Please pardon the delay. A friend (and ex-roommate) killed himself and I haven't been in the mood to write for a while. I have been writing some, however. I just kept adding a bit here and there without uploading the chapter. It's not done, but since I haven't updated in a while…might as well. Again, I haven't read over this.


Chapter 344 has made me rather happy. My idea for Orochimaru has just been justified, so to speak. The fact that Sasuke won is of no consequence, as I can work that in. I've added 4000+ words, but I have a few projects, etc. due for my classes this coming week or two, so I don't expect to be able to add much for a while. Meh.

I think I might be going a bit to fast with explanations and future plot development, but oh well. As a passing thought, would anyone like to beta? (Read: would anyone like to go over snipets and the general plot as I write and bug the hell out of me to write faster.)

‡» Chapter 4 «‡

‡» Determined Priorities «‡

Hinata woke slowly from a rather pleasant dream about Naruto. Without opening her eyes, she stretched out her arms above her and yawned. She would have basked in the sleepy haze she found herself in if her hands hadn't come across the tent fabric. Hinata froze as her sluggish mind processed that information. 'I'm not in my room, so why…The mission! Wasn't I supposed to have a watch shift?' Hinata's eyes snapped open as she sat up suddenly. Looking around, she saw that Kurenai was sleeping peacefully next to her and it was most definitely still dark. 'I went to sleep at around ten, what time is it now?' Reaching over to her pack by her feet, she pulled out her small alarm clock. '4:08. How am I awake?' Considering how tired she had been and how little sleep she'd gotten, she shouldn't have woken up until Shino came to change shifts—her's was to start at a quarter 'till five. Falling back onto the mat, she tried to get some more sleep.

Hinata gave up on sleep after five minutes of lying there, looking at the roof of the tent. Sighing, she got out from under her blanket and quickly changed into a new set of underclothes. While she didn't mind reusing clothing, she absolutely refused to not change underclothes each day. It was unhygienic. As it was, she carried a spare set of clothing and two spare sets of underclothes, which she washed when she could. Leaving the tent, she found Shino sitting by the remains of the fire.

Shino looked up as she walked over to him. Keeping his voice low, he said, "I did not expect you to awaken for another half-hour. Is there a problem?"

Shaking her head, Hinata blushed lightly before sitting next to him. "I w-woke and couldn't go b-back to s-sleep."

"Odd. However, you did have a period of extended sleep. Perhaps that has affected your sleeping. Has this happened before?"

"No, it h-has not."

"Then it may be of no consequence."

Glancing at her teammate, she noticed that he had removed his sunglasses. He looked, well, odd, without them. His face was mostly in shadow, since the moon was behind him, but she was fairly certain his eyes were a green color. When he turned and caught her looking, she blushed and looked back to her lap. "If you wish, I, I could s-start my shift now. You c-could get some more s-sleep."

"Your offer is appreciated, but unnecessary. I would feel as if I were shirking my duty if I accepted."

Hinata was mortified. With a pale face, she quickly stammered an apology. "Ah, go-gomen. I, I did n-not m-mean to i-imply…"

"There is no need to apologize, as there was no insult taken."

She felt some relief at his statement, but could feel the blood rushing back to her face. "Gomen."

A muted clang and whispered curse startled her. Turning to the source of the noise, she saw one of the guards by the wagon. Apparently, he had dropped his canteen. "The guards have been instructed to check on the packaging. It would seem that some of the goods would be ruined should they be exposed—spices, I believe."

Hinata looked back at Shino briefly before looking down. "Oh." When she couldn't think of a reply, she shuffled around the campfire, noting that there was enough wood to rebuild the fire come breakfast. Absently scratching behind her right ear, she settled on another log.

After a few minutes or semi-uncomfortable silence, Hinata decided to meditate. She reaffirmed her decision when she remembered that the Kyuubi had told them to meditate before sleeping. Settling into a somewhat comfortable position before relaxing her muscles, she sought to organize and clear her mind.


Naruto shot out of bed as if the hounds of hell were after him in his sleep. He unfortunately did not take into account the fiends that set traps at night, as his legs were twisted in his sheets. The cleverly laid trap caused him to land on the floor face-first, hard. Twisting around, he peered through the dim lighting to make sure his rear end was not on fire—the distinct feeling he'd gotten as he woke. Blinking when he saw nothing other than the clothing he'd been wearing, he looked around for his alarm clock. 'Ugh. Why the hell am I up at five?'

'To train.'

'Huh? Why would I…You woke me up, didn't you.' It wasn't a question. With a sigh, Naruto untangled himself and prepared for his morning rituals. He had agreed to obey when it came to training, and he supposed waking this early fell under that agreement. 'Damn.'

Once he was showered, dressed, and fed, Naruto headed out to the field. He arrived there panting slightly and still feeling sore from the previous day. 'I hate waking up early. It's unnatural.'

'Not for foxes. Now, five laps around the field followed by five sets of twenty sit-ups, pushups, and another lap. After that, go to the creek.'

Naruto just groaned as he started moving.


Hinata sighed as she took another look around with her Byakugan. After Shino and the guard had gone to sleep, there just wasn't much for her to do. She couldn't continue her meditation or practice since she wouldn't be paying attention to the surroundings—which her current post entailed. Glancing at the guard who shared her watch, she couldn't help but admire her. 'How did someone as beautiful as she is come to be a guard?' Her thoughts were shattered, however, when the guard let out a giggle and looked at her. "The same way a cute girl like you became a ninja, Hyuuga-san."

