Volume 4

IMPORTANT AUTHOR'S NOTES: Well, uh, hi. So it's been... what, about six years now? Uh... oops! My apologies. In the intervening years, we've learned a lot of things I didn't know when this fanfic was started, many of which are incompatible with this story. Considering I'm constantly being called down on not knowing about Kushina (even though we didn't know she existed until this fic was 300,000+ words in) I expect to be called down on those things, as well. Don't worry - there is an actual chapter here, but I'm going to ask you guys to read these notes first. My absence is a bit of a long story. The short version is "I was trying to get professionally published and was told to discontinue my fanfiction."

I quit posting, but still wrote a few chapters. I used to read reviews, but after a while I stopped that because I wanted to reply and couldn't afford to. I started filtering PMs to a folder I only checked about once every few months. I even largely quit reviewing fanfics I was reading, because I had to minimize my presence in the fanfiction world as much as I could.

Six years later and, well, the person who told me that is no longer involved. I've withdrawn my manuscripts from the trade publishers I was attempting to publish with (one after having sat in a publisher's slush pile for over four years - yes, I've been waiting a long time just like you have), and shortly (as in, any day now) will be self-publishing my first novel.

Guess what that means - I don't have to stay away from the fanfiction world any more. The problem is I can't really justify the time I need to continue any of my fanfics unless I'm getting something from it. Like, say, a marketing avenue.

So, here's the deal. I'm going to start posting fanfiction again. It'll be less frequently that it was when I started this fanfic (new readers may believe it or not, but I used to post a new 4-6000 word chapter every other day), and - unlike my professional work - it'll remain "one draft, no major revisions," but I'll eventually finish this fanfic (and possibly a small selection of my other in-progress fanfics).

But in return, I'll need help from you guys - I have a new business webpage (I think ffnet still censors websites, so you'll have to actually type www dot fennecfoxpress dot com into your browsers). I also have a Facebook account and a forum (brand new; I have yet to activate the first user, though I'm opening registration today, but it's currently open for you guys to look at without registering) linked to from that webpage (under the "Social" tab). If I can get some people to follow me on facebook and-or join my new forum (I'd really like to get at least a couple dozen people to show up there), I can justify posting more chapters. I still would prefer not to discuss my fanfiction very much on these public pages - while I don't have many of them, I do have several other professional authors, editors, and even a publisher among my Facebook friends - but I do hope to make everything interesting for you guys.

Act soon and you could even have a bit of a say in my book. I have two proposed covers (one complete, the other nearly complete). In a few days, I'll be taking a poll (both on facebook and in my new forums) to help me decide which of these two covers to use. I have my own favorite from the two, but I'm currently being outvoted by my beta readers. I'm hoping a more general poll (one I will not bias by saying which is my favorite; I'm going to do this honestly) might be enough to convince either me or them.

Okay, enough of that. I've left you waiting years for this chapter. I won't keep you waiting any longer...

Chapter 14

Lee looked to the sky as a familiar bird's cry tore through it. "Come on," he said to his assembled mission force. "The reinforcements are here. Let's go."

The nine ninja travelled to a pre-arranged rendezvous point, then took position to monitor the area and make sure they hadn't been decieved. There was no reason to believe other ninja would try to set them up on this mission, but then again there wasn't much likelihood of ninja attacking the Daimyo's son back when Blossom was taking some of its first missions, leading to the demise of Shiranui Genma. Besides, they were very close to a national border, and it was possible a local ninja village from one of these border states would be using the same basic signal and rendezvous point. A quick scan of the surroundings, however, showed that it was the expected team from Blossom. Lee, who hadn't yet seen the members of the new teams, entered the camp unprepared for who he'd find.

"Lee-kun!" Tenten called, waving with a smile. "We made it."

Lee forced a smile. "Oh, Tenten-chan. Hi." He paused. "Um, of course, I'm glad you're here, but I'm a bit surprised you were sent." He paused, glancing at the rest of her team.

Tenten blinked. Why wasn't he happy to see her? He normally had flowery proclaimations of the boundless power of her feminine youth whenever they met after a prolonged absense. This apparent dismissal of her was rather upsetting. "Oh? Why is that?"

