Title: Twenty Times Uzumaki Naruto Didn't Die

Author: Kraken's Ghost

Email: On profile.

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto. If I did, I wouldn't feel like tearing my hair out. This is non-profit fanfiction.

1.) Uzumaki Naruto doesn't realize what it truly means to be a Jinchuuriki until many, many years after his discovery of being one. This is because Naruto is as different from other vessels as they are from normal humans.

His first inkling that he is somehow different from the others comes during his battle with his former comrade, Uchiha Sasuke, at the Valley of the End.

It isn't that he healed a hole through his chest the diameter of a softball in a matter of seconds that disturbs him. It's that even after being run through by a Chidori, he doesn't fall over.

He doesn't fall, he doesn't stagger, he doesn't even kneel, even before the dark red chakra begins to pour out of him. It just doesn't effect him the way he would've thought and it clashes with what little he knows about himself. Rapid healing doesn't mean reducing the amount of pain or damage one takes. It simply alleviates pain and damage faster.

This though, is something else.

Later, when he's gauzed up and lying in the hospital bed, he stares at Sasuke's headband. His friends, the Hokage, and even his teacher all think he's staring at it because he's thinking of Sasuke.

He isn't.

He's thinking of what Sasuke said.

"Kukuku, you moved at the last moment and it missed your heart…"

He tries not to think about it, but even then he has to wonder.

Would it have made any difference?

2.) The day Naruto is born, he dies the instant the Kyuubi's soul is forced into his body.

The Yondaime lays in the dirt, sorrowfully cradling the dead infant in his arms. It's a monstrous sacrifice to destroy a monster, but it's done. He'll accept his punishment in the afterlife with resignation. He has murdered not only a babe, but his own son and regardless of how noble his cause is, Minato knows such actions don't go unanswered.

But it's done. He's done what thousands of others over countless centuries have failed to do.

The Beast is finally dead.

Despite his guilt, he can't stop the small eel of pride that worms its way through him.

And then, in the Yondaime Hokage's moment of bitter triumph, the dead infant stirs in his arms.

The baby's chest rattles and it lets loose a terrible wail. Namikaze Minato stares into the boiling red eyes of his only child as the jaws of the God of Death close around his soul.

He should have known. He should have known.

Stupid-stupid-stupid Minato, you should have known

It could never be so easy. No sacrifice is great enough. Nothing can stop it. The Beast will live on. And damn him for a fool, he's just given the monster his newborn son.

As his soul descends into the gut of the Shinigami and merciful darkness obscures his sight, the great Yondaime can't help but wonder to himself.

What have I done?

3.) Contrary to the beliefs of both Naruto and Hatake Kakashi, the Battle of the Great Naruto Bridge isn't the first time Naruto uses the Kyuubi's chakra.

As a child, when he's around four or so, the ANBU watching over him slacks off for about half an hour. As luck has it, a rather bitter Chuunin has been waiting for just such an opportunity.

The man strikes and in seconds, a blond child lays on the ground with his skull fractured and a chunk of bone an inch long lodged in the side of his brain. The Chuunin, assuming his family's honor is successfully restored, turns his back and walks away.

He makes only three steps when a hand hissing with boiling chakra emerges from the front of his throat.

The thing with blood red irises glances at the man, then rolls its eyes in concentration as its head wound bubbles. The bone piece surfaces and welds back into place. Capillaries and veins knit back together and skin reseals. Soft, grey brain tissues gently flow back together and severed neurons reconnect to their proper anchor points.

Its work done, the creature recedes and leaves a very confused boy staring down at a dying ninja, wondering what is going on. He's still standing there when an ANBU team led by the Sandaime Hokage himself arrive on the scene.

Sarutobi doesn't let Naruto out of his sight for over a month, the Council's mutterings be damned. It isn't until he's certain the boy will never remember the incident that he reluctantly allows him to return to his status as a ward of the city. Ironically, though the stress of the demon chakra burns the memory of the attack from Naruto's mind, it also forces him to forget the happiest weeks of his life when he was in the care of the Third.

Naruto is still strangely fond of the old man till the day Sarutobi dies, for a reason he'll never know.

4.) The first person to notice Naruto's healing ability is Kakashi. The first person to realize that it goes beyond rapid healing and into something else is Tsunade.

Human hearts don't just start beating again after they stop, especially after being sliced open by an expert medic-nin like Kabuto.

Tsunade recognizes the unnatural when she sees it. She's relieved that the boy that reminds her so much of Nawaki and Dan is alive, but she can't help but feel a dark foreboding sensation when the skin beneath her fingertips begins to twitch again.

She doesn't know what the future holds for Naruto and honestly, she doesn't want to. A shamefully large part of her is glad she'll be long dead before his fate catches up to him.

Tsunade still can't escape the fact that his face has replaced her brother and lover in her dark dreams late at night.

5.) During his trip with Jiraiya, Naruto gets another large clue about himself when he walks across a log coated in twenty explosive tags hidden by Genjutsu.

Had anyone bothered to search, they could've found shrapnel from the log almost a mile away. The boom is loud enough to scare birds into flight three miles away. An orange piece of fabric that used to be part of Naruto's distinctive suit drifts on the winds all the way into Lightning Country.

Naruto remembers little of the aftermath. What he does remember is obscured by a red film that seems to cover his eyes and dull his senses. He remembers only two parts of the aftermath, but each with horrifying clarity.

He remembers watching his own severed hand being drawn by some invisible force back to his body from a distance of twenty feet away.

He also remembers his other hand reaching down of its own accord to shove what was left of his right eye back into its socket.

When Jiraiya finds him three hours later, he's lying on his back in a nearby clearing and staring up into the twilight sky. His skin is covered in drying blood and the rags of his favorite outfit, but his body is whole and unmarred by even the faintest scar or the slightest scratch.

The Toad Hermit is delighted beyond words at the potential in Naruto. Even in his wildest dreams, he never thought his often idiotic student held so much power in his short, stocky frame. Even though the boy is clearly uncomfortable and even though there are warning bells going off in his head, Jiraiya insists on immediate training to bring even more of the Kyuubi's power to the surface.

Less than a week later, Naruto brings out four bloody tails of chakra and puts a hole the size of a grapefruit through his sensei's sternum.

Jiraiya never encourages the use of the demon's chakra again.

6.) Over the three years or so from when she was first teamed up with Naruto, Sakura has been slowly thinking of him more and more as a potential romantic interest. She truly begins to consider him a serious alternative to the indifferent Sasuke the first time she sees him after his training trip, when she realizes she now has to look up to meet his eyes.

The golden hair, tanned skin, and bright smile suddenly don't seem so annoying anymore.

Over the course of the following months, Sakura's notice of Naruto turns into mild interest, which turns into active interest, which turns into a full crush.

That changes the day they're captured on a mission into Earth Country.

While Konoha has a Torture and Interrogation unit, there are still major rules and regulations to follow in regards to POWs. Stone-nins have no such rules and even if they did, they would blatantly ignore them in favor of 'getting some payback with some uppity Leaf trash.'

Sakura knows this and furthermore knows just what kind of things happen to female shinobi in Stone POW camps. Much to her shame, she is all too relieved when Naruto manages to goad her would-be rapists into torturing him instead.

In Sakura's defense to her later reaction, Naruto had to be beaten into submission with A Rank Earth Jutsu by three Jounin, while she and Sai are taken down fairly easily. Naruto's left eye is still swollen shut and blood still flows freely from his scalp when the torture begins. It looks bad, but she knows he should have been dead or dying of a severely fractured skull. Every medical bone in her body is screaming 'unnatural' at her even before the torture begins.

Six hours. Six hours of shouts and yells and defiance. They start with beating him.

Then they try slicing him with blades of metal and rock.

One tries shoving quartz under his fingernails.

Another uses a jutsu to make rock chips crawl throughout his veins.

Another decides Naruto doesn't really need his right ear.

The only one in the room who breaks is Sakura. Her screams get so loud they eventually gag her because of the ringing in their ears.

Naruto keeps doing what he does best: holding everyone's attention on him.

He shouts. He screams. He roars. But that's just his way. When all his hard earned skills are withheld from him, he falls back on his childhood talent of controlling everyone in earshot, whether they want him to or not.

Years before Kakashi had taunted Zabusa that Naruto was the loudest ninja in their village. He never knows just how right he is.