Hinata felt her cheeks heat up as she realized she must have spoken out loud. Her blush deepened at being called 'cute.' "A-ano, g-gomen…"

"No need to apologize. If anything, I should thank you for the compliment." At that, Hinata blushed further. With a gentle smile, the guard continued. "My family, for the most part, has all been guards. My mother was disappointed when I decided to follow my father's footsteps."


Sensing Hinata's dilemma, the guard blinked before grinning. "Pardon my manners, my name is Kyori Ayuna." She gave a small half-bow after stating her name.

"I'm H-Hyuuga Hinata. Pleased to m-meet you." Hinata winced inwardly when she stuttered over her name. It was a small mercy that her father would likely never hear of this conversation.


Haku arrived at the Konoha Hospital at half-past six, forehead-protector in hand. He had not realized until he was getting ready for the day that the Hokage had never specified where he was to meet his new instructor. It had either been inferred, an oversight, or a test. He had decided to check the Hospital first as it was the most likely place. Besides, it would not hurt to be early.

Looking around the entrance, he walked up to the receptionist. "Excuse me, but I wish to know where to find Medic Kiria."

The receptionist gave him a piercing look before her expression softened. "You are Momochi Haku?"

Haku twitched slightly at the name. Fortunately, it went unnoticed. "Hai. I was assigned to Kiria-san."

"Her office is on the second floor, room 207. The stairs are through the door immediately to the right in that hall. When you walk out of the stairwell, there will be an unmarked door in front of you. Go through the door and room 207 is the second door on the right. Good luck."

Though slightly confused at the final comment, Haku gave the receptionist a slight bow. "Thank you very much."

Following the receptionist's directions, he soon found himself in front of room 207. Steeling himself, he gave two sharp knocks on the door.


Haku paused to calm his nerves before he opened the door and gave a polite bow to the petit woman sitting at the desk. "Kiria-san?"

Kiria looked up from the book she had been reading. "Yes?"

"I am Momochi Haku. The Hokage told me I was to report to you."

Her grey eyes narrowed. "You are early." Kiria paused for a moment before nodding at a free chair. "Sit."

Her tone of voice was doing nothing to help Haku's nerves, and her sharp command almost made him jump. Trying not to hurry, he walked over to the chair and sat before looking back at his new instructor. Kiria had resumed her reading. Haku focused on his breathing to calm himself down.


Growling as much as humanly possible, Naruto lugged yet another stone to the creek. The most annoying part of his current task: the four rips the rocks had caused in his jacket.

Apparently, Kyuubi's idea of training that morning involved creating a small pond—complete with a layer of rock for 'aesthetics.' All he cared about was the fact that he had to carry the stones from the site they found to the newly formed mud pit, as he like to call it. Naruto had good reason for that name, too, as that is what it currently looked like: a nice three meter wide, half-meter deep pit lined with churned mud. Using his still developing Rasengan on soft ground next to water was not pretty.

He had at first resisted Kyuubi's order to strip, but after the first pseudo-Rasengan sent mud flying everywhere, he hid his clothing behind a tree and declared war on the ground. Afterwards though, he had gained another useful technique. It forms a small layer of chakra on top of his skin, causing anything on it to not stick. Naruto simply thought of it as the Super Shower, as the only name Kyuubi had for it was in some other language.

It had taken him a surprisingly short time to learn Zhuó; only about ten minutes. Something about learning the Kage Bunshin allowing him to better understand the shape of his body. Regardless, he was now stuck carrying rocks weighing at least twenty kilograms.

As he arrived at the spring, his grumbling was interrupted by Kyuubi. 'This is the last one for now.'

Naruto set the rock down by his pile of some twenty others before stretching. 'What now, furball?'

'It would appear that instilling a sense of time should be added to your training. You have twelve minutes before you are to meet your team. Run two laps around the field and go through a set of stretches. You are to meditate while you wait for your sensei. Leave me be until he dismisses you.' Naruto missed the verbal jab at Kakashi.

'Ugh.' He shot Kyuubi a mental glare as he started moving to the clearing.


As soon as the clock by the door gave a low chime, Kiria placed a small blue slip of paper between the pages she was reading and closed the book. She gave a small sigh before she looked up at Haku. "When the Hokage asked me to take on an apprentice, I immediately said 'no.'" She held up a hand at Haku's startled look. "He convinced me to at least consider you, and here you are. Now I see that I may have spoken too soon. You arrived early and seem polite and obedient to a fault. You sat in silence until you were addressed. If you wish to learn, I will teach you."

After a calming breath, Haku gave another small bow. "I am in your care."

Kiria gave a wry smile. "Very well. Introductions first, I suppose. I am Hyuuga Kiria, though I prefer to ignore my last name. The main branch of the clan would prefer to ignore me, too. Do you know of the Byakugan?" Haku gave a nod, as Iruka had gone over the major clans as part of his tour. "As you can see, my eyes have pupils. It means that my 'Hyuuga blood' is too thin. While I can still see through most objects and have better eyesight than most, I do not have the full doujutsu. I still carry the mark of a branch member though. That should answer any of your questions about my name. Let's see, I have been a ninja for twenty two years, and have been a medic for fourteen. I am the captain of the second team of field medics, so you can expect some traveling. I have three teammates, who I'll introduce you to tomorrow. Like most women, I like chocolate. I believe that is all you need to know for now. Your turn."

Haku took another deep breath while storing all the information she gave him. "My name is Momochi Haku. Due to…difficulties, I lost my home in the Land of Water and…ended up here. I have been trained by Momochi Zabusa-san before he…died. I have some small experience with healing woulds, though never with chakra. I have a good understanding of the human body and can use senbon. I have an…affinity with water. My kekkei genkai allows me to manipulate water and form ice." Haku paused and glanced around, trying to think of anything else she may need to know.

