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AN: Ok, bare with me here. This chapter gave me a ridiculous amount of trouble. On top of that, I'm going to try to remove one of the author notes and replace it with this chapter. Unfortunately, this means that my review count is going to be screwed up. So, as inconvenient as it will be, if you reviewed the chapter before this one BEFORE today, and you wish to review this latest chapter, please sign out and leave an anonymous review with your name, so I can still answer/reply to it. I'm sure this will be extremely annoying, but I really do enjoy reading reviews, and I find the feedback extremely helpful. Thank you.

Also, I've officially decided to change the name of this story to Naruto: Shadows of the Mind. Changing the name has been something I've wanted to do for some time, but never really got around to. Thanks to everyone who read and reviewed. I should have responded to everyone, but if I missed you, I apologize. All reviews/criticism is welcomed. So, without further ado, I give you chapter 27 of Naruto: Shadows of the Mind.



Chapter Twenty-Seven

Barkeep had been a bartender for…well, as long as he could remember. That was why he considered his name to be Barkeep, since that's what everyone already called him, and it seemed like it had been such a long time since someone had called him Yoshi. That, and Yoshi was such a…mediocre name. He much preferred the added mystique of being known only as "Barkeep".

And since he had been a bartender for so much of his life, he knew from the moment he set his eyes on the young ninja, that tonight was going to be one of those nights.

The kid who stumbled into his bar was obviously a ninja based not only on the Konoha hitae-ate he wore on his forehead –before tearing it off and dropping it on the bar as if it burned- but also because of all of the weapons pouches he had strapped to him. Even worse, is that the kid looked like absolute hell, his clothing torn and dirtied, splotches of dried blood mixing with dirt and the smell of sweat. But what really let Barkeep know he was in for a rough night, was the utterly exhausted and haunted look in the blond's eyes.

People looking like that didn't come to bars, unless they intended to drown their sorrows in alcohol. And while ordinary patrons could become a danger when they got too far into their drinks, a ninja was many times worse. Particularly since when you combined that look and a ton of alcohol, plus all of the tension and paranoia an average shinobi possessed…and you had a patron who might not only lose it at any second, but when they did, it was almost guaranteed that people were going to be killed.

Things only became worse as far as Barkeep was concerned when the scarred kid collapsed onto a barstool and tried ordering a drink. Try being the key word, as it was obvious that ninja or no ninja, this kid was not a drinker. Meaning he had no idea what kind of drinks he should order or why, caring only about getting drunk. And while Barkeep might kick out such a customer any other time…he wasn't suicidal enough to think he could force a ninja to do anything.

Mentally scoffing as he watched the blond choke and gag as he chugged down his third sake bottle, he briefly considered trying to intervene. Whether to tell the rookie drinker to use a saucer, or at least take smaller sips or to even offer his ear as he did from time to time so the kid could let out whatever it was that had him so… depressed. Then he took a glance at the blade at the ninja's shoulder and he remembered why he wanted nothing to do with ninja. And while he didn't like watching people kill themselves with alcohol, neither was he going to put his own life on the line to stop them.

Glancing to the door as it swung open, Barkeep felt his spirits rise immensely at the sight of his newest customer. She was quite the beauty, maybe five foot four inches tall, with her waist length blonde hair held back in two loose ponytails. And while her clothing wasn't as…provocative as Barkeep might have preferred, he could still tell that she had some magnificent breasts judging from the cleavage he could see. And best of all, she didn't look anything like any ninja he'd ever seen, which meant that she wasn't liable to break his limbs if he hit on her.

'Oh yeah…' Barkeep thought to himself as the woman made her way to the bar. 'I play my cards right, and maybe I- Damn it…' he trailed off as the woman took a seat next to the ninja, seemingly unnoticing or uncaring of the visible weapons or the hitae-ate lying on the bar top.

"Oi, barkeep!" the woman called out with an air of sullenness. "Sake, one saucer, two bottles to start with, and start a tab for me!"

Half-heartedly wondering if he could subtly convince the blond bombshell to move away from the ninja before the kid snapped –or decided he fancied the woman for himself- Barkeep moved to place the requested drinks in front of the woman, sighing when the blond kid started coughing down another gulp of sake, the woman glancing at the ninja for a second before her eyes widened slightly and took on a noticeably interested look. 'Of course the kid would get the girl…damn ninja, always scooping up the good looking ones…'

Naruto hacked and coughed violently as he struggled to gulp down another mouthful of sake, feeling his already abused throat screaming in protest. 'How the fuck does Anko drink this shit?' Naruto wondered bitterly as he set the bottle down with slightly more force than necessary. Even worse, the one symptom of drinking that he was deliberately trying to induce was the one that seemed to be eluding him. He was still thinking.

Thinking was bad. Naruto didn't want to be able to think right now, because all he could think about was how he had recently learned he might not even be human.

"You are the Kyuubi no Kitsune!"

A monstrous shadow stretching out behind him in the form of a fox, nine tails waving chaotically as Naruto realized it was his shadow.

Panicking, running, jumping, an uncontrollable energy rushing through him and lending him the sheer chakra capacity needed to skate across the water separating him from the mainland.

Naruto flinched and grabbed the bottle and threw it back once again, choking the bitter drink down before sliding the now empty bottle across the bar, the bartender absentmindedly catching it and glancing toward him. Naruto didn't say anything –his lips had gone strangely numb some time ago, and as such weren't useful for much beyond forcing down more alcoholic beverages- merely gesturing for another bottle.

The bartender looked somewhat disgruntled –though that might have just been his imagination, as Naruto had lost the ability to see clearly shortly after he'd lost the feeling in his lips- but he set another bottle down in front of Naruto regardless.

Eying the bottle distastefully, Naruto briefly wondered if this was really such a good idea. The stuff really was terrible, and despite drinking almost nonstop since he came in, Naruto still hadn't reached the point where he could no longer think.

"Let's see you hide now you fucking monster!"

"You killed our son, his wife, and our unborn grandchild. And if you're not stopped, you'll do it again."

Squeezing his eyes shut as if that would make the thoughts stop, Naruto snatched up the bottle and began chugging it down despite his protesting throat.

"But you were just a child once too. So why would he see you a threat and not them?"

"Why would he wait so long if he wanted you gone?"

"What could the Shinobi no Kami possibly find threatening about a little boy?"

Naruto let out a bitter laugh, drawing several looks from the other patrons but he couldn't be bothered to care. What indeed. He hadn't been a child prodigy, or a clan scion, or anything other than an average child. He had been nothing. Yet the Old Man had always been there, from as far back as he could remember. Him and his Anbu, always hiding, always watching…

"You are the Kyuubi no Kitsune!"

…was it possible? Could he be the Kyuubi? It would explain a couple things. Like why so many people back in Konoha seemed to be so uneasy around him, why they always stared at him like he was a strange dog that might suddenly bite. It would explain why the Old Man went to such lengths to keep him under surveillance, why he'd bother hiding all of those many seals in his first apartment. And of course, it explained why the Old Man was trying to kill him.

