeks and lowered eyes. As her lips moved, his blue orbs moved down to watch them , his attention rapt on the plush cherry colored flesh. She had never colored her lips that he could remember and the effect was devastating. He could barely hear the words they formed.

“H-Hanabi helped me dress…is it….is it too much, Naruto-kun?”

He shook his head, swallowing against the dryness in his mouth.

“You look incredible, Hinata.” he said.

Her face was as red as a tomato. Those lilac eye, framed by lashes that seemed thicker and darker today, stole a glance at his face before shifting away again.

“I’m glad you think so…Naruto-kun. I…wanted to look nice for you…”

His head was spinning.

Look nice for him?

A girl had dressed up to look nice for him?

It was a foreign, surreal situation for him.

“I…wanted to look nice for you too…Hinata.” he admitted.

She raised her face to his, eyes shifting over his hair, face and clothes. He felt nervous and fidgety, hoping he would meet whatever standards she may have.

“You look really handsome, Naruto-kun.” she complimented, her smile blinding.

He was sure he’d have a nose bleed with all the blood rushing to his face this morning. Reaching up, he rubbed the back of his head bashfully.

“T-Thanks Hinata. I know you only got to see my new hair cut last night so I was kinda worried you’d find it weird.”

“Not at all, Naruto-kun. I-I think it really suits you.”

He couldn’t help the goofy, slightly embarrassed laugh that left his mouth. Insults he was used to, compliments were more awkward to handle.

Her small hand wrapping around his own ended the uncomfortable laughter.

Blue eyes wider than the sky, he looked first at their interlocked hands, then at her expressive face. While her cheeks were a dull pink, her eyes were clear, determined even.

“Hinata?”

“Naruto-kun, I…I don’t want this to be awkward between us. Today, all I want is to enjoy being by your side…without having to hide how I feel anymore and I want you to do whatever feels natural to you. You don’t have to try to be anything other than you. Before you knew how I felt, I was your best friend, someone you were comfortable being around, I want to keep that closeness. I don’t want you to feel like you’re dealing with a different person now.”

Her words honed in at the heart of his nervousness, obliterating his doubts and erasing the worry from his mind.

His lips softened, warmth spreading in his chest.

That’s right.

Tension loosened along his shoulders, that awkwardness leaving his body.

Even if she was his girlfriend now. Even if she was the girl he loved, the girl that loved him in return, she was still Hinata.

His best friend, the one he felt closest to.

The one he didn’t have to hide from.

The one who knew his darkest thoughts, his most irrational fears, his most tightly held aspirations and still looked at him as though he were worth his weight in gold.

His eyes gentled, fingers tightening around hers.

“You’re still my best friend, Hinata.”

No matter what happened, no matter where this new relationship took them, Hinata was Hinata.

He grinned, feeling happy and excited all at once.

“Let’s go on our date, Hinata!”

Hand in hand, the duo wandered the entertainment district of Konoha, stopping wherever the wind blew. By mid afternoon, his mouth was tingling from the different flavors and seasonings of their meal. The many games and prizes to be won called to him as they left the restaurant. Winning a giant, light purple stuffed bunny for Hinata had seen him, much to her amusement, strutting with pride until they stopped to buy tickets for the live show set to start in the next minute.

Upon leaving at the end of the slightly lackluster event, they made use of a photo booth.

Silly faces and goofy poses filled the first strip, while hugs and kisses filled the last.

The lowering of the sun found the two strolling leisurely to her apartment complex. Her hand was warmly engulfed in his, his hoodie swallowing her smaller frame. Ino had at least gotten that right. The look of pleasure on her face when he’d wrapped her in it had damn near given him a nose bleed.

He had never thought that a girl wearing something that belong to him could look so erotic, could fill him with a sense of possession, the need to protect and shelter. It was a heady sensation. Made him feel even less like a kid.

They were at her door faster than he would have liked.

He was loathe to part ways with her.

Today had felt like nothing he had ever conceived of. He was beyond content, beyond happy, beyond words to describe how he felt. The old, familiar emotions that swamped him whenever he was in her presence were magnified and bolstered by the new, exciting feelings that came from the start of his first relationship and the emotional intensity of first love.

He was high on cloud nine and had no desire to ever come down.

“Thank you for walking me home, Naruto-kun. I had an amazing time today.” she said, taking her bunny from him.

“So did I.” he murmured.

“Oh yeah, your hoodie.” she murmured, moving awkwardly to slide out of it.

“Don’t worry about it. I’ll get it from you later.”

She stilled, face flushed with pleasure as she clutched both his hoodie and the bunny closer.

Unable to help himself, he reached out to her curved cheek, tracing the smooth skin down to her chin. Her lids lowered half mast as his head descended. Her lips molded to his, pillow soft and moist. He pulled her into the shelter of his body, bunny soundlessly slipping to the floor. For long moments, he fitted his mouth to hers, gentle, brief, content to sip lightly at her lips, tasting and exploring their shape and feel. Little by little, learning what angle felt just right, what position fused their lips together best.

Their mouths melded again and again, the gentle suck and release of lips sweet and slow.  

His fingers slid along her jaw, wrapping around the base of her neck. His thumbs stroked her cheeks as their tongues met hesitantly.

It was different this time.

That night he’d kissed her, he hadn’t been cognizant of the fact that his tongue had been in her mouth. The need to touch and taste had drowned out his ability to think and reason. This time, he was keenly aware of the sensation of her tongue sliding over his, of his appendage sweeping the confines of her mouth, tasting the sweet essence that was Hinata.

A slow burn flared to life in the pit of his stomach.

The familiar sensation of desire tightening his body.

His lids lifted a fraction, watching raptly as his mouth devoured hers. Her lashes were dark crescents against flushed cheeks, the cherry coloring of her lips long faded. Her fingers stroked his chest, the touch felt warm, even through his shirt.

His thumbs smoothed down, caressing the fragile line of her throat.

Everywhere he touched was soft and delicate.

Smooth where he was rough, yielding where he was firm, curved and rounded where he was hard planes and sharp angles.

The differences in their bodies was brought into stark relief as the pads of his fingers glided over her small collar bones, into his hoodie and over her bare shoulders. The caress elicited a sound that left him feeling achy and out of breath.

A gentle, breathy exhale of approval, a moan, nearly muted by the mash of lips.

He deepened the kiss, tonguing her mouth with more fervor as lust pooled low in his gut. His fingers moved back to her jaw, lifting her chin as he spread her lips with his own. She clutched his shirt, pressing her lips harder against his.

Her lips were swollen and shiny when he pulled back, her eyes closed as he rested his forehead against hers.

“Are you busy tomorrow?” he whispered against her lips.

“Yes,” she mumbled against his, “A couple of early afternoon clan meetings with business partners, they usually run really late.”

“That puppet jerk gonna be there too, huh?” he pouted without heat.

She smiled, laying a gentle finger to his pouty lips.

“Probably, I’m not sure of the guest list. M-Maybe we can get dinner together after?”

He grinned.

“Sure thing. Want me to come get you or we can meet up somewhere?”

“We can meet at Ichiraku’s, we haven’t been there in a while, Naruto-kun.”

“That’d be awesome. Haven’t see the old man in a few weeks. Bet he’ll be glad to see me.”

He straightened reluctantly, watching sulkily as she bent down to pick up her bunny. He wasn’t ready to leave, not by a long shot. Everything was still so new and amazing, dreamlike. He didn’t want it to end. She held the stuffed animal to her chest and smiled at him.

“Tomorrow then.”

He couldn’t help but return her smile.

“Tomorrow.” he confirmed.

He watched silently as she fished her key out and unlocked the door. With a small wave and another curl of her lips, she disappeared inside, the door closing softly behind her.

He sighed into the empty corridor.

Shoulders wilted, he headed for the exit.

Tomorrow couldn’t come soon enough.

Glum as he was about leaving, he couldn’t stop the grin that threatened to split his face in half.

xxxxxx

So I just got internet back yesterday, but its kind of been spotty so I’m guessing they haven’t fixed it completely, whatever the issue is but I can deal with that considering I got out of the hurricane with nothing more than a broken screen for the patio. Hope you all made it out of the hurricane intact and with as little inconvenience as possible.

I tend to favor writing long fics so it might be a minute before we get to the drama and all the fucked up shit to follow, so I hope you guys enjoy the ride to the peak of the roller coaster before we go down hill full speed. If you’re not familiar with the way I write, which I’m sure will be the case, I tend to favor dark fic, and am not shy about killing off some characters, so I’ll give you warning about that too, though I did put it in the summary but I wanna make sure you understand what you’re signing on for XD.

I think that’s all I wanna say. I’m a bit of a scatter brain so I’m sure I’m forgetting something. Oh well.

Please leave me a comment on what you think so far! I’d love to hear from you!

Laters

~Sessakag

Chapter Text

Chapter Eight

 

June 15, 2008

 

“The victim was drained of blood and chakra simultaneously, but the chakra was removed at a much higher and forceful rate, resulting in blisters along the skin.” Shizune informed.

Sakura moved closer to the body, sharp green eyes observing the dark circles standing out below the wrinkled skin. Hundreds of them, all over the body. They were raised beneath the dermis, and were reminiscent of boils. Burnt out chakra points, confirmed by a Hyuuga medical expert. The friction of chakra leaving the tenketsu at such a rapid speed had left the normally invisible network points swollen and perceptible to the naked eye.

“A substance is introduce into the body, we believe the point of entry stems from the bites located on the deceased.” Shizune pointed to one of the large purple bruises on the neck of the cadaver, viscous liquid seeping from two holes deep inside the injury, “and that the substance that dilates the point is present in the saliva or perhaps injected through other oral means. It forces the tenketsu to release chakra faster than either the body or the point can handle, allowing the chakra to be harvested in a very short period of time, which in turn completely burns out the chakra point, sealing it. The over saturation of chakra and the subsequent draining is what causes the skin to prune.”

Tsunade’s senior apprentice looked up at the silent kunoichi.

“Even if someone survived an attack like this, there’s no way you or even Tsunade-sama could reopen that point to full functionality again. The only other time we’ve seen anything remotely similar to this was with Naruto’s Rasenshuriken and of course you know, Tsunade-sama has declared it a kinjutsu. That’s because, as of right now, there are no medical techniques to repair damaged chakra points.”

Ninja with cauterized tenketsu would cripple the village.

The pink haired jonin examined the discolored and torn area at the junction of the shoulder and chin, taking note of the fairly sizable pinpricks in the center. The puncture wounds were deep, and jagged, suggesting whatever had attacked had done so in a frenzy, tearing the skin around it.

Though several days, maybe even weeks old, the wound was still oozing a strange dark, shiny substance.

With the body so badly decomposed, damaged and pruned the way it was, ascertaining the exact time of death was impossible. The internal organs were coated in the fluid, destroying the surrounding tissue and any clues as to when the organ stopped functioning. Analysis of the oozing liquid left them just as puzzled. It was thick, cold to the touch and emitted a horrendous stench. Under a microscope, there were dead, floating microorganisms they’d never seen before trapped inside the ooze. Several of the creatures had been isolated from the goo and were being studied in another department.

“So we’re dealing with something completely unknown.” Sakura concluded, though she had already guessed that the moment they discovered the decimated village.

“We’ve been sending inquiries to the medical teams of other Allied nations and so far no one has been able to shed any light on this.”

Sakura turned and picked up the clipboard next to her, reading through the autopsy notes and conclusion. Massive blood loss resulting in failure of every major organ, chakra drainage below life sustaining threshold quickly and completely. Shattered bones, gouged skin.

Her pink brows lowered, green eyes sharpening.

This person had died a horrific death.

Whatever had done this had to be something truly terrifying. Something like this…

It had to be the work of an animal.

Something grotesque and vicious. Her mind tried and failed to put together an image of what kind of monster they were dealing with. She wasn’t even sure she wanted to know, after seeing the extent of these injuries.

“For now, we’re keeping this on a need to know basis.” Shizune continued, “The Kages are concerned this could stir up panic considering how low everyone’s defenses are right now. With so little information its best to keep this quiet, at least until we find the culprits or some way to combat this. So far, the attacks have happened in remote locations, areas easily explained away by plague illness or financial ruin leading to desertion. The disappearances of shinobi is minimal and is being covered with normal KIA rhetoric. We’re informing key jonin only, for now. We’ll need you guys to be vigilant and inform us immediately if you see anything suspicious, no matter how small it may seem.”

“Got it.” Sakura said with a determined nod, “What about Naruto?”

Sakura took her gaze from the files and over to the dark eyed kunoichi.

Shizune shook her head.

“Naruto hasn’t taken his jonin exam yet, and Kakashi-sama isn’t willing to bend the rules on this, even for Naruto. And even if he was a jonin, I’m not sure this information would be shared with him.”

“I don’t see why not, he’s a jonin in everything but name. Bending the rules hardly seems like an issue any more considering he’s already bending them by assigning Naruto several A and S rank missions even though he’s still a genin. If we’re going to depend on him to pick up the slack for our low shinobi numbers, he at least needs to be aware of the danger. If Naruto is so instrumental in the defense of the village right now, wouldn’t it make sense to tell him so he’ll be more careful. If we lose him we’re going to be in more trouble than we are now.”

“Hokage-sama is aware of that and is prepared to summon Sasuke back to the village in place of Naruto if necessary, though he’s hoping it doesn’t come to that. Sasuke agreed to defend the village from the outside, having that outer layer of protection will be just as important as having Naruto’s protection within.”

Sakura couldn’t help the trill of excitement at the thought of Sasuke returning to the village. Having gained a better understanding of her feelings after the situation with Naruto, she knew she loved the absent Uchiha regardless of the miles that separated them. Though she still hadn’t heard from him, she wasn’t going to give up on her happily ever after. She was no longer a young girl with a crush, stumbling after the guy she adored. She was young woman, competent and capable and ready to begin a relationship with the man she loved.

The medical shinobi had decided to take the initiative. The moment she reconnected with Sasuke, she would confess properly, with a clear mind and clear heart.

Not in the mist of a crisis or to stop him from leaving, but because she loved him with all her heart and wanted nothing more than to be by his side.

“You know how that knuckle head can get. If he knows something like this is going on, he’ll take on more than his share of the burden to stop it.” Shizune continued, drawing Sakura from her thoughts, “We can’t afford to have him distracted or to place himself at risk unnecessarily. Naruto is prone to acting impulsively and loudly, with other Allied nations involved, this has to be handled delicately.”

“So the solution is to treat him like a tool? Lying by omission and using him as the village sees fit.”

“Sakura…I don’t like it any more than you, nor does Kakashi-sense for that matter, but Konoha’s situation is dire. As painful as it is, we have to do what’s best not just for the village, but for the Land of Fire as well. We’re not the only ones at risk. Those that live outside the protection of a shinobi village are vulnerable in ways that we aren’t. We can’t just ignore them all to protect one person, nor can we make that decision on our own. Hokage-sama still has to answer to the Daimyo and other governing bodies.” Shizune reminded her, “There are politics at play that also guide and restrict the decisions Kakashi-sama can make, and there have been…rumors that are particularly troubling.”

Sakura straightened.

“Rumors?”

The older medical nin surveyed the empty examination room, double checking their isolation from listening ears.

“Have you been in contact with Sasuke?” Shizune asked, her voice low.

Bright red colored the younger woman’s cheeks. It pained her to admit that she hadn’t.

She shook her head instead of vocalizing the embarrassing denial.

Everyone was aware of how she felt about Sasuke and it was just a bit uncomfortable to be asked about him when she had as much information about him as anyone on the street had.

“The last correspondence he sent to Kakashi-sama indicated that there may be another threat looming. One equal or perhaps even greater than Kaguya.”

Emerald eyes widened in shock. In the face of possibly dealing with Kaguya 2.0 Sakura couldn’t even find it in her to be upset that Sasuke had in fact been in contact with the village but not her.

Shizune turned her gaze to the wrinkled husk on the metal slab.

“Sasuke is taking the time to train his Rinnegan on his journey. With it, he can see things we can’t. He’s still working on deciphering and familiarizing himself with his abilities but he’s almost certain that we may be dealing with someone that at least originates from the same place as Kaguya. That they’re already here. If that’s true…”

If that was true, they were in more trouble than they may be able to handle, even united as the Allied Shinobi. Defeating Kaguya had taken everything they had and then some. Many had lost their lives in the fight, Naruto included.

Even now, memories of wrapping her hand around his still heart and manually pumping the vital organ had the power to leave her in a cold sweat, unable to sleep at night. The smell of death, the cries of the dying, the hopelessness of working so hard to keep a patient alive only to look up and see the light gone from their eyes had changed her.

When it was quiet, when she had only her thoughts she relived the events of the war. Was back in those tents scrubbing her hands, unable to get the smell of blood off.

They couldn’t stand up to something like that again right now, let alone something more dangerous than Kaguya herself. She didn’t know if she could go through that again.

Nausea turned her stomach.

In the heat of the moment, when the pressure was on, she had felt like she could do anything, but when it was all over and the adrenaline wore off, stone cold reality took over.

She swallowed, sweat beading her forehead.

The eyes of two women met.

“I don’t have to tell you that that information is highly classified.”

The pink haired nin shook her head absently.

“You’ve been given clearance for this information because of your unique place among shinobi. Just like Naruto and Sasuke, your value is significant to the protection and continued survival of this nation. We need you to understand the gravity of the situation and if need be, to help us…..manage Naruto.”

Sakura stood numbly.

Suddenly, keeping quiet didn’t seem as outrage anymore.

xxxxxx

The sound of fist hitting wood was distant to his ears.

Naruto shifted in bed, turning over with a mumble before settling again. Arms and legs out stretched, he let loose another wall shaking snore.

The next knock was loud and insistent.

Heavy lids opened a sliver, sleep glazed blue eyes confused. He listened a moment.

Silence.

His eye lids began to droop, eyes slowly closing, mind wandering back to the land of sleep. Before the young Jinchuuriki could return to the world of dreams, the knock came again. His head turned to the digital on his night stand, annoyed at the numbers that stood out in the relative darkness of his room.

6:08 am.

There were a few more knocks before he shuffled tiredly, grumpily to his front door, swaying like a zombie, eyes shut.

“Who in the hell is knocking so early, dattebayo.” he mumbled.

Gripping the doorknob, he opened the door, prepared to unleash hell if it wasn’t Hinata or about an important mission that only someone of his expertise could handle.

Naruto was more than a little shocked to see the Hyuuga standing in front of him. The older man wore an expression empty of emotion, his pale eyes, so like his sweet girlfriend, were flat and hard.

“Please excuse the intrusion,” the head of the Hyuuga began, “But I would have words with you, Naruto Uzumaki.”

Minutes later, Naruto sat nervously but determined at his kitchen table, Hiashi Hyuuga silently sipping tea across from him. He knew what the older man was here about.

Hinata.

And he could already imagine what the clan head was going to say.

Naruto ran through his mind, the list of arguments he would present to the older shinobi, reason why the two should be allowed to see each other. He might not have had a leg to stand on a year or two ago but that was no longer the case. He was financially stable….sort of. He had a nice little goose egg if he was ever strapped for cash and it wasn’t like was living paycheck to paycheck anymore. Hinata’s father could hardly make the accusation that Naruto was with her for money. While he hadn’t obtained jonin rank yet he was scheduled to take the exam in a few weeks so he wasn’t some loser without ambition. Not to mention he had defeated Kaguya with Sasuke, and was more powerful than even the Hyuuga across from him. Hell, even though he didn’t really like all the publicity, he would tout his fame and metals of heroism if he needed to.

And if none of those arguments worked, if Hiashi still didn’t think Naruto was good enough for his daughter, he could use his trump card.

Hinata was seventeen years old, nearly eighteen. She no longer needed the old man’s permission to date whoever she wanted. The young genin hoped it wouldn’t go that far but he wasn’t going to let anyone come between them and if he had to go that route, so be it.

If Hinata was willing to be with him despite her father’s disapproval he wouldn’t turn her away.

Naruto straightened his spine as Hiashi set his empty cup on the table.

Frigid lavender eyes met determined blue.

The hush of the room was loud in the younger man’s ears, the soft, tic tic tic of the clock hanging a short distance away grated his nerves. He swallowed, fighting not to break eye contact first.

“Since the day she came home carrying that shredded red scarf, and you name on her lips, you’ve been apart of her life.”

Naruto blinked, thrown off by the declaration.

“I’m sure you probably don’t remember, do you?”

He blinked again, brain absolutely empty.

“Uhhh, I don’t know what you mean. What red scarf?”

The elder man sighed, shoulders relaxing. To Naruto’s surprise, the impassive, disdainful look melt from the Hyuuga’s face, replaced with one of thoughtful contemplation, almost humor.

“The day my daughter met you. Back when you were children, before the academy.”

Naruto racked his brain, trying to remember. He honestly couldn’t pinpoint when or how he and Hinata first met. It was so long ago. Aside from maybe a handful of people he didn’t even remember how he had met his other friends and when. It was pretty much a blur.

“From the tale my daughter told me that day, a group of ill mannered children accosted her in the woods and demanded she show them her Byakugan, referring to her as a Byakugan monster.”

Blonde brows creased in anger.

“You can imagine, the sensitive girl Hinata is, cried. At least until another ill mannered, blonde haired child wearing a bright red scarf came charging over, barking at the group to cease.” Hiashi’s voice was coated in amusement, “An ill mannered child that proclaimed he would be the next Hokage and then proceed to produce the most pathetic clones in history.”

Naruto felt his face heat, an uncomfortable smile breaking across his face. He sort of remembered doing that. It was fuzzy but he recalled snow, three kids and a crying girl. Reaching up, he scratched his cheek.

“Ahhh, it sounds kind of familiar. Sounds like something I would do, dattebayo.”

Hiashi hummed, then continued speaking.

“You stood up to the children and received a swollen face for your trouble. The children took your scarf and proceeded to destroy it. Hinata brought it home. She’s always been very soft spoken, but that day she spoke excitedly, animatedly about the boy that had stood up for her, had tried his best to protect her. Naruto Uzumaki she said.” his face grew serious, “Knowing what I knew of you, naturally, I informed her she was not to associate with you and took steps to ensure it was so.”

Naruto suppressed the angry words he wanted to give voice to.

Naturally.

It still had the power to hurt.

His lonely upbringing.

To sit here and listen to this man speak about warning his child away from him like he was some sort of diseased animal rubbed him the wrong way. He knew many parents in Konoha had said the same to their own children, but to hear it spoken of so blatantly…

“I instructed her to toss out that old scarf.” he began again, “and didn’t think to make sure she had done so. Hinata has always obeyed me without question, ever the dutiful daughter…Would you believe she still has that old torn scarf of yours?”

His irritation fell away, shock replacing it.

“That girl is timid and meek, easily bending for those that will bend her, but when it comes to you.” Hiashi shook his head, “She’d take on the entire world, let alone just me. She has been in love with you before she even knew what love was.”

Naruto swallowed against the knot in his throat.

“I’ve tired my best to keep her as far away from you as possible and in the end, it made no difference. She is where she wants to be, and no amount of arguing will change that.” Hiashi conceded. “Which is why I’m here.”

Full of emotion at the older male’s revelation, Naruto was more than stunned at the feel of a blade pressed against his stomach beneath the table. Vivid blue eyes widened as they clashed with the once more cold gaze of Hiashi Hyuuga.

“If she comes home with tears in her eyes and your name on her lips, I will find you, and you will not like the consequences. I have not always been a good father to her, but I love my daughter and will not tolerate you taking her feelings for granted.”

Naruto was reeling, too stunned to reply.

“If my daughter comes home to me with a baby in her belly and no ring on her finger…”

The blade moved again, pressing dangerously close to a part of his body that was near and dear to his heart. Sweated slid down his temples and back. His palms felt cold and clammy.

“Lets just say I’ll make sure a certain part of you will never be able to make an appearance again. I know ways to maim you that no amount of kyuubi chakra can fix. I am well aware of the difference in power between us, but never underestimate the power of a concerned father. Do I make myself clear?”

The blonde nodded dumbly, holding his breath.

The sword beneath the table retreated.

“I’m watching you” Hiashi informed the genin, veins slowly bulging as his Byakugan activated, “In more ways than one.”

With that cryptic message, the dark haired male stood.

“Congratulations on your relationship, please treat my daughter kindly.”

Sheathing his sword, the old Hyuuga began to walk away.

Snapped from his stupor, Naruto stood, his chair falling away behind him in his haste.

“I know I haven’t noticed Hinata like I should have but I love her,” he proclaimed, “with all my heart and I’d never willingly hurt her. I’d rather cut off my own arm. I can’t say I won’t mess up. I’m not a smart guy, but I can say I’ll love her as much as she loves me, and work hard to make up for any hurt I’ve caused her, to make her never regret loving someone like me.”

He bowed at the waist to the elder man’s back.

“Thank you for accepting our relationship, old man Hyuuga.”

Hiashi turned.

A moment later, he returned the bow of respect, folding at the waist, straight dark, hair so much like his daughter spilling over his broad shoulders.

xxxxxx

He moved, stiffly at first, adjusting to his new form.

This body felt weak, strange and awkward. His lip curled in distaste, gut churning with renewed hatred for the new lows to which he continued to plummet. There was little he could do. Time was running out. His own body was beginning to rot and wrinkle with age, his power decreasing with each passing year. In his days of glory, his task would have been as simple as breathing. Reaching out and taking what he wanted without so much as a thought to any opposition these insignificant creatures offered. Taking what belonged to him by right.

His fingers curled, clenching at the his own helpless situation.

Look at him now.

Scheming in the shadows, pulling threads to get what he needed. Brought to his knees and crawling on his belly like a lowly human.

Weak.

Cowardly.

Disgustingly vulnerable in a way he had never been in his entire existence. The war had left the shinobi world in tatters, the villages functioning at less than half capacity. Even so, he was out matched. Had there only been the threat of the Kages, he may have felt more comfortable obtaining what he needed openly, and with brute force.

Despite the loss of most of his power and strength, he was more than enough for the five of them if he wanted to cut it close. Even with his regenerative ability faltering, the risk might be worth it for a quick solution.

No.

What stayed his hand were those two.

Uzumaki and the Uchiha.

Solo, they had the power to incapacitate him and a significant chance of ending him.

Should they stand together, he would not stand a chance.

Fear at the thought left a bitter taste in his mouth. The sensation was sickening, leaving him with intense self-hatred and disgust. He was as unworthy to breathe as the swine he imitated. Emotions that had once amused him now made him sick and light headed.

He was loathsome.

Fragile and terrified of what his future held.

He wiped a trembling hand across the hard slash of his lips.

Cold sweat beaded his forehead.

He needed to calm down.

Make plans for the coming years of stealth and manipulation necessary. The pieces were already in place, all he needed now was to thread the needle and bring them together and hope his pawns were smart enough, stupid enough to play right into his waiting hands.

It wouldn’t be enough with what he had though.

His eyes moved to the walls surrounding Konoha.

He would need another pawn. Someone that met his needs, someone that had the required components to become his salvation.

Regret gripped his lungs.

He should have come back sooner. Years ago. Even if he had thought he wouldn’t need to execute his back up plan, maintaining it should have been a priority. He’d grown arrogant over his long life, blind to his own vulnerabilities, to the endless possibilities of fate and was paying for the oversight in a way he had never thought could happen to some of his stature.

He ran his hand over his mouth again.

Konoha had what he needed.

He would bide his time. Pull some strings and hope that the universe was kind.

xxxxxx

“You won’t be able to produce a viable fruit, Kohei.”

Kohei stood silently, watching the shuffling beasts sway to and fro, like waves in a vast ocean, behind the thick, tall viewing glass. Their low grunts and growls bounced against the white metallic walls of their containment room, the sounds vibrating through the floor. He could hear the hunger in their call, their thirst resonating with his own.

The need to find nourishment was a drum beat he too marched by.

It was calling to him.

Begging him to end its starvation, and in return, promising to bring forth a ripe harvest.

It needed blood to nurture its frail body.

Chakra to fill its hollow shell.

His eyes, still sensitive, crept slowly to his right. Takahiro sat behind a computer, the bright green data read out reflecting in his circular glasses.

“Your situation isn’t as near dire as the others, if you keep yourself fed, but at this rate, I’m not sure if you’ll be able to sustain that for longer than ten years, twelve at the most.” Taka informed him grimly, “The more you feed it, the bigger its appetite. Its not taking in chakra properly, a lot of it gets regurgitated back into places like your eyes.”

Kohei smiled, the up lift of his lips holding a touch of madness as he reached up to run his fingers over his sore orbs.

“Its not what we thought it was. Those eyes aren’t….stable and don’t work anywhere near how they should. A broken imitation at best.”

“And yet, broken, they still hold great power.” Kohei murmured.

“Its not a viable source of power if you can’t control it, or end up with disastrous results for yourself and others. Even worse is having half our shinobi with various degrees of defective eyes-”

“Why is my fruit not viable.” he rumbled sharply.

“I told you, the seed has taken root, but the tree it produced is…defective. You’re shooting chakra all over your body. You’re feeding it but its still starving. We need to find a way to stabilize it. We’re working as hard as we can Kohei but….” Taka ran his hand over his mouth, “Not one person is functioning properly, everyone that’s been turned is starving. Its hard enough trying to stop them from wrecking havoc here and in the other nations. At this rate, and with their ocular power, defective and unreliable though it may be, we might not be able to stop them anymore.”

Takahiro watched the other male silently, trying to gauge his reaction. Sweat beaded his brow at the sight of the other man’s lips stretching into a wider grin.

He had no idea who he was talking to anymore.

Kohei or….that thing that talked to Kohei.

Regret twisted his chest.

So cocky he had been at the start of this whole project. So certain he had accounted for any and all possible outcomes. Had prepared for the best and worst case scenario.

What a damn fool he had been.

Too eager, too impatient to establish their place among the Great Five Nations. To stand up and demand that the Five Nations become Six. Years of planning, of building and cultivating was on the brink of destruction and with no one to blame but himself.

So close.

They’d been so close to it all, needing only one thing.

Power.

A great and terrible power with which they could use to defend themselves. One that rivaled that of the Jinchuuriki. When the time came for them to fight for the resources they desperately needed to grow and thrive, resources currently claimed by the Nations, they would need an army on par with the fighting force of the Allied Nations combined.

Now was the time.

The war had devastated their numbers, leaving the Allies in shambles while he and Kohei had steadily grown their own. They needed to organize, to strike out and drive the Allies to their knees. Make their demands and put the Land of Blood on the map. To validate the Village Hidden in Darkness.

None of that would happen if they couldn’t get their shit together.

Takahiro glared at the bumbling beasts behind the glass.

What good was an army you couldn’t control?

An army that was in a perpetual state of hunger.

An army that had only just ceased trying to eat each other two days ago…

Everything was slipping away.

Slipping away faster than Kohei’s sanity.

xxxxxx

Hope you liked the chapter! Let me know your thoughts!

Laters

~Sessakag

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Nine

 

June 15, 2008

 

Naruto walked through the streets of Konoha, hands nestled in the front pocket of his bright orange hoodie. It was still a bit early before he was due to meet Hinata at Ichiraku and the blonde genin had decided to wander a bit. He was always loathe to stay inside his empty apartment and today was no different. As he wandered, he graciously signed autographs and even smiled big for a handful of photos.

After his….friendly chat with his girlfriend’s father, unable to return to sleep, he had instead spent the early morning engaged in light training, followed closely with a shower and an hours worth of review for his up coming jonin exam.

He was nervous as hell but determined to pass.

He couldn’t let this opportunity slip away. Though Kakashi-sensei had been unable to promote him directly to jonin, the Rokudaime had at least allowed a one time waiver of the chunin exam. The decision had come after deliberation, a month after the end of the war. A compromise to reward his heroism and at the same time, avoid the appearance of favoritism. If he failed, he would be relegated back to the traditional procedure of increasing his rank and would have to apply for chunin before jonin. The response hadn’t been what he was hoping for, but it was still more than enough for the determined Uzumaki.

Naruto wasn’t too concerned about the how’s and why’s, he was just psyched for the chance to advance.

Becoming a jonin opened doors previously closed to him.

The position would finally give him the chance to head his own team, instead of being obligated to follow whoever was put in charge. He’d get first hand experience on what it took to lead, to gain confidence in the role of leader. A chance to put everything he had learned to the test.

Solo missions were also something to look forward to, though he was a little apprehensive about that. Most solo missions entailed a measure stealth, quiet intrusion and silent retreats.

Loud and clumsy on the best of days, he was about as stealthy as a giant orange elephant.

It was something he and Hinata planned to work on together. Though she was still a chunin, Hinata had been on several missions specializing in stealth and seemed to excel at them, or so he seemed to think after the stories she had told him about the lone missions she had been assigned during and after his absence with Jiraiya.

Not that he was surprised, she was quiet even when she wasn’t trying to be.

With the money he had saved in his bank, he wasn’t really that excited about the pay increase that would follow but he was satisfied he would be able to live off of his wages instead of using his savings to supplement the expenses his genin salary didn’t quite cover.

After he reached jonin and settled into the position, his Kage studies would begin in earnest and he was looking forward to the daunting task. The amount of work it would take was a bit staggering and he was a bit green around the gills thinking about all the political fodder he was going to have to learn, but otherwise he felt a sort of surreal excitement and anticipation to be getting so close to the dream he had been proclaiming he would achieve as far back as he could remember.

Naruto frowned slightly in thought.

He was beginning to form a deeper understanding of what it took to bear the mantle of Hokage and was finding the title meant more than just being strong enough to protect the village physically. Economic protection was just as important for a healthy village to flourish and thrive.

His current study material touched briefly on the political aspects of being a ninja, honing in on the powers and authority of the daimyo in regards to the shinobi village and the Fire Nation as a whole. The Hidden Leaf was a stronghold of force and defense for the country but at the same time, danced and moved in accordance to the directives of outside influences and the will of the daimyo. It had also given a snap shot of the scope and scale of special interest groups that weighed in on the daily functioning of the village and country at large. Villages and towns he had never heard of, lands he had never been to, foreign countries far across the ocean effected the vitality and functionality of the Land of Fire.

It was kind of disconcerting to realize how many special interest groups had a hand in shaping policy and enacting change.

It made his brain ache.

The broader importance of his career path, the politics surrounding his employment had never once crossed his mind. Konoha was not the only place that depended on people like him. It was the entire Fire Nation. A vast web of intertwined pockets of human populations that worked and thrived together, domestically and internationally.

He sighed, pushing aside the complexities of governing.

No sense marinating on it, he needed to pass his exam first and worry about all that later.

Right now, he was more interested in getting some noodles with his girlfriend. He meandered into part of the shopping areas and slowed at a store with a collage of flowers on display out front and in the windows. The mingled aroma of the delicate plants drifted beneath his nose as he drew closer.

In the shop window, a cluster stood out to his curious eyes.

He bent at the waist to get a better look. The flowers were circular, flat, and a bright, vibrant combination of blue, white, and purple. They looked soft, simple and delicate yet stood out to him more than the other flamboyant and complex flora.

Hinata would like something like that.

Simple things made her smile.

“Looking for a bouquet for your girlfriend, Naruto?”

The blonde ninja straightened, ruffling the back of his hair. Red lightly colored his cheeks, a bright smile spreading his lips. Pride warred with embarrassment at the comment.

“Yeah, I’m on my way to eat dinner with Hinata at Ichiraku’s.”

Ino leaned further out from her place just inside the doorway of Yamanaka Flowers.

“Awww,” Ino gushed, “Aren’t you two just too cute!”

“Ahh…well.” he chuckled shyly.

Ino widened the door, gesturing for him to enter.

“You were looking at the asagao bouquet right? Come on in, friends get a discount.” she encouraged with a friendly wink.

Naruto entered the shop, observing the wide variety of flora lining the shelves and display tables. Ino scooped up the violet flowers that had initially gain his attention from a hanging basket near the check out counter. Yamanaka moved behind the register, pulling out white wrapping paper and a shinny pink length of ribbon from the cubbies below.

“Soooooo.” Ino probed, taking her time arranging the flowers.

“Hm?”

“How’d your date go?”

“It was...uh…fun. I think it went okay, ‘ttebayo.” he replied awkwardly.

He wasn’t really sure what she wanted to know about it. He was fairly certain Hinata had had a good time yesterday, he knew he had had a blast and later, that make-out session in front of her apartment door…

His face turned red.

“Hmmmmmm,” the blonde kunoichi hummed slyly, “My, my, what red cheeks you have. Somebody had a good time. You play the lip lock game with Hinata?”

His flush deepened to crimson.

Ino laughed.

She leaned over the counter and asked in a conspiratorial whisper, “Tongue or no tongue?”

“Ino!” he exclaimed, mortified.

It was one thing to talk about girls with the guys, they didn’t bat an eye when he got perverted during said discussion, in fact, often times they joined in. He knew some things about Temari and Ino herself that he was sure neither woman wanted him to know. It was quite a different situation for him to share his thoughts with another girl. As much as the guys compared notes, he was sure girls did too and he was certain he didn’t want anything embarrassing to get back to his new girlfriend.   

She laughed again, handing him the wrapped bouquet and giving him his total. His face was radiating heat as he took the flowers, paid his bill and made his way out.

He reached the door when Ino spoke again.

“Definitely tongue.”

The cool outside air was welcome against his over heated skin.

He grumbled as he made his way to Ichiraku. So what if he kissed with his tongue involved, he liked it and he was pretty sure Hinata did too. He’d done it twice and not once had she complained.

Sai was right, Ino enjoyed teasing way too much.

The sun was low in the sky when he made it to Ichiraku. He glanced around, looking for the dark haired, pale skinned beauty he was supposed to meet. Elation filled him when he spotted her shinny blue-black locks nearing the ramen shop. The bright grin that covered his face froze and annoyance creased his brow when his gaze lighted on the man next to her.

Hinata hadn’t seen him yet, was engrossed in an engaging conversation with that Toneri asshole.

Irritation and dislike crawled over his skin.

He trusted her one hundred percent, knew she wasn’t interested in the tall, suave man chatting with her, but that didn’t mean that slimy bastard wasn’t interested in her. The very thought grated on his nerves. Blonde brows lowered as his girlfriend giggled and blushed at something the man said, Toneri in turn seeming to chuckle.

Naruto glared with all he was worth, throwing kunai with fierce blue eyes.

As if he felt the venom the young genin tossed his way, the white haired male lifted his head, piercing ice blue orbs clashing with azure. The two engaged in a stare down of mutual dislike, both frowning fiercely. Hinata, sensing the change in her conversation partner, looked around for the source.

Naruto was mollified by the look that transformed her face.

Lavender eyes brightened, a flush of pleasure and happiness filling her cheeks as she caught sight of him. He returned her smile, elation filling his chest.

“Naruto-kun,” she beamed when the pair reached him, “Good evening, did you have to wait long?”

“Nope, just got here.” he said, reaching for her hand.

He tugged her to him, pressing his lips briefly to hers. With her face absolutely bright red, he pulled her into the cradle of his left side, arm around her waist as he presented her with the bouquet. Her sigh of happiness and soft smile further soothed his ruffled feathers.

“Thank you, Naruto-kun.” came her gentle words as she accepted the flowers, sniffing delicately.

The look she gave him brought a flush to his own face. His gaze shifted down to her lips, debating whether it would be too much if he fused his lips to hers again.

“I see there have been some…developments since last we met, Uzumaki.”

Naruto’s gaze snapped up to the stone faced man. A militant, slightly smug up turn of his lips brought a crease of irritation to the puppet crafter’s silver brows.

“Yeah,” Naruto confirmed, “Hinata is my girlfriend.”

Naruto articulated the word girlfriend with absolute relish, his arm tightening slightly around her waist.

The sneer was was barely perceptible but not loss on the irritated genin as the businessman spoke again.

“Congratulations on your…relationship, Hinata-san.”

Hinata stirred at his side, turning to face the sharp eyed man. Her face was lightly flushed and she was bumping her index fingers together. Knowing her as well as he did, he could tell she was uncomfortable with the tension coating the conversation.

“Thank you, Toneri-san…um…Naruto-kun and I are…we had planned to have dinner together here at Ichiraku’s…and I don’t want to take up more of your time, if you’ll excuse-”

“Actually, Hinata-san,” Toneri interrupted, giving her a soft, slightly pleading look that set Naruto’s teeth on edge, “I hate to be a burden, or to ruin your…date, but I must ask for your assistance for just a bit longer. The financial institution in charge of the loan for the expansion had some questions I believe you can clarify for me.”

Naruto’s eyes narrowed.

“I would of course defer to your father in this matter, but as I understand it, he will be indisposed for the remainder of the day and the deadline to send my response to the institution is fast approaching. If I don’t get the missive sent out by tomorrow morning, it could tie up and complicate further negotiations.”

“So basically you’re trying to ruin our date?” Naruto translated, a bored expression on his face.

“N-Naruto-kun!”

“Surely not, Uzumaki. I am merely trying to avoid a financial headache,” he negated smoothly, his visage arranged in smug slyness, “I assure you, I won’t take up much of your time.”

For Naruto, spending even a minute with this guy was taking up too much time.

“I’m sorry, Naruto-kun,” Hinata said, drawing his attention, “Do you mind if Toneri-san joins us?”

Naruto knew he couldn’t say no to those big lilac eyes staring so guilelessly at him. With a smile that threatened to shatter his face, blonde brow twitching, he spoke words that tasted like shit.

“Sure, no problem, join us.”

The trio made their way to the seats at the bar and old man Teuchi greeted the hungry customers with a huge smile.

“Welcome, take a seat,” he invited, “Naruto, my favorite customer, been a while!”

Despite his dislike of the third wheel that had inserted himself, the usually happy-go-lucky genin couldn’t help but smile in return, his mood lifting. Teuchi was a big part of his life, had been since Naruto had first wandered into the shop as a sad, lonely, lost little boy desperate for a kind gaze.

“Yeah, couple of weeks,” he grinned back, “How are things, old man?”

“Same old, same old,” the elder man replied, “I see you brought your girlfriend with, huh?”

“Ehhh? You know already?” Naruto pouted, “I was gonna surprise you.”

“Ha! Everyone’s been waiting for this day for years, even more people were waiting since you become the hero of the Leaf,” Teuchi explained, “You certainly kept this pretty young lady waiting long enough.”

Hinata sat fidgeting, her cheeks heated while Toneri looked like he would rather chew rocks than listen to the friendly conversation.

Naruto scratched a whisker marked cheek at that, an uncomfortable smile on his face. It seemed like there was no one in the entire village that hadn’t known about Hinata’s feelings. It was kinda embarrassing for him, the object of her affection, to be the last in on the not so secret, secret.

“Ahhh, well…uh.”

Teuchi let loose a deep, belly rumbling laugh at his bumbling.

“Well the important thing is, you finally got your head on straight and now you’ve got a gorgeous young lady in your life. Congratulations, Naruto.”

“Thanks old man,” Naruto grinned.

“So what can I get for you fine people?”

After taking orders, Teuchi turned and set to work. Five minutes later, Naruto was ready for Toneri to get lost. Fifteen minutes and two bowls of ramen later, Naruto was more than ready for Toneri to get lost. Thirty minutes and four bowls of ramen later, Naruto was ready to throw Toneri out into the streets of Konoha behind them.

The arrogant, slimy, sly bastard was hogging all of Hinata’s attention, plying her with lavish compliments and taking any opportunity to touch her hand.

His limited patience was wearing real thin, and he was close to pouring the remaining broth in his bowl over the smarmy asshole’s head. Just as he was about to pick his bowl up and proceed with the ill advised but potentially satisfying action, the dark haired woman seated between the two men placed her chopsticks down and turned to Toneri.

“Toneri-san, I hope I was able to answer your questions,” the young Hyuuga began, “I really am sorry, but…Naruto-kun and I really have to be going.”

Naruto just suppressed the childish urge to cheer and stick his tongue out at the silver haired business man.

“Of course, Hinata-san,” Toneri agreed smoothly, “Excuse my intrusion.”

“O-oh it was no problem at all, Toneri-san,” she stood as Naruto paid the balance of their portion, “I’m glad I was able to help.”

Toneri placed money on the counter and smiled down at her.

“You were a big help, Hinata-san. Your father is very lucky to have a daughter with a mind for business.”

“T-Thank you.”

The three wandered out and stood in front of the shop, Naruto pouting slightly, hands in the pocket of his hoodie. Toneri had taken a hold of one of her hands again.

“Thank you again for your kindness, Hinata-san,”

He let go of her hand and the good humor left his face. Both men glared daggers.

Uzumaki.” he sneered by way of goodbye.

Toneri.” Naruto clapped back with just as much contempt.

Naruto watched the male retreating with a fierce scowl. There was no getting past it, he absolutely could not stand that guy.

His jaw slackened as warm, soft lips pressed to one of his cheeks. Blue eyes shifted to the blushing girl next to him. She held her flowers clutched against her chest, moon colored eyes shinning.

“I’m sorry about that, Naruto-kun…I…couldn’t turn him down. The Hyuuga have a high standard of courtesy regarding business clients…We’re known for our honest dealings and overly solicitous approach…”

She was bumping her index fingers again.

“I did want to…have dinner with you…alone…”

Bad mood ripped away, Naruto grinned, wrapping his arms around her little waist and kissing her full on the mouth.

She was too damn cute.

“Don’t sweat it, Hinata! There’s always tomorrow, ‘ttebayo!”

Her smile was bright and her face blazing red as he slipped an arm over her shoulders, pulling her close as he guided her towards her apartment.

xxxxxx

 

September 12, 2008

It was a windless, cloudless day, the humidity of fading summer lingering in the air. The unit of three shinobi and one ninja hound were returning at a sedate pace to the Village Hidden in the Leaf. The young men spoke among themselves, the subject of their conversation one they engaged in often.

Relationships.

“You’re surprisingly insecure, Naruto-kun.” Sai commented.

“Ehhhh?”

“For once I agree with the robot,” Kiba concurred, “You’re insecure, Hinata isn’t like that.”

“Its not her I’m worried about!” Naruto growled, fist raised, “It’s that Toneri bastard. Ever since he found out me and Hinata are together he’s been chasing after her. Every time I turn around there’s his smug, ugly face smirking and trying to touch her hand.”

Kiba laughed at the comically exaggerated expression of closed eyed irritation on the face of his dim witted friend and rival. The group moved to the side of the dirt road they had been traveling on and took a seat on available stumps beneath a shady tree for a quick break. Naruto continued his tirade as the men took out canteens of water and left over rice balls.

“That slimy guy just can’t wait to try and get close to her when I’m not around.”

“Maybe,” Kiba conceded,, feeding Akamaru part of his rice ball, “But Hinata is less than interested in anyone other than your dumb ass.”

“Teme…” Naruto glared.

“Besides, she’s most likely on a mission too and no where near him.” Sai commented.

“Eh? Why do you think that?” Naruto asked dubiously.

“Because the village needs more ninja.” he responded, as though that explained everything.

“What does that have to do with anything?”

“You’re so dumb. Think about it Naruto, how do you produce more ninja?” Kiba asked.

Naruto folded one arm and brought his hand to his chin, brain scrambling to make a connection between the question Kiba posed, Sai’s comment and Hinata being on a mission.

Minutes ticked by before his mind alighted on an answer that he found acceptable.

“With training.” Naruto answered with confidence.

“You are absolutely hopeless.” Kiba sighed.

“Yes, but you can’t just train anyone to become a quality ninja,” Sai reasoned. “Most ninja come from a family of ninjas, not from the civilian population. More importantly, things like hidden jutsu and kekkei genkai are passed along by the Clans of a shinobi village and aide greatly in the production of quality nin. You can’t train a civilian into developing the Byakugan or the unique stamina and longevity of the Uzumaki Clan, so that only leaves one way to acquire those special traits in new shinobi.”

Naruto’s head tilted in further confusion.

“You’re not making any sense Sai. What does any of that have to do with Hinata being on a mission like me?”

“In order for those traits to be passed down, certain conditions have to be met. Ninja couples have to become a priority and their relationship nurtured and encouraged. A way to do that is to match mission schedules as closely as can be arranged to further facilitate opportunity for the production of quality shinobi.”

“Hmmm…?”

He still didn’t get it.

Sai sighed, sitting his rice ball in his lap and bringing up his hands.

He lifted one finger on his right hand.

“This is you.” he explained.

With his left hand, he formed a circle with his pointer finger and thumb.

“This is Hinata.” he proclaimed.

Naruto watched with a flaming face as his pale friend stuck his finger in and out of the hole over and over, leaving no mistake of what he was saying.

“And this is what happens between a couple when they have time to spend with each other,” Sai lectured, continuing the lewd motion, “Now do you get it?”

“Y-yeah I-I get it!!” Naruto stammered, “Now would you cut it out, ‘ttebayo!”

Kiba hooted with laughter, falling over on the log he’d been seated on. Even Akamaru wagged his tail in enjoyment.

The former Root ninja’s lips curled in amusement but he ended the crude gesture.

Naruto glowered at the two, contemplating whether it was worth his time to shut the howling Inuzuka up.

“Konoha is in a deficit in terms of strength, these are things that have to be taken into consideration. If ninja couples are able to spend more time together then apart, nature is more likely to take its course.” Sai told his flustered friend.

“What are you so embarrassed about? Its not like we don’t talk about this kinda stuff all the time,” Kiba pointed out as he straightened, wiping tears from his eyes.

“Yeah, but that was different,” Naruto insisted, “It wasn’t really anybody specific.”

Now, when they talked about stuff like this, he was not only able to put a face to who he wanted to do those things with, there was also a real chance for him to actually do it. Talk no longer felt like a hypothetical. It was a when rather than an if. He was closer to losing his virginity than he had ever been in his life and he would be lying if he said he wasn’t nervous as hell about it. From what little he knew about the actual act, there were a number of things that could turn it into a painful, embarrassing experience for both parties. Unlike him, Hinata’s first time most likely wasn’t going to be pleasant. Sai had told him horror stories about the different proverbial land mines that littered different copulation situations.

With a dire voice, he’d told tales of how girls cried during their first time if her partner was clumsy, or too rough. How women got angry if a guy came too fast. How the size and length of his little man would be measured and compared to others over drinks and snacks during a girl’s night out.

The first scenario alone was enough to leave his gut churning in anxiety because even he knew he was clumsy and rough. Finesse had never been his strong point, and he was more than a little worried he’d lose his head and hurt her in the process. That was the last thing he wanted to do!

“You’re surprisingly slow, Naruto. It’s been three months and you guys haven’t done it yet?” Kiba asked.

“What do you mean slow?” Naruto growled, “Its normal to get to know someone before you hop into bed!”

“Psh,” Kiba dismissed with a wave of his hand, “You two have known each other forever, and are best friends, how much more do you need to get to know each other? Sai and Ino were together three weeks before they got physical. Me and Tamaki are already having sex and we only got together…”

The feral ninja paused to do the math and failed.

“We got together the last week of June. Turned in my V card back in August. What’s your excuse?”

Naruto rolled his eyes at that. Kiba had gone on and on about it since it had happened, strutting around, more arrogant than usual and teasing his virgin friend at every opportunity.

“That’s different. Ino wasn’t a virgin and she’s not shy about things like that. Sai wasn’t a virgin either, so its easier for them to get to that point.” Naruto refuted.

“Tamaki was a virgin.” Kiba pointed out.

“Yeah, but Tamaki isn’t as shy as Hinata.”

“Or you, apparently.” Sai put in with his customary disjointed smile.

“Maybe you should get drunk again,” Kiba suggested, “That seemed to help you pick up the pace.”

Uzumaki gave the two needlers the fiercest frown he could muster. They were never gonna let him live down that night. While Sakura had battered him for his transgressions, the guys had laughed and slapped him on the back for finally getting his head out of the sand and never wasted an opportunity to remind him of it. The young blonde normally took it in stride.

They knew about his blunders and he knew about theirs. He was just as bad in teasing them when he got the chance.

Naruto crossed his arms over his chest.

“Don’t be stupid Kiba. Sakura-chan would bury me if I did that again and I don’t want to be drunk when we…”

“Fuck.” Sai supplied.

Reaching down, Naruto gripped his canteen full of water and tossed it hard at the dark haired male. The sound of a container hitting a thick skull was satisfying, as was the thud of the loose mouthed ninja hitting the dirt ground.

“So what do you guys think about the daimyo’s adviser?” Kiba asked, changing the subject.

Naruto sat back, calling to mind the creepy pale man that had arrived two weeks ago. Tall, reed thin and delicate looking, the adviser to the Fire Daimyo had strode into the village surrounded by a convey of strutting bodyguards and stoic assistants carrying various boxed items and pushing small carts of personal items. He had been sitting on the outside patio of a dango shop, studying with Hinata and Sakura when the throng paraded by.

Curious, he had watched them pass, wondering what business they had in the village.

Oddly subdued, Sakura had explained who the dour looking male was.

Myoku Yagutsu.

Chief consultant and apparently, right hand man of the daimyo, said to be the most trusted voice in the ear of their fickle Feudal Lord. Naruto couldn’t say he had ever heard of the guy and knew absolutely nothing about him, but looking at the flat, cold black eyes, he wasn’t sure that was a bad thing. Myoku didn’t look the least bit approachable. His silver hair was pulled back in a severe ponytail, ending mid-back and wore perfectly pressed, pristine white garb.

The daimyo didn’t normally show much interest or initiative to get personally involved with the goings on of the shinobi village and was clearly continuing that trend by sending a member of his counsel.

He followed up his teammate’s explanation with a litany of questions that were rebuffed.

Instead, the pink haired kunoichi had said simply that the state of the ninja world and the recent attacks were leading to some changes in the way things were going to be handled, at least for the next coming years. A knee jerk reaction to an unprecedented situation facing Fire Country not only militarily, but economically.

It all sounded kind of like the political strings he had read about in his textbooks.

“Hmm,” Sai hummed, righting himself on his stump, “There’s talk he and Shikamaru are bumping heads.

“That’s what I heard,” Kiba commented, “Shikamaru says the guy is a real pain in the ass, rearranging things the way he wants, doesn’t listen to anything other than his own voice. A real hard ass.”

“What’s his deal anyway?” Naruto asked, “Sakura-chan knew a little bit but didn’t really say why he was here in the first place.”

Sai stood, dusting his pants off and rearranging the large scroll strapped to his back.

“Remember back when you were in the hospital for your prosthetic and Shikamaru mentioned the unrest with the peace treaty?” the painter asked.

“Yeah. He went to Suna with Temari to talk about it right?” Naruto recalled, taking his cue from the team leader and standing.

The group moved back to the road as they spoke.

“Well the talks didn’t really help all that much,” Sai continued, “The Kage are still a bit uneasy, the civilian population are uneasy and that makes the daimyo uneasy. There’ve been a number of meeting between the daimyo and prominent leaders of surrounding towns and villages and a push for all of the daimyo to get more involved in the discussion and process of international security. The war was less than a year ago, and people are still traumatized. Its not an unexpected move for those in power to at least try and give the illusion of doing something.”

“And for our lazy daimyo, the easiest thing to do was to send that creepy, prissy, pain in the neck.” Kiba added.

Sai shrugged.

“Perception matters. Part of politics.”

“Hmmmm,” Naruto mumbled, digesting the information and listening to two talk as they walked.

A low hum arrested his attention.

Their voices faded away

His legs slowed to a stop. Blue eyes searched, ears straining. Nothing seemed out of place. Birds chirped, wildlife scurried and insects buzzed.

And yet…

He could hear something.

It sounded like…low screaming or howling just on the edge of his hearing. There was no direction, no indication of where it was coming from…just there…in his ear…sort of…

He listened harder, goosebumps beading along his skin.

It was screaming but…not…

What the hell?

Deep within, Kurama stirred. The young Jinchuuriki could feel the fox’s sleepy awareness, not quite fully awake, but disturbed as well. This was the first time in a while that the kyuubi had shown signs of life since his self imposed slumber.

“Naruto?” Sai called.

Closing his eyes, Naruto slipped into sage mode, feeling the energy around him in an attempt to locate the source of the sound. Blonde brows creased in concentration as he searched.

A minute ticked by.

Two.

Just as he moved to deactivate senjutsu, he felt it. Something he had never felt in his entire life.

A...cold spot.

At least it felt cold. Like a…void? An absence of presence disrupting the flow of intertwined energy surrounding the spot, as though the natural energy had parted and made room for…what? Like the noise, he couldn’t place a direction.

It was gone in an instant, as though it had never been.

His eyes opened, shifting over landscape.

“What happened, Naruto?” Sai asked.

Naruto stared at the peaceful scenery

“I don’t know.” he answered honestly.

xxxxxx

Hey guys, another chapter for you! I can honestly say I am really, really enjoying writing this story! I hope you all enjoy reading.

For those with family in Puerto Rico stay strong and if you haven’t already, I hope you hear from your loved ones soon!

Please review and I’ll see you all in the next chapter!

Laters

~Sessakag

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Ten

 

September 12, 2008

 

Definitive Sighting: Negative.

Have suspicion contact already made. Scope and scale of breach unknown. Naruto sensed void but unable to track.

Reported low pitched screaming?

Related?

-K

xxxxxx

“You’re being reckless, Toneri, taunting the Jinchuuriki.”

Cobalt eyes moved slowly to the dark figure creeping awkwardly through the surrounding shadows. Toneri leaned against a softly swaying tree, watching with morbid amusement, the unnatural gait of the man. It was the dead of night on the outskirts of the Village Hidden in the Leaves. The midnight woodland rendezvous was one he had had often since his arrival in Konoha, though the man before him had differed much since their last meeting two weeks ago.

Pale and emaciated, the body that had once been plump and tanned now looked unbearably thin and fragile. The perfectly pressed, beige garb he wore swamping the thin body encased. The loose fitted shirt hung from skeletal shoulders, belted pants sagging on gaunt, square hips.

“I could say the same for you, Toriyama. Allowing that carcass to deteriorate so quickly and so blatantly,” Toneri shook his head in feigned disappointment, “What might our eccentric leader say to such gross disregard for the rules of this little game.”

The man’s visage contorted in rage, the hollow planes of his sunken face standing out sharply under the light of the moon.

“He plays at the peril of us all!” he spat, “Cyilo draws near! Even a half blood like you should be able to hear him by now.”

Toneri shifted, gazing off into the twinkling night sky.

“I hear him.” the silver haired man agreed, ignoring the insult of his parentage.

“Then you know we have to move now. She is no longer a threat and no longer a viable harvest,” the bony man insisted, “The Hyuuga, we can use the Hyuuga instead. It won’t be perfect but its the only chance we have.”

“Toju-sama has not made clear what he intends for us to do.”

“He is no longer fit to head this Clan. He is delusional and frivolous. His madness grows with each passing day, rivaling that of Cyilo.”

