Foreword: Soundtrack below.

Scene One: Rurouni Kenshin - Departure(Piano Solo)
Scene Two-Onward: Ghost in the Shell - Inner Universe

The Indirect Approach
Epilogue: Parting of Paths
Until we meet again
It took three seconds. No more, no less.

Three seconds to shatter a life into a million pieces, none of which could ever be picked up again.

As the sword plunged in, he had hurled himself by it, the scroll swinging up and wrapping around its blade. With a scream, he had activated it. Fuuinken no Jutsu -- The Sealing Sword Technique. In an instant, as his shoulder hit Kazuma's chest, the Cloud-nin's sword vanished, leaving the bolt of lightning to strike sideways through the air before dissipating on its own.

Kazuma had been thrown back, but Naruto's left hand had finished what he started. Disarmed, the Jounin was unprepared, and a relatively weak Rasengan had passed into his chest. For all of a moment, Naruto had felt his palm against Kazuma's heartbeat. Felt the life in the man's body, envisioned flashes of what his life had been like and wondered how his sister, Ayane, would survive without him...

And then, Chimi Tensho's back had exploded in a cloud of blue chakra. It had annihilated all of the organs in his chest, so that he couldn't even scream if he wanted to. His spine had also been blown out, preventing him from even feeling the agony of death.

As the second moment ended, Shunseito Kazuma hit the ground in a sprawl, blood sprayed across the ground in every direction beneath and beyond him. His eyes, cloudy and once so full of pride, were blank, and if his mouth was contorted into a silent cry of pain, Naruto wasn't able to see it through his mask.

As if of its own volition, the scroll rolled up into his hand with the sound of a dry clap. His fingers clenched around it instantly.

It was not Naruto's first kill. It wouldn't be his last, either...

But more so than any of the others to date, it was one he knew that he would regret for a long, long time.

"I'm sorry," he said, his voice cracking.

"Don't be," Jiraiya ordered, stepping up from wherever he had been during the battle and standing next to him.

"I am..."

For too long, neither of them said anything. Naruto became distantly aware of the heated feeling in his side and cheek -- the wounds bubbling and healing from a surge of the chakra that had been denied him in battle.

"... You're way too soft, kid," Jiraiya finally said, just as Naruto felt his eyes start to water. A hand slapped across the top of his head not long after that, scruffing his hair up.

"What now?" Naruto asked, snorting back and wiping his eyes on his sleeve.

"I don't know," Jiraiya answered with an audible shrug, drawing his hand away. "At any rate, we won't be able to leave until tomorrow."

He nodded.

"I'd like to bury him here."

Jiraiya didn't argue.

The next day, Naruto awoke to find himself alone in the hotel room. Jiraiya had left a note for him, and in his unusually immaculate handwriting, it said simply:

Gone to get us a ride out of here.
Don't bother looking for me.
I'll find you.
- The Glorious Mountain Sage Alien Ninja Sex God of the Underworld, Jiraiya

Upon reading it, his only real thought was every bit as simple as the note itself.

"Smug prick's probably out trawling whore-houses and peeping at women as they bathe again."

For once though, he didn't mind it so much.

After throwing his jacket and shirt back on -- Jiraiya had repaired them during the night -- Naruto had left the hotel. He made it a point to actually pay for his stay, chiefly because the money that Jiraiya had taken from Kazuma's body and given to him didn't feel right to keep. He wanted to be rid of it all as soon as possible...

But there was something else he had to do too.

A while later, Naruto had again appeared outside the Shunseito Ramen, clutching the metal plate that had once been worn so proudly on Chimi Tensho's forehead. He stood across the street from it, but the only thing to greet him was not a friendly face belonging to the waitress and owner. It was a sign, written in the stylized manner of a samurai. It said:

Closed, pending marriage and funeral arrangements.
Don't ask.

And so, he didn't.

Instead, he tucked the plate back into his jacket and made a promise to the girl -- to Ayane -- to come back one day, and to deliver it to her by hand. Perhaps by then, he would be wearing the garb of a Hokage...

A little after that, he found himself quite literally crashing into someone who was fleeing a nearby bath house.

After the collision, he had scraped himself up and given his unwitting assailant a once-over.

It was a boy, wearing a golden hakama and kimono with a wakizashi short-sword at his side. There were red patterned clouds colored near the cuff of each sleeve and the bottom of each pant leg, and when he looked at the boy's face, he found it eerily familiar...

The main reason being that the kid had solid white hair that stuck out in a hundred million directions at once.

"MOVE, MORON!" The boy screamed, shoving past him and running off down the sidewalk as an irate looking woman in nothing but a towel charged off after him.


"What the hell was that about?" He wondered.

For a few moments, he stared off after them. Then, finally, he shrugged and continued on his way.

Some time later, Jiraiya had finally shown up, again wreaking of women and cheap booze, but looking decidedly sober for his troubles. He then lead Naruto back down to the harbor and into a boat, identified as the Ichigan.

As they departed, he couldn't help but feel that he was being watched. He would probably never know it, but he was right.

At the top of the cliff, near where a sword had been stabbed into the ground above a mound of freshly moved dirt, a girl with white eyes watched the Ichigan set sail, ignorant of the fact that she herself was being watched by the rest of her team.

When the boat finally moved out to the point that her Byakugan was no longer able to keep a clear watch on Naruto, she turned around and joined the others. She never explained why, but the rest of the day, and well into the night, she couldn't stop smiling.

A few weeks later, Hyuuga Hinata became a Chuunin.

Author's Note: Thanks for reading and reviewing, everyone! This was short, and the ending was probably a bit abrupt, but I had planned it to be that way from the start. I wanted it to read in such a way that you would envision it like the credits at the end of a movie. Sort of.

But at least one thing must be said...

If you can't figure out what connection Tenraimaru had with all of this without me spelling it out for you, I'm not even gonna bother >.>

That said: I went to great lengths to try and maintain the ability to fit this entire story into the canon of the Naruto manga. I took a few liberties here and there(mostly with Hinata), and I'm sure that the whole thing will eventually be disproven completely by the actual Naruto series, but I'm proud to say that as of this posting, it can fit. I think.

And in spite of the teasing, I never intended to actually hook Naruto and Hinata up in it.

So, with all that out the way, kudos.

Sh33p out.