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Face Like Thunder

Chapter Text

He heard footsteps coming up the cliffside where he sat, looking out at the rolling waves surrounding Uzushio. He glanced back to see his mother, with her long red hair and deep green eyes, looking at him curiously. Tsubaki Uzumaki wore no hair ornaments like the other women of prestigious clans, not even her shinobi headband holding them back as she let it hang around her neck. It shifted in the wind like a hurricane; he wanted his hair to be that long someday, perhaps. Shima kept his long as well, though he used bells and ribbons to hold it back.

She took a seat beside him, nudging him in the side with her elbow, "Something cought your interest on the horizon, Hiko?"

"No. Just watching." He shrugged slightly, looking at the water sway and shift below him, "The seagulls were fighting over a sandwich earlier."

"How fascinating." She rolled her eyes, "Tenma is asking for you at the tower. I told him I'd come to find you."

"Oji-san?" He finally turned to look at her, eyebrows furrowing, "What's he want?"

She shrugged, "Who knows. Better go find out, though."

He sighed, nodding, and began to stand up. A gentle hand on his arm stopped him.

"Amahiko Uzumaki, I'm you're mother and I know when something is wrong." She smiled mirthfully, "Sit and tell me."

"It's nothing." He insisted, "I was just...thinking."

"About?" She prompted, raising an eyebrow.

"I'm the youngest of eight." 

"Trust me, I'm well aware." She huffed, "What does that have to do with anything?"

"What am I going to do? When I get older?" He asked, frowning, "Am I just a...backup? Not even Plan B but Plan H!"

She looked at him, startled slightly, before laughing, "And where'd you get that foolish idea? Did you come up with it yourself?"

"Everyone always talks about the line of succession and...I'm essentially useless."

"Was my brother useless? Or my sisters?" She questioned, "Tenma is the Uzukage. Kaiyo has revolutionized medical practices, saving countless lives. Hikaru...well...let's just say she's the best at what she does."

Torture and interrogation, that is, Amahiko thought with a shiver. Hikaru was a very kind woman off the clock, but she was legendary in her department.

"I guess. I'm just a chūnin, though." He sighed, "It feels like it's taking forever!"

"You're eight years old." She snorted, "Hells, you're just like your father. You realize you nearly beat Nanami and her promotion age of seven, right? Besides, we're all chūnin at some point. Even Tenma, and he's the Uzukage now."

"Hard to believe he was a chūnin, I guess." Amahiko shrugged, "Or you."

"Yeah, well, you want to know something about my dearest brother? His first mission after his promotion, an enemy nin startled him so badly in an ambush that, while he was trying to protect their very rich client, he shoved her into a pond."

He shot her a skeptical look, "You're joking."

She crossed her heart, "By the Sage. He jumped in after her and came out with a koi in his pants."

He burst into laughter, giggling even more as she tickled his neck, "Kaa-san, I'm a chūnin! I'm not a kid anymore, you can't do that!"

"Ah, but you're still laughing." She said in a faux wise voice, "So I think I can. Now, hightail it to my brother before he comes looking for you himself."

"Okay." He nodded, still smiling, "I'll see you later!"

He made to run off before halting and turning back. He grinned broadly, "Maybe I'll become the Uzukage!"

"Where'd you get all that ambition?" She rolled her eyes, "You know what, do it. Tenma's getting tired of the paperwork and I'm scared he'll ask me to take the hat."

"Of course, kaa-san." Amahiko shook his head, "Only for you."

"Uh-huh." She stood, brushing the dirt off her purple kimono, "Bring home some eggs on your way back, by the way. We're nearly out."

"Got it!" He said as he took off, running for the gates of the Uzumaki estate. 

As he enters the village, he sees the golden rooftops shining in the morning sun, casting a brilliant orange glow around the village. He tastes the salt in the air and can feel the sun-bleached stone of the buildings he weaves between. His feet pound on the intricate tile and stone floors as the wind blows red strands of hair this way and that. The streets are alive with vendors selling their wares, civilians going to work for the day, shinobi waking up to start their usual routine of missions. Many waved as he passed, recognizing the son of Tsubaki Uzumaki. He could see many of his fellow clansmen around, which was unsurprising. He couldn't go anywhere without seeing at least one distant relative. They were the largest clan in Uzushio after all, not to mention the founding clan, and only the Mizushima came close to beating them in sheer numbers. 

The early Uzumaki had risen the cliffs from which their village was built from the seafloor, creating a strong foundation for one of the strongest villages in the Elemental Nations. Located just off the coast of the Land of Whirlpools, their homeland was known for seals and longevity and a carefree lifestyle that had civilians and shinobi alike flocking to their beaches. The Uzumaki had always remained the strongest clan on the island, though. Their sheer numbers and long lifespans meant they just stuck around longer; there was the main branch, which Amahiko himself was the youngest child of so far, and then multiple branch families. He didn't pity Nanami, the heiress of the Uzumaki Clan, with her having to memorize the delegates that represented each one.  

He entered Uzukage Tower with a spring in his step, bypassing the secretary who greeted him with a wave and a smile. He rushed up the spiral staircases and reached the top floor, bursting into his uncle's office with a large smile on his face. Tenma, a man of thirty-nine, sat behind his desk with the traditional white and orange garb on, nearly hidden behind the mountain of paperwork he was slowly drilling through. The office was large and spacious, windows lining the walls so it was just a three hundred and sixty-degree view of Uzushio beside the doors to enter and exit the office. Bookcases obscured some of the view, scrolls and tomes packing them with Tenma's own research. 

"Hiko-hime, why such a grand entrance?" He raised an eyebrow, having observed his nephew's boisterous behavior.

"I decided I'm going to be the Uzukage after you." Amahiko smiled, "I'll be the Yondaime!"

"Gee, thanks for letting me know, that solves so many problems." His uncle chuckled, "Well, it's hard work, but if you think you're up to the challenge..."

"Of course I am!" The boy seemed insulted, "I have to work harder than ever. I'm the eighth child, I'll be totally forgotten otherwise!"

"Well, then, I guess it's good timing." Tenma laughed, "Kid, all your brothers' and sisters' had a sensei or two. I know you had your jōnin 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 shinobi, 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." Tenma smiled, "Your mom wants you trained with someone who's a high caliber ninja, and she was going to ask Hikaru, 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 little sister but...well."

The chūnin shivered, "Thanks, oji-san."

"So, lemme tell you something upfront. I've been watching you, and I think you have some potential. I'm helping you because you're my nephew, it's true, and you're good for a chūnin. 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 go get some grocery shopping done for kaa-san, 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 average, he'd be more than just the eighth child. He'd be the Uzukage. Feeling the wind on his cheeks and the energy coursing through his veins, everything was okay at 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 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. He waited for the smoke to clear what came out of his efforts made him deflate all at once. The clones were just 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 absolutely no artistic talent. Even the 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 in a mixture of anger and resignation. However, Iruka-sensei's expression hurt him even more. Disappointment filled his eyes as he looked at Naruto with sadness and pity.

He hated pity. He'd always hated pity. The villagers that weren't angry at him, the ones that didn't hate him, they always ended up at pity.  Naruto looked at Iruka-sensei and tried to ignore the conflicting emotions welling up in the pit of his stomach. 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, though."

Biting his lip, the blonde boy nodded before rushing out, leaving the room and trying to ignore the condemning eyes of his classmates as he left outside. Soon all the exams were over, and Naruto stared at the patchy grass 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."

"As I said, serves it right after-"

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

His shoulders slumped further, hearing the whispers of the civilian mothers as he sat in the shadows on the swing right in front of the academy. He wasn't stupid, he knew that much. It was just so hard to focus, especially since he was pretty bored the majority of the time. He was good at history, outside of remembering specific dates, which was pretty much the only part of history the academy cared about. He knew the intricacies of his chakra pathways, but Kami forbid you ask him to dumb the answer down enough to fit in a sentence. He could even create seals, tracing kanji and symbols into the wood of his desk when he grew disinterested. Sadly, the academy cared very little about fūinjutsu outside of it being a footnote of the past.

He didn't really care to do well most of the time, anyways. He wanted to be outside, running around, pulling pranks and causing mischief. Anything else when the alternative was being trapped behind a desk for eight hours.  Now, after all those years stuck in the academy wishing that he could just become a genin already and escape, he would never be what he was meant to be. He would never be more than the demon kid people snickered about. He wanted to be more, though, he wanted it with every fiber in his body.

He closed his eyes, ignoring the spike of chakra that happened in reaction to his grief and tried to reign his emotions in. All the glares, the rotten food he got sold, the fact that his birthday happens to be the day the village mourns from the Kyūbi attack, coupled with the fact that he'd seen the seal on his stomach...well, Naruto could put two and two together. Now he'd never have a chance to rise above that, to prove he was more. He had the knowledge for so much, he just didn't know how to apply it in real-life situations. Which, in hindsight, was almost as bad as not having it at all.

