Insert disclaimer here
Blah Blah Blah basic text (i.e. description, speech, etc)
Blah Blah Blah Thought or some transaction within someone's mind
Blah Blah Blah Kyuubi talking Jutsu will also be bold
BLAH BLAH BLAH yelling or emphasis of some sort
Naruto of the Nine Tails
Rated M for language, violence, adult content and outrageously long gaps between updates
Chp 28: Sucker's Bet
Sarutobi Hiruzen hated war. He could hold his position another fifty years and he would never get used to the way he felt after writing a round of letters to families who would never see their loved ones again… and, somehow, the names with no one to write to were so much worse. Knowing that he had sent those children to their deaths—because, to him, all his too-young ninja were and would always be children—was a feeling unlike anything else. Knowing that he had no other choice made it worse. However, he was a practiced hand, an old warhorse and it wasn't the weight of leadership, the toll of the lives he had taken or spent, that was finally catching up to him…
"I am far too old for this shit," the Sandaime growled, sparing an irritated glare for Minato's picture. Admittedly, Hiruzen had found ways to deal with the paperwork years before he'd retired the first time and he knew who to send where to do what in order to get the most out of his people, but he wasn't getting any younger.
He had been enjoying retirement, damnit!
Days spent lazing about at home playing with his grandchildren. Early nights alone with his wife reading beside a cheerfully crackling fire as he nursed a cup of warm tea. Painting under his favorite tree. Quietly laughing at Minato as he struggled with the sheer amount of paperwork and wondering when the poor boy would think to use Kage Bunshin (or delegate like any other competent administrator). After decades of covert operations, political maneuvering, and sleepless nights wondering which of his young people was going to come back home in a box because of his orders… it had been bliss.
And now Minato was dead and old Sarutobi was dealing with the fallout of a spirits blighted invasion (comically brief though it was), the cowards mewling about Naruto manifesting a full Kyuubi form (and hadn't THAT been a kick in the teeth), and (somehow) he'd survived a fight with his wayward student and predecessors; the arrogant whelp hadn't even managed a decent assassination attempt! Honestly, monologuing in the middle of trying to kill an S-Ranked opponent… he had taught that boy better, damnit!
Honestly, how was this his life? Had he spent a previous life burning ants with a magnifying glass and kicking kittens with steel-toed boots? Or perhaps some power somewhere simply enjoyed keeping him on his toes? This couldn't be simple coincidence… could it?
Oh well, at least the other villages were shitting themselves over the sheer lethality of his gennin. That at least was exceptionally amusing. He would have to find a way to properly thank the Rookie 9 (as they were reportedly being called) for the propaganda coupe.
"Note to self, remind their sensei to be on the lookout for assassination attempts," he murmured to himself as he stamped another budget approval for repairs. "And find an opportunity to… remind everyone why my gennin are off-limits."
Certain stubborn personalities in the other villages needed the occasional… reminder.
Hiruzen could forgive Ae for forgetting the way Konoha had bloodied his father's nose over that business with Kushina (he had been young after all), but one would think that the muscle-bound whelp would have learned his lesson about trying to bully Konoha after Hizashi had torpedoed his plans to acquire Byakuugan and Hiruzen had used the incident to crucify Kumo in the court of public opinion. However, it seemed that the thirty percent drop in revenue for the past decade hadn't quite made a deep enough impression on the incredibly stubborn Raikage.
Speaking of the boisterous Raikage, the reports from Kumo about Ae ranting over Konoha possessing an "empowered" jinchuuriki was particularly amusing. Especially because Konoha had no earthly idea what in the nine hells Naruto had actually done.
"Perhaps I should have Inoichi slip his daughter some misinformation," he mused as he stamped another set of papers. After all, why spend time and lives to root out spies when he can simply drown them in bogus rumors and nonsense?
Sarutobi paused, stamp hovering over the next set of papers.
"I am far too old for this shit," he sighed, repeating his earlier lament. True or not, effective or not, he had been doing this for far too long if he could use teenage gossip as a legitimate counterintelligence tool.
"Trouble in paradise?" a cheeky voice asked.
"You call the ruins of a military installation paradise?" Sarutobi drawled sarcastically.
"Well, no," Kakashi admitted blithely. "But, then again, I wouldn't call it a ruin either. Bruised? Sure. But our major infrastructure is still more or less intact. So, there really wasn't that much damage all things considered. Some of the forest needs tending and there's plenty of structural damage near the main roads, but nothing a couple D-Ranks couldn't take care of. Hell, there was barely even any damage to the power grid and that has issues if a stiff wind blows through."
Sarutobi sighed, looking incredibly… disappointed. "I remember when an attack of this scale would be considered a disaster. There was a time when even a small raid could have completely destabilized an entire area."
