After leaving Wave, Naruto, Sakura and the rest of their group began tree-running towards Konoha. It had been nice to take that little get-away from their troubles, but reality always had to come back around, meaning that it was time for the two children to begin their training in earnest.

Sakura had made a couple small notes on their new bloodline during the day while the villagers went about their day-to-day duties - though they always partied hard each night after the first, meaning it was probably good the group had left, or else the partying would have lasted for days, and the amount of alcohol that had been consumed would have gotten really drastic – and she and the rest were able to come to a few conclusions.

First off, the bloodline, either when passive or activated, had strengthened their bodies and made it harder for them to take damage. Tsunade had made the assumption that this was probably due to their chakra adapting to the added stress of the technique to essentially 'harden' their entire bodies – bones, skin, muscle, even their internal organs – which led Sakura to hypothesize that if both she and Naruto worked on increasing their chakra capacity and control, it could essentially create a pseudo-form of 'iron skin' that would keep them from sustaining injury while using the Hiraishin.

To prove this point, Tsunade had both of them go and activate their bloodline to punch a tree around three feet thick (thankfully, she and Shizune had the sense to bring along some medical supplies before leaving Konoha should this little idea of hers backfire). When both had done so, they had shattered the trunk of the trees completely from the force, sending them crashing down to the forest floor while the children watched in awe from a distance.

To be honest, Sakura had half expected her arm to at least have fractured if not out-right broken from the force, because the physics of the entire exercise involved a object of a certain density attain a particular speed and collide with an object of greater density. The end result should have seen the more dense object only dent or break slightly while the force and stress of Sakura's punch should have backfired and shattered her arm – but it didn't, meaning either the force of the punch due to her speed was enough to pass through the physical resistance of the tree, her body had hardened in density to match or become greater than the tree's own density, or a combination of both. Either way, it was something worth testing the near future, though both had decided to not test it against metal for a while until they had a better understanding of what they were doing. After all, this didn't make them invulnerable; their hands had bruised fairly bad from the impact with the tree bark, though it didn't break the skin, and there were metals that could be infused with chakra which may or may not help to cut them.

The second conclusion made was that their speed in the bloodline was parallel, again, to chakra capacity and control, meaning the better chakra control and more chakra you put into the technique would result in greater speeds. The reason why the jounin from the other day had been able to – barely! - block Naruto's attack was because Naruto had not directed enough chakra into the technique, resulting in a slower speed, not to also mention that Naruto's chakra control still wasn't enough to balance out how much chakra he wasted.

In other words, Naruto and Sakura were both evenly matched when it came to both durability and speed, as Naruto had an overabundance of chakra though minimal chakra control, while Sakura, despite the chakra boost she had received from her body's recent changes, still had only decent reserves while her control was superb.

Finally, their eyes, while not allowing eidetic learning like the Sharingan or able to see all around like the Byakugan, really did help in processing information no matter what speed they were going at, while certain senses like smell, hearing, reflexes, and chakra sensory had been heightened, thanks to their connection with Kyuubi – though the first two were maybe not quite to the level of an Inuzuka. Since neither Naruto nor Sakura had been born with the ability to form a symbiotic relationship with a ninken like Kiba or Tsume had with their partners – and therefore gain the attributes of a dog - their senses only extended to maybe being able to smell things from a little further away than others or hear some things at somewhat lower pitches. Still, it gave them an advantage, and Kyuubi was a fox after all, meaning their connection could grow to the point where they could nearly be on par with an Inuzuka.

Testing this had actually gotten a little extreme, to be honest. Tsunade, Jiraiya, Shizune and the two ANBU who had come with them had all created several shadow clones a piece and told the children that they were to find the one target out of all the clones carrying a particular wildflower in its pack without attacking any of the other clones – while ALL of the clones attacked them. The idea was for the two to use their abilities to smell the wildflower, listen and sense for any of the clones to approach them from any side, be able to react accordingly when one or more of the clones attacked, and finally be able to sense where the target clone was as it hid. Needless to say, the two had performed rather well, but Sakura was so exhausted that Naruto had to carry her to Tazuna's while she snoozed on his back – which Tsunade gleefully made sure to get a photo of.

Naruto still couldn't figure out where the woman was keeping the camera on her body, and to be honest, he was afraid to. The only woman's physical anatomy he wanted to get acquainted with was his wife's, and even then, he would rather not get THAT in depth. Some female secrets were better left alone.

As the group reached the gate, they slowed down to a walking pace, and Jiraiya moved closer to the two to speak with them. "Now that we're back here, we'll need to re-apply the other half of Shinigami's seal on you before I leave again, Naruto. We'll have to do it someplace secluded here in Konoha, as I don't know what the outburst of power might do to your home. For all we know, it may destroy everything and either leave us stranded or, more likely, kill us all."

Naruto nodded before replying, "Maybe one of the outlying training fields? It might be better to do this in the open rather than an enclosed area. We just need to make sure that the ANBU can keep prying eyes away."

"How about Training Ground 22?" Sakura asked. "It's out in the middle of nowhere, far enough away from the village to where it would take some time for anyone to get out there if they decide to investigate, and there's nothing out there that isn't easily replaceable." She crossed her arms and tapped her chin in thought as she then said, "Come to think of it, why is the Memorial Stone in the middle of Training Ground 3 anyway? There's too much potential for damage to it, and it's not like the distance would really deter someone from traveling out there to defile it with graffiti. Wouldn't it make more sense to have it someplace like the top of the Hokage Mountain where it can be kept an eye on more easily?"

Tsunade smiled sadly, though she kept her eyes on the road ahead. "Because that's the training ground that every Hokage starting from my grandfather trained their future teams, and it's where those same students of Hokages past have taught their own students as well. My grandfather Hashirama and my great-uncle Tobirama both trained there regularly; they trained Sensei there; Sensei trained us Sannin there; Jiraiya trained Minato and his team there; Minato trained Rin Nohara, Obito Uchiha, and Kakashi there; and Kakashi trained your team there. It's kind of been an unspoken rule, but many teams choose to avoid using that training ground as it's been something of a good luck charm in producing future Hokage – and it would be bad luck for any one other than a Hokage's student to teach there."

Naruto snorted derisively. "Bet they were hoping that having Sasuke would become the next Hokage in doing so. I'm guessing that the Council threw a hissy fit when they found out I would be training there too."

Both Tsunade and Jiraiya chuckled a bit, and Jiraiya said, "Yes, I imagine so, but considering what your lineage was – despite however much they wanted to deny it – it probably counter-balanced the Kyuubi since you were the Fourth Hokage's son. In the end, it didn't matter because it still held to tradition, and they would rather keep their mouths shut than possibly do something considered taboo."

Naruto's smile was a little bitter, though. "Yeah, but you also have to consider it's darker history as well. Hashirama met Madara Uchiha there – a man who would later become one of the biggest threats Konoha ever faced; Jiji's teammates turned out to be greedy traitors to the Hokage, while Danzo and he both fought over how to best run the village instead of just working together because of Nidaime-sama's decision; Orochimaru turned traitor to the village because he was a madman; both of Kakashi's teammates are dead; and Sasuke has now gone the route of Orochimaru." He let out a dark chuckle. "I actually wonder if the Council was hoping it would be me who would die or go rogue instead so that they could have a reason to...'intervene', so to say."

"Koi..."

Naruto glanced over at Sakura, who was aiming a rather sad yet pointed look at him, and he sighed and shook his head. "Look, I'm just saying. The training field's produced some good shinobi and some great Hokage, but considering the unspoken cost of the place, can you ask if it's really worth it in the end? If Sakura or I become the next Hokage – if the place is a lucky charm like you say – then doesn't that mean we'll just be damning another person of the next generation to die or make awful choices regarding his fellow man and force their teammates to kill them if we train our students there?"

Such a statement produced a shocked silence in the group, causing them to all freeze in their tracks when they realized that Naruto's words were technically true. Such a tradition had wound up creating their own worst enemies that always seemed to come back to bite them. Madara especially was a worse threat than Orochimaru, because he was strong enough to make frequent attacks upon the village without any back-up for years before his defeat. The snake traitor, while still a major threat, had only invaded the village with a large portion of his own forces, while Madara was a force all his own. And now it appeared that Sasuke Uchiha was possibly about to become another Madara, or else Orochimaru wouldn't have bothered to recruit him.

But Sakura just smiled and shook her head. "No, koi. We won't let that happen. If the training ground holds such a curse, it is because those teachers allowed their teams to fall into that pattern rather than fix it. The cycle only breaks when someone tries to disrupt it, and I have no doubt in my mind that each and every teacher trained there with the intention of doing so – to prove that it never has to be this way. True, they may not have succeeded, but every attempt they made allows the next generation to come closer to do so. It's when you give up and let it happen that it truly becomes a hopeless endeavor."

