C.M.D: So, heeeeeey... Who wants to say hi to the AWOL Author? *Books, boots, bricks and a rubber ducky fly* Eeeek! *Ducks* So, uh... guess you're all a little irritated at my lateness, huh? Ehehehehe... I'd probably offer an excuse of some sort, but why bother? Anyone can tell by looking at my profile that my mind has been taken over by Transformers... All the same, I'm here now! And with an update! A long one! So, I'm forgiven right? ...guess we'll have to see...
Anyways, despite my lack of presence, you guys just keep on coming, reading and commenting. So, as is proper due, THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR REVIEWING: BlondeRaven95-9, c7bi-kyuubi, Lynx DYaoi, katchile, , Addicted-to-the-Madness, tmntlover123456789, Ryuubi27, hazel-3017, Mika, TanuKyle, MOeMoE Kagami, Iceheart15, Sighcoe, I WILL DIE, asm613, abc, Atomic-Diamonds-Afterimage, safachick8, dark-wolf-howl, Aiseki0Hikari, Sin69, heather XD, Slyther88, AmaranthineSolis, Venus914, Utena-Puchiko-nyu, starstruck87, Ilamay, richon, wishmaker101, readalot91214, silent-insaneminako, Karishiana, immortal-lover14, sangetsuninichi, Sachiel Angelo, Stargazer, N.V.9, fullmoonwolf950, medicfire, Imarriedmalfoy, deepsapphiresoul, SweetHunniiBunnii, brightsun89, White-Tainted-Red, TheWrongSide, Chaos Dragon-Fox, BadCook, cluelessninja65, narutofweak, Yumi-nachan, .Alpha, The Desiree Incident, mochiusagi, InARealPickle, Nekid, counter-intuitive, YamiPimpster. Some of you were tickled with the cuteness, some of you got angry... most of you cried. Which I think is more amazing than the number of hits this story has been getting while I was out of the writing commission .
In either case, thanks again for everyone following this story and I hope this update makes up for my almost half-a year absence~

Ring around the Rosie

A weary figure walked down the darkened hallway, heading for the front door, just as the doorbell rang again; its eerie chime echoing through the silent house.

Slowly, Kakashi took hold of the knob, preparing himself for the inevitable confrontation and condolences. The door opened with a creak, letting in a mist of rain. "O-oh, hello. I'm sorry, am I disturbing anything? I know this is a bad time, but..."

"Iruka, right?," the Hatake cut in, interrupting the brunet's rambling.

Iruka immediately fell silent, an embarrassed blush coming to his cheeks. Self-consciously, the teacher lowered his umbrella, partially obscuring the top-half of his face. "Yes, Umino Iruka. I'm glad you remember. I... know it's been a little while, but I came to see how you are all doing. Naruto hasn't been at school these past couple days... and with his mother's passing... well, I-i was just concerned."

Kakashi leaned on the door frame heavily, glancing back into the dark house. "He... hasn't been doing well," he answered truthfully. He noticed that Iruka had lifted his umbrella again and was looking straight at the ANBU.

"May... may I come inside?," Iruka asked.

At first, the silver-haired man thought to refuse, but as he continued to hesitate, he began to realize that there really wasn't much harm in letting the Umino in. Quietly, he stood aside and at the invitation, Iruka stepped over the threshold. "Sorry," the brunet mumbled as he entered. "I don't mean to drip everywhere."

Kakashi waved off the apology, shutting the door against the rain and chill once more. Without waiting for the Umino to remove his outer layers, the ANBU walked back down the hall to the lit kitchen, shuffling about the room before sitting in one of the kitchen table chairs. Iruka followed not but a few seconds after. "Oh, sorry... did you want some coffee?," the Hatake spoke up after a moment, noticing that the other man continued to stand, shuffling in place awkwardly.

"What- no, no, no! That's quite alright," the teacher smiled assuredly, "Might I sit down?"

Kakashi nodded, and watched as Iruka pulled out a seat for himself. "You must have had a lot of visitors," the brunet noted, eyeing the small pile of gifts and cards on the middle of the table.

"Yes," the silver-haired male replied. "That's not even a quarter of it. Most of the others are sitting in the hallway closet."

"I see. And, Naruto?"

"Sleeping right now," Kakashi answered.

