Chapter 42

AN: Welcome back! I have survived the semester, with a 4.0 intact (somehow). Anyway, here is the next installment in "Naruto really needs a break but this is fiction so we can stall the incoming burnout until it's convenient for the plot!"

Previously, on From Academy to ANBU…

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.

Onto the new chapter material!

With Naruto, next morning….

Naruto arrived at the academy along with the sun, alone. Angel had been too ashamed to come with, and he respected the decision, no matter his personal feelings on the matter. Instead, she was going to help the Inuzuka hounds patrol the forests behind the Hokage Monument.

A shinobi overseer— chunin by the looks of the eyebags and slouch— was handing out assignments for the day to a gaggle of shinobi and civilians. Naruto waited patiently for the man to give him his orders. Thankfully he had been prepped by Dragon-sama with the knowledge that Naruto would be a grunt worker that would supply thousands of clones if need be. The chunin glanced up, saw Naruto in his chunin garb, and nodded, signing that he would be with him soon.

"Boss!" Four voices shouted in unison, and Naruto let out an amused chuckle as his supposed minions ran towards him.

The academy was basically rebuilt by this point, only a few scorch marks littering the roof from stray jutsu remained. The rest of the village— and walls, if Naruto remembered correctly— were an entirely different story; collapsed or almost collapsing buildings were not uncommon, and many more roofs were in need of repair. As such, even the students were helping, Dragon-sama declaring it a way to build strength and knowledge in civilian skills when a few parents complained that they sent their child to the academy to learn, not be free labor.

Of course, if the grumblings Naruto had overheard from some older students were correct, they still got packets to fill out from their senseis, specifically over geography and war procedures. Apparently, Dragon-sama wanted all his troops prepared for the brewing conflicts.

"Hey brats, here to help?" Naruto asked and eye smiled at them. The quartet basked in his awesomeness (as they should), even if Momo looked a tad somber. Naruto blinked, surprised at the reaction from her, but filed it away for a private conversation. For now, it was time to make the village safe again.

"Yes, Boss," Konohamaru said, "but we're going to be on water duty for everyone." None of the kids looked happy about it. Naruto understood why, even if it was necessary. Water being delivered to workers and volunteers would keep not only physical strength up, but also morale.

"Well, it's only one day, right? And I'll keep a clone with you guys, sound good?"

All of them brightened at that, and Naruto figured he just did something good. After work, it would be time to address the Bijuu in the room, however: Iruka.

"Like I could fit into a room, Fleshbag," Kurama growled.

"And good morning to you too, Furball," Naruto shot back growling.

"You're on a thin branch, sapling," he said. There was a hint of smugness at the annoyance that shot through Naruto from the horrible attempt at a plant pun.

Choosing to ignore his partner, Naruto focused on making one clone, sending it off with the minions. It would also keep them on track and not start a water fight or attempt to use Momo's sealing skills for pranks. He waved them goodbye with the promise of feeding them after the shifts ended.

"Ah, Naruto-kun, thanks a lot for coming," the organizer said once everyone was gone. He looked average, even for a chunin: brown hair, black eyes, plenty of bags that looked like eyeliner. The only reason the man wasn't slaving as a brick setter or on patrols was his background in construction though civilian parents, Naruto heard.

That, and whisperings of being the reason Kumo's water supply failed three years ago by way of going undercover as a master builder and "accidentally" linking it to the sewage. It was probably a folk tale, but he was high on Naruto's respect list if it was true.

Naruto gave a bow in greeting. "Thank you for having me…"

"Oh! Everyone calls me Asuka, no family name I care to claim." He seemed nice enough if a bit anxious. Not wanting to say the family name was odd, but ANBU had weirder quirks, his teammates coming to mind.

"Nice to meet you then, Asuka-san. What will be my orders today? Anything you need, I will do my best to accomplish."

"Wow, much more polite than I thought an ANBU would be," he observed. Instantly there was a kunai out and Naruto channeled the greatest concentration of captain Tenzo that he could into a creepy stare.

"You will not ever utter ANBU in relation to me again, right?" Here Naruto cocked his head to the side, keeping his voice light. "It would be such a shame to have to ensure you don't let a spy or genin know about my… side hustle, right?"

