Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.

Author's Note: Here it is. The last chapter.

Naruto cut his training with Dachi short when a messenger hawk swooped down, signaling he was needed at the Hokage Tower. Minutes later, Naruto hopped through one of the windows, landing in front of the Hokage's secretary. "Any idea what the old man wants?"

Shikamaru shrugged. "Must be urgent. We aren't supposed to get our next mission until tomorrow."

"Hokage-sama will see you now," the secretary said, halting any further discussion.

Sarutobi finished signing the form in front of him before acknowledging the team. "I need you and your team to retrieve a Konoha shinobi who has left the village. Normally this would fall to the hunter nin, but we currently are uncertain if they left of their own will or not. We have reason to believe four of Orochimaru's people infiltrated the village last night, and they may have something to do with the disappearance."

"Who is the shinobi we are supposed to recover?" Shino asked mildly.

"Someone Orochimaru has shown interest in before. Your old classmate, Uchiha Sasuke. Your mission is to find and retrieve him. Bring him back alive and intact if at all possible. The group who is escorting him was last seen moving north, towards Oto. One of our patrol groups ran across them after they left, but they weren't able to detain them. According to their report, all of them possess Orochimaru's curse seal, so if a confrontation is necessary, make sure to do away with them immediately, before they are able to enhance their abilities."

"Will it just be the three of us?" Shikamaru asked. "I'd like more chuunin or a jounin if we are going to face some of Orochimaru's experiments."

"There aren't any other chuunin or jounin immediately available, and time is crucial. Gather as many genin as you think you will need and leave as soon as possible. Be careful."

"What are our orders concerning Uchiha?" Shino inquired. "If he resists."

"As I said, bring him back alive and intact. But if that isn't possible, Orochimaru cannot be allowed to get his hands on the Sharingan. Kill him, if that is what is required."

The team nodded and left the office. "Who do you want?" Shikamaru prompted.

"I'd like to have Haku-chan, but I don't know if she'd be allowed away from the hospital. Baa-chan has her working pretty much around the clock."

Shikamaru nodded. "Go anyway. See if you can't get her. If we really are going to face a bunch of Orochimaru's experiments, we'll need a medic. Shino and I will go track down Gai's team, and see if they're available. Meet at the North Gate as soon as possible."


"Come on Baa-chan, I really need her for this mission," Naruto pleaded.

"No, we're still understaffed. You know that," Tsunade explained, not looking away from the chart in her hand, marking something as she spoke.

"Dammit, this hospital has been understaffed for the past six years, at least, and you know it. Letting Haku-chan come on this mission isn't going to change anything. And if you're that worried, request someone come over from the civilian hospital."

"Why do you want her along? You've been doing missions as a chuunin just fine until now. The only time you even had to see medical after a mission was the one the other day when you ran across a demon."

"Because we're going to be going up against some of the Snake Bastard's freaks on this one, and there's no telling what they hell they can do!" Naruto snapped angrily. "You know that having a medic as talented as Haku-chan is a good idea. Me and my team are less likely to come back dead, and if there's anything to learn from their bodies, she'd be able to tell."

"You didn't say you'd be tracking some of Orochimaru's people." Tsunade made another mark on the clipboard and set it down. "Fine. Take her, just make sure she gets back to me in one piece. And make sure you get back in one piece. That damn necklace has taken enough people from me during my life.


"That's why we need you."

"Yosh! I swear we will bring back Uchiha-san, or I will do one thousand one-handed push-ups! And if I cannot do that, I will run five hundred laps around Konoha!"

"Lee!" Neji barked. "We don't have the time."

"And where is Tenten-san?" Shino asked as they leapt off towards the North Gate.

"Her Flames of Youth burned far too brightly on her last mission, and she will be unable to join us for several days yet."

Shino didn't say anything as he looked at Neji, wanting a translation.

"Severe chakra exhaustion."



Naruto and Haku landed just outside the gates, looking expectantly at Shikamaru, the de facto leader of the group. "We'll head out in standard formation. Neji, stay in the rear, your Byakugan will be able to warn us of anyone trying to trap us from behind. Naruto, take the front. Your enhanced senses and ability to soak up damage will be better there. Lee, you stay right behind him. Haku, stay towards the center, we can't have our medic getting hit before the fight even starts. Shino and Shikamaru will be on either side of you. Any questions? No? Good. Let's go."


"Alright, this is far enough. We're past any regular Konoha patrols," Sakon said, stopping the group.

"What is it?" Sasuke asked irritably.

"Before we take you any further, there is one last order from Orochimaru-sama."

"And I'm asking you what it is," Sasuke snapped.

"You have to advance your curse seal to its final stage. Otherwise, you are useless to Orochimaru-sama as a servant."

"I didn't come along to be a servant; I came because you promised me the power I need to kill my brother."

"This will give you power," Sakon explained, holding up a small bottle. "This drug will force your curse seal to the next level, granting you enough power to be a match to any one of us."

"All I have to do is take that drug?" Sasuke asked, skeptical.

"It's not that simple. Your body is far from accustomed to the strength of the curse seal. Right now, you are still crippled in pain after using only the first stage. Without our help, you wouldn't be able to last more than a minute before your body gave out and you died."

"Then what do you expect me to do?"

"You'll stop asking questions, and take the damn drug, dumbass," Tayuya snapped.

"Our barrier ninjutsu are unlike anything you've heard of. With our help, your body will be able to acclimatize itself to the second stage without destroying itself. Instead of dying, you'll only be put in a light coma."

Sasuke scowled. "Fine." He tipped the bottle back and downed the contents. He doubted it was doing anything for the first moment, before the pain hit and he collapsed.

Jiroubou grabbed Sasuke and stuffed him in the barrel as Sakon and Ukon split apart to control two points of the jutsu.

The four moved their hands through the required seals in perfect unison, creating a heavy mist that hung in the air before spiraling down to cap the barrel, sealing the chakra barrier with six blood stained papers.

"Okay…first step's done."


"Stop!" The group ground to a halt at Neji's shout. "There's explosive tags right there. If we go any further we'll set them off."

"Asuma explained these to me when he was talking about high level traps I might encounter," Shikamaru said slowly, studying the area. "The tags are linked together, so if we pass through them, they'll all explode. Neji, are there any more?"

"Yes, and each set seems connected in a grid pattern. There's no way to sneak through the cracks."

"How far do they go?"

"At least as far as the range of my Byakugan. I can't say more than that."

"We don't have time to go around, but there's no way to get through it," Naruto muttered. "Hey everybody, get back."

