"You look relieved now that she's gone."
Sakura turned her head and shot a look at her longtime friend and sometime rival. "It's a bit of a weight off my shoulders, that's all. I'm actually surprised that she didn't try to talk to me or Naruto before she left."
Ino offered a mischievous grin as she shrugged her shoulders. Leaning forward, she talked to Sakura in a loud whisper, "Maybe she's just coming up with some kind of plan, and is trying to put you off-guard? From what I've heard and seen of her, it wouldn't surprise me."
Rolling her eyes, Sakura snorted at the blond. "I don't think so. She seems to be too straightforward to be that conniving."
"You can't say that, you've barely even known her for a single day."
"The Fire Lord warned me that she likes to get her way, so I'm expecting something, but I don't think it will be anything sneaky."
Ino merely giggled, smirking at her pink haired friend. "Mark my words, Forehead. She's going to do something that's going to leave you speechless. She's already done it once, so I just know it won't be the last time."
"I hope not..." Sakura's voice trailed off as she blushed a little, folding her arms over her chest and shivering slightly as memories of the girl's actions rose to the forefront of her mind briefly.
Leaning forward once again, the blond smirked and poked at her friends arm. "Maybe you can convince her to go after you, and ignore Naruto, hmmm?"
Blushing fully now, Sakura gasped and took a step away from her friend, swatting at Ino's hand. "Ino-pig! Stop it!"
Ino simply burst into peals of laughter, and Sakura appeared to be having a hard time deciding if she wanted to scowl or laugh along with her friend. Ino's laughter was silenced, however, as another voice spoke up nearby.
"My my, what's so funny girls? Can I get in on the joke?"
Both teenagers turned to see Kushina approaching them with a small grin on her face. The redhead had changed her attire before they saw the Fire Lord off, and was now wearing what she claimed to be the old Priest garb. It looked much like a standard shinobi outfit that a Chuunin or Jounin of the Leaf would wear, except the vest was a grayish-blue that wasn't nearly as bulky. There was also a spiral symbol that looked reminiscent of the one on Konoha vests embroidered on the top left of the vest, near the collar.
Ino chose to answer before the rosette could say anything. "I was just telling Sakura that she should convince Natsumi-hime to go after her instead of Naruto-kun." Ino turned her head slightly, grinning as she watched Sakura from her peripheral vision. "I think Sakura was okay with the idea."
"W-What? I totally was not!" Sakura knew her face was red, but she was hoping that Kushina interpreted it as anger and not embarrassment.
"Oh really? Well, if that's what you've decided, Sakura, I guess I'll have to accept it." Kushina looked down at the ground with a somber expression, and started rubbing her chin. "I feel so sorry for my son though... I wonder how I'll manage to break the news. Kami knows he's already had a hard life."
Sakura's jaw dropped as she listened to Kushina mumble, then turned a scathing glare on Ino, who was trying desperately not to laugh outright. The blond had her hands clamped over her mouth and tears were beginning to form in the corners of her scrunched-up eyes.
Having her name called caused Ino to stop trying to hide her laughter as she bent forward, clutching at her stomach. Sakura cracked her knuckles, only to hear Kushina start to giggle as well.
"It's alright Sakura. I know how you really feel. But hey, what are friends for?" Sakura shot Kushina an appreciative glance, before turning back to her 'friend'. Ino had finally managed to calm down and was trying to catch her breath, furiously wiping her eyes.
"I'm sorry... ahhhh I'm sorry, Forehead. But the look on your face after Kushina-sama started talking... it was priceless!" Ino burst into fits of giggles again, having a hard time looking Sakura in the eye. Deciding to ignore the blond, Sakura found herself curious about the Fire Lord's departure, and couldn't help but ask Kushina a question.
"Kushina-sama... was the Fire Lord really only here to do the things he mentioned?"
Kushina offered a small nod and a smile. "Yep, that's it. Supposedly he came out here without the knowledge of his council, so he didn't want to stay here any longer than necessary. What he wanted to do didn't take long anyway, as I'm sure you remember."
"I see. Uhm..." Sakura looked away for a moment, before turning back to Kushina. "Did you notice anything strange about Natsumi-hime as they were leaving?"
The redhead paused, thinking. Slowly she began to shake her head negatively. "No... not really. She was the quietest I've seen her since we met the first time, and didn't ask to talk to Naruto-kun. Other than that, she was very polite and reserved. So unless you find that unusual, she was a perfectly normal princess."
"I bet Forehead thinks she's planning something." When Sakura chose not to reply, Ino's voice returned, sounding incredulous. "What, you think she really is planning something?"
Sakura faced her friend once again. "You said it yourself; you bet she's going to do something that will leave me speechless."
Ino shrugged, frowning. "I was just joking to get a rise out of you. But if you really think she will... it might be serious."
"Hopefully not. I'll have to talk to Naruto and see what he thinks. Speaking of... did either of you see where he went after the Fire Lord left? I was going to go talk to him then, but Ino-pig distracted me."
