Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or any associated names/characters. I do not profit from this story in any way.


Chapter 1 - Out From Behind the Fourth Wall

"I've watched my duty, straight an' true, an' tried to do it well; part of the time kept Heaven in view, an' part steered clear of Hell."

- Will Carleton

"You are certain that the seal remains intact?" the Sandaime asked gravely, holding Kakashi's gaze with a penetrating stare.

"Yes, Hokage-sama, though Naruto did make use of some of its chakra," the jonin replied in a bored tone.

The Hokage sighed, his lined face thrown into sharp relief by the shadows of the afternoon sun. "Very well, do you have anything else to report?"


"You are dismissed then. And give my compliments to your team...this mission would have given a team of chuunin trouble. I am impressed."

With a slight nod – the closest to a bow the old man was likely to ever see from Hatake Kakashi – the lanky young man turned and strolled casually out of his office. The door swung shut with a click.

"I told you," said a voice from the shadows. Its tone was decidedly accusatory.

The old man heaved another sigh. He seemed to be doing that a lot lately, whenever Naruto was involved.

"They came back alive. That is all shinobi can ask for at the end of a mission," he replied solemnly. A lithe shadow detached itself from his wall and flowed gracefully toward his desk.

"You put him on that joke of a team and it almost got him killed – it almost got them all killed."

He shook his head sadly. It was an old argument by now; one that she had made time and again, and one that had yet to change his mind.

She was, however, quite stubborn.

"You know how the teams are formed and why," he rebutted solemnly.

"Yes, 'balance'." His antagonist chuckled bitterly. "Like I said, their 'team' is a joke. The Uchiha is self-absorbed and unstable – he's an arrogant ass who will never be as good as he thinks. And that silly girl you've lumped them in with is a waste of talent – instead of developing it, she lets it wither and die while she spends her time chasing after a boy who is, as far as I can tell, asexual!

"No," she shook her head decisively, "you heard Kakashi; his teammates are just as likely to get him killed in the long run as they are to help him."

"I am not going to change the teams," Sarutobi said wearily, rubbing the bridge of his nose in a vain attempt to relieve his budding headache. "Besides, it appears that they have started to bond," he continued in an attempt to be upbeat. It failed miserably.

She placed her palms on his desk and leaned forward, a lock of red hair catching the soft glow of his desk lamp. "I'm afraid our agreement has come to an end, old man," she said quietly.

His eyes widened in shock.

Those words chilled him to the bone. They weren't spoken loudly; they weren't hissed angrily; they were put forth as simple fact, but what they could mean terrified him. Pulling himself together, he spoke again. "Why is that? I've upheld my end of the bargain."

"Upheld your end of the bargain?" she yelled incredulously. Her demeanor rapidly shifted from somewhat irritated to outright indignant. "You promised to keep him safe – promised! And I just meekly bowed my head, stepped aside, and watched him grow…and only that – watched!"

As she ranted, her anger melted into sadness. She looked so lost for a moment that he had to clamp down on his reflex to comfort her. He felt that it would not be welcomed.

"He is alive and well," Sarutobi reasoned. "I have kept him safe."

"Your definition of 'safe' and 'well' must come from an entirely different dictionary than mine then, old man. I don't call the mass of obsessions and attention starvation he's become 'well' and I sure as hell don't call A-rank missions 'safe'!"

"That mission was supposed to be a C-Rank. He and his teammates all voted to continue it once it escalated. What would you have me do about that?" he asked exasperatedly.

"Change the teams," she growled obstinately. "Just do it! That'll fix everything."

That sparked a small bit of anger in him. She wasn't even asking a favor anymore, she was just going to demand it? He may not make a big fuss about etiquette with her, but he would only allow himself to be pushed so far.

"You have no authority over team rosters," he noted stiffly, "in fact, you have no authority here at all."

She snickered at him derisively. "Do you honestly think that I wouldn't kill those sorry excuses for ninja you've paired him with if I have to? I think I've proven over the last thirteen years that I will do anything to protect my son."