They grumbled, but everyone hopped out of range of the tags. Naruto created a single clone and sent it on a suicide run. Shikamaru started to stop him, but it was too late, the clone was past the detonation trigger.


"Naruto, you idiot, what'd you do that for? You just told them right where we are!" Neji demanded.

"The quickest way through a trap is to set it off. And once you know it's there, the trap's not a danger to you anymore. Besides, if they're close enough to hear that explosion, they're close enough that we can catch up to them easily, or they thought we just got caught and they don't have to worry about pursuers anymore. And if they aren't close enough to hear them go off, we don't have any time to waste working on getting around those things. So let's stop wasting time and get going."


"We need to get going," Jiroubou rumbled.

"What are you talking about? Those leaf licking morons just blew themselves up," Tayuya snorted. "Or they're back there worrying over the legs their buddies are now missing."

"No, he's right," Sakon said. "The detection jutsu Orochimaru-sama taught me is responding to six people heading for us."

"Fine, grab the barrel and let's get out of here."

An hour and a half later, Sakon spoke up again. "They're still gaining. They're almost on top of us."

"We're only an hour or so from the border. If we can make it there, we should be able to get one of the patrols to help distract them."

"Fuck that. Jiroubou, stay here and hold them off. Your fat ass is just slowing us down anyway."

"Tayuya, a lady shouldn't speak like that."

"Screw you! Give Sakon the barrel and go kill those Konoha bastards. Don't toy with them either, just go level two and get rid of them."

"Alright, Tayuya."


"One of the chakra signals we have been tracking has stopped," Shino announced. His brow twitched. "Now it seems to be…altering itself."

"Like he's doing a jutsu?" Neji questioned.

"No. It's different. The chakra itself is twisting. It feels…unnatural. My allies are unsettled by it."

Neji suppressed a gasp as the figure entered his Byakugan's field of vision. It had thick orange skin, with unnatural bumps and ridges covering his face and arms. But while the strange appearance was bizarre enough, but that wasn't what drew his attention. The chakra the figure was putting out didn't glow as normal. It was just the opposite. He stood out as a dark miasma against an otherwise crystal clear world. The unnatural chakra even seemed to eat away at the surrounding chakra, corrupting the world just by standing there.

"Naruto, go in first. Everyone else, stay behind the tree line," Shikamaru ordered quietly.

Naruto leapt towards the figure in the clearing, idly creating a horde of twenty clones to help him, all descending on the Sound shinobi bellowing at the top of their lungs.

The moment he broke the tree line, Jiroubou ripped an enormous boulder from the ground, sending it rolling at the surprised group.

"Scatter!" Shikamaru shouted, still hidden by the trees.

The group's formation was completely broken by the boulder as it carved a fifty-foot path of destruction across the once serene forest. "So strong…" Lee murmured in awe.

Half the Naruto clones had been destroyed by the attack, having been too close to dodge, but the rest were currently bombarding Jiroubou with quick attacks, jumping back before they could be destroyed. Unfortunately, they didn't seem to be having much effect.

"What the hell?" Naruto swore as he jumped back out of range of the transformed ninja's punches. His knuckles were starting to bruise from hitting the powerful ninja.

"Haha! My curse seal makes me far more powerful than I would be normally, and makes my skin as tough as stone! You don't stand a chance. Even if you were able to land a hit capable of hurting me, I'd destroy you the second you got so close."

"Shikamaru." Everyone turned to look as the voice cut across the battlefield, and they were surprised to find that it had been Haku who had spoken. "Take the others. I will deal with this unfortunate experiment."

"No, we'll be able to defeat him faster together."

Haku nodded demurely. "That may be true, but if you don't continue after Sasuke, he may cross the border, and you know that as soon as that happens, he is effectively out of our hands, and into Orochimaru's."

"I don't want to leave us short our medic."

"I understand your concerns, but do not worry." She smiled gently. "This will not take long. And don't worry about me being hurt. There is a reason Tsunade-shishou took me as a student."

"Fine. Everybody, we're going after Sasuke!"

Jiroubou moved to keep the group from moving on, but Haku appeared in front of him in a blur of speed. "I'm afraid I can't allow you to stop them. We are on a very important mission. I have no desire to kill you, but I will if you force me."

The monstrous ninja growled. "Get out of the way. I don't want to hurt a lady like you, but I'm not going to let Orochimaru-sama down." He gave Haku a few heartbeats to move before lashing out with a palm strike that shattered a tree.

Haku flicked out a handful of senbon that struck Jiroubou's flesh and bounced off. "Didn't you hear me? You'll never hurt me with my curse seal making my skin as tough as stone. Just run away."

"No." Haku blurred again and dashed forward, sinking her small fist into Jiroubou's gut, sending him flying into the trunk of a tree on the other side of the clearing. "While my style focuses on my speed to overwhelm my opponents, I am far from weak. I have been trained by Tsunade of the Sannin, and I know her secret of unparalleled strength. Your skin, while strong enough to defend against most opponents, is nothing before me. Accept your defeat gracefully."

Jiroubou shoved the tree trunk off his chest. Tossing it with one hand, it passed through the space Haku had occupied moments before. He formed a short sequence of hand seals and punched the ground, a wave of earth racing towards the ice-user.

Haku looked at her opponent as she passed a green glowing hand over her left arm. "I'm somewhat impressed," she admitted. "That attack was far faster than I expected. You even hit my arm."

"I'm going to do more than that," he growled as he started another technique. Haku was still twenty feet away when sharp, short spikes erupted from the ground, covering the entire clearing.

Panting, Jiroubou scanned the area, not spotting his opponent anywhere. She should have been howling in pain, her feet skewered by his jutsu, but she wasn't anywhere he could see.

There was light prick and a tingle at the base of his neck. "That's an impressive jutsu, though you seem to have exhausted your chakra rather quickly. I suppose it's true that the curse seal is more harmful than helpful over the long term," his opponent whispered over his shoulder.

He tried to turn to face her, but instead contorted violently as his body refused his commands. He caught the sight of a melting slab of ice out of the corner of his eye as Haku moved herself in front of him.

"Don't struggle, you'll only hurt yourself. I used a jutsu unique to medic nins to scramble your nerve's signals. Any attempts to move will be interpreted incorrectly, though you've already experienced that somewhat. Only someone intimately familiar with their body would be able to counter it, like a medic ninja or advanced taijutsu specialist. Sadly, you appear to be neither."

