Peace can mean different things. Peace is a lack of combat or war. Peace is something one may have when one feels acceptance with the world. Most people get to enjoy at least one kind of peace... but for some there is no refuge from a cruel world, and peace is just a word like so many others.
The passage of the sharp stone through the air created an audible whistle. The sound ceased abruptly as a darkly dressed ninja caught the rock heading towards its small, blond target. Without hesitation the ninja disappeared in a blur and adeptly delivered blows to the crowd that had gathered to attack a small child. The silver-haired ninja was not hard to identify, even behind two masks. All the ninja in the village, and many of its citizens, knew the identity of Hatake Kakashi.
The crowd wisely dispersed, though many cursed and spat in the direction of the boy's fallen form. The ANBU captain restrained himself from pursuing the mob and turned to his colleague. "Yamato, this is getting ridiculous." He carefully picked up the unconscious boy, who was bleeding from the numerous wounds he had received before he and his comrade had arrived.
The other ANBU member nodded. "Sandaime-sama has already dispatched ANBU to aid the boy sixteen times so far this month."
The captain shook his head wearily. "I will speak to the Hokage. The boy is not safe out in the open like this. It is time something was done."
The other ANBU did not have to verbalise his agreement. It was high time the boy was put under real protection. The normally indifferent ANBU were learning to care for the boy's safety. As well educated shinobi, the two of them knew that the boy was not the demon that he was made out to be, anymore than a sealing scroll is the kunai that it might contain. To think otherwise was nothing less than ignorance.
Kakashi ascended to the top of the nearest building in a single bound, quickly followed by his companion, and he headed across the rooftops with his injured passenger. He headed in the direction of the ANBU headquarters, to have the child's injuries treated. The civilian hospital was very difficult at treating this particular individual. The silver-haired ANBU captain had no desire to spend all night threatening the doctors and nurses, just to get the boy the treatment he was entitled to as a citizen of Konoha.
Kakashi stood in front of his most senior commander, a frown unseen under his two masks. "Hokage-sama, this is madness. He is attacked almost daily, and several times we have only just been in time to save his life. There has been more than one instance where his heart has actually stopped. I have never questioned your leadership, Hokage-sama….." He paused, for both effect and to take enough time to show his words were not spoken hastily. "……until now. The boy must be put somewhere safe, where he can be protected at all times. It's just not good enough!" The usually laid back Jounin was far from his normal, almost apathetic, self.
Never had Kakashi criticised Sarutobi so openly, and he had no choice but to take his student's student's student seriously. The Hokage was at an age where he spent more and more time reflecting upon the decisions he had made during his life time, knowing that hindsight could do nothing to alter his past decisions. The Third felt guilt creep into his mind, because he felt he was letting Arashi down. The Yondaime would not have looked kindly on this. It was not a simple matter to resolve, however. "No one will adopt him, Kakashi, and he is too old to be in the orphanage, even if that was an option. I cannot adopt him as you well know; there would be too much conflict, but I agree with what you say. I cannot deny that I have let the boy down, but I am unsure how to make amends. Perhaps you have a suggestion?"
Kakashi had none, having been too antagonised to think rationally, and now he wished he had deliberated more before coming to the tower to berate the old man. Yamato shifted slightly, having remained silent until now. "Hokage-sama, Naruto has become a growing responsibility for ANBU and there are those who are becoming fond of the boy. Why don't we move him into the base? There are always members around and there is a spare room on our team's floor. I am sure no one would protest." He glanced at his captain, no one in their right mind would protest against something his captain felt so passionately about. "I know Akiko-san would be pleased for one."
The Hokage thought for a moment, he was determined to give Naruto's well being the consideration it deserved. It was an unusual idea - not much involving the blond boy was usual - but perhaps an atypical solution would suit such an atypical problem. The ANBU base was not the ideal place to raise a child, but neither was a small lonesome apartment.
"I agree, Hokage-sama, and I would be more than glad to have Naruto put under my charge back at base." The copycat ninja already felt more at ease. He knew that the old man's conscious would not allow him to refuse.