Iruka folded his hands on top of the table. "How has he been taking Kushina's death?"

Kakashi did not reply straight away. "...Hard," he finally mumbled, after a few seconds. "I don't think he's quite fully understood the situation yet. But he knows something's missing now, and it won't be coming back. More than that though, he's scared of his dad... He's never seen Minato flip out before -hell, even I haven't seen the Yondaime freak out as much as Tsunade says he did in Kushina's room! I'm not sure what will become of Naruto after this, or if he'll ever be able to see his dad the same way again."

"Has he said anything? Naruto, that is," Iruka clarified. "Has he spoken to you at all since coming back home."

"No... he hasn't said a word. He doesn't even eat anymore. It's like before when he reverted... but I don't think he's coming out of this one again anytime soon."

"Maybe-" Iruka cut himself off as the kitchen door was opened, both adults turning to the doorway as Naruto walked in. The blond looked up at the two older men with swollen, red eyes; a rabbit plushie dangling from the fist at his mouth, where he languidly sucked on his thumb. "Naruto?," the Umino said softly. Iruka paused, glancing at Kakashi before turning to the child once more. "Naruto, how are you feeling?"

The little boy did not answer. For a time, he just continued to stare at the brunet, before he eventually padded over and approached Iruka. As Naruto came closer, the teacher unconsciously lowered his arms for the boy, scooping the tiny Uzumaki up into his arms and holding him close. Naruto did not object to the motion, and indeed, wrapped his free arm and legs about Iruka's body in retaliation. "Hello, Naru-kun," the Umino continued to whisper to the demon-carrier. He petted the blonde spikes gently, smoothing them back from the boy's flushed face. "Do you remember me, Naru-kun? I'm Sasuke-kun's teacher. You know, he misses you a lot. He's worried about what happened to his friend. Do you miss him too?"

An exhausted nod met his questions, but still, Naruto did not speak; the thumb remaining resolutely between his lips.

"He's running a fever," Iruka noted, smoothing his hand along the Uzumaki's forehead again. "No doubt a result of his stressed systems. Naruto," the brunet spoke to the blond, "Will you eat something if I make a nice meal? You and your rabbit can both eat."

Naruto blinked, but did not respond.

Smiling sadly, Iruka shifted the child in his arms, placing most of his weight on his hip as he rose to his feet. Kakashi watched, stunned, as the teacher then approached him, handing the ANBU the amazingly suppliant blond. "You really are good with kids," the Hatake remarked dully. He looked down to where Naruto had curled his fist into the material of his shirt, dazed cerulean orbs tracking each of Iruka's movements.

The Umino chuckled lightly, grabbing a spare apron from the hook and putting it on. "So people have told me... I suppose it is part of the reason why I couldn't bear to quit my job. I love what I do too much, and the work is never really a chore." He quieted for a moment, opening the fridge and peaking inside. Unabashedly, he removed ingredients and set them on the counter.

"Utensils are in the drawer by the sink, and pots under the cupboard by the stove," Kakashi supplied helpfully.

"Oh, sorry," Iruka blushed, turning to face the Hatake and bowing quickly in shame. "I'm acting much too familiar. I apologize and-"

"Don't... don't worry about it," the ANBU replied. "This place has seen too much abnormality lately... it would be nice to have something follow some sort of routine. Please, go ahead: do as you like. If you can get Naruto to eat, I'll be all the more grateful to you."

"Very well," the brunet said, straightening up. "I only hope the meal is satisfactory."

Kakashi did not say anything this time, allowing Iruka to return to his task in preparing them dinner. After several minutes, interrupted only by the sound of chopping and sizzling oil, the Hatake finally managed to utter what was on his mind. "...If... if it's not too forward, would it be alright, if I asked you to come over again tomorrow?"

The teacher, blushing, turned his head to Kakashi. "I... I just don't know how to help Naruto, and until everything else has passed... I'm really all he has at the moment. But I don't think I can possibly be of any help to him on my own. No," the silver-haired man corrected, "No, I know I can't. Would you mind, I mean... if it's not too much trouble..."

"Yes," Iruka answered, saving Kakashi from his blabbering. "If you need any help at all, then please, feel free to call on me. I wish for Naruto to be alright, just as much as anybody else, and I would gladly assist where I can."