Jiroubou tried to scowl as Haku's hand flashed down, and his world went dark.

Wiping her hand clean with a look of distaste, Haku made sure Jiroubou was dead before jumping off in the direction of the border.


"They're following us again," Sakon said. "It appears Jiroubou failed to stop them."

"Stupid bastard. Can't do anything right."

"No, there's one less in the group now."

"Better than nothing, I suppose. Are they going to catch up with us before we hit the border?"

"If they keep gaining on us like they are, they'll catch up with us just before the border."


"And neither one of us have enough wide area jutsu to deal with them all at once like Jiroubou did."

"Fat lot of good it did him, the dumbass."

"Better him than us."

"Just go faster, shithole," Tayuya snapped as she pulled ahead.


"We're almost to the border." Everyone understood what Shikamaru carefully didn't say.

"They are just ahead." Shino paused. "Another person is advancing quickly from the direction of Rice Field Country."

"Well then let's get them before they pass Sasuke off," Naruto shouted as he sprang forward with a burst of speed.

They converged on Tayuya and Sakon the same moment as a blurred figure fell from the canopy and knocked Naruto back against a tree, slicing open his chest. Blood arced away as he soared.

The grey-haired shinobi stood up from his crouch and face the Sound shinobi, ignoring the Konoha nin completely. "You have failed. Give me the barrel."

"K-Kimimaro, what are you doing here?" Tayuya stuttered, fear coloring her voice. "You're going to kill yourself."

He looked at her dismissively. "My body is dead. I survive only by my will. And my will is to serve Orochimaru-sama once more before I fall. Give me Orochimaru-sama's new body."

"Hey bastard!" Naruto shouted, levering himself off the tree trunk, the chest wound already closing. "You're not getting Sasuke! Not if I have anything to say about it. He's coming back with us."

The look Kimimaro gave the Konoha nin clearly told them what he thought of them. "Tayuya, Sakon. If you have any hope to redeem yourselves in Orochimaru-sama's eyes, kill these pieces of trash. Without sparing any of them another glance, Kimimaro stole the barrel from Sakon's arms and took off at incredible speed.

"Get them! We can't let Orochimaru get Sasuke!" Lee nodded and jumped at Sakon, dodging under the incredibly fast blows sent at his head to thrust his fist into Sakon's ribs.

A third hand melted out from Sakon's torso and caught the punch. A foot shot out of his thigh and barely missed when Lee shifted his feet. "How are you doing that?"

Sakon ignored the question as he forced Lee back, punches coming faster than anyone could track easily. They broke apart as a kunai soared between them.

Tayuya burst through the space between them, her jagged curse seal already marking half her face. Neji was retreating from her attacks, parrying her blows with deft movements. He tried shutting down her tenketsu, but wasn't able to get in close enough to hit any of the major points, and she was only feeling a slight discomfort in her hands as a result.

Forcing her curse seal to enhance her strength even further, Tayuya broke Neji's guard and kicked both her feet against his chest, sending him flying back against the trunk of a tree.


"Dumbass. Take this," Tayuya sneered. She pulled her flute from a hidden pocket and played a few short notes. Neji's world erupted in pain as images assaulted his mind. "Like that? Son of a–"

Tayuya's gloating was cut off as Neji lashed out with a Jyuuken strike that would have shredded every muscle in her throat, had she not been able to dodge. "What the hell?"

"You've obviously never faced a Hyuuga," Neji stated, the veins around his eyes bulging grotesquely. "My bloodline allows me to see through your genjutsu, and once I can see through it, it is child's play to break it."

"Bastard," Tayuya snarled as she threw a trio of shuriken at Neji.

"Shit! Watch out!" Naruto warned as he bobbled his tagged kunai. Instead of exploding between Sakon and Tayuya, the tag went off early, blowing Shikamaru and Shino off the cliff face, sending them down into the ravine along with Sakon and Tayuya.

Naruto gazed down into the ravine, not even able to see halfway down. He felt a hand grasp his shoulder and flinched away from the touch. Neji dropped his hand but looked Naruto square in the eye. "We need to continue the mission. If they survived the fall, your teammates have nothing to fear from their opponents."

Naruto shook himself. "Right, we're going after Sasuke. They'll be fine. We're all going to be fine." He looked down at the ravine. "But we're helping them as soon as we can."


Shino grunted as he bounced to a stop on the ravine floor. The fall wasn't as far as he thought it would be at the top, but that just meant it wasn't immediately fatal. He could feel at least one broken rib, though thankfully none of his organs had been punctured. He knew that if he hadn't buffered his fall with chakra he would have been far worse off.

"Son of a bitch…"

Shino froze as he heard the foul-mouthed kunoichi curse not far from his position. At a barely thought mental command, kikai bugs marched out of his sleeves, and began spreading themselves around the immediate area.

Shino knew the second he was detected. The Oto-nin went from making muted grumbles to absolutely silent in an instant. A moment later, a haunting melody filled his ears.


Shikamaru pressed against the cliff wall as he felt around his equipment pouch for a soldier pill. One left. He popped it in his mouth and tensed as the chakra filled his veins.


A dozen kunai ripped through the bush Shikamaru had been using for cover, and he barely moved in time to avoid being cut to ribbons. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the grey haired shinobi smirking at him.

"So, you're not quite the trash I thought you were. It doesn't matter, I'll kill you just the same."

Shikamaru gritted his teeth as his mind raced, seeing the paths the fight might follow. He dodged backward, on the defensive already.

After several seconds of frantic taijutsu exchange, Shikamaru knew that unless he finished the fight quickly, he had no way to win.


"The target is just ahead. He appears to have stopped for some reason," Neji reported.

"I'll go in first to distract him. If you see an opening, take it. If you can get Sasuke out of there, do it. I'll keep him busy."

Neji and Lee nodded and fell back as Naruto broke the tree line, a hundred duplicates exploding into existence as he dropped to the ground.

"Give me Sasuke, and I'll let you live," Naruto said, his voice coming from twenty bodies at once.

"No. He is to be the next vessel of Orochimaru-sama. If you try to interfere with my mission, I will kill you."

"Fine. Just remember that I gave you a chance to walk away."

"Very well." A burst of smoke came from behind Kimimaro as a clone attacked him.

Clones raced in from all directions, half of them holding kunai.


Shino burst from the bushes; smacking aside the awkward blow the kunoichi sent his way before landed two hits on her shoulders. Despite having her hands occupied, she was still able to knock him back before he could land any real damage.

