I don't own Naruto. Sadly. Not even my tax return could get me that… TT


'Of all the people….' Naruto groaned, very slowly moving from the spot where he had been thrown to in the sudden collision. He felt the sake drenched shirt move over his back. Every drag of the wet fabric against the irritated skin felt like flame across the surface of his body. The young boy winced as his back began to throb.

Naruto paused as he realized something was not right. His heart was starting to race inside his chest. Heavy pants escaped his mouth as he tried to calm his body. His eyes widened, yet didn't register anything they were perceiving as they darted all over the street. The blue orbs swiveling in their sockets. His heart beat fast and faster before finally a searing pain spread throughout his entire frame. Arms and legs flailed out of control. The sharp, piercing scream of a child rent the night air before finally falling silent as he slipped into unconsciousness.


"Tsunade-sama!" A young woman's voice yelled.

"What, Shizune?" The blonde snarled in reply.

"This child, aren't you going to help him?" A young teen with shoulder length, dark hair knelt at the side of the young boy, checking him over for any obvious injuries.

"Why should I?" Tsunade replied, taking a swig from her sake bottle. She raised the bottle to her ear and shook. Hearing nothing, she threw it off to the side. A young couple ducked, and yelled in outrage before being quelled by the woman's heated stare.

"Tsunade-sama!" Shizune hissed in outrage. "He was fine a minute ago, so something must have happened when you ran into him."

"The little brat ran into me. It's his own fault. I don't owe him anything." Tsunade huffed. She stalked away, searching for her next drink, her signature green coat billowing behind her. A few of those whose attention had been drawn to the scene lost interest as they saw the excitement was over.

Shizune sighed at the sight of her mentor as she left. Not seeing any broken bones or open wounds, she gently lifted the boy in her arms, settling him on her shoulder.

"Ma'am?" She asked a passing lady. "Do you know this boy?"

The older woman stopped to take a closer look at the child. "Sorry, I've never seen the child. Perhaps he belongs to some of the traveling performers?" The matronly looking woman suggested. With a wish of good luck, she continued on her way, leaving an exasperated Shizune with a sleeping charge.

"This wouldn't be easy, would it?" She mumbled to herself. "Well, I can't keep running around with you all night, so I guess you're coming with me for the time being." Shizune adjusted the boy until he was resting his head against her shoulder.

Within a few minutes, Shizune and her temporary charge reached the inn where she and her master had decided to spend the night. With a turn of the key, she admitted them into the room. Using her foot to nudge the mattress and blankets out, she laid the boy on top of the dark gray bedding. A warm glow spread throughout the room as Shizune lit the small lamp on a side table.

"Ok, little one, let's see what's going on here." She whispered, as she carefully began to remove the brunet's shirt. Limp limbs were maneuvered through the openings leaving him bare-chested in moments. Shizune frowned. The child hadn't even stirred since the incident. Gently, she felt over the boy's body. The brunette teen slipped one arm behind the boy's back; lifting him into a sitting position with his torso draped over her other arm. With her hand, she skimmed over his skin, searching for anything out of the ordinary. She paused when she felt a warm area under her hand. It could be anything from a bruise to a sprain, so she turned him over so she could get a better look. A gasp escaped her lips.

There in the center of his back was a darkened area. Quickly, she laid the boy out on his stomach, and pulled the lamp closer to where they were situated. In the better light, she could see the faint lines and patterns on the tan skin.

"A seal?" She breathed.

Shizune sat there, chewing on her bottom lip. Tsunade had trained her in the more mundane medical arts, but seals were another thing entirely. So many things could go wrong with the art when handled incorrectly. Even removing a seal required a special care and procedure. Improper usage in living beings often resulted in severe repercussions in either the caster or the person it was drawn on.

Her eyes widened as pieces began to fall into place. Shizune thought over the events of the evening. The child had been fine, until Tsunade spilled her sake on him. She grabbed the boy's shirt from where she had tossed it in her haste to check out. There on the inside of the shirt was a smudge of the same blank ink that swirled on his back. She could smell the acerbic fumes of the alcohol still wafting from the darkened stain. Whoever had applied the seal must have used an ink that was soluble in alcohol instead of water. Shizune felt a surge of justification at the realization that Tsunade, in fact, was at fault in this situation. It had been her spilled sake that had loosened the ink the seal, causing a backlash when the chakra paths and constructs had been suddenly interrupted.