Toneri closed his eyes, listening silently to the tirade he had heard more than once.

“He thinks himself immortal, a God,” the dark eyed man sneered, “there are no Gods, there is no immortality. WE are not immortal.”

The man occupying the stiff body jerkily wiped a hand over his mouth, the appendage trembling.

“We have been brought low, lower than low by these cattle. Hiding among them like fearful sheep. It is beyond disgraceful. I should have come back sooner,” he lamented, glaring down at his gnarled hands,“I should have taken my chance rather than succumb to this weakness.”

“You speak of treason,” Toneri softly admonished his angry Clan member, “The little seed you planted here years ago is the only reason the Clan Head has not killed you and yet you continue to toe the line of a second betrayal.”

“Shut your mouth, half breed!” he barked, ungainly form jolting forward, “You are nothing more than an ignorant child. You defend a Clan Head you have never even met! You know nothing. Cyilo is-”

Warm blood splattered, droplets of crimson marring the puppet crafter’s pale cheek and shirt. Icy blue eyes opened a sliver, moving dispassionately over the severed throat of the body at his feet, watching with bored interest as dark liquid spurt, sprinkling the shadowy blades of grass.

A pair of black boots moved into his line of vision, shinny leather halting in the center of the pooling blood, the owner unconcerned with the spray coating his polished footwear.

“Is he even necessary at this point?” Toneri questioned, focusing his attention on the new comer.

Myoku glanced down at the fallen male, pitch black eyes unconcerned.

“Everyone is needed,” he replied, “even the lowest of scum.”

Toneri pushed away from the tree, turning to face the man. The blood on his cheek slid over his jaw.

“You have new orders,” Myoku informed him.

The business man listened quietly as Myoku spoke, explaining his new task. Once finished, Toneri nodded, a bit disappointed to be leaving Konoha so soon.

“When he wakes,” Myoku continued, toeing the corpse next to him, “Inform him that those who do not follow will be used as fodder.”

Toneri inclined his head in acquiescence.

“A messenger hawk returned this morning.” Toneri noted.

“The Uchiha is quite skilled, even our esteemed leader grows leery of the efficiency with which he wields the Rinnegan.”

“Is he to be killed?”

“No,” the dark eyed male negated, “For now he serves our purposes. He is proficient at shutting the gateways and dispatching scouts. We need only to watch.”

“Hm…” Toneri hummed, “and the Uzumaki…

Myoku’s lips curled in amusement at the disdain in his voice.

“We need him. As this lowly creature has so eloquently put it,” Myoku said, gesturing to the body, “A Hyuuga is our best option.”

Toneri frowned, gaze intensifying.

“You are displeased?”

“He is unworthy.”

The pale skinned adviser shrugged delicately.

“Of course, but the alternative comes with too high a risk. There is no guarantee we can extract chakra from those beasts, and the Uchiha would as soon murder the Hyuuga than allow what is to come to pass.” Myoku reasoned, “We need Uzumaki.”

Again, Toneri bowed his head, though clearly unhappy.

“Is it wise to be far from the daimyo?” Toneri questioned instead, “he is easily swayed. He may complicated matters.”

“Even so, he is unlikely to offer much in the way of complications.”

Myoku turned, indicating their business had concluded.

“Go,” the willowy adviser intoned, “You have your orders.”

Toneri watched the male disappear, then turned his eyes to the sky, contemplating the bright milky sphere glowing in the distance.

xxxxxx

October 10, 2008

 

Naruto groaned, squeezing his closed eyes tighter, blonde brows creasing in confused ecstasy.

His body felt tight with tension, heat coiling low in his abdomen. The glide of something wet and hot along the underside of his painfully stiff cock curled his toes. He gripped the bed sheets beneath him as the moist appendage laved his sensitive tip, tracing circles around the aching mushroom head. Plush lips pressed a trail of kisses from crown to root, tongue flickering at random.

Warm breath skated over his sack.

He held his breath in anticipation.

A small, gentle, hand gripped the base of his shaft before he felt the press of pillow soft lips on the sensitive skin of his scrotum. Goosebumps broke out over his flesh, a tremor quacking through his body. A harsh breath left his lungs as a sharp shot of need slammed into him.

A tongue, saturated in warm saliva pressed against his pouch, then moved up in a long, leisurely lick that raised his hips in a silent plea for more.

“Oooohhhh….”

He was panting by the time the wet appendage reached his tip, a light sweat coating his body. The young blonde sank his teeth into his lower lip, head twisting when his throbbing flesh was enclosed in moist heat. The wet suction of an eager mouth and soft lips eliciting a hiss of pleasure from the half sleep youth.

Bliss burst through every nerve ending as the mouth engulfing his genital settled into a slow, torturous rhythm of suck and release. Lips and throat expanded for his length and girth on the down stroke, only to clench tight on the up stroke, the suction threatening to wrench free the orgasm he was desperately trying hold back.

His chest rose and fell.

“Oooh yeah.” he whispered into the silence of his bedroom.

The sound of a determined mouth working his throbbing cock to orgasm was loud and arousing.

Unable to stand the sounds, the sensation, he opened his eyes. Propping himself up, his intense blue orbs gazed down at the woman driving him insane. Hinata, naked and draped over his equally bare thighs watched him through lust glazed eyes, dark head bobbing up and down at his groin. Her lips, stretched wide around his girth, were painted. A fiery red that fairly glowed against her skin. Her hair pooled over her shoulders, down her pale back and the surrounding white sheets of the bed.

“H-Hinata?”

The dark haired vixen released his glistening organ with a loud pop, sliding her lips up and down his sex, bathing him in slow, slippery French kisses. Naruto watched through heavy lidded eyes, transfixed as she worshiped his hardened length. The sight erotic and lascivious. His breath caught when her tongue darted out, licking up the clear liquid that wept from the throbbing tip.

A soft, pale hand caressed him from root to tip. Her eyes closed in pleasure, another trail of gentle kisses pressed against the underside as she fondled him.

“Happy birthday, Naruto-kun…I love you…” she whispered, lips pressed to his heated length.

A shiver raced down his spine, lust settling in his gut.

Hand fisted at the base of his throbbing cock, she raised her body, giving him a full view of her large pale breasts. Blazing blue eyes locked on to the swinging mounds, his intense gaze on the erect, pink nipples.

His mouth watered.

He drank in her milky white skin, firm breasts and cinched in waist.

Reaching down, he rubbed his calloused thumb across her wet lower lip.

“You’re so beautiful, Hinata.” he whispered.

Her cheeks heated, the flush spreading over her torso.

She leaned forward, filling her mouth with cock, fingertips trailing down over his tightly drawn sack. Her touch was light and careful, massaging the two spheres between her fingers.

“Fuck…” he gasped, reaching down to grip the strands of her midnight hair.

His teeth clenched as his control snapped. Fist full of her silken tresses, the young blonde’s back arched, shoving his dick as deep as he could down her esophagus. His eyes rolled in the back of his skull at the sensation of his entire length engulfed in heat. His grip tightened, moaning low in the back of his throat he moved her head up and down his aching cock, setting the pace he needed to take him over the edge.

And she let him, seeming to relish in his rough direction, moaning in appreciation around the pulsing log shoving in out of her windpipe.

Saliva ran down his length as he fucked her mouth with fast, steady strokes, watching her tits bounce with each thrust. The steady squelching of a soul shattering blow job reached his ears, the sound tightening the build up in his balls. She watched him with glazed eyes and he returned the gaze with fierce hunger. Pupiless orbs locked on his, her hand left his sensitive testicles and disappeared between her own thighs.

Watching the delicate muscles of her arm flex, to feel the vibrations of her throaty moans buzz up and down his heated flesh left no doubt as what she was doing.

His blood reached a fevered pitch.

She was touching herself.

Playing with herself while she sucked him off.

Rational thought fled. A frenzy of lust hammered his body. Rough hands fisted her hair, hips pumping in an uncontrolled rhythm of unadulterated need, his hard body desperate, straining for climax.

He moaned long and loud, head thrown back in ecstasy as he pounded her throat with everything he had, determined to fill her mouth with every drop of cum his overtaxed balls had to offer. His body shivered uncontrollably, muscles standing out below his skin, convinced she was sucking the very soul from his body.

His mind went blank, blood pounded in his ears, drowning out his shout of toe curling release.  

Naruto came hard into the wet, sucking mouth…

The sensation…

So good…

Naruto awoke with a start, heart hammering, lungs heaving and bathed in sweat. He lay in bed, sheets tangled around his legs. Breathing hard through his nostrils, he swallowed against the dryness of his mouth. His body felt tight and achy, his boxers uncomfortable and decidedly damp.

With a grimace, he raised his shoulders from the bed then lifted the stretchy waistband of his boxers.

Sure enough, his genitals were coated with semen.

The young genin flopped back on the bed, slapping a hand against his heated forehead.

Another wet dream.

Second time this week.

His cheeks burned.

It was getting worse, the dreams more vivid.

Hinata.

That gentle smile, those wide soft eyes, that amazing body. He was almost at his wits end. He was ready, more than ready to make love to his sweet girlfriend. Every interaction, every kiss they shared, every touch left him panting after her like a sex crazed animal. It was getting harder and harder to pull away each time. Harder to keep his hands to himself and away from the hem of her skirt, harder to hide the hard-on that tented his pants when they were together.

Using his hand wasn’t enough anymore.

The eighteen year old Jinchuuriki was desperate to become one with her, to deepen their bond in the ultimate expression of love and intimacy. To be with her in a way he had never been with anyone else. He loved her, so damn much, maybe even too much. Sakura thought he was obsessed with her and maybe he was.

Hinata had gotten under his skin in a way no one else had. Those gentle hands of hers were wrapped around his heart, his very soul and he couldn’t find it in himself to care what anybody thought about it.

Maybe he was obsessed.

Maybe he was clingy.

Or a combination of both.

It didn’t really matter anymore. All he knew was that he was happier than he had ever been in his entire life, blue balls aside. And damn lucky her love for him was deep as his love for her. He shuddered to think what he would have missed out on had she given up on him before he realized what she offered.

Naruto released a stabling breath before rising to clean himself up.

Several hours later, he was up, dressed and fed. His jonin exam was in January and he was taking every opportunity to study as much as he could. Just as the genin settled in to hit the books again, there was a knock at the door.

Naruto shuffled over to the door.

Blue eyes lit up at the sight of the smiling Hyuuga.

“Happy birthday Naruto-kun!” she greeted enthusiastically.

He grinned, leaning down to press his lips to hers.

“Thanks, dattebayo,” he looked down at her curiously, “I’m glad to see you, but I thought you had Clan stuff until late afternoon?”

“We were dismissed early,” she explained, “Father finally heard back from Toneri-san and was able to finish up the agreement. He was the last open ended business deal so things will slow down a bit. Meetings of Clan maintenance don’t last as long as meetings of business ventures.”

Toneri’s sudden absence still had the power to bring a smile to his face. The nosy bastard had up and left without word several weeks ago and Naruto was still tempted to fist pump in elation whenever his hated name was mentioned.

“So are you busy right now, Naruto-kun?” her cheeks heated, “I was hoping you would come over to my place for your birthday gift.”

Naruto gulped, the dream from earlier surfacing.

‘Don’t…don’t be stupid, ‘ttebayo.’ he admonished himself.

There was no way she was asking him over to do that to him…

Right?

His eyes moved over the coral, fitted v-necked, long sleeved shirt and frilly blue skirt. The assemble complimented her lush frame, but no more than usual. Nothing screamed seduction to him, but then again, Hinata was more subtle than most girls.

His heart hammered against his ribs.

If she had a gift for him, why leave it at her house?

Why not bring it with her?

Why invite him over to get it?

“Naruto-kun? Are you busy?”

“Uh no uh, I’m not busy at all! But uh…why didn’t you bring it with you?”

Pale fingers bumped against each other, lilac eyes turned away.

“W-well, its not something I can…carry and bring to you…You have to come to my house for it…”

Eyes wide, Naruto grabbed her hand.

“Let’s go to your place, dattebayo!” he declared, his eyes blazing with seriousness and enthusiasm.

The dark haired Hyuuga looked a bit taken aback at the expression, wondering what had gotten him so fired up.

“Ah…yeah, let’s go Naruto-kun.” she replied, a confused smile on her face.

Side by side, the ninja couple made their way to the streets of Konoha. Naruto’s brain worked over time as they walked.

That night, back in June, she had said it was okay…

To touch her the way he had…

Blue eyes cut to the not so subtle bounce of her breasts as she walked. His mouth watered, hands twitching in memory of their unbearable softness against his palms.

It was still fresh in his mind, the sensation of having her body pressed against his.

His entire face reddened and his hands twitched inside his pocket as he relived the memory of his shy best friend cupping his hands around her breasts, telling him it was okay for him to touch her, that she wanted him to touch her.

He ducked his head as he walked, hoping his face didn’t broadcast the nature of his thoughts.

Thinking about it now, he was unable to stop himself from wondering…

Was it still okay?

For him to…touch her like that?

“There he is!!”

The shout nearly gave the perverted genin a heart attack.

“Congratulations!”

“Happy birthday Naruto-sempai!!!”

“Uzumaki-san!! Thank you for your service!”

“Naruto-sama, please accept my gift!”

“Get out of my way, I saw him first! Naruto-sempai~!”

The couple came to an abrupt halt, watching the crowd rushing towards them. Girls. Shinobi. Citizen. All charging forward with gifts, food and personal items to be autographed. The blonde celebrity turned, only to discover an even bigger horde closing in.

“Oh shit!” Naruto exclaimed, taking a step back.

Not only was today his birthday, it was also the anniversary of the end of the war. And he was the hero of said war. He appreciated the gestures, he really did but…

His cheeks flushed.

He wanted the birthday gift Hinata had planned for him at her house. Thinking quick, his hands formed a familiar seal.

“Tajuu Kage Bunshin no Jutsu.”

Hidden among the swarm of genin, Naruto scooped his girlfriend into his arms and ducked into the nearest side alley. That was more than enough Naruto to keep the whole village busy. He looked back at the drove of fans and admirers latching onto his clones, girls tugging their arms like they were playing a game of tug of war, shinobi shoving pen and paper into their faces, kids climbing over their shoulders, and legs.

“That was close, dattebayo.”

A finger poked his jaw.

He looked down at the petite bundle in his arms. She was giggling, lilac eyes alive with mirth.

“You’re really popular, Naruto-sempai.”

He grinned at her teasing.

They arrived at her apartment a short time later. His heart was pounding, palms sweaty, cheeks redder than a tomato.

Was it possible that today was the day?

Was it finally going to happen between them?

Intimacy?

His Adam’s apple bobbed.

Hinata opened the door, pulling him inside.

Despite the gleaming sun shinning outside, inside, her apartment was dark, windows covered by thick curtains.

“Hinata, why’s it so-”

Bright light flooded as the curtains were pulled back and the lights flipped on.

“Surprise! Happy Birthday Naruto!”

Naruto stood wide eyed as his friends appeared, popping up from behind the couch, tumbling from a hall closet and stumbling out of the kitchen. He found himself sprayed with confetti and pelted with some other colorful celebratory items that looked like beans. Most of the Konoha 11 shuffled in bearing gifts, food, balloons and drinks.

Hinata had slipped away during the surprise and returned with a cake.

He met her happy gaze.

“They all wanted to celebrate your birthday with you,” she told him, smiling bright, “Shikamaru-san and Temari-san couldn’t make it but sent their best wishes.”

He blinked, still stunned and at a loss for words.

His friends had gathered…to throw him a birthday party.

The blonde orphan was overwhelmed.

With painful ease, he could remember every cold, lonely birthday he had passed by himself in his empty one bedroom apartment. The stares and hated glares he received when he dared to walk the streets of Konoha, dared to show his face on October 10th. He remembered, as a child, stopping in front of the bakery, gazing at the pretty cakes on display, wondering why no one baked one for him on his birthday, why no one brought him one with candles and laughter and love when he grew older each year.

And now.

On his eighteenth birthday, he had friends, he had a girlfriend, he had birthday party, he had…

A cake with burning candles…

With laughter…

And love…

To his embarrassment, he felt his eyes water.

“You’re seriously gonna cry in front of everybody?” Kiba teased, slugging his arm around the emotional nin.

Naruto wiped his eyes, then glared at the grinning Inuzuka, jabbing him with an elbow.

“I’m not crying, you threw one of those beans in my eye, ‘ttebayo!”

The group laughed at the flimsy excuse.

“Alright! Let’s sing with the fiery passion of eternal youth!” Lee pipped up.

Naruto’s jaw tightened as he held back tears, listening while his friends launched into a birthday song, their voices and expression full of enthusiasm, happiness and good cheer.

When it was over, Hinata moved closer with his cake.

He was certain she had baked it herself. It was covered in white icing and topped with fresh strawberries. Written in elegant orange frosting were the words:

Happy Birthday

Naruto

He blew out the eighteen sticks of fire and grinned, a tear, unbidden, rolling down his cheek. This time, no one made light of the bashful blonde’s display of emotion.

Later, after everyone had eaten, Ino insisted now was a good time for gifts to be opened.

He received a set of really durable kunai set from Tenten.

“The best of the best.” she had gushed, launching into a long and complicated explanation of the metal used, the ease of use and some other things he was sure he wouldn’t remember.

Lee had bought him a pair of leg weights, insisting that the two would have to have a handstand race wearing the weights from one end of the village to the other and that the loser would be forced to do three hundred laps around the entire village using only their thumbs, a boast Tenten had rolled her eyes at, sighing in exasperation at her teammate.

Ino had purchased him two shirts, one blue, one green and two pairs of slacks, one light gray, the other tan. The Yamanaka had insisted he wear them as soon as possible and that Hinata continue the new wardrobe trend to ensure no more orange crossed the threshold of his apartment.

Sai had gifted him with an art set. Naruto had stared at paints, pencils and other art supplies he hadn’t touched since he was a kid.

“Ahhh, you know I don’t know how to draw, ‘ttebayo.”

Of course, the suspected robot brought up one of his books to justify the gift.

Apparently, the latest text had informed him that sharing hobbies was a way to foster a deeper friendship and so Naruto had ended up with his own set of art tools he didn’t know how to use.

Sakura had tried her hand again at food pills, confident that the black balls were packed with enough goodness he’d be able to study and train better than ever. She seemed equally confident the spongy spheres didn’t taste like death warmed over for once. Naruto and Sai turned green when she probed them to take a bite, insisting they were too full of cake to eat anything else.

Kiba had bought him a copy of the latest fighter game in a series the two loved to compete in, stating Naruto was lucky he had a mission tomorrow otherwise he’d stay up all night and “beat the hell” out of him. Naruto had simply yawned at the boast, stating the “skinny mutt” couldn’t even beat Hinata let alone him. A fact that left the dog lover growling.

Lastly, Hinata had presented him with a red scarf much like the one he’d left behind the day they first met. The gesture, much like the party left him happy and emotional.

By the time the party ended, he was happy, tipsy and sleepy.

Naruto stood in the doorway of Hinata’s apartment, Kiba, and Sai a few feet away as he said goodnight to his girlfriend.

“Busy tomorrow?” the birthday boy asked.

Hinata nodded.

“Mission to the Land of Waves.”

“Hmm, guess Kakashi-sensei will be sending me out on a mission soon too.”

Hinata smiled, fidgeting with her fingers.

“Did you enjoy your party, Naruto-kun?”

He grinned.

“It was awesome.”

“I’m glad you had a good time.”

“Will you hurry it up!” Kiba called out.

Naruto glared over his shoulder, then turned back to the giggling girl in front of him.

“That guy…”

“Goodnight, Naruto-kun.”

Naruto pouted, looking down at the gifts in his arms. He wanted to kiss her goodnight but his hands were full. Soft hands gripped his cheeks, pulling him down for a brief gentle meeting of lips. Her face was fiery red when they separated, her shy gaze downcast.

“Goodnight.” he murmured.

xxxxxx

 

October 13, 2008

Screaming: Unconfirmed.

Rift: 3

Targets Eliminated: 3/3

Can confirm infiltration.

Compromised

Suna: Unknown

Kumo: Confirmed

Kirigakure: Unknown

Iwagakure: Unknown

Konoha: Confirmed

Trust no one.

-S

xxxxxx

Naruto wandered the streets of the Leaf, intent on killing time before he was scheduled to meet up with Sakura and Sai for a mission.

Ever since his party, the young Uzumaki had been wondering what to do about Hinata’s upcoming birthday. Last year, he had thrown her a party but hadn’t gotten her a gift. This year, they had agree to spend her special day together alone and he was wracking his brain for ideas on where to spend her birthday, and not only that.

He didn’t know what to get her.

The shy Hyuuga would accept anything he gave her and be over the moon, he knew that, but he wanted to get her something special.

Something that was thoughtful and meaningful.

After several minutes of meandering, a couple leaving a jewelry shop caught his attention. He watched the woman giggle and hug the brown haired man next to her, beaming up at him. The two broke apart and the woman held her hand out, admiring the twinkling ring on her finger.

Girls liked jewelry, right?

Naruto stopped in front of the shop as the couple moved away.

After a bit of hesitation, he entered.

The store was empty except for a middle aged, well dressed man behind the check out counter. Glass cases of shinny rings, bracelets and necklaces were lined up in a U shape around the walls of the store.

“Welcome Uzumaki-san!” he called out, “What brings you here?”

Naruto was certain he had never met the man before, but returned the greeting. This happened a lot around town, even in villages he had never been before. He was famous all over, his trade mark blonde hair, orange garb and whisker marks giving him away as the Uzumaki every time.

“Ah, well, I’m looking to get something for my girlfriend.” he admitted, ruffling the back of his hair bashfully.

“Ohhh, for Ms. Hyuuga?”

Hinata had become something of a well known name in association with him, the Hyuuga princess that had the hero of the Hidden Leaf wrapped around her finger. Naruto had only grinned when he caught wind of the accurate depiction of his relationship with Hinata.

“I’d be happy to help you find what you’re looking for!” the man enthused as Naruto moved further into the store, eyes moving over the display cases, “Perhaps something to match that piece around your neck?”

Naruto lifted the necklace hanging around his neck.

“Ms. Hyuuga gave it you did she not?”

Naruto looked up, surprised.

“How’d you know that?”

The man nodded sagely.

“It’s been finely ground to an almost clear but I know my gems. Rose quartz, correct?”

“Yeah, that’s what Hinata said when I asked.”

“Rose quartz is the symbol of unconditional love, said to promote emotional healing and feelings of tenderness and compassion. The two at the top, lithium quartz is said to contain energies of tranquility and calmness. Those two stones were selected together with that in mind. I’m sure of it,” he continued, “Women never do anything without deep thought and reasoning behind it.”

He was sure of it too.

Naruto gazed down at the crystals with new eyes. His heart clenched. He was silent for long moments, blue orbs swimming with emotion. His hand tightened around the gleaming gem.

“Forgive me if I seem presumptuous but I’ve seen that look on your face a thousand times before, men contemplating the same things you probably are right now,” the store owner commented, “With that in mind, perhaps you’d like to take a look at our engagement rings, Uzumaki-san?”

Naruto looked up, eyes wandering to the rows of gleaming rings behind the glass the salesman gestured to, cheeks flushed.

xxxxxx

November 19, 2008

Village massacres and rift connected?

-K

xxxxxx

Takahiro covered his ears, his eyes tightly clenched.

In the coldness of the sparkling white lab, he sat huddled beneath his desk, jaw aching as he ground his teeth. Anxiety brought sweat to his white brow.

They were screaming again.

Howling.

All night.

All day.

They didn’t sleep.

Just screamed.

And ate.

Desperate to feed the tree that refused to be sated.

His head throbbed, ears ringing as the horrendous, inhuman roars echoed throughout the halls, bouncing off the walls, reverberating through the floor.

Their wails of hunger was shattering, their cries for sustenance painful.

He could hear the ripping, tearing of flesh, their desperate grunts as they fed on each other again.

Growling and screaming as they ate and were eaten.

He knew what would come hours later.

The disgusting sound of the inedible blood and flesh being regurgitated, vomited onto the floor. The scent of bile and rot overwhelming, grotesque and repugnant. And then they would start again.

The screaming.

The wailing.

Beating their bodies against the plexiglass, hammering their fists against the stone walls, clawing each other in desperation…in a frenzy of hunger and violence…

His body jerked when the laboratory door opened and shut with enough force to be heard over the noise. Footsteps echoed, beating almost in tandem with the pounding of his head.

He pressed further under the desk, body quaking when the steps drew closer.

It was him.

Takahiro’s breathing grew labored, his head swimming as he fought to fill his lungs.

Dark eyes stretched wide, the researcher followed the moving legs that came into view. The strolling gait of the man was leisurely and ominous. His lips trembled, sweat pouring down his back and temples. A shaking hand gripped his shirt above his pounding heart, fearing the the panicked organ would give out.

A desk crashed against the wall, the screech of bending metal reminiscent of the screaming behind the glass.

He was shaking uncontrollably as another desk went flying.

By the time the dark cloth covered legs stood at his desk, Taka was hyperventilating.

Clawed fingers, coated in blood appeared, gripping the edge of the metal desk.

Harsh pants of terror left his mouth, his stomach muscles clenching, wrenching in vicious nausea.

His mind blanked, emptying of everything but one thought.

‘I’m going to die.’

Kohei’s face appeared, his mouth and cheeks smeared with blood, his eyes contorting, the red iris shifting, reforming. He was grinning, the madness in the curl of his lips terrifying.

xxxxxx

 

December 27, 2008

Cannot confirm or rule out.

-S

xxxxxx

 

Naruto wrapped the bright red scarf around his neck, then turned to pick up the small box on his kitchen table.

He gulped.

‘She’s going to love it, ‘ttebayo. Quit worrying!’

Tightening his grip on the box, he placed it inside his pocket.

He hoped he wasn’t making a mistake. He thought he knew how she would respond to his gift but couldn’t help the small twist of worry that settled in his gut. He wasn’t exactly the smartest guy in the village, and this could turn out to be something really stupid.

At the time he had decided to do it, he’d been absolutely sure that it was the right thing to do.

Now.

Now that it was time to put up or shut up, he was waffling. Scared he was going to make an ass of himself in front of the woman he loved.

He ran a slightly trembling hand through his locks.

“I said I would do it. Promised myself I would…” he coached himself, “and I never go back on my word.”

He glanced at the kitchen clock.

It was time to go.

He inhaled, held it, then exhaled.

He could do this.

Shoulders back, he left his apartment and headed to Hinata’s.

xxxxxx

Moving it along here XD You’ll understand what’s going on in some of these parts as the story goes along, so be patient and enjoy the ride until then. Next chapter or two is gonna be a treat  ^_~  after that though…

Let’s just say I warned y’all so don’t be tryin to thrown hands with me when shit starts poppin off, lol.

I have a new story posted on Adultfanfiction and ArchiveofOurOwn called “Secrets of the Hidden Leaf”. Warning: Its predominantly smut and is a NaruHinaSasu pairing, though majority is mostly NaruHina at this point. It’s there for your viewing pleasure if you wish to read it. If you do read it, don’t forget to leave a review! XD

Chapter 11 is a quarter constructed and hopefully will be finished in a few days. Until then ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Laters

~Sessakag

Chapter Text

Chapter Eleven

 

December 27, 2008

 

Naruto stood outside the familiar wooden door, his heart pounding as hard as it had the night he had confessed his love to the beautiful Hyuuga. He swallowed hard and lifted his fist to the panel, knocking loudly.

“Just a minute!” he heard her call out from the other side.

He smoothed his hands over the shirt and trousers Ino had bought on his birthday and ran his hand over his hair.

‘Alright, calm down. First dinner, then ice skating, back to my house for hot chocolate and then I’ll give her the gift and she’ll love it.’

He hoped.

The door swung open and the object of his affection stood in the doorway, more beautiful than ever.

“Naruto-kun.” she greeted with a luminous smile, slipping a gray beanie atop her head.

Hinata was dressed in an orange, v-neck wool knitted long sleeve shirt and form fitting jeans. Furry, gray mid shin boots encased her feet, matching the furred coated hanging over her forearm. Her shinny blue-black hair was gathered in a single braid down her spine. She looked happy and excited, her pale cheeks flushed with pleasure.

The young genin leaned down and placed his lips over hers.

“Happy birthday. Ready to go?”

She nodded, slipping her arms through her coat.

He slid his arm over her slender shoulders as they left her apartment building.

“Hmmm, I finally wear something besides orange and then you wear orange instead. Ino would probably have a fit,” he chuckled, “since she got a load of my closet she’s been anti-orange anything. Sai says she won’t even eat oranges now.”

Hinata giggled.

“I thought you might wear those clothes today, so I figured I’d wear orange instead,” she cuddled into his side, arms wrapped around his waist, “It’d feel weird to be out with you and nothing’s bright orange. One of us has to uphold the status quo.”

He grinned at that.

“I guess you’re right, one us has gotta be thinking about stuff like that.”

She giggled.

The sun was just beginning to set on the snowy wonderland the Hidden Leaf had become. Stark white piles of snow lined the ground and rooftops, snowmen, some crafted with spiky hair and whisker marks dotted the village in various locations from storefronts to parks. Several restaurants had placed signs and chalkboard stands outside their doors, advertising various hot drinks and soups in an effort to entice the chilled customers that wandered by, huddled inside their coats. Dazzling winter lights and decorations adorned row after row of homes, apartments and public establishments, enhancing the festive atmosphere of the village.

“So…you want to tell me what’s bothering you, Naruto-kun?” she asked after a pause of silence.

“Can’t get anything by you anymore, huh?” he sighed.

Her arms tightened.

“I love you,” she said simply, “I don’t like to see you worried. You can tell me anything.”

“Love you too,” he replied, pulling her closer, “It’s nothing really. I’m just…being dumb as usual. I’ve never…went shopping for a birthday gift for a girlfriend before and Ino wasn’t there to help me at the time so I don’t know if I…did something I shouldn’t have.”

The muscles of stomach clenched when she poked his side, lips pursed.

“You’re not dumb.” she refuted.

He smiled at her slight show of irritation. His normally sweet tempered girlfriend had taken to vocally rejecting the notion that he was lacking in intelligence, becoming more insistent and emphatic each time she defended his IQ. Not only did she frown upon him for putting himself down, she had even, albeit gently, taken to task his friends when they maligned his decision making and thought processes.

The bashful Uzumaki thought it was one of the cutest things she did and it made him feel like he wasn’t the dumbest ninja to hold a kunai.

“And you don’t need any help. I want to be with you, not what anyone else thinks you should be,” she told him, “I don’t want to change who you are, I only want to love who you are.”

She moved from his side as they approached the dining establishment he had made reservations at, her hand wrapped around his, tugging the quietly emotional genin along.

Smiling as she destroyed him with her words.

“I love your bright orange clothes, I love your unique way of thinking and I’ll love any present you chose because I’ll know it came from your heart. You never have to worry about being yourself with me. So don’t worry about anything today. Let’s just have fun.”

Cerulean orbs gentled, bandage covered fingers curling tightly around hers as she led him into the warm interior of the building.

The place Naruto had chosen was probably one of the most expensive, upscale places he had ever ventured into. The popular dinning establishment boasted fine china, solicitous waiters and waitresses, and intimate couple booths, one of which the ninja pair was shown to.

The plush semicircle was tucked away in a dimly lit cubby, separated from the general public.

Dinner was a quiet affair full of light banter, tender words and laughter. The happy twosome took turns feeding each other bits of their meal, then shared a strawberry, fudge topped Sunday.  

Now relaxed, the young blonde seemed back to his normal excitable, confident self, teasing and joking around as they moved to the frozen lake located in the heart of Konoha Central Park. A small shack housing ice skates of various sizes had been constructed beside the lake for the duration of the winter season. While Hinata removed her boots, Naruto approached the elderly attendant of the temporary structure and secured skates for them both.

Minutes later, the nervous blonde wobbled onto the frozen water, gripping his giggling girlfriend’s hand.

“Relax Naruto-kun,” she laughed, “Find your balance.”

Naruto held onto her hand for dear life, feeling like he was seconds away from face planting into the hard surface.

‘Don’t fall! Don’t embarrass yourself!’ he barked at himself internally.

Easier said than done.

His legs shook as Hinata led him further onto the ice. Naruto moved slowly, carefully with her assistance, thanking the universe that only a few people were present to watch him clown on skates. It had looked so fun, so easy when he’d passed by a week ago, now he wished he hadn’t seen the twirling, whirling, laughing people. It would have saved him some embarrassment.

“See, you’re doing good Naruto-kun.” Hinata complimented once they began to move around the rink.

The clumsy novice ice skater wouldn’t call the snails pace they were currently exhibiting “good”.

“Ah…y-yeah…” he said with a uncomfortable smile.

Gradually, their speed increased. Naruto was just beginning to relax and enjoy the glide when Hinata spoke up.

“Here comes the first turn!” she exclaimed with excitement, “Get ready.”

Bright blue eyes widened at the steep left curve up ahead. The only thing he could see was the sharp turn buffered by a thick snowy embankment.

“W-W-What do I do, ‘ttebayo?!”

He didn’t know how to turn! He barely knew how to go straight!

“N-Naruto-kun,” she giggled, trying to speak through her mirth, “Just t-turn you feet.”

“W-W-Wha-How do I do that without falling?! H-H-Hinata!”

His arms windmilled in an attempt to stay upright. Feeling his center of gravity shift, the panicked skater gripped the closest thing to mitigate his fall. His chortling significant other. The two hit the edge of the ice rink and went careening into the pile of snow.

“That hurt, ‘ttebayo…” the genin mumbled, sitting up and dusting snow from his hair, “Ah! Hinata! Are you okay?!”

Turning, he searched for the lost Hyuuga, digging frantically into the snow bank. He found her towards the bottom of the frozen water vapor. Pulling her out, he dusted the snow from her face and clothes.

“Sorry about that, I-”

A snort left her lips.

Naruto watched, slightly stunned as she dissolved into pearls of laughter.

Of course she giggled and even laughed outright sometimes, but never to this extent. This was no modest Hyuuga expression of amusement, this was out right from the gut hilarity, something he would do. Her body was bent double as she howled with laughter.

The sound was amazing.

Melodic, unfiltered and uninhibited.

He sat there, for long moments, staring at her shaking form, mouth slightly agape, hair full of snow.

She looked up panting, gasping for air, tears of mirth at the rim of her luminous eyes.

Taking one look at his shocked, snow crusted face and hair, she burst into another round of laughter, collapsing into his arms as she again, howled her amusement. Slowly his lips curled, and he too joined in.

His arm curled around her body, forehead pressed to hers as they shared merriment.

With the sun replaced by the moon and stars twinkling in the inky blackness of the night sky, the two walked hand and hand back to his apartment for hot cocoa. They reached his apartment, removed their coats and turned on the heater.

“This has been the best birthday I’ve ever had.” Hinata murmured softly.

The pale beauty was curled against his side on the couch, a mug of heated chocolate topped with melting marsh mellows, warming her cold hands. She sipped delicately while Naruto slurped his with gusto, setting the empty cup down with a satisfied sigh moments later.

“I’m glad you had a good time, dattebayo.”

“It was the most fun I’ve ever had,” she admitted, “I don’t think I’ve ever laughed like that before.”

Naruto grinned.

“First time I’ve ever heard you laugh that hard.”

She giggled.

“So uh…I still need to give you…your gift.”

He was nervous again, his earlier anxiety returning in a flash. The box in his pocket was burning a hole through his trousers. He ran a hand over his hair, his lips forming a pout.

“What’s with that face, Naruto-kun?”

“You’re really sneaky.”

“P-p-pardon me?” she squeaked, blinking in confused surprise, setting her cup down.

He pursed his lips, looking down at her.

“You are,” he insisted, “You’ve been in love with me for years and everybody knew it but me. You comforted me through Ero-Sennin’s death because you knew I wasn’t dealing with it the way I was pretending I was. You protected me from Pain and I thought you did it for one reason when you were doing it for another.”

Her cheeks warmed as he spoke.

“You had that necklace made for me and even then you were telling me without tell me that you were in love with me.”

“Naruto-kun, what-”

“You’re sneaky,” he declared again, pouting at her, “The guy at the jewelry store told me what rose quartz means.”

Confusion cleared from her eyes.

Her index fingers bumped, her face radiating heat.

“I’m sorry, Naruto-kun,” she smiled sheepishly, “I guess I was kind of sneaky.”

“Well I wanted to be sneaky too.” said the petulant genin, fishing into his pocket.

He held the box out with nervous hands, bright blue depths sharp and determined. He looked more like he was meeting the executioner than presenting a gift to his girlfriend. Hinata blinked, still not sure what was going on with her eccentric boyfriend, but reached out to accept the poorly wrapped box.

She peeled back the pink paper and lifted the lid.

Brilliant blue glittered under the florescent light of the living room. The sapphire gem, attached to a dark band, was carved in the shape of half a heart, inside the sparkling crystal was part of the Hyuuga crest, looking awfully like the recovered green shards of the necklace Naruto had shattered during his fight with Pain.

She looked over at her boyfriend, ready to ask what was going on, only to see him holding up the necklace she had given him. He placed it back around his neck, his cheeks heating.

The rose quartz had been reshaped into the other half of the heart inside the box, the Uzumaki crest halved like her own.

“I was worried you’d be upset that I broke the gem to make your gift but I wanted you to have a piece of my heart too,” he explained, “I want you to hold it close to you when I’m not around like I do when you’re not there.”

Her eyes widened as he spoke, her lips parting in surprise.

“It’s probably a stupid idea,” he mumbled, scratching a whisker marked cheek, “but at the time I…I don’t know much about gems and stuff but I asked the guy and he said that sapphire was often seen as-”

“A pledge of love…” she finished softly.

He nodded.

Taking the necklace from the box, he unsnapped the clasp and placed it around her neck.

“I wanted a way to say that I love you too.” he admitted with a grin.

His grin dimmed as her lips trembled and her eyes watered.

“Hinata?”

The clueless boyfriend began to panic when big fat tears rolled down her face.

“Shit, I didn’t mean to make you cry!” he bemoaned, “I knew it was a stupid idea. I’m sorry I broke the ge-”

Her lips against his was a shock to the young blonde. Even more shocking was her tongue in his mouth, her body pressed against his.

A beat passed before he returned the kiss, hands settling at her hips. He went down beneath her weight, settling back against the couch pillows and armrest. She explored his mouth with gentle sweeps of her tongue, her tears dampening his cheeks. He was panting softly when she pulled back, his cheeks a dull crimson.

Tender fingers caressed his cheeks, tracing the three slightly indented marks. Her fingertips moved over his hard jaw, and down to his wet lips. There was a muted intensity in her lilac eyes he had never seen before.

“Hinata?”

“I love you, Naruto-kun,” she whispered, “with all my heart and soul, I love you.”

She dove for his lips again, her silent, gentle intensity stunning his overworked brain. He knew she was incredibly happy with him, but it felt like more than that was going on.

He’d barely gotten a taste before she pulled away again.

He felt a bit dazed at her behavior, and was slow to register her standing. Her hand wrapped around his, she tugged him up to his feet. With wide eyes, he followed as she pulled him down the hall to his bedroom.

Naruto swallowed, his heart pounding hard against his rib cage. His palms felt sweaty, his head floaty as he watched the dark haired beauty seated across from him.

Hinata rested on her knees in the middle of his bed, having placed him on the right.

His blue eyes watched with stunned arousal as she reached for the hem of her shirt and peeled it away. Creamy, pale mounds cradled in a silky pink bra greeted his eager gaze.

He swallowed again, his mouth watering.

His hands moved, reaching hesitantly towards the large globes. Her hands moved again, meeting in the center of the silken cloth covering her nipples. He looked up at her, confused. Her eyes was fixated on the garment.

He realized a second later he’d misinterpreted her movements as her hands jerked, unhooking a front clasp holding the bra together.

His heart slammed against his chest as she pulled the bra apart, revealing distended pink nipples. She moved again, reaching for his hands that still hung in mid air. Like that night, so long ago, she took his hands and pressed them to her breasts, cupping his hands around their softness, squeezing his hands in encouragement.

Her arms slinking around his neck, she pressed into his grip, her lips a whisper apart from his.

“Touch me…Naruto-kun…”

Lust slammed into him, blood rushing painfully to his cock, leaving him dizzy and wanting. He smashed their lips together, his hands tightened, squeezing her breasts, his thumbs rubbing over the hard peaks. A shiver skated up his spine when she gasped against his mouth.

His hands moved over her rib cage, smoothed over her slim waist and back up to her bouncy titties.

Soft.

Her body was so soft.

Eager hands explored the pliant flesh, gently pinching the hardened buds. Her heated moan of pleasure stoking his ardor.

Desperate to feel more, he molded his mouth harder to hers, pressing her back until she rested against his pillows. He settled between her thighs, thrusting his throbbing length against her core. The amorous blonde tongued her mouth, panting harshly against her open mouth.

He was more turned on than he could ever remembering being in his entire life.

Calloused hands ran over her skin, squeezing, exploring, his touch impatient and a little rough.

“Naruto-kun.” she sighed as he pressed a wet kiss to her mouth.

Desire tightened his gut and he ran his hands over her obliques, moving down to her jean encased hips.

Almost frantic, his hands reached for the clasp of her pants, pulling, tugging to divest her of the clinging material. He ran his lips down the delicate curve of her neck, over her breasts and stomach as he pushed her jeans down, taking her panties with them. The slide of his rough hands over her cushiony flesh was delicious.

Soft.

Everywhere he touched was soft.

Harsh gusts of air sawed in and out of his lungs as his gaze moved over naked pale flesh and gentle curves. His rapt gaze moved to her tightly clenched thighs, tanned hands smoothing over ivory skin.

“Hinata…can I touch you…there?”

Her legs opened slightly, enticing him to touch the glistening flesh peeking at him. His trembling fingers lightly traced the moist seam of her bare flesh, slowly pressing apart the soft lips. The scent of arousal slammed into him, the heady female pheromones an irresistible sirens call to his male instincts.

His fingers parted the puffy flesh, revealing glistening pink skin, her delicate womanhood spreading like a flower. His Adam’s apple bobbed when his rapt gaze moved over the small entrance to her body.

“N-Naruto-kun, don’t stare…its embarrassing.”

“Sorry.” he murmured absently.

His mouth watered, and he moved closer, widening her legs with the width of his shoulders, pressing an open mouthed kissed to the tender flesh. Hesitant, uncertain laps of his tongue drew a quick response from his dark haired lover. She shifted, soft calves sliding along his shoulders.

“Ahhh…ohhhh….Naruto-kunnnn.” she moaned, fingers tunneling through his hair.

He inhaled.

She smelled so good.

His tongue slipped clumsily, but eagerly over her sensitive clit, forcing air from her lungs. He sucked at the hooded cleft, drinking in her moans of approval. He settled into the motion of cunnilingus, gaining confidence with each pass of tongue, focusing his attention on the engorged bundle of nerves that made her legs tremble. Her hips undulated, soft mewls leaving her throat as he pleasured her. Trembling pale thighs cradled his head, tightening gradually as her voice rose in octave.

Her fingers curled, pulling his short locks.

It wasn’t hard for the blonde genin to figure out his girlfriend was on the brink of climax.

His own breathing grew labored at the thought, his body aching as he flicked his tongue fast over her throbbing button, determined to push her over the edge. To make a girl cum for the first time in his life.

The squirming virgin arched suddenly, her grip twisting his hair painful, his name leaving her lips in a shriek of ecstasy. He pressed his mouth to her core, tongue shoved against the tight opening as she wept orgasm over his wet appendage. Panting, he jerked his shirt off with impatient hands, tossing the cloth over his shoulder.

Sweaty fingers fumbled with the binding of his pants. He was trembling when he got them open. He had to get inside her. He had to-

Horror crashed over him. Blue eyes stretched wide as he froze.

“N-Naruto-kun,” she panted softly, watching him with lust glazed eyes, “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t have a condom.” he replied numbly, appalled he was so grossly unprepared for this.

For weeks he’d dreamed of nothing but this moment. Had fantasized daily about the day he made love to his girlfriend. How the hell could he have forgotten to buy protection?!

He swallowed sickly.

Hinata didn’t think he was dumb, but he was going to have to disagree with her assessment. Right now he felt like the biggest dumbass to ever see the light of day. Brainless in a way that was absolutely stunning.

Her words, softly murmured in the tense silence offered salvation. While he was convinced he was too stupid to be borne sometimes, he had forgotten where he lacked, his other half filled the gap, a fact emphasized as he processed the almost whispered confession.

“I’m on birth control.”

Her words hit him like a sledge hammer.

God she was perfect.

The perfect match to his absent minded bumbling.

Need crashed through him. He captured her lips in a sloppy kiss, shoving his tongue down her throat while his trembling hands pushed at his pants, kicking them off along with his boxers. His dick was hurting so bad, the need to mate driving him crazy. He gripped his cock, rubbing the pulsating head against her slippery clit, coating himself in the hot wetness seeping from her core.

His lungs heaved, his head swam and his muscles trembled.

He guided himself to the tight hole calling to him. A shudder raced from head to toe, stunned that he was already on the cusp of orgasm as her snug flesh parted then closed over him.

‘Oh shit…’

His jaw ached as his teeth clenched. Inch by inch, he impaled her, the drag of his heated rod against virginal flesh indescribable. Hinata whimpered when he sank deeper into her body, her small hands gripping the hard muscles of his biceps. He closed his eyes, swallowing over and over, trembling as he fought climax. It was a losing battle.

“Hinata...” he panted, “I’m…sorry.”

His mouth smashed against hers, fingers gripping her thigh as he gave in to the aching lust tightening his balls. Pulling back a fraction, he shoved forward into her resisting flesh, parting her untried muscles with a desperate moan.

Ecstasy.

Soul shattering rapture.

Mind numbing bliss burst through every nerve ending.

Her cry of pain was distant to his ears, and he was only dimly aware of the pinch of her nails in his flesh. He thrust again, hovering on the pinnacle of a destructive orgasm. Blonde brows crinkled as he tried desperately to hold back the impending explosion, to calm himself down. Sweat beaded his skin as he fought the call of madness. The delicate flex of her wet walls sent him careening over the edge.

He howled in ecstasy, muscles straining, release blasting through him.

Shaking, groaning deep in his throat, he coated her insides with hot semen, the sensation curling his toes. Bright flashes of light blinded him, reality spun away. Claws of bliss raked his spine. He pressed his groin tight to hers, chasing, drawing out the incredible feeling.

He could hardly breathe, couldn’t think, trapped in the monstrous waves of orgasm as he came harder than he had ever cum in his entire life.

Shaky arms wrapped around her damp body, pulling her to his heaving chest.

He spent long moments panting, holding on to the soft body beneath him after his quivering climax, his muscles twitching, his mind empty of everything but the snug wet flesh he was embedded inside, the combined saturation of her body’s moisture and his heated seed inside her tight pussy turning him on again. He squeezed his closed eyes tighter while his senses burst into overdrive.

He could feel her, everywhere.

The softness of her thighs gripping his hips, her big, damp titties pressed against his chest, her nipples hard against his pectorals. Her blunted nails were embedded in the sweaty flesh of back, the scent of her body and the new smell of sex in his nostrils. Her soft puffs of air tickling his ear, the taste of her honeyed core still in his mouth, was all too much. He felt himself swelling again, expanding and lengthening, the moist walls of her body resisting the expansion, strangling his throbbing length.

Lust exploded through his brain, arousal, tight and painful gripping his gut. His hips began to move, hard, fast and uncontrolled. He pressed his lips desperately to hers, a groan wrenching from his throat as his groin pounded hers, the wet sucking of her clinging womanhood and the loud smack of flesh meeting flesh driving him into a frenzy. The clutch of her body ripped away his control, his body once more climbing to the pinnacle, release just on the horizon, leaving him breathless and lightheaded.

He ripped his mouth from hers, rough hands reaching under to grip her soft buttocks, pressing her harder against him, determined she feel each of his frenzied thrusts, his mind desperate to get closer to her, to become one with her, to merge their flesh, their very souls if he could.

Her cries of pleasure, the squeak and creak of the bed pounding in his eardrums as he pumped his hips lit a fire in his gut.

His muscles tensed, locking as he crested again to that amazing peak, tumbling over in heedless desperation for absolution. Climax ripped through him. Painful in its intensity, excruciatingly good in way that short circuited his overtaxed mind.

He panted harshly, unable to pull enough air into his lungs fast enough as wave after wave of ecstasy crashed over him. He groaned, reveling in the sensation of his body expelling crippling desire from his aching balls. His lips moved roughly against her skin, sucking and kissing up and down her neck, and throat while his body shuddered, his buttocks flexing, drawing out the sensation of his dick buried in moist, tight heat. Soft hands smoothed down his back and hair, cradling him in a gentle embrace.

It wasn’t enough.

More.

He needed more.

More of this.

More of her.

His hands move under her thighs, quivering urgency rendering him incapable of gentleness as he lifted and hooked her trembling legs into the hollows of his elbows before gaining his knees. His fingers wrapped around and entwined her own, anchoring them both to the bed.

Her gasped “Naruto-kun” tightened his gut and stiffened his cock.

Painfully hard, consumed with lust, he slammed into her again and again with everything he had, desperate to ease the awful ache in his loins. His tongue swept her mouth, swallowing her gasps. Heat lashed his spine. Muscles straining as the wet friction at his groin ripped away any semblance of control.

His mind honed and solely focused on mating, in and out, the slight resistance he met when parting her moist flesh as he pushed his hips forward, the spine tingling sensation of her flesh clutching at his own as he withdrew, unwilling to relinquish his heated length driving him closer and closer to insanity. His forehead dropped to hers, eyes screwed shut, lips barely touching her own.

“H-Hinata….” he gasped, “So fucking good….”

She leaned up, touching her tongue to his lips, lightly, hesitantly.

The world spun away from him, climax bowling over him faster, harder than he had ever imagined possible. A shout of release left his throat, his blue eyes rolling into the back of his skull as he melded his flesh with hers, lunging against her body in mindless ecstasy.

Reality crumbled, time stopped as he was blown away, convinced he’d died and been launched into paradise.

Long moments passed before his senses returned.

His muscles slowly unlocked, sanity creeping froward once more.

He collapsed atop her, face nestled against her heaving bosom. His body twitched, cum draining sluggishly from his sensitive cock, coating her insides with his essence. Sweet, merciful relief swept over him, the terrible tension easing from his balls. Euphoria flooded every nerve ending, every inch of his exhausted body.

He had never felt so tired, physically and mentally in his entire life.

He felt as weak as a new born pup, unable to move even if he wanted to. Boneless and beyond sated. Soul deep contentment filled him. Gentle hands moved over his sweaty back, up his neck and into his damp locks. Consciousness slipped away as she ran her fingers through his hair.

“Sex…” he panted, “sex is amazing…da…dattebayo…”

Darkness closed over him as soft lips pressed against his sweaty forehead.

xxxxxx

December 28, 2008

 

Sunlight beamed over the snoring Uzumaki. His lax form lay sprawled across the expanse of the mattress, blankets shoved to the floor, nude buttocks exposed to the warm rays of the sun.

Insistent growling and an uncomfortable churning in his gut roused him from sleep.

Naruto awoke to a pillow full of drool and the tantalizing scent of something fried and delicious wafting from his kitchen. He stretched, feeling relaxed and mellow, his muscles loose.

He felt really good, contentment thrumming through his body.

Lazily, he turned over, mildly surprised to see he wasn’t wearing any boxers. While he couldn’t say he never slept in his birthday suit, those concurrences didn’t happen often or without sake and he was almost certain he hadn’t been drinking yesterday.

He sat up with a yawn, scratching his mussed hair while sifting through memories.

Naked, hungry and disoriented, the blonde genin blinked sleepily, waiting for his brain to kick in and connect the scattered pieces.

Heated scenes of passionate love making flashed through his mind.

Hinata.

Naked and moaning beneath him.

Agonizing pleasure.

Clawing hands and the frantic meeting of lips.

Incredible snug, wet flesh gripping his own.

Last night…

His eyes widened, face burning even as desire clenched his gut.

Last night, he and Hinata had…

Last night had rocked his world. Had left him shaken and dazed. Never in his dirtiest, vividest dreams or fantasies could he have imagined how good sex was. It was better than he had hoped, better than ramen even, something he’d never thought he would say about anything, and yet it was true.

It was an experience that was more intense, more…everything!

The taste, the scent, the sensation.

Damn…

He finally understood why Ero-Sennin and Kakashi-sensei was so obsessed with the act. It felt absolutely amazing.

Incomparable to anything he had ever done.

As he relived the events of last night, his mind wandered to his significant other, his elation dimming. Hinata had been a virgin last night too, and while everything had felt good to him, it wasn’t necessarily the case for her.

His fingers tunneled through his hair as dread crept over him.

He remembered enough to know he had been incredibly rough with her. Hadn’t been gentle the way he had planned. Control an impossibility the moment he connected their bodies. He shuddered even now, thinking about the amazing sensation of sheathing his aching sex in the tight clutch of her body.

Goosebumps pebbled his skin.

Sai hadn’t exaggerated.

He’d give up every dirty magazine he had for five minutes of that.

His enjoyment wasn’t the question, however.

Had she enjoyed it?

Even a little?

Or had his fumbling hands and clumsy thrusts only given her pain?

Worry settled over him like a wet blanket. He remembered her moaning. He glanced at the red scratches on his arms and shoulders. He wasn’t sure if that had been done with pleasure or pain.

The only time he could pinpoint with certainty that she had enjoyed last night was when he had touched and tasted her.

After that, he didn’t know what copulation had felt like for her.

Had he made her feel as good as she had made him feel?

Had he made her cum?

Shame flooded his cheeks.

If he had to question whether she had or not, that meant she hadn’t right?

Embarrassed, he moved from the bed, picking the bedspread and sheet up from the hardwood floor and placing them on the bed.

‘It couldn’t have been terrible.’ he reasoned in the shower, moments later.

She was still here, making him breakfast from the smell of things. If she hated what he had done, hated him for being too rough, she wouldn’t have stuck around right?

He scrubbed his hair vigorously.

He imagined any girl dissatisfied would leave at the first opportunity but his significant other was a little more…complicated.

Would she even admit it if he asked her if he had hurt her last night?

He frowned, rinsing suds from his body and hair.

Probably not.

Unable to stall any longer, he left the bathroom, dried himself off and pulled on sweats and a t-shirt. He paused at his bedroom door, hand gripping the knob. He took a stabling breath and yanked the door open.

Hinata was just putting food on their plates when he shuffled into the kitchen. Her long dark hair was braided down her back. The orange Uzumaki crest of one of his t-shirts peeked out beneath the swinging plait. The sight of her, in his kitchen, happily making breakfast while wearing his shirt was one that filled his heart with warmth, and his gut with lust.

He shook his head, dislodging the thought.

He swallowed.

“Good morning…Hinata.” he greeted hesitantly, bracing himself for anger, or worse, tears.

She turned slightly, her smile soft yet blinding. A flush stained her cheeks.

“G-Good morning, Naruto-kun…I…made us breakfast.”

He brushed the back of his hair, the gesture nervous.

“Y-yeah, smells good.”

He took a seat at the table, his eyes moving over her busy form. The dark gray T-shirt stopped mid thigh, leaving her toned legs bare, the short sleeves doing the same to the smooth expanse of her arms. She turned, plates in hand, and his blue orbs widened at the sight of bright red hickeys littering her neck and throat, disappearing into the crew cut shirt.

His fist clenched with shame.

The proof of his rough handling tough for him to swallow. He was barely aware of her setting their plates down and taking a seat across from him.

“Naruto-kun? What’s the matter?”

“I’m sorry about…last night I…” he trailed off, mortified and ashamed, “I shouldn’t have…”

Silence filled the kitchen, tension heavy.

“Sorry?” she echoed softly, “Did you…hate it then? I’m sorry…I’ve…never done it before…I probably…wasn’t very good at it…”

“Are you kidding me?” he exclaimed, “I didn’t hate it at all! It felt…incredible. You were amazing Hinata, I just…was worried I might have hurt you last night. I’m not sorry it happened at all. I just can’t stand the thought of hurting you…”

Her cheeks flushed, pearlescent gaze shifting away.

“It hurt but…”

Wide blue eyes watched as her finger bumped each other.

“After a while…it felt…really good…” she admitted softly.

The stunned genin swallowed at the whispered admission. She looked painfully embarrassed, unable to meet his gaze. His own cheeks were stained red and he was tempted to let it go but he wanted to know.

“Did you…did you have a…”

He couldn’t fix his mouth to say orgasm, but from the deepening of her flush, he could tell she knew what he was asking.

She twisted her fingers together, her embarrassment skyrocketing.

He was hard pressed not to drown in disappointment when she shook her head no.

“B-but I was close,” she rushed to assure him, “and it was…nice…being with you…”

Those words were hardly flattering to his ego, but he had already suspected that while he had been having the most amazing night of his life, the experience had left his girlfriend wanting.

Next time would be different.

He would make sure of that.

xxxxxx

So I was kind of in two minds about how to depict their first time and honestly, the whole gentle, scared to touch each other, virginal exploration thing has been done over and over again and I’m kind of tired of reading it and was not interested in writing it, so I went for the hot passion, fumbling, bumbling approach, lol. We’ll slow it down next time…maybe, if Naruto can get a hold of himself. If you’re not into explicit  descriptions of sex, I dunno what to tell ya, I love writing smut so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Anyway, I see some of y’all went to check out my other fanfic, “Secrets of the Hidden Leaf” and quite a few people are enjoying it. I’ll probably work on the next chapter for that this week, but I’m like dying to get to the darkness in this story so don’t quote me on that.

I hope that you all enjoyed this chapter. Don’t forget to review! Review are love!

Laters

~Sessakag

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Twelve

 

December 28, 2008

 

Sai moved quietly down the hall, wondering what business with the Rokudaime had prompted the urgent summons he’d received. The Anbu that had let himself into his Sai’s art studio had taken him back to his days of Root. The visit had given him a moment of disquiet.

“Report immediately to the Hokage.”

The message quick and to the point before the masked individual disappeared. He could only guess it had something to do with either the cauterized, bloodless bodies piling up or the suspicious movements of several prominent political figures and the sudden emphasizing of protocol and regulations. Both of which were of significant concern to the artistic jonin.

The former for obvious reasons, the latter because it reeked of Danzo like tactics. Putting speculation aside, he focused instead on something else that often occupied his thoughts.

The dark haired shinobi watched the people he passed, taking note of expressions, listening closely to the composition of laughter, and analyzing the natural flow of emotion they exhibited so easily that he himself still struggled with.

It was confusing at times.

