The Groundhog Exam
Chapter Sixty-Nine

by Lionheart

I I I

Kurenai stepped out of the forest into a clearing on the mountains, staring up at a sad and lonely mansion, towards the site of her greatest mistake.

Naruto stepped out of the forest behind her, and gave her a solemn nod.

The rest of Clan Kitsune also followed them out of the woods, girls carrying baskets containing blankets and picnic lunches for the celebration after they had succeeded in their mission - to finally undo one of the greatest schemes ever launched by the power-mad Uchiha clan.

And Kurenai personally wanted to make good her own greatest disgrace, a wrong she had been deceived into doing on her original student.

Yakumo Kurama.

Yakumo was a sweet girl and the heir of the Kurama clan, the last of their main family, but due to physical problems had never been enrolled in the ninja academy. Her natural illusion abilities, however, were incredible, the best her family had seen in generations.

In some ways she was the antithesis of Rock Lee. But where he was (or had been, before they'd cured him) unable to use advanced chakra techniques, so compensated by concentrating solely on his physical powers, this girl had been frail and weak, with no constitution, so had hoped to become a ninja using her amazing illusion abilities.

But no one had known all her physical problems had been caused by the Uchiha's poisons, they had assumed she was merely frail.

Not that long ago, the Kurama were among the greatest advanced bloodline users of Konoha, just like the Uchiha had been. They used to be justly famous for their powers, the best Konoha had at illusions, and their influence had spread throughout the village in another example of how that country loved its bloodlines. But in the past couple of generations their clan had begun shrinking and their powers waning. Then the clan head and his wife were assassinated in a bloody fire, and afterwards the family fell apart so no one even saw them around town anymore.

Unsurprisingly, their reasons for shrinking had been the same as the Senju clan - the Uchiha had been quietly killing them off in secret, hoping by this strategy to become the last and only remaining Great Clan. Then they would have Konoha all to themselves and rule it by default.

The Uchiha's private records as discovered in their library had been very clear on this. For years they had been poisoning their rival clans, damaging their bloodlines, killing them off on missions where possible, all to reduce the power of their enemies by stopping rival clans from developing the skills of higher level ninja. As there grew to be fewer and fewer chunin and jonin among them, the Uchiha's rivals naturally grew weaker, and the Uchiha comparatively stronger.

There was a reason the Hyuga kept so many guards around their compound, not only for protecting themselves, but their food and water supplies as well. But for their own purposes, the Hyuga did not make this secret war known to the other great clans, so as they declined, the Hyuga rose, perhaps hoping in the end to reveal the Uchiha's treachery and have them destroyed after their plan had mostly succeeded, leaving only the Hyuga as a great clan.

The Uchiha probably knew this was the Hyuga's intention, but were glad to let that confrontation wait until they were the last two great clans remaining.

Then Yakumo was born with such unbelievably large power that the plans of the Uchiha to destroy the Kurama could have been put back a generation or more. Naturally immune to the bloodline destroying poisons, the Uchiha had been forced to resort to other methods to destroy the girl.

Too high profile to kill, the Uchiha weakened her body with different poisons, destroying her constitution and making her frail. But even this did not reduce the girl's desire to become a successful ninja. So on the night they killed her parents, the Uchiha secretly sealed a minor demon into Yakumo, blaming it on her bloodline and hoping it could gradually take control of the girl's mind, body and power until it could turn her gift against the village and the Uchiha could use the destruction she caused as an excuse to openly exterminate the Kurama clan for good, this time with official sanction.

The plan worked better than expected. Yakumo's own clan blamed her for the deaths of her parents. She wanted to become a ninja more than anything, but her own clan feared her abilities as too powerful to control, mistaking the demon for the girl's own subconscious mind, and asked for the Hokage's permission to put her to death.

Attempting to defer that harsh fate, the eager girl had been made Kurenai's apprentice months before Team 8 graduated. But then after training seemed unable to improve the girl's control over her abilities, the Third Hokage had ordered her bloodline sealed.

