Naruto: Myoushuu no Fuuin

Chapter Two

oooooooooooooooooooooooo

Kakashi eyed his students warily as they pulled weeds from a pumpkin patch—their latest D-ranked mission. They had been acting oddly over the past few weeks during their missions. In morning training, they were fine, normal. In the afternoon, though, they were oddly more subdued and quiet. At first, he'd put it off as their just being tired from the morning workouts. Then he'd attributed it to mutual dislike of the D-ranked missions.

But Asuma had raised his suspicions when he'd mentioned running into his team training themselves the previous afternoon. When Kakashi had been watching them pick up trash from a local park. So he eyed them closely, looking for any sign they weren't who they said they were.

Even then he couldn't find anything—Sasuke was still the mostly anti-social, emotionally stunted brat; Sakura still berated Naruto and made eyes at Sasuke; and Naruto still smiled and laughed like an idiot. Although, come to think of it, Kakashi realized Sakura hadn't been walloping Naruto like she used to. His eye widened as the implications of that struck him.

Could they be Kage Bunshins? he wondered. He'd thought he'd made his point clear enough to all three about Naruto not teaching the other two that jutsu, but… how else could they be in two places at once? No, he knew that if Sakura especially tried to make a shadow clone, she would be in the intensive care unit of Konoha General Hospital. But that didn't mean Naruto couldn't be making shadow clones that could then use Henge to make themselves look like his teammates.

He considered this as he watched his students move down the row of orange, and had the stray thought that there actually was a place in Konoha where Naruto's outfit could be considered camouflage.

Sakura stood then and tripped over a vine, sending her wheeling into Sasuke, who tried unsuccessfully to steady them both. Instead, they wound up crashing to the ground and smashing a pumpkin.

"Unh," Sasuke groaned, rubbing his back and sloughing pumpkin innards off his shirt.

"Sorry, Sasuke-kun!" Sakura apologized. Naruto shook his head and helped them both up, trying unsuccessfully to hide his amused smile.

That rules out Sasuke and Sakura as clones, Kakashi thought. But Naruto could still be a clone. Naruto, after all, did provide the significant push in the team dynamic. So if he were a clone, and he didn't want to get whacked for stupidity… Kakashi thought it made a lot of sense for him to be quieter, which would lead to Sakura and Sasuke being quieter as well. He decided to test out his conclusion and winged a rock at Naruto.

Then he blinked in surprise when Naruto whirled around to block it with a kunai, Sakura and Sasuke immediately sliding into defensive positions beside him.

"Oi, what the hell was that for?" Naruto demanded, pointing an accusing finger at him.

"Maa, maa, just wanted to see if you were on your toes!" Kakashi said with a smile. Then he suddenly appeared in front of the blonde to deliver a sucker punch.

"Oof," Naruto doubled over, even as he was rolling back and throwing a brace of shuriken to give himself space to maneuver, Sasuke and Sakura following suit.

"What the fuck!" Naruto yelled. "That wasn't keeping me on my toes."

"Nope," Kakashi greed with a grin, casually catching and returning the shuriken. "That was me seeing if you're a kage bunshin." Naruto blinked. Then gave him a queer look.

"Ever think of asking?"

"Er, no?" Kakashi scratched his head.

"Eh, what an idiot," Sasuke muttered. Kakashi smiled.

"What was that?" he asked. "You want extra laps tomorrow? Mou, I guess I can let you do that."

All three of his genin glared.

oooooooooooooooooooooooo

Kakashi wasn't sure what to think about his genin. All in all, they really weren't too bad. They didn't whine at him overly much, and were pretty self-contained. They were smart enough to catch on to whatever he tried to teach quickly enough to keep from being annoying about it. They were also smart asses from time to time, but Kakashi considered that a plus, as it kept him entertained. But he felt like he was missing something. Something big.

He was still considering it as he headed to the bar to meet up with some of the other Jounin assigned to Konoha for the duration.

"Yo," he greeted, grabbing a chair at the table.

"My rival! I must say how unyouthful it is for you to leave your genin to train themselves for hours on end," Gai admonished.

"Ma, ma," Kakashi waved away the complaint as he poured himself a drink. "It's good for them. A few hours of teaching themselves and each other helps make them self-reliant. They know how to get things done without anyone spoon-feeding it to them."

"Self-reliant?" Asuma chuckled. "I'll say. I'd love my genin to have even a hint of their… er, self-reliance. And motivation. To stay and train for five or six hours a day by themselves… that's impressive for genin."

Kakashi eyed him curiously, careful not to give anything away. Because he'd never left his team for five or six hours to train themselves.

"Mou, they like to surprise me from time to time. When was it you saw them?"

"Er, today?" Asuma said, and Kakashi hid his surprise at the response. "You mean to tell me you do this regularly?"

"Kakashi, you're supposed to be teaching these kids," Kurenai said. "How are they supposed to learn if you leave them to themselves?"

"Oh, believe me, Kurenai," Kakashi said smiling. "My kids learn just fine. In fact, sometimes, they're too smart for their own good."

oooooooooooooooooooooooo

He got there early the next morning—earlier even than any of his genin. Because if this were happening as frequently as the other Jounin seemed to think, then Kurenai and Gai were right and he was being too lax. Though he still resented their implications that he was nothing more than a burn out.

He hadn't been there long before his genin got there, which surprised him as he was there an hour earlier than the meeting time he always set—and to which he was reliably one and a half to two hours late. As he settled in to watch, his eyes went wide at what he saw.

After a brief greeting, Naruto threw what must have been a few dozen kunai at Sasuke and Sakura, each of which turned into a Naruto, and then into a faceless, masked shinobi. Sasuke began sparring with the majority of them while Sakura took on a handful. Then Naruto jumped in, on the side of the faceless shinobi and the free-for-all really took off. Were they kage bunshin, Kakashi wondered, and was thatSharingan he saw flashing in Sasuke's eyes?

Kakashi began to feel a bit ill. And as he continued to watch, he didn't feel any better.

They were definitely solid clones, and no matter how Sasuke hit them, they didn't disappear. Kakashi's jaw went slack—Konoha shinobi had been trying to figure out how to do that for years to no avail, and it seemed his students had managed to pull it off under his nose.

He watched for almost two hours before they slowed, and he wondered why. Sasuke pulled a container from his bag and grinned as Naruto pounced on it.

"Onigiri!" Naruto cried happily. "Yes! I love it when it's your turn to bring seconds!"

They sat and ate, quietly resting and replenishing themselves as Kakashi realized they waited for him. He almost showed himself then, but Naruto fingered two seal strips and he held himself back.

"You guys ready?" Naruto asked, and they nodded.

Sakura turned her back to him and Sasuke stepped up to let her brace against him. Naruto unzipped her dress and—before Kakashi's eyes could bug out too far—stuck one of the seal strips on the small of her back, slicing his thumb and smearing it over both the seal strip on Sakura and the one still in his hand.