"Missing the good old days, sir?"
"To the pit with the 'good old days,'" the elderly Hokage rumbles blowing pipe smoke as if to spit on the very idea. "Give me economically checked powers and token skirmishes any day. No, Kakashi, I just miss days when the politicians understood that a few dozen casualties and a little property damage after being ambushed by the bulk of two hidden villages and a mildly psychotic jinchuuriki was a gods blighted miracle."
"Civilians giving you a hard time?"
"And the Fire Lord, and his trade partners, and our suppliers, clients of course, and the spirits blighted mailman," Sarutobi grumbled, pinching the bridge of his nose. The mailman! Honestly, a few funerals, a couple of fires and suddenly everyone and their mother was 'Worried about Konoha's ability to meet their fiduciary commitments.' Who even used fiduciary in common conversation! Who?!
Kakashi gave a low whistle. "Anyone you want to send a message to?"
"Yes, actually," the Sandaime replied. The shine of malicious mischief dancing in his eyes. "One of our iron suppliers is trying to price gouge us. He did the same thing after the Kyuubi attack and while it was amusing once, I'm really getting tired of people thinking my generosity is a sign of weakness. I want you to gut his dog and leave it in his daughter's crib."
Kakashi winced. "Does it have to be the dog?" he whined. Why was it always the dog?
"Would you rather gut the child?" Sarutobi asked, quirking a brow at the former ANBU captain.
"No," Kakashi sighed, shoulders slumping. Right, that's why. But why was it always the dog? Just once couldn't it be the man's favorite horse? Kakashi liked dogs, damnit!
"Good," the Sandaime replied with a nod. "Besides, I've used this trick before. She's young enough that she won't understand the experience and won't suffer long term. Hell, half the time they think it's great fun and start playing in the blood."
Kakashi quirked a brow at his leader. "That sounds… effective," the young jounin mused uncertainly.
Sarutobi gave a droll smile. "You have no idea," he replied.
"Soooo," Kakashi drawled, "now that we have made this thoroughly awkward and morbid, where are my adorable little students off to? Escorting another merchant? Bandit bashing? Ferrying documents?"
"Retrieving a princess, actually," the old Sarutobi deadpanned as he filled out a form authorizing a budget to repair the outer wall.
Kakashi blinked, surprised. That did sound interesting… and above the kids' paygrade. "Okay, I know my brats are awesome. Like saving small countries and soloing the raid boss, awesome. But princess awesome? That's a little more… delicate. What do they bring to the table for that sort of mission?"
"Emotional blackmail," the Sandaime replied without missing a beat.
"Blackmail?" Kakashi repeated, perking up as his previous melancholy gave way to be replaced by an unholy amusement shining in his… that squinty eye smile thing that showed barely a fraction of his face but somehow conveyed a world of emotion. "Okay, now you have to tell me what they're up to. This sounds like betting pool material."
The Sarutobi elder quirked a brow at the Copy Ninja. "Well, in that case. Put me down for your students causing considerable property damage and retrieving the next Hokage."
Kakashi cackled as conveniently placed storm clouds gathered in the distance. "Oh yes, tell me more~"
Meanwhile in Tanzuka Gai…
"No! Naruto, Tonton is not food," Hinata scolded. Brandishing a newspaper that she had pulled from… somewhere.
Naruto blinked, staring confusedly at Hinata. He turned to Tonton, still clutched in his talons. Then he turned to Hinata. "…Bacon?"
"Not bacon, Tonton," she argued, stressing the name as she gave him a stern look.
"No bacon?" he repeated, his eyes shining with unshed tears.
"No, Tonton," Hinata repeated, wagging a finger at him.
The sad noise that Naruto made as he set the pig down was so pathetic that even Tonton felt bad for him and started rubbing up against the boy's ankle.
"What. The. Fuck?" Tsunade wondered, staring uncomprehendingly at the scene. Had that happened? Had that actually just happened? Frowning, she gave the saucer in her hand a long, suspicious look before turning to Jiraiya. "Did you drug my sake?" she demanded, brandishing the cup at him like a deadly weapon… which, in her hands, it was.
Jiraiya gave a derisive snort as he rolled his eyes. "I may be reckless, but I'm not stupid, Tsunade-hime. I remember very vividly what you did to the one fool who tried that with you… as does everyone else in the Elemental Nations," he told her, giving a little shiver at the memory.
There was a damn good reason that Tsunade was so good at dealing with poison and other pesky chemicals and, contrary to popular belief, it had nothing to do with her love of annoying Chiyo of the Ten Fingers… though, she did relish every opportunity she had to spite that old hag.