"That's enough, although, how old are you?"

Haku blinked. "Fifteen."

Kiria nodded. "All right, your main duty under me will, of course, be to learn. However, you'll likely be sent on errands to learn your way around the hospital. Eventually you will be put in charge of some non-critical patients until I deem you fit to work on your own. The Hokage will decide your fate after that. Understood?"


"Good." Kiria pulled a satchel from the back of her chair. "This is now yours. It contains scrolls with the basic, intermediate, and a few advanced medic techniques and jutsu. I will be using them as the basis of your instruction. They are your own copies, so you can write notes and such on them, should you wish. Do not lose them; the paperwork for making new copies is tedious. That, and we do not want the more advanced scrolls compromised. Just think of them as the beginning of your personal library." That said, she handed the satchel over to a surprised Haku.

"One more thing; get into the habit of carrying writing tools around, especially for when we start on seals. An organic-based ink would be best."

Haku, slightly overwhelmed, gave a nod.

Kiria smiled, though this time with mirth. "A bit much for the first day?" Chuckling at his startled look, Kiria rose from her chair. "And now, for the tour."

Haku stood and placed the satchel over his shoulder before following Kiria out of her office.


Sakura's day had started poorly and refused to improve itself. The previous day she had found a few scrolls and books that were of interest to her in the library (though she didn't have a high enough rank to look past the tertiary chuunin section) and had started working on the exercises the taijutsu book recommended. In the early evening she had taken a break when her mother called her in for her meal. Afterwards, she had continued with the exercises and the first of the kata. When she had been certain she knew it, she switched to the scroll she had checked out, which outlined methods to train physical strength—the area she was definitely lacking in. She had dozed off while reading it, and woken up when her mother had come into the room to grab her laundry.

That, of course, turned out to be past the meeting time for Team 7. Panicking, she had hurriedly changed, brushed her hair, and set off to the bridge. It was not until she caught sight of it—and the notable absence of her teacher—that Kakashi's habits came to mind. Of course, Sasuke had by that time seen her, and she couldn't go back to shower and otherwise make herself presentable. Resigned, she walked up to the two boys and gave a muted greeting.

Strangely, Naruto was just sitting there; although he occasionally twitched his fingers or frowned briefly. He didn't even respond to her. Sakura stared at him for a few seconds before she decided that she liked the change. 'At least he isn't annoying me all the time.'

Slightly tired now that the jolt of adrenaline from hurrying here was wearing off, she decided to forgo propriety and just dropped down to sit against the bridge railing, a meter from Naruto.

Since then, they had waited thirty seven minutes and fourteen seconds before their teacher sauntered up to them, book in hand.


Kakashi didn't even look up.

Aggravated, Sakura jumped up and yelled, "You're late!" She paused, however, when there wasn't a second voice yelling with her. Looking back, Sakura watched as Naruto slowly rose to his feet and crossed his arms while glaring at the ground in front of him.


It had taken Naruto a good quarter-hour of perusing his stray thoughts and ignoring his senses before he could clear his mind. His mind, though now clear of thoughts of the present, turned to the past. He spent little time on his own past as he'd had plenty of time to think on it over his short life, and so the memories of his "future" began to delight and torment him.

First it had been the memory of Hinata dying, followed soon after by the memories of the time they had been together. The happiness he so often saw in her eyes when she looked at him was addicting. But the lingering image of her death kept him from enjoying it. After overcoming his distraction, Naruto managed to clear his mind again, only to have more memories pop up: the war, his training, Akatsuki, Jiraiya, and finally Sasuke's betrayal. Naruto's mood soured. His mind refused to pull away from the memory of their fight, and Naruto wanted nothing more than to walk over and beat some sense into his teammate.

Briefly, he opened his eyes and glanced at Sasuke. Sasuke, he knew, wanted nothing more than to become stronger. To kill Itachi. He went to Orochimaru because he was promised strength—and he got it. But he didn't kill Itachi. 'Damn. Why would Sasuke think that he couldn't get strong in Konoha? I mean, both Itachi and Orochimaru were trained here, so it'd be the…'

"You're late!" Sakura's yell derailed his thoughts.

Glancing up, he saw Kakashi. Naruto looked down at the ground while he stood. 'I need to know why he would want to leave.'


As was his habit, Kakashi gave an ad-hock excuse for his tardiness. Since he'd spotted a black cat on his way over, that was today's focus. He was more worried about his team, however.

Sasuke was slightly more intense and impatient than before, likely due to his defeat by Haku. He no doubt wanted to improve himself—and perhaps prove himself.

Naruto, however, was almost unnaturally subdued. He even appeared to be meditating. The tearing and small bit of mud in his jacket coupled with him appearing from a different street than normal indicated either he didn't care about such things or he was training. The meditation suggested the latter.

Sakura, who he had learned hated being late, was late. The way she moved suggested tired and sore muscles. Perhaps she had been serious about her desire to become stronger. He could only hope that she would not give in and return to how she was before the mission.

Unknown to them, he was often present when they first arrived in order to watch both their interaction and their habits. He would then visit the Memorial Stone to pay his respects. On his way back he would stop by the Tower to check on missions before walking to greet his team. That was the usual schedule, anyway.

Today, however, he decided to forgo any plans. The team dynamics had changed. It was to be expected, really. After the mission they had returned from, his students would better understand the occupation they had chosen. They had taken one more step into the real world. Perhaps it was time he train them for the next. Another day or two and he would know.

Right now, he was more interested in the plot of the Icha Icha Paradise that was released during the previous mission. He had until they reached the Tower to finish the chapter.

