The Groundhog Exam
Chapter Seventy-Seven

by Lionheart


Sarutobi reached down into his secret desk drawer to retrieve a large bottle of high quality sake out of his stash, kept for celebrating especially good news. Normally such a thing would last him two months of sips. Honestly, he expected to go through the whole thing tonight, and possibly two more like it.

"Stop that!" Tsunade stormed into the room and slapped the bottle out of his hands, sending it to smash against the wall in a small explosion due to her strength. Leaning down into her teacher's face, she declared, "I ought to know better than anybody that doesn't help at all!"

Hands on the desk on either side of him she leaned into his face. "Crawling into a bottle to escape the past doesn't do anything to solve your problems."

"As I recall you telling me in a similar situation, Tsunade," Sarutobi replied in dry tones. "Not all the medicine in the world could fix your problems."

Now appearing kindly, the Kazekage sat on her teacher's desk. "Sensei, that is because I was looking to fix the wrong problems. It's wasn't my brother or fiance being gone that was the problem. It was the pain their absence caused me that shut me down. I wasn't looking at the real issue. Once I could forget how much it hurt I was fine - and let me tell you how shocked I was to figure that out. I knew no medicine ever devised could bring them back, and thought the pain would only ever go away when I joined them. Now I know how wrong I was. Ironically, I only ever learned how to bring them back once I'd stopped wanting to, but that's enough about my problems."

Adopting a smug smirk, the blonde Sannin tapped the top of a stack of paperwork sitting beside her on the desk. "Yours are simpler. You don't even need to bring back the dead. Just change some people's views. Now surely," she smirked, "that's not beyond the so called God of Shinobi'?"

She was trying to lighten the mood. When the Hokage scowled instead she brought her fist down with enough force to cause the contents of the desk to leap several inches into the air. "SENSEI! Think like a NINJA for a moment!" She shouted at him. "The problem here is NOT Naruto! It's not even that blind spot you had where you looked at the Konoha fanboy he was and never imagined he'd grow up to use those ninja skills he was supposedly being taught to look at his situation and realize he had no reason to be loyal to this pig-sty that was doing everything possible to prove they didn't want him or his loyalty! Now pretend for a second that you are a new Hokage, just getting saddled with someone else's mistake. Take the oh, I screwed up, I must suffer' out of it and look at the situation as it stands. What do you see?"

Sarutobi followed her directions, and soberly considered the problem. Within moments his face had cleared of its troubled expression.

A minute later teacher and student met eyes, and they both grinned.


The shopkeeper ran with all of his might.

Like many who had heard of the Rise of The Former Hokage's, he had been filled with joy, and rushed out to greet his old friend, eager to tell him all the news of what had passed in the intervening years, and also eager to tell him of how loyal he had stayed to the man who'd saved them all, a loyalty he'd proved daily by doing everything he could to torture the brat to blame for his demise. He'd even offer to share the fortune he'd gotten from overcharging him! But, of course, Arashi would turn him down. The man was generous like that.

Like countless other Konoha civilians, the shopkeeper ran to a meeting place, joining the crowds watching as Arashi Kazama, the Fourth Hokage, in the flesh, talked to the two Hokage's previous to Sarutobi before turning to address a sizable fraction of the Konoha population gathered around them.

And the first thing he did was hit them all with an illusion.

It was a memory technique, many of the ninja there could recognize it; and every eager face in that crowd, happy to have him back and so anxious to tell him of all they'd done in his name, found themselves transported back to that dreadful night of the Kyubi attack - but that was alright, it was from the Fourth Hokage's perspective and they knew who won in the end.

So they watched, anticipating their triumph, some few wincing at the faces of those since lost as they flashed passed. But the story was a new one to the village. It showed a man rolling up the complete the draft work on what was to be the new seal, shrug off the reports of his ANBU, and rush to the hospital, not to the trauma ward, but to the delivery department.

That was the first many of them learned their beloved Fourth had a wife. It had been kept a secret. They even saw she had delivered a beautiful baby boy and joy and gladness filled them all as the couple exchanged tender, heartfelt yet necessarily brief words confirming to all who witnessed their marriage and their pride in the birth of their son.

It was obvious the child had to be hidden, else they would have heard of him before now. Countless hearts within that crowd resolved that when the boy was revealed they'd treat him with all of the honor due his glorious family.

But instead of carrying the baby off, flashing to some remote location so the young child could be delivered into the hands of trusted servants, as most of the crowd expected (where the young heir would doubtless receive the best of all possible training, as due the only son of a Hokage) they saw instead their beloved young leader summon the boss toad and head to the front lines, where the fighting against the demon was at its worst.

They saw him explain to his infant son why it was necessary, and that he could not be prouder of the boy. They saw him tell Sarutobi that he wanted his son seen as the hero he was.

