Sakura had, ironically enough, gone to bed early and slept the night through. As such, she'd not noticed any of the mayhem occurring as she slept. She also awoke before her parents did, and quickly made her way to Team seven's meeting place while still more than half asleep, not really registering the damage to the buildings she passed by, or the puddles of drying blood she detoured around. She also didn't really take in the implications of being the only one there, only mildly wondering where her teammates might be, before deciding that Sasuke was obviously doing some sort of awesome thing chuunin did early in the morning and Naruto, equally obviously, was harrassing him and causing problems. She resolved to smack him one when he showed up.

No, her first incling that something just might be wrong was when Kakashi arrived, on time, and accompanied by a second Jounin.

"...And you usually leave them here how long?"

Kakashi blithely ignored her question.

"Yo, Sakura. Little change of plans... Until further notice, you'll be working with Kurenai's team. Don't worry, I'll still be training you too."

Sakura blinked slowly.

"You trained me?" She asked, with honest curiosity and bewilderment, leaving Kakashi with a huge sweatdrop.

"Uh... Land of Wave, Tree climbing? Ring any bells?"

Sakura frowned, then snapped her fingers.

"Oh, right, I remember! I managed it on the first try and you sent me off to guard the smelly, drunk bridge-builder, then ignored me for the rest of the week."

Kakashi chuckled nervously as Kurenai rubbed at her temples.

"I don't believe it... you really are that bad of a sensei."

"Hey, I had to... uh, recover... from the fight with Zabuza."

"And you sent her out to guard his target, alone when you knew that his accomplice was still completely undamaged. I read the mission reports. Did the possibility of the accomplice attacking and taking them both out never once cross your mind?"

"Er... well... that is..."

"Kakashi? Shut up. Every time you open your mouth, my desire to murder you grows."

Kakashi obliged and tugged at the rope holding the big scroll tied to his back, dropping it to the ground as he tugged three more, much smaller ones, from his pocket.

"Sign the big one and take the small ones with you to study later. Kakashi will help you with them, under my supervision!" She snarled the last, causing Kakashi to flinch backwards before controlling himself.

Sakura just stared in awe.

"Wow... Kakashi-sensei is terrified of you. Could you teach me how to do that, miss?"

Kakashi twitched as Kurenai smiled evilly.

"Oh, please call me Kurenai-sensei. And this idiot is just afraid that I'll make him think he's a cat and tie him up in the Inuzuka compound again. Speaking of which, your files say you're a genjutsu type, so I should have a bunch to teach you once I know how many you know already."

"Absolutely none!" She chirped, leaving Kurenai glaring at a certain white-haired man who had just broken out into a cold sweat.

"I... I see. Please, tell me that he at least taught you water-walking at some point?"

Sakura shook her head in a negative. Crimson eyes flashed and Kakashi found himself suddenly at the bottom of a well.

"It puts the lotion on its skin, or else it gets the hose again!" Came a malevolent hiss from above. Kakashi whimpered, beginning to wonder if, maybe, life as the 'demonstration dummy' could possibly be worse than this.


Yes. Yes, on reflection, it probably could. Anko was very good friends with Kurenai, after all, and was probably the one that had taught her how to make genjutsu like this. The two would egg each other on and... well, it wouldn't be pleasant at all.

In the real world, Sakura ignored the way Kakashi had dropped to the ground and begun cuddling himself in the fetal position as Kurenai gave her a quick rundown on the water-walking technique, using the nearby river. Sakura picked it up almost immediately, and she moved on to a few basic genjutsu as they began heading to team eight's meeting ground.

Sakura was so excited that she never thought to ask about why they'd left Kakashi behind, or where her other two teammates were.


"Hey, hey wait!"

Naruto ignored Tayuya's complaints as he continued down the road. He also ignored the kunai she chucked at his head, only bothering to tilt his head to the side enough for it to pass harmlessly by.

"Don't ignore me, fucker! You're going the wrong damn way, idiot, Otogakure is that way!"

Naruto spun to face her.