Hands tightening around the ropes of the swingset when he sensed another person grow closer, Naruto looked up to see Mizuki-sensei coming towards him with an alarmingly kind smile on his face. Mizuki had always hated Naruto, the blond boy could tell, despite the thinly veiled attempts on the academy teacher'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 borderline annoyed 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 already know of a way to graduate despite failing your exams, I'd say this is new information." At the boy's confused 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. Something stopped him, though. He wanted to be a ninja, he wanted to prove people wrong. If he was going to be something more, he needed to be a genin. So he controlled his racing heart and kept his urges to flee locked away and stared Mizuki down, raising his eyebrows and silently prompting the man to continue.

The chūnin was unnerved by the boy's silent stare, his blue eyes intense, but the teacher 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 manage to do this and meet me in the forest surrounding the residence with the scroll as proof, 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 some 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. Cat had even sometimes brought him toys. Now there were no ANBU agents and Naruto spent most of his time alone with his ramen and fantasies. 

"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."

He knew he shouldn't do it. This was shady shit at best, traitorous at worst. He shook it off as Mizuki left and began to plan on how to sneak into the Hokage Residency. It wouldn't be the first time he's ever done it, at least. He once set off a paint bomb in Jiji's private office; it had been funny until he had to be the one to clean it up. Still, he knew how to get in. After sneaking past the jonin guards and while the ANBU were changing stations, which was a pain in the ass to do because they were constantly changing stations, he snuck in.

In the pitch-black night, the moon hung shallowly in the sky and provided sparse lighting as Naruto lugged the huge 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, Naruto felt, far too easy. 

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, determined, and looked at the first jutsu on the list. Kage Bunshin no Jutsu (Shadow Clone Technique) was written, and it actually sounded decently easy. Horse, rat, monkey, ram; that was it, only four hand seals, so simple. He ran through them in seconds, fingers flying as they went through the motions he knew by heart. He felt a large amount of chakra be expelled, though still only a drop in his reserves. Beside him stood a perfect copy of himself, staring back at him. 

That's better, he thought, it uses a lot more chakra. Essentially, he had the shitiest chakra control ever due to the sheer amount of it. A wave of exhilaration washed over him, followed by bubbling curiosity. He dispelled the clone, returning to the scroll quickly. He ran his fingers over the lines of kanji, eyes darting through the mass amount of information.

He finally paused, seeing something far too familiar. The Eight Trigrams, an exact copy of the seal on his naval. The seal that was used to hold the Kyūbi inside him. A jinchūriki, the word came to him unbidden, that's what he was. That's also why people hated him. He frowned, eyebrows furrowing as he remembers the story that was preached at the academy and all over Konoha. The Yondaime Hokage defeated the demon fox and vanquished it permanently. What a load of bullshit. More like the Yondaime decided it would be cool to seal the demon into a random baby.

His opinion of both the village and the Hokage now slightly diminished, he sat on the ground and rolled the seal back up. H could make a clone now and it was drawing close to an hour being up, so he only had to wait for Mizuki to get there. He still had a bad feeling about that, reason telling him something was wrong and he was probably in huge 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's all over now, Naruto."

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

"What am I doing here?" Iruka seemed incredulous, "Naruto, you stole the forbidden scroll. 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 technically passed the test. I can make a clone now. Turns out I have too much chakra for the regular ones, I was just gonna explain it to Mizuki-sensei when he got here. Turns out you got here first. You're quick, huh, sensei?"

"Test?" Iruka said, confusion clouding his face, "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!"

Iruka grabbed him by the arm, but the snapping of leaves and branches had them both freezing. 

"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 look, "Stop lying this instant, Mizuki! What are you thinking?"

"Come on, Naruto." The man was fiddling with the kunai in his hand, and when Iruka moved to flee with Naruto and the scroll, he threw it right at the academy teacher.

Iruka didn't see it coming, Naruto realized. Too focused on getting them both to safety, he didn't realize it was sailing right towards his neck. Naruto shoved him down on instinct, ducking out of the kunai's path himself. He held tight to the scroll as Iruka sat up, the man confused until he noticed the blade sticking out of the tree right behind him.

"Oh, how pathetic." Mizuki sneered, "You need the dead last to save you, Iruka?" 

Traitor. The thought made him angry despite the fact that he was scared, his heart beating way too fast, and yet his blood was also boiling. He was 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.

("Yuudai, you don't want to do this!"

He was knee-deep in mud, a naginata supporting him as he leaned on it, trying to catch his breath. He'd been fighting for days now, exhaustion weighing him down like a stone. 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 no idea how to use it. The Sandaime 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 given you?"

"I'm sure you do what's best for the village, in your opinion." Yuudai stilled, his face going grim, "You have so much strength, I always admired it, but so little ambition. You're running Uzushio into the ground! We should stand against our enemies, now cower before them!"

"War is not the answer! You disagree with how I run the village 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! They were your friends! 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, and then I'm going to raise it up once more to be something better! The Uzumaki clan has reigned for too long, don't you agree? I think it's time for a shift in power!"

Yuudai ran at him as he struggled to stand, katana in hand and fighting to kill.)

He pulled himself from the thoughts as Iruka grabbed him and pushed him behind his back to shield him. Naruto watched in a daze as Mizuki jumped from the tree branch and began to stalk 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?"

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 relying on a child to save him." Mizuki shot Iruka a loathing look, and Naruto had 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 Kyūbi 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 released him, looking back at him to beg, "Go now! Tell the ANBU and the Hokage to come immediately!"

"Why are you still protecting him?" Mizuki grabbed the Fūma Shuriken off his back, the huge blade dwarfing his hand easily, "He's a demon! He killed your own parents!"

(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, and to see my homeland once more. You are now the Yondaime 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), or 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 the wife of the Shodai Hokage, and most importantly she was a force of nature in battle. Sure, he was a fūinjutsu 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.)

"You're wrong, you know." Naruto snapped, interrupting Mizuki's rant, "I'm not the Kyūbi!"

Mizuki scoffed, "The demon is in denial. How cute."

"No, I'm not." The blond insisted, "That's not even how seals work, you ignorant shit! A storage scroll doesn't become a kunai, just like a jinchūriki isn't a demon! Would you say the Shodai's wife was a demon? No! So why am I?"

Mizuki and Iruka both looked stupefied, blinking at him with wide eyes. Naruto moved before the could react, holding the scroll in one hand and jerking the kunai out of the tree behind him with his other. He threw it at Mizuki, watching it land bone deep in his shoulder. He smiled, satisfied, when he heard the scream that escaped the man. Mizuki tossed the Fūma Shuriken blindly, and this time Iruka was shoving Naruto out of the way.

He heard the chūnin grunt in pain as he hovered above him. The giant weapon had struck him in the back before falling out due to the sheer size, making blood drip in a steady stream down to the forest floor. Instincts took over and he scrambled out from under his sensei, blood boiling when he saw the man collapse down onto his hands before struggling to sit up. Naruto turned his gaze on Mizuki, and he felt a sick sort of pleasure curl in his gut when the man froze under his eyes, hand still gripping his bleeding shoulder. 

"You aren't going to hurt Iruka-sensei anymore, traitor." He spat the last word with venom, "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 behind him. 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. He could taste the salty air and he could almost see a woman, red hair flowing loosely in the breeze as she sat beside him on the edge of the cliffs, 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, they formed sharp spikes 

"Suiton: Ōshandagā (Water Release: Ocean Daggers)." Naruto whispered as he thrust his hands forward, watching in solemn silence as Mizuki was thrown back by the force of the jutsu, the chakra enforced water piercing him right through his stomach. He was l eft in a huge puddle, crumpled on the ground and silent, and 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 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."

His 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, he had to fight to stop tears from forming.

"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. I know what you said, but still, you need to hear this. No matter what that filth said, or what the villagers say, you are not-!"

"A demon." His tone was sardonic, "I'm aware."

Iruka seemed lost, "How did you even find out?"

"Well, everyone hates me and my birthday just-so-happens to be the day a literal demon attacked Konoha. When you look at my seal, it's not hard to form a pretty basic picture." Naruto admitted, "I know my clan, too. Mito Uzumaki was literally the first jinchūriki ever. It just makes sense."

Letting out an only slightly pained laugh, Iruka pulled the boy into a tight hug, "You're smarter than you get credit for. 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, 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 chūnin only ten months after their graduation, and making jōnin 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; 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 fūinjutsu 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 Sandaime 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 sighed 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 fūinjutsu into the desk. One day he was going to walk into a shop and buy some parchment and ink without getting kicked out. Maybe shinobi specialty shops would allow him to buy stuff? He could only hope. He ignored the disgruntled side-eye Sasuke was giving him and continued his drawing. Damn, he really wanted some ink. 

"Next, Team 7 will consist of Uzumaki Naruto," The genin's head finally popped up and paid attention when Iruka announced his name, "Haruno Sakura-"

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

Iruka narrowed his eyes at the girl, "Team 7 will consist of Uzumaki Naruto, Haruno Sakura, and Uchiha Sasuke. Your jōnin instructor will be Hatake Kakashi."

She perked up considerably, and this time the screech 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 the air, "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, now grow up and act like it!"

Instantly quiet, the class stared straight ahead in fear of angering their former sensei even more, "Now, Team 8 will consist of Inuzuka Kiba, Hyuuga Hinata, and Aburame Shino. Your jōnin 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 had Sakura 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. He had a schoolboy crush, he knew, and shinobi training wasn't the time or place for it.