Then they watched in horrified realization as their beloved Fourth Hokage sacrificed himself and sealed the demon into his infant son and heir.

Worse, the illusion did not stop there. They saw, as if from beyond the grave, a town that hated and abused the boy at every opportunity. They saw their own faces as they cheated the child, ostracized him, told their children to hate and avoid him, beat him and treated the son of their beloved departed leader with all of the cruelty they could under the lax eyes of minders that were sympathetic to their cause, willing to allow anything that wouldn't end up with them on report from one of the few who cared anything for the lad.

They were devastated.

As the illusion ended Arashi Kazama glared hatefully at those who'd gathered to welcome him back, most of those who'd been among the worst offenders. In tones dripping with disgust, he told the assembled masses, "Every time you hurt my child, I regretted saving your life."

Then he turned away from them and vanished in his signature technique.

Sarutobi stepped forth out of the group of previous Hokages and his ANBU guards to take the stand, soberly condemning the crowd with his eyes. "I can personally verify the truth of everything the Fourth Hokage showed you this day. I did everything in my power to stop the hate, yet none of you would listen to me. The jutsu used to stop the demon attack required two, not one, to perform. And a requirement of the jutsu was that one of those be a baby not even hours old. Naruto is every bit as responsible for stopping the attack on you as his father was. Yet rather than respect their sacrifice which saved all of your lives, you showed nothing but contempt to Naruto personally, or to his father's dying wishes that he be seen as the hero I know him to be."

The current Hokage stared at the crowd a long moment, puffing on his pipe. "Now the secret is revealed it will spread, and all the Elemental Countries will know that Konoha is without honor."

While the audience gasped he took a long puff on his pipe, waiting for the right amount of dramatic tension. When he judged it proper, he said, "It is entirely within the power of our Daimyo to require that every head of house in Konoha, civilian as well as ninja, commit seppuku to purge this stain."

Cold, stark terror now gripped those watching, who'd never even imagined they could be punished for their actions towards the young boy.

Sarutobi masked his satisfaction over this reaction with a grave mask. "As the offense was so grievous I can think of no other way honor might be satisfied, in your place, I would prepare myself. Put your affairs in order. For I imagine the order is going to come soon, unless, by some miracle, there is another way presented for us to redeem ourselves. But I can think of none."

The Third Hokage turned and walked away from the now-horrified crowd with satisfaction burning deeply inside his breast.

It wouldn't be half an hour before every mind in Konoha would be feverishly devoting itself to imagining up some way to satisfy honor and make things up to the aggrieved Fourth Hokage and his son without every husband or clan head slicing open his belly and spilling his guts out.

Sadly, the magnitude of their crime was so big most of those would plot in vain.


Kakashi squatted behind some brush in the middle of a training ground, as far away from other people as he could get.

Normally he would be wandering through town, reading his porn.

It never struck him before, but that was deliberate. He was a jonin. He could easily have found all the privacy he'd wanted to. He could've sent clones out to go shopping or meet his team for him, leaving him to do all of the smutty things he'd wanted in the privacy of his own home. He had a nice place, or at least he did before his father came back and kicked him out of it, making bonfires out of his porn collection and hiring cleaning crews to remove the filth that had accumulated in the place during Kakashi's residency.

When your father is respected on a level with the Sannin he makes a lot of money, and unlike many ninja Sakumo was a family oriented man. He'd bought a nice place with that money, and Kakashi had inherited it. So all these years Kakashi could have been locked up in his spacious abode as much as he'd liked, getting all the jollies his body was physically capable of, and no one would have known any different.

Instead he'd gone out to read his porn in public.

It had never struck him before how much of that was a deliberate insult to the other people of his town. He'd done it mostly because he knew he'd been able to get away with it. Yes, I am reading porn in front of your kids and there is nothing you can do to stop me'.

That was less about porn and more about power.

As a powerful ninja, there were few who could have done anything to stop him, whatever he'd wanted to do, and of those few none had bothered. He'd been able to rub their faces in the fact that he could do anything he wanted.

Only now was he coming to realize that, and the reason he'd done it was equally obvious to anyone who cared to think about it. After the death of his team he'd felt helpless, powerless, and unable to do anything about it. So he'd done what he could to prove he was powerful. The rough part was he'd done it at the expense of the helpless villagers.

His father was right. You do not torment the helpless to overcome your own grief. That was reprehensible in so many ways.

Kakashi rubbed a hand over his now-bare face, then pulled it away with a jolt and winced. There, burned into his face with the blazing tip of the family blade burning with white chakra, was a seal that hurt him when covered. As this seal covered his whole face he'd never be able to wear a mask again.

