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Face Like Thunder

Chapter Text

A gentle hand ruffled his hair as he looked out at the sea. Glancing up slightly, a kind woman with long red hair and deep green eyes smiled down at him kindly. Her hair was moved slightly by the breeze, no hair ornaments locking the blood red strands in place. She wore a just barely knee-length purple kimono with what looked like clouds decorating the top half in a deep, burnt orange color. The material was silken, made to withstand but allow movement and breathing in the hot and humid climate of Uzushiogakure. A shinobi headband hung around her neck, the village symbol a spiral encased within a circle. A miniature hurricane, just like Tsubaki Uzumaki, the same woman who had birthed five sons and three daughters and still had time to run her entire clan.

"Amahiko, has something caught your attention?" Her eyes sparkled like gems, "Tenma is asking for you at the tower."

"Nothing, kaa-san." He sighed, "I'll go find oji-san."

"My brother can wait." She stared him down with critical eyes, "Something is bothering you."

He gnawed on his lip, regarding his mother with sad eyes, "I'm the youngest of eight children."

"Yes, I'm aware." She laughed, "And of what consequence is that?"

"What's going to happen to me? Am I just gonna be the backup of the backup of the backup of the backup of the-?"

"Hiko-chan." Her face was severe, "What are you talking about?"

"Am I just going to be the backup clan head? Not even the backup, the backup times eight!"

"And who gave you that foolish idea?" Her smile was amused, "Was my brother just a backup? Or my sisters?"

"Oji-san became Uzukage, though." His shoulders slumped, "And Hikaru-oba-san is a fuinjutsu master. Then Kaiyo-oba-san is, well, she's legendary. Almost as much as oji-san."

"Or more so." Tsubaki's smiled became a grin, "I'm pretty sure she could pick a fight with a God and still win."

"I'm not any of that." He huffed, "I'm just a chunin."

"For now, Hiko-chan." She snorted out a laugh, "I was a chunin once, hell, so was Tenma. Now he's become the Nidaime Uzukage, taking over for our great uncle by the time he was twenty-six. You're eight, you have time."

"Not enough." His eyes flittered over to look at the sea again, "I want to learn so much, kaa-san. I want to see so much."

Her hand brushed through his blood red hair softly once more, "You will, my child. You're only eight and already a chunin. You almost beat Nanami in her promotion age of seven. Only a year apart, and look at all she's done."

"She's the future clan head. It's expected of her." He rolled his eyes, "I don't wanna be like her. I don't just wanna be a clan head, or just a jounin. I wanna be more, kaa-san!"

"Maa, where'd you get all that ambition from?" She sighed, "For the love of Kami-sama, become Uzukage then! Take the hat when Tenma is done. Do it so your poor old mother won't get pestered to."

His smile was wide and blinding, "Only for you, kaa-san."

"Uh huh." She laughed, "Now go see what my pest of a brother wants. Oh, and bring home milk on your way back! We're nearly out!"

"Hai, kaa-san!"

He ran off the large Uzumaki estate and deep into the heart of the village. He can see the golden roofs of the buildings, taste the salty air, feel the rough stone of the sun-bleached buildings, watch his feet roam over the intricate tile floors of the village. He can feel energy rush through his veins as the sea breeze blows red strands of hair into his eyes. The streets are alive with vendors and civilians and shinobi, all milling around and completing their morning routines. Many waved, smiled as the saw his signature Uzumaki red hair in the crowd of people. He could see a lot of his clansmen around that morning, which was unsurprising. He couldn't go anywhere without seeing at least one family member. They were the most prominent clan in all of Uzushio, just in front of the Mizushima clan, and they were the founding clan to boot.

The early Uzumaki's had risen the cliffs from which their village was built on from the sea floor themselves, creating a sturdy base for what would become one of the most powerful villages in the Elemental Nations. Located just off the coast of the Land of Whirlpools, the clan that is known for sealing and longevity built their home and soon flocks of people, both civilian and shinobi alike, poured into the village in droves. The Uzumaki would always be the largest populated clan, Amahiko was sure of this. Their life forces were so strong, and there were multiple branch families of the Uzumaki besides the main branch, of which Amahiko himself was the youngest child of. 

Entering the Uzukage Tower, he quickly rushed up the spiral staircase and burst into his uncle's office, a large smile on his face. Tenma, a man of only thirty-four, sat behind his desk with his orange and white Uzukage hat perched on his desk beside the mountains of paperwork he had stacked up. The office was large, round, and had many books and scrolls scattered all over the place. The man himself had darker hair than much of his clansmen, darker than his sisters, but still just as red as any other Uzumaki. It was long, not as long as Tsubaki's whose practically reached her ankles, but about shoulder length and tied up into a topknot. He smiled when he saw his nephew enter the room loudly.

"Hiko-chan!" He laughed, "What's the grand entrance about?"

"I'm going to be Uzukage after you." His voice, while at a normal volume, was set and determined. He held his uncle's stare until the man felt a bead of sweat run down the side of his face.

"Damn kid, all of you take after your father." He muttered quietly so Amahiko couldn't hear before speaking up, "Well, I can see you're...determined."

"I am." Amahiko nodded, "I am prepared to live and die for my village. I told my mother I wanted to be something more, and this is that something more."

"Well, then, I guess it's only proper." Tenma laughed, "Kid, all your brothers' and sisters' had a sensei or two. I know you had your genin sensei, Tatsu Yoshida, correct?"

At his nephew's nod he continued, "Well, I think you're ready for more than that. She's an excellent jounin, don't get me wrong, but you and your team advanced before she could teach you anything besides the basics. Now she's out gathering intelligence, and you have no one to teach you. So, today's your lucky day because you're getting a new sensei."

Amahiko perked up instantly, "Who?"

"Me." Tenman smiled, "Your mom wants you trained with someone who's a high caliber ninja, and she was going to ask Kaiyo, but I swooped in and saved you. You can thank me later, but I couldn't subject my own nephew to that. I love my sister but...she's insane."

The chunin shivered, "Thanks, oji-san. This will...this will be the turning point! I can see it now, from now on I'm not just Amahiko Uzumaki!

"You wanna be something more?" Tenma eyed his nephew and then his hat with a sharp eye, "Well, lemme tell you something. I've been watching you, and I think you have some potential. I'm helping you because you're my sister's son, and you're good for a chunin. The question is can you be better than just good. If you are worthy of the title Uzukage by the time I'm ready to step down...I'll turn the damn hat over to you."

"Yeah!" Amahiko smiled widely, "Let's start training now! I wanna work some on my chakra chains!"

"Eh, later today." Tenma frowned, "I got mountains of paperwork to do at the moment, and if your aunt drops by and she finds out I haven't done any of it, she'll take the hat and become the Sandaime herself before you even have a shot."

He laughed, "Okay, Tenma-sensei! I'm gonna got get some ramen, find me when you're done!"

Joy coursed through his veins. His uncle was going to teach him, and he'd become what he'd always wanted. He'd become more than normal, he'd be more than just the eighth child. He'd be the Uzukage. Feeling the wind on his cheeks and tasting the salty air, everything was okay in that moment. Everything was at peace.

And then Naruto woke up.

Chapter Text

"Okay, Naruto, just make a clone now." Iruka smiled encouragingly

The blonde tensed his shoulders slightly, sighing as he went through the proper hand seals quickly, "Bunshin no Jutsu (Clone Technique)!"

Naruto tried to tame his chakra, force the astonishing mass down into three normal clones. However, when the small puff of smoke cleared, what came out of his effort were three deformed masses slumped on the ground. Not even the facial features were correct; they looked like they'd been poorly drawn on by some five-year-old with no artistic talent. Even his whiskers on his cheeks just looked like meaningless scribbles. Closing his eyes, he pressed back the tell-tale stinging feeling that went hand in hand with tears and forced himself to look at the two men sitting at a desk in the front of the classroom. Mizuki-sensei looked savagely happy, which made Naruto's gut twist and turn. However, Iruka-sensei's expression hurt him even more. Disappointment in his eyes, shining like a beacon, as he looked at Naruto with sadness and pity.

("Yuudai, you don't want to do this."

He was knee deep in mud, a katana held in his hand and his breathing heavy. A man with brown hair stood in front of him, disappointment in his golden eyes and a frown marring his lips. He looked at Amahiko with pity and thinly veiled anger.

"Oh, but I do."

Rage boiled in his veins, "You were born here! This is your home! How could you betray us like this? How could you betray me?"

His voice cracked and his chest hurt and the stench of blood permeated the air and he tried to stare at the traitor in front of him rather than look at the dead bodies of those laying on the ground all around him. Oh, Kami, he was supposed to protect these people-!

"Power is a dangerous thing, Amahiko, and you have too much of it yet you have no idea how to use it. The Nidaime was wrong to train you, but I guess he didn't know you'd be a weak-willed coward." Yuudai's smile was twisted, "To think, your uncle would probably cheer for your death if he saw you now."

"We grew up together." His voice was rough, "We...we...You don't want to do this. You know I only do what is best for Uzushio! Are you willing to give up everything this village has given you? Everything I've give you?"

"I'm sure you do what's best for the village, in your opinion." The golden eyed man stilled, his face going grim, "You have so much power, I always admired it, but so little ambition. You're running Uzushio into the ground!"

"So you decide to wreck it instead?" Blood was running down his face, and red hair was beginning to fall in his eyes and he knew his voice sounded hysterical, "That is not a solution! Look at the dead and wounded, Yuudai! Look at what you've done, because soon you will be lying with them for your crimes!"

His smile was savage, "I'm going to raze this village to the ground with you in it, then I'm going to raise it up once more to be something better! The Uzumaki have reigned for too long, don't you agree? I think it's time for a shift in power!"

Then Yuudai rushed him.)

Disregarding the shiver running down his back, Naruto looked at Iruka-sensei and tried to ignore the scene playing out in the back of his mind. Grief, disappointment, anger, resentment; all of these emotions flushed through him along with embarrassment as he dispelled the three failed clones. Iruka frowned upon seeing the boy's face, not sure if Naruto knew just how much his expression gave away what he was feeling.

"I'm sorry, Naruto." Iruka pursed his lips, "You have failed to meet the requirements to pass. You can always try again next year."

Biting his lip, the blonde boy nodded before rushing out, leaving the room behind and trying to ignore the burning and condemning eyes of his classmates. Soon all the exams were over, and Naruto lowered his eyes so he didn't have to watch all the excited children with hitai-ates running out to embrace their equally excited parents. Now, he wasn't even dead last. He was just the only one he didn't graduate.

"Look at it. I almost feel sorry for it."

"I don't. Serves it right, after everything it did."

"It was the only one who didn't graduate."

"Like I said, serves it right after-"

"Shh! You can't talk about that!"

His shoulders slumped further, hearing the whispers of the mothers as he sat in the shadows on the swing right in front of the academy. He wasn't dumb, he knew that much. He just couldn't focus. He couldn't control his chakra. He could trace calligraphy he shouldn't know on the desk with his fingertips, he knew a taijutsu style instinctively that was so different from the academy style, he could run through hand seals for jutsu no academy student should know exists. Most of all, he could create seals. Things that are renown in the shinobi world, things he excelled in. He could trace them out in his mind, know what they do and how to use them. Still, he was labeled as the dead last. It was understandable, he never paid attention in class and during tests, he couldn't find the words to dumb down all the knowledge in his head to fit into the tiny lines they provided.

Now he would never be what he was meant to be, he would never be more than the demon kid. He wanted to be more, though, he wanted it with every fiber in his body.

("She's the future clan head. It's expected of her." He rolled his eyes, "I don't wanna be like her. I don't just wanna be a clan head, or just a jounin. I wanna be more, kaa-san!"

"Maa, where'd you get all that ambition from?" She sighed, "For the love of Kami-sama, become Uzukage then! Take the hat when Tenma is done. Do it so your poor old mother won't get pestered to."

His smile was wide and blinding, "Only for you, kaa-san.")

He closed his eyes, ignoring his fantasies for a moment as he tried to figure out a way to get his chakra under control. Normal techniques had never worked for the loud-mouthed boy, as he'd tried tree walking and he'd tried meditating previously, but he had trouble concentrating his chakra into such small amounts. He'd be an awful medic, he knew that much for sure. He had the knowledge he just didn't know how to apply it in real life situations, which was almost as bad as not having it at all. Hands tightening around the ropes of the swingset, Naruto looked up to see Mizuki-sensei approaching him with an alarmingly kind smile on his face. Mizuki had always hated Naruto, the blond boy could tell, despite attempts on the white haired man's part to hide his hatred. 

"Naruto, are you doing okay?" He smiled, but it seemed more patronizing than anything else, "I know it must be hard to be the only one-"

"What do you want?" Naruto sighed, looking at the man with a sad expression, "If you're here to tell me what I already know...please don't."

Mizuki seemed thrown off momentarily because for a split second he didn't see the blond demon sitting on the swing in front of him. His eyes looked so much older, and he was pinned under the gaze of someone who knew what he was trying to do. However, he kept up his smile and continued to speak placidly to the boy in front of him.

"Unless you know of a way to graduate despite failing, I'd say this is new information." At the boy's astonished look, Mizuki couldn't help but laugh, "Exactly. All you need to do, Naruto, is trust me."

Every fiber of his being told him to run away, to go find Iruka-sensei and tell him what Mizuki had just said. However, something halted him. He wanted to be a ninja, he wanted to prove people wrong. If he was going to be something more, he needed that hitai-ate and he needed to be a genin. So he controlled his racing heart and kept his urges to flee locked down and stared Mizuki down, raising his eyebrows and silently prompting the man to continue.

The chunin was unnerved by the boy's silent stare, blue eyes intense and looming, but he merely smiled and explained, "All you need to do is sneak into the Hokage Residence and learn one technique from the Scroll of Seals. If you can manage to do this and meet me in the forest surrounding the residence, you'll graduate."

"Why didn't Iruka-sensei tell me about this?" Naruto's eyes were narrowed now, "Why would you take the time to tell me?"

It was no secret Mizuki hated Naruto, even Iruka could tell that much. Not that this was new, Naruto couldn't count the number of people that despised him the same way he couldn't count the number of stars in the sky. There were simply too many, probably the majority of the civilian population and most of the shinobi population, as well. It had been that way for as long as he could remember, with Hokage-jiji and Iruka-sensei the only ones to really care about him nowadays. In his younger years, there were a few ANBU agents, like Dog and Crow, who would give him clothes and food occasionally. Now there were no ANBU agents and Naruto spent most of his time alone with his ramen and his false memories. 

"I don't...hate you, Naruto." Mizuki's smile was just as fake as Iruka's when he had first met Naruto, "I want all my students to succeed."

"How long do I have?"

"Until midnight. Don't get caught, remember this is a test to see if you have enough skill to be a genin."

Don't do it, a voice spoke desperately in his head, Don't fall for this. It sounded familiar, like a whisper from another life. He shook it off as Mizuki left, Naruto began to plan to sneak into the Hokage Residency. It couldn't be the hardest thing he'd ever done, but he was sure it wouldn't be the easiest, either. So hours later, after sneaking past the jonin guards and while the ANBU were changing stations, he snuck in. In the pitch black night, the moon hung shallowly in the sky above as Naruto lugged the heavy scroll out of the heavily chained cabinet that held multiple others as well. This one was on the top shelf, though, and the kanji clearly spelled out its name as well as the consequences of opening it. Nevertheless, he closed the doors and relocked the lock he had picked with a kunai minutes earlier. It had been easy, and he didn't notice the looming figure behind him that wore a cat mask, watching him dash off towards the forest. 

Unrolling the great scroll, Naruto's eyes widened as the massive parchment laid exposed in front of him. It must've been fifty feet long, if not more, and Naruto didn't have a clue how he was going to learn one of these long ass techniques in the squandering hour he had left before Mizuki showed up. But he forced himself over to it, looking at the first jutsu on the list. Kage Bunshin no Jutsu (Shadow Clone Technique) was the first one, and it sounded decently easy and not all that difficult. Looking at the hand seals, he was about to try it when something stilled his fingers from moving. Horse, rat, monkey, ram; that was it, only four hand seals, yet something guided his fingers into another set of seals. Dog, snake, rat, horse, ram, and much more; he knew the pattern, but his fingers only came together to form a 'T' shade as he released a great amount of chakra.

That's better, he thought, before realizing he didn't even know what he was doing. Energy lashed through his veins, chakra rising in a wave as it poured over him and suddenly he wasn't surrounded by trees but by the ocean and smiling faces and his sensei was teaching him and he was happy. When the high ended and he opened his eyes, he was in the same place he'd been before. The lush trees of Konoha surrounded him, and grass tickled his toes through his sandals, and he was back in Konoha instead of that village on the ocean. One new thing, though, was that there were about five perfect copies of himself blinking back at him. Panicking, he spiked his chakra and they all dispelled, but he had no idea what the hell that was.

As usual, the answer came unbidden to him. Mizu Bunshin no Jutsu (Water Clone Technique). 

Sighing, he looked down at the scroll and shrugged. Well, he could make a clone now so he guessed he'd call it a day and wait for Mizuki to get there. He still had a bad feeling about that, and there was that ever present voice in his head that told him he was in trouble, but he was used to being in trouble by now. It didn't really phase him, at this point. So when he felt a chakra presence above him, he automatically assumed it was Mizuki. It'd have to be, who else would know where the meeting place in the forest was. Mizuki was the 'test conductor' so he'd be the one to assure Naruto passed. 

"It's all over now, Naruto."

"Iruka-sensei?" Naruto leaped to his feet, "What're you doing here? I thought-"

"What am I doing here?" Iruka seemed incredulous, "Naruto, you stole the forbidden seal. Why wouldn't I be here? Everyone is looking for you-!"

"They make that big of a deal out of this test?" Unease settled into his stomach, and doubt lapped at him like the ocean does the shore, "Wow. I mean, I guess this was kinda unnecessary. Turns out I can make a clone! I was just gonna explain it to Mizuki-sensei once he got here but you beat him. You're quick, huh, sensei?"

"Test?" Iruka's eyebrows drew together, "What are you talking about, Naruto?"

"The test." He should've known, he should've known, he should've known, "If I learn a jutsu from this scroll, I can become a genin. Mizuki-sensei told me that's how it worked, you got an extra opportunity if you failed but your sensei still thought you had potential. Iruka-sensei? Are you okay?"

The man had grown exceedingly pale during Naruto's explanation, "Naruto-kun, we need to go to the Hokage! Right now, come one!"

"Naruto!" There was Mizuki, "Give me the scroll now! This is part of the test, some people in life are going to want you to fail. Iruka does. Give me the scroll, Naruto, and you'll be a shinobi."

Iruka's eyes grew wide as he gave Mizuki a furious stare, "Stop lying this instant, Mizuki! What are you thinking?"

"Come on, Naruto." The man was fiddling with the senbon in his hand, and when Iruka moved to grab the blond boy's shoulder he threw them straight towards the pair.

Iruka shoved Naruto behind him, senbon sticking out of him like a pin cushion as Mizuki laughed, "Give me the scroll, Naruto. I haven't got all night."

Traitor. The voice in the back of his head growled with anger, hissing and spitting as Naruto watched Iruka-sensei's blood drip to the ground in small drops. Just like Yuudai, kill him now before he destroys everything. Kill him now. He was scared, his heart was beating way too fast, and yet his blood was boiling. He was angry, furious at Mizuki for tricking him and furious at himself for buying into it. He should've known. It was obvious, no one ever made genin if they failed the exam. He was so stupid, so oblivious. It'd get him killed one day. Just as Yuudai struck me down for my blind sightedness. He didn't want to die now, though, and he never wanted to see Iruka-sensei in pain again. It hurt his heart, made his chest ache to see the kind man bleeding because of him. Just as my people bled for me. 

His thoughts were blending with something else's, someone else's, and he watched in a daze as Mizuki jumped from the tree branch to land on the ground and began to walk towards them.

"Iruka doesn't want you to graduate, Naruto. Don't blow this for yourself."

"I already told you once to stop lying." Iruka growled, further placing himself in front of Naruto, "You'd better listen this time, traitor."

The white-haired man's face darkened, "Do you really want to talk about lies, Iruka? Do want to enter that territory?"

The brunette man's body seized, and he jerked in panic, "It is forbidden, and I will not allow you to speak of it!"

"Says the one who's blood is dripping to the ground." Mizuki shot Iruka a loathing look, and Naruto has never hated someone so much in his entire life, "Naruto, do you know why the village hates you?"

"Stop!" Iruka roared, "Naruto, do not listen to him!"

"It's because the Kyuubi is sealed within you. The same beast that killed Iruka's parents has possessed your body. You are the nine tailed fox, Naruto, and I'm doing the village a favor by eliminating you here."

"Naruto, run!" Iruka staggered forwards, "Go now!"

"Why are you still protecting him?" Mizuki grabbed the fuma shuriken off his back, "He's a demon! He's the Jinchuriki to the Kyuubi!"

(The woman had her vibrant hair arranged in two buns, tags hanging from both of them as she stood with her hands clasped together. A purple diamond marked her forehead, and her white kimono swayed in the village's wind. 

"Mito-sama, it's an honor."

He bowed towards her and watched her smile, "It is my honor to meet you, Amahiko-san. You are now the Sandaime Uzukage, correct."

"Yes, Mito-sama." He inclined his head towards her with a wry grin, "My uncle grew tired of the paperwork."

She clucked her tongue, "Tenma always was lazy. You've made a name for yourself, though. Akai Kami (The Red God), so I hear they've been calling you."

At her raised eyebrow and calm disposition, he felt horribly belittled by her presence, "Well, they call me a lot of things."

"I'm sure."

He laughed, a little nervously if he was honest, and felt like he was two years old again and clutching his mother's skirts. This woman had sealed the nine tailed fox within her own body, she was a fuinjutsu master, she was the wife of the first Hokage. Sure, he was a fuinjutsu master too, but when this woman who was so many years his senior, this woman who survived the Feudal Era and came out on top, this woman with the audacity to seal the strongest of the Biju inside her own gut...when this woman looked at him, he felt like an ant.)

Naruto blinked, and he was pulled back to reality when he heard Iruka-sensei grunt in pain and that's when he noticed he was now on the ground and Iruka hovered above him with a grimace of pain and sadness on his face. That's when the blond noticed the giant weapon sticking out of his sensei's back. All of a sudden he was in the rain again, and it was a fight or die situation and he wasn't going to die here and he wasn't going to let Iruka-sensei die here. Instincts took over and he scrambled out from under his sensei, blood boiling when he saw the man collapse to the ground before struggling to set upright. Turning his gaze on Mizuki, he felt a sick sort of pleasure curl in his gut when the man froze under his eyes. 

"You aren't going to hurt Iruka-sensei, traitor." He spat the last word out with only the venom someone betrayed could, "You'll never hurt anyone in this village again!"

He said it with such an air of finality and confidence, and he never saw Iruka's astonished but proud look. Mizuki sneered, recovering from Naruto's cold gaze, and charged at him with a kunai in hand. Raising his hands, his fingers formed a few seals and the next thing he knew a wave of chakra flooded his body and he could taste the salty air and see his mother, red hair flowing loosely in the breeze and his siblings were there and he was home. Water swirled into existence, condensing out of nothing except the moisture in the air. Forming quickly, quicker than Mizuki could respond to, a large water dragon came crashing towards him with eyes glowing yellow.

"Suiton: Suiryūdan no Jutsu (Water Release: Water Dragon Bullet Technique)!" Naruto thrust his hands forward, watching in solemn silence as Mizuki was thrown back by the force of the jutsu, falling into a tree and drowning in the water as it crashed down on him and tore him apart like a hurricane. Left in a huge puddle, crumpled on the ground and silent, Naruto wasn't sure if he wanted the man dead or not. Turning to see his sensei's wide eyes and the proud quirk of his mouth, Naruto decided he didn't care what the traitor's fate was. He cared that Iruka was safe, and right now the man had removed the giant weapon from his back but was still bleeding at an alarming rate. 

"I-I'm sorry, sensei." Naruto knelt by the man, swallowing thickly, "I should've known."

"Did you...learn that in the scroll?" Iruka looked a bit confused, gesturing to Mizuki.

Naruto went with the easiest to explain answer, "Yeah."

The man seemed impressed, "I'm proud of you, Naruto-kun. I think...I think you've earned this."

The whiskered child's breath caught in his throat as his sensei reached up and untied his headband from his forehead. He held it out, and Naruto accepted it with reverence. This wasn't the shiny new ones every graduate got at the academy, no, but it meant so much more than those. It meant so much more than any person would ever know. Looking at Iruka with wide eyes, the blond boy blinked tears out of his eyes.

"I-thank you, sensei!"

"I'm not your sensei anymore, Naruto-kun. You're a genin now." His smile was pained but kind, "I want you to listen to me though, young man. You take everything that-that filth said and you ignore it! You are not-!"

"A demon. I know." His smile was plain, "I'm just the container. I've seen the seal before."

Iruka's eyes were wide from not only pain, "You...already knew?"

"No." Naruto admitted, "But I know about my clan. Whoever my family were, it's not surprising the could work with seals. Any Uzumaki can, you know, and the seal on my stomach is definitely Uzumaki fuinjutsu."

Letting out an only slightly pained laugh, Iruka pulled the boy into a tight hug, "I'm proud of you, Naruto-kun."

("I'm proud of you, Amahiko-kun." Her violet eyes sparkled, and Tatsu Yoshida looked as though he'd just given her the moon and all the stars, "My own student becoming Uzukage. I'm not surprised, of course. You, Akane, and Raiden always had so much potential. So much, and now look at what you've gone and done."

He smiled, his eyes slightly damp, "Thank you, sensei."

He hadn't spent long under her tutelage, but she'd played such a big role in his life. His team, Team Tatsu, had a short-lived but successful career as genin. Bumped up to chunin only ten months after their graduation, and making jonin not long after that, the Yoshida woman had only had so much time to teach them. Teach them she did, however, and none of them would ever forget her kindness or her sternness. The way she saw them as individuals when they all came from such big families that normally the clan was just blurred together. Amahiko and Akane especially, both of them being Uzumaki if only distantly related. She helped them with a kind hand and taught them what they had to do to succeed in the shinobi world. Trust your teammates, never give up, and be prepared for anything. 

"Don't thank me, kid." Her smile was infectious, "Do you know how good of bragging material this is? Shoji can shut his mouth now about how his student got a jonin promotion. You three did that years ago. Now one of mine is the head medic at the hospital, one is a fuinjutsu master, and one is the Uzukage. Every other jonin sensei out there can suck my dick, cause I think I win at this point."

They heard a snort from behind them and turned to see Tenma Uzumaki, the Nidaime Uzukage, for once just wearing normal shinobi clothing rather than the ceremonial Uzukage garb that Amahiko now donned. He shook his head, not put off at all by her language.

"Watch it, Tatsu." He rolled his eyes at her, "Kiddies might overhear you." 

She smiled, or rather smirked, "Sorry, you're not Uzukage anymore. Hiko-hime, you got a problem with my vocabulary?"

He twitched slightly at the nickname, but shook his head nevertheless, "Of course not sensei."

"Oi!" Tenma protested, "I'm sensei!"

"Hah!" Tatsu smiled triumphantly, "I'll always be his sensei, I taught him as a genin. It forms a special bond, you know?"

"I'm his uncle though!"

Amahiko just laughed.)

Chapter Text

Iruka-sensei smiled at them all, "Today, you begin your journey as shinobi of Konoha. Now, I'm sure you've heard me say this a million times, but I'm proud of you all and know you'll make everyone in this village proud as well. If a few of you can just grow up a little..."

The last part was murmured, barely audible, but Naruto heard it anyways and bit back a laugh. He knew it was directed to himself, maybe Kiba and probably Shikamaru for being a lazy-ass. Fidgeting in his seat, as usual, Naruto used the tips of his fingertips to trace fuinjutsu into the desk. One day he was going to walk into a shop and buy some parchment and ink without getting kicked out. Sadly, he couldn't see that day in his near future. Maybe his sensei would get some for him? He could try and ask, and he hoped the jonin would be empathetic to his plight. The blond boy didn't notice Sasuke sending him looks out the corner of his eye.

The hell is the dobe doing? He thought, raising an eyebrow silently. The whiskered kid was tracing shapes and squiggles into the wood of their desks with such intensity it was astonishing. Sasuke didn't even know the idiot could concentrate for that long, but his main question was what the other boy was drawing. It looked nonsensical to him, and it was probably of no use to him seeing as Naruto was dead last for a reason. He had no skill in the ways of the shinobi, and his grades were so poor it was disgraceful. The Uchiha had no idea how he had graduated, but he was fairly certain the Uzumaki wouldn't make it past his first C-rank.

"Next, Team 7 will consist of Uzumaki Naruto, Haruno Sakura-"

"No!" The wail of despair cut Iruka off abruptly, the pinkette staring at the academy teacher in horror, "Not Naruto-baka!"

He narrowed his eyes, "Team 7 will consist of Uzumaki Naruto, Haruno Sakura, and Uchiha Sasuke. Your jonin instructor will be Hatake Kakashi."

She perked up considerably, and this time the wail of despair came from Ino who looked angrier than ever, "Are you kidding me? Forehead's not good enough to be on Sasuke-kun's team!"

"Hah!" Sakura fist pumped, "Take that Ino-pig!"

The class broke out into chatter, causing Iruka's eyebrow to twitch. Naruto cringed and braced himself for the impact of the yell.

"Will everyone shut up! You're all genin of Konoha, act like it and grow up!"

Instantly quiet, the class stared ahead in fear of angering their former sensei even more, "Now, Team 8 will consist of Inuzuka Kiba, Hyuuga Hinata, and Aburame Shino. Your jonin instructor will be Yuhi Kurenai."

After that, Naruto sat back in his chair and ignored the rest of the team assignments. He was happy, of course he was happy. He had Sakura-chan on his team, and he was thinking that might just be worth dealing with the mopey bastard. Soon, the pink haired girl would see Naruto was much better than Sasuke, that Naruto actually deserved her love and affection. Still, as he looked at her and the way she stared at Sasuke with hearts in her eyes as she practically drooled, he felt an unsettling feeling in the pit of his stomach. It all felt so wrong, both of his teammates did. None of the held affection for each other, they weren't even acquaintances let alone friends. The closest bond Naruto had with Sasuke was a rival, but the Uchiha didn't even take that seriously. Sure, he liked Sakura-chan, but she blew him off all the time and hit him a lot. Trying to hide his discomfort, he closed his eyes and tried to calm the unsettling feeling that just kept growing.

("Uzumaki Amahiko, Uzumaki Akane, and Hikoki Raiden." Their teacher smiled in the direction of the three young children, "Your sensei will be Yoshida Tatsu."

Naruto whipped around to look at Akane, his distant cousin on his mother's side, and the vibrantly red haired girl beamed in response. Raiden, too, gave them both a small smile that screamed excitement. As soon as class let out they dashed out of the academy, sailing past their parents who stood in the cluster with everyone else waiting for their children. Of course, Tsubaki Uzumaki was given much personal space as she was practically Uzushio royalty, but her cousin by marriage stood close beside her as the two women gossiped. Akane's mother looked nothing like his own, with light brown hair pulled into one messy bun and eyes a deep burgundy color. Amahiko glanced at them in passing, before noticing the male that stood a bit behind his mother that looked nearly excited as Amahiko himself felt.


The Uzumaki boy flew towards his father, the man catching him in a hug easily. Tsubaki snorted slightly, a grin curving her lips as her and Akane's mother shared an eye roll. Ryota Mori-Uzumaki smiled and gave his son a quick hug before returning Amahiko to the ground and ruffling his hair gently. He was a tall man, taller than even his wife, and had a charming smile fitted on his face. Black hair and tanned skin with rich, brown eyes, he looked nothing like his eight red haired children and fiery wife. From no prominent clan, the child of two civilians with no shinobi background, it amazed most when they find out he married Tsubaki Uzumaki, clan head and ferocious warrior. Then again, if you saw him on the battlefield the confusion would quickly be cleared up.

"Tou-san, you made it!" Amahiko smiled as bright as the sun, "I thought you'd be gone another week!"

"I hurried home." Ryota gave a matching smile, "I've never missed a graduation, I'm not about to start now!")

Naruto was spaced out, and Sasuke had been watching his blank face for the past few minutes when all of a sudden the blue eyes cleared and the Uchiha saw sadness sweep over the blonde boy like a smothering blanket. Sasuke had seen his fair share of smiles the boy always had to offer, and this was by far the longest time the Uzumaki had gone without keeping up his sunny disposition. He seemed downtrodden at times, but within seconds he was but to smiling like an idiot. Now, though, he didn't even try. It cast a somber light on the day, to say the least, and Sasuke stamped down any amount of concern he had for the other boy.

The students sat and waited as their respective jonin came to pick up the groups. Team after team left, and soon Team 7 was alone in the small classroom when even Iruka left to get lunch. Naruto sat against the wall, mind racing and mood still dampened from his earlier fantasy. Ignoring Sakura for once, not that the pinkette even noticed, Naruto sat in a comatose like state. Reliving fake memories in his head, he was none the wiser to the Uchiha looking at him with suspicion until the door opened rather violently and a man with gravity defying hair and a mask covering his lower face entered the room.

Kakashi blinked, looking at the three, "How should I put this? My first impression of you're boring."

Naruto blinked, turning his attention to his now sensei, and forced a big smile. Sakura blinked at the man, lips curving down into a frown but refraining from speaking a word, and Sasuke just sneered at the jonin. Kakashi coughed into his hand, "Just meet me on the roof in two minutes."

Then he was gone in a puff of smoke.

"Wha-? Two minutes!" Sakura echoed, "Two minutes! He can't be serious! That's five flights of stairs up!"

"We're genin now." Sasuke stood, hurrying out the door, "Get used to it or you'll be useless."

Stunned for a moment, the girl blinked then pressed her mouth into a hard line, "Useless..."

Grumbling after Sasuke, Naruto was left alone in the room. The blonde frowned, frustrated. There was no way in hell he'd make it in two minutes going up the stairs! Especially because his teammates were already ahead of them, and that on top of being late would look even worse. There had to be another way. Walking over to the window, he swung it open and looked up. Sure enough, five floors up the roof was practically taunting him.

("Climb the building." Tatsu smiled viciously, "No hands, feet only."

"Are you, uh..." Raiden gestured at the wall with one hand, "You gonna tell us how?"

"Nope!" Their sensei laughed slightly, "Figure it out boys and...well, girl."

Akane sighed, turning to her teammates, "Listen guys. I've seen a lot of ninja walk on walls and stuff. What is a resource we have that could help us cement ourselves to the walls and prevent us from falling?"

Amahiko blinked, "Glue?"

"No..." Raiden actually laughed, "She means paste! Right?"

"No!" Akane sighed, "Chakra! You use chakra!"

"Oh.." Amahiko frowned, "Wouldn't that blow us off the building?")

Naruto shook himself out of the fantasy. Frowning, he sighed, debating wether he could trust the information. He never recalled being told anything like that before, but then again no one really told the orphan anything. The water jutsu from earlier had worked just fine, hadn't it? As long as he didn't use too much he should be fine, right? Iruka-sensei would kill him if he hurt the academy building, so that was out of the question. Sliding out the window to stand on the sill, he steadied himself with one hand and crawled to the top of the shutters, putting one foot on the smooth outside wall, and trying to channel a small amount of chakra to the soles of his feet. Feeling his foot suction to the side of the building, he carefully planted one foot firmly after the other like second nature.

As he walks vertically upwards, he swore as the sunlight blocked his eyes he could see twin, blood red pigtails swaying in the wind. A girl with emerald eyes turned to look over her shoulder, smiling brightly and gesturing for him to hurry. A boy stood beside her, waiting for him with a warm smile on his face. A medic bag was around his waist and brunette hair fell into his eyes slightly as the two of them looked down at Naruto. Gasping, the blonde boy nearly lost his foothold and almost fell, but he kept himself steady and blinked the images from his eyes. Was he going crazy? Because he felt like he was going crazy.

Finally reaching the top, he practically threw himself onto the floor of the roof, slightly exhausted from both the walk up and dealing with his ever declining mental state. Kakashi was standing, reading a little orange book when Naruto fell to the ground, and the blonde saw his sensei blink, shocked, before checking a timer and giving him a slight eye smile.

"Only forty-seven seconds over. Good job, Naruto." The man scratched his mask covered cheek, "But, uh, when did you learn to do that?"

The blonde boy looked up from being sprawled on the ground, "I watch the ninja train a lot. I picked up a few things."

Kakashi thought back to when he evaded the other jonin as a child while he himself was still in ANBU. It would make sense. Shrugging, he got his book back out and waited for Sakura and Sasuke to burst through the roof door. Ignoring Naruto's struggle to pull himself off the floor, Kakashi continued to read and casted occasional glances towards his time which was steadily rising. Suddenly, the door slammed open and one Sasuke Uchiha sprinted through, drenched in sweat and panting slightly, but otherwise keeping his cool. Immediately, his gaze was drawn to the exhausted orange genin on the floor. Caught off guard momentarily, he blinked in shock and opened his mouth to ask before a pink blur nearly barreled him over. Sakura looked a lot worse than Sasuke, face red and expression screaming exhaustion and anger.

"At least...we beat Naruto-baka, Sasuke-kun!" She smiled widely before the expression faded when Sasuke sneered at her then looked away. Her eyes followed his gaze and landed on Naruto, who was now sitting up, and her expression turned outraged, "N-Naruto! How dare you!"

"How dare I what?" The blonde boy tilted his head slightly, confused, "I haven't even asked you to dinner yet!"

"You cheated!" She snapped, releasing Sasuke, much to his relief, and crossing her arms.

"No I didn't!" Naruto grouched, standing up, "I walked up!"

"We started before you!" She glared harsher, "Now you're lying as well!"

"Or he used chakra to walk up the wall." Kakashi looked up, seemingly bored of the bickering, "Maybe you two should work on that."

She looked ready to snap before remembering this was her sensei and reigned herself back in, "Hai, sensei."

He raised an eyebrow, "Alright, now why don't you all introduce yourselves."

"Introduce ourselves? Umm...what should we say?" Sakura frowned.

"Likes, dislike, hobbies, dreams for the future. Things like that." Kakashi closed his book and looked at them all.

"Why don't you go first, sensei?" Sakura smiled brightly, "Show us what to do!"

"Well, my name is Hatake Kakashi. Things I like and dislike...there are a few. I have a lot of hobbies. Never really thought about any dreams."

Sakura's eyebrow twitched, "Well, that was useless."

"At least we learned his name." Naruto shrugged.

"Which you would've known already if you paid attention-!"

"Alright, blondie. You're up." The silver haired jonin interrupted the oncoming fight.

"I'm Uzumaki Naruto!" The blonde smiled brightly, "I like ramen and the ocean! I dislike...well, traitors. My hobbies are training and beating my record of bowels of ramen eaten at Ichiraku's! My dreams for the future are to become the strongest Hokage ever and to protect the village no matter what! Oh, and being a Fūinjutsu master! That'd be cool too! Speaking of that, hey, sensei, would you mind getting me some paper and ink?"

Kakashi blinked at the word vomit that was spewed at him in such a short amount of time. He liked ramen, that was expected, but the ocean? When had the boy ever even seen the ocean? Maybe in picture. He was also slightly concerned about the traitors comment. Maybe the encounter with Mizuki had affected Naruto more than they though, as concerning as the prospect was. And hold on, a Fūinjutsu master? Maybe it was hereditary, Kakashi though, mentally laughing. With him being an Uzumaki, it wouldn't be surprising.

"Okay, then. Pinky, you're next."

She pursed her lips, "My name is Haruno Sakura. I like Sasuke-kun. My dream for the future is, well..."

She trailed off, giggling slightly for a moment before, "My hobbies are beating Ino-pig and reading."

"Your dislikes?" Naruto asked, looking around Sasuke to see her glare at him.

"You really want to know that?"

"Broody, your introduction." Kakashi interrupted once more, mentally sighing. A fangirl. Of course he would get a fucking fangirl.

"Hn. I am Uchiha Sasuke. I like becoming stronger. I dislike a lot of things. My hobbies are training. My dream is to restore my clan and one day become powerful enough to kill a certain man." He frowned slightly, looking at Kakashi as seriously as possible.

At least his file was spot on, just like the Haruno girl's, Kakashi thought. Naruto's was missing just a few key points, in his opinion. Everyone said the Uchiha was brooding and hell bent on vengeance, and Kakashi himself would have to agree. Hopefully he would open up sooner rather than later, but right now he seemed too much of a flight risk for the village. One tempting offer of power and a chance to kill Itachi and he'd be gone. Kakashi nodded, pocketing his book, "Well, it's late. Tomorrow meet at training ground seven by five in the morning. I'd advise against breakfast; you might puke. Now, you're dismissed."

Before he even had the chance to ask Sakura to get ramen with him, she was off trailing after Sasuke and Kakashi-sensei had shunshined away. Sighing, Naruto walked away from the academy, forehead protector weighing heavily on his head. All his life he wanted to become a ninja, to make people acknowledge him. He wanted to be more, and now he had the chance yet he still felt like someone had hollowed him out. He had been living a fantasy in his dreams, and now it was coming to life in front of him. Except, only he could see the imaginary friends and family he had dreamed of since he was a child. Reaching his apartment, he wretched open the door and immediately passed out in bed. He had hardly gotten sleep since the Mizuki incident, and he was dead tired.

("Don't ever fucking do that again!"

"Akane, you know I-!"

"She's right, you know. You always charge in, all by yourself, but you don't have to."

"You're not alone Hiko. We'll always be here for you, Raiden and I, just rely on us. Please."


"You promise?"

"I promise, truly. Promise of a lifetime, I swear.")

Chapter Text

("Tenma said you're doing well." Tsubaki smiled, looking down at her son as Amahiko drafted and discarded many different seals, "You're on your way to becoming a master, he says. Even faster than he himself learned."

The boy stilled for a moment, "I've only been this apprentice for two years now."

The red haired woman smiled, but her eyes seemed tired beyond belief, "No matter what, I'll be proud of you. Even if everything goes to hell again."

"Tensions are rising." Amahiko pursed his lips, closing his eyes for a moment, "Oji-san fears another war is to come."

"The first one ended not long ago." Tsubaki frowned slightly, "So soon a second is predicted?"

Her son looked up a her with grim eyes, "That's what he and the council are preparing for. I don't know if I should tell you this, but I am. You're my mom."

The red headed woman laughed, "I'm sure my brother already assumed you would alert me, that's why he hasn't bothered to notify me himself, the lazy ass that he is."

Amahiko smiled slightly before looking at his work again, "I want to figure these seals out, and soon. I think they could help if another war is to come."

Glancing at the symbols marring the paper, Tsubaki let out a low whistle, "Sage, that's some complicated stuff. You're fiddling with chakra sealing?"

"Yes." He pursed his lips, "Akane and I have tossed around the idea for awhile now. The Uzumaki have vast amounts of chakra, and much of it is unused in a typical battle, or wasted by putting too much into small techniques that don't require it. These seals would allow-" )

The alarm blared, making Naruto jump out of his dream. Sighing, he rubbed his eyes and discarded the faux memories to instead get dressed and head out the door. He still had forty minutes until five by the time he was done dressing, and the instant ramen sat in the cabinet called out to him. There sensei had said not to eat, but...honestly, when did he ever pass up ramen? Ten minutes later he was out the door, stomach full and wondering why the hell their sensei had told them to be at the training ground so early. By the time he arrived, he saw Sakura was the only one already present, leaned against a tree and looking half asleep.

"Sakura-chan!" He smiled as she jerked, seemingly waking up, "You're here early!"

She scowled, "I wanted to make sure I wouldn't be late."

"Not saying it's a bad thing." Naruto shrugged, "I got up early enough to eat and then headed here."

Her face flushed red, "Naruto-baka! Sensei said not to eat before this activity!"

Banshee, a voice in his head whispered, and Naruto couldn't bring himself to disagree with it for once. He was pretty sure if she kept yelling at him like that, he'd need to invest in some ear plugs. 

"When has ramen ever hurt me? Never." Naruto shrugged, "Besides, I don't wanna be all sluggish and slow because I'm starving all day. Who knows how long this thing'll last? I'll take my chances with puking, better that than an empty stomach for hours on end."

Sakura blinked, "I...I guess you're not wrong. I never thought about that."

Naruto shrugged before looking at the bag sat beside her, "Hey, Sakura-chan, would you happen to have some scrolls and ink?"

"Hm?" She blinked, "Yeah, plenty. My parents got me a lot of stuff before I graduated. They went to a civilian shop that sold shinobi supplies and picked up whatever they though I'd need."

He brightened, "Um, could you maybe give me some? I'll pay you back for how much it was!"

She frowned, glaring, "Did you forget to buy some? Kami, Naruto, you have to be responsible! Quit-!"

"I can't go into the stores."

Stopping, Sakura looked at him, "What?"

The blond boy looked away, "The shopkeepers won't let me in. I have some ideas for...things...but I can't get any ink or scroll paper."

Hell, they were teammates now. He could trust her, right? It was Sakura, after all, the girl he'd liked since forever and longer. Maybe she'd be understanding, or maybe he was getting his hopes up. He chanced a glance at her face, but couldn't really tell what her frown meant. Was she unhappy with him, or the shopkeepers?

"Why would they-?" Sakura frowned, "Is it-Is it because you're a, you know, an orphan?"

Sighing, Naruto nodded, figuring it'd be easier than explaining the whole demon-sealed-in-his-gut thing, "I think so."

"That's so mean!" She frowned, "They don't stop Sasuke-kun from buying things!"

"He's from a prestigious clan." Naruto frowned, thinking of how everyone fawned over the last Uchiha, "He gets...special benefits."

Sakura bit the inside of her cheek before huffing, "Here. Whenever you need more, let me know. me back, okay?"

She dug out some scrolls and ink from her bag, and Naruto saw a hell of a lot of stuff in there. Kunai, shuriken, scrolls, ink, and even and extra headband ribbon in black. Envy shot through him, wondering what it was like to have parents who cared that much. They might not have known what the hell they were buying at all, but they cared enough to try. Meanwhile, he'd been kicked out of the orphanage at six and had only gotten an apartment because the Sandaime felt bad for him. Even now he hated to bother the old Hokage who had already done so much for him. He was a genin now, and he accepted the reason people hated him. They didn't understand and feared what was different, and the hated what they feared. Maybe he'd be able to go into shinobi-only stores now. Surely they would get it, right? Despite his envy of his teammates, he accepted the offered scrolls and ink with the most sincere, and nearly heartbreaking, smile Sakura had ever seen.

"Thank you, Sakura-chan. First allowance I get from jiji or the first mission check we get, I'll pay you back! Just let me know how much!"

Smiling a bit back, she nodded, "You're welcome, Naruto."

He played around with some ideas swirling around in his head, just itching to get home and break out the brush he found at the drugstore where he got most of his food. He was pretty sure it was for paint, but the little old lady never begrudged him from going in there and that was pretty much the only place he felt safe shopping. Mentally tracing out the dark lines of ink, he had vague images from his dream. Kanji for the elements, with a series of swirling designs wrapped around them in an intricate and almost beautiful way. Lines curved here and there, each design meaning something that Naruto innately knew deep inside himself. He was wrapped up in his thoughts, that all of a sudden shrill shriek had him jumping to his feet quicker than he knew what was going on. His hand twitched at his side, reaching for something that wasn't there, and he only relaxed when he realized that Kami-damned noise had come from Sakura.

"Sasuke-kun!" She did it again, waving vigorously as though the Uchiha didn't already see her bright pink hair and Naruto'd bright orange jumpsuit from a mile away, "We're over here!"

"Hn." The boy grunted as he sat down, a little ways away from both of them. That didn't stop Sakura though, because soon she was up and glued to his side as always.

Embarrassing behavior. Akane would never dream of acting like that. Naruto blinked at the foreign thoughts, sighing and leaning his head back against the tree he leaned against. His slowly crumbling mental state aside, their sensei would be arriving soon and the faster they got done, the faster Naruto could rush home and get his hands inky. However, five came and passed and soon the next half hour mark went by, prompting Sakura to growl slightly.

"He's not gonna be two hours late again is he?" Sakura grouched, fiddling with her hair to pass the time, "Because if he is, we're gonna have a problem."

No, Kakashi-sensei wasn't two hours late. He was four. The jonin appeared in a small puff of smoke and leaves, a lazy eye smile directed at all of his irritated and near homicidal genin. 


"YOU'RE LATE!" Sakura and Naruto both roared together, making the man shrug and wave a hand around like it was nothing.

"Just got lost on the road of life."

Eyebrows raising to unbelievable heights, Sakura trembled slightly, looking ready and fully happy to throttle their sensei to a pulp. Naruto cringed, being on the wrong side of her punches was not a fun time, and he'd been the one receiving them enough to know.

"Now, as I'm sure you know, of the nine teams that graduated, only three are actually chosen to become genin. This test is to see if you will pass and continue on to be an active shinobi in Konoha's ranks or head back to the academy to try again until you turn fifteen and automatically enter the reserves."

"W-what?" Sakura's eyes widened, "But we graduated!"

"Which means nothing if you fail this test." Kakashi continued to give them that same, damned annoying eye smile, "Statistically you have a sixty-six percent chance of failure. Now, for this test all you have to do is get these bells from me by noon. If you manage to do so, you pass!"

"Eh, sensei?" Naruto looked at him funny, "There are only two bells there."

Kakashi nodded, "Only two of you will actually remain on this team. The one without a bell will be sent back to the academy."

Even Sasuke's eyes widened slightly at that, and Sakura's face paled slightly. Naruto, however, scrunched his eyebrows together slightly. When in the history of ever had Konoha had a two genin team with one jonin as a sensei? Never, as far as he knew. Jiji had taught the sannin, for that he was certain, and every genin team he had ever seen running around the village doing D-ranks had three genin grouped together. When I went to Konoha with kaa-chan to Konoha as a child before the first war, even the Nidaime had three genin on his team. Blinking, Naruto decided Kakashi-sensei was totally bullshitting them. If he's learned one this over the years, it's that he might be going crazy but the voice in his head is almost always right.

Kakashi watched his potential team's faces, Sasuke looking quite shocked and Sakura quite pale. Naruto, though, interested him. At first, he seemed plain confused as though he didn't understand. Then, with a knowing glint in his eye, he smiled a little to himself as though he had figured out a puzzle. The jonin wondered if Naruto had actually figured out the plan, and why the orange wearing graduate had out of all of them. Surely Sasuke or even Sakura, said to be very book smart in her file, would have figured it out before the dead last? It figured his sensei's son would see right past what he was doing.

"You'll need to come at me with intent to kill to get these bells." Kakashi laughed internally at Sakura's face when he said that, "Your time"

Instantly, Sasuke took off sprinting to the trees while Sakura ran the other way. The jonin wondered if that was the first time she'd ever ran away from him on purpose. Naruto, however, stood in place, looking at Kakashi with a calculating eyes. A little too calculating in the silver haired nin's opinion, especially for the dead last of the year. Watching carefully for a reaction, Kakashi was casual as he pulled out his little orange book and appeared to turn his attention away from the blond.

"Are..." Naruto scrunched his eyebrows together slightly, "Are you...reading pornography instead of paying attention to me, dattebayo?"

Kakashi only turned the page. Naruto's eye twitched.

("Ugh!" Tatsu scrunched her nose up in disgust, "I can't believe they sell this shit in stores!"

The book that had garnered her fury was some sleazy romance novel, depicting a half naked woman hanging off a muscular man on the cover. In there corner it indicated it was for adults only, making the three cringe. Akane especially, because what kind of person would read that dirty stuff? 

"That's just wrong." Raiden frowned, "Couldn't kids get ahold of it with it just sitting there?"

"Ugh. Even the title is nauseating. 'Masumi's Steamy Nights'."

"Maybe she just went to a sauna?" Amahiko scratched his cheek at the looks he got, "I'm trying to be positive, here!"

"Oh, Hiko-hime." Tatsu shook her head, shooting her hand out to cover his eyes, "So innocent, so sweet, so pure! Come, children, we must protect his innocence!"

Raiden and Akane followed their sensei, who still had her hand clamped over Amahiko's eyes as she dragged him out of the store, snickering and snorting behind the two.)

Twitching again, Naruto's face flushed red from embarrassment that wasn't even his. 

"So you're a pervert, dattebayo!" Naruto snapped, "I can't believe this!"

Kakashi simply turned another page. Naruto knew the man was only egging him on, trying to get him to attack alone. Taking a deep breath, the blond was about to turn tail and run to find his teammates and explain when Kakashi let out a giggle. The man was giggling as he read pornography in public. Blinking, Naruto stared at the man, absolutely stunned.

He must die, if only for Akane and Tatsu.

Before Naruto really knew what he was doing, he was grabbing a few of his shitty, second hand kunai out of his pouch with each and he then clapped his hands together. 

"Fūton: Reppūshō (Wind Release: Gale Palm)!" He shoved his hands towards Kakashi, the kunai slipping of the tips of his fingers with the powerful gale that swept over the area.

Evading the attack with ease, Kakashi's one visible eye widened just a fraction. This was the dead last? The dead last as in the worst of the graduating class? Damn, they've gotta work on keeping those files up to date and actually accurate. The kunai that had been released flew straight past him and both hit the same tree, at least half the blade embedding itself in the wood. Blinking slightly in shock, Kakashi felt the boy's chakra signature flee from behind him and, sure enough, when he turned around the blond boy had already fled without a trace. If Kakashi wasn't good at sensing chakra, he's almost be impressed. Still...

"Dead last my ass..." Kakashi grumbled, standing in the middle of the tactical dust storm Naruto's gale wind had kicked up. The pages of his book were dirty now, and he was not happy about it. Maybe he'd talk to Iruka late about the files they kept on the students, and maybe he'd ask who the hell wrote them because fuck were they inaccurate. 

Meanwhile, Naruto sprinted into the forest as soon as Kakashi had turned his back. As soon as he felt he was alone, he knew he had to find Sasuke and Sakura soon so they could make a plan. He felt the strong chakra presence he knew to be Kakashi, and there was a much smaller one going the opposite direction of him. That had to be someone. Setting off into a run, he soon caught sight of the dark, duck ass hair that he knew belonged to their one and only Uchiha.

"Sasuke!" He hissed loudly, making the raven haired boy stop to turn and glare, "Sasuke, I need to tell you something!"

The Uchiha halted, allowing Naruto to catch up, "Make it quick, usuratonkachi. And lower your voice, I don't need him finding me because you don't know how to whisper."

"He's tricking us!" Naruto rushed the words, "Think about it! There are only ever three man genin teams plus a sensei! This is a teamwork test, you know how much Iruka-sensei harped on teamwork and the will of fire in class! It makes sense if you think about it!"

The Uchiha scowled deeper, "It's a trick test. If we don't work together to get the bells we automatically fail."


"Quiet. Now we need to find Sakura."


"Are you sure this will work?" Sakura fidgeted behind the bushes they were in, "What if he's telling the truth? What if only two of us pass?"

Naruto sighed, "Listen, if on the off chance he ends up being truthful, I'll give you and Sasuke the bells. Okay?"

The pinkette looked at him wide eyed, "You'd do that?"

"Sure, why not." Naruto frowned, "Then I'd graduate next year and maybe get a not crazy sensei."

Sakura seemed satisfied with that and turned back to where they saw Kakashi through the bushes. Sasuke looked at his two teammates, "Sakura, do you have the kunai and shuriken?"


"Do you know when to throw them?"

"As soon as Naruto does his ninjutsu after yours."

"Dobe, are you sure you can do your ninjutsu?"

Naruto's eyes narrowed, "I did it earlier, teme."

"If you say so." Sasuke said before shooting out of the bushes.

"Ah!" Kakashi eye-smiled once again, "Finally some action! I thought you were going to hide in the bushes all day."

Sasuke breezed through his hand seals at top speed, "Katon: Gōkakyū no Jutsu (Fire Release: Great Fireball Technique)!"

Naruto was already slapping his palms together and diving from the bushes with Sakura when Sasuke began to expel a rather large fireball from his mouth. Kakashi smiled slightly as he stepped to the side to dodge it when Naruto pushed forward his hands, "Fūton: Reppūshō (Wind Release: Gale Palm)!"

The oxygen of the blowing wind acted like gasoline on a campfire. The fireball spread out into a solid wall of fire as soon as it was on top of Kakashi, the man's eyes widening at the ball transforming into a blazing curtain as soon as it began to pass him. Sakura threw the kunai and shuriken into the flames at the vague spot she had last seen Kakashi, and the three genin stood waiting for the flames to clear over the man. When everything died down, Kakashi looked relatively unharmed, he was a jonin after all, but he was looking at the charred and burnt book he held in shock.

"But...Jiraiya-sama...signed this copy..."

Sasuke looked at the jonin before looking back and nodding and the three genin rushed the currently-grieving-over-his-porn man, Sakura aiming a weak kick to his head which was easily dodged. Sasuke went straight for the throat and also missed, but Naruto completely bypassed the jonin and dove by his side, falling into the scorched dirt and quickly bouncing back up. Kakashi looked back in disbelief.

"Ah, there's the dead last coming out in you. Surely I'm not that fast, Naruto?"

"You weren't his target." Sasuke sounded far too smug for the jonin's liking.

"Yeah, these were!" Naruto tossed the bells over where Sasuke and Sakura were waiting to both catch one.

Kakashi blinked, loosing all semblance of brain function for a moment, before he looked back at Naruto, "Giving up you spot on the team? Probably for the best, as you're the-"

"Cut the crap." Sasuke glared, folding his arms, "We know it's a teamwork test. There are only three man genin teams in Konoha, not two. We're not stupid. Well...two of us aren't stupid."

"Oi!" Naruto snapped, glaring at the raven who glared back, "I'm the one who told you about it being about teamwork!"

"Clearly Sasuke-kun already knew." Sakura sniffed.

"The hell he did-!"

"Regardless, we figured it out." Coal black eyes stared at their sensei, "So?"

Kakashi's eye twitched, "It's a start."


When Kakashi walked into the Hokage's office, slightly scorched and holding a piece of charcoal in his hands, Asuma and Kurenai nearly fell down. The jonin simply got in line with the rest of the potential senseis, disregarding Sarutobi's curious look.

"Team 1?"

"Fail, Hokage-sama."

On and on it went, fail after fail until...

"Team 7?"

The Hokage had already marked the team as a fail when Kakashi shocked the living hell out of them all, "Pass."

Sarutobi looked up, "Pass?"

"Pass, Hokage-sama."

He cleared his throat slightly, "Ah...forgive me for asking"

Kakashi's eye twitched for the thousandth time that day, "Naruto figured out it was a test of teamwork. Apparently Sasuke has been practicing his fire ball jutsu and Naruto has a wind release. Who knew?"

Everyone in the room winced.

Chapter Text

Naruto let his hand guide itself over the scroll, the ink taking its form as the Uzumaki allowed the brush to paint intricate lines in patterns ancient and old. A line here, connect it to the heart of the seal, add the swirl wrapped around the kanji. Eventually the voice in his head became his own as he spoke the language of fūinjutsu to himself as he detailed the scroll in front of him. Smiling slightly as he completed the last details, he ensured he had enough ink before he began. Stripping off his pajama top, he began at the top of his shoulder and wrote the kanji fire. Hours later he was still following the detailed plan he had made, using it like a map to guide his brush along his skin. The inner workings of the seal swirled around his arm in a spiral, stopping just above his elbow. The kanji for fire, earth, and lightning were the largest symbols featured in the seal and all placed where Naruto had easy access. 

Taking a deep breath and praying to Kami this worked because fuck if his hand didn't hurt, Naruto created pressed his hands together and spiked his chakra. The symbols glowed a bright white momentarily before fading to a dark brown, the color of dried ink. Lifting his hand, he lightly touched one of the seals, wondering if it would come off, but nothing transferred onto his fingertip. Everything had gone as planned, he thought, relieved. At least, he thought so before his entire vision blacked out.

He woke up in a sewer. Not a nice, clean sewer, but a nasty ass one with dirty water on the floor and everything. Bolting upright, he jumped to his feet and immediately his gaze landed on the giant cage towards the front of what he realized was his subconscious. After all, he didn't think any old sewer in Konoha would house the Kyūbi, of all fucked up things. Blinking, Naruto pinned the fox down with his eyes as he took a step forward, frowning slightly. As he approached the cage, large claws shot out of the bars trying to reach towards him. Blinking, the Uzumaki frowned deeper.

"The Kyūbi..." Naruto looked around him, "No wonder you're so grumpy. I would be too if I was trapped in this hell hole."

The fox paused, looking down on his with red eyes filled with disdain, "My jailor arrives. You have more guts than the ones that came before."

Mito-sama, Naruto thinks, looking up at the fox. No way he had more guts than that woman, she was probably one of the most powerful and brave shinobi he had ever come face to face with. Pausing, Naruto froze completely. Face to face...he had never met anyone with that name. He had never met any of the fox's previous containers. Taking a breath in through his nose and out through his mouth, he tried to calm his racing pulse. It was getting worse, definitely a lot worse. How soon did he have before he completely lost his mind? 

"Loosing your will so soon? Pathetic." The beast spat down at him, "At least the red haired pests had a bit more fire."

Snarling, Naruto glared at the fox, "You're the one in my fucking head, dattebayo! You tell me what the hell is wrong!"

The fox blinked, unimpressed, "What is wrong? Besides you being a sniveling, disgusting whelp of a ninja?"

"Listen! I'm losing my mind!" The blond yelled, "I'm going completely whacko! I need you to tell me if you're the voice! Then I'll feel slightly less insane in the whole I-have-a-split-personality way, and more in the whole demonic-possession way!"

"Voice in your head? I assure you that blasted Yondaime ensured that wasn't possible." Red tendrils of chakra seeped under the bars of the cage towards Naruto, "Why? Having some personal issues? Maybe I could take care of the voices in your head by insuring you have no head at all."

Flinging himself back right as the chakra leaped towards him, Naruto expected to be speared by it at the least. Maybe splattered on the walls of this dingy sewer if he wasn't so lucky. However, he cracked open his eyes, seeing something that kind of made him want to vomit. Pure white chains stuck out of his stomach, pinning the tendrils of red to the ground. Touching one felt cold, almost, but it didn't hurt like he expected the bright links to. Staring at the marvel, he looked up to see the great tailed beast snarling at him.

"Like vixen like kit." The fox growled out, "All you Uzumaki are the same."

"I don't think you understand." Naruto spoke slowly, staring at the chains protruding frown himself, "I don't know what the fuck is going on in my life anymore."

"Why do I feel as though I'm not your largest concern?" The fox seemed almost insulted, roaring out, "I'm the strongest of the nine biju! I can level villages, kill thousands!"

"And you're sealed inside my gut." Naruto snapped, "Right now my most pressing concern is my ever declining mental stability and fondness for creating people in my head."

The was nothing but silence for a moment, before the fox roared in laughter.

"What?" The blond snapped, "What's so funny about that?"

"You really are pathetic no matter what the time." The beast continued chucking, "Figure it out, Akai Kami."

When he woke up again his neck hurt and he was slumped over in his chair drooling on his desk. Wincing, Naruto sighed and wiped his scrolls off the best he could. Well, that wasn't how he thought his first conversation would go. Glancing down at the seals, he saw they were still in proper working order. It must've been the sudden decline in his enormous chakra reserves that made him pass out initially. Now, though, he was used to it. What a useless conversation, though. He got nothing out of the damned beast except what sounded something like a moniker. Akai Kami.

Naruto sighed, sitting at his desk as he tried to dredge up the memories he had surpassed for so long. He was pathetic no matter what the time, the fox had said and then he had called him by that strange name. Was the beast messing around with him, playing with him like prey? Closing his eyes, Naruto thought back and dug into the deep crevices of his mind. What did they call him when he saw things?

Amahiko Uzumaki.

Swallowing tightly when the answer came so easily, so quickly, in a voice that wasn't quite his own. Deeper, an almost tenor tone compared to Naruto's twelve year old squeaky voice. Glancing at the clock, he saw it was only nine in the morning. He had five hours until practice at two, and he decided to do something he had never done before. Go to the library. Throwing on his jumpsuit and running out the door, the blond Uzumaki nearly flew to the library with how fast he ran. Ignoring the glares that got sent towards the orange clad boy as he zipped around the villages, Naruto cautiously entered the building and made sure his forehead protector was clearly displayed on his forehead. They couldn't kick him out if he was a shinobi.

Wandering past the civilian section, he headed towards the parts of the library that required ninja clearance. The lady at the desk glanced up long enough to see his forehead protector then looked back down to her crossword puzzles, not caring a single bit. Smiling slightly, Naruto zipped straight for the clan section and went straight for the bottom of the shelves where the 'U' clans would be. Glancing at the titles, Naruto saw a few books on the Ueno clan of Suna and the Umemoto clan of Kiri. There were nearly five shelves dedicated to the Uchiha, and finally at the very bottom Naruto spotted what he was looking for.

The Uzumaki Clan of Uzushiogakure, The Shodai: Ashina Uzumaki, Tenma Uzumaki: History of the Nidaime, The Fall of Uzushio, The Beginning of Uzushio and the History of Ashina Uzumaki, Sukāretto Shi: Tenma Uzumaki, Ashina Uzumaki: The Saisho no Densetsu, The Sandaime Uzukage: Amahiko Uzumaki, The Survivors of the Fall.

Snatching the books, Naruto looked at them with wide eyes. The Sandaime Uzukage? The Fall of Uzushio? Going to one of the tables in the back corner, Naruto opened the one regarding Amahiko Uzumaki. The first page, Naruto looked at the portrait of the young man printed in the book. Deep red hair, brown eyes, tanned skin. He had the white robes of the Uzukage on with the orange accents, and a warm smile on his face. Blinking, the blond felt a severe sense of deja vu looking at the man. Flipping through the pages, Naruto saw the moniker Akai Kami over and over. Grabbing the two books, he rushed up to the desk and checked them out from the unenthusiastic desk lady.

Rushing home, he packed away his ink and scrolls and flipped open the book on Amahiko Uzumaki. Eighth born of nine children, son of Tsubaki Uzumaki and her husband Ryota Mori-Uzumaki, Sandaime Uzukage of Uzushio until the destruction of the village just before the end of the Second Shinobi World War. Younger brother of Nanami, Ichiro, Fuji, Katsuro, Hanako, Shima, and Umi Uzumaki. Elder brother of Mirai Uzumaki. Naruto's brows furrowed, headache growing as he skimmed through the book.

(He saw the blade pierce his eldest sister's body, felt it like it was his own heart that had just been run through.

"Nanami!" Ichiro screamed, cutting down the Kiri nin who had felled her, only to be attacked from all sides, "Nanami!"

Amahiko watched in horror as he, too, fell into the thick mix of blood and water that ran through the streets of Uzushio. If it could even be called that anymore, he though bitterly as he fought through the masses. The first attack had been genocide; hundreds of his clansmen slain within the day. Those remaining rallied to Amahiko with the rest of the village, their Uzukage leading them into battle. The civilians were mostly evacuated, not many left on the island that hadn't been slain or shipped off. Mirai had been one of them, the youngest of the main Uzumaki branch who was no more than six years old. The most recent addition to his family, and the one that was hardest to let go. She looked more like their father than any of them, with brown hair and eyes unlike the rest of the Uzumaki children. Brown hair that had been tousled when she was tore from her bed and brown eyes that had been crying when she clung to Amahiko and begged not to be sent away.

He wondered where she was now.

Tear pricking the back of his eyes, he wondered. He wondered how many of his siblings were still alive. He wondered if he would ever find his uncle Tenma's body, or the body of his mother. He wondered if his father had gotten word to Konoha yet, or if they would all die here on this island. He wondered if Uzushio was done for, or if it would rise again. He wondered a lot nowadays, when sun up to sun down was filled with nothing but blood and pain and watching his loved ones die.)

Staring at the names on the page, Naruto didn't realize he was crying until the tears dripped onto his desk.

Chapter Text

(Mirai giggled, leaning on Amahiko as she watched Nanami and Ichiro spar, her brown eyes wide with awe. The twins were really going at it, Amahiko was pretty sure Ichiro nearly cut their sister's head off at one point. Snorting slightly as his elder brother was blown back by one of Nami's wind jutsu, the newly dubbed Sandaime Uzukage leaned back against the wooden post of the Uzumaki compound training ground. Feeling a tap on his shoulder, the red haired Uzumaki glanced over to see Mirai looking at him seriously.

"Hiko-nii, I wanna spar!" Her face broke out into a grin, "Please!"

Laughing slightly, he shook his head, "Let's just watch Nami and Ichi spar for now, okay? Maybe later I'll show you some katas, but only if you're good for kaa-chan and help her make dinner."

Nanami snorted as she dodged another poorly aimed strike from their brother, "Please, teach her no more, Hiko-hime! She's becoming a little monster of a powerhouse, just like you as a child and with all of your ambition as well."

"Yeah!" The male twin laughed as he swung for his sister's abdomen, "She's a fūinjutsu nightmare, alright."

"Just because she's catching onto sealing faster than you is no reason to be bitter." Amahiko smirked at him slightly, a hand reaching out and ruffling Mirai's bangs, "And just for that, I'll show you some more sealing tonight with kaa-chan, sound good, imouto?"

She nodded, ponytail shaking from side to side, "Thank you, Hiko-nii!"

"You spoil her." Nanami laughed, finally drawing blood on Ichiro when she rushed him and brought her sword down to slice his shoulder open.

"Ah, shiiii-!" Ichiro bit his lip, smothering the word when Amahiko glared at him, "Shoot! Ah, shoot!"

"Ichi-nii, you need to go see Hana-nee!" Mirai looked at him with wide, worried eyes, "Your shoulder's bleeding!"

"Yeah." He grabbed a towel from the sidelines, using that to stop the blood, "I'll be right back. This isn't over Nanami!"

"Sure it isn't." She drawled, smirking as she cleaned her blade.)

Naruto slumped his shoulders, walking past the training grounds. There was still time until practice, but he was still reeling from the information he'd gathered. He had absolutely no clue what it all meant, but he knew it wasn't normal. Having another person's memories in his head could mean a few things, but Naruto was almost inclined to blame everything on the demon in his gut.


Jumping at the exclamation, Naruto whipped around to look into Training Ground 3, blinking in shock at the green spandex-clad man and his mini-me standing with what appeared to be a Hyuga and a brunette girl who were staring at the two green beasts in what could only be described as horror. Blinking, Naruto stared in shock at the flamboyant man and his charge. Glancing down at his neon orange jumpsuit, he wondered if this was what people meant when they said 'kill-me-neon'. Shivering slightly at the smallest comparison of his clothes and the green monstrosity, Naruto decided to maybe look for some more suitable clothes. He could always wear and orange undershirt or something...anything was better than looking like the neon men.

"Naruto-kun! Your flames of youth burn brightly today!"

Blinking, wide eyed, the blond realized the mini me had spotted him looking. Smiling at hastily backing up, it was too late because the boy was over by him in an instant and dragging him inside the training ground.

"I'm, ah, I'm sorry...who are you?" Naruto frowned, wracking his brain for a name, "I, um, I don't-!"

"Lee, you're being overbearing again." The girl spoke up, a small but gentle smile on her face, "He hasn't been in our class for forever. Introduce yourself again."

"I am Konoha's Wild Green Beast, Rock Lee!" He gave a toothy smile and an enthusiastic thumbs up to Naruto, "We were in different classes at the academy, but our paths crossed many times!"

Naruto blinked. Rock Lee sounded familiar...he was pretty sure the kid used to wear a long braid. Glancing towards the other two, he raised his eyebrows helplessly. The girl snorted, earning a disapproving glare from the Hyuga. She smiled widely, setting her large scroll down from where she had it strapped to her back.

"Suzuki Tenten." Her brown eyes twinkled, "I remember some of your pranks. The pink hair dye was legendary, by the way."

"Eh, thanks." He returned her grin, mood brightening, "I should've died my own too, though. It was a dead giveaway."

She laughed, and the Hyuga nodded towards Naruto, "Hyuga Neji."

"Uzumaki Naruto." He smiled brightly, "Though bushy brows over there already seems to know me."

"It would be most unyouthful to forget friends!" The boy fist pumped, earning a glare from Neji and a groan from Tenten.

"Look at my youthful students, making friends!" The green spandex man wiped away a single, fake tear, "Your flames of youth burn brightly today!"

"That's Guy-sensei." Tenets pointed towards the man, "He's Lee's mentor, if you couldn't tell."

Her eyes held amusement, and Naruto smiled. They all seemed nice, even Neji with his broody attitude. It was nowhere near as bad as Sasuke's.

"Well, I should go meet with my team. Kakashi-sensei might be on time for training this once-!"

"Kakashi?" Guy's eyes bugged out, "My hip and cool rival has taken a genin team! You and your teammates must have been youthful indeed!"

"Yeah..." Naruto blinked, "Like I said, I should go now. Sorry for interrupting!"

"Hey, Naruto!" Tenten yelled as he walked away, "You know the shinobi shop just outside the civilian district shops? Stop by there soon, it's my dad's! I'll get you some wicked kunai and shuriken!"

Glancing down at his pouch filled with rusty kunai, Naruto smiled, "I'll drop by soon, dattebayo!"

Warmth unfurled in his chest. Was this what it meant to have comrades, people willing to go out of their way to help you? He may not have solved his problem, but he felt lighter as he walked to team practice.

Naruto sighed slightly, crouched in the bushed and would up like a spring. This damn cat was worse than the strays around his apartment, which said a lot. They'd caught the damn thing, what, ten times in the past months as a team? Suddenly he longed for the days Kakashi had them tree walking, if only so he could see Sakura piss Sasuke off to the point of no return again by being better at it than him. Glancing at the two beside him, he had to admit they'd come a long way. At least she didn't blush every time the Uchiha looked at her now.

"Broody, are eyes on the target."

"Target is spotted, Scarecrow. Blondie, is the net prepared?"

"The net is prepared."

"Pinky and Blondie move is 3, 2, 1-!"

Sakura shot out of the bushes with Naruto, both gripping the net tightly as the threw themselves onto the ground, trapping the cat in-between their two bodies, the net, and ground. Tora hissed, claws shooting out the scratch Sakura's arm, making her scream. Naruto held on tighter, the thick materiel harder to pierce with claws, and Sasuke rushed forwards with rope. The cat screeched and hissed as Sasuke tied the rope in a knot, sealing the nest closed. Naruto held the net away from his body as they made it to Hokage tower, where the practically threw the bound cat at the daimyo's wife. She left, ruffled, and the three ignored the glare leveled at them by Iruka.

"What's next, jiji?" Naruto stuck his hands in his pants and smiled.

The Hokage gave them a blank stare, "Kakashi, your team has completed D ranks at a...startling speed. It's been, what, four months with 52 completed missions?"

The man's visible eye twitched, "They have better teamwork than I originally thought."

"Is that so?"

"Quite, Hokage-sama."

The man looked at his papers, "Well, I think something a bit more difficult is in order, in that case. Still a D rank, but tomorrow you'll be assigned to help some of the farmers plant seeds. Kakashi, you know the farms just outside the village, correct?"

"Yes, Hokage-sama."

Good, then. Meet tomorrow at the missions desk, and come early. It'll be a long day."

Naruto waited until they were out of the tower to glance at Sasuke and Sakura, "Water clones?"

"Duh, dobe." Sasuke snorted, "I have better things to do than plow a field."

Sakura nodded, "I'll read my book on medical jutsu that Kakashi-sensei gave me."

"And I'll work on my specialty." Naruto grinned just a tad viciously, making his whole team shudder. As it turns out, he has an alarmingly large talent at making exploding tags and other types of offensive seals. Kakashi utilized this for many things regarding their training, often having a Naruto clone trap the whole forest and making his genin go through it without getting blown to bits. After several times, they got the hang of it. However, Sakura has gone through more dresses than she ever though she would in her entire life. There's just some things clothing can't come back from, and being lit on fire and exploded are two of them.

"Okay, good job today my precious little genin." Kakashi eye-smiled at them, receiving only deadpan looks in response, "Meet at the missions desk at six tomorrow morning."

"So eight?" Sakura asked, crossing her arms.

"You've learned so much." He wiped away a nonexistent tear, "I'm proud."

He was gone in an instant, leaving the three kids standing by themselves outside the tower. Sakura sighed slightly, glancing towards Sasuke. Naruto could tell she was weighing her options. After Kakashi-sensei had them do a bunch of placement tests, to see what level they were on, the pink haired girl realized she was behind. Devastatingly so. So when Kakashi recommended she look into medical jutsu, as it would complement he near perfect chakra control, she eagerly latched on to any resources he gave her. She still had a huge, obvious crush on Sasuke, but she figured they were on a team now. Let friendship happen first, maybe, and camaraderie. Love could wait until after they were chunin.

Needless to say one Uchiha Sasuke thanked whatever gods there were that the pink leech made a disappearance and was now trying to become something useful. He could tolerate her like that. Before though...he shuddered to think about it.

"Do you guys wanna go get some ramen?" Naruto asked, pointing in the direction of Ichiraku's, "I didn't catch breakfast this morning."

Sakura frowned slightly, "Nutrition is important, Naruto. You should get up early enough to eat something, even if it is ramen."

She was beginning to worry over her blond teammate. Ever since the day she found out he couldn't even enter stores she began to get concerned, and it only grew when she realized how little he cared for his own health and safety. Sasuke-kun she didn't have to worry about; he was responsible, and he knew when and what to eat and how to do basic things for himself. Naruto, though, had never had any parents at all to show him things. Thrown out of the orphanage and left to the streets, she worried what habits he would pick up. It was silly, maybe, but ever since he seemed to drop his crush on her like a hot potato about two weeks ago, things had changed.

"Eh, I was busy." He seemed to consider something for a moment, glancing around the nearly empty street save a few chunin here and there, "You guys wanna see something cool?"

Sasuke only raised an eyebrow, while Sakura nodded encouragingly. Naruto began to roll up his sleeve, and the two teammates blinked at the marks that were seemingly tattooed into his skin. Endless patterns and shapes and kanji, covering the entirety of his left arm. The Uzumaki grinned at their expressions, snickering slightly as he finally got the sleeve of his jumpsuit rolled up to the shoulder. The huge seal was still partly concealed, but it showed them enough.

"Dobe." Sasuke eyed his warily, "You didn't make yourself into a bomb, did you?"

"No!" Naruto scoffed, "This is an old clan technique."

"Clan technique?" Sakura looked up from the markings, "You're an orphan, though."

"The Uzumaki Clan." Naruto shrugged, "Sure, my parents died, but my last name still reveals what clan I belonged to. It's long dead, now, and was way before I was born at that. Uzushio, that's where nearly all of them lived. It was attacked by Kiri and Iwa during the second war. Almost everyone was killed, but I'm guessing a few others got away like my parents did."

Sakura stayed silent, and Sasuke only narrowed his eyes before making a gesture to the blond boy's arm, "What's that? You said it was a clan technique? How'd you find out about it?"

"Well, I got some books from the library. This was talked about in one of them." Naruto lied through his teeth, "You guys know I have a knack for fūinjutsu, I just read about the technique and then recreated it."

"What does it do?" Sakura asked, looking at the intricate seal work.

"I have a wind and water affinity naturally. That means it's super easy for me to use those elements, Sakura-chan." He spoke quietly, "Basically, this seal utilizes the huge reserves typically seen in Uzumaki by splitting up your chakra a bit and storing it in these seals. The seals convert my other chakra into lightning, fire, and earth affinities. That way, whenever I learn a technique that isn't my natural affinity, I can still use it to it's full potential."

Sakura's mouth hung open slightly, "Is that safe?"

"Totally." Naruto shrugged, "Er, well, that's what I was doing this morning. Putting this thing on. I'll practice with it during training, get the hang of having reduced chakra reserves. Shouldn't affect anything important."

"Does sensei know?" The pinkette asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Um, no." He scratched his cheek, "It was a spur of the moment thing. He'll find out eventually."

"Can you put those on me?" Sasuke asked suddenly, making Naruto frown, "I need-"

"They're designed for Uzumaki." The blond spoke, frown still firmly in place, "Not that I care about keeping techniques within the clan, not when you're a teammate and there's no clan left, but they are designed specifically for very large chakra reserves. Anyone else would die of chakra exhaustion."

"I have good chakra reserves."

"Decent." Naruto seemed pained to say it, "Decent, and that's it. It'd be too much."

Sasuke grit his teeth, "Dobe, I need to-"

"Look." The blond interrupted his teammate, "How about this. I'll mess with some seals at home, see if I can limit the amount it takes from your reserves. Make it a slower process, so it still builds and converts chakra, but gives your coils time to refresh and produce more. In teach me a fire jutsu."

The Uchiha was wide eyed, "You"

He seemed thrown off, and Naruto just smiled, "We're teammates, we have been for awhile. That means we're stuck together, and what benefits you benefits us all. We help each other grow, we don't hold each other back. Your dreams are our dreams, teme, so if revenge is what you want, we'll help you get it and kick ass while we're at it! Right, Sakura-chan?"

Her green eyes were wide at his speech, but she quickly snapped her head towards Sasuke, a determined expression on her face as she nodded firmly, "Of course! We're here to support each other, and I'll learn medical jutsu to heal you two up when you start being stupid and reckless."

"See?" Naruto's grin grew, "So, yeah, I'll work on something. You just gotta show me a fire jutsu, got it?"

The Uchiha was silent for a moment, looking at his two teammates stunned but trying to keep it under wraps, "Hn. If you think you can handle it, dobe."

"Of course I can!" He took off down the road, "Now let's go get ramen, dattebayo!"

"Eh?" Sakura yelled, "Narutoooo! Wait up!"

Team 7 rushed down the street, heading for Ichiraku's with renewed vigor.

Chapter Text

After ramen, Team 7 went their separate ways. Sasuke back to the Uchiha Compound, Sakura making her way home in the civilian district, and Naruto heading towards the shinobi shop just outside the civilian district. The blond boy got a lot of dirty looks as he strolled down the streets, but he didn't care. He'd had a great lunch with his surprisingly cooperative team, and he was about to get some new weapons courtesy of Tenten. His wallet held all his money in one of the pockets of his jumpsuit, and he had quite the stash set back. He never got to spend it, after all. All he paid for was his rent and instant ramen. And with the sudden influx of cash from all the D ranks, he wasn't exactly short on money like most orphans. Rounding the corner, just exiting the place where all the civilian homes were, he spotted the shop immediantly. Wicked looking katanas hung in the window along with some kunai displays and ninja wire hung up explosive tags like decorations at a festival.