She moved in front of Naruto and bent forward a little, her arms crossed behind her back as her green eyes gazed happily into his cerulean. "And, hey, if it does happen to our future team, then we can at least say that we tried, and we'll work with the next team and the next until the cycle is broken. Okay?"

Naruto stared at her with wide eyes, before a playful grin appeared on his face, and he flashed right behind her and growled lustfully into her ear, "Have I ever told you how much I love your wonderful mind?"

Sakura shrieked with laughter as she flashed away from him, prompting a chase between the two as they flashed back and forth around the group. Tsunade grinned and shook her head at the children's antics, while Jiraiya let out a boisterous laugh. Shizune smiled softly as well, and Tonton let out a happy oink from the apprentice's arms.

The two ANBU just looked at each other and shrugged. Young love and all that.

When Naruto caught the girl and tried to stifle her loud giggles with kisses to the lips, Tsunade began walking towards the gate again, thinking as the group followed behind, Those two could have the worst fight imaginable, and at the end of the day, they'll be found in each other's arms once more. So no worries there. Another glance at the two caused the grin to turn into a smile.

The group had signed in at the gate (the two children receiving a couple of glances from the two Eternal Chuunin) and was about to separate to prepare for the re-sealing later that night, when an ANBU shunshined into view and bowed to Tsunade. "Hokage-dono! There is a small disturbance happening over by Sakura-dono's mother's home, and the men involved refuse to back down to ANBU. We need your intervention before Haruno-san gets hurt."

At the end of that phrase, Sakura's eyes widened as she whispered, "Mom!" She then gritted her teeth and flashed to the rooftops, speeding towards her old home, Naruto right behind her.


As Sakura rushed towards her home, her mind filled with worry towards her mother, she knew that deep down this was in relation to what her father had done. Her mother was a simple woman and had no dealings with anyone that could potentially backfire. She may have helped her former father in managing his accounts and inventory whenever he was home, but overall, she was just a housewife who spent most of her time watching over her child and tending the house.

If her father wasn't involved in this, then there were a few Konoha citizens that were about to have a private meeting with Sakura's fists and take up a new residence in a coffin.

Jumping onto a building close to her home, she looked down into the street and saw her mother sporting a rather nasty bruise on her cheek while her wrist was being gripped by a rather burly man who was preventing her from backing away. Nearby were several over men, all of them wearing katanas, knives, and various other weaponry – mercenaries and bandits; how dare they think they can show their faces in this village?! - as they stood close to two richly dressed people who were undoubtedly father and son due to how close they looked in appearance.

The man was tall and lanky, having very little in muscle mass and making him look rather effeminate. In fact, his lankiness made him look slightly comical, as if he somehow possessed the ability to contort his body into various ways – usually ones that were associated with pain, as images of Sakura bending him backwards and trying to snap his spine in half before bending his arms into odd angles and finally ripping off his head suddenly filtered into her mind.

The boy standing next to him was about waist-high next to his father, with and equally lanky body and navy hair that was mostly swept into a large bang that covered his right eye and ended in, of all things, a twirl. Both men had the same dark blue eyes and equally disturbingly-soft male facial features.

She had just landed in time for the rich man – Aki Fukuyama, she remembered her father once saying – speaking in a flippant tone, "Now, now, Sayuri-san. Your husband made a deal, and he has to now pay it. I gave him exclusive rights to many buyers I had managed to find for him, and now you're telling me some preposterous story about how dear Takeo's now in jail and your daughter's married to another boy? Please! The girl's only twelve years old, much too young to have made a decision like that on her own. Now, I have been most patient with you and had given you a few days to think about telling me the truth, but my patience has run thin. So I will ask again: where is your daughter?"


Sayuri was starting to panic a little bit. Shortly after Sakura's departure several days ago, she had taken to going through several of the accounting books Takeo had kept and making note of any business deals that weren't entirely on the up-and-up. Given the fact that her husband tried to portray to the rest of the world his family's "normalness," she wasn't all that surprised to find out that there was very little out of place. A few were just mathematical errors that didn't change the overall profit margins of his business, but she did notice a small continuing discrepancy that unnerved her somewhat – a name that was listed only as "G.C." She didn't know what or who these initials stood for, but she discovered that her husband had been making regular shipments to them. This wouldn't have been a big deal except that the merchandise sold to the man was never specified and the money he had received was an exorbitant amount that, despite his successes, didn't match anything Takeo regularly sold.

Even more strange was the fact that sometime around four months ago, the shipments just stopped for no apparent reason, and she remembered her husband being in a rage around that time as well. The only question remained of what had happened, and why did she somehow have the feeling that her daughter was involved?

Back to the present, Sayuri had never met the man standing behind the thug holding her arm. Maybe Takeo had mentioned him at one time or another, but Sayuri had learned that she really didn't care about such things and more often than not just preferred to let her former husband ramble on. Imagine her surprise when he showed up at her door with his son the day Sakura left from Wave, saying that they had come to pick her daughter up. It was with no small amount of satisfaction when she replied that her daughter had just been married to another man and her former husband was now residing in an ANBU prison cell for attempted assault. After he left, she thought she had seen the last of him.

When he had come back with around fifteen or so mercenaries, it was obvious she had thought wrong.

She shook her head again and pleaded, "Please! I really don't know where she is! She left the village a few days ago with her husband and the Hokage! I don't know when she'll be back, but I do know that the Hokage won't stand for this!"

Aki let out a shrill, braying laugh as his arms flailed about in some sort of imaginary wind. "But you just said the Hokage isn't here right now! Which means that she can't do anything about what she doesn't know, and the ANBU can't touch me or my associate's without first breaking my immunity as a merchant!" He then leaned in towards her and let a rather perverted leer onto his face. "But since you refuse to give me your daughter, I guess I'll have to satisfy myself by taking you instead! I was promised a pink-haired girl, and I will get one."

Sayuri paled considerably and tried to pull away as hard as she could, but the mercenary's grip was iron-clad as the man never even budged. Aki laughed and flailed about some more before pointing to another merc and yelling in a giggling tone, "Now! Let's put that seal on her and be on our way! I certainly must go on with my business."

The moment the mentioned merc pulled out the seal, Sayuri started to shake violently while her eyes teared up. Still, as the merc holding her forced her to her knees and ripped off the top of her dress to expose her back, the only thought in her head was, Sakura, sweetie, please stay safe and happy...

Everyone froze when they heard a screech of rage sound from above before a figure struck the ground and cracked it, causing the very earth to tremble and knock everyone off-balance.


The mercs all scrambled back to their feet, while both Aki and his son Genji sat up unceremoniously onto their asses. All of them were coughing from the dust that had been kicked up, but as the air cleared, Sakura stood there, complete in her furious glory, as she growled out, "Okay. You all have five seconds to give me a good enough excuse as to why you're here, before I remove your testicles through your eye-sockets!"

Sayuri glanced up and breathed a sigh of relief at seeing her daughter safe and sound. She then felt cloth move onto her back, and she looked to the side to see her new son-in-law giving her his coat to cover herself with. Smiling thankfully at him, she closed the jacket around her and zipped it. When the Hokage and her teammate shunshined into view, Sayuri got to her feet and rushed over towards them.

As Jiraiya gently pushed the woman by her shoulder behind him, Tsunade approached the two rich perverts, an evil grin on her face that screamed out, Gotcha! "Well well well. It seems that the moment I step out of the village for a small vacation, everything just goes to hell. While I may not use as much of a colorful phrase as my dear Sakura here, I find myself wondering the exact same thing. Why, pray tell, are there currently two rich men and a group of unsanctioned mercenaries trying to kidnap the mother of a clan matriarch in MY village?"

If Aki was at all frightened by the underlying threat in her voice, he never showed it as his gaze zeroed in on Tsunade's chest, causing him to start drooling. He launched himself into the air and started to dive bomb towards her, letting out another shrill laugh as he screamed, "Kekekeke! Forget the pinkette! Tonight, I shall enjoy a Hokage!"

Tsunade rolled her eyes and crossed her arms over her chest before raising a heeled foot into the air right before Aki reached her. The end result was Tsunade's shoe embedded into Aki's face as he hung there in mid-air.

"Wow," Jiraiya said as his eye twitched a little at the display. "There really are perverts out there in the world that are worse than me." His face then brightened, and he raised his hands to the heavens as he screamed out, "YEEESS! I HAVE SOMETHING TO STRIVE FOR IN THIS WORLD!"

A kunai embedded into his temple, and he fell to the ground, twitching. Sayuri knelt down and poked him with a nearby stick before she then glanced at the Hokage and whispered out, "H-Hokage-dono! I think he's dead!"