Since that time Yakumo had been living alone under guard in the otherwise abandoned Kurama manor in the mountains above Konoha, learning to paint and quietly wasting away in darkness.

Nine months of torment the sweet girl had done nothing to deserve.

Senior ninja often had a major disgrace or two concealed somewhere in their past, and Kurenai's was that she could not discern the poisoning and forced possession for what they were, being led by the Kurama clan's assumptions to assume they were the girl's own failings instead of injuries inflicted on the child by jealous Uchiha, and participated in destroying Yakumo's dream.

But that mistake would be undone tonight.

Tsunade cracked her knuckles. They had the antidotes for the poisons the Uchiha had used. They'd very kindly left a list of all they'd employed. From that point collecting the right antidotes was trivial. Rebuilding her body to where it ought to have been without that damage would still be a challenge. But they could do it, although they'd have to keep doing it because of the resets.

Still, that was a price they were more than willing to pay to reclaim Kurenai's honor. Spiking one more plan of the Uchiha's was just a bonus.

Clan Kitsune approached the manor house in one body, firm expressions all around, and with Kurenai and Tsunade taking the lead. When the guards over the last main family Kurama came out to meet them, Kurenai showed them a stern expression, folding her arms across her chest, declaring, "New evidence has come to light concerning Yakumo Kurama, and her difficulties may not have anything to do with her bloodline at all. Tsunade of the sannin is here to assess her medical condition and provide treatment."

Stunned, the guards (two of which were medics) did nothing but stand aside.

Naruto darted inside and raced ahead to find the main lounge of the manor up on the second floor, creating dozens of clones to pull back all of the curtains in the darkened room, flooding the chamber with light to accompany his bright and cheery smile as he announced to the girl, "Yakumo! Today you get to become a ninja!"

Stunned, and wincing at the light not seen for months, it was all the brown haired beauty could do to gape in astonishment at the unfamiliar boy. Soon thereafter the chamber was flooded with kunoichi, a hospital bed produced, and to the bloodline heir's complete disbelief and astonishment, the seal placed on her bloodline abilities was the first thing they removed!

Well, aside from all of her clothes, of course. They were doctors, and this was a checkup, preparatory to some intensive reconstructive work.

Kurenai was already hugging her former protege, and explained, "I'm so sorry Yakumo! The Hokage ordered your bloodline sealed because of suspicions your own clan had that it was uncontrollable and dangerous to Konoha; but we only just uncovered evidence that it was never your fault at all! The Uchiha clan records have just been recovered, and they admit to secret operations against all other bloodline carrying clans in Konoha. Your family were poisoned to reduce their gifts, and when those poisons didn't work on you they used other ones to destroy your body's health, and sealed a minor demon into you to make it seem like your gift was uncontrollable. I'm so sorry for not having noticed the truth way back when. I promise to make it up to you."

Yakumo's response was utterly predictable. The sweet, shy and formerly determined girl who had been hurting and miserable for months broke down into crying at once, hugging Kurenai back tightly.

Naruto grinned and shot his red-eyed wife a thumbs up.

Predictably, the demon inside the girl chose this moment to try and assert control and ruin everything, only to find itself face-to-ugly-face with the grinning maw of the Kyubi no Kitsune.

One massive struggle later and half of the manor house was wrecked (and the guards massively freaked out), but the minor demon was dead, while Yakumo was fine. The Kyubi had only recovered two, nearly three tails worth of power from her near death experience and coma of so long ago, and each tail seemed to be taking longer to recover than the last one. Still, what she had available had been totally sufficient for defeating one minor demon.

"We're going to have to find an easier way of exorcising that thing," Shizune mentioned conversationally as she righted a medical table that had been knocked over.

"The outcome of this one was never in doubt," Yugao brushed soot off her sleeves. "One minor demon versus the Kyubi? C'mon!"

"Still, it was a bit messy," Hinata allowed, gazing about the destruction.

