Naruto Uzumaki smiled as he walked through the streets of Konoha. He had just returned to the village after his successful mission to bring Tsunade of the Sannin back to the village. Baa-chan was currently meeting with the Elders about the inauguration. Naruto had tried to go to that meeting, but had been kicked out. How could those two fossils tell Naruto that 'this meeting does not concern Genin of no standing'? Wasn't Naruto pretty much a shoe-in for Rokudaime?
"Whatever. I'll go check in with the rest of the gang! I bet Sakura-chan will be thrilled that baa-chan will be able to help Sasuke! Then, Bushy Brows will be up and running again… Man, baa-chan's actually going to be useful!"
"NARUTO!" A girl called out from behind him. Naruto turned to face the voice when he was practically tackled by Bushy Brow's weapon-using teammate.
"Uh, Tenten?" Naruto asked while hoping he got the name right. "Need something?"
"Is it true?" Tenten pleaded with Naruto. There were clearly stars in her eyes.
"What?" Naruto squawked.
"Tsunade-sama is back in the village?" Tenten squealed.
"Yeah, I brought baa-chan back to the village. She's meeting with those stuck up elders now." Naruto grinned.
"That's so great! She'll be able to heal Lee!" Tenten's face suddenly fell. "I just wish Neji was around. I think he'd like to hear about your mission. He admires you, Naruto."
"Really? Neji admires me?" Naruto repeated Tenten's last statement as a question.
"He didn't use the word admire, though. You've seen Neji. He's a genius so his actual words were a lot more poetic. I need to thank you for whatever you did when you beat him in the Chunin Exam finals." Tenten had a dreamy look on her face as the two Genin started walking towards the center of town.
"You two started dating, didn't you?" Naruto snickered when Tenten turned bright red.
Tenten nodded. "It's been great! But that has made the last couple of days really hard. No one has seen Neji or Hinata in a while. I was on my way to meet with some of the gang we took the Chunin Exams with to talk about it."
There was something very off about this entire situation. The 'Konoha 12', as the youngest Genin Teams of Naruto's generation had been named, rarely gathered into one large group. In fact, all twelve had only been in the same room a handful of times. First was the initial stage of the Chunin exams, where Morino Ibiki sadistically tested their information gathering skills and their resolve. The second, and final time, had been for the Preliminary Rounds of the Finals Tournament. Naruto knew that the only complete team that truly hung out together outside of missions was Team Ten. The second generation of the Ino-Shika-Cho had always been friends. Naruto occasionally hung out with Kiba and Shino or Shikamaru and Chouji. The fact that Naruto socialized more with the other teams than his own hurt a bit. Thus, having a good chunk of the group get together was really unusual.
"So, what exactly is going on? I know Hinata was in kind of rough shape from her fight with Neji, but I talked to her before my match with Neji. Hinata was training then, so I thought she was fine. Neji wasn't too hurt during our match and I didn't hear about him getting hurt during the Invasion," Naruto said as he threw his hands behind his head. "I was right! Something is very wrong here! I hope Hinata's okay."
Tenten and Naruto reached a relatively new casual dining restaurant. Kiba, Shino, Ino and Chouji were sitting at a table. Kiba motioned Naruto and Tenten over.
"Glad to see you back, Naruto," Kiba greeted.
Naruto smiled back. "Thanks. Hey, Kiba, you up for a rematch sometime?"
The Inuzuka smiled and nodded. Shino rapped his knuckles on the table. "I am relieved for your safe return, Uzumaki-san. I assume Tenten-san has informed you of the mysterious situation concerning our Hyūga comrades?"
Naruto took a seat. "No one has seen Neji or Hinata for a while. I was actually going to try to meet up with them later."
The whiskered Genin wanted to thank Hinata for her pep talk and make sure she saw him knock some sense into Neji, like Naruto had promised. Naruto also wanted to let Neji know their problems would stay in the past if Neji started treating Hinata like family.
"I've even gone by the Hyūga compound a few times to see how Hinata was feeling. The guards wouldn't let me see Hinata," Ino confessed. It was widely known that the three Rookie kunoichi had struck up a friendship over the month interlude between the preliminary matches and the Finals.
"That clan is still probably a bit paranoid with Kumo's second attempt to kidnap Hinata," Kiba growled.
Naruto looked up in shock. "What? They tried again?"
"A pair of Kumo ninja took advantage of the invasion and attempted to kidnap Hinata. Neji, Kiba, and I helped Hiashi-sama stop them. Hiashi-sama didn't stay long. He had to leave to command the defenses at the Hyūga Compound. Orochimaru's forces made a big push to secure the Byakugan," Tenten explained.