That was deliberate on his father's part. The way he explained it, wearing a mask creates a distance between you and other people; that because they can't read your face as easily you aren't connected as closely. That was a big reason for why some ninja wear masks. Not being connected as closely to other people made it easier to hurt your targets on missions. It also creates a feeling of anonymity. Right or wrong it grants a feeling that you won't be held responsible for whatever your actions are because you won't be caught.

That was exactly the reason Kakashi had always worn a mask. And exactly why his father had forbidden him from doing it ever again, then gone ahead and made it impossible for his disobedient son to disobey him. In Sakumo's mind, his son needed to connect to other people again if he was going to have any chance of being a decent person again.

Of course, the jonin would have to overcome the minor obstacle of having the kanji for shame' carved so it took up his whole face. Even concealing it with a transformation hurt like nothing else. But, as his dad pointed out, nobody sent the Great Kakashi on infiltration missions anymore (mostly because he didn't like them, so had bombed the last couple on purpose).

Had he really become such a screw up?

As if having a seal in the shape of the word shame' over his face wasn't enough, there was another seal carved into the front of his pelvis, that if Kakashi ever got an erection again his balls would explode. Sakumo's grin had been grim as he'd explained that he'd put a counter seal on Kakashi's wife if the unlikely happened and he ever got married, so in her immediate presence there would be an exception, but it was vital the Copy Cat be weaned off his porn addiction and relate to real people again.

And, as a jonin, the body control to survive until then out to be well within his power. Right?

Sakumo was going to fix his son or break him, but he wasn't going to tolerate Kakashi living on as the failure he'd become.

Kakashi shivered as he squatted in a bush.


Blink. Blink.

A blink. In the end, that's all it took. Once it happened, the woman recognized it. That blink had occurred when she wanted it to. For the first time in an eternity she'd wanted to blink and it had happened. At that stunning thought she gasped, and the feeling of her own body drawing breath at her command proved her startling conclusion to be true.

Her own body was responding to her control again at last!

Countless hours she'd raged against her helpless state, done everything her brain could conjure up and more, railing against being a prisoner in her own mind, forced to watch her body do things at the Other's commands.

The red haired body sat up and stared around the empty clearing where she'd been abandoned. The Sound ninja had departed; probably for the best, as she was years out of practice using her skills to defend herself now.

Standing up was no trouble, though she was a little wobbly. Understandable, it had been a long time for her merely being a passenger. It was different in the driver's seat. So many of its reflexes now were not her own.

She raised her hands to look at them. Pink. Healthy flesh-tones, not the unnatural white of the Other. She felt her face. Round, not the thin and narrow cheekbones of the Other. Hands brushing down her sides confirmed the tasteless tan robes and garish purple rope tied in a bow. The ninja gear carried she knew intimately, all too well for her peace of mind, in fact. But her curves were now her own again.

Soon the explorations she could do like this were not enough and the woman took off to the nearest stream. She knew this territory well, having crossed it enough times, even though those most recent trips were as an observer.

Her reflection in the water proved what her hands had reported. The Other had gone, and taken its unnatural appearance with it, leaving her with her own looks. She was back to being herself, no longer a vessel for the Other.

The woman broke down crying in relief and gratitude on the spot.

Still, she was a ninja, soon even that had passed, and she leapt off through the woods, long red hair flying like a flag behind her, and soon arrived at the gates of Konoha.

The gate guards were now stiff and somewhat paranoid, and she actually had to force herself to suppress the automatic reactions of her body to either sneak by or slaughter them effortlessly, using the Other's skills imprinted through his long usurpation of her body.

"Papers!" One of the guards demanded, when she forced herself to approach normally and enter his line of sight.

The woman shook her head, still somewhat in a daze. How could she have forgotten? "I'm sorry. I have none."

Both guards tensed up. "Name and village?" the lead one demanded.

The redhead brushed a stray lock out of her face. "Kushina. Kushina Uzumaki, originally of Whirlpool, now of Konoha. I've only just escaped from imprisonment. Tell me, is the Hokage in? Tell him I need to see my son."


"That was unpleasant," Sarutobi shuddered, just coming out of a memory transfer technique where he'd witnessed, from Naruto's perspective, how his heritage had originally been revealed to Konoha - and the more or less total flop it was.

You don't get to be called the God of Shinobi without learning how to read people, and he could see his own face as his double in that memory read the reactions of Naruto to the announcement of his parentage. He had seen the conclusions he'd come to, even as his double came to them...

And none of them had been pretty.

The Hokage could see that he had underestimated just how much this town hated the boy, and also how deeply rooted that had gotten, because the memory made it clear not even that revelation made their opinions swing back to where he felt they ought to be, liking and respecting the boy at last.

Sarutobi had never felt the need to question the assumption he'd had that once the town knew the truth they would love the boy at last, until now, when he'd seen that it had not worked that way at all.

A sobering, and even disgusting revelation.