Grinning, Naruto headed straight for the place. This was his kinda shop.

Pushing open the door, the first thing he saw was Tenten, who had clearly just gotten back from practice. She had dirt smudged all over her face, and her usually flawless buns were astray. Still, she sat behind the cash register with her feet propped up on the counter, reading what looked to be a weapon catalogue. She looked up when the front door bell rang, and a smile filled with delight overcame her face when she saw Naruto standing in the doorway. Tossing aside the magazine, she bounded from the counter over to him, grabbing him and dragging him further into the store.

"I'm glad you could make it so soon!" She smiled widely, "I just got back from practice and opened up shop!"

The blond smiled, "Do your parents work here too? You said this was your dad's shop?"

"Yeah, it's his main shop." Tenten nodded slightly, "My parents are originally from Nōka no Mura, a village in the Land of Birds. My dad was a traveling merchant and blacksmith, and he was visiting home when he met my mom. I wasn't actually born in Konoha, but in their original village, and my dad still travels around and sells stuff all over the Land of Fire. I think he's in the capital right now, actually. Me and my mom hold down this place while he's gone, and we've gotten pretty good at it."

Slightly wide eyed at the word vomit, Naruto nodded his head slightly, "Sounds like your dad's a pretty cool person. Was he a ninja?"

"No, neither of my parents were. Dad is just really good with making things, and my mother actually abhors the shinobi lifestyle in general. She's a pacifist."

"A pacifist who married a weapon maker?" Naruto raised an eyebrow.

Tenten only shrugged, "Ironic, I know."

She eventually got him back to what looked to be the basic supplies shelf and grabbed a box of kunai off the shelf, "These are hand made, boxed in sets of twelve. They come with a sharpening stone, too, so they're better than the overpriced ones in normal supply stores."

"Better than over priced is always good." Naruto snorted, opening the box to see twelve gleaming, deadly kunai laid inside preciously. He almost drooled. They were so much better than the rusty, shitty ones he had currently. Tucking them under his arm, he considered buying another box as Tenten retrieved him a similar set of shuriken. Accepting them as well, he wandered over to where the ninja wire and explosive tags were kept. Ah, how nice it felt to browse around a store without having to worry about getting kicked out.

"Tenten!" A voice called from the upstairs, "Come help me bring these boxes down!"

"Coming, kaa-chan!" She took off, sparing a glance back at Naruto, "I'll be back in a minute, if you need anything just yell."

Nodding idly, Naruto picked up a roll of hand spun ninja wire. Quality, and a good price as well. He should know after all, Katsuro had a knack for making all his own weapons. Blinking, Naruto stared vacantly ahead for a moment before sighing and grabbing and small, empty box by the counter. Ignoring those thoughts, he tossed his items in the container and kept browsing. A few sets of scrolls, a couple bottles of ink, some better brushed than the ones he found in a dumpster. All in all, everything seemed to be going pretty well. He was making his way to the back of the store where there were more specialized weapons and a few racks of clothing as well. Naturally gravitating towards the swords, Naruto surveyed the finely made weapons set out lovingly in displays. His gaze caught on a katana, the blade shorter and less curvy than your typical tachi. A blood red hilt with golden accents and a dark blade, it seemed to pull Naruto in. Before he knew it the blade was in his hand and the weight of it felt like welcoming an old friend.

(Katsuro held the sword out for Amahiko hilt first, the thick gloves he wore and years of skill protecting his hands from the deadly slant of the sharp blade. The hilt was blue and silver, with a red Uzumaki swirl at the very bottom of it. The blade was dark, nearly black, and Amahiko could almost see his reflection in it. The elder Uzumaki smiled as his younger brother gripped the hilt with such reverence you would think Kami himself had bestowed upon him the sword. Katsuro ruffled his hair slightly, and Amahiko huffed out a laugh before stepping back and bowing towards his elder brother.

"Thank you, nii-san." He spoke before straightening, "This means...a lot to me."

"Just let Tenma-oji teach you how to use it." There was laughter in his green eyes, "Don't chop anything off with it. Wouldn't due to have our future Uzukage without an arm, would it?"

The younger scowled, "I'm eight, not incompetent."

"The two of those things are basically synonyms, otouto.")

Blinking, Naruto frowned slightly before strapping the hilt around his waist. It probably looked ridiculous with the orange jumpsuit he was wearing, but it didn't matter. He knew this was the one, the weapon he wanted. Grabbing some chakra channeling gloves and a few packs of makibishi spikes, Naruto made his way over to where the clothing was located. Giving it all a one over, his heart sank when he saw nothing orange. Sure, he didn't want to be fully dressed in the color, but he had grown attached to it over the years. Glancing over at the sales rack, his mood picked up as he saw a few kimono shirts in a dark, burnt orange color. Smiling, he grabbed what looked like a small one and pulled it out. A long sleeved, short kimono shirt fully colored dark orange. Smiling wide, he was about to put it in his box with his other things when he felt a chakra signature behind him.

Jumping slightly, he spun around to see a woman standing there with a curious look on her face. She had sharp eyes, intelligent in a way that was beyond most adults her age. She couldn't have been over forty, and even that was pushing it. Her brown hair was held in a loose braid, and she wore a knee-length purple kimono in a silky fabric that most women in Konoha chose for summer, though most didn't go for something as traditional as a kimono. A yellow obi was wrapped around the middle, tied in the back, and it matched the ribbon in her hair. She looked down at Naruto in a curious way, and it almost made him feel like an experiment.

"You're Naruto?" She finally spoke, "The one Tenten-chan spoke about when she came in?"

Swallowing, Naruto nodded, "Yeah. Uzumaki Naruto, nice to meet you."

Was she like the other civilians? He'd hate to have to stop being friends with Tenten and her team because her mom thought he was a demon like the majority of Konoha.

Her eyes widened just slightly, briefly, into a pained look before her expression became just as neutral as before, if not slightly warmer, "Suzuki Mirai, it's nice to meet you too, Naruto-kun. Tenten-chan has told me wonderful things since returning home."

Mirai Uzumaki, the ninth born child of Tsubaki and Ryota Uzumaki. Only possible sole survivor of the head branch of the Uzumaki clan of Uzushio.

My little sister.

Blinking, snapping out of it, he looked beyond the woman to see Tenten approaching with a frown on her face.

"Naruto, as your friend I feel I'm responsible to tell you that if you purchase another all orange outfit I believe Neji will kill you just on principle." 

"Oh!" He looked back down at the shirt in his hands, "No, I only wanted some orange. It's my favorite color, dattebayo!"

Tenten laughed, "I can tell. I think that'd look nice with some black shinobi pants and sandals. Maybe a black haori, too, short sleeved of course."

She dived seemingly head first into the racks of clothing, muttering to herself as she looked through the clothes. Mirai, still looking at Naruto with some faraway look in her eyes, blinked and glanced away. Before turning, she looked at Tenten, "I have some errands to run. I'll be at Hokage tower if there's an emergency. Tenten, did you hear what I said?"

"Yeah, yeah!" Her words were muffled as she looked for her desired piece of cloth.

Mirai turned and left, long brown hair sweeping behind her as the door closed. Tenten poked her head up, a confused look on her face, "Did she say she was going to Hokage tower?"

"Yeah." Naruto shrugged, looking through the obis, "Why?"

"What errands would she have to run there?" Tenten blinked once more, still confused, before holding up a black garment and smiling, "I found the haori, though!"

"I think this would look cool." Naruto held up a dark red obi, the color the hilt of his sword, "What do you think?"

"Hmm, you're not color blind after all." She considered it momentary, "Maybe we could find some strips of cloth the same color. Act like bandages and secure the loose sleeves of the kimono shirt."

The girl was off again, looking for something else in the back of the store. Naruto just shook his head, he was just happy he could finally have a store to shop at fear free. 

When the brown haired woman burst into the room like the whirlpools of her namesake, Sarutobi's assistant squawking indignantly behind her and Danzō looking up to glare, the Sandaime Hokage felt like pressing his head into his palms and simply not dealing with any of this today. He had told Koharu and Homura and the whole damned council that keeping the two Uzumaki apart was a bad idea. They said anything of Naruto's heritage was an SS ranked secret, and the woman wasn't even a loyal shinobi. She had declined the offer to join their ranks when she and her family had immigrated to Konoha, and the council had taken that personally.

Sarutobi, however, knew the woman was crushed to find out about the death of Kushina. Afterwards she had simply buried her head in the sand, going on extended trips with her husband to sell weaponry all over the Land of Fire while their daughter went through the academy. It was pure luck she hadn't found out before today, but it seemed like any luck they had ran out. She crossed her arms, staring down Sarutobi in a way that reminded him eerily of both Kushina and Naruto at the same time. Despite not looking like a traditional Uzumaki, he had enough encounters with the woman to know she was every bit one of her clan.

"Hokage-sama." Her smiled was razor sharp, and her words were drenched in forced-politeness, "I would like to request why the knowledge of a living relative has been kept from me for how many years?"

"Suzuki-san, may I remind you that you are not an Uzumaki on paperwork, therefore any familial rights you may have had-"

Danzō had said all the wrong things, and Sarutobi was only glad it wasn't him.

"Not an Uzumaki?" Her voice was shrill, "Do you think I'm that stupid? I lived in Uzushio until I was six. Don't think I don't know exactly why he was kept away from me! I know about Kushina-san, I know why she died. I'm a bloody Uzumaki, you don't think I know a jinchūriki when I see one? You wanted a dependent little demon weapon, someone easy to control, right? That's why my only known living relative besides my family was kept from me-!"

Sarutobi only rubbed his temples. He though his day was bad before this. Ha, what a joke.


Chapter Text

Naruto had been home all of thirty minutes when there was a soft tap on his door. Looking up from his bags wearily, he held onto the new kunai he'd just unpackaged and approached the door wearily. He'd stayed with Tenten about an hour after her mom had left for errands, him paying for all he bought and Tenten going over short explanations on how to use the more obscure items he had purchased. He didn't tell her he already knew how to use them; after all, what orphan would know? Now he was home, and it wasn't even dinner time and somebody was knocking on his door. Surely not Sakura or Sasuke, they'd be in their own homes by now. Looking through the peep hole, he blinked in surprise at seeing Tenten standing there with a confused look on her face.

He opened the door, "Tenten-chan? Is everything okay?"

She frowned slightly, "My mom said to come and get you. I had to go ask Sakura where you lived. I think she might want you for dinner or something? She didn't really say, but tou-san is home from the capital and she dragged him off to have a conversation so I couldn't get much out of either of them."

Something unpleasant settled in his gut. Tenten's mom had seemed very nice, cordial compared to most of the village, but maybe her father had problems with Naruto shopping there? Would he have to return all he'd bought. He looked down at the new clothes he was wearing with longing; he sure hoped it wouldn't come to that. He'd been itching to get some new outfits for awhile now, especially after see Lee's neon green eyesore. One thing he didn't want to put his teammates through was being an annoying neon ninja, that'd just be pushing it even for him. Also it just wasn't good for any sort of stealthy mission.

Following Tenten down to her family's shop, he tried to settle his churning stomach. Maybe they did want him over for dinner, maybe that's all it was. Tenten pushed open the door to the shop that now had a 'closed' sign on display, and he entered right after her. The first thing he noticed was the man standing beside her mother, who he presumed was Tenten's dad. The man was quite tall, and he shared Tenten's pale skin compared to his wife's tan. He had golden eyes, almost brown but not quite, and his brown hair was a few shades lighter than his wife and daughter's near black hair. He wore a dark grey shirt with a tan jacket over it, black pants and black shinobi sandals. He looked friendly enough, even with the small scar through his eyebrow, and he shared Tenten's rather delicate facial features. He was a black smith, Naruto knew from Tenten telling him, but he could sense he had rather decent chakra reserves even compared to his wife's enormous ones. He had the feeling the man could definitely hold his own in a fight.

"Tou-san, kaa-chan!" Tenten smiled, "I went and got Naruto!"

The man glanced at his wife before stepping forward, "Tama Suzuki, pleased to meet you Naruto-san."

Mirai stepped up as well, looking at Naruto with sad eyes, "We have a lot to talk about."

"Um..." He glanced at Tenten, "What do you mean?"

"Naruto, what do you know of your clan?" The woman asked, a gentle look on her face, "Do you know who they were?"

Mirai Uzumaki.

Mirai Uzumaki.

Mirai Uzumaki.

The name whirled around in his head, and Naruto bit the inside of his cheek to keep his emotions in check as memories ran through his head on repeat, "Yeah, uh, the Uzumaki from Uzushio. Great with fūinjutsu, known for longevity and huge chakra reserves. Why?"

He had to watch what he said. Sure, he can pass general knowledge off on the books he got from the library, but any intimate details would give away things he couldn't afford right now. Shifting on his feet, he watched the two adults carefully.

"Do you know how Uzushio was destroyed?" Her voice was quiet, pain filled, but she didn't back down from the question.

"Iwa and Kiri invaded during the Second Shinobi World War." Naruto blinked, looking at her confused.

(Yuudai swung the blade towards his head, and Amahiko easily evaded it. Their battle of jutsus had simmered down into a kenjutsu duel, katana versus katana. Amahiko knew he could take him out now, one water jutsu attached to his blade and the man would be felled. Something held him back, though, something stopped him and he cursed his own weakness. Yuudai was a member of his graduating class. Yuudai was a traitor. He was one of Amahiko's best friends, he was a traitor. They could've been more than that, he was a traitor. A constant war of doing what was best for Uzushio and doing what aligned with his morals struggled for control, but he knew what had to be done.

Uzushio's policy for traitors leaves no room for interpretation; execution is swift and unavoidable.

So he gathered the chakra, the water swirling to life out of the air, and he pounced on Yuudai. Forming the water to his hands and twisting it, he infused wind chakra into the jutsu and it began twisting violently. Growing larger, the massive tornado with Amahiko leading it slammed towards Yuudai, attacking him with all the fury of Uzushio's Akai Kami. Leaping in to finish whatever was left with his blade, he dodged the weak strike thrown at him by the battered traitor and lashed towards him.

The blade was headed to Yuudai's throat. A clean cut.

He hesitated.

Dropping last minute, his katana plunged into Yuudai's chest the same time the man shoved his blade into Amahiko's heart. Swaying on his feet, the Uzumaki felt Yuudai rip the blade from him and Amahiko felt his own blade fall from the traitor's wound. He felt blood fly out of his mouth when he coughed, and he looked up the see Yuudai looking at him with a lost expression on his face. The Uzumaki trembled, the natural healing of his clan trying to patch up the wound but it was too late. Yuudai had always been quite the marksman, and he wanted Amahiko dead. He could feel his pulse slowing, and he looked up at his once friend who could've been so much more.

"Why?" He croaked.

"Why...what?" Yuudai's voice was rough, and everything was silent. The fighting had gone from this area, and everyone but the two were dead .

"You know." Amahiko coughed again, nearly falling to his knees, "Why do this?"

"Uzushio is going in the wrong direction." The man set his jaw, "I'm rebuilding it."

"By killing everyone?" Amahiko hissed, equal parts anger and sadness, "You're sick."

"You're naive." The traitor snapped back, frowning, "I...I'm going to build up this village again to be better than before."

"And you think they'll let you?" The Uzukage snapped, "You think Iwa and Kiri will allow that? You're foolish, and you're not the man I thought you were."

The man growled, "I won't listen to a dying man insult me!"

Amahiko sneered, blood coating his teeth, "Then leave, you fucking traitor. Leave your kage and your...leave me to die and know that it was your fault. Know it was your fault that everything you helped build has now fallen, that you've killed the only people who loved you, that you've killed your comrades who would've died for you. Know you destroyed everything, and live with it. I pray to Kami you make it out alive, because death is too good for you."

Yuudai's eyes were wide and Amahiko felt his heart slow down to nearly nothing as he fell into the blood and muck.)

"Your mother..." Mirai started, and Naruto instantly honed in to what she was saying, "You mother was a survivor of the fall. She came to Konoha as a child, she wasn't present when the invasion began. She was my third cousin, my uncle Tenma's great-granddaughter. My siblings and I never saw much of her, she was in the branch family compound while my brothers and sisters were in the main family compound with my father and mother, who was the clan head. I eventually ended up in Konoha after I married and changed my name, looking for her and whoever else might have survived to carry the Uzumaki name. I found out that she was dead, and she had no relatives with her in Konoha."

"But..." Naruto sucked in a breath, "But she...I..."

"She had a son." Mirai's eyes were watery, "My fourth cousin, the only living relative I have."

"That's me?" Naruto's blue eyes were wide as he shared a shocked look with Tenten, "'re family?"

"Yes." She nodded, tears freely flowing from her eyes now, "I thought the Uzumaki clan name would die when I married. I was so scared I was the last one, that the clan was only surviving under another name through Tenten and myself. But you're alive, and I didn't even know it."

"I..." Naruto felt like he couldn't breath, "Why...why did no one tell you? Why didn't you know?"

"The council thought it was best to not allow you any family." She sniffed, and narrowed her eyes, "I set them straight fairly quickly."

"Did...did you just not hear about the demon brat? The Uzumaki brat?" Naruto sighed, "The village is rather open with their disdain for me."

"That's something else I'll be fixing." Her eyes were practically slits, "You're an Uzumaki, you're Kushina-san's son. You're of my clan, and I will not have any of my clan facing disrespect for something as trivial as a demon."

"Were all of you like this?" Tama looked at his wife, his face a little strained, "Is this why our daughter is crazy?"

"Tou-san!" Tenten looked away from her crying mother in an instant, "I am not-"

"You're my entire world, musume, but you seal weapons into scrolls. You then open said seals and your opponent is just faced with a torrent of sharp, deadly objects. I may be a blacksmith, but you get that from your mother."

"You know, you really have a knack for ruining emotional moments." Mirai lightly hit her husband on the shoulder, "You always do that."

"Um...Mirai-san-?" Naruto hesitated, but was cut off.

"No!" The woman shook her head, "We're family, Naruto-chan."

"Okay..." The blond trailed off, "Mirai-oba-san?"

"That's better."

"Um, what I meant to ask is...would you know who my father is as well?"

Her eyes were sad, "I'm afraid not. I only know you are Kushina-san's son due to your surname."

He seemed to deflate but still smiled, causing Tenten to shoot a worried look at him. She chewed the inside of her cheek, seemingly considering something.

"So..." Tenten looked at her mother, "Since Naruto is family, he can leave that nasty apartment right?"

"Hey!" Naruto glared, "I worked hard for that! It's not my fault people trash it all the time!"

"What?" His fellow genin narrowed her eyes dangerously, and a wicked smile curled her lips, "Well, since you've already paid this month's rent, when you move out we'll just leave some...surprises...for the vandals."

Naruto twitched, and he had a faint tremor of fear slide down his back as he looked at the expression of Tenten's face. He couldn't place where he knew it from, but he knew it meant nothing good.

"Despite my disagreement on whatever you're thinking of doing..." Tama sent a warning look towards his daughter, "I do agree it would be best to get Naruto out of there. It's not a good environment for a child."

Mirai snorted, "And a weapons shop is?"

"They're ninja." Was the man's only answer, "Though I do wish I'd learned about Naruto before hand...maybe we could've gotten him out sooner."

"I...I'm more than grateful for what you're doing now, oji-san." Naruto bowed slightly, "I promise I will not take advantage of your generosity."

"So selfless..." Mirai smiled slightly, "You remind me a lot of my elder brother."

Tama squeezed his wife's shoulder before turning to the blond they'd apparently just adopted, "Do you have anything you want from your apartment?"

"Um, yeah. The new stuff I bought today, and my night clothes. I should probably get my ramen too..."

Mirai's eyes lit up, "I see you have good taste. It is the food of Kami after all."

Face going slack, Tama stared at the wall silently wondering why he just let a mini male clone of his wife into his home. He had enough to deal with when he was only handling Mirai and Tenten, Kami love them both. But he saw the happiness in her eyes, the kind he had never truly seen from her. He knew she came from a destroyed home, from a dead clan known as the Uzumaki. As a blacksmith that never meant much to him, the only ninja affairs he got into were the ones that safely got money in his pocket. But he knew it was an old clan, a powerful one too, and he knows that's why they were destroyed. So his wife took his surname, and he was fairly certain he would never meet any of her relatives besides the ones they produced themselves. And despite being a demon container, despite being bat shit insane just like his lovely wife and daughter, Naruto was growing on him.

As the family walked towards Naruto's apartment together, he's happy the found the boy. Albeit a bit late, but they still found him.

Chapter Text

"You're being quiet." Tama glanced up from where he was washing the dishes, "Is there something wrong?"

Mirai's smiled was strained, the store's revenue book in front of her as she recorded their earnings for the week, "Just thinking."

"About what?" He prompted, drying the last cup before he walked over to her, sitting in the chair empty beside her, wrapping one arm around her and letting her sink into his side. She set the pen down and closed the records, sighing deeply.

"Before Nōka no Mura, I had only stayed in one place for more than a year, and that was long enough to be found." She spoke into his shoulder, "Kiko was ten years older than me and a distant cousin, but a true blooded Uzumaki, though, even looked it more than I did and she was from a branch family. We ended up escaping on the same boat, and when my caretaker was murdered she took me in. I was only six, and she was only sixteen, and neither of us were trained as ninja but she knew enough to help us survive. She dyed her hair brown for a long time, and we posed as sisters. Said she was a merchant, and we went from town to town selling seals. Only simple ones, things to make civilian life easier. They were a hit, extremely well made as all Uzumaki fūinjutsu is. When she was nineteen she met Botan, an actual merchant, in the Land of Frost. They hit it off, and married within the year.

He was a good man, and he kept her mind off the destruction of Uzushio. We didn't know who survived, who was dead, all we knew is that rumors said it was completely decimated. No one who remained to defend the island lived. So I was okay with Botan even then, because they loved each other and me and we were all happy. They had a daughter, Honoka, when I was eleven. During that time we stayed Land of Tea, and we thought that was far enough from Iwa and Kiri. Kiko and I continued making household seals, and Botan made a lot of wooden utensils and appliances. We made a living, and we were safe and happy in the civilian village."

Tama held her hand with his free one, "You never told me the story past this point."

Tears welled up in her eyes and she looked down, "I don't want to."

"You don't have to." He hugged her tighter and gently kissed the top of her head, "I'm just happy to have you now."

"I was sixteen when Iwa and Kiri found us." Tears threatened to spill onto her cheeks, "They slaughtered the village at night until they got the information they wanted. They came to the house, and Botan was the first to be killed when he saved Kiko. Honoka was only five, and she was crying, and one of the men had grabbed her by the hair. It was brown, too, because Kiko was paranoid and wanted no questions asked. But we were good at fūinjutsu and rumored refugees and that was enough for them to want us dead. Kiko shoved me towards the window and told me to run. I heard her die, and then I heard them coming after me."

"What did you do?" Tama asked when she paused, pain and sympathy equal parts in his voice, "How the hell would you have escaped that?"

"I wasn't a ninja, I never trained to be a ninja. The only thing I used chakra for was what little fūinjutsu I created. Every Uzumaki has large chakra reserves, but like any normal muscle they wither away if you don't use them enough. I was for all intents and purposes a civilian, and didn't have a strong presence to track. So I made it to the forest and like and reckless sixteen year old in danger would do, I jumped into a river and let it wash me downstream. After successfully not drowning, I got out and never looked back. I ran from town to village, entered a new country every month or so, and kept distance from the Lands of Earth and Water. Until Nōka no Mura and meeting you, I was running. Even after, when we fled to Konoha because Kiri nin were spotted in the village and we feared for our daughter, I was running. When I learned Kushina-san had died, I ran from Konoha as well. Always going with you to sell once Tenten was in the academy, or you sending me with the cart. Any chance I got I was gone, because I saw that damned memorial stone and it reminded me of the family I don't have anymore."

"You still have family, love." He wiped a tear off her cheek, "You have me, and Tenten, and now you have Naruto."

"What would it have been like if I wasn't gone so much?" She looked at him with watery eyes, "Would I have met him earlier? Would he have had a happier childhood? We could've done so much, damn it all. When I heard about the demon brat, I didn't really care. Another jinchūriki, big fucking deal for someone raised on stories of Mito Uzumaki. I wasn't interested, and I never thought...I didn't know Kushina-san had children. I didn't know she was married. I never even thought..."

"It's not your fault."

"It is!" Tears ran faster down her cheeks, "Me and all of my bullshit excuses...I'm always running, always hiding. I won't do that anymore, I've already failed Naruto enough. Hell, I've failed Tenten enough."

Her husband frowned, "You're an amazing mother, Mirai-chan, I know you're upset but-"

"I'm not the mother she deserves." The woman smiled slightly, "I wish you could've met my kaa-san and tou-san, Tama. Tsubaki and Ryota Uzumaki, the clan heads and the scariest ninja I've ever seen not counting my brother. Hiko-nii was a monster, though, and not even our elder siblings could best him. He became the Uzukage so young..."

He died so young. It was unsaid, but Tama could read between the lines.

"Eighteen." She snorted softly, "He beat Tenma-oji-san's record as the youngest Kage, you know? I miss them."

Tama said nothing, and only held her as the soft cries turned into ugly, hiccuping sobs that left her crumpled in his arms. How long has it been since she was able to grieve? Even within the walls of Konoha she was haunted by her family, the Uzumaki spiral on every ninja flak jacket, Kushina's name blazed on the memorial stone. He could say nothing in the face of her pain, her grief, so he just hugged her tightly and promised to keep his family, all of his family, safe.

Naruto pushed open the door of his apartment, relieved to find everything in place. Tenten slid in behind him curiously, looking around at the place filled to the brim with scrolls and pots of ink, library books stacked precariously on desks and a few scarce pictures of his new genin team pinned to the wall beside his couch. Tenten snorted when she saw the one of Sasuke and Sakura holding what appeared to be a piece of charcoal with scary smiles while what appeared to be their sensei looked dead inside behind them. One showed Naruto, paint smudges all over his face, smiling and tired between Sasuke and Sakura who looked equally exhausted and slightly singed. She had to wonder if their team made it a habit to set things on fire often...knowing Naruto, probably. Their team photo was there as well, a happy little snapshot featuring genin who didn't look nearly as excited to be together as they did in later photos. 

Tenten could relate; after all, she began her genin career with Neji and Lee...not very promising.

"Kaa-chan gave me some sealing scrolls." Tenten offered them to her new cousin, who only shook his head.

"I have some." He fetched two rolls, with hand written fūinjutsu covering the lengths of the scroll, "You use those. Can you get my books and scrolls and I'll get my weapons and clothes?"

"...Sure." Tenten blinked, heading over to his desk. It was piled with scrolls unraveled to reveal seal theories that gave her a headache just looking at them. Blinking, she took a closer look as she rolled them up to seal them away. Complicated spirals and kanji littered the paper in patterns, and she could guess it was the techniques of the Uzumaki clan. Naruto's clan, and technically her own clan as well. She smiled slightly, maybe she could get Naruto to teach her more than just her weapons sealing technique. Putting away the books and scrolls one by one, she glanced up and saw Naruto putting all his folded clothes in a scroll before putting everything else in a separate one. He had gotten a few sets of the same outfit Tenten had helped him pick out, and he'd even bought the formal kimono she'd shoved at him for festivals. A pair of civilian-esque clothes and he was all set. She was happy to help him before, and even more so now that she knew they were family.

Blinking suddenly, she snapped her head up to look at him, "Naruto, what did kaa-chan mean when she talked about a demon?"

"I hold the Kyūbi inside me." Naruto didn't even look up or blink.

"Like a sealing scroll?" Tenten looked at him expectantly.

This caused a pause, "You know, besides oba-chan, you're probably the only one who's got it that fast. Just don't tell anyone, it supposed to be a secret."

"Wow, Naruto." She snorted, "It's clear you love fūinjutsu, but you didn't need to become a sealing scroll yourself."

She got a plushy frog thrown at her head for her troubles.

They leave the apartment with arms full of scrolls, and Naruto has never felt better. He'd pay rent for the last time this month, then he'd never have to worry about petty land owners or spiteful villagers vandalizing his home. He was pretty sure if anyone touched the shop, both oba-chan and Tenten would gut them metaphorically and figuratively. Naruto strolls beside his newfound family, the sun just beginning to set, when he feels it. Four chakra signatures, large ones at that, following behind them at what they probably thought was a safe distance. Pursing his lips, he knew this wouldn't be jiji's doing. So that left the council, and damn him if he didn't hate the council. If anything happened and Tenten were there to get hurt...

"Hey, Tenten, go on ahead." Naruto smiled easily, carefree, "I forgot some cash under my mattress I think. I'm gonna go get it."

He could never forgive himself.

I couldn't save anyone else, I'll save her.

"Okay." She nodded, smiling, "I'll see you back home!"

"See you!"

He waited until she disappeared around the corner, and the signatures hadn't moved. He turned, looking in the exact direction, and that was when he saw them. They wore animal masks, just like ANBU, but their bulky cloaks and the red tanto strapped across their shoulders gave them away. These were no ANBU, they didn't have the uniform and Naruto was certain they weren't here on the Hokage's orders, which are something ANBU follow unfailingly. They immediately noticed him looking straight at them, and as one the four moved until they were in front of him. His heart beat sped up; an empty street, and he just sent away his only witness.

In hindsight, he knew he'd fucked up.

"Is this an assassination?" He snapped, taking a step back, "Are you kidding me?"

The one in front of the other three simply drew his blade. Naruto's lip pulled back into a sneer, and he felt every inch of his power seep through his pores in the form of killing intent. The KI was potent, and he saw a couple of them pause, but the one with the blade moved forward at top speed. Jumping back in time, Naruto whirled around and saw the others moving forward as well. He panicked, reaching for a scroll to get his kunai and regretting leaving his katana back at Tenten's place, and he dodged the sliced aimed right for his jugular. Launching himself back, he gripped the small blade tightly, staring at them unblinkingly.

Four opponents, all with tanto. A short blade, and I doubt they can use chakra to enhance the length of their blade. They need to get close to me, need to not only over power me but catch me off guard as well. Poor choice of weapon. 

If there's ever a poorer choice of weapon to face the fucking Akai Kami with other than plain old senbon, it would be a fucking tanto. At least those Kiri nin could throw those, a tanto is damn hard to use right.

They began approaching again, cautious steps moving towards the rabid looking boy.

Naruto pulled two more kunai out of his scroll before retying them on his back. Dropping a low impact exploding tag, mostly used as a smoke bomb rather than anything else, at his feet, he disappeared.

The Root agents froze when he threw down the tag, standing still as he disappeared, engulfed in the puff of smoke. The leader of the squad glared at what was left in his place. A wooden post stood proudly, putting him on guard. The three Root behind the leader swiftly began looking to sense him, one turning around as if to begin hunting him down. They had been given a mission, and failure was not an option.

The underling turned around didn't have time to scream when the kunai slit his throat.

"Wha-?" The leader turned, tanto already swinging but halting abruptly at the sight that greeted him.

Naruto Uzumaki, the supposed dead last, stood looking as though he was anything but. His eyes were cold, hard, chips of ice as he held the body up. The boy sneered slightly, shoving their now dead teammate towards them. On instinct the body was caught, but a stunned silence permeated the air.

"I think you're a bit out of your league." His voice had a soft lilt to the words, an accent reminiscent of the islanders in the Land of Wave but something a bit different, "Nice try, though. Maybe you'll do better next time."

Was this the nine tailed fox? They could feel no demonic chakra but then again...they couldn't sense the Uzumaki at all. Truly the power of a tailed beast. The leader made a hand sign to the remaining two members of his squad. Retreat and inform Danzō-sama of the enemy's progress. Fall back and allow a more skilled team to eliminate the threat.

"Though, I'm afraid..." The boy's voice was ice cold, "There won't be a next time for you."

They were dead before they even had the chance to fight back.

The Uzumaki looked at the bodies before glancing around once more. There was nobody around, nobody would know it was him unless they were the one to send the assassins in the first place. Flaring his chakra in a way no Konoha nin would recognize, he searched for any other signature, be it civilian or ninja. There were none. Mentally saying his apologies to the traumatized merchants who would find the bodies, he decided it would be good enough. There was no blood, at least. He had charged the kunai blade with fire chakra, which cauterized the wounds immediately. Dusting himself off, he made his way down the path towards the weapons shop he now called home.

His thoughts were racing every which way inside his head, old memories clashing with new ones, phantom pains of wounds that he no longer bore itching over his skin. Nonexistent mud and blood caking his skin and clothes. Gripping the kunai tighter, he continued his quick trek away from the scene. He was so sick of war.

Uzumaki Amahiko had returned, and frankly he was tired.

Well, at least Naruto knew he wasn't going crazy now.

Chapter Text

Naruto pushed open the door of the shop and trudged upstairs, scrolls now in his arms, and smiled upon seeing Mirai, Tama, and Tenten all sitting in their living room sharing a cup of tea. Tenten smiled widely, motioning to the fourth steaming cup that sat on the table before she patted to spot beside her.

"We saved you a cup!" She laughed slightly, "Tou-san drinks tea like no one else, so be thankful for his restraint."

Looking over at Tama, Naruto smiled widely before dipping into a deep bow, "Hai, Tama-san, thank you ever so much."

Mirai snorted and Tama just rolled his eyes as Naruto plopped himself down on the couch beside Tenten. Her parents sat across the table from them in chairs, both sipping their tea silently. It was peaceful, a comfortable silence filled with nothing but familial love and support. His heart swelled in his chest as he looked at them all, he hadn't felt anything like this in a long time.

My baby sister finally married. She chose a good guy, unlike Nanami did back when she got married. Political arrangement if there ever was one. Naruto mentally rolled his eyes, remembering how much Nanami and Masao hated each other. Hated wasn't the best word for it maybe, he decided, but they sure as hell weren't a loving couple. They had two sons, though, and bonded over that. They had a lasting friendship by the time everything went to shit, and maybe if they'd lived longer it would've turned to love. No one would ever know, Nanami and Masao were both dead after all, the children most likely departed as well. He had seen his eldest sibling fall himself.

He gripped his cup tighter.

Two sets of memories roared in his head, those of his current and past life merging and meshing and trying to form some cohesive storage system. Right now his life as Amahiko Uzumaki was at the forefront, his previous life flashing before his eyes. He saw memories of his mother, his father, and his massive gaggle of siblings he'd followed around similar to a lost puppy. He'd loved them all so much, and he would always love them. Dead or not, they were his family, the only one he had ever known. Naruto had no memories of his birth parents in this life to cling to, but he knew they were dead too. So he kept his ghosts close to his chest, determined to cling to the spirits of Tsubaki and Ryota and Kushina and a man he didn't know. He looked up from his tea once more, glancing at Mirai.

She connected Amahiko and Naruto. She was all that was left of his past, and now she was an important part of his present. Tears began to well up in his eyes, and he stared into his cup as he tried to reign in his emotions. When was the last he had cried? When Nanami died, in his past life, had been the last time he truly allowed tears to fall. Naruto knew he cried a lot as a baby, obviously, but ever since he was old enough to understand what crying meant for him, and how it would only hurt him more than help him...he hadn't allowed tears to fall in a long time. Not even in his apartment, sat alone under the covers, did he allow himself the leisure.

Now tears were dripping down his cheeks as he fought to make them stop.

"Naruto-kun?" Mirai's voice was gentle, and he looked up and realized the three of them were looking at him in concern, "Are you alright?"

"Yeah." His voice cracked slightly, "I'm just...really happy to have a family."

Tenten's eyes were sad as he grabbed him into a hug. Naruto allowed it to happen, feeling only slightly weird about being a year or two younger than the girl who was his niece. Past life's niece. SIghing to himself, he knew it was gonna take some time to get everything cleared up in his head. Maybe a night's sleep would help.

"I-I'm gonna go to bed now." He wiped his eyes, "I have an early mission tomorrow. I should catch some sleep."

Tama smiled slightly and put a hand on Mirai's shoulder to signal she shouldn't press the boy any further, "If you need anything you know where we are."

"And me!" Tenten released him from her stranglehold, allowing him to stand and perform his tactical retreat.

"Of course." He smiled shakily, "Goodnight."

The three watched him go, and Mirai gripped he tea with a sad smile on her face.

He's so much like you, Hiko-nii. Won't let anyone help him. A steely sort of determination entered her eyes, I won't let him end up like you. He won't fall before his time, brother. I couldn't save you, but I will save him.

Naruto woke up at six in the morning with much more clarity than yesterday. His assumption had been correct; sleep could fix a great many things, and it appears cataloging memories was one of those things. It was two hours before the shop opened and Tenten had the day off, so he was up before anyone else in the house. Taking a banana from the kitchen counter, mourning his lack of time that prevented him from having ramen, he grabbed his scroll containing library books and weapons and set off. Using the rooftops, he arrived at the library just after opening and dumped his books into the return bin, before heading back out the door.

"-found bodies in front of some merchant's shop. The old guy just signaled ANBU to come take care of it."

"What happened? Does anyone know anything?"

Glancing over at the two chunin nursing cups of coffee, he pretended to look at civilian cookbooks as they continued to talk.

"I don't know, man. We don't exactly have much clearance. All I know is there are whispers that they were traitors or something like that. Hokage-sama is being really tight-lipped."

Turning and walking out calmly, Naruto's heart was pounding. So nothing was traced back to him; that was good. Not like anyone expected the dead last to be able to do shit like that, he supposed. The ugly pride of a Kage reared, and Naruto felt himself cringe in frustration. Dead last his ass, he was a Kami-damned Seal Master and the Sandaime Uzukage. Looking around Konoha, he looked up at the mountain. Not in this life, you're not. He thought before smirking slightly. Uzukage, that was a title he couldn't get back. His village and his people were both destroyed, and the Uzumaki lineage was scattered. There was nothing he could do to make it whole again. However, he had the capability and every intention of becoming Hokage.

Just you wait, Konoha, he thought as he allowed his feet to carry him to his team's meeting spot. Sure enough, Sasuke and Sakura were both there. Sakura had her medical book in her hand, and Sasuke went through various taijutsu stances, lashing out at the wooden dummies he had set up. They both looked up when he strolled into the grounds, Sakura's eyebrows reaching her hairline and Sasuke snorting in disbelief.

"I never thought I'd see the day you ditched the orange, dobe." Sasuke rolled his eyes, "About time."

"Oi, I have orange on my shirt." Naruto huffed, "Besides it's a perfectly respectable color."

"It's not neon orange, though." Sakura pointed out smiling, "Burnt orange is perfectly respectable. Neon orange isn't."

Her eyes crinkled around the edges, just slightly, and the striking resemblance to Akane made him falter slightly. The two were day and night, similar but different in so many ways.

"What, is common sense finally getting to you?" Sasuke rolled his eyes, "I guess we should just be happy you finally ditched the jumpsuit."

"I think it looks great, Naruto." Sakura laughed slightly, "More presentable for a ninja."

"Next on the list is getting you to ditch all the pink. And the dress." Sasuke commented without missing a beat, "Kakashi-sensei and I are the only sensibly dressed ones on this team. Naruto now too, I guess."

The pinkette's eyebrow twitched, "How can I ditch all the pink if my hair is pink?"

Sasuke shrugged as he continued to kick the shit of his practice dummy, "The hair isn't a problem. Put it up in a ponytail or something. The clothes, however, are noticeable. Especially now since Naruto is wearing mostly black, I wear dark blue, and Kakashi-sensei usually wears black and green. We're all wearing pretty concealable colors. Just tone it down some."

Sakura frowned, looking to Naruto, who just scratched the back of his head, "I think you'd look great in dark reds, Sakura-chan. Maybe try that, at least while we're genin. I know a place you can get some great clothes for now! When we get superpowerful, then we can dress however we want!"

"Power doesn't mean you should be reckless." Sasuke snapped, pausing to glare at Naruto.

"You're only angry because you care." Naruto crossed his arms, remembering Raiden had similar tendencies, "Come on, Sasuke. Admit it."

He only glowered at the smirking Naruto and giggling Sakura before turning away and ignoring any further attempts at conversation. After a couple tries of including him, Sakura and Naruto both gave up.

"Anyways, I think I might have gotten sort of adopted." Naruto mentioned to Sakura offhandedly, "Tenten's parents, the ones with that wicked weapons shop, are letting me stay there."

Sakura's eyes were wide, "Really? That's great! How did you manage to convince them?"

"Well, it turns out my mom and Tenten's were related." The Uzumaki didn't go into detail, "They were both Uzumaki. Mirai-oba-san is family, I'm like her fourth cousin or something like that."

"I'm happy for you." She smiled honestly, her eyes crinkling once more in a way that made Naruto's heart shrivel up sadly, "It's good you have people to watch over your nutrition and habits now."

"I know, I even had a banana for breakfast." Naruto faked tearing up, "I'm already changing so much under responsible supervision! How could this happen to me?"

Sakura laughed slightly, "Well, maybe she can tell you more about your family. Since she was an Uzumaki maybe she knows some stuff!"

"Yeah!" Naruto smiled slightly before remembering why he'd come this early, "I made a new seal, and I have a gift for you guys."

It wasn't new, per say. Naruto had used this as Amahiko only once, and that was on Raiden. The simple spiral closely resembled the Uzumaki clan crest, and the kanji in the center held a deep meaning just as much now as it did then. The seal was for special circumstances and special people, and usually, you would need the permission of the clan head to even consider using it. However, Naruto was the only Uzumaki in name in Konoha, so he was going to take quite a few liberties here. Glancing over to where he knew Sasuke was secretly listening in, he raised his voice slightly.

"It's a pretty powerful seal, too."

Sasuke froze mid-motion and turned to approach the tree his teammates were sitting under. He sat next to Sakura on the dusty ground and looked at Naruto expectantly, "This had better be good."

Naruto rolled his eyes, "Whatever. Anyways, this seal doesn't really do anything powerful outwardly. It's not like my chakra transformation seals or even an exploding tag."

He took his finger and began to trace it in the dirt, "It marks you as a non-blood member of the Uzumaki. It doesn't give you any of the genetic benefits, except that should you ever try to open an Uzumaki family scroll that uses blood seals you won't get zapped by the mechanisms and you'll be able to read what's written. It's more of a metaphorical thing, you know? These seals are put on teammates a lot, to visualize the bond between them. It was a big deal for my clan, but we've been a team for a while now and I figured if you guys wanted to I could put them on you."

They'd been a team for three months now, and a lot had changed. Just yesterday, when they were catching Tora for the twelfth time, they had worked together as one unit. Just yesterday both Naruto and Sakura had pledged to help Sasuke achieve revenge for his fallen clan. Only three months ago they had been academy brats trying to beat a jonin, Naruto struggling to convince them how to do it. Things had changed since then, or else Naruto never would have considered this seal once he remembered it. However, truth be told, his team was the first family he'd had in a long time. Sure, now he had Tenten and her parents, but before that, it was Team 7.

Kakashi-sensei, who bought them ramen and dango and taught them how to run across water and guided them to the right path. He was the first adult, besides Iruka, who had ever taken the time to really try and teach Naruto. Then there was Sakura-chan, who had gone from being his biggest crush to one of his best friends. Before he knew Tama's shop existed she supplied him with ink and scrolls. Got him new ones every week, and half the time she wouldn't even let him pay her. She trained with Naruto and Sasuke, and it was getting to the point where she could go hard. She had matured so much in so little time, and Naruto could see so much of Akane in her now that he could look closer with the memories easily accessible. Sasuke, too, had become a friend to be valued. He'd taken to glaring at Ino anytime she called Sakura forehead, even if he didn't realize he did it. He even dragged them both to a restaurant in the civilian part of town and when they tried to throw a fit about Naruto, he had glared so fiercely his teammates thought he'd awakened the Sharingan.

They were dysfunctional most of the time, but they cared deeply for one another. Amahiko had placed this seal on Raiden after a single month of determining whether or not he was worthy, and now Naruto had come to his decision. The jury was out, and Sakura and Sasuke meant more to him than he knew.

Little did he know, his two teammates were having similar thoughts.

"I'd be honored, Naruto-kun." Sakura smiled, attaching the suffix to his name for the first time.

He beamed at her before looking at Sasuke, whose face revealed none of his emotions. The Uchiha looked at Naruto, his brows furrowing slightly before the dark-haired genin nodded firmly once. Smiling wider, Naruto removed his supplies scroll and got his good body ink out along with a thin brush. Requesting Sakura's shoulder first, he pulled the fabric back just enough to expose enough skin for the seal. Making quick work of it, the ink dried down and glowed a brilliant red before it was tattooed into her skin. Doing the same for Sasuke, he drew the Uzumaki spiral and wrote the kanji in the middle of it just as delicately as he had with Sakura's.

The kanji for family.

"Well, it's official now." Naruto sighed as he put his supplies away, "We're all stuck with each other. No takebacks. Too late to back out now, you're stuck with me and I'm stuck with you both."

"If I had to be stuck with a team, I'm glad it's you two." Sakura smiled, looking at her two boys with no small amount of affection.

"Hn." They knew Sasuke well enough by now to recognize the slight curl uplifting his lips was about as close to beaming as the Uchiha would get.

Team 7 just might turn out alright after all.

When Team 7 showed up, Kakashi was already standing there. He had been, in fact, for half an hour. Despite his usual two hour late antics, it appeared the students were outdoing the master. The three came jauntily walking up to the missions desk, Sakura in the middle with one of her arms around each of the boys. Kakashi raised a single eyebrow, as did Iruka who sat behind the missions desk. Since when did Sasuke touch Sakura? A new development, the academy teacher supposed, but not an entirely unwelcome one. And-were his eyes decieving him? Iruka nearly feinted.

Sasuke was smiling. He had Sakura's arm around his shoulder and his mouth was curved into a slight smile. Slight, but a smile nonetheless.

Iruka couldn't help but look at Kakashi with awe. He had been hesitant, at first, to give the man some of his most promising but troubled students. However, it seemed like the jonin had pulled a miracle out of his ass.

"Hey, sensei!" Naruto waved, "Sorry we're late!"

The pinkette bounded up to Kakashi, a serious look on her face, "Sensei, should I cut my hair?"

The academy teacher was now having heart palpitations.

"Ah-" Kakashi glanced around, looking for an escape, "Well, Sakura-chan, that's up to you!"

"Will it get in the way?" She crossed her arms, "I'm not gonna be a burden because of my hair, sensei."

"Um, maybe talk to an older kunoichi." Kakashi knew how much the hair meant to the girl, and he wasn't about to inadvertently fuck up some kid's psyche, "Learn to put it up."

"You know, I said a pony tail earlier, and I still think it's a good idea." Sasuke spoke as he and Naruto approached them.

Okay, forget heart palpitations, Iruka was having a full on heart attack.

"Maybe advise Sakura-chan on her style later, team." Kakashi looked at the Uchiha a touch wearily, "We have a mission you three are late for."

"You were late too." Iruka grumbled, shoving the folder at the one eyed nin.

"Oh, how you wound me, Iruka-sensei." Kakashi replied in a deadpan voice, taking the folder and not even opening it, "Alright team. Meet at the gates. Last one there has to buy lunch."

Sakura groaned. She was always the one to buy lunch at the end of these things. Naruto and Sasuke shot off like a rocket, and Sakura leaped out the window behind them. Kakashi gave a one handed salute to Iruka before shunshining out of the room. Iruka watched them all go with a feeling of dread. What did this new Team 7 mean for Konoha? What would the reprecussions of them giving Kakashi a team be? Sinking back in his chair, he rubbed his temples. Surely nothing too drastic could happen, right?

Kakashi looked at the three genin, standing at the gates innocently and ignoring his accusing looks. Sakura was nearly on the floor dead, but Naruto kept her rightside up by letting her lean against his shoulder. Sasuke was back to being stony, only instead of glaring he stood behind his teammates. Like a silent gaurdian, ready to strike. Kakashi remembered the last civillian incident with Naruto and the whole Ino-Sakura confrontation a few weeks ago. He shuddered slightly, silent gaurdian indeed.

In the end, Kakashi was to pay for lunch. He had underestimated Sakura, that was for sure, and though he could take a jaunty stroll past the memorial stone and then went catch up with his team. Flicking through the file, Kakashi still guessed the other two brats had helped her. He didn't know how, but he knew the pinkette couldn't outrun him even when he went his slowest speed. So that left her teammates cheating to get her there and all of them conspiring against their poor sensei.

He didn't feel betrayed, more like proud.

"So, tomatos and peppers." Kakashi sighed as he flipped through the file, "Should be pretty easy. It is a big field though. Are my adorable genin up for it?"

Sasuke gave him a reproachful look while Sakura sighed, "Of course we are, sensei. We have Naruto."

"Yeah!" The blond smiled, "I'm helpful!"

Sasuke rolled his eyes, "Occasionally. How far out is this farm?"

"Two hours, give or take a few minutes." Kakashi waved his hands, "We'd be running right now, but I feel that would be disrespectful to the beautiful scenery."

"So you're feeling lazy?" Sakura raised an eyebrow, "Fair enough."

"We can run later." Kakashi shook his head, "Really, I'm going to teach you brats a few things. Hopefully you can multitask."

The jonin the whipped three sheets of paper out of his hand, giving one to each of his students as the continued to walk towards the farm, "Now, we know how to channel chakra to allow us to walk and run on trees and water. So, channel the chakra to your fingers instead and infuse the paper with it. Give it a decent amount too, sometimes you have some hidden affinities that can still be usefully learned."

Naruto smiled to himself. Too bad his seals let him use them all, however he did as requested as did Sasuke and Sakura. Naruto's immediantly ripped violently into shreds before the actual paper turned to water in his hands. Sasuke's crinkled up as soon as his chakra hit the paper, the sheet becoming a ball not even a fourth the size of what it was originalls. The paper then burt into a flickering, dancing flame which Sasuke immedinatly dropped onto the ground and stamped out with his foot. While he nursed his wounded hand, Sakura's paper got slightly damp before immediantly crumbling to fine specs of dirt in her hands. Dropping the dirt, she brushed her hands off and turned to look at their sensei along with her teammates. However, Kakashi had stopped a few steps back and simply stared at the three.

"Sensei?" Sakura asked hesitantly, "What's going on?"

I have actual monsters, Kakashi thought ecstatically, little genin monsters!

"Well, Naruto has a very strong wind and water affinity." Kakashi coughed slightly, motioning to the cuts on Naruto's now wet hands, "As you can see...very strong. Normally wind makes the paper cut into two and the water affinity just makes it dampen as Sakura's did."

Naruto smiled perhaps a tad smugly, even though he knew his affinities going into this. He had grown up around the ocean and learned to walk by running of rooftops, he had been in the water or the air his entire life in Uzushio.

"And Sasuke, you have a high affinity for lightning and fire, as your paper overreacted too. Sakura, your earth ability is the strongest, it absoutely crumbled. That's probably the strongest earth release since Tsunade of the Sannin."

Sasuke was smiling smugly, pleasantly surprised. Not even Itachi had a natural lightning affinity. Sakura, meanwhile, was over the moon happy. Smiling brightly, she stared down at her earth powdered hands, the dust of the dirt still there, and her eyes were wide in reverence. Kakashi observed the three carefully before smiling to himself; he was happier and happier that they passed as the days wore on. Sure, they were annoying brats literally all the time, but they were his annoying brats.

"Cool, dattebayo!" Naruto flapped his hands slightly, like an over excited pelican who didn't know what to do with himself, "Water, earth, fire, wind, and lightning! We've got all bases covered! We'll be the best team ever, everyone else can just quit now!"

"Don't get overconfident." Kakashi rolled his visible eyes, "You haven't even learned how to use them yet."

Sakura huffed, "And that's easy for you to say, Naruto! You've got that fancy seal all up and down your arm. You knew you had all bases covered before this."

Kakashi stiffened slightly. Fancy seal? On his arm?

"Not the one you think, sensei." Naruto smiled, rolling up the sleeve of his black haori to show Uzumaki fūinjutsu covering his arm like one giant, elegant tattoo. Kakashi looked at it, slightly wide eyed, before ultimately deciding he had either been blessed or cursed by Kami when he was assigned this team.

"Is, ah, is that your own design?" Kakashi knew the runt could make a fine exploading tag, but this was some next level shit. Even Kushina-san would've paused at this.

"Yup!" Naruto smiled before faltering, "Well, I got the idea from a book. But I made it my own, you know?"

"And he's designing one for me." Sasuke looked at Naruto questioningly, "Right, Naruto?"

"Hell yeah, teme!" The blond smirked, "I'm getting an Uchiha fire jutsu out of this deal. It's going down."

Sakura sighed, "You two are too much."

For once, Kakashi was inclined to agree with her, "Well, let's keep moving, your monstrous tendencies aside. on summoning elemental chakra."

Kakashi looked at the blond suspiciously. He knew this runt wasn't dead last, there was no way. He showed it a little before, that Uzumaki prodigy gene that kicked in more often than not, but it really shone through now. He acted like he'd grown up with the lot of them, and maybe Kakashi was tricking himself but he swore he could hear Kushina's Uzushio accent hidden under layers of the intonation every Konoha native had. He suspected it was the verbal tic that made him think that. After all, Kushina had an extremely similar one as she was his mother after all. Now that he was a full fledged genin and had formed quite outstanding bonds with his team, if Kakashi said so himself, he seemed to be opening up more. He acted a bit less like the class dufus he acted out in school, and more like his hot tempered but extremely capable mother.

Still, he'd have to keep an eye on the kid. There was no need for certain influences getting ahold of him. This was his little bratty genin, no one elses, and he'd be damned if he let any council member or any demon try and take control of the Uzumaki.

Regardess, Kami help them if Konoha had a monster Kushina-mini on their hands.

Then there was Sakura and Sasuke, who were in a whole other league regarding personal character development. Sasuke seemed to actually care for his teammates under that brooding facade, and Sakura seemed to forgo her crush for now and take her training seriously. She had perfect chakra control, and would make an outstanding medical nin; maybe even a front line one like Tsunade was. Hell, if she got her head together with Naruto's apparent fūinjutsu mastery, there was no telling what she could puff out of nothing regarding the limited front line medical moves. Occasionally glancing over at their happy faces as they whispered together, Kakashi thought this time his team might just turn out alright.

Sasuke slid up to Naruto, who didn't look like he was listening to what Kakashi had told them to do at all, with Sakura in tow.

"What other seal?" Sakura whispered, and in seeing Naruto's slight hesitence, she pointed violently at her shoulder, "Naruto. We promised, we're stuck with each other."

"It's a jinchūriki seal." He sighed, defeated, "I hold the Kyūbi."

"The demon fox?" Sakura's eyes bugged out a bit before narrowing, "Wait, is that why everyone is so mean to you?"

Sasuke glared, "Did you actually think we'd care? This just means I'll have to train harder...fucking Kyūbi..."

"You're not the fox." Sakurs whispered furiously, "Oh, I have half a mind to march back to Konoha right now and give them all a piece of my mind. And my fist."

Sasuke and Naruto only slightly shuddered. Slightly. Because sure, they're on their way to becoming powerful and all in ninjutsu and the like, but Sakura still has the best right hook in the graduating class.

Chapter Text

("Baby brother!" Hanako's musical tones filled the room, "What are you doing here?"

Amahiko turned to look at his sister coming down the hospital's halls like a hurricane. She was walking fast, heels clicking as she made her way to her brother. Hiding his arm behind him, he yanked Yuudai closer to him to hide his bleeding shoulder. Akane snickered to herself while Raiden looked like he wanted to be exactly anywhere else at the moment. Putting on his best smile, the newly minted jonin gave his sister a convincing look.

"I'm fine, nee-chan. Just here for a checkup. We all are. Right guys?"

Yuudai coughed, Akane stopped laughing, and Raiden just gave his best impression of a dying sea lion. Hanako gave them an unconvinced but backed up nevertheless, looking at the four in suspicion. She had her clipboard in hand, and bloody rags were still peeking out of her pocket. She'd probably just gotten out of a surgery.

"Hiko-hime, if you're hurt-" She began, only to be cut off.

"Stop using that nickname!" Amahiko's face was as red as his hair, "By the sage, I'm a jonin now! I'm fifteen!"

"The sage has nothing to do with the fact that you'll always be my baby brother." She smiled before rolling her eyes, "Fine, I have patients to tend to. If any of you are actually sick, check in at the front desk."

Amahiko turned to look at his friends once she was gone, "Look, if I go up there with this gash they'll just call her right back down here."

"What are we supposed to do?" Raiden grouched, "None of us are skilled enough healers."

The Uzumaki boy stilled for a moment then looked at Raiden and Yuudai with a sly grin, "You guys can heal my arm."

"Nope." Raiden turned to walk out, "No way, I'm not qualified!"

"I'm game." Yuudai's smiled was one part dangerous and one part vaugely concerned, "My taichou has been saying I need a living person to pratice on. She said I can't make my own patients, but Raiden did this so technically..."

"Look, I already apologized." The boy in question huffed, "And, Hiko, you need to get that checked out by a professional. Now."

"You and Yuudai are professional enough for me." Amahiko smiled and dragged the two budding medics in question out of the hospital with Akane laughing behind them.)

Opening his eyes, instead of seeing the crashing waves of Uzushio and hearing the seagulls sing their enchanting song, he was met with the beige ceiling of Mirai and Tama's home. A heavy weight on his chest, he stood from his bed and began to dress. His team had their first C-rank mission today, the Hokage agreeing pretty quickly if only because Kakashi was starting to twitch everytime they got a new D-rank. So they got an escort mission, one all the way to the Land of Waves.

His heart ached, thoughts of Yuudai and the ocean and when he was protected on the island of his namesake swirling through his head. Better times, certainly long past but never forgotten.

As he was about to tie his forehead protector around his head he paused and used the longer string to wrap it around his waist instead. A tribute to a better life, one filled with love and sunshine and the crashing of the waves. One that was dead.

He passed through the kitchen to grab a bowl of cereal, waved goodbye to Mirai and Tenten, and then he was gone.

Mirai saw his forehead protecter and her heart hurt.

Sakura was already at the gates when he arrived, long pink hair braided back into a bun and a satchel on her back that no doubt had reading materials in it. She smiled when she saw him, and it forced an involuntary grin out of him as well. She had that kind of look on her face, one that brightened up the day and made him forget that he was supposed to be dead, that his family was dead, that his lover and his enemy was rightfully dead. It reminded him of Akane, and even more so of his sister Umi. She was only two years older than Amahiko, with blood red hair and deep brown eyes. Freckles dotted her face all over, and when she smiled it had reminded all who saw it of the sun rising in the east. 

 So he grinned, and forced himself to stay in the moment.

"Naruto-kun!" She waved him over even more enthusiastically, "I was looking at some maps, and apparently the island that was allegedly the Land of Whirlpools is only about fifty miles north of the Land of Waves!"

He froze in his track, foot coming down and halting him midstep. Home, I could go home, see what's left, is Uzu still there, what if anyone is there, are there ruins, what's left? He blinked, his mind spazzing for a moment before another thought occured to him. The Land of Waves, if Uzu was fifty miles north...the small fishing village? Naruto remembered it from his childhood. Kaa-chan said the had the best cod, so every few months or so they'd make the two hour boat ride to get some and have a nice dinner. It'd been pretty small last he saw it, nothing more that a string of shacks on the bay side. It was an official country now? He felt very old all of a sudden.

"Isn't this good news?" Sakura clapped her hands together, bouncing up and down slightly in her excitment, "Naruto, we could take you to see your clan's homeland! Your birthright! I mean, sure, it may be not that great now, but I thought you'd like to see where your mother was born-!"

He cut her off with a firm hug that lasted only seconds before he released her and scrubbed at his eyes, hating the prickling feeling of tears, "T-thank you, Sakura-chan. I don't think you know how much this means."

Her smile became gentler and she reached out to ruffle his hair, "You need a hair cut, Naruto."

(Fuji reached out and ruffled Amahiko's hair, the long red stands growing out longer than he usually allowed. 

His elder brother laughed slightly, rolling his green eyes in exasperation,"You growing it out too, Hiko-hime? Am I being peer pressured to grow my hair out by my own siblings? Soon Nanami and I will be the only ones wearing it short."

Amahiko smiled, ducking out of his brother's reach and fixing the messed up hair, "Shima-nii is showing me how to put it up in a pony tail and bun. He even said he's give me a pair of hair sticks!"

"Not the flowery ones?" His brother raised an eyebrow.

"I'll wear the flowery ones if I please." Amahiko crossed his arms, "But no. If you must know, he said he'd give me a pair Nanami gave him when she cut her hair. The gold ones with the charms on the end."

"Charms?" Fuji snorted, "You'll be dangling wherever you go. I guess Hiko-hime is a fitting nickname, huh?"

Amahiko scowled slightly, "You'll be saying when I kick your ass again in a kenjutsu spar!"

"My tantō has it covered, baby brother." He patted the blade at his side, "We'll see what Tenma-oji-san has taught you."

"Katsuro's blade is well made. You're no match." Amahiko stuck out his tounge, "You'll see."

"Whatever." Fuji laughed a little, "And I guess the hair is fitting, all the Uzukage seem to have long hair. Ashina, then Tenma, now you."

"Not Uzukage yet." The younger brother smiled, "I like growing my hair out, though, so thank you.")

Naruto smiled slightly, rolling his now tear free eyes, "I like growing my hair out."

"I guess you could make it work." Sakura snickered slightly, "Make it long enough and I'll have my mom show you how to make a bun like mine. We'll match!"

"Then we just need Sasuke to grow his out. The braided bun team!" Naruto let out a snort, his mind just not comprehending the idea of Sasuke with long or braided hair, "Maybe we'll get Kaka-sensei in on it too!"

"Of course." She nodded solemnly, "We couldn't leave our dear sensei out."

They stayed there snickering until Sasuke eventually showed up and after him Kakashi and Tazuna, their client. The man was more sober than yesterday, which was a good thing. It made Naruto want to deck him slightly less, which was good seeing as it was their job to protect the man. Kakashi sighed deeply and waved them out, the group making their way through the forests at a normal speed so Tazuna could keep up.

"So, Tazuna-san?" Naruto looked at the man skeptically, "Does you country export a lot of fish?"

"Eh?" The old man looked up, slightly nervous at the question, "What do'ya mean?"

"Nothing, I just really like cod and I've heard your nations had some of the best in years past." Naruto's smile was placid, "I'm a fish enthusiast."

The man looked at him strangely before relaxing, "Yeah, some of the best fish around. Used to export a lot more before Gato took over inport and exports. We don't do shit nowadays."

The blond boy frowned, and Tazuna saw actual sadness in the boy's eyes, "That's very disheartening to hear."

Why did this kid give a shit? The bridge builder huffed, turning back around and leaving the genin to their sensei.

"Kaka-sensei?" Sakura looked at the spiky haired man, "Why doesn't Wave have any ninja?"

"Many countries don't." Kakashi continued to read his book as they walked, "Only Konoha, Kumo, Suna, Iwa, and Kiri have the big hidden villages. Others have smaller ones, less known, but usually they don't last long."

Naruto blinked at the man, "Kakashi-sensei?"

"Yes, Naruto?"

"I'm going to burn each and every one of those books one day, you know that right?"

The man twitched slightly, "Well, then, you better finish that seal and get a fire jutsu from Sasuke pretty soon."

The Uchiha glared at their sensei, "I'll do it for him."

Naruto wiped a fake tear from his eye, "I knew I could always count on you, Sasuke-kun!"

Sakura snorted in laughter, actually pausing momentairly to grasp her knees as she heaved, and Sasuke only twitched.

Tazuna watched the events unfold with wide eyes. What the hell were Konoha nin smoking?

They continued on, Naruto stewing silently over Wave's plight. Gato, huh? Surely he could do a little side mission, take care of the asshole for good and liberate Wave once and for all. He knew he could take care of the man and whatever croonies the goon hired no problem, but escaping Kakashi's sight...that was the issue. He couldn't let the man see too much, he already knew enough as it was. Despite his unwavering trust in his team, he wasn't sure he wanted to tell them he was a reincarnation of the Sandaime Uzukage. Just yet, maybe later. After they were chunin perhaps. Padding along behind Tazuna and Kakashi, he faltered slightly when he saw a puddle on the ground. In the middle of a sunny day. With no clouds in sight.

How fucking stupid did they think he was?


"I know, Naruto."

The boy narrowed his eyes. Sakura glanced over at him, halting her conversation with Tazuna. This grabbed Sasuke's attention and soon they were looking at him, asking a wordless question with their eyes. He only got to nod his head slightly when the puddle exploaded. The shuriken chain shot out and wrapped around Kakashi, and the two nin pulled and it ripped him into pieces. Naruto was revolted for only a minute, but he heard Sakura scream and acted. Sasuke launced himself at the nearest one, landing a hit on the mans head as he breezed through the hand seals for a fireball jutsu. Sakura launced herself back, landing in front of Tazuna and whipping out a kunai. She looked fierce, but Naruto could tell she was forcing herself to not shake.

As Sasuke hooked the chain to the tree and tried to burn the first nin to a crisp, Naruto got up close and personal with the second one. It was then he saw their headbands; they were Kirigakure shinobi. Perhaps missing nin, but they were still born and bred Kiri shinobi. Naruto felt blind rage grip him, and he felt his hands shake as he slowly and deliberately drew his katana. The enemy nin simply snorted out what sounded like a laugh when Naruto shot forward, kicking the man in the chest with every ounce of strength he had in his genin body. The man crashed to the ground before scrambling up, only to meet the blade of a katana and Naruto's cold eyes.

His pulled his arm back and let his sword swing down effortlessly, decapitating the man in a clean cut. Flicking the blood off his blade, he sheathed it with the promise to clean it later and turned to where Sakura and Sasuke stood with Kakashi in front of them. Tazuna looked more afraid of Naruto than anything, and that didn't sit well with the blond. So he forced an easy smile and shrugged.

"Well, that's taken care of." Naruto was still grinning as he approached his team.

 Kakashi didn't intend to leave them on their own very long, just long enough to see who the two were after. The Demon Brothers of Kiri, not highly ranked as together they only managed a C in face to face combat. They only achieved their Bingo Book ranking of a B because of their skill in assassination jutsu, which clearly wasn't working as well as the two thought it would. However, just as he suspected, the two nin seemed to go immediantly after Tazuna. They wanted the bridge builder dead. Narrowing his visible eye, he was ready to leap down into the fray and dispose of them when he saw his students leap into action. Sasuke quite literally used one of their heads as a spring board the proceeded to throw two fire balls the man'd way, effectively burning the enemy nin to an absolute crisp. Sakura breezed past Sasuke, launcing herself in front of the client as she pushed him out of the line of fire, and kunai in hand as she prepared herself for a fight.

She reminded Kakashi of someone, what with the way she forced herself not to shake and put on a fierce gaze in the face of an enemy.


He froze slightly, realizing he had lost track of the blond brat. Searching for Naruto, he quickly found him standing in front of the Kiri nin...shaking. Kakashi was caught off guard for a moment. Naruto, out of all of them, was shaking in fear? Then he saw the way the boy brought his hand to his katana and unsheathed it in a slow manner. A challenge. Knitting his brows together, Kakashi stopped to think for a second. He wasn't shaking in fear, he could tell now, but in anger. Why would Naruto be angry at the Kiri nin?

He remembered what the Hokage had told him about a month ago. That Naruto was staying with Suzuki Mirai, formerly of the Uzumaki Clan of Uzushio. She was one of the only ones to escape extermination at the hands of Iwa and Kiri. Of fucking course Naruto knew about Uzushio and it's destruction, he was living with the last known survivor of the fall. If there was one thing the silver haired jonin knew about anger, it was that it could make you sloppy, so he watched his precious little genin run forwards and...

Kick the ever living shit out of the guy?

Shunshining down to where Sakura and Sasuke stood with Tazuna, and let him just say he was kind of annoyed because they didn't even look surprised, he watched the events play out with morbid facination. The man struggled for a second then got up only to be halted by the blade of a katana. Naruto held him there for a moment, still leaking KI like he was a fully grown ninja, before he swung his arm back and down to cleanly cut throught the enemy shinobi.

Kakashi was slightly concerned, but also very proud.

"Remind me not to piss that kid off." Tazuna seemed a bit pale in the face.

"That's just the beginning." Sasuke crossed his arms as Naruto approached, a clearly fake smiled on his face.

"Well, that's taken care of." He nodded at Kakashi, "Good to see you aren't actually chopped up."

Kakashi tocuhed his chest in fake sentiment, "I'm so touched."

Tazuna twitched. Again, what the fuck was wrong with these people?

"Now, team, clearly this isn't within your rank..." He started out sarcastically, purposefully ignoring the snorts he got from his students, "Would you like to head back to the village."

"Sage, no!" Naruto scoffed, "It just got interesting!"

"He's right." Sasuke crossed his arms, "It's a good learning experience."

Sakura nodded sagely, "I still need to kill someone, too. Eh, that sounds bad but...Naruto and Sasuke did, and I can't afford to freeze up afterward on another, higher ranked mission. We must proceed."

He was so proud.

"Although, Tazuna-san." Naruto looked at the man with a cool gaze, "It would be wise to not lie to Konoha in the future."

Sasuke nodded, "I'm guessing it was a matter of finances, but maybe you should be upfront about it next time. You'll find Konoha is pretty sympathetic when you don't lie."

Did he mention he was fucking proud?

"You did well, Sasuke. Going after the enemy immediantly was impressive. Sakura, you went to protect the client, that's good. No one else thought to do that, and there could've always been another ninja lurking in the woods. Naruto, excellent form with your katana. You've been practicing." Kakashi nodded, mostly to himself. 

Positive affirmations were something good senseis did, right?

They approached the dock and when he saw the waves lapping at the shore, the birds flying overhead and nothing but endless sea ahead, Naruto felt like he was coming home for the first time in a long time. As Kakashi and Tazuna spoke with the small, rickety boat captain, Naruto knelt down in the damp sad and let the water run over his palms. He saw the fish, small little schools of them edging along the shore, swim up to his hand and pepper it with kisses. The water brushed his knees as the tide rose slightly as if to lure him into a comforting hug.

The sea would always welcome her children home, and the Uzumaki were nothing if not her children.

"Naruto?" Sakura stood behind him, just enough so the water wouldn't wet her feet, "Do you like the ocean?"

"Yeah." He spoke softly, turning his head to look and her and Sasuke, "I've...always wanted to see it in real life. Mirai-oba-chan tells stories, you know? I've always loved it but..."

He looked back down at the blue water, the fog still clinging to the top of it as it did in the early morning. Uzushio had always been encased in fog, the whole country of Whirlpools had. A gentle mist, just enough to dampen your skin walking through the streets in the morning. The seagulls would be perched on the fences by the dock, crying into the mist as the fishermen dragged their nets to their boats. Merchants would be setting up shop, stands and booths filled with vibrant colors of orange, red, yellow, pink, purple. The sun bleached buildings stood tall with strings of lanterns and flags hanging from roof to roof. Everyday was like a festival, a celebration of life. Heaven on earth, his grandmother had once called it.

"You three coming?" Tazuna called out to them, "Your, ah, teacher is already on board!"

Naruto stood and brushed the sand from his damp knees, smiling at his teammates who were respectfully quiet in the face of his probably-too-obvious grief. Sasuke knew what it was like for your clan, your culture, to be exterminated. For Naruto to have never known them, though...for him to not even recognize the legacy he was meant to carry. The Uchiha remembered the cold way Naruto had dispatched that Kiri nin, and it had been more than just protecting Tazuna. For the Uzumaki it had been a personal confrontation. Kiri and Iwa destroyed his homeland, his people. Sasuke knew it was a foolish notion, but somehow it made him feel better. He wasn't the only one bearing the weight of the dead, wasn't the only one cursed with the task of hatred and vengeance. 

"Everyone, keep it at a whisper." The captain spoke as they began rowing.

The three boarded the boat, Kakashi up front by the captain with Sakura and Sasuke in the middle and Naruto in the back with Tazuna. The bridge builder looked at the strange blond with high cheekbones and tan skin, as if he'd been raised under the sun. Everything about him, right down to the orange shirt he wore under his black haori, reminded him of the people who visited Wave when it was only a village, when Tazuna was not even old enough to be in school. The red heads, and the others who wore their strange clothing, the ones who came every few months for specialty fish. They had the same facial structure, the same tint to their skin, the same way the walked and talked. A culture of their own.

The boy had that same look about him, like he was an islander misplaced on a landlocked continent. Tazuna could see it in the way he looked at the ocean, at the way the water seemed to rise up and meet his hand like an old friend. 

"Do you have family in Wave?" Tazuna whispered to the boy as their sensei discussed something with the pink haired one and the broody boy.

Naruto glanced up, and smiled slightly, "No, no family in Wave."

That was strange.

"Any family who belong to the islands?" Tazuna scratched his head, "You sure look like some of the folks who grew up on them."

"My mother did." His expression was wistful, "I never got to see our homeland. It was destroyed before I was born."

His eyebrows rose, "Detroyed? Are you-?"

"An Uzumaki?" The blond grinned, "I know, I don't look it."

The bridge builder thought back to those elegant people, the ones with katanas strapped to their back just like his and how they usually had long hair and how they looked like they didn't belong anywhere else but on the sea. Tazuna shook his head slightly, "Trust me kid, you do."

He got a small smile from the boy, but his eyes were still sad. Tazuna wondered what it would be like to not grow up in wave, where his grandparents and greatgrandparents and generations before that were born and raised. The old man looked away from the sad picture of a kid and instead looked up at the familiar, glooming form of Wave's mainland approaching.

"Tazuna-san." The Uzumaki's voice was extremely quiet, "I won't allow anyone else to loose their homeland. Gato will fall, I assure you."

He thought back to the ruthlessness this kid had when dispatching that assassin, and he actually had hope for the first time in a long time.

The forest beyond the shore was not as dense as it was in Fire Country, but it still made Naruto long for the ocean. Nevertheless, his teammates and Tazuna all followed behind Kakashi into the mainland of Wave. Naruto could still smell the salt of the sea, a comfort he knew he would miss back in Konoha. Sakura and Sasuke flanked him on both sides with Tazuna right in front of them. Sakura looked around at the foreign landscape, the bright flowers and flora only found in tropical climates like Wave.

"Sensei, do countries like Wave not have any daimyo?" Sakura looked at their teacher in confusion, "You know, someone to control trade and keep everything legal?"

"Some newer countries, like this one, aren't big enough to have things like daimyos." Kakashi glanced back, "Wave is still a relatively new country, unlike Fire Country which has been around since before Konoha. Many greedy people, like Gato, try and leech on to these countries while they're still vulnerable."

"That's why we need this bridge." Tazuna huffed, "Once we're connected to the mainland, he won't control the only way in and out of the country anymore."

"Therefore he won't control imports and exports." Sasuke nodded to himself, "A wise plan, if you can get it done without getting killed."

The old man laughed humorlessly, "That's why you're here."

Naruto rolled his eyes slightly, before he felt something that made him tense. Extreme bloodlust, and some highly negative emotions with pretty big chakra reserves to back it up. Somewhere around them, but he couldn't pinpoint the killing intent that was trying and failing to be subtle. He looked around at his team, trying to tell if any of them sensed it as he did. Probably not. Negative emotions sensing was a trait most Uzumaki shared, he was pretty sure even Mirai could use that despite her under developed chakra reserves. Flaring his chakra slightly, hoping it was still foreign enough for anyone to notice, he felt someone in the trees. Watching them.

"Naruto?" Kakashi looked back at his student sharply, "What's-?"

They all heard the air being cut through as Sakura turned in horror to see the huge zanbato flying towards Tazuna.

"Down!" She shrieked, grabbing Tazuna and pulling him to the ground as everyone else ducked as well. 

The sword embedded itself deep into a tree, and their enemy body flickered to stand on it and look down at their group. The man wore bandages around the bottom half of his face like a mask, and baggy pants with a striped pattern that gave away his village far before his headband ever did. Naruto raised an eyebrow. Another shinobi of Kirigakure? What a day. 

"Zabuza Momochi." Kakashi stepped forward as his students circled around Tazuna, "Missing-nin from Kiri."

"The Copy Cat Nin, eh?" Zaubuza looked over the four shinobi, "And three genin. Hand over the old man, I might let you live."

Kakashi scoffed, and Zabuza tore his sword from the tree, jumping to land on the lake beside it. He began amassing a huge amount of chakra, and Naruto could already guess what the man was going to do. Sneering, he remembered back to the Invasion of Uzu. The island had been covered in mist, not like it had done Kiri or Iwa any good. It only confused to Iwa ninja, and the majority of Uzu's shinobi, Uzumaki or not, were able to sense them through the thick fog regardless. Reaching, he pulled his katana free from the sheathe on his back. Sakura, on his left, readied a kunai in each hand. To his right, Sasuke held a shuriken at his side. 

"What is this sensei?" Sakura kept her voice steady, "Why does the mist keep getting thicker?"

"The silent killing technique." Kakashi pulled up his headband to reveal a red eye with three black tomoe in it, "You die before you even realize what has happened."

Naruto raised an eyebrow, the kekkei genkai of Indra's decendants? Giving Kakashi a quick glance, he swore he'd weasel that story out of the man eventually.

On the outside, the blond merely grinned sardonically, "Fitting that it's Kiri's specialty, the village of cowards that they are."

Sasuke, meanwhile, looked at the man's eye in confusion and tentative outrage. The dōjutsu of his clan? How in the ever loving hell...? Gripping his shuriken tighter, feeling the killing intent pressing down on him like a ton of bricks, he figured this conversation could wait until after they survived this.

Kakashi looked behind him in exasperation, "Watch over the client. Please."

A figure charged out of the mist, leaping towards Kakashi at startling speed. Their sensei dodged whatever blow the missing-nin might have landed and sliced him clean in half, the body leaking water instead of blood. Naruto narrowed his eyes, seeing a shadow approch their sensei from behind. Snarling, he watched the missing-nin cut clean through Kakashi, only to reveal another water clone in his place. Naruto's blood boiled, seeing the man stalk around in the mist like some children's villian from a bed time story, too frightened to face anyone in broad daylight. That was the only thing Kiri did right, after all. Needlessly fear, and senselessly kill. Feeling his chakra pooling in his chest, Naruto released the one thing his clan was best known for, and feared for.

It was time the nin understood just who he was up against.

White chakra burst out of his upper chest like a beacon, shooting towards Zabuza at top speed. The chains barely grasped Zabuza's arm, before the man shot the blond a wide eyes, stumped look and pushed himself just out of reach. Naruto smirked, narrowing his eyes. If this guy thought retreating into the mist like a coward would help him, he had another thing coming.

Sensing exactly where he was, the chains lashed out again, this time directly into the thick of the mist. He followed the poisonous, hateful emotions that acted like a huge flashing sign an directed his attack there. The chains, pure white and long, struck the man and Naruto felt the results immediantly. The chakra drained from it's target, the chains acting like a siphoning pump that drained it's prey of energy. The mist thinned, and Naruto could see his chains get sliced off by the zanbato Zabuza carried. Retracting them back into his chest, he glanced over to see Kakashi giving him a look.

A 'we'll talk about this later' look.

Sighing, he allowed his chains to disappear completely and resigned himself to the fact that he'd never truly get revenger on Kiri, or Iwa for that matter. But kicking the hell out of their ninja whenever the opportunity presented itself was good enough for him. Zabuza charged out of the mist, zanbato lifted like a cleaver, and looked at Kakashi with a fierce glare.

"What the fuck is Konoha doing?" He snarled, "Is that a fucking Uzumaki? Where the fuck did you get an Uzumaki? Aren't they all dead?"

"Oh no." Sakura sighed.

Sasuke only sneered, "Clearly not."

"Do you want to find out?" Naruto pulled several exploading tags and slipped them onto some ninja wire, holding it behind his back and readying his katana.

Tazuna, meanwhile, was feeling quite good about this whole situation.

"My fight is with you, Hatake!" The missing nin roared, leaping towards Kakashi head on, "Keep them out of this!"

"What happened to killing us all?" Naruto blinked innocently, "Is the big bad Kiri coward afraid of a few genin?"

Sasuke snorted, and Sakura sighed.

Zabuza charged Kakashi, swinging at him, only for their sensei to duck and hold a kunai to Zabuza's throat. The man only chuckled as Kakashi cut his throat, revealing another clone. The real Zabuza, Naruto could tell, appeared behind the Konoha shinobi and kicked him hard in the chest, digging his zanbato into the ground for good leverage. Their sensei went flying through the air as Zabuza pulled his blade free, spinning it easily to dislodge the durt. Sakura gasped, seeing their sensei come out of the water as Zabuza landed on the surface of the lake, holding his arm out.

"Suirō no Jutsu (Water Prison Technique)!" The man chuckled, a swirling ball of water encasing their sensei, "Escaping through the water? Bad mistake. I'll finish you off soon, but first you get to see your comrades die."

He made three water clones, all of them running to where the genin stood their ground in front of Tazuna. The mist grew thicker once more, and the clone at the head of the trio sneered at them all, "You think that headband makes you a ninja, eh?"

The second clone pointed the zanbato at the three of them, "When you've hovered between life and death so many times it doesn't faze you...then you might be called a ninja."

Naruto sheathed his katana, squeezing Sakura's wrist to stop her shaking.

The third clone joined the rest in a line, "To call puny little upstarts like you ninja? Pathetic."

They disappeared, and Naruto released his hold on Sakura told form a hand seal. He felt the clones in the mist, and only one was coming at them. He could hear Kakashi screaming at them, probably to run, but nothing could be heard over the sound of Zabuza's laughter echoing in the mist. The clone was coming directly for him, and he pushed Sakura back toward Tazuna and readied himself for the attack.

"Ugh!" Sasuke went flying backwards, knocked into the dirt.

"Sasuke-kun!" Sakura shrieked, pushing Tazuna back farther from the clones as she lifted a kunai.

Naruto snarled, leaping inbetween the clone and the Uchiha. Using his chakra, he let it bleed out into the mist around them and compacted it. Zabuza's clone raised it's zanbato, ready to cleave him in half, only to be stopped by a thick wall of water. Naruto pushed the chakra apart with his hands, the crushed them together. The water formed spikes around Zabuza before stabbing straight through him, the clone dispersing as it was made into a pin cushion. Allowing the water to fall, Naruto looked at the other two clones now sprinting towards him. Pulling Sasuke up by the arm, he drew his katana once more and dragged his teammate back towards Sakura.