Tsunade snorted and never turned her gaze from the man planted on her foot in the air. "Please. He's suffered worse than that from me. His head is so hard that the kunai never even had a chance of getting to what little of a brain he has."

As if to prove her point, Jiraiya shot to his feet and screamed out, "I WILL NOT BE DETERRED FROM MY MISSION IN LIFE!"

Another kunai hit his forehead, sending him crashing backwards headfirst to the ground.

Finally, as the rest of the group continued watching this odd comedy, Genji's mind finally clicked everything into place, and like a flash, he was standing in front of Sakura, gesturing in what his perverted mind thought was "manly" - namely, his hands were raised as if he were serenading her, his chest was puffed out, while he almost seemed to kneel.

A sweatdrop appeared on Sakura's head as she thought, Seriously? Takeo wanted me to marry this moron? Not even Lee is this bad when it comes to his proclamations!

If Genji noticed her bemusement, he evidently didn't care (no doubt a trait he had picked up from his father) as he puffed out his chest and said, "Sakura-chan! My dearest wife! How I have waited for the day when I would finally meet you! Ever since I had seen your picture, my heart sang at your glories and beauty, for it knew that our love was written in the heavens! Oh my love! We shall now find true happiness as our hearts and bodies become one."

Sakura's face snapped into an irked expression, her eye twitching as she ground her teeth. Did he just say bodies?

"Oh yes!" Genji brayed on. "We shall make such sweet innocent love at first, but as our passions grow, so shall our experiences! You shall be my sexy secretary as I take over Father's business by day, and by night, I shall throw my unbridled passion at my little slave girl as she squirms on our bed in a sexy maid outfit!"

Little by little, a red chakra cloak was starting to envelop the girl as the idiot bantered on and on without notice or regard for what he was saying. Naruto, however, did notice this, and he shifted to the side as a large grin appeared on his face. Someone's gonna get iiiit~

Genji actually seemed incapable of possessing any kind of danger sense, as the irate girl was giving out vibes that got steadily worse and worse as he kept spewing out nonsense. "And then you produce my children for me. We shall have boys! Handsome, strapping young men that shall follow in their father's footsteps to greatness! They shall-"

The ground cracked a little, causing Genji to finally snap out of his little rant and look at the enraged pinkette before him. Her hair was currently floating a little in some unknown breeze and almost seemed like it was separating into nine large strands, and her eyes had turned into a solid glowing red.

As Genji paled and took a step back – What happened to my wondrous blossom of beauty?! - Naruto snickered and stage-whispered, "Dude, I would run."

Sakura cracked her knuckles in response.

Tsunade smirked a little wider and slammed her foot to the ground, shaking the perverted man off her heel. As Aki laid there bleeding with a grin on his face, the female Hokage just shook her head and said, "Before the Uzu-Nami matriarch turns you into paste, I would like to know by whose authority you claim that your son and Sakura-san are married?"

Aki twitched and shakily reached his arm into his coat pocket to reveal a document bearing the seal of Hi no Kuni. "Takeo-san and I both signed this marriage certificate several days ago. As he was her father and guardian, he was well within his ability to marry her off without her consent in the whole matter, meaning-"

"Yeah yeah yeah, we get it," Tsunade said as she rolled her eyes before snatching the document to look it over. "It means that supposedly no matter what Sakura says, she is unable to fight this and must go with you, have your son's babies, blah blah blah." She gave the certificate a cursory glance and snorted in derision. "Evidently, none of you idiots bothered to look up the various laws within Hi no Kuni – and, more specifically, Konoha's. This paper isn't even worthy to wipe a barbarian's ass, let alone be a proper legal document." She looked back at the man and smiled ferally at him. "Which means that you and your group are in a whole mess of trouble right now."

"IMPOSSIBLE!" The blond pervert screamed as he shot to his feet and pointed into the sky. "We have complete diplomatic-"

"Wrong." Tsunade said smugly. "What you and all other merchants have is mercantile immunity, which means that you and your group are not to be harassed by any country's shinobi, samurai, or civilians and are free to go wherever you please – so long as you respect the rules of that country and town you are residing in. You are still bound by that country's laws no matter what you do, and breaking them comes with rather harsh penalties upon you. In other words, the best-case scenario for you right now is just getting jail time for the next ten years or so. Worst case...well, do I really need to say it?" She grinned as she drew her thumb across her neck.

Aki paled, which caused the woman to snicker a little. This was just too much fun!

Tsunade held up the document in her hand. "While this certificate would apply to any normal civilian in Hi no Kuni, the seal on the document applies only to citizens who are living at Fire Capital and all towns except Konoha. Since we are a ninja village, our system of government and sets of laws are different from the others, and therefore we utilize marriage certificates that have special seals embedded within them and are stamped with the seal of our village. Sakura-san is a born-and-raised Konoha citizen, so in order for any marriage involving her to be legal, one of our own documents would have to be used.

"However, even if one of those documents had been used in this case, Sakura-san has been considered a legal adult since she graduated her genin exam. Many civilians do not realize this, so it probably is understandable that Takeo was not aware of his daughter's change in status. In any case, this means that in order for the document to be legal, Sakura-san would have had to sign it of her own free will."

As the mercenaries turned paler and paler – showing how much they realized that their fancy "protections" weren't going to protect a bunch of hired thugs and borderline bandits from a group of angry ninja – Tsunade decided to hammer in the final nail of their coffins. "Finally, even if Takeo still had some say in his daughter's life and could still arrange marriages for her, this certificate was signed the day after the date listed on her own certificate marrying her to her current husband." Her eyes gleamed, and she leveled a predatory stare at the group. "So now, not only are you accused of kidnapping, we can also throw on a charge of fraud against the clan of Uzumaki-Namikaze."

Jiraiya, somehow, had managed to get back to his feet, and he quickly grabbed the seal tag the merc was holding to closely examine it. His face contorted into a scowl, before he turned his head to the busty Kage and said as he waved the seal towards her. "May want to add slavery charges to that as well, Hime. This seal they were going to use? It's a common one found amongst some big slave rings around the Elemental Nations. It essentially binds the slave to be within a certain proximity of their master's control seal, which means that the moment the slave tries to run away, they can't go very far without experiencing some serious pain. Don't know where they got it, but it wasn't from any ninja village, I'll tell you that."

A deadly aura surrounded the woman as she gleefully closed her eyes. "I hope none of you mind getting raped in the showers. There are some ninja in our jails who are in desperate need of release."

It was Sakura's grin that did the group in, though, as she pulled out a new pair of fighting gloves and slipped them on, her eyes closed in a gleeful manner. "How would you like me to destroy your balls? Just crush them in your sacks, or should I plunge my hand down your throat and let you taste them as they leave through your mouths? I assure you, none of you are going to need them."

Off to the side, Jiraiya, still having the two kunai sticking out of his head and bleeding out of his wounds (causing a wide-eyed Sayuri to slowly reach for a nearby shovel to kill the "zombie"), leaned towards Naruto and said in a low voice, "Naruto, my boy, you have married a truly terrifying young woman."

"I know," Naruto replied with a large smile. "And I wouldn't have it any other way. Besides, I don't have to worry about her crushing my balls, so why should I worry?"

Sakura turned her head slightly towards him and gave him a wink and a kiss in his direction.

One of the mercenaries managed to overcome his fear by this point and shot to his feet, screaming, "Fuck you, Fukuyama! I ain't going to jail because of you!"

A shuriken shot down towards him from the rooftops, and he managed to stop just before the blade sliced off his toes. The merc then glanced up to see a smirking blond kunoichi dressed in purple as she fiddled with another shuriken in her hand.

Ino crouched down towards him and cooed out, "Awww, but you'll love our jail's communal showers, mercenary-san! Why not stick around to give them a chance?"

Another man then tried to run for the alley way but then froze in his footsteps completely. He tried to move, but his body was acting against his will and started to walk slowly back to the group. A lazy sigh sounded behind him, and Shikamaru appeared from the shadows, his right hand formed into a seal holding the jutsu. "How troublesome. How is it that I knew this was going to somehow involve you, Naruto?"

The whiskered blond shrugged his shoulders and cracked his neck. "Oh, you know me, Shikamaru. Always have to have some sort of excitement in my life."

"Again, troublesome."

Two mercenaries had enough of this – seriously, what? Were they now expected to fight uppity little brats? – and drew their swords before charging the pinkette before them. A green blur came out of nowhere and smashed into the side of one of them, sending that man crashing into the wall, while the other had to throw himself to the ground to dodge a hail of kunai.

The green blur had jumped to the side after hitting his target, showing Lee in a taijutsu stance with a determined expression on his face, while, on the roof, Tenten scowled down at the perverts while holding three kunai between her fingers, as if saying to the mercs, Come on. Try to run so that I can have a reason to stab you.