For the first time in the past seventy-two hours, Kakashi allowed himself to relax just a little. "Thank you... Thank you so much..."

It was raining heavily still, as it had been for the past few days. Almost as even the heavens were mourning Kushina's passing on, Tsunade noted darkly. But, the woman supposed, it was better this way after all. The whole village grieved in their own way at the horrible news of the blessed redhead finally being buried... but for those that had been close to Kushina -who had loved and shared their lives with her- tears were hard to come by.

Minato had not cried since that day in the hospital room...

"Are you going to come back?," Tsunade asked, raising her head slightly. The rain pattered almost thunderously against her umbrella, making the ground beneath her soak and bulge with moisture, until her ankles were almost sinking into the very mud. There was the faintest thought to move, but it was not strong enough of an ideal for her to take any action. Besides, all her attention was focused forwards on the blonde man standing before the new gravestone; soaked through to the bone, for he refused to wear a coat or have any other protection against the wind and thunder.


"Later...," the man finally replied. His voice was a dry croak, the syllables barely rolling of his tongue. "I can't face him right now..."

Tsunade lowered her head for a second, staring at the mud and rain surrounding her feet. "I know," she said. "I know, and I understand, Minato. You need to come with me though; out of the rain."

The Yondaime turned his head slowly, looking back at the woman. "It's only rain," he smiled wryly.

The sennin walked up to the man quickly, putting her hands on his shoulders gently. "Only rain...," she agreed. "And it'll only be a sleep. Please, come with me."

Minato seemed to collapse in her grasp. With dead eyes, he gazed once more upon his wife's tombstone, before resignedly turning away completely; letting Tsunade lead him away from the grave and through the empty streets of their village.

Sasuke hadn't seen Naruto in what felt like ages.

The playground at the Academy seemed duller; his classes extremely boring. Though that may have had more to do with the rain than anything else. It had been pouring constantly since the raven had woken up in his hospital room, only to find that Naruto had been taken back home by one of the grown-ups. That had upset the little Uchiha who had followed up by demanding to see the blonde. Of course, that did not happen.

The Uzumaki's mother had finally passed away and the whole village was busy making the funeral arrangements. Even Sasuke's parents were distracted -his father attended the initial burial, along with Itachi, while his mom cried silently in the kitchen. The little boy could see that everyone was sad and so, he withdrew his demands out of respect for their grieving. But that didn't make him want to see Naruto any less.

More than anything now, the raven needed to go and see the blonde; make sure that he was okay.

After a few days of waiting and there still being no sign of the Uzumaki, Sasuke took the only option left to him: he asked Iruka-sensei what had become of his friend. To the child's surprise, the Umino had easily confessed that the blonde had been home all of this time, registered for sick leave, and then the brunet proceeded to invite the Uchiha along as he headed to go see Naruto that afternoon.

"B-but my mom...," Sasuke surprisingly protested weakly.

Iruka smiled down at the child, packing up the last of his things. "I'm sure it'll be alright, Sasuke-kun. I'll call you mom and inform her that you're accompanying me to Naruto's," the man assured. "I'll even walk you home afterwards."

The teacher did as he promised, and once it had been confirmed during last period that the Uchiha could go, Sasuke was walking with Iruka through the rain to Naruto's house. Sasuke couldn't help but gawk as they approached the modest, little two-story. The house had a big yard, with an old oak on its premises, fitted in comfortably between two other buildings of its kind. It had large ground-floor windows and an even shade of tangerine paint on the walls. In the sunlight, this house would probably be the picture of serenity.

As it was though, the rain muddied the whole image.

The yard was swollen and run over with dirty water, the branches on the oak weighted down by the constant down-pour; the paint on the house darkened and dingy through the black rain. Even the drapes had been drawn on all the windows, the muted glow of lights within barely piercing the material. All in all, the sight was distressing and Sasuke felt himself freeze up inside a little. With slight trepidation, the raven followed his teacher up to the door. Iruka knocked once -a hollow, ugly sound- before the door was creaking open slowly.

"Iruka," Kakashi sighed in relief. The other man seemed practically dead on his feet, yet light returned to his eyes upon seeing the brunet. It was a moment after that the Hatake noticed the little Uchiha.

"Uchiha Sasuke," the copy-nin mumbled in confusion.