The blond simply scoffed as Kushina answered Sakura's question. "Yes, actually... he pulled Hanabi away to give her some lessons while he had some free time. He mentioned to me that he was expecting to be rather busy soon, he's waiting for some information from Itachi-kun."
"On Akatsuki's movements?"
Kushina looked at the two girls, who were staring at her with rapt attention. The redhead simply shrugged her shoulders. "I didn't press for details, he seems to hold Itachi-kun in rather high regard now, and I understand if he can't say much."
"But still, if he has information he can share about the Akatsuki, Konoha can definitely use that information!" Ino looked rather put-out, but calmed down when Sakura placed a hand on her shoulder.
"If we act on information too soon, others in Akatsuki will know there is a leak. So we have to be careful."
Ino simply sighed and nodded, understanding though not wanting to accept the explanation. It made sense, and what Itachi was doing was very risky.
"Oh! Karin just sent me a pulse, she's nearby. I guess her group found their last member, I sense four of them approaching our location quickly." Kushina lifted her arm and pointed towards the southwest, and the other two girls could barely make out moving splotches of color that were steadily growing larger as they moved through the sparse trees. Silence fell over the group as they watched Karin and her group approach, as all were likely forming their own opinions about the group. Sakura wasn't sure what to feel about the group, and was mostly just trying to hold back her surprise that Sasuke continued to return to the outpost, considering that it consisted mainly of Leaf shinobi.
In less than a minute the group had landed in front of them, Karin immediately moving forward from the rest and giving Kushina a small bow. Kushina nodded at the other redhead and said something that none of the others could hear, but the other girl smiled at the older woman. Sakura and Ino stared pensively at the group, especially the large orange-haired boy in the back of the group, but their attentions quickly shifted towards Kushina once again as they heard the woman speak.
"So you must be Sasuke-kun."
Sasuke looked at Kushina, and simply inclined his head forward slightly. "You must be the Uzumaki Kushina-sama that Karin talks about."
"Correct." Kushina smiled at him, but it quickly shifted into something more melancholy. "You look so much like your mother..."
Sasuke stiffened immediately, his eyes narrowing dangerously. It wasn't too hard for everyone to feel the tension growing, and Karin even took an involuntary step backwards away from the other redhead, eyes wide.
"Don't talk about my mother." The tone of voice did more than enough to impress upon everyone present that he wouldn't take no for an answer.
Looking a bit put off by this, Kushina frowned at the dark-haired teen as she folded her arms under her chest. "Why can't I? She was my best friend and the closest thing I had to a sister. I think if anyone other than you or your brother deserves to talk about her, it's me."
It was clear for everyone present to see that Sasuke was quickly growing more agitated. His eyes had since closed, and his hands were constantly clenching and releasing. Another boy, the one with white hair, was giving Sasuke strange looks and slowly inching away from him. The one with orange hair, however, still hadn't moved, and was giving Kushina an odd stare.
"Besides that, I think I get some special privileges as your godmother."
Both Sakura and Ino covered their mouths with their hands, while Karin turned her head sharply to look at Sasuke. Said boy's eyes were wide and his mouth was slightly gaping in shock for the briefest of moments before they returned to normal. "Godmother, huh? So you're the one my mother talked about. I have vague memories."
Kushina slowly nodded, the smile reappearing. "Mikoto-nee was also my son Naruto's godmother." Sasuke's eyes went wide again, and he looked like he was going to say something, but Kushina was looking down towards the ground and continued talking before he could say anything. "The saddest part is that according to Itachi-kun, Mikoto-nee wasn't supposed to die that night. She should still be here now." Kushina sighed, before looking back up again, only for her eyes to go wide as she noticed the pure rage on Sasuke's face.
"You've had contact with Itachi?"
Kushina was looking at Sasuke in confusion now, but was concentrating on him so much that she was completely missing the signals and looks being sent by both Sakura and Ino. "Well... once. He was here not too long ago, and talked to Naruto-kun and Jiraiya-sama about some things regarding Akatsuki, but that's all I know."
Sasuke's expression gradually evened out, and there were several moments of silence. Kushina's gaze finally flickered over towards Sakura and Ino, only to see the blond shaking her head while Sakura was looking down, rubbing her forehead. Frowning, Kushina looked back to Sasuke once again, only to find him staring at her with his Sharingan activated.
"Where is Naruto?"
Hanabi inhaled deeply, trying to catch her breath after the latest bout with her sensei. She heard Naruto's amused chuckle as she slowly fell to her backside, then let her torso fall backwards onto the rough grass. They had barely been here for twenty minutes, and he already had her gasping for air. She just laid there, staring up at the sky, until her sensei walked over, causing a shadow to fall over her face. Leaning over slightly, he gave her one of his infuriatingly big grins, to which she responded by sending him a mock glare.
"Tired already Hanabi-chan? We're just getting started!" He chuckled at her antics, only incensing her further. The anger quickly dissipated, however, when she realized she didn't have the energy to bother arguing with him.
"I'm not... a stamina machine like you, sensei."