A warm green glow surrounded her palm. With a possible cause in mind, she began to scan the chakra system of the small child before her. This little boy possessed a rather well developed system for someone his age. While it still possessed that wild, unrefined power of the young, it had the signs that it was in the stages of being tamed and channeled. There was a rather large concentration of chakra in his abdomen, but there were no outbursts from that area. It was all contained, and under control. There were, however, occasional erratic flares starting from where the seal most likely had originated, and continuing around the brain.

Shizune paused as she considered her findings. This little boy, while dirty, was in a stable state for the moment. She knew that her knowledge of seals was woefully lacking. As such, she didn't consider herself able to treat him in this condition.

"Guess we'll have to wait until Tsunade-sama comes back." Shizune sighed. Her own exhaustion from travel and the excitement of the night began to crash into her in waves. She deftly moved the boy so she could tug the blankets over him, covering him snugly with the heavy comforter so he could rest in warmth. Quietly, she gathered the extra blankets from the closet, and arranged her own nest next to the boy, just in case he woke up during the night. With a twist of her fingers, the lamp was off, sending the room into a quiet dark. The young woman fell asleep, listening to the breathing of the boy and the dying murmurs of the festival drifting through the window.


Kakashi was screwed. He took his eyes off the boy for one second, and Naruto disappeared. He scanned the street. While not as crowded as it had been, there were still plenty of festival goers enjoying their night of revelries out and about. The teen ducked in and out of the small groups and couples, jostling a few in his frantic search. No tiny brunet could be found. Kakashi surveyed the scene once more. He zipped over to the edge of the thoroughfare. A pair of older ladies was sitting chatting out on the porch of their storefront. He watched as the ornaments in the hair of the elder jingled as she nodded her head in agreement to whatever her friend was saying.

"Ma'am? Have you seen my little brother? He's about this tall," Kakashi held a hand to his waist. "And he has brown hair and blue eyes. He was carrying a huge stuffed frog?" He asked hopefully.

"Hm…" The wizened woman pondered. "I don't remember seeing a child like that, do you, Mai?" She replied.

The other shook her head. "I'm sorry young man, but I haven't seen him either. Perhaps he wandered back to the games?" She suggested, waving her hand back down the street.

He bit back a sigh of frustration.

"Thank you anyways. Have a good night." He bowed slightly before returning to his search in the streets.

Kakashi continued his search, asking people here and there if they had seen his young charge. Apparently no one had, or at least not recently.

"How does one boy just fall off the face of the earth?" The jounin grumbled. Agile fingers ran through his spiky locks. The general confusion of the gathering pretty much ruled out any tracking by footprints. Although, a young man crawling around to follow said tracks would probably garner more than his fair share of attention, something he wanted to avoid while the Iwa nin were in the area.

'Guess it's time to call in the cavalry.' He mused. Warily, he scanned the crowd for them. The trio looked rather comfortable where they were. Provided their lady friends stayed enraptured with their dashing tales, the nin should be distracted enough for the moment. With purpose in his step, Kakashi headed in the opposite direction until he found a perfect little alley. Shadows clung to the brick façade as he ducked in. Hiding himself behind a stack of boxes and other refuse, he ran through a few select hand signs. With a slam of his palm to the ground, a small plume of chakra smoke appeared.

A small, chocolate and tan pug emerged. While canine features do not generally show much of anything, a clear sense of disgust and revulsion crossed his wrinkled visage.

"What the heck, Kakashi!" The little pug cried out. He lifted one of his little paws out of the puddle of questionable goo. "You couldn't have summoned me somewhere a little cleaner?" He complained as he gingerly stepped out of the mess in an effort to not spread the contamination.

"Look, Pakkun, I'm sorry, but now's not the time. I've lost Naruto." Kakashi quickly explained. The dog froze.

