Chapter 8

•◊ΰ◊•

~Remember, today is the tomorrow you were worried about yesterday~

The way to make the most sense of the situation would be to think about it logically, Harry knew. Unfortunately, logic (and coincidentally the very world as he knew it) had flown out the window in a neat swirly-twirly-whirly pirouette precisely six months ago.

Give or take a month or two. ...He thought.

Bye-bye asshole Dork Lord, hello kickass ninja and, most importantly, two ninja in particular.

Stop, brain, about-face and go. He would avoid thinking of those two people in particular because that led to very familiar mental hamster-wheels of depressive spiralling, which would get him right back down to square nowhere. Sane this does not one make.

He sucked in air through his nose in an attempt to calm himself down. It didn't help, because for some reason he had twitched at the same time, setting off a burning sensation in his badly broken leg. Oh, he hadn't made it known he had returned to the land of the waking – he had locked down his limbs upon feeling that familiar dragging back to consciousness. He couldn't deal with whatever situation he was in at the moment. Couldn't face people.

He had the irrational (was it really...) urge to get the hell away from every single person – hide, sequester, lock himself away from any human contact or civilisation. Take his tainted presence from those around him – from those who would meet him in the future. He'd be doing them a favour. Most importantly, he'd be doing himself a bloody huge favour – no more having to hide away certain ingrained reactions, no more worrying about the intentions behind the actions of everyone around him – no more wondering who will be the next one to stab a knife in his back, like his first friends had!

There really was nothing for it. He'd see where the hell he was – it smelled like sick people and vinegar and felt like Death was near so chances were he'd somehow managed through his segue into the unconscious had resulted not in death, which he'd more than expected, but in the next step up – hospitalisation.

It was only a baby step, and whether his location was a step up was highly debatable to his mind, but the main issue here was that there may be people who expected conversation from him. Frankly, he would tell them to go fornicate with themselves, because he was in no way ready to have psychologists, therapists or 'well-meaning' nursing staff yakking at him when he stilled chocked over the very raw thought of... them.

Thus, logic had no freaking place anywhere near the festering wounds of his brain-box.

Now, all he had to do was that thing that he'd decided when he first arrive was stupidly suicidal and-

"I know you're up, gaki."

If it was possible, he felt his brain do that thing that cars do when you try to turn the key in the ignition but its run out of power – chchchchch...pshw. Whine, shut down. He was that car with the dead battery.

"Oi, don't tell me you finally re-learnt how to shut the hell up now, gaki."

He heard the scrape of a chair, and something wooden sounding hitting the floor a few times, moving in his direction. He felt the plastic hospital bed dip under added weight, and smelt like a person in need of a crash course in proper hygiene care.

"Gaki." The voice, deep and gentle, was scratchy and so very, very familiar.

A large hand settled over his forehead, the rough palm on his skin. The warmth that clung to the limb, in keeping with the dead battery metaphor, had roughly the same effect as a jumper cable properly connected would, and Harry's – or more to the point, Hiro's, who was always triggered with the proximity of Kazuki or Maya – battery went from negative three to one hundred percent without the interval in-between.

He was up like a shot, body acting independently of every thought he'd just had over the past few minutes, tiny arms latching leech-like around the body, tears unashamedly prickling in the corners of his eyes.

The body was solid, warm. Full of strength and vitality, touched but not taken by Death's hands, and he threw himself into the awkward embrace, burrowing into the person... Kazuki, someone he had thought irrevocably lost the instant before, white noise rushing in his ears.

•◊ΰ◊•

Kazuki, for his part, was unspeakably relieved that Hiro had finally woken up. He'd initially refused and refuted any and all attempts to kick him out of the hospital – and continued to do so, even after they'd relented to requesting that he might go get his own meals, or leave the kid for the hour it would take to nip home and catch a shower.

While that may have sounded a reasonable concession to the hospital staff, (which in all honesty he had nothing against personally and would usually heed the advice of) his own paranoia dictated that the moment he left would inevitably be the moment Hiroshi woke up and flipped the fuck out.

The brat would no doubt do something momentously stupid if that happened – and the threat of this eventuality drove him to keep a sharp eye on the kid.

He was also clear-minded enough to recognise his own vested interest in the kid. He knew what observations Sarutobi, and to a lesser extent that rookie Namikaze had taken from their chat a few days ago – he would have been a ninja of lesser calibre to not recognise the beginnings of a stirring obsession in himself.

Recovering from such mental trauma (although he preferred not to think of it as such) was a well-organised process for him, much like it became for any jounin that lived long enough to discover the need for such a schedule – the old hands, the veterans.

