Hello once more.

Thanks to all those who keep reading, and especially to those who take the time to review, my story.

Sorry for taking so long to update, but it just seems to take me a while to write a chapter these days.

IMPORTANT: Before anyone criticises, please read my post-chapter notes. If you still have a complaint, feel free to share. All I ask is that people are polite, or simply civil. (I don't take kindly to people using the terms like BS or Crap when referring to my work)

Please enjoy the chapter. Apologies in advance for spelling and grammar. I think I will look into finding a beta for the next chapter.

Previously on ANBU BRAT:

Naruto, Fubuki and Koyuki make it back to the ship as the iceberg crumbles into the sea. Koyuki is uninjured, but Fubuki is seriously wounded and falls into a coma, despite Naruto and Doctor Otoka's attempts. Naruto has a heart to heat with Ayumi (Doctor Otoka) and he reveals his past and how he became a nuke-nin; to protect his friends and family when he is given the death sentence. The leader of the Snow Village assigns their Jinchuuriki to replace Fubuki, who they believe to be dead. After help from Ayumi, Naruto manages to once again control his chakra and quickly begins to master it once more. Now able to use medical jutsu, Naruto heals Fubuki and she wakes up. What they do not expect; however, is that she does not remember who she is or anything about her past. Naruto and Ayumi befriend her, even as they admit to her that they were enemies. The film crew, cast, Naruto and Fubuki all travel in a convoy to the next filming location. They are forced to stop when the Gobi vessel appears. While Naruto fights the other Jinchuuriki, Koyuki tries to run away, but only succeeds in putting herself in danger. Fubuki takes the first steps to becoming a better person when she rescues the princess. As Naruto tries to protect the convoy, he is thrown over a cliff, meanwhile Fubuki and Koyuki are not out of danger yet.

Chapter 27

The small pile of leaves lay on the road's stone surface under the evening sun, each one fluttering slightly in the breeze.

A sudden gust caught the detached foliage and tossed it a couple of feet into the air, carrying the leaves along its course. Like a school of fish, the trailing leaves mirrored the actions of those leading, with only a fraction of a second delay. Up and down, swirling close to the ground at times, and over six feet high at others, the leaves continued.

The two guards that stood beside the gate ignored the rustling as the floating green drove passed them by.

The high wall either side of the entrance blocked the majority of the wind and the leaves fell to the ground, once again merely twitching in the gentle breeze.

A sandalled foot landed in the middle of the leaves, inadvertently kicking several back into the air, where a sudden change in the wind allowed them to continue their dance.

The owner of said foot simply continued on her way.

Haku walked almost absent-mindedly. She didn't focus on the village around her, lost as she was in thought. There was only one subject she daydreamed about in this manner.

The young kunoichi wore a full-length light blue kimono, so that she seemed to glide more than walk, her hair tied halfway down by a light pink ribbon.

Before she even realised, she was walking into the ninja academy's main gate. Long shadows filled the playground as the sun neared the horizon. She walked through the main entrance and down the familiar halls.

Most of the doors had windows, each one revealing only a dim light from the fading sun. One door near the end of the hall showed a much brighter light inside. It was toward this door that the delicate looking kunoichi headed.

Reaching out for the handle, Haku opened the door and entered inside.

The scene inside the room was one that she had become accustomed to over the passing weeks.

In the middle of the room sat two red-haired women, with one empty seat between them.

A brown-haired man sat behind a desk in front of the other three, waiting patiently.

Haku inclined her head to each of them, before sitting between the two females.

When Haku had been the only one that required academy training, it was the Sandaime Hokage's intention to put her in the regular class, since it was a waste of resources to have private lessons for just one person. However, with the addition of two new Konoha citizens requiring academy training, it became impracticable. Haku, Tayuya and Karin had been attending these evening sessions twice a week for some time now. The benefit was that the curriculum was tailor made so they could graduate faster. Each of them knew the proper use of chakra, and teaching them further would be redundant. All they were really learning was the ethics and morals that Konoha was founded on, as well as the history of the same. Another month and they would be done. A Genin practical test had been arranged for each of them, but was a mere formality. The paper test was what really mattered. It was hoped that if they understood Konoha's beliefs, that they would eventually be embraced.

Tayuya managed an uncertain smile. "Hey." The two weren't friends per se, but she respected the other girl well enough. At first she had not thought much of the other kunoichi; she came across as overly delicate. Until she had suffered the other kunoichi's ice-wielding abilities first hand. She also knew some of the other girl's background. The girl was in the same position she was in, only – with luck - a couple of months down the line. It was also clear that one Hatake Naruto had made a big impact on her. Tayuya could relate, even if her feelings were less involved. Mostly.

Karin nodded toward the dark-haired girl. She thought Haku was very easy to get along with and the gentle-natured girl had made it clear that she would do anything she could to help them in Naruto's stead. They needed all the friends they could get. The Konoha council didn't even know she and her sister were ex-sound-nin.

Iruka's seat moved back as he stood and threw a book to each of students. Each one was caught with ease. "This evening we will be learning…."

Tsunade's stony gaze would have warned almost any sensible person against inciting her anger. Her arms crossed over her chest, and her mouth a straight line, one could imagine the beautiful Sannin was goddess come to judge those before her and that she had found the majority without favour.

Danzo gazed dispassionately at his Hokage. "What is the meaning of this, Tsunade?" His comment received no response. "How can you justify a 'flee on sight' order?"

The blond Hokage's eyes hardened to the point where it seemed diamond itself would not be able to mark them. "It was the will of this councilthat Naruto was so dangerous that he was to be executed without trial. The entry in the Bingo book reflects this. Surely you are not contradicting the council's own verdict?" Her tone was cold, but civil. None of them could see the true rage that burned inside her. She really, really wanted to break something. Preferably some bones.

Hyuuga Hiashi frowned. "Not even Orochimaru and Itachi have a 'flee on sight' status. It was invented by Iwa for the Yondaime Hokage and has never been used since by any nation." The Hyuuga allowed the smallest sneer onto his features. "We all know what you are trying to do and we won't stand fo-"

"ENOUGH!" A spike in killing intent issued from, and chakra whirled around, the Hokage. Her hair fluttered as if in a strong breeze.

Shizune, once again wearing her signature black kimono, moved across to her master from the corner of the room. The dark-haired woman whispered in Tsunade's ear.

Tsunade's hand moved upward for a second before she seemed to change her mind and let it fall down once more. A moment later, those of the council watched as the killing intent faded away and the chakra aura receded. The Hokage took several deep breaths. "If that is your only concern, then put your minds at rest." Her voice held a pleased tone and she even managed to smile, but those who knew her well would have seen the maliciousness behind it. She saw the council relax. "It is simply that Naruto will become stronger than the Yondaime."

There was instant uproar.

Even Naruto's supporters looked stunned.

Inuzuka Tsume looked into her Hokage's eyes and saw no deception, but still she had to ask. "Is that even possible?"

Tsunade turned a kinder look toward the dog-woman. "I assure you that I am not mistaken. Previous to his kidnapping, I would have said that Naruto had only a few years to reach my own and Jiraiya's level. Now….." She turned toward the rest of the council. "Naruto has more chakra than the three Sannin combined. All he needs now is to learn how to use it. He was unable to use chakra when he…left…but that won't slow him down for long. All he really lacks is the battle experience and knowing his misfortune, that will come all too soon."

Nara Shikaku's interest was clear as he actually sat up straight. "Are we talking with or without the Hiraishin no Jutsu?"

Tsunade allowed a moment's silence before she answered. "Only time will tell."

Danzo did not look pleased at all. "That's an outrageous claim, Tsunade. He's only a child."

The killing intent began to rise again, but was only a shadow of its former level.

Tsunade looked down at the ground, her hair covering her eyes. "He is just a child, but that did not stop a perversion of justice within these four walls. It did not stop the council condemning him to death. It did not stop him leaving his home and loved ones to protect them. Neither will it stop him from becoming a great man and an extraordinary ninja."

Danzo could see that he was getting nowhere. "You're letting your emotions control you, Tsunade. As Hokage y-"

Tsunade could not tolerate it any more. "EXACTLY!" She glared at her old teacher's former rival, seeing his surprise. "I am the Hokage and you would all do well to remember your place. I have wasted enough time with matters that are none of the council's concern." Without another word, instead only a look of derision, she turned and walked out the room.

Shizune quickly followed her master from the room and sped up to match the fast pace of the older woman. "Tsunade-sama, wait!"

The Hokage spun round. "What?!" The anger in her eyes faded as she realised who it was. "I'm sorry, Shizune. It's just..."

Shizune only smiled in return. "I can't blame you for being angry, Tsunade-sama." She herself was angry, but it wasn't in her nature to let it consume her. Not that she wasn't anxious about Konoha's most recently made nuke-nin.

Tsunade might have smiled, but she could only sigh. "I'm not sure if I can do this anymore, Shizune." How could she continue to be Hokage while she had to deal with the people who had tried to execute someone so precious to her?

The younger woman put her hand on the taller woman's shoulder. "Would you risk disappointing him?"

The Hokage hesitated a moment, before she looked around, not wishing to appear indecent in her actions. She reached a hand into her top, but this was no a lewd act. She pulled out a piece of paper. One might have asked why she kept it there, but she needed to keep it close to her heart.

She unfolded the paper and her eyes took in five words upon its surface. Five words that threatened to drive her mad. Five words that were the only thing keeping her in Konoha when she would rather be somewhere else, or rather with someone else. The five words that were the closest thing she had to a good bye.

Keep Konoha safe for me.

That was the only message Naruto had written before he had left them. It had been handed to her by her sombre-faced white-haired teammate, only moments after the fox-boy had vanished. It was never said, but those close to him understood that the message was for all of them.

Akiko had suggested the Slug Sannin keep the note. The pink-haired woman had thought she needed it the most. She did. It reminded Tsunade that the citizens of Konoha could not be held responsible for the council's actions. Naruto did not want them to suffer for the sins of the council, even if it meant he suffered instead. It was that knowledge that allowed his friends and family to continue their lives within the Village Hidden in the Leaves.

Of course Tsunade was still angry at Naruto. Angry that he didn't tell her his plan, though she knew it was because he thought she would have tried to stop him. He was damn right she would have. She was angry at the council…oh so angry….but she had to honour Naruto's departing request. She owed him that much at the very least. She sighed deeply and turned toward her assistant. "I envy your gentle disposition sometimes, Shizune."

The gentle medic removed her arm from her master. Each of them was dealing with their feelings in a different way, none less valid than any other. Shizune herself didn't know how to feel. She didn't sleep well, feeling lost and alone even in her dreams. Everyday she woke up and she just felt that something was wrong, even though it took several seconds for her mind to register what it was. The temperature outside and in always seemed just the wrong side of chilly. It was almost as bad as before they had found Naruto at Orochimaru's base. It was hard to believe one person made her feel this way. And not just her. "I envy you your temper, Tsunade-sama." Maybe if she could lose herself in anger, she wouldn't have to feel this way.

Tsunade didn't respond, but instead carefully folded up the piece of paper in her hands and placed it once again over her heart. She would do her best to stay positive. It's not like he was never coming back.

Not if he knew what was good for him.

Akiko sat at her desk filling out the usual paperwork.

Her appearance had improved over the last two weeks. Gone were the shadows under her eyes and the stiffness with which she had carried herself until recently.

Almost no one knew why.

Akiko moved to take a sip of tea, but found the cup empty. Deciding that she could do with stretching her legs, she kept the cup in her hand and stood.

Opening the door she was surprised to see a fist positioned at chest height, apparently about to knock on her door. The hand darted away and she looked to the embarrassed owner. "Hinata?" She then saw another familiar figure standing behind the smaller. "Shizune?"