Trying to match the right emotion to the right situation at the right time to the right degree that was appropriate and necessary.

He found it taxing and puzzling most days.

It felt like there was a thin sheet of glass between him and human emotion sometimes. He could see what he was supposed to feel but whenever he reached out to grasp that emotion, the barrier of glass barred him. The people he watched, the books he read, made it all seem so simple and yet he got it wrong almost every time, resulting in stunned stares, and hushed whispers between confused or creeped out socializers.

While a lot of his blunders were accidental, some were not so innocent.

He felt a coil of amusement.

Learning about what made the human heart tick had its advantages, and Sai enjoyed utilizing the things he learned to tease the people he interacted with. Naruto was his favorite target most days.

The blonde genin was so easily roused, quickly embarrassed with a few choice words and always offered the most hilarious reactions.

He replayed several memories of the dramatic Uzumaki, lips curled in what he hoped would be seen as the smile of amusement it was intended to be, until he reached the Hokage door.

The pale painter paused outside the door, listening to the hushed voices within.

The words were muffled, and he couldn’t make out who else was in the room. Unwilling to barge in and interrupt he instead knocked.

“Enter.” came his response.

Sai opened the door and stepped inside the well lit office, shutting the door behind him.

Two men occupied the room.

Kakashi Hatake, Sixth Hokage of the Hidden Leaf sat behind his large, paper scattered oak desk. The former Sharingan legend wore the distinguished robes of the Hokage and his trademark mask. His dark eyes, normal twinkling with lazy merriment were instead sharp and deadly serious. The silver haired male leaned forward, placing his elbows on the desk and folded his hands beneath his chin.

Shikamaru stood next to the plush chair the Hokage occupied, his expression mirroring his superiors.

Sensing the heavy tension in the room, Sai straightened his spine.

Adopting a more formal approach, Sai brought his hands to his sides, standing at attention before speaking.

“I am here per your summons, Hokage-sama.”

“I won’t beat around the bush,” the Rokudaime began, “Sai, I’m recommending you to take over as Anbu Commander.”

Sai didn’t need to think about how to properly convey the emotion sweeping through him. Shock unfurled, dark eyes widened, lips parting, uncertain if he had heard correctly.

Surely he had heard incorrectly. Sai stared dumbly at the two men.

The artist had left that part of his life behind long ago. Was happy to have gotten on with his life, away from the soul rending agony that fighting from the shadows could inflict on even the strongest ninja.

And now he was being asked to return to that darkness.

To return as its leader.

His skin felt clammy at the thought. Root was no more, their organization disbanded, its members reassigned and yet his fear stricken mind didn’t seem to be aware of that very real fact. His flesh felt tight, sweat beading his upper lip. He could almost swear his tongue burned in the spot where he had once borne the cursed seal.

“You’ve noticed it, haven’t you? The shifting pieces?”

Sai tamped down the panic crawling over his skin, focusing instead on the Hokage’s words.

Of course he had noticed. The under lying tension between Nations. The daimyo’s sudden interest in the inner workings of Konoha. The aggressive measures being put into place per the orders of the pale skinned adviser acting on behalf of the feckless leader.

Something was going.

Strings were being pulled.

Pawns shuffled around.

And it seemed as though one of those pawns was to be him.

“I wouldn’t ask you to do this if it was anything like Root.”

Sai swallowed against the nausea churning his gut.

“You will report only to the Hokage and no one else,” Kakashi continued, “With the threads currently being weaved, I need someone I can trust to head shinobi forces that are out of the jurisdiction of even the daimyo.”

Feeling like he could breathe again, Sai relaxed a fraction, letting the tension ease from his form.

The Anbu were an elite group of shinobi that were directed by and reported only to the sitting Kage, much in the way Root members had solely followed the late Danzo Shimura. While he wasn’t comfortable being in that dynamic again, Kakashi Hatake was no Danzo.

“The current Commander has suddenly found the…desire to step down. Several of his potential successors have... conveniently been KIA or MIA, while the others have declined to fill the role. With no one in line to take over, the daimyo’s adviser has kindly recommended a person of his own cabinet to replace him.”

Sai met the hawkish gaze of his leader.

The daimyo, or at least his adviser was attempting to gain influence in the previously untouched shinobi forces. A dangerous circumstance that would leave the Rokudaime, and the Hokage that succeeded him in a vulnerable position.

“This is not an order, Sai. You are not obligated to take the role.”

Shikamaru, silently moved forward, a yellow envelope in hand. He placed the slightly bulging container on the desk and returned to his place at the side of the Kage.

“Should you choose not to accept, simply walk out the door, and this conversation never happened,” Hatake said, “If you decide to accept the role, take the folder, read its contents here and burn it after. And Sai, I need your answer, now.”

Black eyes glanced at the yellow package.

Could he go back to the shadows without losing himself?

Was he willing to find out?

The alternative was allowing whatever outside forces were at play to potentially gain more power to manipulate and control the Hidden Leaf. The underhanded machinations alarmingly similar to those of his fallen leader Danzo. Even now, the damage the scheming Root Leader had wrought was still being felt by those that called the Leaf home.

The village was his home.

And he was no longer that cold unfeeling shinobi of the Root.

He had friends now, a girlfriend he loved, people he wanted to protect. People he owned his very soul to.

The painter released an inaudible breath and moved forward. He reached out and took the flaxen folder. Slipping a finger under the flap, he broke the seal. The room was silent as he pulled the papers out and began to read.

Minutes passed.

Sweat rolled down his temple the more he read. Finishing one document, Sai quickly shuffled to another, his stunned midnight eyes moving frantically over the text.

“You’ll be updated as more information becomes available. For now, you will assume an apprentice position under the current Commander. Within a year or two, you should be full integrated enough to function on your own.”

Sai looked over the papers at the Hokage, at a loss for words.

“Sai, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how serious the situation is, but I’ll do so anyway,” Kakashi said, “You’ll run into heavy opposition to assuming your new position, some of which will be lethal. Stay on your guard.”

Sai silently slipped the damning pages back into the container, then turned the entire envelope into small bits of ash with a flare of chakra. Calm settled over his racing mind as he compartmentalized and analyzed the intel, slipping easily and comfortably back into the mind frame of a Root trained nin.

“Hokage-sama-”

A firm knock interrupted the newly appointed Anbu Commander.

“Dismissed, Sai.” Kakashi commanded, fierce stare moving over Sai’s shoulder to the door.

After a brief hesitation, Sai bent slightly at the waist, then turned to exit the office.

“Enter.” the Hokage called out.

The door swung open.

Myoku Yagutsu moved through the open portal, striding arrogantly into the room. His dark eyes were cold and assessing, his reed thin, pale body encased in neatly pressed beige robes and baggy light gray pants. His long white hair was gathered in its customary ponytail, swing gently as he strutted into the room.

Sai held on to his composure with the tenacity and ease he had perfected during his time in the murky depths of Root.

His inky black eyes stared forward as he walked towards both the adviser and the exit.

A chill crept up his spine when the two neared, those dead eyes of the pallid man locking with his own. Sai had always thought his eyes lacked emotion when he stared in the mirror. Had done his best to bring a light to his eyes that would prove that he was human on the inside, that he could feel just like everyone else. Looking into the shadowy depths of the man before him, Sai could safely say he had not known the meaning of emotionlessness.

This…man…his gaze…was soulless.

Bereft of humanity.

A hollow void of nothingness.

Goosebumps pebbled his flesh as the two passed each other. Sai made it to the door, releasing a breath he hadn’t known he’d been holding. He passed through and out into the hall, turning around and slowly closing the door. Unable to stop himself, he gazed into the silent room, and at the white specter standing before the Hokage desk.

Sai suppressed a shudder as his dark eyes collided with those dead orbs again.

The adviser had turned and was looking straight at him, his thin body unnaturally still, his lips curled slightly up. Sai felt his heart pound, sweat slipping down his temples as he let the door slide shut.

Those vacant eyes disappearing behind the wooden panel.

xxxxxx

Frigid gusts of wind blew fiercely across the snow covered vegetation of the forest. Skinny deciduous trees curved towards the frost covered path, the naked branches swaying with each burst of glacial air. The temperature had dropped even further over night, and the resulting chill it brought muted the warmth from the bright, but struggling sun. The fiery ball of light peeked out between puffy mounds of clouds, its rays beaming through small gaps in the slowly drifting masses.

Sasuke pulled his poncho tighter about his shoulders, bracing himself against the bitter cold.

The blistering glacial winds felt strangely familiar, reminiscent of the icy cloak of hatred he had encased himself in at the tender age of seven. The frigid, hollow winds of agony and soul deep loneliness guiding him down a path of destruction, of madness. In his own twisted way, he’d believed the path to warmth was one bathed in blood. Retribution the only way to banish the unbearable ache in his heart. While he didn’t regret killing Danzo, the last Uchiha did regret the final clash with a brother that had loved him more than life itself.

It hurt, even now, to recall the dull, lifeless gaze of his sibling staring blindly up at the dark sky. Even before Obito had confided in him the terrible truth behind his elder brother’s horrendous actions, the young rogue had been swamped with fierce regret and a torturous blade of emptiness unlike any he had felt before to see Itachi lying dead at his feet.

The silence, the hush of death had wrapped around him with suffocating arms.

The scene had felt surreal.

With a cadaver wearing his brother’s face and fresh blood dripping from the bloody two finger forehead tap he had loved in his youth, the young nin had questioned the meaning of life, questioned his own sanity, questioned if the bitter blizzard inside his withering soul was one that could ever be banished.

If any ray of light could pierce the frozen darkness corroding his insides.

During the war, after coming face to face with each other with the truth between them, Itachi had left this world at peace, bearing no ill will against his beloved younger brother and yet on days like this, during the quiet reflection of his journey, Sasuke couldn’t help but regret the path he’d walked. The route he had hoped, prayed would be his salvation, that had instead taken him to and beyond the fiery gates of hell.

The shifting of something out of place cleared his mind immediately.

Narrowed eyes, one, the blazing red of the Sharingan, the other, the ringed lavender of the Rinnegan, moved over the silent landscape. He looked not at the physical before him, but the shadows beneath.

Through the lens of his dojutsu, the colors inverted, bathing the landscape in black, white and shades of gray.

Disrupting the subdued tones of black and gray was a trail.

A trail that rippled, warped and bent the surrounding gunmetal hues in a way that was unnatural. A tear in the fabric of space and time.

Void.

An absence of color, an absence of presence that stood in stark contrast to the environment. It moved, shifting and contorting like that of a living organism. The oscillation turned sharply from the snowy trail, its wavy presence fading just before reaching the treeline.

Sasuke stopped.

The former rogue’s eyes narrowed.

Turning off the path, he wadded into the black trees and gray shrubs, his booted feet crunching through the charcoal pigmented snow coating the cold ground.

He navigated the the pointy trees carefully, weaving through ice covered branches and steep piles of froze water vapor. His cool gaze noted small bits and pieces of void, following the small indicators his prey had unwittingly left behind.

A different ripple snared his attention.

Sasuke paused, mismatched orbs moving to the slithering dark gray body attached to a bare branch, high in a naked tree to his immediate left. The dark gray, gaunt creature was the size of an adult human, its body nothing more than wrinkled skin over sharp protruding bones. Two spiral curled horns protruded from the top of its oval head and one in the middle of the sickly pale flesh where its eyes should have been. A dark hole that Sasuke assumed acted as a nose lay above an elongated, crooked jaw full of serrated teeth.

The long, claw tipped fingers gripped the thin branch it perched upon, its head twitching as it leaned forward, seeming curious about the lone human standing in the quiet forest.

The saggy flesh undulated, a low baying coming not from its salivating mouth, but from the pores of its skin.

Sasuke tensed, hand inching for his blade.

The creature was across the forest in a flash, arms out stretched, mouth agape. The sound of claws meeting steel reverberated through the forest. The two parted, and met again, clashing over and over in a flurry of bone shattering collisions. Snow exploded, trees snapping as the two combatants trade blows, their bodies brief streaks of light to the naked eye.

Sasuke gripped his sword, bracing for the next impact. Less than a second passed before the creature was on him again, skeletal arms striking in a frenzy of raking claws, snarling and hissing, its bones creaking and popping like brittle twigs with each swing of its arms.

The emaciated body of the beast was in stark contrast to the monstrous strength it exhibited. Sasuke stiffened his legs, the force of the strikes pressing him back, his feet sliding through the thick snow. Sasuke dug his heels in the ground, halting the momentum. He launched himself forward, disrupting the attack, then spun his body, booted feet connecting with solid flesh. The howling humanoid flew across the forest, downing several trees in its wake. The dark haired shinobi followed the careening beast, his sword missing its slender figure by mere seconds.

Blade embedded in the soft, dark snow, Sasuke watched the dimensional being scuttle backwards up a nearby tree, gray fluid oozing from its jowls and and the broken tip of a horn.

Pulling his steel free, the Uchiha flicked ice from the shiny metal.

The creature hissed from its pores, retreating further up the naked pine.

A slight shuffled of his snow caked boots was the only warning the creature received before the silent swordsman shot forward, cleaving both organism and tree in half. The inhumane scream grated against his ears as the beast landed with a thud in the snow, both halves of its body spewing dark liquid, sizzling and melting the frost and nearby trees it touched.

The horrendous stench of rot and acid forced a grimace to Sasuke’s normally stoic visage.

Silently, casually, Sasuke wiped his blade clean, smearing the gray substance across a mound of snow, his gaze never leaving the skinny, twitching legs and the squealing torso dragging itself across the charcoal snow, leaving an acidic trail behind.

Sheathing his weapon, Sasuke moved, blocking the path of the horn faced monster.

Elongated, skeletal fingers gripped his ankle, its lopsided jaw snapping open and closed. The eyeless creature’s head twitched, the hole in its face contracting as it inhaled. The wrinkly skin rippled.

“He comes…” its pores vibrated.

The words were unsurprising. The former rogue nin had been hunting and dispatching these creature for months, and while at first he had been able to wring information from them, the beasts had now begun repeating the same phrase over and over.

He comes.

Who or what was coming, Sasuke had yet to ascertain. Trying to extract more from the creatures was an exercise in futility, but, unable and unwilling to leave any stone unturned, to pass up any chance no matter how slim to learn something new, the Uchiha tried anyway.

Hours later, Sasuke was forced to accept that this one was also a dead end.

He stared down at the mangled, twitching, bloodied beast, directing the black flames of eternal fire over its pale flesh. The high pitched screech of agony made his ears throb and he tightened his jaw to hold back bile as the grotesque scent of burning flesh overpowered his nostrils. No matter how many times he smelled the stench, his stomach never got used to it.

When only a small pile of ash remained on the scorched earth, Sasuke extinguished the blaze and began the search for the rift from which the demon like beast had spawned.

He found the humming dimensional tear several meters away, nestled between two gnarled trees near a frozen lake. The portal was small, its edges serrated, the inside a endless pit darker than the darkest black. The sensation of emptiness it oozed crawled over his skin, and the stoic Uchiha shivered slightly as the fine hair at the nape of his neck stood on end.

The rifts always filled the one armed nin with a sense of unease and an intense feeling of dread knotting his insides. Alone with the supernatural anomaly, he gave into the embarrassing but pressing urge to look over his shoulder.

To ensure that he was in fact alone.

Black, white and shades of gray landscape met his seeking eyes.

The surrounding area was quiet aside from a smattering of woodland creatures. Fluffy gray bunnies and bright white deer moving among the smoke colored brush.

Paranoid.

He was becoming increasingly paranoid the more time he spent in this shadowed world.

Releasing a small breath, he returned to the gently whining rift.

Sasuke closed his eyes, gathering chakra and funneling it to his Rinnegan. Warmth suffused the orb, heat rising gradually. Focusing on the jagged edges of the dark vortex, Sasuke forced the edges at the very top to move, pulling them to the center and sealing them together. Slowly, methodically, he began sealing the tear, suturing the split and shutting off the void. Midway through, his eye began to burn, pain shooting into the left side of his skull.

Hot liquid pooled at the waterline of his eyes, the thick, copper scented fluid spilling over and dripping down his cheek.

Sasuke gritted his teeth, tamping down the agony blasting through his skull.

Sweat slipped down his temples as he weaved the final threads, his chest rising and falling harshly when he finished.

Hand gripping his left eye, Sasuke dropped to a single knee, puffs of frost billowing from his lips. He panted softly, breathing through the pain pounding behind his lavender orb. Wet, sticky blood slipped through his fingers.

He spent long moments breathing, waiting for the burning inferno engulfing his eyeball to recede.

The world of shadow began to fade, color slowly bleeding back into his vision. The bright glare of the sun was painful to eyes that had acclimated to grayish darkness. Raven brows crinkled, lips twisting in annoyance at the added pain on top of pain. The Uchiha would make no complaint even if he had been of a mind to do so.

He accepted the sensation as part of his penance, one he had earned through his actions alone.

He straightened when the intensity dimmed to a bearable throb.

Reaching into his pocket beneath his tattered poncho, he retrieved a small swath of cloth and wiped his eye and fingers clean.

He treaded through the snow, searching for a flat surface.

A few minutes later, he found a waist high rock sticking out of the frost packed ground. He whistled sharply, then reached again into his pocket and pulled out a small scroll and a writing utensil. Placing the paper on the rock, he unrolled the empty page and began to write:

December 28, 2008

Rifts: 1

Targets Eliminated: 1/1

No new intel. Repeated phrase: He comes.

- S

Re-rolling the missive, he turned to the hawk flapping next to him and slipped the mini scroll into the tiny pouch attached to its leg.

“Konoha.” he instructed the bird of prey.

Sasuke watched the bird take flight for several quiet moments before he continued on his solitary journey.

xxxxxx

After stopping at the store and making an important purchase, Naruto wandered the busy streets Konoha, his gait relaxed and easy, cerulean orbs dreamy.

His tall, sinewy body was at ease and thrumming with muted euphoria, his muscles like butter beneath his tanned skin. The hyperactive energy that normally guided his overly excited behavior was quiet, contently so in the face of the new way the genin had discovered it could be expended.

Naruto was still reeling from the kaleidoscope of sensations that had gripped his mind and body last night. The feel of Hinata in his arms. Her soft skin, heated moans and the pleasure he had found in her arms replaying over and over in his spacey mind.

After the two had eaten breakfast, Hinata had dressed quickly, stating the Hyuuga Clan meeting would be starting soon.

Reluctant for his lover to leave, he’d sighed, deflating with a pout.

Unable to resist his crestfallen expression, the still shy, but blooming Hyuuga had taken his face in gentle palms and made out with him thoroughly, tonguing his mouth with bold stroke that had left him dazed and aching as she breezed through the door, inviting him to her apartment later on in the day if he wasn’t busy.

Outside of a mission, hell would freeze over before he was too busy to come to her apartment later.

Naruto had stood waving like an idiot as the door closed, feeling more off kilter than he could ever recall. Minutes later, he’d slipped on his customary hoodie and sweats and meandered down the snow dusted dirt walkways of town, weaving unhurriedly through the crush. Autographs were signed with slow swirls of his hand, his penmanship legible for once. Pictures taken with a goofy, languid smile. Groupies left confused at the starry eyed expression on the face of their idol.

Familiar laughter pierced the euphoric haze of the blonde nin.

“Looks like somebody got hit with more than the Juuken last night, eh Choji?”

Naruto turned at the comment, waiting as the three men and nin dog wandered over to him. Kiba’s grin was wide, hilarity lighting his dark eyes, Akamaru wagging his tail next to the teasing Inuzuka. Choji chortled behind a bag of chips while Lee looked really curious and more than a little envious.

Choji nodded sagely, munching on fried potatoes.

“I’ve seen that look before.” the gluttonous male replied.

“Look at his face,” Kiba cackled.

Naruto pursed his lips, though he was hard pressed to say he felt much annoyance. It would take more than a few teasing comments to spoil his good mood. He was less than interested in getting into a squabble with the skinny mutt today.

The lack of reaction prompted more laughter from his self proclaimed rival.

“Damn, she really did a number on you if the only thing you can manage is that stupid pout.” Kiba continued.

Naruto crossed his arms, his expression that of a mischievous fox as he retorted, “You’re one to talk. You were drooling and walking into trees. Not to mention that dumb look on your ugly face was enough to scare Akamaru.”

Kiba dismissed, but didn’t deny, the accusation with a careless wave of a claw tipped hand.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever, anyway, look, we were going for a soak, you coming or not?”

Uzumaki wondered briefly if the relaxing heat would completely melt his already lax muscles if he went, though the chance of hanging with the guys and getting some advice about last night and the nights to come was one he wasn’t willing to pass up. The group walked to the nearest onsen, chatted about upcoming and past mission while showering, then settled into the soothing heat of the water.

Naruto leaned back against the wall of the bath with a sigh.

“So, how bad did you screw it up?” Kiba asked, wasting no time to poke at the Jinchuuriki.

Heat suffused his face.

“That bad, huh?”

“No!” lips curled in petulance, the blonde mumbled his reply, “Maybe I did kind of lose my head but she didn’t hate it, and at least she didn’t cry. She even asked me over today, ‘ttebayo.”

A few tears were normal right? Hinata hadn’t been sobbing so he didn’t really think that counted as crying. Certainly not the way Sai had made it out to be with his horror stories of blood and pain and crying virgins.

“Naruto-kun couldn’t have messed up that bad if Hinata-san still wants to see him at her apartment,” Lee, silent until that moment, innocently pointed out, “Didn’t Tamaki-san refuse to let you anywhere near her apartment for a week after your…performance?”

“That’s right!” Naruto guffawed, “At least my girlfriend isn’t running away from me the day after.”

Kiba glared at both the taijutsu user and laughing Uzumaki.

“She came around eventually,” he blustered, “and this is about that idiot, not me. Besides, your opinion doesn’t count. You’ve never even gone out on a date, let alone gotten anywhere near a woman’s body.”

Lee’s shoulders slumped.

“Don’t be a jerk, Kiba.” Naruto admonished.

Kiba merely rolled his eyes.

“Now you’re starting to sound like Hinata.”

Naruto made a rude finger gesture at the comment.

“Don’t worry Lee, I’m sure you’ll find a great girl someday.” Choji soothed.

Lee sighed, sliding lower into the steaming water.

“I’ve already found a great girl, but it seems hopeless,” Lee murmured, “Sakura-san doesn’t even notice me.”

“Are you still pining for her?” Kiba huffed, “Give it up dude, Sakura’s been mooning after Sasuke forever and if she’s anything like Hinata is with this idiot, you might as well move on. When girls decide that they won’t accept any other guy but the one they want, trying to change their mind is impossible.”

Naruto thought about that. Hinata adored him and he couldn’t see her ever deciding to be with someone else. The very thought was as laughable as it was repulsive to even contemplate.

“Maybe he’s right, Lee. Sakura-chan is still in love with Sasuke.”

“If you want, I can ask Karui to introduce you to some of her friends,” Choji offered, “And I’m sure Ino wouldn’t mind setting something up.”

Depressed, Lee sighed again, eyes suspiciously shinny.

“Come on, cheer up,” Kiba urged, “its not so bad playing the field. There’s plenty of girls that aren’t wrapped up in brain dead blondes, and good for nothing douche bags.”

“Oiiii…” Naruto glared.

Now that Hinata had made clear she wasn’t going to tolerate jokes about his intelligence, Kiba took advantage of her absence whenever possible, laying on the stupidity wise cracks extra thick when out of the hearing range of the scolding Hyuuga.

“Speaking of brain dead,” Kiba continued, “Hurry up and spill, Naruto.”

Still a bit miffed, Naruto kept it short and vague, skipping the details that he knew the bastard wanted. What little he did reveal was enough to make the annoying guy hoot with laughter.

“What kind of moron doesn’t buy condoms the minute he gets a girlfriend?” Kiba chuckled, “Relationships 101, always carry one on you and stash the rest somewhere near your bed, like in a nightstand or something.”

Naruto declined to point out that he knew that now. Condoms had been the first thing he’d purchased that morning.

“Hinata-san is still the Hyuuga heir and part of the main branch. It’d look bad for the Hyuuga Clan if she become an unwed mother.” Lee surmised.

Kiba nodded.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if birth control was made mandatory for the entire female Hyuuga population. They’re real strict about keeping the Byakugan within the Clan,” the Inuzuka continued, “Hinata probably wouldn’t have been allowed to date you without taking precautions if they aren’t already mandatory.”

“You’re lucky Hinata was thinking ahead, Naruto,” Choji commented, “Her dad would eviscerate you if you accidentally got her pregnant.”

“Not to mention Sakura, Ino, Tsunade-sama, Tenten, Kurenai-sensei, Shino, everyone with the last name Hyuuga, and even Kakashi-sensei would be looking to rip you apart,” Kiba informed him with a fang filled grin, “Not to mention me and Akamaru would tear your throat out and bury your body in the backyard of the Inuzuka compound. Right Akamaru?”

The giant white canine barked in agreement, doggy paddling through the heated water.

Naruto felt his brow twitch, though he was unable to dispute the accurate depiction of the reaction he’d receive if he was ever careless enough to get his girlfriend knocked up without the benefit of marriage. Considering how sweet and loved his other half was, there were probably even more people than Kiba had listed that would happily string him up and beat him to death, or slip poison in his ramen when he wasn’t looking.

Even without the threat of spawning a bloodthirsty mob looming over his head, Naruto would never put her at risk like that. He had fully intended to stop the night before because of the lack of protection.

When he had a child, it would be with his wife and with the mutual desire to start a family. He had made that vow long ago in the lonely confines of his apartment.

Any child of his would have a mother and father, would know that they were the culmination of their parent’s love, not an accidental by product of one passionate night, who’s birth would be seen as tainted with scandal. His children would have every chance for a happy childhood he could possibly provide for them.

Of course he was pretty sure Hinata becoming his wife and the mother of children was already set in stone, even so, he wanted to protect her and their future kids from scorn and town gossip.

“Anyway, your lack of control is pretty normal,” Choji said, steering the conversation back to the original topic, “I haven’t met a guy that hasn’t lost it the first time.”

Kiba nodded.

“Yeah, you’ll get control eventually, until then, think about something else to calm down.”

“Something else?” Naruto questioned, “Like what?”

“I don’t know, something that’ll stop you from losing it so you can focus.”

Naruto hummed thoughtfully, though a bit doubtfully.

“What about the…other thing?” he asked, dull heat creeping up his neck.

Lee’s cheeks were redder than the genin’s though he looked just as interested in the advice Kiba would impart.

“That’s actually a bit easier than working on control,” Kiba said, “You know how the way to a girls heart is through flowers? Well the same applies here, expect we’re talking about a different flower.”

Naruto blinked a moment, confusion appearing then vanishing. He knew what flower the Inuzuka was referring to. Cheeks blazing red, the tawny haired genin nodded his understanding, baby blues glued to the knowledgeable chunin. By the time the conversation ended, Lee’s ears were bright crimson and steaming and Naruto was fired up and determined.

The excitable blonde was up and out of the water in record time, dressed and waving goodbye to his friends several minutes later.

He glanced at the descending sun, pretty certain Hinata was probably already finished with her meetings and back at her place. If she was in the mood, he wanted to make up for last night, give her the tender lovemaking girls liked according to Choji and Kiba. Listening to the older males, Naruto was itching to explore and be explored in this new path of physical connection, to learn about her in ways that no one else knew and for her to know him more intimately than even he knew himself.

He wanted her to feel the love he had for her expressed without benefit of words.

Minutes later he stood knocking on her front door, looking forward to spending the rest of the evening and hopefully the night with his lover. The door opened, revealing the object of his amorous affection.

Dressed in a light green turtleneck and form fitting jeans, his buxom girlfriend smiled bright and gentle as her lilac eyes met his.   

“Hi.” she greeted, shining with love and excitement just to see him.

Heat bloomed in cheeks.

She was too cute.

His arms swept out, bringing her flush against his body, eager lips finding hers.The melding of lips felt different. The kisses that had always hinted at deeper intimacy now fairly screamed it.

Desire coiled low in his abdomen, need blooming with each stroke of his tongue against hers. Navigating their entwined bodies inside the apartment, Naruto reached behind him to slam the door shut, then reached for the hem of her shirt to stroke the bare flesh of her tummy.

Excitement crawled up his spine.

‘Calm down, dattebayo. Think about something else’ he coached.

His brain came up empty.

It was hard not to think about her soft lips beneath his. Her even softer thighs cradling his hips, her tight-

He pushed the arousing thoughts away.

Gentleness, tenderness, these were the things he wanted tonight to be about and he didn’t plan on going back on his word.

He was going to be what she deserved tonight…

He just needed one more kiss.

One more taste of her lips.

One more soft caress over the silken skin hidden beneath her shirt…

“I trust you recall our last conversation, Uzumaki Naruto.”

Naruto froze, his eyes shooting open.

Shocked blue met frigid lilac over Hinata’s shoulder.

The hard stare was enough to completely extinguish his ardor. From the archway leading into the living room, Hiashi sat on his lover’s couch, calmly sipping tea. Feeling like a bucket of ice cold water had been dumped down his pants, Naruto leapt away from his blushing girlfriend.

“Na-Naruto-kun, f-father decided to…stop by for t-tea after our meeting.” Hinata explained awkwardly.

Eyes wide as saucers, face steaming, Naruto stammered out an embarrassed greeting.

Heart pounding, sweat sliding down his back and temples, Naruto gripped his tea cup with clammy hands. The blonde was seated across from the frosty Clan Head, drowning in humiliation that he’d gotten caught with his tongue down the elder man’s daughter’s throat. The stoic Hyuuga was staring a hole in his face and Naruto had the irrational fear that Hiashi could sense what he had done to Hinata last night and what he had been thinking about doing to her tonight.

Taking another glance at the blinkless stare quietly promising death, Naruto knew tender loving would have to wait another night.

xxxxxx

 

Another chapter, hope you enjoyed it. Its getting interesting for me trying to balance what to reveal and what not to reveal, how to pace certain happenings and things like that. I ’ll experiment and see how it turns out. Hopefully I can craft the images I have in mind onto pages.

Who knows.

All I got for now. Please comment and I’ll see you again for the next chapter.

Laters

~Sessakag

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirteen

 

January 1, 2009

 

It was a dark and chilly night in the festive village of Konoha. Laughter and excitement swept through the busy streets. The people of the Leaf celebrating the coming New Year with more vigor than previous years. Having been through the destruction and reconstruction of their home and the agonizing tragedy and devastation of a bloody war, the citizen were hoping, wishing and determined to see happier days to come their way.

Outside a spacious, high rise apartment, the distant explosion of fireworks and the jovial, and in some cases, drunken, cheer of revelers was muted not only by the separating walls of the lodging, but also the loud, and heated argument currently taking place within.

Breaking in the New Year with drinks, merriment and a competitive game of cards, the evening had began with celebratory shots of sake, some hilarious discussions of New Year’s resolutions and the excited count down to midnight.

After, the party guests had broken into two groups of guys and girls.

While the females of the gathering had taken to chatting quietly and sipping sake, tea and coffee at the dinning table, the males had decided to take part in a card game of luck, skill, and apparently shameless cheating.

Four ninja sat around the coffee table in the middle of Naruto’s living room, two of which were yelling animatedly at each other, disputing the outcome of the game. The blonde host of their New Year’s party looked seconds away from flipping the low sitting piece of furniture and sending the pile of playing cards scattered on its surface flying around the common room.

“That is bullshit Kiba!” the frustrated genin shouted, “I saw you slip that card out of your sleeve!”

The guilty Inuzuka glowered at the barking teen.

“Don’t get mad at me because you don’t know how to play!” he blustered, “You played the wrong card and got annihilated! Learn how to play the game, douche!”

“Wrong card my ass!” Naruto negated, pointing at the offending card on the table, “I watched you slip that card out of your sleeve! You’re a cheater! I won fair and square, ‘ttebayo!”

“What a sore loser,” Kiba dismissed, “I won, you lost. Tell him Shino.”

“Naruto is correct, Kiba,” Shino interjected, “Why? Because I also observed you slipping it from you sleeve.”

Kiba glared for all he was worth at his impassive, often ignored teammate, tossing his cards on the table with a growl, arms crossed as Naruto reached forward to collect them in triumph.

“Cheating bastard.” the mollified Uzumaki needled, shooting the sore loser a smug look.

“Whatever. Shuffle, deal and shut the hell up,” the Inuzuka grunted, leaning forward with a determined glint to his eyes, “I don’t need to cheat to mop the floor with you.”

Naruto pursed his lips in doubt as he shuffled the deck and began to distribute the cards around the table again. Once finished, he picked up his cards and looked over his arsenal, moving around assets and disposables. Kiba grumble under his breath at the pieces of laminated paper in his hands. Shino displayed no outward reaction as he studied his, while Lee looked ready to declare himself the winner before it started.

The guys settled into the game, peacefully tossing cards on the table. It’d be a while before things got fired up again, so the curious genin took advantage of the calm before the screaming matches began anew and glanced over at the kitchen table.

“So what’s going on with Sai?” Naruto called out to Ino, “Haven’t seen him in a couple of days, dattebayo. He on a mission?”

“I don’t know to be honest,” Ino admitted, sipping from her saucer, “He can’t really talk about it, even with me. He came by my place to let me know he’d be busy for a couple of days but didn’t really go into what he’d be busy with. Your guess is as good as mine.”

“Hmm,” Naruto hummed, playing another card.

If Ino didn’t know, then it was pretty much a lost cause to ask anyone else. If anyone would know what was going on with their socially awkward teammate, it would be the robot’s girlfriend and while Ino didn’t usually blab anything dangerously sensitive that could land her in hot water, the gossiping Yamanaka was usually a hotbed for information not readily available to the public and more than willing to pass on what she knew to her fellow friends.

He doubted Kakashi-sensei would tell him anything considering his old perverted teacher was being so damn tight lipped about everything.

“By the way Naruto, your exam is coming up soon isn’t it?” Tenten asked.

Butterflies tickled his insides. The eighteen year old genin was becoming increasingly uneasy the closer the impending appraisal of his fitness to wear the title jonin came. His rigorous studying and his girlfriend’s gentle but firm tutoring would all be put to the test in one all or nothing showdown. While he felt a bit better about his chances now, than he had last year, the mere mention of the examination was enough to break him out in a cold sweat.

“Y-yeah,” he replied, staring a hole at the cards he held, “January 8th.”

He swallowed, the looming date made more real the more he said it. In a matter of seven days, the first steps in reaching his ultimate goal would be before him.

“Whelp, guess another year of being a genin is in your future,” Kiba poked, “should I bring a mop to wipe up your tears after?”

“You wish!” Naruto responded, nerves banished in the face of the irritating comment, “You can bring a mop for yourself because I guarantee you’ll be a chunin longer than I was a genin!”

Kiba merely rolled his eyes.

“Boy you sure are cocky. You do know it takes more than a few tricks during a war to become a jonin,” the feral chunin dismissed, “You ain’t got what it takes.”

Blonde brows twitched.

“Temae…” Naruto growled, glancing away from his cards to level a fierce glare at the badmouthing mutt, “You think the future Hokage doesn’t have what it takes to pass a stupid- get that card out of your sleeve Kiba! You damn cheater!”

Exam forgotten, the two launched into a new tirade of accusation and denial, one that culminated in the twice caught Inuzuka flipping the wooden table, launching cards all over the tastefully decorated living room. Shino watched the two quietly, murky sunglasses gleaming, a card fluttering and resting atop his dark bushy hair. Lee stood torn between cheering on the passionate battle and pouting over the wining hand he’d had before the abrupt ending of the game.

“Those guys.” Sakura sighed in exasperation before taking a sip of her coffee.

Hinata giggled behind her hand at the two, setting down her tea to watch the exchange. Now that she was sure the two weren’t really serious in their shouting matches, the quiet Hyuuga often found the back and forths amusing.

Ino stood, clapping her hands for attention and order.

“Alright guys, time to find a quieter activity. Pick the cards up, fix the table and we’ll find a movie to watch.” the flower shop owner announced.

Several minutes and further arguments later, the group decided on a simple action film and settled in to watch. Shino sat in an adjacent easy chair, Kiba lay on the floor with his back propped up against Akamaru on one side of the coffee table while Lee sat on the opposite side. Ino, Tenten and Sakura had taken up two thirds of the plush couch, while Naruto held Hinata cuddled in his lap, her cheeks bright but the expression on her face shining with contentment.

Naruto made no moves to hide his own peace and tranquility. The affectionate Uzumaki wrapped his arms about his lover, his fingers entwining with hers, and reclined further into the corner of the couch, the position forcing her slight form to rest more heavily against him.

Sakura and Tenten rolled their eyes at the lovey dovey picture while Ino grinned.

Naruto wasn’t phased in the least. He was just happy to have Hinata with him. After that embarrassing night, his lover had been pretty busy, her time and attention focused on the final odds and end of event planning for the traditional New Year’s celebration for the Hyuuga Clan, one Naruto had been invited to.

Though he would hardly call it much of a celebration.

The Hyuuga New Years “party” had been stuffy and rigid. Though dressed formally and appropriately, the blonde hero had felt like a fish out of water among the sea of stoic faces and painfully polite conversations.

Not a single laugh had disrupted the subdued room, not a single voiced raised in excitement, just a low hum of bland conversation. He’d felt clumsier than a drunken Lee in the middle of a china shop and more claustrophobic than an expanded Choji stuck in a cardboard box.

The uncouth nin had been afraid to breathe for fear it would be too loud in the depressive atmosphere. Sensing his disquiet and awkwardness, Hinata had asked her father for the two to be excused, claiming a headache. Even Naruto had seen the Clan Head hadn’t believed the tale. A short moment of silent staring had ensued between father and daughter before the elder Hyuuga had inclined his head in acquiescence. Glad Hiashi hadn’t balked at letting the teens leave early, Naruto had nearly sprinted for the exit in his desire for freedom.

After Hinata had changed into something more casual, the two had made their way back to his place to celebrate the New Year together. On the way, they’d been spotted by the group of chunin leaving a BBQ restaurant. Naruto, not one to miss an opportunity to bask in the company he had longed for as a child, had invited the collection of nin to his place for the New Year count down.

A decision he was glad he’d made.

The orphaned Uzumaki had never felt so warm, so loved and had never had so much fun. It was a stark contrast from the silent New Year’s he’d passed.

Even last year had been bleak.

Hinata had had to host the Hyuuga New Year’s party/private memorial for Neji while his other friends had all been with their respective families, some of which were dealing with the first holiday without their loved one for the first time.

Naruto had understood that they had things the had needed to do, healing that they could only do with family.

But it had hurt.

Last New Years in a new place with nothing but his old friend loneliness for company had been painful.

The ugly quiet eating away at his soul.

Gentle lips pressed against the silky crown just below his chin, his arms tightening a fraction. Hinata returned his cuddle, nuzzling the hoodie encased chest she rested against. Naruto inhaled her familiar floral scent, the delicate, unique fragrance soothing and comforting.

Their union felt surreal to him at times. The melding of their hearts and souls something that left him reeling, yet desperate for more. He felt complete in a way he hadn’t known he could feel, so full of joy with her by his side.

He was tumbling into a new level of connection.

Falling deeper and deeper in love with each passing day.

It was scary.

Exciting.

Overwhelming and welcome.

Not just his relationship, but those he’d come to care for. Sakura, Sai, Ino, and everyone else, hell, even that mutt Kiba, they were all becoming closer. The friendship they shared deepening and expanding into something he’d thought he could only have with Sasuke.

A deep bond of trust and affection. With the coming of a new year, he had more than he’d ever had.

This year, he had her to banish the loneliness.

Friends to keep the terrible memories of cold silence at bay.

It was with these powerful, tumultuous feelings churning in his gut that the emotional blonde thanked and said goodbye to his friends with ending of the movie. After he shut and locked the door, he moved back to the living room and sat heavily on his couch, fighting to control his emotions.

“Naruto-kun.”

He turned, looking curiously at the woman next to him. Gentle arms wrapped around his broad shoulders, pulling him down into a soft embrace. The confused blonde found himself nestled between two cushiony mounds.

He blinked, cheeks heating slightly.

“Uhhh…Hinata?”

Soft hands caressed his short locks, smoothing down his back, the touch reminiscent of that night she had sat by his side and bore his grief over Ero-Sennin.

“You were feeling sad, weren’t you Naruto-kun?”

He froze, eyes wide as she spoke softly above his head.

“It’s still hard for you, isn’t it…to be remember the holidays you spent alone.”

Naked pain gripped his heart. Cerulean orbs shimmered.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t be with you, last year. I know it was painful for you.”

The gentle glide of her fingers down his back was chipping away at his control, threatening to unleash the flood gates barely held in check. His arms wrapped around her comforting form, his grip just as tight, just as desperate as that far away night.

“It wasn’t your fault, don’t be sorry…I…” his lip trembled, “I…I’m not…sad…I…”

He blinked back tears. He wasn’t sad.

He was happy.

So happy that his chest hurt. He wanted to tell her that. To put voice to the confusingly painful combination of the overwhelming elation he felt that he was swamped in a sea of acceptance and love while at the same time the contrast of this day last year compared to now added emphasis to the unbearable isolation in a way that hurt him. Emotion clogged his throat, the words he wanted to express stuck on his tongue.

“I’m glad you’re happy, Naruto-kun.”

His eyes closed, the gentle beat of her heart thudding against his cheek. His arms tightened, his embrace uncomfortably tight a few seconds before he untangled himself from her arms.

His kiss was tender, the melding of lips gentle and full of emotion.

Calloused fingers smoothed over the warm, silken surface of her cheeks, tracing over her delicate jaw and down her throat. Her sigh of contentment puffed against his lips, her own arms winding around his neck, gentle fingers tunneling through the shortly trimmed strands.

His palms moved over her slender shoulders, the caress unhurriedly sliding down her spine.

His tongue traced the plump edges of her lips, then spread them with a gentle glide. The slow tangle of tongues brought heat to his groin, his libido stirring with each stroke.

His light touch moved to her waist, over her hips and beneath her shirt.

Lust slammed into his brain as his hands cupped the fleshy mounds filling her bra, his tongue laving the curve of her neck. The night of their first lovemaking came back in a rush. The memory of her soft thighs gripping his hips arose. A small shiver crawled up his spine as he relived that passionate introduction of sexual intimacy. The excited blonde could almost hear her cries all over again, the surprisingly erotic sound of his bed creaking with each desperate lunge of his body, the mind numbing bliss of pounding himself to soul shattering orgasm and emptying the pent up tension of his balls into the snug wet clutch of her body.

A harsh breath left his lungs, escaping through his nose.

‘CALM. DOWN!’

He pressed his lips tightly to her flesh, his brain frantically reaching for the advice Kiba had imparted.

“Think about something else until you can calm down.”

‘Something else. Think about something else. Something else. Something else…’

Naked breast tipped with coral nipples flashed before his minds eye. Blood rushed to his cock, the sudden hardening of his flesh painful.

‘NOT THAT STUPID!’ he barked at himself, fingers twitching against the silk covered tits beneath his palms, ‘Something else, something else…’

“Naruto-kun.” she sighed, pressing her own lips to his jaw.

Need tightened his gut, the throbbing of his sex clouding his mind. His mouth sought hers in an aggressive sucking of lips, easing her back into the softness of the couch cushions. Her legs parted in welcome, enticing him to settle between them, the invitation one he accepted without a second thought as he wedged his lower body in the cradle her thighs formed. The thin fabric of her leggings left her little protection as he pressed his aching length against her, rocking his hips forward and back, the friction forcing a moan from her lips.

The horny blonde panted softly between the wet meeting of lips, humping against her body, each thrust sending shards of pleasure creeping over his skin. His hands roamed her voluptuous body, reaching under the waistband of her leggings to enjoy the velvety satin of her skin and the sensual roll of her hips as she returned his fevered thrusts with her own.

Her hands reached beneath his hoodie, yanking at the thick cotton until he relented. Levering himself up, he ripped both the hoodie and undershirt from his body, leaving hard muscle and tanned skin to her exploring hands.

Her hands on his body was heavenly and unfamiliar. Her touch was light, hesitant even.

The uncertainty triggered the switch in his previously lust saturated brain that allowed for rational thought. He watched with hooded lids as her fingers slid over the curve of his obliques, down, then up the ridges of his abdomen before traveling up to caress his chiseled pecs, the rose quartz dangling between the valley they formed.

Her face was beet red and she was avoiding his eyes a bit, but she seemed more than a little curious about his physique.

His vow of gentle lovemaking returned, clearing some of the urgency from his head.

His hands took hold of hers, and he pressed his lips to her fingertips. He was going to be gentle with her if it killed him. Reaching down, he scooped her up and against his bare chest, unable to suppress a grin at her squeal of surprise.

“N-Naruto-kun, what are you doing?”

“Moving us somewhere more comfortable.” he explained.

He deposited his precious burden with care onto the turned down sheets of his bed, then followed her down. He settled again between the warm welcome of her thighs and kissed her, loving her mouth with gentle thoroughness.

He pulled back moments later, determination and purpose settling his raging hormones, replacing the burning flames of need with steady embers of arousal.

He touched soft fingertips to her glistening lips, then over her cheek.

“Hinata, I know I was kind of…rough our first time, and I was being really selfish too,” he murmured, a flush, half arousal, half embarrassment, spreading over his cheeks, “I don’t think anything has ever felt that good before but I know it didn’t always feel that way for you, so tonight, I want …I want to make you feel good too. I want to learn what makes you feel good so we both enjoy it, not just me.”

Her own blush deepened as he spoke.

“If you…If you don’t mind, that is. I don’t want you to do anything you aren’t comfortable doing.”

She nodded, too shy to give to voice her agreement, then shifted on his bed.

His Adams apple bobbed.

Intense ocean orbs watched as she sat up and with slow, bashful movements, she undressed, dropping each article of clothing onto his bedroom floor. The slight jiggle of her tits, the creamy smoothness of pale skin, and the bare flesh at the apex of her thighs left his mouth dry.

He swallowed again when she lay back against his pillows, moon colored eyes watching him from beneath thick black lashes.

Seeming unable to help herself, she brought her arms up, forearms covering her nipples as her index fingers bumped together in her familiar display of nerves and anxiety. His dogged stare roamed the many peaks, curves and valleys of her lush form, fighting the urge to spread her thighs, join their bodies and rut like an animal in heat.

She had an amazing body.

He took in a long, deep breath, then let it out slowly.

‘Alright, don’t screw it up, ‘ttebayo. She’s giving you the chance to make it up to her. Remember the stuff that mutt said.’

Naruto replayed the advice he’d received.

“Flowers are delicate, you gotta be gentle.”

‘Gentle…Gentle…’ he repeated.

His touch was feather light, gliding up the pliant flesh of her thigh, over the arch of her hip and up her sides.

She giggled as his fingers passed over her ribs.

Amusement coiled in his chest, and he fixed his face into one of feigned irritation.

“Oiiii, Hinataaa, this is serious,” he intoned with pursed lips, running his fingers again over her ticklish ribs, “This is no time to be giggling.”

She jerked, a snort leaving her lips. She gasped, covering her mouth in surprised embarrassment at the piggish sound. Naruto felt his lips stretch, a chortle of hilarity leaving his mouth.

“N-N-Naruto-kun!” she stammered as his expression contorted into one of mischief, his face more sly fox than human, “D-d-don’t you d-d-dare-”

Her words fell on deaf ears. Her childish lover dove for her ribs, tickling her until she snorted and squealed, his fingers dancing over her rib cage until she pleaded for mercy, then tickling her until she shed tears.

Naruto sat back on his knees, watching while she panted softly, cute giggles still tumbling from her lips. Merriment left him as his gaze traveled over her body, lighting on the engorged nipples of her uncovered breasts. Desire pooled. Drawn in like a moth to a flame, the young Uzumaki moved forward, hands sliding up her belly then to the mounds of flesh that jiggled hypnotically with each of her softly drawn breaths.

Heavy lidded pearlescent eyes met his, mutual lust reflecting. His thumbs slowly rolled the hardened peaks.

“Naruto-kun…mmmm…” she moaned.

The hushed words brought sweat to his brow and called attention to his still aching body. He ignored the discomfort in favor of drawing another sound of pleasure from her lips. Her body arched as he tweaked her nipples, tugging softly.

“Ohhh,”

Turned on, he leaned down to capture one of the delectable tips, sucking firmly and running his tongue over the sensitive nub.

“Naruto-kunnn, yessss.” she groaned, her fingers running through his hair.

Enjoying her gentle strokes, her breathy moans and the sensation of her nipple on his tongue, the exploring blonde settled in to suckle his lovers tits. He laved one distended bud, before moving to shower the other with the wet affection of his eager mouth.

“Naruto-kuunn,” she pleaded, “touch me…”

His hand slid down her body and between the soaked folds of her pussy. Heat lashed his spine, air seizing in his lungs as his digits slipped against the moist hood of her clit.

She gasped, thighs closing around his arm.

Her body bowed from the bed, thrusting into his curious fingers.

“Naruto-kun…oh please…”she whined softly.

He swallowed in an effort to moisten his suddenly dry mouth.

‘Calm down…calm down, ‘ttebayo…’

He kissed her lips, drawing her panting breath into his lungs while his fingers moved, gently rotating her clit. She moaned into his mouth, her tongue slipping a little frantically over his as he fondled her sex. He moved back to her nipples, slathering his tongue over the peaks.

Her heated moans of ecstasy filled the room while her body wept with pleasure, the hot fluid coating his fingers.

His dick hurt, his balls screaming for release.

Through the haze of lust slowly overshadowing his thoughts, Naruto again called upon the Inuzuka’s words.

“Pay close attention to a flowers needs, otherwise it won’t bloom.”

Naruto tugged softly at her nipple, increasing the speed and pressure of his fingers.

“Oh God…” she groaned, her hips meeting the new pace, her clit throbbing beneath his touch.

Sensing the coming storm, he tugged again, flicking her other nipple with his tongue. Her fingers gripped his shoulders, her body twisting. Excitement of the impending climax left him panting, sweat lightly coating his skin as he pleasured her.

“I’m going to cum, oh God,” she whispered, voice raising several octaves, “Oh…ohhhhhhhhh, Naruto-kuunnnnn…pleaseeee.”

She fell silent, leaving only the low sounds of his wet fingers stroking moist flesh and the loud smack of lips at her breast. Her fingers dug into his damp flesh as a scream of rapture tore from her chest. She spasmed, pressing her nipple deeper into his mouth, his fingers tighter against the slippery bundle of nerves.

“Ohhhhhhhh, yessssss.” she gasped, pumping her hips.

Naruto released her nipple with a loud pop, watching her face as orgasm tore through her, his fingers stroking the quivering flesh between her thighs.

It was the most erotic thing he had ever seen.

He pressed his lips to the underside of her jaw, her hoarse cries becoming soft mewls as her climax quieted. He slowed the stroke of his fingers to soft petting, enjoying the random spasms of her oversensitive body.

He kissed her lips, then pulled his fingers from her wet folds.

She shivered, a low whimper puffing against his mouth.

His body hurt.

His cock hurt.

But he felt good, watching her orgasm stoking the lust pounding through his veins. He lifted up and reached into his bedside table for the condoms he’d purchased days ago and made short work of his sweats. Having practiced ahead of time, he slid the sheathe on quickly, then moved back between her spread thighs, his breathing ragged.

He wanted her to explore him too, wanted her to touch him the way he had her, but he couldn’t take another moment of torture.

His body was screaming for relief.

Her fingers were gentle, encouraging as they slid up his muscled biceps as he positioned himself at her soaked core.

“Make love to me, Naruto-kun,” she murmured, pulling his head down for a soft kiss.

With the infinite care he hadn’t been able to exhibit their first time, he united their bodies, his throbbing length spreading tight wet flesh. He groaned into her mouth, swept up in sensation, ecstasy skating up and down his spine. Goosebumps pebbled his skin as he slid deeper, the snug channel of her body parting reluctantly for his cock.

Heat.

Hot, slippery heat engulfed his sex.

Rough hands gripped her thighs, spreading the pliant limbs, his chest heaving as he pressed into her body, desperate for her to take more of him, all of him. Sweat rolled down his temples as he held on to his control by a single thread. He closed his eyes, reveling in the feeling of parting her body with his own, the slow entry unbearably good.

He pressed a soft kiss to her mouth when his sheathed sex met her womb.

Gentle hands caressed his back, sliding over his damp flesh as her tongue tangled with his. He made slow love to her mouth until need hammered his body.

His hips retreated, his dick sliding along quivering wet walls before sliding forward, impaling her again on his hard cock.

He shivered, his grip tightening when their groins met.

The aching blonde thrust again, wrenching a moan from the female beneath him. The gentle hands that had caressed him softly moved to grip his forearms, squeezing tightly as he began an easy pace of thrust and retreat.

Heavy lidded blue eyes strayed to the joining of the bodies, gaze rapt on the glistening length appearing and reappearing. He moved as slow and as gentle as his body would allow, each stroke bringing him closer and closer to zenith. He panted harshly, the measured flex of his hips torturous.

“Ohhhhh…Narutoooo.”

His eyes shot her face.

The last piece of advice, this one from Choji, flittered through his brain.

“And don’t think after one bloom its over. Flowers can bloom more than once. And there’s more than one way to make a flower bloom.”

Intense cerulean eyes watched the pale beauty contorting beneath him, her head twisting against the pillows. Her pupiless eyes were closed, her face contorted in ecstasy.

Her chest heaved, tits bouncing, as she raised her hips to meet the steady pounding of his sex into hers. Blunted fingernails dug into his straining muscles. He knew what was coming, could feel the gradual tightening of her pussy, the fresh fluid coating his cock.

His dark haired lover was on the brink of cumming…and from the sound of her cries, the frantic thrust of her hips, it was going to be a big one.

Turned on, her gripped her love handles and increased his pace, fucking her in earnest. Lust crashed into him, dragging him beneath a tsunami of frenzied need. His own climax loomed, hovering at the base of his spine, threatening to send him over the edge at a moments notice.

“Na. Ru. To. Kunnnn,” she chanted as he slammed into her, “oh. Oh. OHHHH!”

Her body detonated, spine arching, fingers clinging painfully into his flesh. The clutch of her core clamped down hard, ripping the hovering orgasm from his body. He lunged against her, rocking the bed with each frenzied thrust, his toes curling in ecstasy.

Hinata,” he howled, rapture careening though his trembling body.

He had never felt anything like that in his entire life. Her body was milking him, jerking fiercely at his ejaculating sex, squeezing orgasm from his body. His eyes rolled, darkness lapping at the edge of his vision while he pounded mindlessly into the tight hole attempting to rob him of his soul.

The shuddering blonde mashed their groins together, head thrown back in ecstasy as euphoria bloomed, quieting the blood rushing through his veins.

Damp thighs slid along his hips, feminine calves wrapping around his waist. Hinata wrapped her arms around his shoulders, pulling him into her embrace. He went eagerly, their sweaty bodies melding as their breathing slowed.

For long moments, he lay comforted in her arms, the quieting of the room and soft flutter of her heart lulling.

Contentment.

Love.

Peace washed over him as she stroked his hair, placing the softest of kisses to his damp crown and for the second time that day, tears burned his eyes.

He lifted his head, his emotional blue orbs shimmering.

“I love you, Hinata,” he whispered, “I love you so much.”

Her own lilac eyes spilled over, her trembling lips pressing to his.

“I love you too, Naruto-kun,” she declared just as softly, “With all my heart and soul.”

xxxxxx

January 16, 2009

 

“So what’s up, Naruto?” Ino questioned from her place between Shikamaru and Sakura, “What’s so important that we all had to meet here so quick?”

The normally energetic, happy-go-lucky genin looked almost terrified. Reaching into his hoodie, he pulled out a sealed white envelope bearing the Hokage seal.

Four pairs of eyes widened at the damning piece of mail.

The group of five had met up at a local tavern at the knuckled headed hero’s request. The orange ninja had already been seated at a table, sake and several saucers in the middle of the dark brown surface. They’d taken a seat around the table and waited for him to speak. After long minutes of silence, in which the teen had sweated and fidgeted, Ino had finally probed the distressed adolescent into explaining what was going on.

“N-Naruto-kun, is that…” the wide eyed Hyuuga seated next to him trailed off.

The blonde nodded, his own blue orbs wide.

“I’m scared to open it,” Naruto admitted, tossing it onto the dining table and placing his chin on the hard surface, his hands twisting his sun-kissed locks, “I failed the exam, I just know it, ‘ttebayo!”

The despondent shinobi had been stressed out the moment he’d stepped into the room with the proctor overseeing the written portion of his exam. With each passing day as he waited for his results, the ugly, nauseating tension had increased, twisting his gut into a pretzel. Hinata had done her best to calm his fears but the overtaxed Uzumaki had refused to be calmed, bemoaning his scatter brained mentality.

“Naruto-kun, don’t say that.” his girlfriend comforted, her pale hand stroking his back.

Ino reached for the envelop.

“Now just hang on before you get all worked up,” his fellow blonde said, “you’ve been studying hard with Hinata and your girlfriend is one smart cookie. Do you honestly think that, with all the hard work you’ve put in, that failure is something that’s even remotely possible?”

“I’m going to have to agree with Ino-pig,” Sakura concurred, ignoring her best friend’s glare, “You’ve been working way too hard to fail. At least wait until you’ve read the results before you fail yourself.”

“What a drag,” Shikamaru sighed, “Just open it, Naruto. Not opening it won’t change the results.”

“No way!” Naruto exclaimed, “Somebody else do it and just…break it to me gently. After, you guys are either gonna celebrate with me and have a couple of drinks or watch me drink away my sorrows, dattebayo.”

Ino sighed and began opening the sealed letter.

Naruto turned and buried his head in his girlfriend’s bosom.

“Dear participant, blah blah blah,” Ino read aloud, “…congratulations, you have passed the physical and written exam and are hereby promoted to the rank of jonin effective immediately. Please report-”

“Wahooo!!!!” the newly appointed jonin cried, launching from his chair, the wooden piece of furniture crashing with a loud bang to the tile floor, “I passed, ‘ttebayo!!! Wahooo!!!! I’m gonna be the greatest Hokage that ever lived! BELIEVE IT!”

“N-Naruto-kun,” Hinata implored, tugging at the hoodie of her shouting boyfriend as more customers turned to look over at the commotion, “Not so loud, people are staring.”

“Woooooooooo!!! Drinks on me tonight!!!” Naruto declared, the crowded tavern cheering, unaware the excited nin hadn’t exactly meant them as well.

Several hours and a tavern full of drunk strangers later, at the expense of the wasted blonde, Naruto and his group stood in front of the drinking hole. The plastered Uzumaki was currently resting heavily against Hinata, his flushed face buried against the hollow of her neck and shoulder, arms wrapped around her in a wilted hug. Sakura and Shikamaru held up a limp and babbling Ino, her arms hanging listlessly around their shoulders.