Sakura is out of strength when the Stone-nin realize Naruto will never break. Her body still musters a fresh wave of tears when the leader of the group forms a rock blade and raises it over Naruto's rag covered chest. Sai just looks away.

"Any last words, you Leaf piece of shit?" The man taunts.

"Yeah. That was my favorite jacket, you rock-head asshole." Naruto says and spits a mouthful of blood into the elder shinobi's face.

Everyone in the room is shocked when the man screams and clutches his face. Black smoke roils from his rapidly blistering and melting flesh. The blood splattered across the man's face crackles with a wicked red chakra that Sakura has seen only once before.

One of the other Jounin forms a rock-blade of his own and roars, "Die, you bastard!"

Sakura starts screaming through the gag as the Stone-nin plunges the blade straight into Naruto's sternum.

The blond goes limp. The Stone-nin turns his back. Sakura keeps screaming.

The man's head suddenly topples to floor with his body following a second later. Naruto is leaning forward with the rock blade clenched between his teeth. The strap pinning his chest to the table has been inadvertently severed by the would-be executioner.

And reflected in Sakura's wide green eyes is the hole in his chest closing with a bubbling hiss.

The next few minutes are a chorus of shouts and yells, slices whistling through the air and screams of pain. Soon enough though, all is silent and there's the pungent smell of blood and entrails.

It isn't until Naruto's hands are gently cupping her face and taking the gag out of her mouth that Sakura realizes she's still screaming.

The very hour she's cleared for duty by the medics, Sakura renews her search for Sasuke tenfold.

7.) It has often been wondered by some of the more belligerent citizens of Konoha why the Council never tries to do away with the demon. What they don't know is the Council does try, once.

But at seventeen, Naruto is a little too old and a little too nasty to play the games of politicians. Years of killing people and losing friends does that to a person.

He has to give the assassin credit; the guy did his homework. The kunai perforates his spine right at the base of his neck. Not a bad shot, not at all.

An hour later, an emergency meeting of the Council is called. To their surprise, it's not Tsunade who walks in through the entrance from the Hokage Tower, but the resident demon vessel.

He smiles jauntily at all of them. His grin never fades once, not even when he slams a kunai coated in his own blood into the table right in front of Councilwoman Koharu. The smile remains even as he chucks a lumpy bag in front of the man sitting next to her.

Everyone in the room stares silently at the pool of red slowly expanding from underneath the bag.

Naruto's smile widens, but his eyes glimmer with something that sends shivers down the spines of even the veterans as he says, "You old farts ever try something like that again and I'll make you wish I'd killed you."

They never move directly against him again.

8.) Sasuke never thinks he'll ever be afraid of Naruto, of all people. He's wrong though, so very wrong.

He's managed to convince himself the incident during their battle at the Valley of the End never happened. He pretends his Sharingan eyes didn't burn the image of a monstrous fox surrounding his blond ex-friend into his brain.

Now in the present day, Naruto's chakra enhanced haymaker hits his face hard enough to make him see stars. Even the pain reducing effects of the Level 2 Curse Seal don't numb enough to keep him from collapsing backwards to his hands and knees.

He's fairly certain the two hard things he just swallowed were teeth.

Sasuke barely hears Karin's shriek of fury over the blood throbbing in his ears. He sees Juugo go toe to toe with Naruto, though almost immediately the large man abandons his efforts of killing the vessel in exchange for desperately trying to stay alive. Karin helps her large teammate zero in on the real blond out of the hundred or so clones he has active at the moment. Between the two of them, Naruto is distracted enough that when Suigetsu materializes out of a puddle behind him, he turns around just in time to take a sword slash through the face.

Naruto staggers and nearly keels over. The three attackers back off for a moment, almost as surprised as the blond by the severe injury.

Sasuke can't see the wounded side of his former teammate's head from where he's kneeling, so he has no idea how badly the vessel has been hurt. The thought of killing Suigetsu for stealing his victory crosses the Uchiha's mind, but all thought is erased from his brain when something separates from the far side of Naruto's head with a wet 'shluck' and plops on the ground.

An instant later, bright red gouts of arterial blood start spraying from the obscured side of Naruto's head. Sasuke stares in mute shock at the lump of red and pink on the ground. He tries to pretend he doesn't see the yellow-quickly-staining-red hair still attached to it.

He starts to yell, though whether in jubilation or horror he doesn't know, but it dies impotently in his throat as a storm of bloody chakra explodes across the field.

His Sharingan eyes can't stand staring at such potent chakra in such huge volumes. With his head still whoozy, he has to close his eyes or be violently ill.

When the storm pauses -pauses, not recedes- Sasuke looks up into the crimson avatar hovering over the mutilated corpses of his teammates and realizes that this is a true avenger.


Taloned hands are reaching for his face.

This is the incarnation of vengeance itself.

It's a year before he works up the courage to leave the Leaf again. His scars are as healed as they'll ever get and he knows it's time to move on. Itachi still lives and the Hidden Stone has a very nice offer waiting for him. Sakura will just have live with it. She should've known what she was getting into when she agreed to marry him.

Sasuke pretends it's a coincidence that he's leaving at the same time he is away on an extended mission in Water Country. It almost doesn't work, but he's gotten much better at pretending over the years.

After he's left his wife's bed and made his way through the village, Sasuke dodges the guards easily enough and lands on the other side of the village wall.

He nearly dies of a heart attack when a tall figure steps out of the shadows of the forest. For an instant, he's ready to kill himself, because he will never face that thing again.

But no, its features don't bear blond hair and tanned skin. It's taller and pale, with dark hair and cream colored eyes.

"Naruto asked me to keep on eye on you while he was away. Lucky me." Hyuuga Neji quietly says as he assumes a deceptively gentle looking Taijutsu stance.

Sasuke attacks in fear and rage, though little of it is directed at the Hyuuga. He hasn't learned as much genuine knowledge as he liked to think in his years away from the Leaf and so he is surprised when Neji manages a Kaiten powerful enough to deflect his black Chidori off to the side. Perhaps it's Neji's strength showing through.

Or perhaps that Kaiten simply looks too much like hissignature move for Sasuke to handle.

It really doesn't matter. Either way, when he feels the stiletto of chakra enter his brain and rupture more arteries than he can begin to count, Sasuke can't help but almost feel relief.

At least it wasn't hi

9.) Naruto enjoys his position as Anbu Commander for little more than a month when Orochimaru pulls his most brazen stunt yet.

After successfully corrupting Kabuto's body into his own, the Snake attempts to assassinate Tsunade in broad daylight in the middle of the streets of Konoha. Fortunately for her, Naruto has been enjoying lunch at a small outdoor café less than a block away when the fighting breaks out.

Tsunade is bleeding rather badly from a nasty stab wound when a yellow and white missile comes from out of nowhere to slam into her former teammate's side.

Orochimaru doesn't recognize the masked man until the blond breaks out a Fuuton Rasengan that drains most of the air from the surrounding district before he slams it into the traitor's Kusanagi.

Legendary metal or not, there's only so much punishment any weapon can take. Orochimaru has barely begun to dig some of the fragments out of his hand when Naruto is upon him.

After a short but furious exchange the two break away for an instant to prepare jutsu, then lunge at each other again.

Orochimaru's crystalline stalagmite shatters into a hundred pieces when it impacts Naruto's strange and nameless Wind Jutsu. The torrents of chakra laced air blast most of the pieces back and through the Sannin, though a few go wild and embed themselves into the street and nearby walls.

Tsunade actually kicks the piece of meat that used to be her teammate aside in her haste to check on Naruto. His porcelain Anbu mask has been shattered off, revealing his bloody but still quite recognizable features to everyone on the street.

He starts to reassure her that he's fine, but stops with a sudden coughing fit. He starts clutching at his throat, which the Godaime only then realizes is bleeding. He digs his fingers into a red-rimmed hole just above his clavicle and pulls out a bloody sliver of crystal thicker than his index finger.

"Whoops." He chuckles sheepishly as soon as his throat heals enough to speak. "Guess I should've been more careful."

Tsunade has to force her hands to stop shaking as she leads him off to the hospital.

10.) After he's unmasked as Konohagakure's ANBU Commander, Naruto realizes that it's only a matter of time before the assassination attempts start.

By this point, he doesn't fear anyone on the face of the earth, let alone the no doubt overconfident and under qualified assassins that'll be sent after him, but it's not himself he fears for. He may be ridiculously hard to kill, but his friends and subordinates aren't.

