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Tumbling Naruto

Chapter Text

"Are you Uzumaki Naruto?"

Naruto glanced up from the row of herbs he had been tending to. There was a cloaked man standing behind him. He hadn't heard him arrive, so… a ninja, "That depends entirely on whether or not you're here to kill me," he answered, wiping his forehead with the back of his hand and shifting to his feet. "Leaf-nin?" he asked, nodding at the headband peaking just barely past the hat

"Formerly," the man answered, and bowed his head, taking the hat off. "My name is Uchiha Itachi. I'm here to capture you."

"Huh," Naruto answered, brushing his hands together, to get rid of some of the dirt. "And who are you here to capture me for, if not for Leaf?" he asked, tilting his head and sizing the man up. "Another village?"

"No, an unaffiliated organisation," Uchiha answered, calm and utterly bland. "Will you come with me willingly, or must I fight you?"

"Well… Sure you can try and we can duke it out and all that," Naruto trailed off, amused. "I'm not actually here though."

Uchiha frowned at him and then his black eyes suddenly flashed red and his expression turned just a smidge annoyed. "… A clone?"

Naruto pointed a thumb at himself. "Kage Bunshin," he said with a smile. "Sorry – not likely to tell you where the original is, seeing that you're out here to capture me," he added and rested his hands at his hips. "You could tell me why you – or your organisation, whatever – are after me though. Nine Tails, I'm guessing?"

Uchiha frowned and then his eyes flashed again. Then the man's slight frown turned into an outright scowl, when nothing happened. Naruto smiled at that a little and lifted a finger. "Good try," he said. "You can't use chakra here, though. No one can, except me," he said and pointed at the ground. "You're inside a suppressant seal," he explained.

"You're well prepared for people coming after you," Uchiha said, glancing down. "I didn't even sense it. How big is it?"

"Don't be an idiot, of course I'm not going to tell you that," Naruto agreed and laughed at the man's frown. "Come on, Uchiha-san," he said, waving the man to follow him. "Let me get you a drink."

The cloaked man hesitated for a moment and then followed him silently, towards one of the many houses Naruto had all across his estate. It was one of the simpler ones, old fashioned with only a handful of rooms. For a Kage Bunshin, it was very well stocked – he didn't need to eat or drink or sleep, but it had all the necessary amenities for all those activities.

One never knew when one might have company, after all.

"It must've taken a while to create the seal, if it is as big as I think it is," Uchiha murmured while Naruto went about fetching cups.

"Relatively speaking," Naruto agreed. Alone, it would've taken him years. With Tajuu Kage Bunshin, he had done it inside a week. "Sake or tea? The selection is a bit limited, I'm afraid," he added.

"Tea's fine," Uchiha said and Naruto nodded, getting the kettle as well. Rubbing his hands together, he sent a pulse of electric chakra through the electronics of the kitchen corner, to fire up the stove.

"You came pretty poorly prepared," Naruto noted. "Mind you, you're only the second person who's found me at all, so congratulations for that and all. But you didn't know what you were getting yourself into, did you?"

"Nobody knows much about you," Uchiha pointed out. "About all anyone knows is that you're the only non-ninja Konoha has ever labelled as traitor, only non-ninja to have a page in the Bingo Book."

Naruto smiled. "Yeah, they were pretty embarrassed to put in the facts," he said, set the water to boil, and glanced towards the man. "I failed my Genin exam three times, before I left Konoha, you see. And when I did, I took two of Leaf's most precious treasures with me. Three, if you count my bloodline," he added.

"One of them was the Nine Tails?" Uchiha asked.

"And the other was the First Hokage's Forbidden Scroll of Sealing," Naruto said, and grinned at the way the man's red eyes widened. "They weren't about to put THAT onto my wanted posters, of course. How embarrassing that would be, after all."

"So… that's where you learned Kage Bunshin. And the seal –"

"Forty fifth forbidden art on that scroll. Forbidden because it can only be created by one person, and no one, supposedly, has the chakra reserves for it," Naruto smiled. "Lot of the First's arts are like that – ridiculously chakra exhaustive, deadly if even attempted by a normal Ninja. To be honest, I think the scroll was mostly him day dreaming impossible scenarios. Possible in theory. In execution, not so much."

"Or designed for a demon host," Uchiha murmured. "His wife was, once, the host of the nine-tails, like you."

"Was she? That explains a lot about the scroll – in parts it reads a lot like a love letter," Naruto laughed, and took the kettle off the stove, walking to Uchiha who had taken a seat on one of the cushions in the centre of the room. Naruto prepared the tea – for one, he couldn't drink it – and then offered the cup to the man.

"How many of those arts do you know?" Uchiha asked, accepting the cup and turning it idly in his painted fingers.

Naruto smiled. "All of them," he said. "The scroll was designed for full mastery – the very first art on it is Tajuu Kage Bunshin after all, and I mastered that inside a day. With that, and with the chakra reserves of a demon host, well."

The cloaked man considered him and then let out a breath. "Poorly prepared indeed," he murmured and drank his tea.

"You can stay for a while, if you'd like. I'm not going to stop you. But you won't find the original me here – and chances are he's aware you're here anyway. You're inside his seal, after all," Naruto added. "He tends to be aware of stuff going on inside it."

Uchiha nodded and then looked at him. "Why are you here, though? Why a lone Kage Bunshin here?"

"To do a bit of gardening," Naruto shrugged. "To look after the forest and the wildlife. This place is very important to me, so I take as good care of it as I can. After you're gone, though, I will probably dispel to let the original know what we talked about."

The man nodded slowly, considering him. "How long can you maintain yourself?"

"Inside the seal, indefinitely."

Uchiha nodded. "Good," he said. "There are some things you might want to know, about my organisation, and why we're after you. Explanation will take a while, without the benefit of genjutsu," he admitted and lowered his cup. "Have you ever heard of Uchiha Madara?"

Chapter Text

Itachi hesitated at the prison gates, looking up. They were wooden, deceptively simple looking, with only a rope woven from paper holding them shut. Of course, the paper the rope was woven from was every single square centimetre of it covered in seals. As was the gate itself. All of them invisible, except for those with the Sharingan.

The moment he broke the seal here, it would remain broken forever – it had taken twenty Uchiha to create it, and there weren't that many of them left anymore.

But… he'd come this far – it was all too late, maybe, but he'd come here.

Taking out his ninja-to, relic of his time as ANBU, Itachi sliced the seals open. The wooden gate glowed under his Sharingan, and he activated the Mangekyo. "Amaterasu," he whispered, and his right eye ached ferociously, as the black flames appeared, and consumed what was left of the paper seals, before staring in on the gate. Already he felt the price of it – already his vision was just a hint blurrier. But it was worth it.

The gates crumbled, and he stepped forward, through them, and past the illusion they had created, down a set of stone stairs and into the catacombs. With the Sharingan lighting the way, he navigated the maze and destroyed seal by seal, until he made his way to the heart of the labyrinth, to the great underground chamber. The only thing there was a massive cage, covered in seals. Inside the cage, a young man, completely naked except for the incredibly long hair, lay on the barren floor.

"Uzumaki Naruto," Itachi called, stepping closer. He had been here only a handful of times, but it always struck him breathless, to see him.

Naruto shifted and then sat up. The hair, long enough to fall in waves and curling loops on the floor, bunched around him and pooled on his lap as he turned to look at him. Despite having spend his entire life in the cage, he was in perfect condition – of course, his jailers had always kept him that way. Perfectly toned, perfectly healthy. He'd even gotten the best education the Uchiha had been able to provide for him. In all likelihood, Naruto knew more about the world and it's politics than Itachi did, and he had never seen it.

"Your name is Itachi. Fukagu's elder son," Naruto said and shifted to his knees, bowing his forehead down. "It is an honour, young master." The hair shifted and fell to reveal his shoulders and back and Itachi stared at the long curling strands of golden blond in silent, desperate dismay.

He had had a plan when he had come here, to explain everything slowly and steadily, with time, with patience. "I killed my family today," he blurted out instead, and Naruto froze where he was, bowed down.

"You… what?" the blond asked, looking up, confused.

"I killed them," Itachi answered and fell to his knees in front of the bars. "All of them. Even my brother."

The long haired man beyond the bars just stared at him, blinking in utter bewilderment. "Is this a… joke?" Naruto then asked, sounding lost.

"No. No it isn't," Itachi breathed. "I was supposed to do it years ago. Ten years ago, actually," he said and let out a hysterical laugh, covering his mouth with his hands and looking at the prisoner desperately. "You don't know. You don't know anything. My family, they took over Konoha. They killed the Hokage, the Council of Elders – the Hyuga, Inuzuka and Nara families were almost completely butchered, the Yamanaka fled, the Akamichi…"

Itachi stopped to breathe, to try and gather himself. "You were seven, then – but you wouldn't remember, my father made sure of that. Nobody in Konoha really remembers, of course not. When the Uchiha family does something, genjutsu is always involved. After the coup d'etat, we put whatever remained of the village under illusions, we installed a new reality into them."

Naruto frowned and then came closer, on hands and feet, his long blond hair dragging behind him. "Coup d'etat?" he asked softly.

"Yes," Itachi nodded, his hands shaking as he grabbed hold of the bars. "It was a… there were many reasons. The Kyubi attack was the breaking point. The Hokage and the Elder Council thought that it was the Uchiha who had done it. The Uchiha were bitter about it – about many things, but that was when it began being enough. Bitterness turned into anger and hatred and they had enough. So they started planning a coup d'etat, to take over the village, to be done with it, once and for all."

He could feel the tears and the blood from his earlier use of Amaterasu, trailing down his face. "I was thirteen, I was the Hokage's agent, his spy, inside the Uchiha," he said. "Part of a task force, tasked to uncover the plot. I was loyal, I loved my village as it was. I was… When everything was finally laid out, when everything was…" he stopped and gulped for breath. "I was ordered to kill them, my family, to put an end to it. To save Konoha from the bloodshed, without tarnishing either the villages or my clan's reputation. Better for one man to commit an atrocity than the village to go into a civil war."

Naruto was in front of him now, looking at him with a strange expression. He didn't say anything, so Itachi drew a breath and continued.

"I didn't. I couldn't. It was my family," he said. "So I told the Uchiha what was going to happen and they executed the coup early and… and everything changed – so many people died, close to five thousand, that night. Among them, the leadership of Konoha. When it was over, my clan took the remaining shinobi and civilians, and everyone was put under genjutsu. My father took the Hokage's position and you… you were imprisoned here."

"Because I'm the Kyubi's host, the human sacrifice containing him," Naruto said softly.

"You know?" Itachi asked, surprised. He was pretty sure that part had been kept from Naruto.

"I've known all my life," Naruto answered calmly. "Kurama… the Kyubi, is often the only company I have. We talk." He was quiet for a moment, just looking at Itachi. "Why did you kill the Uchiha now?"

Itachi exhaled and bowed his head, his hands gripping the bars between them tight. "The village is low on people – so many people died in the coup and there haven't been enough births to even begin to bring the numbers back up. Plus, the village is low on funds and essentials, seeing that by necessity all trade has been halted – the Uchiha couldn't let people leave nor enter, not without risking the genjutsu failing," he said. "They planned… atrocities, to amend the situation."

"Like what?"

"Human trafficking and slavery, to cover up for the loss of people and man power. Theft, robbery, raiding close by civilian villages, to make up for the loss of goods," Itachi whispered, closing his eyes. "My brother was going to lead the first raid, and his orders were to not leave a single civilian alive, to make it seem like the work of rogue ninjas, to… I couldn't let it happen. I couldn't. I couldn't."

He fell quiet, unable to continue. Sasuke was dead now, lying beside his parents in what had been the Uchiha clan estate, before their takeover of the village.

"You," Itachi said finally. "Are the son of the Fourth Hokage, Namikaze Minato. Your mother, Uzumaki Kushina, was one of the last survivors of the legendary Uzushio village, the Uzumaki clan being their equivalent of the Uchiha, of the Hyuga. You are related to the Senju, your blood is noble. And here you are."

"Here I am," Naruto agreed. "Here you are too," he added and reached through the bars, to lift Itachi's face. "Now what, Itachi?" he asked, gently wiping the tears and the blood away with long nailed fingers.

Itachi swallowed and closed his eyes for a moment and he didn't know, he didn't know anything – the Uchiha were gone, Konoha was in ruins if not for what he had done, then for what his family had done to it, over the last ten years. The genjutsu the people had been under was falling. Everything he had tried to protect, destroyed.

If only he had done as asked, ten years ago. If only he had killed the Uchiha then. If only.

"Would you like to see the world, Naruto?" he asked, opening his eyes. "Anywhere you want to go, I will take you. As far away as you want to go, I will take you."

Naruto smiled. "I want to see the Hokage monument," he said, stoking Itachi's cheek with his thumb. "Can you take me there?"

Itachi almost let out a sob of gratitude at that. There was still something left. It might not be what it could've been, but it was still a piece of the village as it had been. He still had a purpose, even if it would only be in service of a Jinchuuriki. It would be enough.

It had to be.

Chapter Text

The thing was, no one really knew what Naruto had been born as. He switched into a she when ever the mood struck him. He might start out his day as a boy, with clothes to suite, and then at some point decide that it wasn't the way he wanted to spend the day, and then he'd just switch. Or he might become a she and then stay as her for the next four months straight. And nobody had any idea how he did it – he just did it.

"Probably a side effect of the Kyubi," the Hokage finally concluded. "Kitsune are supposed to be shape-shifters, after all.

The people who had the easiest time coming to terms with it were his classmates – it was hard to find something weird and exciting when it happened all the time, every day, sometimes several times in the day. They universally called Naruto a he though, for simplicity's sake.

"Plus, I'm pretty sure Naruto switches into a guy when ever she gets her periods, the bastard," Sakura grumbled, jealously.

Overall, female and male Naruto weren't that different. One had slimmer hips and thicker waist, the other slimmer waist and wider hips, and for a while that was all of it. When female Naruto started growing breasts, they stayed relatively small and with Naruto wearing mainly jumpsuits and sports bras the same as all other kunoichi, it wasn't all that obvious. Most of the time the only way to tell the difference was by the ways Naruto talked about him – or her – self. Even his voice stayed about the same, whichever he or she was.

Then there were communal showers. After a few incidents of "good god Naruto, either you put that damn thing away or go to the boy's bathroom!" and "Soo, can you switch into a girl, because I've always wondered what boobs really feel like," the academy decided that Naruto had ample reason for using the teacher's private showers. It was just generally better for everyone's state of mind. Mainly the teacher's state of mind.

"I wonder, if she got pregnant, which she very well might, Naruto being what she is… what would happen if she switched into a guy, mid term?" the teachers wondered, and sex education got very important to Konoha's Ninja Academy. Everyone's weapons and equipment kit began including contraceptives. There was even a course on abortion and the horrors of miscarriage.

It caused some fun situations during the Chuunin exams when Konoha Genin candidates got captured by their counterparts from other villages, who then found said contraceptives in their gear. Horror stories of Konoha's promiscuous ninja spread like wildfire. It was accepted as fact because, "Well, the author of that Icha Icha series is one of their legendary ninjas, sooo… sort of makes sense, I guess."

The sexual prowess of Konoha-nin became legendary. It made a lot of elder Konoha-nin very happy. Many times. In many places. And positions.

Naruto passed his academy exams under mysterious conditions, and when Mizuki sensei was hospitalised with severe bruises, the word went out about a horrible sexual harassment issue of the Konoha ninja academy – and how a young pre-Genin girl had crushed an experienced Chuunin's face in with her thighs. "I know the rumours that go around about Naruto, but seriously, don't get close to that one," the rumours said. "Screw going for the balls, that girl – or guy, whichever – will literally crush your bones."

Konoha academy got a whole new level of security after that, and the former Interrogation and Torture department members got a happy ticket out of early retirement. The new generation of Konoha Genin from there on were rather terrifying. "No means no," was their motto, followed by, "Human castration is a perfectly valid counter argument". Konoha dubbed them absolutely precocious and adorable.

The Village Hidden in Mist, for the first time in its existence, was considered a pleasant and nice sort of place to visit.

Sakura and Sasuke, Naruto's team mates, and Hatake Kakashi, their sensei, learned to live with Naruto's sex changes. More or less. Sakura took it upon herself to install the absolute undeniable importance of always wearing a shirt on Naruto because sometimes he didn't and then he changed sexes and Sasuke could handle only so many shocks per day. Kakashi eventually had to put his book away. It was just weird, reading about stuff and then having the real thing in front of him, in the form of a twelve year old girl who was sometimes a boy. There was only so much of the dirty-old-man feeling he could handle.

Naruto and Haku, of course, got along splendidly, sharing experiences, Naruto from the point of view of the real thing, Haku from the point of view of the fake thing. All in all, they dubbed Haku the more feminine one, and called it a day. Zabuza tried very hard not to seem amused. Kakashi by that point had taken to self blinding himself with his head band – he had been going around half blind since he had been thirteen, so it wasn't really that big of a thing. All in all, it was very peaceful.

Sasuke had a sexual crisis. Everyone agreed that it was about damn time and bought him a stack of porn to indulge in. A human being is physically incapable of dying of embarrassment, but Sasuke made a very good attempt.

Konoha hosted the Chuunin exams and Naruto made friends with a psychopath with the same ailment. He and she and Gaara switched genders in tandem for a while and everyone around them agreed that they had to have sex at some point because it was the first time in his life, probably, that Gaara smiled. He smiled a lot around her, and him. She did too. It was probably a lot of sex.

Naruto and Jiraiya got along famously, considering that Naruto kept trying to kill the legendary hermit at every turn. Rumour had it that Jiraiya had to go to the hospital with case of uncomfortable bruising in awkward places. He seemed very proud of them, and called Naruto the "Granddaughter he never had", even when Naruto was a he. Which he was, mostly, around Jiraiya.

"Well, at least I'll inherit well," Naruto decided and eventually just went with it.

The invasion during the Chuunin exam probably flopped because Naruto and Gaara were probably having sex somewhere. That was what Orochimaru said, anyway, cursing the sex-changing jinchuurikis to hell during his escape. Naruto was lauded the young and upcoming Sex God(ess) of Konoha. Everyone was very proud.

Then he went out with Jiraiya to find Konoha a new Hokage, met one Uchiha Itachi and the world was doomed.

"He's very pretty, Sasuke," Naruto later tried to justify herself. "Very, very pretty. I mean. You've seen him right?"

"It's my brother!" Sasuke cried, horrified.

"Your brother is very pretty," Naruto assured him.

"I'm going to kill him!"

"You can't kill him. I'm not done with him yet."

"I'm going to kill you!" Sasuke added, pointing at her.

"You can't kill her," Itachi said. "I'm not done with her."

"And he hasn't even seen me be a he," Naruto nodded in agreement.

It was, everyone later decided, a good day to become an alcoholic.

Chapter Text

A no-name chuunin, having a bad day after a bad week, is the reason everything goes to hell. Umino Iruka is running late, so it's the no-name chuunin who is attached to the summoning scroll. Irritate and annoyed and very much not wanting to be there, he gets summoned mid conversation into the chuunin exam Forest of Death arena – by the worst fucking team ever.

For a moment he just stares at the demon brat, the little brother of that Uchiha psychopath and some damn little twat with pink hair. Then he decides that for the good of the whole village he must make a stand there – and promptly fails the whole lot of them.

"What, why?!" the demon brat squeals in outrage.

"Who the fuck would promote the three of you? Seriously, are you fucking kidding me?" the no-name chuunin asks and makes to leave. "The fuck made you lot genin anyway, must be some sort of joke, for fuck's sake…"

 He leaves behind three very shocked Genin, who exchange looks of utter disbelief with each other. Then they look after the chuunin and think through his words and then they look at each other again.

And Naruto thinks about the demon fox inside him and yeah, who the hell had he been kidding, trying this? Kakashi-sensei was already making it plain obvious that he sure as hell was going to do nothing to train him, and everyone in the village hated him, would do everything to make him fail.

Sasuke thought of Itachi and how half of the time he was pitied and sympathised for being the last Uchiha in Konoha – and the other half of the time he was given leery looks because people were still sort of waiting for him to blow up and go on a mad murdering rampage. Why would they let him advance, when they were thinking that?

And Sakura thought guiltily to the psychiatrist announcement of her mental health and of the occasional blow ups of rage she had had early on – in her first year in the Academy she had almost skewered another girl with a pair of scissors because the girl had been annoying her, and the Inner Sakura had gotten out for a moment… and that had gone on her record, hadn't it? She'd almost been sectioned for it.

"So, uh," Naruto said, scratching his neck. "Now what?"

"Why'd he say three of you?" Sasuke asked, scowling. "I can understand if they'd fail me, but what about you two?"

"What'dya mean, you? Aren't you the perfect one?" Naruto asked confusedly. "I mean, sure I guess they would fail the entire team just to keep me from advancing, but…"

"But you're just a joker, you're not like… dangerous or anything. Are you?" Sakura asked, frowning.

"Are you?" Sasuke asked her and the three of them shared a suspicious look. He harrumphed. "Oh," he said. "So instead of putting me into a team with two losers, I was put into a team with two other ticking time bombs, huh?"

"Huh," Naruto answered, in the exact same tone of flat lack of surprise. "How the hell are you a ticking time bomb?"

"My brother is a psychopath who killed my whole family, people think I'll be the same," Sasuke shrugged.

"I've got split personality disorder, and the other me is a bit of a psychopath," Sakura admitted.

Naruto looked between them. "I got the Kyubi inside me," he then said, blinking almost confusedly at his own words.

Sasuke and Sakura shared a look. "You win," they decided.

"Let's get the hell out of here," Sasuke said, glancing around the arena. "This place is suddenly pissing the hell out of me."

They passive-aggressively spent their latest mission fee on ramen and pocky sticks and decided together that Konoha sucked major balls.

"To be honest, I was kind of thinking of ditching this place, eventually," Sasuke said, crunching his poky with extra vigour. "Konoha is soft. We graduate the least genin, and we graduate our genin the oldest – most countries do it below the age of ten. Plus, most countries give exhaustive elemental training to their academy level shinobi early on, and I've only had any sort of proper training from my family, and that was before I even turned seven."

"What's elemental training?" Naruto asked.

"Precisely," Sasuke said, pointing his half eaten pocky at him. "I'm betting you don't even know that chakra has elements."

"Chakra has what now?"

"Konoha adopted the peace policies," Sakura said thoughtfully. "We used to graduate our genin earlier, back before and around the Third Great Shinobi war, but the Third decided that it was inhumane to make kids that young fight, or to give them access to that sort of lethal stuff, so the graduation age was pushed back to twelve. Only very special cases get promoted to genin earlier, and usually only when there's a major clan pushing it."

"Mm-hm," Sasuke agreed bitterly. "My brother was like that – he was out of the academy by the time he was six." He glanced at the others. "Ever got the feeling like the academy was holding us back? Like, back when we started learning about human anatomy. We should've moved from there to the ways to incapacitate or kill a person, or to first aid and stuff like that… but instead that whole class was just dropped we started on taijutsu."

"Which made sense at the time, but yeah, I've been thinking about that. Ever since Zabuza and Haku, actually," Sakura agreed. "There's also all that stuff we didn't know, about Mist and even Wave. I did some reading after that mission and Academy taught us geography and stuff, but… before I went to self study, I didn't actually know anything about what life's like outside Konoha. Not about the other countries, not even the major ones. I knew where they are, but what they're like, what the politics are like, if they're in a war, nothing. There's been a civil war in Hidden Mist for most of our time in the academy, and we never heard about it."

Naruto looked between the two of them and then sighed, leaning his elbow against the table. "Four different teachers tried to teach me to read wrong," he said. "And most my books always were missing pages. And when the interesting stuff was taught, I was always dismissed from class for being a nuisance. So I sort of missed all of that."

They shared a dark look. "Konoha sucks," Sakura said.

"Wanna ditch it?" Sasuke asked, glancing between them.

"I kinda sorta still wanna be Hokage, but…" Naruto sighed. "Guess that's not happening, if they're not even gonna let me become chuunin or anything."

"My family lives here, but…" Sakura sighed. Her parent's had been all for throwing her at the academy ever since the first psychoanalysis by a Yamanaka had pronounced her pretty much clinically insane. She had always sort of gotten the feeling that they hoped she'd either be insane at Konoha's enemies or just get herself killed. They had also been, much to her dismay, trying to get another kid since the analysis, so… they already had a replacement in the works.

They left Konoha that night, long before Kakashi even heard that a petty chuunin with a chip on his shoulder had decided to fail one of the most promising Genin teams in Konoha.

"Now what?" Sakura asked when they were far enough away from Konoha to have a little easier time breathing.

"Don't know," Sasuke answered, shrugging his shoulder.

"Can't wait to find out though," Naruto said, grinning.

And together they headed off to a life as rogue, wanted ninja, promising themselves to be just as demonic, insane, ambitious and psychopathic as Konoha had always feared they would be.

Chapter Text

Seals could be the worst thing ever. Naruto would know – he had plenty of them. And Kyubi's seal was just the tip of the iceberg.

He had his own bird-cage seal, compliments of Konoha's Council of Hateful Geezers, which any number of people could activate to knock him out in case he happened to go berserk. He had four different chakra dampening seals – they ran like racing stripes along his arms and legs, and made moulding chakra freaking impossible. Because oh no, what if he loses it and then still has the intelligence to use jutsu, oh noes. Then he had a collar seal which, well, it was pretty much what it sounded like. Without a leash – as in, someone in control of it – he couldn't leave Konoha's Barrier, period. He was just incapable of doing so.

He had so many seals that they were freaking overlapping each other. He had a calming seal on the back of his neck, underneath the collar seal, which made it impossible for him to feel passionately about, well, anything. He had a body bind seal because why not, it wasn't like the bird-cage wasn't already enough. Then he had like… fourteen to fucking fifty chakra siphoning seals all along his back, which slowly took his chakra and transferred it elsewhere, for other people to use.

Being a demon host sucked.

Then Orochimaru happened and killed the Hokage, then Pain happened, and pretty much destroyed Konoha and then Madara happened and destroyed what was left of Konoha's Barrier and suddenly… pretty much everyone who was involved with the seals, was dead.

That didn't make the seals any less strong, of course – but for once in his life, there was no one there, holding his leash. For a while since the Fourth Great Shinobi War, Naruto sort of floated about in a confused haze, suddenly his chakra was all his to use, it was still being dampened but it wasn't being siphoned anymore. Suddenly he was able to go anywhere he so wished, without anyone being able to tell him no.

And no one even tried to, because despite all the worries and all the fears and all the hateful premonitions… nobody feared him and nobody hated him and nobody wanted to control him. People liked him. No one expected him to go berserk or kill anybody or attack or anything.

Instead, a year after the war and a year into Tsunade's slow but painful decline, he was suddenly, with no warning at all… given the hat. The damn hat. The most damned hat of them all.

"I doesn't suit you at all, you total moron," Sasuke said, nudging his shoulder with his and everything was so freaking bizarre that Naruto almost wished he could get drunk. Because Sasuke was actually there and sort of supporting him in his own bastardly-like-way, and Sakura was going to be his advisor/assistant/vice Hokage and people were actually cheering.

There was no way around it, it was time to try and get rid of the damn seals.

The Eight Trigrams Seal was by that point already blown wide open, and it didn't even matter because the Tailed Beasts were all where ever – and still sort of connected to him, being a user of the Six Paths was awesome. But the others were a bit trickier because they were sort of kind of vicious – and thanks to Pain and Madara being all consuming all destructive monsters, the knowledge of how they had been made was pretty much gone.

It took a lot of effort just to break one of them.

He started by slowly unravelling the siphoning seals on his back – one at a time, with a painful, bloody process that made him bless the fact that he still had the tailed beast' chakra in him, to heal the damage. For a while though he really didn't want anyone or anything touching his back.

Then went the dampening seals, and those were harder and easier – they were actually written into his bones, the seals only manifesting on his skin through the flesh because of simple vindictiveness. He had to strip his bones bare and grind the damn things off. That hurt. A lot. And he had had a lot of hurt before.

The collar seal took time and effort and four cases of him just dropping down in a dead faint because peeling the skin of your neck? Not pleasant in the least. The calming seal after that was a bit easier, thank god for Kage Bunshin.

Then he started to discover the seals underneath the seals he had had. He had monitoring seals, a couple more dampening seals, and something… very weird.

"Okay, what the fuck is this one?" he eventually asked Kakashi, who was at this point pretty much the only person who knew anything about his seals.

"That's your betrothal seal," the man answered, peering at it. "To the Uchiha, by the looks of it."

"The fuck you say?"

Turned out, the Uchiha had demanded that Namikaze Minato's and Uzumaki Kushina's first child be married to an Uchiha. It was partially political, partially black mail, partially just a great big fuck you from the Uchiha, and also the only reason why the village had allowed Kushina to get pregnant in the first place. After all, she had been a jinchuuriki and no one had wanted her to A, procreate, and B, weaken the seal while doing so. So… black mail and betrothal.

"At a guess I'd say they figured that Minato's and Kushina's kid would, pretty much by default, end up being either the Hokage at some point or just someone with generally a lot of power," Kakashi said. "And they wanted their slice of that pie. The pie being you."

And so, if Naruto didn't get married – which was to include formal marriage seals – to an Uchiha before his 20th birthday, he was fucked. As in, the seal would kill him, fucked.

"When the hell did they even put this thing on me?" Naruto demanded, glaring at the seal. "When I was in my mothers' belly or something?"

"Probably sometime after, but before Itachi killed them," Sasuke answered, peering at the seal with a frown. "Do you think you can get rid of it?"

Naruto laughed. "Hah, no. No offence, but your family were bastards. It's not attached to my flesh or bones or anything as simple as that. No, this shit is written on my fucking genes. Hack me to pieces and so as long as those pieces are alive, each and every one of them will have this damn seal on them. I'd have to go through like complete cellular death to the point of decay, no life signs anywhere, for this thing to fade. Which is pretty much going to happen anyway when I turn twenty, which, by the way, is in six months!"

"Either that or get a marriage seal from me," Sasuke said flatly.

"Yep," Naruto answered. "Either that or you have a kid like… within six months. Please don't, though, that'd be creepy," he added.

Sasuke snorted. "Not going to," he said, and sized Naruto up.

Naruto looked back and then sighed mournfully. "Has there ever been a homosexual Kage?" he asked. "I bet the other Kages are going to kick me out of office! You know, unless I die. Before. Which I might."

"So," Sakura said slowly looking between the two of them. "Who wants a drink?"

They drank themselves to near catatonia that day – Naruto downing a barrel all by himself and actually managing to reach the proper level of intoxication to for a moment forget everything. Sakura and Sasuke probably stuck to his side through the whole ordeal – it would explain why he woke up between them.

And naked too, which was a nice surprise.

"So, here's what we're going to do," Sasuke said, his head resting on Naruto's stomach while Naruto tried not to cuddle too deeply into Sakura's cleavage and failed. Sasuke nudged at them with his elbow. "We're getting married."

Naruto jerked back a bit. "We are?"

"Yep," Sakura said with a determined nod and pulled him back in. "We are."

"Wait. We are?" Naruto asked, blinking.

"Yes, Naruto," they said in amused exasperation. "We are."

Naruto blinked. "So, not only the first Kage in history in a homosexual relationship, but a polyamorous one too," he said slowly. "Sweet. Pervert Hermit would be so proud."

Chapter Text

"I will let you leave the orphanage and live on your own, under one condition," the Hokage had said, and Naruto had agreed without hesitation.

He stops being Uzumaki Naruto that day, and becomes someone else – Mumei Mishou, to be exact. He has to wear a fabric mask over the lower half of his face and a full, featureless ceramic mask over it. For a five year old kid it's a bit weird but also a bit cool and he doesn't mind it – he doesn't even mind becoming someone else, even if Mumei Mishou sounds stupid.

He feels like a ninja. He is basically wearing a ninja mask. Sometimes he even wears a bandana over his hair and everything and it's, overall, pretty sweet. Plus, everyone is nice to Mumei Mishou, the way they hadn't been towards Uzumaki Naruto – and maybe that was just the orphanage being the suckiest place ever, but still. It is nicer, being Mishou.

He gets some mixed reactions, though. Some people talk to him softly and slowly like to a simpleton, others sharply and commandingly and smartly, like to an adult. He figures that the first ones think he's all masked up because he's disfigured or ugly or something like that – the second ones think he's already a graduated genin at least. He learns to deal with both sort – though he prefers the latter ones. And at least nobody talks to him like they're trying to hurt him with words, like they're warding him off.

A couple of Shinobi laughed at him and called him absolutely precious once. It was weird but not bad. No one had ever called Naruto precious before.

It isn't until he enters the Ninja Academy and then accidentally over hears a group of grown ups talking about Uzumaki Naruto, that fox brat, and how they'd worried that he'd starting at the academy that year, thank god he hadn't, imagine what sort of influence the demon would be on their kids… that he starts to get it.

He thinks about it long and hard, slowly learning how to read and write, how to count, how to read the map and all that. The teachers think he's smart and somehow special – he gets called out to answer whenever no one else knows the answer, so he has to work hard to make sure he can answer when they call on him. The other kids think so too – they ask him for help with stuff they don't know. It's pretty cool but also pretty taxing, so he works hard to keep up.

Mumei Mishou is smart – unlike Naruto who had been the stupidest, worst, lowest kid in the orphanage. It's weird. It's nice. It also hurts a bit, especially now that he knows that there is something bad about Naruto. Something that made people call him a demon.

At nine they cover the Kyubi Attack in their history course, and he finds the answer to that puzzle.

"Truth is, it was supposed to be a secret," old man Hokage admits, when he confronts him about it. "You being the Jinchuuriki of the Kyubi, it was supposed to be secret. We kept all the previous Jinchuurikis secret, for this exact purpose – no one but a select few knew who they were. But… someone figured it out, and told people and so everyone found out. You were one back then, already in the orphanage, and well…"

"And now I can't be Naruto anymore," Naruto muttered, bitter.

"I'm afraid not," the Hokage sighed and crouched down to his level. "I am very sorry. But regardless of what the villagers think, a jinchuuriki is a very precious thing to the village. Every great nation has one, and they maintain the balance of power. You are our protection. If our enemies found you, as young and untrained as you are, they'd try to steal you away, to disturb the balance of power, and we'd be defenceless."

"I'm… a defence?" Naruto asked, shocked.

"Yes you are," the Hokage smiled, patting the cheek of the mask gently. "You are Konoha's shield, Naruto. One day, you will be a very powerful Shinobi. Those who don't know a thing about these things will be against you, but those of us who know… we appreciate you."

That makes being Mishou a very small price to pay.

Naruto throws himself even more devotedly into his studies, he even begins studying things on his off time. It doesn't matter if people hate Naruto because the Hokage appreciates him – the Shinobi, people who know anything about the really important stuff, appreciate him. He is appreciated.

He graduates early and thoughtful, the Hokage gives him two choices. Either stay in the academy to self-study for a couple more years and get stronger and then graduate with the rest of his age group, or get assigned to a genin team now, and start working right away.

"Which one would be better?" Naruto asks.

"If I were you, I'd stay and study more," the Hokage admitted. "Get stronger. A ninja is never so strong that he can't get stronger. Besides…" he smiles sadly. "You should take this opportunity to be a kid. Be happy and carefree and have fun. After you become a working genin, there won't be a chance for that anymore."

Naruto stays and studies with the rest of his class, with the leaf symbol now carved onto the forehead of his mask. The other kids stare at him with a sort of confused wonder and ask him why he stayed and he just answered that he wanted to be a genin with them, rather than by himself, with the earlier graduating class. If he went out now, his teammates would be older – that wouldn't be any fun.

He's already figured that his career is going to be a harsh and difficult one. The moment he'd be strong enough, he'd be out there, on the front line, defending Konoha like a jinchuuriki should. And while he looks forward to it, he's not quite ready for it yet. Not quite ready to be serious, not quite ready to become a soldier. Not ready to stop being the well liked, if somewhat weird, Mishou kid that everyone thought was probably from some weird special clan, what with the mask and all.

He spent the two extra years half training and studying, and half having fun. He becomes the academy's favourite nuisance. Sometimes, when the chuunin teachers have something important to do, they leave him in charge of whatever classroom he happens to be in, and half of the time he just picks up where they left off – but the other half of the time, he coaxes the students to play and have fun with him. He plays pranks on the teachers, for fun, and he occasionally acts the fool. Someone remarks that his mask makes him look a bit like a mime so he plays the mime for fun.

It's nice.

When his age group graduates, the two students that are assigned to his group – Sakura and Sasuke – are the ones from the top of the class. Kakashi-sense gives him a thoughtful look and very nearly fails them in the extra test. They pass, by a hair's width, and in the ensuing celebration Kakashi tells them what they're going to be.

"Every Genin group has a specialisation," he explains them. "You were all picked specifically for it, as your class mates were picked for theirs. You three are going to be trained as a high risk offensive defence squad. Do you understand what that means?"

"It… means we're going to be a heavy hitter team?" Sakura asked, surprised and unsure.

"Yes," Kakashi nodded. "You three will be the distraction team when all goes to hell, you will be the finishing team if a fight breaks out, you will be the first assault and the final retreat. If Konoha is threatened, it will be you three, who will be out there, facing the threat first. You will be taught the most powerful jutsus of Konoha, once your chakra alignments and affinities are checked, you will be taught the most heavy handed battle tactics. You won't be subtle and you won't be diplomatic, no - the three of you will be the blunt force object of Konoha."

He looked between them, from the wide eyed Sakura and to relieved and excited Sasuke to Naruto who had pretty much been expecting it. "Any questions?" he asked and smiled behind his own mask. "Then let's get started."

Chapter Text

"Well crap."

Sarutobi looked up from his paperwork and then stopped to stare at the young blond man, who had familiar whisker marks on his cheeks, familiar blue eyes and familiar blond hair – but who was supposed to be five years old and in the orphanage.

"What's the year?" the too-old Naruto asked and Sarutobi answered slowly while getting ready to make seals.

"Okay, in about eight years, when Konoha holds the Chuunin exam, Orochimaru will attack with a bunch of ninjas – um dunno if he's started his village yet, but eventually he will be the Kage of a village called Otogakure, and do lot of bad shit with them. He'll kill you if you don't prepare for it," the young man said, holding one finger up and then lifting another. "Jiraiya's former student, Nagato, is currently the leader of the HiddenRainVillage and he also, sort of, leads this organisation called Akatsuki which is full of bad people, basically. They're trying to collect the tailed beasts, probably have some of them already. They'll come after me when I'm about twelve, thirteen."

"Okay," Sarutobi said slowly.

The blond youth lifted a third finger. "The one who dragged Kyubi out of mom was Uchiha Madara who maybe was Uchiha Obito at that point – oh yeah, Uchiha Obito is alive, he's sort of the apprentice of this evil douche called Uchiha Madara, the Madara from, like, history. He's a douche. They're trying to get the Tailed Beasts together to form the Jubi and either destroy or conquer or enslave the world, in the end it was all gonna be pretty much the same."

"Okay," Sarutobi repeated even slower.

"Don't let Danzo talk Uchiha Itachi into killing the Uchiha clan – that was pretty stupid. I dunno how you can resolve that issue, but the death of the Uchiha will fuck up oh so many people, just… figure something else out," the youth said, fourth and then fifth finger going up. "Put me and Sasuke together as soon as you can, like… make someone teach us to function as a team. Seriously, it'll prevent so much shit and also we will be freaking epic. But also, I need to learn Senjutsu – I learned it from the toads, but it doesn't really matter which animal teaches it to me, just so as long as I learn it. Senjutsu. Seriously important. Also Tajuu Kage Bunshin – and tell me about the whole knowledge transfer thing immediately, that'll fix so many things."

Sarutobi just blinked as the young – too old – man trailed away. "Anything else?" he asked slowly.

"Trying to think," the young man said, frowning. "No I think that's about it. Me and Sasuke together and me learning Senjutsu, those are pretty much the most important things," he said. "Sasuke will probably figure out some way to get the Rinnegan on his own, so he won't need much help there. You couldn't go wrong finding yourself a successor, like, as soon as possible. Try Tsunade – she'll do a decent job."

Sarutobi opened his mouth and that moment, the young man vanished.

 


 

"Shit."

Orochimaru looked up with a frown and then blinked at the young blond man that suddenly stood in front of his desk.

"Are you the Hokage?" the young man asked suspiciously. "Are you a good Hokage? Well never mind, I got shit to tell you. Am I still alive here, did you kill my dad? Ah, whatever. Lemme tell you about Madara and Akatsuki."

Then he unloaded a whole load of confusing and fascinating facts about things that were, according to the young lunatic, going to happen one day,

"So, am I alive here? As in, is Uzumaki Naruto alive here?" the young man asked.

"You died with your mother in the Kyubi attack," Orochimaru admitted. "Along with the Third Hokage and your father – the Kyubi was lost."

"Goddamnit," the young man snapped his fingers. "Madara has him then. Well, I can't do anything about that. Just… watch out for Akatsuki and the Fourth Great Shinobi War and get someone who knows Senjutsu for god's sake, you're going to need it."

Then he was gone.

 


 

"Oh thank god."

Minato looked up – and then froze. There was a young man standing in front of his desk who looked remarkably like himself, a little like Kushina – a lot like the child that had died, years before, in his arms.

"Oh," the young man said, looking at his expression. His shoulders slumped "Did I die?" he asked and grimaced. "Sorry about that. Where's Kyubi?"

Minato wordlessly motioned at himself.

"Well that makes things a bit easier, I guess," the young man said, and then launched into a long and obviously rehearsed litany of future events, which made Minato slowly sink deeper and deeper into his seat, his eyes widening and then narrowing, before he took out a scroll and started writing it all down.

"Got that?" the young man – who wasn't, wasn't, wasn't his Naruto – asked. "You know Senjutsu, right? That ought to make things a bit easier. You could try to find the next reincarnation of Ashura, but I guess that could be pretty hard. Sasuke might be able to find him," the added. "I was the one – I mean, I am one. Erm. Was. Anyway. You could use him, whoever he is now. If you can find him. Might be a her. They'll be in Konoha anyway – they're always in Konoha."

"I'll see what I can do," Minato said, choked and looked at the young man. "Jutsu error?" he then asked.

"Yeah, I'm skipping universes," Naruto sighed. "Have been for a while now – I'm waiting for the seal to wear off. Probably will in another dozen or so."

"Can you get back?"

"Nothing to get back to. My world's gone," the young man sighed. "Really, really gone. Madara sort of crashed the moon into it. It was… well. Hellfire and damnation comes to mind. Not pretty."