"You what?" The ninken swung his gaze to meet his master's.

"I lost Naruto. I know! I know! I left him for one moment to check on some possible hostiles, and when I returned, he was gone. I haven't been able to find him using more low-key methods, so you're up." He quickly explained.

"Well, what are we waiting for? Let's go!" Pakkun started to dart out of the alley.

"Hold on," Kakashi ordered, jerking his friend back. "I need to take off your vest and headband. They're dead giveaways if those Iwa nin see you." The monocular teen explained as he manhandled the pug, removing said items, and stowing them safely away in a hidden pocket. Once fully divested, he set the mutt back down.

"I feel so….naked." Pakkun muttered. He glared at the muffled snort coming from his masked partner.

"You're a dog. You don't need clothes in the first place. Now come on. Follow me; I'll take you to where I last saw him." Kakashi retorted before heading back out into the street, the summon close at his heels.


"And then I swung out on this branch to grab this idiot. A few seconds later and he would have been fish food." The tall, coarse red head bragged, taking another deep swig of his beverage.

"What he forgot to tell you, my dears, is that he was the moron who pushed me out there in the first place. I would have been fine if he hadn't tripped over his own two hooves." A slender, pale, teen snorted. A red blush spread across his cheeks. The raven-haired beauty beneath his arm giggled.

"Did not! You just have the balance of a bull on tiptoes, Katsu." The former asserted, jabbing a finger in the latter's chest. His inebriated condition made it more of a challenge than he anticipated, ending with him pulling his brunette companion with him as he lurched forward. "Always have." The taller continued as he regained his balance. "Remember in school? He tried to sneak across the roof of the school buildings. He made it three steps when a bird spooked him. Katsu fell off the roof, right into a pile of old bricks. How long were you in the hospital that time? Three? Four weeks?"

"One. And it wasn't a bird, Hachiro," Katsu argued, "It was a cat." He mumbled, returning to his drink.

Hachiro burst out laughing. "Because that makes it soooo much better." He rolled his eyes. The burly man disentangled himself from his fair company as he spotted the intense concentration on the face of their friend.

"Why so serious, Sho?" He asked as he swung a meaty arm across the other's shoulders.

"Huh? Oh, nothing." Sho continued his quiet observation of the street scene, as Hachiro left him to once again defend his suffering masculinity. Something about it wasn't sitting right with him. This was the third time that adolescent had come down this street in a hurry. This last time he had a dog with him. Perhaps it was just well trained, but the way they were looking at each other didn't seem to look right to him. Sho let his gaze examine the teen, memorizing his face, what he could see of it, for later analysis. He turned his attention to his teammates. They were giggling up a storm as they were trading ridiculous stories. It's a good thing they didn't have to head back until the day after tomorrow. Onoki-sama would thrash them alive if they returned like this.

Sho smirked. He wouldn't want to be them in the morning ….


After fumbling with the key, Tsunade stumbled into her hotel room. Her head was throbbing as the revenge of her liquid dinner set upon her. Glancing around the shadowed room, she took in the standard set-up of the hotel room. They never changed, really. Same old rooms, maybe in different shades of color, but all utilitarian, sterile. Little to no personality livened them up, but then again, they were supposed to be temporary stops on a journey, not a home.

The blonde sighed. Nothing memorable, just like she wanted it. One blur from beginning to end, nothing to tie her down. She tossed the key onto a table by the door, and slung her coat onto the heap of bags by the wall. Vaguely, she wondered how Shizune managed to wriggle off of her futon so far. Tsunade approached the girl, intent on moving her back to her mattress. As she bent down, she realized why her student was sleeping on the floor. Her own bed was already occupied. A patch of fuzzy hair stuck out from the top of the bed.

The older woman twitched the quilt down to reveal the sleeping face of a small boy. She quirked an eyebrow. It was the little brat who had run into her earlier tonight. Seems like he still hasn't woken up, and Shizune was sucker enough to bring him with.

Tsunade snorted. Her apprentice was soft like that. She let any sob story get to her.

