A labor of literature brought forth from the molten muses MHX present CHAPTER 21

Naruto is the intellectual property of Masashi Kishimoto and studio Pierott. Please support the official release.

Silent Majority and Mazinger Z clashed toppling the buildings of Tokyo with their clashing power.

"HA that piece of shit can't scratch me!" Nixon declared laughing madly wearing an Anti-spiral bodysuit inside the evil machine.

Normal Speech:"A mecha is only as good as the pilot, so WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK I AM!" MHX shouted as a violent green aura enshrouded the antiquated mecha drills sprouting from its surface. "Take this Giga Drill Breaker!" Mazinger's arms became a massive drill as it flew at the anti-spiral machine which made no attempt to dodge.

Greater Beings Speaking/thinking: "Spiral-Death Machine Activate!" Nixon laughed as he hit the button and MHX crashed to the ground in a crater that only deepened as the force of gravity and ultra dense space was force on the machine.

Thoughts: 'I got him now this entire machine is designed to kill any lone spiral warrior or upstart author.' Nixon though while considering his plans for a second Vietnam War.

"You think you've won?" MHX asks one eye shot blood running down his face as the cracks spiderweb across the cockpit and the controls spark and burn.

"I've already won without your precious spiral power you can't touch me you junky. And there's nothing you can say or do that can change that!" The diseased mad man declared his jowls flapping about.

Techniques being used: "Oh really what if I say GAOMACHINES!" MHX declared as he cut his spiral power making the pressure recede before forcing the damaged Mazinger to jump it's legs breaking off from the strain. Before being enclosed in a swirling green energy sphere.


Drama Detox


"What the hell just happened…?"

"A-are you okay, Naruto-kun…?" Hinata reached out a hesitant hand to the boy's shoulder.

"No… no, I'm not frickin' okay…" Naruto sighed, clutching his head in his hands. "I'm not okay at all. My best friend just turned into some kinda monster, then he tried to choke me to death while talking in my brain, THEN he goes and has a heart attack, never mind the fact that he's TWELVE. Jiraiya's having some kind of emotional breakdown, Tsunade's probably not coming back with us, I just had two dead bodies thrown right in my face, Jiraiya- he- he is DEFINITELY not the dude I thought he was, and- and- GAAAH!" Naruto flopped backwards, flailing about in the bedsheets. "I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON!"

"N-Naruto…"

"WHY IS MY LIFE SO MESSED RIGHT NOW!?"

Hinata, after a moment of hesitation, followed the boy down onto the bed, worming her arms underneath him. "I don't know…" the girl whispered, pulling the boy close in a soft hug. "b-but… I think that you are strong enough to get through this… b-because that's who you are, Naruto-kun…"

"… I… thank you." Naruto slowly closed his eyes, breathing deeply. "Yeah… yeah… Sasuke's fine… Tsunade's looking after him right now… Jiraiya will get better… we can fix all this… yeah… I can do this…"

"I know you can…" Hinata smiled into his blond locks. "Th-that's why I l-l-like you, Naruto-kun…"

"… I have no idea how I impressed a girl like you, but I'm glad I did…" blushing lightly, Naruto reached out and lightly kissed her chin. The girl turned red. "Thank you."

"…" turning bright red, Hinata leaned down and met the boy's lips, pushing deeper into the kiss. After a minute of soft writhing, she pulled away, embarrassed but looking victorious. "y-you're welcome…"

"Well, well…" Naruto grinned. "That was rather bold of you, Ms. Hyuuga."

"I…" her face turned the color of a tomato, but she smiled. "I-I think I like being b-bold…"

"Heheh…"

"Oh for Satan's sake, you're on the bed and she is all but grinding on your junk at this point. That was practically an open invitation, so just get naked already!"

"I swear to god, I will find a way to murder you in there."


Sasuke lay prone upon the bed, his face pale, a cold sweat breaking out across his forehead. Naruto slowly turned to Tsunade, waving a glowing green hand across his body. "Is Sasuke going to be all right?"

"… In time? Yes, I think so." Tsunade murmured. "His condition is startling, though. After whatever turned him into… whatever that thing was passed, it was like all of his vital organs just shut down at once. I'm not sure a lesser medic could have revived him from that state."

"… but he's going to be fine?"

"Yes…" she shot a glance over to Jiraiya, slumping into himself on the chair. "… but unless I know what caused his condition, I can't do much to prevent it from happening again."

"…it's not going to come back. It wasn't like that. Besides, I don't think you want to know." Said Naruto, looking away. "It screws up your life. Like, you're just going around, having fun, doing weird tangential fun, and then boom. You've got weird depressing shit dumped on your lap, and you don't know why. Frankly, it's starting to piss me off."

"… I guess I have to take your word on it." Tsunade turned back to the raven. "… Hey. Go talk to that guy, will you? He's starting to irritate me with his moping."

"Yeah, sure…" with a quick shuffle, Naruto was over at his side. The sage lifted his head, caught sight, and sighed.

"Hey."

"What's up?"

Sigh. "Nothing…"

Naruto frowned. "Seriously, what's wrong? You've been like this ever since things calmed down. What happened?"

"… I…" Jiraiya's head dropped into his hands. "I fucked up, again. Me and my big fat mouth fucked up another really good thing."

"I don't understand…"

"No… I don't suppose you do." The sage sighed. "Kid… you ever feel like you're just one big cosmic chew-toy? That the guys upstairs are just jerking us around for their own amusement, and that they laugh at our pain?"

"… I don't understand any of that."

"Well, I just found out that the guys running this game of yours are complete assholes." A palm went to his face. "And I mouthed off to them. So, instead of teaching me how to use these powers of mine, like a responsible employer, they act like petulant children, taking their toys and leaving the sandbox because someone wasn't happy with them. And now they will never speak to me again."

"… When did this happen?"

"Two other Sysadmin possessed the toads on my shoulders and paused the game for only me. Then one of them starts bitching and insulting me, never mind the fact that I'm right in the middle of a battle!" Jiraiya's voice began to rise, his melancholy giving way to anger.

"So I call the bitch out, and it's obviously a woman, 'cause nobody can gripe about the most inane shit like a bitchy woman, saying that I've got crap to do and people to save! And what does she do!? She cuts me off from the EXACT same job that they hired me to DO!" Jiraiya threw his arms up in the air. "What kind of counterproductive BULLSHIT is this!? You'd think her ego was at ALL more important than keeping monsters like what the Uchiha turned into off the streets! But NOOOOOO, old Jiraiya made me cry! Let's take it out on him! Let's throw the mortal under the carriage and laugh at him! Well, FUCK YOUR SHIT, LADY!" at this point, he was on his feet, shouting at the empty wall, pointing at it as though it had caused all of his problems.

"You're… certainly feeling better." Naruto slowly began. "You're not mopey anymore, I guess."

"Mopey!? I'm goddamn PISSED now!" Jiraiya growled. "Fuck it! I'm not putting up with this crap anymore! Fuck the Sysadmin, fuck this town, and fuck this mission! As soon as the kid's mobile, we're leaving, and to hell with the council if they try and send us back! I just put up with one of the worst missions I've ever done because they think they can blackmail me! Well, you know what?! I'm calling their bluff!"

"I- what? Ero-sennin, what are you-"

"That's right, you wrinkly old sacks of shit, I'm calling your bluff! HEAR ME!? I'm gonna go back, and I'm gonna be the best damn Hokage you've ever seen!" Jiraiya struck a pose. "I already trained one, it can't be that hard! I'll rock their rocks off at this! FUCK THE HATERS!" with a boneless flop, he fell backwards into his chair. "Shit. That felt good."

Naruto's jaw could have been swept off the floor with a broom.

"… You haven't changed much." Tsunade sighed, attempting to repress a ghost of a smile. "You're actually going to take over instead of convincing me?"

"Course I am." Jiraiya nodded. "I just said I would, didn't I? That's a man's promise, and a man's promise is his soul."

"Uh- Ero-sennin, is this a good idea!?" Naruto hissed vehemently. "You're ACTUALLY gonna do this!?"

"Naruto…" Jiraiya's voice dropped. "I know for a fact that we're near the end."

"What?"

"When I got the cold shoulder, the sysadmin said that there are exactly five different ways left that this avatar can still go into a bad end. FIVE. Down from 936. Out of all the random actions that happen in a lifetime, there are only five impossibly-combined strings that will fuck us over. If we break all five of those strings, we complete this version of the world." Jiraiya grinned. "One more good action, and we might be done."

"… Are you serious?"

"Straight from the horses' mouth." Said the sage. "Now, normally I'd be very much against taking up the hat; I'd be bored senseless. But, I'm down with any choice that shakes things up right now. Who knows; taking the hat might just end everything right here."

"But… what about Tsunade?"

"I'm giving that up as a lost cause. I don't know what would have convinced her to come back, or to get her to like me again, but it probably didn't have anything to do with a Kabuto that decided to splice himself up with one of Orochimaru's experiments." Jiraiya suddenly frowned. "Speaking of which… he didn't do that in the first runthrough for you, did he?"

"No…" Naruto vehemently shook his head. "I didn't even know that Orochimaru was doing something like that. I would have gotten slaughtered if he did."

"Then… who gave him that idea…? Hey, where's his body?"


"Damn!" the sage whistled loudly. "You don't do anything by halves, do you, kid? Decapitations, explosives… you're kinda scary, you know?"

"Shut up." Naruto would have blushed, if not for the gory sight of Kabuto's beheaded corpse in front of him. "I thought it was karma. He killed me in my first life by sticking an explosive kunai in my chest."

"Ow." Jiraiya winced. "That couldn't have been fun." He knelt down, passing a hand over the body. "Still, he's dead now, and you're still- oh, no."

"What?"

"Look at my hand."

Naruto squinted, the dark corridor not helping matters. There, in faintly whirling streams over the knuckles of his hand, were tiny streams of darkness. Pure, undiluted darkness.

"Well… what is it?"

"Glitch stuff." Jiriaya answered. "Well, to be honest, I dunno what the proper term is, but whenever that stuff touches my hand, I get a tingle like I did when Sasuke was going full psycho. He wasn't doing this alone."

"But… but I killed him just fine!" the Jinchuuriki protested. "He wasn't all, blaaaargh, you can't hurt me, and then he got blown up! He's dead!"

Jiraiya rocked back on his feet. "I dunno, kid. If I could actually get some goddamn help around here, I might be able to figure this one-" his eyes widened. "WAIT! That Sysadmin guy, he, he listed off a bunch of different types of glitches! I didn't understand any of it then, but… what was it, physical reproduction, straightforward, no, subroutine activation, that's like Hinata, no, YES! Unprompted Storyline Activations!"

"What?"

"Naw, that's too long, let's make that USA. Kabuto here must have pulled a USA!" Jiraiya clapped his hands. "I get it, I get it! Naruto, back when we first found him he said that this serum or whatever he used wasn't ready, right? Right? Of course he did."

"Um-"

"And I know for a fact that spies aren't dumb, especially deep cover spies, they're made to be pragmatic. So why would Kabuto do something as dumb as this?" Jiraiya clapped his hands excitedly. "Because he pulled a USA! He charged ahead balls-first without thinking of the consequences of using a highly dangerous experimental body modification that wasn't even ready to be used, because there was a USA affecting him!"

"… I don't get it."

"Okay, look." Jiraiya knelt down, bringing Naruto down with him. "so, my guess is, somewhere in the future, for whatever reason, if Kabuto lives long enough, he uses this… whatever it is, and turns himself into this pseudo-sage, but ONLY when it's actually ready to be used. Because of this glitch, though, he used it way too early, and he turned into this thing. It accelerated the storyline of his life to where an action of his doesn't match up with his character! Kabuto's not dumb enough to do this before it's ready, unless he was forced to do this too early!

"Or, wait!" Jiraiya perked up, the proverbial light-bulb lighting up. "Maybe this would've happened in a different string of events, but it shouldn't have happened NOW, and the glitch pulled it over to here where we had solved it! Like, we diffuse a bomb in one scenario, and the glitch pulls a bomb over when we didn't solve it and it blows up anyway!"