Then he created a Kage Bunshin—around the seal strip in his hand—and, instead of Naruto appearing, Sakura did. Before Kakashi had recovered, Naruto was zipping Sakura's dress back up and Sakura was shaking her head.

"That always feels so strange," she said. Then it was Sasuke's turn. He hiked his shirt up to give Naruto access, and Naruto placed a seal on him as well, creating a Sasuke Kage Bunshin. Then he threw a kunai, and a Naruto clone appeared.

Kakashi was impressed—his kids had managed amazing feats in the few weeks they'd been genin. Kakashi was disappointed—he couldn't really say he'd been any part of their success; if anything, it appeared his team had been working around him instead of with him and he'd been lax enough to allow it to happen. Kakashi was upset—his team had found a way to pawn him and the crappy D-rank missions off on clones and he hadn't noticed for what could have been weeks, for all he knew. He wondered if they were using the clones for his training sessions, too. From what he'd seen of them that morning, the clones would be able to stand up to even harsh training without any problem.

"Ready?" the Naruto clone asked. The Sasuke and Sakura clones nodded and headed out. Which at least answered one question—the brats stuck around for training. But Naruto wasn't the only one who knew Kage Bunshin no Jutsu, so Kakashi sent one of his own after the clones to see what they were up to. A few minutes later, Kakashi jumped down from the tree where he'd been watching.

"Ohayo, Sensei," Naruto greeted. Sakura smiled cheerily and Sasuke… well, he didn't frown, which was about as positive a greeting as he gave. Kakashi did not share their good cheer; training was brutal that morning.

He let them break for lunch, but only because he wanted to watch them while they thought he was gone. The three genin practically collapsed into each other.

"What did we do?" Sakura complained. "It was like he was angry with us. Really, really angry. But I can't figure out what we did wrong."

"Maa, don't worry, Sakura-chan," Naruto tried to comfort her with a tired grin on his face. "He probably just didn't get laid last night or something. I've heard his favorite girl at the 'tea house' he likes is sick or something."

Kakashi's eyebrows went up to his hairline.

"Baka, don't mention such things in front of a lady," Sakura chastised him. Naruto pouted and turned to Sasuke.

"Ne, sorry, Sasuke-chan," Naruto said dramatically. "I didn't mean to offend your delicate, virgin ears."

Both whacked him in the back of his head.

"Don't be an idiot, you jackass," Sasuke said. But Kakashi noted the amused twitch to his lips as he said it. Kakashi wondered if he was in bizarro land. They ravenously devoured the bentos Sasuke handed out, and then the clones came back.

"Ok you guys, ready?" Naruto asked. They nodded, and Naruto dispelled them, grabbing the kunai out of his clone before it hit the ground. Then he sat with a thump, and the three of them appeared to all pass out.

Yes, Kakashi decided, this was definitely wacky world. Then his own shadow clone came back and dispelled, and he understood the desire for a nap as he sorted through the clone's memories of the morning. Apparently, his brats were trying to figure out jutsu scrolls in one of the nearby training grounds. Which explained why the other Jounin thought him so lazy. Well, lazier than he really was, anyway.

It was a good half an hour later before any of them stirred, and another few minutes before they could muster the energy to sit up.

"Do you have the chakra to make clones before afternoon or should we forego it this time?" Sakura was asking. Naruto yawned and cracked his neck.

"Nah, I'm good. You guys alright for it?"

When he received two nods, they went through the process again. Kakashi wondered where the seal strips from the first time went, as he saw both Sakura and Sasuke's backs were bare of the old seals. The three new clones popped into existence and promptly headed out. Kakashi wondered where they were going if they were supposed to meet him to do the mission and created a clone to follow them. When it dispelled a short while later, letting him know that the clones were back to practicing in their own training ground, Kakashi realized his kids hadn't ditched him, and the real ones were waiting for him right where they were supposed to be. Asuma and the others, he realized, must have seen clones working while the real ones had been with him, doing the crappy D-ranked mission.

His anger at their deception evaporated at the knowledge they were innocent, only to be replaced by anger at himself for apparently neglecting the brats. He was sure Minato-sensei would never have let such a large thing slip by him. Looking at his kids, he promised he would do better by them. Kakashi dropped down from his tree and entered the clearing.

"So we need to talk."

His three students looked up at him.

"No mission today Sensei?" Sakura asked. Kakashi ignored her.

"The three of you have been busy little bees," Kakashi said, and watched the surprise cross all of their faces. Sakura bit her lip with worry, but the closed off, guarded looks on the boys face were what concerned Kakashi. Those looks said he was the enemy, and had to be guarded against or he would take something of value. He debated plunging ahead anyway, then shook his head. He'd promised to do better and he owed it to his old sensei and his old teammates to do right by these kids. So, though the idea of people invading his personal space caused his gut to tense, he invited them back to his apartment.

He'd thought the walk there was tense and painfully awkward. It didn't hold a candle to when they were all actually at his place. Which was when he realized he didn't actually have four chairs in his living room. In fact, he only had the dilapidated but really comfortable old couch which was situated facing the television. And he wanted this to not come across as him lecturing the three of them, so he thought having them together on the couch while he brought a chair in from the kitchen probably wouldn't create the best environment. He was, after all, trying to break the them vs. him mentality they seemed to have going.

So he dragged them all into the kitchen where he at least had a table they could sit around and enough chairs for them all to actually sit in.

"Er, would any of you like tea?" he asked, vaguely recalling faint memories from his youth of being admonished to offer guests something to drink.

"Yes, please, Sensei," Sakura said. Sasuke nodded and Naruto shrugged. Kakashi filled his kettle and set it on the stove, but then realized he would have to find four cups. He rummaged through his cupboards until he found a bunch of dusty cups which must have belonged to the previous tenants, as he couldn't for the life of him remember where else they might have come from. He quickly rinsed them out and set them on the table, then measured and dumped the tea into the pot and poured the water in to let it steep. When he'd poured for everyone, Kakashi realized he was out of inane things to do and that it was probably time to actually talk.

"If you would like another Jounin-sensei," Kakashi began slowly. "I will understand and accept that. I can fill out the transfer request in the morning, if you like. I'm sure there are many other Jounin who come more easily to teaching than I do."

All three genin snapped their eyes directly to him.

"Sensei?" Sakura asked in confusion.

"I've been trying to understand why my genin would hide their development from me, and this is the only answer I can come up with," Kakashi said. "Otherwise, why wouldn't you share with me when Sasuke activated his Sharingan? Or that Naruto is a budding fuuinjutsu prodigy? Or that Sakura is delving into medical jutsu and genjutsu both with fervor?"

They were silent. Sakura looked down and bit her lip as Sasuke glared into his cup and Naruto tilted his head back to stare at the ceiling.

"Well?" he prompted.