“Noooooo, Saiiiiiii, downt pusht paint thereeee,” she slurred.

“Jeez, Ino-pig, I do not want to hear about you and Sai’s kinky bedroom games,” Sakura muttered, “we’ll see you later Hinata, good luck with your drunk.”

“Mmmmm, Hinataaaa, you shmell sho gooooodddd,” Naruto hummed and the dark haired Hyuuga waved.

“Later.” Shikamaru said as the trio turned and headed in the direction of the mumbling Yamanaka’s apartment.

“Come on Naruto-kun, time to go home.” Hinata giggled when he nuzzled her skin.

“Hinataaaa,” he sang, his movement clumsy as she guided him down the street, gripping the limp arm he had draped over her shoulders.

“Yes, Naruto-kun?”

“I passhed my test.”

“Yes you did, and I’m very proud of you. I knew you could do it.”

“...Hinataaaaaa.”

“Yes, Naruto-kun?”

“Imma joinnnin now.”

“Yes you are, sweetheart.” she chortled as the passed beneath a bright street light.

Their pace was slow, Naruto weaving even with her guidance.

“Hinataaaaa.”

“Yes Naruto-kun.”

“I loooooveeee youuuuu.” he declared, rubbing his cheek against hers.

She laughed.

“I love you too Naruto-kun.”

xxxxxx

 

May 17, 2009

Naruto stopped. Curious blue orbs moved over the surrounding forest.

Tall, gently swaying trees, happily chirping birds, and lush viridescent grass beneath a cloudless ocean sky filled his field of view. Nothing to suggest anything sinister lurked, quite the opposite in fact.

The hair at the nape of his neck stood on end.

A low wail, just barely within range of his hearing reached his ears. The muted screaming sent chills up his spine. The terrible screeching was without direction, vibrating in his ears from everywhere and yet nowhere. Even still, the cautious jonin slipped into senjutsu, closing his eyes and probing the kaleidoscope of energies around him until he found it.

Within the bright, vibrant flow of energy, was an anomaly, a blankness bending and contorting, disrupting that flow.

That emptiness he’d sensed only once before.

Blonde brows wrinkled as he tried to focus, concentrating on tracing the distortion and pinpointing its origin.

“-sei.”

He reached out, entwining his own chakra in the flow around him, seeking the twisting void. It moved, skating away from the warmth of his unique signature, leaving bone deep coldness in its wake. Naruto pushed further, expanding his reach in every direction, determined to connect with the frigid energy.

“-nsei!”

The low howling decreased further, the sound a mere tickle in his ears, the void fading just as abruptly.

“Naruto-sensei!”

His eyes opened, blinking at the small hand waving in front of his face.

Tani Nakamoto stared up at him, her honey brown eyes slightly worried. The twelve year old genin brought her hand back to her side, dark green brows wrinkled with concern. Tani was a petite young girl with olive skin and a short bob of deep green hair. The pre-teen kunoichi had a quick temper for her teammates and a childish crush on her instructor.

“Are you okay, sensei?” she asked.

Normal procedure entailed at least a year of experience before being assigned a team of genin. With the current, diminished state of Konoha’s armed forces, that time frame had been shortened and the newly appointed jonin had been given a six month crash course of learning what his new rank entailed before being assigned his own team. Two weeks in, and the harassed blonde had finally found his footing with his new position as leader.

Sort of…

“He’s fine,” came a bored reply, “Probably just day dreaming about Hinata-san again.”

Naruto felt his brow twitch at the comment.

His student wasn’t completely wrong to make the assumption. The jonin instructor had gotten caught more than once mooning over his significant other, especially when he opened his bento to Naruto shaped onigiri with his pickled vegetables, grilled fish and carefully wrapped sushi.

His annoyed gaze moved to the adolescent speaker.

Thirteen year old Sanzo Kurisu leaned against a nearby tree, thin arms crossed, forest green orbs fixed on the soft sway of leaf filled branches above head. The mischievous, and quite often sneaky trouble maker was of average size for his age, his dark hair shaved on the left side of his tanned cranium and hanging just slightly over his right eye on the other.

The genin never wasted a moment to tease his new team leader.

Naruto had had his hands full with the lovable brat, his pranks and tricks bringing back the blonde’s memories of his own past as a prankster. Since deeming the group ready for active duty, the two had a sort of undiscussed truce, leaving his impish student with little to do but needle his instructor with sly comments since giving up his shenanigans.

“Was that senjutsu, sensei?” Seinosuke Kato questioned, his amber gaze sharp.

On the taller side of the spectrum, the curious, mild tempered genin moved closer to his sensei. His silver hair was cropped close to his head, the metallic color more striking against his mocha skin. With the gaze of a hawk, the thirteen year old missed little on the worst of days. While he often times demonstrated a lazer like focus when a task was at hand, the youth was also quick to laughter and wasn’t afraid to goof around provided such actions didn’t hinder his ever growing thirst for knowledge.

“Psh, I doubt it,” Sanzo scoffed, pushing away from the tree and folding his arms behind his head, “This is a D rank mission, what the heck would he need to be in Sage Mode for?”

“Being on a D rank mission doesn’t mean we’re safe, Sanzo,” Tani argued, her small fist on her hips, “If that were the case a group of genin wouldn’t need to have a jonin assigned in the first place, right Naruto-sensei~”

Sanzo rolled his eyes at the sing song, overly sweet way his teammate called his team leader’s name. Naruto nodded, his gaze moving again over the landscape before returning to his students.

“The simplest mission can change in a heartbeat,” the blonde explained, “my first D mission ended up becoming an S rank.”

“My father told me about that!” the female kunoichi gushed, “It was in the Land of Waves, right? They named a bridge after you, didn’t they sensei?”

A bit bashful at the reminder of his fame, Naruto rubbed the back of his neck.

“Uh yeah.” he confirmed.

“That is so cool. Naruto-sensei is amazing.”

Sanzo pursed his lips at that.

“As amazing as my big toe,” he commented, “I don’t see people running to name a bridge after it.”

“Oiiiii…” Naruto muttered, brow twitching a bit harder.

“Are we in danger, Naruto-sense?” Seinosuke asked.

“No, I just wanted to make sure our path was clear,” the jonin negated, “these woods are known for being full of bandits that set up ambushes to steal petty cash.”

The group of inexperienced ninja seemed to accept the constructed explanation. The woods were in fact known for robberies, but he wouldn’t have activated Sage Mode for something so trivial. His students needed real life experience of what it meant to be a shinobi and that meant he’d have to let them find their footing and gain some hands on experience of hand to hand combat.

Trekking through the dense forest that was often full of criminals without giving them the benefit of knowing who or what was inside of it would keep the novices on their toes and force them to rely on their instinct and sensory skills.

Naruto adjusted the pack on his back, signaling the group to move again. He didn’t hear the noise anymore, and he wasn’t able to track it just yet. For now, they’d continue on the mission as planned, but the cautious blonde would have to keep an eye out for anything that didn’t feel right. While he was still new to his position of leader, he took the responsibility seriously.

He was in charge of three young lives.

Failure on his part could cost more than a few bumps and scrapes.

xxxxxx

I was really feeling this chapter for some reason. Hope you all liked it too. Let me know your thoughts on how the story is going so far and I’ll see you in the next one. Oh and another chapter for “Secrets of Hidden Leaf” is in the works, I haven’t forgot I assure you XD and I’m doing some revision on my other story “Cold” now that I’m not so buried in my depressive funk anymore, so those that read that, I haven’t forgotten about you all either.

I think that’s it for now. Please review!

Laters

~Sessakag

Chapter Text

Chapter Fourteen

 

May 17, 2009

 

“As the heir of the Yamanaka legacy, your expertise will be invaluable to our intelligence gathering, Ino.”

Ino followed quietly. She’d been summoned to the Hokage office several minutes ago. Expecting a mission of some sort, the kunoichi had dressed in her purple crop top, long skirt and restocked her nin tools. She hadn’t expected to be told she was needed immediately in a different capacity, one that would require her removal from active duty for some time. She had assumed it had something to do with the vacancy her father had left for the Analysis Team, one she had been preparing to accept in a year or so, but so far, the silver haired leader had yet to mention it.

Instead, he’d only asked her to follow him to the underground labs where the more sensitive, not always ethical testing, interrogations and examinations occurred.

The sinister side of the Leaf few were privy to.

The unavoidable evil that took place between those metal walls, visible only to those willing to stain their hands in any way necessary for the sake of the village, those dedicated to the safety and security of the Nation of Fire, sometimes at the cost of their humanity, their very souls.

People like Itachi. People like Danzo and Root.

Tainted shinobi they were called.

He stopped, typed in the code at a keypad protected door, then turned to speak to her directly.

“This research project is highly classified. The documents you signed are binding and will be enforced, not only by me, but by the daimyo himself should you, at any point, become in breach of contract,” Kakashi warned, with a pointed gaze, “I need you to understand that, Ino.”

She nodded, understanding what he wasn’t saying. She wasn’t the least bit embarrassed about her history of spilling hard to come by details among her closest friends and wouldn’t pretend to be. In this case, she understood he wouldn’t be able to allow lax protocol in this situation. She could only remember two other times of having this conversation. It was rare that the Hokage made it a point to enforce discretion, at least with her. The Yamanaka were fiercely loyal to Konoha and would never speak of things that would jeopardize the village. The little she let slip aided in that protection in a more informal capacity, spreading information to the right people quicker and more efficiently than waiting for the proper bureaucratic response.

It was somewhat of a tradition among the Yamanaka Clan and the sitting Hokage. One that had become integral to the functioning of Konoha.

Seriousness wiped from his face, his usual laid back friendliness returned.

“Good.” he said, the corners of his eyes crinkling as he smiled beneath his mask.

He turned and walked through the open door, leaving her to follow. She caught up to his retreating back, eyes moving over the people they passed. Most of the men and women wore long white coats, while a spattering of Anbu moved purposefully past and even fewer normal ranked shinobi. Many bowed briefly to the Rokudaime before maneuvering around the pair.

“Does this have anything to do with Sai’s new position?”

The blonde kunoichi was still left in the dark about what her boyfriend was up to. Sai was a former member of Root and he took vows of secrecy very seriously. His lips were as sealed as her lips were loose. His continued silence drove her nuts. Even her strongest glare and cutest pout couldn’t break his grim resolve. Short of invading his mind, something she would never do just to learn what he wasn’t willing or able to share, she had reached a dead end.

“I can’t speak about that.”

Ino huffed without much heat. She figured he’d say that but she had her own thoughts about where Sai might have been reassigned.

The day he had been summoned to the Hokage’s tower, Sai had returned home unusually quiet, something unnerving considering her love was already considered unnaturally quiet on a good day. Later that night, she’d feigned sleep, watching and listening for any clue about what was bothering her boyfriend. He’d lain beside her for nearly an hour before he had left their bed and padded into the living room.

Ino had contemplated following him but he returned before she could make a choice. Her lover had climbed back into bed, then turned on the dim, bedside lamp.

For long minutes, he had thumbed through a tattered old book.

Ino had recognized the picture book immediately. The beaten up hard cover was her boyfriend’s most beloved possessions. One, he had explained, that reminded him that he was human when the soullessness of his upbringing eroded his quest to recover his nearly eradicated emotions. She was almost certain his new position was taking him close to those days of Root, and while she didn’t like the thought of him having to relieve painful memories, she trusted her significant enough to let him make the decision of what he could and could not handle.

Facing old fears was just as healing and freeing as therapy. If he could face his past and still remain the Sai she loved, she could damn well support his choice and be there if he needed her.

Kakashi opened a door a few minutes later.

Ino stared down into the darkness. Metal steps descended into the pitch black, curving around the wall. Kakashi silently led the way. Dim floor lights winked on with each step into the yawning abyss. Vibrations, echos of some distant sound, reverberated through the walls, and hard metallic surface beneath her feet.

“What is that?” she questioned, her head leaning slightly towards the noise.

The silver haired leader halted.

“Screams.”

Taken aback, Ino stopped, eyes on the broad shoulders of the Hokage.

“Ino, what have you heard about the disappearances of shinobi and the massacres taking place?”

She’d heard enough to know the problem was growing and not just in the Land of Fire. The Yamanaka Clan were well known for their skill of espionage, intel gathering and interrogation world wide and with that reputation and skill set came channels of information. Lines of communication from sources as close as neighboring Nations and as far as foreign lands many had never even heard of. With the death of her father, Ino had begun assuming control of these long lived relationships. The things she’d learned over the past year…some of it, she wished had never been revealed.

The young woman had needed to take a step back afterwards, to purge her mind of the horrible truths she’d been ignorant to. It was a difficult thing, continuing the legacy of the Yamanaka. A burden that could hollow one’s soul.

The human capacity for cruelty was a fact many of her Clan, herself included, found hard to reconcile at times.

“About as much as you’d expect my father to know, though I must admit, even our most trusted and loyal sources aren’t talking much,” she admitted, “Is there an active gag order out?”

“You could say that,” he replied cryptically before returning to previous subject, “The Yamanaka are second to none in intelligence gathering. Those abilities are what we need. We believe we’ve captured the people responsible for the slaughtered villages.”

Shock washed over her.

That had to be good news right? From the thing’s she’d heard she had expected some sort of creature that needed to be eliminated. The injuries they left behind, she certainly hadn’t anticipated something human to be the cause. And if there were actual people behind it, wouldn’t Ibiki be enough to get the information he needed?

Ino shivered, his dour, scarred face and soulless stare rising to her mind’s eye.

Ibiki Morino, head of the Konoha Torture and Interrogation Force could extract answers from a daisy if he were of mind.

“Believe? You’re not sure?” she questioned.

“They’re incapable of speech, leaving traditional means of interrogation useless,” he explained, “Some of them…we aren’t even sure are human any more.”

Blue eyes widened.

“Not human?” she repeated, “Then what are they?”

“That’s what we need your help in finding out. Their minds aren’t normal by any stretch of the imagination. Someone of Inoichi’s level is necessary.”

Meaning her.

He began moving again. Ino followed, endless possibilities of what was up ahead turning over in her mind, none of them good.

“There’s one more thing,” he murmured, stopping in front of a metal door. “With Inoichi…no longer with us, your name has been brought up among the Analysis Team. They’re very impressed with the skills you’ve demonstrated and have recommended you to take over your father’s position as head of the Analysis Team, should you accept.”

Ino didn’t pretend to be surprised. As of two weeks ago, that was old news. She would have been surprised if she hadn’t been offered the job.

“I’ve already started the paperwork,” she admitted, “The Yamanaka have always headed that department.”

“Then congratulations on your impending promotion, Ino. We all look forward to working with you.”

The noise was increasing, becoming more distinct, making the fine hairs at her nape stand on end. The pair stopped before another door and a metal slab slid from a compartment in the door. Kakashi placed his hand on the palm shaped scanner.

“Ino, we’re going to need you start as soon as possible.”

The door slid open, then another, and another and another.

Icy fingers of dread slid over her spine as each door opened, the sounds that had been muffled growing in volume. The vibrations became distant cries, raising steadily to become ear shattering wails. Ino swallowed, fighting the urge to place her hands over her ears.

The screams were thunderous, bestial and full of pain.

Her heart hammered against her chest, sweat slipping down her temple.

She had never heard something so horrible. The sounds chilled her to the bone. The noise burrowed under her skin, like a million hairy legged spiders crawling over her flesh. She shivered, sliding her hands over the goosebumps pebbling her arms.

Kakashi turned slightly as the last door opened, waiting for her to proceed him.

The blistering howls coming from within were indescribable.

Her legs locked.

She didn’t want to go in there.

“Ino…you don’t have to do this if you don’t want to, and I wont force you to,” he said softly, “but we do need your help.”

Wide, frightened blue eyes met the silent, patient stare of the silver haired male.

xxxxxx

Naruto glanced around at the dead trees and dry vegetation. Brittle blades of grass crunched beneath their feet, skinny twigs snapping as they passed. After several hours of traveling, the lush green surroundings had slowly become dull and listless. The air felt stale and arid, a faint scent of something repugnant drifting with the wind. His instincts were going haywire, the hair at the nape of neck standing on end.

Something was wrong.

“Sensei.”

Naruto glanced over at the silver haired genin, unsurprised he’d picked up on the undercurrent of unease. The youth had lightly wrapped his fingers around the handle of the blade strapped to his back, amber eyes shifting over the rotted foliage.

A moment later, Sanzo stopped, Tani following seconds later. The group halted, tensing in the hushed forest. Naruto searched harder for the source of the danger. That wail was back, buzzing louder than it ever had.

“Do you hear that?” Naruto asked, wanting to confirm whether or not the three could also hear it.

The group fell silent, listening.

“I don’t hear anything.” Sanzo refuted after a moment.

“Me either, sensei.” Seinosuke replied.

“I don’t hear anything either, Naruto-sensei.”

He wasn’t surprised to hear their answer. Sai and Kiba hadn’t heard it either the first time he’d encountered the noise.

“Defense, now.” Naruto called out sharply.

He hoped he was only being paranoid, but knew deep down, it wasn’t just a case of an over protective team leader.

Something was out there.

The genin moved, pressing their backs together, unsheathing their weapons of choice.

Seconds later, yellow, frog slit eyes shifted, blonde brows furrowed in concentration. Naruto strained, searching for the direction of disturbed energy. The low frequency howl of earlier rang in his ears, the baying wail no longer on the edge of his hearing. It was loud, vibrating through his brain, but it didn’t feel like sound. He couldn’t describe the sensation that grated his ears, and raised goosebumps along his flesh.

A frigid streak exploded through the warmth of natural energy.

Naruto turned, tossing the group of genin a few feet away, and bringing his arms up to block the blow, as something big and pale slammed into him with the force of a mammoth.

The figure drove him through fragile trees, the decayed trunks snapping like twigs.

His feet dug into the ground, halting both himself and the attacker. Ringed lavender met shocked blue. Another familiar vibration tickled his ear, negating his shock in lieu of the new danger. Naruto shoved the powerhouse in front him, knocking him several feet back. He brought his hand up and formed a seal.

A puff of smoke billowed next to him.

The clone took off, shooting across the dead forest turned battle field in seconds, touching down in front of his students before lunging forward, driving his fist into the face of the second attacker.

His students protected, Naruto turned his attention to the…man in front of him.

“Who the hell are you?” he demanded.

The male in front of him was humanoid, but he could tell something wasn’t…right.

The pallor faced man looked feral, his mouth twisted into a drooling snarl. His canine teeth were longer than Kiba’s. His figure was contorted, a human experiment gone wrong, but one he recognized. The man looked like a failed transformation of Asura’s Path. Four arms were attached to his emaciated torso, one of the two extra limbs growing out of his chest, the other skinny and crooked, lay useless beneath the hollow of his left arm. A second snarling face sat atop his head, the salivating visage glaring up at the sky.

The serrated, tail-like blade that normally accompanied the transformed of Asura’s Path was missing completely.

There were no rods that he could see anywhere on the man.

He studied the light purple orbs.

The rings of his eyes were spread apart, wider than any Rinnegan he had ever seen, some of the dark lines crossing over the others. Large, predator like pupils, sagging and misshapen, split the overlapping rings. The black, elongated, vertical pupil bled into the light purple.

The Rinnegan, but not from any natural means.

A badly created imitation of the true dojutsu.

“Where did you get those eyes?”

Empty black orbs met his, the depths cold, and ravenous. Bloodlust, mindless starvation radiated from the snarling form.

No human lived inside there.

His ears ached.

The jonin had finally figured out where that “sound” was coming from. The creature standing in front of him had something inside of him that was wailing. Screaming in a frequency only he seemed to be able to detect.

Blues eyes narrowed. He could sense something else, glowing faintly beneath the skin of the male’s rib cage.

The creature’s jaw snapped open, a metal tube emerging from its throat. Naruto was moving long before the beam cleared the warped human’s mouth. The beam crashed into the area he’d stood, a swirling dome of heat and fire blasting away trees, leaving behind a steaming crater.

“Rasengan!”

Naruto slammed the blue ball of chakra into the chest of the monstrosity, sending its body crashing through trees. The drooling beast hurtled through debris, before smacking with bone shattering force into a boulder. Cracks stretched from the point of impact, the dark veins crisscrossing the gray rock. The humanoid collapsed to the ground below, a green orb rolling from its chest, sliding along the dirt floor.

His gaze narrowed.

He moved cautiously to the fallen enemy, leaning down to reach for the sphere. This was what he’d sensed below its skin, but it wasn’t the source of the screaming.

He examined the object.

It was soft, spongy, radiated a forest green glow and felt warm in his hand. Chakra swirled within. He had no idea what it was, why it was inside this man turned beast and what it meant. He gave the orb a curious squeeze and it burst, exploding with a small pop.

“Sensei!”

Naruto straightened, turning to the group moving towards him. Tani raced ahead of her teammates, her little face worried. He took a moment to give her a reassuring smile and a gentle pat to her green bob when she reached him, before turning his attention to his other genin charges. Seinosuke and Sanzo followed at a more sedate pace along side his clone. His look-alike had a body slung over his shoulder. Naruto winced as they drew closer, the new fallen enemy bringing with him that painful wail. The combination of both creatures emitting that terrible frequency setting his teeth on edge.

“Are you guys alright?” the jonin asked.

“Yes, thanks to you sensei.” Tani nodded.

Seinosuke nodded silently.

“Yeah, we’re fine.” Sanzo confirmed, his usual sarcastic tone missing.

The clone tossed the body next to the augmented one.

The enemy his other self had defeated bore none of the modifications of the Asura’s Path imitation. It looked human aside from its elongated canine, black claw tipped fingers and from what information the clone relayed, had a normal pupil surrounded by bright red sclera.

“What are they, Sensei?” Tani questioned.

He was wondering the same thing. Who in the hell could replicate something like the Rinnegan? Even if it was a cheap knock off, something like that was impossible right? Transplanted Rinnegans he’d seen. Rinnegan awakening through natural means, rare but certainly not impossible. But this creature wasn’t an Uchiha anymore than he was and he didn’t think it was a transplant.

Who would want to transplant a faulty Rinnegan?

And that noise. What else was lurking inside these beasts that was making that God awful sound and why was he the only one hearing it?

Whatever was going on, he knew for damn sure he didn’t like it.

Not one bit.

“I don’t know,” he answered, “but we’re going to have to cancel the mission and return to the village.”

They’d take the beasts back to Konoha and get answers.

Tani screamed.

“Sensei!” she cried, pointing at the creatures.

The fake Rinnegan user had risen from his slumber and was moving. Naruto tensed, ready to lay it out again. Shock held him in place when the thing turned on its partner, sinking sharp fangs into the unconscious creature’s exposed throat. Ripping, tearing and swallowing with clumsy urgency, feeding on the flesh and ruby fluid in desperation. A carmine geyser erupted from the open wound, dark blood pooling, soaking the dirt below.

Screaming filled the air, coming, this time, from its crimson dripping mouth.

Its cry terrifying as it ate.

One of the boys gagged. Tani gripped his jacket with shaking hands, pressing her face into his back.

“Make it stop, sensei! Make it stop!” she cried.

xxxxxx

“Useless creatures.” Toriyama sneered.

Toneri ignored the comment, gazing dispassionately at the group of nin. The two males sat atop the sturdy branch of a large, decayed tree, their vantage point over looking the Leaf shinobi in the distance.

Toriyama stood, bones creaking, his haggard appearance worse than it had been a week ago. The often aggravated male had slowed the decomposition significantly over the past few months, but now his pale splotchy skin was beginning to sag, drooping slightly over dark hollow eyes. The body snatcher was long past due for another vessel but was stubbornly holding his current one together to spite their absent leader and further antagonize Myoku.

Toneri could only shake his head at the move.

While it was true, Toriyama was an asset they hoped to keep, he was willing to bet that Myoku would decide to make due without him if pushed too far. Toriyama had a temper that was explosive and easily spotted. Myoku’s ire was much more elusive to discern. By the time it manifested, death or horrific injury would most likely have already occurred.

Toriyama was playing a dangerous game, his fear of death making him reckless.

“Mere fodder,” he continued, “We need more. They need to be stronger.”

“They’re stronger than the Zetsu, at least physically.” Toneri pointed out.

The white haired puppeteer leaned into the hollow of the tree, drawing up a knee.

“They’re not meant to be indestructible,” Toneri commented, “Mere soldiers to buffer our defenses while we mount our offense.”

“They need to be stronger than that!” Toriyama spat, throwing an arm out in the direction of the group, “Those eyes are pathetic!”

“The blood is unstable, a defective product is the result.”

“I’d have thought the brat would have found a way to fix that by now.” came the disgusted reply, “He may be smart but his brother is smarter.”

“The elder brother no longer dabbles in dark science.”

“Mores the pity,” he growled, “Of the two twins, we wind up with the idiot.”

“Hardly an idiot. He was able to decipher and implement the tablets you left with his ancestors to an acceptable degree. Had you returned sooner, perhaps we may have gotten both twins.”

The bony man had no reply. He knew he’d sorely miscalculated, had put the majority of his eggs all in one basket and hadn’t anticipated ever having to rely on the long-shot he’d set up a lifetime ago. The difference a few decades made was staggering. Time, once something trivial to him, was now something he seemed to be running out of.

He swallowed, swiping a clammy hand over his mouth. The disgusting taste of fear turned his stomach.

At the time, making off with the sacred slabs of stone along with the seedlings without losing his life had been the only thing he’d worried about. Years later, fearful that he and his theft would be uncovered, he’d stayed as far from this dimension as possible, returning to his never ending search for salvation, unaware he had already exposed himself to the Clan Head. That the eccentric male had hijacked his Plan B in some hare brained scheme in pursuit of “fun”.

“Those orbs of yours are going to be useless if they’re knocked out so easily,” Toriyama complained instead, “They turn on each other the moment its dislodged.”

“Maintaining control will become easier and more efficient with the coming improvements,” Toneri shrugged, “Word has it Toju-sama will add his touch to the serum.”

“If what you say is true, perhaps the Mad Leader isn’t as unbalanced as he presents himself,” he scuffed, “Even still, I’ll withhold judgment until I see it for myself.”

“Do you honestly believe he would allow this…experiment to be anything less than a success?”

“He is bored, starved for the rush of danger. I think he would do anything, risk anything to assuage his boredom.”

“Bored enough to risk being less than prepared for the dubbed ‘Eater of Worlds?’”

“As I’ve said, he is mad,” Toriyama muttered, “When you live that long, what else lies ahead other than madness? Cyilo is the shinning example of that. Toju-sama follows his footsteps.”

“If what you say is true, are you not rushing into the same fate?”

Arctic blue eyes watched the play of emotions twist the skeletal countenance of his companion. The tint of insanity his dark eyes only whispered at before, was even more apparent now as the male contemplated the parallels of his situation and those he criticized. Toriyama was further along the path than even he realized.

“Madness is the fate of all that seek the fruit.”

The softly spoken words were hollow and monotone.

Almost like a mantra than a organic verbalized thought. Toneri could believe the words to be true. Even he himself questioned the decision he’d made to join this disaster waiting to happen. He didn’t know what had enticed him to integrate himself in a battle that had been waged longer than his own mind could process. What forces within himself continued to goad him down this path, knowing the things that lay at its end. Was it some misplaced loyalty to a Clan he could only distantly claim? Perhaps it was the tainted blood they shared? Common ancestry that put them closer to acts of lunacy. Or was his own risky dance with sanity and reality of his own making?

Toneri shrugged to himself.

Did it even matter any more?

xxxxxx

May 20, 2009

 

“Kakashi-sensei, what the hell is going on? Flesh eating zombies with fake Rinnegans?” Naruto asked the moment he stepped into the Hokage’s office, “You said you needed a few days to examine the creature I brought back, do you know what it is, where it came from? You can’t just make a Rinnegan, right?”

Naruto had been more than a little riled when they returned to village. His clone had informed the proper channels of what he held and waited several miles outside the village with the human turned beast until the Anbu had arrived. They hadn’t given him any information or any verbal indication whether or not they’d ever seen the thing before, flat out ignoring his peppering questions as the cargo exchanged hands and he was sent to the Rokudaime to report and be debrief.

His former teacher hadn’t been as dismissive as the Anbu, but had been more closed lipped than he was used to. In the end, he’d asked the blonde for patience and secrecy while they investigated, his mention of Ino being assigned to assist stemming some of his demands.

Even still, the agitated Uzumaki didn’t like the new changes that were starting to effect him more and more every day and made no bones about telling his leader that.

The daimyo, the creepy adviser Myoku had no clue what they were doing.

Were pulling strings and causing more harm than good, not just for the ninja directly affected, but for the people of the village that counted on the shinobi to protect them. Kakashi-sensei had listen calmly, his inky black eyes conveying his own displeasure with the way the village was changing.

It had done little to mollify him. Not with his genin so upset by the incident.

He’d had a hell of a time calming Tani on the way home. His youngest pupil had cried nearly the entire way home, her small form trembling, refusing to release his hand until they were well past the gates of Konoha. He’d instructed a clone to notify the Anbu of his cargo, allowing him to see her home and into the care of her doting mother, apologizing for the state he’d returned her daughter. Tani’s mother, a jonin herself, had waved away his expression of remorse, thanking him instead for returning her child to her unscathed. The green haired mother had asked for no explanation, knowing, had he been able, he would have already offered her one.

Next, he’d seen to his silver haired genin. The teen was in a better state than his teammates and appeared mostly calm as they navigated the city to his home. On the way back, once his initial shock and horror had faded enough for him to speak, Seinosuke had been full of questions, seeking answers his team leader didn’t have. His final question, one revealing the nature of his thoughts, had left Naruto in no doubt that the outer calm the teen presented was only skin deep.

“Naruto-sensei…” he had murmured, a slight tremor in his voice, “that thing has the Rinnegan…just like Pain…could he…destroy the Leaf again too?”

It was sometimes easy to forget his pupils had also lived through the destruction of their home. That at a tender age, all they had ever known and loved had been reduced to a massive crater.

The question had torn at his heart.

With Tani’s desperate clutch around his hand, the jonin had stopped to address the fears of the youth, taking a knee and placing a comforting hand on his thin shoulder.

“I can’t tell you something like that will never happen again, ‘ttebayo,” he’d admitted, “Life isn’t that simple and I won’t lie just to make you all feel better. What I can tell you is that each and every citizen of the Hidden Leaf, you, Tani, and Sanzo included carry the Will of Fire, passed on from generation to generation. Its that Will that binds us, that makes us a village, a family. Structures, buildings come and go, things change, but that Will, connecting each and every one of us is what really matters. As long as a single person with the Will of Fire lives, the Leaf can never be destroyed. And from that Will, a new, even better Village Hidden in the Leaves will rise.”

The boy had looked thoughtful after, some of the unspoken worry clearing from his amber eyes. With a ruffle to his closely shaven hair, Naruto had stood and returned to lead his charge home, Tani’s grip a lot looser, her tears drying.

Both parents of the Kato resident had been home when Naruto escorted the youth home. While the reunion hadn’t been the overly emotional scene it had been for the weeping Tani, Seinosuke’s sharp eyed father had instantly sensed his son’s disquiet. Another apology dismissed in exchange for thanks, the jonin had turned to his final student.

The two had walked in silence most of the way.

In contrast to his teammates weeping or poignant questioning, Sanzo had been unnaturally silent on the way back, his green eyes wide each time he glanced over his shoulder at the group of clones carrying and guarding their unconscious prisoner. Tied with thick rope and its mouth forced shut with a makeshift muzzle made of steel wire from Naruto’s nin tool pouch, the beast had been tightly secured. Even so, the young teen had been on edge, fearful even with the competent Uzumaki at his side.

Naruto was worried about his normally mischief-making student. The poor kid looked traumatized.

“You wanna talk about it?” he’d asked the teen quietly as they walked.

“No.” had come the sharp reply.

“It’s okay…to be scared.”

“I wasn’t scared!” he’d declared testily, a flush staining his cheeks.

“Of course not,” Naruto had backtracked.

The two had fallen silent for several minutes before the jonin tried again.

“But if you were, that’s normal,” Naruto had murmured, “Everyone gets scared. Even me. Being scared doesn’t make you weak. Being afraid doesn’t mean you stop fighting.”

More silence, interrupted by the shuffle of feet and idle chatter of passing citizens.

“...What…What are you scared of, Sensei?”

“Lots of thing, dattebayo!” the jonin boasted, “Ghosts, Sakura-chan’s fists and Tsunade-baa-chan’s forehead flick, Hinata’s tears, oh and needles.”

Naruto pulled a face.

“I used to end up in the hospital a lot, and the first thing they did was turn me into a pin cushion.”

Having earned a small smile from the boy, Naruto gave a more serious reply to the initial question.

“I’m afraid of being alone, of losing people I love, of failing to protect what’s important to me,” he said softly, “Even so, I won’t let fear stop me from fighting to keep the people I love safe, and neither should you.”

After, the two hadn’t spoken again until Naruto had delivered him into the care of his father, engaging in the apology/thanking routine before heading to the Hokage’s office, his gaze sharp and determined.

“Naruto,” Sakura glared, bringing him from his memories of the past few days “At least for Kakashi-sensei to explain what new information he has before you start a barrage of questions.”

The jonin turned, cerulean gaze startled.

He hadn’t realized she was there.

“Sakura-chan, when did you get here?”

She face palmed.

“She’s been here the whole time, Naruto.” Kakashi informed his former student, “And she’s right. We’re waiting for one more person and then we’ll talk more about it. Once she gets here, let me explain what we’ve learned so far and we’ll go from there.”

The rude opening of the door brought three pairs of eyes to the wooden panel.

Clothed in neatly pressed, silver garb, Myoku stepped purposefully into the room, his frigid gaze moving over the trio before setting on a pair of irritated blue eyes.

“You can’t just burst in here like-”

Sakura gripped his arm in warning. Naruto glared at her before turning back to the haughty adviser. This was the first time he’d come face to face with the right hand man of the daimyo and much like that Toneri bastard, he didn’t like the arrogance oozing from his thin form. He could see why the adviser and Shikamaru were butting heads, why many that had come in contact with the overbearing man had only negative things to say.

“Rude, classless and without discipline,” the arrogant male murmured quietly, “Uzumaki Naruto I presume.”

“What was that?”

“I do not recall an impairment of hearing being apart of your file. Perhaps it needs to be updated.”

“Insulting my subordinates is not part of your job, Adviser Yagutsu, and I would thank you to keep personal attacks to yourself while in my office.” Kakashi warned before the steaming Uzumaki could open his mouth, “I’m currently in the middle of assigning a mission, perhaps the…urgent business that brought you to my office can wait until I’ve finished?”

“I think not, Kakashi,” pale brows narrowed, black eyes as cold as glaciers, “I don’t recall seeing a copy of the details of this mission make its way to my desk.”

“Perhaps someone misplaced the report,” Kakashi returned smoothly, “It was certainly sent well before noon.”

The air in the room grew tense, the two males locked in a silent stare.

“Since when does Kakashi-sensei have to clear things with you?” Naruto demanded, anger coating his question, “Kakashi-sensei is the Hokage. He doesn’t have to-”

“By order of the daimyo, Konoha will be brought to order,” the man informed him, “The days of reckless assignments and blatant disregard for protocol and the rule of law are over. Those that resist, those that will not follow will be stripped of rank and removed from active duty. That includes you, Uzumaki Naruto. Hero or no hero.”

Sakura gripped the tense muscle of his forearm, squeezing tightly when the jonin took a step in the pale man’s direction.

“Adviser Myoku,” the Rokudaime drawled, his tone loose but his eyes sharp,“The daimyo granted you great authority in this village, making empty threats to my subordinates is not one of them.”

“I don’t believe in making empty threats, Hatake.”

A knock at the door broke the tense conversation.

“Enter.” the Hokage called.

“We’re done here, adviser.” the silver haired male dismissed.

Empty eyes moved over the three.

“Far from it, Hokage-sama.” came the mocking rebuttal.

With a swish of white hair, the adviser turned. Myoku moved slowly to the door as it opened. The enraged, glaring Uzumaki nearly missed the next person that stepped into the room. He was mildly surprised to see his girlfriend, dressed in mission gear step into the office, her lilac eyes lighting up when she saw his face, then dimming in hesitation when Myoku halted in his retreat to stand before her.

“Hyuuga,” the pale man greeted with an undertone of relish, “Hinata Hyuuga, am I correct?”

Surprised, it took her a moment to nod.

For the first time since his arrival, the adviser’s lips curled into a smile that set Naruto’s teeth on edge.

“It is a pleasure to finally meet you,” he said, inclining his head slightly, “Do be careful on your mission, Ms. Hyuuga.”

With that, he stepped around the flustered, confused woman and out the door. Naruto was disturbed by the brief exchange, and from the look on the face of his girlfriend, she was too.

“Now that everyone is here, I’ll explain what we’ve learned and the objectives of your mission.” Kakashi began, drawing their attention.

xxxxxx

So I took a small break. Couple of really over the top private messages got me a bit irritated, won’t name names but anyway telling me I should go “kill myself” because I’m not writing what you want me to is pretty ridiculous. Chill out. It’s not that serious. I’m not forcing anyone to read my fic. If it’s upsetting you that much, please hit the red X at the top, open Microsoft Word or whatever word processor you use and feel free to write what makes you happy.

I spend more time than I should writing this, so if you have an issue, at least be respectful in how you express it. Please and thanks.

The break wasn’t all bad though, also, had a couple of my salty friends dragging me away from my computer for some Call of Duty. Black Ops 2 is backward compatible for those (Like me) that didn’t know XD

That out of the way, I hope you all enjoyed the chapter.   A lot of you seem to really enjoy "Secrets of the Hidden Leaf" XD I'm glad! Next chapter for that will be out tonight or tomorrow afternoon, so stay tuned!   That’s all for now. Please review and I’ll see you in the next chapter.

Later

~Sessakag

Chapter Text

Chapter Fifteen

 

May 20, 2009

 

Naruto walked silently behind his two female companions, stewing over the information Kakashi-sensei had given them. He replayed the memory in his head, still reeling from what he’d been told…

“What do you mean it really was the Rinnegan?!” Naruto exclaimed.

A soft hand touched his arm.

“Naruto-kun,” Hinata murmured quietly, “calm down, let Hokage-sama finish.”

“Hinata’s right Naruto,” Sakura commented from his other side, “We’ll be here all day if you keep interrupting. We still have to get mission details after.”

The roused jonin calmed a fraction, though his blue eyes flashed with impatience.

“That humanoid you brought back is no Uchiha,” Hatake began, “but the Rinnegan he wielded matches the small amount of data we have stored in the intelligence unit. Rinnegans are a rare, heavily guarded asset of the Uchiha, its protection and secrecy on par with the Byakugan. The information collected has been from observation alone. We’ve never been able to dissect and study a real Rinnegan, so take this with a grain of salt. Our data, though not in depth, is still the most accurate source of information we have, with the exclusion of Sasuke, that can help confirm or refute whether the dojutsu it wielded carried the same properties of the Rinnegan despite its warped appearance.”

Kakashi leaned forward, elbows on his desk, interlacing his fingers beneath his chin.

“Cosmetics aside, it seems to line up with what we know and have seen of the Rinnegan. Having lived through and observed Pain’s Asura Path, we’ve been able to crate a secure area to contain it and are continuing to study it. Until we can make contact with Sasuke, we will assume the Rinnegan, though flawed, is real and treat it as such. That being said, we find ourselves in a dangerous situation. Two weeks ago, we captured two individuals much like the one you brought in.”

“Two more with the Rinnegan?” Naruto burst out, unable to contain his question.

The Hokage shook his head.

“No, these creatures didn’t have the Rinnegan, but they were also incapable of speech. They had already eaten the others with them when the Anbu showed up and were in the middle of devouring each other. Neither had dojutsu.”

“That means that whoever is making them is making them stronger. They’re evolving,” Sakura commented.

Kakashi nodded.

“The one you brought, Naruto, clears up one question we had. The Hyuuga examiners observed large amounts of chakra being funneled to their eyes at six hour intervals. Each time would cause excruciating pain and redden the sclera.”

“Wait a minute, two weeks? Why didn’t we know anything about this?” Naruto interrupted.

Kakashi leaned back in his chair, dark eyes taking in his pupil.

“Things are changing in the Leaf. Even you should have sensed that by now.”

“Of course I noticed, ‘ttebayo. Ever since that creepy adviser showed up.”

“The Hidden Leaf is not a dictatorship, even the Hokage has someone to answer to. In light of the casualties we suffered during the war, and the current danger facing multiple non shinobi villages and towns, the daimyo’s of each elemental Nation have formed a…coalition of sorts, handing down instructions that they believe will help organize the few ninja left to cover wider areas of their Nation in a more effective manner, and sending “advisers” to see that the new orders are enforced.”

“What’s that got to do with anything?”

His old teacher sighed.

“You’re not exactly known for your restraint, Naruto, and until we return to the normal functioning of the village, I need you to be careful. Despite your role in the war, even you are subject to suspension, demotion and removal of duty. My own position is tenuous under the current climate. The information I’m at liberty to share is limited based on the new mandates.”

“That’s bullshit!”

“I don’t disagree, however, several of the Kage of the Alliance have voted to follow the guidelines. My hands are tied.”

“Gaara wouldn’t agree to this.”

“Nor has he. The Raikage, Tsuchikage, and the Mizukage are firmly on the side of the daimyo. Suna and Konoha have been outvoted.”

“And you have to go along with it?”

“Diplomatic relations, international pacts are critical. As I’ve said, we are not a dictatorship, nor are we an island. Should Konoha or any Fire Country village ever need the assistance of our surrounding neighbors, the health of the relationship between Nations will carry great weight in determining whether help will be sent or not. But for now, let me worry about that. Even with the outside forces, I’m far from completely helpless. Now that you’ve encountered these humanoids yourself, and demonstrate some ability to detect them, you’ve been cleared to receive reports pertaining to these creatures. You’ll receive a briefing when you return, in the mean time, Sakura and Hinata can give you a few more details on your way to the mission site.”

His dark eyes sharpened on Naruto.

“Naruto, you’ll be team lead for this mission. Your ability to detect their approach puts you a unique position to make quick decisions to avoid ambush and direct the group closer to the target even if you aren’t able to pinpoint their location completely.”  

He turned to Sakura.

“Sakura, there may be civilians that need your help. I’ve read the recent report you submitted. So far, even with the help of Tsunade-sama and Shizune, you haven’t been able to figure out a cure for the black substance they secrete or reactivating seared tenketsu, but even so, the research you’ve done may become useful in saving lives. The area I’m sending you to has been hit particularly hard and we’ve received reports of strange illnesses and injuries stemming from the attacks.”

His attention shifted to Hinata.

“Hinata, Juuken has had some success in incapacitating them. If you can use that technique instead of physical force, that will increase the chances of recovering these creatures alive and intact. However, don’t take any unnecessary risk. If you can’t do it safely, don’t do it at all. Understood?”

Hinata nodded, as did Naruto.

Kakashi-sensei may have been speaking to his girlfriend, but the love sick blonde would personally make sure she didn’t take any unnecessary risks. The two had gone on missions together before and managed to keep things professional, but he’d be lying if he said he didn’t keep his eye on her whenever they were assigned to the same team. He had confidence in her abilities as a fellow shinobi, often trained with her in their down time, but that didn’t stop him from worrying even when he was fighting along side her. He didn’t make it overly obvious, but he knew she was aware that he was on edge when she faced danger and that she indulged his sneaky overprotective behavior gracefully, often pretending nothing was amiss.

Completing missions with her was nerve racking and yet preferable to her going with a different team. It was better than him wringing his hands back at home, and imagining the worse when she went out without him and didn’t return in a timely fashion.

His attention returned to the silver haired leader as he spoke again.

“One of the beasts we captured has already died, the other we’re having a hard time trying to keep alive. Despite our efforts, it’s going to die soon. We’re not sure if its our methods that are killing it, or if their fragility is due to their own flawed make up. We need you to capture more. We need to understand how they’re being created, what makes them tick and where they’re coming from. Your main objective is to capture these creature and bring them back for examination, alive if possible. This is an S rank mission, error on the side of caution.”

 

With those orders, the two jonin and single chunin had been given their own map with the location they were to search marked on the individual scrolls. It was a small but relatively frequented region near the eastern boarder that had suddenly gone silent. Several, well populated villages within the area had ceased all communications and those that had gone to investigate had yet to return.

They were almost ten hours into their travel and beginning to get a sense of the scope of the danger they were headed into.

Rumors of cannibals were quite common and spreading like wildfire in the east, sending panic through neighboring towns. The further the three nin traveled into more rural areas, the stronger the alarm. A few municipalities they passed had even begun boarding up windows and had formed small coalitions of civilian “vampire” watch, complete with makeshift weapons and tin foil handmade armor. The ragtag militias were often openly hostile and suspicious of new comers. The last sparsely populated village had actually run them out of town, unwilling to listen to Leaf shinobi’s explanation of where they’d come from and why they were in their village.

Naruto was still a bit annoyed that one of the more vocal, paranoid members of the group insisted the tawny haired ninja had a “suspicious face” and that the whisker marks were the sign of “vampiric infection”.

“Vampiric infection,” he muttered with a pout, “of all the stupid…”

He hadn’t expected that sort of reception. The young Uzumaki was used to people recognizing his trade mark whisker marks and being happy to see him, not view them as symptoms of some sort of undead contamination. The irrational rejection and ejection hadn’t bothered him as it would have two years ago, but it did leave him a bit surprised, not only that he hadn’t been recognized but that folks were becoming so unhinged.

His girlfriend giggled at his grumbling.

“Don’t take it personal, Naruto-kun, they weren’t very welcoming to us either.”

The thought brought a grin to his lips. Sly blue orbs cut to his pink haired teammate. It was true they’d all been give a degree of scrutiny, but the reasoning they gave for his long time friend had made him snicker.

Having been his teammate since their early teens, Sakura had a radar for his bullshit. Annoyed green eyes glared a warning.

Seeing the look, Naruto snorted, lips trembling with mirth.

“Naruto, I swear, if you start laughing again-”

“Come on Sakura-chan, it was pretty funny,” he guffawed, “An elongated forehead and aggressive attitude are advanced stages of infection?”

As strange as things were, Naruto couldn’t help but be amused at some of the things they encountered on their journey.

“Oh shut up, Naruto! It wasn’t that funny,” the angrily flushing pinkette growled, “What about Hinata? I don’t see you busting a gut and she scared more people than me!”

Naruto brought his arms up, chuckling as he interlaced his fingers behind his head as they walked.

“Yeah, but it made sense in her case, dattebayo,” he pointed out, “Her eyes, as pretty as they are, are pupiless.”

He glanced over at the softly chortling Hyuuga, her cheeks flushed with happiness at his compliment. Much like him, she had overcome a number of her most painful insecurities, and no long felt hurt when others viewed her lack of pupils with fear and trepidation.

“The Hyuuga eyes have always invoked that sort of reaction,” she giggled, “It was a bit over the top this time, but certainly not unusual for me.”

Sakura huffed.

“You two are the most insufferable love birds,” she muttered without heat, “Anyway, that was the last town for a while and its already getting dark. What’s the plan team leader?”

He glanced at the descending sun. Launching skyward, he broke through the canopy of trees and into another, flipping and swing from sturdy branches. He stopped atop a bough, taking in a relatively smooth clearing. He back tracked to his group, landing near the two women.

“Found a spot. We’ll set up camp now and get an early start tomorrow morning. I’ll take first watch, Hinata, then Sakura,” he directed, moving closer to his teammates, “You two get the campfire going and I’ll find us dinner.”

The group separated, Naruto headed for a nearby stream, Hinata searching for dry tinder and Sakura collecting kindling and logs. Several minutes later, the trio rolled out their blankets around a blazing fire, six medium sized fish skewered on makeshift spits roasting over the open flames.

“So you probably know more about these thing than I do, right Sakura-chan?” Naruto asked from his seated place atop his blankets.

“Yeah, though not by much. Their bodies are…weird.” she answered.

“Weird?” Naruto questioned, “What do you mean?”

“Hokage-sama sent some of the information in a file with the Anbu that came to get me for the mission and I read a bit of the report on the way,” Hinata pipped up, “It’s their insides that are strange, right?”

Sakura nodded.

“They’re growing extra organs, one of them had a second, semi-functioning heart.”

“Extra organs?” repeated the stunned blonde.

“Its even more strange than that,” Sakura added, “Some of the organs growing…”

The tough kunoichi shuddered.

“Some of the things growing inside of them, we don’t even know what it is, what it’s purpose is. They pulsate, and seem to be made of tissue like other organs but…What they’re function is, we don’t know. They’re like aliens inside. I’ve never seen anything so horrible and fascinating in my entire life.”

Naruto didn’t know what to make of that. The fine hairs at his nape stood on end just imagining. Unknown organs, extra hearts?

What exactly were they fighting?

“Their chakra network is strange too. From the report, the few Hyuuga that have observed live specimens reported that one of them had more than 361 tenketsu and that some of the chakra channels that were larger than the others, some were even moving from one node to another. And the color of their chakra…” Hinata injected, “The color…Normal chakra is blue, but can change depending on different factors, but in this case, the reports couldn’t place their color, or how to describe it.”

Blonde brows crinkled at the new pieces of information.

“Can’t describe it? So is it not a color they’ve ever seen before?” the confused jonin asked.

Hinata shrugged.

“The report wasn’t very detailed, but I suspect that’s the gist of it,” she said, “I’m just as confused about that. Perhaps we’ll have more answers once we return, Naruto-kun.”

He hoped so. Dread was twisting his gut the more he learned and the more he came in contact with these experiments.

“What about those orbs?” he asked, “and the ringing in my ears when they get close?”

Sakura reached forward to grab a fish.

“Ino has been brought in to see if she can get inside their heads and maybe find some answers that we can’t,” she took a bite, chewed and swallowed before continuing, “They’re not able to speak verbally, but that doesn’t mean they can’t mentally.”

Naruto and Hinata reached for their own meal, chewing silently as the kunoichi spoke.

“They still have memories, thoughts and what Ino calls “emotional impressions.” With all of that together, maybe we can put together pieces of a puzzle that seems to have a million pieces.”

“Is that wise?” Hinata questioned, concern coating her voice, “If their mental insides are anything like the physical, it could be really dangerous for her to dig around inside their heads.”

Naruto looked up from his food at the commented, worry also filling his eyes.

“Its a risk to be sure, but Ino is the best her Clan has to offer and she wouldn’t do it if she didn’t think she could handle it,” Sakura reasoned, “Kakashi-sensei wouldn’t let her do it either if he thought she wasn’t capable. I’m keeping an eye on her though. With Sai pretty busy, someone’s gotta look out for her. She’s been handling it well so far but its still early. She just has to be careful and purge when she needs to.”

“Purge?” he asked.

“Yeah. I’m not exactly sure how it works but its something the Yamanaka Clan do after mucking around in the minds of the worst humanity has to offer. A lot of things they see are…burdensome,” she said softly, “they need to be able to clean their minds of things like that, in essence, which they call purging.”

Naruto mulled over the words, making a mental note to keep up with the lively blonde kunoichi as well when he returned. The group finished their meal, and after, settled down to sleep, Naruto leaning back against a nearby tree as he prepared for first watch.

xxxxxx

May 21, 2009

 

“Hold it.” Naruto commanded sharply.

The group paused, both women glancing questioningly at him, tensing in anticipation of an attack. A low screech teased his ear, the vibration barely discernible. They’d been traveling for several hours along a well traveled dirt road when the first tickle had reached his ears, less than a mile from the next town. Just like the times before, he couldn’t pinpoint the location, but unlike the last time, he had a Hyuuga.

“Hinata.” he signaled.

They waited silently as the pale woman activated her kekkei genkai. Her eyes moved, and after a minute she spoke, confirming what he already knew.

“It’s them. Northwest, two kilometers,” her veined eyes narrowed, “Four of them. They’re…eating someone. Naruto-”

“Let’s go!” Naruto ordered.

They moved quickly, darting into the dense treeline between them and the village.

“Several bodies,” Hinata relayed as they ran through the forested area, hopping along tree branches, “some of the survivors are running. There’s a village behind them, its burning.”

“Are there any in the village?” Naruto questioned.

A beat of silence.

“No, its just those four.”

“I’ll take point and separate the creatures from the civilians. Sakura, tend to the wounded, Hinata with me.”

The thick, choking scent of smoke drifted with the wind, the billowing air current unnaturally warm. The low howling increased, that vibration no longer teasing his ears. Naruto speed ahead of the group as the wail that only he could hear was joined with a different sound. Pleas for help, shouts of fear and pain. Leaving his group to follow when they could, knowing neither could match his speed, the jonin took off, hoping to lessen the number of people that fell victim to the walking monstrosities plaguing the region. The heat of an inferno, the screams of the dying and terrified rushed to greet the determined shinobi as he burst through the treeline.

Thick smoke burned his eyes and made it hard to draw breath.

Despite the sting in his eyes and the ringing in his ears, he honed in on them. They were sheathed in pale, blood soaked johnny gowns. Two were hunched over the bloody, ravaged body of what appeared to be an elderly man, while the other two stood unnaturally, watching as the helpless man was savaged.

Sickened.

Enraged, Naruto split himself into four and tore across the charred, blood soaked ground. His first two clones slammed into the feasting beasts, tearing them away from their whimpering victim and pounding them none to gently into the dirt. One of the beasts looked almost completely human aside from the dripping fangs and glowing red eyes. The other was not as lucky. His twisted mug was…wrong. The bloodshot sclera of his eyes was dominated by big, dilated pupils, his eye lids missing. His nose was concave, buried in the pale, splotchy flesh of his face. Elongated upper and lower canine prevented his snarling mouth from closing. The human monsters oozed viscus black fluid from their mouths, the shiny substance mixing with the crimson blood staining their lips and chins.

Naruto and his other look alike moved in on the remaining enemies. The two figures split up, his clone followed the skinny moving creature while Naruto himself shot after the bigger, barrel chested humanoid. The hulking beast was fast, hurtling through the destroyed and burning village, crashing through the walls of homes and business, the weakened structures collapsing in its wake.

Naruto forced chakra to his feet, his form disappearing and reappearing in front of the powerhouse bursting through a crumbling store. The jonin launched forward, driving a chakra enforced kick to its chest, sending it flying back into the rubble. Barely a second passed before it was up again, charging through debris.

Naruto stood tense as it barreled toward him, intense cerulean orbs taking a moment to glance over its appearance. Its face looked carved from granite, bullish in nature. Its eyes were unnaturally large, the iris, pupil and sclera pitch black. Against the white of its skin, its dark eyes were like that of a demon. Its hands and bare feet were tipped with claws, its meaty arms covered in dark veins, starting at the back of its fingers, stretching up its forearm and upper muscular upper arms before disappearing into its gown.

The veins puffed, straining below the skin, the puckered lines pulsing. The thick muscle packed along its arms grew with each pulse, bulging to near bursting. Launching itself forward, it swung a meaty fist, the force slamming against Naruto’s open palm. The blow was bone shattering, the ground beneath their feet exploding, the clash of energies creating a crater, but having lived through multiple beatings from an enraged apprentice of Tsunade, Naruto barely felt it. Gripping the creature’s fist, Naruto delivered on of his own, focusing his chakra into his knuckles. The effect was devastating, the strike knocking more than wind from the wild humanoid.

The creature collapsed, a green orb rolling from its body.

xxxxxx

“What the hell is Myoku doing?” Toriyama growled from his place in the trees.

The scene below was like deja vu, only this time, it was completely unexpected and wholly unwelcome. The last time they’d sought out the Uzumaki intentionally, pitting the creature against the ninja to observe its capabilities. Tonight’s meeting had not been planned. The simple feeding expedition had been cleared and green lighted by the often ill tempered adviser. Not one ninja of the Leaf or otherwise should be anywhere near this region.

“Perhaps he is having difficulty with the Hokage,” Toneri chuckled, “The ex-Copy Cat Ninja may be on to our little game.”

Toriyama sneered at the comment, dropping down to the forest floor, his brittle bones creaking. Toneri followed the action, stepping in line next to the man as he shuffled along.

“Whether he knows or not is irrelevant. Myoku is supposed to be keeping that bastard’s lap dogs on a tight leash,” Toriyama barked, “And to send the Hyuuga out with them!”

Toneri’s mouth twisted with disgust.

“He is with her,” he admitted reluctantly, “We needn’t fear for her safety.”

“I still don’t like it. The Uzumaki can handle what we have, she can not.”

“All the more reason for you to speak to our…lead scientist. He’s had more than enough time to cope and recoup. Toju-sama has given his samples for further testing and believes my control over them will strengthen and increase should the results prove favorable.”

Toriyama grinned, the curl of his lips sinister and cruel.

“That brat has had more than enough time to mope,” he agreed, “I’m sure he’s become more agreeable now that he’s had time to think about his tenuous position.”

xxxxxx

 

Dark desolate eyes stared up at the metallic ceiling. The splintered surface leaking putrid smelling water. The droplets dripped on and around the prone figure below, soaking the filthy mattress and lone occupant. The moisture, the horrible stench of mold, blood and his own bodily fluids was lost on the man. His shattered mind worlds away. A single drop splashed between his white brows, bringing him back to the world of the living. Tears gathered behind the cracked, circular spectacles perched on his nose. The heated liquid rolled down the corner of his eyes, slipping into his unkempt snowy hair.

Radiating pain broke his quiet tears. A groan of agony left his lips, his face twisting into a grimace of acute torment.

His teeth clenched, fingers twisting in the filthy sheets beneath him.

The suffering man whimpered, fighting to keep silent the horrible screams threatening to tear his throat apart. Pain crashed into him, beginning at his knees and shooting through every nerve ending above. The excruciating sensation was like the slow drag of a scalding serrated blade through his gut, driving him to edge of insanity.

He panted, sweat and tears mingling.

His mind reached, strained for a distraction. Anything to dim the pain.

Distant howls reached his ears, triggering a memory, a past trauma only nine days old. Fear clawed up his spine. Bone deep terror seized his lungs. That night had changed everything. Had left him with nothing but a shattered soul and bone searing regret. Unable to stomach the memories, he focused on making his body move.

Taking several stabilizing breaths, he gritted his teeth and shifted.

Sweat drenched his flesh as he turned, the effort slow and agonizing. His head swam, dizziness turning his stomach. Nausea rose as his world spun. Wheezing, he held back bile, forcing his stiff body to move. Darkness lapped at his conscious mind. Shaking, he turned on his belly, the action exhausting. For long moments, he lay still, trembling, harsh breaths and sobs leaving his laboring lungs. Takahiro called upon every ounce of strength left in his damaged body, willing the hazy fingers of unconsciousness to recede enough for him to think, to escape.