The old Hokage tensed angrily. "You're walking a very thin line. Do not let me hear you threaten Konoha shinobi again."

She straightened up again, falling back into shadow. "Give him the letter," she whispered, ignoring his rebuke.

"But he isn't a chuunin yet!" the Sandaime argued hotly.

"Give him the letter!" she shouted. "I'm his mother; I have all the authority that matters when it comes to him. Now give him the damn letter!"

His temper finally getting the better of him, the old man let his chakra flare as he shot to his feet. Even in his waning years of life, he knew he was quite an impressive shinobi – certainly more than a match for her. Then again, he reminded himself when she stood by, clearly unimpressed, she was quite familiar with a few of the small group of people on the planet who easily outstripped him.

They remained locked in a heated staring contest for several seconds.

Finally, his shoulders slumped in defeat – he couldn't deny that she had a valid point…revealing that information really was her decision to make. It wasn't in him to meddle in family affairs more than he had to. But still…he had to try one more time, "Are you sure about this, Kushina? The danger he'll be in if this gets out..."

"I'll be there to make sure he's safe," she said, managing to sound both dismissive and determined simultaneously.

For the first time, she relaxed out of her angry posture and became the charming young woman that he remembered. The change was sudden enough to be a little disturbing. "Besides, you're here Hiru-kun. What could go wrong?" she asked cheekily.

He handily ignored the old nickname, and the fear her question engendered. Many things had gone wrong when Uzumaki Kushina used that phrase…many, many things.

"Very well...tonight then," he agreed, smiling weakly in spite of himself, but she had already disappeared

"You know where I'll be. Send him to me, after," her disconnected voice echoed through his office.

And then, he knew, she was gone.

The hours passed slowly for the aging Hokage, who spent them pacing back and forth, hands behind his back, pipe puffing furiously between his lips.

He was afraid.

It was a bit of a shock to realize that. He, Hiruzen Sarutobi, 'The God of Shinobi', was afraid of Naruto.

It was of little comfort to realize that he didn't fear him for the reason most of the village did. He feared him because he loved him, instead of hating him; because he didn't want to hurt him, but he knew that he may have to.

Briefly, he considered running away.

As if it were triggered by his thoughts, the door to his office swung open with a bang, Naruto's smiling face on the other side of it. "Hey, old man!" the young blond shouted cheerfully.

Normally, Sarutobi would've sighed in mock exasperation and smiled at the boy – instead, the fear coiled even tighter around his heart.

"Hello, Naruto," he answered.

"Some weird guy with bandages on his face said you wanted to talk to me?"

Clearing his throat – and buying himself a few more seconds in the process, the aging Hokage turned away from that bright, open, innocent face across the desk. Why did he have to look at him like that? So trusting and enthusiastic.

I wish I didn't have to do this!

This thought, one which had ran through his head several times over the past few hours, nudged something in his mind as it passed through again. Something fluid gently flowed into its proper alignment and a spark of inspiration was born.

Whoever said he had to do it?

In an astounding feat of mental acuity, Hiruzen Sarutobi formed a brilliant plan in mere moments. A small, mischievous twinkle found its way into his dark eyes.

"Yes, Naruto," he began, clearing his throat again, "I have a small solo mission, just for you"

"A solo mission…for me?" Naruto mused, as if those two phrases shouldn't go together.

"Yes, a very important one. It is in no way dangerous, of course, but it must be kept secret" – he laid heavy emphasis on the word…Naruto could be a little dense at times; best to lay it on thick – "Do you understand?"

Naruto's innocent smile returned. "You got it old man! Don't worry, you can trust me!"

Sarutobi smiled, not only because his brilliant plan was going to work, but because of the obvious pride Naruto took in having earned his trust. He pulled a small, unmarked envelope from his pocket; the pocket he'd placed it in directly after he removed it from his most secure vault earlier that day.