"… So it's another fucking glitch."

"It's another fucking glitch, yeah." Said Jiraiya. "Starting to realize that these suckers cluster around each other. Kinda frustrating, but should make my job easier, at least."

"But…" Naruto scratched his head, face twisted in confusion. "How do we know if it's a glitch, or if it's just something happening because we messed around with the future? Or, wait, what's the difference between someone doing something too early like this, and whatever Hinata was doing? Or, are they the same thing, or what?"

"No idea!" Jiraiya smirked. "Great, isn't it? We get to figure this crap out ourselves! Should be interesting!" his eyes tracked down to the corpse, still spewing unnatural fumes. "I wonder, though… if he's giving off these glitch fumes or whatever they are, what would happen if I…"

The sage's hands lit up, giving off a faint glow. Naruto blinked. "You figured it out, then?"

"More like had it shoved into my brain by the bitch that kicked me out. I don't even know what I'm doing right now; I'm just flexing the right muscles." Jiraiya reached out, tapping the corpse on the shoulder-

Kabuto's hand shot up, grabbing Jiraiya on the wrist. "THE HELL!?" Jiraiya exclaimed, trying to leap back; the corpse's grip, however, was like iron.

Naughty little nobody… you brought a friend.

Naruto seized up in shock. "Jiraiya, that voice…!"

An ink-black stain, darker even than the shadows of the castle, oozed into existence over the severed stump of kabuto's neck. From the stain, came a pair of burning eyes and a jack-o-lantern grin.

And this one is touched, as well… do they think adding more to their roster will save them, little nobody?

"… Who are you?" said Jiraiya, staring a hole at the flickering caricature of a face. "Are you a demon? A god? Something else entirely? Who are you, that you have enough power to distort reality like this?"

Ah, the new nobody speaks! But it is the plaintive gurgles of primordial slime, unable to fathom the idea that there are those so far beyond him than will ever be dreamed. I waste eternity indulging you, nobody. You shall not have your answer.

The face faded. Jiraiya gave a start. "Wait!"

So you shall. I am become death. I shall be at your side at my pace, not yours.

Kabuto's body began dissolving into ash, traveling farther and farther, until even the hand clutching the sage's wrist fell to dust. Jiraiya stepped back, glaring at the pile. "… And that was?"

"… That was what spoke to me through Sasuke, when he started choking me at the end." Naruto began. "As soon as it left, he collapsed. Apparently his body shut down afterwards."

"Seems that's a common thread here. Whatever's affected doesn't last after my fix-it job." Letting loose a deep breath, he knelt and ran his fingers through the pie. "Dammit. Didn't even get any answers. This glitch person is smarter than the average bear about monologues."

"Yeah." Naruto exhaled slowly. "Ero-sennin, would it be alright if I said I have no idea what's going on anymore?"

"More than alright." Jiraiya scowled. "Someone needs to get off their asses and explain stuff to you. I'm cut out of the loop, so I'm just gonna be stuck fumbling in the dark, but you're the one they based this crap out of. You'd think they'd explain stuff to you, at least."

"Why can't this just go back to being me messing around in a video game of my life?" Naruto whined. "I was having fun, then."

"You could start over. You know, once we stabilize this thing." Jiraiya slowly began scooping small portions of the dust into a small jar. "You can do that, after all. Might be boring for a while, but it'd be simpler again."

"Yeah… I could do that." Naruto nodded. "I might do that." He paused. "Hey… Ero-sennin?"

"Mm?"

"… That's got me thinking. Is there any way to set things back before the glitch? You know, turn back the clock so he didn't fuck things up?"

"Other than starting over?" Jiraiya shrugged, slowly getting to his feet. "I dunno. I have no idea how these things work from a temporal perspective. I don't know if it just stops it at this point in time, or if it wipes it from all points in time. I have no idea whether wiping it out here and then going back to an earlier point will cause some kind of instability because events that happened because of the bug no longer have an instigator. After all, if we went back here later on and there was no glitched Sasuke, but still a glitched Kabuto, what happens then? He acts like glitched Sasuke's still here? The problem gets reintroduced even after we fixed it? I don't know. I don't really want to open that can of worms right now."

"… I wasn't thinking like that at all." Naruto rocked back and forth on his heels. He let out a small smile. "You're a lot smarter than I thought when I first met you. You've got all these things you pull out of nowhere about time and the universe, and I didn't even guess."

"You need to be well-versed in physics and the like to be a master sealcrafter. You probably should have a good understanding if you want to make your own jutsu, too, so you know how to make things work." He grinned. "It's not exactly something that's taught in a ninja village. That's something on the civilian side, and even then it's not exactly well-known. I personally think every ninja should be taught this stuff on a basic level at least, because understanding the 'why' of our ninjutsu can only help in the long run."

"Cool." Naruto glanced back down at the pile of ash. "So… what do we do with this, and the freaky voice?"

"We dispose of it, for one. Unless you've got his head stashed somewhere, it's no good for a bounty now." With four quick seals, the stone floor swallowed up the remains of Kabuto Yakushi. "Second, we get back to Konoha quickly, and we hit the library. We should at least narrow down the possibilities of what we're up against."

"The library?" Naruto wrinkled his nose. "How is that going to help us at all?"

"Might help narrow down who's on what side of what team. Since nobody talks about the gods outside of history textbooks anymore, it might be our only shot." Here Jiraiya frowned. "If we had any monks or priests still around, we might try talking to them, but after the Sage of Six Paths showed up, religion as a whole pretty much died out. No use for gods that are apathetic at best, malevolent at worst, when you've got mortal men killing god-level demons, creating moons and teaching others to do the same. You've got some wacko fringe cults here and there, and things like the Fire Temple for training and self-actualization, but otherwise…"

"Maybe it's one of them?" Naruto shrugged. "Like, our bad guy is one of the wacko cult gods?"

Jiriaya slowly nodded. "It's… possible, maybe. Certainly would explain the rather evil appearance it had here. But, that's all for a different time!" Jiraiya glanced at the shoddily bricked up wall. "What's that?"

"That's where the demon is. The door's hidden behind the wall."

"Oh. Shit. Did you open the door?"

"Nope. I'm not touching that mess."

"Smart kid. Go on. I'm gonna try blocking it off even more."

"Right…" With a final glance at Jiraiya pulling a long length of blank parchment from a sealing scroll, Naruto left.


Two Days Later…


"I'm coming back with you."

Jiraiya blinked. "… I'm sorry, what?"

"You heard me." Tsunade folded her arms. "I'm coming back with you to the village. I don't intend on ever becoming Hokage, but you need my medical expertise. The Uchiha kid is still weak, no matter what he says, and his mental state is a mess from whatever happened to him. I haven't abandoned a patient mid-treatment before, and I don't intend to start now."

"That's…" the man surreptitiously reached out his hand to the hotel room's desk to steady himself. "That's good! Good to hear, I mean. I wasn't… wasn't expecting that. Good!"

"Don't think I'm doing it for you, though, or your request." She glared. "I'm going because of my professional responsibility. The moment one of the council tries to force me into that hat, I'm gone, understand?"

"O-Oh, yeah, sure!" Jiraiya nodded quickly. "I understand. You're not there because of the mission." He slowly peered around her shoulder, to where her sleeping patient lie; once he had regained consciousness, he had apparently taken it upon himself to be as big of an asshole to Tsunade as possible without getting a wallop to the skull.

Naruto wondered aloud, earlier on, that Sasuke no longer looked comfortable in his own skin, and given Tsunade's psychological diagnosis, the statement was probably more accurate than he knew. The only time that the boy seemed to be at peace anymore was when he slept, that precious little time he had before the nightmares set in and woke him in a fouler mood than he had started with.

Tsunade had a point; if she left Sasuke now, he'd likely snap within weeks.

"Sooooo…" Jiraiya slowly pulled up his hand. "If we're not waiting on the Uchiha anymore… can we go now?"

"That anxious to leave?"

Jiraiya let slip a wry grin. "Would you believe me if I said that in a town dedicated to fulfilling every single one of my vices, I've had one of the worst weeks of my life?"

A short bark of laughter escaped from her lips. "No."

"Bah. Everyone's a critic."


Two Weeks Later…


"… And I expect you to keep coming around, you hear? Your elders probably aren't going to be happy about that, since I'm not taking you on as an official apprentice, but I'm not done examining you and WOW that sounds really bad for a 50-year-old man to be saying to a teenage girl."

"I-It's okay, Jiraiya-sama…" Hinata bowed slightly. "I-I understood what you meant… a-and…" her face lit up like a firecracker, but her eyes continued on their path to the blond boy ahead of them. "Y-You a-a-aren't my t-type anyways…"

"HAH!" Jiraiya threw his head back, the unexpected laughter bursting from his lips. "Dumped by a girl a fourth of my age! Oh, man, that's a new low even for me! Hahaha! You know what, I like you, kid, I don't care what the rest say. You've got the spark."

"Th-thank you…"

"You keep coming around for whatever tests I create, and I'll toss some of my knowledge your way, a'ight? You'll even get to see the punk up there more often. Deal?"

"Deal…"

"You're sure you're okay?" Naruto muttered to Sasuke, hovering close to the limping boy.

Sasuke gritted his teeth and bit back a curse. "I'm fine…!" he growled, glaring up at the looming gates of Konoha. "I'm not going to return to the village I snuck out of in a stretcher, no matter how badly I'm hurt!"

Tsunade scoffed. "Your pride isn't going to do you any good if you tear a muscle just walking. That's WHY the stretcher was created in the first place. But if you want to prolong your stay in the hospital just so your ego and reputation are flattered, far be it from me to stop you, brat."

Naruto looked up and glared. 'I don't think I like this non-hokage version of Tsunade all that much… she doesn't have any kindness to go with the harsh words.'

"I was in that stretcher for the entire trip…!" Sasuke hissed. "I can handle… walking through a gate!"

"Hmph." Tsunade turned back, not sparing another glance at the boy. Shizune bit her lip at the display, but refrained from speaking.

"Damn." Naruto's eyes tracked upward, locking onto the gate-guards; one of whom practically had his jaw scraping the floor.

"See? Told you they'd do it!" the second guard grinned ('what was his name?kokatsa? kokamaru? Kok-something…') and thumped his chest. "You owe me 500 ryo."

"Later, man, I'm flat broke." The first guard leaned over. "Welcome back, Tsunade-sama. We'll open this up right away."

"No need." Tsunade shook her head. "I've got this."

"… She's not going to punch down the doors, is she?" Naruto whispered to Jiraiya.

The sage grinned. "Nah. Keep watching, this next bit is good stuff."

With a gentle hand, slowly pulsing with chakra, Tsunade reached out an open hand to the carved wood of the massive Konoha gate. In a flash, the woodworking lit up in a flowing tree of chakra, racing along the grains of the massive oaks. The door many times her height and weight creaked open on their own, swinging open. A soft breeze swept past the doors, catching the woman's hair, caressing softly in the sunlit afternoon. It almost looked like someone was giving her a loving hug. Despite her attitude, something seemed to ease out of the woman's tense frame, becoming less guarded, less afraid.

"Whoa…" said Naruto, awed.

"Yeah." Jiraiya grinned. "This village was literally made of the blood and chakra of the Senju. Power like that doesn't fade over time, and things that old don't often forget their charges. That was Konoha welcoming its' prodigal child back home."

"It's rude to talk about other people behind their back, Jiraiya." Tsunade called out.

"Ah, but this way I get to admire your butt as well! It's not as mind-blowing as your tits, but it's still a work of ar-"

WHAM!

"I don't know why I expected anything different…" Tsunade spun on her feet, turning away from the twitching mass of Jiraiya-shaped bruise. With a single hand, she took hold of Sasuke by the scruff of his neck. "Come on, Uchiha. To the hospital with you."

"Dammit, woman…! I can walk on my own!"

