Happy New Years everyone, I offer to you, the first chapter of the New Year! And so I must also offer something bitter to temper the sweet. as you recall, I DID take a two month break to focus on my new semester . . . the fuck is The Fray doing on New Years Rockin' Eve? Ahem, anyway. So yes, I will be cashing in my two months vacation for my new semester and will be seeing you guys promptly on March 7th (edit 1/12/14: so sorry I about may before its MARCH), 2014. I think I've been pretty good on updating schedules so you guys can take me for my word, promise!

Well then, on to our new chapter! See you guys in Spring! And thank you, thank you so much for a great year! We're almost to the checkpoint!

DISCLAIMER: I do not own Naruto, Masashi Kishimoto does. Similarly, I do not own any songs English or Japanese.

Chapter Forty-Two

We Wanna Learn, Uzumaki Naruto!

Rin feels much better after her cathartic howling and heart-wrenching sobbing that went far beyond her time in her sensei's hug and into the night where Obito and Kakashi sat by her bedside like guard dogs. She cooks breakfast entirely by herself for everyone, a surprising and very pleasing occurrence. Cut fruit and onigiri, hot soba noodles and a miso soup— very traditional and a change from the usual fair.

"This food is delicious Rin, thank you." Minato graciously thanks the blushing girl, who twirls a lock of hair around her finger as is her usual nervous habit.

"Well . . . it's nothing much I think." Rin mumbles.

"It's something really good I think!" Obito shouts, clawing at every bit of food he can get.

"Control yourself damn it!" Kakashi cries, slapping at Obito's hand when it reaches for his plate. They eat the food gratefully and thank the cook profusely, if only to see the adorable shade of red that covers from the roots of her hair to the neck of her top.

From there they gather into the living room and choose a hew reader for the day.

"I'd like to read today~!" Kushina volunteers happily, waving her hand in the air like a bubbly school girl.

"Then go ahead." Minato laughs, handing her the book.

"Naruto . . ."

Naruto slurs out a nonsensical word, before drifting back off to sleep. A hand in his hair tugging at it painfully stops him from doing that.

"Naruto!" the voice hisses.

"Wha . . . ?" he yawns, turning over on his back and rubbing his face. He looks over to Katsu, who grips his shoulder with such force her knuckles are white and her wide eyes are locked on something at the end of their bed.

"Eh, what could it be to scare that kid . . . ?" Obito laughs. "Must be a spider!"

"And what is that supposed to mean?" Rin snaps waspishly, glaring at a sweating Obito.

"Make it go away." She whispers, nodding towards whatever it is. Naruto lifts himself up on his elbows and freezes at the sight of the forty-foot cobra that coils around the footboard of the bed.

"Ah. Well, yes, that is indeed serious enough to scare anyone." Obito comments rather lamely.

Kakashi makes a derisive noise. "Must be Anko."

"Thank you for your astute observation." Jiraiya drawls, enjoying Kakashi's glare.

Already, he could tell today was going to be a weird day.

Naruto puts a hand on Katsu's shoulder to calm her down. "You know it's a summons of Anko's." he soothes, slowly rising. You never want to make any sudden movements around the temperamental snakes.

"Make it go away." She repeats, as if she hadn't heard him.

He can't blame her— it's a huge snake, and with its tongue occasionally flickering out tasting the air it didn't look friendly in the slightest.

"Are you . . . Uzumaki Naruto?" it hisses.

"Yes. Is Anko asking for me?" Naruto asks cautiously, slowly moving bit by bit in front of Katsu.

"Yes," it dips is head in a curt nod. "She is . . . in the Hokage's office. She thought," its mouth opens in a grimace that slightly resembles amusement and Naruto can see the emotion plain in its eyes. "This would be a suitable wake-up call."

"That's not funny Anko." Obito sighs, shaking his head in disappointment.

"It is. A little." Jiraiya added the last part at the looks from the others.

That bitch. "Well. I'll be there shortly so . . . thank you." Naruto mutters, giving the cobra a weak wave. "What's your name?"

"Dokumaru." The cobra introduces himself.

"Well thanks Dokumaru." Naruto smiles a little unsurely, and blows out a breath when the summon dispels itself back to its world.

Naruto turns and grins at Katsu. "See? All gone now darling, it's perfectly safe."

"Oh don't be patronizing." Tsunade mutters.

"What, he's just saying?!" Obito squawks.

"You have so much to learn, little tadpole." Jiraiya utters, shaking his head.

Katsu shakes her head, scoffing. "Don't be a jerk." Ducking away from his hand she rises from the bed and walks out of the room with a huff.

"Aw come on Kurohime!" He calls, getting out of the bed as well. "I didn't mean anything by it!" He sighs when all he gets is the stomp of feet on the stairs, scrubbing his hair with one hand. Shrugging he gets ready for the day with a shower and his clothes, tying his hitai-ate around his neck.

"I still don't get it." Obito whines in a low tone.

Kushina sighs, and patiently explains it. "He sounded like he was making fun of her for being scared. He just didn't realize it— he's very lax about these things, as most shinobi are."

Jogging down the steps he enters the kitchen to see Katsu tying up a bento for him and handing it to him without even turning around. Naruto smiles wryly and takes the bento, placing it on the table. He steps closer and closer until he's right behind Katsu and leans down to put his chin on her shoulder.

His eyes widen in a minor pout as he looks up from underneath shaggy gold bangs. "Are you mad at me?"

"Yeah." Katsu answers stiffly, never looking away from the food she prepares. She had promised the cook Akira-san that she'd bring a few of her own creations along just as the other would do to talk over for lunch. She feels Naruto shift and place a kiss on the part of her shoulder bared by her shirt. She doesn't react and she can practically feel his grin.

"Come on . . . don't be mad at me." Naruto entreats, wrapping his arms around her waist. "I don't like when you're mad princess. Especially at me. You should be happy!"

"Don't call me princess." Katsu reprimands, not backing down.

"But that's what you are, my dear!" Naruto gasps. "My beautiful, kind, loving princess . . . who every now and then, admits to a dislike of all things slithering and slimy."

"I—" Katsu tries to deny his words but Naruto leans even further so that she can see his incredulous expression. They stare at each other for a few minutes before her lips twitch. Knowing she was losing she quickly turns away and tries to move to another part of the kitchen, but is stopped when Naruto swings around to look at her again, this time with a smarmy grin on his face. The expression is comical and her lips curl up despite her efforts to the contrary.

Kushina takes a moment to join the other females in their squealing approval. Jiraiya heaves a silent sigh, begging for a comrade with his eyes as he locks stares with the other guys in the room. Minato snorts, shaking his head and sending Jiraiya a stern look, not to ruin the women's fun. The only one who is with him it seems is Kakashi.

Naruto grins charmingly. "See, isn't it better to be happy than to be mad?"

"Oh shut up and go see what Tsunade-sama wants." Katsu chides him, kissing him swiftly before forcefully pulling apart his arms to move around.

Naruto sniffs. "So cold. First Anko, and now my girlfriend . . . will Nade treat me harshly too?"

"Brat!" Tsunade's first words upon seeing Naruto. "What the hell took you so long?!"

Tsunade laughs nervously, scratching her cheek with a single finger. "Well . . . sorry kid."

"My apologies Hokage-sama, I have no excuse." Naruto sighs.

Anko stands by the desk of the older blonde woman, grinning rather disturbingly at Naruto. "Did you enjoy my wake-up call Naru-chan?"

Naruto glares at Anko coldly, not bothering to answer her. "Hokage-sama, Jounin Mitarashi summoned me at your behest correct?"

While Anko whines piteously and endeavors to ensnare Naruto with a sparkly-eyed pout Tsunade, looking at Anko significantly as if to say 'I told you so!' returns her attention to Naruto.

"Naruto, I know that I gave you a two week long vacation after going to River . . . however I have a mission for you. It requires no travelling beyond the village and this will extend for three to four months."

"Another mission!" Kushina chuckles. "My busy son, I hope he won't be so eager to rush around this time. I'd get lonely I think."

Naruto, totally ignoring Anko much to the other woman's dismay, raises a brow intrigued. "And the details of this mission Hokage-sama?"

Tsunade smiles, and pushes forward a stack of folders from the right corner of her desk to the forefront. Naruto points to the folders and she nods, so he picks them up and flips through the first one. "Hokage-sama . . . these are Academy student profiles, evaluations, study plans . . ." he freezes and looks up. "Oh Nade, you don't mean—"

"Yay!" Kushina crows. "Easy mission— Academy sensei!"

"Naruto's skills are needed far more on the field than in the Academy . . ." Minato murmurs, giving Tsunade a wondering look. "What are you thinking with this move Tsunade-sama?"

Tsunade shrugs. "He thought about becoming a jounin-sensei right? Before he can even think about being promoted to jounin he needs to show some mettle in one of the toughest chuunin jobs around— teaching a class at the Academy."

"That's the first I'm hearing about this." Jiraiya mutters. "We didn't teach at the Academy— nor did Minato, and Kushina was only an assistant for a few months."

"Morimoto-san has finally taken up her maternity leave, and of course is given the option to either retire from service until the child is grown enough or to spend six months total after the baby is born to care for him or her. Of course your stint is only until another chuunin can take over the class, perhaps one of the assistant sensei that manages the other classes. For now I need a substitute sensei, and I think you are perfect for the job!"

"I am in no way qualified to teach children—" Naruto tries to object but Tsunade cuts him off quickly.

"Morimoto-san has written down a lesson plan for the rest of her maternity leave, even up to the end of the year in case she retires. She's a meticulous person, and so I have no doubt that the lesson plans orchestrated by her will be thorough and easy to follow," Tsunade pauses and takes a deep breath. She smiles at a fidgeting Naruto. "It's not all that hard, teaching. You'll be taking up a group of third year students so they'll be ten or eleven years old. You've got a good head on your shoulders, I know you won't be bullied or taken advantage of by those kids— hell, you love kids right! And aren't you good with them?"

"All good points. Naruto likes kids almost as much as they like him. But that's when he's being playful and friendly like a big brother. How would he fare in a more professional capacity?" Kakashi points out.

Obito shrugs. "Even big brother has to put his foot down at some point."

"Where do you get that?" Naruto scoffs.

"Inari from Wave, Hikaru from Crescent Moon, Konohamaru and his friends— and don't think I don't know about you dodging Hinata's attempts to see her little sister Hanabi!"

"Which I can't deny any more since she went to Kumo with me. I've been instructed to thaw out what little Hinata couldn't control." Naruto mutters, blowing out a gusty breath.

"So?" Tsunade drew out the sound, getting up from her chair and moving lightly over to Naruto. "Come on," she cajoles. "You know you want to."