"Y-yes," Iruka stuttered, resting his hands on the child's shoulders loosely, "He's been worried about Naruto and I thought... well... forgive me for my forwardness, but I thought it might do some good if Sasuke-kun could see Naruto."

"You'll be staying for dinner then, I suppose...," Kakashi replied dully, directing his words to the Uchiha directly. Sasuke felt himself tense in defense, nodding his head tersely.

"I suppose."

With a heavy sigh, the grey-haired shinobi stepped out of the doorway; opening the door further to his guests. "C'mon in," he invited, turning on his heel. "Naruto is upstairs," Kakashi said over a shoulder, heading for the kitchen himself. "Second door on the right."

The little boy stood in the entryway, peering up the dark staircase. Iruka, slipping his shoes off, touched the back of the raven's head. "It's alright, Sasuke-kun," the brunet said, smiling at the startled child. "Go ahead -I'll just be in the kitchen with Kakashi-san."

At the prompt, Sasuke silently removed his sandals, padding upstairs. The hallway here was as dark as he had thought it to be from where he had been standing at the bottom of the stairs. With hands outstretched, the raven headed further down the dark landing, silently counting the doors as he passed them. One on his left, one on his right, two on his left, three on his left, two on his right... Sasuke stopped, slowly turning to the right. This was Naruto's room. Thunder rumbled outside as the child opened the door a crack, peering inside. There was no light here either. Only by squinting could he make out the lumps and shapes of items within the room. On the large rectangle that Sasuke took to be the bed, was a small, rounded bump under the bedsheets.

Nothing moved as the raven tip-toed into the room; circling the bed and coming up to the side.

He hesitated only for a minute, unsure if he should call out for Naruto or merely grasp the tiny lump.

"Naruto...," the Uchiha started softly, having made his decision. Silence followed his words, nothing but the thunder and lightning flashing through the drawn blinds to accompany them. Had he been mistaken? Was the blond asleep? Or was Sasuke in the wrong room entirely?

"...'suke...?," a whisper questioned from the bed. The bump did not move or even shift, remaining resolutely still. But speak it did again. "...you real?"

"Yes," Sasuke answered. "Naruto, won't you get up?"

The Uzumaki stayed as he was.

"Is... c-can I come under?"

The blanket pulled a little as a tiny head nodded. Quietly, the raven lifted the sheets, sliding beneath them and surrounding himself in darkness. Shifting on the creaking mattress, the child made himself comfortable, before reaching forward and brushing aside the flimsy wall dividing him and Naruto. Sad, half-masted cerulean orbs met his charcoal ones.

"...hey," the Uchiha murmured after a moment. Those heart-broken eyes merely blinked at him, making the raven's chest get tighter.

"...he hates me, 'Suke...," Naruto replied back quietly, lifting his arms a little higher and burying his face into Usagi-kun's fur. "H-he got s-so angry...! I-i-i..."

Sasuke felt his fists clench together, overcome by helplessness. He couldn't think of what to say, what to do, that would make his friend stop crying. He wanted Naruto to be happy again and unafraid -after all, he had done nothing bad. The little blond should not then have been so terrified and sad. He was small himself, and the Uchiha knew that only adults were strong enough to keep the promises they made. He wanted to be that strong too that very moment, so he could comfort the Uzumaki.

"Naruto... it'll be okay," the older child said, reaching out and resting his hand on the other's forearm. Blue eyes lifted from over the rabbit plushie's black ears.

"...how do you know?," Naruto asked.

Sasuke swallowed sharply, looking back at the blonde determinedly. "Because I promise it will be. I'll protect you from anything bad from now on; I'll make sure that your daddy doesn't yell at you anymore."

Tears filled the smaller boy's eyes; face scrunching in hope and fear. "... stay...," Naruto pleaded, turning his face away again. "...please...?"

The raven moved closer, until his forehead was almost pressed against the crown of the Uzumaki's head. Beneath the covers, their breath mingled together, two sets of eyes peering through the darkness and focusing on the other. "I'm here," Sasuke declared softly. "I won't go anywhere."

Sparkling blue eyes only blinked up at him, before Naruto was pushing forwards; anxious fists clenching the older child's shirt. In response, the Uchiha wrapped his arms about the blonde, closing his eyes and pressing his cheek to the soft, golden spikes.