Surrounded by all sides, the mercs had to come to a painful choice: either die here and now by resisting arrest, or be gang-raped in jail by a bunch of psychotic ninja who have not seen a woman in years.

They all drew their swords and rushed at Naruto and Sakura while screaming in desperation.

The things men will do to protect their anal virginity...

Naruto sighed and rolled his arm. "Looks like we'll have to make some examples, dear. Want the ones on the right?"

Sakura snagged a kunai from her pouch and held it in reverse grip as her eyes turned crimson. "Sure, why not?"

Before either of them could do anything, though, the mercs suddenly flagged in speed before they all collapsed to the ground. They lay there, shocked as they tried to fight unconsciousness while willing their suddenly-tired muscles to move.

Naruto raised an eyebrow at them before snorting and turning his head to the alley next to him. "Not bad, Shino-san. When did you start placing your kikaichu onto their bodies?"

The sunglasses-wearing boy calmly walked out of the shadows, his hands in his pockets. "Around halfway through Tsunade-dono's explanations. We all arrived here just as Sakura-san rushed towards her mother. We heard there was a disturbance in the area."

Tsunade smirked at the boy before turning her gaze onto the two rich idiots. "ANBU!"

Several masked figures all shunshined into the area, and the Hokage swept her hand in the mercs general direction. "Take all of them to Ibiki for processing. Tell him to wring them dry of anything and everything they know. If they have even so much as slapped a whore in a brothel, I want them talking about it."

"Ma'am!" The ANBU saluted and started to shunshin the men away.

Before Genji was taken, Sakura looked at him with her crimson gaze and smiled darkly. "If you ever get out of that place alive, Genji dear, I'll kill you the next time I see you – both you and the pervert who sired you. Say hello to my former father while you're in there, would you?" The ANBU took him away before he could say anything back.

Sakura turned to address the Hokage, only to be nearly bowled over by Ino as the girl latched onto her and screamed out, "SAKURA! You're back! Oooooo, I'm so angry with you! Why didn't you tell me you and Naruto were getting married? I could have gotten something together for you two if you'd told me!"

Sakura rolled her eyes as she grinned and patted Ino's head. "Down, girl. I assure you that you'll still get the chance to plan every minor detail of my special day and be a downright terror as my husband showers me with love and devotion while I keep reminding his fretful mind that I really do want to spend the rest of my life with him, that he is not making a huge mistake, and that I love him more than he can even possibly imagine. Just not right now."

"YAY!" the blonde screamed with delight, letting go and throwing her hands up into the air.

The Hokage smirked before hearing a loud CLANG, and everyone turned to see Sayuri standing over an unconscious Jiraiya with a shovel in her hands and a wide-eyed look on her face.

A woman after my own heart, thought the busty Kage, her smirk growing wider. Approaching the panicking woman, she gently took the shovel from her hands and tossed it to the side. Naruto still needs training, after all, so I might as well keep the pervert around. Aloud, she asked, "Sayuri-san, do you know if Fukuyama might have had any accomplices with him aside from the dregs we just took out? Anyone else that your husband might have known?"

Sayuri frowned a little, her eyes never leaving the prone form of the perverted Sannin on the ground. "It's funny you should mention that. I've been going through my husband's accounts, and I think there might be a few things you'll want to see."

A groan emanated from the white-haired man, and Sayuri yelped before launching into Tsunade's arms, forcing the blonde to hold her bridal style as the rosette clutched the older woman's neck.

Tsunade just raised an eyebrow before she shook her head and called for the ANBU again while ignoring the snickers of the Uzu-Namis. "Search the house from top to bottom. Do whatever you have to – hell, tear the whole place to the ground if you must - but I want anything that pertains to Takeo Haruno stripped from the premises and investigated thoroughly."

Tsunade turned her head back to the rosette and lightly cleared her throat. Sayuri glanced at the woman before noticing the situation she was in and, now blushing furiously, stepped down onto the ground. The Hokage then continued, "If you could bring me those accounting books you mentioned, we can go peruse them back in my office."

Too horrified with herself to say anything, Sayuri just nodded her head before rushing into the house.

Tsunade then turned to the smiling Uzu-Namis and grinned before swiping falsely at their heads. "Oh, shut it, you two. Anyway, I'll let you know when we'll hold our next meeting. Until then, go and relax."

The married couple nodded, and Tsunade grabbed her perverted teammate's leg with one hand and started dragging him towards the Hokage Tower, Sayuri following along and clutching her books to her chest.

Naruto shook his head at the unconscious man and turned back to the rest of the group. "So, what's been happening since we left? Any news on whether or not Sasuke's still in Ta no Kuni?"

Shikamaru shook his head. "Still uncertain. Danzo-san sent in a few of the ANBU to check the place out, but they couldn't find anything of value in the base they found. Orochimaru must have decided to cut his losses and run with his forces, because he left behind one shinobi that had been experimented on to fight off the ANBU. Apparently, they had a little trouble with him when he began to absorb a couple of the fallen, and he managed to take out another one before they put him down. They brought some samples from the body back for the Medical Corps. to look over."

Naruto raised an eyebrow. "Anything else get left behind?"

"No," Shino said. "Word is amongst the jonin, the base was picked clean of everything and anything. There were some stains here and there where it was obvious that experiments had taken place and where prisoners were kept, but all viable intel was gone. Once they were sure they couldn't find anything, the ANBU destroyed the base to make sure he couldn't go back to that one spot."

Shikamaru started up again. "Still, it wasn't a complete failure in the end. Hopefully, with Orochimaru gone, we can open relations with the daimyo there, and maybe even coax a couple ninja clans to come join us. Seems one clan in particular had been deceived particularly bad by the Snake Sannin – the guy who had been experimented upon was actually next in line to be clan head – and they're looking for blood."

Naruto shook his head and sighed. "Well, at least we don't have to worry about any possible attacks coming from that place for a while. Still, makes me wonder just how many boltholes the man has to hide in."

Sakura gently laid a hand on her husband's arm. "Don't worry, koi. They can't run forever, and we'll be ready for them when they finally show up."

Naruto snorted before smiling and pecking his wife on the lips. "Hopefully not too soon, saiai. I don't really fancy having to go up against Orochimaru again when I'm still so much weaker than him. You know what they say - 'third time's the charm.' I'd rather not risk that third time being me who dies instead of him."

Ino watched them off to the side with starry eyes, her hands clasped in front of her as she half-cooed, half-squealed, "Awwww, they even have their own little pet names for each other!"

Shikamaru took one look at his female teammate and sighed before grabbing her by the arm and starting to drag her off. "Come on, you troublesome woman. Let's go check on Chouji and the others."

Naruto looked to them and asked, "Mind if Sakura-chan and I join? I wouldn't mind checking up on them as well." Sakura happily nodded in agreement beside him.

Shikamaru shrugged as best he could while dragging his blonde teammate along (who seemed to be stuck in her expression and was almost statuesque). "Feel free. I'm sure the guys would like a little more extra company."

"I'm afraid I have something I must do," Shino said as he started walking back into the alley he had left. "But I will be sure to join you at the hospital when I am finished." With that, the boy disappeared behind the buildings.

Naruto raised an eyebrow but let the matter drop. Shino had always been an enigma to the Rookies, though his heart was in the right place. He had never been sociable until he received his team. Still, he was a good comrade to have at one's side.

It was just frustrating to not know what the boy was thinking.

Naruto shrugged it off and followed after the group.


Shino continued walking until he was certain he had not been followed and then shunshined out of the area. When he reappeared, he was near one of the training fields that were closer to the village entrance. It was really nothing more than a large clearing with some pockets of trees here and there, but it was nice to have for rookie teams to train at before they started to dive into the more serious missions. Team 8 had even trained here a few times, as their sensei hadn't wanted them to get used to one exclusive type of terrain.

Only the figure standing in the middle of the clearing wasn't his sensei.

He approached the person and bowed respectfully, saying, "It has been handled, Danzo-sama."

The bandaged man turned from where he was staring and nodded. "I trust that Sayuri-san has been taken someplace safe in case there are stragglers?"

"Elder, she is currently with the Hokage at the moment. No doubt a place will be found for her that will be adequately safe. Even so, stragglers will not be an issue. All of the mercs have been captured for interrogation."

Danzo nodded again and looked back out over the clearing. "Good. I shall make an appropriate suggestion to the Hokage regarding this. It might even be for the best for Sayuri-san to move in with her daughter and her son-in-law for the time being. I shall also have my ROOT look into this supposed slavery ring the elder Fukuyama is involved in."

"You knew?" Shino asked, raising an eyebrow.