"This letter is to be delivered to a very important person. No one, not even you, is to read this until it has been delivered, understood?" Naruto nodded vigorously.


Allowing himself to smile, Sarutobi pulled a blank piece of paper from a drawer and began writing. "The recipient will be waiting for you in a small training area. It's well hidden; most people never even realize it's there, but these directions should get you there easily enough. She will be expecting you soon – I suggest you head straight there."

"Right, no problem!" Naruto exclaimed, scurrying forward and collecting the directions and envelope.

"Good luck," Sarutobi said.

"Please, it'll be a piece of cake for a ninja like me!" the young genin scoffed, already sprinting out of the room.

The Sandaime Hokage sighed as he watched one of his favorite people troop merrily off to what would inevitably be a life-changing event. He could only hope it would be a change for the better. "Good luck," he repeated softly.

The empty room provided no answer.

Time seemed to fly by as Naruto went about completing his mission. The sun set so fast that he barely noticed how late it was before it was dark and the moon was out.

He hummed happily to himself as he marched down the street, blithely ignoring the cold glares of the villagers. Nothing was going to dampen his spirits now – Old Man Hokage was obviously recognizing how awesome he was if he was sending him on super secret missions alone.

He glanced down at the bits of paper in his hand. The envelope was a mystery that was practically begging him to open it, but he resisted the temptation; he was too strong for that. The other, which had his attention at the moment, was the list of directions to the secret mail receiving person.

Stop once you pass the store "Honda's Medicine" and turn north. Continue on for one hundred paces.

Following this, the last direction on the page, took him through a somewhat smelly, trash filled alley that dead-ended into a copse of saplings – of course, being Konoha redwood saplings, they were as tall as most other full-grown trees. As he threaded through the giants, a familiar and appealing aroma assaulted his nose…ramen. He didn't think he was that close to Ichiraku's; the directions had brought him to the very northern edge of the village. Maybe he was developing super senses? Yeah, like one of those blood…er...thingies! That would be awesome!

Distracted by imagining all of Konoha praising the awesomeness of his new blood thingy, he failed to react in time when his foot caught on a root; he stumbled out of the woods and into a small clearing, landing gracefully on his nose. He laid there, cursing under his breath, until a light giggle drew his attention.

A woman knelt on a blanket, at the far end of the clearing. She presented one of the most indescribable images Naruto had ever seen. Long, straight tresses of red hair framed an open, beautiful face; stray strands, picked up by a light breeze, flowed across teal green irises and caught on long eyelashes, tickling ivory cheeks. An intricately patterned dark-blue kimono reflected the moonlight, surrounding her with an ethereal glow. It all looked like something straight from his dreams, right down to the steaming cups of Ichiraku ramen arrayed across the blanket.

Shaking his head and closing his mouth with an audible snap, Naruto stumbled to his feet and strode forward confidently.

Her smiling face suddenly turned solemn, almost fearful at his approach. Before he could speak, she bowed forward on her knees, forehead and palms to the ground.

"Naruto-kun," she said in a gentle alto; her voice tickled something in the back of his memories, "moushiwake arimasen." A very formal apology...what the hell was she apologizing to him for?

He began to feel a little panicky when he noticed the tearful quaver in her voice. "Um…who are you lady?" he asked quickly, hoping to head off any more weirdness. To his great relief, she sat up quickly, a startled look on her face, eyes filled with curiosity instead of tears.

"He didn't tell you?" she asked.

"Who didn't tell me what?" he asked bewilderedly.

"He didn't tell you!" she shouted, the pale skin of her forehead creasing angrily. This time, it definitely wasn't a question.

His temper ignited. He hated being yelled at.

"Look, all I know is that the old man gave me a secret mission to deliver this letter to you!" he shouted back, shoving the slightly crinkled letter in her direction.

"Ooh, I'm going to kill that old coot! I'll skin him alive! I'll snap that stupid pipe of his in two and shove it straight up his ass!" she ranted, ignoring him.