"I know. But you will be soon. You're already lasting longer than you did when we started. You need a lot of stamina if you want to have the chakra to use in techniques."
Hanabi watched as her sensei did some stretching exercises as he talked to her. That was the biggest difference between Naruto and anyone else she had considered a teacher before... he was the only one who was willing to exercise alongside her. As much as she wanted to gripe that these exercises would do nothing for her, deep down she knew that wasn't the case. Naruto obviously did them, and he was ridiculously strong. That much was evident whenever they sparred. Naruto never pulled any punches, and she certainly had the bruises to prove it. When they had first started she complained about it, until he shut her up by calling her a spoiled brat. Initially she recoiled in shock, as he had never talked down to her before. But that quickly turned into rage at his implication. Just as she was about to launch into another verbal tirade, he silenced her completely with one simple question.
"If you were on a mission and facing an opponent, would you ask them to stop hitting you so that you won't get a bruise?"
Of course the answer to that was no. Deep down she knew that her sensei was correct, but part of the lingering Hyuuga pride within her was fighting against her simply accepting what Naruto said and did to her at face value. Most of her previous teachers had pampered her, told her she was doing well even when she likely was not. Everything about her life as a shinobi in training had been turned upside-down when Naruto began teaching her. All it took was remembering what her sensei had done to Neji in the past for her to understand he was doing the same thing to her... just not all at once.
Groaning, Hanabi pushed herself to sit up, the muscles in her lower back and arms screaming at her to stop what she was doing. Making rather unladylike grunting noises, she shifted her legs so that she could gain leverage as she continued pushing herself unsteadily to her feet.
She was panting, but turned her head to the side to see Naruto watching her with a concerned look.
"I was joking before... if you need to rest, I'm okay with that."
Hanabi just looked at her sensei incredulously before pointing a finger at him and snarling, "Weren't you the one who... said that I needed to push myself... to my limits if I was ever going to... become stronger?"
Naruto looked clearly taken aback for a moment before his face clouded over. "That's true, but I don't need you injuring yourself badly. If I do, the medics will never let me hear the end of-"
The blond disappeared in a blur faster than Hanabi's tired eyes could track. There was a faint scuffling noise behind her, and turning to look, she saw her sensei standing near a tree, looking calm but a little angry. Several meters from him was someone she didn't recognize at first, but he was walking towards a long sword that was sticking out from the ground.
"What do you want, Sasuke?"
Hanabi's eyes widened at hearing her sensei's voice. There was an underlying gruffness as he spoke that she had never heard from him before. The look on his face was also one that she couldn't ever recall before... it could have passed either as pity or contempt. This Sasuke, however...
"Where is Itachi?"
Sasuke's voice sounded calm, deep, and controlled. His body movements all spoke clearly of aggression, however, and his one free hand was clenched into a tight fist. Based on what she could see from the back of the older boy, he was likely her sensei's old teammate. Sure, she knew of him, everyone in Konoha was aware of his betrayal. Technically he was a missing nin, though their village had yet to place a bounty on his head for some strange reason. After the village had heard Sasuke killed Orochimaru, the rumor mill started working full-time, stating that perhaps Sasuke was undercover the entire time and his betrayal was all an act. Seeing the way he was acting towards her sensei, however, led her to believe that those rumors were most definitely false. Sasuke was clearly a rogue.
Crouching slightly, Hanabi quietly activated her Byakugan. She could easily see how the chakras of the two young men in front of her were making a lie of their outward appearances. Sasuke was clearly agitated, his chakra was flowing through him in intense spurts, almost as if it was itching to be released.
Naruto's on the other hand, was completely calm. His chakra pathways were large and it was always easy to read what he was going to do since he simply had so much chakra, but what Naruto could do always overwhelmed her meager supply, so knowing what it was going to do helped her in no way whatsoever. Part of her was surprised that her sensei didn't seem agitated in the least, considering what she knew of their history, but at the same time it brought a ghost of a smile to her face. She could definitely take pride in having a sensei who was... well... cool.
Slowly stepping forward, one of her hands started sliding towards the kunai pouch on her waist, she was completely shocked when a hand clamped itself over her mouth, while an arm wrapped around her torso, holding her steady. Before she could even contemplate any form of retaliation, a quiet but familiar voice whispered into her ear.
"I know what you're thinking, Hanabi-chan, but boss has it covered. Are you going to be quiet?"
Hanabi nodded slowly, and felt the hand remove itself from her mouth, but the other arm continued to hold her tightly. She was aware of Naruto and Sasuke talking to each other, but now her current... assailant... had gotten her focus. Turning her head to the side, she saw the slightly grinning visage of her sensei. Or more accurately, one of his clones.
"How did you know what to do in such a short amount of time? There's no way Naruto-sensei could have given you orders like he normally does."
She heard the chuckle, but also felt the rumbling of laughter from the clone's chest against her back. It wasn't until then that she remembered her sensei commonly practiced with her while only wearing his mesh shirt, and a quick glance towards him confirmed that he still wasn't wearing his jacket. A slow blush that she couldn't control started working its way onto her face, until she felt a finger poking against the side of her head.