After a moment of silence the Hokage nodded. "It seems that this is the best hope young Naruto has for a happy future. I will send someone to bring his belongings to the base." The once retired Hokage felt his guilt recede just a little. "I need to come and speak to Naruto himself, as I fear that he will not trust you otherwise. While the ANBU have watched Naruto, he has not known. To him you are strangers and he has been lured into traps before." The Hokage pushed against the arms of his chair, not having to instruct his two ANBU to follow as he exited his office.
Haruno Akiko was the ANBU resident medic, a gentle healer living side by side with professional killers. Though Akiko was not a warrior at heart, she was still respected by the majority of those whose well being was her responsibility. Her skills may not have been combat based, but they were still undeniable. The Haruno kunoichi ranked as one of the best medics that Konoha had to offer.
Bright green eyes looked out from under pink bangs as she took a moment check that her current patient was completely healed. The pink-haired medic was rather fond of the small blond boy and she couldn't help but feel a motherly concern for him. She had no children of her own, but she had a niece who was the boy's age. Like all the adults in the village she knew what the boy contained within him, yet still she could not fathom the hatred that was aimed at the boy. Admittedly she had never even spoken to the boy, but she had spied on him a few times and at worst he had seemed pitiable. Akiko placed glowing hands on the boy's forehead. "He will wake up in a few minutes." She glanced at the others in the small medical examination room.
The Hokage turned to the two ANBU beside him. "Yamato, Kakashi, please stand back for now." He moved closer to the medic and the still unconscious child.
Akiko watched as a pair of eyes flicked open for a fraction of a second, then a moment later the eyes opened again. The eyes in question became wide in an instant.
"Please don't hurt me." Naruto tried to press himself into the wall. Slightly unfocused deep blue eyes shifted rapidly about the room. His eyes were still focusing and the people still looked like dark lines, but he instinctively assumed that anyone was a threat; however, the young boy's eyes began to focus and the features of the closest person became clear. The boy saw a familiar wrinkled visage. He allowed his tense muscles to relax, knowing that he had a brief respite from his persecution while the old man was around.
The saddened Hokage put his hand on the boy's shoulder. "It's okay Naruto you're perfectly safe, no one here will hurt you." He gestured to the room in general. "You're in the ANBU headquarters."
Naruto avoided looking at the others in the room. He had learned that it was better not to look at people, who seldom directed anything but hatred towards him. The boy took the time to look around the room. "What's ANBU Ojisan?"
The Sandaime gave a warm smile when he heard his nickname, the boy not even knowing he was the Hokage. "ANBU are the elite ninja of the village." He didn't know how else to explain them to a child.
Naruto just accepted what he was told. "Can I go home now?" He could never allow himself to relax, but being in his small apartment was the closest he ever got.
The old man perched himself on the edge of the bed. "I'm afraid you can't go back to the apartment Naruto. You will be moving in here."
Naruto's eyes widened in surprise and fear. "Please don't make me Ojisan." He glanced at the others. "They'll hurt me."
Akiko's eyes welled up and she slowly approached the boy, noticing how he began to tense. "Naruto-kun……"
The old man turned to the pink-haired woman. "No one here will hurt you, Naruto. In fact Akiko is the one that has been making you better after you get hurt."
Naruto turned slowly to the woman, his face full of confusion, then back to the old man. "Why would someone want to make me better?"
The old man put on a fake smile, and the boy was too young to notice the sadness in his eyes. "Akiko here is a medic and it's her job to make people better."
Naruto took a moment to assimilate the information as he turned to the woman and finally looked at her face, noticing an unusual lack of revulsion. "I guess you don't know who I am….." He lowered his head. "You wouldn't help me if you knew what I was."
The Hokage's breath caught. "Naruto, what do you mean?" His mind reeled at the thought that someone had told the boy what he contained.
Naruto tucked his knees under his chin. "I'm a demon…" There was more than one sharp intake of breath. "…..that's what they all tell me."
As sad as it was the old man was, he was also glad the boy didn't know the entire truth; it was bad enough people had bent his law so badly.
Akiko could take it no more and moved to the boy's side, reaching out to him.
