"I'll kill you!" Naruto hissed.

"Ha ha ha!" Jiraiya laughed pompously, dancing around the roof holding his notebook over his head. "You should be proud you were awesome enough to inspire a whole volume of Icha Icha!"

Naruto found himself wishing (again) that he'd destroyed the notebook when he'd found it instead of shouting about Jiraiya turning everything Naruto did into something creepy. Naruto wasn't dim. Maybe he wasn't smart like Shikamaru, but he wasn't stupid. 'Icha Icha Espionage' was about his latest mission and he didn't want to be the hero of a pervy book.

Well, he didn't want to be the hero of a pervy book written by the freaky old Toad Sage.

"I'll kill you!" Naruto reiterated. With that, he began doing handseals.

Jiraiya was curious. He knew Naruto had learned some genjutsu, and was apparently going to use his new skills on him. It probably would be pretty easy to break out of.

Naruto knew Jiraiya would be able to break out of any genjutsu Naruto could put him in. So Naruto decided to do something more dependable than a regular type of genjutsu, instead Naruto would use something Jiraiya wouldn't be able to bring himself out of.

"Sexy no jutsu revised: Sexy Sexy world!" Naruto shouted, drawing odd looks from the passersby that had before been studiously ignoring the two arguing loudly on a rooftop. The 'sexy sexy world' was a variation of the "what you see is what you get" Naruto had used on Hidan. It drew out the target's most perverted fantasies. It was an incredibly obvious genjutsu, but on the other hand Naruto doubted Jiraiya would even try to break out of it.

"Eh heh heh!" Jiraiya began to giggle, immediately blushing as he was pulled into the genjutsu.

He began to reach out, fingers twitching like they were squeezing grapefruits or something. Naruto didn't really want to know. He waited until Jiraiya was really going, huffing out his nose and everything.

Then Naruto and one of his Kage Bunshin jump-kicked Jiraiya off the roof and through the window into the Hokage's office, using their chakra-enhanced kick to shatter the illusion.


Iruka was muttering under his breath as he flipped back and forth between various folders, jumping between mission requests and hospital reports and team rosters.

Finally he leaned back, closing his eyes as he arched his spine, rubbing his eyesockets with the heels of his palms. "Guuh." He groaned, before slumping back into his seat.

"Workin' hard or hardly workin'?" Anko asked, twirling a kunai as she crossed her legs, sitting on the desk next to him.

Iruka flinched, surprised, before relaxing again. "It's you… you startled me there, Anko."

Anko smiled, pleased she'd managed to sneak up on him when he had his guard down. "Well… I am an infiltration and espionage specialist, after all."

"I know." Iruka said. He rubbed his face again.

"Trouble in paradise?" Anko asked.

"Well… we're really stretched thin." Iruka said. "The turnaround between missions is too short, it's putting a lot of strain on our people." He waved his hands over the papers in front of him. "Since Tsunade mandated a field medic on every team, unless someone gets hit with an instant kill technique they almost always survive."

Iruka shrugged. "And because field medic training is so demanding, they're usually less skilled than average ninja of their rank, so the rest of the team has to work harder to cover that." Iruka smiled sourly though. "But fatality rates are way down so it's a good change… just a headache for when we're trying to meet our mission obligations."

There was a silent pause.

"Bummer." Anko observed.

"You didn't pay attention to most of that, did you?" Iruka observed, amused.

"Yeah yeah I did!" Anko protested. "Devil's in the details and all that." Anko scowled. "Geeze, you're still a pretty boring guy to be cooped up worried about this kind of stuff for three hours though."

"Three hours?" Iruka said, frowning. "It hasn't been that long."

Anko gave him a look.

Iruka checked the wall clock, and smiled sheepishly. "I guess it has."

"Right right!" Anko said, rolling her eyes. "Anyway, I was wondering what you're doing tonight."

Iruka frowned. "Well first I gotta grade some quizzes and then review for lecture tomorrow and I need to catch up on some financial stuff since the fiscal year ends soon."

Anko sighed. "That's all?"

Iruka shrugged. "It still needs doing even if you're gonna be sarcastic about it."

Anko stood up and began pacing. Privately Iruka was amused she had sat still this long.

