All that standard disclaimer crap still a little band-aid...or duct tape...or maybe even a sticker.

Hi, there, all my faithful readers I had a little brain fart on the last chapter (13), and now that I've had a few days to think about my mistake, I should tell you that I have several original characters and not just that one. Don't know why I said she was my only one, but call it me not using my brain for a few minutes (or days, if you prefer). Oh, and I finally managed to get Microsoft Word back on my laptop, which is great and all, except for the fact that it managed to delete several words in the previous chapter due to a Spell Checker error…on my part, once again. Yup, it was all me, not the program. *sigh* That's what happens when one gets very little sleep lol.

On with the story!

Not fear. Maybe, out there somewhere,
the possibility of fear; the wall
that might tumble down, because it's for sure
that behind it is the sea.
Not fear. Fear has a countenance;
It's external, concrete,
like a rifle, a shot bolt,
a suffering child,
like the darkness that's hidden
in every human mouth.
Not fear. Maybe only the brand
of the offspring of fear.

"Rin, look out!"

A scream tore through the air.

"NO! RIN!"

Blood everywhere, on his hands, his clothes, his face—he thought he even tasted some in his mouth. And it was all hers. He couldn't save her! Wasn't strong enough…too weak, too slow, too stupid!

"I can't do this, I can't do this!"

He stood up, looked down to see a puddle of blood up to his ankles. All of it was hers. He panicked.

"Why did you choose me? Why me? I-I'm not strong! I can't—I-I can't protect them all! Why was I chosen? Huh? WHY ME!"

More bodies, this time of friends and loved ones that were cut to ribbons. All dying and there was nothing he could do. Piles of bodies all around, too many to count, too many to bury, too fresh to BURN!


Silence. Dead silence. Everything, everyone dead and silent. He hated hated hated it! And it was all his fault.

"Come out! Face me! I want to see you, to look into your eyes! I want you to FACE ME! WHO ARE YOU?"

So many broken people. All broken, tiny pieces of glass. He stepped on one. Cut his foot. More blood dripped onto the ground and seemed to go on forever…it never stopped!


Naruto shot up, panting and gasping as his own sweat soaked clean through his shirt, pants, and even the small sleeping bag he laid in between. Why the heck did his nightmares always have to be so horrible? It was hot—too hot, and he desperately kicked at the covers as he scrambled out to sit on them and hopefully cool off. Then, he took a look around.

The teen had no clue where he was, except that the team had apparently taken his unconscious self and high-tailed it the heck away from the "Base from Hell" and ended up in some sort of dense forest at night. He could just see the distant stars as they slowly spun overhead. The tiny light sources calmed his heart enough so that it no longer felt as though it wanted to leap from his chest.

But his mind was still in turmoil and it didn't stop him from remembering what had almost happened on this mission because of him. Because of his carelessness. He knew the future! What had possessed him to be so arrogant as to think nothing could possibly go wrong—heck, that things couldn't change, or not be what he expected?

The entire team could've been killed right there, and then what? What would happen to the future—to his friends, family, and Konoha itself? Without the Yellow Flash, even if they won the war, they'd still have to contend with the Kyuubi attack, and who would seal it then? Jiraiya would be out of the question; perhaps the Third could, but who would take over the mantle of Hokage then? Danzo? Oh, yeah, that'd work really well. Madara would surely have destroyed the village and taken over the world. And the best part? HE COULD HAVE BEEN RESPONSIBLE FOR ENDING HIS OWN EXISTENCE! The prophecy regarding his life came to his mind; he had the ability to either save or destroy the world, and he could very well have sealed its fate with his own stupidity.

What was I thinking? I didn't even check the place out before I decided to blow it to smithereens! What kind of incompetent Jonin am I! Naruto's hands began trembling, unknown to him. Rin could've died, my FATHER could've died, heck, that girl could've died! All because of me! I…I don't know if I can do this, Ayu. I thought that maybe I could make things better, but it looks like I'm only making things worse. It was so close this time! What about next time? Now, I don't know what to do. I'll get no break to think about it, either; as soon as we get back, we'll be going up against Orochimaru—one of the Sannin, for crying out loud! A Kage-level ninja who, in my time, had the ability to raise the dead as mindless drones and actually managed to kill "The Professor," his teacher and the Hokage! What in the world was I thinking…?

He put his head in his still-trembling hands as he sat on top of the sleeping bag. It was no wonder he had trouble sleeping and would much rather be training at night. The nightmares were getting to be a serious pain; he was starting to dread closing his eyes. Tonight, it was about Rin and his foolish screw-up. Tomorrow, it could very well be of Pain once again destroying Konoha, only with him failing to save his beloved home. Most nights, though, he remembered those he had lost. Especially…

"You ok, kid?" Jiraiya interrupted the young teen's inner musings.

Naruto jerked his head up in surprise. For the first time since his rude awakening, he noticed that the Super Pervert was sitting on a tree branch just a few feet away, watching him in a somewhat creepy manner, as though he were a fascinating new species of bug the older man was trying to catalogue.

Seriously, what did he want? There was no real harm in finding out, Naruto supposed. Besides, everyone else seemed to still be asleep, so it probably wouldn't hurt to talk quietly for awhile.

"Of course. Why wouldn't I be?" he answered with a confused expression on his face and a slight defiance in his heart. Just because he'd talk didn't mean he'd cooperate. Inoichi never could seem to get that straight in their little sessions. Naruto chuckled in his head. The Interrogation Head was something else—brilliant and clearly in his element when at his job, but it would do little good against someone like himself. Who do ya think trained me to resist torture, after all? Ino was freakin' genius at giving people the ol' run-around. Yeah, ain't gonna happen, like, ever.

The man's eyes went wide. "Uh, gee, I don't know. Maybe because you woke up all panicky and soaked to the bone in your own sweat? You do realize that this is, like, the tenth nightmare you've had since you got your memories back, don't you?"

Nah, he'd never noticed, he thought to himself with dark humor; there was truly nothing funny about the things that haunted his memories. "Well, it's not like I keep track of 'em, but sure. It's a lot. What's your point?" In reality, the boy was beginning to worry. There was a reason for that; missions seemed to give him a sense of purpose—enough for him to fight against the horrific scenes his mind liked to cook up. But it wasn't working this time, and Naruto had no idea why. Insomniacs needed every minute of sleep they could get, and preferably un-medicated. After all, it was a well-known fact that the human body could only survive for so long without it.

"Mind telling me why?" A white eyebrow lifted in…curiosity? Worry?

He couldn't have that. Curiosity always got him in trouble…especially when it was someone else's, so his reply was more than a little snippy. "Yes, I do, so stop asking."

There was silence for a brief moment—in which Naruto sighed in relief instead of exasperation or irritation for once—before the peace was suddenly broken by the older man's equally snippy response.

"Would it kill you to trust your own teammates, for once—something that you're supposedly such a big advocate of?"

It only took a moment for those words to send a cold, trembling wave of fear through the blonde. It wasn't that he didn't want to talk to someone. It was that he couldn't. He wouldn't have been far off the mark in saying he would never be able to be completely open again—never fully be able to trust those around him for the simple fact that they couldn't know or things might change for the worse. Just the thought made his heart clench painfully, because he'd also never be free of the slight suspicion of those he loved and only wished to protect for the rest of his life…which wasn't likely to be very long.

Please don't let this be happening. Please, please, please! I can't—I can't deal with this right now! But he couldn't stop the bitter laugh that quietly made its way out his mouth. "Kill me? That's the least of my concerns."

Jiraiya sniffed and looked away as his voice took on a somewhat strained tone. "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder—is that what this is? You saw everyone die in front of you and suddenly decided that it was because you had opened up to people?"

"No," he whispered so quietly that air hardly left his lungs. "It's because I might fail, and if that happens..." The Jonin's voice slightly broke at the end as he remembered the days those he cared for had fallen and never risen again. Haku, the first agonizing blow to his heart…Old Man Sarutobi, the only grandfather he'd ever known and the first one to earn his undying respect…Jiraiya, his godfather…Nagato, even though he'd only been a friend for a few moments…Sasuke, the one he'd never been able to truly reach…and…her

Contrary to popular belief, Naruto had discovered the hard way that time did not always heal all wounds; some simply rotted from the inside out.

Or was that Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in and of itself?

Jiraiya had nothing to say to that for one more brief, glorious moment. Just one more slight reprieve before the attack continued. "Why did you become an assassin?"

What the…? Where the crap did that question come from? Still, it ain't one I'm comfortable with him asking. "That's none of your business."

"Humph," the Sage said, clearly not quite willing to back down. "It's pretty obvious that you don't like killing people, and yet you're supposedly one of the greatest killers in the world today? Gimme a break. You weren't born that way; you were made that way, and I want know why." He shifted off his perch on the tree branch to leap down and sit beside the blonde, who wasn't at all happy about this impromptu interrogation.

In fact, Naruto was seething, but he still had the presence of mind to speak quietly and softly so as not to wake the others. "I believe I mentioned this before, but just in case you forgot…stop asking, because it's none of your business," he hissed.

Jiraiya just snorted. "Kid, you don't scare me. Yeah, sure, you could probably crush me into a billion microscopic pieces, but you won't do it."

"Oh? You sure seem confident." The pervert was right, but that didn't mean his time-traveling student didn't want to blow him into atom-sized chunks. He did have a temper, after all.

