A/N: Lots shorter than usual, I know. But here seemed to be the perfect place to stop this chapter.
Naruto couldn't help but grin as he entered the Hokage's stand at the topmost level of the Chuunin exam arena.
Two meters away from him, stood his long time friend, the trademark gourd sitting next to his chair.
"It's been a long time Naruto", Gaara spoke first, breaking the silence.
"That it has Gaara", Naruto replied. Meanwhile, Kyuubi stood right behind him, watching the two friends greet each other.
"Well then", Tsunade interrupted them, "since Naruto and Kyuubi have finally made it up here, I guess it's time to make their promotions official"
She signalled one of the Chuunin guarding the stand, who quickly made a few seals, causing two customised Jounin jackets to appear on the floor in front of Tsunade.
Naruto's eyes widened as he saw the vest laying in front of them. He'd been expecting some sort of standard vest, but nothing like this. The jacket was clearly made to suit his own clothing style. Most of it was black, with a few orange streaks running over the entire length of it. Smiling, he picked it up, eager to study it from every possible angle. His breath hitched in his throat as he turned it around, bringing a detailed symbol into view.
Meanwhile, Kyuubi had also picked up her own vest, which was the same design as Naruto's, but with a deep crimson instead of the orange lining the vest.
Noticing Naruto's change in demeanour, she looked at his vest. Turning her own vest around, she noticed that she had the same symbol embroidered into the back of her vest.
Tsunade smiled as she saw the reactions on both the new Jounin's faces. It had been exactly what she'd been hoping for.
"I hope you like the new Namikaze Clan symbol I've had a friend design", she smiled at the two of them.
Naruto and Kyuubi were still staring at the sign. Naruto virtually at the brink of tears. All this time he'd wanted only a single other thing besides being Hokage, to have his own clan. While he had known for a while now that he was in fact a member of a clan, only by seeing the symbol that would now represent his himself and his clan, did that knowledge really get through to him.
Kyuubi was the first to reply to Tsunade's question.
"It's beautiful", she whispered, still staring at the symbol. It was clear that the artist had taken into account both hers and Naruto's origins and backgrounds. In the centre was the original spiral that had once been Naruto's own logo. Around the orange spiral however, were nine crimson tails, encircling the entire symbol. It wasn't in an oppressive matter though. The nine tails almost seemed to come alive, intent to protect the spiral in the middle from anything that would threaten it.
"Who made this Tsunade-baa-chan?", Naruto asked. He wanted to personally thank the artist for his work.
"You better as that question to the Kazekage over there", she smiled broadly.
Naruto's head turned towards Gaara, a somewhat confused look on his face.
"It was my brother, Kankuro, that designed it. The clothiers here in Konoha sewed it onto the jackets", Gaara explained as Naruto's jaw slowly fell open.
"You mean your brother made this?"
"Yes, though I did suggest the idea of giving you a clan symbol to him, he did the rest himself. He's actually quite skilled with drawing. He has to be though, putting all that paint all over his face every morning", Gaara continued, snickering a bit when he came to the part of his bigger brother putting on make-up every morning.
He was however completely caught unaware when he was suddenly enveloped in a crushing hug, courtesy of Naruto. While it had been a few years since he'd lost Shukaku, and thus the protection of the sand shield, there were still very few people that dared to touch him. The only exceptions were his siblings, and a few trusted shinobi that he'd befriended during his reign as the Kazekage. But even they never tried anything without making absolutely sure that Gaara knew their intentions. Being spontaneously hugged like he was now, was something completely unknown to him.
He soon recovered though, and returned the friendly hug to his best friend.
Kyuubi shared a knowing smile with Tsunade as both females watched the exchange between the former Jinchuuriki.
After that, a formal ceremony signalled the end of the Chuunin exam. Tsunade and Gaara, with Kyuubi and Naruto right behind them, moved down towards the arena floor, where the graduates, along with their instructors, were standing.
Both the Kages shook the new chuunin's hands, congratulating them on their achievements and handed them their vests, provided by the same Chuunin that had made both Naruto and Kyuubi's jackets appear.
"So, what do you want us to do now that we're Jounin Tsunade-baa-chan?", Naruto asked in his usually jovial tone as they walked out of the arena.
"Stop by my office in a few days Naruto", Tsunade replied, "and we'll see about that assignment of yours".
"Wooohoo", Naruto shouted before pulling Kyuubi into a hug, obviously startling the fox demoness, noticeable by the sudden and violent sways here tails were making.
She didn't get the chance to say anything though. In a sudden swirl of leaves, he'd used a shunshin to transport both of them to Ichiraku's.
Tsunade just stood there and watched, somewhat ignoring Gaara's raised eyebrow. He didn't need an explanation though. He of all people knew that Naruto was a spur of the moment kind of person. Or at least, he was most of the time.
"So what'll it be for my favourite customer and his lady", Ichiraku asked as the couple appeared in front of his shop. Being a long time supplier of ramen to shinobi, he was used to the rather peculiar quirks they had. Like for instance, using a shunshin to appear in just about every place.