"Boss just gives us verbal orders just for show, Hanabi-chan. When he creates clones, we get all of his most recent thoughts. So I knew as soon as he made me to wait and hide until Sasuke-teme was focused on him, then to make sure you didn't do anything that could get you hurt. Don't take this the wrong way, but he's out of your league. Boss believes that Sasuke-teme would hurt you just to get at him."
At first Hanabi felt like arguing that point, until she realized that it wouldn't be worth it. She certainly didn't -want- to be injured, but she didn't want Naruto-sensei to be injured either. Finally she settled with nodding so that the clone would see it. She felt it relax its grip on her slightly, but it still held on. The Hyuuga started blushing again as she realized that it probably wouldn't be letting her go, and that was confirmed as the clone's other arm wrapped around the first one and started forcefully tugging her backwards, away from the other two who's conversation seemed to be getting slightly heated.
"U-um, you don't have to hold me... I can walk on my own!" It was said in a harsh whisper, but she could have sworn her voice cracked in the beginning, much to her embarrassment. It wasn't that she was attracted to her sensei or anything, but she was a growing girl and anyone would have to be blind not to see that he was good looking. The clone must have sensed her embarrassment in some way, because much to her horror it leaned over one of her shoulders to get a look at her blushing face. She let out a small 'eep' and quickly looked away, only to feel the clone hold her tighter and chuckle in her ear.
A cracking noise made her face forward again, only to open her eyes wide as she saw the Uchiha flying backwards, almost directly at them. Right as she thought about moving out of the way, she felt herself lifted off her feet and moved away. Hanabi couldn't think of anything after she was set down and saw the smoke of the clone dispelling from behind her. She had been moved faster than she had ever been able to move on her own before. Feeling a hand on her shoulder, she turned to see her sensei - the real one - giving her a small, if controlled smile.
"Are you okay, Hanabi-chan?"
She nodded quickly. "Y-yes, sensei."
His smile grew a little, "Good," then completely disappeared as he looked back towards where Sasuke flew. It was then that Hanabi noticed someone else had arrived... several people, in fact. Kushina-sama was standing not too far in front of her, her fists clenched and she was visibly shaking. Ino and Sakura, as well as a few other people had arrived that Hanabi didn't recognize. The two girls started moving towards them as Kushina-sama pointed at Sasuke, who was currently climbing to his feet and rubbing his face, glaring at her.
"Listen to me, Uchiha, and listen good. I'm going to let you off the hook this time since you are my godson. But if you ever, and I mean ever use your Sharingan on me again, I will gladly give you the beating that I owed your father."
The shock was clearly visible on Sasuke's face, even as he was rubbing where he was hit. He even stopped moving to his feet, instead the raven-haired teen remained crouching on his knees as several emotions changed his expression in a quickly morphing series. If the situation wasn't obviously serious, Hanabi felt that she might even have laughed at how stupid he looked. It wasn't until she heard a small growling noise that she quickly turned to face her sensei, who was still standing next to her.
However, Naruto was hunched over slightly, hands covering his face. She could hear the muffled growling through his hands, and was starting to grow worried because he seemed to be shaking slightly.
"Sensei? Are you alright?"
Her voice made him stop all movement, and the sounds he was making stopped as well. Still, he didn't remove his hands from his face. At this point Hanabi believed her voice had brought the attention of everyone else onto her sensei as well, since Sakura had placed a hand on his arm, and even Kushina-sama had partly turned around.
"Naruto? What's wrong?"
Almost as if on cue, Sakura's voice made him start trembling again, but this time he slowly pulled his hands down from his face. Much to her own dismay, Hanabi found herself stumbling backwards a step. It barely registered that the face she saw now was that of her sensei... the special markings on his face that she personally always thought were rather cute, they had elongated and become much darker... making the sneer on his face look absolutely sinister. His teeth were clenched, she could see the sharp outline of his jaw as the skin pulled tightly against the jawbone. His canines were razor sharp and almost went down to his lower gum line. The thing that stood out most, however, was his eyes. They were a blood red with long black slits that went down the middle, making him look almost inhuman.
None of that set her hair on end, however, until he spoke. She clearly heard his voice, it was deep and rough, but there was something else behind it that made her shiver.
"Sharingan... Sasuke used... the Sharingan... on my mother..."
The way Naruto's mouth opened and closed made it look like he wanted to say more, but he abruptly grabbed at his forehead and fell to his knees, coughing. Hanabi clearly heard a chorus of 'Naruto!' being called out, and watched as the two girls close to him crouched down on either side from where he had fallen over. She turned her head slightly to see that even Kushina-sama had stopped facing off against the Uchiha, and was swiftly moving towards her son with a serious look on her face.
Looking even further, beyond to where the Uchiha... Sasuke was, she saw that he had decided to simply sit back down and was currently watching the goings on with a rather impassive look. He was no longer holding his face, but Hanabi could easily see a dark red mark had left a lasting imprint on his cheek. There were two others near him who were crouched down and looking in Naruto's direction as well... one was a male teen with short white hair, the other was a girl with long red hair that reminded her of Kushina-sama. She recognized them offhandedly, but still didn't know any of their names.