"…Why are we here again?" Inner Sakura asked, boredly kicking her feet as she lay on the imaginary ground playing tic tac toe with herself.
'We're on a mission to find the next Hokage,' Sakura replied as the two loyal members of the Sannin continued their verbal sparring.
"Well, duh," Inner Sakura drawled sarcastically. "But why are WE here? A couple of clan brats, a civilian with Dissociative Personality Disorder, and an unstable jinchuuriki are hardly a compelling argument, you know? It's like trying to sell a house on fire. It's not a sound marketing strategy!"
'No, I don't know,' Sakura replied. 'Because I don't know Lady Tsunade, either. Maybe she'll see how fucked in the head all of us are and take it as a personal affront to her family's legacy and feel honor-bound to return in order to fix everything.'
"Speak for yourself! I am perfectly normal, thank you very much," Inner Sakura replied with a haughty sniff.
'Says the voice in my head,' Sakura sniped.
"You keep saying that like I should care," Inner Sakura reposted.
'You're me. You should care.'
"Excuse you," Inner Sakura sniffed, suddenly sipping tea while wearing a very posh uniform. "I am a chakra enhanced dissociated personality embodying suppressed feelings of hostility and a deep-seated need to assert ourselves, created as a result of your dogmatic adherence to social norms and a subconscious disrespect for authority brought on by a complete lack of bully control. So, it would be more accurate to say I am created from you, a part of you that is no longer you—like a twin or offspring."
'…That's your idea of normal?' Sakura wondered incredulously. She had created another person that wasn't so much a person as another version of her that had grown into… something else. Weird. That wasn't normal, was it?
"Don't we all have a voice in our head begging us to violence the idiots?"
'Well, yes, but…' Sakura frowned, thinking. 'Huh… maybe not so literally, but yeah, that sounds about right.'
"See? I am normal. It's the rest of these heathens that are lying to themselves," Inner Sakrura sniffed haughtily… as she fiddled with her monocle and sipped a steaming cup of tea while relaxing in front of a fireplace wearing a very expensive looking dressing gown.
'Why are you so…'
"Exceptional? Amazing? Remarkable? Breathtakingly—"
"…We aren't friends anymore."
"I'm still trying to understand how you conned the old man into giving you another round of brats," Tsunade wondered, eyeing the children skeptically. "What? The last three weren't disaster enough?"
"Hey now, that's completely unfair!" Jiraiya argued.
Tsunade quirked a challenging brow at him. "Oh, really…" she drawled.
"I'll have you know that my gennin team was a complete success!"
"Hm, shall we ask them?" Tsunade asked blithely. "Oh, wait…"
"Tsunade-sama!" Shizune cried, scandalized.
"Okay, now you're just being hurtful," Jiraiya replied with an ugly scowl.
She shrugged. "I call 'em like I see em," she replied. "But at some point, it's not the students' fault…"
'Fine, you want to fight dirty, Tsunade-hime?' Jiraiya thought as an idea suddenly occurred to him. "Blasphemy! I'm a wonderful teacher! I bet I could even teach that kid Rasengan!" he cried, indignantly pointing a finger in Naruto's direction.
Tsunade smirked, not noticing the strange looks the children were giving Jiraiya. "Why don't you put your money where your mouth is?"
Don't drink and gamble kids! It rarely ends well.
Jiraiya glares challengingly while chibi Jiraiya danced with wild abandon and waved victory flags in his head. "Name your terms witch!" he growled.
"Um… Tsunade-sama?" Shizune murmured, her eyes flicking worriedly between the children as they shared knowing looks. "I don't think—"
Tsunade wasn't listening. "You have one week to teach him Rasengan. If by the end of the week he can't do it, you have to pay all my gambling debts and leave me the hell alone." She hadn't lost that much recently and she was good enough at math to know that Jiraiya was loaded from that smut he wrote.
"And if he can you have to become the Gondaime," Jiraiya replied, sticking out his hand.
"Tsunade-sama!" Shizune hissed.
"It's a bet," Tsunade replied with a smirk as she took his hand and shook it. 'Easy money!'
"Everyone outside!" Jiraiya cried, leading the way outside and took to the roofs as a Cheshire grin started spreading across his face.
"Well, I guess that explains why they call her the Legendary Sucker," Inner Sakura cackled as the gennin trailed behind the rest of the group.
'I'm not speaking to you.'
"That hurts coming from you… mom," Inner Sakura riposted with a vicious grin.
Sakura groaned. 'You just had to go and make it weird,' she lamented as they reached the edge of town. How was this her life? How!
"Oi! Naruto!" Jiraiya called as everyone caught up with him. "Front and center!"
"Ero-Sennin?" Naruto wondered as he dropped down next to the man.
