Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto. If I did, there would be more storyline about the time Team 7 spent together and more focus on the reactions of Naruto's friends when they find out about Kyuubi.

Key: (For those who need it.)

Regular story/speech


Chapter 1

Naruto looked ahead seriously, focusing himself intently on the wreckage of Konoha. It now eclipsed the state it was in 4 years ago when Orochimaru had launched his combined Sound and Sand forces at the Leaf during the Chunin exams…

"Chunin exams, huh…that's nostalgic…" the phrase vaguely resonated as déjà vu, but he pushed the thought aside. He needed a plan. His precious people, well, those who remained, needed his help.

It was ironic, really, that he should think of the chunin exam at that moment, it was the event that led him to the bonds of his generation. It was also the true beginning of the end for his surrogate family: Team 7.

"Argghhh!" he growled in frustration, and then switched over to an almost whining tone, "All this thinking is making me hungry! Ichiraku ramen is definitely getting fixed first!" He nodded and hummed to himself in agreement. Then just as suddenly he sighed and his face became more serious.

"But it won't be the same without…" he felt his eyes water, but refused to let the tears fall. Shaking his head sharply and clenching his eyes he barked, "No! I'm just gonna protect everyone else better, that's all! No more crying! I promised myself before and I don't go back on my promises, 'cause that's my nindo!" He opened his eyes and looked at the objects in his clenched hands and lap and looked away in shame.

But all the same…it seems I'm starting a collection. First Sasuke, then Kakashi-sensei, and then Sakura-chan. Who's next? Not that I have many to choose from…

"Ohayo Naruto, how are you?" Iruka walked over to where Naruto had plopped down.

In front of them the village of Konoha lay like a broken wing. Naruto didn't generally frequent the Hokage monument. As a child his most memorable excursion had been when he painted the memorial. Iruka had been the only one able to find him then, as well. Now he was coming more and more often. It was quiet and he could see everything, even see what it might be like to watch over the village like a true Hokage.

Iruka was silent as he waited Naruto out. True, Naruto was generally pretty quick and honest with his answers on any given topic, but with feelings, particularly his own, sometimes he needed the extra minute to try and get the words out.

"…I miss them Iruka-sensei…they were like you…family."

"Yeah, I know," Iruka said. Not much else could be said. Death has a funny way of stealing the meaning of words.

Akatsuki was well on its way in its mission by the time Sasuke had killed Orochimaru. Naruto and Sakura had been hurt to say the least when they discovered their wayward comrade had, yet again, chosen revenge over the Leaf and all that came with it. Nonetheless, he was important to them and they followed. They had been held up by misleading trails and a run in with a very 'Frankenstein-like' Kabuto, and missed their opportunity to retrieve Sasuke. He had slipped through their fingers.

After that, Sasuke took a back seat to the new issue with Akatsuki. They had achieved the capture of the other eight bijuu, and decided to move ahead with their plan despite the lack of Kyuubi. Not that this absence wasn't noted, Itachi and Kisami, along with various other tag-team duos were making various efforts in this area; efforts that cost the leaf in qualified ninja.

Naruto had trained his wind affinity to an amazing level. Tsunade and Sakura had said he was going to kill himself, Jariaya and Iruka had been shocked at his patience and concentration, and Kakashi had pointed out he would need the edge since he seemed to have only a single affinity.

Stupid Kakashi.

He laughed to himself, and Iruka looked over, "Good memories?"

Naruto laughed a little and ducked his head.

Sasuke…Sasuke didn't deserve to be a good memory, but he couldn't be a bad memory, because even if he was a bastard, he was still Naruto's best friend. After about six months, or was it more…anyway, six months, news came around that Uchiha Itachi was deceased.

But Sasuke never returned. In fact, word was spreading that there was a new sharingan gracing the ranks of Akatsuki. Naruto refused to believe it until his eyes confirmed it, though Kakashi and Sakura would both only sigh. They had accepted their comrade's darker tendencies long ago. Deep down Naruto knew they were right, but he wouldn't let himself voice such a thing out loud. Naruto was still waiting for his best friend and brother to come home. Sakura was waiting for her partner-in-Naruto's-ego-smashing and brother to return as well. Kakashi would never voice what his team meant to him, but Naruto suspected it was as close to family as Kakashi would allow.