"You bet I am. If you were going to do something, you would've done it back in Iwa where the people would probably build monuments to you for killing us all off, but you didn't. Instead, so far on this mission, you have managed to get Tsunade to return to the village—Sensei and I thought she'd never come back this time!—started teaching Obito the finer arts of chakra manipulation (both shape and nature, I might add) AND your wonderful Sexy Jutsu…although, he sure is taking a long time to get it…" Jiraiya paused for just a second, eyes squinting in curiosity, before continuing, "you've also gotten Rin to grow a bit of a backbone and Kakashi a bit of a heart…maybe…helped get us through the security back there with that same wonderful jutsu (I've got a few questions I want to ask you about that, by the way), revealed that two of my students in Ame are still living and that there is a traitor back in Konoha, and—"

"—and not one bit of it makes any real difference."


"It just…doesn't matter. I can't pull this off on my own. I-I just can't do it. What was I thinking? Maybe I just should've stayed dead. Now, I don't know what'll happen to them… Madara is still gonna start killing the bloodlines, then he's gonna come after the village-"

It was the Sage's turn to hiss now. "What? What the heck do you mean by 'killing the bloodlines?' You know a lot more details about his plans than you should—than anyone should. What exactly happened to you?"

"Man, Ayu seriously wasn't kidding; I really DO have a mouth," he muttered to himself, quietly enough so that all Jiraiya would have heard would be indistinguishable hums.

"What? What did you say?"

This time, instead of irritable, the boy was saddened. "Trust me, you don't want to know. Where I come from, a lot of terrible things happened. Sure, it turned out mostly ok at the end, but the sacrifice to get there-! I-I don't…" he paused for a moment to swallow before continuing in a somewhat panicked and hysterical voice, "I don't want you and the others to have to go through the same things that we did, and I know that you will if I can't do something! I-I-I have to keep everyone safe! I have to! It's the only chance we've got and I won't let their sacrifices be in vain! I won't—"

He was interrupted by an arm around his shoulders and Naruto stiffened. He'd done it again; he'd gone and opened his mouth once again. Darn it, this staying quiet thing was hard on him! Interrogation he could handle; sheer loneliness, on the other hand… Maybe he should consider Ayu's advice, after all; he really did need someone to talk to, and not having that was driving him up the wall. After hanging around with Jiraiya for those two years, he'd figured out that what he needed—what he'd ALWAYS needed—was a father.

Minato was that genetically, but while he loved his dad and always would, he hardly knew him and was uncomfortable around the infamous and genius Jonin half the time. He had to be ridiculously careful around his old man as it was with his secrets! Adding to that would be idiotic.

No, Minato was out of the question.

But Jiraiya was a different story; he'd practically raised Naruto through the two most hormone-driven teenage years of his life, and the boy/man was tempted, oh so tempted, to tell him. The perv had always been easy to talk to… However, he could already imagine the conversation and its results:

"Hey, Jiraiya! Guess what! I'm from the future! That's how I know all this stuff, like when you're going to die, when Sarutobi finally kicks the bucket, and—hey!—even that thing with your teammate came straight from my mouth! Isn't that exciting? Oh, and Minato's my dad and you're my godfather! Great, huh!"

Then, when he'd finish, the older man would, of course, either: attack him and interrogate him if he'd finally crossed that fine line between trusting the youth and wanting to dissect him for info; call him crazy and get him one of those comfy, white jackets he'd heard so much about in his ADHD-fueled youth; or believe him and go nuts trying to change events he had no business touching because the results would be devastating. (Come to think of it, even Naruto wasn't sure he himself should be messing with certain things, but there wasn't much choice anymore.)

So, it was with a bitter and almost pathetic realization that, no matter how desperately he needed the advice and guidance—heck, even the companionship—he couldn't risk having it. No, the young Jonin would not be telling the older Sannin about the other time line. He was alone, and he hated it.

But still, the Toad Sage's arm around his shoulder was rather comforting.

Shaking ever so slightly, Naruto's soft voice seemed to echo around them in whichever forest they were. "He's so incredibly dangerous. You-you have no idea. Madara…I trained with clones constantly for so long, I've got a thousand or more techniques I could use, and I know all of his plans and a fair number of his techniques—including how to beat them—and you know what?"

Jiriaya's eyes never left the blonde's face as he continued. "Right now, I'm still no match for him."

As he took in his one-time sensei's shocked face, Naruto explained, "He can summon the bijuu, Jiraiya; he can control the Nine-Tails. No matter how strong I am right now, I simply can't face both him and that beast and hope to come out on top. If I could…he'd already be dead," he finished in a dark, dark tone.

"Holy…whoa, kid…you really should've told us this before."

"Why? What would it help? Hmm? We're at least equal in power, so if I don't stand a chance—"

"That's not what I meant, Naruto."

"Then what did you mean?"

But the older man simply turned his head away and refused to meet his eyes, choosing instead to only reply with some advice to go see the Hokage when they returned to Konoha.

"Why? What does the Hokage have to do with this? Does he know something that could help?"

"Just ask him. Trust me on this."

"…alright, if you say so." Although, he seriously doubted the Old Man knew anything he himself was unaware of with the time travel and all.

"You getting sleepy again yet?" Jiraiya suddenly changed the subject.

Naruto sighed. He wished. Tired and sleepy were not the same things.

"I'll take that as a no."

"Good guess." It'd be awhile longer yet.

"Yeah, chakra exhaustion does that to you sometimes."

"Really? I didn't know that."

"…yes...haven't you ever had it before?"

"Um, maybe once. I think." Or was it twice? He'd always recovered so fast that had hardly ever made any kind of impact on him, so it wasn't like he'd bothered to notice or keep count.

Jiraiya just stared at him again before closing his eyes and looking away. "You've got to be kidding me. Some people have all the luck." The older man sighed. "Alright, then, since you're awake, you can answer a few more questions, if you don't mind."

Naruto went through his entire list of expletives in his head as he growled out loud that Jiraiya was a major pain in the neck. He'd have to play with the man like he did with Inoichi in one of his little interrogation sessions—not something he looked forward to doing to his godfather, but the older ninja was leaving him with little choice.

The Sage chuckled. "Yeah, I've been told that once or twice, albeit with slightly different wording. Now," he suddenly became serious, "I'm not going to ask you too much, since Sarutobi-sensei specifically ordered us to treat you with some respect, but I do expect you to answer some basic questions, got it?"

"I'll answer whatever I darn well please, and if I don't feel like it, I expect you to back off," Naruto threw back with a blue-eyed glare that he could tell made a slight shiver take over the member of the Legendary Sannin.

"Fine, runt. Alright, first question: What is your date of birth?"

"October 10."


"Honestly, I'm not sure. Next question." Actually, that answer was only partially honest, but surely what he didn't know wouldn't hurt him, right?

"What the-? How can you not be sure?"

"A lot of things got messed up when I…" Naruto drifted off, not seeing a need to explain further.

"Your memory's still wacked?"

Wacked? Did he actually say that? "No, my memory's just as good as it has always been. It's…because of something else, and I don't intend to you what, so move on."

"Alright, then. Here's something I've wanted to know for quite some time. Who taught you sealing?"

It was all Naruto could do to keep a perfectly straight face. Wouldn't you like to know. "Sensei number…huh. You know, I don't actually remember which number." Hmmm…the Sandaime had taught him a few things—did he count as a sensei? Iruka was his first official one, and Mizuki, even with as horrible as he was had technically been one. That list also includes Kakashi, Jiraiya, Yamato/Tenzou, Asuma, the toads, Killer Bee…yeah, there were a lot. Hmmm…how shall I put this? "One of the perverted ones started me off, and then I just sorta taught myself from there."

"Seriously? Self-taught?"

"Yeah, somewhat. Why? Is something wrong with that?"

With his eyes wide, the self-proclaimed super-pervert simply stuttered that no, there was nothing wrong with it. Naruto got the impression he was being a bit sarcastic. "Geez, kid, with your chakra and sealing abilities, I'd almost think you were related to—" but he broke himself off quickly and refused to elaborate.

Darn it. The old man had just made him curious and then left him hanging. How cruel.

"Well, is that all you wanted to know? Or do you have other questions you want to irritate me with?"

"Just one," he drawled as he gazed intently at his target. "Which demon did you hold?"

The teen couldn't help it; his jaw practically dropped to the ground for a brief moment as a burst of panic set in. How exactly was he supposed to get out of this one?

"Yeah, that's what Minato and I thought." Jiraiya nodded and sighed, not meeting his sort-of protégé in the eyes.


"You take this whole madman-hunting-the-jinchuuriki thing way too personally, and some of the very things you've described, well, let's just say it fits with certain profiles and leave it at that. So we've established you were once a jinchuuriki. Now, I'd like to know for what bijuu."

Naruto gulped. He was caught. Well, halfway, at least. It wasn't such a big deal, the new Jonin supposed; them knowing of his former container status wasn't terribly harmful…as long as they didn't know which one. "Sorry, but that is something I REALLY can't tell you."

Smiling and stretching slightly, the older ninja replied, "Fair enough. I already know for sure that it's not Gobi, but I just needed to confirm that you were no longer one, anyway. Now that that's taken care of, I can go to sleep." Then, he abruptly stood, yawned, walked over to an empty sleeping bag, laid down, and was softly snoring in moments.

"Wait a minute…" the now-alone blonde muttered to himself. "Who's supposed to be on watch, then?"

No one answered.