He hated being ignored even more.

"What the hell is going on?" Naruto bellowed, interrupting her steady stream of threats.

"Don't curse, Naruto-kun, it isn't polite," she admonished offhandedly. She continued to ignore his letter.

Naruto was very tempted to point out that she had just cursed too, but in a surprising display of foresight (outside of combat anyway), he didn't. Of course, the fact that he had already learned that angry women were very, very dangerous helped.

"Yeah, yeah," he muttered, "sorry. Look, lady, will you just take the letter so I can get this mission over with? I'm starting to get hungry." Blunt and rude, maybe, but it was the truth. The smell of the lady's ramen was driving him crazy, and he'd had no dinner yet tonight.

The woman's smooth green eyes locked onto the letter like metal to a magnet. "Oh," she mumbled vaguely, staring at it like it carried a plague. "I brought us some ramen," she continued absentmindedly, waving distractedly toward the ramen on the blanket.

"Really? That's great!" Naruto gushed, his anger easily forgotten in the face of ramen. Shoving the letter into her unresisting hand he dashed for the food, grabbing the nearest cup and sprawling gracelessly on the ground.

"So," he began around a mouthful of noodles, "my name's Uzumaki Naruto, what's yours?"

She approached slowly, kneeling across from him and folding her hands in her lap. He paused in between gulps and looked up when she didn't respond. She was shaking, even though she stared him in the eye without flinching. Almost as if she were devouring him with her eyes - learning every little thing there was to know about him with a glance.

When she finally spoke, it was barely more than a whisper. "I…I'm Uzumaki Kushina, and this letter isn't for me." She unfolded her hands and extended the crumbled paper in his direction with a slight bow. "It's for you."

It wasn't until she reached over and gently scooped them up that he realized noodles had dropped from his open mouth and splattered across his chest.

Apparently deciding he wouldn't be up to the task, the woman – Kushina, Uzumaki Kushina – deftly unsealed the letter herself and pulled it out. She spared him another nervous look before she offered it to him again.

He took it with shaking hands. Something was about to happen…something big…he just knew it.

Naruto's eyes scanned the letter, growing progressively wider as they went.

By the time he reached the end of it, it felt like someone had shoved a lightning bolt directly into his brain – he hurt and went numb at random intervals, his thoughts so scattered and incoherent that nothing made sense anymore.

"Naruto-kun?" her voice jarred him from his thoughts. She appeared torn; as if she wanted to do something but was unsure it would be welcome.

When she finally reached out to hold him, he ran. He couldn't help it really – he didn't even remember telling his legs to move.

"Naruto-kun!" her voice called desperately from behind him.

He ran faster.

He paid no heed to direction. He wasn't really even watching where he was going – he could have run headfirst into a wall and would never know it until he woke up the next day with the headache to prove it. He just couldn't bring himself to focus on things like that right now – mundane things – unimportant things. He had just been given something he'd always wanted, and now he wasn't sure if he really wanted it anymore. A family; a mother; someone that was supposed to be kind and loving to him, but his…she'd left him. The thought made his stomach sink like an iron-feathered duck. She didn't want him.

Branches whipped at his face, cutting faint lines of red here and there, the rushing wind drowned out Kushina's frantic cries, and for just a moment, he was able to not focus on anything at all.

It wasn't until he looked up and realized for the first time that he had no clue where he was that he stopped. He was standing in a large, wide-open field. In the distance, he could see a moderately sized house; it seemed he'd wandered into the owner's backyard. Doubling over, he sucked in great gasps of air and did his best to count his breaths, hoping to keep his mind from wandering.

When he looked up again, Kushina's small frame blocked his path, the embroidered gold swirls of her kimono catching the moonlight. He caught the subtle movements of her fingers fidgeting with her sleeves. She seemed too afraid to meet his eyes again.

