Well hello again everyone! Welcome back to Genesis of the Nindo. Did everyone have a happy April Fool's Day? So, let's talk about last chapter. I got your opinions regarding Naruto and Katsu. I was honestly impressed. For those who voted either keep the relationship or break it, most of you had solid reasoning as to do so. Some others . . . well, at least you reviewed. My one reviewer who knew they were in the minority . . . you were right. Hope this doesn't devalue the story for you. My thinking is, they need one huge fight to really test the relationship. I don't know, maybe I haven't had a healthy exposure to relationships (normal ones at least), but big fights are usually standard in the family. And then, well, not-quite-closure-and-more-like-forgetting comes much quicker than I'll make it in the story.

Red Tiger (guest): Wow man. Glad you're so into it!

Okay, so let's continue on with the story.

DISCLAIMER: I do not own Naruto, Masashi Kishimoto does.

Chapter Forty-Five

Can We Get Back on Track, Uzumaki Naruto?

"Good morning everybody!" Obito greets them all with a dazzling grin and a jaunty step as he walks to the kitchen. It was an unspoken decree that instead of wasting time cooking breakfast they'd all chow down on some cereal. And lucky for Obito, they had his favorite— delicious Choco-Flakes cereal!

"Morning." Was the general muttered reply, and Obito pouts at its despondency.

"Come now, we can do better than that." He chides, sliding into a new seat right besides Kushina, one of the few without a cereal bowl. He solved that by placing his salad-bowl filled with cereal right in between them and putting another spoon on her side to reach for.

As Kushina looks at him in amusement, Minato leans around her to stare at Obito, holding up his own larger than average bowl of cereal. "My girlfriend eats my cereal."

"If you really cared you wouldn't have picked that boring ass cereal." Obito glares at Minato, before switching to a mockingly adoring look for Kushina. "Right Kushina-chan?"

"I don't even want to know." Kushina giggles, settling back into her seat and letting Obito and Minato glare at each other.

"Go share with Rin and leave us alone." Minato pouts.

Jiraiya laughs, and leans forward to grab the book. He tosses it to Kyuubi and the fox grabs it with a look of reluctance. "Go on and atone for your future sins."

Naruto slumps on a branch, hidden by the surrounding leaves as he looks down upon his clones training. Twenty to the creation of a new jutsu he'd thought of, twenty more to keeping his chakra control at his best, and another twenty still trying to practice their katas but mostly drifting away into the same thoughts he was having. He sits high above writing down adjustments and notes in a leather bound notebook whenever a clone pops from exertion.

I had that dream again, he tells Kurama.

The one about me? There are many times I can recall roaring in rage . . . the inclusion of the Fire Temple in your dream however, is rather odd. I can't think of anything yet. Kurama confesses.

But it was more like a . . . a mindless anger I think. It didn't really feel like you. It was you . . . but I just didn't get a complete feeling of you. That doesn't make any sense. Naruto sighs in irritation to himself, his mind drifting back to his notes.

A clone blocks the crescent kick from another and shuffles away in a poor attempt of gaining ground. "She would have made a hot pot when she came back, since the days are getting cold."

"I guess he's past the angry stage and is in the missing her stage." Rin assumes.

A clone over on the ninjutsu side glares at his fellow shadow construct and retorts, "She's too busy playing the daring femme fatale to bother with us!"

"Ah, but we forget that Naruto works under the assumption that his mind is fractured and his clones take a pick from each broken fragment." Kakashi reminds them.

"So one part of him does miss her, but the other wants nothing to do with her for now." Obito summarizes.

"Now that's not fair," a more objective clone somewhere in the middle of the field objects. "If we'd just had more time to talk then perhaps—"

"She ran." The clone interrupts with a simmering glare at an ant hill. "She left . . . and she probably wants to break—"

Naruto closes his notebook with a snap and dispels all the clones, Naruto hissing at the slight mental recoil. As if he needed to hear his clones break down his mental process.

Tsunade rolls her eyes. "So dramatic. So you had a fight, man up and stop your worrying she won't break up with you!"

"You know, you're a lot more cracked in the head than I thought." The familiar, cocky voice doesn't even need categorizing. Naruto's eyelids are suddenly heavy and he does not turn around.

"I thought at first Hinata would be her first choice but the Hyuuga Compound doesn't seem like the kind of place you could crash for a couple nights. I'm glad she's with you." Naruto pauses, and then adds, "And if you thought I was ever mentally stable in the first place, more fool you."

"True enough." Anko agrees, slinking up to his side and slinging an arm around his shoulder. "So are you going to start talking or do I have to pull out the branding irons?"

Ignoring the fact that her large chest is cushioning and slightly squeezing his arm from how she sits, Naruto tries to jerk the trapped appendage away in a sudden flash of irritation. "I don't even know where to begin. I don't know what happened." Admitting it is more sour a defeat than he expected.

Anko glares at him. "I don't care brat, you need—"

"What gives you the authority to tell me what I need?" Naruto looks askance at her, successfully bringing his arm back. It's a hard fought battle, but he does indeed resist bringing his knees up and wrapping his arms around them to hunch over. "As far as I'm concerned, I'm not the one at fault here."

"Oh, it's one of those fights." Kushina hums, shaking her head sadly. "This is going to take a while."

"Says who?" Jiraiya asks.

Anko's arm slips from around his shoulder, and she looks at the straight back and the cold expression on his face with a careful scrutiny. Neither of them speak for a time until Anko shifts in a lightning fast motion, her feet under her as she crouches like a cat. "This is going to be one of those long, dramatic angst ridden battles isn't it?" she asks rhetorically. She suddenly grins with a mad glee, as if she is thrumming with energy. "How exciting! Make it a good show brat!"

She's just about gone when Naruto's hand clamps down on her wrist, and she's left blinking at it in shock. "Tell her to go home." He murmurs. "I'm staying somewhere else so it won't be awkward. She shouldn't have ever left in the first place, still injured."

"He shouldn't have to leave; they can both be adults and stay in the same house." Rin huffs.

"It's her grandmothers' house. He absolutely should leave if he knows that being in close quarters would be uncomfortable for her, and him as well." Tsunade lectures, looking down her nose at a blushing Rin.

Anko is gone, but the message will carry, Naruto is sure.

In the meantime, Naruto thinks it might be a good idea to choose another location. He found out from Tsunade that Team Eight had come back from a mission yesterday and he did not want to be caught by Hinata. Sighing, he leaps through the trees. "This is so stupid."

Well you know how to fix this, Kurama supplies gently.

"It should be you fixing it." Kushina mutters heatedly.

Naruto sends a vivid streak of indignation to the Fox and snaps; It's not my mess to fix!

Oh I cannot believe you are being this petty. Kurama grumbles.

What's petty about standing your ground? Naruto argues. I don't even know why she slapped me; she was the one who overreacted.

"Who's the Ancestors-knows-how-old Fox? I think I know what I'm talking about Naruto." Kyuubi growls.

Kurama, inside the mindscape, sighs heavily and drops his head down on the floor between his paws, suddenly drained. Technically this was his fault, and he knew the real source of Naruto's hurt and anger. The brat would need to admit it to himself though, before any progress could be made. So, he was probably stuck with a mopey teenage shinobi for another couple of weeks.


Outside, Naruto decides to ignore Kurama since the other had suddenly grown silent. Instead he chose to cast his mind onto other things. Perhaps a spar with Kakashi? No, the man was currently in a race with Gai that could last until midnight, doing a lap from the Konoha Gate to the Valley of the End. Sai and Sakura had been partnered up with Yamato for a mission and he wasn't sure when they were coming back.

What a mess he was in.

Naruto stops on a branch and not a half a second later a masked ANBU perches on the branch above him. "Uzumaki-san. The Hokage requests your presence."

"Well, it seems like a mission might take your mind off your troubles." Minato murmurs optimistically.

Naruto nods curtly. "I'll be right there."

The ANBU inclines his head once and then disappears in a swirl of leaves that drift on the wind. Naruto changed course to take him to the Hokage Tower. He shifts from the cover of canopy to the wide-open spaces of Konoha's rooftops. He bypasses other shinobi and kunoichi going all manner of different directions, always giving nods of recognition to their comrades. Sometimes, Naruto still feels a little bubble of happiness when he gets these nods or small smiles, because it had once been everything he had hoped for.

"And now Naru-chan?" Kushina asks amusedly.

"Recognition is so mainstream, it's just not cool." Obito answers in a snobby manner, speaking through his nose.

Naruto jumps down to the Hokage Tower entrance and goes the long way up swerving around and sidestepping busy office chuunin that help keep the Tower running like a well-oiled machine. Coming to the door of the Hokage's office Naruto knocks twice.

"Come in Naruto." Tsunade beckons and he opens the door. Inside the room are Sakura, Yamato and a boy about his age with dull blue-gray hair cut in a bob just at his chin. Although he could only see his back, he wore the traditional robes of a Fire country monk, with long sleeves that nearly covered his arms, and his right hand only revealed bandaged-covered fingertips. Naruto wonders if the boy had been injured recently.

Stepping inside Naruto walks up to the desk and bows with a respectful murmur of "Hoakge-sama."

"Naruto," Tsunade is straight to the point. "Sai is injured from the last mission while at the Fire Temple. The young man here is Sora, who has come back to replace Sai for a short time. I'd like it if you could help Sakura and Yamato with getting Sora settled into our routines here and working with a team for a while. At the end you'll get C-rank mission pay. Unless you . . ."

Naruto holds up a hand and smiles at Tsunade. "It's perfectly fine Hokage-sama, I'll be sure to help Sora-san get used to Konoha."

"Oi," Sora spoke up now, turning to Naruto with a disgruntled expression. "I don't need to get used to this place like I'm staying here for a while. And I don't need a babysitter old hag—"

Minato frowns. "I don't remember monks being rude. He ought to show more respect to the Hokage."

"Old hag?" Tsunade whispers darkly. "Just who would allow that brat to get away with saying names like that?"

Naruto blinks as one moment Sora is there and the next he's crashing through the door, the once strong wood exploding into chunks and splinters as the body continues through to crack the plaster of the wall that finally stops him. He breaks into laughter, leaning against the desk to keep his balance. Tsunade straightens from her slight stoop to level with Sora's face and subsequently blow it out, and then leaps forward in a high-kick that probably creates some internal bleeding in his intestines. Sora coughs, body flinching from the full blow as Tsunade's fiery brown eyes bore down on him.

"Even Buddha only forgives once!" Tsunade rages, dropping to the ground to glare at Sora properly. "Who the hell are you calling old hag?!" she rears back, her fist clenched to deliver another blow when Sora balks and stammers,


"Saved by your faith." Jiraiya claims.

"Amen." Obito utters solemnly.

Tsunade pauses. "Bhuddavista huh?" she stills, glaring for a little longer before smiling. "My, what a cute little monk!"

Sora's flummoxed expression mingles with the horror there before and Naruto only laughs harder.

"Do you actually get angry anymore or do you just pretend to so you can scare others?" Kushina asks Tsunade.

"Fifty-fifty." Tsunade answers with a shrug.

It's evening now, and Naruto and Sakura are saying goodbye after getting Sora situated in his lodgings. The hotel is run by a retired shinobi, and a few of the staff are also reserves so it's the best place to put guests who aren't civilians either. Naruto shoves his hands into the pockets of his pants, looking up at the darkening sky and then at the sliver of a moon that hung up high. Looking back down, he sidesteps a couple who huddle close together as they walk home.

"And so it begins." Jiraiya glumly declares. "In the absence of your own lady friend, you're going to start seeing couples everywhere."