"I know." Anko said. "It's just, I want us to do more things together, it's no fun that you're always buried in work and stuff." She spun and held up her hand. "And I know it's all important work and you're needed but… but I want to spend more time with you. I know it's selfish and maybe unfair and I'm beginning to ramble but!" She deflated a little, and frowned, crossing her arms. "I dunno what I'm trying to say."

Iruka chuckled slightly. "I understood anyway." He sighed. "Listen, this is the busiest part of the year for me. We're coming up on the end of the semester at the Academy, and we're swamped with work at the Mission Office because of the good weather… and I've been unusually involved in the bookkeeping this year because we're understaffed." Iruka smiled lightly.

Anko huffed out her breath, and leaned against the table next to him. "That doesn't exactly make me feel better, you know."

Iruka shrugged, palms up with his hands spread.

Anko rolled her eyes. "Yeah, yeah." She paused. "Listen, though, I'm not really a very patient person." She narrowed her eyes. "Don't say anything!" Anko waited, almost daring him to speak, before continuing. "But… I'll wait for you, okay? If you're busy now… I can wait until it's a better time for you."

She slid sideways until she was right next to him, and leaned down close to him. "But I ain't gonna let you go." Anko leaned in, breathing out into Iruka's ear. "You're mine now and I'm not about to let go of something I really, really want."


"I see." Tsunade said. "Well, the mission went as well as could be expected."

"Thank you, Hokage-sama." Kurenai said, speaking on Team Eight's behalf.

The Fifth paused, looking at the group in front of her. They were pretty beat up, and Shino in particular was looking pretty dejected. He seemed to take failure the hardest of the three, although Kiba was the most outspoken and Hinata the most pathetic about it.

"Don't worry about it." Tsunade said. She wondered what Naruto would say. He was much better at pepping people up than her, when he became Hokage the part where he consoled and encouraged teams would probably come naturally to him.

Well, she was the one who had to support these three now. "You did a good job." Tsunade said. "Although the mission wasn't a success, you did an excellent job considering the circumstances. Sometimes things go wrong on missions and you can't do anything about it. You dealt well with an unexpected catastrophe."

Obviously, that was when Jiraiya crashed into the Hokage's office through the windows.


Forget Neji and Sasuke. Forget Hiashi and his own Minato. Hell, forget even Orochimaru and Sarutobi-sensei.

Naruto was the most incredible jutsu genius Konoha had ever produced.

That was the thought that crossed Jiraiya's mind as he entered an indistinct purple-blue landscape under a hot pink sky. Jiraiya didn't care about that part; he cared about the incredibly buxom blonde chick pouring sake into the cup in front of him while another busty chick pressed into his back, messaging his shoulders, and a pair of incredibly well-formed twins pressed in on either side.

"Eh heh heh!" Jiraiya couldn't hold it in. This was the most extraordinarily awesome super-jutsu the Toad Sage had ever witnessed. He couldn't even imagine how many ways he could work this into Icha Icha. He reached for the girl holding the bottle of sake, and she blushed and giggled as he leaned forward.

Then the world exploded into pain as a pair of heels smashed into his face, sending him plummeting out of the illusion and off the roof and through a window. Jiraiya recovered and rolled, launching himself to his feet as he struck a pose, an expression of extreme frustration on his face. "Bring them back!" He roared.

"Never!" Naruto cackled, landing on the ground, holding the notebook. He scowled, and Jiraiya lunged into a shunshin, barely managing to snatch his precious research back before his terrible student shredded it with a rasengan.

"And my research too!" Jiraiya howled, slamming his fist into Naruto's head. "You insufferable little brat!"

"Naruto-kun." Hinata whispered, while Kiba continued to gape.

Tsunade scowled. "You two better have a damn good reason for interrupting Team Eight's mission debriefing."

Instantly sidetracked, Naruto looked up. "You guys had a mission? Great!" He smiled at them, rubbing his head while absently kicking Jiraiya in the shin. "I hope you guys did awesome!"

"Cretin!" Jiraiya hissed, chopping Naruto in the shoulder while hopping on one foot. Naruto went down and rolled, lashing out for Jiraiya's good foot but missing.