It all felt so wrong, honestly, both of his teammates did. None of them 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 well enough, but she blew him off all the time and punched him a lot. Trying to hide his discomfort, he closed his eyes and focused on anything other than team assignments. Konoha was bustling outside the academy, he could feel the dull civilian chakra signatures moving around as they went through their daily routines. The shinobi were easily singled out; even Sakura, with her nearly non-existent reserves, had more potent chakra than a civilian.

He made a game of seeing how far he could reach his senses out sometimes, but he'd yet to find the limit. He wasn't even sure how far he'd gone sometimes, but he'd made it past the thick forests that surround Konoha and into other towns.

("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, Amahiko's mother was given quite a bit of 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 muted blue color. Amahiko glanced at them in passing, before noticing the man that stood to hide 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 she and Akane's mother shared an eye roll.

"I told you it would be impossible to hide from him." She watched them as his father swung him around in the hug, "He's too perceptive."

"Just right for a ninja, then." His father sat him back on the ground before ruffling his hair up. Amahiko quickly reached up and patted the long strands down, giving his dad the evil eye.

Ryota Mori-Uzumaki was a tall man, taller than even his wife, and had a charming smile ever-present on his face. Black hair and tanned skin with rich brown eyes, he looked nothing like his eight red-haired children and fiery lover. From no prominent clan, the child of two civilians with no shinobi background that hailed from Kumo, it amazed most when they find out he married Tsubaki Uzumaki, clan head and a 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 and I'm not about to start now!")

Naruto was still 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 back 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 jōnin 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 after a quick apology to his former students. 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 an almost comatose like state. Reliving fake memories in his head, he was none the wiser to the Uchiha looking at him with suspicion. Finally, the door slammed open 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 snapped to attention, turning his attention to his new sensei, and forced a big smile. Sakura simply frowned at the man but refrained from speaking a word, and Sasuke just sneered at the jōnin.

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 frowned before her lips pursed 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 girls."

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

Amahiko blinked, "Glue?"

"No..." Raiden looked at her, slightly confused, "Do you mean, like, a safety rope or something?"

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

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

Naruto shook himself slightly. He debated whether he could trust the information. He never recalled being told anything like that before, but then again no one really told the orphan anything of use. The water jutsu from earlier had worked just fine, hadn't it? As long as he didn't use too much chakra 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 as he tried to channel chakra to the soles of his feet. Feeling his foot suction to the side of the building, he carefully planted the other foot firmly like second nature.

He finally reached the top, a nervous sweat working itself up as he practically threw himself onto 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 blond saw his sensei blink, shocked, before checking a timer and giving him a slight eye smile.

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

He looked up from where he was 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 jōnin as a child while he himself was still in ANBU. It would make sense. Shrugging, he returned to his book and waited for Sakura and Sasuke to burst through the roof door. After a few minutes, 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 ground. 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 for wear than Sasuke, face red and expression screaming exhaustion and anger.

"At least...we beat Naruto, Sasuke-kun!" She smiled widely but 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, eyes narrowing, "I didn't even do anything!"

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

"No, I didn't!" Naruto snapped, 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 yell before remembering this was her sensei and reigning herself back in, "Of course, sensei."

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

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

"Likes, dislikes, hobbies, dreams for the future. Things like that." Kakashi closed his book and put it in his pocket, looking at them all expectantly.

"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."

"Alright, blondie. You're up." The silver-haired jōnin interrupted the oncoming fit.

"I'm Uzumaki Naruto!" The blonde smiled brightly, "I like ramen and the ocean! I dislike...well, traitors, I guess. That and however long it takes ramen to cook. My hobbies are training and fūinjutsu, I guess reading, too, when the librarian doesn't kick me out. My dreams for the future are to become the strongest Hokage ever and to protect the village no matter what! Speaking of all 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? He was also slightly concerned about the traitor comment which he could only assume came from the Mizuki incident. Maybe the encounter had affected Naruto more than they thought, as concerning as the prospect was. And hold on, fūinjutsu? It was probably hereditary, Kakashi thought, mentally laughing. With him being an Uzumaki, it wouldn't be surprising.

He was vaguely miffed about the librarian comment, too. Maybe there's a reason the kid was dead last and it had less to do with lack of motivation and more to do with the fact that he's an orphan and no one would let him study. Where else would he get the information? Kakashi, unknown to his new students, squirmed in guilt for a second.

"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 in anything and everything."

"Your dislikes?" Naruto asked, peeking 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, "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 Naruto 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. 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 back to haunt him in real life.

He removed his headband, looking down at the dark blue strap. He had a preference for black, and maybe a longer tie so it didn't have to be on his head all the time. The weight resting on his forehead was annoying and distracting, but he'd seen ninja wear their hitai-ate along their arms or wrapped around their waist before. Maybe a shinobi-exclusive shop would have one, he wondered as he walked through the civilian district. A few vendors tossed him glares and women shot him nasty looks as they came out from grocery shopping, but he didn't pay them any mind. He cut through to any ally, climbing the wall of a store and hopping roof to roof before he reached the shinobi district, where most ninjas lived and shopped.

He avoided the nasty glares and, honestly, he really likes being on the rooftops. It felt freeing, in a way, and he liked the breeze blowing on his face.

He leaped down from a store's roof, turning sharply when he heard a loud sigh. A girl that looked about his age was looking at him skeptically.

"I thought I heard something on the roof." She glanced up, "It's usually only the jōnin hopping around like that."

Naruto shrugged, "I didn't want to take the long way."

He glanced behind her at the shop with weapons and seals hanging in the windows and glanced up at the sky that was slowly turning darker with the sunset.

"Is your store still open?"

"Yeah, you can come in if you like. Are you a new genin?" She glanced at the headband in his hand as she held the door open for him.

Nodding, he flashed the metal plate with Konoha's symbol, "We just got our team assignments today."

"It's good fun, trust me." She smiled mischievously as she went to stand behind the counter, "I've been in my team for about a year now."

"Really?" He laughed, "You must get along with your teammates better than I do with mine."

"Nah, I mostly annoy the shit out of one and the other annoys the shit out of me." She shrugged, "I'm Tenten, by the way. Suzuki Tenten."

"Uzumaki Naruto." He gave a half-hearted nod, too focused on looking at the shiny kunai and shuriken to invest much in the conversation.

"My dad handmakes those. He's a blacksmith." She said, leaning her arms against the counter, "I can attest to the quality. They're also cheaper than the flimsy ones at civilian stores."

"I like cheaper," Naruto muttered.

Between having to pay for overpriced groceries and rent on his apartment with the meager pension he got from the Hokage, he was strapped for money almost always. They might have to sell him food or risk him telling Jiji, but they didn't have to sell him the good stuff and they didn't have to make it cheap. It's why he usually just bought ramen anyways; it lasted forever and didn't rot.  

He kept browsing, reaching the back where there were clothing and weapons galore. His eyes were drawn to the gorgeous katanas and other various weapons clearly made with details in mind. Specifically, a set of twin nagamaki that were made with chakra blades that allowed elemental control with the swords. The dual nagamaki had specially long handles and equally long, heavy blades that provided high powered cuts. They were imposing weapons, and taller than he was at this point. The handles were wrapped in deep red silk cords and the guard and collar of the swords were golden. They were made for adults, so they were a smidge too large for him, but he was sure he'd grow into being able to weight them. 

He looked at the price tag attached to them and cringed. It costed a lot more than he had with him today. Even if he pulled all his savings out from under his bed, he'd still be short. Maybe later, after he'd been paid for a few D-rank missions and had some more ryō in his wallet. He glanced down at himself...maybe clothing should also be a concern in the near future. He loved orange, it reminded him of sunsets and the color of koi in ponds, and the jumpsuits were also the cheapest clothing he could get stores to actually sell him. However, it wasn't the most inconspicuous color in the world, and before he went on his first C-rank, he should probably pick up a new style that better suited his job description.

For now, though, he grabbed the black hitai-ate waistbelt and some scrolls and ink off a stand by the shuriken and went to pay. It rid him of over half the ryō he had on him, and he swore wistfully he'd be back for those nagamaki. 

Tenten smiled at him as she passed him the bag with his items in it, "Here you go. Thanks for your purchase. By the way, if you ever want to train with someone...energetic, you can always stop by Training Ground 3 in the mornings. Our sensei would be happy to have you."

He doubted that but nodded anyway, "Yeah, sure. I'll keep it in mind. Thanks!"

When he finally reached his apartment, he wrenched open the door and immediately passed out on the bed. He had hardly gotten sleep since the encounter with Mizuki, 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. The promise of a lifetime, I swear.")

Chapter Text

("Tenma said you're doing well." Tsubaki smiled, looking down at her son as Amahiko looked over his notes, "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."

His mother 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 already knew, didn't you?"

"Yes." Tsubaki frowned slightly, "Tenma already briefed the clan heads. The first one ended not long ago. So soon a second is predicted?"

Amahiko looked up at her with grim eyes, "That's what he and the council are preparing for."

The red-headed woman sighed, "Kiri grows more jealous of our power as time goes on. Enough of that talk, though. What's this you're working on? Looks like something Hikaru would have a field day with."

Amahiko smiled slightly before looking at his work again, "Tenma-sensei said the same thing, you know. I just want to figure these seals out, and soon. I think they could help if another war is to come."

