This is one of the side projects I've been working on. Figured it was finally time to post it. This is aimed at the Shounen-ai/yaoi part of the fandom, because fiction with sex is much more fun. ; ) There may be lemons later. Post on AFF so I don't get shut down. I'll put the link on my profile when the time comes. I will try to make it so you can understand the story without them, but no promises. You've been warned. : )

On a side note, I'm not quitting Mimesis or Simplicity. Or this fic, of course. This fic is my top priority. The other fics I started weren't planned out well and I couldn't keep the stories going, sorry : (. I might come back to one of the others, but maybe not for years o.O. But I should hopefully be able to finish these three. They're my favorites so I don't want to leave them, although life has interrupted this hobby of mine several times. ; )

Also, this chapter has been beta-ed by Insanely-Yours96. : ) So glad for the help.

Anyway, on with the story.

edited 5/12/2013


The figure that wandered down the road was, to put it plainly, dirty. His long, bushy hair was matted, his face covered in dirt and sweat. His clothing was nearly drenched in blood and had so many gashes in it that it barely clung to his tall frame.

His blue eyes were dull and tired, leaving an impression that he was barely conscious. The figure was watching his feet, barely focused on where he was going when what looked like the base of a gate came into view a few feet ahead of him.

He tilted his head slightly in puzzlement. That wasn't supposed to be there. The gates had been destroyed in the war over a year ago.

He slowly, painstakingly raised his head to look through the entrance of the village before him. Immediately his eyes glazed over. It was sunset and there were few people entering or exiting the village, but in the failing summer twilight the village was radiant.

His throat closed and tears fell, leaving muddy tracks down his dusty cheeks. How...?

Konoha had been destroyed years ago, reduced to a military installation that was a mere shadow of its former glory. He'd never cried for his childhood home, having his loved ones alive and well had been all that mattered, but he'd always missed the beautiful village he'd grown up in.

He thought back over the battle. His loved ones had all fallen, one after another. He'd been left to face the worst of their enemies surrounded by the ashes of his home, but had eventually been overwhelmed. He'd used an experimental dimensional seal that ought to have locked his enemy away for eternity...only to have his very own seal turned against him.

Damn that slippery bastard Orochimaru.

He'd flooded the seal with the Kyuubi's chakra in order to fight it and he'd thought he'd been able to escape. The view before him told another story, however.

As he stumbled through the gates, he fought to keep his legs from collapsing. He'd been planning on going down fighting. Taking the last and greatest of Konoha's enemies with him. Damn Sasuke, why'd he have to be so stupid as to bring Orochimaru back to life? Once Orochimaru had finally found some way to take over his former apprentice's body, he'd been nigh unstoppable.
There was some irony to be found in Naruto managing to defeat Akatsuki only to be defeated by his possessed best friend.

But this...was he in another dimension? It shouldn't have been possible, but with the amount of Kyuubi's chakra he'd used...

He choked back a sobbing laugh. His last thought before blacking out had been a desire to see his home. It looked like he'd somehow gotten his wish.

But Konoha was different from what he remembered.

Suddenly he felt an ANBU patrol coming and quickly gathered sage chakra. He didn't have much energy left, but he could manage this.

Once he'd entered sage mode, he swiftly stepped into the gate's shadow. The cloak of invisibility was an e-rank jutsu that was perfect for situations like this. It required very little in the way of chakra control, which suited him just fine.

The ANBU passed like moving shadows on the wind, not even slowing to glance over his section of the gate. Sage mode was useful like that. It made his chakra blend into the natural world around him. Even a sensor wouldn't know he was there. Hell, the Hyuuga would be hard pressed to see through his jutsu, considering that it was formed using sen chakra.

He needed to sleep and recover his energy. He looked around before slipping back outside the gates. It would be easy enough to hide and rest in the forest as long as he created a clone to keep him hidden. After doing so, he curled up between a tree and a bush and sunk into a dreamless sleep with a sigh. No doubt nightmares would haunt him later, but for now his mind was too tired to torment him.

The first thing he did upon waking was to dispel his sage clone. Always keeping watch was a habit he'd picked up during the war. It drained his chakra somewhat, but a few hours sleep was usually enough to make up for that.

The clone's memories reminded him of his situation and he carefully crept through the forest until he found a pond large enough to bathe in. He thanked the Shodai and Nidaime in his mind; they were responsible for the many forests and lakes around Konoha.

After he had cleaned up, changed his clothes and cut his hair, he sat to meditate on his next move. He needed to speak to the Hokage. He'd prefer to keep his presence here secret, but getting clearance from the Hokage would make everything a lot easier. First he needed to figure out how to reach the man. He was bound to be guarded closely.

He reached out with his senses until he felt the Sandaime's warm life force.

He kept a smile off his face only through sheer effort, feeling the familiar chakra of the man he thought of as a grandfather.

As expected, the man was surrounded by a squad of ANBU that kept watch.

After taking note of their positions, Naruto released sage mode. He swiftly switched into kyuubi mode instead. Kurama nudged him mentally in greeting before going back to sleep. His friend was deeply exhausted, but oddly enough his chakra wasn't depleted...was it actually greater than before? That concerned Naruto, but he decided to wait until later to look into it.

He disappeared in a flash before appearing behind one of the ANBU. The man received a swift job to the back of his neck that rendered him unconscious. A moment later and the man's three comrades joined him slumped on the floor in the same condition.

Naruto quickly flashed in front of the Hokage, kneeling low. The Sandaime by this time had already summoned Enma and was preparing to extend the adamantine bo and take off Naruto's head.

Naruto spoke quickly but calmly.

"Sandaime-sama, your subordinates are unharmed. They have merely been rendered unconscious. My apologies for my rudeness, but I needed to speak with you immediately and without interruption."

He kept his head bowed, calmly waiting for the man to decide whether to attack him or not.

The Sandaime took a moment to look in the direction of each of his subordinates. Their even breathing was indicative of simple unconsciousness. There was no guarantee it wasn't something else, but from what he'd seen the man seemed to be speaking the truth.


The Sandaime's barked order contained a measure of irritation but the man was no longer brandishing his staff at Naruto.

Instead of speaking however, Naruto stood slowly and approached the Hokage. Once he was standing in front of the tense leader he presented the man with a view of the inside of his right wrist. A small sliver of his chakra sent to the spot revealed a small seal that read 'Rokudaime.'

Tsunade herself had bestowed it upon him before she died. It was tradition in Konoha for a Hokage to mark their successor with the seal; especially since most Hokage appointments had taken place on the battlefield. The seal's design was a secret known only to the Hokage, a way for the chosen successor to prove their identity in the event that their predecessor didn't survive.

Sarutobi himself still bore the Nidaime's mark as proof of his right to bear the Hokage title. As far as Naruto knew, Tsunade was the only one who hadn't received the seal, but fortunately the information on how to reproduce it had been located in the Hokage's library.

Considering that, it wasn't at all impossible for the mark to be forged, but there was one thing that couldn't be faked and that worked in his favor now. Sarutobi took his wrist and probed the mark with his chakra.

"Tsunade." was all he said.

The chakra of the person that placed the seal was the ultimate proof of its validity. Nothing short of edo-tensei or torture could force a Hokage to place the mark and Tsunade was both alive and free at the moment.

Naruto finally broke his silence.

"In my dimension, she was the Godaime. She appointed me a couple years ago before she died."

Naruto's voice sunk to a murmur.

"She expended her life-force keeping the villagers and our ninja alive after the first assault caught us off guard. It wasn't the first time she'd done so, but that time she didn't recover."

Naruto didn't let his tears fall, had already shed enough tears to last a lifetime, but his eyes still watered in agony at the memory.

The Sandaime's face was likewise stricken. He loved his students like his own children and couldn't help but respond to the young man's obvious grief.

It took only a moment for him to compose himself.

"Your dimension?" He asked suspiciously.

Naruto nodded, collecting himself as well.

"I attempted to use an experimental jutsu to seal my opponent into a pocket dimension but before I could use it the bastard managed to capture my last teammate."

His face twisted into a snarl.

"He killed her in order to distract me and then used my seal against me. I was able to overwhelm it, and I'm certain that the bastard got caught in the backlash, but there's nothing left of my Konoha anymore."

By the end his voice had descended into a hoarse whisper. They both stood in silence for a moment before Naruto gathered himself enough to continued.

"At least the children and civilians were evacuated. There will be survivors, even if they're scattered. Ours was the last of the five elemental nations to fall. The age of the ninja villages has ended...I can only hope that there will be some peace in my dimension after so much bloodshed."

He paused for a moment.

"But there's nothing there for me to return to. I'm not even certain I can return. It's probably impossible to ever recreate the conditions that brought me here. I'd be more likely to kill myself trying."

The Sandaime nodded, he wasn't called the professor for nothing, although space-time ninjutsu weren't his specialty per se.

The Sandaime stroked his beard for a moment, thinking.

"I could add you to the ranks as one of the jounin. There's still the matter of your background, though..."

The man blinked for a moment.

"What's your name by the way."

Naruto grinned foxily,

"Uzumaki Naruto, third jinchuuriki of the Kyuubi; son of the Second and the Yondaime. A pleasure to meet you, jiji...again."

Sarutobi's eyes widened at the introduction. The clearly frazzled man didn't even protest being called old, instead pulling a pipe from his robes and lighting it with a practiced flick of his wrist.

"So, I ended up making that boy Yondaime after all...How old are you?"

Naruto tilted his head. "Twenty-two."

Sarutobi nodded absentmindedly, looking pointedly at Naruto's whisker marks.

"Namikaze Minato is currently eighteen and you look like you could be his twin. Not to mention that there are enough people who will recognize those possession marks for what they are and eventually start asking questions. Probably not the right ones, but they will ask questions."

Naruto thought for a moment before taking out a blue cloth mask. It was Kakashi's. Naruto had kept it after the man had died...even in death, the cloth had been completely undamaged. That couldn't be said for the rest of the jounin's belongings.

Naruto handled the cloth almost reverently before using it to cover the lower half of his face.

He looked back at the Sandaime.

"You can claim that I'm a war orphan that Jiraiya found in...Nami no kuni and trained on and off over the years. It wouldn't be the first time he's done so. I believe he's kept quiet about the Ame orphans for the most part, even to Minato, so it wont be that much of a surprise that he didn't mention me.