"Well you see, theres a simple explanation for that. We aren't, in fact, going to go to Otogakure. Instead, we are going to an undisclosed location of my choice, where there should be a different secret base waiting for us when we arrive."

"Eh? Wha... But!" She stammered out.

"Of course, if you so choose you may of course abandon your post and return to Orochimaru in shame, having both failed to secure my alliegance to whatever dastardly plans he may have in mind, and failing to insert yourself as a spy into my own secret lair, from which you could have made regular reports upon whatever activities I should happen to get up to. He'll probably execute you immediately, but that's not really important, eh?"

"Y'know, he's kinda got a point, Tayuya..." Sakon pointed out. "Orochimaru-sama doesn't take failures at all well."

"And he would expect us to go with that second option as a plan B." Jiroubo continued.

Tayuya just stared dead ahead, possibly imagining the results of returning to Oto without Naruto. She twitched violently.

"That is unless, of course, you think that you can drag me into Orochimaru's service by force?" Naruto asked, letting just a hint of killing intent through. She twitched again.

"I... you... fine! It doesn't look like we've got much fucking choice, do we."

"Mm... It does seem that I have you over a barrel, don't I? Ah, don't mope, it's not that bad. I've no intention of keeping you from sending reports to your benevolent master, and you can feel free to leave or attempt to over power me at any time... though, I'll have to warn you not to attack me in my sleep." He grinned before continuing. "If you do, I might accidentally tear you limb from limb before I'm fully awake, and that would be terrible... the bloodstains would never come out of my PJs."

Tayuya, suitably cowed, slipped back into position with the rest of the Oto group in the rear. The Suna twins were keeping pace with Naruto much easier, as they all had some sort of transportation that didn't involve much effort on their part. Either flying, on fan or a cloud of sand, or riding on the back of a puppet. In contrast to the others, they were much fresher and less cranky.

Even so, it was hours before they came to a stop at the base of a mountain. Naruto shaded his eyes to look at the sun and mumbled something to himself.

"haa... So where's your 'Secret Lair', asshole? I'm tired, and hungry, and we'd have been at Oto an hour and a fucking half ago if you'd been reasonable and done what I wanted, and-"

"Shush. Hmm... We're slightly early. It should be arriving any moment, now."

"Arriving!" Tayuya shrieked as the rest of the Sound Four groaned and covered their ears. "You fucking incompetent retard, Lairs don't just 'Arrive'! They're either there or they're not there until you build them, and you damn well better not expect us to-"

She was cut off with a low, ominous hum filled the air and a huge, glowing circle of runes appeared on the ground. The hum rapidly increased in volume as a very recognizable building faded into view, then ceased as the runes dimmed and flickered out.

"Well, it looks like our secret lair just arrived." Naruto said, ignoring the stunned looks from pretty much everyone as he waltzed past the guardians, followed closely by Gaara, with Kimmimaro's corpse floating next to her in a cocoon of sand. Tayuya's eyes had actually glazed over as her brain tried to process the smackdown to her relatively logical worldview.


"Hmm... oh dear."

"Can you fix him or not, Flonne?"

"Hm? Oh, yes. His body is in relatively good condition, and fresh enough that his soul still has faint ties to it. The problem is that he has a long-term, terminal medical condition. I'm afraid that if we simply brought him back to life, he'd just die again after a few minutes."

"Ah... that does sound like a problem. Also explains why he's dead in the first place, now that I think of it."

A long silence fell as the newbies stared at the bubbly blond poking and prodding at Kimmimaro's cadaver. Those of them from Oto weren't exactly unused to such a sight... Kabuto was quite open about his experiments, interests, and proclivities... but it was still jarring to watch.

"Well, I'm afraid there's nothing for it. We'll just have to confine his spirit while we build him a new body. The process should take, oh... three or four days."

"That... sounds fast." Naruto deadpanned. "All of that, shouldn't it be more like three or four weeks?"

"Ah, but you forget, I'm the best healer in all the Netherrealms! You run along now and leave me to my work."

Naruto shrugged and began to wander off, entourage crowded behind him.