"The pronounced limp and shortness of breath that weren't there a minute ago says you can't."

"Dammit…!"

"A-A-Are you a-alright, Jiraiya-s-sama!?" Hinata squeaked, startled immensely by the sudden violence.

"Brrrrhgh…" Jiraiya sounded into his own foot.

"He just needs somebody to untangle him." Naruto grabbed him by his shoulders and yanked him up. "Oof! You're freakin' heavy."

"Baaagh… woof!" Jiraiya shook his head wildly. "No matter how often that happens, it still hurts like a son-of-a-bitch every time." He blinked. "… Why am I tasting purple?"

"Oooookay, you're not fit to be alone." Naruto turned to Hinata and smiled apologetically. "Sorry, Hinata-chan, but I think I'm going to need to stick with him for a while. I'd walk you home, but… you know…"

"I… I understand, Naruto-kun." Hinata nodded, a sad look undermining her smile. "Jiraiya-sama is n-not always welcome in some places."

"Thanks, Hinata-chan." Naruto quickly grabbed her by the waist and pulled her in for a kiss. "Mmm." As he pulled away from her, slightly blushing, he grinned. "Have I ever mentioned you smell really nice?"

"N-n-no…"

"Well, you do. You smell really nice… like lilacs." He kissed her again, more forcefully this time. "So, hey. Thursday, village square. We'll get some barbeque, that one place Chouji always talked about. Any conflicts?"

"N-no problems for m-me…"

"Great! See you at five?"

"I… I'll be there!" and with that, Hinata started the third round, more forceful than the last two. A soft nibbling asked his permission. The gates opened-

"That's it, that's it, now duck and weave, duck and weave! Flick to the left, now dodge! Now grapple! That's it, work the tongue!"

"EEP!" Hinata leapt a good ten feet in the air, the color of an overripe tomato.

"GOD-DAMMIT, ERO-SENSEI!" Naruto whirled, ready to kick the laughing bastard in the face-

"I-I-I sh-sh-should go!" Hinata ran through the streets, disappearing.

"You motherfucker!" Naruto growled.

"Oh, come on!" Jiraiya giggled. "Did you REALLY want me as an audience when you're getting hot and heavy? Better I stop you now before you get too wrapped up, or you've got a lot of random people watching you get to first base in the middle of the street!"

"I-" Naruto shut his mouth. "… dammit."

"Yeah. That's what I thought."

Silence.

"It was good, right?"

"Holy shit, it was amazing."

"Heheh. It's always the quiet ones." Jiraiya grinned. "Anyway, I should be getting along to those old fogies on the council to tell them about the change in plans. Walk with me, yeah?"

"Fine…" Naruto took a step forward, and stopped. "Wait… hang on a second…"

"What?"

"It hasn't happened yet…" Naruto frowned. "It doesn't usually take this long…"

"What hasn't happened?" Jiraiya asked, looking around in puzzled curiosity. "Is something supposed to happen right now?"

"Yeah…"

FLASH!

"There we go!" exclaimed the boy, as the world bled into sepiatone.

"The hell?" Jiraiya gave a start. "This again?"

"No…"

Tsunade retrieved (Hemophobia): charisma + 20! Experience: 2500!

"This is something different." Naruto gestured at the words. "This usually happens after I do something big. It's… well, it's kinda taking everything I did, and assigning points and rewards to it, I guess."

Boss Fight Completed! '"False Sage" Kabuto (pre-shinobi war)'! Strength +75! Agility +75! Endurance +75! Charisma +75! Chakra +75! Control + 75! Stealth +75! Experience: 7500!

"Damn!" Naruto blinked rapidly, staring uncomprehendingly at the numbers. "Holy shit, that's a lot of rewards! Was killing him that big of a deal?"

"I'm more interested in his name and that modifier." Jiraiya scowled. "If him being like that has a specific title, then it means it wasn't entirely out of the ordinary, just like we thought… and it also means that there's a shinobi war in the future."

"What?"

"This… this is bad. Really bad. Shinobi wars never end well for anybody." Jiraiya bit the inside of his cheek. "I think we just got a clue as to what we need to be stopping. Our goal, I bet, is to stop this shinobi war from coming to fruition."

Boss Fight Completed! rgpoajdwf'kjg3qotPjk2p4qy5jh2pq3jjtgkeaj'gkwefjt;k ljq3vewpitug3[iutb4n019v88b6]18b2w5e18\b65e18\b-6] yu91[2qu

The two men nearly jumped out of their skin as the sound of metallic screeching filled the air. "The fuck?!"

ERROR: UNKNOWN EVENT. CONTACT LOCALIZED SYSTEM ADMINISTRATOR FOR DETAI-

Recalibrating…

Recalibrating…

Recalibrating…

"Sysadmin? That one guy?"

Boss Fight Completed! [NEW_EVENT: LVL._3_CURSED_SEAL=EN43754] Sasuke!

"Level three?" said Naruto, incredulous. "But… there isn't a level three, is there? And Sasuke doesn't even HAVE the cursed seal this time! How could that be a cursed seal transformation?"

"Hell if I know!"

Strength + 20! Experience: 1000! [NEW_REWARD: ACHIEVEMENT_UNLOCKED=BR705]

Achievement unlocked!

"Achievement? What?"

Recalibrating…

Achievement unlocked: Ya Dun Goofed! (Cause a scripting error requiring in-game editing)

"I…" Naruto's confused face slowly morphed into a scowl. "I… I think he's making fun of us."

"Oh, well that's nice of him, isn't it?" said Jiraiya. "We clean up a glitch, and now we're laughed at for it? What a shitty boss we have."

Recalibrating…

Achievement unlocked: No Respect, I Tell Ya! (Bite the Hand that feeds you)

"Oh, now he's just fucking with us."

Prevented Greater Demon Release! Youki Control + 15! Avatar unlocked!

Jiraiya Willingly Becomes Hokage! Charisma + 50! Experience: 9000! New Avatar Unlocked!

"There's even a thing about me?" asked Jiraiya, surprised. "That's… weird."

"No kidding."

Level Up! Level 24!

"Five levels. That's not bad!" Naruto grinned. "Plus, I get another set of perks!"

"Perks?" Jiraiya's brow furrowed. "What the hell are you talking about?"

"You'll see."

Strength: +26!

Chakra: +21!

Control: + 34!

Bonus: Charisma: +13!

Bonus: Stealth: +9!

Bonus: Endurance: +10!

Bonus: Agility: +7!

"Seriously, what IS that?" jiriaya exclaimed, pointing at the readout. "Charisma, agility, whatever! What is that?"

"It's… like, um… well…" Naruto's face screwed up in thought. "uh… basically, these are my 'stats', and I get them as rewards, and then… well, I guess I get changed by them. I get stronger, faster, better chakra control, that sort of thing."

"… So you just get these… 'stats', for free?" said Jiraiya. "And, what, just, poof! You're stronger?"

"Yyyeah, pretty much."

"And when were you planning on telling me about this?"

"I was gonna tell you sooner or later!" Naruto protested. "Why? You sound pissed!"

"It… it feels like cheating." Jiraiya's hand snaked its' way to the bridge of his nose. "Everybody else in the world has to use sweat and blood and tears and have to fight to make themselves better. But not you. You just do a few important things, and then voila! You've got the strength of a god and can't be seen by the human eye when you're not wearing pants! That… that doesn't sit right with me, as a teacher. It's like it's encouraging you to not rely on anyone but yourself, or to simply use others for callous gains."

"Oh come on!" Naruto shouted, throwing his hands in the air. "It's not like that at all!"

"Really? Are you sure?" Jiraiya shook his head. "We'll see. What's this, now?"

Game Mod not fully used: event uses refilled!

Available Skills:

Taijutsu Evolution: Creates one new technique for any mastered Style. One use, Stackable Ten Tiers.

Genjutsu Evolution: Creates one new technique for any mastered Discipline. One use, Stackable Ten Tiers.

Ninjutsu Evolution: Creates one new technique for any mastered Element. One use, Stackable Ten Tiers.

Chakra Evolution: creates one new usable manipulation of chakra. (I.E. water walking, tree walking, ETC.) One use, Stackable Ten Tiers.

Demonic Evolution: Creates one new demonic power. One use, Stackable Ten Tiers.

Silver-Tongued: When put into effect, the user can cause whoever they are talking to to believe And/or do whatever the user tells them to. Three uses, Stackable Five Tiers.

Sixth Sense: When put into effect, a force field of hyper-awareness is formed around the user, allowing for pseudo-omniscience within the field. This force field can be freely manipulated in size and detail of awareness. Time Limit, One Hour. Three uses, Stackable Three Tiers.

Cheap Shot: When put into effect, the power of precognition is granted, allowing future sight of the enemy's movements, and the insight into how to best disrupt and attack. Time Limit, One Battle. Three uses, Stackable Five Tiers.

Third Eye: Allows the user access to the Third Eye, an ability that allows the user to see the world as it really is, piercing illusions and allowing true sight of both people and the world's auras. WARNING: whatever is seen while using the Third Eye, no matter how terrible or saddening or beautiful, cannot ever be forgotten. Unlimited uses, Stackable Three Tiers.

Game Mod II: When put into effect, the laws of non-interference in Pause mode are disregarded, allowing interference with the world. The Effects last for one personal interference and one environmental interference, or the casting of one Jutsu; The Radius of effect is extended by one mile. Three uses, Stackable Three Tiers.

Second Wind: from the depths of death, comes life. When the user is nearing the point of death, half of their total vitality is restored. Activated Automatically. One use, Stackable One Tier.

Lucky Lucky: All the luck in the world is yours. The luck stat is increased by 1000. Time Limit, One Day. One use, Non-Stackable.

Waldo: When activated, the user becomes just another face in the crowd. When the user is in a group of three or more individuals, invisibility, both physical and spiritual, is granted towards civilians and ninjas up to Genin level. Three uses, Stackable Five Tiers.

Reprogram: When activated, the user's development is wiped clean, allowing a fresh start. The user's stat points can be reassigned to whichever stat they so choose. One use, Stackable One Tier.

Delete System32: when put into effect, the world ends. This final-solution choice completely erases an avatar and it's world from existence; the world, and it's people, will be as if they never existed. Use of this is only recommended if there are absolutely no other choices to take. One Use, Non-stackable.

"DON'T CHOOSE THAT!" Jiaiya screamed.

"A-ah!" Naruto jerked away. "Of course not, Ero-sennin! What do you take me for, an idiot!? I'm not gonna go and end the world, dammit!"

"It never hurts to be safe on these things!" Jiraiya lowered his hands away from his aprentice's throat. "Why would they even put an event like that in there? Why would we WILLINGLY destroy a multiverse permanently?"

"I don't know… that wasn't there the last time I did this." With a shrug, his eyes went back to the list.

Scan: when activated, you know others like the back of your hand. When targeted on a person, most of the basic information about them is revealed; repeated uses of the ability will reveal more about the target. 15 uses, Stackable Two Tiers.

Stat Vampire: Their loss is your gain. When activated, the user can drain up to 50 points from a target's main stats: Strength, Chakra, Control, Agility, Endurance, Charisma, or Intelligence. Only works if the user is greater than or equal to the target in the stat to be drained. Time Limit: 169 hours. Six uses, Stackable Two Tiers.

Three-Day Revival: When activated, the target will rise again. If a mortal being has died within a lunar month and has more than 50 percent of their body intact, the user can sacrifice 100,000 XP to return them to a whole life 3 days after use. WARNING: unaided, the target will only live ten years max past revival. One use, Stackable Five Tiers.

"My god…!" Jiraiya breathed. "So much power…! Clans have gone extinct! Geniuses drove themselves to madness! Men made deals with fallen gods and demons! Countless souls were sacrificed to the altar of power, and they STILL would not have scratched the surface of what you're being handed on a gilded platter here!"

"Mmmmyep." Naruto said with a beaming grin. "Which one should I pick?"

"Decisions, decisions…" Jiraiya thumbed his chin. "There's a lot to choose from. Game Mod, is that how you pulled off that win against Arashi?"