Looking closer at the symbols written on 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 a while 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. Their 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 Kakashi had told them to be at the training ground so early. When 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 awake, "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, he though before he could stop himself, wincing with guilt afterward. It wasn't the nicest thing to think, but it was true. He was pretty sure if she kept yelling at him like that, he'd need to invest in some high grade earplugs. 

"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 will last? After how late he was yesterday, I'll take my chances with puking over having an empty stomach for hours on end."

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

Naruto shrugged before sitting beside her, nodding at the bag that looked full to bursting, "What's in there?"

"My parents went all out as a graduation present." She laughed, "I don't think they even knew what they were buying."

She opened it up and tilted it to the side so Naruto could see the inside. Sure enough, there was a hell of a lot of stuff in there. Kunai, shuriken, scrolls, ink, and even an 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 the concept of a jinchūriki and feared what was different, and as a result, they hated what they feared.

The returned to an amicable silence after that, waiting for both Sasuke and Kakashi. He played around with some ideas swirling around in his head, just itching to get home and break out the new ink and scrolls he'd purchased the night before. Mentally tracing out the dark lines of ink, he recreated the shockingly crisp 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 so wrapped up in his thoughts that the sudden shrill scream 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's neon 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, as she was soon up and glued to his side as always.

Embarrassing behavior. Akane would never dream of acting like that. Naruto blinked at the thought, sighing and leaning his head back against the tree he leaned against. Hallucinations 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 didn't end up being two hours late. He ended up being four hours late. The jōnin 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 rising 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 jōnin as a sensei? Never, as far as he knew. Jiji had taught the sannin, that he was certain, and every genin team he had ever seen running around the village doing D-ranks had three genin grouped together. Naruto decided Kakashi was totally bullshitting them. If he's learned one thing over the years, it's that he might be going crazy but his common sense was still pretty much spot on.

Kakashi, meanwhile, 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 jōnin wondered if Naruto had actually figured out the plan, and why the orange wearing eyesore 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 through 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 jōnin was curious if that was the first time she'd ever run away from him on purpose. Naruto, however, stood in place, looking at Kakashi with calculating eyes. A little too calculating in the silver-haired nin's opinion. 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, the cover depicting a half-naked woman hanging off a muscular man. In the corner it indicated it was for adults only, making her three students 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 shiny new kunai out of his pouch with strings tied to the end of each. He breezed through a few wind signs before clapping his hands together in a resounding smack.

"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. With a swift and firm tug, they came sailing back towards Naruto, who caught them with ease. Blinking slightly in shock, Kakashi felt the boy's chakra signature flee from behind him and when he turned around the blond boy had already fled without a trace. If Kakashi wasn't good at sensing chakra, he'd 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 later about the files they kept on the students, and maybe he'd ask who the hell wrote them because fuck those things were inaccurate. 

Meanwhile, Naruto sprinted into the forest as soon as Kakashi had turned his back. When he felt he was alone, he began to form some semblance of a plan. He knew he had to find Sasuke and Sakura soon so they could attack together. The bells had to be a bluff to try and split them up so they had less of a chance at success. 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 or something, 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, 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 shrugged, "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 part?"

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 his hands forward, "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. Sakura threw the kunai and shuriken into the flames at the last spot she had seen Kakashi, and the three genin then stood waiting for the flames to clear over the man. When everything died down, Kakashi looked relatively unharmed, he was a jōnin 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 jōnin before looking back and nodding. 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 easy to miss, Naruto?"

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

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

Kakashi blinked, losing all semblance of brain function for a moment, before he looked back at Naruto, "Giving up your 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 jōnin 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 fireball jutsu and Naruto has a wind release. Who knew?"

Everyone in the room winced.

Chapter Text

It had been a hell of a long day, but that didn't stop Naruto from getting to work as soon as he stepped foot in his apartment.

He 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 of the details, he ensured he had enough specialized ink made for skin before he began. Stripping off his pajama top, he began at the top of his shoulder and wrote the kanji for fire.

Hours later he was still following the detailed plan he had made, using it as 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 and brushing the edges of his right pectoral. 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 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 right before he 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. He bolted upright, jumping to his feet as his eyes immediately 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 the woman. She had died before he was born. He had never met any of the fox's previous containers, for that matter. Taking a breath in through his nose and out through his mouth, he tried to calm his racing pulse. It was getting worse, a lot worse. How soon did he have before he completely lost his mind? 

"Losing 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 ensuring 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 bijū! I can level villages, kill thousands in an instant!"

"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 with the Kyūbi 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. A quick shock to his system would be enough for a temporary loss of consciousness, but he felt better already so he must be getting used to the chakra being stored and converted. What a useless conversation, though, he thought as he stood. 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, just-barely-pubescent voice. Glancing at the clock, he saw it was only nine in the morning. He sighed as he realized he had spent his entire night slumped over in a chair. He only had five hours until practice at two, and he decided to do some research. Maybe the fox's nonsense would become clear if he could find a book on the Uzumaki? At the very least something about the previous jinchūriki of the Kyūbi. He threw on his jumpsuit and ran out the door, hoping beyond hope he could sneak past the librarian to get into the shinobi section of the building. It wasn't that as a genin he didn't have clearance; no, the librarian just hated his guts. 

He quietly walked into the building, really wishing he had some more inconspicuous clothing than a neon orange jumpsuit. However, when he went to creep by the desk, he stopped short.

"Who are you?" He asked the young woman sitting in front of a computer, popping bubbles with gum in a nonchalant way, "Where's Kokona-san?"

The old crone who acted as the librarian ruined a lot of his ambition as a child; any time he'd come looking for information about something or another from the academy, she'd toss him it. With her grey hair pulled back so tight into a bun Naruto thought her face would peel off and her too-large glasses that made it look like she had bug eyes, her face haunted him in his nightmares. She had used to tell him she wouldn't service his kind, and he always thought she meant poor street urchins with no parents. No, turns out she meant demon containers, but that didn't really matter.

"She got fired. Not sure why." The girl shrugged, typing away without looking at him, "She was a bitch, though."

He had to agree. 

"Going to the shinobi section." He said, tapping his hitai-ate he had wrapped around his waist, "See you."

"Yeah, yeah." She yawned, "Have fun, genin."

Wandering past the civilian section, he headed towards the parts of the library that required ninja clearance. Smiling slightly at his ease of entry, Naruto zipped straight for the clan section and searched 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 Sandaime, The Fall of Uzushio, The Nidaime: Sayua Uzumaki, The Beginning of Uzushio and the History of Ashina Uzumaki, Sukāretto Shi: Tenma Uzumaki, Ashina Uzumaki: Uzu no Densetsu, The Yondaime Uzukage: Amahiko Uzumaki, The Survivors of the Fall of Uzushio.

Snatching the books, Naruto looked at them with wide eyes. The Yondaime Uzukage? The Fall of Uzushio? Going to one of the tables in the back corner, Naruto opened the one penned about Amahiko Uzumaki. On the first page was a portrait drawn of the man in sleek shinobi clothing, oranges and reds popping out slightly amongst the black. Deep red hair, brown eyes, tanned skin. His hair was long; it reached just past his chest even pulled up with hair sticks that had small ornaments dangling from them. 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 woman still popping her gum.

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, Yondaime Uzukage of Uzushio until the destruction of the village just before the beginning of the Second Shinobi World War. The younger brother of Nanami, Ichiro, Fuji, Katsuro, Hanako, Shima, and Umi Uzumaki. The 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 his twin, 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 this mess of gore could even be called Uzushio 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 had 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 branch Uzumaki family 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.

His eyes stung as 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, slaughtered like animals while they struggled to survive. 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 he saw the tears drip onto the thin paper.

Chapter Text

(Mirai smiled, 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. Chuckling a bit as his elder brother was blown back by one of Nami's wind jutsu, the newly dubbed Yondaime 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 I'll show you some katas later, 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. Not to mention she has all your ambition to boot."

"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 bouncing, "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 time left 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 the girl who'd worked at the weapons store 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 glanced away for a short moment, prepared to continue walking, when he heard a loud shout of his name.

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

Blinking, wide-eyed, the blond realized the mini-me had spotted him looking. Smiling and 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, Tenten was her name, 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, "You already know me, though."

"Yeah." He returned her grin, mood-brightening, "Thanks for letting me in your store."

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." Tenten 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 to 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, "As I said, I should go now. Sorry for interrupting!"

"Hey, Naruto!" Tenten yelled as he walked away, "My mom and dad will be back in a couple of months with some wicked stuff from the Land of Noodles! Remember to stop by later!"

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.

1 Month Later...

Naruto sighed slightly, crouched in the bushes and wound 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 month as a team? Suddenly he longed for the days Kakashi actually trained them instead of doing missions. He would even accept tree walking at ass o'clock in the morning 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 in 3, 2, 1-!"