"Ah," Minato murmured, swallowing. "Are you – were you… happy?" he asked. "In your life? Were you… were you good?"

The young man smiled. "Yeah, I was," he said. "I love you dad," he added, and vanished.

 


 

"This is a new one."

Fugaku looked up to see a young blond man in front of him.

"ANBU!" he roared and the young man sighed.

"Great, one of those ones," he said, shifted his footing – and suddenly turned into the Sage of Six Paths. Then, for the five minutes he was there, he completely demolished Fugaku's office, literally kicked his best ANBU around without breaking a sweat, all the while spouting a mad speech about historical figures and trees.

"So yeah, do something about that. Or don't. I literally don't give a shit," the young Sage finished, dropping Itachi down. Then he vanished without a sight, taking the black Gudoudama with him.

"Well… fuck," Fugaku murmured.

 


 

"Ohmygod."

Jiraiya looked up with a frown, to see a young man, surrounded by the horrible and yet peaceful power of a Six Paths Sage Mode, toppled over, the black Gudoudama dancing in the air as the young man rolled on the floor, laughing uproariously.

"What the fuck," Jiraiya muttered, scowling.

The young Sage hiccupped his way out of the chakra mode, through explanation of the future events, and vanished, still giggling at the sight of him in Hokage's robes.

 


 

Danzo looked up just quick enough to see a fist flying towards his face.

Chapter Text

At least the ramen was still the same, Naruto mused while eyeing the much younger Konoha before him. It looked strange now, like a… relic or a memory. In his time it had been destroyed twice, first by Orochimaru and then by Nagato. Most of the buildings had been rebuilt from the ground up and it had done the village some good, actually. Here, it was still all old architecture – which basically meant that every building was pockmarked and badly patched up after generations of ninja busting through walls and breaking ceilings with ineffectual chakra use.

For all that he had missed the Konoha of his childhood, it did look like an awkward mess. A nostalgic awkward mess, but an awkward mess nonetheless.

The ramen, though, never changed. "Another," Naruto called to the oddly young old man Teuchi, who nodded and prepared another bowl for him. Outside the ramen stand, people were going by their day normally, completely unaware of him or his time travelling hijinks. And more importantly, unaware of the date.

It was the tenth of October. The first tenth of October, one could almost say.

Naruto got his second bowl of ramen and idly picked at the noodles while waiting for his quarry. And then there she was, as beautiful as she had been in that cave, with Kurama raging all around them while she had shared her story with him. Uzumaki Kushina, pregnant to the point of bursting, happily chatting with people as she slowly and smoothly made her way towards the Leaf Gate with the Third Hokage's wife.

Naruto finished his bowl while watching her talk with an Uchiha woman, and then left, leaving a wad of bills for Teuchi. Then, casually making a seal with one hand, he began to approach his mother.

Senjutsu chakra flowed into him, making everything seem slow and connected. He could tell every person in the village apart, could sense their chakra from the most powerful ninja to the weakest infant. He could even tell apart Kushina and the younger version of himself inside her – he had already grown a baby's set of chakra coils.

Then he was at her side and she barely had time to even notice him before he had laid his hand on her shoulder, and matched his chakra with hers. Kushina frowned and her eyes slid completely over him – as did Biwako's – and with a shake of her head she continued on her way.

Letting go of her, Naruto followed, keeping a careful thread of chakra between himself and her alive, masking his presence into hers. For all the world to see, he wasn't even there – if they looked his way, all they would see was Kushina, even if they were staring straight at him. That was what their chakra told them, that there was only one person there, so it wasn't possible for anyone else to be there. It was a basic, but extremely effective, form of invisibility that didn't fool the eyes, but the mind.

Naruto was the only human who had mastered Senjutsu chakra to the point where he could do that, and a good thing too. Even he would've been fooled by it, if he had been on the receiving end.

Under the guise of Kushina's presence, Naruto followed her down the road, and eventually out of Konoha altogether. Once out of the Leaf Gate's shadow, Kushina was joined by a squad of ANBU, who silently began escorting her away, towards the seal barrier behind which she was to give birth.

Naruto was there every step of the way, all the way to the seal barrier – and then inside it, carefully sliding his chakra into the barrier as well, to get a sense of it as well as of Kushina. Then he followed her below, into the chamber where she was to give birth, where Namikaze Minato waited for them.

"Here we go then," Kushina murmured.

"Here we go," Minato nodded, taking her hand and leading her to a table where seals had been readied and where they prepared for the birth.

There were some things even the life of a shinobi didn't prepare a guy for, and one of those things was watching one's own birth, Naruto thought and quickly turned his eyes away as his mother began screaming and the Fourth Hokage fought to keep the seal intact. Drumming his fingers awkwardly against his arms, he listened to them yelling and arguing, Kushina pushing to try and get the baby – get him – out and into the world. He could feel the chakra fluctuating – hers, the baby's, Kyuubi's and everyone else's in the room. Everything was chaotic.

Then he felt it, from outside – the barrier was breached. Madara – Obito – had arrived.

Taking a deep breath, Naruto began to prepare. He would change history here. He would preserve two lives, and take one prematurely – or belatedly, depending on your point of view. He had to do it without the Kyuubi, without Kurama, but… he had done it before, he could do it now.

He had to.

Chapter Text

"Okay," Kakashi said while slamming a book down onto the table between Sasuke and Naruto while across from them Sakura jumped in surprise. "Here's a thing we're going to learn."

"Okay?" Sakura asked while Sasuke leaned in to check the book’s title and Naruto inched in closer.

"Yes. I've been going over our records and then looking into the success rates of the other four man teams – especially three genin one jounin teams, and I figured out why they all tend to die," Kakashi said, making the genin at his side look up with surprise. He eyed them severely. "They don't know how to communicate."

"What?" Sasuke asked flatly.

"We know how to talk," Naruto objected.

"Yes, our communication is excellent. That's precisely why you went into the inescapable ice cage with Sasuke while what you should've done was to stay outside and break the cage that way," the jounin answered. "And why Sakura keeps doing the tasks the others have already done while cleaning Fuki-san's house. And why every time we get into a fight, we broadcast our every strategy loudly and obnoxiously at our enemies. Because we can communicate oh so well."

The genin shared a look before Sakura reached to take the book. "What is this then?"

"A communication jutsu stolen from the Land of Earth ten years back," Kakashi answered. "It's subtle and impossible to detect unless you know the jutsu yourself. And no one around here uses it, which is why you're going to learn it.

"Yeah, but what kind of communication jutsu is it?" Naruto demanded to know, reaching for the book. "Choushu no Jutsu?"

"Yes," Kakashi answered, with a glint in his eyes. "I already have a training regime written out – we should be able to learn it before the Chuunin Exams."

A week later they had all mastered the jutsu and their ears were ringing. Sakura was rubbing at her ears trying to get the noise out, while beside her Sasuke glared and complained about a waste of good training time and Naruto moaned about it being too crowded in his head.

They all stopped complaining about the thing when the written exam was slapped in front of them, and only Sakura knew the answers. <Um. Guys? Just in case you have any problems: I know all the answers,> She broadcasted at the others, whose frustration was making the frequency vibrate.

<Really? What are the answers?> Sasuke sent back

<WOULDN'T THAT BE CHEATING?> Naruto broadcasted.

<For the Sage's sake, Naruto, mind your volume!> Sasuke transmitted back.

<I CAN'T HELP IT, IT'S HARD! IT'S TOO DAMN NOISY, I CAN BARELY HEAR YOU!>

<Never mind that, just write down what I broadcast,> Sakura sent back at them, before transmitting to them the correct answers to the test. They passed with flying colours and after a bit of posturing between the examiner and the examinees, they were lead to the next test at the Forest of Death. Where, after some time, they were attacked by a giant snake.

<EH, KAKASHI? HOW BIG WERE THE ANIMALS IN THE FOREST OF DEATH SUPPOSED TO BE?> Naruto broadcasted in a slightly higher frequency.

<Only slightly larger than average, why?>

<There's a snake here the size of an average estate.> Sasuke transmitted. <And by average I meant the Uchiha Estate.>

There was a moment of white noise before Kakashi transmitted a quick, <Do not engage and fall back! Get the hell out of there, as quickly as you can!> and the frequency went dead.

A couple of minutes later, Konoha ANBU were chasing one of the Legendary Three around the Forest of Death.

"Apparently, Orochimaru is a traitor and the old man Third's old student and also something called S-class," Naruto informed them as they were evacuated from the mess that used to be the forest.

"How the hell do you know that?"

"I'm listening to the ANBU radios," Naruto said, making a waving motion beside his ear.

"You're what?" Sakura asked, taken aback.

"Yeah, I finally figured out how to tell the frequencies apart. The commercial broadcasts and citizen band radios are seriously annoying," Naruto muttered and then caught the look they were giving him. "What?"

"I can only tune into one frequency at a time," Sakura answered, looking at Sasuke who was glaring at Naruto. "Um. How many are you listening to?"

"What do you mean, how many? It's… sort of all out there?" Naruto asked and looked at them confusedly. "You mean, you can't hear it all? Oh man, that's so unfair. Am I the only one stuck with all the radio chatter?"

Needless to say, when the invasion against Konoha was launched, it ultimately failed because all of a sudden Konoha had no such thing as secure radio frequencies.

"Can't do anything in moderation, can you?" the Third asked Naruto later on, giving the boy a look while the Konoha jounin and chuunin and everyone else who had training were busy containing the invaders.

"This time it's not my fault," Naruto said cheerfully and pointed at Kakashi. "He told us to learn the jutsu."

"In my defence, it's a walkie-talkie jutsu, not… this," Kakashi said, coughing awkwardly. "I didn't realise Naruto would become a walking talking radio station."

"You probably should have," the Hokage snorted and looked at Naruto. "How far is your reach? What is the farthest place you can listen to?"

"I don't know," Naruto shrugged. "How far away is Kirigakure?"

Chapter Text

"I think that's enough for you," a warm, low voice speaks behind Kakashi, and blearily he sees a hand reaching over his shoulder to take the half-full bottle from his somewhat loose grip. Wishing to glare, the recently-made Anbu turns to his superior, but judging by the look of amused worry on Naruto's face, the look isn't quite as effective as he had hoped.

"Why are you still sane?" the recently nick-named Copy-Nin asks accusingly, and is rewarded by a soft chuckle.

"Sheer stupidity and strong-headedness," the older ninja answers, waving the bartender over. With a harrumph, Kakashi slumps down a bit as the blond man pays his bill without a blink – it's not much; at sixteen years of age it isn't like Kakashi had been able to order any of the more expensive liquors. Hell, it had been a task to get the man across the counter to sell him anything alcoholic. Still, it grates a bit.

"I can pay my own bill," the young Anbu complains, while trying to sound like he isn't complaining.

"Sure," Naruto answers, already putting his wallet away. Then he's lifting Kakashi up by his elbow, forcibly levering him off the barstool. "Up you go, Kakashi. It's time for good little assassins to go to bed."

Kakashi wants to argue, really, but the world spins and then they are outside the bar and there it is, the lingering effects of the devastation Kyuubi had wrought. How long had it been now? Days, maybe a week, most of which had been spent in a single-minded stupor, as they had picked through the collapsed buildings and cleared the streets, piled up the bodies and spent what now seemed like endless hours in continuous funeral ceremonies.

One of which had been for Minato-sensei and Kushina-san.

"Why are you still sane?" Kakashi demands again, bitter and light-headed as he leans on the elder, stronger shinobi who sets a very nearly punishing walking pace. "He was your father."

"And she was my mother, yeah, but it's not the same really. I was already grown up when I got to know them – hell, I was the same age as them. Time travel makes everything a bit wonky," Naruto answers. "And I knew this was coming. We got to say our goodbyes."

"Why didn't you stop it?" Kakashi demands, glaring at him with all the power of a single eye, and that one bleary too.

"Some things can't be changed. Some things shouldn't be changed. I won't go as far as to call it fate but… maybe it is a bit like fate." Naruto shrugs and then looks down at him – and for a moment Kakashi really, really hates how much the man looks like Minato-sensei. Naruto is bigger, a bit broader than Minato had been, and darker-hued – tanned skin, golden hair, all somehow more vibrant. But the similarities are there and they are painfully striking.

"I don't believe in fate," Kakashi mutters, looking away. "Not like that."

"Me neither. But some things happen, maybe not for a reason but… at their time," Naruto says and then has to struggle a bit to keep Kakashi upright, as the young Anbu hits his toe on a loose cobble and nearly falls over. "Lightweight," the man mutters amusedly, and then hoists Kakashi closer to himself, wrapping one powerful arm around the younger shinobi.

Against Naruto's sheer physical presence, Kakashi feels a bit like a rag doll.

"I hate this," the Copy-nin confesses. "All of it. I hate it so much I can't stand it at times."

"Yeah, me too. More than I can tell," Naruto answers with a heavy sigh which Kakashi can feel against his side, and for a moment the bigger man leans his chin on Kakashi's hair. The young Anbu can almost feel what the other might be feeling because, really, despite his intoxication he knows Naruto – knows he must've tried to change things. Naruto had loved Minato too. Kakashi knows that.

It's slow to register through the haze, but he wonders how long Naruto had really known – and how long, before that, he had been trying to change history.

"Why aren't you drunk?" Kakashi asks after a moment of quiet, occasionally broken by some noise or other coming from somewhere in the ruined village around them.

"Can't get drunk," Naruto answers. "I metabolise food too fast – I'd have to drink a barrel’s worth of sake and even then I might at best get a bit of a buzz."

"That has got to suck," Kakashi says. He doesn't say that he can walk by himself, really, that Naruto didn't need to drag him along like he is. The man is warm.

Kakashi can feel his heartbeat, heavy and insistent against his shoulder.

"It does," Naruto says. "It really does. But on a brighter note, I can stuff myself up to the gills and it'll never show on me."

The younger ninja snorts at that, and for a while they continue in silence, until they make it to where Naruto is leading them – not to Kakashi's apartment, because nothing remains of it – it had been one of those buildings completely destroyed. Instead it's Naruto's current dwelling, a construction that is partially a tent, and partially masterful sealing work – it looks flimsy but is probably more secure than any high-risk prison.

"In you go," Naruto says, biting his thumb almost absently and opening the door flap with a casual wipe. Inside, the lanterns light themselves at their presence and Kakashi's bleary gaze lands on the futon stretched in the middle of the tent. Just one futon.

"Not sure if I like you that much, Naruto," the Copy-nin says with a slow blink, and then looks at the man.

"Oh? But I'm oh-so-lovable," the man grins, letting the door flap close as he ushers Kakashi towards and then down onto the futon, the younger man landing with a soft grunt. "Don't worry, your virtue is safe with me. I won't even try to get a glimpse of your face, though I've got to admit that it is very tempting."

"Funny," Kakashi says and stares at the man as Naruto crouches down to take off his footwear. Kakashi blinks slowly and realises he isn't sure if anyone has ever taken his geta off, aside from himself. Naruto is brisk and efficient, not at all gentle, and yet… it's somehow novel, how Kakashi's bare heel lands on the man's warm, calloused palm as the man puts the sandal away.

Warm. Naruto is always warm. Like a sunny day incarnate. Warm and bursting with life – sometimes Kakashi feels like he ought to try and find some shade around Naruto. Warm all over, heated and radiating.

Suddenly he's struck with the notion that he is rather cold and Naruto is, like Minato-sensei had been, very handsome. But differently. Minato had been graceful and somehow statuesque – untouchable and maybe a bit hard to the touch. Naruto is too, but his hardness is that of well-worn leather, strong but yielding. Their smiles are different – Minato's gentle and fleeting, Naruto's wide and wild and fast.

While Naruto takes off his other geta, Kakashi stares, and the more he does, the more he sees the difference in the familiarity of his features. And not just in how much Naruto reminds him of Minato-sensei, but how there is something in his eyes – blue like Minato's, but with the shape from Kushina – that is even more similar.

Kakashi is pretty sure he's seen those eyes in his mirror.

"I'm sorry for your loss," he says before he can think twice, and Naruto's blue, familiar, strange eyes snap up, silent and startled.

"Ditto," the man says after a long moment and then they just stare at each other. The tent is silent, the seals holding all of the outside world at bay, and the air between them seems private in a way it hadn't before. Kakashi's head dips a bit to the side, his muscles feeling lax and tired – he doesn't even want to think of all the work he's been doing in the last week or so. And yet…

There is a ball of emotion in Kakashi's chest and it feels cold and burning – it is making him anxious and energetic and he wants to hit something, cling to something, strangle it.

By their own volition, his knees shift apart and Naruto's eyes flicker down for a moment, to take in Kakashi's body, his own position between the younger man's feet, and Kakashi thinks, thinks – Naruto would be heavy. Heavy and warm and smothering and he would be able to wrap himself completely around the man and just stop being for a while, stop thinking, stop feeling.

"You're drunk," Naruto comments, without a hint of what he's thinking – but his hands, one of them rests near Kakashi's knee, very near, the proximity burning. "And sixteen to boot."

Kakashi chuckles – it sounds breathy, strange. "I'm an Anbu now. Tomorrow I will kill people," he comments back.

"I thought you didn't like me that much," Naruto adds, but he shifts, resting his weight on his knees, almost leaning forward.

"Anbu," Kakashi repeats. Lying is part of the job description. Shaking his head, he reaches forward and grabs the man by the collar of his green vest, bringing him closer, bringing him down with him, over him.

"Dad would kill me," Naruto murmurs as he follows, half-hesitant and half-eager, settling over him – he is heavy, gloriously so – and Kakashi laughs to stop himself from crying.

Chapter Text

Naruto stares up at the night sky above him, swallowing around the dryness of his throat. He hurts all over, in splotches and tears of pains, aches and discomforts, bigger here, stronger there, insistent everywhere.

"Tell me if this hurts," Kakashi says, his voice very level, forcibly so, and the man's gloved hands are clumsily moving over his chest, applying what little the Copy-nin knows about healing. It's rather like trying to put out a burning village with a water glass and Naruto laughs quietly – and that hurts too.

But they had won. It had nearly killed him, it had nearly torn him apart several times, but they had won.

"Ow," he mutters as Kakashi's hand presses on his stomach, the open wound there spiking up in objection to the foreign chakra Kakashi presses into him, to try and coax torn tissues to knit together. Kyuubi's chakra is already doing some of the healing; Naruto can feel it worming inside, taking care of the injuries too deep for Kakashi to reach, but it's a slow, teasing process and he knows, with rather painful clarity, how close he is to bleeding to death.

"Sorry," Kakashi murmurs, but doesn't stop, pressing his hand down a bit more insistently, and Naruto just barely keeps himself from writhing, from gagging – oh, god almighty, but that hurts, the sort of nauseating, overwhelming hurt that feels like dying. Really dying the undignified, purely physical way people die, slow and torturous and utterly embarrassing.

Swallowing and choking, the blond turns his thoughts to something else, away from the pain. Turning his face away from the night sky, he looks to his left – what remains of his jacket lies there in a crumpled, miserable heap of torn fabric. Unsalvageable, no doubt. Pity. He had really liked that jacket too.

The rest of his clothing was in about an equal state. He could feel the holes in his legs so they must've been also in his trousers – and there is a cut along his side, which ran from his ribcage to mid-thigh, so the waistline of his trousers was probably ruined too. One of his sandals was loose, the side torn --

Naruto breathes slow and stuttering as Kakashi runs his hand along the cut on his side – it's not serious like the other wounds, just a cut rather than a gaping hole – but it's bleeding a lot. Kakashi presses his hand along it, from his ribs down along his waist, over his hip and then to his thigh before starting to pay more attention there.

"You're going to live," the man says, and without ceremony rips Naruto's trousers off his hips, peeling them back without any bother thanks to their state. Naruto laughs again softly and then gasps as something rips along his inner thigh – the blood had dried up there a bit, gluing the fabric into the wound and ouch… "Just hang on," Kakashi says and puts his hand there too.

"I don't think anyone's ever touched me this much," Naruto muses through the haze of pain – and the fading of it too. He doesn't hurt as much now; Kakashi's taken care of most of the wounds above his waistline and Kyuubi's chakra coils in whatever remains, taking care of what Kakashi hadn't been able to. That just makes the remaining wounds all the more painful, though, and Naruto winces helplessly as the man's fingers grace a burn mark, unable to do much about that; it isn't an open wound and there isn't anything there to knit together.

"Does that make me your first date?" Kakashi asks with a wry grin in his voice, and Naruto laughs again, quick and mirthless.

"Nope. Most painful one so far though," Naruto admits and closes his eyes. Kyuubi is working faster now – with fewer wounds, the fur-ball is having an easier time of it and can direct the healing chakra where it needs to go, rather than trying to push it everywhere all at once and thus doing very little good with it.

For a moment Naruto loses track of time, between the pain and the energies on his skin and inside it, clashing – it feels a bit like there is a thunderstorm going on just beneath his skin, where Kakashi presses his hand and Kyuubi's hotter chakra pushes from within. When the blond can open his eyes without them tearing again, most of the pain is gone and he's tingling, the newness of the healed wounds making him shiver. New nerve-endings, the old hag had once told him. They'd feel sensitive for a while.

Very, very sensitive. The rush of lack of pain is heady and Naruto inhales slowly, closing his eyes again for a moment to try and bring his shivering flesh back into order. It doesn't quite work. His body has the bad habit of embracing painlessness with a joyous rush – the effect of having been hurt and healed so many times, maybe, or maybe it has something to do with Kyuubi's chakra being so damn energising. Whatever it is, it tends to be embarrassing to be Naruto, freshly healed.

Especially when his trousers are somewhere near his ankles, nowhere near to cover him.

"Alright?" Kakashi asks, and he sounds relieved and amused both.

"Well, obviously," Naruto answers, embarrassed, and looks up and then down at himself. He's littered with fresh scars, and there is red smoke coiling from them – the demon's chakra is still working at the damaged tissue. Shaking his head and trying to ignore his state as best as he can, he looks at his commander. "You alright?" he asks. "Not that I can do anything about it, mind you, can't heal worth shit. But I can bandage alright."

"I'm fine," Kakashi answers with an uneasy shrug and shifts back, to let Naruto sit up. And Kakashi is fine, not a mark on him – but then he would be. He hadn't been anywhere near the battlefield, his part of the mission having been the stealthy retrieval of lost property while Naruto played the part of distraction. Or, in other words, the punching bag.

"We should probably retreat from here…" Kakashi says, sounding almost bashful all of sudden – but then, sitting up had made Naruto's state, if possible, all the more obvious. "Though perhaps you want to take care of… that before we go."

Naruto snorts, looking at the man with open amusement. Kakashi, the famously perverted jounin who took his porn to every mission he went on… embarrassed? That's a sight. Naruto himself isn't much – it's a long standing condition after all; as embarrassing as it is, he's gotten adjusted to it, and having lived three years with Jiraiya had trained him out of any embarrassment concerning sexuality.

This is sort of funny though.

"Well, not really. It'll go down by itself, eventually. I'd like some clothing though, if you have any spares. I think all my storage scrolls got torn," Naruto says, kicking his sandals off clumsily so that he can wiggle out of what remains of his trousers – and okay, moving in his condition is kind of interesting. And oops, it looks like his boxers aren't in any better condition than his trousers had been – they're torn on one side and barely hanging on for dear life.

The studiously casual examination of his own gear Kakashi makes is somehow hilarious, as the man looks through his storage scrolls for clothing. Looking everywhere but down, at Naruto. "Kakashi-sensei, you pervert," the blond grins, and laughs as the man fumbles with one of the scrolls.

"You're one to talk, sporting that –" the man says, pauses and then clears his throat, turning his attention to the scroll and then releasing a portion of it, a full set of Hidden Leaf's shinobi uniform appearing in a poof of smoke. "You sure you want to just – I mean, you can't very well run with – it should be taken care of, for decency's sake."

"You, talking about decency? Funny," Naruto grins and then leans forward – Kakashi leans back, giving him a look that's not quite as calm and aloof as the man probably would've liked. "You're very keen about this. You offering?" he leers, and for a split  second, Kakashi looks delightfully startled.

Naruto's well aware that he had grown up and he had grown up good too. While he hadn't really been a child since Sasuke's betrayal, he had been an adult for a while now, with an adult's shoulders and height and muscles, his face having lost its softness, and gained firmness instead, all of which he thinks suits him rather well. Lots of people have been noticing that lately – and yeah, Naruto has been basking in that attention with all the glee and eagerness the situation permitted.

He hadn't realised that Kakashi was one of the people noticing. It's a thought, though. It's very much a thought.

Kakashi swallows, staring at him for a moment with a caught look in his eyes. "This isn't the place for this?" the man chokes out, and Naruto realises he's still leering – practically naked, covered in blood, with a raging hard-on, and leering at his old sensei who's now helplessly glancing down and up again along his body.

"Fine," Naruto grins. "Hold that thought, though, for later."

Oh yeah. Later.

Chapter Text

Naruto keeps running into things. That's the worst of it – he can't gauge how far things are, or how close, and so he keeps walking into doors and banging his head on low branches. It's more annoying than painful or even embarrassing and he really wishes it won't be like that all of the goddamn time from here on.

"You'll get used to it," Kakashi assures him with a strange tone, as Naruto rubs his hand along the bandage covering what is now an empty socket beneath. It's a real bother to find out only now that even he can't regenerate missing organs and that no matter how the demonic chakra keeps on flickering inside his eye socket, there won't be a new eye appearing there now or probably ever. Not unless someone donated, and yeah, that's not gonna happen.

"And how long will that take?" Naruto grumbles, lowering his hand. Most his techniques tend to rely on the concept that he has depth perception and right now he doesn't. He could make a million shadow clones and they'd all be pretty much useless, unable to tell the distance of things. He couldn't throw with as much accuracy as he had been able to before. He could still use Rasengan and its many, better forms sure, but… how much use would that be, if he kept on falling short of his targets?

"A week, maybe two. You'll learn to tell distance by other cues, rather than being able to see things in three dimensions," Kakashi says. "By shadows and a two-dimensional perspective. Just give it time – the Hokage's given you time off for it, after all. It'll come back, even if differently."

Sighing, Naruto nods. Logically, he knows it will, and eventually he will be able to tell the distance of things – there are one-eyed shinobi out there, a lot of them very good at their jobs and Kakashi himself goes through most of his life with a single eye, unable to use the Sharingan much because of the chakra drain. If they can manage, so can he. It's just so damned inconvenient, right now. And Kyuubi's chakra whirling in his eye socket is not making him feel any better – it's giving him a headache now.

Shaking his head, Naruto looks at the elder shinobi thoughtfully, wondering. He has never given it much thought, the fact that Kakashi has pretty much no depth perception most of the time. "How did you lose your eye anyway?" he asks.

The man glances at him and then away as they continue down along the street where the man had caught him. "It was a mission, during the Third Great War," he says simply. "A ninja from Hidden Stone managed to swipe at me with a sword – I was twelve at the time."

"Ouch," Naruto murmurs, trying not to imagine what it might've been like if he had lost his eye at that age. He would've gotten used to it by now, of course, but at twelve? Fresh out of the academy – though of course, by that time Kakashi had already been a jounin, the damn genius.

Kakashi smiles, the way he does which only shows in his single visible eye. "Come on," the man says, clasping him on the shoulder – a shoulder which now is almost level with his. "I'll buy you ramen."

"Nah. I don't really feel like it – and I should train," Naruto answers, embarrassed – though mostly it's because about half of the village has bought him ramen since he lost his eye, and as much as he loves the stuff, enough's enough. He's already had nearly eight bowls that day alone and it wasn't even evening yet.

Besides he's wounded, not a charity case. Or about to die, like most of his friends seem to think.

The elder shinobi gives him a look and then shrugs. "Alright," he says, easy-going as ever. "Want some help with that?"

Naruto considers that for a moment – considers saying no because that's what he's been doing most of the time since his injury, not wanting to endure the sympathetic looks and constant assurances about how he's going to be fine. But then, most of those people, as nice as they have been, aren't actually familiar with the situation. It wasn't like Kakashi would try and give him sympathy and pity and cheery assurances that rang false.

"Yeah, sure," the younger shinobi says instead.

"Come on then," Kakashi says and sets out at a run, leaving Naruto momentarily startled and then chasing after him – and very nearly colliding with the first passer-by. Grimacing, Naruto jumps up to the rooftops – less traffic there – and follows the Copy-nin through the village and towards the training grounds.

If there are some wires and antenna loose on the rooftops afterwards, he totally had nothing to do with it.

Kakashi's idea of getting used to being one-eyed is to literally fight his way through it – and so Naruto spends most of the afternoon sparring with his old sensei, sometimes alone and sometimes with some clones at his side, often clumsy and awkward and getting a variety of bruises for it, but keeping at it. Kakashi has the upper hand all the time, but he doesn't make the fact that he's going very easy on Naruto that obvious, and eventually the younger shinobi loses himself in the attempt at finding old accuracy, and figuring out his reach properly. Sometimes he succeeds. Often not.

By the end of the session, he's bruised and sweaty and actually feels a bit better about life – despite everything, he had managed to land a few solid blows. He's not completely useless.

"Try and spar with someone every day; it'll help," Kakashi says, crouching down beside him when Naruto doesn't bother to get up after the blow that had sent him tumbling down. "This isn't something you want to consciously spend effort to manage – you need to make it instinctive. Fighting will help with that."

"Yeah, yeah, I will," Naruto answers, wiping sweat from his brow and grinning. "Do you think I should get an eye patch?"

Kakashi chuckles and then sits down beside him, ankles crossed. "If you'd like," he says.

"Or maybe I'll slant my headband over it like you do," Naruto muses, peering up at the elder man thoughtfully.

"I wouldn't recommend it. It took me years to figure out how to keep it from slipping down completely and blinding me at inopportune moments," Kakashi answers, digging out his book from his back pouch. "It's handier for me, because I need to occasionally reveal my left eye, but you don't."

"Hm," Naruto hums, still eying the man's face. Though it's hidden, he can remember the clean-cut scar running down from Kakashi's forehead to his cheek – almost perfectly vertical. His isn't anything like that – the wound he got took most of his eyelids with it, leaving a gaping hole surrounded by ragged scarring. Not as pretty by far.

Even if he didn't need to cover the socket to avoid things getting into it and causing infections and whatnot, he still would've. Not that he minds the scarring – there are a lot worse things about life than a bit of scarring and his isn't even that bad, all things considered. But other people do mind it – the few who have seen it, who aren't healers, all recoiled with grimaces. Sakura had too, looking embarrassed about it afterwards but still….

Kakashi probably wouldn't. Even if the man's scar is dainty in comparison and he has a whole, full eye beneath it, he had felt it. The feel of how fragile something as vital as an eye was. How easily it was just gone.

"Eye patch it is, I guess," the blond shinobi says, before shifting closer to the man so that he can rest his head on Kakashi's thigh. Kakashi, if he minds it, says nothing and just turns a page and reads on – or pretends to, at any rate.

"The sky doesn't look much different, with just one eye," Naruto murmurs, staring at the blue expanse above them, at the wisps of clouds passing by.

"No, it doesn't," Kakashi agrees, resting his hand on Naruto's hair, fingers lazily brushing through the blond spikes, and with a yawn Naruto closes his single eye as they fall into an easy, comfortable silence.

Chapter Text

"You're wet," Kakashi comments from the couch as Naruto stumbles in, soaked to the bones thanks to the downpour going on outside.

"No, really?" Naruto answers with a snort and shakes the water out of his hair, dropping the bag of groceries and kicking his sandals off before spending a moment wrestling with the zipper of his jacket. Kakashi only glances at him from the couch before going back to his book, as Naruto strips himself first of the jacket, then of the shirt beneath – it's soaked too, and cold – before shimmying out of his soaked pants, leaving the younger shinobi clad only in a rather wet pair of boxers.

"Not that I mind the show, but do you have to do that in the hall?" the Copy-nin asks, turning the page.

"I am wet and miserable so yes," Naruto says, jumping into the bathroom only long enough to hang his soaked clothing to dry and grab a towel, before padding out on bare feet, more or less naked, with the towel around his shoulders. "Besides, you're not even looking, so it doesn't count."

"Peripheral vision," Kakashi comments simply.

"Yeah, sure," Naruto snorts, grabbing the bag of groceries and heading to the kitchen to put them away. "This is your fault anyway – you burned my umbrella."

Kakashi winces a bit at the memory of doing Chidori while holding the mostly metal – and highly conductive – umbrella. "Electrocuted it, actually."

"Same difference – it was all crispy and black by the end of it," Naruto snorts, rubbing his hair with the towel with one hand while shoving the purchases into cupboards with the other. Kakashi glances at him long enough to make sure it's not all ramen – it isn't, just mostly – before going back to the book.

There is quiet for a moment as Naruto finishes, only the sound of rain against the windows and Kakashi turning the pages breaking the silence. Then the Copy-nin hears the sound of footsteps coming his direction and manages just in time to lift his book out of the way as Naruto lands solidly in his lap.

"Now you're getting me wet," the elder shinobi says, highly unimpressed.

"You deserve it, for giving me all this trouble," Naruto answers, poking him in the chest. "Not only did you burn my umbrella, but you are free-loading in my apartment, making me buy more food because of your sorry ass. Next time it rains, you can do the shopping."

"Hm," Kakashi hums idly, leaning back and settling more comfortably against the backrest. A mostly naked Naruto in his lap is… a sight to behold. All lean, tanned muscle, peppered with scars big and small here and there, and gleaming with the remainder of the rain still clinging to his skin. "Hmm…" the man hums again, lower this time, setting one gloved hand on the younger man's waist. Firm and radiating warmth.

"Can't even bother to make excuses for yourself, can you?" Naruto scoffs at him, spending a moment scrubbing at his hair with the towel. "I'm going to start charging you rent."

"Considering where you are right now, maybe it's I who should start charging rent," Kakashi hums, following the line of a firm muscle with his thumb, shifting a bit under Naruto's weight. "Besides, it's just temporary. Once my flat is fixed, I'll be out of your hair again."

"Yeah, right," Naruto mutters, giving him a look which is part disgust and part fondness, before lifting the towel and snapping it taut before looping it around Kakashi's neck and tugging the man closer by it. "You were freeloading here before that and you'll be freeloading here afterwards, and don't think I don't realise that, you lazy piece of –"

Kakashi smothers the urge to grin as Naruto takes hold of the edge of his mask with his teeth, dragging it out of the way with practiced annoyance. It still covers his chin partially by the time Naruto's satisfied and leaning in to take his mouth, with the same annoyance in the force of the kiss, casual and demanding and somehow justified. Taking his due, in a certain way.

Naruto's kisses have expressions in them, emotions and feelings. They're never just kisses.

"And why," Kakashi murmurs against the bite to his lower lip. "Would I want to stay here, pray tell? Your apartment is ghastly and falling apart."

"And three times as big as yours, with a tub and a king-sized bed," Naruto grumbles, before giving the abused lip a gentle nibble and leaning his forehead against Kakashi's, their headbands clinking together gently. "And because you love me?"

"Oh, I do, do I?" Kakashi snorts, both his hands at Naruto's sides now, moving up and down along the firm length of the younger man's body.

Naruto grins almost arrogantly. "You loove me," the blond croons mockingly. "You wanna huug me, you wanna smooch me…."

"You impetuous brat," the elder shinobi grunts with amusement, shaking his head and doing just that. Naruto laughs against his lips and drops the towel around Kakashi's neck, wrapping his arms – warm, firm, strong now – around the older man's shoulders, hauling him closer. They wrestle the kiss between them more than they really share it, and after a moment Kakashi gets tired of the upper hand the younger man has and turns the tables, by turning and pushing Naruto down to lie along the couch.

"Oh, unfair," Naruto grumbles as the elder man withdraws from his lips.

"How so?" Kakashi asks, smirking, as he opens the zipper of his vest and gets rid of it, letting the garment with all its gear and scrolls fall to the floor beside the couch.

"Distracting me to get the upper hand, that is just unsporting," Naruto answers, shifting and watching with hot eyes, and Kakashi tugs his shirt off too, and the mask along with it. "Though on other hand, this isn't so bad," the younger man murmurs, reaching out one hand to trail along the long scars across Kakashi's torso.

"How wonderful of you to approve," the jounin says with a snort and leans down, to rest over the young man's warm body. Naruto takes the weight without complaining, but wiggles a bit until he gets one leg between Kakashi's thighs, lifting it up to just the right angle.

"You know, you could just move in," the blond man says, taking a handful of Kakashi's hair and eyeing him seriously. "So long as you pitch in with the bills I wouldn't mind that much."

"High endorsement," Kakashi comments noncommittally, a bit unsure.

"Isn't it just?" Naruto agrees with a grin, and then just looks at him, waiting. And despite the words and their simplicity, the elder man knows the offer is actually serious – more serious than either of them really feels comfortable with, all things considered; and yet.

Sighing, Kakashi leans his head down, resting it for a moment against Naruto's bare shoulder. He's lived alone all his life – hell, he hasn't even had real relationships, not before Naruto and his damn hard-headedness and stubbornness. Certainly not any as long as this one has been.

It's a bit terrifying. Even if it is Naruto. Or maybe because of it.

"You can sneak in through the windows at ungodly hours and we can water the plants together," Naruto comments idly, running a hand along Kakashi's bare back. "What do you say?"

"Do I have to buy you ramen?" Kakashi asks plaintively.

He can hear the grin in the younger man's voice as Naruto answers, "All the time," before he's hauled into another expressive, bruising kiss.

Chapter Text

  1. Grocery Shopping

 

Kakashi was on the edge and half asleep, staring at the half dozen different types of cereals displayed all across the convenience store's shelves, wondering if he wanted to be healthy this month and go with the whole grain, extra fibre card board stuff… or if he was going to, again, say screw it and go with the chocolate, sugar and marshmallows. It was a tough choice and the fact that there was a busty lady on both cereal packets wasn't helping. Why were there busty ladies in cereal packets anyway? What did that have anything to do with breakfast foods? Subliminal marketing? Or not so subliminal, as it was…

 Fresh from long over-night mission and not yet quite off the clock, he was still on his guard enough for the splash of orange to catch his attention – and just tired enough to wonder if he'd ever seen such a quiet explosion and how had it managed to sneak up on him like that. Except, of course it wasn't explosion.

There was a man standing on the other end of the isle, a bit shorter than him, wearing long orange and black cloak with a deep hood. Judging by the look of his still stature, the cloaked man was having the same sort of existential crisis over the instant ramen packets that Kakashi was having over cereal.

"Miso," Kakashi said.

The man jerked his head up and turned just enough for the black hood to grease, but not enough to show more than hint of the lower half of his face. "Huh?" the man asked eloquently.

"Go with miso. When in doubt, miso," the young ANBU captain said.

The man said nothing, just stood there. Then, "You'll regret the marshmallows later," he offered.

Kakashi sighed and hung his head down. He would, wouldn't he? "But the rest of the stuff tastes like paper," he complained mournfully.

"Yeah, but it's not like you have to eat it plain," the man added thoughtfully, lifting a hand to stroke at his bare chin. "And you can't really put fruits or berries into the marshmallow stuff. It'll just taste weird."

"Very true," Kakashi said, perking up and picked the whole grain extra fibre cardboard stuff, while the other man picked a six back of instant miso noodles. "By the way," Kakashi said, giving the other man a sidelong look. "You got a passport?"

The man froze. "Uh," he said, holding the ramen packets in both hands and almost hugging it to his chest. "Passport? Well, um…"

Kakashi eyed him quietly, almost sadly. He'd really hoped the man would say something along the lines "Why would I need passport, I was born here!" or "I don't have passport, but here, look at my Konoha head band, isn't it neat?" or something easy and simple and not suspicious like that. But apparently this wasn't his morning.

Somewhere in the isle left of them, someone was pushing a trolley with squeaky wheel. An electric light flickered above them. The cloaked man shifted on his feet guiltily and Kakashi sighed. "We're not going to fight in convenience store, right?"

"What, we have to fight now? I don't want to fight you!" the cloaked man answered, pouting.

"Well," Kakashi answered, scratching at the edge of his mask with the corner of his box of whole grain extra fibre cardboard stuff cereal. "You snuck into heavily secured ninja village without legal authorisation or passport and you're, I might add, wearing a long cloak with hood up and not exactly inspiring confidence," he said and tilted his head, resting his temple against the cereal box. "You're not saying you'll come quietly if I try and capture you."

"Why not?" the cloaked man asked. "I could be saying that."

"That's not how it works," Kakashi frowned. "And this is a grocery store. A tricky spot to have a battle in, but for a versatile infiltration agent a very useful too. Plenty of potential throwing weapons around – those cans of soup over there for example. And there are civilians around. Ample opportunities for you to grab a hostage for your protection."

The cloaked man's mouth fell open and he let out a spluttering noise. "I'm grabbing hostages now?" he asked, incredulous. "Why am I grabbing hostages? And who fights with cans of soup?"

"I've seen it happen," Kakashi said, thinking back to one abysmal delivery mission that had ended up him fighting his target in the frozen good's isle. He'd gotten nailed on the nose with a can of sardines. Not his proudest moment.

"Well, I'm not going to fight with cans of soup. Or take hostages," the cloaked man said and lifted his ramen packets to point them at Kakashi. "I just want some food, is all."

"Still snuck into the village, apparently. And still wearing a cloak," Kakashi said.

"It's an orange cloak," the man objected. "Who sneaks anywhere wearing orange?!"

Kakashi paused at that and he had to hand it to the man – that was pretty weird. Considering, he glanced over the cloak – it was interesting design, with black sleeves, shoulders and hood, and with the rest of it being orange, all the way down to the mid-calf length hem.

"Why are you sneaking into our village wearing orange?" Kakashi asked, disproving. "That's not very covert."

"Because… I'm… not trying to be covert?" the man asked.

"Hood," Kakashi pointed.

"Annoying lights," the man pointed over head, at the glaring, flickering electric lights.

"Point," Kakashi nodded. "But still no passport."

The man sighed. "Still not going to fight anybody in a convenience store," he said. "Or use canned goods as throwing weapons. Or take civilians for hostage."

"… implying you're not a civilian," Kakashi said and narrowed his eyes.

"You implied it first."

"You didn't deny it."

The man let out a frustrated noise. "I was too busy denying the rest of the weird bullshit you're accusing me off!" he said, throwing his hands up, the wide sleeves of his cloak flapping as he did. "What do you want from me, man?"

"Identification," Kakashi said instantly.

"Don't have any," the man muttered.

"Then your surrender and co-operation."

The cloaked man sighed and looked down to the six pack of ramen in his hand. "Can I buy these first?" he asked, holding it up.