"He calls you pervy sage?" Tsunade cackled. That was gold!
Jiraiya pointedly ignored her dig with a grace that did nothing to ease Shizune worries. "Tsunade-sama, I have a bad feeling about this," she murmured as she watched Jiraiya crouch down in front of Naruto and holds up a Rasengan for him to see.
"You see this kid?" Jiraiya asked.
Naruto blinked bemusedly then nodded.
"Okay, here's the deal. I want you to do this-" he said, pointing to the Rasengan, "to that," he finished, pointing at a nearby tree.
Naruto looks at the tree. Then back at Jiraiya. "Not s'posed to break stuff," he protested, eyes flicking nervously to Hinata.
Jiraiya sighed. "I promise you won't get in any trouble. I'll even get you all the Ramen-"
"-you can eat..." Jiraiya finished as the poor helpless tree suddenly vanished in a Rasengan induced spray of woodchips and was replaced by a grinning Naruto.
"Ramen?" the boy chirped.
Shizune sagged in defeat. "Not again…"
Tsunade, meanwhile, was working her mouth like a fish out of water as she tried and failed to process what she had just seen. It was only when her eyes fell on her madly grinning teammate that she found her voice. "You sandbagged me!" she cried, pointing an accusing finger at Jiraiya.
"Well, technically, it was just a sucker's bet," Jiraiya argued, now wearing a shit-eating grin. "I win again Hime-chan! Haha! No one outsmarts the gallant Jiraiya-sama! Ha ha ha!"
"Why you… You no good, low brow, toad faced, limp-dicked, pay-to-play cheat!" the slug princess roared, stamping her foot hard enough to create a few cracks in the ground.
"Cheat? It is hardly my fault that you underestimated how good I am at my job, Hokage-sama," Jiraiya demurred theatrically, batting his lashes flirtatiously at her over a paper fan that he had pulled from… somewhere.
"Fuck you, you perverted, third rate, bargain bin sell-out!" Tsunade snarled as she hurled her empty sake jug at his head.
"Okay, now you're just being hurtful," Jiraiya grumbled.
"I'll show you hurtful you prune sucking, pasty-faced, son of a-"
"You leave my parents out of this marvelously mammaried lush!"
"…They are going to be at this for a while, aren't they," Sasuke realized, looking to Shizune for confirmation.
The poor, exasperated apprentice nodded.
"They're… like children," Hinata observed in horrified fascination.
"Imagine how they were when they were actually kids," Sakura chipped in.
There was a long pause to the soundtrack of two grown adults playing the name game.
"Huh… you know, suddenly Old Man Sarutobi makes so much more sense," Sasuke mused as they all started making their way back to town.
Sakura frowned. "What are you talking about."
Sasuke turned to her with a thoughtful look. "Well, think about it. He's old for a ninja (you know, life expectancy), but he's not that old all things considered. Between modern technology, medical ninjutsu, and generations of selective breeding in the ninja community we age very gracefully."
"I… hadn't actually thought of it that way," Sakura mused as bits and pieces of things she'd read over the years came back to her in favor of the points Sasuke had just made.
"Perks of growing up as an ignorant civilian," Inner Sakura chimed in with no small amount of sarcasm.
'Still not talking to you!' Sakura shot back. "But what does that have to do with the Sandaime?"
"He looks worse than my great uncle Kagami did on his death bed… who was a hundred and seven when he passed," Sasuke explained with a wince.
Wow, that sounded way less disrespectful in his head.
Sakura blinked. "But that…. That's like a forty-year difference!" she cried, incredulously.
"Yeah…" Sasuke replied, praying that no one EVER told the Sandaime about this.
Sakura glanced at the Sannin, a thoughtful look crossing her face as the group walked leisurely back into the city. "But forty years? They can't have been that bad… right?"
In unison, they all turned to the bickering students of the Sandaime and tried to imagine them smaller, hormonal, and with a third (sociopathic genius) member to round out their shenanigans.
They all shivered.
Sasuke cringed. "…We're not that bad, right?"
Sakura tapped her chin in thought. "How would we know? Kaka-sensei was grey before he got us."
"So, watch out for wrinkles and liver spots?" Sasuke suggested.
"Not a bad idea, actually," Inner Sakura mused. Failing organs was a sign of extreme stress, right?
"How will we know though? He never takes his mask off," Hinata said, looking a little worried. How were they supposed to take care of their sensei if they couldn't see the warning signs?
"Maybe that's why he's wearing the mask?" Sakura mused, looking thoughtful. "I mean, he was the Yondaime's student and I can tell you there's more redaction ink in his file than readable print. He hasn't exactly had a relaxing life."
"Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure he was in ANBU," Sasuke realized.