"It's not just you I'm worried about," Lee sighed. "You know what we're doing, right?"

Tenten nodded slowly, now confused more than hurt. "We're investigating reports of the kyuubi rampaging up north, which we know can't possibly be true."

Lee nodded. "Yeah... up north. Have you ever read your bingo book on those northern countries?"

"Well, of course," Tenten replied. "But I don't see... oh."

She should have remembered right away, because of Kireme's recent lecture on her life in the northern countries, where working in a brothel was better for her than living under any other possible circumstance offered her. Women were to be tortured or killed on the streets, with the minor exception of the prostitutes, and the women of the priesthood - who likely were prostitutes with a slightly different lifestyle.

"I'm not sure what to do with the women I've already got," Lee explained. "Especially the young girls. Adding more..."

"You'll need to spread our teams out a lot, and we'll likely be gone a long time - possibly months," Tenten pointed out. "I suppose having a few genin and one chuunin maintain a small encampment where we can all rendezvous and drop off information would make sense. That could take care of the younger girls and our ANBU female." She paused. "I have the contact information for a number of the brothels in Jiraiya's intelligence network in my briefing book. We'll make contact with one of them, and arrange for Matsuri, Pansuki, and I to get licenses as prostitutes, and infiltrate that way."

Lee looked horrified. "But Tenten-chan! You... you might need to..."

Tenten blushed. "Yes, well, that's what courtesan training is for, after all. Infiltration specialists often need to undergo courtesan training much earlier than most other types of kunoichi, and I'm not an infiltration specialist, but I've completed the basics, so... I should be, ah, safe, at least."


"We'll discuss it later, Lee-kun," Tenten sighed, not really meaning to be so abrupt but not knowing how else to handle the situation. He was right to be concerned, but this wasn't the sort of thing you should talk about with subordinates watching. "So, what's the latest on the local situation?"

"Nothing much new to report. However, if these people are all telling the truth, we've got more than one kyuubi assaulting towns up north. There have been appeals sent to samurai, to local ninja, and to Rock to deal with the situation. The local ninja claim they aren't equipped to handle this sort of situation - which is almost certainly true, as even we aren't equipped to handle this sort of situation, if it really is the kyuubi."

"Which we all know it isn't," Tenten pointed out.

"Of course," Lee agreed. "The samurai are useless - they never show up in time to help, it seems, and there aren't enough of them to even deal with the aftermath properly. And the Rock... well, they just aren't responding, period."

Tenten sighed. "Of course, if they were to actually try something, they wouldn't tell anyone. Which means we may run into them while they're trying to do the same thing we are, which I'm pretty sure wouldn't be a good thing given our two village's pasts. Though I suppose they might not be responding just because they're being assholes about it all."

Lee shifted uncomfortably. "I'd... rather not run into any Rock nin." He paused. "Especially not in battle. I might have family there, after all, and I don't want to fight my own family if I can avoid it, you know?"

That was something Tenten often forgot. Lee's parents had been refugees from the Rock, following some sort of major political upheaval that began when the Fourth Hokage forced the Rock into accepting a conditional surrender. His parents had both died early on in his life, and so he knew nothing of his Rock heritage, but he was bound to have family he knew nothing about in the village. His loyalty to Konoha was unquestionable, but it would undoubtedly burden him to have to fight the people of Rock.

"Yeah," Tenten sighed. "Well, we'll see if we can't avoid them, okay? Now... we need a bit of privacy to discuss certain matters, so let's head to your camp and have my team bunk down for the night so that you and I can finish briefing each other. Okay?"

Lee nodded. "Yeah, makes sense." He turned to her gathered team, and raised his voice. "Okay, everybody! Let's see the power of your youth as we head back to camp, double time!"

Tenten rolled her eyes. "Oh, great... and just when I thought you were starting to sound sensible, too."

"Lee-kun!" Matsuri's voice yelled back. "Remember - you have to stop channeling Gai-sama!"