"I thought that was just a myth?" Obito whispers to Kakashi, who shrugs.

"Don't tell me I'm going to start seeing couples everywhere?" he grumbles to himself sourly. Glancing around, he tests his theory. Genma had once told him that after breaking up with a girl, he had seen couples everywhere for a month. Then he went on a mission to assassinate a yakuza family. He stopped seeing couples after that.

"Sometimes after certain missions, you can't see laughter or hear sunshine either. That doesn't mean it's okay." Minato sighs.

Naruto was really hoping drastic action like that wouldn't be needed.

Looking around he sees people slouched over and leaning against buildings. Hassled mothers guiding their brood home as the kids spoke loudly and gestured grandly. Old men hobbling about, and shinobi leaping over the rooftops. He spotted Asuma and Kurenai, and yeah they were a couple, but they were keeping it a (poorly hidden) secret so he didn't count them much.

A small smirk lifts Naruto's spirits. "Well that wasn't too—"

A person collides with him— more like his stomach— and he stops. He looks down and sees a young woman stumble back. A young woman with orange hair—

Katsu looks up, an apology ready on her lips, but she freezes in shock when she sees who she's bumped in to. Both Naruto and Katsu look away from each other, bodies tensing up.

"Oh come on." Rin groans.

"No, it's too soon." Kushina admits reluctantly.

"It's been enough days that he's moved out and is seriously thinking they'll break up." Jiraiya argues.

"Sorry." He mutters, looking away as he plays up a casual air.

"Sorry." Katsu mumbles back, quickly stepping around him and walking home. Naruto doesn't look back at her.

He sighs, dragging a hand through his hair. He could use a drink, but instead he'd just go to sleep and tomorrow he'd deal with the paperwork for Sora's stay, since Yamato had conveniently disappeared.

Katsu stops at the gate in front of her home, feeling strangely anxious as she looks at the house. She felt a little guilty that Naruto had vacated to someplace else, but she honestly would have been a lot more uncomfortable had they both had to be there, still not talking and just awkward around each other.

"You mean like what just happened." Obito points out.

Like yesterday? A snide voice comments.

Rin blinks. "That was a day ago?"

With a slow exhalation, she pushes open the gate and walks up to her house. The door is locked, but she knows where the spare is.

Inside is dark, and there is no one inside. She is filled with a mix of relief and disappointment, but she buries that reaction away for later analysis. Katsu trudges up the stairs, turning on lights as she goes. After a very long shower, plenty of healing cream for the bruises accrued from Anko's punishments, and half a pint of ice cream Katsu flops onto their— her bed and stares up at the ceiling though her vision transcends that blank surface.

"Ugh, teenagers." Jiraiya grunts, Tsunade giggling at his side as he sends a not so subtle look to Minato and Kushina. "Really, a man should only have to go through it once."

"Shut up sensei." Minato says in a long-suffering tone.

"Try complaining after raising fifteen of them." Kyuubi barks.

Katsu hears a knock at the window and turns her head to see Hinata sticking to the wall outside, waving at her to open the window. Smiling, Katsu rises and walks to the window, opening it to let the Hyuuga princess in. Hinata smiles at her and they share a hug.

"Hey, when did you get back from your mission?" Katsu asks.

"A couple of days ago . . . and I've been well informed from Anko-san." Hinata answers meaningfully.

"Oh yeah, did she tell you about her slimy snakes and her penchant for playing kunai in the dark with a sleeping girl?" Katsu grouses, thinking back to the hellish treatment Anko put her through just to stay for as long as she did.

"Yes I am quite curious as to why she thought you deserved a penalty for fighting with Naruto-kun . . . so do you want to tell me how the hell my golden couple tarnished?" Hinata asks, and though there is some leeway in her tone Katsu knows that Hinata really just wants to help. To be honest, she's leery of talking about her woes to Hinata because . . . well, Hitomi was her family.

"You can't keep it all inside, it's not healthy. Talking is really good for you." Tsunade lectures.

"I just . . . we had this big fight a day after I came back. Jerk couldn't even wait a couple more to interrogate me." Katsu complains, looping her arm with Hinata's and the two young ladies trooping down to the kitchen. "You must be hungry. I can make us a couple sandwiches?"

"That would be great." Hinata agrees. "And while you make those sandwiches you can tell me exactly what words were bandied in this big fight."

"Oh Hina I just . . . ooh, he made me so mad! And he said something terrible, and I just . . . I can't believe he would be so insensitive! Him, the guy who will go the extra mile for some stranger on a mission just because it's the right thing to do— but he can't give me some space after I get out of the hospital?" Katsu's tone escalates rather quickly from hesitant to anger as she makes the sandwiches, pulling out some leftover roast beef and all the fixings she desired.

"She has a point." Kushina capitulates, though she really just wants to be disappointed with Katsu for hurting her baby boy.

"She knows he's overprotective, how was that going to get any better with her getting a spear through the shoulder?" Kakashi argues.

Hinata knows Naruto doesn't just say terrible things without some provocation. However, as a best friend she was in Katsu's corner and would go along with the upset girl for now. "That's not exact. Go on, tell me!"

Katsu huffs irritably as she brings out the plates. "Okay fine! So it's the next day after I get out of the hospital. My shoulder is aching something fierce and Naruto— I'd have had more luck looking for company from Neji—"

"Oh sochi, you're being compared to a Hyuuga?" Kushina winces. "You got that bad habit from your father."

"As opposed to grumbling and giving the death glare until someone asks you what's wrong?" Minato scoffs.

"Oh that's bad." Hinata comments sympathetically.

"Right? So it's night time, did I mention that? No— ok, yeah he's cooked me dinner which is sweet of him! Made a nice seafood dinner, it's delicious of course, and his clones are on clean-up duty. We go into the living room and I remember I'll have to talk to Koizumi-san about time off. I mean, I know she'll give me time off but it's still good to just say that out loud so she doesn't think I'm quitting or something."

"Oh my God no." Obito interrupts. "I did not sign up to sit here and listen to someone reading a girl's conversation, which I don't even want to listen to first-person usually. I've got to go to sleep sometime."

"Dude." Kakashi sigs in relief, bumping fists with Obito. "I thought I was the only one who felt that way."

"You're both so insensitive." Rin bristles, glowering at them.

"Obito, Kakashi just bear with it quietly." Minato instructs.

"Right." Hinata agrees.

"He's kind of worried and asks if I really have to do that— you know, concerned about my health and my shoulder I get that. Then I ask him what he'd been up to since I left—"

"You just left yourself right open didn't you—"

"I know!" Katsu groans. "Should have just kept my mouth shut because he just springs right on that opportunity. Oh I've been doing nothing, but you were busy huh— he says something like that."

"He does not." Hinata chides.

"Hinata stop interrupting." Obito groans.

"Hello pot! Have you met kettle?" Kushina glares, putting a finger to her lips to silence him.

"Okay so it was more like, 'i bet your story is more interesting than mine', he says that for sure. I did not want to talk about it. I mean is that so wrong of me to just, you know, want to decompress for forty-eight hours? He couldn't wait another day!"

"You were definitely entitled to forty-eight hours, at most seventy-two." Tsunade agrees.

"Okay he definitely jumped the kunai on that one." Hinata agrees a little ruefully. Naruto could definitely be impatient but he should have been a little more sensitive to this.

Katsu continues, building up steam and outrage. "So, so I just say can we please not talk about this now. He's all like— no, with Fuu in the village— because she's a jinchuuriki— we have to know what happened so we can know what to do with her. Do with her? She's not a fucking stray dog, she— you know what Taki did to her? First they treated her like she didn't even exist I mean, you know how Naruto used to be treated?"

"Oh, total isolation?" Hinata winces.

"Right! I mean I had a front row seat to that all week long, she just helped me and Akane and—" Katsu's throat sticks on the last name and she stumbles through it. "H-hitomi . . . at a risk to her life with that crazy ass immortal guy—"

"He was really immortal?" Hinata gapes, gripping her pants at the knees.

"Ugh yeah, and a total asshole. He just had to curse in every sentence— anyway, so I get a little indignant and I'm like 'can you not talk about her like that?' and he's all like 'don't snap at me' and I wasn't even snapping! My voice was below snap level. It was more like, reprimand level you know?" Katsu looks to Hinata to confirm this and upon getting an assuring nod continues her side of the story.

"No I don't know, isn't reprimanding and snapping the same? How do you have different voice levels for each one?" Jiraiya asks, confused.

"You should know very well Jiraiya, we've been teammates for years!" Tsunade sneers.

"Okay, so he tries to keep level and I try too but his next words just get me lit. He asks me why I brought her along. Excuse me? It's not like we forced her— I wasn't saying, you know, 'come with me if you want to live'. It was more like, 'hey you just got thrown away by your home village and it's totally cool if you want to stay single for a while but if you're in need of another place Konoha wouldn't be bad.' I wasn't the only one saying this, Akane kind of backed me up on this too—"

"I so have to remember that line: Come with me if you want to live." Obito laughs. "I might just get a date from that."

"Obito, you really are something else." Minato snorts softly.

"Naruto knew this?" Hinata questions.

Katsu waves her hand impatiently. "He shouldn't have even asked! I wasn't going to tell the girl: 'hey sucks you just got kicked out but if you could just not follow us— we don't want any trouble.' Real smooth— puh-lease. And then do you know what he asked me?"

"He may not have asked, but as you were explaining your case to him—" Kakashi starts before being interrupted by Tsunade.

"Case? What case, she didn't break a law or something. However, the thorough communication probably would have helped bypass this thing they're in."


"How is that any of my business! I could not even believe that came out of his mouth— of all the nerve! The— the audacity! I mean, how is it not my business as a decent human being when someone is in need, and they're a good person, and I can help them—! You know what, Hinata, she didn't even come with us right off the bat. We left her behind while she was still thinking because, hello, Akatsuki is coming and we are going. But that guy— he still caught us and engaged us! He started it! We didn't have Fuu with us, but he still wanted to kill us because that guy is a psycho—"

Hinata scoffs, and flips her midnight hair over her shoulder. "Jeez, and Naruto still gave you a hard time? I know he's overprotective but what could you do if they guy attacked you first? Obviously he was just looking for fights while searching for Fuu—"

"Man," Obito blinks in surprise. "I never realized it— mainly because I stopped listening after the first five words usually . . . but when girl's talk it's really involved. And . . . kind of . . . interesting."

"Obito I will slap you if need be. Wake up. Pick up your balls. And man up." Jiraiya commands. "Which reminds me . . . how you handling this Kyuubi?"

". . ." Kyuubi sighs heavily. "I accept my punishment."

"Well . . . I don't think he knew that guy got us first. Apparently, Tsunade made it clear to him only she would be hearing the mission briefing and . . . I didn't mention it— but only because I was so mad! I mean, you don't just ask someone why they helped a person." Katsu explains.

Hinata stares. So Naruto had no idea that they were set upon first without Fuu . . . but he had thought so, and thought Katsu had deliberately gotten involved . . . Ooooh, she's starting to get it now.

"Us too Hinata-chan." Rin agrees, looking at Kushina who also nods.

Katsu notes Hinata's stare and looks at her friend with concern. "Hinata?"

"Hm?" Hinata realizes she's spacing out and shakes her head. "Sorry just thinking this over. Continue?"

"He tries to play it off, like he didn't really mean to offend me and he said oh it was a nice thought— but if he believed that he wouldn't have said all that before. So I called him out on it . . ." Katsu pauses here and her lips thin as an unsure expression crosses her face. "I said he sounded like she wasn't important enough to help—"

"Which was a mistake on your part." Jiraiya supplies, frowning.