"Look who's talking, you old creep!" Naruto pointed. "Just for that—sexy no jutsu revised! Sexy Sexy World!"

"That's the stuff!" Jiraiya roared, before his eyes glazed over and he started giggling again, waving his hands in front of him in a manner that was both suggestive and somehow incriminating.

"Naruto." Kurenai said. "Did you just—what did you just do?" By the end, she was practically hissing in anger over this abuse of the powers she had taught him.

Naruto struck a pose with the left arm crossed under the right arm sticking out straight. "Sexy Sexy World draws out the user's deepest fantasies! Guaranteed 120% effective on perverts!"

Tsunade felt her whole forehead throb as that sunk in. "You mean it's an even more perverted jutsu!?" She shouted at him.

"Wait." Kurenai's voice was glacial. "You said this jutsu draws out their fantasies. Does this mean they're providing the visualization, not you?"

Naruto had to repeat that to himself to figure out what Kurenai meant. "Um… yes?"

Kurenai closed her eyes. "That's auto-suggestion." Abruptly, her head snapped up. "One of the 'legendary three grails of genjutsu,' and you developed it to use for a perverted technique." She seemed to deflate. "I don't know to laugh or cry."

"Well, I use it for other stuff too…" Naruto muttered.

"Wait." Tsunade said. "The three legendary grails of genjutsu or whatever you said, that sounds familiar, but I can't quite put my finger on what they are."

Jiraiya giggled again.

"And somebody do something about him!" Tsunade roared, pointing at Jiraiya. She didn't want to come in grappling range when he was like that.

"Okay." Naruto said, shrugging. He formed a handseal. "Sexy Sexy World revised—Yaoi Yaoi Kuni!"

With that, Jiraiya froze, before letting out a bloodcurling, girlish shriek and stumbling backwards. He fell out the crashed-in broken window, and they could hear him hit the ground several stories below with a terrific thud.

"Naruto-kun." Hinata said, breathy and light.

Kiba and Shino simultaneously twisted to look at their heavily blushing teammate in shock before, again in unison, shuddering slightly at the horrifying image Naruto had implied.

"Right!" Tsuande said briskly. "So. What are these three grail things."

Kurenai cleared her throat slightly and entered lecturer mode. "It's said the Sage of the Six Paths developed modern ninjutsu and created the modern ninja world, but… there were other, equally powerful innovators at that time. One of them was Wakuo the Deceiver, who developed modern genjutsu. It's said she possessed three classes of ability that have not yet been matched. Those are the 'legendary three grails of genjutsu' that could defeat even the Sage of Six Paths." Kurenai glanced at Naruto. "One of those was auto-hypnosis, where the target themselves unconsciously provides the imagery of the illusion."

Naruto frowned. "I just stopped using a Kage Bunshin to guide the illusion and used the target instead."

Kurenai nodded. "That makes sense… but even Wakuo probably didn't have enough chakra to use Kage Bunshin as casually as you do."

Tsunade cleared her throat. "Naturally, this knowledge isn't going to leave this room." With that, she turned to look at each of Kurenai's gennin in turn.

"Hai, Hokage-sama." Shino responded.

"Man…" Kiba shook his head. "I don't think anyone would believe me even if I did tell them. Naruto, a super-genius at genjutsu?" He shook his head. "But I won't say anything, Tsunade-hime."

"Hey!" Naruto roared.

"K-kiba-kun!" Hinata said, sounding disappointed in her teammate. "Um, naturally we'll keep it a secret if you want us to, Hokage-sama."

"Good." Tsunade said. She turned to Naruto. "That goes triple for you, you loud-mouthed brat, eh?" Her harsh words were tempered with the rough affection in her voice.

"Hai hai." Naruto muttered.

"At any rate, if there's nothing further," Tsunade said to Team Eight, pausing to give them an opportunity to nod, "I need to debrief Naruto. You four are dismissed."

Team Eight snapped to attention and saluted.


The cave was empty, save the huge statue. It was dark; there was no light cast on the screaming face with the upraised hands, and no light for the nine eyes in the head of that thing to see by.

With a disjointed series of pops, the cave was full; on each of nine fingers stood a projection of a figure in a cloak.