Before he could think to speak, shout, or even run off again, she repeated the first thing she'd ever said to him, "Naruto-kun, moushiwake arimasen." With a fluid grace, she lowered herself to her knees and bowed again.

The raging maelstrom of emotions he had become picked up speed as even more confusing sensations were added to the pot: Forgiveness, anger, longing, sadness, fear, and, buried under all of that, even some joy.

"Do you know what that letter said?" he asked – his usually loud and boisterous voice was quiet and quivering…he probably sounded as lost as he felt.

"I do," she murmured. "I helped write it."

"Is it…"

Is it what – true? He knew it was…somewhere deep down inside. It made sense to him in a sick sort of way, it was almost karmic. Like fate had decided to punish him for all of his pranks with the biggest prank of all: the truth.

"It is," she replied, not needing to hear the full question.

"The Yondaime Hokage…he was my fa-father?"

"Yes," she answered, her forehead still touched to the ground in supplication.

"And you…are you…are you really my mother?" He certainly hadn't meant for his voice to sound so small and fragile.

"I am."

Everything went quiet, all of the emotions stopped whirling, instantly turning crystal clear - only to shatter like glass. Naruto did something he hadn't done in a very long time.

He cried.

He collapsed to his knees and sobbed in great wracking heaves. Tears streamed down his cheeks – he didn't know if they were happy tears, sad tears, or angry tears; maybe they were just tears of pain. He was so out of it that he never noticed a pair of slender – and surprisingly hard – arms drape around his shoulders until he wiped his nose on a sleeve that wasn't his own.

"Why?" he asked, the fragility in his voice magnified a thousand times now. "Why did you leave me?"

"Naruto-kun, you have to understand –"

"Why didn't you want me?" he continued in a stronger tone, shrugging her arms off, seemingly unaware that she had even spoken. "What did I do wrong?"

"Nothing! You-" she tried again. Her eyes darted from side to side frantically.

"Was it because of the fox?" he demanded, interrupting again in a voice that was rising in volume and pitch. "Couldn't stand raising a demon?" he spat bitterly.


Naruto rubbed his cheek, his eyes wide. Strong hands, latched onto his shoulders with a grip of iron, and Kushina jerked his face to within inches of her own.

"Never say that again!" she said furiously, giving him a good hard shake in the process. "You are NOT a demon!" Then she crushed his unresisting form to her chest, a sob of her own escaping.

"You're my little boy and I love you, I love you, I love you," she babbled through her tears. "I didn't want to leave you alone! Wanted to help, wanted to keep you safe. They would've come if they knew. Would've been after you, instead of me, and I couldn't let them hurt my baby!" she wailed. "I love you, my darling little baby. I love you so much! Please forgive me? I didn't want to! Please…please?" Her words began to slur together a little, she was speaking so fast.

Naruto could only blink as he tried to absorb her hysterical tirade. He should leave, now. This woman was obviously losing it – probably crazy as a loon, maybe his earlier instinct was wrong, maybe she was lying. He should leave and go back to his crappy apartment…and his crappy life with precious few people that actually cared about him...dammit. What if she wasn't crazy and his first instinct had been the right one? The prospect was just too tempting to turn away from.

"I kept you safe, watched out for you!" she said in a wheedling tone, almost like a little girl trying to sweet-talk her daddy into buying her some candy. "Almost had to step in when that gray haired nut-job told you about the Kyuubi, but you trounced him good, because you're my son – made me so proud! Never doubt that Naruto-kun, I'll always be proud of you!" She smiled widely, almost too widely to be natural.

It was like she was trying to shove years of love, encouragement, praise, and parenting all into one moment. Her arms continued to convulse around him; occasionally loosening when she started to regain her composure, only to squeeze him tight when she started sobbing again.

Eventually, she ran out of steam, much to Naruto's relief. She simply sat there and held him, sniffling from time to time.