Kakashi blinked at that and then relaxed a little. "Fine," he said and sighed, looking at the cereal box. Well, might as well finish his own shopping while he was at it, he figured, and put it in his basket. "You buying anything else?"

The cloaked man considered it and then shrugged. "Dunno yet. Lead the way," he said.

It was almost the weirdest arrest Kakashi had ever made – except not quite. He'd once arrested a drunken Iwa-nin in Konoha's hot baths, and marched him through the town wearing nothing but lipstick and a towel. Which might not seem that weird, but it was a lot of lipstick – lot and lot of lipstick. It was up in the man's ears and eyebrows. Lot and lot of hot pink lipstick.

Kakashi picked up some fruit and bottle of milk and packet of sugar, watching the cloaked man from the corner of his eye. The man followed him docilely enough, seeming happy with his six pack of ramen. The only time the man lagged behind was when they passed by the spice shelves, and the man stopped by to pick up a bottle of soy sauce.

They lined to pay for their things, Kakashi packing his more numerous purchases in a paper bag, the cloaked man shoving his into the enormous pockets of his cloak. Kakashi watched the bulging of the six pack of ramen on the man's cloak and sighed at the bizarreness of it all.

It was too damn early for this.

"Soo," the cloaked man said as they stepped outside and into the light of the early sun. "Now what? You gonna clap me into irons? Do ninja even use irons?" he asked curiously.

"That way," Kakashi said, pointing towards the village centre. "I'll drop you off at the Tower and let them figure out what to do with you."

"Sweet," the cloaked man said. "D'ya think they might let me have some hot water? I haven't eaten breakfast yet."

It was still too early for that many civilians to be around, and the shinobi who were already up at it, were largely up and at it on the roof tops, so the streets were mostly deserted. Yawning, Kakashi hugged his groceries to his chest and led his sort-of-prisoner towards the Tower, casting sidelong glances towards the man, wondering if he ought to try and question him.

…no. If he did then he might get answers and then they might want to include him in the questioning/interrogation/torture process and he'd already been up for thirty six hours straight and he wanted to go to bed, damn it. No, he'd just drop the man and the questions he arose on someone else's lap and hightail the hell out of there.

Still, how the hell had he gotten into the village without a passport, wearing what he did, acting as he did? And for that matter, after managing to sneak in, why was he giving himself up so easily? For a moment Kakashi entertained the thought of the guy carrying under his cloak hundreds of exploding tags and that he was about to deliver a bomber in Konoha's shinobi head quarters, but… what kind of bomber wasted time languishing at a convenience store, and what kind of bomber bought ramen before bombing a place?

Way too early for this shit.

"So, you use birds to communicate, right?" the cloaked man asked suddenly and pointed ahead. "What do those guys mean?"

Kakashi frowned and looked up. "They're just crows."

"Crows don't mean anything? How does the bird thing work anyway? I mean, they're sort of general calls right, gather here when you see this bird, or something. But what if you're indoors and you never see it? Doesn't that make it kind of sucky sort of way to communicate."

"What do you suggest we should use, smoke signals? Radio waves can be intercepted and spied on. Sending people after each other is just waste of a time. Anything after that would be just too flashy. Birds are whole lot more discreet and unnoticeable."

The cloaked man considered it. "I guess there is that," he said. "Never thought of it that way."

"They don't use birds where you come from?" Kakashi asked, and almost kicked himself. So much for not asking questions.

"I've seen it happen," the guy shrugged. "But no one's ever messaged me with birds flying over head, so I never really got it, you know? They all kind of look the same to me."

Kakashi hummed and kept his mouth shut until they made their way to the Tower. The ninja lounging at the front gave him and his companion some curious looks and for a moment Kakashi considered dumping the man in their laps and just leaving – but it was probably best he did this properly.

So he walked the man to the jounin lounge where those jounin on stand by, well, lounged about waiting for missions. "Heeyy," he greeted the jounin, pair of whom were playing cards, one of whom was stretched across a couch and snoring. "Look at the evil infiltrator," he said when he got their attention, and pointed at the cloaked man. "He has no passport or anything. It's very suspicious."

With that said he turned on his heel and headed out again, leaving the cloaked man standing behind him.

"Uh," the cloaked man said. "Hi?" And then, moment and a bit of a scuffle and painful sounding thumb later, "…ouch. Hey, watch the ramen, I just bought that!"

Kakashi closed his eyes and quickly headed out, cheerfully putting the whole weird meeting out of his mind.

 

  1. Headache

 

When Hiruzen arrived, the prisoner was sitting in the interrogation room with his hands bound behind his back, squinting mournfully at the two way mirror. One of his elder jounin was sitting across the man, arms folded and frown on his face, and the prisoner was completely ignoring him.

"What do we have here, then?" Hiruzen asked, sighing. It was barely eight o'clock in the morning and the first thing that'd been brought to his attention was that spy had been caught pretty much in broad day light. It was not the way he liked his mornings to begin. Granted, co-operative spies were the best sort of enemy spies, but they were the most suspicious ones too and just by looking at the man, he knew this was going to be trouble.

"Male, approximately fifteen years of age, 166 centimetres in height, weighing 50.9 kilograms," Ibiki answered, arms folded and glaring through the two way mirror at the prisoner. "No identification aside from this," he motioned towards the table, where array of items was spread out. The one Ibiki was pointing at, was a cloak.

Shikaku hummed, folding his arms as he stared at the prisoner. "Hatake Kakashi walked him to the HQ approximately thirty minutes ago and left him in the jounin lounge," he added. "I send a chuunin after him to get his report about it, no word back yet. As far as we can tell though, Kakashi probably came upon him on a convenience store, judging by the reports from the jounin who were at the lounge – Kakashi was carrying groceries."

Hiruzen stepped to the table and took the cloak, holding it up. It was not very… subtle design, black on the top with long wide sleeves and deep hood, and bright orange on the bottom. What was significant about it, though, was the symbol on the back, smack between the crossing of the black of the top and the orange of the bottom. A grey circle with a black spiral. It was unmistakeable and carefully made – and the cloak had been designed with the symbol in it, it hadn't been added later on. On top of that, the cloak was a little travel worn, slightly dirty at the hem.

Lowering the cloak Hiruzen looked at the other items no doubt forcibly removed from the man's person. A… packet of instant noodles, an unopened bottle of soy sauce – a receipt for the both of them, dating the sale only forty five minutes ago. A wallet with contents spread out – mostly just pocket change, with four packets condoms and what looked like napkin someone had pressed a lipstick kiss and scrawled what looked like room number on.

"This is all he had on?" Hiruzen asked, picking up the napkin and eying it curiously.

"This and the clothes on his back," Ibiki answered. "We checked those, of course – normal cotton trousers and shirt, and the sandals he wears are civilian make. He's not even wearing any mesh."

"No weapons?" the Hokage asked, lowering the napkin and turning to the two way mirror. The prisoner – a boy really – was still staring at their way sadly. "Did you break something of his?" Hiruzen asked, wondering about the expression.

"No, but he wailed like a baby when we took this off him," Shikaku snorted, lifting the packet of instant ramen. "It's the only part of his belongings he seems to miss."

"I… see," Hiruzen murmured, stroking his goatee and looking the young prisoner up and down. He didn't look very threatening. His face was open and expressive, with three blocky black lines on each cheek and shock of spiky orange hair, falling over his eyes, which had a fox like squint to them. There was hint of black on his skin where the black shirt's collar had twisted and Hiruzen nodded at it. "Seals?"

"He has six black magatama below his collarbones. If they're seals, they haven't activated and they're not emitting chakra – the Hyuga I had look him over said that they seem to be natural part of his body," Ibiki answered with a frown. "The lines on his face are the same. He also has one on his right palm – a white circle."

"How very interesting," Hiruzen said. "Did the Hyuga say anything else?"

"Apparently there is something very weird with his body," Ibiki said. "Momoka said she couldn't put a finger to it, but something was off with his chakra. He's got plenty of it and well developed chakra coils, so he's a ninja, no doubt about that. But something's off. I called in a chakra systems specialist to have another look, see what they make of it."

Hiruzen nodded, eying the prisoner. "Any idea how he got into the village?" he asked, turning to Shikaku.

"None, sir. I send a word to the Barrier Team but haven't yet got an answer," the commander answered. "There have been no reports of disturbances and if he came in through the front gate, they haven't reported it."

"And judging by the fact that you haven't said anything about it yet… he hasn't yet told you who he is or how and why he's here?" the Hokage asked.

Ibiki snorted. "I haven't even started the actual interrogation yet, but no. All he's interested is getting his damn ramen back."

"Well then," Hiruzen said, somewhat amused – puzzled, but amused. "Go give it to him. See what he does."

Ibiki considered that, and then shrugged, grabbing the ramen and the soy bottle and heading out of the room. The Hokage could hear him calling someone to bring him boiled water, and then Ibiki was entering the interrogation room, sending the jounin out as he did.

"Oh thank god," the prisoner said when Ibiki slapped the packet of six ramen cups in front of him. "I'm starving. Any chance of getting water for these?"

"Maybe. If you answer a couple of questions," Ibiki said, sitting across him. "If you want to keep up with the stoic idiot act, then I might eat them myself. In front of you. Noisily."

"How… diabolically evil of you," the prisoner answered and then frowned. "What stoic idiot act?"

"The one you're putting up right now."

"I'm not putting up anything," the boy pouted and then considered. "Well, I'm putting up with this, all of this. And I'm putting up with it pretty well too, if I say so myself."

"You haven't given us any answers," Ibiki pointed out.

"You haven't asked any questions," the prisoner answered, leaning forward awkwardly and eying the ramen packet with uneasy look. "Man I hope you didn't shake them or crush them, I hate crushed ramen. The small twiddle bits are the worst."

"Okay. How about a name?" Ibiki asked, folding his arms.

"For whom?" the prisoner asked.

Ibiki's cheek twitched. "For you. What's your name?"

"Oh. Right," the prisoner said and grinned cheerfully, his eyes still squinted. "Uzumaki. And you are?"

Hiruzen frowned, glancing at the cloak, and the spiral there. Then he looked back at the boy, who sat there, grinning, perfectly at ease. He certainly acted like Uzumaki did. Hiruzen never in his life met an Uzumaki who acted normally when captured and questioned – and this was certainly preferable to the way Kushina would've reacted.

"Uzumaki who?" Ibiki asked.

"Never heard of any Hus," the boy answered and turned to face at the ramen packets. "Can I have some hot water now, please?"

"Do you have a first name?" Ibiki asked, starting to look irritated.

"Yes," the boy nodded solemnly.

"And what is your name?"

"It's Uzumaki. Do you have memory problems? Should you be writing this down, might make things easier for you," Uzumaki said helpfully.

"So it's just Uzumaki,"

"No need to say it like I'm a huge disappointment," the boy said, frowning. "What's wrong being Uzumaki? Uzumaki is a great name! It is also my name, which makes it extra great."

"Yes, fine, let's move on. Uzumaki," Ibiki grunted. "Where did you come from?"

The boy's face scrunched up suspiciously, the squint somehow getting… squintier. "Is that a trick question?" he asked.

"Just answer it," the head of Torture and Interrogation growled.

Uzumaki kept staring at him for a long moment before opening his mouth. "Well… okay then," he said slowly. "Well. I guess it went something like this, since it tends to go about this for most people: my mom and my dad loved each other very much, you know, physically, and –"

Shikaku let out a quiet chuckle and Hiruzen covered his smile with his hand while Ibiki gritted his teeth, scowling at the boy. He banged his fist against the table, making the packet ramen cups jump. "How did you get inside the village?" he growled,

"I… walked?" the boy answered, leaning back a little and looking at Ibiki worriedly.

"From where?"

"Outside?"

"Where are you from?"

"Are you okay?" Uzumaki asked, looking concerned. "You might wanna tone it down a little, man, that vein's going off really badly," he said, nodding at Ibiki's forehead. "Looks kinda dangerous actually. Might be a health problem."

"Answer the damn question!"

There was a knock on the interrogation room's door then, and a one of the tokubetsu-jounin peeked his head in. "I, uh. Got the hot water?"

"Yay, ramen!" Uzumaki said. "Gimme gimme. Hey, can you untie me? I need my hands to do things."

"Maybe later," Ibiki grunted, taking the kettle and then setting it out of Uzumaki's reach. "Answer the question and I might prepare the ramen for you."

"Okay. Which question was that?" the boy asked cheerfully.

"Where are you from?" Ibiki growled.

"Oh, well," the boy considered it. "Okay, I came here from the village of Kasen, and before that I was in Tenka, and before that I was in Bouka and –"

"Where were you born?" Ibiki asked, cutting in.

"Oh come on, man. I can't remember that far," Uzumaki answered with a frown.

"Then, where were you raised?"

"You know, I'm pretty sure I wasn't? It sort of implies actual raising and growing up and all that, and I'm pretty sure I haven't done any of that," the boy answered and Ibiki grit is teeth.

"He's good at deflection," Shikaku noted. "Awkward and obvious, but it would work on some people."

"Hm," Hiruzen hummed at that, frowning. "I've a feeling he's not lying though." Deflection and distraction was the trick of bad liars, after all. Sidling along the truth just enough to make themselves believable, but avoiding actually saying anything.

Shikaku nodded. "Being Uzumaki would explain the odd seals," he mused, looking to the table.

The Hokage nodded in agreement. Uzushiogakure alone had had very high level seals, lot of them unbreakable and strange to those not from the village. But the Uzumaki… their seals were a whole different level. Uzumaki were the only clan who could make completely traceless seals, absolutely invisible except if one channelled chakra to them. The idea of visible seals which then didn't act or feel like seals – which felt like natural physical aspects of the body they were on… it wasn't something one could put past the Uzumaki.

"If he is an Uzumaki…" Shikaku trailed away, glancing at the Hokage.

Hiruzen frowned and folded his arms. Uzushiogakure fell almost twenty years ago – the boy was too young to have been born there. But maybe a child of one of the survivors that had scattered…

"Why did you come here?" Ibiki asked in the interrogation room, making the boy look up from the ramen he'd been eying mournfully.

"I heard there was an Uzumaki here," he said, and Hiruzen and Shikaku both straightened up a little. The boy leaned back in his chair. "A woman, um… Habanero or something," he added, and shrugged. "I thought we might be related."

Ibiki arched an eyebrow at that and then stood up, walking to the door. "Hey, what about my ramen?" Uzumaki asked and then pouted as the door closed after Ibiki. "Mean," he grumbled and sighed, leaning in to watch the ramen packet with a pout.

Hiruzen glanced at the observation room's door as Ibiki entered, no hint of his earlier frustration to be seen. "Whoever taught that kid to handler interrogations was a moron," Ibiki announced, closing the door after him. "If he was taught at all."

The Hokage nodded, agreeing. "What do you think, then?" he asked.

"I still want to have a Hyuga looking at him and I want a Yamanaka to look over at least a bit of his interrogations, but I don't think he's lying," Ibiki sighed, running a hand over his bandana. "He's used to looking after himself and used to standing up for himself too – and at a guess I'd say this isn't the first time he's been in this sort of situation. Or at least he's faced against people much more intimidating than me – he is about as threatened as he looks, the squinty brat," he snorted.

The Hokage nodded thoughtfully. "And your thoughts about his reasons for coming here?"

"If I had to place bets on it, I'd say looking for a place to hide," Ibiki answered. "He's too obvious for espionage. Not just his acting, but also his looks. The cloak. And his hair's probably been dyed – he's probably tried to bleach it, make it less red, less noticeable. Blonds are more common around here, than redheads, after all."

"I'm pretty sure you're contradicting yourself there, Ibiki," Shikaku noted, sounding amused. "His hiding all the while being too obvious and yet he's trying to be unnoticeable? Which one is it?"

Ibiki shrugged. "He's made himself less recognizable immediately to whoever might know him, but he wasn't trying to hide from us. I think he came here with every intention of being noticed, captured, interrogated and, probably, thrown in prison."

"Thrown in prison?" Hiruzen asked, arching his eyebrows.

"If he is an Uzumaki then he likely doesn't have a place to go – especially not if he goes around using the name. When you have no friends and need a secure place to hide in…" Ibiki shrugged. "We're one of the few Shinobi Villages with a prison, and known propensity towards imprisonment rather than outright execution. For some people even few days in secure lock up might mean the difference between life and death."

Hiruzen considered that and nodded. It was not something he thought lot of Shinobi would've tried, but when one ran out of options… it was a way to stay safe. Shinobi prisons were by design as hard to break into as they were to break out from.

"And the mention about Kushina?" Hiruzen asked.

"Covering his bases, I guess," Ibiki shrugged. "Kushina was probably one of the last Uzumaki to go by the name. Most of the rest changed their name when Uzushio fell, after all."

"And she had page in the bingo book too," Shikaku agreed, folding his arms. "I'm not entirely sure about his intention for coming here being imprisonment. That… might be giving the kid too much credit."

"Oh?" Ibiki asked.

"Look at him," Shikaku snorted and they did. The boy was all but chewing the table in sad frustration, still squinting at the ramen as if it was the last bit of food in barren world.

Hiruzen shook his head, amused and disturbed both. "Do what you can, Ibiki," he said. "Figure out what he's here for, and how he got here without anyone noticing. But… no torture if you can avoid it," he said, turning to leave. "The Uzumaki were allies, after all."

"Yes sir," Ibiki answered, sighing.

"Well, you have one thing going for you," Shikaku said, amused, and nodded at the scene in the interrogation room. "He's made his incentives rather obvious."

"A little too obvious," Ibiki snorted. "Really. Who in their right mind would actually be like that about ramen?"

 

  1. Sass

 

"You catch a snake in a forest and you kill it," Anko sang, staring boredly at the blank cell wall.  "Slit its little neck with a knife and then you bleed it…"

Holding cells were boring. That was probably part of the whole point of holding cells – they weren't exactly meant to be fun. But still. It was boring as fuck. She'd almost prefer to be in actual prison or something. Prisons sucked ass of course, and so did prisoners, but it would be more interesting to be around bunch of criminals, to being isolated in this blank ass piece of shit room.

"Cut its pale belly open and then you skin it…"

The room was just a goddamn box. Three by three by three meters of plank white stone, it didn't even have a damn door because one of the walls was opened by seals, Open Sesame style. There was no window, no bed, no nothing. Just walls and single boring light bulb sticking from the ceiling, and Anko was half tempted to jump up and rip the damn thing off its socket. And maybe use the shards of the bulb to cut her own wrists while she was at it.

"Stick it on a stick –" she continued and stopped as the door-wall rumbled. Looking up curiously without bothering to get up from the floor, she watched as the wall split open, revealing the corridor beyond

"Is it time for my make over?" she asked, and then blinked as a boy was pushed roughly into the room.

"I'm going, I'm going, geez," the boy said, stumbling in, and glancing over his shoulder at the T&I jounin. "Rude," he complained, at which the jounin just smiled blankly and then closed the wall with a rumble and clank of stone against stone.

"Oh great," Anko said and the boy turned around. "A visitor, how nice."

"Sup," the boy answered, lifting a shoulder in sort of greeting – his hands were bound behind his back. "Nice place you have here."

"Uhhuh," she nodded and gave him a look. "Now, lemme guess, you're, uh… spy from another village, right? And you were caught recently, right? And there totally aren't any other holding cells open, so they stuck you in here with me, to safe space, right? And since we're in similar situation, we should totally become best of friends at lightning speed!"

"Uh," the boy answered, squinting at her.

"Well, you can tell your buddies out there that I'm not a fucking idiot," Anko snorted. "And they're getting shit from me by bringing some squinty bastard to try and make nice with me. And you, being my age and all? That totally isn't doing it for me. So before you even try and shove some sob story down my throat in order to get to know me, you can just shove your half assed interrogation methods up your ass."

"Um," the boy said.

"I am not falling for these fucking tricks so you and they can all just piss off," Anko continued. "And get on with the damn program and start with the torture and shit. Before I die of old fucking age, preferably."

"Right," the boy said and nudged his head away from her. "I'll just go sit over that corner then and be quiet, right? Right."

Anko scowled at him as he did just that, walking to the corner and sliding down the wall awkwardly. The guy said nothing, just shifted into a comfortable position and sat there, cool as fucking anything.

It pissed her off instantly. "You got a name, spy?" Anko asked, scowling.

"Yeah."

Anko waited but he didn't continue. "Well? What the fuck is it?"

The boy turned his squint at her. "You told me shove my half assed interrogation methods up my ass," he said.

"Well. Fine then, whatever. I don't give a shit!" Anko growled and looked away. In the corner of her eye she saw the boy shrug and it pissed her off even more – but he stayed quiet, silently fuming.

Ten minutes, and his breathing made her want to murder him. "You know I could kill you," she said vindictively. "With your hands bound like that. I could totally strangle you and you couldn't do anything."

The boy considered it. "Kinky," he said and she turned to him, disbelieving. "What?" he asked.

"Kinky?" she asked.

"Some people are into it," he shrugged. "Erotic asphyxiation. I'm not a gasper myself, mind you. Well… actually haven't tried it, really, so I don't actually know if I'm into it, but I doubt it. It seems kinda uncomfortable really."

Anko stared at him incredulously. "You're one sick puppy, huh?"

"I just said I'm not into it. You're the one talking about strangling people," he shrugged.

"You said you're probably not into it – and you're the one who's talking about kinky strangling practices!" Anko snapped. "Erotic asphyxiation, fuck," she muttered, shaking her head. "That's messed up."

The boy squinted at her dubiously. "Seriously?" he asked and then considered her. "Well… I guess you're sorta young."

"What?" Anko snapped. "What's that supposed to mean, you asshole? I'm fifteen and you're probably younger than I am!"

"And yet I know what erotic asphyxiation is," he said.

"That's a sign of fucking perversion, not maturity!"

He shrugged. "If you say so," he said.

"Bastard, trying to sound so cool. What are you anyway, fourteen?" Anko asked, scowling, giving him a once over. "Are they making infants into torture and interrogation specialists these days?"

"Dunno. I imagine infant would be somewhat bad at it. Can you imagine? Baby going uguu at some mass murderer," the boy murmured and grinned. "Ah, the threat of baby slobber would the ultimate weapon of our baby torture specialist. And if worse comes to pass… make the prisoner change his diaper!"

Anko stared at him. "What?" she asked, unbelieving. "Just… what?"

"Picture this," the boy said, grinning at her. "Toddler in his onesie, with a binky and everything, facing off against the most hardened ninja you've ever met. Imagine it, with dramatic lightning and the lamp trick and everything. The air is tense, it's quiet, nobody moves. The ninja swallows. The baby takes off his binky, slowly, and points it at the ninja, and goes… dadadadada."

Anko opened her mouth, closed it, opened it again, and let out a wordless sound of disbelief.

The boy cackled. "Also, I'm seventeen," he said. "So I got you beat by two years."

"No fucking way," Anko answered.

"Way," he grinned. "What was that thing you were singing before?"

"Wasn't singing anything, asshole."

The boy nodded. "Yes you were, about sticking something on a stick."

"I'll stick your ass on a stick."

"And there you go, being kinky again."

Anko let out a frustrated growl. "Fuck you, asshole," she snapped. "And shut up before I come over there and kick your fucking teeth in. And don't fucking say kinky again."

The boy waggled his eyebrows at her, and Anko hissed at him, turning her back to him, fully intending to ignore him until the unforeseeable future.

The silence stretched. Minutes stretched into hours and Anko wasn't entirely sure how much time had gone by, before she got sick of sitting on the floor and had to stand up to pace, and get some blood flow into her legs. As she paced the cell, she glanced at the boy sitting in the corner. His eyes were shut now, probably – hard to tell when the asshole squinting all the damn time. It looked a little like he was sleeping, except he was sitting ramrod straight, his back off the wall.

"Are you fucking shitting me?" she asked.

The asshole was meditating.

She contemplated walking over and kicking him in the guts for a moment. Instead she crouched in front of him, staring at him hard. "I'm going to kick you in the balls," she said slowly.

"Kinky," he said without opening his eyes.

With a snarl she jumped at him, fully intending to strangle him – but the asshole rolled out of the way and she almost ended up breaking her fingers on the wall. For someone with his hands bound, the bastard moved with surprising agility as he rolled onto his feet, crouching beside her – and then jumping out of the way as she dashed at him, trying to catch him.

"Sit still you asshole!"

"Noope," he answered, ducking down under her arms and then jumping back when she tried to kick him. "Hey, you know how when you say something too many times, it starts kind of losing it meaning?"

"I can call you an asshole a million times and you're still an asshole!" Anko growled, crouching down for extra traction and jumping at him.

"I was thinking about the word kinky actually," he cackled, dancing out of the way. "And binky. Say them enough many times a row and it starts being a little weird. Kinky, binky, kinky, binky –"

"Shut the fuck up!"

She chased him around the three by three by three cell for about twenty furious minutes, before finally acquiescing to the fact that the damn bastard was too damn fast for her to catch. "How the fuck do you move like that with your hands bound?" she growled, trying very hard to smother her panting.

"With my feet," he answered, grinning, pausing on the other end of the cell. "So, have you had enough or –"

She lunged at him and finally caught him, with her head, on his stomach. He let out an oomph sound and went flying backwards what little space there was to fly, and then they both crashed against the stone wall and down it.

"…ouch," he said, frowning at her.

"HA!" Anko said victoriously and pointed a finger at him. "Not so slippery now, are you, bastard?"

He frowned at her. "I'm so tempted to make a lube pun right now," he said slowly – and then yelped as Anko punched him. "Hey, way to kick a guy when he's down!"

"It's the best time to beat a guy!"

He winced at that. "… seriously, the innuendo, you're making it so tempting. Beat a guy, seriously. So many puns – no, don't hit me again -!"

Anko hit him again. Just a couple of times. She didn't even do it very hard.

She had to admit though, compared to all the other boys of her age – or older, if he really was older – this guy… wasn't half bad. True, most of the guys she'd interacted lately were all assholes, and they knew her and her history and never fucking let her forget it either. This guy, while an asshole too… at least he wasn't calling her names. Yet.

"So, a name?" she asked.

"Uzumaki," he answered, wincing a little and rolling his jaw. "You?"

"Anko."

"Nice to meet you, Anko."

"Sure it is," she snorted.

He grinned toothily at her and shifted where he sat, into a more comfortable lotus position. "A star shines upon our meeting and all that. You almost knocked a tooth loose, by the way," he added, running his tongue over his canine. "Almost. But not quite."

"I shall hold it first among my many accomplishments," she answered flatly. "And fuck your stars. And also your hair is stupid," she added, giving his stupid hair a look. It looked like shredded carrot. "That's the worst dye job I've ever seen. Did you do it yourself, asshole, or did you just dunk it in a pool of piss and hope for the best?"

He grinned wider. "Well look at that, we are becoming best friends at lightning speed. Also, ew."

"Also, fuck you."

"Kinky."

 

  1. Tea

 

Ibiki kicked back in his chair, his feet crossed on the table, as he stared at the wall. From his side it was, of course, completely see through. From the holding cell's side, it was by all appearances, solid rock.

Anko and Uzumaki had taken both less and more time to establish a certain… rapport, than he had suspected. It had been a gamble, putting the two together. Anko was as blunt as they came and Uzumaki, as poorly as he was trained to handle interrogation, was a dicey little son of a bitch. That didn't usually make a good mix – the slippery sort Uzumaki tried to be tended to run circles around the blunt sort Anko represented. But there was, of course, certain slipperiness to Anko too, her teacher being what he was, and dicey or not, Uzumaki was too obvious to be very effective manipulator.

In the end, though, Ibiki bet it all on their age, rather than established character. It wouldn't have worked with properly trained spy, young or not, but Uzumaki's obvious lack of training made it a valid approach. And while Anko and Uzumaki hadn't precisely bonded over their age per say, they had… well.

"… you so," Uzumaki was saying. "It works with everything. Say any enough many times and it starts sounding really weird."

"You're sounding really weird," Anko answered with a snort. "What's with you and words, asshole?"

"They're important part of communication, and all that," Uzumaki said. "And communication is important."

"And yet you can communicate worth shit," she muttered. Then, after a moment of consideration; "Vagina."

"… seriously?" Uzumaki asked, making a face.

Anko grinned. "Vagina, vagina, vagina, vagina…"

The boy stared at her for a moment before frowning and saying, in perfectly serious voice, "A vaginal vagina vaginally vaginated a vagina."

"How vaginal," Anko said with a snort. "Vaginated isn't a word."

"Neither is vaginay," Uzumaki grinned. "And I still just said it and you still got my meaning."

The girl smirked. "You vaginaed the word."

"Yes, I'm vaginaish like that."

"Very vagina, uh… esque. Vaginaesque."

"Vaginalicious."

Anko laughed. "Shut up."

Ibiki shook his head at them, reaching for the kettle sitting in front of him and pouring some tea for himself. He had a feeling this was going to take a while and he was going to need some caffeine if they were really going to keep on talking about damn vaginas. Fucking teenagers.

"So, why the hell did you get thrown in here?" Anko asked, pulling her knees to her chest. "For being annoying?"

Uzumaki considered it thoughtfully. "For grocery shopping in the wrong place, I guess," he then said and pouted. "And they didn't even let me have my ramen."

"Those bastards," Anko said dryly.

Ibiki frowned. Uzumaki was still keeping up with the act? He couldn't know he was still under surveillance, could he? Well… a good shinobi would of course assume, but he wasn't entirely sure about Uzumaki being good in any way. The boy had moves, Ibiki had to hand him that – Anko had been trained by Orochimaru and yet the squinty brat had managed to dance around her, easy as anything. But any idiot could learn taijutsu – common sense was a whole different thing.

"It's an extremely serious issue," Uzumaki pouted. "I was hungry even before I came here. And they just… took it. And not only did they just take it but they taunted me with it for a while and never let me have any and just…" his lower lip actually quivered.

"You're shitting me, right?" Anko asked.

"Ramen is no joking matter," Uzumaki said and then fell to his side on the floor with a heavy sigh, curling into foetal position. "I'm hungryy…"

Anko and Uzumaki strayed away to talk about food, with argument about ramen versus dango brewing up between them. Ibiki ignored them, turning to the stack of paper work he had brought with him and idly opening the top folder. Currently the Uzumaki case was the priority issue, but that didn't make the older ongoing cases any less pressing.

There was, on average, dozen spy attempts every month. Half of those could be used as reverse spies, feeding false information back to their superiors, either thanks to their inexperience, incompetence or immorality. Quarter could be rebuked easily enough. One eighth could be neutralised without danger. And the last eighth… those were his jurisdiction. The ones that either ended up in T&Is tender mercies, or would, if they were ever captured.

Currently they had an Iwa kunoichi in the lock up, with an especially annoying Bloodline Limit that allowed the woman to turn her skin into stone. It made getting information out of her… difficult. They'd been reduced to using various forms of water torture on her, and even those had only minute effect.

"Seriously, though, what the fuck did you do?" Anko asked, and Ibiki looked up to see her motioning around the cell. "I mean, this is kinda high level security shit. They don't put you into one of these things unless they're actually fucking worried about you."

"Huh," Uzumaki said and tilted her head. "So they're worried about you, huh?" he asked. "Why?"

"Asked you first."

"Asked you second."

"Fuck you."

"Kinky."

Anko let out an annoyed growl and kicked at Uzumaki's face, only to have him duck his head back and avoid the blow. Which, of course, pissed the girl even more and she hopped to her hands and feet and lunged at him. Leaning in  a bit, Ibiki watched Uzumaki somehow roll out of the way, despite his bound hands and then the pair of them were at it again, Anko snarling the boy to sit still and Uzumaki breaking into laughter.

"Well this looks promising," A voice commented behind Ibiki and glancing over his shoulder he saw Shikaku entering with Yamanaka Inoichi.

"Yeah, it's a match made in heaven," Ibiki sighed, while in the cell Anko crashed against the corner and Uzumaki somehow managed to do a back flip out of the way. "Inoichi."

"Ibiki," the blond man nodded and peered through the seal wall. "So that's the Uzumaki?"

"So he claims," Ibiki said and stacked his folders, setting them aside. "I've had couple of Hyugas look him over and according to them he certainly seems to have chakra in the Uzumaki proportions – and with the Uzumaki level of simple weirdness. Aside from that, though…" he shrugged.

"Weirdness?" Inoichi asked.

"The chakra systems specialist confirmed the first statement?" Shikaku asked curiously.

"Couldn't put a name on it any better than Momoka could. There is just something weird about the brat's chakra," Ibiki said and then turned his eyes to the cell when there was a crash inside.

Anko had her thighs around Uzumaki's head and judging by the looks of him twisted upside down against a wall, she'd just thrown him. As the three of them watched, Anko threw her head back and laughed uproariously. "That's what you get, bitch!"

Uzumaki stared up at her with surprising calm, before blinking and looking down along her body. Then he blew a noisy, offensive raspberry against her bare inner thigh. Ibiki had never seen someone kicked into flight from such a position, but Anko managed it admirably.

"Um," Inoichi said.

"Yeah," Ibiki agreed and they watched in morbid fascination as the furious girl chased Uzumaki around the small cell, both of them literally jumping off the walls as they dashed about, Uzumaki cackling all the while and Anko spitting enough curses to fill a book.

"So," Shikaku said while Uzumaki ducked and weaved through Anko's spirited punches and kicks. "I got the reports from the Barrier Team and they have had no preaches. And I checked with the front gate and they've never seen Uzumaki. However he got into the village, he did so through one of the back doors up a wall."

"Which we already figured he did," Ibiki agreed, tilting his head a bit as Anko twisted her body and almost nailed Uzumaki across the throat with the back of her ankle.

"I also send a team to Kasen to see if the villagers there have seen Uzumaki," Shikaku continued, also tilting his head. "And couple of people did say they saw someone with cloak that matches the one Uzumaki was wearing. He passed through the village late last night, sold some mushrooms and wild vegetables to a grocer, and spent the night in the local in, before moving on, early today morning."

"How early?" Ibiki asked, frowning. It was, at average speed for a ninja, about four hour run from Kasen to Konoha and Uzumaki had been sighted before eight o'clock. How fast had the boy moved?

"No one knows, just that he was gone when the manager went to check on him," Shikaku shrugged. "I've send teams on to other towns he mentioned. If he really passed through them all, it means he came from north east. And Bouka puts him very close to the boarder of Land of Hot Water."

"Lot of Uzushio-nin probably went there," Ibiki said slowly, while taking his tea cup and having a thoughtful sip. "It was the closest boarder neighbour to Uzushio after Land of Fire."

"Not exactly allies, though, were they?" Inoichi said, folding his arms.

Ibiki snorted. Uzushio hadn't had many allies anywhere – Konoha had been pretty much their only one. Uzushio had been too small for most nations to bother making alliances with it, and too competent for anyone to ignore. Plus there was the mythical longevity of the Uzushio ninja, and the sheer hatred everyone else had for them because they didn't share the secret behind it.

It was the Uzushio sealing arts that had been the village's downfall in the end, of course.  It was Uzushio-nin who had developed the first storage scrolls, it was Uzushio-nin who had created the first explosive tags and it was Uzushio-nin who had developed a way of sealing opponent's chakra with the likes of Five Element Seal. Just shortly before their destruction, it was rumoured that the leader of the Uzushio had just developed a way to seal away a person's chakra – permanently.

No, they hadn't had many allies at all. In the end, even some people in Konoha had been a little scared of them.

Anko, it seemed, was done trying – and partially succeeding – to kick Uzumaki around the holding cell. She was panting heavily while the boy lay awkwardly against one of the walls, nudging his lower lip against his shoulder to wipe some of the blood away.

"So," she panted. "I'll show you mine if you show me yours?"

"Sure," Uzumaki said, licking at the spilt lip. "You go first."

"No, you go first."

"You're the one who wants to know."

"You're the one who's going to get his balls kicked back in if he continues to be an asshole."

Uzumaki considered that and then shrugged. "What was I supposed to show you again? Or, er, tell you?" He then asked.

She gritted her teeth. "Why the fuck were you put here, you idiot?"

"Oh. Right, that," Uzumaki said and Ibiki, Inoichi and Shikaku almost held their breath. "I got into the village without passport," Uzumaki said – and nothing else.

Anko waited. "Huh," she then said. "And?"

"And what?"

"And why did you get in to the village without a passport?!" she snapped.

"Because… I don't… have one?" the boy asked, squinting at her. "If I had one then I'd have brought it with me, but I don't so I couldn't."

"Well, why did you come here in the first place if you couldn't even fake a damn pass port? And what kind of Ninja doesn't even get a fake passport when he infiltrates a village?" Anko asked with frustrated disbelief.

Uzumaki tilted his head. "Whoever said I was a ninja?"

"You've got to be fucking shitting me," Anko said. "The fuck you are if you're not a ninja?"

The boy just shrugged and said nothing, shifting into a lotus position against the wall. "Showed you mine. It's your turn, Anko."

Ibiki frowned and shared a look with Shikaku. Inoichi was leaning closer, intent look on his face. "What do you think?" Ibiki asked, looking at the blond man.

Inoichi narrowed his eyes a little. "It's hard to say. I can't exactly do an in-depth screening of him, at this distance, without eye contact and through a wall, but… I don't think he is lying," the man said and glanced at him. "Though on other hand, he didn't actually say anything."

"He didn't," Shikaku agreed, folding his arms.

In the cell, Anko stared at the boy in frustration and then harrumphed. "My master betrayed Konoha," she muttered. "And he left me behind because apparently I was no fucking use to him and since I was the lucky person who just so happened to be closest to him for, oh, three, four years? The assholes here figure I know stuff. Secrets and shit. So here I am. In fucking lock up."

Uzumaki eyed her. "That sucks," he then said.

"It sucks ass," Anko agreed vehemently and leaned her head back. "And the assholes in T&I are being soft as fuck and they're not even using torture or anything. It's like they're gonna keep me here for fucking indefinitely, until I break out of sheer fucking boredom."

"Huh," Uzumaki said. He was quiet for a moment before offering. "I had a master too," he said. "He died about year ago."

"He a ninja?" Anko asked curiously while the three men behind the seal wall leaned in intently.

The boy shrugged. "A sage."

Chapter Text

  1. Chakra control

 

Naruto was still buzzing with the success of the Tajuu Kage Bunshin, the fight against Mizuki, and Iruka-sensei's approving smile when the masked guys descended on him. He had just enough time to let out a surprised yelp, before one of them clamped hand around the back of his neck, gripped hard enough to hurt – and then in stomach wrenching swirl of leaves, he was elsewhere.

In the top level of the Academy to precise, in the Hokage's office, surrounded by a group of very unhappy looking jounin and chuunin, some of them his teachers, others people he didn't know. And of course, right in front of the Third Hokage himself. Very unhappy looking Third Hokage.

"Down, you," the masked guy holding him said and pushed and Naruto crashed down to his knees on the wooden floor. The Scroll of Sealing was jerked away from his hand as another masked guy took it and carried it to the Hokage. While the Third turned to his desk with the scroll, laying it down and opening it just a little, Naruto struggled against the masked guy's hold – the asshole was still gripping the back of his neck and it hurt.

"What about Iruka-sensei?" he asked, looking around quickly. "He's hurt!"

"He's being taken care off, as is Mizuki," the Hokage said, prodding at the scroll for a moment before rolling it shut. He took out a piece of bright red string, and tied the scroll shut, before taking out a piece of paper and pressing it over the string. Even at a distance, Naruto could see the seals forming on it, as the Scroll of Sealing was, amusingly enough, sealed.

"Jounin, chuunin. You're dismissed," the Hokage said, turning to Naruto. He looked very serious and very severe and Naruto was now starting to have a bad feeling. "ANBU, to your stations."

And then Naruto was suddenly alone with this new scary and stern version of the Old Man. Iruka-sensei… had been pretty mad at him for stealing the scroll too, hadn't he? And Mizuki had made it seem like a big deal too – and it was, pretty much, with Tajuu Kage Bunshin being as awesome as it was. Who knew what sort of other stuff there was in that scroll! It had been kind of ridiculously easy to steal, if it was really that important, but…

He'd never seen the Old Man look so serious and it was seriously starting to freak him out now.

When Naruto made to open his mouth to explain, maybe even apologise, to sheepishly admit that he'd maybe been a bit stupid, the Hokage interrupted him. "Naruto," the Old Man said, his voice hard. "You've been taught how to report, correct? So, report what happened today."

"R-report?" Naruto asked, dismayed. He… hadn't really been paying that much attention to that class, because reporting was boring – it was just going over stuff in stupidly tight detail and it could be so, so boring, listening to his classmates go over stuff that'd happened. Mostly they'd report like the previous school days, and the litany of classes and class work and whatever, it was just…

"Report, now," the Hokage snapped. "And leave nothing out."

"Okay, yikes," Naruto muttered and shifted where he was sitting, on his knees and then straightened his back. What little he remembered from reporting was basically speak clear, don't mumble, don't um or hem or haw, and don't stop until you're done. There was also something about reporting times of events precisely, but whatever.

"Today around noon, I failed the genin exam," he started. He failed, like he had two times before, and he watched from the distance how the other's celebrated, like he had two times before. He'd then taken off, intending to head to the far-side academy training ground to beat up some dummies, when Mizuki had stopped him. They'd walk around the village for a while and then sat on a balcony, overlooking most of the village. And Mizuki had told him about the "secret graduation exam".

They'd talk a lot about orphans and Iruka-sensei, but that wasn't really relevant.

"He told me how to break into the Hokage Residence, where to find the Scroll of Sealing, and how to get out undetected," Naruto continued. It had been pretty easy to avoid the masked guys and only the Hokage had seen him and he'd been pretty easy to take out. The Old Man was so thin and frail in his old age that Oiroke no Jutsu took him out every time.

He continued, explaining how he'd taken the scroll to his favourite training spot, how he'd spend the rest of the night working with the first Jutsu on the scroll, trying to learn it, until Iruka-sensei came to yell at him – and then there'd been Mizuki.

"They argued, about me – Mizuki told me… told me about the Nine Tailed Demon Fox," Naruto continued, his speech stuttering a little – and he knew he'd ought to relay the dialogue as he had heard it, at the time, but he couldn't remember all the crap Mizuki had been spouting, he didn't really want to. It had explained lot of crap and he sure as hell hadn't been happy to hear it from Mizuki like that. "And then Mizuki came after me, Iruka-sensei protected me and –"

He had to stop there to take a breath, before he could continue. "M-Mizuki attacked me, he threw a Fuuton Shuriken at me, and I-Iruka-sensei took the hit," he continued awkwardly, his hands squeezing into fists in his lap. "H-he told me to run so I ran and I don't know what happened between them for a while there, but Mizuki caught up with me and I could hear them talking, and Iruka was down because he was hurt and Mizuki attacked him and so I attacked Mizuki and I used the Tajuu Kage Bunshin to beat the crap out of him."