"Eh!?" the girls cried.
"My brother mentioned him several times, but after he joined ANBU he always referred to sensei as Kakashi-senpai," he explained.
"That seems a little… unprofessional," Sakura observed, her voice ringing with a note of disapproval. Compromising the identity of a black operations specialist? Not. Cool.
"It's not like he was shouting it from the hilltops. It was just... something between him and the elders that I wasn't supposed to hear," Sasuke defended, not wanting them to get the wrong idea. "All I know is that Itachi was defending sensei. I can't say anything for sure because I wasn't included, but with the politics of the time and my clan's attitude… I'm guessing it had something to do with his Sharingan."
"So… maybe it's clan elders not the students?" Sakura mused.
"Well, from the sound of it, your elders were a lot like mine and having to deal with those sour old bastards would stress out anyone," Hinata said, an ugly look crossing her face at the thought of a few particularly... outspoken individuals. "And, to be fair, Sarutobi-sama has been the Hokage since he was a teenager, so..."
"Like, fifty years of dealing with all the sour bastards, not just his?"
"Yeah, that would turn anyone grey," Sasuke agreed. And all that… bureaucracy, brrrr!
"Not to mention he's lived through all of the major ninja wars," Sakura added.
"Can't count that," Sasuke argued. "My great uncle did too, he even kept all his hair."
"Yes, but he wasn't in command," Sakura argued back.
"Are they really, arguing over why Sarutobi-sensei looks like a sun-dried peach?" Tsunade asked in morbid fascination.
"I think they were more worried about giving their sensei liver spots the way we gave them to Sarutobi-sensei," Jiraiya replied. "Kind of like that time tried to figure out why your grandma suddenly went grey after little Kushina showed up. Remember? You were convinced she'd stolen your baba's hair color!"
"Sensei doesn't have liver spots," Tsunade argued. Pointedly ignoring his attempt to draw parallels between themselves and this new Team 7.
"Sure, when you were treating him, he didn't," Jiraiya replied.
Tsunade's expression turned thunderous. "That stubborn geezer! He must have stopped drinking the shake I prescribed—wait, no! You are not tricking me again!"
"You are playing on my professional dignity to try and con me into coming back so that I can bully sensei into taking his medicine!" she accused (accusing finger pointing included at no extra charge).
"…Well, it seems to be working. You said 'coming.' So, subconsciously, you are already thinking of yourself as back in Konoha. Really, you've already made the decision. All that's left to follow through," Jiraiya explained, looking entirely too smug.
Tsunade's eyes went wide. "No! You used this trick when we were seventeen! I am not falling for it again!"
Oh, right. The Motor Boating incident.
What? Puberty hit late, Jiraiya had finally stopped teasing her about her flat chest, and Tsunade was curious, alright! Teenagers get to make questionable decisions! It's in the fine print.
A shit-eating grin spread across Jiraiya's. "You know, I'd completely forgotten about that," he mused. "Well, I'll admit that I did miss the ladies—" Jiraiya told her with a roguish grin.
Tsunade rolled her eyes as she led the way into the hotel they were all staying in.
"—and Sensei IS ordering you back to Konoha with the intention of training you to be the next Hokage, buuut I was hoping that you'd at least agree to take a look at my little friend here," he continued, indicating Naruto. "We thought we had a pretty good handle on what was going on, but there have been developments lately that… well, they don't add up. I need another opinion."
Tsunade frowned. "There was no one else?" she asked, unconvinced. Konoha had the best medical technology and specialists in the world. It was a major contributing factor to holding their place as the 'Strongest' village despite not having the ruthless professionalism of the Bloody Mist or the sheer numbers like Kumo.
"This isn't exactly a common problem to begin with. Then remember this is a strange combination of medicine, esoteric science, chakra theory, and seals," Jiraiya replied with a sour look. "So, ten years ago? Sure, I had a guy."
"Right. Other than… him?" Tsunade asked as Jiraiya opened up the suite he had booked for everyone. Orochimaru would have been perfect for this if he hadn't gone off the deep end.
"I mean, if it really became an issue, I could try one of our allies, but Chiyo-baba can be such a—"
"You would let that bumbling crone near Kushina's son!" Tsunade practically shrieked, outraged.
Tsunade and Chiyo didn't get along so good. Didn't you know?
Jiraiya shrugged tiredly. "Well, when needs must, hime-chan."