He took a look at the other sleeping bags in hopes that one person was awake and simply being a pain. Seriously, he'd just woken up from who knew how many days of rest! Surely, his father or one of the Chuunin was up.

Minato's spiky, blonde hair peeked out of a bag two feet away. No movement.

Kakashi's almost glow-in-the-dark grey was just a few feet beyond that, and the kid shifted restlessly in his sleep, but he was definitely out of it.

Rin…she was probably still a little injured or at least sore, so even if it were her turn, he wouldn't ask. His control had just barely been good enough for the medical techniques; she'd probably get a big, ugly scar from it. Poor girl, she'd technically been his first test subject. Yikes.

Obito was sprawled in some random position on top of his sleeping bag, snoring away. He looked like someone had just thrown him there. Yup, the Uchiha was definitely asleep, as well.

The girl and the woman he'd pulled from the base were both lying on a blanket, possibly awake, but they were technically prisoners and not exactly fit to watch camp. Their chakra was probably sealed, besides.

Han was tied to a tree and gagged. Enough said.

A few choice words left the 13-year-old's mouth. There was no one else. Jiraiya was sooo getting pranked.

Then, Minato began chuckling. "I'll watch the camp, Naruto."

"Geez!" he yelped (quietly, of course). "You almost literally scared the crap out of me!"

His father sheepishly rubbed the back of his head as he sat up and gave him a halfhearted "sorry 'bout that."

"Uh-huh. Yeah, sure."

"I was just hoping you and Jiraiya-sensei would talk a little bit more, that's all."

"You were listening in?"

"Well, yeah. I hardly know anything about you. You're so secretive all the time, and it'd be nice to have some idea what's going on in that head of yours."

"Didn't I already tell you enough?"

Minato sniffed. "The things you told us were so vague half the time that we have no idea how honest you're being. I know you're not out to betray us or the village, but that doesn't mean you won't make a huge mistake somewhere along the way. It doesn't mean that you won't accidentally cause harm to Konoha or your teammates. That's why both Sensei and I feel the need to push you to open up a little bit more. Ok?"

The shorter blonde sighed. "Look, as much as I sometimes want to tell you everything, I can't. There's just too much at stake. But I will tell you this…in about two years, maybe a little more, I'll be able to tell you what you want to know…if I'm still alive."

He didn't even have to see his father's eyes to know that they were glowing in anger. "You are not going to self-destruct on me over some misguided notion that you're some savior of the world. I refuse to lose the only family I've got in this world. If that means I have to drug and imprison you to keep you safe—"

"You won't be doing anything of the sort, Dad," he snarled with his own brand of irritation.


Naruto knew his face probably paled, but in the dim light, he doubted his father really noticed. That was good. It meant he still had a chance to salvage this Night from Hell. "That's how you're acting—like a paranoid parent, and it's getting on my nerves. I've been taking care of myself since I was old enough to walk. I've been doing just fine on my own and I don't need your supervision or permission to do what I know I have to."

The Yellow Flash tensed and looked like he was going to say something, but Naruto interrupted before he could. "Look, can we not talk about this now? It's kinda late at night in…only God knows where, we have a captured jinchuuriki chained up to a tree, two possible opponents," he pointed, "in that direction, and no idea whether or not there are any enemies nearby. So, seriously, can we do this later?"

Minato's disgusted sigh was the only sound he got in return, and silence returned to the forest once more.

All in all, it was really surprising that no one had woken up.


The next morning was peaceful, thankfully, and Naruto was finally able to get a good idea on where they were located. The trees…there was only one place in all the Elemental Countries they grew: Grass.

"Hey, we're in Kuso?" he asked over breakfast on his sleeping bag, which was little more than a special Akimichi nutrition bar (Minato absolutely refused the standard and much cheaper variation), that tasted something like apple pie. Yummy. Not quite ramen, but then, nothing is.

Everyone else was packing their bags and blankets up, and all stopped in their tracks and stared at him.

"What?" He pulled his jacket around him as a slight chill went down his spine.

"Kusa, Naruto. Kusa," Rin emphasized with a very cold glare. She really hated cussing.

But Obito was having a hard time reigning in his laughter and had to add his own two cents in. "Are you sure, Rin? I mean, it is often—hahahaha!—hidden in the grass!"

Many pairs of eyes rolled at that one, but Naruto secretly thought that the Chuunin had made a very valid point, even if it was completely wrong and even a little gross. He said nothing out loud, though, and just shook his head as he finished his third nutrition bar and attempted to stand.

"Whoa…" he muttered as the world tilted beneath him. Didn't know they had earthquakes here…

Obito was at his side in a split second to catch him. "Naruto, are you ok?" he asked, worried.

For some odd reason, the blonde was having a hard time speaking clearly. "Yay, yay, 'm 'k."

The Uchiha blinked. "Uh, I kinda doubt that. You sound like you're drunk. Here, let me put you back down."

"No, da'n it…don' feel 'leepy…" the Jonin managed to stumble his way through before mercifully losing consciousness.

Chakra exhaustion, he realized, was quite a pain, and he wondered just how long he'd been out of it if they were already all the way in Kuso, er, Kusa.

Jiraiya couldn't help but chuckle as he watched the pair. "Man, he really wasn't kidding!"

"Wasn't kidding about what?" Minato suddenly popped up right behind his teacher and asked.

"GEEZ!" he jumped. "DON'T DO THAT!"

But the blonde man just laughed. "You should mind your surroundings better, eh?"

The Sage grumbled at having one of his older phrases thrown back in his face. No respect! I swear!

"Now, what'd my nephew do this time?"

Hmm? Oh, right! He'd been asked a question. "Oh. Uh, he just said that he'd only experienced chakra exhaustion once in his entire life. He kinda proved it by falling on his butt, that's for sure."

"Right, right! You two talked about that last night. I remember now."

"…you were listening in the whole time, huh." It was a statement, not a question.

"Well, yeah. I thought you knew."

"I knew you were watching, sure, but I also thought that those seals would keep you from listening," he said as he gestured towards the small pieces of paper carefully surrounding the boy's area. His eyes did a double take.

There was one that had been moved suspiciously closely to where Minato had slept.

Ah. Mystery solved. "Jerk," Jiraiya threw at his student.

"Hey! That's not fair. I was worried about him…"

The elder man sighed. "Yeah, and I can see why. I wasn't sure I believed you at first when you told me what you suspected his former home had done to him, but you convinced me, and seeing the look in his eyes when I asked—! I've seen broken people before, Minato; you and I both have, but…"

"Not like this," Minato finished quietly. "I could happily draw and quarter the man who did that to him, who turned him into a—"

"Hey, Minato-sensei!" Obito suddenly interrupted, much to the secret relief of the Sannin.

"Yo." His student, however, did not appear to feel the same.

"What do we do about the prisoners? I was packing Naruto's stuff up when Jito-san asked. She said something about not wanting to be carried by a pervert this time, whatever that means, and Emi, well, she's sorta just standing around staring at the trees. It's just a lil' bit disturbing."

Jito, the woman researcher whom Naruto had dragged along (rather literally, in fact) had turned out to be quite the interesting character. She wasn't exactly pretty, although she also wasn't horribly disfigured, either. In fact, her appearance was very plain and ordinary—nose maybe just a little too big for her face, lips a tad bit too thin, and a few freckles and pimples here and there—except for her hair, a very light blue, and her eyes, which were a soft, dove grey. They were the only things that stood out about her, except for her legs.

Why all women scientists seemed to have nice legs, he hadn't a clue, but Jito had apparently noticed that he found it rather difficult to stop staring at them. He still had research to conduct, after all. Not that he was attracted to her, of course; he simply wanted to look, not touch. Mostly. Ahem.

But as for someone else carrying her, well, that wasn't likely to happen. Minato already had his hands full with Rin and Naruto (so to speak; the man used Shadow Clones, for the most part) and would probably blush so hard that every enemy within a 100-mile radius would see the beacon and attack.

And that was a lot of enemies. Iwa had not been pleased with their actions.

After Minato had run after Naruto to "rescue" him from the jinchuuriki, Obito had noticed Rin missing, setting off a mild panic. However, before they could organize themselves to go and look for her, a group of enemy ninjas had attacked—five of them, all Jonin level. Even he, the Great Toad Sage, was pushed to his limits with trying to watch his own back as well as the two Chuunin and one strange, blank child.

Emi, the blue-haired woman had informed him, was her name, and what she had done had shocked and frozen him to the core.

Obito and Kakashi had been fighting like crazy against two Jonin all on their own, and not doing too badly, either. The Uchiha had later proudly informed him that he'd activated his Sharingan after seeing an enemy lunging for a caught-off-guard Kakashi and Replacing himself with his teammate. The boy had unflinchingly placed his comrade's life above his own, and the grey-haired preteen had been silent ever since.

Jiraiya had turned his head to see how they were faring only to witness the Replacement in growing horror. Not realizing what he was saying and forgetting Rin wasn't there, he'd turned to the girl who hadn't moved a muscle and screamed, "Help him!"

And just like that, it was as though a dozen flashes of lightning fell from her fingertips and pierced the Iwa ninja's various organs including his brain and heart, killing him instantly. But only half of those little bolts of lightning went towards that Jonin; the other half went straight for the other one still fighting a desperate Kakashi. Jiraiya had to wonder just what the heck those people at the base had done to this child. A "weapon," she'd been called, and that's exactly what she acted like. Emi had followed his commands so perfectly that the man felt almost as if he'd been given a kunai launcher and been told to, "just point and shoot and all your targets will go down." It was frightening to think she barely seemed human.