Sakura shot out of the bushes with Naruto, both gripping the net tightly as they threw themselves onto the ground, trapping the cat in-between their two bodies and the net. Tora hissed, claws shooting out the scratch Sakura's arm, making her scream. Naruto held on tighter, squishing the cat down with the net to avoid any flying claws, and Sasuke rushed forwards with rope. The cat screeched and hissed as Sasuke tied the rope in a knot, sealing the net closed. Naruto held the bundle of hissing 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, a month 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, "Shadow 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 that resulted in them singed and tattered, they got the hang of it. Sakura has gone through more dresses than she ever thought she would in her entire life. There are just some things clothing can't come back from, and being lit on fire and torn to shreds 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 their first week as a team to see what level they were on, the pink haired girl realized she was behind physically. Devastatingly so, actually. So when Kakashi recommended she look into medical jutsu, as it would complement her 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. Once a few weeks ago she'd asked him to go grocery shopping with her when Sasuke declined, but the shop owner wouldn't even let him in. Since then she had begun 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 about what habits he had picked up. It was silly, maybe, but ever since he seemed to drop his crush on her like a hot potato once they'd been placed on a team together, 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 right 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 him warily, "You didn't make yourself into a bomb, did you?"

"No!" Naruto scoffed, "This is an old clan technique. Put it on a while ago, and it seems to be working the way I want."

"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 before 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, "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 brushwork.

"I have a wind and water affinity naturally. That means it's super easy for me to use those elements." 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 its full potential without running the risk of chakra exhaustion due to the conversion."

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

"Totally." Naruto shrugged, "Er, well, I've been practicing all this time with it. Nothing bad has happened yet."

"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 a bit now, you know. That means we're stuck together, and what benefits you will benefit 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 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. After a month and fifty-two D ranks plus his savings from under his bed, he finally had enough money for new clothes and a certain shiny nagamaki. He got a lot of dirty looks as he strolled down the street, but he didn't care. He'd had a great lunch with his surprisingly cooperative team, which had been a shock. Sakura hadn't even tried to hit on Sasuke once, and the brooding Uchiha had offered to pay for their meals.

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 catalog. She looked up when the front doorbell 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.

"I didn't hear anyone on the roof. You came the civilian way this time?" She joked.

The blond rolled his eyes, "Yeah, didn't want to give you a heart attack again."

"Like you could give me a heart attack." Tenten scoffed, "You've met my team, nothing startles or embarrasses me anymore."

She drifted back over to the counter, hopping up to sit on the edge, spreading her arms out and gesturing to the store, "Feel free to look around again. Let me know if you need any help."

"Actually, yeah, I do." He cringed a little, glancing down at himself, "I need, uh, new clothes. I've been a genin for a month and I think it's time."

Tenten smiled brightly, "I can help you with that! We sell shinobi clothing, too, imported from the Land of Tea. Quality fabric, really soft but durable, too."

"Great sales pitch." Naruto followed her to the back of the store, "Got any orange?"

Tenten gave him a sideways glance, "Look, as your friend I feel obligated to tell you that Neji might kill you on principle if you get another all-orange outfit. Besides, we don't carry neon shinobi clothes. Kind of, you know, defeats the point. "

"I was joking." He scratched his cheek, sheepish, "I'll miss it, sure, but I don't know if it's worth getting killed."

Naruto gave it all a once over, his mood picking up as he saw a few kimono shirts in dark, burnt orange. Smiling, he grabbed what looked like a small one and pulled it out. A short-sleeved, kimono shirt fully colored dark orange that would probably land mid-thigh. Smiling wide, he turned to Tenten and held the shirt up for inspection.

"A little orange can't hurt, right?" He asked.

She sighed, a smile twitching on her lips, "I guess. 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 headfirst into the racks of clothing, muttering to herself as she looked through the clothes. Naruto glanced around, eyeing some senbon as he waited for her to find whatever she was looking for. Poison wasn't really his thing, but Sakura would probably love learning how to poison senbon since she's going down a more medical route. 

"Found the haori!" Tenten popped back up, holding up the thin, black fabric with looser sleeves than the kimono shirt.

"I think this would look cool." Naruto held up a dark red obi laying in a bin, the color matching the nagamaki he planned on getting, "What do you think?"

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

"That'd work great." He grinned, "I think I'll buy a few sets if you don't mind?"

"Not at all." She grinned like a shark, "My parents said I keep twenty-five percent of any sales I make while they're gone. Spend some more, if you like."

"Okay." He pointed at the nagamaki, "I'll take those."

Her eyes popped a little bit, "Wow, really?"

"Yeah." He raised an eyebrow, "Why, don't think I can handle them?"

"It's not that, it's just no one in Konoha wields nagamaki. Tou-san nearly took them to the Land of Iron because he was afraid they wouldn't ever sell here." She grabbed a stool, stepping on it to grab the staff-sword hybrids before jumping down and handing them over, "Here you go, I guess. Good luck figuring out a technique."

His gut told him he wouldn't need luck, so he just nodded. He grabbed the senbon, too, and tossed in some chakra channeling gloves and makibishi spikes before he checked out. Gifts for his team, even if they didn't appreciate them. He handed over most of his money to Tenten, who looked like Christmas had come early. He spun one of the nagamaki experimentally in his hand while she bagged his clothes, careful the long blade didn't damage any merchandise. It felt natural in his hand, the weight just right like he was welcoming an old friend.

(Katsuro held the blades out for Amahiko hilt first, the thick gloves he wore and years of skill protecting his hands from the deadly slant of the sharp blades. The hilts were light blue and silver, with a red Uzumaki swirl at the very bottom of them. The blades were dark, nearly black, and Amahiko could almost see his reflection in it. The elder Uzumaki smiled as his younger brother gripped them both with such reverence you would think Kami himself had bestowed upon him the nagamaki. 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 'em." There was laughter in his green eyes, "Don't chop anything off by accident. Wouldn't due to have our future Uzukage without an arm, would it?"

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

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

He was pulled from his mind when Tenten handed two heavy-looking bags out towards him. He put both the nagamaki in the cross sheath he had strapped to his back and accepted the bags with a nod.

"Come back any time!" She waved him goodbye before sitting to count out her cut.

He carried his bags home, setting his clothes out for the mission tomorrow and arranging the gifts he'd bought in a nice little pile before passing out. 

Naruto woke up to a tap on his bedroom window. He blearily wiped a hand over his face, seeing a pink blob on his window sill through his blurry vision. He glanced at the clock; it was only seven-thirty. No way he was late, Kakashi-sensei probably wouldn't even be there until eight. That was what they'd decided the day prior, at least. Still, he removed himself from the soft cocoon of blankets and pried open his window, wincing at the creaking screech it made as he raised it. Sakura, already fully dressed for the day, slid in like this was totally normal and held out a...plate?

"What's that?" He blinked, his sleep-addled brain slow to process.

"My mom made pancakes this morning." She glanced down at the foil-covered plate, "They should still be hot if you eat now. I brought syrup, too, just in case you don't have any."

Good thing she brought some, he knew he definitely didn't have any syrup.

"How'd you even find out where I live?" He asked, suddenly self-conscious of both his apartment and neighborhood.

"I asked Iruka-sensei this morning when I passed by the academy." 

Needless to say, it wasn't the most upscale of places. A street over was the red light district, and a lot of crime was concentrated in his area. Not to mention his apartment probably looked like the scummiest place she'd ever been. No matter how hard he tried to keep it clean and replace things that were broken, people would just break in and do it all over again. He'd tried painting seals on the doors to keep them out, but someone had gotten burned on the protection seals and the landlord had threatened to kick him out if he did it again. So all he could do was patch up broken furniture, hide his money, and light scented candles to get rid of the aroma of piss.

He really hoped Sakura couldn't smell the piss.

She scrunched her nose. She could definitely smell the piss.

Wanting to literally crawl in a hole and die, he led her into the kitchen and sat down at his two-person table, Sakura sitting on the counter by his sink since he didn't have a second chair.

"'ve lived here how long?" She glanced around.

"Since I was kicked out of the orphanage." He snorted, taking the foil off the food he'd been brought, "It's not much's all I could afford."

"Now that you're a genin could you afford somewhere else?" Her eyebrows furrowed, "Somewhere that's...not in the shadiest parts of Konoha?"

"On a genin's salary?" He laughed, "Fat chance. Like anyone would even rent to me, anyway. Pretty sure Hokage-jiji threatened my current landlord."

Her eyes grew even more worried, and he quickly backpedaled, "It's not that bad though, honestly! I have running water, electricity, a stove-"

"The lovely aroma of urine and graffiti on your walls?" She interrupted, gesturing to his living room wall.

"Ah..." He'd forgotten about that. He'd replaced the lock on the door but he hadn't bought paint to cover up the spraypaint yet.

GO BURN was written in an ugly green color, covering up some of his already ugly beige painted walls. They hadn't even gone for red paint this time; Naruto was kind of disappointed in them.

"They, uh, they spraypaint anywhere and everywhere." He explained it away, shrugging with a forced laugh, "It's not-"

"It's okay if you don't want to talk about it." She said quietly, pursing her lips, "I've seen how people treat you, though. So has Sasuke. We're not blind."

He swallowed his emotions, refusing to cry in front of her. He shoveled in a bite of food, savoring the taste, before responding, "It's not as bad as you think."

"Oh, so you piss all over your own walls and couch?" She grumbled, "Finish that up, I have some fruit in my bag you're going to eat."

Sighing sharply, he looked at her with narrowed eyes, "Why are you even doing this? Shouldn't you be babying your precious Sasuke-kun? Since when do you give a single shit about me or my life? If you haven't noticed, it's been shit pretty much since I was born, and I've made it this far."