Naruto had begun to move away, but arms enveloped him and he instantly froze. He wanted to run away, but for some reason he could not bring himself to move and his whole body began to relax in the woman's embrace. He had no idea what was happening to him, or why the pink-haired lady was doing such a thing. He did not understand why, but for some reason he didn't feel in danger. Instinctively the blond boy's arms wrapped around the woman's waist and he simply enjoyed whatever it was that was happening to him.
Akiko was relieved that the boy responded as well as he did; it was a good sign. As she stayed like that for a while, she realised that she felt a lot better for the embrace. She wasn't really sure who was giving who comfort. Eventually; however, she began pull away. "Why don't I show you around, Naruto-kun?" The pink-haired medic continued to pull away, but before she was free from the embrace the boy began to hold on tighter. Naruto was apparently unwilling to give up the rare comfort he had found. Akiko stopped pulling away and scooped the young boy up, balancing him on her hip. The top half of her body leant to the side to compensate for the weight, her right arm wrapped around his waist.
Sarutobi was heartened by how at ease the boy suddenly became. Perhaps it was not too late to undo the damage that had been done. "Are you okay if I leave you with Akiko, Naruto?"
The young boy in question turned his head to the old man and after a moment gave a small nod, apparently he had temporarily lost the use of his voice.
"I'll come and see you again tonight to see how you're getting along." The old man gave another wizened smile before he turned and left the group behind him. He still had work to be getting on with.
Akiko turned with her impromptu passenger to Yamato and Kakashi, who had both taken off their ANBU masks. She gestured first to the silver-haired man. "That is Kakashi….." She gestured to the second figure. "…and that's Yamato."
Kakashi thought it would be okay for him to finally break his silence. "Yo Naruto, welcome to HQ. If there is anything that you want, just ask me, Yamato or Akiko."
Naruto could not hide his surprise, that there was someone else being nice to him. "T-Thank you Kakashi-san."
Kakashi let out a faint chuckle. "No need to be so formal kid. Kakashi is fine."
Yamato did not smile, but managed to appear amiable. "You can call me Yamato. Welcome to ANBU."
Akiko saw that Naruto seemed to take his time deciding if he could trust the two men, but saw Akiko's encouraging nod and seemed to make his verdict. Despite the boy's general mistrust, he seemed to trust the medic as a matter of instinct. At least after his first hug. "Come on Naruto-kun. Let's go see your room."
The small group moved out of the examining room and out into a medium sized corridor, with doors every few yards. After only a few steps the group stopped and Kakashi pushed on the door handle, which swung open. "This will be your room. Mine is just to the right and Akiko's to the left."
Naruto was carried into the room, looking around curiously. The room had an en suite shower and toilet, small but fully functional. There was plenty of shelving, and a single bed that looked as if it folded into the wall. Naruto didn't care about the size. He would get to be near the people he hoped were going to be his new friends.
Kakashi felt the need to fill the silence that had fallen. "The rooms are small, but we don't spend much time in them except when we sleep. Let's show you the common room."
Akiko carried her new young friend down to the end of the corridor, where they entered another room. The room was the largest on that floor, all the residential floors had a room such as this, and was where the ANBU therein could relax. At the other side of the room was a staircase that went up and another that went down, more than one common room were immediately connected.
Naruto saw that there were others in the room and he instinctively buried his head in the pink-haired woman's shoulder.
Akiko gave a heavy sigh as she gestured at the ANBU in the room to come round. "It's okay Naruto-kun. No one here will hurt you either." The medic turned to the group. "Naruto-kun is going to be staying with us."
Naruto looked up gingerly and saw that there were no hateful looks sent his way, only surprise. He still did not really understand what ANBU were, but he thought this place was magical. "H-Hello…."
Akiko gave the boy an encouraging squeeze. "Naruto-kun…" She gestured to the first of three women in front of them. The first woman was shorter than the others, with dark brown hair in a pony tail, and her dark brown eyes watched him curiously. "…this is Nara Miya."
The Nara woman gave the boy a friendly smile. "Nice to meet you Naruto-kun." All three women had at some point been involved in one of the boy's rescues.