Naruto stopped for a moment, not sure if that was all the Hokage wanted to hear. "And, um… Then Iruka-sensei gave me his headband, and said I'd graduated and then the masked guys came," Naruto finished. The weight of the head band was still a bit odd on his forehead – it was lighter than his goggles, but wider, and it felt warm and weirdly comforting.

The Hokage said nothing for a long while, just looked at him. "When you found out about Mizuki's motives," he said slowly, "and that he'd tricked you into stealing the Scroll, what did you think?"

"… that Mizuki was an asshole?" Naruto asked slowly. "And a… traitor? And I felt stupid because I'd been tricked. Obviously."

"Hm. And when he told you about the Nine Tailed demon," the Hokage pressed on. "What did you think then?"

Naruto swallowed and looked down, at his knees. "I thought… about all the time people had been mean to me," he admitted. "How no one adopted me, back when I was at the Orphanage. How it… made sense, if all the adults knew."

The Hokage nodded slowly and turned to the Scroll of Sealing. "Did you feel like Konoha had betrayed you?"

"Huh?" Naruto asked, but the Old Man didn't elaborate. "Um. No?"

"No?" the Old Man asked. "Not even for a moment?"

"No," Naruto answered, shaking his head, a little confused. "I mean, why would I? I felt a bit weird, because for a moment Mizuki made it sound like I was the Nine Tailed Demon, and not like a Jinchuuriki – I mean, we'd been taught this stuff in school and I liked those sort of lessons, about the stuff the First Hokage did, and the bit about the first Jinchuuriki was sort of big deal, so I sort of understood? I mean… Doesn't every big village have one?"

The Hokage arched a single eyebrow at that. "They do," he said slowly. "And that's what you thought?

"Well. Sorta kinda not really – but, I knew they're a thing, and I kind of wondered before why Konoha didn't have one and it made kinda sorta sense that I'd be it? I mean… I was born on the day of the Kyubi attack, now that I think about it. And with the way people treat me…" Naruto murmured thoughtfully. "Can't say ever thought about it before. And I'm not happy about it. But it makes sense."

The Old Man considered that and nodded. "Makes sense," he repeated. "So. Knowing that, knowing that Mizuki was a traitor and that the village had, supposedly, a reason to treat you the way you did, what did you think?"

"Um. About what?" Naruto asked, tilting his head to the side a bit. "About life sucking? Kinda knew it did, even before today."

Finally the Hokage's expression eased a little – the Old Man actually cracked a bit of smile at that. "No. well, yes, maybe, but that's not what I meant," he said and leaned against the desk where the Scroll of Sealing lay. "How did you feel about the village, after you found out about all of that?"

Naruto squinted a bit at that. "I don't know? The same I always felt, I guess. I mean, people are shitty and shitty things happen, but Konoha's my home?" he asked tentatively. "Was I supposed to change how I felt about that or something?"

"Didn't you?"

"Not really?"

"You don't sound sure."

Naruto scowled. "Because I got no idea what you're after here!" he said, throwing his hands up in frustration. "No, I didn't feel any different. This is my home. Was something some asshole told me supposed to change that? Screw that."

The Hokage smiled. "And it never occurred you, knowing that Konoha was so against you for something you couldn't even control, that you might be able to find home elsewhere?"

"Huh?" Naruto asked, freezing with a cold feeling curling inside him. "W-what is that supposed to mean? Are you gonna kick me out for this or something?"

"No," the Old Man actually laughed at him. He shook his head and then pushed off from the desk, walking to Naruto and crouching down in front of him. "You didn't think even for a moment that you'd rather live somewhere else, than Konoha? That you should leave, that you might find recognition elsewhere – find home, and people who'd appreciate you, elsewhere?"

"… no!" Naruto cried, horrified. "Why'd I want to leave Konoha? Why'd anyone want to leave Konoha, what kind of bullshit is that?!" he asked.

"Not even for a split of a second?"

"No!"

"Why not?"

"Why would I?!" Naruto asked, starting to feel a bit scared now. This was not the sort of conversation he'd been expecting and it was freaking him out. "It's Konoha! And I'm gonna be the Hokage one day and I can't do that if I leave this place! And what's the point of just quitting and leaving – so the people are shitty, I knew that before, and knowing why they're that way doesn't change anything! I'm still gonna prove myself and make people respect me and become the Hokage!"

The Old Man chuckled. "And that's it?" he asked.

"Yeah!" Naruto snapped, leaning back a little. "You're starting to freak me out, Old Man!"

The Hokage shook his head at that. "It would be relatively normal human reaction, for the sort of events you went through," he said and shifted so that he was sitting in lotus position in front of Naruto. "Konoha has, I'm afraid to say, never been quite kind towards you. Knowing that, knowing the reasons, many would've decided to call quits with the village, and seek a better place to live."

"And just quit? Tch, screw that," Naruto grumbled.

"You're extraordinarily headstrong, boy."

"And you are a creepy old man, Old Man."

The Hokage smiled and then took out his pipe and tobacco. While Naruto watched, he stuffed a bit of the dried leaves into the chamber and lit it with a finger tip. "Considering Mizuki's betrayal and your… efficiency in taking him down, I think I can let this pass without punishment," he said. "In future though, know that stealing from your village, no matter the reason, it's not permitted. No matter who says it is. It isn't."

"Yeah, okay," Naruto agreed, shifting where he sat so that he too was sitting in lotus, rather than seiza.

"And I think your field promotion can stand as well. You certainly proved yourself, there, even if the circumstances were what they were," the Hokage said and inhaled through the pipe thoughtfully. "Congratulations for becoming genin, Naruto."

Tentatively Naruto grinned at that before ducking his head sheepishly. "Thanks, Old Man."

The Hokage nodded. "Tell me about the Tajuu Kage Bunshin," he then said. "It's not a very easy skill to learn – and you, I've heard, don't have the chakra control for the regular Bunshin. How did you figure out Tajuu Kage Bunshin so quickly?"

Naruto considered that. "I don't know about fast," he murmured. "It took me almost four hours. And I don't know about chakra control either. I mean… Bunshin takes chakra control, sure, but Tajuu Kage Bunshin doesn't."

"It doesn't?" the Hokage asked idly.

"No. It had nothing about chakra control in it, actually," Naruto said, frowning a bit and folding his arms and thinking about it. "No it was just about the seals and where to push the chakra and that was pretty much it. With that, it was actually kind of easy. It's kinda awkward if every time I use it, thousand of me will appear, that can get really over crowded in tight places I guess, but it's still definitely easier than normal Bunshin."

"Is it?"

Naruto frowned, looking at him. "It's your scroll," he said suspiciously. "Don't you know it?"

"I do," the Old Man admitted. "But I want to hear what you think about it."

"Well… I don't really think anything. It's really cool skill," the newly made genin shrugged. "And really, really handy too. And I probably would've never been able to take Mizuki down without it. The hand seals were a bit weird and it took some effort to figure out where to push the chakra so that it actually worked… but after that it was pretty easy to do. So I'm really happy it was the first skill on the scroll."

The Hokage eyed him seriously. "How did you feel after you dispersed the clones?"

"… pretty damn good for kicking Mizuki's ass?" Naruto asked.

"And that's it?"

"Um. Yeah?" the boy frowned. "Why, is there something wrong with the skill?"

The Old Man considered it. "You could say that," he said slowly. "You see everybody who has ever attempted to perform the Tajuu Kage Bunshin no Jutsu… has died, instantly."

Naruto blinked and then his eyes widened. "…what?!"

"Every single one," the Hokage nodded, and glanced at the desk, and the Scroll of Sealing sitting on top of it. "Didn't you wonder why the Scroll was so easy to steal?"

"A… bit maybe?" the genin asked, a little concerned now.

"It's a trap – that there isn't the real Scroll of Sealing, but a carefully made duplicate, full of trap Jutsu," the Hokage said. "All of them cleverly disguised to seem like great skills, powerful arts – all of them instantly lethal to the user. And the scroll was intentionally placed where it was, in my house and more or less out in the open, to invite theft. If you had given the scroll to Mizuki and if he then would've tried, like you did, to learn the Tajuu Kage Bunshin, he probably would've died without ever actually managing to produce a single clone."

Naruto opened his mouth and just a strangled noise of disbelief came out.

The Hokage smiled. "There is a non-lethal version of the Tajuu Kage Bunshin – merely the Kage Bunshin, with which a ninja can produce up to a handful of clones, and it relatively safe for them to use. But anything more than a handful, and the ninja risks death by chakra exhaustion. Do you understand?"

"Nnnot really?" Naruto said, his heart pounding. "A-am I gonna die? I don't wanna die!"

"You're not going to die," the Hokage laughed. "If you were going to, you already would've. Calm down."

"B-but… if it's lethal, then why am I not dead?" Naruto demanded.

"Because you are a Jinchuuriki," the Old Man shrugged and pointed at him with his pipe. "Jinchuuriki by their very nature have large reserves of chakra – to counterbalance the demon's chakra inside them. On top of that, you are the Jinchuuriki of the Kyubi, the most powerful of all the tailed demons. You might very well be the only person in existence who could perform the Tajuu Kage Bunshin and not die."

Naruto scowled at that. "The Nine Tailed Demon saved me?"

"No. Being the Nine Tailed Demon's jailer saved you," the Hokage said. "You did not use the demon's chakra, rest assured. The entire village would know if you did – it has a flavour that is very hard to miss."

"Huh," Naruto muttered, touching his belly. "I… don't know if that's cool or not," he muttered.

The Hokage nodded. "It has its setbacks, of course," he said. "Bigger reserve of chakra is harder to control than smaller one, after all."

"… Kyubi's the reason why I can't do all the stuff everyone else does?!" Naruto asked, outraged. "That bastard!"

The Hokage laughed. "Well, in part," he said and reached to flick Naruto's forehead protector with his finger. "In part it is because you simply haven't trained enough. Harder to control doesn't mean impossible to control. All you need is concentration and practice."

"Che!" Naruto harrumphed, folding his arms and looking away.

The Hokage smiled at that. "Now, you understand why you can never tell anybody about the Tajuu Kage Bunshin, right?" he asked. "You can never teach this skill to anybody. If you do, you doom them to die."

"Yeah. I won't," Naruto said, sighing. Not that he knew anyone who would want to learn anything from him anyway.

"And you can never tell anyone how you learned it, either. The trap of the Scroll of Sealing only works as long as people think it is the real thing," the Hokage added. "And… you understand that you can never tell anybody about the Kyubi either, right?"

Naruto nodded. "The adults know, though, don't they?" he asked.

"Yes, but they don't know that you know, and it might be best to keep it that way," the Hokage said. "Well, Iruka and Mizuki know, of course, but Iruka will know better than to spread it around and Mizuki will never get a chance to do so."

"What'll happen to him anyway, to Mizuki?"

The Hokage hesitated and then sighed. "He will be interrogated and, depending what comes up, he will be either imprisoned or executed. Most likely the latter," he said and lifted his pipe to his lips. "Betrayal is no small thing. The punishment has to be severe."

"Yeah," the genin murmured, looking down. The bastard deserved it, for hurting Iruka-sensei. Still… it felt kind of awful. Mizuki had been, for a long while, one of his favourite teachers. It was all so… weird. "Serves him right," he muttered, and forced himself to believe it.

The Old Man hummed in agreement and inhaled through the pipe, blowing out a lazy smoke ring. He eyed it for a while before looking at Naruto. "Now, let's set that aside," he said. "And move on to what happens next. You failed the regular exam and gained a field promotion. A little unorthodox, but it puts you in the graduating class."

"Yeah!" Naruto said, fist pumping with glee. "I'll get put into three man team under a jounin sensei, right? And we'll start doing missions!"

"Well…" the Hokage said, stretching the word out. "That could happen but…"

"But what? Oh man, don't tell me I'm too late and the teams' already been made?!"

"They haven't been – the final team selection won't be until next week, rest assured. But there is another option I'd like to offer you, which you'd might want to consider," the Hokage said looking at him thoughtfully.

"Well? Spit it out!" Naruto said when the Old Man didn't continue.

"Occasionally it happens that certain ninja take disciples, rather than students," the Hokage said slowly. "A three man team under jounin is the standard, of course, but it is a very generic form of tutelage for the genin in question – mostly just a type of beginner course for rookie genin. The jounin teaches them the basics of team work, of missions, some low level skills, that sort of thing, but rarely anything specified. Usually those sorts of teams are broken up the moment the genin become chuunin, and the chuunin move onto follow whatever interests them in their career, or they get assigned to different parts of the shinobi forces."

"Yeeah, aaand?" Naruto asked, leaning in impatiently

"A disciple would have it very differently. When a ninja takes a disciple, it is not merely to teach them how to be shinobi – but to pass on their knowledge onto that disciple, their skills, their style of fighting, and so on," the Hokage said, inhaling slowly through the pipe again. "It is very rare, seeing that most of the shinobi in Konoha are from clans, and they learn their clan jutsu from their elders. But it happens occasionally when a shinobi, usually one with certain special skill set, has no family or suitable heirs. They take someone with potential outside their immediate circle and that person becomes, in sense, their heir."

"Uhhuh," Naruto said. "And?"

The Hokage smiled, giving him a meaningful look. "How would you like to become my disciple, Naruto?"

Naruto's eyes shot wide open. "What?"

"While it's true that I come from a clan too, the Sarutobi Clan is not one with a clan jutsu, not really – the only thing we pass on, is our summoning contract," the Old Man said thoughtfully. "I have my own ways of fighting, my own Nindo, and none of them have quite the right potential to really follow in my footsteps. And you proved tonight that you… might very well have that potential."

Naruto let out a choked sound at that.

"Of course, being a student of a specific ninja is very different and can be harder than being part of a three man team," the Hokage continued. "A disciple isn't quite free to form their own way of fighting or skill set, by default, they are meant to adopt their master's ways. And as my disciple you would have it harder still. You wouldn't be doing missions like your peers – mostly, you'd be here, working largely as my assistant," he motioned around them. "And I'd put you through quite the wringer too."

"Y-your student?!" Naruto finally managed to choke out. Despite all the jokes and jabs he made at the Old Man, he still wasn't exactly blind to what the Old Man was. He was the Hokage, the strongest ninja in Konoha, one of the strongest ninja in the world. Hell, they called the Old Man the God of Shinobi in lot of the books they'd have to read in class! And for a damn good reason too!

The Old Man looked at him with a smile. "Truth to the matter is… I'm not getting any younger," he said and Naruto almost laughed hysterically at that. Judging by his expression, the Hokage didn't miss that. "Konoha could benefit having someone with my skill set, even after I'm gone," he continued. "I didn't think that I'd ever find a person who'd even be able to learn what I know, especially with the limitations my age makes. Not before tonight."

"Because I learned the Tajuu Kage Bunshin?" Naruto asked, wide eyed.

"Yes," the Old Man said, nodding. "With that, you can learn everything I can teach you in matter of few years. That is, if you're willing."

Naruto swallowed. To be the Hokage's disciple, that was… awe striking idea. Especially for a dead last like him. But in the same time. "I… wouldn't be in a team like everyone else? What about becoming chuunin and jounin and stuff like that?" Naruto asked slowly.

"You could do that, later," Hokage said. "My tutelage would take the absolute priority for at least couple of years. You wouldn't have the time for anything, but to learning."

Naruto frowned and looked down. He had a feeling that this wasn't decision he could made just like that – it was a huge ass deal, to become someone's apprentice. Even he knew that. As Hokage's personal, private student, he'd get some recognition, but…

He'd kind of looked forward to being put in a team. Team mates usually became friends, after all, close friends. He'd… he'd kind of wanted that.

"I can give you few days to think it over," the Old Man said kindly and Naruto looked up. "There's still a bit of time, you don't have to make the decision right now, if you're conflicted. I'm going to have to ask you keep it secret until you do make your mind, however."

"Okay. Um. Can I talk to Iruka-sensei about it?" Naruto asked. He really, really needed some advice here. "He can keep it secret."

The Old Man considered it and nodded. "But only to him," he said and shifted to his feet. "I'll wait for your answer within three days, alright? And Naruto?"

"Yeah?"

The Hokage smiled. "No matter what you choose, I'm sure you will be a great ninja."

 

  1. Fly Away

 

In the end the wound was pretty shallow. Iruka was in and out of the hospital inside an hour, with only a tender spot and ruined vest and shirt to remind him that he'd came to very close to dying that night. There's be a scar, of course, and there'd be aching and back pains and he'd probably feel the weather on the back of his ribcage from here on out. There'd be consequences, even healing didn't safe him from the mortality of his own body. Right then, though, he just felt relieved.

Because outside the hospital, Naruto stood waiting for him, awkward and fidgety and nervous, but free. So whatever consequences the night had, they couldn't be too bad. Naruto was still free to walk around, he was even still wearing the headband, and it didn't look like he had been punished. Reprimanded maybe, judging by the uneasy expression, but not punished. And with the headband still there, Hokage hadn't retracted the field promotion like Iruka had feared he might.

"Hey, Naruto," Iruka said, walking towards him, feeling unnervingly open with the hole in the back of his uniform – he felt vulnerable there, especially considering the time. "Are you okay?"

"I should be asking you that," Naruto said, almost vibrating with barely contained energy – and then he had already dashed past Iruka, to check his back. Iruka let him look, holding his hands to his side to open the rip in his uniform wider.

"It's all patched up," he assured the boy when Naruto let out a loud sigh of relief. "Couple nights worth of rest and I'm as good as new."

"Good, that's… that's good," Naruto nodded and relaxed a little.

Iruka smiled, reaching out and ruffling the boy's hair. "Nice of you to worry for me," he said. "But speaking of nights," he said, pointing upwards, and to the starry sky above them, the almost full moon. It was actually starting to get light out, and it was less late than it was early. "It's been an exciting one and I for one am about ready to wind down for the day. How about you?"

"Oh, yeah, I guess," Naruto said, looking guilty and then slumping down in disappointment. "Can I, um. There's something I need to, I was hoping to talk about, um… tomorrow, maybe?" he asked, glancing up hopefully.

Iruka considered that, and Naruto's expression. He was about dead on his feet; he didn't have Naruto's endless well of energy and the injury had taken its toll on him. He'd rather curl up in bed and sleep at least for twelve hours straight. For a moment he was actually tempted.

"Come on," Iruka said instead, patting the boy's shoulder. "You must be hungry. I'll treat you to a cup of ramen."

"I don't think anything's open right now," Naruto said, but bounced to his side.

"Well then, I'll treat you from my own stores. Come on."

Thankfully he didn't live too far away and could make his way there without stumbling or falling down in a faint or anything like that. Judging by the way Naruto kept glancing at him and stuck to his side, he probably didn't look any better than he felt, but the boy didn't say anything about it, just followed him up the apartment stairwell to the sixth floor apartment, where Iruka motioned him to sit where ever while he went to fix them both a cup of instant ramen.

"Did the scroll get put away safely?" Iruka asked, more to ease Naruto into the conversation than because he was curious – he knew it would've been locked up by now, being as important as it was.

"Yeah, the Old Man sealed it up and probably took it back home," Naruto said, sitting by the kotatsu and leaning his elbows on the table. "I can't talk to anyone about it, apparently. Except you and the Old Man – it's all hush hush."

"As it should be," Iruka agreed and carried the noodle cups to the table, sitting down himself with a sigh. He wasn't hungry in the least but he could make pretence of eating for a while and then Naruto could have his cup too. Gods knew the boy wouldn't mind extra ramen. "That scroll is very valuable and what happened is pretty much equivalent to B, maybe even A rank mission, and those tend to be classified."

"Yeah," Naruto nodded, pulling his cup closer and staring at it for a while, biting his lip.

Iruka eyed him for a moment. While he could believe that this sort of thing could be enough to bring seriousness out of even someone like Naruto, this was a bit too much. "Did something happen?" he asked, frowning. Had Naruto been punished after all?

"Dunno?" Naruto answered and leaned back a little. "Um. I had to give report to the Old Man about what happened, kinda screwed that up a bit. Then he asked me bunch of weird questions about what I thought and felt and crap. Then we talked about the Tajuu Kage Bunshin no Jutsu – which, turns out, is kinda dangerous? And I can only do it because I'm a Jinchuuriki? And uh…"

Iruka waited but Naruto just trailed off there. "So," he said. "You know the name for it. I guess you did listen during the history lessons after all. I wondered."

"Hell yeah I did," Naruto said, brightening up a bit. "First Hokage was awesome. I mean, founding the village and putting all sorts of clans together and he was super strong, has to be, if he captured all those tailed beasts!"

Iruka smiled a little at that. Of course Naruto would be interested in the strongest figures in history. "So, what do you think about it?" he asked carefully. "About you being a Jinchuuriki?"

Naruto frowned a bit at that and then shrugged. "I guess someone has to be," he muttered and peeled back the lid of the ramen cup. "And it's probably better that the Kyubi is in me, rather than, you know… running around, killing people."

"That's a very mature thing to say," Iruka noted.

"Not really. It's just nicer to think it that way, than like how Mizuki put it," Naruto mumbled with a frown. "Or how the people seem to think it," he added and then looked up. "But you don't think that way, do you?"

"I don't," the chuunin said with a smile and opened his ramen cup as well. "I have no fondness for the Kyubi, the destruction it caused, the deaths… but you're not the Kyubi. Only its jailer," he said, poking the ramen with his chopsticks. It looked so unappetising right now, with his stomach still roiling with the descend from adrenaline high. The topic of discussion didn't really help. "Jinchuuriki are not the beasts they contain. People who think they are, are idiots."

Naruto cracked a grin at that, ducking his head a bit in sheepish delight. Then hit faded into a smile. "Apparently as a Jinchuuriki I'm pretty awesome," he said. "I got tons of chakra and stuff. That's what the Old Man said, anyway – because Kyubi is in me, I sort of counterbalance it by being awesome all by myself."

"I bet you do," Iruka smiled back. Not that he knew much about how Jinchuuriki really worked – only about as much as everyone else knew. But Jinchuuriki were historically strong people, as far as he knew. It made sense, that there'd be side effects to having a demon inside you. It didn't make the whole thing any more pleasant to think about, but it was just right that Naruto got some benefits out of his otherwise rather bad situation.

"It's because of that that I could do Tajuu Kage Bunshin at all," Naruto said. "And I can't teach it to anybody because they couldn't be able to do it, without dying."

Iruka froze at that. "Without dying?" he asked sharply.

"Yeah. Because it takes tons of chakra," Naruto shrugged. "And it doesn't even specify how much you need to put in it. I kind of wondered why there wasn't anything about chakra control in it because that's on freaking everything, you need to have this and this level of chakra control to perform this and this jutsu, blaa blaa blaa, but the Tajuu Kage Bunshin didn't have anything like that. I guess it just automatically takes as much as it needs. And I guess that's what makes it dangerous, because you can't really control how much it takes."

"Hmmm… yes, that would be dangerous," the chuunin said, and frowned. "How did you feel using it?"

"Fine, just fine," Naruto shrugged. "But, you know. Jinchuuriki, so lots of chakra."

Iruka nodded slowly, still eying the boy. "Probably better that you don't over use it, anyway," he said then. "Save it for serious situations."

"Yeah. It's kinda awkward anyway, if it always ends up with thousand of me," the genin grinned. "Imagine using it in middle of Konoha. I'd end up causing property damage out of sheer peer pressure."

"Nice," Iruka said, shaking his head at the pun. "Eat your ramen, you brat."

Naruto cackled and turned to his cup, slurping the noodles down happily. Iruka watched him for a moment and smiled, turning to his own food. Well, what had happened didn't seem to have affected the boy too badly, if he could still make jokes and laugh. That was good.

First brush with real action could break some inexperienced ninja, after all. And with Mizuki being a teacher and all…

Iruka really didn't want to think about that, though. About his friend suddenly coming out as a traitor. That was too much, too soon, and he just… didn't want to think about it just yet.

Naruto finished his cup at neck breaking speed, of course, and once he was done Iruka pushed his own more or less untouched cup at him without a word. With a delighted grin, Naruto dealt away with that too before letting out a happy, loud burp and falling backwards to lay on his back on the floor.

"That hit the spot. Thank you, Iruka-sensei!"

"You're welcome," Iruka snorted, stacking the empty cups and dropping the chopsticks in them. "So, did something else happen after the ANBU took you?"

"Mm yeah, kinda," Naruto said and the happy look faded into a frown. "Um. What'd you think about disciples? Like… you know, apprentices under other ninja?"

Iruka frowned. "Disciples? Where'd this come from?" he asked, confused.

Naruto frowned, pursing his lips. "The Hokage told me that, um. I can become part of three man team, like normal, or I could, well. Be an apprentice instead?" he scratched at his nose in confused seriousness. "Because apparently that I could learn the Tajuu Kage Bunshin at all and that I did it so fast and all, that's pretty special? And I have, um… potential?"

Iruka blinked. "Yes," he said slowly. "I suppose you do, if the skill is so hard – and it's from the Scroll of Sealing too, which makes it by default a very high level skill…" he trailed off, thinking about it. Naruto was perhaps the very last person he could imagine as someone's apprentice. The boy was, well… very loud, very obvious, he had concentration and attention problems, he didn't take half of his school work seriously and mostly skipped the other half, and he was very much an individual. Not to mention that the idea of Naruto following someone's lead like that? Only way Iruka could imagine it was with lot of kicking and screaming from Naruto's part.

But then again… Naruto had never had much cause to be serious. For all that they'd always scream at the boy for his ways, telling him to pay attention, be serious, mind his manners… in the end, they were just his teachers. And in the end, Naruto had always ended up going to empty house, alone, in silence. Iruka, having had to do the same since the Kyubi Attack, could certainly sympathise with the need of being loud, in face of that. The silence, it could grate so badly.

Maybe, with a special sort of teacher, with actual master… Naruto could get the motivation to actually, finally try. Apprenticeship implied a higher level of care and concern on the teacher's part after all. Naruto would get more individual attention and training than he'd ever get in a three man team and who knew, maybe that was precisely what Naruto needed. The kid was after all, only twelve. He could change – no, he would change, that was just part of life.

And with Kyubi, with the chakra of a Jinchuuriki…

"Well, there are benefits to being an apprentice. I can't say from personal experience, of course, I was never anyone's apprentice," Iruka said thoughtfully. "But there is no arguing the fact that apprentices tend to get better training, since they tend to have their teacher's undivided attention. In three man team, that wouldn't quite be possible, not without favouritism. Plus, the genin of a three man team, they tend to be in a sort of limbo state."

"Huh?" Naruto asked, frowning.

Iruka shrugged. "Very few genin from that sort of team find their path as a ninja, sort of speak. Most ninja have their own specification, their own skill set – and it's very hard to dedicate yourself to any sort of specific training, when you're in a team with two other genin and a jounin sensei that probably is in no way inclined towards whatever you want to specialise in. Genin teams, I'm sorry to say, tend to be hit and miss a lot of the time, and the genin either end up with no definite skills, or they end up very generic skill set."

"The Old Man said something like that too. And that three man teams like that tend to get broken when the genin become chuunin," the boy murmured.

"They do, eighty percent of the time," Iruka agreed – and somewhere inside him, he was maybe a bit bitter about that himself. His team, when he had been a genin, had been generic to the point of being obscure and their teacher had had no interest in any sort of one-on-one training. What little skills Iruka had mastered, he had learned later, once he had became a chuunin and had greater freedom with his time.

"Apprentice or disciple has it very different, though," Iruka said. "Right from the start you'd know what the goal is, what the expertise you will be learning, will be. All you have to do is look at your master and what they are able to do, because their intention is to make you into what they are. The advantages are obvious, especially if your master is a particularly good one. It would however mean largely that you wouldn't be able to develop your own way of Ninja."

"Yeah, because I'd be adopting theirs," Naruto said, frowning.

"Well… apprentice doesn't have to adopt his masters views of the world, or their ethics – though the way I figure it happens is that master only approaches a potential disciple is that said potential disciple already shares some of their traits," Iruka said, shrugging. "What use is there trying to train someone who's complete opposite, after all."

He looked at the boy thoughtfully. "So, can I ask who offered the apprenticeship?" he asked curiously. There were lot of ninja in Konoha who could have apprentice – who themselves were in that category of specialised ninja. But he couldn't quite think of anyone who might approach Naruto on the matter. And considering that the events of the night were already classified, it would almost have to be an ANBU…

"I already said who it was," Naruto said, frowning.

"Do you didn't," Iruka argued.

"No, I did. It's was the Old Man Hokage."

"Yes, he offered it, but who's going to be your master?" Iruka asked, his eyebrows lifting.

"The Ho-ka-ge," Naruto said slowly and plainly.

"But who – no. wait. The Hokage?" Iruka asked with disbelief.

"Yeah, the Hokage. The Third Hokage, the Great Old Man, the God of Shinobi, the dude with the face on the cliff wall," Naruto nodded.

Iruka stared at him silently for a moment. "The Hokage offered apprenticeship to you?!" he choked out. "As in, you'd become the disciple of Sarutobi Hiruzen?!"

"Yeah," Naruto said and sat up with a grunt and giving him a look. "I told you he did."

"Yeah, but, you –" Iruka sputtered and then just stared at the boy. "Oh my god, I'm going to faint," he murmured, looking away and touching his forehead – and then his mind caught up with him. Not that Naruto had been offered Apprenticeship under the Hokage – which was, yes, very shocking… but that the Hokage wanted to take an apprentice. Actually, disciple would be a more accurate term here, wouldn't it? Because learning under the Third Hokage, the Professor

"Um," he said, blinking and then looking at Naruto in almost wonder. "W-what are you going to do?"

"I don't know," Naruto admitted, looking down. "I've never thought about stuff like this. I figured if I ever made it to genin, I'd get put into a three man team, same as everybody, and I was kind of looking forward to that, to having team mates and stuff, but… This is like huge deal, isn't it?"

"It is very, very huge deal, yes," Iruka said, nodding wildly.

"And to be the Hokage's student, that's a huge deal too," the genin murmured and folded his arms. Then he looked up. "What would you do, Iruka-sensei?"

"Me?" Iruka choked out. "I-if I was ever offered the chance, I'd take it, immediately." But of course someone like him wouldn't be. "To learn under the Third Hokage… no, under Sarutobi Hiruzen, that is… not just one of the greatest honours I could imagine, but…" he couldn't even put it into words. The sheer massiveness of the concept.

He tried anyway, because Naruto was frowning at him. "You do know that our Hokage is one of the most knowledgeable people on the planet, right?" Iruka asked. "He is called the God of Shinobi for a damn good reason, and his strength, as great as that is, is only small part of that. The Hokage has mastered all the elements, he knows more ninjutsu than anyone can count and he is master of sealing, of summoning, of taijutsu, of many, many other fields. Add into that the keen strategic sense and intelligence and the breadth of general knowledge, it is… mind blowing.

"And the idea," Iruka continued. "That he thinks there is someone, not just willing, but capable of inheriting all of that? It is mind-blowing, Naruto. Because for all the years he's been Hokage, all the years he's been a shinobi, he's never had an apprentice. Students, yes, he's had many students, he'd even lead a three man team himself, all of whom went onto become incredible ninja. But an apprentice?"

"Really, really huge deal, huh?" Naruto murmured.

"Really, really," Iruka agreed and just barely managed to keep himself from imploring that Naruto, for the good of the village if not for any other reason, take the offer. Konoha had all but resigned itself to losing all that vastness of knowledge when the time came and being lesser for it. And now there was suddenly this person, this most unlikely of individuals, who might be able to take all that on himself and ensure it for the future generations…

Naruto was hesitating though, and Iruka couldn't pressure him. It really took all his mental control not to try and lure Naruto in it with promises that he'd become great shinobi, that it would be great first step on achieving his dream of becoming the Hokage. It was Naruto's choice after all.

"It's a great commitment," Iruka said instead. "And it would probably be very hard. Any apprentice would be, and one of that calibre, well. I can't imagine it being anything but extremely hard work, for years and years."

"Years and years," Naruto repeated. "Yeah. And I wouldn't be doing any missions or anything. I'd just be studying. That'd be boring."

"Studying very great things," Iruka had to interject, and then he winced guiltily at himself. "You can't deny that under the Hokage you'd learn many things you could never learn anywhere else."

"Hmm…" Naruto scowled.

"I guess it comes down to how you want to learn. Under one man, learning his skills – or in a team where, truth be told, you might have to learn everything on your own," Iruka said. "Which is not a bad thing, but… well; both paths have their potential and their difficulties."

"Yeah," Naruto hummed and then sighed. "With a team I got chances being put in team with people I can't stand and sensei who doesn't give a shit," he said and looked at Iruka. "Do you know who I'd be put in with?"

Iruka smiled at that. "Sorry, can't tell you that," he said, though he was tempted because Naruto as the dead last of his class, would automatically be put into the same team as the best of the class, Uchiha Sasuke. And he was very aware of how Naruto detested Uchiha Sasuke for being the best and the most popular in their year.

Naruto sighed and folded his arms, his face scrunching up in concentration. "How do you think people would react if I did become the Hokage's disciple?" he asked. "You know, with… with Kyubi and all."

"There would be some anger, some resentment, bitterness – I can't deny that. Some, those who really understand the situation, however… I think they'd be about as excited about the concept of the Hokage taking a student as I am. But in the end, it's not their, or our, choice to make," Iruka said. "And if the Hokage wants you, he has a damn good reason, and that will always weigh much more, than what anyone else can say about it."

Naruto stared at him silently, searchingly for a moment and then nodded his head.

"Before you make your choice, though, you need to realise something, Naruto," Iruka said, leaning in and looking the boy seriously. "Because it's the Hokage, it will be more than just an apprenticeship. The Hokage is more than just any shinobi, after all. There will be politics involved, no matter how you slice it."

"… politics?" Naruto asked with dismay.

"He is the leader of our village, after all. There will always be politics," Iruka nodded seriously. "Some of that might be you sitting by, watching important meetings. Some of it might be you being approached by someone with a bribe. You will by default become the closest person to our Kage, and people will try to exploit that. They might ask you to spy on the Hokage, or put a suggestion in his ear, or even try and kill him, things like that. Or they might just want to kill you, to prevent the Third's knowledge from being passed on, to prevent the rise of another great shinobi like him."

Naruto swallowed, his face stricken and Iruka smiled grimly. "It is, like said, a huge thing," the chuunin said. "Maybe bigger than you realise."

"Yeah," Naruto murmured and frowned, looking down at his hands. "And he asked me. Do you… do you think I could do it? Be like him?"

"I don't know. But at this point what I think doesn't matter. The Hokage thinks you could. And he knows whole lot more than I do," Iruka laughed.

Naruto nodded, and squeezed his hands into fists. When he looked up he was smiling. "People are idiots if they think they could bribe me to do anything for them," he said and punched the air. "I'm gonna be the greatest disciple ever and there's nothing anyone can do about that! Hell yeah!"

Iruka let out a breath at that and leaned back, just looking at the kid across him. Naruto in his awkward orange jumpsuit and his wild hair, his wide grin and whisker marks. He didn't really look like much – he looked a little like a street rat really. Too wild and uncontrolled, too loud and bad mannered. Too rough.

Now, suddenly… he was the disciple of their Hokage.

It would be a sight worthy of seeing, watching what would become of Uzumaki Naruto from then on.

Chapter Text

  1. ownership.

 

Ever since he can remember, Naruto has had his own space. Two meters in each direction of empty space, where ever he goes. Be it on busy street, at the store, in the academy, there is always two meters of empty space all around him, that no one, not even the teachers, crosses. It's his sphere, his influence, his territory, and that's just when he doesn't concentrate onto it.

And when anything, anything at all, slips inside it, it becomes his for as long as it stays there. Not necessarily because he himself decides that – no, more because everyone else, no matter who or where, decides to relinquish all claim instantly.

It starts in the orphanage, where the care takers keep him in one single empty room when ever they can, and when they can't, they make sure the other kids stay far away. Unusually all toys are packed up and kept hidden when he's around and when they aren't, they suddenly become his. No matter who played with them, or what they were playing, or if that toy belonged to the orphanage or was one of those rare precious things the kids actually brought with themselves… it doesn't matter.

If by any stroke of luck it lands near enough Naruto, no one else wants it anymore.

For a long while he thinks it's because no one likes him – because no one does. Neither the caretakers or the rare ninja who visit, or the kids. No one plays with him, which is sad, but no one fights him either, which he decides is good. He sees lot of fighting through the windows of his empty room, and it doesn't look like much fun, to be showed around, punched – or doing the shoving or the punching. He'd much rather play nicely, but of course he can't.

It isn't until he's six and starts figuring things out that he realises that it's not just him. Some of the adults have empty space too. It's not usually much – half a meter most of the time. Personal space is what they call it, and at first it looks like everyone has it – but some people have it stronger. Some people, like him, have that it so strong that people actively back away when they get too clear, rather than risk crossing over.

Old man Hokage, who occasionally visits and brings toys and sweets, has almost half as big empty space as Naruto does, all the time – so he's the one Naruto asks about it. The old man listens to him seriously, from three meters away, and crouches down to get to his eye level.

"There are two types of people," the old man says. "There are those who take care of people. And then there are those who are taken care of. You are the first sort."

"I'm not," Naruto answers. "I don't take care of anyone. The caretakers take care of me!"

He's too young then to understand the concept, or why the Hokage is so amused and, at the same time, so uncomfortable and maybe even horrified by it. But he gets the gist of it. Two types of people, those with the empty space, and those without. The sort with empty space are rarer – he's the only kid like that in the orphanage, and even with adults it seems rare. The people with empty spaces don't like to get too close to each other – which is why there is always at least that three meters between Naruto and the old man Hokage. And when someone without the space gets inside it…

They sort of belong to the person who owns the space. And that's why no one gets near and why the adults keep the kids away from Naruto – because maybe belonging to someone is weird? Maybe because they're in orphanage and, being orphans, they're not supposed to belong to anyone? Because if they do, then the moms and dads that come to see if there'd be a kid that could be theirs, might not want to adopt them?

He doesn't get it then, not fully, but he takes bit of comfort in the fact that it's because of the empty space and not because people don't like him. From then on he makes sure not to pick up anything that someone accidentally throws his way, and makes sure to move away from the thing, the toy or ball or cloth, so that the others can retrieve it. Sometimes they do – sometimes they don't.

When Naruto's seven, a girl lands in his space. The others are playing too rough too close and she trips, taking couple faltering steps his way and then she's just there. And Naruto can feel her inside his skin, and he knows her – and she's frozen there, quivering like the orphanage pet, Jiro-bunny, that froze just like that after running away and being caught. Frozen in terror.

"Get away, get away!" the caretakers roar at him and he stumbles back and the moment the girl is out of his sphere, she begins crying, loud and wretched, like she's hurting really bad. She's still crying when they carry her away, one of them covering her eyes like that might stop her crying and Naruto is backed into the corner of the playing ground by the angry, furious caretakers.

Like he had made her cry, somehow. Made her hurt.

Later that day, the Hokage comes to Naruto who's still outside because they don't want to let him in. "Would you like a home of your own, Naruto?" he asks. "There's a house set aside for you. It has two rooms and you'd have your own bathroom and could decorate it however you like."

 Naruto is too tired and hungry and sad by that point, and he's still not sure what actually happened there, but he's starting to figure out. So he just nods, even though he can already tell it will mean not just having two meters of empty space but being completely, utterly alone, all the time. "Will she be okay?"

"She will," the Hokage promises. "In time, she will."

Naruto doesn't ask anything more. Instead he goes with the old man – waking three meters behind him – all the way to his new home. It is an actual house too, and not just a room in house with multiple stories. No, it has just one floor, with two rooms and kitchen and bathroom - and has lot of empty space, it's very own yard, wrapped in high wooden fence. The fence is, Naruto notices, new and at least two meters away from the house in each direction.

"You'll understand all of this when you're a little older," the old man Hokage promises, sadly, stiffly. "Hopefully not in couple more years at least, but eventually… you'll understand."

Things get quieter and lonelier after that. At first he's not supposed to leave the house at all and a ninja delivers all of Naruto's groceries to his porch, never getting inside the house and only staying only long enough to set the groceries down and leave – which, for a ninja, isn't a very long time at all. Naruto is pretty lonely, but he's been lonely before and he can't forget the way the girl screamed, so he concentrates onto other things – like to working the stove and cooking the food. He burns it a lot, and his own hands too, and it distracts him.

But when he goes out, no one actually stops him. Because, after all, no one wants to get near to him, not even here, outside the orphanage. He can leave the yard and go to the street and even walk to near by playing ground, and no one ever steps in to stop him, or indeed anywhere near him. And even here, in this scary lonely world outside, when ever something lands in his feet, it becomes his.

He abuses it once, when he's eight years old and people stop delivering his food. Instead he gets an allowance now and has to buy it himself and he's used up all his money for that week. He's eaten all the food too, and he's hungry and he just wants something to eat, to take the hollow pain from his belly. So he goes to the nearest grocery store, takes armful of whatever comes across him, and just walks out. The store keeper screams furiously after him, even throws a few spoiled goods his way – but doesn't come closer than that two meters of empty space.

Old man Hokage gives him such a lecture for it, which is why Naruto doesn't try it again. But no one tries to take the goods back. They don't even try to make him pay for them, not even the Hokage. Of course not.

That year, he figures it out. That year when he enters the ninja academy – and sees it happen. Sees a kid go from having no space, to suddenly growing space. Hears them talking about it, about manifesting. Hears about the Dominants and the Submissives. Hears about how, one day, everyone is supposed to pair up and until they do, the Dominants Reach and the Submissives Beckon.

Hinata Huyga is the first Submissive Naruto witnesses manifesting and for the whole day he stares at her in sort of befuddled amazement. Her Beckoning is the opposite of his empty space – where he pushes people away, she invites them in and he wants to go to her so badly. Even at a distance, she feels warm and soft and nice and he wants to reach for her, to keep her near and bask in her glow. He almost approaches her. Almost.

An elder boy does before he can, sauntering over to Hinata and bending down on her, leering at her. She folds into herself, she looks terrified, and even after the teacher's have all but killed the elder boy as punishment, she's still quivering in fear.

Besides, even while everyone else keeps at least that usual distance to him, Hinata now all but flees from him, sitting in the other end of the class, running to the other end of the school yard, hiding behind walls and pillars and bushes if there's nothing else. She is absolutely, utterly terrified of him, so much so that when he just looks at her, she breaks into tears.

