Crystal shadow7: Thank you for the bode of confidence. As I've said before, updating more often would be a problem. Plus...I'm starting Discrete Math.

TimeShifter: You know; you ask all the right question! I just don't want to answer a single one that will be fleshed out in future updates. Honestly though, I don't think I lucked out. I haven't been too surprised with what's been coming out the Naruto pipeline. I'm excellent at foreshadowing. I've also weaved in the manga releases based on how little I've diverged from cannon so far. As for Hawk, the very first release where Sasuke named his team it was translated Eagle. I've been using it ever since, and I've seen some translations using either/or and even Falcon. One question I can't answer yet is how I'll use Jiraiya's death. I just like the guy too much, as a grandfatherly figure.

ShinigamiXNinja: They say there is nothing original anymore. I borrowed the Naruto/Sakura make-out scene from Aishitazure Baby, by the way. I love the Naruto/Hinata couple, but I also love throwing a wrench in the works. As for keeping the characters as they are in the manga/anime, I always, always try to see from the character's perspective. As this isn't...technically alternate universe (it really is...), I have to keep it all in perspective, neh? A note, you may like my FMA fan-fiction (blatant self-advertising).

Lesson XV
Also Known As: Epilogue
(not really)

He heard somebody calling his name as his mind slowly flirted with consciousness. How many times was it? Was it two times? …three times? All he knew is what he wanted. He wanted… "…five more minutes..." …of sleep. His eyes shot open as he jerked to a seated position holding the back of his head which was throbbing. "Ouch!"

"Wake up when people call you!" Sakura bellowed right into Naruto's ear. She let out a huff and took two steps back. While his head was still spinning, she turned to Shino. "That's how you wake up Naruto." She thought he looked like he was gawking, so she shrugged with a confused look on her face. "What?"

Shino simply turned his attention to Naruto. "You were under the influence of the unidentified jutsu again. The taichou want you, Sakura, and Hinata to report for debriefing." He turned and walked out the room.

Naruto just blinked and pointed. He was sure Shino just forgot somebody. Shino never forgot to mention anything. He looked at Sakura and Hinata with his confused expression. "Did he…forget Sasame?" He stood up and straightened out his tee-shirt. When he noticed Sakura leading Hinata out of the room, he double-timed to catch up. "Hey, wait up!"

Sakura kept her pace down the hallway. She got Hinata to lead the way to Hiashi's study. Naruto was following, and his short attention span seemed to have left him forgetting his question. She was a bit surprised, too. When Ino and Tenten woke her and Hinata, Sasame wasn't in the room.

The door to the study was in sight after only a short walk, and it opened just before they got there. Neji stepped out and motioned them in before stepping back inside. When the trio was at the portal, they froze. Sasame was already inside, and she was crying. Kakashi lazily sat in one corner. It was impossible to tell if he was paying attention. Yamato and Hiashi looked to be questioning her, and Hiashi had his Byakugan active, obviously observing for sincerity.

As the three stepped inside, Naruto looked around perplexed. "What's…going on?" He was careful not to offend. He was worried about Sasame, but he couldn't go offending Hyuuga and his sensei. Sasame looked up to him with a tear-streaked face and pleading eyes.

Hiashi closed his eyes and deactivated his Byakugan. "I heard the dream you four were 'trapped' in was a common occurrence for you. Is it true?" Naruto nodded carefully. Hiashi eyed him warily, but he wasn't interrogating. "I can understand the reason my choujo and Sakura might be drawn in. They are leaf shinobi, and the attacker may have assumed they'd let their defenses down in the dream." He paused. "However, Sasame was an unknown factor. We suspected she might have worked with the attacker, so we sought to learn the truth."

Sasame broke down into fresh tears, and her face fell into her hands. Yamato nodded to Hiashi as he decided to take over. "It seems Sasame lied to us; though, I don't think we can blame her." Naruto, Hinata, and Sakura gasped. They never suspected she'd actually lie. Yamato shook his head before he continued. "She never learned the attacker's true identity, but she did confess that she failed her mission. As such, the attacker used the last jutsu to inform her that…" His eyes shifted to Sasame for a moment. "…her entire clan would be wiped out."