The Sage himself had finally killed all of his opponents, only to see that the last one had merely been an Earth Clone with the original probably watching and planning to report on everything he'd seen and heard.

Which meant they needed to be leaving the country FAST. It was the very reason they'd been so careful to use disguises the whole way to Iwa. Those brats had spies practically everywhere. Well, not as likely to be in Fire Country, of course, and a good number of them were rather incompetent anyway, but they'd still made sure not to draw too much attention to themselves by even dressing as civilians.

Better safe than sorry, even if it was a wasted effort.

And now that they had been found out (and had Iwa on their tail for the past two days that Naruto had been out of it), there was no point in pretending. Jiraiya was sure that if it hadn't been for Orochimaru's distraction, they would've had the whole freakin' army after them. As it was, thanks to Obito's Sharingan, Minato's Hiraishin, and a few specially placed seals, they'd managed to stay a few steps ahead of them. And all that was with carrying a subdued and now somewhat insane jinchuuriki, one injured Chuunin—although she was mostly healed, some of the muscles would take a few more days to completely mend the holes—and one knocked out Jonin, and an almost glow-in-the-dark scientist that Naruto had brought along just for the heck of it.

Or had he brought her for another purpose? Jiraiya's perverted chuckle made Obito frown.

"Hey, Old Dude! What are ya laughing about?"

Oh. Right. There were children present. He'd continue that line of thought later. "Ahem. Sorry about that," he told the confused Chuunin without bothering to explain what had been going through his head. "Anyway, Jito-san said she didn't want me to carry her anymore, correct?"

Obito nodded.

"Well, I'm afraid that's probably not going to happen. Your sensei's already got his hands full with mini-blonde and your teammate, and since he won't trust them with me, we're not about to switch. You're not tall enough and she'd simply drag the ground, quite frankly, and the same is true with Kakashi. So, that leaves yours truly. If it makes her feel more comfortable, I can have my clone carry her, instead, but that's the best deal she's getting with this."

The boy looked very unhappy and uncomfortable with this news. "Crap. She's gonna get ticked; I just know it…" he muttered to himself as he walked away to give the woman the unfortunate news.

The self-proclaimed skirt-chaser felt absolutely no pity for the kid. Why should he? All great men should know how to handle ladies, and this was a perfect opportunity for him to learn! And if he got injured, they had an excellent medic (NOT Naruto; the kid's chakra control was so lousy that he'd easily used three times more than was necessary) who was recovering quickly, according to her analysis. Heck, if necessary, their young Jonin could wake his butt up and use his seals to take care of the scrapes and bruises.

No harm done.

Ah, geez, who was he kidding? The little runt was going to get creamed and he was looking forward to seeing it. He figured he could use their fight scene as a little extra research; what man didn't like a little love spat that ended with—

"You're not being perverted again, are you, Sensei?"

Jiraiya turned toward his favorite student and just stared. Minato's eyes were practically begging him to deny it, to say that, for once, his mind wasn't filled with dirty and degrading thoughts, but… "Of course I am. What the heck did you expect from me?" Then, he dropped down to his small pack and began searching through a few of his more specialized seals. He might need them, especially in what was still hostile territory.

The man sighed. "Darn it…" he muttered, all hope drained from his voice. "Anyway, while you and Obito were chatting, I went and checked on a few things. Naruto's all packed and ready to go; I'll have a Shadow Clone carry him till he wakes back up and is able to move around again. Rin's actually doing alright and said that she'll only need to be carried for one more day."

"That's good. 'Bout what I expected for the blonde, but I'm surprised the girl's almost good to go like that." Hmm, a blood tag. It's about the only medical seal I can do, since I don't have all the training Naruto does. I should probably look into learning a bit more, though, now that I've seen the value of that knowledge in action. This, at least, will prevent a person from dying of blood loss for twenty-four hours.

"Yeah, so was she. Apparently, Naruto left a ton of extra chakra in her system—not exactly a shock with his lousy control—and it just keeps healing. Rin told me she's never seen anything like it and says it's probably like a bloodline, except that if it really were, it should affect Naruto himself. Weird."

That made the Sage pause in his searching and mental ramblings. He knew about almost every single bloodline in the world, thanks to Orochimaru and his obsession for them as well as his own research, and as far as he knew, nothing like that existed in the world.

Bloodlines were a form of microevolution—small changes within a species that could do a variety of things from making the person darker-skinned (which he wished he'd been born with, as it would have saved him many embarrassing sunburns, darn it!), less susceptible to diseases, slightly faster or stronger than average, or any number of other things. The difference between those minute changes and developing bloodlines was that one was chakra-based.

Every now and then, two parents with different elemental affinities would have children with the ability to use both at the same time. When the child got old enough to have his or her own family, the traits had a 50% chance of being passed on. It was extremely rare, and many people simply believed it to be a myth, instead choosing to think it was a type of horrid deformity or a miracle given to them by some sort of deity.

Well, miracle or not, that's how the elemental types had come about. And if a god was involved, fine. It's not like he or anyone else could tell him, her, it, or them, "No, you can't do that," after all. Even if a certain Mizukage was rumored to be trying his darndest, poor Rin—she still didn't know.

No, elemental bloodlines weren't really much of a mystery.

Dojutsu, such as Obito's Sharingan, however, were another story. The combination of opposing or differing elements made sense, but how the heck was one supposed to explain freaky-looking eyes randomly popping up? The fact that they appeared in ONLY two families in the entire world said enough to let Jiraiya know there was something special about them, something…different.

Besides the fact that most of their wielders were nothing more than arrogant little jerks, that is, Obito being one of the few exceptions.

The entire Uchiha clan was obsessed with their eyes to the point that they even bred their lower-class members in an effort to get faster-activating bloodlines. Those who were considered fast enough were given the dubious award of marrying the higher-class members, a prime example being the current clan head's wife. Her Sharingan having activated at age nine—the youngest of any female in Uchiha history—she had immediately been betrothed to the future leader, Fugaku. To be fair, Mikoto was thrilled with the prospects, but even if she hadn't been, it would have made no difference.

It was always the clan, the clan, the clan.

And Obito had foolishly been kicked from it. Boy, was Fugaku going to be pissed when he learned that the kid he'd kicked out six months ago had just activated his bloodline. It was supposedly because the boy was weak, but Jiraiya had always had his questions regarding that. Uchiha normally developed their Sharingan by the time they reached a certain age, and those who didn't had a very slim chance of ever getting it and had an even slimmer chance of ever passing it on. That could account for the very wrong opinion being that he had no physical strength worth speaking of. It didn't, however, account for the fact that at least a third of all Uchiha were the same way and were simply used as a source of slaves or manual labor. They were the lowest of the low and had no hope of ever climbing out of their stations, not that most of them really cared with how brainwashed they typically were.

But none of them were kicked out. That, in and of itself, was extremely rare, and the Sage seriously doubted it had anything to do with the Chuunin's abilities whatsoever. No, this was something else, something more sinister.

Was it because Obito was different in both mannerisms and thinking that he'd been removed—as something of a risk to established order? The kid wasn't one to be easily manipulated. No, he was the one to do the manipulating himself! Brainwashing him would've been an exercise in frustration at best and a disaster in any foreseeable future.

Exile had the very convenient result of solving all the problems he would've certainly caused the clan leaders.

And now that he had the Sharingan? He'd very likely be targeted for assassination. The clan had, over the years, become corrupt. Oh, they were loyal to the village, certainly, but they were loyal to themselves and their way of life, first and foremost, much like the Hyuuga. Most of them were genuinely good, caring, and hardworking people when taken as individuals. But get them in a group and they'd tear themselves apart. Hyuuga had solved the problem with a seal; Uchiha used brainwashing. Weren't they basically the same?

It made the Hermit glad that the boy's former family wasn't aware of one more little secret that only Minato and the Pervert himself knew. Obito had two bloodlines. Ha! Eat that, you inbred sticks-in-the-mud! In fact, the mischievous youth was where a good deal of his own personal research regarding inherited traits had come from.

Three generations of Uchiha on his father's side had had fire as their main element and earth as their secondary. Coincidentally, the same was true of his mother's side, except hers had had earth as the main. It didn't come as too much of a surprise, actually, since most of the clan had either fire, earth, or lightning, but what did come as a shock was the fact that Obito—out of all the children born in the group's history—had been the one-in-a-million to get Lava.

Like he'd said, it took awhile for those things to stabilize enough to show up. If the current Clan Head found out that he'd not only removed a viable wielder (and therefore passer-on) of the Sharingan but also a first-generation Lava elemental, it was highly likely that the assassination attempts would double. Thankfully, not even Obito knew about his ability just yet, so they were at least somewhat safer. Minato had already made arrangements for the boy to stay with him and his nephew, just in case.

In the meantime, perhaps Jiraiya could get a little more REAL research in and take a look at the Chuunin's eyes. Maybe he could finally figure out what the heck caused the dojutsu and then work on seeing what Naruto had.

According to what he'd seen, there was no way an ability like the Jonin's should exist. The reason? Bloodlines were meant to benefit the user, not a random person nearby. If the kid had a healing ability, then why didn't it heal him? Naruto had gotten injured in practice several times, and never once had it started knitting up the small gashes in his body. What was up with that? As far as the Perv was aware, there was nothing in the world like it.

"That's…not possible," he muttered aloud after taking a few minutes to think over the available facts.