As does pretty much every other Submissive in the academy.

And when he actively tries to Reach, and the empty space around him flexes and expands… well. He tried it couple of times, and he almost made even the Dominants cry. The teachers hadn't been happy. And the parents? They wanted to lynch him. He's now under the threat of severe, severe punishment, if he ever tries again.

"Is there something wrong with me?" Naruto asks finally, while the empty space around him expands even more. He sits in the back of the class, in the corner, and all the back seats are empty because everyone else packs up into the front. People go around classrooms to avoid walking near him in the corridors. Outside, he can vacate almost the entire yard by making appearance. And it's not even just the young Submissives anymore, he finds, but adults too. Even the paired ones. They all back away, fast, when he comes near.

"There's nothing wrong with you," the Hokage answers. "You're just very strong. You manifested very early too. You must've noticed the other boys in your class haven't manifested yet?"

Naruto had. Some of the girls had manifested as Dominants – Sakura had almost a half a meter of space around her! But none of the boys had manifested, not even Sasuke and he was the strongest student in their class. All the boys were furiously jealous of him because of that – and, of course, they never talked to him because of it. He was pretty used to it by now, though.

"Boys reach puberty later than girls. They'll start manifesting in couple of years. You, though, manifested before you knew how to walk," the Hokage said and crouched down, to get to his eyelevel. "That sort of strength is rare. It can be pretty scary."

Despite manifesting so early, Naruto hasn't reached puberty yet. He doesn't yet want or know the things the older Dominants talk about – about having a Submissive and bending them over and whatnot, that stuff just sounds weird to him. But he can already tell that it's going to be just as lonely and empty as everything else. And he's going to hate it, even more than he does now.

He doesn't ask if he will ever find someone who won't be scared. He doesn't have that kind of hope or optimism. Where the older boys – and girls too – are testing and exploring and experimenting, he wouldn't be. Where the other Dominants make the Submissives giggle and squirm and laugh when they Reach towards them teasingly… he just makes them cry.

And judging by the way things seemed to work out… time and age and more strength would just make it so much worse.

 

  1. standing in the rain

 

Itachi was the favoured son – up until the point he manifested.

He was intelligent and mature at very young age. One couldn't help that, having been born in the middle of the Third Shinobi War. It might've not reached Leaf in its full, gruesome entirety, but he saw the after effects. The injured, the crippled – the funerals. The earliest he remembers was when he was two – and already reading and writing, devouring the Uchiha library with thirst of knowledge that made his parents preen. Leaf didn't have much to celebrate around that time, and his family had celebrated him with every step he had taken, through mathematics and history to tactics and strategy. He also read the newspapers, and they were grim reading for someone so young.

He beat his grandfather in Go at age of three, and argued philosophy and ethics and morals with his uncles. They talk a lot about war, about the effects it has, the damage, the profit. Itachi learned to read maps in what could only be called war councils, where wooden pieces stood for troops, and lines slashed through the map in red. Us and them, allies and enemies. Those were the two separates he learned to believe in. Us and allies were good, were right, were to be approved and protected. Them and enemies were bad, were diseased and disgusting and would ruin everything - they were to be killed on sight.

At four he watched a man die – he didn't know him, nor the attacker, only that dead man was a Leaf shinobi, and the attacker was from Village Hidden in Clouds. It happened in the street and was over so fast that he almost missed it – and then the Cloud ninja was dead at his feet, his father's hand holding a bloodied kunai.

"This is how we do it, Itachi," Fugaku said. "Without hesitation."

At five, Itachi sat on the porch of the central clan house, little Sasuke in his lap, while the waves and waves of malicious chakra washed over the village. The war was over by that point, but for one horrible night Leaf was on the brink of destruction and in the distance Kyubi roared. The next morning, almost two thousand people were buried. Among them their young, brilliant, admirable Hokage, dead after only couple years in office. The whole village wept for him.

And spat insults at the baby that then had already become the Jinchuuriki of Kyubi.

The next year, Itachi entered the Academy. It was half his own wish, half the wish of his family, but that was fine. It gave him the chance to learn more, to figure things out, to settle. All his class mates were older by at least a couple of years – most by as many as four or five years. That didn't make them any more mature than the kids of his age, so he largely ignored them – all but his cousin, Shisui, who was older but in the same class as him.

It was at the academy – largely from Shisui, in fact – that he learned of the ways of life and of couples, of the future he himself would eventually have. Dominant or Submissive. It didn't mean anything to him then, at that age, nor did it really mean anything him later on. His facts of life had already been set in stone, by the histories he had read, the meetings he had witnessed, the deaths and the dying. His facts of life were allies and enemies. Dominant and Submissive was about as relevant to him as red or blue, up or down. They were facets of life, maybe important to some, but still only that. Facets.

Annoying facets at times. Kids manifested at the academy left and right, and even so young he knew that fresh manifests were the most bothersome. Older Dominants and Submissives could control themselves, could tug in their influence and not bother other people with them. But younger ones showed theirs off, flashed them all around, puffed their chests and flared out their Reaches and Beckons like birds showing off their feathers. Young Dominants were overly arrogant and cocky, young Submissives overly coy and playful and even at a distance the play of tug o-war between a Reach and a Beckon seemed nothing but naïve, useless way of wasting one's time.

The number of hormonal idiots he walked in on, before he even turned six, was appalling and more than enough to put him off the whole thing.

"And you don't care," Shisui asked, amused, a freshly manifested Dominant and the pride of his family.

"I really don't," Itachi answered, and went back to reading.

Everyone expected him to manifest as Dominant, of course. Maybe he did too. Mostly he didn't care – all he wanted then and later on, was to be a ninja, to be a soldier, to be an ally to Leaf. To be strong.

He graduated at age of seven, strongest of his class, the pride of his family – and killed for the first time that very same year. It was a mere bandit during a lowly C level mission, but his clan celebrated it and then waited with baited breath. It wasn't the manifestation that happened first, however, no. A mere year after becoming Genin, at the age of eight, he awakened the Sharingan instead. That to him was the most important thing about his childhood, the Sharingan and the power that came with it.

And with his family still waiting for his "actual" manifestation so that they could celebrate his coming into adulthood, Itachi trained and learned and figured out the quirks and strengths of his Sharingan and became Chunin at the age of ten. By that time, the fact that he hadn't manifested yet was becoming awkward for his family – he was late, then, by a good year, and it was becoming an issue. His father even suggested that he take a "break" until he manifested.

Possibly to try and force him into manifesting before he made it higher up in rank. After all, unmanifested Jounin? Who had ever heard of such a thing?

Itachi didn't care and neither did his superiors. "You have great talent and plenty of ambition to spare," Danzo the Elder said to him, almost smiling but not quite. "You'd be wasted in the common roster. If you'd like, I can put a good word out for you. Get you somewhere where you can put your talents to good use, for the good of the village."

Itachi liked that idea very much – and so it was half a year later, in the intense hell that was ANBU training, when it finally happened. During a training mission, in fact. In the middle of enemy camp – a forward outpost that they were infiltrating in hopes of getting some information.

Right there, in the midst of good forty Cloud-nin, all of them seasoned warriors, if slightly unpractised after their long encampment… Itachi manifested as Submissive.

Which of course blew the cover of his genjutsu instantly, and rather violently. After that only way for him to get out of the camp without being ruined, was to go through the Cloud-nin. So he did, in throes of the manifestation hormones and Beckoning with the sort of force only nearly eleven year old, newly manifested Submissive can.

When he came to himself, he was on the brink of coming and all the Cloud-nin were dead.

The ANBU of his training squad requested immediate transfer to any other squad, upon their return to Leaf. "That kid isn't right in the head," was their argument. "A Submissive, like that? It's messed up."

 Itachi was put under health and psyche evaluation, and found perfectly healthy, his manifestation going through as it should. What was bothersome was his mind. He was in throes of the hormones, yes, and his body reflected that, flushing and becoming and keeping him on the constant brink of arousal for days. But his mind?

Itachi himself never found anything odd about it. He didn't feel different – he just felt like himself, and damn what his body was doing. Yes, maybe the Dominants now seemed stronger and more appealing, yes, maybe the Submissives seemed even more vapid and less interesting than before. None of it meant anything. He was still himself. He was still going to serve the village.

Being Submissive didn't make him weak, didn't make him stupid, didn't make him needy or useless. No, he didn't feel like he needed a Dominant to protect him, no he didn't think he'd like to retire from ANBU training, no he didn't want to stop being ninja. Why would he? It was just biology. He might not be able to do anything about it but he was still a shinobi of the Leaf. Nothing would change that.

"A… Submissive," his father said, like it was something to be wiped off the bottom of his sandal, looking at him like he had never seen Itachi before. "You were so promising too."

And then it suddenly mattered. It mattered in the form of the meetings that he was no longer welcome, in the form of the books that he was suddenly deemed unworthy of touching. It mattered in the form of his mother, presenting distant cousins to him, female Dominants, in hopes of setting him up, settling him down, shackling him to house and hearth like any good Submissive should be. It mattered in form of the looks he got from the clan elders. In the form where his father took missives meant to him and declined his missions for him.

The only reason his father didn't resign for him was because Itachi had already sighed the ANBU vows in his blood, and only he himself could break them.

How he hadn't realised how old fashioned Uchiha was, he wasn't sure. But they were downright archaic when it came this. Uchiha Submissives simply didn't work, it turned out. They weren't ninjas, they weren't Shinobi – if they happened to be before they manifested, they definitely stopped being one afterwards. And somehow he hadn't realised it, not before it was right in front of his face, in sudden prejudice and dismissal and downright condescension.

Two months after manifestation, an sixty year old Uchiha elder summoned him, and expected him to bend down and over for him. Itachi left without word, headed to the ANBU compound, and didn't return to the Uchiha district. The only reason why his father didn't downright disown him there and then was because to the village outside the clan compound, he was still the Uchiha Prodigy – and soon he was the youngest ANBU in years, the pride of Uchiha and no matter how his family cringed at that, they couldn't do anything about it.

It was in ANBU he learned that, actually, there had been an unmanifested Jounin in the village. "I was thirteen," Hatake Kakashi, in who's squadron Itachi is assigned to, admitted. "That was around the start of the Third Shinobi War, though. Things were different back then."

Under Kakashi Itachi learned to pull the Beckoning in, to control his hormones – to release himself safely, when he needed to. Submissives have more physical needs than Dominants, it turned out, and it was best to get them out of the way rather than let them accumulate – especially for an ANBU Submissive. Which, it turned out, Itachi wasn't anywhere near the only one.

"There is something weird about you, though, Itachi-kun," his superior said, smiling, his lone visible eye a happy arch. "Submissives are warm and soft and welcoming, usually. You are ice cold and sharp enough to cut people. It might become a weakness or it might become a strength. Watch out for it, in any case."

Itachi didn't know what to do about it then and did nothing. At twelve he was included into the undercover work to routing out a plot inside a village. A task force made of him, of Kakashi, and of Shisui – then known as Shisui the Teleporter – was formed, to work a solution. It was the first time since leaving the clan compound that he had had the chance to talk to Shisui.

"It's been a while," Shisui says. "You look good."

"Hm," Itachi nodded and relaxed – Shisui at least didn't seem to uphold the old beliefs of Submissive inadequacy the rest of the Uchiha did. "How's Sasuke?" he asked.

"Your father's new favourite," Shisui answered, looked down for a moment and smiled a mirthless smile. "He takes after Mikoto-san. Fugaku is… discouraging it."

Itachi grimaced at that. He hadn't been allowed near his brother since his leaving the clan. The last he had seen Sasuke, the boy had looked… displeased to see him, even at a distance. He hadn't been sure what it had meant. Now he did. And he didn't like it.

They uncovered the plot and backtracked it to the Uchiha. Itachi turned thirteen and Shisui was their spy inside the Uchiha, inside the Military Police – inside the council Itachi himself had been barred from as a Submissive. And there Shisui figured it out – and was mortally wounded for it.

Shisui died in his arms, entrusting his eye and beliefs, such as they were, to him. And so what little kindness the Uchiha clan had left for him was extinguished.

"Can you do it?" the Hokage asked him, later, months and promotions and revelations later, after Itachi had learned his own new Mangekyo Sharingan, and the judgement upon the Uchiha had been made. And Itachi thought about the history of Uchiha, of Tobi, of Madara, of all that and of none of it.

Of being Submissive and Uchiha and ANBU captain and how, in the end, none of it still meant anything to him.

There were only allies and enemies. And he was, would always be, loyal to his village first.

"Yes," he said and that very night, he became the most feared Submissive in known history.

 

  1. not funny anymore

 

For about a year Naruto sticks to himself, in the ninja academy, satisfied for the most part with letting things stay as they are. No one talks to him and he talks to no one, even the teachers pass him over – it's like the orphanage and there are worse things. He studies by himself and practices by himself and,spars by himself, and no one gets close.

But it isn't like the orphanage. He can see the other Dominants slowly coming to their own. First the girls, then the boys – Kiba is the first boy to Manifest after him. For about a week there is an empty space around Kiba too, about half a meter's worth it, and nobody crosses it. But then it shrinks, slowly, day by day, it shrinks until finally Naruto watches how Kiba sucks it in. It's still there, just beneath the surface, but people can get close to Kiba again – Kiba can spar against the others in their class, again. There is a new, lethal quality to it, and Kiba never again loses against the Submissives in their class.

Naruto's never seen anything like it. Sure, some Dominants have bigger Reach, some have smaller, but he's never seen them suck it in, to make it smaller like that – only bigger. He wants to go and ask, but Kiba is a Dominant now, and he grates against Naruto's senses, the same as every other Dominant does, like Sakura, like Ino, like everybody else… and he doesn't want to get closer than he absolutely has to.

"What did you do, dog breath?" Sakura asks eventually, loud enough to carry over the entire class, and Naruto listens in, desperate.

"What did I do, when?"

"What did you do to your Reach?"

He'd tucked it in. That's what it's called, apparently – and no one's ever told Naruto. It's mostly only ninja and those who train in the use of Chakra who have Reach big enough to be a nuisance – most people have less than half a meter, and that's manageable. When it gets bigger than that, though, it gets in the way. You couldn't spar; you couldn't work with other people – especially not other Dominants…

"My mom said that having a Reach flared out like that it's pretty much same thing as having your dick out and waving it at everybody at every opportunity," Kiba says. "She's been teaching me to keep it in."

Everybody gives pointed looks at Naruto's direction and he doesn't look back. Every adult Dominant he's ever met always flared out their Reach and he's pretty sure he knows why – he's coming into it now, and he can sense the territories and the challenges and he's always challenging everybody with his. He doesn't mean to, but he is, so they answer in kind, reach out theirs, answering the challenge.

And now it turns out he could've avoided that? Could've had it contained, could've worked with others, maybe even made friends who didn't need to stick two or more meters away from him? And nobody told him.

He doesn't go to school the next day – instead he stays in his locked up little house and tries to figure it out. How to pull it in, how to keep it contained. He needs to, he has to. And not just because he wants friends, wants to get closer to people than that stupid two meters. He's already behind the others in the class, because he can't spar, because the teachers refuse any one-on-one teaching with him.

It doesn't work. Instead his Reach lashes out, whipping around him and past the fences and into the streets and after he manages to calm it down, almost half a meter is added to each direction.

"Why won't it work?!" Naruto almost wails in frustration, when the ANBU come to demand what the hell he's doing.

"What are you trying to do, exactly?" the dog-mask one asks, sounding less furious and more interested.

"I'm trying to make it stop! You're supposed to able to tuck it in, right? Why can't I tuck in mine?!"

The dog-mask ANBU consider that, and then leaves without a word, along with the rest of his squad. The next morning, there is a small stack of books sitting on Naruto's porch – chakra control exercises for the most part.

"It's pretty much the same thing, you see," the dog-mask explains when Naruto frowns at the books. "That's what Reach and Beckon are, on the base level. They're, hm… flavours of chakra. Learn to control your chakra, and you can control your Reach."

"That's it?" Naruto asks. "Why didn't anybody just say so?"

The dog-mask doesn't answer – at that point he's already gone and Naruto is alone. But it's fine – he has his answer, he has his way out of the empty, hollow void that's been following him for as long as he remembers. Only…

Only chakra control is hard.

Naruto burns through the leaves of the bushes that grow in his yard, stripping them all bare in attempt to learn the Leaf-spinning exercise. He moves onto the blades of grass, and they're either cut apart or they burst into flames and turn into crisps against his forehead, and his Reach either stays the same – or gets bigger. What effort he makes all seems to be going the opposite way – instead of tucking it in, he Reaches further. By the end of the week the teachers at the academy all but ban him from the school grounds – by that time his Reach is four meters each direction, and he can't walk in the school corridors without blocking the space for everybody else. And the Reach is starting to go through walls and floors too, affecting people in the floor above and below him too!

"It keeps getting bigger, why does it keep getting bigger?" he asks, when the dog-mask comes around to check up on him, standing those infuriating four meters away from him.

"Because for the first time you're using chakra consciously," the ANBU sounds amused, the bastard. "You're releasing chakra now, something you haven't done before. Of course it gets bigger."

"Oh for crying out loud!"

The damned ANBU laughs at him, crouching down to the ground and idly tucking at the grass that still grows there, in tiny nubs Naruto had picked clean. "I can let you in on a secret, if you'd like. About the best, easiest way to learn how to tuck it in."

"Yes, yes, do that, immediately, right now!" Naruto almost jumps at him eagerly – only that would put the man inside the Reach and that would be bad.

"Henge," the man says, pointing a finger at him. "You know it?"

"It's… one of the skills we're supposed to learn this year? A basic genjutsu, I think," Naruto frowns. "What about it?"

"Henge is, basically, layering your skin with chakra you then mould into whatever image you choose to use," the dog-mask says, and scratches a rough image of a man onto the ground. "You can figure out how it works from your school books, I won't get into the detail. But Henge is a disguise jutsu, and as such it was designed to not just disguise you but hide you as well – and that includes your Reach or Beckon. It holds it in. It's not quite tucking it in, more like… condensing it into single thin layer that's just around you."

"It would hold in the Reach?" Naruto asked, breathless.

"Kind of. If anyone touched you, they'd still get the full impact of the Reach – but the Reach wouldn't go outside, like it does right now," the dog-mask says, taking a kunai from his thigh strap and idly throwing it into Naruto's Reach – making it his. "And that," he says, pointing at it, "would stop happening."

"Can you teach me?" Naruto asks eagerly.

"Nope. I'm not your teacher and besides, you will learn it in school eventually," the ANBU says, and stands up. "Besides, Henge isn't a perfect way of tucking it in – it's less about control and more about bottling it, when you use Henge. But it's a good place to start."

And then he is gone. Naruto stares at the spot the man had vanished from, and then scampered back into the house, tearing his way through and to his school books, leafing through the pages in mad rush until he found it. The Basics of Genjutsu, chapter five – Henge. They were only at chapter two currently, but…

Hell if he'd let that stop him.

He reads through the entire selection of genjutsu that day, slowly and arduously and stumbling over the more complicated words at first, but he reads it and does his damned to memorise it too. Then he goes through the instructions for Henge, over and over and over again, late into the night, trying and trying and trying.

It takes him two days to manage even the most basic, silly Henge – turning himself into caricature of himself, fat and misshapen with two hilariously long arms and bright red hair. But the chakra layers and he can feel it – the Reach, pulling back.

It's always been there without his conscious choice and now that it isn't, he feels it more in the lack of it than anything else. Suddenly, the floor boards aren't quite his anymore, suddenly he doesn't own the furniture like he did. Suddenly the plants sitting on his windowsill are just plants, rather than his owned and possessed belongings. He doesn't feel them anymore.

Suddenly it feels like someone could get a bit closer, and Naruto wouldn't own them.

Of course the Henge explodes in his face and then the Reach is suddenly five meters and more to each direction, but he's doing it, he's figuring it out – he's doing it.

Three days and he figures out that transforming into himself is a bit too hard – so he works at transforming into other things. The school book has three suggestions, three stepping stones, to mastering Henge. First, transform into someone you see every day. Naruto doesn't see anybody every day, but the person he's seen the most over the years has been the Hokage, so that's who he tries and eventually manages to transform into. Then transform into an inanimate object, bigger than yourself – he transforms into a couch which is weird and hilarious, but seems to work.

And finally – into something smaller. Which is harder. A lot, lot harder. There are lot of tricks about how to do it in the book and none of them seem to help at first. He always ends up misshapen or too big, too tall, too fat, too something, when he tries it.

It takes him a week, a lot of sleepless nights and whole lot of ache in his head before he figures it out. He ends up with a crick in his neck and with weirdly tingling feet and hands for hours, but he eventually pushes himself through the block, and into the shape of his very own Ukki-plant.

The rest of the day he spends practicing into transforming into himself, and holding the Henge up. The dog-mask ANBU watches from a near by electrical pole, while Naruto runs around under Henge, trying to keep it up and wear it out all at once. It slips a couple of times and his Reach flares out, five meters each direction, before he slams the Henge back on again.

"Looks like you're about ready to go back to school," the ANBU comments, jumping down and to sit crouched on the edge of Naruto's fence.

"You think so?" Naruto asks excitedly and almost drops the Henge. "So, uh. How is this different from tucking it in for real?"

"Tucking in means you stop emitting Reach entirely," the ANBU says, resting his elbows on his bent knees. "Reach is an aura of chakra. To stop putting it out, you need stop chakra in its coils. That might be a bit difficult for you, though – you have lot of chakra, after all. But you can figure it out with more of the same – chakra control, chakra control, chakra control."

"Great," Naruto grumbles.

"It's safer to do that than use Henge to hold it in, though," the ANBU muses. "The moment your Henge drops, the Reach goes out again. And anyone who got close when you had it on… will get trapped inside your Reach. That can be… bad, if you aren't prepared for it."

"Yeah. Yeah I know," Naruto murmurs, thinking about the girl, how she'd frozen, and cried. "What does it feel like, though, for them I mean, when they get inside my Reach?"

"Dominants or Submissives?" the ANBU asks. "For Dominants it's infuriating. If they don't have any control over themselves, it's like flicking a switch. It's basic, biological rivalry people say, or just survival instincts – the Dominants will feel urge to fight, even kill each other. A Dominant can turn into a complete berserker inside another Dominant's Reach. Even more controlled Dominants will feel some of that. It's mortifying and humiliating, especially if you're inside their Reach but they're not inside yours – if they have bigger Reach. It can drive men mad. Or to murder. Both have happened."

The masked ANBU looks at him. "You've never been inside anyone's Reach, have you?"

Naruto swallows and shakes his head. "And Submissives?"

"… normally it feels nice for them," the ANBU murmurs softly and looks away again. "To fall under someone's control like that. It's hard for Dominant to understand, what it's like. Submissives normally feel certain level of uncertainty through their lives – that falls away when they get close to a Dominant. They can feel safe, protected, like they have a place in the world. If it's someone they don't know, then the Reach can test them, tease them. It can be nice. But it can also be scary and painful, if the Dominant and the Reach is…"

"Strong?" Naruto asks quietly.

"Rough."

Naruto freezes at that and looks up. "I'm rough?" he asked, horrified.

The ANBU says nothing for a moment. "You're very powerful," he says finally. "Most start out weak and the learn how to control their Reach as they grow stronger, how to make it gentle and teasing if they want it to be. You started out strong. When anyone gets close to you, it's like being buried under a land slide. It's… just too much all at once."

"Oh," Naruto murmurs and falls to sit on the porch, pulling his knees up and to his chest. "I didn't realise. It's like that for everybody?"

"Hmm, pretty much," the ANBU nods. "Which is why you need to learn control. Henge is just step one in the way. And you need to learn this properly – if you don't…"

If he doesn't, he'd always be alone.

"I will learn," Naruto mutters. "I will."

 

  1. support

 

Uchiha massacre was a masterwork of careful planning, and a million things could've gone wrong during the execution. Someone could've escaped, seen him, put up a fight like only ninja can – or worse yet, the ANBU might've been alerted, a full blown battle and war could've broken out.

The Uchiha were, after all, geared up for actual civil war. They had been planning their coup d'etad for months now, for years. They had made preparations, they had been training, hoarding weapons – every house was lined with explosives, just in case. A long line of suspicion, carefully cultivated over the seven years since the Kyubi attack and before that, all of it roiling and writhing in the shadows of the Uchiha clan.

Long history of rivalries and arrogances and, above all that Madara. Madara who had, at some point, decided that Leaf's Uchiha were traitors to his cause. Or… most likely that they were a threat to it.

The cause or the reason didn't matter, though. However things had lead up to it, Uchiha were threat to the village and he was loyal to the Hokage. That was all there was to it. He had neither the patience nor the interest in the ultimate goals of the coup d'etad, or what kind of Leaf could an Uchiha lead one be. He didn't care.

So he killed them. It had to be quick, everything done inside an hour if not quicker. It had to be silent – everyone had to die before they could put up an alarm or try and fight him. It wasn't a fight. It was assassination, on a very large scale, and that was how it had to be executed.

And, above all, it had to be carried out without hesitation.

During it, Itachi didn't only have to juggle the careful balance between the Hokage's and the Elders Council's orders and the future perception of what would happen… but also Madara's perception. He was pretty sure that Madara knew, though – that was how Madara had planned it all, that was how he had engineered the conflict. Madara and the Uchiha, Madara and Danzo, Madara. Of course, Madara had wanted a war that would cripple entire Leaf and instead he had gotten a precision strike to remove the threat alone – but even that served his plan.

And while Itachi killed the adults and the teenagers and the elderly in their sleep, slitting their throat and piercing their hearts, Madara followed like a silent wraith and killed the children. The children Itachi himself had wished to save – the children that could've still grown up to be a different sort of Uchiha clan.

"That's your Submissive side, I suspect," Madara murmured to him from behind his mask, cool and contemplative. Not quite malicious but still somehow mocking. "You're almost above your orientation, Itachi-kun, but you still have that… nurturing quality all Submissives have."

Itachi said nothing to that.

And then there was only one family was left. His own.

"So, this is what it comes down to," Fukagu said, when Itachi appeared behind them. Of course, they knew. His father must've felt him, going through the estate. Must've felt the clan members dying. "I suppose I brought this on myself, when you manifested."

"That has nothing to do with this," Itachi murmured, his hand steady at his sword.

"No. Of course not. But we Uchiha haven't given you much of a reason to remain loyal, now have we?" his father said, and closed his eyes. "Best of us in generations, and we rejected you. We've been very arrogant. If something was to be our downfall… that would be it."

"Such a strong Submissive too," Mikoto said, sadly. "You are the pride of our family. It is our fault for being prideful for the wrong things."

"Father… mother…"

"We know, Itachi," she said. "It's alright. We are, in the end, a Shinobi clan first. Even those of us that aren't, know the ways."

"Your brother… is likely going to be a Submissive," Fugaku admitted. "Maybe he will be like you and it won't matter. Maybe he won't. Just promise me this final thing, Itachi. Take care of Sasuke. Better care than we took of you."

Itachi grimaced and said nothing. A son shouldn't have such easy time killing his parents, but they died easily and quickly, and he felt nothing but empty afterwards. His sword shook a moment, his breathing stung his throat and then… then it was over. It was over.

And for a split of a second he regretted with such power that it almost brought him to his knees. Not their deaths, no, he'd made his peace with that when he had taken the order. But the things that could've been. If only… if only… things had been a little different. He didn't know how he would've changed things, if anything could've been really done. Everything was falling like dominoes, all over him – no way could've he stopped Madara's meddling, or Danzo's, or the long history of bloody rivalries, or the bloodied path of his own clan. But if only…

And then Sasuke was coming, he could feel it, the only pinprick of life left in the Uchiha estate, aside from him and Madara.

"Not him," Itachi said. "I need him alive."

"Looking to achieve the Eternal Mangekyo, then?" Madara asked. "Very well."

Then he was gone and Sasuke was there and Itachi had never really been much of an actor – but he did his damnest to make it seem real. For Sasuke to believe that he was the sole cause of the disaster that would ruin his life – that way, the village would remain his home, would remain safe to him. For Madara to believe that he kept Sasuke alive to be his spare eyes in the future.

For himself to believe that it wasn't breaking what little he had left of his heart, to see his brother cry.

It had been so long, since he'd talked with Sasuke. Months, now, ever since leaving Uchiha for the ANBU. His brother had grown, a little. There was new strength in him – result of his father's training no doubt. But yes – Sasuke took more after their mother, much like Itachi himself had. He was soft, his edges smooth, his frame slight. Maybe time and more training would change it but…

"When you have eyes like mine," Itachi said, memorising his brother with the perfect precision of the Sharingan, of the Mangekyo. "Come find me."

And that was maybe the worst deed committed that night.

He met Madara outside Leaf's barrier and they split ways, to meet later – Madara heading off to do whatever Itachi didn't even care anymore. Itachi to bask in his victory, to celebrate. "Remember this feeling," Madara said, cruel smile in his voice, hidden behind the spiral mask. "You're not likely to feel it again anytime soon."

The moment Itachi was sure Madara was out of reach, he stumbled over and threw up. Later he got rid of the ANBU uniform, leaving the smallest marker behind, to mark the place where Uchiha Itachi, the loyal Leaf Shinobi, died, and Uchiha Itachi, the traitor and deserter and mass murderer, begun. That was, after all, the price one had to pay for something like this.

Loyalty or not, the necessity would blame everything on him and so as long Leaf had any say, they would shake off all responsibility. Better for one man to take the blame than the world to know that Leaf was no different from the rest of the Shinobi Villages, fully willing to massacre its citizens when it had to. Better for Leaf citizens themselves to remain in blissful ignorance about what a double edged fate it was… to be born inside the walls of a Shinobi village.

Then, in only his shirt and trousers and sandals, his armour and gear only a smouldering ruin, Itachi headed off to try and find a place where he could, somehow, continue serving his village. It would probably be somewhere at Madara's side. He would remain a double agent there, doing what he could – and maybe he could even find some way to report. Or if not report, then simply leak information, scatter breadcrumbs of knowledge, anything. Jiraiya of the Sannin could be it maybe. He ran the information network outside the village after all. With proxies and with care, Itachi would report to him, one day, when there'd be something to report.

Later.

Later, after he'd donned on the black cloak with it's red clouds, after he'd been given the Shu ring that connected him to the damned statue, after he begun painting his nails with the chakra conductive paint that would allow him to command the statue at a distance, after the hunt for power begun.

"Welcome to Akatsuki," Pein said and then left him to Madara who explained precisely nothing about what they were actually doing. And who then left him to Kisame.

"My, my, didn't think it was true. But you are a Submissive," were the former Mist-nin's first words to him. "I'll be teaming up with you from now on. Hoshigaki Kisame, of the Seven Swordsmen of Mist. Well, formerly anyway. Pleased to meet you, Itachi-kun."

And a Dominant too. With Madara Itachi hadn't been able to tell and it hadn't mattered anyway – the man had his chakra under such tight control that he could've been anything. With Pein, well… Pein, whatever he was, wasn't even truly alive so orientation didn't really matter. Kisame, however, did nothing to hide. No, his chakra, his powerful Reach, was roiling around him proudly, lashing towards Itachi, half teasing, half demanding.

Already trying to establish dominance.

People had tried that before, of course. Many, many times people had Reached for him to try and coax a Beckon out of him, coax submission out of him. Of course, Itachi like any proper ninja had anti-influence training, and Kisame's attempts were half-assed at best, more mocking than anything else. He didn't expect Itachi to bend, not really. What he was after, was the reaction. How would Itachi counteract the half-assed challenge would mark the way their interactions would develop from here on.

After a moment of being licked at by the other man's Reach, Itachi pulled his Beckon, ice cold and as sharp as knifes, around him like a cloak, and reflected the Reach with condescending ease.

"Oh?" Kisame said, sounding curious and amused, and Reached again - and Itachi reflected it again. "I see," Kisame said. "I did wonder, how a Submissive like you could've done something like you've done. Slaughter your clansmen like that, lot of them trained ninjas, lot of them Dominants, I imagine. A normal Submissive couldn't have. But you're not normal at all, are you?"

Itachi didn't answer, just eyed him coolly.

Kisame was smiling now. "Isn't that interesting?" he asked, considering. "It's the reason why I asked to be teamed up with you at all, you know. We have a lot in common, I think. That feeling, of killing your comrades, your family… it's beyond description, isn't it?"

"You talk lot," Itachi said. "What are you? A Dominant, who couldn't achieve Dominance over is own clan?  Or anybody else, either. So here you are, no other place to go, to fall under the command of others. Isn't that right?"

"Same as you," Kisame answered, and his sword came to rest against Itachi's shoulder, a threat of instant, painful injury. "We belong to Akatsuki, the both of us. We might as well try and get along, Itachi-kun."

Itachi glanced at him. "I will never bend over for you," he said calmly. "Or anyone else in Akatsuki."

"Tch," the shark-like man answered and pulled the sword, and his Reach, back. "Good. That's good," he said and rested the sword against his own shoulder. "You should be wary, though. Of them, yes. Of me, too."

Itachi looked away, and his eyes ached, the constant potential of Mangekyo whirling beneath. "That goes for you too."

"And you should also learn to hide that Beckon of yours," Kisame added. "It's strange, but anyone can tell you're a Submissive when you have it out like that."

Itachi closed his eyes at that. "What I do with my Beckon is my business," he said and stood up. "You mind yours, Kisame."

 

  1. goofball

 

It doesn't change anything. Naruto goes back to the academy, his Reach now tucked into the Henge and it's as if nothing happens. No one still talks to him. The teachers still ignore him. Everyone, especially the Submissives, still run away from him. Everyone still refuses to spar with him. Naruto waits with baited breath, and nothing changes.

He's ten years old now and most everyone in the class has manifested either as Dominant or Submissive, and he's not the weird one standing out anymore. Except somehow he is, and he's tired of it – of the dark looks and awkward glances and how everyone still goes around him like he has the damn plague. He's tired of it, tired, tired, tired.

For once he'd like to be the reason someone laughs. For once he'd just like to make someone smile. Is that so damned much to ask? Apparently, yes, because all he gets are frowns and grimaces and, damn it all, tears.

He wants to be more like Shikamaru, who's a Dominant too and yet nobody's scared of him, nobody goes around him – the only time he flares out his half a meter's worth of Reach is when he wants to sleep in class, and that's somehow funny for everyone. He wants to be like Kiba, who next to him as the biggest, strongest Reach, and yet everyone's fighting to spar with him, everyone laughs and jokes with him and he's funny and liked. Hell, he'd even be like Sakura and Ino, as loud and overblown as they can be, most people still like them

Just for once he'd like someone to not hate him. Or, worse yet, fear him.

But when he tries to do something, to speak out, to say a funny thing he'd think up, to tell a joke… he just gets weird looks. When he approaches someone, it's like he's attacking them, like he's doing something wrong – they back away hastily, sometimes just run away. People sidle along and casually away from him. Even without the Reach, there's empty space, right there, all around him.

Month after starting to use Henge daily to tuck his Reach in, Naruto just gets fed up with it. So they fear him even he's trying his damnest to not be frightening. Fine. Fine, he'd give them an actual reason to fear him.

In a fit of furious activity, he spends the night tinkering with whatever he has around the house and then comes to school early, to rig the classroom with traps. Then he sits back, like he always does, empty space around him, like there always is.

The others trickle in, into their seats, talking and chatting and sharing whatever's happened to them. The desks fill up, books are taken out, the kids prepare for class. Teacher comes in and then, explosion.

And then they're all suddenly pink and blue, red and green, yellow and purple, their clothes ruined, their hair soaked, books converted in paint, and there's only cries of dismay and horror and fury. Lot of "my clothes/hair/things are ruined!" are called out and the girls are dashing about, trying to get rid of the paint. Naruto himself has a dollop of green paint trickling down his forehead and his white t-shirt is probably ruined.

He might've not made anybody laugh, no, they're all pretty much horrified actually. But he's affected them. All of them. They all look alike now. Some deep part of Naruto is giggling with joy at the sight of the usually so impeccable Ino and Sakura and Sasuke and all the rest, covered in paint. But part of him, a large part, is purring with satisfaction, because everyone in the class, Submissives and Dominants alike, are covered in his creation. That's something new, something viciously pleasing and he's not sure if it's a good or a bad thing. But he likes it.

When the furious Iruka turns on them his glare is aimed at Kiba, the usual prankster in the glass. Naruto is tempted to let it fly, let Kiba take the blame because there's going to be a huge punishment for this. But no, no. This is his. So he raises his hand, smeared in pink and yellow. "Yo," he says, the way infuriatingly casual way the dog-mask sometimes speaks. "I did it, Iruka-sensei. It was me."

"Naruto?" the teacher asks, and he looks confused. "You?"

"Me!" Naruto agrees, nodding, and everyone just stares at him. First they look confused too, sharing uncertain glances. Then it dawns on them and they look horrified. And finally, they turn furious.

"Naruto you son of a bitch, I just bought this dress last week!" Ino screeches at him.

"It's going to take hours to get this stuff out of my hair!" Sakura roars. "I'm going to kill you!"

All Dominants are, of course, up at arms about it instantly and the classroom is soon full of furious noise. Naruto basks in it, grin spreading to his face slow but overwhelming, until Iruka-sensei slams his now ruined book against the desk.

"Everybody sit down! Naruto!" he roars and everyone else shuts down. "After class."

He's tasked with cleaning up for himself, of course. It's the first detention he's ever gotten – it takes good six hours to scrub the classroom clean, with Iruka-sensei standing over him the entirety of the time. Naruto preens through all of it because, for once, for once he's being noticed not for his Reach and Dominance or whatever – but for what he's actually done. It's heady feeling. And he wants more of it.

The crowning moment comes later, the next day, when tempers have calmed down a little. Kiba sits down beside Naruto, laughing. "Oh my good, look at Ino," he laughs at Naruto. "She's still got bit of green in her hair!"

Naruto just stares at him in fascinated awe because Kiba is not even a meter's length away from him, willingly sitting there, where no one ever has, and he's laughing. Kiba's a Dominant, sure – none of the Submissives will even look at Naruto's way, even now – but he's made someone laugh.

It's understandably not the last time Naruto pranks the school – no, not even nearly. The next prank is a little less damaging. He finds chalk in the exact shade of the chalk board, and covers it up with it, because Iruka has the habit of leaning his elbow against the board when writing and he comes away from it, with sleeve covered in green. The students titter and Naruto preens and the detention is entirely worth it.

He, like everyone else, brings his own lunch to school and one morning he spends two hours carefully making a chocolate mush that looks a lot like dog poop and takes great pleasure in watching everyone recoil in disgusted horror as he eats it in front of them, slowly and tediously.

He comes just before class is supposed to start, transformed into Iruka, and for three minutes manages to convince everyone in class that today's lesson would be about the secret ninja art of walking in air. And then Iruka comes in and turns purple at the sight of the students jumping on their desks, and it's very close to being the best thing ever.

He learns to sneak around just to tag messages on people's backs. He starts with the old classic of "kick me," but that gets boring after about the first time, so he varies a bit. Kiba gets "I'll sniff ya butt" and Ino gets "Does my butt look big in this" and Sakura gets "Pink is the new black" and Shikamaru gets "Three, two, one… NAP TIME!" and so on. Naruto even slaps one on Sasuke when he gets a chance – "Let's get our brood on!" – even though Sasuke hasn't even manifested yet.

That's the line, though. He knows better than to tag anything on the manifested Submissives. If he pranks a Submissive, it's because he's pranking everyone all at once, and only then.

One night he sneaks into the classroom, and fills it with balloons that took almost all of his allowance to buy and for once, nobody is mad. Iruka lets the balloons just sit there, all around the classroom, for the entirety of the lesson, walking through them and knocking them around. It's about the happiest class they've ever had - and then at the end of it, to the delight of everyone, turns on them. "Alright. Let's pop 'em." Which they do, in great amount of childish glee.

Of course Naruto has to pick up the remains, the sad deflate corpses of balloons, afterwards, but it's worth it. For a while it even takes the place as best prank ever.

"Having fun, are we?" dog-mask asks him afterwards, while Naruto lays on his yard, still basking in the feeling of everyone's giggles and laughter.

"Yes," Naruto nods happily as the ANBU drops down from the fence and crouches down beside him.

"You still haven't learned to tuck your Reach in," the ANBU comments.

Naruto sobers a bit at that. "It's really hard," he says, frowning. "I've been trying."

"I know," the ANBU says. "Just, so you know, you can't graduate academy before you learn. So you might want keep that in mind. Of course you still have time until then but… it's not something you want to put off."

Naruto sighs and sits up. "Yeah, yeah okay," he says, running a hand over his hair and then looking at the ANBU. "If I do, will end up like you?" he asks. "I can't tell which you are."

"Ah, that takes a special bit of training," the ANBU says cheerfully and jumps up with a flip, landing gracefully on one of the fence support poles. "Totally impossible for a loudmouth like you I'm afraid."

"Why you son of a --!"

The ANBU is of course already gone, his laughter echoing in the yard. Naruto grumbles and picks up a blade of grass to throw at the direction where the dog-mask had been. He doesn't though, and instead falls back to lay on the ground, slapping the blade of grass on his forehead and trying to very hard spin it.

There is a snap and the thing splits in the middle, the two halves falling to his cheek. Of course.

"This is going to take a while," he sighs, and takes another blade of grass.

He and Kiba join forces week later, rather accidentally. It's been promised to be week, and Kiba is rigging the classroom windows so that they can't be opened, while Naruto is filling the air conditioning unit their classroom has with confetti. They end up also tampering with the sink in the corner of the classroom, so that the cold water tab doesn't work.

"This is gonna be so awful," Kiba snickers while Akamaru yips happily where he's, running circles around the classroom. "We're all gonna end up so sweaty and smelly and disgusting."

"Yep," Naruto nods and then trances at the other. Kiba's all tucked in now, not a hint of Reach left – except when he flared it out ever now and then, to show off. "Hey, Kiba? How do you do it? Tuck your Reach in, I mean? I've been trying but –"

"But you're all tucked in, aren't you?" Kiba asks, picking Akamaru from the floor and setting the puppy atop his head.

"I'm using Henge to keep it contained," Naruto admits and lifts his gloved hands. "That's why I wear these, and why Iruka has everyone wearing gloves when they spar me. Because it's still kinda there, on my skin, and if people touch me…"

"Huh? You know Henge already, but not how tuck in?" Kiba asks, incredulous

Naruto flushes hotly at that and almost looked away – except, of course he doesn't, can't, not under the gaze of another Dominant.

