This is AM, welcome back after a long break to the Uzumaki Tag Company. I am alive. Sorry for the unannounced hiatus - the last few months have been extremely busy, and it's been difficult to find times to write. Hopefully I'll be able to get another chapter out soon, but until then, enjoy this next chapter!

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto. That would be slavery or indentured servitude, depending on what state you're in.

His feet scooped the hot sand as he trudged through the desert. Dull blue eyes surveyed the landscape. Before him, the great orange dunes rose and fell in shifting waves, seemingly infinite in quantity. Naruto ran a dry tongue across his cracked lips and hefted his charge higher onto his back. The small being stirred.

"Sorry," the creature whispered quietly.

Naruto glanced back with a blank face.

"I know," he responded.

It made a small, jerky nod before relaxing its head onto the blond's shoulder. Naruto wearily pulled his legs from the sand as he tramped up the side of a high dune. The dry air burned his throat and lungs; his damp black t-shirt stuck to his sweaty chest as it rose and fell with exertion. It was many hours later before his aching legs finally succumbed and he fell into the sand, dropping his charge. Naruto's lips cracked open and protested silently as he watched his companion roll down the side of the dune, slippign and sliding with whines of pain. He struggled to rise, but the sand caked onto his clothing weighed down his heavy body, sucking him slowly downward. The heat quieted his muscles and lulled his mind into drowsiness. The sun swam before his eyes and dipped below the horizon. He slowly closed his eyes, feeling the coarse sand upon his face and stomach. The red sky faded to black, casting a blanket of stars over the two lifeless beings.

One Week Later

"Still nothing?"

Sakura didn't respond. Sasuke frowned slightly and glanced down at the book in his hands. His red eyes scanned the page in a flash and he snapped the book shut in annoyance.

"We're not looking in the right place," he decided. "It's not like he purposely dropped off the grid."

"I think that's exactly what he did," Sakura mumured. "The way he left...doesn't leave many possible theories, does it?"

She leaned back and examined the rafters of the library.

"First thing I did was check to see if Gatou had turned up anywhere, and that led to a dead end. You would think that the most infamous tycoon of the century suddenly returning to civilization would raise some red flags..."

Sasuke frowned even deeper.

"What about hospitals?"

"Already checked," the girl sighed. "None of the hospitals within a hundred mile radius of Wave have records of a thirteen year-old muscular blond ninja carted into the ER."

Sasuke rolled his eyes.

"Any chance that Adonis got his ass thrown in jail?"

"I checked that as well," Sakura sighed again, her face flushing. "None of the local cities have records of any genin prisoners, but..."

"You think he might have busted out of one?" Sasuke suggested. "They wouldn't want to admit it if he had."

"Honestly, that crossed my mind," Sakura smirked. "Sounds like him, doesn't it?"

Sasuke smiled and the two fell into silence. Suddenly, there came a rustling of wings from above them. Sakura and Sasuke looked up and saw two bright yellow eyes staring down at them from the rafters. Sasuke glared up at his summon.

"What do you want?"

The owl said nothing. Instead, it spread its wings wide and tipped forward, falling from the beam and rocketing itself at Sasuke's head. The Uchiha threw himself under a desk just as the avian summon pulled up and scooped something from the ground, its talons clicking frantically against the wooden floor. Sasuke rose from his shelter, his hair disheveled.

"What the bloody hell-"


The cry came from the small creature caught in the owl's grip. Sakura gasped and leaped forward, grabbing the owl by one scaly leg just as it began to leap back into flight.

"Release him," she commanded, staring the owl in the eye.

The bird clicked its beak indignantly and dropped the squirming mouse into Sakura's outstretched hand.

"Thanks Pig," Sakura breathed in relief. "Sasuke owes you a fat rat"

Sasuke fumed.

"If you think that I'm going to reward-"

"I'm okay with a rat," the owl drawled, rustling its feathers. "Better than that scrawny thing anyhow."