The Leader of Akatsuki, the Pein, spoke. "Report."

No one spoke up immediately; Kakuuzu and Hidan were engaging in a slant-eyed staring contest to see who would have to speak, while Itachi stood passively with his eyes closed and Kisame seemed to be staring off into space.

After that pause, it was Hidan to spoke, having lost to Kakuuzu in a way understood only to them. "Tch." The priest said. His voice is gravelly and hoarse; his neck is held together by a brace, fragments of meat half-healed from a Rasengan. "We got the Two-Tails successfully but then she was taken back by a goddamn Konoha ninja."

Pein scowled, and spoke with a dark tone. "You failed me." His anger was projected on them through his chakra, a supernatural pressure that would have killed lesser ninja.

But they are not lesser ninja; they are the Akatsuki, the greatest and most terrible criminals Pein could find and bind to his vision.

Hidan snorted, looking up at the Pein. "Yeah, well, it's your own damn fault, sending us in without enough friggin' intel."

Pein's anger grew stronger, focused down on Hidan, squeezing at the dark priest's soul.

"Hidan has a point." Kakuuzu said, to stave off a fight. "Maybe we were too lax, but we simply weren't equipped to handle eight elite jounin. We were lucky that Itachi and Kisame were in the area, otherwise we wouldn't have gotten even as far as we did."

"And yet, even with their help, you failed." Pein scowled, closing his eyes. "You disappoint me. This is the power of the greatest ninja on the continent?"

Soon, he spoke again. "And who was this Konoha ninja, who gave you so much trouble?"

Hidan began a diatribe. "Stupid blond-haired asshole--"

"Uzumaki Naruto." Itachi interrupted, voice soft. "The Kyuubi no Jinchuuriki."

"The host of the nine-tails." Pein repeated. "I seem to recall that you have already tried and failed to capture him, as well. I am begin to detect a disturbing pattern, here."

Kisame spoke next. "That boy," he said, "is interesting." He grinned, a shark-toothed smile that would disturb company less psychotic than this. "We've all heard the rumors, of a bridge in the Wave Country, of the One-Tail, of Tsunade and Jiraiya. And now, this."

"He has remarkable talent with genjutsu. That was how he defeated Hidan." Itachi said. "It was totally unexpected." He added.

The Pein arched an eyebrow. To surprise Itachi, to defeat Hidan; it seemed the Nine-Tails was going to be a significant challenge.

But something bugged him. "And where," he asked, "were you three when Hidan was attacked by this child?"

Itachi and Kisame glanced at each other, and Kakuuzu looked away.

"Eating." Kisame said. "There's a really good taco stand just into the Earth Country from Snow."

The Pein closed his eyes and lowered his face into his palm.


"I can't believe it." Kiba said. "I just, I just can't believe it. I mean… Naruto?! Super good at genjutsu!?" Kba shook his head. "It's like, like… " Kiba shook his head again. "I can't even think of anything that compares."

"It does strain credulity." Shino agreed. "But… it seems to be true."

"Um." Hinata said. "I think, I think that I'm not surprised. I always knew Naruto was strong, so I'm not surprised that he found something he's good at."

Kiba shook his head. "I always knew he was sly as a fox, but…" he shook his head again. "I just never pictured Naruto as the genjutsu type."

"I concur." Shino said. "He is certainly cunning enough, but he never seemed to have talent in the more delicate aspects of chakra manipulation that genjutsu require."

"I don't think you're being fair to Naruto." Hinata protested.

Further conversation was halted when Kurenai stopped short in front of them, causing Kiba to stumble a bit and look up at his sensei. She was staring into the break room.

Kiba looked, and froze as the world as he knew it was changed on him again.

Iruka was sitting at a table, attempting to do paperwork.

Anko was sitting on the desk next to him, farther from the door, and leaning over until she was practically all over him, talking animatedly.

Iruka turned from the forms he was hunched over to retort, and Anko smiled when he spoke. Not a grin, not a smirk, but an honest-to-goodness smile.

He turned back to whatever he was doing, and she looked up. When she saw Kurenai standing there, her smile turned possessive and she slowly, clearly, wrapped her arm around Iruka's shoulder.