Lee flushed. "Er, right. Well, anyway, let's move it, everybody! We've only got an hour of daylight left, and I want us all fully encamped by nightfall! Move out!"

It had been a bizarre week in Konoha for all involved. For the first time ever, an entire clan had been expelled, and many of its senior members tried and executed for treason. Tsunade's proclamation, written after the council meeting, coached its terms in such a way that showed she recognized not all Akadou were guilty. However, there was no safe way of sorting the guilty from the innocent, and short of imprisoning them all for life or executing the innocent with the guilty, the only safe thing for Konoha was to exile them all. Brief mention was made of perhaps transferring the whole clan to Blossom, but that was nixxed because Blossom had become important enough that such a large group of potentially dangerous exiles would be almost as big of a hazard as leaving the Akadou clan where it was. In the end, Naruto found a reasonable compromise, as the Akadou agreed to recieve funds to establishment a new ninja village of their own. It turned out that Hill Country, a tiny country to the south of Konoha and far away from any other major ninja powers, had been petitioning Konoha to create a satellite village in its midst. There was zero strategic interest on Konoha's sake in establishing a beachhead in the small land, and there were smaller ninja powers friendly to Konoha in the region who might be offended by such a venture. However, after a very quick discussion with a council formed of the ambassadors from those smaller ninja villages, it was agreed that 'The Village Hidden in the Mossy Heather' that the people of Hill Country wanted would be permitted. The Akadou would not be alone - Naruto had also sent 'invitations' to disgruntled ninja in the Tsurugi clan to join them, and about a third of the clan accepted. The remaining two thirds was a bit unhappy about having its family technique spread to what would likely become a minor rival village, but the clan head of Tsurugi understood the reasoning and managed to explain it to his people. Also invited to go along were various civilians and retired ninja who had been identified as sympathizers of Orochimaru - their usefulness as 'leaks' to the Sound of misinformation was at an end, as the Rock nin who had infiltrated the Hokage's tower had undoubtedly discovered whoever was under 'suspicion,' which would mean that any information Orochimaru recieved from them would be ignored. Not everyone who was invited accepted their invitation, but in the end there was actually a superior force to what was sent to found Blossom all those years before.

The chaos had briefly obscured the troubles of the Hyuuga clan, and for once the Hyuuga Matriarch was pleased that her clan was out of the spotlight. She had been searching all week for her 'friend' from Rock, hoping to question him on what she learned from that council session. She hadn't been thinking through all of the consequences of bringing in a foriegn ninja to spy on the other factions of her clan, she knew, but she hadn't been quite aware of just how significant those consequences could be until she saw the wagon trains carrying the Akadou clan out of Konoha permanently. Surely such a thing would never happen to the Hyuuga clan, Konoha's pride and joy for many years (at least, so she believed), but it was possible that some other form of discipline she had never considered would be enforced once her connection to the Rock was discovered. So, the best thing to do would be to get rid of that connection to the Rock.

She had set the signal up in their pre-arranged dead-drop that she wanted a meeting, but hadn't recieved a reply during the whole week of the Akadou mess. She was beginning to believe that he had fled town, and wouldn't be seen again - hopefully without having left anything incriminating against her. But she wasn't convinced that he was gone... and, after that week had passed, she was sure of it - her dead-drop had been taken, and a secret message leaving a time and location was put in its place.

She was sure to arm herself heavily. If this was a trap, she wanted to be prepared, after all.

Tenten could barely keep her eyes on Lee as he paced along the floor of their meeting-room tent. He was clearly agitated, and he would need to access the lotus techniques to be moving much faster than he was, but Tenten couldn't blame him. After all, she felt the same way, to some extent.