"Okay, couple of simple rules to follow for as long as you're here. Number one... don't pick a fight with someone unless you either know full well you can win, or happen not to mind dying. The odds are pretty good that your opponent won't be feeling lenient. Number two, do not interfere with the fights of others unless you know you can take them both, or if you happen not to mind dying. They will both turn on you and kill you before going back to their own fight. Number three, do not bother the guy with blue hair unless you have a very good reason or, again, happen not to mind dying. If he decides that your reason isn't good enough, he'll kill you for being irritating. Any questions?"

Kankurou raised a hand.

"Why is this place so creepy?"

"None of your concern, make-up boy. Any relevant questions?"

"When do we eat?" Called Jiroubou at about the same time as Kidoumaru asked "Where do we sleep?"

Naruto snapped his fingers and about a half-dozen prinnies waddled into the room.

"Speak with one of the prinnies, they will lead you to a room and prepare a meal for you. If that's all? I have business to take care of, excuse me."

He had to do two things. First, buy a replacement for the sword Itachi had stolen. Second, come up with a plan to kill the bastard. For the moment, he was still slightly stronger, and that illusion technique gave him a temporary advantage. Naruto wasn't exactly used to feeling pain anymore. The opponents he faced in the item world were typically either so weak that they couldn't hurt him at all, or strong enough to kill him in just one or two hits, without leaving him much time in between to register the pain before he died. In reality, those birds shouldn't have been able to do anything at all... in the illusion, he'd been weaker and frailer than he'd been even when he was a human, and the birds had torn through his soft skin and flesh as they devoured his organs. He'd not even been allowed to die to escape the pain.

Yes, that technique definitely had to go. But how to be absolutely sure of avoiding it?

Meanwhile, a very awkward conversation was taking place. Gaara had cornered Temari and described the experience Itachi had put her through in vague enough terms that she didn't vomit immediately, but clearly enough that she understood the situation perfectly. Kankurou had gone to huddle in a corner, humming softly to himself, and wishing he was anywhere but there.

"... Uh... I'm not sure, exactly, how you want me to help, Gaara?" Temari managed to stammer out after working her mouth soundlessly for several moments.

"I require advice."

"O-okay... advice. Well, I'm not a therapist, but I guess I can help there... I hope. Gimme a minute..." She took a deep breath. "Okay, shoot."

"The experience was... confusing."

"I'll bet." Temari mumbled under her breath before continuing. "Confusing how, Gaara?"

"The sensations were entirely painful at first. After a short time, however, I began to feel a series of pleasurable sensations, the like of which I had never before felt. I enjoyed them, but hated myself for enjoying them, and hated that person with the fury and intensity of the most terrible sandstorms once the illusion came to an end. I wished to commit atrocities upon his corpse that even the demon seemed to temporarily balk at. On the other hand, once I had come out of my homicidal rage, I found myself with a renewed desire to feel those sensations again, but do not fully understand why."

Kankurou calmly stood up, walked calmly to the nearest wall, and slammed his head repeatedly into it until he fell backwards, twitching slightly, and with blood trickling from his forehead. One way or another, he'd decided, he would be having no part of this discussion.

Temari had no such option, and simply stared at Gaara for several moments before turning and waving a prinny over.

"Bring me a bottle of whatever the strongest booze you guys have in stock is. No, on second thought, make that two. I'll be damned if I'm going to remember anything at all about this."



Sarutobi was happy to nudge his paperwork to the side as an overexcited messenger crashed into the room.


"Hokage-sama, that inn that you ordered us to investigate... it's not there?"

Sarutobi stood up, ignoring the complaints of his body.

"What do you mean? Buildings can't just dissappear!"

"Well, sir, it seems like this one has. And not only is it not there, but there's no trace that it ever existed in the first place!"

"... Show me."

It was only a span of minutes before the two arrived at the clearing that had formerly contained an inn, with several shinobi already there and inspecting the scene.