Civilians could pick the most outlandish of examples straight off the street – that guy that had tamed a goat to imitate a nin-ken and insisted that it could do everything those Inuzuka hounds could and better besides (even as it took a chunk out of his flak jacket), and the kunoichi with the red and white streamers that spoke in third person and prayed to the almighty Waldo-sama at full volume. He couldn't really provide an insight into these cases – he was a shinobi, not a fucking psychologist.

'Go find a hobby' was the most simplistic way any ninja could explain it – class 101 of self-administered (ninja style) mental rehabilitation. The people that found hobbies and managed to survive them alongside missions became the backbone of the elite forces, and the ones that didn't... well, that was a no-brainer. The Hokage had the power to intervene in the prospective advancement of any and all ninja, so those that picked up the second type of hobby usually ended up stuck at chuunin, extending their life from a lack of high-end missions and minimising the possible damage they could do to Konoha's reputations.

Enough with other cases – his own hobby was a single-minded devotion to whoever happened to need it at the time. He was uncomfortable with self-evaluation, but he recognised his own wistful 'would have, should have, wasn't-'s' from his own childhood, disrupted by war, and he usually went out and found an apprentice, or just someone who need a bit of extra training to give them a bit of a leg-up on the ninja life – try to extend their time playing the game before the conclusion came.

He was unsurprised to find that the subject of this go around was Hiroshi – he'd become more attached to this kid than even Maya's kid brother, which was a feat – that brat had copied his own signature move of keeping a senbon clenched between his lips... although the actual senbon would come in the future, for now Gekkou-chan was stuck with ice-cream sticks and tooth picks.

Although he typically focused on chunin-level shinobi as apprentices, he would accept nothing less than having Hiro assigned to him. He'd (unconsciously, mostly) been arranging this for previous few months from his command position at Kajiku – the kid could, very technically, be classified as a conscripted genin under wartime rule, and a precedent had been set from the very beginning of the 'tricks and tips' that he'd been teaching Hiroshi – training that, again very technically, he'd been responsible to administer (although not directly) as part of his command was a duty to teach the civilians living there anything that may help them survive shinobi attack. Not that it had helped, the civilians or the ninja under his command.

A part of his mind payed attention to the shaking six year old clinging to him, providing him with as much comfort as he knew how to give, as the majority of his attention continued whirring through the calculations and people he would have to contact to place Hiro under his care. The technicality of Hiro being a Konoha genin would not be sufficient for the boy to remain in the shinobi forces, although there was no chance that he would be rejected and excommunicated from Konoha – that was a certainty.

There was, however, about a 15% chance that he would be executed simply to avoid the trouble and diversion of man-power that figuring out the bureaucratic nightmare of what should be done with the young boy – he was an unknown and had been picked up during a skirmish with Iwa-nin – that he had a permanent scar from the encounter lowered the chances of this fact playing against him to 45%, but that he would be allowed into an orphanage was only at 6% probability – no one would want such a security risk near the future conscripted shinobi.

Hiro would not be left to his own devices – he would need a caretaker (10% rise of probability of execution) that had enough time and money to keep up a full-time watch on the boy to ensure that retaining him and investing further resources towards training him for the Konoha forces would be worth it.

Fortunately, the very reason that this obsession was hitting him so hard would also prove to be in the boy's favour – that Kazuki, respected and internally well-known jounin would volunteer his own time and training for this would raise the chance of Hiro being accepted into Konoha to be entered into the shinobi program at some point in the future raised to 75%.

However, he would have to get this past the few highly positioned councilmen that would deny this out of hand because they knew of his own tendency towards border-obsessive focus on training and dedication to his students on the basis that he may be compromised if the village changed its position on his student in some time in the future – people such as Danzo and Yukihana.

No sweat... *sigh*. He was in for a headache and a half in the coming weeks – he had a fight on his hands to keep this apprentice, and Kami help them if he lost it.

A mumbling voice brought him out of the introspection, and he removed one of his arms from the reassuring grip it had on the kid's shoulder to ruffle his hair affectionately. "What was that brat?"

The kid finally pulled himself away and swiped an arm over his bleary and tear-filled eyes. "y...You're alive?"

His voice cracked on the 'alive', and the word was whispered. It touched his blackened heart, and made him feel like a heel at the same time, anticipating what his news about his teammate would do to the brat. He wasn't exactly anywhere near what one would usually describe as sympathetic – his sympathy usually came in the form of sarcasm and the instruction to build a bridge, if that.