He pulled back and looked at her uncertainly. Her striking eyes were blood-shot and puffy now, her face downcast. Tear streaks stood out against her skin in the moonlight. She looked absolutely miserable, and terrified – and oddly enough, happy as well. It suddenly occurred to him that he might not be the only one who was confused here.

Or maybe it was just the craziness.

She was pretty obviously on the verge of breaking – even Naruto could see that. And even if he decided he didn't believe her story, or that he couldn't forgive her, he couldn't let that happen – it just wasn't in him to be that malicious.

Leaning back until he was sitting on the grass comfortably, Naruto looked at her with a neutral expression. "All right, lady," he began, his voice surprisingly normal. "I'm your son, you love me so much it drives you crazy…tell me why you left me then; convince me."

She looked up, startled – almost as if she had forgotten he was there. She stared at him for several seconds and he huffed impatiently.

Seeing this, she shook herself and took a deep breath. "Minato was always smarter than me," she began. Naruto blinked in confusion. What the hell did that have to do with anything?

"He was always thinking ahead; planning, taking precautions – he was just good at it. That's why he gave you my maiden name."

"Huh?" Naruto blurted.

She smiled at him warmly, if a little weakly. "You look so much like him, but you got stuck with my personality and brains I guess." He wasn't sure if that was an insult or a compliment. Before he could puzzle it out, she continued.

"Did you know he was a hero of the Third Great Shinobi War?" she asked, once again jumping subjects without any apparent rhyme or reason. Naruto nodded, it was one of the better lectures Iruka had ever given – well…at least, that Naruto had paid any attention to.

"Do you know why?" she asked.

His face scrunched up in concentration, his mind digging for the answer. "Didn't he kill a lot of bad guys?" That garnered a chuckle from her.

"Yes, he did. Do you know why?" she asked again.

His face scrunched again, and his tongue poked out to further enhance his mental acuity. "Iruka-sensei said they killed one of his students."

"They did," she agreed sadly, "but that wasn't the reason. The day he found out that I was pregnant with you, he killed almost a thousand Iwa ninja – by himself. The next day, according to rumor, Iwa issued a flee-on-sight order for him – if the idiot wasn't too tired to get out of his sleeping bag after using all of that chakra, he probably would've done a jig because of it." She trailed off with a fond smile on her face. Shaking herself, she turned back to him. "He killed all of those men, Naruto-kun, because he found out he was going to have a baby, because wanted you to be born into a better world."

Naruto was enthralled. Someone had cared for him that much? He wanted to believe it so badly. All thoughts of how this might relate to his questions were gone; all of his anger had disappeared. He just wanted to hear more about the man who would walk through armies for him.

"To this day, those Iwa bastards still hate him, and everything associated with him – the village, the country, his wife, and, if they knew you existed, his son." She looked at him pointedly and Naruto was sure there was a point he was missing here.

"I don't get it," he said. Kushina sighed exasperatedly, even though her lips quirked into a very slight smile.

"I'll try to explain a little better, then." She shifted from her awkward crouch into a more comfortable kneeling position. "Your father became one of the most feared shinobi in the world. Half of the five great villages wanted him dead for what he did to them in the past; the other half wanted him dead because of what he might do to them in the future.

"What do you think they would do to his son, if they found out he had one?" she asked leadingly.

"They'd kill him, I guess – Oh." They'd kill him. That sent a shiver of fear down his spine. He had enough hatred to deal with in his own village; it was going to royally suck if he ever had to deal with it from other villages.

"You were only a few hours old when Minato decided that you would have to be the living sacrifice, the jinchuuriki." she said in a whisper. Her face contorted in pain and her eyes dropped down to the hands folded in her lap. "Once he knew that he wo-wouldn't be here to protect you anymore, he decided to give you my family's name instead. Only a few people in this village ever knew my maiden name – and all of them were beyond trustworthy. As far as we know, no one, living or dead, knows it outside of Konoha."