"...Should we wake them?"

Iruka glanced over his shoulder at the Hatake lingering just behind him, before turning his focus back to the crack in the door; peering at the two lumps huddled under the blanket. From here, he could hear the tell-tale breathing of the children in deep slumber.

"No," Kakashi answered, in as soft a murmur as the teacher had just spoken in. He reached forward, wrapping his hand around the brunet's on the doorknob, pulling the bedroom door shut the rest of the way. "Let's let them sleep," he added, gesturing for Iruka to follow.

The other man did so, rubbing the back of his palm where the copy-nin had touched him. "I suppose I can put their dinner away for later. Do you think Naruto-kun will eat it?," Iruka mused aloud as they headed downstairs.

"He will," the Hatake replied.

"How can you be certain though?"

Kakashi shrugged. "I just got the feeling..."

The kitchen's light made them lower their eyelids for a few moments, to shield from the glare the brightness provided. "Yondaime-sama still hasn't returned then...," Iruka mumbled quietly, slipping into a chair.

"No, he hasn't," the other shinobi confirmed. Kakashi stood a couple minutes longer, shuffling about the counter tops. When he finally sat himself, it was with a cup of coffee in hand; a second one in the other, which he gave to Iruka.

"T-thank you...," the brunet said, taking a moment to drink from the glass. "But why though? I-i'm sorry, I really don't mean to pry but... Naruto is his son, isn't he? Surely, his father would be the best to comfort and explain the situation to child?"

The grey-haired man only shook his head sadly. "It's not my place to say...," he replied blandly, tugging down his face mask. An awkward silence fell, to which neither men could think of how to break. Blushing in shame, Iruka brought his cup back up to his lips; thinking of finishing his drink quickly and leaving.

Kakashi only scratched at the table top with a fingernail, seeming to be deliberating something behind tired eyes. "...You are aware of Naruto's situation, yes?"

"P-pardon?," the Umino stuttered. His brow furrowed in confusion.

"You know of the Demon Fox sealed within Naruto. Correct?," the copy-nin asked again, his gaze lifting and catching the teacher's eyes this time.

Ah, that situation... "I... I do, yes," Iruka answered slowly. "And before you dare say it: no, my opinion of Naruto-kun does not change. He is a child -a little boy- who is learning, and hurting, and confused, just as any child is. What happens to be in that boy does not change the fact that he is his own person; it was only coincidence that he was the one selected as a vessel to that monster. The Kyuubi no Kitsune and Naruto-kun are two entirely different beings."

A fleeting smile came across the Hatake's lips, before it was quickly hidden again. "But you did hate him once... yes?"

The brunet's eyes widened as the blush across his cheeks deepened. Shamefully, he bowed his head, looking into his coffee cup. "For a time...," he whispered sadly. Closing his eyes, Iruka remembered those long nights in a strangely quiet house, curling up in a cold bed; the last of his tears drying as exhaustion finally started to overcome him. Slipping off to a troubled sleep, tortured by the images of a mother and father that had been stolen away from him too soon. "For a time, I could think of nothing but the sadness and the anger. I was so young..."

"You're young now," Kakashi pointed out. "Youngest that I've heard of to become an Academy sensei."

"I would have to say the same for you, Kakashi-san," Iruka shot back, glancing up at the man almost irritably. Sighing, he looked away again.

"So what changed?," the other man asked.

Iruka shrugged, finally setting his cup down on the table. "I don't know really... Just, one day I realized how ridiculous it was. Why was I getting angry at a baby for? A tiny, little baby that couldn't understand what had happened to him, let alone grasp his own name... And even if that boy should grow up and learn just what was caged inside of him, how did that make him responsible for the all the deaths that came before his birth? Really, it was pointless trying to justify my anger at Naruto-kun..."

"That was big of you," the Hatake commented. That little smile again flashed across his face, before ducking out of sight once more.

"Hardly...," the brunet scoffed in embarrassment. "Why the questions? I hardly think this is your idea of simple conversation."

"No, you're right; it isn't," Kakashi agreed, growing solemn again. "The reason that I ask is because I realize that Naruto is going to need friends, wherever he may go. You are the only adult that has the best interest in mind for the children, and the only one who can keep an eye on Naruto while he's in school. I had to make certain though where you stood on the Kyuubi matter, before telling you this."