"Well, you were the one who'd insisted on seeing it," Tsunade reminded her teacher, both their kage hats laid aside for this discussion. And she was right, he had, desperate to know what it had been like for the boy to learn about his parentage.

It had not been the happy occasion he'd been hoping for. No, instead miserable had been more like it. They'd even revealed that sometime during the past intervening years the precious scrolls Naruto's family had left for him had been stolen out of the Fourth Hokage's home by parties unknown. The last ditch defenses on them must have functioned, destroying those scrolls, else those techniques would already have been in use by other ninja, but the pleasant image built up of Oh, when Naruto is old enough he will then be permitted to inherit his family legacy' had proven to be just another lie.

There was nothing this village could do to hurt the boy they hadn't done.

Seeing the downward spiral of his thoughts, Tsunade slapped him with some medical chakra. "C'mon, enough of that. You'll like this next technique much better."

The Hokage was laid out on a table in an empty room near his office, Tsunade standing over him, medical chakra surrounding her hands as she worked, and speaking conversationally as she did so. "This jutsu is yet another of those Wow! That used to be impossible!' techniques we've developed over the time loops. One of our former Sound ninja developed it out of research performed on a Bone Technique bloodline user."

Sarutobi groaned in contentment, feeling his fragile old bones becoming hard and strong again, as though in his youth. Yes. He liked this very much.

Tsunade snorted, amused over his reaction. "This next was produced by that young girl who is head of the Kurama clan. There's a long story there about how the Uchiha clan as part of their attempts to weaken their rivals and subvert the village sealed a minor demon into her to use her gifts against the village and her clan. We have the documents proving it out of the Uchiha's own secret archives. Anyway, she came up with this one. I think you'll like it."

Muscles writhed and swelled across Sarutobi's chest and limbs, shocking him to where he could only stare dumbfounded up at his student.

She could only smile in victory. "Yes, neat isn't it? Your physical levels were actually worse than any genin. It was only extreme experience compensating for your physical frailty that kept you any good as a ninja. Now you aren't back up to anywhere near your prime; but still, mid-chunin levels of muscle conditioning are worlds above where you were a second ago."

The Hokage was flexing and staring at his still-wrinkled but much stronger arms and hands. "Have you done this to me often?"

He was unprepared for Tsunade's snort. "No. The muscle development jutsu is brand new, and most of the time when we heal your bones the first thing you do is insist people like your old teammates and Danzo get the same."

The Hokage's face darkened. "Yes. I can see how that might discourage you." Even the most cursory inspection of the records proved those had been the chief ones manipulating him.

"Lie back down." She put a hand on his chest when he tried to sit up. "You've got organ damage and things still wrong with you. Some of that we can't fix. But the heart is just a muscle. I can do stuff with that. The lungs, however... Well, I can pull out some of the accumulated poison you've been smoking into them over the years, but nothing to reduce the scarring. They're just a bit too complicated to make mistakes on, and we haven't been rebuilding organs for very long, so you'll just have to bear with reduced capacity. Others, like the liver spots on your skin are caused by your liver having been overloaded with toxins to where it became damaged, and actually Naruto recently just tried applying a standard medical jutsu for treating poisoned wounds to the liver directly. It can't fix everything, but it will remove the overload, and the organ can then regenerate itself. You'll just have to give up drinking."

"Are you certain? Surely I can..." The Hokage opened his mouth to protest only to find his medic possessed of great strength and a fiery temper.

"Oh, no you don't!" she insisted. "No weaseling out of this one! If I can do it, you can do it! Besides, your liver and kidneys can no longer take the strain, if you want them to heal. And you can't expect your muscles to work well when half the nutrients they need to carry the load you put on them can't get to them because your bloodstream is busy shuffling about the drugs you insist on taking! The liver and kidneys can only remove that stuff so fast, and the more damaged they are the slower that rate is, and right now they are very damaged. So it's a choice: are you going to smoke and drink or be a ninja?"

Sarutobi stilled, knowing the subtext of that, in light of recent revelations especially with regards to Orochimaru's attempts to assassinate him, was: Do you want to live to see your grandson make genin?

And, in point of fact, he did. So that was pretty much it for his filthy habits.

At that moment the door to their private medical chamber came open.

"I ordered all normal appointments to be suspended!" The Hokage roared, outraged at his healing being interrupted. He hadn't felt this good in thirty years, and was not anxious to have feeling even better interrupted by some self-important counselor who'd been manipulating him for years anyway.

"Oh, believe me, this is anything but ordinary," Shizune gloated as she led a redhaired kunoichi into the small chamber.


Author's Notes:

It has not been my habit to do this, but I need to recommend a story. It's by Angel of Snapdragons and is called "A Month as Naruto Uzumaki." You can find a link in my favorites (and his A Drop of Poison is shaping up to be excellent, too).

I'd love to see both stories continued. Shall we ask him?