"Stay here!" He shouted, before tearing towards the two clones. As long as Sakura and Sasuke were out of the way, he wouldn't have to worry about backlash hurting them.

Forming a handseal and nicking himself on the top of his arm just enough to draw blood, he sent a blood clone forward as he jumped back long enough to release one of the seals on his arm. The clone was flimsy, and rushed, and he'd done better blood clones before, but it'd do to hold off the Zabuza clones long enough for him to prepare. He was a Fūinjutsu Master, after all. That's what he was best at.

Sakura couldn't breathe, watching Naruto duel the two clones. He looked like he was getting sluggish, tired, and she knew he couldn't keep this up. Looking over, she saw Sasuke staring at the fight blankly and grabbed his arm, shaking him.

"Sasuke, Naruto is going to die if we don't help him!" The Uchiha said nothing, and she felt like crying, "Sasuke! Can you even hear me?"

Crying wouldn't get her anywhere though, and she looked up just in time to see Naruto get stabbed through the middle. In the mist she could see nothing but the blood seeping out of his middle, see nothing but him collapse in a heap on the ground. She heard Sasuke scream at the same time she did, and all she knew was that she had medical supplies in he bag. She had to get to him, if she didn't get to him he would die. Running forward at the same time Sasuke did, she felt something spur her on. It soothed the ache in her bones, and pushed her to go. Go, go, go. She had to go.

"Naruto!" She shrieked as she approached, seeing the two clones of Zabuza turn towards her and Sasuke, "You, you get away from him!"

It was like an explosion. She heard Sasuke snarl at the same time she screamed, and the ground began to rumble. Large, slithering, vine like forms erupted out of the dampened earth as Sakura fell beside Naruto's corpse. She allowed tears to fall, jerking her bag off her shoulder as she frantically searched for bandages. The forms erupting from the ground charged towards the Zabuza clones, gripping them like a vice and pulling them apart. The mist dissipated, leaving the scene in front of them clear. Sakura heard Sasuke's gasp and looked up, right as the Naruto on the ground before her vanished.

"Um..." Naruto stood before them, hands halted inbetween seals, "Guys...?"

Sakura's lips trembled before she leaped up to run and smacked him on the arm, "You idiot! We thought you died!"

"Guys?" Naruto was looking at the scene in front of him with wide eyes, "What is...? I don't...understand?"

Sakura turned around and her eyes widened. The ground had been totally ripped apart, and what she had thought were vines in passing glance were actually huge wooden tendrils. Gasping slightly, she turned to look at Sasuke who was equally wide eyed. Wide, red eyed. As is, his eyes were red with one black tomoe spinning in them frantically. Looking between the wooden forms that were frozen, erupted from the ground like a deadly jungle gym, and at Sasuke, who had somehow unlocked the sharingan...she found herself feeling somewhat sick.

"Okay..." Naruto looked between the two of them, "I'm just...okay...well...let's go...get Kaka-sensei?"

Sakura nodded numbly, and Sasuke only grunted.

The three ran over to where both Kakashi and Zabuza were watching them with wide eyes, Naruto used the lightning chakra he had unlocked before and breezed through hand seals. 

"Raiton: Sanda (Lightning Release: Thunderstorm)!" 

Zabuza released the water prison to jump up from the water just as the sparks flew across the top of it, only to get dragged down and stabbed in the chest by Kakashi, who had leaped into the air as soon as he was released. Drooping the now profusely bleeding Zabuza onto the ground beside the lake, the sensei turned to look at his students with a tight expression.

"I..." He shook his head, before gesturing between all of them, "I'm not sure if I'm proud or...vaguely terrified."

"Sensei?" Sakura pressed her hands together to stop the shaking, "What...what was all that?"

"Sakura-chan..." Kakashi sighed, "You know what Konoha needs to do? Background check the civillian families. That's what."

"Sensei?" She asked, drawing her brows together.

"Just...hold on a moment."

A very frazzeled Kakashi turned and spun a kunai in his hand, reaching down to finish the job. A nin with Kiri's symbol imprinted on a white mask with a swirl of red towards the bottom stepped out of the woods, the mist encircling him. They approached the group silently, the genin tense behind Kakashi until he waved them down. The Kirigakure hunter-nin, Naruto realized, stopped before the group and held a long peice of chain in their hands and had several scrolls tied to their side.

"Konoha-san." They bowed slightly, "I have come to collect Zabuza Momochi, missing ninja, registered 001783. Thank you for you assistance in stopping him, we've been tracking him for some distance. My fellow hunter-nin and I will attach a supression seal and take him back to Kiri for execution."

Kakashi hesitated for a moment before waving his assent. Naruto watched the ninja before him skeptically. Wouldn't they just kill him on the spot? Glancing at Sakura and Sasuke, he decided it would be wise to keep his mouth shut. Sakura looked ready to fall down, and Sasuke looked exhausted as well. Their sensei wasn't doing too hot either, and on top of all of that they still had their client to worry about. Sighing quietly, he watched the ninja carry their opponent away before Kakashi turned around.

"Come on, Team 7." Kakashi waved them forward, "Let's get going."


"I'll explain later, Sakura."

Naruto looked back at the destruction and couldn't help but feel it could've all been avoided if Kakashi-sensei would've just let him take care of it. Underdeveloped genin chakra coils or not, he was an Uzumaki. A Kage. He might've suffered chakra exhaustion later, but in one or two jutsu Zabuza would've been down. Of course, that would raise suspicion and all but...he sighed, holding on to Sakura's arm as she shook like a leaf in the wind. He'd figure it all out later, when he didn't have a team to worry about.

Chapter Text

Sakura sat next to Sasuke and Naruto, the pinkette snugly in the middle on the small couch in the room the ninja were given to stay in. Kakashi was in a lone chair across from them, only a table seperating the team. The room itself was quite small, then again so was the house. The girl tapped her foot, a nervous tic, as she watched their sensei collect what to say. Tazuna had only just brought them to his home, his daughter Tsunami giving them a room right away with a sweet smile and all of her appreciation. Now the ninja sat, still drenched to the bone with sweat, lake water, and blood. She knew their sensei was concerned, could see it in the lines of his face, and she wondered what her actions could possibly mean. She wasn't dumb by any means, graduating top kunoichi over even the clan kids and passing all her courses with flying colors. The only ninja in history to have the ability to create and control wood was the Shodai, Hashirama Senju.

It'd didn't take a genius to figure out she was not, in fact, Hashirama Senju. Hell, she wasn't even a Senju.

"Sharingan, Mokuton, Chakra Chains." Kakashi pointed at each of them respectively as he listed off the abilities, "Is there anything else I am missing that wasn't in your damn files?"

Sakura felt like squirming, "Sensei, it's not possible-!"

"I know that, Sakura." He turned his eyes on her, "How else do you explain what happened, though?"

Hanging her head slightly, she didn't respond.

Naruto pursed his lips before smiling widely, grabbing her shoulder, "C'mon, Sakura-chan! This isn't a bad thing! It's amazing, actually! No one thought Mokuton would ever appear again, and the Shodai's children didn't have it, or his grandchildren! It's actually a miracle, when you think about it, and it's bound to help you become a kickass frontline medic. You know how talented Hashirama Senju was at healing? Possibly even more than Tsunade of the Sannin. Just one more step to Team 7 being the epitome of power and teamwork."

She looked up slightly, a small smile curving her lips. Another much colder hand touched her other shoulder. She jerked slightly at the unexpected touch, turning to see Sasuke smirking at her.

"Now you'll be even more capable when we find and defeat Itachi." Sasuke's smug grin only grew, "And when Naruto becomes Hokage, we can be his body guards. Think ANBU, but better."

Sakura's smile tripled in size at Sasuke's remark, Naruto handed out comforting compliments like candy but Sasuke...he must really mean it. Grabbing both the boys by the neck, she pulled the two of them in for a hug, "Team 7, forever!"

Naruto laughed, a lighter look in his eye than the team had ever seen before, "Yes, forever."

Sasuke grunted, "I guess."

Bringing her hand down to pinch him on the arm, Sakura glared, "C'mon, Sasuke-kun!"

She recieved a deep sigh in response, "Forever."

Kakashi just watched the events unfold with something like nostalgia, pain, and just maybe hope in his eyes. He couldn't help but wonder what would've happened if his own team had been this dedicated to teamwork, had cared about each other like Obito his best friend had cared. Would they have been this close? Would things have ended differently? He didn't know, but he watched the three chatter on like the children they were, dog piled together on the couch, and he was actually glad he passed this genin team.

Only this one, though. If he had to deal with the other messes of this new generation like the 2nd generation Ino–Shika–Chō trio, he would've jumped off the Hokage Monument. Yeah, Asuma can deal with that shit show, the bastard.

(The wind blew across his hair, carrying with it a salty breeze. Amahiko walked the brightly tiled path of the Uzumaki clan compound, the murials on the walls making friendly company as he thought. A portrait of Honoka Uzumaki and Isora Ōtsutsuki looked down at him with benevolent smiles, the common ancestors of the main branch of the Uzumaki garbed in traditional clothes of thousands of years ago. Ashina Uzumaki, the shodai, looked out at the gardens proudly and his own uncle, Tenma, had a katana strapped to his back and a brave expression on his face. The murials were the pride of the compund, and those three were the biggest there. Sitting by his mother's koi pond, Amahiko looked down at the fish with envy.

If only he could laze about the water all day, no cares at all and no responsibilities.

Fidgiting, he reached to touch the water with a single hand. The koi came to tickle the tips of his fingers, making him smile. Reaching to the bottom of the pond, he plucked out the tip of an old ink brush and tossed it away. He was avoiding the situation, and he knew it. Just like he could feel the koi kissing his fingers, he could feel the searing heat covering his mouth. Smothering him, burning him to ash...

If Amahiko was to die, he wanted it to be in the rain. He wanted to feel the drops of his element splashing on his skin as he left this world.

Maybe that was too much to ask, though.

He stood, leaving the kissing koi behind and shaking their lips off his fingertips, wishing he could do the same to the ones that had captured his own.)

He woke to chirping birds and Sakura and Sasuke's hushed voices beside him. Cracking open an eye, he groaned slightly as he sat up from the stiff floor. They'd all shared the same small room, Kakashi on the couch and the three genin spreading blankets on the floor. The blankets were still on the floor, much messier than before they had drifted off to slumber. He saw the couch was empty, too. Kakashi was already awake, then.

"Naruto!" Sakura smiled, "Sasuke and I were just about to get you up! Tsunami-san made breakfast for us, then Kaka-sensei said he wanted to train some this morning and afternoon!"

"Joy." He griped as he stood, hearing a phantom pop as his bones readjusted themselves, "I love blowing us all up with exploading tags."

"Justu training!" The pinkette chirped as she grabbed him and Sasuke by the arm, dragging them out of the room and into the kitchen, "No exploading tags."

Kakashi looked at them dryly as they entered, "Naruto has enough experience with exploading tags."

A dark blue haired woman with warm brown eyes looked at them and smiled, "Father, are these the younger ninja you spoke of?"

"Yup!" Tazuna puffed out his chest slightly, "I retrieved only the best for our home!"

"Or you got lucky with three decent genin and a jonin." Sasuke deadpanned, "Really, if you got a different genin team everyone would've died."

"Maa, that's an exageration." The jonin looked at the morose expressions of his students, "Well, perhaps not, but luckily we're the only team to annoy Hokage-sama into a C-rank so soon."

"Well, those three are little monsters." Tazuna nodded at them gruffly, "The pink one can shoot stuff out of the ground, and the blond one is good with a sword. The broody one can use those ninja knives real well, too."

Sasuke twitched slightly, opening his mouth and then closing it not a second after. Naruto looked quite proud of him.

"Can I get names for these monsters?" Tsunami giggled slightly, raising an eyebrow.

"Haruno Sakura!" The pinkette grinned widely, adjusting the headband over her forehead.

"Uchiha Sasuke." He nodded slightly towards Tazuna and Tsunami, before looking back to his plate.

"Uzumaki Naruto!"

The name elicted a slight wide eyed gaze from Tsunami, which Naruto ignored. He already had one dream too many last night, no need to dredge up anymore past to haunt his every waking and sleeping moment.

"It doesn't even matter." All eyes turned to the small boy who sat beside his mother, no older than eight, and wore a bright blue and white striped hat, "They're all gonna die anyways."

Sakura's eyebrow twitched, "Heh. Speak for yourself, please."

"Inari." Tsunami looked at him with a wide eyed glare, "These shinobi brought granddad home safely. They beat Gato's assassin."

"So what?" The young boy had tears leaking from his eyes as he pushed away from the table, "Gato has an army! When he faces you again he'll beat you all down and destroy you! The strong always win and the weak always lose, that's just how it is!"

Naruto watched the kid with a critical eye, "I don't know what you're refrencing, kid, but we're shinobi. Our sensei is a jonin, and my teammates and I aren't exactly pushovers."

"You all say those confident things, like everything will turn out the way you want it. Just be quiet, yeah?" Inari turned his head away from the genin, "None of you even know this country, all you're doing is butting in! You look so happy, laughing and smiling! None of you know what it's like to suffer or be treated like dirt."

The room was silent, except for Tsunami's slight gasp. Sakura turned her head away, closing her eyes and trying not to look at her teammate's expressions. Naruto pursed his lips, staring Inari down so intensly everyone was sure he was about to combust. And Sasuke...Sasuke only continued staring at his plate, scoffing internally. Yes, because he knew nothing of true suffering and pain. Just like how pigs could fly nowadays.

"Listen. You're a kid who still has living family and a warm, comfortable home with food on the table nightly." The Uzumaki began, "I grew up on the streets from the age of five after getting kicked out of an orphanage, and only got an apartment on my own at eight. I've been an orphan since birth, and even with my parent's death I have no family. They were all completely slaughtered before I was even born. Some people's families are killed after they're born, and they witness all of it. Some are betrayed by those they care the most about. Some have been torn down constantly since childhood, picked on for something they couldn't change if they wanted to."

Sasuke and Sakura both looked up at him slightly before glancing away. They knew he was talking about them and himself, and even that much truth hurt. This was the hand dealt to them, though, and whatever happened from then on out they had each other. Sakura grabbed Sasuke's hand under the table, squeezing his wrist much like Naruto had done for her only yesterday. She may not know true pain or suffering, the closest she's come to it was when she though they had lost Naruto to Zabuza. Before that she had only been made fun of by Ino, and she had allowed the blonde girl to make her feel bad. She knew she couldn't compare to Sasuke and Naruto, but she could be there for them. Help them, comfort them. She smiled when Sasuke squeezed her wrist back firmly.

"You're not the only one who's suffered. You won't be the last." Naruto frowned at the still crying boy, "You can be the one who decided what to do with your pain, though. Let it eat you away until you're nothing but misery or hatred, or do something useful. It's your decision."

The Uzumaki stood and turned on his heel, going out the front door silently. Sakura stood, rushing after him with worry in her eyes, Sasuke not too far behind. Kakashi sighed, setting his utensils down and bowing slightly toward Tsunami in thanks before following his students to the front lawn of Tazuna's house. They stood in a huddle formation, Sakura whispering ferociously at the two boys. He saw Sasuke's face, brows knitted together tightly, and was suddenly greatful for Naruto and Sakura. The last Uchiha had some pretty severe mental issues, and if his teammates weren't as supportive they happen to be...

Kakashi shuddered to think about it because then he'd have to be the kid's comforting ear. Kami knows Kakashi had absolutely zero experience dealing with any sort of problem the healthy way, so this is probably for the best.

"Sensei." Naruto glanced up at him as he approached, raising an eyebrow, "I won't apologize. I meant what I said."

Sakura and Sasuke stood firm beside him, and Kakashi had the feeling they'd all kill, lie, or die for each other. A good thing, but also a dangerous thing. They couldn't be irrational when it came to protecting teammates in battle, but he'd get to that later. The man shook his head and gave the blond an eye smile, "No, Naruto-chan, I won't make you apologize."

The boy looked startled at the nickname, "Do not call me that!"

"Aww, is Naruto-chan embarassed?" Kakashi looked at Sasuke, who was laughing to the side, "And don't you make fun, Sasuke-chan! You're all my cute little genin monsters."

Sakura sighed, hanging her head, "We really got the weird sensei, huh?"

Kakashi just kept on smiling, "You'd all be dead by now if I wasn't your sensei."

The pinkette just looked resigned, "We know, Kaka-sensei."

"Good." The jonin motioned them further away from the house, over near an area filled with trees and a pond, "Now, we're going to do some training, my little monsters."

"Um, sensei?" Naruto raised an eyebrow, "We've been training this whole time."

"I've been training you like genin this whole time." Kakashi corrected, rocking back on his heels slightly, "That's over, because now I know you can do more and because you're all going to have a bounty the size of Fire Country on your heads soon."

Sakura whitened slightly, "Ah, sensei? Why?"

"The last Uchiha, the last Uzumaki, the last Mokuton user." He pointed at the each in turn, much like he did yesterday, "To be blunt, you're all potential powerhouses. Everyone outside of Konoha will want your heads on platters, and perhaps some within Konoha."

Naruto thought of Danzō and those strange ANBU like assassins, and anger built up in his chest. Like hell he'd allow anyone get their paws on either of his teammates.

"Inside Konoha?" Sakura's eyes widened, "But, sensei, why would could...?"

"Sasuke is protected by his family name, his main fear is outside jobs." Kakashi leveled a gaze at Sakura and Naruto, "You two have no clan ties, no prestige. It would be an easy political move to get you under their thumb, or take you out completely."

"I won't let them." Sasuke sneered slightly, "I'll kill anyone who touches them."

"I can assure you both that you have my full protection." Kakashi's eye was cold and his voice was dangerous, "If anyone would like to move against my students, they will have to do so through me. That includes you, Sasuke. If anyone attempts to harm any of you, they will die. Not to say you won't be able to take care of it yourself by then, but I like to think I'm protecting my little monsters."

Sakura's chest felt warm, and tears came to shine in her eyes, "Thank you, Kaka-sensei!"

"Whoa!" Naruto looked at where Sakura's feet rested, pointing, "Look at that!"

A bright patch of purple violets has sprouted around where she stood, brilliant in color and shape. Sakura looked down and her eyes widened, taking a step backwards over the flowers before squating down to touch one of the delicate blooms. The violet seems to perk as soon as she touched it, standing a little straighter. Pulling her hand back, she looked at them in wonder for another beat before standing up. Kakashi watched the three, secretly smiling. Sakura had a natural born Mokuton, different from Tenzō's in the way that nature naturally reacted to her whims and feelings. Now that she unlocked her bloodline she would be even more powerful. They all would.

"Despite whatever assassinations or battles that may happen, I believe you three will remain a strong team. I was unsure how well Team 7 would adapt at first, but you all have made me proud so far." 

He saw the fire in their eyes, how they perked up and stood a bit straighter. He smirked to himself silently, allowing them to bask in the moment. "However, your genin training is over effective today." He could see the confusion on their faces and felt almost giddy, "No more training wheels. From here on out, welcome to hell."

Even Sasuke paled slightly at that, and Kakashi only smiled wider, "Now, I want ten laps around town so we can start building up stanima."

The three only stood there looking at him with mind blown expressions, and Kakashi raised an eyebrow, "If you'd like incentive, I can summon my ninken to chase you and get you going?"

They shot off like rockets, soon nothing more than specs in the distance.

Kakashi smiled to himself. It was like training the newbie ANBU again.

Sasuke was coated in sweat by the time their tenth lap around the market town near Tazuna's house. They ended somewhere in the middle of of the small village, Sakura near collapsing and Naruto looking winded. Sighing, the Uchiha began his trudge back to the clearing where Kakashi would be waiting for them to give them some other sort of torture. Hopefully ninjutsu related torture, but he wasn't getting his hopes up. Whenever that happened they were always crushed, so he preffered to be a pessimistic optimist. Always hoping for the best, but never really expecting it. It worked, seeing as he was usually right and if not it was a happy surprise. Team 7 had been one of those rare happy surprises, and as he glanced over at Naruto and Sakura...he smirked to himself.

Once they were all whipped into shape, Itachi wouldn't stand a chance in hell.

Sakura collapsed to the ground and Sasuke sighed internally. Okay, so it'd be awhile before they were ready but...the fact of the matter remained. Naruto dropped right after her, not really looking exhausted, but just sort of lazy. Sasuke leaned on a tree and cursed the Uzumaki's stanima before he saw their sensei approaching them, book in hand. Kakashi looked at them all crtically before sighing and and putting his book in the pouch of his flak jacket. Pulling out another book, small and brown, their sensei pulled out a pen as well. He scribbled something down, and Sasuke realized they were probably progress reports. Blinking, he glanced away in shock. He hadn't realized Kakashi cared that much.

"I just got this today." Their sensei's voice was dry, and he spoke like he'd read Sasuke's mind, "Honestly, before this mission, I didn't really think progress reports were necessary because you were all mostly...subpar."

"Subpar?" Naruto shot up from the ground, "Subpar? Have you seen the other genin in our class?"

"I assure you, they are much worse than subpar." Kakashi gave them an eyesmile, "At this point, I'd say you're all adequate by genin standards, if only because of your bloodlines or unholy in the eyes of Kami stanima."

Naruto's eyebrow twitched slightly, and for a moment they all swore up and down the boy's eyes were a dark gray, like an ocean storm.

"I'll have you know I'm at least a Level Six Fūinjutsu Master, Level Seven once I can make the kanji neater and align with mechinations properly to form the right complex and cross-link them with the symbols-!"

Kakashi raised a hand as his one visible eye widened, "Enough, please. Have this conversation with someone who actually knows what you're talking about."

Naruto flopped back to the ground with a huff, "Uncultured swine."

Sakura gave him a wide eyed glance and Sasuke had to actually put a hand over his mouth to stifle the snickering induced by the offended look on Kakashi's face.

"Be careful, Naruto." Sakura cracked a smile, "You're starting to sound like a Hyūga."

Naruto looked at her blankly, "I've never heard a worse thing come out of your mouth."

"I have to disagree." Sasuke cringed, "In the academy-"

The grass withered around Sakura as her face turned red and she glared fiercely, "Shut. The. Hell. Up."

The jonin sighed once more, long suffering, before scribbling something else down. He then looked back at his team, "All of you shut up. We're going to start specializations. It's best to begin early, and you all have the basics down and know your nature affinities. Obviously, you all have required training because of your kekkei genkai, but if you have any interests now would be the time to inform me. As your sensei I can submit an apprenticeship appeal to the Hokage for further instruction, even with your current status as genin."

"Iryō Ninjutsu!" Sakura blurted out immediantly, "Could you really get me an apprenticeship, Kaka-sensei?"

"Sakura-chan...hmm." Kakashi scratched his cheek, "Well, I assume you're going to be training with a shinobi in Konoha who has a capability...similar to yours. If you think you can combine that training, which will be quite extensive, with medical training, which is also very time consuming, and team training on top of it all..."

"I can." Sakura nodded firmly.

"You know, medics aren't frontline fighters. Are you okay being in the background of your team?"

The girl's smile was feral, "We'll see about that, sensei."

Kakashi blinked, a feeling of forboding washing over him like a waterfall. Was this the second coming of Hashirama Senju? Or worse...Tsunade of the Sannin? Looking at the pinkette critically, he found himself thinking against it. He had the feeling Sakura Haruno was...well...not as sane, to begin with. After all, she was best friends with a Jinchūriki orphan and the boy who saw his entire clan slaughtered. Secondly, she had quite an interesting outlook to being a kunoichi, one that many female ninja did not share. She wanted to be on the front lines, not bothering with the behind the scenes like most. She was right the with Naruto and Sasuke, and she was determined to stay there. He'd only ever truly known three kunoichi personally who had the desire and drive to want to and actually be able to keep up with every other male shinobi in the village.

Kushina Uzumaki. Tsunade Senju. Rin Nohara.

Thirdly, she was civillian raised. Senju ancestry or not, her parents were not shinobi and she was a blank slate. A kunoichi not set in her ways, able to mold into something powerful and innovative. Different. Kakashi would need to protect her, from both of the councils and especially Danzō. The old warhawk had already tried many a times to get his hands on Tenzō, and Kakashi was truly a hair's breadth away to removing the old geezer from the eqution all together. 

Smiling slightly underneth his mask, he nodded towards her, "Okay then. I'll put in a formal request."

Sakura grinned widely, "Finally! Maybe now I can learn more than just bringing a damn fish back to life..."

"What?" Kakashi asked, "When the hell-?"

"The scrolls you gave me." She chirped happily, "Also, I go to the hospital in my free time. The nurses there are happy to give medical tips to aspiring ninja when you ask nice enough, shinobi or civilian. I can also patch up a wound pretty well, albeit the traditional way."

"How long have you been doing this?" Kakashi thought back to the past few months, "And how long did it take you to heal the fish?"

"Well, I've been going to the hospital for about three months." Sakura tilted head, trying to remember, "And I think after I read the last scroll you gave me it took about two weeks to consistantly bring fish back from asphyxiation."

"Two...weeks?" Kakashi closed his eyes for a moment before deciding, in all actuality, he really wasn't surprised. 

"Okay, okay." The jonin shook his head, "Nevermind. Medical training, mokuton training, and team training where you'll probably be focusing on genjutsu. It'd be a shame to waste your chakra control, and I think you could have some real talent in teh field if you nuture it. Moving on. Sasuke-chan, you'll be training with me to utilize the Sharingan, but are there any specializations you'd prefer?"

"Kenjutsu." Sasuke looked off to the side for a moment, "I'd like to learn all the genjutsu abilities possible. Both with the Sharingan and without. I refuse to allow it to become a crutch, I won't become known for only my bloodline."

Kakashi was, in all honesty, quite shocked. Sasuke had grown up hearing the praises of the Sharingan, first from his clan then the entire village. Itachi, though, had been known for his skill as one of the best Sharingan users Konoha had ever produced. Kakashi, once more, found himself grinning a bit. He was so proud of his baby genin, wanting to expand and become even better little monsters. Although, Sasuke probably only wanted this because of the chip he had on his shoulder about Itachi, but nevertheless it garnered the results Kakashi wanted, so he was okay with it. He'd have to talk to Yūgao and Hayate, they were better with kenjutsu and swords in general. Kakashi could cover the rest.

"Okay, then. I know some specialized nin that are probably looking for an apprentice. Now...Naruto."

The blond looked offended, "Why do you always sound like you're walking to your death when you say my name?"

"Because I never truly know what's going to come out of your mouth." Kakashi deadpanned, "Now, Naruto-chan, specializations?"

"Stop calling me that." The Uzumaki rolled his eyes, "Fūinjutsu, obviously, if you know of any living grand masters that could help me out."

Jiraiya of the Sannin, though if he counted as a grand master or whatever the brat was spouting off about Kakashi had no damn idea.

"Also, I'm specializing in kenjutsu." Naruto wrinkled his eyebrows momentairly, "I already have my own style and form going, though, so an apprenticeship would only slow me down. If you know anyone who specializes in water jutsu that'd be cool, and wind jutsu for that matter. I don't think anyone could really help me with the chakra chains, though. It's an Uzumaki bloodline, and...well...yeah. "

"So...sealing and your affinities?" Kakashi sounded doubtful, "That's it? That's all you need help with?"

A tic formed on Naruto's forehead, "Oi, I'm doing my own thing with kenjutsu! Some help with Fūinjutsu would be appreciated, but if I don't have my hands on any Uzumaki techniques it doesn't mean anything anyways, dattebayo!"

"Konoha has Uzumaki sealing techniques, Naruto." Kakashi shook his head, "All we have to do is speak with Hokaga-sama and give you access."

"I can tell you those aren't the best my clan has to offer." Naruto frowned, "The really useful techniques would be kept in the main family vault. Which is on Uzu, lost techniques disappeared forever, never to be used again when they're just sitting there..."

Kakashi raised an eyebrow.

"If only Konoha had a legitimate Uzumaki to retrieve these powerful techniques for the village." Naruto sighed dramatically.

Sakura nodded, rubbing his shoulder, "If only."

Kakashi's eyebrow twitched.

"Wait, Naruto!" Sasuke snapped his finger like he had a grand idea, "Aren't you an Uzumaki?"

Naruto gasped, his hand grabbing his chest, "Well, gee, Sasuke, I think you're right! Naruto Uzumaki, that is my name!"

"I hate you all." Kakashi sighed, "Fine. On the way back, we'll go. A few hours won't make a difference, I've already broken probably every jonin sensei rule there is in the handbook."

"There's a handbook?" Sasuke scoffed.

Their sensei shrugged, "There is. I didn't read it."

"Don't tell Iruka-sensei that." Sakura shook her head, "He'd be furious."

The Hatake paled slightly, "Let's keep this to ourselves, team. Besides, not like I thought you'd pass anyways."

"Wow, thanks, Kaka-sensei." Sakura's eye twitched, "Glad you had so much faith."

"Well, to be honest..." The jonin began, "All I had to work with was the deadlast, a brooding avenger, and the biggest fangirl since-"

"No!" Sasuke and Naruto both shouted at the same time.

Sakura glared harshly, the tree beside where she sat completely withered, all the leaves falling to the ground dead. The grass seemed to lose every drop of moisture, turning brown and crunchy around the area Team 7 sat. Kakashi watched the death of the flora with wide eyes, before looking towards the pinkette, who looked around seemingly sheepish. 

"Oh, come on, Sakura-chan!" Naruto groaned, "Can you fix it? Wave is so pretty, don't ruin it!"

A tic formed above her eyebrow, "I don't know if I can fix it! It just happens!"

Sasuke sighed, "Can we just not talk about the academy at all? I don't think anyone wants to remember it."

Kakashi sighed. This mission needed to be over soon, lest he lose his sanity and his three little monsters end up ultimately giving him even grayer hair. 

"Again, Sakura." Kakashi instructed from up on a tree branch, reading his book at the same time, "Your chakra reserves have increased exponentially, you have more than enough to make a bigger wave."

Sakura groaned as she went through the handsigns with dirt caked fingernails, "Doton: Tsuchi Nami no Jutsu (Earth Release: Earth Wave Technique)!"

She slammed he hands on the ground, cringing as her arms jolted from the pressue she forced on them. The ground rumbled, shaking slightly before producing a medium sized wave in the earth that hurtled towards the other side of the field. Sakura dropped to the ground in a huff, dust of the uprooted dirt floating around her at impact. Kakashi surveyed the girl; she looked fairly exhausted. Dirt smudged her cheeks and her clothes were covered in it, he hands were practically brown from the earthy residue. She had made a fine wave, though, and on her fourth try too. Tenzō would have plenty of fun training her, he imagined. She was coming along quite nicely, her only real issues being her stanima and chakra reserves.

He landed on the ground easily, smiling down at the exhausted girl, "Keep doing the water walking excersize in your free time. It'll help you keep building up your reserves, and to increase stanima at the same time try and do it running. It'll be a useful skill to have, too."

She nodded, pulling herself up, "Thanks, Kaka-sensei."

He reached out, ruffling her hair which had long since fallen out of it's bun, "Anything for one of my cute little monsters."

Rolling her eyes, she looked at him expectantly, "Anything else? Have any water style jutsu?"

Kakashi sighed slightly, he was slowly turning these kids into powerhouses, wasn't he?

"Of course I do, Sakura-chan." Kakashi shook his head in mock regret, "How could you doubt me?"

She glared slightly and groaned, "Kaka-sensei!"

"Maa, maa! Fine. Can't have any fun anymore." He gave her an eye smile, "Now, this technique is fairly simple. It's only a C-rank, unlike others, but it is very versatile. Now-"

Naruto wandered away from the scortch damage of Sasuke working on his fire jutsu, making his way through the trees alone. The foliage was denser in this part of Wave, more landlocked than the shore, but even still it had more than Uzu ever did. The island had been pure shoreline, all the way around not only Uzushio but the entire country of the Land of Whirlpools.. Trees aside from the native palms were far, few, and inbetween, but he still had fond memories of climbing the towering palms to escape Ichiro and Fuji when he was a child. They refused to go up after him most of the time, and they usually got yelled at by kaa-san for letting him go up too high. Smiling fondly, he froze when he felt someone behind him. A cold presence, ice cold chakra but he could tell they had no ill intent.

Turning slowly and ever ready to reach for his katana, he looked at the young man in front of him with a critical eye. He wore a pink, sleeveless kimono that just brushed his ankles with a plum colored border and decorated with swirls of the same shade. A simple, white obi was around his waist and tied in a bow in the back and he wore black sandals. Not exactly ninja attire, but Naruto knew when someone had training in the shinobi arts and when they didn't. The kid was very pale, paler than even Sasuke, and had long black hair and large, innocent brown eyes. Falsely innocent, he could tell, but the guy's acting was fairly decent. He might've actually fooled a real genin.

"Hello, shinobi-san." A small smile graced the other boy's lips, and Naruto thought he couldn't be any younger than himself and his teammates. 

"Hello, shinobi-san." Naruto returned, raising an eyebrow in challenge.

The other male seemed thrown off before laughing, a musical sound that filled the area with a lovely noise, "Perceptive, but no. I've had the bare basics of training, just enough to keep safe."

It was a boldfaced lie, but Naruto nodded his assent before gesturing to his headband which he had taken to tying around his waist, "Naruto Uzumaki, Konoha shinobi. Obviously."

"I'm Haku." He raised the basket in his hand slightly, "Are you familiar with island herbs? Would you like to help?"

"Sure." Naruto let a lopesided smile show, "I know my herbs pretty well."

The other boy listed off the plants he needed and Naruto raised and eyebrow, "Ginger, calendula, achiote, comfrey, and aloe? Those are healing herbs, is someone wounded?"

Haku blinked in surprise, "Well, Naruto-san, you are full of surprises. And no, nothing serious. A friend of mine hurt themselves chopping vegetables, you can imagine how a slice on the finger would be bothersome while trying to keep the house up."

Naruto glanced at his katana, "Yes, well, I've had my fair share of cuts."

The other smiled tightly, ignoring the blade and continuing to move around the clearing to gather herbs for his basket. Naruto watched him with a critical eye. Something about the way the boy moved was familiar, and his accent was far too close to one from the Land of Water for his tastes. The long black bangs, the silent way he walked across the ground, the innocent way he acted. He held no negative feelings towards Naruto, but that could change the moment the Uzumaki turned his back. Watching as the boy pucked up an herb, Naruto felt himself snort. Haku jumped before looking at the blond in a questioning manner, one brow raised. 

"That's mallow. It's a great option to battle scarring, especially for the face as it's gentle but potent, but it will do little to help an actual wound." He reached a bush by Haku in a few steps, "This is comfrey, I think it's what you're looking for."

The other boy blinked slowly, "Thank you, Naruto-san."

The Uzumaki gave him a skeptical look, "Even if you're lying to me, which frankly I'm sure you are, you mean me no ill intent at the moment. I have no desire for one of your loved ones to die from whatever wound they have, from the amount you're gathering I'm assuming it's no small finger cut."

Haku's shoulders slumped slightly, "You have a good heart, Naruto-san, and you are correct. I fear it is a more fatal wound, or will at least have fatal consequences...Naruto-san, do you have any precious people?"

The Uzumaki raised an eyebrow, "I've had many and have many, yes. Many of them are long dead and three are one this very island with me. I'm an Uzumaki, see. Most of our precious people are dead by now."

Haku twitched slightly, a small jerk of the body, but the guilt in his eyes made Naruto's mind go whirling. Why would the boy feel guilty?

"I'm very sorry for that, Naruto-san." He dropped his eyes, "Hold on to the ones you have now very closely and dearly. We are nothing without our precious people."

Unless the boy is-?

"Your chakra is very cold." Naruto tilted his head, trying to look as innocuous as possible, "My teammate's chakra is very calming beacause of her bloodline. Forgive me for asking, do you have one as well?"

This time it was a full body twitch, and Haku's eyes were wider than normal with pupils dialated with what the Uzumaki assumed was panic, "Ah, yes, I think so. It was an old family heritage, passed down generations, but it's mostly died out by now."

The boy was from Kiri, and clearly knew it's history. The long, black bangs and the silent and graceful way the boy walked reminded him of someone as well, and that's when Naruto realized. He wasn't a Kage in a revious life for nothing, and he knew the missing nin they had fought was not dead and this boy was the reason. 

Naruto looked at him consideringly, "I'm no fool, Haku. Tell Zabuza we'll be prepared to protect Tazuna-san when the time comes. I have no wish to fight you, but if I must to protect my team and my client and an innocent nation...I'll do what I have to."

Haku's eyes were wide, "You-?"

"Not all the rumors about Konoha are true. Believe me." The Uzumaki's smile was wry as he motioned towards another bushel of flora, "But some are, as well. Pick up some lavender. It can be applied topically and stimulates skin repair."

"Naruto-san, I'm sorry to say we will have to meet on the battlefield." Haku's eyes were genuinely sad, "I will protect my precious person with my life."

The blond's heart felt heavy, "I'm sorry Wave will have to see more bloodshed, but Gato must die. No more islands shall fall at Kiri's hands."

Haku's frowned slightly, "You hold a grudge against Kiri?"

"You don't?" Naruto laughed humorlessly, "Even after the bloodline purge? It was genocide, just like Whirlpool Country. Kiri is full of cowards who fear what they don't know, they fear people like you and I. Not just because of our bloodlines or our talents, but because we see past their bullshit. 'The Feared Bloody Mist' my ass, no one but their own people fear them. Because nothing there happens besides children and families being pointlessly killed, and I do hate to break it to you but Zabuza killed his entire class when he was graduating. That's Kiri's culture, the needless bloodshed, and it will be their legacy if no one steps up to change it."

"Zabuza saved me." The dark haired boy's voice was quiet, "He's not as bad as you think. We've all done things we regret, some more than others."

He thought of going for Yuudai's neck, but flinching last minute. He though of Yuudai's kiss, and his touch, and his everything. 

"You're right." The blond sighed, looking far too old for twelve, "The question is does he regret it? I have to go now, my teammates will be looking for me."

"Of course." Haku nodded slightly, grabbing handfuls of lavender, "Thank you for your advice on lavender, Naruto-san."

The blond waved a hand, "Wish you the best and all that."

As Haku turned to walk away, Naruto called out, "Oh, and Haku? If Gato dies, his entire fortune is up for grabs. I'm sure Konoha would be grateful for anyone's...assistance. And if they aren't, well, what Hokage-sama doesn't know won't hurt him."

The boy's back was still, before he nodded his head slightly and continued on his way. Naruto smiled, more a smirk than anything, and was quite determined to not fight the boy with doe brown eyes. 

Sasuke watched Naruto as he walked back through the clearing, stepping over the still flaming parts of grass. The Uzumaki had small purple fibers in his hair, and when the Uchiha looked closer he realized in was some kind of flower. Sasuke raised a silent eyebrow; had his teammate been rolling around on the ground? The blond smiled when he finally looked up the spot Sasuke, his hair toussled and flowers dancing in the yellow hues. Rolling his eyes, the Uchiha scoffed internally. Only Naruto.

"I guess you got the jutsu down?" Naruto looked at the scortched trees and landscape, "Sure looks like it at least."

"Yeah, I did." Sasuke grunted, pulling himself up from the ground, "What were you doing the whole time?"

"Eh, met some boy in the woods." Naruto shrugged, "Helped him pick some herbs for a sick friend. Life of a Konoha shinobi."

Sasuke had the feeling he was missing a big chunk of the story, but he didn't press, "It looks more like you had a tryst in the bushes."

Sasuke reach out and plucked a lavender flower from Naruto's hair, dangling it in front of the blond's face with an amused expression. Naruto only smiled easily, "No, of course not. I save my trysts in the bushes exclusively for you."

Winking, the blond walked back to where Sakura and Kakashi would be, leaving a sputtering Uchiha behind as he cackled all the way. 

"Naruto!" Sasuke snarled, "Usuratonkachi! Dobe, get back here!"

Grumbling, the Uchiha stormed off after the Uzumaki.

Chapter Text

Tazuna led Team 7 through the forest lined trails of Wave, guiding them towards his bridge building sight for the third day this week. Naruto had long since told his team about Zabuza, to which Kakashi bashed his head against Tsunami's table, breaking it into pieces. Kakashi had apologized profusely, but the woman had still limited him to three pancakes the next breakfast. Sasuke and Sakura had been surprised, but they had decided to request an up their training in response. No that it was a difficut task, though, convincing Kakashi. Their sensei was now overly fond of drilling them into the ground training whenever they weren't guarding Tazuna.

The building sight was just up ahead, but Kakashi held up a hand to halt the five of them. Sakura gripped a kunai tighter, and Naruto tensed up trying to sense any threats coming. Sasuke merely held position, seemingly unperturbed as he held his Fūma Shuriken loosely with one hand. Tazuna hudled closer to the ninja guarding him on all sides, the degrees dropping severely as mist conjured itself in the clearing before the building sight. Ahead of them a large shadow loomed, a smaller one right beside it. Naruto sighed, knowing this meant a fight up ahead.

"You three, guard Tazuna. I'll take care of this." Kakashi slipped his book into the pocket of his flak jacket.

"Kaka-sensei, no!" Sakura stepped towards him, "Zabuza is strong enough alone! With that fake hunter nin..."

"I already said I'd take care of it." He gave them a quick eye smile, pulling up his headband to reveal a spinning Sharingan once more, "Now guard Tazuna like I asked."

"Yes, sensei." Sakura nodded, stepping back into the triangle formation she and her teammates made around the bridge builder. 

"Haku." The missing nin's voice rumbled across the mist, "Take care of the brats and the target."

With a silent nod, Haku came at the genin of Team 7 right as Kakashi ran at Zabuza, seeing easily through the mist. Sasuke and Naruto stepped forward while Sakura pushed Tazuna back, out of the mist. Naruto made two water clones to guard their client as Sakura returned to stand beside her teammates right as Haku was upon them. A volly of senbon flew at them, deadly and sharp, but Naruto held up his hands. 

"Fūton: Reppūshō (Wind Release: Gale Palm)!" Naruto glared as Haku was forced to move fast to avoid his own weapons, "I didn't want to fight you."

"None of us want to fight, but we must protect those who are precious to us." Haku's voice was a near whisper, and Naruto was certain neither Sasuke or Sakura could hear him, "Now prepare."

"Naruto, get back!" Sasuke leapt forward, shoving his blond teammate back before attempting to retreat himself.

"I'm sorry." Haku leapt forward, grabbing Sasuke's arm before the boy could even blink, "Hijutsu: Sensatsu Suishō (Secret Technique: Thousand Flying Water Needles of Death)." Water materialized out of the mist, forming needles all around Sasuke and Haku in an instant. Leaping back, Haku jumped out of the way, sending the needles flying towards Sasuke at a high speed.

This is insane, Sasuke thought, I can't dodge these, even with the Sharingan.

"Mistake." Naruto cocked his head to the side, throwing out his hands. The needles froze right as they neared Sasuke, seeming to shake violently before veering off to the side and fusing to create a giant, rolling ball of water. Suspending it in the air, a tic grew near Naruto's brow as he held the water with one hand and formed hand seals with his other. 

"Uzuton: Saikuron (Whirlpool Release: Cyclone)." Naruto hissed, shoving both hands forward and twisting, melding his wind chakra in with the water, the ball turning into a spinning storm that ripped towards Haku, causing the other boy to dodge instinctively despite the ice users shock.

"I could see him move, but couldn't move fast enough." Sasuke growled, red eyes glaring before he turned to Naruto and his gaze softened only slightly, "Tch. Thanks for the save."

"Yeah, that was badass." Sakura bounded up towards them, scanning over the boys with a critical eyes, "You're both fine. Naruto what was that? Because I know we didn't learn that in the academy."

"Later." Naruto cut her off, eyes locked on where Haku was catiously approaching them again, "Right now, try not to kill him."

"Why?" Sasuke gave him a dark look, "He tried to kill me."

"Because he thinks it's his only choice." Naruto frowned, looking at the two of them again, "But, if it's between you guys or him, finish it."

Sakura nodded grimly, holding her kunai, "Got it."

"Hn. Fine." Sasuke gave the approaching enemy a dark look, "It'll be painful though."

Naruto laughed slightly, "That I'm sure of."

Haku sprinted towards them, but Sasuke was already making hand seals, "Katon: Hōsenka no Jutsu (Fire Release: Phoenix Sage Flower Technique)!"

Sakura went through the hand seals, barely stumbling, "Doton: Dosekiryū (Earth Release: Earth and Stone Dragon)!"

Naruto watched as Sasuke created smaller fire balls, sending them flying at Haku top speed, while Sakura forced a dragon made of mud and stone out of the ground to follow the fire. It wasn't as large as Naruto's water dragon, certainly, but it was big enough to do the job and do it well. Haku was forced to dodge once more, being put of the retreat again, and Naruto took the time to glance back where Kakashi and Zabuza were locked in a quite heated battle. Not exactly equal, Kakashi was superior in many ways, but Zabuza was crafty and a very dirty fighter. 

"Naruto! He's behind you!" Sasuke's shout brought him back from his concern for their sensei, making him spin to where Haku seperated him and his teammates. Sasuke readied another jutsu, but Haku had already finished his hand seals.

"Hijutsu: Makyō Hyōshō (Secret Technique: Demonic Mirroring Ice Crystals)."

Suddenly, the mist crystalized, wrapping itself around Naruto and Haku until the other boy had dissappeared and a dome of ice surrounded Naruto. Suddenly, Haku appeared in one of the ice mirrors, looking Naruto dead in the face. The blond couldn't see his face, but he liked to imagine those brown eyes were sad. 

"I'm sorry it had to come to this." Haku bowed his head slightly towards Naruto, "You fought valiantly, and I believe should your teammates have been able to nuture their power they might have grown to be powerful shinobi."

"You mean to kill me." Naruto said, "Kill them."

"I have to protect Zabuza-sama." The mask stared at him, unemotional as the voice behind it, "If that means seperating and killing you, then I will do what I must."

"You don't want to do this, though." Naruto shook his head, "I told you, we could kill Gato-!"

"Zabuza-sama does not believe Konoha will honor its word, and we are in dire need of the money." Haku interrupted him, shaking his head softly, "I'm sorry Naruto, I promise your death and theirs will be painless."

"The hell it will be." Naruto dodged the senbon, then he sesned Haku appearing in another mirror behind him and turned quickly to dodge the next sharp needle heading his way. He could feel the other boy's surprise.

"You're a sensor." Haku readied another needle, "You have many surprises."

"I have more." Naruto pressed his mouth in a firm line, "Uzuton: Chimei-tekina Sutōmu (Whirlpool Release: Deadly Storm)!"

Releasing lighning chakra from his seal, Naruto wrapped his body in a cacoon of chakra and allowed the water, wind, and lightning chakras to swirl together. Wrapping around him like his own personal lightning cloud, Naruto flared his chakra outwards, forcing the storm up like a miniature bomb. However, Haku's chakra signature remained in front of him, and the ice mirrors all around him remained intact.

"So this is the power of the Uzumaki." Haku seemed shocked, "Incredible."

"Not incredible enough! That didn't do shit!" Naruto snarled, "What the hell is this?"

"My crystal ice mirrors. No jutsu can defeat them." Haku said, before readying his weapon, "It would not do to make this any harder."

Fuming, Naruto grit his teeth. Dodging the senbon, he ripped open the top of his pouch to get one of his scrolls. Rolling it open, it revealed a series of intricate kanji and swirls, clearly Uzumaki fūinjutsu in the way they all looped around each other in a swirling, fluid motion. The ink formed patterns that seemed to ripple across the page like waves, and it was truly beautiful, but Naruto knew the truth behind it's beauty.

"No jutsu, huh?" Naruto smirked, turning around just in time to catch one of the senbon being thrown at him in his hand, "What about some seals? Uzumaki Shīru: Kōhai Hakai (Uzumaki Seal: Raging Destruction)!"

Chanelling a huge amount of chakra into the seal, Naruto tossed it to the side and dived to the other. The scroll sizzled like dynamite, bursting into a ball of fire so hot it burned white. Meeting the wall of the ice dome, there was a flash as the fire reacted and melted straight through the entire side of the dome. The remaining mirrors began to collapse, forcing Haku to dive out and giving Naruto the chance he needed. Running forwards and grabbing the fake hunter nin, he pushed Haku to the ground and held a kunai up to his jugular. The mask was knocked off on impact, leaving Naruto staring into a pair of wide, ashamed eyes. Swallowing, Naruto looked up to see Zabuza and Kakashi had been momentairly distracted by the exploasion of the dome collapsing.

"Zabuza." Naruto's voice was strong and loud enough to carry, "If you help us take down Gato, you can both leave here with half of his fortune. That's a hell of a lot more than your paycheck."

"You're lying, brat." Zabuza snarled, turning back and not taking his eyes off Kakashi, "You all die here, and then we can cash in and go."

"Really?" Sakura walked up to stand next to Naruto, motioning him off Haku with her head. She focused her energy, the swirling power inside stirring her stomach, and gently she forced wooden tendrils out of the ground to wrap Haku's wrists to the ground.

Kakashi glanced over at his students, sighing. He would never hear the end of it if he killed the two bastards, and right now his team was more important than a missing nin from Kiri. Not former Konoha shinobi, not his problem. Turning a sharp gaze back to the man, Kakashi allowed lightning to encase his hand, he stared Zabuza dead in the eye as the sound of birds chirping filled the silence.

"The way I see it, you can work with us and take the money, or I can push this through your chest and then do the same to your friend." Kakashi narrowed both eyes, "You're too weak to keep fightning me, but I can keep going for hours. What'll it be?"

There was no chance to answer before they heard a loud clapping, and Naruto gazed over to the bridge, unimpressed. There stood a short man in a black suit, black eye glasses concealing the fact that Naruto was pretty sure the guy was souless. 

"Gato." Zabuza barked, "The fuck are you here for? Those thugs better not be here to cut in on my pay-!"

"Because you got the job done so well." Gato's voice was haughty and dripping in disdain, "Zabuza, you won't be getting paid. In fact, it looks like the Konoha shinobi will take care of killing you for me."

Kakashi allowed the lightning to dispel from his hand, his disguised mouth quirking up into a smirk. Kami really did have their ways, huh? Zabuza gripped his zanbato, raising to point it at Gato, "You're dead, rat."

Naruto shot forward and cut the wood easily with a sharp kunai, realizing Haku probably could have escaped the whole time. The other boy looked at him in relief, and Naruto turned to bark orders at his clones.

"Take Tazuna away from here!" He snapped, "Make sure he's safe!"

The got two identicle salutes, and turned back to the bridge where Zabuza began to slaughter his way through the army, his goal to reach Gato at the back of the mass of hired thugs. Haku rushed to his side immediantly, and Naruto saw Kakashi pull his book out and slide his headband down to cover his Sharingan. Laughing slightly, Naruto shook his head before he was startled by Sakura's loud gasp.

"Oh!" She began to run for the bridge, "I still need my first kill!"

"Sakura!" Naruto and Sasuke complained as one.

"Oh, shut up!" Sakura turned to glare, "I'd rather it be a random thug who tortures villagers and small kids! Then I won'tfeel as guilty!"

She whipped out a kunai and headed for the bridge, Sasuke and Naruto close behind her with weapons drawn.

"Don't touch Zabuza-san with your filthy hands!"

"Whoa! Haku you just gutted that guy!"

"Sasuke! Watch it! You're gonna get blood in my hair!"

"Sakura, priorities!"

Kakashi allowed his eyes to finally drift over the scene in front of him when he noticed-


"I can't believe he had that many pounds of drugs in that little mansion of his." Naruto blinked, "Like...who the hell is gonna do all of that and why?"

"He was probably gonna sell it." Sakura shook her head, "Think, Naruto. I know you have a brain."

In the end of everything, Zabuza had sliced Gato's head clean off his shoulders right as Inari and the villagers arrived on the scene. Needless to say, when weeping women and men ran up to thank him, the missing nin had to restrain himself from throttling someone. 

Now, he hoisted the huge bag of cash over his shoulder with a smug look, "Pleasure doing buisness with you, Sharingan Kakashi."

The man only gave him an eye smile, "The pleasure was all ours. Ever threaten my team again and they'll never find what's left of you."

A shiver ran down his back that Zabuza tried to conceal before turning to Haku and speaking gruffly, "Well, say your goodbyes and all that. We're leaving soon."

Haku had long since been patched up by Sakura, who was simultaniously getting hair care suggestions from the young man, and was now wearing the same kimono that he'd been wearing when Naruto met him in the woods. He turned to smile at the three teammates softly.

"I hope there are no hard feelings, and I do hope to see you all again soon one day."

"Yeah, there are hard feelings. You tried to skewer me-" Sakura jabbed the Uchiha in the side sharply, "Tch. No hard feelings."

Sakura smiled back at Haku, "You said honey and coconut oil, right?"

The ice user nodded, "Yes, at least once a month if possible. And Sakura-san, please don't cut your hair. It is very beautiful."

The pinkette nearly beamed, "I won't. It'll be even longer when we see you next!"

Haku's eyes were soft as he smiled at her before he turned to Naruto and bowed slightly, "Naruto-kun. Your skills are very great, and I do believe you will do great things and protect those precious to you."

Naruto grinned wryly at the two, "Same to you, Haku. And yo, Zabuza? Go take that money and become Mizukage. Turn that shithole around."

The swordsman's eyes narrowed, "Your bias is showing. I do plan to do exactly that, though, brat. Now we've got to hit the road-"

"Wait!" Tazuna rushed over to them, the very bridge he built standing tall, "We must name the bridge before you all leave!"

Villagers crowded around them, whispering about the possible names.

"We should name it after our hero!" One woman gushed, "The ninja who killed Gato!"

"Yes, yes!" Another woman nodded vigerously, "The Great Zabuza Bridge!"

Said ninja seemed to pale slightly, "Ah, I don't think-"

"You all realized he tried to kill me right?" Tazuna whirled around to the crowd, "Multiple times, actually!"

"What about Haku?" Naruto smiled slightly, "He dropped Gato's body into the water below and protected Zabuza so he could finally end Gato. He's also only wanted peace this whole time, and just wants to protect people."

"Oh, is that him?" One woman asked another, "He has such nice hair!"

"Yes! The Great Haku Bridge!"

"How about the Great Haku and Zabuza Bridge?"

"Too long! Maybe name it after the Konoha ninja?"

"Yeah, they protected Tazuna! All the way until the end, in fact!"

"I still like the Great Zabuza Bridge."

Tazuna looked over at Naruto, "How about the Great Uzumaki Bridge?"

The crowd went silent, looking up at Tazuna with astonishment at the mention of the extinct clan. Tazuna just smiled a bit wider and motioned towards Naruto, "This is Naruto Uzumaki. He is from the clan, another islander himself. As well as the fact that Konoha is allied with Whirlpool, despite it's destruction. They even wear the Uzumaki symbol on their jackets. This honors all of the Konoha shinobi, and let it also honor Haku and Zabuza. Let the naming of this bridge be the new start for Kiri, and let it honor them in the fact that they will stop the Bloody Mizukage and his reign of terror. Let it show no other country or clan will endure what the Uzumaki had to at the hands of Kiri!"

"I like it, dad. The Great Uzumaki Bridge." Tsunami smiled at the group of ninja in front of her, "Thank you, all of you. Yes, even you, Kiri shinobi. You killed Gato in the end, I suppose."

"Haku, let's go." Zabuza shook his head in disgust, "Too many...emotions."

 As they began to walk away, Tsunami waved from behind them, "Come again!"

Naruto swore he heard Zabuza mutter a quiet, "No fucking thanks."

Tsunami turned to the Konoha shinobi as the villagers began to disperse, "You can stay the night again and then leave tomorrow morning. I'd hate to have children on the road all night!"

"These kids can't be classified as kids. They're, well, mini-monsters."

"I don't are. Besides, Inari wants to spend more time with them! I think he kind of idolizes all of you now, if I'm being honest."

"We'd love to stay another night, Tsunami-san." Kakashi nodded his head politely towards her, "Come on team, we still need to have a talk on logical actions in battle."

"Hey, at least we went as a team, right sensei?" Naruto shrugged, the three walking ahead of Kakashi close together, chattering about something or another. 

The man's visible eye twitched, and he suddenly regretted agreeing to go to Whirlpool. Who knows what the little shits would get up to there?

"Goodnight, everyone." Tsunami waved Inari upstairs, cutting off the flow of chatter that came out of his mouth non-stop, "It's bed time."

"But moooooommm-!"

"Now, Inari." She gave him a stern look, making him trudge up the stairs, before smiling back at the Konoha nin in the kitchen.

Sakura laughed, "He had stars in his eyes the whole time!"

After another hour of talking and Kakashi nursing a cup filled with something that was totally not alcohol, Sakura gave in first and trudged off to her blanket bed on the floor of Tazuna's spare room. Kakashi, not even tipsy, followed soon after and Sasuke stood up not even a minute after their sensei left. 

"I'm going, too. Long day tomorrow." Sasuke twitched a brow upwards, "You coming, Naruto?"

Blue eyes let themselves drift over to the window, looking at the dark sky. It looked like it used to on Uzu, no pollution or bright lights tainting the sky. He shook his head, sighing slightly.

"Not right now." 

"Going to star gaze?" 

Naruto's eyes flew upwards to Sasuke's, "How the hell-?"

"Sharp eyesight. I'm going to bed now." The Uchiha turned away before pausing and turning back to Naruto with a sarcastic and wicked smile, "No trysts in the bushes without me, okay?"

Mouth dropping open, Naruto only responded when Sasuke was halfway up the stairs, "You've got a deal!"

Sasuke paused and Naruto could practically feel him rolling his eyes before he continued up the stairs. Huffing, Naruto stood and slipped out the door, quiet as possible, and sat himself down on the grass. He missed his home, and deep down he knew it wasn't Konoha he was homesick for. Uzu, with her great cliffs and shining seas and thick forests. Uzu, with his family and his friends and everyone he'd ever known and loved. They were all dead now, except for Mirai, and he'd never have Uzu back again. He'd never see the packs of dholes running in scarce forests and sleeping on the cliffs, sunshine soaking their fur. Never see the seagulls flapping and attacking fish with a vicious enthusiasm. Never see the sea lions resting on the rocks by the ocean as the water splashed up on them. It made his heart ache, but he accepted it along with his new reality.

Konoha was home now, and he'd make the best of it.

Looking at the grass surrounding him, a sudden thought jolted him into biting his thumb so hard he nearly ripped the skin off. He couldn't bring Uzu back, it was lost forever. There were so few Uzumaki left, and he was certain the rest of the clans were scattered just as badly. He could bring some of Uzu to Konoha, though, or at least see an old friend.

"Kuchiyose no Jutsu (Summoning Technique)." He whisped as quietly as possible, slamming his palm onto the ground.

His stomach jerked a little and the next thing he knew he was in the thick of Hageshī Cliffs, looking around in awe at the ocean he could see just outside of the thinly forrested area in front of him. The cliffs he was on top of rose greatly into the sky, much like in Uzushio. Turning around, he nearly choked when he was the small stone structures, some toppled like ruins, but most still standing strong with lanterns illuminating the clearing with an orange glow. A set of stone steps, still overrun by vines and flowers just as he remembered, led up to a rock platform with a temple behind it. His eyes were drawn immediantly to the platform where the greatest beast he's ever seen sat, looking at him with glowing amber eyes.

"Daiki." His voice broke, tear flushing into his eyes.

"Who are you?" The dhole slowly came down the steps, much larger than Naruto himself, "How have you come to this place?"

"Naruto..." He allowed his voice to trail off, "Amahiko. Amahiko Uzumaki."

Daiki tilted his head, lips pulling back into a snarl. He was just like Naruto remembered, except much larger. Amber eyes that flashed when he was angry, pure rust red fur with no other color except a smidge of black on the tip of his tail. Like most dhole, his body resembled that of an exceptionally long legged fox, and his ears were now pressed flat against his head in anger.

"Dare speak that name one more time. Who are you, ninja?"

His heart sunk in his chest, "Naruto Uzumaki. But..."

"An Uzumaki." Daiki scoffed, "You certainly don't look like one-!"

"My mom was Kushina Uzumaki, Tenma's great-granddaughter." He swallowed, "But...I'm also Amahiko Uzumaki."

"Lies." The dhole snarled, "He is dead, and you certainly don't even resemble him."

Pursing his lips together, Naruto sighed, "When I was three and chose you to be my personal summons, my kaa-san said that you weren't allowed to sleep in my bed. So I snuck you up in a bag, and did so every night for two months until I found out she knew all along and was only letting me get away with it."


"When I turned 16, Tenma officially announced I would be the Sandaime, and later that night is when I had my first fight with...with Yuudai. You were there. I threw a vase across the room at him and kicked him out of the compound. No one else even knew we were dating but us and you."

Daiki's expression seemed to twitch, "What are you?"

Naruto rolled his eyes, "We both know you're a sensor and I know damn well my chakra feels the exact same as it did in my previous life. And, if you really need anymore reasurance..."

His chest lit up in a soft white glow and he allowed a single, pure white chain to manifest itself. 

Daiki twitched again, "What took you so long?"

"I only remembered about a month ago when I was almost assassinated, I'm the jinchūriki of the Kyūbi by the way. Then I found out Mirai is still alive and living in Konoha, and I was friends with her daughter! I'm living with them for now, but I haven't told her anything because, well, you see the reaction I got."

The summons only blinked at him before shaking his large head, "You're...still just as crazy as you were back then, Hiko-hime."

Naruto's eyebrow twitched, "Call me that again and I'll drown you in those koi ponds you love so much."

Daichi grinned, his teeth bared like fangs, "It really is you."

"Yeah, you mutt." Naruto huffed, "I mean, honestly, if I was able to reverse summon myself here without having signed a contract in this life, obviously I have a connection to this place. Then to get dropped right in front of you out of every dhole on this bloody island, you'd think you could put two and two together even before I showed you my chain."

"I didn't want to hope." Daiki approached him, coming the rest of the way down the stairs, and nudged him with his head, "You smelled like him and your chakra felt like him and you even talked like him but...I didn't think it was possible."

"I'm too great to stay dead, Daiki." Naruto patted the top of his large head as the dhole laid down in front of him, "You're a lot bigger now. I'll have to lay on you instead of the other way around. Think you can still play fetch?"

"I'll roast you alive-"

"Is that Hiko-hime?" A sandy-beige blur hit him full on from the back, knocking him straight on to Daiki, who yelped like he was still a pup, "Hiko-hime? That's you right? It feels like you!"

He looked up and smiled slightly, "Not missing the comeback of that nickname. Hey, Momo."

"It is you!" The dhole spun around in her excitement, tail wagging furiously, "Oh, I just knew it! And it's Momoka, Hiko-hime!"

She wasn't half as tall as Daiki, maybe the size of a larger wolf, and she had glowing amber eyes just like his own summons. 

"I know, Momo." He smiled, "You've gotten big, just like Daiki." 

"Okaa-san says I still have more growing to do!" She yipped happily, "I am ten years younger than Daiki, and he just had his last growth spurt. At least, we hope. He's already the biggest summons on the island, you know. Oh, okaa-san's gonna be so happy!"

She nudged Naruto, still laying on Daiki where he fell, with her snout, "Come on, up! Get up! We gotta take you to the others and tell them you're back!"

Later, after the dog pile of a century and Naruto crying once or twice, when Satomi gave him the dhole contract with warmth in her eyes, he pricked his hand and prepared to sign. However, just under the last name Amahiko Uzumaki, a new one was already written. Instead of blood, the name was inscribed in gold in the exact same handwriting as Amahiko's name was written.

Naruto Uzumaki.

"Naruto, did you get enough sleep last night?" Sakura questioned the next day on the road, "You look really tired."

"I feel great, Sakura. Really." Naruto smiled despite the bags under his eyes, "Now come on! Let's get to Uzu already!"

"Maa, maa. Patient, Naruto-chan."

"Shut up, Kaka-sensei. I will knock you into the ocean."

"I'd like to see you try, Naruto-chan."

Chapter Text

I'm drowning, Naruto thought as their boat approached the hulking island he once called home. The mist was thick, as always, and seagulls flew above in the sky and fish swam in the water and he could almost pretend Uzu was still alive and thriving. However, as they broke through the mist, he could no longer cling to the fantasy of survivors. The docks were completely destroyed, the wood splintered and busted. The sand looked as though it had been undisturbed since the invasion, and Naruto had a sick though that made his stomach clench. The bodies, were they still strewn about and nothing but skeletons now? He glanced over at Kakashi.

"Are...are there going to be-?" He coughed slightly, "Are there still bodies?"

His voice was quiet, almost delicate, and Kakashi turned to him, "No, when Konoha arrived they buried the bodies."

Naruto nodded, watching the island approach with a heavy chest and a pressure behind his eyes that made him feel like crying. The entire Land of Whirlpools had been invaded once Uzushio fell, raided for resources. He knew Kiri and Iwa would have spared no one, not even civillians. His village, his entire country...they had both fallen. No one spoke as the boat road up on the shore, Naruto standing on shaky legs. He had never stepped on this sand, the shore of his people, in this lifetime. One foot stepped out, then the other, and he watched the footprints that were made. Swallowing, his thoat suddenly dry, he left his team behind to marvel at the beauty as he trudged forward to the heart of the village. Walking through the gates, still torn open from the invasion, led him from the docks to the village. He took in what was around him, the empty houses and the colorful tiled streets.

It wasn't raining any longer, and there was no river of blood from all those slain. He knew time had long since cleansed the village of the scent of iron and death, but he could still feel the phatom smell in his nose. Everything around him was astonishingly intact, and he supposed the invaders were more focused on destroying lives than destroying buildings. The ruins weren't as wrecked as he thought, a few walls knocked in and scortch marks on buildings that not even time could erase, but the building were intact. The soul was gone though, he could feel that much in his bones. The island still welcomed her Uzukage back with warmth and rustling breeze, but no longer were vendors selling food on the streets or shopkeeps seeling their wares with a smile. Everything was vacant, like someone had ripped out the beating heart of his home and left only a husk to wither. 

His feet dragged him down the streets, splintered wood laying to the sides of the roads and strings of flags and lanterns torn from the rooftops and bleached with age. Some houses still had curtains hanging in the windows, though nearly every door was busted open and left to rot. When he saw the bloodstains on carpet inside one of the houses, he forced the bile back down his throat and continued on. Soon enough, he came to towering, golden gates with a blood red spiral in the center of them. They were still locked up tightly, making Naruto heave a sigh of relief to himself. Even if Kiri and Iwa couldn't do shit with Uzumaki techniques, he still didn't want them in hands other than his family's. He looked to the left of the gate, where there was a white sheet of paper with the ever flowing Uzumaki seals painted across it. Biting his thumb, much like he had for his summoning technique, he smeared blood into the center of the main spiral on the seal and watched as it soaked in, leaving not even a trace left. The gates creaked slightly as they opened, and Naruto saw his family compound for the first time since he died. 

The grass was as green as ever, and as he walked through the garden at the entrance of the compund, he saw that the koi fish in the pond were dead. Mirai would throw a fit if she were here, he thought with a tight chest. So would Hanako, she hated death in general. She had been the best doctor Uzushio had, both with medical ninjutsu and regular civillian methods. Hanako was the one to train Raiden to take the hospital over when she eventually took her retirement to start a family, and then he had taken up the mantel as the best in medicine. Hana-nee had loved everything about the garden, from the ponds to the painted murals on the walls. Those were suffering from age with no one to restore them frequently, but most of the color remained intact. At the beginning of them was Hagoromo Ōtsutsuki, the Sage of the Six Paths. His face was stern, and his eyes were intimidating with the purple hues of the Rinnegan staring into Naruto's soul.

The Uzumaki knew a lot about the beginnings of ninjutsu and ninja as a whole. Way back, before even the Senju clan came into existence, the Uzumaki were a clan of samurai. Skilled black smiths and sword wielders with a vitality granted to them from their ancestors long ago. There were myths that Yuuma Uzumaki, a clansman from before even the Sage was born, was the son of Inari Ōkami, the spirit of agriculture and lots of other things Naruto couldn't recall at the moment. His mother always said it was bullshit, but many pointed to the lifeforce of the Uzumaki and said it was the reason.

After the Sage had taught his sons, Asura and Indra, the ways of ninjutsu, Asura had gone on to marry a woman named Kanna and they had three children. One died in infancy, one married nobility named Katashi Hayashi with whom she would later become the direct ancestor of the Senju clan, and one had married Hotaka Uzumaki. Hotaka was the eldest son of the Uzumaki clan head, a skilled samurai and the great-great-grandson of apparent demigod Yuuma Uzumaki. Isora Ōtsutsuki taught her husband and his clan many things, including the one skill she valued above all others; the art of Fūinjutsu. 

Legend says that Isora was the only one of the Ōtsutsuki clan that was as gifted in Fūinjutsu as her grandfather, the Sage. That's how the Uzumaki became so skilled in sealing, and with their already powerful lifeforce and vitality, when Isora gifted them with chakra and the secrets of ninjutsu, their clan became the most powerful in their little corner of the world. Years later, Ashina Uzumaki raised the cliffs of Uzushio from the oceans with the help of Daichi and Ayaka Uzumaki, thus becoming the first Uzukage. Later on, their distant blood relatives, the Senju, created a village in the Land of Fire with Indra's decendants, the Uchiha. The rest is, as they say, history. Pretty much everyone knows the story of Mito Uzumaki marrying Hashirama Senju, the first Hokage. It's what came before that, the history of their people, that only a select few know. The Uzumaki had been gifted the knowledge, and with it had come a great burden of power.

"Yeah, well, look where that power got us." Naruto muttered, turning away from the first mural and walking down the line of them.

Hagoromo Ōtsutsuki, then Isora and Hotaka, then Ashina, then Tenma, then himself. Pausing at the last one, he looked at himself with nostalgia. Damn, he really missed his hair. Long, blood red locks that were just past shoulder length, just long enough for a ponytail. His bangs were pushed off to the side, revealing green eyes that were set with determination. He remembers clearly that, towards the end of his life, he had been very discomposed and forlorn. Despite his family trying to lift his spirits, and the efforts of his senseis and teammates, nothing could help him climb out of the rut he had been in. He had been a strong but unhappy leader, and as things came to a head with Yuudai it only grew worse.

Shaking his head, he passed the murals and climbed up the steps leading to the main branch compund. Sliding the door open, a solid wall of dust attacked him.

"Shit!" He cursed, waving his hands around, "Shima-nii would be pissed, clean freak that he is."

He smiled slightly, remembering his older brother and how he would always do Amahiko's chores so he could stay out late with Akane, Raiden, and Yuudai. He loved tidying things up, and often dragged Nanami and Ichiro into his cleaning frenzy by bribing them with sandwiches. Looking around, finally clearing his lungs from dust particles, he felt like he just got nailed in the gut by Sakura. Everything was the same as when he left that morning so many years ago to head towards his office. He hadn't taken his own katana then, just going to pick up some papers in the early stages of the morning. Then he, and many others, spotted the ships fast approaching and the world turned to hell. Three straight days of fighting, three days of his clansmen and his ninja getting slaughters and doing the same to their opponents. He hadn't seen his home since that morning, and he could still see the paper his mother had been reading thrown on the table from when she rushed out once she heard the news.

He felt the tears drip down his cheeks as he walked through his house, seeing Mirai's old toy chest filled with dolls and toy figures. He saw the kitchen, bowls still sat on the counter from being freshly washed. There was a hiccup in his breath as he pulled the door closed, and it turned into a full blown sob as he sunk down on one of the dust covered couches in the living room. Bringing his knees up, he buried his face in them and finally did what he'd wanted to do since he remembered; he cried. He cried for a lot of things: for Uzushio, for his family, for his friends, and for those who made it out only to live with being alone and scattered. 

Raising his head, for a moment he wasn't in a dead home crying.

("Kaa-san." Amahiko looked at her, sitting on the couch and watching her paint a canvas in front of her, "What's being happy?"

She looked up, smiling though there was confusion in the lines of her face, "What do you mean, Hiko?"

"What's being happy?" Barely four, he looked at his mother before looking at his feet that he swung because he couldn't reach the floor, "What do you know when you're happy?"

"Happiness is like a warm blanket or a sunny day. You feel content and cozy, and you feel like everything will be alright." She smiled at her son, "It's not always around, and sometimes we're sad, but happiness will always come back, somehow. That's the beauty of it, it's like a friend you can always rely on."

"Raiden!" He chirped, smiling at the thought of his best friend at school.

"Yes, love." She laughed, making another stroke with her brush, "Like Raiden."

He looked at his mother intently, frowning slightly before he spoke once again, "Kaa-san, what makes you happy?"

She looked up again, setting her painting and brushed aside to sit beside him on the couch. Wrapping an arm around his shoulders, Amahiko sunk into his mothers side like quicksand.

"Your father makes me happy, and all of your siblings and our family. I also enjoy beating Tenma-oji-san in a good spar." She looked down with a smile and tweaked his nose, "You make me happy, my little cherry."

He smiled wide, "You make me happy too, kaa-san!"

"Good." She hugged him tighter to his side, "All I wish for is that my children are happy." 

She leaned down and kissed his forehead.)

Tears continued to drip from his eyes even as warmth spread through him like his mother was hugging him one last time. Releasing a shaky breath, he stood and walked away from the kitchen and living room, down a hallway he knew well. Pushing open the last door on the right, another dusty room bathed in light from the window greeted him like an old friend. His bedroom was the same, though he had mostly abandoned it to sleep in Uzukage tower once he took the hat. He always came home in the morning, Hanako-nee made a mean omelet after all. He looked at all the scrolls piled up on his desk, prototypes of a bunch of seals and jutsu. Opening some, he smiled at the ideas Akane had helped him come up with. She was a Sealing Master as well, and her caligraphy was almost as good as Amahiko's even on her off days. Slipping them in a sealing scroll, he also cleaned off his bookshelf and his weapon closet. Turning, he surveyed the room once more when a shining glare caught his eye. 

The hilt was blue and silver, with a red Uzumaki swirl at the very bottom of it. The blade was dark, nearly black, and Naruto could almost see his reflection in it as the sun caused a glare in the metal. It was untouched by time, the seals carved into the blade ensuring that, and Naruto held the katana in front of him with the same reverence he had for it the day he had been given it. Sliding it firmly back into its sheath, Naruto swung it around his shoulder so he had a katana on his hip and on his back. Smiling, he ducked his head and clenched his eyes shut to stop any tears from escaping. 

"Thank you, nii-san."

Turning, he closed the door gently and wiped any remaining tear tracks from his face before exiting the compound. 

"Naruto!" He looked up to see Sakura waving him over to where his team stood just outside in the garden, "There you are! We lost you back on the beach!"

He made his way over to them, smiling, "Sorry. I was too excited and left the docks early."

Kakashi waved his hand, "Maa, it's understandable. Destroyed homeland and all that."

"Sensei-!" Sakura and Sasuke snapped at the same time, only interrupted by Naruto's gentle laugh.

"Yeah. Anyways, we should probably find the vault now. It'd be over here, I think."

They left the main family compund and bypassed the many branch family compunds, cutting through the garden to where a stone building stood, quite small and sun bleached with only a door in the front. There were no windows, and it was fashioned in the same way all Uzushio buildings were. Sturdy like the stone they're made of, but graceful with it's swooping red tiled roof. There was no doorknob on the door, just a plain paper with three Uzumaki swirls on it. Biting his abused thumb, he smeared blood on the two bottom circles, leaving the top one clean. If he put blood on all three, the mechanism would shock the ever living shit out of him, even if he was Uzumaki. It was a fail safe, to ensure the techniques fell in the hands of only an Uzushio raised Uzumaki. After all, who would have thought Uzu would ever fall?

The door swung open, and Naruto was greeted by the scent of fresh ink and old parchment. The shelves were lined with familiar scrolls, books, and boxes. A few weapons, Uzumaki heirlooms that had been untouched years before Amahiko was born, lined the walls or were held in special cases. He handed sealing scrolls to Sakura, Sasuke, and Kakashi.

"If you see any jutsu or techniques you're capable of and interest you..." He made a vauge hand motion, "Go for it. Just show me when I get back to the village so I can catalogue it and I know where it is."

Sasuke blinked wide eyes at him, "These are family techniques, Naruto. You'd let outsiders use them?"

"Who else besides me will ever get to use these again." The blond turned around and began hunting through the scrolls, "As far as I'm concerned, you guys are the only family I have at the moment. So...go wild."

Sakura's eyes watered a bit, and Kakashi's visible eye widened so much Naruto feared it would pop out when he turned around and saw it. Sasuke, though...he just looked contemplative. Not that it was much different from his usual constipated look, his eyebrows were just raised a little higher. Once more he turned towards the scrolls, already knowing which ones he wanted to grab. Wind techniques, water techniques, the ever famed Whirlpool Release of Uzushio. Placing them into his storage scroll, he continued on grabbing all the fūinjutsu scrolls he had studied in a past life. He handled the earlier copies very gently, his mother told him that many of these aged scrolls were written by Isora Ōtsutsuki herself. Moving onto the next bookshelf, he paused momentairly before backpeadaling to the very first shelf on the wall where the techniques for younger clansmen were. Chakra control techniques, techniques to grow your chakra reserves, basic katas for rudimentary education with the katana and tanto, katas for taijutsu. He placed them all in a seperate scroll and smiled sadly to himself. Maybe Iruka-sensei could use these more than the ghosts on Uzu could. 

"Naruto?" He heard Sakura and turned around, "How many of these medical books can I take? They look really helpful!"

He saw the handwriting on the front cover and recognized it as Hanako-nee's. He gestured to the whole shelf on medical jutsu, "Anything you think would help with your training. I'm not a medic, after all."

He cracked a smile when she snorted loudly, "Yeah, with your chakra control I don't think you would be."

He glanced over to where Sasuke stood, he had grabbed a few fire jutsu scrolls, Naruto saw. Not much else, but he stood entranced, staring at a katana with wide eyes. It was an old but beautiful, sturdy blade. A pure black handle with a golden dragon wrapping itself around the guard, the blade inscribed with kanji that told of it's name and origin. Naruto made his way over to stand next to him and pointed at the blade, where the golden incriptions stood out against the metal of the handle. 

"Kaminoikari (Wrath of God). They say it belonged to Yuuma Uzumaki, who was supposedly the demigod child of Inari Ōkami. It conducts lightning chakra, I think. At least, that's what I read." He tacked on a quick lie at the end, "The blade's name is very distinctive."

Sasuke nodded, "Yeah, and the fact that it was weilded by the son of a kami."

"Yeah, but kaa-er, Mirai-oba-san says that's bullshit. Just used it as an excuse for the Uzumaki life span and vitality." He reached up and slid the ancient sword into it's scabbard before thrusting it towards Sasuke, "Here. You said you were interested in kenjutsu."

"What?" Sasuke looked at him, startled, "You can't just give away a family heirloom like that-!"

"Who else will use it?" Naruto snapped, face contorting for a moment before sighed, "I already told you. You guys are the only family I have right now. Honorary Uzumaki, congatulations. Now, that the damn sword and let me now direct you to a shelf with genjutsu techniques on it. I think I saw a really sick one where it makes your opponent think they're in a pit of vipers, I'm sure you'd enjoy it."

The Uchiha's face was stunned before it shifted into something more determined as he whispered to Naruto, "I'll make your ancestors proud."

Naruto just snorted, "Make yourself proud, yeah? That's all that matters, dattebayo."

Sasuke pursed his lips before nodding, taking the sword and slinging the scabbard across his body so the katana rested on his back. Walking to shelf Naruto pointed him in earlier, the blond was about to go back to his goose hunt for materials when a heavy hand laid on his shoulder. Nearly jumping out of his skin, Naruto whipped around to see Kakashi-sensei standing there with an eye smile.

"You're a good teammate, Naruto-chan." The expression fell slightly, "The Hokage would be proud." 

When Kakashi turned around again, the Uzumaki had a sneaking suspicion his sensei didn't mean the Sandaime. 

When his team was done they exited the vault and Naruto closed the door firmly behind them, reactivating the seal. There were still valuable weapons and techniques in there, after all, and they needed to be protected. They were Uzumaki, and let them be there for any future clansmen who might come back to Uzu or come hunting for their culture and history. As he turned away he bowed his head slightly and sent a prayer towards the sky, wishing for the peace of his family and ancestors and all those killed in the fall of Uzu.

I hope,  he thought silently as they all spared a moment of silence in front of the Uzumaki gates, that you understand what I'm doing. I hope you'd be proud kaa-san, tou-san. I hope that you approve of my team and them using our techniques. I hope you know I love and miss you, and I hope you know I'll do everything I can to ensure our legacy and culture lives on. Even if it's in Konoha, even if it's present in another clan or civilian child, I hope you'll smile upon them and know you are not and never will be forgotten. I hope you're in peace kaa-san, tou-san, Nanami, Ichiro, Fuji, Katsuro, Hanako, Shima, Umi, Raiden, Akane, Tenma, Tatsu. I'll never forget you, and I hope you're happy. 

They walked through the hollowed out village quietly after that, noon barely breaking before them, and headed towards their rented boat that sat swaying in the tide on the shores of the Land of Whirlpools. Sakura entered the boat first, then Sasuke followed after having to steady her from falling in the water. As Kakashi began to raise his foot the enter the boat, Naruto struck. Swiping his leg under their sensei, Kakashi lurched forward to try and grab onto the boat frantically but Sasuke and Sakura reared forward as one and pushed him backward. He went under the water for a moment before popping up, looking at Naruto with his Sharingan spinning as his headband had fallen around his neck.

"Naruto." He hissed, glaring. 

"I said I'd knock you into the ocean." He smiled, laughing slightly before grabbing Sasuke and Sakura's hands and leaping over Kakashi and into the boat, "Come on, Kaka-sensei. Haven't got all day, do we?"

The man grumbled, the laughter of his students filling the air around him that was previously silent and empty. Naruto's snickering was the loudest even as they began to row back to the Land of Waves, the blond's smile only growing each time he looked at his sensei's drenched form.

("All I wish for is that my children are happy." )

Chapter Text

 "Excuse me." The pipe fell from the Hokage's mouth, looking at the team with a stunned look, "Did you just-?"