"Yeah. You heard about that?"

"Yep. From what I hear, you were clearly outmatched, but then you used some tags that nobody even saw you set up. It had some people wondering just how skilled you really were." Jiraiya frowned. "But instead of skill, you just cheated the laws of time and space. That's not exactly what I wanted to see to give me hope for you."

"… That hurt, Ero-sennin." Naruto looked away. "I'm good… you know I've got skill…"

"Really?" Jiraiya pointed at the list. "Because it seems to me that you're being handed your skill. You know my opinion on hard workers and geniuses. I thought your rapid improvement was proof that you were a hard worker and wanted to succeed. Now I see differently."

"… That's what you think, huh?" Naruto turned his back to the sage, bowing his head so the tears forming in his eyes weren't seen. "That's all you think of me, then?"

"That's all I think of this easy way into glory. It's fake." Jiraiya looked back up to the list. "But enough of that. In my opinion, I think you should go with Second Wind. It'll be good help in the short term, which is exactly what we need. Third Eye looks interesting, but that disclaimer has me worried, and Luck is too much of a capricious thing to trust on for Lucky Lucky. That, or Costly Revival. That could certainly shake things up if we revived somebody important."

"…" With an angry fist, Naruto punched the list.

Third Eye Selected! To Activate, simply say 'Open the Third Eye'! To deactivate, say 'Close the Third Eye'!

"Naruto, what are you-"

"Now I know EXACTLY why you got slapped down by those two. Why you got rejected by Tsunade. And why YOU aren't the hero of this game." Naruto whirled away from the sage. "You go meet with your fucking council. I'm going to see Jiji." He sprinted away.

"Naruto! NARUTO!"

He didn't look back once.


"Oh my, oh my…" the receptionist muttered, fanning herself heavily. "Oh my, oh my… Tsunade-sama is…"

"Where is she?" said Naruto, breaking her reverie.

The woman gave a violent start. "Oh! You're-" her face soured, just a titch. Not as much as others would have, not into an outright scowl, but just a small slip of the beaming grin. "Oh. Are you looking for Gin again?"

"Where'd Tsunade go?" the boy didn't have time for this. "She went to see Jiji, didn't she? Where was he moved this time?"

"… Tsunade-sama went to the north wing, third level. Block C." a portion of that smile came back again. "Tsunade-sama is back! Oh, my…"

"Right." As he left the woman to her hysterics, he couldn't help but snort. "Weirdo."

It didn't take long for him to find the room; after all, the dwindling traffic said much about how many people were no longer in the block. Eventually, he rounded on a corridor to an open door. Tsunade knelt by an unseen bed.

An ANBU peeled himself away from the wall, outfit painted exactly the same ugly floral print of his former hiding spot. "Identification."

"Naruto Uzumaki, Genin of Konoha." His chakra flared, not enough to cause a physical reaction, but an aura appeared just the same. "I need to see Jiji."

A second ANBU appeared from the wall; the chakra sensor to back up the ID. "It's him."

"That you, brat?"

"One and only, granny." Naruto stepped inside the room, eyes going instantly to the man in the bed. "How is he?"

"I swear, if I weren't in a hospital right now, you'd pay for that nickname." The woman's eyes flicked across her mentor's body, her hands glowing a soft green. "The old man… well. They did their best."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means that there's only so much regular doctors can do when there's this many complications before it starts getting too dangerous for the patient. He'd probably stay in this coma otherwise." Her eyes flew up to Naruto, a hint of a grin in them. "I'm not a regular doctor, though."

"So, you can help him?" Naruto couldn't help the excitement that leaked through his voice. "He's gonna get better?"

"I don't make promises on patients, brat." She punctuated the statement with a slow, cracking roll of her shoulders. "We'll see as it goes. But on the whole…" she sighed. "You were probably right to try and find me. This is beyond most medic-nin's skill to heal."

Naruto nodded, a slow, hesitant smile growing. "… Thank you."

"Not yet, you won't." she stood. "So, why aren't you with the pervert? Isn't he your teacher? Thought you'd want to be there for when he drops the bomb on the council."

"I…" Naruto bit back the spiteful comment on his lips. "Jiji's more important to me, right now. He could… I mean…"

"… Yeah." Both turned to look at the old, frail man in the bed. "I know."


"Naruto!" Sakura screamed, punching the boy on the back of the head. "Where have you been!? You disappear, and then Sasuke disappears, and I don't hear from anyone for a whole month, and now Sasuke's in the hospital and I don't hear from either of you for two days!"

"Bbrbrbrpphhhb…" Naruto burbled into the lukewarm broth of his ramen.

"What!?"

He resurfaced, his hair dripping with miso taste. "Hello, Sakura-chan." He said dully. "Good to see you too. How was your day? Mine was terrible, thanks for asking."

"Idiot!" she swung again, but Naruto wasn't having that again. With a fast hand that he definitely wasn't capable of before, he grabbed her by the wrist and spun her around onto a stool.

"Are we going to be calm, or am I going to have to hit you the way you just hit me?" he asked, his eyes hard.

Sakura flinched. "N-Naruto…"

"Are we going to be calm?"

"I…" she shuddered, before slumping in on herself. "Yeah…"

"Okay." He let go of her wrists. He sighed as she retracted them, rubbing the reddened skin absently. "Sorry. I've kinda been having a shitty couple days."

"You too?" she muttered. "Try a terrible month."

"Should you go first, or should I?"

She sighed. "I… I think you."

"Right. You need ramen." Naruto slapped the bar. "OI! Teuchi! You've got a customer! Get some extra-big deluxe bowls out here, and pack those fuckers full of salt! Extra eggs, too!"

"Yeah, yeah…"

"But I'm on a diet…" Sakura protested weakly.

The boy shook his head. "This is comfort food, for when you don't give a shit about a diet. Besides, you need to bulk. Diets are only good if you're actually fat. After a point, you need to bone up on fitness and strength training to get a better figure, because otherwise you're just becoming anorexic to lose ten pounds. And fitness won't do a damn thing for you if you're not getting calories and nutrients in your body. No matter how hard you train each day, or for how long, you won't gain an ounce of muscle if you're not eating a bunch of protein-rich foods."

"O-oh…" Sakura flinched, taken aback. "Um… I guess?"

"You need to be eating at least enough so that you feel full after a meal, and do lots of training. You should actually put on weight when you're doing this, hence the name 'bulking'. That's all the muscle you're growing." He laughed, rolling his eyes. "It does wonders for your figure, I'm told. Since chicks can't make as much testosterone as guys, doing lots of high-intensity low-repetition strength workouts gives you all lean, tight muscle instead of turning you into the average Big McLargeHuge or Buck Plankchest like it would for guys."

"Thanks for the lecture, sensei." She giggled softly, hiding her smile. "And since when are you a guru on fitness?"

"Oh, I've been getting grilled on this shit all month!" he laughed, twirling his chopsticks. "You would not believe the things I've had stuffed into my brain on my trip, especially on this last week! Sasuke could probably rattle this stuff off too, once he gets out of the hospital, he was there too when those two were going at it! Though he probably wouldn't add the bit about the female figure in, that's all the work of…" his grin slipped, and his eyes slipped to his broth. "My teacher. Dammit."

Sakura's eyebrows rose. "Your teacher?" she asked. "Is that the one who helped you do so well in the exam?"

"… Yeah. My sensei." He stirred the broth absently, bits of miso following his trail likes ducklings after a mother. "We're… we're not too fond of each other right now."

"What happened?"

"Just… Urgh." He leaned back. "Things were said, and now we're not talking to each other, and I'm not sure I want it to end, because god-damn he pissed me off. But if it doesn't end, then he's gonna be my boss in more ways than one, and that won't end well for anybody."

Sakura cocked her head, confused. "Boss? What are you talking about?"

"My teacher is Jiraiya of the Sannin, S-Class ninja, author of the Icha Icha series, and the soon-to-be Fifth Hokage."

"WHAT!?" Sakura screamed, louder than Naruto had ever heard her scream in his life.

"Yeah." Naruto hunkered down, uncovering his ears. "That's sort of how I expected you to react."

"YOUR SENSEI IS GOING TO BE THE NEXT HOKAGE!?" she screamed. And paused… "YOUR SENSEI WROTE THE ICHA ICHA SERIES!?"

"That's your thought process on this?"

"Naruto, if you start reading those books, I'll stick my sandals so far up your ass you'll taste blue for a month, SHANNARO!" she raised her fist again, as if to strike him for good measure, before slumping in a boneless heap on the counter. "Ugh… never mind…"

"Eh?"

"Extra-large deluxe bowl for the lady, extra salt, extra egg!" Teuchi announced, sliding it into place in front of her. "You're covering her tab, then?"

"Yeah, yeah, I got her bill." Naruto leaned over in his seat. "Sakura-chan, what's wrong?"

"… Does it even matter?"

"Well, I told my problems to you, so it's only fair that you tell me!" he smiled. "Besides, we're team-mates, right?"

"… well, I guess that's the problem right there, isn't it?" the pinkette sighed, slowly reeling herself into a sitting position. "We're team-mates. You and me, me and Sasuke, Sasuke and you."

"Eh?"

"We're all a team…" a single motion broke her chopsticks, as she absently began to stir the steaming fishcakes around the broth. "But why am I the only one that's alone?"

Naruto bit his tongue, forcing himself to stop the indignant correction flying from his lips, and let the girl finish.

"We're all supposed to be a team… one unit, you know? We grow as one, fight as one, BE as one… I've been watching the other teams, and they all love each other. It might be a bit- no, a lot of dysfunction, but they're all acting like they're one unit. They're growing together."

"So why not us?!" she shouted, spearing a fishcake as punctuation.

"…"

"We're trying- god, it's spit and post-it-note glue holding us together. We might act nice to each other, and we'll follow orders, but I don't really feel like it's truly a team right now!" she exclaimed. "Just people tearing away as fast as possible! The three of us- the only time…"

"Sakura?"

"You know…" she let out a curt laugh. "You know, the only time I really felt like we were a team is when our lives were in danger. Those times where we didn't have a chance if we didn't rely on each other. The Zabuza mission… the Chuunin exams… you were kind of leading us both, weren't you?"

"But now…" she hung her head.

"Sakura."

The girl lifted her head.

"Gimme a break." Naruto's eyes never left hers, locking her into place. "A joke like that's not funny."

"A joke…!?" she growled. "You're taking my grief and just-"

"Stop it!" he exclaimed. Her lips hesitated. "I hate people who lie to themselves!" with an absent hand, he pushed his bowl away. "You don't really think we're not a team. You're proud of us. I can see it in your eyes. You're so proud of us, you can't even stand it!"

Her hand flew to her forehead, startled.

Naruto took that hand away from her face. "Sakura. Please. Tell me. Nobody can help you with the pain that you won't let show." He grinned. "It's okay to lean on me. It might just be a problem that I understand." His fingers wrapped around hers, a comforting gesture. "Tell me. What's really bothering you?"

For a moment, Sakura stared at Naruto, eyes full of indecision, fear… and then the iron rod keeping her upright seemed to collapse, slumping her over their hands. "You… how are you doing this…?"

"Sakura…?"

"How are you able to do that…? Just, rip right past my defenses… what happened to the idiot…?" she whispered. "How…? The boy who slept through class, didn't do a scrap of work, and failed three times... how are you so much better than us…?"

Naruto kept silent.

"And Sasuke… both of you, just…" a shiver ran through her arms. "He's the best of our class… and you're leading us like it's nothing… and both of you are just so good, and powerful, and you're getting personal training from legendary teachers, and you're saving our lives, and you're going on special missions together…

"But what about me!?" she sobbed. "What about Sakura!? Where do I fit in!?"

"Sakura-chan, I-"

"NO!" she screamed, tearing herself away. "Don't tell me you're sorry, because you're NOT! You're not the dead weight on the team! You're not the one who has to watch your backs get farther and farther away! You're not the one that's left behind! You're not…" an ugly sob wrenched itself from her lips, her entire body trembling. "You're not the one being ABANDONED by her team!