Asuka sweat dropped but nodded nervously. There was no way he would piss the Jinchuuriki off, especially an ANBU level one. The only reason Asuka, a lowly chunin that was happy to keep his head down and work towards the cushy academy position, knew about Naruto's rank was his girlfriend who recently joined ANBU and took him to a poker night. The voice gave Naruto away, and his sweet Aiya confirmed it later.

Bringing it up was not wise, he admitted, but it really was rare to have an ANBU be so polite to a chunin. He felt his stomach knot more than when the Raikage almost caught him rewriting those blueprints for a new water line.

Instantly the dark and creepy expression disappeared, and Naruto clapped his hands together. "Well, now that that's settled, time to work!"

"R-right," Asuka said. "I was briefed on your abilities with clones; could you make fifty for each department, save for the lumber transportation one? I'll need two hundred."

By the end, Naruto had over six hundred of him going around, with many in disguises, reporting to each department head. All the ones in charge knew about him— all were jonin or chunin— but the civilians and normal shinobi would balk at that many Jinchuuriki clones helping. Some rumors were circulating about Naruto being a shinobi amongst the civilians, but there was no need to cause heart attacks by being too obviously powerful.

He knew the basics of each task, but had a feeling there would be a massive amount of learning involved by the time his clones popped. For the next three hours, Asuka and Naruto bounced around the village, checking each sector, from civilian to shinobi. Many times a building had rubble that a squad had not gotten to yet. It fell on Naruto to seal massive amounts of fallen structures into scrolls in order to speed it up. He then used shunshins to transport him and the chunin over to the designated "dumping grounds." There, civilians worked to sort through materials, intent on re-using them for future projects.

"Excellent. Now that you're done with that, may I have you deliver some documents? They're too important for a clone and I must be off to meet with the roofers." Asuka was a slave driver, Naruto realized, and the glint in the man's eyes was like he won the lottery. Based on the amount of work it would take to do the job without Naruto's massive sealing and cloning capabilities, it was pretty much true.

Naruto sighed. "Yes, Asuka-san." With that, he took the various scrolls addressed to many different— and important— sides of the government. Seems like he would be putting up with the posh upper class today.

With Shisui, Itachi, and Tenzo…

"This is bad, very bad," Tenzo said, looking at the journal in front of him.

Shisui nodded, slouched over his chair as they were alone. "Indeed. Not to mention Jiraiya got word of the Akatsuki's immortal members coming to get their rings back."

Here he glared at Itachi, who was leaned on the far wall. He raised an eyebrow.

"Did you expect me to let the situation go the direction it was heading, Shisui?"

"No, but more discretion would have been nice!"

"When Hidan and Kakuzu arrive, I will dispose of them."

Shisui sighed. His cousin was a genius and could give him a huge fight if push came to shove, but he was an idiot in many other ways. Thinking through the consequences of his in the moment decisions was one of them.

No matter how bad it was to have him in the village, cover blown— though currently the Akatsuki believe him to be dead— Shisui was still happy to have him home. It was months earlier than planned, but it was not something he regretted.

"We have Mouse to think about, as well. This mission is not one I would prefer to send him on without his full team. The village needs its Jinchuuriki."

Itachi grunted. Tenzo looked contemplative.

Why couldn't Hiruzen be back and making these tough decisions? All the crap happening was not what Shisui imagined himself dealing with. At least, not with his mentor in a coma, fighting for his life.

"I don't know what to do, Hokage-sama. No solution seems to be the right one," Tenzo admitted. He insisted on using Shisui's future title, much to his chagrin.

The mood was too depressing for Shisui, so he gave a devilish grin. Itachi inched away, knowing what that look meant.

"Tenzo, Tenzo, don't worry. I have a solution."

"Oh, thank goodness, Hokage-sama!"

"It involves fire,"

"Absolutely not!"

Hours later….

The last scroll, addressed to Ibiki Moreno, was a welcome relief to the politicians, budgeters, and even Dragon-sama. The man had taken the unexpected visit as an excuse to test out a new genjutsu. Apparently the chunin were too scared to let their future Hokage do more mental damage to them and the other ANBU were too smart to be around when Dragon-sama got the itch to try something.

As such, Naruto had spent an unholy amount of time fighting bowls of ramen dressed as Guy who screamed about "YOUTH" way too much for his liking.

