Beta-ed by Jenny- cat-miaow
In the end the genin had kept things simple. They'd followed Kakashi's order in behaving and their antics disappeared so suddenly people were questioning whether they'd been there at all. Kakashi did as proposed and took Sasuke into the outer training grounds. Sakura was actually pleased to learn some genjutsu.
Naruto knew all of Jiraiya's tricks and as such it wasn't very hard to get the sannin to 'teach' him the Rasengan as well as to let the pervert give him the toad contract. Naruto even managed to squeeze in some seal training. He only had a month after all. And showing the sannin just how much he knew would give away more than he was ready to reveal.
As it was he'd had to convince the sannin that using the Kyuubi's chakra was a bad idea. Naruto couldn't even access it. Jiraiya didn't need to be fiddling with the seal. After last time, Naruto wasn't about to let the fox take control when he didn't know which fox he was dealing with. He had no idea if the fox knew who he was.
Sasuke used his time to 'learn' the chidori and then to 'learn' how to expand on it. Kakashi didn't need to know that their time together was rather a waste in Sasuke's opinion. As it was, the jonin half pouted at how quickly Sasuke had picked up the jutsu. He pouted even more when he realised that Sasuke was already at a level to change the Chidori and make it his own.
However, none of the genin had plans on competing in the exams till the end. Not with Orochimaru still in the village. Naruto would fight Neji, and Sasuke would take care for Gaara, that was the plan.
Kabuto hadn't taken the chance and tried to assassinate Hayate before he could wake up and tell the Hokage what he'd heard. Baki, as a result was even more on edge. Amusing to watch, for a little while. The three did their best to remember that Baki was an eventual ally.
But all of that was a side thought to the genin of Team 7 as they walked through the entrance of the Chunin Exam arena.
Sasuke grinned widely. He'd missed out on this the first time. They'd debated making Sasuke late again so that the order of the matches would be switched but the Uchiha was having none of it.
"So Naruto, you ready for this? You might not get to fight Neji." Sasuke whispered, elbowing the Uzumaki. Sakura waved at Ino who surprisingly waved back. Naruto waved at Haku who politely smiled back. Zabuza stared grumpily at them, a special murderous gleam twinkled in his eye when his gaze passed over Sasuke. It might have had something to do with the sword now strapped to Sasuke's back.
"That sword really doesn't suit you, teme. Nor does it suit your opponent." Naruto sighed, giving Sasuke a look that said "Get rid of it." Sasuke shrugged and lifted the sword from his back with an ease he would not have possessed the first time he was twelve years old. His grin widened before he swung the blade through the air, letting go when it had enough force to fly to where Zabuza was sitting. The jonin caught the blade without even flinching. The same could not be said for the rest of the spectators in that general area.
Kakashi tsked before whacking Sasuke upside the head. "What did I tell you three about showing off." It wasn't really a question, so much as it was a warning.
"But sensei, we're here in front of the important people. I thought we were supposed to show off." Sakura stated sweetly, her hands held behind her back as she smiled warmly at the jonin. He narrowed his visible eye, wondering if there was another meaning to Sakura's behaviour.
It was at this point that Hayate hobbled into the arena. Kakashi went to meet him, choosing to ignore the warning bells Sakura's behaviour was sending. He was sure it wasn't too serious. Maybe a paint bomb or two.
"Sakura, you know what we need, don't you? And you have it?" Sasuke whispered to the pinkette the moment Kakashi walked away. Naruto was busy making a show of waving to the crowd, stopping to give extra attention to those who glared at him that hardest.
"I have everything. I'm ready when you are." Sakura replied, her tone polite and her features neutrally pleasant. Anyone watching them would think they were discussing the weather.
"Alright. Be ready at any moment. I managed to intercept a message that was meant for the Hokage. Itachi is here but no one knows this besides us." Sasuke chose to keep his gaze on Kakashi, pretending to be waiting for the signal to start the third round. Sakura's features remained neutral. She didn't react to the news, surprising as it was.
"I feel like he's early." Sakura stated, keeping the conversation going.