"I've had my suspicions regarding Haruno-san and his trading business, but this is the first concrete evidence we have of his wrong-doing. A pity that his injuries prevent us from further interrogating him, but Fukuyama will make up for that. It is fortuitous that the man is an imbecile and thought himself above the law. Not even his own Daimyo could save him now."

Shino's eyebrow lowered, but he continued, "If I may ask, Danzo-sama, why so much focus on protecting the woman?"

"The Uzu-Namis need to focus on their training, and I cannot have Sakura-dono worrying about her mother being attacked for who she is related to. The village will not let this go, and there are those who will not see the error of their ways regarding Naruto-sama. Best to take away an outlet for their misguided aggression than to leave things to chance."

"And of my teammate Hinata?"

Danzo smirked at how transparent the boy was currently being, though he couldn't fault him for his worry over the girl. Aburame did not form many attachments outside of their clan and assigned teams, and having one of these people taken away because of foolishness would disrupt his natural balance. That was the reason why the boy had approached him in the hopes that Hinata might somehow be allowed some leniency in her punishment. Granted, a loose cannon was not something to be ignored, but the girl could still be a respected kunoichi one day; and if her presence and safety was necessary to keep her Aburame teammate stable, then she would be kept alive, if only to keep the peace.

He then said, "I have seen the medical reports, and she will have to first recover from her injuries before she can be appropriately punished. Apparently, the doctors are keeping her mildly sedated in order to keep her aggression down, and she will only be taken off them when she is properly sequestered away in her clan's home. After the remaining drugs have left her system, the Hokage will speak to her regarding this. If the girl can keep her own passions under control and not attempt any more attacks on Sakura-dono, then she will be granted some leeway. However, if not, well, it is out of my hands at that point. No matter how strong the girl's feelings may be for Naruto-sama, I dare not risk trying to save one out-of-control kunoichi when she has no problem of permanently removing others from her path, especially when one of those people is the young man's own wife."

Danzo sighed and shook his head. "I just hope we may never have to utilize our last resort, as Hinata Hyuuga's career as a kunoichi will be forever lost to her, whatever her feelings may be."

He stared out across the horizon again, his hands resting comfortably on his cane. "Sarutobi and I may have not always seen eye-to-eye when he was alive, but we did understand one thing between us: whatever may come, we will never see this village fall. I may have done things that are neither ethical nor logical in the long run, but I did them with the village's safety and security in mind. It will never last for an eternity – nothing ever does, and I am not so delusional to believe that Konoha will be different - but I can at least try to ensure that this village's name will be remembered for generations. Even if our enemies do succeed in wiping us out, I want them to shiver in fear whenever the Konoha symbol flashes through their minds and tell their children horror stories about what we did to them in our final hours. And the key to all of this lies within the Uzumaki-Namikazes."

Danzo turned his head and leveled a one-eyed stare at the shocked boy. "That is the reason I will go so far to ensure those two are given what they need to succeed. I may see them as tools on the battlefield, but even I can see they both contain that Will of Fire that Sarutobi so loved to spout on about. Those two and the ones standing beside them will be forever remembered in the annals of history, and they will be loved, feared, respected, hated, and everything in between. Given enough time and resources, they will fly higher than even the Yondaime and the Red-Hot Habanero themselves – and many had thought that no one could ever best those two in skill. It is through the Uzumaki-Namikazes that I will see my own dream realized, and I don't care who I have to throw out of their way to ensure that it happens."

He turned his head back. "Now, I suspect that your friends have made it to the hospital by now. I would suggest getting there yourself to help keep an eye on them. I will summon you if there is anything I require you for."

Shino, still shocked despite his apparent stoicism, simply bowed and shunshined away.

Danzo continued watching the horizon, muttering to himself, "Sarutobi, you old fool, maybe there was something to that babble after all."

He then laughed out loud and shunshined away.


Apart from some more staring from the general populace, both Naruto and Sakura were relieved they were able to reach the hospital in peace. It was an inevitability that they were going to have to deal with the public sooner or later, but for now, considering the lingering tensions that seemed to be hovering around, it was just safer for everyone involved if Naruto and Sakura were pretty much left alone. Still, at least their friends were able to keep their minds off of most of it, though Naruto wondered where Shino had been before rejoining them. It felt as if he had simply...reappeared to his senses rather than steadily becoming clearer. Still, like before, he just decided to let it go.

The hospital secretary glanced at the two of them, her eyes widening for a fraction of a second when they landed on Naruto, before she calmly directed them to a group room on the fifth floor. Naruto snorted at her behavior and leaned against the elevator wall. Many in the village may have hated him, but the hospital was one of those places where it was neutral ground for everyone, no matter what their feelings were. When he was younger and in one of his more sullen moods, he had asked the head doctor (who had been the only one available to treat him at the time) why the doctors and nurses healed him when it was so obvious that they hated his guts.

The man had simply replied, "Not many in this hospital may like you, but we are sworn under oath to treat any and all who enter our doors, no matter what our feelings may be. Even being the most hated in this village, you still are one of its citizens and therefore have the right to have the same treatment as anyone else."

For that small kindness, Naruto had always tried to treat the personnel here with some respect, allowing a tenuous understanding to come between them. So long as Naruto left the hospital alone whenever he pranked the village and only went in when he had actual business there, the staff would treat his wounds and help get him back to full health should he need it.

The bell dinged, making the doors open in response, and the group silently began walking to the assigned room. To be honest, both Naruto and Shikamaru seemed pensive and withdrawn as they approached, and the rest of the group sans Sakura were starting to get worried. Shikamaru was always rather quiet and seemingly apathetic, so it wasn't all that odd to see him this way; but seeing Naruto like this was starting to cause recent events to start flashing through their minds. If it wasn't for Sakura acting like nothing was out of the ordinary, they probably would have started to wonder about getting a doctor or something.

The rosette in question did, in fact, notice something on her beloved's mind, but she simply contented herself with moving closer and gently enclosing her left hand in his right. He glanced at her and gave her a small smile before turning away again, and she mentally sighed. Of course, Sakura. He's about ready to go see the team he was on that nearly died because of the traitor and started this whole thing. I guess it would have been too much to ask for him to just let it go.

A small shock coursed through her seal, but she managed to stifle any sound from leaving her throat before she mentally asked, What the hell was that for, Kyuubi-san?!

She could imagine the vulpine's frown directed at her, and Kyuubi replied, That was a small warning. I know you were not intending on being malicious, but don't forget that you are not some sort of magic cure-all for the Kit's problems and worries. Just because he is married to you and has received his inheritance does not mean that everything wrong with his life is going to go away that easily. He still feels quite a bit of guilt for what happened, because he can't help but feel like he should have stopped Sasuke sometime earlier or just tried to go for the kill back in the Valley. At least if the Uchiha was killed, it would have somewhat justified their injuries.

I know that! Why did you still shock me?

Because a small part of you is thinking that he is either being silly or acting childish for thinking this and just needs to get on with it. Remember, your mind is now open to me like the Kit's, thanks to the seal on you. It's called survivor's guilt, Sakura, and Naruto, like all of his other problems, needs to work through this and reassure himself that it wasn't his fault. Eventually, he will get to that point, but he needs to do it on his own time, and seeing the Retrieval Team will help him do that. For now, what you need to do is just listen to him and not pass his feelings off as if they are nothing. THAT kind of behavior is what really got us here, and you know it.

Sakura lowered her head a little, her right hand reaching up to touch the seal on her shoulder, and she nodded ever so slightly. I know. I'm sorry, Kyuubi. I just can't stand to see him so sad and hurt like this.

Kyuubi sadly smiled and laid her head back onto her tails. Neither can I, Kitling. Neither can I.

Glancing up at her husband to make sure he hadn't noticed any of what had just transpired, she lowered her hand and walked calmly and quietly beside him.

Finally, they reached the door, and Naruto glanced up at the sign before giving a mental sigh and saying, Here goes nothing...


Shizune fell back onto the bed, her breathing heavy but sensual, as she wrapped some of the sheets around her thin, naked frame. Kakashi laid next to her in a similar manner, as he stared up at the ceiling with a widened eye. Smirking in satisfaction, she leaned up and kissed him before cuddling into his chest and letting out a sigh of contentment. "I really needed that."

Kakashi regained his composure and let out a chuckle, before leaning down and giving her a kiss on her head. "Really? And after all that time spent relaxing in Nami? You, my dear, are insatiable."

Shizune let out a snort and cracked open one of her eyes to leer up at him. "This is coming from the man who always wants to role-play all his favorite sex scenes from the smutty series he reads. If anything, I'm just scratching an itch, while you seem to have an itch that you can't ever reach."

"Touche."