Chouji swallowed a huge bite of food. "Sound made a big push on all the clan compounds. Our dads also had to fight off a big group of Sound and Sand Ninja to protect our clans' secrets."
"We were fighting a war," Naruto said in a small but powerful voice. "We won and will grow stronger for it."
Ino blinked a few times before tapping Naruto on the shoulder to make sure some stranger wasn't wearing a Naruto-transformation. "Wow, that was profound Naruto. I'm impressed." Naruto grinned cheekily at the compliment.
"As shockingly eloquent as Naruto's statement was; our initial queries have not been answered. What is the situation in the Hyūga Clan and why have our teammates and friends not contacted us or our sensei in any form or fashion?" Shino interrupted.
Naruto glared at the Aburame for a second. After a moment, he sighed and looked up. "I'm going to find Baa-chan. There are a few things I was going to ask her about anyways. If anyone can help us find out what's going on with Hinata and Neji, it's her."
"Wait, when did you get a grandmother?" Chouji nearly choked on his rice.
"She's not really my grandmother. She's just old enough to be," Naruto confessed.
"So, who is she?" Kiba asked as he sneaked Akamaru a chicken wing.
Naruto shrugged. "Just Tsunade. Gah, I hope she isn't angry that it's been a few days since she's been able to gamble."
"Just Tsunade?" The other Genin screeched in shock at Naruto's casual and less-than-flattering description of one of the Sannin.
"Yeah." Naruto didn't catch the looks of shock and disbelief on his friends' faces. "I'm going to track her down. You want me to get an autograph or something, Tenten?"
"Hell yes!" Tenten squealed in anticipation. "Oh, and find out what is going on with Neji. I miss him. Make sure Tsunade-sama helps Lee! And tell her she's my hero!"
Naruto waved off the now fangirling Tenten. "Anyone else have a request for our next Hokage?"
Once again, everyone's jaws dropped at Naruto's causal relationship with one of the Legendary Sannin. No one could say anything and only shook their heads
"I'll just tell Baa-chan you said hi, then." Naruto waved to his friends and exited the restaurant. He was only a couple of steps out the door when he heard Kiba shout.
"Naruto has to be related to the Hokages! Nobody should be so buddy-buddy with them!"
Tsunade had never been so grateful to be freed from a meeting in her life. She had sat through meetings with her creditors that were less stressful. Tsunade was as familiar with the role of Hokage as anyone living in Konoha. The accusations that Tsunade 'lacked a sense of decorum' were insulting!
"I'm the granddaughter of the Shodai and the grandniece of the Nidaime! I think I know the protocols!" Tsunade fumed.
"Tsunade-sama, I'm sure the Elders were just following their own set of protocols," Shizune attempted to calm her master and friend.
The Slug Sannin snorted. "They think they can push me around. I've seen creditors wield more subtlety than those two fossils! I'm going to need some hot saké and a place to relax for a bit!"
"That'll have to wait Baa-chan." Tsunade felt a vein twitch in her forehead at the sound of her most hated nickname.
"I am the Godaime Hokage, brat." Naruto only smiled warmly as Tsunade spun around. Despite the anger in Tsunade's voice, there was a smile on her lips. "What do you want?"
"A couple of things, actually." Naruto fished out a small notebook. Shizune gulped and hoped that Naruto wasn't beginning to follow in Jiraiya's footsteps. "One of my friends wants an autograph. You're her hero."
Tsunade beamed. "No one's asked for my autograph in years! Hell yes!" "Sure, what's her name?"
"Tenten," Naruto said and accepted the notebook back. "There's more and it's all urgent."
"Well, start talking. I've got a lot to take care of at the hospital. Your friends need patching up, don't they?" Tsunade started down the stairs. Naruto and Shizune fell in step with the legendary medic. Shizune followed at a respectful distance, but Naruto walked beside Tsunade as if he were her equal.
"Sasuke, Bushy Brows, and Kakashi-sensei got hurt pretty badly," Naruto mentioned offhandedly. He wasn't worried about his friends and teacher now. Naruto had faith in Tsunade. "I know they'll be fine with you here. You may be a loud-mouthed gambling addict, but you sure as hell know your medical ninjutsu."
Tsunade didn't know whether she should clobber the brat or hug him. Jiraiya had told Tsunade about Naruto's tendency to act casually with the people he trusted completely. "I hope I'm worthy of that trust, Naruto." "There is something else on your mind, Naruto."