"And there's NOTHING I can do!" her fist slammed down onto the counter. "I'm not strong! I don't have that 'genius' power! I can't power my way through whatever's in my way! I'm not… I'm not…" her tirade dissolved into silent wailing. "I can't…"

"Sakura-chan…"

"Kakashi-sensei said… that those who abandon the mission are trash… but those who abandon their team are worse… than trash…" her face turned up again, streaked with fat, oily tears. "Then what does it say… about the one who lets herself be abandoned…? What does i- MMPGH!"

"Chew." Naruto commanded, pulling the chopsticks away from the boiled egg he had shoved in her mouth. "Make sure to savor the flavor, that lingering hint of broth. The egg has a very full taste, so let that spread the way it wants, let it coat your tongue before you swallow." Too startled to think otherwise, the pinkette did just that, swallowing with a slow gulp. Naruto grinned. "Good?"

"Y-Yeah… it was good…"

"I've been here so many times I'm able to down an extra-large bowl with just chopsticks before the broth gets cold. You, though, probably need to go the old-fashioned way." With a fast movement, he snagged the wide, flat-bottomed soup spoon aside Sakura's bowl and curled it into her hand. "Eat."

"But I-"

"No arguments." His eyes grew kind. "Trust me, Sakura-chan. Just eat. Don't speak, just listen. It's my turn to talk." With slow, distrustful movements, Sakura scooped a small portion of pork and broth. Naruto smiled. "You know why I always come here?"

Sakura didn't say anything, as commanded, but her eyes held a question as she chewed.

"In the beginning… well, Teuchi and Ayame were kind to me, and gave me a bowl of ramen when I hadn't eaten in two days." He chuckled softly. "This was when I was fresh from getting kicked out of the orphanage, and I hadn't figured out how to buy food with my allowance without getting bilked for every ryo I had. I was just trying to survive until the next check, you know?"

Naruto's eyes went to Sakura's; they were wide with surprise. "Oh, come on, you knew my life was hard. You were there when I blew up at Inari, you know." She slowly nodded, still looking concerned. "So, in the beginning, it was because they would give me tasty food for cheap, when I couldn't afford good food from the vendors. But it became more than that, you know?"

He sighed, staring up at the cloth overhang. "It became my sanity, my way to quiet the demons in my head. It's hard to hate yourself and everything about you when you've got a warm bowl of miso and noodles sitting in your belly, making you just that tiny bit sleepy, you know? It's how I pulled through all my shit. Whenever I was feeling cold and loveless in my soul, I'd borrow the heat of the broth to warm up my compassion. I'd use the pork to strengthen my body, the menma to stand tall and proud like bamboo, the naruto to remember to never forget who I was, even as I changed, ultimately for the better, and grew up."

The boy looked back at her and grinned; she had made a sizeable dent in the bowl's contents without even noticing. "And it's something I try to teach people whenever I can. There are certainly better foods for my body… but it's not about that, to me. Ramen is food for the soul.

"Sakura…" he exhaled loudly. "There is no such thing as a genius. Not in the way that people think there is." Her eyes widened. He grinned. "Controversial topic, right? But it's true. Every single person that was considered a 'genius', for whatever reason, was not born knowing the secrets of the universe in their crib. Perhaps they came with a bit easier ability to grasp concepts, but that's not unique to geniuses. The everyman who knows how to fix indoor plumbing had a solid grasp of those concepts, and nobody's labeling him the greatest plumber of our generation.

"Genius comes from somewhere else." Naruto tapped his chest softly. "Our experiences. Geniuses are the ones who can look at a common, well-known thing and say, 'what would happen if it did this instead of this?' when the apple fell on a ninja's head, instead of whining about bruises, or worrying about it being an enemy distraction, he wondered why the apple did that all on its' own. Now we have gravity because of that wondering, and he's labeled a genius. But he was not born with this ability to deduce one of the most complex ideas we know of. He was taught."

"But-"

"Eat." Naruto pointed at the bowl. Sakura pouted, but she continued. "He was taught the concepts known at the time, and he grasped them easily. That's the easy part. But he was also taught, not just by life, but by experiences, to look at things just a little off-center, to be able to see the flashing arrows pointing towards the unknown that say, 'GREAT IDEA THIS WAY!' and then be able to power through all the failures and missteps as you walk along the pitch-black corridor walked by nobody else but you, lighting the way for all to follow in your footsteps and continue on where you leave off."

"There are incredibly intelligent men and women all over the world, but that doesn't mean they're geniuses. You could be the smartest man in the world, but unless you did something that nobody else had done before, you're not a genius." He shook his head. "Reciting facts and history dates and your multiplication tables doesn't make you a genius. A calculator does the exact same thing, and we're not calling the calculator a genius. Grasping the concepts doesn't make you a genius. It's what you DO with those concepts that make you a genius. You understand?"

Sakura slowly nodded, chewing softly on the pork fat in her mouth.

"Sasuke's not a genius for being able to do the things he does earlier. He hasn't created anything new in his life. He could easily make many great new things in the future, but all he has now is a grasp of the concepts. But he will." Naruto leaned in. "I'm sure of it. Because he was taught by his experiences to look askance at everything, he will. He's been taught that, regardless of his shifty motivations for it, he needs to be the best, and that all the best are all geniuses. And once he realizes that that won't happen by just sliding by on an easy grasp of the concepts, he'll put in as much effort as he needs to in order to become a genius. He will rise. Believe it."

"… But what does this have to do with me?" Sakura finally spoke up, transfixed but uncertain.

"Because you're exactly like Sasuke." Naruto leaned back. "Only you're realizing it much sooner, because your grasp of the concepts is in a different area than his, one that doesn't allow for nearly as much coasting as his does."

"…!"

"Yeah." Naruto nodded. "You see what I'm getting at, here? You're the smartest kunoichi, hell, the smartest ninja of our class by far. But a grasp of the concepts will only take you so far. You could be GREAT. All of our class could be GREAT! But you need to know who to find to pick the brain of, to learn from your predecessors, and then to keep walking the path they began. Pick up the light that they began to shine in the darkness, on that path that nobody's ever walked before, and run that fucker straight into that blackness! That way, everybody else can continue to walk the path that YOU created."

"…"

"You understand, Sakura?" Naruto leaned in. "it's not that Sasuke or I have some inborn advantage over you. We simply found our motivation to keep moving, to keep that ball moving down the field, and combined that with what we know, or what we are learning. All you need to do, is find your motivation, that drive that forces you to keep going, no matter how shitty it gets along the way, and start running. Understand?"

"… Yeah." Sakura looked up at the boy, a soft light in her eye. "I get it."

'Heh. For not having actually found the true motivation… that's some stare she's got going on.' Naruto grinned widely at her. "I see you liked the ramen an awful lot. You drained it to the last drop."

"Eh?" the girl's eyes swung to the bowl, now inexplicably in her hands, completely empty. "W-When did that happen?"

"Hahahaha! That's what happens when you're hungry!" Naruto giggled.

"Idiot!"

"So… you feel better?" Naruto cut his laughter short, staring the girl in the face.

"I…" Sakura paused, before she nodded. "Yeah. I feel better."

"Good." Naruto slapped a wad of bills down on the counter and pushed off his stool. "Because I do hate to see girls cry, you know? It ruins the inherent prettiness. See you for the next mission, yeah?"

"… Hey." Sakura spoke. "You know… this thing just now wasn't a date or anything, but… maybe we could get together before the next mission? You know, just… hang out?"

Naruto could barely restrain a string of explicatives that were most definitely not appropriate for a city street. Plastering a too-wide smile to his face, Naruto turned and laughed fakely. "I'm happy you asked, Sakura… really… I really, really am happy… but I've already got a girlfriend, and I actually really like her. You should have asked sooner. See ya."

Naruto sprinted away, cursing every single actual or theoretical god governing irony rather loudly, before the thundering "EEEEEEEEEEEEEEHH!?" could reach his ears.


Several Days Later…


As Naruto sat in his apartment, puzzling over a relatively difficult recipe book, ingredients spread before him like cards before a magician's assistant, there came a noise, so soft Naruto thought he had imagined it. "Mm? You say something, fuzz-butt?"

"That was the door, idiot. Someone's knocking."

"Oh!" with a quick scramble, he grabbed a kunai from his pocket and put himself against the wall. "Haven't had a vandal be polite enough to knock before, but there's a first time for everything!" he threw the door open and-

"Neji?"

The Hyuuga genius stood in the doorway, stiff as a board. "Uzumaki Naruto." He said, bending ever-so-slightly into a bow. "Your presence is requested at the Hyuuga compound by hiashi-sama. Refusal is not acceptable."

"Uh…" said Naruto, staring at the boy, unsure what to make of the sight. "I… guess I wasn't doing anything important? What is this about?"

"It is neither my place nor my fate to know such things."

'Oh. Damn. That's right.' Naruto winced. 'He got his ass kicked by that psycho Kiri-chick before the finals, so I didn't smack some sense into him about fate. Man… and I thought I had this down pat so far.'

"However…" He straightened himself once more, his pale eyes unusually cold. "Were I to guess at the matter, I would say it relates to your… decision to court Hinata-sama."

"Oh." 'Shit.'

"HAHAHAHA!" the Kyuubi howled. "You get the scary father routine! I've never seen one of these before, I ate them all before they even got this far! Hahaha! Oh, this is rich!"

'Oh, shut UP, you demonic gigolo!' with an uneasy grin, Naruto slowly closed the door behind him. "Well! I guess we shouldn't keep him waiting, then?"

"Yes. We shouldn't."


"So…" Naruto began, shifting uneasily in front of the sliding door. "He's in there, then?"

"Correct."

"And… you're not coming in?"

"That room is in the main compound. As a branch Hyuuga, I am forbidden to enter without the supervision of a main clan member."

"Oh." Naruto turned to Neji. His clothes covered much of his body, but the tiniest hint of a red inflamed spiderweb on his neck showed, trailing down towards his chest. His wounds had still not healed. "So… umm… you seem to be healing well…"

"The poison and lightning from the Kiri trash have resulted in extensive tissue scarring, and inoperable lung and muscle damage. I have lost over 30 percent lung capacity, as well as a large degree of torso flexibility." Neji's eyes were filled with pain, and hatred, and self-loathing. "Even when I am given a clean bill of health, I will never be a ninja again."

Naruto could only stand and stare, mouth agape.

"But yes, I am 'healing well'. I have accepted what is now my fate." Neji gestured at the door, glaring. "Go."

"Y-yeah…" Naruto turned and opened the door, feeling a stinging pain behind his eyes. 'I failed him…'

Inside the room, Hyuuga Hiashi sat before a small tea table, dressed in white robes. He gestured at a pillow across from him. "Sit."

"…" Naruto, feeling very self-conscious and shaken, took a seat sitting in the traditional Seiza position.

"Drink."

Naruto took the tea cup before him; it had been filled recently, as the tea was still hot. He took a sip. It was good tea, well brewed, a mellow taste to it. The room had an oppressive quietness to it, a kind of empty stillness, though, so he kept his thoughts to himself.

His eyes wandered. The room was empty, save for another entryway and a small window to the outside. Sunlight streamed through, illuminating drifting motes of dust in the air. The paneled walls were old, yet pristine; the room was not used often. Yet there was something to the room itself, something that Naruto couldn't place his finger on, that said that it hadn't always been like this, this museum without exhibits. How an entire clan, how dozens, maybe even hundreds of people could live in a compound like this and still have a room that felt so un-lived baffled him; how any kind of child could be raised here saddened him.

"You have been with Hinata for a number of weeks, now." Hiashi spoke, after what felt like hours. Naruto startled back to attention. "What are your thoughts on this?"

"Uh, you mean us dating?"

"Yes."

"…Well…" his toes started to get pins and needles; the need to shift out of the painful Seiza was growing. "I… well, Hinata's great, to be honest. It's been a lot of fun. I like her a lot."