"Probably because he's still confused as to why I'm so different." Sasuke shrugged, moving towards the other participants. Kakashi was standing near Hayate, his undercover bodyguard. They weren't sure if anyone was going to try and kill the injured shinobi, but it was better to be safe than sorry.
"Alright listen up, as I am in no condition to stop a match should it become necessary, I will not be the proctor for the last round of the Chunin exams. Hatake Kakashi is going to be taking my place. Make no mistake, he's more than capable enough to handle the best, and the worst of you." Hayate stopped to cough, but not before he was able to send a pointed look towards Gaara.
"I am so excited I can hardly contain myself." Lee yelled, the fire burning brightly in his eyes. "Sakura-chan if I win this fight will you go out with me?!" Lee turned his gaze onto Sakura who squeaked and hid behind Sasuke. "I thought we avoided that." She whispered in horror to the Uchiha who glared at Lee, daring him to come any closer.
"As if Bushy-brow. Sakura won't lose to someone as untrained as yourself." Naruto scoffed, putting an arm on Lee's shoulders.
"Untrained?!" Uh oh.
"I am not untrained. You take that back Uzumaki Naruto. You of all people should know to show your opponent the respect that they deserve." Lee yelled, angrier than they had ever seen him before. "I am a man of hard work and discipline. I am my sensei's pupil and I will do him proud. Your statement to me is an offence to my sensei and I will not stand for that!"
"Huh, what was that?" Naruto asked, his expression mirroring Kakashi's and stopping Lee's rant in its tracks.
"That is it! I cannot stand for this any longer. This is for how you treated Inuzuka Kiba during the preliminaries!" Lee roared before hitting Naruto square in the jaw, sending the blond flying right towards the Hokage. Kakashi and Gai were there in an instant, Gai holding onto Lee while the former looked to his students. "What happened."
It wasn't really a question so much as it was a demand. These kids weren't telling him something. Naruto wasn't like that. Kakashi knew what had happened. He'd been completely flabbergasted by the behaviour himself.
Naruto narrowly missed landing on the Hokage himself, managing to divert his fall to hit the Kazekage instead. He got to his feet gingerly, apologising to the Kazekage with deep bows and very many promises of Ichiraku ramen to make up for it.
Sarutobi watched the exchange quietly, taking a good look at the Kazekage for the first time. He must be getting old. . . .
The crowd had grown silent, each audience member holding their breath in anticipation to see what would happen. The Kazekage waved a hand in irritation, aiming to keep Naruto quiet. Naruto cringed visibly before turning back towards the arena. He caught the Hokage's eye, his hands moving rapidly but minimally in an effort to communicate discretely.
Sarutobi nodded just as minimally and Naruto jumped over the railing. So Orochimaru wasn't going to get away from this one. Naruto had placed a seal on him that the snake would never be able to get rid of no matter how many times he switched bodies. The odd behaviour now made sense.
Naruto walked over to Kakashi, his back to Orochimaru's spies. They'd done a good job in tracking them all. Since they weren't able to see his hands, the blond rapidly fired a message at Kakashi. He supposed he could have told the man before the day but well, they had to keep the ninja on his toes after all.
Kakashi's gaze moved almost imperceptibly towards the Kazekage before widening ever so slightly.
"Another move like that Rock Lee and you're disqualified, understood." Kakashi stated with a tone that was more familiar to the future-genin than to anyone else in the arena. It was the tone of Kakashi's inner self, the part of him that hide behind the Obito mask.
"I understand." Lee stated in a subdued tone, his eyes lingering on Naruto's hands as though trying to figure out what he had missed. He looked to Gai-sensei who nodded to him. If Gai-sensei agreed than things had to be alright.
Gai nodded to Kakashi before heading to the balcony above the arena.
"We've decided to have the matches start randomly, rather than in number order. If I call your name you remain in the stadium, the rest of you are to join Gai." Kakashi continued more loudly.
"Haruno Sakura and Rock Lee, you're up first." Kakashi grinned and Sakura glared.