Since Nami is near the former Whirlpool village, it wont be too difficult to link me to the Uzumaki if I want to claim my last name later. For now, it'd probably be better if I just go by Naruto, though. We'd only need Jiraiya's cooperation and I shouldn't have a problem convincing him of who I am if I can talk to him beforehand.

I know the damn pervert well enough to pull it off and it'll explain how I know so many of his techniques."

Naruto thought for a moment before shrugging.

"That's good enough for now. We might have to fill in some more details later, but we'd need Jiraiya for that."

Suddenly Naruto hit his right palm with his left fist as an idea came to him.

"Oh! You should put me in ANBU for awhile. It'll be enough to create a paper trail so that when you announce me as a Jounin you can decide how much of the truth you want to reveal. Or even make it look like my "history" as a war orphan and relationship with Jiraiya is a secret you're trying to hide. If the intelligence guys have something juicy to dig up, they'll be less likely to go digging around for more."

Naruto crossed his arms and nodded in satisfaction.

Sarutobi chuckled.

"I think that will work just fine. I'll create an ANBU file for you and classify it. It'll just say that you were raised away from the village and have been on an extended mission for the last few years. I don't doubt that half of ANBU will have read it and be hungry for more by the end of the week. You might have to dodge some persistent questions."

Naruto was clearly smiling under his mask, so Sarutobi continued.

"Jiraiya's scheduled to return from a mission in two days, so that will give you time to get settled into ANBU barracks and receive your team assignment."

Sarutobi looked downright mischievous at that and Naruto wondered what the old man had in store for him.

Sarutobi's face suddenly took on a worried glint.

"Naruto, could you check in on Kushina-kun? I don't know if you can help her, but she's been in an unexplained coma since yesterday evening. I suspect it has something to do with your arrival."

Naruto nodded, frowning slightly and Sandaime hesitated for a moment before motioning the boy forward.

"One more thing."

The man's voice had taken on an odd tone; solemn and gentle at the same time and Naruto found himself kneeling before the Sandaime, looking up into the lightly lined face.

Sandaime took his right hand firmly but gently and placed his fingers over the hidden seal, revealing it to his scrutiny.

Sarutobi carefully send some of his own chakra into the seal, molding it and reforming it until it read 'Yondaime' instead of Rokudaime.

Naruto watched this with wide eyes, a conflicted look on his face.

"Hokage-sama..." He murmured, eyes wide.

Sarutobi sent him a gently chiding look.

"You are a Hokage in your own right and I can tell that you've given a great deal for this village. There's no need to call me so formally. You've earned this. And it will set my mind at ease that there's someone that will be prepared to take my place immediately if anything happens. It will be up to you to gain the trust of the villagers and your comrades, however."

Sarutobi smiled knowingly.

"I suspect it wont take you very long."

The man walked around his still dazed successor and began shaking his subordinates awake.

Once they were awake, they immediately snapped to attention in front of the Hokage, their postures stiff, but still showing both frustration and shame to Naruto's perceptive eyes.

Sarutobi smiled serenely at the agitated special ops members.

"You'll have to forgive Naruto, he was under my orders to report immediately to me under the utmost secrecy if there was any change to his mission status. It seems that he took that literally and didn't want to wait to obtain an audience with me. I've discussed it with him so that this wont happen again."

He sent Naruto a pointed look at which the masked shinobi bowed his head submissively in response.

The ANBU were a bit miffed, but they could understand. They didn't recognize this man or his chakra, so they would have detained him before he'd gotten anywhere near the Hokage. No, what pissed them off was that he'd taken them down before they noticed him...they were only getting their first glimpse of this "Naruto" now.

The leader of the group spoke in gruff but calm tones.

"Sandaime-sama, if you don't mind me asking, who is this man?"

Sarutobi chuckled. "I don't mind at all, Bear. Naruto is an ANBU member that's been operating directly under my orders since his induction. There are currently no records of him at ANBU headquarters, nor has he ever been assigned a mask. Since his entry into ANBU he has been on a classified mission that he has only just completed.

I'm sending you with him to the ANBU barracks to get him settled in. It's nearly time for your replacements to arrive, so there's no conflict with your mission. Oh, and let the ANBU Commander know that I'd like to speak with him. We need to discuss Naruto's team assignment."

It wasn't the Sandaime's wont to explain himself overly much; it was clear that he was doing it to put them at ease. He turned to Naruto.

"Is there any mask in particular that you'd like?" He asked indulgently.

Naruto seemed to think for a moment, before replying cheerfully.


Sandaime's eyebrows rose before the man chuckled.

"The spirit that's named for the sound it makes when it surprises people? Well, it's unconventional, but it suits you. Besides, we already have a Baku, so why not?"

The ANBU in the room were exchanging discrete glances, silently shocked by the familiarity between the two men. One in particular was shocked, his father was almost never this laidback. Despite the more than quarter century difference between the two men, the Sandaime was treating this Naruto like a trusted ally and... almost an equal.

Sandaime turned to the ANBU.

"Kuma, Mujina, Mushi, Saru, don't worry about today. You did your job and never dropped your guard. Sometimes things like this just can't be helped, so don't beat yourselves up about it.

Please escort Naruto to ANBU headquarters. Show him around and see that he gets a room assigned to him. Relay my message to the ANBU Commander and have the mask master decorate a couple of masks for him. Dismissed."

With that the Hokage returned to his desk and Kuma's Squad led Naruto out of the Hokage's office. The five men walked in silence, surrounding Naruto. Despite the Hokage's trust of him it seemed they were still wary.

Naruto took the opportunity to discover what he could about his escorts. Masks were usually chosen carefully, with some of the more coveted masks being quite prized. Each animal had its own history and its own clan affiliations. Clan techniques were one of the few things that couldn't really be hidden even by ANBU, so oftentimes clan affiliation was flouted despite the need for secrecy.

Mushi was obviously an Aburame, probably Shibi given the age and status that came along with that mask. Saru was probably Konohamaru's father. The man had died not long after Kono was born, but Kono had heard stories about him from Sandaime and shared some of those stories with Naruto over the years. He was a good man, cheerful and strong.

Kuma was a man he'd never met or heard of, but his gruff manner was familiar. In his time the one to carry the bear mask was Ibiki, so this might be his father or another Morino relative. They were a relatively small clan, but known for their genjutsu and torture techniques.

As for Mujina (badger) he was sure that was Hizashi. Neji had coveted his badger mask like little else and had been extremely proud to receive it (he'd even smiled, the stoic asshole.)

Naruto strongly resisted the urge to call them by name. He'd already humiliated this team today and he didn't want to piss his new comrades off before they could get to know him. Then he could tease them mercilessly and blame it on childhood trauma. Naruto grinned manically behind his mask.

He was still reeling from everything that had happened. But more than anything he was grateful. He was surrounded by comrades in the home he'd thought lost forever. His enemies were all still alive, but he had them at a huge disadvantage at the moment and couldn't be happier about that fact.

Finally they reached ANBU HQ. He kept having to remind himself that this was Konoha from seven years before the Kyuubi attack. He didn't know what things were different about this dimension, but probably not all that much if it was the dimension closest to his. Regardless of that, Konoha was still a very different place from what he remembered. The older architecture of the buildings and traditional decorations he'd seen were proof enough of that.

The four men gave him a quick tour, the numerous ANBU (mostly unmasked) walking around eying him curiously. He was a new face and wasn't carrying a mask. That was extremely unusual except for new recruits. Considering that ANBU were handpicked by the Hokage, they didn't receive new recruits often.

After the tour, they got him a room assignment and escorted him to it. The extended full squad escort was beginning to get on his nerves, especially considering the awkward silence that dominated the conversation. Naruto didn't do well with silence.

After he unpacked (placed a couple storage scrolls on the bed) he turned around and clapped cheerily.

"Hey, do you guys wanna show me where the mess hall is and join me for lunch? We're going to be comrades now, so I'd like to get to know you better."

Immediately the men started demurring, coming up with polite excuses to get the hell away from him now that their mission was complete. They'd already split up during the tour to deliver the Hokage's messages to the ANBU Commander and the Mask Master. There was nothing keeping them from leaving except for Naruto's very strong desire not to be left alone.

So he used his knowledge as leverage.

He pointed at the monkey mask first.

"Sarutobi Sasuke-san." Insect. "Aburami Shibi-san." Badger. "Hyuuga Hizashi-san." And finally, bear. "Morino-san. Sorry, but I have no idea what your first name is."

He shrugged, ignoring the suddenly rigid postures of his still masked allies.

Saru was the first to react.

"How did you-?"

Naruto shrugged again before tapping his forehead.

"Clan profiles and process of elimination. I may not have worked with other Konoha-nin much in the past, but I know it's important to know as much about your allies abilities as possible so you can support them in combat."

He gave them an easy smile that they could probably see through his mask.

"Besides, I've been looking forward to officially becoming part of Konoha for a long time."

He scratched the back of his neck; a nervous tick that he'd never really gotten rid of.

"You guys are the first new people I've met since I got here, so I'd like to get to know you."

They were all silent, contemplating their reply.

Surprisingly, Kuma was the first to respond.

"Are you related to Namikaze Minato?"

Naruto blinked before laughing out loud, head back, shoulders heaving. There was a slight sharpness to the laughter, but otherwise he seemed genuinely amused. After a moment, he slowed to chuckling, wiping tears out of his eyes.

"Morino-san, you are extremely sharp. I guess we are related in a way, but I could hardly call the man family...I've never even met him. All we have in common is a fellow...acquaintance."

He said this mysteriously, noting Morino's narrowed eyes. The man obviously noticed the way he'd evaded the question, so he gave him a pointed look and evaded again.

"I am not a Namikaze. His parents died in the last war. They had no extra-marital affairs and no other children. I know, after I heard how similar we look, I checked. I guess I thought...well it doesn't really matter what I thought. I know for a fact that we are not brothers or cousins or anything like that."

He looked to the side, trying to hide how upset this conversation was making him. He didn't like denying his relationship with the man who would later become his father. He hoped they would take his discomfort as an orphan's disappointment; he wasn't happy to be grilled by an interrogations specialist about his father on his first day in this Konoha.