And the owl was right; the mouse's fur was falling out in clumps and its nose was dry and cracked. Its thin skin stretched over its rib cage quite visibly. Sakura gasped slightly.

"What happened?"

The mouse whimpered.

"My master, he's...he's in great trouble!"

"Naruto?" Sasuke interjected. "Where is he?"

"The air was so hot, and he was so tired-"

"Mouse, where is he?"

"The wind was so scary...mountains and mountains of sand..."

"Mountains of sand? Dunes?" Sakura asked blankly.

The mouse squirmed.

"He's ! I've been traveling for weeks and weeks," the mouse cried and curled into a ball. "He's depending on me! What if I'm too late?"

The mouse screamed and scrabbled up onto Sakura's shoulder, hiding itself in her pink tresses.

"What the hell?" Sasuke muttered, brow furrowed in confusion. "Seriously, what the hell?"

"He's not invincible, Sasuke."

The two genin turned sharply and stared at Aoba as he emerged from a shadowy aisle. The man adjusted his glasses and drew up a chair.

"This isn't the first time an operative has been captured," he continued, crossing his arms and leaning back calmly. "We just need to wait."

"Captured?" Sakura returned sharply. "What are you talking about?"

"Well, judging by the mouse's description," Aoba replied shortly. "Naruto is somewhere in the Great Desert of Wind Country, which means by now Suna has him. They do regular sweeps in desert just in case...The Hidden Village of the Sands...lovely place if you need to tan a bit."

Sakura gaped at him.

"How can you be so calm? What if they're torturing him?"

"I really have no problem with that," Aoba sighed. "You all knew the risks when you signed on."

"We didn't sign on," Sasuke retorted flatly. "We were basically press ganged."

"Apples and oranges."

"So what, we leave him to die?" Sakura asked in disbelief.

"Oh, don't be so dramatic," Aoba sighed. "They won't kill him, at least not for a while. They still have to figure out who he is."

"Who's saying they haven't already?" Sasuke asked with a raised eyebrow.

Aoba chuckled

"If they had, we would have heard by now."

The genin stared at him blankly. Aoba stood and stretched a little, humming to himself.

"He stays alive as long as he keeps his mouth shut," he murmured. "And he's good at that."

"Naruto? Good at keeping his mouth shut?" Sakura asked blankly, sharing Sasuke's doubt. "You can't know him very well then."

Aoba glanced at them.

"Perhaps. But then again, maybe you two don't either."

"What are you talking about?" Sasuke snapped. "He's our friend."

Aoba fixed them both with a long stare, eyes hidden behind his shades.

"You say he can't keep his mouth shut," he murmured, "but tell all of the time that you've known him, when has he actually said anything?"

"What are you talking...about..." Sasuke began, but faded off in thought.

Aoba rounded on him.

"Exactly," Aoba finished. "You know nothing because he gives nothing. He's invisible because he puts himself in the open. Torture can't do anything to that kind of mental defense. Naruto was raised to keep secrets since the day he was born..."

Sasuke frowned deeply.

"What for?"

"Oh, that's a spoiler," Aoba smirked. "You'll have to find out on your own...and I guarantee you, Naruto's not going to help. If you don't try to find out about him, you never will. He'll keep it locked away forever."

The man stepped backward into the shadows of the aisle and disappeared.

"Shouldn't we report this to the Hokage?" Sakura asked. "I know you said you would, but - "

"There's no need. He won't be long," Aoba replied, his voice suddenly emanating from many different directions at once. "He's waiting for something. And if he can't escape...the Library will take care of it. Just be patient."

Sasuke and Sakura stared at one another.

"The...Library will take care of it? What's that supposed to mean?" Sakura muttered, pulling the mouse from her hair and petting it softly.

"I don't know," Sasuke replied softly.

The two sat quietly, both unwilling to admit the presence that had suddenly breached their consciousness, both all too aware of the phantom silence that echoed from the shelves and rafters of the solemn library.

Sunagakure Detention Facility – Hostile Unit (HU)

His lungs were on fire.