The younger blond loudmouth nodded. He recognized that Tsunade had just read him like a book. "Two of my friends haven't been seen in a while, Hinata and Neji Hyūga. I met with some of the other Konoha Twelve. We think the Hyūga are still freaking out about Kumo trying to steal the Byakugan again. Problem is; they won't even let us talk to Hinata or Neji."
"I'll look into it as soon as I've finished my rounds at the hospital," the Fifth promised the boy. "You'll succeed me one day, Naruto," Tsunade thought proudly as Naruto recounted the experiences of his friends during the invasion. "You'll make your father and your ancestors so very proud."
Sakura sat at Sasuke's bedside praying for a change in his condition. There had been no change, but Sakura had still visited every day.
"I'm coming in," A woman's voice that Sakura didn't recognize drifted into the room. The pinkette was on her feet in an instant to properly greet Sasuke's guest.
"May I help you?" Sakura asked politely.
"Sakura-chan! Tsunade-baachan is going to heal Sasuke!" Naruto burst into the room to reassure Sakura.
Sakura nodded once before turning to Tsunade. "Guy-sensei informed me of your skill. Please, help Sasuke-kun," Sakura bowed and pleaded with Tsunade.
Naruto smiled as he watched Tsunade go to work. He remembered how quickly Tsunade had healed his injuries after the fight with that bastard Kabuto. Naruto would give up ramen if Sasuke wasn't up and about within a minute after Tsunade finished her jutsu. Uzumaki Naruto knew he had much better luck with bets than Tsunade. When Sasuke stirred and sat up, Naruto's grin threatened to split his face in two.
"Sasuke, wel…" Naruto started to greet his teammate and friend.
"Sasuke-kun!" Sakura threw herself at the barely conscious Uchiha and cried uncontrollably.
"At least she's happy." Naruto smiled softly before walking out of the room. Shizune's concerned look went unnoticed.
Tsunade smiled approvingly, but was not aware of Naruto's pang of disappointment. "I guess he can take other people's feelings into account." The Hokage followed Naruto to the next room. Tsunade healed Kakashi quickly, but spent most of the time assuring Guy that she would examine Rock Lee.
"Good to see you up again, Kakashi-sensei!" Naruto laughed happily. The whiskered Genin went out of his way to cheer up Kakashi. Tsunade had torn Kakashi a new one while healing the masked Jonin.
"It's good to be back, Naruto." Kakashi smiled at Naruto's somewhat successful attempt. "We'll talk about stepping up Team Seven's training when Sasuke and I get out of here."
"Heck yeah!" Naruto pumped his fist. He saw Guy wringing the curtain surrounding Kakashi-sensei's bed. "Next, on to Bushy Brows!"
Guy was wide-eyed from a combination of hope, distress, and impatience. "Please, Tsunade-sama! You must help my precious student Rock Lee!"
Might Guy and Naruto led Tsunade through the halls. The Slug Sannin was familiar with the hospital, but was content to allow her two excitable ninja to guide her to Lee.
"Lee! We have brought Tsunade-sama!" Guy announced gleefully. Tsunade took a good look at the young man. Lee was truly Guy's apprentice. It took only a second to realize that Lee would not recover with just Medical Ninjutsu. The boy would need invasive surgery and a lengthy physical recovery.
"This is your disciple?" Tsunade asked.
Guy pumped his fist. "This is my precious student, Rock Lee!"
"Naruto, don't you have some other appointment?" Tsunade reminded Naruto.
"Yeah, I need to meet Iruka-sensei." Naruto turned to leave. "Wait! What about Hinata and Neji? We need to figure out what's going on with them!"
"I'll check into it after I examine Lee," Tsunade promised. Naruto wished everybody good luck before speeding off to visit his favorite academy teacher.
"Who knows? Maybe Iruka-sensei has heard something about Hinata and Neji?"
"I'm sorry, Naruto. I haven't seen Hinata or Neji since the invasion. Though…" Iruka tapped his chopsticks against his bowl of ramen.
"Though? Though what, Iruka-sensei? You've got to tell me! Hinata and Neji are my friends and everyone is really worried about them!" Naruto pressed, and pressed hard.
Iruka sighed. "Remember the lessons on Clan politics?"
"Something about how the Hokage can't get involved in Clan stuff unless it threatens the village or something," Naruto recited what he remembered. Iruka beamed that his favorite student actually remembered an academic lesson from the Academy.