"Oh Katsu, to him of all people? Really?" The disappointment in Hinata's tone made Katsu cringe and she nods meekly.

"Okay so I was out of line with that one, maybe. Which he called me out on . . . and I just kept going." Katsu admits. "He . . . he just said that considering it was me— and what does it have to do with me? Why does my being there have any weight on the situation— would he have preferred another of my co-workers went there and probably get killed? He . . . it's like he thinks I should just stay home obediently—"

Hinata hums in comfort. "I'm sure that's not what he meant—"

"But it feels like that!" Katsu objects. "I mean, remember when I told you about going with Jiraiya and Naruto that time, and . . . Yugito, that hairball coughing bitch— and now!"

"Whoa!" Obito and Kakashi exclaim. "Take it easy!"

"Nice." Kushina laughs.

"I can't say much about Yugito-san, though I know she did upset you with the incident at your work. To be fair," Hinata broaches the subject slowly. "The time with Itachi you didn't have to go, even if Kakashi-sensei did give you a look . . . I know you were concerned but he was with Jiraiya-sama—"

"The same Jiraiya-sama I saw chuck him down a ravine just to go deeper into the Kyuubi's chakra. Excuse me if my trust in him was minimal, at least back then.

"She makes a very valid point." Minato decides, and Jiraiya snorts.

"Yea, at least she didn't try to choke me to death." Jiraiya reminds Minato, but the blonde man only grins wickedly.

Now, if he chucked Naruto down a ravine I'd probably laugh along with him and throw shit at Naru." Katsu laughs a little at the end. "But anyway—"

"No, no anyway. Katsu you do know that a majority of that reaction was his old fears right? How long ago was it that you died? You honestly died and an obscure medical miracle brought you back. Couldn't you be a little more . . . sympathetic?"

"Oh," Rin draws out softly. "I didn't even think of that."

"I bet you anything, he thinks about it a lot. He probably has to work not to think about it." Minato murmurs, eyes dulling.

Katsu looks troubled as she looks down at the table. "He . . . he still thinks about that?"

"Of course he does!" Hinata scolds gently. "That'll never leave him— I know if I think back, I can still see it so clearly . . . you . . ."

"Really?" Katsu whispers, distressed. "Oh . . . oh, then the rest of the fight . . . aw shit." She groans, slumping forward to face plant on the table. "I . . . might have fucked up astronomically."

"Now, now, no need for that." Minato soothes. "You both made mistakes."

"Let's save the self-loathing for the end of the story," Hinata soothes, patting Katsu's back. "What happened next?"

Katsu groans, face twisting so her cheek rests on the table and she looks up at Hinata with shiny eyes. "I ask him where he gets off scolding me for doing what he does— saving a friend you know. And . . . and he says how we could possibly be good enough friends after only a week to want to take a spear to the shoulder for her— and I . . . I tell him he'd take a kunai for the grocer down the street if he had a mind to."

"Which wasn't right of you." Kushina gently admonishes.

She sniffles, scrubbing at her eyes. "He says that's stupid, and he thinks I'm treating this like a game. So . . . so he asks if maybe I want to find another Akatsuki member to fight since the last one wasn't tough."

"Which was really just awful of him to say." Rin sympathizes.

"I've got no counter-argument." Kakashi admits.

"For the first time ever. Capture the moment!" Obito drawls sarcastically.

Tears spill from her eyes and pool under her on the table. "And all I could think about . . . was Hitomi just still and dead and cold. How could he say that? How could he think I treated this like a game when someone died— and I was so mad— that was just so immature of him, honestly. He just wanted to break me down and say he was right— I told him so, and told him this conversation was stupid . . . and then he gets real nasty and says I was seriously going to blow this off after the Hyuuga girl died. She has a name! And . . . and how dare he say I was blowing off her death! I slapped him Hinata, I did. And I ran, ran to Anko's and tonight is the first night I've been back. Naruto told Anko he was staying somewhere else."

Katsu licks her lips and her trembling increases. "That idiot . . . that idiot!" Katsu's voice breaks and her face turns to press into the wood again. "Uwaaa!" she cries, sobbing freely.

"Put more feeling into that 'uwaa' Kyuubi!" Obito orders.

"I think you can do a better job— I know, you sit right there, I'll come over and twist your arm out of its socket and I want you to concentrate your pain into a really heartfelt cry." Kyuubi suggests.

"Hell, all you had to say was shut up." Obito mopes.

"You both said some things you shouldn't have huh," Hinata murmurs, rubbing Katsu's back as the girl shudders. "I think you both really need to talk this out. If you don't, who knows what other miscommunications will happen. But not right now, eh? And Naruto was kind of a jerk. But Katsu, I know why you were so offended about Hitomi-chan . . ."

Hinata leans forward to rest her cheek on the table too, nose barely brushing Katsu's. When watery gold eyes peer at her, she smiles. "It wasn't your fault. Hitomi's death is not your fault. Hitomi was a proud kunoichi who died in the line of duty, as countless others have done."

Katsu only sobs harder, and Hinata rubs her back.

"Ridiculous, blaming herself." Tsunade dismisses. "Hitomi did what any proud kunoichi would do."

Sakura sent Naruto a message through the short hand early in the morning, requesting he help her show Sora around Konoha. So, he met up with them in town seeing Sakura smiling at him and Sora still holding onto his sulky, surly glare.

"Morning, how's everyone?" Naruto asks genially.

"Morning Naruto, I'm fine." Sakura answers. Sora just grunts something unintelligible, and Naruto doesn't bother him about it. He wasn't a counselor, and he didn't particularly care to make friends with a monk.

Why not? Monks aren't bad. Kurama brushes against his mind in greeting and he is somewhat surprised.

"Oh don't tell me you spent some time in a monastery Kyuubi?" Kushina laughs.

"I didn't." Kyuubi answers calmly, grinning at the real truth.

What, you were friends with a monk? Naruto asks.

Well no . . . I ate a monk . . . and his disciple. They weren't bad tasting, is what I really meant. Kurama chuckles.

"The lives you've lived." Minato murmurs wonderingly.

Naruto wasn't touching that with a ten-foot pole. "So, where to first then Sakura?"

"Hmm, let's just start from here and point out the places we know and like." Sakura suggests. Naruto nods in agreement and walks in the middle with Sora on the right and Sakura on the left.

As they walk both Naruto and Sakura would either alternate or overlap as they pointed out certain shops or stalls, even though Sora looked totally uninterested. When they pass by the Tea Shop Naruto falters, and Sakura picks it up with a firm cheer though she does send Naruto a sympathetic look.

"It's got the best tea in Konoha!" Sakura promises.

Sora snorts. "We passed another shop like this. What makes that place so special?"

"Besides having the best tea? Well . . . Naruto's girlfriend works there!" Sakura discloses with a giggle, sticking her tongue out at Naruto when he sends a glare her way.

"Someone didn't get the memo about keeping her mum around foreign entities that aren't guaranteed to keep their lips sealed." Obito shook his head at Sakura's action.

". . . Someone actually agreed to date you?" Sora looks unconvinced, and Naruto raises a brow.

"Yes." He answers plainly. "Damn lucky to have her." Even if the actual having her part was a little shaky nowadays.

Minato grins. "So long as the feeling is still there, you should try to work on it foolish son."

Sora continues to look skeptical but he snorts and walks forward a few paces ahead of Naruto and Sakura, arms crossed and seemingly unimpressed with Konoha. Sakura distracts him with another landmark before lowering her voice so only Naruto could here.

"I take it from the silence earlier that you guys haven't worked things out?" she assumes.

Naruto grimaces. "No . . . we haven't spoken in damn near a week." Excluding the very awkward four minutes they bumped into each other.

"Does this mean you guys are . . ." Sakura trails off but her hands motion a breaking off motion, and Naruto's mood takes a dive.

"No . . . I don't know." Naruto mutters sadly, lips tilting down.

"Well," Sakura shrugs and pats his shoulder. "There might be a chance you know? But if, you know, you both can't work this out then it might be for the best. Being a ninja doesn't get an easier from this point, and it might have caused problems later down the line."

"You unbelievable bitch." Kushina is blunt, more out of shock than actual intent.

"She might have been saying that with the best of intentions but really, Sakura . . . aren't you a medic? Shouldn't your bedside manner be bleeding through for situations like these?" Rin scolds.

Naruto stares at Sakura, disbelieving that she said those words and meant them. ". . . Thank you Sakura. Your words really helped me."

Sakura smiles brightly, taking his words at face value. "Heh, no need to thank me! Just trying to cheer up my friend!"

I had friends like that. They never lasted long— I have a terrible temper, and my claws were extremely sharp back then . . . I never meant to, mind you. Kurama clarifies.

"Not completely anyway." Kyuubi clarifies further. "There was maybe . . . 80% intent."

She really thinks that helped me. That's what kills me. And this girl wants/wanted to be Mrs. Uchiha? I think Sasuke would need a girl with a little more sensitivity. Naruto grouses.

Snorting to himself, Naruto faces forward again but comes to a halt when he no longer sees the robed back of Sora.

"Eh?! Where'd he go?" Sakura mutters worriedly, looking around. "Naruto— you go this way, and I'll go that way."

"What's the point of splitting— and there she goes." Naruto sighs, watching Sakura jog away with a single minded determination. "Whatever."

So he went the other way, going through the town and looking around for Sora. It took him five minutes to find the young monk, and what he finds Sora doing was actually quite interesting.

Sora is crouched, a fearsome look on his face as he glares directly at a snarling Akamaru. Both dog and human are locked in a battle of wills, neither looking away, both just barely holding back from biting each other.

"I wouldn't advise a staring contest with an Inuzuka." Kushina murmurs lightly.

"Then why do you do it so much?" Minato prods.

"Because I'm made of win." Kushina states factually.

Naruto adopts a thoughtful look on his face as he watches them. "He's glaring at a dog?" he murmurs. He watches them for a few seconds more before he grins. "What will Kiba do, I wonder?"

"Wonder about what?" Speak of the devil, and he shall appear. Naruto turns to see Kiba walking up towards him with a grin on his face. "Yo, heard you finally got off the roster. But how come you didn't invite me to Career Day?"

"Mm? That was for specialists. Currently, you are not recognized as a specialist in tracking Kiba— I didn't want to lie to the kids." Naruto grins at Kiba's grunt.

"He wants to become a tracker? Well since he's not a future clan head that should work out for him if he applies himself. He might even become a hunter-nin." Rin allows.

"If I didn't know you'd probably kick my ass, I'd totally beat you down for that . . . hey, who the hell is that guy?" Kiba frowns, walking forward with the intent to confront Sora. Naruto watches from afar, intrigued and amused.

"He's spent too long with me." Kyuubi chuckles.

"Not entirely a bad thing as long as he maintains control. I'm sure you'd be teaching him that too." Minato responds with a grin, mirroring Kyuubi's own.

You're far too much like me. Kurama chuckles.

Is that a bad thing? Naruto asks knowingly, and returns to watching as Kiba stops right by Akamaru and in front of Sora, already aggressive.

"Hey, what the hell do you think you're doing to Akamaru?" Kiba asks.

Sora snorts, "You should keep that mutt of yours on a leash. Might want to get him checked for rabies too."

"Them's fighting words." Rin gasps theatrically.

Kiba glowers darkly and barks, "Akamaru isn't some regular dog and he damn sure doesn't have any rabies! Do you have any idea who you're talking to?!"

"Some loudmouth with a complex for his mutt." Sora answers blandly, rubbing a pinky in his ear.

