Chapter 41

AN: Another chapter, brought to completion by the massive freeze keeping me inside and off of work (not that I'm complaining about that). Anyway, here is a short recap for those not wanting to read back several chapters:

Last chapter Naruto was gravely injured by Kimimaro, but Kurama and Tsunade saved him through combined efforts. He will be travelling back to the village this chapter.

Shizune and Angel beat the sound five off screen (sorry), thinking Tayuya is dead.

She is not, and thus crawls over to a (surprise, surprise) still alive but snake like pedomaru. Pedomaru takes her body as his vessel.

Dragon (AKA Shisui) is in turmoil about how much of a burden it would be to reseal Shukaku as well as thinking Gaara would be a great ally. So he visits the imprisoned Gaara and gives him something to think about. Gaara is left wondering where his important people to fight for are.

The Third Hokage is still in his coma, as is Deidara.

Finally, Hikaru and his squad (Hana is on this squad, as is an Aburame), are in the Land of Rice. They sense Itachi and Kisame heading towards the boarder of their country, and resolve to stop them. Too bad for them it will probably end badly… because S ranks are badass… just saying. It won't be much this chapter, but know their fight will happen.

Anyways, hope this helps you on your reading journey, so let us begin the typical Naruto insanity!

With Naruto, one day later…

Like all ANBU agents that passed their training montage, Naruto could force himself to move with grave injuries and act completely normal. Inside he might be dying and wishing to be knocked out and carried back, but his pride as an ANBU black ops would not allow such a weakness to show.

Well, that, and if he let himself be carted back by stasis scroll or piggy back they would arrive at Konoha sometime next year. Which is why the Jinchuuriki was pushing himself to run at top speed despite the protests of his travel companions.

"Naruto," Tsunade said from behind, far behind. "If you keep this stupidity up you'll open your wounds up and I am not healing injuries caused by stupidity!"

"Baah, I've had worse! Keep up, old hag!"

"Really? You have?" Angel asked, keeping up with him. He gave an eye smile and thumbs up.

"No, you really haven't, fleabag." Kurama's ever cheerful voice spoke up, making Naruto glad his furry friend could not be heard.

"Shh, Kurama. You know I'll be fine. We're less than a day from the village anyway; I'll rest then."

So caught up in reassuring Kurama that he didn't need to be forcefully knocked out, Naruto missed the incoming fist to his head until he was crashing into a branch. Tsunade looked down at him, smirking.

"Yeowch, was that really necessary, Tsunade-sama?" He glared at her as she just healed him up and pushed him off the branch.

"Keep moving, brat. You should know calling me anything less than 'Tsunade-sama' will get you a private date with my fists."

"Tsunade-sama! H-his injuries" Shizune said. She sounded extremely exasperated but when Naruto looked over his shoulder mid jump she gave him a look that just screamed 'you deserved it'.

Naruto rolled his eyes as they kept moving. As long as Dragon-sama remained unaware that he, a dedicated and respectable ANBU, called a sanin less than their earned suffix, there was nothing to worry about. It wasn't like Tsunade-sama would actually hurt him, she loved him like a grandson! He'd be fine. Dutifully he ignored the growing dark aura behind him emanating from said person who supposedly viewed him as a grandson.

Within a few hours, Naruto's chipper attitude had waned. His stomach pulsed with a steady rhythm of agony, to the point even Angel noticed the beads of sweat rolling down his forehead. He had ignored all calls for rest from Tsunade and Shizune. His village needed him back, but more importantly they needed Tsunade back in action at the hospitals. Deidara, Hokage-sama, all desperately required her expertise.

"Can we stop?" Angel's sudden question after hours of no comment had him blinking. He moved to deny her request or just carry her as they had too much ground to cover, but Kurama decided to be an ass. Right as his foot was about to meet the next branch and propel him, Kurama cut off all of his chakra being used to repair and sustain his host. Naruto jolted in agony and faltered just enough to crash into a particularly thick branch.

"Why I out to rip you out and seal you in a baby fox" Naruto growled to his tenet who stayed silent, blocking him.

"Naruto!" Angel called and landed next to him with worry in her eyes. Tsunade and Shizune followed soon after. He expected a lecture from them both, but instead Tsunade just lifted him up.

"Come on, I know a bathhouse that will let us rest for the night."

"What? Tsunade-sama, we need to get back to Konoha," he said.

"And we will, brat, after you've had another night of sleep to heal. Honestly, the pace you were going we would have reached the village in a week."

Naruto blinked in surprise as they moved towards a well lit bathhouse and inn, remembering it was run by retired chunin. Great, if they saw him being carried in while conscience and they learned he was ANBU he'd never live it down!