"Gone, without a trace..." The sandaime whispered to himself. "And not only that... weeks worth of thick grass, the dirt doesn't seem to have been disturbed recently, and these saplings show several years worth of growth... but they're growing right through where the building should have been." He shook his head. "Tenzou?"

"Even with Mokuton, sir," the ANBU answered. "This sort of thing is simply impossible. It would have left traces that couldn't have been concealed."

Sarutobi frowned and stroked his beard.

"I see... I want reports. Get me everything we know about this patch of land, any rumors or superstitions. Get me Kakashi, I need to know everything he knows, what he saw of the building, what he saw inside, about the people inside. I want to know everything. At this point I'm not yet ruling out enemy action, or even supernatural phenomena."


It was only a few hours later that he recieved his first truly troubling report, about how a number of Suna and Oto nin had been spotted entering that training ground by several civilians, but had apparently not come out of the other side. Given Kakashi's assertations that none of the inhabitants of the inn could have been ninja, aside from Naruto at least, that was troubling indeed.

The Bijuu were more than enough proof of the existence of the supernatural for even the most stubborn of people. This was more than enough to start the Hokage researching ancient myths that had before been ruled as foolish fairytales, suitable only to be repeated between gullible civilians.

At this point, nothing at all could yet be ruled out.


Iruka was in heaven. Quite literally, in fact. Despite the fact that Ninja's were typically, by simple dint of their profession, slated for a one-way trip to the other place, Iruka had somehow made his way through life without commiting any serious sins, and had acquired enough good karma through his actions to push the balance toward the positive end of the spectrum.

Of course, heaven was quickly discovered to be a very boring place. Very picturesque, yes, but nothing really ever happened. Every day was pretty much exactly like every other. Very nice days, all of them, but still...

That was why he'd decided to sign up as a Trainee Angel, rather than simply remaining an ascended soul. Sure, the whole sprouting of wings thing had been creepy, and they were entirely too cute for him to feel comfortable, but the Angels actually went and did things every now and then. Iruka simply couldn't just sit around and do nothing for the rest of eternity! Even the gofer tasks and the infuriating paperwork that the more experienced Angels fobbed off on him was better than that!

Even so, his mouth had gone dry and his palms had begun to sweat when he'd recieved the message.

"S-seraph Lamington, sir? You sent for me?"

There was a soft rustle of feathers as the Seraph acknowledged his prescence.

"Um, sir? If I'm allowed to ask, why did you summon me?"

"Hmm... Listen carefully. Even though we angels have been at peace with the residents of the demonic worlds for many years now, there is still a great deal of anti-demon sentiment. Most simply hide those feelings deep inside, and don't reveal them, no matter what. Even so, diplomatic ambassadors have to be sent, every now and then, for a short time. But if I send someone who hates demons unconditionally, and they lose control of themselves, it could have vast repurcussions. It could even spark a war."

"I... I see." And actually, Iruka did see. The Hokage had often had that same problem when assigning missions, to make sure that things went smoothly. It would have been just plain stupid to send Kakashi and team seven on a mission to Iwa, for instance. No matter how many years ago the war had been, the fact that Kakashi had been the fourth's student, and the fact that Naruto was blonde with blue eyes, was a combination that was almost completely certain to spark enough tempers that at least one Iwa-nin would end up attacking them, and that would lead to all sorts of sticky political morasses.

"That is why I'm sending you as my ambassador to the demon Overlord, Laharl."

Iruka nodded. That, too, made perfect... wait...

"Wait, what?"


"An' so y'see, that's the basics of th' matter."

"You seem to have misunderstood my question. I already have a functional knowledge of the act itself."

"Yeah..." Temari hiccuped and flushed heavily as she covered her mouth. "Kinda guessed... Jus' wanned t' make sure I was good'n blitzed 'fore I got to the next bit. Anyway, some... people, I guess, prefers t' be the submissive inna relationshipsh. They prefers t' be domininated an' ravished by their... uh, partner. Now, there'sh... there's nothing wrong with that!" She continued quickly, flushing heavily from the images that the conversation was bringing to mind. "If thash what y'like, that's wha' y'like. Nothin'... Nothing a'tall wrongaboudit."