"Yes, Hokage-sama." Kakashi hid the smirk behind his mouth, "Fifty-four million ryō. Wave's...compensation for the misunderstanding of mission rank."

The Hokage sent him a weary look, "Misunderstanding?"

"Ah, yes." Kakashi sent him an eye smile, "We ran into missing nin. We first encountered Gōzu and Meizu of Kiri, but Sasuke and Naruto dispatched them quickly. Then, in Wave, we battled Zabuza and an unknown."

The Sandaime's eyebrows rose past his hat, "You and your genin team battled Zabuza Momochi, and S-ranked missing-nin, and killed him? What of the unknown?"

"Haku's fine." Naruto smiled, "Zabuza is too. We were fighting, but Kaka-sensei got Zabuza pinned and Sakura trapped Haku after he almost killed Sasuke-!"

"He did not almost kill me." Sasuke sniffed, "I was fine."

"You almost lost your head." Sakura snorted slightly at her own comment, "Literally."

"Then Gatō showed up and refused to pay Zabuza, bringing an army of thugs with him to kill us, Tazuna, and Zabuza and Haku. So Zabuza killed Gato, we all took care of the thugs, then searched Gatō's mansion." Naruto shook his head, "Guy had a lot of drugs, and even more money."

The Hokage looked over at Kakashi, "And you decided it was a good idea to allow your team to continue the mission? Or not, at the very least, call for backup?"

"I was out voted. By then, we had it covered." Kakashi shrugged slightly, "They're good. Sasuke with his sharingan, Naruto had his chakra chains, and Sakura's mokuton was handy as well-"

"Excuse me."

"Oh, did I forget to mension that? Must've slipped my mind." It did not, in fact, slip Kakashi's mind, and they all knew it. 

"Did you just-?" Hiruzen paused for a moment before waving a hand. Instantly, Naruto and Kakashi knew a silencing seal had been activated as the Hokage looked at them again, "Demonstrate."

Sasuke allowed his Shraingan to activate, a single tomoe spinning lazily within his red eyes. The Hokage waved a hand, allowing Sasuke to deactivate it, before looking at Naruto with both a serious and apprehensive expression. If he had inheirated his mother's golden chains, well, Kushina had fought in a war with Iwa too, and she had quite a bounty while she was alive. Most within Konoha didn't connect Naruto with the red headed woman, throught blind ignorance or stubborn refusal to relate the demon to their fiery hero Hiruzen had no clue. With the golden chains, though, it would become much more obvious to other villages who had no such prejudice and would connect the dots to Kushina and then back to Minato, of whom the boy looked exactly alike. It wouldn't be hard, and if Iwa came after Naruto, a war would quickly be ignited as the village couldn't allow an attack on their Jinchūriki.

"Show me, Naruto." Sarutobi nodded at his surrogate grandson and watched tensely as a chain formed out of his chest. A pure white, shining chain. He sucked in a breath, looking at it with wide eyes, "White?"

"Is that weird?" Sarutobi saw through the fake confusion in the head tilt and scrunched eyebrows. He filed this information away in the back of his mind; Naruto knew a lot more than the average orphan. Then again, maybe he was underestimating the boy. He was Minato's son, after all. 

"No, not at all, Naruto-kun." The Sandaime smiled, somewhat relieved the chains weren't golden, but shocked he'd inheirated the white ones from his ancestors. The last to have those had been Amahiko Uzumaki, the beast of a shinobi he was. The man had faught in the second war as a jonin, and the first as a chunin. Half the time it only took his battalion's appearance and their opponent would be fleeing. It was like how the Iwa nin fled from Minato in the fourth.

"Now, Sakura." The Hokage looked at the pinkette who was practically shaking, "Can you demonstrate your...mokuton?"

He had a hard time believing Sakura Haruno, of all his shinobi, had inheirated the Shodai's bloodline. She was from a civilian family with no recent ninja heritage, and was not particularly talentated in shinobi arts as of her graduation. More of a bookworm and medic, if anything, despite her Kunoichi of the Year status. However, the girl merely flushed bright red as she jerked her hand, causing a thick branch to shoot from the wooden floor, skyrocketing up past where she probably wanted it to stop and on up, busting a nice hole through his ceiling. Her mouth dropped open as her face grew redder before she buried her head in her hands, groaning.

"Uh, it was a good...demonstration?" Was Naruto's week comfort as he tried to pat her back.

"This place needed a better ceiling anyway." Sasuke spoke monotonely, giving the place a critical eye, "Probably hasn't seen a renovation since the first Hokage."

"Yeah, see, Sakura?" Naruto smiled brightly at Sasuke, making the boy's stoic face flush slightly, "You did jiji a favor!"

Hiruzen cleared his throat, making everyone look at him, "No fear, Sakura. As Naruto-kun said, consider it a favor."

They all swore the Sandaime's eye twitched slightly.

"However, we will need to run some blood samples and look into your family history. You all must understand the implications of this." The Hokage continued calmly, "You can go to the hospital after this, I'll send in an order-"

"Destroy the blood after the tests." Sasuke interrupted him, glaring, "Destroy it completely, nothing should remain on file. And no other DNA will be taken."

Kakashi let out a loud laugh as the Hokage raised an eyebrow, humoring the boy, "And what makes you say that, Sasuke?"

"Because people do weird things when they get bloodline DNA." He narrowed his eyes, "And you can't tell me they don't."

Sarutobi thought of Danzō and Orochimaru and decided that, no, he couldn't attempt to tell the boy otherwise. 

Before he had the chance to respond, Naruto butted in, "I want us to be there with Sakura."

Huffing out a laugh, he sent an exasperated look towards Kakashi, "Paranoid team already, Kakashi?"

The man simply eye-smiled in response, "I like to think of them as protective. On the matter though, I'd like to be present as well, being her sensei."

The pinkette just hung her head, " bloodwork."

Hiruzen swore to Kami that when he eventually died and rid himself of this hat, he'd strangle Minato, Kushina, Fugaku, and Mikoto because dammit if their byproducts weren't a headache. 

"My arm is still bleeding." Sakura examined the bandages with a critical eye as they sat at Ichiraku's, "It should've stopped about two minutes ago."

"You might have thin blood, and they did take a lot." Naruto looked at it briefly before sighing, "I just can't believe there was some Senju in your blood ten generations back."

"Tama Senju. Common ancestor of Hashirama Senju, who was his great-great-geat-great-great-grandchild." Sakura sighed, shifting on her seat, "That's so weird. My parents don't know, I'm sure. They only talk about our Sano and Ishida relatives in the Land of Noodles, who are very much civilians by the way. Not even Kohana-obaa-san knew about it, she would've said something before she died. The training Hokage-sama talked about at the hospital is going to be awful."

"Awfully fun?" Naruto gave an awkward smile before it fell, "Sorry."

Sasuke just grabbed Sakura's arm, looking at the place where the needle had drawn her blood, "That nurse didn't know what she was doing. She stuck you three times and was too rough with the needle."

"I'll be fine." Sakura rolled her eyes, "So this is what it feels like to have annoying, over-protective brothers. Gee, I see what I haven't been missing out on."

Her tone was joking, but Sasuke's smile was still so tight that it made her heart lurch. Right as she was about to open her mouth to say something to break the silence-

"Sasuke-kun!" A high-pitched squel was heard from across the street.

Team 7 groaned as one, all three rolling their eyes as the saw Ino drag the rest of her team along, trying to navigate the busy street to reach the ramen stand. Sakura sighed slightly, turning to Sasuke who was now just grimacing, "Why was I ever that obsessed with you?"

"I'm a catch." He glared over at her, pride on the line "In fact, I'm great."

"Agree to disagree." Naruto snorted, earning the famed Uchiha glower.

Sakura just shook her head, "Half the time you're emotionally constipated, you have a weird obsession with tomatoes, and you snore when you sleep."

"I'm not emotionally constipated." This earned Sasuke looks from both his teammates and Ayame as she set their ramen down, making his ears flush slightly, "Besides that, tomatoes are great and I do not snore."

"I'm sorry Sakura, Sasuke's right." Naruto got two suprised looks his way, Sakura's disbelieving and Sasuke's smug, "Sasuke doesn't snore, that's beneath him as an Uchiha."

Sakura out right laughed as the look on Sasuke's face dropped right off into his normal vaugely annoyed and hostile expression.

"Tch. Dobe." 

"See!" Sakura waved a hand towards his face, "Emotionally constipated!"

"Forehead!" Ino grouched as she tried to wedge herself between Sasuke and Sakura, despite there being no seat available, "Don't assault Sasuke-kun!"

Sasuke looked over at Naruto with a completely serious look in his eye, "Could I actually file a restraining order?'

The blond hummed, "Might make missions difficult in the future."

"Even better."

"Ino, could you-?" Sakura tried to make out as the blonde girl pushed her face away, turning Sasuke's chair so he was facing the Yamanaka, "Ino, don't-!"

"Sasuke-kun, fancy seeing you here!" She smiled brightly, "Do you want to go get barbecue with me?"

"Uh, Ino, all of us are going to get barbecue-?" Chōji was silenced with a glare from his female teammate while Shikamaru just shook his head.

"I'm eating with my team. No thanks." Sasuke turned his chair back towards his ramen, making Naruto and Sakura both silently snicker behind the girl's back.

"We'll join!" The blond flashed a dazzling smile before waving Ayame, who'd been watching in mild amusement, over. 

"But, Ino, we were getting barbecue." Choji motioned down the road, "We need to go."

"Troublesome." Shikamaru sighed, "Forget it, Chōji. We can get barbeque tomorrow."

He took the seat next to Sakura, as Ino was determined to stand between the pinkette and Sasuke, while Chōji took the last seat next to Naruto.

"When's this likely to end." Sakura jerked her head towards the blonde girl, grouching to Shikamaru.

He looked at her with mild surprise, "You like Sasuke too, though."

"No, not anymore." She sent him a sideways look, "I don't have time for that. I'm a kunoichi."

"Ino is too." The Nara frowned as he spoke quiet enough to prevent his teammate from hearing, "She's just...she has a crush."

Sakura dropped her eyes and spoke in a whisper, though Ino wasn't listening, "We're not kids anymore. Besides, I could bury Sasuke and Naruto if I wanted."

He was almost sure this was false but, looking at her vicious smile and determined eyes, Shikamaru felt like this wasn't the same Sakura who he'd graduated with at the academy. He felt a slight tremor of fear go down his back, much like when his mother began yelling and waving a pan or spatula around. 

"We're leaving." Sasuke suddenly announced, grabbing both Naruto and Sakura by the backs of their shirts, "Naruto wanted to show us his new home, right?"

Naruto took the hint and gestured vaugely, "Yes! Yeah, it's this way!"

Sasuke went the opposite direction, dragging his team behind him.

"Sasuke!" Naruto complained once they were out of hearing range, "I didn't get to finish!"

"It would've been two hours before you finished!" Sasuke snapped, "I couldn't be with that harpy for two more hours!"

Sakura sighed, "I didn't even get a bite. Oh, well. I guess we could go to my house for lunch?"

"Hey!" They heard a scream, "Put me down! Please! Put me down!"

Naruto blinked, "We should probably..."

"I really wanted lunch too." Sakura sighed, "Oh well."

The three quickly made their way through the crowded main streets, into a fenced walkway that led to a park. The first thing the saw were two kids cowering on the sidewalk, and the next was another kid being held up by a boy with paint all over his face in a black, full body suit with a hood that had what looked like cat ears. A Suna plate was proudly displayed on the front of it, giving the three genin pause. The girl beside him seemed frustrated, and had blond hair in four spiky pig tails. Her hitai-ate, also bearing the Suna emblem, was hanging around her neck. Her arms were crossed watching the scene, but she made no move to help the child.

"Hey." Naruto spoke up as he walked around the other children with his teammate, "Put him down."

"Please put me down!" The boy cried, "My neck hurts!"

"Yeah, and it hurt when you tried to attack me." The boy glared, "Why should I put you down?"

"I just ran into you!" The kid yelped, "Put me down!"

"It sure takes a lot of guts to harass a child." Sasuke's voice dripped in sarcasm, "Put the kid down. Now."

"Make me." The painted boy laughed, looking over, "As if-"

In a flash, Naruto grabbed the boy and pushed him backwards out of reach, Sasuke rushing forwards to put him behind him as Sakura ushered the other two children to stand behind her. Naruto knocked the boy to the ground, the edge of one katana at his throat and the other pointing at the girl, as if daring her to do anything.

"W-what?" The boy stuttered, "Temari! Help!"

"I can't!" The girl, Temari, snapped, "I told you not to antagonize the Konoha shinobi, Kankurō, especially the jonin!"

"I'm a genin, actually." Naruto smiled slightly, "Thanks, though."

"You're kidding me, right?" Temari gave him a deadpan look, "You're not in the Chunin Exams, right?"

"Now we are." Sasuke stepped forward, nodding at Naruto, "I think you scared them enough. The kid's fine, too, but they're all scared."

Sheathing his katanas, Naruto stood, looking at the two critically, "You're here on offical buisness, act like-"

"You're a genin, too." Kankurō snapped, "Don't-"

"Kankurō, shut up." Temari glared, "You've done enough damage!"

"Kankurō, Temari. Stop that." A cold voice spoke, drawing everyone's eyes to the tree above them, "You're both an embarassment."

A boy, probably the same age as Naruto himself, stood upside down on a tree branch with his arms crossed. He had blank green eyes, surrounded with black as though he'd put on eyeliner. Spiky red hair, parted only to reveal the kanji for love tatooed onto his forehead. Naruto's heartbeat rose as he sensed something about the boy, something strange. Powerful chakra, too powerful for a genin, and far too tainted. A Jinchūriki, he realized. However, he was clearly not a stable one. The blond's heart only sunk farther down into his stomach as he saw the fear the other two Suna genin regarded him with.

"G-Gaara!" Kankurō stuttered out, "We...we were just leaving!"

In a swirl of sand, he was on the ground, making the other two tense. The gourd on his back drew Naruto's attention, and he had an idea which tailed beast was sealed inside the boy. Shukaku, the Ichibi, if he remembered the legends correctly, was the one tailed tanuki and a master of sand manipulation. Clearly not the most stable of tailed beasts at the moment, which made Naruto think something might be wrong with the seal. The red head looked at him immediantly, coldness in every line on his face.

"Your blood will be spilled." He said emotionlessly, and Naruto felt his teammates tense behind him, "Mother has deemed such."

Mother...? Naruto bit the inside of his cheek. The crazy fucking tanuki was calling himself the boy's mother? Damn, he really needed to talk to his own biju. Maybe the fox would have tips on how to make the Ichibi a little less insane.

Naruto just smiled back, "You can try."

The Suna ninja were gone, and Sakura and Sasuke both rounded on him at the same time.

"What the hell was that about?" Sakura snapped, looking around anxiously, "That guy...he threatened you. There was something wrong with him!"

"He's a Jinchūriki." Naruto said simply, keeping his voice below a whisper, "Just like me."

Sasuke's eyebrows rose a fraction as he hissed back, "I'm going to protest that statement."

"Well, not just like me." Naruto sighed and pursed his lips, "I think his seal is messed up. Something is wrong, and it's driving both him and his biju crazy. If I could just..."

"No." Sakura shook her head firmly, trying to remain quiet, "No. Clearly I'm going to have to be the voice of reason on this team, and reason is saying no."

Sasuke sighed, "For now, let's focus on the chunin exams."

"The next step." Naruto nodded, "We need to see Kaka-sensei and get registered. Then we can become chunin and we'll be closer to Itachi and the Hokage hat-"

"Yo!" The kid from earlier finally stopped watching them in awe, running up to the three of them with stars in his eyes. The other boy and the girl followed hesitantly after, "You guys were so cool and fast! Teach me!"

"Not now, kid." Sasuke glanced down, "We have buisness to take care of."

"Please, bosses. I'm the Hokage's grandkid, me and Moegi and Udon will make great students."

"Those two statements have nothing to do with each other." Naruto sighed, "You're saved, run off and play ninja."

"Teach us how to be ninja!"

"Kid-" Sakura began, but was cut off by all three of them pleading.


"I'm gonna be Hokage, you have to teach me!"

"I wanna be a great kunoichi!"

Sasuke could already feel a tic developing.

Chapter Text

"Another Senju?" Shizune nearly dropped the pig she held, looking at Tsunade with wide eyes, "Shishou...that's amazing!"

Brown eyes dark, Tsunade regarded the letter with contempt, "The Sandaime is ordering me back. To...train the girl."

"But...aren't you happy." Shizune deflated, stopping outside the casino to look at her teacher, "There's another Senju, more than one at that! This girl has parents, too, and other family. Your clan just got much bigger."

"I refuse to go back to Konoha for a reason, Shizune." She folded the letter, shoving it in her bag, "There's nothing but bad memories there."

"Maybe you can make better ones." The medic apprentice insisted, eyes imploring, "Besides, this was an official order for your return. You can't just ignore this like it was a request."

"I know that." The blond sighed, "Well, at least Gorou can't call me on debts if I'm not even here-"

"Hey!" They heard a yell, watching as a balding man rushed out the doors, "You owe me ten thousand ryō! Get back here-!"

"Now would be the time to leave!" Shizune held onto Tonton tightly, "If we're going to, that is."

"Might as well." She grumbled, "I haven't got ten thousand damn ryō, that's for sure."

Shizune only sighed in relief and proceeded to chase after her long time sensei. 

When the small white monkey popped into appearance next to Jiraiya in the tree he was peeping in, the old pervert almost dropped his transcript into the hot springs below. Hissing as his yelp gave him away, he fled down the tree and back into the town before the women could get their towels on. Glaring at the monkey that followed him, Nobu was his name, he grabbed the letter from his sensei's summons and watched morosely as it reverse summoned itself out of existence. They couldn't ever contact him normally, no. It had to be inconvenient. More often than not, it got him beaten up as well. Without Tsunade there to heal him, it was quite the painful venture. 

Once safely back in his hotel, he ripped open the letter only to nearly spit out what sake he had just drank. Naruto Uzumaki, his godson, Minato and Kushina's only child, was already entering the chunin exams. Not only that, but apparently he had a knack for sealing and generally freaking out the majority of Konoha's population and clearly Jiraiya had to get back to Konoha to meet this kid as soon as possible. Sounded like someone he'd be proud to have as his godson. So he packed, and headed out of the Land of Noodles and towards Konoha. Maybe, if he got lucky, the kid wouldn't be a total brat and would help him...research. He smiled slightly, thinking of all the possibilities of having a student to exploit in the name of book writing. After all, he had to have someone to throw to the pack of angry women. Maybe the kid would be cooperative.

Two weeks later, Naruto sneezed, wiping his nose as he sat under a tree at training groun seven with Sakura at his side, Sasuke up and murdering straw dummies per usual.

"Are you getting a cold?" Sakura spoke up from where she had her nose buried in her book, "I told you, you need more than a short sleeved haori in winter months."

"It's not winter yet, it's barely fall." Naruto griped, picking up his ink brush once more, "Besides, I just had a bad feeling."

Sakura looked up, green eyes concerned, "Over what?"

"Nothing." Naruto shook his head, "Oi, Sasuke, get over here!"

"Hn." Sasuke sighed, lowering Kaminoikari, the katana blade shining in the sun, "I'm working on the katas Yūgao-sensei gave me."

"Okay." Naruto shrugged, "If you don't want the seal then-"

Sasuke sat down in front of him, katana already sheathed, "Seal?"

"The one you've been wanting?" There was a hint of a smirk on Naruto's lips as he showed the design on the scroll he held, "Just changed the complex, the center of the seal, and brought everything down to a smaller scale. It shouldn't affect your chakra stores at all, and I believe, though don't quote me on it, it may gradually expand your chakra coils which will result in you having larger reserves."

Sasuke blinked, looking at Naruto wide eyed. Sakura just smiled, raising her book to hide it. Boys really were idiots.

"Okay, then." Sasuke nodded slightly, "What do you-?"

"I need your shoulder." Naruto said as he turned to get out his permanent ink from his storage scroll, opening it and laying out his design, "You're gonna have to be very still and not make any sudden movements that could smudge the ink before it dries."

"After it dries?" Sasuke asked, slipping off his blue overshirt, leaving him in only a loose black tank, "Is it waterproof?"

"Like a tattoo, just with no needle." The blond prepped his brush, "Fūinjutsu ink is different than regular ink. Once it's applied to skin, it would take another seak applied to remove it with something like water. Or I guess you could chop the offending limb off, too, but..."

"Can you do seals with regular ink?" Sakura put down her book to watch, facisnated, as Naruto began the swooping lines and kanji.

"They're not waterproof like Fūinjutsu ink, and often yield a lower quality product when applied on skin." Naruto wrinkled his nose slightly in concentration, "You can use them in a pinch though. I save my regular ink for scrolls, and my Fūinjutsu ink for skin."

An Uzumaki spiral placed itself on the tip of Sasuke's left shoulder, a bit farther up than where Naruto put his own seal, and the kanji and symbols spiraled around his upper arm and onto his left shoulder blade. When completed, Naruto resealed his ink and brushes into a scroll and smiled at the finished result. It was a downsized version of his own seal, the matrix a lot smaller to compensate for Sasuke's smaller chakra reserves. 

"I don't feel any different." Sasuke looked up at Naruto, "How long does it take to activate?"

"It already is activated." The Uzumaki smiled slightly, "It's good you feel normal; that means the seal isn't taking too much chakra."

"What are you gakis doing?"

That was an unfamiliar voice, and Naruto tensed immediantly as Sasuke reached to pull his katana and Sakura glanced up from her book, already gathering chakra. A woman stood in front of them, a younger girl beside her and a man on her other side. She had blonde hair that went just past shoulder length, tied in two loose ponytails, and her eyes were a light brown. A violet diamond, small and not noticeable otherwise, was imprinted in the very center of her forehead. Naruto narrowed his eyes, he knew that mark quite well. Mito Uzumaki had one just like it, and many Uzumaki before her. It wasn't surprising, because he knew who this woman was. Tsunade Senju, legendary slug sannin. 

The man next to her was much more conspicuous. With waist-length, spiky white hair tied into a ponytail, and two long red lines running down his face from each of his eyes, it was even clearer who this man was. Jiraiya, legendary toad sannin. 

The third woman, who was holding a pig of all things, Naruto did not know. She had dark, nearly black, eyes and straight, black hair that fell down to just brush her shoulders. She watched his team with slight surprise, which gave him a nice sense of satisfaction.

Sakura sighed, realizing who they were and giving them a quite unimpressed look, "Well, we were training for the chunin exams."

"And that?" Jiraiya sputtered only a bit, gesturing to the now dry ink.

"Fūinjutsu. A seal." Naruto blinked, "I figured you would have known that."

"I do, brat!" The man snapped defensively, "I mean what are you doing with it? You shouldn't put untested seals on-!"

"Yeah, yeah." Naruto waved a hand as Sasuke slipped his shirt back on, "It's just a modification of the seal I made for myself."

"Jiraiya-san, Tsunade-san." Kakashi's voice piped up from behind the sannin, "I see you've met my little monsters."

"Kaka-sensei, we've talked about this." Sakura complained, "You can't introduce us like that to everyone."

The silver haired man gave her an unimpressed look but regardless motioned to the three of them, "Haruno Sakura, Uzumaki Naruto, Uchiha Sasuke. I'm sure you can figure out who's who."

Naruto smirked slightly, "I'm Sakura. It's an honor to meet you."

"I'm Naruto." Sasuke's eyes glinted slightly, amusement hidden behind them.

"And I'm Sasuke." Sakura spoke in the perkiest voice possible, "I like sunshine and kittens, and tomatoes are fucking gross-"

"Take it back!" Sasuke snapped, glaring at her.

"Which part?" The pinkette blinked, a picture perfect scene of innocence, "The part where you once fell off the-?"

"Shut. Up." Sasuke's hand flew out, covering her mouth.

Kakashi just gave the two sannin, who were watching the scene with morbid amusement, a quick eye smile, "Now you know what I go through every day."

"Well, I like them." Shizune smiled at Tsunade, "They have...spirit."

Their jonin sensei just sighed as the argument escelated to blows when Sakura launched herself over Naruto, who just rolled out of the way, to tackle Sasuke down. The Uchiha, equal parts prideful and petty as hell, took the invite for grappling with vigor. He whistled sharply, making all three of his genin look towards him immediantly.

"Want to train with Gai again?" He smirked underneath his mask, "He has been asking after you three."

"No sensei." Sakura bowed her head slightly, glaring at Sasuke out of the corner of her eye.

"" Sasuke crossed his arms, raising a challenging eyebrow towards Sakura.

"Yeah, don't drag me into that again." Naruto shuddered, "So much green. I never knew I could hate one color so passionately."

"That's enough." Tsunade sighed, "Come on, Sakura. Time to start training."

The smile promised pain, but Sakura wasn't too concerned. She'd been mauled by Kaka-sensei's dogs before, and been blown up at least ten times by Naruto's exploding tags. This was just another step to climb, a level to conquer. She sent a smile back to her teammates before following after Tsunade and the woman holding a pig. If anything, it would be fun.

"You, too, Sakura." Jiraiya grabbed Naruto by the collar of his haori, lifting him up in the air, "Let's go,"

Kakashi and Sasuke just watched the sannin shunshin out of the training ground. The Uchiha sighed, "I'm glad I'm not them. I guess I'll go find Yūgao-sensei. See you, Kakashi-sensei."

The jonin smiled slightly, finally he could have some peace.

Why did he get such a strong sense of forboding when he said that?

"What do you mean you're going to the hot springs?" Naruto hissed, "The chunin exams are four days away. I need to be ready. Besides, you can't be a pervert in front of a kid!"

"I've got a prude as a student. Great." Jiraiya rolled his eyes, "I just need to take some notes for my book, then-"

Naruto reached out, quick as a flash, and grabbed the notebook out of the sannin's hands. The white haired nin looked at the boy, slightly impressed but mostly annoyed.

"Give it back, brat." He made a reach for it.

Naruto gathered the moisture out of the air using his chakra, gathering it in a ball in his other hand, "Actually train me, and you'll get this back. Don't and, well, I hope you can read runny ink."

Blinking, Jiraiya looked at his godson slightly stunned. That took a lot of skill and experience, and to do it so effortlessly...

"Okay, kid. I have a deal for you." The sannin grinned, "I have a special jutsu. If you can master it before the day is over, we'll get into some real training. If not, you'll help with my research. Be a distraction and all that."

There's no way the kid could pull it off, he knew. However, looking at the cool and determined blue eyes, he found himself second guessing that in the back of his mind.

"She's so good at dodging!" Shizune watched the pinkette throw herself around the arena like a ragdoll in an effort to dodge the rocks Tsunade hit towards her, "I didn't become that good in...oh...maybe four or so months!"

"Hmm." Tsunade chucked a particularly large one at the girl, watching her lead up into the air to dodge it with skill, "What is Kakashi teaching you?"

"It's not Kakashi-sensei." She beamed at the two women, proud of herself despite being covered in dirt and having a few bruises from attempts gone wrong, "Naruto makes really good exploding tags, and Sasuke and I have learned to dodge."

Tsunade refused to believe in this kid, this pink kunoichi who would die before she even reached sixteen. Still, as she watched the girl dart around the field, occasionally taking a hard hit but getting right back up...her heart twinged in her chest. Not happiness, no, because Tsunade had not been happy in a very long time. Maybe it was hope, though. Hope that this kid wouldn't be another name carved in stone, another child she outlived by some cruel twist of fate. She tossed another stone, the projectile flying with dizzying speed, and watched as it hit the girl square in the chest. She groaned, a bit melodramatically, as she crashed to the ground before getting to her feet. Her face was set as Tsunade let loose an unrelenting volly of hits that the girl weaved and dodged in.

"Move you foot in, Sasuke-kun." Yūgao smiled slightly, "You're tense. Tell me what's wrong."

Sasuke sighed, not dropping his stance, "The chunin exams are soon."

"And?" She raised an eyebrow, "You're more than capable of passing. If you're tense in battle you'll make a mistake and die. Tell me the real reason."

"That's it." Sasuke frowned, "The chunin exams."

"Why?" The purple haired woman raised an eyebrow, "Why, last Uchiha? We both know."

Gritting his teeth, he dropped the katana slightly, "He became a chunin at ten."

"He also graduated at seven, went off the deep end at thirteen, and now you see where he's at. You can't rush these things." She grabbed his arm and pushed it up more, "Hold the stance."

"Yes, sensei." He frowned, "He's so far ahead of me. Will I ever catch up?"

"Catch up to what?" She looked at him, brown eyes calculating, "His body count? The blood on his hands? His power?"

The genin struggled, "I-he...I have to kill him."


"B-because! He killed everyone. I have to do it...for them."

"For you." She corrected, not ungently, "Revenge isn't a good path, kōhai. It'll get you killed, get your team killed. I've watched it tear better men apart. Revenge does not equal satisfaction or happiness."

"What would they say if they knew I let him live?" Sasuke's jaw clenched, "If he keeps living while they're dead?"

"Would your mother have wanted you to throw your life away? If you go on some reckless search for power to kill Itachi, that's what will happen." Her stare was intense, "Nobody wants that for you."

"What would you do?" Sasuke looked away slightly, forcibly crushing the rising emotions in his chest.

"Live." She sighed, "I've seen many of my friends die, Sasuke-kun. My parents died when I was thirteen, killed on a mission together. I know death, but I know life better. That's why I keep on living."

She smiled, "Now move your damn foot in, and let's get you whipped into shape."

He slid his foot into the proper place and felt a cold, spine of steel coil in his stomach. His team wouldn't die, and he wouldn't die. He'd make sure of that. If he happened to fulfill his goal along the way, so be it. He couldn't let anything happen to Naruto or Sakura, though. Not when they'd given him so much.

 Hopefully they can understand. 

Chapter Text

"The Chunin Exams begin in four days." Tsunade looked over the girl critically, standing amidst the wreckage of the training ground, "I're ready."

Sakura beamed up at her from the ground, exhausted but preening at the compliment, "Really, sensei?"

The blonde woman nodded, "You're still a brat, but you're at least a talented one. Kakashi has trained you well, and I'll make you even better after you get promoted."

Stars in her eyes, Sakura bowed slightly, "Thank you, sensei. I'm grateful for the opportun-"

"Save it." Tsunade laughed, "We both know polite and docile isn't your forte."

"Really, though. Thank you." She frowned slightly, "I just hope I do advance in the exams. There are some pretty strong genin there..."

Two jinchūriki, though Naruto wasn't as much of a threat to Sakura as Sabaku no Gaara, Suna's only edge in this whole thing. Tsunade frowned, "What are you chakra affinities?"

"Earth and water."

"Traditional Senju." The Sannin scoffed slightly, "If you go against Suna's jinchūriki, use a water release jutsu to drench the sand and slow it down. That's his main defense and offense, without it he's screwed. You do know a water release technique right?"

"Oh, yeah!" She nodded, "Kakashi-sensei and Yamato-sensei have taught me plenty of them! I'm a bit stronger with earth, but Kaka-sensei says I'm more than efficient in both."

"Strong compliment from someone like Kakashi." She muttered, "Yamato? Who's Yamato?"

"Kaka-sensei calls him Tenzō sometimes, but I don't think he likes the name that much." Sakura moved to stand up when she saw Tsunade's face and hesitated, "Sensei?"

"Tenzō?" The Senju looked at the girl, "Mokuton no Tenzō?"

"I...guess?" Sakura shrugged, "I just call him Yamato-sensei. But he can use mokuton, he's been training me."

"In what?"

"In...what?" Sakura's brown furrowed, "Mokuton, sensei. Didn't Hokage-sama tell you?"

Tsunade remained silent, seemingly frozen as she looked at the girl with wide eyes. Sakura frowned slightly, "I haven't learned much yet, it's all mostly instinct, but it is there, you know!"

"You have mokuton?" The blonde woman muttered.

The sannin looked as though her brain had shorted out, and Sakura sighed silently.

"So Hokage-sama didn't tell you." The pinkette sighed, "I'm sorry. I can show you...if you'd like?"

The woman nodded shortly, so Sakura stood and went through the memorized handsigns Yamato had only taught her yesterday, "Mokuton: Mokujōheki (Wood Release: Wood Locking Wall)!"

Just as the slug sannin jumped back, two walls of wood slammed out of the ground immediantly and rose to form a half dome around Sakura, perfect for deflecting long range attacks and protecting the creator. Tsunade looked at the wood with wide eyes, she had seen what Tenzō could create and it was nothing like her grandfather's abilities. The wood didn't flow, or naturally follow his every command. It moved in short, stunted increments at times and never responded to him without handsigns. This, though...the wood had risen from the ground before the words finished leaving her mouth, fluidly slamming together at her command. Heart jumping, she pursed her lips at the so real reminder of her grandfather, her grandfather who she had loved so much and who had loved her even more in return. 

"Well, that's more than enough proof." Tsunade approached her as the dome sunk into the ground once more, the grass regrowing over the barren spots it had created, "If there was any doubt of your heritage before, there's none now."

"Did you...did you doubt it before?" Sakura hesitated, looking halfway between annoyed and worrisome, "I mean...I get it if you did, sensei, but..."

"No, not after I met you." Tsunade raised an eyebrow, examining the girl with a critical eye, "You're too damn annoying and persistent to be anything but a Senju or Uzumaki, though with that hair it's a possibility."

"Tsunade-sensei!" She protested before scowling, "Not sure if I'm happy or insulted you even think I'm related to Naruto."

"You'd rather be an Uchiha?"

"Kami, no. I love Sasuke, but they're all arrogant bastards." She sniffed slightly, "I don't know what possessed me to fangirl over him for six years."

Tsunade rolled her eyes, "You'll figure it out when you're older, kid."

The woman hesitated before laying a hand on the girl's shoulder, "You' good things, kid."

"Save it, we both know inspirational isn't your forte, sensei." The pinkette laughed before leaping backwards and running away, "I've gotta get home before nightfall! See you tomorrow, Tsunade-sensei!"

"Sakura! Gaki, get back here!"

 Naruto grunted from the ground before holding his hand out, remembering the instructions Jiraiya had given him. Make a rotating sphere of chakra, the man had said before laughing when Naruto had asked for instructions.

"It's a test." His sensei had said before his departure, "If I help you, that wouldn't be fair."

"Ero-sennin..." He grumbled, "The hell you mean, a spinning ball of chakra? The hell does that even mean?"

He allowed his chakra to amass in his hand and tried to force it around, making to chakra jut out in awkward directions. Sighing, Naruto released the chakra, watching it dissipate into the air around him. Shape manipulation is easy, this should be easy. He could walk up trees at the age of two back in Uzu, and walk on water not long after. He shouldn't be having any problems with this, yet here he was. Everytime he tried to make the chakra flow left of right, it fought against him violently and nearly exploaded in his hand. Wouldn't that be shitty, losing a hand over one of the pervert's bets. Nearly snarling as he amassed a large amount of chakra in his hand, he bit his thumb and slammed his hand, chakra and all, into the ground.

"Well, that was a very violent summoning." Daiki gave a smile, baring his fangs as he looked at the large hole in the ground, "I haven't seen you this annoyed since you were trying to create the Go Yōso no Henkan Shīru (Five Element Conversion Seal)."

"I wasn't this annoyed even then!" He snapped, "So much is riding on this damn jutsu!"

The dhole, a full foot taller than Naruto even on all fours, leaned down to look him in the eye, "What's riding on this? Has someone threatened you? I'll rip out their throats."

"If you could, that would be great." The blond muttered before exhaling loudly, "Jiraiya, the toad sannin-"

"I don't know who that is." Daiki scrunched his nose in disgust, laying down and resting his head on his paws, "But he sounds awful. I hate toads."

"I'm sorry?" Naruto rolled his eyes, "You'll meet him soon enough, though. Anyways, he's apparently very powerful, but he refuses to train me. He wants to go peep in the hot springs instead."

"He oogles women instead of doing...I don't know...anything productive for society?" The dhole rolled his eyes, "Sounds like a charmer. What was the bet you made this time, Hiko-hime?"

"I need to master this jutsu. He called it the Rasengan, and he just told me to make a rotating sphere of chakra. It's basic shape manipulation, you make the chakra spin in one direction and then you increase volume and density, and then you contain it within the sphere and blow shit up."

"Well, you seem to know what you're doing. So do it." Daiki closed his eyes, "I'll just take a nap in the meantime."

"I called you here to help, you great ass!" Naruto snapped, "Obviously it's not working!"

Daiki sighed, "Show me what you have."

Naruto held his hand out, summoning a large amount of chakra into a shape vaugely resembling a sphere. He then willed the chakra to swirl, and for split second it cooperated. Then the chakra began to run against itself, forcing parts to jut out and shake, becoming unstable. Naruto stopped it right as it began to shake vigorously, viciously cutting off the circulation so the chakra didn't explode. The dhole watched critically as it all happened, before giving his summoner a tooth grin.

"I think I know your plight." His tail wagged once, causing a great gust of wind, "It's not supposed to go the same direction. Remember when Momoka was trying to master Dōru Sutairu: Isogu Umi (Dhole Styler: Rushing Sea)? She was trying to force the water against it's natural flow, attempting to push it the same direction."

"You can't do that! It has to have a back and forth, a way to release energy or it'll become unstable and explode!" Naruto's eyes were wide, "So you manipulate the chakra in multiple directions, creating friction and a release of energy. The potential transforms into kinetic, it's like activating a seal!"

"Not...really." Daiki blinked, "Why do you always circle back to Fūinjutsu?"

"I'm an Uzumaki, and Fūinjutsu is an exact science. It's easy to relate things and processes to it." Naruto waved a hand, dismissing further conversation, "Now, shush! I need to get this!"

"Thank you, Daiki. You were such a big help, Daiki. I'd never be what I am today without you, Daiki." The dhole grumbled, laying down once more and wrapping his tail around himself, "You have a real gratitude problem, you know that?"

Naruto ignored his summons for the moment, amassing the chakra into the palm of his hand. Instead of forcing it all in one direction, he allowed the mess of it to swirl in different directions, sporadically losing the shape of a sphere but seeming much more stable than before. He forced it in, compressing the chakra and increasing the density of it, the blue mass twisting like a tornado in his hand. He tried forcing it down, into the form of a sphere, causing it to bust in his hand.

"Shit!" Naruto cursed, holding his hand by the wrist. Chakra burns covered his palm, making him hiss.

"Idiot." Daiki stood in one graceful motion, "Here."

A light green, nearly white, chakra bled from the dhole's tail as it wrapped around Naruto's hand, easing the pain on contact. The blonde smiled slightly, "How many times did you do this for me back on Uzu?"

"Too many for me to count." The dhole released his hand, revealing a healed palm, "Now, finish. I'll be here if you screw up again, but you need to master that jutsu. Should you not, I fear Tatsu Yoshida will rise from the grave herself if you begin that filth."

"While I'd love to see my old sensei again, I'm not partaking."

"Jiraiya-sama, where's Naruto?" Kakashi scanned the are with his visible eye, "Has he gone home already?"

The sannin looked up from his notebook, "Eh, Kakashi? No, he's"

"And...why aren't you with him?"

"He seems like the type to train alone."

Kakashi will concede that point, it's no secret that Naruto is a secretive little brat when it comes to training with anyone besides Kakashi himself and the rest of Team 7. However, even when he's sent one or more of the three off by themselves to train, he always knew where there were. Kept track of their chakra signature. Jiraiya just...didn't seem to care. Frowning beneath his mask, he wondered in a detached sort of manner how the older man could disregard Naruto like that. Had Jiraiya even told his new student about their god-family ties? Does Naruto know Jiraiya was his father's sensei, that Jiraiya himself is Naruto's godfather?

Of course not.

A slight anger coils in his chest at the injustice, a sort of anger that he hadn't felt in a long time. The anger that came from helplessness, that came from things he couldn't change. He hated that Naruto couldn't know his father, and only learned of his mother from part of her fractured, dead clan. Hated that no one seemed to really give a flying fuck about the boy, and Sakura and Sasuke for that matter. No one gave a shit about Sasuke's mental state except for himself and Yūgao, no one gave a damn about Sakura before she became one of the last shreds of a formerly great clan. This was the world they lived in, though, so he could only grit his teeth in silence and pull strings from the background to protect his team.

He thought of Naruto, and the boy's face when he claimed Kakashi, Sakura, and Sasuke as family.

Author of his favorite books or not, Kakashi's visible eye trained a harsh glare on Jiraiya, making the sannin look up wearily, "I'm going to go find him."

"Eh?" Jiraiya called after him, "Kakashi? When did you become such a worrywart? Hey, I'm sure he's fine! I wouldn't-Kakashi!"

He asked himself the same questions. When did those kids become so important to him?

The forests of training ground 46 were expansive, though not nearly as dangerous as 44. There were nearly no animals in these woods, no dangerous plants or pit falls to claim lives. Still, as he searched for the blond's expressive chakra signature, he found more than he was expecting. To be exact, he found four signatures directly north-east of him, barely a mile away. Tensing, he took off, his feet barely touching the branches as he rushed towards the signatures.

"-report this to Danzō-sama immediately. He will wish to know of these developments."

"Should we move to remove the target?"

"No. Fall back and report. The last team was disposed of, we still do not know who was the cause of the extermination."

"Our mission was to end him now."

"I agree, assassinate, then report back."

"Very well."

Looking at the four figures below, he practically snarled at the sight of them. Cloaked in black, practically shapeless figures except for white masks in a crude attempt to dress themselves up as ANBU. He knew of ROOT, Danzō's little project that was supposed to have been disbanded years ago but still opperated underneath Konoha. The old war hawk thought he was above the Hokage and the laws of Konoha, and after Kakashi's brief stint in the organization, he'd had enough of the cold bastard for his entire lifetime. Not to mention what the snake bastard had done to Tenzō under Danzō's orders. 

And now they thought they could kill Naruto?

He dropped from the tree, landing behind them silently. The four spun around in an instant, weapons drawn, but Kakashi's headband was already pulled up, Sharingan spinning death like a spiderweb to weave around them. As they fell, dead, he heard Naruto's excited shout.

"Yes! Take this ero-sennin! I'll show you!"

He allowed himself to twitch into a smile, hearing the rampant footsteps of the boy sprinting through the forest to reach Jiraiya. The boy was normally more careful than that, being an exceptional sensor with what little training he had in the art. Something must have really excited him this time.

He heard a distant shout, "Hey, ero-sennin! Take this, you fucking pervert! RASENGAN!"

Kakashi paled, fleeing towards the sounds of shouting and, at least on Jiraiya's part, terrified screams.

Three days later, the night before the exams began, Hiruzen Sarutobi looked at some of his most skilled ninja as they lined up before him, his emotions flickering between concerned and very amused. Tsunade had a light in her eyes that he had not seen since Nawaki, since Dan, since they died. She probably did not notice the bud of hope that he could see in her eyes, but it was there and it made his heart feel a bit less heavy, a bit less dragged down by failure and regret. Kakashi, as well, seems to have found new purpose, as concerning as that was seeing as the man was protective and had a self-sacrificing streak that ran longer than any other ninja Hiruzen had even had the pleasure of meeting. Yūgao, another tragic story but above all a stronger woman, stood resolute. He never could get much out of her emotion wise, even as a young child, but she was as loyal as they came. Jiraiya, much to his amusement, was still sporting a large bruise on the left side of his face and chakra burns on his arm. Naruto had taken care not to overly injure the man, and Tsunade refused to heal her former teammate because she found the whole situation funny as hell.

"Serves you right." She'd said, after going out and buying Naruto dango for what she called his 'services to society', "Maybe you'll turn over a new leaf."

Shitty pun completely pushed aside, they all knew that was wishful thinking.

Lastly, Tenzō, for once dressed in normal jonin attire, stood next to Kakashi as comfortably as Hiruzen was sure the boy could be. The mokuton user had a rough background, but he had made friends with Kakashi when they were both still quite young and had been assigned to the Hatake's ANBU team. Now, unused to being on regular shinobi detail rather than running with the black ops, he practically stuck to Kakashi like cling film. The Sandaime wondered if the silver haired jonin didn't notice, or that he just didn't mind. The old man had his suspicions, but they were just that.

"Report of the progress of Team 7 and their entry into the chunin exams." He spoke firmly, formally, as the ninja looked to him to start their reports, "Tsunade, you may begin."

She only raised a blonde eyebrow, "Sakura is doing well in my training. Her natural strength was already decent for that of the average kunoichi, and she was already knowledgeable in the arts of healing. Obviously more progress will made the month given after she proceeds past the preliminaries and into the finals."

The Sandaime blinked, "You are that confident?"

She gave a smirk, both smug and confident, "Yes. She's a true Senju, I'll give her that much."

Slightly shocked, the Hokage simply nodded. It had been a long, long time since Tsunade had faith in anything other than the inevitability of death. Looking towards the next ninja in line, he nodded, "Tenzō."

"Ah, Yamato, Hokage-sama." The man briefly corrected, "Sakura has made much progress in mokuton. As Tsunade-sama said, she's a true Senju and her kekkei genkai is progressing at a fast rate. She's a long ways from mastery, but it's more than sufficient for a task such as the Chunin Exams."

"Good. Kakashi?"

"Maa, Team 7 is doing good." He hadn't put his book away even as he spoke to Hiruzen, "Sasuke's Sharingan is coming along, though he refuses to allow it to become a crutch, which is good. Naruto is a little monster, as are the other two for that matter. They'll be fine, Hokage-sama."

Smiling at the characterization the jonin had begun referring to his team as affectionately, he simply nodded, "Jiraiya?"

The man scowled, "You already know, sensei."

Tsunade outright laughed at that point, and Hiruzen raised an eyebrow, "Is that your official report?"

"Yes. Yes it is." 

"Okay, then. Yūgao?"

"Sasuke has made advancements with kenjutsu, and is in the beginning stages of combining his lightning chakra with the Kaminoikari, which is perfectly suited for it as the seals enhance any chakra that is channeled into the blade. Excellent Uzumaki craftsmanship."

"Very well. Team 7 is Konoha's forerunner team in this Chunin Exams, and is our opportunity to make a statement about our next generation of shinobi." He stood, looking at them all seriously, "You have prepared them adequately. You are dismissed."

"Oh, Tama, look at our little girl!" Mirai gushed over Tenten as she stood there by Naruto, her face a deep red color, "Going to become a chunin! You have your scrolls?"

"Yes, kaa-chan."

"Your ink?"

"Yes, kaa-chan."

"Your first aid kit? And did your tou-san give you that new katana-?"

"Yes, kaa-chan." Tenten laughed, "I have everything I'll need."

"Okay, okay." She smiled, kissing her daughter on the forehead one more time, "Go join your team, musume."

"You'll do great." Tama ruffled her bangs, making his daughter groan.

"You guys are making a scene." She smiled once more at them before rushing over to the door where Neji and Lee waited for her, "I'll see you later!"

Naruto smiled slightly as Mirai rounded on him next, coming forward to pinch his cheeks, "Oh, look at you! Go kick ass, itoko. Remind everyone who exactly the Uzumaki are!"

Tama set a hand on his shoulder, "Do well, Naruto. We're proud of you."

The brunette Uzumaki rounded on Sakura and Sasuke, who were mostly trying to fade in the background, "Oi! You two! Did you pack your lunch? Here, I brought two extra bentos, go ahead and take them."

She smiled at Sakura and Sasuke, thrusting the boxes towards them with vigor only an Uzumaki or an Akimichi could have about lunch, "Extra tomatoes in this one for you, Sasuke, and some sashimi just for you, Sakura. Naruto already has his, make sure he doesn't lose it-"

"Oba-chan!" The blond snapped, "I won't lose my bento."

She just smiled, "You all will do great. I believe in you. Now, we're going to go join all the other parents in the spectators area. We can't actually watch the exam, but we get updates. I'll see you three soon."

She and Tama followed the flow of parents, leaving the three alone outside the academy, where the first stage was to take place. Sighing, Naruto looked at his teammates, "I'm sorry. You know how oba-chan is."

"I like Mirai-san!" Sakura practically chirped, "She makes the best sashimi!"

"Hn." Sasuke nodded, "She's not bad."

"Wow." Naruto rolled his eyes, "High praise from Uchiha almighty."

"We're meeting Kaka-sensei on the third floor for registry, right?" Sakura intervened the upcoming war of snarky comebacks, "I think that's what he said..."

"Yeah, third floor." Naruto adjusted the two katanas he had strapped across his back, making an X with the sheathes, "Let's head in. Make an entrance."

"We are the best team here." Sasuke smirked, "Everyone needs to acknowledge it."

Sakura laughed, "Dear kami, this should be fun." 

However, after walking up the set of stairs that led to the second floor, the three genin paused. Two ninja, who looked suspiciously like Kotetsu and Izumo, guarded the door that led to the third floor. Sakura scrunched her brows, nudging her teammates with her shoulder, "See that sign?"

"Yeah." Naruto sighed, "Genjutsu."

"That's...really pathetic." Sasuke seemed vaugely offended, "Both the genjutsu, and how many people fell for it."

"Wait, is that-?" Naruto began to speak as Tenten approached the two apparent chunin, but cut himself off when the one with a white bandage across the bridge of his nose shoved her back into her own team, where Neji hastily grabbed her by the arms before she fell to ther floor. 

"Little girls have no place here."

"Oh no. Here it goes." Sakura prepared herself the same as Sasuke as they rushed in behind Naruto, who was gone in a flash.

"Hey!" He barked, shoving through the crowd to push to the front, "Who the fuck do you think you are?"

"Naruto?" Tenten asked from behind him, where Neji and Lee still glared at the ones guarding the door.

"Aw look, another hopeful." The bandaged one laughed, "Do any of you think you can actually pass? Might as well pack up and go home!"

Naruto glowered as he felt Sakura and Sasuke come up behind him, both their chakra flaring as his did, crashing like an angry wave against the beach. Stalking forward until he was right in front of the two, maybe two feet seperating them, Naruto kept his face blank as he spoke.

"Lower that cruddy excuse for a genjutsu and let as through." He glanced back to where Tenten's team stood, "And if you ever touch my cousin or her team again, you'll find out how a person can drown when they're not in water."

"Che, just listen to him." Sakura frowned at the two, "By the way, Izumo, Kotetsu, you're not very creative with your disguises. Or illusions. Or, really, anything."

"Hn." Sasuke grunted, "Aren't you the ones who guard the gate, by the way? Are you really going to lecture us about the dangers of being a chunin? Stop embarassing yourselves."

The genjutsu dropped on both the chunin and the sign, revealing floor two instead of three. Izumo and Kotetsu both laughed, "Of course it'd be Kakashi's squad. You owe me fifty ryō, Izumo!"

"Damn brats. They really are monsters." Kotetsu muttered as they walked away, "Technically it was the girl who challenged us, so..."

Sakura sniffed, "They wanna see a little girl, I'll show them a little girl."

"Yosh!" Lee fist pumped behind them, looking at his teammates with starry eyes, "That is Kakashi-san's team! Just like Guy-sensei said, they're so cool!"

Neji just sighed a very long, very suffering sigh and wondered what kami he's offended in a past life. Tenten's laugh made it only slightly better.

"Ne, ne, Sakura. We don't wanna kill allies." Naruto laughed as he and his team led the pack of genin up the stairs.

"I think she should. They were bastards." Sasuke frowned, "Cocky ones, too. I could show them a thing or two about genjutsu..."

"We also don't wanna leave allies mentally scarred." Naruto gave a cheeky smile, "Thinking of the technique with the viper pit illusion?"

"Of course." The Uchiha rolled his eyes, "Uzumaki jutsu at its finest."

"Naruto!" Tenten smiled as she weasled her way through the dense crowd of kids going up the stairs, "Thank you."

"Ten-chan, what the hell?" Naruto shook his head at her, "You could've laid them flat!"

"And give away my secrets?" She raised an eyebrow, "I don't have the KI you do, and don't give me that look I thought the one with the bandage would piss himself. I'd have to use a technique, and with the competition there? No thanks."

"Clever." Naruto smiled, she was every bit as smart as Nanami was when it came to plotting, "Now you can use your volly of deadly objects to murder other genin hopefuls."

"Exactly." As they reached the end of the steps, she reached back to grab Neji and Lee, "C'mon guys, lets go."

She pushed forward, past Naruto, and entered the third floor with her team behind her. Naruto just rolled his eyes, feeling a bit too much like Sasuke at that point, and finished the climb before scanning for their sensei.

"Oh!" Sakura pointed to a closed door leading into a classroom, "He's in there!"

Naruto heaved a long-suffering sigh, "I need to up my sensing game. You're starting to beat me."

She gave him a deadpan look, "Naruto, I'd like to see you try."

"You sure you wanna challenge him? Did you not see the aftermath of him nailing Jiraiya with a rasengan or..." Sasuke gave her a look like she was crazy, "I have plans on kicking his ass too, but I'm not gonna announce them. I'm too pretty for chakra burns."

"Okay, I'm not touching that statement with a ten foot pole." Kakashi appeared in a puff of smoke, startling the other genin entering the main corridor.

"What? He is pretty." Naruto shrugged slightly before his eyes narrowed, "Also, thanks, guys. Nice to know I'm loved."

"Ass kicking doesn't not equal love." Sakura shook her head, "I want to beat sense into both of you roughly ninety percent of the time, but I still love you."

"Are we registered?" Sasuke sighed, ignoring the conversation, "We've already had to deal with two idiots, I'd just like to get this over with and become a chunin, thanks."

"Confident?" Kakashi asked with no small amount of snark, "Yes, you're registered. Go wait in there with the other genin, and good luck. Keep that confidence, my little monsters."

With that he was gone, leaving the Uchiha to sigh once more, "I just really don't understand why we got the weirdest sensei."


"So, you think they're dead yet?" Kakashi looked over at the man seated beside him in the quite crowded jonin lounge, "Or do you think they've killed anyone yet?"

"I'd say the later is more likely. Sakura is quite temperamental." Yamato responded, scanning the room out of habit, "I don't really know enough about Naruto or Sasuke."

"Naruto is what we like to call neurotic, and Sasuke is generally protective." The jonin sensei responded, "I'd say the later is more likely, too. We find ourselves in agreement, Tenzō."

"Yamato now, senpai." The other man forgot about the other people in the room and looked over at Kakashi, frowning slightly, "You shouldn't forget."

"Maa, maa, I'm not forgetting anything, my adorable kōhai." Kakashi gave him an eye smile, "You should know that by now."

The mokuton user sighed, "Yes, I'm very aware."

Kakashi just smiled slightly, a slight, genuine twitch of his lips not visible to anyone, but Tenzō looked over like he knew and returned it with a small smile of his own, "They'll be fine, senpai."

"Yeah." The silver haired man muttered, looking at the brunette who was once again looking around, "I'm sure they will."

Chapter Text

"There's a lot of teams here." Naruto said as they walked through the doors, "At least sixty."

"Great." Sasuke rolled his eyes, "And now they're staring at us like they think they could actually intimidate us."

"Heh, after Tsunade-sensei I don't think anything will ever intimidate me again." Sakura shuddered, "Have you ever had the strongest woman in the world chuck rocks at you as you run around a training ground? It's awful."

"Worse that my exploading tags? That's dissapointing." Naruto frowned slightly, "I'll have to up the ante."

"Don't." Sakura snapped quietly, glaring, "If I have to buy another set of clothes because of scorch marks, you're a dead man."

They migrated from the doorway over a little to the left, Naruto rolling his eyes as they did, "Sakura, that's one of the liabilities of becoming a ninja. You go through a lot of clothing."

"Is that why the pay is so high?" Sasuke asked sarcastically, "I swear if I ever have to catch Tora again for anything under 300 ryō, I'm quitting."

"Sasuke-kun, you're here!" The shrill shriek cut through the atmosphere, "I've been waiting!"

Sasuke's eyes widened, "No."

Right as Ino went to tackle him from behind, Sasuke flattened himself against the wall. The Yamanaka missed her mark by a mile, flailing through the air before starting to fall to the ground. Naruto grabbed her shoulder, steadying her, making the pale blonde scoff in disgust and tear her arm away.

"Ew, Naruto-baka!" She frowned, "Don't touch me! And wow, Sakura, love the hairdo. That bun really shows of the billboard on your head."

Sakura and Sasuke both leveled the girl with glares, though she completely ignored them as she flounced over to Sasuke, trying to cling to his arm despite the fact he kept inching behind Sakura. 

"I don't know how you're on a team with Forehead Girl and the class idiot." She sighed, "You're too amazing to put up with that-!"

"Ino, seriously, shut up." Sakura's eyes narrowed, "Don't insult Naruto and don't insult me."

"Since when are you chummy with dead last?" Her pale blue eyes narrowed, "Besides, you can't tell me what to do."

Sasuke sighed, shaking her gently from off his arm, "I already told you once, stop calling Sakura that name. Don't insult Naruto either, those are my teammates. Just stop."

She frowned, opening her mouth to respond when all of a sudden another voice came from the right, "Ino, there you are."

Shikamaru and Chōji came tailing after her, pausing at the sight of Team 7.

"You're here too? Man, is everyone here for this thing?" Shikamaru sighed, "I could be sleeping in. This is such a drag, too troublesome."

Chōji frowned, "No, we have to at least make it to the second round! Asuma-sensei said he'd get us barbecue!"

"What we need to do is become chunin." Ino crossed her arms, glaring at her two teammates, "Hello? Promotion? This is kind of important?"

"Ino's right." Sakura nodded, ignoring the shocked looks of Team 10, "The Chunin Exams are vital for all villages, but especially the hosting one. It's a testament to how much power will be in the ranks of your shinobi for the next ten to fifty years. Basically saying, if you're weak the chances of other villages taking advantage of that is higher. A promotion is on the line, but village reputation is, too."

Ino blinked, "Oh."

"Okay then." Chōji smiled, "Let's get a promotion, save the village's repuation, and get barbecue."

Shikamaru shook his head, "I can only do one."


"Wrong answer." Ino sighed, hanging her head, "Honestly, I don't-"

"Wow, look at this. A class reunion?"

Kiba smiled, full of teeth, as he looked looked at the rest of the rookie nine, walking up to them with a cocky swager and a white puppy on his head. Hinata and Shino weren't far behind him, the Hyūga flushing a light pink when Naruto's gaze darted from Kiba, to Shino, to her. He smiled slightly, awkward, before looking back at Sakura and Sasuke. 

"Wow, Kiba, did you bring flees with you?" Ino rolled her eyes, "Nice to see you Hinata."

"N-nice to see you too, Ino." Her voice was quiet, timid almost, "U-um, and you too, Naruto-kun."

"Yeah." He flashed a grin, before nodding at the team and addressing them, "Hinata, Kiba, Shino."

"Naruto." Shino's voice was flat as always, but he seemed happy to be acknowledged for once. Even back in the academy, he'd always been ignored just because of the fact that he was quiet and blended in to the background most of the time. It was hilarious, but also kind of sad.

"Man, with you guys here this'll be a piece of cake!" Kiba laughed, looking at Team 7, "I mean, the bastard is decent, but with Naruto on your team..."

Sasuke sneered, starting to open his mouth, but Sakura beat him to the punch. Quite literally, and the dog boy was on the ground in seconds, "Oi! Listen to me! I'll say it once, and only once! Stop insulting my teammates!"

"Nice form." Naruto compliment, laughing internally at the dazed look on Kiba's face.

"Thanks." She smiled viciously, "I've learned a lot watching Jiraiya get beaten up."

"Wow, Kiba, don't be overly confident." Ino snorted, "When Sakura can kick your ass, you know you have a problem."

"Yeah, well, Sakura could throw a better punch than you even in the academy." Sasuke looked her dead in the eye, "So what's that mean?"

Ino's mouth slackened slightly before he face flushed pink, and Sakura smiled before seeing Team 10 loitering behind some Taki genin, "Tenten! Over here!"

Naruto looked up and smiled at his cousin, "Ten-chan!"

The brunette girl joined the group, "What is this? A Konoha genin powwow? Lee, Neji, are you coming or not?"

"Yosh, of course!" The green beast fist pumped, "Sakura-chan, it's so great to see you once more! I saw the way you beat Kiba into submission, excellent form!"

Sakura smiled broadly, "Thanks."

"Yes! My affections are returned!" He puckered his lips, rushing at her only to be stopped by running into her fist.

"Yeah, no." She shook her head, "I was just accepting the compliment."

"Sakura-chan is so cool, just like her sensei!" He practically had hearts in his eyes as he blew a kiss to her, "I will win your affections eventually. We will grow old together and live happily ever after!"

Her eyebrow twitched, and both Naruto and Sasuke grabbed an arm while the blond boy looked at Lee on the ground, "Yeah, I'd stop while you're still ahead."

"Naruto-kun!" The black-eyed boy popped up off the ground, "My eternal rival!"

"What?" Naruto blinked, confused.

"What?" Sasuke narrowed his eyes, staring the green suited boy down.

"Yes! Guy-sensei said that everyone needs a rival, and who better than someone from Kakashi-san's team!" He gave a blinding, toothy smile, "We will do battle one day, Naruto-kun!"

"Yeah." Naruto spoked slowly.

"Hey, you all might want to keep it down, you know."

Naruto's eyes snapped to the approaching figure. The boy, obviously a bit older than the rookies, was dressed quite startlingly like Ino. Ash-grey hair was pulled up in a ponytail, and beady black eyes stared at them from black rimmed, circular glasses. His smile was wide, and it set Naruto on edge immediantly. His chakra was cold when the blond boy sensed through the masses to find it, cold and calming, like healing chakra but twisted. Frowning, he stared the boy down as he started talking to Ino.

"You're the rookies aren't you?" He glanced at Tenten, Lee, and Neji, "And you're only second years, right?"

"So what?" Ino sneered, "Does that mean anything? Who even are you?"

"I'm Yakushi Kabuto. And it means you just got everyone's attention, which isn't exactly a good choice. These are some of the most talented genin I've seen in these exams. It's my seventh year, I should know." He smiled at the shocked noises that escaped most of the group, "I know, it's a lot. But, it's kind of made me an expert."

"Clearly not." Sasuke tilted his head slightly, "If you're still here, then you're doing something wrong."

Kabuto blinked, "Well-"

"Besides, you're lying." Naruto smiled slightly, "Your chakra fluxuated."

"You're a sensor!" Kabuto blinked in shock, "I-I didn't know about that..."

Sakura's eyes narrowed as she stepped forward, "So you've been watching him?"

"No, no, well, I mean, yes." Kabuto took a step back as she advanced on him, "I, uh, I keep information on all the genin who'll be in the exams. I can give you guys some, if you'd like?"

"No." Sasuke laughed slightly, "We're not that pathetic."

Sakura crossed her arms, "Stop spying on my teammates, too. I don't care if it's a tactic, respect the privacy of allies when not on a mission that orders you to do otherwise."

Kabuto glared at her slightly but was interrupted by the doors slamming open, a scarred man with a bandana around his head and a darker version of standard uniform of the Intelligence Division. Naruto narrowed his eyes slightly, so then they should expect mind gimes. 

"It's time to begin. I'm Morino Ibiki, the first proctor. Firstly," He sent a chilling glare past Naruto and the other Konoha genin up front to the back, where two teams they didn't recognize were fighting, "Candidates from Oto and Suna. Would you like to be disqualified before the exam has begun? Knock it off."

At the harsh snap, the genin jumped away from each other as though they were burned. 

The proctor sent a chilling glare around the room, "I'll say this once. There will be no fighting without the permission of the proctor, got it? If anyone disobays the rules set forth, they will be disqualified immediately. Now, we'll begin the first stage of examination, a written test. You'll be given a number as you enter the examination room, and once everyone is seated the rules will be read and we will begin."

A couple chunin stood at the door of the classroom, handing out number cards. 

Izumo gave one to Sasuke, "Number forty-three."

Kotetsu smirked towards Naruto, "Number sixty-five."

"They'll take numbers forty-four and forty-five." Sasuke glared at the two chunin, tilting his head towards his teammates, "Got it?"

Izumo raised an eyebrow, "And why's that?"

Naruto glared, "I haven't forgotten what bandage guy did to Tenten. I can still drown you both."

Kotetsu frowned under the three glares, a chlling shiver going down his back that told him to just agree lest he reaps the consequences. Besides, he really didn't want to get on Kakashi's bad side, and everyone and their mother knew how the Hatake felt about these kids.

"Fine." Kotetsu nodded to Izumo, "Give them the numbers, though I doubt you could drown someone without water."

"Oh, he could." Sasuke muttered, ushering his team inside the room.

They took their seats and Naruto groaned slightly, "Great, a test. I'm so good at those."

Sakura frowned from where she sat beside him, "You're not dumb, Naruto. Most of the time, at least. I know you can pass a test, you'll be fine."

"They're boring as hell, though." He sniffed, affronted, "And so specific. I can't dumb shit down easily."

"You'll both be fine." Sasuke looked at them from Naruto's other side, "If you have any trouble, just motion and I'll cast a genjutsu to project the answers to you."

"Thanks, Sasuke." Naruto sent him a smile, making the Uchiha turn back to the front in a snappy manner.

"Alright, listen up." Ibiki spoke as chunin filled chairs around the classroom, capable of watching all the genin closely, "Rule one is the written test is based on a point reduction system. You all start with a perfect score of ten, and each question missed is a point off. Rule two, teams pass or fail based on the score of all three members."

Sakura sent a small, smug smile to her teammates who just returned one back.

"Quiet down!" The TI member snapped and the low mummer that had raised, "Now, rule three is simple. The chunin around you are placed there to watch closely for any signs of cheating. Any incidents they spot, two points will be subtracted from the culprits score. If you're caught five times, you and your team are disqualified before the scoring begins. Be warned, their eyes are sharp."

Sakura looked to her right, where Izumo and Kotetsu were seated and glared slightly. Sharp eyes her ass.

"I hate those brats, you know that?" Kotetsu hissed to his friend, "They're a pain in the ass."

"Yeah." Izumo sighed slightly, whispering back, "Worst part is, if we make them mad we make Kakashi mad."

"And Tsunade-sama." Kotetsu shivered, "Have you seen the way she doted on them these past few days? Pinky over there could ask her to chop us up and throw us in the river and she'd do it."

"Yeesh." The chunin let of a huffy breath, "This should be good."

We are so fucked, Sasuke thought, looking through the questions. He didn't know the answer to a single one of these. Rolling his eyes, he nearly groaned when he realized that this test was designed to make people cheat. Suddenly, he related to Shikamaru in a very intense was because this was troublesome. 

Holy fuck, I can actually explain these, Naruto thought, wide eyed. These were more like the examinations back on Uzu, the ones Naruto had to take to climb the ranks of Fūinjutsu mastery. No more basic questions that only gave a single line for a response. No more what is the main part of every jutsu? and expecting him to answer in a single sentence. These were long, complicated answers that requires a lot of explanation. 

Question One: Explain the two components of chakra and where they are derived from?

Letting out a quiet, sharp laugh, Naruto picked up his pencil and began writing. He's lucky they had an hour, because ten questions like this was a lot to explain in that amount of time.

Sakura sucked in a sharp breath when she read the question. These were advcanced, too advcanced for a Chunin Exam. These were at least jonin level questions, not something the average genin would know. Taking a glance around, she quickly figured out that clearly they were questions nearly none of them knew. Except Naruto, apparently, which was kind of shocking despite the fact she knew he was entirely capable. Glancing over at Sasuke, she saw his pencil wasn't moving, which was a problem. Sighing, she picked up her own and knew they'd just have to figure out a way of sharing answers without getting caught. 

Nearly twenty minutes later, when Naruto was on the last question and Sakura was sending slightly paniked glances his way, Sasuke glanced around at the chunin stationed around them. He  activated his Sharingan without a word, "Chinmoku no Geijutsu: Tenkō Iryūjon (Art of Silence: Diversion Illusion)."

The Uchiha looked at the guards intensely, seeing if any of them would meet his eye. None did. Smiling, he shifted his chair closer to Naruto's and whispered into the blond's ear.

"I cast a genjutsu. They shouldn't be paying attention to the area I'm in, everything will seem normal." He glanced down at the filled paper, "Time to start copying."

By the time Sasuke had finished the rapid copying of Naruto's answers, Sakura was finishing up the last answer when she felt a tug on the back of her mind, pulling her away from her own sight and locking her inside herself.

"Ino." She hissed inside her head, "What the hell?"

She flared her chakra harshly, violently, within her mind and stormed to where Ino stood in her head. The blonde blinked in confusion, "Forehead?"

Growling slightly, Sakura allowed a branch to sprout out of the ground and twine itself around Ino, locking the girl up and preventing her from fighting, "Cheat off someone else! Now get out of my head!"

When she came too, blinking, she glanced in front of her where Ino jolted back to reality before sending a wide eyed gaze Sakura's way. The blonde slumped over again no more than five minutes later, and Sakura knew she'd found someone else to leech off of. Sure, the whole point was cheating, but why should she make it easier on anyone else? 

Teams were getting called out left and right for cheating and, by the time they hit the forty-five minute mark, the amount of genin left had been nearly cut in half. Ibiki finally stood when there were only fifteen minutes left, "Now that the hopeless cases are gone, it's time for the tenth and final question. Listen up! There are a few more rules-"

The proctor was interrupted by the door squeaking open, revealing the boy with purple war paint. The chunin behind him closed the door. Naruto narrowed his eyes, looking at the supposed chunin. It's a puppet, he realized, and smiled a little at the blatant but still clever cheating. 

"Ah, made it just in time." Ibiki's voice was layered with scathing sarcasm, "I hope you found your trip to the bathroom enlightening."

Naruto smiled became a full blown smirk as he realized their proctor recognized the puppet too. 

"Well?" Ibiki said, "Take your seat."

As the boy walked back to his seat, Naruto watched him carefully slip Temari a wadded up piece of paper, so small no one would notice it unless they watched closely. Hiding a smile, Naruto settled back into his chair and allowed the events to play out in front of him. 

"Now, there are some rules regarding the tenth question." The man stared them all down, "Try not to let them scare you."

"More rules?" Sakura muttered to Naruto quietly, making the blond snort slightly.

It felt like Ibiki's glare was going to burn a hole through them as his sights landed on Team 7, "Very well, then. Firstly, each of you is free to choose not to be given the final question. It's your decision. Before you get excited, if you choose not to answer the tenth question, you atomatically get a zero. Which means, in case you forgot, you and your team all fail."

A low rumble filled the room as the genin all began to speak, saying of course they'd take the question, then. Naruto only narrowed his eyes, sharing a glance with Sasuke. There was a catch, there had to be a catch.

"Not so fast." Ibiki chuckled darkly, "You didn't let me finish. If you choose to take the question and answer correctly, you not only fail, but you will be barred from taking the Chunin Exam ever again. It's your choice."

Cries of dispair filled the room, and Kiba stood up, pointing at Ibiki with an outraged finger, "That's bullshit, man! There are plenty of people here who've taken it more than once!"

"Unlucky for you, then. I wasn't making the rules before, but I am now." He sent the Inuzuka a dark glare, "Now, if you care to drop out now, your number will be recorded and you and your teammates will be free to go."

It took all of thirty seconds for a hand to go up, belonging to the boy sitting right in front of Sakura, "I'm sorry, I can't do it!"

After that, the rest bailed out so fast that there were only under thirty teams left when the rest had finished clearing out. Ibiki stared the all down, "This decision is one that can change your life. If for any reason you wish to quit, now is your last chance."

Naruto just scoffed, quietly, but it echoed in the large, near empty room and drew Ibiki's eyes to him in an instant, "You, Uzumaki? Forfeiting?"

Raising a single brow, the blond boy gave him an unimpressed look, "Maa, maa, in your dreams, Ibiki-san. We all know this is just a scare tactic. You're Torture and Interrogation, right? This whole exam is right up your ally with all the mind games you play. Besides, if I fail, so do Sasuke and Sakura, and they'd both skin me alive. So no, I'm quite comfortable here."

Ibiki promised himself to curse Kakashi to hell and back when this was over, because the brat was just like his sensei.

"Well, then, to those who remain I only have one thing left to say." Ibiki smirked, looking more evil than anything else, "And that's to tell you that you've all passed the first exam."

Sasuke just rolled his eyes, "Called it."

"Oi!" Sakura leaned over Naruto to glare at him, "Bullshit, Uchiha! All three of us totally knew it at the beginning!"

"Well, if we all knew it, then technically he did call it." Naruto said, "Then again, so did we. So, all three of us called it."

"Wait...what?" Temari blinked rapidly, standing from her seat in the second to last row, "What's the tenth question? Where is it?"

"Well, there never was one. Not a written one at least." Ibiki chuckled slightly, "Your decision to stay was the answer to the tenth question."

"Well isn't that fan-fucking-tastic." Temari said, crossing her arms, "So the other nine were a waste of time?"

Before the proctor even had a chance to open his mouth, the window shattered, sending glass flying all around them. Kunai barreled through, stabbing in the ceiling and floor, unravelling a huge banner as a woman did a flip through the window, landing in front of it.

"Heads up, brats!" She laughed loudly, posing, "This is no time to be happy! I'm the second proctor for the exams, Anko Mitarashi!"

"The beautiful and sexy second proctor?" Naruto squinted at the banner, blinking a few times, "Eh."

"Eh?" Anko snapped, "What do you mean eh, brat? I'm the best thing you'll ever set your eyes on!"

"Actually, that's me." Sasuke muttered, just low enough for Naruto to hear, causing the blond boy to slam his face onto the desks in front of him. As he tried to cover up the snorting laughter shaking his body, Sasuke merely raised a challenging eyebrow at the woman, "You're the second proctor?"

"What's that supposed mean?" The purple haired woman glared, "I could flay you alive, kid."

Sasuke's shoulders tensed, gaze sharpening, "It means I thought they would get someone actually competent for these exams. Or, you know, someone who can do better than petty threats and would actually show up on time."

"You little-!"

"Anko." Ibiki snapped, drawing the engraged purple haired woman's attention, "Jumping the gun as always. You're early. Again."

Her fierceness faltered, eyebrow twitching, "Really? Eh, hah, speaking of. Ibiki, you let all these brats pass? Your test was too easy, clearly. I'll have to make up for that."

Ignoring the glare sent her way that would have weaker shinobi passing out, she just smiled and fist pumped once more, "Let's go, brats! Gotta sign the consent forms!"

"Lovely." Sakura grumbled, dragging herself out of her seat to follow a still fuming Sasuke and a choking Naruto, "Let's all follow the screaming lunatic."

Ibiki Morino entered the Hokage's office, as silent as ever, only to blink in slight shock at the sight of Jiraiya of the Sannin sat of the ground, a large bruise in the shape of Tsunade's fist marking the side of his face. Said kunoichi just sat in one of the chairs beside the Hokage's desk, drinking what he assumed to be sake out of a wine glass as she regaled her sensei with one of the many tales that ended in her ripping off a casino ryō. Sighing quietly, he stepped forward to make his presence known, instantly drawing the eyes of the three most powerful ninja in Konoha.

"Ibiki-san?" Tsunade said as the man approached, "Was there an incident in TI?"

"No, Tsunade-sama." He turned his gaze to the Hokage, "I felt that you should see this."

He walked forward, laying the paper down and turning it to face the Hokage. The old man picked it up, his eyebrows raising more and more as he read on, "This is Naruto's test? You're sure?"

"Yes, Hokage-sama."

" many times did you see him cheat?"


"None." The Sandaime whispered to himself before looking back down at the paper, "Sakura Haruno, perhaps, gave him the answers? Or Sasuke Uchiha?"

"The Uchiha didn't even touch his paper until thirty minutes into the exam. Haruno was still working on hers by the time Uzumaki was finished. What want to know, Hokage-sama, was how this boy was dead last in the academy when he answered all nine given questions perfectly and then blatantly disregarded any possibility of being stuck as a genin forever?"

"Eh." The Hokage waved a hand tiredly, "Lack of ambition? The desire to stress Iruka-san out? Who knows. He was the one to discover the meaning behind Kakashi's bell test, as well."

Jiraiya groaned from the floor, "Little gaki figured out the Rasengan in one damn day, too."

"Hmm." Tsunade smiled into her wine glass of sake, "Careful, Jiraiya. I might just have two apprentices by the time this is over."

"Well, goodnight, Hokage-same." Ibiki dipped his head towards the Sandaime, then to each of the Sannin, "Tsunade-sama, Jiraiya."

As the door closed behind him, Jiraiya sat up from the floor, "Why is it always Tsunade-sama, then just Jiraiya? I should be Jiraiya-sama!"

The blonde Sannin snorted, "I think I like ero-sennin better."

The next morning, Anko stood proudly in front of the gates, smiling at the group of genin before her. There were some...questionable sounds coming from the forest, setting the majority of them on edge. Except for a specific squad in the from. Kakashi's team. 

"Kinda reminds me of training grounds forty-five and forty-six. Really big forests, and the like." Naruto was looking at the place with a critical eye, "Sakura, this'll be right up your alley."

Anko saw, and very much appreciated, the smile that curled the pinkette's lips when her teammates said that. Maybe for once there'd be a decent kunoichi in this bunch. Then she spotted a brunette girl with buns in the back beating a boy in a green jumpsuit over the head, and decided this was her favorite crop of genin in a long time. Now, though, it was time to make sure some of the died.

"I hope you all filled out your forms?" She spoke above the crowd, silencing them and the all nodded, "Good. This place is called the Forest of Death for a reason, and you're about to get a first hand experience."

"Forest of Death, huh?" Sakura tilted her head slightly before looking at her teammates, "Isn't this where Kaka-sensei dumped us blindfolded after Wave?"

"Oh, yeah!" Naruto snapped his fingers, "Knew I recognized the chakra! He said it was a team training exercise. He was lying, though, I think he just wanted to get rid of us for a few hours to go buy that new book he wanted."

Anko stared at them, trying to figure out if they were joking of not, "Tough guys, huh? Trying to be intimidating?"

"Maa, no, of course not." Naruto smiled easily, running a hand through his bangs, "Just talking to my team."

"Yeah? Try and be a tough guy after this." She pulled a kunai from her puch and threw it at him in the same second, slightly astounded when he grabbed it out of the air right before slicing into his cheek. Shunshining in a plume of smoke, she ended up right in front of him, close enough that he could feel her breath, and grabbed the kunai out of his hand, "Oh, I like you. You're entertaining. Sure you're not scared?"

"Uh, lady?" Naruto twitched as she ran the kunai down the side of his face, just enough pressure to not draw blood, "Could you-? Not-?"

The purple haired kunoichi blinked in shock when she looked over to find the baby Uchiha standing beside her, Sharingan spinning lazily, kunai in his hand pointing right towards her eye, "Get off him."

"Care to say please?" She smiled widely.


"Ohh, fiesty." She grinned, backing away from the blond, "I like it. Typical Uchiha. Man, Kakashi must have a time with you all."

"Does everyone know our sensei?" Sakura folded her arms, "I mean, seriously, I hear more about him on a daily basis than the weather."

"Uh, everyone knows your sensei." A Kumo genin with dark skin and ash-blonde hair blinked, looking at Sakura in confusion, "He's even in our bingo books."

Sakura thought for a second then shrugged, "Sounds like him. Never touch him though, got it?"

Watching a pink haired, short little genin from Konoha glare a whole squad of Kumo ninja into submission was the best thing Anko had seen all month, "Seems like everyone here today is quick tempered. Must be something in the air."

She gestured grandly to the forest behind her, "First things first, brats! Here's a quick run through of what's gonna happen! The Forest of Death had forty-four locked entrance gates, leading to a very thick forest filled with many rivers and deadly animals and plants. Fall into the water, you're probably going to get eaten. Fall on the ground? Also, probably going to get eaten. In the center of the training ground is a locked tower located ten kilometers from each gate. This confined are is where you'll undergo the second stage of the Chunin Exams, the survival test."

She pulled two scrolls, one white and one black, out from a pocket in her trench coat, "This includes all out battle to get your hands on one of these scrolls. You need both by the time you reach the tower, so half of you will start with an earth scroll and half with a heaven scroll. There are twenty-six teams here, so you have thirteen opportunities to get what scroll you need before someone else gets yours."

"So..." Ino raised her hand slightly, "How do we pass?"

"Your entire three man squad must bring both scrolls to the tower within five days."

"Fiver days?" Ino practically screamed, "We're gonna be out there for five days?"

"What do we do for food?" Chōji said, paniked, "We're gonna starve!"

"Look around the forest, there's plenty to eat." She snorted, "Just make sure it doesn't eat you first."

"There's no way half the teams will pass under these conditions." Neji crossed his arms, "Maybe less than a fourth."

Anko winked at him, "Bingo, Hyūga! This is a test of endurance and your skill behind enemy lines. No rest, no time to recover, and a high chance of death! There are a few ways to get disqualified though. One, if a team can't make it to the tower with boths scrolls. Two, if a team loses a member along the way. Third, and most importantly, none of you can look at the scrolls before you reach the tower. Now, let's get started! Each of you exhange your forms for your scroll and pick a gate!"

"Heaven." Sakura muttered to her teammates as she slipped out of the booth, the white scroll not visible on her at all, "Let's get to a gate."

The boys nodded, and the three slipped away, not noticing another team watching them intently.

"Are you sure, Ino?" Shikamaru leveled her a doubtful stare, "I doubt she has mind defenses that strong."

"She literally kicked me out of her head via tree. It's gotta be genjutsu, of a mind defense." Ino hissed, glaring after the pinkette, "She's gotten stronger. need to get stronger."

Chōji was rifling through his back, counting the bags of chips he'd shoved in there, "Ino, you're plenty strong. Besides, the more we train, the better we'll get."

"Just what happened to her all of a sudden?" The blonde Yamanaka griped, crossing her arms, "One minute we're in the race for Sasuke and then...then...then she starts wearing her hair up, and she's defending Naruto, and Sasuke is defending them both, and now she's She just...gave up our rivalry!"

"Is it the rivalry you're upset about, or the friendship? Ino, the only thing that's happened is they've started acting like shinobi. Like a team." Shikamaru leveled her with a knowing look.

"Your friendship doesn't have to revolve around boys, anyways." The Akimichi shrugged his shoulders, "Her and Tenten seem to be friends and they're not fighting over anyone."

Ino flushed red, dropping her glare as her shoulders slumped slightly, "Yeah, I guess you're right."