A smug smile appeared on the woman's face. "Damn straight, touche. Now shut up and let me enjoy my afterglow."

They laid there for a little while, before Kakashi spoke again. "You sure you don't need to head back to the office? I'll bet Tsunade is wondering what happened to you."

"Oh?" Shizune replied as she raised her head and grinned. "So quick to get rid of me? Do you have someone else on the side that I need to know about?" As the man blushed and tried to mumble out some sort of denial, she just laughed and kissed his unmasked lips. "Relax. I'm teasing. Anyway, I just left behind a Kage Bunshin to keep an eye on the desk while Tsunade is in her meeting. It should be able to handle everything while I'm gone, and if it dispels, then I'll go check."

Kakashi just nodded and laid there silently again. A heaviness hung around him now, making Shizune feel uncomfortable enough to ask, "Something's on your mind right now. What is it?" When he didn't answer, her eyes softened a little, and she put her hand to his cheek to make him look at her. "It's Naruto, isn't it?"

Kakashi sighed and nodded before resting his head back onto the pillow, allowing Shizune to rest her own back onto his chest. "I just don't know what to do, Shizune. What I had done to my team could be considered reprehensible, and if Minato-sensei were still alive, he would have beaten me black and blue badly enough to leave me in the hospital for a year. I favored Sasuke over the others because I wanted him to see the light and redeem myself towards the memory of my dead best friend. For the other times, all I did were team exercises and maybe a few lessons in chakra control and simple ninjutsu techniques. Not once did I ever stop to think of maybe trying to help Naruto a little more in depth with his chakra control, or trying to push Sakura harder in her physical training and seeing what her specialty could be."

He raised a hand and just stared at it as he became more and more lost in his thoughts. "The more I think about it, they all could have become the next Sannin if I had just pushed them a lot harder. Naruto could have become the main artillery, blasting away with various wide-spread ninjutsu while distracting his foes and protecting his teammates with a multitude of Kage Bunshin cannon fodder."

(Shizune stifled a giggle at the term.)

"Meanwhile, Sasuke could have used his speed to weave around and take out his targets with precision, maybe even cast some genjutsu to keep his enemies off balance. Sakura would then provide back-up as the team medic and who knows whatever else she could be capable of. Given enough time, all I would have had to do was just point in the direction of their target and let them handle everything, providing back-up only when they needed it. I could have had the perfect team, Shizune, if I just pulled my damn head out of my ass long enough to see it. But now..."

He sighed and lightly shook his head. "Now, I can't even find a way to face the two students that I've failed. I see them now, and all I can think is how much they look like Sensei and his own wife. It...I dunno, it just scares me, I guess."

Shizune thought for a few seconds, but then she smiled and moved herself more on top of her lover's body, straddling his lap while she gazed down into his eyes. She lowered herself onto his chest and gave him a slow kiss, and when she ended it, she said lowly, only a couple inches from his face, "Kakashi, I know you feel guilt for all that you've done, but you will have to face these things eventually. Yes, Naruto is still completely furious at everyone right now, despite how well he has gotten at hiding it, but the longer you allow him to hold on to that anger, the more he will come to wrong conclusions about your behavior. Face him, explain yourself, let him work out his anger against you, and in time, you two will at least be able to put the past behind you. If not, well, you'll just have to remove yourself from the equation for a while until he's ready to speak to you. Okay?"

Kakashi thought about it but eventually just shrugged his shoulders and muttered, "Well, it's not like at this point I really have anything to lose by talking to him."

Shizune smiled again and rested her head back onto his chest, still laying on top of him. She knew he would do the right thing. His conscience wouldn't allow him to just walk away if there was a chance he could at least make this right.

A thought then sparked in her head, and then she said, "Oh, and Kakashi?"

Kakashi had closed his eyes for the moment and could only let out a tired "Hmm?"

He then felt her hands move to the sides of his head and yank his head up, forcing his eyes to open in shock and look at her. There was a dark aura around her, and a rather creepy smile had formed on her lips. When she lifted her head a little, he saw a gleaming red come from the shadows under her bangs.

"Just to make things clear. If you want to move on eventually and go date other women, then it is fine with me if you break things off. But if you ever go see anyone behind my back..."

One of her hands shot down and began painfully squeezing his testicles, making his visible eye widen with panic.

"...Then I'll just make sure that you never get it up EVER AGAIN. Are we clear?"

His voice came out as a squeak, bu it was rather loud. "Yes, Ma'am!"

Suddenly, the horrifying aura vanished, and Shizune smiled lovingly down at him. "Good boy. Now slap my ass and call me your bitch, and we'll see if we can give chapter 6 of Icha Icha: Domination another try. Okay?"

Kakashi's eye twitched in nervousness. "Yes, dear."


Naruto had almost been dreading this moment. He honestly didn't know what condition his teammates, save for Shikamaru, had been in, and he had been too wrapped up in his own depression to think about checking in. Not that it might have been a good idea, since he could have ran into the families who had been visiting, and since many of the clans seemed to have some sort of grudge against him, they might have decided that it was his fault and take it out on him. Hell, if Gaara's team hadn't shown up, chances were that their deaths would have all been falsely pinned on him rather than Sasuke, and then not even Tsunade and the Daimyo could have prevented them from killing him in their rage.

He stepped in almost tentatively, choosing to linger more towards the door as the rest moved towards their respective teammates.

Neji lay in the bed to the far right against the wall, his chest bandaged heavily underneath the hospital gown he was wearing. Since the special arrow shot by the spider-nin had made a clean strike through his body, it was a simple matter to clean out the wound, but the very fact that it had hit so close to the heart had made it so that the Hyuuga would not be able to do much until the wound had mostly healed. Tenten moved closer to make sure he was comfortable while Lee seemed to take a silent vigil against the wall in front of him. Naruto must have been the only one to see it, but Neji allowed a barely visible upwards-curving of his lips to show as he glanced at his teammates.

Choji was getting roughly the same treatment, though Ino was taking the time to also ensure the flowers had water while Shikamaru chose to pull up a seat closer to the bed. It was strange to see him so thin, but even Naruto could see that it was an unnatural thinness rather than one gotten through exercise and dieting. Seriously, just how powerful were those Akamichi clan pills to cause Choji's own body to literally eat itself inside out for more power?

Shino, meanwhile, had moved to stand at the side of Kiba's bed, and it was obvious the ninken-user was the one in best shape out of the three. The kunai he had stabbed into himself to injure the parasitic shinobi twin within his body had hit his liver, his pancreas, and the side of his stomach all in one go, and if Kankuro hadn't gotten him to the medics in time, he would have died as the poisons from those organs flowed unfiltered through his body. Still, since the medics had managed to patch him up without any problems and remove the poisons, it was certain that Kiba would be the first one released from the hospital, and soon.

It was the ninken lying down on a pillow at the foot of Kiba's bed that was a cause for concern. Akamaru had taken a horrible beating in the defense of his master, and it showed on the puppy's little body. Most of the dog's ribs had been broken, and his front paw had been almost crushed beyond repair. Combine all that with the amount of blood he had lost, and it was a miracle the pup had survived at all, let alone possibly being able to recover fully from this.

Sakura smiled gently and moved over towards the pup, and she softly asked, "Hey there, Akamaru. Is it okay if I pet you on the head?"

The dog barely moved, but he did manage to nod his little canine head and let out a soft yip.

Sakura reached down and stroked the animal's soft fur with her gentle fingers, and she giggled a little when he groaned in contentment when she scratched him under the chin. "Such a good boy, you are. A good dog, indeed."

Naruto smirked a little at the sight, and he idly wondered how Sakura would be when they had their own children in the future. That thought sent Kyuubi into raptures again, as she began squealing out at the top of her lungs, Grandbabies! GRANDBABIES!

Rolling his eyes, he remained quiet as the others talked, until Kiba looked over at him and asked, "Hey, Naruto? You okay over there? Your silence is freaking me out."

He just shrugged and gave a small smile. "Guess I'm just happy we all survived the whole thing. One newly-minted chunnin and a bunch of genin taking on a Sannin's elite group? Wouldn't be surprised if the whole thing gets bumped into an S-rank after everything's fully evaluated."

Kiba chuckled and leaned back into his bed. "Yeah, I hear you there. Still, even if Sasuke managed to get to him, at least old Snake Face lost some of his best in the process. He's going to be hurting for a while."

"And so are the rest of you, in case you haven't realized your own position," the blond replied with a raised eyebrow. "I'd say it was the devil's luck that none of you were crippled or killed."

"Ha!" Kiba retorted back. "It just goes to show you that we aren't your run-of-the-mill genin. Each one of us has taken on a Sound Five member and lived. I wouldn't be surprised we all made chunnin for that alone!"