Although the upside to this was that they did now have quite a few extra bridges in Konoha from some of those painfully socially inept ninja that interpreted the words as an actual instruction, so that was a positive. Those bridges were in very scenic places and not required as infrastructure for the village, and were now used mostly as meeting spots for genin teams that jounin wanted to get the subtle hint about one thing or another relating to the interpretation of the Shinobi Rules. It inevitably didn't work, as they in turn forgot it was an in-joke among the jounin and ANBU, and that genin had no chance of knowing this.

Kazuki exhaled, firmly reaching down and grabbing hold of the child's chin and coaxed his head up from where it was fixed on the thin hospital sheets to make eye contact.

"Yes. I'm alive, Hiroshi." He said calmly, catching and holding the boy's attention. He could see something worrying flickering behind those green eyes, dark and the look of desperation that he knew all too well.

Considering the trauma that the fool kid had put himself through – running into a village under attack when not even officially accepted into the shinobi academy yet, honestly – heaped on top of whatever happened before he showed up at Kajiku, well it wasn't surprising.

Sad, hell yes. You'd have to be the head of the Interrogation department and under orders to not be sympathetic towards him to ignore that.

"...Maya...?" Hiro croaked, his eyes darting around the room.

Kazuki gritted his teeth slightly, pausing to prolong the breaking of that hope in the kid's eyes – he'd heard from Mina-kun what the kid had been like when he'd been pulled from the rubble, that he was almost completely non-responsive before being put into an induced coma. You could see the look in the eyes of genin that came back alone from a mission catastrophe, the orphans that clogged up the system, the partners that lost their other halves – the shinobi profession, their world was built around death. All ninja lived and died by the edge of a kunai, but it hit hardest in those that had not chosen the path, and those that carried on after the final act.

He waited until Hiroshi's pleading eyes finished their frantic search and latched back to his own steady gaze – well, as steady as he could keep it at any rate. He shook his head in the negative, not trusting his voice to the emission and knowing he had to stay strong for the child.

Maya was the root of the obsession with Hiro, he realised then, as he resumed simply holding the boy as he dissolved into silent tears and shaking shoulders, hunching into himself in despair. He'd observed, throughout the time they'd had Hiroshi at Kajiku, Maya managing to bring herself out of the self-destructive cycle she had been gradually falling into that he knew would not be solved – could not be solved by any action he could take.

He had been standing witness, knowing that his final remaining teammate was on her last legs and would be ending her commission as a ninja the only alternative to losing a vital limb – in all honesty, it was the only honourable way to get out. A ninja of his own repute could survive the death of his career – he was valued more for his intelligence in a war room that in any physical effort he could provide in any case, and he didn't give two shits about what any fucker on the street said about him. Your average ninja, however, would be dramatically dishonoured by the inability to serve Konoha until their dying days, hobbled by disability and would turn to the bottom of a bottle or other similar pursuits. It was the usual way of things to join the Memorial Stone through honourable last actions to 'go out with a bang' or 'die as you live' – that kind of idea.

Maya had seen her kid brother in Hiroshi – the kid brother that she had consciously separated herself from through the long-term assignment to Kajiku, to avoid him bearing witness to her breakdown. Having the kid there, always three steps behind, watching her, relying on her... Hiro had given Maya a new lease on life.

Only for her original reason for taking the high risk border assignment to come to fruition, just when he had convinced her to rotate back for a few months.

That unhappy, morbidly ironic coincidence of fate was what he was raging against the most in all of this – yes, he felt extremely guilty for the death of those under his command, and blackly furious that Hiroshi had found himself in thick of the battles, but he did not – could not – summon up what logic should dictate he should feel properly for those things. He did not feel guilty for those. Of course being a ninja, he was an old hand at feeling something (or not feeling, as the case may be) that commonsense would dictate was the proper emotional response.

Considering that when asked about their feelings most ninja would reply "feelings? What feelings?" he felt that he was a step above the pack. Konoha ninja always were, after all. Or at least they kept their crazy out of the word-of-mouth better. Or maybe it was just that in types of crazy, Konoha had the brand that civilians could accept the most.

Hn, something to think on.

He shifted slightly on the bed, the position he had sat down in becoming awkward to uphold around the positioning of the new prosthetic left limb, and the angle he was sitting at to have his arms loosely around the grieving kid.

The best he could do for the moment was focus on getting him back on the road to recovery – both emotionally and physically, as rather extensive physiotherapy was going to be required for the limb to continue working as well as was needed for his future, which would be bright and, most importantly, long – if Masatane Kazuki had anything to say about it.

Kami and Shinigami save old Hiruzen if the monkey had anything to say about that.