You don't just insult an Inuzuka and his partner, and expect to get away with it. Naruto would not stop Kiba from injuring the young monk however, judging by the quick recovery after Tsunade's one-two hitter, Sora would be just fine after a little tussle. Besides, it was healthy for young men to let off some steam with a fight or two every now and then according to Kurama.

"If it's a choice between tearing the house down and just giving each other black eyes, I take the second choice. Bruises heal but it takes ages to find all the right wood floorings and . . . that priceless chandelier . . ." Kyuubi goes from responsible lecturer to reliving some of the tougher memories.

"Rowdy bunch huh?" Jiraiya laughs.

"I really should have stopped after ten." Kyuubi grumbles, dragging a hand down his face.

Naruto cocks his head to the side, and then smiles. "Chouji, salt and pepper chips?"

"Ah, Naruto, your nose is as sharp as ever. I know you like these chips— care for some?" Chouji asks as he and Shikamaru descend the steps to the little park where the drama unfolded. When they reach him, Naruto thanks Chouji and takes a few chips, knocking Shikamaru on the shoulder in greeting.

"Looks like something troublesome over there. Who is that guy?" Shikamaru asks.

Kiba growls and cuts a glare to Naruto. "What— you know this guy Naruto?"

"Ah," Naruto agrees with a smile. "He's a new member of Team Seven until Sai heals. His name is Sora, a monk from the Fire Temple."

"A monk?!" Kiba scoffs, derision in his voice. "The hell kinds of punks are they just letting into the temples nowadays?"

"Lucky for you then, huh? When your ninja career inevitably fails, you can always have prayer to fall back on." Sora jeers.

"OOOOH!" Kakashi and Obito holler, leaning back as far as the couch would allow.

"BURN!" Kushina laughs.

Chouji swallows his mouthful of chips and holds up a hand as mediator. "Now guys, we shouldn't fight like—"

Sora interrupts him with possibly one of the worst sentence you could say to an Akamichi. "No one was talking to you, fat ass."

"Do you hear that?" Obito asked Kushina.

"Hear what?" Kushina giggles.

"It's the sound of someone fucking up." Obito trails off on the last word, as if he's getting farther away and sends Kushina into fits of laughter.

Chouji stills as Shikamaru and Kiba flinch in fear. Naruto, ecstatic with how things were looking to turn out, smiles widely like any proper kitsune would amongst mischief and murmurs, "Ah! Such a terrible word to say to Chouji!"

"He really is spending too much time with you." Tsunade murmurs, but it isn't unkind.

"Did you just call me—" Chouji rumbles, but again Sora sees fit to shove his foot further in his mouth.

"Fatass? Yes I did. I'd also like to add tub of lard, fatso, creampuff, wide load . . ." Sora rattles of names, grinning nastily at Chouji.

"Oh my God." Minato intones in a low voice. "He's lucky Chouji isn't as quick to act as his father Chouza."

Kushina snorts in agreement. "Otherwise Sora would be a pancake."

"That's it!" Chouji blows his top, and rushes Sora who makes to jump away but is caught by Akamaru's teeth in his pants leg. Kiba howls out and jumps into the fray, all three battling it out. Despite his eagerness to see Sora on the ground, Naruto must admit he's impressed with Sora's abilities to bypass both Inuzuka and Chouji, though the latter wasn't using his enlargement jutsu.

"This is fun right?" Naruto chirps, never looking away as he laughs for more.

"There's something wrong with you." Shikamaru informs him. Naruto gives the other a mocking grin and claps twice.

"I said it before and I'll say it again," Minato pauses, unable to stop the smile blooming on his face. "My son, as much as I love him, has a couple screws loose."

"Brilliant deduction detective. Tell me, how did you come to such a conclusion?" Shikamaru scoffs at the sarcasm but doesn't reply as the smell of cigarette smoke registers.

"Aren't you going to ask why we didn't join in?" He asks, and Asuma chuckles as he walks up to stand by the two chuunin.

"I can take a guess. For you, it'd be too troublesome. For Naruto . . . he's just happy watching people hit each other." Asuma explains.

"You make me sound like a juvenile." Naruto protests. "I don't like people hitting each other. I just find this particular fight, where people are indeed hitting each other, very amusing. Besides, don't they look like they're having fun?"

"Well . . . yeah but— and . . . how is that not the same thing?" Asuma enquires, taking a drag of the cigarette.

"Because at the end of the day, the point of this fight is that they're all idiots. And idiots amuse me. Don't they tickle your funny bone Asuma-oji?" Naruto demands eagerly, blue eyes wide and sparkling as he smiles beatifically at the Sarutobi.

". . . You're cracked in the head." Asuma decides.

"Jeez, you, Anko, and now Shikamaru . . . how could you three idiots ever have believed I was sane?" Naruto laments. "I must have done something wrong . . . I'll ask sensei when he gets back."

"True," Asuma allows. "I doubt anyone ever mistook Jiraiya-sama for a well-adjusted individual."

"Screw you brat, I've changed a couple of your diapers." Jiraiya grumbles. "I have pictures, aka blackmail."

"Yo, teach!" Genma waved his hand in the air, the other cupped around his beer where he sat at a table accompanied by Kakashi and Gai.

"Don't call me teach." Naruto smiles despite the snap, and takes a seat at the bar. Turning around he hollers at the bartender, "Yo, bartender! I'll take five bottles to start off!"

"Drowning your sorrows today?" The bartender asks casually.

"If I wanted to drown, I'd just get a pool of sake. Or Gamabunta." Naruto answered, the last one a thoughtful murmur.

"No one can hang with Gamabunta. I don't care if you're the Kyuubi jinchuuriki." Jiraiya denies.

Kakashi nods, humming in agreement. "Gamabunta-sama is indeed a heavy drinker. I don't think there's enough sake to cover him in Konoha."

"There ought to be now with two of the Sannin's heaviest drinkers around." Genma jokes, chugging his drink. "Mm, it's definitely a lot different than sake but beer has its own sort of charm!"

Naruto chuckles, and gets up to retrieve his sake bottles and a couple saucers. Coming back, he sets them all down and opens the first bottle, pouring out his drink. "So what's new fellas?"

Gai, of course, volunteers first. "HAHAHA! Naruto-kun, our most youthful companion Kakashi once again has bested me in our fiery race to the Valley and back! Despite my training, it seems that he has not forgotten his teachings from our glorious Yondaime-sama!"

"You damn well better not have lost to Gai." Minato jokes.

Kakashi grabs a bottle from Naruto and the extra saucer, before blinking and looking at Gai. "Did you say something Gai?"

Gai's head snaps back like he's possessed and the others flinch. "Gah! Just when I think you have reached the light of youth, your hip and cool attitude brings you back down Kakashi!"

Kakashi rubs at his ear with a grouchy expression. "My 'Springtime of Youth' has come and gone."

"You're only thirty Kakashi." Naruto chides, working on his fourth drink.

Genma notices this, and stares at Naruto with amused curiosity. "You're usually a lot more reserved with the drink Naruto. Tonight you're chugging it back like it's water. Something on your mind?"

"Oh I think I know." Kakashi informs Genma, ignoring Naruto's warning hiss. "You're a fox not a cat." He shoots at Naruto before explaining to Genma, "He and Katsu had a fight, and he got kicked out of the house."

Genma whistles. "Little girl kicked you out? What did you do kid?"

"Okay first of all," Naruto corrects with a glare to Kakashi. "I was not kicked out, she ran out the house first, and then I left the house so she could go back."

"So whatever happened was so bad that she abandoned her own place of residence, just to be away from you." Genma reorganizes his information. "Still pretty bad kid. Explain!"

"Okay Rin I want you to pay attention." Obito stops Kyuubi's reading to instruct the girl. "This is how you properly tell a story without the listeners drifting off or just tuning you out after fifteen minutes."

Rin scowls. "Obito, you have the attention span of a squirrel so I wouldn't talk if I were you."

"No thanks. I just want to drink in peace. Can I do that or will I have to go elsewhere?" Naruto growls.

"Talking helps." Kakashi reminds him lightly. "Go on— you tell us what happened and I'll tell you . . ."

"I'll tell you about Kakashi's first time!" Genma barges in, moving to shove Kakashi down on the table with both hands and leaning most of his body weight on the other.

"Why would he want to know about that?" Kakashi asks, dumbfounded.

"The fuck would I want to know that for?" Naruto asks Genma, mystified and disgusted.

"In other words," Genma continues like Naruto hadn't spoken as Kakashi struggles to heave him off. "I'll tell you about Kakashi's first seduction mission."

"PLEASE!" Rin and Obito squeal, starry-eyed.

Kakahsi, however, pales. "Oh no." After all, his first seduction mission had been just a month before they came here. He hopes dearly it won't be in the book.

"SOLD." Naruto slaps the table, but his excitement soon dies out as he finishes up the first bottle and grabs a second. Debating for a second, he moves the saucer aside and opens the bottle, taking a swig directly from it.

"Okay, so you know how it starts. The team comes back, one dead all injured and an extra jinchuuriki. By the way, where is Fuu?" Naruto asks.

"The Taki jinchuuriki right? Far as I know she's placed in a secure location until the higher-ups can see if Taki won't demand for her back, or to see if Akatsuki knows she's here and try to come after her. Plus there's paperwork for her to stay if Taki doesn't want her back, and finding a place for her . . . this process could take months so I'd be surprised if you saw her anytime soon." Kakashi answers, finally shoving Genma away.

"Fine. She comes out the hospital the next day and we just chill around the house. She wants to talk to her boss about taking time off but I don't want her leaving the house period. Not that I tell her that obviously . . . she knows what I'm going to ask so she asks me about my time here. Not as interesting as hers obviously, but she just brushes it off and says she doesn't want to talk about it. Fine? Not fine. I need to know what happened; I mean Tsunade's going to want me to look after Fuu so I need to know what happened so I don't fuck anything up. I guess how I asked ticked her off because she snaps at me like, 'don't talk about her like that.'

He takes a drink and sighs. "I don't know what she's snapping at me for, but whatever. I just want to know why she got herself involved with Fuu, and then got herself involved with fighting Akatsuki for Fuu. Her and those two girls, may Hitomi-san rest in peace, I can't really blame them because if Akatsuki was that easy to run from we wouldn't care about them. Still, why did she get involved with Fuu? For what reason did she choose that girl out of everyone else in Taki. It's nice she wanted to help, but it's not her concern, and neither was that girl's situation—"

"Well Naruto, when you're a decent human being with a soul, you actually care about others." Genma answers seriously.

"And funny, it's the decent folks that end up on the side of the road dead. I should know, I've killed a few of them." Kakashi pipes up, gallows humor in full swing.

"That is most unyouthful Genma-san, Kakashi." Gai scolds, quiet in respect for the story. "Continue Naruto."

"Thanks Gai-sensei. I'm just saying, you know . . . could she just not put herself in danger so much? Then she goes and says, you act like she's not important enough to help— I know." He assures them at their disbelieving faces. "She said that to one jinchuuriki about another. I definitely called her out on it, because I'm only concerned about her— no need to get snippy. She takes it as me thinking I consider her . . . how did she think I consider her . . . ? Sort of— like Sakura back in the Academy."

Kushina and Rin snort, amused at the comparison. "Pre-shinobi Sakura is in a class by herself." Rin giggles.

Gai clicks his tongue with a grin and wags a finger at Naruto. "You shouldn't be so disparaging about your teammate Naruto-kun! Don't let Kakashi's lack of youth taint you!"

