Sakura sighed as she picked at her breakfast, a meal that she'd prepared for herself in her own apartment rather than had her mother prepare for her at home in an attempt to lure her back which she was sorely tempted to let work despite the fact that she was still on the hook for the apartment. Days spent in solitude, even knowing that she wasn't completely alone in the world, had gotten her. She'd needed the time to think however. Since she'd graduated, she'd had just about everything she'd thought she knew pulled out from under her, and what she'd thought to be solid facts were shaky at best and outright lies at worst. It left her shaken, confused, and with a new and unwanted understanding of the old saying that "To a ninja, all truths are relative.".

One area that her thoughts kept circling back to since a certain secret had been revealed back in Wind Country was Naruto who'd proven to be both more and less dangerous than she'd thought him to be. More dangerous in that he contained the strongest of the Biju and possessed more power than she could ever hope to have. Less dangerous in that the boy who'd had the power to utterly destroy her and the capability to kill her in an instant had merely restrained her, told her what was what, and only threatened to break her arm after she had provoked him. Everyone had been provoking him all of his life, and yet the village was still standing and the inhabitants walked the streets completely unmolested by the Jinchuriki that they'd been telling their children to stay away from because he was dangerous.

After the revelation that Naruto had a demon sealed inside him had been made, she'd been afraid of - well more afraid than usual of - Naruto at first, but then she'd started mentally comparing him to that other one who'd been sacrificing bandits to his "Mother" and generally freaking the fuck out of everyone. The one who had his teammates who were also his siblings walking on eggshells around him in case he decided to do to them what he'd done to the bandits. In comparison to that, Naruto at his worst was practically sweetness and light. At least Naruto hadn't taken an almost bloodthirsty pleasure in killing when she saw him do it.

After she'd gotten over a great deal of her fear of Naruto, she'd been ashamed and unable to find anything to say to him to make up for her treatment of him. It had been Naruto who'd gone out of his way to prevent her from making what could've been the biggest mistake of her life after all, so it wasn't like she could just go up to him and say "Uh, hi Naruto. I'm sorry for being a total bitch to you because my parents taught me to be that way.". Not all of the blame could be laid squarely in her parents' laps. She'd been violent towards him, aggressive, and cruel when he'd been nothing but nice if overly persistent towards her.

She couldn't avoid Naruto forever however, seeing as they were on the same team and all. Now that their post-mission break was over, they would be having a team meeting today, and she'd be seeing him there. It wasn't like she could skirt around him during team training, especially if they were going to be sparring together, and it wasn't like she could block out his presence for the rest of the meeting so she didn't have to think about how horrible she and almost everyone else had been to him either.

Resolving to start talking to him then since they'd be seeing each other, she prayed she wouldn't lose her nerve or worse stand there stammering as she tried to find the words for...for...what? An apology for her actions most certainly, but what else?

What could she actually talk with Naruto about after she'd said "I'm sorry" in order to assuage her guilty conscience?


Sasuke checked the supplies in his pouch for a third time, stalling for time as he braced himself for the first team meeting since they'd returned to Konoha. Currently, just about everything he knew was tipped on its ear, and the Uzumaki who would be there and therefore couldn't be completely avoided was to blame, hence the stalling. He couldn't stall for too long however, or he'd be late which was a Very Bad Thing as he'd learned through any number of lectures when he was younger.

As his parents had taught him, in order for the world to have meaning, it had to have order. Everything had to fit where it belonged. The Uchiha had their place just as everyone else had their places. The Uzumaki upset that order several times however, constantly refusing to stay where he'd been put, and constantly tipping his world on its ear every time he'd turned around.

When Naruto first came into his notice aside from the time his father had pointed him out as someone the Uchiha didn't associate with if they could avoid it, he'd been the failure, the one who never succeeded at anything he tried to do, even be funny. The Instructors and everyone else around him had all confirmed this categorization, so he placed Naruto as being so beneath his notice that it wasn't even funny, believing him to be securely fastened there. Being beneath him, the Uzumaki had been marked down as not worth any of his attention no matter how much the boy clamored for it.