Sakura rolled her eyes and bopped the boy on the head. "Don't you start getting overconfident, Inuzuka. You all survived by a thread, and you wouldn't have even gotten that far if Orochimaru had taken the whole thing more seriously and sent more jounin with those four. Based on what Kakashi-sensei told Tsunade-dono, Kabuto had lead a squad of ten of them to the Valley of the End to retrieve Sasuke while Naruto and he were fighting. Had they all been there from the beginning, things would have been so much worse."

The mention of the traitorous Uchiha caused an uneasy silence to fall in the room, and the others began to glance nervously at Naruto and wonder how he would react. Naruto rolled his eyes again at this. "Guys, it's not like I can do anything about it. Teme made his choice, and he's going to have to live with it."

"It's not that, Naruto," Shikamaru said hesitantly. After seeing the blond's rages last week, he sure as hell didn't want to set him off again, especially now that he was married to a girl who would just as soon throw him out the window rather than listen if she got pissed off. Trying for diplomacy, he continued, "It's just, well, considering...you know, what happened after all that, we really didn't have a clue about how you might react."

Both Naruto's and Sakura's eyes turned sharp, and the rosette almost hissed out, "Shikamaru, you should choose your next words very carefully."

"Saiai, no." Sakura turned to see Naruto sigh and shake his head. "We might as well get this out of the way now, or else they're always going to act this way around me."

Sakura huffed and crossed her arms, muttering out, "Fine." She still continued to give Shikamaru the evil eye, though.

Naruto thought his words over carefully, as he could just as well drive them further away than help them to understand what he had done, until he finally spoke once more. "Guys, what happened to me was basically myself reaching the end of my rope. You have no idea about what I was really facing at the Valley, and if I had chosen to ignore it altogether, then we wouldn't even be standing here talking about it."

Shikamaru nodded and said, "That has been something that I was wondering about, Naruto. Normally, in the face of adversity, you just plow on ahead, consequences be damned, but when I saw Kakashi's memory regarding the Valley, it didn't fit your normal profile. What changed?"

Naruto snorted. "Simple. I did." His eyes then turned wistful, and he raised his head to stare at some unseen spot on the wall. "I guess at that moment in the battle, everything just came crashing down upon me. You all know that I'm an orphan, but it was always much more than that. Do you guys know what it feels like to go through life never knowing true companionship or love? Could you really imagine being forced to go from day to day without ever knowing what it was like to be held in your mother's arms or riding on your dad's shoulders? To not have a family or clan or close friends really backing you up when you needed them the most? Yes, I had a team. Yes, the Hokage kind of favored me. Yes, I was being trained by a Sannin. But none of those things really kept me fulfilled."

He turned and looked at them with slightly sad eyes, and Sakura had to still herself from burying him into her arms. They needed to understand, and she couldn't coddle him all the time. I'll hold him later on when we're alone. He'll stay strong until then.

"What good is having a team," Naruto continued, "when you're still alone every day of your life? What good is having the Hokage's favor, when you are told that you are an abomination and that your parents abandoned you or died because of you? What good is being trained by a Sannin, when the entire village you are protecting wants nothing to do with you? When I began to compare that to what Sasuke had, I just didn't see the point anymore. I just...couldn't stand always being that 'dead-last' the village labeled me; and when I got back to the village, it just became more and more pointless in my mind. So, I snapped. I could no longer deal with anything, and I nearly paid a horrible price for it."

His hand drifted towards his stomach, remembering the pain he was in, and Sakura blinked a few times to get rid of the single tear that threatened to fall. The memory of that day would probably never leave her for the rest of her life, and often she woke up in the middle of the night just to make sure that Naruto was still there. It would fade with time, she knew, but it didn't make it any less painful for her.

"I'm not going to say that everything will be alright again and we can move on with our lives. For me, this goes far too deep just for me to pass it off as a moment of weakness. The first twelve years of my life have been a literal hell, and that's going to stay with me to the grave. The village may want this to go away, but the curtain hiding its ugliness has been drawn – and I refuse to allow it to be closed again. Either they can accept their wrongdoings and just leave me and my family alone, or they can make it worse by making it go away, which will show me that I'm better off taking my chances at the Capital. Even if I have to give up the ninja lifestyle, it's better than being used."

The room stared at him in shock, as some very ugly truths about their home had suddenly just been thrown at them. Unlike Naruto, they had their own friends and family out there to support them. Probably the only ones who were the closest to understanding where the blond was coming from would be either Tenten or Lee, but Tenten had been adopted at an early age to loving parents while Lee had eventually found a role model in his sensei Gai. To be honest, they had never quite felt the same level of loneliness as Naruto had. Even Lee was looked upon more with pity rather than derision due to his condition, and no one had ever tried to deter him from his dream since it was really all he had left. Naruto, on the other hand, had to fight – sometimes literally – just to even graduate and take control of his own life.

Naruto took in their expressions and sighed before shaking his head again. "Look, I've really got nothing against your families or anything like that; I just want to be left alone. This village as a whole has done too much for me to just ignore it, but that doesn't mean I plan on making them pay for it more than I already have. It's done. It's over. Nothing's ever going to make the past right, so I just want to get a move on with life. Whether or not the guilt stays with the civilians or the clans, that's their problem. I only want them to realize that I'm not going to be pushed around anymore and that whatever actions they make towards me will be met with consequences."

The silence in the room was thick enough to cut with a knife, and Naruto suddenly felt bad but wouldn't take back a single thing. Sure, he hadn't meant to bring the room down, but it needed to be said. At least maybe now, they could all understand where he was coming from and accept his decision for what it is.

The silence continued for a little while longer, before Chouji snorted and said, "As if anyone could ever really push you around, Naruto. No matter what the obstacle, you just plow on ahead without looking back, and I can respect that. I'm sorry for what my parents have done, but know that I have always considered you a friend."

Kiba laughed and gave a small howl. "Yeah man! I mean, you didn't give up even when I had you on the ropes! Hell, we all shed blood together and lived! Nothing beats closer ties than that!"

Neji's smile stayed the same. "You may have nearly lost your motivation, Uzumaki, but that only proves that you are human like the rest of us. You are strong in more ways than even you can imagine, and we'll watch your back to last moment."

Shikamaru nodded in agreement. "We're not our parents, Naruto. We can see where the wind is blowing, and we know that things must change in order for our village to flourish. For too long have the bigots and the extremists had the power to bend our home to their whims, and even if we have to stand against our families to do so, we'll be friends no matter what."

Shino simply nodded as well, staying silent as was his character, while Lee just gave a thumbs-up and a smile, replying, "Yosh! Sometimes our Flames of Youth must dim before they can become brighter, Naruto, so yours might become the brightest of them all when all of this is said and done!"

Tenten, resisting the urge to smack her teammate for spouting their sensei's words out of his mouth, distracted herself by saying, "You're not alone, Naruto, and you won't ever be again. You've given everything to help us and bore a burden that's only gotten heavier as time went on, and it's time we helped you carry it."

Ino gave a bright smile and finished, "In the end, we're all friends, Naruto, and true friends help each other no matter what." She then moved towards him so fast, the others wondered if she had somehow gained the Hiraishin, and she grabbed his shirt collar and began to shake him, screaming, "And if you ever get some stupid idea about killing yourself again, I swear to Kami you'd better pray I never find out! If you ever die, I will drag your sorry ass back from the dead so that I can pound some sense into you!" Her shaking turned more violent, and she used Iruka's Demon Head jutsu to scream out, "DO YOU HEAR ME?! I WILL POUND YOU BACK INTO THE GROUND IF YOU EVER HURT SAKURA LIKE THAT AGAIN! I'LL MAKE YOU BEG HER FOR FORGIVENESS WHEN I'M DONE WITH YOU!"

When she stopped shaking him and stood there breathing heavily, Naruto's eyes had swirls in them while he hung limp in her grip. Everyone else was staring at her with widened eyes, even Akamaru, and Sakura just snorted and rolled her eyes while crossing her arms and saying, "Wow. Psycho much there, Pig?"

Ino "hmph"-ed and let Naruto's body fall to the ground before crossing her own arms and turning her nose up in a snooty manner. "Well, if you're not going to discipline your husband, someone's got to do it. All men are bakas and need to have a woman's firm hand to guide them."

Sakura raised a hand to her face haughtily and let out a laugh. "Oh my! I think someone's jealous of my good fortune at being married!"

Ino gained an irked expression and snapped her head over to glare at her friend. Sakura just continued on, "Don't worry, my dear Ino-Pig! I'm sure when you grow up one day, you will find the man of your dreams as well! Of course, no man can ever be better than my dearest koi!" She then laughed haughtily again.