"Don't call me that!" she barked on reflex, her eyes flicking to Naruto before turning a shrewd glare on her former teammate. "You wouldn't… you wouldn't really take him to another village for treatment, would you? I mean, our medical tech should be able to—"
"Tsunade… one sec," he sighed, abandoning all pretense and playfulness as he quickly put up some seals to ensure they weren't overheard. "We've tried. Between Hinata and I, we've eased him through gods know how many procedures; the ones he would tolerate at least. I've spent a fortune tracking down every scrap of information on Jinchuuriki and demon sealing. You would not believe the collection of Uzumaki scrolls and obscure medical writings I have now! Fuck, I snuck into Lightning Country and bribed Kirabi into—"
"You what?!" Tsunade cried, horrified.
"It's fine, we're good friends now," Jiraiya told her. 'Even if he and Gyuuki weren't able to help much in the end.'
Tsunade saw red. Jiraiya might annoy her to pieces, but— "Who the fuck said you were allowed to take risks like sneaking up on the Raikage's demon powered baby brother!?"
"Because this is my fault!" Jiraiya snapped.
Tsunade rocked back in her seat startled as Jiraiya seemed to deflate in front of her eyes.
"Tsunade, I need to fix this," Jiraiya muttered, suddenly unable to look her in the eye. "I was so focused on keeping everyone off his scent when he was little that I missed what was going on at home and…. I should have been there, but I wasn't and now he's—and I can't figure out what's—" he cut himself off, shutting his eyes tight as he took a fortifying breath. "I'm at the end of my rope here, Tsunade. I've toed the line of treason trying to fix this and I… I need your help."
For a long moment, Tsunade stared at her old friend. Stripped of his bravado he looked so… small, tired.
'Was this how I looked after…' Dan? Nawaki? Even thinking their names was still hard.
Perhaps the situations were different, but still. Naruto was his godson, his grandchild in all but blood. She had already left the village by that point, but Jiraiya had still found her halfway across the continent just so he could crow and gush about how Minato and Kushina were having a baby and they were naming it after a character from his book and he was going to be a godfather and wasn't this just sooo cool! He'd been so excited. Then the Minato and Kushina had died and he had just…
'So, that's what he was doing all those years,' Tsunade thought as her eyes drifted back to Naruto. A concentrated effort by Konoha's spymaster to undermine and misdirect the intelligence engines of the other villages would explain more than a few things. "I suppose it can't hurt to take a look," she relented.
Jiraiya sagged in relief. "Thank you, Tsunade."
"Don't thank me yet," she snorted. If an entire medical community could solve this, what were the odds she could? "Oi, brat! C'mere!"
All the gennin and Naruto turned to look at her curiously.
'Even the Hyuuga? Does sensei group the troublemakers together on purpose?' she wondered. Something to consider if Jiraiya and Sensei somehow did manage to con her into taking the hat. "Yes, you, with the tails. Come here for a sec, I want to check something."
Naruto squinted suspiciously at her before turning a curious look on Hinata.
"It's okay, Naruto-kun. You can trust Tsunade-sama," Hinata told him with a reassuring smile.
"Yeah, no worries kiddo. Just a quick checkup," Tsunade told him, slapping on her 'Bedside Manner Face' and gesturing to the table as he came up to her. "Just hop up right here for me, alright?"
Naruto practically pounced on the table, landing in a crouch as he continued to squint at her.
Tsunade gave a little chuckle and grinned a little wider. "Not much luck with the docs, huh?"
Naruto shook his head. "Needlemen and bad water, blegh!" he complained, sticking out his tongue as he did so.
Tsunade smiled more softly. "Well, none of that today," she told him as her hands started to glow with a pale green light. "Just this, see?" she said, offering her hands for his inspection.
"Holy shit, she's actually good at this!" Inner Sakura cried as Naruto sniffed and inspected Tsunade's hands from every angle. Seriously, where was the abrasive drunkard from a couple of hours ago? This was surreal!
'What, you thought she got her start on the battlefield? Everyone starts in the hospital,' Sakura replied, absentmindedly. Bedside manner was part of the curriculum.
"You talked to me! I win!"
'Stuff it, Junior,' Sakura replied.
"The fuck did you call me you—"
"Now, try not to move too much, alright gaki?" Tsunade said as Naruto finished his inspection.
Giving Hinata one last look, Naruto shrugged and got comfortable.
"Great job gaki, just like that," Tsunade murmured, her smiling never wavering as she started her inspection. She started with the tails and other non-human bits. "These are… solid chakra?" she asked, looking to Hinata and Jiraiya for confirmation.
"Kirabi said he could manifest actual parts of the Hachibi," Jiraiya chimed in.
'A partial transformation maybe?' Tsunade wondered as she moved on. 'Bones look a little different, but that could be from walking the way he does; they're certainly denser than they normally would be. The lymphatic system looks good. The circulatory system is normal. Respiratory system… I'll have to come back to that later. Chakra system is… that looks so much like Kushinas but…' she frowned, her eyes drifting shut as her hand began to glow just the slightest bit brighter. "It's almost like… but, I don't understand, that would mean," Tsunade mumbled, suddenly running her hands up her patient's body until she had a hand on either side of his head.