"Because you wouldn't care," Naruto finally said bluntly. "You leave us waiting for you for hours, so can you really blame us for coming up with something to do when you aren't around? And if you can't bother to show up, why would you care to hear about what we do when you aren't around."

"Have I neglected your training?" Kakashi asked. "If you compare what I've taught you over the past few weeks to what the other new genin have learned, have you been short changed?"

"No, Sensei," Sakura admitted. "Ino even said her sensei hasn't gone over half the things you've shown us yet." He noted Sasuke and Naruto both looked surprised at that and wondered if either of them ever spoke with the other new genin; given their pasts, he guessed not.

"So leaving you to your own devices for a few hours hasn't hurt your progress. And I have my reasons for letting you train yourselves: increased teamwork and bonding, teaching you self-reliance, letting you work out what I've shown you and decompress a bit. None of which, I realize, seem very important at twelve, but I assure you all of them are essential," Kakashi said. "And let me be very clear about this so there's no misunderstanding: I care very much."

He had their rapt attention at that, Sasuke and Naruto particularly.

"Mou, would any of you like to tell me anything about your accomplishments over the past few weeks?" Kakashi prompted, hoping one of them would begin to open up. The three of them all looked to each other, then nodded. Kakashi felt the tension he hadn't realized he was carrying in his shoulders relax.

oooooooooooooooooooooooo

They had spent the rest of the afternoon talking, filling Kakashi in on what they'd managed to accomplish and listening to his advice and suggestions and plans for future training. It was oddly satisfying for all of them. He heard about Sasuke activating his Sharingan, and his attempts at evolving it to three tomoe. Sakura told him how she'd become interested in medical jutsu and what she was trying to learn. And Naruto… Naruto was telling him all about the seals he'd created.

He'd taken out a storage scroll and unsealed a large jutsu scroll where he'd made all of his notes and calculations on the Onigiri Kage Bunshin and the Anata Kage Bunshin, as Naruto had taken to calling them.

"So basically, I just added another layer to the durability seals I created so that it's…"

Kakashi let Naruto's voice wash over him. He'd thought himself proficient in the use of seals, but Naruto had lost him in the first few sentences of his technical explanations. And the diagrams and calculations Naruto was showing him… the kid was doing things with seals he'd never even heard of, much less seen. He made a note to find Jiraiya, who was one of the world's foremost seal masters, to get him to talk to the kid to make sure he wouldn't blow himself up.

oooooooooooooooooooooooo

After that day, their training sky rocketed. With his guilt over allowing his attention to lapse, Kakashi began to truly devote himself to his team. To say the training was intense would be a bit of an understatement.

Kakashi began working on Sasuke's Sharingan to help him develop all three tomoe, and to better understand and utilize what he already had. For Naruto, he taught him all he knew about seals—which he'd soaked up so quickly and easily he knew the boy was already close to out-pacing him. And it was the same for Sakura with medical jutsu.

But Kakashi had more to teach them than just those things. He was not one of Konoha's elite Jounin for his looks, after all, no matter how far past his prime his colleagues thought he was. So Kakashi dedicated considerable time and effort to each skill he felt it necessary for a successful shinobi to have. He worked with all of them on stealth, infiltration, information gathering, taijutsu, strategy, tactics, stamina, chakra control, and a whole host of other things that other Jounin sensei rarely touched on, much less demanded excellence in.

He pushed them—hard, fast, and far—and they took to it like ducks to water. So when Kakashi requested a C-rank mission almost three months ahead of schedule, and the Hokage questioned whether his team was ready, Kakashi was able to answer 'yes' with the utmost confidence that they were.

"Hm, well, I have one I was going to give to a more experienced Genin team," the Hokage mused, wondering at Kakashi's assurance. He'd never seen the man so confident and… peaceful?

"We'll take it," the Jounin said. "My kids can handle it."

The Hokage bit back a smile at that—his kids. Yes, it seemed Kakashi had finally managed to find some semblance of peace with his past.

oooooooooooooooooooooooo

"I have acquired for us a mission of great import," Kakashi announced when he joined them that afternoon. All three students watched him warily, and he pouted—his kids didn't trust him, it seemed. Then he smirked, remembering that they had good reason.

"We… have a C-ranked mission!" Kakashi said.

"Really?"

"Ne, ne, what is it, Sensei?"

"Do we get to do something cool? Something totally awesome?"

"We'll be saving villages from torrents of raging floods, plucking them from the midst of disaster and will no doubt be lauded by all as great heroes," Kakashi said.

"Really?" All three had wide, gleaming eyes.

"Nope," Kakashi said, crushing them. "We'll be building up levees."

All three deflated.

"Still, it is a C-rank. Meet me at the North gate tomorrow at five, ready for an extended mission absence. Do you remember what does and doesn't go in your packs?"

They all nodded.

"Good. Dismissed. No more training today—that's an order."

All three pouted—though Kakashi knew the boys would protest calling it that—and Kakashi grinned as he disappeared in a whirl of leaves.

When Kakashi showed up at the Rusty Canteen that night, he grabbed a chair with the usual crowd of Jounin.

"Yo."

"Kakashi," Hayate slid a bottle of sake over to him. "What's this I hear about you requesting a C-rank for your brats?"

"What?" Kurenai asked, eyes wide. Asuma and Gai just stared.

"Already?" Genma asked. "Haven't you only had those brats for a few weeks?"

"Meh, about three months," Kakashi shrugged.

"But I was told that we wouldn't be allowed a C-rank until the first six months pass, to allow us time to really concentrate on getting our teams in shape," Kurenai said, concerned.

"What can I say? They're good kids," Kakashi slurped his sake down as the waitress cleared the table, blocking views of his face. "Exceptional kids."

"Mm, well, from the Academy reports, I can see maybe Sasuke being ready," Asuma drawled. "But that Haruno girl was nothing special, and Uzumaki was dead last."

"Not everything worth knowing is written in a report," Kakashi said cryptically. "Besides, we're only helping to build levees for the annual floods."

"And let me guess," Genma rolled his eyes. "You get one of the cushy port cities?"

"Maa, nothing so luxurious, no," Kakashi said. "Smaller place up north. Kimato."

"And the old man's sending fresh genin up there?" Asuma asked, whistling. "I did that mission as a Chuunin one year. Here's hoping none of you drown."

oooooooooooooooooooooooo

The next morning, the Genin of Team 7 were shocked to see that not only was Kakashi not late, he was in fact early. And he got right down to business when the three of them showed up, too.

"Alright," he said. "First thing's first. What's in your packs?" For three genin on their first mission out of Konoha, he expected the packs to be bulging. Instead, they looked barely full. When his kids emptied them to show only a couple of scrolls, though, Kakashi understood. There were definite benefits to having a budding fuuinjutsu prodigy on one's team.

"Ah. I'm going to assume you all have at least the standard supply lists?" They all nodded.

