A/N: Hey hey hey! I'm back! Sorry it took so long to finish the chapter but school suddenly became troublesome and annoying. It also just ended up being long this time :/ Oh well, what're ya gonna do. Thanks for all the reviews by the way, thats more than I've ever gotten per-chapter! So here's chapter three. Hope you like it; tell me what you think!

KSS, Chapter 3:
Not Afraid


Five Years Later

Naruto breathed in deeply, feeling the air fill his lungs and then exit them. He opened his eyes and blinked away the fuzziness. He sighed deeply. He looked around his apartment; nothing had changed. He was alone now. Gin had left him several months after he had saved him. He said he would be back if he could, and Naruto was holding him to that, even after so long. He knew Gin was strong, and besides, he simply couldn't abandon hope for his "father." But that small amount of time Gin had spent with the young blonde had not been for naught. He had taught Naruto many things in those few months. Self-respect was one of them. That, kenjutsu, how to detect reiatsu and use reiryoku, a new fashion sense, and, most importantly, why he should use them. Gin was a very lax teacher, but being Naruto's unofficial dad did give Naruto motivation to work hard at his training. Naruto joined the academy a few days after Gin had suggested it and he struggled. Add to it that a few months later Gin left unannounced and Naruto was in deep trouble academically.

But Naruto wasn't a quitter. He did what he could to pass, doing his best in ninjutsu training, cheating on tests if need be, and trying to make friends. That was one thing Gin had stressed on a few days before he left, and Naruto felt duty bound to abide by his adopted father's wishes. Unfortunately he had very little luck in that department. As usual, people avoided him like the plague, and while he could stand it with the unspoken support of the missing silver haired man, he still felt empty inside. It was enough to make him cry sometimes, but through meditation, one of the few boring things Gin taught Naruto to do, he was able to calm his mind and aching heart.

He sighed as he stood up. 'No luck again today.' For every morning of every day since Gin left, Naruto had been trying to access… something. Gin had told him that through meditation he would be able to gain a higher power, though he never said what that power was. All he said was that it had to do with his small wakizashi that Gin had given him as a gift. Naruto had always wanted to use Gin's sword, so Gin got him a small wakizashi as a present. Besides at the time it was only bladed weapon that was proportionate to Naruto's size.

Naruto stood up and took the sword in his lap and placed it on his bed beside him. Today was an important day though; today was the day he was going to graduate.

He'd been in the academy for six years and he'd failed the graduation exams three times. He was tired of it. It was mundane, going to school every day, learning nothing, just living on in a senseless existence. He was done with it. Today he would advance into the ranks of shinobi. He dressed himself and attached his small blade to his hip and walked out of his apartment, grabbing an apple from the counter.

He had done very well for himself since Gin came into his life. All the stores were forced to sell him food, or give, if he didn't have any money. At first he was met with resistance, but with Gin by his side he was able get what he wanted. After Gin left, the unspoken threat of his return was enough to scare the villagers into giving him what he wanted.

He stepped out into the bright sunlight of midmorning. He smiled. 'This is gonna be a good day… Yeah.' His azure eyes gazed at the pale blue sky. 'I'll do it. This time… I can't fail again. Not anymore.'

He turned on his heel and lightly walked into the street all the way to the academy.


Several minutes later…

Naruto sighed as the morning droned on. He was bored out of his mind, not to mention nervous. May of the students were participating in the exams. He simply sat at his desk, waiting for his name to be called. "N-Naruto-kun…"

Naruto blinked and looked to his right. Next to him was the one person Naruto felt actually cared for him. Probably the closest person he could call a friend. Hyuuga Hinata wasn't ever mean to him. Instead she seemed to use have the utmost respect for him. Why? He had no idea, but he wasn't one to turn down friendship. But even then, they barely talked; as the first born of the clan head of the Hyuuga clan, she was the heiress to it and a street rat like him wasn't allowed to associate himself with her.

At least, that what the various Hyuuga said to him when they caught him and Hinata talking, even if just outside the school doors. Curious though, they didn't yell at anyone else who talked to her. Even so, Naruto didn't care. What right did they have over his, or even her life? The classroom was the only place where they could talk without fear of reproach. But even then, they had to be careful. Hinata had warned him there were some teachers who had been given specific instructions not to let them near each other. Fortunately, Iruka-sensei didn't seem to mind, and they were both in his class.

He smiled foxily at her in response. "Good morning Hinata-sama. How're you feeling today?" Naruto of course was aware of her "princess" status and always made sure to treat her accordingly. He was polite, gentlemanly (as far as he knew how to be). He would bow to her when entering the class room and saying goodbye, be careful not to get too close to her, lest prying eyes detect some sort of ill intent, whether legit or not. Even though she often told him he didn't need to be so formal with her, he never seemed to listen.

The girl had a stutter, but he didn't mind. He knew tell she was shy, as if there wasn't a moron in the world who couldn't figure that out.

"D-do you think you're g-going to p-pass today N-naruto-san?" She asked quietly, looking at him with her pale lavender eyes.

Naruto smiled and nodded. "I don't have a choice. If I don't I'll be stuck here for another year, and I am not doing that again!"

Hinata smiled and looked back to her desk whereon her hands were linked together and she was twiddling her thumbs. "I h-hope you pass t-too…" She said softly.

Naruto remained silent after that as Hinata's name was called and she got up and went to the front of the classroom.

"Alright Hinata, like the last one, you have to do the Henge, Bunshin and Kawarimi techniques properly to pass," Iruka said as he held a clipboard in front of him and looking at her expectantly. She was very smart and good at those jutsu too, but her shy attitude sometimes made her perform at less than adequate levels. Naturally her association with Naruto was blamed.

She nodded and brought her hands together. "Henge!" There was a poof of smoke and inside it appeared a nearly perfect replica of Iruka. The scar on his nose was absent though, and Iruka marked down on his clipboard a note or two.

"OK, very good! Now try Bunshin no Jutsu," He said. Again Hinata nodded and closed her eyes. Bringing her hands together in the ram seal, she focused hard. The corners of her eyes scrunched up and with a small cry and a poof of smoke, beside her stood two copies of her. Iruka stepped forward, along with another teacher named Mizuki and they examined her clones.

Nodding to each other, Iruka continues on. "Well done, now the Kawarimi."

Hinata nodded and focused her chakra. There was a curtain of to the side of the room and behind it was a small log. To pass the test, and examiner would throw a small rubber ball at you and you would need to use the Kawarimi to switch with the log behind the white screen.

"Ready?" Iruka asked, tossing said rubber ball in the air. The young Hyuuga nodded and prepared herself. Iruka brought his arm back and held it there for a moment. Then with a small blur he chucked it at her. The jutsu was flawless, as soon as the ball hit her she had already switched with the log. Both it and the ball fell to the floor.

Both men applauded her work. "Well done Hinata! You've passed, congratulations!"Iruka smiled at her while Mizuki offered her a blue forehead protector. Hinata's eyes were wide as she reached out to take it, and ever so slowly a grin worked its way onto her face. She looked at Mizuki and joyfully bowed to him and thanked him. Then she ran back to her seat next to Naruto who had just enough time to congratulate her before his name was called.