"Stupid Dragon-sama, I'll get you back, just you wait. Mwhahaha, when you least expected, Naruto Uzumaki will be there, and I will not be merciful," he muttered the entire time it took to get past security. The ANBU on guard, Jaguar, snorted at his coworker's entirely ludicrous plans.

"Sure thing, Mouse. Keep telling yourself that."

Naruto chuckled nervously at the fact someone heard him, but waved as he stepped through.

T & I was a strange building, with a sense of doom always lurking. Hallways crossed with pits, and there were way too many cells and "interview rooms" for Naruto's liking. He never enjoyed being here, but it was a great place to talk Anko into helping him with poisons.

Speaking of which, the insanity that was Anko broke down the door of Ibiki's office right as Naruto was coming up to it. He sweat dropped as she screamed in terror, dodging Ibiki's kunai.

"You'll never catch me alive!" She called out, still dodging. She then spotted Naruto, and chose to use him as a decoy. "It's up to you, maggot, go forth and protect your sexy senpai."

With that, she shunshined away, and Naruto was left with an irate Ibiki. Not something he ever enjoyed, and Anko would never be getting dango from him again. Choosing to play suck up in hopes of survival, he gave a deep bow.

"Ibiki-sama, I have a document delivery for you."

Ibiki raised an eyebrow, instantly calm and calculating. "I can see that." He accepted the scroll, reading through it quickly before burning it to ash.

Walking into his office, he motioned for Naruto to follow, something the ANBU did with a gulp. Praying that Dragon-sama had not made him late to deliver an important document, he stood at attention in a very much destroyed room. Ibiki sat at his desk and proceeded to fill out a scroll. Minutes passed in awkward silence, and the known sadist seemed to enjoy letting Naruto sweat.

Finally, he was done and had it wrapped in sealing tags even Naruto would have trouble breaking.

"This is to be taken to ANBU captain Panther immediately."

Naruto nodded, praying his now cold sweat wasn't noticeable. By the smirk sent his way, it was. "Yes, Ibiki-sama."

He waited to be dismissed, something Ibiki approved of.

"She will be with Hawk's squad on the north wall, fixing the tunnel between it and here. Dismissed."

Naruto left without another word and was off to meet one of the least likable ANBU captains.

Now, Captain Panther was wonderful in many aspects. Mainly, torturing and cackling. She ran the T & I security squads, and while she was civilian raised, had been known to beat the chakra out of many clan born shinobi. She also had the unhealthy habit of pissing off Dragon-sama and running away in hopes of escaping. It never worked, but at times she had managed to pin the blame on Hikaru, who then blamed Naruto. The result would be private "training" with the sadistic commander. Naruto had never been assigned to her for any mission, and he hoped to keep it that way.

He arrived at the wall to see Hawk's squad using earth jutsu to dig the secretive tunnels. Non-ANBU were not allowed to help, for obvious reasons.

Panther was busy arguing with Hawk, her blue mask looking frightening with a snarl on it. Hawk looked just as intimidating, and Naruto knew blows would come if they weren't distracted.

"Captain Panther, Captain Hawk," he greeted, dropping into a crouch. "From Ibiki-sama." He held out the scroll. Panther swiped it and turned away. Like Yugao-senpai, her hair was long and thick, but tied into a braid due to the heat. With her turn, it swung and smacked Hawk in the face. Naruto got the impression he was not amused.

"Mouse, how are you?" He asked instead of bothering with Panther.

Naruto gave an eye smile. "I am well… or, as well as one can be in these times." A thought struck him, reminding him that there were many fallen comrades they would be mourning, in particular Iruka.

Hawk chuckled, sadness laced in it. "Yeah, you got that right. Up for a spar on your next day off? Traps user against pseudo traps user?"

The jab was light but it made Naruto chuckler. "Sure thing, but you'll be going down, sir!"

The banter made the long day a bit better, though the now serious Panther worried him. Naruto stood up, waiting to be dismissed (or sent on another errand, even as waves of clones began popping with the end of the work day), only to feel a weight on his back.

"Gaki, let's go get some dango and avoid Ibiki before my mission, ne?"

"Anko!" He attempted to free himself, but it was no use. "Get off me, I'm not buying you dango. You left me for dead, what if Ibiki-sama decided to make me his personal torture dummy?"

Anko cackled. "Oh, that would be hilarious! Don't worry, I knew Ibiki would need you to play delivery ninja; you were fine."