Kurenai, in turn, frowned and started walking again.

"Dude." Kiba began.

"What?" Shino agreed.

"Um." Hinata said, shocked herself.


Tsunade stared. She could just tell this was going to be the most ridiculous mission debriefing since the last time Naruto had gone on a mission in a foreign country.

"Say that again." Tsunade prompted.

"The Tsuchikage says 'hi.'" Naruto repeated.

Tsunade allowed her head to collapse onto her desk. "Oh no…" She muttered. Finally, she sat up. "Why don't you start at the beginning?"

"Well, I was training with my Kage Bunshin and you called me to your office, and then…"

"Not that far!" Tsunade snapped. "Start at the beginning of the mission."

"Okay." Naruto frowned for a moment. "So I got in to town late and ended up staying in the same hotel as the Cloud group, which was good until I ran into the Akatsuki. Oh!" Naruto said. "By the way, I ran into four guys from the Akatsuki, they were really strong."

"What?" Tsunade said.

"So then I saved Yugito from one of them and brought her back to Kirema and Ursura told me I did a good job, so she let me go."

"What?" Tsunade reiterated.

"So I guess what I'm trying to say is, Stone and Cloud are becoming allies, but that's okay!" Naruto said, waving his hands. "Because we're all friends now!"

With that, Naruto struck Gai's 'Nice Guy Pose.'

"I'm going to need some sake before I deal with this." Tsunade muttered.


Kakashi lazily walked through the halls of the ninja administration building, thumbing through his book. He nodded at Kurenai, readying himself internally for another sermon about his Icha Icha, and was surprised when she didn't even acknowledge him.


Her students looked pretty out of it, too.

Speaking of out-of-it-students, he glanced back and Sasuke, and away before the adorable little brat could sense his gaze. Sasuke was acting increasingly worried and distracted. Well, for Sasuke anyway. Mostly he was even more surly and withdrawn than his usual cute self.

Also, Kakashi's internal monologue was beginning to sound like Gai. He should probably get that checked by Ibiki or something.

Nodding, Kakashi glanced back at his book, reading about the boisterous (and sexy!) adventures of various fictional ninja.

Well, he'd let Sasuke stew for a little bit maybe and ask the Hokage about Motoko after the mission de-briefing.

And on that note… Kakashi opened the door and entered the Hokage's office. Huh, Naruto was standing in front of the desk talking while Tsunade was slouching sideways staring incredulously at the blonde genin.

"…And that's when the Tsuchikage said I shouldn't die stupidly so I could become Hokage." Naruto finished.

Tsunade dropped her head into her hand, silently messaging her temples. She couldn't even figure out whether to label the mission "success" or "failure" now. That was just the first checkbox on the intelligence and accounting form!

Yea gods above, never mind the paperwork, the meetings she'd have to have with Foreign Intelligence about this one mission. With that thought, Tsuande crumpled down face-first onto her desk.

"We can come back later if now's bad." Kakashi said.

"No." Tsuande said, voice muffled. She raised her head. "No, it's just that Naruto did completely the opposite of what he was supposed to do on his last mission," here she paused to glare at the protesting genin, "But he seems to have succeeded anyway."

"Well, our mission was basically a success." Kakashi said. "But, there was a big, uh, fight and we had to leave."

"Yes, the Akatsuki." Tsunade said, glancing at Naruto again. "I'm aware."

"You had a mission, Naruto?" Sakura asked.

"Sure did!" Naruto roared. His hands entered a seal, and there was a pop of smoke.

Motoko smiled, and winked at Sakura. "Sorry I didn't let you know, Sakura-chan." Motoko said, winking. Then, she continued in Naruto's voice. "But I needed to test my abilities!"

'Oh no.' Kakashi thought, turning to look at Sasuke. 'Just, oh no.'

'What?' Inner Sakura said, jaw dropped. 'Seriously, what?'

Sasuke stood, gaping. His hands hung slack at his sides. His mouth opened as his head cocked to the side and his left eyebrow seemed to collapse over his eye. His jaw worked, and then finally shut; the snap was the only noise he had made.

"Sasuke?" Naruto asked. "Is something wrong?"