Hearing that, Sasame let out a fresh wail and slumped onto the table. Naruto felt his chest seize, and he clutched his fists tight enough to make his knuckles white and draw a sliver of blood from his palm. As his temper flared, Kakashi flashed across the room to hold his shoulders. "Calm down, Naruto." The tears welling in his eyes were proof of his overwhelming emotions, and the flashing of his eyes between azure and crimson was enough to worry.

"How can I stay calm at a time like this?" Naruto's voice cracked, fighting back tears. Flecks of red chakra began leaking out, especially around his fists. "We fought to free the Fuuma clan! I can't just let this go!" He felt Kakashi tighten his grip on his shoulders and looked into his exposed eye. He was snapped from his trance and started calming down. "I-I'm sorry…"

Kakashi breathed a sigh of relief as the killer intent leaking from Naruto died down. Across the room still standing by the door, Neji was only able to stare at Naruto. He didn't activate his Byakugan, house rules. He didn't need to. He felt and saw the chakra fine without it. "What are the pieces I'm missing to your puzzle, Naruto?" He saw Hinata place a concerned hand on Naruto's shoulder. He was more than surprised about that. "She only flushed slightly?"

After a moment of thought, Kakashi looked at Naruto, Sakura, and Hinata in turn. They were here to be debriefed after all. "What did you three experience this time?" It was the only question they needed answered.

Naruto felt his face warm, and he knew his cheeks had a slight, red hue. He didn't want to relate everything, so he decided an abbreviated, if true, version would suffice. "Well…" He scratched his cheek, a sure sign of embellishment or embarrassment. "I really didn't do anything. I just sat in my room and thought." He didn't notice the disbelieving looks he got from half the room. "I did talk to Kiba, though…"

Kakashi tilted his head. "Is he actually leaving something out?" He cleared his throat, and Naruto was actually startled. He nearly jumped. "I knew it… Now how to get it out of him…?" He gave Naruto a stern look. "Are you sure that's all?"

Naruto frantically waved his arms in front of himself defensively. "It is! I swear it!" He added something in his mind. "…enough of it at least." Kakashi's body language betrayed his disbelief, but, to his relief, he just indicated for Sakura to tell her side.

Sakura nodded and stood rigid. She responded very seriously. "Nothing happened to me, either. Being I knew what to expect, I decided to do some investigating. Without access to chakra, it was very hard to search out anything. Let's just say I found out the dream world inside Naruto's head was very well constructed." Kakashi nodded and indicated Hinata.

The shy chunin fidgeted as she looked around the room. "I-I knew it w-was a jutsu, so I tried t-to investigate, too." Her resolve softened when she saw Hiashi looking at her. She was worried what he would think, but she had to report. "I got…h-held up by Neji-niisan and Ha-Hanabi." She swallowed slightly and wondered why she was so nervous. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath before continuing. "I-I did ma-manage to slip away, but I didn't find anything before Tenten woke me up."

Hiashi inwardly sighed. Only Hinata and Neji noticed his distress, but he was sure Sasame related that, effectively, whoever cast the unknown technique felt his or her mission failed. He crossed his arms over his chest and closed his eyes. "Relating what Sasame said, it isn't too hard to guess the ninja probably withdrew from the village. We know what to look for, and he killed the Fuuma because of her part in the failure."

Sasame's sobs were finally coming under control. Even if they weren't, she ran out of tears already. "I told Sasuke I didn't want to lie to Naruto-kun! Now I have to make him believe my clan's dead…" She was surprised how easy it was to convince them. Whatever Sasuke did, it allowed her to cry with real heart-ache. "I…" She hiccupped. "I'm sorry…"

Kakashi and Yamato sighed, but it was Hiashi who spoke up. "You had your reasons. You believed you were protecting your clan, and that is honorable. However, it did cost you trust." He looked to the team leaders he hired. "I shall pay you and your teams as long as the targets are safe, but I want to pay for one-week of services. This gives time to ensure the ninja has really retreated."

Kakashi, Yamato, and Neji easily agree with the wishes, and they quickly set down to discuss the terms. They make sure to dismiss the targets. Still being early in the morning, they were allowed to sleep until morning. The large group of chunin, one genin, and Sasame were able to rest peacefully.