"Wait, we're only a few hours out." He said, protesting. Shizune snorted while following.

"Yes, we were, Naruto. But for the last two hours you've been moving slower than a genin. It would have been a week at your speed. I'm surprised you didn't collapse earlier. You ANBU are insane."

"Oh." Was all he could say. The pain had stopped, Kurama able to focus more chakra into his wound now that he was not pushing himself. Maybe a good night's rest before sprinting the last bit would be worth it.

"I want to be back home just as much as you do, Naruto," Tsunade whispered. He tried to speak against that considering her reluctance since he'd met her despite her saying before she was ready to go back, but she shushed him. "Really. You've sparked my village pride again. But your health is just as important."

Naruto looked down, letting his mouth turn down behind his mask. It was his lack of strength that got him so injured. Logically he knew that he was strong- being a jinchuuriki tended to make one so. But emotionally he knew he had to be stronger for the village. He had almost failed his mission and lost his life. It wouldn't do to die young when his beloved Konoha would need him for war.

"Just rest. We'll sleep here and be on the road by dawn." Lulled by her words, he took the advice and drifted off. It might go against training, but what Dragon-sama didn't know wouldn't hurt him. And by him, Naruto meant himself.

Next morning…

It was well past dawn when Naruto awoke, and the room they more than likely rented was empty. He cursed at Kurama while checking his weapons.

"Why didn't you wake me, furball? What if they skipped town?" Naruto was livid at the thought of his target, Konoha's hope, managing to slip through his fingers, and probably carting Angel around too considering she was nowhere in sight!

"Calm down. I'm not your personal rooster so drop the tone or I'll find a way to send an uncomfortable amount of chakra to your tiny manhood next time you see that female flesh bag!" Kurama was not happy. "Besides, the old hag is with your useless cat close by. You can sense them if you just calm down."

Sure enough Naruto could feel their chakras like the ANBU he was, now that his body wasn't in agony. In fact, now that he could stretch, he found himself being back to normal save a small jab of pain in the center of his stomach. Clearly, no matter how much he did not want to admit it, Naruto had needed that rest. Now, time to find Tsunade-sama and finish the mission.

Less than a minute later and Naruto almost wished he had not tried to locate the notorious gambler. No matter how old he lived to be, Naruto would never be able to get the image of the revered Sanin drunkenly offering to pay her debts "in more than one way" to an equally drunk civilian merchant that Konoha had an alliance with out of his head. Shizune and Tonton stood in the corner wishing for death, while Angel enjoyed the show.

Now, Naruto doubted the "other way" was anything less than an attempt to make the man back down so she could subsequently sneak off and leave the man with an empty I O U, but it still was not pleasant. Worse was this merchant was known to be able to talk to other merchants in more than just his textile field. If he got pissed off at Tsunade and then found out she was in Konoha, not only would he demand payment from the village, but it would lead to him badmouthing it to others. That could lead to the village losing merchants, being forced to assassinate him, spread rumors to discredit the merchant, or more than likely all three. No matter the outcome it would not be good at the current time. So, Naruto would have to correct this mess. Again.

He stalked over to Shizune, startling her when he whispered, "how much does she owe?"

"W-what? Oh, Naruto-kun." She looked nervous.

"How much does she owe?" Once more, he asked.

"Three million," Angel said instead. So, more than the village would want to pay even if it was very doable. He could just win it back from the merchant, but that could make the man angrier.

"Oh, Tsunade-sama." Shizune fretted. She squeezed Ton Ton so tight the pig choked, causing Shizune to apologize and turn her attention to the creature. When she looked back up, Naruto had vanished.

"Strange," she murmured, before mentally preparing herself to run to Konoha with a drunk Tsunade-sama.

Naruto sighed in exasperation minutes later as he and five clones set off to the small town to the west of the inn. The town, called Koi, was known for the smaller gambling houses and shady Yakuza gang that Konoha let run amok as it kept a rival faction from rising up and they paid a tax to the village- under the table. Well, sadly for whatever poor team would be sent to stop the inevitable turf war, Naruto had to decimate them for their cash. Financially, of course, but a Yakuza without money was soon to fall.

Sneaking into the various storage buildings was the easy part. Within minutes the mental map Tenzo had him memorize of the town the last time they were in the area ensured that he and the five clones were in position. Taking the 'guards' out was even easier, and Naruto doubted they would be missed.