Apparently he wasn't the only one who thought it was tactless. Sasuke took off his mask and sent his leader a reproachful look.

"Ikiru-Taichou, how many times do I have to tell you that it's rude to interrogate someone you've just met?"

The man looked a lot like Konohamaru would except his hair was bushier and longer, reaching his chin. It reminded him a bit of his father's hairstyle without the bangs. The man reached out his hand and Naruto focused on his eyes with single-minded intensity even as he shook the slightly older man's hand.

"I'm Sasuke. Nice to meet you."

He allowed a small smile to cross his face, mentally sighing in relief as the familiar name didn't bring up any bad memories. This wasn't Uchiha Sasuke, this was Sarutobi Sasuke, Kono's dad.

"Naruto. Nice to meet you."

If the others noticed how focused he was on Sasuke's face they didn't mention it. It was worth the effort, he thought. He knew what it felt like to have someone look at you and see someone else.

With that thought, he relaxed a little, smiling more genuinely at the man. He was sure they would become good friends given the man's open personality. He'd just have to avoid saying his name for awhile.

Kuma removed his mask, staring at Naruto pensively. Naruto stared directly back, not intimidated in the least. Ibiki was a man he'd trusted and respected deeply and he had no doubt the feeling would extend to his father.

Apparently whatever the man saw in his eyes satisfied him cause he offered his hand readily enough. They shook once, not needing to say a word.

The others took their cue from their captain, removing their masks. Shibi wouldn't offer to shake his hand, instead they nodded at each other reservedly. Hizashi bowed his head a bit, but Naruto couldn't help the broad smile that crossed his face at the sight of Neji's father.

He knew something of how passionate this man was about his family and he respected him for it. He bowed back, but made no effort to stop grinning at the man. Hizashi looked a bit surprised at that but quickly brushed it off.

Saru was the one to lead them to the cafeteria. Naruto gratefully grabbed a heaping plateful of food and shoveled it into his mouth at inhuman speed. Even though they were looking directly at him, they didn't catch even a glimpse of his face.

Well, a man didn't work with Kakashi for so long without learning a thing or two about how to eat quickly. He wiped his hands on a napkin serenely as his comrades continues to gape at him.

"Is something the matter?" He asked in the most oblivious tone he could manage.

Saru started laughing while Hizashi just shook his head in disbelief. The other two showed no visible reaction at all, but that wasn't surprising.

"Who's this?"

The somewhat childish, disturbingly familiar voice caused Naruto to take a discrete calming breath before turning to look at the newcomers. Ino-Shika-Chou. Nobody had ever mentioned to him exactly how similar Chouza's voice had been to Chouji's when they were the same age.

Gentle Chouji's death had been a particularly gruesome one. He'd sacrificed himself to save an entire battalion.

Shikaku looked bored and Inoichi looked almost as excitable as Ino on a bad day. Oh boy.

What really made him glad for the mask on his face though was the sight of Namikaze Minato, clearly the Captain of the group, standing behind his teammates with a relaxed but perceptive air about him.

Naruto ripped his eyes away from the man in order to answer Chouza's question.

"I'm Naruto. Nice to meet you."

He smiled, bringing to mind the many days he'd spent with Chouji and his teammates. Eating, training, staring at the clouds. They were the ones he turned to when he wanted to relax, although Ino made that difficult sometimes. Thankfully, she'd actually grown into an intelligent and cheerful woman. They'd had fun pranking her teammates together from time to time.

He let those memories distract him from his sort-of father as he greeted the three nin warmly. Finally, he couldn't put it off any longer and met Minato's eyes over the head's of his teammates. It felt like a bolt of lightning had shot through him and he found himself staring for a few moments.

The man's face was less care-worn than he remembered, but he still carried himself with an air of wariness. His eyes were a darker blue than Naruto's and his chin length hair was a light blonde. The contrast to his ANBU gear was striking. Minato's brows knit slightly at the sight of a stranger in HQ, but otherwise made no move to greet him.

Finally, Naruto gave the man a slow, deep nod, face carefully blank, even beneath his mask.

He looked back to the others and found himself smiling again.

"Just back from a mission? Would you guys like to join us?"

Chouza agreed easily, obviously starving.

Once they were all gathered around a table, Saru and Inoichi took control of the conversation, although Naruto was sure they would both be scandalized if their conversation was considered "gossip."

Finally, Inoichi couldn't take it anymore and turned straight to Naruto.

"Who are you?" The man demanded heatedly.

Naruto smiled broadly at the man, barely restraining himself from laughing in his face. He was so much like Ino it was hard not to tease him about it.

"I'm Naruto, like I said. I've been on a long term mission and before that I was raised outside of the village. I'm looking forward to actually being able to take regular missions from now on."

He could practically hear the longing in his own voice and frowned slightly. He really was desperate to get back to normal, or whatever passed for it in his life.

Saru caught his tone and smiled reassuringly.

"Don't worry, Naruto, it'll take awhile, but I'm sure you'll fit right in."

The man chuckled a bit ruefully.

"Anyone who can charm my father so thoroughly, not to mention knock out my entire squad in a moment, will have no problem making friends and finding sparring partners."

Naruto scratched his head in embarrassment and chuckled not really sure how to respond. He settled for a simple "Thanks."

Shikaku raised an eyebrow, showing interest for the first time in the conversation.

"In a moment?"

Sasuke shook his head, still looking embarrassed.

"Yeah, he had orders to report immediately once his mission's status changed. Since we've never met him, we would have detained him, so he...knocked us all out before we could even sense him. Didn't injure us, either. I swear I haven't seen anything like it aside from Minato's new technique, and I think Naruto's might actually be faster."

He turned to Naruto curiously.

"How did you do that, anyway?"

Naruto fidgeted a little.

" know the lightning speed the Raikage's son A is supposed to have? It's kinda like that. I can use my chakra to move really quickly. It's a kekkei genkai...I think."

"You think?" Minato spoke for the first time.

Naruto frowned as he looked at the other man.

"...Yeah. I'm an orphan so I can't be sure, but I must have gotten it from my parents."

It was the first and most important thing about lying he'd learned from Jiraiya. Always tell the truth. He was shit at lying, so all he could do was tell half-truths and let people's assumptions do the rest. Too bad he was surrounded by some of the more perceptive ninja Konoha had to offer.

He continued, measuring his words carefully.

"Actually, I'm not entirely sure it really is a kekkei genkai. It might just be that my chakra has inherently unique qualities. If it is though, I'm not sure what the elemental combination is. I have affinities for wind, fire and lightning, so it could be any combination of the three. Probably lightning and fire."

He ended up frowning pensively.

Morino was the one to speak this time.

"Have you considered that it may be a Kekkei Touta?"

The table was silent and Naruto frowned harder.

"I have, but I use it so instinctively that I can't actually tell what the elements I'm molding are. All I know, even after years of training, is that I can change my chakra in a certain way and use it to shunshin at a very high speed."

Naruto shook his head.

"I'm not the type that can analyze my abilities well. I learn by doing...and even Hokage-sama hasn't been able to tell me more. I think since that's the case, it's probably a lost cause."

He finished ruefully, trying not to blush under the scrutiny he was getting.

Sasuke was the one to respond, sounding genuinely intrigued.

"It may be rude of me to ask, but can you show us?"


Naruto looked around, finding unsurprisingly that he was the center of attention.

If anyone saw him in kyuubi mode, he'd have some serious questions to answer. He couldn't really refuse, but this was about the most dangerous place to test his timing.

He sighed, before nodding once.


He answered simply and stood up. His heart was pounding from nerves and he found himself grinning under his mask. He thrived under pressure. He lived under the spotlight.

He took a relaxing breath before accessing Kurama's chakra. And he was gone. He reappeared behind Sasuke and immediately cut off his chakra. Since he was using pure uncorrupted bijuu chakra he doubted any sensors would be able to recognize it for what it was.

As long as nobody had seen the writing that covered his arms and neck in kyuubi mode, he should be safe. Thankfully there weren't any Uchiha in ANBU.

But there were Hyuuga.

Hizashi cut off his Byakugan with a strangled gasp. It was only a moment, but everyone had seen the blinding flash of yellow chakra.

Naruto gasped as well. Stupid! He knew what kyuubi mode did to Hyuuga eyes, he'd worked with Hyuuga often enough. He should have warned the man.

He slapped himself in the forehead, rushing to hover over the man nervously.

"I'm so sorry, Hizashi-san! I should have warned you. It takes a concentrated pulse of chakra and it's bright enough as it is to the naked eye. I should've known it'd hurt your eyes!"

He didn't touch the man, but he did find himself fluttering his arms, feeling a bit like a squawking bird.

With an effort he forced himself to shut up and give the man some space to recover.

Once he'd calmed himself, he asked more quietly.

"Hizashi-san, do you need us to get a medic?"

After a few moments of rubbing his temples, Hizashi opened his eyes and grimaced a little. He blinked a few times before taking in Naruto's hovering figure. He smiled.

"There's no need for that Naruto-san, I'll be quite recovered in a moment. Thank you for your concern."

With a relieved sigh, Naruto took a look at the others. They were all, without exception, staring at him in bemusement. Either from his jutsu or from his worrying over Hizashi, he wasn't sure.

Naruto blushed and rubbed the back of his head reflexively, returning to his seat.

"Um,, that's it."

It was a lame comment and he knew it. But he couldn't help it! They were all staring at him like he'd grown another head and it was actually beginning to make him uncomfortable.

Sasuke seemed to pick up on this and was once again the one to break the awkward silence.

"Sorry to put you on the spot like that. But that was seriously amazing! I've never seen anyone so fast before! How many times can you do that without getting tired? If it uses enough chakra to hurt Hizashi's eyes, you must have huge reserves. What else can you do?"

Naruto smiled, enjoying the praise a little, but also wanting to hide. Sasuke had suddenly transformed from the cool eldest son of the Hokage to an older version of Konohamaru at his worst. The resemblance was uncanny and it was also shredding his nerves. Konohamaru was the closest thing he'd had to an apprentice and the boy's death had hit him hard.

His eyes dilated and he had to fist his right hand to keep it from shaking. He looked around for a distraction before the memories could overwhelm him and found Minato looking at him with a slight frown. He almost sighed in relief. Someone familiar that didn't remind him of the war.