Akiko noticed that Naruto did not seem overly nervous, but he didn't saying anything else. "This….." She gestured to the second woman, her hair was a medium brown and fell halfway down her back, whose most noticeable feature were her pale eyes. "…is Hyuuga Kuri."
The Hyuuga woman gave a slight bow. "It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance Naruto-san." She did not smile for the boy, but she never did for anyone else.
The third female had pulled her dark purple hair so that it sat on her head, her height was between that of the others, and her expression was neutral. The woman decided to introduce herself. "Mitarashi Anko." The young kunoichi was rather intimidating to the child.
Akiko almost glared at the snake-wielding ANBU, knowing that Anko could be friendlier if she tried. "Anko…" The medic glanced at the boy on her hip, beginning to feel the strain. "…..why don't you and Naruto get to know each other?" She gently picked up the blond boy, who was too surprised to protest, and pushed him towards Anko.
Anko only grabbed the boy out of reflex, feeling the boy stiffen in fright, and didn't know what to do with him.
Naruto thought he had been betrayed once more, until he realised that the woman was doing nothing. She was like a statue.
Akiko felt a twinge of guilt at using the boy like this; however, Anko had trouble connecting with people and she hoped the boy could help. She thought that the Snake Sannin's former student might relate to the blond, since they had something in common.
Anko felt the boy finally shift in her grip, apparently he had become uncomfortable, and he reached out to give himself something to push against. Anko was surprised as the touch seemed to flood her with warmth. Her eyes widened as she looked down at the boy, who seemed understandably pensive.
Everyone in the room was surprised when the purple-haired woman suddenly pulled the boy into a tight hug and gave a warm smile. "So, Naruto-kun, you are going to be staying with us. That's good because we can make sure you stay safe."
The others in the room stared at Anko like she had grown a second head. No one had expected such a reaction from the usually unsociable kunoichi. Not one of them had ever seen the woman give a real smile, and it changed her whole demeanour.
Naruto had felt warm for a moment before the feeling faded, but it failed to vanish entirely. Something aside from instinct was telling the boy he could trust her. Had he known the words he would have described the feeling as similar to deja vu.
The snake-wielding ANBU did not release her grip as she turned to those who had arrived with the boy. "Have you shown Naruto-kun the training grounds yet?"
It took a moment for the question to register with Akiko. "Umm…no. We were going there after here."
Anko nodded to herself. "Come on then Naruto-kun." She began to head to the stair case.
Akiko quickly followed after them. It was not that she did not trust Anko, but at the moment she did not want the boy out of her sight. The other two kunoichi followed, simply curious.
Kakashi did not move straight away and he spoke without turning his head. "Yamato…did I miss something?"
Yamato took a moment to consider. "If you did, I'm afraid I missed it too."
The copycat ninja nodded slowly and - almost as an afterthought - headed to the stairs, soon followed by the other ANBU.
Anko was still carrying her new little friend and she was chatting quite happily, telling Naruto about everything they passed.
Naruto had seen the training ground, canteen, armoury and several other common rooms. As awed as he was, nothing he saw compared to the people who walked with him. Anko had managed to get Kuri and Miya in on the conversations, and now everyone spoke to the boy easily. He found it was all becoming too much and could no longer hold in the tears that had been threatening to fall for some time.
Anko stopped mid-step as they moved back through their common room. Akiko rushed closer. She thought everything had been going well and in actuality Akiko had been expecting a much more awkward transition.
"What's wrong Naruto-kun? I thought you were glad to be here." Akiko's face showed her worry and the blond boy instantly felt bad.
"I am happy Akiko-chan." He struggled to find the words for what he was trying to say and simply cried once more into Anko's shoulder. The woman holding him rubbed his back soothingly.
Akiko decided that the boy had had enough and she formed seals. "Nemuri Neiri no Jutsu!" (Forced Sleep technique). The crying figure fell silent.
Kakashi gave a heavy sigh. "I think Naruto was trying to say that he isn't used to being this happy. He didn't know how to deal with it."
Akiko stroked the boy's hair. "He'll get used to it. We'll make sure of that."