Another chorus of startled exclamations made her head whip back around to see what was the fuss, only to catch a final glance at her sensei as he took off faster than she could see. He did move past her, however, as the gust of wind from whatever technique he used sent her sprawling back onto her already sore back with a startled yelp. She saw spots in front of her eyes as she looked up at the sky, but couldn't recall being incoherent. She must have been, however, because when she finally understood what had happened, she found Sakura and Ino looking at her with pensive expressions.
"Hanabi? Can you hear me now?"
Hanabi groaned, then began rubbing her forehead. After blinking her eyes a few times, it wasn't hard to notice the look of relief on Ino's face.
"I'm fine... what happened?"
She was looking at the blond, but Ino turned her head to look at Sakura. Turning her head as well, the first thing she noticed was the small grin on Sakura's face. The pink haired girl had a hand against the side of her head, Hanabi could barely see a green glow from her peripheral vision.
"When Naruto took off, apparently a gust of wind from his technique literally blew you off your feet. You landed mostly on your back, but your head hit the ground hard enough to give you what I'd call a very minor concussion. It seems like you were aware, but you didn't respond until I checked and forced you out of the stupor you were in. You'll be fine, though I'd take it easy and not move too quickly for the rest of the day, just to be safe."
"Okay... where's Naruto-sensei, anyway?"
Sakura looked at Ino for the briefest of seconds before looking at Hanabi once again and giving a small shrug. "We don't know, but Kushina-sama said she'd follow him, and to let her handle whatever has gotten into him."
Hanabi sighed and closed her eyes, thinking back to what Naruto looked like before he took off. She didn't know he could do that... whatever 'it' was. It was true that she had never seen him in a real fight yet, but whatever it was that was happening to him, he'd never mentioned it to her before either.
Cracking one eye open, she noticed that Ino was looking away, but Sakura seemed to still be concentrating on healing her in some way. She certainly did feel less sore than she remembered... "Hey, why did Naruto-sensei look so strange before? I'd never seen him like that when we sparred."
Ino quickly whirled back around to look at her in surprise, while one of Sakura's eyebrows merely arched upward. "You mean to tell me that he hasn't told you yet?"
"Told me what?"
Sakura closed her eyes and sighed, while Ino started to give Sakura a sharp look. "Do you think we should say anything?"
"I don't know. I'm actually surprised that he didn't say anything, I thought it would have been one of the first things he did. Unless he completely forgot, which wouldn't surprise me."
Ino snorted, while Hanabi found herself growing much more confused than before. "So does this mean there's something going on that you can't tell me, or what?"
"Well, we can probably tell you the basics, but if you have any questions it will probably be Naruto that has to answer them. What do you think, Ino?"
The blond nodded. "Yeah, she deserves to know. I guess I'll start... Hanabi-chan, what can you tell me about the Kyuubi?"
It didn't take long for Kushina to find her son, his chakra was acting rather erratically, causing her no small amount of concern. He hadn't moved far in the direction that he had fled either, leading her to believe that he just wanted to get away from the group to bring whatever was causing him distress under control.
Landing silently nearby, she saw her son sitting with his back against a tree, his head lolling down, both of his arms and hands unmoving on either side. He looked to be breathing heavily, but she couldn't be sure.
He twitched a bit when he heard is name, but otherwise made no move to respond. Moving closer, she noticed that there was an oddly-colored wet looking patch of grass next to him, apparently he had emptied the contents of his stomach. A frown finding itself on her face, Kushina moved even closer, getting down onto her knees next to him.
"Naruto, what's wrong?"
Her son slowly lifted his head, resting it back against the tree. He kept his eyes closed, but let out a sigh.
"I wanted to kill him. I barely stopped myself."
The redhead found her mouth twitching upward into a ghost of a smile, but Naruto didn't seem to think it was anything to be proud of or even amusing, so she kept the full smile off of her face. She wanted to smile and hug him right then, especially considering what he'd told her of his past between himself and Sasuke, and what he would do to his old friend for her sake. Unconsciously she found her hand playing with Naruto's spiky blond hair, and noticed him twitch once again when he felt her hand... but he quickly relaxed after.
"Well... even if it's not something you want to hear, I'm glad to hear you want to protect your mother. I don't think that would cause my son to run away like he did, though."
The redhead's statement was meant as a question, but she said it forcefully enough for Naruto to understand that she wasn't going to let him get away without giving her some sort of explanation. Sighing again, his head leaned slightly into her hand, and Kushina shifted her position to sit next to him instead of being crouched.
"Honestly, I'm not really sure what's going on. I knew that being a shinobi meant that I would have to kill people. Before I went to Rice Field Country, I'd never fully killed anyone before. Sure, I'd attacked plenty of people, and some of those I've attacked might have died eventually if someone else didn't kill them or if they didn't get some kind of medical attention. But I'd never directly been responsible for a person's death before. I have a bunch of flashy attacks, but almost all of them will only incapacitate, not kill."