"Hime-chan?" Jiraiya asked, looking alarmed at the sudden change.
"What in all the hells!?" she hissed, running her hands over Naruto again. Then again, her hands burning bright with the light of her medical jutsu, delving deeper with every consecutive scan. "This is… He shouldn't… How is he even moving! This doesn't make any sense!" she cried, her eyes snapping open, shining with naked confusion.
"You aren't making any sense," Jiraiya grumbled. "What's—"
Tsunade rounded on him, the glow of her hands winking out in an instant. "Jiraiya, this boy is in a coma!" she cried, jabbing her finger at the clearly awake and aware jinchuuriki.
Jiraiya blinked owlishly, his gaze flicking uncertainly between his old teammate and his pseudo student. "…What?"
Temari would never claim to be a particularly affectionate or family-oriented person. In fact, she barely talked to her father and mostly ignored her brothers outside of missions and other team activities. In Gaara's case, it was more a matter of self-preservation, but where her father and Kankuro where concerned? She genuinely detested them most of the time. It was actually a rather common sight to see her beating Kankuro senseless for some tactless, sexist, or another stupid thing he had said or spitting disrespectfully as soon as her father's back was turned.
That said? It was one thing for her to act that way with her family, if someone else tried it… well, that was another matter.
"Get the fuck away from my brother!" she roared, channeling chakra through her fan as she swung it like a club to bat the offending ninja into a nearby tree with crushing force.
She was the big sister. She got to beat on her annoying, tactless little brother. No one else!
"Have I mentioned recently how much you scare me sometimes?" Kankuro panted as he got back to his feet.
"Where's Gaara? We need to get out of here," she demanded, completely ignoring his comment as she glanced around for any other enemies.
"No idea," he sighed, staring forlornly at his mostly ruined Karasu. "Baki grabbed him and shunshined him out as soon as the Kyuubi kid started going nuts."
Temari scowled. "Where would he take—" she started only to come up short as they both felt a familiar corrupted chakra growing off in the distance.
"Well, I guess that answers that question," Kankuro observed sardonically; not at all enthused about the idea of going toward a rampaging Gaara.
"We need to get out of here, now!" Temari said urgently, wondering for the umpteenth time why the plan had been to attack in force before letting Gaara soften things up.
"Do I look like I'm arguing?" Kankuro asked, stopping only long enough to seal up Karasu's remains before making a mad dash away from Konoha.
"AAAHAHAHAHAHA! I'm free!"
Neither of them broke stride as the both of them felt a deep-seated feeling of dread, the hairs on the backs of their necks stood on end as the air began crackling with chakra.
More and more they felt it build, like a bead of cold sweat carving a track down the back of their necks as the many particles of chakra gathered into an impossibly dense orb of black chakra.
Temari couldn't bring herself to look as the Shukaku launched the great ball. A gnawing feeling a pang of guilt settling into the pit of her stomach as she thought of all the people in Konoha who had never even had a hurtful thought toward her village. But that was life, right? It wasn't fair, especially not for ninja.
Then she saw what could only be the Kyuubi jinchuuriki fly out of the village and collide with the giant ball, detonating the technique well before the village wall.
Temari nearly fell as a sound like thunder and a pressure wave like the strongest of wind techniques swept over her. Then it was over and the world was quiet. For the briefest of moments, she was happy. With the Kyuubi jinchuuriki gone, there would only be a select few who could even hope to challenge Gaara.
Then the earth shook.
A fathomless pit of dread opened up in the bottom of Temari's stomach as the dust swirled around a massive figure and a voice like dry lightning in a sandstorm rolled over the battlefield.
"I warned you…"
She was already tilted into a dead sprint even before the thought to move had entered her head, all logic abandoned as her legs carried toward her baby brother.
"What?! No! Temari, get back here!" Kankuro called after her... as she ran toward the battle between bijuu.
But for the thunderous sound of blood rushing in her ears Temari couldn't hear him, a single name ringing in her thoughts.
She needed to get to Gaara.
"Oh?" the giant tanuki replied, tapping its chin as if in thought. "You did? That's it I suppose. Alright! Well, in that case, I'll just-Go fuck yourself!"
Temari quickly changed her path to steer well clear of the sand only to be sent tumbling as a concussive blast of sound and chakra blasted through the Ichibi's sand. She rolled to her feet a moment later, a little worse for wear and thankful that she had already been skirting around the fight when she noticed most of one of Shukaku's limbs missing.
This was bad.