"I'll put someone on it," Hana declared. "Who knows? Researching better ways to end demon possession might have all sorts of utility. It seems easy enough to seal them into people, why should it be so hard to take them out?"

"Don't you love me anymore?" The kyubi took the form of a small redhaired girl to plead with puppy dog eyes at the collected Angels.

They all broke down laughing in good natured fun over the teasing.

Yakumo's lovely brown eyes had grown to be as wide as saucers. "Is that... really..?" she pointed a helpless finger to the fox demon.

"The Nine Tailed Demon Fox? Sure! That's her." Anko declared happily.

"She's my pet. I call her Fluffy. Here, you can pet her." Naruto picked up the demon fox (who was now about the size and shape of a true fox, although with nine lovely and luxurious tails) and plopped her down in the lap of their newest patient.

Wonder swiftly overcoming terror, in no small part due to the overwhelming unreality of the entire situation, Yakumo slowly began to pet the kyubi.

Ino began to smirk, inwardly deciding that they'd have that girl's bloodline in the clan sooner rather than later, and propagated among them not long after that, she felt certain.

Kin's experiments to give them all the Ice bloodline were finally coming to fruition, with more successes than not these days, and only a few more tries before they got it extended to everyone, if this followed the usual pattern. Anko's experiments to create a living flesh clone body were nearing success as well. The bodies she was creating were now increasingly viable. They could live on their own now, though their health and performance was flawed. Still, the hard work there had been done, and Haku and Zabuza were now close to joining them in a much more real and vital sense.

If they didn't start work on the Kurama bloodline they would have nothing to do on the medical front. And she knew how her clan hated boredom.

Plus, Yakumo's bloodline was dead useful, and hit one of the Kitsune clan's few weaknesses.

There were illusions that could defeat special bloodlines like the White Eyes, or even the mighty Sharingan, even at its highest levels. For most people those were all extremely high level illusions. That they were beyond the reach of even most illusion specialists was perfectly understandable, as they were by definition cresting extremely potent defenses against them.

However, even those special high end illusions were limited. The special eye bloodlines were all vision based, naturally, and the highly advanced illusions that could defeat those were not the same ones that could fool an Inuzuka's nose, nor had anyone ever thought up a way to deceive the Kitsune clan's new ears - a big part of that was that no one outside the clan or their allies even knew those ears existed.

Still, it took an extremely complex and detailed illusion to fool even one of those greatly enhanced senses, and matching up three of them in one clan's bloodline set made them virtually undefeatable by illusion users.

The vast majority of illusions fooled the senses, but the bloodline gift of the Kurama allowed them to fool the brain directly. So heightened senses were of no use against it, and there was no limit to the size of the illusions.

By fooling the brain directly, it was possible to injure or even kill using illusions, to convince them their techniques don't work, or that they can't move. Virtually anything a person could perceive they could be made to feel was really happening to them.

Previous to this, there was only one that could even try that route: Itachi Uchiha using the Kaleidoscope Sharingan's special time/space illusion on which Naruto had based his own Time Dilation illusion he used for training. The Uchiha technique did not try to fool the senses, as most did. No, it was also one of those rare abilities that directly overpowered the mind.

But, well, some of the higher order Yamanaka clan techniques provided a potent defense against having their mind overthrown by an outsider. But the Kurama abilities provided another aspect to that.

Ino, having long since convinced her parents that she was worthy of more and more and higher and higher orders of her clan techniques, quite naturally knew of those defenses and had shared them with her husband and his wives.

Since all present members of the Kitsune Clan knew those Yamanaka jutsus, there really wasn't much point in trying to overcome them with illusions. On the plus side, the sensory details that made them so very hard to fool with illusion techniques gave them a massive edge in creating them. All hard detail for raw material one could want got included as their senses were simply keener and processed more than the average person they were trying to deceive. And they had magnified that by training with each of their senses, trying to reach their maximum potentials.

As the rest of the Kurama noticed a disturbance at the manor and attacked, afraid that the demon within Yakumo was getting loose, Naruto very quietly allowed the Kyubi to go eat them while he kept the guards under illusions.