•◊ΰ◊•

Harry knew he was far past the age when he could be told that everything was going to be okay and actually be able to believe it as well. Words were those things that slipped and slid around the truth of a situation, and in his (vast, if he said so himself) experience the comforting ones did it the worst – a dagger hidden under the fuzzy blanket offered to placate the juvenile into following an old man's 'best' wishes. The Greater Good.

Stuff Dumbledore's Greater Good. Up the old Goat's... er, he'd just not go there, for the retention of whatever measure of mental health he still retained.

...There mustn't be much left by now though, since he was checking his own thoughts through a method that sounded like two chattering caricatures should be perched on his shoulders wearing devil and angel costumes and sniping at each other over if he should follow the leprechaun's orders to set things on fire.

"Hiro. Focus on me for a moment, kid, we've gotta have a serious conversation for a tick."

Chewing on his lip and fiddling with a corner of the cast on his leg, he reluctantly dragged his eyes up to meet Kazuki's. It was a battle – his manly pride (although highly contested at this point surely) not allowing him to continue acting like a traumatised child. Because, Merlin, he fucking wasn't. He'd seen hell in Lucius' basement and it spat him back out. He really needed to stop being such a pansy – pull yourself together, Potter.

Kazuki narrowed his eyes for a moment, seemingly to really make sure he had Hiro's attention. "You have a few options to choose from at the moment, kid, and I think you need to hear them."

Harry held back from rolling his eyes – that was the most bloody obvious thing about the situation! "W-" he croaked, stopping to clear his throat before continuing "What are they?"

A drawn out sigh is his answer, and Kazuki runs fingers over his rather battered face, "There's a few, but the main thing you have to do is choose where you wanna go now – there's still the place set up from before, when you were going to be brought in for training at the academy. Thing is, since our situation has obviously changed, an option will be to stay with me-"

"I'll do that!" Harry blurted loudly, cutting off the rather too casually inserted option.

Kazuki's mouth kicks up at the corner, and Harry doesn't fool himself into believing the slight relaxation of his shoulders is anything other than relief – as if Hiro could possibly pick to stay anywhere else! Maybe if he was asked by one of the doctors, without seeing Kazuki-nii he could have gone through with that downwards spiral of bad thoughts – you know, smother his emotions and become an emotionless douche bag with an aura of tragedy and general wasted chances.

Ah, fuck it – he knew better than that. Sirius had it far worse than him – thirteen years in Azkaban, surrounded by Dementors after the death of all his closest friends bar one – compared to that, Harry had no leg to stand on. Sirius had handled the slight insanity rather gracefully, in his opinion.

"That's good, Hiroshi." Kazuki leaned in and ruffled the boy's hair, fingers scraping against some bandages there for no other purpose than to remind him that he was injured (at least, that was why Harry thought they were there).

"Agh, g'off Kazu-nii! You're too smelly!"

"... You have no room to talk, kid."

"I do so! At least I haven't had a chance to clean up yet, nii-san! I bet you were being slow and that's why you stink!" Hiro stuck out his tongue, falling naturally back into Hiroshi's persona and bickering with Kazuki. Hey, he was performing a public service – he bet the nurses were avoiding the room because of the jounin's stink. Okay, so he also wanted the man to go take care of himself, but this the fun, manly way to do it – only girls asked if guys were okay.

Kazuki's face twisted and he mock-growled at Hiro's face. "Kid. Oh, Kami and Shinigami, I can't believe I mistook you for something other than a brat for a moment there! You...! Okay Kid, I'm gonna be gone for a bit, but when I come back I'll see about breaking you out."

Harry couldn't (and didn't try to) contain the grin spreading across his face. It seemed like nothing much had changed at all, which was just fine with him.

The jounin shook his head, but Harry could see the quirk of his lips as he rather shakily stood up, reaching for crutches that Harry hadn't noticed before then.

"You-?"

The man looked down at him, his eyes softening even as his face became serious. "I am me, and I am alive. That is all that matters, Hiroshi. I may not be in one piece anymore, but I will take my blessings as they come. Get some rest, and we'll get everything else figured out later."

Harry's hands tightened in the sheet serving as a comforter in the hospital bed as he watched his 'brother' (more like possible uncle figure, but Kazuki had threatened unspeakable torture should he be addressed like that) ungainly walk himself out of the room, the rather glaring absence of a leg shocking him into silence.

Well. It seemed like Kazuki outranked him on a scale of shitty experiences as well now. Not that he was compiling a list. For that would be rather crass of him, he guessed – although, one should 'take their blessings as they come' and be happy with what you've got.