"Teach impressionable children and no doubt screw them all over?" Naruto asks, already foreseeing the grim future. "I don't—"

"Don't say that, you never know until you try!" Minato encourages. "I bet he'll be great at it anyway."

"If he's even half as good as sensei, those kids will be in good hands!" Obito and Rin vouch, Minato sending them a brilliant smile of gratitude in return.

"But Naru-chan," Tsunade whines, slinging an arm around his neck and pulling him down just that little to bring him into a one-armed hug. "It's an easy mission! You get to go home every night to your pretty wife— my bad, girlfriend's cooking," she giggles at Naruto's red cheeks. "You can be in the village, relax . . . you've got set hours! You know how many ninja would kill for that?"

"I've killed a lot of people just for that." Minato pipes up, showing a rare moment of macabre humor.

"I've been killing for about thirty years, and I still haven't got that." Jiraiya grumbles.

"Oh, so why isn't there ever an influx of chuunin sensei applications?" Naruto asks pointedly, frowning in resignation as he angles his head to rest more comfortably on Tsunade's shoulder. "Oi, your skin is softer . . . you using that sea scrub Katsu got you?"

"Oho, so you noticed!" Tsunade boasts, glowing with pride. "The skin of my youth returns to me even better than ever . . . go on, go on!"

"Hey now, consider the position you two are in and your age you cougar!" Kushina reprimands Tsunade, who flinches in shock.

Tsunade frowns. "Why I never! That kid's my godson; I'll cuddle him all I damn want to!"

"Not when you're making it into such a lewd procession you . . . !" Kushina hisses, slowly rising out of her seat. Minato and Jiraiya share looks as they pull their respective ladies down to their seats and calm them down.

Naruto laughs. "Okay, just because you're all pretty-smelling and soft doesn't mean you get to gloat, it's unbecoming."

As the two blondes laugh, they are never aware of the male ANBU and the jounin peering at them through binoculars on the farther rooftops outside the tower all who glower enviously at Naruto's enviable position on Tsunade's supple shoulder near those bountiful . . .

Lucky bastard! They hiss. Somewhere in Kiba no Kuni, Jiraiya pauses and lifts a fist up in victory, tears of pride flowing down his face. He doesn't know how or why, but he knows his student is making him oh so proud right now.

"See!" Kushina gloats, smirking in a darkly frowning Tsunade's face.

"Look I can't help these," Tsunade gestures roughly to her gracious chest. "But if I were just a B-cup it wouldn't be a problem! And you! Like you won't have the same problem when he's older Little Miss Just-Shy-of-D-cup!"

Kushina gasps in affront while covering her own chest from sudden examination by the others.

"Sensei remember last time?" Minato, with a cold tone, pointedly asks the older man who pales bone white and turns his head away to prevent all temptation.

"Well . . . !" Kushina splutters, looking for a comeback. She can't find any, and sighs in reluctance. "Okay, truce."

"Thank you!" Tsunade cries, hands flinging up into the air.

Back in Konoha, Naruto sighs and extricates himself from Tsunade's cuddling hold. "Okay Nade . . . I'll do it. But you have to explain to the others why I'm not on register for any missions with them."

"Done!" Tsunade trills, patting him on the back and ruffling his hair. "It's still very early . . . school starts in an hour and a half! Plenty time to get a start on learning the week's lesson plan and figuring out your students right?"

"Right." Naruto sighs.

"Then you're dismissed!" Tsunade chirps, clapping him on the back and returning to her desk. Naruto walks out of the room, Anko following after him with the pout still going strong. Naruto is unaffected by it and it only makes her pout even more.

"Come on, I'm sorry!" She cries, tugging at his rolled up shirt sleeve. Naruto looks over his shoulder at her, nonplussed by her sincerity.

"Go apologize to Katsu, not me." He reminds her, shooing her off. At her insistent pout he cracks a smile and taps her forehead once making the woman rub at the spot with a bemused expression. He laughs and returns home to read the files and unearth his chuunin vest from the pile of washed laundry he'd left behind the other day.

Iruka stands by a corner of the Academy, leaning against a tree as he takes deep breaths. Once he's sure he won't laugh, he straightens up and walks over to a crouched, miserable Naruto who mumbles to himself as the cloud of depression grows around him.

They all laugh nervously, sensing a pattern. "He always gets nervous just before a big event. But does it seem like it's getting worse with age?" Minato asks.

"Uh-huh." They mutter in agreement.

"Naruto," Iruka's voice trembles slightly and he clears his throat. "You haven't even met the class yet!"

"I'm going to fail," Naruto murmurs despondently. He turns pitiful cerulean eyes to Iruka, seeking comfort. "Iruka-sensei . . . I suddenly remembered my Academy days. I don't have a Big Demon Head jutsu like you to control those brats. And I can't possibly make boring ass history more interesting. You sure as hell couldn't."

"It's ultimately up to you how you handle discipline in your class Naruto, don't shirk your responsibility now." Jiraiya scolds lightly.

"Discipline is only a small part of teaching— Hey!" Iruka yells at Naruto, swatting the younger boy's back. "Come on now, a man shouldn't sulk like this!"

"But Iruka-sensei . . ." Naruto whines, plucking blades of grass up.

"But nothing." The firmness of Iruka's voice makes Naruto look up curiously. "You've been assigned a mission by your Hokage and it is your responsibility and your obligation to make sure that not only is this mission seen through to the end but that it is a success. The records of Chuunin sensei are scoured heavily don't you know?"

"Really? Why?" Naruto asks, and Iruka smiles slightly when he sees the blonde boy perk up. Naruto could never resist a challenge— he seemed to thrive off them, and Iruka had that thought in mind as he continued speaking.

"He might be wrong in still seeing Naruto as a little kid, but who can blame him when he knows Naruto so well?" Kakashi asks.

"It's like a parent tricking their kid into eating vegetables." Rin chuckles softly, not sure how the statement would sound to Minato and Kushina.

"Well you're training the next generation of ninjas after all!" Iruka shrugs, leaning back to rest his weight on one leg as he crosses his arms. "So it's really quite challenging to do— not many chuunin are even accepted and the ones that are, are put under a microscope every term to ensure that nothing is going wrong." Then Iruka thought about Naruto and how the boy hadn't even been a consideration on the minds of those evaluators when he had been a student, and fixed his statement. "Most of the time."

Naruto, who had been thinking the same thing as Iruka, snorts in agreement. But the challenge is there, and he is oh so tempted to take it up . . . "So this is a pretty big deal is it?"

Iruka nods. "Oh sure! Once you've got this on your record, and you've done well, they really start giving consideration to people like you— well rounded shinobi— for jounin promotions, and perhaps a straight shot without taking the test. You might see some who didn't have to be chuunin teachers but they were promoted because they were near prodigies. But even that—"

"Has some very troublesome weaknesses." Naruto finishes. Both men are silent as they keep to their thoughts for a few moments, only the trees making any noise. Finally, Naruto looks up and smiles widely.

"Okay, Iruka-sensei. Will you help me if I get stuck?"

"Of course!" Iruka smiles. "And you know . . . now that you're a sensei like me you should probably stop calling me sensei."

"No way!" Naruto denies cheerfully. "Iruka-sensei will always be Iruka-sensei!"

Iruka grins, ruffling Naruto's hair. "Go on brat, class starts in ten minutes!"

Naruto lifts himself up and smiles at Iruka before leaving to walk the halls of the Academy. He takes his time as memories pile on him, most bittersweet and a little lonely, but the precious few that were completely happy were made even more special as he got closer and closer to . . . well, his classroom. Despite his trepidation and earlier near breakdown, Naruto felt a smidgeon of excitement bubble up in him. He was going to be a sensei. He'd be responsible for overseeing brats of his very own.

Minato nods in agreement, a smile blooming on his face. "That's how I felt when I got my first assignment to teach. I was surprised though . . . when my first student turned out to be the chibi son of my admired sempai!"

"I thought we agreed to never use that word when referring to me." Kakashi growls.

"Denied!" Minato retorts cheerfully.

Naruto smiled and then relaxed his features. He didn't want to seem overeager to his new class after all— he remembered how it was. Certain senseis were just easy pickings for the kids, those who seemed weak-willed or those who were just too grumpy.

Naruto snickers as he thinks to himself— I wonder then, if they would have hated my father . . . Ero-sennin always said the man was almost too controlled.

"Did you hate me Kakashi?" Minato asks, genuinely curious.

"I will admit that your unruffled cool was highly aggravating . . . and highly enviable." Kakashi confesses.

"I thought sensei was very cool at the start." Rin admits.

"At the start?" Minato narrows his eyes.

"For me, he was a much more amiable, cooler version of my previously stoic teammate. If Minato-sensei wasn't so friendly then that cool attitude would have definitely grated on my nerves." Obito speaks up, nodding seriously.

Naruto opened the door to his new classroom, and stepped inside, looking around. It was a mirror image of his old classroom— which wasn't a surprise, every classroom looked like this. The seats that sloped up to the back wall and the wide window on the side. He never understood why they would do that— didn't they know that with such a great temptation no kid on the window aisle would ever look at their sensei? Not when they could look at the oh so tempting look of freedom?

Naruto sidles over to the desk, plopping down on the seat and propping his feet on the desk. Behind him was the chalkboard— he should probably write his name on it . . .


Hey what I miss? Kurama yawns, slowly waking up.

I've become a substitute sensei at the Academy. Naruto answers concisely.

Ooh really?! Can I come out and scare the kids can I huh? Kurama yips excitedly, and Naruto can almost feel the large fox demon jump up and down in their cave.

You know what, let's just put that little idea on the back burner, Naruto laughs gently to himself.

Well this should be interesting . . . I wasn't awake to really take in your school lectures and I never really bothered to pay attention to them even when I was looking through your memories for fun. Make it interesting! Kurama orders.

Yeah, yeah— oh, looks like my class is coming in. Naruto puts their connection to the back of his mind as the clock strikes eight o'clock and the door opens promptly.

There stands a group of five children with a serious-faced little girl at the front. She wears a light blue battle kimono over dark pants with blue ninja sandals, her hair cut in a bob that brushes her shoulders and her bangs swept to the side of her face over her round oak brown eyes. Naruto has to fight with himself not to let out an "Aww!" They were so small and cute with their little glares, and had he really been that small once upon a time too?

"Just as small and cute, I'm sure of it." Kushina giggles.

"Goodness, does he realize he's only four or five years older than them? He acts much older!" Tsunade laughs.

Yes. Kurama answers promptly.

"Who are you?" The serious little girl asked and Naruto couldn't help the smile at that high-pitched, soft voice trying to sound stern.