"And in the event we have to leave without our packs, you're not carrying anything you care overly much about leaving behind, are you?" They shook their heads no.

"Good. The client doesn't expect us for five days, but that doesn't mean we can slack. I expect us there in three. We'll be using the tree-walking technique to help us run through the forests until they're too thin to provide a cover. Do you remember my showing you how last week?" he asked, and they nodded.

"Then let's head out," Kakashi said, using the ANBU hand signals as well as his voice to give the orders. He was slowly teaching them the unspoken language, knowing all three would be good enough for it later on if they were so inclined.

:More leaves come?: Sasuke signed back clumsily, asking about the half-dozen Jounin they'd all spotted.

:No. Go.: Kakashi replied, directing them ahead of him North-Northwest, and let them leap off before turning to his audience.

"Mou, we'll be back in a few weeks," he said cheerily. "Ja mata ne." Hayate, Genma and Anko rolled their eyes. Asuma, Kurenai and Gai nodded, impressed by the professionalism, efficiency and competence Kakashi had managed to drill into his genin in such a short time. Kakashi ignored them all, having made his point, and turned to catch up with his kids.

oooooooooooooooooooooooo

"So, this is Kimato, hunh?" Naruto asked, looking at the rather dusty, desolate looking town nestled into a shallow valley at Fire's northeast border.

"We're supposed to be saving this place from flooding?" Sasuke asked skeptically. "It looks like it hasn't rained here in about a year."

"Hmm, well, that's part of the problem," Kakashi said. "When spring comes, all the snow in the mountains way up there melts." He gestured to the mountains in the distance as he spoke.

"But those same mountains throw a lot of the rain in other directions the rest of the year. So the ground stays very dry all year, except for when the spring floods come from spring melt. This little place is where the all the mountain streams meet and the flooding begins. And the water spills into other springs that cause flooding all the way down Fire until it empties in the gulf. It goes down to a trickle up here after about two or three weeks, and leaves this place in drought the rest of the year. About 10-12 teams get sent out every spring to reinforce the levee system from here to the Gulf to keep the water in the rivers and out of the towns."

"Why don't they just find a permanent solution to the problem instead of just patching everything up every year?" Naruto asked curiously.

"Hmm, well," Kakashi considered. "It is a couple million gallons of rushing flood water. I imagine it's not the easiest thing in the world to deal with, ne?"

Naruto and the others all agreed that that sounded like a really quite reasonable explanation, but that didn't stop Naruto from continuing to think about it.

oooooooooooooooooooooooo

"I ask for shinobi, and this is what Konoha gives me? Kids? Scrawny kids?" The headman of the village was obviously disappointed and incredulous when he met Team 7 the next morning.

"I assure you, my students are fully capable of handling anything that might occur in this mission," Kakashi said. "But in case an emergency comes up, I'm a Jounin of Konoha, and will make sure the mission is a success."

The headman still didn't look too pleased, but nodded his acceptance anyway, realizing there wasn't much of anything he could do about it regardless of his satisfaction with the team Konoha had assigned him. He turned on his heel, leading them to a large one-room structure just outside of the main village.

"Spring floods start in about two weeks," he said gruffly, clearly still not happy about the young genin he was assigned. "What we need from you lot is to go make big sandbags. There's a barren field a few miles out we always use. The village women weave the bags all year long, so we have plenty of them for you to fill. Once you fill up a pallet's worth of bags, bring 'em back and we'll show you where and how to stack 'em."

He threw the door open and motioned them through.

"How many bags do you need?" Sakura asked, seeing the large room full of sacks stacked from one side of the room to the other and all of them reaching all the way up to the roof.

"All of 'em."

Even Kakashi's eyes widened.

"Holy shit," Naruto said. The others only silently agreed.

oooooooooooooooooooooooo

That night, after a few applications of Tajuu Kage Bunshin no Jutsu, the headman and many of the villagers of Kimato had a lot more appreciation and respect for Konoha shinobi generally and Team 7 in particular. They were given a tiny room in the headman's house where they all bunked down together. Kakashi claimed the futon, citing seniority. The genin all rolled their eyes but didn't complain—much—as Naruto unsealed their sleeping bags.

But even as his team went to sleep, Naruto's mind was too caught up in the problem of the annual floods to let him rest. No one had noticed when a handful of the kage bunshin he'd created to help with the sandbags had slipped away to inspect the levees and the riverbanks. Some of them had followed the almost dry riverbed all the way down to where it emptied into a much larger river. The path had obviously been man-made, and the river it fed was already high and raging.

One clone followed the river downstream to where it emptied into the gulf, catching sight of at least a dozen villages along the way with sandbags being piled up along the levees. He wondered if any of these villages were the ones Kakashi mentioned as also having hired Konoha to help with building up the levees. Then the clone decided it had seen everything it could and dispelled itself.

Naruto, lying in his sleeping bag and staring at the ceiling, quietly absorbed the knowledge that the water from the spring melt really wasn't of any use anywhere. And he thought about the dusty, parched landscape around him. Kimato could use the water, just not so much all at once. He wondered if there was anything he could do.

The next morning, when they returned to the field to continue filling sandbags, Naruto thought the area looked rather like a bowl from all of their work. Then he blinked as thoughts seemed to swirl together in his mind, and the tentative beginnings of an idea began to form. So when he created his army of kage bunshin, he directed them to continue digging out the bowl. And as his body worked to fill sandbag after sandbag, his mind worked out a way to fill the bowl.

When they finally broke for lunch, Naruto quickly snatched a storage scroll from his pouch, and unsealed an even larger scroll on which he began frantically making notes. His team only shook their heads at him, well used to his antics by now.

"We'll bring you back a bento, Naruto," Sakura offered. Naruto only grunted and continued his frenzied calculations. When his team came back, he was far too deep into his work to even notice.

"Tch, leave him be," Sasuke said when Kakashi was about to physically drag him away from the scroll. "It's not as though we don't have enough Narutos already helping us."

"Yeah, and who knows what he's coming up with," Sakura added. "Maybe it'll make all this go faster."

Kakashi shrugged; if the rest of his team wasn't going to complain about Naruto slacking, he was inclined to let him continue creating. He'd yet to see Naruto come up with something that wasn't incredibly useful and innovative. Or, recalling the seal that had turned Sasuke's hair as pink as Sakura's for a few hours, at the very least entertaining. He turned back to the worksite and saw the thousand Naruto clones still digging and filling sandbags. And Sasuke was right; there really were enough Narutos to go around already.

oooooooooooooooooooooooo

When Naruto finally came up for air, he looked around to see it was getting dark out, and that his team was just cleaning up for the day.

"What's going on?" he asked.

"Back with the land of the living?" Sakura asked teasingly.

"Hunh?" Naruto scratched his head.

"Want to tell us what you were working on?" Kakashi interrupted. He ignored the glares from Sasuke and Sakura his question prompted—they'd long since stopped asking for fear Naruto would spew seal-speak at them.