Drawing three quick breaths to stiffen his resolve, he reached out with trembling hands to the dirty floor, pulling himself from the mattress as slowly as he could.

His arms shook, unable to bear his slight weight. Panic set in as the meager strength in his arms quickly drained. His arms collapsed, and Takahiro went tumbling to the ground. The fall drove the air from his lungs. He gasped, pain blasting through his body as his legs collided with the hard tile. He couldn’t breathe, was struggling to draw even the smallest breath.

Spots of light flashed before his eyes.

Inky blackness sucked him beneath.

He awoke some time later, disoriented and tormented, face plastered to the floor, fiery blades of agony in his knees. His mind raced to piece together what was going on. Why his legs hurt so bad.

Why he was lying on the cold hard ground.

Seconds later, it came to him, bringing with it naked horror.

He crawled, slithering along the floor with desperately clawing hands. Escape a mantra his brain repeated. The frantic need to leave this horrible place, to get out while he still could, propelling his battered body. The metal door felt miles away from him, the floor the size of an ocean. Frustration built, despair slamming into his gut.

He paused, panting into the darkness of the filth room.

The click of a lock and the rattle of a door handle stopped his harsh breathing instantly.

He froze.

Dread, terror the likes he’d never felt before skated down his spine as the door crept open. He knew who it was. Could tell by the odor of decay. A sob of desperation left his lips. He leaned away from the emerging figure, crawling his way back across the floor, straining for the safety to be found in the dark recesses beneath his bed. That sick bastard was watching him. He could feel his twisted amusement like needle pricks in his skin.

His body jerked to a halt when the male spoke, abject fear tightening his throat as the familiar voice cut through the tension heavy silence.

“Are you that determined to resist?” the man questioned softly, “shall I take another part of your body?”

Petrified.

Scared to death, Takahiro crawled faster, sliding away from the voice, his panicked mind racing, unsure of where he was going, but wanting only to distance himself from the psychotic man that had maimed him, eight days ago. Images flashed before his mind’s eye. Images of a night bathed in moonlight, blood soaked grass, his own screams of pain and horror. Remembered staring down at nubs, the world around him surreal as his shocked filled gaze took in the reality of his own severed legs lying several feet away from him. The lower half of his limbs no longer attached to his body. Of that same voice reasoning aloud that his legs were unnecessary for the tasks he was needed for.

That night he’d tried to escape.

That night he’d failed and the unsuccessful dash for freedom had cost him dearly.

“I see you have not yet come to terms with your new role, now that you know the truth,” came the horrifying voice, “Humans are so fragile. How disgusting.”

The words stopped him cold. Tears slipped down Taka’s face, one word in particular echoing through his skull.

Truth.

The truth.

The mind shredding truth that he’d betrayed Kohei. His precious foster brother. That he had doomed the people of village, the Nation that had never been, had never meant to be from the very beginning. Everything he’d worked for, every choice he’d made hadn’t even been his. He and his foster brother hadn’t built a Nation, they’d built a factory, a base to construct more of those monsters. A research facility to construct, develop and reconstruct abominations.

And his brother, in everything but blood, was now one of those abominations.

This…being, whatever the hell he was, had coaxed him into using the serum without Kohei’s permission, had enticed him to reach for power just outside of their grasp, and he had fallen for it.

Had gleefully gone behind his brother’s back.

Aligned with traitors for the good of the Nation they wanted to create.

His fists clenched.

From the cradle he’d been groomed, guided into this role by that thing wearing human flesh.

Pain lashed his soul, his eyes squeezing shut.

Kohei.

The day he’d taken refuge under the desk of the lab and been wrenched from it by the grinning madman had been the day he realized he was once again alone in the world. The hand that had patted his head with kindness and understanding as a hollow eyed orphan, the hand that gripped his shoulder with confidence and pride as a man had been wrapped around his throat with a grip that was crushing. The once, soft brown eyes, glowing red, crazed and without pity. Horrified, certain he was to be devoured, Takahiro had fought. Clawing desperately to free himself from the ruthless grip, pleading with the only man he’d ever considered family.

Meeting those eyes…

Sadness filled his heart at the memory.

His brother wasn’t in there any more. The creature inside Kohei would have gladly ended his life had he not been stopped by the two pale men at his sides, one of which was in the room with him now, standing over him. Arrogance, superiority oozing from his pores. The smugness sickening in its intensity.

“Pitiful,” the man commented, “Spineless creature. You sicken me. To think I’ve been reduced to relying on the aide of a lowly animal.”

Rage erupted, sweeping away the pain and desolation filling his chest.

“You’re lower than an animal,” Takahiro spat, “Lower than any beast! You wear our skin and mock us yet here you stand, groveling at our feet! Needing our help to save your worthless-”

Takahiro screamed as one the man’s booted feet connected with the blood soaked, bandaged wrapped nubs that remained of his legs. Agony, horrible, twisting agony blasted through his body, his mind spinning, snapping, before being engulfed in blessed darkness.

He awoke to frigid water splashing over his face, the steady stream of cold liquid blocking his airways. He twisted his head, trying to catch his breath, certain he was drowning. He flipped clumsily to his stomach, his hands slipping and sliding across the smooth surface beneath him. Heart pounding, water pouring down his back, he sucked in large gulps of air, the great gusts rushing painfully into his lungs. The streamed ended, the loud clattering of a metal pail ringing in his ears.

Unmerciful fingers threaded his white hair, the grip making his skull throb, shards of pain skating over his scalp.

“I may need you to accomplish my goals, but that doesn’t mean you hold the upper hand. I can make the empty shell of your soul bleed. You think the removal of your legs was painful?” he growled, “There are worse things than amputation. Much worse. You will obey, you will address me with respect. If I have to take you apart, piece by piece, rest assured I would do so with slow, agonizing relish.”

That rough hand slammed his face into the ground. Hard, clipped footsteps retreated, followed by the wall rattling slam of the door.

Minutes of silence ticked by.

Takahiro lay quiet in the aftermath of the tense confrontation. Tension drained slowly from his muscles, replaced with tremors of stress.

His body quaking with fear, pain and hopeless despair, Takahiro sobbed. Hot tears slipped down his cheeks to the tiled floor, depression slamming into him with weight of a mountain. Soaking wet, legless and shivering, the broken man cried for hours, wailing with heartache and regret. Nausea rose, his insides clenching. Dry heaves shook his battered frame, his empty stomach twisting painfully as he gagged.

xxxxxx

Two things I love. Good romance and gore. I’ve already warned this is gonna be a dark fic, but I feel like I need to stress that this is gonna be a dark fic, lol. Please understand what that entails. The lovey dovey parts are not over by a long shot, but its about to turn into a mufuckin blood bath.

This is not a fic for the faint of heart. Lot of fucked up shit to come and I don’t wanna get cursed out for it like I did in my other story. If depictions of death, blood, broken bones and other terrible acts disgust you, this might not be the story for you. Continue at your own risk, but don’t blame me at the end because I warned you XD

Chapter five of “Secrets of the Hidden Leaf” is in the works and should be out in a few days for those that read it.

Think that’s all I got for now. Thanks for reading, please review and I’ll see you in the next chapter!

Laters

~Sessakag

Chapter Text

Chapter Sixteen

 

May 21, 2009

 

Kill me…please…

Naruto paused as the agonized plea reached his ears. The jonin had just returned to the smoldering village, his clones dragging the unconscious creature a distance away. Several villagers had been brought over to a small patch of charred grass, a triage area to treat those with critical to minor injuries. The clones he’d left to clean up the other three stood next to their targets. They’d hog tied the unconscious beasts and taken them a good distance away from the remains of the raided village and his female teammates.

The two women were bent over the bleeding forms of the victims, their palms aglow.

The disgusting scent of burning skin and rotting flesh reached his nose, the smell putrid and overwhelming the closer he moved to the wounded. He swallowed, grimacing at the stench. It was worse than it had been the first time they’d encountered injuries of this nature.

The dead bodies hadn’t smelled as bad.

He brought his forearm to his nose, his stomach rebelling, bile in his throat.

Sakura knelt over the bloody form of the elderly victim, her green glowing palms moving over his ravaged body. The man was twisting on the ground, shifting in pure, unadulterated torment. Wrinkled, trembling fingers clawed weakly at the medical nin, smearing dark crimson down her forearms.

Kill me…” the man wheezed again.

The man was horribly brutalized. The side of his neck was torn and gushing fluid, black sludge oozed from his pores, sliding over his pruned skin. The telltale signs of seared tenketsu litter the right side of his upper torso, the coal colored spots standing out against his graying skin. His brown shirt was soaked in blood at his lower abdomen, the viscus liquid pooling beneath him. His ravaged face was contorted in agony, his brown eyes wide and bloodshot.

He was bleeding out, the hole in his gut leaking, the terrible wound gushing more than just blood. Bright pink chunks of his insides floated in the crimson pool, the bits of organ covered in a sticky black substance. The flesh sizzled, charring and dissolving where the dark spots touched.

The smell was atrocious.

He took a breath from behind his forearm, girding his stomach.

How Sakura could stand it, he didn’t know. It was several seconds before he was able to compose himself, his mind revisiting the information he’d learned on the trip over the region. Over their journey, Sakura had talked in depth about the injuries these creatures left behind. The black, corrosive fluid they injected that opened tenketsu and melted major organs within minutes. The unknown substance contained thousands of microorganisms that died when exposed outside of the human body. The black liquid was impossible to remove, seeming to burrow into organic tissue inside the body and fusing into the very cells.

Once inside, it broke down everything it touched.

Seeing it for himself, however, was worse than he’d expected. More horrible than his mind had been able to imagine. Taking a stabling breath, he made his way to his friend’s side, despite the stomach churning stench.

“Sakura.” he murmured, his question implied in his tone.

The pinkette shook her head, fierce emerald eyes focused on the man beneath her palms. Lines of strain creased her brows, distress filling her gaze. Her hands were shaking, her throat working as she swallowed. Her hands moved over the male’s chest, the glow brightening. The desperate, gripping hands of the man slid away, landing with a loud thump at his sides.

Graying, sightless eyes stared up at the sky, black sludge slipping from his nose.

The medical-nin froze, the glowing green fading from her palms. Sadness gripped his heart, both at the horrible death and the pain it brought his friend. The somber blonde knelt next to her forlorn form, placing a hand on her tense shoulder. Her eyes were dry but he could feel the hurt radiating from her body.

“Once that black sludge gets into their body, I can’t repair the damage and I can’t stop it. It repels chakra and liquefies their insides. Shosen jutsu, Saikan Chuushutsu no jutsu, everything we’ve tried is repelled. Using Katsuyu is useless, it makes her sick to touch it,” Sakura admitted, her voice low and worried, “I may not be able to help anyone here.”

Concern creased his brow.

Her eyes looked hollow, her skin slightly clammy.

He knew she struggled with the after effects of the war from time to time. On the rare occasions she lost a patient at the hospital, she would get like she was now. Emptiness would fill her eyes, her skin taking on a sickly pallor, depression coating her words. They all had battle scars, but he thought perhaps the kunoichi was among the most injured. He couldn’t imagine having someone pass away beneath his hands over and over again. To reach out to the injured knowing there was a chance that person would die in his care no matter what he did. The helplessness of a scenario like that would eat away at his soul.

Neji’s death had nearly torn him apart.

While he had been off fighting on the battlefields, Sakura and others like her had been cleaning up the remains, saving those that could be saved, watching the life fade from those that couldn’t. Every death was a new burden packed on to her slender shoulders, weighing her down each time it happened, just as it was now.

It hurt him to see her this way.

There wasn’t anything he could say that would take away or even dim the hurt for her, but he couldn’t just let her move on without trying to ease her pain.

“I’m sorry,” he began, “I’m sorry we weren’t able to help him, but, its not your fault, you’re doing everything you can to help. We might not have been able to save this man, but maybe there is someone here we can help, ‘ttebayo. Don’t give up yet.”

She gave a small nod, her face grim.

She straightened slowly, her form listless, shoulders hunched. He watched her move to the rest of the wounded, lips turned down in concern, worry marring his brows. When they got back, he’d talk to her again.

He wasn’t sure if he’d be any more helpful later than he’d been a minute ago, however.

Unable to assist in healing, Naruto turned instead to the source of the strife. He trekked over to his clones, checking to make sure they’d sufficiently incapacitated the monsters and had them firmly secured. He was a little disappointed that none of them would give him the opportunity to vent his frustration and forcefully put them back to sleep. Despite being unconscious, he kept the one he’d fought separate from the group. It was the only one that had its orb dislodged, and he remembered the change that had come over the creature the moment it’d rolled from his body.

He didn’t want to lose a single beast this time.

His eyes moved over their forms as his clones gave him a run down of their brief battles. One of the humanoids looked more animal than human, his jutting jaw weighed down be a heavy set of lower canine. The bones of his face were sharp and angular, feral and almost feline. His lithe body was covered in soft pale hair. The other two were more human than beast. The shorter was frail and painfully emaciated, his mouth equipped with underdeveloped fangs, but no claw tipped his fingers or toes. The taller one was more bestial but he too could pass for human if he kept his mouth closed.

Hinata joined him later, her face weary and distressed.

“Hinata?”

“Two of the villagers are stable for now, but we need to get them help as soon as we can.” she informed him softly.

“The nearest village is an hour away, and I don’t think they’ll let us back in their village. Especially with injured people.” One of the Naruto’s pointed out.

Hinata shook her head, moving to the beasts as she spoke.

“They need to be taken to Konoha,” she clarified, her Byakugan activating, “They won’t survive much longer if we don’t find a way to stop the sludge from eating away at their organs. Tsunade-sama and the rest of the medical team might be able to figure out a way to help them. The victims aren’t as critically injured and the small amount of the sludge is slow to reach major organs. It’ll give the medical team a chance to study the function of the substance in real time and maybe they’ll be able to come up with a treatment if not a cure but we need get them to the medical team quickly.”

His clones moved closer to the tied enemies, watching carefully as the young woman deliver several rapid strikes to the torso of each downed creature. His other selves tensed, ready to knock the creatures into the ground if they made even the slightest move while she deliver the blows.  

“They shouldn’t be able to move any time soon,” Hinata told him once finished, wiping her eyes with her fist, “At least long enough for us to return to the village if we leave now.”

Concerned, he moved closer to her, his hand at her waist.

“You okay?” he asked.

“Yeah, its just, that color,” she explained, hands dropping as the veins around her eyes faded, “It hurts to look at it. Their chakra…Its like the information in the file. I’ve never seen that color before and I don’t know how to describe it. There’s nothing I can compare it to. Its really bright, almost too much to look at.”

She blinked a few times, before meeting his eyes.

“Their chakra points aren’t normal. They have more tenketsu than I’ve ever seen, clustered together in several areas, mostly concentrated around major organs, though the big guy with the veins on his arms had them bunched in shoulders and along his forearms,” she paused to wipe her watering eyes again, “the channels that chakra flows through were moving, almost as if they were trying to avoid my strikes. They disconnected and reconnected to other points. Some were as thin as strands of hair, others wider than I’ve ever seen.”

The bush behind them shuffled. A subdued Sakura moved over to the pair, wiping blood from her hands and arms with an dirty piece of cloth. She met his gaze, urgency in her eyes.

“Naruto we need to-”

“We’re leaving now.” he confirmed immediately, “Gather the wounded and I’ll grab the targets, we’ll travel through the night.”

xxxxxx

May 23, 2009

The group returned to the village shortly before dawn. The Anbu collected their targets, whisking the creatures away without a word.

The injured villagers were surrounded by the medical team the moment they reached the hospital doors, Tsunade leading the charge. In the lobby of the medical facility, she did a quick check of the three returning ninja before issuing orders, the former Hokage easily slipping into the role of command.

“Naruto, head to the Hokage for report and debriefing. You too Hinata. Any information or observations you’ve made with your Byakugan will be helpful. Sakura, come with me.” without waiting to see if her orders were followed, the Sannin turned with a swish of blonde hair and marched through the double doors of the operating rooms.

Sakura followed her sensei into the empty hall, dread coiling in her gut. There were two more lives hanging in the balance. Two more suffering human beings that might have to be put out of their misery. Sweat beaded her upper lip, her head swimming the closer they moved to the intensive care unit. She struggled to keep her breathing even, to tamp down on the panic rising, scared she was about to embarrass herself while lives hung in the balance.

They passed four doors before her blonde mentor stopped. Tsunade turned, concerned honey eyes meeting hollow green.

“Sakura, go home.” Tsunade told her gently.

Shock widened her eyes at the softly spoken words.

“Let Shizune and I take over from here. Go home and rest, put the piece back together, and when you feel calmer, when you feel you’re back in control, come back.”

Tsunade placed a comforting hand on her shoulder.

“I wish I could take a moment to help you work through this, but there are people that need my help more,” she squeezed her shoulder, “I know what you’re going through, I’ve been there time and time again. Let it out, work through the pain and sorrow, and after, reaffirm your resolve to the oaths you took.”

xxxxxx

In the darkness of her bedroom, Sakura sat on the edge of her bed, staring down at her hands.

The blood coating her palms didn’t alarm her.

Dull emerald eyes took in the familiar hallucination with disinterest. It was always like this after she lost patients through euthanasia or their bodies giving out before she could heal their injuries. Her hands painted with the blood of every life that had slipped away beneath her hands. Soul searing guilt, heartbreaking sadness, and the suffocating grip of shame. And each time she returned to the field, fear would tighten her throat, panic sweeping over clammy skin. Scared she’d lose another person. Terrified she’d have to accept the stain of failure once more. That she’d have to hold their hand while they slipped away, or worse, have to stop their heart to end their suffering as she’d done with those in the village, those during the war.

Her lips trembled, teeth clenching as pain exploded in her chest.

After the war, Naruto had sensed her pain. Her longtime friend had been dogged in his questions of what had put the desolate look on her face. He knew it stemmed from the war, but he didn’t have the details about the mental wounds she’d received during that time. She hadn’t been able to tell Naruto what she’d done.

To tell him what she’d had to in the village to ease the agony of their unavoidable death, that she’d had to make that decision over and over during the war. Had ended the lives of those that couldn’t be saved.

She felt sick.

She despised herself. Despised her failure. Her weakness.

She wrapped her hands around her arms as the tremors began.

Her lungs seized, anxiety blooming, swarming, pulling her under. Her stomach lurched, dizziness slamming into her overtaxed brain. Emerald orbs wide, she hyperventilated in the quiet of her apartment, wheezing through the collision of emotional desolation.

‘Calm down.’ she coached herself.

Her body shook, sweat beading her forehead as she struggled to breathe.

‘Its not your fault.’

Her chest heaved as she gulped in great gusts of air.

‘You can’t save everyone.’

Her fingernails dug into her skin, her gaze focusing on the window across from her, sunlight bleeding into the darkness.

‘You can’t save them all.’

Her breathing slowed as the sun rose, illuminating her bedroom, beating back the shadows.

‘It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay.’

Calmer, hollow inside, Sakura stood. Moving to the mirror over her dresser, she wiped the tell tale streaks of tears from her bloodless cheeks. There was nothing she could do about her puffy eyes and red nose, but hopefully she wouldn’t run into anyone she knew. She left her apartment and began her short trek through the village, keeping her head down and her pace quick. Ino’s place wasn’t far from her own and with her mind in chaos and the threat of another anxiety attack looming on the horizon, the distraught medical-nin needed her best friend now more than ever.

She reached the Yamanaka’s front door minutes later. She knocked, shuffling her feet as she waited for an answer.

No answer.

Desperate, she knocked again.

Several minutes passed, feeling weepy, Sakura turned, ready to head home. She stopped as the doorknob rattled and a moment later, opened.

Green orbs widened in shock at the sight of her friend.

Ino looked haggard, her blue eyes haunted. Her blonde hair was mussed and gathered in a sloppy ponytail. Her loose fitted floral dress was wrinkled, something the priming and prideful woman would never have allowed. There were bags under her eyes, dark smudges of exhaustion.

Her closest friend looked worse than she did.

Sakura’s spine straightened, concern beating back the near crippling depression she’d been cloaked in on her way over.

“Ino, what happened, my God you look terrible!” she gasped.

Her eyes filled, and with a small sob, the woman threw herself into her arms. She was trembling, shaking all over. Her quaking hands clutched at the shocked pinkette.

xxxxxx

May 24, 2009

 

Sasuke paused, unease skating over his skin. The dark Uchiha had been in the midst of settling down for the night when he’d felt the disturbance a distance away.

The hair at his nape stood on end.

His red and lavender gaze shifted over the night sky, searching for the source of his disquiet. Dark clouds parted, a ball of light plummeting from the sky. Sasuke raised his arm, shielding his eyes from the glow of the meteor. Even from a distance, he could tell this wasn’t normal space debris. The streaking orb was a bright pale, cutting through the darkness of night. Its shape was shifting, elongating, becoming humanoid the closer it fell to earth.

He was moving a second later, dashing towards the anomaly. It slammed into the ground beyond a batch of trees, the explosion sending wind and rubble flying his way.

The air felt charged, stinging his skin as he drew near.

A figure stood a distance away, bent double and vomiting. Sasuke crouched in nearby brush, watching the humanoid. His eyes squinted against the bright silver glow surround the white robed figure. The tall, thin individual had long white hair gathered in a low, waist long ponytail and two protrusion from his head. The figure stumbled, a harsh cough leaving its chest before collapsing.

Minutes ticked by.

The figure didn’t move as the silvery glow slowly began to fade before extinguishing completely.

He watched a moment longer before he stood.

Sasuke moved over to the downed intruder, muscles tense as he neared. Kneeling next to the silent body. Brushing away soft hair, he pressed two fingers to the cool skin just above the carotid pulse, waiting silently. Not a beat tapped his fingertips. The person, whoever, whatever it was, was dead. Shifting his weight, he gripped the slender shoulder and flipped the corpse over with a thud. Shock washed over him as he got a look at the male’s face.

His eyes moved over the sightless whites eyes of the Byakugan, took in the curving horns jutting from the white main and ashen skin. Dark green liquid trickled from the corner of his mouth and nose.

No mistake.

He was of Kaguya’s origin.

An Otsutsuki.

His gaze narrowed. Beneath the gray robes, something small and red was flashing. Reaching out, Sasuke slipped his hand into the cloth, rummaging around until he found the opening of an inner pocket. Something round and warm brushed his fingertips. He gave a careful, inquisitive, squeeze. It felt smooth, almost metallic, and yet spongy. Confused, he fished out the palm sized sphere.

It was shiny and reflective, a crimson light blinking at the top.

The object whined.

Pain exploded in his left eye, a bright flash blinding the throbbing orb. He dropped the sphere, clutching his eye, turning away from the corpse. Molten shards of agony stabbed his pupil, warm liquid sliding from his tear ducts. He closed his eye, pulling his hand away. His hand was coated in small droplets of blood. Panting against the pain, he reached for a cloth in his inner pocket.

His hand froze inside the linen pocket.

The pain in his eye receded, replaced with a warm, vibrating sensation. He felt his Rinnegan shift, the spreading of his tomoe, the dilation of his pupil.

The world faded away, replaced with a hazy sensation of irreality.

Darkness surrounded him.

Dread crawled over his skin, the uncomfortable sensation setting his teeth on edge. The black void in which he stood wasn’t normal.

It felt…alive.

The sudden, unnatural silence of his world clawed at his mind. Sweat slid down his temples, the moisture irritating his skin. His chest heaved, each breath a struggle. The air felt heavy and wrong. Panic slithered up his spine, slipping around his neck. He took a step in retreat, unsure of where he was going, what there was to escape.

A moment later, confusion bloomed, his fear fading, leaving him wondering if he’d really been afraid at all. If he had imagined the sensation.

He shook his head.

His thoughts were jumbled.

Stumbling, clashing and making little sense.

What was he supposed to be doing?

Dark brows creased in thought, mind straining to recall the last few moments of time. Emptiness filled his brain.

A single light cut through the darkness.

His head turned sluggishly. He felt tired and awkward, his body slow to react to his commands. He took a careful step towards the shining object far into the distance, only to come face to face with it the moment his foot touched the solid surface of what he assumed to be the ground.

His Rinnegan grew warm, shifting in his eye socket.

The orb grew large, expanded until the black void was burned away by bright, pale green light.

A man stood before him.

An Otsutsuki male.

The one from the other reality, the other time. The one that had died. His white eyes stared right through the Uchiha, as though he didn’t exist. His face was panicked, the deep veins of his Byakugan blackened, green liquid sliding from his lips to his chin. His mouth moved, imparting a message Sasuke didn’t hear with his ears, but instead echoed directly into his brain.

“Home world is dead,” his voice was desperate, “Cyilo comes. Finish it. Now.”

The Otsutsuki turned, looking over his shoulder.

He turned back, opened his mouth to speak. A rattling cough shook his thin frame. He covered his mouth, hacking, green liquid seeping between his pale fingers. The hazy figure of the deceased male shimmered then winked out, taking with him the surreal world.

Sasuke stood starring into the distance.

Slowly awareness slipped through his body, control of his muscle returning gradually. He blinked, his dry eyelids moving over his aching orbs like sandpaper. It was long moments before his brain began to churn, thoughts, memories and reality colliding, his sluggish mind working to piece it all together. His feet ached, his limbs stiff and tight.

He looked around, shocked and distantly confused to see sunshine, a blue sky and fluffy white clouds.

The night had vanished.

He spun around, searching for the body, and the metal like sphere that had taken his mind elsewhere.

The metallic type globe was on the ground, tucked away in the rubble of last night’s crater creating crash. His dark eyes moved over to the pile of ash next to the sphere. The remnants of the Otsutsuki were blowing away with each gust of wind, scattering among the air and dirt, leaving behind only the perfectly pressed gray garb he’d worn.

Reaching down, Sasuke retrieved the orb.

With his Rinnegan deactivated, the device was silent. His dark eyes moved over the reflective surface before he placed it into his pocket.

His eye felt tender, but the information unfurling in his brain overshadowed the throb. The mirror like object was a communication device, transmitting messages, to where he didn’t know. His Rinnegan had activate the orb, allowing him to receive the pre-recorded message. Unfortunately, the transmission hadn’t identified the recipient, nor the identity of the sender.

But he sensed there was more stored in the alien object.

He’d learn what he could from it. Navigate the device and uncover more information, and piece together why this Otsutsuki had made it to their plane of existence only to die the moment he landed. What, if anything, the Otsutsuki had to do with the pockets of tears in reality and the beasts that slithered through.

And more importantly, how many of them were here already and what nefarious plan were they concocting.

With this new development, he’d had some of his suspicions confirmed.

At least partially.

Even so, he had more questions than answers. His brows creased in thought.

That name had come up again.

Cyilo.

Who or what was Cyilo?

xxxxxx

Naruto groaned, lips sliding over the damp column of his lover’s neck as he thrust into the wet warmth of her body. His own sweat slick form covered her slight figure, heaving chest to her back, his groin slapping against the pale globes of her bottom. Engulfed in the tight clutch of her sex, the blonde pumped his hips, eyes closed in ecstasy.

Eager hands reached beneath the moaning female, squeezing the soft mounds of her breasts.

His fingers pinched the hardened peaks, drawing a low groan and heated moisture from the pale beauty. His tongue traced the delicate curve of her jaw, slipping between her lips when she turned to meet his exploring mouth. They shared groans of bliss, tangling tongues slipping and sliding against each other.

Lust pooled in his gut. Turned on, his thighs widened her own, spreading her legs, exposing her saturated core to each stroke of his cock.

“Ohhh, Naruto-kun,” she moaned against his mouth, her fingers reaching back to slide through his short locks, “Ohhh yessss, ohhh,”

Her bottom lifted, the fierce clenching of her insides warning of impending climax.

Shivers crawled up his spine, his balls tightening in anticipation of the first wave of orgasm. It crashed into her seconds later, her glistening sex squeezing his, moisture bathing the thrusting cock in slippery excitement. She cried out, raising her hips for more, milking his throbbing length with desperate pulls of her pussy.

“Fuck…” he panted into the darkness of the room.

He rose, gripping her hips with rough hands as he gained his knees. Lifting her bottom, he pounded into her, ecstasy crashing through his veins with each slap of their flesh. Her hands gripped the sheets, her screams of pleasure muffled in the plush pillows of his bed. The sight of smaller formed stirred his ardor.

Head down, bottom raise, she posed an erotic picture.

An aphrodisiac he was powerless to ignore.

Need slid over his skin.

He deepened his strokes, rapt gaze moving over the fleshy jiggle of her bottom, the shinny curve of her back and the dark mane plastered to her damp flesh. His cock throbbed as he retreated from her clutching body before slamming home again, hot friction driving coherent thought from his lust glazed brain. He set a hard pace, lunging into each thrust with mounting please. The nearly muted wail of his name left the pillow. The soft squeak of the bed joined her subdued cries and his own panted groans.

The aching stiffness of his sex engulfed in the searing grip of her core sent gut wrenching shards of bliss up his spine.

The warning signs of his own culmination were unmistakable.

Sweat dripped down his temples, air sawing in and out of his lungs as pleasure built, threatening to take him under. His hand slipped over her soft skin, fingers seeking her pleasure button. The easy glide against her bundle of nerves at odds with the intensity of their melding flesh. Her body contorted as he rubbed her clit, the slow roll of his fingers and the pounding thrusts of his cock forcing her body to climb to the peak of zenith again.

“Yes, yes, yes, oh God!” she wept into the pillow.

She trembled in his grip, rocking back into his hammering hips.

He closed his eyes, blonde brows creasing with agonized rapture.

His pace quickened, the stroke of his fingers at her clit following suit. She pressed her palms into the rumpled sheets, using the leverage to meet his feverish humping with her own frantic shoves as they chased orgasm.

“You feel so good, Hinata.” he groaned, fighting his own brimming explosion, wanting to feel the tight spasms of her body again before giving in to the pleasure thrumming through his cock.

She seized, inner muscles clamping down on his working length, coating him in wet orgasm. Naruto gripped her hips, plunging into her with the force of a horny teen. Ecstasy crashed through his veins, his head swimming as reality spun away in a rush of ejaculate, filling her clenching sex with heated passion.

Muscles straining, body shuddering, Naruto groaned as relief washed over him.

He lowered his body, molding his form over hers. Her soft hand slid around his neck, gentle fingers caressing the damp hair at his nape. Strong arms wrapped around her smaller frame, his weight pressing her into the mattress.

“Mmmm,” he sighed, lips pressed to the shell of her ear, riding the receding waves of his orgasm with slow pumps of his hips.

Their harsh breathing gentling, the young couple cuddled, basking in the afterglow of shared passion.

xxxxxx

Unease crept up his spine, goosebumps pebbling his flesh. The replete Uzumaki popped up, blue eyes wide. He was in his bed, Hinata tucked at his side. No intruder stood over his bed. No indication of what had disturbed his rest other than the unease sliding over his skin. Confused, Naruto glanced around the room. It was dark, but he could see enough to know there was nothing out of place in his bedroom. Hinata shifted in his arms, her own sleep disturbed. Pale lids lifted, revealing unfocused lilac.

‘Naruto.’

Kurama’s rumbling voice vibrated in his mind.

“Naruto?” she murmured, exhaustion and confusion coating her voice.

Leaning down, Naruto pressed his lips to his drowsy girlfriend’s brow.

“Go back to sleep.” he encouraged softly.

She blinked slowly, her eyes slightly crossing before she drifted off once more. Naruto rolled over, sitting up on the side of the bed. His sharp blue eyes searched through the darkness, alighting eventually on his discarded boxers. He slipped them on and padded to his bedroom door.

‘What was that, Kurama?’ he questioned his friend.

‘A shock wave of extinguishing energy.’

Confused, Naruto shuffled through his living room, and out to the doors leading to his balcony. The air was cool against his exposed skin, the chill of the air deepening his initial unease.

‘What does that mean?’

Naruto felt what amounted to a shrug in his mind.

‘Its merely a description.’

Naruto mulled it over.

It had felt like something, some kind of energy had exploded suddenly into existence for a brief moment, then vanished into thin air. What it meant he could only guess. Disquiet churned in his gut.

‘It felt familiar.’

That, he couldn’t say, resonated with him. The sudden blast of energy wasn’t one he recognized in any capacity.

‘Familiar? How?’

Another impression of a shrug.

‘Can you pinpoint where it came from?’

‘No, much like the creatures, its presence was everywhere with no direction.’

‘There wasn’t any screaming this time,’ he mulled, ‘I didn’t feel any vibrations or anything.’

Naruto wasn’t sure if this had anything to do with the monsters he’d brought back, or something else entirely. He was waiting for a report on what the intelligence team had uncovered as well as the status of the villagers they’d manage to save but he would make stop to Kakashi-sensei tomorrow morning and see if it was something new he needed to be concerned about.

He glanced at the sky.

Dawn would be breaking soon.

He’d grab some breakfast and then head to the tower. It’d be easier for him to get things hashed out before he rounded up his genin team. His students had taken time off after the traumatic incident that had been their first mission out and were scheduled to return to active duty that afternoon.

He’d need to have a clear mind when he met up with the trio. The last thing he needed was to be stewing over this new mystery while trying to reassure the bunch.

‘It had have been something powerful to have woken you up, Kurama.’ he pondered absently.

‘With as much noise you and your mate make, how can I sleep?’ the kyuubi huffed, ‘You humans are a confusing breed. Kushina was quick tempered and loud by day, yet quiet when mating. Your mate is quiet by day, but is loud when mating. Contradictory creatures.’

Naruto was torn between embarrassment that his…”mating” was loud enough to wake Kurama and being mortified that the fox had volunteered some really personal, unwanted information about his mother.

“I thought we agreed no peeking when we’re…uh…busy!” he sputtered aloud, “A-And would you please spared me the details about what my parents got up to?!”

The bellowing rumble of laughter echoed in his mind, leaving the bright faced Uzumaki to stew. An instant later, a small smile curved his lips. His grin lasted only a moment, Kurama’s laughter trickling off soon after.

Both grew quiet, calling back the memory of the uneasy sensation that had awakened them in the dead of the night.

Worry churned in the jonin’s gut.

xxxxxx

Took a little longer for this chapter than normal. Sorry guys, got distracted a lil bit XD Black Ops 2 is still fun as hell years later.

Some of you were wondering about Kurama and I replied to the reviews that asked, but if others are interested as well, I’ll tell you what I told others. Kurama is chilling right now, lol. He will be more significant later on in the story, but not right now. He’s watching and sleeping at intervals. He’s fully aware of the developments, but seeing as he doesn’t have insight either, I didn’t see a need to have him talking and shiz. Others may feel differently, I understand that but meh, I wasn’t interested. The first part of this story is about Naruto’s development and relationship with Hinata and laying the frame work for shiz to happen later. I didn’t really see a need for the stray comments of Kurama type thing, and I honestly don’t enjoy seeing random comments from internal influences in the middle of dialogue and stuff. That’s my own personal pet peeve though XD

Just a reminder. The events of the Last, Boruto Movie and Boruto series does not take place in this fic. That’s why Toneri is not on the moon. That’ll be explained later though.

Think that’s all for now.

Anyway, let me know your thoughts, and I’ll see you in the next chapter.

Laters

~Sessakag

Chapter Text

Chapter Seventeen

 

May 25, 2009

 

Sakura watched the blonde quietly, a small tape recorder in hand. Ino had given her the device two days ago, instructing her to record the information that flowed from the Yamanaka directly after the purge.

Ino sat crisscrossed several feet away, her eyes closed, sweat slipping down her temples. The telepathic kunoichi looked worlds better, the smudges gone from her eyes, her purple halter top and ankle length skirt neatly pressed. Her blonde hair was loose, flowing down her shoulders and pooling on the grass below. Her fingers were arranged in the seal for Shintenshin no Jutsu, with the exception of her ring and pinkie fingers. The two digits pointed down rather than out, resulting in a jutsu the Yamanaka Clan used to “purge”.

The Yamanaka heiress had been purging for the past two days, spending several hours a day removing the dark build up locked in her psyche. After mucking around in the mind of the beasts, she’d been on the verge of a melt down. Thoughts and memories were directly and heavily entwined with raw human emotion. Touching the minds of others was hazardous, and even a brief interaction had the potential to cause significant mental damage to those that dabbled in the heads of other individuals. Emotions, negative and positive latched on to the invading telepath, sticking like glue to the interloper and breaking down their psyche over time.

Sakura had seen her friend that way once before; a week after the war ended, when the consequence of connecting so many minds at once had finally taken a toll. Ino had been weighed down with the pain, sorrow, anger and even hatred in the minds of the Allied shinobi she’d touched, drowning in the well of negativity she’d inadvertently collected.

It was then that she’d explained purging to the pinkette, describing the process in the simplest terms she could.

Purging drained the dark “energy” contained within the memories and emotions acquired from others, nullifying the effect it had on the telepath. Ino described it as turning the emotional chaos of a memory or thought into a file in her mind, where she could access the information contained, and “read” about the emotions associated with the information but in a way that was detached, on the outside looking in.

It allowed her to keep the contents of the memory without being driven to insanity by its negative energy.

To initiate the purge, Ino went into a meditative state that forced the damaging energy trapped inside the thoughts and memories plucked from someone else’s head from her own cranium, leaving them decontaminated and tucked safely behind a compartment in the mind of a Yamanaka. The discarded energy manifested physically, appearing as black smoke, excreted from the temples and forehead. The scent it carried varied, the strength of the odor dependent upon the severity of negativity.

Ino had been on her way to purge when Sakura had knocked on her door.

Sleep deprived, despondent and in need of support, the weepy kunoichi had jumped at the solace her pink haired friend offered. Sai had left mid week, busy with his new position and had yet to be heard from. Shikamaru was swamped in his role as adviser and buffer between Konoha and Myoku’s harmful edicts, while Choji was again away in Kumo. With the majority of her lifelines unavailable, the people she felt comfortable purging with was limited. After a successful purge, Ino often felt empty, exhausted and in need of comfort.

There were only a few people she trusted to fill that role.

Sakura was one of those people.

The two kunoichi had walked a distance from the village, selecting a soothing clearing near a cheerful stream, returning to the secluded spot for the next two days.

Emerald orbs moved over the other woman, watching as tension left her shoulders. Black, hazy smoke billowed from Ino’s forehead, streaming steadily from the pores in her skin. A soft hiss reached Sakura’s ears, the sound, one she’d gotten used to in the past two day.

The scent, however, left her swallowing against her gag reflex.

It was nowhere near the overwhelming stench of the black ooze from the creatures, but the smell of concentrated negativity was a close second.

Minutes later, the smoke began to ebb, the thick black becoming dark gray, then cloudy gray, before finally dispersing completely.

“Ino, are you feeling better?” Sakura questioned as her eyes opened.

Blue orbs met green. Ino sucked in a steadying breath, her eyes filling. Sakura was up and over the distance between them. Wrapping her arms around the trembling woman, Sakura pulled a handkerchief from her pocket and wiped the remnants of sweat and dark emotion from her face and forehead. She spoke soothing words to her friend, stroking her back comfortingly.

An hour later, Ino was almost back to her confident, outspoken self. The platinum blonde took a sip of the cool water in the canteen next to her, letting out a small sigh of relief.

“Thanks, Sakura,” she said with a small smile that vanished quickly, “thought I was going to go crazy this time…those things…I’ve never been inside minds like that. It was-”

“Wait,” Sakura interrupted, turning on the recorder she held and placing it on the grass between them, “Post purge interview. Ino Yamanaka. Sakura Haruno. May 25, 2009. Zero four hundred hours.”

Sakura settled across from her friend.

“So their minds are…different?” Sakura prompted.

“More than different. No where near normal. There’s layers, pathways that lead to pathways within pathways, some that lead nowhere. The memories, the thought patterns are so disorganized and chaotic. They don’t feel human, but they sound human and the noises that echo in that space. The screaming…” Ino shivered, “the noise is terrible. It sounds like screaming but its not really screaming, and I don’t hear it with my ears.”

Pink brows creased with confusion. Ino was all over the place, but the last comment was one she’d heard before.

“Naruto described it that way too but I still don’t understand what you guys mean. It doesn’t make much sense to me.”

Ino shook her head.

“It doesn’t make much sense to me either, but that’s the best way I can describe it,” she said, “I can only hear it when I’m inside their head though. I’m not able to hear it without that direct connection the way Naruto can. But when I hear it, I get the sense that the sound isn’t just noise but almost like words. It gives off…impression.”

“Impression?”

“Its like a sense I get when I sift through thoughts and memories of normal humans. I can sometimes feel emotions like words…its kinda hard to explain, but I get…suggestions, sort of like speech, when connecting to someone else’s inner self,” Ino rubbed her temples, blonde brows crinkling, “It was talking. That God awful noise is how it talks.”

A shiver skated up Sakura’s spine.

“What talks?”

Ino met her gaze/

“The tree.”

Goosebumps pebbled the skin along her arms. Sakura had only heard whispers of the alleged tree before her mission. Rumors she had dismissed as just that, rumors. The creature’s she’d seen and worked on had been dead and she’d seen no vegetation, let alone a tree within their corpses.

“What…what do you mean by that? What tree?”

Looking just as creeped out but on a more personal note, Ino shook her head again.

“I don’t really know myself. It’s something in their head. A mental space tucked away in the labyrinth of their psyche, at least the…trunk of it is,” she hesitated, trying to find the words to describe it, “The trunk is in the inner space, but the roots, the branches, they touch every part of the mind. That’s where the sound comes from. The tree is thin and frail. It’s starving, that’s why it screams.”

Sakura was more than a little disturbed. The hair at her nape stood on end.

“Ino, what-”

“It needs blood and chakra to grow.”

“That’s why they’re draining their victims, to feed this…tree and not their bodies?”

Ino nodded.

“Yes. The blood and chakra sustains the tree but they’re still…human, or enough of them is still human that their bodies need normal human nourishment, its the tree that needs the blood and chakra. The live jubokko I worked with were being fed blood intravenously and received infusions of chakra, but their bodies broke down quickly without proper nourishment. When their bodies were fed but not the tree, that black sludge dripped from their fangs and the humming inside head began,” Ino shuddered, “It started screaming. The sludge manifests when the tree is ravenous. With regular feedings, it doesn’t appear and the tree is silent.”

“Jubokko?”

“That’s what the intelligence team has dubbed them. They function much like the myth of a jubokko.”

Sakura did a quick search of her mind for the familiar term. The jubokko was a said to be a demon tree, often appearing in folklore, that survive on the blood of humans, taking root in the aftermath of a battlefield in which many have perished. Sakura thought the name fit, except in this case, the jubokko were creating the bloody battlefield to feed themselves.

“The sludge is nicknamed tsuchi.”

“Tsuchi?” Sakura repeated, a bit surprised, “soil isn’t normally corrosive.”

“Its composition is strange and yet it functions much like it. When it enters the body, it liquefies the insides and overstimulates tenketsu, but it also acts as an absorbent, storing both life sustaining substances within and acts as a medium. Breaking down what it needs and funneling it back to the tree. It promotes and stimulates the growth of the tree, and has been dubbed tsuchi.”

Sakura was eager to see the data she’d missed while on her mission and gain a deeper understanding of the fluid. Not just for curiosity’s sake, but also in the hopes of finding a way to combat the fatal substance. If the medical and analytical departments had come this far in understanding what it was, how it functioned and had come up with a title befitting its significance, surely the new information would help formulate treatment or even better, a cure.

Sakura made a mental note to grab the report after she checked on the survivors they’d rescued.

“What about their memories?” she asked, “Who were these people? What happened?”

“I’m not sure. Their memories are trapped, or covered up I guess you could say,” she took another swallow of water, “I’ll need to go back in and see if I can get access. I may be able gain some insight from their memories, maybe even see who created them.”

Sakura frowned in concern.

“Are you sure you can handle that, Ino?”

“Yeah, I just need to be more careful. Take my time and purge more often. The amount of pain and chaos in their mind is just…I wasn’t prepared for it the first time but I think I can handle it,” Ino winked, “Who else but a Yamanaka can handle something like this?”

Sakura gave a small, unconvincing smile at the woman’s bluster. She could see the worry in her blue depths, the look most likely reflected in her own eyes.

Ino pressed the off button on the recorder, gazing intently at her friend.

“Your turn.” Ino declared.

Sakura stared, confused as the blonde held out her arms, hands gesturing for her to move into the embrace.

Sakura raised a brow.

“Ino, what in the world are you doing?”

Ino’s face softened. Her gaze gentle and compassionate.

“You lost someone, didn’t you?” she asked, “I may have been out of it and in worse shape than you, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t recognize that looked in your eyes, or feel your pain. Come here and let it out, and then we’ll work on putting you back together.”

Sakura swallowed, her throat tight. The pain and sadness of the last few day came back in a rush. Her eyes burned as she held back tears. With Ino taken care of, she herself could fall apart. She moved into healing embrace, weeping as Ino wrapped her arms around her.

xxxxxx

“Ow! Dammit!”

Naruto scowled at the frying pan, blowing at the stinging burns across his fingertips. Years later and he was still clumsy in the kitchen. He was out of ramen and had tried his hand at scrambled eggs instead. Dressed in his long sleeved fishnet under shirt and bright orange mission pants, and on his second finger burning, the annoyed jonin was tempted to go without breakfast.

“It shouldn’t be this hard to make eggs, ‘ttebayo.”

A giggle filled the kitchen.

He looked over his shoulder, turning his frown on his girlfriend. Hinata stood in the doorway of the kitchen in one of his t-shirts, her pale hand over her mouth as she chortled.

“Oiiii, Hinata,” he pouted with feigned petulance, “I thought we agreed that when I’m cooking, nobody giggles.”

His lips curled as she burst into fresh laughter. He turned back to his slightly charred eggs. She opened the fridge next to him, pulling out lunch meat, condiments and left overs from last night.

“You’re up really early, Naruto-kun,” she murmured, “I thought your meeting wasn’t until seven.”

“Yeah, but I need to talk to Kakashi-sensei and after the meeting, I won’t have time.”

He reached into a cabinet and grabbed a plate for his eggs.

“Is it about last night?” she asked, taking the items to his kitchen table.

He paused a moment, glancing at her before sliding his eggs on the plate.

“You felt it too then?” he asked.

“It felt like…something powerful winked into existence and then vanished soon after.”

Naruto placed the pan in the sink and moved to the table with his food. Hinata brought a couple of plastic containers and began preparing sandwiches and other side dishes for him and his genin team to eat at lunch time.

He nodded.

“That’s what it felt like to me and Kurama said pretty much the same thing. It might have something to do with the creatures but it felt really far off.” he said, “maybe Kakashi-sensei knows something we don’t.”

He took a few bites of his breakfast, grimacing slightly at the charred taste. Hinata looked worried.

“Kurama?”

“Yeah, it woke him up too. He said it felt familiar.”

“Familiar?”

Naruto shrugged.

“He was just as confused about it.”

Naruto worked on stomaching his unappetizing meal as Hinata finished packing lunches. Minutes later, the pair finished and moved to the living room. Naruto picked up his black mission jacket from the armrest of the couch and shrugged it on. He zipped the jacket before accepting the headband Hinata held out to him. He ran a hand through his short blonde spikes before slipping it over his head.

“Thanks. Guess I’m all set,” he grinned, “Hope the team is ready too.”

“Tell them I said hello.” she said.

“We’re working on some group training today,” he said, heading for the door, “Nothing too heavy, so I should be done before your Clan meetings end. I’ll probably take them out for ramen after. If you aren’t busy, drop by and join us. They like hanging out with you, especially Sanzo.”

His dark haired lover giggled, and Naruto chuckled as well. The troublemaker had a crush on the sweet natured Hyuuga, blushing profusely when she was near. Naruto enjoyed needling the genin about his red face and bumbling words in her presence.

“He’s a brat but he’s got good taste at least.” Naruto grinned, taking the bundled lunches from her hands.

She blushed at his complement, playing bashfully with a strand of hair. With her midnight mane loose and mussed, dressed in his shirt, she looked beautiful and more than a little tempting. He leaned down and fused his mouth briefly to hers.

“See you later,” he said, drawing back, “Love ya.”

“Love you too, have a good day.”

The sky was still dark as he walked the quiet and mostly empty streets of his home town. A few early operating business owners waved and called out greetings as he passed. He waved back, smiling at those he knew and even those he didn’t. Naruto jogged up the stairs of Hokage tower, moments before dawn. Dull light stretched across the dark sky, the sun peeking over the horizon.

He nodded to several nin as he maneuvered the halls. He was a few feet away from the Hokage door when it swung open, smacking against the wall.

Naruto paused, watching as the tall, lithe figure of Myoku Yagutsu stepped through the open portal. Unease crawled over his skin. He could feel the rage rolling off the haughty adviser. Calm, quiet, the adviser turned towards him and began to walk. Adorned in a snowy robed top and neatly pressed, baggy slack, his white hair gathered atop his head, he presented his usually impeccable, immaculate picture. It was his face that gave the blonde Uzumaki pause.

His pale face contorted in blistering fury, dark eyes wide and fierce.

The air felt charged, slithering over his skin. Kurama stirred, brushing along the confines of his consciousness. Fox and jonin watched the slow gait of the man, the almost feral look of ire twisting his normally indifferent visage. The soft clicks of his booted feet echoed in the hall as he passed by, the light traffic of early rising shinobi parting for the enraged man.

Curious blue orbs watched until he rounded the corner and disappeared from sight.

“What crawled up his butt?” Naruto asked his former teacher minutes later.

Inside the silver haired leader’s office, the jonin had sat the lunches in an unoccupied chair along the far wall and now stood in front of his oak wood desk.

Kakashi leaned back in his plush chair, closing his eyes as he spoke.

“Adviser Yagutsu is finding out the limits of his influence,” he answered simply, “now, I assume you’re here early for a reason, I can’t see you rolling out of bed an hour early for a meeting.”

Naruto grew serious.

“Last night, I felt…something. Like something really powerful exploded into existence then it was gone,” he explained, “Kurama felt it too, so did Hinata. Was it one of those beasts we brought back?”

“Jubokko.”

Blonde brows creased in confusion.

“We’ve decided on a name based on the information gathered; jubokko,” Hatake clarified, sitting up in his chair, dark eyes sharp, “The upcoming meeting is a briefing and update on the new information we have about these transformed humans. I’m not sure if what you’ve described is something that can be attributed to the jubokko we have here. I haven’t received any reports like that from the labs, but we can’t rule it out either.”

“It felt kind of far in the distance so I don’t think the…” he paused, recalling the new title, “jubokko we brought back were involved but I wanted to be sure. It didn’t feel like anything I’ve ever felt before. It was unnerving and woke us up in the middle of the night. Kurama says it felt familiar to him but he can’t really explain how or why it did.”

“I’ll add the information to the file we have and if it happens again, go directly to the intelligence department and we’ll see if we can trace its origins. In the mean time, I’ll have the patrol reports pulled for last night and see if they observed anything abnormal. You said it felt far off?”

“Yeah, almost like an echo but I couldn’t tell you in which direction.”

“If its outside the boundaries of Fire Country I’ll check with the other Nations and see if they have any reports of anything abnormal occurring last night.”

A little disappointed that he wouldn’t be getting any immediate answers about this new worry, Naruto nodded.

The two talked for several more minutes before a knock, signaling another guest, interrupted the pair. Naruto gathered his bentos as the door swung open.

“Tsunade-baa-chan, nee-chan, Tonton, morning.” he greeted as the former Hokage and her dark haired assistant entered.

“Morning squirt.” Tsunade replied, though her honey eyes looked deadly serious.

“Good morning, Naruto.” Shizune answered a moment later.

The younger woman looked just as grim, her arms wrapped around the snorting pig. He trekked to the door as the three began to converse, his curiosity peaked when Sakura’s name reached his ears.

He’d gone by her place yesterday and she hadn’t been home. Ino had been absent as well. He was pretty sure the two were together but he was still worried about her. Both of them, actually.

They were both dealing with a lot.

He knew they were tough but even the strongest needed help sometimes.

He’d go by their place again after ramen.

He made it a couple of minutes early for the scheduled meeting and chatted with his fellow jonin while they waited. He wasn’t surprised that Sakura wasn’t here but he was a bit shocked to see Sai. The former Root member stood in the thick of the gathered group, speaking to a woman Naruto wasn’t very familiar with.

“Oi! Sai!” he greeted loudly, waving at his pale friend.

Sai and most of the room turned to look at the loud blonde. Naruto was smiling as he walked over to the male, that changed quickly the moment his friend returned the greeting.

“Oh, good morning,” Sai smiled, “cockzilla.”

Heat exploded across his cheeks, blue orbs widening as a few people snickered and giggled.

“Sai!” the embarrassed Uzumaki sputtered, grabbing the loose lipped bastard and tugging him from the crowd.

The mortified blonde felt a million eyes on his back as he maneuvered them to an empty corner of the room.

“I told you not to call me that, ya jerk!” he hissed, “its embarrassing, dattebayo!”

The still suspected robot merely smiled at him, unruffled and not in the least bit apologetic.

“Slip of the tongue, Naruto-kun.”

Blonde brows twitched.

“How’d you like the slip of a fist?” Naruto mumbled.

“It’s been a while since we’ve talked and yet all you seem to have for me are threats and hostility, Naruto-kun,” Sai needled, his smile stretching, “the book I read says that after a long period of time, friends should-”

“I forgot how annoyingly weird you are.” Naruto complained.

Naruto sighed, though it was more show than actual exasperation. He’d missed the nutty painter and his off hand, often awkward comments. His teammate had damn near fallen off the grid and his absence was made worse by the general lack of time his group of friends seemed to have for each other since New Years.

Naruto was busy with his new team of genin. Choji spent as much time as he could in Kumo, doing his best to woo his new love interest, Karui. Shikamaru barely had time to spare for Temari, let alone his friends. Tenten was busy opening her own weapons retail shop, while, Shino, shockingly, was making moves to pursue a teaching career at the Academy.

Even Kiba was scarce now that he and Tamaki had moved in together.

Lee, however…

Lee was mystery.

The taijutsu practitioner seemed to be hiding something.

Naruto was almost certain bushy brows had a girlfriend tucked away somewhere considering he’d started bailing on them sometime after New Years, offering stuttering excuses about having to meet someone and then zipping off before saying who he was meeting. Weeks after his strange behavior began, Naruto had seen a familiar, goofy look on his face and a relaxed, sluggish sway to his gait.

In addition to the life choices and decisions the members of the Konoha 11 were making as they grew into adulthood, the back to back mission of a struggling village added to the encroachment of group hang outs.

“Still on the hush about your reassignment?” Naruto asked.

The creepy smile faltered, replaced with a more genuine, serious expression.

“Until the foreseeable future.” Sai confirmed.

Naruto nodded, not bothering to waste his breath with questions. He’d get nothing from the dark haired male.

He was more tight lipped than Sasuke.

The two chatted, Naruto growing increasingly flustered as his friend returned to his earlier teasing. The opening and closing of a door drew everyone’s attention and silence. Shikamaru, Myoku and a few white coat wearing scientists and medical specialists followed him. The sickly looking adviser seemed frigidly composed and detached, a stark contrast to his earlier visceral fury.

The meeting began without preamble, one of the coated women giving a run down of the physiology of the newly labeled jubokko and an explanation of its namesake.

“The appearance of the enemy varies but from what we can tell, there are distinguishing features and behaviors that will help you identify a threat. Pale skin. Fangs and claws. All have been male. Ocular abnormalities including but not limited to, slit pupils, abnormally colored sclera, and imitations of well known kekkei genkai, although such occurrences are rare.”

Naruto listened intently to the information, more disturbed when the medical team began to speak, explaining the effects of the tsuchi. Sakura crossed his mind again when the white coats confirmed one of the two survivors they’d brought back were dead as of that morning. The introduction of the corrosive sludge occurred when the creature became starved for nourishment, using the tsuchi to quickly, and efficiently melt major organs, erode blood vessels and gather chakra all at once, turning their victim’s insides into the equivalence of a potent protein shake, one meant to quickly sate hunger long enough to find a more filling source of sustenance.

They explained, in horrific detail, the liquefying process, initiated by acid producing, tenketsu dilating, flesh eating microorganisms contained within the sticky substance. It acted much like tsuchi, absorbing the bloody, grizzly nutrients it needed and funneled it back for the consumption of the starving jubokko, ensuring its survival and stimulating growth.

The growth of the “tree” inside each and every one of the jubokko.

The partially sentient being existing in a plane of their psyche, one that drove the modified humans to obtain what it needed to live and thrive. The ear tingling wail in his ears, produced by the baying tree in desperate need of a meal. One of the jonin had asked if the tree being referenced was corporeal or incorporeal, and the response they received had been confusing and alarming.

The tree was both. Manifesting in the mind and in the extra organs growing inside the body of the jubokko.

The more he listened, the more apprehensive he grew.

Not for himself, but for the genin he was responsible for and the danger these things posed for the civilian population that couldn’t defend themselves.

He was concerned about the safety of his friends and fellow shinobi.

For his kunoichi girlfriend.

He didn’t even want to contemplate the last one. The very thought left him nauseous.

No cure, not even treatment to hold the symptoms at bay.

The last survivor was expected to perish soon, setting the fatality rate, as it stood at the moment, at one hundred percent.

“The bite itself is not contagious. There hasn’t been a single case of a human transforming into the jubokko after an attack. However, the bite, accompanied with tsuchi is fatal.” Shikamaru informed.

“These orbs,” one of the scientists followed, holding up a blown up picture of the green luminescent sphere in question, “are being used to control the behavior of the jubokko. They’re located in the chest cavity, and upon dislodging the object, connections between it and its manipulator is severed, at which point the jubokko returns to fulfilling its only objective. Feeding its hunger on whoever, whatever is near at hand.”

Memories of his own experience with the jubokko turning on another came to mind.

“Due to their volatile nature and the effectiveness of the tsuchi,” the pale adviser began, “They are not to be engaged proactively-”

“Unless they pose an immediate threat to human life, at which point you are cleared to act,” Shikamaru informed the group, eyes cutting to the fancy dressed man as he spoke, “Capture, containment are ideal, but if that course of action becomes unattainable, immediate extermination is permitted and demanded.”

Shikamaru turned back to the group.

“Use your best judgment. Our core objective is to limit the loss of life, not only for those you protect but for you all as well.”

xxxxxx

Otsutsuki sighting confirmed.

Died upon arrival.

Body decayed of its own accord.

Probability of more: high.

Deceased left behind communication device. Object is activated with Rinnegan. Updates to follow as information becomes available.