"...and it's not like you'll know what their medical history is," he was rambling. "I mean, what if they carry some horrible disease or something? Medical ninjutsu can only go so far towards treating someone, after all, and the passion of youth won't save you from the problems caused by those passions. And what if you get pregnant? I mean, we're both orphans, so I know that you know what it's like to grow up without a father-figure in your life. I probably wouldn't be so screwed up with Gai-sensei all the time if I'd had a father, after all, so do you really want your son to live without a father? I mean-"

"Lee-kun, stop!" Tenten begged, her voice raised desperately. "First off, there's no chance I'll become pregnant. That was the point of the courtesan training I had, and while you're right - I didn't finish the course - I got that far in it. As far as diseases and stuff like that, I'll probably be attached to a brothel in Jiraiya's network, who will screen clients for diseases and only give me 'assignments' I can handle." She took a deep breath, unsure she really wanted to go any further, but she knew if she didn't get this out in the open now she wouldn't until it was too late. "My biggest worry, Lee-kun, is that... I'm a virgin."

Lee, who had stopped pacing yet looked oddly horrified and relieved simultaneously while she explained the precautions she was taking, suddenly burst back into his speed-walking panicked rant. "See? See! That... how will you ever be able to manage like that? I mean, it isn't in your job description to give up your virginity, is it? Is it!? A delicate young flower like you doesn't need to do this, does she?"

Tenten cocked her head slightly, considering. "Well... actually, it is part of my job description. Kunoichi originally were nothing more than high-class prostitutes who used their positions to steal information from unsuspecting encounters, so I'd say it was definitely part of the job. Things have gotten a lot more civilized, in the past few centuries, but in the papers kunoichi are required to sign before becoming genin it's still noted that we might have to occasionally do this sort of thing." Lee looked crestfallen. "And, because of that, I will take this job." Again, she took a deep breath. "But if I'm going to lose my virginity, anyway, I know who I want to lose it with."

Lee blinked. "Huh?"

"With you." She couldn't meet his eyes, but she was sure of what she was saying for the first time since she'd said it. "I've been thinking about it off and on, anyway, but... well, I do like you, Lee-kun, and I'd rather my first time be with someone I liked than with someone who... well..."

"Paid for it?" Lee snorted, disgusted.

"Exactly," Tenten admitted, disheartened. "Please, Lee? I... I wouldn't ask this of you if I didn't actually like you..."

"But then I'll be sending you off to do this with others right afterwards!" Lee snapped, tears in his eyes as he couldn't find a way around the situation. "I... I don't know if I'd be able to do that, after sharing such a thing with you."

Tenten, heart twisting as she knew exactly what he meant, pulled him into an embrace, allowing him to cry on her shoulder. "It's okay, Lee-kun. With the help of the local brothel's staff, chances are I won't have to deal with this sort of thing at all. But I would like to be prepared... just in case."

Lee sniffled slightly. This was really hurting him, Tenten could tell, and for a moment she had some second thoughts (which, if she were honest, were more like two hundred and second thoughts) about this course of action. His answer, however, prevented her from letting those second thoughts dive too deeply. "I... I guess the only thing I can say is, 'when do we do this?' I... I'm not sure I'm up to it right now."

"It doesn't have to be for quite some time, yet," Tenten pointed out. "I still have to find a member of Jiraiya's network who can make the arrangements, first, and we've got weeks of travel time before we're in that area. Whenever we're up to it. But... I want it to happen sooner, rather than later. If I'm going to do this, I want as much, uh, experience as I can possibly have. Understand?"

"Yes," Lee sighed, just holding her for the moment. "Understood."

"Naruto-sama!" came the shout from a fairly recognizable voice. "Naruto-sama! We have a big problem!"

Naruto sighed. He had been eating a formal dinner with the leaders of the Gekko, Shiranui, and Yuuhi clans, trying to reconcile them following the votes they'd cast against him during the confirmation. The last thing he needed was an over-enthusiastic Hyuuga Hanabi - certainly followed by her harem - to break into that meeting and cause problems during the solemn occasion. Still, he had experience faking smiles, and so he plastered one on and turned to face them. "Hanabi-chan! What is it?"

Hanabi glanced around to see the august company and sighed. She had been hoping to avoid airing out her clan's dirty laundry, but it looked as if she had no choice. Things were rather time-sensitive, so she didn't have any time to try and get them to leave. "I found something important. At a little used dead-drop that I know my clan had developing in the past, I recognized a coded communication between my mother and someone else. I have reason to believe that someone else was the Rock agent."