Of course they'd try to kill the Kyuubi. Of course the Old Man would have him followed, waiting for the right moment to finish him. If he was the Kyuubi that is.

Naruto would know if was, wouldn't he?

Naruto snorted as he took another gulp. Who was he kidding? Naruto could fill a thimble with all of his knowledge of the Bijuu outside the stories of the Kyuubi attack. Was it even possible for a Bijuu to take human form? And if he was the Kyuubi, why would he take human form? Why something as small and frail as a young child? Naruto might not be able to recall it with perfect clarity, but he did recollect being three or so, with a handful of older memories of the Old Man. Did the Old Man or the Yondaime do something to make him human? And if they did, why would they wait? Why wouldn't they just kill him then and there? Were there some specific circumstances that had to be fulfilled before he was capable of dying?

Naruto felt a surge of hysterical laughter welling up inside him and with great effort forced it back down. Look at him, actually wondering if he was a stories tall demonic fox in human form. Maybe he really was as crazy as Shikamaru always said…

Swaying in his seat, Naruto's chaotic thoughts quickly went down a path he desperately wanted to avoid. Almost everyone in the Village seemed to know him on sight, seemed wary of him. Which implied that Yoshino knew too. And Teuchi, and Anko, and Genma, and…

…and Kurenai.

She had to know. The things Kurenai had said, how she had known about the seals at his first apartment, the way she was so determined to worm her way into his life, to earn his trust, his adoration…there was no way she didn't know.

'And she never said a damn thing.' Naruto snarled silently, a chaotic mixture of anger and pain and betrayal and sadness and a dozen other unidentifiable emotions surging from deep inside. Too far gone in his drunken state to control his reactions, Naruto's hand began squeezing, cracking the simple sake bottle ever so slightly. But that was enough. Or more specifically, the sound of the cracking, so similar to cracking ice, was all it took.

And then Naruto realized that there were worse things right now than thinking. There was remembering.

"Naruto, stop!" Haku cried out as she threw herself out of the mirror, on the verge of a complete breakdown as the mirror shattered easily before Naruto's rage. "Please, we don't have to fight! I-I don't want to fight you!"

She threw up an arm as if to plead with him and Naruto effortlessly batted it aside and punched her in the chest. His hand effortlessly pierced through her chest and out her back, a wave of blood pouring down around his hand and arm. Haku convulsed on his arm, coughing up blood as she slowly, painfully lifted her head so her eyes –her tear filled, wild eyes he noticed for the first time- met his own. Then she gently reached up to stroke his cheek, whispering "I'm sorry…" before planting a bloody, passionate kiss on his mouth. Then she was dead.

Naruto just barely held in an anguished sob as he threw back the bottle once again, coughing in an almost ridiculous manner as he struggled to down the liquid and keep it down. 'Maybe thinking isn't so bad after all…' Naruto thought to himself hazily. 'It's better than remembering at any rate…'


Naruto froze in horror as he finally heard his name being said through the jumbled mess that he was hearing around him, though he had no idea what else had been said before or after. Shaking uncontrollably at the impossibility of that voice sounding so familiar, Naruto slowly swayed on his barstool so he was facing that familiar voice. "…Haku?" Naruto whispered as he stared at the woman seated beside him.

Tsunade sighed irritably as she ducked into a bar, having finally lost Shizune. That woman was getting increasingly talented at tracking her down, which wouldn't be a bad thing if she wasn't such a killjoy. Honestly, was it too much to ask for Tsunade to be allowed to enjoy a bottle of sake every now and then while having fun in the local gambling halls? So what if she lost more often than she won?

Well, when she didn't cheat that is –after all, Tsunade was a kage level ninja with some fairly serious debts, so sometimes her luck needed a little help. But more often than not, Tsunade gambled fair and square. After all, the fact that she could lose was half the fun of gambling.

But lately, Shizune had become rather intolerable, always going on about how Tsunade should "stop losing all of our money" or "don't you think you're drinking a little too much" and due to one joke she'd made to the local yakuza, "please don't offer me up as collateral in your gambling". Seriously, Tsunade had only been joking –she would never contemplate using people as her wages one way or the other- yet ever since, Shizune had been on the warpath, confiscating her sake and hiding their money in an attempt to get Tsunade to "reform". So, from time to time Tsunade felt the need to get away from her nagging apprentice and just unwind over some nice sake, with perhaps a dice game or two thrown in.

This particular bar seemed more or less respectable –or at least, as much as a bar can be without becoming a tavern or inn- though it didn't seem particularly busy. Although, that would probably be more helpful in avoiding Shizune, who was sure to go looking for crowded bars in search of any gambling that Tsunade might have decided to get involved in. The only problem as far as Tsunade saw it was that the sole customer –that is, the only one who looked like he had any money- was a ninja.

The blonde's profession was rather obvious to anyone who so much as glanced his way. Between the hitae-ate lying on the bar top in front of him and all of the weapons pouches the kid was wearing –with no attempts to hide either- it was laughably easy to identify the kid as a ninja.

Tsunade's moment of hesitation was so slight that most wouldn't have even seen it, before she was striding confidently toward the bar. After all, it was just one kid and few if any ninja that young could pose a serious threat to her. Besides, teenagers loved to gamble right? How hard would it be to get the kid to play a friendly game of dice with her?

Sitting down next to the young boy with a pleasant smile, Tsunade was surprised that she apparently didn't even warrant a glance. Setting aside the fact that she knew she was considered rather beautiful; most ninja would give a stranger at least a little scrutiny in order to determine whether or not they might be a threat. This kid didn't even look like he'd noticed her.

Tsunade was not used to being ignored, and she didn't like it much either. "Oi, barkeep!" she called out with an air of sullenness. "Sake, one saucer, two bottles to start with, and start a tab for me!" With that out of the way, Tsunade studied the kid out of the corner of her eye, trying to decide how she would play this.

She wasn't a fan of playing the ditzy airhead for rather obvious reasons, and the hopeless drunk routine probably wouldn't work on someone as plastered as the teen looked. So how should she cajole him into a wager or two?

Perhaps the naïve tourist act would work… although she could always go with the old "strip gambling" routine. There weren't many types of gambling –or competitions in general- that couldn't be turned into a strip version of some type or another, and men both young and old were always eager to take her up on that offer. Of course, Tsunade made sure she never lost anything other than her coat –which she made sure to win back from time to time so she could "lose" it again- so really, it was a more or less failsafe way to earn some cash. The added distraction her opponents always seemed to suffer from weren't really necessary, but it was nice for her to win without cheating sometimes.

On the other hand, she could always forget about gambling with him and just get the kid to buy her drinks for her. Sure, she might not have as much fun as she would gambling, but at least the drinks would be covered by someone else.

Glancing at the kid out of the corner of her eye again, Tsunade frowned as she was struck by the oddest sense of deja vu. She was sure she'd never met him before, yet at the same time, there was definitely something familiar about him. She was shaken from her thoughts when the kid suddenly flinched, before grabbing the bottle in front of him and pounding it back, choking and coughing even as he stubbornly drained the bottle.