The gates swung open, and Team 7 took off at a sprint. Getting off the ground immediately, the three rushed up the trees and traveled on the branches, avoiding the bushes and the brush below. The paused in a large oak tree, Sakura looking around before signing it was okay to talk.

"Okay, we've all got the bentos, right?" Naruto asked, scoffing slightly, "Mirai-oba-chan packed enough into those preserving scrolls for at least ten days, so we're good on food."

"Thank Kami for Uzumaki sealing and cooking." Sakura sighed, patting the small but filled scroll on her side happily, "Sashimi for five days. I'm in heaven."

"Yeah, got mine too." Sasuke had it strapped to his back, right under his katana, "We need to have a plan before we go into this blind."

"What if someone transforms into one of us?" Sakura asked, "We need a question, something only we'd know."

Naruto frowned before his face brightened, "Who's the scariest person we know?"

"Tsunade-sensei." Sakura and Sasuke answer in unison, haunted looks on both their faces.

"She just kept...hitting him." Sakura shuddered, "I thought he was dead. I thought he died right in front of us."

"So, Jiraiya dying aside, you and Sakura can sense other teams, right?" Sasuke looked at Naruto, "So we'll know where to head. Keep in mind the tower, and keep taking teams until we get our scroll."

"I can only sense short range right now." Sakura said, "Naruto? What about you?"

"Well, I can feel all of Konoha, so I'm good. The closest team right now is about two kilometers east, heading north. Feels like the Suna team we met."

"With Gaara." Sasuke's eyes narrowed, "We avoid them. No unnecessary risks, we wanna do this as fast as possible and get out of here."

"Okay." Sakura nodded before glancing at Naruto, "If we get out of here early, I'm keeping the bentos."

"Feel free." Naruto sighed, "Let's get going."

They returned to the trees, only halting when Naruto pointed below them. Looking down, they saw one of the Amegakure squads down below, the three hunting around through the trees like they were looking for something. Sakura held out a hand, halting the boys, and whispered, "It'll be quicker if one person eliminates them. I'll handle it, they won't notice until it's over. Keep watching in case I need back up."

She dropped to the ground, silent as a mouse, and crept towards the genin.

"She won't need back up, will she?" Naruto whispered to Sasuke, leaning in close so they weren't heard, "I bet she won't."

"That's a bet I'm not taking." Sasuke laughed quietly, "She'll immobilize them so quickly it won't even be a battle."

The pinkette continued forward until she was about five feet from the closest one, bringing her hands up into a single snake seal, "Mokuton: Hana no Ori (Wood Release: Cage of Flowers)."

In a single instant, right as the genin whirled around at the sound of a jutsu, wooden tendrils erupted from the ground, twining around them as stems of which flowers grew outwards, resting against their faces, forcing them to close their mouths lest they injest the plant.

"Hemlock." Sasuke observed, leaping to the ground and moving to stand beside her, "Impressive."

"Sasuke!" Naruto yelped, as he leaped right behind the raven, "Watch it!"

Sakura sighed as the two collided, sending Sasuke to the ground with Naruto sprawled beside him, "You're both so talented, so stupid."

"Oi, that wasn't my fault." Sasuke griped, pulling himself up before offering a hand to Naruto, "Dobe. Did you just jump down on top of me?"

"No!" The blonde snapped, taking the hand to let himself be pulled up, "I was leaping down when you moved to stand there."

"Hn." Sasuke rolled his eyes before commenting off handedly, "If you wanted me on the ground, you could have just said so."

Sakura choked, Naruto gasped as his face went red, and Sasuke laughed to himself as he went to inspect the enemy genin.

"Naruto, you okay?" Sakura coughed into her fist, "You're...sort of red."

"I hate that bastard." The blonde hissed, stalking after the Uchiha.

Sakura just sighed, shaking her head, as Sasuke turned around with another white scroll in his hand, "Another heaven scroll."

"We should keep it." Naruto took the scroll, flushing slightly as he grabbed it from Sasuke, "Just in case we loose ours, or another Konoha team needs one."

"We want to keep out other village competition." Sakura tilted her head, seeing one of the the Ame nin trying to reach their kunai pouch, "You can't cut through that. It's wood."

One of the boys sucked in a sharp breath, "Senju."

She smiled, only slightly smug, "They remember."

"I don't think anyone every forgot the Shodai Hokage, Sakura." Naruto snorted, "We should get going."

Sakura nodded, looking back at the Ame genin, "I wouldn't eat those plants, and try to avoid any topical contact. It's hemlock, very poisonous."

Keeping to the ground, the three ran through the trees awhile longer, looking for any signs of another team to get a scroll, before Naruto stopped, throwing up a hand and looking behind him with narrowed eyes, "There's something there-"

A huge gust of wind swept through the forest, making Sasuke grab both Sakura and Naruto by their collars and drag them under the bushes. They practically held their breath as the dust cleared, revealing the creepy looking team from Kusagakure that they had seen earlier by the gates. Sasuke activated his Sharingan, watching them closely as the one with the beige garb and big purple belt waved his hand towards the others.

"Fan out. I'll take care of this." The woman sauntered forward, long black hair covering most of her face, "I know you're here somewhere. Shame I couldn't...get the jump on you."

Her voice was low, smooth and sounded almost like a hiss as she approached the area where they hid. Sasuke narrowed his eyes, watching her movements carefully. He felt Naruto tense beside him, ready to strike, and could feel Sakura trembling only slightly from the killing intent the woman leaked off. Glancing over, he saw the pinkette wasn't exactly trembling, though she was shaking. She wasn't scared, her face was determined and set, eyes flashing. Adrenaline, he realized, and gave her a firm nod when her eyes flittered over to his with a deadly gleam. She really was fucking terrifying. 

"Where might the little clever genin be hiding?" Her dark eyes landed right on them, "Here, perhaps?"

She was off like a rocket, using a wind jutsu to blow their cover and forcing them out of hiding, the three taking a battle stance back to back. Sasuke drew his sword quickly, allowing lightning chakra to dance up and down the blade like electiricity as he ran towards her, swinging for her neck. This woman wanted them dead, no way in hell was he sparing the bitch.

Her eyes widened, but she easily dodged, and in an instant he felt a genjutsu come over him like a blanket. Sneering as the red covered his vision, he threw it off in an instant, grunting as he charged her and hacked at her arm. There was a sharp intake of breath, and Sasuke saw a thin line of cauterized flesh peek through the sleeves of the black undershirt. She smiled, her tounge coming out to lick her lips as she practically leered at him.

"Oh, surprise, surprise. You'll have to do better than that, though-"

"Uzuton: Chūi Kanki (Whirlpool Release: Heads Up)!" Naruto yelled, a katana in each hand as he came down onto the woman, lightning swirling around him, deadly like a strom as he drew water from the air, forcing it to surround her body. Sasuke jumped at the opportunity, allowing lightning to race down from his blade, down, down down-

It shot up from the ground, a bolt that roared up at it's target, striking at the woman who only just managed to escape the watery confines to dodge backwards, only to fall into Sakura's clutches.

"Mokuton: Hana no Ori (Wood Release: Cage of Flowers)!" She hissed, bringing her hands into a snake sign and forcing the wood out of the ground at a rapid pace, swirling towards the off balance woman as the trees seemed to come to life around them, branches creaking and shaking as they reacted to Sakura's adrenaline and pulse.

The Kusa nin jumped way back out of reach, leaving the three to regroup and stare at the unharmed woman, who was looking at them in equal parts desire and hunger.

"We didn't even touch her." Sakura muttered, stunned, "How?"

"She's no genin."

"Sasuke, Sakura, watch out!" Naruto shoved them forwards, the two swirling around right in time to see-

"Naruto!" Sasuke screamed, jerking to run forwards right as Sakura grabbed him by the arm to pull him back.

"No, Sasuke!" She snapped, "It'll just grab you, too!"

The snake rose up, a hundred times the size of a normal reptile, great yellow eyes straing them down as it's tounge flickered out to lick the blood off it's lips. Naruto...Naruto's blood...he could feel Sakura shaking in anger behind him.

"It was her! She's gone now!" The pinkette screamed, whirling around to face the giant snake, pulling out a kunai to hand off each finger, "Do you see him?"

"Sakura." He heard his own voice, the monotone of it, the detachment, as he pushed her back, "I-I can't see him. I can't sense him."

Her eyes widened, "No. It's Naruto. He couldn't..."

Sasuke shook, his eyes stinging with what he refused to acknowledge as tears, vision blurring as he kept pushing Sakura back. The snake reared up, opening its bloody jaws and preparing to strike. Sakura snarled jumping backwards and pulling Sasuke with her, throwing all ten kunai at the reptile as Sasuke weilded Kaminoikari viciously, flipping forwards to spear the wounded snake through the head before jumping back to join his remaining teammate.

"Sasuke...I don't feel him." Her voice shook, "I don't feel him."

The snake began to shake, scales popping off the middle of it's great body as a black head of hair began to bust forth, a chilling voice filling the air.

"How sad? I can sense your fear and desperation. Your anger. Your hatred. I suppose the weakest link always does go first." Her body bended out of the snake, "I suppose I should be happy my intended prey has not let down it's guard in the face of its predator."

Her tounge unfurled from her mouth as she shot up, her body stretching and bending as if she was the snake, extending around the tree before rearing back and looking at them with now eerie yellow eyes compared to her previous black ones. She began to slither along the brances, Sasuke backing up with Sakura right as the two prepared to jump apart when they heard a vicious snarl.

"I don't like frogs, but snakes are worse." It was a deep, growling voice, and Sasuke would truly never forget the sight of huge, great red dog with searing violet eyes ripping the snake-woman off the branch and throwing her into the lake across the clearing. The canine's eyes landed on the two Konoha genin, "Are you my pup's friends?"

"Pup-?" Sakura's vocie shook, "What?"

"That's them, Satomi." Sasuke's eyes finally did tear up at the sound of the voice, and when he looked over, Sakura's had too.

"Naruto!" The both yelled, running forward, only to see him exit the trees with three more of the red dogs.

"Sasuke! Sakura!" He grinned, his canine teeth flashing as he gestured at his dogs, "These are the Uzumaki summons. I signed the contract awhile back, so when shit hit the fan I decided to go for help."

"Oh, you great idiot." Sakura's voice shook as she leaped forward to drag him into a hug, "I thought-We thought-!"

"Sorry." He pulled back, and Sasuke's eyes were drawn to his shoulder region in an instant.

"You're bleeding." He reached past Sakura to grab to blond's arm, looking at the vicious tear trom his shoulder to his elbow, the cut wide open and torn clean through his close, "This is from the snake?"

"Yeah." Naruto nodded fast, "We'll have to deal with it later. Look!"

The long haired woman climbed out of the lake, once more on two feet with her hair dripping around her like something out of a horror movie. The dog, Satomi, growled lowly and reared back as though she were ready to pounce.

"No one touches my pups, filthy snake." She growled out, bearing her teeth in a snarl, "Daiki, Momoka, Hikari. Prepare. The snake will not claim the last Uzumakis."

Sliding into a stance between Sakura and Naruto, Sasuke felt emotions coil up inside him like the snake they were facing. He thought Naruto had died, hell, Naruto had almost died. If he wasn't careful...grip tightening around Kaminoikari, the Uchiha banished the thought from his head as the red dogs spread out around the, the largest one beside Naruto, Satomi beside Sakura, and the other two behind Sasuke.

"Ah, summons? So my prey is not so helpless after all." Yellow eyes scanned the genin, "And what's this? Civillian playing Senju? What, you think you can fool me with a pretty earth jutsu and an illusion? Pathetic."

"Fool you...?" Sakura snarled, "I'll show you fooled..."

She ran forwards, Sasuke and Naruto leaping into the air behind her as she charged all the chakra she could into her fist just like Tsunade-sensei had demonstrated. She had only done this once but...desperate times. Her fist came crashing down, Sakura in the epicenter of the crater as the ground shook underneath them. All around her, wooden tendrils that resembled vines rose out of the ground and the trees came to life, responding without a jutsu to her rage. Lashing towards the woman, the snake-like creature dodged with wide eyes, before one caught the unstable ground shook her and a wooden branch struck her in the face so hard she went flying, twisting midair to land on her feet and charge right back at them.

Naruto ran forward with Sakura and Sasuke, all three of them watching each other's backs as the canines followed behind them, barking and snarling curses. 

"Mokuton: Sen Mokusei Supiāzu (Wood Release: A Thousand Wooden Spears)!"

The wood shook and splintered off, rising into the air.

"Uzuton: Saikuron (Whirlpool Release: Cyclone)."

Water and wind came to life in the air, swirling together to form a deadly storm heading straight for it's target.

Sasuke said nothing, just let out a wordless scream as his left eye burned, black flames blazing a trail for the snake woman as the Uchiha ran, Kaminoikari flashing lightning.

The attacks collided, Sakura's spears creating splinted of wood that reached for the woman as she dodged them all, only to get caught adrift in Naruto's cyclone. Sasuke looked right at her as black flames began to crawl along her flesh, her screams shrieking and echoing throughout the forest. The three skidded to a halt, Naruto watching with wide eyes as Sasuke watched in pure satisfaction as the woman seemed to melt before them, falling to the floor with a piercing shriek. The melting mess of a woman seeming to shake, and her face seeming to slide off as though it were only a second skin. Shedding the body, another person stepped out wearing the same clothing but with much different features.

The long, black hair was the safe, hanging around her face like a dark curtain and the yellow, venemous eyes were the same as well but the palor of the skin was not natural. Purple markings line the woman's eyes like a snakes, and the shoulders were broader and the killing intent leaked was more...leathal.

"Mokuton?" Her voice was an octave deeper as well, "How? You are not a Senju, there are no others from that clan. Tsunade was the last."

Sasuke's brain screeched to a halt.

"Wait." The Uchiha sneered, "Are're the snake Sannin. Orochimaru. The traitor."

A wide smile curved his lips, tounge flicking out in a reptillian manner, "Sound more enthusiastic. Well, I suppose I've been found out. It's time to take of the children's gloves now. You know, I expected less. Really, I'm pleasantly surprised, but it's time to end this."

Naruto snarled, his chest lighting up a brilliant white as chains flew from him, heading towards Orochimaru at lightning speed.

"Oh!" One of the smaller red dogs yipped, "I love it when Hiko-hime breaks out the chains!"

"Momoka!" The largest canine's voice was sharp as a blade, "Not here."

"Sorry, Daiki." She lowered her head, eyes sad, right as the largest dog, Daiki, leapt for Orochimaru along with Satomi.

Daiki tore into the Sannin's arm with carnage, blood flying as the Sannin snarled and used his other hand to pull a sword from...inside his mouth? Sasuke felt vaugely as though that should be considered a crime of humanity just by itself. Orichimaru took the sword, lashing out at Daiki right as the red dog jumped back with a large cut down his back, Naruto flashing forward with both katanas swinging in a cross motion, something that would have chopped his head clean off should the Sannin not have moved to the side with ease and flexibility that was completely unnatural. 

"Suiton: Hahonryū (Water Release: Tearing Torrent)!" Sakura thanked her lucky stars for Yamato-sensei as she ran through the hand seals, water spiraling around her hand as she threw the twisting deluge of water right at the Sannin.

Orichimaru bypassed the attack and began to run through a series of hand seals, turning towards Sasuke. The boy leaped back as a wall of flames came crashing down around where he was previosuly standing, having seen the attack before it even happened.

"Your eyes, little Uchiha." The Sannin hissed, tounge flicking, "I've only seen one pair like them know what I'm going to do, don't you? Before I even do it. How...useful."

The Sannin twisted and shot forwards, grabbing the Uchiha by the next and opening his mouth wide, clamping down on Sasuke's neck.

"Uh!" Sasuke was jerked back by the impact, teeth sinking into his throat.

"Sasuke!" Naruto shrieked, rage boiling as he saw the Sannin tear into the Uchiha's neck.

Running at the pair, Naruto let the chakra spin in his hand as he leaped at the preoccupied Sannin, "Rasengan!"

The ball of chakra tore a bloody path of gore through the the first few layers of skin on the Sannin's shoulder, forcing him to release the Uchiha as Sakura skidded to halt, throwing her hands up as her gut jerked, tensely, an overwhelming flood of chakra exiting her as the great oak tree behind them lifted the Sannin up and tossed him into another tree, where he then fell to the ground, landing on his knees. Standing, bearing his bloody teeth at them, he looked fine besides the bleeding patch on his shoulder and Sasuke's blood dripping down his chin.

"What are you?" He hissed at the group, interested as if they were something to disect, "What are you? I'd like to find out, you know. Mokuton would be would those lovely chains. Maybe a gene splice? I could grow my own body...wouldn't that be an experience? You'd have to die for it though...a pity."

The smile on his face somehow made it seem like he really didn't care about them dying even a little bit.

"We're a team." Naruto snarled, pushing himself in front of Sasuke and Sakura as Daiki, Satomi, Momoka, and Hikari formed a half circle in front of him, "You can't-"

He cut himself off, stumbling backwards slightly, making Sakura rush up to catch him before he fell, "Naruto! You're losing too much blood!"

"Pup!" Satomi turned her head.

Orochimaru laughed, the skin on his shoulder already stitching itself back together, "Save that Konoha-fed drivel for someone who cares."

"We can't keep fighting." Sakura whispered to the boys as clutched at Naruto, Sasuke on his knees as well to hold the unconcious blond's head, "I'm exhausted. I can't even-I can't even heal him! Too much more of this and...and we're dead."

"Kukukuku." Orochimaru chuckled darkly as, in a flash, a giant snake was summoned behind him, even larger than the last one, "I'd like to take you all. Luckily, if I do use you all to create a body...all I need are samples. None of which, for your information, do you need to be alive for."

Sasuke tried to will what happened earlier, the flames, the burning, but he couldn't. His eyes ached, a vicious pain that cut straight through the foggy exhaustion he felt.

"Satomi, take them back." Naruto's eyes fluttered open slightly, "Don't die here."

"Naruto!" Daiki snapped, snarling, "You're not dying!"

"I might, but you certainly will be if you keep being foolish." Naruto looked at them, forming a hand seal, "I'm sorry. I can't let you be hurt."

"Naruto-sama, don't-!" Hikari's protests were cut off as the summons disappeared in a swirl of smoke, leaving only the three genin.

"Let me up, I can-!" Naruto made to move, only to have hands hold him down to the ground.

"Don't even think about moving." Sasuke's face was right in front of his, "Don't be stupid!"

Naruto's breath caught, "Sas-Sasuke, your eyes-!"


They were interrupted as Orochimaru began to walk towards them, the great snake slithering behind them. He ran through hand seals with ease, nearly on top of them. Sakura closed her eyes, clutching her teammates tightly as Sasuke tried to position himself in front of them, staring down the Sannin as he approached.

"OROCHIMARU!" A familiar roar echoed throughout the forest, and the next thing the genin knew a blonde blur had knocked Orochimaru clean off the snake and into the ground, leaving a crater ten times the size of Sakura's earlier one.

Tsunade stood, nearly snarling as she threw a single kunai at the hissing snake, watching with a smirk as it fled. Smiling as Orochimaru practically bounced up, now wounded in a way Team 7 had never seen a person be, she reached for him again. 

The snake Sannin paled drastically at seeing her and sensing Jiraiya, and in an instant he was gone through the trees, Tsunade roaring after him. Jiraiya came sprinting through, trying to catch up with his old teammates as Tsunade threatened everything but death on the snake summoner.

"What...what just happened?" Sakura breathed out, nearly completely numb as she stared at the crater left behind in shock.

"I think," Naruto grunted as he tried to sit up, "We just witnessed the Sannin's reunion."

Sasuke just pushed him back down, pursing his lips, "I don't think so, dobe. Stay down."

Chapter Text

"I-I can't get the wound to close with healing. Tsunade-sensei explained the theory, but if I botch it..." Sakura grabbed one of the storage scrolls off her back, "I'm going to have to stitch it for now and Tsunade-sensei can heal it at the tower." 

Sasuke clutched at an unconscious Naruto, holding his head and shoulders in his own lap as Sakura opened the kit she had packed and prepared a needle and thread, "Will he wake up soon?"

"He should. Just be happy he's not awake for this. Even with the sake Tsunade-sensei gave me just in case, it'd still hurt like hell." She poured some water on a rag before setting it aside, "I need to clean it first. Then I should be able to..."

She gently rubbed the dried and fresh blood off the wound before finding the center of it, about midway up his arm. She pulled the wound together with one hand and began to stitch with the other, pulling the thread in and out before cutting it. One stitch done, Sasuke cringed as he looked at the bloody arm, and quite a few more to go. Sakura continued to process, placing another towards the beginning and end of the gash, and then one between those. Tying and cutting the last stitch, she wiped off the mess the blood had made from his skin before dousing her own hands in the water.

"I'm going to try and hurry the process along so the stitches don't come undone as soon as he moves." Her hands glowed a light, mint green color, "This should do it. With his natural healing advantage, he should be fine before the hour's up."

"Good." Sasuke heard a rustling, looking up from the tree they hid under, "You hear that?"

"There are three chakra signatures about fifty feet over, hiding in the bushes. They're watching us." The pinkette looked up, "One of us has to stay."

"You stay." The Uchiha slid from under Naruto, laying his head on the ground, "You're the medic. I'll take care of them."

She frowned, "If you need help, just flare your chakra. I'll make a clone and be there."

He gave her a lopsided grin, "I'd only call for you if I really hated them."

"Oh, shut up, Uchiha." Sakura scoffed, taking the rag and wiping the blood of Naruto's face, "Just go do your job."

"Of course, commander." He rolled his eyes, leaping over the giant tree roots that hid them and entering the clearing where they'd just fought Orochimaru no less than an hour ago. It was still quite the fucking mess, to be honest. There was splintered wood everywhere, and the craters from Tsunade and Sakura would most likely mar the landscape of the forest forever. He activated the Sharingan despite the piercing pain and looked around, seeing three flickering silhouettes behind the bush across the clearing, the same he and his team had hidden under from the snake Sannin. Frowning, he ran through handsigns in an instant.

"Katon: Gōryūka no Jutsu (Fire Release: Great Dragon Fire Technique)!" The seal Naruto had created on his shoulder and arm tingled slightly, just a small tickle, and the pre-converted fire chakra amassed inside him as he molded it in less than a second, the great flames erupting from his mouth in the shape of a dragon head. He saw three bodies fling themselves desperately from the bush, into the trees, and he watched with vague satisfaction as the pyromaniac in him was satisfied. The trees around them lit up in a blazing fashion, raining ash down on the forest, as the flames continued up into the sky before finally dissipating.

"What the fuck?" A boy with spiky, black hair and dark eyes watched the scene in awe, "What the fuck?"

"Zaku." The apparent leader, a genin with bandages covering his entire face save for his left eye, snapped, "Silence."

"What are you doing here?" Sasuke's voice sounded almost bored, even to himself.

"Obviously we're here to kill you." Zaku smiled, baring his teeth, "Sorry, Orochimaru-sama's orders."

He nearly felt like snarling. If he ever got even the slightest opportunity to wring that snake's neck, he would take it and relish in it. Sneering, the Uchiha looked at the headbands. Otogakure, a new village that, he assumed, was allied with the snake Sannin. Drawing his sword, he looked the three in the eye and held his arms out, "Come and get me."

"Cocky. Zaku, Kin, get the other two. I'll worry about this one."

The other genin nodded and leaped down from their tree, moving to make it past Sasuke. The Uchiha growled, leaping backward and piercing them with an intense gaze as he shifted his attention to the boy. His left eye burned again, an intense pain that nearly sent him to his knees, and all he knew next was screaming. He wasn't sure who began it, Zaku, Kin, or himself, but the boy was on the ground and the flames were eating him alive. Black flickers danced up and down his legs first before catching fire and moving up his body, slowly making ground towards his face.

"Zaku!" Kin stepped back in horror, "The pond, jump in the fucking pond!"

The boy practically barreled towards it, leaping into the water screaming. He resurfaced and the flames were...still there. Sasuke himself took a step back, eyebrows coming together in confusion. Deactivating his Sharingan to quell the headache building behind his eyes, he looked over just in time to see the bandaged one rushing forwards, his arm held out like he was going to punch something. Leaping back, he began charging up lightning to his sword when the world began to spin.

"Your jutsu is good and fast." He heard the smug voice and when he fell to the ground and looked up, the bandaged one was there, "But ours is better and faster because it travels at the speed of sound."

Sasuke snarled, kicking up and the genin and barely missing him by an inch when the bandaged boy threw himself backward. Sasuke shakily tried to pick himself up, nauseous, and became conscious of where Kin was still watching Zaku's ashes burn and where the other Oto genin stood with a smug gleam in his eye. 

"You'll pay for what you did to Zaku." The other boy spoke with a sneer in his voice, "We'll slit the throats of your teammates in front of you before we decide to end your suffering."

"Dosu, don't." The girl snapped out of it, looking at her teammate with wide, dark eyes, "We don't know what he's-!"

"Take care of the other two. One is injured, I assume, which is why they're not all here." The bandaged genin, Dosu, tilted his head and snapped, "Do it, Kin."

"Fine." She glared as she began to walk past Sasuke, who was only just able to get himself up to his knees.

His vision clearing slightly, he reached a hand forward and clutched the girl's ankle when she tried to pass, pulling her down to his level and then kicking her. She grunted, thrown back by the force and slamming into a tree, her face dazed as she stumbled forward slightly. Dosu made a displeased noise and held his arm out again, and the only thing Sasuke could think to do through the muddled mess in his head was to flare his chakra hard.

Let Sakura deal with them.

In an instant, the pinkette leaped from behind the roots, running to where Sasuke was collapsed on his knees with her hands already glowing an eerie green as her face was twisted in anger. She knelt beside him, giving the two Oto genin a good side-eye as she brought her hands to his head. Instantly, the relief swept over his eyes and his mind, easing the nausea, and he accepted her hand and let her pull him up.

"You okay?" She looked at him, "What was that?"

"They use sound waves." The Uchiha growled, "Be careful. They're with Orochimaru."

"I got it." She smirked, her eyes flashing, "You be careful yourself."

She had already popped a soldier pill when he'd called for her, and her fists glowed an intense blue-green color as her chakra built. Kin charged from where she leaned against the tree, throwing herself at Sakura right as Dosu charged again for Sasuke. Kin aimed a kick up high before sweeping one towards Sakura's feet, getting caught in the stomach by a hard punch from the pinkette. She skidded backward, twisting and pulling herself to her feet once more. 

"Dosu!" She snapped, "Any day!"

Sasuke guided Kaminoikari, crackling with anger as lightning climbed up and down the blade, but was halted by a vicious wave of sound that had him cringing once more, nearly dropping his sword.

Kin smirked, tearing forward and grabbing an off-balance Sakura by the bun on her head, shaking her violently, "We said we'd kill both you and your other pathetic teammate in front of Sasuke. Maybe we should find the other one and kill him first, huh? Make you suffer a little."

"I don't fucking think so," Sakura growled, ignoring the headache pounding in her mind and grabbing a kunai from her leg strap.

"Such soft hair, all wrapped up pretty and braided in a bun. Maybe if you actually trained instead of wasting time on your hair you wouldn't be here right now." Kin's cockiness showed, her smirk volatile, "That kunai won't work on me."

"You sure?" The pinkette's voice was low as she reared the blade back, pushing chakra through the kunai to power the steel. She brought it forward, sliding the blade clean through Kin's wrist, making the girl shriek and fall back. Sakura stood easily, sneering down at the girl in a way that would make the Uchiha proud. She reached up and plucked the severed hand from her hair, which had now fallen from its bun, and tossed it down to the other kunoichi.

"I think you're missing something." She twirled the kunai on her hand, leaning down and stabbing the blade one clean time into the girl's jugular, "That'll make it fast."

When she turned, Sasuke's mouth was partially open as he and Dosu just watched her, stunned. Seeing his arm out and sensing the chakra building, Sakura ran forwards and swung at him, the stunned genin just managing to jerk back, still taking the brunt of the force as the pinkette responded by slamming her knee into the Oto nin's face. He stumbled back before kicking her once in the chest, making her stumble slightly. Sasuke took the advantage and attacked, the blade charged with lightning making a clean cut into the chest, the other genin slumping over.

"I miss something?" 

"Naruto!" They both whirled around, seeing the blond boy looking at the scene in front of him with slight shock.

"You're awake!" Sakura dropped her bloody kunai to the ground, going over to where he leaned against the roots of the tree, "Here, it's bleeding some. Do not tear those stitches."

"Yes, mom." He rolled his eyes, allowing her to take his arm and run her glowing hands over the flesh that had begun to split once more, "Why do you have blood all over your hair?"

"Oto genin grabbed her by her hair. Sakura supercharged a kunai and sliced her hand off." Sasuke sighed, approaching Kin's body and taking her bag off her, pulling out a black scroll, "Now we have our Earth scroll."

"Great. How far is the tower?" Naruto looked north, squinting, "It should be close."

"Less than three kilometers." Sakura secured her scrolls and sealed the earth scroll with their two heaven scrolls, "We can make it within the hour."

"Good. We've been here maybe four hours and we've been attacked twice." Naruto grumbled, shifting his katana on his back so they didn't bump his arm, "Once by a fucking Sannin."

"I'm exhausted." Sakura sighed and fingered where the blood had matted her hair, "And I want a shower."

"When Tsunade-sensei heals this, I'm out." Naruto sighed, "Wake me up in four days, honestly."

They pushed open the doors the coordinated with gate twelve, looking at the empty room with varying degrees of annoyance and exhaustion. Sakura groaned, coming close to throwing both the scrolls on the ground in frustration.

"Another test?" Naruto huffed, "I guess they really want to try our patience today."

"Naruto's is mincemeat, Sasuke has a contaminated bite on his neck, and if I don't get some ice packs for these bruises, I'm revolting." Sakura grumbled, looking up at the sign on the wall, "If qualities of heaven are your desire, find the wisdom to take your mind higher. If earthly qualities are what you lack, train your body and prepare for the attack. When heaven and earth are opened together, the lightless path will become righteous forever. This light is the secret way that will guide you from this place today."

Sasuke sighed, "That's a really complicated way to say we need to open the scrolls."

"Tell me about it." Sakura sighed, handing the earth scroll to Sasuke, "Let's get this over with."

Naruto nodded. Sasuke peeled the label off, unrolling the scroll as Sakura did the same. They looked at the lines in confusion, but Naruto knew exactly what it was and grabbed them, chucking them across the room with his good arm. 

"Naruto!" Sakura blinked, "What are you doing?"

"It's a summoning scroll. Who knows what they have it set to bring here?" The Uzumaki watched as smoke leaked out of the seal, hand cautiously ready to grab his katana.

They saw a figure appear in all the smoke and Sakura's eyes narrowed, "That feels like..."

"Hey, long time no see-" Iruka cut himself off, eyes widening, "What happened?"

"Iruka-sensei!" Naruto's brightened, "Thank Kami."

Sasuke frowned, touching his neck tentatively, "Iruka-sensei, could you send for Kaka-sensei?"

"And Tsunade-sensei. We need her to heal Naruto's arm fast." Sakura frowned, "I could only stitch it."

The academy teacher blinked at them in astonishment, "I knew when I was chosen to bring you all in it would be an adventure. What happened?"

"Haven't you heard?" Naruto smiled mirthlessly, "Orochimaru decided to pay us a visit and give Sasuke a hickey."

The Uchiha's face turned bright red, "Shut up. Besides, he didn't get very far."

Iruka's eyes were wide, "Naruto-kun is that how-?"

"Yeah. Giant snake ripped into me. Think it might've been poisonous, but my furry little friend is good for something, I guess."

" you have a head wound? Should you sit down?" Iruka approached the pinkette, laying a hand on her shoulder to examine her head.

"Oh, no. It's not my blood." She smiled at him, "If we could just get inside and see Tsunade-sensei and Kaka-sensei, we'll be in better shape."

The teacher snorted, "Yeah, the whole tower will be. Tsuande-sama came in an hour ago and threw such a fit at Hokage-sama we thought the tower would crumble. And, needless to say, we've practically had to tie Kakashi down. Come on, follow me. I'll explain everything on the way so Naruto doesn't bleed out."

"You know, when Kakashi signed you up for this, I was unsure. I was wary about any of my rookies taking it...but you've proved me wrong." He smiled over his shoulder at them as he led them up several flights of stairs, "You got the second best time. Only a Suna team beat you."

"Yeah, well, did they have to battle a Sannin?" Naruto grumbled, "I don't think so."

The chunin laughed, "Same as ever, Naruto. Here we are."

He gestured to an empty lounge, smiling slightly, "The Suna team is, ah, reclusive. They made it in under two hours, and they've stayed in their rooms since them. Once you're done in medical, where Tsunade-sama is, you can wait in your room for your sensei. Follow me."

He led them down a hallway opposite where the bedrooms were and into a stark white room with only one person inside.

"I'll come visit you later." Iruka ruffled Naruto's hair and smiled at Sasuke and Sakura as he left, "Good luck."

"Tsunade-sensei!" Sakura smiled as the academy teacher left, running forward and nearly tackling her in a hug, "Oh, you have no idea how much we missed you."

"Oi, brat!" The blonde woman huffed before giving in and wrapping her arm around the pinkette, "It only took you five hours. I'm impressed."

She quieted as Sakura pulled away and the boys came forward, looking at them all intensely. Sighing, she motioned for them to each take a seat on one of the available beds that were covered in neat, white sheets. As they did, she approached Naruto and took his arm, one hand glowing a brilliant, bright green. Instantly the flesh began to mend, Tsunade carefully removing the stitches as she healed the gash. The skin was a light pink against Naruto's tan, sensitive as all newly healed wounds are. He smiled brightly at her as she moved on to Sakura, giving the girl a bland look.

"Did you get knocked in the head?" She griped, beginning to shift the long pink hair around.

"No, someone grabbed my hair and I cut their hand off." She ignored the astonished look she received, "All I really need is a shower, sensei."

Frowning, the blonde woman sighed, "A shower and rest. Which you all will be doing the next four days. You're all half dead from exhaustion, and I know your chakra reserves can't be doing too hot. Well, except for Naruto."

"Tsunade-sensei, can you look at Sasuke's neck?" Sakura looked up at her, concerned, "Orochimaru bit him before Naruto nailed him with the rasengan."

The Sannin's face darkened before she looked at Naruto with appreciation, "So that's why his arm was half removed and mangled. I'm liking you more and more every day, kid."

"Thanks, sensei." He gave her a cheeky smile, "I'll hit your dumbass, perverted teammates any day."

"That's what I like to hear." She nodded, moving over to Sasuke, "Here, move your hand."

He shifted, revealing the place where Orochimaru had latched onto his neck like a leech. It was a molted blue and purple now, red only where the snake Sannin's fangs had sunk into his skin. Blood was still smeared around the perimeter of the mark where Sakura had attempted to clean and disinfect it, despite the fact that she'd already used all the clean water they had on cleaning Naruto's gash. Tsunade brought up a hand, pushing her chakra into the mark and watching the bruising slowly fade and the bite marks closing up until it was just two lines of scarring on the base of his neck. 

Sasuke sighed in relief as the pain faded, "Thank you, sensei."

"What, have I adopted all you brats? I only remember taking one." She raised an eyebrow before rolling her eyes, "Naruto did you a big favor."

"Yeah, he has a habit of doing that. What'd he do now?" The Uchiha looked at Naruto out the side of his eye, watching the blond with silent appreciation.

Or adoration, same thing when it came to Sasuke and Naruto.

"Orochimaru was going to put a cursed seal on you. He's done it to a few others, only one survived and is a current kunoichi of Konoha." She didn't give any information on the identity, "It contains his chakra and, when activated, gives a large boost of power to the user. We assume he was trying to tempt you to join him so he could eventually take over your body and have access to the Sharingan."

Sasuke and his teammates were silent as they stared at her wide-eyed. Sakura looked at Sasuke then back to their sensei, "He...wanted to steal Sasuke's body?"

"That's what we assume." Tsunade pursed her lips, "He...does it a lot, often on a smaller level where he uses another's body as a second skin. I'm sure you saw this in the Forest of Death."

"His skin melted." Sakura muttered, "Then he broke the other body like a shell and came out."

Naruto blinked before hopping off the bed, rushing over to Sasuke and grabbing him by the face, bringing his own close to look at his eyes.

"Oi, dobe!" Sasuke snapped, jerking back as his face flushed, "What're you doing? Get off!"

"Activate your Sharingan." Blue eyes met black, and Naruto seemed quite earnest in his request, "Something changed."

Frowning, he felt his vision enhance as his eyes bled to the traditional red color. Naruto and Sakura, who had also come close to look, both gasped. Sakura whirled to look at Tsunade, "Sensei, was this because of Orochimaru?"

Tsunade gently pushed the other two aside, grabbing Sasuke and tilting his head towards her with a critical eye. When she saw his eyes, her own widened and she released him, taking a step back, "No, that's not from Orochimaru."

Sasuke blinked, deactivating it, "Do you know what happened?"

Tsuande gave him a grim look, "Sasuke, what happened in the forest? Before Jiraiya and I forced Orochimaru off, did someone sustain any serious injuries?"

Sakura swallowed, "W-we thought Naruto was dead."

Chest tightening, Sasuke remembered the cold fear that left him near paralyzed with anger and horror. He also remembered the relief when Naruto arrived once more, injured but alive, and he remembered how all he wanted was to kill Orochimaru where the snake stood, "It was when the second largest snake he had showed up. Dobe over there shoved us out of the way, and the snake attacked him instead. He went to summon his dogs and we couldn't sense him for some time, which is why we thought he was...gone."

Tsunade's face morphed into confusion, "Kakashi taught you to summon his ninken?"

"Ah, no. I found an Uzumaki summoning scroll on Uzu when we visited. I signed it. And they're not just dogs, they're dholes."

"Later, we are talking about this later." The blonde woman gave him a firm look, "But, Sasuke, you activated an upper level of your Sharingan. From what I can understand from my grandfather's journals, and my granduncle's notes, the Uchiha often mistook the qualifications of unlocking this jutsu as having to be the one to kill someone very special to them. From what I understand, and given this situation, I'm assuming you only have to believe this person is dead."

"Mangekyō Sharingan." Sasuke blinked, "I...well, in all honesty, I thought it was a myth until he had one that night."

Naruto was focused on an entirely different matter though, "Aw, Sasuke you do care!"

He grabbed Sakura and the two pulled him into a hug, the Uchiha's face turning bright red, "Get off me! Both of you!"

"Never." Naruto smiled way too smugly, "You're stuck with us for eternity."

Sasuke sighed but, deep down, he decided he was sort of okay with being stuck. 

He looked back to Tsunade, though, his eyebrows pulling together, "My eyes hurt when I use them. I, earlier, I think activated some form of jutsu that can be used with them. I need to...I need to return home once the exams are over. It feels like a sharp pain behind my eyes, and I get a really intense headache after prolonged use."

"I see." She frowned, "We'll run some studies, Shizune and I, and we'll find out why. I assume it uses a lot of your chakra, so that will improve as you grow. Otherwise...well, I suppose it will be touch and go. Lay off on usage, only activate it for prolonged amounts of time if it's strictly necessary."

Sasuke nodded and Naruto smiled wide, "I need to up my game now. Maybe I can evolve my chakra chains..."

"How the hell would you do that?" Sakura gave him a look that described exactly what she thought of his sanity, "They're chains."

"Chakra chains, Sakura. The options are limitless!"

"Okay, okay." Tsuande sighed, "Get to your rooms. You have first pick and four days to rest. I want you all resting, too. Kakashi will be here soon, they're still deciphering what the hell Orochimaru did to a kunoichi of ours and chasing after the bastard. Scram, all of you. I need to go hunt down Jiraiya and drag him here."

Sakura sat on the top bed of one of the two bunk beds in the room, Naruto behind her as he twisted and braided her hair into the bun she'd taken to wearing since they graduated. His fingers were skilled, grabbing the hair and putting it in place but not tugging too hard. A lot better than when her mom did her hair at first, pulling and jerking the stands around. Sasuke sat beside Naruto on the same bed as them, hair still slightly damp as he rested his head against the wall, leg pressed against Naruto's and foot nudging Sakura's thigh. When the blond finished, he looked over at the Uchiha with a raised eyebrow.

"You're gonna become mush if you relax anymore." He rolled his eyes when he received no answer besides a contented grunt.

Yawning loudly, Naruto stretched his hands up, "Well my jobs done. I think I'll take a nap until sensei gets here."

"Of course you're taking a nap." Sakura rolled her eyes, "What happened to that indomitable energy?"

"I almost got my arm torn off and my body was digesting poisons from a huge ass snake all day, that's what." Naruto gave her a bland smile, "I think my tenant is sulking and not helping much."

Sakura frowned, "Could you talk to him?"

"I'll have to. I'm going to save one deserves to be tortured that way."

"Naruto," Sakura tilted her head slightly, "Before you go to sleep...why did that one dhole call was something hime."

"Hiko-hime." Sasuke supplied, "That a nickname?"

The Uchiha watched a brief panic flash in Naruto's eyes before the blond smiled easily, "Momoka, the one who said it, makes up the dumbest nicknames. They all call me hime, no matter what they put before it."

"Why do they call you princess?" Sakura snorted, "Not that I disagree, you are quite a diva sometimes."

"Oi." The Uzumaki snapped before huffing, "I'm the last summoner. Mirai-oba-chan never signed the contract and now she isn't a ninja, and I want to ask Tenten to sign but haven't had the time with Kaka-sensei being the slave driver he is."

"Understandable." Sasuke laughed shortly, reaching forward to wrap a long piece of blond hair around his finger, "I'm totally calling you Naruto-hime now, just because it pisses you off."

"I just wanna know where the Hiko part came from." Sakura shrugged before smiling deviously, "I agree, though. Our teammate Naruto-hime is amazing, isn't he, Sasuke?"

The Uchiha nearly crowed in delight, a smile curling his lips, "Oh, yes, Naruto-hime is so great." 

The blond pouted slightly, tugging his hair back from Sasuke, "I'm going to sleep now."

"Have fun." Sasuke rolled his eyes only to choke slightly when a head landed firmly in his lap,"N-Naruto, what the hell?"

Blue eyes blinked up at him, confusion plain as day, "Eh? I'm taking a nap. I don't wanna climb all the way down the ladder."

The blond had turned himself so his legs were tangled together with Sakura's, who seemed to be enjoying Sasuke's plight a bit too much for his tastes. Naruto's head rested in the Uchiha's lap, the back of his head resting against Sasuke. Pressing his lips together, the black-eyed boy glared at a snickering Sakura before leaning back against the wall and making himself comfortable. Clearly, he would be here awhile. 

When Kakashi opened the door, he wasn't sure what to expect. Standing in the hallway, he came up with all the worst possible scenarios he could. What if one of them lost a finger? Or a hand? Or an eye? He'd come straight from dealing with Anko's curse mark and hunting down Orochimaru with Gai and Tenzō, slightly proud his kids had been the second team there despite being attacked by a fucking Sannin of all things. Nudging the door open gently when he saw the darkness inside, he slipped in unnoticed and quickly became vaguely concerned when he saw the two bottom bunks were empty. Were one of them still with Tsunade in medical? No, Jiraiya had told him that they were all decently okay and together in a room.

When he half climbed up the ladder, carefully so as not to wake them, he was greeted with the sight of all three of them tangled together. Sasuke was leaning against a pillow, back pressed against the wall with his hand tangle in Naruto's hair which, for once, wasn't in a ponytail. Naruto himself laid sideways over Sasuke and Sakura, looking entirely content where he was. The pinkette of his team was curled up in the corner, her legs pressing against Naruto's as she buried her face in her arms, sleeping peacefully. 

Kakashi blinked, and the notion that he felt like he was about to literally explode occurred to him. 

Sliding back out the door, he bumped into Tenzō, who was just about to enter the room right after him. Blinking at the man with his visible eye, he realized they were both still very much covered in blood from fighting Orochimaru's little minions he'd sent out to halt their pursuit. The one with the orange mohawk had been taken down by Kakashi himself, leaving him to fight the one with six arms while Tenzō had fought the conjoined twins. Gai had originally been fighting the red-haired girl with a flute, but she'd fled when the bone manipulator had shown up and Gai had challenged him instead. In the end, only three of the five survived because they fled back to wherever Orochimaru's base was. Had they remained, it would've been a massacre. 

"Senpai?" The mokuton user's brows drew together as he glanced at the door in concern, "Are they alright?" 

"Tsunade fixed them up when they got here. I just...had to check." 

He only got an understanding smile response in response to the confession, sending a surge of warmth, which Kakashi tried to deny to himself, right to his chest. Looking at the still bleeding slice on Tenzō's cheek, he reached up and swiped at the blood, only managing to smear it more. It was the only injury any of them had sustained besides exhaustion, but he'd always hated the way blood looked on Tenzō.

"I suppose we should go shower now." Kakashi sighed, "There's one in my room. We can take turns."

"Of course, senpai." 

He allowed Tenzō to go first, reading the exhaustion in the lines of the younger's face. Despite wanting to scrub the sweat and blood off his skin and clothes, he didn't want his friend miserable. The mokuton user was a neat freak at best, and maybe the feelings carried over from him being Kakashi's kōhai when they were both on Team Ro in ANBU, but Kakashi hated to see his friend uncomfortable in the slightest. This was an issue, seeing as they were ninja and uncomfortable was in the job description, but he helped when he could. He recognized he was probably too overprotective of those few he cared about and let close to him, but Kakashi could honestly care less. He wasn't a robot, just a very broken person who tried to cling to what affection he received and tried his hardest to give at least some in return.

When Tenzō exited the bathroom, Kakashi entered. An hour later he expected the other man to be in his own room by now, but there he was passed out on the bed and snoring quietly. Smiling to himself, he grabbed a blanket off the bed and laid on the floor, telling himself it was good for his back anyway.

"I don't know why you sleep on the floor so often!" Tenzō berated him as the two sat in the lounge, the room empty except for Tsunade, who was nursing a wine glass of coffee with a little something extra in it, and Jiraiya, who was nursing the ever-present bruise on his face.

It was early in the morning, and Kakashi just gave a bright eye smile to his kōhai, "Maa, maa, I sleep on the floor all the time. It's good for your back."

"It that why your back cracked about eight times when you stood up this morning?" The mokuton user raised a single brow, leveling Kakashi an unimpressed look, "Not buying it."

"Ask Tsunade-sama, I'm sure she'll agree." Kakashi smirked underneath his mask when the brown-haired man shot a wary look at the blonde Sannin whose expression dared conversation.

"Yeah, I'll pass, senpai."

"Kaka-sensei!" All of the sudden he heard three howels and sighed, standing up and opening his arms to allow three bodies to barrel into his own, nearly knocking him flat on his back. Letting out a small chuckle, he steadied himself and wrapped his arms around the three the best he could before pulling back to look at three thrilled faces. 

"You didn't show up last night!" Sakura chirped, practically hanging off his arm, "We got worried!"

"Sakura and I were worried," Sasuke corrected, glued to his sensei's side, "Naruto was snoring."

"Oi! I got my arm sliced open and poisoned by a huge ass snake!" The boy in question snapped, the Uzumaki hanging off Kakashi's other arm, "I deserved a little sleep!"

"You what?" The jonin sent an accusing gaze to Tsunade, "I wasn't informed of that."

She just waved a hand, "Eh, unneeded worrying. I'd already taken care of it."

"Still would've liked to known." He grumbled, suddenly wishing they'd just destroyed Orochimaru's minions and hunted the snake down immediately after so he could skin the damn bastard alive, "Well, besides the obvious bumps in the road, how'd it go, my little monsters?"

"Great!" The pinkette of his team smiled, "I used Yamato-sensei's technique he taught me on an Ame team, I grew hemlock on the branches, too!"

"I managed to bond lightning chakra to my blade." Sasuke shrugged, "Also, we think I may have unlocked the Mangekyō Sharingan."

"How?" Kakashi sent the Uchiha an incredulous look, "How in the hell did that happen?"

"We thought Naruto died." Sakura frowned, thinking back, "It was after the snake attacked. He pushed us back and we honestly thought he was dead meat."

The blond boy snorted, sending a scathing look their way, "Glad I have the vote of confidence."

Kakashi felt sort of feint, and he was sure these three would be the thing to ultimately kill him. Then he heard Tenzō laughing lightly behind him and corrected himself. These four would be the thing to ultimately kill him.

"Great." He sighed, "Naruto, any stunning revelations?"

"Eh, I summoned my dholes, but I signed the contract right after wave so it's kind of old news."

Kakashi twitched and tweaked the boy's ear hard, making him yelp, "It's only old news if you actually tell me you did it."

"You know now!" The blond said, "Besides, dholes are great. They're like...really giant red dogs."

"Sounds great." He deadpanned before looking at his other two kids, "You both want summons now?"

They nodded eagerly, Sakura gasping as her eyes widened, "Oh! I want a lion or a tiger. Something like that!"

Tsunade frowned at her former teammate across from her, "And here I thought I'd pass on slugs."

"Tell me about it." Jiraiya glared mournfully, "I was just gonna let the brat sign on with toads. There goes that, I guess."

"Well, you have three more days." Kakashi smirked, ruffling their hair, "What do you want to do?"

"My Sharingan." Sasuke looked at his sensei critically, "You keep it under control despite not being an Uchiha or having crazy reserves like Naruto. I'd like for you to start teaching me about it so I don't get a headache and suffer from chakra exhaustion every time I use it."

Kakashi nodded, "Fair enough."

"Oi, brats!" Tsunade said, giving all three of them a stern look, "I said take it easy, did I not?"

All three looked at the ground, sharing guilty glances before Sakura looked up, "I was hoping you could teach me how to punch."

The woman twitched, caught between concern and wanting to see her student dominate in the exams, "When I say you're done, you're done."

"Thank you, Tsunade-sensei!" Sakura said, smiling wide at the blonde woman who just grumbled.

"Whipped." Jiraiya rolled his eyes, "You're such a sucker."

"Oi, ero-sennin. You wanna help me with sealing?" Naruto crossed his arms, raising an eyebrow.

"Sure, brat." Jiraiya responded immediately before pausing, "Damn it."

"Uh huh." Tsuande slipped out her bottle of sake, pouring more into her coffee, "What were you saying?"

"Yamato-sensei." Sakura turned her eyes on the only other mokuton user, "Would you help me with that technique you told me about? The one where you grow trees out of nothing?"

The brown-haired man smiled, "Of course. Maybe tomorrow?"


"Okay, well, that's settled." Kakashi sighed, "Sasuke, meet me in training room two by two o'clock, got it?"

"I got four o'clock." 

"Good boy." The jonin patted his head like a dog, earning him a pattened Uchiha glare, before turning to his friend, "Tenzō, want to go spar in the meantime?"

"Yamat-" He cut the correction off, sighing, "Of course, senpai."

"You realize that's more sake than coffee at this point, right?" Jiraiya leaned over and took a whiff of the strong alcohol, "Actually, a lot more sake than coffee."

"That's the point."

Chapter Text

Naruto woke up the morning of the fifth day with his head on Sasuke's shoulder, the Uchiha snoring softly beside him. They were on one of the bottom bunks in their room and, with bleary eyes, he searched the room for Sakura and his eyes locked on the shock of pink in the dull grey room. Laying on the floor face down in one of her books, she was sleeping in the same position she'd been researching in last night. Snorting slightly, he tried to gently untangle his arm from Sasuke's, only to have the boy hold on tighter.

"Go 'ack t' sleep..." His teammate muttered, head falling onto Naruto's shoulder this time.

Laughing slightly, he reached his leg out and nudged Sakura in the side. She, too, waved away any attempts to wake her up and turned to curl up on her side, revealing the red marks on her face from where she'd slept with a book pressed against her. Full on chuckling now, the movement woke up Sasuke who bolted upright from Naruto's shoulder, sleep still fogging his eyes as he looked around.

"What time is it?" He muttered, rubbing his eyes, "Where's Sakura?"

"Down here." She mumbled, looking up, "Did I fall asleep on the floor?"

"I'm guessing, seeing as you're on the floor." Naruto yawned slightly, "I think it's like...nine or so."

Sakura frowned, "Teams only have three hours left, then."

"Tenten better hurry up." Naruto sighed, "And the rest of the rookies. There are only three teams here now."

"Us, Suna, and Kabuto's." Sakura wrinkled her nose, "I really don't like that guy. He's slimy."

"No kidding." Naruto said before looking at the books she had laid out, "Did you figure whatever that is out?"

"Yes!" She smiled brightly with just a touch of something that resembled a feral wolf, "Sort of. Really, I'm just researching chakra blades."

"Like Sasuke and Tenten's?" Naruto tilted his head, "Or mine?"

"No, blades made entirely of chakra. So precise they could slice through your spine without you even noticing until you went paralyzed!"

Sasuke just blinked, "Medics are terrifying."

"I think it's Sakura that's terrifying." Naruto corrected, "Though, Tsunade-sensei is the scariest person I know, so..."

There was a loud knocking on their door, making all three of them roll their eyes as they heard the jovial voice carry through the door, "Wake up, you brats! Tsunade already went to get Kakashi and Yamato!"

The door swinging open, they came face to face with none other than Jiraiya himself, smug smile dropping off his face, "Oi, you were already awake?"

Naruto crossed his arms, raising an eyebrow, "I wake up early."

The toad Sannin gave a short laugh, mentally shuddering. Damn, this kid had a temper like Kushina when provoked but...Jiraiya looked at the way the brow was raised and the subtle head tilt, Minato, this brat is all yours. 

"So, why are you here?" Naruto pressed, both eyebrows raised now, "It's, like, nine in the morning, ero-sennin. I didn't know you could wake up that early."

"I can when Tsunade is knocking down my door." The Sannin shuddered slightly, "She wants you three down in the lounge before anyone else to eat a big breakfast and do last minute checkups. Her words, not mine."

Sakura stood quickly, "We better go then. Now. She doesn't like it when you're late."

The boys decided to trust the haunted look in her eye and scrammed.

Iruka came into the lounge halfway through Tsunade shoveling cereal and fruit down their throats and looked like he just wanted to turn around and leave. Instead, he cleared his throat and soldiered on, entering the room and biting back a laugh. Kakashi, supposed cold-blooded Kakashi, had his face flat on the table, an empty cup of coffee in front of him. Yamato was sitting beside him, nursing his own cup, taking occasional sips and watching Team 7 and Tsunade out the corner of his eye in amusement. Jiraiya was sitting in a chair beside them, looking at the whole scene with morbid amusement while his former teammate lectured the three genins on proper nutrition.

"Ah, Tsunade-sama? The Hokage has called for all the teams to head to the arena. The time is up."

"Iruka-sensei!" Naruto's smile was basically a beam of sunshine, "Did Tenten's team make it?"

The academy teacher sighed, "Yes, her team made it."

"Knew it. Come on, guys, let's go!"

The three stood and prepared to flee the room when Iruka butted in again, "Ah, their sensei needs to be there, too."

Tsunade, Jiraiya, Kakashi, and Yamato all stood up, giving the teacher an appraising look and daring him to object. Iruka, wisely, did not.

Sasuke frowned, "What about Yūgao-sensei?"

"She's probably already there with Hayate. He's the proctor for the next exam." Kakashi said absently, book open and ignoring the dirty looks it garnered from Naruto and Yamato.

They were led down a series of stairs into a large, open arena with a few seats on an upper level for spectators. All the other genin were there, Naruto saw. Kabuto and his team stood off to the side, the two with the face masks glaring at everything that moved while Kabuto himself seemed relatively unbothered. Tenten's team was there, as well, though they looked exhausted and worse for wear. The Ino–Shika–Chō trio had made it as well, Chōji munching on chips as Ino tried in vain to smooth out the frizz in her hair caused by five days in the forest. Shikamaru looked like he usually did, which meant his expression led those around him to believe the world inconveniencing him at every moment in his life. Tenten looked like she'd rather be anywhere else, dirt smudges on her face and exhaustion in the way she stood. Neji was holding up much the same, though he had his usual superior look on and hid it better. Lee was being Lee, despite the various scratches on his face and the fact that his bowl cut looked a little less shiny. 

Letting his eyes trail over, he saw Kiba pouting with Akamaru on his head and Hinata saying something that was clearly making the Inuzuka unhappy. Probably something about hygiene because, as of now, Kiba has never heard the word before. Shino stood slightly to the side and, even through the high collar and the glasses, Naruto could tell that he didn't want to be there. The Suna team stood way off, Temari with her giant fan strapped to her back, looking smug with not a scratch on her. Kankurō's face paint was fully done and he had a huge bundle strapped to his back, though he edged away from the red-haired boy at his side. Naruto's eyes finally fell on Gaara, the jinchūriki staring blankly ahead with the same aura of upset and bloodlust around him as before. 

 "Naruto!" Tenten waved her hand at him, drawing all eyes to Team 7 entering the arena, "Over here!"

Grabbing Sasuke and Sakura by the hand, he headed over to where she stood, leaving their senseis to join the group at the front where the Hokage, the proctors, and the other team leaders stood. Yūgao was, in fact, there, just as Kakashi had suspected. She stood beside the man they assumed was Hayate in her ANBU blacks, minus the grey armor, with long purple hair pulled up into a high ponytail. It was a different look for his sensei, but Sasuke realized she was probably here on undercover duty. Sure, there were ANBU in the shadows, ready to protect the Hokage, but why shouldn't he have a hidden protector as well?

"How long have you guys been here?" Tenten blinked at them, a little surprised, "You don't look very beat up at all!"

Sharing an amused look with his teammates because, yes, they had been beaten up, Naruto just smiled, "We made it on the first day."

"No way!" Ino shouldered he way in, nearly knocking over Lee and Neji like bowling pins, "Even with Sasuke on your team how'd you manage that?"

"We were still only the second team here." Sakura shrugged slightly, motioning with her head to the Suna team, "They made it in under two hours."

Temari saw them looking and gave a vicious, toothy smile. 

"Yeah." Ino trailed off, "Those fights should be fun..."

The genin all gathered in the middle of the arena, the third proctor facing them all with the Hokage, senseis, and previous proctors behind him. Naruto ended up right between Sasuke and Kabuto, who kept sending either Sakura or Sasuke glares. Probably both, honestly, but Naruto still shifted to block both of them from view anyway. Hayate coughed slightly before clearing his throat and looking at the chunin hopefuls standing in front of him. 

"Listen up. I'll be your third proctor for the last portion of the exam. The third exam is an all-out fight, though I'll step in if a fight seems hopeless to save some lives. Anything goes during these fights, and you want to give it all you got. Before we reach the final tournament, though, we must have a preliminary round, which is what we will do today."

"Right now?" Ino snapped, stamping her foot slightly, "We just got finished surviving the forest! We're exhausted!"

"Yeah? Then you should've gotten here earlier." The jonin shrugged, "Besides, what are you gonna do on a mission? Stop at the spa? Take a nap?"

Ino's face flushed as she huffed, otherwise keeping quiet.

"There are nine teams here. Essentially, that's way too many and we never expected even half of you to make it. We've got important people coming to the finals, and we only need the very best genin to showcase. So, if there are any of you who feel they aren't in top physical condition or are not capable of participating, raise your hand and speak now. Your name will be recorded and you can go on your way."

Everyone was dead silent for a moment when Naruto saw movement out of the corner of his eye. Kabuto slowly began to raise his hand as the genin began to quietly whisper to each other, making the Uzumaki nearly roll his eyes. Reaching out quickly and stopping the hand halfway, he felt the genin jerk and turn to look at him with wide eyes.

"C'mon, not gonna stay to fight?" Naruto's mouth twitched up into a smirk as he whispered, "I was really hoping I'd get to kick your ass."

Wide, black eyes stared at him in shock before they narrowed dangerously, "I'm in no physical condition-"

"You look fine." Naruto scoffed quietly.

"My chakra reserves depleted -"

"I'm a sensor and I'm not stupid." The blond raised an eyebrow, " have another reason for quitting?"

"What are you suggesting?" Kabuto snapped, glaring at the boy.

"Nothing." Naruto smiled, releasing his wrist, "Just that you...feel like a snake."

The man's eyes widened, mouth opening as though to refute the comment, but Naruto already turned away. He knew what the supposed genin was up to. No one who could make it through the forest could manage to fail seven fucking times and then bow out an eighth. His chakra was nurturing, like most medics, but it was also cold and had a slimy feeling to it when he reached out to sense it. He hadn't known before the second exam, he'd never met Orochimaru before, after all, but now he realized. Orochimaru's chakra was dark and potent but had the same slimy undertones that Kabuto's had. Chalk that up with the fact that he had info on everyone and seemed to be spying on those from his own village and, well, Naruto could make an educated guess.

Kabuto twitched, as though he were going to try and raise his hand again, but glanced at the Hokage and then back to Naruto before remaining still. A few meek hands rose, sheepish expressions on their faces as they avoided the faces of the Hokage and the jonin around them. Finally, after a tense moment of silence, the forfeits were over.

"That all?" Hayate gave them all one last sweeping look, "Okay, then. We'll let the matches decide the rest."

"Open the panel," Anko said into her earpiece, and soon a section of the wall lowered to reveal a large screen.

"Remember, if it's clear you're going to lose, you can go ahead an forfeit to prevent a fatal match. As there are enough genin to pair everyone up evenly, no one will be given a bye. The names will be randomly generated, and no one today will fight twice. With all that out of the way, let's get to the matched."

The screen lit up, cycling through all the different names before landing on two, shining in bright white letters for all the genin to see. Sakura Haruno of Konoha vs Ino Yamanaka of Konoha.

Sasuke placed a hand on her shoulder, "I know you want to win, but save some techniques for the finals."

"Yeah, Sakura." Naruto threw an arm around her, "You'll win this with just the basics."

"Everyone, clear the arena." Hayate body flickered up to the spectator's rail along with the rest of the adults. Naruto and Sasuke both gave Sakura one final encouragement before doing the same, most of the other genin having opted to take the stairs. Except for Gaara, who, unsurprisingly, appeared in a swirl of sand. The pinkette and the blonde faced each other as Hayate signaled for the match to start. The stood facing each other, Sakura hesitant while Ino smirked.

"What's wrong, billboard brow? Where's all that confidence gone to?" Ino smiled, her lips curving up into a harsh smile, "Well, you'd better find it quick!"

Ino ran at her, aiming a kick for Sakura's head, though the girl didn't even bother dodging it. Grabbing the blonde's foot, she twisted her, making the Yamanaka fall to the ground. Landing with a huff, Ino got to her feet once more with a glare. Pulling out three kunai, she launched them at Sakura, the pinkette grabbing them out of midair and sending them sailing right back towards her. This time Sakura was the one to initiate, running at Ino fast and feinting a punch to her face only to bring her other hand up and land one on her stomach. The Yamanaka went flying back, only stopping when she slammed into the wall with a crack. 

"What the-?" Shikamaru blinked, narrowing his eyes to focus on the match, "I knew Sakura had improved get one up on Ino that easily..."

"Wow, something you don't know." Naruto playfully snarked, "Someone right down this date for the history books."

"Oi, shut up, Uzumaki." The genius drawled out, "Seriously, though. What the hell have you been doing to train?"

"Maa, Kaka-sensei has his ways." Naruto twitched slightly, "He decided after Wave we shouldn't be training like genin anymore."

Sasuke narrowed his eyes at the silver-haired jonin, "Yeah, and I guess that included being chased by his ninken every morning and being dropped in the middle of exploding tags and finding a way to stop them before you get blown to hell."

Asuma raised his eyebrows, looking at the jonin in slight astonishment, "What the fuck?"

"They're brats, but good brats." Kakashi shrugged, glancing over his book at the man, "I wasn't going to baby them."

Yamato snorted slightly, drawing the glare of Kakashi's visible eye.

"Ino-" Sakura began as the girl stood up, the blonde's breath coming out in labored huffs.

"You're going down!" Ino snapped, cutting her off, "Don't try and act like you're better than me just because you have Sasuke's attention now! Besides, one punch means nothing! You'll always lose to me, okay?"

The pinkette frowned, her eyebrows scrunching up sadly as she took the taijutsu stance that Tsunade had taught her, "This isn't about a boy, Ino. This isn't about trash talking either. We're friends, always will be, but I have to win this to move on to the finals. I'm sorry, though."

"Don't apologize!" The Yamanaka snapped, face dark, "Let's get on with it! I'm going to win!"

Ino dashed ahead, fist raised in a punch that was flying towards Sakura's face. The pinkette held up a hand, taking the force of the punch without moving an inch before wrapping her hand around the fist and pulling the blonde's arm, sending her dropping down to the ground. Sakura jumped back a few paces, waiting for her opponent to get up once more.

"What's she doing?" Sasuke frowned, "She could end it now and win!"

"She's waiting for Ino to actually try." Tenten looked down at the fight with slight disdain, "I can see why, too. Yamanaka is still using her kid gloves."

Shikamaru gave the two a disapproving glare, "Ino's better than that. She'll pull something off, she is more powerful than Sakura."

"You're underestimating Sakura," Naruto said with certainty.

Ino stood up shakily, glaring at the pinkette with her teeth bared, "That's it."

She tore a kunai from her pouch, reaching up to grab platinum blonde hair and tearing the blade through it, leaving her to clutch the long strands. She held the longer part of her hair, the rest falling just below her shoulders. Sakura's eyes widened, staring at her friend in shock.

"Ino!" Chōji gasped slightly, punching Shikamaru in the arm, "Did you see that? Did you see that?"

The Nara hardly registered the punch, instead staring at his teammate in shock, "Yeah. I saw it."

Asuma's cigarette slipped out of his mouth to the ground and his only coherent thought was about the ten different ways Inoichi was going to literally murder him.

"I'm done with you looking down on me!" Ino bit out, her voice loud and echoing throughout the arena, "I'm done!"

She tossed the hair towards Sakura, the near pale strands fluttering to the ground across the expanse between the two girls. Sakura blinked slowly, "Ino, I don't look down on you. You're my friend. Don't you get that?"

The blonde hesitated before shoving her hands out, forming an open circle shape with her palms, "Time to finish this!"

"She's not going to do that, is she, sensei?" Chōji looked at Asuma, "That's not a good idea!"

"She wouldn't, she's not that foolish...She knows it'll leave her incapacitated if she misses. That's not a battle technique." Shikamaru stared down at his teammate, as though he were trying to change her mind from where he stood at the railing.

"Shintenshin no Jutsu (Mind Body Switch Technique)!" Ino smirked as Sakura obviously made an attempt to dodge the mind transfer technique, but the Yamanaka had other plans. Instead of putting chakra into the hand seal to try and catch the pinkette like that, she allowed her chakra to leak into her hair and pretended to slump over as Sakura slowly returned to where she stood before, looking at Ino in confusion.

"That's not the technique she's using." Naruto nudged Sasuke, "Look."

Sakura jumped back right as two blue lines lit up throughout the hair on the ground, her eyes narrowed and a small smile on her face, "Nice try."

"Wha-?" Ino jerked back, blinking, "How'd you see through that?"

Sakura just smiled slightly before setting her shoulders, "This has gone on too long. Time to finish it."

The pinkette sprinted forward in a flash, ducking under the kick Ino tried to aim at her chest and grabbing the blonde's arm, holding her still as she landed a solid punch on the other girl's face. Sakura laid her down on the ground, looking at Hayate as he flickered into the arena. Going up to Ino, an eyebrow raised, he nudged her with his foot before whistling.

"This one's out for good." He held up Sakura's hand, "Match goes to Sakura Haruno of Konoha."

"That's my girl!" Tsunade roared, earning shocked and scared looks from everyone present, even the Hokage who looked at his student surprised, "I won the bet!"

"I...can't believe that just happened. That was a solid plan, too." Shikamaru blinked as they carted Ino away to medical, "How...How'd Sakura see through it?"

"She's a sensor." Kakashi said to Asuma, a note of heavy pride in his voice, "A very strong one, too. That would've never worked."

The other jonin just glared back, "Why'd you have to raise three damn powerhouses? Did you see that taijutsu, those punches? And that's when Sakura was still holding back, you could tell!"

"Maa, she's something." Kakashi shared a look with Yamato, smiling under his mask, "Isn't that right?"

The mokuton user just sighed as Tsunade continued to laugh, collecting her money from Kurenai and Jiraiya, "Yes! That brat's my lucky charm! I'll drag her to the casino-"

Yamato whipped around, "You will not."

"Please, brat. She's killed before, she can gamble." The Sannin waved off his glare.

"Kaka-sensei!" Sakura smiled as she ran up the stairs, "Naruto, Sasuke! Was that any good?"

"It was great!" Naruto cheered, grabbing her in a hug that they dragged Sasuke into as well, "You were great!"

"So creative with your compliments." Sasuke rolled his eyes, "I thought she broke something with that last punch."

"You did good, Sakura-chan." Kakashi ruffled her bangs, "You handled it well, and revealed very little."

"Next match." Hayate remained in the arena, looking up at the screen as it cycled through names, "Tenten Suzuki of Konoha vs Shino Aburame of Konoha."

Tenten smiled brazenly, heading straight for the rail and leaping on top of it before jumping all the way down, landing on her feet as she hit the ground with a triumphant look.

"She's related to you." Sakura shook her head, "You can tell."

"Hell yeah, you can!" Naruto clutched the railing, leaning over slightly, "Kick ass, itoko! Kick ass!"

Turning around, she held a fist up in the air as Shino arrived in the arena. The Aburame said nothing as he moved to stand across from her, and when Hayate signaled for the fight to start and jumped away, Shino remained motionless. Tenten jumped away from him, whipping the two large scrolls off her back and placing on her left and right. Shino jumped back out of her possible range as insects flew from his sleeves, heading for the girl at top speed. She dodged most of them, dancing just out of reach, though a few latched onto her skin despite this. She smiled a little, pulling out another scroll and unrolling it, slicing her thumb and smearing blood as she tossed the unfurled scroll towards Shino, who jerked and rushed to get out of the line of fire. The whole arena shook as it imploded, one giant exploding tag.

Shino had fled to Tenten's side of the stadium and now, within her reach, she drew the katana attached to her back, leaping towards him with a sort of deadly grace. Aiming a cut towards his arm, she jerked back when insects came apart in a flurry around her. 

"Insect clone." She skidded back, she sheathed her sword and ran through the handsigns, "Katon: Moeru Taki (Fire Release: Burning Waterfall)!"

Crouching down and channeling chakra to her feet, she leaped into the air and spit fire down of the swarm of bugs, a torrent of flames demolishing the insects as she flipped back down to the ground, landing in a crouch once more.

"Oh, wow." Sakura's brows were raised, "That was cool."

"YES!" Lee shouted, fist pumping the air as he grabbed Neji's hand and raised it too, "Tenten, your flames of youth burn brightly! Literally! Right, Neji?"

The Hyūga grimaced before sighing, "Yes...go Tenten."

Naruto, however, was much more enthusiastic, "Yes! Burn them alive!"

"Oi!" Sakura nudged him, "Shino is still from Konoha!"

The blond hesitated, before he turned back to the match, "Give them first to second-degree burns!"

Kiba just snorted, "Shino will bring it back."

Hinata glanced at Naruto before hesitantly nodding, "I-I agree. S-Shino is very t-talented with his kikaichū."

Tenten looked through the smoke, feeling the insects grazing along her skin, trying to suck the chakra from her coils, and smiled, "That's gonna take awhile if it's your only method. I've kinda got a lot of chakra to work with."

It was true, too. Even Shino could feel it would take at least an hour to completely drain her at the rate things were going, he reserves weren't as large as the likes of Naruto or Sasuke, but she was still an Uzumaki. Tenten looked over as he moved, drawing his kikaichū from her and back to him, and once more she was on him, swinging her katana and nearly landing a few hits. Inside, Shino said a small thank you to Hinata and her using him as a practice dummy for Jūken (Gentle Fist). He'd gotten quite proficient at dodging, and it was coming back to save his ass.

Tenten pushed herself up, doing a backflip away from him as she drew a string of ninja wire, biting it off with her teeth. She feinted left before actually dodging right, letting the swarm of insects pass her as she strung up kunai and exploding tags, spinning it around like a deadly whip before she threw it at Shino. The second it detonated, a swarm of kikaichū came charging towards her and she ducked into the smoke she had caused, the bugs swarming the edge of the smoky terrain but not daring to venture in without their host. She felt a presence at her back, whirling around just in time to get a kick in the chest, sending her sprawling to the ground. Huffing, she pushed herself right back up.

Her sensei was Gai. If Shino wanted a taijutsu battle, he'd sure as hell get one. 

Launching herself at him, she kicked towards his head then flew a punch downwards he couldn't dodge, landing a firm hit to his gut. He skidded back a few paces, but she made sure they remained within the smoke, letting loose an unrelenting attack like Gai-sensei had taught them to. Shino dodged and gave as good as he got, landing a solid punch on her face that had blood splattering across her cheek. She saw him hesitate like he was shocked at what he just did, but she took the advantage and shoved him clean out of the smoke with a kick that had him flying. Running out through the flurry of insects, she dodged the disoriented punch her way and hit a solid punch with an internal promise that she'd buy him dango later. He skidded across the ground, landing in a head on the other side of the arena as his bugs swarmed to him, returning to his body. 

She wiped the blood from her mouth, smiling a red smile as Hayate held her hand up, "Match goes to Tenten Suzuki of Konoha."

"Hell yeah!" Naruto smiled as she returned to the stands, Lee immediately dragging Neji over to fawn on her taijutsu form.

"That was very youthful, my student!" Gai seemed close to tears, grabbing all three of them and lifting them into the air with a hug. 

Lee sniffed, "Gai-sensei!"

"No!" Neji snapped before they could start, "Not today, not now!"

Tenten just laughed brightly, despite the bloody mess on her face.

"Hey, let me fix that!" Sakura bounded up to her when she was returned to the ground, her hand glowing a calm, mint green, "It looks pretty bad!"

Tenten smiled at her, "Thanks."

Raising her glowing hand, the brunette's busted lip slowly pieced together until it was good as new, a slight tender pink color to the fresh skin, "There we go. Just clean off the blood."

"So youthful of you, Sakura-chan!" Gai moved to wrap the pinkette in a hug, "So cool! Just like your sensei!"

Kakashi flickered between them, holding a hand out and allowing Gai's face to smash against it. He continued reading the entire time.

"Agh! Kakashi, my eternal rival!"

"Thanks, sensei." Sakura sighed, "I owe you."

"Don't worry." He patted her head, "I'd never let my little monsters face anything that horrific."

"So cool!" Gai let manly tears stream down his face, making Sakura sweat a little as she retreated back to her team, leaving Kakashi and Yamato to deal with the green-suited man.

"Okay, then." Hayate sighed as they scraped Shino off the floor and onto a stretcher, "Next match is...Sasuke Uchiha of Konoha vs Yoroi Akadō of Konoha."

Sakura clutched his arm tightly, "Demolish him."

Naruto nodded slightly, leaning in to whisper, "I think he's a snake."

Sasuke's eyes narrowed, "You're sure?"

"Only ninety-nine percent- yes, I'm sure. I sprung it on Kabuto earlier...they're all in on this. Their chakra is fucked up and so are their abilities. Make sure he can't participate in whatever that bastard has planned, just in case."

"Do it fast, too." Sakura's grip tightened, "I don't want them pulling some shit on you."

He nodded once, firmly, before body flickering to the arena where Yoroi already stood waiting. Naruto glanced behind him, seeing Kabuto's narrow-eyed glare directed at him and Sakura.

He knows, the spy thought, about all three of us. How curious.

Hayate motioned for the match to start and, before Yoroi could even move, Sasuke was blazing through hand seals. 

"Katon: Gōka Mekkyaku (Fire Release: Great Fire Annihilation)!" A sea of fire poured out of his mouth as he ran at Yoroi, causing the genin to scramble back, trying to dodge the wide-ranging fire. The flames boiled up, lashing the walls of the arena, smoke coiling into the air as Sasuke stood in the middle of the sea of flames, watching his opponent dive through them to the other side to escape being burned alive. Screaming slightly as the flames licked his skin, Yoroi hit the ground when he made it through, struggling to stand up. Sasuke went to finish him with a punch but, as he did, the opposing genin gripped his wrist with a sick smile.

Jerking back, Sasuke realized why. His chakra was slowly draining, a steady trickle being pulled from his reserves and into Yoroi's. Sneering, he brought his knee up to knock his opponent in the face, causing him to fall back once more. This time he was up faster, rushing to try and knock Sasuke to the ground again.

It doesn't just give him chakra, it rejuvenates him. Helps him heal faster, Sasuke thought as he dodged the shitty attempt to take him down and observed the way the severe burns on Yoroi's face were slowly starting to heal. The Uchiha went in for a kick, but the other genin grabbed his ankle. Rolling his eyes and nearly snarling, Sasuke jerked his leg back and wrapped the boy in a headlock, activating his Sharingan.

"Magen: Kasegui no Jutsu (Demonic Illusion: Shackling Stakes Technique)." He practically snarled, watching the other genin go limp with glazed over eyes. 

"Ruthless." Tenten smiled, "I like it."

Sakura only whistled, "Man, when we said to end it fast, he sure did."

"That wasn't even five minutes! What the hell?" Kiba grouched, looking stunned before he glanced at the rest of Team 7 in apprehension. 

"Wow." Kurenai blinked, "That was over fast. Also, nice use of a genjutsu. I can appreciate that."

"He's an Uchiha." Asuma shrugged, "What I want to know about is that first technique. What the actual fuck?"

Everyone looked at Kakashi, who just shrugged, "He's an Uchiha, right?"

Ignoring the stares he received from everyone including the Hokage, Kakashi just looked down as Hayate called the match.

"Uh, well..." The proctor looked down at Yoroi and raised an eyebrow at Sasuke as he held the Uchiha's hand in the air, "Match goes to Sasuke Uchiha of Konoha."

Sasuke smirked as he reentered the stands, looking at Naruto with a smug gleam in his eye, "Fast enough?"

Kakashi sighed, closing his book with a snap and leaning down to look the three of them in the eye, "I just want you three to know that you're actual monsters and it just makes me appreciate you more."

"Aww, thanks, sensei." Sakura smiled happily, "You too!"

"I haven't even fought yet." Naruto corrected, "How do you know I'm gonna be a monster?"

The three looks he got just made him cross his arms, "Well, okay, then."

"I mean, did you have to ask?" Sasuke reached out and tugged on a long strand of Naruto's hair.

"Well, I guess we're about to find out, Naruto-chan." Kakashi nodded at the board.

The Uzumaki looked at it with wide eyes before looking behind him to where Kabuto stood, the older genin's face slack and slightly pale.

"Naruto Uzumaki of Konoha vs Kabuto Yakushi of Konoha." Hayate called out, watching in morbid amusement as Naruto nearly threw himself over the railing to get into the arena.

"If all of you genin make it, Kakashi, I will be so mad." Kurenai grouched, "How do you even train those kids? Like...what the hell?"

"Well, prepare to mad. Naruto's...his parent's child." Kakashi gave them all an eye smile, "He's very talented."

"Which parent we talking about here?" Asuma gave him a wary look, "Because..."

"Both, very much both."

The Sarutobi paled, "You're kidding me."

"Nope." Kakashi smiled, resting his arm on top of Sakura's head.

"Sensei..." She whined, "Use Sasuke as an armrest this time!"

"Shh." He placed a finger over his mask where his lips were, "Watch the match."

All he received in return was a glare that promised he would be buying them ramen after this was over. Kakashi began to plan a funeral for his wallet.

Hayate motioned for the match to begin, Kabuto charging at Naruto with his hands glowing a bright blue indicating he had created chakra scalpels over his fingers, "I'll end this fast, don't worry."

"Aww, did we make you mad earlier?" Naruto smiled as he twisted out of Kabuto's reach, dancing just behind him, "I'd apologize, but I'm not sorry."

The Uzumaki struck his foot out viciously, kicking Kabuto forward as he used the medic's back a springboard, launching himself over him with a flip and drawing both of his katanas simultaneously. He leaped and slashed down with both of them in the next second, fluid as the sea, making Kabuto stumble back. Naruto turned, catching his opponent's jaw with his elbow before he ducked, dodging Kabuto's chakra scalpel, and uppercut the medic in the same motion. Taking his stance, he tilted his head and smiled slightly when he saw the damage he'd done. Blood dripped from the other genin's nose and a bruise was already blooming on his jaw.

Kabuto snarled in anger, running forward and managing to clip Naruto with one of his glowing hands before the Uzumaki bent himself to the right before leaping up, using one of his swords as a balance and nailed the medic in the face with a foot. Flipping forward from that position, he raked both his katanas down Kabuto's back as he soared over him, leaving to bloody lines blossoming through his clothing. Spinning his sword as Kabuto turned, he sheathed one and held Katsuro's blade, remembering his kenjutsu lessons with his elder brother and Tenma-oji-san. Pushing his chakra into the blade, the wind whipped around him as he deflected Kabuto's punch with his forearm before slipping behind the man and allowing the wind chakra to slash and ravage his back.

Kabuto fell forward with a scream and Naruto flipped his sword to hold the blade, slicing into his own palm as he slammed the butt end of the handle against Kabuto's head. He crumbled in an instant, and Naruto sheathed his second sword, lips twitching into a smile at the dead silence that filled the arena.

"I...wasn't he the-?" Kurenai looked over at Kakashi in wonder, "Wasn't he the dead last?"

"I think he found it funny so he didn't try in the academy." Kakashi shrugged, "He's actually pretty decent."

Asuma thought privately that if what he just saw was pretty decent, then what were his genin?

Hayate flickered into the arena, reaching down to check Kabuto's pulse before looking at Naruto with a small smile, "Match goes to Naruto Uzumaki of Konoha."

"YOSH! Rival, all your hip students are in the finals!" Gai fist pumped into the air, "How youthful! The flames truly burn brightly within them!"

"Huh, Gai?" Kakashi glanced over, "You say something?"


Kakashi closed his book as Naruto bounded up the stairs two at a time and reach down to ruffle his bangs when the blond made his way to his team, "I told you, Naruto-chan, you're a monster."

"Yeah, Naruto-hime!" Sakura crowed, laughing as Sasuke snorted.

Kakashi raised an eyebrow, "Excuse me?"

"That's what his summons call him!" Sakura giggled as she explained, "The call him hime!"

"Well, you really are a Naruto-chan, huh?" Kakashi sent an eye smile at the boy who was sputtering in his fury, "Sorry, hime."