"No, he's not wrong. On that note, no one would look at Katsu and compare her to pre-shinobi Sakura. That's just wrong. No one should be compared to pre-shinobi Sakura." Kakashi denies adamantly. "That's like the second circle of hell."

"Ouch, Kakashi." Minato reproves. "Be a little nicer huh?"

"Don't want to." Kakashi mutters mulishly.

"How much have you had to drink?" Genma laughs.

"You see more than five bottles here right? We're mowing through them." Naruto gestures to the extra ten bottles, the original five dry and looking to become six. "Okay, so I'm just like no I would never— I just can't stand the thought of her fighting some sadistic fuck who would put a spear through her shoulder— I know how much hits through the shoulders hurt! So she's angry now, and I have to admit so am I. She asks me where I get off for scolding her for doing the same thing I do— saving a friend. How the fuck, I ask you, do you become such good friends with someone in a week that you'll fight an S-rank missing nin for them? How? She very quickly responds with some bullshit about me taking a kunai for the grocer if I had a mind. Which is fucking stupid."

"Depends on who the grocer is huh?" Genma cackles.

"So I say to her, well since you had such an easy run-in with the last guy maybe you'd like to go hunting for another one. Which . . . thinking back on it is pretty fucked up. She accuses me then of just saying that to make her break down and prove me right— which admitting now what I said is fucked up, it's understandable she would go there. However I hadn't made the connection yet, so . . . she says this whole conversation is stupid. I can't believe she's just blowing this off! So I tell her I can't believe she's blowing this off after the Hyuuga girl died—"

"And we come to the crux of the problem." Jiraiya points out.

"Let me ask you something." Kakashi interrupts, raising a hand. "Is this the part where she slaps you and runs off?"

"Yeah?" Naruto answers, looking curiously at Kakashi.

Kakashi takes a breath. "Well, I think this will sink in a lot better if you listen to a few pieces of information. One— did Katsu say specifically that she and her guards intercepted the Akatsuki or just interfered in any way?"

"No . . . no, but why else would he focus in on two chuunin and a civilian?" Naruto points out.

"Well Naruto, it's kind of like asking why Itachi killed every single child in the Uchiha Massacre, of course with Sasuke as the exception. There is no logical reason other than they are fucking crazy. Let me give you two pieces of information. I'd like to inform you that I managed to get a few details of the mission briefing from the ANBU guarding Tsunade-sama that day, and they were ambushed. He had already killed seven Taki ninjas and was looking to add to the total." Kakashi informs him, eye stern and crinkled as it bore into Naruto's suddenly distressed blue eyes.

"So . . . they never tried to intercept . . . ?" Naruto trails off.

"Fuu was left behind at first, given the choice to come along. She wasn't with them when the man attacked." Kakashi finishes off.

"What's the other piece of information?" Naruto asked, voice suspiciously steady as he brought back the saucer and poured a decent amount.

"The second piece of information is an easy enough guess." Genma snorts. "So I'll let our most emphatic and youthful comrade here bring it home for you."

"Survivor's guilt— anyone can go through it. It's a shock for any civilian, when there are shinobi casualties on a mission they requested especially when they didn't suspect there would be opposition in the form of other shinobi." Gai explains, crossing his arms as he addresses Naruto. "I know for sure, Akane-san mourns for her teammate and feels guilt over her survival. Katsu-san most likely feels the same way, because she made friends with Fuu. The fact that you implied as such more than once does not help."

"To be fair, mistakes were also made by Katsu. Such as not properly explaining the attack, and being the one to take her anger out on Naruto first though we can understand why she did so. Naruto pushed too early and she pushed back too hard. Not to mention they were both hitting each other with low blows throughout." Tsunade recalls for them all, tapping a painted fingernail against her right knee.

"Why are we analyzing this? They had a fight— a big one. It happens people." Jiraiya scoffs.

"Like you weren't doing it too." Minato chuckles.

"Nor does the fact that I inadvertently accused of her of such with my last statement." Naruto concludes, voice flat and deadpan. "Gentleman I'll be right back."

Naruto gets up and walks out the bar. He turns and walks down the street, past closing shops and people going back to their homes for a quiet evening. He walks up to the Hokage Tower and doesn't stop as he walks up the wall. He goes up, ignoring the ANBU that glance at him then disappear again. Looking into the window he spies Tsunade sitting at her desk, just about to doze. He taps the window and Tsunade glances behind her shoulder at him, leaning back to open the window.

"I need your help." He says in lieu of a greeting as he moves into the room and in front the desk.

"I hope you're not asking for what I think you're asking." Tsunade titters.

"What do you need?" Tsunade asks, a little surprised by his flat voice and dead expression.

"My girlfriend thinks I'm accusing her for being responsible for the death of Hyuuga Hitomi, which I might have done but I'm still not sure. Hit me." Naruto requests, arms spread wide and open to accept his punishment.

"That's a bit farther than necessary for some redemption." Jiraiya hedges.

Without a word Tsunade gets up, rears back, and her arm snaps forward— her fist burying into Naruto's face for a second before it is forced to turn from the amount of force pressed against it and his body follows after the force. Tsunade's fist is left hanging in the air after Naruto's face makes a short flight into the wall behind them, his head first making a cracking sound like a thunderclap and then his body following with the rumbling of a falling boulder.

"Tsunade!" Kushina snaps, and despite herself Tsunade flinches from the wrath the venomous tone promises. "You couldn't have held back a little?!"

"He's not a child anymore." Tsunade retorts. "He's practically a man, and just love taps and reprimanding words won't cut it anymore. I won't disrespect him by going easier on him than on anyone else."

Naruto slides down the wall and a hand gingerly comes up to his jaw, which he thinks is broken.

Oh it is . . . give me fifteen minutes and I'll have it healed. Kurama reports.

Thanks Kurama, Naruto replies gratefully.

Tsunade cracks her knuckles and walks around the desk, up to him. Crouching, she presses a softly glowing hand to his jaw and adds her own healing to Kurama's. "Feeling better?"

Words were out of the question at the moment so he just gave her his best deadpan. Tsunade nods and says, "Understandable. Of course, I know that inadvertently blaming that girl wasn't your intention. But Naruto, you really ought to watch your words carefully."

Naruto's eyes widen and his brow dips as he tries to form his best protesting face. "You can smooth talk a politician but you won't give your girlfriend the same courtesy— let me finish!" Tsunade glares at him until the tension in his body fades. "You haven't forgiven her for taking that blow to the stomach almost three years ago. You haven't forgiven her for dying. So being in a situation again that could have ended with her dying like that time made you antsy, and it made you want to blame someone, but someone who could take the fallout now."

Tsunade removes her hand from his jaw, now satisfied that it's healed well. Naruto moves his jaw around experimentally and gives a satisfied grunt when it's all in working order. "You're not wrong . . . but that's not the only reason. In fact, it's a small part." He rumbles, slowly rising up. Tsunade follows suit and crosses her arms.

"Oh yeah? What's the other reason?" Tsunade asks.

"I was just jealous." Naruto replies simply. When Tsunade says nothing, just stares at him confounded, he smiles and pecks her cheek. "Thanks Nade. See you later!"

"Just like Jiraiya." Tsunade hums, chuckling.

Jiraiya, seeing the curious looks, chuckles and expands. "Every hit I just get up and smile happily for more."

He leaves through the window, and walks back at the same controlled pace he had before. Twelve minutes have passed since he left the others at the bar, and when he takes his seat again they stare at him curiously.

"What was that about?" Kakashi asks.

Naruto shrugs. "I just asked Nade to hit me."

"You're still alive . . . she went soft on you?" Genma assumes.

"Oh no, she broke my jaw. Then she healed it back." Naruto answers.

"Makes sense." Gai concludes. With a grin, and a consolatory pat on Naruto's back he rises from his seat. "Worry not young Naruto-kun! All will be well in time so long as you keep youthful! I must be off now— staying up too late can dull the flames of youth! YOSH!" And then he was gone in a gust of wind and a fleeting green blur.

"I don't know about you guys . . . but I feel like getting drunk." Genma states, plucking a bottle from Naruto's pile and uncorking it. "Who's with me?"

"Naruto," Kushina warns.

"Ah leave the kid be, he deserves some downtime." Obito cajoles.

"Why the hell not." Naruto and Kakashi answer in unison, twin shrugs making Genma laugh. He orders up twenty bottles, but unbeknownst to Naruto, he and Kakashi coerce the bartender to make ten of them his most lethal concoctions. Naruto would definitely be getting drunk tonight.

Pretty star, pretty flower— who the fuck is that guy . . . ?

"Who . . . ?" Rin trails off.

Meh. Drink.

Pretty stone, weird hair, a CAT— TORA?! Oh. No. Regular cat.

"Naruto . . ." Kushina groans, hitting Minato on the shoulder for the man's hysterical laughter. "You should be more responsible!"


Ooh! What is that strange metallic stick with a bright light at the top?! The light . . . makes him want to stop.

Obito guffaws. "He doesn't remember what a lamp post is?!"

Stopping means letting the alcohol do its job wrecking his balance. Wrecked balance means leaning against the stick with the light on top. It's cold . . . he doesn't like cold. Keep moving then!

Dri— aw. No more drink. With a shrug, Naruto chucks the bottle, only luck letting it hit the trash can a few feet away.

Naruto moves from the light pole and stumbles slowly in a circle, looking and thinking and wondering . . . what to do? The night was still so young! Truthfully it wasn't, it was three in the morning, but Naruto lost the meaning of time sometime around the eighth bottle of whatever death syrup was in those bottles Genma insisted he try. Well, Genma didn't have to insist so much after the second bottle, and at the fourth stopped insisting altogether because Naruto was more than capable of destroying his liver without guidance or peer pressure thank you very much.

Minato clicks his tongue. "This might be a problem . . . honestly Naruto, getting stone drunk right after an attack on a jinchuuriki so close to you!"

Humming happily, warm and drunk beyond belief, life was looking good for Naruto. But where to go?

What to do? Where did Kashi and Bon-Bon go?

Obito snorts. "Kashi . . ."

"Bon-Bon?" Rin repeats, faintly amused. "For those senbon then?"

Naruto pouts. "Bored~" he whines aloud, head tilting back to look at the moon. Tilting his head back leads to remembering his balance is shot to hell, thus the unfortunate consequence of him falling backwards with a thump.

"Ow." He giggles, still looking at the moon. It's golden tonight. Pretty moon. Tsuki . . . is glowing brightly in the dark sky. It was almost black, the sky.

Huh. Black and gold.

Kuro and . . . and Kin?

No. Kuro . . . and K- something . . .

Kuro Karp. No, no . . .

Obito and Minato are in fits together as Jiraiya booms with laughter. "Drunk Naruto is hilarious!"

"He's drinking this time around too," Minato gasps. "I can't just let this die!"

"Minato! Hell no!" Kushina snaps.

Naruto shoots up, beaming. "Hime!" he sings triumphantly, the mental picture of his orange-haired girlfriend popping up. Gathering his feet under him he rises unsteadily and totters off to find Kurohime. Yes, what a grand idea! Surely his hime would know what to do to pass the time! What else would she be doing at this time anyway?

"Naruto!" Tsunade cries in exasperation, slapping her hands to her face.

Sleeping did not occur to him.

Which leads to Katsu being awoken by the loud, very loud and slightly slurred warbling of a drunken sixteen year-old. "Hiiiiiiimmmmmeeeee! Oooh HIIIIII— hic— MMMMEE!"

"God it's like straight out of my memory!" Tsunade shakes her head, smile small yet fond.