So when the first attack finally does come, he makes an example out of them.

A brutal one.

He accompanies a Council member on a mission to Water Country, on a diplomatic mission to Kirigakure. Along the way, they're ambushed.

The shinobi that attack wear no identifying gear, but the jutsu they use brands them as Cloud-nin better than any headband ever could. Lightning rains from the sky in such powerful bursts that it superheats the water in the earth around them into explosive steam. Not a single jutsu is fired back nor is a single retaliatory kunai thrown in the ensuing chaos as everyone in the Leaf convoy is either caught in the explosive rock shrapnel or electrocuted by the lightning bolts. Moments later, the wails die away and there's no sound other than the pitter patter of dirt clods and rocks falling back to the ground. The disguised Cloud-nins are confident of their total victory, until the dust settles down enough to show the silhouette of one figure that's still standing.

Naruto stands with near unnatural calm. The huge blistered patches of burned flesh are already receding. Pieces of stone are slowly reemerging from the wounds they've caused and are falling to the ground as the cuts and gashes seal behind them. The Commander Armor weathers the storm unscathed, but his underlying orange and white bodysuit is held together by mere fibers.

His blue eyes seem to burn with a bright inner fire and he stares each of the Cloud-nins in the eye one by one with an utter lack of fear that is more unnerving than any of them care to admit.

Later, he sends a blood stained Kumo headband to the leader of every Hidden Village in the Continent. He's fairly certain he gets his message across quite nicely.

Naruto lets the Raikage stew about the fact that weren't any forehead protectors on the dead assassins and just where he got them from.

11.) Much to the pleasure of Neji, the embarrassed disappointment of Hinata, and just plain embarrassment of the rest of the Clan, Naruto marries a Hyuuga.

His wife is a beautiful Main House member who is one of the Anbu Captains under his command. Naruto has been impressed with her ever since their first meeting, when she threatened to Jyuuken him in the balls if he didn't stop using the sink in the Anbu's staff room to wash his dirty laundry (delicates and all.)

Hyuuga Haruki is very much not impressed by him, especially when he (her commanding officer, as she often reminds him) starts bothering her constantly for a date. Just the thought of a Main House noble dating the village pariah (who to this day still has no land or property to his name and only a commissioned military rank for a title) is incomprehensible to the prideful young woman.

No one ever says it'll be easy for him. But Naruto is used to fighting uphill battles and doesn't think twice about pursuing a richer, smarter woman who is not only on the polar opposite of the social spectrum from him, but also five years older.

It takes several months of pestering and bailing her out of nasty situations, but Naruto finally manages to wheedle a date out of the uptight Hyuuga noble.

One date turns into two. Then three. Then more. Soon, they spend most of their off-duty evenings together. Haruki finds that much to her surprise, Naruto is quite an enjoyable teen/man to be around. And it further surprises her when she wakes up one day and realizes she much prefers time spent with him to time spent without.

It doesn't hurt that he has the sex drive of a teenager and the stamina of a demon.

It isn't until he gets into a fight with yet another Swordsman of the Hidden Mist that Haruki realizes he means more to her than just a warm and fun companion.

She never caught the other nin's name. Thank Kami it wasn't Hoshigaki Kisame, because she's fairly certain neither of them would have made it home that day. The tall woman has the typical lean build of Mist-nin, but her o-dachi is anything but slim. On top of that, Naruto isn't used to fighting Suiton specialists.

It shows. Badly.

A freezing jet of water-turning-into-ice to his face disorients him long enough for the Swordswoman to disarm him, literally. His guard is wide open for a diagonal slash that splits his chest open from his left shoulder to the flesh above his right hipbone.

The Swordswoman pauses to smirk and that's all the opportunity Haruki needs to get in close and use Neji-kun's special killing maneuver that cousin Hanabi-chan jokingly calls the Lobotomizer. Turns out it works on Legendary Swordswomen just as well as it works on traitorous Uchiha.

Haruki is by the Commander's side almost before the dead Mist-nin hits the ground. Her normally stoic face is twisted in pain and her cream colored eyes splash hot tears over the pale and slack face of the blond.

She's heard the stories, even seen smaller scale examples of his legendary regeneration with her own eyes, and right now she's praying to all the Kami she was too indifferent to ever believe in that he'll just breathe, just open his eyes, ju-

Naruto stirs beneath her and lets out a wet hacking cough that immediately makes him groan in agony. A disgusting amount of blood comes up out of his mouth with the next round of coughs.

Blue eyes open and look up dazedly into wide and shocked lavender-cream eyes.

"…Hey babe…what'd I miss?" He manages to choke out. Color is already returning to his features.

"You…you died." Haruki says dumbstruck. Some part of her that sounds a lot like uncle Hiashi kicks herself for such a cliché line.

"Kinda. It happens." Naruto grumbles as though annoyed such things keep happening to him.

Haruki glances down, then immediately looks back up when she realizes she's looking into her lover's guts. Mending guts, but guts nonetheless. It's different seeing them with her natural sight than with the Byakugan.

Having nothing better to look at, she keeps staring into the Commander's blue eyes.

"…Will you stop," -Cough- "looking at me like that? This is we-" -Hack- "-ird enough as it is." Naruto mutters in between choking up pieces of meaty fiber from his lungs.

"I love you." Haruki blurts out and is once again glad none of her family is around the hear her make an ass of herself.

"Took you long enough." Naruto dryly says with a warm sparkle in his eyes. She realizes that he's known her feelings long before she'd gotten around to admitting them herself. She feels like she's going to explode in a Kaiten-nova from the emotion welling up inside her.

"We'll figure out later when we're gonna get married. For now, could you be a doll and find my arm for me?" He casually asks.

Haruki decides this is a good time to faint.

Naruto looks down at his girlfriend's face mashed in his still bleeding chest wound and grumbles to himself, "50 ryo says she'll blame me for the mess in her hair when she wakes up."

12.) Haruki really knew better. She knew he was serious, even though she pretends he was joking with his marriage comment. But she's known him long enough to know that while Naruto laughs and pranks, he's never made a joke in his life.

Naruto is, in fact, dead serious about marrying his uptight Hyuuga noblewoman and he's all too willing to drop everything immediately and go stand before the Godaime right then and there. However, he decides that with her traditional background and upbringing that it's probably a good idea to get the permission of her parents first. Seeing as how he's never met her mother (and wouldn't even know where to begin to look for her in an estate full of people who all look practically identical) and how her father is dead, he decides to go hunting for the next best thing.

Hyuuga Hiashi has seen Naruto almost a hundred times in the past two years at various meetings and on the streets, but has not spoken to him once in their entire lives.

This changes when the low-bred blond upstart barges into his study and launches into a rambling announcement about how he plans on marrying young Haruki (the daughter of his sister-in-law, if he remembers correctly.) Hiashi's face grows more and more emotionless the longer Naruto talks until his pale features appear to be carved out of wood.

"And so, I figured on doin' right by her and at least telling the Clan boss about it. I figure on gettin' married in a week or so. You an' Neji an' Hinata-chan an' that crazy talented sister of hers are all welcome to come, of course." Naruto finishes with one of his trademark grins that forces his eyes closed.

"…And if her parents…or the Clan Head,denies permission?" Hiashi slowly asks, carefully enunciating every syllable to directly contrast Naruto's horrible peasant drawl. A cold fury builds in the man like he's rarely experienced before.

"Oh, we'll still get hitched and all. I'm just being uh…what do you call it…courteous! Yeah, that's the word!" Naruto says with a sheepish laugh.

"And have you even considered whether or not her kinsmen would allow it?" Hiashi questions in a deceptively quiet voice. He has to force himself not to allow his Byakugan to activate.

"Eh, I think I can handle a few cranky nobles. 'Ruki-chan wouldn't be happy if I killed any of her relatives, but she won't complain too much if I beat the tar outta a few of them. Not like the Hyuuga have anything that's really dangerous they can throw at me." The blond says with a cheery smile that makes his eyes squint shut and his whisker scars stand out even more than usual.

Hiashi's teeth audibly grind together.

"Anyways, just wanted to let you know so you won't be surprised if or probably when 'Ruki-chan has some Branch House dudes move my crap in here. I still think my apartment is just fine for the two of us and my plants, but try telling that to a Main House Hyuuga." Naruto says with a chuckle as he stands. He turns and starts to walk to the door, presumably to show himself out.