The lavender-eyed girl looked unusually nervous. More like Naruto had described her being during the academy. "Please help me complete the ShuuraiKata."

Whatever Akiko had been expecting, this was not it. She took a step back into the office, allowing the other two in before she closed the door. "How do you know about that?"

Shizune coughed, somewhat abashed. "I found an old document while I was re-organising some of the archived files in the basement. It was your thesis to qualify as a fully-fledged med-nin. It was a very interesting read." She looked sideways to the younger female. "I realise that it is just theory, and was never supposed to be implemented due to the reasons you deemed it a failure in your conclusion. I believe; however, that a Hyuuga's eyes, combined with their naturally high-level chakra control, would not only make it possible to implement and master the technique - by internally monitoring its effects - but also compensate for the technique's major weakness. I approached Hinata this afternoon to see if she would be interesting in pursuing the issue with you."

Hinata nodded enthusiastically. "I am, Akiko-san."

Akiko moved behind her desk and sat down, cupping her chin in her hand thoughtfully. "It's been years since I've even thought about that technique."

Hinata walked right up to the other side of the desk. "Please, Akiko-san."

Akiko instinctively wanted to say yes, being as she knew how fond her son was of Hinata, but she held herself in check. She was a busy woman and a lot of patients relied on her. Such a task was not to be undertaken lightly. "Developing such a technique could take years, Hinata. Why does this matter to you so much?" She was genuinely curious. She could see the near-desperation in the girl's eyes.

Hinata bowed her head slightly. "There is a tradition in my clan. A clan heir succeeds their predecessor when either the clan council agree that the heir is strong enough, or if the heir can prove it." She paused for a moment, knowing that she was about to admit to something important. "I wish to challenge my father for the position of clan head as soon as I am able."

For the second time that afternoon, Akiko was surprised. Shocked would be more accurate. "What?"

Hinata didn't look up. "It has long been my ambition to combine the branches of our clan. I think we suffer in our segregation." This time she looked up and looking into the emerald eyes of the seated medic. "There is one other reason, just as important to me..."

The piece of paper became two, dividing exactly down the centre. The brown-haired, brown-eyed kunoichi looked up to her sensei. "What's does it mean, Yamato-sensei?"

Tenten had been a little surprised when the she and her teammates had been called into the Hokage's office a week ago and introduced to their new sensei, even though they had known it would happen eventually. Yamato had explained his reasons for requesting to be their sensei and the three Genin respected him for it. He wanted to repay a debt to Gai. He made it clear that they were a team and that they would all be learning together. They had met up a few times already and Yamato had praised them and critiqued them honestly. He had already made some suggestions.

Tenten found she liked her sensei well enough. He was quiet, but fully committed to his assigned Genin.

Yamato smiled a knowing smile. "Now that is a nice surprise. That piece of paper reveals you as having a wind type chakra affinity. The rarest pure affinity and perfect for you."

Tenten didn't know so much about chakra affinities. "Yeah?"

Yamato's smile widened. "We need to go talk to Sarutobi Asuma."

Tenten's face showed her curiosity. "Mmm…okay."

Inuzuka weren't known for their patience. Neither were they known for introspection. Therefore it was a surprise to find the heiress to the clan sitting cross-legged on a wooden floor.

Around the heiress were a variety of objects. A burning candle of incense, several piles of various herbs, a bubbling jar of…something and a dozen other items.

Hana resisted the urge to wrinkle her nose at the pungent smells around her. She had to learn how to ignore the overpowering scents and pick out specific odours. It was an unpleasant task and not undertaken by most of her clan. It was considered an extreme method of training considering the pain it could cause to an Inuzuka's sensitive olfactory organ when flooded with chakra. If she succeeded in this training; however, her tracking abilities would increase exponentially.

Why would the young Inuzuka push herself so hard? It might have been because one of her clan's ally-tracking necklaces had somehow been deactivated.

A knock at the door disrupted Hana's focus and she scowled as she opened her eyes, until she saw who it was. The clan matriarch, her mother, Inuzuka Tsume.

Tsume looked down at her daughter with no small amount of pride. Her daughter had been sealed in this room for close to four hours and apparently had been so focused as to not realise the time. Most Inuzuka could not manage more than two. "It's time for your combat training, Hana."

The younger woman nodded and stood, before she walked and extinguished the incense and tidied some of the items to the side.

Tsume leant against the door frame, watching her daughter pack away. The younger woman had requested her training regime to be escalated and Tsume had agreed. She knew why, of course, and could not have denied the request. Several of her clan-head duties had been delegated to other senior Inuzuka, but nothing overly important. No one had questioned her actions. The clan were a family more so than any other and they supported each other no matter what.

Several of the clan elders had asked about the change in the heiress, but Tsume had only smiled knowingly and replied that her daughter was allowed her privacy.

A hail of senbon shot through the air, but hit nothing.

Haku panted heavily, glad that she had once again changed into her shinobi garb, the same ones she had purchased for her unofficial last mission. She was being put through her paces, and her kimono would have been in shreds by now. Her dark eyes looked around wearily, trying to make out any human-sized shape in the training ground, but her opponent was too good. The fact it was night time only made matters worse.

The ground beneath the young kunoichi suddenly burst upward and she was knocked off her feet. Before she could recover, she felt a blade at her neck. It was only an ordinary looking kunai, but if it was pressed forward, she would be just as dead.

Holding the kunai was one Mitarashi Anko. Before the purple-haired woman could do anything more, her skin, cloths, eyes and hair turned brown. The now-brown Anko collapsed into a pile of mud.

The ice-wielder looked behind where the mud-clone had been standing, seeing Tayuya in a similar state to herself, her hand still poised in the position from which she had released a kunai.

Tayuya moved to take a step forward when a kunai and tag landed between the two kunoichi. The tag exploded.

When the smoke cleared, it revealed the real Mitarashi Anko. She looked grim. "If that had been a real explosive tag, you'd both be nothing but chunks of meat now."

Anko put her hand out to Tayuya and pulled her up when the hand was taken. She did the same for Haku. "That's enough for tonight." Normally they would have trained longer, but Haku was scheduled for more medical training the next morning and even Anko was not callous enough to let a medic go to work in a state of exhaustion. That could cost lives, even if she was only an apprentice medic.

Haku simply caught her breath for a few moments and slowly the burning began to fade from her muscles and lungs. She managed a small bow. "Thank you, sensei." She was glad that tomorrow was one of the days when Anko trained Ino in kenjutsu. The long hours she would put in the hospital tomorrow would be the closest thing she had to a day off.

Tayuya looked more annoyed than grateful. "Yeah, thanks for the beating." Despite her sarcastic tone, she really was a little grateful. The Hokage had told them that Anko had requested to be their Jounin sensei when they graduated, with a view to borrowing Karin for the Chuunin exams. Anko had never said why she offered and no one had asked, but they all knew the reason. Naruto had taken an interest in their welfare, so Anko was doing what she could in his place. She had begun training them weeks before they were even due to take the graduation exam.

Anko made a dismissive gesture with her arms. She wasn't in this for the gratification and she wasn't about to apologise for her harsh training methods. "Meh."

The redhead shook her head and began to limp away, muttering to herself about snake-wielding psychos. Her inexperienced Sharingan was apparently not enough of an edge against someone like Anko.

Haku stayed where she was and looked into her teacher's eyes. She still couldn't read the woman's emotions clearly, but she thought something was not quite right. "Are you okay, Anko-sensei?" It was no secret how close Orochimaru's ex-student and the Kyuubi Jinchuuriki had been. It was obvious that the older woman was taking it hard, but trying to hide it.

A flash of unrecognisable emotion passed over the older woman's eyes, but disappeared as quickly as it had come. "I'm fine. " She answered a little too quickly, but the look in her eyes dared the raven-haired girl to challenge her. "What about you?"

Haku looked surprised. "Me?"

Anko nodded, a serious look on her face. "Yes, you."

Haku tried to hide her anxiety. "I don't know what you mean, Anko-sensei."

Anko shrugged. "Forget it." It didn't really matter….yet.

Haku relaxed as the older woman dropped the question.

As usual, Anko simply turned and walked away from the younger girl.

Haku watched her leave. Anko wasn't quite the same person she had been, but then neither was she.

None of them were.

A sheen of perspiration attested to the exhaustion that Yamanaka Ino was suffering. Her eyes remained closed and they scrunched up, as if she was in pain.

After a few moments, two pale blue eyes were revealed once again to the world as the Yamanaka opened her eyes. She was panting. "I…can...almost see...them."

The young blond girl sat in her sensei's second bedroom, which had been adapted into a meditation room. Apparently this was where Kurenai practiced her genjutsu.

The red-eyed Jounin didn't look disappointed. Ino was attempting something that was no easy feat. "Let's have some tea before we try again."

The young kunoichi nodded. She had been trying this new technique for a few weeks now. It wasn't just new to her, but a brand new technique.

Kurenai had come up with the idea. Ino was using her clan's skill so that she could ascertain a person's deepest fear. Ino was still uncomfortable with using her teacher as a guinea pig, but was touched that Kurenai trusted her enough to share her deepest, darkest fears. At least once she had mastered this part of the technique.

The second part of the technique was even harder than the first. She would use the fears she gleaned from her target's mind and perform an entirely new type of genjutsu. She wouldn't manipulate the senses like conventional genjutsu, but the core of the mind itself. It would be almost impossible for anyone to dispel and only for the strongest of minds. It would also work on Sharingan and Byakugan users alike.

If Ino mastered the technique, she would stand a good chance of succeeding Kurenai as Konoha's premier genjutsu mistress.

Kakashi looked at the small blade in his hand. It had yet to be given a handle. He turned it over and over, examining its shape, weight and balance. "Not bad." He looked up to the craftsman who had made the high-quality weapon. "I think you may have found your calling, Juugo."

The orange haired man stood in a dirty leather apron, a simple green long sleeve top and grey trousers. Orochimaru's former experiment inclined his head in gratitude for the words.

Kakashi carefully placed the weapon back on the wooden bench, next to the whetstone that its maker had been using to sharpen the blade. Since his son could not be around, Kakashi had made a point to look out for those his son had brought into Konoha's fold.

When the Hokage had cured the cursed man's condition, she had offered him a place at the academy alongside Haku, Tayuya and Karin. As grateful as he was to Konoha, and Naruto in particular, he had politely declined. Now it was his choice, he no longer wished to take the lives of others. He had seen enough death and blood for one lifetime. Kakashi, who had accompanied the orange-haired man to the Hokage's office, had suggested he take a trade. Smithing had somehow seemed to fit him. He was built for it, seemed to have the patience for it and Konoha could never have too many blacksmiths. It also just so happened that Kakashi knew of one aged man who was nearing retirement and looking to train his replacement.

Juugo had taken to it like a duck to water.

Kakashi smiled once and turned to leave. Juugo was a nice enough person, but not much of a conversationalist. Another reason he was suited to working with steel and not people.

If only everything else worked out so well.

Karin looked at the array of wires, tubes, sheet metal and various other equipment before her. Some of this was proving tricky. She might have to call on Juugo's new found forging abilities.

The red-head looked up when the door to her small workshop was opened. She saw a certain blond Hokage walk into her office. "Tsunade-sama."

The Hokage looked at what appeared to be a total mess. "How's it coming?"

Karin reached under a pile of 'junk' and pulled out a sheet of paper. "This is the final design for the prototype."