"I sense the crazy one is lying," Kurama said. Naruto sent a mental agreement, especially when her laughter turned nervous at his glare.

"Did you? Did you really know that?"

"Well look at the time, I got to run. Places to go, people to torture! See you Gaki!" Anko was gone before he processed her words.

"Doubtful, Mouse." Hawk observed.

"Oi, pathetic excuse for a captain, we got a long night ahead of us, damn Ibiki" Panther suddenly said. Naruto backed away slowly as Hawk looked ready to commit treason.

"At least my squad can pass the psych-evals, Panther. Can yours do that? No, thought not."

"And this is why you're only a captain!"

"What the hell is that supposed to mean, you ingrate?! We're the same ranking!"

Kunai were about to fly, and Naruto decided it was time to leave and enjoy a nice evening with his self-proclaimed minions while denying any knowledge of the homicides about to happen.

Just as he prepared a shunshin, Panther pulled an Anko and tackled him to the ground.

"Hold on there, Mouse; I need another body and your squad is out of commission."

Naruto gulped at the ominous words and silently sent another clone to take Konohamaru and the others out to eat.

Looks like I'm doomed, again.

Later, much later, in the sewers…

It was almost dawn by the time he, Hawk's squad, and Panther finished up with the job outlined in the scroll. As it turned out, the sewer had been breeched by an Oto scouting party the night before. They had perished to the traps, but now the passage they used through one of the only exterior pipes had to be re-worked, and the ANBU spent hours following the plans the builders had recommended to keep the sewage working, but more secure.

Ibiki had signed off on those plans and decided that instead of putting a few chunin squads on it, he would make the other bane of his existence do it, that being Panther. Naruto really hated when he got caught up into disputes of other departments.

With his clones, Naruto took the time to add in more seals, Hawk putting more traps as well. He learned a new knot out of it, one specifically for wire that was sure to be fun to use on his next mission that involved decapitation.

"Hopefully this will keep the bastards out," Naruto said when finished.

"Eh, hopefully," Hawk said. "I'm more worried about the border tensions, though."

Naruto didn't respond to that, well aware that war seemed to loom on the horizon, no matter which direction they turned.

When Naruto finally made it back to his apartment— after stopping by to check on his team, all of which were recovering finally— Angel was waiting, along with Tora, on top of his funeral clothes. He sighed, knowing the day would suck.

"Our village survived, and that should make it worth it," Kurama said.

"Keep becoming a patriot. Soon they'll make you a shinobi" Naruto joked instead of addressing the truth to Kurama's words. He knew they all gave their lives for a good reason. Even Iruka. But he still missed them deeply and being around the recovering village was bringing the reality of how horrible the invasion was to the front of his mind.

Kurama was silent after that, contemplating Naruto's words. He always denied the accusation of caring for Konoha, but his container tainted the jaded image he once had. Konoha had flaws, yes, but Kurama saw that through Naruto and the… less than terrible people they worked with… it was getting better and was already better than any other place in this human infested world. Kurama's father spoke of him helping a human with uniting the world in peace. While he wasn't sure the world would ever be united, much less in peace, being with Naruto made him not want to just burn it all to the ground.

Naruto knew none of his Bijuu's contemplations as he made his way to the memorial service. Every shinobi in the village attended, though most ANBU were hidden, guarding. Naruto was in the front, next to a weeping Konohamaru. As the one contact the boy had besides his still comatose grandfather, Naruto had been instructed to stay by his side. Moegi, Udon, and Momo were nearby, giving support to their friend.

"Why Iruka?" Konohamaru asked after placing his flower in front of Iruka's urn. All the shinobi that had fallen were cremated, nobody wanting a repeat of Edo Tensei. It was a necessary cost to security, but it made the funeral feel less cauterizing. The sky that remained sunny, mocking the somber day, only added to the unsatisfying grief.

"I... I don't know." Naruto admitted. He tried to think of something to say, anything of comfort, but nothing came to mind. His own voice hurt, the emotions that were not becoming threatening to bubble out. He was an ANBU, a chunin, the village's Jinchuuriki; to lose himself when surrounded by those that lost entire teammates, lovers, was not happening. He also had to be Konohamaru's rock, and Momo's, having discovered the reasoning behind her sadness. To have lost her mother was a tragedy beyond Naruto's understanding, never having a parent before.