Then, the Uzumaki graduated two years early, completely upsetting the order of things.

That was not how the world worked. Everything he'd been taught stated that geniuses graduated before and above failures. The teachers had all told him that he wasn't and hadn't been ready to graduate when he'd asked after the Uzumaki had graduated despite the fact that it should've been a complete impossibility for him to do so. If the boy at the top of the class wasn't ready, the Dead Last most definitely wasn't, and therefore couldn't possibly have graduated. Convinced that there had been a mistake somewhere, he'd told himself and everyone who would listen that the Uzumaki had not graduated as had been reported and order returned to his world as the Uzumaki vanished from his sight.

While he hadn't been looking, the Uzumaki had risen above him in strength and skill. Being above him, the Uzumaki became a progress marker like all those currently above him were, something he could measure himself against and surpass in his quest to gain the power he needed to kill That Man and avenge his clan. As he was putting the Uzumaki in a little box marked "Rival", things went crashing over on their head again however.

Now, not only did Uzumaki Naruto completely defy categorization since he had absolutely none of the context he needed in order to properly place a "Demon container", but he was learning that his own clan had been implicated in the worst disaster in Konoha history. The way the Suna ninja Baki had been talking about the slaughter of his family had hinted that it was rather convenient for Konoha. Worse, on further reflection on the subject, it was entirely possible that it was convenient for Konoha, especially if his father had actually been guilty of what he'd been accused of.

After all of that, he didn't want to see the Uzumaki again today, because he just knew that the boy would say or do something that would send his world spinning out of control, and he needed control now that he didn't really have much else. He had little to no choice in the matter however, hence his stalling.


As Tetsuo made his way to the team's meeting place, he reflected that it felt strange not having Kakashi who'd taken a mission to remedy his depleted resources by his side. After two months with the man, he was happily willing to call him a good friend rather than an acquaintance that he considered to be in his loose circle of friends, and fully understood why the Hatake's former ANBU squadmates loyally followed him despite the fact that he was aloof and came off as rather a jerk to those who didn't know him even long after the man had ostensibly retired from the "Dark Side".

When he'd gotten home a couple days earlier, he'd learned that the old saying of "Absence makes the heart grow fonder" had held true in his case. Though it was probably not the proper method for dealing with the problems he and his wife had been going through adjusting to the fact that there were three rather than two and it wasn't just about them anymore, it had seemed to work in this case since the old arguments hadn't started back up the instant he'd come through the door. His wife, who'd been busy the last time he'd come home before he'd been sent back out again a day later, had been overjoyed to see him, as had his daughter who still remembered who he was despite his irrational fears that she might not considering the fact that he'd been gone for a much longer period than at any other point in her rather short life.

That bit of family time after they'd managed to wipe the slate somewhat clean following the break from his and his wife's routine of arguing over everything from what was being served for dinner to who was going to get the baby that was crying loud enough to wake the dead, and his success in fulfilling his promise to Naruto had gone a long way towards uplifting his flagging spirits. In fact, he was so happy today, that the thought of trying to teach his other students didn't fill him with a new sense of dread as he anticipated discovering something else that had gone wrong with their previous training. Despite the fact that he'd had two months to work on the worst of it, he was constantly discovering new and exceedingly unpleasant surprises in regards to the Haruno girl and the Uchiha boy.

Sasuke and Sakura were already at the meeting point when he arrived. Based on their posture, they were both waiting for something, something that they were looking forward to with a sense of dread. When he'd arrived, their heads simultaneously turned towards him before they sagged slightly in relief.

"Was there something you were looking for?" he asked.

"Naruto." Sakura replied.

"He's gone to take the Chunin Exams in Suna. He'll be back either in January or February." he replied.

Both of his students sagged further in relief at this news, though Sasuke was better at masking this than Sakura, probably because he'd been trained in the art of stoicism practically from the day he was born.

"Well, don't look so relieved that he's gone!" he snapped, his good mood rapidly dissipating. "I'm going to be working the both of you twice as hard in order to get you in shape for the next exam cycle, which I expect the both of you to pass."