"I'm the substitute for Morimoto-sensei." Naruto answers, quirking a curious eyebrow at her frown and the blush that crosses her cheeks before waving them in. "I'll make a full introduction when everyone is here. Go on, take a seat."

The little girl looks at him with narrowed eyes for a few more minutes before quickly scurrying in and taking her seat— front row third seat, he notices, so the serious attitude isn't for show eh chibi? The other four are three more girls— one with black hair and a red jacket, another with light brown hair and a blue jacket, and a green haired girl with a yellow jacket making him wonder if they were related with their similar clothing styles— who scurry past him with ducked, red faces and a boy with a short cut and a grey vest with blue pants who gives him only a cursory glance before taking his seat. They are all within the first three rows.

More kids filter in, and though they don't ask questions he is subjected to many blatant and curious stares from the children as they slowly fill the seats. By the time Naruto looks up and notices that the five minutes allotted to them to enter are gone, there are only two seats not filled.

He rises up and walks to the front of the desk, perching on the edge and placing his hands on either side of him. He smiles and starts, "Well good—"

The door crashes open, interrupting him as a little blur of red barrels in. "Sorry Morimoto-sensei I won't be late aga— who are you?" The blur stops upon registering another person in the place where his old sensei should be, and Naruto can take in the new boy's features of sand-colored hair and bright green eyes. A dark red jacket covers a mottled green shirt and brushes the edge of black pants that hover over black sandals. Naruto just waits for the boy to stop panting, grinning easily.

"You make it a habit of being late Takigawa-san?" Naruto asks, and the boy narrows his amber eyes.

"How do you know my name?" Takigawa asks accusingly.

Naruto says nothing, just takes his file from behind him and opens it up to the student data page, pointing to Takigawa with a picture and everything. The now identified Takigawa Natsu blushes fiercely, scowling at Naruto and then walking away to his seat on the second-to-last row with stiff shoulders.

"I think we found the troublemaker of the class." Minato murmurs, raising a blonde eyebrow.

Naruto smirks and looks back at the rest of the class, his eyes never roving too fast but never staying completely on one face. "Well, good morning!" he calls happily. "As you know, Morimoto-san is expecting a child, and so has decided to use her maternity leave. For the next three or four months, I'll be taking over as sensei in her stead. My name is Uzumaki Naruto," he rises up and bows briefly. "It's a pleasure to meet you all, and I hope we can get along for the time I have here."

"So . . . do we call you Uzumaki-sensei or can we call you Naruto-sensei?" The serious little girl from before asks quietly. Naruto remembers her name now— Hoshina Ayano.

"Doesn't Naruto mean Fishcake?" A loud voice asks, bringing forth giggles and smatterings of laughter.

Naruto doesn't take offense— this just confirms to me that my parents are a little stupid, and isn't that grand? —

"HEY!" Said parents snap, offended. "We named you Maelstrom you ungrateful brat." Kushina growls.

"But everyone thinks Fishcake don't they? And you two are well known for your love of ramen . . . it seems to me that second definition is just a convenient excuse." Jiraiya tuts.

"We got it from your book sensei!" Minato cries exasperatedly.

"And I got the idea from . . . eating ramen with fishcake in it." Jiraiya enjoys the way their faces drop in defeat.

"Well it's a good name for him. Original, just like your son." Tsunade smiles at the two, and the couple's faces perk up slightly.

and laughs along with them. "Well yes, but it can also mean Maelstrom which is what my name means. As for what you can all me . . . well I never used the surname of the teachers I liked in school, so you decide."

"Naruto-sensei!" A chubby boy with reddish-brown hair in the fourth row called out, hand jutting up in the air. "Didn't you beat Hyuuga Neji in the Chuunin Exams a few years ago?"

"I defeated him yes," Naruto answers, a little bemused. Immediately from the entire class murmurs arose. Naruto looks at him closely and made a noise of recognition. "Ah . . . Akamichi Ryouta?"

"Yes sensei!" Ryouta responds promptly.

"You look a lot like Chouji, you know that?"

"Chouji is my cousin— his dad is my uncle." Ryouta explains.

"Sensei, if you were in the chuunin exams then how old are you?" A girl with long black hair cut hime-style asks, tiny pale hand raised in a hesitant manner.

"I'm fifteen years-old. I turn sixteen in a few months." Naruto answers truthfully, and isn't at all surprised by the exclamations that follow.

"No way?!"

"That young?!"

Takigawa Natsu frowns, shouting out, "How are you supposed to teach a class if you're not that much older than us?!"

"A valid question, but age is not always an indication of wisdom, or experience." Kakashi states wisely.

"Well said brat." Jiraiya commends.

"You'll find time to be a fickle mistress in the shinobi world," Naruto answers cryptically. "Don't worry, I have enough experience to teach this class. Hokage-sama wouldn't have picked me if there was any doubt, so rest assured your education will continue in a sound fashion. Okay?" They all nod, some reluctantly but most take his words.

Naruto nods. "Okay . . . it might take me a few days to memorize your names so bear with me. Anyway, before we get started on any lessons I'd like to hear from you guys where you last left off with Morimoto-sensei . . . Goda-san?"

"Ah!" Goda Ayumi startled in her seat, avoiding her sensei's eyes. The lavender haired kunoinchi hopeful averted her green-blue eyes and fidgeted with the sleeves of her black and white jacket. He was still so new, she hadn't yet grown accustomed to him . . . ! "S-sensei . . . we were finishing up history with the first two Hokages and we were getting started on shuriken and kunai target practice . . . and we were going to have a test on chakra control . . ."

Naruto chews on this. "Okay . . . well we can wait two more days for that chakra control test. Are there any questions on previous lessons you'd like answered before we move on?"

"So far so good." Minato approves. "Not so bad at this after all, huh?"

"Ano, sensei!" A boy with brown hair and coffee brown eyes in the second row raised his hand and Naruto took a second to identify him.

"Fukui Kyo am I right?" Naruto asks, and the boy nods.

"Naruto-sensei, how could Shodaime use Mokuton?" Kyo asks.

"By using his chakra, dummy." Another boy mutters, and the class laughs.

"Settle down." Naruto chides them, and is satisfied when the noise dies down. "Fukui-san, are you asking how Mokuton was created?"

"Yeah, I think . . ."

"Right." Naruto smiles and holds up each hand like a balancing scale. "You've got your bloodlines— you all know what bloodlines are right?"

"Yeah!" The answer is a drone and Naruto laughs.

"It was quite the lecture huh? Well you've got examples of bloodlines right here. Byakugan, the little known Enton of the Uchiha, etc. The Shodaime's bloodline of Mokuton is what we call an advanced nature kekkei genkai— meaning, that to create it you need two other natures. For Mokuton that would be Earth and Water."

"Eh?" A girl crinkles her sharp little nose and asks, "Wouldn't that just make mud?"

The laugh that erupts from Naruto is a little too loud for a respectable sensei, and so he controls himself and clears his throat. "Normally you'd be right, if you used a doton jutsu first and then a suiton. However, what the Shodaime did was combine them at the same time, combining both chakra natures within him to produce a wood release technique on the outside. It sounds impossible, but it's not— merely extremely difficult especially for people without kekkei genkai for it. Was that answer good enough Fukui-san?"

"Not bad, but perhaps you want to keep is a bit more simple for this class." Tsunade notes.

"Yes sensei!" Kyo nods.

"Any other questions?" Naruto looks around.

"Sensei, are there any other advanced element kekkei genkai?" Ayano asks.

"Sure! Ranton which combines lightning and water— Yoton, combining fire and earth— and Hyoton, combining wind and water. There are more, but I don't have much information on them." Naruto supplies.

"Do you have a bloodlines sensei? My parents said you do— they say you have a red chakra." Ryouta pipes up.

"I'm far better than some stupid kekkei genkai." Kyuubi grumbles.

"They had to explain it huh? Well with the law still in effect . . . yeah, I suppose that's for the best." Jiraiya decides with a sigh.

"Do they now?" Naruto murmurs speculatively.

"Well, I asked if you had a bloodline because Chouji says you're a really good ninja and all the really good ninjas have bloodlines!" Ryouta explains.

These brats have a lot of questions, Kurama muses. Naruto privately agrees, but honestly he doesn't mind answering their questions. "Well, they may have been exaggerating . . . I don't have a bloodline. Rather, it's a special skill acquired very early on in my life. And for the record, you don't need a bloodline to be a good ninja. What you need is determination, skill, and a good head on your shoulders."

"That's exactly right— if you have enough of those you can beat even a prodigy." Kushina claims.

"Can we see the red chakra?" Takigawa Natsu asks, and the others clamor in agreement.

Oh shit. "Sorry kids, but I can't. Usually what precedes the red chakra is extreme danger and what comes after is . . . death. So, let's continue on with our lessons shall we?" Naruto begs out, and picks up the Academy Fourth level book and flips it to the next lesson. "So let's start out with the history of our Sandaime Hokage . . ."

"Did you know him sensei?" A girl interrupts. Naruto glances at her— Nagata Keiko— and nods.

"I did, though I'd prefer if you raised your hand before speaking Nagata-san, otherwise we'll never get through these lessons and Morimoto-sensei will take me to task. Alright?"

"Yes sensei." Keiko nods, amidst the snickers.

"Hey that goes for all of you -ttebayo?" Naruto reminds them, and then curses himself quietly when he realizes he let the dattebayo slip out.

"Aren't you a little old to be using made up words sensei?" A boy asks coolly, back upright and face carefully composed— ah, the only Hyuuga in the class. Hyuuga Kazuya.

"Aren't you a little too old to be wearing My Little Pony Band-Aids?" Naruto counters easily, and the boy flushes.

"OUCHIE." Obito winces, cackling. "Serves you right little Hyuuga brat. Must be main family."

"Besides . . ." Tsunade smirks, eyes straying over to a blushing Kushina. "He can't help it— it's in his blood!"

"My little sister put them on for me!" He grumbles rubbing the Band-Aid on his cheek, flushing darkly as the others jeer and laugh.

Naruto smirks. "Sure. Alright, settle down now! This lesson is getting done before lunch or there will be consequences."

The day proceeds from there, and though Naruto has to reign in his class from time to time by lunchtime he isn't quite so depleted as he thought he would be. Iruka quickly slaps him out of his delusions though.

"They're scoping you out." Iruka cautions his new co-worker in the lounge room for senseis. "They won't give you any trouble until they assess you and make an accurate judgment of how you'll react and just how much will be necessary to take you out of there."

"HA! Let them try, my sochi won't back down or run away." Kushina gloats.

"They'll be hard pressed to faze Konoha's Prank King." Minato agrees with a grin.

Naruto smirks, popping a piece of sushi in his mouth. "Good thing they'll underestimate me."