'Well, there was Iruka, but he wasn't my dad.' He mentally berated himself for looking for something that was simply, not there.

"Yes, he was, in the ways that mattered, Naruto."

Naruto didn't have the energy to argue why that was false. Instead, he grabbed Konohamaru and let him cry into his pant leg. The other children crowded around him, sniffling quietly. If Naruto let a tear fall, nobody said anything. Team Seven, in the same boat, watched on from the back.

Kakashi looked down from a perch, wishing he could comfort the students and little brother he had grown to respect and care for, beyond just as an obligation. But Kakashi's grief was flaring up, images of the last time such a large funeral was held, and instead his mind started forming into a plan to not be in the village for the next six months or so. Surely Shisui would see Kakashi's need, let him go off and slaughter Konoha's enemies, instead of facing the emotions.

Shisui stood in front of his shinobi. Many knew he would be Hokage by this point or suspected. While the civilian funeral would be led by a henged Dragon, into Hiruzen, the shinobi deserved the truth. The civilians would be suspicious but not question it much. The shinobi were either okay with the current leadership and plan or hiding it too well for even him.

Either way, they leaned into his words, as he gave respect and honor to his shinobi who were waiting for him to cross over, hopefully in many years.

"We are not emotionless tools, no matter what our rules state. Shinobi and Kunoichi laid down their lives to protect our great village, to keep us free from the betrayers." He paused, let the message that emotions were allowed to sink in. Several wiped a tear away, or bit lips. Good, they were getting it.

After the funeral, memorial stone…

He knelt in prayer for Iruka, spotting his name amongst the new additions. The memory of when he found his mother's name on it all those months ago made tears come to his eyes, wishing to go back to then. Or at least go back to the invasion, save Iruka.

"I'm sorry, Iruka," Angel whispered from his head. She was getting heavy, but maybe that was just the weight of her grief.

"No, Angel, you have nothing to be sorry for."

"It's hard, isn't it," A familiar voice spoke from behind. Naruto gasped and turned, seeing Yakumo in funeral robes, paler than ever. Ferret rested in a tree nearby, no doubt offering his own prayer.

"Yeah, it is," he said. "What… what are you doing here, Yakumo-chan?" He winced at how rude that sounded, feeling his face heat up. "I mean, not that you aren't allowed here! I was just not aware you would be and…"

Yakumo snorted. "I'm here to pay respects to my medic ninjas. They… they protected me, against the invaders."

"Oh. I'm sorry," Naruto said, sincerely. He couldn't remember their names, but they were always courteous to him and cared for Yakumo.

Tears were in her eyes, but she wiped them away. "It's fine." Awkwardly they knelt together, continuing their prayers.

"Would you… like some ramen?" He asked, finally. It was the only thing that would make him feel like Iruka wasn't just gone.

Yakumo looked apologetic. "I would love to, but Ferret's taking me to a new location until Jiraiya-sama returns for… you know." She gestures towards her seal. "And that ANBU Hokage guy was telling Ferret to fetch you earlier."

Naruto blinked, piecing together that she meant Dragon-sama, and shot a glance towards Ferret. The man nodded and walked over, grabbing Yakumo.

"Well, bye. Maybe I can bring some later?"

She smiled. "Yeah. Maybe. But only because you're paying for it."

He laughed a bit, a wet one that still had unshed tears in it. With a wave and final goodbye, he left to see his commander.

Hokage's office…

Naruto landed in a crouch, not acknowledging his captain or Kakashi-senpai who landed next to him moments later. Dragon looked even more serious than normal, and if Naruto wasn't sure that it was impossible, he'd swear flashes of red were coming from where his eyes were.

"Mouse. Tiger. Kakashi"

"Dragon-sama," they said together. Kakashi sounded less than thrilled about it, however.

"I have a mission for you, though Tiger knows it well."

Naruto resisted the urge to ask the question about waiting for his teammates, or the construction work he was supposed to help with. Despite the amazing number of things completed the day before, there were still more things to do. But when Dragon had a new mission, Naruto took it, without hesitation.

"It's an S-class again, and you must not get caught." Well, that was obvious, but there had to be more. "The mission is simple: capture a rogue shinobi who stole not only a certain object from us but is attempting to destroy any semblance of power balance."

Huh. Complicated. Just like every other assignment since he joined ANBU. "Understood, sir."