"Sensei, am I allowed to go all out." Sakura smiled sweetly at the jonin, the same smile she usually gave when she wanted to blow something up.
"Well as long as you don't kill him." Kakashi mused, the other participants moving towards the balcony where Sasuke and Naruto were already cheering as loudly as they could. Lee frowned at the two, beginning to see that something was completely different from the general conception of Kakashi's team. They were supposed to be a team of a fangirl, a broody genius and a loud mouthed deadlast.
But those hand signs Naruto had used earlier, they were ANBU communication hand signs. He had been a genin long enough to know that.
Up in the balcony area, Nara Shikamaru was coming to a rather delayed realisation. He squinted down at Sakura who wasn't looking nervous one bit. His gaze crawled over to Ino who was supposed to be equal in strength to the pinkette. It was hard to actually say if they were or if they weren't. Sakura had made sure the match ended too quickly to really tell.
He focused on Naruto, who was leaning on the railing, hooting down at Sakura. But there was an air to his posture that was familiar. Details about Naruto's outfit and equipment began to stand out now that he was really looking, things that no genin would really carry or even place in the positions that Naruto had. Connecting those facts with his match with Inuzuka Kiba, the hand signs he'd shown Kakashi and wham, the realisation hit.
Naruto was the Asahi ANBU that had come to visit his father.
"There's just no way!" Shikamaru yelled before he even realised the words wanted to be spoken. "You! The dead last?"
Naruto stopped yelling support for Sakura and looked towards Shikamaru with a mischievous gleam in his eyes. He wasn't even denying it! "Was I really?" Naruto grinned and returned his attention to Sakura who sent him a glare.
"What is that all about?" Temari stated, close enough to Shikamaru for the ninja to hear her.
Naruto's question brought Shikamaru mind into full gear. Memories of the Academy swam into the focus of his thoughts. Things that all three of them did began to stand out. This odd behaviour. It wasn't a result of Kakakshi. It was them. They were the ones who were doing it to Kakashi.
Had they been recruited for the Asahi ANBU from a really young age?
Shikamaru was too absorbed in his own thoughts to notice that the match had begun.
Sakura didn't wait around. She jumped at Lee, aiming a kick for his stomach. It was an easy blow to block. Lee didn't fall for the ruse and focused on her right hand aiming for his head. He caught her hand with his left, trying to repay the favour with a punch of his own.
Naruto yawned in between one of his cheers, turning to look at Shikamaru with a soft grin. "You ready for your match? I bet Temari-chan is going to be fun."
Did Naruto know something? Shikamaru hadn't forgotten how the Asahi ANBU had behaved during the exams. Almost like they had known beforehand how things were going to go. Where the chunin exams rigged? Not to mention the obvious heavy use of clones. So the whole exam they'd been up against some second rate clones? How embarrassing.
Did he say something? Was he perhaps over-reacting? No, he didn't think he was over-reacting.
There was a sudden explosion from the Hokage's balcony. Naruto's attention whipped in that direction. "Aren't we a little early for this?" he grit out, eyes narrowing. What did they know?
Sakura stopped focusing on her match just as Lee was about to execute a leaf hurricane. Sasuke shunshined into the arena and caught the green clad genin's foot before he could land the kick. He pushed Lee away, focusing his attention on the Hokage.
Kakashi took Lee and shunshined him into the participant's balcony where Gai was waiting. He looked confused but he didn't ask questions. "Keep the genin safe." Kakashi ordered before disappearing and reappearing closer to the Hokage's balcony.
Smoke surrounded the box, making it difficult to assess the situation. Naruto didn't move from the participant's box, just in case Gaara did something weird.
A black figure moved out of the smoke, appearing to be running from something.
The chase was confirmed in the form of two smaller black figures emerging from the smoke nano-seconds later. Sasuke grit his teeth when he realised the first figure was none other than Itachi. The older Uchiha's gaze was fixed on the younger, attempting to get to the arena but finding it surprisingly challenging given the two smaller ANBU tailing him.