"Renkudan!" the sand demon barked, firing off a giant ball of compressed air at the fiery form of his eldest brother.
Having learned her lesson, Temari pulled her fan, readying it to ride the wave of air and pleasure like a glider only to goggle, momentarily frozen as the Kyuubi brushed off the titanic attack with absurd ease and proceeded to further mutilate the Shukaku.
This was very, very bad.
"Ah! Cut that shit out damnit!" Shukaku demanded as he stomped a paw into the ground, conjuring a tsunami of sand and debris that quickly buried the enormous firefox. "Ha! Got yo-gurk!"
Temari could only stare in mute horror as the Kyuubi erupted from what should have been its grave and wrapped its claws around Shukaku's throat and forced it to the forest floor with tremendous force.
"No…" Temari whispered, all color draining from her face as a nervous, terrified energy seeping into her veins as she started forward once more. "No, no, no!"
"Up yours Kura-"
When she saw the Kyuubi open its maw, Temari only had a second to react. Thinking fast, she found the tallest tree in her immediate area, using it to leap high into the air and onto her fan before the world descended into hell.
"Gaara!" Temari's anguished scream was drowned out in the roar of fire as the Kyuubi brought forth a wash of flame that engulfed the entire area. Using her chakra to stabilize her flight, she rode the sudden updraft as the great fox reduced the area to ash and cinder. Heedless of the danger, Temari frantically threw chakra into her fan as she manipulated the winds around her to redirect her flight. Weaving through the Kyuubi's tails and dodging between its legs as it turned away from the smoldering remains of its opponent, she barely noticed when it returned to Konoha.
She didn't care.
The exam, the invasion, the politics, the fucking Kyuubi, she didn't care about any of it. All she knew was that she needed to get to the ground, she needed to find her baby brother.
Already moving at a dead spring when she hit the still steaming slag that used to be several square kilometers of forest and an enormous sand demon, Temari poured chakra into her feet in a semblance of the sand walking exercise as she leaped higher and higher on the mound of mud-colored glass in her frantic search. The Konoha jinchuuriki's attack had been brief, there was a chance…
"Gaara!" she cried, her eyes raking the ruined landscape as she stretched her senses to the limit trying to find any sign of her baby brother. "Gaara, answer me!" she called desperately, her voice cracking as tears streamed down her face. All over she could hear the glass groaning and snapping as it rapidly cooled.
Temari whipped around so quickly that she almost tripped and then nearly collapsed in relief as she caught sight of her little brother staring confusedly at her from a mass of sand half encased in slag.
He was alive!
Red as his hair and with more than his fair share of blisters, but wholly, undeniably, miraculously alive!
"You came for me?" he wondered, bewildered as she rushed to his side.
"Of course I came for you, idiot," she muttered absentmindedly as she poked at the crusted sand, searching for a weak point. "Close your eyes, I'll get you out," she ordered a moment before swinging her fan like a club, crushing the surprisingly thin layer of glass.
"Why didn't they kill me?" Gaara wondered listlessly as Temari gingerly pulled him out.
Temari blinked. "What?" she asked, confused. Had her brother not been awake for that enormous fire jutsu his opponent had used to fry the entire battlefield? Because, from where she had been standing, it had certainly looked like the Kyuubi jinchuuriki was trying to kill him.
"I could feel them," he explained listlessly. "They didn't want to kill me. I was… no threat at all to them."
"What?" Temari gasped, confused.
"It was strange," he murmured, caught somewhere between a daze and a trance. "Before I woke up, I think... I think I was somewhere else. And I could see through their eyes? I saw myself as they see me, weak, frail, frustrating but… amusing. To them, I was just a misbehaving child."
Temari was floored. Gaara? A misbehaving child? A shiver ran down her spine as she hiked her brother's arm a little higher on her shoulders. What kind of monstrosity was the Kyuubi Jinchuuriki that he viewed the creature that brought Suna to its knees as an amusing inconvenience?
IMPORTANT: Omake: Eldest is both canon to NotNT and STRONGLY suggested reading for those who want insight into the rest of the story. There is a hint directly related to what Tsunade found.
So... go back and read it!
It has been entirely too damn long since I posted for this story. It's absolutely embarrassing that this took so long… I'm not even going to bother apologizing anymore. Life got ridiculous and writing took a back seat. Expect more of the same. Though, hopefully, less of an extreme now that I've graduated … but I make no promises.
You know, the ending aside, I actually have absolutely nothing planned after this point. This was literally supposed to be a reasonably short crackfic when I started it. So, congratulations, you fantastic people have breathed actual life into what started as a couple of friends laughing about a rediculous idea at four in the morning on a school night. It seems only right to ask the people who make this possible for input on where to go next.
Stay awesome people! (^_^)V