Hiashi is on his feet with all the silence and grace of a shinobi worthy of being the leader of the noblest Clan in the entire world. His hand is outstretched with a Jyuuken blade of chakra so potent that he could have seen it even had he not activated his Byakugan.

Naruto's back is turned and he's totally relaxed. How this piece of trash ever became leader of the Anbu is a mystery. Hiashi is no fool though. He knows whatever its other faults may be, this thing is practically immortal. But his attack is so powerful, he's certain that when it strikes the back of that fuzzy blond head, what little of the impudent little bastard's brains that aren't fried to ash will ooze right out those tan, mongrel ears. He mentally dares the filth to try regenerating from that.

His chakra blade is literally half a foot from the back of Naruto's skull when Hiashi is engulfed in a sea of killing intent.

His Jyuuken jutsu fizzles out as he focuses all his willpower on keeping his lungs from locking up.

As the other man slowly turns his head to fix one eye on the pale noble, Hiashi is very suddenly and very successfully reminded of the fact that he is the only actual human in the room.

And he dares to think himself not a fool.

Naruto's smile is as wide as ever, but his electric-blue eyes sparkle red in the room's dim lamplight.

"Hiashi-kun...I can call you that, right? See, I think you're under the mistaken impression that you have a say in the matter." Gone is the casual twanging drawl of a bumpkin.

He tries to force himself to focus only on breathing, but somehow all his thoughts are on the words knifing their way through his ear canals.

"Furthermore, you also seem to be under the impression that you're free to act against me." The calm tones hold hidden undercurrents of icy malice.

His heart is beating so fast it's literally hurting the inside of his rib cage.

"Or even worse, act against Haruki." The voice of a trained killer.

The inside of his left arm is inflicted with a stabbing pain that most likely means impending heart attack.

"Or that you'll be doing anything except giving that arrogant little nod of yours at the ceremony, signing all the right documents to make it official inside the Clan, and then going back to whatever it is uptight nobles waste their lives with." The words of a forged killer.

He can't control his breathing anymore and he's getting lightheaded.

Naruto's face is suddenly inches from his and he can look nowhere else but into blue pools of liquid nightmare as the vessel speaks.

"You'll sign the papers. You'll convince the elders that this is a smart idea. You won't say a damn thing to Haruki ever unless it's to congratulate her for a promotion or a pregnancy. You won't try to cop a cheap revenge through Neji. The same goes for Hinata and Hanabi. They're my family now, not yours. And you won't ever be stupid enough to evenconsider making a move against me. This is not a threat. This is not a command. This is how it's going to be. There is no 'or else.'"

The promise of a born killer.

A sharp pain lances through Hiashi's head. His right eye goes dark at the same time he loses feeling on that side of his body. As he collapses to the floor, the sea of hell lifts from him and he chokes a ragged breath into his lungs.

"Huh, I'll be damned. You actually had a stroke from that. I'll do my first duty as an in-law and inform the Medics about your situation on my way to the Tower, Hiashi-kun. I'm sure Baa-chan will have most of your mobility restored within a couple weeks. Don't bother getting up. I'll see myself out."

The marriage is delayed for a few days, as the Clan elders demand that Hiashi be able to attend the ceremony for it to be official. The Godaime's repairs to his brain have restored enough back to him that he can watch with both eyes as his nephew and that strange teammate of his get into an argument most unbecoming of their age about which one gets to be Naruto's best man. He keeps watching even as the blond lets out a deep belly laugh at their argument and drags them both up to his side of the altar. He watches as shy, reclusive Hinata smiles warmly (though a bit sadly) at Naruto and even laughs out loud when he suggests that he and his best men go through the ceremony minus their pants. He watches as Naruto starts to back up his suggestion and sees Hanabi (cold, ruthless, and almost terrifyingly talented Hanabi who made Jounin at a younger age than even her prodigy cousin) fail to hide a smile as she decks the blond for his antics.

He stares and keeps staring as the ceremony starts, as Tsunade makes the pact official, and as Naruto grabs up his stiff (in attitude, not in body, Hiashi is disgusted to notice) bride and gives her a preview of that night's honeymoon in front of everyone gathered.

He's sitting in the furthest back row of the room. When he hears a small sound directly to his right, Hiashi slowly turns and meets the green-eyed gaze of Tsunade's pink-haired former apprentice.

A vast gulf of wealth, gender, age, and genetics may divide them, but Hiashi knows that the exact same thoughts are running through both their heads. Just as he also knows that they will forever remain thoughts and nothing more for the rest of both their lives.

Uchiha Sakura stays just long enough to be polite and not a moment more. It doesn't escape his notice that she isn't accompanied by her two year old son. It's a small freedom, but one he still envies.

Hyuuga Hiashi finally has an idea of what life is like for his branded kinsmen.

13.) It's a simple accident. He should've expected it, really.

Naruto has been Hokage for less than a week when Lee breaks his neck during a sparring match. It's the Rokudaime's fault, to be honest.

He's the one that suggests a no holds barred match and he's the one who underestimates just how powerful a roundhouse from Lee can be when it's powered by three open Gates.

Naruto recovers from the mortal injury within two minutes.

That's the easy part.

He spends the next two hours talking Lee out of committing seppuku and then spends two years convincing the over-emotional man that he's still one of his best friends.

14.) The day Naruto learns he can't give his wife children due to the dark burden he carries, he almost walks out of their lives and the village.

Had he started down that path, it would have ended in an active volcano in eastern Earth Country. Maybe that would have done the job.

Maybe not.

As he stares down at the paper detailing his condition, the idea refuses to leave his brain. It's several long, deathly quiet minutes before he asks Shizune if anyone else is on file as having the same affliction.

One other name is on file, under a notice to never reveal it to anyone outside the hospital staff.

Shizune sees the look on Naruto's face and hands the file over without a second thought to breeched protocol.

Five minutes later, the Hokage is standing at the front door of the only other survivor of Sudden Daemonic Exposure Threat.

Naruto doesn't move an inch until the man returns six hours later.

When Maito Gai gives a questioning look to his sworn leader, the blond merely holds up a medical file that Gai hasn't laid eyes on in over twenty years.

The large man pauses, then slowly nods. Much to Tenten and Lee's confusion, Gai quietly but firmly orders them to find somewhere else to be for the rest of the day.

The house has both a porch as well as a large swing hanging from it. Most shinobi prefer to have their relaxation spots facing the Hokage Monument, but this simply faces the street where hundreds of people pass by daily.

Naruto and Gai sit in silence for hours, until well after sundown. The only sound is the creaking of the porch swing as the Rokudaime gently pushes off on the deck with his foot. They sit and watch the citizens of Konoha as they pass by.

About two hours after the streetlamps click on, Neji shows up at the house looking for his team leader. When the Hyuuga says, "Gai-sensei," and Gai answers back with, "Neji-kun," it finally clicks in the Hokage's mind.

He stands calmly, but abruptly. Neji looks at him in surprise at the sudden movement. Gai just keeps watching his Hyuuga with a small smile on his face.

"I understand now." Naruto quietly says. Gai stoically nods. The Hokage steps off the porch and begins walking down the path.

As he turns onto the street to make his way home, the last thing Naruto hears is, "Have a seat Neji-kun and tell me about your day."

Just after dawn the next morning, the Rokudaime walks into the orphanage he ran away from almost two decades prior. He stops by one of the desks and helps himself to a clipboard holding the roll call. He's skimming the names when he suddenly sees one that sticks out like a flare. Just then, the matron walks into the room and shrieks in surprise and fear.

Naruto drops the clipboard to the floor, then walks by the stammering and protesting woman as if she isn't even there. He moves on to the large room where the children under five stay. He walks down the rows of cots with still sleeping orphans lying upon them until he finds the one he's looking for.

The four year old is rather small for his age. His hair is jet black, but even in the dim light Naruto can make out the slightly reddish sheen where the messy locks fall at an angle. The boy's eyes are open and staring at the ceiling. He blinks only when necessary.

As the Hokage's large shadow falls over him, the child shifts his eyes and blinks slowly. Two electric blues eyes meet one jade green and one obsidian black.

"You're not much bigger than the first time I ever saw you, Kuzuri-kun." Naruto quietly observes.

The boy's mismatched eyes blink again.

"We'll get you fattened up pretty quick. Though I'll be doing all the cooking, least until 'Ruki-chan figures out how to boil water without burning it." Naruto continues in an almost casual tone.