The difficult part was making sure the deaths looked not like a shinobi did it, but an untrained thug or hitman. That was what usually gave Konoha and other villages away when their very expertise was what screwed the mission over. Thankfully Naruto had learned from the best in killing like thug, and it wasn't from Kakashi-senpai or his teammates.

Flashback, several months before…

"Yosh, my Youthful student! Good morning, it is time for another YOUTHFUL DAY," Guy said.

It was too early for Naruto to deal with his crap, especially after the screw up he caused last night with Yugao-senpai. Instead of his usual respectful greeting, Naruto grunted.

Guy looked at his neighbor in surprise, not used to Naruto being more than passively rude. The boy was cocky at times, and liked to roll his eyes at Guy, but never did his refuse to greet his favorite neighbor. When an attempt at throwing a punch to get the boy into fighting mode failed, the green obsessed jonin decided to try another tactic.

"Yosh, what is dampening your flames of Youth this morning, young Naruto?" Guy asked, plopping down in front of Naruto. His words were the same as always, but more serious in tone.

Naruto raised an eyebrow in surprise at his 'teacher' being interested in anything besides being youthful. Figuring the man would get the gossip at the jonin bar later anyway, he decided to spill. Maybe it would help more than Kurama did with his laughing.

"I just… I messed up last night. Badly," Naruto admitted, looking away in shame.

"Hmm, you are still here, and not off to the dusk of youth or discharged, right?" Guy asked. Naruto snorted.

"Maybe, but that doesn't change the fact Yugao-senpai was counting on me and I blew it."

"What was the Youthful task you 'blew', Naruto-kun?" Guy looked so serious Naruto gulped. Great, he'd actually get a lecture at five am in the morning.

"I… had to kill a man."

"You did it badly- worse than a flea!" Kurama chimed in. Naruto tried to ignore him, but the beast was correct; he did kill him wrong.

"And you have not done so?" Guy looked confused, as he should. Even most genin had killed by now, much less an ANBU agent and Jinchuuriki.

"No, I've killed loads! Tons… well, enough anyway. But this time I had to make it look like a bandit killed them so that the target's family didn't link it to shinobi. Yugao-senpai asked if I could do it and I said yes."

"But you killed with such Youthfulness that it showed. Yosh, now I get it, Naruto-kun!" Guy, suddenly exuberant again, jumped up and started dragging Naruto towards the market. "I will turn you into the most YOUTHFUL bandit."

"Uh, Guy-senpai? Where are we going?" Naruto asked as they continued towards the market, and the blinding smile he got in return made him regret doing so.

"Yosh, we are off to get a most YOUTHFUL tool to kill with," Guy said with way too much goodness for a sentence about murder. This was a shinobi village, however, so the few civilians out didn't bat an eye and one even thanked Guy for working so hard.

"I have weapons" Naruto protested once the meaning caught up to him. A new killing move would have been appreciated, not a weapon.

"But do you have a rusted sickle and gloves?"

Flashback ends…

Naruto looked his gift, a top quality sickle that was made to look rusty. Rarely has he had to use it, but it- along with the moves Guy showed him over the next week- saved a few missions since. Now it would save Konoha's reputation. Hopefully, Dragon-sama wouldn't be too mad.

"A shinobi" One Yakuza attempted to cry out before Naruto landed a sloppy slash to the throat and eye. The man fell with a thud, barely an afterthought as the ANBU looked at the crate of money in the room. Oh, if only any leftovers could go to him, all the ramen he could buy! But no, any and all leftovers would have to be given over to Dragon-sama or face charges. Thankfully, the money might prevent him getting more than a lecture.

"You can't be in here!" Yet another guard covered in tattoos rushed from the doorway with a rusted knife. Naruto ducked under the man and drove the sickle deep into the body in an upward thrust. He didn't blink at the pooling, blood, knowing there would be more of it soon.

Naruto sealed the money in a blank seal before heading out the door, careful to kill the remaining guards the same way. A beat up skull here, a stabbed lung there, and any 'investigators' would think a rival gang came through.

"Wait, please, I'll give you whatever you want." A teenager, this time looking no older than Hikaru, begged with his hands covering his face. Naruto felt a stab of pity. He briefly considered it, wondering if there was a way to make the man lose his memory or at least kill him with no pain before mutilating him for show, when a sword is suddenly jutted towards his throat. On instinct Naruto disarmed the now sneering Yakuza and stabbed him through the throat. He felt no pity as the now dead teen collapsed. He cleaned up his sickle and resealed it, thanking Guy mentally once more.

"Tsk. Honestly, these people are worse than Iwa Shinobi," Naruto spat and continued out, meeting his clones three minutes later.