"Uzumaki Naruto, please step forward." Naruto sighed and got up. He was dressed in black baggy pants with shinobi shoes, a smoke grey vest and a white Tee beneath. His wakizashi was in his locker, since he wasn't allowed to bring it in the classroom. His academy goggles were adorned on his forehead, but he was going to make certain that they were replaced by a real hitae-ate by the end of the day.

"OK Naruto, you know the drill, transformation, clone, replacement," Iruka said pinching the bridge of his nose. He honestly didn't want to fail Naruto again but he would grade him according to the quality of his work. He didn't know about the other teachers, but he didn't play favorites.

Naruto nodded and readied himself. He closed his eyes and concentrated and brought his hands together in the ram seal. He could feel the chakra building up inside him. When he had gathered an appropriate amount he opened his eyes and with a grunt transformed. The smoke enveloped the room and Iruka sighed with an annoyed face and before the smoke could clear he used the clipboard and swung it into the mist. There was a pained shout from within. "No naked girls this time! Be serious!"

Naruto glared at him through the thinning fog. "Your no fun Iruka-sensei…" He said while rubbing his head.

Iruka returned the glare. "I'm serious Naruto. You don't want to fail again do you?"

Naruto grunted and looked away in annoyance. "Fine…" He brought his hands together again and transformed. His version of Iruka was pretty solid, with a few proportion inconsistencies, but the basic appearance was the same. Iruka nodded and jotted it down on his paper. "Could use some work, but its decent. Now make a clone."

Naruto nodded, but much more seriously this time. He hated this jutsu more than anything, simply because he couldn't get it down. He concentrated hard, being extra careful on his chakra molding and control. Gin had taught him a little bit, but it wasn't in chakra. It was something Gin called "reiryoku" and it was different than chakra. Gin had said there were very few people in the world that could use it, and Naruto was one of them. He also told Naruto never to tell anyone else about it unless he could absolutely trust them. So far, Naruto had found no such person. Hinata was a candidate, but he didn't know her well enough personally to tell her. He probably could tell the Hokage, but he probably already knew about it. The old man was just like that.

Molding reiryoku was easier than chakra he found out, so it was good practice. But when he tried to mold chakra, it was so much more difficult… harder to control. Fortunately he always managed to make it work somehow. He hoped now was one of those times. "Bunshin no jutsu!" There was a poof of smoke and Naruto sighed heavily with fatigue as he bent over and leaned on his knees. Looking to his right he could see a fairly well made clone of his creation. It was exactly like him, except it wasn't wearing any clothes. Immediately he blushed and placed himself in front of it and the class, and he was fortunate enough that the smoke lingered just long enough over his privates for him to stand in front of it.

"Waah!" The class laughed hysterically at him, and he noticed Hinata sported a small blush and was looking away. 'Shit! That wasn't supposed to happen!'

Iruka smacked his head on his forehead. He would have hit Naruto again were it not for the fact that he really did try this looked at the clone, as he was behind it and thus still able to see it, and was able to judge from its shape and form that it was at least similar to Naruto, but as he'd never seen the boy naked (as a boy anyway) he couldn't judge too accurately. It was decent, but Naruto's form of it was obviously skewed. The fact that it bore no clothes meant he had lost his concentration and hadn't poured the right amount of chakra into it. Form, OK. Appearance, OK. Decency, not OK.

"Hurry up and grade it already!" Naruto yelled as he and the clone tried to cover up his pride. Iruka shook his head and wrote down on his clip board, Mizuki laughing in the background. "There."

Naruto quickly dispelled the embarrassed clone and rubbed his face free of its blush. "S-sorry Iruka-sensei… I-I really did try that time." Naruto said, his voice low with self-disappointment. Iruka sighed and gave the boy a sympathetic smile.

"I know Naruto, I know." He looked back down at his clipboard and cleared his throat. "Moving on…" The class settled at that, though snickers still ran rampant. "Kawarimi if you would please Naruto."

Naruto nodded and did as Hinata had done earlier, and with the same quality, if less grace. Iruka nodded again and wrote down on his clipboard. When he was done he looked at it for a long moment before grunting lowly in his throat. Naruto waited with barely contained patience.

"Well, you did well enough on the transformation and the replacement, but your clone really dropped your grade. Even though it was… *ahem* indecent, it looked at least somewhat realistic…" He trailed off quietly. After a few tense seconds, he looked to Mizuki, who shrugged his shoulders. "We'll take your score into consideration Naruto."

Naruto sighed in disappointment. He probably failed again. He wouldn't be surprised. "You can return to your seat now." He did so, dejectedly slumping to his designated spot.

"Hey Naruto, you trying to seduce the teachers to pass?"

"Loser!"

"You're pathetic Uzumaki!"

"Better luck next century, idiot!"

Naruto glared at the various mockers before he sat down with a groan. Folding his arms on the desk, he buried his face into the nook of his elbow in mortification and depression.

Hinata looked at him with pity and said, "A-at least they didn't f-fail you i-immediately this time… They may a-actually p-pass you!"

"…I want to die."

She sighed, empathetically sorry for him "…Naruto-kun…"

Naruto peaked an eye over at her as soon as the words left her mouth.

He'd told her not to call him so familiarly. They could both get in trouble if others heard that. He'd repeatedly asked her to call him Naruto-san. But at times it would slip and she'd call him Naruto-kun. It's not like he didn't mind the title of familiarity, but they'd only get in trouble if her Hyuuga brethren found out. He wasn't exclusive, though; they did that for everyone she was around, and it made him feel somewhat relieved that it wasn't just him.

Still though, he supposed Hinata was right. That hadn't failed him, yet anyway.

"*sigh…* I guess you're right… Still… that just down right sucked. Sorry you had to see that though," he said with a slight blush. Hinata also blushed as she turned away from him a bit. "I-its ok… I d-didn't see a-anything s-so…"

Naruto sighed in relief and accepted the following silence between the two of them as the exams continued.


The class eventually ended, with probably half of them passing. He went to his locker and pulled out his small blade and fixed it to his belt. He was sullen the rest of the day and spent it on the swing outside, recollecting the entire process of the exam. 'I screwed up again. They probably won't pass me… they never do.' His gaze was downcast. 'If only I didn't suck so much at that stupid clone technique I'd pass!' He sighed audibly. He turned his eyes skyward and watched as the clouds floated by. 'Tou-san… wherever you are, I wish you were here…' He heard whispers and low murmurs from across the way and saw a crowd of people in front of the academy, mostly parents congratulating their children. But some of them were looking his way and talking amongst themselves in low tones. He didn't know what they were saying, but their tone was unmistakable.

He looked back to the ground. His eyes closed, and a lone tear gently crept out and crawled down his cheek.'I'm so alone…'

He was startled out of his thoughts by a heavy hand on his shoulder. It was Mizuki-sensei. He wiped his face quickly and looked at the man expectantly.

"Hey there Naruto," He said with a friendly smile. "Your test scores were pretty low, and they're considering not passing you this year." Naruto nodded and looked back to the ground. "But…"

Naruto looked back at him again, hope igniting in his eyes. "…There's some extra credit we're willing to let you do."

Naruto's eyes widened. "Extra credit? What is it?" He jumped up excitedly from the swing.

Mizuki smiled again. "Well, you see, there's this scroll hidden somewhere deep in the Hokage tower, and you need to find it, and bring it to that old shack in the northern forest… without getting caught. Do that, and you'll score enough to pass!"

Naruto immediately smiled and nodded. "Awsome! Can I start right now?"