The crowd murmured in excitement, the chase far more entertaining then what the exam had been thus far.
The next surprise came in the form of one of the ANBU slipping up, allowing Itachi to get into the ring where he went straight for Sasuke. The younger Uchiha changed his stance to one of attack, moving to stand in front of Sakura. He didn't know what his brother's intentions were, but this was not something they had planned for so it was best to prepare for anything.
Fukushu appeared in front of Itachi so fast the older Uchiha almost crashed into him. Odd. He'd been ahead of the smaller ANBU the whole chase? Itachi stopped and measured the smaller ninja, taking in his stature, his mark – HIS SHARINGAN?!
Something unnatural was going on and he was now surrounded by not only the small ANBU but Kakashi as well. Perhaps this hadn't been his best idea. He'd only wanted to talk to his brother. The Hokage should have granted him that much but the man appeared busy with an impending invasion. Itachi couldn't blame the Hokage for ignoring his meeting requests. The chase hadn't been planned. He hadn't realised Konoha had ninja capable of spotting him. At least not ones currently stationed in ANBU. Kakashi might have, but he was supposed to be well and truly occupied with the exams.
Sasayaku stood across from Fukushu and Itachi, features grim as he took in the other ANBU's gaze. It was different now, there was something else in his eyes. Something a lot like before they came back.
Sasayaku lifted a gloved hand and gently pulled the orange adorned obsidian ANBU mask from his face, blond locks falling free of their restraint and ticking whiskered cheeks as they swayed with the slight breeze.
"You're leaving again, aren't you?" Naruto stated quietly, while those around them gaped in shock at the now unmasked blond ANBU, and his words.
"You know me better than anyone, Sasayaku . . . Naruto." Fukushu replied, that same dead drawl from before. A gloved hand reached up slowly and grasped the coal black ANBU mask and even more slowly pulled it away. "It's always been about Itachi."
"Just this once, I guess I'd hoped you'd choose me." Naruto smiled softly, sadly.
"I already did, Dobe. When I decided not to destroy the place which has caused me more pain than anywhere else I've ever been." When I decided not to destroy Konoha. . .
"So it's chasing after you again, huh?" Naruto muttered, looking away as his gaze deadened.
"You don't have to. I never asked you to."
Naruto sighed heavily. "It's not about being asked to, teme." You're my precious person. . .
"What are you doing, Sasuke?" Itachi asked tonelessly, eyes continuously taking in and analysing the situation as it unfolded in front of him. Looking now, he could see that the Sasuke he'd been aiming for was nothing but a clone. The clone smirked before disappearing in a small puff of smoke. A very good clone at that.
"Aniki. I'm joining the Akatsuki, well more specifically, I'm following you. I'm done with this pathetic village. I'm done with playing the good loyal lap dog. I'd sooner burn the entire place to the ground." Sasuke stated, his tone almost perfectly matching Itachi's.
Naruto's frame jerked slightly but otherwise, the blond didn't move, didn't utter a word. "Back to this again, huh Sasuke?" he asked eyes moving towards the ground. "Only this time, you're going where I can't follow."
Two shadows detached themselves from the surrounding stadium and landed in the arena before Sasuke could reply. Okami looked at his now unmasked subordinates and sighed before removing his own dark disguise. Suiren looked between Naruto and Sasuke silently, as though measuring them up, seeing just how serious each one was before walking over to the latter of the two.
Naruto had expected the kunoichi to punch some sense into Sasuke, to embrace him with a plead for him to stay.
What he didn't expect was for the last masked Asahi ANBU to pull of her mask and place a gloved hand on Sasuke's cheek before kissing him gently.
"I didn't think it would be so soon." Sakura whispered as she lowered her hand to Sasuke's own, threading their fingers together.
"Sakura . . ." Naruto began, eyes wide even as he was unable to continue his sentence.