On the piece of paper was a drawing of an arm. A mechanical arm. There were various scribbles along the periphery, but the diagram itself was clear, crisp and precise. There were overlays of various mechanical elements: hinges, motors, wires and other things that were harder to identify. It was too much for a lay person to understand.

Tsunade almost whistled at the schematic. In the former sound-nin's debriefing, which the other three had also gone through, the redhead mentioned that she had done 'some work' for Orochimaru on prosthetics – even tough his arms had been treatable, it had made him realise that he would be wise to have 'spares' – she had not been doing herself justice. "Whatever you need, you'll get it. This is now a top-priority project. You're going to help a lot of people, Karin."

The redhead acknowledgement. "I'm glad, Tsunade-sama." What surprised her was that she meant it.

Karin wondered if Naruto had any idea how much he could change a person. For all his immense strength, incredible speed and vast chakra reserves, that was his most impressive skill.

A lone Sharingan eye spun with a single-minded intensity.

A solitary fist moved with unforgiving brutality.

One Uchiha Sasuke skimmed along the ground, his body spinning off-axis at high speed. His flight only ended when his head struck a tree. The Uchiha lay dazed at the base of the three, trying to gather the strength to even scowl at his foe. His eyes had turned blue due to the collapse of the henge on his eyes.

Hatake Kakashi lowered his still-extended fist and walked at an unhurried pace toward his student. His face and eyes showed only contempt. "Get up."

Sasuke tried to use his arms and push against the ground, but only succeeded in slumping to the ground once more. "I can't." His breathing was laboured.

The silver-haired Jounin snorted. "Pathetic." He walked closer and crouched in front of his student, one arm dangling casually beside him. "You disgust me."

The Uchiha finally managed to scowl. The raven-haired ninja had expected training from his Jounin sensei, but so far had received only continued beatings. He was getting sick of it. He was not getting stronger like this. "Then why teach me?"

Kakashi stood. "You wouldn't understand." He turned his back to the Uchiha and began to walk away.

Sasuke managed to push himself to a seated position. "Whatever. It's not like it matters."

Kakashi turned around and - in the blink of an eye - held the Uchiha by the throat. "Loyalty, Sasuke. That is why I teach you; because as much as I hate you, you're a fellow Konoha-nin. It's certainly not for the pleasure of your company."

Sasuke scowled, ignoring the tight grip around his neck. He wouldn't be intimated. "Loyalty is for fools."

The Hatake slammed the back of the Uchiha's head into the tree behind him, his face formed into a sneer. "Perhaps, Uchiha, but it's the only thing keeping you alive."

Sasuke's eyes widened slightly. "Wh-" He choked as the grip around his neck tightened.

Kakashi gave a single further squeeze and let go. "It's loyalty that separates the rest of us from people like Itachi...people like you."

Sasuke's felt his blood boil. He was nothing like Itachi. How dare Kakashi suggest such a thing?

The Sharingan wielder's eye still spun in anger and seemed to read the younger ninja's mind. He stood once more. "Are you so sure about that?" Then, in a flurry of leaves, he was gone.

When a knock came at the door, Tsunade sighed. This was supposed to be an appointment-free hour. She would have to get Jiraiya or Sarutobi to show her the Kage Bunshin. "Come."

The door opened slowly to reveal a familiar pink-haired Genin.

Tsunade was genuinely surprised at Sakura's appearance. "What can I do for you, Sakura?" Though she didn't know the young Haruno very well, they were friends by proxy of a certain blond nuke-nin.

Sakura just stared nervously for a moment at the most powerful kunoichi in Konoha, and arguably the entire elemental nations. The woman was intimidating as she sat in her office. She unconsciously gulped. "PLEASE TAKE ME AS YOUR APPRENTICE!"

The Godaime Hokage was taken aback by both the volume and the request itself. "Excuse me?"

Sakura winced as she realised what she had done. "Please, Tsunade-sama, take me as your apprentice."

Tsunade's face became neutral, her thoughts hidden from the younger kunoichi. "That's quite a request, Sakura."

Sakura forced herself to look into the Hokage's intense honey-brown eyes. "The last few months have made me realise something, Tsunade-sama. I realised that if I want to protect what is precious to me, then I have to fight for it with my own two hands. If I never want to see my precious people suffering, then I have to heal them with my own two hands. If the enemies of the people I care about are to be defeated, then I have to beat them with my own two hands. I have always had to depend on other people, but now I want other people to be able to depend on me. I want..." him to be able depend on me.

The Hokage's face didn't reveal anything for several seconds, but eventually a pleased smile reached the blond woman's features. She nodded once. "That is what I wanted to hear." Her face became more serious. "It won't be easy, Sakura. I'm going to push you to your limits and beyond."

If Sakura was intimidated, it didn't show. If anything she looked pleased. "I'm counting on it, Tsunade-shishou." After all, if she did her best, she could have no regrets.

The sound of children's excited chatter filled the air.

"Ayame-neechan, Ayame-neechan, tell us another story!" One of the children shouted, but before they could be identified, over a dozen more of the little Konoha citizens echoed the request.

A young woman smiled at the group of young children. Her brown hair flowed freely around her shoulders. She wore a simple floral dress, white with blue flowers. The garment reached just below her knees.

Many of her father's customers would not have recognised her, so different was her appearance out of uniform.

Ayame sat down on a chair in the centre of the room and the children quickly sat at her feet.

The waitress, and sometimes chef, came to the orphanage three times a week. She and the children would often play games, but sometimes they would go for walks in one of the public parks, and other times she would tell them stories.

Today was apparently a story day.

A little silver-haired girl by the name of Ami pulled herself onto the older female's lap and quickly made herself comfortable.

Ayame's lack of a reaction suggested that this was a normal occurrence. She put her hands around the young girl's stomach, keeping her secure.

Little Ami tiled her head upward. "Tell us one about Naruto, Ayame-neechan!"

The children didn't notice the pained look that flickered over the ramen stand daughter's gentle features. She had told more than a few stories of her favourite ninja, based on their own conversations. She generally embellished the stories, but only to compensate for the fox-boy's modesty.

After a few practice mouth-twitches she managed a smile. The children weren't to know how much she missed the blond Hatake. They knew nothing about his absence or the reasons behind it. "Okay then. How about the the story of when Naruto saved Konoha from the Ichibi?"

A chorus of cheers answered her question.

To the children, Naruto was a hero.

But he was Ayame's hero too.

The ground seemed so far away, but Naruto knew that wouldn't remain true for long.

He ran through his options as his descent accelerated. He was only thirty feet away from the cliff face.

So near and yet so far.

Naruto knew he had to act quickly. "Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!"

A second falling blond joined the first. Without prompting, the clone grabbed the original and then pushed against his chest as hard as he could. The clone shot outward from the cliff-face and the original was flung toward it.

Naruto twisted his body round and braced himself, already beginning to apply chakra to his hands and feet. He ignored the pain as his flesh was shredded by the icy-rock surface speeding past. He kicked up a cloud of ice-dust and rubble as he clung to the surface, but his descent was barely slowing. The thin coat of ice against the rock was hard to grip with his chakra and if he tried to use anymore, he risked pushing himself off the surface again. Precious seconds passed by.

"It's been a long time, Koyuki." A deep voice echoed across the landscape, too loud not be artificially amplified.

Koyuki sat up, still panting, and looked at the two male figures standing at the back of the train. "Kazahana Doto." More than scared, she just felt tired. So tired. Would the madness never end?

"So it's been twelve years. Come closer; let me have a better look at your face." Doto didn't sound particularly threatening, but it was still obvious his intentions were far from benign.

Fubuki frowned at the two figures. She guessed that the smaller, blue-haired man was her former teammate. Before she could tell Koyuki to make a break for it, an unmistakeable sound reached her ears. She watched as an avalanche of snow and logs hit the train. The train's two passengers looked startled at the sudden attack. Fubuki brow creased slightly in confusion "What?"

Koyuki turned and looked upon her manager, now dressed like a samurai, to see him pump an arm into the air.

The old man may not have looked threatening, but his determination was clear. "Everyone, come see our princess! If we fight alongside the princess, we can win this war!" He unsheathed his sword. "Kazahana Doto, you know how long we have waited for this day! Today will end all the hatred which has been accumulated for ages, and we will avenge out late king, Kazahana Sousetsu!"

The cloaked Doto looked decidedly unperturbed by the turn of events. "So, you people are still alive."

The blur-haired snow-nin looked mildly annoyed. "Sorry, we will finish them off now."

Doto; however, had another idea. "No, give them a taste of what is called despair."

Fubuki and Koyuki watched with widened eyes as the fifty armoured men rushed the train as they let out their battle cries. Years of anguish and anger were being released in one moment.

The ex-snow-nin did not move from the princess's side. It was her self-designated mission to protect the Koyuki.

The first clue that things were about to turn bad were a short series of ominous clicks from the train. The sound was quickly followed by a chorus of inharmonious whistling.

A dark swarm launched from the train and toward the rebels.

Fubuki could only raise her hands helplessly as her shinobi-trained eyes followed the thousands of kunai, but she had to close her eyes when the swarm met the rebels. She could hear the sound of flesh being torn and sliced. She could hear the sound of pained exhalations from the dying and the sound of the already dead falling to the snow. She opened her eyes, which swam in hot tears, to look upon her former employer as he began to laugh with a hint of mania. She turned away in disgust and her eyes caught movement. Incredibly there was a survivor.

Koyuki felt a twinge in her chest as she saw her manager stumbling forward, holding the kunai in his stomach. "Sandayu." She heard the sound of another click from the train and this time she knew what was about to happen. She looked to the snow at her feet, unable to watch the inevitable. This was the fate of all those who stood against her uncle. This would be her fate.

Fubuki couldn't just watch and her finger moved of their own accord once more. "Hyouroro no Jutsu!" (Ice Wall Technique)

A wall of ice grew in front of Sandayu and blocked the second volley of kunai; though it only just kept its integrity as chunks were torn from it by the hardened-steel projectiles.

The pink-haired woman knew that her ice-wall had only done its job through luck. It might well fail next time. She had to take the train out. She now felt more confident in her own abilities and let her instincts guide her. "Hyouton: Nadare no Jutsu!" (Ice Release: Avalanche technique)

With a cracking sound, the mountain-side above the train began to move. The snow and ice thereon lost stability and cascaded down, much greater than the avalanche created by the rebels.

The train was swamped, but the two men on-board were nowhere to be seen. The train began to move.

Fubuki knew it was unwise to chase after the train, especially considering she had used the majority of her chakra in that last technique. She simply watched - panting - as it detached the trapped and damaged carriages and moved away at an increasing pace. To think she used to work with such people. It was unthinkable.

Naruto cursed his slow progress. His descent had finally stopped and he had immediately begun to climb. Unfortunately he had fallen several hundred feet and was making slow progress. Only a few feet a second. All the chakra and power at his disposal and he was reduced to a crawl. But instead of berating himself or his circumstances, he set his expression into one of grim determination and continued his slow ascent.

Koyuki wrapped her arms around herself as she stood near the man who was clearly dying. She knew that none of this would have happened if he had not resisted her uncle. This was proof that such a decision was suicide.

Doctor Otoka stood a little distance away, answering the director's unanswered question. There was simply too much internal damage. This was beyond her in this environment. Even if she had been in a fully equipped theatre, his body wouldn't have been able to support itself while being treated. A med-nin, or more likely a group, might have had a chance. Naruto was no where to be seen, however. Alarm bells were going off in her head about his absence, but she was respectful of the departing and remained where she was.