Naruto took a deep breath and paused for a moment. While Kushina found it interesting that someone who had been given so much responsibility had never fully taken a life before, she decided to be silent and let him finish before she asked any questions of her own.
"When we went to help Kakashi-sensei and the others who were attacked, and I saw Yuugao-neechan get hurt, I lost it. The people who hurt her, I just wanted to kill them, and I didn't care how I did it. I did kill them, and almost anyone else." Naruto rubbed at his cheek briefly before he continued. "However, the last time I used that much of the Kyuubi's power, I didn't remember anything. I was unconscious until Yamato-taichou or Ero-Sennin managed to pull me out of it. This time, however... I was actually aware."
Kushina's eyebrows shot sky-high at this revelation. "So you mean you remembered killing all those shinobi? You wanted to continue?"
"I wanted them to die, yes. But I don't really feel like I was the one who actually did it. It was strange, I felt like I was in a dream even though I knew I was awake. It was like I would think about what I wanted to happen, and something else would do what I wished. The first thing I really remember that made me aware was when I heard your voice."
Naruto shrugged. "I don't know. I heard your voice, and I knew I didn't want to hurt you. Other than that, the only other thing that I really remember is wanting to protect Yuugao-neechan. Then after you touched me I felt like I was waking up after sleeping, but I still felt really tired. The next time I woke up we were back in Whirlpool."
"Do you think we should have Jiraiya-sama check the seal when he gets back from wherever he is?"
Naruto shrugged again. "I don't know if he'll be able to say what's going on, but it can't hurt to have him check, I guess."
There was silence between the two as Kushina digested what her son just finished explaining to her. But she was still curious as to why he decided to go back a few months to explain what was happening now.
"So... how is what happened then connected to now?"
Naruto was silent for about a minute before he chose to reply, most likely thinking about the best way to explain the connection.
"When I went to Rice Field Country, I had to perform a mission for the council of Sound to even consider what I had planned. Of course I agreed, but I didn't tell them that I had never killed anyone when I hadn't called on the Kyuubi before. I wanted to at least act like a professional shinobi. I did have to kill someone... but I only killed that one person. My clones simply maimed other targets to the point were some of them might have died, but I didn't immediately kill any. However, that one person... I think what scared me more was not the fact that I had killed someone, but the fact that I didn't feel bad at all about killing them.
I thought I would feel remorse, or feel sick, or upset at taking a life. But nothing like that happened. I looked right into his eyes as I sliced through his neck and grabbed his hair to keep his head falling from falling to the ground with the rest of his body. I didn't even blink."
"Did it make you feel... good?"
Naruto shook his head negatively. "No, if it did I would have been even more upset. It was kind of odd though, feeling absolutely nothing. After remembering some of the... particularly brutal deaths that I caused while Kyuubi was in control, I guess a relatively simple one like cutting off someone's head didn't bother me."
Kushina's hand moved from Naruto's hair to slowly rub the side of his arm that was next to her. She squeezed his bicep briefly, causing him to turn his head and glance at his mother. "So you were afraid that you've been numbed to the thought of killing someone, and had an urge to do the same to Sasuke?"
Barely nodding, the blond leaned his head back against the tree once more. "It was my first thought when you mentioned the Sharingan. I wanted to hurt him because he used it on you. Eventually, for some reason, I thought it would be better to just kill him after all the trouble he's given me in the past. Once that thought got stuck in my head and I was thinking about why I would want to kill him, the urge just continued building until Hanabi-chan asked me if something was wrong. It wasn't until then that I actually panicked."
Kushina nodded imperceptibly. "Your voice did sound a little strange."
Unlike the redhead, however, Naruto shook his head abruptly. "I didn't talk. I wasn't controlling my voice."
This particular bit of information caused Kushina to recoil slightly, something which her son noticed. She noticed the hurt look on his face, and immediately felt guilty. "I-I'm sorry, honey. I wasn't quite expecting to hear that. I'm guessing that this isn't something that's happened before?"
Frowning, Naruto nodded. "Never before, no. My voice was saying what I was thinking, but I knew that I wasn't the one talking. It made me panic, and forcefully get rid of any urge to hurt anyone. I ran away to make sure that I had control before I encountered anyone else."
"I see. You do know, in your haste to get away, that you knocked your student backwards and made her hit her head?"
Naruto visibly blanched, his mouth agape. "W-What? I didn't mean to, I mean I just wanted to make sure I-"
Kushina held a hand up, causing her son to stop talking as she gave him a small smile. "Sakura told me that the girl would be fine. I'm sure if you explain what happened, Hanabi will be sure to forgive you. Besides, I think it's about time you told everyone who doesn't know about the Kyuubi that you are its jailor anyway. I don't think it could do any harm at this point."
Naruto pondered his mothers words for barely a moment before nodding. "I might as well. I've already gotten the acceptance of everyone that I really wanted it from anyway. I'm a little worried about Hanabi-chan, but I think she'll understand."