"Oh! Right. So, what I wanted to do was find a way to move the water from the flood to the bowl, because they look like they could use it. The water, that is, not the bowl. But I couldn't think of any transportation seals that I knew of, so I started on modifying a storage seal into a two-part seal, so that the first half would automatically store the water in it when water touches it and then the second half automatically empties the water out, that way it can move the water from where it is to where I want it to be, but I had to figure out…"

When Kakashi felt even his eyes glazing over, he cut him off.

"Er, Naruto?" he said. "Maybe a little less technical jargon?" Naruto huffed and crossed his arms over his chest.

"Fine then," he pouted. "How's this for less technical: Water touch seal one, water move to seal two. No more flood. Lake for Kimato. The end."

Kakashi blinked as all of the implications wound their way through his thoughts.

"Can you demonstrate?" he asked. Naruto shrugged.

"Sure."

Kakashi watched in fascination as Naruto casually and seemingly carelessly scrawled the sealing script on two ofuda, the ink becoming infused with his chakra with every stroke of the brush. Then the brush disappeared as Naruto's fingers flicked through a long series of hand seals before slapping one hand on each ofuda.

"Fuuin," Naruto said, then exhaled harshly. "Well, that's done. Anyone have a bowl handy?"

Kakashi unsealed a dog dish from one of his own storage scrolls and handed it over. Naruto looked at him oddly, as though he was wondering why Kakashi carried around a dog dish but wasn't quite brave enough to ask.

"For my dog summons," Kakashi offered. "When I give them treats during training."

"You have dog summons?" Naruto asked, then shook his head. "No, wait, never mind. So, watch."

One seal he put in the bottom of the dog dish, and the other he held in his hand, taking out his canteen and beginning to pour water over it. It vanished, only to reappear in the dish.

"Cool," Sakura said as she watched.

"And you think this could work for the melt water?" Kakashi asked.

"Mm hmm," Naruto nodded. "And that this field could be the bowl."

His teammates eyed the field.

"That… will be a lot of digging," Sasuke finally said.

oooooooooooooooooooooooo

Kakashi had tasked Naruto with working out the final kinks of how the sealing system would work as he sent a message to the Hokage explaining the situation and requesting permission to renegotiate their mission. In the event that permission was denied (which Kakashi said was unlikely) or the village declined the offer (which Naruto thought even less likely, given how much they seemed to prize water), Kakashi also had Team 7 continue their sandbagging efforts. This had the dual purpose of continuing to hollow out the bowl shape for seal structure, should that go forward.

The cry of a hawk drew all of their attention to the sky, pulling even Naruto out of his seal-induced trance. All Konoha shinobi were trained to respond to a hawk from their first days in the Academy on; they were the Hokage's best non-shinobi messengers. Though Naruto had still been frustrated by the length of time the message took.

As the hawk soared down to them, looking for a perch to land on, Kakashi threw up an arm. He refrained from wincing as the bird dug its talons into his arm and simply reinforced the skin with a bit of chakra to prevent punctures. Then he took the message out of the pouch and read it through, deciphering the code as he went as easily as if it weren't encoded at all.

"Well?" Naruto asked impatiently, tapping his fingers against his leg from all of his nervous energy.

The Hokage had given him permission to renegotiate. He had also made it abundantly clear that he wanted to have a long talk with Kakashi when Team 7 returned to Konoha. He winced at that; the language the Hokage had used had made it clear this was not to be a friendly chat.

"Home," he ordered the bird, launching it in the air.

"Kaka-sensei, can we do it or not?" Sakura asked. Sasuke looked at him, head tilted to one side in question. Kakashi smiled at his team.

"Let's go talk to the headman," he said.

oooooooooooooooooooooooo

Naruto refrained from groaning at Kakashi's bargaining tactics. As brilliant a shinobi as he was, negotiations were clearly not his strong point. So Naruto subtly shoved an elbow in his ribs, used the ANBU sign language to tell Kakashi target mine (which, though somewhat morbid as it was supposed to be used for assassinations, was the only sign he'd been taught so far that might apply) and took over.

"Ah, honorable headman, I can see you have some doubts," Naruto said, nodding wisely. "But then, I remember you also had doubts that we were capable of accomplishing the mission you originally contracted Konoha for."

"Hmm, that is true," the headman nodded. Remind him he was wrong about our claims once: Check, Naruto thought. Now to bring up the constant drought and cost of dealing with the floods each year.

"Still, I know you are a clever man, for you must be to have kept Kimato in such bounty, even with such drought. And prosperous as well, as you must be to hire a team of shinobi every year to deal with floods. So I can understand why a smart headman such as yourself might be skeptical of our claim."

Check, check, and: Make him feel like I'm on his side, check again.

"It's not that I disbelieve you, you understand," the headman said, rubbing his chin in though. "But it seems far too good to be true. And if Konoha could do such a thing, why would they wait so many years to offer up such a solution?"

"Ah, but this is the first time that my team has been assigned such a task. It is the problem, you understand, that comes with administering a government," Naruto explained, trying to get the headman to sympathize. "With so many people to be responsible for, things often get the simplest solution instead of the best. For example, the simplest solution in this case has been assigning a team to do exactly as you contracted for: help build up levees for the yearly spring thaw. As a headman yourself, you must understand how such a thing might come to be when you have dozens upon dozens of requests and complaints a day."

The headman nodded wisely, understanding and sympathizing with Naruto's point. Naruto refrained from grinning; this was much easier than the various sales pitches he'd made over the years in the Akasen. He already had the headman was eating out of the palm of his hand. Sakura and Sasuke, he noted from the corner of his eye, were giving him baffled looks, wondering where this version of him had come from. And Kakashi… Kakashi only looked bored as ever, though Naruto noticed he was watching him sharply.

"It was by both of our villages' good fortune that this year, it happened to be my team assigned to your request, honorable headman," Naruto continued. "My team is uniquely qualified to fill not only your original request for assistance in sandbagging the levees, but also in that we were able to see a possibility for a permanent solution to the dual issues of flooding and drought. Of course, should you decide it is in the best interests of your village to decline our offer, we will act with the honor of all Konoha shinobi and complete our original mission, please rest assured of that. But I hope you will at least allow us a brief demonstration of what we are offering, so that you might truly consider it."

"I would be honored to see what solution the honorable shinobi of the great Konohagakure no Sato might offer our humble village," the headman said as he bowed his head briefly in agreement.

"I am something of a practitioner of a rather esoteric shinobi discipline," Naruto said as he set out the two bowls they'd brought with them just for this purpose.

"It is a very ancient and subtle art, one which not many see the value in. Indeed, just looking at these two thin strips of paper would make any clever man wonder what purpose they might actually serve," he continued, holding the two ofuda up for the headman to look at. "The script is peculiar and illegible, the paper wont to tear at the lightest tug, if it doesn't first blow away in the gentlest of breezes."