Sanduya's breathing was heavy, but he had just enough strength to talk. "Princess…" He could just make out Koyuki's shadow bending down beside him. "I'm…sincerely sorry…I got you involved in this." He had to stop to take a wet-sounding, gurgling breath. "We all….gathered b-because of our….princess." He coughed pathetically, his ruptured lungs preventing the proper reflex action. "We d-didn't give up." His breathing became noticeably shallow, his words increasingly pained, but he seemed determined to finish. "Please….believe in y-yourself. W-We all…placed our hopes w-with you." A cloud seemed to form in the dark eyes of the princess's loyal follower. He raised a hand toward the shadow. "Please princess, don't cry."

A limp arm falling to the snow resulted in a light thud.

Koyuki felt a knot in her chest, but tried to ignore it. She couldn't let herself be moved. She couldn't lose sight of the reality if their situation. "You're an idiot Sandayu. You still have the eye drops." It was a cruel, hard statement, but it served its purpose. It allowed her not to feel. She turned toward the sombre director. "Are you satisfied now? If we stay in this country any longer, we won't be able to go back in once piece." She stood up and began to walk toward the snow traversing vehicles. "We should go back."

Now that the danger seemed to be over, Fubuki ignored the princess. She had a more important issue to deal with than the destination of the lead actress and the film crew. She began to run in the opposite direction to Koyuki.

Ayumi quickly followed the pink-haired kunoichi. Naruto could heal almost any wound, but there was still a chance he would need medical attention. If only to support his body until it fixed itself.

Koyuki heard quick footsteps getting further away and turned, seeing that the pink-haired woman and doctor were heading away from the convoy. It hit her. Her bodyguard was nowhere to be seen and there was only silence around them. She told herself that she was only worried because she was more vulnerable without him. She wasn't concerned for his well being at all. The only reason that she had unconsciously turned around, and that her legs began to take her in the direction the pink-haired woman was heading, was because she was safer with him. That had to be it.

Fubuki reached the place where the train had been buried. She was quickly joined by the female doctor and the princess a short while later. She couldn't see or hear any sign of the blond nuke-nin.

Naruto was not having an easy time of it. He was only several feet higher than when he had started his ascent. He had actually almost reached the top a minute ago, but an avalanche had appeared out of nowhere and he'd struggled to even remain stuck to the cliff-face. He wasn't physically exhausted - his healing ability and stamina did not allow that so easily - but he was trying not to panic. Anything could be happening to the convoy.

Driven by worry, Naruto smashed his first into the rock, with a fraction of the power of Tsunade's chakra-pulse technique, making himself a single jagged hand-hold. He had increased the chakra to his other limbs in the instant his first impacted the rock to keep himself on the rock face.

The fox-boy did the same with his other fist and made another hand-hold. Then again and again. He ascended more speedily now, hoping that his gamble would allow him to reach the top soon, rather than to send himself flying from the cliff-side

Fubuki cupped her hands around her mouth. "Naruto!" Her own voice echoed off the distant mountains.

There was no response for a moment and she felt another stab of panic in her stomach. Then she heard the sound of something impacting against rock and the sound of debris falling. The sound came again a moment later and then again. It was coming from below.

"Fubuki, is everyone alright?!" A familiar voice sounded between the impact sounds.

The pink-haired woman knelt over the cliff side, using chakra to grip the floor. She could see the other ninja only a dozen yards or so below her. "W-" Her words fell silent when she heard the unmistakable sound of an engine from above, suddenly becoming louder as it came over the higher cliff top behind them. She spun around, just in time to see a blimp appear, a black streak shooting toward them.

Without thinking, Fubuki tried to intercept the object, but she was too late. A metallic pincer grabbed Koyuki began to retract with a fierce jerking motion.

Fubuki put as much power into her legs as she could and jumped, even as the princess was reeled in and the blimp changed course at full speed. She actually passed over the other woman and grabbed onto the cable that was reeling her in.

The pink-haired kunoichi looked down. They were already so high. She managed to see the blond Konoha-nin appear over the edge of the precipice. He looked frantic, clearly not knowing what to do. They could not risk cutting the cable; the fall could very well kill them.

Naruto was forced to watch as his ward and new friend quickly vanished into the sky. He clenched his fist and ground his teeth.

The adopted Hatake had been understandably cautious about using his biological parent's techniques. His body was different from the techniques' creators. His level of affinity with each element would be different, if only slightly. He didn't have the Sharingan, which compensated for such things. The sensible thing would be to practice each technique in a controlled manner, making any adjustments required to suit him. There were other factors to consider as well. Unfortunately he no longer had a choice. He had to try it.

Ayumi saw a flash of yellow and then an explosion of red light. When the spots faded from her eyes, they registered something else, but her brain almost failed to process the image. Then her nose picked up the scent of burning flesh and it hit her like a mountain. She rushed forward.

Naruto's form lay smouldering in the snow. The majority of his flesh was red, with the occasional area of blackened skin. His whole body looked tense, so much that it looked like it might tear itself apart. For several long moments he failed to breathe, but a long breath was suddenly expelled from his body. Wisps of smoke could be seen coming from his mouth. His breathing quickly became ragged.

Ayumi had no idea what had happened and didn't know what she could do for him. He was obviously suffering internal, as well as external, burns. His injuries were too severe to be cured by conventional means. She carefully sat down, placing his head in her lap. All she could do was comfort him until he recovered….if he recovered.

Hanging onto the thick cable, Fubuki watched the body of the blimp rapidly approaching. Ahead of her, the cable on which she hung passed into an opening on the underside of the vessel. She could imagine that the two of them would have welcoming party.

She had limited options.

The cable was reeling in too fast for her to climb ahead without risking a deadly fall. She had no weapons on her person and her half-remembered ninja skills were shaky at best. She would just have to try and wing it. She checked below her, but could only see the back of the princess, her long hair fluttering in the wind.

Soon enough, the two women passed through the opening.

Fubuki tensed her muscles, ready to act in an instant. Unfortunately the enemy were prepared for such an eventuality. Before she could even register her new environment, she began to choke and her vision began to blur. The call to unconsciousness was irresistible.

Koyuki felt the grip around her waist lessen, but that was the only sensation she was aware of before she too blacked out.

The white-haired man blinked in obvious confusion. "Come again?"

The blond opposite just smiled in obvious good humour. "Punch me as hard as you can."

Jiraiya's expression remained unchanged. "Look gaki, I can imagine that a pregnant wife can be a lot to deal with but t-"

Arashi simply laughed at his sensei's suggestion. "That's got nothing to do with it, erosannin. Besides, Anko-chan is doing a wonderful job of looking after my wife when I'm not around. She's a real treasure." The fond look in the blond Hokage's eyes became one of mischief. "But if you're too afraid that you'll damage those brittle old bones, I wouldn't blame you. Perhaps you're having trouble seeing me from all the way over there?"

The Hokage barely had time to react as a fist lashed out at his gut.

Jiraiya's fist was about to impact his former student's abdomen when he felt an explosive force impact his hand, causing a shockwave to travel up his arm. He pulled his arm to him, nursing it with the other. He pouted like a child. "What the hell, gaki?"

The Hokage's hand went behind his head in a sheepish gesture. "I have Sumi and Anko to take care of now, and a baby on the way. I can't gamble my life as easily as I have done, so I decided it was time to develop a more defensive technique." He held up his hands, palms out, to his former teacher. "This is something I've been playing with for a few months."

The Toad Sannin knew what that could mean. The Hiraishin and Rasengan had been the result of 'something I've been playing with'.

Jiraiya forgot about the pain in his arm as his favourite student lifted his shirt. His eyes widened. "A shield of wind…?"

Fubuki opened her eyes and saw a blurry image of metal bars. It took a moment for her to remember where she was and how she had ended up here. She felt something weighing on her chest and looked down to a circular device, from which wires seemed to be attached to the surrounding skin through tiny holes in her clothing.

The jingle of metal caught her attention and she made a concerted effort to focus. It was Koyuki in the cell opposite her. The other woman wasn't held up by chains in the same way she was, instead simply sitting on the cold ground, her crossed arms resting on her raised knees. The princess looked so lost that Fubuki didn't know what to say. She didn't know anything about Koyuki, only the fact that she had taken part in the princess's attempted kidnap and/or murder. It wasn't exactly the foundation of a great friendship.

As for Koyuki, she hadn't even noticed the other woman wake up, and sat in grim silence. Her body and mind were numb.

Fubuki saw that the princess seemed to be in good health if not spirits. With nothing else to do, she began examining her shackles and the chain that ran from them to the ceiling. The chain was attached by a large bolt which was embedded into the hard rock ceiling.

Koyuki finally heard metal links chinking against each other and saw that the pink-haired snow-kunoichi was now awake. She was obviously looking for a way to escape. The princess didn't hold out much hope. She looked down again as her mind began to wander. "There is no spring here."

Surprised by the sudden break in silence, Fubuki turned her attention back to the other inmate. She considered the other woman's words, trying to decipher their significance, but they held no meaning for her. To further her confusion, Koyuki's eyes seemed unfocused, as if she was speaking to no one. It was like she didn't even know she was talking.

The world seemed to fade from before Koyuki's eyes, when in fact her eyes were unconsciously closing. "Father said that spring would come some day."

A vision of the past replaced the real world.

Furasshubakku no Jutsu! (Flashback Technique)

Snow. It was always snow.

Snow was the only thing the young princess had ever known, so when her father mentioned 'spring' she had no idea what it was. "Father, what is spring?"

The father and daughter sat and stood, respectively, in the king's favourite invention room. A white light from overhead reflected off the man-high mirrors, casting light to one side of the room more than the other.

In the darker half, the king of Snow Country, and father of the little princess, sat smiling at his daughter. "Oh you've never seen spring before."

Koyuki looked a down, a slightly sad expression on her face. "No."

Kazahana Soutetsu leaned forward in his seat. He had always encouraged his daughter's natural curiosity. "Koyuki, close your eyes."

The obedient Koyuki immediately did as she was told, waiting eagerly for her father's explanation.

Soutetsu tried to think how simplest to explain the season that proceeded winter almost everywhere else in the word. "Koyuki, try to imagine a sea of flowers." He watched as his daughter's face scrunched up slightly in concentration. It was adorable. "See, isn't it beautiful?"

The little princess nodded happily, her young imagination bringing her father's words to life behind her eyes.

The king's smile only widened. "Now try and walk through it." His daughter spread her arms out, lifting her arms above the imaginary flowers as she 'walked'. "How is it? It's like an overwhelming blessed feeling, isn't it?" He couldn't help the excitement from entering his voice, if just a little.

The king's daughter picked up on her father's tone. "Yeah!" She opened her eyes and looked at her father expectantly.

Soutetsu smiled at the fact his daughter had forgotten to put her arms down. He loved the time he spent bonding with his daughter more than anything else. "That is what spring is." His face became a little more serious. He knew that he might not live to see the realisation of his dreams for his country. Despite his gentle nature, he was no fool. He knew that his brother was planning something. That was why he had requested a ninja from Konoha to ensure his daughter's safety. He wanted to tell her something important without scaring her. Now seemed as good a time as any. "So don't give up. Believe in what the future will bring us. By thinking this way, spring will definitely come."

Furasshubakku Kai!

Koyuki had understood later that her father had been trying to tell her something important, but she had only felt betrayed. She couldn't find the strength to believe in him.

The actress's eyes remained closed. "But there is no spring in this country. After my father passed away, I ran away from this country. I gave up believing in the future. Running away again and again, cheating others. Even cheating myself, continuing to act like such a person. I can only be an actress." She squeezed her legs in a futile effort to comfort herself. "Anything that Naruto does now won't change that fact." Her eyes closed again. "If I gave up, surely it would be better."

Fubuki felt a great sadness after hearing Koyuki's story. "No."