Maybe if he kept up with the positive thinking, it'd be true?

•◊ΰ◊•

~Screw the money, I have rules! Wait, lemme try that again...~

Konoha, at a normal time, was...Hm.

No, let him try that again.

Ahem. Konoha, in a normal time, was... okay, so there's no such thing as a 'normal time' in Konoha.

He'd admit that, and he rather thought that was the natural way the world worked in Shinobi-time; three things happening simultaneously on a seesaw, good-and-bad swinging up and down from one moment to the next, rejoicing in the confusion and misinterpretations it brought about.

Now, Konoha in wartime was the equivalent of about ten separate seesaws ridden simultaneously by hyperactive toddlers, and every time the thing swung one way or another, out in the world the tide of war mirrored that movement. No matter how many times he received 'absolute' information that 'couldn't be wrong', or created 'fool proof' plans, the information and situation would change so fast as to give him whiplash and leave him scrambling for separate attack plans.

Shinobi at war were a separate beast; where in peace time movements of power and visibility were absolute, war meant that the art of deception and slight-of-hand was most valued. After all, you couldn't pitch a wide-scale battle when your enemies were already in your village, or had cut off your supply lines and poisoned your water.

Kami and Shinigami, he was grateful for the gift of Tsunade and her medical skills at a time like this.

The Sannin were on the move, along with most of the higher ranks; his shinobi switching from front-to-front to keep strengths and a protective net around all of the villages; he had five generals working around the clock, the whole of ANBU intelligence armed and researching as well as most Konoha's elite out on missions so classified that there was no paperwork to be completed for them. Actually, that was just about one of the only upsides of war; the necessity of the absolute minimum of paperwork possible, although there were shinobi kept in the depths of his divisions secure with the information in case of the worst.

He tapped his pipe against the table before replacing it in his mouth, teething it a moment before inhaling. A knock sounded; "Enter."

"Hokage-sama." Hiruzen allowed a shadow of a sigh to escape him before he stood up, moving around the desk and past the man, already pulsing his chakra to order the ANBU to stay and guard. He nodded as he passed the man in acknowledgement nether the less, truly grateful for this reprieve.

The Hokage was a symbol of power. Especially in such a time as this; in war, being seen around the village was far more important than even in times of peace. A commander must know his troops, and while he definitely knew his senior and high placed shinobi made sure they knew the people under their command and that they funnelled all the relevant information to him and the office relegated to designating missions, he enjoyed – no, he had a compulsion – to get to know them to some extent personally.

After all, there was his seemingly never-ending search for a proper successor to consider.

Arriving out on the street, he was unsurprised at the familiar face awaiting him. "Kazuki."

"Saru-sama, what a sur-prize meetin' ya here!" The one-legged jounin practically sung, half-hopping to keep pace with his old friend."

Hiruzen gripped the bridge of his nose. "What a surprise this is, Kazuki." He replied flatly, only neglecting rolling his eyes because that was unbecoming of one in his station.

"Aw shucks Saru, ya ain't gotten bored of me yet, admit it! Now come on, ya promised to come an' hear me out."

"Kazuki, I believe I agree to see to the situation when the paperwork crossed my desk – or better yet, why have you not taken this to the appropriate division for application? There are official channels for things such as this, you know."

"Official? Why, I know that you, as the Hokage, counts as the most official Official I can get in this damn village. I mean, why go to some boring sucker filling out paperwork all day that would probably just blow his nose on my application when I can bug you? It's just good business."

Sarutobi slid his eyes to the jounin hopping with crutches next to him, and for the second time in almost as many minutes allowed a sigh to escape him. He felt himself relenting, although there was only so much he could do. "Describe the situation." He stated. It never paid to just assume when it came to bureaucracy.

"I want to foster Hiroshi, an orphan discovered at my previous command post, Kajiku Village."

Hiruzen nodded, "You'll have to fill in the proper forms, Kazu, no matter what is said here today. But you know that."

Kazuki grimaced but nodded. The evils of paperwork could not be avoided in such a situation.

"I can meet the youngster today and evaluate your claim to the child, of course, but you must search down Minato-kun for the confirmation of his legitimate entrance into Konoha. You will also have to present the application to the council pending settlement on your non-active status."

"Yes, I know. Now, come on Saru, I've been wanting you to meet the gaki for a while now – he woke up a few days ago and after a bit of a rough patch-" discovering Maya's fate "-he's been doing fucking brilliantly. Even got that good ol' shinobi aversion to hospitals – it's making me proud to be his big brother." He faked the wiping of a tear, not able to conceal the shit-eating grin spreading across his face.