Sasuke had shown up with one day with a boy named Suigetsu as Naruto's most recent 'recruiting' squad. While Kakashi and Sakura had taken on the talented swordsman, Naruto had taken another stab at convincing Sasuke to return. Things had been going well, he had Sasuke nearly beat enough to drag back to the village, when Sasuke had impaled himself on one of Naruto's Rasengans.

"What the hell, Sasuke!?"

"This is what I want. Heh, Naruto, you really have surpassed me. I needed to know, I needed to know if I was strong enough to beat you. I'm still not, never was. Why? Dobe, I bet you don't even know. Just…shit…-heave, heave- …don't die."

Then you died, you bastard, and I couldn't look people in the eye for weeks. Anyway…I do know why I was, am, strong, it's because of you; it's because of my precious people. And you say I'm stupid.

After Sasuke died, Suigetsu had disappeared leaving the three nins to drag Sasuke back to Konoha. Team 7 had taken it hard, and even Sai took the time to read the sections on sympathy and mourning in his books so as to not further upset them. Furthermore, the boy had abstained from his penis jokes for Naruto's sake.

"Godaime-sama is calling a meeting for all higher level nins, it starts in an hour," Iruka said, looking over at Naruto.

"He he he, Iruka-sensei, I'm still technically a genin, ya know, lower level nin? I think I'll just stay here and have you or Neji or Bushy-Brows (Lee) tell me later," Naruto scratched the back of his head sheepishly as Iruka's eyebrow twitched.

"Anyway," Naruto continued, "I need time to control these emotions." His voice started strong and ended in a mumble.

Iruka nodded as he stared straight ahead.

After Sasuke's death, things had become more difficult for the Leaf. Akatsuki was making things economically difficult from the background, while Kabuto made good on his promise. With Sasuke dead, Kabuto no longer had the ability to exact revenge on the person who killed Orochimaru. Naruto was second in line.

Orochimaru had always spoken of crushing the Leaf, and with that as one of his longstanding failures, Kabuto took it as a personal challenge to surpass Orochimaru. In addition, crushing the Leaf meant crushing Naruto, so two birds with one stone.

The worst part of the whole situation was that Kabuto was succeeding in his mission, he was surpassing Orochimaru. Konoha was close to collapse. So many skilled Jonin, like Kakashi had died defending their comrades.

Kakashi had died defending Naruto and Sakura.

It had been a team from Akatsuki. Akatsuki had quickly discovered the benefit of supplying Kabuto with forces and using his invasion as a cover for their own agendas in Konoha without alerting outside suspicion.

They had been caught off guard and low on chakra. The trap well laid out and mortally accurate. Team Kakashi had been fighting for a time before all members were suddenly knocked unconscious. They awoke at the gates of Konoha. Naruto had found in his hands a Konoha headband and a note saying only, "I protect my comrades." Kakashi's funeral was held the next day alongside Maito Guy. The Beautiful Beast of Konoha had died the same day as his eternal rival. He would have laughed and given the 'good guy pose', while Kakashi would have sighed, rolled his eyes and said, "What?" Resulting in a fountain of tears from one Maito Guy.

That had left the Rookie 9 plus Team Guy, unofficially the Konoha 12, or 11 really, down to one of their original genin sensei. Kurenai had given birth and the baby brought light to the former Team 10, particularly Shikamaru. She was off-duty caring for her child, and that was probably the only reason she was still breathing.

Although Naruto would never realize it, Kakashi had been correct in assuming that the new generation was taking up its former's positions, surpassing them by far. The 'Konoha 12' were, according an analysis by Shikamaru's father, probably the most coordinated graduating class of ninjas ever seen, or likely to be seen. A great deal of this had to do with the families that the ninjas came from, but he said it was actually largely due to one factor, one that became prominent during the chunin exams. While the Rookie 9 had been unique in their nominations to the exam as rookies, an example of their natural abilities, the entire 'Konoha 12' had come into contact with a person during the exam that made their group excel. This person's personality had inspired confidence throughout the group and pushed each member to their limits, while making bonds with all members and inadvertently tying the group together, making them care for comrades outside their cells.