The raven-haired woman nearly jumped at the other's response, as if suddenly realising she had been speaking out loud and that she had an audience. She wanted to hate the green-eyed woman – though she did not know that the pink-haired woman had helped overthrow her father - but could not find the energy to.

Fubuki looked straight into the other woman's eyes. "I won't let you give up."

Koyuki's face showed her confusion. "What?"

Fubuki looked down at the ground, hiding her face from the other woman. "I lost my memories. I forgot everyone I knew and everything I was." She looked up with watering eyes and a slight smile. "….but I'm grateful. I have a second chance. I don't want to be a person who hurts others. I want to be like Ayumi and Naruto. I want to help people. I want to be…..good."

Koyuki could have snorted. She wanted to tell the other woman to shut up, but for some reason she couldn't. She felt something she hadn't felt for anyone but herself in a long time. Pity. Instead she kept silent. The kindest thing she could say was nothing at all.

Fubuki saw the other woman seemed to be at least a little touched by her words.

Now all she had to do was live up to them.

It might have been a piece of art - its intricate lines the obvious result of an artisan's skill - but it was entirely functional. Such was the dual nature of seals.

A partially recovered Naruto looked from the seal on his left palm to the one on his right. Both seals had a satellite seal above them. The four seals were only visible because he was sending a minute quantity of chakra to them, in the same way his Shiki Fuujin seal was only visible when he moulded chakra. He would like to be able to say the seals were perfect, but they were only prototypes.

He had known about the technique his biological father had created in the back of his mind, but there were a lot of memories like that in his head. It was only during the six hours he had spent unconscious – while his body had recovered as best it could – that it came to the forefront of his mind.

In those six hours, plus the single hour since, the sun had almost reached the horizon. A golden-red hue fell across the landscape, the white snow a perfect canvas for a captivating picture. He would have been able to appreciate the view any other evening, but he had more important things on his mind.

It was a serious blow that he could not use the Yondaime's most prized technique. He was unsure what had happened during his earlier attempt, but apparently Kyuubi's chakra had interfered. He had no idea if there was a way round it and right now he didn't have time to figure it out. Most of his chakra had been depleted in the disastrous Hiraishin attempt and he had only managed to recover some during the time he had been unconscious. The burns were gone but his body still hurt from the massive strain on his chakra system.

His chakra roughly half, his insides aching as they were, Naruto knew that this was not the ideal time to try out a new technique. If he had not already lost so much time, he would not have risked it.

As far as the fox-boy knew, nothing like this had ever been done. His unconscious mind had apparently made some connection between Mizore's snowboard, using chakra for propulsion, and the memory that had come to him whilst he had been recovering.

The blond nuke-nin looked at a visibly anxious doctor, to whom he had explained his intentions, and gave her an encouraging nod.

Putting his hands to his sides, Naruto focused a good amount of chakra to each hand, into the larger two seals.

Unseen, the seal split the chakra into sixty-four channels of varying intensity. Each stream sped down separate seal-lines and terminated at a smaller seal, again only visible when chakra was directed to them. The shortest paths were those of the two larger seals on Naruto's hands to the ones directly above them.

It was the two larger seals that separated the prototype from the Yondaime's. The Yondaime had known that it would be nearly impossibly to successfully manipulate the sixty-four seals at one time, at least without a great deal of practice. To circumvent this, he had created the two larger seals. They were controller seals that fed chakra to the smaller seals – thirty two each. The difference between the two control seals the Fourth Hokage had used, and the one Naruto now implemented, was that the seals could vary the level of chakra fed to each group of seals.

It was the group of smaller seals; however, which was the real masterpiece. They were proof again of the Yondaime's genius. They had two functions. They filtered out wind-nature chakra and returned the normal to the body, since each seal was placed above a tenketsu point. The wind chakra could be aligned precisely, focused half an inch above the seal's surface, creating a space for air to flow and preventing clothing fabric from being torn apart. From this focal point, the now-compressed air expanded and span rapidly outward from the seal - the constant stream of wind preventing it moving inward - creating what was a actually an extremely powerful jet-stream of air.

The Yondaime had originally intended the smaller seals to be used in an array that produced overlapping wide-stream jets. This was the 'wind shield' as Jiraiya had named it.

Having his father's memories, Naruto had an intimate understanding of how all the seals worked. It had been relatively simple to change the control seals.

Doctor Otoka Ayumi watched open-mouthed as the clothes around the blond began to flutter as a stream of air was created by the 'jets'. After a few moments, the blond's feet left the ground. If she had not been seeing it, she would simply have not believed it. Naruto had explained to her that it was unlikely anyone else alive would manage this; due to his chakra level, control and rare affinity. He was the exception, not the rule.

The doctor silently wished the blond good luck, just before he accelerated upward like a missile, soon disappearing from view.

The shadowy landscape passed below; mountains, frozen lakes and even the occasional settlement. What would have been merely a dark blur to a more typical person, was an image of reds, oranges and blacks. Naruto's infra-red vision had kicked in automatically as the light had begun to fade.

The frosty air, rustling through his clothing and hair, was surprisingly refreshing.

The blond Jinchuuriki soared through the starlit skies.

It was an odd sensation, flying, but Naruto didn't have the time to appreciate the wonder of it.

The fox-boy could have gone faster, but he was still getting used to both the control and sensation of flying. It also took a considerable amount of chakra to fly and the faster he went, the faster his chakra drained. At his current speed, his chakra was replacing itself at about half the speed it was being drained. He had gone through just over half his remaining chakra reserves, meaning he was down to a quarter overall. If he risked going faster, he might be no good to Fubuki and Koyuki when he found them. He also could not give all his attention to flying, as he was allocating a part of his mind to sensing the seals he had left on Fubuki and Koyuki. At the distance they had managed to travel in only seven hours, it had been hard to pin-point their direction.

His whole being was focused on finding and getting to the two women he had been travelling with. Though his mission was to protect Koyuki, both their lives were important to him.

A large structure soon appeared over the horizon. A foreboding edifice. A large square building of stone, with harsh lines and no curves. It was either a palace for someone with an odd sense of aesthetics, or a prison. It might even have been both.

The blond very slowly adjusted the chakra flow to the seals on his hands. Still, he went into a steep dive. He pulled himself up before he hit the ground, enough to reduce his descent, but not enough to stay airborne. He impacted the ground, which luckily was covered in snow, but not so luckily was in a large forest. He skidded along the ground and into a medium-sized evergreen. With an ominous creaking sound, the tree splintered at the base and fell over. It missed the now grounded blond.

Slightly dazed, Naruto got to his feet. It would take some time to master that technique. Nonetheless it had performed its function well. He was here after three just hours of flying, instead of fifteen or more hours of running across the snow and ice. The only downside was that he was down on chakra and, despite it only being a couple of hours until morning; he just knew that it would be a long night.

He turned in the direction of the palace/prison. He would travel the remaining half mile on foot.

Fubuki tensed her arms, and indeed her whole body.

The pink-haired woman had painstakingly used only her fingers to climb the chain that restrained her until she was near the ceiling of her rocky cell. She had then managed to flip her body upside-down, wrap her left leg into the chain, so that it took the weight from the manacles around her wrists, while her right foot touched the ceiling. Next she had carefully lowered her arms over her head and moved them around in circles so that the chain gathered around her arms, until it was taut.

Now she lifted her other leg so that it was also against the ceiling. Her arms were under a lot of stress, but she had the body of a Jounin-level ninja. She began to push against the ceiling with her legs. Without meaning to, she began to call on her chakra and the device on her chest began to spark. The shock to her body thankfully made her muscles tense, so she did not fall. The charge died down and she breathed a sight of relief. She would have to do this quickly.

Koyuki watched in morbid fascination as the women in the opposite cell began to pull once more, only this time much harder. Blue sparks flickered over the pink-haired woman's body. For some reason Fubuki's actions reminded her of Naruto.

Fubuki grimaced, but this was part of her plan. She strained her muscles as hard as she could, called upon a large amount of chakra, and was shocked in return. The shock made her muscles tense a little further and would as long as she gathered chakra. She saw spots as her body and mind suffered under the electrical assault, but she would not give up. She had something to live for now.

Redemption. Whoever she had been, whatever she had done, she would spend each day making up for it until she died. She vowed this to herself.

The break came abruptly, the link embedded in the ceiling slightly rusted by the condensation that continually dripped from the rock.

Fubuki hit the ground with unforgiving force, her muscles unable to respond in their locked state. She groaned once and went still.

Koyuki began to feel concern for the other woman, though it was not obvious by her expression. Her expression became one of panic; however, when her cell shook and a distant boom reached her ears. She could see and hear gravel and dust fall from the high ceiling outside the cell.

As several more booms were heard and felt, it appeared that the building was under attack.

The Snow Princess didn't know whether to be worried or relieved.

Hurried footsteps could be heard approaching the cells and four prison guards appeared between the two occupied cells.

The four men had obviously come to make sure the prisoners did not escape. They instantly saw one of the prisoners had somehow broken free from her restraints. They hurried to unlock the door.

Faster than the princess could follow, the four men were sent flying in different directions, leaving Fubuki standing where she had fallen, with a set of keys in her hands. Her chains fell to the ground a moment later.

Fubuki ignored the pain in her back. She had been unable to manipulate chakra to reinforce her body and suffered the impact in full. She guessed that only years of physical conditioning as a ninja had allowed her to escape serious injury.

The pink-haired kunoichi unlocked Koyuki's door and quickly freed her from her manacles. Without asking, she grabbed the other woman's hand and pulled her up.

Fubuki reached up into her hair and removed the two wooden sticks from her hair, letting it fall free. A hand caught something that had fallen out. It was a lavender crystal pendant.

Koyuki's eyes widened. "How?"

Fubuki opened the princess's palm and placed the necklace within it. "Naruto's clone gave this to me earlier when he went to fight. He said he trusted me to keep it safe. I guess he didn't want to risk it getting taken by his opponent if he lost." The fox-boy had not had much alternative, but Fubuki liked to think he trusted her. She had hidden it in her hair in case she was somehow captured. It was a good thing she had. "He told me, after the battle on the iceberg, that he switched it for a small scrap of metal on which he had inscribed a genjutsu seal."

The princess clenched the crystal in her hand and breathed a sigh of relief. Before she could say or do anything else, her free hand was clasped and she was pulled away from where she had been standing.

The princess put the crystal in a button-able pocket as she and the kunoichi raced along the dark, dank corridors.

Naruto raced alongside the stone wall in the direction his bloodline told him the two captives were. The clones he had sent out to the other side of the castle, to distract the guards, meant that he had remained undetected so far, but he kept his senses more alert than ever. He did not know who might be around.

He finally stopped running through the snow as he sensed the two women were quite close. He headed to a large steel door, but as his hand reached out the door exploded outward.

The Kyuubi Jinchuuriki jumped backward, suffering only minor scrapes from the shrapnel. The smoke quickly dispersed. He saw a large ice crystal in the doorway, which began to recede as he watched.

Naruto watched as a glowing figure stepped through the door. It was the Gobi vessel. It looked like Doto had a med-nin his employ, judging by the brown-haired ninja's lack of injuries. White chakra emanated outward from him in waves. It was amazing that Sanuske had managed to suppress his chakra enough to avoid detection and then call it forth so quickly. The chakra was different from before. Two tails of the white chakra danced behind his opponent. His white eyes now glowed brightly and two chakra-ears lay against his head. Knowing the little he did about animals in general, Naruto took this as a sign of aggression.

Sanuske did not move right away. He was not scared of the blond ninja, but he respected his battle capabilities. He saw no trace of fear on his enemy's face, only cold calculation. The two of them had similarities beyond that of holding powerful demons.