She faltered, wilting under the harsh words, and he bit back his anger. She was just being nice. What did she know about the trauma he went through as a child by being ignored by literally everything and everyone? What did she know about reaching out for help only to get your hand smacked away for your troubles? He pushed the empty plate away, looking anywhere but at her.

"I'm sorry, Sakura. I shouldn't have said that." His voice was tight, "Tell your mom thanks for me."

"Don't apologize." Her voice was quiet, "You're right, aren't you? When you tried to be friends I ignored you, Sasuke ignored you, we all did. Most of the parents wouldn't let their kids around you and we followed suit. Sasuke and I both sat back and watched you get bullied and did nothing. I even...contributed, as ashamed of it as I am now."

He finally looked at her, eyes wide, "No you didn't. You never once-!"

"I never beat you bloody, no, but I still called you names. I insulted your intelligence without knowing you or your situation." She looked down at her lap, "You were only ever nice to me, too."

"You're not obligated to like someone back just because they like you, Sakura." Naruto laughed quietly, "The fact that I had a schoolboy crush on you means nothing. You didn't owe me anything."

"I didn't have to like you back, obviously, but it's messed up that I bullied you when all you were was kind." She spoke quietly, "I was a bully, plain and simple. I hated it when I was called names and picked on, but I still did it to you. Everyone did. Even if I didn't like you at all, not even as a friend, it was no excuse to be cruel."

He sat quietly for once in his life, just blinking at her.

"Naruto..." She felt an overwhelming amount of sadness, "Has anyone ever apologized for the way they treated you? For the way they still treat you?"

He didn't respond.

"You know emotional abuse is just as bad as physical abuse, right?" She was basically pleading with him, "That even people who bullied you without violence were in the wrong? That you didn't deserve it?"

"I mean, no one has to apologize to me." He let out a nervous little laugh, "Really, I-I get it, you all were just copying your parents or your friends. It's okay, Sakura. Really. I don't hold it against you. Or Sasuke, for that matter."

Her eyes were sad, "It's really not okay, Naruto."

She looked around again before picking up the empty plate, "You should get dressed. We'll be meeting at the missions desk soon."

The window was still open in his bedroom and she slipped out of it again, leaving him alone. He quietly got ready, putting his gifts in a storage seal, and left his apartment after locking the windows and doors. It wouldn't stop anyone who really wanted to get in, but hopefully, it would work to deter petty assholes.

"Kakashi-sensei! This is where you've been hiding?"

The jōnin practically jumped out of his skin, his concentration on the memorial stone broken when he heard none other than Sakura Haruno's voice behind him. He stood up, turning around fast as a whip to stare at the pinkette incredulously. 

"I've been looking for you all over." The little genin huffed, crossing her arms, "I need to talk to you."

"How did you even find me?" He asked, narrowing his eyes.

"This place is right next to our training ground, sensei, and I get bored waiting hours for you." She informed him in a matter-of-fact tone, "Sasuke, Naruto, and I have made a game of running around Konoha a few hours while we wait to see if we can find you. None of us ever have, and I'm running out of places to check. It was just a process of elimination."

"Right." He said slowly, drawing the word out as he silently wished he'd failed them just on principle, "And what was it you needed, oh cute genin of mine?"

"It's about Naruto." She said seriously, her face sad.

He froze for a second, body stiffening, wondering what about Naruto she was referring to. Did she find out about the Kyūbi somehow? Or did something happen to Naruto?

"I know you know something Sasuke and I don't, sensei. That's okay. He's still a human being though, no matter what!" She insisted, voice growing impassioned, "I you even know where he lives?"

"Of course I do."

Of course, he does. He used to do ANBU rounds there all the time when the boy was little more than six after he'd first gotten the apartment. Kakashi had already tried adopting him at that point; he'd fought verbal battle after verbal battle with the councils and had even come seconds away from ending Danzō's pathetic life. So he settled for the boy getting his own place, even if he'd been against the location, what with it being so close to the red light district.

The Hokage wanted him as far out of the public eye as possible, though, to prevent harassment from closed-minded civilians. Still, crime wasn't too bad in the area, at least back then. The kid was nine or ten when they'd stopped patrolling for both his safety and Konoha's. On one hand, he wanted Naruto safe, on the other he was looking for possible signs the Kyūbi was influencing him. There were none, and the Hokage removed their patrol.

"Then you know about the people breaking into his place?" She snapped, "About the graffiti on his walls? The fact that people break into his home and pee on his furniture and walls? You know, he tried to go grocery shopping with me the other day. Can you guess what happened?"

He didn't get time to even attempt an answer. 

"They wouldn't let him in the store." She frowned, "That's what. He had to go back home."

Fucking shit. He'd hoped the librarian was a one-off incident. He knew the civilians had no love for the boy but he'd hoped...he wasn't sure what he'd hoped. That humanity and empathy would prevail after all? He should know better. He did know better. He'd just buried his head in the sand due to grief, and every second he spent here mourning the boy's parents was an insult to those very same people. 

What would Obito say?

"And you're wanting me to do something?" Kakashi asked, trying to seem calm while on the inside his blood was boiling, "I have no legal rights to-"

Wait a minute. Yes the fuck he did have legal rights. He was their jōnin sensei now; if he deemed a living situation hazardous to the young shinobi, it was within his rights to remove them from said situation. Well, then, it looks like the Hokage was in for a bad evening.

"You know what, Sakura, thank you for bringing this to my attention." He gave her an eye smile, patting her on the head, "I'll take care of it."

"Really?" She huffed, blowing some of her bangs out of her eyes with the harsh breath, "Or are you just saying that to shut me up."

He crouched down in front of her, meeting her at eye level. "I'm being serious, Sakura. I'll take care of it."

"Good." The girl brightened slightly, some of her bad mood lifted at the promise, "Now come on, sensei, we have a mission!"

To his complete bewilderment, she grabbed him by the arm and started tugging him towards the Hokage Tower and the missions desk. Judging from the expressions of the ninja he saw along the way, he'll never live this down. He just let it happen, simultaneously a bit too shocked to really stop her and also not wanting to upset her further by jerking his arm away.

Naruto was wearing an entirely new outfit when they arrived. Even weirder, Sasuke was almost smiling and had new gloves on when they arrived. Special chakra channeling gloves. He raised an eyebrow to himself, wondering what had possessed the boy to buy those. Then, of course, Naruto opened his mouth.

"Don't worry, Sakura, I got you a present, too." The blond grinned slightly, holding out a package of handmade, steel senbon that glinted in the artificial lighting of the room.

She accepted them with wide eyes, "You can put poison on these."

"Exactly, dattebayo!" Naruto said excitedly, "Perfect for an aspiring medic! I got Sasuke the gloves so it's easier to control his fire jutsu and maybe he won't burn his hands as much."

Sasuke's face soured, "I don't burn my hands."

Naruto waved a dismissive hand, "Yes, you do. Oh, can't forget Kakashi-sensei!"

The boy tossed him a small linen pouch that jingled as flew to him. He caught it with ease, opening it up.

"Makibishi spikes!" He explained, "I know you probably already have some, but they're really nice and handmade. I didn't want you to feel left out, either."

Iruka passed Kakashi the mission scroll silently, a knowing look in his eyes. His genin chatted behind him as they all walked to the village gates, and his chest felt suspiciously tight the whole time.

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

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

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

Her eyes crinkled around the edges as she grinned, just slightly, and she had such a striking resemblance to...Akane, that was her name, his sister in everything but blood. Akane, with the bright red hair and brighter red eyes. They looked nothing alike, were as different as day and night. Akane's smile had always made him happy, though, just like Sakura's.

"What, is common sense finally getting to you?" Sasuke said, "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, "The hair isn't a problem. Put it up in a ponytail or cut it, do something with it. 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. Maybe try that, at least while we're genin. I know a place you can get some great clothes for now. When we get super-powerful, 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, "Come on, Sasuke. Admit it."

Sakura sped up slightly, nearly bouncing up to Kakashi and tugging on his sleeve, "Sensei, should I cut my hair?"

Kakashi shrugged and continued reading that Kami-damned book, "Just braid it."

"Braiding!" Naruto brightened, "That's a great idea!"

Sasuke just nodded.

Sakura accepted the answer, taking her spot between Sasuke and Naruto back, "I'll braid it, then. And...get something that's not a pink dress, I guess."

"Thank Kami." Sasuke muttered, making Sakura accidentally trip and step right on his toes. 

The Uchiha looked both shocked and angry, like he couldn't fathom anyone doing that but especially not Sakura.

"Okay, children, that's enough." Kakashi's monotone drawl broke up the fight before it could begin, "Gather round now. You're about to learn something."

The jōnin whipped three sheets of paper out of his pocket, 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 useful."

Naruto smiled to himself. His seals let him use them all, however, he did as requested along with Sasuke and Sakura. Naruto's paper immediately tore into small shreds before the paper actually 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 originally. The paper then burst into a flickering, dancing flame that Sasuke dropped onto the ground and stamped out with his foot. Sakura's paper got slightly damp before 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, three 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 looked perhaps a tad smug, even though he knew his affinities going into this. In his dreams he ran on the rooftops and rode the waves of the ocean; it seemed fitting.