"Oh Naruto, just as it's always been about Konoha for you and Itachi for Sasuke, it's always been about Sasuke for me. You should have known that already." Sakura stated pityingly, like Naruto was the slowest child in a classroom and she was the smartest. This was the part that they knew they had to add. This was what they needed to push Naruto over the edge. Sasuke leaving was something Naruto would always half expect, but Sakura? His heart would never even be prepared for the possibility.
Kakashi found himself watching a scene he didn't understand, unable to do anything as his students walked away from him. It was something a lot like what Iruka described to him.
Naruto took a step back, as though he'd been physically hit. As they watched, pain and denial clouded his blue eyes and Sasuke almost broke right there. As Naruto began to shake his head, physically trying to reject what was right in front of him, Sasuke's hold on Sakura's hand became painful as he squeezed her fingers to keep her in place.
"I don't understand." Naruto whispered. "Everything was coming together. We had agreed that what happened before didn't matter." Sasuke watched as Naruto's breathing sped, his heart rate picking up. A panic attack?
"Of course it matters Naruto. After all, it happened again." Sasuke scoffed. "Nothing has really changed. This whole exam is exactly the same."
"BUT YOU LET IT HAPPEN!" Naruto roared suddenly, the rage taking over from the denial and shock.
In that moment, as the rage took control, they felt it just as they had the first time it happened. Naruto's power was never as absolute as what it had been in the moment the seal had first cracked. No matter how much he mastered the Kyuubi's chakra, it was never as intense, never as destructive as what it had been in the moment that it had been when it rushed out for the first time. A release of pent up pressure and an explosion of raw intense power swirled around the stadium, cutting into the earth and walls around them. Chakra so potent it was visible to the naked eye, even those of the civilians. "DO YOU UNDERSTAND?!" Naruto raged. "YOU LET IT HAPPEN!"
Itachi, Sasuke, Sakura and Kakashi all sprang out of the way while Naruto raged in the epicentre.
Sasuke watched with blank features as the blond ANBU's features grew more feral, wild and uncontrolled. The same image of Naruto that haunted Sasuke's thoughts if he let them wander. That battle, it still scared him to this day. Unknown to him, his Sharingan was active and taking in the sight of what he'd started, of the pain he'd caused within Naruto. Unknown to Sasuke in that moment, his eyes changed back to black before the red bleed into the obsidian once more as his Mangekyou awaken.
"YOU HEAR ME SASUKE!" Naruto roared, his voice one of pure irrational rage, "YOU DON'T GET TO BLAME KONOHA THIS TIME! YOU LET IT HAPPEN!" The Kyuubi's chakra raged on, burning higher into the sky.
"What the hell is going on?!" Kakashi demanded as he approached his students.
"The Kyuubi's seal cracked under Naruto's anger." Sasuke drawled.
"This is the extent of Naruto's rage. Explosive isn't it?" Sakura kept her eyes pinned to the growing chakra mass in the arena.
Yet, just as suddenly as it started, the swirling red began to slow, move inwards until it was swaying around the blond Shinobi who was now on his knees, tears falling from red slitted eyes. Sakura and Sasuke knew Naruto and his relationship with the tailed beast within him well enough to know that this was Kurama, comforting Naruto in his greatest time of need.
This was the tailed beast of their past. One of their fears had been that Naruto would have to start all over with the beast within him. He'd have to try and calm the raging hatred of the Kyuubi once more.
But it would seem, that as chakra sank back into Naruto's body, the blonde's eyes changing to golden, that all was alright with them. They were the same Naruto and Kurama from before the Yondaime's jutsu. The chakra flared outwards in a brilliant flash, surrounding the blond like a new found sun.
Kakashi left them the moment he knew it was safe enough to approach Naruto, crouching down next to him to see if he was alright. He wasn't sure if he could touch Naruto while he was in this form. "Naruto?"
Naruto didn't respond, lost within his own mindscape, falling to the Kyuubi for comfort.
It was the sound of three objects hitting the ground near him that caused Naruto to pull away from his mindscape.
Three Konoha headbands winked at him, one pink, one blue, and one black. Sakura, Sasuke and Itachi's.