The world was jet black before his wide eyes. Somewhere in the back of his water clogged mind he registered that someone was screaming, but the sound was muted to the point of futility. His frantic heart skipped a beat and his body arched involuntarily, his vision sharpening around the edges. He kicked his legs fruitlessly against the side of the tub and desperately struggled with the bindings around his wrists. A bright white light was creeping in from the sides; he shook his head violently and was rewarded with a stabbing pain in his ribs. Just as the bottom of the pool became white as snow, he finally felt water rushing past his face and he was thrown onto a cold stone floor. His captor aimed another kick at him and Naruto took it hard in the ribs, resulting in a paroxysm of coughs that wracked his rigid, cold body with pain. The man lifted a towel from the side of the tub and wiped the strands of wet hair from his fingers.

"You know," the man spoke, examining his prisoner thoughtfully. "As one professional to another, I'm glad for you."

Naruto rolled over and fixed him with a glare. The man smiled and crouched in front of the boy.

"Seriously," he murmured, stroking Naruto's cheek. "I wake up, crack a few eggs and then go home. There's no room for...growth."

Naruto didn't reply.

"But then you come along," the man continued, fingering a lock of Naruto's hair, "and it's almost as though you were dropped from heaven. Usually most folks last a few hours...but, my boy, you've lasted a week!"

Naruto spat some water onto the floor.

"A...week?" Naruto choked.

"Oh yes," his captor replied, eyes flashing. "I know in here it can seem quite long."

Naruto coughed and closed his eyes. The man gazed at him like a predator eyeing its prey.

"I hope I have even longer with you," he stated, wiping some snot from the boy's face. "It's character-building, you know – torture. You'll become a better man from this as long as you hang on."

A sardonic chuckle came from the blond and the man frowned.

"You're not thinking about telling me your name, are you?"

Naruto opened one eye and glanced at him.

"I'm still deciding," Naruto groaned, rolling into a kneeling position. "But in the meantime..."

The man raised an eyebrow. Naruto glared at him, ignoring the water dripping down his face.

"I'm pretty thirsty."

The man's grin threatened to split his face in two.

"Allow me to help you with that."

The man's hand shot down and Naruto was pulled into a standing position by his hair. He felt the pressure on the back of his head intensify and he was thrown headfirst into the tub, his forehead smashing against the rim. The world was jet black once again. Bubbled streamed past his eyes and his bare feet slid over the stone floor. Again his vision began to grow white and his lungs seared with heat, before he felt a familiar tug on his hair and his head was lifted from the surface.

"Your name?" the man asked, before dunking Naruto again.

The blond struggled and a gargling yell erupted from the water. The man curled his fingers deeper into the blond's hair and pulled the boy back out.



Time crawled and Naruto's world became a maelstrom of white lights. His lungs clenched inwards and exploded in fire. Bloody fingernails lay discarded at his knees, and lines of pink arced gently down the sides of the pristinely white tub. And suddenly it was over again, the world swimming and pulsing above an icy red ocean, lungs assimilating with a burning cold.


The man leaned the boy back and gazed into his eyes.

"Okay what?"

"I'll tell you – I'll tell you who I am."

The man frowned and redoubled his grip on the boy's blond hair. Naruto gargled some water and spat it down his front.

"I'm the guy who bent your mother over and-"

The boy was choking with laughter by the time his dripping head was pulled out of the icy tub. In the hallway outside of the room, muffled splashing noises and voices could be ascertained for hours afterward. The entire time, wreathed in the moonlight shining through the paned windows, there sat a figure against the wall, black-ringed aqua eyes fixed upon the oak door. When the sounds had finally ceased and the door swung upon, the figure had vanished, leaving nothing but the fluttering of curtains and a layer of sand in his wake.

Konohagakure Public Hospital

Sakura tapped gently on the door frame of the bedroom. The woman lying in the hospital bed looked up and smiled instantly.