"You want to take it easy there, kid?" Tsunade asked with a hint of condescension. "You're meant to sip that stuff, or at most take a saucer's worth, not chug it straight from the bottle." Well, not unless you were a far more experienced drinker than this kid was.

Tsunade felt her eye twitch when the boy continued to ignore her, before scoffing and pouring herself a saucer. As she did so, her eyes fell on the hitae-ate, immediately noting the symbol of Konoha engraved on it. Her first instinct on seeing that hated symbol was to punt the kid back towards the Village, but she reminded herself that the kid was already here and completely plastered before she showed up, and as such was unlikely to be here on some kind of mission to recall her or ask for her help in one task or another.

It didn't happen often –something which she attributed to her old sensei shielding her- but Konoha shinobi did show up from time to time, sometimes on behalf of an elder or clan head back in Konoha, sometimes on their own asking for her help or training. Tsunade considered it an act of extreme generosity that she only left such ninja trapped in a Genjutsu, or at most, scrambled their nervous system for a day or two, rather than giving in to her baser urges and beating them into bloody pulps.

Still, that the kid was from her home Village might go a long way to explain why he seemed familiar. She'd probably met him when he was much younger, or met a relative that he resembled. Tsunade frowned as she turned in her seat to openly study the kid. Granted, she could only see the right side of his face, but the more she stared at him, the more certain she was that she'd never met a relative of his. For one, the only blonds she knew back in Konoha were predominately from the Yamanaka clan –which this kid didn't share anything with beyond the color of his hair- and those few who weren't didn't look anything like this kid.

Tsunade studied the boy more closely, noting a lack of any clan or family symbols anywhere on his clothing. An orphan then? Or just one of the few ninja who placed a higher value on anonymity rather than their surname? If it was the latter, then the kid probably shouldn't have tattooed lines on his face- 'Wait a minute…'

Those lines…those weren't tattoos, they were birthmarks. Why did birthmarks in that shape strike such a chord within her? 'Why do I know you?' Tsunade wondered to herself as she leaned closer to the still oblivious boy, studying what she could see of his face. Blond hair. Birthmarks on the face. A single blue eye with a slit pupil, almost like-

Tsunade sat back suddenly as the answer finally struck her. Almost before she knew what she was doing, Tsunade was asking, "Hey kid, your name is…Naruto, right?" It was largely a rhetorical question, as now that she knew who she was looking at, Tsunade could easily see the resemblance between the drunken teenager in front of her and the sleepy babe Sarutobi had brought her so long ago.

At first the teen didn't seem to hear her –or continued to ignore her- until she uttered his name. Then Naruto froze, before beginning to shake as he drunkenly whirled towards her, his eyes full of recognition much to Tsunade's chagrin. Just because she knew who he was didn't mean she wanted him to know who she was. The last thing she needed was a drunken teen begging her for training or some such thing.

"…Haku?" Naruto croaked out in a voice filled with such emotion that Tsunade couldn't help but blink in confusion. Particularly when the kid reached a shaky hand towards her. "Haku…is…is that really you?"

Looking into those familiar slitted blue eyes –and surprised by the two prominent scars marring his left cheek- she was actually somewhat shocked by the sheer longing intermixed with guilt and sadness in them. Then she felt her jaw drop when his eyes blearily dropped to her chest, the longing look instantly replaced by sadness and self-loathing. "You're not Haku… breasts are too big…"

Tsunade made a strangled sound, half amused and half indignant that the kid had actually just said that. In all her years, the one thing that no one had ever said about her chest was the size being too big. Tsunade honestly wasn't sure how to respond to such a comment. Well, other than punching the brat in the face for ogling her of course.

Even worse, as soon as he declared her "not Haku" Naruto had seemingly gone back to ignoring her –which did nothing for her temper- and chugging down yet another bottle before slamming it down with far too much force, shattering the bottle and driving several shards into his hand.

Despite knowing what was about to happen, Tsunade was unable to look away before she caught sight of Naruto's blood, and once she did, it was too late. Tsunade's eyes widened with a whimper, and despite desperately wanting to look away or close her eyes, she couldn't stop staring at the blood.

One of the things Tsunade hated most about her fear of blood, even more than the fact that it prevented her from being the one thing she'd always taken consummate pride in –a Medic-nin- was that it was so Goddamn unpredictable. Most of the time, she could see a small amount of blood and be fine aside from a little queasiness. Sometimes, she'd be fine, or at least able to function so long as there wasn't a pint's worth of blood in sight. And sometimes, all it took were a few small cuts on the hand to completely shut her down.

Her breathing grew increasingly erratic as her heart kicked into overdrive, almost as if the organ itself was attempting to escape her chest and run away from the blood. If that weren't bad enough, she felt nauseatingly dizzy, swaying on her seat as if she were the one completely plastered, even as her body was wracked by increasingly violent shaking.

And then Naruto started pulling the shards from his hand in little spurts of blood, which only made things even worse.

"P-please…stop…" Tsunade begged weakly, instantly hating herself for the breathy way her words came out, on top of the knowledge that so long as she was in the grip of her hemophobia she was all but helpless and at the mercy of a drunken teenager. Or anyone else who came along for that matter.

Apparently Naruto heard her, or noticed her trembling and wide, panicky eyes, because he looked up from his hand to frown at her in confusion. "What's wrong with you?" he slurred as he blinked hazily at her.

Words failed her at that moment, and all Tsunade could do was make a pitiful keening sound that she instantly hated herself for. Then her breath hitched in her chest as Naruto reached out towards her with his bleeding hand. He probably intended to grab her shoulder or give her a little shake or something, but all Tsunade could focus on was the blood coming right at her!

Even in her state, Tsunade still wanted to cringe at the high pitched shriek she let out at the sight of the bloody hand closing in on her. In her panic, Tsunade reacted on the instinctive desire to get the source of her fear as far away from her as possible, lashing out to push Naruto away from her before he could actually lay hands on her. Unfortunately for Naruto, unlike other terrified women, Tsunade had the kind of brute strength necessary to send people flying with a finger flick. So, when she shoved him away with both hands, he flew off the barstool with an audible crack of ribs giving way, before crashing through the cheap wooden wall of the bar.

But his flight didn't end there. Such was the force behind Tsunade's shove that Naruto soared across the street, through the display window of a tailor's shop, the shelves behind it, and into the opposite, stone wall, where his flight ended with several more cracks.

"Where is that woman?" Shizune muttered to herself as she stalked through the streets of Otafuku Gai in search of her friend and mentor. She had looked away for all of a second to examine a strand of colorful beads –which she thought would look quite nice on Tonton- and when she glanced back Tsunade had disappeared. Again.