Minato seemed to catch his reaction and raised an eyebrow. The others were mostly just spectating; even Inoichi was struck dumb by the bizarre situation and Sasuke's sudden enthusiasm.

Minato smoothly cut off the other man.

"Naruto, you must be tired. You've just returned from a long term mission right?"

Naruto nodded mutely, starting to feel the affects of the mental exhaustion that had accumulated over the last few days.

"I'm guessing you're the one who's been assigned the room next to mine. I want to take a look at a few scrolls, so I can walk you back if you'd like."

Naruto blinked in surprise at the offer. He hadn't expected Minato to be so friendly, especially considering his calm, collected demeanor.

He found himself smiling gratefully, standing smoothly and politely excusing himself. Despite his usual coordination, he found himself yawning and barely walking straight down the hallway with Minato.

"...Sorry about that. They tend to be an inquisitive bunch and you're energetic enough that no one noticed how tired you are. Tough mission?"

Naruto chuckled humorlessly, deep voice tinged with bitterness.

"You have no idea. Thanks. I didn't even realize myself how tired I was until after the flash step."

Minato looked at him curiously. "You call them flash steps? Your jutsu's very similar to my Hiraishin."

He shook his head in amazement.

"My jutsu uses seals. It's amazing that there's someone who can do the same naturally. We should spar sometime. See who's faster."

Naruto smiled at the man's open curiosity. He didn't seem to be as suspicious as the others, but Naruto could tell by the sharp gleam in his eyes that he was just being polite. Minato wouldn't grill him until he was recovered somewhat.

"...Yeah. Sounds like fun."

He sounded tired even to his own ears and barely noticed when they arrived at his door. Minato motioned to the door to the right of his.

"I'm over here. I'll let you get some rest."

Naruto suppressed another yawn and waved at Minato a bit.

"Good night."

And with that he entered his room, shut the door and without even summoning a clone (he'd reprimand himself for that later) he collapsed on his bed and passed out.

Naruto woke from a dreamless sleep yet again and sighed with relief. Maybe if he kept exhausting himself, he would finally get to catch up on his sleep. He tried to dispel his clone and found that he hadn't made one. What the hell? He was never that off-guard.

There was something strange about how exhausted he'd been. The first night he could understand, but the second day he'd barely done anything.

He mused about it as he opened his storage scrolls. After years of war, he'd learned to keep his belongings with him in case of attack. The small storage scroll with his personal belongings, Ero-sennin's book, Konan's flowers, Baa-chan's necklace, Sasuke's scratched hitai-ate and the few pictures he had of his precious people he left sealed and on his person. Those belongings were too important to lose, but if anyone found them they would raise questions he wasn't prepared to answer. He'd better put a blood-seal on it when he found the time.

He opened another that contained clothing, toiletries and a few scrolls he'd been studying. Then a scroll that contained weapons-mainly kunai, shuriken and ninja wire. He never had bothered to get particularly fancy in his weapon choices. Finally, he left the scroll with camping equipment and survival gear sealed so he could grab it in case he got a mission.

He was just finishing putting everything away when there was a knock on the door. Thankfully he remembered to put his mask on before he opened it.

There was an ANBU messenger carrying a scroll that obviously contained his ANBU-issue gear along with two masks that were tied together. They were both blank except for a line of red circling the mouth and while Naruto privately thought that it was a little boring, he accepted the masks and the scroll with a respectful nod.

The messenger signed to him that the Hokage wanted to see him at 1300 and then disappeared. Moments later Minato emerged from the room next to his carrying a message that was obviously a summon from the Hokage. The younger man stifled a yawn while Naruto peered at him curiously.

"Ok, I know why I slept all day and night, but why are you so tired?"

Minato blinked at him a little blearily before shrugging.

"I stayed up studying scrolls."

Naruto raised an eyebrow at him before responding.

"Hmm. I've been summoned to appear before the Hokage at 1300, should I assume you have as well?"

Minato narrowed his eyes a bit.

"You don't seem surprised."

Naruto shrugged.

"Just a hunch. I'm receiving my squad assignment today. I guess I was hoping I might end up on yours."

He paused before continuing.

"...I've heard a lot about you."

That caught Minato's attention, causing him to frown a little.

"From who?"

Naruto grinned foxily.

"Just a mutual acquaintance."

Before the other shinobi could question him any further, Naruto continued.

"I was thinking about getting breakfast if you'd like to join me."

Naruto almost winced from how formal he sounded, but he was feeling awkward, dammit. He'd been too tired to worry about it yesterday, but now he was extremely aware of the fact that he was talking to his father's eighteen year old parallel dimension twin and the oddness of the situation was throwing him off balance.

Before he could freak himself out even more Minato shook his head.

"Sorry, but my friend Kushina is in the hospital in a coma and I need to visit her now that I'm back."

Naruto's eyes grew wide.

"I'll come with you. Maybe I can help. I'm pretty handy with seals."

Minato's face closed off immediately, and his stance grew controlled, wary.

"If you've heard of me, then you know I'm a seal master. I've already looked for a way to help her, so there's no need for you to. How do you even know about Kushina's seal? It's an s-ranked secret."

The younger man's eyes narrowed and Naruto could see why Namikaze Minato's enemies had feared him so.

But Naruto had already seen his worst nightmares turn into reality, and he certainly wasn't going to be scared of Namikaze Minato, of all people.

Naruto merely gazed back at the suspicious ninja calmly before pointing at his hitai-ate. It was scuffed up and dented, showing long years of use.

"I'm not an enemy, Minato. The Hokage trusted me with knowledge of Uzumaki-san's status for a reason. And I know you're more than capable when it comes to seals, but a second opinion can't hurt."

He spread his hands, eyes and voice serious and sincere.

"I just want to help. You can keep an eye on me the entire time, but if she's in a coma despite her healing abilities, then she needs all the help she can get."

Minato continued to stare him down before slowly, reluctantly nodding.

"Alright, but if you try anything even the Hokage's word wont be enough to protect you."

Naruto nodded, knowing full well how protective the man was of his loved ones. Hell, he was the same.

The two left for the hospital using shunshin, breakfast completely forgotten.

When Naruto saw Kushina he nearly cried. He wanted to run to her and hold her and bawl like a little baby from the sight of the vibrant woman looking so ill.

Her still face was sickly pale and her crimson hair was matted with sweat. He still thought she was beautiful, though. She may be younger than him and he couldn't really think of her as his mother at this age, but she was still family and that was something he'd never really had.

He immediately took her hand in his, running his other hand over her forehead as it glowed with green chakra. It was the only diagnostic jutsu he knew, but he wanted to make sure the problem was with her seal before he checked it.

Satisfied that there was nothing obviously wrong with her besides extreme chakra exhaustion, he carefully pulled the blanket back until it was only covering her hips. He ignored the way Minato tensed as he gently pulled her hospital gown up to reveal her stomach.

He wanted to roll his eyes at Minato's fierce expression. It wasn't like he was revealing anymore than her stomach. He needed to check the kyuubi's seal.

He placed his hand on Kushina's stomach, cautiously channeling a bit of his chakra onto her skin until her seal was revealed. His eyes widened at what he saw. The seal was mostly open and his stomach dropped as his chakra probing the seal revealed that there was very little of the kyuubi's chakra left in it.

He grit his teeth as he realized that the chakra would completely drain from the seal in a matter of minutes. He hadn't realized this could happen.

'Kurama.' He called urgently. 'Are we absorbing your chakra?'

It was the only explanation he could think of.

He heard Kurama's voice as if from a distance. The fox sounded exhausted and Naruto became even more worried if that was possible.

"Yes. Integrating my yin chakra has been a...taxing... process. It's required my undivided attention or I would have told you what was happening sooner. The reason you're so tired is that I've been using your chakra to stabilize and reinforce the seal. It's holding, but it'll require more of your chakra to maintain the seal until your body adjusts to the strain. You may need to open the seal and adjust it before you'll be able to use my chakra for any extended period of time, much less transform."

Naruto just sighed, rubbing his hand across his face.

'I'll worry about that later, right now I need to know if there's any way to keep Kushina alive.'

Kurama's voice took on a thoughtful tone.

"She's always had exceptionally strong chakra for a human, and at this point she's only been my jinchuuriki for six years. She should be able to recover as long as her body is given time to adjust."

There was silence for a moment while Kurama thought.

"To be honest I'm not sure, but I believe that a series of chakra infusions might help her body adapt. It's hard to say if using my pure chakra would be a wise idea, however. The aim would be to allow her own chakra network to strengthen until it can support her body without my help."

Another pause.

"Your chakra has some of the same characteristics as hers. Try transferring some of your chakra to her first. If it isn't enough we can always use some of my chakra as well."

Naruto blinked at the strange suggestion before shaking his head. If Kurama thought that his chakra could help Kushina, then he wouldn't hold back.

Naruto placed his hands over her stomach before carefully pushing some of his chakra into her chakra coils.

Minato reacted immediately, taking a step forward and drawing a kunai.

"What are you doing?"

Naruto grunted, focusing on his task.

"Trying to save her life. Her chakra network's going to fail in a few minutes if I don't do something. My chakra has some similar qualities to hers, so I'm hoping that I can bolster her chakra network. If this doesn't work I'll have to take more...drastic measures."

Minato frowned.

"If that's the case we should call for a medic..."

The suspicion in his voice was beginning to get on Naruto's nerves.

He interrupted, voice taking on an irritated tone.

"If they were able to help her they would have by now. Now be quiet. I need to focus without interruption."

Despite his annoyance, his voice still had a tinge of panic to it. His urgency must have gotten across, because Minato put his kunai away and didn't speak again, merely watching Naruto closely.

Naruto ignored the other man and focused his efforts on keeping Kushina alive. In another world this woman had died so that he could live and he'd be damned if it happened again here. She was much too young to die.

He carefully continued to reinforce her chakra with his own as Kurama's chakra steadily drained from her seal. Finally the last remnants dissipated and he held his breath.

Kushina's chakra flickered but held steady at first, but after a minute he could feel the unmistakable signs of the woman's chakra network slowly shutting down. She would last a few hours, maybe a day but that was all.

He pushed more of his chakra into her system, trying desperately to reverse the process, but all he managed to do was slow it down. His teeth grit so hard he thought he might chip a tooth.