"The usual", Naruto grinned as he sat down, motioning to Kyuubi to do the same.
"And for the lady?", Ichiraku asked, not even blinking at the fact that Kyuubi was visiting his store once again.
"Just a bowl of miso ramen for me please", she asked, ignoring some of the more skittish customers.
"Coming right up", Teuchi said, before frowning a bit as he spotted the jackets the young couple was wearing.
"Say Naruto, what's with the jackets? I know the Chuunin exams were today, but those aren't the standard issue vests"
Hearing this, the rest of the customers, or at least those that hadn't seen the Chuunin finals, looked up, curious as to what had happened now. Knowing the two shinobi, they weren't exactly surprised to find out that yet again, they'd done something completely unexpected.
"Oh these?", Naruto grinned broadly, "Tsunade-baa-chan saw it fit for us to be promoted to Jounin straight after we'd made Chuunin. That's why she gave us these jackets, to celebrate the occasion".
A loud 'EEEHHHH???' echoed along the seats of the small ramen stands the moment Naruto finished his explanation.
"Oh is that so eh Naruto?", Teuchi chuckled, "well then this is on the house, as a present to you becoming one of the elite shinobi that protect my business, in more ways than one I might add"
It was late that night when Naruto and Kyuubi finally decided to go home. They'd spent the rest of the day at Ichiraku's, talking with both Teuchi and Ayame, and several of their friends that 'just so happened to pass by'. Afterwards, they'd moved on to one of the more popular bars, or at least, popular with the general shinobi populace. Normal villagers wouldn't last a minute in there, not with all the kunai, shuriken, broken bottles and anything else that wasn't bolted to the floor flying around with disturbing regularity.
Alcohol had flowed freely amongst the former rookie twelve, resulting in some rather hilarious situations. Hinata, who'd been depressed about losing her chance of being together with Naruto, apparently had a vicious streak when drunk. While the sight of a beautiful, though depressed clan heir sitting at the bar, getting drunk was most certainly appealing to many of the patrons, it took all possible flirters only one example of what exactly she could do to a man's family jewels with a well aimed jyuuken strike for the rest to get the message and stay well away from her. The example even had Kiba and Akamaru whine softly in compassion for the man.
"Man, did you see how Hinata gave that guy a piece of her mind?", Naruto snickered as he and Kyuubi headed back to their apartment.
"Oh I did, and I must admit, I've never thought that Jyuuken could be that handy, if only I could've done that in my time", she smiled ruefully as she clung to Naruto's arm. While both of them had several drinks, she obviously had a much lower tolerance for it. Not only was her build a lot lighter than Naruto's, but she also hadn't gone on a training trip with a chronic alcoholic, well, at least not in person.
"You had a lot of suitors then?", Naruto asked curiously. There wasn't exactly much he knew about her, as such, a chance to learn more was always appreciated.
"Are you kidding me? I had to beat them off of me with a tree, forget the damn stick", she muttered darkly.
"Well, I can't say I blame them"
Kyuubi eyed him carefully at this, not knowing what to expect next.
"I am wondering though", Naruto continued, "why me?"
"Didn't we go over this already?", she scoffed as she used her tails to lightly smack him in the back of the head, "I'm not going to have this discussion with you again. Now let's go home and get some rest"
Naruto smiled, even as the redhead at his side pulled him along, causing him to stumble a bit.
The next few days passed in somewhat of a blur. After the initial thrill of having been promoted to Jounin wore off, both he and Kyuubi calmly settled back into their regular rhythm, which usually consisted of messing up training grounds and the occasional gate. Though they did have a rather weird situation once when they encountered Lee in one of their sparring sessions.
Over the years the spandex clad shinobi had improved his taijutsu skills even more, up to the point where his bingo book listing gave the warning never to cross fists with the man, since doing so promised considerable pain.
"YOSH!!", Lee shouted as he watched the couple arrive at the training area, "it is good to see you keeping up with your training Naruto-san, Kyuubi-san. The spirit of youth blazes inside you. As such, I must do the same"
Immediately afterwards, Lee began building up a massive amount of chakra.
"First gate, OPEN", came the usual shout as he released the mental inhibitor in his brain, enabling him to use his lotus technique.
The shout however, had a rather predictable effect on the red haired fox standing besides Naruto. She'd been bored at first, but the moment her hearing picked up on the word gate, she snapped to attention.
"Gate? Where, where?", she asked as she looked around, not really realising what was happening.
Naruto sighed at redhead's actions. She really was incorrigible about some things. What at first had seemed like a genuine joke, had quickly turned into somewhat of an obsession, though she did refrain from kicking down any doors in their apartment. Something he was very grateful for. Thought it might also be the fact they left most of them open and that he was acting like a gentleman, opening any closed ones in front of her.
A few days after that particular 'incident', Naruto and Kyuubi were headed towards the Hokage tower to get their first mission as Jounin.