Hiruzen glanced sideways at his fellow shinobi. "It is good to hear the boy is doing well but... I guess that it is Konoha's turn to watch out for the 'demon', ne? Should I get out The List?" he joked.

It just so happened that both men spotted a head of blond hair turning the corner at that moment, and shared a look before moving in...

•◊ΰ◊•

"...And that's how to properly dismantle an exploding tag if the situation permits, and the ideal conditions present themselves. Genin, dismissed." The Chunin, hair wrapped up in a black bandanna and a rather outlandish dress sense of red-and-white rushed out of the room without a further word, undisguised relief crossing his face.

Uchiha Obito started to gather up his books, looking to the genin beside him pathetically, "...I can't believe they make us go back to the academy after we've graduated as genin."

Rin pursed her lips and tapped her finger against the spine of the textbook for the class impatiently, "It's what they've done for the war – you know the jounin-sensei need to go out for higher-ranked missions and that they can't take us with them. It's-"

"- to allow for early graduation and more genin graduates blah blah blah yes I know! It just sucks alright? I mean, my dad didn't have to do that, and... It's just unfair, alright? And anyway, Minato-sensei isn't out on a mission."

Rin brushed her bangs behind her ears and decided to ignore the pouting Uchiha's mood. Graduation age had been reduced to allow for the inflation of shinobi within the ranks, and in order to make up for the unstable situation outside of the village, classroom training time had to be included. It ensured that skills they needed were not missed out on because of the war.

"Come on, Obito, we're meeting Kakashi-kun and Minato-sensei for training after this. Minato-sensei said he'd show us something cool if we showed up on time – so let's get going!" She grabbed onto the Uchiha's sleeve, well aware by now of his propensity of getting lost and being ridiculously late to meetings.

"Rin-chan..." Obito muttered, face heating up as his eyes flicked between her hand on his and the girl herself.

The young kunoichi ignored this, dragging her fellow teammate out of the academy and down the street. "Minato-sensei said they'd meet us at the yakitori stand down here... oh, there he is! Oh, who...?"

She pulled up to an abrupt stop, the Uchiha stumbling into her back, yanked by the grip she retained on his sleeve. His view was blocked by her hair, so he poked her in the back a few times, "Rin-chan, move out of the way! I can't see!"

The girl took a stuttering step forward, releasing the boy as she did so from suddenly weak hands, before she squeaked and spun around behind the Uchiha, crouching down.

"Wha- Rin-chan...?"

"Th-th-the Hokage!" She stuttered in shock, wide-eyed and peaking back out from under Obito's raised arm.

Obito glanced confusedly back at Rin – he was distracted by her rather uncharacteristic actions – before he looked where she was peeking.

Half way down the street was definitely Minato-sensei, but with him was – as Rin had discovered – the Hokage. Actually, there was Hokage-sama and that jounin that they'd found and helped on their last mission... Kaz-something.

Minato-sensei seemed to be talking to the two highly-ranked shinobi – he wondered about why, but didn't let it bother him unduly. After all, they'd definitely find out soon – "Come on Rin-chan, let's go see what's happening!"

In a reversal of roles, he grabbed her hand and dragged the red-faced, stuttering and wide-eyed young kunoichi up to the three jounin, shouting "Yo, Minato-sensei!"

This definitely caught their attention, and Obito decided to ignore his sensei's subtle facepalm – he was probably imagining it. After all, Minato-sensei was cool and very uptight – Obito would be the man had never even properly slurped ramen in his life! You know, the type of slurping where you get the broth all over your face and the front of your clothes – the one you reserve for the best ramen.

"...Obito-kun, Rin-chan. I'm surprised you managed to get here on time – you're even early. I thought you had a lecture at the academy until two o'clock?"

Obito waved his hand, "Well, Red-sensei finished it early, pretty nice of him! Anyway, what'cha doing?" He slipped his curious gaze over to the Hokage and his companion, taking special not of the crutches under the later man's armpits, having never really seen them before up so close.

Rin sharply (though covertly) jabbed one of Obito's kidneys, reproving him for his very unprofessional demeanour in front of the honest-to-Kami Hokage of all people. She stepped out from behind her teammate and bowed, "Sorry about Obito-kun, Hokage-sama. I'm Rin, and it is nice to meet you, sir."

She chanced a glance up at the Hokage and was startled to see a kind smile on his face. "It's quite alright, Rin-chan; it's nice to meet you and Obito-kun somewhere less official."