Sasuke flinched, dropping into a crouch as he abruptly flung his arm up to point at Naruto-as-Motoko. "You." He hissed. "I can't… it's… GAH." Sasuke flung his hands up to grab at his hair, and he flailed back and forth for a bit while gnashing his teeth. "GAH." He repeated, before storming out of the room.

Tsunade snickered.

"What just happened?" Naruto asked as he dispelled the illusion, pointing after Sasuke.

Then, Sakura realized something very horrifying. "I LOST TO NARUTO!?" She seethed.

Tsunade was outright laughing now.

Naruto backed up, worried Sakura was going to deck him.

"I lost Sasuke to Naruto." Sakura repeated, glaring at the orange boy.

Naruto, he just shrugged helplessly, knowing if he said anything he'd get decked.

Sakura shook her head once more, and stumbled out of the room in a daze.

Naruto and Kakashi stood by silently. Tsunade was still laughing.

"Okay, I have no idea what just happened." Naruto said. "Seriously, what just happened?"

Kakashi stared at his student. He couldn't tell if Naruto was having him on. "Do you… really not know, Naruto?"

"Would I ask if I didn't?" Naruto said, crossing his arms and pouting.

"Apparently not." Kakashi said to himself. "Okay, so… Sasuke had a crush on Motoko and Sakura was frustrated because Sasuke was interested in a girl that wasn't her."

Naruto repeated that to himself. "Okay, I know I'm not as smart as you, Kakashi-sensei, but I don't think I'm going to fall for that one."

Kakashi honestly had no idea how to handle this anymore. "Uh… I wasn't joking, Naruto."

"But… that doesn't make sense." Naruto said. "I mean, isn't Sasuke, you know, gay?"

Even Tsunade was dumbstruck by that.

"What?" Kakashi finally said.

"I'm not making this up!" Naruto protested.

"Naruto…" Kakashi said. "Why would you even think that?"

"Well there was this one time when we were nine and--" Naruto began.

"On second thought I don't want to know after all." Kakashi said, cutting off his student. "And… you never said anything about this?"

"Well it's not like it matters." Naruto said. "I mean, I'm not going to stop being his friend over it."

"I think what Kakashi is driving at," Tsunade said, "is that Sasuke is straight."

"Naah." Naruto said, shaking his head. He paused, frowning. "Really?"

"Really." Kakashi said. This conversation was profoundly out of his depth.

"Holy mackerel." Naruto said. "Why didn't anyone tell me!?"

Kakashi shrugged. "I think we kinda, you know, assumed you knew." He paused. "It's not something you should need people to tell you."

"Woah." Naruto said.

"Maybe you should go talk to Sasuke." Tsunade suggested.

"Yeah, I guess." Naruto said, walking out of the room.

Once he was gone, Kakashi turned to his boss. "I don't think that was such a good idea."

Tsunade snorted. Then she doubled over laughing.

Kakashi considered. "Well, it was pretty funny."

Tsunade, still inarticulate with laughter, held up the crystal ball that the Third had developed for long-range clairvoyance jutsu. "This," she finally gasped out, "is gonna be gold."


Sasuke sat at the end of the dock on the big pond in the Uchiha district. His eyes were glazed over as he stared out across the water.

Uchiha Sasuke was seriously contemplating suicide for the first time in his life. Or non-Mangekyo-related friend-murder. He thought maybe both.

"Hey." Naruto said.

Sasuke's head whipped around. He glared at Naruto. "YOU." He seethed.

Naruto didn't flinch, and steadily met his rival's eyes. "Yeah."

Sasuke grunted, and stood, never breaking eye contact with Naruto, even as the pupils split and the iris reddened as the sharingan activated. "You. Me. Now."

And before Naruto could mention that hey he was right, Sasuke was gay, he was getting punched in the face.

"Oh it's ON!" Naruto roared, before falling into the pond.


The wind screamed around the mountain crags, blowing powdered snow around beneath the pale blue sky. There was nothing alive within sight, not a sprig of grass of a stunted tree; only steep, steep rocks and the smooth white drifts of snow.