Yeah, that might be more punishment than they deserved for the simple crime of having been deceived, but no one had required them to mistreat the girl or leave her alone for so long after she'd been sealed.

As he ought to know better than any male alive, girls were social creatures, and it injured them to be alone for so long. Which was a big part of what he was intending to fix. Yakumo wasn't going to be alone again if he could help it.

And, if the Kyubi just happened to learn enough about the Kurama bloodline from devouring their Branch House a few times to grant those abilities to himself and his wives without the medical work, so much the better.

Clan Kitsune members were not just poised to be the medical and illusion masters of Konoha, or even the entire ninja world, they were becoming so.

Then Naruto grabbed a hold of the startled (and still naked) Yakumo girl and swept her mind away while his clan medics went to work restoring her body.

I I I

Naruto had been playing with that Time Dilation illusion of his again and had created a version for use on Gaara, much like the one he'd used on Lee. Only instead of cramming two years of chakra and elemental affinity training into four minutes of real time (he'd expanded the recording from it's original one year in two minutes, as he felt more material ought to be covered) he used that time and taught basic hand to hand combat, as that was something that Gaara had never learned; had never felt the need for, honestly.

To keep the two applications of the technique straight in everyone's mind, Kurenai had dubbed one the Elemental Master illusion, and the other had come to be called the Martial Master illusion, although even so that was something of a misnomer as the education gained was all mental, and thus only about the level of a top-rank rookie genin, not much of a combat powerhouse the name 'Martial Master' usually evoked.

Still, it was very like the physical knowledge of the rest of Clan Kitsune, in that obtaining the right reflexes (either by use of a captured Sharingan or practice out in the real non-looped world) could raise that up significantly, to about the level of a rookie chunin (or, with further practice and instruction after the right reflexes had been obtained, to about mid-chunin, where most of the rest of them had gotten stuck).

The concept that he could create MORE of these than the original chakra-training illusion more or less put the entire clan into an excited uproar, as they all wanted to know how to pass on more of the important skills this way.

Conversations were ongoing among the clan about which one to create next, as the principle behind those two illusions seemed to be broadly applicable. The Elemental Master illusion set up to be used on Lee had proved able to be used to give instruction to just about anyone. They'd tried it out on a number of their fellow genin during the exam, and the recorded training program still seemed to work, although limited by the principles of its design. The illusion imparted only so much knowledge, and of a set type, so if you already knew some portion of that the recording just did that much less good for you.

Naruto's Angels didn't need it, not for themselves anyway, being already far better at those things than the mere illusions could teach. Still, the ability to pass on so much knowledge and experience to those who were NOT members of the Kitsune Clan had fascinating potential.

Naturally, none of them could create an illusion for training in a skill they didn't have, as it was essentially a very brief real-time attempt to teach a subject quickly, and you can't teach what you don't know yourself.

Still, it was a very useful tool for bringing certain people up to speed. They'd used both illusions on Sakura, and the benefits had been measurable. Being trained in hand to hand combat and elemental manipulation had really changed the pink haired girl's ninja fighting style for the better.

So now the debate was going on over what to create an illusion for next.

Tenten wanted him to create a Throwing Master illusion, as with interlocking fields of fire they could lay down some impressive coverage that would be able to shut down all but the most versatile of ninja opponents. In short, she'd like the others of her clan to be able to share the joy of her specialty.

Yugao was the same for hers, wanting an illusion that taught melee weaponry so more of the clan would approach her level, more quickly. Also she gave the argument that they occasionally had to fight Hyuga, as that clan grew very displeased from time to time over the Kitsunes having effectively stolen the Hyuga heir from them just as she was getting interesting.

Well, the Hyuga were only interested in power, and Hinata becoming powerful was a result of her Naruto-kun, so no one in Clan Kitsune felt the least need or desire to humor the arrogant Hyuga's on this, even a little bit, and that occasionally led to fighting (and they couldn't ALWAYS just blast the Branch House out of existence via handseals - that would be boring, and felt unfair to the poor, unfortunate Branch members).