When the two Uzumaki arrived back to where they were before the incident, the small crowd that had gathered previously was no longer present. There were currently only four people there: Sakura, Hanabi, Kakashi, and Nayoko.
"Hey, Hanabi-chan. I'm sorry about earlier."
Instead of accepting his apology, Hanabi merely looked confused. "Sorry for what?"
"You know, for knocking you over when I ran off."
Hanabi blinked for a second before giving him a shrug and a small smile. "No big deal, sensei. It wasn't the first time you've knocked me on my ass."
It was Naruto's turn to blink for a few seconds as the others snickered at Hanabi's choice of vocabulary. The blond couldn't help but grin as he placed his hand on top of the shorter girl's head, then proceeded to tousle her hair. Swatting at the offending appendage, Hanabi scowled at him, only causing Naruto to laugh outright.
"Ah, Naruto-kun, not to interrupt this adorable bonding moment, but we have some information that requires your attention."
Even though her voice didn't sound that urgent, he had learned that his cousin Nayoko was a woman of few words. However when she did talk, it was generally a wise idea to listen. "What's up Nayoko?"
Instead of replying, the other Uzumaki simply turned her attention to Kakashi, who seemed to stand up straighter.
"Well, you see... we seemed to stop an intruder at the entrance to the Outpost. However, it feels strange to call this person an intruder."
Narrowing his eyes at how reluctant Kakashi seemed to be to report an intruder of all things, he remained quiet and beckoned for the shinobi veteran to continue.
"It would seem that Natsumi-hime decided to abandon the caravan she was traveling with, and managed to work her way back here. She also has her little brother and one of her servants with her as well, and they both seem rather... exasperated about the whole thing. But whenever we try to get information from them, Natsumi-hime interrupts and claims she dragged them along, and they know nothing."
At first, Naruto wanted to groan at the whole thing. "But how did she get away from the Twelve Guardians? Especially her personal guard? It doesn't make sense."
Naruto easily spotted the frown on Sakura's face, and it only seemed to get larger when Kakashi pulled a folded piece of paper from one of his vest pockets. Everyone in the small group stared at it curiously as it passed from Kakashi's hand to Naruto's. Feeling uneasy about the whole thing, Naruto clenched his jaw as he slowly unfurled the piece of paper.
Naruto-kun and Kushina-sama,
My granddaughter wishes to learn more about the management of outposts and villages as it pertains to her future duties of Fire Country. She wishes to gain experience in assisting you with any potential diplomatic and socio-economic duties that both of you may deem appropriate for her to sit in on. I believe that this will be a good learning experience for my granddaughter.
Since I do not wish for her to be seen only as a burden or annoyance, I will be making this a mission. You shall find that your outpost will not be lacking for funds while Natsumi is under your care, I will send you the mission scroll upon my return to the capital. Please do your best in regards to her safety. Shuugo will be with her as well to do his best to keep her in line, should it be needed. If you would do an old man a favor and make sure that you afford him the same protections you give my granddaughter, it would be greatly appreciated, and definitely remembered.
Closing his eyes and pinching the bridge of his nose, Naruto handed the letter over to his mother, who proceeded to read it. Naruto kept his eyes closed and crossed his arms as he first heard his mother snort, then let out a whistle.
"Well, I certainly wasn't expecting that. Talk about a sly girl."
Naruto opened his eyes as he heard Sakura groan next to him. "You guessed what it's about, Sakura-chan?"
Sakura rubbed her forehead as she nodded. "I'm betting that Natsumi-hime managed to find a way to be a thorn in our sides for a little bit longer."
Naruto found himself sighing. "Yeah, but at least we're going to get paid for it."
"Ah, so it's going to be classified as a protection mission then?"
Naruto nodded at his old sensei. "Yeah. She managed to convince the Fire Lord to let her come here to get hands-on experience for diplomacy and other things in Whirlpool. While she's here, we'll be getting paid for a protection mission. It isn't said how much, but I'll be getting the scroll later, and he specifically said that we wouldn't be hurting for funds."
Kakashi chuckled. "Well, I guess that has to soften the blow at least a little bit."
The blond merely shrugged, while Sakura let out another sigh. Hanabi and Nayoko didn't look like they really understood what was going on, and decided to remain quiet about the whole thing. But the fact that a princess would be staying with them was not lost on them, either.
"Well, let's try to make the best of it, at least. Nayoko, if you'd be a dear and let Keiji know I need to talk to him, he can meet me at the new Academy construction area."
Nayoko nodded as Kushina leaned slightly to the side to give her son a peck on the cheek, then waved to everyone else and promptly disappeared.
"Anything else to report, Kakashi-sensei?"
The silver-haired Jounin looked at his old student for a brief moment, then slowly shook his head and gave the teen one of his 'eye-smiles'. "Nope, that was the last bit of exciting news for the day."
"I see. If you could do me a favor and find Sasuke, then let him know I'll send a message to Itachi but I don't know when I'll hear back, I'd appreciate it. I don't really feel like looking at him right now. When that's done, if you could get Natsumi-chan, her servant, and Shuugo a place to stay that would be great. Either that or find someone else to do it."