Ino roared and jumped towards the rosette, but Sakura just flashed out of the way and stood behind her somewhat amused husband, clutching her arms to her chest in an exaggerated manner and saying, "Noooo! I'm against violence!"

Everyone laughed at their antics, even Ino when she calmed down a little, and Naruto felt his wife wrap her arms around him from behind and kiss his cheek. As she rested her head in the crook of his neck, he allowed a tear to fall down his cheek and showed a small but true smile. "Thanks, guys..."


The group stayed at the hospital for another hour, talking about anything and everything. Sakura and Naruto recounted their trip to Nami, though making sure to not mention Zabuza and the Iwa nin, and Ino all but demanded that Sakura show off her purchases soon. Eventually, the nurses came to shoo the group out so that their patients could sleep. As they were leaving, though, the two Uzu-Nami noticed the group of Clan Heads and their respective spouses that was waiting for them outside.

Naruto stopped suddenly and narrowed his eyes at the people who had assembled there, and he felt his muscles tense, ready to react to the smallest action. Beside him, Sakura shifted her feet a little wider, prepared to jump right at anyone who dared to come near her Naruto. The other Rookies, meanwhile, could soon feel the tension thicken in the air, and they began to move a little more to the side. Honestly, they didn't want to be caught between their friends and their parents and be forced to choose who to support, but they glared at their parents for doing this so suddenly. Honestly, was it too much to ask for a normal day?

Naruto coolly moved his gaze down the line of people before him, his survival instincts going into overdrive, and his fingers were starting to twitch towards his kunai pouch. After all, the last time the members of different clans had banded together, it had been his eighth birthday, and he had been forced him to spend over two months in the hospital to recover from injuries that would have left a normal man at best hospitalized for nearly a year and at worst paralyzed from the waist down. So when the Clan Heads of every major clan in Konoha and their wives suddenly show up in front of him, it was understandable that his mind was currently in 'fight or flight' mode.

His and his wife's stand-offish actions must have made them nervous, but Hiashi simply stepped forward and calmly raised his palm. "Hold, Naruto-san. We have not come here to fight you or your wife. Please be at ease."

Naruto's sardonic grin showed just how much he thought of that. "You'll have to forgive me, Hyuuga-san, if I don't really believe you. You see, I can get very twitchy when a clan member approaches me, especially if he has friends with him."

Hiashi sighed and nodded. "Yes, I understand how our clans' previous actions could be considered rather...I guess horrific would be the appropriate word here, but I can assure you that we have not come here with any intent to harm."

"Sure, you might not," Naruto replied, his grin never leaving his face. "But who is to say that you haven't stationed others around who would simply do the work for you? After all, it is so much easier to claim you didn't do anything when the actions themselves are made by others. Loopholes, after all."

Tsume bristled a little at his insinuation – she came to him with her hat in her hand to try speaking to him diplomatically, and he dares to hint she is up to something?! - but Hiashi's arm flashed in front of her, snapping her out of her rage, and stared at him a little dumbly before he slightly shook his head.

As she backed off, slightly embarrassed she had risen to the bait so quickly, Hiashi focused his attention back onto the two in front of him. "As I have said, we have not come here to arrange for harm to befall you. We only wish to speak to you and your wife."

The grin finally dropped, only to be replaced with a cold look. "Then either speak or please leave. My mood has not particularly gotten better since last week when it comes to this village's inhabitants.

"Hiashi-san," a voice called out when Hiashi opened his mouth to speak, and Asuma strolled forward casually, cigarette in his mouth and his hands in his pockets. He turned to the Hyuuga head and continued, "Maybe I should be the one to speak to Naruto-san here. The Sarutobi clan was always more neutral towards him due to my father, and he might feel a little more inclined to believe us if I assure him of his safety."

Hiashi thought about this for a moment before nodding and crossing his arms.

Asuma took a drag out of his cancer stick and turned to regard the young teens before him. "Alright, kids. Here's the heart of the matter. What's going on right now is meant to be a formal greeting from the clans upon a new clan joining – or, in your cases, re-joining – the village. The reason for this abrupt gathering was simply to extend a formal invitation to join the Clan Head meetings that happen every few months or so, but I guess we should have thought this whole thing over before doing it. Anyway, you're already considered to be a member since you joined the village, but that doesn't necessarily mean that you have to show up to these meetings if you don't feel inclined to – unless, of course, your presence is specifically requested. After this first time, you will simply be sent a letter or be told in person by one of us of the meeting time.

"The meeting itself is also pretty basic. Its purpose is to act as a neutral ground for clans to meet and discuss any issues they have with each other, like land disagreements or trading propositions, without having to send someone into 'enemy territory', as the case could be. No plots or schemes are allowed behind its doors, as it removes itself from politics of all forms, so if you decided to not come, then you can at least feel comfortable about knowing that none of us will use it as an opportunity to take your clan out of the running."

Naruto raised an eyebrow when the man said that last piece of information. "Oh? And how do I know that rule can be trusted?"

"Don't you see, Koi?" Sakura said lowly into his ear from behind. "If they used that opportunity to plot against us, how do they know that one of them won't then plot against someone else? Pretty soon, the entire meeting would be nothing more than an unnecessary farce, as the neutrality of the meeting would be compromised with all the various factions divided up. No, most of that kind of plotting happened in the Council Chamber, where politics and money reigned supreme; Clan Head Meetings are meant to only settle disputes between the clans themselves without affecting the overall running of the village. But even with the Council gone, they cannot afford to lose this neutral ground, or else the village may descend into civil war and spell the doom of us all if the wrong decisions are made in there."

Naruto nodded slightly in acceptance before turning his gaze back onto the clan heads. "I'm going to be completely blunt here. I don't like any of you, and I trust you all even less than that. No matter what your feelings towards my father," he paused to glance at the clan wives, who stiffened slightly, "or my mother might have been, you should have at least shown the proper respect to them and the laws of the village you reside in and allowed me what was always rightfully mine. But since that bridge has already been burned and the ship has set sail, I'll just have to make do. Fine. I'll be there at your meeting. When and where?"

"The Hokage Tower, conference room five on the third floor, day after tomorrow at 10 A.M. The meeting itself only lasts roughly about an hour unless something major has come up."

Naruto nodded. "Very well. I shall see you then." As the group returned the nod and began to disperse, Naruto called out, "Hiashi-san."

Said man turned back and asked, "What is it, Naruto-san?"

"We will need to discuss matters regarding your daughter while we are there, so please be prepared to do so."

"Very well. We shall speak then," Hiashi replied with a nod. He then turned and walked away.

Soon, only the Rookies were standing there, relieved that the incident hadn't come to blows. Sakura turned back to Naruto and smiled at him. "Lunch, then the Hokage's office?"

He replied with a peck to her lips, causing Shikamaru to roll his eyes. "Oh Kami, watching you two is going to be nauseating, isn't it?"

Sakura didn't turn her gaze away from her husband and simply said, "Ino."

Said blonde smacked the pineapple-haired boy on the back of his head, making him mutter, "Troublesome women." This elicited another smack to the head, and Shikamaru wisely decided to shut up now unless he wanted to get a headache.

"Naruto."

The boy froze in his tracks and widened his eyes at the sound of that voice, before forcing himself to turn and look into the gaze of Kakashi Hatake.

The jounin had his hands in his pockets, his usual book of porn nowhere in sight, as he stared at his final two students. This was a sign that things were serious, as the man hardly ever went without his precious books. He just stared at his blond student, who stared back at him with increasing apathy.

Sakura, sensing that what was about to transpire would be of a more personal nature, turned to the rest of the Rookies and said, "Hey, guys, could you give us a moment? We'll catch up later." The others simply nodded and walked off in response, not wanting to involve themselves in Team 7's affairs.

As the two men stared at each other, both knew the reason why the sensei had approached his student after this long; it was time to set things straight.

Kakashi then said in his usual lazy tone, "Let's head to Training Ground 3. There will be less gawkers listening on us."

The children nodded, and Kakashi rested a hand on the blond boy and shunshined away with him. Sakura was confused for a second, wondering why Kakashi had only taken Naruto with him, until Shizune appeared with a knowing smile. "I take it Kakashi's been here?"

When the rosette nodded, Shizune rested her own hand on the girl's shoulder. "Come on. We'd best be nearby in case they hurt each other." The two then shunshined away.


A/N: I realize this chapter is really nothing more than an informative filler, but since it had been so long, I felt that it was best to post at least something for the time being. I'm still trying to figure out where I'm taking this whole thing, so it might be a while before another plot line crops up. There might be a few more chapters where I'm just trying to wrap up loose ends (Kakashi and Naruto, the seal, maybe even Sasuke showing up for a little bit), but I'll probably have something figured out before then. Anyway, thanks for all the reviews, and I hope the story continues to live up to your expectations!