Gaara nodded slowly, managing to translate the sentiments, for the most part, despite the slurring speech. Temari shifted nervously and poured herself some more alcohol.

"An' there's nothin' wrong with you at all, even if that'sh what y'like, an' nobody's judgin' you for it." She quickly knocked back the drink and poured herself another cup. "Th' bit... Th' bitsh that y'didn' like was bein' forced, I'm thinkings... So y'likes t' be dominated, but only s'long as you have a... a wassit... a word thingy to call itall off, if y'wants. Safe word, thas th' one. Y'wants a safe word for when you're with... with, uh... who's you interested in, again."

Gaara considered not answering but saw no reason to conceal it.

"Uzumaki Naruto."

There was moments hesitation, then Temari's flush returned and expanded until it seemed to glow as image after image shot through her head. She started to pour another glass, but changed her mind only a moment into the action and took a long pull from the bottle itself.

"Alrigh'... A'right, there's nothing wron' wi' that... Just, uh... uh, take't slow... real slow, wit' stuff y'both like t'do, until, uh... until y'know for sure wehether'r not he... uh... returns your, um, intererest. Er... that is..."

Seeing that she'd get no more information out of Temari, who had turned into an embarassed, stammering mess through the combination of the alcohol and the subject matter, Gaara stood and left the room quietly. Temari herself took several long moments and deep breaths to compose herself.

"Wow." She mumbled to herself. "An' here I thought that it would be Kankurou, if eith'r of 'em were... like that. He's been stealin' my makup f'r years, li'l ashole."


"The trail is scrambled here." Kuromaru growled softly. Personally, he thought his partner was going a little overboard. If the boy was pack, then he was pack. If he was not pack, then he wasn't. With no real way to tell, he felt it best to simply continue to treat Uzumaki Naruto much the same as they always had, or perhaps a little better to account for the slim possibility that he was, indeed, pack. Guilt and doubt were entirely human emotions.

Emotions that his human partner was wracked with, lending truth to the saying that humans were the weaker half of the Inuzuka.

"You're sure?"

"Of course I'm sure, woman!" Kuromaru snapped before controlling himself. "I apologize, Tsume. His scent is all over this patch of forest. There was a fight here, I'm sure of it. After the fight, his scent goes two different directions, but the trail is faint, and with the rain coming soon it will be lost. Hm?" He sniffed again. "That Uchiha passed through as well, and his scent is fresher. There's something odd about it, though... and there's another scent that was here at about the same time Naruto was, that arrived with a man who smells of the ocean. Wasn't there another Uchiha?"

"Itachi! The kinslayer..." Tsume's fists tightened and her knuckles went white. "Years ago, he was skilled enough that, for his own twisted amusement, he murdered his own pack all in the span of a single night. Sasuke was the only one spared. If Itachi was here..."

Kuromaru sniffed again and growled softly.

"One of the scents leaves with the ocean scent and Itachi. The other left with the other group. That leaves altogether too many unpleasant but possible scenarios. Just a bit of blood or something he's touched recently could have left the trails, after all."

A small trickle of blood fell from where Tsume's claw-like nails had dug into her palms before she forced her muscles to relax.

"There's... nothing we can do, I guess. We're too close to the border, and can't cross it without the possibility of sparking a diplomatic incident with another country. And on top of that, we've only got just enough time to get back to Konoha before someone notices we're gone and starts wondering where we are."

"Yes... time to head back."

Tsume quickly mounted her partner for a little extra speed as he began a loping run back to Konoha.


Naruto, meanwhile, was in the middle of an unexpected battle, and cursing the fact that Laharl had decided to make the halls so wide and the cieling so tall. It made things far too easy for Zabuza, who's wildest swings didn't even come close to scratching them. They were, however, coming uncomfortably close to Naruto himself.

"You lost your sword!" Zabuza bellowed as he brought the Kubikiri Houchou down in an overhand chop for Naruto's head, eyes glowing with unbridled rage. That patch of floor would never be quite the same again.