Kakashi chuckled again before nodding. "Consider it done." That said, he disappeared in a swirl of leaves.
Next, the Tokubetsu Jounin turned to his student, "So, Hanabi-chan, shall we pick up where we left off before we were interrupted?"
Hanabi smiled, but shook her head. "Sakura-san says I should take the rest of the day off so that there are no problems. I didn't hit my head on the ground that hard, but she said I'm better off being safe rather than sorry."
Naruto frowned, turning his head to look at Sakura, who simply nodded at him. Looking back to Hanabi, he sighed. "All right. Enjoy the rest of your day while I go slave away at something mundane in my office. I'm sure there's at least one report in there by now that's screaming for my attention."
Sakura giggled next to him. "Well, it's either that or seeing what Natsumi-hime is up to."
The blond visibly shivered. "I'd like to avoid that as long as I can. I'm sure I'm going to be plenty uncomfortable in the coming days."
"You aren't the only one. I think she's going to come after me to get to you."
Thinking back on his conversation with Yuugao, Naruto suddenly found himself blushing at that comment.
"You had better not be thinking what I think you are."
Naruto was quick to look at Sakura with wide eyes and his hands held up in front of himself in a surrendering gesture. "W-What? Of course I wasn't thinking about you and Natsu- oh shit."
"So you were." Sakura's face was beet red too, to the point that Naruto literally had to do a double-take and make sure he wasn't seeing things. Upon seeing the look on her face, however, Naruto did the only thing he could think of that was even remotely safe. He swiftly moved behind Hanabi, ducked behind the girl, and held her arms in his hands to keep her from moving.
"Back, back I say, Sakura-chan! I have a Hanabi-chan and I'm not afraid to use her!"
Naruto couldn't say for sure since he couldn't see Sakura clearly anymore, but he swore he heard at least some giggling, which likely meant that his punishment wouldn't be as severe as it might have been otherwise. It wasn't until the silence dragged on that he thought something strange might be going on. Looking over Hanabi's shoulder, he saw Sakura with a wicked grin on her face.
"Hey, what's going on?"
To his surprise, it wasn't Sakura that answered, but was Hanabi instead. "It's nothing to worry about, sensei. But Sakura-san says that she hopes you have a nice nap."
Naruto had turned his head to look at Hanabi's profile as she talked, but his gaze moved back to Sakura as Hanabi finished talking. He saw the smile still on her face, but before he could ask a further question, Hanabi yanked an arm from his grip and lightly tapped his forehead and temples four times in quick succession with a chakra-laced fingertip.
The last thing he remembered as he fell backwards was the darkness closing in on his vision, Sakura offering him a 'V' for victory, and Hanabi's smirk as she looked at him over her shoulder.
"Nice work, Hanabi-chan."
Hanabi simply nodded at the medic, then turned to look at her now-snoring sensei. "He looks cute when he's sleeping."
Sakura giggled at the assessment, but wholeheartedly agreed. "Let's move him to my office, we don't need anyone else coming across him and doing something to him that would make me regret leaving him out here."
"Anyone like a certain princess that I've been hearing about, I'd guess?"
Sakura's wide eyes caught the rather evil-looking grin on the Hyuuga's face, and she couldn't help but scowl, never mind the blush she knew was creeping back onto her face. "Quiet, you."
"Whatever. So what are you going to do with him while he's in your office?"
"Nothing. What makes you think anything is going to happen?"
"Well, considering you want him in your office when we could just put him in the barracks, or in a medical ward, or perhaps even his own bed?" Hanabi was crouching down next to her sensei, gently poking at the snoring figure's cheek with a finger. "He won't be out that long you know."
Sakura knew the blush was back on her face now as she watched Hanabi prod at her boyfriend. "I just... want to have him nearby so I can show him some... paperwork when he eventually wakes up. That's all."
"Paperwork, huh?" The poking stopped, but Hanabi glanced at Sakura with a raised eyebrow.
"So that's what they're calling it these days?"
Sakura found herself gaping like a fish at the words coming from the twelve year old girl next to her. One who was supposedly a noble of all things. "Y-You... what you're saying..."
Hanabi merely gave Sakura a cheeky grin. "If you think what I'm saying is bad, you should hear my sister."
An image of Hinata's face briefly superimposed itself onto Hanabi, and Sakura soon found herself laughing uncontrollably, much to Hanabi's obvious delight.
A/N: Suffice it to say, this chapter took me a lot longer to get down than I ever expected it to. Parts of it just frustrated me to no end until I felt that I got it out in a manner that I actually liked. In all honesty, it may very well be because this is a needed 'connection' chapter and they can be a pain in the arse to write - the plot really starts moving forward next chapter.
Besides that, I just kinda wanted to write a little bit seeing the events through Hanabi's eyes.
There was actually another scene that I was going to put into this one, but it totally killed the flow of the chapter, so I'm shifting it to the next chapter. It will fit in better there.
Up next: Messages Part II