"Most do, why should they be any different?" Iruka agrees, before starting a new line of questions. "So how's teaching so far?"

"Even more boring than I remember learning to be." Naruto sighs. "Honestly, those textbooks are as dry as paper but I managed to keep their interest by offering some tidbits about the Sandaime that I grew up with, and the stories he shared with me. That interested them a whole lot."

"I'm sure." Iruka laughs. "So what's next— taijutsu practice and then weapons practice right?"

"Yeah!" Naruto finally cheers up.

Iruka laughs, "You're still such a kid if going outside makes you that happy."

"You're just a bookworm!" Naruto accuses the older man. "I know plenty of other adults who love going outside after being stuck inside all day."

"And you're probably talking about Gai and Anko am I right?" Iruka asks in a superior tone, and Naruto knows when he's beat so he just grumbles to himself and stuffs his mouth with his lunch.

Naruto starts them all on taijutsu practice first, and puts them against each other first before having them start in on katas. "I'm just curious to see where you all are skill-wise." Naruto explains to the class as he draws a circle in chalk. "We'll just have four minute matches. You step out of the ring you lose. So let's start first to last . . . Akamichi Ryouta and Takigawa Natsu, step up!"

The two boys step into the ring and take their starting positions as dictated by the Academy style of taijutsu. Already Naruto can point out little, barely noticeable flaws but that comes with working out with taijutsu maniacs like Lee and Gai. Still, perfection never hurt anyone right? They fight and Naruto takes stock of each sloppy throw or each miscalculation in distance. He does this for every fight, and at the end of taijutsu practice he claps his hand and calls the attention of the class.

"Okay I've got a good feel for where you're all at. Now, let's head on to weapons practice. We're starting on shuriken right? I'll show you all how to properly handle a shuriken after I gauge your progress with kunai."

"But sensei we're done with kunai!" A boy complains from the back.

"Being done is in no way the same as being proficient with kunai." Rin admonishes lowly.

"Very true." Minato and Kushina sigh, too many memories of Academy brats failing at kunai tricks filling their heads.

Naruto looks over to the child and cocks his head to the side. "I'll be the judge of that Shimizu-san, so for now just humor me."

With sullen expressions on some faces but eager expressions on the others, Naruto leads the troop of kids to the target field. Already there are boxes of the Academy standard kunai and shuriken.

"Eh?!" A surprised squawk comes from a girl in the back, her ponytail swinging as she stops abruptly. "Sensei, when did these get here! I saw them in the storage room only a few minutes ago!"

Naruto smiles, tapping the side of his nose. "Why, I got them just now."

"But you were with us the whole time!" Natsu argues.

"I was, wasn't I?" Naruto agrees, internally laughing at their confused looks. "Enough of that mystery, everyone grab three kunai each and make three lines in front of the targets."

Once they do that Naruto smiles and says, "Well . . . the first three people come on up, and show me their aim."

The results weren't even worth categorizing in his head, though Kurama sure did have a ball rewinding it over and over . . .

Naruto looks at the targets, then turns back to the class with a suspiciously blank face. To their credit, the students have the decency to not look him in the eye.

"Judging by the results of today's little kunai practice . . . you guys aren't done with kunai by a long shot." Naruto deadpans. "Did any of you bother practicing after school?"

A batch of students raises their hands and their faces, expressions indignant.

Naruto cocks an eyebrow. "And did the students whose hands are up, bother practicing after Morimoto-sensei declared you all proficient?"

"As suspected Naruto . . . it was good he decided not to leave things to chance." Minato turns to Jiraiya, who made a gruff snort.

"What did that sensei before call proficient? No wonder the fail rate has grown to sixty-six percent . . . peace time has made Konoha sloppy." He declares, unsettled by the future's decline.

The hands and faces quietly lower under the wilting force of Naruto's stare.

"Didn't think so. Well let this be a lesson to you all: always train, both your mind and your body! Any skill left to the wayside could be your major weakness in the field . . . and any weakness the enemy can exploit— the enemy will exploit. Before I even let you glimpse shuriken we're going to practice kunai until you guys can hit bulls-eye every time."

The class groans as one unit, and Naruto can feel his right eye twitch. "No complaints! You want to get this done faster, then you better work hard!"

"No way!" Katsu crows, jumping on him excitedly as he plops down on the couch. "You're a chuunin sensei?! Naruto that's so awesome!"

"I know right?!" Naruto exclaims, a wide foxy grin on his face. "Well, my first day was alright, but Iruka-sensei says I should expect trouble since they'll test me, maybe try to run me out. But, I never give up on a challenge –tteabayo."

"Still . . . you as a teacher? I bet Kono's going to be super jealous when he hears about it— maybe he'll complain that he didn't get to have a super cool teacher like you."

"Right, sensei's grandson is a genin now. Look at all these children just growing up so fast." Tsunade sighs nostalgically.

"He had Iruka-sensei's class right? There's his super cool teacher right there. With all the times Iruka-sensei caught me . . . even before I started humoring him and letting him catch me . . . the man has serious hidden skills. I think he used to be Black Ops hime." Naruto is serious, and Katsu cracks up.

"That . . . wouldn't surprise me?" Obito slowly, yet surely states.

"Seriously?" Kakashi looks at Obito in surprise.

"I mean . . . it's be surprising in the whole, 'I knew it but I can't believe I was right!' way." Obito laughs.

"You think he sternly lectured people in interrogations?" Katsu teases, eyes twinkling.

"If anyone could do it, he could." Naruto affirms. "So . . . are you going to visit me in the teacher's lounge?"

Katsu shrugs. "If you order something for lunch."

Naruto snorts, letting her go as she gets up to check on dinner. He looks over at the armchair, where Kurama is curled up, and his tails gently swaying. "I wonder what tricks they'll try."

"I don't know, but it'll be funny to see their rage and defeat when they all fail." Kurama snickers.

Naruto gives Kurama a bored glance. "Don't play that. You love kids."

"Yes, because of their reactions! The reactions of children, honest and full-hearted . . . you'll never know a rage quite like a child's, because they don't know the meaning of repercussions or moderation quite yet." Kurama explains gleefully.

"You're something else." Kushina snorts at a grinning Kyuubi.

"But it's funny." Kyuubi maintains.

"I think . . . I'm going to have to ask you to stay away from my children for the first ten years of their life." Naruto mutters, looking at Kurama with concern. Kurama laughs gruffly, readjusting his tails.

"What's the next lesson?" Kurama asks.

Naruto frowns. "More theory . . . you know they only have taijutsu practice every other class? I mean, I went to school so I know how much basis they put on theory but . . ."

"Being in the field so much, you know just how much theory matters. Maybe if it was advanced chakra theory, fine. But lack of practice makes them suffer. These children . . . how disillusioned they are." Kurama murmurs.

"It's not like change can come just instantly. It'll have to be a process over years." Tsunade mentions.

"Do we really have years though?" Jiraiya counters.

"Knowing how short you human's lifespans are I'd be hard pressed to give you months." Kyuubi offers, blinking innocently at their glares. "What? What did I say?"

Naruto shrugs. "For now, I'll follow Miyamoto-sensei's lesson plan. When I get the chance though, I'll see what the requirements are from the Academy. I get the feeling Miyamoto-sensei planed this as if she would still teach until she went into labor. Either that or she didn't believe in the capability of any chuunin substitute."

"Probably the latter." Minato deduces.

"So did she know Naruto would be teaching, or did they just tell her they'd find a replacement?" Kushina asks suspiciously.

Iruka-sensei was right. He sometimes is. Sometimes.

But about these devils spawns? Absolutely, 100% correct.

It started the next week since he started on a Wednesday. Monday: They mixed up his files. They got him for a minute or two, rifling through the desk for the lesson plan and other things and he'd give them that win. Give them their little shits and giggles. But he'd give them no more.

Obito and Rin whistle slowly. "Mm, they fucked up." Obito mutters.

"You think he'll go easy on them, since their children?" Rin asks worriedly.

"He just said," Kakashi reminds her. "He'd give them no more. No quarter, no mercy, not even a piece of relief."

Tuesday: Someone put thumb tacks in his chair, which he saw as soon as he walked in. The banality of the prank offended him on such a deep level that he gave them a pop quiz. Very few passed, and he worked them over in taijutsu practice to warn them off being such sloths again. The Nara, funnily enough, was the darkest glare of them all.

Minato laughs. "He's more offended at the unoriginality?"

"Well if you're going to challenge the Prank King you better bring you're A-game." Kushina justifies, completely understanding Naruto's mind frame.

Wednesday: They put live grasshoppers in his top drawer. The looks on their faces when he proceeded to cover each grasshopper in hot sauce and eat them would live on in his memory as if he had a Sharingan to memorize it.

"EEEEWWWW!" Rin squeals, barely heard over the guffaws of his parents and her teammates.

"What? Grasshoppers aren't bad in a pinch." Kyuubi defends the meal.

"Eating bugs isn't bad . . . cooked. But, ugh . . . just alive and squirming." Tsunade gulps uncomfortably, a hand to her pale throat.

"That's my apprentice!" Jiraiya chirps proudly. "How'd he know to bring hot sauce to school though?"

The queasy, pale faces of the girls— there was even one who ran out the room gagging. The boy's faces of disbelief, irritation and respect were enjoyable as well. Kurama as well, gave him two thumbs-up for the pure entertainment value.

Thursday: They used a more shinobi-like approach, and tried to get him with tripwires. He will admit, he was almost caught up by the third level trip-wire when he had been surprised at the second level! Just for that he congratulated them warmly and applauded whoever came up with the triple-threat wire. To his surprise and massive amusement, they were angrier that they were congratulated, than they were about not getting him!

"I bet they were just thinking, 'this smug asshole, it didn't even faze him!' right? God knows when someone just takes my efforts and applauds it like it was a cute attempt . . . just makes me want to cut them." Obito growls, memories drawing him deeper into a dark mood.

Kakashi smirks, knowing a few instances Obito is talking about. "Well at least they recognized it."

"Oh fuck you Kakashi!" Obito objects.

"Boys." Minato warns, and looks at them until they subside.

Friday: They got serious, and created a spring-loaded trap that hurled kunai at him as soon as he entered the classroom and activated the trap. Just for kicks and to show them that this wasn't a game, he created a kage bushin to take the kunai while he hid in the corner using the Invisibility Jutsu Jiraiya taught him.

"That's not nice!" Rin protests hotly. "They would be really scared!"

"Then maybe they shouldn't have gone so far as to load a trap with kunai then." Jiraiya argues bluntly, and Rin flinches.

"But . . ." she tries to protest.

"But nothing." Minato interrupts her, voice stern. "They should have thought of the consequences of even attacking a teacher. Naruto will probably substitute actual punishment with a punishment they'll put themselves through."