The medic of the Sannin was just about to cover the kid back up when she noticed some dark black smudges on his back. Intrigued, she brought up the lamplight, and lowered the blanket to reveal the rest of his back. She leaned closer. Her nose twitched from the remaining scent her beloved sake had left on him. Stupid brat.

Skilled fingers trailed down the smooth skin of the boy. She didn't feel any broken bones protruding, or any swelling. She charged chakra through her palm, emitting a green glow.

A puzzled expression crossed her face. This child's chakra system was rather well developed for his age, but this wasn't what surprised her, for the most part. There were small flickers of chakra interrupting the chakra flow in his nervous system, mostly with his brain.

She continued her scan to find the cause, and quickly found the source. "Damn…." She cursed. Shizune was right, in a way. When her sake had spilled, it improperly smudged a seal that some witless fool had put on the kid. Knowing she needed a clear head to take care of this, she isolated the poison in her own system, neutralizing the fledgling hangover in its tracks. Tsunade grabbed her supply kit, and set to fixing the kid so he could get back to wherever he belonged. Carefully, she used her own medical chakra to surround the area that she estimated the seal had been on. A green dome bubbled around the smudges on his back, sealing off the parts of the chakra system influenced by the fuuinjutsu. Time was of the essence now. Too long and it could harm the kid permanently. Using one hand to stabilizing it, she grabbed a bottle of rubbing alcohol in another hand and poured a dish full of the liquid. She carefully wiped at the inky mess on the child's back. Satisfied, she lowered her shield, monitoring the boy's system as the system was rejoined. The flares had disappeared, and the flow had evened out. He was resting, but no longer unnaturally still.

Tsunade began cleaning up the supplies she had used. Soiled cotton cloths were disposed of, while the tainted alcohol was poured down the drain. Such a shame it wasn't potable. She rinsed out the bowl, making sure it was clean before drying out the vessel thoroughly. She packed it back up, and threw the bag back on the pile. The blonde pulled out her mattress. With a weary sigh, she threw herself down on the mattress.

The traveler stared sightlessly at the ceiling, waiting for sleep to claim her. Without the alcohol in her system to depress it, it was a losing fight. Giving up, she turned to her impromptu patient.

'Why would they put a seal on a child?' She wondered.

Admittedly, there were various reasons that could apply. The most prominent were the seals used to hold demons, but those were infinitely more complex than the one she had just dispelled, and not so easily removed by mundane means such as sake. Those children were also highly watched after, usually within their respective shinobi villages.

There was also the possibility that it was a training seal. More likely than the previous theory, but still, this boy couldn't be older than a couple years. Such strenuous seals weren't applied until the body was able cope with the stress that those seals placed on them. Usually. Perhaps some father got overly ambitious. If she got a hold of that supreme idiot, she'd have a very…nice chat about what a child's body could handle.

Not that she cared about the little snotrag or anything.

The Senju heir watched as the little boy shifted in his sleep, making the most significant movement that she had seen in the last hour or so. She really hoped he wasn't waking up. She really didn't want to deal with a whiny toddler at…well, didn't want to deal with him period.

Small hands fidgeted in their sleep. He tossed his arms up, and rolled over, looking for a more comfortable sleeping position. A wry grin appeared. The kid was kinda cute, at least when he was asleep. Who knows what kind of terror he was awake. She watched as the low lamplight threaded through his baby fine strands. For some reason, that bothered her.

Tsunade reached over and tilted his head up to examine his face a bit closer. Familiar features melded together. The young age of the boy made it a bit more difficult to piece it together. The layer of grime didn't help either. She really didn't like playing nursemaid, but sometimes it was just unavoidable. She retrieved a few moistened washcloths from the bathroom, along with a towel.

Gently, in an effort to avoid waking the boy up, she wiped at the soil that had accumulated on his face. There, underneath it, she found a set of whisker-like scars on a tanned face. She continued cleaning the boy. Where she had gotten some strands caught in the path of the rag, a lighter shade peeked through.

Tsunade stilled. She was absolutely certain that the boy had been a brunet when he had ran into her. She just found what the seal had been hiding. But why would some numbskull apply a seal, just to hide the color of some kid's hair?