Eventually he sighed, calling upon all his self control to use as little of Kyuubi's chakra as possible. His hand's glowed purple as he carefully mixed his chakra with Kurama's and injected a small amount of it into Kushina's chakra network.

The effect was immediate. Kushina's ashen face regained some of its color and her body convulsed off the bed as she gasped. She was still unconscious, but her body was reacting powerfully to the kyuubi's chakra, almost like she's been jolted back to life by a shock of lightning chakra.

Naruto's eyes widened in realization. Maybe it really was a matter of jolting her system until it was able to support itself. He didn't want to stress her body anymore than necessary but it just might work.

For the next two hours he alternated between mixing his chakra with smaller and smaller amounts of Kyuubi's chakra and sending his chakra into her body undiluted. By the end of that time he was sweating and shaking, but Kushina was doing remarkably well.

Her chakra network had functioned for the last twenty minutes without Kurama's chakra and it showed no signs of shutting down. She seemed to have finally stabilized, at least for the time being. He slowly decreased his chakra output over the next ten minutes, watching her carefully for any sign of relapse. She was still dangerously chakra exhausted, but when he finally stopped channeling his chakra she seemed a bit healthier than when he first saw her.

His reserves, on the other hand, were low and it was taking more chakra than he was comfortable with to maintain his seal. He sighed, slumping in exhaustion.

A hand appeared by his head and he looked up to see Minato handing him a glass of water with a slightly worried expression on his face.

"How is she?"

The man asked, but continued before Naruto could answer.

"Or rather, how are you? You look even worse than she does now."

Naruto shook his head and snorted, accepting the water and draining it before responding.

"She's stable for now, but she'll need constant observation for at least the next day." He tiredly raised his hands in a cross seal. A kage bunshin appeared and settled next to Kushina's bedside to keep an eye on her condition.

Naruto looked at the clock, noticing that it was already 1:10.

He groaned and stood up.

"Come on. We're late for the meeting with the Hokage and I'm too tired to shunshin there at the moment."

After a moment of thought, he grabbed a few ration bars from his pouch and started munching. He needed all the energy he could get.

Yuck. He grimaced behind his back as he headed for the door to Kushina's room. Eating gross ration bars when there was Ichiraku Ramen within reach was criminal, but he'd have to wait until after the meeting.

Naruto sighed as he pushed open the entrance to the hospital. The ration bars were already gone and he was still hungry.

It was going to be a long day.

Minato frowned in concern as he followed Naruto out of the hospital. Any doubts he'd had about Naruto had flown out the window while he watched him labor over Kushina's body, desperate and determined to save the young woman's life.

"I'm sure the team assignment can wait until later. You should be resting, especially if you'll need to watch her condition overnight."

Naruto just chuckled.

"My clone will take care of that and dispel if it needs me. As for me, I'll be fine after I take a nap later. Besides I'm looking forward to meeting my new team."

He grinned at Minato and set off towards the Hokage tower as a brisk walk, smiling at the villagers cheerfully and already looking half recovered from his previous exhaustion.

Even if he was putting up a front, Minato was soundly impressed by the man's stamina and found himself wondering exactly who he was, really. He'd been releasing enough chakra to be visible to the naked eye for the last two hours and was still walking around.

It was the equivalent of Minato keeping a rasengan active for two hours and he knew that even trying such a stunt would kill him outright. He probably could manage a half hour and that was it. Even if he'd had Tsunade's control he'd only be able to manage an hour tops and Naruto had kept it up for twice that when he'd already been tired.

Minato just shook his hand, his new friend was a mystery and Minato's curious nature was itching to learn more about him.

If Naruto was right about them being assigned to the same team, maybe he'd get a chance to.

When they arrived at the Hokage tower, they were surprised to find both Minato's team and Ikiru's team waiting for them.

"You're late, I hope you're not planning on making a habit of this you two."

The Hokage teased affably before noticing Naruto's exhausted stance. The man sent him a grim look.

"I assume you've been to the hospital? How'd it go?"

Naruto nodded and sighed.

"Fine for now, Jiji."

He made a point at ignoring the incredulous look the others sent him at the nickname he used.

Sarutobi merely chuckled.

"That's good to hear. Now, I've called you all here to discuss Naruto's squad assignment. For the moment, I'll be adding him as a fifth member to Kitsune's squad."

Naruto's eyebrows shot up as he realized that the Hokage was referring to Minato. The irony of Minato bearing the kitsune mask wasn't lost on him, even if the man was cunning enough for to do the moniker justice.

"However, Saru is going to be receiving a genin team by the end of the month, so I want Naruto to train with Ikiru's squad in case I decide to add him in as Saru's replacement."

Sarutobi paused hmming thoughtfully.

"As you are all well aware, squad assignments vary greatly within ANBU depending on the mission. The official assignments are largely a formality. However you nine possess complementary skills, which makes it likely that I'll send you on missions together frequently.

Given that, I want your two squads to train together as much as possible. As you are probably already aware, we are entering a war and we are at a disadvantage. After Sakumo's death in particular, we are vulnerable. I need all of you to be prepared to be sent out at a moments notice. Understood?"

Naruto frowned.

"When did Hatake-san die?"

Sarutobi sighed.

"Sakumo committed suicide last week."

The Hokage looked to Minato.

"How is Kakashi-kun, Minato?"

Minato frowned.

"Not well. He's been my apprentice for the last year, but even though the boy was stoic before, he's become completely closed off now. And I can't spend as much time with him as I'd like."

Sarutobi sighed.

"You have the next two days off after your last mission, hopefully you'll be able to spend some of that time with him."

Minato nodded seriously, while Naruto fought to keep from reacting to the mention of his jounin-sensei.

"Now then," Sarutobi continued, "Team Kitsune, I'll expect you to report by noon the day after tomorrow. I'll be sending you on a mission to see how well you can work together. Do you think you'll be recovered by then, Naruto?"

Naruto's eyes had wandered to look out the window and he barely seemed to be listening.

The Sandaime frowned a bit in worry.

"Is something wrong Naruto?"

The other ninja in the room were once again surprised by the familiarity and open affection the Sandaime showed towards Naruto. The leader's attitude towards Naruto was almost...doting.

Naruto turned to stare at the Sandaime for a moment before shaking his head slowly.

"It's nothing. I just...wish I'd been able to meet Sakumo-san."

The regret apparent in his eyes and in his voice was immediately noted by the surrounding shinobi. Their masks hid their general discomfort. It was rare for a ninja to show grief so openly, but to grieve for a man you'd never met, comrade or not, was unheard of.

The Sandaime merely shot an understanding look at the younger shinobi before responding simply.

"I see."

The two seemed to share a companionable silence for a moment before Sandaime cleared his throat.

"Will you be recovered by the day after tomorrow?"

Naruto face segued into a look of determination as he replied.

"I will."

Sandaime nodded once.

"Very well. Until then, you're all dismissed. Naruto, I'll send you a message as soon as he reports to me."

Naruto nodded briefly in reply.

With that cryptic exchange, the meeting was ended and the nine men disappeared. Ikiru, being the most experienced on the two teams, led the way to a nearby training ground to discuss their training schedule.

He didn't waste any time and gruffly addressed them.

"I know Team Kitsune just returned from a mission and Naruto-san is still recovering from his, so we'll wait until tomorrow to begin drills. I think perhaps a short training session with both teams would be beneficial; then we can leave Team Kitsune to familiarize themselves."

The last part was directed at his own team and not being a man of many words, he ended the meeting swiftly.

"Meet here tomorrow at 1500. Until then, Team Kuma, you are dismissed."

The four men that comprised the squad disappeared in shunshin and Minato took his turn to address his team.

"Right, rest up. We'll need to run through our formations tomorrow and we have a mission the next day with our new member. Spend some time with your families and get some sleep, you're gonna need it. Dismissed."

Minato's voice was relaxed, but commanding and Naruto couldn't help but think that the other man was a born leader, charismatic and inspiring.

He found himself grinning lightly at Minato as the other three disappeared as well. Minato removed his mask (Naruto hadn't bothered to don his) and raised an eyebrow at the other ninja's energy.

"Considering how you looked earlier, I'm surprised you're even still standing. Are you sure you'll be ready tomorrow? My team wont take it easy on you."

Minato's voice didn't hold even a trace of condescension, only concern. Naruto chuckled slightly.

"I'll be ready. I'd be more worried about your team keeping up with me. I don't take it easy on anyone."

Minato merely shook his head in disbelief at such bravado.

"With an attitude like that, I'd certainly hope so."

His voice was deadpan and Naruto found himself laughing loudly, head back and shoulders shaking.

Minato stared at him incredulously, but Naruto didn't even notice. When was the last time he'd actually bantered with anyone? It wasn't even that funny, but Naruto couldn't stop even when his voice took on a tinge of hysteria.

After awhile he calmed down. Minato just watched him with a slightly bemused look, clearly unsure what to make of his behavior.

Finally the younger man asked quietly.

"Do you think she'll be alright?"

Naruto sobered immediately at the reminder.

"I hope so," He answered seriously. "So far it seems her chakra system's adjusting well, although I'm worried about whether she'll make a full recovery or not."

Minato pursed his lips, obviously worried about his friend.

Naruto chuckled again, tone reassuring.

"From what I've heard of her, though, I wouldn't be surprised if she were back on active duty within the month."

Minato smiled slightly at that, but after a moment his face took on a look of grim distrust and Naruto held back a wince with effort.

"I'm glad she's doing better, and I'm grateful to you for that, but it doesn't explain why your chakra was able to help her...or why this happened at the same time you arrived in Konoha. For her burden to suddenly shouldn't have been possible, and I think you know more than you're saying."

Minato's voice didn't rise, but Naruto repressed a shiver with effort. The Yellow Flash could be terrifyingly perceptive and having that intelligence turned on him was chilling.

The knowledge that he was not this man's enemy however, caused him to be able to look straight into his eyes as he shook his head.

"I wont deny what you're saying, but I can't explain myself right now. I promise I'll have answers for you before we leave on our mission."

It was the best he could do. He wouldn't outright lie to this man, he was too important to Naruto. But he wouldn't tell him the entire truth either. He'd find a way to tell Minato about Kyuubi without telling him about his parents. He'd already realized that the Minato and Kushina of this world weren't his parents and he refused to burden them with knowledge of something that would never happen now.