The young kunoichi blushed, never having imagined the Hokage to bother with such low-ranked shinobi in such an unstable time – everybody seemed to be rushing around on very important meetings, especially the medics that she trained under; she knew more than most genin just how important and demanded the higher ranks were by the war, from firsthand experience of helping at the hospital. She imagined the Hokage was working five times harder than those under his command, but he still had time to do things like this...

Obito felt warmth rush to his cheeks, embarrassed now that Rin had demonstrated the correct behaviour and not wishing to mess up further.

Minato-sensei put a hand on his head and messed up his hair, grinning down at him; "Ah, Obito-kun and Rin-chan are definitely excited to meet you too, Hokage-sama. Isn't that right, kids?"

Something is Minato-sensei's eyes glinted and Obito found himself rapidly nodding his head along with his teammate, keeping his mouth closed but feeling a bit better since he didn't get told off.

"They're fine, Minato-kun, leave the squirts alone – they're just a bit star struck, ain't that right, Saru?"

The Hokage shot the man beside him a look – it was kind of like the look Kakashi shot him when he thought he'd said something wrong now that he thought about it – "Kazuki, please keep your observations to yourself. I believe that you had a question for Minato-kun."

"Ah, yes..." The jounin, now known as Kazuki, grinned sharply at his sensei and Obito thought that this one looked a bit evil. "Mina-kun, I need you to come meet my gaki, Hiro-kun! I need ya to sign a form too, but you've gotta meet him awake first – I know he wants to thank ya, too! I told him who got him outta that heap."

Obito ignored Minato's reaction, because he was so excited – he'd soo wanted to meet the kid that they'd rescued on their mission – and it looked like they'd get to! He couldn't control his excitement, "I wanna go too, Minato-sensei! Me an' Rin-chan have talked about that, and we'd like to meet him! I don't know about Kakashi, 'cos Kashi's a dick-"

"Obito!" Minato growled in warning.

Obito didn't blink "-Kakashi's not nice, but that doesn't matter, we can just leave him behind – we don't need to scare the kid like that anyway – who'd let Kakashi near another kid after that again? Come on, come on, can we go?"

Three, two, one...

Of course, as situations like this usually turned out, a silver blur shot from the roof and ploughed into the excited Uchiha, sending him sprawling and struggling to the ground, now in an impromptu wrestling match with his male teammate.

Minato silently groaned to himself, having counted down the time to impact. Kakashi habitually stayed apart from their team until the very last moment, so situation would have it that the ten-year old chunin tackled his similarly-aged genin counterpart for his disparaging words.

Minato shot a withering glance at Kazuki, who was very falsely 'coughing' into his hand, choosing to ignore the Hokage's similar position like a good subordinate.

He casually glanced back down at the wrestling genin. No technique at all was present in their actions, it was rather a very childish approximation of the real thing, with both boys trying to grind each other's face into the sidewalk. Although he knew that it was down as number two in the Jounin Manual of Genin-Training on the list of 'What NOT to do', placed right after 'don't kill the brats' (the whole thing was in bold, underlined three times and circled in the actual book), he rather thought this kind of play-wrestling was good for Kakashi – it got the kid to show some emotion, which was becoming something seen less and less these days.

At least it seemed like Hokage-sama agreed with him.

He turned back to the two men; "Is Hiroshi available to meet now, Kazuki-san?

"Yup, wouldn't be suggesting it if he wasn't – punk's been right as rain, or as close to it since he's dealing with those medics. Hah, he's a resilient little brat."

They stood there for a few seconds, watching the two kids rolling around, before Kazuki grew impatient. He awkwardly hopped forward on his crutches before lifting one and using it to crack them both over the head, getting pained grunts from them, "Now come on, brats, we're going to meet mine – behave nicely, yah hear?"

He loomed over two threateningly, eyes gleaming with warning.

•◊ΰ◊•

"This is it. Be good kiddies." Kazuki shot snarkily back at the two young boys, both of which had their arms crossed and were scowling in different directions, shooting some glares the old jounin's way.

It had taken a bit of quick moving to get such a large (and outlandish) group past the nurses, but they'd managed it – admittedly, mainly because of the Hokage's presence, but still.

"Hiro-kun! Visitors!"

Minato was holding up the rear of their procession, and found it necessary to give Kakashi a little shove through the door, "You'll be fine, just keep your kunai out of reach." He whispered encouragingly to the boy while performing the action.

'Kashi threw a dirty look at him over his shoulder, but Minato studiously ignored it with the presence of both the Hokage and a previous jounin-commander in their midst.