"Hey, there were circumstances, all right? And I was on my way to buy a new one anyway-"

"That's not the point!" Zabuza roared again through the bandages covering the lower half of his face. "You lost your sword, and you're brushing it off like it's nothing!"

Naruto winced softly at the accusation. Zabuza growled softly and forced himself to put his blade away.

"Even against opponents that outmatch you, even against superior skill and power, even outnumbered a thousand to one, you never lose hold of your sword! Now, you're going to buy another sword, a better one, and I'm going to run you into the ground training with it. Against other demons, just swinging widely and relying on the techniques the sword gives you is more than enough, but I'm going to beat some skill and finesse into that thick head of yours, to go with all the raw power."

Zabuza glowered darkly.

"And the next time you find the fucker that took your sword, you're gonna shove it down his throat, you understand?"

"Yeah!" Naruto replied, feeling a now-familiar flicker of bloodlust at the very suggestion. A soft cough interrupted them as Haku faded into view.

"Zabuza-sama. Laharl-sama requires our service on a certain matter..."

Zabuza grunted and flipped a small scroll to Naruto.

"Change of plans. You buy a sword and master everything on that scroll before I get back. Might be a few days, maybe a week or two. If you aren't finished when I'm back, I'm gonna beat you till you can't move, understand?"

Naruto ignored him, already unrolling the scroll and scanning the contents as Zabuza snorted and left. Ah... oh. The basics of the basics for swordsmanship. This didn't look fun at all... which meant he had to get it out of the way as soon as possible, so he could spend his time on more amusing pursuits.


"They aren't here. Kabuto, why are they not here?"

"They... they should be on their way. Spies reported a sudden upheaval in Konoha yesterday evening. However, Orochimaru-sama, I have much more dire news... Your hand... You've complained of pain and slight swelling, restricting your range of motion, am I right? I fear that somehow... the turncoat suna Jinchuuriki embedded a fragment of its demonic chakra into its attack, injecting it into the very bones of your hand and, like an infection, it has begun to slowly eat away at the surrounding matter! I... Orochimaru-sama, I don't know what to do."

Kabuto shook his head, obviously distraught at his failure.

"Ever since the preliminary scans, when I thought it was just the start of a simple infection and tried to deal with it accordingly... But nothing works! It's malignant, like a tumor with a mind of its own, and it fights off everything I try to do to remove it!"

Orochimaru arched an eyebrow as he lifted his bandaged hand and flexed the fingers lightly.

"Fascinating. I was unaware that the container of Shukaku had such an ability. Perhaps the container itself is unaware... what records we have indicate it kills immediately. Or perhaps this is simply a fluke of misfortune. You believe then, Kabuto, that the problem will only get worse?"

"I... Yes, Orochimaru-sama. Also, I fear that my attempts to remove it, have caused its rate of growth to increase. Forgive me my blunder."

Orochimaru hissed softly.

"Nothing for it. Do you propose amputation?"

"Truthfully, I'm uncertain if even such drastic measures would remove it in its entirety. Instead, I advise that you move to a new body at the next available opportunity, and leave the demonic infection to poison and consume the one you currently inhabit."

"Yes... a new body... That reminds me.Why are they not here yet, Kabuto?"

Kabuto sighed as the reality of his master's plight completely shot past his one-track mind.

"Naruto-kun is the closest thing that the Uchiha has to a friend." Orochimaru continued. "So wherever Naruto-kun goes, Sasuke will not be far behind, trailing in the hopes of catching Naruto-kun in a moment of weakness, for the opportunity to advance his Sharingan... but I do not need the Mangekyou. A blind Sharingan is worthless to me, and Itachi would sooner destroy his eyes than allow me to steal them, even if I were wearing his brother's face. All I need is Sasuke's Sharingan, for the moment."

Ah... so perhaps he did understand after all.

"Even so, Orochimaru-sama..." Kabuto demurred. "Sasuke achieved the second level on his own. There was no opportunity to reinforce the sense of loyalty tied to you through the seal. It may well have faded entirely. Can you keep him in line? The only other that could be kept in line without the artificial loyalty was Juugo himself... and even he only ever responded to Kimmimaro, during his fits. Not you."