"Yeah, I know," replied Minato, sounding equally confused. "It's like the darn thing's backwards or something, or maybe even messed up. Foreign chakra left in injuries like that isn't supposed to keep healing after the original owner's no longer controlling it. It should just add itself to her own reserves or dissipate altogether, but it doesn't. It's almost like—"

"It either has a mind of its own or follows its master's will, even when he's unconscious," Jiraiya whispered, shocked.

Holy friggin' crap. Well, that might change things. Might even explain a few…

His student jerked his head to meet the older man's eyes. "You think that's what it is?"

The Sage shrugged. "Beats the heck out of me, but if it is, that is one heck of a powerful ability and we should probably get it tested—and fast."

"Yeah, and keep it away from The Mummy, too. Who knows what that walking parasite would try to do to my nephew?"

He nodded. It was a good idea. "We can at least ask him whenever he wakes up."

At that, the blonde chuckled. "Sure, if he doesn't pass out first."

"Hahaha! Yeah, the little brat was stumbling around like a drunk! It was hilarious! Makes me think we should pass him some sake sometime just to see what his reaction will be." He made sure to mutter the last part very, very quietly so that the boy's uncle didn't hear him. It wouldn't do to get killed before he finished his latest masterpiece, after all. Nor before he confessed to his one true love…again. Speaking of which… "Hey, Minato, you ever going to ask Kushina out on a date?"

The man sputtered out some half-formed excuse and denial as Jiraiya closed his pack and told him to shut up and make some clones so they could get moving. He could amuse himself by torturing the young man later. Right now, they were still a day's run from the border and had patrols to avoid.

Hence, why he'd pulled quite a few of his newest creation out—tags that applied his invisibility jutsu to an object or person of his choosing, an idea he'd gotten from their newest little Jonin. They only worked for about six hours each, but it would be enough for now. Besides, their chakra would still be sensed the moment they used it, so all the small strips of paper would really do would be to camouflage them a little better.

Still, it had kept them from being discovered numerous times already. But now would be a good time to get the heck out of there. Minato, having used Naruto's example, had created half a dozen Shadow Clones and, using Sexy Jutsu (the most brilliant invention in the modern age, in Jiraiya's opinion), had transformed them into various woodland animals to spy on the enemy. They were good for another hour, which would make this the perfect time to get a move on.

So, after a few more minutes of creating his own clones and tying their prisoners to them, they were ready to go.

Now, if only there was a hot springs nearby.

It's a narrow, interminable street
with all the windows darkened,
a thread spun out from a sticky hand,
friendly, yes, not a friend.
It's a nightmare
of polite ritual wearing a frightwig.
Not fear. Fear is a door slammed in your face.
I'm speaking here of a labyrinth
of doors already closed, with assumed
reasons for being, or not being,
for categorizing bad luck
or good, bread, or an expression

— tenderness and panic and frigidity - for the children
growing up. And the silence.
And the cities, sparkling, empty.
and the mediocrity, like a hot
lava, spewed out over
the grain, and the voice, and the idea.

She didn't get it. The healing rate was astounding. Rin had fibbed a bit to her sensei after finishing the healing on her own stomach. She'd told him she needed a few days to fully recover, but she had already been fully healed just a couple hours afterwards. It truly should have taken a few days extra; heck, she probably shouldn't have even survived the injury in the first place.

Large holes through intestines, the stomach, and several other vital organs were considered very serious. He had practically no experience in using medical jutsu without seals, chakra control just barely good enough for clumsy healing, and what Kakashi had eloquently referred to as a "pea-sized brain." Rin didn't know about the brain part—after all, she was pretty sure that the size of one's brain had absolutely nothing to do with intelligence—but she did know that with the severity of the injury, there was no way an amateur with zero field experience should have been able to fix it up that well.

No freakin' way. She was a medic, one of the best of her rank, so she ought to know.

During the healing, Rin had woken up on the ground with a wonderful feeling of warmth and safety enveloping her; somehow, she just knew she'd be ok, and she'd looked up to see an exhausted, sweaty Naruto leaning over her stomach with brightly glowing hands.

It was the most beautiful thing she'd ever seen; she was so relieved to simply be alive. Rising up off the ground just as he was collapsing, she'd run her own healing chakra through her system and gasped in amazement at what she'd sensed.

The Jonin's chakra was healing her on its own—while the originator was out cold, no less—and it was also the source of that reassuring warmth she felt.

"What's wrong?" a panicked Minato had asked as soon as he'd heard her gasp.

"Uh, nothing, Minato-sensei. It's just that I didn't expect Naruto to be able to handle this kind of injury; he used up a lot more chakra than he needed to."

He'd asked her no questions after that and had merely let her finish the healing process. What Rin mostly did, however, was observe how Naruto's chakra acted by sensing it out with her own.

A scrape she'd gotten on her knee the day before disappeared right before her eyes (which no one else noticed); the slight scar she'd gotten under her chin when she was five after insisting she was old enough to ride the big horse was gone; and it felt as though even her slight case of acne was clearing up.

What the heck was this?

How could his chakra be healing her without him controlling it, much less healing wounds years old that even the best of healing jutsu couldn't touch, things that technically weren't even injuries at all, and scratches that weren't anywhere near her stomach?

Two words: Im. Possible.

Bloodline? Couldn't be. Bloodlines didn't act like that. Strange, one-time-only aberration? That made the most sense.

But hadn't he mentioned something about a certain ability of his that Naruto had had before randomly appearing in the buff? (Emphasis on "buff," a small part of her muttered deep in the recesses of her mind; she didn't have a crush on him, but she could definitely appreciate a nice-looking body.) And didn't it have to do with healing? GAHH! She didn't know! How was she supposed to remember a conversation that had happened…how many weeks ago, again? Well, either way, she suspected it to be some sort of clue as to what the heck that ability was.

Either way, she'd taken two days just to think and study the phenomena. That had been rather easy, as the stuff had stayed active until the blonde Jonin had woken up after the two days. She'd noticed it this morning—it had finally dissipated completely sometime last night, she'd realized while Naruto sitting on his sleeping bag and scarfing down "the world's most delicious nutrition bars," as he'd called them.

They tasted ok. Far, far better than the usual fare, she would give him that, but Rin just hadn't been all that hungry lately.

It was the same sick-to-her-stomach feeling she'd gotten when eating too much candy before dinner. "Guilt will do that to you," her mother had always said when the girl had complained of an upset stomach, "and so will too much sugar."

Good thinkin', Rin. Run right out into the middle of a fight between a jinchuuriki of unknown strength and two S-Class Jonin. Yeah, nothing bad'll happen with THAT one, right? After all, I have to prove myself to Kakashi-kun, right? Pfft. What an idiot I was, and now I'm on this fancy new diet plan called, "Guilt-Trip: The Ultimate in Fat-Burning Solutions." Wonderful.

But seriously, how the heck was she supposed to have known that a jinchuuriki was even there in the first place? Minato had calmly explained the situation to her only afterwards, saying that if she ever did something like that again, he'd seal her chakra away till she learned a little discipline.


Not that she blamed him; she had almost gotten himself and his nephew killed. Oh, and that strange woman and herself. Rin supposed she'd be a little pissed, too; hence, the guilt.

It looked like there were several things she'd have to do as soon as the shorter blonde Jonin woke up.

She'd have to apologize.

She needed to find out what he'd done with his chakra to heal her like that.

If it wasn't a bloodline, per se, and was more like a special technique, it could increase their shinobi survival rate exponentially. If it did turn out to be an inherited ability, well, at least his kids would probably make excellent medics and save many lives. And if it were nothing more than a one-time thing, she'd work with Tsunade and find some way to make it a jutsu; after all, if it had happened once, it could be made to happen again.

Until then, she had all the time in the world to think as Minato's clone carried her through the thick grass or leapt from tree branch to tree branch in fluid, silent motions. It was almost enough to lull her to sleep and had already done so the two days previous.

Of course, Naruto's warm jacket helped. She'd sort of…stolen it that morning after he'd collapsed again. And Rin had also "borrowed" it the other two days, since riding on someone else's back could get rather cold. Besides, she'd been eyeing the thing ever since she'd first seen it with its giant phoenix on the back. Eventually, it'd have to permanently given back, but for now, it was all hers.

So, settling her head on her sensei's strong, broad shoulders, she yawned and prepared to sleep the trip away just as Naruto himself was doing. It was…nice…to relax…


Jiraiya cursed. Not too loudly, since they were making an effort to be silent as well as swift, but she heard it just the same and woke straight up. The man quickly jumped over to Minato (the real one) and whispered something into the man's ear. Rin enhanced her hearing just as she'd done the other day, only to hear, "We've got company coming to our left." The Jonin nodded, indicating that he'd already noticed.

Her eyes scanned the trees around them as her sensei stopped on a branch and hopped down gently and without making a sound; the clone stayed in the tree, and she looked to see Naruto every bit as awake as she was. It made her happy, not because he'd be any help in his exhausted condition, but because it was simply nice knowing that her mistakes hadn't hurt him too much. He was recovering just fine.

Even so, he pushed himself off of his uncle's back and sat down on the branch as steadily as he could with the man's help. "Go and help. I'll just hang out here."

Rin nodded her head in understanding. "Yeah, you, too, Clone-sensei. I'll stay here with Naruto and make sure he's ok."

"Alright," the copy replied, "but I'm going to put you both on the ground so that you can keep an eye on the prisoners."