It was a normal hospital room, although there seemed to be some kind of half scrubbed-off marks along the far wall (like someone had stolen a permanent marker and started drawing little comics, actually) and his eyes were drawn to the single bed and its occupant.

It was his first proper look at the boy, and to his surprise his hair seemed to be in more of a wild mess than it had been when he'd finished him out from the wreckage. The eyes were exactly how he'd remembered them – that strange, almost luminescent shade of emerald gazing out at him, seeming to be coloured with the mark of experience beyond that his years belied.

"Heya, Hiro-kun!" Obito practically shouted, flinging himself onto the hospital bed in the rambunctious manner for which he was known. He was echoed more quietly by Rin, who conducted herself with some measure of dignity (at least in the presence of such highly ranked shinobi, anyway).

Minato made his way next to the bed, making sure to nudge his silver-haired chunin along in front of him.

Hiroshi seemed to be rather shocked by Obito's... nature, and his attention was fully captured, so Minato looked over to his fellow adults in the room (at least in body, though the jury was still out on the men's mental ages, in his opinion at least) and raised a golden eyebrow. "So, why did you accost me on the street like that, again? I missed your well thought out and reasoned answer when we were interrupted."

Kazuki smirked at him, and the Hokage adjusted his hat in a movement Minato knew was crafted to obscure his expression. Kazuki opened his mouth to reply, only to be momentarily distracted by a small hand tugging on his sleeve, "Oh? Eh, they're fine gaki, don't be scared now. They were on the Team that found us at Kajiku, the one I told ya about – that's Obito, Rin and Kakashi, and Blondie here's Minato. Thank 'em, yeah?"

Minato was forced to smother his twitching expression with a cough; Hiro's bewildered and shocked expression, wide-eyed and his mouth hanging open, were undeniably adorable for the whole effect they had on his face – he actually looked kind of like a little puppy.

"Anyway" Kazuki turned his attention back to him, with a flicking gesture at Hiro's forehead that made the boy try to scamper backwards to avoid it, "Mina-kun, I need ya to sign some things for me – ya know, just papers sayin' ya brought Hiro an' me into Konoha. It's so I can take Hiroshi in – ya know, gotta get the proper paperwork done." He finished virtuously, like it was his idea in the first place when Minato could see poor Sarutobi rubbing his temples over the man's shoulder.

Seeing no reason to decline, Minato nodded. "Sure, just bring the forms whenever."

White pages were promptly shoved right under his nose, and Minato flinched from the abrupt actions. "Sign here, then page twelve and seventeen. Thanks Mina-kun, you're a sport."

Minato groaned and only just resisted pouting (unfortunately, he was still supposed to be a role model for his genin/chunin that were present... nuts) and reluctantly grabbed the papers that were now waving around in front of his nose.

"...You had those the whole time, Kazuki?" The Hokage, now Minato's attention had been drawn, was frozen in place and looked rather put-out as he addressed his friend.

"Er... yes?" The jounin replied, looking sheepish.

"Just why were you bothering me every day for the past five days about it then, when you already had what you needed, you, you..." His speech trailed off into an incomprehensible mutter, one that Minato would place good money on contained a few choice words at the jounin.

"Aww, Saru, you know me... I have this, um, friend in the department, and for a very nominal fee he got me the papers and stuff, and I know you, so I figured you'd want to be a good friend and help and well..."

The Hokage seemed to be collecting a rather ominous aura, and Minato flipped through and speed-read the sections Kazuki had told him to sign before putting his actual signature down, knowing it would be left up to him to get his genin out of the blast range.

"You... bribed one of my ninja?!"

Minato shoved the completed papers at Kazuki, grabbed Rin, Kakashi and Obito (who had a death-hold in the form of a hug on Hiro-kun) and promptly lifted them all up together in a rather strange hug-thing, before running them out the door and away from the rising chakra signatures.

They reached the doors of the hospital and Minato could just barely pick out a shouted "KIND OF?!" as he turned to his team plus one and said calmly with a rather manufactured smile. "Well, let's all go have yakitori. Hiro-kun, Kazuki is just a little held up right now, so you'll come with us – I bet you'll love it."

Minato quickly encouraged them along the street, ignoring any protests from Hiroshi while making sure that Obito was carrying the boy properly to avoid further injury, and prayed that the two old men would sort themselves out and not blame him for anything.

•◊ΰ◊•

A/N: I really tried to make this chapter longer than my previous ones, so don't say I do not heed advice! Hopefully this makes sense… we're still on my previously-written stuff, but are closer to catching up to where I was when the site deleted this story.

-skyflyte12 (reviews appreciated)