Orochimaru considered that, then snorted.

"Sasuke is... leagues behind the likes of Itachi and Naruto-kun. To stand any chance against Itachi, he needs the Mangekyou. To get that, he needs to kill Naruto-kun. But Naruto-kun is possibly even harder to kill than Itachi would be. With Naruto having left Konoha, Sasuke is left trailing behind with nobody to teach him. He will happily accept instruction from me, at whatever price I should choose to set."

He frowned.

"But that brings us back to the matter at hand. Where are they?"

Kabuto sighed deeply.

"I'll send out a squad of hunters to find and escort them back, Orochimaru-sama."


Sasuke himself was... completely, totally, and utterly lost. He'd managed to follow the trail in his cursed form, without even taking a moment to wonder how exactly he was doing so, as he'd never bothered to learn tracking techniques before. Then, about halfway between the odd sand pit and the borders of Fire, he'd started running out of chakra and shifted back to normal.

Suddenly, the night had become much quieter, darker, and the scent trails he'd been following without realizing what they were were completely indetectable. To top that, he'd collapsed, tumbling down a hill. When he'd come to, he was floating down a river, thankfully face up, and the sun had begun to rise.

He... Truthfully, he hadn't even considered the possibility that his cursed form had superior senses to those of his normal one. The only sense he'd concerned himself with was sight, and the Sharingan had been the same in both. Sharingan couldn't track scent, though.

"'You aren't used to that body, yet'." He whispered to himself. "He was right. But..."

How long, then, had Naruto had his own transformation? Sasuke had finally begun to question everything. He'd evolved his cursed seal during the last stage of the chuunin exams, and it had barely been a week since the invasion. Naruto had obviously had his for much longer... but when had he awakened it?

The first time... the first time Sasuke could recall him using the demon power was on the bridge in wave. He hadn't seen it himself, but Sakura had happily described the feeling to him. The second time had been in the forest of... Sasuke paused. Hadn't Naruto said something about that being the third time? Yes... Sasuke was almost sure he had, though the pain of the recently-applied curse seal had made those memories foggy. Then the second time would have been...

The mission where he'd killed the demon brothers. Sasuke hadn't seen much, but Naruto had been bloody up to the elbow, and Kakashi had taken a small amount of time afterwards alone with him... teaching him something, maybe? That would explain what the Hokage had said... 'rewarding' him for tapping into the demon power.

But at that point, would still have been disinclined to use it? Had he begun experimenting with that power then, as a failsafe, a weapon of last resort? And then in the forest, against Orochimaru, something had changed him so that his last resort became his first... although, come to think of it, it wasn't like Naruto had ever had many resorts to speak of. He had the shadow clones and... well, that was pretty much it. Had Kakashi ever actually taught him an attack jutsu, or cleaned up his sloppy taijutsu forms?

Things were slowly beginning to click into place, and Sasuke couldn't help but feel disgusted at the actions of his sensei... former sensei.

Then another niggling little detail pointed itself out. That ghost thing, before the month of training... he'd almost completely forgotten it, or written it off as his imagination, but it had definitely been there. But what was it? Was it really a... ghost? Then there was that creepy hotel... Sasuke frowned.

"Naruto..." he mumbled.

He would figure this out. He would learn all of the blonde's unexpected wellspring of secrets, and only then would he kill him off. Sasuke grinned as he continued to float downstream, towards the ocean.

Now... if only he could just convince his body to move.


"We should have a party." Gecko decided, apparently out of the blue and with no prior indication.


"To celebrate our recent move, of course." The overgrown lizard stated with an air of finality.

"But... technically, none of us moved. We're still living in the same house."

"Ah, but the house moved, didn't it Mihoshi? Therefore, we moved with it."

"It... still doesn't seem like there's much of an occasion..."

"Any occasion is a good occasion for a party."

Mihoshi the Kunoichi considered that for a long moment before grudgingly ceding the point.