Naruto decided there was no point in speaking to his opponent. He formed a single seal. "Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!" A single clone appeared beside the original. Naruto summoned his sword from its chakra-state and threw it to the clone.

The clone slammed the blade into the frigid snow and knelt down. It laid its hand against the blade, in the same manner as Naruto had done during the battle on the ice-berg.

Sanuske lifted his hands into the air with a jerk.

Naruto dashed forward with no hesitation, avoiding the spikes of ice that formed faster than in their last battle. He formed a Rasengan in each palm without so much as a word.

Only feet away from the other vessel, Naruto was surprised when Sanuske open his mouth and a large white spear shot out.

Naruto managed to turn aside, so that the spear only pierced his shoulder. He ignored the protruding weapon for now and drove forward with the Rasengan, but when his hands were inches away from the other fighter, the pain of a thousand knives hit his hands. The dual Rasengan died and Naruto jumped sideways and examined his hands. They were covered in a layer of frost. Even as he watched, the ice melted, revealing red and blistered hands. It seemed the Gobi's aura was extremely cold.

The fox-boy didn't even bother to watch as his hands began to heal themselves. The ground beneath him exploded once more. He jumped into the air, keeping his entire attention focused on the other vessel. He was not disappointed.

Sanuske's growl echoed that of a wild animal and he opened his mouth again. Instead of a spear, a blast of air came out that was unimaginably cold.

Naruto formed a short series of seals and released a good amount of chakra. "Suiton: Hahonryu!" (Water Release: Rapid Crasher)

A violent cascade of water issued from Naruto's hand. It created a safe zone from the Gobi's attack and froze solid. The now frozen water was slowed, but continued on at a devastating pace.

Sanuske was insulted. He reached out a hand and the ice came under his control, breaking into pieces, which he shot back toward the blond. So focused was he, that he forgot about the clone.

The clone vanished in a puff of smoke as the last of its chakra was absorbed into the sword. With nothing holding the dead-man trigger seal, the sword released its stored energy.

An arc of white shot toward the white-enshrouded snow-nin.

Sanuske felt his ice react before he could, as it tried to shield him. The wind attack hit the shield.

The shield crumpled under the force of the attack and exploded toward its master, lacerating his body even through his quickly formed ice- armour, sending him a dozen feet into the air.

Naruto winced as fragments of ice embedded themselves into his chest, arms and legs. Ignoring the injuries, he formed another set of seals. "Futon: Daitoppa no Jutsu!" (Wind Release: Great Breakthrough)

Sanuske couldn't stop the second wind attack from hitting him and was sent flying, much as he had done to the blond Jinchuuriki earlier.

Naruto landed in a slight crouch beside his large sword and remained that way for the couple of seconds as the ice in his shoulder began to melt. Even before his wounds fully healed, he grabbed his sword and was running. He knew that he had only bought himself some time. He just hoped that he could get Koyuki and Fubuki to safety before he and the Gobi vessel had to fight again. In an all-out fight, there could well be a lot of collateral damage,

The fox-boy ran through the crumbling doorway and into the depths of the prison.

Fubuki made quick work of a guard who had been unlucky enough to come across the two escapees.

The kunoichi walked through the door that the guard had just opened, leaving Koyuki for a moment while she made sure it was safe. This had been the pattern since they had escaped their cells.

As soon as she took a step through the door, Fubuki felt something impact heavily into her side and was sent skidding along the floor. She flipped back to her feet, holding a hand to her side. She looked at the large purple-haired man who had struck her. She abruptly flipped to the side to avoid a foot that would have connected with the back of her head. She instinctively began to form seals when she realised that she could not use chakra. She glanced through the doorway, but she could not see Koyuki. She hoped that the princess had run away.

The pink-haired ninja heard footsteps to her right and saw the princess enter the room.

On the other side of the huge room, a sinister looking man sat upon a throne. He laughed in a quiet, sinister manner. "Good work, Koyuki."

Fubuki had no idea why the princess ran toward the stairs, up to Doto's throne. "Wait!"

Koyuki turned toward the kunoichi as she handed the lavender crystal over. "It was all an act." She paused for a moment, letting her words sink in.

It seemed the princess had betrayed those who had tried to help her and betrayed her country.

Without warning, the princess spun round, unsheathing a hidden sword and slammed the tip into Doto's side.

Doto was taken by surprise. He had made a deal with his niece while Fubuki had been unconscious; the real necklace in exchange for her life. He thought she would be too scared to betray him. Perhaps she knew that he had never intended to keep up his side of the deal. "What?" He grabbed his attacker's neck.

Fubuki understood what was going on and what Koyuki was doing. The princess was willing to sacrifice her life to take the evil tyrant's. The kunoichi couldn't help but feel admiration, though she did not want to see the princess die. She was about to move to save the princess when a punch to her gut from her larger ex-teammate sent her skidding along the ground on her backside, hunched over in pain.

The smaller of her former comrades appeared before her. "Stay where you are, traitor."

Her former teammates made no effort to follow up their attack. It seemed they saw her as no threat without her chakra.

Koyuki pushed the blade with all her might and years of pent up anger. I knew it all along, Naruto. As soon as I came back to this country, I would die. I just wish you were here, Naruto. I didn't run away, even at the very end.

The evil king and the princess fell from the high platform.

Fubuki scrambled to her feet, knowing she had to get the princess away from Doto. She arrived just in time to receive an uppercut to her jaw. She rolled with the blow, falling onto her hands and springing backward into a standing position. She saw that Doto's robe had opened, revealing strange looking armour. It was a very dark grey with light blue edging. She didn't know what it was, but knew that it couldn't be good.

Knowing that she had almost no time to act, she sprang toward her former boss, but before she got there he put an arm upward and launched a grapple from his armour.

The ceiling exploded as the tyrant and his two minions shot into the air.

Fubuki was forced to dodge falling rocks and debris, but she was slower without her chakra. A pile of rubble descended upon her.

A small girl ran along the stone street. She wasn't really paying attention to her feet, but she knew the route perfectly. She travelled it everyday.

The girl had bright pink hair, tied into pig-tails, and bright green eyes. She wore a simple white kimono, the bottom a little dusty from her running. She paid it no heed.

Suddenly the girl turned right and through a gate and up a garden path. At the end of the path was a grey stone house. She ran up to the door and impatiently slammed her hand into a small panel at the side. She counted to three under her breath and opened the door. She ran into the house at near-reckless speed. "Kaasan, Kaasan!"

The young girl turned left halfway along the hallway and entered the nearest room.

Inside the room was a mixture of items and furniture, but the most significant was the single bed. Lying on the bed was an older version of the girl, but with a pale and slightly drawn face. A smile seemed to transform the woman's features. Even as ill as she obviously was, her face contained a graceful beauty. "Fubuki, how did your test go?"

Fubuki jumped onto the end of the bed, automatically avoiding her mother's legs. She had years of practice. "I got the highest score in the class!"

The older woman's smile widened. "Oh well done, Buki, I'm so proud of you. I'm sure your father will be too."

The young girl managed to stop a sad expression falling onto her face. She had given up hoping her father would show an interest in her. The chances that her father would ever say he was proud of her were slim to none. "Thanks, Kaasan." She jumped off the bed and ran round the side, into already opened arms. She snuggled into her mother's loving embrace. As long as she had her mother, she had everything she needed. "I love you, kaasan."

A hand fussed with the young girl's hair with a tender touch. "I love you too, Buki. More than you'll ever know."

Fubuki didn't care about her father's scowl at her behaviour. She didn't care about the people around her. She didn't care about the tears that fell down her face.

She simply stared at the square of discoloured stone at her feet. She shifted her gaze to a waist high stone that sat at the head of the discolouration. There were rows and rows of the same in both directions. She managed to whisper, despite the hours she had spent crying over the last two days. "Kaasan."

Her mother had been sick for so long that her decline had been easy to ignore. It made her passing all the more painful.

Uncaring green eyes stared at the Hiate-ate before her. She placed it in her pocket and walked from classroom.

In the playground her father was waiting, but not for her. He would give a speech to the newly-qualified Genin.

Not interested in her father's meaningless words, she simply walked past him. She didn't say a word and didn't acknowledge him. Why pretend?

Just a year ago, she would never have thought this possible, but she was smiling so wide she thought her face would split open. "Yes, Fuyu-kun. My answer is yes."

Fubuki had no idea why the white-haired man opposite her had ever taken an interest in the likes of her. She knew that she was considered attractive, but she was also known as an unfeeling bitch. At least until recently. Somehow the brown-eyed Chuunin had managed to bring out feelings of happiness in her that she had thought she would never find since her mother had passed away five years ago.

Just when she thought things couldn't be better, he had asked her to marry him. She hadn't needed to think about it.

The man known as Fuyu rubbed the back of his neck in a mixture of happiness and embarrassment. It had taken him two months to build up the courage to propose. It had been easier than he had imagined in the end. They had taken a holiday in a small village three days walk from their village. No one knew they were ninja as they left their shinobi outfits and gear behind. "I love you, Fubuki."

Fubuki felt a warmth in her chest which only increased with each repetition of those four words. "I love you too, Fuyu-kun."

Another square of discoloured ground, the rocky surface unnaturally smooth. A white headstone differed from the majority of those in the graveyard. Fubuki thought her fiancé deserved to be special.

She had a hard time believing it. It was absurd. An avalanche. Something as stupid as that. They were all used to dealing with the elements, they took it for granted. Nature had decided to remind them of their place.

It had been a C-Class mission. One that even a Genin could do. Escorting traders between locations. Fuyu had just been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Fubuki clenched her fists in anger and despair. Why did she lose the people she loved? What had she ever done wrong?

Fubuki vowed then and there to never love again. To never seek happiness again and to prevent others from doing the same. It was for their own good. If people felt happiness, it would only hurt more when it was all taken away from them.

She watched the sled speed away from the burning castle. She knew what, or rather who, was hidden away at the back of the dog-drawn vehicle.

It could be considered part of her mission to capture the girl, but she remained where she was. She remembered the pain she had suffered herself at a similar age.

All that really mattered was that her employer had overthrown his brother. Now all he had to do was find the treasury.

She let the silver-haired Konoha-nin and the young princess escape.

Naruto heard an explosion from nearby. He felt one of the Hiraishin seals move away at speed, while the other remained stationary. He smashed into the nearest wall, sending stone and bricks flying in all directions.

He immediately saw a pile of broken stone and concrete on the floor, a bloodied arm sticking out from the side.

The fox-boy ran to the rubble and began casting the large pieces of stone aside like they were nothing. Soon a seriously injured Fubuki was revealed. Naruto had to squash down his panic. If Koyuki was gone then she had not been killed yet. Therefore she was needed for some reason. That meant she was safe. For now.

Naruto raised glowing green hands and examined the half-buried kunoichi. He couldn't risk moving her until he knew more about her injuries. He began a scan of her body, half-way through coming across the device attached to her chest. He put one hand around it and squeezed, sending a coordinated pulse from each finger. The device shattered into pieces. Continuing the scan, he could see that she had received a serious blow to the head. She had suffered a cerebral contusion, which had in turn led to a subarachnoid haemorrhage. The injuries weren't as serious as the ones that had lead to her coma and subsequent amnesia, but they were not to be taken lightly. Despite the pressure of having yet to rescue Koyuki, he took the necessary time to heal her head injuries. He then healed her right shoulder, having found a broken clavicle. The rest of her injuries weren't too serious. Her head and shoulder had born the brunt of the impacts. It took him seven minutes to heal her to a level where he felt confident enough to move her. She remained unconscious; however, and would most likely wake up later.