Naruto's lips twitched as he staved off a frown. "I see."

"Futhermore, I decoded that message as best as I could. I didn't get everything, but I gather she's meeting with him... right now."

Naruto sighed. "I guess we'd better go and check this out. If you'll excuse me, Yuuhi-kun, Gekko-dono, Shiranui-dono..."

"Actually, Naruto-kun," the Yuuhi matriarch replied. She had yet to address him by his proper title. She had been rather reluctant to vote against him, and still wasn't sure if she made the right call. Until she was sure, however, she would continue to treat him as if he were nothing more than a young jounin, and address him as such. He didn't seem to take much offense, which she was pleased with, but then he often addressed her inappropriately in return. "I think I'd just as soon go with you. If this report turns out to be true, you'll need neutral observers to confirm your words."

"I think I speak for Shiranui-dono whan I say I would like to join you, as well, Naruto-sama," Gekko added.

Naruto shook his head. "I don't have time to argue with you, even if I wanted to. Lead the way, Hanabi-chan!"

"You're late."

The Hyuuga matriarch stiffened, as displeased as always at being addressed so informally, especially when the person talking to her was dressing her down. "I didn't get your message until late," she lied. In fact, she had wanted to check him out secretly, to make sure he wasn't setting her up, or - worse - that there wasn't a team of Konoha ninja trying to prove she was dealing with him. Her byakuugan gave her enough vision to be assured about the safety of the meeting, but she needed some time to get from the place she hid to watch the area to the meeting point.

"Whatever," the Rock ninja snorted, not believing her at all and apparently not caring. "I understood you wanted to meet with me?"

"Yes," Hyuuga replied impatiently. "And it took you long enough to get back to me."

"Well, the whole bloody village was in an uproar over the discovery of my existence," the Rock ninja snorted sardonically. "That didn't exactly make it easy for me to arrange things."

"Well, you could have been more careful, you know," Hyuuga snapped. "It was not my fault you were discovered."

His eyes narrowed. "Perhaps. Now, if you want me to do another job for you, I should warn you the price will be higher thanks to the present alertness of Konoha."

"Actually," Hyuuga replied haughtily. "I want to know just what you were doing around here. I gave you very specific things to search for, and you were not to deviate from that while under my protection - by contract! Ninja are supposed to obey contracts, even if the contract in question is not in you or your villages best interests."

The Rock ninja sighed. "Well, it's not like I could just buy the food and supplies I needed for my stay here," he pointed out. "You might have been paying me handsomely, but you weren't letting me eat at your table or take equipment from your stores. By your contract, I was permitted to go anywhere and do anything that was necessary to maintain my presence... and unless I had those supplies, I would have needed to leave after two or three days, instead of two or three years."

Hyuuga sighed. "Well, of course that was acceptable. But whose bright idea was it to consult with Orochimaru sympathizers? What the hell were you thinking when you went to the jail and killed off my people? And what in the world were you doing in the hospital, anyway?"

"Well, I needed medical supplies too, from time to time," he pointed out.

Hyuuga rolled her eyes. "Well, I suppose I can understand that. But that doesn't explain any of the rest!"

"Well, I wasn't exactly 'under your protection' the entire time I was here," he pointed out. "You released me from your services more than a month ago, if you'll recall, without giving me a way out of the village like you found me a way in. I was making contact with people who would be willing to help me to escape. Rock and Sound are allies, in case you were unaware, which made Orochimaru sympathizers, and the Akadou clan in particular, the people to go to in order to get a way out established."

"Why didn't you tell me you needed a way to leave?" Hyuuga sighed. "It would have been quite a simple thing to do, and it would not have resulted in all of this... this nonsense that has been going on this past week."

"Sorry I underestimated your abilities," the Rock ninja sneered, bowing mockingly. "But after having been around you for the past two or three years, I was not confident that you could manage it."

Hyuuga's eyes narrowed. "I... see. And your reasons for killing off the people of my clan in the jail?"

"Oh, the explanation for that is rather simple," he replied, laughing.