"Works for me," a sleepy-sounding Naruto let it know just before it dispersed.

He was still chakra-exhausted, obviously, and if it came down to them as the last line of defense, he'd be zero help. No doubt the Jonin and his adult counterparts knew it, too.

And then there were Obito and Kakashi. They were both situated just a few yards from their position beneath the tree, clearly meant as a way to make sure no stray weapons or techniques got through. It was a wise choice; despite the rivalry and downright cruelty the two occasionally displayed towards each other, they'd always made the perfect team.

Except for now, as they were refusing to meet each other's eyes. It'd been like that ever since she'd woken up after getting her wound healed. Out of curiosity, Rin had asked her sensei why, and he'd explained to her what Jiraiya had told him. Apparently, the two were having a little spat.

They were acting like kindergarteners who'd both reached for the same crayon and gotten in a fistfight over it.

Or was there more to it than that? Had Obito's selfless actions somehow gotten through his teammate's cold exterior? Rin had never fooled herself about the young Hatake; she knew perfectly well that someone like him wouldn't make a good friend, let alone boyfriend, with his attitude and flaws. But she also knew that love wasn't right unless it was without strings attached.

"Love makes up for practically anything" was her favorite quote, after all. It was the reason why she had been able to mostly recover after what had happened with her father. Secretly, they were also the words she lived by. She could forgive Obito's ridiculous habits, his frustrating manner, and even irritating pranks because she cared for him like she would a brother.

Kakashi, for whom she cared far more than just as a friend, didn't have to be perfect or even agreeable for her to love him. Not that anything would ever come of her feelings, either. Oh, she might tell him some day—if he didn't already know—but she'd never let it progress further than that unless he shaped up. Still, she accepted him just as he was—whole, warts and all. (1)

And now it looked like Obito might have finally had some sort of impact on the silver-haired (he insisted it wasn't grey) boy and opened him up a bit. Rin found it both highly amusing and somewhat annoying that another male had accomplished in one day what dozens of fellow kunoichi (herself included) and citizen girls had tried doing for years.

Darn it.

So focused on her thoughts, the medic missed the moment when several kunai and shuriken came flying at her from the bushes to her left. Naruto, however, did not, and sprang to his feet to snatch them from the air (and two inches from her body) before flinging them back exactly ten degrees to the right of they'd originated from. A sharp yelp and cursing informed the two Leaf ninjas of the Jonin's success.

But he was still chakra-exhausted, so he promptly fell back down and glanced at her. "You almost kicked the bucket again, Rin," he said, panting. "Seriously, is this a normal occurrence? Because if it is, you really need to step up in your dodging and awareness."

Ouch. That hurt. But it was also true. Spacing out—while bad in and of itself—was no excuse for missing the presence of enemies and the hurling of pointy objects at her head.

"Sorry about that, Naruto," she muttered. "My head was elsewhere."

"Yeah…" he drew out with a strange expression on his face.

"Are you all ok over there?" Obito called to them, having intercepted his own attacks at the moment Naruto had been catching theirs. Kakashi was no better off.

"Yeah, we're good for now," the blonde let the Chuunin know, "but I'm not sure I have the strength to do that again."

"Duly noted," he replied.

That made Rin blink. Since when did the Black Sheep of the Uchiha use phrases like "duly noted"? Wouldn't "gotcha" have been more his style? Interesting…

Other thrown weapons were sent towards the adults, Jiraiya and Minato valiantly repelling them with their own weapons as they also faced off against several incoming jutsu. The clones came in especially handy there.

But she had to wonder what exactly her sensei and his sensei were waiting for. Surely they wouldn't simply stand around deflecting attacks while their enemies tossed them, right? It'd only wear them down, and ninjas couldn't afford long battles like this, anyway.

Spikes of earth rolled towards Jiraiya, who merely hit the ground with his right hand to form a mini-earthquake that collapsed and canceled out the technique, while one of his clones caught the three kunai heading towards its creator's leg. A move like that was not exactly light on chakra.

Minato simply stood there while his own Shadow Clone kept him from all harm as he concentrated on…something. Rin couldn't really tell what, but the amount of energy he was putting out wasn't exactly making her feel comfortable or confident.

And Obito and Kakashi were, as usual, doing a great job keeping them and the captives safe; no more attacks of any sort had gotten through, although that was doubtless partially due to her chakra-increased hearing. If an enemy so much as breathed within ten yards of them, she simply flicked her eyes towards the silver-haired Jonin and then towards the opponent to let him know where to aim. Obito simply used his Sharingan to check for chakra signatures.

Just then, what appeared to be a thousand brilliant flashes of light erupted all around them in the forest. Rin was shocked; when the heck had her sensei pulled that one off? Wasn't he still standing in the same sp—

She looked. No, he wasn't.

Then, the flashes stopped and he was abruptly back exactly where he'd been standing before, except covered in pecks of blood. That meant that the enemies had been standing in groups; normally, the famous man would travel so quickly that even blood spatter couldn't touch him unless he stopped somewhere very close by to kill another one. At least, that's what she thought happened; it was hard to tell without actually being able to see, much less hear, the Jonin when he moved.

And then the medic noticed that every single attack had ceased.

They were dead. All their enemies were dead.

Minato never left any of them alive, and it both relieved Rin and tore her up inside. Those men and women…they'd once had families, friends, perhaps even children. Heck, some of them probably were still children (like themselves), and now they were gone. Forever. Despite being on opposite sides of the war, she understood that the concept of suffering coming from loss did not merely apply to the Leaf.

Looking at Naruto, she could see that he, too, understood it. Like both herself and Minato, the thirteen-year-old could sympathize but never side with the enemy. If given a choice, they'd all prefer to spare them.

But such things were not possible in war—a war that Iwa had been at least halfway responsible for, and a war that they had continually refused to back down from. She'd briefly remembered hearing Obito proclaim that "no one attacks my home and gets away with it," and she agreed. Iwa was the aggressor here, so what else could they do to keep their homes safe?

And just like that, the fight was over and the bodies collected in sealing scrolls. Rin looked over at Naruto once more. He seemed close to falling back asleep, not at all uncommon with his condition, but it made her snicker quietly to see his head nodding and a small line of drool coming from his lips. And Minato-sensei gets to carry him aaaalll the way back home, she grinned to herself. It really shouldn't take much longer, she knew, since they were through trying to move in secret and were making excellent time.

A few more hours at most, then they'd reach the borders of Kusa, and after that…Fire Country and the Leaf Village. Soon, hopefully very soon, they'd be home free.

Darn it. Anytime now, and they'd be back in the village. Jiraiya was NOT looking forward to this. For one thing, he'd have to hand in a very interesting report, one woman, a young girl, and a still unconscious jinchuuriki over to his boss and former teacher, the Hokage himself. Needless to say, he was expecting the reception to be somewhat…tense. There were unspoken rules about villages capturing each other's bijuu in any form—even if they were enemies—for a reason.

The things were notoriously hard to handle, and finding a good container for them was also not the simplest thing in the world. According to rumors, only a few bloodlines were even capable of fully containing and controlling the monsters, and even that wasn't easy. Jiraiya himself didn't fully believe that about the bloodlines, but he could see how it would take a person of massive will power to subdue the demons and keep their influence away from his or her mind.

Although he personally believed it had far more to do with the seal and person's strength of mind, the theory might help explain why someone would contain a thing like that in Naruto. If he truly did have an inherited trait and it truly did respond to his will like they were supposing, then the boy would probably have been seen as the perfect choice.

To think that a strong-willed person with chakra to back him up would be chosen as a jinchuuriki—against his parents' wishes, apparently—wasn't much of a shock.

But he sure didn't get that bloodline from his uncle's family. Although no one knew exactly who his parents had been, the one thing for sure was that he was a Namikaze, but they had no special abilities, unless one counted their rather…infamous reputation, which actually had nothing to do with Minato's Hiraishin, for once.

No, no. The Namikaze had been infamous for centuries. And NOT in a good way; sure, they were pretty powerful, but that had nothing on their reputation. His student's father was the first in his entire clan to actually choose something less than completely disreputable for an occupation. Known as charmers (brilliant political manipulators, in other words) and keepers of their word, they were also considered one of the most likely to…bend…just about every rule known to man.

A Namikaze was a little short on cash one week? His neighbor would suddenly be missing several valuable items, which would mysteriously end up in a pawn shop of some sort. One didn't have enough chicken to finish making lunch? Rather than travel all the way to the butcher's or the grocer's, it was far more likely to find a few feathered pets missing from the nearby farm. A cheating spouse? That was synonymous with "one dead lover." The severed head was typically laid at the cheater's feet with a solemn vow that his or her next "friend" would end up worse.

Needless to say, it was extremely rare to find a case of a cheating Namikaze…and even rarer to find one who cheated twice. But it was even rarer for one to swear fealty to anyone other than the clan. They simply didn't like following anyone else's rules. And Minato's father had been the rarest of them all: a ladies' man as well as a very loyal and powerful ninja serving under the Hokage.

The Sage knew perfectly well how that had come about. As a powerful twenty-year-old, his family of semi-nomads had been in the village, where he'd spotted a beautiful girl several years younger than himself in the marketplace. He was immediately hooked and began following her around everywhere she went. Eventually, he caught the attention of the girl's father—who was not at all impressed, of course, and who just happened to be Tobirama Senju, Hokage number two. From the reports the girl herself and his own sensei had given, there had been some sort of scuffle between Kaito and the overprotective father, ending with a choice between an oath of fealty to the village or the young Namikaze parting with some very…important anatomy. Just like that, the young genius' ties to his clan were permanently transferred over to the Hokage as he essentially died to his own family.