"Oh, all of you, shut up!" Naruto slid to the ground to sit, throwing his arm over his eyes, "I just had a very difficult fight!"

"Hn." Sasuke slid down beside him, nudging his knee with his own, "Very difficult?"

"Over-exaggeration." Naruto peeked out from behind his arm, a small smile playing on his lips as he closed his eyes, "Still."

The Uchiha rolled his eyes, grabbing a blond strand of Naruto's ponytail and wrapping it around his finger as Sakura sat down on Sasuke's other side. Kakashi just looked at them skeptically, "What, are you all tapping out now?"

"Eh, we can watch the matches from down here." Sakura shrugged, "Besides, all of us have fought. We don't need to be getting ready to jump in the arena."

"Okay, now that the blood is cleaned up..." Hayate rolled his eyes before looking at the screen and freezing, "Neji Hyūga of Konoha vs Hinata Hyūga of Konoha."

The entire room was silent and everyone heard Hinata gasp slightly, and Kurenai's hushed whispers as she tried to calm the girl. 

"What's going on?" Naruto cracked open an eye to look at the arena. Neji had already descended the stairs, and Hinata shakily followed him, shaking as she stood across from him in the arena. Frowning, Naruto leaned forward slightly, pressing his side against Sasuke's as he tried to get a better view. The Uchiha shifted, allowing him more room as they all tried to watch the match.

Neji frowned at the girl in front of him, "Give up. You're not suited to become a ninja."

Naruto narrowed his eyes at the words as Tenten and Lee eventually came to stand beside then, Tenten biting one of her nails, "Oh, Kami, don't do something you'll regret, Neji."

Hinata frowned, her eyes sad as she forced herself into the beginning kata for Jūken (Gentle Fist). Holding her hands in a seal in front of her, she forced her voice to stop shaking, "Byakugan!"

Neji stared at her passively, "So you're not going to give up, huh? Don't blame me later."

The charged forward at the same time, striking each other blow for blow. Blue chakra flashed from their hands as they hit and dodged when Hinata finally saw an opening and rushed forward with her hand outreached. Neji grabbed her arm, stopping her blow before his hand hit her chest with a loud smack. She stopped, heart constricting as blood flew from her mouth.

Sakura gasped slightly, "That's not good!"

"Obviously." Sasuke said, "Blood just came out."

Naruto frowned slightly, feeling bad for the girl who'd always been friendly, if not slightly creepy. 

Blood dripped onto Neji's hand as he stared her down, emotionless, "So this is the best the head family could do? Pathetic."

She ripped herself out of his grasp before flying at him again, trying even harder than before to land her blows. Neji grabbed her arm, hitting her tenketsu all up and down her arm before he ripped her sleeve up to show her. Red dots covered her skin, and she sucked in a breath as she looked at the damage. 

" you were..." Hinata frowned, looking at her cousin in shock.

"Correct. I can see the tenketsu."

"Chakra points." Sakura and Naruto spoke at the same time.

"He can see those?" Sasuke looked up at Kakashi, "She can't use chakra anymore, then. Her hits are meaningless."

"Essentially, yes." Kakashi sighed sadly, looking down at the scene, "What a guy, huh?"

"I'd say." Naruto snorted slightly, "He's a right bastard is what he is."

Neji reared his hand back, smacking her hard in the stomach and sending her flying back to land on the ground, crumpled.

"C'mon, Hinata!" Kiba yelled down, "We believe in you!"

"This is the difference in our powers." Neji spoke, walking towards her, "It's unchangeable. It's what separates you and me, the weak and the strong."

"I won't give up." She gasped out, blood falling from he mouth as she stood on shaky feet, "I won't."

"Hinata." Kurenai sighed, "I've never seen her so...determined."

"You got this, Hinata!" The Inuzuka yelled out once more, "Shino and I believe in you! Kurenai-sensei believes in you!"

They stood facing each other, and complete silence filled the arena.

"She..." Chōji hesitated, "She's not gonna die, is she?"

Hinata charged once more, and this time her hands were not glowing with chakra. Neji's were, and he was slowly backing her up with blow after blow. Hinata dodged the hits, sweeping down to try and kick his feet out from under him before going for a punch in the face. Neji saw this, though, and caught her once more, his blow reaching the same place it had previously. She coughed, blood splattering on his back. He released her and she stumbled slightly, falling to the floor. She laid face down, Neji watching her with no hidden amount of disdain. 

Naruto stood, frowning, but Tenten reached for his arm to stop him from saying anything, "The situation is...complicated. It's not right, none of it, but neither of them are innocent."

"He just beat up his own cousin." Naruto looked at her, frowning, "If I beat the hell out of you, would it be complicated? No. It's not complicated what he just did, Ten-chan."

"I..." She trailed off, looking down at the arena, "It's not right."

"Hinata." Kiba frowned, looking at Kurenai, "Will she be okay?"

"The match goes to Neji Hyūga of Konoha." Hayate held up Neji's arm before releasing him and going to help the medics with the Hyūga girl.

"That's fucked up." Sakura frowned, "Family shouldn't do that."

Sasuke's face was dark, "Hn."

Naruto sat back down on the ground, laying his head against Sasuke, "I thought he was kinda decent, too. I wonder what pissed him off about Hinata so much?"

Sasuke shrugged, careful not to disturb Naruto too much, "No clue."

"Next match will be Misumi Tsurugi of Konoha vs Chouji Akimichi of Konoha."

"This should be good." Sakura sighed, resting her head back against the wall.

Sasuke just twirled Naruto's hair around his fingers as the blond boy watched the match begin.

Chapter Text

Chōji and Misumi stood face to face as Hayate began the match, jumping back before the fighting began. The Akimichi hesitated, but Misumi ran forward immediately, leaping at his opponent and grabbing him by the neck. His arms softened, stretching around Chōji completely and gripping him tightly, causing the genin to choke.

"I can unhinge my joints and control my limbs with chakra. I'd forfeit now before I break your neck."

Shikamaru twitched slightly as Asuma prepared to jump into the arena and end the match himself. Sakura frowned, looking at the match below her with vague disgust, "That's an abomination."

"What'd you expect from Orochimaru's minions?" Naruto snorted as Kakashi whipped around, looking at the three with varying levels of exasperation and annoyance.

"That Tsurugi kid? Yakushi and Akado, too?" At the nods he received, the man sighed, "Wonderful. Well, at least we have two in the hospital. Why did you not tell me earlier?"

"Because we wanted to beat them up?" Naruto laughed slightly and the look their sensei gave him spoke volumes, "Nah, honestly we just don't have proof. Their chakra feels slimy, like Orochimaru's, and Kabuto knows a bit too much about everyone to be anything other than a spy."

Kakashi looked away for a moment before he turned back to his team and lowered his voice a bit, "Yakushi was taken by Danzō into ROOT. Obviously, that is classified and you don't know that. All I'm suggesting is that it's not unlikely Orochimaru grabbed him afterward and I'll report this to the Hokage."

Naruto's eyes widened slightly, "Wait, so, did we find undercover traitors?"

"Possibly, yes."

"And," Sakura spoke up, eyes narrowed, "Will we be paid for this?"

"Definitely not."

"I figured." The pinkette leaned against Sasuke with a sigh, "The life of being a good samaritan."

"You are the farthest thing possible from a good samaritan." Their sensei rolled his eyes, "Besides that, good job."

"Sensei-?" Shikamaru looked at Asuma, "Should you-?"

"Give him another minute." The jonin looked at the arena with intensity, "You know Chōji. He doesn't give up that easily, especially when barbeque is at stake."

The Nara's eyes practically lit up, "That's it! Sensei, remind him about getting the barbeque!"

Asuma's eyes widened as he practically chucked himself over the railing to yell down, "Chōji, if you want to go to Maki's Barbeque after this, you'd better win!"

"Sensei? Shikamaru?" The turned around to see Ino slowly walking up the stairs, a dark purple and red bruise bloomed on her cheek, looking at them in confusion, "What's wrong with Chōji?"

"Ino!" Asuma yelped, grabbing the girl by the arm and dragging her over to the railing, "You're loud!"

"Well, I try." She smiled dazzlingly, trying to flip hair that wasn't there anymore.

Asuma sighed, hanging his head for a moment, before looking at her again, "Yell and tell Chōji if he doesn't win this that he's never getting free barbeque again and I mean it."

Her eyes widened and she nodded, approaching the railing with determination, "Listen here, Akimichi! Sensei said if you don't win this, you're never getting free barbeque again, you porker!"

"Porker?" Shikamaru raised an eyebrow at her after she screeched down to the arena, "Really?"

She sniffed slightly, haughty as she crossed her arms, "We want him mad, Shika. You know nothing makes him madder than-"

They heard a yell down in the arena and suddenly, Chōji's form expanded, ballooning up around his abdominal section, making him appear nearly round in shape and very large. Misumi's arms fell from the Akimichi within seconds, stretch but not to the point the other genin was enlarging himself to. The purple-clad genin fell to the ground in pain, strung out arms laid around him uselessly, as Chōji ran through some handsigns quickly. 

"Nikudan Sensha (Human Bullet Tank)!" He roared as he tucked his head and arms in, backing up a few paces before he gave a powerful shove and release of chakra, turning himself into a human bowling ball. 

Misumi let out a cry, moving to get up and run, but his arm laid in the way. He tripped and fell over his own stretched limb, looking up in growing horror as the large mass steamrolled right over him. Chōji returned to normal with a pop, and all the arena heard was a loud whimper from Misumi before Hayate flickered between the two, crouching down beside the crippled genin in front of him.

"Can you continue?" 

"Yes!" The genin bit out, spitting angry, "I'm not...I'm not done!"

The proctor surveyed him for a minute, before sighing, "Can you even stand?"

There was silence, and Hayate appeared to be severely regretting his choices of being involved with this exam, "The match goes to Chōji Akimichi of Konoha."

Sakura hesitated as the medic began to try and pick up Misumi from the floor, his broken bones and strung out limbs making it hard to get all of him on the stretcher. Standing, she ignored her team's curious looks as she approached her friend, tapping her on the shoulder lightly. Ino turned around, frowning slightly when she saw Sakura standing there.

"What do you want?" Ino's brows drew down, her face resembling something close to a mixture of hurt and guilt, "Here to gloat?"

"No." Sakura hesitated, raising a glowing hand, "I...I could heal that if you'd like?"

Ino stopped short, looking at her warily, "Why?"

"I know the medics are busy with the teams from the forest. Tsunade-sensei said they're dealing with teams from Kusa and Ame who sustained serious wounds. They probably didn't have time to heal a bruise."

"They didn't." Ino gave in, smiling slightly and nodding, "Yeah, Sakura, you can heal it."

Smiling widely and the blonde, the medic hovered her hand over the bruise lightly, keeping her touch gentle as she watched the mark she'd caused be healed by the same team. Lowing her palm from Ino's face, Sakura stopped for a minute before reaching forward and closing the space between the two of them, wrapping the girl in a hug.

"We're friends." The pinkette muttered, "Nothing changes that. Not boys, or power, or any other bullshit."

Ino blinked, pulling back slightly before she nodded, her lips curving up into a full smile this time, "You're right. I'm sorry."

"Me too." Sakura put a hand on her shoulder, squeezing slightly, "And, for the record, short hair does look nice on you, so don't worry about that."

Sitting back down beside Sasuke, she grinned again and glanced over to see the Uchiha giving her a look, "What?"

He shrugged, "Nothing, nothing."

Hayate sighed as a triumphant Chōji returned to his team, chest puffed out with pride as they congratulated him. The proctor watched the board before announcing, "Kankurō no Sabaku of Suna vs Kiba Inuzuka of Konoha."

"Yeah! Akamaru, let's go!"

Kankurō just grunted slightly as he descended the steps, facings the genin and his ninken as Hayate began the match. Instantly, Kiba ran at him with a small Akamaru bounding closely behind. Dropping the wrapped up pack to the ground, the Suna genin faced Kiba head on, blocking his blows before a hit to the puppeteer's back caught him off guard. Twisting around, he came face to face with another Kiba, this one snarling slightly and having a slightly less tame look about him. Kankuro smirked slightly, slipping out a kunai and hurling it straight at the figure before him, the illusion dispelling with a puff of smoke, revealing a small, bleeding dog. Grazed along his side, Akamaru fled back to his Inuzuka in dog form before Kiba began another vicious assault. 

Standing there as they both began to spin ferociously, Kankurō watched impassively as both mini-tornadoes of destruction came upon him, knocking him to the ground with a hollow thud. Kiba slowed and went to finish the fight with a kick when he noticed his opponents cracked face. Jerking back slightly, paling in shock, the puppet's Kankurō shell burst and mechanic arms shot out to wrap around Kiba. Akamaru yapped as the bundle on the ground unfurled to reveal Kankurō, blue chakra lines tying him to the puppet and giving him control of it.

"Shut up, he's not getting out." Kankuro threw a kunai, making Akamaru skid backward to avoid it.

"Aww, I give, I give, just don't hurt my dog!" Kiba struggled, trying to reach out with his hand to calm the whining puppy.

Kankurō snorted, "Whatever."

The mechanic arms released him and the Inuzuka scrambled to Akamaru and picked up the dog in two gentle palms, holding it close and Hayate flickered down into the arena, holding Kankurō's arm up, "Match goes to Kankurō no Sabaku of Suna."

Everyone stayed silent this time as the screen cycled through the remaining four names, before stopping, "The next match will be Shikamaru Nara of Konoha vs Temari no Sabaku of Suna."

"So, that means Lee will be fighting Gaara." Sakura looked at Naruto, "I'm guessing you can't fix any psychopathic tendencies before that?"

"No..." Naruto sighed, "We'll have to do that before the finals if we can talk him into it. If not, I'll just ask my tenant to knock some sense into Shukaku quite violently."

"Can you trust him?" Sasuke said, "I mean, he's a bijū like you said."

"I don't see why I shouldn't." Naruto sighed, "After all if I die, he's going with me."

"Fair point." The Uchiha allowed. 

Temari drew her fan as Hayate began the match, immediately calling a gale forth and towards Shikamaru with it, the Nara allowing himself to be blown back, slamming against the wall and falling to the ground. The Suna genin braced herself, watching as he laid there before her brow twitched, a tic forming on her forehead.

"Are you giving up already?" She demanded, "Are you gonna move?"

She only heard him sigh. 

"Fine, if you won't move, I will!" She reared up her fan, running forwards and gaining ground on the boy.

"That's a bad idea." Ino sighed, Chōji and Asuma nodding beside her.

She slammed her fan into the ground by the wall where the boy laid, but when she looked below her, all she saw was dirt. Growling slightly, she went to turn when her body twitched, and she found herself unable to move.

"Kagemane no Jutsu (Shadow Possession Technique)," Shikamaru said, standing up with his hand formed into a rat seal. His shadow stretched out, connecting to Temari's feet in front of him, and she turned around in choppy, short movements, clearly struggling against the jutsu, "It's no use. You won't break it."

She twitched again at the bored tone of his voice, "What the hell is this?"

"A Nara shadow technique." Shikamaru shrugged slightly, "You walked into my range."

"T-that's why you stayed on the damn ground like that? So I'd get close enough?" She snapped, eyes narrowing.

"That and because the ceiling is very interesting." He cut off her impending explosion, knowing that was the only way to survive, "Could you forfeit now?"

He raised his own hand, her's copying the movement. She twitched again, "I give."

She was released instantly, and, as she strapped her fan to her back once more, she glared at the Nara poisonously, "We will fight again."

Shikamaru twitched, "I'd rather cloud gaze."

She smiled, practically baring her teeth, "You can cloud gaze when I knock you flat on your back for good."

Gulping only slightly as she began to ascend the stairs, Shikamaru allowed Hayate to hold his arm into the air, "Match goes to Shikamaru Nara of Konoha."

"Troublesome." He grumbled, returning to his team with the distinct feeling that he had angered a woman he should not have. Suddenly, he related to his father a lot more than he ever wished he could.

"Good job, Shikamaru." Naruto smirked from the ground, "Though I think you should watch yourself before the finals. She might jump you and beat you up."

He shuddered slightly, moving to lean against the rail beside Chōji and Ino. Asuma laughed, reaching over to pat his shoulders, "I seriously thought you'd give as soon as you became a pancake against that wall."

"I seriously was considering it." The Nara grimaced as Hayate began to speak in the arena again.

"The final preliminary match will be held between Gaara no Sabaku and Rock Lee of Konoha."

Gaara materialized in a swirl of sand, standing with his arms crossed as Lee sprinted down the stairs, appearing across from him in no time at all. Hayate only sighed, "Alright then, begin."

He flickered out of the way as Lee sprinted forwards, slamming a kick against the red-haired boy. As soon as his foot landed, a wave of sand rose up, forcing him to flip backward, skidding back as the particles tried to catch up with him. Looking up, he saw the sand slowly drain back into the gourd on Gaara's back.

"Lee can't use any water jutsu." Sakura sighed, "But he's fast and strong. I guess that'll have to be enough."

Gai just laughed, holding a thumbs up over the rail, "Alright Lee, take 'em off!"

Kakashi just sighed, closing his one eye in frustration as Yamato rubbed his shoulder, trying to ease the tension.

"B-but, Gai-sensei! You said that was only in extreme cases when lives are in danger!" Lee's eyes widened, "Are you sure?"

"That's right I said that, but this is an exception!" He smiled widely, teeth giving a twinkling shine, "Take 'em off!"

 "He's a fool if he thinks a few pounds will-" Temari was cut off as the weights fell, slamming into the ground and making the stadium shake, "What the hell?"

"Alright, Lee!" Gai gave him another thumbs up, "Now, go!"

"Gai, you are too much," Kakashi muttered, making Yamato snort beside him slightly.

Lee leaped from the ground, nothing but a blur as he landed behind Gaara, aiming for a punch that was intercepted only by the sand. The jinchūriki turned sharply, eyes wide, as the green ninja began to unleash a series of punches and kicks the Suna genin couldn't keep up with. The sand only intercepted them last minute, and Gaara twisted around trying to track Lee's movement but finding himself unable to. Finally, Lee flipped up into the air, bringing a kick down that landed on Gaara's head, knocking the boy's neck down sharply. When Lee leaped out of the way and Gaara raised his head, a thin cut trailed down his cheek.

"What?" Temari gasped, clenching the railing, "H-he-!"

"Gaara's been hurt," Kankurō muttered, shocked as he watched the green blur with awe.

"Yes, Lee!" Gai shouted, flames dancing behind his eyes, "Let the power of youth explode!"

"Please don't," Kakashi muttered, making his students and Yamato giggle.

Lee dashed off again, but this time Gaara had a wall of sand ready, trying to stop the impending barrage of taijutsu. Lee leaped right over it, dodging any movement of the sand as he dashed around Gaara, going for false punches and kicks before he slammed his fist into Gaara's face, sending the jinchūriki flying backward.

"You got this, Lee!" Tenten called out, waving her arm over the railing, the entire half of her upper body hanging down, "I believe in-wah!"

Her feet lifted off the ground as she began to slide downwards. As one, both Neji and Gai grabbed the back of her shirt, hauling her back down onto her feet and inside the railing.

"Careful, my student! Don't let your passionate cheering go...too far!" Gai sent a cautious look over the railing before his grin was back, "Yes, don't fall!"

Neji just sighed.

Gaara began to stand, sand pouring out of his gourd and swirling around him as Lee took his stance, preparing to go in once more only to stop when Gaara looked up. Pieces of a shell were falling off around his face, turning into sand and hitting the ground. 

"A shield." Naruto blinked, slightly stunned, "It's like all over body armor."

The sand slowly morphed, coming to encase him once more as the Suna nin grinned, not happily but in a malicious way. His eyes were narrowed and dark, face twitching as it slowly turned into a glowering snarl. The shell was once more in place and his face flattened out into an impassive one as he stared Lee down, crossing his arms, "Well? Is that all?"

Lee began to unwrap his bandages, looking up at his sensei as Gai nodded. Lee took off, running a circle around Gaara as his opponent stared forwards impassively. He couldn't see Lee, couldn't even try to keep up with the speed.

"What are you waiting for?"

At the bored voice, Lee sighed as flashed out of his run, kicking Gaara up into the air. The red-haired genin went with a grunt, continuing to be kicked upwards until they were close to the ceiling and Lee unwound the bandages on his arm completely, encasing Gaara in the white material. Grabbing him, the both went spinning down at a fast rate, Lee slamming the boy into the ground in a huge crater before flipping away, landing in a crouch with on hand on the ground. Hayate walked over to the crater, honestly assuming the kid was dead at that point and blinked at what he saw. Lee stood as well, watching the body slowly cave in on itself, chunks falling into the hollowness and the entire thing melting away into sand. 

"He did it when Lee wasn't looking. When he closed his eyes because of the pain. Right, sensei?" Sasuke looked up, a critical gaze in his eye.

"Yes." Kakashi nodded once, his eyes glued to the arena, "I have a feeling this won't turn out well."

Slowly, the sand built behind Lee as Gaara chuckled lowly, his voice distorted and too deep as Lee spun around, taking a step back at the sight of the cracked body. The jinchūriki formed the tiger hand sign as sand whipped out around his, long tendrils surging forwards to lash at Lee and throw him backward. Before he could stand once more, a huge well of sand burst out of Gaara's gourd, rushing towards him like an angry wave, throwing him into the wall with such intensity Lee could do nothing but slide back down. The tendrils reformed, slamming into him again and again, no one able to see anything beyond the mass of sand. 

It slowed, falling to reveal Lee, who was pressed up against the wall before he fell forward. The Konoha genin looked up, seeing another burst of sand coming for him and rolled out of the way before shakily dodging the rest of the burst that tried to hit him. Gaara chuckled lowly as Lee took a stance, sending another burst of sand to blow him back easily, knocking him to the ground once more. He stood, and this time when Gaara shot sand at him, he shoved himself to the right and the backward to escape it.

"Even after all that..." Naruto sat forward slightly, "Huh. Most people would be dead by now."

"I don't know what you think you're planning." Gaara raised his hand, sand swirling around him violently, "But it's over."

"I won't be the only one to lose here...Tenten and Neji, Sasuke, Sakura, and Naruto...I will not fail!" Lee said as chakra began to roll off in waves, making the air around him seem to shake with the power of it, "I refuse to!"

"Gai!" Kakashi looked over sharply, drawing the green-clad man's attention, "Tell me you didn't..."

"Woah." Naruto stood, walking over to the railings, "He's opening the chakra gates!"

His sensei and Gai both looked at him, surprise evident of Gai's and annoyance on Kakashi's, "Okay, monster number one, how the hell do you know that?"

"I'm an Uzumaki." Naruto smiled secretively, "We never give away our secrets! Well, we do, clearly, as you all have a lot of them and I gave you even more and point is that we know a lot!"

Sakura nodded quickly, "I've learned a lot from the books I've read. The Eight Gates are what blocks the chakra flow from becoming too heavy in the body. The Gates of Opening, Healing, Life, Pain, Limit, View, Wonder, and Death. Isora Ōtsutsuki described them in her original texts as a double-bladed skill. On one hand, they provide immense power and the ability to take down the strongest opponent. On the other hand, if you open all eight, you crumble to ash as you've virtually cooked yourself from the inside out using all of your chakra."

A bead of sweat rolled down Gai's forehead as he kept a large, slightly stunned smile on his face. Glancing over at Kakashi, he muttered to the man, "What have you raised?"

"I don't think you can talk, you taught Lee the Eight Gates. Besides, I always tell everyone they're monsters, yet no one listens."

"Maa, sensei, ero-sennin listens!" Naruto shrugs, "He calls me a brat and a monster all the time."

"Jiraiya only listened after you shoved a rasengan into his face and arm." Kakashi rolled his eye, "Gai, how many gates can Lee open?"


"Well, he just opened the third." Sakura stood with Sasuke to lean against the rail beside Naruto, "He sort of looks like he's about to die, but I hope he doesn't."

"Gate of Pain!" The ninja yelled as a green aura began to whip around in the mess of chakra and wind he'd created.

"Well, there goes the fourth." The pinkette sighed, her brows furrowing, "That's not safe."

Lee ran forward, still screaming as he kicked, hitting the ground and cracking the floor, debris flying. He landed a punch on Gaara, making the Suna genin fly back with a grunt. Gaara flew into the air, nearly hitting the ceiling as he fell back down. Lee, though...

"He's gone!" Ino cried out as they all began to search for him.

"No, he's not." Naruto pointed upwards and left of Gaara, "He's going to stop the sand from reforming the shell around Gaara."

"Yes!" Tenten fist pumped, grabbing Neji's arm and raising it into the air as well, "Go, Lee! Right, Neji?"

The Hyūga sighed, "Yeah, yeah. Go...Lee."

Lee blurred in front of Gaara as he fell, kicking him once more in the back to send him flying upwards before he could even hit the ground. The green blur then slammed his foot down on Gaara's stomach, sending the jinchūriki crashing towards the ground before he sent his to the air again. It was like a morbid game of ping pong, watching the redhead get tossed around like a rag doll. The cracks in his armor became finer as it slowly crumbled from the force. The beating continued until, with a final punch downwards, Lee sent his opponent spiraling towards the ground. The gust of sand and wind made everyone shield their faces before Naruto looked back up in shock.

"He made his gourd sand to cushion his fall!" The Uzumaki blinked, "That's...impressive."

Gaara raised his hand, sand rising with it, as Lee struggled to stand. 

"Sabaku Kyū (Sand Binding Coffin)." Gaara hissed as the other genin tried to crawl away to escape the sand, "Now you die!"

"That's enough." Tsunade snarled, grabbing Hayate by his collar and dragging him down into the arena before Gai had the chance to even move, "End the damn match! The boy can't fight, he's out cold, and I won't have a damn child dying!"

She reached through the sand, yanking Lee out of it and shoving him into Gai's hands, as his sensei had flickered down after them all, giving Gaara a stare that practically dared him to try and bind the coffin around her. Hayate remained silent until Tsuande glared at him, making the cool and composed jonin yelp slightly, "As Rock Lee of Konoha is incapacitated, Gaara no Sabaku of Suna takes the match!"

"Why save him?" Gaara sneered at them all as Gai laid Lee on the ground, "He failed. Why did you save him?"

"Because he's my student." Gai's face was grim as Tsunade let out an exasperated sigh.

"Damn it all with you emotionally stunted, homicidal brats." She turned as the medics rushed out with a stretcher, "I want him taken to the hospital now. He needs immediate attention!"

"Hayate!" She turned as she began to follow all the medical staff, "Finish these preliminaries now."

"U-um, yes, Tsuande-sama!" He nodded as Gaara remained where he was, having returned the sand to his gourd and fixed the cracks in his armor, "Would all the winners of their respective matches come to the arena floor?"

Jiraiya glanced at his old sensei who had a devious gleam in his eye, "I feel like you're thinking something that'll get you killed."

"I'm thinking of making Tsuande the next Hokage."

"Exactly." The toad sage sighed, "You know how she feels about the position."

"And you know that in the short time she's been here, not only has she taken on a student but completely taken over the hospital as well." Sarutobi watched her bark orders as she exited with the medics, "She's good in a position of command, she's one of the last Senju, the people respect her, and, most importantly, she's more like her grandfather and granduncle than she likes to think."

"What do you mean?" Jiraiya shook his head, "She lost faith in Konoha."

The old Hokage just chuckled, "Yet here she is. Just like Tobirama-sensei, she cares for children. Perhaps too much, she has a soft spot for them. She would never let a Konoha genin die when it could be otherwise prevented. Like Hashirama-sama, she is passionate about what she does. If she could just look at the village as they did, she would protect it with her life."

"And how's that gonna work?" Jiraiya rolled his eyes, "After Dan and Nawaki died, and Orochimaru defected, she just...she's not the same."

Hiruzen looked over to where Team 7 had returned to the arena floor, standing together shoulder-to-shoulder, "I think they may have something to do with it. She's grown to like them, loathe as she is to admit it. You can tell by her actions and her concern. When she found out what Orochimaru was doing in the forest, she practically flew there and beat him all the way out of Konoha. Also, of course, you'll help along the process."

"And why the hell would I do that, sensei?" The Sannin raised his eyebrows, "I value my life, thanks."

"Because if she refuses, within the year you'll be taking the hat." The Sandaime narrowed his eyes, "And I can force you."

Jiraiya paled but still raised a challenging eyebrow, "And how would you do that?"

"Well, you'd be banned from every hot spring in Fire Country, of course. I'm sure Naruto would be more than pleased to help me enforce that mandate, as well."

His face got even whiter, "You wouldn't. That gaki is pure evil."

"I would. So you'd better convince her fast." His sensei's smile was smug, "Or else you'll have the hat soon, Godaime."

The remaining eight had returned to the arena floor, joining Gaara and Hayate. The proctor had them line up, holding up a small bowl, "You'll each pick a paper out of here. The number you get will match up with another, as in number one will face number two. One person will be given a bye as there are only nine genin to compete."

He began at the beginning of the line, holding out the container for Shikamaru. The Nara blinked at the paper, "Nine."

"You'll receive the bye." Hayate ignored Shikamaru's smug smile before moving on, "Akimichi?"

Chōji sighed, reaching in and pulled out a piece, "Four."






"Three." Sasuke announced, ignoring Chōji's loud groan.


"One." The blond glanced over at Neji who twitched slightly but remained impassive otherwise.



"Kankurō no Sabaku?"


"Gaara no Sabaku?"


Sakura let out a soft gasp, both Naruto and Sasuke's eyes widening as they realized what that meant. Sakura would have to fight Gaara of all people in the finals. Naruto smiled at her slightly, nudging her, "You'll be fine. You can kick my ass, right? So you can kick his."

She laughed slightly, but the tension in her shoulders did not release.

"The final matches are as chosen; Naruto Uzumaki vs Neji Hyūga, Sasuke Uchiha vs Chōji Akimichi, Tenten Suzuki vs Kankurō no Sabaku, and Sakura Haruno vs Gaara no Sabaku. Shikamaru Nara will receive a bye. You'll have exactly one month from today to prepare for these exams. After that, the final exam will be held in a tournament style. The winners of the first round will move on to fight each other until we have one overall winner for the exams. You are all released to leave. If you need medical assistance, you may be escorted to the hospital."

Sasuke gripped Sakura's shoulder as soon as Hayate stopped talking, "Naruto and I are helping you train."

Her eyes were wide, "You have your own matched to worry about."

"Please." The Uzumaki scoffed, "The Hyūga Gentle Fist is glorified and the Byakugan has a blind spot at the back of their neck. It's above the first thoracic vertebrae."

Sasuke and Sakura gave his identical blank looks, making him shrug, "The Uzumaki are direct descendants of the Ōtsutsuki, the clan that created ninjutsu and was founded by the Sage. Also, the clan where the Byakugan originated. The Sage's favored granddaughter married my own ancestor. We know shit, man. You've read the books."

"One day, and I do mean this, Naruto," Sasuke looked him dead in the eye, "I'm gonna find out what the fuck goes on in your head."

Naruto grinned sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck, "Yeah, good luck with that."

"Anyways, I'll have no problems with my match. Then there's the fact that while we help you train, we also train. Double win." Sasuke smirked, "Besides, I think Tsunade-sensei and Kaka-sensei will run us into the ground-"

"Little monsters!" Kakashi chimed with false innocence as he appeared in a puff of smoke behind them, Yamato right beside him, "Time to begin!"

"Wha-?" Sakura blinked, "Now? We just got through with the prelims!"

"Don't bullshit me. I know none of you even exerted one percent of effort on those fights. Besides, it's only two. We have the whole rest of the day, and we need to whip you all into shape before the finals." Kakashi smirked slightly, "It'll be like training ANBU again."

Beside him, Yamato shivered.

"We're about to go through hell, am I right?" Naruto sighed.

"Oh, yes." Kakashi chuckled slightly, "Now, the first order of business. Sasuke, Yūgao is away on a...mission. She'll be back in a week. That's why she wasn't here for your fight, she was called out before the prelims began. You'll resume kenjutsu then. Until that happens, I have a jutsu to teach you. In fact, I'm going to teach it to all of you, with some conditions. Eh, Sakura, it may be a bit harder for you, but..."

She smirked, crossing her arms, "I'm ready."

"Great." The silver-haired man sighed, apparently, he forgot for a split second what determined brats he had.

Yamato looked at Sakura critically for a moment before smiling slightly, "We'll be testing the limits of your bloodline as well. The finals will be the debut, we'll talk about it later."

When we're alone. It went unsaid, but there were too many prying ears at the moment.

"All this sounds great. Also, I had an idea-!" 

Naruto was cut off by all four of them in unison, "No."

"Your ideas are...dangerous." Sakura smiled placidly, "I need practice healing, but not myself."

"Come on! It's an idea for a seal, it'd make-"

Sasuke reached out, grabbing the blond's arm, "I'll buy you and Sakura ramen before training if you let it go. For now."

"Sure, sure." Naruto huffed, "You'll change your mind when you hear it, though. C'mon, Sakura!"

He dragged Sasuke by the hand out of the arena, Sakura following with a slight skip in her step as their two senseis watched them go.

Kakashi sighed sadly, "I was going to make them infiltrate the jonin headquarters without lunch. See if they could do it."

"You know they could." Yamato gave him a look, "Very easily, in fact."

"Yes, but it's fun to see Raidō, Genma, and Aoba's faces when they find out. They get so pissed off."

"I think you just enjoy watching them suffer."

"You know, you may be right."

Chapter Text

Tenten grunted as she fell to the ground, practice katana flying from her hands as she glared up at her smiling cousin. Pushing her sweaty bangs from her forehead, she glared slightly, "You really are a slave driver, huh?"

"You could've blocked that, itoko." The blond shook his head, hair swaying lightly with the wind, "We'll break for now. I brought some things with me."

"I was wondering what those scrolls were." She snorted slightly, accepting the offered hand, "New seals? I know your team is...hesitant, we'll say, to try them out."

"They're a bunch of babies." The Uzumaki sniffed slightly before he shook his head, laughing, "I don't blame them. Honestly, our family is just a special brand of unique. But no, they're not seals. I brought some things back with me from my mission in Wave, and I want you to have them now. For the finals."

"This soon?" Tenten raised an eyebrow, "We've only been training for three days. We still have the whole month."

"You'll need some time to learn how to use the things." He just smiled cryptically, tossing their blunted training katanas aside, "First things first. I...I know you like Tama-oji's katana, he made it just for you after all. I do want you to have this, though. You are going to be the weapon's specialist of Konoha, after all."

He smeared his blood along the seal and in a light puff of smoke later, a katana laid along the scroll, glinting under the noon sun. He picked it up gently, careful not to cut himself, and handed it to his cousin by the hilt. Tenten looked at it with wide eyes, gently running a finger along the ornate sheath. An image was depicted along it, a woman made of pure light was wrapped along the black cloth, red flowers blooming around her as the rays of light fanned out across the entire scabbard. Tenten looked up with wide eyes, "Who is that?"

"Inari Ōkami." Naruto pointed at the woman, and Tenten notice the figures that laid at her feet, "The Uzumaki had shrines built for this specific kami in the compound, and she is widely seen as the patron kami of our clan. All of Uzu worshipped her, even outside the Uzumaki. The village held a festival in her name, and there were statues of her messengers, which are foxes, nearly everywhere."

"Wow." Tenten breathed, taking in the detailed stitching, "This is some work to put in for a sheath."

"Of course." Naruto rolled his eyes, "This was the sword of the clan head. It was passed down from generation to generation, though it was originally wielded by Takumi Uzumaki, back when our clan was just a family of samurai and artisan merchants. As the granddaughter of the last clan head, it's your right."

Wide brown eyes looked at him, completely stunned, "I...where...where'd you even find this?"

"In the compound. I retrieved a lot from Uzu, for both Konoha, my team, and us. I showed it all to oba-chan of course, but she doesn't really hold any fondness for ninjutsu or kenjutsu, obviously. About the only thing she was interested in was a few books I'd grabbed on the way out."

That was a lie. He'd grabbed the books specifically from the coffee table in front of the couch, where their father and mother would read to him and all his siblings every night when they were young. Slowly, as they grew, fewer actually sat down to be read to, but Amahiko always did until the day the invasion began and everyone was slaughtered and there was no longer any time for reading. Mirai wanted him to, and that had been the only reason he'd needed. No matter how young she'd been, she'd never forgotten the books. It was clear in the way her eyes teared up when, after showing her everything, he handed her the stack of writing and watched her face crumple. She'd retreated to her room after that, coming out only an hour later with red eyes and a sad smile, wrapping Naruto in a tight hug and thanking him.

Tenten didn't need to know about her own mother's trauma, though. Didn't need to know the pain of a lost homeland and dead family.

"I trusted Sasuke with Kaminoikari, so now I'm trusting you with Yoake no Hikari (Light of Dawn). I know you'll use it well, so..." He shrugged, "Better work on your blocking."

She pulled the blade out, holding the handle close to see the red flowers emblazoned on the black hilt, and the golden metal work of the guard, where protective seals had been branded into it thousands of years ago. Smiling at the reverence she held the katana with, Naruto sighed deeply as she looked up, protests already coming out in waves.

"I can't take this." Tenten shook her head, frowning slightly, "I'm not even an Uzumaki really, you are. You have the name and the skill, and I-"

"You are an Uzumaki." Naruto shrugged, "Your grandmother was clan head, Ten-chan. Oba-chan is the last main branch member still alive. You're her daughter. If we go by rights of inheritance, you'd be clan head."

Or I would, he realized with chilling reservation, if I hadn't gone and got myself killed. Nanami had always been the heir, the chosen child. She'd been groomed for the position since her birth as the first twin between herself and Ichiro. She lived for it, she blossomed under the praise and handled pressure with an ease that could only be gifted by the divine. She was a pro at handling the elders and could calm down a distraught relative in seconds. She had a problem with procrastination, sure, but if that was her only fault, she was doing good. She trained with her brothers and sisters, and always made time for her parents. She was, essentially, perfect, if not a bit sassy. But she was slain in all her perfect glory, as was Ichiro. Shima had fallen not long after, followed by Fuji. Hanako had been killed trying to heal their mother, and Katsuro fell trying to protect them both. Umi had fallen sometime after, lost in the battle and terror. Had he lived, had Uzu not fallen, the title would have fallen to him. He'd been killed, though, by someone he trusted with his heart and life, so the title fell on Mirai and now Tenten.

"I...You should be the clan head." Tenten shook her head, "You know so much, and you're so talented with the techniques and the sealing. It's amazing. You'd be suited for it. I could be assistant clan head though if you'd like."

"That's not how clan inheritance works, itoko." He shook his head, smiling slightly, "My mother was the daughter of a branch member. Unless I was the last living Uzumaki, it wouldn't fall to me."

"Well, as unofficial clan head, I'm making you clan head." Tenten crossed her arms, eyes narrowing, "You don't wanna play this game. I'll get what I want."

"Whatever." Naruto rolled his eyes, "As the rightful clan head, I'm giving you the sword. Only an Uzumaki can wield it, or else it'd be dull and blunt, wouldn't cut a thing. It's because of the seals branded into the metal."

"Woah." She studied them before running her finger along the flat end of the blade. Carefully sheathing the sword, she smiled at him widely, "Thanks. Even if...even if I don't want to be clan head, or I'm not as Uzumaki as you are, I still like knowing about our clan. Our family and ancestors. It's cool, in a way, especially because I've idolized Mito Uzumaki since I was a kid."

"The buns?" He referred to her almost identical hairstyle, "Was she the inspiration?"

"Oh, yeah."

"Well, we'll have to work on sealing more. Maybe you can even hang exploding tags in your hair as well. You want to become a master like her?" Naruto looked at her with a critical eye, "I think you could, with enough time. You're already proficient with the matrix and your handwriting is good so your kanji aren't sloppy."

"Most people train from birth for that stuff." Tenten shook her head, "Mom taught me some where near what I needed. How'd you become that good so fast?"

Naruto's eyes flickered for a second, up to meet hers and then down to his lap as he shrugged, "I don't know, really."

She just laughed, "I call bullshit, and one day you're gonna have to tell me the whole story. Now, though, what's that?"

She nodded at the large, golden and red scroll that sat beside him. With a smile, Naruto hefted it between them and began to unroll it for her to see, "This is the Dhole contract, the Uzumaki family summons. Oba-chan never signed it, said she doesn't want to now, but I figured I'd give you the option."

"Hell yes!" She punched her fist in the air, "With blood?"

"Yes- ah! Don't rip the bad of your finger out!" Naruto blinked, ignoring the fact he'd done the same thing not too long ago in Wave.

"Bah." She bit until blood was drawn on her pointer finger, reaching down to sign her name in messy strokes. Not the neatest, but she didn't have a calligraphy pen to dip into the fresh blood like they did back on Uzu. There was supposed to be a whole ceremony but, as Naruto watched her memorize the seals for the summoning technique, he didn't really care. He'd never been one for formalities, anyways. 

A puff of smoke and a dhole the size of a large wolf sat where Tenten had smacked her palm onto the ground. The beast had rust-red fur and glowing amber eyes, sharp and intelligent that stared right through them. Naruto huffed out a laugh; of course, this would be the dhole to answer Tenten's call for a personal summons. A daughter of Momoka, she was set to grow nearly as large as her uncle, Daiki, and had incredible strength with fire release techniques. Fitting for his dear cousin, he supposed.

"Naruto-hime." Her head tilted slightly, "Why have you summoned me? I'm not Daiki-oji-san."

"That I'm aware of. Besides, I didn't summon you, Tenten did." He gestured to the practically squealing girl, "She's Mirai's daughter."

The dhole blinked slowly before raising to her full height, stalking forward on four paws to circle Tenten, "Very well. I'm Reina, daughter of Momoka. I'm privileged to be you companion-"

Tenten cut the dhole off by throwing her arms around the great dog's neck, "We're going to have so much fun! By that, to clarify, I mean we are going to have so much fun destroying everyone."

Reina smiled, her teeth bared, "Huh. I like you, pup."

"I feel like I should send Kankurō a get well card already." Naruto shrugged slightly to himself, laying back on the grass, "Eh, he's an asshole. He deserves it."

"Oi! Naruto, get up! We're still training!"

Reina let out a barking laugh as Naruto sat up, glaring Tenten's way before grumbling, "And you call me a slave driver?"

"What are you doing?" Daiki sniffed, basking in the last few rays of sunlight that sneaked away from the smothering clouds, "Trying to blow yourself up?"

Naruto leaned against a tree, shooting a glare at his summons that held no heat behind it, "No. I'm trying to reverse my own seal. Well, not my creation, but it's on me, so..."

"Wait." The dhole froze for a moment, "The seal that keeps the bijū held inside you?"


"Ah. I see." Everything was silent for a long moment before his companion burst out, "Just...why?"

"Because I need a good seal if I'm going to stabilize Gaara's, but I'm also not sacrificing myself like whoever did this Kami forsaken thing." He gestured at his bare stomach, no blemishes save for a couple scars and the spiraling black ink of Uzumaki fūinjutsu, "You can tell what happened in the remnants surrounding the seal. They trapped the biju within me and separated it through the Shiki Fūjin (Dead Demon Consuming Seal)."

"Yeah, that's not happening. There's a reason your mother marked that technique as forbidden." Daiki snorted, "I'll squash the brat before you do that."

"Relax. I shouldn't have to. I'm assuming the reason the person who crafted my seal separated the Kyūbi's chakra is that I was an infant. I would have died of shock if my system had tried to digest that much toxic chakra. Gaara isn't an infant, and he only contains the Ichibi. Separating is something I won't have to worry about. What I will have to do, it seems, is two Four Symbols Seals to create a Hakke no Fūin Shiki (Eight Trigrams Seal)."

"You're worried about that?"

"Hardly. I'm worried about keeping the Ichibi contained without anyone noticing. I'm...gonna need some help."

"Sure, I'm down." Sasuke shrugged, picking at the rainbow tomato salad Mirai had made for him that morning, "Sakura?"

She paused, rice mid-air, and blinked before sighing, "When did you decide all of this?"

"Last night with Daiki. Sasuke, you have the Mangekyō. If what the books I've read say is true, you can put the beast in a trance. Sakura, mokuton neutralizes the bijū. That, all combined with my chakra chains, should be enough to not only restrain the beast inside Gaara while I restructure his seal, but should also contain the chakra so it doesn't leak and alert anyone."

"Damn. I knew you had that look in your eye after training." Sakura sat her bowl down, fidgeting slightly, "The seal will help Gaara?"

"Yes. I'm sure of it."

She frowned before nodding, "If it'll stop how he's suffering now then...yeah, I'll help."

"The medic in you going against your better judgment?" Naruto teased, spearing a carrot on his fork at the same time.

"No, I've just been around you two dolts for far too long." She huffed, shoving her hair out of her way over her shoulder. It had gotten far longer than when they graduated the academy, now just past her lower back and hips. Mirai had offered to braid it for her that morning before they all left for their respective training, and Sakura eagerly agreed. With so much hair, it was a damn workout to tame it all into a braided bun.

"Besides, this all just gives me a better chance of victory." The smile that curled her lips was only slightly smug, "If I can control the Ichibi now, then I can do it later, too."

"You'll have to get him away from his siblings and sensei. The gaurds, too." Sasuke's eyebrows drew together as he rested his chin on his folded hands, "We want to avoid a national incident."

"True." Sakura frowned, "Could you convince him?"

"I can try." Naruto leaned back against the wall of his room, "If he's willing to listen."

"He looks like he hasn't slept in ten years, and you saw the mental breakdown he had when he fought Lee." The pinkette's forehead creased slightly, "He's in real trouble if you can't get through to him despite all of that."

"Sometimes people love to hate." Sasuke shifted his gaze slightly to avoid their eyes, "Sometimes it's easier than trying. It might be difficult, especially with how long he's been like this."

Sakura silently placed her hand over his, and Naruto made an all out grab for the other one while he scoffed, "Please, Sasuke-kun, if we dragged the stick out of your ass, Gaara will be easy in comparison."

"Oi!" Sasuke snapped, face flushing, "You're one to talk, Naruto-hime. You played class idiot for how long?"

"At least mine was an act. You really were trying to be the broody avenger there for a while." Naruto smiled slightly, "I'm glad you dropped that gig. We love you much more happy."

His face only grew redder as Sakura coo'd mockingly, poking his cheek, "Sasuke, don't blush! Gee, you'd think he'd be used to affection by now?"

"I know, right? I thought he'd pass out when Tsunade-sensei hugged him yesterday. That, and you still get all clammy when Mirai-oba-chan makes you food. Don't worry, though, we're used to your snappiness. It's nothing compared to our academy years!"

"Both of you shut up." Sasuke snatched his hands away, burying his reddened face in both of them, "I hate both of you."

Mirai peeked in through the door, smiling when she saw the three laughing with and at each other. It was nice to allow kids to be kids, if only once in awhile. Her attention was drawn away from Naruto and his team when she heard a crash and a metallic clang.

"I-It's okay, obaa-chan!" She heard Tenten's voice nervously call out, "It's small!"

"What is?" She startled, rushing to her daughter's room only to find an ornate katana embedded in the wall and a nervous Tenten fretting beside it.


"It's really sharp, okay? I didn't think it'd cut through the wall!"

She could hear Naruto's howling laughter from there.

Chapter Text

("May I hold him, sister?" Amahiko looked at the four-year-old in her arms that wriggled around, clearly trying to reach the ground, "You look like you could use the help."

"Thank Kami!" Nanami shoved the boy into his arms, "Masao! Bring Ryuu over here, I'll change him!"

Her husband hustled over, a small babe with a tuft of red hair encased protectively in his arms, a diaper bag thrown over his shoulder. Amahiko looked down at the boy in his hand, stifling a sigh, "You momma's crazy, huh, Koji?"

"That's what tou-chan says." The red-haired boy wriggled again, stomping his foot in the air, "Down! Put me down now!"

"Nanami-nee, what-?"

"Ugh, damn, just put him down, Hiko-hime. Just as stubborn as his father!"

"Hey!" Masao glared at her over the dirty diaper, "I'd say he takes after his mother, dear."

"Call me dear again-!"

Koji's feet hit the floor, and he shook his head as his parents argued in their backyard. With wide, bright red eyes, the little ball of fire ran off into the garden to retrieve his toys. Amahiko watched his sister and her husband argue. They never had a honeymoon phase, and probably would never. They'd hated each other through their adolescent years and then decided to marry for the political convenience of uniting the Uzumaki and Mizushima clans. Now they had two sons, Koji who had his mother's red hair and his father's red eyes, and Ryuu, who had his father's silver-blonde hair and red eyes. If nothing, they loved their children when they claimed they did not and could not love each other.

Amahiko saw the sparkle in his sister's eye as she argued, though, and the relaxed posture of the normally tense Mizushima man. Nevertheless, he sipped his tea and blocked out the arguing. He'd make sure not to visit his sister's home in the near future.)

Naruto woke up before anyone else in the house, shrugging off his pajamas and quickly dressing before grabbing his sword and heading out the window. It was daybreak outside, a light orange light cast over Konoha in the early morning. Wrapping his katana around him, he leaped from the roof of Tama and Mirai's shop and into the street below. Shops were just beginning to open, a few people milling about the streets, some heading to work or going out for breakfast. Children ran around, racing to school with wide smiles, and Naruto felt nostalgia tug in his gut. Smiling slightly, he ignored the sharp glares some of the adults sent him and let his feet carry him to the hospital. He sighed, pushing open the doors of the ninja sector only to be greeted by kind looks from the staff who were on call.

"Naruto, are you here for Lee?" Midori, the head Iryō-nin with dirty blonde hair pulled back into a tight ponytail, spoke as he approached the desk, "Tsunade-sama said you would be in soon."

He remembered a time where he wouldn't have been allowed beyond the civilian's emergency room where his wounds were hastily bandaged and he was tossed out onto the streets again. The nurses all avoided his gaze, and the doctors were cold but they certainly weren't friendly. Only the medic-nin, the healers, were even close to kind when they saw him. Ninja were different altogether though; he'd never really been mistreated by any, Mizuki and a few shitty academy instructors aside. Shikamaru's dad always nodded towards him, and there was a woman with black hair, kind violet eyes, and a jonin vest who gave him a sad smile whenever he passed her. Shino's dad, Ino's dad, Kiba's mom, and others, they were all courteous to him at the very least. He knew it had to have something to do with his parents; Kushina Uzumaki was supposed to be a pretty powerful woman and kind to boot, and he knew next to nothing about his father other than the fact that he must've had blond hair. A Yamanaka? It would explain some of the courtesy the clan heads, of all people, extended towards him.

He filed a note to do some research. There had to be marriage records somewhere, not to mention a birth certificate of his own or a picture of his mother and father together. He'd find something.

"Yeah, I meant to come yesterday, but some things came up."

Like helping Mirai and Tenten patch up a huge slice in the wall. 

"He's in room 243 in wing B. The kids from Kusa and Ame are down that wing too, so try and be quiet."

His eyebrows rose, "They're still here?"

"Kusa's genin got attacked by a bear. One of them died before we found them. One Ame team got in Orochimaru's way, apparently, and that lone survivor is critical. The other Ame genin all survived, but had hemlock poisoning. We're still flushing out their systems, and the brats somehow got wrapped up in a bunch of vines and were starving by the time the exams were over. They all damn near died." She shook her head, "I wonder how some of these kids live to become chunin."

"Heh. Hemlock, really?" Sweat beaded on Naruto's forehead, "Wow."

"I know, right?" A nin beside Midori piped up, "That's not even native to the Forest of Death!"

"That's...really strange. Anyways, I should go see Lee now." Naruto gave them all a smile, "Tell Tsunade-sensei where I am if she comes looking to force feed me again."

Midori snorted, "Will do."

Following the signs, he passed a few civilian doctors and nurses who actually met his eyes and some who nodded his way. Biting down a laugh, he realized being adopted as a student of the legendary woman who now ran the hospital with an iron fist had some perks. Passing a room, he heard someone wretch and, sneaking a glance at the chart to see it was, in fact, one of the genin Sakura had poisoned, he moved on a little lighter. At least they hadn't died. It was better than any of Team 7 expected, really. The hall was empty as he walked down in, the sounds of puking behind him as he watched the room numbers go higher and higher.

"Nurse? Ma'am, is that you?" A frail voice called out, making Naruto halt. It was scratchy and weak like she hadn't spoken for a few days, "Could I please have some water, I-"

She interrupted herself with a hacking cough, and Naruto winced, looking at the rotation schedule on her chart. No one would be coming by for another fifteen minutes. Sighing, he decided that Lee could wait a few more minutes and entered the Kusa girl's room. He froze at the sight of her, bandaged wrapped crossways around her face, covering one eye and leaving the closed as she hacked. The thing that caught his attention the most, though, was the bright red of her hair.

"You need water?" Naruto lifted a pitcher, filling it at the sink. The girl startled, looking up at him with a single wide, red eye. His heart stopped slightly.

"Y-you're not the nurse." Her voice was still scratchy.

"No, I'm visiting a friend. The nurse won't be by for another fifteen minutes, but if you don't want water, I can go." He raised an eyebrow and the pitcher he held in his hand.

"No! No, I'd like water." The redhead swallowed slightly, "I-I just woke up."

"Bear attack?" He retrieved a glass from the counter and poured some water out, handing it to her carefully and then leaving the pitched on her bedside table.

She shuddered, "Yes. Kaede, one of my teammates, he died. I saw him, I think before I passed out."

"Yes, he died. The head medic-nin on duty said one of you had." Naruto raised an eyebrow, "You don't seem too beat up about it."

She scowled as she took a long drink, a fire igniting in her eyes like Naruto hadn't seen since...well...

"He was a bastard. Just like Michi is a bastard." She closed her uncovered eyes for a moment, "If I never have to see either of them again, it'll be too soon."

"I don't mean to pry, but may I ask why?" He crossed his arms slightly, his eyebrows scrunching together, "I get not getting along with your team,'re not sad one of them died?"

She raised her left arm, heavily bandaged with blood peeking through the pure white wrappings, and used her hand to pull off the sheet covered her right arm. Marks covered it, littering her skin with scars in the shape of bite wounds. Naruto blinked, nearly taking a step back, "What-?"

"I have very...potent chakra. If I bite myself, I can heal myself almost instantly. If others bite me, it works the same way." Her gaze was bitter and cold, "Kusa uses that as much as they can, especially my bastard teammates and sensei."

Naruto's mouth dropped open silently, staring at her in shock.

Her face flushed a bright red, her frown deepening, "Sorry. Too much information, I get it."

"How'd they find out?"

She blinked, a little shocked before she continued, "My grandfather. He fled to Kusa with my grandmother, and because he was a very talented healer, they allowed him to stay and raise a family. He knew his chakra could heal by consuming it orally, and when Kusa's village leader discovered this he abused the ability. My grandfather died soon after my mother was born, and after she had me she was treated the same way. She died when I was nine. Her duties then fell to me, though they've gotten desperate in the past few years. They use me much more than my mother was used at my age."

Disgust curled in his stomach, lighting his body up like he was crackling with fire and lightning. Healing by the consumption of chakra was nothing new to him; on Uzu, it was a common practice for critical patients. The Uzumaki and Yoshida clans were the most talented at it, their chakra the most potent. It was never misused, though. It never even got close to the chakra donator's death. This...essential was disgusting.

"What was your mother's name? Or your grandfathers?" His eyebrows drew together once more, perhaps descendants of Uzu? Perhaps actual Uzumaki? By the story her hair told and the enormity of her chakra reserves, he was going to guess that was the case.

"Shouldn't you ask my name first?" She raised an eyebrow, "It's only polite."

"Karin. I saw it on your chart outside." Naruto laughed slightly, "I'm Naruto Uzumaki."

She froze slightly, blinking her visible eye, "My mother's name was Yuina Uzumaki, my grandfather's was Koji Uzumaki."

"Holy shit."

The words fell out of his mouth before he could stop them. Yeah, okay, he guessed she was an Uzumaki. Maybe distant branch family, hell, maybe even distant main family. Nanami's great-granddaughter? Holy shit. Koji was a Mizushima clan name, much like the Shika's of the Nara clan, and there was no way in hell one of those pale haired bastards would ever produce a redhead outside his own nephew from Nanami. Koji had red hair and eyes, much like the girl before him, and he could see the slant of her eyes was like Masao's. 

"He was an Uzumaki." She leaned forward slightly in her hospital bed, "My mom was an Uzumaki. Hell, I am too. My mother said Koji-oji-san's mom was something big on their homeland, Nana-something. I don't know much else, but-"

"Nanami." He interrupted her, "She was next in line to become clan head."

The girl's eyebrows rose, "You know about their home? Is there any more of the clan left? Can you get me out of Kusa?"

She sounded desperate, reaching her bite ridden arm out like a plea. He saw the marks on her collarbones and neck, as well, and he saw the pleading look in her eyes. He took her hand, and he realized for the first time her chakra was warm and familiar. Like Mirai's, and Tenten's, and Nanami's. He couldn't smile, too caught in between a righteous, spitting anger and the stone dropping in his stomach at the thought of his nephew dying at the hands of some backwater grass village. He saw her entire body relax, though, and soon enough she ripped her hand away and threw herself at him, clutching him in a hug that could rival Mirai's.

"Y-you'll really get me out? You won't let me die?" She had a hiccup in her voice, and he felt her chakra was tentatively hopeful, and he felt tears begin to leak through his haori. 

"No, 'course not." He rubbed a circle on her back, "You're family. The Uzumaki are an established Konoha clan after Mito Uzumaki married the shodai, and my own mother was the head of the Uzumaki after the fall of Uzu and everyone scattered or died. My cousin Tenten is going to be the clan head now. We can officially lay claim to your heritage, everything will be fine."

She let out a choked sob, clutching his shoulders tighter and letting tears fall freely.

"Thank you, thank you, thank you-"

Her whispered gratitude was all he heard and he frowned, wondering what else she'd been forced to endure in her short lifetime. Wrapping her in a hug reminiscent to the ones his own brothers would give him when he was young and scared, he tried not to let his anger show in his chakra for her to sense.

"What do you mean?"

Sarutobi sighed slightly, looking at the genin in front of him. Now, that was a laughable thought. The twelve-year-old boy in front of him leaked anger, his face like a thunderstorm. He had his arms crossed, looking more like a disappointed superior that a genin dressing his Hokage.

"I mean we can't just steal away a genin from another village." The Sandaime sighed, puffing his pipe, "As much as I'd like to help her-"

"She's an Uzumaki." He tilted his chin up some, blue eyes staring him down intensely, "She's my family. I won't allow her to be abused to death by Kusa."

He spit the name out like a curse, his lip curling into a sneer and his eyes cold. Sarutobi was distantly reminded of his sensei and shook his head, already knowing the stubbornness he was facing. After all, Naruto was Kushina's child.

"Only a clan head can lay claim to someone's heritage. Then, if the person chooses to do so, they may join their family in their clan. The Uzumaki have no official clan head since...Kushina passed."

"Make Mirai clan head. Or Tenten." Naruto narrowed his eyes, "This is simple. I don't see why you're saying we can't."

"Because, by rights of Konoha, the position of clan head would fall to you." Sarutobi grimaced, "The Shinobi council would accept nothing else. The civilian council, well..."

"They would never allow me to be clan head, and the other side of the aisle would let Tenten become clan head." Naruto looked away for a second, disappointment clear on his face.

"Naruto, everything will be okay." It pained the old man to see the boy if turmoil. All he could see was Minato and Kushina, their deaths, Naruto's abandonment...after everything, he felt as though he couldn't even keep the boy happy, "By the time she's eighteen, she may be able to move-"

"As if Kusa would allow that. You know just as well as I do that shinobi villages have their ways of getting what they want."

The statement was so honest, so bare, it sent Hiruzen for a loop. Naruto looked so grim, but also certain. He had no doubt in what he said, just as he had no faith in...well, villages in general.

" know that's not true." He tried, "Karin-san could legally-"

"They'd kill her before they let her leave." He pursed his lips, and his eyes lit with a chill fire. Sarutobi could feel Naruto's chakra swirling up inside him, not in a potential attack but in reaction to his emotions. It crashed within him, sparking and swirling, his anger turning his body into that of a storm personified. 

"Aren't you Hokage?" Naruto tilted his head slightly, eyes closed off and distant.

Sarutobi frowned, "You know very well-"

"Aren't you in charge?" The boy pressed on, bordering on insolence, "Don't you run the village? Is this what it is to be Hokage, subjected to every whim of the councils when they're only there for advising at the most? If this is what it means to be Hokage, then I take it all back. I don't want the damn hat."

Mouth slightly opened, the Sandaime looked at the boy, slightly stunned. Why did he feel like he had been properly admonished? Deep down, it was probably because he knew the words were true. He was old, he didn't want to bicker with the councils anymore. That was supposed to be Minato's job. Sighing, the Hokage crossed his fingers together and took a good look at Naruto, defiant and rebellious and every inch his mother and father.

"I guess I'm done here." The disappointment on the blond's face grew with his anger as he turned sharply, the temperature in the room dropping as a chilled wind swept through the room. The Uzumaki opened the door and left swiftly, not bothering to catch the handle and close it gently, leaving the hard oak to smack against itself with a resounding slam. 

Another bullet on his list of mistakes. Orochimaru, Tsunade, Jiraiya, Minato, Kushina, and now Naruto...he'd let them all down, one way or another. 

He swung his sword in a harsh arc, leaving Kakashi barely a second to dodge Katsuro's blade. The Hatake's eyes widened, his Sharingan spinning furiously as he dodged the vicious and calculated attacks, leaving the older man to wonder what the hell had gotten into his student. Naruto dodged the blade jabbed towards his midsection in a swift leap back, bending until his head grazed to grass to dodge Kakashi's broad swing, before he fell back onto his hand and flipped upright, jumping forwards into the air and landing behind his sensei, Kakashi swiftly turning to block the blow. His strength overpowered Naruto's, bringing both blades close to the boy's neck. At the last minute, the blonde reached forward with his bare hand and grabbed Kakashi's blade, pushing it back.

"Naruto!" Kakashi blinked, slightly startled as blood began to spill from the wound, giving Naruto enough leeway to give one final shove. 

With his sensei slightly off balance, he pushed both swords away from himself, sending Kakashi's flying out of his hand. This left Naruto to raise his blade, panting harshly as he smiled in victory, "I win, Kaka-sensei."

Kakashi batted the sword away, grabbing Naruto's hand and turning his palm so he could see the damage. There was a deep gash, not too messy. It should be rather easily healed by even Sakura, apprentice that she was. 

"I'm almost impressed." Kakashi's voice was dry as he pulled his headband back down to cover his red, spinning eye, "You've gotten better."

"Thanks, sensei." The blond's smile was tight, he just now noticed. 

"Come one, sparring is over. Let's go find Tsunade, Sakura, and Sasuke. Have one of them heal your hand."

"Preferably not Sasuke." Naruto grimaced at the idea, "I feel like I'd only have a stump after that."

"Probably." Kakashi snorted, spotting the vibrant pink hair through the trees, "Sakura-chan!"

"Sensei?" She turned away for a second, only to be completely sideswiped by Tsunade's fist, sending the girl sailing through the air towards her teammate and sensei. 

"Ah!" Naruto yelped, leaning forward as if to catch her. Kakashi stepped back at the same time, only to have her crash into both of them, leaving the three in a heap on the forest ground.

"Senpai." Yamato sighed, standing from where he'd been watching on the sidelines with Sasuke, walking to where Kakashi was buried under genin, "Need a hand?"

"Appreciated." The silver-haired man huffed, shoving the genin off him and accepting the offered assistance, "Why do I bother?"

"Because you've adopted them," Yamato muttered under his breath, laughing slightly when instead of completely standing, Kakashi used his grip on the younger man's hand to tug him to the ground. He then stood, huffing as he grabbed Sakura and Naruto by the collars of their shirts, dragging them to their feet. He could hear Sasuke snort from across the clearing and promised himself he'd embarrass the Uchiha as well. After all, good senseis were fair.

"Kakashi." Tsunade blinked, "What'd you need?"

"Naruto got reckless during a spar. He needs his hand healed."

The Senju snapped her fingers at the still slightly dazed pinkette, "Sakura, get to it."

She snapped out of her daze instantly, snapping to attention, "Yes, sensei!"

Turning to her blond teammate, she frowned at the blood dripping down his fingertips. Grasping the hand, she turned it palm-up and gave the Uzumaki a judging look.

"What did you do?" Sasuke raised an eyebrow, surveying the wound from where he approached behind Sakura.

"Mh, stopped a sword with my hand. In hindsight, not the best plan, but it worked at the time." The blond shrugged, earning himself a cuff on the shoulder from Sakura.

"Stupid." Sasuke muttered, shaking his head, "Why would you catch it with your hand?"

 Sakura hummed in agreement, her hand glowing a light green as the skin began to patch over, the sides over the wound connecting in crossing over to mend the gash. The new skin was pink and tender, running a jagged line across the palm of his hand. Kakashi sighed, muttering something to Tsunade that none of the genin could hear before he turned to his students.

"Go find something productive to do. We'll be there soon." He made a shooing motion with his hands, giving them an eye smile.

 He woke up to a bright white light shining right in his eyes, blinking and flinching back. He only served to slam his head into the cold metal behind him, making him jerk to try and grab the knot forming on the back of his head. That's when he realized his arms and legs were strapped down to the table. Craning his head, he panicked, trying to look around the plain grey room, empty of anything but the table he was strapped to. Chakra suppression seals had been painted up and down his arms, and he couldn't move anything but his head and feet. Essentially, he was helpless.

"Yakushi-san," A cold voice spoke as the door opened, revealing a masked ANBU dressed in full uniform, the metal guards along her arms gleaming and the blank cat mask looking at him impassively, "I hope you don't mind the lack of company. Your teammates are being questioned separately, but should things go well you will be able to see them again."

"And...if things don't go well?" Kabuto raised an eyebrow, resting his head on the metal table, "I would like to know what exact reason you have for bringing me here."

"Suspected treason."

Just as he suspected. 

"I'll ask again...if things don't go well, what happens?"

"You'll find out very soon, Yakushi-san."

A slight chill went down his back. She leaked killing intent as she approached, as though it was second nature to her, and he wondered where the interrogators were. ANBU did not take part in torture and interrogation; they were assassins, masters of stealth. The TI department was supposed to be here, no a black op. Her mask hovered above him and he felt like cringing back, but held firm as the slits of the mask stared him down.

"Now, Yakushi-san, you've been charged with treason against Konohagakure and conspiring with her enemies. Do you have a response to these claims?"

"I would never." He sniffed slight, feigning an indignant tone, "I'm loyal to Konoha and the Hokage."

"Were you aware of traces of missing-nin Orochimaru's chakra being found in your teammates Misumi Tsurugi and Yoroi Akadō?"

His stomach dropped as the woman stared down at him, and he could only assume his face paled as well. There was a single person alive who could detect traces of chakra that small within another person's system; Tsunade of the Sannin. He blinked, raising his eyebrows, "No. What did it do to them? Are they alright?"

"And are you aware that Misumi Tsurugi's supposed bloodline is not, in fact, what he claims. Instead, it is a technique called Nan no Kaizō (Soft Physique Modification), which was outlawed after the Second Shinobi World War on the recommendation of Tsunade-sama herself?"

"No, he never told me."

"Are you aware that Yoroi Akadō's chakra network was rerouted in illegal procedures and implanted with a modified version of Orochimaru's chakra to allow him to perform chakra absorption techniques?"

"No, I was unaware of this as well."

"How is it that both of your teammates have clear ties to Orochimaru and yet, after nearly eight years as a genin team, you had no knowledge of this?"

"I am not too close with Yoroi and Misumi. I have no idea what they've gotten up to in our years as a team."

"Then why does your sensei, Konoha jonin Haruki Sano, claim that the three of you have always been close-knit and disappear frequently to supposedly train?"

"It was only training, not a social outing. I do need to become stronger, after all, and teammates can help with that. I had no idea of their activities outside of training."

"Then, after eight years of this training, why have you not been promoted to chunin? Haruki-san says all three of you have the talent, yet you always fail or resign during the second stage of the exams?"

He shrugged the best he could, "I'm not as talented as my sensei believes."

In a flash, the woman twirled a kunai along her fingers, making a thin cut along Kabuto's cheek, going far too close to his eye for comfort, "Then why, when your apartment was searched, were scrolls with complex blood seals found hidden under the floorboards?"

He froze slightly before laughing, "Techniques I've attempted to make. You know how ninja get with their art."

"Yet you have no talent?" She hummed lightly, almost musically, but Kabuto wasn't deceived, "And why, when we took your blood and revealed the contents, were they filled with forbidden techniques and banned ninja arts?"

He froze, "You took my blood without my consent?"

"Yakushi-san, you've been accused of high treason. You no longer have any right to consent."

"The only scrolls with blood seals I know of are those with my own notes and attempted techniques. Most are failures, but the point still stands."

She dragged the kunai down his chest, slicing clean through the purple shirt he wore. Blood beaded up from the cut, the ANBU bringing the knife back up and going to the same place once more, this time pushing harder. Kabuto hissed sharply, glaring up at her.

"Why can't you just call in a Yamanaka?"

"We aren't stupid. We've dealt with Orochimaru before and we know very well the mind guards he has his spies put up. Suspected spies of his are not interrogated with traditional methods."

He'd have to tell his master that when the invasion began and he escaped. The woman raised the kunai again, purple hair around her glowing like an ethereal halo, and she struck the kunai down. Stabbed straight into the gash she had just made, Kabuto jerked slightly and hissed.

"Now, Yakushi-san, would you please give honest answers to my questions?"

"I have-ah!" He was cut off when she twisted the still embedded knife deeper into the wound, making him gasp.

"I hoped you would be cooperative, Misumi and Yoroi were so eager to spill after all." She jerked the knife from the wound, her voice dangerously pleasant, "You see, Yakushi-san, we already have enough evidence for your execution. Maybe if you were to provide some...information...your sentence would be reconsidered."

"I don't know anything." He panted out, "They were lying to save themselves."

"Pity they're dead then." She threw it out casually, "They didn't know enough. Said you were top dog, and to get the good information from you. They outlived their, however, have not."

He practically spitfire on the inside. Pathetic, then again he'd always known they were. Setting his jaw, he shook his head, "I don't know anything."

When Orochimaru-sama rescued him, he'd be rewarded for keeping his mouth shut if he wasn't killed for getting caught in the first place.

She took the kunai, stabbing it straight into his hip until only the handle could be seen making him shriek, "You're lying."

He'd be rewarded if this purple-haired bitch didn't kill him first, he corrected himself mentally.

"Ma, Naruto, how'd you find your summons?" Sakura lounged in the tree above them, looking down at him lazily from where she read her medical text, "Like, did you find them or did they find you?"

"The dholes are a family summons, which means we already had a contract. Most families don't have that, but the dholes have been with the Uzumaki since ninjutsu was founded. All an Uzumaki has to do is sign the contract in blood and execute the jutsu for the first time. Your personal summons will arrive, but you can summon as many dholes as your chakra allows in battle."

"Are all summons like that?" She closed her book, leaning against the branch that held her up.

"No, most of the time a person signs a contract they inherited from their sensei or shishou, or they reverse summon themselves and are taken to the summons that calls to their spiritual chakra. If you do a reverse summoning, it's up to the summons to accept or decline you. If you sign an inherited contract from a sensei, you usually pass a trial and are accepted after that."

"So, basically, family summons are the easiest?" Sasuke raised an eyebrow, "Why don't all the clans do that then?"

"Most clans can't get an animal to bind themselves to one family for all of eternity. Once you are bound to a family, it cannot be undone and you're tied to that bloodline. Most summons prefer multiple summoners that are unrelated as they get the best talent and get to choose more often than not who to accept."

"How many are signed with the dholes now?" Sakura spoke from above, "You and who else? Mirai?"

Naruto snorted, "No, she's a pacifist. Yes, we tell her all the time how ironic it is she married a blacksmith and works in a weapons shop. The only ones signed to the dhole contract are Tenten and I. The only...some of the only Uzumaki left alive."

His thought trailed back to Karin, left half blind in a hospital room, alone and frightened to be taken back to Kusa. His heart sunk with the thought, only snapping back to reality halfway through Sasuke speaking.

"-us the hand seals?"

The blond boy blinked slight, "Uh, what?"

Sasuke sighed, "Can you teach us the hand seals? For the summoning jutsu?"

"You want summons?" He blinked, looking at Sasuke and up at Sakura, who nodded eagerly.

"Duh." The pinkette rolled her eyes with a slight smile

"I mean, I guess. You know you could get eaten by something and there's a big chance that wherever you end up the summons may deny you, right?"

"Worth the shot." Sasuke shrugged with a slight smirk, "I mean, it could only help us. Besides, we're gonna be your bodyguards, right? Better let us be strong as possible."

Naruto cringed on the inside. After his little...outburst...he was probably never getting the hat in this lifetime. 

"Okay, watch me. Boar, dog, bird, monkey, ram. Summon a very large amount of chakra, you'll need it to summon yourself to their world, and bite your thumb enough to bleed. Slam your hand into the ground and off you go."

Soon, they disappeared in a puff of smoke, leaving Naruto alone in the training ground. Sighing, he uncapped his ink again and went back to his sealing designs.

The first thing Sakura registered is that is was hot. Much hotter than Konoha, and the air was dryer than in her village as well. Dry grass covered the plains as far as she could see, acacia trees providing shade to sun-beaten land. Suddenly, something leaped from the tree behind her, landing in a swift pounce in front of her. She took a step back, shifting her stance to one where she could defend herself, and her skin crawled when the big cat let out an amused, raspy bark.

The leopard before her was huge, just as big as Naruto's summons Daiki, and tilted its huge head at her curiously. It was a soft beige brown, broken up only by the black rosette-esque spots that covered its body. Its muscles tensed for a split second and Sakura rolled out of the way, bringing her hands into a seal and transforming to the wood of the tree behind her to form a protective cage around her body. The leopard spun around, slitted yellow eyes widening in shock at the mouton usage. 

"Hmm...talented, are we?" The voice was smooth, a silky tone that had a slight gravelly rasp resembling the growl it had let loose earlier, "Can you make trees with that skill of yours?"

"Ah...yes. It's called mokuton, the Shodai's bloodline. Do you know of it?" Sakura looked at the big cat curiously, allowing the branches to reform to the tree and release her from her protective cage.

"Cub, my leap has not been bothered by ninja since the Sage's children walked this earth." She blinked slowly, baring her fangs in a semblance of a smile, "I remember one, with kind eyes and monstrous power. He was well respected, as much as his father even."

She circled Sakura, before stopping in front of her, looking straight into her eyes, "What is your name, pink one?"

Sakura grinned sheepishly, "It's Sakura."

The great leopard blinked, speaking blandly, "How creative. I'm Masuyo, the leader of the leap. Welcome to Ōkusabara."

"You...are accepting my request for a summons?" Sakura blinked, "I thought it would be harder..."

"You can make trees, cub. One thing you will learn quickly is that leopards love trees and that the cubs will never cease bothering you to create smaller ones for them to climb. Now, follow. You must make a bond in blood and meet your leap."

Sakura scrambled to keep up, following the leopard all the way to where the trees grew together and leopards lounged along the branches as the cubs roughhoused below.

Sasuke was fucking freezing. All around him, pine and larch trees rose high into the sky, branches laden with snow. His shinobi sandals, usually quite comfortable, now had his toes freezing as they buried in the freezing snow. Gritting his teeth and wrapping his arms around himself, he turned around in a full circle, trying to find where the hell his supposed summons was. If, that is, they hadn't already frozen to death.

"Not clothing fit for snow." It was a female voice, grittier and accompanied with a dangerous edge. Spinning around, Sasuke's eyes widened when he saw a large bear slowly walking through the snow towards him, two smaller ones behind her. As it grew closer, he realized it wasn't a bear at all, but a huge wolverine, of all things. The things were native to Yuki no Kunai (The Land of Snow), he knew that much. They were small, though. Maybe two feet at the most, but certainly not as large as the things approaching him. The lead female was a rich chocolate brown color with lighter accents across the sides and over the chest. The leader of the pack that followed behind her approached quickly, standing maybe ten feet away when they finally stopped to address him.

"A ninja?" The bear sized beast tilted her head, "Are you lost? I should hope so, most know wolverines are a solitary pack. We hardly like to share with our own, let alone ninja. You should begone soon, boy."

"I was reverse summoned here." Sasuke spoke with confidence he didn't quite feel, "I'm supposed to sign with whichever animal my chakra led me to."

"We haven't had a summoner in hundreds of years. What makes you special?" 

Sasuke grit his teeth, "Listen, I could burn down this entire forest with one jutsu. Just one. A summons would help me protect my friends and...and maybe eventually kill a certain person, should the opportunity arise."

"Killing for revenge, eh? And burning down a whole forest?" She bared her teeth, razor sharp, in a semblance of a grin, "Savage, but fitting for an animal such as ourselves. Our pack of wolverines is spread out in Yukinoki, our forest. You probably won't ever get to meet all of them, should we accept you. Which leads us to the ultimate question...why should you be the one to sign the wolverine contract?"

Sasuke set his jaw, slowly walking forwards to the three beasts, "Because I would decimate an entire village to save my team and my friends. I would do whatever it takes to keep them safe. If that means getting a summons, fine. It's just more help in battle, and maybe then Naruto won't almost die every other week. Still, if you decide to decline, it's not a problem for me. I don't care. I'll still do whatever I need to do, with or without your help."

"Confident, possibly bordering on cocky." She bared her teeth once more, a sound coming from the back of her throat that he realized was laughing, "Our previous and first summoner was the same, though Isora was more subtle in her brutality and ego. She always did put up a good mask to save face. Come, sign our contract in your blood, boy."

Sasuke twitched slightly at the intense looks the three giant wolverines gave him, but followed through the snowy trees anyway. He couldn't have gotten dogs or something?

"When I left you alone for half an hour, I didn't think you'd do this." Kakashi's visible eye twitched.

Sakura leaned against Takara, the leopard that followed her back from Ōkusabara. The big cat purred as the pinkette scratched behind her ear, licking the girl's face. Kakashi rubbed his masked face as his student cooed as if she was looking at a puppy and not a huge leopard that could easily rip her head off.

"And wolverines?" He looked at Sasuke, "Wolverines?"

The Uchiha shrugged, "They were...nice enough."

"Didn't you say one of them threatened to bite your throat out after you signed the contract?" Sakura glanced up, snickering, "Seems nice enough."

"Eh, I got to sign though."

Kakashi really wished they could be normal for just a day, "And where is Naruto?"

"Probably went to get food." Sasuke shrugged, "We should've known that would happen if we left him alone for more than ten minutes."

"You're just mad he didn't wait for you." Sakura laughed, "Isn't that right?"

"Shut up!" Sasuke flushed slightly.

"Good one, cub." Takara stood, play pouncing at Sakura, making the girl laugh as she wrestled with the leopard.

Kakashi sighed, hoping Tsunade had better luck in her endeavors than he was.

Naruto spotted his fellow Jinchūriki walking along the path from the training grounds towards the hotel he stayed at, and he knew this was the opportunity. Jogging after the red head, he caught up to Gaara and grabbed the boy's shoulder, making the Ichibi contained freeze and sand rose up from his gourd.

"Remove your hand."

"I need to talk to you."

"Mother wants your blood."

Sighing, the blond didn't move an inch as he stared intently at Gaara, "You don't sleep, right? You hear the voice in your head, and sometimes it controls you?"

"What?" The red head faltered momentarily, face going blank, "Stop talking now. You just sound foolish."

"You're a Jinchūriki." Naruto pursed his lips, "So am I. I can help you."

"I need no help." Gaara scoffed, "What I need is to spill your blood. Even better that we're on equal ground."

"Listen!" Naruto brought his voice down to a whisper, "I know what it's like to feel like you're losing your mind. You're better than that, though. I can help you, your seal is shit right now and I can fix it."

"How could you possibly know?" Gaara sneered, moving forward to raise a hand that brought sand from his gourd to wrap around his arm, "How-?"

Naruto summoned his chain, the pure white links wrapping around the red head's wrists. The sand fell to the ground, useless, and Gaara's eyes widened, staring through Naruto as he froze in place.

"The voice is gone?" Naruto raised a brow, "I can suppress chakra, especially the chakra of tailed beasts like the Ichibi. That's what it feels like to have control of your own mind."

"L-let me go." His voice was blank, no emotion present, but his arms shook within the chains that held them, "Let me go or I'll end you."

Naruto shook his head, "Don't you get it? Everyone in your life has called you a monster, and demon. I've faced the same thing in Konoha. You can rise above it if you let me fix your seal. The voice will be gone and you'll have control. Don't you want control?"

Gaara was silent for a long moment, his eyes still staring in an unseeing manner. He opened his mouth once before closing it again. Finally, with Naruto waiting patiently before him, he nodded slowly.


"Tsunade, what's wrong?"

"I need to talk to you. It's about Naruto."

Sarutobi sighed. He could already feel a splitting headache coming on.

Chapter Text

"So, we're doing it tomorrow night?" Sasuke glanced over at the blond ninja sat beside him, "You think it'll work?"

"It'll work." Naruto leaned on the Uchiha's shoulder, "I believe in us. In you. We'll fix his seal and then we won't have to worry about Sakura in the finals."

He looked over at the pink haired girl, passed out on the floor atop the mountain of blankets Mirai had piled onto Naruto's bedroom floor, and smiled slightly, "She would've won anyways."

"It's nice to have insurance." The blond shrugged, just a small movement of his shoulder.

Sasuke sent him a sideways glance, "Are you alright?"

Startled blue eyes met serious black, "Me? I'm fine. You all got your summons today, everything is going well with Gaara, er, as well as it can go, I suppose."

"You seem upset." The Uchiha gave him a critical look, "You're easy to read, you know."

The smile twitched, and the Uzumaki felt like every carefully crafted defense he had fell down. Sighing, he hugged his own arm around him and rested his head on his teammate's shoulder, letting the silence speak for itself.

"What happened? Is it about Lee? You seemed off ever since you came back from the hospital." 

"A Kusa genin was in one of the rooms, a girl named Karin." He felt Sasuke tense up beside him, his shoulders wiring up, "She had red hair, like my birth mom. Said her grandfather was an Uzumaki, her mom too."