Grumbling uncomplimentary things to herself about her wayward teacher, Shizune worked hard to ignore the little ball of dread in the pit of her stomach. 'Probably off drinking or gambling away all of our money, or both…' Shizune thought heatedly, using the anger at Tsunade's antics to block out some of her more deeply seated fears. 'She's…she's not…it's not like she would…'

Shuddering slightly, Shizune couldn't help but ponder some of the little signs she'd noticed in Tsunade lately. That the woman was an alcoholic gambling addict wasn't bad enough, but over the last two or three years, Tsunade's behavior had taken something of a downturn. Whereas before Tsunade would at least make the attempt to help out at the local hospital or village healer –even if that help only came in the form of advice or walking Shizune through a procedure- now she didn't even spare such places a glance. She'd actually ignored a wailing child who'd fallen from a nearby tree and broken his arm, something that just a year ago would have had her instantly at the child's side. Tsunade didn't even teach her anymore unless Shizune was somehow able to force her to, usually by hiding her sake while they were in between villages or towns.

If that weren't bad enough, Tsunade's gambling addiction had actually worsened, leading her to uncaringly make ridiculously large bets –often putting an entire loan onto a single gamble- and even going so far as to bet things that she not only would have never have done in the past, but would have beaten a man to a pulp just for suggesting. Things like betting her clothing, or even her sexual favors, which Tsunade used to consider an insult to her pride as a woman and a kunoichi. Granted, Tsunade hadn't lost any of those bets yet, but the fact that she would not only agree, but actually make the offer herself would have been unheard of just a year or two ago.

Now such bets were Tsunade's way of convincing people to gamble with her in the first place.

In essence, Tsunade just didn't seem to care anymore. About anything. And that scared Shizune more than she wanted to admit. No one understood just how depressed Tsunade still was after all these years better than Shizune, and she was terrified that Tsunade's sudden lack of caring or interest in anything outside of drinking and gambling might be a symptom of suicidal tendencies.

'Stop it!' Shizune scolded herself angrily as she turned onto a street she hadn't searched yet. 'You're just imagining things! Tsunade-sama would never…she's not that bad-'

Shizune was broken from her thoughts as a human form crashed out of a nearby building, missing her by mere inches, before smashing through the display window of the tailor's shop she was standing by. Hearing an audible crunch when the person's flight was stopped by the wall inside, Shizune flinched in at the sound of breaking bones, before quickly turning to the bar across the street.

Shizune knew that there were others who had the kind of strength and temper to do such a thing, but the odds of them being in the same city as Tsunade, and in a bar as well, struck her as highly unlikely.

'I wonder what he did to make Tsunade-sama that mad?' Shizune wondered as she entered the bar, fully expecting to have to calm down an enraged or annoyed Sannin before checking to make sure she hadn't killed whoever it was that had warranted such a treatment. 'I hope he did something to deserve it, like trying to get her to bet her clothes or body…at least that would be an improvement over Tsunade-sama's recent attitude…'

So one can imagine her surprise when she found Tsunade sitting alone at the bar with both arms extended as if she had just pushed someone, her eyes tightly clenched shut.

"Tsunade-sama?" Shizune called worriedly. "What's going on? Why did you hit that person?"

Her mentor's eyes suddenly snapped open, a look of dread and horror filling them before Tsunade was suddenly dashing out the hole in the wall with an almost…panicked haste.

Blinking, Shizune began to chase after her, sparing a glance at the bar and wincing as she spotted the small amount of blood and the Konoha hitae-ate lying there. Pausing just long enough to scoop the hitae-ate up, Shizune quickly darted out of the bar after her mentor, though she didn't have to go far.

Tsunade was huddling in the doorway of the tailor's shop, her eyes firmly shut and facing away from the crumpled form of a young teenager lying in a heap at the back of the store. Sensing Shizune's presence, Tsunade softly ordered, "Help him."

Despite her concern for the situation –they really couldn't afford to pay for the damages and unless he did something extremely out of line, Konoha was unlikely to ignore Tsunade's actions towards one of their shinobi- Shizune couldn't help but feel a slight surge of hope as she headed inside to examine the boy's battered body. It had been a long time since Tsunade cared enough to see someone healed, particularly if she was the one who injured them in the first place.

Taking in his injuries, which included a number or broken bones and lacerations, Shizune quickly healed any cut on the boy, before using a Ninjutsu designed for cleaning up blood, and then called Tsunade in. After all, so long as there was no blood in sight, Tsunade would be able to help her deal with the young man's broken bones and other internal injuries and between the two of them, there was little that they couldn't heal.

Working together, it didn't take long to stabilize the boy, who Shizune couldn't help but feel was somewhat familiar. Granted, he still required a great deal of medical attention, but at least he wasn't going to die, and the local medical establishment would be more than capable of dealing with the rest of his injuries. Really though, Shizune couldn't help but frown disapprovingly at her teacher.

More often than not, the people Tsunade beat usually earned it somehow or another and even then, Tsunade always made sure not to cause too much damage. Certainly not enough that would require hospitalization. So that Tsunade would lash out at this boy to this degree…well, he better have done something rather severe to earn this, or Shizune was going to be extremely cross.

Turning to question her mentor, Shizune was caught off-guard when the older woman was already speaking. "Help me get him back to the hotel. Don't jostle him too much; his bones are still incredibly fragile." Blinking, Shizune couldn't keep the disbelief from her face at Tsunade's words. That she'd want to keep the boy from dying, sure. That Tsunade would heal him, arrange for him to be taken to a hospital, Shizune could understand. That she would want to oversee the boy's healing herself was…well, Shizune would have seen it as a marked improvement over the last few years. But that she would want to do so from their hotel room? That was unheard of, not to mention making no sense.

Not sure what else to do –and admittedly curious as to why Tsunade wanted to take him back to their hotel- Shizune helped her teacher stabilize the teenager for transport, and with the aid of a slight Genjutsu, the two women were able to get the young man off the street and back to their hotel without attracting any attention. Once there, she helped settle the blond in a bed, spending a ridiculous amount of time stripping him down to his underwear, mainly due to the sheer amount of weaponry and equipment he was carrying.

Finally, after close to half an hour of effort, Tsunade stepped away from the now bandage wrapped and battered blond, collapsing into a chair and massaging her forehead tiredly. "Getting rusty…" the legendary kunoichi muttered disparagingly to herself.

Shizune's eyebrows shot up at that. She couldn't remember the last time Tsunade had criticized herself or her actions, and combined with her attacking this young shinobi, then so frantically working to heal him, Shizune couldn't hold back her questions any more. "So what happened exactly?" Shizune asked curiously. "Who is this young man?" And why did you beat him to a pulp? Being the unasked question.

"What, you don't recognize the brat?" Tsunade asked with a slight chuckle. "The last time you saw him you couldn't stop cooing over him."

Shizune blinked in confusion, before studying the boy's face more closely. Blond hair, birthmarks on his cheeks, someone she "cooed over" when last she saw him…

"Naruto-chan?!" Shizune blurted as she suddenly placed why the boy was so familiar. "What's he doing in Otafuku Gai? And why would you knock him through a wall?!"

"It was an accident…" Tsunade muttered defensively. "It's not like I meant to do it. It just sort of happened."