"She is 'fun'." Hiashi's expression didn't budge. "That is your impression, then? That my daughter is 'fun'?"

"Uh…" Naruto was taken aback. "I- no, no, there's a lot more than that!"

"Then use your vocabulary. Understanding is not achieved through vagaries."

"W-well, she's sweet, and she's gentle, and kind, and she cares a lot about people, and- well, I think she's great, really!"

"You are simply parroting what you think I want to hear."

"What- no, I-"

"What are your intentions towards my daughter?" Hiashi's eyes grew cold. "What are your intentions towards the future heir to the Hyuuga clan?"

Naruto felt panic welling up. "I- I don't know!" he exclaimed. The pain in his legs and the harshness in the man's tone were all warning him that something was wrong. "I mean, if you're asking me if I intend to marry her or something, I- I don't know! I'm still figuring this stuff out, and- and getting married, that's a long time off-"

"I was married to my wife when she was fourteen." Hiashi said, cutting the boy short. "She first became pregnant when she was fifteen. She miscarried what would have been our son, and later gave birth to Hinata at seventeen. To imply that, as a ninja, marriage would be excluded from the age restriction exemptions and that a formal relationship could be excluded from scrutiny is both the height of ignorance and disrespect."

"What- no, I just-"

"What is my daughter to you? Is she just a toy to you? Just a conquest to broken and fucked, then thrown away?"

Naruto gave a massive start at hearing the stiff leader swear. "Wha- NO! NEVER! Hinata- I would never do that to her!"

"I don't believe you."

BOOM!

Naruto sailed through those old, untouched walls like a rocket, impacting hard against a tall, twisted tree. "GAH!"

"Get up." Hiashi jumped through the holes he had made, not a hair out of place as he took a Jyuuken stance. "A demon like you wouldn't be taken down so easily."

Naruto's blood ran cold. "You…"

"I am master within these walls." Hiashi declared, eyes hard. "If you do not wish to die, then fight."

A growl tore itself from his throat. "You… you bastard…" Naruto pulled himself to his feet, a growing hatred in his chest. "You're one of them…"

"I protect that which is mine." Hiashi declared. "I gave you a chance, demon, because Jiraiya had taken you under his wing. Now I see that he is merely repaying a debt, rather than any statement on your abilities."

"SHUT UP!" the boy lunged, forming a seal as he went. "KAGE BUNSHIN NO JUTSU!"

"Byakugan."

The air exploded into smoke, blanketing the clearing. Throughout the smoke, the screams of clones and the 'POP!' of dispelling rang out. Naruto let out a cry of pain as he shot back into the tree.

The air cleared, and Hiashi stood exactly where he was, untouched; not a single clone remained. "Is that all you are capable of?" he asked. "This is all the son of that woman can do?"

Naruto lay on the ground, prone and unmoving. Hiashi simply stared. "disappointing." He turned back to the compound-

"Doton…"

Hiashi whirled around, just in time to see the boy slam his fist into the ground, turning the entire clearing into a smoking bog. "… Gh." His blank expression cracked into the faintest scowl. "It seems you have a gift for trickery."

"If it's not broken, don't fix it." Naruto pulled himself out of the sludge onto the tree, shaking off the sticky mud. "Now…" he glared, standing perpendicular on the bark. "You said something about my mother. What did you mean, 'that woman'? How did you know her?"

"The head of the Hyuuga clan does not explain himself to demon-spawn." Said Hiashi, sinking slowly into the muck. "And if you think that I am trapped by this, then you are a fool."

"Huh?"

"Observe." And hiashi's head disappeared into the murk.

"Wh- hold on!" Naruto made a sign-

And the sludge exploded like a tornado had touched down underground. "AGH!" Naruto screamed as a massive glop pelted him in the face, nearly knocking him off the tree.

From the hole in the bog leapt a brown blur. Hiashi landed softly on the rooftops, robes muddied but otherwise clean. "The Hakkesho Kaiten. The greatest defense in the world. No mere Genin could hope to match it."

Naruto glared. "…! You may be Hinata's dad, but you're really starting to piss me off!"

"And you are a nobody who thinks they have the right to court my daughter. I do not care."

"Kill him."Kyuubi growled.

The boy hesitated. 'No. if I do that, Hinata will hate me. I'll definitely kick his ass, though.' A shooting pain ran through his legs. "GH!"

"Come on, then. If you dare."

'Did he hit a chakra point or something…!?' Naruto leapt to the roof. Hiashi bent low, pointers extended, almost a mocking sort of bow. "I won't forgive you for this…!" Naruto struck a Falcon Leg stance.

"Fighting a Hyuuga in close quarters?" Hiashi smirked. "You're a greater fool than I thought."

"You'd be surprised at what a fool can do!" Naruto lunged for a ground sweep, but Hiashi leapt at the last second. Twisting quickly into a handspring, Naruto struck at the man in mid-air. Hiashi deflected, breaking the locked ankles into a wide-open split. Naruto snapped the split shut around Hiashi's waist, whipping his torso up for a face-pummelling.

Hiashi struck first with a blindingly fast throat strike, following by a number of rapid chest hits. Naruto fell to the ground, clutching at his sealed windpipe. Hiashi brushed the wrinkles out of the robe, looking surprised. "You nearly managed to hit me. Interesting."

"GHHhHHhhhkkkKGAAAH!" Naruto gasped, flailing like a dying fish on the ground. Sucking in a sweet lungful of air, he turned and glared. "You…!"

"And you can breathe… that strike should have sealed your windpipe for ten minutes, suffocating you." Hiashi arched an eyebrow. "Perhaps you are not a total failure."

"Bastard…" his legs burned with an intense pain, and his chest felt as though it wasn't expanding fully, but he forced himself upright once more.

"Don't get up." Hiashi commanded. "You may have freed your windpipe, but I have paralyzed the muscles controlling your diaphragm. Attempt to do anything more than be comatose will choke you of oxygen."

"That's… what… you… think…" Naruto gasped. 'Kyuubi…'

"Got it. Light it up."

The Jinchuuriki reached deep, and exploded with burning red chakra. With a sudden rush, his lungs expanded, and he let out a rolling howl.

Hiashi's eyes widened. "The… the Kyuubi…"

"You thought you could stop me!?" Naruto leapt, chakra cloak leaving red streamers behind. He whipped his hand back-

"KAITEN!" Hiashi shouted, bringing the blue shield back into existence. "It is useless! You cannot defeat the ultimate defense!"

"There's no such thing!" Naruto raised his fists and, with a mighty roar, shattered the roof like glass. Both man and boy fell. The orb faltered. Naruto lunged, and punched the Hyuuga leader in the face.

The man fell to the ground hard. Naruto landed in a crouch, whirling back to strike again.

"… Hahahahaha…"

"… What?"

"Well done." Hiashi laughed, slowly pushing himself into a sitting position. "Well done, indeed. You truly are unique, Uzumaki Naruto."

The fox's bloddlust faded, leaving only a growing sense of bewilderment. "I…I don't understand."

"Before I explain, tell me this." Hiashi turned, his blank eyes staring keenly. "Have you noticed anything strange during this entire fight?"

"I... I don't-" a sharp burning sensation struck his right leg, and a shimmering sensation of pins and needles hit his left. Naruto's eyes widened.

"Genjutsu! KAI!"

With a concentrated blast of chakra, the room faded; the hole in the wall and the splattered mud faded into blank, unbroken wood. Hiashi sat in front of him, sipping the same cup of tea he had been drinking before. They were still at the tea table, and Naruto was still on the cushion, sitting in the painful Seiza position.

"You!" Naruto exclaimed. "You cast a Genjutsu on me!"

"Correct." Said Hiashi, setting the cup down carefully.

"But- how? I didn't even see you make any signs! You didn't have any time to do that!"

"The Hyuuga have many secret techniques not known to the village." The man let the smallest lip-twitch of a smile escape. "But I'll give you a hint. It wasn't all just Genjutsu that caused what you experienced."

"But how? How could you have… wait!" his head whipped down to the tea cup in his hand. The tea was just as hot as it had been before. "You put something in the tea!"

"Correct again." Hiashi nodded. "You are more intelligent than what many would expect of you. Perhaps Jiraiya is doing more than just repaying a debt. Perhaps there is something to mold and shape within you."

"But… why?" asked Naruto, after a moment of silence. "Why did you do that? Why go through all that trouble?"

"Besides avoiding the rather large property damage you caused?" Hiashi smirked. "Because I wanted to know how far you were willing to push yourself."

"… I don't understand."

"I thought not. Come, get comfortable. This Seiza is playing rough on my knees." With a sigh of relief, Naruto gratefully shifted into a more comfortable cross-legged position. "I wanted to know how far you were willing to go for the things that you cared about. What you were willing to do for what you believed in." a smirk formed on Hiashi's lips. "Your ambitions concerning the Hokage's hat are well-documented throughout the village."

"Well… yeah. I've never hidden what I plan to do. I'm gonna be the best Hokage ever!"

"Bold words. Suited for a bold man." Hiashi nodded. "But are they bold words from a bold man? That was my question. What would a man who is intent on becoming the best Hokage in history do when something he cares for is threatened? What would that bold man do when the threat came from somebody with power, or someone who was supposed to be an ally? Would he capitulate and remain safe, but compromise his beliefs and lose what he cares about, or would he stand against them, and risk everything? And if he stood, would this would-be bold man have the strength to continue standing?"

The puzzle clicked together. "… You were testing me." said Naruto, understanding at last. "Testing whether I'd be willing to fight you for Hinata."

"Yes." The clan leader nodded. "But not just for my daughter. Whether you were a man willing to stand for what is right, instead of what is easy. Whether you were willing to take on the clan long touted to be one of the greatest clans Konoha has ever known. Whether you were a man I would be proud to serve."

"And… I passed?"

"No."

"… Oh."

"But you proved that man was there." Hiashi smiled. "You proved that you could become that man, given time and training. Had I chosen to use my full strength, the battle would have ended before you could have even moved, but even when I was holding back you managed to land a blow against me, not something any Genin has been able to boast."

"… Why?" asked Naruto. "Why now, I mean? Why not in the future, when I'm more ready to be Hokage?"

"Because you are courting my daughter." Said Hiashi. "And because I'm not sure you knew what that meant when you began."

"Oh… kay?"

"Since before the village of Konoha was even founded, the Hyuuga clan has always had Agnatic succession. That means that only men could rise to become head of the clan." Said Hiashi. "It meant that women in the Hyuuga clan held a very subservient role of mothers and caretakers. Before the Branch was abolished, and then later brought back to existence, it was the realm of the unmarried women and children, segregated from the Main family, consisting of married couples and unmarried men."

"That's…"

"Barbaric? Sickening? Completely backwards?" Hiashi said ruefully. "The Shodaime thought so too. He had the Branch family abolished and the women reintegrated into the Main branch, ignoring completely that it was this main-branch separation that ensured the clan's survival after the Uchiha destroyed the Main branch down to the last man during the Era of the Warring States. But… if there's one thing our clan stands on, it is tradition."

"So… you brought the Branch family back?" asked Naruto, feeling a churning in his stomach.

"Not me, but my grandfather, under the Nidaime's rule. The Nidaime supported the rigid structure of the pre-village Hyuuga's hierarchy, and so encouraged the rebirth of the Branch, and the development of the Hyuuga cursed seal." His face twisted as though sucking on a lemon. "Now it was gender neutral, but the branch was bound into servitude even more tightly than before."

"That's… that's horrible!" Naruto exclaimed. "Why would anybody ENCOURAGE the creation of those things?"

"They called the Nidaime 'the Lawgiver' and not 'the Kind' for a reason." Said hiashi. "The Nidaime held a… rather utilitarian view of people and the village. He cared very little about how people's emotions, as long as they upheld the law and order of the village. He was… not entirely the good person his brother was. An excellent hokage, who made this village what it is today… but not a good person."

"… So what does this mean?"