"Tsunami-san," Sakura grinned back. "Feeling better?"

The woman nodded and snatched a pair of chopsticks off of the bedside table.

"Excuse me, I must look awful," she chuckled. "Though I must admit, I've been in high spirits recently...especially after the news."

Sakura smiled as Tsunami pulled her hair into a bun and secured it with the sticks.

"Not pregnant, then?"

"Not pregnant, thank heaven," Tsunami sighed. "I was so sure..."

"Don't worry Tsunami," Sakura smiled, taking a seat beside the bed. "The doctors are completely certain. Once yours bruises have completely healed, you can leave. You and Inari could be in Wave by the end of the week!"

Tsunami frowned a little.

"I've been thinking about that," she murmured. "It's just..."

She hesitated and Sakura urged her to continue.

"Well, I look at this place," she said, gesturing generally around the room, "and it's so much better than what...Inari has had to live with. I just want him to grow up in a better environment...and he deserves that."

"I don't blame you," Sakura smiled. "You should know, though, that at about his age, he's probably going to be scouted for the Academy."

"And that's a bad thing?"

Sakura's smile twitched a little.

"I meant the Ninja Academy."

Tsunami sat up in the bed in panic.

"Will he have to go?"

"No," Sakura replied with a sigh. "But if Konoha ever goes to war, he could get drafted. That's the risk of raising a family in a ninja village."

Tsunami slumped back into the pillow.

"Yes...I suppose good things always come with a price, don't they?"

"Being a ninja isn't so bad," Sakura defended, a little indignantly. "We aren't sent on any life-endangering missions early on -"

"Oh?" Tsunami asked, eyebrow raised. "How many missions have you completed so far?"

" far as proper missions go," Sakura faltered, "I suppose Wave was our first..."

"And you all nearly died," Tsunami finished. "I'm not subjecting Inari to that kind of environment."

"Without sounding disrespectful, Tsunami-san, perhaps it won't always be your choice to make," Sakura responded. "It's better to have some ninja training than none at all."

Sakura stood and bowed.

"I really only had time for a brief check-in," she said before smiling. "I hope to see you again when I have the opportunity."

The woman gave her a weak smile as she walked away. Sakura had one foot into the corridor when Tsunami suddenly remembered.

"Sakura-chan? What is Inari up to right now?"

"Oh," Sakura smiled over her shoulder. "He's with Sasuke. I haven't a clue what those two are up to, though."

She left before Tsunami could reply. The woman sighed and sank lower into her bed, closing her eyes, a small frown on her face.

Former Clan District

"Inari, keep your back straight or you'll pull something!" Sasuke yelled over his shoulder, hefting the heavy box higher up in his arms.

Inari, sweating and stumbling, followed closely behind him, carrying a smaller package. Sasuke turned his attention back to the open book atop the box he was carrying and used his nose to flip the page. A pair of large gas masks thumped against his thigh rhythmically as they swayed from his belt.

"Naruto's clones would come in handy right about now," Sasuke mumbled absently, scanning the page.

The unlikely duo walked down the street, attracting a moderate amount of attention from the civilians as they passed by.

"Nearly there," Sasuke called back, smirking a little at the boy's struggling. "Hold on just a little bit – here."

They reached a high iron gate, set against a high stone wall. Sasuke set his box on the ground and pulled a thick key from his pocket before thrusting it into the lock, activating the tumblers. Sasuke picked up his load and nudged the gate open with his foot, watching as it swung slowly away from him. For a moment, he simply stared in silence.

"Hey everyone," he murmured. "I'm home."

He gazed at the leveled gravel of the former clan grounds and the ugly, rectangular grey factory building that protruded from the earth like a bruise.

"What's left of it..."

The two boys proceeded across the gravel to the factory and placed the boxes outside of the door. Sasuke pulled the gas masks off of his belt.

"Okay, I have no idea what might be growing in there," Sasuke clarified, pulling the mask completely over Inari's head before donning his own. "Don't take this off until I tell you that it's safe."