"M-maybe you shouldn't tell me then...," Iruka stuttered, unease beginning to slither through his gut. "I mean..."

"You need to know," the grey-haired shinobi pressed, cutting off any further protests from the teacher. "Trust me. Because there'll be a time when Naruto will want to know himself, and I'm not entirely certain any of us will be able to share with him that bit of news..."

Iruka took a deep breath, folding his hands tightly in his lap. "A-alright...," he acquiesced. "Tell me; I'm ready."

"Have you ever wondered about the circumstances of the Demon's attack that night, several years ago?," Kakashi began. "Or even about Kushina's hospitalization?"

The copy-nin paused, letting the Umino ponder for a second. When only confusion and further unease showed on the teacher's face, Kakashi graciously continued.

"She was the carrier; before Naruto...," he explained bluntly.

"W-what?," Iruka gasped. "B-but that makes no sense... s-she was a transfer student, from the Whirlpool country. J-just an ordinary child, like us..."

The Hatake nodded his head. "She was... in the beginning. Under the pretence of an exchange program, Kushina was brought into out village. But from the beginning, she was aware that her duties lied in becoming the next jinchuuriki, after the next one passed away. It's been a tradition for years...," he explained.

"A-a tradition!," the brunet choked in disgust. "T-to send children to be living, breathing cages for beasts?"

Kakashi locked eyes with Iruka. The quiet, sure gaze of that dark eye slowly soothed the other man's agitation. Calming some, Iruka retook his seat, glaring at the table top. "That isn't right...," he hissed lowly.

"It isn't," Kakashi replied. "But it's been that way for centuries. We found that only our cousins from the Whirlpool Country had a particular chakra signature that was best suited for the sealing. Something in their bloodline allowed for the Demon to be easily suppressed, and any danger of madness or lose of control to be minimal compared to a jinchuuriki outside of their village. Every year, we offered them protection and peace, as long as it was available to us. And in turn, they sent one child every few decades to take over the mantel of carrier, sheltering us from the havoc that would be caused should Kyuubi no Kitsune ever be released."

"And so Kushina came to be the next vessel," Iruka surmised. "H-had... had a carrier ever been allowed to marry before?"

"No," was the Hatake's clipped reply. "It was illogical. A carrier spent the rest of their days, usually contained in a protected area of the village; living, eating, doing minimal activities, all the time understanding that their isolation was because of the dangerous entity trapped within their own bodies. But Minato-san, when he became Yondaime, could not change the fact that he loved Kushina, despite having learned of her role as vessel to the Demon. Being the ruling power, he took her as his bride, uncaring for the counsel's protests."


"And what happens when a carrier gets pregnant?," the Umino asked, feeling his stomach churn again restlessly. It wasn't hard to guess what the answer would be.

Kakashi sighed, cementing the brunet's thoughts. "The seals weaken, for a time, during the birth. If they're maintained by a third party, then nothing happens... but there was an unexpected guest that evening. He killed a whole squadron of ANBU, resulting in Kyuubi's freedom..."

Iruka closed his eyes, feeling sadness and horror overcome him. "And then the Demon went on a rampage..."

"Then the Demon went on a rampage..."

"H-how...," the teacher paused, thinking over how to phrase his question. "How did Naruto come to carry the Kyuubi?"

The grey-haired man waited a moment before answering; drinking deeply from his now-cold coffee. "Minato-sama had created a sort of spirit technique. It was a fail-safe –a forbidden jutsu that could force and imprison a person's soul in another container. But at the price of the wielder's own soul. Realizing he couldn't fight this stranger, and protect both his family and village, the Yondaime prepared to sacrifice himself."

"Unfortunately... things did not happen that way," Kakashi continued. "Kushina, injured and exhausted from her labour, was adamant that her newborn son would not lost a mother and father all in one day. She thrust herself in the way of the Shinigami's blade, letting it take her soul in place of Minato-sama's. H-he tried to stop it... but the process could not be reversed. Kushina fell, and the remnants of the Demon's soul were sealed in Naruto."

Iruka was crying.