"Huh," Kiba says again and then folds his arms. "Well, um… it's kind of like breathing in. That's how mom explained it to me. Like, Reach is chakra, and chakra fluctuates a bit, right? Like after you eat or been sleeping, it's a bit bigger than it's when you're hungry or tired. But also when you breathe in, just a bit. So you just sort of… hold your breath. Breathe the Reach in and hold it."

"Breathe in?" Naruto hums, folding his arms.

"Yeah. Mom had me do lot of chakra control exercises first, though I already do them in bunches because, you know, clan ninjutsu, need a good control for lot of those," Kiba says, motioning at Akamaru and the looking at Naruto. "By the way… how old were you when you manifested? It was before academy, right? You must've been younger than eight."

Naruto shrugs at that. "I don't remember. I'm not sure if I ever did," he admits. "It might be like clan thing. Maybe my parents were like that, maybe they manifested early on, or just were born manifested. I dunno, really."

"That's so weird," Kiba says, shaking his head and shuddering. "I mean, being a little kid with that? So, so weird. And kinda creepy."

"What is? What are you even talking about?"

"The overwhelming urge to bang everything."

Naruto eyes him confusedly. "I've never felt an urge to bang anything," he says slowly. "You… feel that?"

"Yeah, well. I'm a Dominant, aren't I?" Kiba asks and gives him a weird look. "You don't feel it? Like… you don't get this thing where you look at Hinata or Chouji and just go, I think I'd like to go over there and just –"

"No!" Naruto sputters, shaking his head and making a quick warding motion with his hands. "That's horrible!"

"You really don't?" Kiba asks, looking honestly confused and then shaking his head. "Maybe it's different for people who manifest that early on, huh?"

"Ugh," Naruto says, shuddering. "You really feel like that? Really?"

"Yeah, man," Kiba nods. "Like all the time. I mean, I know better than to do anything, my mom would kill me for one and the teachers here, man, they're really damn tough on you if you slip like that. But Hinata is still kinda sloppy with her Beckon and man, the feel of it…"

"That is so weird," Naruto mutters and shudders again. "Thank god I don't feel like that."

"Maybe you're impotent," Kiba offers helpfully.

"Maybe I should punch you in the face," Naruto answers flatly.

The words stick to him, though, and sort of ruin the punch line of their prank for him and even the sight of Iruka-sensei trying to push the windows open over and over doesn't cheer him up. He already knows he's different – his Reach is bigger, and it's been there for unnaturally long time too. So maybe… maybe he's just wrong, somehow. Maybe he doesn't function right.

Sure, he sometimes feels like having a Submissive near by could be nice, like getting close to them could be nice – like he could just rub himself all over them and bask in feel of their Beckon. Like he would very much like one of his very own. But he doesn't feel like he'd… no. Sure, the idea of sex is, well, it is what it is. But he doesn't feel any urge to have any. Not even with a Submissive.

So is he flawed somehow? Is he, like… unable?

That night he transforms himself into a naked woman, the sort everyone says is was sexy, with wide hips and thin waist and big breasts, long tails of blond hair tailing down to her waist. Then stares at his reflection for a long while, trying to figure it out and nope. Nothing.

"What the hell are you doing now?" dog-mask asks, leaning his elbows on the window sill and watching him.

"Am I impotent?" Naruto asks, turning to look at the man. "I'm getting nothing from this."

"Well, that just means you're not narcissistic, anyway," the ANBU says with a snort. "What brought this on?"

Naruto tells him and the ANBU cackles at him.

"For god's sake, Naruto, don't take advice from a ten year old recently manifested Dominant, you're not going to get any sense out of them," dog-mask chortles. "Dominants don't want to, hehe, bang everything all the time. He does because he's a teenager in throes of whole load of hormones, and like said, fairly recently manifested to boot. It usually takes few years until that stops. After that people tend to calm down. Dominants too."

"But… what about me? I'm a ten year old Dominant, and I don't …"

"Yes, but you've been Dominant for years, remember?" the ANBU says, laughing. "Your friend, the Inuzuka, is just coming to his own dominance. You've long since settled into yours. Besides… You're a bit late on the puberty part – probably because you manifested so early on. But trust me, it'll come to you too."

Naruto frowns at that and switches into his own henge, turning to the mirror. Well… he was the shortest kid on the class. Not the thinnest or weakest – that was Hinata – but… he was the shortest. "So I just need to wait, huh?" he asks.

"I wouldn't wait too eagerly, if I were you," the ANBU laughs and pushes away from the window.

Well that didn't sound ominous at all.

 

  1. sweets

 

Two years passed in the Akatsuki, as a Kisame's partner. For most of those two years, Itachi was relatively inactive. Occasionally Pein would send them out to accomplish this or that task, but mostly they're left to do whatever they wanted. Pein and Konan spent most of their time in Hidden Rain, managing the village most likely. Kakuzu spent majority of his time bounty hunting, naturally. Zetsu mostly travelled with Madara, so it was hard to say what he did. Sasori did… whatever it is he does.

 Itachi and Kisame roamed around as mercenaries, hiring their services to whoever had the means to pay for it. Mostly it was Kisame who did the work – they got the sort of messy tasks that left behind lot of bodies and little sense, and it was really more Kisame's field than Itachi's, so he mostly stayed behind and only stepped in when ever someone higher level got in their way. It was fine that way. He almost got used to it.

Almost.

He doesn't really learn what Akatsuki is for. On the surface it seems like just a gathering of powerful rogue ninjas and criminals, put together for power and intimidation. Except what they do, they do unseen and unheard, in the shadows. Most of Pein's missions for them are either stealth and spy missions, or covert assassinations – with emphasis on the stealth and the covert. So they're not a shock and awe unit either. They just… are.

Except, they are flashy. They wear signature uniforms, they even are all assigned identical hats. That speaks of organisation, yes, of the visible sort. Which means that while Pein – and Madara – wish to keep their purpose under wraps for now, it won't be like so forever. They are meant to be seen and recognised, one day. Seen, recognized and probably feared.

Why, and what for? If the others know, no one tells him. Kisame doesn't seem to know any better than he does – though he doesn't care either. Kisame is a simple sort of man, when it came to his goals in life. Itachi does what he can to figure out, but beneath the eyes of so many so powerful rogue ninja, and under the all-seeing eyes of Pein himself… there is only so much he can do without arousing suspicion.

As it is, he's already watched like something suspicious for the simple reason that he's the lone Submissive in the midst of powerful Dominants.

It isn't until the third year, when he gets the chance to reaffirm himself as a double agent. Kisame is off on a solo mission that shouldn't require Itachi's involvement - a small skirmish to intimidate some near by militia-like group that had been building up. The local lord wants them intimidated and scattered and since they are mostly samurai and not Ninja, Kisame can very easily handle it by himself. Itachi has no interest in such things.

He doesn't expect much to happen while he waits in the local inn, using the time to do some maintenance on his equipment. Not that there is much to be done – he rarely needs to use his weapons, so they generally stay in perfect condition. But ANBU drilled the importance of well maintained gear into his head, and some teachings are hard to shake.

He's just about done sharpening his kunai, when he feels it – a spark of vaguely familiar chakra, just below him, in the bar below the inn rooms. Pausing, Itachi concentrates onto it. It's just a spark, just an infinitesimal measure of reach in it, but he knows it.

He's only met Jiraiya the Sannin two times, both of them back when he was still a chuunin – both times on missions outside the village. Jiraiya, like any powerful Dominant, kept his Reach under wraps rather tightly, but when ever he let slip the feeling was impossible to ignore and impossible to forget. Jiraiya had a Reach so immensely mature that it was borderline intoxicating. Not with just age, but with sheer, overwhelming experience. It had been a little dizzying to feel when Itachi had been eleven. It's no less so now.

Itachi hesitates for a moment, lowering the kunai in his hand. This might be the only chance he will get in years, maybe ever. He cannot let it pass by. Nor can he go there and simply talk to Jiraiya – no. He can't be seen interacting with Jiraiya, not when Jiraiya is well known, when Kisame could recognize the man merely from description. Something… subtler is required.

So, he closes his eyes, breaths in slowly. Then he Beckons for the first time in his entire life, reaching downwards and towards the spark of Reach below.

For a moment nothing happens. It's a gamble, Itachi knows, one that might not go anywhere. Man with Jiraiya's Reach would be Beckoned often and blatantly, and it is entirely possible that the man won't even notice. But in the same time, Itachi knows his Beckon is abnormal and maybe even more memorable than Jiraiya's Reach…

There it is – a Reach, cautiously curling towards him. Itachi lets out a breath and opens his eyes, pulling his Beckon back. The Reach tests him for a moment and then pulls back too. Couple minutes later, there is a knock on the door.

The man behind is stoic and suspicious, eying him with narrowed eyes. Itachi answers the look levelly before stepping aside, to let the Sannin inside. "There's not much time," he says. "My partner will return eventually and I have much to report."

"Report?" Jiraiya demands. "And what would a rogue-nin have to report? Why should I listen to such a report?"

That freezes Itachi in his tracks. He had assumed that Jiraiya would know. As the keeper and manager of Leaf's information network, surely Jiraiya would've been informed of the truth behind the Uchiha massacre.

"I am, always have been, loyal to the Hidden Leaf," Itachi says finally, not sure what else to say.

The Sannin stares at him before stepping inside and closing the door behind him. "Good answer," he says and then looks at Itachi more closely. "It's been almost three years now, hasn't it? We weren't sure what happened to you afterwards. Are you alright, Itachi?"

 Itachi relaxed minutely at that. Thank gods. "I'm fine," he says. "My report."

Then he gives it, what little he's learned of Akatsuki, of Madara, of Pein. It's not much, when laid down in simple, cold facts. He hasn't the proof for most of it. Aside from Kisame, he isn't even sure if anyone in Akatsuki is using their own, real names.

"Sasori might be Sasori of the Red Sand, but I do not know for sure. He is a puppeteer and claims the connection, but I have not worked with him, nor seen him work his puppetry close enough to tell for sure," Itachi adds. "Kakuzu I don't know at all – he works by himself and rarely interacts with the rest of us. All I know of him is that he claims to be formerly of Hidden Waterfall, and that he spends most of his time bounty hunting."

"Hmm," Jiraiya answers, looking at him. "And you don't think this is merely a normal rogue-nin organisation."

"Not with this level of strength and organisation. And there is Madara to consider," Itachi says, shaking his head. "Madara might merely be an Uchiha who took the name and the history for his own… or he might be the actual Madara. Either way, there is a purpose to Akatsuki they're not telling me. Reason why they're gathering people like us together. Rogue-nin, criminals – Kisame, Sasori if it is him, and myself are all classified as S-rank criminals. And they are still recruiting."

"Anyone in particular they're looking for?" Jiraiya asks, narrowing is eyes.

"There is someone they're considering, but I do not know who precisely," Itachi answers and hesitates. "If I had a guess, I'd say it's Orochimaru."

"Orochimaru?" Jiraiya demands, turning sharply to him. "Him?"

"I believe so, yes. According to Kisame he's been invited before, but he declined. Apparently he's shown interest, lately," Itachi says.

Jiraiya considered that with half furious expression, frown on his face and hands squeezed into fists. Itachi waited, keeping his senses open to the surroundings. If Kisame were to return…

"Can you stay with the Akatsuki?" Jiraiya asks eventually, looking at him seriously.

"Yes," Itachi says simply. He can't say he much likes it, but Akatsuki is, he feels, where the can do most as the rogue-nin. "Reporting back to Leaf will be difficult, however. Borderline impossible."

"You don't need to report to Leaf, just to me," Jiraiya says. "And that you can do by proxies and drop points. Are there any places you frequent, where you can leave your reports safely for me or one of my people to collect?"

They settle the manner of Itachi's reporting, as well as the code to be used. There is no way of telling how often Itachi could report – it might not be in months, maybe not in years. But at least he has a way now.

"You should go," Itachi says. "If Kisame senses you here…"

"He's a Dominant?" Jiraiya asks and gives him a look. "Are you –"

"That is not your concern, but no," Itachi answers, running a hand through his hair and giving the man a steady look.

The Sannin considers him and then nods. "If you need extraction, I can't promise I can provide," he says apologetically.

"If it comes to the point where leaving the organisation would be necessary, I'd already be gone… or dead," Itachi answers. "But thank you for your concern."

The Sannin nods and turns to leave. "Anything else?"

Itachi hesitates. "The aftermath of the massacre," he says then, not sure if wants to hear it… but he has to know. "How did… the village see it?"

Jiraiya gives him a sympathetic smile. "A brilliant young Submissive gone mad with resentment and envy, killing his great and honourable clan to prove himself stronger than them."

Itachi closes his eyes. "Good," he whispers. Both the Uchiha's and the village's reputation had been preserved, neither name tarnished. Uchiha would go in history as the great clan that had the misfortune of birthing its own doom. Hidden Leaf would remain what it was, rather than joining the ranks of the likes of Hidden Mist, with its senseless butchery of its citizens. No one but him would fall.

Good.

Jiraiya leaves without another word, leaving not just the room but the inn and eventually the village altogether. Itachi takes a moment to gather himself and then throws the windows open, to dilute the air and Jiraiya's scent in the air. Then, after a moment of consideration, he packs his kunai away, musses up the covers of his futon, and masturbates quickly and efficiently.

When Kisame comes in later, everything is all cleaned up of course, but the scent lingers, easily strong enough for man of Kisame's sensitivity to pick up. The former Mist-nin gives Itachi an amused, knowing look. "So you do have fun every now and then. I had wondered. A local, then? A civilian? How… interesting."

"Who should I bed, then? Someone stronger than myself?" Itachi asks, giving him a look. "Someone who could actually dominate me?"

"I get your point," Kisame says, laughing. "Can't say I understand how it's from your end. Must be interesting, though. Knowing you could kill them any moment you wanted to… you're a practical black widow, aren't you?"

Itachi shakes his head at that. "How was the job?"

Kisame sighs and sets Samehada down to lean against the door. "Not as much fun as I had hoped, but it kept me entertained for couple of hours. Might've killed couple of those guys, but thankfully they didn't say I couldn't," he says. "I think it's about time we move onto someplace bigger. Backwater towns like these have no work for people of our calibre."

"It's all the same to me," Itachi answers and looks away.

Itachi doesn't trust Kisame, neither with his secrets, nor with his life. But appreciates him for what he is. Kisame is a Dominant, sure, but he has about as much interest in sex as he does in peace and tranquillity. Something about his clan and bloodline made the man very… dispassionate when it came to those things. If he hadn't been, he probably would've already tried to re-assert himself over Itachi after the perceived association with another Dominant.

Whatever Dominant tendencies Kisame had, they were all concentrated to battlefields and to struggles of combat. Not to the biological imperatives of mating. If such thing could be called luck, then it was one of the few things Itachi could call himself lucky for. If Kisame had ever tried, he would've been forced to if not kill the man, then at least injure him to the point of having to desert the organisation.

That was probably why Pein had originally approved Kisame's request to become Itachi's partner. Kisame wanted it only because their similar histories, in killing their own clan members. Pein had approved it because he had known that such things wouldn't occur between them. After all, an attempted pairing and the subsequent disaster of Itachi being forced to defend himself, would've been distractions from the work.

"Should we leave tonight?" Itachi asks, looking out the open window.

"No need to push yourself, Itachi-san," Kisame smiles. "I rather feel like some sake, actually. Need something to wash the taste of the mission from my mouth, at any rate. How about you? Or, well… you are only fifteen, aren't you?"

Itachi closes his eyes, leaning his head lightly against the wall. He feels… a little better now, knowing that someone knows, that there is someone he can not quite speak to, but to just let know. That he's, once more, doing something for the Hidden Leaf. "I could use a cup myself," he admits.

Kisame chuckles. "You really must've had a good time, then," he says, while heading towards the door. "This is a day to remember, huh?"

Itachi smiles wryly. "Maybe it is."

Chapter Text

"Not my fault," Was the first thing Naruto said, as the Team Seven walked into the Hokage's office, after a week long mission out of the village. "Seriously. I had NOTHING to do with this."

"Uh," Sarutobi started, looking over the wholly altered team, trying to figure out something to say. He was fairly sure that the team had consisted of a male jounin, two male genin and one female genin the last time he had seen it. And he was fairly sure he even knew more or less what those genins and one jounin looked like, more or less, and what he was seeing right now… wasn't it.

Naruto, in this form, was familiar, if a bit smaller than usually. The long pigtails were nearly legendary in Konoha, after the dozens of times Naruto had ran about the village with them – and without much anything else, really. He had clothing now, his usual orange jumper and head band and everything from his gear to his geta and even the scars on his face was same as always and if Sarutobi hadn't known better, he would've said that he, she, looked almost normal. Except for the pigtails, though. And the gender, which ad softened the boy's usual features into something… well, softer.

The black haired girl scowling at the world beside Naruto was somewhat similar, and somewhat different. Sasuke, Sarutobi was well aware, had inherited the usual features of an Uchiha and so even as a male he wasn't precisely masculine, as far as his facial features went. As a girl the boy was quite beautiful, if such a sentence could even be thought of. His hair wasn't quite as long as Naruto's, reaching only his mid back rather than his knees, but it was there, falling over the high collar of his turtle neck shirt, and though his clothing were more or less male, it was a girl's body in them.

The last of the three genins was perhaps the biggest surprise of them all. Sakura was about a inch taller than before, standing behind Naruto and Sasuke both, and hovering just a bit over them, with her – no, his – pink hair cropped short, and her usual red over dress changed into a red shirt and trousers. She, he, seemed to be somewhere between mortification and embarrassed pleasure, as she, he, looked between Naruto and Sasuke.

"Um," Sarutobi started again, and then paused at the sight of Kakashi. At least he assumed it was Kakashi. He – she – wore Kakashi's uniform, his mask, even had the headband crossing over her forehead, slanting over one eye and hiding it from view. Except then there was the enormous waterfall was silver hair, falling in spikes and random curls across the shoulder pads of the vest, and the rather abundant cleavage, not to mention about the hips which made the jounin's pants look quite a bit too tight. Which was something of an accomplishment, considering how loose they were by design.

The Jounin that was most likely Kakashi smiled behind her cloth mask, her eye forming a happy bow, and Sarutobi leaned back. "Okay then," the Hokage said slowly. "How is this not your fault, Naruto?"

"I didn't make them try it," the blonde girl said, folding her arms with a harrumph. "It's their own fault they botched up the jutsu."

"We didn't botch it up, your jutsu is flawed!" the pink haired boy growled.

"It's not," the blonde girl answered, with another harrumph.

"It is," the black haired girl answered, pinched look about her pretty face. "You made the thing up without knowing first thing about jutsus, the seals are all bastardised and chakra flow goes all wrong – how you get it right is anyone's guess when it shouldn't be gotten right in the first place!"

"No, I get it right because I'm brilliant. You just suck," the blonde answered, looking away.

"So," Sarutobi said. "I gather Sasuke and Sakura decided to try the… Oiroke no jutsu." He gave Kakashi a look. "And they can't undo it. Is that about right?"

"More or less," the silver haired kunoichi answered, and even the voice as all different, gone from low and gravely to low and sultry. "I did try to undo it, but it turns out that the Oiroke no Jutsu isn't a genjutsu as first assumed, but a type of form manipulation. It creates a real physical alteration. What you see is actually what you get."

"Okay. And you figured this out by trying it yourself, I presume," Sarutobi asked, to which the kunoichi nodded. "And you can't turn back either, can you."

"That would be negative, sir," she said cheerfully, cocking her hips to the side and presenting herself, in full Oiroke glory. "I have no idea how Naruto can go back and forth. I've been trying for four days now, with no success. The healers might have some idea, but at this point I highly doubt it. What we're dealing here is a whole new brand of ninjutsu."

"Huh," Sarutobi answered, looking between the Jounin and the gender bent students. Then, frowning, he turned to look at Naruto. "Why are you in a female form, Naruto? Shouldn't you be able to change back?"

"Solidarity," the girl answered with a shrug. "And bathing arrangements," he added, throwing a look at Sakura who flushed almost as pink as his hair.

"I see," Sarutobi answered, looking between them again, uncertain as to what to think about it, let alone do. "Well," he said after a while. "Did you at least complete mission?"

"It was more or less a success, but I fear we might've mentally traumatised just about every inhabitant of the village, sir," Kakashi answered.

"Okay. Go… sort this out, somewhere not here," Sarutobi said, waving them away. "I have paper work and... things to get to."

As they left, grumbling and nudging at each other, the Hokage shook his head. Maybe it was a curse of the number, but why, oh why did the Team Seven always have to be the weird one?

Chapter Text

Uzumaki Naruto was a tool one could either use very very blatantly – or not at all.

There wasn't really a happy medium there. It was either going all out and making the most use of his abilities, which would then make him stick out like the most offensive sore thumb imaginable, which would be understandably dangerous for the boy, seeing that he had lot of natural enemies. Or they could hide him, keep him and his lineage and his abilities and powers a secret, which then would mean not taking the full advantage of the said powers. And Naruto, being who and what he was, could not be hidden and then subtly applied at the same time – the boy was too loud, too powerful, too noticeable for that.

So the choice was very straight forward. Either let him in on the true extend of his own abilities, which would then out him to the world… Or let him maligner in the belief he was still the dead last of his class, which would probably hinder his true development for years.

The soft heart Sarutobi had carefully nursed for years told him to hide Naruto, to let him remain safe in his easy ignorance, let him grow normally and earn understanding and respect slowly over the years. That way when Naruto leaned how strong he really was, he would have the background of much harder work to temper him and so when he realised how strong he really was, it wouldn't ruin his good nature.

But Sarutobi wasn't the longest standing Hokage because he was just a sentimental fool. Konoha wasn't as strong or as wealthy as it had been – they still hadn't recovered from the loss of the Uchiha, chances were they never would. Outside their walls rumours were already spreading – saying that Konoha was growing weak. And it was true. The Senju Clan was all but gone, Uchiha was down to its last member and would probably never be resurrected, and their strongest currently standing clan was the Hyuuga – who had literally sealed away most of their potential power with the Bird Cage Seal.

Konoha was a shadow of what it used to be – and the fact that the ninja with greatest power and most potential was a twelve year old boy who failed his tests three times in a row only stood on testimony of that. And as much as Sarutobi would've liked to let Naruto live his life in peace and quiet… the village had to come first.

 


 

"With right master and proper training, I don't think the risk of assassination will be an issue," Homura said thoughtfully. "For now we can keep the boy close to home – something we need to do anyway, seeing that he is our jinchuuriki. No need to risk him on foreign soil anytime soon – not before we know he can manage properly."

"Agreed," Sarutobi nodded. "Its the master that's the problem, though. Naruto's potential goes well beyond what he's showing now – there is no question about him being a key figure in future village politics, not with his strength and lineage. We need someone who can not only teach him how to properly utilise his power and current abilities, tall order for any regular jounin already, but he needs to also guided with skill and care also in the years to come, and taught all he needs to know to face that future and duties ahead of him."

"You think he's a candidate for future Hokage," Koharu said neutrally.

"At twelve he now posses the most useful and applicable ability ever developed and he can use it with power that defies logic," Sarutobi said flatly. "Thousand shadow clones, Koharu, without breaking a sweat. Who in this village can compare to that? Who here can beat that?"

"Power is one thing – if power alone was enough, it would have been Kushina, not Minato, who became the Fourth Hokage," she answered flatly. "Naruto is powerful, yes, and will grow only more so. But the strongest kunai is not necessarily the sharpest and that has never been more true than here."

"Which is why we need a good sharpener – a master that can hone him in to fine polish and sharp edge," Sarutobi said firmly. "I have no doubt Naruto can learn – some of those pranks of his take a lot of premeditation and cunning. We just need to figure out who can tab the potential there."

His two old team-mates engaged a look. "Well," Homura said slowly. "I suppose I'll do the honours of pointing out the obvious. Jiraiya. However," he added just as Sarutobi started shaking his head. "I get the feeling you've already considered that and rejected the notion – we wouldn't be having this discussion otherwise."

"True," the Hokage admitted. "I don't think Jiraiya is suitable for this. Power wise, yes, he could teach Naruto to utilise his strength properly, there is no question about that. But he refuses to live in Konoha and his priorities in life have shifted away from the village. He's grown aloof and distant and it's not a lesson a future Hokage should take. Maybe in few years, there might be a benefit to Naruto learning from him, but not at this crucial stage. Naruto needs a different example – one of hard work and devotion to the village, his home, not a merely duty done from afar to a place you have increasingly faded attachment to."

"Which rules out Tsunade as well," Homura mused thoughtfully. "None of us will do either – we could hardly keep up with the boy, and as Hokage you are far too busy… Danzo perhaps?"

"There is another problem with Naruto," Sarutobi added. "His utility as a tool. There is a lot you can do with what he is capable of – lot of ways in which it can be abused. Whoever his master is, it needs to be someone who won't take advantage of it and of him. Or of the political influence he might have in future."

"And even so whoever will end up teaching him will probably grow more influential in the future as side effect," Homura agreed. "You are right, Sarutobi, this is a decision that has to be made with care. And as of now… I can't think of anyone suited to the task. Hatake Kakashi maybe but…"

"Once again, not the best example for a future Hokage," Sarutobi agreed with grim amusement. "As it is, Kakashi must teach Uchiha Sasuke's and Naruto needs more personal attention than the teacher of three genin can provide."

"He needs to learn team work," Homura pointed out. "It is one if the most important things a leader of a Ninja village must know – you said it yourself when you chose Minato over Orochimaru."

"True – which makes Kakashi even less suitable. His views on teamwork tend to be largely… self sacrificial. Not a good quality for a Hokage, that one."

Koharu looked between the two as they reflected on that grimly and let herself consider it – truly consider it. Sarutobi was sentimental and optimistic but he wasn't a fool and already Homura was on his side…

And there was something comforting about the idea of going out their way to shape and train a future Hokage right from the start – rather than having to wait for a suitable candidate to just appear. As it was, Sarutobi had been specifically reared for the position too – Minato was the exemption here, not the rule. And no one could deny that the results in Sarutobi's case were greater, than those in Minato's case had been.

And Sarutobi hadn't been taught just by one master – he had had two.

"Well then," she said. "Seeing that there is no one suited to the task and yet there are number of conditions that must be met – and there are village politics to consider as well… let me put forth a slightly untraditional suggestion."

 


 

"… Team Seven; Haruno Sakura, Uchiha Sasuke and Shiranui Michi. Team Eight; Aburame Shino…" Iruka listed as the graduating class of students listened intently, letting out quiet hisses of triumph or dismay as they were placed in teams. "… and Team Ten; Nara Shikamaru, Akimichi Choji and Yamanaka Ino. Your teachers will be here to pick you up shortly," he finished.

Naruto waited for a moment while all the others cast surreptitious looks at him but when Iruka didn't look like he was about to continue, he shot his hands up.

"Iruka-sensei, what about me? My name wasn't said!" He complained, trying not to sound too nervous. Had he been too late to make it into the team assignments because he'd graduated later than everyone else?

There was some laughter and jeers in the class and someone muttered "I knew he didn't really graduate, he must've stolen that headband from somewhere – I mean look at how old it is…" which Iruka quelled with a glare.

"Other arrangements were made for you, Naruto," he said, turning to him. "You'll be picked up shortly too, never fear."

"Picked by what – the janitorial staff?" someone muttered and there was laughter again.

Naruto sank in his seat as the other students made faces at him – even Sakura giggled and she made no efforts to hide it either! Grumbling softly under his breath, Naruto leaned his chin on knuckles and scowled at everyone who looked his way.

Then they waited. Some of the teams came to sit together in same tables – others, like the Ino-Shika-Cho group were already sitting together. Hinata went to join Kiba and Shino and Sakura eventually pushed Naruto out of the way to make room for Michi who slouched into place with the rest of Team Seven. Naruto ended up sitting in the back of the class, alone.

Well at least that way no one could make faces at him behind his back.

He was kind of expecting to be the last one to be picked up – because he always was – so when a group of three ninja entered, he didn't pay much attention. Not before someone called, a little incredulously, "Dad?" and then he had to look.

There was a heavy set man in red armour, a pale eyed man with long blond hair and man with a spiky black ponytail and scars in his face standing in front of the class – and Ino was loudly asking, "Dad, what are you doing here?" while Shikamaru stared the black haired man with suspicion and Choji was sharing a bag of potato chips with the one in red armour.

"We're here to pick up our student," the man who must've been Ino's dad said and looked up at the class.

"Don't you mean students?" Ino asked and then brightened up. "One of you us gonna be out sensei, right? Or all of you?"

"No, its just a student – just the one," the black haired man said and looked up and at Naruto. "Come on, Naruto. Get down here."

"Wait – me?" Naruto asked with surprise and then, when the man frowned at him, quickly got up from his seat. "You're gonna be my teacher?"

"Yes," the man said and sighed. "Yes we are."

"Wait – Naruto has to have three teachers?" someone asked incredulously and laughed. "Oh man he really must suck so bad if he has to be taught by three people!"

Naruto winced at that but grit his teeth and hurried forward to meet his three teachers – all of whom gave somewhat amused looks at the class. Ino in the meanwhile was staring at Naruto in shock and Shikamaru looked even more suspicious.

"Well then, " Ino's dad said. "Let's go."

"Wait," a voice called from the class and Sasuke stood up. "Aren't you Nara Shikaku, the Jounin Commander of Konoha?"

"Yes," answered the black haired man boredly – and then he left the class, the two other men following quickly after, leaving behind a gobsmacked class of Genins and Naruto, who after a moment hurried after them.

"The Jounin commander? Isn't he like the Hokage's second in command?" he heard Kiba asking behind them.

"Yeah…"

Chapter Text

"So, say, if someone were to hypothetically travel back in time…" 

Shikamaru lifted his head from the grass to stare at his classmate who'd just plonked down to sit beside him. Naruto was studiously not looking at him, leaning instead back to his outstretched hands, all casual. 

"Say that again?" Shikamaru said suspiciously. 

Naruto cleared his throat. "So, if someone were to hypothetically -" 

"Stop. Say that word again." 

Now Naruto turned to him, confused. "Hypothetically?" 

Shikamaru narrowed his eyes. "What does that mean?" He asked suspiciously. 

"What, you don't know?' Naruto asked and he looked worried. Not superior or mocking or anything like that - worried. 

"Do you?" Shikamaru pressed, eyeing him closely. 

"Well, uh… it's like theoretical -" 

"Theoretical?" Shikamaru asked in disbelief. 

Naruto sighed in frustration. "Its like make belief thought experiment without basis on truth or reality or whatever, all right? Can I actually ask my hypothetical question now?" 

"Well," Shikamaru said slowly , staring at him. "In theory yes." 

"Thank you. So if someone were to hypothetically travel back in time, uh… what do you think they should do?" 

Shikamaru blinked. "How much did they,  hypothetically, travel back in time?" 

Naruto considered it - but not like he was making it up. More like he was counting. "About ten years," he said then. 

"And this would be ten years from now? Hypothetically speaking." 

"Yup." 

Shikamaru considered it for a moment. "I guess that would depend on what sort of things they knew and what sort of person they were. Would they be a loyal Leaf ninja?" 

"Absolutely," Naruto said vehemently. 

"Right. So they would know future events and might be able to prevent disasters maybe." 

"That's what I thought too," Naruto said with a nod. "But see they've been turned into a little kid and they can't really do much. And no one would believe them, so he can't even warn anybody or anything." 

"Well… I dunno. Anonymous tips are a thing," Shikamaru said. "And I think someone would believe them - him. Especially if he knows the future." 

"Really?" Naruto asked worriedly. 

Shikamaru snorted. "All it took for me to believe was you using the word hypothetically correctly. How the hell did you travel back in time, Naruto?"

Chapter Text

It's all thanks to the fact that Sasuke can't sleep. His body won't stop stinging, and no position is comfortable – if he moves this way, it's his shoulder that feels like a six inch nail is being driven through it. If he moves that way, it's his side. On that position it's his chest, then his stomach – and always, always his neck feels like a pincushion.

Haku had been damn good at what he had done, Sasuke has to grand him that, and he is damned grateful for it – little bit to either direction and the needles in his neck would've killed him. But that doesn't make the healing process any faster or less painful after those said needles had been removed.

Sasuke's cursing that and trying to, fruitlessly, tell himself that if he shifts again he'll just end up feeling the ghost needles in some other spot, when he hears it – Naruto moving quietly in the other side of the room. At first he decides to ignore it – Naruto's probably just changing positions or going to the bathroom or something – but then he hears a button popping and has to open his eyes. Across the small room he shares with Naruto on Tazuna's and Tsunami's house, Naruto is shimmy out of his pyjamas and reaching for his obnoxious orange jumper suit.

Going out? Maybe Naruto couldn't sleep either. Sasuke contemplates for a moment about opening his mouth and asking – and maybe joining the other boy, because he's getting nowhere, trying to fall asleep – when he sees Naruto do something odd. First he smoothes out the bundled legs of his orange trousers and for a moment Sasuke sees a glimpse of something dark. Then Naruto turns the trousers inside out, covering the obnoxious orange completely and turning the trousers darker.

Double-sided trousers? Sasuke has heard of double sided jackets and shirts but trousers?

As he wonders about that – and about why Naruto of all people would get something like that, Naruto stands up and pulls the now darker shaded trousers. Sasuke has to take a moment to marvel how different they look. The orange jumpsuit has always had a sort of misshapen quality, too tight around the legs, too loose around the hips. Now, when they're the dark-side up, the shape is different. Looser around the legs than before, not to mention the fact that they reach Naruto's ankles.

Then, as he wonders about it, Naruto does the same to his jacket, and this time the change is even bigger. The darker inside – now turned into the outside – of the orange jacket is adorned like a shinobi vest, with pouches at the chest and few along the hem, explaining why the jacket sometimes looks like sack of potatoes. Or why it had looked like that the orange side up, because dark side up it looks much better, the cut smoother, less baggy.

Without a word – and his movements are quiet too, now that Sasuke thinks about it – Naruto pulls the jacket on before rummaging through the pockets. Sasuke's mouth opens a bit as he watches his usually annoyingly brightly coloured team mate take out a bandana and efficiently tie it around his head in easy adjusted movements, covering his bright yellow hair. And then…

And then the genin on the other side of the room could've been anyone – anyone, that is, except Naruto who was usually the embodiment of a bull's-eye.

Unable to bear the curiosity now, Sasuke shifts up, wincing a bit as he feels the ghost of needles poring into his stomach and chest. "What are you doing?" he asks, making the other genin wince and freeze for a moment.

Naruto looks at him, and something about his face is different in the dim light of the room. Frowning at that look, Sasuke concentrates a bit and then activates his sharingan, needing to get a clearer view. It doesn't help much, it turns out, because the expression on Naruto's face doesn't fit any more than the outfit he now wears does – it's serious, determined. Resolved, like he is about to do something he doesn't like, but is going to do it anyway.

"What?" the Uchiha asks, bit of nervousness bleeding into his curiosity. This is strange. This is… suspicious. "Naruto?"

"I'm leaving, okay?" the other boy says under his breath. "Just go back to sleep and ignore me and forget this ever happened and you don't ever have to bother with me again, alright?"

Sasuke lets out a strangled snort because – what? "What the hell?" he asks, and shifts to his knees and then to his feet – standing hurts less than anything else, at this point. "You tell me you're going to leave and then just tell me to forget it? Sorry to tell you, but it doesn't work like that."

"It could, if you decided not to be a bastard for once," Naruto mutters, turning to his backpack and rummaging through it for a moment, bringing out a black cloth which he then shimmies on his head – a fabric mask, not much unlike the one Kakashi wears. It hides the lower half of Naruto's face, all but the eyes which still give him away.

"What the hell are you doing?" Sasuke asks, walking closer – close up he can see the colour of Naruto's clothing now. Dark blue. "Why are you leaving?"

"Because," Naruto answers and then takes out something else out of the backpack – a dark fabric sack, which he then shoves the backpack itself into. It makes sense – his backpack is white, not very good for this camouflage he is putting up. The sack, being darker, works better. "It's got nothing to do with you, alright, so just forget it?"

"Yeah, that is really not the way it works," Sasuke says, rubbing at his side. "Because if you're going to take off, that makes you a deserter. And we got rules about deserters."

"Actually, it doesn't. You're only a deserter if you take off in midst of a mission or before its completion. We completed ours when Gato and Zabuza and Haku died – actually before that, since our mission was just a escort mission and that was completed over a week ago," Naruto answers with somewhat surprising clarity, though the eye roll accompanying the words is Naruto-like enough. "We're basically off duty now and if you take off during your down time you just get filed Missing In Action until the word reaches the Hokage, after which you either stay MIA or get branded nuke-nin."

Sasuke blinks at that. It's all true, actually, but he would've never expected Naruto to know it. "It's still my duty to stop you," he says finally. "So why don't you tell me what the hell is going on before I knock you out and get Kakashi here?"

"You'd have to wait a while, Kakashi-sensei's gonna be sleeping soundly for the next six hours or so," Naruto says with a little grin.

"What?" Sasuke asks and then narrows his eyes. "What did you do?"

"Slipped sleeping drug in his tea," Naruto shrugs. "He'll sleep like a baby," he assures and then looks up to him with a frown. "What do you care anyway? You hate me. If you just forget it and pretend you didn't see anything, you'll never have to bother with me again."

Sasuke blinks at that, taken aback a bit. Naruto is annoying and irritating and an eyesore – usually, he isn't sure what Naruto is now, with the orange clothing covered and that look on his face. But Naruto is also… Sasuke had risked his life for him, and even if Haku had never been aiming to kill them, the fact remains. And something had happened afterwards. Naruto had beaten Haku – and been goddamn awkward afterwards. Something had happened.

"I don't hate you," the Uchiha finally says, not sure what else to say.

"Well, that's just wonderful," Naruto sighs and rubs a hand over his eyes, the only part of his face still visible. He's quiet for a long while as Sasuke just looks down on him, trying to decide whether or not he needed to get a kunai for this conversation. Finally Naruto seems to make some sort of decision. "Fine, I'll tell you, but not here. Outside – someone might be awake and I'm not about to let Inari's family know this shit."

"No way. If we go outside, you'll just get a better chance at running away," Sasuke says, narrowing his eyes.

"Take it or leave it," Naruto says back, hoisting his sack to his shoulder. "After what I'll tell you, you're going to be throwing pointy things at me to get me run faster, anyway. You won't want me around after this."

That sounds a bit too ominous and Sasuke finds himself doing nothing to stop his team mate as Naruto stands up and walks past him. Instead he quickly fetches his weapons pouch and then follows Naruto, the pair of them slipping their feet into their geta at the front door when –

"What's going on?"

Sakura stands at the door of the storage closet where she slept, it being the only space big enough for a futon and private enough in the house for a teenage girl. She's, much like Sasuke now that he thinks about it in some embarrassment, wearing only pyjamas. "Who is – Naruto?" she asks with disbelief, at the sight of their dark clad team mate. "What are you wearing? Where did you get that?"

"Shh! Do you want to wake up the whole house?" Naruto asks in hushed tones, while Sasuke points at him with his thumb.

"It's his jumpsuit, it's just inside out," the Uchiha says, putting as much meaning into the words as he can while whispering. Because there is a purpose to it. Naruto has a double-sided jumpsuit, after all, and when one side is irritatingly bright while other is this dark and muted… the purpose of it can be only so many things. And the fact that it is Naruto with clothing like that… is significant. Even if he doesn't know how yet, it still is.

Sakura blinks, for a moment looking confused and then turning serious, seeming to sense the tense atmosphere. "What is going on?" she asks again, coming closer. "Where is Naruto going?"

Sasuke opens his mouth but Naruto makes a move with his hand to stop him. "Outside, I am not talking about this here," he says.

Sasuke nods at Sakura, and frowning the girl comes closer to get her foot wear too. Naruto is surprisingly deft handed in opening the door silently and then closing it after them without disturbing the quiet of the house. While Sasuke wonders where all this stealth had come from, Naruto leads them away from the river side house and to the woods, taking them rather far as if expecting them to need a large space. Is he expecting a fight? Or shouting?

"Okay, what is going on?" Sakura asks in normal tones, once Naruto stops walking in the clearing where they had practiced climbing trees. "What are you wearing and why and –" she looks at Naruto's face, making a wordless gesture at the bandana and the mask and only then Sasuke realises that Naruto isn't wearing his headband.

"I'm leaving," the blond genin says. "I can't go back to Konoha – if go back, they'll section me."

That is definitely not what Sasuke had been expecting. He opens his mouth with shock and then closes it with a click, blinking rapidly.

Section. It could many things from intensive interrogation to imprisonment to sealing to lobotomy and lot of things in between. Sasuke himself has unpleasant amount of information about all the things it could mean – because lot of Uchihas had been sectioned over the years. Overuse of Sharingan having driven them mad, either the Uchiha Elders or the Village Council had stepped in to… ensure that they wouldn't be harm to the civilians or to themselves. Most of them had been sealed to the point they had never been able to use chakra again. Few had had their eyes removed. Some had gone through not so voluntary lobotomy. One had been drugged up to his gills for the rest of his life. A lot had never been seen again.

He had nearly been sectioned too, after what had… happened to his family. The shock and trauma had driven him nearly comatose and when he had come to, he had been rather temperamental for a while. It was only thanks to the fact that he hadn't had the Sharingan at that point that he hadn't been sectioned, and had instead been put through a lot of rather rigorous therapy sessions.

"Why?" Sasuke manages to finally ask, his voice choked.

"I lost control," Naruto shrugs, looking awkwardly at them and wincing at their shocked expressions. "Back in the bridge, when Haku… I thought you died and I lost control," he says again and looks away, looking uncertain.

"Lost control? But… anyone would've, right?" Sakura asks. "You thought Sasuke had died, anyone would've lost control!"

"That's… not it," Naruto says awkwardly and then Sasuke gets it. That look on his face, it's more than overblown worry, more than paranoia or hypochondria. That's knowledge, hard and cold and it is terrifying Naruto.

"What is it, Naruto?" he asks, stepping closer. "What did you lose the control of?"

The blond hesitates for a long while before tugging the fabric mask down and then opening the zipper of his now dark blue jacket, revealing the black shirt – black, Naruto always wore black shirts and black underwear and Sasuke hadn't even realised how against the rest of his dress code it went. Then it doesn't matter much because Naruto's lifting the shirt up with one hand, while making a lopsided hand seal with the other.

A ink black seal appears right before their eyes on the skin of Naruto's stomach, surrounding the navel in spirals.