The boy nodded, his face completely hidden, his eyes obscured by the goggles of the mask. Sasuke opened the factory door and ushered Inari inside, quickly closing the door behind them both. For a moment, the fumbled about in the darkness. Sasuke found the switch box and pulled the lever. The factory lights blazed to life, illuminating the walls and floors.


Sasuke frowned heavily.

"Well, I suppose the air is breathable."

Colorful graffiti lined the walls, floor, and ceiling all around them, covering every inch of surface. Inari turned to the wall behind them and examined it closely.

"Some of this stuff is nasty," Sasuke groaned, his face contorted in disgust. "Inari, don't repeat any of this to your mom."

"Are you my mummy?" Inari's muffled voice asked quietly.

Sasuke spun around and fixed the boy's masked head with a disbelieving stare. Inari pointed to the wall he was examining, where the question he asked was scrawled in bright red.

"Oh, for a second I thought...never mind."

Sasuke turned back and placed his hands on his hips with a severe frown.

This is going to take some work. Naruto...hurry up.

Sunagakure Detention Facility – Hostile Unit (HU)

Naruto's naked body shuddered, rubbing the ropes binding his wrists, chest, thighs and ankles to the surgical table. He sighed wearily as his torturer wheeled a large vat into the room.

"What've you got for me today, Doc?"

"Oh, you'll see," the torturer replied, grinning. "You've no idea how long I've been waiting to try this method."

The man kicked a stool next to the tall vat and clambered onto it.

"I trust you'll keep this between us, of course," the torturer coughed. "Strictly speaking, this might be violating a couple multinational agreements and conferences...but you understand. New frontiers and all."

Naruto closed his eyes and rested his head back on the restraint.

"Yeah. I understand."

The torturer lifted the lid from the giant vat, releasing a thick cloud of steam. He pulled his head back sharply.

"Hmm...this might even be toohot."

He squinted at Naruto through the steam momentarily, lips pursed in thought.

"What do you think?"

The man lifted a ladle from the cart and scooped up some boiling water.

"Have a sip."

In a flash of silver, a cascade of sizzling water slapped the blonde across the face. Naruto opened his eyes and stared unflinchingly at the torturer as steam rose from his skin.

"Better let that simmer a bit longer, Doc," he spoke drily.

The man dropped the ladle in consternation.

"I knew you were tough, boy, but this is borderline ridiculous."

"I have my moments."

The man frowned down at his vat and tossed in the ladle, listening to the dull splash absently.

"Where are you from then? A secret clan?"

"Not so secret."


The man walked over and fell heavily into the chair beside Naruto's table.

"Well, you had me thoroughly stumped, boy," he sighed, closing his eyes. "For the longest time I had you pinned as a Yamanaka. Mental fortitude, you know."

Naruto opened his mouth in reply but caught himself, thinking for a moment.

"Sorry, I don't."

The man opened one eye and grinned.

"Never miss a thing, do you? Well, I suppose you can't be tricked that easily."

The man stood and pulled out a scalpel. Naruto's body tensed as he eyed the gleaming instrument. The torturer sighed.

"I guess there's only one option left then, isn't there?"

The scalpel flashed down.


Naruto stared unbelievingly down at his severed restraints.


"Ah! That proved it," the man smiled. "Your father had the same idiotic expression when I released him."

Naruto swung his legs out and hung them over the table while massaging his wrists, still staring at the man in disbelief.


"Oh come on, Namikaze, you should really know better," the man chuckled. "Only the son of the Yondaime could have that resemblance to Minato Namikaze. If that wasn't enough, the obvious indicators of bijuu possession would have given you away instantly to anyone else!"

"I'm sorry, obvious?"

The man dug underneath Naruto's table and pulled out all of the boy's clothes and effects, including his scrolls. He then eyed Naruto with bemusement.