"Asshole," she growled before putting the flute to her lips and wavering into nothingness.

Shino's world started to melt, but he furrowed his eyebrows and quickly suppressed his chakra. His sensei may not have been as strong as some of his friend's teachers, but Kurenai-sensei had nearly tortured her students until they could all throw off all but the most potent genjutsu. That Shino was struggling against her illusions spoke a great deal about the Sound girl's technique.

There was a moment of perfect silence before the distinct explosion of summoning smoke told Shino where his opponent was. Before he could try to mount an attack, the lone tree amongst the tall bushes shattered, splinters peppering his face and bouncing off his jacket. Thankful that his glasses saved his eyes, Shino stared at the monstrous creature that demolished the tree seconds earlier.

It was easily twice his size, if not larger, carrying a heavy studded club fit for its huge frame. Lank gray hair completely covered the being's face and head, but Shino had the unnerving feeling that the face underneath was anything but human, even if its body had the shape of a man.

Shino didn't know where the girl had obtained this summon, but he was fairly sure he would be better off not knowing.

Staccato notes split the air and the demon moved, moved far faster than something that big should be able to move. Shino tried to dodge, but the club hit his ankle, crushing the bones instantly.

Shino howled in pain, but forced himself out of the way of the second strike. The brush barely concealed his retreat, but gave him enough time to fire a single jutsu.

The demon stopped, motionless. Shino smirked, his deafness genjutsu worked, but he knew it wouldn't last.

Shino forced himself to move, choking back groans of pain, landing to the right of the demon, hands already blurring. Half a dozen explosive slips of paper stuck to the demon's side, burning slowly. The demon shook itself and Shino knew the girl had broken his genjutsu. Or maybe the demon had freed itself. He didn't know how autonomous this summon was. The staccato notes started again, and the demon attacked, swinging the club through Shino.

The illusionary clone wavered and disappeared in a puff of smoke, and the real Shino ran faster. His hands formed the release seal without thought, and his explosive tags ripped through the brush, a thirty-foot ball of flame and concussive force that sent the demon back to wherever it lived.

The kunoichi appeared in front of him, black marks that weren't there a moment before covering half her face. "Die," she spat, and Shino froze as a sickly sweet melody came from her flute.

Then the redhead collapsed, her throat slit from behind. Shino stood behind her, and the clone in front of her dissolved into a black mass of insects that quickly covered their host.

It was the last thing Tayuya saw before she bled to death.


Kimimaro spun on the ball of his foot, his bone sword cutting through the clones surrounding him easily.

"You cannot win this fight. Surrender now, and I will make your death painless."

Naruto readied himself for another charge, but an unnatural hissing distracted him. Black, evil looking smoke was erupting from the top of the barrel Kimimaro was protecting. A burst of chakra destroyed most of the clones remaining, and Sasuke was free from his temporary prison.

"It is done," Kimimaro murmured, and stabbed the clone that jumped for the barrel. "Orochimaru-sama's new body is ready."

"Sasuke! I'm taking you back to Konoha, like it or not," Naruto said.

"I don't think so," Sasuke grunted. He mercilessly stabbed the Naruto that dove for him with a kunai, and then looked at the real Naruto with a gaze that said he thought nothing of the blonde. "I'm strong, stronger than Konoha could ever have made me, and Orochimaru has promised me more. Stay out of my way if you want to stay alive."

Naruto snarled and jumped for Sasuke, only to earn a slash across the chest from Kimimaro. "I will not let you steal Orochimaru-sama's new body away from him." The bone sword plunged forward for a lethal strike, but a green blur rocketed into Kimimaro's side, knocking him away. Lee was on the bone user in a second, kicks and punches slamming against Kimimaro's torso.

"Go after Sasuke," Neji said, standing beside Naruto. "Your style won't be able to beat him, he's changed his skeleton to create a full layer of armor under his skin. You'll never break it, but the perfection of Jyuuken will pierce his defense. I've watched him, and with Lee, I can beat him."

Naruto thought it over briefly, and nodded. "Just be careful. This guy still hasn't shown everything he can do, and he's probably going to get serious once I run off."

"Just finish the mission, we will keep him from interfering."

"Don't die," Naruto ordered, and then was gone, hot on Sasuke's trail.


Shikamaru grunted as another powerful kick sent him skidding across the rocky ground next to the river. He needed twenty seconds to pull off his plan, but there wasn't any cover and his opponent was far too fast for him to get away.

"You stupid piece of trash, this is just getting boring at this point. Look at yourself, you can barely pull yourself up," Sakon mocked. "I haven't even needed to activate my seal. I was hoping for something more fun."

Shikamaru forced himself onto his feet and took a deep breath.

Then he jumped in the water, sinking to the bottom.

"Already trying to run away," Sakon grumbled.

"Let's keep him from drowning, brother," Ukon said from behind him. "If we bring him back alive, Orochimaru-sama might not torture us."

Sakon nodded his agreement and dove into the water. His detection jutsu wasn't designed for underwater use, but it was manageable, and Sakon quickly picked out Shikamaru's position. With a burst of chakra-enhanced speed, Sakon was on top of the Nara, punching him in the temple and swiftly rising to the surface. He dumped his unconscious opponent on the bank and sucked in clean air.

Then every muscle in his body locked up, and Sakon saw a thin shadow running off to behind a jagged rock.

"You took the bait," Shikamaru said as he stepped into view. Sakon's eyes darted over and saw the Nara in front of him crumble to dirt. "Earth clones aren't the smartest clones, but they can take a fair bit of damage and they follow orders well."

Another clone stepped out from behind a rock and started towards Sakon. The seal burned on his forehead as black marks started covering his face. But before the curse seal was able to take hold and boost his chakra, Sakon's arm jerked around and the kunai sank into his shoulder.

"You seem to have some way of healing yourself, or replacing damaged tissue, probably due to your being two people in one body," Shikamaru mused. "And I don't know how long you can hold your breath, so I'll have to take the troublesome route." Sakon nodded in unison with Shikamaru, and the earth clone dashed forward, putting a small slip of paper on both Sakon and Ukon's foreheads. "Troublesome. Kai."

The explosion destroyed the clone, but Shikamaru didn't release his hold on the jutsu until after the smoke cleared and the headless corpse of the brothers was in view. Shikamaru shook his head and grumbled as he slathered a generic salve over his recent bruises. That chore done, he spared one last look at the blood stained river before jumping off where he believed Shino to be.