A hand was clasped over his mouth as tears spilled from disbelieving brown eyes. Shuddering, the teacher forced back his sobs, ducking his head away from the Hatake's relentless staring. It was a few minutes longer before he could wipe the last of the tears from his cheeks, burying his sadness into his heart. "I-i thought... W-we were told it was an aneurysm," the brunet swallowed sharply. "T-that would be a death less c-crueler than the one K-kushina was given..."

"W-we... we had hoped in the beginning that she might come out of it. She appeared to be only comatose, a-and Minato-sama was ever so adamant that she would wake up. I suppose it was why we let him force her body to remain after so long...," the copy-nin mumbled, speaking lightly over the lump in his own throat. "We were all hoping for a miracle of some sort."

"There's a reason in me telling you this though...," Kakashi spoke again, after another stretch of silence. Iruka looked at him fully.

"Which is that?"

"The secret of the carriers was lost the night of Naruto's birth and with it any chance of a normal childhood once that little boy had the Demon sealed inside of him. From now on, everyone will know of him as the Kyuubi Vessel, even if they are villagers of the Leaf and know beforehand that he is the son of the Yondaime. That ugly shadow will haunt that child, and I fear that things will eventually build and unleash themselves on that unsuspecting boy. He has no protection from the ignorance of the others, and he will have to fight to prove himself, because they will not simply brush off any of his faults as he gets older," the grey-haired shinobi explained.

"So you want me to be stern with him, but... caring?," Iruka asked, feeling slightly baffled and overwhelmed. "How do you expect me to do that?"

"You are a teacher, aren't you?" Kakashi shook his helm, cupping his hands on the table. "Naruto will always have us -we are his family, and he trusts us explicitly. But he needs guidance from those who aren't so wrapped up in his life as well. Someone who can be more objective when giving advice. You, Iruka, are perfect for that role. Even Sasuke is at a good position, being friends with Naruto..."

"Sasuke-kun...," the brunet sighed, remembering the child. The man pressed a hand to his forehead, looking at the other shinobi anxiously. "He doesn't know about Kyuubi no Kitsune, does he?"

"He doesn't," the Hatake answered. "The Uchihas have not shared any opinions, whether hostile or not, with their children about the Demon or Naruto. They are not nearly as ignorant or as foolish as the other villagers, nor would they want to incur the wrath of the Head House. Kushina and Mikoto had been the best of friends..."

That was even more surprising news. "But he will learn one day," Iruka said sadly. "And what will become of those two boys then...?"

"That," Kakashi sighed, "Is out of our hands."

Iruka sat, absorbing all this information before he shakily rose to his feet. The jounin watched him stand, one visible eye crinkled in confusion. "Is everything alright, Iruka?," Kakashi asked. "Why don't you sit a little longer..."

"No... no, there's no need," the brunet shook his head, smiling up at the Hatake sadly. "I should head home now, a-and think about this some more. You told me a lot, Kakashi-san... more than I'm sure I can handle all at once. But, I will bear this secret, and I won't share it with anyone other than whom it is meant for. Still, I won't impose anymore."

"You can stay if you like...," the grey-haired man said. "It is no problem."

Iruka shook his head a second time. "Oh...," the teacher mumbled, turning to the door and staring up at the ceiling. "Sasuke-kun... I said that I would take him home."

"Don't worry about it," Kakashi replied. "I'll inform his mother that he's spending the night. I don't think either of those boys will be waking before morning."

"O-okay," the Umino said. He walked down the hallway, heading for the door; the other shinobi at his heels. "Goodnight then, Kakashi-san," he added, grabbing his umbrella and looking back at the other man.

"Goodnight, Iruka," Kakashi responded. "Please, think about what I've told you. When you've come to a decision, whatever it may be, share it with me. I only want what's best for Naruto..."

The brunet glanced up the stairs, opening the door to the rain and wind still blowing outside. "I suppose we all do...," he whispered, taking that first step out into the wet night.

C.M.D: I thought I might have redeemed myself with this long awaited update, but I think my deep hole has become a perpetual pit. And it's soooooooo angsty still . Seriously, when I started out on this story, I did not intend to bring in angst. Like, at all! But I promise, we should be getting back to the fluff again. Soon. I hope...
And again, sorry for the long wait. I had the first half of this story written back a few months ago, but it took me forever to be able to add in the second half. All your desperate pleas for more broke my heart, promises! Anyways, I hope to have another update along before christmas, so... let's keep our fingers crossed, yeah?