Maybe one day he'd tell them the truth, but not until he was sure they were ready to handle it...maybe never. He felt a pang in his chest at that possibility and an irrational fear. His parents' love still shown in his heart like a bright light, but there was nothing connecting him to the Kushina and Minato of this world and that hurt.

He hoped that one day he would be able to call them family and have them see him the same way. Not as parents and child, but perhaps as siblings and close friends instead. He wanted to see them happy and he desperately wanted them to live longer than his parents had.

Minato searched his eyes for hesitation before nodding, seemingly satisfied that he would keep his word. The man then proceeded to order him to rest until the next day, claiming that as his team leader it would be his responsibility if Naruto overworked himself.

Naruto merely chuckled again before promising to return to his room and sleep after he'd eaten. Minato nodded again before disappearing, leaving behind him a memory of serious ice blue eyes and an expression that was trying just a little too hard to be stern.

Naruto returned to the barracks, chuckling. The eighteen year old ninja was oddly adorable when he lectured him for his own good. It reminded Naruto a little of Iruka's tendencies, sans big head no jutsu.

Too bad he still had work to do tonight. He would keep his word, but considering the state of his own seal, he doubted his 'sleep' would be very restful.

He sighed again. When would he be able to visit Ichiraku?

Tomorrow he'd make time, definitely.

He woke to a pecking on his window as the bright rays of dawn assaulted his eyes. Fuck. He wanted to roll over and sleep for the next hundred years. He'd spent most of the evening before stabilizing his seal.

He'd almost had a panic attack when he'd seen Kurama half mad with the rage of his own chakra. His friend had been free of that hatred for nearly half a decade, and the full force of his yin chakra and the darkness that had come with it had nearly been too much for him.

Kurama had resorted to something he hadn't done in years; stealing Naruto's chakra and using it to strengthen the seal that bound them together. When Naruto found him he'd been surrounded by Torii gates and struggling to control his chakra.

Naruto had finally entered the seal himself, loosening the bonds on Kurama's chakra and lending his will to that of his friend's until they'd been able to use Torii gates to wall off the yin chakra in a separate part of the seal.

They'd agreed that the best way to deal with it would be for Kurama to slowly integrate the chakra into his own until the Torii gates were no longer needed.

It was, all in all, an exhausting process and Naruto wanted nothing more than to sleep for the rest of the day. At least his chakra wasn't being siphoned off anymore. It was nearly replenished after a night's sleep even if he was still mentally exhausted.

Now he was being summoned by the Hokage at the crack of dawn, great.

He stared at the messenger bird groggily for a moment before rubbing his face tiredly. It was too early to deal with this. What did the old codger want now?

His eyes widened as he remembered the meeting yesterday. Jiraiya! Jiji was going to send for him the moment Ero-sennin reported in!

He finally stopped ignoring the bird, flicking up the window with enough force to rattle the glass. He grabbed the scroll impatiently from its beak and disappeared into Shunshin before the bird could even finish squawking its indignation.

He was standing in the Hokage's office a mere moment after the ANBU registered his approach. Not bad for a simple shunshin. Sandaime waved off his guards with a smile and Jiraiya peered at him curiously while he recovered from his sprint.

Then he got a good look at a Jiraiya who was twenty-three years younger than his shishou had been. He was in his early thirties, and he carried this innocence about him that made Naruto want to hug the man.

He had experienced war, true, but it was clear that he'd never known real despair- he hadn't experienced half the disappointment and heartbreak that had later forged him into the wise and deceptively laidback man that had taught Naruto what being a ninja meant.

He wanted to cry, he wanted to scream and laugh all at the same time. Naruto did neither. Instead he leered.

"So much for the strapping, virile man I'm always hearing stories about. You look so uptight I'd bet you haven't been laid in months, ne Ero-sennin?"

As the other man sputtered at him in outrage, Naruto turned to the Hokage who had an odd twinkle in his eye.

"So I take it you haven't told him anything yet?"

The Sandaime nodded before dismissing his ANBU detail with a wave of his hand.

"You're in the best position to explain the situation."

Naruto clenched his jaw shut.

"Right. Well, it might be better if I just show him."

Naruto closed his eyes for just a moment, opening them to reveal pupils that had changed to bars and yellow markings above his eyes.

Jiraiya gasped, but Naruto wasn't finished yet. Next he released sage mode and entered kyuubi mode, raising his standard issue uniform top to reveal a complicated seal that extended up his torso and down his arms, markings crawling over his skin.

Even Sarutobi looked surprised at that, muttering.

"So you've mastered the Kyuubi's chakra."

Naruto took a moment to concentrate, taking note of the signs of life that flickered around him. Hmm, there were only a few in the village who were actively projecting evil intent. The main ones he recognized as Danzo and Orochimaru. He'd have to do something about them soon.

At least he knew they wouldn't be able to hide from him.

He released kyuubi mode but kept channeling chakra to the seal on his stomach, allowing Jiraiya to examine it. The man practically drooled over the sight of such a complicated seal, causing Naruto to sweat-drop a bit.

"Who am I?"

Jiraiya stood back a little, examining Naruto's unmasked face closely.

"Minato and Kushina-chan's brat."

It was the only possible explanation he could come up with. He would have known if there had been a living toad sage, the kyuubi was supposed to be sealed in Kushina and the young man's face was a combination of his father's and his mother's features...all that even without the obvious coloring.

Naruto allowed himself a small smile at the man's perceptiveness.

"Correct. I was caught in a seal that was designed to lock the victim in a pocket dimension. I mostly escaped with Kyuubi's help, but I would up here instead...29 years in the past."

Jiraiya looked like he wanted to ask a million questions, but Naruto held up a hand to forestall him.

"I can tell you more about my world in time, but right now I'm more concerned about yours. Jiji, I need an update on the state of things, the war in particular. I need to find out what's different about this world if I'm going to be able to help."

Sarutobi puffed on a pipe that had seemingly appeared from nowhere and thought before answering.

"The war officially began a year ago, but the truth of the matter is that it's been coming ever since the end of the last war. Iwa and Kumo were never really satisfied with their defeat and the only reason Suna isn't our enemy as well this time is that they need our support after the Sandaime Kazekage's disappearance.

You could really say that the war began when Kumo destroyed Uzushiogakure six years ago at the end of the last war. Ever since then the Sandaime Raikage's been making small attacks against us, trying to consolidate his power. One was an attempt to kidnap Uzumaki Kushina.

Since that failed so spectacularly he's done no more than test our borders via Shimogakure and Yugakure.

However, when the Sandaime Kazekage disappeared last year, Iwa was quick to attack Suna, nearly destroying Ishigakure in the process. Ishigakure called on us for aid and we responded; however that battle failed to settle things.

Afterwards, Kumo was quick to form an alliance with Iwa. We received information that they were setting up a joint base in Taki in order to make direct assaults into Hi no Kuni. Sakumo's team was sent to sabotage the base.

It turned out to be a trap and Sakumo deemed that while it might be possible to destroy the base; that it would take the sacrifice of his team to accomplish. He abandoned the mission and as a result the enemy has made a number of successful assaults from that location.

We're currently working on cutting the supply lines that Kumo has been using to supply that base. They're moving supplies and shinobi through the Land of Hot Water and we hope to cut them off there. If we can do that, then we can effectively end Kumo's involvement in the war. The Raikage's involved himself opportunistically, but I don't believe he'll be willing to overextend himself for Iwa's sake.

If we can end Kumo's involvement, then we can focus on securing Taki and Kusa and ending this war once and for all. Thankfully, Suna's used the distraction to elect a Yondaime Kazekage and firm up their borders. So if we can manage to force Kumo and Iwa to retreat, things ought to return to a semblance of peace."

Sarutobi sighed, rubbing his forehead tiredly. Naruto sympathized. Leading your village into war was a Hokage's worst nightmare. War was nothing more than a chaotic mess that required strategic sacrifices to end, most times.

There had been no ending Orochimaru's battle with Konoha. The man wouldn't have been satisfied with anything less than wiping Konoha off the face of the earth and he'd had the power to do it. For all the camaraderie that had been built between the five villages while facing Madara, none but Suna had been willing to aid them when their greatest enemy had attacked.

Orochimaru had taken advantage and expanded his power base until none of the great five had survived; weak as they'd been after the Fourth Shinobi war. Unsurprisingly it turned out that many of the smaller villages had been thirsty for the blood of the great five nations after over a century of near endless war fought on their soil.

It was just as Nagato had said. The peace of the great five nations was just a thin veil hiding the sacrifice and suffering of the smaller villages. And when Orochimaru offered them a chance to take their revenge, they jumped at it.

He wouldn't allow history to repeat itself. He would find a way to make peace with not only the five great nations, but also the smaller nations that had been overlooked for so long. He would lead the way to a peace that would last. And Akatsuki (the original Akatsuki) and the other Jinchuuriki would help him do it.

For now though, he had time and needed it to familiarize himself with his comrades and the world he was now living in.

Naruto nodded thoughtfully after a moment.

"You're right. We need to do something about Kumo's presence in the Land of Hot Water. Will you be sending my Squad?"

Sarutobi looked at him contemplatively for a moment before seemingly making up his mind.

"Yes, I think I will. I take it you have something more in mind than simple sabotage?"

Naruto grinned foxily.

"I'd like to send a message to the Raikage. A display of power...and a statement of intent. It's about time they had a reason to call us tree-huggers all the damn time."

By the time he finished speaking, Jiraiya was looking at him dubiously while Sarutobi seemed somewhat intrigued.

"Uh...were you really my student?" Jiraiya asked somewhat dubiously.

Naruto merely grinned. "The best you ever taught, Ero-sennin."

When the man merely blinked at him in bemusement, obviously not quite sure what to make of him, Naruto merely looked to the Hokage. He scratched the back of his head a bit, not quite sure how to broach the topic he was thinking of.

Sandaime merely smiled at him patiently.

"What is it, Naruto?"

Naruto laughed a little sheepishly.

"Well, in order to get my point across, I might have to be a little...unorthodox. I was hoping you wouldn't mind."

Sarutobi merely shook his head, chuckling slightly.