Naruto funneled more chakra to his legs as he raced after Sasuke. He hadn't been kidding when he said the barrel made him stronger; Naruto had released his gravity seal long ago and was still only keeping pace with the Uchiha at this point.

"Sasuke!" Naruto shouted in an attempt to stop the Uchiha, but to no avail. Sasuke never even faltered in his tree hopping. They weren't that far away from each other, within visual range, but Sasuke was still farther than Naruto's furthest reaching jutsu.

The forest opened up minutes later, a beautiful waterfall framed by the enormous statues of the Shodai Hokage and Uchiha Madara. It was where the two powerhouses of the past had fought to shape the future of Konoha. It was the Valley of the End.

"Naruto!" Sasuke called from atop Uchiha Madara's head. "I've wanted to fight you for a long time, and where better than the site of Konoha's most legendary battle."

"What the hell, Sasuke? You wanted to fight me, so you left Konoha?" Naruto stopped halfway up the Shodai's statue, perched on one of the fingertips.

"No, I left Konoha because I had learned everything I could there, and they were just holding me back. Orochimaru has promised me power and I will use it to kill my brother."

"What's wrong with you? How in the world was Konoha holding you back?"

"They dumped me on a worthless team led by an idiot chuunin. We weren't even given any missions outside the village. That's no place for an Uchiha."

"Would you listen to yourself? You think you're entitled to whatever you want. You don't even realize how much you don't know."

"What are you talking about?" Sasuke snapped.

"To start with, you never learned the importance of a good distraction."

Before Sasuke could respond, his muscles seized and his eyes rolled to the back of his head. The clone on the Shodai's finger dispelled and Naruto grabbed the unconscious Sasuke. The seal Naruto used was fairly standard and specifically used for capturing people alive. All it required was contact with the target's skin and it would use the target's chakra to keep them unconscious.

Naruto hefted Sasuke onto his shoulder. "We were teammates, and he never even learned that if I was talking during a fight, I was doing something else. And he called me stupid."

Naruto hopped down the statue and started across the river. Suddenly, there was a chakra signature behind him.

"Hello, Uzumaki Naruto."


Neji dashed in, the tips of his fingers glowing with restrained chakra, straining to be released. Most Hyuuga his age would hemorrhage chakra if they tried the advanced technique, but it spoke of Neji's genius that he was able to use it flawlessly. Neji flowed effortlessly into sync with Lee, attacking Kimimaro in tandem.

Lee was stronger than any other genin his age, but even that wasn't enough to break the altered skeleton of their enemy. Lee's powerful blows rebounded off the boy's skin, causing only the most superficial of damage. Even so, Lee was fast enough to keep Kimimaro's attention focused on him, blocking most of the attacks the spandex clad ninja sent his way.

Neji danced within Lee's strikes, brushing his fingertips across skin and injecting needle thin spikes of chakra into delicate tenketsu. His eyes saw chakra flow sputter and waver as Neji's attacks blocked the most important system in a ninja's body.

Neji had the most powerful incarnation of his bloodline in over a century, and he could see that his attacks were perfect. But there's a limit to the number of tenketsu that could be closed before a person stopped moving, and Kimimaro had passed that limit more than a dozen strikes ago.

"Confused, worthless trash? My body is dead; it is only by my will that I survive. My will to serve Orochimaru-sama one last time before the Shinigami takes my soul. That is why your attacks do not work, Hyuuga. Your will is nothing compared to mine. I will kill you, and then deliver Orochimaru's newest vessel to him."

Neji didn't reply, he merely shifted his focus to a different point inside Kimimaro. "Lee," he said suddenly, the normal confidence in his voice shaken, "his organs, nearly all of them have failed. He should be dead, but he's fighting as if it's nothing."

"His flames of youth burn brightly indeed," Lee said, surprisingly serious. "It will be a shame to see such a strong willed person extinguished prematurely. But if that is what the mission calls for, that is what we will do. And if we do not, we will do five hundred one armed push-ups!"

"If we do not," Neji said immediately, "we will be dead."

"I have no more time to waste on you trash," Kimimaro stated, shifting his grip on his bone sword. The black seal on his chest expanded to a crawling pattern a foot across, and Neji could see the corrupt chakra it granted. He had no wish to see the seal fully active.

Neji saw Kimimaro move, but couldn't do anything about it before he was on a complete defensive, barely avoiding the sword strikes, taking nicks and cuts nearly constantly.

"Lee!" Neji gasped desperately. "The Gates!"

Lee nodded. His teammate needed him, and was in mortal danger. This more than qualified a use of the forbidden technique.

"Kaimon, Kai!"

A blast of intense chakra burst from Lee, and his muscles bulged, the natural limits shattered.

"Kyuumon, Kai!"

The wave of chakra made Kimimaro stop in his assault on Neji, as the cuts and wounds Lee had accumulated vanished.

"Seimon, Kai!"

A visible sphere of chakra exploded from Lee as his blood flow increased many times over, turning his skin red.

"Konoha Senpuu!" Lee vanished from sight, reappearing with a thunderous kick that sent Kimimaro flying, disappearing just as quickly.

Lee hit Kimimaro again before he even hit the ground, rocketing the bone user into the sky.

"Ura Renge!"

Even Neji's advanced vision couldn't follow Lee as he pummeled Kimimaro mercilessly, striking harder with every blow until Lee began to slow down. Lee appeared directly above Kimimaro, driving a palm strike into his sternum, sending him crashing to the ground, a crater forming on impact.

Lee fell to the ground gracefully, the intense chakra receding and Lee's skin returned to its normal shade. He hit on his hands and knees, and coughed twice, flecks of blood mixed in. A moment later he looked up, flashing a proud grin at Neji, ecstatic.

"An impressive technique, to be sure, but my will is stronger than yours, Leaf ninja." Kimimaro, bruised and broken, rose from the crater, still willing to fight.

"Your will is strong, but you forget one thing."


"You are within the field of my divination. Hakke Rokujuuyon Sho!"

"Two strikes!"

"Four strikes!"

"Eight strikes!"

"Sixteen strikes!"

"Thirty-two strikes!"

"Sixty-four strikes!"

Kimimaro flew back, his chakra completely sealed. But just as Uzumaki Naruto before him, he tried to push himself from the ground.

Many had forgotten, and most Hyuuga pretended not to remember, but Jyuuken was not always the precise style used today. The art of collapsing tenketsu came from a more primal attack, one that attacked organs directly. The Main House Hyuuga preferred their elegant version, but the Branch family stuck closer to the roots, teaching the older, less complex version first.