The blond ninja picked the pink-haired ninja up bridal style and jumped with all the force he could muster into his legs.

Now came the tricky part.

The seals on his palms did not work on actual touch, only chakra manipulation, so he didn't need free hands. The problem was that he had to compensate for the kunoichi's bodyweight and the direction of his arms, having to activate the seals on the opposite side, rather than those he had used when his hands had been at his side. His ascent began to slow, but it had allowed him to send small jets out experimentally until he found the correct combination and sent out a large wave of chakra to the seals. Just as he was about to began his descent, almost hanging in the air, he shot straight up.

They stood like bastions in the barren landscape. Six monolithic structures formed into a large, but perfect, hexagon.

The sun had yet to rise, but the faint colours reflecting from their respective surfaces spoke of its imminence.

In the exact centre of the hexagon was a small gazebo-like structure. Under the surprisingly intricate slate roof was a chest high solid stone table.

Kazahana Doto calmly walked up to the small structure. His time had finally come.

Koyuki looked around. Her surroundings brought back more memories. She had seen something like this before, only on a much smaller scale. "So they are here after all."

With great satisfaction the tyrant ruler of Snow Country placed the lavender crystal into the small hexagonal hole in the middle of what was actually a control panel of sorts.

A small but bright light shone from the hole. The glow spread along the lines inscribed into the control panel's surface, but it did not stop there. The lines continued out across the icy ground and spread to the large structures, forming what looked like a giant glowing snow flake from overhead.

The surfaces of the six large structures began to glow.

Naruto flew as best as he could with his passenger affecting his equilibrium. With much more practice he would have been able to better compensate.

The snow-kunoichi was still unconscious.

The hiss of displaced air was the only warning he got of a large hail of incoming kunai. He blasted chakra to his left side and rolled out the way, just managing to avoid the onslaught. Unfortunately he lost control of his velocity and span wildly, heading earthward. Naruto pulled Fubuki to him as he let himself impact first. Luckily he hadn't been that high and a snow-mound broke their fall.

Naruto could hear the slight screech of metal. He could only guess that whatever contraption had launched the kunai at him was on its way. He could hear many voices. He would bet two of them would be Mizore and Nadare. It seemed they were taking him seriously. He stood up and brushed the snow off himself.

He'd just have to take care of them quickly. The blond ninja waited for his enemies to appear through the trees.

"I'll fight them." A woman's voice took the fox-boy by surprise, his attention focused forward.

Naruto looked down to see the pink-haired kunoichi had regained consciousness. He frowned at her as she stood and shook his head. "You're in no state to fight, Fubuki." He referred to her remaining injuries and the fact that she only had an unreliable, instinctive use of her chakra.

Fubuki's eyes only watered as she looked into those caring sapphire eyes. With her memories returned to her, she knew she didn't deserve his consideration. In the years since her mother and fiancé had died, she had allowed hate and grief to consume her and had taken those emotions out on the rest of the world. Whereas she couldn't see it before, it was clear to her now. She had become a monster. A monster her mother and fiancé would have been ashamed of. A monster that no one could love. It would be better if she didn't exist.

The guilt-ridden kunoichi walked forward, past the konoha nuke-nin. "This is how it has to be."

The kunoichi waited for the blond to turn away from her. To do his job and save Koyuki. She wouldn't blame him. It was his mission and she was an innocent. She was surprised when a strong hand grabbed her forearm.

Naruto couldn't read minds, but he had been able to see that Fubuki's sense of self-worth had been getting lower and lower. For some reason it had apparently plummeted in the time since she had Koyuki had been kidnapped. Despite what she seemed to think, he was certain she was a good person. Ayumi had told him about how the ex-snow-nin had saved Koyuki in the tunnel, how she had tried to save her manager and he had seen Fubuki attempt to prevent her kidnapping. Whatever, whoever she had been, she was a good person now.

Fubuki looked back in surprise, seeing Naruto's sad expression.

The fox-boy was indeed saddened. "Do you really value your life so little?"

The pink-haired kunoichi winced slightly. How did he know her so well? She couldn't bring herself to admit it. Somehow Naruto's expression made her feel ashamed for thinking that way

Naruto managed a small but meaningful smile. "Let's go save Koyuki. Together."

Fubuki nodded, but stopped mid-nod. "What about…." She looked in the direction where the voices were getting louder. Any moment they would appear.

Naruto formed a seal. "Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!" Over a hundred clones appeared behind the original before all running past him and the kunoichi. "Let's go."

If Fubuki had been awake to see Naruto fly, she would have realised that he remained on the ground to keep them better hidden.

Doto looked around, as if hoping something new would become apparent. "Where is the treasure?"

The loud, echoing sound of ice cracking reached the ears of both Koyuki and her uncle.

Koyuki couldn't believe what was happening around them. "It's…warm?"

The dictator refused to believe what was happening. "Where is this heat coming from? Isn't this where the secret treasure is?" His features became almost manic.

"Koyuki!" A strong and familiar voice echoed around the area.

The princess turned to see Naruto and Fubuki approaching. Something stirred within her. Was this hope? She couldn't remember what it felt like. "Naruto?"

Naruto smiled, but it faded as quickly as it appeared. He turned to woman running alongside him. He bit a finger and ran it along his forearm. A puff of smoke later, a familiar piece of armour appeared in his hand. It was Fubuki's armour. "I don't know how hard this is to figure out, but hopefully it will be instinctive to you in the same way your other skills have been." He had no idea she had her memories back as he passed the armour to her. "Now do you think you can handle Doto?"

Fubuki knew that her being asked this question meant one thing. There was no way he would let her fight Doto unless their lives depended on it. She nodded grimly and dashed ahead as the blond slowed down.

A small tornado of snow formed in front of the fox-boy and when it faded away, Sanuske was revealed.

Fubuki knew that she was in for a real battle. She knew that Doto's armour was the most advanced the Snow Village had to offer. It was far more advanced than her own armour. Still, it was better than nothing. She slipped her armour on, feeling her chakra become more focused within her own body.

Doto's rage had quickly built as the Kazahana treasure failed to appear. He enthusiastically vented that anger. "Hyouton: Kokuryuuhoufuu Getsu!" (Ice Release: Black Dragon Blizzard)

An explosion of what looked like black smoke spewed forth from Doto's right arm. The smoke-like substance quickly formed into a huge dragon, its wide mouth revealing an inner blood-red light which was mirrored in its bestial eyes.

The attack was too large and fast to avoid, so Fubuki was forced to cross her arms together and let the attack hit her.

The Gobi vessel was obviously irate. His expression wasn't the neutral that had been display so far, instead showing an angry sneer. The three tails of white chakra that whipped wildly behind him were the final clue.

Naruto knew that there would be no avoiding battle this time. His only concern was that his two wards – he counted Fubuki as his responsibility now – might be hurt in the large-scale fight that would probably ensue.

Sanuske's body seemed to vanish.

The white light that shot across the clearing was reminiscent of a bolt of lighting.

Given the loud boom that followed, one might have been forgiven for thinking a thunderstorm was really occurring.

Naruto was sent flying, travelling not-quite horizontal. He watched as the other Jinchuuriki did the same. The three tails of the Gobi vessel; however, lashed out and grappled the ground. The brown-haired snow-nin stopped.

Naruto used his seal array to stop his flight and lower himself to the ground.

The seals on his body also had the ability to work as his biological father had intended. Just before the Gobi vessel had struck with his freezing chakra, Naruto had used his prototype seal array in the manner the Yondaime had intended. All seals had fired at once to create an instant cushion of super-dense air. It could only be used in bursts, as the 'shield' made it impossible to breath, though the same did not occur during flight as he did not activate the seals on his cheeks.

The fox-boy had used the technique as a guard against the Gobi's freezing chakra. That aspect of it was more dangerous than its brute force.

Sanuske's eyes narrowed. The Kyuubi vessel almost seemed to have…flown.

Koyuki looked on as Fubuki was swallowed by the dark dragon and Naruto was set upon by the fearsome man who must have been the one to attack them before.

Maybe it was being here, the place where her father's dream had slept in wait for all these years. As the temperature continued to rise, she felt the ice around her heart cracking.

Her heartbeat increased in fear, but not for her own life. She couldn't deny that she become…accustomed to having Naruto around. Not to mention the woman who had put her own life on the line to save her. "Fubuki. Naruto." She prayed for the first time since she could remember. Please stay safe.

Fubuki fell to one knee as she heard a high-pitch cracking sound. Her armour had only been able to absorb about eight-five percent of the attack's power. That sounded like a lot, but the attack's remaining force was not to be underestimated.

The kunoichi looked down and saw that the glowing crystal in the centre of her armour had a spider-web of cracks across its surface. It wouldn't survive much more of this. She would have to be more alert. She looked across to the manic-looking, panting Doto.

Fubuki knew that she was faster than Doto. Her skills were more refined. Doto's advantage was his armour and naturally high chakra pool. She had to play to her strengths.

The pink-haired shinobi brought forth more chakra than she would usually risk putting into a single attack. She tried to put everything from her mind so she could concentrate only on the attack. Guilt, fear, doubt; she had to let it all go. "Hyouton: Tsubame Fubuki!" (Ice Release: Swallow Snow Storm)

A huge swarm of white birds formed from the very air itself, well over three hundred, and rushed forward with great speed.

Doto merely sneered at the technique. His armour would render such attacks harmless.

Fubuki concentrated chakra to her legs and shot forward in a burst of speed. She concentrated on the 'flock' of birds.

The ice creatures suddenly broke out of formation and began moving in seemingly random directions, the white streaks forming a spherical prison.

Doto frowned and his expression turned into one of anger when a swallow struck him seemingly from nowhere. Though his armour absorbed the chakra and the majority of the force, he felt some of the impact. It was more than he expected. It did little damage, but was still painful. He tried to make out the traitorous snow-nin, but could not see her through the rapidly moving swarm. He brought his fist up and prepared to unleash another black dragon. "Hyouton: Koku-"At that moment, a swallow struck his outstretched fist.

The thing about the tyrant was that he had learned only one ninjutsu and a variant of the same jutsu. He had only shown an interest in learning powerful techniques. He had not properly trained his reflexes and his fighting style, relying on his surprisingly formidable innate reflexes and strength. Compared to a Jounin though, his physical prowess was sub-par. Only his single ninjutsu technique and armour made him a threat to Jounin-level ninja.

Fubuki struck the moment Doto winced, lashing out at his face with her right foot. As soon as she landed, she was gone.

Doto shot a few feet into the air and landed hard. He could already feel blood pouring from his nose. His bloodied face filled with fury. "Hyouton: Souryuuhoufuu Setsu!" (Pair of Dragons Blizzard) This time two huge dragons formed and sprung forth from his arms, one in each direction. Doto intended to destroy the birds utterly.

Outside of the cage of birds, Fubuki was panting hard. Not only had she created three times the number of swallows she normally would for this attack, they were normally only airborne for a couple of seconds. She was rapidly spending her chakra.

The kunoichi could see better through her technique than her former boss. She watched the black dragons form. She was in trouble.

Naruto watched as the Gobi vessel made a palm-strike motion. A huge slab of ice rose from the ground, an amazing fifty feet or so high and weighing what must have been several hundred tons. It quickly began to fall toward him. He knew that it would be hard enough to demolish such a large, dense object, but if it was chakra-laden, it might even prove impossible. He couldn't simply dodge it for fear that it might break up and send shrapnel in all directions.

Naruto reached into his inherited memories. There were numerous more skills at his disposal than before those memories had merged into his own.