Looking up when he stepped on the bridge, he smiled at his team. "Yo."


Hinata was nervous. They had been forced to stop due to a dead tree having fallen across the road—its few remaining branches reaching into the river beside them. They were also near the previous attack point. There had been a tense minute after they stopped during which everyone was on guard, yet nothing happened. Using her Byakugan, Hinata had thought she'd seen someone further along the road, but when she had focused it had turned out to be a bush waving in the breeze.

While Kiba and two of the guards were removing the tree, Shino had been sent to check out how the tree fell. He'd soon returned saying that it fell due to rot. Even so, it was a prime location to ambush them and Hinata's focus was zipping from one perceived movement to the next.

"We're clear!"

Ayuna, who was driving the wagon, started the horse moving. Hinata, ever observant, followed next to Kurenai. The others resumed their positions.


Once he was dismissed after the daily D rank mission (capturing the cat again), Naruto had immediately left to grab some ramen for lunch. After a quick three bowls of miso ramen, two bowls of pork ramen and a hurried yell of "Thanks!" to the old man, Naruto ran towards the clearing. The thoroughly dull mission left him wanting to do as much training as he could.

After Naruto arrived at the clearing, he bent over to catch his breath. Shooting back up straight, he grinned. 'All right! Time to train!' A three second burst of pain in his head made him flinch.

'You will cease your excessive noise, vocal or otherwise.'


'The volume at which you speak is excessive, undignified, and stupid.'

'Why you…' Naruto stopped when he felt another burst of pain.

'It is no doubt a result of your upbringing—a way to draw more attention to yourself from those who would ignore you. However, you should work to prove your existence through action, not needless noise. You are also a ninja, one who is effective, stealthy, and dutiful. Yet you insist on wasting energy through noise. From now on, eliminating such wasteful actions will be part of your training. As such, wh…'


After his outburst, Naruto heard the Kyuubi give a deep and very dark growl before he found himself outside the seal. Kyuubi was standing and growling with his fangs bared. 'I have tolerated enough of your foolishness.' One of Kyuubi's tails hit the bars of the cage and prevented Naruto from speaking. 'I have continuously told you to be silent, yet you insist on raising your voice needlessly, even in your own mind. It is foolish and wasteful. I will no longer tolerate it. You will be punished for needless noise until you are broken of the habit. Understood?'

Naruto stood still, trying to reign in his temper. He could not, however, think of a counter-argument or a way to block the Kyuubi from causing the pain. So he gave a brief nod.

Kyuubi settled down, though his tails still twitched in agitation. 'Just think of this as another way to improve yourself.' Naruto hesitated before giving another nod. 'Today, you will practice the kata again, followed by practicing the Rasengan. Most of the afternoon will be spent with starting your training in genjutsu.'

At this, Naruto dropped his scowl and looked startled. 'There is merit in the belief that kitsune are masters of illusion. It is how I began to teach myself, and how I taught those of my kind I first encountered. Perhaps I will later tell you of the beginning of the demons.' Here the Kyuubi grinned. 'It is, after all, the history of the shinobi.'


‡ж‡ж‡ж‡ж‡ж‡ж‡ Temporary Marker for New Material ‡ж‡ж‡ж‡ж‡ж‡ж‡

‡ж‡ж‡ж‡ж‡ж‡ж‡ This is not a normal divider. ‡ж‡ж‡ж‡ж‡ж‡ж‡



'As for how I am able to cause you pain, you could say that after the incident on the bridge—the spiritual link with a future instance of ourselves—we are now…kindred spirits.'

Naruto fell back to the ground in shock. 'We, we're WHAT?'

Kyuubi gave a low growl. 'During the…transfer of memories, my spirit…encompassed yours and the girl's spirits. I…my future self was not certain of the consequences, but I believe one possibility has been realized.'

Naruto gulped compulsively. 'What, what happened?'

'Our spirits—our souls—were linked, with mine…influencing your own. Because of the damned seal, this…link only allows me to gain slightly more control of my…chakra that you use outside the seal—chakra that is always present in your body. I simply focus enough chakra to the point where it is…toxic to your human body.'

Naruto shivered. 'So I'm still human? You didn't turn me into a demon. Thank Kami. You had me scared for a while.' Thoughts of really being a demon like the villagers called him had terrorized him mind since the Kyuubi mentioned they were 'kindred spirits.'

'Turn you into a demon? Why would I do that?'

Now Naruto lost any semblance of fear and glared at the giant fox. 'Because you're a sadistic bastard that wants to destroy everything.'

Kyuubi tilted its head slightly. 'Everything? Hardly. Besides, you've always been a demon.'

It took Naruto a moment to register exactly what he'd been told. 'Wh-what?'

'Everything that lives has a spirit, a will. Anything that can extend that will beyond its body is a demon. And what, Naruto, is chakra?' The last was said with a terrifying grin.

Naruto paled. 'B-but…'

Kyuubi snorted. 'It is you humans that began associating the word demon with evil, interchanging it with the word devil. But then, humans are such prejudiced creatures, viewing most anything they fear or do not understand as evil.' Here the grin reappeared. 'The villagers, for example. Don't you agree, Naruto? After all, it is you they fear and it is you they consider evil. Why? They do not understand the nature of the seal.'

Naruto had broken out of his shock and started processing what the Kyuubi was saying. The reference to the villagers was all to clear. But still…His eyes narrowed. 'You're a fox, why should I trust you?'