Mizuki laughed, "I don't see why not."

"Sweet! I won't fail you sensei! Or the test!"

Mizuki only smirked as the boy ran away to do his quest. 'Chump.'


Naruto was elated. Well, maybe more like overjoyed that he had been given a way to pass. He wasn't going to give that up, not a chance. He waited until dark before attempting the nab, sneaking through the streets around to the back of the Hokage tower. 'No one should be working this time of night, so the offices are probably clear…' He looked up and spotted a darkened window. 'That's my best bet.' Clambering up the wall, using drainpipes and loose planks of wood to haul himself up, he did his best to remain silent. There were times when he'd scrape himself but it was just a scratch or two; nothing he couldn't take. At last he made it to the window and slipped inside. The office was dark and he knew that this part of he tower was probably just as dim. Sneaking through it though wasn't the problem. Naruto knew that there would be ninja proctors simulating real enemies and would catch hi if hey saw him. But as he followed the map Mizuki had given him, he found almost no "enemies" in his way. In fact, even when he found the scroll, there was little out there to stop him. It made him angry, thinking they had dumbed down the test for him so he could pass easier, but then again, at least he was going to pass this time.

Escaping through the same window he'd used to get in, he carefully crawled down to the safety of the ground. He landed with a thud and a grunt, his eyes glancing around, looking for danger. Seeing, and hearing nothing, he hesitantly rose from his crouch and took to the alleys, his destination; outside the village. He was able to get out just as easily as anything else he did that night, just a little stealth and quiet.

Naruto arrived at the small shack that Mizuki had told him about. A quick look around showed that no one else was there. "That's weird… Mizuki-sensei was supposed to be here by now…" He hmm-ed and crossed his arms over his chest. "Maybe I finished early? Yeah, that could explain it! But they made it so easy… I hope they don't dock me for it." Naruto didn't have a watch, so he could only estimate the time. "Ahhh, but now I'm bored! What should I do in the meantime…?" He rested his hands behind his head and sighed. Suddenly he let his eyes wander to the side of the shack were the scroll was sitting. "I wonder if there's anything written in it…" He stepped over to it and sat down, laying it flat on the ground and unrolling it. As soon as he did, his eyes lit up like a light.

"S-sugoi! There must be dozens, maybe hundreds of jutsu in this scroll!" Then as soon as the realization hit him he sat up straight. 'Wait, am I supposed to open it? He didn't say whether I could or not. Maybe… maybe I should just put it away. Yeah…'

Naruto went to close it when a small voice in the back of his head told him to read on. 'Well… I guess a small peak wouldn't hurt...' He unrolled it and delved deep inside, his eyes widening in wonder.

Seconds ticked by, then minutes, then, seemingly hours. Naruto scoured the scroll for techniques, being sure to write them down on his own, smaller scroll. He wasn't even paying attention to what they were really; only knowing that if the jutsu in this scroll were real, then he'd hit the jackpot.

His hand froze mid stroke. Was that a twig he heard snap? He whirled to a stance, knife in hand. "Who's there?"

He looked around; no one. But that didn't mean they weren't there. He closed his eyes and concentrated on his hearing. Gin had always told him never to rely on only one sense and to try and hone them all.

"Did you know Naruto…?" Gin said in an entertaining voice. Naruto looked up from where he was eating his lunch.

"Blind people c'n hear much better than people who can see? Same goes for the opposite."

Naruto looked interested. "How come?"

"Well, they say it's cuz the lack of one sense improved the other four," He explained simply. Then with a voice of not-so-sudden enlightenment, he looked at Naruto and said, "Hey! Why don't you try doin' that? I bet it'd make you one helluva shinobi if you could learn to make your sense better!"

Naruto looked at him with anxious surprise. "You really think so?"

"Absolutely!" Gin answered, matching his tone.

"Wow! I'm gonna try that today for trainin'!" Naruto replied. Gin simply laughed and encouraged him.

With his eyes closed he concentrated on the sounds around him. Suddenly the quiet, almost inaudible sound of breathing could be heard. Turning his head, but not opening his eyes, he directed his ears in the direction he thought he'd heard it. Sure enough he could hear it better off to his left.

He opened his eyes and shouted out in that same direction, "I know you're over there! I passed the test already, so come on out!" He could now see a dark silhouette in the shadows of the trees. It hesitantly took a few steps forward before its face could be seen in the dim light of the moon.

"H-Hinata-sama? What are you doing out here so late at night?" Naruto said, immediately bowing at the waist after shaking off the initial shock; he never knew who was watching. Hinata accepted his bow reluctantly, but stayed beside the tree next to her, as if trying to hide behind it.

"I-I s-saw you running t-through the street earlier and t-thought y-you were in trouble s-so I f-f-followed you h-here…"

"O-oh… sorry for worrying you. This is just a bonus test Mizuki-sensei gave me so I could pass, since my academy exam was kind of…" he thought back to probably one of the more embarrassing moments of his life. "…iffy."

"O-oh, I see… I guess I k-kind of got c-carried away…" she said, looking away from him.

"B-but hey! Better safe than sorry, right?" Naruto said and forced a smile, trying to alleviate some of the tension. 'Wait… tension? Why is there tension anyway? Is it something in the air?'

Naruto blinked when he realized she hadn't moved from her spot since they began talking. "It's ok Hinata-sama, you don't have to stand so far away." Naruto, while careful never to get too close to the heiress, didn't mind being near her. Five feet was probably appropriate outside of class where they were required to sit closer.

She nodded slowly and approached him, stopped a few feet from him, knowing he would only step back if she got too close. "S-so this is an e-extra test for you to g-graduate this year?"

"Yeah, I had to grab this scroll from the Hokage tower and bring it here undetected. Now I'm just waiting on Mizuki-sensei."

Hinata perked up at that, a thought running through her head. "W-wait, y-you took that f-from the tower?"

"Yup! It was kinda easy actually."

Suddenly Hinata became panicked again. "N-Naruto, before I f-followed you out, t-the whole village was in a-an uproar that something was s-stolen!"

Naruto looked at her surprised, but then smiled at her. "I guess they weren't expecting me to do it huh? But they made it super easy too, so they can't blame me."

"N-no, I mean, I think you s-stole s-something very v-valuable from the tower, something you shouldn't have!" She seemed to be quite fearful now, though whether for her safety or his own he didn't know.

Naruto looked kind of nervous now. "B-but this is the scroll Mizuki-sensei told me to get, I followed his instructions exactly! This is the scroll he told me to get."

"How right you are Naruto-chan," a familiar voice spoke up from above them. They both looked up to see Mizuki leaning against the trunk of a tree, his arms folded over his chest. His mouth was turned upward in a smirk. Both children looked at him with strange eyes, both confused and relieved at the same time. "Naruto, I'm disappointed in you; stealing the sacred Forbidden Scroll from the Hokage… It's made you an enemy to the village you know? They're all frantically searching the entire city for you." He skipped off the branch he was standing on and landed softly on the ground, the twin shuriken on his back clanking as they shifted. He re-crossed his arms and looked at the two genin.

"And Hinata, just because you become an adult once you become a ninja doesn't mean you should just do it with any guy… especially with this guy," he said with a sneer. "Your father would be so disappointed if he found out."

Hinata seemed to understand the implications of his words and looked at him frantically. "W-w-wait S-sensei! W-we weren't d-doing a-anything!"