"So... who's paying? Or did you forget that the bosses have flatly refused to fund this sort of thing without getting clearance from them first?"

There was a long drawn out silence as Gecko considered that.

"Well... uh... hmm. Is there a... I don't know, a bank or something nearby?"

Hours later, Orochimaru would suddenly acquire a piercing headache as a report came in that an unknown Kunoichi and her Lizard-ish summon had raided one of his back up treasuries. Nothing they'd taken was irreplaceable, of course, as he kept all the truly unique and valuable things much more well hidden and guarded, but it was the simple principle of the matter. They had dared to steal from Orochimaru.

He tacked a reasonable bounty on their heads and sent a copy to every nukenin gathering spot he was aware of. Surely one of them would be happy to deal with the little problem for him.

Then the hunters returned, having found no trace of Naruto-kun or Sasuke, or even his Sound Four, and the headache evolved into a splitting migraine.

Yes, those hunters were the best of the best. By the smell of them, they'd thoroughly investigated every single bar, pub, and brewery between Otogakure itself and the Fire border, perhaps going above and beyond the call of duty and spreading even further before they returned. Orochimaru executed them immediately and made a note to nudge up the hiring requirements just a bit. As a new village, Oto did need the warm bodies, but this was just plain ridiculous!



Mmm... slightly shorter than average, I guess, and apologize for it.

Just finally got ahold of and read through from just after the time-skip to somewhere around chapter... can't remember. Four hundred something, I guess, and I have the burning urge now to hunt down Kishimoto and kick him in the face! Lots of the story was pretty nifty actually, and I now know exactly what that blasted 'Susano'o' technique that I'd seen floating around here and there is, but damn if a couple of things didn't piss me off. First, Sasuke's ever-evolving Sharingan! The first three stages, one comma, two comma, three comma, that's fine. Mangekyou too, I get that. Then there's the super-Mangekyou thingy that comes from tearing out and assimilating your little brother's eyes (WTF?), which was a little iffy, but I could have gotten over it eventually. Then theres... I don't even know how to describe it. That freaking thing that Sasuke has when he hooks up with Akatsuki. Seriously, what the hell? Second, he turned Itachi into a good guy! God damn... I didn't like Itachi much, even as a bad guy, that's true, but turning him into a good guy, even at the very last moment, is just plain horrible.

Slapping the AU sticker on this fic right here, right now. Itachi is a bad person, and no amount of this 'Canon' 'Evidence' stuff will convince me otherwise. Madara spun a fairy tale and implanted a couple false memories somehow and Sasuke, like the driven idiot he is, accepted it witout much question. Now Madara is using him to his own ends. There, that's the reality I accept, none of this peace-loving hippy Itachi turning around and slaughtering his clan under orders crap.

Third, Itachi threw the fight against Sasuke. Once again, WTF? Gaaahgh... I hate the canon so much right now... I'll probably read the rest anyway, but I'll hate it while I read it, and when I write I'm going to pretend that the series ended at the timeskip. After that came a new series called 'Sasuke' that took advantage of the old ones popularity to sell truckloads of pre-packaged horseshit to an unsuspecting populace.

Eh, rant out of the way, Orochimaru is not going to get Sasuke's body, no matter how hard he tries. I've got plans for the both of them... half-baked plans that'll probably flop, but still. Naruto is not goint to conquer Rice country and rip the crown of leadership out of Orochimaru's hands... yet. Remember, he's going to first consolidate himself in the local makai before he starts conquering the human realm. Sasuke is going to dig deeper and deeper into the power of that curse seal once he washes ashore somewhere. I've got plans for Sakura too, but am not going into them yet. Laharl hasn't shown up much recently, has he? Sorry, lots of characters to keep straight. He'll show up again eventually, as will anyone else I leave out of the loop for a while. Mini-Kyuubi is having his own offscreen problems, but he'll show up again too.

That's about it, I guess. The next chapter will be up... whenever it's finished... which might be a while, or might be pretty soon. This 'real life' thing has been bugging me a bunch recently, and it looks like I'm going to have to deal with it. Sigh.