Every eye widens as his clone took the hits, blood spurting from his mouth as he falls to the floor, for all intents and purposes dead. "KYAAA! NARUTO-SENSEI!" Ayano screams, and with the three girls who wore similar clothes— Mei, Rei, and Lei—runs to the fallen man's side. She checks his pulse, and finds none. Furious, tear-filled eyes round on the perpetrators of the prank-turned-murder.

"She had nothing to do with it." Kushina points out mildly, neither agreeing nor disagreeing with the previous discussion.

"She probably knew about it, and therefore shares in the consequences." Tsunade responds promptly.

"You!" she hisses, glaring at Natsu and his four friends— Shin, Koga, Sen and Rentarou. "You killed Naruto-sensei! You idiots, did you even think about what would happen if he couldn't dodge?! Now he's dead and you'll probably be dead too for murdering a shinobi!"

"He was supposed to dodge!" Natsu shouts, flushed and panicked. "If he was so great . . . why didn't he dodge?!"

"That's all you based it on?" Jiraiya snorts. "You deserve this lesson brat."

"Even if Naruto really did dodge." Rin mutters, sullen with Naruto's decision.

"As if he would expect kunai to be flung at him the moment he walks through the door! You and your idiot buddies just had to step things up! Take responsibility for your actions!" Lei spits.

"Hey man I had nothing to do with this!" Shin denies, backing away a little from the group. Natsu rounds on the boy and snarls.

"And the first one to crumble under pressure is now revealed. See if he'll still be part of the group come next week." Obito snorts.

"Can't afford a weak link after all." Kakashi agrees.

"Coward! Doesn't matter what you say, you had a part in this too and we're all going down for this!" Natsu jabs a finger into the boy's chest, eyes narrowing in disgust as Shin just grows more panicked.

"Sensei . . ." Mei sniffles, rubbing away tears from her eyes. Ayano stays quiet, shoulders trembling as she lies on the ground. A warm hand comes down on her head, and she jumps lightly as she looks up to see Naruto kneeling by the side of the crying girls.

"S . . . s-sensei?" Ayano yelps, her exclamation prompting the class to stare at the man they'd previously believed dead. A popping sound makes her turn to see a cloud of smoke dissipating where the body had been, and she realized it had been a clone. No clone she had ever heard of before . . . it had been corporeal!

Naruto smiles, patting the girl on the head. "I'm sorry; I didn't think you guys would actually cry." Next thing he knows he's bowled over by not just Ayano but a bunch of other students who were relieved he wasn't dead.

"Aww, he's a well-liked sensei." Obito points out, changing his voice to make it sound extra sappy.

"Sensei we thought you were dead!" A grinning Suzuki Sasame punches Naruto on the shoulder.

"Yes well that was the point." Naruto informs them, face morphing slowly from his reassuring smile to a more somber mask. "It was to teach you all . . . a few lessons." He rose up from the huddle of students, dusting off his knees.

He looks up and pins Natsu and his gang with a severe stare. "The first lesson obviously, was for you to understand that when you raise the stakes of the game, the results and consequences are directly related to that rise. I wonder if another substitute teacher would have been able to dodge . . . would you have been prepared, Takigawa Natsu and cohorts, for the consequences of your mean-spirited prank?"

"And as we've observed . . ." Minato puts forth.

"That's a no." Kushina finishes.

"That—!" Natsu splutters. He bangs a fist on the desk in front of him, leaning forward. "It's because I knew you could dodge it! If you could defeat a Hyuuga with their Byakugan then some kunai surely wouldn't have fazed you! And what about you, huh?! Shouldn't you take responsibility for making us think you were dead!"

"So there was some deeper thought to, he could have dodged." Jiraiya murmurs, thinking it over. "Still not completely acceptable but there is a kernel of logic in there."

Naruto ponders this, a considering gaze leveled on the angry student. "To be sure, your deduction is shallow . . . so what if I beat Neji? I've only beaten one Hyuuga and never bothered to . . . legally fight another. Spars don't count. So you might have been wrong. I ask you, would you have been prepared for the consequences?"

Natsu doesn't answer, he can't. He ducks his head and stares at the desk, lips mashed together to contain the anger. He leaves the boy be, and zeroes in on the rest of the group.

"And the rest of you— Shin, Rentarou, Koga, Sen. Do you think you all are just as responsible as Natsu? Even if he had come up with this, had spearheaded this . . . are you willing to shoulder your brunt of the blame?" he asks.

"Is Naruto testing teamwork? They don't even have to worry about that until the last year." Obito asks.

"Wrong!" Minato wags a finger at Obito. "Teamwork is instilled, incorporated, and built upon over all the years of the Academy. So him asking that is important."

"Yes sensei." Koga and Rentarou answer immediately, solemnly. They had been friends since Academy started, and Natsu came in a week later. They stood together through good and bad.

"Now that's exemplary teamwork for Academy students. Prompt, and concise the answer was yes." Minato nods his head in approval.

"My old man will skin me for being a part of this, but he'll massacre me for if I don't man up." Sen grunts, and they suppose that is his assent to blame.

"That's not a reassuring answer." Rin mutters, exasperated.

"No it isn't." Minato and Jiraiya agree grimly.

Shin trembles, not looking at the others. "I don't see why I have to take the blame when I had no part of this! They just told me about it!"

"Punk ass." Kyuubi gruffly dismisses the boy.

"Now I'm not sure we have to go that far . . ." Minato hedges, chuckling sheepishly.

"No he's right. Punk ass." Kushina agrees.

Naruto cocks his head, looking nowhere else but Shin. "Is that a yes or no Shin?"

Shin stiffens, turning pale.

Naruto's tone is biting. "Yes. Or no?"

A shuddering breath escapes Shin. "I . . . I! Y-y-yes . . ." he whispers in defeat.

Naruto snorts. "Everyone back in their seats." For a moment no one moves. "Now!"

His sharp snap makes everyone jump. Those who moved from their seats are scurrying back and those who were merely standing spectators drop down heavily.

Naruto moves to his desk, taking a seat right on the top and crossing his legs lotus-style. He takes out a stick of pocky and gently bites on the end, sort of mocking Genma's senbons and toothpicks. "To be honest . . . this class disappoints me."

Obito hisses. "Ooh, time for the make-it-or-break-it lecture. I can tell this is going to sting— I can feel it in my bones."

Ignoring the muffled gasps and shocked or hurt looks he continues speaking. "You are all simply disappointing. To think Academy Standards are so low . . . these are the future protectors of Konoha? I wouldn't trust any of you to protect my pet goldfish if I had one. Now, don't be too alarmed . . . when I say it's not so much what you did personally as it is what you've done collectively. Being even more specific, it's what you haven't done."

"You can't just say something like that!" Kido Hitomi protests. "The actions of a few don't define us!"

Rin shakes her head. "You had your turn kiddie, now it's time to listen."

"I'm not talking about the kunai Kido-san, and you'd do well to stay silent until I've finished speaking. Understand?" Naruto cuts her off coolly, and Hitomi sinks down into her seat with a morose expression.

"You're a disrespectful, bratty bunch you know that?" Naruto sighs, slowly grinding down the pocky stick. "Let's get down to it then. I stay behind to grade papers and chat with colleagues –ttebayo. Academy students are only permitted to use Academy training grounds which are open from six in the morning until seven o'clock in the evening. There is only one student who has taken his training seriously, training with kunai— Miyasawa Kaito. And there are only two students who have worked on their katas— Goda Ayumi and Hoshina Ayano. I'm not including Ryouta and Kazuya in this, because as clan children it's a given."

"But you know," Kakashi points out. "Just this one class isn't a general consensus of all the classes in the Academy . . . still, this is a little disheartening."

"More than that, it's downright lamentable." Jiraiya complains.

"So what about the rest of you? Huh? Content with proficiency? Settling for average?" Naruto takes a vicious chomp of his pocky stick, breaking the stick in two and swallowing them. "Pathetic. You know what happens to average ninjas? They die on average C-ranks, follow the average life expectancy of ninjas . . . that is to say, 80% of those who pass from this class will die sometime around twenty-four or twenty-five and I'm being generous."

"Ouch." Kushina emphasizes. "That is particularly harsh."

"Oh don't worry he's only talking to the average ninjas." Minato soothes her, smiling pleasantly.

"Ah, scary Minato . . . it's been a while huh?" Kushina smiles prettily, even as Minato snorts and ruffles her red hair.

"Oi, oi, oi!" Natsu interrupts, glaring. "What are you saying to a bunch of kids bastard?!"

"Kids? I'm not talking to kids right now . . . I'm talking to my future comrades." Naruto returns in a soft voice. "Of course at this point in time I'd be ashamed to call you my comrades. No fervor to improve yourselves, no desire to ask questions . . . it's like pulling teeth from you guys to get you to comment about the lessons of the day!" Naruto snorts, pulling out a sour-apple lollipop this time. "My class . . . we were a lot more rowdy. Then again, I had the clan heirs and heiresses in my class so there were bigger expectations. Not that it's an excuse for you, mind you.

"And the lack of collaboration between you all . . . what's Konoha's defining characteristic? What makes us more successful than any other village? Not the prodigies we've churned out, not the stars we've made . . . it's the bonds we foster with our comrades! The bonds between teammates! I see no bonds here, only petty little cliques that break down even further into what can only be done in the interests of one's self. It's pathetic! You're all out for your own and that will not fly in the shinobi corps. You'll never make it past Academy graduates with that attitude. As a matter of fact, that's the question most of you got wrong— what made Konoha successful? You answered jutsus, prodigies, even the Yondaime Hokage . . . he was only what, twenty-six when he died?

"Aw, what?! I didn't go past the life expectancy of shinobis?! ME?!" Minato moans pitifully.

"What do you mean, you?" Obito asks crankily. "I don't make it past fourteen quit your griping!"

"Ha. I outlive all of you." Kakashi victoriously declares.

"What about us you stinking brat?!" Tsunade shouts, jerking a thumb between her and Jiraiya.

"Get to our age brat, then come talk." Jiraiya jeers.

He didn't found Konoha, but he grew up on its principles and became a great shinobi through both that and hard work. Teamwork, ladies and gentlemen— that's the key!"

"Teamwork, like what Natsu and his groupies did?" Ryouta mutters under his breath, earning a miffed look from the offenders.

"Yes." Naruto's plain answer shocks them all. "With the exception of Shin and Sen, they showed the beginning elements of good teamwork. Now if they could just grow up and get with the program, they'd be solid."

"S-sensei!" Ayano exclaims. "You can't be commending them—!"