It was by these techniques, the ones that Neji's father explained to him before he died, that Kimimaro died, his brain liquefied and heart exploded.

Then Hyuuga Neji, scion of the Branch family, went to check on Rock Lee, his teammate.


A clone snatched the unconscious Sasuke and dashed towards the tree line, but a misshapen ninja clad in a black cloak destroyed the clone just after it hit the shore, leaving Sasuke to skid to a stop on the rocks.

"Uzumaki Naruto, you will come with us."

Naruto's eyes settled on a small ninja wearing the same cloak as the one who destroyed his clone, though this one didn't have the wide brimmed hat. He was unassuming, and other than two lines on his face, looked easily dismissed in a crowd.

Except for the eyes.


"Kirigakure no jutsu!" Naruto shouted, turning his eyes away before he had time to fall to a genjutsu. Jiraiya had told him exactly how dangerous this ninja was, and there was no hope fighting. Naruto had to run.

Naruto split into a hundred perfect copies, hoping to be lost in the sea of clones.

Itachi's expression didn't change as he moved through several hand seals, a maelstrom of wind filling the valley, clearing the near solid mist from the air and sending every Naruto slamming into the rock walls, leaving only the bruised original.

"Your efforts are futile. Come peacefully, and your end will be comfortable."

"Screw you! Kuchiyose no jutsu!" The four-story toad crouched in the shallows, partially submerged. "Gamaeki! I need some oil! Katon: Gamayu Endan!"

The building sized toad bulged and a stream of searing oil shot towards Itachi, ignited by Naruto's fire jutsu.

The flames died down, and Naruto cursed as he saw Itachi standing in the same spot, surrounded by a thick wall of water. The misshapen ninja appeared next to Itachi as the water collapsed.

"This is taking too long. He doesn't need to be in good condition, just alive."

"We can't risk the Kyuubi. It won't take much longer."

"Hurry up, or I'll step in. And this idiot doesn't deserve to see my art."

"We can't afford to attract attention. Just keep watch."

Naruto thought desperately, one idea passing as quickly as the next. "Gamaeki, more oil! Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!"

Clones filled the valley once more, but this time they didn't try to run.

"Katon: Karyuudan!"

"Suiton: Suiryuudan!"

"Katon: Gamayu Endan!"

A massive explosion rocked the valley, the fire superheating the water, and blistering steam remained.

"You may have defeated my foolish little brother, but you'll find I am not as weak," Itachi whispered into Naruto's ear.

Naruto jumped and stabbed a kunai towards Itachi, but the traitor broke Naruto's fingers and disarmed him easily.

Gamaeki hopped, trying to dislodge his unwanted rider, but Itachi glued himself to the toad as they found themselves atop the cliff. Naruto tried to tear away, but Itachi's grip was firm as he broke more of Naruto's bones.

A black form coalesced behind Itachi, sparks flashing as the standard ANBU blade locked with the stolen kunai in Itachi's hand.

"Uchiha Itachi, let my apprentice go."

Jiraiya stood off to the side, an attack on his lips. Itachi considered his options for a moment before forcing Naruto and the ANBU away from him.

"Sasori." The puppeteer was currently fending off three more ANBU. "We're leaving."

A compartment on Sasori's chest opened and a cluster of smoke bombs rolled out. The cloud masked the duo's retreat, and Jiraiya signaled for the ANBU not to pursue.

"What were you doing way out here?" Jiraiya demanded.

"The bastard ran away," Naruto explained, gesturing at Sasuke with his good hand. "What are you doing out here?" he asked shrewdly.

"A mission you're not cleared to know exists. Sarutobi-sensei sent you alone?"

"No, my team ended up getting split as the mission went on." Naruto's eyes widened. "Shit, we need to get back to Lee and Neji! I left them fighting this freaky strong ninja, we gotta go help them!"

"Fine, we're on our way back to Konoha. We can pick up your team on the way. Was there anybody else on the mission?"

"Shino and Shikamaru, and Haku-chan. Haku stayed behind to fight the first guy, and Shikamaru and Shino got blown into the ravine when we were fighting the other two."

"Dammit brat, learn to make a real report. What guys, what other two?"

"Orochimaru's guard, they were really strong, with curse seals like Sasuke had, but stronger, the first guy didn't even look human when we came across him."

Jiraiya motioned to the ANBU behind him. "You three, follow the river, see what you can find. Capture the guard alive if you can, bring the bodies back for study if you can't. You, stay with me, carry the Uchiha."

Gamaeki grumbled underneath their feet, and Jiraiya immediately responded to the inhuman language. "No, we shouldn't need you for anything else."

"You could give us a ride if you want to stick around," Naruto added.

Another groaning ribbit echoed across the clearing, and Naruto cheered. "Alright, Neji and Lee shouldn't be that far that way, Gamaeki."


Gamaeki thumped to a stop in the wide clearing Naruto pointed out, and the group jumped off the toad's back.

Lee was lying in the middle of the clearing; Haku crouched over him, her hands glowing with green healing chakra. Neji was sitting off to the side.

"Haku-chan, what happened to Lee?" Naruto asked as the medic looked up.

"His body has been strained by the use of the Gates. He was lucky though. He'll be off his feet for a few days, but there wasn't any permanent damage done. Some blood vessels burst, but none of his muscles snapped and the only broken bones are a few in his hands and feet."

"We'll go ahead and get this body back to Konoha," Jiraiya said. "Go pick up the one Haku fought. Then get back to Konoha as fast as you can. The ANBU I sent will make sure your other teammates get back, if they're still alive."

Naruto nodded, knowing from the tone of voice that Jiraiya wasn't speaking as the usual lech, but was instead the field commander who held authority just below the Hokage's.

Jiraiya leapt off, speeding away at a pace even Gamaeki couldn't match, leaving Naruto to make his own way back.



Gamaeki slowed to a halt before he crashed into the village walls. "Uzumaki Naruto and team returning from a priority mission for the Hokage."

"Okay, the Hokage needs to see you right away. And you need to dispel your summon, it's too large to enter the village without permission from the Hokage."

Naruto motioned to Gamaeki, and a plume of smoke filled the air after the rest of the team slid off his back. Neji picked up Lee, while Haku used her incredible chakra enhanced strength to easily carry both Sasuke and Jiroubou.

"Have you seen Nara Shikamaru or Aburame Shino come through here?" Naruto asked.

"No, why?" the guard answered.

Naruto shook his head. "Can't tell you."

"Very well, you can enter. Go directly to the Hokage Tower."