Sasuke relaxed all at once, leaning away from the blond to stare at him in astonishment, "An Uzumaki? She's part of your clan?"

"Yeah. Kusa...they abuse her. They bite her to steal her chakra for it's healing properties. You should've seen her arm and chest, Sasuke, she's covered in the marks..." Naruto cringed, "I'm not letting her go back there."

The other boy's face had paled before he gave a hesitant nod, "She wants to stay with you and Mirai?"

"Yes." Naruto sighed, "I...I went to the Hokage to request she remain in Konoha due to her heritage. He said no."

"What?" Sasuke blinked, "He said no?"

"Yeah. Said we'd need a clan head for that and Tenten can't because her mom wasn't the clan head of Konoha's Uzumaki, and the civilian council would never let me despite my so-called lineage." He let out a bitter laugh, "So much for ever wanting acceptance, huh?"

"Stop it." Sasuke nudged the blond's hand with his own, "The people who matter accept you, and the rest will probably come around once you save their asses."

"Hopefully they don't need to be saved." Naruto huffed, "I just...I don't know what to do about Karin. I won't let Kusa take her back, but how can I fight both of the damn councils?"

"You don't have to alone." Sasuke hummed slightly, smiling, "You have both the Uchiha and the Senju by your side, you know. Sakura and I can put them in their places if you want?"

"Is Sakura even an official Senju?"

"Tsunade-sensei can make her official." Sasuke shrugged, "You know we'll set the councils straight. Besides, it's not like they should have any real say, especially the civilians. They're only there to insure the common population isn't put at risk, nothing more."

"They see me as a risk."

"Well, they're wrong."

"Thank you." Naruto muttered, practically burying his nose in Sasuke's shoulder, "I really...just, thanks, Sasuke."

He couldn't fail again. He couldn't lose his family again. He couldn't lose his will again. A hot stone set in his chest, burning like a fire, and he knew Karin would be okay because he's make sure she was okay. 

Sasuke pulled away, smiling slightly as he looked down at his teammate, "You should get some sleep, you know. Big day tomorrow."

"Don't I know it." He flopped down on his bed, watching Sasuke retreat to his own blanket pile, "Night."


("Tou-san, show me again." Amahiko nodded at the double sided blade, "The swing."

Ryota laughed, twirling the weapon with ease and leaping to put two deep gashes into the practice dummy, "Stab, and then swing it on around. You can also beat people with it, if worse comes to worse."

A young Amahiko watched his father with something close to reverence, "You and kaa-san fight similarly."

"Who do you think taught kaa-san?" He raised an eyebrow laughing, "Now, she could still probably best me with a katana, but I taught her all she knows about a double sword and a bō."

"Did they use those in Kumo a lot?" 

"More often than anywhere else." Ryota shrugged, "Aki was a good teacher, and I was lucky to have her as my sensei. I had no clan, after all, and was half orphaned."

"Aki, she's the one with the really dark hair that always wears beige, right?"

"Yes, that's her."

Amahiko nodded sagely, "I remember. She came to my birthday one year."

Ryota snorted slightly, "She was supposed to be on a mission. "

"Tou-san, can you teach me to do that stuff?" The young Uzumaki gestured to the double sword and his staff with a small hand, "I wanna spin stuff too!"

"After you learn how to use a basic katana we can talk."

"But kaa-san won't let me until I'm in the academy!"

"One more year, then.")

"Naruto!" The hiss woke him up, "Naruto, Sasuke, wake up!"

Sakura hovered over the both of them, green eyes wide, "Tsunade-sensei wants us."

"For what?"

"I...don't know." Sakura faltered, "Kaka-sensei showed up in the window and woke me. He told me to get you all up and go to the tower immediately. He seemed...miffed."

"When is he not miffed?" Sasuke rubbed his eyes, taking a glance around, "It's still dark out. Can we go when the sun is up?"

"He said now. I think he was being serious for once."

Tsunade was sitting in the Hokage's chair when they arrived, the Sandaime and Jiraiya standing on either side of her. ANBU were lined up in the back, a girl with black hair sat stiffly in the corner by Kakashi and Yamato. Naruto yawned, trying to rub the sleep out of his eyes, looking at the scene in front of him in confusion.

"Tsunade-sensei?" Sakura looked around at all of them as an ANBU closed the door behind him, locking it behind them and activating a seal on the door. The symbols flashed out for a moment, Naruto blinking his now wide open eyes vigorously. 

"A silencing seal." His head tilted to the side, "Why?"

"This is classified." Her lips pursed slightly, glancing at Jiraiya who laid out a folder on the desk. She waved a hand, the ANBU disappeared without even a trace of smoke. Sakura's eyebrows drew together slightly, her lips turning down into a slight frown.

Naruto stepped forward with his team to look the file over. The name at the top jolted all three; Izumi Uchiha.

Sasuke's mouth dropped open slightly, eyes widening beyond what anyone thought possible. Tsunade shook her head gently, "Look at the picture, please."

A girl with black hair and bright red eyes. Naruto blinked, "Karin?"

"No, I'm sorry, Naruto." Tsunade kept a complete poker face, "Karin Uzumaki tragically died from fatal wounds a bear inflicted on her. The festering and infection was so bad we had to quarantine the wing and burn the body. Her teammate was infected as well and had to be put down before the infection got to staff and other patients. Kusa will be sent their ashes and our most sincere apologies."

"But-" Naruto glanced at the girl in the corner, Karin, who was smiling widely at him, red eyes sparking, "Wow. How tragic."

"Truly. A shame we couldn't save them." Sasuke nodded, eyes having returned to their normal size, his face slipping easily into it's normal indifference after one glance at Naruto, "And Izumi? Where was my long lost cousin found?"

"Wait, wait, what's going on? Who's Karin? Who the hell is Izumi?" She turned to the boys with a glare that could catch fire, "Are you keeping secrets?"

Naruto sighed, "It happened earlier. Izumi is Karin Uzumaki, a distant relative of mine, but Kusa won't allow her to move here legally. So Karin is dead, Izumi is replacing her. I guess."

"And this just happened?"


"Man." She muttered, scoffing slightly, "I guess you miss a lot when you take a nap."

"If it makes you feel better," Sasuke started, "We found out about Izumi all together."

"You didn't know about this before hand?"

They both shook their heads. The pinkette nodded, satisfied, "At least I was only kept partially out of the loop."

Naruto turned to face the adults in the room once more, eyes growing slightly colder as they landed on Sarutobi, "I thought something like this would be unacceptable, Hokage-sama."

"Maa, I never said anything like that." Tsunade leaned back in her chair with a smirk at the way their faced dropped, "I like Karin. Er, Izumi. We talked. I think she'll make an excellent addition to the Uchiha clan. Speaking of, Sasuke?"


"She was found in one of Orochimaru's labs that we raided. He was going to use her to get the Sharingan, but she never activated her bloodline. When we chased Orochimaru across fire country-"

Jiraiya snorted quietly.

"We found several live test subjects and are assimilating them into Konoha." Tsunade nodded, "Izumi is one of those tragic souls. Many tests were done on her, explaining her scars-"

Karin flinched.

"And she is to be trained and added to a genin team under the tutelage of a jonin as soon as possible. After she completes a basic course at the academy and passes her tests, she will be a Konoha ninja."

"Wait, wait. Can we go back a moment?" Naruto held up both his hands, silencing the room, "Hokage? You?"

"Don't sound so surprised, gaki." Tsunade snorted, sipping sake from the wine glass she nursed in her right hand, "Sensei's wanted to lose the hat for awhile now. I kindly offered to take it from him tonight."

"You mean you stormed in, demanded something, didn't like the answer, proceeded to demand the hat, and the kicked Danzō through the door when he protested?"

The blonde just waved a hand flippantly, "This is not a democracy."

Naruto saw her and Kakashi share a look for a moment before they both looked away and Tsunade continued, "Sensei and I agreed I'd take the hat as soon as possible and then I could deter Kusa myself."

The Uzumaki saw the brief tensing of the Sandaime's smile before it relaxed again. He had a feeling there was much more to the story, but he didn't care. He turned to Karin, opening his mouth to say something but his eyes were warm and prickly and the words lodged in his throat. Sasuke swept in front of him with a knowing look that seemed almost soft in his eyes, offering a hand to Karin.

"You'll have to stay in the Uchiha compound and wear our clan crest, not the Uzumaki's." He saw the hard look in her eyes and the way she pressed her lips together before continuing gently, "You're still an Uzumaki. This is temporary, until your clan can be officially reestablished. You don't have to become an Uchiha."

There was still a flinty look in her eyes, "Okay. I get that."

Naruto swallowed, stepping forward with his arms open wide. The now dark-haired girl darted forward as if she were five again, running to the safety of an older sibling. Naruto held her tightly, holding on to a piece of what was left of his family, of Nanami for Kami's sake, and shot a grateful look over Karin's shoulder at Tsunade. The blonde woman didn't see him looking at first, instead watching Karin bury herself in all she knew of her family with an almost sad look in her eyes. Then she looked up, caught his gaze, and sent him a firm grin. She was on his side, no matter what. His heart swelled slightly, lodging in his throat, and he knew he could trust her. She had such open eyes, so expressive and honest.

Like Sakura, like Hanako-nee. His gaze slid over to Sakura, who was watching the girl with an appraising and protective look. Karin was theirs now, too, he realized. Because if she was important to Naruto, then she was important to his teammates. Even his sensei, he thought as he looked at Kakashi. He wasn't stupid; he knew that the Hatake had gone to Tsunade, sensing something wrong, and the Tsunade had blown up about Sarutobi releasing one of the last Uzumaki so easily. Lastly he landed on Sasuke, who seemed not as reluctant as he expected as soon as he figured out Tsunade's plan. An Uzumaki, posing as an Uchiha? What would his clan say if they were alive? It was easy to see Sasuke gave no fucks, and only cared about his team's important people. He only cared about what Naruto and Sakura cared about, and Kakashi and Yūgao, and maybe even Tsunade.

As Karin pulled away, she turned to the blonde Sannin turned Hokage and bowed her head so deeply her newly-raven hair fell in a curtain around her, "T-thank you, Godaime-sama."

"The Uzumaki are my family, too." Tsunade's voice was careful, not revealing emotion but gentle at the same time, "Besides, you'll be a valuable asset. Konoha knows how to make use of talented Kunoichi besides using them as a supped-up soldier pill."

Her smile was wane but not amused at all. It was clear what the medic thought about the practice, and none of it was positive.

"Tsunade-sensei." Sakura sighed, "Could we leave with Izumi now? We're still tired, and it's late."

"Of course. Return to the tower tomorrow morning for the remaining details." A hard glint appeared in her eyes as she gave Karin a final once over, "We'll be watching you for awhile, just out of protocol. You understand, what with this village's reputation of snakes."

Yamato caught Kakashi by the arm as they were dismissed, look at him with wide brown eyes, "There's something wrong, isn't there? Is it about the girl, Karin?"

"No." He spoke shortly, ready to pull away before he hesitated, looking back at Yamato.

"You can tell me senpai." The mokuton user insisted, "You know you can."

"Tenzō..." Kakashi dragged him into the corned, activating his Sharingan and casting an illusion making it appear as if they weren't there, "There's something wrong in Konoha, with some...individuals we're quite familiar with. Tsunade's been Hokage all of three hours and when she was digging up information on the Uchiha to scrounge together Karin's documents, she found some papers. Classified documents, only for the Hokage's eyes and their advisors. She brought them to Jiraiya and I."

"If you can't tell me, it's fine. But what could be that bad?"

"It pertained to the Massacre."

"Oh, shit."

"And she doesn't want to inform Sasuke."

"Oh, shit."

"Y-you really don't have to let me stay here. I'll be alright." Karin smiled hesitantly as Mirai, still in her night clothes, gathered more pillows and blankets from her downstairs closet.

"Dear, you're one of my kids' friends. You're Sasuke's family." She held the pile of all things soft and plush like a pro, "That means you're family, Izumi, dear."

Wide red eyes teared up in an instant, and Mirai set her gathered items on the floor on the hallway, reaching up with a gentle hand to brush any tears away, "What troubles you?"

"N-nothing. You remind me of my kaa-chan." Karin bit her lip, "I'm sorry, it was forever ago, I-"

"I lost everyone I'd ever known and loved when I was six years old. That was forever ago, and it still pains me deeply when I think about it. Time doesn't always heal wounds, especially when you won't let them heal." She tucked a strand of Karin's hair behind her ear and cupped her face as if she were a little girl, "I don't know what you've faced, but I can see pain in your eyes, just like Sasuke and Naruto. My itoko...I..."

She looked down, a rueful smile on her lips and a suspicious wetness in her eyes as she looked at Karin once more, "Sometimes, he reminds me of everything I've lost. He's so much like...I see Uzushio in him. I love him like my own and it pains me, too, because I see him and I can only think of family long dead and lost. It's the same for you."

It wasn't a question and Karin didn't deny it.

"Izumi...I know the kids aren't telling me everything. Don't think me stupid. I grew up using deception to protect myself and my family, nearly making it a weapon." Mirai stroked the delicate skin under Karin's eyes for a moment before sighing, "Besides, I don't think I've ever seen an Uchiha with red eyes outside the Sharingan."

She moved to touch Karin's hair with a single hand, running the strands through her fingers, "Olive oil helps take the crunch out of the ink dye, by the way. I remember how much it dried out my own hair when I was a girl. Touch up your eyebrows, too, darling. That's what'll give you away."

She gave her a warm smile before picking up the blankets and pillows once more, walking upstairs without another sound. Karin stood, frozen in the hallway behind her as she watched the woman retreat in awe.

When Karin entered the room, she found Naruto and Sasuke were already asleep. Naruto nearly had his arm slung around the boy, and the Uchiha was curled protectively towards the blond. She stifled a giggle; they were close, she'd give them that much. She was going to lay down when she heard Sakura whisper behind her.

"Lay by me." The pinkette pulled Karin's blankets over, "We have a lot to talk about anyways."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean you're my teammates family and, as the only kunoichi on this team, I need to show you the ropes. The proper ropes, that is, not whatever those fucks taught you." She sent a sad, disgusted look to Karin's scars. It startled a laugh out of the Uzumaki girl.

"You're all so..."

"I know. You'll get used to it."

Chapter Text

"Tenten!" Mirai grunted, spinning out of the way as her daughter and the great dhole dashed across the kitchen, looking around for her kunai and sealing scrolls. Reina followed her quickly, at her summoner's heels at all times. It'd been that way since she had been summoned a few days ago, the dhole never out of sight for more than two consecutive hours. The woman gritted her teeth, turning from the stove to glare at Naruto.

"Sorry, Mirai-oba-chan." He shrugged slightly, "You know I can't control her."

"No." She gritted out, "But you can control your own summons."

The blond glanced over at Daiki, the huge dhole curled around his, Sasuke, and Sakura's chair with his head resting on the table. The dog blinked it's large, golden eyes at Mirai, "If Reina is here, I am here."

"And how did you even get to be here, Daiki?" Mirai threw her towel over her shoulder, scooping eggs onto every plate around their cramped four person table that currently seated six, not counting Tenten. 

"The blond vermin was summoned to me." He bared his teeth in a smile, "You know my inclination for the rowdy."

She shot a sad but proud look at Naruto before she turned around, her back tense, "Yes. I do."

Daiki's smile fell and Naruto's stomach gave a sharp jerk. 

"I found it!" Tenten skidded into the kitchen, Reina only missing the dish cabinet by an inch as she leaped into the room after her, "Oh! Eggs!"

She shoved into the over crowded table beside Mirai, now making the count seven. Karin shifted in an uncomfortable way as Sakura reached over her for the salt and Naruto tilted his chair back, placing his feet on the edge of Tenten's chair across from him, making her kick him in the shins.

"Are you alright, Izumi? More eggs?" Mirai smiled at her, "Water?"

"Ah, no, I'm fine." Karin ignored Naruto's concerned glance, "Really. Just unused to the...people."

"Of course, dear." The brunette woman finished the rest of her eggs in a hurry, leaving her plate on the cramped table. She patted Tama once on the back as she left, "I cooked this time, you wash."

"Deal." He rolled his eyes, "Go open shop and make our customers miserable."

"I don't negotiate prices, that's all. You're too weak." She snorted, heading down the short flight of stairs that led from there small kitchen to the spacious shop below.

"Tou-san, before you help with the shop could you help me with a thing or two about the katana Naruto gave me? The balance is nearly perfect, it's throwing me off from my practice katanas."

Sakura stood, laying her plate on top of Mirai's empty one, "I'd better get home. My parents will be worried if I don't."

Sasuke shot Naruto a look before he left, "We're all still meeting at noon?"

One by one the people trickled from the kitchen until it was only Daiki, Karin, and Naruto left. Karin smiled, "I think I'll go study in my room. I do have an exam to pass."

"You'd better. People are already having aneurysms about another surviving, loyal Uchiha." He laughed at the look on her face, "It's only temporary. You'll be an Uzumaki soon enough. While you're studying I have some...loose ends to tie up."

"Loose ends?" She smiled slightly, "Should I worry about murder?"

"Not mine." The blond quipped, standing as she walked out before he turned to Daiki, "It's time?"

"It's been time for awhile." The dhole answered, resting his head on the now empty table, "She's suffering."

"I know. Will she believe it?"

"She will. There's no way she couldn't."

"Hm, brat." Jiraiya grumbled, walking down the streets with a rather large bruise surrounding his right eye. His little shit of a so-called student had set up alarm seals around the bath houses, and the perverts all across Konoha mourned. Well, mostly Jiraiya and Ebisu, but it affected the toad sage more than anyone else. His research, his books, they were all down the drain now. Maybe he could write an action or adventure series? He damn well has enough stories...

The point standing, the bath houses were out of reach and so was his current writing. Little brat hadn't even warned him, just let him get knocked in the head once or twice to figure it out himself. Some may call it divine retribution, someone being Tsunade, but Jiraiya just called it Kushina cursing him from the after life. So, to appease the vengeful spirit of the Uzumaki, and because Tsunade had threatened to rip his balls off, he dug out old teaching materials from when he taught the Ame trio and Minato. Basic seal theory, a few advanced jutsu, and some worksheets to improve calligraphy. 

Freezing suddenly as he was about to push the door open, he glanced up to the roof and saw five shadows greeting him. They were huddled around in a circle, concealed well, and probably had malevolent intentions. Flashing a hand sign, Jiraiya activated the seals he had drawn into his skin and tossed up a lazy genjutsu. Silencing seals in combination with a misdirection genjutsu were probably his trademarks as a spymaster, after all. Leaping up silently, he pulled himself up to the roof slowly and watched the figures huddled together, discussing the plan. Bulky black coats and porcelain white masks with the impression of different animals gave them away. He knew they weren't ANBU, because Tsunade wasn't that worried about the Uzumaki brat she'd agreed to take in, and because the red tanto strapped across their backs gave them away. Danzō's robots, then, he thought with narrowed eyes.

"Sai reports he is now alone with only the dog." One of them pressed a pale hand against their ear, the emotionless voice making Jiraiya hated the old war hawk even more, "We should strike now. Buki, you will remove the summons with Jōkyū. The rest of us will eliminate the target immediately."

Naruto. Gritting his teeth, he realized Danzō wanted the brat out of the picture. He wasn't tame enough for the bastard, wasn't a malleable Jinchūriki, wouldn't mindlessly follow orders. Now, he certainly could have run back to Tsunade, gotten ANBU to assist him, and then taken out the bastards. He didn't though. Instead he drew a kunai and decided to deal with it himself. Time was of the essence, after all, and that was his godson they wanted to kill. No one would hurt his godson if he could stop it. Not just because Kushina and Minato would both rain horrible, bloody retribution down on him when he eventually died, but mostly because the brat amused him. 

Taking a few steps forward, minding his chakra and KI because he just knew the old bastard would've taught them to sense it, he shove the kunai into the back of one's throat. The others startled, now seeing him, but Jiraiya grabbed the heads of two more and smashed the together. Their skulls caved in, the agents falling to the roof with a dull thud, and he grabbed the last two by their cloaks in one hand and sliced the kunai in a long arc, slicing through their throats without hesitation. He saw someone leap out the window, a black cloak fleeing as he no doubt heard the slaughter in his ear piece, and Jiraiya let him go. He'd tell Danzō what happened, and then maybe the war hawk would understand how big of a grave he was digging for himself.

In the meantime, Jiraiya sealed up the bodies and leapt from the roof, heading towards the forest to burn the scroll. He would keep this to himself for now, because if this came out then there'd be a damn civil war on both the shinobi and civilian councils. Tsunade already had to deal with Kusa's bitching about 'losing their Uzumaki' and the backlash of another apparent loyal Uchiha. He'd inform her later, and keep an eye out in the meantime. 

Resolving to return later to teach the damn brat something other than the Rasengan, and boy did he shudder at the memory of that, Jiraiya went on his merry way.

Naruto froze, hearing a loud slam that seemed to resonate through the whole building. Snorting slightly, he continued down the stairs, firm in his knowledge that Tenten was a lot more like Tama than the man would care to admit. Only they could kick up such a ruckus. 

Mirai was sorting through Katana sheaths, the store half an hour till opening with not much left to do, and she looked up when she heard the footsteps. Her smile was warm as ever, and she jerked her head upwards, "Was that Tenten and Tama?"

"No, people are getting murdered outside." Naruto rolled his eyes, "Yes, I'm assuming it was the rest of my bloodthirsty family."

"Sass." She waved a sheathe at him, "Watch the sass."

"No sass, just the truth." His smiled faltered for a second, "Speaking of the truth..."

He must've been too quiet, because Mirai kept on talking, "Where's Daiki?"

"Upstairs, eating leftover chicken from last night." Naruto smiled, but his chest was tight, "He's more of a pig than a dhole."

"Don't I know it." She got a far away look in her eyes, "I still remember when he ate the whole roast one festival meal. Our kaa-chan had cooked it in celebration, but before we could all sit down and eat, he just snatched it up."

Naruto snorted, remembering that quite clearly, "And then she wrapped him in an old kimono so he looked like a festival animal and made him give kids rides in town during the parade."

She threw his a startled but amused look, "He told you about that?"

"U-um, I need to tell you something." Naruto shifted his feet, "I-I mean, I guess I could also show you. It's-"

Mirai gave him a deadpan look, one only a mother of a daughter like Tenten could achieve, "What'd you break, brat?"

"Nothing!" He protested, "Really! I just wanted..."

"What? Is this about Izumi? For the record, I know it's hair dye." He brows drew together, "Is everything alright with her? She's settling in well, at least I thought. Last night we talked some, I think she'll cope okay. Or is it about you? Have people-?"

He cut off her concerned ramblings by allowing a single white chain to manifest from his chest. She choked slightly, the words catching in her throat, and her eyes teared up some. Still, she smiled, and looked at him encouragingly, "You inherited the clans bloodline. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised..."

She let the words die before they came out, smile still in place but it didn't reach her eyes, "I could try and help you some. I remember my br- I remember others with chains, I watched them practice a lot."

"That's not-" He twitched slightly, allowing the chain to dissolve, "Do you believe weird stuff can happen? Like, really weird?"

"Have you met my daughter? Yes, itoko, I believe weird stuff can happen." She squinted at him slightly, "Now, are we coming full circle for you to tell me you broke something with a chain?"

"I didn't break anything."

She raised her hands in surrender at his sullen, borderline petulant, look, "To be fair, my daughter did put a katana in my wall just a few days ago."

Naruto only sighed, hanging his head slightly, only to look up when Mirai left the counter to put a hand on his shoulder, "Listen. I...know I'm not your mom. I never will be, I can never replace Kushina. I wouldn't even if I could. But I'm still here for you. I always will be, okay? I can be your crazy aunt, or cousin, or-"

"Sister?" He spoke quietly.

He couldn't meet her eyes, but he could bet they were tear filled with how watery her voice sounded, "Yeah. Sister, if that's what you want. I never did get to be an older sibling, I suppose."

She looked at him, surveying his slumped shoulders and downcast eyes, "I don't know exactly what's got you in a fit, but if you need my help, you've got it."

"Just...personal stuff." He shrugged slightly, heart clenching.

"Boy troubles?" She sounded sympathetic, "Sasuke does seem to be quite the character-"

"Kami!" He threw up his hands, "Just...forget it."

She chuckled, ruffling his unbound hair, "The original point still stands. I'm here for you, no matter what."

He nodded, turning to go upstairs, "Yeah."

When he reached the top, Daiki only looked at him with a sulky gaze. Naruto turned away from it, "It's hard to explain. You know that."

"I don't." The dhole stood, walking the wrap his tail around Naruto, "But I can imagine. What will it take for you to tell her?"

"I...I'm not sure." Naruto shrugged, seeking refuge in his room as he fled from the kitchen, "I don't want to know."


"Because every time I try and tell her or even look at her, it only drags up memories I'd rather stay forgotten." Naruto's eyes grew colder, harder, wrenching his door open and leaving it for Daiki to shut behind him, "I have to face the fact that I failed her and the rest of our family. Our village."

"You just keep on failing her by letting her suffer."

Naruto looked up, stricken, so pale that Daiki momentarily worried he'd gone too far. Then his summoner smoothed out his expression, grabbing his katanas and strapping them to his back.

"What are you doing?"

"I have a team meeting." The blond's voice was sedated.

"In two hours."

"I like to be early." Naruto glanced back with a frown, "I'll go alone."

Daiki barked out a bitter laugh, "Alone. That's your problem, Amahiko. You always think you're alone. Guess what? You're not! Stop wallowing, it's not doing you any favors! Own up that you made a damn mistake-!"

The Uzumaki whirled around, blue eyes so bright and potent and alight with anger that Daiki nearly mistook them for sparks of electricity, "I didn't do anything!"

"Exactly!" The dhole didn't back down, "We all told you Yuudai-!"

"Don't say his fucking name!" Naruto snarled, fists clenching and eyes flashing, "Don't you fucking dare! And who the hell was 'we'? The only one bitching about him was you. He was our friend! You think we're going to assume our friend would commit genocide against his own fucking people? Who the fuck thinks that?"

"He was unhinged and none of you would admit it. You let your emotions cloud your judgement-!"

"Fuck you!" The scream was defeating, and Daiki was suddenly glad his summoner had placed silencing seals all around his room.

"You have to admit you did." Daiki spoke lowly, "You paid no attention to any advice regarding the boy-"

"Because I loved him!" The words were torn from Naruto's throat, raw and painful, "I loved him and I fucking paid for it. Are you happy, now? You were right. Good for you. Now all my family and friends are dead, killed by someone I thought I could trust."

"You need to understand you cannot solve everything or save everyone. You need to see a lost cause for what it is, and be content with what you have." Daiki insisted, his tail whipping furiously, "Your hubris was your original downfall, and it will be again. Not everyone is dead, Hiko. Mirai is still here, I and the rest of my pack are still here."

"Just...leave." The blond deflated, as if all the fight had been drained out of him, "You say I always think I'm alone? Well now I want to be."

"You can't do everything alone. You're being foolish-"

"Too bad. I said leave and I meant it." Naruto turned without another word and leapt from the window.

Daiki had a sinking feeling he wasn't going to be meeting his team. Looking at the floor, he could see the chakra burns in the floor from the boy's anger. Sighing, the dhole reverse summoned himself back to his own land, knowing he'd get an earful from his mother and that his summoner would come find him when he was ready to speak once more.

Hinata spat out the blood filling her mouth, looking up at Hanabi in barely concealed hurt and anger. Her younger sister circled her, Byakugan activated as she readied her next attack.

"Enough." The harsh voice of their father sounded from the door, and Hinata didn't need to look up and see his face to know he was disappointed, "Hinata is still injured."

Hanabi scoffed quietly, turning away from her sister who was still on the ground, "Only because Neji destroyed her."

The young heiress chanced a glance up, and the barely constrained fury in her father's eyes made her flinch and drop her gaze once more. Their father's hand came to land heavy on Hanabi's shoulder as he led his youngest away, "Enough, Hanabi."

The dark haired girl stayed crumpled on the ground for a long moment, forcing back tears as each breath hurt to take in. Coming up to support herself on her hands, she struggled to stand, getting to her feet and unsteadily walking towards the gates of the compound. If she stayed here a moment longer she'd be sick. The walk to Training Ground 8 was a short one but, as she clutched her wounded chest and her only weeks old injuries, it felt like miles. When she came face to face with the familiar landscape, the training dummies of straw and the dirt ground, she crumpled again. Sliding to the ground by a dummy, she held back tears and instead focused on the metallic taste in her mouth. The taste of her failure, her shame. 

She heard a quiet sound of surprise. Her head whipped up, blood still on her lips, and lilac eyes widened when she saw none other than Naruto, who looked quite ragged himself.

"Are you..." He pressed his lips together, "You don't look okay."

"I'm fine." She struggled for a moment, forcing herself into a more upright sitting position as her heart pounded away in her ribcage.

"You know, I have a knack of telling people I'm fine when I'm not really. I can spot a liar like myself pretty easily." His smile was teasing, and it made her a little light headed.

"I'm not l..l-lying." She insisted, face flushing a dark red, "I'm okay, promise."

"Don't stutter." Naruto walked over to her, taking a seat on the ground beside her but leaving plenty of space for the injured girl.

She balked for a minute, unable to understand Naruto saying that to her. The silence went on a beat too long as the blond realized how what he said sounded, "Not that stuttering is bad, per say. It just gives the impression of weakness, and you're not weak."

Her mouth screwed up to one side, and only the fact that she was talking to the boy she'd had a crush on for years kept the bitter laugh tamed inside her, "I d...d-don't know if you saw, but I'm pretty easily beaten."

"By Neji, who's an asshole by the way." A startled sound left the Hyūga girl and Naruto grinned, pressing on, "You just need more confidence and practice. The technique is there, just improve it."

Her eyebrows furrowed and her voice was small, nearly pleading, "How?"

"Do you have family who can help you?"

Jealousy reared it's ugly head again, but Hinata pushed the beast down and looked away from the earnest blue eyes, "F...father only cares for training Hanabi."

"Aren't you the heiress?" Naruto blinked at her, "Shouldn't he focus on you?"

"You would think, but he d...d-doesn't believe I'm worthy of the title."

He let his gaze drift away, sighing at nothing in particular, "It seems to always be blindness that tears families apart."

Hinata blinked, "Yours...?"

"Died." He shrugged, face blank, but Hinata could see anger simmering just beneath the surface. A quiet kind of anger, much like her own. The kind where you wanted to scream, to rage, but nothing good would come of it so you keep your mouth shut and let it all boil inside. She had expected the answer, he was an orphan after all, but the emotions that came with it were unexpected.

She brought her knees up to her chest protectively, "My mother d...d-died."

"I've heard."

Things were quiet, only birds chirping to fill the the training ground with a light noise, before Hinata blinked, "You came here to train? I'm sorry, I-I-!"

"I came her to hack dummies apart." His eyes were dark, "Not exactly training."

Her views on the boy beside her were completely shifted after a scarce few minutes. This was not the undoubting confidence and happiness she always attributed to Naruto. This was new, dark, jaded. This she didn't like. Lips tilting down into a frown, she glanced over at him.

"You're going to fight Neji?"


She stayed silent a second longer, "Beat him."

"Never took you for the vengeful type."

She closed her eyes for a brief second, remembering the doctors express order for a three month rest. Remembering her father waking her up to duel her sister, knowing full well what the outcome would be. 

"I'm tired." She sighed.

"You're twelve."

"So are you." She huffed out a sigh before speaking in that quiet tone of hers, "Besides, Neji is misguided. He's l...l-lost."

"You know, you're a whole lot wiser than the rest of your family."

She smiled, perhaps a bit bitterly, but she didn't think Naruto would mind, "D...d-don't tell them that."

"I'm going now." Naruto stood and threw a backwards glance at her, "I'll probably train. Hack some dummies apart. The usual."

The dark haired girl nodded her head. Naruto began walking to the entrance of the training ground when he turned around, "By the way, don't give up. That means they win."

He didn't say who 'they' were, and she didn't need to ask. She sat alone, watching the birds in the sky above her. It was peaceful, when she was by herself. 

"Hinata! Kami, is that blood? What are you doing here? You're supposed to be resting!"

Her pale, featureless eyes snapped up, widening at the sight of Kurenai charging through the entrance of the training grounds like a bull. Shino, Kiba, and Akamaru were hot on her heels, headed straight for the Hyūga heiress.

"S...s-sensei!" She blinked, bringing her hand up to wipe her mouth, "We didn't have training today!"

"You didn't!" Kurenai crouched down to remove her hand from her mouth, inspecting the blood, "Is this an internal injury? I told you not to train-!"

"Father wanted Hanabi and I to spar." She dropped her gaze, "I lost. Again."

Kiba puffed up like an angry blowfish, "Of course you fucking lost! You're injured! Does that wizened old bastard need some sense knocked into him, cause I volunteer!"

Shino glowered through his glasses, giving a slow, grim nod as his Kikaichū hissed in response to his anger.

"Kiba." Kurenai cut him a sideways glance before gently helping Hinata up, "Come. We'll take you to the hospital."

"Father will be angry with me." She whispered, resisting slightly and trying to pull her arm away. 

Kurenai grabbed her gently by the shoulders, "I do not care what Hiashi has to say. We are going to the hospital and then we are going to speak to Tsunade-sama."

"Naruto." Sakura gave him a droll look from where she lounged on a tree branch, Takara snoozing beside her, "You're late."

"I got lost on the way here." The corners of his mouth quirked up into a smile, "Konoha's really big, you know."

Kakashi snorted from where he laid on the ground. Sasuke just gave him a mildly scathing look, "You look like you've beaten yourself up."

Naruto shrugged, "You should see the other guy."

"You mean the training dummies?" Sakura rolled over on her stomach, still perfectly balanced on the branch, "Yeah, they do punch pretty hard."

She batted away the kunai he threw at her like it was a toy. Takara opened one eye lazily before growling at her interrupted nap, the leopard rolling around on it's back, allowing one paw to hand off the branch.

"Okay team. Now that our princess is present, what would you like to do training wise? You're, ah, all in the finals, so..." Kakashi stood up in seconds, book in hand and hair not even slightly out of place from where he'd been resting on the ground.

"Mm, should probably work on taijutsu." Naruto shrugged, "Neji's a Hyūga and all."

"Tsunade-sensei's been helping me with my taijutsu!" Sakura perked up, "I can show you!"

"Heh, you know what, I'll pass. Kaka-sensei's good enough for me." Naruto forced out a laugh, unconsciously stepping away from Sakura's tree.

"You'll regret that." The jonin shrugged, "Sakura?"

"Water jutsu, if you have any."

"I think I can manage something." Their sensei rolled his visible eye, "And our lovely Uchiha monster?"

Sasuke gave a deep, nearly shuddering, sigh, "I really don't want to have to deal with that body expansion shit the Akimichi do."

"Maa, I have just the thing."

And so Kakashi got to witness Sakura drenching herself under a makeshift waterfall in Training Ground 11, Naruto getting his ass kicked in Training Ground 7, and Sasuke working on his genjutsu with an unwilling Yamato on the outskirts of Training Ground 7. Ah, the joy of clones.

"Ah!" Naruto ducked under a sharp kick aimed at his throat, "Kaka-sensei, are you actually gonna do anything? Or-ah!-or are you just gonna watch-!"

He was cut off as he got laid on his back, the crack audible enough that even Yamato and Sasuke looked over. Kakashi raised an eyebrow, "Maybe when you can beat my clone, I'll have a reason to do something. No more kiddie gloves, Naruto-hime."

Naruto groaned as the clone picked him up by the scruff of the neck to toss him across the field. 

Yamato sighed, "You owe me dango for this, senpai."

"Mm, and why would that be, my adorable kōhai?"

"Because after this I've suddenly developed a fear of snakes."


"Okay, a slightly more intense fear of snakes."


"Honestly, I've blocked out everything to do with that woman." Yamato scrunched his nose up, "No good memories."

"Well, I got a particularly great lap danc-" Kakashi was cut off by a kunai flying by his head, missing by only a centimeter, "Right. No good memories."

Sasuke and Naruto shared a look before the Uzumaki was kicked flat on his back again. 

"I'm never getting all the water out of my ears." Sakura lamented, ringing out her long pink strands with a towel they'd grabbed from her house after training, "Sure, a bone crushing tsunami wave sounds cool, but is it worth it?"

"I was tossed around like a rag doll." Naruto side eyed her, "I think I'd have been better off with you."

"Probably. None of us have ever fought Kaka-sensei when he's actually trying. At least we know Sakura hits us as hard as she possibly can whenever we piss her off." Sasuke ducked, avoiding a weak hit thrown by a preoccupied pinkette.

"They say he could stand up against one of the Sannin, you know?" Sakura looked at them both, eyes slightly wide, "Tsunade-sensei said he could probably beat Orochimaru, or at least kick him around a little."

"Big whoop." Naruto scoffed, "We kicked Orochimaru around a little."

"Ah, no. We took him by surprise, still got our asses beaten, and would've died if Tsunade-sensei and Jiraiya-sensei hadn't saved us last minute." Sakura gave him a look as she twirled her hair back up into a messy, damp bun, "Were we at the same Chunin Exams?"

"Details." Naruto waved a dismissive hand, leading them down a narrow side road.

"Are important." Sakura insisted.

"Um, is this the same apartment?" Sasuke jutted a finger to where Naruto's old window...used to be.

The Uzumaki whistled, laughing a little as he jumped up to the window ledge. Dodging the broken glass, he looked around as he slipped in. The walls were spray painted, his old furniture was broken, the jumpsuits he'd left behind hand been torn the shreds. Death threats were scrawled everywhere in what looked like ink pen and...lipstick? He assumed it was meant to look like blood, but the vandal had chosen a bit too pink of a shade. 

"Wow." Sakura stepped in behind him, "This is...really sad."

"This is really stupid, more like." Sasuke raised an unimpressed eyebrow, "Do they think this is revenge? All they've done is fucked up a perfectly good apartment."

"I'm pretty sure once I get over the smell of piss and burning wood, I can still detect some instant ramen." Sakura snorted out a laugh, dancing around a hit from Naruto aimed at her shoulder.

"Man, if they pissed in here, that's going too far. I hope it was their dogs or something." Naruto scrunched up his nose, "Kami, you're right though. I can smell it."

Sasuke's eyebrows rose, "The piss or the instant ramen?"

"The piss, you asshole!"

"Why are we in...this place?"

The three genin whirled around only to see Gaara crouched in the window. Sakura side-stepped towards Naruto, hissing under her breath, "I didn't even sense him. Did you?"

Naruto frowned. He hadn't. All the demonic chakra being fed into his own stores was affecting his previous sensing abilities; he could still sense most harmful intent, but the natural gift most Uzumaki had of tracking chakra was extremely dulled. Otherwise he would've felt his fellow Jinchūriki coming from miles away. Frowning, he slipped the bag off his shoulder and nodded for Gaara to enter the run down apartment.

"To do the sealing." Naruto shrugged, "No one expects me here anymore. Most people know I live with my family now, so they don't come looking here. Besides, I'll set up suppression seals. Probably...yeah, some silencing seals as well."

"Should we contact our summons?" Sakura blinked at him, shooting skittish looks at Gaara, "Takara knew I was apprehensive over something. She offered to come."

Naruto gave a nod, "Sasuke? Any wolverines?"

"Koma is the only one I know by name. I guess she's...amicable, compared to the others." The Uchiha bit his thumb, "We'll find out if she bites me or not."

"What about the dholes?" Sakura raised a brow, "Daiki?"

Naruto's shoulder's tensed, "Daiki is busy."

Takara ended up brushing up against Sakura lovingly, curling her tail around the girls waist and using her sandpaper like tongue to give her a face wash. The pinkette tried to escape but she didn't stand a chance, really. Koma arrived quickly and merely snarled quietly before laying herself down atop the air vent, the cool breeze soothing her anger if only a bit. Gaara watched them all, slowly blinking his unnerving eyes.

"I will sleep after this?"

"That's the plan, yes." Naruto huffed as he completed the last of the preparatory seals.

"Mother still wants your blood. She craves it, almost violently now." Gaara tilted his head, "I am unused to suppressing her bloodlust. I would suggest working quickly lest she bests me."

"And, see, that's another thing we hope to fix." Naruto muttered as he dug into his bag, "Hopefully you can stop going around saying shit like that."

"Ah, could you lay on the floor there?" Sakura motioned to the ground she'd hastily cleared by kicking broken pieces of furniture to the side, "I'm just going to...lock you in, per say. Think of it like a seatbelt, for safety! Just...ours, not yours."

Gaara had a slight sneer as he laid down on the dirty floor, the bags under his eyes looking even heavier than usual in the pale light. Naruto knelt by the genin's head, motioning his teammates and their summons to stand closer.

"If I say restrain, don't hesitate." Naruto muttered, eyes flickering to his teammates solemn faces, beginning to poke around the seal on Gaara's forehead, "We do not need the one tail beast rampaging around the village."

Smearing ink in a swirling pattern, he twisted his fingers as though he were turning a key. Gaara let out an inhuman shriek, something more animal than anything else, and Sakura and Sasuke tensed. As the pinkette increased the wood's grip, she cursed to herself. It was about to be a long night.

Chapter Text

"You okay?" Sasuke's hand ghosted along his back as Naruto teetered slightly, eyes rolling back for a second, "Do you need to sit?"

Sakura was by their side in an instant, forcing the blond's mouth open and popping a soldier pill in before holding up and opened bottle of water to his lips, "Now drink."

Gaara was passed out under the mokuton barriers that Sakura had put in place, and in his sleep he looked almost peaceful. Well, less homicidal at the least. Naruto huffed out a breath, dropping to sit on the ground before cringing and jumping back up.

"What's wrong?" Sasuke grabbed his arm to steady him, "Is it-?"

"No, no!" Naruto waved a hand around, "I just...thought about the piss, that's all."

Sakura let out a laugh, "Sit, Naruto. You need rest. You just reworked a Jinchūriki seal. As the official medic of the team-"

"Did you get licensed without us knowing?" Sasuke rolled his eyes.

"And how much do you know about chakra exhaustion, Uchiha?" She drawled out, green eyes narrowing before she rolled them dramatically and placed a glowing hand on Naruto's arm, "You used up your first reserves. Think of it as the front line chakra, always readily accessible for any small task. You used it fast, draining yourself quickly, which can explain the sudden dizziness and nausea. You should be feeling better soon-"

"I already am." 

"Because of your status as a Jinchūriki and your heritage. Hell, will you people please let me finish a sentence?" She huffed, making her way over to Gaara, finger tips glowing a mint green. She placed them at his temples and shivered violently, "His chakra is very corrupt, but he has full reserves and no visible illness from the re-sealing."

"He'll never be the way he could've been." Naruto scuffed at the floor slightly with his shoe, "He'll always have that chakra corruption, and I doubt the sand will suddenly stop listening to him. He'll always have less control than the other Jinchūriki. The barrier between his mind and the Ichibi's is thinner than, say, mine and the Kyūbi's. He'll have to learn some...anger management. It's not like this is an overnight cure."

"That's sad." Sakura glanced down at the sleeping red head, glowing fingers brushing over the kanji for love forever tattooed into his forehead, "If the village had been crueler, would you-?"

"No. Most likely not." Naruto shrugged, "My seal was better to begin with. I've had little to no mental exposure to my tenant."

"Well." She spoke brusquely, allowing the wood to morph back into the floorboard with only slight warping, "What now?"

"Now we wait for Gaara to wake up and go back to his hotel. Then I'm going to sleep." Naruto thought for a moment the cursed, "Mirai always hears me come through the windows. Can I stay at one of yours tonight?"

There was something desperate in his eyes that had his teammates thinking it was maybe, just maybe more than not wanting to wake Mirai up, but they didn't mention it. Sakura nodded, a gentleness in her voice masked by an exasperated tone, "You know my door is always open, for either of you."

Naruto seemed relieved, and a pleasant feeling settled in Sakura's chest. Anxious and upset didn't suit Naruto at all. She'd gladly tear apart whoever caused it and, from glancing at her teammate, she knew Sasuke felt the same way. 

"Will Karin be expecting you?" Sakura raised an eyebrow, "I know you didn't tell her about this."

"I told her I'd be late. She's probably not expecting me to even come home." He shrugged, "Besides, I'll bring her some of your mom's pancakes."

"She does love cooking for you two." Sakura's eyes brightening slightly, "Sasuke! You could stay over, too! Team sleepover!"

Had some people overheard that, they'd think she'd invited him out of some form of crush. Maybe very deep friendship if they knew the two well enough, but Sasuke knew the truth. The Uchiha saw that gleam in her eyes and narrowed his own.

"I know you just want to try something out-"

"Tsunade-sensei gave me new poisons to research and reconstruct as part of our new unit." She blinked innocently, "I do need test subjects."

"Try them out on Naruto!" The dark haired genin jabbed a finger in the blond's direction, "He's the one with the furball to filter them out!"

"Hey, don't volunteer me for that shit!" The Uzumaki looked vaguely startled, "I'm not testing out poisons!"

He still remembered playing test dummy for Raiden. A sort of fucked-up nostalgia rose up within him as he wistfully recalled puking over a toilet for five hours straight as Raiden took notes on the color and viscosity. Maybe his tenant would filter some of it out now but...a shiver ran up his spine. Never again.

"I have the antidotes, you guys!" The pinkette insisted, "It's all in the name of medical science."

"Haven't they been tested before?"

"Yes!" Sakura gave the Uchiha a look, "But not by me-!"

A grunt interrupted her tangent and they all turned to see Gaara pushing himself up, leaning back on his elbows. He seemed paler than usual, but his eyes were clearer than any of them had ever seen. The cold, green gaze fell of the three of them, and the Jinchūriki tilted his head slightly in confusion.

"Was...was that sleeping?"

Sakura blinked and looked like she vaguely wanted to cry, "Well, not really. You were more passed out than sleeping."

He made a slight noise, of dissatisfaction or surprise they couldn't tell, "I've never done that before."

The room was silent for a heartbeat before Gaara looked directly at Naruto, "I cannot hear mother's voice anymore."

The blond figured that was as close as he could get to a thank you and shrugged, "Eh, what are friends for?"

"Friends?" The gaze became more startled, "I've never had any of those."

"We're all your friends." Naruto nodded firmly towards his teammates, "We helped you, that's what friends do. It means you're not...alone."

He took a deep breath, but Sakura and Sasuke could see the war behind his eyes. They knew about his childhood, about how he was shunned and abused, about how he acted out for attention and still received none of the good kind. They only knew the half of it all.

Gaara's eyes widened, the featureless green stare making them uncomfortable before he nodded, turning his gaze downwards, "Friends...I will...not kill you for mother. She wanted me too, badly, but I...think I disagree."

Sakura let out a nervous laugh, just a flutter, "Yeah, well, remember that when we fight in the finals."

"I will not use my coffin on you." He nodded, like that was some great reassurance.

"Well, it's a start." Naruto muttered before looking the red-head once more, "Hey, do a friend a favor, would you?"

"Besides not killing you?"

"Yes." Naruto sighed, feeling the beginning of a long process, "Please stop calling the Ichibi mother. It's creepy as fuck."

"It makes you unhappy?"

The blond blinked, "Well, kind of. It's weird."

Sakura and Sasuke's heads bobbed in unison agreement. Gaara regarded them for a long moment, "Very well. Friends. I have...never had anyone pay me any kindness just because they wanted to. It's always...come at a price."

His eyes darkened, and Naruto's heart ached. Sakura just shook her head a bit too fast, "No, no price. Just...remember that people do care. That you're not some monster and you don't have to act like one."

He gave her an astonished look, full of confusion and apprehension, "Not a monster?"

"No." She spoke firmly, "You're only a monster if you let yourself be. Naruto holds a tailed beast too, is he a monster?"

The gaze slid over to him, "I knew there was a reason moth-Shukaku wanted your blood so badly."

"Yeah, well." Naruto shrugged, "Just remember we can't be friends if you're an asshole."

Sasuke snorted, "Funny, coming from you."

The Uzumaki sent him a heated glare, opening his mouth to respond when Sakura cut in with all the gracefulness of a meat cleaver, "Maybe you should return to your team. Your, uh, family, right? See if they'll...understand your circumstances. I'm sure they still care about you, they were just afraid."

The nod came slowly, and Gaara sure as hell looked like he didn't believe a word that came out of her mouth, but he disappeared through the window like a ghost.

"Will...will he be okay?" Sakura sent an uncertain look towards her teammates, "I mean...I don't think Tsunade-sensei would appreciate it if the Ichibi suddenly rampaged around Konoha."

"It'll be fine. It's a Hakke no Fūin Shiki (Eight Trigrams Seal), what all Uzumaki Jinchūriki are sealed with. Records show Mito Uzumaki, the first Hokage's wife, used it to seal the Kyūbi inside herself. I'm assuming my mother would have used the same seal. As they were older, and there chakra systems more developed, they didn't need to worry about chakra poisoning from the toxicity. Whoever did my seal separated the chakra with a more powerful seal, which I didn't have to worry about. A simple Eight Trigrams will do just fine for the Ichibi, of all tailed beasts."

"Did you examine your own seal?" Sakura nodded towards his stomach.

"Yeah, it's fine workmanship. Came with a hefty cost, though." He frowned slightly, fingers gracing over his naval where he knew the seal was imprinted, "The Shiki Fūjin (Dead Demon Consuming Seal), which was used to separate the Kyūbi's chakra, summons the Shinigami. After completing the sealing, the Shinigami will consume the user's soul along with the targeted victim. They both die."

"Could your mother have done that?" Sakura looked at him, a calculating gleam in her eyes, "She'd just given birth, and I'm assuming the Kyūbi had recently been ripped from her body. If she wasn't already dead, she would've been within hours."

She froze slightly, looking at Sasuke's imploring glance and winced, "Sorry, Naruto-"

The blond was just staring at her, slightly dumbfounded, "I always assumed it would've had to be her, especially after learning who she was. Kushina Uzumaki was the only one of our clan in Konoha at the time, she would be the only one that skilled."

"No, she wouldn't." Sakura shook her head, "The Yondaime! He was supposed to be a Sealing Master!"

Naruto's eyes grew larger, "The Yondaime. The Kyū said the Yondaime assured he wouldn't have contact with me. He was the one to do the sealing!"

"And he took the other half of the chakra with him to death." Sakura deflated slightly, waving a hand to the side, "Well, it's all very heroic, but not quite a happy ending."

Naruto snorted, and Sasuke just shook his head, "Can we unravel our pasts later? I'm tired. I had my Sharingan out for nearly an hour."

Sakura made a pouting face out him, speaking like one would to a baby, "Aww, is Sasuke-chan tired?"

"I don't know why you call me hime. Clearly Sasuke is the princess."

The Uchiha glared, "At least-"

"Okay, princesses, let's not fight." Sakura turned to face them both, hands up in a placating gesture, "Both your crowns are beautiful, I promise."

"At least I'm not a peasant." The Uchiha sniffed, shoving forward towards the Haruno residence.

Sakura paused before giggling slightly, "Did he...did he really just call me a peasant."

Naruto was too busy wheezing all the way there to respond. They left Naruto's old sketchy apartment downtown and entered a nicer area of the civilian district.

Sasuke woke up sandwiched between his teammates, Naruto's head buried in the crook of Sasuke's neck and Sakura's face was smashed against the Uchiha's arm. Groaning slightly as he saw the sun come up through the windows, he slowly replaced his arm with a pillow, watching her cling to it instead, before deciding what to do with Naruto. Cupping the blond's face, he pulled away before gently lowering his teammate to the ground where he was cocooned by the pillows and blankets. The blond let out an unhappy mutter at being moved, hands now twisting in the blankets like he was trying to display his frustration.

Rolling his eyes in a fond way, Sasuke didn't even bother changing out of last night's clothes before grabbing his katana and leaving through the window. Yūgao-sensei was not kind when he was late, and Sasuke refused to do a hundred push-ups again for anyone. Even Naruto. He approached their training ground rapidly, knowing he was already pressed for time, but as he walked through the gates he immediately knew something was wrong. First of all, Yūgao was nowhere to be found. Kakashi-sensei stood in her place in the middle of the training ground, watching him approach. Secondly, Kakashi held no book in his hands whatsoever. No porn, no 'adventure series where they're naked'. Nothing. 

Sasuke slowed to a walk, looking around in confusion, "Where's Yūgao-sensei?"

Kakashi regarded him solemnly for a second, and Sasuke felt concern grow in his chest, "Kaka-sensei? Did...did something happened?"

"They found Yūgao early this morning. Her body was in the outskirts of the shinobi district."

Sasuke felt his knees buckle slightly, but Kakashi put both his hands on his shoulders to steady him. Shaking, Sasuke felt his eyes bleed red as he looked at his sensei, memorizing the words that would be spoken, "Who?"

"Yakushi Kabuto, he was found missing from solitary confinement. The locks had been cut with wind chakra and the TI shinobi still in office had all been killed. All ANBU were dispatched. We assume Yūgao found Yakushi, but was overwhelmed. It appears Konoha underestimated his strength greatly based on his previous performance."

His sensei's voice was nearly clinical, but Sasuke knew he had to be feeling something

He allowed the Sharingan to bleed from his eyes, and he collapsed downward, remembering the last time he'd attended a funeral. It had been en masse, and all closed casket. He'd always thought he'd never see another one before his own demise, but looking back he knew it was a naive thought. He felt Kakashi catch him before he completely fell, wrapping him in a solid hug. As soon as he was locked in the embrace, it triggered thoughts of when his mother used to do the same when he'd been upset as a child. She'd held him just like that, letting him cry or shake before stepping back and ruffling his hair, promising to make it better. Yūgao had ruffled his hair, too. After the semi-finals, she'd finally appeared out of the shadows when he'd been heading home. There had still been blood on her ANBU uniform, just specks of it, and her mask was hanging loosely around her wrist. It was against all protocol, he knew that much, but she still leaned down and gave his hair a good shake. Told him how proud she was. Told him she knew he could do it, had always known. Smiled at him warmly and offered to pay for dango the next time they went out.

She never got the chance to, he realizes through a haze of blurry thoughts.

He tried to choke back any cries he might've had, but he felt a few tears fall on his own shoulder from his sensei and suddenly the dam burst.

"Brats." Naruto blinked awake, the familiar voice jolting him into consciousness. The first thing he noticed was that Sasuke was gone, the second thing was that the sun was already in the sky. It had to be at least nine in the morning. The third was that Tsunade herself stood in the doorway of Sakura's room, her face grim. Sakura lifted her head from where she clutched her pillow, jumping up immediately when she saw the Godaime standing there. Naruto stumbled to his feet after her, not as agile in his drowsy state, and looked at the Senju woman in confusion.

"Tsunade-sensei?" Sakura rubbed at her eyes, "What's going on? Why are you...why are you here? Where's Kaka-sensei?"

"Kakashi is...busy." She pressed her lips together in a firm line, "He's with Sasuke."

"But Sasuke has kenjutsu until team training at two." Naruto stifled a yawn the best he could, "Why's he with Kaka-sensei and not Yūgao-san?"

Her eyes grew sad at the mention of the name, and she waved them forwards, "I'll explain on the way to the tower. Hurry up."

They rushed from Sakura's home, leaving her parent's flustered behind them. Naruto couldn't help but chuckle mentally at the thought of Tsunade banging on the door, interrupting whatever breakfast they might've been having. A true, professional Hokage, he thought, snorting. 

He just hoped Sasuke and Kakashi were at the tower when they got there.

Gaara slept. A true sleep, no threat looming above his head of possession, forcing him to stay awake. He slept, and he dreamed. They were nightmares, of course. The moments of Yashamaru's betrayal, all the deaths he's bore witness to, the terrified faces of his own siblings shunning him as a child. It didn't matter; he woke up able to see straight without exhaustion tilting his vision. There was no voice in his head, no threats or urges to kill. Gaara was free to hate everyone with his own free will. 

Well, nearly everyone. Naruto, he didn't hate him. Nor did he hate the blond's teammates, Sakura and Sasuke. It was a strange feeling, to actually be helped with no expectation in return. In fact, it was strange to be helped at all. After all, no one wanted to aid a demon. Still, they had done it so easily. So...without thought. They had called themselves his friends. He hadn't had a friend since his uncle Yashamaru and everyone knew that ended in pain and blood. Despite all this, despite his previous experiences, he woke up feeling grateful to the three. That was something he hadn't felt in a long, long time.

He also woke up feeling annoyed, for the record. His first sleep was interrupted by voices outside his door, and he instantly recognized Baki's. Temari and Kankurō were there as well, speaking in hushed tones he could hardly hear. Baki's voice cut through the air, though, and he felt the itch for his sand as his anger rose. He didn't want to kill his brother and sister; without mother whispering in his ear he was merely...neutral, he might say, with almost everything. He realized suddenly he'd grown to have no personality of his own. The bloodlust, the murderous feeling, all the things he thought defined him actually belonged to the Ichibi. 

Except the annoyance. A lot of that was Gaara's, it seemed, as it flared to life as he listened to Baki's grating tones through the door of his room.

"-killed the Uchiha's sensei, the ANBU woman, Uzuki I think, when she caught up with us. They found her body this morning."

"Why did we even need to break him out?" Temari sounded mildly angry, and for the girl so so often held her emotions near to her chest that was about as close to furious as she got, "He's not trustworthy, I'm telling you."

"Because your father ordered it!" Baki snapped quietly, "Don't start having second doubts. We still have a whole invasion. not want anything bad happening to you three."

Ah, yes. The invasion. It had weighed on his mind since he left the run down shack Naruto had brought him to to re-gift him with his sanity. By invading Konoha, he would be betraying the trust his...friends had put in him. He had friends that trusted him. The thought sent a pleasant shiver of shock down his spine and for once it was something warm curling in his stomach, not the desire for blood and destruction. He knew he couldn't turn a blade, or a demon for that matter, on the only people who had shown him any kindness in the past seven years. Now Baki had killed the Uchiha's sensei? That would directly hurt Sasuke, and he was unpleased at the idea. The annoyance in his chest festered and his sand came to life, pushing the door open to allow Gaara to walk into the sitting room.

"G-Gaara!" Temari yelped, expecting a cold gaze, but the red head's eyes slid right past her.

"Silence, Baki." The Jinchūriki sneered, "You're too loud." 

Their sensei pursed his lips, but just watched as Gaara walked out the door. He'd never just...left on his own before. Temari's eyebrows rose and, sharing a look with Kankurō, they both rushed after him. The jonin just sighed; the Kazekage was leading Suna and his own children down a path of no return. The man had been ever sense he cursed Gaara with the Ichibi while he was still in his mother's womb. Baki was loyal, though. He would follow his orders until they led him to his own death.

"Kami, damn it." Baki snarled quietly. 

Clearly this wouldn't end well for him or his students.

Sasuke was alone in Tsunade's office; Kakashi had left some time ago to try and track Kabuto down with his dogs. Tsunade was trying to deal with the aftermath of having nearly fifteen TI shinobi slaughtered and salvage together what was left of the department. He assumed his teammates were still at Sakura's house, but he was too numb to move an inch, let alone go and find them. Footsteps approached him, and he only looked up when he saw the feet stop right in front of him. 

Looking up, Hayate Gekkō looked down at him with red eyes and an impassive expression. Sasuke could see it in his eyes though; it was the same look he'd had after the massacre. Hopeless loss, rage, helplessness. The cause of all his suffering wasn't in front of him, and there was no way to reach Kabuto, no way to make him pay. The Uchiha knew that feeling well; Itachi had taken off in the night before Sasuke could overcome his trauma long enough to even consider revenge. His eyes drifted silently down to the dark purple handled sword the jonin held in his hands. One of Yūgao-sensei's dual swords. Sasuke had always made fun of her for getting her swords personalized to match her hair. She was downright deadly with them though. She shouldn't have been bested by that...snake. His hands curled into fists and he turned his gaze down, the numbness in his chest giving way to burning anger. 

"She always said she knew death, but she knew life better." Hayate's words were laced with a grim sort of anger, "I'm sure you heard that plenty, huh? She was always so optimistic, hated vengeance and all that. She would never want someone to seek it out for her, to go after whoever hurt or wronged her. Killed her."

The last words were nearly a hiss, and Sasuke's gaze snapped up in shock. Hayate had been at many of his sessions with Yūgao-sensei. He was a calm, kind man, who smiled easily and laughed easier. He was gentle in a way the vast majority of shinobi were not, and anyone with eyes saw how much he loved his girlfriend. Sasuke had always wondered how he became a jonin. He'd never seen the man fight, of course, but even his personality didn't seem suited for it. Now, with steel and anger in his eyes, Sasuke nearly wanted to shrink back in fear. It reminded him of Naruto, when he had dispatched the missing nin from Kiri on the way to Wave. It reminded him of Kakashi, and his ruthlessness when he faced Zabuza. It reminded him of Itachi, slaughtering everyone with a cold, detached look in his eye.

Yes, he could see now how Hayate became a jonin.

The man took a moment to compose himself, and Sasuke could practically see him swallowing his anger, "I can't do that, of course. I wish I could, it would've made her happy, but I can't. I think you understand that sentiment more than most."

There was a knowing gleam in his eye, and a rock settled in Sasuke's stomach. Yes, he could understand it much better than a lot of people. He wasn't mindless in his craving for revenge, for wanting Itachi dead and gone just like the one's he'd murdered, but it still ached in his bones. He promised himself once, so many weeks ago, that his revenge would not come at the cost of Sakura and Naruto's lives. If he had the chance, though...the possibility practically made something deep inside him sing. He still craved it, yearned for it. Desired seeing the look in Itachi's eyes when he finally beat him. Now, he had the same itching towards Kabuto. He wanted to summon Koma and watch her tear him apart with all the viciousness of a wolverine. Wanted to cut his skin and watch the blood flow. Wanted to trade his life for Yūgao's, bring her back and let her tease him over dango and mess up his hair and give him lectures about his katas. He couldn't do that though, nothing could bring back the dead. Having Kabuto join her, was appealing.

"Yeah." The Uchiha's voice was hoarse, and it made Hayate's mouth twist.

"You've been through so much shit, kid. Yūgao worried about you so much at the beginning." The man sighed, "That's probably what she was worrying about when she died, if she had the chance to think. Me, doing some stupid shit after she's gone. You, becoming even more traumatized. She really cared about you."

Sasuke's throat closed up, and he turned his gaze to the side, "She was the only one who gave a shit. Besides my team, no one else really cared how I was doing. All they give a damn about is that I'm a loyal Uchiha. They could care less that I was seven and everyone I loved had died or become a psychotic asshole hell-bent on ruining my life."

Hayate cracked a smile, tiny and broken as it was, "I like you, kid. You're not as much of a brat as most genin. I don't...I don't know what drew Yūgao to teaching you, I'll be honest. I wouldn't have touched all that mental shit with a ten-foot pole. It's just who she was, I guess."

His eyes watered slightly, and Sasuke could see him working to keep his emotions at bay, "Hell, kid. Reason I came here is to tell you that you still have a teacher. I couldn't...she cared too much about you. I couldn't let you be taught kenjutsu by Kakashi, she'd never forgive me."

Sasuke snorted, but tears started rolling again and he could just tell his lip was trembling. Hayate cursed quietly before sticking Yūgao's sword into the ground for a moment so he could kneel in front of Sasuke's chair, putting a hand on the Uchiha's shoulder. Sasuke spared a brief though to how pissed Tsunade would be about the slice in her floor, but really couldn't bring himself to care.

"I always forget genin are, like, twelve." The jonin huffed, his own eyes watery, "We'll both miss her, huh, brat?"

Sasuke's shoulders just shook as he nodded, feeling helpless in the moment as he was faced with the reality that he'd never see Yūgao again. Not unless they held an open-casket funeral. Sucking in a breath, he tried to choke his tears back, but Hayate just grabbed him for a one-armed hug and Sasuke dimly realized that he's never had this many people care about him at once since he was seven years old.

Kakashi stopped in the doorway and froze, stepping out silently and closing the door behind him. He turned, shaking his head at Naruto and Sakura who looked at him with big, concerned eyes.

"Is...Is he alright, sensei?" Sakura spoke quietly as Kakashi led them out of Hokage Tower, still reeling from what they'd been told. Tsunade had left them with the silver haired man and marched off with grim eyes. She was going to inform the family of the victims from TI, he told them as he explained all that had happened. Yūgao's death, Kabuto's escape, suspected help and moles within the village. Orochimaru's obvious involvement. Kakashi hadn't found any hint of Kabuto's scent when he'd gone hunting, only getting back maybe thirty minutes ago. It's like the medic disappeared.

"Alright as he can be." Kakashi pursed his lips underneath his mask, "He's...been through a lot."

The stood in a solemn silence outside the Tower, Sakura leaning on Naruto's shoulder while the blond rubbed soothing circled on the side of her arm. She knew they both shared the same sentiment when she saw the coldness in his gaze; whatever Sasuke wanted to do to Kabuto, they'd support him, just as they did concerning his brother. Unconditionally. 

Ino heard something falling, thudding to the ground heavily, right as she began to descend the stairs. She had team practice at three, and she wanted to see if she could catch Sasuke at Training Ground 7 before she went. Or Sakura...she did want to see her friend again. Tucking a stray piece of short hair behind her ear, she still smiled at what the other girl had said. It looked nice on her. That was the first thing her dad had told her, too, when he wrapped her in a bear hug after the semi-finals. That she looked beautiful, and that he was so proud of her. 

Immediately on guard, she took the stairs two at a time and entered the kitchen, exiting quickly into the living room. Her heart jumped when she saw her mother on her knees, collapsed to the floor. Heaving sobs shook her body and she seemed to be clutching her chest. Ino rushed over, only faltering slightly when she saw Tsunade-sama in the doorway. Kneeling without one more thought towards the Hokage, she reached out to grab her mom's shoulders.

"Kaa-chan!" She whispered, "Mother! Mom, what's wrong? Mom? Are you okay?"

Her mother shakily brushed Ino's hands off her shoulders and grabbed her daughter into a tight hug, gripping her so hard she could barely move. Over her mother's shoulder she looked at the Hokage in confusion, but Tsunade was all clinical in that moment. Ino though she could see traces of sadness in the expression, like her father had taught her to look for. Her eyebrows had a slight pinch to them, and there were dark smears under her eyes. That could also be chalked up to stress, she supposed, or long nights doing paperwork. Tsunade was a new Hokage, after all, and she saw how much paperwork her father got and he was just the co-head of the TI branch.

"Ino, oh, darling." She muttered, "Oh, Kami..."

She dissolved into tears again, quiet ones rolling down her face as she turned away from her daughter, like looking at Ino hurt her. The Yamanaka sent a helpless glance at Tsunade, "Hokage-sama, what is going on?"

"Ino, your father was present at TI headquarters last night when there was a breech. He didn't make it." Tsunade closed her eyes for a moment, "I'm sorry to deliver this news to you. I have to go notify the other families. If you...have any questions, please feel free to ask your sensei or visit my office during regular hours."

She watched quietly as the Hokage closed the door gently, leaving Ino alone with her arms full of her grieving mother and a hollowness in her own chest. Her throat closed in on itself, and she tried to take deep breaths but she just felt like emptying her stomach. She wanted to cry, tried her damnedest to cry, but the tears wouldn't come. Her hands shook and her body shook as she curled over her mother, like she could protect her from the truth. They stayed like that until her knees got sore and the sky finally caved in on Ino, like a realization that punched her in the gut, and a tear finally dripped down her face.

Chapter Text

Ino felt frozen in place as her clan bustled around her, the ripples of the previous day making waves as all of Konoha came to learn about the deaths in the TI department. Clan head. She was the clan head now. 

"Ino, darling."

She looked up to see her grandmother, the elder Yamanaka woman dressed head to toe in black still. Then again, so was Ino. They had held a private wake last night as soon as possible before putting together further arrangements. It was a modest affair, only the closest relative allowed, and more of a goodbye than anything. There was no body, no gravestone. Just incense and a shrine dedicated to Izanami no Kami where they prayed for safe passage of the soul. Inori, who was both the previous clan head and one of the clan elders, had supervised the ceremony. Ino didn't particularly know how her grandmother was so calm, so collected. She was sure she looked like a wreck in comparison, hair unwashed and hastily pulled back by clips, black clothing slightly crumpled from where she twisted the fabric in clenched fists. 

"Darling, do me a favor." Her grandmother's voice was kind but firm, a finger hooking under Ino's chin and drawing her head up, "Listen to me. This is not the end of the world. It feels like it, I know. I lost my husband and now I have lost my son. You can grieve, and you will for a long time. You will probably never stop, Kami knows I will not. But right now you must be the leader of the clan. You must show we are still strong."

Ino's lips shook and her eyes stung, "I can't, though. I'm not ready."

"No, you aren't." Inori frowned, "But life is not fair, and this is now your responsibility. You were no longer a child as soon as you accepted that headband you wear. When you became a shinobi of Konoha you were pushed into a hard world, my dear, and it's time to take your place in it."

Inori released Ino's chin, but the girl's head didn't slip back down again this time, "Will you help me?"

Her eyes were the same blue-green of Ino's, and her father's, but they seemed so much older, "Of course, child. Now, first things first, no more tears. Not while the clans are watching, both ours and the others. In privacy, surrounded by friends, then you may cry. Never show weakness, because I can tell you from first hand experience that most of those old bastards are like sharks. They smell blood and they all swarm."

Her grandmother wiped the tears off Ino's cheeks before clasping the girl's shoulder, "Come, we'll go speak to the elders. They shouldn't have much to say."

No, Ino couldn't imagine they would, she thought in a daze. No one had much to say to Inori Yamanaka. Following behind her grandmother, she brushed a short strand of blonde hair behind her ear before clenching her fists and twisting them in the fabric of her black kimono. She wanted to hole up in her room and cry, much like what her mother has chosen to do. It was big gossip that Sayuri Yamanaka didn't go to her own husband's wake, and many tried to twist the facts. Ino knew her mother cared, but she was broken. Sobbing in her room, useless for anything beyond drying her own tears. She found she couldn't fault her mother for it, not when she wanted to do the same. Ino didn't have a choice, though, so she followed behind Inori and pushed open the large wooden door's leading to the elder's Council room.

She had to focus on the details, every small action made, to keep from collapsing back into that dark abyss of grief. It was methodical, but as the talking began it became easier and easier. It was almost like a sense of numbness, or maybe denial, but she couldn't fool herself into believing she'd ever see her father again. Not when the elders before her were discussing her role as clan head.

Sasuke woke up in his own home, and he was certain he returned to his own house, with two bodies crammed against his on his small bed. Blinking, confused, he turned his head right into a flood of blond hair. Rolling his head to the other side, a cascade of pink was shocking against black sheets. Staring at his ceiling for a moment, he couldn't stop the smile that tilted his lips up when he realized they even brought their own blankets and pillows. Closing his eyes again to combat the sun shining through the window, he abruptly jolted awake when he realized his window was open. He never left his window open before bed. Huffing slightly, he rolled his eyes as he realized how they got in his house. His lips uncurled from the smile as he laid there, body feeling like lead, the effort to move becoming far too much.

He didn't have kenjutsu practice today.

Twisting, he slowly sat up and slipped off the end of the bed, careful not to disturb anyone. He left his room, making for the kitchen, the chill of the floor making him shiver even in the thick pajamas he wore. Everything about the Uchiha Compound was cold nowadays; as a child he remembered it being a bright, happy place. His mother would cook breakfast and dinner, warming up the kitchen and sending the aroma of food wafting around the house. It was bland now, in comparison. Dark, because he didn't like paying for an extravagant electric bill when he only used the bathroom, his bedroom, and the kitchen. Hell, he hadn't stepped foot in another room of the compound in six years.

The bodies had all been cleared while he was still in the hospital. The rest of the carnage, though, was harder to fix. The blood stained the floor and the windows were broken, furniture was still tipped over in disarray. It was like every part of the compound was frozen in time, frozen on that night, and Sasuke couldn't bear facing it. He hadn't even seen his parents room, and Kami knows he didn't dare step foot in Itachi's. The ANBU had already scoured it over; anything of interest, anything pointing to a possible motive, was long gone.



He turned around, looking at the blond who still appeared quite disheveled. He was still rubbing the sleep from his eyes and, without being pulled into a pony tail, his hair spilled well over his shoulders. The blond raised an eyebrow, regarding Sasuke curiously.

"You okay?"

The Uchiha could only nod, only sort of overwhelmed at how much he loved his team. They just...never ceased to amaze him with how much they actually cared. Swallowing, he stayed still as Naruto approached him, footsteps silent, and pulled the other boy in for a hug. Sasuke felt himself tremble, but he didn't cry.

"Maa, am I interrupting something?"

Spinning around out of the hug, Sasuke took one look at his sensei who'd just climbed in his kitchen window and nearly flung himself at the jonin. He'd like to say he did it with grace, or perhaps pride, befitting of an Uchiha, but neither were true. It was more like a scared kid leaping at their dad. Kakashi caught him easily, with a slight huff, and wrapped his arms around his student in a better version of the hug from yesterday. This time, Sasuke was only slightly falling apart as opposed to having an emotional breakdown.

"Wow, miss me?" Their sensei's tone was sarcastic, but both of his students could hear the underlying worry. 

Sasuke just nodded into his chest, biting his lip harshly and trying not to cry. Kakashi just sighed in a mixture of worry and distress and hugged him tighter.

"Kaka-sensei, is that you?" Sakura's sleepy voice came from the hallway, the girl making her way into the kitchen as she yawned.

"Good morning, Sakura-chan, Naruto-chan." Kakashi opened one of his arms, "Would you two like hugs as well? Apparently it's all I'm good for lately."

Honestly, he should know by now not to tempt them because soon he had Naruto burrowed in one side and Sakura between the two boys, grabbing all of them in a probably-too-tight grip. None of them mentioned it. After a brief moment, Kakashi stepped away and crouched down so he was at eye level with his team. The three sent glances at each other, silently concerned and not ready for any other bombs to drop.

"I'd like to remind you all that if anything happens to any of you, I will kill whoever is responsible." His visible eye stared them all down, "Additionally, if you have any issues regarding anyone in this village trying to force you into something, I will deal with them as well. This goes for other clans, either of the councils, or the Hokage herself. I don't care if you're genin, chunin, jonin, or a damn ANBU. Got it, brats?"

The message was pretty clear; the sentiment he had extended toward them in Wave still stood. Sasuke smiled slightly, Yūgao would be happy he still had Kakashi no matter what. And Hayate, apparently. The jonin had walked him back to his house after it got dark and Tsunade had yet to return. Neither of them mentioned the others killed that night; they didn't know the names of the fifteen T&I victims or anything about the situation other than Kabuto and accessories to the crime killed them during their escape. Sasuke hoped it was no one they knew well, but he supposed it wouldn't be a surprise at that point. He was used to loss at this point, but it didn't make it hurt any less. 

He was vulnerable when he was emotional; this registered and he tried to keep it under wraps around others, but he failed more often than not. He didn't have a chance around his team; they'd force it out of him. All the pain and anger inside, all the grief, it all amounted to one emotion Sasuke could identify well. Fear. He couldn't control death nor could he control who died, and he felt a little hopeless when dealing with such a labored topic. Though, he thought as he casted a glance around at his smiling team, he would fight the Shinigami itself if it even tried to touch any of them. He'd make sure he won, too.

Sakura looked at him with a sad gaze, like she knew what he was thinking, and slipped his hand into her own. Immediately he felt warm all over, as if she were healing him, and he supposed that was just her nature. At this point the pinkette was so in tune with their emotions, she knew her teammates better than any other fool could possibly hope to. She reached out with her other hand to grab Naruto's as well.

"We're a team." She spoke firmly, though her grin was a bit too sappy for anything too serious, "We're in it together. That includes you, Kaka-sensei! None of us are alone."

Naruto rolled his eyes, but the smile tugging on his lips gave him away, "How often to we have these talks now? Once a week?"

"Yes, once a week." The girl huffed, "Because you're both emotional train wrecks. I should drop my kunoichi career and become a therapist."

"Scariest therapist ever." Naruto muttered into Sasuke's ear, earning a soft chuckle.

Kakashi watched his kids with a smile. Hopefully Minato-sensei was proud of how he was handling his team. Hopefully Yūgao knew he and Hayate would take care of her kid. He hoped Obito and Ren were happy too, wherever they were.

Now, to go force them to eat and take care of themselves. The pains of a sensei.

"You couldn't have done anything, 'Nade." Jiraiya was slumped in one of the chairs in the Hokage's office, staring at his former teammate with sad eyes, "Nothing could've changed this. We didn't know."

"I could've tried harder to catch the damn snake." She muttered, glancing down at the nightmare of papers surrounding this whole situation, "I could've killed that rat before he had a chance to escape."

"We wanted more out of him that what we could've gotten." The Toad Sage's mouth tightened at the corners, "And you know Orochimaru. His one talent is giving us the slip. He was already regenerating from whatever the fuck the brats did to him and it barely slowed him down. He had a running start and we didn't stand a chance at catching up."

"Did we want to?" Tsunade looked up, staring him right in the eyes, "Every time you or I go after we really want to catch him? Because what happens then is execution. Orochimaru dies. The end. Is there some part of us that...doesn't want him to die? Despite all the shit he's done I don't want him to die, Jiraiya."

Suddenly he was very glad they'd put silencing seals up before having this conversation.

"Of course we don't want him to die. He was our teammate. We were together for how many years? Some part will...always care, 'Nade. Even though we shouldn't." Jiraiya shifted, looking at the ground, "It's just the way love works, I guess. A person doesn't have to deserve it. Clearly."

Her eyes were watery, the golden brown color amplified by tears. She wiped them away ruthlessly, scoffing, "Now a 12 year old is clan head because I can't keep my own fucking shinobi safe."

"Sensei wouldn't have, either, you know. It's not you." Jiraiya spoke determinedly, "He hasn't committed an execution in how long?"

She looked up with cool eyes and a firm frown, "Six years."

He deflated, looking at her sadly, "You know what I meant."

"That wasn't an execution?" The Senju raised her eyebrows, "Forcing a thirteen year old to kill his-?"

"Tsunade." He stopped her, "I know, okay? I know. It's fucked up. It's fucked up and never would've happened if Minato hadn't-"

He cut himself off, the words becoming strangled in his throat, and her gaze became sympathetic. 

"He should be here." She sighed deeply, leaning back in the chair, "Should still have the damn hat."

"Tell me about it." Jiraiya's eyes trailed past her and instead focused on the window, "I don't know what to do with his brat. Every time I look at him I see Minato, but every time he opens his mouth..."

"It's like venom spewing out?" She raised an eyebrow, "Remind you of anybody?"

"Kushina." Jiraiya shook his head, "Even she wasn't that bad."

"He grew up on the streets." She shrugged, her movements stiff, "What can you expect?"

Jiraiya opened his mouth, but was cut off by a sharp knock on the door. Tsunade raised a single brow, releasing the silencing seals, "Yes?"

Kotetsu poked his head in, the chunin's eyes wide, "Um, Hokage-sama? There's someone here to see you."

"Who?" She grouched, pushing her wine glass aside and leaning forward in her chair, "I don't have any meetings this late."

"Uh, well...a genin from Suna." He swallowed, "The, uh, the Jinchūriki."

She shared a long glance with Jiraiya, "Let him in."

Naruto slipped in the kitchen window that night, stuffed with the eggplant casserole that Yamato-sensei had made once Kaka-sensei had herded all of them over to his apartment in the upper shinobi district. The two jonin lived right across from each other and Yamato had come out of his apartment when he heard them all in the hallway. Of course, Kakashi had wheedled him into cooking, but the other jonin had seemed more solemn than usual. He wondered if the mokuton user had been close to Yūgao as well? Yamato was a jonin, after all, and they all seemed to know each other. Maybe they'd met before she had become an ANBU? 

Despite his mood, Yamato had cooked enough for five and stayed over, and they'd all eaten and talked and by the time Yamato-sensei fell asleep on Kaka-sensei, the three took off out the window and returned home. Knowing Sakura, she wouldn't let Sasuke go alone. 

He assumed everyone was in bed by now, but Mirai was still up washing the dishes. She turned around when the window opened and relaxed when she saw him come through, "Naruto-kun. You're home."

He shot her a weak smile, "Sorry if I worried you. A lot...happened."

"I've heard." She pursed her lips, "We were worried. You hadn't been home, and I heard a bunch of ninja had been killed."

He nodded, "Sasuke's kenjutsu sensei was one of the ones attacked. He took her death...pretty hard."

"Oh, Kami." She sighed, dropping the dish rag in the soapy water, "Is's he doing."

"Better." Naruto sighed, "I mean, he's upset, obviously. We all are. He just...she was like a mom to him, I think. He had that back for a little bit and then it was just...taken away again."

Mirai nodded, turning away with her shoulders slumped, "I can't even imagine."

She could, though, he knew. She'd lost an entire village, her family along with it. Naruto shuffled his feet slightly, remembering what Sakura had said earlier. None of us are alone.

"Damn it, Daiki." He hissed quietly before sighing, speaking clearly to Mirai, "Can I talk to you about something? I just...need you to listen."

"Of course." She sighed, motioning to the table, "You can tell me anything."

Naruto sure hoped so.

"I, Ino Yamanaka, promise to protect and uphold the traditions of our clan and to protect all those under the Yamanaka name and under our clan's protection." Ino pricked her finger and smeared it into the blood seal that would give her unlimited access to all of the clan's documents and heirlooms, "I do swear."

She felt vaguely like she was drowning, and her mother was nowhere to be found among the crowd that had gathered to see the induction of the new clan head. She swallowed thickly and chose to focus on her grandmother's proud, grim gaze.

She wasn't ready, but she didn't really have a choice.

Chapter Text

Naruto didn't really know what to say, but he could feel the tears slip down his cheeks and knew he must look upset. It was a mirror of Mirai's own expression, he was sure, the fractured look she had on her face being enough to break his heart even more. She visibly bit the inside of her cheek before taking a shuddering breath, looking past Naruto and out the window at the thinking lights all around Konoha.

"How long have you known?"

"Subconsciously I think it's been awhile." Naruto shifted his hands in his lap uncomfortably, "I regained all my memories the night I moved in."

Her eyes flew up to meet his, and she looked so crushed it was similar to a punch in the gut, "That's why you were so upset. You started crying that night, when you came home."