Bad plan! Kakashi signed to him, worried Naruto was going to blow it all now. Fail! Naruto ignored him, placing the two ofuda in separate bowls. The headman was watching in captivation, completely entranced by Naruto's performance. Just as Naruto planned.

"However, what might look delicate and frail and indecipherable can actually serve great purpose when in the hands of one who can make sense of them. Watch," he said, taking his canteen and pouring the water into one bowl. The headman gasped as he watched it appear in the second.

"What we propose, honorable headman," Naruto said as he continued to pour water into the bowl. "Is to move the flood water from the river to a reservoir, just as the water from this canteen is moved from bowl to bowl. Then Kimato will be safe from the flood, and have a supply of water that won't run out." Naruto—ever the performer—timed it so that just then, the last of the water dropped from the canteen and the first bowl went dry. He let the headman sit in silent contemplation for a few moments, letting the spell he'd woven sink in.

"Of course, it is in the hands of such clever men as the headman and the elders of this village to make such a decision about the possibility of such a change in the way of life for those of Kimato," Naruto said, pouring the water from the second bowl back into his canteen. "One such as myself would never presume to be qualified to make such a decision. All I ask is that you consider it, honorable headman. Now please excuse us, we still have the sandbagging to finish." He reached into the bowls to peel out the seals when the headman stopped him.

"Wait," he said. "I would… like to confer with the village elders about your proposal. If it would please you, honored guests, I would humbly ask that you wait for our return."

"It shall be as you request, honored headman," Naruto said, bowing his head. He didn't bother holding back his grin as the headman hurried from the room.

"What was that?" Kakashi asked, baffled by Naruto's actions.

"You were screwing it up," Naruto scoffed. "Haven't you ever done any sort of negotiating before?"

"Maa, my skills lend themselves more towards assassinations and black ops work than diplomacy," Kakashi said, more openly than anything he'd said in a long time. "You don't seem to have that trouble."

"Yeah, where did that come from Naruto?" Sakura asked. "It was like you were a… a merchant or a… hmm, a…"

"Swindler," Sasuke offered.

"Yeah, a swindler or something."

Naruto shrugged.

"Well, I've been both," Naruto said, much to all of his team's surprise.

"What?" he asked a their looks. "I'm an orphan. I had to raise funds for the Academy somehow. I've sold everything from snake oil to sugar to secrets and all that's in between."

"Doesn't the Orphans' Fund provide for things like that?" Kakashi asked.

"Tch," Naruto scoffed, looking away. "If it makes you feel better to think so. Now quickly, before they come back. What are we supposed to charge for this?"

"The Hokage advised that a large, permanent seal structure like this is worth an A-rank to an AA-rank mission," Kakashi said. "Danger from enemy shinobi is of course low, but the danger from crafting the seal is high, and the number of people who can do it is low, so…"

"Yeah, yeah, supply, demand, all that, I got it," Naruto said, waving him off. "Now hush, they're almost back."

oooooooooooooooooooooooo

The headman had come back with a handful of old men Kakashi assumed were the village elders. They'd asked for another demonstration and Naruto had graciously complied. As he watched Naruto negotiate with men five times his age or more—and get the better of them—Kakashi tried to figure the boy out.

He was incredibly open, except when he was being cagey. He was brilliant, but had the worst Academy grades he'd ever seen. He was sneaky and sly, except when he was being loud and bold and orange, of all things. And he was exceptionally self-sufficient, even for a child shinobi, except for when he was so vulnerably needy that even Kakashi had trouble turning him away. He was a host of contradictions. And with all of the strange things he knew and did and said, Kakashi was even more confused by him.

Then Naruto named an outrageous figure, and Kakashi had to hold back from choking. And he watched with amazement as Naruto bargained harder and better than a fishmonger's wife until he got the deal he wanted and left Kimato's headman looking thrilled to have it.

"Then we're agreed, honorable headman," Naruto said as he bowed.

"We are," the headman agreed, bowing back. "To be paid quarterly over the course of five years."

For the first time since he'd gotten the message, Kakashi was glad he had a long meeting scheduled with the Hokage.

oooooooooooooooooooooooo

"Well, Naruto," Kakashi asked. "What now?"

"Whaddya mean, Kaka-sensei?" Naruto asked.

"Hmm? Oh, just that you've so far managed to invent a completely new seal structure that will change the lives of the entire village, get our mission upgraded to an A-ranked mission, and single-handedly renegotiate the terms of our mission, bargaining to get terms most favorable to Konoha. So, what's next, Taichou-chan?" Kakashi asked with a grin.

"What?" Naruto half asked, half yelled. "But that's… you… gah!"

He glared at Sakura and Sasuke, who hadn't bothered to hide their snickering.

"And you two are supposed to be on my side," he pouted accusingly.

"Of course, Naruto-taichou," Sakura said innocently.

"Anything you say, Taichou," Sasuke agreed.

"…You suck," Naruto said.

"Seriously though, you're the seal expert here," Kakashi said. "What do you need us to do?"

Naruto looked up at him from under his eyelashes to see if he was really serious. It appeared he was.

"Well," Naruto hesitated, nervous now that they all were looking at him. "What would really help? If you could somehow figure out how big the reservoir needs to be, and start digging it."

"Sure," Kakashi agreed easily. So as Naruto pulled out his giant scroll filled with inscrutably obscure notes, Kakashi sat down for some calculations of his own. As he wrote out all of the information he had on the spring thaw, he noted Sasuke idly sharpening and cleaning his kunai and shuriken and Sakura… hovering over his shoulder.

"Carry the three, Kakashi-sensei," she said patiently. He looked down at his equation and realized she was right. A few seconds later, she spoke up again.

"You forgot an 'X' Kaka-sensei," she corrected him. Kakashi grit his teeth and added the 'X' where she'd pointed—after looking back over his work for a few moments and seeing she was right. Again.

"Kaka-sensei, you need to factor it to…"

Kakashi tossed the scroll at her and plopped down next to Sasuke.

"So," he said. "You come up with a way to make me feel inadequate and completely superfluous today, too?"

"Well," Sasuke said, never looking away from his kunai. "I could show you my two Sharingan eyes if you really want."

Then Sasuke was falling ass over teakettle into a stack of sandbags, and Kakashi was stretching out like a cat on top of the large pile, Icha Icha Paradise in hand as he proceeded to ignore his entire team.

oooooooooooooooooooooooo

"Kaka-sensei, are you done pouting yet?" Sakura called up. Kakashi arched an eyebrow, but continued reading without acknowledging her. He was not pouting.

"Come on, Kaka-sensei, we need help to make the reservoir," Sakura said.

"Don't bother," Sasuke told her. "He's feeling old. Probably we should just leave him so he doesn't have to strain himself. And I bet we can get Naruto to modify some of the explosive seals to have bigger explosions…"

He was cut off as Kakashi appeared in front of them, casually sending Sasuke flying into the sandbag pile again. Kakashi had decided a while back that whenever Naruto and explosives were in the same sentence, it was time for him to intervene.