The boy doesn't blink this time. He just sits up and keeps staring at the tall blond man he's previously only seen at a distance.

Naruto sees this and smiles with a gentleness he hasn't shown in years to anyone other than his wife and some of the Hyuuga children that run around the estate.

"I'm your new poppa and I'm here to take you home. We have to hurry if we want to introduce you to your new momma before she leaves to meet up with her patrol." He says in a soft, but confident voice.

The boy stares at him for a long moment, then holds his arms out. Naruto reaches down and wraps his own around the small child.

Kuzuri is practically weightless he notes as he walks through the halls on his way to the front door. The matron sees him with not only a child in his arms but that child, and immediately starts shouting as loudly as she dares.

Naruto ignores her existence as thoroughly as he did that day long ago when he first left this craphole and carries his son away.

15.) Uzumaki Kuzuri is not fit to be a shinobi.

The boy knows this and is somewhat ashamed by it, though he learns to accept it over time.

His mother knows this and is both annoyed and amused that after over a century the Hyuuga Clan has finally managed to reclaim the deviant Sharingan Bloodline only to have the bearer turn out to be practically a mockery of all the Uchiha held dear.

His father knows this and couldn't care less what his son does, so long as he's happy.

Uchiha don't have strong builds to begin with and Kuzuri takes more after his mother in that regard anyways. His body simply isn't built to give or take damage.

He has a good grasp of chakra, but very little to work with. His stamina is also quite low.

His eyes are the worst. It's not talked about often, but there's a reason why Doujutsu clans often practice near inbreeding to keep their Bloodlines strong. Kuzuri's green left eye is incapable of forming the Sharingan. According to the Hyuuga Clan's eye doctor (who is of course, quite an expert in Doujutsu), the left eye doesn't even have the dormant foundation structures present in unawakened Sharingan eyes.

His obsidian right eye can form the Sharingan, though he's fourteen by the time it awakens. Even then it's another year before he can evolve it to the second tomoe form. No matter how hard he tries or how much effort he puts into it, he never manages to get it to the third and mastered form.

Naruto encourages him to keep trying, if only because he never tires of chuckling at his son's many strange expressions whenever he tries to force his eye to evolve.

Haruki knows he'll never evolve it further because he can't stomach killing.

When Kuzuri is sixteen and announces over dinner one day that he wants to be a musician (of all things), the only reactions he gets are Naruto's shout of, "Whoo! Free concert tickets!" and his mother's long suffering sigh.

Despite his many flaws, the teen inherits more than his fair share of his birthmother's IQ. With his intellect combined with the more than adequate copying abilities of his two tomoe Sharingan eye, he's ready to throw his first concert within a month.

The boy's nerves are shot, despite his father's encouragements backstage. It doesn't help that Naruto manages to electrocute himself into cardiac arrest while setting up an enormous bass speaker. While his mother drags his father's reviving body out the back door, the curtain goes up.

Only a handful of people are present when Kuzuri swallows his fear and picks up his guitar, but the longer he plays the more people show up. By the end of the hour, the auditorium is packed with people screaming for encores.

It's the first time in his life that he doesn't feel ashamed for being the son of a Hokage that retired from shinobi life immediately after his first C Rank mission.

When Kuzuri gets home, he finds his parents in their large bathroom. After a half hour of nonstop excited chatter, Haruki finally asks him to leave for awhile so she can calm her husband down enough to finish cutting the singed (and still statically charged) hair off his blond head.

Only Haruki and Naruto know that the packed audience is initially hundreds of the vessel's Shadow Clones Henged into random people. A clone at the door keeps selling tickets despite the full seats. When a clone usher leads a real person to a seat, the clone occupying it is long gone.

There's a theory proposed that if you stand on a crowded sidewalk and stare up at nothing long enough, you'll eventually get a whole crowd of people around you also looking up at nothing.

It works like a charm. It's hard for the general public to ignore almost a thousand disguised Narutos cheering their kid on, no matter what the situation is.

Naruto considers it one of the best pranks of his whole life.

The next concert has a more modest attendance, but it's all genuine people. When Kuzuri gets a real bass player and drummer (instead of two Kage Bunshins that constantly drain and distract him), attendance starts selling out. He continues to play for decades more and at the peak of his success he's almost as famous abroad as his father.

For the rest of his life, he's never quite sure what keeps people coming back to his performances: his skill with a guitar, his father's fame, his birthfather's infamy, or if the people of Konoha just have some strange masochistic urge to watch a half-blood Uchiha playing a guitar in a band he had the balls to name 'The Bloody Fox.'

16.) Ten years after the death of the super pervert, Naruto gets his chance to avenge Jiraiya.

Pein has gained access to god-like power over the years. His small nation freely causes chaos and havoc across the Continent. Whenever he encounters real resistance, certain energies generated by the eight captured Bijuu are unleashed in a pyrotechnic display that carves ten mile wide spheres of the world out of reality itself.

The reincarnated Uchiha Madara underestimates his protégé and overestimates himself when he foolishly challenges the megalomaniac. Pein doesn't have to say a word. He merely points his finger and his former master is simply erased.

How can that not inflate a man's ego? Pein is so convinced he has been deified that when he receives a report that Konohagakure's Kage has personally butchered a small legion of Akatsuki agents, he decides to show this supposedly immortal upstart the true fury of God.

He's been meaning to drop by the Leaf to pick up the Nine-tails anyways, so why not now?

Pein arrives at Konoha's door spoiling for a fight. He starts by eradicating the Hokage Monument while he's still four miles out from the village walls. After that, he kicks around the pathetic Anbu for a bit while waiting for the Hokage to show up. Even as he kills them he admits to them that Naruto, followed by Neji, have both done bang up jobs getting the Leaf Anbu Corps' sloppy ass into shape. These Anbu warriors are a far cry from the batch that practically handed the village over to Orochimaru during the invasion thirteen years ago, but they're still no match for one with the backing of Heaven itself.

When Pein is hit by a yellow-haired meteor and shoved into a tunnel of air that spits him out somewhere in the wastes of Wind Country, he doesn't get worried.

When Naruto appears from the winds in front of him and hits Pein in the mouth hard enough to have taken his head off had he not used a Body Switch, he doesn't lose his cool.

When Naruto summons a Rasengan that drains the air and clouds down from the sky, he isn't unnerved.

When Pein unleashes his Bijuu powered Debaser technique and Naruto manages to teleport out of the non-reality zone, he remains stoic.

When Pein summons a full dozen counterparts that all bear his Doujutsu and Naruto doesn't even blink in reaction, he thinks nothing of it.

When Naruto manifests a single, but full sized and very corporeal Kyuubi tail that destroys all of the counterparts as well most of the mesa they're standing on, Pein's façade cracks a little.

The fight is a brutal stalemate. Naruto's skill and the Kyuubi keep Pein from blasting him off the face of the Earth while Pein's tricks and the power of the combined Bijuu keep Naruto far enough away that he can't tear the Akatsuki Leader's throat out with his bare teeth.

After almost an hour of combat where neither fighter can gain a clear advantage over the other, Pein is starting to sweat with nerves. The idea that he may not be a god is taking a firmer and firmer hold in his mind.

When he can't take it anymore and declares that he'll use a Debaser blast that'll wipe the whole Continent out of existence, Naruto laughs in his face.

Then he becomes the third Hokage in history to form nine hand-seals and summon a real god.

No more variables, no more fancy jutsu, only a painful never ending drain. Pein's body and soul scream in rage and terror as he's devoured by the Shinigami. His sole consolation is that Naruto is being dragged along with him into the endless dark.

But even that hollow victory is snatched from him when a boiling red arm forces open the jaws of the Death God and snatches the Rokudaime's soul right out of the Shinigami's throat.

Pein screams for a very long time as he falls by himself into eternity.

Naruto thinks he's unconscious, but feels like he's awake. He thinks he's dead, but feels like he's alive.

A dark voice snarls taunts in a language that sounds like a slab of diamond being forced through a wall of steel. A different, deep and sanctimonious voice tries to respond in kind, but it's clearly terrified beyond words and desperate to get away. The snarling one lets the other go after one last growl. Naruto doesn't need to understand the words to know that last barb is a promise of future ghastly tortures.

A dark heat he's been unaware of withdraws into the deeps of his mind.