She started to get angry as his laughter continued for some time without any explanation forthcoming. "Well?" she snapped.

"Accepting your contract was just an excuse - my real reason for being in Konoha is to destroy its most powerful clans." He grinned darkly. "And, as you are so fond of saying, the Hyuuga are the greatest clan in Konoha."

Her eyes widened. "You... what?!"

"Now... since I'm done with my mission destroying your clan from within, I can start destroying it from without, and in stealing its most valuable asset," he continued, thrusting a kodachi that had been hidden up his sleeves into her guy. Without her byakuugan activated, she had no ability to detect the attack until it was already in her gut. "Now, please die fast - I want to collect those lovely eyes of yours and be gone before dawn."

"Like hell," she spat, staggering back and activating her clan technique. She was injured, and she probably couldn't complete all of her techniques effectively in as much pain as she was in, but she was still one of the most experienced warriors of the Hyuuga clan, and she could still fight. She coughed up some blood, splattering it onto the ground, but stoically fell into the most powerful fighting stance of the jyuuken style of taijutsu. Then she grinned, smiling through the blood on her lips. "You are within the range of my divination, after all."

Her first attack, however, was countered, the Rock ninja's kodachi buried deep into her hands, pinning them together. "Oh, come on. You really expect to catch a sword wielder of the Rock with that old trick?" he snorted.


"There was a ninja travelling incognito who passed through Rock, once, who we later found was named Sinobi Gashir. His goal was to capture your eyes, and he was seeking any techniques we might have learned against you during the wars. We traded information... but obviously not everything we knew. He pointed out that the best way to counter the technique you attempted was to know where the tenketsu were on your own body, and to stop your attack before you made contact. He never figured out how to stop that attack, however, and we doubted he ever would since he never used the sword we knew was needed to safely make such a counter, nor could he figure out where the tenketsu were, himself. But we had ways of finding the tenketsu we never told him about, and we could easily see why a bladed weapon would be so invaluable in such a battle." He smiled slightly. "It took many men more than a year to prepare me for this mission. If we had those eyes of yours, it would only take a few days to teach a man where his tenketsu were, and not the many months of study it took to find just the one. It makes capturing one of your sets of eyes an important proposition."

Hyuuga ripped free, tearing her hands apart in the process. She was starting to feel very dizzy. "What... I've taken worse than this, before, why..."

"Just starting to notice the poison, huh? To be honest, I'm a bit surprised it took so long to start acting. You must have a much stronger constitution than I expected. Don't worry, though, even with this slight miscalculation your eyes are perfectly safe... only the rest of you will be rotting from the inside out."

"Bastard!" she spat. She was dying, she knew it... and, in fact, she was probably already dead. It was possible that Tsunade or Sakura could cure her, given their reputation for medical prowess, but as fast as the poison was coursing through her veins no-one would be able to collect an antidote before she died. "You may think you have won... and perhaps I am going to die. But you will never have these eyes." She started making seals, ignoring the pain ripping through her body from her torn hands and the poisoned wounds.

The Rock ninja recognized those seals, and his eyes widened as he realized what she was attempting... but he'd thought that it was impossible. "No, wait-"

"Hyuuga bunke juinjutsu!" Hyuuga cried. A lesser member of her clan would never have had the strength to do such a technique on themselves, even if they had the courage to... but she had some legitimacy to her claim to the title of Matriarch, and it showed as she managed what many in her clan would have thought impossible.

As green lines started forming on her forehead, the Rock ninja knew he was too late. She had managed to protect her clan the only way she could - by placing the Caged Bird seal on herself. "You bitch. You just earned quite a great deal more suffering, you know, and I-"

"Kenkaze!" a cry sounded from behind him. He turned and saw nothing... but he didn't exactly have long to see anything before a blade of wind sliced through his neck, seperating his head from his body. Naruto leapt to the ground, standing protectively over the dying matriarch. He scanned all corners, searching for any other attackers, but couldn't find any as the rest of his party arrived.

"My god," the Yuuki clan head said. "What happened here?"