'Trust? I care not for trust, as it can always be broken. However, I have no reason to lie. If it worries you so much what you are, then consider this: all shinobi are demons, but they are human, just as you are. A demon is a being whose mind is connected more to its spirit than its physical body. You should be thankful for this seal in that sense. It locks your body and spirit and keeps your form human.' The Kyuubi closed its eyes. 'I tire of this conversation. When the girl, Hinata, returns, I will tell you of the origin of what you call demons, what you call summons, and what you call shinobi. For now, you will train.'


When the elder Tabiwaza called for a stop to make camp for the night, Hinata let out a sigh. After the fallen tree, everyone had been slightly jumpy. The people they passed on the road were viewed with mild suspicion. She had increased the frequency and intensity of her scans with her Byakugan, perhaps out of nervousness, and that had resulted in another headache. She had mentioned her headaches to Kurenai, but her teacher had just frowned in concern, unable to give any sound advice. She was not completely exhausted like the previous night, fortunately.

Her current task was to do a complete scan of the area where they had stopped. Her teammates where doing the same, in their own ways. Finding nothing, she turned to Kurenai. "Kurenai-sensei, I don't see anything." She received a nod and quick smile in return. As Kiba, and then Shino, walked over and said much the same, Kurenai turned to the traders and guards.

"No tents tonight, we're outside Konoha's regular patrol radius. The weather should stay clear for another few days, but we'll still set up tarps over us. That way we won't be visible for attackers but won't have to get out of a tent to defend ourselves. I'd suggest watch shifts of three tonight."

Tabiwaza nodded. "We've made good time, so if we push hard tomorrow we'll arrive in the evening. Four shifts of three—one of you and two of us per shift—sounds like a good idea. Do you think we should leave earlier tomorrow morning?"

Kurenai looked thoughtful for a moment. "I don't think that will be necessary." Glancing up, she caught sight of the setting sun. "I would like to think they will not attack, but they may be hoping for that assumption." Kurenai glanced around the clearing they had claimed for the night. "It will take some doing, but I can disguise this area to appear vacant. We should gather all the water and supplies we will need tonight first, as breaching the line of the genjutsu will shatter it if I'm not awake to maintain it."

Tabiwaza nodded. "That would be appreciated." Turning to the others by him, he smiled. "You heard the woman, let's get the camp ready!"

Hinata retrieved the tarp—usually placed over the tent to keep off rain—and used some string to fasten it in a tent-like shape over an area large enough for her and Kurenai to sleep under. When she was finished, she noted that Kurenai was working on sharpening one end of a meter-long stick. Curious, she watched as Kurenai then carved a small, unrecognizable symbol in the flattened end. When Tabiwaza said no one would need to leave the clearing, Kurenai stood and took her stick towards the center, near the newly lit fire. About two meters from the fire, she drove the stick into the ground deep enough to ensure it didn't move. By now, everyone was watching Kurenai. She then moved to the edge of the clearing while pulling out five small knives. Shorter and flatter than normal kunai, they lacked the usual loop at the end and the blade was only about four centimeters long.

After she walked a ways into the surrounding forest, she took one of the blades and pricked her left thumb before smearing some of the blood onto the handle. She then drove the blade into the side of a tree. She walked around the clearing like that, driving the blood covered knives into trees. After the fifth knife, she walked back to the center and let some blood drip onto the end of the stick, covering the symbol she had made. Hinata belatedly realized that the five knives formed a rough pentagon around the stick.

Standing still, Kurenai started a series of hand signs. After fifteen or so, she held the last hand sign for a few seconds before Hinata caught sight of an odd glow around Kurenai that moved to the stick and spread outwards, covering the clearing. Blinking quickly, she noted that she had not activated her Byakugan. The glow dimmed to the point that she could barely notice it before it seemingly disappeared. As soon as it did, Kurenai relaxed. "The clearing should seem empty now, though we should try to keep the noise and smoke to a minimum. So long as I'm awake you can leave and come back in without disturbing the barrier, but it'd be safest if you didn't. Shall we settle on the shifts and get dinner started?"


Naruto trudged home, mildly depressed and quite determined. After two hours of physical training and conditioning, the Kyuubi had made him continue to meditate. It had taken Naruto a good hour to calm and blank his mind, but he had managed it with Kyuubi's coaching. With his mind clear, he'd been told to observe. He had to understand how his surroundings affected his senses, or so Kyuubi said. Naruto's impatience had resulted in seven bursts of pain over a span of an hour. After that, Kyuubi told him to continue work on the pond.

He'd headed over to the mud pit to find it half-covered with water. He stripped off his clothing and, per Kyuubi's orders, waded into the center of the pit. This had led to another training exercise, where he extended some chakra out of his palm to grab some water and then lift that out. He then threw the water into the creek. It was similar to walking on water, he supposed, but the goal was to attract rather than balance or repel. Throwing the water was challenging, however, since he had to keep the chakra spread through the water in order to keep control over it.

After emptying most of the water, he'd been taught how to make 'claws' out of chakra. He currently could only manage one chakra blade from his index and middle fingers. But even so, Naruto found the ability to concentrate chakra at his fingertips to form blades both highly useful and awesome. He'd said as much, loudly, and been rewarded with pain.

This exercise turned out to have an immediate purpose as well, as he was to start cutting the rock into slabs to use on the pond. Not that Naruto had complained.

By the time he had grown tired enough to no longer concentrate enough to form the blades, Naruto had cut about a fourth of the rocks.

He'd cleaned off, clothed himself, and moved back to the clearing to meditate again and observe. This time, however, he hadn't been able to clear his mind. After half an hour of fidgeting and wondering about Sasuke, the chuunin exams, Hinata, and other memories, Kyuubi had decided it best if he just practiced everything he knew before going home for dinner and rest. Several hours after dark, Naruto had decided that it was time to stop training for the day. As he'd headed to Ichiraku for ramen, Naruto started to think about the chuunin exams again. While the smell and taste of ramen had cheered him considerably, the sudden thought that the Hokage—the old man who was always there for him—was going to die sobered him. He'd finished his meal, paid, and started towards his apartment.