"That is…" Sasuke murmurs, and on its own his mind puts it together. It's a seal, an old one – weirdly stretched, like tattoo that had gotten misshapen with age and weight gain. A seal like that would've had to be made when Naruto was young, maybe just a baby. Maybe even just a newborn. And when Naruto had been a newborn…

"It's the seal holding back the Kyubi. Which I lost the control of, back in the bridge," Naruto says darkly and lets the seal fade and the shirt drop. "So you see. When I go back to Konoha, I'm as good as dead.  I lost control. They won't let me be after this."

"T-the Kyubi?" Sakura asks, choked. "B-but the Kyubi, it died, the Fourth killed it!"

"You can't kill the tailed beasts. They aren't alive, really – they're just energy, chakra, whatever you want to call it – so they can't die," Naruto sighs. "But you can imprison them and humans make good containers. Useful, because the chakra, with right seals you can use it. So it's useful, to have demon in human container. Except for when they… lose control."

"Oh my god," Sakura whispers and falls to her knees, staring at Naruto in horror while Sasuke's mind whirls and spins, looking back to all the time he's known Naruto, all the things he remembers – back from when his parents, his family, had been there, always telling him not to get close because Naruto was… something. And it hadn't been just his family either. It had been everyone. The shop keepers, the teachers, random passers by, everyone, telling him and every other kid he had ever known that Naruto was bad news. Long before the pranks and misbehaviour, Naruto had already been bad news.

"The village knows?" Sasuke asks, his expression tightening. "Everyone knows, don't they?"

"Everyone but people born afterwards and who were too young to know back then. The Third made a law," Naruto shrugs. "It's illegal to talk about it."

"Aren't you breaking that law now?" Sasuke asks, frowning.

"Well, not really. I am the law, sort of. I'm the only exempt," Naruto snorts. "And besides, I am not going back to the village, so it doesn't matter."

"Yeah," Sasuke murmurs and then sits beside Sakura, his knees feeling a bit shaky. "Yeah, I guess you're not."

The Kyubi, all this time, inside Naruto. And everyone had known, but him and his generation and those below them. No wonder… no wonder anything really, all the little things that hadn't made sense fit now. Well, the little things about Naruto at any rate. That was what had happened at the bridge – that was what had happened to Haku.

Kyubi had happened.

"But… you have to come back, don't you?" Sakura asks faintly. "You want to be the Hokage!"

"I did. Back before I found out," Naruto admits and with a sigh he falls to sit on the mossy ground too, crossing his ankles in his lap. "I'm not as smart as you guys, but I'm not stupid. No one would ever make the container of a tailed beast into a Kage." He sighs and scratches his scarred cheek. "Besides after this… yeah. I won't have much of a hope of making it to chuunin or even staying a genin, not to mention something like that. They won't let me wander around freely after this."

"But…"

"You're in control now, aren't you?" Sasuke asks with ever deepening frown. "You lost control once, okay. But you got it back, didn't you?"

"Once is once too many," Naruto says simply and Sasuke realises that it is the truth. The village couldn't risk it, wouldn't, with something like the Kyubi. The people it had killed, so many people… Yeah, it couldn't be risked.

There is a moment of silence as they just looked at the ground between them, Sasuke and Sakura wrapping their minds around what's happening, Naruto waiting for the final verdict. "You know," the blond says after a while. "I expected you guys to be throwing knifes at me at this point."

"Why?" Sakura asks, confused.

"That's what people do," Naruto shrugs awkwardly. "In the village. Everyone hates me because… this," he motions at his stomach.

Sasuke waves a dismissive hand at that. "Kyubi or no Kyubi, you're still a total moron," he says, more as a way to alleviate the tension than as an insult, and it seems to make Naruto relax a bit. "Still, running away? Do you even have any place to go? A plan?"

"Of course I have a plan. Look at me!" Naruto laughs, pointing at the get up – and yeah, it makes sense now. Naruto had been expecting this. Had been preparing for it. "Though, no," the blond admits then. "I don't have a place to go, but anywhere's better than at Konoha at this point. I'll figure something out."

Sasuke and Sakura share a look and then roll their eyes. "Typical," Sasuke says. "You're going to get yourself killed. And with this Kyubi business too – they're not just going to leave you MIA and forget about you. Not with a tailed beast in your belly. You'll be branded a traitor and a missing-nin the moment the Third hears. You'll be hunted down."

"I'll be long gone by then," Naruto says with bravery that's so fake that anyone could've seen through it.

"Doing what?" Sakura asks, incredulous. "You need a plan, you idiot. And I don't mean just a fancy get up, you need a proper plan."

"I'll figure it out later," the blond promises, but he's starting to look at them uneasily, worriedly.

"No, we figure it out now," Sasuke says, and then turns to Sakura. "Okay, you got the highest marks at the Academy, that includes geography. Best places to go, politics wise, and best places to hide. I'll figure out how and what to do in the long run," he says, and with a sudden blush Sakura nods. Sasuke ignores it in favour of figuring an attack plan for Naruto.

What can Naruto do? He has the Tajuu Kage Bunshin, which would be very useful if Naruto figured out how to use it to his advantage. And Naruto was best in the academy in one score – Henge. That means he has endless supply of decoys and good enough disguise skills to fool most ninja up to chuunin and all civilians. Would that be enough?

No, it wouldn't. Disguise is one thing, a good thing, but it wouldn't help him in the long run. Knowing Naruto he probably didn't have enough stores to keep himself fed for extended periods of time, after all. He would also need money to potentially bribe people – boarder officials and guards and the like, to make sure people didn't mention to him to potential hunter-nin.

"Wave would be the best, politics wise, but obviously it's out of question as are all the nearby minor countries," Sakura murmurs to herself. "Too obvious. Further away you go, the more intense the politics get, when you get to the countries between the elemental nations. Rice could be a good one – it's large, as minor countries go, and quiet, their hidden village is new and relatively powerless, minor interest to their neighbours. Maybe River country or Land of Fields…"

Naruto needs funds, Sasuke thought, and he needs them now. Even if they throw in what money they brought with them, it wouldn't be enough. Naruto could probably get a job – with his Shadow Clones he could do a lot of things faster than most people, but that was noticeable, too noticeable, and was out in the immediate future. Maybe in long term with henge… but he needed money now, and there'd be no safe, quick way to get money legally either, certainly not in Wave, except…

"Gato," Sasuke says and looks up. "Gato's dead. And after what happened to the samurai he hired, I doubt anyone's been to his complex since his dead. You need to go there and take whatever you can find, and fast."

"Why?" Naruto asks, looking confused.

"Money, you idiot. You need money to manage," Sasuke answers. "And anything else money worthy – jewels and precious metals and such would be the best, easy to sell and they hold their value."

"But shouldn't Wave get that money? They need it," Naruto says, looking guilty.

"They've managed fine so far, and once the bridge will be finished they'll be getting back their shipping capabilities. I doubt anything's happened to their fishing industry while all this has been going on, they just haven't been able to ship out of Wave… and thanks to what's been going on here, the market prices for salt water fish are high. They'll be back to their feet in no time," Sakura answers for Sasuke, shaking her head. "Gato's money might help them a bit at the start, but in the end it doesn't make that big a difference, and they wouldn't even be able to use it to their full advantage before the bridge would be finished."

She shrugs. "And besides, I doubt they'd even want to take it, at this point," she adds. "Since is Gato's money and who knows where it came from."

"Yeah. You can do more with it," Sasuke says to Naruto who looks suspicious but nods.

"So, I'll take what Gato left behind, and then head out of town. To where, Land of Rice?" the blond asks.

"For starters," Sakura says and then looks around before reaching for a stick and starting to drag lines into the moss covering the forest floor, to draw a simile of a map. "We're here now, in Wave. You need to head from here to west and towards the…"

As Sakura starts to lay out the plans of Naruto's escape route and destination, Sasuke leans back a bit, just to look at this weird scene. Here they are, aiding Naruto in deserting the village. It's wrong, and if anyone found out they'd be punished for it. They'd have to cover their tracks too, once Naruto would be gone and then… then what?

What would happen to their team, once it'd lose one of its members? They are a team now, though, and Kakashi had approved them so maybe they can't be send back to the Academy. Will they get a new member, or continue on as team of two genins and one jounin? Hopefully the latter – Sasuke for one doesn't feel like accustoming to yet another insipid team-mate.

Although… having Sakura and Naruto around has it's upsides. Kakashi too.

Shaking his head, Sasuke joins the conversation, adding his ideas about Naruto's Kage Bunshins and Henges and how Naruto should use them to cover his tracks and confuse his pursuers and eventually, find employment. "Don't rely on either too much, though, when you run into hostiles or think you're about to. Byakugan and Sharingan both can see through majority of illusions, and there are other eye based techniques out there," he adds with a glare. "Get a real disguise too, real and physical. Dye your hair maybe."

"My hair?!" Naruto asks, outraged, lifting his hands to touch the bandana-covered yellow mess he calls hair.

"It is rather memorable," Sakura says apologetically.

"You're one to speak," Naruto pouts. "At least blond hair is natural."

"Get a hat then, if you're so damned fond of your golden locks," Sasuke rolls his eyes and forcibly steers the discussion back to the point.

Eventually, once the planning and plotting is finished, disguises have been talked about along with the routes as well as what to do with the money he might or might not find, and how to get more… they run out of things to cover. There is a moment of awkward, uneasy silence as Sasuke runs circles in his head, looking hurriedly for anything else to add, and Sakura seems to do the same at his side, and in the end both of them come up empty.

Looking at them, Naruto nods and stands up. "Okay… I, uh… I can't really send you letters or anything like that, can I? It might give me away," he says with a frown and then thinks about it. "I got it. I'll send something to Teuchi at the Ichiraku, to be given to you. He likes me, he won't snitch."

"Code them," Sasuke says, standing up too. "You know some codes, right?"

"I know a good one," Sakura offers. "A two fold code, pretty simple to make and easy decipher but only if you have the keys. If not, it's pure gibberish," she adds, and then explains it – and yes, it is simple and maybe a bit ingenious for it. Sasuke can't help but approve, though the problem is that it requires a list of agreed-upon words and then a book, and they none of them have any at hand.

"Hmm," Naruto murmurs and then nods. "I'll use the Ichiraku menu for the first bit, it's numbered and I know it by heart. It fits too, since I'll be sending the stuff to him so it wouldn't seem too weird… And Kakashi's dirty book can work for the second bit, I can get that from anywhere," he decides and then looks at them awkwardly. "I, uh… Thanks. For this. All of it. I really thought you guys… that you…" he trails away, staring at his feet.

"That we wouldn't help? Of course we would. You're a team mate," Sakura says, looking offended.

"And I know what sectioning can be like. I wouldn't wish it on an enemy," Sasuke murmurs, grimacing.

"Just take care of yourself?" Sakura asks. "And be careful. Really, really careful."

Naruto nods, his lower lip quivering before he purses his lips into a line and then lifts the fabric mask up, to cover his features. "Thanks," he says, lifting his featureless sack up to his shoulder again. There is a moment of awkwardness before his shoulders straighten. "Bye guys," he says then, and takes off, jumping up the tree trunks to the higher branches and then disappearing into the upper canopy, dashing among the branches.

"You think he'll make it?" Sakura asks, as they stare up to where Naruto had vanished.

"Yeah, I do," Sasuke admits. There was something about Naruto that defied sense. That something would support him, help him manage. "I think we need to be a bit more worried about us, though," he then says, looking at the girl. "We just helped Naruto desert the village. If people find out…"

"We'll cover our tracks too," Sakura says, looking at the ground where the etched map still lingered, lines drawn in moss. "Literally," she adds, and then starts wiping away her drawings.

Chapter Text

Naruto and Sakura stared at Sasuke. Sasuke just ignored them for the most part.

He felt woefully out of place, sitting with the two thirteen year olds. Especially so since Naruto kept trying to peek under the fringe Sasuke had pulled over the Rinnegan and Sakura looked like she was trying not to stare - and to cry - at his missing right arm.

They were so young. And tiny.

"So," Kakashi said, scratching at the edge of his mask. "Seeing that... there been some changes to this team, how about introductions?"

"But we already know everybody," Naruto said and pointed at Sasuke. "I mean that is Sasuke-bastard, isn't it?"

Kakashi gave him a look. "Yes, but it's been a while for him. People change," he said and then cleared his throat. "How about I start, then? Hatake Kakashi, age 27, rank Jounin, my likes and dislikes are... still not really that important. My goals are, hmm... not really any of your business. Naruto, your turn."

"Tch," Naruto said. "Uzumaki Naruto, 13, Genin, Ramen, Bastards, Hokage. Done."

Kakashi sighed. "I guess that will do. Sakura."

"Um. Haruno Sakura," she started awkwardly. "13 years old, Genin. I like, um... my team I guess and dislike seeing my team hurt, that's the worst. My goal is..." she trailed away, looking nervously towards Sasuke, glancing down at the arm he was missing. She didn't continue.

"Alright then," Kakashi said and looked up. '"Sasuke, your turn."

Sasuke smothered the urge to roll his eyes. It was almost cute, what Kakashi was trying. Pointless but cute. "Uchiha Sasuke, 18," he said and then smiled. "Genin."

"What, seriously?" Naruto asked and cackles uproariously. "Oh man, 5 years and you didn't even make it to Chuunin? Sasuke, you suck!"

"Naruto, shut it," Sakura hissed and Kakashi sighed while Sasuke ducked his head to hide his smile spreading into an amused grin.

"Let Sasuke finish," the Jounin-sensei said and gave his exaggerated fake smile. "Go on, Sasuke. Tell us about your likes and dislikes and goals."

Sasuke let out a soft mirthless laugh at that and shook his head. "I like my family. I dislike seeing my family being manipulated," he said simply. "And my goal is to stop some things from happening. Obviously."

There was a moment of silence as they digested that. Then Naruto's let out a snort. "So why was it that you got sent back in time and not someone bit more - awesome like me?" he asked suspiciously.

"You were too busy doing the sending," Sasuke shrugged.

Well that got their attention - and not just theirs, but of Sasuke's ANBU shadows too. He could practically feel them leaning in eagerly.

"Me?" Naruto asked and then sat up straighter. "Oh man I must've grown up bad ass! Hey, hey, how did I do it - did I use some awesome ninjutsu I invented, or seals or -"

"Mostly it was just raw chakra," Sasuke answered. Yeah, just the raw chakra of a Sage of Six Paths and newly awakened Master of Ninshu. Nothing special about it at all.

"Oh," Naruto said and then nodded. "Well that's damn bad ass too!"

"So, um," Sakura said, pushing a strand of long pink hair behind her ear. "Why are you here? In our team, I mean? And where is... um..."

"The younger me?" Sasuke asked. "He's gone." Dead, or as good as, in the future he'd left behind.

"O-oh," Sakura whispered.

Kakashi hummed, staring at him. "Why don't you tell us why you're here?" He asked. "The Hokage offered you another placement, didn't he."

Yeah, one under the Elder Council's thumb and scrutiny.

Sasuke considered his old sensei and then shrugged. "I need to take part in the Chuunin exam to advance. Might as well do it with my old team."

It was as good of an excuse as any, anyway.

Chapter Text

Itachi is half blind and half mad with horror and grief, his hands covered in blood all the way up to his elbows, when he stumbles.

He can still see them – his parents, just sitting there with their backs so straight, telling him they understood, that they were proud of the ninja he'd become. Proud, even as he killed them. Proud, even as he destroyed his baby brother's life and maybe his mind. Proud.

They didn't look at him, though; his mother died with her eyes shut, his father staring at nothing.

The disgust and pain are like living things inside him, and he's teetering on the edge of panic attack. Itachi knows he needs to get out of Konoha – he was given a head start and he'd bought himself some more time with liberal use of genjutsus to cover his tracks... but soon the massacre would be discovered, soon the alarm would be sounded. Soon, they'd come for him.

He needs to get away, but his knees keep on giving away under his weight and though his Sharingan is all but blazing in his head, he can't see. He's heart is pounding so heavy and fast in his ears that he can't hear anything and all he can smell, all he can sense, is the sticky wetness of his gauntlets, the grit of drying blood under his fingernails, between his fingers. He's mouth tastes coppery and he thinks he is going to throw up anytime now.

When his feet collide on something soft that sends him flying to his face, his reaction isn't the best. Hyperventilating and hurting all over, he spins around and it feels like the glare of the Mangekyo Sharingan cleaves his head open.

His eyes meet the terrified eyes of a kid that had been lying, sleeping even, on the rooftop and Itachi has only a fraction of a terrible, earth shattering second to realise who he's aimed his cursed eyes at.

No, Itachi thinks, horrified. Not this too, he can't do this too, he's done enough damage this night, he can't do this too!

Mentally scrambling, he tries to pull his gaze away, tries to pull the dojutsu back, tries to stop himself – but it's too late. His mind collides with that of Uzumaki Naruto, the jinchuuriki of Konoha. Like a rising tidal wave, the very reality throbs in pain as it twists away and the Tsukuyomi swallows them whole.

Itachi knows, for a moment, that Naruto was on the rooftop because crowd of older academy students had chased him there, mocking and cursing him and throwing rocks. The older students had kept him besieged there for the whole evening – while Itachi killed almost his entire family tree – and by the time older kids had gotten bored and went home, it was too dark for Naruto to find his way down. For a moment, he knows just how much it hurts, to be hated without knowing why.

Itachi recoils as Tsukuyomi spreads out all around and Naruto is nailed onto a cross on ocean of blood, confused and terrified kid no older than Sasuke. Innocent, Itachi thinks.

Innocent, like the kids he'd killed that night, the babies he smothered in their cribs.

"W-what is this?" Naruto asks, his voice shaking as he struggles in the cross. "Where is this – who are you? I wanna down, mister, please lemme down!"

"I can't do this," Itachi whispers, horrified with himself – every cut, every splatter of blood, every heartbeat echoing on his hands, smothered and spilled and fading away. God, what has he done?

Shaking, Itachi hurries to release Naruto from the cross, his whole being feeling like it's being torn apart by his actions that night.

Naruto is crying now, confused and afraid, his breath hiccupping with every desperate inhale – did he see, did he get a glimpse of what Itachi had done, did he see it?

"Mister please," the boy sobs. "Lemme down, I wanna go home, please."

"Shush, I'll let you down, it's okay, I'm not going to hurt you, it's okay," Itachi babbles, shuddering. His fingers shake and stain Naruto's pale wrist in red.

And that's when world shatters again.

Tsukuyomi crests and the wave crashes down all around them – for a moment Itachi flies in terrible free fall. Then he heavily collapses into reality and into a physical body – into hacking and throwing his guts up, he feels, as he chokes out stomach acid and bile on to the roof tiles.

Quickly he looks up, looking for the boy, praying against all hope that he hadn't broken him – but Naruto isn't there.

He's instead left staring at himself.

Uchiha Itachi lies collapsed on his side on the roof, covered in blood – his family's blood – with his pretty face drawn pale and tight in the moonlight. Still in his ANBU gear he looks too small and too weak for his duty. He looks terrible and utterly pathetic.

For a moment, Itachi is overcome with overwhelming urge to kill him, to crawl over and just strangle the life out of him.

Then the still form stirs and whines and let's out a confused, "Wha?" in a tone of voice that doesn't belong to Uchiha Itachi and looks up.

Itachi feels a creeping dread as his eyes meet the widening dark eyes of what looks like he's duplicate. Then, as the other gasps, Itachi looks down.

Down to small, childishly soft hands, to bare knees, to blue shorts and orange shirt. The clothes he'd glimpsed, momentarily, on Uzumaki Naruto.

He is in the body of... Uzumaki Naruto.

"What is going on?" His own body asks as the boy inside it stares at his hands – Itachi's hands – in horror. "What is this?"

It's a disaster, Itachi thinks, as in the distance the alarm starts sounding and the village wakens to the aftermath of his actions.

Chapter Text

1 Chapter

 

Sakura stood frozen, watching in startled horror as Sasuke and Naruto fought.

She thought that maybe… maybe it had always been coming, though. Sasuke and Naruto were always fighting each other – or, rather, Naruto was always fighting Sasuke, but it wasn't as if Sasuke was ever shy from answering in kind. And there was something… different about Sasuke. Had been since that time in the Forest of Death, back in the Exam – when that snake-person had bit Sasuke and left that seal on his shoulder.

Sasuke was so angry, now. He was always angry.

And he'd been angry ever since Tsunade-sama had healed him and woken him up from the coma. Angrier than ever before. Why? Why?

"Stop it," Sakura whispered.

"Kage Bunshin again?!" Sasuke snarled at Naruto. "You think that trick will work on me? I've seen it a million times!"

"You've been snoozing for months now – trust me, you haven't seen all of my tricks!" Naruto shouted back.

Sasuke laughed sharply at that and then there was fire – the hospital roof blazed under Sasuke's fire jutsu, and Naruto's clones popped out of existence in droves. It was hot – why hadn't Sakura ever noticed just how hot it got when Sasuke did that jutsu? It was hot enough to really burn. Hot enough to hurt. To kill.

"Why are you doing this?" Sakura asked and then braced herself. "Stop it, you guys! You can't do this!"

They didn't listen. Naruto was doing something, in the wake of the fire Sasuke had breathed down on him – there was a clone at his side and he was doing something. Sakura wasn't as perceptive as Sasuke when it came to things like these but even she could feel the chakra Naruto was building, bit by bit growing his attack.

It was a lot of chakra.

And Sasuke must've feel it too because moment later there was another flare of it from him – a sharp tearing scream that manifested into the terrible chirping of electricity. The attack Kakashi-sensei had taught Sasuke – the one that had been strong enough to pierce through Gaara's sand.

The assassination jutsu.

"No," Sakura gasped. "No you can't – stop it, you two!"

They didn't, they wouldn't, she knew they wouldn't. So she rushed forward, screaming at them to stop, knowing somewhere in her heart that they wouldn't but hoping. If she just got in between, they wouldn't hurt her – they would hurt each other, but they wouldn't hurt her…!

There was a crack like thunder – and they were all three suddenly thrown back. Sakura could see Sasuke crashing into the near by water tank while Naruto crashed into the fence surrounding the roof. She was knocked against the rooftop entrance, her head colliding sharply against the wall, almost knocking her out.

Gasping and shaking, Sakura struggled to get up, to see what happened. They didn't hit each other – she was sure they hadn't – and just then, something broke.

There was a sound like something twisting as the whirling attack in Naruto's hand hit the fence and blew it apart, scattering bits of metal everywhere. In the mean while Sasuke's Chidori hit the base of the water tank and he sank elbow deep into the concrete before breaking a big chunk off it. And there, in the middle of the roof, right where they would've met, there was…

"What?" Sakura asked dully. Naruto was trying to wrangle himself free from the twisted fence and Sasuke was stuck in the concrete, neither of them were looking. Neither of them saw the blood, spilling all across the hospital roof.

Someone got in between and it wasn't her.

"Oh my god," Sakura whispered and quickly stumbled up to her feet. She thought for a moment, a terrible, horrible moment, that it was Kakashi sensei – that would be just like him, to appear just there. Except Kakashi-sensei wouldn't appear between the attacks, would he, he'd appear beside them, close enough to stop them but far enough to keep clear and –

Sakura skidded and almost fell onto the blood. There were two bodies lying on the rooftop, and neither was Kakashi. They were – they were –

Sakura's mouth and opened and closed and no sound came out as she tried to comprehend what she was seeing.

It was Naruto – had to be. The same golden spiky hair, the same tan skin, the whiskers on his cheek. The clothes were different – mesh shirt and no jacket, but his trousers were pure Naruto-orange. His eyes, half open as he gasped breath through bloody lips, were blue. One of them was almost swollen shut.

And it was Sasuke, beside him – he was different but Sakura would recognize him everywhere. That was his hair, his skin, his nose, lips, everything. He was unconscious and bleeding and wearing strange clothes, but Sakura knew him, even under all the bruises and scrapes.

Except she didn't. Because Sasuke was to the right of her, trying to free himself from the concrete – and Naruto was to the left of her, stuck in the fence. And these two, bleeding in front of her, weren't her team mates. Couldn't be. They wore clothes she'd never seen on them, and they were… too big. Older.

And beaten black and blue judging by the look of their faces.

The strange too big Naruto let out a cough and then winced, looking up at her. His eyes, blue and so familiar, were hazy for a moment before he really saw her, and then he frowned. "Sakura-chan?" he asked feebly. "You shouldn't… you look… different…"

Sakura opened her mouth again, but before she could muster up the strength to actually say something, there was a hand on her shoulder, heavy and strong and comforting. Kakashi-sensei.

"What happened?" Kakashi asked sharply.

"I – I don't – " Sakura gasped and then swallowed. "Sasuke and Naruto were fighting, and then…" she motioned at the two people, two strangers – two friends – in front of her wordlessly. God, there was so much blood, pooling between the two.

And then she realised why.

"Go get someone," Kakashi said to her and then pushed her away. "A medic-nin, or at least a nurse. Quickly now."

"Yes!" she said but hesitated.

The strange Naruto was looking at her – their? – teacher now. "Kakashi-sensei," he whispered. "How -?"

"Later," Kakashi grunted, already pulling out rolls of gauze from his kit. "You're bleeding – let's deal with that first," he said and then glanced at Sakura. "Go, Sakura, get help!"

She went, her knees shaking and her head aching, and screamed for help.

-

Sasuke's and Naruto's fight kind lost it's importance in wake of what followed. Sakura was still glad to see that Kakashi had tied them both up in ropes when she saw them the next time, both with hands behind their backs and hangdog expressions on their faces. The strange Sasuke and Naruto had been carted off on gurneys, with the medic-nin shouting orders ahead to prepare the operation room.

"You two," Sakura said. "You – are you alright?"

"Yeah," Naruto muttered, shifting where he sat awkwardly. Sasuke just glared at the floor and said nothing – not even when Naruto spitefully kicked his chair's leg. "Just, what happened there? Who were those guys? I didn't even see them – when did they get between us?"

Sakura blinked with surprise and looked at them. "You – didn't you see them?"

"No," Naruto shook his head. "I was just blown back and next I knew, there were medic-nin all over the place."

Sakura just stared at him and Sasuke until even Sasuke looked up, scowling. "Do you know them?" he asked quietly – angrily. Probably more annoyed about the fact that they got in between and stopped the fight, than sorry about potentially hurting them.

Sakura's shoulders slumped a bit. "I… uh," she said and hesitated, not sure what to say – wishing that Kakashi would appear suddenly to explain everything. But he didn't – he'd gone with the medic-nin. "I guess I knew them," she said and looked away. "They, uh… They looked like you two."

"What?" Sasuke said, his head lifting and his eyes sharpening. "They looked like – one of them looked like me?" he then demanded. "Did he have long hair? His coat was white, I'm sure it was white – was there a black cloak anywhere near, with red clouds?"

"What? No, just a white, uh, coat," Sakura said and blushed. "Open at the front, I think, his chest was bare. And uh, no his hair wasn't long. It was like yours. Longer in front, short and spiky in back."

"And the other one looked like me?" Naruto asked. "Was it a clone? Wait, clones don't bleed. Or need healing."

"I don't think it was a clone," Sakura said, scratching at her cheek. "And yeah, he looked a lot like you. Even had your, um, whiskers, I guess? The marks on your cheeks – he had them too." And his blue eyes and blond hair and his everything else too, more or less.

No headbands though, she realised. Neither of them had a headband on.

"So, two guys who look a lot like us got in between our fight," Naruto muttered and leaned his head back. "What the hell."

"Stupid, getting in between," Sasuke muttered. "They could've died."

Sakura stared at him. "You could've died," she said slowly. "You just – were you trying to kill each other? Sasuke, that jutsu, Kakashi-sensei said it was for assassination! And Naruto, that thing you did – what was it?"

Naruto made a face and for a moment refused to say anything. It wasn't until Sasuke kicked his leg that he spoke. "It's called Rasengan," he said sulkily. "Pervert Hermit taught it to me."

"It looked lethal," Sakura said. "You could've killed Sasuke."

Naruto shrugged awkwardly and didn't say anything for a moment. "Sasuke started it."

"You made that attack first – I was just answering in kind," Sasuke spat.

"No – you started the fight –"

"Well you didn't exactly –"

"Ah don't you sound spirited for bunch of almost-murderers."

Kakashi-sensei appeared seemingly from nowhere right in front of them, smiling behind his mask that horrible way that said he was about to do horrible things to them and there was nothing they could do to stop him. "You're grounded," he said.

Sakura stared. The looks on both Naruto's and Sasuke's faces were almost blank in their confusion. Naruto caught on first. "You can't ground us! We live by ourselves!"

"Watch me," Kakashi-sensei said and folded his arms. "What happened there? Sasuke?"

"Tch!" Sasuke answered and looked away.

Kakashi gave him a unimpressed look and then turned to Naruto. "Hm?"

"Well…" Naruto started and then looked down, biting his lip. "We fought. Some guys got in between and got hurt?" he then offered. "We didn't mean to."

"Right," Kakashi said and then turned to Sakura. "What do you think?"

Sakura hesitated, glancing at Sasuke who wasn't meeting anyone's eye. "I think it was stupid," she said honestly. "And I don't think Sasuke and Naruto even touched them. They were already hurt when they appeared."

"What makes you think that?"

Sakura thought back to them, to their clothing. "They had old blood on them, and in places where the bleeding didn't reach. And also," she stared and then stopped, hesitating. "Um, they were hurt in wrong place. If Sasuke and Naruto had hit them, they'd be hurt in opposite directions."

Naruto frowned, looking at her. "Huh?"

"Their arms," Sakura said and shuddered. "They were both missing their arms, I think. It would've been the other arms, I think, if you'd hit them."

Kakashi eyed her impassively for a moment before reaching out and placing a hand on her head. "Good job, well observed," he said. "And you're right – Sasuke and Naruto didn't hit them. They hit each other."

"Huh?" Naruto asked again.

"We didn't," Sasuke said sharply.

"You didn't – they did," Kakashi said. "They blew each other's arms off. Come on, get up," he then said. "There's something you need to see."

They got up, Sasuke with whatever dignity he could muster with his arms bound behind his back, and Naruto with unabashed clumsiness. Sakura got up the last and trailed after them, biting her lip. Kakashi was taking them to see the strangers, she knew it. Why?

To show Naruto and Sasuke what they almost did to each other?

The two strangers were kept in same room, it turned out – somehow, it didn't surprise Sakura at all. The too big Naruto was still awake – hanging onto consciousness by tooth and nail it seemed, just so that he could stare at the other bed. The too big Sasuke, in contrast, was still unconscious.

There were guards in the room – Sakura couldn't see them but she could feel them, watching. ANBU probably.

Both of tem had been stripped waist up, and both had bandages covering their torso. It made the loss of an arm on both sides all the more obvious – the older Naruto was missing his right arm, the older Sasuke his left.

"What the fuck," Sasuke muttered.

The strange, older Naruto tore his eyes away from his Sasuke and looked down at them. "Man, you're all tiny," he said and struggled to sit up. It took some effort, but he managed it and then looked them up and down. "So this is, what, bit after the invasion?" he asked, looking at young Sasuke. "He's in hospital get up, so… after invasion and before Fifth's inauguration? Or somewhere thereabouts?"

"That sounds about right," Kakashi agreed and rested a hand on Sasuke's and Naruto's shoulders. "Would you please tell these two what you told me?"

"Hm?" the older Naruto hummed, his eyes straying to the other bed, and to the older Sasuke. "Oh, right," he said and looked down at his right shoulder – or where his right shoulder used to be. "Sasuke blew my arm off with a Chidori," he said. "And I blew his with a Rasengan. Well we did a whole lot of other shit too – beat the crap out of each other for good hour or so. But yeah. It was probably that what did… this," he added, waving around them.

"Right. Thank you," Kakashi said, and Sakura could see him squeezing Naruto's and Sasuke's shoulders tightly. "And that's what you almost did you each other, you two idiots."

"What the – there's a fake Naruto here and that's what you brought us here to see?" Sasuke asked. "What, is this a trick or something? Some sort of bullshit lesson?"

"Why do you look like me?" Naruto asked blankly from his older self.

"Eh," the older Naruto said. "I am you, bit older though," he said and rubbed at the shoulder that wasn't there.

"Is this a joke?" Sasuke demanded.

"Could be," older Naruto said. "But it's probably intel gathering gimmick or something. You being here at all, I mean – trying to get intel out of us," he leaned his head to the side away from the missing shoulder and winced. "I think the next you're going to ask me to prove who I am. Something only us Narutos would know, and whatnot."

Kakashi stared at him with surprise, as did Sakura. She hadn't even thought of that – but yeah, it made sense. Why else would they let us even see these people, who might be spies or, worse yet, actual time travellers.

"Um, what?" the younger Naruto asked. "Huh?"

"Well, seeing as you realised what we're here for," Kakashi said. "Prove us you're Naruto."

The older Naruto hesitated, thinking about it. "Gama-chan is a decoy for a scroll and table legs make good hiding places," he then said.

Even Sakura could see Naruto stiffening under Kakashi's grip. Kakashi squeezed his shoulder. "Naruto? Would you please clarify?"

"Uh, um. I got a purse that looks like a toad – Gama-chan," Naruto said. "I, uh… I've filled it small ryo as a pick-pocket decoy – my actual wallet is a fake scroll I hollowed out. And table legs – I hide stuff in table legs in my apartment because I'm pretty sure my land lord goes in when I'm not there and grabs all the cash he can find…"

They all stared at him with surprise. Then they looked at the older Naruto who made a sort of well there you go gesture, before looking at the other bed. "Is that enough or do I need to do something else?"

Kakashi considered it thoughtfully. "How old are you?"

"Eighteen. The bastard over there's the same," the older Naruto said. "So… five or so years into the future. Don't ask about our ranks, not gonna answer that now. Or anything else about the actual future – not yet."

Kakashi nodded slowly.

"You're really from the future?" Sasuke asked with disbelief. "I'm not buying it."

The older Naruto's eyes shifted to him. "I know about the eyes," he then said, and it sounded a bit like judgement. "Your eyes. The ones you want."

It was Sasuke's turn to freeze.

"Sasuke?" Kakashi asked pointedly.

"That's… I'm not going to explain it," Sasuke said glared at the older Naruto. "And you won't either."

The older Naruto smiled at that. "I don't have to. Kakashi's had one longer than we've been alive. He already knows all about it."

Sakura looked at her team hesitantly – because now they were all on various stages of on edge. Kakashi looked Alarmed, Sasuke looked furious and even Naruto was uneasy. It made her more than a bit glad she hadn't been singled out yet, though it made her wonder…

If future-Naruto and future-Sasuke were here – where was future her?

"… you idiot…"

It came from the other bed and almost made everyone in the room jump – everyone other than the older Naruto. "Hey, you bastard," he said. "Finally conscious. I've been waiting."

The older Sasuke let out a pained breath that was almost a gasp. "Ow," he murmured and reached to touch his left shoulder – and then he froze.

"Yeah," the similarly wounded Naruto said in understanding. "That happened. And other things. And we almost died," he added and lowered his feet to the floor. "Probably would have, if the other things hadn't happened first. Look down."

The older Sasuke looked down – and saw them, Sakura, Sasuke and Naruto, standing there with Kakashi. His one eye that wasn't swollen shut widened and sat up with a gasp – and then almost topped over, hissing in pain and gripping at his shoulder. "What – what the hell – Naruto, what happened –?"

The older Naruto laughed roughly, clutching his own shoulder in sympathetic pain. "We messed up," he said. "The seals, Sasuke – the ones Super Grandpa gave us. We blew them up."

The older Sasuke was still for a moment, looking at him and scowling. "Well shit," he muttered and fell back down on the bed, scowling at Naruto on the other bed. He looked pale and wan and in pain and it wasn't a look Sakura had ever wanted to see on him. "Where are we? When are we?" he asked.

"Konoha, around our first fight. The hospital one."

"Ah," older Sasuke answered, frowning. "Makes sense."

The first one? Sakura clenched her hands, staring at them. Just how many times had they fought?

Kakashi cleared his throat. "How does it make sense?" he asked.

"Similarities, connections, situational repetitions," older Naruto said and laughed. "Hooray for Ninshu."

"Tch," older Sasuke hissed closed his eyes. His hand on his wounded shoulder was going limp. "Naruto," he grunted, his voice growing fainter. "Take care we're not fucked over."

"Yeah, yeah," older Naruto said and waved his lone hand at him. "Go ahead and pass out. I'll watch over you."

The other didn't answer – he was already out cold. The older Naruto stared at him hard for a long while, and Sakura probably wasn't the only one who felt the tension – because no one else broke the silence either. There was something, just… wrong here. The look in the older Naruto's eyes was thoughtful, almost calculative.

"There's so much stuff I can tell you," he said, glancing at Kakashi. "So much stuff. But I need something first. I need to see Tsunade."

"You've already been seen to – they've done anything they could for your… injuries," Kakashi said slowly.

"Not everything," the older Naruto said and smiled a strange hard and determined smile.

Sakura probably wasn't the only one who thought it looked like trouble.

 


 

Chapter 2

 

Kakashi wasn't there to hear what the older Naruto wanted to talk to Tsunade about – but he was close enough to hear it blow up into an argument.

"Are you insane?!" Tsunade shouted. Naruto answered something too quiet to hear and she let out a sarcastic laugh. "That doesn't reassure me one damn bit, you brat – have you really lost your mind?"

"Look, I know what I'm on about here and -" the future Naruto answered, loud enough to carry.

"No, you obviously aren't! Do you gave any idea just how badly crippled you already are?!"

"Actually I do and it doesn't matter -"

"Doesn't matter? Doesn't mat – can you even hear to yourself, you little idiot?!"

"I'm not – just listen to me, you old hag -"

"Old had – you damned brat!"

Kakashi sighed. Well, at least no one had any doubts about the older Naruto's identity, including Tsunade-sama herself.

"Listen – granny, listen to me!" the future Naruto shouted. "He'll leave! He'll leave, again! And this time I'm going to go with him and that'll probably be the last you'll ever see of us!"

Kakashi perked up at that. Sasuke left? He really did it? Of course Kakashi had always suspected that it was a possibility – Sasuke was just that type of person. With Itachi and Orochimaru and everything, there was eventually going to be time when Konoha wasn't going to be enough for Sasuke. Eventually, his third for vengeance would not be quenched by proxies and he had to go after the real deal.

He just hadn't thought it would be this soon. Not before Sasuke made it to Jounin at least – or even a Chuunin. Surely deserting as a Genin was beneath Uchiha dignity?

Apparently not.

Kakashi strained to hear more, but the conversation between Tsunade-sama and future Naruto had gone serious and quiet. He couldn't hear much anything until almost half an hour later, when the-soon-to-be Hokage stormed out of the room, looking frustrated and conflicted.

Kakashi waited impassively and she ran a hand over her chin.

"That kid is a goddamned nuisance," she muttered finally and looked at him. "And I'd blame you, Kakashi, if I didn't know who his parents are."

"I'll still take it as a compliment," Kakashi said. "Can I ask what is it that he wants?"

Tsunade thought about it and then shook her head. "No, it doesn't matter. I'm not doing it. He can whine about it all he wants, but he's not getting his way."

With that said she turned on her heel and headed off. Kakashi looked after her curiously and then turned to the room where the future Naruto and Sasuke were resting.

"Bad form, pissing off the Hokage on your first day," Kakashi commented, glancing at Sasuke's bed. Still unconscious.

"I've been pissing her off long before she agreed to be the Hokage in the first place," Naruto muttered, glaring furiously at his lap. Then he looked up. "Where's the minis?"

"I sent Sakura home – Naruto and Sasuke I left in Iruka-sensei's tender mercies," Kakashi said cheerfully. "There are many lectures and chores in their futures."

He was aiming for funny by apparently missed his mark – the older Naruto just stared at him for a moment. "You didn't last time," he commented.

"Oh? What did I do last time?"

"You gave us a bad pep talk and told us to sort it out," Naruto said. "Sasuke ran away the next day."

Kakashi stalled at that, staring at him in turn. "He ran away," he said slowly. "Sasuke ran away?"

"Deserted Konoha, yeah."

"You didn't go after him?"

"Bunch of us did. Me, Shikamaru, Neji, Choji, Kiba – Lee caught us up later... we got some help from the Sand trio too.  We still almost got beat, fighting Orochimaru's ninja," Naruto said and looked over to Sasuke's bed, his lone hand squeezing into a tight fist in his lap. "I caught up with Sasuke in the Valley of the End and he put Chidori through my chest. Fun times."

Kakashi stared at him blankly for a moment. "Right," he said. "Anything I can do to stop that from happening?"

"Tell him that he," Naruto pointed at the older version of Sasuke, "knows things about Itachi and the Uchiha Massacre he doesn't. The brat won't go anywhere before he'll find out what. Also make sure the Sound Four don't just kidnap him – they're probably already in Konoha, waiting for the chance."

"... right," Kakashi said, growing serious. "I hope you don't mind, but I think I should go see to my students now."

Naruto waved a dismissive hand. "Yeah – actually, before you g. You know that medic-nin with the nose – Kise-something?"

"Kisegawa?" Kakashi asked.

"Yeah, him – if you see him, could you tell him I wanna see him? He did the surgery on Sasuke's shoulder and I got something I'd like to ask him."

Kakashi eyed him curiously for a moment but nodded. How like Naruto – he was missing an arm but he was still more concerned about other people. Might as well. "Alright, I'll tell him."

"Thanks, Kakashi-sensei. I really appreciate it."

Kisegawa was doing rounds in another wing, checking on patients, and he did not appreciate being distracted one bit.

"Its about the fight on the roof," Kakashi said. The fact that it was future versions of Sasuke and Naruto was a bit of an open secret – they hadn't classified it quickly enough and word had got out. But it was still better not to spread the news further. "The one awake has some questions."

"You mean the -" Kisegawa started to say and then made a displeased face. "The other Uzumaki. What does he want?"

Kakashi eyed him in disappointment. One of those. "He has some questions," he said tightly. "I'd appreciate it if you took the time to see him."

Judging by the abrupt shift in Kisegawa's expression, a little killing intent leaked out. Oops. Honestly Kakashi couldn't be bothered to feel sorry – it wasn't the first time he had to persuade medical personnel to look after Naruto and right now, with future looming ahead, he just didn't have the patience.

Kisegawa rallied with a harrumph. "I'm busy right now, Kakashi-san, I'm sure it can wait –"

"Your patient has some concerns," Kakashi said slowly and severely and felt a twinge of glee as the medic-nin faltered. "I suggest you see to him and hear him out. Now."

Kisegawa swallowed and wavered and finally nodded. "Very well," he said and tried to muster up some dignity. "I'll see to it right now."

"See that you do," Kakashi said and watched him go before shaking his head and heading off. Damn but he hoped that had changed in future.