Naruto opens his eyes to stare into the red sunset from his seat on a pile of rubble. He stands, then glances at Pein's lifeless body. He burns the head off to prevent the Doujutsu from being used by anyone else, then leaves the rest for the buzzards as he heads back home.

He doesn't know why the Kyuubi saved him from the Death God. Perhaps it needs Naruto's soul to keep itself alive in his body. Perhaps it was paying back some unknown debt. Perhaps it did it because it has even worse tortures in mind for him than an eternity in the Shinigami's stomach.

Who knows?

But sometimes, on days where he's dealing with the self-serving Council or with overly arrogant elites or particularly annoying civilians, he suspects he knows the truth. He suspects it's the same reason why a monstrous youko possessing the power to shatter mountains ever bothered attacking a tiny village of ants like Konoha.

Because it can.

17.) Roughly a month after the death of Pein, Konan amasses the remainder of their country's military forces and attacks the Hidden Leaf.

Between their strategists' anticipation of the action and a properly functioning Anbu Corps, this invasion fails. Spectacularly.

Konan is out for revenge though and when she sees the lines breaking in the Leaf's favor, she summons a monstrous entity that holds the souls of the eight captured Bijuu.

When all his attacks upon it fail, Naruto resorts to attempting to summon the Shinigami again. He's almost amused when the Death God refuses to answer his call. The distraction costs him as the thing lets loose a blast he only partially dodges.

Minus an arm and part of his torso, the Rokudaime dances around the creature's attacks and makes his way up the back of its head.

There he draws out three boiling tails of chakra.

Then four.

Then five.

By the time the seventh tail comes out, Naruto is incapable of even subconscious thought. The creature is clawing open its own scalp trying to reach him, but it's far too late.

The eighth tail erupts.

All light seems to disappear in the dark nova of chakra that literally blisters the skin of all gathered within visual range. The killing intent radiating outwards causes many weaker shinobi to faint or go into seizures on the spot. All Hyuuga with active Byakugans are instantly blinded, some permanently.

The creature scrabbles more violently when it senses the explosion of chakra, but it's nowhere near fast enough. The demon vessel lets out an inhuman howl that echoes for miles as it slams downs all eight tails at once, one into each of the thing's eight glowing eyes.

The same eyes that hold the souls of the imprisoned Bijuu.

The explosion is on the scale of the nuclear bombs of old. The only reason why it doesn't turn the Hidden Leaf into a crater is because the release of the Bijuu blasts open a rift into Hell. Most of the unleashed energies are dragged into the portal before it consumes itself.

Any shinobi unfortunate enough to be standing within a few hundred yards of the explosion's radius are also dragged in. Konan is among this unlucky number.

Despite the contained fury of the detonation, the shockwave is still powerful enough to blast apart dozens of buildings and blow almost everyone in the Leaf off their feet.

Hours later, at the bottom of the molten crater, a naked and hairless man is found. The first shinobi to try and touch him screams as layers of flesh burn away instantly when his hands make contact with the prone man's skin. The unconscious man's pale flesh crackles with malevolent energy. It takes four Jounin wearing iron gauntlets covered in specially designed seals to drag him out of the molten slag he's lying in.

Naruto is unconscious for five months after the incident. He spends the first two lying on concrete covered in chakra suppression seals, as his flesh burns right through even the sturdiest of beds. Even so, the seals have to be renewed almost hourly. After the chakra dissipates enough, he's moved to a bed in the Hyuuga estate where he's watched over by family and friends until he finally awakens. Despite his recovery from the coma and his fully repaired injuries, it's almost a year before he can use chakra again. Another two years pass before his chakra control stabilizes enough to use his entire arsenal of jutsu again.

His time of weakness doesn't harm his standing in the least. Naruto is a legend exceeding the Sannin and even the Yondaime Hokage both within the Land of Fire and well beyond. None will dare to act against him or his country for many years to come.

Naruto honestly thinks little of the battle, much like all of his ridiculous victories. In his mind, there is only one difference between this triumph and the others. He doesn't feel that familiar morsel of pride when he thinks of this battle as he does the time he defeated Gaara or the time he dropped Kakuzu in one move.

No, what little he feels is only regret.

He's pretty sure Haruki didn't have those lines around her eyes or those streaks of gray hair before he fell into a coma.

Naruto never voluntarily uses the Kyuubi's chakra again for as long as his wife lives.

18.) Fifty-three years after the death of the Yondaime, Naruto wakes up one morning next to a cold body.

Despite all the signs in front of him, despite still looking like a twenty year old while she slowly aged more and more, despite still waking every morning as early as he ever did while she needed more and more sleep, despite still being an active Kage going strong while she had to retire, his wife's death still takes him by utter surprise.

He's still holding her when Kuzuri comes by that night wondering why his parents didn't greet him at the door like they usually did.

The day of the funeral is quite sunny. Almost mockingly cheerful. The bright light does little to hide the shadows in Naruto's eyes. As soon as the services are done, the Hokage walks out of the graveyard.

Lee is the only one who tries to stop him, but he falters when he can't find a damn thing to say. He simply grabs his wife's arm tighter as their leader disappears out of sight.

Eight days later and Naruto is standing on the shore of a little island far south of Wave Country. He follows a small, but well worn path through the woods towards his destination.

He's not surprised by the lack of security. Six days of his travel time has been spent just running here across the ocean. Even if an assassin managed to find this place, the inhabitants fear no one.

He steps out of the bushes and into a small clearing that lies between a small, weather beaten cottage and a larger building that looks like a fisherman's shack, complete with what looks like a polished whale skeleton hanging on the side of it.

He stops and waits. He knows he's been sensed already and he has no desire to rush them when he's already imposing as it is.

A crow caws somewhere to his left.

Naruto turns and for the first time in almost forty years he lays eyes upon Uchiha Itachi.

The only living legendary traitor of Konoha has aged well. The deepened lines on his face make him look like the nobleman he actually is. His once charcoal hair is now the color of fresh plaster of paris. The arm the crow rests on is just as lean as ever. The worn, but well kept Anbu armor still fits perfectly.

He looks like a god-king of aged warriors hailing from a dead culture. Like an ancient katana, he's old and worn but has become ten times deadlier because of it.

Itachi's eyes are closed as he gently scratches the black bird's head. He sits in a naturally regal pose upon a long dead tree stump. With a voice like urn ash sifting over eroded granite, he quietly says, "Hello, Naruto-kun."

"Itachi." Naruto replies with a considerable amount of respect. He has never forgotten the time he opened that hotel room door and first looked up into what Sasuke only ever dreamed of becoming.

There's the sound of heavy footsteps on rain-warped wood from behind him. He turns and sees Hoshigaki Kisame himself walking out of the large shack.

For a man that has to be around seventy, Kisame looks just as deadly as the day Naruto last saw him. His now mottled blue-gray skin is stretched over layers of corded muscle that are on par with the late Maito Gai in his prime. His hair is the color of fresh wrought steel. He walks with a slight limp (a trophy from battling both Gai and Lee at the same time with their Gates active and surviving intact enough to withdraw on his own power), but Samehada is just as weightless in his hand as it ever was.

"I see the brat's here. This a personal thing or is the whole Leaf army gonna be dropping in for a visit?" Kisame gruffly asks.

"Personal. I've come to talk to Itachi." Naruto replies as the shark-man walks up to stand a dozen feet behind him.

Kisame's pace is relaxed and unhurried. Naruto leaves his back wide open to one of the deadliest men in the world. They're so far beyond professionals that they look like amateurs to even a trained eye.

"About?" Itachi's grave ash voice asks. He still doesn't look up as he continues to run his fingers through the crow's feathers.

"A fight. You and me." Naruto answers without hesitating.

Itachi is silent for almost a full five minutes. He gives no physical indication of what he's thinking.

"Why?" He finally asks. His voice is as toneless as ever. His face is absolutely unreadable.

"Because you're probably the only man in the world that can kill me." Naruto honestly replies.

Itachi is again silent. Without warning, the bird suddenly takes flight and soars off over the treetops. The last true Uchiha rises slowly and gracefully.

He tilts his head to one side and says, "Kisame-san."

There's a pause, then the shark-man's gravelly voice answers, "Yeah, yeah, I know. Later, Itachi-san."

The Mist traitor's footsteps slowly recede at a leisurely pace down the path. The two shinobi stand in silence long after Kisame leaves aural range.

"Why do you seek death?" Itachi suddenly asks with a note of mild curiosity in his voice.