"Yes." He gave a hesitant nod, "If you need more proof-"

She raised a hand to stop him, "My brother was the only Uzumaki to ever have white chains. And Daiki...Daiki would never take on another summoner. The dholes...I know enough about them to know they don't do that. I should've known then."

Naruto sat uncomfortably, a tense smile on his face, "Well, it's strange. Not something you'd guess."

"No, it's not." Mirai shook her head, her bottom lip trembling, "Hiko, I missed you much."

Naruto's eyes widened before he closed them, tears escaping nevertheless, "I-I'm sorry. I'm so fucking sorry..."

His voice faded to a whisper, but he felt arms wrap around him and hug him tightly, and when he opened his eyes he was looking through a curtain of Mirai's hair, "Don't you ever apologize. brother, I have my brother back."

"I should've...I should've known...Yuudai..."

She sucked in a harsh breath, and he knew she had the same vitriolic response to the name that he himself did, "Don't say his name, he doesn't deserve it."

Still, she knew what Yuudai had been to Amahiko, and her arms wrapped around him tighter than before. 

"I should've stopped him."

"You couldn't have stopped shit!" She pulled back suddenly, her brown eyes aflame with all the pent up emotion from her years gone from Uzu, "You couldn't have known."

"Then it's my fault." Naruto set his chin stubbornly, "He...He was unhinged, despite what we...even Daiki saw it-"

"Daiki is a hundred years wiser and critical of everything." She narrowed her eyes, "Kami, I don't have a single clue how I missed it. You're just like Hiko, so self-sacrificing."

Naruto snorted, rolling his eyes, "I am Amahiko."

Mirai sobered, looking at him with serious brown eyes that looked far too much like their fathers, "I know. I knew. reminded me of him. It hurt, you know that? You wear your forehead protector around your waist, and you speak like him. You sound like him, down to the accent, and I thought I was going crazy. Drawing comparisons where there were none, making things up, perhaps. Remembering him wrong. Trying to replace my family."

Naruto cringed as fresh tears cropped up in her eyes, "I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner."

"It's okay." She smiled, unconvincing and watery.

"You know..." The blond began gently, "I'm Naruto, too. I'm...we're the same person, Amahiko and me, and it's weird. I'm not just...just Amahiko."

"I know." She swiped her hands along her cheeks, getting rid of stray tears, "That's okay, too. I...I'm just glad to have you back in any way, I suppose. I'm...I'm not the only one who remembers Uzu now. Who remembers our family like they should be remembered. Like they deserve to be remembered."

"It's hard to carry the burden of ghosts." He spoke softly, staring past her shoulder like he could see all those he lost.

"Tenma-oji-san. He said that to Ichiro after his first failed mission, when Himari died. I was young still, but I remember Tenma speaking to him in the living room." She looked up, "You meant to bring home those books, didn't you? The ones mother used to read?"

"Yeah." He nodded, "Kaa-chan's stories. She'd read then with Tou-chan, when he was home. Which was never often, he was a diplomat. close to a diplomat as he could get."

"Violent politics, but we all knew he missed Kumo." She chuckled quietly, a wet and broken sound, "I miss them."

"You always will. I always will." Naruto scoffed slightly, "I have two sets of parents to mourn. Isn't that bullshit?"

Her eyes were sad as tears of his own spilled over again, so she reached forward and forced him into another hug. Naruto wasn't sure how long they stayed in the kitchen like that, crying silently with their arms around each other, but when he left to go to bed his heart felt lighter. Things had changed in an irreversible way, he knew that, but he was also okay with it.

"Gaara, the Kazekage's son." His jinchūriki status was not mentioned, but hung in the air between them, "What brings you to my office at this hour? I'm sure it's not for a friendly chat."

The boy stared, his face emotionless, but the Senju could see conflict and worry warring behind his eyes, "Hokage-sama. I require Naruto Uzumaki and his teammates."

Tsunade blinked, sharing a look with Jiraiya, "Uzumaki, Haruno, and Uchiha? Why do you need them?"

Gaara's jaw tightened, "That information is for them."

"I think before I let my brats around you, you'd better give me a damn good reason." The Senju smiled, though it looked more feral than anything close to nice, "Suna has been on thin ice lately, and Team 7 is the most promising of our genin."

She picked up her wine glass, sipping the sake as Gaara have them a cold gaze, "You'll not receive any information from me until I see Naruto, Sakura, and Sasuke. I heard Konoha was breached and some were killed. I'd like to know if they are okay."

Tsunade blinked, this kid's concern somehow managed to sound like a threat, "You...want to know if they're okay?"

The jinchūriki merely nodded, and Jiraiya coughed into his hand to hide the strangled laugh as he saw Tsunade's eye twitch. 

"Why...when...when did you have any direct contact with Naruto and his team?" Jiraiya spoke up after a tense moment of silence, "I did you come to worry about them?"

Gaara blinked, tilting his head to the side, "They're the reason I can sleep."

"What?" Tsunade felt her eyebrows raise, feeling the urge to tip her wine glass back and drain it in one go, "The reason you can sleep?"

"What does that mean?" Jiraiya clarified, "How do you sleep?"

"They resealed the Ichibi into proper confinement." The red head looked at them in a monotone sort of confusion, "I thought they were acting under your orders-?"

He was cut off by the sound of shattering glass, and Jiraiya jumped slightly only to look down and see Tsunade's hand bleeding. Sake was everywhere, covering her wounded hand in a way Jiraiya was sure stung like a bitch, and it splashed onto the desk below them. In one hard shake, she dispelled the glass from her hand but didn't take her eyes off of Gaara, "They did what?"

Her voice was deathly quiet and even Gaara, as stunted as he was, must've realized the risk as her stiffened ever so slightly, "Naruto fixed my seal. I was...unconscious for most of it, I'll admit, but whatever he did has stopped the Ichibi. I cannot feel it's bloodlust or hear it speak to me now. I can sleep without fear of it taking my body over and going on a rampage."

Tsunade took a deep breath, but quietly wondered what the fuck was going on in Suna. Were their seals that shitty? Shitty enough that a twelve year old genin could fix them? Given, that genin was an Uzumaki, but the point still stood. She took a deep breath, sharing a tense smile with Jiraiya, "Does this information impact the welfare of Naruto, his team, or Konoha as a whole?"

The look on Gaara's face said it all, but the Suna genin still responded, "Very much so."

Tsunade twisted her mouth in an unpleasant manner, "Of course it does. Please, take a seat. I'll have them here as soon as possible."

When Sakura woke up to see a masked face staring at her through her window, she froze for a moment. She'd, albeit stupidly, left it open to enjoy the cool night breeze while she slept. Now she froze, staring at the white mask fashioned in the image of a tiger with dull shock and fear running through her still-sleep-deprived mind. Shooting up from bed, she lashed out with a blind punch that had the ANBU ducking, losing balance on her window sill and falling backwards down to the ground from the second story.

"Shit!" He shot out a hand, grabbing onto the ledge last minute and knocking his chin on it, sending his mask flying off and disgruntled pale eyes looking at her, "Shit! Fuck!"

Sakura blinked. She felt kind of bad as she rubbed her eyes, blinking the sleep away. 

"Damn, I'm just supposed to be collecting a genin, not falling down two stories." He grumbled as he pulled himself up with ease, crouching on the window sill once more before he realized his mask was gone. His scowl deepened, staring at Sakura with accusatory eyes, "I blame Kakashi."

The girl stared back at him, "What did sensei do?"

"Everything." The ANBU rolled his eyes, "Come. Follow me. You're requested by Hokage-sama."

"Um..." Sakura let out a nervous laugh, "Shouldn't you, uh, get your mask?"

"Yes." The ANBU glared, "And I will do that once we are on our way to Hokage-sama's office."

"Okay, okay." Sakura threw on a jacket over the pink pajamas she wore, the irritating shade almost matching her hair. Her mother really had the stranger fashion sense, the girl thought as she last minute grabbed a kunai and waved the ANBU off the window sill, "We're not leaving through the front door! My parents would wake up and kill me."

She received a scathing look before the ANBU leaped backwards, landing on the ground below gracefully. Sakura huffed, climbing out on the window and jumping down, catching herself on her hands and feet like Takara had showed her before she straightened up. Fixing her coat and shoving her hair over her shoulder, she huffed at the ANBU, "Well? Let's go."

The man bent over to pick up the mask, brushing the dirt from the inside before sliding it over his face. His hood was still down, though, inky purple hair hanging in a low pony tail before he jerked the black hood up once more. He was a Hyūga, that much was certain, although she'd never met one she could imagine hanging out her window while cussing like a sailor.

"Can you run?"

She sent him a stare that promised pain, "Can I run? Of course I can run!"

"I mean at shinobi speed."

"Of course I can run at shinobi speed!" Sakura snapped, "Don't be stupid!"

The ANBU grunted slightly, "You're a mouthy brat."

"Brat?" Sakura crossed her arms, "You're one to talk! You don't look that much older than me!"

"I'm twenty!"

"Seven years, big deal." 

"You're twelve."

"Thirteen, actually. I had a birthday recently."

"Oh, well, congratulations." The Hyūga gave a sarcastic drawl, "Now let's get moving."

He was fast, but Sakura had been grilled by Kakashi more times than she count. Their sensei was fond of summoning his dogs to chase them, though he called it incentive to go faster. So she kept up speed, ignoring the ANBU's chakra flaring from annoyance as they reached the tower and he abruptly disappeared in a shunshin, leaving behind a slight breeze and a swirl of leaves. Leaping up to the window, Sakura pulled it open to see Gaara sitting in a chair close to the wall while Jiraiya and Tsunade were both crowded around the Hokage's desk, whispering furiously to each other. Tsunade's back stiffened when Sakura slipped in through the window, slowly turning to face her.

"You have a lot to explain." The Senju smiled but there was a predatory gleam in her eye, "I'd like you to start now."

Sakura was the smartest kunoichi in her class. She wasn't dumb. She knew what Gaara sitting in a chair against the wall like a naughty toddler meant, so she did the only thing she could.

"It was Naruto's idea."

The was a near silent rustling from the window, and she heard a scoff, "Thanks for throwing me under the wagon, Sakura."

Naruto appeared by her side, eyes tinged red like he'd been crying awhile ago and long blond hair a mess, his bangs falling into his eyes and the strands going every which way as they fell over his shoulders. It was so different from how he usually looked, not exactly neat but at least put together, it made her vaguely concerned

"Sorry." She shrugged slightly, "Not really, though, because it was your idea."

"A lot of things are my idea." He simpered, his smile slightly crooked as he stared ahead with a morose sense of pride, "The idea of catching Tora in a fish net was my idea. The plan of several ingenious seals were my ideas. Do you see me getting credit for those, though? No."

Tsunade was already sighing when Sasuke slipped through the window, not looking disheveled by sleep at all. He still wore the same clothes he had at Kakashi's, and his hair was not mussed at all like it normally was after a night of tossing and turning.

"What grand idea of Naruto's are we getting in trouble for now?" He raised a droll eyebrow, "Is it blowing up Jiraiya's apartment two weeks ago, or is it trying to dye Kaka-sensei's hair green last week?"

"You brats put those exploding tags in my apartment?" Jiraiya howled, standing straighter in outrage.

"Duh." Naruto rolled his eyes, arms crossed over his chest, "Who else did you consider?"

Tsunade raised a hand, "None of those, though we will have words about them. We're here because Gaara apparently has important information for you. Oh, and the fact that you re-sealed the Ichibi!"

Her voice was bordering on malicious, but Naruto just sighed, "I have chakra chains, Sakura has Mokuton, and Sasuke has his Mangekyō. We're basically the bijū defensive team. Nothing short of the Kyūbi could've broken free. Our summons were there, and all I did was modify the shitty seal Suna whacked on him. I made it a double Four Symbols, turning it into an Eight Trigrams. Besides, it's not like we could let him fight Sakura while he was still crazy. No offense, Gaara."

"And where'd you learn that?" Jiraiya's brows shot up, "That's advanced fūinjutsu! Advanced Uzumaki fūinjutsu, at that!"

It wasn't really, the blond thought to himself, and furrowed his brows slightly, "It was in the level four book, right after triple exploding seals. Which are, by the way, an unconfined version of what we put in your apartment."

Tsunade massaged her temples while Jiraiya squawked, "Next time, come to me first."

The smile she received insured her that, no, they would not.

"Okay." The Hokage leaned back in her chair, spreading her hands out in front of her as if she were trying to force herself to calm down, "I'll discuss this with Kakashi later. For now, Gaara, what is it you needed to tell the damn brats?"

The red head stood, approaching the three, "I would do it in private."

"You'll do it right here, or else." Tsunade snapped, the desk creaking under the pressure she put on it.

Gaara swallowed thickly and faced his three fellow genin, "Very well."

Without the Ichibi, the prospect of facing Tsunade of the Sannin angry was suddenly very unappealing. 

He looked at the three, "I'd like to make clear I did not have any prior knowledge of these actions taken. Nor...nor did my siblings."

"It'll be noted." Tsunade griped, pulling out a new wine glass from her desk drawer and pouring cheap sake into it before taking a long drink, "Go on."

"Our sensei, Baki, was ordered by the Kazekage...our infiltrate the TI headquarters and release Kabuto Yakushi. We assume this is because Suna is working in conjunction with Otogakure to ambush Konoha on the day of the finals. We...knew about that, of course. I was to be the final slaughter to Konoha, whom our village believes is still weakened after the Kyūbi attack so many years ago."

Sasuke could only remember seeing red before his teammates were pulling him back from the window and Sakura was quietly hissing, "Not now, Sasuke, not now! You can later, but not now, damnit!"

Naruto jumped in as Tsunade's face grew angry, her brows drawing down like an incoming storm, "That's when the seal was still messed up. The Ichibi tainted Gaara's thoughts and it forced it's bloodlust on him. He can't be held accountable for that!"

The red head sent him a slightly stunned look, eyes just a tad wider than usual, and the Hokage left out a huff of air, "And his teammates?"

"They're genin. I'm sure they weren't the ones planning the invasions, Tsunade-sensei." Sakura spoke up, "It's the Kazekage and Otogakure."

"Orochimaru, then." Jiraiya sent Tsunade a grim look, "What do we do?"

"We wait until the Kazekage arrives, then we cut the head off of the snake." The blonde woman snarled, "I've had just about enough of this shit. ANBU! Please collect Baki, Temari, and Kankurō of Suna and lock them in the cells beneath the tower, not in T&I. I want no way of communication accessible to them, and I was chakra repression seals on them immediately upon apprehension. Pull information from the sensei, don't touch the kids. Keep all of this under wraps, I want no one else to know of their detainment. Get going."

Naruto slid in front of his fellow jinchūriki as the ANBU flickered out of the room, nothing more than blurred black shadows, "What about Gaara? He told us about the invasion, you can't just-!"

"Did I say to throw him in the cells, too?" Tsunade snapped before she took a breath, her nostrils still flared, "No. I didn't. He will be under constant supervision, and I want him with one of you at all times. If he breaths even a word of anything said here, he'll go somewhere worse. Am I understood?"

She stood to full height, looking down on them with cold amber eyes. Naruto wondered for a brief moment if he'd ever looked like this as Uzukage, and he knew he had. Nodding briefly, he stepped back into line with his teammates and drug Gaara with them.

"He can stay with me." Naruto set his jaw stubbornly, "Mirai and Tama-oji-san won't mind, neither will Tenten and Kari-uh, Izumi. I'll keep an eye out."

"Naruto, just because you think he's your friend-" Tsunade began, but was cut off by the blazing look in the blue eyes staring back at her. 

"I wouldn't betray my village for anyone." He spoke quietly, but his voice seemed to resonate, "Konoha is my home, and I'd protect it with my life."

The Senju deflated slightly, and seemed to collapse once she sat back down in her chair, "Of course. I know that. Oh, and one last thing, Gaara. Please leave your gourd and weapons with the ANBU that will escort you and Naruto to the Suzuki residence."

The red haired genin gave a jerky nod, almost like he was on auto pilot.

Tsunade pursed her lips tightly before she waved a hand, "Dismissed. Tiger, escort them all back to their homes."

When Naruto and Gaara were left outside the weapons shop, leaping up to Naruto's bedroom window, the red haired genin grabbed his friends arm before they entered, "I wouldn't betray you like that. I've never had friends before, and I intend to keep you all."

Naruto gave a tired smile, "I know. We'll protect you, too, just don't do anything stupid. Tsunade-sensei...she's angry. You don't need to get caught in that. We can keep you safe because of what you've done tonight."

"Because of what I've done tonight I will be exiled from my village. I will be branded a traitor." Gaara's eyes went out of focus before they met Naruto's with an alarming intensity, "But I'll also be able to keep you and my other friends safe. It is worth it."

"What about your home?" Naruto's face twisted up slightly, "You've lived in Suna your whole life. Won't you miss it?"

There was no hesitation.

"It was never home, not in the ways that matter. If allowed, I would protect what you seek to protect."

Chapter Text

"You think they're okay?" Kakashi spoke about an hour after the brats had leaped out the window when Yamato was still snoozing on his shoulder.

Yamato leaned against the counter, his happuri long since abandoned. Short wisps of brown hair fell onto his forehead, not quite reaching his still tired eyes that happened to be staring holes into Kakashi. The jonin shrugged slightly, "I don't know. At that age I...Well, I don't exactly have a normal childhood to base possible reactions on, do I?"

"Based on knowing them, Tenzō."


"Okay. Based on knowing them, Yamato."

Kakashi watched as his face flickered slightly, mouth tugging down into a frown, "No. I mean, Sasuke has already faced substantial trauma. Sakura has faced no previous trauma. And Naruto..."

"His whole life was trauma?"


The Hatake hummed slightly, "You can relate."

Dark brown, wide eyes flew to meet Kakashi's single one before they narrowed, "Not now."

"Why not?" Kakashi huffed slightly, "Something's obviously wrong. Even the monsters noticed it, as focused as they are on each other."

"It has nothing to do with that. Any of that."

"You're upset about Yūgao. You lost another friend."

Yamato bristled, "And you lost another teammate. You don't see me questioning you about stuff that's not my business, so leave me alone."

Kakashi fought back a flinch, instead staring at his friend in slight shock, and the other jonin crumbled right before him. Yamato averted his eyes, visibly biting his cheek as his feet shuffled slightly. Suddenly, so many years of history laid between them.

"I'm sorry. That was uncalled for."

"You're upset." The silver-haired jonin shrugged, "It's fine."

"It's not," Yamato insisted, eyes wide and earnest, "I shouldn't have said that."

"No, you shouldn't have." Kakashi took a few steps closer, "I'm...sorry...too, though. I shouldn't have pushed."

"You're worried. I understand."

He felt the urge to snort at the stunted conversation, pathetic as it was, but instead he just sighed. Leaning against the countertop next to Yamato, he nudged his shoulder slightly, "Thanks for making dinner, kōhai."

A small smile tugged at the other's lips, a bit wider than any Kakashi had seen since they'd found out about Yūgao, "Of course, senpai. My pleasure."

The teasing tone wasn't new, and Kakashi only rolled his eyes, "As if, you hate cooking more than you hate dealing with me."

Yamato twitched slightly, face falling, and Kakashi realized his mistake, "A joke, Tenzō. You know, to laugh at-?"

"I really didn't mean it though." Brown eyes met Kakashi's, and the jonin was sure he wasn't breathing, "You're my...I mean, you're pretty much the only friend I have. It is your business. I-I mean, if you want it to be of course. You don't need my baggage as well, I get that, and-"

Kakashi sighed, holding a hand up to cover the other man's mouth, "Stop talking, if you would."

He nodded, the barest tilt of his head, and Kakashi allowed his hand to fall back down to his side. Yamato shifted again, leaning into Kakashi slightly before looking into the living room, "I should get going. We have team training tomorrow, you know, so actually go to sleep."

The jonin moved forward, presumably to the door, but Kakashi grabbed him by the forearm last minute. He didn't want to let Yamato leave; the other looked haggard at best, with dark purple smudges under his eyes and a pallor to his cheeks the Hatake didn't like one bit. Yamato blinked at him, confused, and Kakashi let go of his arm.

"Hmm, maybe you should stay here tonight." Kakashi tried to sound nonchalant, "You know, it's just time saving. Then you won't have to come and wake me up tomorrow morning."

Yamato gave him a wane look, "And sleep on the couch? No thanks. You might like sleeping all over your house but I prefer a bed."

"You could take the bed."

The younger gave a startled laugh, "Kakashi, you're not sleeping on the couch in your own apartment. Or the floor."

That gave him some pause, making the elder jonin look at him strangely, "You actually said my name. Huh."

"I've said your name before, you know."

Kakashi smirked slightly beneath his mask, "I know. I like it."

Yamato's cheeks flushed brightly, and Kakashi felt a strong urge to lean forward and cup them in his hands. Or kiss them. One of the two. The younger jonin smiled slightly, hesitantly, and his hand shot forward to squeeze Kakashi's.

"I'll sleep in my own bed for now. Don't worry, I'll still wake you up in the morning."

Then he was gone, and Kakashi felt nearly catatonic. His hand was still warm, nearly buzzing from the contact, and his chest felt constricted and ready to burst. His thoughts all screeched to a stop, memorizing the feel of Yamato's fingers wrapped around his own. When the door shut quietly, Kakashi blinked and stared down at the offending appendage.

Oh, he was so fucked.

"Would you stop staring?" Naruto huffed, crossing his arms, "What's so weird?"

Kakashi just looked at the four of them, vaguely motioning towards Gaara, "Why?"

"Because," Sakura started and Kakashi already had a headache, "Suna was planning an invasion and Gaara told Tsunade-sensei and us about it last night. We already explained this."

"So..." Yamato blinked at them, slightly astonished, "You resealed the Ichibi and...Gaara feels indebted towards you-"

"More like we're friends." Naruto corrected, smiling at the redhead beside him.

"Right." The mokuton used sighed, "And because of that he informed you about an invasion that would've had Suna releasing the Ichibi in Konoha?"

"Yes, yes." Sasuke sniped, "We've explained this five times already. All we're doing is repeating the same thing again and again."

His voice was sharp, pricklier than usual, and Kakashi was certain it was because Orochimaru had orchestrated this whole thing. Had gotten Yūgao killed after already threatening the lives of himself and his team. After almost putting a cursed hickey on his neck. The jonin snorted softly, shaking his head, "Okay. Whatever. Tsunade doesn't tell me shit anymore. Temporary monster, got it."

The red head tensed, and Sakura looked startled, "No! Gaara's not a monster, not at all! Gee, Kaka-sensei, get it right!"

The looks his three brats gave him were torn between scared and threatening, though Sasuke's leaned more towards the threatening end of the spectrum. Kakashi looked at Gaara for a moment, thought about Suna, thought about the Ichibi, and decided that maybe the monster talk wasn't good while the genin was with them. He probably wasn't...well loved by Suna.

"Maa, maa. My bad, I got him mixed up with you three." He gave Yamato a look that nearly had the younger genin chuckling, "Now. What do you...four...want to do this fine morning?"

Naruto gave him a sharp look, "I'm going to fight one of your damn clones and win."

"Good luck." Kakashi scoffed, "Sakura-chan?"

The pinkette gave the red head at her side a curious look, "I'd like to...experiment. Naruto, maybe you could work on taijutsu with Sasuke instead?"

Gaara gave her a blank look, confused, but Kakashi could bet he'd get the memo in a second. Or he'd be knocked around by a tree so much the memo would be beaten into him. Yamato smiled beside him, nodding, "Great idea, Sakura."

Oh yes, the Suna genin would soon get a rough wake-up call, he knew that for a fact. The three wondered off, not before Sakura gave Naruto one last warning look, and disappeared into the forest. He supposed they might find the red-headed Jinchūriki alive if Sakura and Yamato were in good moods, but he wouldn't be heartbroken either way. Giving his other two students a measuring glance, he figured he might as well leave them alone. The pinkette hadn't exactly been subtle, after all, so Kakashi dug out his new copy of Icha Icha and motioned towards a random tree.

"I'll be up there. Get me in an hour and we'll spar to see how you're doing."

"With your clone or you?" Naruto narrowed his eyes.

Kakashi merely gave him an eye smile, "You'll find out, Naruto-chan!"

With that, they disappeared into the training grounds and Kakashi finally got to relax.

"Before you even ask, I'm fine." Sasuke huffed slightly as they found a cleared out area to spar in, "I know what Sakura was doing. You two aren't subtle, you know?"

Naruto gave small grin, "Really? Hadn't noticed."

"I mean, I'm not happy." The Uchiha sighed sharply, "Actually, I'm furious. But...I'm not stupid. Therefore, I'm not going to do anything stupid. I'm not going run off on some batshit quest for revenge."

"You fucking better not." The blond sighed as Sasuke dropped down to sit with his back leaning against a tree. Nearing him, he sat so their shoulders brushed, "Not without us, at least. If you do something stupid, we'll do it with you."

Black eyes blinked, side eyeing him before they shifted away, "I know."

The Uzumaki huffed, tapping his shoulder against Sasuke's a bit harder, "We want you to be happy, Sasuke. We don't want you to suffer alone. We know you're upset, we've seen you upset. Hell, we all had a group hug in your kitchen. Talk to us, to me."

"I don't know if I can be happy." Sasuke scowled slightly, twirling a stray piece of blond hair that fell onto his own arm, "Every time I'm happy, something bad follows it. It's always been like that."

Naruto let out an small noise, angry and frustrated, before leaning away and jerking Sasuke to face him, "Listen, you piece of shit. Stop thinking like that, okay? We'll all collectively kick Kabuto and Orochimaru's asses and leave them for dead. I know that won't fix everything...nothing can bring back those who are gone. You will be happy though, you hear me, dattebayo?"

If anyone else had said it, it'd probably be a joke. But the seal Naruto had put on him, the one that marked him as an Uzumaki, burned on his skin and the blond boy had snapped the words in utter seriousness. A strangled laugh, something between humor and hysteria, escaped him.

"I haven't heard that in awhile. Is the tic coming back?" Sasuke raised an eyebrow, stomping down the distress rising in his chest like a guttural cry.

The Uzumaki's face flushed a light red, making the tanned skin of his cheeks a deep pink, "I've been working on it."

"Sure." Sasuke's smiled faltered, "You mean all that?"

"Sakura and I already told you we'd stand by you in anything. But...that's a personal promise, I guess. Of course I mean it."

Sasuke sighed quietly, leaning back against the tree once more. Something like awe for the other boy was rising behind his eyes in the form of tears, and he absolutely refused to let Naruto know just how much he admired him. Admired...that's what it was, after all. Admiration.


"You know," Naruto raised a single brow, a sly look in his eyes, "You cried on me before, you can do it again."

"Shut it!" Sasuke snarled, his hand lashing out sideways to smash into the blond's shoulder.

It only served to infuriate him further when Naruto laughed harder.

Kakashi wasn't sure when he fell asleep, cocooned in the branches of a tall tree with his book laid against his chest, but when his lone eye snapped open it was to Yamato's face hovering right above. His eyes were curious, searching, and Kakashi panicked and bolted up. Yamato fell backward with a cry and their craniums connected with a loud smack, falling off the branch Kakashi was on and to the ground. 

So much for relaxing.

The jonin leaped down to the ground in one smooth movement, tucking his book back in his pocket as he stood over Yamato. The brunette looked up at him with a sour gaze, gently prodding where their heads had smacked together.

"You've had worse." Kakashi rolled his eyes, "Hell, you've had worse from me."

Yamato groaned and accepted the offered hand, allowing the older man to help him off the ground, "Don't remind me. I'll never forget the second week of our ANBU team training, senpai. Never."

"Maa, what does hair really mean?"

"Don't." Yamato huffed, clutching the other jonin's hand a fraction tighter, letting Kakashi know he was wading into very dangerous territory. Yamato release his hand, and Kakashi followed reluctantly.

"Any reason you were hovering over me like something from a horror book?" Kakashi gave him an eye smile, "Not that I don't like seeing your face when I wake up."

He probably shouldn't tease the younger jonin, but when he blushed it was so damn cute. Cheeks pink, Yamato focused on the tree behind Kakashi, "Eh, I left Sakura and Gaara to their own devices. I can only see someone get slammed into the same tree so many times before I get bored."

"Is he dead yet?"

"Nah, but quite startled. I don't think he's ever had a rose bush come to life and trap him before." The mokuton used chuckled quietly, "She's gotten very talented."

"Only because she had a talented teacher." Kakashi offered, if only to see the red grow darker on those high cheekbones.

"Quit it." His words came out slightly breathless, and it went straight to placed Kakashi couldn't mention in polite company.

"Just the truth." The silver-haired jonin smiled beneath his mask, "You're the most skilled mokuton user since the First."

"I'm the only mokuton user since the First." Yamato scowled slightly, reaching out to hit Kakashi on the shoulder.

The older jonin caught his fist with ease, holding it in a loose grip, "Maa, what about Sakura? You're more skilled, still."

"She's a genin. Besides, she'll get better." There was a bit of smugness in the brunette's smile, and maybe some pride, and it made Kakashi's heart beat a bit faster than he'd like.

Pulling the hand, and subsequently Yamato, a little closer, Kakashi stepped forward to meet him halfway. Brown eyes were blown wide, looking up at Kakashi startled and maybe a little frightened. He let go of the hand, giving the brunette a chance to step back, but they both remained in place.

"Senpai?" The voice was hesitant, barely more than a whisper, and Kakashi made to lean forward.


The shout came from the forest, and Yamato shoved Kakashi away with surprising speed. The jonin stumbled slightly, rocking back too far on his heels and unbalanced from the almost kiss. He saw amusement flash in the younger jonin's eyes as he fell, and Yamato offered him a hand this time. As he yanked Kakashi up, Sasuke and Naruto emerged from the trees looking a bit haggard but nonetheless ready.

Yamato looked at him curiously, his eyes intense, before a coy smile curled his lips and he whispered, "Later."

Kakashi knew it was payback, completely fair for all the teasing he had inflicted on the brunette, but seriously? How the fuck was he supposed to function with that promise?

They'd barely made it through the door before Ino had shot to her feet, abandoning her grandmother on the couch to run and throw herself at her team. It was an uncoordinated hug, with her trying to wrap her arms around Shikamaru and Chōji at the same time and them both trying to hug her back. She buried her head in Shikamaru's shoulder, hot tears spilling down her face as Asuma-sensei set a gentle hand on her shoulder.

"I'm glad you could come." Inori spoke up from where she still sat, looking at the Sarutobi with a small smile.

"Of course. My father wanted to be here as well, to pay respects, but he is with the Hokage at the moment."


Ino dug her fingers to the backs of her teammates, clutching them like a lifeline, before drawing back slightly and hastily wiping at the tears that dripped down her face, "I'm-"

"We're so sorry." Chōji's voice was quiet, his eyes wide and watery, "Our dads...they...they'll come later."

She nodded slightly, feeling strangely comforted by the fact. Shikaku and Chōza had been permanent fixtures in her life since she was a baby, the constant and annoying uncles that were always around no matter what. They were still around, and they were certainly just as heartbroken as she. Wrapping her arms around herself, she glanced away slightly, "Doe everyone know?"

"No." Shikamaru spoke, pursing his lips slight, "Only the Nara and the Akimichi. The Hokage has tried to keep it quiet because of your...unique circumstances."

Her mouth twisted, and she pushed a short piece of hair behind her ears, "Because I'm twelve."

He faltered, but knew he couldn't lie to her, "Yeah."

"I don't want this." She whispered, "I don't want to be clan head. I don't...I..."

"You are, though." Shikamaru countered, looking at her with a gaze that said he already had a plan, "We can help you, though. With whatever you need. Our clans have been allied forever, all you need to do is say the word."

Chōji nodded eagerly beside him, his eyes still wet, "Exactly. We'll do whatever you need us to."

She grabbed them both in a hug again, silently clutching them to her chest and praying to whatever Kami were listening that she didn't ever lose them, too. She missed the looks Inori and Asuma shared over them, both grim and proud, before the Yamanaka matriarch stood to grab Asuma by the elbow and lead him from the room. She shut the door quietly behind them, leaving the genin team clutched in a desperate hug, before she turned her pale blue-green eyes on the Sarutobi before her.

"You need to take care of her, train her well. Now more so than ever."

"I know." Asuma narrowed his eyes, his gaze far off.

"You understand that some people won't like this arrangement?" Inori's mouth was tense, "That some people will believe she cannot lead the Yamanaka, both within our clan and outside of it?"

"I'm aware of this, Inori-san." The jonin sighed, "I'll protect her, and my father will do the same. He holds some sway still in the politics of Konoha."

"You can protect her politically, but physically? What should happen when this news spreads to the rest of Konoha and they see us as week? What if they get the idea to remove her so a stronger shinobi may take her place? What if other villages believe this is a chance to pluck out a powerful clan and take it upon themselves to eliminate her?"

"I will make sure she's prepared." Asuma assured the woman, his eyes tense at the corners as if he had a headache, "Hopefully from enemies within Konoha as well as those outside."

Inori released her iron grip on his arm and nodded once, "Very well. I will begin training her as well, not like an old retiree like myself could do better than you youngsters."

Asuma sent her a disbelieving look, but all he received was a secretive smile before she disappeared silently back inside.

Gaara groaned from the ground, wooden shards surrounding him as he stared blearily up at the sunlight that peaked between the trees. Using a hand to support himself, he looked at the pinkette before him with something akin to horror. It curled and coiled in his stomach, icy and dreadful, and he realized it was fear. Not of Sakura, exactly, because she was his friend and she and her team had assured him that friends would never seriously hurt each other under any circumstances. Still, that kind of power...the entire forest was at her beck and call. 

Sakura smiled brightly, "Would you like to spar with your sand now?"

Naruto had left and returned in the earlier hours of the morning with his gourd. He said he'd convinced Lady Hokage to return it, though he still wasn't supposed to have anything sharp. Gaara didn't need any kunai anyways, he could do more damage with the sand that responded to his every whim and will. Summoning it from the gourd, he smiled carefully and hoped it wasn't malicious.

"I think that's a good idea." 

If Gaara's smile wasn't malicious, well, Sakura's sure was.

Chapter Text

Sakura twitched slightly as the four of them stood before the arena, people from all over Konoha and Suna pouring in around them. No one stopped and gave them a second look as they rushed to their seats, everyone vying for the ones closest to the grand arena in the floor. Sasuke sent her a questioning look, raising a single eyebrow.


A voice interrupted, "As if Sakura is nervous."

Naruto whirled around, giving the raven haired girl approaching them a big grin, "You pulled yourself out of the library long enough to watch?"

Karin smiled, "Of course, wouldn't want to miss my family's performance."

She winked, totally unsubtle as nearly every Uzumaki is prone to be, and Sasuke just rolled his eyes, "I'm glad you could be here, Izumi. It pleases me that my dearest cousin came to watch."

"Oh, for sure." Karin's eyes narrowed and she leaned forward slightly, "I really hope you and Naruto make it to the finals and he beats your ass."

Sasuke's stilted mixture of a smirk and a smile was vicious, "Now, is that any way family should talk to one another?"

"Ugh." Karin let out a disgusted scoff, sending a look to the other members of Team 7, "How d'you put up with him?"

"You'll get used to it." Sakura repeated the words she had spoke nearly a month ago, stepping forward to grab Karin by the arm so they could walk in together, "Next month is your testing right?"

The girl's smile was small but hopeful, "I'll be a Konoha genin after it."

"If you pass." Sasuke pointed out, walking behind the two with Naruto and Gaara.

"Oh, I'll pass." Her smile was dangerous and pointed, teeth nearly bared at the Uchiha, "Just watch. Maybe you can use those fancy eyes of yours and commit the moment I get my hitai-ate to memory, hm?"

"Ah, family." Sakura sighed loudly for the Konoha citizens shooting the two supposed Uchiha's curious looks, "Don't you just love the bickering."

She jerked Karin's arm slightly, and the black-haired girl faced forward once more, "Of course. I'm just so glad I have family now."

The Uzumaki and Sasuke had developed a...unique bond, to say the least. They were at each other's throats constantly, but Sasuke had snarled and snapped at several people doubting 'Izumi' being an actual Uchiha, and Karin in turn defended Sasuke publicly and praised him for taking her in. She spent her nights either in the Suzuki household or in the Uchiha compound with Sasuke to keep up appearances, and Sasuke was even tutoring her along with Naruto and Sakura. Kami knows Kusa taught their genin fuck all about what they actually needed to know, or maybe that was because they treated Karin like a slave. Either way, on paper the two should get along just fine. Hell, Sakura originally thought Karin would develop the same school-girl crush on Sasuke she herself had once had. Alas, the Uzumaki were as unpredictable as ever and Karin would rather chew off her own foot than actually thank Sasuke, let along have a crush on him. To be completely fair, the pinkette thought, it's not like Sasuke did much to improve the situation except jokingly antagonize the faux Uchiha.

Gaara sent Karin and Sasuke both apprehensive glances, and Sakura mentally chuckled grimly. He was still, how would she describe it, getting a grasp on all the different kinds of friendships there were. The one between the two so-called Uchiha's was vastly different from the ones Team 7 shared with each other and Gaara, and more resembling Jiraiya and Tsunade's friendship than anything Sakura had ever seen. That was a whole other can of worms, though, and not even Sakura wanted to psycho-analyze that mess.

"So, Neji gets his ass kicked first, right?" Karin sent a questioning gaze back to Naruto, "Then Chōji, then Gaara?"

She paused before sending the red head a completely unapologetic look, "Sorry, but I'm rooting for Sakura."

The Jinchūriki, still unused to friendships but totally acclimated to both Karin and Naruto's bluntness at this point, merely nodded his head, "I understand."

"He might give me a challenge." Sakura spoke through the flush rising on her cheeks, "If there aren't any rose bushes, that is. Or Oak trees."

Gaara pursed his lips and blinked slowly before speaking, "We may be friends, but you are quite terrifying."

Naruto let out a snort, grabbing both Gaara and Sasuke by an arm and dragging them forwards when he saw Kakashi standing with Yamato in the shinobi stands. Sakura released Karin's arm, turning to her with a slight grin, "I'll see you later?"

"Of course." The Uzumaki brightened, red eyes sparkling with excitement under the arena lights, "You can keep helping me with that fish technique. I'd like to eventually be able to heal people without, well, you know. The whole mutilating myself thing."

"Of course." Sakura's face softened, "I'm sure if I asked, Tsunade-sensei would-"

"No, no!" Karin shook her head somewhat frantically, "Don't ask the Hokage, of all people, to teach me. You're just fine by yourself."

"Okay, okay." The pinkette raised her hands in a placating motion, "I promise. I should go catch up with the boys. I'll see you after the Finals. Um, stay safe?"

Karin nodded before she disappeared into the thick of civilians surrounding them. She had no idea about the impending invasion, had no weapons on her to keep herself safe. There was no way they could warn her either, though she knew Naruto and even Sasuke desperately wanted to. Tsunade-sensei had told them, unquestionably, no. It would be considered treason should they tell anyone, let alone someone who's not even a shinobi, and Kakashi and Yamato were only permitted to know due to their proximity to the situation. She spied the ANBU in the rafters, though, and could sense them surrounding the arena in their typical formation. She convinced herself things would turn out fine, that no one would be hurt, and took her seat next to her teammates as the announcer took the stage. 

Hayate stood in the middle of the arena, giving the crowd a look that commanded silence, "The first match will be Naruto Uzumaki of Konoha vs Neji Hyūga of Konoha."

Sakura saw Naruto stand with a determined expression and catch Hinata's eyes from where Team 8 sat about a row over. They shared a solemn nod before Naruto leaped over the railing and Sakura's brow furrowed. Well, it looked like he'd gotten attached to Hinata. 

Tenten quietly slid over from where she was with her team and sensei, stealing Naruto's vacated seat beside Sakura. The brunette looked down at the aren floor with conflicted emotions before giving Sakura a bland smile, "Well, at least whoever wins I can still celebrate."

The pinkette just sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. She heard Sasuke snort from Tenten's other side and resigned herself to being surrounded by questionable company for the rest of the day.

The fight began and Neji took a fighting stance and activated his Byakugan but didn't dare move yet. Naruto only looked at him cooly, brushing his pony tail over his shoulder before he pulled out a scroll, "You know, I'd say I hate to do this but I really don't."

The Hyūga smirked, "Surely you won't move first against the Byakugan?"

The Uzumaki just sighed, giving Neji a sad look, "You're delusional, you know that? Fate is a load of bullshit. Crushing those who want to support you and being a merciless asshole won't bring you power or prestige, but it will end up with you being alone and bitter. But...I guess that's what you already are, isn't it?"

As he spoke, he unrolled the scroll, the wind picking up around the enough to cause their clothing and hair to shift with the rising gale. Naruto formed a tiger sign with one hand and spoke barely above a whisper, "Kami no Umi (Ocean of the Gods)."

A seal matrix along the unraveling seal lit up a violent scarlet, the center spiral opening up to spew out gallons upon gallons of water at a rapid pace. It gushed out towards Neji, making the Hyūga leap into the air to avoid the initial torrent. Using chakra, the elder genin stood on top of the ever rising mass and gave the blond a patronizing look.

"Is that all?" Neji sneered slightly, "I'd heard better about you. I suppose I prepared for nothing, but maybe this was meant to be. No matter how much training you did, can you ever catch up to fate?"

Naruto smiled, nearly serene, as the water rose to reach his knees. He waded forward slowly as the water continued to rise, raising a single hand and allowing the drops to form in the palm of his hand. They morphed together at the Uzumaki's will, the water eager to please, and he willed a wave to rise with a mere surge of chakra and a flick of his hand. It towered far over the both of them, a shadow engulfing Neji and his horrified face. The water reached Naruto's waist now, but the Uzumaki remained unbothered. 

"Maybe fate's abandoned you?" Naruto's smile maintained, the sides curled up in just a way that seemed a bit cruel, "Just like everyone else will if you don't end up getting your shit together. Or are you fated to be alone and drive off anyone who could even possibly put up with your shit? Ah, well. Enough talking."

His eyes gleamed, nearly grey like a storm upon the very ocean he summoned, and he urged the tidal wave forward with a trust of his hand, his chakra roaring to life in the water around them. Neji leaped back, scaling the wall and escaping the brunt of the wave, but the water reached up and dragged him under. He fought, channeling chakra to his hands and feet as he dragged himself from the undertow. Breaking through the waters surface, his eyes immediately sought out Naruto's position, but the Uzumaki was already breezing through seals. Neji rushed forward, water splashing up around him from the force of his running of the surface, and realized his mistake in waiting for Naruto to make the first move. Yes, surveying an opponents weaknesses and strengths is important. This...was a bit much, though.

He surged chakra to his hand, aiming a Jūken strike right to the Uzumaki's chest, but the blonde just jumped back and danced out of the way, completely fluid in the water. Neji turned, but before he could chase Naruto down, he completed the hand signs and the water shuddered all around him.

"Suiton: Banrinochōjō no Shōheki (Water Release: Great Wall Barrier)!"

Surging maybe six feet up, a barrier of water split the arena in two, Neji on one side and Naruto on the other. The Hyūga unleashed a chakra enforced punch that got his hand through the water barrier, but didn't cause it to shatter. Instead, the whole thing rippled like some Shinigami-accursed aquarium before forcing his fist back out. If he couldn't get close, he couldn't finish this.

Naruto formed another hand seal, speaking just loud enough that Neji could hear him, "Mizu Bunshin no Jutsu (Water Clone Technique)."

Two exact copies of Naruto shuddered into life from the massive, mercifully not growing, pool beneath them before a single one passed through the barrier without an issue. Sneering, Neji threw a fierce attack, hit after hit, until the water clone dissolved into nothing. The next clone passed through the water, this one not so passive. Ducking low when Neji struck high, he swung upwards, making Neji skirt back and nearly sink beneath the surface of the calm waters beneath him. The clone swung a kick around, Neji dodging so it only hit his shoulder, before the Hyūga struck it in the chest exactly how he'd planned to do to Naruto earlier. 

"Enough of this." Neji growled, "Stop hiding behind a barrier like a coward!"

"Says the coward that hides behind fate." Naruto gave a droll smile, but as he spoke the water gave a great shiver before dissolving around them. Neji didn't even wait for it to fully come down before he leaped over the remnants of the wall and delivered a sharp hit to the Uzumaki's shoulder. Naruto just spun out of his reach, finally leaping up with ease to stand on the water and be on level stance with Neji. The Uzumaki spun around in a controlled movement, avoiding each of Neji's strikes and remaining out of his reach. He summoned chakra into both of his hands, bidding the water to rise with them as he leaped back and sunk his hands into the pool below. Smoothly, he stuck his foot out as Neji approached, too focused on stopping whatever move Naruto was about to execute to notice the stray appendage, and he tumbled forward. Naruto twisted his hands slightly, the water around them becoming as sharp as a blade. Neji couldn't see him as he lashed out in a swift and powerful strike, bringing the sharpened blades down onto the very back of the Hyūga's neck, right above the first thoracic vertebra.

Neji gasped as his skin was gouged in, falling forward and stumbling slightly but remaining balanced on the surface of the water, spinning to land a desperate hit hard on Naruto's face. His hands grasped for his back, but he couldn't asses much before the Uzumaki twisted from where he stumbled and did a flip, landing on his hands in a crouch on the water. Shooting up, he spun on his toe and leaped to do a hand stand, lashing a foot out and hit Neji in the same place he had gouged earlier. Rushing through hand signs as his opponent turned around, Naruto returned right side up as he hissed, "Suiton: Tai do no Supin (Water Release: Spin of the Tides)."

Water rushed up around him, swirling and whipping in a way that told Neji the blond must've somehow infused the technique with a wind release. His Byakugan saw it coming, saw it approaching him before the swirling tornados of water were on top on him, but he wasn't fast enough. He spun around, whipped this way and that and cut up by the raging water until he was spat out on the other side. He sunk down into the water like he had nearly done countless times before, and struggled through weak limbs to gain his footing on the arena floor. Panicking, he opened his mouth only to suck in a huge breath of water before he got his feet under him and stood, chest deep in the massive pool that had become of the arena. Gagging, he spit up the water as it burned coming up his throat and nose, choking on it as he desperately tried to catch his breath.

Naruto gave an annoyed huff, cuffing Neji over the head one last time as he was choking before catching him by his collar and offering him to Hayate, who'd already appeared in the arena.

"Necessary?" The jonin raised an eyebrow.

"Probably not." Naruto's lips twitched up into a smirk.

"Can you drain it?"


"What...the fuck was that?" Yamato glanced over at Kakashi with wide eyes, "Did you know he was going to do that?"

"Well...Tsunade-sama told them to be flashy in the Finals." He scratched a masked cheek slightly, "I, uh, I should've expected something like this. Hence why I call them my little monsters, I do have serious reasons you know."

"Eh, sensei?" Sakura tapped his shoulder, "You think Sasuke could do that with fire?"

Kakashi saw an eager kind of glee in Sasuke's eyes at the thought. Gulping slightly, he tried to imagine a sea of fire before recalling the Prelims. Sasuke had...essentially been close. Nodding slightly, he shrugged, "I don't see why not."

Yamato slapped his shoulder slightly, giving Kakashi a stern look. The jonin merely gave him an eye smile, "What?"

"You know what." The mokuton user frowned, crossing his arms, "You enable them. This is partially your fault, you helped Naruto refine his elemental manipulation."

"Maa, I'd say it's a success. Besides, the tactic was all his. Keep the Hyūga out of range, eliminate the possibility of Jūken strikes damaging his organs and shutting down his chakra pathways. Then go for the throat and the blind spot. Literally, and with water blades." Kakashi blinked, remembering the way the water had answered his student's beck and call. The only other Suiton user Konoha had seen that came close to that power was Tobirama Senju, and he was just a legendary as his brother. Where the Shodai could summon entire forests and his wife could call down storms of fire and wind, the Nidaime could halt rainstorms and summon oceans in an open field. He rivaled even Kiri's greatest Suiton users, and had often turned their own element against them during the First Shinobi World War. 

"Hm." Yamato just turned his gaze forward again before shrugging slightly, "I guess they'll need all the help they can get."

Kakashi raised an eyebrow, tensing in his shoulders, "What?"

"You know what." Yamato's eyes were sad and his voice was barely even a whisper, "Orochimaru is coming for Sasuke. As in, coming for him today, and with backup. They'll need every scrap of power they can get because...Orochimaru's not even human anymore."

His voice held a special kind of disgust, and a shiver of foreboding ran down Kakashi's spine. He wasn't naïve enough to even hope the invasion wouldn't happen; Suna was foolhardy and power hungry, and Orochimaru wanted revenge and...well, he wanted Sasuke. Kakashi's fingertips sparked with lightning even through his gloves.

He'd like to see the Sannin try. Sakura shifted, sensing the surge of chakra from her sensei, and gave him a knowing look and a tilt of her head. They resumed watching Naruto easily drain the arena with the same seal he'd used to fill it, and tuned out the whispers of the crowd surrounding them. There would be more than whispers before the day was over; soon, there would be screams.

Ino sighed, clutching Chōji's shoulder in what she hope was an encouraging way, "You still have a chance. Sasuke isn't that strong, you know."

Chōji gave her a wide eyed look, "But you...Sasuke..."

"I've...realized what's more important recently." Her eyes tightened in pain, but she didn't let tears fall, "We, uh, we believe in you. Right, Shikamaru?"

"Of course." The Nara scoffed, "We've worked on strategies this whole month. You'll be fine, just avoid the flames."

"Easier said than done." The Akimichi groaned as their sensei approached from behind.

Asuma clapped a hand on Chōji's shoulder, "Try your best. We'll get barbecue later, okay?"

"If I win?"

"No." The Sarutobi sighed slightly, surveying his team, "Just do your best. Both of you, you hear me, Shikamaru? You sure as hell better not forfeit."

"Troublesome." Shikamaru sighed deeply, "Fine."

"We should go in now." Asuma jutted his chin towards the entrance of the arena, "The first match should be ending soon."

Ino wrung her hands slightly, only taking comfort in the fact that no one knew of her burden yet. They would eventually; soon, there would be no hiding.

Chapter Text

The arena was abuzz with talk as Ino and her team walked in. The first thing they all noticed was the waterlogged stadium, the dirt ground damp and the walls still glistening. A few pissed off chunin were in the thick of it, trying in vain to dry it out with fans and wind chakra to no avail, but it led to a few questions that Ino had. What the hell happened in the first match? She'd learned a while ago to not underestimate Team 7; they were shinobi, plain and simple. More shinobi than any of the other rookies except for maybe Shikamaru or Neji. As far as she knew from Hinata, Neji had fire and earth elemental transformations, not water. That meant that Naruto had to be the one to do all this damage, and damn if that wasn't hard to believe. No matter what they saw in the second task, no matter what they saw in the prelims, it was still difficult to relate the Uzumaki to anything above dead last. Judging from the whispers alight in the stands around them she'd need to get over that sentiment soon.

"Ah man, if this is what Naruto did then what is Sasuke gonna pull?" Chōji groaned quietly as they entered the shinobi stands, watching Team 7 from afar. Asuma's eyebrow twitched slightly.

"Just remember that one water jutsu Ino taught you." Shikamaru sighed, "There's enough moisture down there to power it even if water transformations doesn't come naturally to you. This is an advantage, albeit an unforeseen one, so use it."

"Still, I can barely make a puddle with that jutsu!" The Akimichi hissed miserably as he watched the arena below, waiting for his name to be called, "How am I gonna stop that...that...whatever it was Sasuke did with the wall of fire?"

"Just use a large amount of chakra and draw of the moisture in the arena. It's like how we practiced at the river, your jutsu was stronger, right?" At his nod, Ino smiled slightly, "Just like that, then. If anything, use it to keep from getting burned."

"If all else fails, make a wall using a doton jutsu." Shikamaru looked at the arena critically, "The dirt is moist so it'll keep you safe from the flames and give you time to retaliate."

"Thanks, guys." Chōji sighed, "At least I have a fighting chance."

"Of course you do." Asuma patted him on the back, "You've been working hard. It'll pay off, you'll see."

Sakura peeked behind Naruto with curious eyes, "Team 10 has arrived. Finally."

"Maa, impatient Sakura-chan? Eager to see...a friend, maybe?" Kakashi spoke without looking up from his book. Naruto shot him a sidelong, annoyed look. 

"Of course not." The pinkette huffed, "Just wanted to make sure Sasuke's match goes well."

Sasuke sighed, "I'm not a child."

She paused for a moment, a smile twitching on her lips, "You know you'd bitch excessively if he didn't show up."

"Excuse you." The Uchiha rolled his eyes, "I'd bitch just the right amount."

"Speaking of his match, how long will this take?" Naruto waved a hand at the arena flippantly, "They've been going at it for ten minutes."

"Maybe if someone didn't flood the place, hmm, Naruto-hime?" Kakashi shot him an eye smile.

As soon as the jonin's eye closed, Naruto's hand shot forwards and grabbed to book from his sensei's hand, chucking it over the railing and into the crowd below. Kakashi just smoothly reached for his side pocket and, ignoring the screams of outrage from below, pulled out another book. Flipping through the pages, he found the one he wanted and continued to read.

Naruto blinked, dumbfounded, "Do you...carry extras?"

"I've learned to be prepared." Kakashi corrected, "I'm around you delightful brats enough to know one book isn't enough for the day."

"Are you spending your whole paycheck on porn?" Sakura raised an eyebrow, "Because that's pathetic."

Kakashi's eye twitched before his faux friendly gaze fell into a tired, bitter glare, "Maybe if you little shits didn't ruin all of them, I wouldn't have to."

"Ah, we've upgraded from little monsters to little shits." Naruto smiled serenely before looking at the red-haired extension of their team, "Gaara, you good with being a little shit?"

Gaara nodded his head once and Naruto shot a big, bright smile towards the silver-haired man, "Hear that, Kaka-sensei? Little shits is approved!"

The jonin's eye twitched, but he was interrupted even as he opened his mouth, "Kakashi! Do not swear at your genin!"

"Ah, Kurenai." The silver-haired man sighed, turning to see her disapproving glare. Kiba, Hinata, and Shino stood behind her quietly, knowing not to interrupt their sensei when she was on a warpath. It always ended badly.

"Don't Kurenai me!" The woman snapped, "You know cursing at your team is counter-productive, right? They won't grow well, they'll resent you."

"Nah, we'd never resent Kaka-sensei." Naruto crossed his arms behind his head and smiled coyly, "Well, you know, besides the porn thing."

Her face flushed red and Kakashi grimaced, "You read porn in front of your twelve-year-old genin?"

"Thirteen." Sakura sighed, "Naruto's the only twelve-year-old here."

"Soon." The blond snapped at his snickering teammates, "Soon. In like, a month. Barely even that."

"Still twelve." Sasuke, unhelpfully, supplied.

"How dare you! They are children." Kurenai hissed, approaching the jonin slowly.

"Maa, maa, it's not like I read it to them." Kakashi gave her an eye-smile and Yamato groaned beside him, "Besides, have you seen what these brats do in a day? I think little shits is justified. Besides, the red one doesn't like little monsters."

Gaara glared. Kurenai blinked.

Leaning in slightly, she whispered, "Did you adopt another one?"

Kakashi only sighed in response. The dark-haired woman, seemingly forgetting her previous anger, winced, "Is he like the other three?"

Kakashi only sighed deeper. Kurenai clasped her hands together quietly, a cringe on her face, "Well...I don't approve at all, but considering..."


"Doesn't excuse your choice of reading material." The red-eyed woman sighed, "Maybe you should find a hobby?"

"Doesn't Asuma still smoke?" Kakashi smirked beneath his mask, "That's much more detrimental to health than what I like to read."

Her face flushed in annoyance and her hands flew up in a 'tell me about it' gesture, "Ugh! Tell him that!"

"Tell who what?" Chōji asked as Team 10 meandered over, Ino hanging towards the back with Shikamaru, "What's wrong?"

Kurenai glared as Asuma walked up to her, charming smile in place and cigarette between his fingers. Plucking it from his hand with no warning, she sent it sailing over the balcony railing.

"You know, I feel really bad for whoever's sitting down there." Sakura's brow creased, "They must be having a bad day."

"Tell you that smoking is awful for your health." Kurenai sighed, exasperated, "How many times have I explained it? I'm not a medic and even understand the concept."

Asuma just rolled his eyes, "It's fine-"

"It's not, even Tsuande-sama has recommended you quit-!"

"The second match will now commence." Hayate sounded more than annoyed as the announcement cut off all conversation in the arena, "The opponents will be Sasuke Uchiha of Konoha and Chōji Akimichi of Konoha. Please come down to the arena."

Naruto winked at Sasuke and Sakura clapped him on the back before the Uchiha disappeared and reappeared in the arena, shrouded in a cloud of smoke and leaves. Chōji groaned loudly and headed for the stairs.

Tenten grinned at them from five rows down, "This is gonna be bad, isn't it?"

Naruto snorted, "Don't look so pleased."

Hayate shot Sasuke a look as Chōji made his way down the stairs, "Don't be a shit, okay?"

The Uchiha blinked at his newfound sensei innocently, though the devious smile curling his lips kind of ruined it, "I'm not quite sure what you mean?"

The jonin suddenly got a chilling realization that Sasuke was reminding him more and more of Kakashi, "You know what I mean. Don't be a dick, Chōji is from your village. Do what's necessary, not what's flashy. Naruto has a problem when it comes to that philosophy, apparently. The Crescent Moon techniques aren't about grandeur, they're about efficiency."

Sasuke's smile faded and he nodded solemnly, "Don't worry, sensei. I won't even spark a flame."

"I find that hard to believe." Hayate drolled, "Remember the prelims?"

"I'm serious." Sasuke bowed his head slightly and spoke in barely a whisper, "You've both taught me so much about kenjutsu. About myself. I'm going to take what I've learned and make you proud, both of you."

Somehow, Hayate knew Sasuke wasn't talking about Kakashi and himself when he said that. He had no time to dwell as Chōji reached the bottom of the stairs and barreled into the arena with all the grace of an Akimichi. He began the fight and disappeared out of the way, watching the Uchiha boy take his stance. He knew, inherently, that wherever Yūgao was, she was smiling.

Sasuke took a taijutsu stance, one of the opening katas of the Dance of the Crescent Moon, but didn't yet draw his sword. Chōji watched him closely, before quickly breezing through hand signs, "Baika no Jutsu (Multi-Size Technique)!"

The Akimichi grew about two sizes around the middle, giving him a rounder appearance, but Sasuke remained where he was. The other genin clearly hesitated, confused, before flicking through more hand signs rapidly, "Nikudan Sensha (Human Bullet Tank)!"

Chōji tucked his limbs in seamlessly, his body taking off at a startlingly fast spin across the moist ground of the arena heading straight towards Sasuke. Right before impact, Sasuke leaped back and adhered his feet to the wall with chakra before leaping down onto the slightly disoriented but now unspinning Chōji. The Uchiha slammed a foot into his back in a powerful flying kick before leaping off the Akimichi and swinging his foot around again quickly, slamming Chōji in the face. The Akimichi wasn't kept down for long, as he repeated his earlier jutsu and nearly doubled his waist size, heading for Sasuke with brute strength.

Narrowly dodging the first, Sasuke smiled and took a wide stance, quickly advancing on his opponent once more. Leaping up into the air, he spun aggressively to block a large fist before punching his foot into the Akimichi's stomach, sending Chōji flying back a few paces before he retreated quickly. Grunting, the larger boy doubled down and ran faster than Sasuke had ever seen him move, swelling up more and more and he ran through hand signs, "Doton: Idō Kabe (Earth Release: Moving Wall)!"

A jagged patch of rock and dirt jutted up from the ground followed by another, bothing rushing towards Sasuke like towering monuments prepared to crush him. They were nearly double his size and spanned so much in width that he could hardly escape either left or right before they were on top of him. Summoning his chakra to his feet and legs, he pushed up and leaped, landing one foot on the first wall and then the other before flipping off, landing on his feet. Behind him, the walls continued going until they crashed into the cement walls of the arena, but Sasuke paid them no mind. Springing forward, going off his early momentum, he spun in a circular motion to avoid Chōji's strong hit before he powered chakra into his legs once more, swinging his foot up harshly to catch the Akimichi under the chin.

Instantly, his opponent was knocked off balance and clearly dazed. Instead of retreating once more, Sasuke swung both of his arms down and knocked the other genin out cold with a double-fisted punch. Skidding to a halt, he landed smoothly and brushed the dirt off his clothes. Hayate appeared in the arena with a smile.

"The winner of this match is Sasuke Uchiha of Konoha."

"Oh man." Ino sighed, deflating, "Well, it lasted longer than we estimated."

Shikamaru nodded sagely, "By a good five minutes."

Tenten just pouted from where she'd moved to the railing to see the fight better, "I thought he'd do the whole wall of flames thing again."

Sakura shook her head, "Sasuke already did flashy in the Prelims, whereas Naruto and I went for quick and efficient. He needs to show the Hokage he can quickly assess and dispose of a target. Meanwhile, we have to do flashy in the Finals to showboat for the council and the civilians to wow visitors from other villages and impress those from our own."

Shikamaru raised his eyebrows, "That's why Naruto was so extravagant about Neji."

Naruto nodded, "We know how to work the system. Ultimately, the Hokage has control of promotions. It helps if the village and council support them, though. It has to be a good balance."

"That's...very wise, actually." Kurenai blinked, "And here I thought Kakashi taught you nothing."

"Pfft, Yamato-sensei instructed us on that." Naruto scoffed, "Kaka-sensei just told us not to kill anyone."

Kakashi sent the blond a withering look while Yamato just smiled sheepishly, a deep blush rising in tanned skin. Sasuke bounded up the stairs, narrowly avoiding Ino and parking himself right between Tenten and Naruto. Sakura watched the Yamanaka, waiting for her to gush, but all she did was speak quietly to Shikamaru before she took off down the stairs silently, heading for the medical tent where they were carrying Chōji off to. The pinkette frowned, looking around in concern to see if anyone else noticed. She'd been the only one.

"Good job!" Naruto smiled mischievously, "You'll need more than that in the final matches, though. For me and Sakura. Or, you know, Gaara."

The redhead glanced up from where he was studying his nails, looking startled, "There are no trees down there. Maybe."

Asuma and Kurenai looked at him weirdly, and the other genin outside of Team 7 blinked in confusion, but Sakura only smiled in satisfaction, "That won't save you."

Tenten smiled, cracking her knuckles as she glanced at Naruto beside her, "Now or never."

He grimaced on the inside, but smiled through it, "Use the Yoake no Hikari well."

"Oh, I will." She grinned, "Reina taught me some epic fire arcs with her."

She patted the sword at her waist, and Naruto raised an eyebrow, "Her?"

"Yes, my sword is a her." Tenten narrowed her eyes, "Problem?"

"Of course not."

He mentally sighed because, really, Reina and Tenten were a match made in summoning heaven. The dhole complimented all of the most...exciting qualities of the young kunoichi, and Tenten truly brought out the destructive side of the already vicious dhole. 

Suddenly, everyone stopped talking and looked behind him. Turning, he saw Tsunade herself approaching them. The crowd of Shinobi parted like the sea opening up for a Kami, allowing her to pass through with ease. She smiled at Team 7 before her eyes landed on Sakura.

"Sakura. I'd like to speak with you before your match. We'll be back in time, don't worry. Follow me." She turned on her heel smoothly with all the regality of a Senju, and Naruto had to hold in a snort. She really loved playing up the whole Konoha royalty thing for the masses. Sakura stood up quickly and scrambled to follow after her, easily keeping up in the wake of her footsteps.

"The third match will now commence." Hayate spoke from below, "The opponents will be Tenten Suzuki of Konoha and Kankurō no Sabaku of Suna. Please come down to the arena."

Tenten wasted no time, leaping from the railing and landing in a graceful crouch, a wolfish smile curling her lips. With the sacred sword tied to her hip and the dark purple and black kimono top and black shorts she now donned, not even mentioning the blood red Uzumaki spiral printed neatly on her back for all to see, she was quite the image. Her arms were taped from under the loose bell sleeves of the kimono top all the way to her wrists with white wrappings, and two senbon stuck neatly out of each of the buns on top of her head. Despite her coloring, she looked like an Uzumaki.

She stood, hand on her hip as she waited for her opponent to show himself. Soon, her expression grew annoyed as she scanned the audience, looking for the puppet user. Naruto knew what she'd find; absolutely nothing.

"Will Kankurō no Sabaku of Suna report to the arena?" Hayate repeated, a single brow raised in annoyance and partial confusion. 

They waited. And waited.

"Kankurō no Sabaku has exactly ten minutes to report to the arena or his match will be forfeit and the winner will automatically be Tenten Suzuki of Konoha."

Naruto saw the upset on Tenten's face and wished it didn't have to be this way. Sasuke slowly reached a hand around and cradled Naruto's arm, the warm weight a comforting gesture.


Looking into the kid's eyes was like a punch in the gut every time she did it. Truly, she bared little to no resemblance to her grandfather, except for maybe their skin. Sakura was perhaps a shade lighter, a golden tan color that wasn't quite as dark as Naruto's olive brown skin. Their eyes were nothing alike, her grandfather's a hooded brown while Sakura's were almond shaped and resembled jade. Obviously, the hair stood out glaringly, too. Both pin straight, yet Sakura's was pink to Hashirama's brown. She wore it in a twisted, braided bun again today, out of her face save for a few bangs that fell over her forehead protector. Yet, when she looked at the girl, all she could see was her grandfather. Despite their differing appearances, their eyes had the same soul in them. Kind, nurturing, healing. A rare sort of person, perhaps, with a loyal heart. 

Her grandfather's necklace rested heavy on her chest.

This felt like Nawaki all over again, like losing Dan once more. Was she damning her last scrap of family? Was she cursing a child to die? No, not a child, a kunoichi. A kunoichi who, along with her teammates, had given Tsunade more hope than she'd dared to have in a long time. She carefully reached and undid the clasp of the necklace, removing it with care. She gestured for Sakura to come forward, and the pinkette did so without hesitation.

"This was my grandfather's necklace." She spoke quietly as she laid it around Sakura's neck, clasping it securely into place, "He used it to augment his own power when using Mokuton. I...for a long while, I believed it was cursed. My fiancé, Dan, died soon after I gave him it. So did my brother, Nawaki. I...believe in you, though. I believe the curse stops now because you are my grandfather's legacy. You hold his power and his spirit, and I believe he would've loved to meet you."

Sakura picked up the pendant of the necklace carefully, before looking at Tsuande with wide eyes, "Are you sure, sensei?"

"Surer than I've been in a long time." The Sannin grinned slightly, "You, brat, defy all my expectations. I'm guessing you'll defy this so-called curse, too, hmm?"

"Of course!" She nodded once, firmly, "Nothing will stop me. I'll show you, sensei, I'll make you proud!"

Tsuande didn't tell her that she already had and instead regarded her closely, "After your bloodline is revealed, you will be under more pressure. You realize this, don't you?"

Sakura shifted on her feet before nodding, "Kaka-sensei told me. People will want me and out of the village."

"You realize, outside of myself, you are the only active Senju shinobi left?" Tsunade raised one slim brow, "Yes, assassinations will be attempted, but many on the council would have you take the Senju name. It would boost Konoha's prestige, just as...discovering Izumi has. Are you prepared to either take the clan name or deal with the pressure?"

"They can't make me do anything I don't want to." Sakura's eyes were cold, but she smiled slightly, "I'd be honored, though, to be a part of your clan. My clan, too, I guess. My parents, well, they'd understand. It's not like I'm the last Haruno around, anyways. My dad's got like ten siblings."

The Sannin smiled, "Well, think about it. Wear his necklace with pride. Kick the Suna jinchūriki's ass, too, cause I've got money on you, brat."

"And there she is." Sakura rolled her eyes, sighing deeply, "You're not good with emotions are you?"

Tsunade just reached out and boxed her ear before pushing her back up the stairs, "Go. I think you know just how soon your match will start. Besides, I've got to deal with the Kazekage. He...asks too many questions."

Sakura disappeared up the stairs swiftly, and Tsunade turned around to return to the Kage's box where she, the Kazekage, Jiraiya, and her sensei all resided along with several ANBU. Kami help her because that Rasa bastard was working on her last nerve.

Orochimaru glared over his facial cover that left only his eyes exposed, looking into the arena with disdain. Tsunade was unexpected, as was Jiraiya. He figured they'd be long gone, back to boozing it up and perving on women in the bathhouses. No, instead Tsunade was the Godaime Hokage. Jiraiya was still here, as well, playing at advisor. Glancing over at Kabuto, disguised as a masked Suna Black Op, he smiled slightly underneath the cloth that hid him from prying eyes. He wore the Kazekage's skin like a robe and, with the subsequent backing of Suna, he would watch Konoha fall today. His teammates wouldn't stop him, nor would his old sensei. They would all fall, slaughtered like sheep, and he would sleep better at night for it.

Eyes raking over the arena, ignoring the silly boastful little girl in the middle, he narrowed his gaze at the other missing genin. Kankurō was nowhere to be found, and he found himself frustrated. That particular child was a pain in the ass. Not for his strength, no, but for the mere fact that he was lazy. He was do-less. It was pathetic, really, and even Temari and Gaara got more accomplished than Kankurō. But no, alas Temari was bested by a mere shadow user and disqualified from the finals. Disappointing, but not all that surprising. None of them were really up to par, except for the blood-lusting jinchūriki. His eyes scanned the shinobi seating carefully, and he caught the distant splotch of red hair. Vibrant and the only shade like it in the whole crowd. As long as Gaara was present, as long as his personal little weapon was here, things would go according to plan. 

Tsuande returned to the box right as Kankurō's absence forfeited his match and the next was called. Hearing the genin summoned next he found himself wanting to chuckle. Gaara and the pathetic faux Senju, it honestly wouldn't be a match. Her blood would paint the arena and soon it would be clear which Sannin shall come out on top.

He looked forward to watching Konoha burn. Maybe he could even pay Anko a little parting visit?

Chapter Text

"The, uh, the fourth match will now commence." Hayate spoke as Tenten begrudgingly retreated up the stairs, "The opponents will be Sakura Haruno of Konoha and Gaara no Sabaku of Suna. Please report to the arena."

Sakura was up out of her seat before Gaara even made to stand, grabbing him by the wrist and tugging the startled genin towards the stairs. Sasuke and Naruto watched as she dragged him to the arena with morbid curiosity, the pinkette not stopping once even as she treated the Jinchūriki like a rag doll. When they reached the arena, she left him on one side before nearly bouncing over to the other. From the corner of his eye, Naruto saw Ino quietly re-enter the stands.

"This should be good," Kakashi muttered, sharing a look with Yamato.

Naruto and Sasuke only grinned.

Hayate called the match, and before anyone could blink Sakura took off towards Gaara with her fist raised. His eyes widened, only just jumping back before her fist impacted the dirt below them. Rocks jutted up out of the ground, flying every which way in the arena, and Sakura caught one of them and used it to leap off of, lunging at Gaara. Sand came out of the gourd, flowing instinctively, grabbing the girl by the leg and flinging her to the other side of the arena. She summoned chakra to her hand as she hit the wall, using it to slow her down until she flipped to her feet, landing in a graceful crouch. 

They stood on either side of the arena, staring each other down before Gaara thrust a hand out and sand came rushing towards her. With nowhere to retreat to, she ran forward and dodged the strands attempting to catch her with the skill only a teammate of an Uzumaki could have. Coming to a rough halt and sliding, she slammed her hands into the ground.

"Doton: Tsuchi Nami no Jutsu (Earth Release: Earth Wave Technique)!"

The entire arena shook even more than her punch had caused, the entire floor rising up and sending bushes and trees flying to the center as they were uprooted. Gaara leaped up, his sand building a platform to support him as he dodged to crashing waves below. If he got caught in that...well, it'd make a meat grinder look pretty. Running from the epicenter, she balanced on the waves as the rushed forward and sent a kunai up through the sand. Gaara dispersed the cloud, landing on the overturned but now still ground, his sand wrapping around him as a shield when more kunai flew at him in rapid fire. Sending the remanents of the sand in his gourd flying at Sakura, creating sharp spikes as it flew through the air, the pinkette smiled.

Everyone in the arena held their breath as she ran through hand seals, the sand fast approaching.

"Mokuton: Mokujōheki (Wood Release: Wood Locking Wall)!"

Busting up from the dirt and flying from the trees that had been uprooted and littered across the arena, the wood slammed together in front of Sakura just as the sand reached her, harmlessly smacking against the great wall that now protected her. 

The entire arena was silent. Whispers rose like a gradual flood until Sakura raised a single hand and wooden tendrils, like whips, rose from the ground and rushed Gaara. The screams of Konoha's citizens were sudden and unexpected, but soon every person from the village was on their feet cheering. Suna's shinobi sat in the stands with those from Oto, dread filling them slowly.

Gaara evaded every tendril with ease, gritting his teeth only slightly when one caught him off guard and broke through his shield, grazing his arm. No blood was seen, though, as the sand fell from his skin before quickly covering it once more. He brought his hands together and sent Sakura a dry look, "Suna Shigure (Sand Drizzle)!"

The sand around him clotted together above, projectiles launching at the kunoichi below and returning to the main cloud once they were dodged. One hit her in the shoulder, the chakra within the particles burning through her clothes and into her skin. She hissed slightly, his chakra still nearly toxic from the bijū that had tainted it directly for years. Still running from the raining toxic sand, she allowed chakra to rise from her stomach and rushed through hand seals and she turned around to face the cloud. Drops rained down on her, burning her skin and eyes, but she maintained her position.

"Suiton: Suidan no Jutsu (Water Release: Water Bullet Technique)!"

Drawing on the moisture around her and simultaneously kneading and changing her own chakra within her, she opened her mouth and released a great wave of water, shooting into the sky and soaking all the sand from Gaara's gourd. She heard the jinchūriki groan loudly in frustration as she twisted her hand, the burns stinging along her skin, and forced the wood to rise once more. Gaara tried to leap out of its path, but it followed him and caught his ankle just as he was about the escape. Tendrils wrapping up his leg, it spun him once before slamming him into the wall and disappearing. He struggled to get up, the armor falling at his feet, completely shattered, as he rose. He chuckled slightly, largely creepy to everyone else, but Sakura saw his eyes were still clear. 

Orochimaru could sense Kabuto raising his hands behind him, silently casting the genjutsu. Outside, among the Konoha citizens, illusory feathers began to fall as people slumped over in their seats. Tsunade was one her feet in a second, watching Suna and Oto ninja begin their attack with vague horror before rounding on him before he could register it. Kabuto had expected it, though, and had a kunai aimed at her throat before she could reach the snake sannin.

"What is the meaning of this?" She growled, Jiraiya rising from his seat behind her as the ANBU showed themselves, "You will explain yourself now!"

He remained silent, merely smiling under his facial cover, and Tsunade's glare became a smile. A smug one, at that. His stomach turned seeing it, memories coming to him unbidden. Tsunade was always the cruelest one of them all, Orochimaru didn't care what anyone said. The woman was downright vindictive.

"Is something wrong Kazekage-sama?" The politeness of her smile was diminished by the sneer in her voice, "Or should I say Orochimaru?"

Their sensei had now risen, standing behind his two students and facing off his third. Orochimaru growled slightly, removing the hat and dropping Rasa's skin like a coat. He saw the disgust in their eyes and laughed, "Tell me, how did you know?"

"Under the right circumstances, anyone squeals." She raised an eyebrow, "I didn't know you'd stoop so low as to kill a supposed ally. I should've guessed."

"Oh, yes. I'm always the one stooping lower." Orochimaru sneered, "You're no saint, Tsunade. After today, Konoha will have fallen, and I'll have my revenge."

Jiraiya blinked, his nose scrunching up, "You literally wore somebody's skin. That's not even the worst thing you've done, either, so I'd say you've gotten pretty low. And, also, revenge for what? Not being elected Hokage? You experimented on children and live people to achieve immortality and try to replicate bloodlines and, when you were caught, you deflected."

"Those experiments were sanctioned by Danzō-"

"Who was not and never will be Hokage!" Tsunade snarled loudly, "Don't you get it?"

Orochimaru nearly glowered, silently slipping a kunai into his hand behind his back, "No, do enlighten me."

"We don't want to kill you, you fucked up bastard." Tsunade suddenly reached out and grabbed Kabuto's arm, knocking the kunai from his hand and twisting the appendage behind his back. A loud snap echoed in the room, and everyone was nearly certain the bone had shattered within his skin, "Enough of you, you worm. Tiger! Take this punk!"

She shoved him hard towards the dark-haired ANBU, the black op stepping out of the way silently as he crashed into the stone wall and smacked his head viciously from the force of Tsunade's shove, knocking him unconscious in an instant. As the ANBU guard collected him and put chakra canceling seals on his wrists before ushering him out, Orochimaru lashed out with the kunai. Jiraiya's pushed the Godaime out of the way, catching the blade with his hand. Blood gushed where the sharp edges met skin, but he still grabbed Orochimaru's arm and refused to let go.

"Enough." The white-haired sannin growled, "You can't defeat both of us and sensei."

"I'm not alone." Orochimaru sneered, jerked his arm back and slipping another kunai into his hand before shoving it into the nearest vulnerable place, which happened to be Jiraiya's shoulder. The sudden shock of the blow made him release the snake Sannin, and Orochimaru slid back and started running through hand signs. He heard his new and improved Sound Four running through the motions behind him as they prepared the barrier.

"Shishienjin (Four Violet Flames Formation)!" The announced as one, a violet wall blocking all entrances and exits it the Kage's viewing room. 

A few ANBU on the outside, including Tiger, ran towards the barrier and tried to push open the door. Flames erupted down an ANBU with a frog mask, causing the kunoichi to stumble back with a cry.

Orochimaru turned, smirking at his old teammates, "Tsunade, would you perhaps enjoy an impromptu family reunion? Kuchiyose: Edo Tensei (Summoning: Impure World Reincarnation)!"

Kakashi growled as he slit the Suna ninja's throat, the rest of his team and Yamato behind him doing the same as they fought to get to the arena. Hayate and the two genin were down there as well as Genma, who'd thrown himself right into the fray as soon as the fighting began. Gaara was visibly going against the Suna shinobi in view of all the Konoha ninja who'd already woken up from the genjutsu, so he was safe for the time being besides his own people trying to kill him. Sakura, meanwhile, was looking to have very few issues, especially as she turned a man's skull to jelly with a single punch.

"Seriously?" Naruto groaned as he slammed another Oto ninja into the ground, the spine snapping on contact, "This is getting tedious!"

Kakashi only heard Sasuke laugh before a sudden whirlwind kicked up behind him, the water in the air condensing in front of their eyes, "Uzuton: Saikuron (Whirlpool Release: Cyclone)!"

Like a miniature bomb, the wind and water combined to form razor sharp, spinning blades. The storm took off like a flash, cutting a bloody path through the Suna and Oto shinobi around them. Some tried to flee, but Sasuke flung kunai at their backs as they ran. Kakashi sighed, looking at Yamato with a long-suffering appearance.

"Monsters?" Yamato questioned, grinning.

The jonin only grunted, tearing out a stray enemy's throat.

They made their way to Sakura and Gaara as the battle waged all around them, Konoha clashing viciously with Suna and Oto. The civilians remained asleep in the stands of the arena, but the ones outside were still awake and vulnerable. 

"Genma, Hayate!" Kakashi barked, gathering the attention of the two jonin, "Leave the arena to us, go make sure the civilians outside are safe! Take Aoba, Raidō, and Anko with you, send at least one of them to the Academy!"

He received two sharp nods and then they were gone through the thick of the fighting. Yamato sighed beside him, annoyed as he knocked two heads together and sent both ninjas spiraling to the ground with the front part of their skulls caved in. Kakashi blinked. Well, he could be marked down as not-so-scared but definitely horny. Sakura stepped forward, sneering, as two Suna ninja approached Naruto from behind. They were stopped with a kunai in each of their throats before she could raise a hand. Karin stood behind them as they fell, gurgling on blood, a single black eyebrow raised. 

"You didn't really think a genjutsu would keep me asleep, did you?" She scoffed at the corpses, "I'm an Uzumaki, try again."

"Kari-, Izumi." The blond hastily corrected, smiling at the raven-haired girl who held two bloody knives like a trophy, "Have you seen Mirai or Tama? Tenten?"

Her eyebrows knitted close together, "No. I was sitting with Mirai but neither of us were affected by the genjutsu. I lost her in the thick of everything, but Tama is still in his seat passed out. Er, he was the last time I checked, at least."

Anxiety knotted Naruto's stomach, and he looked at Kakashi, "Sensei, what should we-?"

A loud explosion rocked the whole stadium, coming from the Kage's box that loomed over the arena overlooking the battleground. 

Sakura's eyes widened, "Tsunade-sensei! Jiraiya, Sandaime-sama, they're all up there!"

"I bet that's where Orochimaru is." Sasuke's eyes narrowed before he looked at Naruto and Sakura, "What should we do?"

Naruto opened his mouth to respond when he heard the shrieking. A loud, desperate wail that froze him in place. 

"Naruto! Itoko! Naru, where are you at?"

The Uzumaki spun around to see Tenten, katana out and Reina at her side, blood smeared around the dhole's snout and caking her bared teeth. The kunoichi was gripping her side, blood spilling out between her fingers as she struggled to fight. He spared only a look to see his teammates nod before he leaped over bodies, hands bloodied as he fought to get to her, biting his thumb and slamming it into the ground along the way.

"What the hell? Can you never summon me at a spa? Maybe a nice resort?"

He ignored the dhole's snark, sending Daiki a side-eyed plea as they ran side by side, "Get Satomi and the pack here now. Follow Sakura, Sasuke, and Gaara. Protect them. Have at least one of the pack on Karin so she doesn't do anything stupid."

Daiki gave him a look, "I'm not leaving your side."

"This isn't a request." Naruto stopped for only a second, his eyes cold and glinting, "It's an order."

The dhole smirked slightly at the look donning his face, "Of course, Uzukage-sama."

Naruto didn't grace him with a response and skidded on the blood-slick ground towards Tenten, blade already out as lightning crackled around him and wind gusted through the arena, kicking up a gale. A white chain snapped out of his chest like a whip, knocking enemies out of his way like they were playthings, the chakra burning through their skin and into bone within seconds. He wasn't about to repeat past mistakes.