The rest of the group didn't voice their agreement, but it was clear they would do their best for the boy. He had already suffered more than his fair share of unhappiness.
Naruto sat happily on his favourite medic's lap and the two of them sat with a small scroll in front of them.
Akiko moved to pick up the scroll. "Okay Naruto-kun, I think that is enough for today."
Naruto's smile receded a little. "Can't we do a bit more?"
The medic couldn't help but smile, as Naruto seemed to like his lessons. She thought that the boy just liked the attention that he got from his small collection of self appointed teachers. "I think that is enough, Naruto-kun. You need time to let everything sink in. If we continue you'll probably begin to forget some of the words you learnt today."
Naruto did not look appeased and pouted just a little, but he rarely complained outright.
Akiko gently put her hands under the boy's arms, lifting him so that he stood next to her as she herself stood. "How about you come and keep me company while I finish off some paperwork?"
Naruto instantly brightened, confirming the woman's suspicions. He was an easy child to please, as all he seemed to want was companionship. "M'kay Akiko-chan." He held out his hand ready and it was taken, as the two headed out the room.
Three figures sat at around the large table in the briefing room. The expressions of those around the table showed that the current topic was as serious as the atmosphere suggested.
The two sitting with the captain knew he was frowning. "I think the risk is too great."
Anko was grateful she had been invited to this meeting. Kakashi and Akiko tended to take charge of the boy, but it was known that Anko cared greatly for him. "I agree."
Akiko saw that they were all thinking the same thing. Naruto had shown no interest in leaving the ANBU grounds and no one had suggested he needed to. "Then we are agreed. Naruto-kun will not attend the academy until the final two years." They might not have wanted Naruto trained as a ninja at all, but they all knew that the boy had to learn to defend himself.
Kakashi placed his elbows on the conference table. "We have already been working hard on Naruto's basic education. What he lacks in academic ability, he makes up for with enthusiasm. I would think that the next logical step would be for us to begin training him as a shinobi."
"I think Naruto-kun is perfect for learning my fighting style." Anko surprised the others.
Kakashi's one visible eye showed he had not expected such an announcement. "You want to teach him the Dansu no Hebi?" (Dance of the snake)
Akiko understood though. "Naruto-kun has already shown unusually progressed agility, strength and stamina." They may not have trained him yet, but that did not mean they had not played games with him.
Kakashi gave the impression of smiling. "I know the others will want to help."
The group did not realise how much affect the outcome of the meeting would have on a certain blond boy's future.
Akiko sat with her student once more. The medic-come-teacher was explaining to him just what chakra was again. It was difficult because the blond boy was young, but he was more than willing to learn. Since the medic had the most free time, the onus fell on her to teach the boy the basics of ninjutsu and chakra control.
There was a puff of smoke and a sickly looking clone appeared beside the original.
Akiko sighed. "I don't know what's wrong. Your control is not bad enough to make something like this happen." She turned to the door as a silver-haired ANBU walked in. Naruto tried not to look defeated, but he did not want to let his friends down. "Sorry Akiko-chan."
Akiko's frown softened. "Don't be sorry Naruto-kun. As your teacher I'm equally responsible. If we both keep trying I am sure you can master the Bunshin no jutsu."
The copycat ninja held his chin in his hand for a moment. "My sensei once told me that he found it almost impossible to create a simple Bunshin, because his chakra output was too high. The result was similar to Naruto's execution of the technique." He saw that he had earned the attention of the medic and her student. "Naruto can you copy this seal?" The copycat showed the boy a seal that look like a cross. He had to carefully explain, as simply as he could, how to manipulate his chakra appropriately.
"Now make the seal while focusing chakra as I explained. This technique is called the Kage Bunshin no jutsu." Kakashi watched Naruto form the seal and could feel the boy trying to manipulate large amounts of chakra.
Kakashi gave the pink-haired kunoichi a meaningful look. The captain wondered if perhaps the problem was that Naruto felt under too much pressure. "Come on Akiko. I am sure Naruto will be alright while we get some lunch."
Akiko had understood the look. "We'll be back in a while, Naruto-kun, and we'll be in the canteen if you need us.