"Oh, are we ready?" Kakashi asked innocently.

"Hearing problems and gray hair are signs of old age, you know," Sasuke replied, getting up and brushing himself off.

"It's silver," Kakashi protested. "And it's been that way since I was a child, twerp. Now come on. This old man still has a thing or two to teach you." Naruto trailed along after them, nose still stuck into the giant scroll he had two clones carrying so his hands were free to make notes.

"Now mark off the area we need to excavate," Kakashi ordered Sakura. "And I'll show you how ninjutsu can be applied in non-combat situations. Sasuke, you're going to help."

Sasuke looked between him and Sakura.

"…Can I help mark the area instead?" he asked.

"No," Kakashi said as Naruto and Sakura snickered. After Sakura had finished, she sat back with Naruto as they watched Kakashi and Sasuke.

"Ready?" Kakashi asked. Sasuke nodded. "Then let's do this."

Kakashi stood in the middle of where the giant reservoir was to be—and it was quite a bit larger than he'd imagined it would be—and began running through hand seals at a furious pace, his fingers flying so quickly it was hard for any of the genin to pick out any one seal.

"Underworld Swamp!" Kakashi called as he slammed a hand to the ground, sending his chakra out deep into the ground until the entire area Sakura had marked off was nothing more than a muddy mess. But he didn't stop there. Before the mud could swallow him down he stabilized his feet with chakra and began the seals for another jutsu.

"Wind Tunnel!" he yelled, directing a tornado of wind around the mud, flinging it everywhere. When he let the jutsu dissipate, the reservoir had been completely carved out. He looked around and nodded, pleased with himself. Then he climbed out of it and looked to his three genin, completely covered in mud and glaring at him.

"Oh, looks like you three could use a bath," he chuckled. All of their eyes twitched, and they didn't even need to look at each other before they leapt into action together, tackling him and drawing him down into the mud with them. And he laughed as he let them, wrestling them all down until there wasn't an inch of them that wasn't caked with mud.

"Maa, maa, that's enough now," he said, hiding a grin as they all pouted. Really, they were all good kids. Great kids.

"Sasuke, you're up," he said. Sasuke looked at him incredulously.

"Oh, you want to get clean first?" Kakashi asked archly. "Well, alright." And he did a quick water jutsu that acted much like a fire hose, and drenched the kids, then himself.

"All clean," he said. They glared at him, now dripping wet. Sasuke sniffed at him imperiously, then jumped down into the reservoir to help him cover the area with a fire jutsu to set the base of the reservoir into an unnaturally hardened substance resembling concrete.

"That," Naruto said as he looked out over the reservoir. "Is one big-ass bowl."

"Wow," Sakura agreed, then looked up at him. "You're… a lot cooler than I thought, Sensei."

Kakashi slapped a hand to his forehead and shook his head. Brats, all of them.

oooooooooooooooooooooooo

Naruto eyed the huge expanse of the reservoir that he was going to have to cover with seals and slowly blew out a breath. The thing was massive. And he hadn't taken into account that his normal way of doing a two part seal was to do both halves at the same time, which certainly wouldn't be possible when both areas were so large and so far apart.

Then he took a running leap off the side of the reservoir and landed in the middle to began painting the sealing script across the bottom of the basin. He worked through lunch, and then through dinner, until his teammates dragged him away back to the headman's house to force feed him and make him rest for a while. It wasn't a comfortable sleep; he hadn't realized how connected he remained to the seal through the active chakra until now. Which, he thought, was probably because he finished most seals within a few minutes.

So he snuck back the next morning before the others woke to finish the preliminary script for the reservoir, then headed to the dry riverbed to do the second half. When Sakura found him, she was anything but pleased.

"You didn't eat breakfast," she scolded him. He barely even looked at her, he was so caught up in the seal structure. It buzzed in his head, wanting to be complete. Demanding to be complete.

"Baka, are you even listening to me?" she demanded, raising a fist in warning. Kakashi grabbed in and shook his head, then crouched down in front of Naruto. He looked at the boy's face, then took his chin in his hand to force him to look at him.

"Hmm, the seal is already part-way active, isn't it?" he murmured. "So we didn't do you any favors last night dragging you away. Well, here. Eat this." He shoved a food pill into Naruto's mouth and he swallowed reflexively.

"That should hold you for a few hours anyway. Do you need us to do anything?"

But Naruto couldn't really hear him, he just wanted to go back to the seal. Kakashi sighed at Naruto's unresponsiveness.

"Come on," he told his team. "Leave him be. He has to finish, or it'll just pull at his chakra until he's left an empty husk."

"What!" Sakura and Sasuke screeched. "We've got to…"

"We've got to let him finish, and watch him carefully to make sure he doesn't overextend his chakra," Kakashi said. "But we need to let him finish."

So they spent the day observing him as he swept the riverbed with his brush and chakra. More and more of the villagers stopped what they were doing to watch along with them, fascinated by the strange ninja work.

It was sunset before Naruto dropped the brush. He put his hands together in a familiar seal, and created two dozen kage bunshin. Half of them immediately headed out. Kakashi eyed their direction and assumed they were going to the reservoir.

"Kaka-sensei," Naruto said, voice rough. "When I tell you, can you and Sasuke toss me up? I need a direct line of sight to the reservoir."

Kakashi and Sasuke nodded; Sakura fretted, biting her nails. Then the clones at the riverbed all got into place and Naruto was telling Kakashi he was ready. Sasuke and Naruto took a running start and Kakashi sent first Sasuke then Naruto high up. And when they began to lose speed, Sasuke and Naruto joined hands and Sasuke flung them in a circle to throw Naruto even higher.

Then the world stopped.

The amount of chakra was so oppressive even the villagers felt it. Thin lines of blue chakra shot down from where Naruto was barely visible anymore to the clones, who immediately started a long series of hand seals.

"Fuuin!" they finally yelled, slamming their palms to the ground, and the intricate script Naruto had spent the last two days painting suddenly began to move and writhe. Sasuke dropped to the ground in a crouch, and he and Kakashi and Sakura watched the sealing process with as much fascination as the rest of the villagers.

The script finally froze and settled into place, looking like nothing more than ripples in the bedrock. Then the clones disappeared and the lines of blue chakra feeding them went with them. Kakashi's eyes were already in the sky, calculating when Naruto would come back down and wondering what shape he would be in.

When he spotted him in freefall, he knew the shape was not good.

"Sasuke, send me up," Kakashi ordered. Back in Konoha, he would be able to do it himself, with the help of a nearby tree or tall building. But here, in the middle of nowhere with nothing taller than a house, he'd need help getting the lift. Sasuke nodded and cupped his hands, readying his chakra to boost Kakashi up in the air. Kakashi leapt and used his own chakra to help push off, and then he was near the boy and reached out with his chakra to draw him close.