-S

xxxxxx

May 31, 2009

Blunted fingernails curled into his pecks, the undulating hips beneath his hands moving at a frenzied pace. Naruto watched with hood eyes as the moaning beauty bounced atop him, the blue sapphire, half heart dangling between her naked breasts. Her wet core clutched tight around his throbbing length, the sensation sending blood crashing through his veins.

He panted, sliding his hands up her side, filling his hands with the generous flesh of her breasts, rubbing his thumbs over her coral nipples.

“Naruto-kunnnn,” she mewled, arching her spine into his teasing hands.

Heat blasted his gut. He lifted his torso, lips and tongue sliding over the damp skin of her abdomen, kissing and sucking his way to her fleshy mounds. He suckled one distended bud before laving the other, his hands gliding down her back, through her hair and over her buttocks.

Her breath hitched, desperate fingers twined in his hair.

Her excited moans rose several octaves as she rode his cock to orgasm, twisting and shuddering, milking his sex with hard pulls of her body. He groaned, mouth pressed to her breast as climax tore through him, tremors wracking his locked muscles. The hot rush of cum leaving his cock blissful. Her fingers danced over his spine, caressing and tracing as euphoria bloomed. Panting, Naruto dropped back to the bed, taking her with him.

Hinata breathed softly against his skin, her lips pressing kisses to his heated flesh.

He sighed, contentment unfurling.

They cuddled, their breathing slowing in the afterglow. Naruto gazed down at the replete woman curled against his chest as she toyed with their necklaces, connecting the two halves into a single heart.

He swallowed.

Nerves churning in his gut. He stroked her cooling skin, drumming up the courage to open his mouth.

‘Just say it. The worse she can say is no.’

He didn’t know why he was nervous. The chances of her saying yes were greater than the possibility of her say no.

“Your heart is beating fast,” she murmured into the quiet, “What’s wrong Naruto-kun?”

“Ah, yeah…I was uh, thinking…you’re here more than you are at your place, ‘ttebayo,” he scratched his whisker marked cheek, struggling not to trip over his words, “and I was thinking, maybe we should…move in together, permanently, ya know, not like before but, like as a couple.”

He was babbling, sounding like an idiot.

Her head lifted, eyes meeting his.

“I-I mean if you want to,” he rambled, “You don’t have to, I can wait if you think it’s too soon for that, or if your father would-”

She pressed her lips to his in answer, sweeping his mouth with enough passion to empty his brain. Her tongue slipped over his, her plush lips drawing the breath from his lungs. Her hands caressed his face, fingers slipping through his blonde hair as she made out with him. His own hands slid down the smooth, feather soft skin of her naked back, down and over the lush globes of her bottom.

Lust coiled in his gut, need crashing through his veins as wet kisses traced his jaw and throat.

“I’ll take that as a yes.” he murmured.

She lifted her head, grinning happily at him.

“I’d love to move in with you, ‘ttebayo.” she giggled, tracing his lips with gentle fingertips.

He grinned beneath her digits.

“Then let’s live together, dattebayo.”

xxxxxx

June 1, 2009

Full report required.

Anbu dispatched.

Rendezvous at coordinates below.

-X

Sai rolled the scroll and placed it in the small pouch attached to the hawk’s ankle. In the shadowed depths of the secluded Anbu Headquarters, the expressionless painter trekked to the window of his office, balancing the messenger hawk perched on his forearm. He lifted the glass. Cool midnight air swept over his skin as he thrust his arm up and out, sending the bird back to its master. Moonlight streamed over the two occupants of the room.

Sai pivoted, glancing at the kneeling subordinate.

“Crow.”

“Sir.” the masked Anbu answered from beneath his beaked mask.

“You have your coordinates. If Uchiha does not make contact within a month of your arrival to the rendezvous, return immediately. Dismissed.”

The Anbu disappeared in a cloud of smoke.

Sai took a breath, his gaze turning back to the bright light of the moon. He’d hoped to finish early enough to check on his girlfriend. The reports, both written and recorded by his significant other seemed to be getting worse. He worried about her ability to handle the task she’d been assigned. He believed in her, knew she was the best Konoha had to offer in terms of intelligence gathering, but he wondered, at what cost?

What harm would she be willing to endure to solve this deadly mystery?

He looked down at his own hands.

How far was he willing to go?

xxxxxx

June 12, 2009

The distant, but familiar screech of his alarm clock jerked him from his slumber. Sleepy blue orbs opened, blurry gaze moving around the gently illuminated room. Irritation crawled up his spine at the wailing noise. He was off today and had clearly forgotten, once again, to turn his alarm off. The warm bundle curled against his back shifted, the feminine arms wrapped around his waist flexing gently. Hinata lay plastered to his back, her naked breasts pressed to his back, smooth legs entwine with his.

Naruto yawned, reaching over to his bedside dresser. He slammed his hand atop the alarm clock, silencing the ringing.

Feather soft lips pressed against his flesh, her hands caressing the hard planes of his abdomen. He turned in her embrace, meeting her tired eyes and stroking her silky hair from her face.

“Morning,” he greeted, pressing his lips to hers.

“Good morning,” she murmured back.

“Forgot to turn the alarm off.” he grumbled with a pout.

Hinata laughed.

“I see that,” she smiled, sitting up and brushing her mussed hair from her face and shoulders, “While we’re up early on a Saturday, why don’t I make us breakfast and we can spend the day at the lake. That’d be a nice change.”

It’d be more than a nice change. The village had been in none stop action for the last two weeks. The injured increasing, down time decreasing and the tension was starting to erode tempers. The civilians were antsy, rumors of the chaos slowly creeping forward and beginning to seep within the walls of Konoha.

A calming, relaxing trip to the lake would be a welcome change.

They took a shower together, dressed and had breakfast together. He was just finishing his orange juice when his doorbell rang. He sighed, half expecting an emergency mission. He sat his glass down, hoping and dreading the call to duty. He loved being in the field, loved going out on missions, but lately, he’d been playing fill in for a sudden shortage of qualified shinobi, replacing nin that were either MIA or KIA.

The loss of life disturbed and saddened him. It wasn’t a massive loss, the Konoha nin weren’t falling by the hundreds, not even by the dozens but it was enough to give him pause.

“I’ll get it, ‘ttebayo.”

He padded over to the front door and opened it, blinking at the three genin at standing in his apartment hallway.

“Good morning, sensei!” came Tani’s sing-song greeting.

“Good morning, sensei.” Seinosuke said with a slight bow.

“Yo.” Sanzo greeted, waving a peace sign at the confused blonde.

His students were dressed casually. Tani was clothed in a bright yellow summer dress and tan sandals, a yellow headband tucked into her short green hair. Sanzo was wearing a deep blue t-shirt and khaki shorts, while Seinosuke sported a light gray t-shirt and jeans.

Naruto blinked again.

“What are you guys doing here?” he asked, “We have today off.”

“Well,” Tani chirped, grinning brightly, “It’s Sanzo’s birthday! His parents are on a mission and haven’t come back yet so I figured we’d celebrate here!”

“Ehhh??”

“Unless you don’t wanna celebrate with us?” Tani pouted with fake hurt.

“Uh, no I-”

“Awesome!” the genin grinned.

“Naruto-kun? Is everything all right?”

Naruto glanced over his shoulder then back at Sanzo, grinning at the crimson staining his cheeks. He widened the door, stepping back so his curious girlfriend could see the three teens in the doorway. Dressed in a blue and white stripped sundress and flats, his lover looked beautiful and welcoming as she moved to his side.

“Look who dropped by,” he announced, “Sanzo’s turning fourteen today and was wondering if you’d bake him a cake and sing him happy birthday.”

“I didn’t-I wasn’t-” Sanzo sputtered, embarrassment coloring his face.

She reached out and ruffled his half shaved head.

“If you don’t mind waiting, I can have a birthday cake ready for you in just a little bit, Sanzo-kun.” she said with a soft smile.

“I…I…thank you.” he mumbled, face the color of lava, his green eyes shinning.

She turned, heading for the kitchen.

It was a moment before the birthday boy noticed his teacher and female teammate elbowing each other, whispering and giggling behind their hands while pointing at his dreamy face, making a show that they were “gossiping” about his reaction.

The bashful teen glowered at them both.

“Come on, Seinosuke, lets get away from those two idiots,” he growled, tugging his grinning, silver haired teammate passed the two needlers and into the apartment, “Or we might catch the stupid that seems to be going around.”

xxxxxx

Pain spread briefly thorough his eye, the grating sensation of spreading tomoe engulfing his eyeball. Sasuke braced himself, taking a breath as the throbbing agony faded, and he was catapulted through suffocating darkness. He concentrated on breathing, on the inhalation and exhalation of his lungs, on the tepid beating of his heart. The shadows moved, clawing at his skin, whispering in his ears.

Questioning his sanity.

Coaxing him to scream.

To fear.

To panic.

Sweat slipped down his temples, unease climbing up his spine.

He felt hot and cold, his clothes brushing irritatingly over his skin. Felt trapped in his skin. He wanted it off. He wanted them both off.

His skin…

Light exploded, his dark eyes opened, his brain bursting through the tide of whispers. The dead Otsutsuki stood in front of him. Another transmission predating his demise. The sickly looking man was distraught, panicked, soot coating his pale skin, smoke billowing behind him. The night sky was illuminated with bright streaks. Meteors, thousands of them, hurtling through the planet’s atmosphere. Sasuke winced, the loud sound of colliding rock ringing in his ears. The Otsutsuki’s mouth was moving, repeating something over and over but the words we lost, ripped away by the deafening impacts around him.

Sasuke read the words on the frantically moving lips as clear as day.

“He is near.”

Sasuke retreated, pulling him mind from the darkness, hurtling back to the here and now with brutal force. Sunlight sucked away the darkness. The yawning silence slowly filling with the chirping of birds and the sound of wildlife. He wavered, knees buckling. He gripped the nearest tree, hanging on as his breathing slowed and his eye bled. Glancing at the sky, the Uchiha calculated he had lost more than an hour of time inside the device. Strength slowly seeped into his sore muscles. He straightened, pressing his back to the tree and taking several gusts of air into his lungs.

He was getting used to the pain and disorientation.

The ability to pull himself from the grip of the transmitter becoming smoother. He needed more practice, more experience with the alien technology.

A bird’s cry reached his ears. He looked up, spotting the brown hawk circling above. He pushed away from the tree trunk and into a clear area. Sasuke lifted an arm for the bird to land. With the bird on his arm, he moved to a low hanging tree branch. The bird hopped to the branch, blinking as he reached for the pouch at its ankle, taking the scroll it carried. He read the short missive, squinting as he did so. His left eye was blurry and aching.

Memorizing the coordinates, Sasuke burned the paper with burst of chakra, wiped his eye and headed south.

xxxxxx

So a little more info here for you all, and thanks so much to gio08 for helping me come up with a name for my little abominations XD I was kind of stressing over that. Got the outline for the next chapter planned already and hopefully the chapter will be out soon.

For those that read it, Secrets of the Hidden Leaf chapter should be out Thursday night I’m thinking. At least by the weekend XD

Thanks for reading, don’t forget to review and I’ll see you all in the next chapter!

Laters

~Sessakag

Chapter Text

Chapter Eighteen

 

June 14, 2009

 

“Preheat oven to three hundred and fifty degrees.”

Lowering the book, Naruto turned the knob on his stove to the appropriate temperature then returned to the instructions.

“Pour batter into well greased baking pan.” he read next.

“Batter’s ready.” the clone seated at the kitchen table announced.

“Got the pan ready.” the other lookalike stated from his place near the sink.

“All we gotta do is make sure it doesn’t burn and we’re home free, ‘ttebayo.” Naruto commented.

He’d never baked a cake before and was surprised by how well it was going. Though he hadn’t gotten it into the oven quite yet, still, he was proud that his time in the kitchen today had been a resounding success. Cooking excursions usually ended in catastrophe for the clumsy blonde, but so far he’d skirted by with only a handful of finger singes and one burned dish. The picnic items he’d put together weren’t as good as his girlfriend’s but they were carefully crafted and more than edible.

‘You’re a bit early, kid,’ came Kurama’s rumbling voice, ‘Anniversary celebrations are for married couples.’

Naruto pursed his lips.

“I can celebrate my relationship before marriage,” the jonin insisted, “There’s no rules that say only married couples can have anniversaries,‘ttebayo.”

He was happy and in love, what was wrong with honoring the day his world had become complete?

‘Hmph, she’s your wife in everything but name. Why plan anniversary celebrations and carry that ring around in your pocket if you’re not going to marry her?’

His blush was deep enough to do Hinata justice. He and Kurama shared his psyche, it didn’t surprise him that Kurama knew about the engagement ring the Uzumaki had purchased last October. One he’d found himself slipping into his pocket more often as his relationship grew, waiting for “the right moment” to pull it out and ask the question that left him in cold sweat. The sly fox hadn’t brought it up once until now. Naruto was more than a little embarrassed to have his shameful dilemma brought out into the open.

He wanted to marry her.

Was certain he’d met the love of his life.

But he was scared out of his wits to pop the big question.

The two had just moved back in together, had only been dating a year and were still very young by any stretch of the imagination. He didn’t want to pressure her or upset her by moving too fast. That day, when he’d had her birthday necklace commissioned, his once lonely heart had been full of unending love and exuberance the likes of which he’d never felt before. The jeweller had taken him to view engagement rings, and after realizing the depths of Hinata’s love for him, the then genin had impulsively purchased a ring with the intent of proposing that very day.

Of course, upon leaving the store, good sense had prevailed and he’d nixed the harebrained idea the moment he opened the shop door and stepped back into the brisk world of reality.

The graceful design reminding him of the shy, softly feminine woman along with the sparkling diamonds that gleamed as brightly as moon colored eyes, had immediately caught his attention. Several thousand ryo later, he’d walked out the door with the stunning piece. Since that spontaneous purchase, he’d kept the ring, a two carat diamond frame set in 14k white gold, inside its box and tucked safely in his pocket.

Come hell or high water, he was going to marry Hinata Hyuuga. He had zero doubt about that, but the when and how was what held him back.

“I am going to marry her, dattebayo. It’s just…”

‘You’re scared.’

The simple statement carried no mockery or censure, merely cut through to the heart of the young male’s anxiety.

It was true.

He was scared.

That past year had been amazing, the weeks following their decision to move in together deepening his sense of contentment and forcing the engagement ring to the forefront of his mind. Having never been in a relationship before, he had no idea if he was moving too fast. The last thing he wanted was to scare her off by asking for the ultimate form of commitment.

‘This female of yours seems highly enamored with you and admits to being so long before the age of maturity. I have my doubts the woman would reject the promise of marriage with you.’

Naruto sighed.

Deep down, he didn’t think she would either, but it was hard not to give credence to his worries. This was a really big step in their relationship.

He just didn’t want it to go wrong.

‘You faced Kaguya with little fear and yet slipping a ring on the finger of a female that’s as obsessed with you as you are with her, has you quaking in your headband.’

The kyuubi gave a mental shake of his head.

‘Humans.’ he grumbled with a feigned exasperated huff.

Naruto rolled his eyes.

“It’s more complicated than you’re making it. She has a family to consider, Clan duties that may make it hard for her to say “yes”. She’s still the heir of the Hyuuga and I don’t want her to be put in the situation of having to choose between us.”

‘Even so, you should already know who she would choose if she had to. She seemed certain of her emotions when last we spoke.’

“Ehhhh?! What do you mean ‘when last we spoke’?” all three Naruto’s exclaimed, surprised rather than upset the two had had a conversation.

Kurama grinned, sharp teeth gleaming.

‘After one of your more energetic nights of mating,’ he explained, chuckling at the Jinchuuriki’s embarrassment, ‘she lay awake and reached out to me. She was concerned that something was bothering you that you didn’t feel comfortable telling her. You’d been dancing around the decision to ask her to move in at the time.’

He had been acting a bit out of character in the days leading up to it. Sweating and tongue tied, gut churning and fidgeting much like he was now with the ring in his pocket. He’d seen her worried gaze, evaded her troubled questions with fake, uncomfortable grins as he grappled internally.

‘She didn’t ask anything personal or specific, saying she didn’t want to invade your privacy, but asked if you were okay.’

Naruto moved back as his clone placed the pan in the oven.

“What’d you say?”

‘That you had a few things on your mind but it was nothing for her to worry about.’

The news eased the twinge of worry that had wormed into his mind. He was glad his inner friend had eased his girlfriend’s troubled mind.

“Thanks, Kurama.” he said with a smile.

Unsurprisingly, the big lug huffed, making a show of being “inconvenienced” by the drama of humans.

‘Hmph, what else was there to do but talk to her after you two kept me up all night. Who can sleep through all-’

“I know, I know, the noise,” Naruto finished with hot cheeks, “Just make sure you keep your eyes closed tonight, would ya?”

He didn’t believe his friend’s claim anyway. Having been locked away inside humans for years and years at a time, the nine tails had honed his ability to sleep in a way that left him undisturbed by sounds such as the ones that came from Naruto’s bedroom. Short of the young jonin prodding Kurama awake or the strange fluctuations of energy, little could knock the fox from his dormant state. Heated moans and a creaking bed fell into the category of ignorable noise for a sleeping kyuubi.

The kitsune scuffed.

‘I’m older than your village, kid. I’ve seen humans mate more times than I can count. Its one of your favorite pass times. What are you embarrassed about?’

“It’s just weird, alright.” Naruto pouted.

He considered the old fox family and though he’d never had a real one, he was sure that family members didn’t sit in the room while a relative ploughed their girlfriend. More heat shot to his face as Kurama launched into gut deep laughter at the mental image his thought produced.

Naruto refused to change his position on the matter. He couldn’t do anything about the…noise they made during lovemaking but he’d at least like to be able to keep something private. 

xxxxxx

Dressed causally in orange t-shirt and tan shorts, Naruto watched his clones hop from one rooftop to another, arms laden with food items and other material. Standing in the middle of a moderately busy area of the shopping district, the young jonin had purchased the final items he’d needed for his surprise and had sent his other selves to set it all up. Satisfied when the last clone disappeared from sight, he turned, walking in the direction of the Hokage tower.

His lover was due back from patrol today, and he planned to wait for her return.

“Hey! Naruto!”

He stopped at the sound of his name, looking over his shoulder at the three women moving towards him. He grinned, happy to see two of the females in particular. Sakura looked better than she had in days. The shadows in her eyes weren’t as deep, the sadness that had cloaked her shoulders a little less apparent. Ino was much the same, her disposition sunnier than it was a week ago.

He’d caught up with them both weeks ago, given them words of encouragement but ultimate, had been less helpful than the support they offered each other. The young Uzumaki was just glad they had someone that eased the burden from their shoulders, even if that person wasn’t him.

“What’s with all the clones?” Ino asked when they reached him.

He grinned, ruffling the blonde hair at his nape as he explained.

“Me and Hinata have been together a year today so I thought I’d set up a special date for us.”

“Awww,” Tenten gushed, “that’s so sweet, Naruto.”

The weapons expert sighed.

“Too bad you don’t have a smarter, cuter brother,” she grumbled.

Naruto’s brow twitched.

“Thanks…I think.” he replied.

Ino giggled.

“It really is very sweet,” Ino agree, “What do you have planned?”

Enthused, Naruto explained the overnight camp out date he’d come up with, the foods he’d made, the cinnamon roll cake he’d baked, grinning that the dark haired Hyuuga could never resist a cinnamon roll, let alone one made into a cake.

“Cinnamon cake, edible food, a romantic getaway, all for a one year anniversary. Jeez, Naruto, you’ve got it real bad,” Sakura teased when he finished, “If you love her so much, why don’t you marry her already?”

“I’m surprised Konoha’s number one lovey dovey couple hasn’t already made plans to walk down the aisle.” Tenten joined in.

The bashful jonin was silent, rubbing the back of his head while red stained his cheeks. The girls watched in stunned silence as he nonchalantly pulled a small box from his pocket, opening the container to reveal the engagement ring.

“I want to marry her, ‘ttebayo,” he explained, “For a while now but I haven’t worked up the nerve to propose yet. I get tongue tied and nervous and I don’t know why.”

“Oh my God, are you serious?” Tenten gasped.

“Naruto!” Ino gushed when she got a look at the ring, “when on earth did buy thisssss? It’s gorgeous!”

Face the color of a tomato, Naruto admitted when he’d purchased the shiny band.

“That long ago and you haven’t asked her yet?” Sakura questioned incredulously.

Naruto fidgeted, embarrassed as he explained his hesitancy. He was grateful for the female input and perspective. While he trusted Kurama’s judgment on certain things, there was no denying the face that Kurama was a guy. It felt different to hear the thoughts of another female, carrying a bit more weight for the blonde jonin.

“Don’t be silly Naruto,” Sakura said after, “Do you honestly think she’d be anything other than over the moon to marry you?”

“Yeah, who cares how old you are or how soon it happens, if it's right for your relationship then I say go for it.” Ino encouraged.

“Go for it Naruto,” Tenten echoed, “It’ll blow her mind!”

Feeling confident and bolstered by the support, Naruto nodded, determination filling his blue eyes.

“Thanks guys. Tonight, I’m gonna ask her to marry me.” he declared fiercely.

xxxxxx

Naruto swallowed, gut clenched with nerves as he dropped to one knee, box in hand, presenting the engagement ring to the woman in front of him. Sweaty fingers gripped the small square, shaking as he forced himself to speak.

“H-Hinata…I love you…m-more than anything in the the world,” he gulped before he worked up the nerve to finish, the words bursting from his lips, “I-I know we’re still young a-and I know we’ve only been together for a year but I…Please marry me!”

Silence filled the room.

Naruto stared up at the dark haired woman, waiting anxiously for her to speak. His heart pounded, sweat beading his upper lip, feeling a bit green around the gills. His Addams apple bobbed when her lips parted and drew in a slight breath.

“That’s pathetic,” came the reply “even I wouldn’t marry you…er…me.”

Naruto sighed heavily from his kneeling position on the floor of his living room. An abrupt puff of smoke signaled the release of the transformation jutsu his clone had cloaked itself in. An image of himself, hands on hips and glaring down at him replaced the beautiful Hyuuga he’d masqueraded as.

“This is hard, ‘ttebayo,” Naruto muttered, rubbing tension from his neck.

After his decision, he’d high tailed it home to practice while he had the time. The sun was beginning to descend and the closer to evening it grew, the more he was beginning to sweat. Making the decision to propose had been easier than he’d thought, figuring out what the hell he was going to say was harder.

“I want this moment to be perfect like in the movies.” he pouted.

“Well this isn’t a movie, this is real life, and if you don’t get serious Hinata will never want to marry us!” the clone grouched, “Now try it again.”

Naruto straightened his spine with a determined nod.

“Hinata! I love you more than life itself! I want to be with you for the rest of my life! Will you marry me, ‘ttebayo?!” the Uzumaki fairly shouted.

“No way! That’s terrible! You’ll freak her out speaking that forceful, and who adds “’ttebayo” to a proposal, dattebayo?!”

“It comes out when I get nervous, ‘ttebayo! You do it too so you’re one to talk!” the original scolded the copy.

“Well cut it out at least for this! This is important, ‘ttebayo!”

“I know that!” he growled back, fingers mussing his golden locks in frustration, “why the hell do you think I’m panicking and practicing this on your ugly mug?!”

“My ugly mug?!” the lookalike sputtered, outraged, “you’re the original, idiot! If I’m ugly what do you think you look like?”

“Will you shut up and let me do this, ‘ttebayo! We’re only gonna get one shot to do this right tonight and I’m not gonna get rejected because I couldn’t get my shit together!”

“Well hurry it up then!” the clone needled, once again transforming into their idea of perfection.

The stressed blonde ignored the impatient words in favor of finding the right words that would, hopefully, convince the love of his life to become his wife. He cleared his throat, bright blue eyes shinning, staring into beautiful lilac.

Anxiety twisted his gut.

Why the hell was this so hard?

He loved her more than life and he knew she felt the same way about him. He couldn’t imagine her turning him down and yet he was terrified her lips would form the one word that would break his heart.

With everything that was going on, maybe now wasn’t the right time.

“Come on!” the Hinata imitation prodded, fist raised, “We’ve gotten this far, we made the decision, and we never go back on our word, ‘ttebayo!”

Naruto took a breath, closing his eye briefly before straightening his spine, his hand steady as he held out the ring again, reaching deep down for the words that would convey everything he felt for his other half.

xxxxxx

Naruto leapt upward, chakra cloaked feet searching and finding purchase along the rockface. Hinata giggled, tightening her arms around his neck, her legs dangling before wrapping around his waist.

“Hang on, ‘ttebayo.” he laughed as she nuzzled his cheek.

The two had been scaling the steep cliff for several minutes, on their way to the spot Naruto had set up for their romantic tryst. Having finally found the words for his proposal, the excited blonde had collected his girlfriend as she left the Hokage tower, tossed her on his back and took off, laughingly explaining to his stunned significant other that it was their one year anniversary and he’d planned something special before sprinting through the village, past the outskirts of town and out into the wilderness of Fire Country. Bounding from tree to tree and with a chortling female on his back, he’d reached the base of a precipice and began an energetic sprint up the large slab of rock at a ninety degree angle.

The pair crested the bluff, shooting up and over the lip before taking off again. The sun was low by the time they arrived at the predetermined destination. The clones he’d sent ahead had done a great job setting up the cozy campsite. A cheerfully crackling fire illuminated the grassy clearing. On one side of the fire pit, a low table had been placed atop a soft red blanket. Burning white candles, two empty flutes and the food he’d prepared were arranged atop the small, portable table. Chilled wine inside a bucket of ice sat next to the surface, and a large, two person sleeping bag was laid out a short distance from the fire.

It wasn’t the most romantic or complicated set up, but he’d known she’d like the remote, intimacy of the spot he’d chosen, a spot perfect for stargazing later. He set her on her feet, turning to gauge her reaction. Her pale eyes were wide and surprised, delight spreading over her face.

“Happy one year anniversary, ‘ttebayo.” he presented, arms outstretched.

He grinned, flushed with pride and a little bashful as he smoothed his hand over the back of his head. She’d placed her hands over mouth, emotional orbs meeting his. Sensing the waterworks brewing, he reached for one of her hands, tugging her into the romantic setup and leading her to the table.

“Don’t cry,” he chuckled over her shoulder, “Tonight we’re-”

Her slight form collided with his back, slender arms wrapping around his waist. His expression softened as her fingers gripped the shirt at his abdomen. His heart ached, filling with sadness. He shifted, turning to face the sniffling woman. He didn’t need her to voice the source of her tears, to know why she was weepy. In the heat of an intimate moment, she’d sometimes get teary eyed, telling him how many times she’d dreamed of being with him, that sometimes it still felt like all of this was a fantasy she would wake up from one day.

It left him feeling so humble, so irritated with himself that his past obliviousness continued to touch their relationship.

“A year later and you’re still scared this is a dream?” he murmured, thumbs wiping the hot salty droplets from her cheeks.

“I’m sorry.” she whispered, bottom lips trembling.

He pressed his mouth to hers, filling the meeting of lips with as much love as he could muster before pulling back, smiling brightly.

“Come on, Hinata, you have a better chance of leaving me than you have of me leaving you.”

“I’d never leave you, Naruto-kun.”

“And neither would I,” he wiped more tears, “So no more tears, okay?”

She nodded, lips curling as the sadness cleared from her gaze.

They sat down for their evening meal, Hinata mostly quiet at first, before the good nature and teasing of her boyfriend drew her out of her melancholy. Minutes later the pair were chatting and laughing, clinking their glasses together and sipping the smooth bubbly wine as they at. Hinata was more than delighted with the cake he’d made. Though the sugary dessert was slightly over baked and a bit too sweet, but she ate as though the world's greatest chef had baked it.

The sun was gone, the candles burning low and cute girlfriend was giggling, slightly inebriated and full of affection as he led her to the two person padded sleeping bag for star gazing.

The tipsy, porcelain skinned female was more interested in him than the twinkling fireballs, however. He’d arranged them side by side, intending to cuddle but found himself lying beneath the wet sloppy kisses and caresses of an aroused woman. She straddled him, heated core pressed to his crotch. Plush lips slid over neck, the soft hint of tongue sending chills down his spine, his cock hardening when her fingers slipped under his shirt.

His own hands whispered over the curves of her body, gliding down to cup the generous globes of her bottom, squeezing as she began a slow grind of their cloth covered genitals, sweeping his mouth with her tongue.

The sweet taste of wine and cinnamon filled his senses.

He tangled his tongue with hers, sucking at her moist lips as he unsnapped her ninja tool bag at her waist before reaching for the zipper of her sleeveless top, grateful for the easy access her mission gear provided when large pale breasts held in a scrap of black lace met his heated gaze.

He hooked a finger in the cloth, tugging down until her coral nipples popped free. He lifted to capture one between his lips. She moaned, slipping her fingers through his hair as he ran his tongue over the hard bud, grinding against him with each tug of his mouth.

His hands slipped over thighs, stroking over the silky stockings as he nuzzled the soft skin between her naked breasts before paying her other nipple the same wet attention.

“Mmmhmmm.” she moaned.

Her hands moved to his shoulders, pushing him away to tugged at his shirt, pulling it up and over his head. Desire coiled in the pit of his stomach as eager hands slid over the tanned skin of his chest, her dark head dipping to feather kisses over his skin, her tongue tracing over the steep dips of muscle.

He groaned, stroking her dark stands.

She moved again, rising over him, her busy hand leaving the hard planes of his abdomen in favor of slipping past the waist bands of his shorts, and wrapping her fingers around his throbbing length. His breath hitched, releasing in a hiss of pleasure as she stroked him, pumping his heated flesh with practiced ease.

Her touch was confident and teasing, thumb slipping over the sensitive underside of his mushroom tip, drawing a shiver from his body.

“Hinata.” he groaned, hips lifting reflexively.

The tipsy Hyuuga shifted, straddling his thighs and releasing him long enough to shrug from her shirt and chuck her bra. She tugged at his shorts, pulling far enough to release his hardened length from the confines of the cloth. Ecstasy washed over him when her fingers wrapped around him again. She leaned over him, pumping his cock with long strokes, dark hair forming a silky curtain. His breath hitched, need shooting through him as he filled his hands with the perfect breasts swaying with the flex of her fondling hand.

She moaned as he rubbed her nipples, tightening her grip on his cock, working the hardened flesh with excited strokes, breasts heaving with each indrawn breath.

Her cheeks flushed with alcohol and excitement, she leaned down to fuse their lips, her wet lips descending to his chin.

Over his throat.

Between his pecs.

The ridges of his abdomen.

And down below.

He moaned, fingers threading through her hair as she engulfed his cock in hot wet heat, her mouth and tongue gliding up and down his sex. Tension tightened his limbs as she set a brutal pace. Her head bobbing in his lap, the quick up and down of her suckling mouth and the tight pumping of her fist leaving him struggling to catch his breath.

Wet sucking and his own heated groans of bliss filled the night.

He stroked her dark head, cerulean orbs staring up at the glinting stars, grimacing in ecstasy when her tongue stroked his throbbing tip. The incredible sensation of a blow job beneath the night sky robbing him of coherent thought.

He groaned, gritting his teeth against the gut wrenching pleasure, fighting the explosion bubbling in his balls.

He sucked in several breaths when she relented, giving him a break from the punishing pace. He was spinning as she slowed, distantly wondering why he was only just now experiencing sex with a tipsy Hinata, and wondering how soon he could do it again.

His muscles tensed as she settled into a steady pace of suck and pump, alternating between her suckling mouth, slurping him with enough force to knock the breath from his lungs, and the tight grip of her hand, stroking his moist cock from root to tip. Pressure built, the tingling sensation of impending nirvana hovering on the edge of his mind. She may as well have continued the incredible pace of earlier. His control was shot, the bliss almost more than he could stand. Her mouth tightened on his cock, soft fingers sliding over his balls. His eyes squeezed shut, orgasm blooming.

He panted, struggling to hold back the gut churning climax as his cock met her throat, slick flesh closing over his thick rod.

Her tongue moved over his tip, lips latching on in a cheek hollowing suckle, the sensual move, one that always drove him crazy. Sweat dotted his forehead, brows crinkling as her mouth moved down again, the lips wrapped around his cock coming close to meeting his groin.

His mind was reeling, searching and failing to recall a time he’d ever been this deep in her mouth.

Need clawed at his spine.

“Ohhh, yeah.” he groaned, fucking her mouth with shallow pumps of his hips.

He sucked in several breaths, head twisting on the pillow beneath him.

“Oh shit,” he gasped, his world narrowing to the pleasure shooting through his sex, “I’m gonna cum.”

Her fingers reached for his sack again, gently squeezing, coaxing him to release. Locked in the throes of ecstasy, he gave in to the insistent pulls of her mouth, orgasm exploding from his cock in a rush of hot semen, his fingers tightening in the silky strands of hair as his body convulsed. His spine arched, a low groan of completion leaving his lips. Soft fingers slid over his quivering thighs, caressing his tanned skin as he came.

She swallowed, milking his body with merciless squeezes her mouth.

He twitched, the sensation agonizingly good.

Cool night air brushed his genital as he slipped from her lips. The slide of a tongue and plush lips moving over his sensitive tip sent heat through his body, her gentle kisses to his privates stirring his blood.

He was up and moving moments later, plucking her shorts and panties off and shucking his own along with his boxers, his heated length filling again, throbbing with need.

He joined their bodies in one hard thrust, shoving his cock into wet, tight heat.

“Naruto,” she gasped, slender, stocking encased legs sliding along his calves, “Oh yes.”

He gave her as good she gave him, melding their bodies with deep hard strokes, setting a frenzied pace that turned her soft mewls into gasping cries of ecstasy.

Her pale hands gripped his arms as he pounded in her body, her heated core tightening. Rough hands lifted her hips, intense blue orbs watching the coral tipped tits as they bounced with each hard lunge of his body, the intoxicating jiggle sending lust to his gut. The sapphire half of their necklace winked at him, glowing in the backdrop of snowy white skin. The twinkling blue representing his deepest affections and a brand of possession.

The jewelry piece drew his mind to the ring he’d brought, the symbolism it’d display when slid on her finger. Letting the world know this beautiful woman was to become his wife.

A permanent, irrevocable member of his family.

Tied to him and he to her in a way he’d never experienced.

His name attached hers.

Hinata Uzumaki…

His mouth fused to hers, groin slapping against hers as the stirring thoughts stoked him to frantic need. He lunged against her body, pounding into her in a desperate need to be closer. To connect them deeper than the blissful joining of their genitals. She squeaked against his kiss, her body tensing beneath the onslaught of his thrusting hips. The tight clutch of her core seized, spasming, milking and bathing his cock in slippery orgasm.

His breath hitched as he exploded, fingers gripping her thighs as he emptied his balls into the welcoming heat of her body. He trembled, groaning into her mouth as pleasure rocked his body, the sudden shattering of tension launching him into paradise.  

Soft fingers caressed his sweat slicked back, her mouth moving over his, low moans of fading ecstasy leaving her throat. He lowered his body to hers, resting on his forearms and touching his mouth to hers with light kisses.

He nuzzled her cheek, sighing as euphoric relief spread through his muscles.

“That was great, ‘ttebayo.”

She giggled, returning the affectionate nuzzle with one of her own. Gentle arms wrapped around his neck, her fingertips tracing his shoulders. He stroked the soft skin along her waist and hip, blue orbs gleaming as they met her own tender lilac, the milky depths reflecting the twinkling stars above their heads.

“I love you.” she murmured, lips curling, fingers moving to caress his blonde spiky hair, “This was an amazing anniversary celebration, Naruto-kun. I can’t wait for our next one.”

Neither could he.

He leaned into the tender strokes of her hands.

Her touch was soothing, adoring and painful loving. The sweetness of her embrace made his heart ache. He swallowed, moisture dampening his eyes. Her palm slid over his cheek, her face soft with concern.

“Naruto-kun,” she whispered, “What’s wrong?”

Emotion clogged his throat, warmth flooding his chest.

Something inside him clicked, his world narrowing to this very moment in time. The love in her eyes, the affection she gave him freely and without condition, the laughter they shared, the intimate moments of hot passion and gentle caressing merged, blooming into soul deep peace.

This was it.

If he’d had any doubt before that making Hinata Hyuuga his wife was the right choice regardless of age, timing or anything else he was afraid of, they were banished in that instant. Washed away in the intimate moment of shared passion and aching tenderness that bloomed between them. He felt closer to her than he’d ever felt before, connected to her in a way he’d never been with another living soul.

It wasn’t the proposal he’d rehearsed with his clones, he didn’t even have the ring in his hand, and yet the words churned in his gut, the question moving to his lips.

“Hinata,” he began, twining her hand with his own, “Will you-”

Kurama stirred, Naruto’s own gut churned with dread as he felt something…rip.

Pain erupted along his naked back, followed by the nauseating scent of burning flesh. Droplets of what felt like molten lava pelted his spine. The soft sizzle of his skin dissolving reached his ears. Confused agony clouded his mind, clearing the moment he heard the pained gasp of the woman beneath him.

Chakra flooded his body, the orange, golden energy taking the shape of the kyuubi’s head, shielding the couple from the acidic precipitation melting the romantic backdrop around them.

“Naruto-kun,” Hinata gasped, moving to sit up as they watched their camp dissolve, “What’s going on?”

He moved, sitting back on his haunches, blue orbs peering through the protection of chakra and out at the wilting trees, slipping into senjutsu a moment later.

“I don’t know,” he murmured absently, “It looks like acid, ‘ttebayo.”

He searched their immediate area before branching out, reaching for the slightest sign of a culprit for the attack. His search came up empty. Not a single trace of chakra outside their own, no void ducking his seeking inquiry. His ears weren’t ringing either, ruling out the jubokko. The burning rain hadn’t come from an enemy, at least not one he could sense. He looked back at his girlfriend, waiting as her veined eyes moved around, searching the terrain, before finally looking up and stopping.

“What do you see?”

She shook her head quietly, confusion marring her brow, lips moving as though to explain but unsure of what to say.

“The sky is…” she hesitated, eyes straining, “The acid is coming from the sky but there’s something else…something…I can barely make out what it is. It’s looks like…there’s something beyond the clouds…almost like a…black hole…but its faint…”

She leaned forward, squinting harder.

“Its dark, with really jagged edges, but its really faint, more like an outline of a tear…”

“A tear?” Naruto questioned, “Like the sky ripped?”

“It looks like a tear but the sky looks…intact and the rip is hazy but…one moment it looks ripped, and another moment it looks…normal.”

The veins retreated.

Hinata wiped her eyes, a pained expression contorting her face.

“You okay?” he asked.

She nodded.

“Can you get my bag?”

Warm heat soothed his back, the chard skin on his back flaking off as new, healthy flesh took its place. He turned, searching the confines of their chakra barrier for her shinobi tool pouch. He found the bag at the edge of the protected area, along side a few articles of their clothing. He grabbed the pouch, along with his shirt, her shorts and bra. Locating his pants at the foot of their sleeping bag, he slipped them on, handing her his shirt to wear. Hers, along with his boxer were outside the boundaries of protection, the pieces of cotton no match for the corrosive rain. The clear chemically enhanced raindrops had intensified, pouring from the tear that wasn’t a tear, hissing as they pelted the chakra bubble.

He turned his attention to the dark haired Hyuuga as she moved bright green palms over the small chemical wounds that littered her arms and collar bone.

After she’d taken care of the worst of the burns, they both smeared ointment from her pouch over the minor wounds. She pulled his shirt over her head, pulled on her shorts and moved to lean against the shirtless jonin.

“What do you think is going on, Naruto-kun?” she asked as they watched the rain, “I didn’t see anyone near us and you didn’t sense anyone but I don’t think this is a natural phenomenon.”

Naruto wrapped an arm around her waist, drawing her into the warmth of his body.

“Beats me,” he shrugged, “I can feel stuff happening, like I felt the rip but I couldn’t tell you how or why it happened. It woke Kurama up again too.”

“You think it might have something to do with the jubokko?” she questioned, “It seems like, ever since those things showed up, really weird things keep happening. The jubokko, that explosion we felt the other night, now this. I’d be really surprised if it was all just one huge coincidence.”

“I don’t think it is either,” he muttered, hawkish blue orbs watching a tree topple, “Every time something’s happened, I sensed it and it kind of felt like the same energy.”

‘Familiar.’ Kurama agreed.

“Yeah, I mean, they felt familiar in the sense it seemed like it was coming from the same source, but not the way you mean it, right?”

Having witness discussions between bijuu and Jinchuuriki numerous times, his girlfriend waited quietly for him to finish his internal discussion.

Naruto felt the equivalent of a nod from the fox.

‘The sense of familiarity feels like a distant memory. I feel it at the edge of my mind but cannot put name to it.’

The news worried the dark haired Hyuuga as he shared Kurama’s words with her.

“This all just feels really ominous,” she said with a shiver, “Someone or something is at the center of all this and I can only imagine why they’re doing it.”

He was inclined to agree.

The corrosive rainstorm lasted long into the night, tapering off several hours after sunrise. Their once, beautiful romantic spot was now a ravaged waste land. The green grass was completely burned away, trees mangled and some nothing more than a puddle of gunk. Besides the clothes they’d saved and their sleeping bag, nothing of their camp was recognizable or salvageable. Everywhere he looked was burned, melted and dissolved into pools of sludge. The rip in the sky had covered a wide range of land. The devastation as far as the eye could see and he wondered if the weather anomaly had reached the village.

The entire scene was made even more disturbing by the lazily drifting clouds above, the destruction at odds with the cheerful sunshine streaming through the fluffy white masses. Naruto looked up at the bright blue sky, troubled cerulean orbs moving back and forth. Not a single part looked out of place. No tear and no sign it had ever produced the deadly rain.

“You can still see it?” he asked.

“With my Byakugan, yes, but not very well. Its fading in and out…The edges of the rip look…alive,” she smoothed her hands over her arms as though chilled, “the way it moves…”

Unease slithered up his spine.

“We need to get back to village and report it to Kakashi-sensei,” he looked back at her, taking her hand, “Stay close to me, ‘ttebayo.”

She nodded, hand gripping his as they began the trek back to Konoha.

xxxxxx

“We’re too late. My sister is no longer viable.” the Otsutsuki said, “We need another course of action. Perhaps the brats she’s birthed will be useful. The newborns will keep her busy, leaving us more than a few years to plan. ”

Sasuke watched the male pace, his white eyes fierce. He looked younger, his hair no longer waist length, but trimmed just below his shoulders. Dressed in white robes, the deceased Otsutsuki looked like a fresh faced youth, his pale skin infused with a healthy glow, the horns atop his head smaller. The room behind him looked strange, the walls made of a shifting metallic material, the light of the room a muted cyan. Sasuke’s dark gaze moved around the well lit space, drawn to the unfamiliar objects in the room, the oddly shaped items that looked foreign, alien, leaving him confused and curious as to what purpose or function they served.

“Follow Toriyama,” white haired man commanded, “I’ve heard rumors that my brother may be behind the theft of the seeds and tablets. We need to know the truth of the whispers. Follow him to that dimension and if he has them, contact me immediately.”

The short message faded, another taking its place.

Sasuke felt dizzy as the scene shifted, his head spinning. He opened eyes he hadn’t realized had closed

The Otsutsuki appeared a bit older this time, his hair gathered in a high ponytail, ending mid back, and his pallor was decidedly dim compared to his earlier glow. The forested area at his back was even stranger than the previous room. Tall, burnt sienna trees were gnarled and curved, the leaves a dim orange. The grass was brown, though he didn’t get the impression the color was due to neglect or dehydration. The color looked natural on the short blades, blending well with odd pigmentation of nearby vegetation and flora.

The usually immaculate garb of the Otsutsuki was torn and dirtied, one of the sleeves of his robed top ripped off completely.

His exposed arm was covered in lacerations. The Uchiha’s eyes narrowed on the green liquid seeping from the opened skin, it’s consistency familiar, though the color was different.

Blood.

Green blood.

Sasuke’s mind replayed the night the Otsutsuki had died. The green trickle of liquid that had seeped from his mouth and nose.

“They’re thin with wrinkled skin,” the Otsutsuki described, “horns in place of eyes, their jaws are elongated and lined with sharp teeth, and yet they speak through the pores of their flesh.”

The description was one the Uchiha knew all too well. The hairs at the nape of his neck stood on end as he listened.

“They seem to be searching, scouting. What they’re looking for, I’ve yet to surmise. They’ve entered our realm through small portals, tearing through dimensions much like we do, though their rifts are sloppy, jagged,” he explained, “They leave trails. The tracks they leave are gunmetal gray, and seem to have a level of consciousness. Toju-sama believes it may be Cyilo…I’m skeptical. Cyilo was said to have perished several millennia ago but even I can no longer dismiss our leader’s ramblings as the raving paranoia of a madman. His warnings are beginning to manifest.”

His white eyes were troubled.

“If it is him…if he’s truly returned…we may not be able to save the home world, let alone keep ourselves alive. We’re scattered, spread too thin across dimensions, but even with all of us…”

He lifted his bloodied arm, palm out, a small box, the size and reflective material similar to the transmitter.

“This is a copy of the information we’ve unearthed about Cyilo, familiarize your self with it. We may be able to glean his weaknesses within the text. Its written in the old dialect. The first fifty pages have already been decoded and translated, but progress is slow. Read through them and begin decoding what you can. You’ve been off world longer than most so I’ve included a deciphering key and notes inside. We need as many men as we can spare to decode. Any and all new information is to be uploaded and shared through the common link, immediately.”

Sasuke’s hand moved of its own accord, reaching for the cube.

Reality exploded, the holographic alien and his strange world dissolving, slamming the dark haired shinobi back into the here and now. He panted softly, the throb in his eye was distant, the pain more manageable than it had ever been. His legs shaky but steadfast in their support of his weight.

Taking several moments to breathe, Sasuke slowly straightened.

He glanced around, watching the sun descend, calculating the time lost.

Half an hour, forty-five minutes at the most. His time inside was improving, his access to the information within the communicator slowly expanding. The messages were out of order, however, leaving him to piece together the chain of events the best he could, filling in the gaps when he could later.

The information he had now was more than a little worrisome.

Whatever, whoever had destroyed the Otsutsuki world was headed their way, whether it was following the trail of the Otsutsuki or for another purpose was up for debate. With the confirmation of more Otsutsuki being directed to their world, it also validated his own suspicions that the alien race had infiltrated more than just their dimension, but perhaps even high levels of their government.

He’d noticed changes months ago, had heard hushed whispers among the locals of villages he passed through.

The stories of high ranking members of government going missing, only to return…wrong.

Pale.

Thin.

Their hair turned as white as a sheet.

Personalities changing.

Even the person’s taste in clothing shifting, favoring light shades of gray.

The rumors of impersonation were strong in areas far from shinobi villages, occurring more so in the Nation of Wind and Fire. Who or what was replacing the servicemen had eluded the Uchiha, and with the opening of the rifts, he’d had less time to pursue the open question, in favor of eliminating tangible enemies.

Now, he was nearly certain that the Otsutsuki were behind the body switches.

Was certain, after watching the changes sweeping through every nation, that more than just Fire and Wind was compromised.

To what extent, he was unsure.

He looked down at his hand, only mildly surprised to see the box from the message of the dead Otsutsuki clutched in his palm.

He brought the box to eye level, activating his dojutsu.

Several hours later, the cube remained inactive, unresponsive to his Rinnegan. Sasuke frowned, pocketing the device before continuing to his destination. He veered off the dirt path an hour later, wading through tall grass. It was the dead of the night when he reached the small, clear stream. The moon’s glow reflecting against the flowing water.

Standing at the water’s edge, he waited no longer than a handful of minutes before he felt someone approach.

He turned, watching as a silent figure dropped down near him.

The bird mask wearing Anbu stood, moving to stand before him. Sasuke wasted little time, beginning the detailed report the other male had come for, starting with his suspicions and ending with the messages he’d recently unlocked. He reached into his pocket for the box.

“This is the newest device recovered,” Sasuke stated, holding it out, “It doesn’t respond to my Rinnegan. I have a theory that perhaps it can be unlocked with the Byakugan.”

Much like the information the one armed shinobi had shared, the Anbu made no comment or outward appearance of emotion as he took the cube.

Sasuke froze.

The hair at his nape stood on end, a sensation he was more than a little familiar with, but it felt…huge. The ripping washing over his skin like icy fingers. His purple and red gaze shot over the terrain, searching for the rift that had opened. Shadows met his seeking eyes. He turned in a circle, something gray catching his peripherals.

His eyes widened as he looked up.

The Anbu followed him as he moved into the surrounding brush, finding and bounding up the branches of the tallest tree in the area.

He stood at the top, taking in what appeared to be a massive rift miles away.

The shimmery, gunmetal edges were bright, cutting through the gray sub-world he occupied, black droplets of what appeared to be rain darting from the dark hole. Even from the great distance, Sasuke estimated it was large enough to cover the entirety of Konoha in whatever the substance it was currently raining. Unease skated up his spine. He turned, staring in the opposite direction as two more opened, pelting the land below it in black droplets.

xxxxxx

September 4, 2009

 

The quarantined, access restricted medical research and examination department was located deep within the confines of the underground facilities of the Village Hidden in the Leaves. The new structure contained more than a dozen villagers and shinobi in various stages of infection. Ravaged by the jubokko and fighting the agonizing effects of the tsuchi, the injured patients had been brought below for assessment and testing. The sufferers were subsequently attached to IV drips that administered a continuous flow of a very potent cocktail of medication that induced a comatic state, rendering the victims immobile and unconscious, unaware of their surroundings and free of pain.

The top secret department boasted several isolation rooms situated behind plexiglass. Each containment space was fitted with two small observational cameras in the upper corners of the reinforced steel walls, and a single bed, equipped with black restraint belts and wheels. Several pieces of equipment sat on either sides of the gurney, and a thick, tan privacy curtain was affixed to the ceiling above both machinery and bed.

Connected to the individual rooms, was a long hall that lead to a set of double doors, beyond which, several pockets of laboratory space in which the research team operated; developing and testing experimental treatment to combat tsuchi, new surgeries to remove the black gunk.

One pink haired shinobi struggled over a comatose patient. Sakura took a calming breath, emerald orbs narrowed in concentration. The battered form beneath her hands didn’t move, but it may as well have been squirming around on the surgical table for all it mattered to the medical nin.

The young woman beneath her hands was sleeping peacefully, unaware of the pinkette standing over her with a scalpel. Attached to life sustaining machinery, the blue haired female, little older than Sakura herself, lay prone on the metal table, covered from the neck down with the exception of her abdomen. Her soft, flat tummy had been bathed in iodine and marked for with dotted lines, indicating where she was to be cut.

Sakura was nervous, her hands shaking, sweat slipping down her temples as she hesitated. The delicate surgical procedure was new and untested, the end result of numerous failed experiments before it.

This would either be an incredible addition to the current treatment they had, or would end up another failure, another death to stain her hands.

“Calm down,” came a raspy voice to her right, “You’re panicking. You need to pay attention to even the smallest detail.”

Unease slid over her skin, the man at her side filling her with mistrust, distaste and bad memories. The two had been paired together for the past month, freshly appointed co-heads of the recently assembled medical division, and charged with overseeing the accompanying medical team and analytical data produced. Decisions were to be made jointly but in cases of emergency where only one individual was present, either party could make a determination without the other.

A situation Sakura wanted to avoid.

She glanced over at the piercing gold eyes before gathering her tattered nerves and returning to the task at hand and making the first cut.

Even after the events of the war and his apparent reforming of his evil ways, she could honestly say she still didn’t trust the former rogue Sannin.

Orochimaru had hurt a lot more people than he’d helped.

More people than his life alone could make up for.

The slippery, former rouge had been a source of great pain and anguish in her and her friend’s lives not long ago. Yamato had been assigned to watch over the snake, monitoring his actions within and outside of Konoha, even now stood, in a empty corner of the room, his presence almost forgotten as the two worked.

But even with Yamato in the room, she didn’t feel comfortable around the Sannin.

She resented his very existence, was suspicious of his motives and wanted to ensure he had no opportunity to make decisions that would to turn this already borderline ethical department into one of his human guinea pig torture labs.

As much as she disliked him, she would rather have shared the responsibility with the Sannin’s previous right hand man, Kabuto. Even with his deformities, the silver haired, bespectacled medical nin was a sight better than his repugnant master.

Had it not been for one man, Orochimaru wouldn’t even be here.

Wind Country had requested the aide of the Slug Princess some time ago, their region hit harder than most; the situation deteriorating rapidly. Unwilling to deny their desperate situation, the blonde woman and her assistant had heeded the call, naming Sakura the director of the new division upon their departure. One man in particular had voiced an immediate objection the moment Tsunade had left, sighting Sakura’s inexperience and young age as disqualifying qualities, going as far to suggest she was unfit for the position despite her participation in the war and her training under Tsunade.

Counselor Myoku had spared no insult in voicing his displeasure.

The pale man and the even tempered Hokage had feuded fiercely in the weeks following, the in-fighting reaching the ears of the esteemed, empty headed daimyo. A flurry of correspondence later, the matter had been settled, leaving neither side satisfied. Orochimaru, who’d requested permission to reestablish Otogakure was to act as co-partner for a period of three months and in exchange, receive clearance to reform his shinobi village.

With Tsunade gone, Orochimaru’s experience, intelligence and solicitous offer to lend a hand to gain what he wanted, had made the slithering shinobi a valuable, and wholly willing well of knowledge the daimyo had been all to ready to use. The move, he reasoned in his decree, would give Sakura further guidance as she settled into her new, permanent position and provide Orochimaru with information to be used in the assistance of his own people when they ultimately came into contact with the jubokko.

The situation and solution had left her with a bad taste in her mouth.

The political discourse was worsening, tempers flaring with the least provocation, many beginning to openly resent the overbearing nature of the daimyo and those he sent to impose his will. The whispered grumbles becoming loud murmurs of discontent.

And yet, a small faction within the governance sphere was growing, a few open to the ideas of Myoku, siding with the intruder on several issues.

It made her more than a little edgy, this power struggle taking place behind closed doors.

The only silver lining, the one spot of hope she was hanging on to was the gift her mentor had left behind. Blueprints of a new fuinjutsu, entrusting it to her former student. The seal, manufactured to halt the progression of tsuchi for a period of time worked better than anything that had been tried before.

The sealing jutsu immobilized the flesh eating microorganisms inside the sludge, stopping their movement and preventing further corrosion of the body. It was an amazing breakthrough, but one that didn’t do nearly enough. The damage left behind by the initial injection of the bite was currently, irreparable and while all of the organisms could be frozen in a single sealing, the imperfect fuinjutsu could and often did, miss several, resulting in the painful effects continuing but on a much smaller scale.

It was a complex, time consuming process that required the strictest of chakra control. She and Orochimaru had begun training subordinates to use the sealing jutsu, but the results were less than satisfactory.

Partial freezing was common and excruciating, the left over flesh eaters recommencing the liquidation of the victim’s insides, leeching on nearby tenketsu, and slowly searing them it shut. A second pass of the seal had thus far, been ineffective. The organisms were intelligent, adapting to the outside resistance, repelling the second attempt to halt their progress and in some cases, trying to subdue the left over microbes led to the instability of the seal, unraveling the fuinjutsu and setting the others free.

In these cases, where a small number of the flesh liquefiers were still active after the seal, morphine to mute the pain was all they could do for the patient.

The quick adaption was of the microbes was as fascinating as it was terrifying.

The most glaring draw back of their quick adaptability and the seal itself was the length of time the tsuchi microorganisms remained dormant. The time frame varied from person to person, changing based upon circumstances they hadn’t yet figured out. Tsunade had left behind a great first step, but the process of finding effective, lasting and progressive treatment was frustrating and heart wrenching.

Every death weighed on her mind, ate away at her soul.

The last few months had been the hardest of her entire life. The past trauma she’d suffered a mere cake walk in comparison to…this.

She was terrified of missing an microorganism in her treatment. To have another of her patients be eaten slowly from the inside out, to die a horrible death due to her negligence and shoddy care.

The new technique she and Orochimaru were developing would require attaching the seal directly to the affected organs.

The idea made her sick, physically and emotionally but hopeful.

An hour later, she held back bile. Her gloved hands were bloody, the mask on her face suffocating as she looked at the bloody mess of her patient’s insides. Her flesh was peeled back on either side, revealing moist pink organs covered in the tar like tsuchi, her liver oozing a combination of blood, charred flesh and black sludge, the tell tale signs of active microbes missed by the initial seal.

The stench was horrendous. Yamato shifted in the corner, hand moving to cover his nose and mouth, dark eyes more than a little horrified.

“Fascinating,” the pasty skin snake in a human body rasped, “Its resistance is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.”

She shuddered, blocking out the sick enthrallment in the male’s voice, her gaze avoiding the peaceful expression on the face of a woman that had no earthly clue she had become little more than a practice dummy for an untested experiment. One that may well see she never opened her eyes again.

Fighting to control her emotions, Sakura wonder if that would be so bad if that happened.

As it stood, they had no cure.

No real treatment to speak of.

If this woman on the table died now, leaving behind the pain and agony in her future, would it really be so terrible?

xxxxxx

Long chapter full of fluff, information and dark elements. Don’t worry about the time skip from the new rift, Sasuke’s revelations and everything that happened between June to September. All of that will be addressed in the coming chapter. Hope you enjoyed the chapter!

That’s it for now! Please review, and I’ll see you in the next!

Laters

~Sessakag

Chapter Text

Chapter Nineteen

 

November 15, 2009

 

Naruto stretched, the cool sheets sliding against his skin as he shifted. The softness of the pillows, the comfort of his mattress coaxed him to sleep a minute later, to allow his tired muscles a longer rest. He resisted the temptation. Weary cerulean orbs opened, roving around his dimly lit bedroom. Naruto blinked once, then again to clear his bleary gaze. He looked over at the clock to check the time then rolled in the opposite direction, reaching for the warm body that was usually nestled close to his own.

His seeking hand met cold sheets.

Naruto sighed, more than a little disappointed, though he couldn’t say he was surprised.

Hinata was busy most days, working long day and nights along side other members of the Hyuuga Clan. The Byakugan wielders were tasked with assisting the intelligence department in unraveling the mysterious text left behind by a deceased Otsutsuki. Naruto was still astonished by the information briefing he’d received months ago.

A meeting in which the intel being shared had been gathered by none other than Sasuke.

The fairly early pardon and subsequent release his best friend had been granted had began to make more sense once he’d learned what the Uchiha had been up to since leaving.