"Look at yourself! You're as unmarked as the day you came in here. Advanced healing ability and resistance to burns are premiere characteristics of jinchuuriki...not to mention, those silly marks on your face and the unnatural sharpness of your teeth aren't exactly common. You may be smart...but those were rather large mistakes."

Naruto scratched his cheek indignantly.

"Excuse me for not giving much thought to cosmetics while I was dying of heatstroke out in the middle of the desert. My bad."

The man chuckled. Naruto thought for a few seconds.

" exactly did you know my father?"
The man paused.

"I...struck a deal with him, you could say. He was in here for a small period of time back when he was a genin. Got lost on a scouting mission."

The man laughed suddenly, his eyes distant as though recalling a memory.

"He had a horrible sense of direction, that guy. I gave him the address of an escort to guide him back across the desert and somehow he ended up in the kage's office."

"Are you serious? What happened then?" Naruto questioned with a shocked expression, genuinely intrigued.

"He made himself an exit, didn't he?" the man laughed. "There's still a draft. No one ever knew it was him, either. It's one of those unsolved mysteries no one ever wants to talk about around here."

Naruto shrugged and thought again.

"What was the deal you made with him?"

"Well, at the time, Suna was very unstable," the man recounted. "I was a single father, and I had started doubting Suna as a good place to raise my little girl. I had nearly finished my residency at the interrogation unit when he was brought in."

The man lifted a hand to scratch his sideburns, which Naruto suddenly noticed contained more than a few gray hairs.

"He was likeable, even as a kid. He told me right off that he was from Konoha, to 'save me the trouble,' as he put it," the man chuckled. "Naturally, seeing such a well-raised and confident child in front of me, I got to wondering about his home. I was a bit selfish, really."

Naruto smiled a little, urging the man to continue.

"I wanted the best for my little girl, of course. I asked how Minato felt about Konoha, just to get a feel for the place," he smiled widely. "You should have heard how he talked about it. It was the most inspiring chat I've ever had in my life. He single-handedly convinced me to move to Konoha with his wrists still chained to the desk."

The man then frowned.

"But the kage at the time...he was cracking down on emigration. There was no way he would let a promising graduate like me move to a rival hidden village. The more I was told I couldn't leave, the more l felt that my daughter needed to escape this place. I had a brother already living in Konoha, but we hadn't talked much since we were little kids. I summoned Minato for another 'interrogation session' and released him. After telling him my plans, he promised to find my brother and deliver a letter if I would let him go. True to his word, it wasn't long after I released him that my brother showed up on my doorstep, pretending to be a tourist – proper criminals we were, devising a plan to smuggle my daughter out of the village," he sighed. "He left a week later, managing to take her with him without being detected. I haven't seen her since. I don't suppose she remembers me."

Naruto frowned.

"But you kept in contact?"

"For a little while, yes," he sighed heavily. "Now that we had each others' addresses, my brother sent me letters every month for a year. But then the letters stopped. I wasn't able to get any communications to Minato for a very long time due to close surveillance – they suspected that the 'kidnapping' of my daughter wasn't a random incident - and by the time I the kage had finally relaxed his grip on my life it was far too late. The Kyuubi had attacked and the Yondaime had passed away, cutting off all connections to my daughter."

"I'm sorry," Naruto supplied.

"Don't be, because this is going to help you," the man said, standing up again.


"You didn't think I'd let you go that easily, did you? No, I'm going to need you to promise something before I let you go on your merry way."

Naruto nodded uncertainly.

"I need you to swear that you'll find my daughter and my brother, no matter what it takes," the man pleaded. "If you're half the man your father was, then you'll keep to your word. Please, find them, and tell me...that they're okay."

Naruto laid a hand on the man's shoulder.

" didn't need to ask. I would have gone looking for them anyway. Leave it to me."

The man grasped Naruto's hand and shook it roughly, then clapped his hands together in a seal. Blue seals lining the walls suddenly glowed and then became inactive.

"Now, get going. I deactivated the chakra suppressing seals, so put a henge over those damn whiskers. Just make sure you don't use your bijuu's chakra – I suppose it's Kyuubi's – or else the kage might sense you."