Landing was second nature—reinforcing his legs with chakra so he wouldn't break anything or roll awkwardly—he'd been doing it long enough he no longer even had to think about it. Then Sakura and Sasuke were racing over to check on Naruto. And, he noticed, so was the headman.

"I didn't realize this would be so dangerous," the headman was saying to Kakashi.

"Everything has a cost," Kakashi replied, concentrating on trying to get a food pill into Naruto. "Many people think only of the wondrous things shinobi can accomplish so easily. What they don't understand is the hours and hours of training we must do everyday to be able to perform such tasks. The vast majority of our lives we must dedicate to the ninja arts, and they always require us to make some sacrifice to use them. So now you see that while the amount we requested in exchange for creating your reservoir may have seemed very high to you, the fact is the cost to us is equally high, but in a different currency."

"Is there anything I can do?" the headman asked, gesturing to Naruto. Sakura was stroking his throat to help the pill go down and Kakashi shook his head.

"No. We'll return to our quarters to tend to Naruto. As soon as he's healed, we'll take our leave."

oooooooooooooooooooooooo

Naruto didn't wake up for two days. When he did, he was so groggy and out of it, it was all Kakashi could do to force some food and water into him before he went back to bed. The following day, however, he woke with much greater cognizance and a ravenous hunger, much to the relief of his team.

The fourth day, he insisted on getting out of bed, and threatened to go when their backs were turned if they didn't help him. That only made Kakashi tie him down and watch him like a hawk. Naruto decided not to antagonize him much after that; he'd never had someone look out for him like that before, and he found he kind of liked it.

After much begging, on the fifth day Kakashi allowed Naruto to get up and walk around the village for a while. He inspected the seals in the riverbed and the reservoir and proclaimed them perfect.

"Ne, Kaka-sensei," Naruto asked quietly tugging on his vest to get his attention. "Why are they all looking at me funny?"

Kakashi looked to the villagers, who were all looking at Naruto with a mix of admiration and respect on their faces. He shook his head that Naruto couldn't recognize it and began to explain it when they heard shouting.

"The floods are coming!" they heard being shouted throughout the village. "The floods are coming!"

Everyone was running towards the riverbed.

"Come on, let's see the seals in action!" Naruto said, breaking free of Kakashi and racing to follow the crowd. Kakashi cursed and followed, and Sasuke and Sakura shrugged and did the same. They all stopped in amazement at the sight.

A wall of raging water was gushing down the riverbed in a massive torrent. Everyone held their breath to see if the seals would work. Then the first of it passed the seals and disappeared.

The villagers started cheering.

"Let's go see the bowl!" Naruto said. "I wanna see the water appearing there, too."

Most of the village seemed to hear him and agree, as there was a stampede towards the basin. When they got there, the water had barely even spread enough to touch the sides of the basin they'd carved out, but the crowd was still cheering at it.

oooooooooooooooooooooooo

"So, the Naruto Lagoon?" the Sandaime asked archly. Kakashi had just returned to Konoha with his team and had been immediately summoned to the Hokage tower for a debriefing.

"The Great Naruto Lagoon," Kakashi corrected with a sigh.

"Ah, yes, of course," the Sandaime said with a grin. "The Great Naruto Lagoon. Tell me, how do Sakura and Sasuke feel about that name?"

"The brats thought it was hilarious," Kakashi snorted.

"They thought it was funny?" the Hokage asked in surprise.

"Very," Kakashi said. "It was originally going to be the Naruto Lake, then those two heard about it and started campaigning the villagers to make it the Great Naruto Lake. I'm not sure how it got turned from Lake to Lagoon, though."

"They thought it was funny?" the Hokage repeated. All the psych profiles he'd seen on Uchiha Sasuke told him such a thing would make him enraged with jealousy and feelings of inadequacy. He wondered what Kakashi had managed to do in three months to change that reaction into a prank.

"Well, you see, it's Naruto, and he kept calling it a bowl, and a Naruto bowl is…" Kakashi trailed off scratching his head. "I guess you had to be there."

"Yes, I assume so," the Sandaime agreed. "And did you find it equally amusing for your work to be named after one of your students?"

"My work?" Kakashi asked, confused.

"Mm," Sandaime said, steepling his fingers in front of him. "You've been holding back on us, Kakashi. I had no idea you were such a seal master."

"…Wait, what?"

"Come now," the Hokage said reprovingly. "To be able to come up with the idea, then design and implement such a seal structure is so short a time is nothing short of genius. I had known you were studying them, of course, but you never let on you were so far along in your mastery."

"You think it was me who came up with the seal structure?" Kakashi asked.

"Well, yes, who else?"

"Why do you think it's called the Great Naruto Lagoon?"

"…Naruto created the seal structure for Kimato?" the Hokage asked, then shook his head. "He's only been studying seals for a few months—he didn't even know what a seal was until I explained it the night he graduated from the Academy. And you want me to believe he somehow was the architect behind this?"

"You could ask any of my genin," Kakashi offered with a shrug.

"Ah, but they are your genin," the Hokage said. "I have no doubt they would lie if you asked them to."

"Of course," Kakashi agreed. "But to lie to the Hokage? I think you overestimate me. Besides, you could ask anyone in Kimato, and they would say the same."

The Hokage turned in his chair to look out at the Monument. His hands absently went about filling and lighting his favorite pipe as he contemplated what Kakashi had said. After a few minutes of silence, he began to speak again, not looking back at him.

"I think you underestimate yourself, Kakashi-kun," the Hokage said. "I've seen you interact with your children, and I believe they'd do almost anything for you."

"Hokage-sama," Kakashi protested.

"This is not a criticism," the Hokage said as he turned to look Kakashi in the eye. "On the contrary; I'm very pleased with how you have managed to develop your team into a cohesive unit. And you should be proud of yourself as well."

Kakashi wasn't sure what to do or say, so he just sat in silence as the Hokage gave his pipe a few more quiet puffs.

"So, young Naruto really is a budding Fuuinjutsu prodigy?"

"He is," Kakashi affirmed. "He's already beyond my knowledge, though I try to guide him when I can. I've sent out some feelers to try to find Jiraiya so he can at least talk to the boy and make sure he isn't going to blow himself up, but without being able to go after any of the leads my feelers turn up I haven't been able to find him."

"Hmm." The Hokage gently tapped out the leaves from his now empty pipe. "Here is what we will do. I will give Team 7 two C-rank missions and two months to complete them. One will be to track down Jiraiya. The other is to track down Tsunade. I have messages to give them both."

"Both?" Kakashi asked weakly, scratching the back of his head.

"Both," Sandaime agreed. "And if you happen to convince Jiraiya to talk to Naruto while you deliver my message, well then, there's no harm in that."

oooooooooooooooooooooooo