"Ehhh… that's what they all say. And since you're with that thing, you're going to be charged just as guilty as he is when he's brought back to Konoha."

"W-what do you mean, 'that thing'? Besides, you told me that I needed to find this scroll in order to pass!" Naruto shouted, obviously angry at the insult.

"Naruto!"

All three of them turned to the newcomer as he stood panting beside the shack. "Don't let Mizuki have the scroll!"

"Ohh? What do you mean by that? Why shouldn't they give me the scroll?" Mizuki asked feigning innocence.

Iruka wasn't fooled by it a bit. "Don't bother with the tricks Mizuki. I heard that entire conversation! You set Naruto up to take the fall for your theft!"

Mizuki heaved out a chuckle and nodded. "Well ya got me there. Sure, I had Naruto steal the scroll and come here. But after all, what difference does it make if he takes the fall or not? After all…" Mizuki lowered his head and glared at Iruka with knowing, expectant eyes. "…he's the one who killed your parents."

Iruka grit his teeth. He just had to bring that up.

"K-k-k-killed? H-h-hold on a second, I haven't killed a-anyone before!" Naruto said in a rush as he held his hands up in front of his face. Hinata gasped at Mizuki's words and shook her head back and forth, not wanting to believe that was true. But Iruka didn't look surprised at the accusation… what did that mean?

Mizuki looked back to Naruto with an amused smile. "Oh that's right. You wouldn't know. But I'll be a helpful teacher one last time and tell you the truth."

Iruka's eyes widened and he turned to his old friend. "No, don't Mizuki!"

He paid no heed. "Twelve years ago… You know about the Demon Fox being sealed right?"

Naruto looked surprised. "S-sure, everyone knows about that."

Mizuki continued, "Since that incident, a new rule was created for the village."

Naruto's eyes were wide with curiosity. "…a rule…?"

"But Naruto, this rule was never meant to be told to you."

"What? Why not to me?" Naruto demanded of his senior. Mizuki's foreboding laughter filled the clearing immediately after. Both children were suddenly filled with a sense of dread. "W-what…. kind of rule is it?"

Mizuki looked Naruto dead in the eyes with a malicious glare. "A rule that states no one is allowed to talk about the fact that you are the Kyuubi no Yoko!"

Naruto's eyes widened and he took a step back in surprise, tripping over himself in the process. "W-what do you mean?" he asked in fear.

"No Mizuki, DON'T!" Iruka shouted to no avail.

"It means that you are the nine tailed demon that killed Iruka's parents and destroyed the village! You were sealed up by the Hokage you admire so much and-…"

"STOP IT!"

"…-you've been lied to by everyone!" Mizuki said, ignoring Iruka's pleading cries and doing his best to instill fear into the poor thirteen year old. He pulled a giant shuriken from his back and began spinning it wildly in his hand. "No one will ever accept you!" He lunged forward and threw it, sending it spiraling toward Naruto and Hinata, with neither having the clarity of mind to move. Naruto immediately pushed Hinata out of the way, but doing so left him completely open to the incoming projectile. He closed his eyes and winced in pain as he was thrown to the ground. The sound of metal piercing flesh burst through the clearing. But there was no pain. Naruto hesitantly opened his eyes to see Iruka bent over him, blood dripping from his mouth and hitting Naruto's cheek.

Naruto looked at him in astonishment and of all the things that were speeding through his mid at whirlwind speeds, the only thing he could ask was, "…why?"

Iruka looked at him with tears forming in his eyes. "My… my parents… after they died… there was nobody to compliment me or acknowledge me… I was so sad. I would always act like an idiot to get people's attention, since I wasn't able to do well in things like school and get attention that way. It was better than being nothing, so kept on acting like a goof. …It was so painful." Tears fell freely from his eyes as he looked at Naruto with a new understanding. "Yeah… Naruto, you must have been in a lot of pain too. I'm sorry Naruto. If I had done a better job, you wouldn't have had to feel like this."

Mizuki looked at the scene with slight disdain. 'Why couldn't he just let the brat die? Makes my job so much harder.' He pulled out his second shuriken and approached them. Naruto saw this and scrambled out from underneath Iruka, drawing his small sword. His eyes were wide and spoke volumes of his fear and confusion.

'I don't know who to trust… I don't know who to obey… I don't know who to protect!'

Mizuki could see these thoughts as though they were written in the air. 'He's shaky and unsure. Still, I shouldn't take any risks with him.' His eyes focused past Naruto and narrowed. 'That'll work.'

"Hey Naruto!" He brought his arm back, winding up or the throw.

Naruto blinked out of his thoughts.

"Catch!" He slung his arm forward like a rocket and the spinning blade shot toward him. But something was noticeably off. Naruto may not have been super smart, but he knew how to throw a shuriken, an something didn't seem right with how Mizuki threw that one. Naruto knew when to let go of the projectile to make it hit where you want it to. But Mizuki seemed to hold on to it a half-second too long for it to hit him. The blonde smirked. 'Ha! That's going to fly right past-…' He looked behind him to where the shuriken was going to hit. His eyes widened in sudden terror.

He was never Mizuki's target. Hinata was.

She sat defenseless on the ground where she'd been thrown earlier; a mere bystander in someone else's game. He immediately knew what he needed to do. Without thinking he leapt to the side just in time to catch the massive shuriken full in the chest. He cried out in pain as the force of the impact sent him hurtling backwards landing directly in front of Hinata. Hinata, for her part, could only stare with wide eyes as the scene unfolded before her. Not only was Mizuki's revelation about Naruto a shock to hear, but The sudden surprise that she was his target and the knowledge that she had nothing to defend herself with, nor the footing to avoid it made her freeze up; her muscles refused to move. Even more so now. Naruto lay at her feet, a bloody instrument of death buried deep in his chest, blood spilling from it and his mouth. His eyes were wide with shock, and his breathing was already labored and raspy.

She unexpectedly broke out of her trance when she realized Naruto was so severely hurt. "Naruto, Naruto! Can you hear me?" She cried out as she leaned over him. He didn't move, but she could have sworn his eyes moved ever so slightly in her direction.

"Mizukiii!" Mizuki's eyes were diverted from the dying blonde to the enraged chunin flying toward him kunai in hand. He grit his teeth in annoyance; this would be more difficult than fighting kids. 'I'll have to end this quickly.' Pulling out his own kunai, he met his former best friend's charge head on.

While he was distracted, Hinata looked around for something to help him when her gaze settled on the shuriken embedded in him. She reach down and with both hands, gripped the hollow middle and pulled. With a grunt, and a= bloody squirt, the weapon came free and clattered to the ground. "Naruto, Naruto! Say something!" Tears began to well up in her eyes as his chest heaved and shuddered with every breath.

The salty streams of water now poured freely from her eyes, landing on Naruto's face with light *plips*. But Naruto's mind was no longer in the world of the living.


Naruto woke up to the sound of water dripping on the ground. He opened his eyes to a rusted ceiling. "Huh…?" He sat up slowly, grunting with effort. His chest burned for some reason, and he rubbed it, trying to sooth away the pain. He looked around. The damp ground, dim golden light and narrow hallways reminded Naruto somewhat of a sewer. He stood, his cloths dripping away what they soaked up, but oddly he didn't feel wet.