"I'm not." Naruto answers bluntly. "I'm just saying . . . they had good teamwork. Rentarou and Koga especially. Sen the intention was there but your weak words marred it. And Shin— you? I'm disappointed in you . . . very much so . . . such a weak spirit, and you only caved into bearing your brunt of the burden because you were scared. And you wouldn't admit blame in the first place because you were scared. How will you react, when you're set upon by your first bandit? Your first missing-nin?"

Shin flinches with each sentence, sinking lower and lower into his chair. Naruto looks at the boy with clear pity, shaking his head and moving on. Even Hinata, with her chronic shyness early on, had more backbone than this boy.

"I hope he doesn't go further than Academy student, he won't make it in the shinobi world if he's like this." Jiraiya folds his arms and shifts back into his seat, displeased.

"And you Natsu!" The boy in question jerks up, finding it strange that his sensei would use his given name now after always referring to him as 'Takigawa-san.' "You should be ashamed of yourself. I was the Prankster in my days—"

"Ah. The Prankster King. I often heard Konohamaru-sempai boast about you." Natsu agrees in a low tone of voice.

"So you should have known I would be less than impressed." Naruto snorts. "Honestly . . . so, all in all. I'm fed up with you guys. But we still have class, and lucky for me Morimoto-sensei picked a quiet reading exercise. So turn to chapter ten in your books and do your lesson quietly. If you finish early, get a start on your homework."

"That sure did give them something to think about." Kakashi mutters.

"Yeah no kidding." Obito agrees.

"Well hopefully they really will think carefully on this. It's no joke— none of this!" Tsunade addresses.

The class is eerily quiet as Naruto slides back off the desk and into his seat, feet propped up. He pulls out the Uzumaki Fuuinjutsu Book four, or as his grandfather called it on the title-page, "the big boy book of fuuinjutsu." What Naruto found absolutely hilarious though, was the post script under it. It read, "P.S.: Whoever gets this book, could you pass it along to my daughter Kushina afterwards? Kushina, if you're reading this . . . PLEASE tell me you didn't fall for that Yellow Devil."

"Ugh, papa!" Kushina whines.

"Man what did I do?" Minato wonders, grinning.

Ah, grandfather . . . Naruto muses fondly.

"You want to know what's funny?" Kushina asks quietly, a reluctant grin on her face. At the others nod she continues, "Even if he was here and he hated Minato . . . when Naruto would be born he'd love that kid to death. He'd still hate Minato though, despite them looking the same."


Not one of these kids had called him by his surname before. Naruto looks up, and raises a skeptical brow at Natsu, whose hand is raised.

"Yes, Takigawa-san?" Naruto answers.

". . . What was that bushin you used? It's not the regular bushin. Was it . . . an earth clone?" Natsu asked meekly.

Naruto cautiously answers the question. Just what was the brat up to now? Points to Natsu, the kid was determined. "It was Kage Bushin. I'd be very surprised if you did know it, as it is labelled a kinjutsu, otherwise known as a forbidden jutsu. Interesting you know the earth clone technique though, I guess you must have read it somewhere?"

"No my uncle knows how to use it. Kage bushin though— it seems way more useful than those stupid illusions they make us learn for the last year, why is it forbidden?" Natsu argues.

"Why so interested brat?" Obito sniffs.

Naruto smiles. "Because there are very few people with the proper chakra levels to perform this jutsu. To perform this jutsu without a lot of chakra is deadly."

"How deadly? Like possibly deadly or more than likely deadly?" Natsu asks.

"Are those actual distinctions?" Kyuubi asks, amused.

"You die deadly." Naruto answers.

". . . Oh."

"Yeah." Naruto agrees.

"How come you know it then?" Koga asks.

"Because I did what you're not doing. I read." Naruto glares meaningfully.

"Touché." Koga comments.

"Well how are you so young with a high enough level of chakra to make a Kage bushin? Chouji says you can make hundreds." Ryouta adds.

"No way, hundreds? There isn't any human who can do that, if what sensei is saying is true! It's hard enough sometimes just getting the chakra for two bushin!" Natsu argues.

Kushina snorts, sharing a significant look with Kyuubi. "Normal people problems." She taunts.

"You so sure about that?" Natsu whips around, seeing Naruto loom over him with a grin, waving casually. "Heya."

Looking back, he sees Naruto had never left his desk. "That's one right?" Naruto asks.

"Here's two." Another clone laughs, standing by the door.

"How about three, four, and five?" The clones chorus by the window.

"Showoff." Rin grins.

"There's nothing like showing off to your students and seeing that awe on their fresh faces." Jiraiya tells her, nodding importantly.

"Wow!" Ayano whispers. "Sensei you never answered, how come you have so much chakra at such a young age?"

"Well that's thanks to—" Naruto is about to give them the vague 'extra chakra' reply but Kurama stops him short.

Hold on there buddy, I'm not as big a part of it as you think. Your mother's Uzumaki chakra is naturally large and you inherited that . . . not too sure about your father but he had to have a good amount for that Hiraishin I suppose.

"Thanks to my Uzumaki heritage." Naruto grins, tapping the book he had put on the desk.

"I've never heard of the Uzumaki. Never heard of them in Konoha, at least." Rei replies in confusion.

"Well the Uzumaki originate from the Land of Whirlpools, an island off the coast of Fire Country so it's a foreign clan. Now you've never heard of them period . . . because they were destroyed in the Third World War. They were renowned for their skill in fuuinjutsu, the art of sealing, as well as their long lives, strong chakra, and red hair. I as you can see, am a blonde, but am still an Uzumaki. You know that red swirl on the back of the jounin and chuunin flak vests? That's the symbol of the Uzumaki Clan who were allies of Konoha."

Hmph, some allies if they couldn't even get there on time . . . Kurama muses offhandedly to himself. It was an idle observation he'd thought of many time before, but he wouldn't divulge that to Naruto.

Minato glances over at Kyuubi, clearly unsettled by the statement he would make. "I'm sure . . . that Konoha tried to get there. I'm sure they tried to protect Uzu. Don't you . . ." he falters slightly at the pensive look on Kushina's face. "Don't you Kushina?" his tone has a note of pleading.

Kushina looks at him and smiles reassuringly. "I'm sure Konoha tried." But she couldn't deny that on the worst nights after the news came, she secretly wondered if Konoha had done as Kyuubi implied. But there was no use crying about it now . . . she had her priorities, and nothing could be done for Uzu any longer.

"Strong chakra . . . so that's how you can do Kage bushin." Natsu deduces.

"Yes." Naruto shrugs, returning to his book. "If you're all satisfied, get back to work."

"Not by a long shot sensei— since your clan is so famous for fuuinjutsu, can you show us some?" Natsu's question is more like an eager demand, and Naruto levels a considering stare at all his suddenly alive and eager students. A part of him felt better seeing their happier faces, after the withdrawn and moping things they'd become after his dressing down but he brushes that aside.

Jiraiya rolls his eyes, but a fond smile crosses his face. "Don't get too attached brat, you're only the substitute."

"It's important to feel a connection with the students, that way you can earn their respect and do a genuine job with their schooling." Kushina contends.

"Maybe I will if you can all finish your work by lunchtime. After lunch I'll show you a couple seals." Naruto compromises and the students murmur excitedly amongst themselves as they continue their work with renewed fervor.

Lunch comes around and the kids troop out, some giving him furtive glances just before they step over the threshold. Naruto shakes his head, not understanding their line of thinking as he rises up and stretches. He grabs his bento and shunshins into the canteen.

Iruka only glances at him with exasperation as Naruto's leaves disperse upon him getting to the canteen. "You can walk too, it's totally fine to mingle with the masses." Iruka points out mildly, opening his own bento.

"This teaching thing . . . Iruka-sensei how have you done this for seven years?" Naruto groans, face dropping onto the table.

"Well I love teaching. What, did they finally go too far with the pranks?" Iruka asks in sympathy.

"Farther than I did, but less masterful. If that makes sense." Naruto offers.

"It doesn't." A grin curls the older man's mouth. "You want to quit?"

"We can answer that for you." Rin and Obito chorus. They turn to Minato and Kushina, who put their arms in an 'X' formation.

"No way!" They yell.

"No way!" Naruto yelps.

"What's all this yammering about?" A man plops down in the available seat at their table, scratching his short black hair.

"Oh hey Ando-san." Naruto greets the middle-age man with a crooked smile, casually slapping away the man's hand as it tries to snatch his lunch.

"I keep telling ya kid, Hideki is fine!" the man laughs good naturedly.

"Naruto's class finally reached his bullshit counter." Iruka supplies helpfully, ignoring Naruto's glare.

"Only a week? Pussy." Ando Hideki snubs Naruto, grinning cheerfully. Though Naruto wasn't outright hated by his fellow chuunin teachers he wasn't invited to eat lunch with them, or in any way be friendly with them either. Ando Hideki was one of the very few exceptions to this rule.

"They tried to shoot me with kunai." Naruto explains, and both teachers suck in a breath.

"Ooh. Okay . . . did you break any hearts? Crush any dreams?" Hideki presses for information.

"I certainly hope I stopped Shin. That kid will not make it . . . at all. He'll be pressured into teamwork to become a genin, but he'll die on his first C-rank no doubt about that." Naruto shakes his head. "There's nothing wrong with civilian life, Shin just needs to not be afraid of disappointing his family."

"Well besides parent-teacher conferences that's not really your decision to make. Damn shame about that too. How many kids could we save if only they'd listen to us lowly chuunin senseis more . . . but no, Konoha needs all the cannon fodder it can get." Hideki shudders, looking around. "Is it wrong that I'm thinking better them than me?"

"Yes?" Minato bids.

"Uh, yeah!" Kushina scoffs.

"That's terrible!" Rin scolds.

"Fuck the children, every man for themselves." Obito supports Ando, gaining disgusted scoffs and pillows to the face.

"Uh . . . yeah. It's terrible." Iruka confirms, as Naruto trembles with laughter.

"Well," Hideki shakes his head and points at Naruto. "Iruka is right. You shouldn't give up. Now that those kids know who's boss it'll be smoother waters from now on. I noticed your kids looked a little excited when I was coming back from the copying room . . . what've you done to get them like that?"

"I told them I'd show them a few seals after lunch." Naruto answers.

Iruka nods thoughtfully. "That'd be nice . . . I always thought it was a shame they never offered fuuinjutsu classes back in my days. I mean, we had a seal master Hokage you think it'd be popular. Yeah, especially when they said the Kyuubi was, er, done away with only some measly ink and chakra, I sure was interested . . ."

"Thank you!" Minato exclaims gratefully.

"Well it's a delicate art which only few have a touch for. Not something to add to the tight budget." Tsunade reasons.

"Maybe more could have a touch for it, if only the Academy would try it out." Kushina stubbornly claims.