Naruto nodded absently as the two left, his mind was impressively focused for a child his age. "Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!" There was a puff of smoke.
In the canteen Akiko sat with the silver-haired Jounin. "Why did you try and teach Naruto-kun a Jounin level technique Kakashi?" She sipped a cup of coffee while the man opposite drank a mixed fruit juice.
Kakashi shrugged. "I can sense something about him…." He sounded unsure of himself; a rarity. "……potential."
Akiko knew better than to discard the man's words lightly. "But still….even someone like Itachi would have been unable to perform that jutsu so young. Do you really think he can hope to learn it?"
Kakashi was not going to pretend he was certain. "There is only one way to know that. Wait and see."
The Library was the ANBU's archive of techniques, to which each ANBU had contributed during their term of service. There were thousands of techniques recorded in the building specifically for the purpose. The only kind of jutsu that were specifically excluded were clan jutsu. Even forbidden jutsu were included in the repository of knowledge, since ANBU were trusted enough to have access to them. The only reason that there was less concern over the Library than the original forbidden scrolls was that the Library was incredibly secure. Access to the Library was tightly controlled and even new ANBU had to wait six months to gain access. It said a lot about the old man's guilty conscious that he had given a mere child access to the intellectual gold mine.
Yamato was currently giving Naruto a tour of the building, so that in future he could make his own way around the place. He had already given the boy a serious talk about the responsibility placed on him by the Hokage. The boy had remained respectfully serious throughout. He assumed that Kakashi had given the boy a similar talk, but the copycat had been put on a mission hurriedly. Kakashi's absence was why Yamato found himself giving the tour, since even Akiko was not allowed in the building and Anko was on a mission too.
Naruto seemed to reverberate with energy as they finished the tour by actually removing a scroll from one of the shelves. Naruto had appeared enthusiastic about learning before; however, it was a mere shadow of the eagerness he was currently displaying. The dark-haired ANBU thought it probably had to something to do with the boy wanting to emulate the person he looked up to the most, the absent copycat.
The experienced ANBU sat down and put the young boy on his knee, the scroll in front of them. There were many words that the boy needed help with, since they scrolls were written with already experience shinobi in mind. Naruto had learned by now not to be embarrassed about asking for help, knowing that ignorance was only shameful if it you did not try to overcome it.
Naruto was currently reading a section about chakra control. "Yamato, what's tree walking?" The scroll mentioned an advanced form, including kunai and large stones.
The corner of Yamato's mouth turned up. He would put Naruto's enthusiasm to the test. "I'll show you later."
Anko stood opposite her young friend. She found it hard to look into his large blue eyes and keep her resolve. "Naruto-kun. I know we are friends, but this training is going to be hard. I cannot afford to be gentle with you. If you are not prepared then it is best that we do not even start."
"Anko-chan……" The boy smiled at the snake-wielding woman, pleased that she was concerned for his well being, before his face became more serious. "……I am used to pain."
Even Anko winced at that remark. "Then let us begin!"
As Anko harshly trained she had to think about something the old man Hokage had told her once, but in this case she was being more brutal - than cruel - to be kind.
Considering that Akiko was not a combat ninja, she exuded violent intention strongly. The medic looked like she was ready to wrap one of the other woman's own snakes around her neck and choke her with it.
Anko was actually somewhat scared, having never seen this side of the medic.
Naruto was young, but did not miss the tension. "Akiko-chan, it's okay. Anko-chan warned me that she would not be gentle and gave me the option to quit. It was my decision." Naruto surprised the two women with his adult tone of voice.
Akiko continued to glare at Anko for a moment, but she appeared to relax. The medic knew what Anko was doing, giving the boy the physical conditioning that neither she nor Kakashi could bring themselves to. "Fine." That did not mean she had to like it.
"See you later Naruto-kun." Anko gave Naruto a half smile before she rapidly departed from the room. When she was halfway along the corridor she finally allowed herself the shudder she had been suppressing.
Kakashi watched Naruto as he slid down the tree he was attempting to walk up. Naruto's chakra control was undeniably terrible.