No one who left the clan's ways was ever allowed to go back.

From that day forward, Tobirama had gained the village an invaluable ally, not to mention what many considered to be an irredeemable pervert who'd gotten Hiruzen Sarutobi started on peeping on women. The two had been best friends practically since the moment they'd met, and just to seal the deal between Kaito and the village, the kid had actually ended up marrying the daimyo's daughter.

The little devil had actually managed to land himself a princess fifteen years after stalking the Second Hokage's only offspring. Charmers, indeed.

And he'd fathered a child sometime beforehand. Who knew when? Or with whom? Only Naruto could say who his parents were, and Jiraiya highly doubted such a thing would ever happen. He'd been pretty secretive so far.

But whether or not he answered that question, the one about his former status as a jinchuuriki was solved. And that was bound to cause plenty of problems with the Sandaime; technically, it meant he was bringing two containers back to Konoha, or, as some would see it, a demon with a current host and a loyal ninja who could easily "take" the job off of Han's hands and make the Gobi their weapon instead of Iwa's.

At least, that's how Danzo would see it, the creep. All the more reason to get rid of him, Jiraiya supposed.

And all the more reason to dread returning home. Danzo would be a dangerous, deadly opponent even for himself. He'd been in the running for Sandaime for a reason, after all. Could Naruto take him like he was planning? Or would his precious student lose his only living relative?

"That would kill him," he muttered to himself as he continued dodging twigs and leaping from one branch to another. They were already far past the border.

Jiraiya looked around for a moment, spying the Chuunin running side by side with Rin in the middle and the two boys still stubbornly ignoring each other.

Naruto himself was still attached to his uncle's back. He was recovered enough to stand and even run for awhile if he wanted, but only if he didn't use chakra. Jiraiya wondered if it had something to do with his bloodline—if that thing actually was one. And the commotion THAT would cause in the village along with all the other little surprises regarding the Jonin? He could think of less painful headaches, such as getting crushed by an avalanche. Three times.

But that wasn't the worst of it. Oh, no, that wasn't the worst by far.

That title belonged to Orochimaru, his former teammate, rival, and best friend. After his talk with the young Namikaze, he'd found it impossible to avoid the subject of his betrayal. And the more he thought about it, the more he realized he had missed. Whatever the man had been to his comrades in the past, he wasn't any longer. The boy, the genius that was his friend, was dead forever. And now, with such a powerful enemy needing to be taken down, he'd be expected to play a part in it.

He was going to have to watch his teammate die and maybe even kill him himself.

Why would he want to go back for that—to see blood spilled and a life he'd seen grow up ended? It both terrified and horrified the Sannin to know that it was absolutely necessary. Someone that powerful and influential could not be allowed to remain a threat

He glanced over at Naruto, who was once again riding on his uncle's back (or was it a clone's back?) and realized that the boy was looking at him with a mixture of sadness, regret, and fear all of his own. The kid wasn't looking forward to this, either, although it might have been for different reasons. Having been a jinchuuriki, there was a very good chance that he'd been used before—probably his entire life. Would it happen again? Would he be forced to carry another demon "for the good of the village"? Better yet, if that did happen, would he simply kill himself a second time to get out of it again?

And if that happened, Jiraiya could only imagine how his uncle would react. Minato would probably tear the village down piece by piece.

And he'd probably join him. There was something about the kid, something that drew people to him, whether in anger or in love, and to see a person like that destroyed would be the worst kind of sin, the Sage felt. And right now, the boy seemed like he was absolutely dreading returning to Konoha; the happy-go-lucky, smiling face was marred by a frown and troubled eyes.

He had a feeling it reflected his own.

A thousand trees had passed him by and still that little fact was on his mind: their return home meant his best friend's execution. Jito's hostile glare as his clone grabbed a little too high on her legs (according to her) didn't even phase him. Seeing Obito and Kakashi studiously ignore each other didn't make him bat an eye. Watching as Rin drooled all over her sensei's back (or was it his clones?) wasn't even bringing a smile to his face.

By the time they had finally stopped for the night, he had gone completely numb. Reality was hitting home in the worst of ways.

The sun was setting, its rays glowing over the small clearing they were resting in, and all he did was stand in the same spot for ten minutes while everyone else was busy setting up camp. Jiraiya took no notice when Jito viciously kicked and dispelled the clone that had carried her, and the little child that climbed down his back, he also ignored.

He sat down and simply stared as Obito started a tiny campfire. When it was built, he just stared into the flames and watched as they danced their complex rhythm, beating it out on the logs beneath in sharp-sounding pops and crackles. It was a dance almost as old as time itself, soon reaching its climax with a glorious wave of heat and glittering ash that littered the air and died in the surrounding grass. And then, the fire also died. It became little more than glowing embers as the vicious dancers settled back down to sleep below the blistering remains of the logs. But even those soon went out, and all became dark.

Those around him had fallen asleep hours ago, but he couldn't sleep. Couldn't even make himself move.

Still, he couldn't move. His best friend was going to die.

The fire was dead and he was cold and numb.

He could remember their first meeting…

"Team Seven!" the instructor called out, "Orochimaru, Jiraiya, and Tsunade Senju!"

An exasperated sigh escaped his mouth. Great. He was stuck with a flat-chested hag and a stuck-up, bast—

"Aw, man! Not the pervert and the creep! Can't I be assigned somewhere else? ANYWHERE else?"

"Humph," Orochimaru muttered, probably in agreement. A few girls near him giggled.

Their sensei's sigh almost perfectly mirrored Jiraiya's. "Tsunade, all teams are carefully chosen to be balanced; this is the ideal placement for you."

"I. Don't. Care. I don't like them," she glared right back.

Shaking his head, Jiraiya wondered what deity he'd pissed off enough to warrant this. Someone had to be getting a kick out of his misery, after all.

The instructor's patience wore thin. She was holding up the rest of the team assignments with her attitude, so the white-haired boy could understand why he suddenly snapped, "Then I guess you'll just have to grow up and get over yourself, won't you."

And after that, they'd finally met their new Team Seven sensei.

A man with black hair, a goatee, and a dark grey outfit on walked into the room. Everything immediately stopped, and every person present bowed.

The Sandaime had just come into the room. What in the world was he doing there?

Jiraiya gulped from his seat. Surely, they hadn't found out about his Transparent Escape Jutsu? He could be in some real trouble if they had…

"Team Seven, come with me," he announced in a quiet yet clear tone that left no doubt in the boy's mind. He knew.

Dreading what was to come, he followed the Hokage out to a training field, making sure to stay right behind the so-called prodigy and the temperamental hag just in case any flying projectiles came his way. Jiraiya wasn't a coward, but he also wasn't stupid; the Sandaime wouldn't kill innocents, which they were and he most certainly wasn't.

The tall man sat in the grass and motioned to the others to do the same. The boy figured if he sat in the middle and just slightly behind the other two, he could get behind them at a moment's notice.

"Alright, let's get started. Introduce yourselves; tell me your name, likes, dislikes, dreams, and any hobbies."

Eh? What kind of punishment was this supposed to be, again?

"Um," he stuttered a little uncertainly, "why don't you go first, Mister, and show us how it's done?"

The Kage blinked. "Ok, well, I'm Hiruzen Sarutobi, your new sensei. I like the village, my family, learning new techniques, and my favorite food is hijiki. I dislike those who would harm the village and my family, and I find Narazuke unutterably disgusting. My dream is to train you to be excellent ninja and watch my children grow up. My hobbies…well, I'll just keep those to myself for now. Your turn, Tsunade-chan."

Jiraiya blinked. Did he just say he was their new instructor? So, did that mean he wasn't in trouble? He hadn't been caught! A slight smirk lifted the corner of his mouth as both a sense of relief and superiority filled him. The Transparent Escape Jutsu was safe!...and so was his neck.

"I'm Tsunade Senju, granddaughter of the Shodaime—"

Both he and Orochimaru rolled their eyes. She'd always been a little arrogant.

"—I like my family, beating up perverts—"

Well. Wasn't that just a bit obvious.

"—and learning medical techniques. I dislike the same perverts I beat up, liver, men who don't think women can be good shinobi…"

Jiraiya drowned out the rest of the very long list until she got to her dreams.

"…and my dream is to be the strongest kunoichi and best medic the world has ever seen."

Huh. An ambitious little brat.

"Very good. And you, Orochimaru?"

"…I'm Orochimaru. I like…training and learning new techniques. I dislike…weakness. I don't really have a dream right now, but I'd like to try learning every jutsu in the world some day."

"Wow," Jiraiya drawled. "Aren't you one-dimensional."

The other boy snapped his head around to glare at the comment, golden eyes flashing in irritation. He opened his mouth to respond, but before he could, the white-haired pervert began speaking again.

"…but at least your chest is supposed to be flat."

Dead silence greeted his words, but he noticed that his rival's lips quirked upwards ever so slightly as he tried to hold back his laughter. It was the last scene he remembered before Tsunade's fist connected with his head.

He'd woken up in the hospital a few hours later with Orochimaru sitting by his bed. "You know, you might not want to antagonize her so much. After all, you need all the brain cells you can get."