"Where am I?" His voice echoed through the empty halls. Looking around, and letting curiosity take control, he began walking through the dark corridors. He passed by many bleak side passages but ignored them, feeling a sort of calling to the straight and narrow path he was on. After several minutes he came to the end of the hall. At the end was a half completed wall, either in the process of being torn down or being built. From the mess, he assumed it was being torn down.

Then the world shuddered, like an earthquake. He braced himself on the wall until the shaking subsided. "What was that? An earthquake in a dream? But that seemed way too real…" He looked to the opening in the wall ahead of him and noticed a few more stones had fallen. He hesitantly stepped inside.

Darkness engulfed him. It was pitch black, so much so that he couldn't see his hand in front of his face. But he could hear perfectly. Every step he took made a splashing sound, like light raindrops on the ground, and with each sound, he could have sworn he felt something wet hit his face, but every time he reached up to wipe it away, it wasn't there. 'This is the weirdest dream I've ever had.'

He took one more step…

…And was instantly blinded by light. He reached up to shield his eyes from the sunlight that beamed down on him. He quickly shook his head to clear it even as he winced at the brightness. Slowly his eyes adjusted and he lowered his arms back down to his sides. Now that he could see, his surroundings took on a familiar appearance, but he couldn't quite place it. It was a forest, and in the middle was a small clearing with a large stone dead center. He walked toward it.

"Where am I?" He asked himself. He wasn't expecting an answer.

"Your mind."

He spun so quick he might've gotten whiplash. He looked just in time to see the fleeting form of… something. "Who's there?"

Again the hissing voice replied. "Nobody here but just usselves."

Naruto's eyebrows furrowed as he slowly backed into the clearing. "Who are you? Just answer me!"

Another shift in the shadows did not escape his sight. "Oh if only I could tell you my name… Ah well, we can all dream, right?" The voice echoed around the clearing, even though there was nothing for the sound to reverberate on.

"So this is a dream," Naruto half-asked, half-decided.

"Sure, it's a dream…" A streak of light shot from the shadows of the trees and impaled Naruto in the chest, sending him flying back into the stone. Naruto's gurgled cry of pain came out quiet. Odd, he could feel the wet drops on his skin again. "…and it's the most realistic dream you're ever gonna have!"

Naruto looked down at his chest with wide eyes. It was a blade, a long one that stretched all the way back to the side of a tree. Naruto could now see the shadowed figure unmoving, staring at him. It stepped out of the darkness and into the light.

It had a straw hat over its head, which was bent over hiding his face from view. But its mouth was visible, and it was not a human's. It had large fangs and a hissing tongue. It wore a tan kimono-like outfit but with metal shards poking through it at random, but symmetrical angles, mainly along the shoulders and forearms. But the Kimono look ended at its waist; he wore heavy pants with toeless shoes, similar to those every ninja wore. Its entire skin shade was crystal grey and had faint awkward lines carved through it like massive scales. Its right arm was extended toward him and from the sleeve was the blade that stabbed him.

"That wound in your breast is symbolic, but also real; a widening hole that will eventually kill you. In fact, it's what's kill you now actually. "

Naruto grit his teeth as he eyed the character. "Who are you?"

The figure let out an amused laugh. "This is your mind and soul boy. Ida thought you'd remember at least some of the lessons Gin taught, or did you forget him too?"

Naruto immediately growled, the pain in his chest vanishing, replaced with anger. "There's no way I could forget about nii-san!"

The figure laughed again. "Man, riling you up is awesome! Unfortunately…" its grin dimmed to a serious frown. "…this world… your mind is dying." It retracted the sword from Naruto's chest and it disappeared within his sleeve. Naruto recoiled in pain and placed a hand to his bloody chest, feeling it slick his palms. He looked up to the man and blinked. Had the light suddenly dimmed? He looked up to the sky and noticed the sun was nonexistent; in its place was a grey cloud cover. He looked back down to the figure only to notice the trees around them aging; their leaves falling to the ground and crumbling before his very eyes.

All hostility placed aside in favor of fear, Naruto looked to the figure for an answer. "W-wait, why is this happening?"

"You're dying Naruto. Your body is dying and your mind fading. This is the result."

"N-no way… I can't die… I can't die like this!" Narutro said, suddenly terrified. He vaguely remembered dying the last time when he was young, and it didn't bring back any pleasant memories.

"To live, one needs a goal. A reason. You don't have that."

"Then give me a reason! Give me something!" Naruto screamed as the trees began snapping under their own weight and crumbling to the ground, millions of insects escaping from their dying homes.

"The reason is right in front of you."

Naruto blinked incredulously at the man. This was no time for riddles! And that annoying pitter-pater on his face was driving him crazy!

The figure smiled again as the thought entered Naruto's mind. 'The droplets… What are they?'

"Such a sad sound… and from such an angelic creature." The figure closed his eyes and stared at the darkening sky.

"Sound? What-?" Then he heard it. The quiet sobbing of a distraught girl. "Wait… someone's crying for me?" Naruto too looked to the sky as if for an answer. It came to him in the form of streaming sound and images. "N-Naruto… P-please don't d-die... "

"Isn't that… Hinata?"

"I-I'll be l-lonely if you-… P-p-please don't go Naruto!" Naruto's eyes were wide as he listened, his decaying mind forgotten in the sound's wake. "I-if th-there was any-, anything I w-wish I could t-tell you, (hic) it would be t-to n-not be so s-serious a-around me… To j-just be y-yourself…"

Naruto listened with glistening eyes. "I-I w-wanted to get to k-know you a bit b-better if we b-both grad-, graduated… I-I was e-even going to ask f-father i-if he could try and have u-us put on the same t-team."

Naruto listened to all of this with tears brimming in his eyes. "I… I can't die like this. It'll only leave sadness."

"Then live."

"But I don't have the power to live! If you're inside my head then you should know that!" Naruto yelled at the reptile-like character.

"I know you don't. But I do," it said in a wicked grin.

Naruto looked at it curiously, but no less frantically. "What do you mean? How can you have the power to save me?"

The figure smiled mysteriously but didn't answer. Instead he continued as if Naruto's last sentence wasn't even uttered. "If you want, you can use my power. All you gotta do…" he extended his hand toward Naruto, offering it for Naruto to take. "…is say my name."

Naruto looked at the figure strangely, but slowly extended his own hand too. When their hands joined, Naruto could feel the slick cool texture of the figure's skin.

"Oh, one quick question before this world completely dies." The figure added quickly. "If I'm going to give you my power, I kinda want to know what you're going to do with it."

Naruto looked incredulously at him. He didn't have time for questions like that! Already the grass beneath their feet had rotted away, replaced by fissuring earth. He looked at it, and then back to the figure as if to say they didn't have time. However, the figure simply stared hard at the blonde. "What will you use it for?"

"Can't you just give it to me now and I'll tell you later?" Naruto shouted at the stnrange creature.

It yelled back with equal force. "No! I need to know now!"

Naruto grit his teeth I desperation. He didn't have an answer, not a philosophical answer anyway, which was probably what this thing was looking for. His was a simple answer, but since it was the only one he had at the moment, he had no choice. "Fine! It's to protect!"

"Protect what?"

"Everyone I love, OK? I'll protect every precious person I have with my life!" Naruto screamed as loud as he could, nearly begging the creature to accept it as an answer. Oddly, the creature smiled, raising its head so that Naruto could see its face. It was surprisingly human, with narrow slited eyes. It smiled. "Now THAT'S something I can back. It's a deal." The ground below their very feet began splitting, raising and falling as it severed itself like a tectonic shift.