When he reached his door, he unlocked it, opened it, and checked the tiny seal carved into the edge of the door. It was black—indicating that no one had been in the apartment after he'd left that morning. The seal was a gift from the Hokage, added after someone broke in and ransacked the apartment, placing traps and such. The windows were always locked when closed, and only open when he needed them to be. The seal turned red when someone was inside, and placing his thumb on the seal would turn it black as he left. Mentally and physically tired, Naruto went through his routine to prepare for bed before falling across his mattress. 'I will find a way to keep the old man from dying.' He thought he heard a growl from the Kyuubi before he fell asleep.


The next morning went much like the previous one for Naruto. He woke early, trained, cut rock, and then made a dash for the bridge to meet his team. When he arrived, Sasuke was brooding, Sakura was sitting against the railing, and Kakashi was absent. Naruto settled some distance from Sakura. Glancing at his teammates, he noticed Sasuke was looking at him in a suspicious manner and Sakura was sporting a cut on her right cheek. Now that he thought about it, she had a different shirt on than usual, this one having long sleeves. 'Odd. Why would that be different?'

He was about to ask her when Kakashi suddenly appeared in the middle of the bridge. Sasuke's eyes widened in surprise while Naruto's mouth hung open. Sakura glanced at the watch she kept in her pouch. 'Only ten minutes late?'


The expression of surprise on his students' faces was certainly amusing. "Morning. No missions today, we have a more pressing matter to attend to."

Sasuke and Sakura blinked while Naruto started to look annoyed. Before any of them could question him, however, he turned. "Follow me." He immediately dashed into the nearby wooded area. He could hear his students hurry after him. Naruto didn't even yell like he'd expected.


After thirty minutes of chasing Kakashi's shadow, Sakura started to lag behind the others. Between the new training she had started and the sudden nature of the chase, Sakura had been pushing her sore muscles from the beginning in order to keep up. Breathing hard and almost wincing from the pain in her legs, she almost missed her next landing.

Slightly ahead of her, Naruto heard her pained gasp as she recovered. He glanced back before looking forward. Without thinking, he created a Kage Bunshin next to Sasuke. It turned and simply said "Sakura" before dissipating. Sasuke slowed and glanced back, noting the slightly pained expression on her face as she tried to keep up. Sasuke dropped back in parallel with Naruto. "Make three of your clones and have them follow him like it's us."

Naruto nodded and pulled his hands up to form the required seal. Three Kage Bunshin appeared, two of which immediately changed shape to that of Sasuke and Sakura. As the kage Bunshin continued to give the illusion of them following, Naruto and Sasuke slowed down and helped Sakura as she staggered to a halt, out of breath.

When Sakura started bending over, Sasuke grabbed her arm. "Walk around." Sakura nodded and started to walk around her teammates. After she regained her breath, she sighed.

Naruto finally spoke up. "You ok, Sakura-chan?" Sakura nodded. "I've just started training harder at home and my body isn't used to it yet."

Sasuke nodded while Naruto scratched the back of his neck, confused. 'Being exposed to my youki as you have, your body's natural healing is more efficient. Your tolerance for stress is heightened as well. As such, you do not usually notice the side effects of strenuous exercises—oxygen deprivation and muscle tearing are quickly fixed while you rest.'

'Oh…Ehh, what's youki?'

'The physical manifestation of spirit, comparable to highly concentrated chakra; though that is more of a generalization. You should be more aware of your surroundings.'

Naruto blinked, wondering what the fox meant before the pain hit and Sakura yelled out, "Oy, Naruto! Don't space out like that!"

Naruto looked sheepish. "Ehh, sorry, Sakura-chan." He then rubbed lightly against the spot where Sakura had punched his arm. 'Stupid fox, you're the one who started talking suddenly.'

Sakura sighed and blushed lightly, looking to the side. "Sorry to make you stop for me. I can run some more now. May be we…Naruto, are you ok?"

Naruto had suddenly cringed. "Man, that's a nasty way to die. Kakashi-sensei knows about the Kage Bunshin now. He used this weird doton that made spikes grow from the ground and destroy the Kage Bunshin."

Sakura blinked before her eyes widened. "You, you feel it when they die?"

Naruto's face expressed a moment of confusion. "Huh? Nah, I just get a glimpse of their 'memories' while they're 'alive.' Err, something about a…synchronized replica of my mind being included in the chakra construct that forms a Kage Bunshin. It's why I can control them but they can also act on their own sometimes. I can sort of…share thoughts, I guess. Anyways, the one that looked like you was in the back and saw the first two disappear before it got destroyed."

Sasuke and Sakura stared at him for a few seconds, both thinking that the explanation was entirely too technical and precise to have come from Naruto. They both noticed the slight pause, and decided it was simply recited. After a moment, Sasuke spoke. "We should prepare." He turned to Naruto. "Do you know where he last was?" Naruto nodded. "Make more clones of us. Have them go to where Kakashi-sensei is while we shadow them from the trees." Sakura nodded at the plan.

"No need."