"How do you accidentally break someone's ribs and knock them through a wall?" Shizune asked rhetorically. "You've never done that kind of damage before unless you meant to do it." She continued her scolding.

"It was the blood, alright?" Tsunade retorted with a scowl. "I panicked."

Shizune blinked, her mouth snapping shut as she studied her mentor intently. There were certain things that Tsunade rarely did. One was admitting that she was wrong. Another was admitting that she was scared. Unsure how to continue, Shizune instead glanced over Naruto again, marveling at how much he had grown in the last fourteen years. Hard to believe that the last time she'd seen Naruto, he had been able to fit in the crook of one arm with room to spare. Now he had to be almost as tall as herself.

"Is that why we're not taking him to the hospital?" Shizune asked curiously. "Because really, this hotel isn't exactly up to medical standards…"

Tsunade fixed her with a disbelieving look, before shaking her head with a rueful snort. "I forgot that I never told you. Naruto," she explained as she gestured at the unconscious blond. "is Konoha's Jinchuuriki."

Shizune jerked at the revelation, eyes darting worriedly to Naruto's unconscious form and back to her teacher. That certainly explained why they weren't going to take him to the local hospital. An unguarded, helpless Jinchuuriki? There wasn't a Hidden Village or shinobi faction in the world that wouldn't take Naruto if they stumbled across him. That was the kind of opportunity that deep cover intelligence operatives would abandon years if not decades of work to seize.

Add in the risk of what may or may not happen to the Kyuubi if Naruto died.

As Tsunade grudgingly explained what had happened back in that bar, Shizune found herself frowning at the scars that marred Naruto's face, noticing something that made her uneasy almost immediately. "Tsunade-sama…" Shizune began with a worried frown, her teacher answering before she could finish her words.

"I noticed them." Tsunade interrupted with a frown of her own. "They're old scars…and they're placement was deliberate."

The air was heavy with the implications, and Shizune was suddenly glad that Tsunade had insisted on bringing Naruto back with them. He wasn't wearing a Chuunin vest –which didn't really mean much overall- but no Genin –especially a Jinchuuriki Genin- would be allowed to wander around on his own, and no Jounin –especially a Jinchuuriki Jounin- would do something as foolish as getting drunk in a random bar…well, not unless they were on the level of Tsunade, which, Kyuubi or not, was impossible for such a young man. So what was Naruto doing here?

Scooping up Tonton for comfort, Shizune took a seat next to her teacher, the two women settling in to wait for Naruto to wake up.

"Naruto-sama… Naruto-sama, wake up." a familiar voice urged softly. "Naruto-sama, you need to wake up. How many times do I have to tell you, you'll catch a cold sleeping outside like this?"

Naruto blinked though sleep encrusted eyes up at a mock exasperated Haku. "And I've told you, it's dangerous to approach a sleeping man in the middle of nowhere. Especially when you know he's a ninja."

Haku just sat back with a huff, drawing a fond smile from him. "I don't believe you'd ever harm me, Naruto-sama. Besides, this time you didn't-" Haku broke off with an agonized scream as some massive thing rose up behind her and sunk its jaws into her neck and shoulder, savaging her like a dog with a bone as a single limb wrapped around her stomach. The member was neither wholly a paw nor a hand, but somewhere in between, tipped with huge black claws which proceeded to tear savage gashes across Haku's torso.

For a moment, Naruto could only stare in shocked horror, his mind struggling to understand what it was he was seeing. Then Haku let out a second scream and Naruto was on his feet, charging forward and grabbing the whatever-it-was around its throat and jaws, putting all his strength into prying its jaws apart and away from Haku.

Much to his surprise, the creature let him, releasing the wailing girl and allowing Naruto to whip it away from her without resistance. Naruto was surprised, but only for a moment, quickly pulling the beast around and pinning it against a tree with one hand while reaching for his knife with the other.

In that moment, Naruto got a clear look at it, feeling a surge of some primal, ancient fear, which screamed at him to run, run fast and far. The thing was a… fox…in the same way Naruto was a gorilla, or a reptile is a bird. There were some similarities, but you'd never confuse one for the other. It was vaguely humanoid, standing maybe five and a half feet tall, with hunched shoulders. The thing was wider than Naruto was; maybe five or six hundred pounds of muscle that made Naruto wonder just how it was able to conceal most of its body behind Haku, let alone sneak up on them. Its pelt was blood red, as were its slitted eyes, and its muzzle was far too wide to be natural, filled with teeth that looked like they could bite through stone like it was butter. Its limbs were…disproportionate. Not as in too long or too short but just…wrong. Not as wrong as the ears though. They were nearly as long as a rabbit's –if a rabbit could ever get that big- yet the appendages seemed to be a part of the thing's eye sockets. It was actually difficult to tell where the eye sockets ended and the ears began.

Naruto stood frozen, the fox "held" up against the tree by his left hand while his right remained poised to drive his knife through its heart. And yet he couldn't move. Even worse, Naruto was trembling, just a fraction away from shaking like a leaf.

Then the fox thing was gone, and Naruto stared in horror at himself. Where the fox had once been was a mirror image of Naruto, with only one key difference. The doppelganger's eyes were still blood red. Then it grinned an impossibly wide grin –literally, cracks formed at each corner of the clone's mouth, before spreading in a line up across the cheeks accompanied by a series of sounds like snapping bones. Once the cracks reached the ears, they split open, revealing the same teeth as before. And then it spoke in an otherworldly voice, "You should give her a try, Naruto. You might like it."

"Na-Naruto…" Haku moaned through several wet sounding coughs.

Whirling around, Naruto felt his heart twist at the sight before him. Haku was little more than a ragged, quivering doll of torn flesh and blood-soaked clothing, somehow still alive and reaching for him with a shaking hand. Dropping his knife Naruto rushed to her side, tearing the pouch containing his medical supplies off even as he dropped to his knees beside her. But there was so much blood, so much damage that he could actually see, that Naruto shuddered uncontrollably at how much he couldn't see. And try as he might, he couldn't think of what to do.

He stared at Haku in increasing horror as she convulsed before him, coughing up blood as she slowly, painfully lifted her head so her eyes –her tear filled, wild eyes he noticed for the first time- met his own. Then she gently reached up to stroke his cheek, whispering "I'm sorry…" before planting a bloody, passionate kiss on his mouth. By the time Naruto could even think about kissing back or pulling away, it was too late. She slumped in his arms, dull eyes staring blankly at somewhere just above and to the right of his nose.

"See, what'd I tell you? She was a tasty bitch wasn't she?" came that otherworldly voice from mere inches away.

Naruto jerked his head up and found himself staring the fox creature right in the face, before it leapt at him, burying him in mass of flesh and teeth. And as the fox reared back to sink its jaws into Naruto's throat, he found something about terrifying creature to be different from before.

It now stared back at him with blue eyes…

Naruto struggled sluggishly to awaken from his nightmares, pushing through the extreme lethargy he seemed to be suffering from with the desperation of a drowning man. Indeed, even after he finally escaped into the realm of consciousness, Naruto found himself blind and his thoughts hazy. 'Where...am I?' Naruto wondered dully, struggling to remember what had happened even as he absently noticed that his senses seemed oddly dulled, something he knew was important somehow.