One of the best ways to fight a Hyuga was with a sword or other weapon, as it had no chakra points to close, and the extra reach of a good, sharp blade was an excellent deterrent for keeping those bare-hand fighters far enough away so as to not be able to strike any hits on your body.

Tsunade wanted a Medical Mastery illusion, as there were not nearly enough ninja medics in the world, and the ability to create more at need was a dream come true for her and Shizune both. Actually, she was adamant that Hidden Sand needed the strongest burst of remedial medical training they could throw at it, as fast as it could be delivered, as their hospital and medical care was simply atrocious by her standards.

The upper limit on what those specialty training illusions could teach you appeared to be set at about rookie chunin level, but a chunin level medic was still a far cry better than no medics at all, which is what most teams had.

Hana actually spoke up with a different proposition than anyone, wanting an illusion covering what material ought to be covered in the Ninja Academy, basic stuff like academic knowledge, handseals, chakra molding and the Basic Three. The stuff any ninja ought to know, but a surprising number didn't. Her argument was based on two points. First was that most of the ninja who ought to know these things didn't, or didn't know them well enough, and they were taught for a reason - knowing history and geography, while they may seem boring subjects to kids who wanted to go pound on someone, provided surprising tactical advantages in the field.

The history of ninja was war, and knowing what wars were fought before, and the ground they got fought over, gave a wealth of ideas to a ninja who knew what had gone before. 'So and so used a pass to pull off a trap and destroy superior forces? Well, you know there's a pass like that not far from here.' Or 'Seven times in history people have tried X approach, and it NEVER worked! It may seem rational, but it never works!' Things like that.

But Hana's second reason was actually far more compelling, it was that when the clan's children came into the world they'd be vulnerable to folks outside the clan, or even from outside the village, trying to manipulate or kidnap the vulnerable young tykes to learn the secrets of the Kitsune bloodline.

Bloodline theft and the techniques thereof were concepts well known to the entirety of the Kitsune Clan, and the possibility for others trying to steal their line was very real, as it was enormously valuable.

Such a thing had even been attempted before, with Hinata, long before the resets even started. And that was only an attempt based on her precious Hyuga eyes. Now her bloodline was worth infinitely more.

Actually, now the subject was broached, one of those they suspected would most like to chop Hinata up into tiny pieces to study her new bloodline powers was the Hyuga clan itself - and could explain some of those attempts on her by them. Not all of the Hyuga wanted her back because she was powerful and they'd like her to lead them. Some might want her because now she regularly displayed bloodline powers they'd like to have copies of for themselves.

Hana's argument centered around the fact that the sooner the Kitsune could educate the children they eventually had in basic ninja skills and techniques, the less danger those children would be in from that sort of thing. And if, by the time they could walk (or whenever was deemed safe), they could have a basic ninja education shoved inside of their dear little heads, that could not only serve as a potentially deadly surprise to anyone trying to make off with them, but could serve as a foundation for the other training illusions they all wanted to develop.

Also, it had to be said, the official Ninja Academy didn't do so hot a job on its own material. There were some, even among the Rookie Nine, who had at best a tenuous grasp of some fairly large portions of that curriculum. Heck, there were chunin, and not a few jonin, who could use a refresher course!

In the end agreement came that everything Naruto could teach via recorded training illusions was to the better. Fortunately for them, Gaara was actually a more or less blank slate for him to practice on, and one outside the resets so he was continually wiped clean, so Naruto could practice on him again and again. That enabled him to refine how he taught those ninja skills.

The demon container for Shukaku only did one thing - use his sand. He'd not been officially trained in the ninja arts for very long. The guy knew how to use chakra, and that was essentially it, everything else he did relied in some form on his sand. So Temari's youngest brother could be taught virtually anything over and over again until they'd gotten how to teach it down right.