"I don't think I could even if I wanted to," Naruto responded, shrugging on his black jacket. "I used a massively complicated genjutsu in the desert that took a lot of shoving from Kyuubi to get working. It took more out of me than I thought...and Kyuubi's been asleep for a week. That's why I haven't used his chakra to blow the roof off of this place, chakra-suppressing seals included."

"Oh, and here I was thinking that you were just being a gentleman."

"That's a nice thought."

The man opened the door for Naruto and the boy cast a henge, turning his blond hair brown and concealing his whisker marks.

"Won't you get killed for releasing me?"

"Lucky for you, you came straight to me when they brought you in," he said smugly. "I have you marked down as just another vagabond in the registers. Here's the address to a guide across the desert back to Konoha."

Naruto accepted the slip of paper.

"Thanks...for this, Doc. And don't worry, I don't take the torture personal. It's just your job."

"Thanks, and don't mention it. I mean it – don't ever mention it."

"I got it, I got it," Naruto chuckled. "By the way, I was carrying...someone when I passed out in the desert. I don't suppose you know where that person is?"

The torturer frowned.

"That's troubling. You were the only one we found. Some other patrol may have picked him up."

Naruto cursed to himself but shook off his anger.

"It'll be okay," he said to the man. "It's more troubling that I've been a guest here for more than a week and I still don't know your name."

The man smiled again.

"The name's Han Kato," he said.

"Naruto Namikaze Uzumaki," Naruto replied with a smile.

"Time to say goodbye, Naruto," the man said, glancing out of the windows at the darkening sky. "Do hurry and find them for me."

"I will. What are their names?"

Naruto's former torturer began to close the door between them.

"My brother's name is Dan Kato. My named Shizune."

The door shut with a small click.

"Shizune, huh?" Naruto whispered to himself. "I'll look into it."

The boy looked out the window. Suddenly, a wide grin graced his features.

"But first..."

The office was dark as the secretary entered. Her high heels clicked on the wood floor as she clattered over to the desk and dropped a small bundle of papers by the lamp. Glancing around for a moment, the woman sighed to herself and began reorganizing the stacks.

"Excuse me."

The woman twisted about in surprise and a pile of papers fell to the floor.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you," a boy with brown hair and cerulean eyes spoke, entering the office and bending over to help her pick up the papers.

"You shouldn't be in here," she murmured, her face florid with embarrassment.

"Oh, I won't be long," the teenager said, smiling widely. "I just wanted to admire the décor."

"Yes, it is quite nice, isn't it," the woman spoke, rising with all of the papers in a neat stack in her arms.

She turned and placed the stack on the table.

"Very well furnished and decorated. Only the best for the kazekage," she declared before turning back to the boy.

He was gone. She stepped back in surprise and glanced around the dark office before shaking her head and rubbing her eyes. She adjusted her dress and left the office, muttering about sleep and vacations, not noticing through the darkness that the office's décor had suddenly been renovated.

Inked into the wall directly above the hokage's chair - suspended right over where his head would be - was a gigantic penis.

Smiling to himself, Naruto raced over the rooftops toward the guide's address. The night sky was clear in the village of Sunagakure, and the street lamps were dimmed, allowing the stars to shine brightly above. Naruto dropped down in a neighborhood near the edge of the village gate and extracted the slip of paper containing the address from his pocket.

"1671 we are."

Naruto walked up the narrow walkway to the tiny apartment and rapped once on the door.

"Are you the boy?" came an emotionless voice.

Naruto's gaze flicked upwards. Framed by the moon, a the silhouette of a person was visible on the roof, head inclined in Naruto's direction.

"Depends. Who's asking?"

The silhouette lifted a large shape from the roof beside him and disappeared in a swirl of sand. Naruto whirled around and saw the boy reappear in the street. The boy strapped on his gourd and locked Naruto with a blank stare.

"Subaku no Gaara. Follow me."

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