His birth-father, as Hokage, had read the forbidden scroll in its entirety. Now, for all intents and purposes, so had Naruto.

One forbidden technique could potentially help him here, one that even the Yondaime had never actually performed due to its overly destructive power. This was even more risky than using a technique that he actually remembered being used, and the potential backlash could prove fatal. Nonetheless he quickly began to form a separate series of seals with each hand. A ball of flame formed in the palm of his right hand, shining brightly like a small sun. A sphere of rapidly spinning wind spun in his left hand, the near-deafening rush of air matching that of a tornado. Naruto hoped this worked as the technique would take the majority of his remaining chakra.

He finished the technique just before the ice impacted. "FutonKaton:Ryuujin no Hitoiki!" (Wind/Fire Release: Breath of the Dragon King)

The chakra that had gone into the fire component of the technique was ten times that used in a Katon: Gokakyu, the wind element ten times that of a Futon: Daitoppa and controlling the separate elements of the technique took yet more chakra. Despite its cost, it was worth it. The two attacks combined into one exponentially more powerful than either alone, the wind fanning the flames to near-unbelievable intensity. The attack exploded outward from its creator, an expansive fiery-tornado that effortlessly consumed the large block of ice that had threatened to crush him. The flames were so bright, as to be nearly white in colour.

Sanuske growled as the fearsome technique bore down on him, the leading edge of the attack too wide to avoid.

Naruto watched as the flame, which matched the Mangekyou Sharingan's Ameratsu in intensity, enveloped his enemy. The flames continued on, vaporising the snow into a dense cloud of steam and turning the ground beneath to slag.

Fubuki was struggling too much with her technique to be able to manipulate the swallows fast enough to dodge the dragons. They were all destroyed and one of the dragons bore down on her once again.

To the kunoichi, time seemed to slow down. She could sense Naruto's intense battle behind her. She could make out Koyuki in the periphery of her vision. They were depending on her, not just to succeed, but quite possibly to even survive. Naruto was strong, but who could say whether he could take on another Jinchuuriki and the tyrant of Snow Country at the same time. Koyuki's life would certainly be forfeit.

She couldn't let that happen.

Instead of trying to dodge, or bracing herself for the attack, she ran straight into the dragon.

Doto looked around, prepared to attack or dodge from wherever his traitorous hired-nin came from. It didn't occur to him; however, that she would run out from the tail of his chakra dragon until it was too late. She was heavily bruised and lacerated, but her footsteps never faltered.

Fubuki could hear the sound of the crystal in her armouring shattering further. It would last only seconds longer.

It was enough.

Fubuki slammed straight into Doto, his reflexes too slow to allow him to dodge.

As the almost-shattered crystal of the kunoichi slammed into the pristine one in Doto's armour, she closed her eyes.

An exhausted Naruto spun round when he heard a large explosion from behind him. He saw a smoking human-sized missile sail through the air and he realised it was Fubuki. He saw nothing else as he sprinted toward her at full speed.

She hit the ground, frighteningly still.

The young Hatake could hear the deafening absence of her heartbeat. He knelt beside her, wincing as he did, her injuries becoming apparent. Her armour was shattered, only fragments remaining and those buried deeply into her flesh. Her body was covered in cuts, bruises and burns so that her only identifying feature was a few wisps of pink hair that remained free of blood and dirt.

The fox-boy placed his hands above the injured woman's heart and began pumping out what little chakra he had left into her. He was trying to restart her heart, while at the same time repair the damage to the major arteries and veins around it. It was a very tricky manoeuvre and almost beyond his skills.

Three times. Three times she had come to the brink of death. He felt each time was his fault, even if the first time she had been his enemy. He had failed to protect a friend and that physically hurt.

Thankfully he felt her heart begin to respond, offering a weak twinge.

Just when he felt a surge of hope, he felt something pierce his chest and cut into his heart muscle. Instead of the typical burning sensation associated with such an injury, he felt only a searing cold. He looked down dazedly and saw a sharpened white tip protruding from his chest. Despite his body's warmth, the ice showed no signs of melting. Everything seemed to be going dark.

Koyuki trembled. She had been watching both fights and seen the worst happen in both. She watched the stunned Naruto kneeling over the surely-dead kunoichi. She wanted to find satisfaction in being right, that it was pointless to even try. There was none to be had. If anything, she despised herself now more than ever.

The princess didn't know why she cared about the two ninja, but she did.

Perhaps it was because Fubuki had lost her memories and was given a chance to start again without the shackles of the past. The re-born kunoichi had proven to be a good person and had fought for what she believed in. Koyuki both envied and admired that, as much as she wanted to deny it.

Perhaps she cared for Naruto because his desire to help others was the most obvious thing in the world and his faith never seemed to waver. In some ways he reminded her of her father. She had come so close to believing in him.

She didn't want them to die. The princess clambered to her feet and took unsteady steps toward the two ninja. She didn't know what she could do, but if they were going to die, she would rather not be alone when the end came.

The princess reached the other two and fell to her knees beside the dying blond. She laid his head against her shoulder, with one arm around his shoulders, while resting the hand of her other arm on the unmoving Fubuki's shoulder. She closed her eyes and waited.

Sanuske crouched on all fours in a pool of water, the result of snow around the periphery of the wind/fire attack melting and running into the blackened trench that had been created. His clothes were singed in places, and his skin blistered in several others. He had nearly been defeated, but Gobi had saved him. Around his body was the ghostly apparition of a white wolf, the tips of five tails still touching from having performed his most powerful technique, the Yari no Gobi (Spear of Gobi). The attack's simple appearance was deceptive. The spear he had created in their previous fight paled in comparison. The ice was heavily laced with Youkai chakra, making it as hard as diamond and probably the coldest substance in the Elemental Nations. The spear had been accelerated to great speeds by the tails, rather than being spat out like his other ice-spears. It was meant to penetrate through any defence, to be so fast as to be inescapable and freeze targets to death. The cloud of steam which had hidden him had only assured his success.

Still, it was amazing that the blond's body had been strong enough to stop the spear. He had expected it to simply tear through the other Jinchuuriki's body. The Kyuubi vessel had earned his respect. He almost regretted what he had to do now, but he could not hesitate. The amount of Youkai chakra he had used, as well as the speed with which he had summoned it, meant he would not be able to fight for much longer.

He had to finish it now.

In a white blur, Sanuske was gone.

Naruto was tired. So tired. He couldn't stay awake. Maybe he could rest for a little while.

Thump-thump... Thump-thump... Thump-thump... Thump……………...thump.

Inside its prison, the fox saw its surroundings begin to darken.

The great beast tapped into its host's senses and saw the fate about to fall its vessel. "DAMN."

Red chakra began to encompass Kyuubi as its face formed an angry snarl.

Soon the chakra began to move and flow from the beast, to the bars and outward.

Kyuubi was determined not to let its vessel die. "OF ALL THE TIMES TO GIVE UP..."

If anyone had been there to hear the fox's words, they might have noticed that its voice contained irritation, even anger, but lacked its usual malice.

Sanuske raised a tail, set on finishing all three off with one hit. Their end would be quick and painless. It was the only mercy he would show them.

The tail slammed down.

The force of the impact was such that a strong gust of wind was sent in each direction.

When the sound came, Koyuki thought they were dead. She though the end had come. Why then could she still feel the cold wind against her face?

The princess opened her eyes. She was shocked at what she saw. She wondered if she might be dreaming. This couldn't be happening? Her heartbeat increased as her mind hoped that she was wide awake.

Naruto stood with his face looking down, so that his expression could not be seen. Around his body was an aura of red chakra. His left hand was outstretched upward, holding back the tail that had been about to end their lives.

Sanuske watched in shock as the ice spear in the blond's chest turned to water and the wound it had made began to close before his eyes. It seemed that Kyuubi's chakra had been able to overcome the Gobi's.

The fox-boy looked up with blood-red eyes filled with malice. There was no mercy there.

Naruto lifted his right hand as chakra began to build there, preventing the other jinchuuriki from moving with his left.

Koyuki watched with wide eyes as the sphere of chakra emitted a crimson red light. Then an odd thing happened. Sparks of normal looking blue chakra joined the red, increasing the sphere in size. As the blond shifted his body, ready to strike, a ray of golden-red sunlight was reflected from the large mirrors and diffracted into the sphere. The different lights seemed to combine and form an enrapturing rainbow-coloured aura around the whirling sphere. "The seven coloured chakra…." It looked just like the mystical energy that was used in the very films she starred in. But it was pure fiction. Nothing like it was supposed to exist. Yet here it was, before her very eyes.

Finally Naruto thrust there sphere forward in a motion blurred by speed. The technique was not generally the blond's most powerful, but its suitability became clear when it slammed into the Gobi vessel. The Kyuubi chakra that was imbued into the technique tore through the shroud of chakra that surrounded the Gobi vessel.

Sanuske was sent flying through the air, only to impact on one of the mirrors. The ice on the mirror completely shattered and the Jinchuuriki fell into a bloody heap on the floor.

The impact seemed to act as a catalyst and a wave of further warmth swept over the area.

Naruto glared at his opponent at the base of one of the mirrors. His body had only been able to support the fox's chakra for a few moments and it was already beginning to fade. It was a good thing too. He had to heal Fubuki.

The young Hatake knelt down once more and brought forth chakra that he didn't really have and pumped it into the kunoichi's chest. He ignored the intense pain in his protesting coils and noted that her heart was already been beating, if ever so faintly. His last attempt to heal her had been just enough to keep her alive.

Fubuki's wounds began to heal and soon there was no trace of her more serious injuries. Her damaged clothing, a few minor cuts and several bruises were the only signs she had undergone what should have been a fatal blow.

Naruto suddenly felt weak as his body began to realise the strain placed on it. He fell to the ground, unconscious.

Koyuki smiled warmly at the two unconscious ninja. She felt a warmth in her chest as hope rose inside her once again. Her attention turned to the recording that appeared and her eyes filled with tears, even as she continued to smile. Her father's voice seemed to be speaking to her and when he peered at whatever recording device had been used, she could have sworn he was looking right at her.

The princess fell onto her rear on the soft grass that had sprung from nowhere. She heard a soft snore from the side and turned to see that her blond saviour was sleeping noisily. She chuckled to herself and her face lifted to the skies.

A joyous laugh echoed across the verdant landscape.

The Snow Princess looked fondly at the unconscious blond. Thanks to him, her darkest hour had also become been her brightest. "You truly are the greatest ninja, Naruto."


Hope you guys enjoyed the read.

Here are some of my pre-emptive answers to what I believe to be the most likely criticisms. I may be completely wrong.

1) I realise that Naruto's friends' and family's behaviour is somewhat muted, but please remember that only the council - and only some of them - can be blamed for his absence. The majority of Konoha are innocent, previous bad treatment and beatings aside. Also I am reminded of the canon when Sasuke leaves Konoha. Rather than focusing entirely on their anger or sadness, Naruto and Sakura decide to get stronger so they can 'rescue' Sasuke. The same kind of thing applies here. Everyone is vesting their energy positively. Finally, do not forget that some months have passed.

2) I realise that the time in Konoha was rather brief, but it was just to give you guys a taste of what is going on back there.

4) I have no idea how many people will be ticked off about Naruto flying. I tried to make it so that flying wasn't too easy for him. I just liked the idea. I make no excuses.

5) If Fubuki has become Mary Sue, I apologise right now. It seems too easy to lean that way sometimes.

6) Some people complain about the direction I am taking the story. I don't know what to say to this. It goes where it goes.

7) I know that my spelling and grammar could be better, but it takes so long to proof read that I only do it twice and always miss some mistakes. As I said pre-chapter, I will look into getting a beta.