Less than hour after he left Naruto put four million- three for Tsunade's loss and one as a 'gift' from Konoha- at the very happy merchant's feet. Tsunade gaped at him as he dragged them all outside by his chains.

"Not. A. Word. Tsunade-sama" he ground out and sure enough they set off at a quick pace in silence. All that was on Naruto's mind was his home.

Sundown, Dragon's office…

Dragon looked at his shuffling subordinate in pride and amusement masked behind minor disapproval. He was more than proud that Mouse successfully retrieved Tsunade and her apprentice, both of whom were now treating the more serious injuries. By next week most would be able to sit up and function, if not do light paperwork.

But taking out a Yakuza gang he set up? No, Dragon was not very happy with that. Amused, yes, but happy? No. They would have to prop up another group before chaos set in and make sure there was no connections to shinobi. Oh well, that was a problem for future Shisui. Now, however, he had to deal with a certain Mouse's next assignment. The feline was already off sniffing out leftover weapons in the forests, as the Inuzuka dogs needed some rest. Hopefully she would be more effective than some of those mutts.

"Normally even I would give you time to rest, Mouse. What your mission was, was an S rank at least in importance and difficulty," Dragon said. Mouse dutifully stood straight and emotionless even without his mask or uniform on. "But Konoha cannot afford for any shinobi off."

"Yes, Dragon-sama." Good, he was willing to go to another S rank if that is what Dragon chose to do. But there was a much more important task that needed to be done.

"Until your squad is back to full strength I will require your unique way with the shadow clone." Mouse blinked at him and Shisui took a bit of Uchiha like pleasure in the task he was about to assign, even if it was out of necessity more than pay back for the Yakuza incident. "You will be our manpower on rebuilding."

The surprised squawk made Shisui's evening. Terrorizing his minions always made the days brighter, especially after the day they just had. A crow, not one of his summons, but still very familiar, looked at him from the window as he dismissed Mouse to get a good night's sleep.

"Damn you, Itachi; was it really necessary?" He said at the crow, who just blinked. Looking at the wrapped sword behind his desk made him want to be a kid again, running off to the training grounds to blow off his anger.

Finally, the hospital, with Naruto…

Naruto blinked in surprise at Deidara, Yugao, and a newly bandaged Hikaru sleeping side by side in their beds an hour later. Tsunade-sama was set to look at them in the morning, but Naruto had wanted to visit regardless. Seeing his senpai who should have still been on a mission, instead looking like death, was unnerving.

"Senpai… what happened to you?" Naruto asked the comatose man, aware that none of his squad could answer him.

"It was… hell." A female voice he recognized spoke from the doorway. Naruto had sensed her coming but didn't bother to acknowledge until now.

"Hana." Naruto greeted. "Am I cleared to know what happened?"

"…No." Just as he thought. A part of him wanted to push her, or try and weasel the information out, but honestly it did not matter when his team was so injured. All that mattered was he was staying with them before his shift at the rebuilding station tomorrow. So, Naruto sat down on the visitor's chair with a sealing scroll, deciding that making bigger explosions was just what he needed.

Finally ( I lied before), with Gaara…

Gaara looked back at the cell, the place he had begun to think of as his. In there, no one had caused him actual harm, he was fed quality food, and every ANBU used his name. They didn't fear him.

Then again, why fear the One when they had the Nine?

Gaara almost turned back, almost woke the now unconscious- not dead, he didn't want that- ANBU that were clearly over worked and at him saying he wanted a shower, let their guards down. It took awhile, but his chakra had broken the seal, or rather he learned to use his powers without it. He shook his head. No, he had to do this. Naruto Uzumaki beat him, because he had people to fight for. Gaara never had that. But he would.

He would find these people, no matter how long it took.

"May we meet again, Naruto," Gaara said, before letting his sand whisk him away.

End. Right now rolling blackouts so we'll see when this can be uploaded. Anyway I took out the Itachi vs Hikaru and such fight scene and will have it in a flashback, as it broke up the flow of the chapter a tad. I'm getting back into writing fanfiction as I've been writing a lot of original works, but I'm overall proud of this.

I wrote a one shot (my first), called "Kunoichi Troubles!" If you like female Naruto basically being a master manipulator, check it out.

KMM will be posted tomorrow if the blackouts let me as it is on a google doc. If not, later this week.

My pipes are frozen… hoping they don't burst. When our power is going I'm putting a hairdryer on them, any other tips?

Stay safe and warm out there and let me know how everyones' lives are!

Have a fantastic week,

Riku.

(ps. Join our discord . Shout out to Dragon my beta- may you survive this semester!)

discord .gg / K5C8SYh