Katsu blinks in the darkness, something like disorientation passing her briefly and annoyance crashing in its wake. Turning her head she verifies that yes, it is four in the morning and it does indeed sound like Naruto is making a drunken house call. She could ignore him—

"H-Hey! Whatcha doing? I'm bored~! Ooh! Let's play Monopoly!" Naruto laughs delightedly.

Who the hell can ignore that? With dark, muttered curses flying in her wake she storms down the hallway, down the steps, and nearly breaks the door handle getting outside. Slamming the door shut behind her, a red-eyed and groggy Katsu levels a lethal glare at a flushed, giggling Naruto.

Naruto hiccups once, then glomps her with an affectionate nuzzle. "Hello~" he trills.

"Naruto, do you have any idea what time it is?" Katsu growls, pushing the boy back to lean him against the porch railing. He was too heavy to let lean against her for very long.

"No." Naruto answers honestly, head shaking emphatically. "Is it . . . no. I don't know." He pauses, expression turning distant and dreamy. Katsu watches him critically, and in a few moments the expression vanishes off his face as if it were never there to begin with, and he smiles innocently at her. "Why are your eyes red?"

"Because you woke me up." Katsu grumbles, flopping against the wall.

"I did?" Naruto cocks his head to the side, pointing at himself. "You were sleeping?"

"It's normally what people are doing at four in the morning." Katsu explains testily, anger growing as Naruto merely laughs and his knees bang against the railing. "Why are you here?"

Naruto's dazed blue eyes look at her with surprise that only adds to the drinking shine, and then shrugs. "I don't know." He admits. "I just was bored, and then I was looking at the moon and its gold— so you popped up in my head!" he finishes proudly.

"He's an adorable drunk." Rin coos.

"Nothing about drunks are adorable." Minato and Tsunade chorus, deadpan looks matching.

"Oh joy." Katsu deadpans, head rolling to look at Naruto. She then notices a frown on his face. A frown of disappointment. "What—"

"I came here to see you. I wanted to see you." Naruto informs her, speaking slowly so that his words were clear and steady.

"Okay . . . ?" Katsu hesitates, and Naruto snorts mirthlessly.

"You don't care huh? I figured that." He chuckles.

Katsu's brow crinkles with the fierce glare she gives him. "What does that mean?"

"Why did you decide to go to Taki?" Naruto asks instead, and Katsu pauses for a moment to get back on track from the sudden switch.

Kyuubi pauses. "Hm— so he needed to be drunk to get it off his chest."

"Koizumi-san chose me to go to Taki." Katsu answers carefully.

"No she didn't." Naruto shook his head, a pronounced pout on his face as he glared at her with dazed eyes. "She chose you . . . and you had to choose where to go. So why Taki?"

"I . . . I asked Kurama-san about where I should go . . . and he said Taki would be the best bet, since it was close to Konoha and an ally." Katsu reveals weakly, hands bracing her against the wall behind her back.

Naruto's pout grew sullen and he looked down with a dirty glare to the floor. ". . . Kurama huh? How come you never asked me?"

"W-what?" Naruto looks up at her morosely, and he sighs gustily.

"You didn't ask me!" he insists. "How come my opinion wasn't important like Kurama's huh? How . . . how come! How come you didn't bother to ask what I thought? You never do anymore . . . it's like we're separated now."

"What on earth is he talking about?" Rin asks, looking around.

"Hush, you're about to learn something." Jiraiya shushes her.

"Well . . . you were busy." Katsu stammers out. "Weren't you?"

"Since when have I been too busy to talk to you?" Naruto whines, slouching over to her and leaning against the wall next to Katsu.

"You've been so busy fighting Akatsuki . . . and getting stronger. I didn't want to bother you." Katsu explains gently.

"No. You just don't care about what I have to say." Naruto shoots back petulantly, a strained fist hitting the wall between them, and Katsu bites back a gasp. "You'll talk to everybody else— to Anko, and Hinata, Kurama . . . but not me!"

"T-that's not true." Katsu denies, tears welling up.

"It is too." Naruto isn't looking her way, but he continues on viciously. "Ever since I came back, you don't talk to me anymore. Oh sure, you'll ask about my day but you don't care like you used to. You don't ask me how things are going, or bugging me about something cool you heard you want to see me do— not like you used to!" He suddenly deflated, heat leaving his voice and returning to an almost childish tone, slur coming back. "I guess you got bored of playing ninja."

"I'm sure that's not true. She's been interested in your missions, and she never tires of you." Kakashi murmurs softly.

"Like you weren't bored of listening to me talk about cakes!" Katsu snaps waspishly tears dripping down her cheeks. "How could you ever be interested in hearing me talk about being a waitress, or how many plates Hanako broke from clumsiness or hangover? You can't tell me my boring life, compared to all that you're doing, was the least bit interesting to you!"

"Why wouldn't it be? Talking about the things you love, the things you enjoy . . . if someone loved you, wouldn't that be enough for them?" Minato counters quietly.

"It was." The blunt admission stole the wind out of her sails. "I loved hearing you talk. About anything, and nothing, and all that in between. I love hearing about a new recipe you want to try, and asking me to taste test it. I love hearing about your alcoholic, psychopath, criminal, hyper friends— that's something we definitely have in common. I was always thinking . . . how you could pay attention when I started rambling about fuuinjutsu in terms even I could barely understand because I just read them. Or why you liked hearing about my missions— even the D-ranked ones. How can you be interested in hearing me complain and whine about stab wounds and outdoor bathrooms or just about everything about shinobi in general?"

The answer to that was just as simple to Katsu as it was to Naruto. "I just was." She replies simply, wiping furiously at her cheeks and sniffling. "I guess we . . ." she stops when a body suddenly slumps against her, and in her surprise gravity pulls them both to the ground, the smaller one falling with an 'oomph.'

Struggling back up, Katsu groans when she realizes that Naruto passed out on top of her, and was quietly snoring away. "I didn't even think you could pass out drunk." She thinks aloud.

A puff of smoke next to them revealed Kurama, looking down at the two teens with amusement. "I didn't think so either." He agrees, leaning down to haul Naruto up onto his shoulder with one hand, the blonde-haired teen limp and carried much like a sack of potatoes. "Sorry about that. But at least you two talked."

"You call that talking?" Kushina looks skeptically at Kurama.

"You call that talking?" Katsu murmurs, getting up and brushing any dust or dirt off.

"I call it progress." Kurama responds simply.

Katsu chuckles shortly, opening the door to the house and waving him forward. "Come on, let's get him in a bed."

"You're letting him stay here?" Kurama asks curiously, stepping inside. Though he sounds surprised he's already heading up the stairs with Katsu in tow, walking deliberately towards Naruto's old room before their sleepovers were a permanent routine.

"I'm not leaving you both to the night. God knows what you'll do Kurama-san." Katsu mutters, though there isn't a single accusation in her voice. Accusations means plausible doubt. Kurama's prankster-mean streak is undoubtedly fact.

Tsunade cuts her eyes to Kyuubi. "You wouldn't really do anything?"

Kyuubi grins. "Though I care for the kid, not even affection will stop me from having a little fun. Besides, I get him so rarely he shouldn't complain!"

"Clever girl." Kurama purrs, gently depositing Naruto on the bed, Katsu taking off his shoes. Keeping the door only slightly open, both ventured downstairs as Kurama made to go out into the night.

"Aren't you tired?" Katsu asks him, and Kuama turns with a grin.

"Sleep isn't as necessary for me as it is for you. No— I have something to investigate. Naruto will find me by morning however. What are you going to do about him?"

"Well I'll leave him some painkillers." Katsu shrugs, but pays close attention when Kurama taps her nose.

"No . . . what are you going to do about him?" he asks again, and Katsu seems to curl in on herself.

"I didn't realize . . ." she whispers. "We were so far apart. I don't know what to do."

The room, strangely enough, is so familiar he is confused. These aren't the walls he had been growing accustomed to seeing every morning, but the walls he had always seen for most of his life. It was actually his room. His room, in his— theirher house.

Not to mention he has a splitting headache. He felt almost as bad as when he partied in Crescent Moon kingdom. How much did he drink last night?

"The better question is, what did you drink last night? I've never seen you just drop out like that." A familiar, deep chuckle reverberates in his skull where the angry hangover bees buzz threateningly.

"Bees . . . how accurate." Minato muses.

"More like oxen to me." Tsunade adds.

A garbled groan is Kurama's response as Naruto buries his head in the pillow.

"Do you know where you are?" Kurama asks gently, leaning against the doorway with a smirk.

"Yes." the muffled reply.

"Do you know why you are here?"

". . . No."

"Do you have an inkling?" Kurama persists shrewdly.

"Yes." Naruto admits with such shame Kurama has to cough to cover a laugh.

"Would you care to enlighten me?" Kurama prods.

". . ." Naruto's ruffled head shifts and one bleary blue eye peeks up at the scarlet demon. "Did I . . . come here stupidly drunk?"

"Yes you did." Kurama agrees. "Do you remember what you did?"

"I did something?" Naruto shot up, too fast if the sudden desire to hurl was any indication. Tripping and scrambling to the bathroom with the laughter of a demon following him, Naruto empties his liquid sins in the toilet with a ferocity he sorely wished he could help. Panting and drained, he groans and flushes the toilet. "Kurama what did I do?"

"You drank too much." Obito pipes up.

"Thank you Obito, for that astute observation." Kyuubi drawls.

"Nothing bad." Kurama assures him, then stops. "Well— you did make her cry."

"Never have I been more aware of the fact that you're a demon than I am now." Naruto deadpanned, getting up to rinse his mouth. "What happened last night?"

"Well . . . you finally started talking." Kurama admits. "It'll come back to you— I'll help. For now though, you need to go find Sora and Asuma. Sakura sent you a message saying the two would be working on wind training involving weapons and Asuma would like you there to help Sora when he leaves."

Naruto groans, head pounding just at the thought of spending prolonged amounts of time with the abrasive, loud Sora. Add clashing metal weapons and wind jutsu with his depleted patience, and it was just asking for trouble. Nonetheless, he would do it just because he was a sucker. "Okay . . . did she say when I have to be there?"

"As soon as you can." Kurama replies, and then disappears in a puff of smoke.

Naruto can do nothing but shake his head and turn on the tap. Cupping his hands he lets the water fill and then splashes it on his face, the momentary sensation of blissful cool fading almost immediately after and making him repeat over and over for some sort of lasting feeling. Nothing really stays except for the headache so he turns off the tap and looks at his soaking face in the mirror.

"Never again." He mumbles. "I'm never drinking with Genma and Kakashi again."

"We all know that's a lie." Everyone joins in, laughing at each other.

"And I never got to hear about Kakashi's first seduction mission!"

"Good, that's very good." Kakashi mutters quickly, nervously looking at the others with their smirking faces and downright evil expressions.

Kurama's ghostly chuckle echoes in his mind before all is silent. Huffing, Naruto gets ready for the day at a glacial pace, just hoping to prolong doing anything of importance while he still felt so shitty. Of course, he knew his state was entirely his own fault and that with his advanced healing the pounding would soon pass. Didn't make it any easier though.

Tugging at his chuunin vest and running a hand through his hair in a makeshift comb, Naruto troops down the steps and walks into the kitchen for a glass of orange juice. What he gets instead is a glass of water and some painkillers. Naruto stops in his tracks, looking quizzically at the blessed items as if they were a mirage. He slowly reaches out a hand and touches the pills. They were tangible.

"Ah . . . how nostalgic. Those first . . . fifty hangovers." Tsunade muses, her and Jiraiya sharing amused glances.