The Matriarch shook her head. "No time to explain... dying..." she said painfully. "Naruto...sama. I may... hate you... and what you represent... but, despite my errors... I am loyal to my clan, and my clan... is loyal to Konoha. Protect my clan." She swallowed down some blood-filled bile coming up her throat. "The bastard... said Rock and Sound are allied. Rock... is after my clan's eyes."

"I understand, Hyuuga-sama," Naruto replied solemnly. "Come, let's get you to the hospital. My wife can-"

"Too late. Poison..." The matriarch gasped. Turning, she saw her daughter standing behind him with her trio of lovers. She was disgusted by them, even now, but perhaps her daughter could help her one last time. "Hanabi...chan."

"Mother," Hanabi said, coming closer. She was shedding no tears, but her eyes did seem to be watering up a little. They may have been enemies for the past few weeks, but for her whole life until that point she had loved her mother, and now that she was dying it was obvious no lasting reconcilliation would occur.

"Use the... caged bird," Hyuuga said. "Kill me... less painful."

Hanabi's eyes widened. "But... but..."

"Do it!" the Matriarch screamed. "It hurts... dear god, it hurts. The Caged Bird is a much more merciful death than what I'm feeling right now... besides... don't you think the irony... is fitting?"

Taking a deep breath, Hanabi nodded. With a mere thought, she activated the seal... and her mother screamed in pain for a few seconds before, horribly and mercifully, the screaming stopped.

"M-mother," Hanabi sniffled, watching the Caged Bird seal fade off of her mother's forehead, destroying the important parts of her eyes along with it.. "I... I wish..."

"I'm sorry for your loss, Hanabi-chan," Inari said, putting an arm on one of her shoulders. Adaha and Umino quickly joined him. "I know things have been hard, lately, but I also know how much you hoped things would change for the better. I'm sorry you never got the chance to have your mother back."

Hanabi shook her head. "I knew, at least in my head, that my mother was gone from me, forever. My heart still hurts ... but perhaps it's better this way."

Naruto sighed, kneeling by the body. "What was her real name?"

Hanabi blinked. "You know, I'm not sure? I don't even think father knows. She was always quite secretive about it."

Naruto nodded. "Yuuhi-dono."

"Yes, Naruto-kun?"

"Could you get an ANBU here right away? We need to... to dispose of the body properly." Naruto paused. "And I'll tell Sakura to try and figure out what her name is when she's looking through the Hyuuga records. In her life, she caused Konoha many problems... but she has died a hero, and so her name belongs on the memorial stone."

Yuuhi smiled slightly. The amount of respect and forgiveness shown by Naruto in that one statement convinced her, more than all of the words that the council had heard or all of the arguments Naruto's friends made, that he was the right person to be Konoha's hokage. And while she had voted against him, she was proud to have him as one of her village's leaders.

"As you wish... hokage-sama."

Author's note (written 2007): Hyuuga Bunke Juinjutsu is, according to Narutofan, the proper name of the caged bird seal. Also according to Narutofan, Kenkaze is the name of the wind blade technique Baki used to kill Hayate during the chuunin exam. I don't recall either technique's name matching the technique names in my notes... but then, I lost a portion of my notes some time ago, so I suppose that I'll make do. (almost everything effecting the story that was missing has been found, at least, but data such as maps, technique lists, character names, and other stuff I had collected in one easily viewed list, instead of having to constantly refer to Narutofan or Narutopedia, or reread portions of the booka I'd written a couple years ago when I needed to look up one of the more little-used things. I had a real hard time remembering the 'Anraku clan' a few chapters ago, even though it was such an important thing to the story, and I had to spend a day hunting down the single mention of the name I'd made earlier in the fic). It's not a big issue, just an annoying one that I've had to reconstruct that list, and my original source in that regard no longer exists (Another dead link in my bookmarks. Sigh), so some of the Japanese technique names I've been using might have slight spelling or name changes. Or not - we'll see what I can remember.

Next Chapter: Kireme confronts Kakashi about the mission he sent Tenten on. Sakura's investigation in the Hyuuga records on Hinata's behalf reveals something interesting, but not particularly useful... or so she thinks.