The silver-haired ninja turned to the Hyuuga woman beside him. "What do you think Kuri-san?" Hyuuga were known for their excellent chakra control.
The light brown-haired Hyuuga shook her head. "The only way to improve his control is through control exercises. There is no shortcut."
Yamato showed his tendency to think laterally. "Strictly speaking there is no shortcut. Naruto needs to put a significant amount of hours into training on chakra control…." The helmeted ANBU paused. "…..but why not put in some of those hours at the same time?"
The Hyuuga caught on quickly. "You mean shadow clones? Use the collective memory of them to practice. If Naruto-kun has the chakra to maintain enough clones he could progress exponentially faster." She gave a rare small smile. "It would also help increase his already high stamina and chakra reserves."
Kakashi decided to waste no time. "Hey Naruto, come over here would you?"
The group watched as the blond boy stopped charging at the tree, before he immediately headed towards the ANBU.
Kakashi crouched down slightly, so that he could look the boy in the face. "Naruto do you think you could make your shadow clones last for some time?"
Naruto looked uncertain. "I have not tried, Kakashi-sensei."
"Well produce as many as you can and let's see. We have an idea to help your training." Kakashi stood up straight once more.
Naruto quickly formed a cross shaped seal. "Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!" There was a puff of smoke.
Kuri's eyebrows rose slightly. "That is two more than he could make last time."
Kakashi nodded once. "Naruto, you and the clones go back to the exercise."
Naruto nodded and twenty blonds ran back to the row of trees.
They trained uninterrupted for just over an hour.
Yamato shook his head in disbelief. "Not only is he still going at it, he's still managing to sustain that many clones."
The masked captain did not know why he was still surprised. "I did not expect him to be able to keep going this long." He cleared his throat. "Naruto, that's enough for now."
The blond boy staggered a little as he approached the adults, panting heavily. "Yes…Kakashi-sensei?"
The copycat had to admire the boy's drive. "You can dismiss your clones, but you should brace yourself."
Naruto nodded and formed a ram seal. "Kai!" He abruptly slumped, as his head spun from the sudden mental impact of absorbing the clones' memories. Kakashi passed him a nutrient bar. Naruto had proved to have a large appetite during his time at the base.
After a few minutes had passed, Naruto was already standing straighter. The boy not only had incredible stamina for his age, but recovered quickly from exertion.
Kakashi saw that the boy was still a little tired, but as usual the boy did not complain. "Right. I'd like you to try that just once more. No clones this time."
Naruto obediently headed to the tree, picking up his pace as he got closer. The fox-boy was surprised when the first foot he placed on the tree remained firmly fixed. His next steps proved the same as the first and he walked up the length of the tree with little difficulty. The overjoyed blond boy charged chakra into his feet and pushed hard against the trunk, shooting back while flipping over. He turned and ran back to his teachers. "Did you see that Kakashi-sensei?! Did you?!"
The three adults smiled at the boy's enthusiasm, each of them feeling a small swell of pride in their shared student.
Kakashi put his hand on the young blond's shoulder. "You did really well kid. I think it's safe to say we will be using clones in all your training. You can even use them to study in the Library, as long as you split them up between floors. The mental exhaustion will become more pronounced, but as long as you have a rest and something to eat you'll be just fine."
Yamato gave the boy's shoulder a squeeze. "I have to go now Naruto, but keep up the good work." He quickly made his way from the training ground, already running late for a debriefing with the Hokage.
Kuri gave a slight bow. "You are already well on your way to becoming strong, Naruto-kun." She knelt down in front of the child. "You are making us all very proud." She saw the boy give a rare blush, and she could not help but laugh lightly. "I'm afraid I have to go as well, as I have some clan business to attend to tonight." With her usual grace the pale-eyed woman stood straight, giving the boy one last look before she too headed elsewhere.
Kakashi ruffled the boy's hair. "Come on let's get some dinner. Akiko is due to meet us in the canteen soon and Chef has prepared something special. You ever tried Ramen?"
The blond shook his head. He had tried a variety of delicious foods since he had learned he was allowed as much as he could eat, but he had never even heard of ramen.