Sarutobi channeled chakra into a seal as Naruto and his team entered his office. "I see you completed your mission. Good job. Where is the rest of your team?"

Naruto told him. He started with the initial split, where Haku stayed behind, and went through the entire mission as he saw it, including the confrontation with Akatsuki. Sometime during the report, a pair of ninja took Sasuke and Jiroubou away, though Sarutobi never said what would happen to them.

"Thank you for completing this mission. Your village thanks you. You are all on medical leave for the next four days, resume normal duties after that. That is all."


Jiraiya tracked Naruto down as he was coming out of the hospital. Tsunade had just mended the bones in his hand, though Naruto would need another treatment in two days to make sure nothing was wrong.

"Hey brat. I need to speak with you."

They quickly made their way to a training ground, where Jiraiya set up a privacy seal, and Naruto made a squadron of clones to patrol around.

"We're not going to be in the village much longer. I'm going to be taking you on what will be listed as a training trip."

"What will it really be?" Naruto caught the implication right away.

"I will be training you, but after Akatsuki got so close after this past mission, we need to get you away from Konoha, and any spies they have here. Other than keeping you locked in the village all the time, there's no other way to keep you reasonably safe. And considering Akatsuki has already breeched the village once, even that option isn't optimistic."

"So we're just gonna run scared?"

"No, we're keeping what could be the most powerful weapon in the world away from a group of intensely powerful ninja, any one of which could defeat nearly any person in the village. And they work in teams. If I hadn't come across you, Itachi would have captured you, and there would be no way to know what happened. He wouldn't have left any clues, and there wouldn't have been any witnesses. You would be dead, and Akatsuki would have won. We're leaving after Tsunade-hime clears you. Let people know you're leaving on a training trip, and they shouldn't expect you for about three years," Jiraiya explained.

"Three years?" Naruto exploded.

"Yes. That should be enough time to get you to the point where you can shake off an Akatsuki agent. Maybe even defeat one, if you have a good team."

"Really?" Naruto asked hesitantly. "You can get me that strong?"

"Considering that you aren't really human at this point, coupled with your incredible growth rate, maybe. If you survive the training."

"Survive it?"

"Yeah. It won't be easy. I won't lie to you. But that's the way it goes. Look at Tsunade. You wouldn't know it to look at her, but Shizune nearly died several times under Tsunade. Haku will probably go through the same thing. Haku will probably be a little safer, considering she had a few years under her belt before Tsunade took her, but I guarantee she will collapse because of severe chakra exhaustion at least a dozen times before we return. It might even cripple her. But she knows the risks, Tsunade told them to her, and she's still training. I'm doing the same thing now. Here's your chance to back out.

"If you go with me, there's a good chance the training will kill you, or Akatsuki will track you down, torture you, and rip the demon lord out of your stomach. If you choose to stay, there's a one hundred percent chance that you will live as long as Konoha stands. But you'll be locked in a cell buried so far under the Hokage Monument you'd never see the light of day again. It's your choice."

Naruto didn't even think about it. "If I'm gonna be Hokage one day, I'm going to have to train, and I can't do that stuck under the Hokage Monument. I'm not going to run scared just because a bunch of psychos have an unnatural interest in my stomach."

Jiraiya smiled. It wasn't his usual lecherous grin, or the lazy smirk he got when he was drunk. It was an honest smile, one that Naruto hadn't seen before, one that he had the feeling most people hadn't ever seen before. It changed his whole face, and Naruto felt his face break into a matching grin.

"So brat, any questions?"

Naruto almost shook his head, but stopped himself. "What's going to happen to Sasuke now that I brought him back? Ibiki's told me what normally happens to traitors, but Sasuke's always been a special case."

Jiraiya hadn't been expected that question, and it showed on his face. Finally, he answered. "Honestly, he's going to die. We won't even have to execute him for betraying the village."

"What do you mean by that?"

"The curse seal. After Sasuke went under the process that activated the second level of the seal, he signed his own death warrant. Without exposure to Orochimaru's chakra and the master seal that controls all of Orochimaru's curse seals on a regular basis for the next six months or so, the seal will devour his life force trying to root itself, as well as systematically destroy his chakra coils. Even if he somehow survived that, he'd be a worthless husk, kept alive only by continuous chakra treatments and life support. He wouldn't even be worth keeping alive."

"So…that's it? We brought him back for nothing?"

"Of course not. His eyes will probably be transplanted, like with Kakashi. And given that it will be Tsunade performing the operation, and not a battlefield hack job, the recipient will likely be able to use it like it was originally intended, instead of having to go around with just one eye and a constant drain on his chakra. He'll also likely be milked for genetic material, at least as long as his chakra system supports that kind of thing. Then he'll be dissected for any other secrets his body holds, either to unlocking the Uchiha bloodline, or towards Orochimaru's curse seal.

"Don't feel bad for him. He made his decision, and it was the wrong one. Academy teachers tell you never to defect for a reason. Just the same for never being captured. It's not a pleasant end."

Naruto nodded grimly. "So I guess the same thing is going to happen to the guys Orochimaru sent to get Sasuke."

"Well, they're dead, so they'll skip straight to the dissection. While Konoha can't condone the forbidden experiments Orochimaru uses to enhance his ninja, we can use the results, and see if we can replicate them safely. As smart Orochimaru is, Tsunade truly has no peer when it comes to medical matters."

Naruto didn't know what to say to that, so he changed the subject. "So we're leaving as soon as I'm off of medical restriction?"

"In three or four days, yes. I need to requisition a few things before we leave, and it will give you a few days to get ready as well. But don't expect a whole lot of warning. When I say we leave, we leave then."


Naruto was nearly asleep on the couch when Haku walked through the door late that night. She wobbled on her feet, and leaned on the table as she passed. Naruto was alert the second the door opened, and grabbed her arm to steady her.

"Thank you," she whispered as Naruto guided her over to the couch.

Naruto rubbed her back and Haku sighed as she leaned into him. "The rest of the team made it back after you left. Shikamaru was pretty battered, but he'll be fine with a few days of rest. Not that resting will be a problem with him."

"What about Shino?"

Haku closed her eyes and images flashed through her mind. "He's alive, but he's going to have to go through several operations and seal procedures. His right ankle was nearly destroyed. We're not sure if he'll be able to resume ninja life again."

Naruto sucked air through his teeth, but didn't say anything. He wrapped an arm around Haku and pulled her tight to his body. He held her until her breathing stabilized and she fell asleep. Then Naruto picked her up and carried her to her room.