"Since you're the one most loyal to Konoha, you should keep those. For sentimental value. After all, you always were my best friend." Sasuke stated, before lifting a hand and gathering his chakra. "Till next time, Dobe." Naruto growled, leaping towards Sasuke with an extended fist.
Before Naruto could touch the Uchiha a wall of chakra swirled into existence, a skeletal form quickly forming from the chakra. The bony hand held firmly to Naruto's first, stopping the golden ninja from reaching his intended target.
Then a whirl of black flames and all four of the now Akatsuki members were gone. Naruto sagged forwards, the golden aura whisping away.
"Naruto, what the hell is going on?" Kakashi asked, desperation colouring his tone.
"Sasuke, he never was able to move past the death of his clan." Naruto muttered, one shaking hand moving towards the headbands tossed so carelessly on the ground. Kakashi's heart was racing but it nearly stopped when he saw how dead Naruto's eyes had become. Naruto knew there was no point in going after Sasuke now. They were long gone. Sasuke was good at those shunshins.
"But I don't understand." Kakashi admitted.
"Neither do I." Naruto sighed, tucking the headbands into his pouch. Naruto grimaced, looking towards the Hokage and the Kazekage, both frowning down at them. Naruto focused his chakra and chains sprang to life around the Kazekage, a random ANBU in the audience, and the sand siblings. "Guess I don't need to hide anymore."
Those caught in Naruto's chains began to sink into the ground, and no amount of struggling on their part seemed to make any difference. Two of the five apprehended individuals appeared in the middle of the arena. Naruto turned to the Hokage and bowed. "Enemy apprehended. May I be excused?"
The Sandaime nodded once and Naruto bowed again before grabbing Kakashi's hand and shuninshinning away from the drama that the events would bring. That was for the Sandaime. Naruto reappeared in his apartment where he collapsed on the floor in a boneless heap. "I can't do this again, Kakashi-sensei." The blond wailed, reminded the jonin of the child he was supposed to be rather than the ruthless Shinobi he was.
"I don't understand." This was what Kakashi wanted to scream until his lungs burst. Yet, he remained quiet as he bent down and scooped the genin off the floor. Naruto's apartment was a little big for a child but it was all he had. The place was neat and tidy, more so than what you'd expect given how impatient and hyper the genin was. Kakashi walked towards Naruto's room where he gently placed the sobbing genin on the bed.
Naruto clung to him, like that night in ANBU headquarters so many years ago. He cried so hard his entire frame shook, but still he clung to the jonin. Kakashi held Naruto close, rubbing small, slow circles on the genin's back. Naruto needed him, and the least he could do was allow the genin to express his pain. It didn't matter how powerful he was, Naruto was still just a child. A child who's teammates had abandoned him.
So Kakashi would wait, until Naruto was able to tell him what was going on.
"Senpai, you need to wake up." The voice was familiar and unfortunately so was the tone. "It's the Sandaime, he wants to see both you and Naruto-kun."
Kakashi blinked awake, staring at Tenzou's worried features.
"How long has it been? I didn't realise I'd fallen asleep." Kakashi voice was rough indicating far more time had been spent being unconscious than he would have liked.
"No time for that. We have to go to the Sandaime." Tenzou didn't wait. He placed a hand on Kakashi's shoulder and then shunshined them unto the Hokage's tower. Naruto, who'd been sleeping on his chest, woke up with a start. He glared at the occupants of the room before suddenly deflating as though remembering the earlier events.
"Naruto-kun, they tell me I don't have much time, so I need you to come here. You too Kakashi-kun." Naruto's gaze was drawn to the feebly spoken request and his heart squeezed. "Jiji. . ."
"Kakashi, you will be my successor. I've been meaning to tell you. I guess time is something we all take for granted." Sarutobi smiled weakly. The desk had been removed, leaving a hospital bed in its place. The Sandaime was lying in the bed, several medics close by but all looking grim.
"What are you talking about?" Naruto demanded. "We got Orochimaru before he could do anything?"
"Heart attack." The response was from Asuma, who looked pale and distant. He was standing close to the door, as if ready to run. "Several in one go. They're surprised he's even managed to hang on this long."