He remembered...he remembered Nami and...a bridge...the bridge...it was important somehow, yet his addled thoughts shied from it almost...fearfully.

Trying to focus, Naruto recalled what happened next. He'd run...why he was running, Naruto didn't know but he remembered that...and that his chakra control had been shot to hell for some reason. Even without his control seal, Naruto couldn't remember the last time his control had been so bad. Yet despite that, Naruto had run faster than he'd ever been capable of before. In fact, Naruto thought he might have actually run through a small tree without slowing, though he couldn't be sure.

Nor could he remember just how far or how long he had run, though he knew he must have passed out at some point, as the next thing Naruto could remember was waking up in a crumpled heap on the forest floor. As his mind slowly cleared, Naruto recalled wandering across a road and following it to a city…fuku something or other. He'd been in something of a daze, roving aimlessly through the city without so much as a Henge to avoid notice.

He'd eventually come across an out of the way bar, and recalling Genma and Anko's talk of "drinking away their sorrows" decided that he really didn't want to be able to think right then. He could remember starting to drink, but that was about it.

As the haze of unconsciousness finally faded, Naruto let out a pained groan as he finally registered the pain in his head, not to mention everywhere else. If this was a hangover, then Anko must be a damn masochist, considering how often she went drinking.

On the plus side, now that he was capable of thinking straight he now knew that he wasn't blind. He just hadn't gotten around to actually opening his eyes yet. Snapping his eyes open, Naruto immediately regretted it as a bright light blinded him and sent the throbbing in his head skyrocketing.

He cried out in sheer agony, not just because of the pain in his head, but because he instinctively attempted to roll away and cover his eyes, which caused the pain in the rest of his body to make the pain in his head feel like a simple bump.

Naruto was just able to hold a scream in by biting his lip, though a pitiful sounding whine still escaped. 'Goddamn, how the hell does Anko make this look so easy? If this is what a hangover feels like, I'm never gonna get drunk again…' Naruto thought to himself miserably as the pain finally receded to more tolerable levels. It was only when he cautiously opened his eyes a second time that Naruto realized he wasn't alone.

There was a woman sitting by his bedside –almost directly in front of his eyes now- with an apologetic look of worry on her face. "Good morning, my name is Shizune." She greeted softly, much to Naruto's appreciation.

He returned her greeting with a piteous moan, the nagging sensation that he was forgetting something all but being overwhelmed by the full scale war –complete with explosions and ridiculously large Summons- going on behind his eyes. 'I wish Kurenai were here…I wouldn't even complain about her babying if it made this even a little more bearable…' Naruto wished idly, only barely paying attention to the woman as she continued apologetically. "I'm sorry about the pain Naruto, but you seem to have an unusually high tolerance for Konoha's standard painkiller, and we don't have any oth-"

Konoha. The moment Naruto heard that word, it was as if his mind threw off the lingering haze of sleep and drink and snapped into razor sharp focus as he finally placed that nagging sensation. He was in an unknown room, in an unknown city, with an unknown woman –Shizune- who not only somehow knew his name, but was affiliated with Konoha. His entire body tensed in spite of the pain, and Naruto quickly assessed the situation –bedroom, at least second story, one door, two windows, single woman, approximately Kurenai's age and height, shoulder length black hair, kimono and fishnet shirt so common among ninja, no visible weapons- and picked out the most effective way he knew to kill someone quietly with his bare hands, all in the blink of an eye. Then he was throwing himself at the kimono clad woman with a snarl of "How do you know who I am!?" coming briefly to his lips before being replaced by a cry of pain as he tumbled off the bed and collapsed into a writhing ball of agony.

What little thought Naruto could commit to anything but the pain he was in was certain that he was a dead man. Particularly when Shizune dropped to her knees next to him and rolled him onto his back -sending another wave of pain jarring through him- before extending hands bright with green chakra towards him. Naruto made one last, desperate attempt to escape via Kawarimi. Even with his body screaming in pain and his control seal burnt out, Naruto almost pulled it off.

Then those glowing hands connected with his chest –which he was just noticing was wrapped in bandages- and escape was the last thing on his mind as an odd, soothing sensation rapidly spread out from where her hands were. If Naruto had to compare the feeling to something, it would be the sensation of cold water on a hot day, or a hot shower after a long day's work. It was just…soothing.

As Naruto no longer found himself attempting curl up into a ball and die –though his head was still killing him- he became aware of the woman carefully, yet firmly helping him back into the bed. "You shouldn't move much in your condition, Naruto." She admonished sternly. "Most of your ribs are cracked to some degree or other, and you have several broken bones as well. You need to lie still as much as possible until we can give you more treatments."

Taking that all in with some shock, Naruto couldn't help but wonder aloud, "All of that from a hangover!? What the hell happened last night?"

The woman looked distinctly ashamed as she muttered, "More like who happened last night…"

Tsunade was surprised when she walked in for her turn watching over Naruto, only to find the boy already awake, and apparently speaking with Shizune. "How's he doing?" She asked with perhaps a touch more volume than she should have considering how drunk he'd been the night before.

Despite herself, Tsunade couldn't help but cringe with just a tinge of guilt when Shizune shot her a disapproving glare. Then she promptly sent her apprentice a glare of her own. It didn't seem fair that Shizune would take the brat's side over hers. Granted, Tsunade was the one who put Naruto in his current condition, but he was the one that tried to grab her with a bloody hand. And Tsunade was honest enough with herself to admit that she was being just slightly vindictive to the boy for making her feel so…helpless. Her pride demanded at least a little retribution…setting aside the whole knocking him through a wall thing.

For his part, Naruto was too busy burying his head under his pillow with a pained groan to notice their brief exchange of glares.

"Other than the fact that he's awake rather than in a blunt trauma induced coma," Shizune somehow managed to growl disapprovingly without raising her voice. "his condition hasn't really changed. Well, that and the hangover."

"Oh God…someone kill me…" Naruto groaned miserably as he pulled the pillow from his head. "Wait a minute, blunt trauma?!"

"I said it was an accident…" Tsunade grumbled with a defensive shrug to her apprentice before turning her attention to the bedridden Uzumaki. "Don't tell me you don't remember what happened last night?" she asked with a hint of anger. Bad enough that anyone saw her in such a pitiful state as last night, but if she had to actually explain what happened to him, she'd probably explode. Her pride simply couldn't stand it.

The kid stared at her through squinty eyes for a moment, before drowsily saying, "I…remember you…you were in that bar right? You sat next to me…but that's about all I can remember. What the hell happened?"

"You got shitfaced drunk for starters." Tsunade deadpanned. "Probably your first time drinking too, considering all the coughing and gagging you were doing." She ground her teeth before continuing, only to surprise herself as a boldfaced lie fell from her lips. "And then, in your drunken stupidity, you got grabby with me. Needless to say, I didn't like that, and you went through a few walls as a punishment."