"We're here as you requested baa-chan", Naruto cheered as he walked into the Hokage's office, ignoring the door that was now sticking halfway through the opposite wall, courtesy of Kyuubi.
Suppressing her anger for later use on more deserving, and slightly easier targets, Tsunade gestured for both the shinobi to sit down.
"As you might've heard, Akatsuki has been moving around a bit lately", she began, her words causing Naruto and Kyuubi to frown.
"In fact, they appear to have captured all the bijuu, except for you Kyuubi", Tsunade continued in a grave tone.
"However, I believe that the two of you together will be impossible to capture if you're careful enough. For this reason, I'll be sending you out into the world, to hunt down all the members of Akatsuki before they have time to organize and come in force, because if they do, then even you probably won't stand much of a chance"
"Just the two of us?", Naruto asked incredulously.
"Yes, just the two of you", she replied, "I won't lie to you Naruto. Both you and Kyuubi are the strongest people in our village. In fact, you've just about got your hands on the Hokage position the minute I retire"
"However", she continued , "you would still be at risk from Akatsuki even if you were the Hokage, even more so because it'll most likely prevent you from leaving the village. You'll need to strike while you still have your freedom, so to speak"
Tsunade grimaced a bit as the said the last phrase. She knew all too well the downsides of being the Hokage.
"When do we leave?", came the response from both Naruto and Kyuubi simultaneously.
"As soon as possible, though I suggest you get some rest and head out tomorrow morning", Tsunade said, handing Naruto a folder. "In there you'll find every scrap of intelligence we've been able to gather on the different Akatsuki members, including their most recent whereabouts.
Naruto casually handed the folder to Kyuubi, who instantly started leafing through it. He did wonder why she suddenly had a massive smirk on her face though.
"Well then, I guess that concludes your briefing. The guards at the gates have been informed of your departure, and everything else has been settled. I suggest you pack for a long trip"
Saluting the Hokage after getting up, both Naruto and Kyuubi used a shunshin to quickly move to their apartment and pack up some stuff.
"Are you sure about this?", a voice asked from behind Tsunade.
The blonde Hokage didn't react, except perhaps for letting herself fall back into the chair.
"Don't tell me that you actually disagree with my reasoning Jiraiya. Not you of all people."
"It's not that I disagree", he replied, "It's just that I didn't expect you to actually give the two of them a mission like this. Especially given the fact that both of them will be out of the village for several months, and considering their relationship, you know what might happen"
He finished the last part of his response with a rather satisfied grin, though that was quickly replaced by a look of fear as he saw Tsunade's fist sailing through the air, aimed squarely at his face. At that point in time, there was nothing left to do but brace himself for the impact and wait for the inevitable.
Meanwhile, somewhere outside of the village, Itachi had finally finished his latest way to enter the village.
"Are you really sure about this Itachi?", Kisame asked, looking curiously at the strange contraption that was standing in front of him.
"Of course I am, I designed it myself. It will work", Itachi said as he sat down inside what looked like a rather large bowl that was attached to the device, "now go and pull that lever".
"Fine, but don't blame me if it doesn't work out Itachi", Kisame sighed as he walked over to the catapult and pulled on the lever.
As the lever was pulled, all the tension that had been on the catapult's arm was suddenly released in a single instant, causing the arm, with Itachi on the end, to flash along its arc.
Kisame sighed again as he watched Itachi sail towards the village in a graceful arc. He had no doubt that this plan would fail, as all of the others had.
Sitting back down at the fire, he made himself comfortable, he knew it'd take Itachi a while to get back.
Itachi smiled broadly as he saw the village walls pass underneath him. His plan had worked perfectly so far. His mood changed though, when he saw another object in the skies of Konoha, this one coming straight at him.
With a resounding thud, the two collided, though the speed with which the second object was moving caused it to pull Itachi along with it.
He was still wondering what it was that had been flying in Konoha airspace, when he took a closer look and saw that the object was in fact Jiraiya, which was currently eyeing the missing nin.
Deciding to breach the uncomfortable silence that was hanging between the two of them, Itachi started up a conversation, since it appeared that they would be stuck there for at least a little while.
"Did you happen to make Kyuubi mad?", he asked curiously.
Jiraiya looked strangely at Itachi, before shaking his head and replying, "Are you insane? She'd castrate me"
"I see, you are insane"
"Better to get slugged by Tsunade though, she even has a special jutsu for it, see , here it is"
Just as Jiraiya stopped talking, a chibi Shizune appeared right next to the two shinobi flying through the air.
"Thank you for flying with Tsunade airlines, I hope you have a painful landing. Good day", the chibi said before poofing out of existence, causing the two nin to look at each other, despair written over their faces.
Meanwhile, in Iwa.
"Sir, we've finished the repairs on the gate. I'm pleased to say that our defences have been restored to their previous level, and they've even been improved on", an Iwa nin reported to his superior.
"Excellent, I shall inform the Tsuchikage at on...", the Jounin began, but was interrupted when two men came falling out of the sky, crashing right into the newly repaired section of the wall, tearing it down in the process.
"Oh for the love of..."