"What is so special about you, kid?" She murmured, leaning forward as she finished taking off at least one layer of dirt.

Tiny eyelids cracked open at that moment, before widening to unbelievable size.

The now wide awake kid took one look at her, and started screaming his head off.


Kakashi followed the dog through the streets of the town. The sounds of the festival died down as the duo followed the scent trail. Here and there, Pakkun had to stop to recapture the trace of their lost charge. Said hound started circling an area, retracing his own steps multiple times.

"Got anything?" The shinobi muttered under his breath.

"He definitely came this direction, and there's a huge pool of his scent on the ground, but I can't find a definite trail leading out from here." Pakkun whispered, nose to the ground.

"Damn it." Kakashi growled in frustration.

"Now, I don't think that was quite called for, young man." An elderly woman scolded as she threw her cat out the door for the night.

"I'm sorry if I offended you, ma'am." The teen apologized, giving her a tired bow.

"Apology accepted." The matron responded, while shutting the door in her poor cat's face. "What had you all worked up in the first place?" She inquired, one hand resting on the frame for support.

Kakashi watched his ninken sniff in the dirt for a moment. Would it hurt to ask?

"Have you seen my little brother? He's three years old. Brown hair. Blue eyes. Probably had a giant stuffed frog with him?" The jounin finally asked, a glimmer of hope began to spring in his one revealed eye.

Kakashi watched tensely as the woman stood there for a bit, lost in her thoughts.

"Hm….now let's see here…"She muttered, almost too quiet to hear. The teen respectfully waited for an answer, resisting the attempt to shake her for information. After a few meetings with Yuuka-san, he had quickly been reminded that just because a person was old, didn't mean they couldn't slap you upside the head five ways from next week.

Pakkun whuffled his way in around the dirt, unaware of where his trail was taking him. His next sniff brought him right face to face with a cranky feline who swiftly showed him exactly what he thought about having a smelly dog in his face with a set of bare claws.

The pug yelped in surprise, before chasing the cat under the porch with a menacing growl. He was stopped from his pursuit when something big, green, and ugly caught his eye. The ninken crept closer and caught a huge whiff of Naruto coming from it, along with fried food and sweets, but that's beside the point.

He gently grabbed the arm of the toy in his teeth and pulled it out into the street.

Kakashi was quickly losing patience with the old lady. It had been almost a minute, and she just kept mumbling to herself. He was shaken out of rethinking his initial approach to the matter when he felt a paw pulling on his pants' leg. Pakkun gave a soft bark, trying to get his attention.

The undercover ANBU bent down closer to his summon.

"Find anything?" He whispered, as he pet the dog.

"Yeah, look by the porch." Pakkun replied, just as quiet.

Kakashi looked where he indicated, and quickly rescued the stuffed animal from the dust.

"Oh! I remember that!" The forgotten woman cried out upon sighting the giant toad.

"A young boy dropped that earlier tonight. But he wasn't a brunet. He had this rather dusty blond hair, so he couldn't have been the boy you're looking for." She explained.

"Never mind that. Did you see where he went?" Kakashi snapped, back on full alert with this new information.

"I'm not sure. He had collapsed in the street. Maybe the young lady took him to the clinic to get checked out? At least I hope so. The young dear was out like a light after running into the woman." She worried.

Kakashi's heart stopped.

"Which way? Which way did she go with him?" He begged, as he began searching the street, as if doing so would show him the direct path to his student.

"Hm…that way I think." She pointed a gnarled finger down the street. Kakashi gave the dog a questioning look.

"Faint." Was the quick, whispered reply he heard.

The jounin uttered a quick 'thank you' before darting off in the specified direction. Pakkun was hot on his heels. It wasn't long before he heard a sharp bark behind him. He looked back to see his pug standing in an intersection. With a jerk of his head, he corrected his partner's course.

The two found themselves outside a hotel. It wasn't the most posh of places, but neither was it the rat infested den of thieves it could have been. Kakashi stilled, realizing it was the same place he had rented a room for the night.

'Great. Not only do I lose him, but I manage to sleep in the same place as his kidnappers. Could this get any worse?" He mentally groaned.