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

Sasuke was pleasantly surprised. Not even Itachi had a natural lightning affinity, the so-called prodigy that he was. Sakura, meanwhile, was over the moon. 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 now.

"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 and touching the skin there with chakra to reveal 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. The seal slowly faded away again, invisible to the naked eye.

"Is, ah, is that your own design?" Kakashi knew the runt could make a decent exploding 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 had known since the beginning Naruto wasn't really the dead last. He was too smart, too observant, and had sadly been declined many opportunities the other children had. He had certainly shown it a little before, that Uzumaki prodigy gene that kicked in more often than not, but it really shone through now.

He honestly 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. 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 and more like his hot-tempered but extremely capable mother.

Now if Kakashi could just get him out of that hell hole. Then he'd be able to keep an eye on him and keep him safe, even from the fucking Kyūbi itself. This was his little bratty genin, no one else's, and he'd be damned if he let any council member or any demon try and take control of the Uzumaki.

Regardless, 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 was taking 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 pull out of nothing regarding the limited front line medical moves. Not to mention she genuinely seemed to care about her teammates, which is more than he could say at that age.

Occasionally glancing over at their happy faces as they whispered together, Kakashi thought this time his team might just turn out alright.

Chapter Text

Kakashi waited until Sasuke and Sakura had left. 

They'd returned to the village shortly before sunset, tired from four hours of walking to the farm and back. The team didn't even bother to pick up their paychecks, they just exchanged exhausted goodbyes and went their separate ways. Kakashi is normally long gone at that point, but not tonight.

"Night, sensei!" Naruto waved slightly, the slump in his shoulders giving away that even the endless fountain of energy was feeling the fatigue.

"Actually, Naruto, wait a second." Kakashi sighed, kneeling in the dirt right in front of the gates so he could speak face to face with his student, "I need to speak to you about something."

The blond boy seemed wary, "About what, exactly?"

"Your home life." Or lack thereof, Kakashi thought with a wince, "Your apartment. Sakura said some...worrying things earlier this morning."

"Should've known." Naruto sighed deeply, "It's really not that bad, Kaka-sensei. They never break in when I'm home, I think they're too scared. I'm not in any real danger, especially now that I'm a genin."

"Being a genin won't protect you from a drunk with a knife. Especially if you're a genin who's exhausted and passed out after training." Kakashi said, "Be honest with me, Naruto. If you could leave, would you?"

Naruto actually scoffed, "Yeah. Duh. There are loud bars outside all night and I never get any good sleep, my apartment constantly smells like piss, I think I've had to sew the stuffing back in my couch cushions ten times now...of course, I'd leave if I could. That's not an option for me, though, if you weren't aware."

The jōnin really didn't like that bitter tone of voice.

"What if there was?" He raised his visible eyebrow, "As your sensei, I can legally remove you from situations that could endanger you. If you wanted to stay in my apartment, I do have a spare bedroom."

Nevermind that Asuma usually slept there when he got too drunk to go home. The asshole could find somewhere else to crash.

"Of course, I can arrange for you to stay somewhere else, too, if you wanted." He scratched the back of his neck when he received no response, "I'm sure there's something available-"

He was cut off when he got the wind knocked out of him by a small body crashing into his own. He automatically wrapped his arms around the boy who was shaking like a leaf, hugging him tightly.

Naruto pulled back, eyes wide and a bit damp, "You'd really do that?"

"Yes, I'd really do that."

"But...won't they hate you, too, then?" Naruto asked, eyebrows creasing, "I don't want people breaking into your place, sensei!"

"Trust me, anyone who manages to break in will soon discover what a bad idea it was." Kakashi gave him an eye smile, rising to his feet swiftly, "Go get whatever you need to spend the night and meet me in front of Ichiraku's. I'll order our dinner then show you the way to the apartment, okay?"

The kid nodded eagerly, stars in his eyes, and Kakashi felt totally undeserving of the adoration. Naruto had probably craved attention and care from adults his entire life; now he was finally getting it twelve years too late. Watching the brat scamper off, he still remembers when the orphanage mother would refuse to touch the baby with whisker marks and would leave him crying through the night. Kakashi would slip in the window while Yūgao stood to watch outside, rocking the infant and feeding him store-bought formula. As he continued to grow, Kakashi had kept an eye on him up until he'd entered the academy. Now, in hindsight, he wished he'd continued to watch over him and, perhaps, give him the support he'd never gotten from anyone else.

He headed to Ichiraku's, prepared to order one normal bowl of chicken ramen for himself and three large orders of pork ramen for Naruto. Kami, that kid could eat.

"Down here." Kakashi said as they stepped off the elevator, Naruto looking around at the apartment complex with wide eyes, "Apartment thirty-six. I'll get a spare key made soon, and we can move the rest of your stuff in later."

Kakashi unlocked the door and opened it wide with his free arm, the other holding the bags filled with bowls of ramen. Naruto stepped through the threshold, two storage scrolls tucked tightly in his arms as he took in his surroundings. A small and cozy living room with soft carpet, a kitchenette with a small table suited for at least four people, and a hallway that led to what he assumed was the rest of the apartment. There was a sliding door in the living room that led to a little balcony area that was seemingly overflowing with plants. A lot of the apartment was, actually; Naruto could count at least ten potted ones inside sat on various surfaces and even more on the balcony.

It was a lot more lived-in than he expected; Kakashi-sensei had always been sort of aloof, so seeing his apartment so full of life was startling. He had eight dog beds of various sizes lying around a small table with a couple of cushions that looked like they were made for humans on each far side. Bookshelves and cabinets line the walls, vines and leaves spilling out onto the shelves from their pots. The kitchen was the one thing that didn't look too awfully used, pristine and clean like Kakashi didn't cook very often.

"Does it meet your standards?" Kakashi gave an eye roll, "Would hate to be subpar."

"My standards were the absence of my entire apartment, so yeah, this is great." Naruto said, "I'm just curious, though, why do you have so many dog beds?"

"My ninken like to spend time here. They're very social." Kakashi explained, "It was just easier getting them all one than dealing with the bickering."

"Ninken, like the Inuzuka's dogs?"

"Not exactly." His sensei explained, "They're summons; they speak our language, unlike the Inuzuka dogs, and can preform techniques of their own when they feel the need."

Naruto nodded and bounced on his heels, "Cool. Can I see my room? Please?"

Kakashi smiled slightly at the kid's barely hidden excitement and led him down the hall. He tapped on the first door to the right, "This is the storage closet. Towels, cleaning supplies, all that. Feel free to get whatever you need."

He pointed at the door on the left, "That's my room. Don't go in there unless I tell you to."

"This is the bathroom." He pointed to the door next to his own, "We share one, so don't be disgusting."

Finally, the last door on the right. He opened it up, revealing a nice room with a standard sized bed and a large window looking out at Konoha. It was bigger than his old one for sure, both the room and the bed. He dropped the sealing scrolls carelessly on the dresser by the door and ran to jump on the bed. He gasped at the softness of the sheets and how comfortable the mattress was.

"Kaka-sensei, this is amazing! Makes my old mattress feel like a brick!" He smiled brightly, looking around, "I even have a closet? I used to just hang my clothes in the bathroom!"

Kakashi smiled tightly, chest aching. He should've done this forever ago, should have thrown around his weight a little more and gotten the brat under his care. 

"Glad you like it." He said, instead of sharing what he actually felt, "I have to go run some errands, though, so I'll be gone for a bit. Come on."

Naruto blinked, confused, "I'm going with you for errands?"

"Maa, no, definitely not." Kakashi herded him out the door, "My friend is going to watch you."

"Watch me?" The boy frowned, "I don't need a baby sitter. I've lived by myself for years!"

"Too bad." The jōnin shrugged, "My place, my rules. Don't worry, though, Tenzō is nice." 

He grumbled as he was led across the hall, Kakashi knocking on the door right across from theirs. They heard footsteps lightly approaching before the door opened to reveal a man who looked a bit younger than Kakashi. He had dark eyes and unruly brown hair that gave the impression that he'd definitely been sleeping. Well, the hair and the pajamas.

"Ah, didn't wake you did I?"

"Yes." The man, Tenzō, deadpanned.

"Oops." Kakashi didn't sound sorry at all, "Could you watch over this for a second?"

The brown eyes fell to Naruto before nodding, "Of course, senpai. Is it finally happening?"

"No, no." Kakashi waved off the concern before pausing, "Well, I mean, if it doesn't go as planned, maybe."

"Is what happening?" The genin spoke up, narrowing his eyes.

"A murder." Tenzō sighed deeply, "We don't know anything about it even if it does happen, right?"

"Uh, sure." Naruto shrugged, there was no way he'd rat out his sensei anyway.

"Good boy." Kakashi patted his student on the head, "Now, I'll be back. Tenzō, watch him while he eats or something, I don't care. Just make sure no one comes around."

He disappeared without another word. Naruto's eyes widened, glancing at the brown-haired man who was now closing his door and ushering Naruto back into Kakashi's apartment.

"Is he actually killing someone?" He asked, "Are the ANBU gonna come looking?"