Well, he'd done all he could. Now he needed to see about setting up some sort of unofficial security detail for Sasuke.

-

The idea did not appeal to Sasuke one bit.

"Konoha's forces are low right now," Kakashi tried to persuade to him. "We lost almost half of our shinobi in Orochimaru's invasion. This is easy opportunity for enemy invasion, as Itachi's appearance showed us – and we already know you have one mad man after you."

"I don't care," Sasuke said with a scoff.

"Well you should, you would if you had any sense of self preservation," Kakashi said flatly. "Orochimaru is going to send people after you, you know. Its just matter of time."

"Is that what they told you?" the kid asked spitefully.

Kakashi sighed. "It isn't just that, either," he said. "Do you gave any idea what the black market value for Uchiha eyes is? For Uchiha sperm?"

Sasuke made a disgusted face and said nothing.

"Besides if you get kidnapped now, you'll never find out what your future self knows," Kakashi pointed out. "He's probably been through it, after all."

Now Sasuke's eyes sharpened. "What did they say?" He demanded to know. "What did they tell you?"

"Just that they know things about Itachi and the massacre," Kakashi said and watched him closely. "So?"

Sasuke clenched his teeth for a moment, thinking furiously. In the end, future knowledge was more alluring than independence "Alright, fine," he finally said.

"Oh wonderful," Kakashi enthused and clapped his hands together girlishly. "It's been ages since I've had a sleep over!"

Sasuke stared. "Wait, what? You mean – I'm going to have to stay with you?!"

"Manpower shortage, remember? Aww, don't make that face, it's going to be a blast!" Kakashi said and threw an arm around his shoulders. "I got a bunch of movies we can watch!"

"Are they porn?" Sasuke asked, sounding horrified.

"What, no!" Kakashi said and grinned. "I'm really more a romantic comedy kind of guy."

Judging by Sasuke's expression, that was even worse.

Kakashi grinned and pushed Sasuke towards Naruto and Iruka-sensei, who were, among bunch of other people, helping in the repair of the street. "Here you go, Iruka-sensei, you can have your worker back!"

"Wait – I still have to do chores?!" Sasuke complained.

Kakashi gave him a look. "Did you or did you not try to kill your team-mate on the hospital roof?" he asked flatly, to which Sasuke had no answer. "Yeah, I thought so. I'll be around d to pick you up once you're done here."

"Tch," Sasuke muttered and headed of to grab a bucket of cement.

"What did he want?" Naruto asked.

"To make my life difficult," Sasuke muttered and went back to work.

Kakashi smiled, whistling as he headed off. Oh yes, this, was going to be fun.

-

In the end, it wasn't fun. Kakashi didn't get the chance to bother Sasuke at all because before he could, he was accosted by a very serious and grim looking Sannin.

"Kakashi," Jiraiya said, his voice low. "Tsunade says she's going to kill you. What the hell did you do?"

"Er?" Kakashi answered. "Recently, not much?" he answered and wracked his brain for all of his most recent faults. He taught Sasuke Chidori, didn't pay his kids enough attention, got put out of commission by Itachi... it was probably something more recent. The security-sleepover with Sasuke? Probably not…

"Um, I honestly don't know, Jiraiya-sama, I'm sorry," Kakashi answered awkwardly.

Jiraiya gave him a look of utmost sympathy. "Well, I guess you'll find out. Better start thinking of excuses and prayers right now, you're going to need them," he said and then proceeded to drag him away like he was a disobedient child about to get a spanking.

Not a mental image Kakashi had particularly wanted in his head, that one.

"So have you seen the other Naruto yet?" Kakashi asked in what he hoped was a conversational manner.

"Not yet, been too damn busy, covering for Tsunade while she goes through the hospital," Jiraiya admitted and frowned. "Heard about the pair of them, though. Everyone's talking about them. Actually, I tried to go see them couple hours ago, but apparently they were both in surgery."

"Yeah, they – couple of hours ago?" Kakashi asked with a frown. The surgeries had been way in the morning, hadn't they? It was almost night now.

And then he saw where Jiraiya was taking him. The hospital.

"Oh. Oh, shit," Kakashi muttered in realisation as things he'd seen and heard but not really observed slotted into place. A narrative formed in his head. It wasn't a pretty one.

There wasn't time to lament how damn inattentive he'd been, however – because Jiraiya was already taking him in. For a moment Kakashi held onto the faintest of hopes as Jiraiya didn't seem to be taking him to the recovery ward – where the future Naruto and Sasuke were. Then he saw where Jiraiya was taking him instead. The operation room. Which, judging by the bustle going inside and the red light flashing above the door, was in use.

Shit.

Outside in the hall, a terrified Kisegawa huddled in a corner with severe looking ANBU flanking him – Kakashi knew that formation by heart, guarding a escape risk prisoner. And inside... inside the future Fifth Hokage was doing her best to save Naruto's life.

"Damn," Jiraiya said, his voice low with shock.

It was a like something out of war zone.

"Kakashi," Tsunade growled over her glowing, bloodstained hands, both of them clapped on Naruto's bleeding mess of a shoulder. "What did you do?!"

Kakashi stared, his mouth opening soundlessly under his mask. It was the wrong shoulder, he thought hazily – she was healing the wrong shoulder. It was his right arm the future Naruto was missing – but she was at his left, she was healing his left shoulder – the one that was supposed to be alright and -

Kakashi looked sharply away – to the second operation table that was beside the bloody one Naruto was lying on.  And there, of course, was Sasuke – still out cold, attended to by couple of pale medic-nin. However he, unlike Naruto, seemed fine. He even had his missing arm back.

No – rather he had Naruto's lone remaining arm replacing the one he'd lost.

"Oh shit," Kakashi said and wished dearly he could faint on command.

-

"He asked for it – the brat – he, he asked for it!" Kisegawa cried when the two Sannin rounded up on him. "I swear it was what he wanted – he told me to do it! And he," he added, probably pointing at Kakashi who was too busy trying to smother himself to see, "he told me to do it too!"

"Kakashi?" Tsunade asked dangerously, turning to him and he looked up. Naruto lay stabilised in the operation table, finally no longer bleeding – and Tsunade still had his blood all over her hands. She looked terrifying – and Kakashi thought, for a moment, about her haemophobia. Maybe it was what made her eyes look so wild.

"Naruto asked after Kisegawa, said he had questions about Sasuke's surgery – the earlier one," Kakashi reported, his voice dull and flat. "Kisegawa was being an asshole, so I tried to... persuade him to be bit more attentive about his patient. It isn't the first that's happened – the medic-nin here can be… forgetful when it comes to Naruto, so I..."

"He practically threatened me!" Kisegawa objected, quickly rising to his own defence. "I thought he knew what the bra – the patient wanted! I thought he was in on it!"

"Why would Naruto want his only remaining arm removed and transplanted on Sasuke?" Jiraiya asked dangerously.

"I don't know but it's what he wanted, I swear it was!" Kisegawa almost sobbed. "He asked for it!"

Tsunade let out a frustrated growl. "He asked me to do it before," she admitted. "Earlier today. Naruto threatened me with desertion and everything when I refused. I thought I got through to the brat – I thought we'd talk about it more but ultimately he'd put the notion out of his mind. I didn't think he'd go behind my back like this."

Kakashi and Jiraiya stared at her in shock. "But... why? " Jiraiya asked, slow and disbelieving. "Why would he ever want that? He's crippled for life – he can never be Ninja like this –"

"He's under the impression that Sasuke will leave him unless he has something to hold over his head," Tsunade said in frustration. "And apparently he'd literally give an arm to keep him from leaving."

Kakashi stared at the floor, confused and frustrated. It was supposed to be Naruto. Older, beaten up Naruto, but still fundamentally Naruto. Just what the hell had happened to his students for them to be pulling crazy stunts like this?

"Can you undo it?" he asked wearily. "Can you give him his arm back?"

"Body parts aren't like cogs in a machine – you can't just switch them around and back and forth as you please and expect the end result to be hundred percent. Especially with actual members," Tsunade sighed and waved at the table where, in numerous containers, lay the discarded bits that hadn't been needed in the operation. "There's about half a pound of flesh there that wasn't needed. Naruto lost more than Sasuke gained – and he'd need more than he gave to recover. Another donor entirely, most likely. And this without mentioning the fact that Sasuke's body might reject the arm. It probably will."

"Shit," Jiraiya muttered. "What the hell is wrong with that kid?"

"At a guess – two shitty teachers," Tsunade muttered and turned to Kisegawa. She glared at him for a moment before sighing. "Regardless of what you thought, you still performed a non-essential operation on a patient incapable of consent. And your operation on Naruto was sloppy at best and down right criminally negligent at worst. You're suspended until further notice – and be damn glad it's not worse."

"Yes, Tsunade-sama, thank you," Kisegawa choked out.

"Go away," Tsunade snapped and the medic nin stumbled away, looking shell-shocked. Then the Hokage-to-be turned to Kakashi.

"I'll accept any punishment you deem necessary," Kakashi said, straightening up and standing in attention.

"Punishment for lacking right information and acting erroneously in what was perfectly justified defence of your student's interests?" Tsunade asked ant tsked. "Damn, you're still an angsty brat, aren't you? No, Kakashi, this one is on me – I should've told you what Naruto asked me, this would be been avoided if I had."

Kakashi swallowed his surprise. That was... unexpected.

"I'm still assigning pre-emptive counselling for your whole team, just as soon as we get everything in order," Tsunade added wryly. "If this is what we have to expect from their future, we might as well get a head start."

Kakashi nodded his head at that – fair enough. Though considering his team, pre-emptive was probably not the right word.

"So now what?" Jiraiya asked, arms folded as he looked over Naruto, still lying on the operating table. Paler than he should be, still bruised and beaten up, newly blood stained and so small without his arm, Naruto looked… fragile in way Kakashi wasn't used to thinking him. Jiraiya made a wounded sounding noise. "What the hell are we going to do about this?"

Judging by the desperate look Tsunade gave Naruto, she had no idea. "Can't even beat him up over this can I," she muttered and looked down her hands. She swallowed, her fingers squeezing in. "Damn it."

"… that you old hag?"

Like with audible click, all their attention turned to Naruto. He was, despite all reasonable sense awake again, and frowning blearily at them.

"You – you little…!" Tsunade choked out, hands reaching and then withdrawing. Kakashi was pretty sure she wanted to hold his hand.

Except Naruto didn't have hands anymore.

"You bastard," Tsunade settled on saying. "I should wring your neck for this! I am going to wring your neck for this! Just as soon as you heal and recover, I am going to kill you, you little son of a bitch!"

"Don't call my mom a bitch," Naruto said with a fuzzy sort of smile. "My mom kicked ass."

"Naruto," Kakashi said, automatically filing that away – he knows his mother, probably knows his father too. That didn't matter right, though. "What were you thinking? Why?"

Naruto blinked at him. "Hm?" he murmured and then shifted awkwardly where he lay – trying to take support only to find that his elbow was missing. He blinked sharply at that, looked down his torso – dirty and whole and somehow both thinner and thicker without his arms. His eyes widened.

Then he quickly turned his eyes away, looking, of course, for Sasuke. Kakashi looked too, a terrible, twisted feeling in his gut. From this angle Kakashi had perfect few on Naruto's handiwork on Sasuke. Naruto must see it too – the newly healed shoulder where two skin tones met, and Sasuke's pale tones were replaced with Naruto's much more tanned colouring. The shoulder, continuing to perfectly healthy arm, and hand. Naruto's own hand, in another's body.

It must've been so strange.

And yet Naruto looked satisfied under all the blood and obvious pain. He'd given away what little remained of his future as a Ninja in one fell swoop and he looked happy about it.

"Got you," Naruto muttered to unconscious Sasuke and smiled.


 

  1. Chapter

There was a mess, and then there was an Uzumaki Mess. And this future version of Naruto, he was most definitely an Uzumaki Mess.

Jiraiya folded his arms, looking over the two hospital bed. Sasuke was still out cold on one of them, with nurses and medic-nin coming along every now and then to check up on him. They were still waiting to see if Sasuke would reject the transplant. They were lucky in that Naruto had blood type compatible with donating to Sasuke – though Jiraiya wasn't still sure if Naruto had known they were compatible.

"Well, we're a match chakra wise, so," Naruto had said with confidence which, at that point, only made Tsunade tear her hair out.

Naruto himself was, finally, out cold too – though rather than drugged up and unconscious like Sasuke, Naruto was in just plain old slumber. To add just another layer of messed up to the whole thing, it had turned out that this Naruto wasn't affected by medicine. Younger Naruto metabolised drugs fast too, apparently, but this one – it was as if they entered his system and then just up and vanished.

The Tailed Beast induced healing that Jinchuuriki had, this Naruto had cranked up to 100%, somehow.

Looking over Naruto's bruised and battered face – still smiling smugly even in his sleep – Jiraiya scowled. Naruto had dropped hints about the future enough to paint a grim picture. Sasuke had deserted, he and Sasuke had fought nearly to the death on multiple occasions, and somehow, at the end of it, Naruto had entered a point of his life where, for some god forsaken reason, body parts seemed to be non-essential part of a person's repertoire.

The brat didn't regret it one bit. He was armless, he didn't even have proper shoulders left, and he still managed to just shrug it off like it was a minor sacrifice.

Uzumaki Level Messed up, right there.

Shuddering, Jiraiya looked away. The village was dark, just few lights in windows here and there dotting the otherwise shadowed buildings. Above them loomed the Hokage Monument, lit by the moon in stark light and shadow that made the mountain seem bigger than it really was, the faces more foreboding, more judgemental.

"Your kid, man," Jiraiya muttered at the fourth face. Not that Minato did better – he got the Uzumaki gene by osmosis or something. He went and sacrificed himself to a death god on his first day as father, after all. The whole family – no, the whole damn family tree was messed up.

The door opened and Jiraiya looked away from the window. Tsunade stepped in, looking wan and exhausted. "I want to torch this place to the ground," she informed him wearily. "You wouldn't even believe the amount of malpractice going on here."

"At this point, I think I wouldn't have to suspend my disbelief that high," Jiraiya muttered, eying Naruto pointedly.

"No, you don't understand – this hospital is full of systematic malpractice," Tsunade said, her voice low. "I thought – I hoped that Kisegawa was some sort of freak exception. Just one bad egg, terrible sure but nothing to worry about once we got him sorted out. But… shit," she stopped and looked down on Naruto. She sighed. "This had been one hell of a day."

Jiraiya laughed mirthlessly. Post invasion recovery, which even after months was still going, huge manpower shortage village wide, time travellers all of sudden, and then Naruto's glorious mess of a plot and all it implied about Konoha's medical practices. And poor Tsunade wasn't even in office yet.

"How bad is it?" he asked.

"So bad that I kind of wished you'd take the hat so that I could spend next five years dedicated to untangling this mess," she said. "I won't even try to guess how it happened, but there's directives and unspoken rules in place here that – well, there's a lot of favouritism going on here. And like I said, malpractice. After what Kakashi said, I looked into Naruto's file – it was… pretty thin."

"Thin?"

"As in no medical procedures not directly connected to bone breaking injuries, thin," Tsunade said. "No vaccinations, no health exams, nothing. No one's really looked after that kid's health or development, not before Kakashi. And I get the feeling Naruto isn't only one in that position."

"Doesn't the academy do checks?" Jiraiya asked with a frown.

"Apparently they were discontinued at some point, with the implication that the hospital would take over check ups," Tsunade said with a grimace. "Except, it didn't. And I don't think I've even scratched the problem yet. There's entire branches – psychology for one – that have all but shrivelled since I last saw this place. We're a ninja village with probably hundreds of mentally damaged individuals – guess how many counsellors we have?"

Jiraiya shrugged. He had no idea, medicine or the running of hospitals had never been his type of thing.

"Two – and one is half way into retirement and doesn't take patients," Tsunade said grimly. "Apparently it wasn't considered worthy of funding."

"Right," Jiraiya said and looked at Naruto. "I guess you got your work cut out for you."

"Tch," Tsunade answered and reached out a hand glowing green to check Sasuke's shoulder. She frowned. "It's almost remarkable how well this had gone, all things considered," she then said, smiling a mirthless, hollow smile. "He's not rejecting it – there's no inflammation, no infection, nothing."

"You guys did a lot of healing," Jiraiya pointed out. Sasuke and Naruto both had been all but bathed in healing chakra.

"Yes, but it's still joining together bits of two different bodies – it never goes easily," Tsunade said. "We've given Sasuke all the necessary anti rejection medicine and immunosuppressants, but… I don't actually think he needs them."

"So you think Naruto knew what he was doing?" Jiraiya asked grimly, looking at Naruto. Even if he was five years older and lot of inches taller and wider than the younger Naruto, the kid looked weirdly small under the duvet, with his arms missing.

"I wouldn't go that far," Tsunade muttered. "But there's something going here we're not seeing. Did you… did you get that feeling too?"

"Hm yeah. There's something weird about Naruto – this Naruto," Jiraiya snorted and pushed away from the window. "He's unhinged, and I don't think it's just his mind."

Tsunade said nothing for a moment, reaching a glowing hand to test Naruto's shoulders – or the lack there off. "There's something off about his chakra," she muttered. "And about his body. I know Naruto's cells, I've healed him before – and this one… feels different, somehow."

"Influence of the Tailed Beast?" Jiraiya suggested. "He is older, and considering that the younger version is learning how to tap into Kyubi's chakra, the older one might have it down to pat by now."

"Maybe," Tsunade muttered, but she didn't sound sure. Shaking her head she pulled her hand back. "You know, you'd think that if you ever had to deal with time travellers, the biggest issue would be the time travel. I'm not even sure I want to know what kind of future these brats come from, after this."

"Yeah," Jiraiya greed with a sigh and folded his arms again. A future that could turn his thirteen year old student into this eighteen year old wreck… he wasn't sure he wanted to know either.

Tsunade let out a mirthless laugh. "And god, Sasuke has no idea yet. He will have one hell of a wake up when he comes to," she said. "I don't envy him. Even if he's a deserter – this is one hell of a thing Naruto sprung on him."

"Hm. What are your thoughts on that – Sasuke being a deserter?" Jiraiya asked.

"I have no idea – I don't know a thing about the brat," Tsunade said. "Aside from what Naruto's said anyway. But considering Uchiha history… I can't say I'm surprised."

"He probably bears watching," Jiraiya said thoughtfully. "Kakashi's already working on the younger version – apparently they are having a sleep over to make sure the kid won't get kidnapped or something. Which considering Orochimaru's interest… is probably not a bad idea."

Tsunade nodded slowly, frowning. "I hadn't even thought about that," she muttered and looked up. "Orochimaru that is. Do you think word about these two has gotten out of the village yet?"

"If it hasn't yet, it will soon."

Judging by her expression, she wasn't any more thrilled about that idea than he was. But once word got out, it was out – Naruto and the supposed secret of the Kyubi was testament of that. And once the word of this would reach the wrong ears…

There was a lot people would pay, for reliable knowledge about the future.

Tsunade sighed. "A huge damn mess," she muttered and ran a hand over her face. She looked exhausted. "I think I am going to call it for the night. You're going to stay here?"

"For now yeah," Jiraiya agreed. No way was he going anywhere, not after what had happened. "You go and rest up – I'll send for you if something comes up."

"Good," Tsunade said and looked between the two patients. She let out a soft laugh. "God, if this is how my tenure as Hokage starts…"

Jiraiya looked after her as she headed off. Then, with a sigh, he settled down to watch over the two time travellers. He didn't envy Tsunade's job one bit – but then, that was why he'd never agreed to make it his job in the first place.

-

Jiraiya was quietly scratching notes and theories on a book when noise sounded through the almost dark room. It wasn't coming from Naruto's bed – no. Sasuke was, at last, coming to.

"Wha…" the Uchiha muttered and then stopped, growing still on his bed. Motionless, his lone open eye flicked from side to side, taking in the walls, the ceiling, the darkened lamps ahead before settling on Jiraiya on the windowsill.

The Sharingan glowed in the darkness.

"Don't bother with it, kid," Jiraiya said. "You're so drugged up it'd be a miracle if you could muster up enough chakra to do anything anyway."

Sasuke's eye narrowed and the sharingan whirled for a moment before fading away again, his iris turning black. "You're Jiraiya of the Sannin," he said slowly. His voice rasped and cracked like old, crumbled paper.

"Yes," Jiraiya agreed and closed his note book, shoving it into his pocket. Then he stood and walked over. "And you're in a world of trouble," he said, reaching for the side table and grabbing a can of water, pouring some into a glass. "Here, water."

It was probably testament to how drugged up the kid really was that he didn't even argue, just drank. "Naruto," Sasuke then asked.

"On your right," Jiraiya said darkly, and Sasuke looked – an froze anew.

Naruto had kicked off his blankets before settling down to sleep – the bandages were all plain in few. As were the lack of his left arm and shoulder. Sasuke's lone open eye flicked up and down along Naruto's torso and he was frowning like trying to remember something, figure it out.

"Wrong arm," he then said. "It was the right one."

 Then, slowly, he looked down as if expecting to find his own right arm gone – except, of course it was there. Watching the realisation dawn was in part horrible and in part hilarious – the already pale face of the Uchiha paled even further as he stared, his eye widening, flickering red. He flexed his left hand – Naruto's hand – and let out a sound like he was choking.

"He didn't," Sasuke said, staring at the right palm like it had betrayed him. "He didn't."

"He did," Jiraiya said and folded his arms and glancing sideways where he knew the nearest ANBU guard was watching. He nodded, and felt them flicker away, to report to Tsunade. "He went around Tsunade's orders and all common sense, almost got himself killed in the process. But yeah. He did."

Sasuke's jaw flexed and then, suddenly, he grabbed the water glass from the table and hurtled it at Naruto. It missed by four feet or so, and shattered against the wall. "You fucking IDIOT!" Sasuke shouted at the other bed. "What the hell were you thinking?!"

"Whussat?" Naruto asked, jerking up and blinking blearily. "Oh, bastard. You're awake."

"You damn – you – you – moron!" Sasuke growled and all but crawled into a sitting position. He was shaking, hands clenching into fists as he stumbled out of the bed. "What were you – why would you – just – what the hell, you total goddamn moron?!"

Naruto stared at him and the little blond lunatic looked delighted. "Heh," he answered, grinning.

"Don't you – you fucking – don't fucking laugh!" Sasuke growled, pushing past Jiraiya who watched with interest as he stumbled over and grabbed Naruto by the bandages. "You – your arm! You idiot – why would you – don't you know there were other ways – the First's Cells, we could've –"

"Eh," Naruto answered and tilted his head to the side, shifting where he sat – some simile of a shrug he couldn't do, seeing that he had no proper shoulders left.

If anything, that made Sasuke even more furious – he looked like he wanted to shake Naruto, punch him, possibly out right kill him. But at the same time, his hands kept clenching and unclenching helplessly at the bandages and his eye kept flickering down to the shoulders-that-weren't and he looked helpless in his anger.

Jiraiya knew that look. Tsunade used look a lot like it when her team mates got hurt doing something stupid and she wanted to punch them, but couldn't because they were hurt. Furious care, Orochimaru had called it.

Maybe Naruto was right about Sasuke.

"You idiot," the Uchiha growled, his head bowing like he wanted to head punch Naruto. "Don't you ever think? How are you going to be a ninja without arms? You can't do jutsu, you can't – how can you do anything? How can you, how could you –"

"Hey," Naruto answered, and pressed his forehead against the Uchiha's dark hair. "I need my right hand more than I need my left. You get me?" he asked and pressed down, all but grinding against Sasuke's forehead. "I need my right hand more than I need my left."

"You fucking moron," Sasuke answered in what was very close to a wail of desperation. He was clutching onto Naruto's sides now with two mismatched hands. "You… you fucking moron…"

Jiraiya couldn't see their eyes, their hair was on the way. But he could see Naruto's grin, blindingly wide and overwhelmingly victorious.

"How can you be a ninja like this?" Sasuke demanded to know. "You don't have hands, you idiot."

"I don't need them," Naruto answered with a snort. "Everything I need to do, I do without seals. Besides… I'm not a ninja anymore," he added, his voice growing quieter. "You know? After Ninshu…"

Ninshu, Jiraiya thought and frowned. What the hell was Ninshu?

Sasuke's hands clenched and then he looked up, at Naruto, who met his eyes with a lunatic smile but serious eyes. "I guess ninjustsu doesn't really compare," he said slowly. "But… your hands…"

"Yeah, yeah – I can learn to live without them," Naruto said, with another sort-of-shrug, and then eyed Sasuke. "I'm not going to learn to live without you. Not again."

Oh, damn, Jiraiya thought and scratched the back of his neck awkwardly. Well. Shit. They hadn't considered that.

"You…" Sasuke said and then didn't continue, just staring at him. Then he snorted. "Right hand, huh," he muttered.

"Mm-hmm," Naruto agreed and grinned.

"You realise you're never going to be the Hokage, right?" Sasuke asked him flatly. "Not on this time line."

"Oh shoot," Naruto muttered and then grinned. "I guess I'll have to settle for the Leader of Ninshu instead."

"You fucking lunatic," Sasuke laughed with a sort of worn out hysteria only a man at the very end of his rope could manage.

Naruto seemed inordinately pleased about the whole thing.

Jiraiya watched them for a moment, more than little confused and very worried. He cleared his throat. "Ninshu?" he asked warily. "What, precisely, is Ninshu?"

Naruto turned to him, and his grin was full of teeth.

-

Tsunade had words about their two time travellers. She had many words, which she dished out liberally and without restraint she checked Sasuke over, having him perform number of moves to see how well the new arm was integrating.

"… and don't think for a moment you're ever going to live this down," she added, pointing at Naruto. "This is going right on top of your records and it will be the first thing everyone will ever hear about you. They will look at you and say, oh, that's the idiot who had his last arm chopped off for no particularly good reason, right?"

"It was perfectly good reason," Naruto said, sounding hurt.

"Wasn't," Sasuke answered, while reaching his left arm – Naruto's arm – out so that Tsunade could test the mobility. "Idiot."

"I'm gonna get complex if you keep calling me that."

"It's what you are, idiot."

Jiraiya watched from the side with arms folded, shaking his head. It was stupid and confusing, and he couldn't shake the feeling that this was just the tip of the iceberg. Naruto and Sasuke – these future ones anyway – were something else, certainly, with their mysterious Ninshu and whatnot. But this was just the start, he thought. It would only get worse from here.

And he couldn't for the life of him imagine how it could get worse than this.

"Well," Tsunade said, scowling at Sasuke's shoulder, where the two skin tones met. "The member is integrating into Sasuke's body better than I could've hoped. You will need to have check ups every day for the next month and for a while after that too, but for now… you seem to be fairly healthy, for a person who got another's arm attached to his body without his will."

"Tch," Sasuke answered and rubbed at the shoulder. He glanced at Naruto – in his armless glory – and scowled.

"Now," Tsunade said. "There's another matter. Your left eye."

Sasuke's hands clenched at that. "It's fine," he said.

"Right," Tsunade answered in her least impressed voice. "It's draining your chakra and any healing chakra that goes anywhere near it, which is why we haven't been able to heal the swelling. Do you know what's happening, and does it have anything to do with Sharingan?"

Sasuke scowled and didn't answer.

"You might as well tell her," Naruto said from the other bed. "People are going to find out anyway."

Sasuke glared at him and then looked at Tsunade. "It's… an evolved form of Sharingan," he said through clenched teeth. "I over used it and it's healing. It's fine."

"It's draining your chakra," Tsunade said, folding her arms.

"Obviously," Sasuke muttered. "And it will do it until it heals and then it will be fine."

Tsunade eyed him suspiciously for a moment. "Would a chakra transfer help it heal faster?" she then asked.

The Uchiha hesitated at that, looking at her uncertainly. "I don't think so," he then said. "It has to be my chakra. Or Naruto's – and I'm not taking his," he added and glared at Naruto. "He's done enough. It'll heal on it's own – it will probably take a week or so, but it won't kill me in the mean while."

"Right," Tsunade answered with a frown, glancing at Naruto. "And why would Naruto's chakra work, if no one else's does?"

Sasuke didn't answer, just glared at Naruto – who grinned back happily.

"You two are a pair of imbeciles," Tsunade said flatly. "And I honestly don't know what to do with you. What the hell do you do with pair of time travellers?"

Naruto hesitated and Sasuke snorted. "You use them to change the future," he said just as flatly. "Obviously."

Jiraiya arched an eyebrow at that, and shared looks with Tsunade. She hesitated, but he could tell she was tempted - and so was he. And they both knew that if they didn't make use of Naruto and Sasuke here, and for the benefit of Konoha… there would be countless of others lining up to do the same.

They were strange and more than a bit worrisome, no doubt about that. They were probably dangerous too, and there was no question about them having agendas of their own. Naruto was the leader of something they didn't know and Sasuke was a down right deserter. Their loyalties, obviously, lay first in each other and who knows what else – Konoha, if it featured at all in their priorities, was ranked fairly low.

But they were here now – and they could be used for the good of their village.

"And you'd be alright with that?" Tsunade asked, looking the two of them. "You'd share what you know with us, knowing that Konoha could only benefit?"

"Sure," Naruto said and did his not-quite-a-shrug. "I mean, that's kind of part of the plan anyway."

"There are things here we need to change," Sasuke muttered, glancing at Naruto. "Things we need to set to right."

Naruto's expression darkened at that. "Yeah," he agreed and looked at Tsunade. "How secure is this place?"

Tsunade frowned and Jiraiya stepped closer, fully alert now. "There's only us and the Hokage's Guard here," she said slowly. "They're sworn to secrecy and answer only to the Hokage."

"But you're not the Hokage yet, are you?" Sasuke asked suspiciously and she hesitated. He nodded slowly. "And for as long as you're not officially seated, there's still a chance things will change. That someone… else ends up as the Hokage."

The last bit was pointed more at Naruto than Tsunade – and Naruto's expression darkened further. "Yeah. We can't risk that," he said and looked at the Sannin. "We'll tell you what we know – once you're the Hokage. Alright?"

Jiraiya frowned, looking between them before looking at Tsunade. That certainly didn't bode well. Of course, it wasn't as if there was a ninja village out there that wasn't full of conflicting agendas… but it was always a little bitter to hear about it on your own home.

"Alright," Tsunade said. "In the mean while you two are going to stay under guard and low key. Keep bullshit like this," she motioned between Naruto and Sasuke, "to the minimum. No more insane stunts – in fact I don't want to hear anything about you two until you're ready to report. Understood?"

Sasuke didn't look pleased about that, but Naruto just nodded. "Yeah, alright," he said.

"Good," Tsunade said severely. "I'll have someone sketch up a rehabilitation work up for you, Sasuke, and then I'll see about your accommodations. And then you're going to stay in those accommodations and you're going to be as meek as mice until I call for you. Understood?"

"Right," Sasuke muttered, glaring at her. "You want to tag and chain us up while you're at it?" Naruto snickered.

"Don't tempt me," Tsunade muttered then headed out without another word, her hands clenched into fists. Jiraiya watched her go and then settled down to watch over the two time travellers again.

"Tch," Sasuke harrumphed, glancing at him and rubbing at his mismatched shoulder. Then he looked over to Naruto. "You know," he said. "You can never hold chopsticks again."

Naruto blinked, his head lifting. "What?" he asked and his eyes widened. "You mean…?!"

Sasuke smiled, mean and spiteful. "No more ramen."

Jiraiya smothered the urge to laugh hysterically as the reality of what he'd done finally, finally dawned on Naruto. It wasn't pretty.

But then, neither was their situation in general, really.

Chapter Text

Shimmering

He wakes up to a glow, an overwhelming brightness coming from all around him. It permeates him in and out, coursing through him like constant blast wave and for a moment he's blinded by the strange radiance, unable see or sense or even think.

Chakra, he thinks. This is chakra.

Father, he thinks at first and then – no, father is long dead as is uncle, their Chakra has joined the world. Indra then, except even Indra never felt this oppressive – and this feeling, it's coming from everywhere, all around him, it's like he's surrounded by hundreds of people, all of them with power, all of them with chakra of their own. It's like he's surrounded by a rainbow; countless of individual presences with hues and tones, all of them effecting their individual aura of chakra, so close together that they're almost melding into each other and he can't tell them apart – except, except that is impossible.

Isn't it?

Struggling against the outpouring of power all around him, he tries to calm his mind and bring his senses into order. Calm, he thinks and breathes, quiet, he thinks and exhales. Still as a pond's surface, the raging might of a river coming to rest beneath its waves. Balance, stability, peace.

The brilliance fades into a more manageable shimmer and he can fit into his head again. And then he can see – feel the chakra signatures all around him. He's staring up at stained wooden ceiling in blank faced shock – and all around him there are people with chakra. Not just the bare handful of his clan and family. Not the mere dozens of his father's temple. Not even the near half a hundred Indra amassed.

There are hundreds of them, hundreds and hundreds of people with chakra of their own.

And then Uzumaki Naruto crash lands in his head and nothing – everything – makes sense.


 

Incomprehensible

Ah, he thinks as his head explodes. That makes sense.

It makes absolutely no sense.

Things fall all around him in mismatched order – he's in wrong place, in wrong time, this isn't home, this place is gone and hasn't been build yet. Konoha is a distant future thing which from one point of view has been destroyed and rebuild but doesn't even exist, but it does, it does, he grew up here – except he couldn't because, because that was future. Past. Future.

He is two people in his head – and lifetimes in between, flickering in and out. Ashura first and Naruto last, and Ashura on base and Naruto all over the top. He grew up in his father's temple – in the orphanage and then alone. He grew up in the shadow of his brother – looking up to the Hokage monument, at his father. His father was the Father of Ninshu – his father was a fantasy and he still sometimes didn't dare to believe it. He grew up disappointing but loved. He grew up hated and over came.

Naruto had done something and Ashura couldn't make sense of it at first.

They lived centuries and centuries apart – and this moment and time is wrong for both. Distant terrible future to Ashura, who can look back and see the progression of events, how badly things went, the empires built on the ashes of Ninshu. Lost past to Naruto, who looks back to it with regret and sense of lost potential, all the things he could've done, if only he'd been a little smarter about it.

Time and space, they think. Goddamn it, Indra-Sasuke.


 

Fluent

Naruto embodied Ninshu and never really knew it – it came naturally to him. Ashura can see it, remember it – look ahead to it? – and it's a weirdly nostalgic unease he gets from it. Naruto had never known Ninshu, didn't know a thing about it – but he followed its tenets.

Working for others, with others, against others – becoming better for it. He shares what he has without second thought – time, effort, chakra, dispensing it all out with little restraint, bettering what was around it like it was the most natural thing. Most of all, though, most of all... he spent his entire time matching his beliefs against opposing ideals; his most cherished fights are always those of words and his victories are the new, transformed ideals that came out of those verbal, mental fights. And he never even knew that it was the core of Ashura's Ninshu.

Oh, Naruto thinks, because he never realized. Of course not; Ninshu is dead. And yet of course it comes naturally to him; Naruto was Ashura.


 

Excavation

They get up and set aside the mental for the physical. They already know where they are – the future-past is unmistakeable for Naruto and too alien for Ashura. That ceiling, these wall and floor boards – cut with machines, Ashura wonders, with saws that work on their own, with grinders that made perfect, smooth finishes – Naruto knows them because he lived surrounded by them most of his youth.

This is his apartment, the one he lived until he left it and Konoha behind at age of thirteen. When he came back, he was housed in the temporary Shinobi housing next to the academy instead – he'd meant to rent a new place as soon as he got into swings of missions, but... things had gone to head too quickly.

Konoha, which to Ashura still seems like fantastical future, was destroyed not that much after.

But Naruto knows this place. His jumpsuit is there, thrown over the back of his kitchen chair – in his fridge, there is milk, expired. He hasn't done his laundry, unsurprising, and his scrolls and books and homework is a mess strewn about the floor.

There's a headband there, scratched metal against brand new bandana cloth. Iruka-sensei had given it to him – given his own headband to him – and Naruto had refused to give it back. In the end they had done a swap – Iruka had gotten the new headband that would've gone to Naruto, Naruto had taken his old one, only they'd changed the bandannas around. So Iruka went away with his original cloth but new metal while Naruto got a new one cloth and old metal. This way Naruto wouldn't forget, Iruka had said and ruffled his hair.

As if Naruto could ever forget.

Ashura looks in on these memories, mental and physical, curiously poking at the headband – insignia of a village, of a clan, of a title and rank, how peculiar – and at the memories that came with it. Indra-Sasuke had one too. Naruto had put a scratch on it. Indra-Sasuke had left it behind.

Of course he did.


 

Dust

As they poke around the future-past of Naruto's old home, they begin to clean it up. Which one of them starts it, it's hard to tell – Neither was that cleanly in life. Ashura had always needed someone to nag at him to bother and Naruto never had that, so he'd never just bothered. But they both had grown up, grown something like responsible, and the mess of Naruto's past self is that of a child.

Things on the floor, dust in the corners – expired food items in the fridge. They neaten things up as they glance over them, making the bed where they woke up, folding the clothes on the floor, throwing the dirty ones on the hamper, before picking up the home work of school they no longer went to – school, Ashura thinks, is a wonderful idea. Naruto thinks he's nuts.

Naruto, sadly, has almost as bad a handwriting as Ashura does.

They're examining some essay Naruto had once tried to write and never finished on time, when the window is blown in.


 

Rain

When Indra had walked out, it had been a terrible weather. When Sasuke had done the same, it had broken out to an outpour, washing away tears neither of them shed. In every life, he always walked away. In every life, they always chased after him, to no avail.

He crashes into Naruto's apartment, covered in water and looking angry and confused and tense –it's a near miracle the window didn't break. Ashura and Naruto look down at him and Indra glares out of Sasuke's eyes, how very nostalgic.

"So," Ashura says. "That didn't go as planned."

"Idiot," Indra says. "What did you do?"

"Me?" Ashura asks. "I can't do this; I don't even know how this happened.

"You used Ninshu," Indra says. "You must've. Only Ninshu could do this."

"I think this might be on me and Sasuke," Naruto says. "It's not like you were even here before."

"Idiot," Sasuke answers. "They were always here."

Nostalgic.


 

Correction

They never figured out their father's Ninshu, neither of them.

Indra was supposed to, but he turned his eyes so deep inward that he couldn't see past his own eyes. Ashura on other hand only had eyes for others, and so the points of self reflection were largely lost on him. Father's Ninshu was both closer to self and farther from world than either of them could grasp. It was about the universe, and one's place in it – concept too wide and too alien for either of them. It was balance with the world.

And they were never balanced.

From his own beliefs, Indra had developed Ninjutsu. From his, Ashura had built up his Nindo. He'd been named the successor of Ninshu eventually, much to Indra's chagrin, and he'd tried to live by it – but the self reflection of Indra changed the world before Ashura's reflection of the world could take root.

Humans were, in the end, more likely to look inside than out. Ninshu died – and Ninjutsu reigned supreme. And they died before they could either understand or appreciate the effects it would have on the world.

Looking back to it now, they can't even wince. The world built upon their fight, into clans, into Senju and Uchiha, into wars, into villages, into Konoha – into now. Stones piled up on a base that has a crack running right through it can only stand sturdy on either end – and nothing truly bridged that divide, it had only grown wider as the stones had piled.

At some point, the stones had collapsed – in Hashirama's and Madara's time perhaps, or after – and covered the crack in mess of scattered brickwork. But the fault line was still there, and nothing was sturdy anymore.

On that fault line of ideals wars were waged.


 

Cup of Tea

Indra curses and Ashura makes tea with what little Naruto has to offer in his dingy little apartment. Naruto makes faces at Sasuke, who rubs at his eyes as if he has a headache. Understanding tastes like stale leaf, drank from chipped cups.

"So to recap," Naruto says. "Sasuke used Rinnegan to try and undo – stuff. I messed with it without meaning to with it because," he waves a hand in vague gesture of compassing everything in the world, "you know. Ninshu."

"Tch," Sasuke answers and glares at him. "I didn't mean to bring you along."

"You couldn't not," Ashura says and looks down at Naruto's right palm. The seal is gone from the skin, but the connection is there. "Father joined you two together when he passed on his power. The connection was rivalled and opposite and because of that, strong."

"Damn old man," Indra mutters, looking down at Sasuke's left palm. "Always tampering with events, even now."

"Are we where you meant to go?" Ashura asks, looking to Sasuke past Indra's glare. "One would think you would have gone earlier."

Earlier – to a time before the massacre.

Sasuke looks down and presses his lips together for a moment. "Uchiha died for a reason," he says then. "It was a stupid reason but if they hadn't, things... would've turned out worse."

"The coup they were planning would've destroyed this place, inside out," Indra agrees and looks away, at the window he and Sasuke had crashed through. "Even if they had managed a bloodless coup – which they wouldn't have – Uchiha would have eventually killed everything Konoha stood for. Their ideals were... wrong."

Ashura tilts Naruto's head while Naruto hums, not quite getting it. He can understand Ashura's interest though – because that sounded like acceptance, maybe even submission, to something Indra fought hard against. "So ideals are important then," Ashura asks, sounding smug.

"Shut up," Sasuke mutters and he looks almost embarrassed. "Konoha is corrupt and hiding it behind this veil of greater good which makes it even worse, but it's still... better than most villages."

"Uchiha would have made it like other villages," Indra says.

Rain and Sand, Naruto thinks and Ashura shudders.

"Konoha was strong and successful because it got closes to bridging the gap," Ashura says. "Because we built it together."

"And it became weak," Indra says harshly.

"Yeah, because you left," Ashura mutters and takes a gulp of stale tea.

There's a tense silence for a moment before Naruto clears his throat. "So, why now?" he asks and looks towards his headband, sitting on the table near them. "This is before genin exam, isn't it?"

Sasuke looks that way too, but he doesn't know the significance of the scratched metal against brand new untested cloth. "Yeah," he says and looks away. "It seemed like the best change point – without having to wait useless for years."

"Huh?"

"Change of personality at this conjunction won't be too noticeable," Indra explains coolly. "Because Kakashi doesn't know Sasuke personally and it is understandable for new Genin to affect new traits. In academy, it would have been noticed by the teachers."

"And I thought I could fake it until Land of Wave – after that everything can be chalked up as post trauma," Sasuke shrugs.

Ashura hums and Naruto nods in agreement. It makes sense. Except, "You think we can fake this?" he asks, motioning between.

"Well, this wasn't exactly planned, was it?" Sasuke mutters.

"This will affect more than your plan of changing future events," Ashura says and looks at Indra. "Doesn't it?"

Indra scoffs and looks down and says nothing.