"I lost someone. Dying is probably the only way I'll ever get them back. You're my best shot at dying." Naruto says. His answer is a reflection of the rather spiraling logic that has always run through his head.

Itachi seems to think about that answer before he says, "I've tested my capacity against all that have mattered, but my knowledge is still incomplete. I will test myself against you, then win or lose I will test myself against all the gods and demons to come."

Naruto pauses at the sudden insight into the Uchiha scion's mind. He shifts his feet into a loose stance.

"Ready?" The blond asks.

Itachi suddenly faces him directly for the first time. When his eyes remain closed, Naruto realizes with a shock that this man is blind.

"If you face me with anything less than all you have, I will leave you here and you will never find us again." The ex-Anbu coldly informs.

Naruto almost invisibly stiffens a bit, but nods after a moment.


There are no more words. Itachi disappears in a cloud of black feathers and Naruto explodes in a crackling yellow and orange blur.

It's the hardest and most dangerous fight of his life.

Blindness has done absolutely nothing to Itachi's combat prowess. He tracks Naruto's movements uncannily and is able to predict the Hokage's actions better than his younger brother ever could even with a fully mastered Sharingan. He doesn't throw jutsu around, but he doesn't overly conserve his chakra either. He thinks and analyzes, but is never lost in thought or hesitant to react. He plans, but doesn't over plan. Every movement is simple, efficient, and brutal.

Without a doubt, Itachi is the most perfect shinobi Naruto has ever and will ever encounter. And he realizes that unlike every other Uchiha in history, Itachi's strength lies in his mastery of himself, not the Clan Bloodline.

To Itachi, the Sharingan is and always has been just another tool at his disposal. The loss of it means nothing more to him than if he'd broken a kunai.

No wonder he killed his whole clan. In his eyes, their very existence must have been a pathetic joke with no punch line.

Despite himself, Naruto actually wants to win. To defeat such an opponent is worth more than his own grief. The warrior pride burning through him, the man that he's become, and the demon that's a part of him won't settle for anything less.

And after almost three hours of nearly even fighting, he thinks he's won. He blurs in behind the Uchiha and manages to slice his arm open. Itachi spins in place and disappears in a whirl of feathers.

A flare of chakra so powerful it's almost Bijuu-class ignites the air behind him

Naruto turns almost in disbelief to see Itachi opening his burning black eyes.

He's wrong. He's assumed the Uchiha has lost the entire use of his Bloodline along with his sight. It never occurs to him that sight or no, the other man might still be able to force parts of his Sharingan to work. Naruto realizes he's been expertly out maneuvered from the very beginning of the battle, if not before.

As jet-black fire engulfs his entire being, he can think only one thing.


The pain starts and it doesn't stop. He screams and howls in true agony. This isn't pain he can just shrug off. This isn't a wound he can just bounce back from.

This fire cuts almost as much as it sears. It burns deep. It burns and it doesn't stop.

He can't see anything. He's as blind as his opponent. His eyes are boiling water rapidly turning to ash. Some part of him that still has sanity tries desperately to finish his side of the bargain, but with all his senses robbed of him it's nearly impossible.

He can't use his natural senses, but when he feels that now familiar chakra flare again (he will never be able to forget it after this), his sixth sense zeros in on his opponent.

The burning, black near-skeleton that used to be Naruto lunges with the last of his strength at and through Itachi's second Amaterasu. The Uchiha is momentarily unable to move due to the ungodly amounts of chakra he's blasting across the field. As such, he can offer no resistance to the skeletal hand that tears a hole clean through his chest.

Naruto collapses off to the side, still enshrouded in black fire. No longer possessing a throat to howl with, the only sound that comes from him is the rattle of his bones as he settles to the earth.

Itachi's black eyes slowly fade into glazed white as he remains standing with torrents of blood running down his chest. His face has an expression of mild surprise on it. Slowly…very slowly, the corner of his mouth upturns ever so slightly.

It's the first time Itachi has genuinely smiled since the night after he butchered his ego-tainted and unworthy clansmen.

"Until we meet again, Naruto-kun." He manages to say with only one functioning lung. His fall backwards is as soundless as every other movement he makes.

With quiet dignity, the last of the Uchiha dies.

And Naruto continues to burn.

The blackness disappears and for the longest, sweetest moment of his existence, he sees an endless blue and green miasma past a veil of light that slowly parts. It's neither warm nor cool, but it's welcoming and he somehow feels like it's the home of everything.

He feels like he belongs.

Then a red haze obscures his sight and something pulls.

He's back in his burning wreck of a body and despite being ash and bone, he stills feels the burn. It has scored him deep and it still does not stop.

Seven days and seven nights he burns. Through wind and rain, from dusk till dawn, he burns.

He doesn't remember it ending. When he slowly opens his eyes, he's sure he's dreaming and is trapped forever in a cage of black flames.

But then he manages to get a hand underneath himself and sits up.

He's in the clearing, at the center of a wide circle of scorched earth. All around, he can see the scars of battle upon the trees and in the ground. He looks down at himself and finds himself naked, but whole.

He shouldn't be surprised, but still is.

The sound of wood clunking against wood draws his attention off to the right. At the edge of the tree line, he sees a huge bed of logs and branches. Upon it lies a form covered in a large black cloth. A tall blue man is adding the last wad of pine tar to the base of the structure

Naruto manages to stagger to his feet and wobble over towards the scene just in time to watch Kisame ignite the pyre with a flint and steel.

They're silent for almost an hour as they watch the bright orange and yellow flames.

"So you lived." Kisame's voice breaks the silence.

"…It happens." Naruto quietly answers as he watches the funeral pyre.

"Hmm." The shark-man grunts. He watches the fire for a moment longer, then hefts his sword up onto his shoulder. Without a word, he starts to walk away.

Naruto should leave well enough alone, even his tactless mind realizes this, but he can't help but call out to the ex-Mist-nin's back, "Aren't you going to take a crack at me too?"

Kisame says without turning, "Not a chance in hell, brat."

Naruto tries goading, "Not even to get revenge for your friend?"

Kisame turns around and looks the blond right in the eyes. Without hesitating, he says, "He wasn't my friend."

Naruto stares in confusion.

Kisame continues, "I don't know if it means anything to you and I don't care jack if it does, but I'm a soldier above all else. I walked away from the Mist fifty years ago because they thought different. Itachi was my comrade and brother-in-arms for almost half a century."

Understanding begins to dawn in Naruto's mind.

Kisame says, "Brat, you gave my fellow soldier the death he's always wanted, but you still gave him death."

Naruto can't think of anything to say.

Kisame turns and starts walking away. Just before he disappears forever into the gloomy woods, he finishes, "And for that, I want you to live forever."

Itachi's funeral pyre has long gone out by the time Naruto finds the strength to move.

A month after Uzumaki Haruki's funeral and the Rokudaime's sudden disappearance, he returns to the Leaf. There's no warning. One day his office is empty pending the election of a Shichidaime, then the next he's behind his desk catching up on paperwork.

It's so normal it's surreal.

The only difference from before he left and after his return is two small incidents.

The first is that someone breaks into the Uchiha Clan tombs. When the Anbu investigate, they find nothing missing.

Had they looked closer, they would have noticed that a shelf that previously held only three urns now holds four.

The second incident is that a new name is inscribed upon the monument stone. Had Kakashi still been alive, he would have choked on his own tongue at the sight of it. As it stands, no one ever looks close enough to realize it's a name that shouldn't be there. The man who bore that name winds up being mourned just as emotionally as the Leaf's other fallen soldiers.

It's Naruto's last prank.

19.) With every face that disappears, Naruto laughs less and less. All his friends go, one by one. Then soon even their children follow.

The day his own son dies, Naruto stops smiling.

But he stays on though, loyally serving the village he swore to protect eighty years ago. He stays for the kids of his friends, then the kids of their kids, then the kids of their kids.

But the day Hyuuga Neji dies at the proud age of a hundred and seven, it's time to leave.

Neji has been his friend and family for almost a century. He's managed to outlive most of his own grandchildren. Over the years, he's grown into the brother Naruto wishes he could have had from the beginning.

But when his urn is added to the Hyuuga Clan tomb and the Rokudaime slowly walks up the streets of Konoha towards the Tower, he realizes he doesn't know anyone in this village by name anymore.

He stops in the street and stares at the passing citizens and shinobi while trying desperately to pick out even one them that looks familiar. Just one person that he could go up to greet with a grin and a wave and not be stared at like he's some god descended to earth.