"Pakkun, slip in. Track which room he's in, and report back." He softly ordered, observing the building from the shadows in an alley across the street.

He watched as the little pug darted across the street, and in the door. Kakashi waited. He tried to calm his rapid heartbeat with deep breaths. By count number fifty, he saw his ninken returning back across the lane.

"He's in room 208. Last room on the northwest end." The pug reported.

"Thanks. You can go now." Kakashi said, dismissing the dog.

"Just be careful, there was more than the one girl's scent going into that room." Pakkun warned, before disappearing in a puff of smoke.

The Konoha nin did a quick inventory of the gear he had on his person. He had his kunai pouch hidden under his bulky shirt. A length of wire was hidden down his pocket. An exploding tag hidden in each sandal. Of course, there was always his jutsu, but that depended on how much attention he wanted to attract. Judging that he was as ready as he could be in the situation, he carefully checked the quiet street. He didn't see anyone approaching, but just because he didn't see them, didn't mean they weren't there. Kakashi dashed across the road, and through the alley to the backside of the inn. He leapt to the roof of the porch, landing with a soft thump. The teen stilled, surveying his surroundings. When nothing happened, he crept to the end of the ledge to where his goal lay.

A soft light shone through the glass of the window that was his aim. His skin prickled as he sensed the chakra signatures of the room's inhabitants. Kakashi slunk in the shadows, avoiding the barely noticeable beam of light shining through the glass. One of the signatures was huge, a powerhouse. The other he would have to rate as somewhere around a high chuunin in size. He was going in blind on their skill level, but he knew one thing. They were trained. The third signature, at least, gave him some relief. It was Naruto's bright beacon, calm and restful. If Kakashi had to guess, the boy was simply sleeping. Whether it was willing or not was another matter.

He drew a kunai, resting the familiar weight comfortably in his callused palm. The nin drew closer, until his head was right under the window frame. He could hear one of the occupants moving around. The Hatake listened to them gather some water from the faucet before moving back. Footsteps grew slightly louder as they came closer to his position. With a moment's hesitation, he lifted the covering over his sharingan, ready for anything that could wait in the room. He tensed to shift, to steal a peek of his potential adversaries before he made his move. Carefully, he inched upward. He was barely able to see the light from the lamp before his plan was thrown out the window with a high pitched scream.


Naruto let out a roar of frustration as the twenty-third bowl of giant ramen ran past him at a speed too fast for his short stubby legs. He pouted as it went over the hill and out of his sight. He heard the sound of another bowl coming from behind him, but this one seemed to be moving slower. Naruto turned around to find he was right. He crouched, getting ready to pounce, watching his quarry as it drew near.

Before he could loose an attack with his weapon of choice, a pair of very fine chopsticks, he was forced back by strands of noodles shooting out from the bowl. The young blond grimaced as the slobbery, cold noodle appendages began assaulting his face. He waved his arms about, trying to grasp them, but they slipped through his hands. Slowly, the noodles forced him to walk backwards. Step by step they drove him. Naruto took one final step and met no opposing force. With a scream, he watched as the walls of the canyon closed in on him as he fell to the bottom of the stony gorge. Twisting himself around, sapphire eyes widened, seeing the rocky bottom swiftly approaching. Bracing for impact, he waited for the moment he became Naruto pancake.

With a start, Naruto was pulled from his dream. His first reaction was relief, at not having been murdered by his beloved ramen. Then his eyes registered the shadowy visage above him. There, inches away from him, was a highly angular face. His sleep-blurred eyes couldn't make heads or tales of the mix of shadow and light. A terrified scream tore from his throat from the unexpected invasion of personal space by someone who he wasn't sure he knew.

The tinkling of broken glass and the cracking of wood shook Naruto from his screaming. Of course, the hand grasping him around the wrist, and sudden collision with a hard surface as said hand threw him into the opposite wall probably helped too.

Naruto carefully sat up, and tried to blink away the twirling Gamarikis circling his head. His small fists were frantically rubbing his eyes to assist in banishing the cross-dressing summons from his vision. He shuddered in relief once he was sure the sight wasn't real. 'Seeing that…thing again would be once too many for my taste.' He thought, shaking his head.