"There's but one path to the goal you have." It began in a calm voice, slowly escalating. "Remember this, Naruto. Do what is necessary to win; to protect those precious people of yours. Accept what comes after! Strike a fear in your enemies they will never forget! Anyone who stands in your way will die!"

The earth buckled blow them and they both fell into the darkness of the abyss, the noise deafening and the sky black as night.

"Shoot them all dead! My name is-…!" And as Naruto heard the final word, the gentle words of his shy friend echoed clear as a bell in his mind. "Please don't die… Naruto-kun…"


"Guaah!" Iruka slammed headfirst into the shack, breaking through its shabby wood and falling to the ground unconscious. Mizuki sighed in relief. 'Phew… It's a good thing he got in the way of the shuriken earlier or he'd have been much harder to handle. Oh well, that's his own damn fault.' He wiped his mouth of a little blood from where Iruka had punched him. It had been fairly easy to fight off the injured chunin barehanded.

Taking a moment to catch his breath he looked back to the dying blonde and the little Hyuuga girl.

As much as he didn't want to kill her (he had nothing against her personally), he couldn't leave witnesses. Sure the village would find out who really stole the scroll but by then he would be safely far away. He sighed and made his way over to the children. Naruto's breath was fading, and his wide open eyes were going dim; his gurgled attempts to breathe sounding out against Hinata's fervent cries for him to live. By the time Mizuki got to them, Naruto's breathing had stopped completely.

'Good riddance.' Mizuki thought with a sneer. "A~h… Looks like he died. Probably a god thing too; he won't have to watch what I'm going to do with you." But Mizuki's threat went unheard as Hinata had only heard the "he died" part.

"N-no… He can't be dead, he just can't!" She wailed as she pulled the bloody boy close to her in a kind of hug.

"Whatever." Mizuki said, rolling his eyes. "If you really care about him that much, then just go to Hell with him!" He kicked the lethal shuriken that had killed Naruto up with his foot and caught it. As soon as it made contact with his hand, it began spinning wildly like a buzz-saw. He raised it up above his head and quickly slashed down with it. Hinata looked up just in time to see it descend upon her, a look of terror washing over her face.

'Is this how I die? Powerless to stop anything? I… I don't want to die. I don't want to die!'

(Uprising - MUSE)

"…-SHINSO!"

Mizuki's eyes widened incredibly as Naruto's eyes stared at him in rage, the wakizashi in his hand extending at a breakneck speed, aiming directly at his head. He ducked quickly, leaping back for space. As he did so, the sword kept extending and stabbed itself in a tree across the way.

"Tch, playing dead, huh?" Mizuki spat as Naruto sat up, much to the overwhelming surprise and joy of Hinata.

"Lay a hand on her, and I'll kill you. No, I'm gonna kill you anyway!" Naruto shouted as he pulled his sword hand back, retracting the blade just enough to leave the tree and swung it horizontally. "HRAAGGGH!" The blade sung in the air as it moved.

Unfortunately, Mizuki saw it coming and hopped over it easily. What Mizuki had not expected was the force behind the blow, which he saw firsthand as it smashed into the side of a tree, sending splinters of bark everywhere. But Naruto wasn't finished yet. He flipped the blade over and swung the other way, which Mizuki ducked this time.

The leaf chunin saw his opening and rushed the blonde even as his swing slowed to a stop. "I don't know what kind of jutsu this is, but it's not gonna make a fucking difference!"

Naruto's eyes widened as he saw Mizuki coming for him and began retracting the blade again.

He managed to get it to a manageable size just before Mizuki's spinning shuriken swiped at him. He blocked it, barely and swung again, jumping above another slice, only to meet a fist. 'Shit, even with the sword being able to extend, I'm not good enough with it yet!' Naruto thought as he stumbled back, trying his best to lead Mizuki away from Hinata, while not trying to make it obvious.

But Naruto was simply under-prepared. Mizuki was still better than he was in close range combat, even though he used giant shuriken. "Naruto, I've slowed the bleeding in your chest, but not stopped it. Try and end this without bleeding to death would ya?"

The words trickled into his head, but in such a way that they weren't surprising. It was almost as if Naruto himself thought those words, though they clearly weren't his. But even with Naruto now pressed for time, pure drive to protect and live could not beat skill. Mizuki was winning easily. Well, maybe not easily, more like struggling to gain the upper hand and succeeding.

Mizuki swung again, letting the shuriken go this time, surprising Naruto who blocked it, knocking it out of its rotation and watched as it twirled away. But as he did this, Mizuki's knee found its way to his stomach.

Naruto coughed in pain, blood squirting from his mouth. He dropped to his knees holding his sides, coughing up blood as he tried to breathe normally. Mizuki huffed in annoyance and exhaustion.

"Hu…hu… This time… No mistakes," The blue haired chunin mumbled as he pulled out two kunai and raised his hands to slash down, intending to cut Naruto on both sides of his shoulders. "JUST DIE ALREADY YOU STUPID FOX!"

He slashed down, and time stopped for an instant, the image in Naruto's eyes forever burned into his memory.

(The Pot - Tool)

"Hado no Ichi, Sho."

There was a blasting force that was heard throughout the forest as Mizuki was slammed harshly into a tree, leaving a human sized dent in it. Both Naruto and Hinata blinked widely in surprise.

"Hey now, dat ain't right…" Their gazes were drawn instantly to the voice deep within the shadows of the forest. His steps were clearly audible, though neither could say they'd heard him prior. Hinata felt relief flow through her small body. 'Thank Kami… help.'

But her reaction of joy was completely overshadowed by Naruto's sudden disbelief. His eyes were wide and his breath caught in his chest as the silhouette lightened in the growing moonlight. "I-it can't be…"

Hinata looked at Naruto with growing concern. "N-Naruto-kun, w-who is it?"

Naruto's stupefied expression didn't fade. His mouth moved but no words came from it, but after a few seconds of silence, he finally managed it. "G…Gin…?"

'Silver? What does he mean by that?' Hinata thought as she looked at the man. When he finally stepped out into the full light of the moon, she understood what he meant, if only a little; the man's hair was completely silver, along with his white haori and black hakama. He stopped a few feet fort of Naruto but faced Mizuki's rising form.

"Finally… Ya show yer true colors after five years."

Mizuki grunted as he stood straight, brushing dust from his shoulders. "Who the hell're you?"

Gin's grin widened grimly. "Aww… Don't 'member me? Think back 'bout five years; outside the village, chasin' a six year ol' kid through the forest."

Mizuki's eyes narrowed as he remembered that very event. "You… how the hell do you know about that?" he growled lowly.

Gin's grin grew more mischievous as the air became stifling heavy. "Whatsamatter? Don'tcha recognize me?" His cloths flared out as if wind was blowing around them, and the air in the entire area became oppressive. Even Naruto who was familiar with Gin's aura found it to be nearly unbearable.

Mizuki's eyes widened as he felt the incredible energy radiating from the silver haired man. "N-no way…! Y-you're the guy who-….?"

Gin didn't answer him but looked askance at his pseudo-son. "Oh, and congrats on getting your Zanpakuto. Never figured you'd get one so early." Naruto instantly swelled with pride and smiled as he gripped the S hilt of his new Zanpakuto. Gin had told him all about them before he left.