After tucking her in her bed, Naruto kissed her lightly and snuck out of the room.

"Good grief. I won't touch your penis and you're already going to other girls."

Naruto whirled around and found Temari smirking at him. "You know it's not like that. Haku and I have kinda been together for a while now. Besides, you said it yourself. We're a political match, nothing more."

Temari shook her head. "I'm just messing with you. I don't care. Just don't make it so obvious. Your enemies will use that against you."

"Thanks for the warning." Naruto shuffled his feet and changed the subject. "I'm leaving the village in the next few days. I'm going on a training trip with Ero-sennin."

"Running away from me already? How long?"

"Three years is what Ero-sennin said."

"Geez, that's a long time. Most trips aren't that long, from what I hear."

"Well, Ero-sennin is going to be training me to be the Hokage one day. Apparently there's a lot of stuff that I can't learn in the village."

"I guess so. He's the one who's trained a Hokage before, so he'd know what he's talking about. Good luck, I guess."

Naruto shifted uncomfortably. "Thanks."

"Well, good night."

"Good night."


"So you're leaving."

Naruto stopped training and looked over at Ibiki, who had just entered the training ground. "Yeah, Ero-sennin said it would be the safest thing."

"He's probably right."

"I'm supposed to be able to get a lot stronger."

"I might have a few things for you to do for me while you're out of the village."

"I can take care of them. No problem."

"Here." Ibiki flipped a scroll at Naruto's head. "Some of the people I want you to talk to won't necessarily want to talk to you. The jutsu in there should be enough to persuade them otherwise."

"Thanks Ibiki."

"Come at me."


"We won't be able to spar against each other for the next three years. Come at me."

"Just watch my hand. If Baa-chan catches me sparring with you, she'll crack my skull."

Naruto leapt towards Ibiki with a wide grin on his face.


Naruto sat next to the hospital bed. Shino was unconscious, under sedation.

"They're keeping him sedated until after his next operation."

Shikamaru leaned against the doorframe. "He shouldn't have had to fight alone like that," Shikamaru said bitterly. "I was in charge, I was the one who screwed the mission up."

"I was the one who used the explosion that knocked you guys off the ridge. If it weren't for me screwing up the throw, he wouldn't be in that bed right now. It wasn't your fault."

"No, Naruto. If I had come up with a better plan of attack, we would have been able to take them down long before we did. If I had ordered us to stay behind and help Haku-san fight, we would have had her help in that initial confrontation, and that should have turned the tide."

"And if Sasuke hadn't defected, we never would have gone on the mission. If Orochimaru hadn't sent out those genetic freaks, Shino never would have been in that fight. It's not your fault, Shika, so stop blaming yourself before I punch you in the face so hard you crap out your eyeballs."

There was a moment of stunned silence. Then Shikamaru shook himself off. "That's not physically possible," he retorted.

"Won't stop me from trying to prove you wrong," Naruto shot back immediately. "Besides, seals make pretty much anything possible. Like reconstructing shattered bone. Besides, the old hag said she'd take care of Shino herself, so he's going to be fine. And this isn't the first time we've gotten hurt on a mission. Why are you beating yourself up so hard this time?"

"Because Shino might not ever be a ninja again. Every time we've been hurt before, it's been something minor, or at least not life changing. But this could change his life forever. I don't want to have something that troublesome on my conscience."

"So do something about it," Naruto told him. "Get out of here, go train. It's not like I'm going to be here to pull your butt out of the fire all the time."

"What does that mean?"

"I'm out of here in the next few days. Training trip. Gonna be about three years."

Shikamaru grunted. "Troublesome bastard."

"You know it!" Naruto laughed. "I'm the most troublesome bastard around, and you're still my friend, so quit complaining, or I'll get Anko to stop by your training grounds."


"Want to go get some ramen?"

"You're paying. And Chouji's down in the lobby, we should be able to catch him."

"Aw man, my wallet's gonna be completely flat again!"

"Not my fault you guys get in an eating contest every time."



"I don't like it."

Naruto and Haku were lying on the bed in his room, snuggled against each other, clothed but wearing healthy blushes, though in the dark, they couldn't see them.

"I don't want to be away from the village for that long either. Don't want to be away from you either."

Haku smiled. "I know it's for the best, but…" she sighed. "I just don't like it."

Naruto kissed her gently. "I'll be fine. I can take care of myself, and Ero-sennin will be with me."

"That you're traveling with that man is supposed to reassure me?"

Naruto chuckled nervously. "I suppose not. I'll do my best to keep him in line though."

"Good luck with that." Haku snuggled closer and closed her eyes.

Naruto gulped. "You're, uh, you're not going back to your room tonight?"

"No," Haku answered without opening her eyes. "But nothing's going to happen, so don't get too fresh."

"Yes ma'am."

"Good night, Naruto-kun."

"Good night."


Naruto yawned as the morning light hit his eyes. He looked down and saw his hand on Haku's right breast, her hand covering his.

Naruto let out a perverted giggle.


Jiraiya had grabbed Naruto an hour after he had woke up, barely giving him time to get his things. They were stopped at the gates by the Hokage.

"You've made me proud, Naruto. You've done a lot for this village, and I personally thank you. You've saved my life and the lives of many of the villagers. While service is supposed to be its own reward, I feel your actions warrant more. These papers grant you permanent passage through the borders of Fire Country. My student could likely get your reasonable fakes, but they would fail eventually. Those will be good for the rest of your life, and while they may not seem like much, but their worth will become apparent as you grow older."

"Thanks, old man."

Sarutobi smiled fondly. "You should show some respect for your elders, you know. There are those who don't take it as well as I do."

"Sure, sure. That's the problem with people, they're too uptight. But don't worry, I'll straighten them out!"

"I'm confident you will, Naruto-kun. Now, I won't delay you any further. I'll see you when you get back."

The old Hokage leapt away, just as gracefully as he did when he was a quarter his age. Jiraiya and Naruto started down the road, walking sedately instead of tree hopping like most ninja would do.

"So Ero-sennin, where are we going first?"

"Brat, quit calling me that," Jiraiya said reflexively. "And don't worry about where we're going. You've got a new jutsu to learn."

"Really! What is it?"

"It's something your father created. It's called the Rasengan…"

Author's Note: It's done!!! Before you ask, there will be a sequel. No, do not expect it shortly. It will be a while. Please don't bug me about it. Thanks for reading it, and I hope you'll come back for the sequel.