Tsunade was able to keep her face fixed in a relatively annoyed expression as Naruto stared at her in shock –ignoring Shizune's own look of surprise at her deception, which thankfully went unnoticed by the kid- as the teenager gaped like a fish for a few moments. Tsunade was actually somewhat interested in how Naruto would eventually respond to her accusation, though it seemed she'd have to wait to find out as his gaping turned to yawning, followed by drifting off to sleep with startling speed.

Glancing at her apprentice Tsunade wryly asked, "This is your doing I suppose. What did you use to put him to sleep?"

"Just the Tanuki Neiri Jutsu. It's for the best that he sleeps until we find a painkiller that actually works on him." Shizune answered simply before frowning at her. "Why did you lie to Naruto like that?"

Tsunade grimaced at the thought of the oncoming scolding her apprentice was about to give her, before gruffly stating, "You know why."

If anything, Shizune's frown deepened at that. "I know you didn't want to admit to your…condition. But was it really necessary to make Naruto think that he assaulted you?"

"That's not what I said!" Tsunade objected quickly, only for Shizune to shoot back, "You told him he groped you. What you intended doesn't change how that comes across."

Shrugging uncaringly, Tsunade muttered, "It just slipped out. He'll get over it. At worst I'll tell him I was drunk too and hitting him was just reflex, alright?"

"You seem to be accidentally hurting him a lot." her apprentice sighed before rising from her seat with a stretch. "I'm going to see if I can find some painkillers that actually work on him. Do you need anything?"

"I'm fine." She grumbled as she sat down in the seat next to Naruto's bed, knowing that asking for some sake was unlikely to go over well right now.

As Shizune walked away, Tsunade found herself studying the scarred teen lying before her. She was admittedly rather curious as to the degree which his healing seemed to leave him immune to Konoha's standard painkiller. Was his healing even more advanced than she'd originally thought? Or more disturbingly, had he simply been exposed to enough of the stuff to build such immunity?

And those scars…whether received in battle or not, they were far too deliberate. For the first time since she left Konoha, Tsunade actually regretted not keeping in touch with what was happening back home.

The first thing Naruto noticed when he next regained consciousness was that he felt far better than he had the last time. His headache seemed to have gone away completely; the light no longer blinded him, and best of all he no longer wanted to curl up in a ball and die. That was definitely a plus.

A quick glance around the room also revealed that he was alone for the time being, which gave him a chance to take stock now that his mind wasn't cluttered by pain and panic.

He didn't appear to have been moved in his sleep –which didn't change much seeing as how he didn't know where he was in the first place- but that still left him the problem of being in the custody of two women who were connected to Konoha somehow or other. That much was obvious simply because they knew his name, and they not only knew what Konoha's standard painkiller was, they carried some of it with them.

Mindful of the last time he tried to get up, Naruto slowly sat up, immediately noticing that while he didn't feel much pain; his body didn't feel right at all either. He'd dosed himself with enough painkillers in the past to realize the women had apparently found one that worked on him. That could be as much a problem as a benefit, as while not be able to feel the pain was letting him move, his movements and reaction times were going to be shot to hell.

Pulling the blankets away from him, he studied the bandages covering him carefully. The bandages were centered on his torso for the most part, so whatever that blonde woman had done to him, it must have been over quickly enough that he didn't have time to put up much of a fight. On top of that, the bandages –which were wrapped far more carefully and competent than he had ever been capable of- were clean, so if he had bled at all the women must have changed the dressings while he'd been unconscious.

Another glance around the room had him swearing angrily when he spotted neither his clothing nor any of his equipment and weapons. That would make his escape quite a bit harder, especially when he was injured and drugged to an unknown degree.

Cautiously swinging his legs over the side of the bed, Naruto carefully levered himself to his feet. Pain or no pain, Naruto could ill afford making any noise by stumbling or, God help him, falling on his face.

Once on his feet and fairly sure he could walk, Naruto carefully, slowly, made his way to the door, where he lightly braced himself before closing his eyes and Listening.

He could hear the blond woman speaking, presumably to the other one -Shizune she said her name was?- about picking up some things from the market. But hers was the strangest shopping list Naruto had ever heard of. Ingredients that could be made into a soup -probably- followed by a long list of things Naruto had never heard of before, though he recognized a couple of herbs and plants, so that might be what she was asking for.

After a moment, he could just make out the sounds of someone -presumably Shizune- leaving the other room, with the sounds of only a single person's breathing remaining. The fact that he could barely hear her movements settled whatever doubts he might have had as to whether or not at least one of those women was a kunoichi. No civilian could have moved so quietly.

Quietly taking a deep breath to try to keep calm, Naruto silently counted to sixty to give whichever one had left time to get far enough away -assuming they weren't simply in another room- before wrenching the door open and rushing in with all the speed his drugged body was capable of.

Thankfully, the blond woman was the only one present and even better, she was facing away from him. Rushing in, he reached an arm under her right arm and back behind her neck while simultaneously wrapping his other arm around the front of her neck.

It was imperative that brought her down as quickly and quietly as possible, not only because he didn't want her to get out an alarm or cry for help, but also because she had claimed to have knocked him through a wall. No mean feat, even for a ninja.

Then he was suddenly holding nothing but air. Naruto's eyes went wide and he had just enough time to realize that he'd never even touched her, before he felt two fingertips jab him in the back of the neck. Surprisingly, the force of the jab was barely enough to make him stumble, and Naruto leaped forward towards the kitchen counter in search of a weapon of some kind.

Or at least, that's what he intended to do. Instead, his right leg leaped up to the left like some kind of jig while his left foot tried to execute some kind of half-assed pirouette that sent him tumbling to the floor, even as his left hand damn near slapped himself in the face. Confused and more than slightly afraid, Naruto tried to flip back to his feet, only to spasm strangely as seemingly random muscles through his body twitched without rhyme or reason.

"What the hell did you do to me?!" He snarled in barely controlled rage as his panic and anger battled it out. Particularly as he felt an odd tightness in his chest that he was sure meant he had just hurt something or other in his numbed body.

The blonde woman just smirked at him as she pulled a chair up next to his flailing body and took a seat. "It's called the Ranshinshou." She explained smugly.

Naruto glared as he struggled to translate -and he hoped, figure out how to reverse- the jutsu. 'The...body pathway derangement? What the hell kind of Jutsu is that?' Naruto growled lowly as he tried the Genjutsu Kai. Not that it helped any.

"You're wasting your time." Tsunade pointed out as she propped her chin on her hand. "It's not a Genjutsu. It's a Medical Ninjutsu. A rather high level one at that, so you might as well give up on trying to break it."

Naruto swallowed dryly as he struggled to push down the rising terror as her words sank in. "Did...did you...paralyze me?!" He would have screamed in terror if the increasing tightness in his chest didn't leave him struggling to breathe.