Grunting, Ursura hauled herself up the side of the mountain, fingers digging into the sides of the rocks as she hoisted herself higher, ever higher.

She cursed as the tiny ledge beneath her right foot gave way, and she slipped, hanging from the tenuous grips of her fingers. But she persevered, and began hauling herself up again.

Finally, she reached the top, an abrupt end to the mountain, and pulled herself up over the side.

It was not a cave or a ledge; the top of the mountain was a smooth, level expanse, lightly grooved from wind erosion. Generations ago, someone had just scraped the top off the mountain using kinjutsu, leaving this flattened place as a reminder.

Dominating the expanse was a huge bear, so grey it was almost white, sitting in the lotus position on a ratty old mat. One eye was gone, a ragged scar going from above his left eyebrow, down through the ruined right eye socket, and continuing until it reached the muzzle. The other was closed in meditation.

The elder and sage of the bear clan, the great Mog-ur, Kebu.

Ursura kneeled before him, and waited.

Soon, he spoke. "Tsuchikage-sama."

"Kebu-dono." Ursura greeted. "I have come before you with a request."

"Long has it been, since you struggled up the mountain to come before us." Kebu mused. "In all that time, you have been a friend and ally to our clan." Finally, the huge bear opened his eye. "What is it you seek, child?"

"More power." Ursura said. "I was shown, recently, that I have begun to stagnate. For the sake of the village, for the sake of your clan, I must gain more strength, more power, enough power to defeat anyone."

"Even the Akatsuki." Kebu grumbled. "Even isolated on this mountain I have heard whispers, rumors of the brewing threat."

Kebu stood silently, and loomed over the woman in front of him. "Stand, Tsuchikage." Kebu instructed. "Today, you begin the harsh training of Bear Senjutsu."


Naruto and Sasuke lay on their backs, staring up at the sky. They were shivering slightly in their still-soaked clothes.

As it always seemed to be, it was Naruto who broke the silence. "We cool?"

Sasuke sighed, closing his eyes. "Yeah." There was nothing else to be said, and Sasuke was content with that.

Naruto wasn't. "I feel like we're forgetting something."

Sasuke shrugged, even though Naruto couldn't see him. "Whatever."

"Yeah." Naruto said, and they settled into comfortable silence.


Sakura stared out across the water, legs dangling down between the rails of the bridge. "I lost to Naruto." She muttered, and then she giggled hysterically.

'It's not that bad!' Inner-Sakura roared. 'Naruto cheated with that pervy jutsu!'

"That's not the point!" Sakura protested. "It's not… even when it's the three of us, Sasuke pays more attention to Naruto!"

Inner-Sakura considered that. 'That means…'

Sakura blushed, and a thin line of blood ran down from her left nostril as she considered it. "N-No!" Sakura protested. "I'm… I'm pretty sure that Sasuke's not like that!"

'Then what does that lame Naruto have that we don't!' Inner-Sakura shouted. 'It's not like he's smarter or more skilled than us, all he does is charge into things!'

"But why would Sasuke care more about Naruto than me!" Sakura said, grabbing her hair in her hands as she thought about it. "Haven't I always tried to help him!? Haven't I always been there for him!? All Naruto does is fight with him!"

'Yeah! Naruto should stop fighting with Sasuke all the time!' Inner-Sakura agreed. 'If he wants someone to fight with, I'll beat Sasuke up instead!'

"No! That's not right!" Sakura said, shaking her head. Then she paused, and thought about it. "But… what the hell, that sounds like it could work!" Sakura sighed, dropping her head forward to rest it against the bridge. "Why are boys only happy when they're fighting?"

Sakura frowned, staring at the river going beneath the bridge, thinking that maybe she had never really understood Sasuke at all.


"So while Sasuke is out of commission with a head cold from hanging out in soaked clothes for hours," Kakashi said, glancing up from his book at Naruto, "we can't take any missions. So… free training for a few days, I guess."

"I'm gonna go eat Ramen." Naruto decided, before turning and walking away.

Kakashi stared after his wayward student before turning to Sakura, who seemed to want his attention. "Yes?" He finally prompted.

"Kakashi-sensei." Sakura began. "I…" She paused, uncertain. Kakashi buried his impatience and waited. "I want to get stronger."