"That mark on your wrist isn't just for show, you know. However, if it makes you more comfortable I will officially sanction your actions as a secondary objective of the mission I'm assigning Team Kitsune."

Jiraiya looked beyond curious and Sarutobi motioned for Naruto to reveal his mark.

As soon as he read the 'Yondaime' seal that was inked on his inner wrist, Jiraiya's eyes bulged.

"Sensei, are you crazy, you've just met him. Even if he is who he says he is, declaring him your successor so soon is nuts!"

Sarutobi gave Jiraiya a pointed look as Naruto just shrugged.

"Before his arrival here he had already been Rokudaime for two years. Currently, his experience, skill and knowledge make him most suited to replace me should I die."

Sarutobi raised a hand, forestalling any objections.

"I have been keeping my eye open for a suitable replacement for years. Your spy network keeps you out of the village too much and we both know that you prefer traveling to the responsibility of being Hokage. Tsunade has already left Konoha and I fear Orochimaru is too ambitious to put the village's interests above his own.

I had thought recently that perhaps your student Minato might be prepared given a few more years, but we may not have that much time. We shouldn't assume that things will go the same way they did in Naruto's time. As he has pointed out, there must be some difference between his world and ours.

I agree that he can't become Hokage until he has earned the trust and respect of the shinobi and villagers. However, that is exactly why I am going to give him the chance to prove himself. If he acquits himself well enough over the next few years, then not even the council will be able to argue with my choice."

Jiraiya's eyes widened with comprehension.

"That's why you've placed him directly into ANBU. ANBU is shrouded in secrecy, the members chosen by and only answering to you alone. It'll take them awhile to even realize he exists, much less that you've already chosen him."

The man's eyes narrowed.

"It's a risky gamble, though. If they realize you kept them in the dark about something so important, they'll oppose you at every turn."

Sarutobi sighed in agreement.

"That's why we've agreed to slowly leak information about Naruto until they're satisfied that they've learned everything. His official file only states that he is the orphaned relative of a Konoha-nin and has been raised outside the village. I allowed him to become a Konoha-nin himself and join my ANBU at fifteen and since then he has been on a classified mission spying on..."

Here he looked at Naruto who smiled widely, clearly enjoying himself.

"A dangerous group of Nuke-nin," he provided readily.

"...while occasionally training with you after you took an interest in him. His mission has concluded and I have deemed it appropriate for him to officially join Konoha's ANBU and aid in the war effort."

Jiraiya snorted in amusement.

"There are so many holes in that story that I wouldn't be surprised if it sinks in a week."

Sarutobi smiled pleasantly.

"That is why the unofficial story is that he is the only other surviving Uzumaki besides Uzumaki Kushina and that you discovered him in Nami no Kuni not long after Uzushiogakure was destroyed. His existence has been kept a secret as Kumo would love to get their hands on him. It's not exactly secret that they covet the Uzumaki blood and we both know they've been searching for a viable container for the Nibi."

Jiraiya's eyes widened.

"They might...actually buy that."

Sarutobi nodded, smile disappearing.

"Let us hope so. But if they don't there is one final truth that they will not expect."

Both of the other men in the room stared at the Hokage with rapt attention. It wasn't often that Sarutobi's voice became so grim.

"Fifteen years before Kushina became the second Jinchuuriki of the Kyuubi, part of the Kyuubi's chakra was sealed into Naruto on the day he was born. His father was an Uzumaki seal master who sacrificed his life to ensure that Naruto would have the strongest seal available.

It was hoped that if the boy grew with the chakra of the Kyuubi in him from birth, that he would be able to control the Kyuubi's chakra without needing the special chakra that Mito-sama possessed. For that reason, he was raised in secret in Nami no Kuni. In time, it was intended for the rest of the Kyuubi's chakra to be sealed into him as well before Mito-sama's death.

However, three years later a girl child was born to the Uzumaki who bore the same powerful chakra that Mito-sama had. It was deemed more fitting that she become the next Jinchuuriki instead.

Thus Uzumaki Kushina took Mito-sama's place as the Jinchuuriki while Naruto continued to live and train in secret. After Uzushiogakure was destroyed, you discovered Naruto in Nami no Kuni and took him on as your student. However, it was unexpected that Naruto's seal being the more powerful one would cause the Kyuubi within Kushina to be absorbed by his seal once they got close enough to one another.

The fact that Naruto is the Jinchuuriki of the Kyuubi while Kushina-kun obviously no longer is will not go unnoticed for long. We will need an explanation for it unless we intend to reveal where you really came from, Naruto. And I do not believe that doing so would be wise."

Both Naruto and Jiraiya were silent after hearing the story that the Sandaime had weaved. Jiraiya was thoughtful and slightly disturbed by the fabrication, while Naruto was worried over how Kushina and Minato would react to this.

He really hated lying to them, but he had already made up his mind not to tell them of his relation to them. Also, he hated to admit it, but the story hit close to home and reminded him painfully of the way his friend Sora had been used. After a moment he realized that his presence here would insure that the Sora of this world would never have to bear that burden. To be able to free him and Kushina of the pain of being labeled Jinchuuriki made this lie more than worth it.

There was one thing that bothered him though and when he spoke it was with an uncharacteristically timid voice.

"Jiji, Minato already suspects that there might be a link between me and Kyuubi. He and Kushina will need answers sooner rather than later, but I'm not sure I can bring myself to lie to them. Can you..."

He looked away, frowning and biting his lip. He hated asking the Sandaime to lie for him.

Sarutobi spoke softly.

"If you wish, Naruto, you know that you can choose to tell them the truth..."

Naruto looked back at him with a fierce expression on his face.

"Absolutely not. Blood relatives or not, they are not the same people as my parents and I don't want them to feel that they bear any responsibility for the life I've led when they don't. They deserve the freedom to live their own lives and make their own choices and I wont take that away from them.

They're still young, and I want them to live long, happy lives. It's something my parents never had, one of the few things I've always regretted. They gave so much for me and even though I know they died without regrets, I've always wished that they could have had more time."

He was struggling not to cry by the time he finished speaking, surprising even himself with the strength of his emotions.

Jiraiya was the one to answer this time, eyebrows knit together in consternation.

"What about you? Don't you want to them to acknowledge your feelings and understand them?"

Naruto's face cleared. He put his hand to his chest and smiled a warm, sincere smile.

"It's ok if they don't. Like I said, they're not my parents, not really. My parents gave their lives for me. They loved me more than anything. I only met them for awhile, but it was enough to understand their feelings. To feel how much they truly loved me.

Even now, years later, I can still feel their love and encouragement in my heart. Those memories are very precious to me. Because of them I've had the courage to seek my own happiness, to keep going no matter what and to believe in myself. They gave me life and hope and I just...want to return the favor, even if the Minato and Kushina you know aren't the same people."

Naruto smile turned rueful.

"I'll lie to them if I have to, but honestly I'm not very good at lying in the first place and it'll be much harder to lie to them especially."

Sarutobi agreed without reservation, but Jiraiya was still frowning slightly.

"Even if you say they're not your parents, you obviously care about them. Kushina may accept you as an Uzumaki, but Minato tends to keep his distance from others. You're just going to hurt yourself, staying around him without him knowing who you are. He's not a kid that can't handle the truth."

Naruto merely smirked cockily.

"There's no one who's better at getting through to aloof bastards than me. Just you wait, Ero-sennin. Give me a month and Minato will be calling me his long lost older brother."

There wasn't really anything that Jiraiya could say to argue with that declaration and after a moment the older man just shrugged.

Then he abruptly started rubbing his hands together, an almost giddy gleam entering his eyes.

"So you say you were my apprentice, right? Then that makes it my right to test your skills."

Naruto started sputtering, offended beyond belief.

"I was a friggin' Hokage you damned pervert, I don't need to be tested like some wet-behind-the-ears genin. Besides, you're only eight years older than me. You've got a lot of nerve acting like my Shishou."

Jiraiya waved his hand dismissively.

"Big words for a brat. You may have a ton of power, but I'd bet your precision is crap. Your chakra control is probably abysmal and with the way you carry yourself your taijutsu isn't much better."

The man narrowed his eyes.

"How long did I train you anyway, maybe a couple of years tops? No wonder you act like such an idiot, you never completed your training. Go figure my "best student" would end up being a dolt with a mix of skills that range from Kage level to sub-genin."

Jiraiya pointed at him in accusation.

"You're a hundred years too early if you think there's nothing left for the great Jiraiya-sama to teach you."

Naruto found himself laughing helplessly at the man's act. Truthfully, the war had ironed out most of his kinks and his basic skills were all ANBU level at least. Well, except Genjutsu. Still, Jiraiya was probably right. The man was all around the greatest ninja he'd ever known.

Despite the way he acted, the man had more cunning and battle-honed instinct in his pinky than most ninja had in their whole body. And there was no substitute for experience. No matter how much power or how many jutsu Orochimaru amassed, Jiraiya would always be his better when it came to experience.

Naruto found himself grinning at the slightly older man sincerely. Jiraiya was clearly trying to make him feel more comfortable and Naruto was grateful for it.

"Yah, you're probably right. Gods, I missed having you around, Oo-baka-hentai."

Jiraiya twitched at the insult, but decided to let it go for once. The two men lapsed into a companionable silence before Naruto started grinning evilly.

"That being said, if you don't stop perving and confess-sincerely- to Tsunade by the end of the year, I'll shove an Oo-dama Rasengan up your ass, Ero-sennin."

Jiraiya turned red and instinctively covered his butt with his hands, somehow knowing that the other man could make good on the threat.

Naruto huffed, before continuing more seriously.
"She finally promises you a date and you have to go and get yourself killed. She was devastated, you know. It's not easy losing both the person you love and your last teammate at the same time. I would know. Don't make the same mistake as my Shishou and wait until it's too late, Jiraiya."

Jiraiya was wide-eyed and almost pale. Naruto knew that the man cared deeply for his blonde-haired teammate and the thought of hurting her horrified him...maybe knowledge of what had happened in Naruto's world would be enough to get him to stop tip-toeing around her.

Naruto himself had his own regrets. He had only finally confessed his feelings to Sakura a month before the end and he regretted not doing so sooner.