Hand to hand combat? Gaara didn't use any, not in any practical sense, it was all animated sand doing it for him.

Elemental manipulation? He used his sand. That was it.

So they were able to experiment with the two training illusions they already had on him, and the results they got were interesting, to say the least. For one thing, Gaara got FAR deadlier when he understood the basic principles of hand to hand fighting! Not that he moved around a great deal more, but he could anticipate the moves of his opponents better, and thus better use his sand to trap and block them.

And once they'd started him on using Wind techniques, adding long range attacks and defenses to his repetoir, that just multiplied how scary he was! There wasn't anywhere safe on a battlefield, nowhere he couldn't reach you!

But it wasn't only Wind. That illusion taught basics in all five elements, and Gaara was just downright scary when he didn't have to devote all of his sand to everything he wanted to do, all of the time. When he could protect himself behind Earth Style Walls, less sand and chakra had to be used on defense. A Lightning technique or two closed up one of the one-tailed container's few weaknesses - fast attacks at range. And the guy took a perverse delight in sending Water jutsus back at his enemies instead of letting it soak his sand.

But Fire... he'd taken a brand new delight in burning things. It was disturbing.

Tenten was of the opinion that once they could train him in throwing, Gaara would be able to form weapons out of that sand of his and project them like kunai or shuriken. Not so much on the face of it, until it dawned that once he could throw globs of his sand around he could get it closer to more people, faster, and thus become far deadlier.

A knife stuck in you was one thing. But when that knife was able to grown and shift deeper into the wound all on its own? Spreading out blades of itself to cut an ever larger hole?

Scary.

The general consensus was that she was right, but nobody wanted to try it just yet, as this newly improved and deadlier Gaara they already had was already taking some getting used to.

He liked to play with fire a little TOO much!

However, using those techniques on Yakumo? The big drawback to developing them was at least the first couple of times the one crafting the illusion had to stay inside to monitor it. It was only after patterns had strongly developed that they could record it to play automatically. So the big drawback was that it was boring.

That explained why Naruto was positively DELIGHTED by the ability to dive into a fresh new mind he had not encountered before, to play with a friendly and nice person he'd never met before (those had been pretty rare during his life), and teach her all the material covered by those illusions straight through. He even stayed with her through the already mastered ones, the elemental training and hand to hand fighting ones, just to see her and get to know her (and, incidentally, in doing so improved those two illusions, refining them markedly beyond their original one-person audience).

Of course, the natural result of two nice people, a boy and a girl, spending a great deal of subjective time together under friendly circumstances, had the natural result that when they came out they were VERY friendly.

This was still Naruto, who routinely made friends out of his enemies. A nice and pretty girl like Yakumo never had a chance to dislike him, especially since she saw no reason to - he was helping her obtain a desire she'd long dreamed of. She was becoming a ninja!

So, forty minutes and ten training illusions later, after twenty subjective years of being together nonstop, it was no surprise to the rest of Naruto's wives that immediately upon exiting the techniques Yakumo wrapped herself (still naked) around Naruto and began to kiss his lungs out.

She then began to groan as Naruto began to massage her.

Sakura stirred in jealousy as the kyubi nipped the girl minutes later, granting her their bloodline and welcoming her officially into the clan amidst great rejoicings to be had by all - with Kurenai at last feeling vindicated, able to forgive herself of her past mistake at last.

Yakumo was a ninja, and had the best husband in all the world.

I I I

Author's Notes:

I actually would have brought that girl in long before now, only someone told me her illusions were real - and you give me control of real illusions and there is nothing that I cannot do. Actually, that's all Green Lantern's power ring does, create momentary illusions that can affect the real world, and I could abuse that to no end.

Merely very, very convincing illusions is nothing by comparison to the ability to conjure up fake bulldozers than can move real dirt, and so on. No, I had to prevent myself from taking hold of that, or else nothing could have stopped my Naruto and this story would have been over ages ago.

Only now I discover that's not what she does at all. Grr! Oh well, better late than never. She's in!