Naruto’s testimony on his friend’s behalf hadn’t been the only factor in swaying those in charge to show the former rogue mercy. Sasuke’s journey was serving several purposes, both personal and governmental. At the time, and with everything going on around him, Naruto hadn’t questioned the circumstances that led to Sasuke’s quick release and small amount of time spent in jail. Had only been glad for the expedient liberation of the contrite Uchiha and the avoidance of execution.

Before he’d made the decision to leave, the two teens had had engaged in a heart to heart. At the conclusion of their talk, Sasuke had brought up the idea of travelling. The former rogue had genuine feelings of regret and grief in the actions he’d taken and thought that using his time away to reflect and discover who he truly was would help in easing his guilt and emptiness.

Naruto ran a hand over his eyes, recalling the conversation he’d had before Sasuke’s departure.

Remembering the agony on his friend’s face as he admitted the painful truth that he didn’t know who he was inside. That he’d gotten buried beneath the hatred and pain and angst of the Uchiha legacy at an early age and had never gotten a chance to create his own inner self.

To form his own identity uninfluenced by the namesake of the Uchiha and all the baggage it entailed.

Without the distraction of revenge, the single minded perusal of retribution that had been so synonymous with his identity growing up, he’d felt bereft, and shockingly empty, lost and uncertain of himself in a way that had scared him, going so far as to say his life had become purposeless after their final fight. He’d had no goals to speak of. No desire for the social norms people his age were expected to have. Didn’t even know what those norms were. For years, and from an early age, the things he’d told himself he wanted, needed, were no longer viable, no longer something he wanted. So now, in the yawning void left behind by his rejection of his reckless, blood soaked childhood ideals of vengeance, Sasuke hadn’t known what to replace it with, how to fill that emptiness in his soul. Questioning what good could come of his life in the wake of the things he’d done, the things he’d lost.

“What should I live for now, Naruto?”

The sorrowful question had come from ocean of hurt and a heavy heart.

Naruto hadn’t had answer at the time.

Still didn’t.

He couldn’t will his friend to be happy, couldn’t fight the demons plaguing the young Uchiha’s soul with anything but his words and unwavering support. He’d fought, bled and taken on many in his effort to bring Sasuke back home but even he knew there were limits as to what he could do.

Everyone’s idea of happiness was different.

Naruto couldn’t find contentment for Sasuke anymore than he could Lee or Sakura, that was something his long time rival would have to define for himself.

Sasuke had laughed at that, wondering aloud how his blonde, often goofy friend had grown so philosophical. Naruto had gloated that he’d always been philosophical, neglecting to mention at the time that he hadn’t even known the meaning of the word. Sasuke hadn’t believed the boast in the first place, well aware Naruto hadn’t had a scholarly bone in his body and most likely didn’t know what the word meant. The two teens had shared a laugh at his limited vocabulary.

It had been a teasing moment, one so reminiscent of the past Naruto had half expected to see thirteen year old Sasuke seated next to him, to wake up and realize everything they’d been through had been nothing more than the elaborate dream of the hyperactive Uzumaki. That the two were still on Team 7, that they’d traveled back in time to a place before the pain and woes of life had revealed themselves. Back when the two had laughed and fought without heat, needled each other as children their age were wont to do.

But as he’d glanced over at the hard, pensive expression on Sasuke’s face the childish notion had been banished mercilessly. The person next him had long since foregone any claim to childhood, his dark eyes were world weary, old and infinitely wounded. It had hurt Naruto’s heart to see the small ray of light hearted banter disappear so soon.

Sasuke had steered them back to painful conversation, bringing his desire for atonement to the forefront, expressing a burning need to find a way to repent and in the process, fill his aching heart with something other than crushing sadness and suffocating guilt.

It turned out the contrite Uchiha was paying penitence in the form of intel gathering, border security and neutralizing immediate threats to the Leaf.

Naruto had mixed feelings about it.

He was glad that his friend had found a way to heal, that he was putting action to words and trying his best to help the village he’d shunned, but he couldn’t stop the worry that churned in his gut as he learned about the dangers the lone, one armed shinobi faced so far from home.

Naruto sat up in bed, anxiety twisting his inside in knots.

The past few months had been a steady stream of revelations. The looming danger, Sasuke’s part in keeping them abreast of the situation with the intelligence he gathered and sent back. Sasuke’s latest report had been shared with the people of the Leaf, though the level of details varied depending on station. Civilians had received a broad explanation of a new threat looming and been advised of what to expect in the coming months while jonin such as himself had been spared little detail.

The Otsutsuki had show up.

One sighting confirmed by Sasuke, while more were suspected to have already been here before the sighting, their locations and motives currently unknown. The date and time of Sasuke’s sighting had corroborated with the abnormal shock wave that had woken him, Hinata and Kurama in the dead of the night. Naruto had learned that the surge of energy that night had been the Otsutsuki tearing into their dimension and then dying shortly after. He’d been as stunned as the rest of the nin inside the meeting room. When the worried chatter had die down enough for the briefing to continue, Shikamaru and had begun reading a laundry list of observations made by Sasuke, other intelligence groups of Konoha and the surrounding nations.

Portals.

Rifts.

Weather abnormalities.

Corrosive rains on a sunny day.

Hail storms with ice the size of grapefruits.

Crashing lightening and booming thunder without a cloud in sight.

Though it’d only been observed once to date, a shower of meteors had wiped out an entire village in Suna.

The weather disasters stemmed from portals that were invisible to the naked eye, the ripping of one reality into the next, a feat attributed to the Otsutsuki though these tears differed from the ones the alien Clan used. The entryways the Otsutsuki opened were geometrical in shape, organized, almost as though they’d removed blocks from the barrier between one world and the next, in contrast, the portals of the abnormal weather looked torn, ripped open, the edges jagged and uneven.

The different shapes weren’t the only factor. Sasuke’s probing of the communication device the Otsutsuki had left posthumous had revealed the pale aliens were fleeing from their own enemy.

Cyilo.

Who or what Cyilo was remained unclear but the images Sasuke witness in the messages and the context of the communications pointed to the checkered weather patterns being a symptom of Cyilo drawing closer to their own planet. The revelation had rocked the group of nin, and as they digested the information, Shikamaru revealed even more troublesome threats brewing, describing the invisible creatures slipping from the smaller tears. Horned, wrinkle skinned, emaciated beast that existed in a separate space of reality entwined with their own. Just as was the case with the portals, the creatures were unseen with the naked eye but were capable of interacting with the physical world.

These beasts also spoke of Cyilo and his approach.

As it stood, they were still in the dark as to the culprits behind the jubokko.

Cyilo.

The hidden Otsutsuki.

Or some other threat they were currently unaware of.

With little to information at their disposal, the nature of their origin would remain an open query.

Subsequently, the Hokage had spent an hour answering questions to the best of his ability, then began delegating missions. Several Hyuuga, Hinata included, were tasked with assisting the intel department in working with the new piece of technology recovered from Sasuke. The Uchiha’s haunch that the device could be activated with the Byakugan had proven correct, and the information it contained could only be gleaned with the Hyuuga dojutsu. Breaking the coded language would take the eyes of the Clan and the intelligence of the intel department. Meanwhile, Naruto and other active duty nin had been sent to various locations to provide assistance where needed and deliver scrolls that would provide aide in staving off the worst of the disastrous effects of the weather fluctuation in villages that needed it the most.

Scrolls that contained single use, insulating barriers that, once activated, would protect the surrounding area and those within for several hours. It would give civilian cities some protection from the volatile rifts until they could figure out who or what was causing the tears in the first place, and how it could be stopped. Sasuke was able to close portals with his Rinnegan, but the process required a substantial amount of chakra and control. His ability to “stitch” the rifts closed had its limits. Two, perhaps three, human sized rifts was all the Rinnegan wielder could handle. Sasuke couldn’t contemplate, let alone try to seal portals as wide as an entire village.

Defense, fortification was the quickest, viable option.

The scrolls were to be delivered and set up for easy civilian access and use, starting in remote areas furthest from aide and working their way back to the villages closest to Konoha. Naruto had taken on much of the delivery load, producing hundreds of clones at once and sweeping as wide an area as he could. Once reaching his destination, the blonde nin carefully followed the set up instructions while reassuring the villagers and calming their fears as best he could, explaining how and when to use the scrolls.

More than a few of the towns he’d come across had already been ravaged, the buildings smoldering and crumbling, dispirited civilians nursing wounds and burying the dead.  

In other pockets of civilization he’d met with resistance and suspicion, the illogical antics that had once amused him no longer funny as he dodged rocks and insults while quickly running through his routine of arranging the chakra infused scrolls and explanation on how and when it should be used.

Some towns had been eerily silent and deserted. Spattered blood, signs of various struggles and pieces of left over body parts raised the hair at his nape and made his gut churn with anger and sorrow. Reminding him that the latest weather threats didn’t negate the jubokko murders continuing throughout the country.

Pushing aside the dark and gloomy events of the last few months plaguing his mind, Naruto rolled out of bed, shuffling to the bathroom with a yawn. The reflection that stared back at him looked slightly worn and worried.

He splashed his face with water and took a breath.

He didn’t have time for worries, not when he had things he could do to turn the tides of misfortune. There were people depending on him, depending on others like him for help.

Slapping his hands to his cheeks, he took a brisk shower, grabbed some toast and boiled eggs, dressed and was out the door just as the sun began to rise. Naruto headed in the direction of the southern gates to pick up his team. The three genin were beginning to bloom beneath his tutelage and the high tension situation plaguing the country was facing, proving themselves competent and efficient where it counted.

He was strolling past Konoha Central Park when a familiar form caught his attention. Lee was standing beneath one of the towering trees of the park, his back to the blonde jonin. Happy to see the green bodysuit wearing taijutsu practitioner, he raised a hand, intending to shout a greeting when he stopped, blue eyes wide with surprise.

His busy browed friend wasn’t alone.

In the dim rays of morning, he could make out a second form pressed against his.

The two moved in a way that made it quite obvious they were engaged in a heated lip lock. They parted a second later, the female’s face shifting into the light. Tenten smiled up at her teammate, spoke a few words before jogging away with a wave. Naruto walked over to the lone nin, curiosity getting the better of him.

“How long have you two been an item?” Naruto asked.

Lee’s body jerked. He turned, cheeks alight, mouth gaping.

“Na-Na-Naruto-kun!”

Naruto’s lips curled in amusement.

“So this is what you mean when you say you have to meet someone or that you have other plans, huh?”

His bright flush intensified, but rather than the simple embarrassment of being caught in a public display of affection, the older male looked rather uncomfortable, guilty almost. Blonde brows crinkled in concern.

“Hey, if you don’t want other people to know, I won’t say anything, ‘ttebayo,” he assured the other male, “you don’t have to tell anyone anything about your love life if you don’t want to.”

Naruto couldn’t fathom why the pair would want to hide their relationship, but he would respect their privacy despite his questions. Just as he was about to convey that sentiment to his friend, Lee spoke again.

“I-It’s not that I don’t want anyone to know…and we’re not ashamed of it or anything like that its just that, me and Tenten…this isn’t like you and Hinata or Ino and Sai or Kiba and Tamaki. This is just…” dull heat crept into his cheeks “…sex.”

Naruto blinked, more than a little surprised. Tenten didn’t seem the overly romantic type, though he’d assumed all girls wanted a relationship in the more traditional sense. Lee was a pretty sensitive guy, even more so than the blonde jonin. Lee was the last person Naruto thought would ever enter into a no strings attached sexual relationship.

“I don’t want anyone to think badly of us because of our…arrangement. Tenten more so than me. Girls aren’t looked at as kindly as the guy in these types of situations, and while I may not be in love with her, I still want to protect her,” Lee explained, “Tenten says she doesn’t care, that it doesn’t matter to her what other people think but we’ve been teammates a long time and I know it’d hurt her if other people thought ill of her.”

“I wouldn’t think badly of either of you guys, and neither would our friends,” Naruto declared, “If you guys are happy then that’s all that matter, dattebayo.”

The blush and worry left Lee’s face, his tense shoulders loosening in the face of acceptance.

“Thanks, Naruto-kun. We both thought about it, talked about, and we’re both okay with satisfying our needs for right now but even so, neither of us are giving up on love.”

Naruto nodded.

“Go for it Lee.” he encouraged.

The two fell in step together, turning the conversation to a more serious topic.

“Are you headed out too?” Naruto asked.

The two men moved purposefully through the empty streets of Konoha. Lee nodded, thick brows lowering, transitioning from bashfully awkward to deadly serious instantly.

“It’s getting really bad in the Land of Rivers,” Lee began, “so I volunteered my off days to help out. Suna is trying their best to maintain the region but they’re in the middle of their own crisis. The droughts are getting worse and the Kazekage has his hands full with the injured. Tsunade-sama has done a lot to slow the number of deaths but its like trying to hold back a tidal wave. They’ve got limited resources, and the other nations aren’t in a position to help. They’re just as bad off as we are.”

Naruto frowned.

He was more than a little worried for the Wind country. The harsh living conditions of the desert land worsened the response time to jubokko attacks. Intense heat, sandstorms and great distances between villages across unforgiving sandy plains added to their inability to render aide to the fallen and defend vulnerable areas with so few shinobi left over from the war.

He wanted to go and help, but his own hands were full. Ping ponging between areas in Fire Country at the current grueling pace, was taxing even his normally boundless energy.

xxxxxx

February 2, 2010

Naruto monitored Tani as she moved a small patch of land. Crouched low, palms to the ground, the young doton user filled the corrosive body of water with dirt, soaking up the dangers liquid with chakra manipulated soil. It was the last pit to fill in the damaged town. After turning over the scroll and explaining its function, the jonin leader had directed his squad to help make the village a bit safer for the injured townsfolk.

Acidic rains had pelted the unprotected and unsuspecting town several times, the burning precipitation accompanied by large sinkholes, forming a deadly hazard for unwary individuals. Tani had been assigned to filling the many holes in and around the village.

He’d left Seinosuke a moment ago.

The silver haired genin, along with a few of Naruto’s clones, had just finished repairing the bridge connecting the village to the road to Konoha and had directed him to meet back in the center of town.

“Good job, Tani,” Naruto praised as she finished, walking over to the teenager, “Let’s meet up with the others. We have one more stop before we can head back home, ‘ttebayo.”

Tani smiled, dusted her hands and walked over to him.

“Alright, Sensei.”

The two headed back into the village, Seinosuke falling in step along the way. They moved through the town, Tani and Seinosuke chatting quietly, Naruto taking note of the condition of various structures and homes for his report. Men and women in various degrees of health were hard at work patching roofs, boarding up windows and continuing the cleaning effort. Only a small portion of the town was without power and the buildings without were mostly non-consequential, businesses such as restaurants and clothing shops. Hospitals, food stores and other necessities were fully or partially functional.

Better off than the last village they’d left.

Other than the weather abnormalities and whispers of “vampire” attacks in neighboring cities, the civilians hadn’t reported a single sighting of pale, horned, Byakugan wielders here or elsewhere. He was glad the alien Clan wasn’t lurking around but was also unnerved by the lack of information on the movements of the Otsutsuki.

The trio found their last teammate in the arms of an old woman. He’d left Sanzo in charge of assisting the able bodied men in clearing debris from the streets and rooftops. Clearly his pupil had gained the admiration of at least one appreciative townie. The little old lady hugged him, pulled back and beamed up at him.

“Thank you, young man.” she said in a voice wobbly with age.

The adolescent looked more than a little embarrassed in the crowd of people.

Naruto grinned, amused as he watched the exchange.

Sanzo winced, his cheek pinched between shaky wrinkled fingers. The thin, gray haired elder was one of the more affectionate villagers in a long line of grateful townsfolk. Naruto waited patiently as the frail woman expressed her gratitude to his reluctantly indulgent student. The fourteen year old was unable and unwilling to snub the show of appreciation. It was recurring theme among the more ravaged areas of the country. Taking in the freshly repaired rooftops of homes and shops, the broken and charred trees of the surrounding forest, his amusement dimmed. Concerned blue orbs shifted over the large, haggard group of people. The expressions of sadness, pain and even fear on their faces was hard for him to stomach. His small smile vanished in the face of stark reality, the needling feeling that what they’d accomplished in this small, struggling village wasn’t enough.

It was a familiar sentiment that twisted his gut at the conclusion of these fortifying missions.

It made him feel guilty that he couldn’t stay longer or do more to protect the people that needed it most. He tamped down on the uncomfortable emotions, reminding himself that the little they had done would go a long way in giving the civilian village a better chance of minimizing injuries and casualties, that as bad off as this town was, there were others that were worse. Bigger villages with a higher number of wounded and deceased than this town and the last one put together.

He couldn’t afford to get weighed down by the suffering here, couldn’t prioritize one village over another.

They all needed help.

It’d be hypocritical of him to lecture his pupils about creating emotional distance when interacting with victims during their mission when he himself was wading through a pool of sorrow. He wanted to lead by example. To show his young team what it meant to be a shinobi. What it meant to endure.

Compassion, understanding, empathy.

All legitimate feelings Naruto felt were vital in the composition of a ninja. Too little emotion spawned a shinobi lacking morals and self restraint. A nin willing and able to stain their hands for benefit of only themselves, a ninja unconcerned with the potential pain they could cause to those around them in the course of mission completion. Callousness wouldn’t serve anyone.

Analyzing dire situations, making snap decision, these were duties that occurred naturally and unexpectedly in the line of duty, inappropriate emotional attachments clouded judgement, resulting in irrational, inefficient actions and fatal mistakes for the nin and those they protected.

It was a balancing act that many, himself included, struggled to maintain.

Naruto didn’t regret a single person he’d saved, but upon reflection and the mental capacity of an adult in charge of the lives of others, even he could admit that some of the reckless actions he’d taken had caused angst for others when a simple step back may have produced the same results without the added detriment to others.

He’d like to think that he had gained better control of his own habit of jumping in the heat of battle with his heart on his sleeve and viewing every situation thorough a lens of emotion.

Better.

But not completely.

There were situations, conditions where he fell back on raw emotions and while he continued to strive to make clear minded, rational choices, he knew a part of him would always trust his gut over the cold hard logic of his brain when it came to certain issues.

“Come back any time,” the old woman invited, releasing Sanzo’s cheek in favor of patting his partially shaved head.

Tani giggled at his side. Naruto glanced down at her. The chortling teen was dressed in her normal mission gear, consisting of a short sleeved bright pink shirt atop a mid forearm long sleeved shirt, a blue skirt accompanied by white shorts, dark knee highs and black nin sandals. She’d ditched the bob and wore her shoulder length green hair in a thick braid down her spine.

He was glad she hadn’t let the state of the people drag her into gloomy thoughts. He’d been worried that their back to back missions responding to one disaster after another would prove burdensome for his genin team, but he was beginning to think they’d be okay, at least for a while longer.

With that thought in mind, he looked left at the subdued adolescent on his other side.

Garbed in neatly pressed black pants, short sleeved gray shirt and black sleeveless hoodie, Seinosuke gave off an aura of intense contemplation. His sharp golden eyes moved over the crowd with sympathy and resignation. The mocha nin was well aware of the short comings of the aide they offered, but he also understood the limits in which the team could operate.

“Mother, I’m sure these nice shinobi have other villages the need to help too,” a battered young woman gently rebuked, “let’s not keep them any longer than we have to.”

“Oh my goodness, I’m so sorry,” the gray haired woman bumbled with a dry chuckle, waving her wrinkled hands in a shooing motion, “Don’t mind this old woman. I didn’t mean to hold you all.”

“It’s no problem, ‘ttebayo,” Naruto assured with a smile before sobering “If you find yourselves in need of more help don’t hesitate to send for aide. We’ll get here as fast as we can.”

After another round of gratitude, Naruto lead his team in the direction of the next distressed village. Sanzo walked at his side, adjusting the tool bag attached to his waist. The teen made of show of straightening his mission gear after his encounter with the elderly woman, tugging at his close-fitted long sleeved blue shirt and dusting his dark three quarter pants. Still embarrassed to have been coddled by the geriatric in front of his team.

“Jeez, why am I always the one that gets pinched and poked by old ladies?” the genin complained.

“Because they think you’re cute,” Tani shrugged behind him, “how they make that mistake I’ll never know.”

Sanzo turned, preparing to respond to the dig. Naruto was having none of it.

“Hey you two, remember what I said before we left the village,” Naruto admonished, nipping the brewing back and forth before it began, “out in the field, we keep our guard up and distractions at a minimum. Save the bickering until we’re in a safe spot.”

The reminder was more than enough to quiet the pair. His genin squad settled into heightened vigilance, eyes in constant motion, ears straining for the slight sound of a disturbance as they trekked through the increasingly dangerous woodland of Fire Country.

xxxxxx

February 9, 2010

“Oh, Naruto, there you are.”

Naruto stopped and turned. The tired Uzumaki had just dismissed his team and given his report was making a beeline for home. He was desperate for a shower, some grub, and a quick nap before he had to go out again. He wasn’t holding out much hope Hinata was at the apartment, but if she was he wanted a few minutes with her at least.

Sakura looked as tired as he felt, and just as stressed. The medical kunoichi had been even more elusive than Hinata and much the same as Sai and Ino, Sakura’s additional duties were time consuming and shrouded in secrecy.

“Sakura-chan,” he greeted, hoping he didn’t sound impatient, “What’s up?”

He was glad to see her, wanted to catch up with her, but he really needed a moment to recharge.

“I just figured you probably didn’t know yet, but Hinata’s in the hospital and-”

The words were scarcely out of her mouth before he was moving, shooting off in the direction of Konoha medical center. Dread gripped his gut, sweat beading his brow. His mind ran through a list of possible ailments ranging from simple exhaustion to some horrific adverse effect from handling the alien device she’d been working with. Either way, his heart wouldn’t stop its frantic beat until he laid eyes on the dark haired Hyuuga. He slipped into senjutsu, searching and finding her unique chakra signature on the second floor of the towering white building. Snowy curtains blew from the open window of her room, waving in the wind. Naruto leapt to the open window and into the room, blue orbs wide with concern.

“Hinata!” he fairly shouted as he landed “you okay?”

Two sets of Hyuuga eyes swung his way as he cleared the windowsill. The worried Uzumaki barely noticed the pair seated in chairs across the room as he moved to the bed. Hinata lay against the plush pillows of the bed, dressed in a hospital gown, bright white bandages wrapped around her eyes. She turned blindly in the direction of his voice.

“Naruto-kun?”

He shuffled over, his heart slowing seeing that she was up and alert. He took a seat on the edge of the bed, taking her hands in his. He was pretty sure he knew what was wrong but wanted to make sure for his own piece of mind.

“What happened to your eyes?” he asked.

“Just a little eye strain,” she confirmed, “I’ll be okay in a few days.”

The tension left his shoulders and opened his mouth to say more when a squeal cut through the air.

“Awww, how cute!” Hanabi gushed, “Naruto-onii-san rushing to the rescue!”

He turned, blinking in surprise to see Hanabi and Hiashi standing at the foot of the bed. Hinata’s little sister had a dreamy expression on her young face, while her father maintained his normal stern facade. The youngest Hyuuga placed her fists on her hips with a bit of a huff.

“You guys are always so lovey dovey and Hinata’s been after you since as long as I can remember so what gives? How come we haven’t heard an engagement announcement yet?”

“H-H-Hanabi!” Hinata admonished, her face beat red beneath the bandages.

The teasing young woman grinned, leaning over the bed with merriment in her eyes.

“Ahhh, come on,” she poked, “you two are crazy about each other. Why not? Even dad here is-”

“Hanabi.” the oldest Hyuuga warned, giving his daughter a pointed look.

Naruto sent a cautious glanced at the stoic Hyuuga male. The two had spoken months ago about his intentions to marry his daughter, had even received the Clan head’s blessing. He didn’t want Hiashi to think he’d back out or changed his mind about marrying Hinata, but the with country in upheaval and the threat of the Otsutsuki hanging over their heads, Naruto doubted the two could find the time or energy to plan and attend a wedding any time soon.

“Hinata,” the elder said, “Why don’t you let Naruto take you out for air.”

Hinata nodded, flush fading while Hanabi pouted at losing her source of entertainment for the day.

xxxxxx

Naruto sighed contentedly.

He hadn’t gotten his shower, his belly was rumbling but he could find little to complain about. He’d taken them to a fairly quiet part of Central Park, nestling them at the foot of a towering tree. Sensing his exhaustion or perhaps hearing it in his voice, Hinata had taken a seat on folded knees and tugged him down, depositing his head on her lap. She’d displaced his headband and was running her fingers soothingly through his hair. He stared up at her face, noting the lines of stress between her raven brows, the tension humming through her body. Naruto couldn’t see her eyes but he could sense the distress beneath her facade of quiet serenity. They were both in a place of strain and he could only guess hers had to do with her work in the intel department. His was a lot less complex. Underneath the shade of gently swaying leaves, he couldn’t help but compare the tranquil moment to the panic of earlier. Blind as she was, gentle fingers moved unerringly to his pouting lips, smoothing the turned down corners into a smile.

“Don’t pout Naruto-kun,” she giggled, “I’m alright. You’ve seen me with eye strain before. It only lasts a little while. I would have recovered back at home but I was really tired too, so they sent me to the hospital as a precaution.”

His show of petulance grew.

“Nearly gave me a heart attack, ‘ttebayo,” he mumbled, “I thought something really terrible had happened to you.”

She brushed back his blonde spikes.

“I’m safer than you are, Naruto-kun,” she pointed out with a small smile, “I doubt I can get more than eye strain tucked away in the village.”

After the devastation Pain had left behind and with Otsutsuki lurking, nowhere was safe to his mind. Not even the walls of Konoha. In the increasingly dangerous time they lived in, nothing was outside the realm of impossibility.

“I’m serious,” Naruto murmured, his blue orbs shimmering with emotion, “I’d lose my mind if anything ever happened to you, ‘ttebayo.”

Her smile vanished. Her plush lips turning down, trembling in a way that often signaled waterworks. Confused by the display of upset, he waited for her to speak.

“Do you think I’d be in my right mind if something happened to you either?” she asked, “Naruto, you’re out in the field more than I am. More than anyone in the village. I know you can handle it. I know you’re strong, but that doesn’t stop me from worrying that you might not come back.”

Her calm demeanor slipped further, and he watched her face with intense blue orbs, trying to glean the core of her distress without the benefit of reading the emotion in her eyes. She bent, laying her forehead against his, trembling as she struggled to form words.

“I’m worried,” she confessed softly, “I’m worried about you, I’m worried about our friends, I’m worried about everything.”

Stress radiated from her slight form, her dark brows creasing above the bandages.

“It seems like every day there’s a new crisis. The jubokko are becoming harder to pin down, their devouring villages before anyone can raise the alarm for help. Ino is having a tough time wading through their minds for information that makes sense, Sakura is wracking her brain trying to find a way to cure tsuchi and the information we’re learning about Cyilo…”

Naruto tensed, wanting to hear what she’d learned but dreading it all the same. From the shakiness of her voice, he was more than certain that her undercurrent of disquiet was about to be revealed. He braced himself. Anything to do with the Otsutsuki would spell bad news for them.

“From what we can gather, Cyilo is described as the first Otsutsuki born…or created…we’re not sure which yet. Its confusing, but the text refers to him as the originator of life.”

Surprise and unease swept through his body.

“In the time that he lived, he claimed to have seen the beginning and end of time during his…awakening. That he is the beginning and end. The Otsutsuki believe Cyilo ‘sowed the seeds of existence into the vacuum of void in which he spawned’.”

“They believe he’s God?” Naruto asked.

“Maybe,” she replied, “It’s not clear yet, we only have a few pages interpreted as of now, but he may have been viewed as a deity, or at least the longest lived Otsutsuki on record, a powerful one at that.”

A God.

The oldest Otsutsuki in existence.

It was hard for him to imagine. One Otsutsuki alone welded immense power and had driven the ninja world to its knees. Kaguya’s defeat had taken countless lives and every bit of their strength, along with Hagoromo’s, leaving the world ravaged in the aftermath. The havoc an Otsutsuki stronger than Kaguya could wreak was potentially catastrophic.

“Naruto.”

The way she spoke his name instantly gained his attention. His eyes jerked up to see her lips trembling and the bandages wet with tears. Her hands felt cold and clammy on his face. There were only a few situations where she dropped the “kun” from his name; in throes of passion and when she was really upset about something.

“I love who you are. I’ve always loved who you are but this time…please, just this once…please don’t do anything reckless…If Cyilo is alive, if he has enough power to make even the Otsutsuki run…don’t try to save the world by yourself,” she whispered, voice shaky, “I know you’re strong, you’re the strongest person I’ve ever met, but if anything ever happened to you…”

Naruto sat up, wrapping her in his arms.

“Now you’re just being silly, ‘ttebayo.” he admonished gently, “You honestly think I’d run off and die? I’ll admit I have a habit of jumping in fists first and questions later, but I’ve changed a lot since then. I have people I want to protect and I can’t do that if I’m six feet in the ground, ya know?”

He stroked the soft strands of midnight hair.

“I’m not saying I won’t do anything that might be reckless, if this Cyilo guy is alive and on his way here, I might not have a choice, but if you think for a second I’m gonna run in without any thoughts of staying alive you’re nuts,” he said, “I have too much too live for now, too many things I still need to do. Don’t cry, okay? I know things are bad but we just have to keep it together. Take it one step at a time.”

xxxxxx

March 1, 2010

Takahiro glanced over the green words flashing on the computer screen, unbothered by the shattering screams ringing in his ears while he worked. His fingers tapped over the keyboard, adjusting levels and increasing chakra flow. He stopped to observe the the room on the small television to the left of his computer. The live video feed recorded and displayed the containment area several feet away from his work station. The screen was divided into four panels, each viewpoint from a different angle. The room itself was large, made up of thick concrete walls, and a white tile floor interrupted by a wide patch of blood soaked dirt situated in the center of the room. Four humans lay on wheeled gurneys within the square of earth, their skin leeching of color, pruning beneath their hospital gowns. The figures were arranged in a circle around a tall fleshy tree, feeding the plant with their life’s blood and chakra. The four men were conscious, screaming in agony, held in place by the inky black viscid roots worming beneath their skin.

The wide trunk of the tree was made up of quivering, pulsating chunks of pink flesh and internal organs, tightly held together by thick ropes of black sticky veins. The pink flab was shiny, coated in a viscous liquid composed of blood, tsuchi and a clear toxic fluid Takahiro had yet to identify. Branches, both thick and skinny curved out, stretching, straining towards its human meals.

Takahiro watched dispassionately, finger moving to another button on his computer, releasing more chakra into the room while amplifying the chakra already locked within its four corners.

Gut wrenching howls, from the room and beyond its walls erupted. Vibrations brought stinging pain to his eardrums. The white haired male didn’t bother to cover his ears, having grown used to the sounds long ago, numb to the noise, desensitized to the raving hell his world had become.

Dull orbs moved back and forth as he read through the new data on his screen. It was a routine he’d normally perform on autopilot, but not today.

He didn’t have the luxury of checking out.

Not when today’s readout looked as promising as it did.

Making quick calculations, he brought up a separate program running in the background and typed a few numbers before hitting the enter key. High pitched screams, agonized wails reached a fevered pitch, the frequency inhumane, drilling into his head.

The blessed detachment he’d cloaked himself in began to fade.

Sweat beaded his forehead, his hands grew shaky while his stomach lurched with anxiety.

It wasn’t the noise that caused his disquiet, but rather the suffocating aura seeping through the concrete walls and plexiglass, a sensation he’d never felt before. The fine hairs at his nape stood on end as a voiceless call slid over his skin, burrowing beneath his flesh, whispering over his tenketsu, coaxing the tiny points to open. Takahiro fought its lulling, beguiling pull, focusing instead on the rapidly expanding circle on his computer screen, the device beeping rhythmically as it tracked the tree’s range of influence. He panted softly, eyes widening behind the circular lenses of his glasses. Its reach was wider than he’d anticipated, stronger than he was comfortable with. Unable to fight the urge, he looked over at the plexiglass feet away from his desk, even while knowing he wouldn’t be able to see into the room below the observation window. He’d have to move closer to the and looked down into the pit to see with his own eyes what was taking place.

He swallowed, fear lacing up his spine as another surge of pure, unadulterated hatred, aching bloodlust and the seductive whisper of paradise washed over him.

The legless scientist refused to go anywhere near it.

The conflicting sensations were throwing his mind into chaos. He gripped the hand rests of his wheelchair, battling the urge to tear his eyes from their sockets and present them to the baying tree.

A burst of laughter filled the room.

He jumped, hands moving to the wheels of his chair. He spun, trembling as one of the embodiments of his worst nightmare strutted into the room.

Takahiro’s fingers gripped the wheels, pain crashing through his chest. It was hard to breathe, hard to think.

His eyes burned, moist dark orbs moving over the familiar face, now pale as a sheet and his once bulky build, now painfully thin, dressed in a snowy white top and loose fitted pants. His eyes were what pained Takahiro the most. The warm brown orbs that had once looked at him with love, affection and acceptance were gone. These eyes were hallow, tinged with madness and merciless.

Soul piercing and without pity.

Eyes he recognized and abhorred.

Kohei’s mouth moved, but the voice that came from his lips belonged to another.

“Don’t get caught in her warm-up,” Toriyama grinned with Kohei’s lips, “You’ll miss the song.”

Hatred gripped his gut, the ugly melding of terror, heartache and rage settling heavily over his skin. He trembled in his chair, hating the useless nubs that were his legs even more with his amputater in the room with him. Breathing the same airs as him. Inhabiting the body of someone near and dear to his heart. Takahiro’s hateful glare followed the male’s approach, watching as the body snatcher wandered to the glass. The twisted bastard pressed his face and hands to the plexiglass, seeming enraptured by the mess below.

Takahiro turned away, taking several breaths to calm himself.

Lashing out, letting anger consume him would result in naught but more physical torture or even the violent removal of another part of his body. Something inside him would shatter to have his foster brother stand before him, blade in hand, intending to cause him unspeakable agony.

He swiveled back to his desk, gaze moving to the video feed. The brief exchange had left him full of ire, but also more in control of himself, able to tolerate and resist the tree’s beckoning. Something new was unfolding on camera. He peered closer at the screen watching the bodies strapped to the metal gurneys twist and writhe, pieces of their pruned skin slowly sloshing off and over the side of their metal bed, dripping into the blood soaked earth below. Lines of heat rose from the exposed bone.

Takahiro clenched his teeth, viewing the process with muted horror.

Sickened to his core.

As grotesque as it was, these were the results he’d been working to produce. The fleshy branches waved like skeletal fingers, the pulsation of the tree quickening.

Sticky veins unfurled from the trunk of the tree, reaching for the screaming, mushy mess of the human beneath camera three. Black vessels dug into the melting figure, hooking onto the flesh beneath the skin. Takahiro held back bile as the veins pulled, snatching the man clear of his binds and toppling the gurney. A meaty smack and a screech of pain filled the air as the man slammed into the wet adhesive coating the trunk. Gooey fluid slipped over the victim, turning the screams into low groans of untold agony.

“She’s responding,” Toriyama crooned, “Look how she waves.”

Horrified.

Fascinated.

Takahiro waited, barely breathing as he strained his ears, sifting through the distant wails of the jubokko and the wrenching screams of the humans. Shock raced through his body as a new sound cut through the clash of sounds. Dread twisted his gut, curiosity filled his mind. He gripped his chair, muscles clenching as he was torn between the urge to run and the overwhelming desire to launch himself into the flesh pit and make himself the next victim.

“It’s singing,” Toriyama breathed, nose pressed against the plexiglass, “I haven’t heard that sound in so long.”

The pale male sounded reverent, awestruck, emotions Takahiro found disturbing coming from his merciless tormentor. A testament to the rampant madness infecting the creature’s brain. Sweat slipped down his back, his hands trembling.

“Ahhh,” Toriyama sighed in bliss, “It’s been so long. Do you hear it? Can you hear its whisper? The beckoning call of salvation and nirvana? The lure of insanity and heartbreak.”

Takahiro swallowed, struggling to keep his chair still, to force his hands away from the wheels.

He could hear it.

The lure of deliverance and everlasting damnation.

He could hear it.

Feel it.

He could feel it with every fiber of his being. With parts of himself he wasn’t sure existed.

Something inside him was reaching out for the baying creature.

xxxxxx

That’s it for now! Hope you all enjoyed. Next chapter gonna be some shiz as part two of Monster finally begins. I apologize for the wait time. This holiday got me all the way messed up, lol. My nieces have been all over the place and I’m finding it hard to get my laptop in my possession long enough to get in the swing of writing, so if it seems a little off I apologize, I was really distracted, lol. Anyway, this chapter is to showcase the rapid decline of the world at large. The stressfulness of the situation, the dire conditions reaching far and wide and bits and pieces of information. Next chapter we’ll get to see what Ino has learned, how far Sakura has come in her quest for a cure and some more of Toneri and his crew.

The next chapter for Secrets of the Hidden Leaf should be out in about two days if I can keep family members out of the way long enough to finish it, lol.

Thank you all for your continued support and kind, motivating comments, appreciate every single one of them!

Thanks again for reading.

Laters

~Sessakag

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty

Part Two

To Become A Monster

 

March 7, 2010

 

All throughout the labs, was mind numbing silence.

The screams had stopped.

The vibrations gone.

And the yawning hush that took its place was slowly pushing Takahiro to the edge of insanity.

The silence, the quiet he’d prayed for time and again, was eerie, unnerving and unwelcome. Crawling over his skin and settling like a rock in the pit of his stomach. Anxiety tightened his insides, the empty muteness chaffing his already frayed nerves. The legless scientist was on edge, jumpy and tense. His mind was engaged in a constant search for sound, any subtle sign of life other than the occasional blinking and breathing of the jubokko. The jubokko hadn’t made a sound since the tree began its baying hum. Usually howling with hunger, the jubokko stood perfectly still, staring at the wall separating their cell from the fleshy, singing tree. They were starving to death, falling over from the brutal effects of malnutrition in their single minded enthrallment with the hum coming from the walls beyond their containment. They’d stopped eating each other to sustain their bodies, were no longer interested in clawing the walls in search of prey.

For seven days, the song was all that retained their attention.

The song that, thankfully, he could no longer detect with his human ears. The readout from his computer was his only awareness that the hum continued beneath the deathly quiet of the lab.

Dark eyes moved slowly to the demented psychopath still staring into the pit.

His heart ached, sharp pain filling his chest as he took in the tall, gaunt form of Kohei’s occupied husk. Toriyama had not moved from his plastered position against the plexiglass in a week. Hadn’t spoken or made any movements that indicated he was aware of his surroundings.

Ensnared, enraptured by the creature’s trill as deeply as the jubokko.

With his captor so entranced, situation was more than ideal for escape.

The silver haired male had thought of nothing but freedom since the beginning of the trance like state of the labs occupants. The burning desperation to put as much distance as humanly possible between him and the raving madness filling the confines of this place, was a constant needling entreaty. An all encompassing animalistic instinct to flee that he struggled to shove to the back of his fraught mind.

Takahiro couldn’t afford to get sloppy.

Didn’t dare give in to the compulsive need clawing through his brain.

Not when his chances of a successful escape were zero to none even with Toriyama’s disturbing captivation with the man eating flesh plant. The alien had clearly known what his reaction to the growing fruit would be, and had planned accordingly.

Takahiro’s murky orbs moved up to the corner of the room, meeting the lifeless eyes staring back at him. A shiver of unease slithered over his spine. Dread and nauseating anxiety contorting his stomach into knots. The unsettling puppet had climbed up the metal wall minutes before the trance began, settling into the high corner to watch him with an unblinking, intimidating gaze. Unmoving in its corner of the ceiling, the pale, female form was child sized with stringy white hair attached to its slightly elongated cranium. Its expressionless face was human, but lacked eyebrows and a nose. The shinny, dilated, bottomless depths of its glassy black pupils nearly overshadowed the whites of its sclera while its bloodless, thin lips were stretched into a razor toothed grin that split its face from ear to ear.

Its body was backwards.

Encased in a snowy white dress and gleaming black shoes, the puppet had climbed to its perch, then spun its head one hundred and eighty degrees to focus its attention on him.

And there it had remained.

For the past seven days.

The constant presence of Toneri’s monstrous creation added to the unease raising goosebumps along his skin. Feeding the burning fear and mind rending panic he fought daily. Contributed to the further degradation of his sanity.

It wasn’t the only puppet in the room. Two less threatening female puppets with the strength of three men stood on either sides of the lab entrance, poised to assist him when necessary. They were of average adult height, had normal human features and lacked the murderous grin of their companion. Their jobs entailed bring him tasteless bowls of gruel and assisting him from the wheel chair for bathroom breaks and fretful nights of sleep on the cot shoved to the corner of the room. The soulless puppets didn’t disturb him, didn’t fill him with dread and horror like the one watching him from the ceiling.

He swallowed, shifting his gaze back to the monitors on his desk.

On one panel of the four way split, the jubokko stood unmoving, turned towards the far wall in the direction of the flesh tree. The second panel focused on the gooey, skinny branches waving back and forth, their dance hypnotic and graceful. The third camera angle was zoomed in on the trunk of the crimson tree. He grimaced at the mushy mess of internal organs and left over skin of its victims. Digestion had slowed over the past few days, leaving four, vaguely humanoid shaped collection of exposed bones, twitching entrails, and pulsating hearts wrapped around the human consuming plant, held in place by thick black veins. Takahiro had long since muted the audio. The hum of the tree had reached a pitch unheard by his human ears, but its effects still whispered over his psyche, coaxing him to leap into the pit and add his body to the mash of bloody mess dripping from the trunk.

The muted call to death wasn’t what he wanted to tune out.

It was the noise of the tree consuming its prey, the loud suctioning that made his stomach turn, the low groans of the purest agony that left the lips of the humans turned meal. Takahiro wasn’t sure if the people glued to the trunk of the tree were actually alive or if the sounds of torment flowing from the mangled remnants of their mouths was a trick of his traumatized mind.

He spent as little time as he could observing that grotesque process.

Takahiro instead focused on the most important piece of the tree.

The small, lemon sized sphere hanging from the tallest branch of the tree. It was the culmination of his research, the hard fought efforts of the aliens holding him captive. And it was growing.

Day by day.

Hour by hour.

Gradually expanding in size. The red fleshy sphere was surrounded by a thick, hazy black glow that continued to darken in slow increments. The misty substance had started as a thick gray cloud, but now was blacker than the darkest black.

Repelling all light, natural or artificial.

The tiny fruit was the climax of several years of planning, rivers of blood and countless sacrifice, both willing and unwilling. The embodiment of a near perfect balance, far superior to their previous experiments. Takahiro found himself fascinated over the possibilities it represented, excited to begin testing despite the inhumane actions taken to reach this cursed point. The lure of new knowledge pushing back the paralyzing terror hanging around his neck. Somewhere inside him was as sick and twisted as his captors. Morbid fascination rose unbidden to his mind as he watched the sphere pulsate. His mind already turning over the potency of the serum the fruit would create, the effectiveness of the new formula. The results he anticipated it would produce were enough to make his constant, knowledge starved brain salivate. In times like this, where curiosity rose to the surface, his own ruthless nature floated to the forefront. The cruelty and savagery he himself was capable of in the pursuit of scientific discovery.

He’d stained his hands long before Toriyama and Toneri had come along.

Had been more than willing to sacrifice whoever he needed to in order to further his ambitions.

Even with his legs gone, his freedom a distant memory and the man he used to call brother dead, Takahiro felt pride in how far he’d come. Sick, disgusting, burning pride in the heinous acts he’d participated in while creating the jubokko. A sense of fierce satisfaction settled over his withered soul every time he looked at the growing fruit.

He was well aware that he was as sadistic as they were.

Unhinged and homicidal.

Even so, and with Kohei gone, he had no desire to remain beneath the thumb of beings crueler than he was.

Dismissing the video feed, the legless male opened a program on his computer and began typing, each stroke of the key careful, each word deliberate. The information was interlaced with a hidden message. An encrypted code of SOS tucked within sensitive data that he was certain would be of particular interest to a certain nation. If they took the bait and responded to his plea, he wouldn’t need to take a risk in trying to get out by himself. He could instead wait for rescue. Takahiro had never been a shinobi of worth, didn’t have the ability to fight with his handicap nor did he have any significant ninjutsu he could utilize that would lead to a successful escape, but he did have the latest in technology at his fingertips and the intellectual capacity to utilize it for his own gain.

Crippled and overpowered through he might be, his analytical mind was fully functional. He had watched his hated captors closely, and made use of the camera system throughout the facility to listen when they spoke.

Had done his own research under the guise of furthering the numerous experiments taking place.

There were things he knew about his alien tormentors.

Things they didn’t want him to know.

Information he could use not only as leverage to negotiate his release, but as a weapon against his enemies. Caught up in the excitement of bringing their ambitions to fruition, the careless arrogance with which they cloaked themselves in provided vital insight into the inner workings of the scheming beings.

Revealed weakness the pale aliens harbored.

Secret hideouts they’d carved out around the globe.

Location of other, more vulnerable Otsutsuki.

And the all important knowledge of what the Otsutsuki truly wanted.

Information was and always had been his greatest weapon, his best form of currency.

Takahiro pressed down on the enter key, watching the transfer until the gray bar filled green before a message popped up on his screen, confirming the transfer was complete. The hollowed pits of his soul twisted with malevolent triumph and quaking terror. He recognized his actions would have far reaching consequences, for him and the world at large. Even so, he felt no regret. No anguish over it. The Otsutsuki had taken from him, everything that had ever meant anything to him, ripped away parts of him both physically and emotionally, pieces that he would never get back.

Could never get back.

It was only fair he return the favor.

xxxxxx

April 5, 2010

Shikamaru strode down the dark halls of the Anbu headquarters, determination and an inkling of urgency in his step. He turned left at the next hallway and made his way to the single elevator at its end. Once inside the lift, he lifted his eyes to the square, metallic device above the doors for the retinal scan. The machinery shifted behind the circular lens at its center, producing a red light that glanced over his orbs before a soft click reached his ears. He turned to his right and placed his hand on the digital, palm shaped scanner that would unlock the elevator buttons. The scanner beeped, then retreated into the wood paneling, rotating to reveal silver buttons labeled with numbers with the exception of one that bore no marking.

He pressed the unmarked button, then waited as the doors closed and the elevator began its descent.

He stared back at his haggard reflection in the shinny steel doors.

He was more exhausted than he could ever recall being. The endless days and nights of responding to one disaster after another left him stressed and tense. Far from the carefree days of contemplating slowly drifting clouds or playing a game of Shogi. He was running to and fro, buried beneath paper work and civilian distress calls when he got a chance to sit at his desk. The number of towns and villages calling on the Hidden Leaf shinobi grew daily, while the amount of able bodied ninja continued to declined. Whether it was inside or outside the walls of Konoha, it seemed as though he couldn’t catch a breath. The pressure bearing down on his shoulders was mounting at an alarming pace. Coupled with the outside chaos was the internal intrigue slowly slithering through the ranks. The nagging suspicion that left him drenched in a cold sweat at night.

The alarming haunch that Myoku Yagutsu was not who or what he claimed to be.

A belief he share with the Hokage and Sai. The question of who or what the pale adviser was turned his blood cold. While they were trying to avoid jumping to conclusions, Shikamaru had a sinking feeling that the one he’d been mulling over would prove true. The frightening possibility that Myoku was in some way connected to the Otsutsuki. That he was using his authority and influence to not only shape the village to further some nefarious plot, but that he’d infected a number of higher ups, including the daimyo with his ambitions. It was a haunch he and the Hokage discussed only when certain listening ears were out of range of their hushed conversation, pouring over the alarming reports from the travelling Uchiha while the potential threat within Konoha was quietly investigated by their new Anbu Captain appointee, Sai.

The former Root member was a Godsend. His familiarity in navigating the inner workings of the shadowy extension of Konoha, his ability and willingness to be ruthless in the protection of the village had become key in the expulsion of compromised Anbu members. The socially awkward painter had settled into his position with scary efficiency, weeding out those that sought to side with Myoku’s suggested appointees, while nimbly avoiding the quiet attempts to end not only his reorganization, but also his life.

The pale adviser was fighting fiercely, silently to topple Sai. Had more nin working to do his bidding than Shikamaru and Kakashi had first anticipated. How and when the Anbu had become so deeply compromised was an open question that worried all of them.

One they didn’t have the time or resources to figure out.

Removal, voluntarily and involuntarily, of those tainted was their top priority. If they were going to trap and expose the ring leader, Myoku, they would need to dismantle the support he had and stop his influence from spreading.

The elevator stopped and the metal door slid open.  

Shikamaru knew the adviser was aware that they were suspicious and without doubt knew they were investigating him. Overly confident and coldly egotistical, the adviser made no secret that he knew. Would taunt them with an arrogant curl of his pale lips when Shikamaru looked his way. The mildly amused, inky black stares Myoku leveled on him coupled with insinuating comments he tossed out on days Sasuke’s messenger hawk paid a visit left little room for doubt. The adviser knew he was being watched and didn’t give a shit. Found their actions contemptuous and comical. His reaction did little to ruffle the dogged determination Shikamaru felt. It made him all the more determined to prove what he already knew. To find out how far the poison had spread, and how much the daimyo knew about it.

Shikamaru trekked down the dim hall, up a flight of stairs and stopped in front of a wood door. Knowing Sai was already aware of his arrival, he skipped his customary knock and turned the handle.

Sai stood leaning over his desk, a large open map littered with bright red X’s and big circles. Shikamaru knew what the X’s represented. Areas officially declared dead zones were marked with an X. Areas where the population had been wiped out due to weather anomalies or jubokko attacks while the circles highlighted pockets of civilization that had ceased communications and were scheduled for further investigation. Two masked nin stood at his side, listening as Sai spoke. The dog masked male pointed to a circle, then ran his finger along side the depiction of a river before making a comment Shikamaru couldn’t hear. The room itself was wide and the walls lined with cubbies, shelves and file cabinets of priceless scrolls, documents and assortments of shinobi tools. The rounded table Sai stood before was off in the far corner of a low level den. It was customary for him to wait while Sai finished discussions, but with the information he had, Shikamaru couldn’t wait. What he had could place them closer to answers.

He moved further into the room, the low conversation beginning to reach his ears.

“Kusagakure is gone,” the crow masked male confirmed, his tone grim, “We spent days looking for bodies. We found a doze or so, carved into pieces and littered throughout the town but the rest have vanished. There’s no trace of them. May have been the jubokko but there’s no way to confirm it. No tsuchi left on the body parts, no eye witness accounts, nothing.”

“That would explain the radio silence.” Shikamaru commented as he reached the table.

“The shinobi we sent to investigate along with the border patrol are gone too,” Sai said, intense dark eyes moving over the map, “Kusagakure is the first country to go under completely.”

Sai reached for the red marker at the top of the parchment and marked the small land with a bright X.

“Any sign of the prisoners?” Shikamaru asked.

“Hozuki Castle was deserted. Blood splatters and a couple of limbs, other than that, nothing.” Crow responded.

Troubled by the news as he was, Shikamaru opted to hold his questions for the later briefing that would follow hours later.

“The intelligence department received another transmission,” Shikamaru informed the trio, tossing a folded piece of paper onto the map.

Sai picked it up, reading the brief message and following coordinates.

“A Hyuuga?” Sai asked, straightening to meet the other male’s eyes.

“’These coordinates contain answers. You’ll need a Hyuuga to discern its secrets’,” Shikamaru recited, “That’s all the information he left this time.”

“You think its a trap?”

Shikamaru shook his head.

“His last two transmissions panned out. He led us to a group of jubokko and the information he shared about tsuchi led to a medical breakthrough this morning,” Shikamaru reasoned, “he wants our trust bad enough to throw out some pretty valuable pieces of information but he’s got to be sitting on bigger pieces of the puzzle. We need to know what he knows. Its a risk but I don’t think its a ploy.”

The encrypted SOS had reached the intelligence department a month ago, leading to cautious curiosity and a tightening of cyber security, the unexpected and unknown hack proving to be both beneficial and disturbing. The male on the other end of the breach had propositioned the village for assistance, offering life and death information in exchange for extraction. Those working in the department had brought the data straight to him, and he in turn had informed the Hokage and Sai. For the past few weeks, Anbu were sent to confirm the accuracy and validity of the claims being made, and each time returned successfully with vital information.

“Who do you suggest?” Sai asked.

“Hinata’s the only Hyuuga off duty and we can’t spare any others,” Shikamaru said, “Sakura’s been working non-stop since we got the information about tsuchi and she needs the Hyuugas assigned under her. The remainder are still trying to decode the text about Cyilo.”

“Sou, collect Hinata and bring her here for briefing.” Sai instructed.

The dog masked gave a small inclination of his head before disappearing in a cloud of smoke.

“Crow, you’re dismissed.”

When the two were alone, Sai spoke.

“You’re going to have Cockzilla pelting you with questions.” Sai pointed out, his lips curled into that false smile he teased Naruto with.

Shikamaru couldn’t help but sigh with exasperated amusement at the use of the nickname. Crude as it was, the small attempt at humour briefly lightened the weight bearing down on his shoulders.

“What a drag,” Shikamaru huffed, “that guy’s gonna be an earful.”

Even as he said it, Shikamaru could sympathize with the energetic blonde. Could understand the concern he had for her safety despite his woman’s strength and training. Temari had returned Suna months ago and if he hadn’t been as busy as he was, he would have spent the time apart wringing his hands with worry while figuring out the quickest way to join her in the Land of Wind. Temari had gone back to help the struggling land organize rescue mission, fortifications and solutions to the intensifying droughts. The disasters, both natural and otherwise kept his fiancee busy, often leading to weeks on end without a single instance of communication between the two. Shikamaru often held his breath during times of silence on her end, stressed and panicked that the silence would one day mean more than just a busy schedule.

His lover’s death was a possibility he struggled to make peace with.

Contemplating the scenario made him sick inside.

Pushing it to the back of his mind, shying away from the creeping fear when her end went quiet was the best he could do. His only way of coping with the dangers that came with the headband she wore.

 

 

xxxxxx

It was the middle of the night when the knocks pulled him from his slumber. Naruto groaned, but made the concerted effort to leave the realm of dreamland. He detangled himself from the warm embrace of his girlfriend, scooped his boxers and sweats from the floor and dressed quietly in the dark. The haze of sleep cleared from his mind as he pulled the gray elastic pants up around his waist, foregoing his t-shirt tossed negligently on the window seat across the room. Shuffling and a low yawn brought his blue gaze to the naked female rising sluggishly from the rumpled sheets of his bed.

Midnight mane mussed, Hinata yawned again, rubbing her sleepy eyes.

“It’s probably for me,” Naruto muttered with a sigh, ruffling his hair, “A few shinobi haven’t come back from the eastern region and Kakashi-sensei mentioned he might need me to pick up the slack.”

She nodded, but instead of lying back down, rose from the bed and trekked to the bathroom. He sighed glumly as supple flesh and gentle curves disappeared behind the door, but turned his mind to the possible upcoming mission, running through scenarios that would warrant a late night visit. He moved with ease through his dark apartment to the front door and swung it open. Cerulean orbs widened slightly at the sight of the dog mask starting back at him. The ninja was as tall as him, burly and garbed in a sleeveless black top beneath a gray flak jacket and black pants. Not the late night guest the blonde jonin had been expecting.

What the Anbu wanted from him, he couldn’t fathom.

“Excuse the intrusion,” the masked male began in a low voice, “I have orders to retrieve Hinata Hyuuga.”

Surprise washed over him.

“Hinata?” he repeated.

The Anbu gave a short nod.

“Please inform Ms.Hyuuga of my request.”

While he was overflowing with questions, Naruto held his peace and turned back to the apartment, leaving the door open as he back tracked. He’d get nothing from the disciplined nin.

“Hinata,” he called as he walked through his bedroom door, “The Anbu are here for you. He said he needs you to go back with him.”

Hinata stepped from his closet, his mission gear clutched to her bosom. She’d taken the time to slip on the t-shirt he’d ignored and had been in the process of helping him get ready for an impromptu mission.

“Me?” she asked, brows creasing in confusion.

“Yeah, you think it has to do with your decryption assignment?” Naruto asked.

She thought for a moment, then shrugged.

“Maybe,” she murmured, “But I’m not due back for at least another week.”

The intelligence department had composed a rotating schedule for the Byakugan users, one that reduced the chance of eye strain. Hinata was currently on her off week. Unless one of the Hyuuga on duty had come down with eyes strain, Hinata wasn’t due back for a while. The summons could also stem from the medical bay. Developing treatment, testing techniques for the restoration of tenketsu had put the Hyuuga in high demand within and outside the walls of Konoha. Even in that case, Anbu wouldn’t be the shinobi to escort her to the medical labs. One of Sakura subordinates were usually the ones to come knocking, not a member of the mask wearing covert group. While he knew there were some thing she couldn’t talk to him about, new discoveries and information she wasn’t authorized to share, this was the first time it truly bothered him. He could deal with the hushed mouths, the rebuffs to his numerous inquires, but this whole scenario disturbed him.

What did the Anbu need from his other half?

And how much danger was involved?

Hinata retreated back into the closet before returning with her own gear. He watched as she shed his shirt, searched the drawer for undergarments, then began to dress.

“I don’t like it, ‘ttebayo,” he told her, crossing his arms over his chest, “Anbu showing up in the middle of the night? Seems excessive for you to need an Anbu escort back to the labs or the intelligence department.”

Naruto couldn’t keep the worry from his voice. It was hard enough leaving her behind while he took his team to and fro around Fire Country, memories of returning to a village flattened by Pain at the edge of his mind each time he left. Even with that worry, he’d held on to the comforting thought that while she was here and engaged in decryption and medical advancement, she was at least off of active duty. Away from the increasingly dangerous times they lived in, far from the jubokko, Otsutsuki and whatever else was out there that was responsible for murders and mysterious disappearance of a significant amount of shinobi from every nation.

She buckled her tool kit around her waist, then followed him out into the hall. They stopped near the kitchen. Luminous lilac orbs met his, the gentle assessing look pinpointing his current mood. She smoothed the small frown from between his brows before rising up on her tiptoes. Naruto leaned down and accepted the quick peck on the lips she gave him.

“If I can tell you what’s going on when I get back, I will. Try not to worry, okay?” she asked, this time smoothing her fingers over the whisker marks of his right cheek, “if you worry, then I’ll worry about you worrying and then we’ll both be worried.”

He gave a small curl of his lips when she smiled, appreciating her attempt to lighten the seriousness of the situation, though apprehension crept back into his expression the second she turned back. They continued on to the Anbu still standing just outside the threshold of the door.

“Hinata Hyuuga,” the Anbu said from behind his mask, “I have orders to retrieve you. Please come with me.”