"You were trying to find a way to seal me away permanently weren't you?" Naruto asks this so bluntly it makes Iruka choke and Hideki explode with hyena-like laughter.

"No, not you . . . !" Iruka splutters, flustered. At Naruto's sly look he gulps. "Ok, maybe you . . ."

"I just fail to see how they think he and I are the same entity." Kyuubi shakes his head in consternation.

"Right?" Jiraiya agrees.

"Uh-huh." Naruto grins. "Don't look so embarrassed Iruka-sensei, I'd be mad if you just acted like you never hated me. It's just fucking hypocritical. The whole buildup of our relationship from that of enemies to brothers is what makes it so special!" Naruto starts to sniff, his eyes turning glassy. "Hold me!" he sobs, lunging for Iruka.

Iruka rejects him firmly with a hand in his face shoving the boy away. "No."

"Ooh, unrequited love . . . !" Hideki wails hoarsely.

"Ain't it painful?" Naruto sobs his heart out, clenching the part of his shirt where his heart would be.

After lunch and saying goodbye to his friends Naruto returned to his class. Stepping into his classroom he freezes and blinks in stupefaction at the full seats only . . .

"The bell rings in two minutes . . . are you really that interested?" He asks dubiously.

"Damn they sped ate." Kakashi chortles.

"Which is not good for their digestions." Rin hums under her breath.

"Can you blame them, this is probably one of the more interesting things to happen over the course of the Academy." Obito shrugs. "They only do Survival Exercise campouts in second and fourth year, twice a year. That's hardly enough!"

"Yes!" The class choruses.

"Well then let me just set it up so that we can get started . . . we still have other lessons to do, but if you all work as well as you did before lunch we can get this all done." Naruto chuckles, walking over to the desk. He pulls out a storage scroll and unseals his ink and brush, as well as a fresh stack of paper.

The bell rings and Naruto immediately launches into his introductory speech on sealing. He does not recycle the speech written in the first Uzumaki Book of Sealing, because his grandfather was fond of flowery language and he can't imagine how a poetic man like that produced a badass hardliner like his mother. Unless she secretly wrote poetry . . . ?

"Not on your life kid." Kushina snorts. "Your mommy is too badass for that shit."

"Maybe not, but you'll sigh like any woman over a love letter." Minato muses quietly, grinning wickedly when Kushina blushes scarlet red.

"I think we should be putting more focus on the man who probably wrote the majority of those love letters." Kyuubi returns it back to Minato, who throws him a dirty look. "Love letters man? Are you serious?"

Ooh, that's worth a good chuckle or two! Kurama exclaims, and then proceeds to chuckle exactly twice. Smartass.

"There are three main arts in the shinobi world— by main, I mean the most commonly used and the most familiar. Ninjutsu, Taijutsu, and Genjutsu. Fuuinjutsu is another art, but it is a rare sight beyond sealing and explosives. There is a very simple and very good reason for this. Fuuinjutsu requires patience, above all things. Patience to repeat your trails over and over, patience to fail ninety percent of the time and find success a measly ten percent, patience to clearly write your symbols, patience to add just the right amount of chakra to it . . . It's a precise art, one in which even one mistake can spell either failure for your seal or disaster for your person and the surroundings. But for the price of your attention span, and perhaps carpal tunnel the results are something truly wonderful. You can do just about anything with fuuinjutsu, short of bringing someone back to life . . . technically."

"Are you talking about Edo Tensei?" Minato wonders. "Technically . . . well, you are right."

"Edo Tensei requires a seal?" Kakashi asks.

"All jutsu require seals don't they?" Tsunade points out, smiling.

"Technically?" Natsu repeats.

Naruto waves his hands. "Uh, nothing. So, let's start off with a simple storage seal—"

"Aw come on sensei!" Ryouta whines along with his classmates. "Something cooler than that!"

"Cool? Define cooler than a storage seal for me." Naruto prompts.

"I don't know, I'm not a fuuinjutsu expert like you!" Ryouta shoots back.

"Expert? Hardly. I should bring Jiraiya around, show you what expert really looks like.

"Thank you brat . . . always nice to be recognized for my amazing talents . . ." Jiraiya sniffs, proudly tilting his chin up.

"What are you talking about Jiraiya? You're always recognized for your amazing talents in perversion." Tsunade responds bluntly.

"I know you mean it as an insult but I'll take it as a compliment!" Jiraiya declares.

But, I think I know what you want . . . how about . . ." he trails off and grabs a fresh sheet of paper, uncorking the ink and dipping his brush in lightly.

The class watches in awe as Naruto moves the brush with such fluidity, such confidence of motion that rather than the ink leaving the brush as he presses it to paper it's as if the brush just glosses over and the ink falls into place as if that's exactly what it was meant to do. The whirls and swirls of the forming seal captivate them.

Naruto lifts the brush and eyes his work critically, deeming it satisfactory after a moment. He looks up at the class and grins at the absorbed expressions. "And now . . ." he speaks quietly, a hand moving just a little over the seal, his fingertips touching the paper. "Fuuin." He murmurs, and the seal glows.

He moves his hand away and takes a couple steps back, watching the seal like the rest of this class. The seal glows, and then lines of symbols spread to the rest of the paper. In an instant, so fast the class recoils back slightly with sounds of excitement, the paper crinkles and crumples . . . folds and turns . . . and where once a sheet of paper laid an origami swan perched.

"Oh, some sort of folding seal? I wonder why he thought to make that." Minato tilts his head to the side.

"Maybe sensei, Naruto likes to make seals that are not strictly made for combat or anything shinobi oriented." Kakashi hypothesizes. "I mean, how many times have I asked you for warming glove seals when it got cold?"

Minato snorts. "That's a waste— oh, oh yeah I see your point."

"Wow . . . what was that!" Koga cries.

"That was . . . well I made it just recently . . . it's my Origami seal." Naruto answers, scratching the back of his head.

"Origami seal?" Sen repeats dully.

"Either that or folding seal buddy, take it or leave it." Naruto waves him away.

"You made a seal sensei? Isn't that difficult?" Sasame asks.

"Not when you have a clear grasp of the basics, and a set idea in mind." Minato answers at once, Jiraiya and Kushina nodding in respect to his answer.

"When you know the basics, and work hard, it's not as hard as you might think. Of course that's one of the things that makes fuuinjutsu so unapproachable to most. One seal doesn't work for everyone. Your chakra is different from mine— it's like our fingerprint, unique to each of us. So for the one seal I make, you'll have to tweak it just a little to suit your signature, it makes using it easier. Of course, fuuinjutsu books give beginners the most generic, basic seal formulas to make things easier but as you grow in skill you begin to think of seals you'd like to make yourself. Perhaps an exploding tag that doesn't create an explosion of fire, but of ice? Or maybe a storage scroll that can store organic material rather than the usual inorganic weaponry and the like. Now, here's another seal I made . . ." Naruto finishes his explanation and walks toward the paper crane.

It's no bigger than his hand, but still larger than your average origami piece. Taking his brush he writes a seal on the small space available on the paper crane's back. He presses chakra into it once more, not calling fuuin this time. He blows out a slow breath, and the crane flutters off his hand. It suddenly jerks mid descent, and its wings start to flutter. It catches itself before it can fall and flies around Naruto, in a spiral up to his head. It stays in one place for a few seconds before flying around the classroom.

"Oh!" Kushina exclaims. "That's lovely! It's like . . . he can make a toy army whenever he wants. I used to think as a child what if my teddy bear could move on its own?"

"If he has taken it a step further to do the same with enemies or even comrades, then I'll be impressed." Jiraiya shrugs. "Still . . . it's a neat party trick if nothing else."

"Well I think it's really cool." Rin murmurs.

"Me too . . . imagine— if my goggles could fly . . ." Obito trailed off dreamily.

"Dude what?" Kakashi snorts.

The giggles and gasps, squeals of delight or cries of exclamation do amuse Naruto, he must admit. But this is really more about their educational benefit.


Really? Kurama draws out.


"Oh really~?" The group drawls slowly.

"The Puppeteer Seal, created with the Puppeteer's of Suna in mind. It only gives me control of inanimate things as of yet, and the level of chakra, as well as the complexity of the seal, depends on the complexity of the object I wish to control. Right now, if I wanted to, I could make all the refrigerators of Konoha go on strike." Naruto introduces to them, hand outstretched to let the crane land and cut it off with a flicker of his chakra. "You see kids, fuuinjutsu is fun. It just takes a lot of work to get to the fun stuff, much like everything else in life."

"Can we see another sensei?" Mei and Lei implore.

"Sorry children but there are lessons to be had. Now, let's start off with a question: What do you all know about the Sannin . . . ?"

Jiraiya shivers. "Oh I got a bad feeling about this . . . Tsunade, prepare to go another level lower in respect."

Tsunade sighs irritably. "After all the work I've done."

Naruto grins fiercely at the hesitant glances shared between them and the nervous shakes of their heads to him. "Oh my little ducklings— I am going to have such fun educating you! Who to start with, they're all such . . . characters. Perhaps our Godaime Hokage Tsunade the Slug Sannin, among her other monikers? Or perhaps with my personal favorite Jiraiya of the Sannin . . . girls, you might be seeing a lot of him in the future . . . fufufu!"

"Damn it Naruto!" Jiraiya whines miserably.

Kurama stretches out to his full length on the back porch, both arms folded behind his head as his nose delicately analyzed the myriad of scents on the breeze. He'd left Naruto this morning to teach the class while he did some errands of his own. He wonders when would be a good time to leave and look for Son Goku and Kokuo.

"Those names . . . which bijuu do they belong to?" Obito asks Kyuubi.

"And if I just told you, what would be the fun in that?" Kyuubi gently taunts.

He turns his head, watching the peacefully swaying grass and the lake just beyond reach. It was a nice scene. And to think, he'd almost destroyed this place . . .

"Almost?" Kushina repeats skeptically, grinning at his unrepentant expression.

Lucky, lucky little Konoha he was sealed inside Kushina's son. Had it been any other child, he would have broken that child into pieces, along with this quaint little village.

"Are you upset about that?" Minato asks curiously.

"Destroy Konoha, possibly Naruto along with it, and miss all the fun? Never, never." Kyuubi denies.

A soft snort escapes him, and he grins. Soft footfalls come from the house— near the kitchen— and come toward him— they're careful, she is carrying something . . .

"Kurama-san, would you like something to drink?" Katsu asks quietly, and Kurama hums in thought.

"If it isn't too much trouble, iced tea would be lovely." Kurama replies turning back to look up at her holding out a glass of iced tea with a small smile.

"Peach is your favorite right?" Katsu confirms, and Kurama nods as he sits up and takes the glass.