The week passed quickly and without incident. The Hyuuga elders didn't enjoy the idea of Naruto staying in the head house, but they allowed it understanding the reasons. Tsunade saw it as a bit of a political game, but she was glad she didn't have to 'convince' anybody how good an idea it was. At the end of the week, she called the large group together for a debriefing. Naruto, Hinata, Sakura, and Sasame were asked to wait outside while the teams were called in by turn to relate everything they knew. The mission was labeled as neither a success nor failure.

Neji was first. He led Tenten and Lee. "Tsunade-sama, there was no damage done to Hinata-sama. The effects of the jutsu are unknown, but they did cause worry for physiological reasons." Tsunade nodded as she read the mission report along with listening to the verbal recollection. Neji continued unabated to relate everything his team saw or experienced. He just skipped over his intense desire to kill whoever threatened Hinata.

Yamato was next. He led Kiba, Shino, and Sai. His report was more rigid than Neji's, but it wasn't any more detailed. It was to be expected considering how little they learned. He was more willing to offer unsupported hypotheses. "The jutsu may have been intended for intelligence gathering. Naruto is an obvious choice as he has no skill with genjutsu. Hinata and Sakura may have been chosen for emotional reasons, to attack Naruto's defenses for example. Sasame may have been there to further reinforce this idea." It was as good a reasoning as any.

Kakashi was last. He led Shikamaru, Choji, and Ino. His verbal debriefing was nothing like his written one. He pretended to be so absorbed in his little, orange book that he often missed questions or lazily answered them while glancing over the edge. He did add something interesting. "Based on both reconnaissances, I'd say whoever did use the jutsu was an accomplished shinobi. He, she, or they…" He wasn't leaving out possibilities. "…were able to completely cover their tracks, even chakra. The Byuakugan and Sharingan couldn't follow it."

Tsunade dismissed the leaders and their teams before ordering the targets to enter. Naruto, Hinata, Sakura, and Sasame filed in. The orange-haired girl looked a little worse for wear. Over the past week, she was interrogated multiple times to ensure she was telling the truth. Her story never changed, and they had no reason to torture her. Tsunade was inclined to believe her story and offer her condolences. It turned into a matter of what to do with her.

As she looked at the three, her face hardened. She tented her hands and rested her chin against them. "Whoever the enemy was, and I'm inclined to believe there were more than one; they were brazen enough to attack Konoha with an unknown jutsu. The effects are, as of yet, unknown. You've been off active duty for the last week, and I'm inclined to give you another week." Tsunade was chagrinned. She also had news to relate to them she was none to happy to.

Naruto was the first to call out. "Tsunade-baasan! We need to get out there and look for Sasuke!" He tried to look adamant, but he was taken aback slightly by the harsh gaze she gave him. He waved his arm to one side defiantly as he continued. "He beat Itachi, and it sounded like Akatsuki went after him. What if they've captured him?"

Sakura shuddered at the thought. She knew Akatsuki because she was told the truth about her friend and longtime teammate. She heaved a sigh. She knew full well Tsunade wouldn't relent. "Naruto, calm down… Tsunade-sensei's only thinking of our well-being, and you know the reports as well as anybody. Sasuke-kun's been reported traveling with three others."

Hinata looked to Naruto and Sakura before affixing her gaze to Tsunade. "A-...Um…? Tsunade-sama…?" Her meek voice drew the Hokage's attention, and the shy girl nearly let out a squeak. "Wha-What are Akatsuki? Wh-Who's traveling with Sasuke?" She didn't want to be left out of anymore of Naruto's life.

Tsunade sighed. "The Akatsuki are going around gathering up bijuu. They are incredibly high-ranked missing nin from various villages. They have made an attempt on Naruto's Kyuubi no less than twice." Naruto was the only one to hear the bark the angry kitsune made. Tsunade looked directly at the anxious, blond genin as she continued. "That is why I'm taking you off active duty for a week. You need to train and, frankly, prepare for the next Chunin Exam."

Naruto's face blanched at being reminded of his low rank. He was glad Tsunade was looking out for him and trying to help him advance, but he was so focused on finding and returning Sasuke he almost forgot about his goal of reading Hokage. He hung his head and muttered. "…but I've been training this whole week."

Tsunade didn't skip a beat. "I know. I've had constant reports from Kakashi and Yamato. You may have improved both taijutsu and ninjutsu under Jiraiya, but your forms are still sloppy." Naruto winced, and she pressed the advantage. "Your style seems to be outlasting your opponent. That works fine and genin and all but the best chunin, but an experienced jonin won't fall for your ploys."