Naruto looked up. And blinked owlishly. And blinked again.

"What the heck?..." he mumbled, not believing his eyes.

There, on the other side of the room, in the flickering light of the lamp, stood Tsunade with a familiar silver-haired teenager in a head lock, with one hand around his wrist. Said prisoner was stubbornly resisted the hold as he grasped in the direction of his foot. Shizune was standing off to the side in a defensive position, blinking the sleep from her eyes as she took in the commotion.

Naruto was filled with the urge to laugh at the absurdity of the scene. 'Can't say that's something I see every day.'

"Nii-san?" The tiny blond cried in disbelief.

The struggling duo paused at the child's voice. Tsunade's usually crease-free brow wrinkled in confusion as she took a good look at the boy she currently had in a stranglehold. As she examined the faces of the two boys. Golden eyes narrowed in suspicion.

"You're this brat's brother?" She asked, jerking her head in Naruto's direction, still not releasing the teen.

Kakashi nodded as much as his limited range of movement allowed. The strong grip around his head and limb loosened, dropping him to the mattress. He took a few deep breaths, attempting to calm his pounding heart.

Naruto was soon being fussed over by a blooming mother hen of an ANBU. Light fingers were manhandling him, moving him limbs this way and that in an effort to see whether he had been hurt in any way. Naruto rolled his eyes at his temporary guardian's antics.

"I'm fine, aniki!" He asserted.

"Mhmm. Yeah, sure. I turn away for a few seconds, and you get kidnapped. That does not equate 'fine' in my books. Now, hold still." Kakashi ordered.

Naruto groaned, but put up with it, if only because he could feel the apprehension and worry rolling through Kakashi's chakra in waves.

The little boy hissed as the skilled fingers found a particularly tender spot on his head.

Without warning, he was spun around, and his head was yanked down.

"Oww!" Naruto cried.

"You're bleeding!" Kakashi exclaimed, as he examined the rusty spot in the dusty hair. Naruto swore he could feel the glare that was being thrown at the two women in the room.

"Here, let me take a look." A soft, feminine voice offered, turning on a few more lights.

Kakashi must have accepted, because Naruto was allowed to lift his head as the teen loosened his grip, and moved aside.

With much more gentleness, Naruto was laid down on a mattress again.

"It looks like a shallow cut, but I would need to clean it up to be sure." She finally diagnosed. "If you'll let me, I'm just going to take him into the bathroom to clean it out." She looked to the other teen.

The Hatake narrowed his eye for a moment, before giving her a cautious nod.

Naruto gave a slight grin at the protectiveness the hardened shinobi was showing. 'If only your comrades could see you now…'

The Uzumaki quickly found himself sitting on a cold sink in a brightly lit room.

Shizune eyed him for a moment, before she turned on some taps, running water in the bathtub. Naruto tensed.

"No one said anything about a bath!" He yelled. Shizune cringed at the astonishingly loud voice the child possessed, but wasn't dismayed, swiftly catching the boy before he attempted an escape. With speed cultured from years as a shinobi, Naruto found himself stripped of his dusty clothes, and deposited in a bath full of warm water and a few bubbles.

"The cut on your head isn't serious, and you really needed one anyways." She explained with a smile as she reached for a washrag. Naruto scowled.

"What's your name?" The elder brunette asked, reaching for the bar of soap.

Naruto contemplated the question. Did he give her the name Kakashi called him earlier, or his real name? He was quiet for a moment as she scrubbed him.

"Shy?" She teased.

"Naruto." The boy finally decided. An odd look crossed Shizune's face.

"That's a…different name." She responded, as she set the rag to the side.

"How old are you?"

"I'm three. Today's my birthday." He smiled. Kakashi would probably throttle him later, but damn it! He wanted his baa-chan back and if that meant dropping breadcrumbs for his favorite cranky blonde's assistant, then he'd do it.