"But you suck."

Naruto deadpanned straight to the ground. "You're the one who sucks you jerk!" Naruto replied loudly, pointing at him with his new weapon. He instantly regretted it as he coughed harshly, blood spurting from his chest wound. He fell to his knees hacking, to which Hinata attended to him worriedly.

Gin only laughed at him. "Don't worry, little Naru-kun…" Gin place his hand on his own Zanpakuto and drew it out into the cool moonlight.

"…I'll show you the right way to use Shinso."

Mizuki readied himself at the unspoken threat. Gin merely drew his hand back, "Ikorose," and thrust it forward, "Shinso."

The tip of the blade flashed against the moon, reflecting its shining light two-fold as it fired across the clearing, the ground beneath it rupturing from the force of its extension. Mizuki wisely leapt to the side to dodge as the tree it hit shattered completely, collapsing randomly in his direction. He jumped out of the way only to meet the blade swinging horizontally toward him.

He dropped low to the ground as it passed over him, the wind from it whipping at his clothes. There were many loud crashing sounds as the sword split right through full grown trees, toppling them over like dominos as the blade stretched far into the forest. 'Now's my chance, before he can start a new swing…!' He spun like a top, launching the shuriken at Gin even while the blade retracted back to its normal size.

With a flourish, Gin flipped in the air stabbing his Zanpakuto into the ground, directly in the middle of the shuriken. He landed with both feet pressed against either side of the hilt, supporting himself even as the shuriken spun around the blade, trapped like a small animal. Gin sat crouched atop his blade, one hand on his knee, and the other propped up on his other knee, pressed against his chin in mock thoughtfulness.

Mizuki stumbled back in shock. 'Shit! This guy's in a completely different league than me!' Mizuki eyed the two children. 'If I can just distract him…!' He pulled out several kunai and brought them back to throw.

Gin's image fractured and the next instant he was behind the blue haired man, Zanpakuto in hand and his ever impassive face looking behind him.

Mizuki grunted in pain as a deep slash broke open across his chest.

The kunai dropped to the ground, followed by Mizuki himself. Gin touched down without a sound, his Hakama flowing behind him. "Yer back's wide open."

Mizuki lay there, unable to move as his life drained away. 'Gah! Damn it! Why does this guy always interfere? Five years… I wait five damn years! And I still couldn't even-…' His life ended before he could finish his thought.

Gin turned back to Naruto, his smile having taken on a kinder tone. "Hey there Naru-kun, how's it goin'?"

Naruto lay on his back, Hinata using torn pieces from her and Naruto's clothes to staunch the bleeding in naruto's chest. A small dribble of red slid down from the corner of his mouth. But even as Hinata tried to wrap him up, he smiled at Gin, annoyed, but also overjoyed.

"Tch, how's it look like it's going? Y'old idiot…"

Gin chuckled at that as he sheathed his blade and bent down over his charge. "It don't look too bad. It's just a stab 'n the heart."

Naruto rolled his eyes but didn't say anything. Gin mentally counted down.

'Three… two… one…'

"I WAS STABBED IN THE HEART?" Naruto shouted as he sat up and pressed the cloths to his chest. His eyes were white saucers as he scrambled to find a way to fix it.

"Ya, after all, the heart is actually more t'wards the cent'r o' yer chest than the left side. It's a little known fact."

Naruto's eyes widened in their white saucer state and he fell back, foaming at the mouth. "N-Naruto-kun!"

Gin only laughed at them both. But with Naruto now unconscious, it made everything else considerably easier. He looked at the panicked Hyuuga girl and smiled, reassuringly, at her. "Don't worry 'bout him; he ain't gonna die anytime soon, knowing him. He's fighter, like me." He placed a lanky hand on her shoulder and squeezed gently. She nodded slowly, not sure whether to trust him or not. But he did save them, and Naruto seemed to know him personally, so that was enough for her.

Gin turned back to the only other person in the clearing; someone the children had probably forgotten about by now.

Iruka stirred as he was shaken to life. "Huh…? What happened?"

"Ya got yer ass beat. Can ya stand?"

Iruka nodded at the black and white clad man and steadied himself against the shack wall as he rose, holding his head in pain. He looked over to Mizuki's dead body and sighed. "Looks like a missed the important part. Though he should have been captured and brought back to Konoha for a real trial, but that's just me."

Gin chuckled ironically. "Trust me, if you knew what I know, you'da done the same thing."

Iruka looked at Gin curiously for a second, but decided that for the moment he wouldn't press him. Both walked over toward the two children. Hinata simply sat there, watching Naruto as he rested. Gin bent down and lifted the blonde carefully into his arms, making sure not to disturb the wound too much. Knowing Shinso, it was doing what it could to keep Naruto from bleeding out.

Iruka lifted Hinata to her feet. "So if you don't mind my asking, who are you?" The chunin asked in a friendly tone.

Gin tilted his head back and regarded the brown haired man. "You don't 'member me either? Come on… this place has a serious case o' amnesia."

Iruka looked at him curiously, his brows furrowed in confusion before his face suddenly lit up in realization. "Oh, You! Forgive me, I didn't realize-"

"Don't sweat it kid. You ain't the only one. An' hopefully, you won't be the last either." Gin replied with a friendly slap on the shoulder. Iruka smiled nervously at the man. When he was younger, he remembered that Gin would always pop up around the village with Naruto. Many suspected that he was there to guard the Kyuubi boy, which he did do on several occasions, but no one ever really knew for sure. Iruka himself had had an incident involving the silver haired man. It was a simple bump-in at a local café, but it was enough to insert them both into each other's memories.

Knowing who the man was now, he trusted him enough to let Hinata go with them while he cleaned up here. "Hinata, you go with them, OK?"

She looked at her sensei and nodded. He gave her a small nudge toward the other two and she stepped over to them, Gin looking at her patiently. When she came even with him, he placed a hand on her shoulder. "Hold on tight kid."

She did as instructed and grabbed onto his arm. In a flash of movement all three vanished from the clearing.


All Hinata felt was a rush of wind and a great feeling of pressure against her. Indeed, she was glad Gin told her to hold on tight; she probably would have fallen off. When the whipping wind ceased and the pressure subsided, she opened her eyes to find, to her amazement, they were outside the hospital. 'S-so fast! It was only a few seconds…!'

But Gin was already walking to the doors of the building in a not-so-obvious rush. He glanced behind and with a nudge of his head, gestured Hinata to follow. She did so in an abrupt fashion jogging to catch up as Gin opened the doors. The receptionist raised her head to address the new guest and when she did her blood ran cold. Before her stood the same man who had come in so many years ago. His attire had changed, but his demeanor surely hadn't. He still carried the blonde child in his arms, and he still looked at her with that maddening smile.

Without missing a beat she called for a doctor. Gin would have smiled in amusement if he felt like it, but for the most part his current smile was simply a façade to cover his worry. As long as the doctors didn't take long, Naruto would be fine.

A doctor came presently and took a look at Naruto. Deeming it ER quality damage, he guided the two to a surgery room and asked them to remain outside. Several other doctors arrived moments after and shuffled in. They began hooking Naruto up to IVs and tubes to sustain him while they worked. Gin stayed outside with Hinata; there were small windows where they could watch, but Gin trusted the doctors remembered him, judging by their brief surprised looks as they entered the room.