The woman didn't look so amused any more as she moved to kneel beside him while her hands blurred through a series of seals and then laid a glowing palm on his chest. "Easy, easy..." She murmured in a calming manner. "Just breathe normally. You're not paralyzed; I just scrambled your nervous system temporarily."

Naruto stared at her uncomprehendingly, though he was grateful for whatever it was she was doing as he found it easier to breathe again.

She must have seen his confusion as she continued her explanation. "The human body is controlled with electrical signals from the brain. By transforming my chakra and giving it the properties of electricity, I can create an electric field that I can project into someone else. As soon as my strike lands, electricity is poured into the enemy's nervous system, severing the signals and deranging their body control. The target's body moves in any way, except how they want it to move." The woman explained in a way that made a surprising amount of sense to him. "It's only temporary." She stressed as she carefully and –shockingly- effortlessly picked him up off the ground and carried him back into the bedroom and laid him down in the bed.

Once she had settled him in to her satisfaction, she sent him another smug smirk -though this one was somehow...softer than before. "You know, you should be grateful. The last time you tried to touch me, I knocked you through a wall."

Naruto scowled -more appalled and embarrassed than anything else- at the reminder that he had apparently tried to grope the woman standing over him. An attempt to subtly try to move proved pointless when rather than move a single finger, his left leg kicked up into the air.

"Please try not to move." The kunoichi sighed in exasperation. "If you keep thrashing like that you're going to end up hurting yourself more."

"What the hell do you want from me?!" Naruto snarled, clinging to some shred of calm and control despite his complete helplessness.

The woman stared at him with a neutral expression before replying with a simple, "What do you mean?"

"Don't give me that shit!" He growled before he could think better of it. "I know you're from Konoha, and since you know who I am and I don't know you, that means the Old Man must have sent you! Though he should really pick his agents better." Naruto sneered condescendingly.

The blond kunoichi...did not react the way he'd expected. She just raised an eyebrow and asked, "Don't you know who I am?"

Naruto blinked in surprise, before responding with a frown, "No, should I?"

His confusion only grew as the kunoichi smirked again, though this time it was in obvious amusement. "No, you shouldn't. After all I...retired, before you even knew the meaning of the word ninja."

"Retired?" Naruto asked with a quirked eyebrow. It wasn't unheard of for a ninja to survive long enough to retire, but...well... "Aren't you a little young to be retired?" He didn't know why, but Naruto could swear he'd just found a way on to the woman's good side. How exactly he didn't have a clue, but he figured it couldn't hurt.

Shaking her head as if amused, the kunoichi made a single seal which...didn't seem to do anything. She must have noticed his confusion because the woman explained, "I just released my chakra inside you. Now the Ranshinshou isn't in effect anymore, so you'll eventually recover full control of your body."

"Oh..." Naruto muttered in utter confusion, not quite trusting this woman but at the same time failing to predict or make any sense of her. "...so...uh, who exactly are you?"

"Tsunade." The older blonde introduced herself in an odd manner, as if expecting him to say or react in some specific way, though Naruto wasn't sure why. After a moment's thought, he just wrote it off as her being used to being compared to her namesake or something similar. After all, Naruto remembered there being three or four girls in his Academy classes with the name Tsunade –it was one of if not the most popular name for girls back in Konoha- and they were often compared negatively to the legendary kunoichi herself. This Tsunade was probably no different.

"Thanks, Tsunade." He muttered slowly, still wary of being so helpless but not really sure what else he could do but stall for time. The last thing he wanted was for Tsunade to do something else to him, and it was going to be hard enough to escape as it was. With any luck, he'd recover the ability to move before they dosed him with any more painkillers and he could slip out unnoticed.

"Don't mention it." Tsunade replied with that same weird look on her face. "Seriously, Shizune was pissed enough when I used you as a battering ram, I'll never hear the end of it if she finds out I used the Ranshinshou on you."

Naruto blinked in surprise, and then felt a surge of annoyance as her meaning sank in. "So, what, you're just looking after me because Shizune is angry at you for hurting me in the first place? And you only undid your technique so I wouldn't tell on you?"

"I wouldn't go that far." Tsunade snorted wryly. "After all, I'm the one who felt just the slightest bit guilty about hitting you. And I'm the one that decided to bring you back to the hotel to recover. Shizune wouldn't have even glanced your way otherwise."

Naruto frowned in confusion. Why the hell would she feel guilty? If what she had told him was true, then he was the one that got drunk and started groping her –something that brought a hint of redness to his face just thinking about. Well, that and a smidgeon of regret that he couldn't remember it. Naruto didn't think he was pervert or anything, but come on, what teenager wouldn't want to remember that?

Forcing down a blush at the thought, Naruto breathed deeply, striving to remain calm and not embarrass himself any further by shrieking in utter terror at his helplessness.

'It shouldn't be too hard.' Naruto thought to himself as he closed his eyes, feigning tiredness. 'Hell, if I can stand in front of the Old Man while surrounded by Anbu, than pretending to be asleep in front of some random woman I met in a bar should be easy.'



Of course, it probably helped that he was currently physically incapable of moving even if he wanted to. Breathing deeply, Naruto almost choked as he heard movement, his eyes snapping open to see...Tsunade. Specifically, Tsunade making herself comfortable...by removing her green haori and revealing a grey, kimono-style blouse with no sleeves, held closed by a broad, dark bluish-grey obi that matches her pants. That wasn't so bad. Her blouse being closed quite low, revealing her sizeable cleavage, was. Particularly with the way she was currently stretching.

...Could he really be blamed for being distracted from his previous fear and helplessness?

Hell, he was only human.


Tanuki Neiri Jutsu=Forced Sleep Technique

Ranshinshou=Body Pathway Derangement

Did I miss any?

AN: Originally there was about six thousand more words to this, but a 17000 word chapter was a little much, so I broke it off here.

My God, Tsunade's character gave me a ridiculous amount of trouble. I'm still not sure how well I pulled it off. Apparently, I'm much better at writing an "overprotective Naruto's mom" Tsunade than anything else. I'm trying to write her as a very proud, very passionate, very determined woman, who's been fighting a losing battle with depression and alcoholism, being on a downward spiral for over a decade. So underneath all that cynicism and abrasiveness, are some vestiges of the woman she once was.

Naruto's issues are still fairly complex. He's still dealing with guilt/anger over Haku, he still has no idea what he is, but now he has some new suspicions that paint the people closest to him in a very negative way. Writing his paranoia while being helpless and at Tsunade's mercy, without leaving him unable to function was just as difficult as writing Tsunade's character, and I seriously doubt I pulled this off. As for why he's still unsure about the Kyuubi, keep in mind not only how chaotic the situation was when he "found out", but that unlike Canon -or most fanfics really- there was no one there to explain anything to Naruto. Hence why he still isn't sure what's going on. That last line was for irony and humor, not as a sign that Naruto has already figured out/come to terms with his "inner demon".

As always, all reviews, suggestions, criticisms, etc are welcome, though I you already reviewed the chapter before this one BEFORE this one was posted, then please remember to use a guest review, otherwise I won't receive it.

Peace, Vaan.