The three genin whirled around to find Kakashi leaning up against a nearby tree, reading. "Congratulations. You just passed your unofficial test. While your marks aren't perfect yet, you passed by my standards." He snapped his book shut. "Your prize is…training." Three pairs of curious eyes stared at him. "From now on, we'll only be doing missions every other day. On the days that there is no mission, you will train as a team during the morning and individually in the afternoon." He stopped and looked at each of them in turn. "This does not mean you should stop any training you are doing in your own time. To become a good shinobi—to live as a shinobi—you must dedicate your life to being a shinobi." He looked at Naruto. "No goofing off." He faced Sakura. "No hesitation." He turned to Sasuke. "No personal vendettas." Kakashi smiled. "At least, not until you're jounin."

"And once you're a jounin, you can have all the fun you want." Everyone turned to see Anko standing next to another tree. She smirked. "Remember, Kakashi, come to my place at seven tonight." After speaking, Anko disappeared in a swirl of leaves.

Again, three pairs of curious eyes stared at Kakashi. "Hehe, I had her play decoy for me while I observed you, although I may end up regretting it. Tonight might be…painful." Sakura started blushing lightly while Naruto's face looked wan. Sasuke appeared as always. "My poor wallet might not survive treating her to dinner." Sakura's blush turned darker at her assumptions, Naruto snorted, and Sasuke's face betrayed him in the form of a twitch by his left eye.

Kakashi shrugged and put his book away. "Shall we head back to the Tower? There should be a mission waiting for us." He smiled. "We train tomorrow."


Hinata frowned. Their group was out of the wooden area and they were now traveling through fields and farms. If she remembered correctly, this was one of the major crop production areas of Fire Country. Regardless, she was growing increasingly frustrated at herself. Her usual control over her chakra had degraded to the point that she could barely gather any in her palms. That, and she could not stop sneezing.

After yet another sneeze, Kurenai looked over at her. "Hinata, are you alright?"

Hinata answered with a slight blush. "I'm fine. I just can't s-stop snee—" A sneeze made her stop speaking, and her blush darkened in embarrassment.

Kurenai moved closer to her as they walked before reaching to feel her forehead. After a moment, she said, "I don't think you have a fever. Do you have any allergies?" When Hinata shook her head, Kurenai pursed her lips. She then leaned closer to Hinata and gave her a one-armed hug. "If you do start to feel sick, be sure to tell me."

Hinata looked down, a small smile on her face. "Hai, Kurenai-sensei."


When Naruto arrived at the clearing after being dismissed for the day, he stretched his arms out and smiled. "All right! Time to train!" A mild ache followed his outburst.

'Perform the warm-up sets you've done before, then you will finish with the rocks, followed by practicing all your known jutsu and then you are to observe your surroundings.'

Naruto's shoulders slumped. 'Right, right. When do I actually get to learn genjutsu?' Naruto started to jog around the field with a dull growl coming from the back of his mind.

'Once you can understand what you observe of your environment. Unless you do, any genjutsu you create will have flaws. You must understand how the senses interpret the physical aspects of any given thing before you can hope to imitate those interpretations.'


'I am not teaching you. I am helping you learn.'

'Huh? What's the difference?'

Naruto heard a rumbling sigh. 'You wish for me to teach you how to perform genjutsu, much like how the scroll taught you to create Kage Bunshin using hand seals. I am helping you learn how to perform genjutsu, like you learned how to create Kage Bunshin.'

Naruto blinked, finishing another lap. 'Oh.' After a moment of thought, his face turned serious. 'So I have to observe…uhh…how things affect my senses? Umm…could you, maybe, give an example?'

After a few seconds during which Naruto thought the Kyuubi would not respond, Kyuubi gave another inaudible sigh. 'You can see shape and color. You can hear sounds. You can feel texture. You can smell scents. You can taste flavors. Your perception of any given thing is dominated by the senses. When the senses are tied together, you can observe that thing. Effective genjutus cause one to observe something that is contrary to reality. You must understand how something is perceived before you can hope to trick someone into perceiving it. Does that help your understanding of the basic concept?'

Naruto gave a thoughtful nod. 'I think so.'


When their small group arrived at the gates of their destination a few hours after dark, Hinata felt like cheering. Not that she would ever do so. Instead, she gave her teammates a smile when they walked to the back of the wagon.

When Kiba and Shino stood by her, Kurenai cleared her throat. "Good job. We were fortunate with the weather, so we have an extra day before we're expected back. We'll stay the night at an inn—unless you'd prefer the outdoors?" Kiba shook his head while Hinata looked at the ground in front of her. Kurenai gave a small smile, noting that the gate doors were being opened. "In that case, let's finish up the mission and find some beds."


Naruto achingly pulled out his key while he stumbled up to his apartment door. 'Sadistic bastard, making me run around the village until I collapsed.' He'd finally started to understand what the Kyuubi had meant by observing something. He'd been somewhat bored after fifteen or so minutes of sitting, so he'd absentmindedly started examining a leaf that had fallen on one of his legs. It had been slightly brown and only faintly dry, crinkling only when he bent it in half. It had been at that point that Kyuubi's talk of the senses had come to mind, and Naruto started looking at, feeling, smelling, and sometimes tasting the things around him. It was an interesting experience, at the least.

Unfortunately for him, the Kyuubi had decided that he should work on his physical training and told him to run around Konoha. When Naruto had asked how many times he was to do so, the only answer he'd received was 'until you can't continue.' A few times, Naruto had tried to pause or slow down to rest, but the Kyuubi would cause some pain to flare up in a random location until he resumed his run. Now, Naruto's mind could only focus on the thought of his bed.


Hinata woke a short time after dawn. A quick scan of the room and check on her things, due to habit, showed nothing to be out of place. She glanced at the other bed to find her teacher leaning against headboard of her bed, looking out the window. "Good morning, sensei."

Kurenai turned her head to face Hinata. "Good morning, Hinata-chan. Did you sleep well?"