Her hands clenched into fists and her jaw stiffened. "It wasn't until after Minato sealed the Kyuubi that the old man came to me," she said bitterly. "He told me that as long as people associated you with me, they would know that you were your father's son – that by simply being your mother, I was putting you in danger." Suddenly, she looked up at him again, and Naruto was struck by the raw pain her face radiated like a mourning sun. "I didn't want to believe him," she said in a pleading voice – sounding like the lost little girl again. "You believe that, right? I didn't want to leave you! Please, tell me you believe me?"

The young blond could only nod dumbly – if there was one thing he was sure of about all of this, it was that she meant that. No one could doubt it when faced with the pure heartbreak in her voice whenever she apologized to him.

A part of him thawed at that – at least a little. She really hadn't wanted to leave him alone.

Kushina visibly gathered herself again. "I didn't want to believe him," she repeated, "and if I could go back and do it again, I wouldn't have agreed, but I was a mess! With Minato dead and you in danger, I was so scared that I couldn't think straight. So, when he offered me the deal, I caved and took it."

"Deal?" Naruto asked. She nodded; her eyes back on her lap, her head bowed in shame.

"He told me that he would keep you safe; make sure you were cared for, and in return, I would play dead – it would keep you, and by extension Konoha, safe from anyone who wanted the Yondaime's son."

She looked up and nodded towards the house Naruto had noticed before. "That's our home – Minato sealed it up so tight that no one without our blood could ever cross the property line, or even see it. For your entire life, I've spent my days and nights watching you from the shadows, discouraging any violence that the angrier villagers might send your way, and watching you grow up."

There was a long pause before Naruto realized that the story was over. An awkward silence settled over the duo; it left them fidgeting nervously and looking everywhere but at each other.

Finally, Naruto stood and Kushina looked at him for the first time since she had finished speaking.

"I don't know what to think," he said bluntly. "Some of me thinks you're a crazy woman and you made it all up, but the old man did give me that letter and tell me to come see you." He looked up at her and smiled shyly, "The rest of me wants to believe you like you wouldn't believe!"

That drew a big grin from Kushina.

"I need to think, and I wanna talk to the old man," he said. "I…I haven't forgiven you, but…I just don't know what to do."

Kushina mulled it over for a moment, her shoulders slumping marginally when he admitted he hadn't forgiven her. "Okay, how 'bout this? You go sleep on it tonight, go see the geezer tomorrow morning, and then come see me after?" she said hopefully.

Naruto only nodded and turned to leave, his face contorted thoughtfully – he had a hell of a lot to think about.

"Good night, Naruto-kun," Kushina said quietly, hopefully. Her voice carrying across the silent clearing quite well.

Naruto paused and looked back over his shoulder. "Good night!" he called back.

He was beaming when he made his way back into the trees.

That was the first time anyone had ever said "good night" to him.

Japanese Terms: Moushiwake Arimasen - A very formal, very strong apology, typically given to a superior.


And thats the end of the first chapter of Watched. This has become my primary Naruto story now, since I dropped Ascension a long time ago (for those of you waiting for a Shifters update, don't worry, I'm still working on it, but chapter 6 is fighting me tooth and nail).

I'm not really sure how I feel about this chapter. There is more drama than I would've liked, but I have to admit that drama is a part of any story, even when it only comes in very small doses. I think Kushina turned out all right - she is meant to be a little...cracked from the emotional stress and the almost total isolation she's lived in for thirteen years. Like she's dangling just on the right side of having Multiple Personality Disorder, but she's still holding on (as any good Uzumaki would do).

I hope you liked it! Review please - comments, constructive criticisms, and suggestions are all welcome.

On a side note - please be aware that I'm not on any sort of updating schedule. I write when I have the time and inspiration; so it could take me a few days or a few months to pump something out. Asking me to update faster WILL NOT HELP - though a little good natured ribbing won't hurt :).

See ya next chapter (as always, chapter progress is posted both in my profile and on my homepage, which is still very much just a glorified progress bar page).