They sat in silence for several minutes before Hinata spoke up. "A-ano… your name's Gin-san, r-right?" Gin gave her a nod.

"D-do you think N-Naruto-kun w-will be O-OK?" She asked, rubbing her feet together anxiously. Gin looked at her for a long moment before his grin became more reassuring and he nodded again. "The kid's a fighter; an besides, he's found a new power to help 'im out. He ain't gonna die anytime soon, that's fer sure."

Hinata seemed to relax, if only a little, at his words. Again there was a brief silence before Hinata spoke up again. "Um… Uh… If y-you don't mind m-my asking, um… Well, I-I w-was kind of w-wondering who you were e-exactly to N-Naruto-kun."

Gin chuckled softly. "Well, to put it simply, I'm his dad."

Hinata's eyes widened and her hands instinctively went partway to her face. She didn't know Naruto even had a father. Well, she knew he did at one point, but she didn't know he was still alive. "Don't get me wrong, we're not related. I've just kind of adopted him."

That Hinata could process easily. 'They don't really look alike anyway, so I guess that makes sense.'

But before she could press forward with new questions, like why he adopted him and why she hadn't seen him before a new voice called out to her. "Hinata!" She looked in the voice's direction and saw her father down the hall walking briskly towards her. She got up hastily as he approached and bowed to him.

"F-father! W-what are you doing here?" She asked surprised.

He looked at her with those tired fatherly eyes. "I was told someone spotted you here so I came to see if it was true. You're way past curfew young lady!"

Hinata bowed her head in shame and nodded dimly. It was now that Gin rose from his seat, Hiashi taking note of him, a faint sense of recognition trickling into his brain.

"Good to see you again Hiash-san! Been years ain't it?"

Hiashi's eyes lit up as he recognized him. "Oh, Gin-san! It has been years! I'm glad to see you're finally back in the village. What's the occasion?"

Gin rubbed his neck sheepishly. "Finally got away from work. Came back just in time to see Naruto get himself in ta to trouble, again. He's in surgery now. This little one yers?"

Hiashi nodded almost proudly. "Yes, she's my oldest, Hinata."

Gin whistled at the young girl, causing her to blush. "I 'member when she's just a kid."

Hiashi changed the subject by nodding to the doors behind them. "Will he be OK?"

Gin laughed. "Like father like daughter. He'll be right as rain in the mornin'."

Hiashi nodded in understanding. In all honesty, he didn't mind Gin. Gin had understanding of nobility and acted, however eccentrically like one of high authority and carried himself, for the most part, accordingly. He wasn't exactly pleased when he found out that he was also the Kyuubi Jinchūriki's guardian. But he reasoned that it was probably about time someone tried to take care of the boy.

At that moment, the doors opened and the doctors walked out, two leaving down the other hallway and the third coming down towards them. Hiashi made to leave with his daughter but Gin motioned them to stay.

"Ichimaru Gin I presume?" Gin nodded.

"We've managed to stabilize him and seal the bleeding; wasn't too hard because of… You know." The doctor purposefully worded it that way, noting that there was a girl of the boy's age in the room. Had it just been the adults, he wouldn't have bothered concealing it, but as it wasn't, he did. Hinata just assumed it was some medical jargon that she wouldn't understand anyway.

Gin nodded, knowing what he was talking about. The doctor continued, "He's resting now if you want to go in. He'll be moved to a room soon where you'll have to leave him be until the morning when visitors will be allowed. So until he's moved, you can talk to him. For as long as he conscious anyway..."

Gin nodded and the doctor scurried off. The silver haired man turned to the small girl and smiled at her. "If you wanna see him 'fore they close the place, I'd suggest you get in there, if it's ok with yer dad…"

Hinata looked to her father who nodded reluctantly. She smiled and rushed inside. Gin waited until the swinging doors closed complete before turning to Hiashi. "Looks like she's got the hotts for little Naru," he commented offhandedly.

"No offence, but she'd better get over it. The Hyuuga clan doesn't marry outside the family except on rare occasion."

Gin didn't change expression; it was something he'd already assumed. He walked back to the door and pushed it open a crack. Inside he could see Hinata standing next to Naruto who was muttering something to her that Gin couldn't hear. But Hinata seemed happy about it. Both had smiles on their faces as they talked.

"They make a cute couple though," Gin said stepped back from the door, causing Hiashi to quirk and eyebrow. "Are you trying to get me to change my mind?"

Gin smiled at his friend and walked back to him, placing an arm around his shoulder. "I'm gonna guess that those 'rare exceptions' are people with either high status or great power," the silver man said, ignoring Hiashi's accusation for the moment.

The Hyuuga leader almost smirked. "You'd be correct. It's not just me; the Hyuuga elders must also agree to any kind of marriage, let alone even the heiress of the clan."

Gin gave his friend a sly, knowing look. "I didn't say anything about marriage… Hiashi-san," he said with a raised eyebrow. Then in mock shock, he recoiled and placed a hand to his mouth and gasped. "Could it be that you've already thought about 'em bein' together?"

Hiashi sighed and turned his head away slightly, avoiding Gin's childish gaze. "Any quality relationship would end in marriage; it's only natural."

Gin returned his hand to his side and became serious once again. "But you've neglected one important fact, Hiashi-san."

Hiashi gazed at Gin out of the corner of his eye. "And that would be?" He didn't know whether he liked the idea of the Kyuubi Jinchūriki being anywhere close to his daughter; for her safety. But who was he to judge character and intent? Another thing he didn't like was not knowing something.

Gin smirked smugly. "The future Hyuuga successor windin' up with the Kyuubi Jinchūriki. Tell me that doesn't sound temptin'."

Hiashi narrowed his eyes. Thoughts began to spin in his head at this notion. "A tool without a skilled warrior is useless. He would have to be more than just what he is now. Skill, control, finesse… capability. You understand what I mean?"

Gin shrugged. "What difference does it make? A relationship between them would be pointless… Or would it?" he eyed Hiashi suspiciously.

The Hyuga leader looked at the man stoically. "You have just opened a door to something the elders may in fact accept. If it is possible I hope your adopted son is up to the challenge."

"Of learnin'?"

"Of living up to our expectations. I'll be honest; I don't like the idea of him, being what he is, to court my daughter. However, it is far too advantageous a proposition to pass up. Of course, it would only have meaning if he becomes a skill shinobi."

Gin laughed disarmingly. "He plans on becomin' Hokage if that says anything."

Hiashi smirked. "So do most children. I can't make any promises or special favors. 'Till next time." He turned to leave when Gin called out to his retreating form.

"You forgot yer daughter."

"She's fine where she is at the moment."

"Plan on using her as an excuse are ya?"

"As a head-start yes; how intuitive of you."

Gin had the decency to look bashful, even though it was clearly exaggerated.

Hiashi smirked at his old acquaintance and left. Truth be told, while he had no bias toward or against the Uzumaki boy, Gin's proposition intrigued him greatly. It would be extremely advantageous to have his daughter and him marry. He would have to consider how to approach it with the elders; they were sure to be skeptical and careful with their decision.


A/N: And there's chapter three! It may seem a bit scatter brained and awkward, but everything that isn't explained in this chapter will be explained in the next one. Again, sorry it took so long to finish. I'll try not to make it so long between updates in the future. Hope you liked it!