"Well Happy Birthday, Naruto-chan." Shizune smiled, pouring shampoo into her hand. Naruto closed his eyes as the massaging fingers gently worked their way through his fine hair. He could have purred in contentment if he was a cat. Which he wasn't, honest.

Tenderly, Shizune worked to the area that was stained with blood, wary of her temporary charge tensing from the sting of the soap as she worked the dark flecks loose. Naruto sputtered as she poured water over his head to rinse it out, causing a girlish giggle to escape from the slug sannin's apprentice.

"All clean." She declared, picking him out from the water, and wrapping him in a fluffy white towel.

She briskly dried out his hair, and started when she saw the bright blonde spikes appear.

Shizune pushed it out of her mind, and returned to eye the dusty dirty clothes he had been wearing. With a sigh, she gathered them together, and started trying to dress Naruto.

"I can do it myself!" He insisted with irritation, grabbing them from her hands, and swiftly backing his claim.

"Can I go?" He begged, on the verge of bringing out the baby-blues.

"One sec." She replied. Naruto soon felt the prickle of medical chakra cover his scalp. A weird tingle made his head itch as she healed the small cut.

"There, all set." Shizune smiled, ruffling his damp hair.

"Finally!" Naruto ducked under her arm, and out the door.

Whatever conversation they had been having was promptly silenced when he emerged from his bath. Naruto was greeted by the sight of Kakashi and Tsunade glaring at each other. He could almost see the vein bulging at her forehead.

"Tsunade-sama?" Shizune's soft voice questioned above Naruto's head.

She didn't reply.

Naruto slipped over to Kakashi and tugged on his hand, trying to put an end to the standstill.


Naruto found himself once again being swept up, and inspected. This was getting irritating. 'I'm not glass!'

"Naruto-chan's fine." Shizune assured him.

Kakashi tensed. Naruto didn't know whether to be afraid of their next training session or not.

An intense look of contemplation crossed her face as she stepped closer to the pair. The teen carefully backed away as she studied Naruto's face, registering the hair and eye color, but also the features in particular. A niggling suspicion began to form.

"Naruto, huh?" She mused. "That's a rather odd name. My teammate named a character in his first novel that. Not a particularly good story, to be honest, but better than the trash he's putting out now."

Naruto bristled, wanting to defend his godfather's supposed reputation. It took everything he had to remain quiet and relatively still. Kakashi on the other hand, narrowed his single eye, and surreptitiously shifted his charge into one arm, leaving one hand free.

"If my otouto is okay, I would like to take him back to our room." The silver haired nin requested.

"I'd like to check him in the morning, so if you could let me know where you're staying?" Shizune informed him. The ANBU contemplated it, and then sighed.

"Down the hall, room 202." He tiredly replied, before heading out the door, a bundle of blond in his arms.


Kakashi sat on his bed, watching his little brother sleep. The silver moonlight washed the sunshine locks into a muted gold. Hours ago, he had wondered if he'd ever see him again. It had scared him to the bone to be on the edge of losing another precious person. A single dark eye looked out to the stars, wondering if they had been watching. The teen snorted at the thought. If they were, his sensei was probably holding back his wife from trying to come back to haunt him for not watching the boy. He glanced to the soft material in his hands. He wondered if his sensei had ever felt that way. If Minato had ever wondered if Kakashi's father was watching, judging how he raised his son.

He stroked the soft fur of the worn bear in his hands. It was too late to ask now. Kakashi had spent so much time trying to keep Minato and anyone else from becoming close that when he finally got the message, it was too late to make up for those years. He sighed.

The Hatake promised that he would do his best to make sure that Naruto never made those same mistakes. He leaned over and gently tucked the bear into the crook of the little blond's arm. Naruto promptly wrapped his arms around it in his sleep, causing his older brother to smile before he crawled under his own blankets for some much needed rest.

A/N: Geesh…talk about writer's block…in my defense, I did have to deal with my computer crashing and then not being able to access my files because of different editions of Office. To borrow the words of my favorite genius: "mendokusai…."

I'm still not completely happy with how this turned out, but I think authors are probably their own worst critics, so let me know what you think!

I hope you have a blessed Holy Week and a Happy Easter!