"It means that since Hyuuga clan joined the village, there has not been a clan leader without a male heir… until now. When my wife died due to complications in her fourth pregnancy, I had only had my two daughters. The elders were furious; they wanted me to take another wife, in order to have a male heir. I refused. I would not sully my wife's legacy with that, and if they had a problem, they could take my brother Hizashi's son, Neji, and make him heir. I knew they would refuse; letting a branch family man be leader was tantamount to anarchy for them. So… we had to compromise."

"Compromise? On what?" asked Naruto. "You mean they didn't just let Hinata or the chibi be heiress?"

"Of a sort." Hiashi leaned back, sighing. "It was decided that whoever the stronger of my two daughters was at the age of 18 would become a de-facto heir, and the other, if she had not married into another clan, would be branded with the cursed seal. The heiress would hold that title in trust until she was married; her husband would then become leader of the Hyuuga. The first male child would take the name Hyuuga and be the heir; any other children would be of the husband's name."

"Wait, WHAT!?" Naruto shouted, nearly jumping to his feet.

"Please, sit. I am not finished." Hiashi waved him down. "That stipulation was my work. I was angry at the elders for sending… someone I cared about to his unfair death. I wanted revenge. I made it sound as if I would arrange a marriage from within the clan, so the heiress' husband would still be a Hyuuga, while I had no such intentions of doing so. Someone who has not been raised within this toxic compound would find the Branch cursed seal abhorrent and would have it undone, and possibly loosen the stranglehold the elders have on power. A coup d'état, without a second of bloodshed."

Hiashi shook his head. "You must understand, the Hyuuga do not marry for love, especially not the clan leaders. They marry for power, or for the best traits to pass onto the next leader. Oftentimes, our partners are chosen for us; it's why they made that assumption. Both of my daughters know this. Hinata…" he exhaled, loudly. "In the days that I have seen her since you began seeing each other, she has been happier than I have seen her in… as long as I can remember. She is taken with you quite deeply… but that may not have been why she was seeing you in the beginning."

"What do you mean?"

"Hinabi has been expected to be the clan leader for years. When she turns 18, Hinata would have been branded with the cursed seal and designated into branch. She… is a gentle child, more that than a fighter. She has seen what it has done to Neji, and fears it deeply. She would have been searching frantically for somebody that she could woo into marriage, and thus marry away from the Hyuuga and the cursed seal."

"N… no. no, Hinata's not like that!" Naruto protested. "She doesn't think like that at all! I'm… I'm not some meal ticket or anything, we like each other!"

"I know you do." Hiashi nodded, smiling softly. "And I am glad. But it didn't change the idea within her that without marriage out of the clan, she was trapped." He shook his head. "And then we realized that she had far more skill than we had ever suspected. And now the tale is different. Because now she is the heir apparent. And both of my daughters know that they are not to date for fun." His eyes grew intense. "Both of my daughters know they cannot date a man they cannot see one day leading the hyuuga clan."

Naruto couldn't find the strength to speak; his jaw was too busy rubbing the floor.

"I approved your courtship in the beginning because I knew Jiraiya, and he would not take on an apprentice that was not a good man. I thought that, regardless of the demon inside you, you could be a safe way out for her, and I could not deny that to her." Said Hiashi. He leaned in. "but then, she continued to see you, a month after she was declared heir apparent. And now, I needed to see you in person. Because now, instead of being a way out, you could be the one to turn this family upside-down. And I needed to know if you were ready for that. If you had the power to do that."

"I… I…"

"I understand." Hiashi sighed. "it is an incredibly complex subject, even to one submerged in clan politics all his life. To an orphan child, it must be mind-boggling. If you wish to remove yourself from the process and… end the courtship, I would understand. It would break my daughter's heart, but I would understand wholly."

"I…" Naruto stood. "I need to leave."

"Go, then." As Naruto began to run for the door, Hiashi held up a hand. "Wait!"

"!?"

"… My daughter… Hinata chose you for a reason. When that reason changed, she kept going." Said Hiashi. "That… it says much about how much she trusts you on anything. And so… I will trust your judgment on this as well."

It was too much. Naruto turned and bolted out the door.


Several days later…


"You know you're going to need to leave for groceries eventually." Kyuubi rumbled, stretching languorously within his cage. "You can't just keep hiding out in here."

"Shut up! Yes I can!" Naruto spat, staring at the book on his lap. "I've got enough ramen to last me the month!"

"You can't be THAT broken up about the girl, are you?" asked the fox. "Look, I coulda told you from the start that bitches ain't shit but hoes and tricks. Boom! Mind-blowing revelation done with, we've got all this drama out of the way, and we can go back to finding some other chick to bang."

Naruto scowled. "You don't get it, because you're a fucking psychopath."

"Very true, in more ways than one. Thank you."

"Not a compliment, jackass." Naruto flopped backwards onto his bed. "She… she was the one who… she spent all that time pining after me when I'm just an ignorant… and I thought that we… and now I find out I was just being Captain Save-A-Hoe?"

"HA!" the fox barked. "Captain Save-A-Hoe! Oh, I like that, that's too good! I need to remember that one! I think I'm rubbing off on you, you little sack of mucus."

"But it's true!" Naruto protested. "I was supposed to be her one-way ticket away from the cursed seal! I mean, it's a terrible thing, sure, absolutely disgusting, and nobody deserves to be branded with it, but… I thought we had something special, not… this!"

"And now I'm supposed to suddenly put a ring on it and be the Hyuuga leader when I'm not even a Hyuuga!? What the fuck!?" he screamed. "I JUST WANTED TO NOT DIE! I DID NOT WANT THIS BULLSHIT IN MY LIFE!"

"Welcome to time travel. Comes with the territory." Said the Kyuubi. "Now, get back to researching. I want details on whoever is doing this to us."

"… Fine…" Naruto pulled himself back into a sitting position and angled himself back over his book. "So… we've got one god, presumably, and two goddesses, for a fact. We don't know any more than that, but there's definitely some kind of connection between those three that's more than cursory. What do you think?"

"My guess would be family." Said the Kyuubi. "Not husband and wives, the Sysadmin would have more power to influence them if they were. Not parent and children, either, for the same reason. I'd say brother and sisters. Jiraiya also said something about him walking among humanity?"

"Yeah… yeah, that's right. He did say that." Naruto quickly flipped through the book, skimming the pages. "They must also be pretty damn powerful to pull something like this off, or they know somebody who is. That narrows it down a l- here!"

"Found something?"

"Look." Naruto pointed at the picture on the page of a man, whorls of hair black as night streaming behind him, dressed in samurai garb, raising a blade over one of the necks of an eight-headed serpent. Underneath the picture it read 'SUSANO-O SLAYING THE YAMATA NO OROCHI.'

"Slaying the eight-forked serpent…" Kyuubi rumbled. "That sounds like a snake summon."

"And look." He pointed at the picture next to it, of Susano-o slicing one of the snake's eight tails away to revealing a katana as the bone. 'SUSANO-O RETRIEVING THE KUSANAGI FROM THE YAMATO NO OROCHI'S CORPSE.'

"Isn't that the katana that Orochimaru has? That he used to… to stab Jiji with?"

"…Think this is our Sysadmin?"

"… One of the most prevalent deities of worship in the time before the Sage of the Six Paths, Susano-o, god of storms, was seen as a protector deity to the people." Naruto read. "Having a foul temperament in the heavens, he went through a rage and destroyed great swaths of heavenly land for his sisters, Ameterasu, goddess of the sun, and Tsukuyomi, goddess of the earth. I think this is them!"

"Go on."

"Supposedly banished from heaven by their father, Izanagi, until he could learn temperance and humility, he wandered the land as a drifter. Many of the myths surrounding this supposed descent have been lost to time, but the few that have been recovered show that he clashed many times with the Juubi, the… the One-Eyed god. Progenitor to all the tailed beasts, and father of demons."

Dead silence rang out in the apartment.

"… Ky… Fuzz-butt?"

"I knew it…" The fox whispered. "I knew there was something that gramps was hiding from us…wouldn't tell us where we came from… why we couldn't remember that… that… that FUCKING PIT!"

"What!?"

"THAT'S WHAT'S IN THE FUCKING PIT!" Kyuubi screamed. "THAT IS WHAT THE TENTH LEVEL IN THAT FUCKING PIT IS! THE FLOOR LEADS TO THE GODDAMN BEING THAT FUCKING MADE ME!"

"Oh my god…!" Naruto felt the blood drain from every single extremity he had.

"NOW DO YOU SEE WHY I DID NOT LIKE THAT FUCKING PIT!? NOW DO YOU SEE!?"

The boy was too frozen stiff to nod.

"NEVER GO BACK TO THAT PIT AGAIN! YOU HEAR ME!? NEVER!"

"I… I heard you the first time you said it…"

"FUCKING A. god-dammit. Fucking a." Kyuubi's temper tantrum ground to a halt. "See that you don't. Shit."

"Can I read more?"

"… Fine."

"… And father of demons. His battles with the Juubi supposedly raged for as many years as Susano-o remained on the earth, carving out the oceans, raising the mountains from the ground, and splitting the land into deep canyons. As the Shinto cult faded, Susano-o's part in these feats was forgotten, with whole responsibility ascribed to the Juubi. Many different kinds of beings were formed from their battles. Pieces of flesh sheared from the Juubi's body became the untold number of demons, both greater and lesser; the drops of Susano-o's blood became the formless beings that, after being shaped by Natura Chakra, became the numerous Summoning clans. The myths claim that the sun did not shine for fear of the Juubi, and that humanity took their light from the thunder and lightning raised by Susano-o's blows."

"Wait, isn't one of his sisters goddess of the sun?" said the Kyuubi. "If the sun didn't shine, she was doing a pretty shitty job."

Naruto snorted. "No kidding… many, though not all, of the greater demons sided with the Juubi. Many were also slain by Susano-o, in tales all their own. One of the more famous tales involved a demon named Yamato-no-Orochi, a dragon-snake hybrid, and the maiden Kushi-" Naruto flinched. "… Kushinada. As the demon had devoured all of her family but her, Susano-o happened upon her. After transforming her into a… a bright red haircomb, he laid out eight pits of beer for the snake. As the demon drained them and then grew sleepy, he beheaded them all and skinned the beast, wearing his scales as armor. Within one of his tails he found the legendary sword Kusanagi, which he wielded against the Juubi to great effect. The body of the Orochi decomposed, and from the decay birthed the White Snake, the sage of the Snake Summons. Susano-o later took kushinada as his wife, though all attempts to find his supposed demigod lineage have failed, casting doubt as to whether this portion of the tale is true…"

"… Well shit." Breathed the kyuubi.

"What, fuzz-butt?"

"I'll bet you a tail's worth of my power I can name at least one of their descendants." He said. "In fact, I'll bet THREE, I'm so sure. There is no doubt in my mind whatsoever."

"Who?"

"Who do you think? The Sage of the Six Paths."

"… You think the sage of the six paths was a demigod?"

"Brat, you had to have SEEN how stupidly powerful that man was." He growled. "It was absolutely insane. He created the goddamn moon because he wanted an amazing grave! He…" he went quiet. "… He must have defeated the Juubi, at some point, and made us. He BEAT the JUUBI. There was no way he was a normal human, Rinnegan or not. In fact, I bet he got the Rinnegan from Susano-o. His eyes, and his ridiculous amount of chakra. He could eat alphabet soup and shit a best-selling book. That's how overpowered he was."

"… Then what about any other children?"

"Hell if I know. But I would bet good money that if the Rinnegan is god-given, there are other kekkei genkai you could trace back. I know there are others that can be traced to demons, so coming from gods doesn't surprise me one bit."

"… Should we keep reading?"

"Yes."