Jiraiya smiled, liking the challenge. He could get used to this guy! He'd have to beat him up later to show his appreciation.

Now, all of that was gone, only to be preserved in a few, bittersweet memories. "Orochimaru…" he whispered so quietly that the sound didn't even reach his own ears, "…what have you done?"

Morning came too soon for the exhausted Sannin. He knew that if they made good time today, they could easily be back in the village well before nightfall. Was it wrong of him to wish that they'd had one more fight—just one—to delay them a bit longer?

The early morning fog seemed like it would freeze his clothes to his own bones, his typical Jonin attire unable to hold back the moisture. But he still couldn't even move to shiver. All he could do was blink at the long-deceased fire as deep purples and oranges began to streak the sky, mocking him in its beauty and peacefulness. Making his heart ache.

"It hurts, doesn't it?" a young voice quietly asked him.


When had he woken up?

The boy stripped himself of his sleeping back and half stumbled over to the Sage.

"What do you mean?" he was amazingly able to respond back.

"Your best friend—knowing that you might have to…" the blonde's voice, filled with understanding and regret trailed off.

A lump formed in Jiraiya's throat as he found himself unable to respond without it tearing him limb from limb.

"I was once forced to do it, too."

What? What was he talking about?

"My friend, the one who stabbed a lightning jutsu through my chest. I had to kill him."

Ah. Yes, Jiraiya remembered the kid mentioning that.

"For a long time, I was alone. No family, no friends, no one who cared except the Old Man and the two people at the Ramen shop. Then, I found out there was someone else like me, someone else who was alone, and it…helped somehow, knowing that he understood. He also had no family and no friends—just people who cared about his status and his name and were constantly trying to suck up to him. Huh, now that I think back on it, I realize that he had it worse than I did in many ways."

Worse? Worse than a jinchuuriki? Jiraiya doubted it.

"The people scorned me, but at least they mostly did it honestly to my face. But him? The people acted like they loved him, when most of the time, they simply pitied him or loved what his family had been. But Sasuke himself, they didn't even know and didn't care to know the slightest thing about him."

…massacre…what was this kid talking about? He turned his head slightly to look at the blue-eyed wonder to see a sad smile as he looked at the ground and drew circles in the dirt with his fingers.

"Me, they openly showed their hatred towards. They didn't hide their emotions behind pretty words, for the most part. But at least I knew whom I could trust; he didn't. What sort of guarantee was he supposed to have when he could never be sure of the people's intentions? Most of them just wanted his money and influence or thought he had a pretty face. The fan-girls were the worst of the bunch—shallow little twits who did nothing but hang all over him like he was some sort of possession. They didn't care that he was hurting and angry. He'd lost his whole family in a single night and thought of nothing but revenge. It was a feeling I never did understand until my sensei was killed…till my village was destroyed."

The smile had long since disappeared, only leaving the sorrow behind. Naruto shook his head, perhaps in an attempt to rid himself of the images plaguing his mind, before speaking again.

"But he betrayed us—left the village to join up with an S-ranked missing ninja all in the pursuit of power. Several of my friends were nearly killed trying to bring him back, and he left me lying at the edge of a river half-dead. When I finally managed to catch up with him some time later, he'd become so unbelievably cold. And powerful. We didn't stand a chance and were easily beaten, but we still didn't quit trying to bring him back home."

He paused for a moment, and the Sage realized Naruto was finding it very difficult to tell him these things. It was such a deep and integral part of his being that revealing it left him vulnerable and exposed. Naruto was willingly giving Jiraiya a weak point that he could use and exploit any time he wanted.

He didn't want to.

"Then…he attacked the village itself. Until then, he'd never actually raised a hand against it except to defend himself when attacked, so he wasn't really a criminal to us so much as a wayward comrade. But when he finally did…there was only one option left. I couldn't bring him out of the darkness like I'd promised my other teammate so long ago; I couldn't bring my brother back to her because he was just too far gone. The only thing left I could do was to make sure he didn't go any further. I-I had no choice. I killed him. My best friend, my brother, my rival—he was dead by my own hands. And I still can't forgive myself for it, even though I know it was the right thing to do."

Jiraiya gulped after the boy finished speaking, his voice becoming little more than a pained whisper at the end. He knew what the young genius was doing and was both sickened by it and grateful for it. Naruto was telling him that it might be too late to pull Orochimaru out of the darkness, but it wasn't too late to save him from a far worse fate. It was the last gift the Sage could give his friend, and his stomach rebelled at the very notion.

Springing to his feet, he managed to make it to a bush far enough away from everyone else so that they wouldn't smell it, and threw up the little food he'd had the day before. He heaved and heaved and heaved, even when there was nothing left and only bile to spit out, and still his stomach rebelled.

Had Naruto reacted like this, too?

As if he had been reading the Sage's mind, the boy spoke. "It's awful, isn't it—this ninja world full of violence and death, the cycle of hatred and revenge seemingly never ending? I read your book awhile back, you know. 'If there is such a thing as peace, I'll find it.' And you know what I did? I promised right then and there that I would be the one to find it. But it's a promise I still haven't kept."

The heaving stopped. The Sage was listening, curious about the Jonin who had come to stand beside him and hold his long, white hair out of the way. "You really think you can?"

He smiled, the sadness and fatigue suddenly gone from his bright blue eyes. "Yes, I do."


"One person at a time, Super Perv. One person at a time."

Then, Naruto handed him a canteen full of water and he drank, the words echoing in his mind and helping to push his despair aside. For the first time since going on this nightmare of a mission, Jiraiya felt almost…free.

There was a long road ahead, true, and it was full of traps and pitfalls on either side, but with a friend who was willing to walk it with him, it suddenly didn't seem quite so long.

And like a boulder, the realization hit him. After he'd heard of Nagato's untimely demise, he thought that maybe the one to bring peace would end up being Minato; no doubt it was one of his lifelong goals and he'd strive and strain every molecule of his existence to bring it to pass. But now Jiraiya understood that, while the man would definitely be a deciding factor in that peace, he was not the child of prophecy.

For whatever reason, fate (or was it some unknown Deity?) ha d chosen this thirteen-year-old before him. He wasn't his student—which confused him a bit—but Jiraiya had no doubts that Naruto would be the one to start the revolution.

One person at a time.

Some hours later, the entire group stood before the Sandaime Hokage, Hiruzen Sarutobi. He found them tired-looking but healthy, and more than one seemed a little grim. He knew the feeling.

His student, the one he'd always valued as highly as his own sons, would soon die.

Dear God, has it truly come to this? Oh that I could die instead of you! But I cannot allow you to put others' lives in danger any longer. My son, my son…I am sorry.

He straightened up and looked Naruto directly in the eye as the boy stared unflinchingly back. It was time.

"Naruto-san, please take the Chuunin to the hospital to check for any invisible injuries"—that was just an excuse to get them out—"and show our guests their temporary lodgings. Afterwards, please check on Han; they may need your assistance in dealing with him in Interrogation."

The blonde bowed and left with the Chuunin, the girl with sunglasses, and the woman.

As soon as the door was shut, Sarutobi turned to Minato. "Activate the silencing seals, if you please."

The walls glowed blue for a brief moment, and all sounds from the outside were immediately blocked out.

"Now, we need to discuss what we're going to do with Orochimaru…"


It's not fear. The real fear hasn't come yet.
But it will. It's the doublethink
that believes peace is only another movement.
And I say it with suspicion, at the top of my lungs.
And it's not fear, no. It's the certainty
that I'm betting, on a single card,
the whole haystack I've piled up,
straw by straw, for my fellow man.

Thar' she blows!

I hope you liked the chapter and I hope the person who mentioned it being a little more serious and grim appreciates all the effort that went into this. I like somewhat grim things, too, and fully intended to make this one a bit darker than the others. Hope it meets your expectations!

At this point, Naruto has had a bit of a wake-up call. He's been getting little ones the entire mission but wasn't really paying attention like he should have been. He cares for those around him but kept pretending that it was ok that he was changing things. Sure, the people he'd known and loved would be different, but it would all be for the best. Now he's starting to understand that he could end up making things worse far more easily than he makes things better. He's a bit dense, ya know, so sometimes it takes awhile for things to really sink into his skull. The thing at the beginning was him panicking and not always making sense.

Jiraiya started his own brand of panicking. I mean, seriously, if you were just told you'd have to kill your best friend because he'd done horrible stuff, would you feel any better? I'd probably have a mini-melt down, too.

Hope you liked the little history bit about the Namikaze. A lot of stories on this site try to make the name out to be some great clan with a pristine history. I wanted this to be a little different, a little...dirtier, I guess you might say. After all, no one's got a family history that squeaky clean, right?

Anyway, let me know what you think :)

Notes on some things in the chapter that you might have noticed:

The poem that I sort of spaced throughout the story is called Not Fear by Rafael Guillen. I read it and believed it would fit very well within the story but didn't want to just crowd it in at the beginning or make it one of those cheesy stories where a character has a great epiphany after reading something that rhymes or has a nice sound to it. The characters aren't reading, speaking, hearing, or even thinking this poem. This, dear readers, was for you, not to help some corny moment build up.

…I hate song-fics with very, very few exceptions.

This refers to Oliver Cromwell. When he was getting his picture painted (they didn't exactly have cameras back then), he reportedly insisted on being portrayed honestly—"warts and all". Don't know about you, but I wouldn't want someone painting my zits in a picture that's going to be passed down for centuries…like his was. Strange guy.