Kakashi considered that. "Why?" He finally asked.

"Because…" Sakura began. "Because I don't understand my team-mates at all." She looked to the side. "And… and I think if I got stronger, I might understand them a little better."

Kakashi closed his book. "It will be hard."

"I know." Sakura said, squaring her shoulders.

Kakashi smiled, eye crinkling as he put his book away. "Then… welcome to hell."


Naruto whistled as he walked down the street to Ichiraku ramen. First some lunch, then he would swing by the training grounds and see what was open, maybe see if he knew anyone there. Even after his scuffle with Sasuke yesterday (never mind the A-rank assassination techniques, it was a scuffle in Naruto's mind), he was feeling antsy. He wanted to fight.

It wouldn't really be fair to use genjutsu on Lee; Naruto wondered how far he could push it. Neji maybe? Gai's team was always up for a throw down. Maybe he could even fight Tenten this time, he had wanted to pit his Kage Bunshin against her storm of weapons ever since the Chuunin exam. It would be awesome chaos.

Naruto was interrupted by a jump-kick to the back.

"Keep your guard up!" Jiraiya roared as Naruto dived into a roll and came up with knives.

"What the hell Ero-sennin!" Naruto shouted, pointing.

"I thought I said not to call me that in public!" Jiraiya seethed, putting Naruto in a headlock.

Passerby politely ignored the squabbling pair, but they also gave them a pretty big bearth in case it devolved into something the ANBU would have to break up. Again.

Naruto seriously contemplated stabbing Jiraiya. He would be kind and put the knives somewhere non-vital. Or maybe the liver. Jiraiya's liver was probably tough enough to handle it.

"So anyway," Jiraiya said. "I was gonna bring this up earlier, but then you got sent on that super-great mission." He held up a hand to forestall protesting.

"Naruto." Jiraiya said seriously. "How would you like to go on a three-year training voyage with me?"

Naruto paused, and his hand came up to rub his chin as he considered it. "I wanna get strong." He finally said. "Strong enough to become Hokage and protect everyone." He paused, glancing around. "And… strong enough to win, even against them."

Naruto grinned, and met Jiraiya's eyes. "When do we leave?"


The End


AN: So people have been asking about verb tenses. In the last few chapters, I was experimenting with using present instead of past progressive, and it was interesting but frankly I don't think it was worth bucking the system and doing something confusing just for a different "feel" for a scene. I'm sticking to past progressive from now on.

And now, for some final thoughts!

Just as "Ursura" is a bit of a joke on "Ursula," "Kebu" is "Creb." If you already know where "Creb the One-eyed Mog-ur" is… wow.

There were also some questions about Yugito's characterization. For me it was difficult… I wanted to show a girl that would grow into a bad-ass woman, but this is happening two-three years before Yugito's canon appearance. A teenager is naturally less secure emotionally then someone in their early twenties, and for my own selfish plot reasons I needed her emotionally vulnerable anyways.

Also, people are asking for "more Motoko" and while I agree it's an interesting shtick, it is just a shtick… I didn't set out with the intention of writing a fem-Naru story, but rather a story where the cliché mechanism of fem-Naru is exploited by Naruto himself for a mission. Remember that Motoko is something that Naruto uses for his own ends and not an actual, separate person.

Some people admitted they skimmed over the chapter "S-Level Combat" because they thought it was boring; others hailed it as some of the most awesome fanfiction they've ever seen (BTW, I really appreciated that!). But I guess it's like the old saw goes, you can't please all the people all the time. But I hope there was something here for everyone to enjoy!

Looking back, my writing has improved since this story first came out almost three years ago. It's tempting to rewrite it… but I believe that once you've posted something, for better or worse, it's basically complete.

At any rate, even at the risk of inflating this already-long author's note, I want to thank all you folks for reading. Here's to you!

Man, people are already asking about a sequel! Someone (I forget who), once wrote an essay about writing fanfiction saying that you should never, ever write a sequel just because you're asked to, because you won't have any plot and it will therefore suck.

Guess you guys are lucky I had a plot already worked out, huh? Expect "The Biggest Chuunin Exam Ever" in a few weeks.