He's gotten his acknowledgement. Everyone who survived the Kyuubi is long dead. The people of Konohagakure love and respect him.

And not a single one actually knows him.

He looks at a grocery store he used to have to steal from because the owner hated him. He looks across the street at the restaurant that used to be the clothing store where he shelled out three months of his state stipend to buy a glaring orange outfit that nobody else wanted, but was just perfect in his eyes.

He looks upwards at the rebuilt mountain that has held only six faces for eighty years. He's pretty sure he's the only one left who saw the original's destruction with their own eyes.

It's time to go.

The Council that used to be staffed with members who wanted his head on a platter is now full of people who are panicked at the thought of his absence. They've gotten so used to him that the thought of replacing him throws them into a terror that he's never seen before.

He calmly, but firmly reminds them that it's his choice to retire. If they'll remember correctly not all of Neji's great-grandkids joined the bands that sprang up in the small musical renaissance Kuzuri spawned. More than a few are powerful warriors with big hearts. There's more than one candidate for Shichidaime.

He doesn't announce when he's going to leave. He's not sure he could take a crowd crying out goodbyes to him when he doesn't recognize any of them.

As he leaves the gates, he doesn't say for forever. He doesn't have to.

He wanders here and there, occasionally stopping in places that need a temporary hero. He visits many places he's never seen before. He stops by a couple that he already has.

He's watching the sea while leaning over the railing of the bridge that still bears his name when the girl taps him on the shoulder. He turns around and looks into cat shaped eyes.

She says nothing. She merely hands him a paper with a time and place written on it.

When he arrives, she's already there waiting with seven others. They stand tall and imposing. Each bears traits of the one they contain within them.

He strides right in the center of the circle they've formed without even a hint of fear.

He almost snorts out loud when half of them glare at him for his supposed gall.

Fucking kids.

Their leader steps forth. He's tall, thin, pale, and looks and acts entirely too much like the long dead Orochimaru for him to ever be on Naruto's good side.

"So the Nine-tails has finally left that backwater little village, eh? Finally decided to stop hiding from us, huh?" The teen says with an arrogant smirk.

"And who are you guys again?" Naruto asks. The honesty in his question takes them all back, even the snake-like one. He knows what they are, but not why they're here or what they want from him.

"What?! Don't you know your own kind?" The snakey one hisses out.

"Of course I do, vessel of the Hachibi." He answers and looks the boy right in the eyes. "What I don't know is how I can be hiding from you if I had no idea you existed until Neko-chan over there bumped into me. And now that I do know you all exist, why should I care?"

"Watch your mouth, old man! Most of us have suffered horrors you can't imagine for our burdens. But we escaped our oppressors and found each other. Our burdens have become our gifts!" The boy continues.

Naruto tunes out most of the following spiel. He catches the gist of it though. After he released the eight Bijuu decades ago, they fought their way out of Hell and back onto the mortal plane. Some were recaptured almost immediately and their vessels were trained to hunt down and capture the others. Eventually though, the newest generation of vessels broke off from their masters and founded a new group, one they call-

"Akatsuki." The Hachibi-vessel smugly says.

"Excuse me?" Naruto asks incredulously.

"We are the Akatsuki! Soon, we shall use our demonic gifts to unleash the Red Dawn upon the world and usher in a new era ruled by us!" The boy says while throwing his arms out dramatically. Some of the others murmur in agreement.

"And you Nine-tails, have a choice: turn away from us and make enemies of the strongest beings in the world or…" A pale hand is stretched out. "Join your brothers and sisters and fight for our cause."

Naruto stares at the hand for a long moment, then reaches out to take it. The Hachibi-vessel smirks.

Then the boy gasps as his hand is crushed like wet paper pulp and he's jerked forward. A large, tanned hand closes around a slim, pale throat.

"When you can survive this, boy, then you may call yourself my brother."

The last thing the Hachibi-vessel sees before Naruto tears his head off his shoulders is electric blue eyes that seem to reflect Hell itself.

Naruto casually chucks the head off into the darkness. He turns and looks at the remaining seven. He sees terror and shock in their eyes.


"If any of you ever bother me again, you'll join him."

He walks off into the gloomy night. They part and give him a wide berth as he passes.

He never sees another vessel again.

20.) He's walked for so long. Such a terribly long time with so much more to come.

He's seen so much that it all looks the same. It doesn't matter where he is or who he encounters, there's no real difference. Things are only unique in the short term. Given a long enough timeline and all one can see are the similarities.

He's no longer in the Land of Ninja. He's long since wandered across the ocean into lands more vast and different than any shinobi could ever imagine.

He wandered into new lands, but since then he's thoroughly explored them all. Now it all just looks the same.

He's starting to forget things now. It's inevitable, he supposes. One thing he learned in the Anbu assassin classes is that no new brain cells are created during a human's lifetime. The brain can mend, but not produce new material.

His brain endlessly rebuilds itself. Over time, all the little neurons that contain little pieces of each individual memory are being replaced by fresh blank cells. Eventually, there will be nothing of his past left. Nothing of himself left.

He already has to occasionally remind himself of his own name.

He attempts suicide only once.

He stands over the edge of an active and violent volcano, in some land he never bothered to learn the name of. Enough time has passed that he could be back in the Land of Ninja for all he knows. The Hidden Villages are long gone, replaced by entirely different cultures. He wouldn't be able to recognize his home territory if he even bothered to try.

He stands at the edge of the volcano's cone, looking down through the gases and steam to the boiling lava below. The ground rumbles underneath his feet. It won't be long before another eruption starts.

He stares downwards, then slowly reaches his hand up and digs his fingers into his own chest. Bone snaps, then gives way as he grabs something deep inside his body cavity. With a vicious yank, he tears the dark red object out and hurls it through the sulphur clouds.

He watches as his own heart disappears into the roiling lava.

He doesn't have to look down to know that his chest is whole once again. He can already feel his heartbeat restarting. He already knows the truth of the matter.

There is no end.

He turns and slowly walks back down the mountain. The sole reason why he doesn't hurl himself in after his heart is that he doesn't want to spent eternity entombed in basalt.

And so he wanders. He wanders and he thinks. He thinks about not being able to die. He wonders how anyone could ever possibly want this.

Orochimaru was a damn fool.

He supposes he could be angry. He has reason to be. He has every reason in the world to hate the Kyuubi. And the Yondaime. His own father who condemned him to this existence. He could hate them both so very easily.

But he doesn't.

It's pointless, after all. What's done is done. Nothing else to do but keep walking.

Keep wandering.

There are eight other Bijuu. At any given time, there can be eight other vessels. But there is only one Jinchuuriki.

This isn't immortality.

This is living human sacrifice.

And there is no end.

Author's Notes:

This is an expansion upon the idea presented in 20 Matters, where Naruto is quasi-immortal. Just exploring the idea of being a Jinchuuriki and what it might mean in the long run. I've been working on this when I should be working on Geor's gift fic. Writer's block is a cruel mistress.

Anyways, this is definitely the goriest fic I've written and probably the darkest. This is also the last in my 20 Truths trilogy. I may write one about Itachi in the near future, but that will take a back burner to Geor's reward fic and chapter 2 of Deus Ex Machina.

As a note, kuzuri means wolverine in Japanese. Wolverines are known for hunting and killing their brethren, weasels. It can be inferred that Sasuke's obsession extended to all parts of his life.

Minor Edit: (1/23/07) Changed 'blonde' to 'blond,' in response to TheWatcherandReader's review. Live and learn, haha. Also altered a line or two.

Larger Edit: (1/28/07) Was rereading it in order to answer a question on my LJ and saw some errors. Went back and looked over the fic more carefully. Most of them are cleaned up now. Changed around a couple lines, but nothing too major.

Was Final Edit: (2/14/08) Rewrote bits and pieces of the first ten stanzas. Cleaned up yet another handful of errors I missed. I'm pretty sure this is the last edit I'll do for this fic, barring something catastrophic I missed. Happy Valentine's Day.

Final Edit: (3/23/08) Saw some glaringly bad errors while rereading for reference to another fic. All fixed now. Trimmed a couple sentences for flow.

I'm amazed no one has gotten the homage I made with the attempted suicide scene in Stanza 20. Heh, guess I'm nerdier than I thought.

Thanks to all reviewers who've responded. I'm glad this fic was so well received. Till my next project.