His pale girlfriend nodded, gave him another reassuring kiss and wave, then followed her escort, leaving the young Uzumaki on edge. He was half tempted to wring his hands with worry. Angst twisted his gut.

‘You’re worse than a mother hen with a flock of chicks.’ Kurama grumbled.

“Can’t help it, ‘ttebayo,” he muttered to the kyuubi as closed the door.

‘Give the female more credit,’ Kurama rumbled, ‘She’s no push over.’

Over the last few months, the fox and his girlfriend had gone from familiar strangers to good friends, often chatting together during the increasingly frequent days he returned home to pass out, completely exhausted from back to back missions. Naruto didn’t mind Kurama taking over to chit chat with Hinata, but he found it weird to fall asleep in his bed only to regain consciousness on the couch watching a movie or at the kitchen table with a cup of tea in his hand.

‘After all, she knocked you out last time,’ the Kyuubi gloated, Or did you forget waking up in a puddle of drool?’

Naruto grinned at the memory. One of their taijutsu training sessions had gotten particularly heated. He was good at taijutsu but Hinata was a beast in close combat. Having learned his lesson about pulling punches in fear of hurting her, the blonde Uzumaki had long since taken off the kid gloves. While sparring kept her skills up to par, the back and forth had also honed his own skills. Feeling a bit cocky, he’d convinced the reluctant Hyuuga to utilize Juuken along side their hand to hand combat, next thing he remembered was being face down in a ‘puddle of drool’.

His gentle girlfriend was deadly when she needed to be.

‘Upsetting yourself over it isn’t going to change anything.’

“I know that,” Naruto pouted as he ambled to the kitchen for a glass of orange juice, “She can take care of herself but what do you expect me to do when the Anbu shows up in the middle of the night? You’re worried about her too.”

The sly fox offered no denial, merely huffed his exasperation with his troubled host.

“Have you heard back from Shukaku?” Naruto asked, moving from one worry to another.

‘No.’

The growled negation held an undercurrent of tension. Though he tried to bury it beneath a facade of nonchalance, Naruto could tell Kurama was concerned about his bijuu brethren. The two shared mental space, were connected in a way that left little room for private thoughts and feelings. Naruto didn’t remark on Kurama’s worry, knowing the fox wouldn’t admit to it anyway.

He fished a glass from the cabinet, then poured himself a glass of orange juice.

“Has he ever been quiet this long?”

‘Not since he was put inside the brow-less kid.’

“Gaara,” Naruto supplied absently as he took a sip, “Maybe he’s ignoring you again. You did call him a weakling and made fun of his tail last time he answered. He’s sensitive about stuff like that, dattebayo.”

The two bijuu often argued with little heat, their dynamic much like his and Sasuke’s. The boisterous, often confrontational tanuki hadn’t seemed anymore affronted than usual after Kurama’s teasing slight but maybe he’d taken it more personal than they thought. The single tailed bijuu wasn’t responding to repeated attempts to contact him through their shared subconscious channel.

‘Even if he was still mad, having all of us reaching out to him over and over would be enough to irritate him into answering one of us. He would have thrown one of his tantrums long before now.’

Naruto didn’t know what to make of that. He was holding out hope Shukaku was just being his normal childish, stubborn self and had taken it a bit far, but his optimism was fading quickly. Kurama knew Shukaku better than he did, after all. The circumstances around the sudden silence had been suspicious to say the least. A few hours after Kurama and Shukaku’s spat about tails and power, the one tailed bijuu had gone to complain to Matatabi and during that conversation, Shukaku had mentioned hearing something.

A song that ‘made him want to follow’, according to Matatabi.

Once uttering that cryptic description, Shukaku had dropped communications and hadn’t spoken again since.

‘He may have been sealed again.’

“I don’t think he’s been sealed and I asked Kakashi-sensei and he said as far as he knew the other Kage haven’t authorized any sealing. We came to an agreement after the war, there’s no reason for anybody to seal you guys up anymore.”

Kurama gave the equivalence of a shrug, a hint of bitterness creeping into his tone.

‘When has agreements of peace ever stopped humans from doing anything?’

Naruto didn’t take the jab to heart. Despite the peace and understanding that had come of the war, Kurama’s mistrust and anger towards humans flared every once and a while. Old wounds reopening in the face of human atrocities that continued even after the battle with Kaguya. Comments lamenting the behavior of humankind weren’t frequent, at least not in the way it was being conveyed now. Kurama’s snarky remarks were usually made in jest or to tease his bumbling host. The flippant assertion he’d just made had come from a place of pain the kyuubi had yet to reconcile.

‘It wasn’t aimed at you, kid,’ Kurama grumbled, ‘Besides, you’re too disgustingly optimistic to be human anyway.’

Naruto sighed, opting to let the comment stand.

“He’ll turn up soon, Kurama,” he said instead, “And if he doesn’t we’ll go look for him.”

xxxxxx

Ino sucked in several breaths, beads of cold sweat sliding down her forehead. The snarling, howling creature across from her twisted against the metal restraints anchoring it to the steel gurney. The jubokko was white as sheet, his gaunt body made up of jutting bones beneath pasty skin. His gray hospital gown was stained with dried speaks of tsuchi and blood, and the dark brittle hair atop his head was torn out completely in several spots. His brown eyes were wide and wild, surrounded by reddened sclera, moving over the room in search of a meal. The moment his orbs met hers, he strained against the bindings, tearing at the metal slab beneath him, his howls desperate and ravenous.

She was inside one of the containment rooms of the underground facilities, about to delve into the mind of a jubokko that was more human than monster in the hopes he still retained valuable memories.

“Take your time, Ino.”

She glanced up at Sakura. Her childhood friend stood next to her chair, her emerald eyes tired but determined. The last time Ino had entered the mind of the jubokko, she’d lost consciousness after returning to her body. Sakura insisted on monitoring her personally afterwards and while Ino had bulked at first, her mostly absent boyfriend had backed the pinkette when he found out. Bullied on both sides, Ino had relented. She was hard pressed to admit she was glad her friend was at her side.

“I’ll be right here when you come back.” Sakura assured her.

Ino didn’t bother with the facade of confidence, or over the top bravado.

She was scared.

She released a soft breath, struggling to calm her mind. She brought her hands up, forming the hand sign that would take her to a place she dreaded.

The world faded, and she was catapulted into a mind not her own.

Her skin tingled, stomach churning, the sensation of connection jolting. Eyes held shut against the dizzying scene around her, she reached for the condensed pocket of murky psyche, wading through the stinging barbs blocking her telepathic path. A sharp pop and the sudden give of resistance signaled she’d entered the mental space of the creature. Ino opened her eyes, blue orbs moving over the dark haze filling the confines of the jubokko’s subconscious. The smoky clouds drifted over crumbled walls, the mass twisting and writhing in a pattern that seemed organic. Chills spread over her skin as she began a slow drift through the billowing mist.

She looked around, noting the lack of roots in the outer layer.

The mind of this jubokko was different from the others.

Less cluttered.

More human than the last.

A massive amount of his brain untouched by the tree’s influence.

At least for now.

It was several minutes before she reached the inner wall of his mind. The sagging, cracked wall was covered in roots.

Ino swallowed hard, the inklings of anxiety creeping up her neck.

She took a breath, then pressed her hand against the wall, forcing the roots to part as she slipped through the wall. The black haze was darker, more condensed inside. The roots thick and writhing within. Ino’s incorporeal form drifted forward through the mist, gently pushing aside thin black roots hiding beneath the smoke. Unease crawled up her spine, anxiety tightening her throat as the pointed ends scrapped against her skin. The sensation felt wrong, synonyms to claws grating against a chalkboard.

Unpleasant and uncomfortable.

She took another breath, bracing against the driving urge to disconnect and retreat to her own body. Panic teased her conscious mind, the painful quiet and dense cloudiness slowly becoming suffocating. It was full of bitter hatred and agonizing pain, weighed down with the hollowed pieces of the former human’s soul. She could feel the horrible energy sinking into her pores.

Ino gagged, placing a trembling hand to her mouth.

The psyche of these creatures was something she didn’t think she would ever get used to. The clash of their energy against hers was akin to being held down while nails were hammered beneath her fingernails.

Unbearable on a level the blonde could scarcely put into words.

The haze darkened, visibility fading. Her blue orbs widened, desperately seeking light.

“Calm down, Ino,” she whispered to herself, “You can handle it. Don’t panic.”

Sweat slid down her spine, dread spreading in her gut.

“You’re fine. It’s not real. You’re only here temporarily and then you can go back to your body.”

Something squirmed ahead of her, the squishing sound cutting through the thick darkness and reverberating silence. Ino sucked in several breaths, hanging on to her rapidly declining nerves as best she could. The fine hairs at her nape stood on end as she drifted closer, slapping frantically at the roots gliding over her flesh. The sharp ends were growing, thickening the closer she got to the mass in front of her.

She could barely make out a central collection of contorting blackness, moving, shifting, shaping and reshaping in the surrounding void.

She stared, paralyzed as it reached out to her with a low howl she hear with her mind rather than her ears. Limbs trembling, Ino took a step back, color leeching from her face. The tugging of roots at her skin brought her crashing back to herself. She slapped frantically at the prickling growths, pulling the from her flesh. Emotions began to leak, bleeding into her subconscious through the roots she forced away, roots that were refusing to be pushed aside. The black growths swarmed, their pointed ends find the softness of her skin. They were sticking to her, burrowing beneath flesh, tunneling through her veins. Ino screamed, fighting the incorporeal binds, rejecting the forced deepening of their psychic connection.

She could feel him.

She was him.

Agony ripped through her stomach.

Hunger, so deep, so painful blasted her reeling brain.

She needed blood.

Chakra.

She was starving.

Ravenous to her core.

Teetering on the edge of insanity

It was his hunger, her hunger, the creature’s hunger.

Confused, panicked, Ino pulled away from the deeper connection. Fleeing the painful sensations, the tightening roots sticking to her body. A sob of terror left her lips as she pulled harder against the snare of gripping roots. The midnight growth yanked back, dragging her closer to the vortex of swirling mist.

Inoooo

The inhuman formation of her name terrified the struggling blonde. Her eyes widened, lungs seized as rational though left her mind. She twisted, clawed, an animal gripped in the throes of unmitigated horror. Sticky roots ripped at her skin, tearing her flesh from her bones, slithering through fat and muscle to sink into her internal organs. The agony, the ungodly pain shattered her screaming mind as she yanked desperately for the small line connected her subconscious to the monstrous psyche she was trapped in.

A click of connection reverberated through her body, salvation inches from her finger tips. She strained against the roots, bones snapping as she reached for the line that would take her back to sanity.

Innoooooo!

The voice scraped her eardrums, forcing a wail of pain from her bloody mouth.

Ino strained harder, the ripping and tearing of her flesh echoing in the dark void. Warmth filled her body, sheering the roots from her body, healing skin and mending bones, the sensation painful in itself. The world rushed by as she was ripped away from the mist and flung into the outer layer of the creature’s mind, hurtling for the doorway she’d entered through.  

Help me…please…”

The male voice reached her ears in the chaos, his plea holding a wealth of pain and desperation. A floodgate opened, memories funneled into her brain.

Flashes of a past life.

The smiling face of a much more human version of the jubokko she was connected to.

A snapshot of the man in a lab, lying back on metal table.

The dark silhouette of a bespectacled male holding a syringe.

Ino slammed back into her body, screaming, retching, her stomach twisting and contorting to expel soul rending darkness.

“Ino!” Sakura cried out in alarm as the Yamanaka turned and vomited on the floor.

Inky black liquid spilled onto the floor in a rush, filling the room with a smell that resembled a rotting corpse. Her body spasmed, shuddering violently as it rejected the negativity she’d brought back with her. Her throat burned, thick black liquid spewing from her lips. Her eyes watered, the vague sounds of shouting a distant ring in her ears. Familiar arms grabbed her, straightening her slouching body, pulling her hair back from her face.

“It’s okay,” came Sakura’s hushed voice, “Let it all out.”

The medical nin rubbed her back in soothing circles, supporting her flagging body with strong, yet gentle arms. Long moments of pure hell passed before she calmed. All the while, her best friend bathed her face in a cool cloth, washing the sweat and tears from her face.

“I think that’s all of it,” Ino whispered, her voice hoarse.

“You sure?” Sakura asked, “because if you get any of that on me its not going to be pretty, Ino-pig.”

A soft chuckle left the shaky Yamanaka.

“Can it, billboard brow. Can’t you see I’m in the middle of something here?”

Several people walked into the room, mops and sanitizing chemicals in their hands. Recognizing a few face she worked alongside, Ino gave a sheepish, embarrassed frown as they began cleaning the mess she’d made.

“Sorry guys,” she murmured, heat filling her cheeks.

“Don’t worry about it,” a short brown haired woman negated, “trust me, we’ve cleaned up worse.”

“Why don’t you take her out while we tidy up in here.” a tall, red haired male suggested kindly as he mopped.

Sakura wrapped an arm around her waist, pulling her from her chair in a single motion. Ino leaned heavily against the white coated pinkette, her steps slow and unsure as they ambled past the unconscious jubokko and out the door. Sakura led her to an empty containment room a few doors, maneuvering her to the single bed in the room. The exhausted blonde felt dizzy by the time she sat down again, the room tilting, her lungs struggling for air. Her body felt stiff and achy, her head throbbing, the tingling warning signs of a impending migraine gathering behind her eyes. Something wet slid down her nose.

“Ino, you have to slow down,” Sakura rebuked, her voice tinged with anger and fear as she dug into her pockets, “You can’t keep doing this to yourself.

Sakura handed her a tissue, watching quietly, worriedly, as Ino wiped blood from her nose.

“You’re only scratching the surface of what’s inside the mist and it’s already this bad.”

“I didn’t pass out this time.” the Yamanaka pointed out, wiping her stinging eyes.

“Is that supposed to make it better?” Sakura asked, “You might as well have lost consciousness compared to what just happened.”

“The point is, I didn’t lose consciousness because I’m starting to get used to being inside. I have to build up a tolerance. It sucks but that’s how it works. You think this is bad, you should have seen me when I first learned to enter other people’s subconscious. I was a wreck for two weeks.”

Sakura wasn’t moved by the assertion, her expression arranged in disbelief. Ino sighed.

“I’ll admit, they’re worse than humans,” she shivered, dread tightening her chest, “much worse, but I can handle it and I didn’t come away empty handed this time. At the end, before I disconnected he spoke, showed me memories of the time before he became what he is now. It was covered up underneath the mist.”

“That’s all well and good but you can’t go that deep into their minds when you can’t handle it. You’re adding stress to your body. Traumatizing yourself physically and emotionally over and over again.” Sakura argued, “For goodness sake, Ino, your body purged involuntarily. That’s never happened before. How much of that energy did you bring back with you for your system to react that severely?”

Ino swallowed, her queasy stomach reliving the black embodiment of negative energy that had flowed from her mouth. Purging orally was not something she’d ever done, having no control over the purging process was also an alarming development she hadn’t even known was possible.

It was something she would need to be careful of, something to think about…

Later.

She couldn’t think about anything right now.

She hurt too much.

Pain lanced through her eyes, threading through her cranium and settling at the base of her skull. She bit back a groan of discomfort, bringing her hands to her temples.

“All I’m saying is that you need to slow down.”

“Its easier said than done, Sakura. A lot people are depending on us,” she reminded her friend, “You know that even better than I do.”

Sadness filled her chest as concerned emerald orbs turned haunted. Ino regretted her words as naked pain and torment etched across Sakura’s face. Ino knew well the burden crushing her friend. The sleepless nights she suffered, the weeping spells before she went in to work, the deep wounding of her soul on days she lost patients. Sakura had an even tougher road than she did. One that seemed determined to crush her best friend.

“I’m sorry.”

Sakura shook her head, then sucked in a stabilizing breath.

“Don’t be, you’re right. A lot of people are depending on us, but we can’t let that sense of urgency make us reckless,” Sakura reasoned, “We’re no good dead on our feet.”

Sakura turned away, her body lined with tension.

“We…have limits,” came her painful admission, the words hallow, “I can’t save everyone and neither can you.”

There was a wealth of shame, anguish and resolve in her whispered words. The tone resonated with the haggard Yamanaka.

“Listen,” Ino said, “Sai’s gone for the night and we both need a break. Let’s go to my place and recoup.”

Sakura seemed hesitant, her lips moving to form an excuse to stay closeted in the lab. Ino grabbed her friend’s hand.

“Work will be here in the morning and I could really…” Ino felt her eyes water, “I don’t want to be by myself tonight.”

The horror would come back soon. It was nipping at the fringe of her mind, a looming shadow waiting to take her under the moment she paid it the slightest attention. Tonight, sleep would be a nightmare, she knew that, was preparing for it, but even so, she needed someone to hold her hand through it.

Sakura’s face softened.

“Sure, Ino. Give me a minute to get someone to cover the rest of my shift and we’ll head out.”

Ino nodded, and Sakura stood.

The moment the door closed behind the pink haired woman, Ino collapsed forward, gagging. Her body shook, quaking. Sore muscles tensed and the maw of terror crawled up her spine. She panted, struggling for breath, twisting in the grips of panic. Tears of stress slipped down her cheeks, fat droplets dripping down her chin. A soft noise in the corner of the room brought wide blue orbs swinging around. Heart pounding, Ino strained, staring hard into the darkened corner of the room, half expecting to see slithering roots and a mass black smoke reaching towards her.

The corner was dark, but empty.

“I’m fine…”she whispered, “I’m fine…”

xxxxxx

Apologies for the delay, I have a lot of shiz going on. The holidays really suck. As some of you know I’m still dealing with my little brother’s death back in May so going through the major holidays without him for the first time is tough as hell and for some odd reason a lot of family members have gotten really sick to make matters worse. I have my maternal grandmother here and I’ve been volunteered to help her, so things are really off track. Once stuff gets settled down I’ll be able to write more but with all this shit going on its hard to focus.

Anyway, this chapter begins part two and I’ll warn once more, things are gonna get really ugly, real painful and real dark, if it’s not your cup of tea, I’d recommend hopping off the train now while you still can. Hope the chapter came out the way it was intended and not too many errors, I was a little distracted though. Let me know if I screwed up anywhere. Next chapter, we get some action. A couple of fight scenes and a traumatic incident.

Don’t forget to review and I’ll see you in the next chapter.

Laters

~Sessakag

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-One

 

April 6, 2010

 

Hinata gazed intently at the forested terrain beneath her, veined eyes moving carefully over rows of trees and lush green grass. Seated atop a dull gray crane, Hinata and her Anbu companions coasted smoothly across the cool blue midday sky, drifting lazily below fluffy white clouds. Having spent the entire night and most of the morning travelling, they’d slowed the summoned bird, Manami, to a crawl half an hour ago, utilizing the Byakugan and sedate pace to scan the vast wilderness.

The flying bird belonged to the female Anbu nin seated next to her. Face hidden behind a feline mask, her sable hair cropped close to her skull, the kunoichi had been assigned to accompany her, along with Sou, to investigate the anonymous tip. After a quick briefing by Shikamaru, the masked woman had identified herself as Eiko. Slightly taller than Hinata and of a more muscular build, the Anbu female was dressed in standard Anbu gear, and sported two short blades strapped to her back.

Hinata swept the area again, pausing when a rocky structure and a distant glow caught her eye. She zeroed in on the cluster of stones, measuring the distance before she spoke.

“There’s a cave five kilometers North,” Hinata informed the group, “ There’s a glowing spring at the bottom.”

“Manami.” Eiko prompted.

The gray crane released a honking call then flapped its wings, propelling the group swiftly towards the spotted landmark. The giant bird glided over the tops of towering trees, the roar of a waterfall reaching their ears long before they passed the cascade of water. Hinata watched closely, tracking movement and searching for enemies lurking near the cave. Her search for adversaries turned up empty, and after a nod of all clear, Manami landed a few feet from the darkened cave entrance. Folding her massive wings along her sides, the gray crane waited patiently as the trio dismounted. Eiko gave the bird a quick pat on the beak before its large body disappeared in a puff of smoke.

“I’ll take point,” Eiko said, “Sou, the rear.”

Situated between the Anbu pair, Hinata followed the female lead into the shadowed recesses of the cavern. The dirt path slopped downward, the hard walls of the cave narrowing and widening at random intervals. They trekked through the cave for the better part of an hour before reaching the glowing spring.

Glittering and vivid spring green, the sparkling water illuminated the open space, casting long shadows that danced eerily and highlighting the black shinobi letter “A” painted high on the ceiling.

“Hinata, can you see what’s at the bottom of the spring?” Eiko asked as she dropped to a knee at near the edge.

Hinata shook her head, the veins around her eyes fading into smooth skin.

“No, my vision is distorted.” she replied, “I can’t see anything.”

“Whatever this is, its not water,” Sou commented as he scooped the liquid in a bear sized palm, “it dissolves too quickly and leaves the skin dry.”

“You think its a trap?” Hinata questioned.

“Most likely.” Eiko stated as she straightened.

Sou grunted in agreement. The burly man formed the signs of a summoning, then pressed his palm to the water’s surface. Smoke cover the surface of the spring briefly before parting to reveal a curved, translucent blob. Surprised lilac eyes widened, moving over the gelatinous aquatic creature with keen interest. The pale blue jellyfish bobbed gently in the glowing liquid, its transparent dome lined with delicate, navy blue lines, and sprinkled with silvery circular globules ranging in size.

“Ginjiro will take us through the water.” he informed the two women.

Eiko made no objections as she wandered over to the silent jelly. Sou, however, turned to Hinata and explained further.

“He’ll be transporting us inside his body. The experience can be…unsettling for someone that’s never been inside before,” he warned, “Stay calm, and don’t panic. His insides are both breathable and harmless.”

A large, slinky tentacle broke the water’s surface. Hinata watched with a small sense of alarm as it wrapped around the dog masked male. Sou uttered not a word as he was lifted, tugged towards the curved head of the creature and sank slowly into its translucent body. Holding back a shiver of unease, Hinata willed herself not to squeak when a different tentacle found its way around her waist. It was felt cold and foreign even through her cloths, its strength frightening as she was lifted effortlessly off her feet. She was pulled towards the umbrella shaped crown where Sou waited, his large body suspended inside the jellyfish. Ginjiro’s body was ice cold and covered in a layer of something slimy. Pressed against the invertebrate bell shaped head, goosebumps pebbled her flesh. Panic tightened her stomach when the jelly parted, the squishy sides slowly engulfing her body.

Chilly.

Jiggly.

Slippery.

Unease skated down her spine.

Her heart slammed against her chest.

Resisting the urge to fight the gooey substance sucking at her skin, Hinata took a deep, calming breath, holding it in as she was absorbed. Submerged in jelly, the nervous Hyuuga was reluctant to release her indrawn breath, fearing lungs full of jelly and subsequent suffocation.

“You won’t be able to hold your breath long enough.”

Sou’s words, coated in a subtle layer of mirth were slightly muffled but clear, piercing through the twisting anxiety that was threatening to erupt into full blown terror.

“Try small breaths,” he suggested, “You’ll get used to it quicker.”

Hinata paused, gathering her courage to take a breath.

Eiko sank into the open space next to her when she finally relented. Her lungs released the air trapped inside before searching for more. Hinata inhaled sharply, the intake small, experimental.

The ensuing sensation was terrible.

It went through her nose as goo, then into her lungs as air. It was the most disconcerting experience of her life and while her body was satisfied with the oxygen filling her lungs, her mind recoiled at the unfamiliar inhalation.

“Let’s go, Ginjiro.” Sou commanded.

Movement wasn’t any better. She felt every single contraction of the jellyfish, the squishy walls squeezing and releasing around her adding to her unease.

Ginjiro swam swiftly through the spring, pulsating along the illuminated liquid. As Sou’s gelatinous summons delved deeper, Hinata adjusted to the weird sensations, her body and mind coming to a truce, one that allowed the wrenching anxiety to drain from her tummy and her lungs to draw bigger breaths.

“There’s another spring up ahead.” Eiko murmured.

A spring within a spring.

Hinata’s stomach dropped as the jellyfish sailed into the round, deep blue water, her world tilting when they landed with a splashed. Dark gray and bright green bubbles floated in the water, bouncing against and off the surface of Ginjiro. A low hum emitted from the creature, the sound sending ripples through the water and in turn pushing the floating orbs away.

“What’s going on?” Hinata asked.

“The orbs, they’re designed to lock us in genjutsu,” Sou explained, “Ginjiro’s repelling the effect.”

The spheres parted, driven away by the humming jelly as he whizzed by. They broke through the booby trapped fluid and splashed through another pool. Inside Ginjiro, the hum stopped, signaling the end of the genjutsu’s influence. They travelled underwater for several minutes before resurfacing inside another portion of the cave. Ginjiro floated slowly to the nearest edge, then expelled the trio from his body, pushing them gently towards the outside as his gelatinous form spread. Once free of the creepy creature, Hinata ran her hands over her bare arms, wiping at the slippery residue clinging to her skin.

“The goo will dissolve in a few minutes.” Sou commented absently as he dismissed the jellyfish.

The surrounding cavern was littered with familiar bubbles, giant clusters skirting the water’s edge and several rocky surfaces. In the middle of the open space was a large pile of rubble, the towering mass covered in more of the glowing spheres. Eiko, also swiping at her skin, wandered over to examine the spheres lining the walls and floor.

“These bubbles are like the ones we passed earlier,” Eiko called over her shoulder, “Careful not to rupture them or we’ll get caught in genjutsu.”

Hinata nodded, taking a step towards the masked female.

The cave rumbled.

Tiny crumbling rocks raining from the roof, the dirt beneath their feet quaking. The group tensed, falling into a defensive stance as a immense crustacean burst from the pile of rocks. Gigantic claws snapping, it’s shell a colorful combination of deep blue, mustard yellow and dull red, the behemoth crab scuttled over the cluster of stones, spewing a stream of bubble laden water.

The trio scattered.

Hinata leaped back, balancing on the surface of spring.

Sou shot across the cave, touching down once before dodging the heavy swing of the crab’s claws.

The cave rocked, boulders crumbling beneath the arthropod’s blows.

Eiko retreated to a nearby boulder, slim hands forming seals quickly as she landed.

“Earth Style: Rock Pillars.”

The brown haired kunoichi pressed her hands to the rock beneath her feet. The cave rumbled moments before a colossal, cylindrical pillar shot down from the high roof. The massive rock crashed, bearing down on the invertebrate, cutting off its next attack mid spit.

Sou reached swiftly into one of the pockets lining his flak jacket, fishing out a scroll. Unwinding the swath of marked paper, the dog masked male made short work of the seal, producing a large, silver plated mallet. Gripping the wooden handle in big meaty fists, Sou hefted the weight with ease, holding the hammer shaped weapon inches from the floor as he sped towards the trapped crustacean. Pinned beneath the weight of the boulder, the crab thrashed, kicking up dust with its spindly legs, spewing bubble water like bullets.

The dog masked nin weaved, evading the bursts of liquid. Closing the distance with a chakra boosted leap, Sou swung the silver mallet, crashing through the tough shell with the force of a train, the flat face of the hammer embedding deep into the space between its black eyes. The crab twitched, then stilled, pointed legs falling limp, giant claws slamming to the dirt. Eiko straightened, jumping down from the rock as Hinata walked across the water and back onto solid ground.

Placing a booted foot against the deceased arthropod, Sou yanked his mallet free, the fatal wound spewing frothy brownish yellow ooze at his feet. Swinging the weapon over a broad shoulder, the masked nin wandered over to the water at their back.

The two kunoichi stood by while he dunked the muck covered head in the water.

Once finished, Sou attached the heavy looking hammer to his back, opting to carry it through the rest of the cave.

The group moved on, traveling further into the cave, leaping from one enormous gray crystal to the next.

Minutes passed before the reached the caverns end.

“Sunlight.” Hinata murmured, voice confused.

The group had travelled down, not up, and yet a few feet away, streaming through a hole surrounded by crystal was a fireball of light. Eiko shot up onto the rim of the hole, Sou and Hinata following a beat after.

“Artificial sunlight.” Sou commented.

They jumped down and onto a wide grassy cliff, gazing off into the vast water surrounding the area. In the distance, seeming to float in the bright blue sky was a large green island.

“What do you make of it, Eiko?” Sou asked.

The masked woman shrugged, hands forming seals as she moved towards the cliff’s edge.

“Let’s find out.” she murmured.

Manami returned in a cloud of smoke and a squawk of welcome.

The three shinobi mounted the crane and set off for the island on the horizon.

xxxxxx

Home.

It was here.

She was here.

Shukaku pressed his ear to the earth, the soothing vibrations of the whispered song a loving caress to his pointed ear. The sandy brown tanuki began to dig, pawing away great mounds of dirt, tunneling his way into the welcoming, familiar embrace of earth. The feathery melody was calling, resonating within his core and coaxing his lumbering body to move. It was a siren’s call. Haunting and enticing. Intoxicating in a way he could scarcely put words to. Soil caved beneath his determined claws, the song growing louder, more compelling the deeper he tunneled.

It was close.

Right beneath his feet.

His beginning.

His end.

The place of his birth.

Mother.

Unable to still the adrenaline pounding through his body, the entrance sand spirit burrowed swiftly through miles of dirt, steamrolling towards the earth’s core. Vibrations hummed, crashing over his ears. Shukaku shivered. The ground felt alive, churning with an awareness that left him feeling alive. Unrestrained and open to the currents flowing up from below. Her melody intensified, sinking into the very grains of sand that made up his body, the sensation foreign.

Painful in its glory.

She was calling him.

He could feel her tugging at the center of his being, pulling on the threads that held him together.

She wanted to be one.

He wanted to be one.

To be home again.

She was crying.

Laughing.

Screaming.

Singing.

The haunting melody laden with the weight of an endless sorrow, buoyed with the gentle caress of joy and burning with the molten pain of hatred.

A pain he knew, a pain he remembered.

Her memories were his, flooding his mind of different time, a different place where she had lived and breathed. A period of profound love and soul crushing betrayal.

The crackle of a barrier clashed against his claws, halting the hulking sand spirit. Impatient, Shukaku reared back before slamming his hands into the obstruction, wailing on the dark purple force field with all his significant might.

It caved beneath the onslaught, fizzling then dissipating.

It hit him a moment later.

The connection.

The choking, loving embrace.

Mother.

The tanuki stilled, listening intently to the words that weren’t words, sounds that filled his stomach with dread and his heart with longing. He was conflicted, uncertain and wavering. Shukaku hesitated, the urge to retreat nearly overwhelming. He tensed, body preparing to vacate the tunnel, to reject the tempting lure of the baying creature. Sensing his withdrawal, she tugged harder, sending vibrating entrancement from the ground, great pulses that slammed through his body, invading ever nook and cranny before settling warmly in his chest.

Shadowy fingers slid over his brain, dragging him into a thick curtain of fog.

It was alright.

Tension drained.

He wanted to go.

Wanted to be one.

She was calling him.

“Mother.” he trilled.

Eager claws met the earth with renewed vigor, parting the earth with great ease, hurtling through the dirt between him and her. Minutes stretched into hours, the drum beat of the song goading him onward like the crack of a whip. Shukaku burrowed with every ounce of strength he had, each scoop of dirt he pulled away shoving him deeper into the abyss.

She was howling now, her voice thundering in his ears, wailing her need, her anger, her joy. Desperate, frantic, he tunneled until his claws again met resistance.

Metal this time.

Metal that ripped like paper beneath his claws.

The groaning of metal was distant to his ears as he pried the pieces apart. Bright light illuminated his face, followed by the overwhelming stench of blood and death. It blasted his senses, the stench one he was all to familiar with.

Rotting flesh.

Human decay.

And beneath it, a fragrance, a scent that clouded his mind, a sweet smell that was everything he had ever wanted.

He peeled the metal roofing away and looked down into the crimson pit. Yellow eyes moved slowly over the fleshy branches reaching out to him, a blackened fruit nestle within the sickly thin limbs. Sticky, melted human bodies quivered beneath thick black veins, pinned around the circumference of the tree’s shiny pink trunk. Blackened blood cover the chamber floor, the thick crimson fluid laden with chunks of flesh and bone, shimmering with ripples of vibrations. His eyes returned to the top, watching the elongated limbs of the tree strain towards him.

It was her.

“Mother.” he whispered.

He dropped down into the pit, viscous liquid splashing at his feet. It was warm, sliding over his skin in a way he’d never felt before.

Alive.

Thrumming with an under current of power.

She was speaking again.

Using words he didn’t know, but words he understood none the less.

He shuffled over, yellow eyes fixated on the branches that were reaching, lengthening as he drew near. Hypnotic tremors blared through the blood, the ripples quickening. The song grew deafening, a screeching wail that was as disturbing as it was beautiful. Fear swept through his big body, terror, the likes of which he’d never experienced paralyzed him.

She was hungry.

The gnawing, aching, soul tearing need to feed crawling over his spine, beating against his head in mind numbing waves…

And then she was soothing.

The melody of the heavens capturing the very core of his being. Reminding him of his beginning.

His end.

The soft touch of the fleshy, sticky branches was frigid. Whispering along the black curving curse seal patterns on his face, stretching over his ears and down his neck. She spoke to him in a hushed tone, murmuring comfort as the gnarled branches began to burrowed. Shukaku flinched, his body tensing to flee. Calm waves washed over him, their warmth silencing the anxiety twisting his gut.

She was taking him back.

Back to the end.

The beginning.

Pain exploded in his limbs, the fleshy branches turned talons, slithering into his body. They attached to him, the skinny ends shifting, hundreds of pinprick needles erupting from the fleshy limbs. It was a pain that was spiritual, the needles hooked into his innerself, lodged within his soul rather than his physical form. The tree quivered, pulsating several times before it began to eat. Weakness rocked his body, the limbs draining his chakra with the force and suction of tornado, draining the life from every grain of sand that made up his body. Agony threatened to drive him to the ground, bone melting fire blazed through his chest. Shukaku struggled to draw breath, to hold himself upright against the tilting of the world. She was speaking, asking him a question over and over again. He listened, battling the thick smog clouding his mind to make sense of what she was saying.

“More?” he repeated.

Confusion flooded.

More?

His mind raced, hurting through memories he’d kept dear to his heart. Faces he cherished.

Hagoromo.

Bunpuku.

Gaara.

Naruto.

His bijuu siblings.

The fog began to fade, reality bleeding into his consciousness. The recent past returning to his mind.

Kurama.

Their argument.

Shukaku strained for the memories, remembering the stupid fox that had insulted his strength, the burning embarrassment that had followed. The fog lifted an inch more, reality becoming clearer.

Kurama.

That’s right, he had to yell at Kurama for making fun of his tail. To show his admired rival that he was just as strong, just as powerful if not more so.

That tails mean nothing.

He was going to give that annoying fox a piece of his mind…

But…

She was whispering.

Repeating the question, demanding his attention.

The cloud returned, blocking out the ray of clarity.

His muddled thoughts honed in on her soft inquires, pain and weakness extinguishing that flare of rebellion, shutting away the memories that would pull him from the haze. He floated back to the bottom.

“Yes,” he murmured, “there’s more of us.”

His body felt tight, brittle.

Dry and flaky.

Cracking.

Something hard hit the ground, shattering on impact. In a daze, hazy yellow eyes looked down at the familiar pointed tip nestled in a pile of tan dust.

His ear.

Broken and splintered at his feet.

He stared down at the piece of his body, watched it disintegrating into a fine powdery sand. Transfixed as his nose joined the pile, splattering, adding to the pile of sand. Crimson blood soaked into the sandy-brown dust.

One last hushed question floated through his mind.

“Eight,” he answered, jaw loosening as he spoke, “Eight more.”

xxxxxx

Naruto frowned, worry creasing his brow as he leapt along the rooftops of Konoha. The concerned blonde sped towards the Hokage Tower, his body moving on autopilot while his mind was occupied else where.

Kurama was upset.

Mourning seemed a better term for the gnawing emptiness and well of sadness seeping from their shared bond. The fox’s emotional upheaval had began several hours after Hinata had left for her mission. On his way to nag Shikamaru for details of his girlfriend’s mission, the fox had proclaim that Shukaku had been “killed”, his chakra dispersed, leaving a shocked Uzumaki dumbfounded. Bombarding the kyuubi with a flurry of questions, Kurama had given short, monotone answers, stating the tanuki was “gone from this world” but would “reform in a few years.” His tone striving for nonchalance while his emotions screamed anything but.

Naruto could see clearly inside the fox’s head.

Could see the source of his pain and knew that, despite his affirmation that Shukaku would return in a number of years, if had indeed lost his life, the hole left behind by the childish, shrilly sand spirit in the interim was something Kurama hadn’t realized would disturb him as strongly as it was now.

Adversarial though the relationship may have been, it was one the fox had grown fond of.

Kurama wasn’t alone in his distress.

Naruto and B had spent the better part of the day with the other tailed beasts, sequestered in Seishin Sekai, standing by as each bijuu took turns reaching out to the missing tanuki, searching far and wide for a hint of his subconscious mind, only to come away from the attempt empty handed and troubled.

Shukaku wasn’t ignoring them.

The ichibi simply wasn’t there anymore.

His presence erased.

There was no pathway to travel.

No avenue to pursue.

No trace of his unique chakra.

Only a vast gulf of empty space where his subconscious trail had once lay, leaving the worried bijuus to speculate that Shukaku had met his “demise”.

Naruto had argued they didn’t have any proof to jump to that dire a conclusion, but in the face of Kurama’s stony silence, and sad head shakes of the other bijuu, his hope of a reasonable, none fatal explanation for the absence seemed flimsy. Killer B and Gyuki had turned the conversation into action, electing to speak to the Raikage about the disappearance and suggested Naruto and Kurama do the same. Leaving the meeting feeling a little more in control, now that they had course of action, Naruto had abandoned his search for Shikamaru in favor of his former teacher.

Kurama’s silence was heavy as they travelled, his sadness reminding Naruto of his own desolation after Pervy Sage’s murder. His heart ached for his friend. He searched his brain for words of comfort, striving to be there for Kurama like Hinata was there for him.

“Kurama,” he murmured, “We’ll find him. I promised if he didn’t turn up that we’d go look for him, and that’s what we’re gonna do.”

‘It’s not your call to make, kid,’ Kurama refuted, ‘You have responsibilities of your own. Dropping everything to search for a bijuu wouldn’t go over well with your Hokage.’

“He’s not just a bijuu, ‘ttebayo.” Naruto negated, “Shukaku’s our friend. Kakashi-sensei will understand.”

‘I’ve little doubt Kakashi will understand. Agreeing to send you off to chase down Shukaku while the country is in upheaval is blind optimism on your part, Naruto.’

Remembering the destruction he’d seen beyond the gates of the village, his duty to the genin in his care, the blonde jonin fought the desire to throw caution to the wind and declare he’d search for Shukaku regardless of his duties. That saving a friend was just as important as saving strangers.

The youthful impulse was tough to swallow.

“We’ll figure it out,” Naruto said instead, “I won’t neglect my responsibilities, but I won’t neglect a friend either. We’ll find out what happened to Shukaku.”

The pair fell silent, sharing their worry wordlessly.

‘Naruto…’ Kurama began after a while, ‘Shukaku will return after some time, saving those that do not have that luxury is more important right now. During the war, you proved yourself an alley of us tailed beasts, you don’t have to go that far again.”

“Thanks, but I’m not trying to prove anything,” Naruto murmured as he landed atop the Hokage tower, “We’re friends, all of us. Tail or no tail, and I don’t ignore a friend that needs help. We’ll find Shukaku.”

xxxxxx

Busy, busy, busy, good Lord. Just have not had time to do much of anything, let alone update. Anyway, I apologize for the wait. The mess I mention in the previous author’s note is responsible so I won’t rehash what’s going on over here.

I’m sure many of you will recognize the location where Hinata and her group is. I wanted to keep some parts of the Last in this story as it relates to Toneri, however bits and piece will shift around to fit in with the story. You’re probably gonna ask so I’ll tell ya now, I’m not gonna say whether or not Shukaku died. You’ll find out what the flip went on there later on. I’m hoping the next chapter is out sooner than this one came out, but its kinda of hard to write while stressed, at least for me it is.

Hope you enjoyed the chapter. Don’t forget to review and I’ll see you in the next chapter.

Laters

~Sessakag

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Two

 

April 6, 2010

 

“Naruto, I understand, and I share your concern, but unfortunately I can’t send you to Suna right now,” Kakashi murmured, “We’re short handed as is and with you gone it’d be the equivalence of losing a full team. I’m sorry Naruto, Kurama, but I need you here.”

He’s right.’ Kurama rumbled within the confines of his head, ‘Let it go, Naruto.

Blonde brows drew down in frustration. Naruto crossed the small distance between him and broad oak desk, hands slapping onto the hard surface as he leaned forward.

“So we’re just gonna leave him out there and not even try and find him?”

“Hold on a second,” his former teacher said, “That’s not what I said. We can’t afford to send you but that doesn’t mean we won’t send someone to investigate.”

Slightly mollified, the disgruntled jonin straightened, folding his arms over his chest.

“Since the conclusion of the war, the Five Great Nations, along side a number of others, have agreed to disband the practice of capture the bijuu, however, the temptation of their power cannot be over looked.”

Reaching for a short stack of papers next to him, Kakashi pushed them over to the younger nin. Naruto picked up the documents, blue orbs moving silently over the pages as the Hokage spoke again.

“We’ve kept tabs on the bijuu and have already received reports from Suna about the disappearance. After the war, Shukaku settled in a desert not far from Sunagakure. The people and bijuu have lived in peace since the move, however, several days ago Shukaku began behaving strangely,” he explained, “He wandered through a few villages, tearing down buildings and injuring citizens. The immediate conclusion was that he’d gone back to his destructive waves, but after the victims were interviewed by Suna shinobi it was discovered that Shukaku hadn’t gone after a single person.”

Worry unfurled as Naruto turned the page and continued reading.

“They described him as unresponsive and unaware of his surroundings, moving as if in a trance. The buildings he smashed, the people he hurt just happened to be in the way. A few villagers followed him but were forced to end the pursuit when he crossed into what’s known as the Desert of No Return. The Land of Wind has long since forbidden entry into that desert because those that go in, don’t come out. They stood watch at the boundary until he disappeared.”

Naruto sat the papers back on the desk.

“Even if I could afford to send you,” Hatake continued, “It’s still not a viable solution.”

“So how can we send someone to investigate if we can’t go in, ‘ttebayo?”

“Shino has already been dispatched to Suna. His insects may be able to survive in the tough conditions of the desert and shed some light on Shukaku’s disappearance.”

“Shino?” Naruto repeated, face lined with confusion, “I thought he was going to switch over to the academy.”

“He’s postponed his transition until the country returns to some state of normality.”

A level of tension left Naruto’s shoulders. He would rather go himself, but at least it was something.

It wasn’t going to just be swept under the rug.

Kakashi sat forward in his chair.

“Naruto, we’re going to do everything we can to find out what happened to Shukaku, but I need you to focus on what’s here in front of you. As soon as I have more information, you’ll be the first to know. Deal?”

Sit back and wait, something he had always struggled with. He really didn’t want to be left out of the search, and while he knew Shino was a good fit for scouting the dangerous area, he couldn’t help but feel that he needed to be out there doing something.

It’s enough for now, kid.

Naruto released a silent breath.

“Alright, Kakashi-sensei.”

Naruto left the Hokage tower hopeful but with grave misgivings. He trekked along the streets of Konoha, mulling over the new information. His earlier optimism of a benign explanation had essentially been shattered with the unsettling revelation of the tanuki’s strange state of mind during his disappearance. Kurama’s insistence that the tan bijuu had met his end was beginning to carry more weight. He was more than a little concern about Shukaku, but the report also had him worried for his other bestial friends. Something had drawn the sand spirit to that forbidden place. The song Matatabi had told them Shukaku heard.

If a single melody had been enough to lure one bijuu, what was to stop it from enthralling another.

The thud of a closing door brought him from his morose thoughts.

He glanced over at the source, cerulean orbs recognizing the dark haired man descending the steps of the intelligence department head quarters.

His mind turned to another important matter.

“Oi! Shikamaru!” he shouted, flagging down his brooding friend.

Shikamaru looked up, shoulders sagging in anticipatory exasperation a moment later when he locked eyes with the source of the call. The Nara Clan head waited impatiently while Naruto crossed the distance between the two men.

“I can’t give you any details, Naruto.” Shikamaru huffed the moment the blonde reached him.

Naruto frowned.

He knew, with the Anbu involved, details would probably be scarce, but much like the Shukaku situation, he’d held out hope that his girlfriend’s mission wasn’t as secretive as it seemed.

Maybe Kurama had a point about blind optimism.

“I know that, dattebayo,” he replied, “I’m not asking for specifics, I just wanted an idea of how dangerous it is.”

Shikamaru sighed.

“I can’t really give you an answer to that either. I don’t know how much trouble she might run into, but she’s not alone on this mission. Two of the best Konoha has to offer went with her. That’s all I can tell you.”

Naruto sighed as well.

That wasn’t really going to help him sleep tonight.

xxxxxx

April 7, 2011

 

“Unexpected, but not unwelcome.” Toneri commented.

The silver haired Otsutsuki puppeteer stood in front of the plexiglass window, blue orbs watching the rapidly crumbling sand spirit. The tree’s melody had waned, contented with the meal wrapped within its fleshy branches.

“With the extra chakra she will incubate much sooner.” Toriyama murmured, pressing pale hands to the glass, “Has Hinata reached the castle yet?”

“Not yet, but soon.”

Toriyama glanced over at the other male.

“How do you suppose they ended up in that area in the first place?” he pondered aloud.

Toneri shrugged.

“Coincidence?” the puppeteer responded, his tone dry, “Perhaps we’ve sprung a leak. Your rough handling of our little scientist could very well have sowed the seeds of vengeance. Not to mention he doesn’t seem too happy that you are wearing his brother’s body.”

Toriyama grinned, eyes alight with amusement as he smoothed back the hair of the dead man he resided inside.

“Perhaps I have gone a bit far.” he conceded with a chuckle.

Toneri glanced over his shoulder at the bespectacled male typing furiously behind his computer.

“Whether he is the leak or not, Myoku has instructed us to continue as planned.”

The order wiped the merriment from the body snatcher’s face.

“Continue as planned?” he echoed, “what the hell does that brat think will happen if someone other than an enthralled bijuu stumbles into the lab?”

“He has a contingency plan.”

“What good is a contingency plan if you don’t weed out the initial source of the breech.”

“You use the breech to further your own gain.” Toneri replied.

Toneri fell silent, ice blue orbs glowing. Toriyama waited, watching the other male expectantly.

“They’ve reached the village.” Toneri reported after a moment.

xxxxxx

The town was deserted.

An ancient relic of the past.

Crumbling buildings long since abandoned, the untended earth scorched and a scattering of rusty ninja tools left behind. After a thorough sweep with the piercing gaze of the Byakugan, the trio separated in effort to cover more ground. Hinata wandered the ghost town with a combination of unease and curiosity. Exploring lopsided homes and the grungy shell of deteriorating shops. She examined gritty possessions of the former inhabitants, sneezing and ducking spider webs as she trudged from one structure to the next.

Patting away the dirt on her hands and mission gear hours later, Hinata left the suffocating confines of one particularly dusty pottery shop and out into the fresh air. The false sun sat low in the cloudy sky, paining the billowing fluff with streaks of orange.

She ambled down a worn path behind the shop, brittle grass crunching beneath her booted feet. A pile rubble and the skeletal remains of an unknown edifice sat at the end of the path.

Lilac eyes traced the broken stone, noting the blackened edges that denoted the remnants of an explosion.

Soft foot steps whispered behind her.

“There’s a mountain of skulls in one of the buildings,” Eiko announced, plucking a dusty kunai from the ground as she walked over to the dark haired Hyuuga, “Lots of kunai on the floor and embedded in walls.”

Hinata glanced back at the masked woman as she approached, then turned back to the low charred wall.

“There was a fire here. There’s places like this all over the village,” Hinata murmured, “there must have been a battle here, perhaps a war.”

“Looks that way.” Eiko agreed, moving to stand at her side.

“Hinata.”

Sou dropped a few feet from the women, his burly form crossing the dry flaky grass.

“Find anything?”

The dark haired Hyuuga shook her head.

“Nothing,” she replied, “I’ve scanned the area with my Byakugan but I don’t see anything that would be missed by someone without my kekkei genkai.”

“There’s a building north of here that has some strange text and statues, you may pick up something there.”

Sou backtracked, trekking back the way he’d come, the two kunoichi trailing behind. Hinata glanced around the empty settlement as they walked, lilac eyes tracing the hollowed structures and seared remnants of a war torn village. The eerie, permeating hush of a ravaged town brought a chill to her spine. She shivered, running her hands over bare arms pebbled with goosebumps as they stopped before a towering edifice. Cracked stone, singed walls and a collapsed ceiling, the withering cathedral was indistinguishable from the tattered village in which it wilted.

The looming doors creaked as Sou forced them further apart, a resounding boom echoing as the splintering wood cracked against the walls.

Inside, a stiff, howling draft whistled through the gaping holes above, small beams of light illuminating the dust ridden room. Hinata carefully scanned the enclosure. Grungy pillars, bell shaped carvings and a three eyed, horned statue. The chipped sculpture sat center at the far end of the room, silently menacing in the gloomy room, made even more so by the deep jagged chunk of stone missing from its mouth.

“’Ancient oath, crossing the path of humanity, like all else’,” Eiko read aloud, “’The fist of the Tensei Eye, the reborn moon, will destroy man’.”

“Tensei Eye?” Hinata repeated.

“Have you ever heard of it?” Sou asked.

Hinata shook her head.

Icy fingers wandered up her spine as stepped closer to the statue.

Byakugan Princess.

The whispered words glided inside the confines of her mind. Her Anbu companions tensed as the ground rumbled and shook. The great hall heaved and a stone panel of the floor slid away. Straightening, Sou moved to the yawning opening, peering into the darkness below.

“Hidden passage.” he murmured.

Eiko padded over to a rickety table lining an adjacent wall. Two lanterns caked in dust and spider webs sat atop the scratched surface. They waited while the masked kunoichi fiddled with the lighting devices. Moments later, the decrepit cubes flared to life, bathing the room in warm fulvous light. Sou grabbed one of the beacons and led the way into the dreary depths. Hinata slid cold hands over her arms, unease skating along her flesh, the old stairs creaking beneath her. Sou strode further into the sunken space, raising the torch. Flickering firelight burned away the obscure gloom. Rows upon rows of dome shaped graves materialized as the darkness parted.

“A burial site.” Eiko murmured.

“Someone’s coming!” Hinata exclaimed.

The masked nin tensed, peering into the murkiness beyond the pods. Slinking from the shadows was an old, shaggy haired man wrapped in dark robes. He teetered unsteadily, frail shoulders hunched as he lumbered towards the trio.

“That Byakugan.” the man whispered.

“Who are you?” Sou demanded.

“I sense the Byakugan.” he murmured.

Hinata stiffened, hands rising as her body dropped into a stance of defence.

“She’s here, I’m certain of it,” the elderly man breathed, “Byakugan Princess.”

Eiko gripped the hand of one of her blades, muscles taut as the man took two more ambling steps before halting. His eyelids lifted, revealing empty eye sockets. His haggard frame strained, bent and quaked, a groan of pain rumbling from his chest. He straightened, the action stunted and stiff, moments before his jaw dropped open and a luminous sphere slowly emerged from his throat. His mouth widened, the stretching of his jaw inhuman and unnatural.

The man collapsed as the ball pushed passed his lips and floated towards the shocked group. Blinding light filled the room, its burning glow dragging the dark haired Hyuuga to another time and place.

A vivid scene of two marching armies and a towering sphere of destructive power unfurled in her mind’s eye. Two sides of the same Clan stood in opposition of each other across a vast battlefield. The glowing sphere mounted atop a wooden pedestal radiated an intense beam of light that swept across one side of the two combatants. The ground shook as scorching fire consumed the battalion, leaving drifting gusts of dust and a sea of dead bodies in its wake.

Reality returned in a whirl of sensation, the whiplash dizzying and disorientating. Hinata staggered, her trembling legs struggling to keep her upright.

Eiko moved, wrapping an arm around her waist.

“The Tenseigan has been revived.” the man murmured seconds before his body crumbled.

Rotting flesh and the repugnant scent of death filled the chamber as shiny liquid pooled around his broken form.

“It must be stopped,” the dismembered corpse continued, “ The Otsutsuki…”

The twisted pile of remains lapsed into silence.

xxxxxx

Sasuke strode calmly through the yawning darkness, turning his thoughts from the burdensome, pervasive aura threatening to drive his mind towards panic. Inky black orbs swept the endless shadows, his calculated glance spawning a wash of color. Vibrant pigmentation exploded, transforming the shadowy world into a remnant of the distant past.

In the months passed, the one armed Uchiha had dedicated countless hours exploring, learning and manipulating the alien transmission confiscated from the deceased Otsutsuki that had crossed his path.

An Otsutsuki he could now put name to.

Yasunari.

Kaguya’s sibling.

A younger brother bent on his sister’s capture.

The bits and pieces he was able to glen through one sided transmissions were slowly forming a bigger, more complex picture. One where the seizure of Kaguya had once been imperative. A vital goal of Yasunari and those that aligned with him. What he wanted with the destructive female was not entirely clear. Sasuke had assumed the God Tree she protected was what the two siblings feuded over and yet, it seemed more complicated than that. Yasunari hadn’t just wanted the Tree.

He had wanted her too.

Pursuing her through dimension with a dogged determination that bordered on fanatic desperation.

Terror, twisting anxiety had lined the younger Otsutsuki’s face on many of his communications with his fellow extraterrestrial Clan members. The naked fear and palatable urgency seemingly reciprocated by the obscured recipient on the other end of the virtual messages.

Sasuke wanted to know what Kaguya had that her Clan was keen to recover.

He turned his mind back to the new transmission forming as radiant fingers of color painted a holographic scene.

Yasunari emerged from the hollow space, his white eyes fierce. His usual immaculate garb was charred in a few places and askew in others. Traces of green blood smeared his lower lip and stained the fabric of his robes.

He lumbered forward, arm wrapped around his ribs.

“She’s retreated to one of her dimensions. Don’t let her escape!” he barked, the tremor in his voice echoing in the empty space of the virtual world.

Sasuke’s eyes narrowed as several blocks behind the hologram began to fall away, the widening gap instantly identifiable.

A gateway to another dimension.

“Go! Hurry! I will follow when I am able.”

Sasuke stepped forward, his unhurried gait taking him through the hunched over alien. The projection distorted as he passed, Yasunari’s racing heart loud in his ears, his gut wrenching fear prickly against the silent Uchiha’s skin. The left behind emotions retreated as the two separated again. Sasuke paused at the blackened hole in reality, girding himself for the coming journey.

He inhaled a muted breath before stepping through.

The ensuing darkness was brief, the dizzying sensation of movement fleeting. He gritted his teeth and braced himself as the world righted.

Blistering, arctic wind cut like blades against his flesh. Sasuke pulled his cloak closed as red and purple orbs traced the white tipped mountains and leisurely falling snow.  The wintry dimension boasted tall glaciers, bitter cold and miles upon miles of hills made of frost. His eyes narrowed, piercing gaze peering out into the ivory distance. A winding palace sat perched atop a frosty cliff composed of solid ice, the underside of the curved precipice adorned with long, shiny icicles. The castle was constructed with high stone walls, delicately carved columns and a dome roof surround by sharply sculpted towers reaching high into the cerulean recess of the cloudless sky.

Dark brows lowered.

Sasuke pulled at his cloak again, then began the trek across the snow covered ground. The powdery substance gave way beneath his boots, crunching under his feet and sucking him ankle deep in the chilly pile.

His face felt brittle by the time he scaled the snowy banks. The tips of his fingers were painfully numb, his softly heaving lungs blowing milky puffs of fog past his lips and a tenuous, involuntary shiver had taken residence in his sinewy form.

The imposing doors were caked in frost, the frozen moisture glinting.

Parting his cloak with a black gloved hand, Sasuke gripped the looped handle. He pulled, the muscles of his arm contracting, straining as he separated the double portals. Ice cracked, shattered, raining frost and glinting crystals. The door screamed on hinges stiff from disuse and gelid temperatures stationed well below zero.

Inside, inky shadows and a high curved ceiling. The stone entry was lined with columns, narrowed from the double doors before stretching into a massive rotunda. He glanced around the hushed room before turning to close the doors.

Shutting out the whistling blizzard.

Sasuke walked down the hall, his gaze moving to and fro as he moved. He looked up at the high circle above head, the hairs at his nape standing on end as he did so. A burly white figure launched across the empty gray confines of the great hall.

Sasuke lunged backwards, clearing the distance of the room as the floor exploded.

Billowing smoke threaded through the pillars, bits of rock tumbling from overhead.

Palace doors at his back, Sasuke unsheathed his sword, watching silently as the heavyset Otsutsuki straightened, bright crimson kanabo clutched in big meaty fists. The towering extraterrestrial was garbed in a ashen blue, high collard shirt, gray pants and black shoes turned up at the tips. A gray sash encircled his bulging waist while a matching swath of cloth draped over the top of his head and right eye. A single horn protruded from the opening above his left eye and bluish-gray hair topped his cranium and upper lip.

“You’re in the wrong place, human.” the pale male informed him.

“Who are you?” Sasuke asked.

“Hmph,” the other male scoffed, “As ignorant as you are weak, Sasuke Uchiha.”

Lavender and crimson eyes narrowed, unease skating down his back. He’d come across only two Otsutsuki, one he helped seal away, the other long dead. He had never crossed paths with the male before him, of that he was certain.

“I am Kinshiki,” he continued, “You are lucky, puny human. I have my orders. You are of more value to Momoshiki-sama and Toju-sama alive. However…”

The Otsutsuki paced forward, stepping unhurriedly from the crater his initial attack created.

“Our fight need not end in death. Painting the walls with your blood will be payment enough for suffering your lowly presence.”

xxxxxx

So there’s going to be some changes. The chapters are going to be shorter because I’ve added my other story Cold back to the update cycle. Lot of people on Dokuga have been waiting for updates and I kind of underestimated the amount of people waiting so in response to the interest I’ve picked it back up XD With three stories going, some concessions have to be made and that means cutting back on time spent on Monster and Secrets of the Hidden Leaf. I’m busy enough as it is, so of course I add on to it, lol, but I felt bad because they’ve been waiting almost a year. Oh well, I’ll figure it out. Anyway, hope you enjoyed the chapter! Don’t forget to review and I’ll see you all in the next!

Laters

~Sessakag