"No, I do not think you do, Mouse. If the fool succeeds, Suna will no doubt leap for the opportunity to replace the power lost from losing Gaara." Here Dragon paused to meet his gaze. "I am doing something I will admit is foolish, but necessary: I am sending you to Suna."

Naruto gaped. He could feel Kurama joining in on it, just as shocked.

"I cannot tell you much more, but a certain person will be there to help."

Finally, with Dragon…

Shisui watched his subordinates leave in dread. If he had his way there would be a different squad sent, and Naruto would be confined to the village.

But the matter was urgent and having him inside when the coming storm hit would be madness. The journal on his desk, passed down from Hokage to Hokage, was open to the page he wished he hadn't read.

"Damn you, Minato." He cursed. He paused for a moment and added, "and damn you Itachi."

A crow screeched, and he flipped it off. "Don't try that with me, you bird brained cousin; you're causing me so much paperwork!"

A knock on his door let Shisui know it was time to tackle said paperwork. He grunted, and his chunin slave shuffled in.

'There is no way I'm being Hokage for very long. The benefits aren't worth it!'

Omake, with Gaara…

Gaara had been floating on his sand for days, landing at a beach finally when hunger made moving impossible. He laid in the sun, wishing for food.

"This is how I die," he said to the sky, monotone. It was pathetic, really, that he did not find his people yet.

"Hehe, mister, you're funny," a small child giggled from nearby. He looked over in disinterest. If this was before, Gaara would have used sand coffin on the creature. Especially one so annoying looking, wearing a bathing suit and sounding like they had a happy childhood.

Instead, he stared. The child, a boy by the looks of it, stared back. They continued staring, and Gaara would not lose.

"Want a sandwich?" The child finally asked. Gaara blinked and nodded.

If they were sent to poison him, he'd rather it happens through a sandwich than a needle.

Later…

When Idate, the annoying child, had fed Gaara three sandwiches from his family meal, he started making a sad excuse for a sand sculpture.

Now, Gaara never showed anyone, but he was the best in the world at making sand castles, people, even whole labyrinths. To see such a sad excuse for anything sand related made Gaara's murderous urges settle in.

But killing an innocent would more than likely be counter productive to his plans of finding people and becoming good, so instead he settled on commanding his sand to make a five-story traditional castle, intent on crushing the dreams of the worm before him.

A smirk threatened to form on his face at the tears that gathered in Idate's eyes. It was almost as satisfying as using sand coffin.

"It's…" Idate started.

'Yes, yes, fall into despair at my glory! Feel how inadequate you are compared to Gaara of the Desert.'

"It's totally AWESOME!"

Well. That was not the reaction he was hoping for. Then the urchin had the nerve to run inside his creation, and compliment Gaara's work!

Gaara stood outside the castle, not knowing if he should just collapse it and make Idate's blood feed Shukaku.

"Hey!" He glanced up to see Idate waving in a second story window. "Come on, Gaara, let's play!"

So, Gaara "played" the rest of the afternoon. But not because he enjoyed it, but because he was hoping for another sandwich. Nothing more.

If more children from the beach, along with their civilian parents, gave him praise for his work, Gaara certainly did not care. And for certain he did not almost smile or agree to eat with Idate's family that night in their hotel.

That would be too human for a monster like Gaara.

End! How was it? Any good? Sorry for the long wait, but now we're getting back into some action. A couple of things:

This chapter had some new side characters that will be important later, introduced. One is a character a member of the discord created! I'll have y'all guess which one.

Who is excited to finally be going to the Tower? Who is this person Naruto will meet?

Grief is something we've all felt, and I of course did not do it full justice here. But, I did give a glimpse into the shinobi grieving process here. We'll still see instances of Naruto missing Iruka. Heck, I miss Iruka.

Team Ro will be back in business soon! First, however, we have some minor mysteries to clear up, and more to unravel.

My pipes of course survived. All your tips (and lectures lol) helped! My roommate was the one who turned the water off that night, and we all ended up crashing at our landlady's house that week. They had a cat that kind of makes me want to rewrite Angel into its personality, because it was a salty feline who just oozed being annoyed at the world and I love it.

Have a fantastic week,

Riku.

(ps. Join our discord . Shout out to Dragon my beta- CONGRATS ON GRADUATION!)

discord .gg / K5C8SYh