Surprisingly, Hinata came to Naruto's defense. She held firmness to her voice many wanted to bring out. "Tsunade-sama, the Chunin Exam isn't to test if he's capable of taking on a jonin. It's to see if he has what it takes to lead a team and gauge his strength. Even without the exam, he's shown that. Hasn't he?" When she realized what she said, she immediately apologized and bowed her head in dismay.

Tsunade smirked. The week was kind to the shy heir. She leaned back in her chair with a dismissive swing of her hand. "Kakashi told Naruto that he was already strong enough to be a jonin. He can't attain that rank without first becoming a chunin. If he even wants me to consider that possibility, he needs to train more seriously." She held her hand to a chin as if she had a sudden idea and turned to Sakura and Hinata. "Unless…you're proposing that you help train him?"

Tsunade let out a satisfied giggle as more blood rushed to Hinata's face than she could handle. The poor girl fainted, and Sakura and Sasame were forced to catch her. Naruto stared on in panic, and Tsunade was forced to stifle her laughter. When Hinata recovered, they were dismissed. They were also ordered to train. In addition, Sasame was ordered to report for hospital duty with Hinata and Sakura.

Naruto sweated profusely and panted heavily as he entered his fighting stance once more. Hinata, Sakura, and Sasame were watching him from their resting places. Hinata just finished sparing her indomitable crush finding out once again he could outlast her tens of times over. Considering his energy and surprising aptitude for learning, Neji, Lee, and Tenten were also called to help his training the other day.

Neji and Tenten were observing from the opposite side of the open field as he faced Lee. They were to spar in order. To avoid hurting anybody's eyes, Naruto was being forced to train in his new battle dress. To his bemusement, everybody said he looked good in it. It was a very dark blue with blotches of forest green. It blended in well with shady forests. His hair still stood out, but that was an easy fix reserved for missions.

The biggest surprise, however, came from Neji's suggestion that Naruto train with weights. He presented several reasons. First, he had to get to the point where he could easily keep up with Lee. Second, it helped train chakra control. Third, every increase in weight forced him to adapt. Finally, he needed to learn to naturally trace a trajectory to avoid being hit. On the third day of his training and the second day Team Gai joined them, Naruto's new battle dress was joined by a slightly lighter shade of forest green wrist and ankle weights.

They were on the fifth day of training, and Kakashi and Yamato joined them. They were there to observe and teach elemental manipulation of chakra. They were stunned by how quickly Naruto adapted to the weights, and Kakashi was loathe admitting Gai might have actually thought up a decent training regimen with that. The training was straight forward, but it was showing results.

Kakashi was walking toward the main entrance with his head stuck between the pages of his book. The week passed without incident, and he was glad for that. He was able to teach Naruto a lot more about elemental manipulation, and the blond genin soaked up related techniques like a sponge. Two more ended up joining Naruto's training session, Kiba and Shino.

Kakashi let out a perverted chuckle. He was pretending it related to his book, but he was thinking about how much those two added to the whole experience. He still didn't know if it was more out of curiosity or some instinctive rivalry. Either way, he didn't care as long as it got result.

As he approached the gate, he stopped dead in his tracks. It was a comical scene as he still had one foot raised in the air. His entire attention was diverted to the scene, and his visible eye opened in some mix of fear and mirth. "Oh no…" A red-headed kunoichi was arguing with the guards on duty. Kakashi felt foreboding. "This can't be good…"

Does Kakashi recognize this new kunoichi? Who is she, and why is she arguing with the guards on duty? You'll have to wait to find out with the introduction of my new Naruto fan-fiction next later today, a work weeks in the making! I promise two things with today's next installation. One, I will be increasing chapter length. Two, I will not be answering a single question this story has created.

The final bijuu has been revealed. It seems I, along with many fans, were right. The picture was as vague as possible, but it appears to be a dragon...with eight tails. As I already have plans I have no interest in changing, I wonder how many of you will enjoy the divergences. The proposal Naruto received was interesting, but the scroll with the 'key' Jiraiya gave a certain toad to deliver for Naruto seems to have been forgotten.

As always, reviews are appreciated, and flames outright ignored.

Story Word Count: 3,020
Story Page Count: 6