"Don't worry about it. Kakashi mentioned food, right?" Tenzō glanced around, "I'm Yamato, by the way."

Naruto blinked, "Eh, but...Kaka-sensei called you-?"

"Tenzō, I'm aware." The man sighed again, deep and laborious, "Believe me, I'm aware."

"Right, um, Yamato-san, then. I'm Uzumaki Naruto, it's nice to meet you." Naruto nodded at the man who simply ignored him in favor of unpacking the food.

"You got three large orders of pork ramen?" Yamato raised an eyebrow slightly before falling back to stoicism, "Here. I'm taking Kakashi's."


"No buts." The man silenced him with a look, "He asked me to babysit, this is my payment. Even if it does have the nutritional value of dust, I guess."

Ignoring the sleight at ramen, Naruto finished the bowls slowly because Sakura has been yelling at him for slurping so badly. He watches as Yamato finishes and then goes over to the bookshelves, brushing his fingers against the leaves of the plants. They seemed to perk up in response, making Naruto wonder if he was responsible for all the greenery in Kakashi's apartment.

"So, you know Kaka-sensei?" The blond tried to continue any semblance of a conversation.

"Yes." Yamato answered and then proceeded to not elaborate. 

He huffed. Damn jōnin and their mysteries.

"Sandaime-sama," Kakashi spoke as he pushed the doors open, ignoring the flustered secretary trying to keep him out. 

Hiruzen sighed, "Kakashi. What can I do for you?"

"I just wanted to inform you," His eyes trailed over Homura, Koharu, and Danzō all seated near him, "Inform all of you, that is, that Naruto will be staying with me until further notice."

The protests began immediately, but he slid the handbook made for jōnin senseis across the Hokage's desk with a smug smile under his mask. He'd have to thank Yamato for doing the leg work later; he'd sent one of his ninken with a letter while they were on their mission, and his kohai had come through per usual. There was no way he was reading the damn book himself, after all.

"Kakashi is within his rights as a jōnin sensei to take custody of a student deemed in immediate danger." Hiruzen sighed, "It's legal."

"Surely there is some exception you can make," Danzō spoke up, as Kakashi expected of the prick, "He is our jinchūriki, he must be loyal to only the village-"

"More like you want him alone and singled out so he's easier to manipulate." The jōnin snapped in response.

"My, quite the accusation." The old war hawk sat back, a cold look in his eyes.

"No accusations." Kakashi's glare was deadly, "Merely observations."

"It's legal, and that's final." The Hokage said firmly, looking back to Kakashi with tired eyes, "Will that be all?"

"No." He said, flatly. 

The old man sighed, "Why did I assume it would be?"

"I want it to be made official." Kakashi leveled them all with a serious look, "Not custody just as his jōnin sensei for the limited time of his genin career, but as his legal guardian."

"But that means-" Homura began, only to get cut off.

"That all issues the shinobi council has with him before he's of official legal age would go through me." Kakashi said, "It also means that he has the full protection of my clan name, along with the Uzumaki name. Just like you wouldn't force the Uchiha into ANBU, secret training, mutations, genetic testing, or any of the other ideas I know you have, you won't force Naruto either. And, of course, on the off chance you try to do that to Sasuke anyways, we'll have an issue."

He looked Danzō dead in the eye, something that didn't go unnoticed by everyone else in the room. The old man merely raised an eyebrow.

"To adopt a parentless genin, you need-" Koharu finally spoke up before faltering.

"The permission of their jōnin sensei." Kakashi sounded far too pleased, "Don't worry, I give myself full and unwavering permission. I have all the faith in the world in myself."

"This is ridiculous-!" Danzō stood, only going quiet when the Hokage raised a hand.

"Danzō, Koharu, Homura, you may leave." He said, and glanced up at them all sharply when they remained where they were, "Need I remind you that I am the Hokage and you are all advisors? I said leave."

Homura and Koharu went quickly, but Danzō trailed behind, locking eyes with Kakashi as he passed. The jōnin had half a mind to raise his headband and remind the old bastard who he was dealing with. When the door finally slammed shut behind the three, he turned his attention back to the Hokage.

"It will be done." Hiruzen sighed, "I'll have the paperwork drawn up, stop by with Naruto tomorrow morning and sign it."

"This should've been done before." Kakashi's voice was quiet, "It's what they would've wanted-"

"The shinobi and civilian councils would've never allowed it, not to mention my own council of advisors." Hiruzen waved a tired hand, "It will be done now-"

"After how many years of abuse and trauma?" Kakashi interrupted, "This village hasn't only failed Naruto, either, you know."

The Hokage's face darkened, "The Uchiha is coping well-"

"Well?" Kakashi laughed, dark and ugly, "If you call being obsessed with revenge and looking for the first chance to get a power trip well. Keep in mind I'm his jōnin sensei, too."

"I'm far too tired and old for an argument, Kakashi." The old man ran a hand over his face, "This hat wasn't meant for me again-"

"No, it wasn't." The jōnin confirmed, "But you still have it. So act like it. The councils are here to advise you, they do not run Konoha. Least of all the civilian council giving recommendations on shinobi matters."

Kakashi turned on his heel to leave the room, "I'll be back tomorrow with Naruto and my team to sign the papers and receive another mission. It was good talking to you, Hokage-sama."

Hiruzen had never heard so much sarcastic respect packed into one sentence.

He leaves 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 landowners or spiteful villagers vandalizing his home. He knew Kakashi-sensei wasn't to be messed with and wholeheartedly believed he would follow through with protecting his apartment. It made him feel lighter, the fact that he had a safe home and someone who cared enough to give him one. He knew it was partly Sakura's doing, too. She was definitely the one who had told Kakashi the state of his housing.

Kakashi was also his legal guardian now. That was kind of weird because he'd never had an adult take accountability for him in his entire life, but it also made a lot of sense what with the situation. He'd signed the papers earlier that morning, only a day after his sensei had offered him a new home. He'd almost cried when he signed them, and he was pretty sure both Kakashi and Hokage-jiji knew. Kakashi had bought him dango on the way home from their team missions, citing the fact that he refused to eat ramen for every meal. Yamato had come over later anyway, saying that dango was no healthier than ramen and made them eggplant casserole for lunch. 

Now he had just finished cleaning out his old apartment, packing all his belongings into storage scrolls, and wishing his landowner a goodbye. The man hadn't responded; Naruto was certain he was happy to be rid of the so-called demon. As he turned the corner to take that road that led through the training grounds to the shinobi district and onwards, he paused. Four chakra signatures, large ones at that, following behind them at what they probably thought was a safe distance. Pursing his lips, he knew they wouldn't be here on jiji's orders. So that left the councils, and from what Kakashi-sensei had said, nothing involving the councils was good.

He turned, looking in the exact direction he felt the signatures, 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 were dressed incorrectly 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 heartbeat sped up; an empty street, and he had no witnesses.

In hindsight, he knew he'd fucked up by declining Sakura and Sasuke's offer to tag along. Maybe then he wouldn't be in this mess.

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

"Don't damage the stomach." He heard the ring leader speak to the others, "Danzō-sama was specific."

The one in front of the other three then 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 full 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 nagamaki back at Kakashi's place. He dodged the slice aimed right for his jugular and launched himself back, he gripped the small dagger tightly, staring at them unblinkingly.

His blood pumped, heart beating impossibly fast, every fight or flight instinct activated all at once-

(Yuudai swung the blade towards his head, and Amahiko easily evaded it. Their battle of jutsu had simmered down into a kenjutsu duel, katana versus nagamaki. Amahiko knew he could take him out now, one water jutsu attached to his blades, 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 were more than friends. He was a traitor. A constant war of doing what was best for Uzushio and doing what aligned with his heart struggled for control, but he knew what had to be done.

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

So he gathered the chakra, the water swirling to life out of the air, and 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 blades, he dodged the weak strike thrown at him by the battered traitor and lashed towards him with the water forming a deadly cacoon around his nagamaki.

The blades were headed to Yuudai's throat. A clean-cut, a clean decapitation, and it would all be over.

He hesitated.

Dropping the last minute, one of his nagamaki 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 body. 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 left standing 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 ever 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 below. He could distantly feel hands grip his shoulders, shaking him, but he closed his eyes and wouldn't open them again for a long time.)

Four opponents, all with a tanto, Naruto reasoned with himself in a brief second, it's a short blade and I doubt they can use chakra to enhance the length. They need to get close to me, need to not only overpower 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 at everything that moved, a tanto is 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 using it as a smoke bomb rather than anything else, he disappeared.

The shinobi froze when he threw down the tag, standing still as he disappeared, engulfed in the puff of smoke. The leader of the squad looked impassively at what was left in his place; a wooden post stood proudly where the boy had once been. The three 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 that had turned 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 that had become more noticeable, an accent reminiscent of the islanders in the Land of Waves, "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, they reasoned. 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 a chance.

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 and making sure all his storage scrolls remained accounted for, he made his way down the path towards the place 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 clinging to his skin and clothes, dragging him down. Gripping the kunai tighter, he continued his quick trek away from the scene. He was so sick of fighting.

He remembered everything. Everything from his life as Amahiko sat there in his brain right alongside his own memories as if they'd been there the whole time. Perhaps, he thought as he looked back at the past few years, they always had.

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