"Peach? Somehow, that's oddly plain considering it's you." Kushina murmurs.

"Oh is it now?" Kurama wonders quietly. "What did you expect my favorite would be? If you say human blood I'll never respect you for your unoriginality."

"Well I meant it seemed perhaps something more exotic was to your taste. Like, um . . . dragon fruit!" Kushina pushes.

"Ugh, no thanks." Kyuubi stuck his tongue out.

"My thanks Katsuhime." Kurama murmurs, delighting in the flavor of the sweet tea.

Katsu tilts her head. "Forgive me Kurama-san, but it seems strange to me that you favor peach."

"How so?" Kurama asks.

"Well . . . you've been alive so long, have tasted so many different things, but your favorite flavor is peach?" Katsu elucidates.

Kurama smirks. "Strange isn't it? Sit child, I won't look up at you for much longer."

Katsu smiles and rearranges her skirt as she sits down, her legs folded to the side as she leans against the post opposite Kurama's. "I've told you to just call me Katsu Kurama-san."

"You were given a strong name, and I won't shorten it to suit some need for cuteness." Kurama bluntly denies her, making Katsu pout.

"Bah, you're such a grandfather!" Kushina laughs.

"You have as many children as I have . . . as many annoying brats and sleepless nights you'll come to understand." Kurama dismisses her claim.

"So you really are a grandfather?" Rin asks.

Kurama doesn't answer, merely growls quietly and the others take that to mean enough jokes.

"You know . . . Konoha isn't the most beautiful place I've ever been to. There have been so many places and one day it will just be a ghost in my mind. But, I haven't felt this close to home in many years."

"Such clear irony." Minato snorts.

"Or maybe it's karma?" Tsunade counters.

"I don't think it's Konoha that's become your home Kurama-san." Katsu mutters quietly, smiling as the breeze cools her.

"Home is where the heart is after all . . . and your home, technically, is Naruto." Minato chuckles quietly. "So is he where your heart lies too?"

"Your heart is going to lay in my hand in a minute . . . and you'll lay on the floor dead. Would you like that Minato? No? Then shut up." Kyuubi tersely says to the man.

"Touchy." Minato stage-whispers, and Kyuubi sighs, careworn.

Kurama smirks. "Such an insightful child."

"Hey . . . Kurama-san?" Katsu murmurs.

"Yes?" Kurama replies, a long draught of peach tea keeping him still.

"Why don't you take over the world?" Katsu asks.

"What a question to ask!" Kushina wonders. "Does she want that?"

"Be a bit hard for him to take over the world in a shadow clone construct." Tsunade murmurs.

"I did take over the world once. It was quite interesting. To be fair, the world wasn't so big at the time . . . there weren't so many broken apart landmasses at that time." Kyuubi explains. "So it was easier to rule the 'world'."

"I did that already. It was boring. Taking over the Demon World was far more interesting, but in the end that lost its appeal too." Kurama relies promptly.

"Do you ever wonder what's next to entertain you, now that you can go anywhere?" Katsu questions.

"Mm? I don't need to . . . Naruto proves quite entertaining. I haven't been this busy in over three hundred years. No, my problem is restraining myself to just this task. Thank your ancestors that Naruto did not have a way to release me years before this. I simply wouldn't have been able to stop myself from playing with Konoha." Kurama playfully growls.

"Is it wrong that I think Konoha might have benefitted more from the careless interference of a demon, then the path they've put themselves on now?" Minato wonders aloud, startling everyone. Even Kyuubi's ears were perked with all attention, gauging Minato carefully.

"I would like to think we'd be a pile of cinders with him running the show." Tsunade bluntly answers.

Minato shakes his head. "Hm . . . so you think huh? I'd think . . . our boy would have had quite an interesting life."

Katsu smirks. "Rather, I mourn for the missed opportunities."

"Such a good girl. So, you were telling me about an idea Koizumi-san was babbling about?" Kurama prompts her to continue the conversation they were having earlier, and Katsu lights up.

"Yes!" she trills happily. "Of course next weekend we're having a small sort of open house to attract more customers, and we've actually gotten a couple orders from Suna. So Koizumi-san is thinking that this open house could extend into a sort of nation-crossing convention . . . it'd be the first ever of its kind. The closest we've ever gotten to such a thing is that one baking competition they cancelled years ago because of the Wars and the inability of the bakers to put aside the war tensions— they just could not stop poisoning all that baking!"

Every adult in the room winces. For them, that event had happened only the year prior, and the cleanup was a nightmare! "That was . . . that whole thing was really messed up." Kushina mutters.

"So much coffee cake that I couldn't even touch . . ." Minato continues mournfully.

"Now that sounds like a party." Kurama grins.

"Hmph, you would . . . anyway, so then with Suna in mind and the option of holding another open bakery event when the Kumo delegation comes in Koizumi-san is thinking of showing off to other nations as well. She's got quite a few in mind, but we don't have many workers." Katsu deflates slightly from her buzzed state, and Kurama cocks his head in thought.

"What are the places she's considering?" Kurama prods further. "Not many places she can go with all the trouble around. It would be the height of irresponsibility for a business owner to put her workers in danger all for some increased favor among the trades."

Katsu pouts. "Well of course she wouldn't just let us go off to travel alone! We'd be hiring teams . . . though it'd be hard to pay for anything higher than a C-rank for as many trips as she wants. She's looking at Tea Country . . . Vegetable, Waterfall, and Honey Country."

Kurama hums in thought. "It'd be best not to travel too far, don't you agree? I doubt Naruto would want you farther than he could safely reach in good time."

"Oh, are you taking another duckling under your wing Kyuubi?" Jiraiya teases, and the others laugh as Kyuubi huffs. Only Minato stays quiet, blue eyes unreadable as he looks at Kyuubi for a long minute before smiling and joining in just as Kushina is about to comment on his silence.

For a brief moment, Kyuubi's scarlet eyes and Minato's sapphire eyes lock.

"I don't know, I'd like to see Honey Country . . . do you know what these places are like Kurama-san? Geography books can only tell you so much . . ."

Kurama tilts his head in consideration. "Tea Country is lined on two sides by the ocean and some of the bigger cities lie on the coast. Vegetable is close I suppose but it's too small to really appeal to any business-minded people. Besides, the Daimyou Haruna is rather finicky about sugared products. Something about puffing . . . anyway— Honey is too far for me to recommend you going to. Tea and Waterfall are your only choices."

Katsu gives him a sly glance. "Oh, Takigakure then eh? Hm . . . thank you for your input Kurama-san. I'll talk with Koizumi-san about it!" Katsu chirps, leaning forward as she rises up. She takes the now empty glass from Kurama and after being assured that his thirst was quenched, walks back into the house.

"Well that was surprisingly helpful." Tsunade eyes Kyuubi suspiciously. "What's the catch?"

"You don't remember?" Minato answers instead, and Tsunade sends him a searching look. Minato is like concrete, impenetrable and so she subsides to think it over.

Kurama sits still at the porch, eyes flickering to the sky that has darkened since his time running his own errands. He feels Naruto before he hears the door open at the front. Their chakra connection shrinks then snaps taught to assure no waste, and Kurama feels a brief wave of recognition and a chakra version of hello from the blonde child, and he responds in kind. He hears Naruto and Katsu murmur, feels a brush of heat along his front. Kurama frowns thoughtfully. He'd have to talk to Naruto about making sure not everything could pass between their connection, sooner rather than later. It would be the height of impropriety for the kit to start making kits of his own and he could— gods forbid— feel that too.

Everyone shudders, but none are more disgusted than Kushina and Minato. "Oh God, you don't feel—" she starts to stammer out.

"No. Oh, hell no. Our connection isn't as strong as Naruto and mine's apparently." Kyuubi is quick to tell her, the only sign of his disgust a slight creasing of his brow.

So much to do. He muses.

Naruto opens the back door and drops down right next to Kurama, and neither of them minds when Naruto roughly bumps against him and sends them both swaying in reaction for a moment. Naruto looks over at him curiously.

"So did you get everything done today?" Naruto asks.

Kurama nods. "Most everything. I've even started up some new plans."

Tsunade figures it out, Kyuubi's intentions as he helped Katsu, and she represses a snarl. Minato hadn't called the demon out, she would bide her time as well. She doubted Kyuubi would be foolish enough to use Naruto's loved one, when he himself spent so much time ensuring the safety and soundness of his host.

She still thought he was a self-centered, heartless, manipulative bastard of a demon though.

"Plans? Speaking of, I was thinking that perhaps we should put more focus onto the MIA Yonbi and Gobi. I mean, the Nanabi is still in a shinobi village even if it is weaker . . . and it might be easier after that mission Konoha did to Takigakure with the Hero Water."

So little time.

"I agree." Kurama murmurs. "Let the Nanabi situation be . . . it might work out on its own. For now, I have to find those two damn idiots."

"Be nice now." Naruto playfully chides. "What do you want for dinner today? Kakashi and Tsunade are coming over –ttebayo . . ."

Kurama smirks. "I'm in the mood for steak. And perhaps Katsuhime wouldn't mind if I baked a cake tonight . . . it's the least I can do."

Minato glares quickly at the Kyuubi, who stares placidly back.

Naruto raises an eyebrow at the last comment, but lets it slide past without much fanfare. Kurama knew what he was doing, and didn't need a mere mortal like him to try and question him.

Hush. Kurama snaps in his mind, Naruto not even bothering to censor his thoughts. Naruto laughs, tugging at a lock of red hair gently as he rises up and goes inside to help Katsu prepare dinner.

"The chapter ends on that note. Huh, so there must be something of significance coming up." Kushina murmurs thoughtfully.

"Indeed. I can't wait to see how those plans work out Kyuubi." Minato smiles pleasantly at the demon who nods back.

"I wonder what will happen the next chapter? Will we read more about Naruto's time as a sensei, or will we be reading about the Raikage coming to Konoha . . . ?" Rin carefully thinks over the options. "I'd really like to hear more about Naruto teaching."

"Yeah, but a tournament between Kumo and Konoha sounds awesome!" Obito cheers.

Minato shakes his head. "It won't happen. The Raikage wouldn't risk his village's security for a tournament, not while Akatsuki still roams. Things like that are also prime opportunities for assassinations."

"Aw, man!" Obito pouts.

"Cheer up brat," Jiraiya laughs. "Has there ever been a boring chapter of this book yet? Come on, an early dinner and then another chapter."

So, guys! I'm going to skip the reviewer spiel and just . . . Naruto Chapter 660. The . . . the feels! Oh God the FEELS! I cannot wait to write that chapter out in my own interpretation . . . Ooh I get chills just thinking about it!

So, review this chapter and hey, HAPPY FREAKING NEW YEARS!


Bloody Mad~3