With an excited smile Naruto swallows them dry and chases the pills down with the glass of water. Sighing gratefully he sends a mental thank you to Kurama.

It wasn't me, Kurama laughs.

Naruto stills momentarily, and then nods with a fond smile and leaves the house knowing Asuma would have chosen Team Ten's old training grounds.

He was right, upon arriving there Asuma was leaning against a tree and Sora was making deep yet unclean cuts into his trees with . . . a triple bladed claw?

"Oh, now that's interesting." Naruto announces himself like this, Asuma and Sora glancing at him.

"Ah, Naruto," Asuma greets him with a lazy salute and a smile. "I was just telling Sora about your own claw blades. Mind showing them off?"

"I'd never miss an opportunity to show off." Naruto grins, and with a flare of chakra his claws appear fitted and ready on his hands. He reveled in the widened eyes of Sora, before the monk caught himself gawking and scowled ferociously. "Shouldn't he be starting off on kunai first?"

"He did the other day when you went gallivanting off for more amusement. I gave him this blade claw today, and let him have some fun." Asuma answers. "Mind helping me out with that?"

"You telling me that this weak looking guy can add wind chakra to his blades?" Sora scoffs.

"Weak looking?" Rin mutters with a scrunched up nose. "You're wearing monk robes, you don't exactly scream danger."

Naruto only smiles pleasantly, a barely visible vortex swirling around his claw blades as he casually paws at the air in Sora's direction. Sora only feels a harsh gust of wind, almost stinging and a harsh cracking sound right next to him. He flinches, and after a moment looks over to his left, where the tree has a large slab of wood cut right out of it, and so have the next two trees behind it.

"I'm highly proficient in the art, yes." Naruto responds, cold blue eyes smiling at Sora. It's the first time Sora realizes that his pupils are slit like a demon's, and that Naruto has canines sharper than any human should.

"Man, I'll bet he looks twice as badass as me." Minato pouts, clearly envious. "I want sharp canines too."

The morning rush wasn't close to dying even as it approached noon which would mean a packed lunch hour rush. Great for their wallets, very bad for their backs. "Katsu, we've got a takeout order!" The cook calls to her firmly, and Katsu quickly steps forward.

"So where am I heading?" She asks, taking the cream and blue striped box carefully in her hands, grasping the handles of the bag.

"To the Jounin lounge, why do you think I called you?" The man returns with an amused grin.

"Ooh, Kakashi . . ." Katsu growls. The man just loved to bother her!

"Don't flatter yourself." Kakashi scoffs, but the glint in his eye is too obvious. "I just love sweets!"

"Try not to ruin them too obviously?" Was all the cook asked of her before turning and dismissing her to deal with the other orders. Katsu as well turns with a quick bye over her shoulder, pace leisurely and slow— Kakashi probably had some prior engagement that he wanted to be late to, hence calling her for lunch so she might as well play along. Besides, the later he was the angrier the person would be, and she was hoping some brave soul would be so fed up with Kakashi he or she would forget his crimson reputation and go for the throat.

"Only in our dreams darling girl." Obito sighs regretfully.

A girl could dream.

It was just about lunch time, so she was the slow minority as others bustled around her, hustling to lunch and perhaps quickly back to work. From the corner of her eye, she could count two ANBU hiding. There were more, many more than that patrolling but it was all she could pick up now and that was only because she remembered them peaking in on her and Naruto on a date. Ah, she recalled the story of their punishment fondly . . .

Remembering that made her shoulders hunch and her bottom lip stick out just slightly. She did pay attention— she was always interested in Naruto's stories because they were so fascinating! It might have just been the alcohol . . . but the alcohol also made you speak the truth.

"Man," she mumbled, hand rising up to rub at her temples. "He gives me such a headache. And the grave visit is coming up, are we going together . . . Ah . . . !" she growls, scrubbing at her hair with frustration and earning a few odd looks.

A cheery voice knocks her out of her thoughts. "You should smile; it's a great day today!" Katsu's head snaps up and she smiles at her old friend Momo who pauses to talk to her.

"Momo! Where are you going?" Katsu asks, looking the girl over. It seemed she was still working at the old tea shop but Haruhi-san seems to have calmed down— either that or her nephew had completely taken over the business as opposed to her niece.

"Ooh, old background characters . . . is it worth it to dig them up from my memory?" Obito chuckles.

"Delivery, same as you. So hop to it!" Momo orders in mock sternness, then picking her pace up again and jogging away. "Smile~" she reminds Katsu.

Katsu laughs and walks forward again, still looking over her shoulder to wave goodbye to Momo. "I will!"

Giggling, she turns to face the street again and then realizes that there is no street— she's looking straight at someone's arm and—

"I'm sorry sir!" Katsu gasps when she walks right into the man. She catches a glimpse of blue hair and brown eyes that widen with something like fear, and then narrow in anger as the man shoves her roughly away with the arm she'd bumped into as if she was so repugnant he had to move quickly. Katsu drops the box of takeout as she flies to the ground, head making a harsh sound upon connecting with the ground.

"Hey!" Kushina snaps, eye blazing. "Sora!"

"He is not making very good impressions around the village. What is his deal?" Jiraiya scoffs.

"Ouch!" Katsu whines, hands reaching up to press down on the back of her head, hoping to alleviate the ache. Around them, people stop and murmur, making Sora's fists clench and his jaw tighten. "You didn't have to push me that hard!" she snaps, glaring up with teary eyes.

"If you didn't want the attention, you shouldn't have overreacted so badly." Kakashi sniffs.

The blue haired boy, she can tell he's not much older than her seeing his face now, sneers and says rudely, "Then you shouldn't have run into me you carroty runt."

"Carrot—!" Katsu cuts herself off and rises to her knees, bringing the takeout box closer to her. Her eyes flare with murderous anger and she trembles, forcing herself not to jump on him and beat him senseless. "Why you—"

"Ah . . . she's a carrot, while I'm tomato." Kushina realizes, a bead of sweat dropping down the side of her face. "Is it a Namikaze thing to be attracted to vegetables?"

"What?" Minato snorts.

Sora smirks as she suddenly falls silent, unaware she only did so because a very angry looking Naruto was right behind him. "Apologize wen—" BAM!

Naruto's leg lifts nearly ninety degrees and then slams down on top of Sora's head sending the boy crashing into the ground with a heavy smack. Sora groans in pain as Naruto almost carelessly stomps his foot down on Sora's back just between his shoulder blades.

"This is what happens sir, when you fuck up." Obito sighs as if it's truly a shame, even offering a shrug.

"Hey Sora?" Naruto prompts the boy to listen. Sora returns some garbled sound of recognition and perhaps insult, judging by the vehemence.

"That's my girlfriend you just pushed to the ground. You, maybe, want to say sorry to her?" Naruto suggests as if it's totally up to Sora.

Sora lifts his face, smeared with the dirt he'd just eaten after that kick and snarls, "Why should I when she—"

Naruto twists his foot and digs in deeper, making Sora's words morph into sounds of extreme discomfort. "Wrong answer. Do you want to say sorry?"

Sora's jaw clenches and Naruto knows some extra measures must be taken. Carefully, building up, Naruto flares his fire natured chakra on the soles of his feet. Sora's eyes widen as he starts to feel his back get warmer and warmer, and squirms even more to get out from under Naruto's foot.

"Careful, I doubt you've tried anything like this before. You must set a limit." Kyuubi murmurs cautiously.

"Will you say sorry now?" Naruto persists, voice a little lower and colder.

"Naruto stop, his back is smoking!" Katsu whimpers, and an alarmed snarl leaves Sora's mouth as his back does indeed feel very hot. He can smell something burning and he doesn't want it to be him!

"Naruto," Minato hums in censure, part of him proud that his boy stands up for his precious person and another part of him disapproving in the mean tactic against a guest of Konoha.

"Alright I'm sorry! I'm sorry— now let me go!" Sora shouts. Naruto obliges him accordingly, lifting his foot. Sora darts away and up, patting at his back as he looks over his shoulder with a scathing glare to Naruto. Leaping away on the rooftops he soon leaves their sight, and then only Naruto and Katsu stand stationary as the watchful crowd begins to move again. Suddenly realizing that Sora had just left on his own, Naruto creates a Kage Bushin to follow the other male back to the training grounds.

Naruto and Katsu stand side by side, looking in the direction Sora had escaped. They are silent for a moment before they both start laughing quietly. "His back wasn't smoking. My foot wasn't hot enough for that." Naruto states accusingly.

Katsu allows a small smile to lift her lips, snickering. "But did you see the look on his face when I said it was?"

"Oh so she played along?" Rin gasps, giggling lightly.

Naruto sniggers in response. "Oh my God, and that squeak he made . . ." They both snort, laughing even harder. "Ah . . ." Naruto wipes a tear from his eye. "That's my girl."

The statement, usually innocuous, just reminds them of the previous tension and stifles the amusement. The two teens now shift awkwardly— Naruto rubbing sheepishly at the back of his head as he looks at the sky, and Katsu wrapping an arm around her waist as she bites her lip nervously.

"Look, I . . ." They both start, and then stop with awkward laughter as they realize they were copying each other.

Minato catches the looks Jiraiya and Tsunade are sending him and Kushina, and frowns. "What, we weren't awkward like that."

"Yeah mainly because Kushina's default awkward setting is violence." Tsunade reminds him.

"And yours is to just scare the other person with intensity." Jiraiya chuckles. "Either way it all works out to be the same thing. Ah, teenagers."

"You first." Naruto offers.

"No, you." Katsu tosses back.

"No, no— what do you want to say." Naruto insists, and Katsu relents with a roll of her eyes.

"Do you . . . want to come back home? It's not just my house you know. Obaa-chan left it for the both of us." Katsu blurts out.

"I . . ." Naruto pauses, surprised she would ask that. "Yeah, I . . . I do want to come home. But um, before we make any permanent decisions I— I think we need to talk. About a lot of things."

"Yeah." Katsu murmurs in agreement. "So, um . . . I'll see you tonight?"

"Yeah! Yeah of course!" Naruto assures her, and they awkwardly shuffle around each other as both go in opposite directions. "So, um . . . later."

"Yeah," Katsu clears her throat. "Later." And she walks off feeling a little strange, uncaring that she's going to be an hour late to give Kakashi his food.

"What the hell am I paying you for?" Kakashi growls.

"Aw fuck yeah I'm back!" Naruto whoops, taking to the rooftops to go relieve his clone of guard duty.

The group laughs at his enthusiasm, particularly interested in the choice of words. "Ah relationships . . . they make you go crazy." Jiraiya recalls fondly.

"I find it hard to equate you with stable, long-tern relationships." Tsunade snorts.

"No one said anything about long-term clingy woman." Jiraiya retorts with a smirk.

God, I used to be like you once upon a time . . . Kurama murmurs more to himself, amazed and slightly amused.

Kyuubi chuckles. "Yes, very long ago when I was a young boy . . ."

"Shut up Rama, I'm in a good mood and nothing can stop it!" Naruto declares. Halfway through his third jump he got the memories of his clone as it was forcefully dispelled by a wind attack from Sora. He knew it wasn't intentional on Sora's part when he remembered Sora's alarmed eyes being the last thing the clone saw. Still . . .

"What the hell was that all about?" Naruto snaps, frowning at the dark and angry words of Sora. Just when he thought the kid was making some progress, and coming to like Konoha!

I thought you said nothing would bring down your good mood? Kurama teases, but Naruto brushes him off as he debates what to do. Sora probably wouldn't be there anymore, and the thought of tracking him down wasn't all that appealing. Sora wasn't some criminal or refugee that needed constant watching— he was a Fire Country monk, and he could take care of himself. Plus, with the mood he was in company was probably ill-advised. So now what?