"… According to myth, Susano-o eventually managed to land a number of debilitating wounds on the Juubi, though he was unable to kill it. Instead, he tricked the primordial demon into one of the canyons created by their battles, one that led down to the very center of the earth. The Juubi, infuriated by its foe, fell into the crevasse and continued all the way down. Having learned the meaning of humility and temperance in defense of humanity, he was allowed back into the heavens. According to Shinto myth, any earthquakes are a result of the Juubi shaking the earth, trying to escape back out into the world to continue its rampage. The worship of the Shinto cult, with Susano-o as a leading deity, continued for many years until the Juubi returned, after which the Sage of Six Paths permanently defeated it. With one of the cult's main tenets, that Susano-o had permanently defeated the Juubi, undeniably disproven, the Shinto cult faded into ignominious obscurity."

"Find more of the Shinto cult. Anybody that you can."

Naruto grabbed the index, quickly flipping through until… "Amaterasu. The sun goddess. One of the three sibling gods born as Izanagi washed his body of the filth of the underworld, Amaterasu was born from washing his left eye, while her sister and her brother were born from the right eye and the nose, respectively. The fuck?"

"Nobody said the gods made sense."

"But…" Naruto threw his hands up. "You know what? I'm not even going to bother. Amaterasu. Though a virgin goddess, Amaterasu was one of the many spouses of the hermaph- herma… hermap…"

"Hermaphroditic. The hermaphroditic Tsukuyomi." Kyuubi leered. "That's kinda kinky, actually."

"The fuck does that mean?"

"Means that Tsukuyomi's packing both sets of junk in the trunk. A cock and a cunt. A He-She."

"…" Naruto set the book down slowly on the bed, stood up, and walked into the bathroom. He took a long stare at the mirror… and then slammed his head face-first into the wall. He fell to the ground unconscious.

Several hours later…

"Well." Naruto scowled, the book back in his lap. "Now that I've been permanently scarred for life by your mental imagery, let's keep reading. No problem with THAT plan at all."

"You wanted to know this shit!" The Kyuubi cackled. "Deal with it!"

"Haaaaate…" Naruto looked back down at the book. "… The hermaphroditic Tsukuyomi. Though they had much affection for each other, Amaterasu's unpredictably violent nature had been known to kill other gods she had loved and attempted to woo before. To prevent this, Izanagi placed the sky between the Earth between the two, so that the sun would never be able to destroy the earth by accident, and simply warm the land with loving words and heated glances. HAHA! I get that joke!"

"Who says they were joking?"

"… Moving on. The two united at last in the sky when Tsukuyomi became god of the Moon – wait, what? Became god of the moon, though as this likely came as a result of the cult attempting to stay relevant in a Post-Sage world, and as such was not accepted as orthodoxy for all worshippers before the cult disintegrated, this change to their characters can be considered at best a local heresy. Amaterasu and Susano-o were known to have terrible feuds throughout their lives, which ultimately led to Susano-o being cast out to lead his odyssey on Earth.

"During the time of the Juubi, the sun supposedly did not shine in the sky. Many conflicting explanations exist, from Amaterasu being afraid of the aura of despair that clung to the Juubi, to her refusing to give warmth to Susano-o in his exile. In the post-Sage world, Amaterasu was said to be the source of spiritual chakra, imparting her… her will of fire, to humanity. Again, this likely an attempt at rebranding to compete with the growing Shinobi Sect, which ultimately failed."

"That's two. Where's the third one, the futa?"

"AUGH! No! Don't- no! Don't ever say that word again! AUGH! NO!"

"Futa Futa Futa, Fut-Futa futa futaaaaaaaaa! Futa Futa Futa, fut-futa futa futaaaaaaa! Fu-"

"I WILL MURDER YOU IN YOUR SLEEP!"

"I'd like to see you try." The Kyuubi snorted. "Keep reading, or I'll start singing the Futa song again."

"… I'll find a way to kill you, I swear to god…" Naruto grumbled, flipping through the index again. "… Tsukuyomi, the Earth goddess and Moon god. Born after Izanagi's failed attempt to bring Izanami, his wife and now goddess of death and the underworld, back to life, Tsukuyomi was born as both man and woman, asterisk. Eugh…"

"Read."

"You're getting off on this somehow, aren't you!?"

"The thought may have crossed my mind, yes."

"You sick fuck…" Naruto growled. "… As both man and woman. Given dominion over a barren and lifeless earth, tsukuyomi, a gentle being, was saddened. In order to rectify that, she created a… a harem of both male and female nature spirits, and- OH WHAT THE FUCK!?"

"Keep. Reading."

"DO YOU SEE THIS SHIT!? DO YOU SEE WHAT YOU ARE MAKING ME READ!? THIS IS SOUNDING LIKE SOME KIND OF FUCKED UP PORN FANTASY!" Naruto paused. "I swear to god, if you're masturbating in there…"

"The thought may have crossed my mind, yes."

"NOPE! NOPENOPENOPENOPENOPE!" Naruto lung himself into the air. "I CANNOT NOPE HARD ENOUGH! NOPENOPENOPE!" he ran in circles in the kitchen, flailing wildly. "ALL ABOARD THE NOPE TRAIN TO FUCKTHAT VILLE!"

"Calm down, you idiotic sack of shit. You're acting like a brain-dead two-year-old."

"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOPE!" Naruto ran up to the wall, grabbed it firmly, and knocked himself unconscious once more.


Several hours later…


"… Not a word." Naruto whispered. "Not. A single word. From your mouth. Or I will stop reading this for good and light it on fire. Understand?"

"It's not even your book, remember?"

"NOT A WORD!"

"…"

"… A harem of both male and female nature spirits, and through countless numbers of hedonistic orgies gave birth to all forms of life on Earth. God dammi- augh. That's nasty. At that point, Tsukuyomi then gave form to humanity. Many variations on the myth exist; some say that Tsukuyomi impregnated herself with the first man and woman as twins, while others say that Izanagi, out of spite towards Izanami and her new covenant with death, raped Tsukuyomi –oh god, what the fuck am I reading- in order to create more life than his former wife could take away. This origin is, according to the Shinto cult, where the Physical aspect of Chakra comes from. Weakened by both the draw on her all her children create upon the land, and by the Juubi raging around in the center of the earth, Tsukuyomi is one of the least-documented deities of the Shinto cult pre-Sage.

"Asterisk Note 1: many different translation errors were found during the reclamation of the Tsukuyomi myths, much more than the other Shinto cult deities; one of the most prevalent types involved strange tensing of singular and plural regarding Tsukuyomi herself and her gender. As best as we historians can tell, the most literal meaning would be that she is both man and woman, two in one; the gendered language shifts erratically between male and female terms when referring to Tsukyomi as well. (for simplicity's sake, we shall refer to her as a woman) while the simplest route would be to simply assume that Tukuyomi was a hermaphroditic goddess, both the translation errors and the strange changes to her mythos post-sage compel us to use the most literal terminology, as both man and woman in one body."

"Feel better now?"

"I thought I told you to shut it." Said Naruto.

"Keep reading. Know thy enemy."

"After the Sage of the Six Paths defeated the Juubi and created the moon, Tsukuyomi's tale changed dramatically. Now, instead of the female half representing spring and summer and the male representing fall and winter, as was the original worship, the goddess was two deities under the same name. The female remained the Earth goddess, and the male was rebranded as the Moon god. No myths relating to this new status were found by the writing of this book, as the cult lost sway with the people not long after the rebranding. Due to Tsukuyomi's incredibly sexualized mythos and position as the Earth goddess, she was also worshipped heavily as a fertility goddess, both by new couples attempting to conceive and by farmers attempting to till the Juubi-scorched earth."

"That it?"

"For those three, yeah." Naruto slowly closed the book and pushed it away from him. Sun was rising high in the sky as he spoke. "Shit. Morning already?"

"Alright. Now that we've got that malarkey out of the way, what do we know?"

The boy snorted. "That the guy we think is the Sysadmin is probably the only sane one up there. But we knew that already."

"We also know that he knows how to kick ass, if this book is at all accurate. I've got my hunch about the Sage's lineage, and some intriguing ideas about the sexual lives of incestuous gods. Did we learn anything else?"

"… There…" Naruto hesitated. "No. Nothing."

"Eh? Don't hold back, meat. We're trying to figure out how to beat these bastards."

"It's…" Naruto shook his head. "It's nothing. Just a few coincidences, probably. Nothing to do with them."

"Don't fucking beat around the bush! If you need to mention it at all, then either spit it out or don't say anything in the first place!"

"… I…" Naruto shook his head. "Just seeing a few parallels here and there. In all that stuff I read. Like, Amaterasu mentioned the will of fire, and Susano-o's wife, her name sounds like…"

"Sounds like that bitch Kushina. And the red haircomb. Red hair." The kyuubi rumbled. "I see. Coincidences, but weird ones. And the futa maybe being two in one, like your gender-bender move. And the lightning from Kushinada's husband, like that rat in the hat's teleport move. That's… weird."

"You see? Little things that-" Naruto paused. "Hang on. You called my mom a bitch. I should kick your ass for that."

"I'd like to see-"

"… And you know my mom's name." Naruto slowly stood. "I've never mentioned her to you. I've never talked to somebody about her with you using her first name. And you don't wake up after the initial sealing until a week later. How do you know my mom's name?"

"…"

"How do you know my mother?"

"You wanna know why, you idiotic sack of shit? Because-"

BOOOOOM!

The entire village shuddered. Naruto gave a scream of pain as his rickety dresser toppled onto his body, trapping him on the floor. "AAAGH!"

"What the shit?"

"GHH!" with a number of labored breaths, Naruto managed to wriggle himself out of his trapped position. "What happened!? Why did-"

BOOOOOM! The village shuddered again. The explosion was much softer, but the shockwave was just as rattling. A bigger explosion at a further distance.

Naruto ran to the door. "Are we under attack!?"

"GO!"

Naruto leapt out the door, sprinting as fast as he could towards the Hokage tower.

By the time Naruto reached the tower, chaos had exploded as people ran to and fro trying to make sense of things. Naruto sprinted to the Hokage's office.

Jiraiya stood at the desk, a grave expression on his visage. "What happened!?" Naruto shouted.

"The Konoha hospital was just attacked. All the ANBU guarding high profile targets there are dead. The Sandaime is safe despite all his guards being slaughtered… but Sasuke's been taken."


And Now, a Word from the Co-Authors:

'Sup. We're back. We're almost done, too.

Only 1 more chapter until what you've all been waiting for.

We finally get our asses into a new avatar. We're chomping at the bit as much as you are, so good news on that front: we're already making headway on the next chapter.

There will not be another 5 month wait.

Thank god.

The muses have re-awakened inside me. And the next chapter will be out before September!

Yaaaay Deadlines! Aren't they grand. Wait, isn't that just a 4 month wait?

Emphasis on before, Dude so let's get to work.

Yeah, yeah...

So, anyways, remember when I asked you guys whether or not you'd like some kind of guide to writing?

That again?

Yes, that. Shut up, it's a good idea. Well, I finally got some docs written for it. They're all linked to the hub google doc posted below.

Docs*google*com/document/d/1U_IXoqKGB7bTv51rv763c6 oEsjLTfZgVAQnkEZzgRZk

All challengers please read.

I'll be posting bits and pieces for it whenever I finish something, and I'll try to cover a lot of topics so there aren't any gaps. But you know, I'm not going to come up with everything. So, if you guys think of something you'd like me to cover, throw me a message on why you think it's important for fanfiction writers to know.

If you've got a good argument for it, or think of something that should be added to an existing topic, I'll write something up and post it on the hub! And if you like what you see, feel free to steal a link for it and post it wherever you please. It only helps people improve if they read it.

Maybe I'll take a look myself.

We can all use improvement. I certainly don't claim to be the expert. Just someone who wants to help others improve.

Anyways, have we covered all our bases?

We've rounded third and sliding for home.

We're bottom of the ninth, loaded bases, and our sultan of swing is stepping up to the plate. Let's go for a grand slam!

I'm the Animaniac Dude,

And I am MajinHentaiX,

Saying thank you for sticking with us,

And we hope our old fans stay steadfast and you new guys hold on and invite some friends.

... I was more thinking about thanking them for not reading yaoi, but advertising works too!

Read, review and all that jazz!