Naruto had gotten bored and for the most part forgot the little analysis. Their group, however, did have its fair share of genius, and the eyes of Shikamaru, Neji and Shino all found their way to Naruto.

Who had pocky stuck up his nose and was being bashed over the head by Sakura.


"Naruto," Iruka sighed as he stood, "Godaime-sama has-"

"I know," Naruto cut in, "I'll be there, promise."

Iruka walked away.

There's so few of us now Sakura-chan…

But things had not lasted long for the group of teenagers. They had begun falling, little by little. Sasuke had been the first, technically, which was funny because he made a point to be first in everything. At least that's what Kakashi had said before he died. Then one day Kiba carried Hinata home without Shino. It wasn't too long after when Tenten followed, defending her two teammates to the last. Hinata too had fallen defending Kiba and Akamaru from a well laid trap. Hinata's death caused two proud men to cry, and Naruto watched both Kiba and Hiashi at the funeral and clenched his fists, just as he had at every other funeral.

And now…

Sakura had died just yesterday protecting Naruto.

Akatsuki had many spies willing to beat Naruto to the point where he could no longer defend himself and the seal that held back the power they so ardently desired. The longstanding joke among Konoha ninja was that both sides of the enemy wanted Naruto alive; one to battle him to the death, the other to extract his burden in an excruciatingly painful way, also resulting in his death.

Sakura had already watched one teammate fall while she stood helpless, and God help her, she would not live to see it again. Sasuke had fallen to his inner demons while she'd shed useless tears and now it seemed that it was Naruto's turn. She would not stand by and let that happen again. She would not simply watch their backs from behind.

So when the assailant had made his move, she had made her stand; her final stand.

Which brought him to his current position.

The fact is, we're losing. In fact, which a large enough force, we'd be crushed. The only way I can see us even living through this is with Shikamaru's planning. I'd leave if it would save us, but both sides seem to know how much I love Konoha, if I did that I'd just be lost manpower.

Naruto looked up and his breath caught in his throat and he looked down, ashamed. Ino made her way over to him unsteadily while tears ran down her cheeks.

"I'm sorry Ino, I couldn't protect her," he said lowly, "I –"

"I know Naruto, I'm not mad, I…," she inhaled a sob, "I couldn't save them either." At this point, more tears started to roll down her face and she worked to control her voice.

Naruto had looked up, shocked, surely she didn't mean…?

"Shikamaru and Choji are dead," Naruto felt his airway close up, "The mission…anyway, I came home, and all I could think was, 'I can talk to Sakura' but she's gone too," Ino was beginning to really break down, "And Sakura always said that when she was really upset she could talk to you because you made everything seem bearable and beatable, and just better…and…and…please Naruto…they're all gone!"

Ino's rambling was cut short as Naruto grabbed her into a hug, his lungs dragging breaths as he clenched his fists behind her back and bit back the howl and tears that threatened to betray him as his eyes squinted shut.

"Don't worry Ino, I'll make things okay, it's a promise," he whispered, not sure if she could hear over her own sobs, "I'll do it or die trying," he added in a whisper.

If Shikamaru was dead, then all chances of salvaging Konoha went with him. It would take a strategic genius to figure out this mess, and Kakashi was dead as well as the rest of the Nara clan. Even Naruto could see that they were pretty much screwed. Now Tsunade baa-chan just needed to make it official by calling a meeting about it.

Anyway, Naruto thought as he looked down at Ino, my precious people are hurting, or worse, he thought of Sakura, dead.

After all, I'm not Konoha's most surprising ninja for nothing, he thought as he really grinned for the first time in months, and I still have at least one trick up my sleeve.

He looked out over Konoha, in the end, it might just result in my death, but I think the risk is worth the potential benefit. Plus, I'm the only one who can do it.

Ino was still sobbing as he thought, maybe I could save them.

And, ehhh? How do I make her stop crying!?

Author note: There is nothing that irritates me more than unfinished stories, however, I had a thought (a lot of them), and figured it would be better to share my writing, rather than let it sit on my laptop. So, while I do hope to complete this story, I do have my first year of college in the fall.

Tell me what you think. I'd particularly be interested in whether there were any difficult to understand parts, if I moved the story at a good pace, if I was too wordy and most importantly, if everyone's 'in character'.