"Exactly. I've heard that the Hyūga are going through some political upheavals at the moment. Orochimaru hit the Compound hard," Iruka reported.
"How can politics throw up?" Naruto cocked his head to the side in utter confusion.
"The Hyūga aren't throwing up. That's heaving, Naruto. Upheaval is when something gets shaken up and changes," Iruka explained with a laugh.
"So, things shouldn't be too bad? I'm not going to have to get the Twelve together and rescue them, am I?" The young man asked after draining his bowl of broth.
Iruka cracked up. "I don't think you'll have to do anything so rash, Naruto."
"Sure, sure. Though, it would help me fulfill my promise to Neji, and I'm sure Hinata wouldn't mind too much if the Twelve helped me clean house," Naruto said confidently.
"What did you promise Neji?" Iruka asked curiously.
"Oh, that I'd help get rid of the Hyūga Cursed Seal when I'm Hokage. The whole thing is a load of bullshit. Hinata's going to be the next head of the Hyūga, so she'll help out," Naruto stated his goal simply.
Iruka hurriedly changed the subject. The teacher actually agreed with Naruto and Neji's ambition, but Iruka didn't want Naruto to make an enemy of the Hyūga Clan. Naruto excitedly told him about his mission to retrieve Tsunade. Iruka nearly had a heart attack when Naruto talked about his fight with Kabuto.
The pair parted ways in a great mood. Iruka was incredibly proud of Naruto's growth as both a person and a ninja. Naruto was grateful to be receiving recognition for his efforts. He was still a bit upset that Sakura-chan had not even said a word to Naruto.
"So much for asking her out," Naruto thought glumly as he walked up the stairs towards his apartment. Immediately, something struck him as wrong. Naruto broke out into a sprint and saw that his door had been forced open.
"Shit!" Naruto drew a kunai and summoned a pair of clones. The original and one of the clones took up positions on each side of the door. The remaining Shadow Clone stormed the room. Naruto expected to hear the pop of a dispelling clone. Instead, he heard a loud groan followed by the Clone cursing up a storm. Naruto pushed aside the door, and his heart fell as he looked at his apartment.
It had been ransacked. Naruto could barely remember the last time his apartment had been vandalized. "Damn it," Naruto groaned as he summoned more Shadow Clones to clean up and make sure nothing was stolen. The process did not take long thanks to the clones. Naruto was infinitely grateful that everything he owned was still present.
"I'll tell Iruka-sensei, Ero-sennin, and Baa-chan about this tomorrow." Naruto groaned as he flopped onto his bed. He was about to drift off to sleep when there was a knock at his door. The attack on his apartment had made Naruto cautious. He was nervous, so he summoned another clone. The clone drew a brace of shuriken and hid out of sight. Naruto walked to the door.
"Who is it?" Naruto asked through the door.
"It-it's me, Naruto-kun." Hinata's voice was barely audible through the door. Naruto flung open the door.
"Hinata! Are you okay? I've been worried about you! Heck, everyone is worried about you and Neji! Are you alright? Do you need my help?" Naruto fired off half a dozen sentences in a single breath.
"Hinata, do not forget, you only have twenty minutes," A Hyūga Naruto didn't recognize sneered at the distraught girl. The tone was identical to Neji's during the Preliminary match.
"Oi! Don't talk to her like that! I'm sure you remember what happened to the last Hyūga who talked to Hinata like that!" Naruto growled.
The Hyūga guard twitched and was about grab Hinata when she stepped forward. "N-Naruto-kun, can we talk inside? Th-there's something I have t-to tell you."
Naruto nodded once and invited Hinata in. The Hyūga Guards started to follow Hinata in. "I invited Hinata in, not you jackasses."
Hinata had a faint smile as Naruto slammed the door. For a moment, Hinata allowed herself the fantasy that Naruto would let her stay forever. The clan would never allow that, of course, but it was a comforting fantasy.
"So, Hinata, what do you need to tell me?" Naruto asked as he pulled up a seat for Hinata.
Hinata wiped away a few tears. "T-there is so much I want, no, I have to tell you, because I'll never get another chance. This is the last time we'll ever see each other, Naruto-kun."
Author's Notes: Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present another attempt to do justice to a kickass challenge. This is an attempt at Chewie Cookie's Kitsune Summoning Contract Challenge. I'd like to thank him for not only creating the challenge, but also for giving me a shot at it and beta'ing the story. Go check out Love's Wings. It is awesome. Seriously, you won't be disappointed.