Hinata nodded her head with a murmured "Yes," still not completely awake. She stretched her arms out behind her head and felt a few vertebrae pop into place. She glanced back to Kurenai and found her looking out the window again. "Is something wrong, sensei?"

Kurenai looked at her and gave a small smile. "No, but I always take some time to be thankful that a mission was successful."

Hinata looked down, happy and slightly embarrassed due to the caring she had seen in Kurenai's eyes.

After a few moments of silence, Kurenai spoke. "Hinata." Once Kurenai had her full attention, she continued. "I'll go wake the boys; we leave for Konoha in an hour."


"Ne, Sakura-chan, wanna eat lunch with me?" Whether from habit or a random impulse to have things as they were before, the question popped out of Naruto's mouth before he could think about it.

Sakura was about to speak an automatic refusal but paused. They had just finished the rather strenuous team training (involving sereval mission simulations and mock battles), and they were given an hour and a half for lunch before the individual training. Sakura watched with a resigned expression as Sasuke continued to walk away. Sighing, she decided that ramen (as that was the default food of Naruto) actually didn't sound too bad today. Besides, she had begun to miss how Naruto acted before. The past few days of him ignoring her—and here her inner self betrayed her by whispering 'Like Sasuke'—had somehow hurt. "I guess I could."

Naruto had immediately resigned himself to another refusal, so her acceptance threw him completely off guard. He blinked a few times before looking at her. Following her gaze, he saw Sasuke walking off. Blinking again, he yelled, "Oy, Sasuke-teme, wanna eat lunch with us?" Internally, Naruto cringed at the expected burst of pain, yet he felt nothing.

Sasuke paused for a moment, and then turned his head to look behind him. The look of mild surprise on Sakura's face and the smile on Naruto's confirmed that Sakura had, in fact, accepted the invitation he'd heard Naruto offer her. Debating the merits of eating with his teammates, he decided to accept.

Sakura blinked in shock when Sasuke turned around and started walking back towards them. 'He accepted.' She blinked a few times to clear her head. 'I'll be eating lunch with Sasuke! Finally!' Somehow, though, the thought didn't bring as much happiness as she'd expected to feel.

"All Right!" Naruto's shout brought her introspection to a halt. Smiling, Sakura waited for Sasuke to walk back.












‡» Chapter Notes «‡

Zhuó :: Chinese (濯) for "rinse / to cleanse" :: Anyways, it causes a thin layer of chakra to grow out of the skin, acting like soap and keeping anything from sticking. Good to dry off with, too, as water just slides off. Unfortunately, it's not as effective on hair since the hairs would trap moisture, dirt, etc. So, to more effectively clean the hair, one would have to shake like a wet dog or something. ;

Kakusu Chi'iki :: Concealed Area/Region :: The jutsu Kurenai used to disguise the clearing they stayed at and a spur of the moment idea I had when I was typing. Kurenai is a genjutsu master/specialist, so…Anyways, it makes a certain area (designated by blood, as it is tied to the user) appear like the user wants it to. The pause Kurenai had was her forming the image she wanted to project. The larger the area, the more chakra needed and the easier it is to disrupt. The chakra is "flowing" around the area, and a sudden large object in the way (such as a person) can disrupt that flow and dispel the genjutsu. Good for hiding, but not much else. Sixteen hand seals.

Fēng è :: Chinese (凨锷); the words fēng (wind; air; manners, atmosphere) and è (blade edge / sharp) :: Err…if that makes sense to any of you who speak Chinese, I'll be happy. It's what Kyuubi has Naruto using to cut the rocks. It's just concentrated chakra and air, forming a blade of sorts. This was actually something I planned to include, for once. If you've seen InuYasha, think of Sesshoumaru's whips. Currently Naruto can only make one blade (3 to 30 cm long) using his index and middle fingers as a base. He didn't require much practice since the Kage Bunshin is a much more complex construct of the same.

Kyori (距離) means distance and Ayuna just popped into my head.

Doctors and lawyers automatically get the "sensei" honorific, not just teachers. So, in the story, I can easily interchange Medic Kiria with Kiria-sensei. Lucky me. Aside from that, I like how her personality came out.

A minor "plot hole" that I simply haven't mentioned is that Hinata's group eats lunch while traveling (they store it in the wagon).

Just a quick reference for people (mainly) in the USA:

1 meter ≈ 3.28 feet

1 kilogram ≈ 2.2 pounds

‡» Author Note «‡

I added so much foreshadowing…sigh

I hope that the different perspectives for Team 7 meeting on the bridge weren't too confusing. It was too much at once for each character to just have one sequence before switching to another (like the opening scene in Wave). The Kakashi scene still doesn't quite flow right.

I'm using an online dictionary for the Chinese words.

I can't remember what they have as a currency set up in Naruto, so…I'll just use yen. (On a side note, 円 (yen) is actually pronounced "en" as in pen. It's a mistranslation from… Portuguese traders, I think. Or was it that it was mistranslated from Portuguese to English? Hmm. Something like that, anyways.)

I've never seen Shino without his sunglasses. Should I find out something that contradicts what I've written, I'll change it.

I debated about adding a bit about Haku putting on slippers after walking into the hospital, but I don't remember seeing that sort of thing in the hospital and decided it too troublesome. But really, Japanese take off their shoes almost as soon as they enter a house/building and take off their overcoats (should they have them on) before entering a house. Walking around inside with shoes on that were used outside is like…a dentist using the same gloves for all his patients.

Suggestions still welcome. As I reply to reviews individually when I post the next chapter, if you should wish to hear the answer for someone else's review you can just PM me and ask.