Naruto . . . something in Kurama's tone has him listen attentively, hopping down to the ground and walking through a nearly empty street.

Yeah Kurama?

About Sora . . . I found something interesting. There was something familiar about his chakra when I sensed it. Something very familiar. I investigated him whilst you slept off your fun last night—


Listen to me child. That something familiar is . . . my chakra.

"You lost me there." Obito admits.

"I'm no better." Minato agrees. "It shouldn't be possible . . ."

Naruto stumbles, stunned. Your chakra? What are you talking about? No human can have your chakra inside them without having you in them, and properly sealed— no offense— otherwise they're dead!

Not necessarily child, don't mistake it now. Yes, when someone is hit with my chakra then they are hurt badly. But there was the case of the brothers from Kumo, the Gold and Silver brothers who I ate once upon a time . . . they ate my stomach until I spat them back out, and from then on their chakra was always a little bit different.

"Whoa, so that story is true!" Minato breathes.

"Ah . . . I remember that. The worst case of indigestion I ever read." Kyuubi laughs darkly, now able to look back on it and laugh after so many years.

Stronger, hardier. This child Sora . . . somehow, he has some of my chakra. I can't say how much for certain . . . a lot of chakra was being thrown around the last time I was out. But that's where the true mystery is! How did someone take my chakra and seal it in that boy? What happened there exactly?

Naruto mulls over this, silent. You think he knows?

Doubtful. A jinchuuriki never knows until they either meet the bijuu or are told of it. Like you for instance, you weren't aware until you stumbled upon your mindscape. Kurama answers immediately.

"Which is just ridiculous. So the person who is most affected by it has no idea why they are treated differently until the ones who know of the secret see fit to reveal it. How is it up to someone else's discretion to inform the jinchuuriki of a life-changing secret?" Obito takes a deep breath, stopping his rant mid-flow.

"True." Kushina smirks humorlessly. "The job ought to come with a warning label and discretion advisory. Then again, there isn't much of a choice . . . ever."

"Preaching to the choir." Kyuubi chortles.

"Jeez!" Naruto sighs gruffly, shaking his head. "Of all the things . . . so what is he, a sort-of jinchuuriki then?"

Let's go with pseudo-jinchuuriki, Kurama supplies.

Naruto smirks. You don't sound happy about this.

Some punk is gallivanting around with my power, and he doesn't understand just what a boon he's been granted! The injustice— you're either my jinchuuriki or you're not at all! And to think, some brat is walking around with a bit of my power, sort of being a jinchuuriki . . . it's my pride that feels it.

"Pride is your downfall Kyuubi." Tsunade lectures.

Kyuubi, rather than snapping back as he is prone or expected to, instead becomes somber and dark. A shadow passes his scarlet eyes as he rumbles, "I learned that many years ago Senju . . . it's a recurring lesson for me."

"Oh Kurama," Naruto chuckles, walking on. "Well now what to do . . . what to do . . . ah."

You feel that too?

Your chakra . . . somewhere else. Naruto agrees. So if it's Sora who's using some of Kurama's power then the boy is in distress somewhere. Naruto lifts his head and looks around, leaping off in the direction of where the volatile chakra was coming from. It was his first time feeling Kurama's chakra as a bystander rather than as the giver. It felt thick and choked, very . . . dark.

I was quite addled that night, really . . . that story is better left for someone else to tell you though. Better credibility. Kurama hedges.

"Interesting adjective. Addled? As in, you went crazy for a while there." Jiraiya deduces.

"We're both looking forward to that story." Kyuubi assures him.

Well, so long as Kurama really wasn't like that it didn't matter. As Naruto ventures closer to the middle of the village, closer to the Hokage Tower he can see a plume of dust and smoke travel up from close to the Tower. Where Sora was flaring the Kyuubi chakra inside him. It flashed on and off like a faulty light, before shining brightly.

Naruto picked up his pace, getting closer and closer to see that a section of the Tower had a large hole blasted through it. Standing amongst the rubble was a panting Asuma, and on the ground was . . . Sora?

"What the hell . . . ?" Naruto mutters in confusion. Asuma wasn't scratched up, but his chakra blade was out . . . Sora was the one looking bruised. It was then that Naruto noticed Sora's right arm, the one usually covered in bandages. It wasn't a human arm, not covered in red scaly skin and clawed as it was. It was even larger than his other arm, like something a demon might have.

Well aren't you glad for your whisker marks? Kurama chuckles darkly. Much less noticeable than a demon arm.

"That's the effect of the Kyuubi's chakra on him?" Rin asks curiously.

"When improperly sealed, any number of things could happen. A demon arm is tame, believe me." Kyuubi answers.

Oh hush. Naruto chides. A new chakra enters the field and he looks over to see a figure garbed in a black cloak and a mask covering his face. At first he takes it to be ANBU but there's something off and then the figure is flinging shuriken at Sora and the only thing Naruto can think is, oh no.

"Please don't do something stupid like, take the shuriken in the back or something."

Jutsu, use jutsu idiot! Kurama barks, stopping is host from hurtling into the role of a meat shield.

"Thank you Kyuubi." Kushina looks gratefully at the demon who grins fiendishly back.

Which is why he overpowers a wind jutsu and not only flings the shuriken away into the darkness of the blasted hole but also knocks Asuma off his feet and makes Sora flinch. "Sorry!" he calls.

He lands in front of Sora, looking down at the boy and offering him a hand up. "You alright?" he asks Sora, who knocks his hand away and stands on his own.

"I was fine! Don't interfere." Sora snaps.

"Fine, next time I'll let you get shredded." Naruto grins, and Sora only scowls harder. However, he looks away and adds almost morosely, "you didn't have to . . ."

"I think that's the sound of . . . Progress!" Naruto gasps. He laughs when Sora growls angrily.

"Naruto!" Tsunade calls, and he looks over to see her, Shizune and Yamato walking towards them.

"Are we having a group spar? Why didn't you invite me?" Naruto whines.

"For obvious reasons you nut." Tsunade giggles.

"This is no joke idiot." Sora growls, now glaring at Asuma. "You . . ." he snarls at the man. "You abandoned your comrades, stabbed my father in the back. Now, I will have my revenge!"

"Whoa," Obito breaths, hands held out in a motion for calm. "Calm down."

Sora rushes at Asuma, Naruto left gaping at the sudden change and what the hell is happening—

A great rush of wind makes them all cover their faces and brace themselves. It ends as quickly as it begins, and leaves them one member short.

Sora is gone.

"Sora . . ." Asuma mutters, looking down at the ground.

"What the hell is going on?" Naruto demands.

"It's a long story." Tsunade sighs exhausted.

The story is long indeed, involving many flashbacks and plenty of interruptions from the four people trying to tell the story in conjunction. Naruto isn't sure how Danzo got involved, and Tsunade says that he wasn't it was just the circumstances at the time that he was involved in. Sora's father was killed by Asuma back when the man was in the Guardian Twleve and was part of their rebellion that ended the powers for a time before reforming. Asuma, who had been on the technically good side, had no choice but to kill Sora's father Kazuma who had been on the bad side . . . Sora just found out— not about his father being bad, or maybe he did and just didn't believe it— and now wants to get revenge for his father by killing Asuma. They're especially concerned that he can accomplish it, what with the strange power Sora has in his right arm.

"Well maybe the timeline makes it seem involved but it's not that hard to follow." Rin shrugs.

"Not for you miss gossip." Kakashi gripes.

Imagine how surprised they were when Naruto told them Kuram's power was in that arm. Alas, the one day his camera was left at home . . . !

Well now it turns out that Sora is nowhere to be found, but Naruto knows that Sora is still around in the village somewhere. He'll just bide his time until Sora does something brash again and voila!

Telling the story to Katsu at the Tea House was a long process indeed, but thankfully she didn't add interruptions, merely listened eagerly.

"Man . . ." she whistles slowly at the end of the tale. "Kid's got it rough."

"Yeah," Naruto gulps down the last of his tea and gestures for a refill. Katsu quickly fills his cup and puts the pot back down to continue listening in fascination. "I mean, I'm just stuck on the whole pseudo-jinchuuriki thing."

"Yeah, you've both got seals . . . only I bet his isn't as strong as yours since he's got that thing with his arm." Katsu guesses. "It really explains the whole outcast status at the Fire Temple, and his attitude."

"Man," Naruto grimaces. "You think I would have turned out like that without you and baba?"

"No way." Minato and Kushina scoff.

"No," Katsu smiles. "You're still too much of a sap to be that mean."

"I feel like I need to speak up for my manliness . . . but nothing's coming to mind." Naruto admits, making Katsu laugh. "How much longer do you have here?"

"Another hour then its home for me." Katsu reports, hunching over when she sees Koizumi-san look over at the two of them and smile with a knowing air. "I better get back to work . . . will you be looking for Sora or are you still coming tonight?"

"I'll be there!" Naruto chirps. "I pro—"

"Ah ah!" Katsu cuts him off, glaring. "Don't make promises unless you're absolutely sure you can keep them." When he relents with a nod she smiles shyly and waves, unsure if touching him right now was the right thing. "Bye Ru."

"Later Kurohime." Naruto smiles, and he exits the Tea House to leave his girlfriend to her work. The night is just starting and the light is scraping the bottom, leaving not quite darkness as the sun clings to the horizon. It quickly grows darker however, as Naruto walks into the town, taking the long way home.

You're happy, Kurama notes.

We're not breaking up, that's enough to make me happy! Naruto nearly trills. They spend their time walking through the Leaf village chatting idly, not sticking to any particular topic, drifting on the breeze. The night was pleasant if a little nippy, and Naruto expected colder weather to come soon as the holidays drew nearer.

Well that's fine and . . . and . . .

They both sense that disturbance, a ripple of chakra that growls with unspeakable emotion.

And, Naruto groans to Kurama, there goes Sora. That rage-filled chakra . . . it's heading to the Hokage Tower!

"Oh? Looking to file a complaint with Tsunade-sama?" Kakashi drawls.

"May I remind the young monk what happened the last time he got mouthy with Tsunade?" Obito grins, the others laughing at the memory.

Kyuubi yawns so wide his jaws crack, and his tongue snakes out to wet his muzzle. "A nap sounds just perfect."

"You don't want some lunch?" Kushina asks.

"No just wake me up in a couple of hours to hear the next chapter." Kyuubi orders lazily, padding over to the couch that had just been vacated and stretching out along it. His tails curl along the back and arm, over his legs as he sighs and relaxes into the cushions.

"Okay~" Kushina chirps, running a hand though the fur on Kyuubi's shoulder, ignoring his snarl.

As Kushina skips away with a chuckling Minato, Kyuubi merely huffs and whispers, "Playful fool."

So, Naruto and Katsu have gotten their stories off their chests to others. Now they need to clear the air between each other. It might be rushed, but it seems to me in this kind of world when "Life is short" has a different meaning, and I don't think that the resolution should come five chapters from now. More importantly . . . I'm picking up the pace people. Things are changing, happening, going and rolling. We have to move along with it!

But will they get to talk?

What is Sora doing (I swear to God if someone actually asks me . . .)?

What is Naruto going to do about Kurama's chakra in Sora?

What shit is Gai in in these latest chapters and where can I get some? Night Moth, my GOD . . . Green Beast went IN DEEP.

Leave your reviews, and your comments on Gai's BEAST MODE FINAL FORM in a review! Later peoples!


Bloody Mad~3