"Naruto-kun, don't let all your careful planning go to waste. I leave the care of Konoha to you. I rest easy knowing that my village and my people are in good hands." Sarutobi continued, not pausing to allow for any of the information to sink in. "I know your heart is heavy now, but I implore you to remember why Itachi-kun left. I'm sure you and your teammates were able to deduce the truth."
What? What did that mean?
Naruto was too shocked to move as he watched the man he had come to love as a grandfather slowly slip into death, not even able to carry on giving his messages.
No! They'd prevented this. They'd made sure that Orochimaru wouldn't win!
Kakashi was still too shocked with the proclamation of his promotion. Hokage? What was the old man thinking?!
Shikaku placed a hand on Kakashi's shoulder, giving him a sympathetic half smile. "Got lots to do Hokage-sama. We've just begun to deal with the failed invasion fall out. No time to fall apart now, and definitely no time to meet with the Fire Daimyo. That will have to wait for later."
Kakashi wanted to run, but for some reason his legs kept him rooted to the spot.
"Lead them well, Kakash . . . ."
Sarutobi Hiruzen's last words before his eyes slipped closed and his chest stilled.
The funeral was just as grand as before, despite there being only one death this time. It was just as heart breaking too.
Naruto kept close to Kakashi's side throughout the enter proceeding. Ever since the reveal at the Chunin exams, people had been avoiding him, more out of respect than fear. Didn't matter though. It wasn't what he wanted. He wanted things to be like they were before, before.
Both he and Kakashi had been far too busy to discuss Sasuke and Sakura. As a newly promoted Hokage and Jonin, both Naruto and Kakashi didn't have much time for anything other than doing damage control.
Naruto hadn't even had the time to reflect on the Sandaime's last words to him.
Right now, he didn't even want to.
"When the ceremony is over, Naruto-kun, we're having that discussion we've been putting off." Kakashi stated quietly. Naruto didn't reply at first, his mind numb as he stood in the rain, leaving it to run down his face in small rivulets. "Hai, sensei."
"So, you're Itachi's little brother." Pein was starting at his new members with a certain measure of curiosity. If Itachi had been interesting, his little brother was absolutely fascinating.
Itachi stood close to Sasuke, protective, even when it was clear Sasuke didn't need protecting. Sakura stood near Sasuke, just as confident as the Uchiha.
"I thought my Sharingan did all the talking that was needed when it comes to relations." Sasuke narrowed his gaze in irritation. Pein did not react but Konan narrowed her gaze. "Cut the crap. We're not here for you. We're here for Itachi. End of story."
"So what do you intend to do with Itachi?" Kisame grinned, hand moving to the handle of his sword suggestively.
"I don't think he can do anything with Itachi." Hidan sneered. "He's just a brat."
Sasuke's features were one of murderous annoyance. Before he could reply, Itachi spoke, his tone soft. "Perhaps my brother can be of use to the cause. He knew the Kyuubi Jinchuriki quite well."
Sakura didn't look towards Sasuke to see what he would do. This was what Itachi had endured for so long. They had to endure it too. "No. I told you. I'm here for Itachi. I don't care what your little organisation does."
"Then what is the point of you being here at all?" Pein countered.
"Because you can't make me leave." Sasuke smirked. "Besides I might feel inclined to help out, every so often."
Itachi remained silent, taking in the events happening around him. This boy, this overly confident child, this was his younger brother. What had happened? Was leaving him alive a mistake after all?
"No matter. I have no interest in a child anyway, especially one playing at being a ninja." Pein waved a hand dismissively, a hint of impatience in his tone. "We should focus on the task at hand. Itachi, Kisame, you're getting reassigned for now."
Itachi barely listened to the man, taking in Sasuke posture, the way his eyes flickered to all parts of the room and over each occupant. This was not a child playing at being a ninja. This was so much more. Sasuke was so much more.
Itachi would find out, he had to, because Pein wouldn't ignore Sasuke for long.