Even then he'd known she still loved Sasuke...and she knew he knew. But by that time neither of them had cared. They'd both lost Sasuke to Orochimaru and the pain of that loss brought them together. And even if Sakura hadn't loved him in exactly the same way, he'd still known he was precious to her.

It had been enough to know that the woman he loved had found solace and a measure of peace in his arms. And when he'd made his last stand it had been with her by his side, fiercely protective of him as always. She had died protecting him and smiled while doing so.

If it weren't for the fact that he was Hokage and had to continue to live, continue protecting his village and carrying the hopes of his comrades and friends with him to the end, he would have regretted not dying with her.

But he was Hokage and he could not die until he ensured that his loved ones would live to know peace... even if they would never understand exactly how precious they were to him.

Some of his thoughts must have shown on his face because Sarutobi cleared his throat, pointedly reminding the two men that they were in the Hokage's office and that he was a busy man with a village to run.

The Hokage looked a cross between worried and amused as he called the meeting to an end.

"Your spar with Naruto will have to wait until he'd finished training with his team and completed his first mission. For now, here's the address to your new apartment, Naruto. You wont have much time to move in before your mission I'm afraid, but at least you'll have somewhere to go when you're off-duty."

Jiraiya pouted, an expression that looked extremely strange on him, and Naruto chuckled at his expense while a clone popped into existence to accept the slip of paper from the Hokage. It disappeared from the room a moment later, but Naruto was already distracted, his eyes widening comically.

"Kushina's finally awake!"

A shadow clone sprang to life beside him and took off to let Minato know. Naruto grinned like an idiot. He would finally get to meet her!

"Sorry Jiji, but I gotta go see how she's doing!"

With that he disappeared without waiting to be dismissed, leaving a chuckling Sarutobi who was shaking his head at his antics.

"Soo," Jiraiya began casually, "Why did you really choose him?"

Sarutobi cocked an eyebrow at his student.

"What exactly do you mean?"

Jiraiya just eyed his sensei with annoyance.

"You know exactly what I mean, you old fart."

Hiruzen tsked his student, shaking his head sagely.

"For exactly the reasons I said. I'm sure you saw it as well. With a little more experience he will make an excellent successor."

"And I'm sure the fact that that seal allows you to keep a close eye on him has nothing to do with it."

Jiraiya finished dryly.

Now it was Sarutobi's turn to look at him with annoyance, eyebrow twitching slightly.

"If I really thought he was an enemy I would never mark him as my successor. It would make it child's play for him to assassinate me and take my position."

Jiraiya guffawed.

"'Child's play', you talk like you really are a helpless old man. We both know better."

Hiruzen regarded him seriously.

"He could do it, if he really wanted to. He may be a little rough around the edges, but in terms of sheer power he's clearly surpassed his predecessors."

Jiraiya's eyebrows rose nearly to his hairline. He knew the man was strong, but Sarutobi implied that Naruto was stronger than even the Shodai in his prime.

"That's why I chose him as my successor. He may not have been completely prepared to be Hokage when he took the mantle, but neither was I really. No, what really concerns me is what kind of opponent could have destroyed Konoha while he was protecting it.

He's refused to say a word and I will respect that, but the fact that he was unable to prevent his Konoha's destruction tells me two things.

One is that the enemy must have commanded unparalleled military might. Our village has the most formidable military of the five nations. For it to be wiped out in a mere two years would require a force larger than even the other nations could bring to bear.

And second is that their leader must have been both powerful enough and cunning enough to overwhelm Naruto in battle. That he had to resort to using an untested seal against his enemy means that they were at least evenly matched in terms of strength. That the man managed to capture and kill his teammate before Naruto could use his seal implies a great deal of experience in actual combat. Someone like that we should already be aware of, so the fact that I don't know who it is is something that worries me.

Altogether, everything that he's told me makes me fear for the future and I still think that there is a great deal that he's withholding. As long as it is possible that such an enemy will arise in the future, we will need his help in order to prevent it. He has both the knowledge and the will to do so. He may not be from our world, but we are lucky to have him.

He carries the will and hopes of his entire village. He is a Hokage who bears the will of fire. That is why I've chosen him. Complications aside, as soon as I met him I knew there was no one else I could choose."

Jiraiya was speechless and felt humbled by his sensei for the first time in many years. It was easy to forget sometimes, what with the way Hiruzen tended to act, exactly how much the man bore on his shoulders and how long he'd been carrying that burden.

He'd been Hokage for nearly forty years already, longer than Jiraiya had been alive. If he'd finally found someone he trusted to take over that burden, then who was Jiraiya to argue?

He didn't say any of that of course, chuckling instead.

"I understand, sensei. You're not getting any younger and you've finally found a young guy that's stupid enough to actually want to do all your paperwork for you. I see how it is."

Hiruzen's eyes crinkled shut as the man let out a rare grin.

"You may not be the smartest or the most talented of my students but you are undoubtedly the most discerning Jiraiya and that is perhaps the most important quality that a ninja must possess."

Jiraiya just rolled his eyes at the back-handed compliment. He was long used to the man qualifying his praise and took it in stride.

"Besides which, it is clear to me that as a teacher you know no equal."

Jiraiya just blinked, unsure how to respond to that. He rubbed the back of his head and spoke a little gruffly.

"I'd better go check on Kushina-kun's seal. It'd be better if Tits could take a look at the girl's condition, but for now I'll have to do."

Sarutobi chuckled teasingly.

"If Naruto has anything to say about it, I suspect Tsunade will have returned to the village by the end of the year."

The man's eyes danced with amusement and Jiraiya nearly fled the room in his haste to leave.

Sarutobi returned to his paperwork, puffing contentedly on his pipe. He'd learned the hard way how to enjoy the simple pleasures in life long ago. Perhaps soon he could look forward to indulging in those simple pleasures all day long instead of only occasionally. 'Retired Hokage' had a nice ring to it.

When Naruto entered the hospital room, it was to find a very tired and very curious looking Kushina staring at the chair next to the side of her bed. It'd been only about a minute since his clone had dispelled and it wasn't surprising that Kushina would be wondering what was going on.

The weary woman blinked upon noticing before bursting out in chatter, pointing at him obnoxiously.

"You just disappeared, dattebane! How did you do that? And who the hell are you, anyway? I swear, if you were messing around while I was asleep, I'll kill you where you stand, dattebane!"

She scowled fiercely and swung a leg out of bed, preparing to make good on her threat. Before she could though, her eyelids fluttered and she collapsed, barely holding onto the bedpost.


She looked confused and frustrated and Naruto finally stopped gaping and rushed forward. He put a gentle hand on her shoulder and pushed her back until she was lying down. She struggled a bit, but she was still too weak to do more than glare.

She started to speak, but he cut her off.

"I'll answer your questions, but you have to calm down. You nearly died several times yesterday. It took over two hours to finally stabilize your vitals. I'm surprised you're even awake this early."

Kushina gaped at him uncomprehendingly. After a moment she seemed to recover herself slightly and started glaring again.

"Who are you?"

She demanded rudely.

Naruto couldn't help chuckling, even though Kushina looked murderous at the thought of him laughing at her. She was like a cross of himself at twelve and Sakura at sixteen. He really had chosen a woman like her to love.

He grinned cheerfully at Kushina, not letting the pain the memory brought to him show on his face.

"Uzumaki Naruto, dattebayo. I was just thinking that we really are related."

His face took on a wistful expression.

"It's nice to finally meet someone else from the Uzumaki clan."

Kushina looked at him skeptically.

"You don't look like an Uzumaki."

Naruto shrugged.

"I guess I take after"

Thankfully Kushina didn't comment on the slight hesitation. It would take awhile to get used to the cover story Jiji had come up with for him.

Before either of them could continue though, Minato appeared next to Kushina via Hiraishin, just as Naruto received the memories from his clone. As soon as he'd realized that she was awake, Minato had dropped the scroll he'd been reading and disappeared.

Minato bit his lip worriedly as he bent forward over Kushina.

"Kushina, how do you feel? I'm glad you're awake. Make sure you don't try to get up too soon though, we don't want you collapsing again."

He continued to fuss over her until Kushina's eyebrow started twitching. Finally she lost what little patience she had.

"I'm fine, dattebane! In no time at all I'll be kicking your pansy ass, Minato-baka!"

Naruto sweat-dropped. Had his parents really been like this too?

He cleared his throat, calling their attention back to him.

"Like I just told Kushina, my full name is Uzumaki Naruto and I'm the jinchuuriki of the Kyuubi."

Minato's eyes widened and Kushina gasped.

"That's not possible, dattebane!"

She palmed a kunai seemingly from thin air and used it to cut open her hospital gown at her navel. The sight of the open, empty seal on her stomach caused her to drop the kunai on the mattress as she looked back at Naruto.

"How...why? This- I shouldn't even be alive."

Kushina looked truly frightened for perhaps the first time in her life.

Naruto nodded grimly.

"If I'd known this would happen, I never would have come to Konoha. I had four tails of the Kyuubi's chakra sealed inside me on the day I was born. Your seal must be weaker than Mito-sama's- and mine- because when I came here the chakra in your seal started transferring to mine. Thankfully I realized what was happening before all the chakra left your seal. I was able to use a combination of my and Kyuubi's chakra to help your body adjust."

Naruto ran a weary hand through his hair, sighing softly.

"You were right." he stated, turning to Minato.

"This is what I was hiding from you."

Among other things, he couldn't help but think guiltily.

Kushina's was still staring at him, but now her brow was furrowed in thought.

"You shouldn't be alive, either."

She said abruptly.

Minato turned to her in surprise. He may have been a seal master, but demon seals were Kushina's specialty. She'd been teaching him a little recently, but there was a lot to learn.

"Even if your seal was stronger, gaining five tails of Kyuubi's chakra should have been enough to overwhelm it. Even if you had good control over the bijuu chakra you had, your seal and body shouldn't have been able to cope with the sudden increase."

Naruto grimaced, nodding reluctantly.

"...Yah. I was barely able to keep it under control until your chakra stabilized. My seal held even after that, but I ended up having to adjust it last night. For now, I've sealed off the rest of the Kyuubi's chakra in a separate part of my seal. I'll have to integrate it with the rest of Kyuubi's chakra until I adjust to it."

Even Minato understood enough to realize what a feat that was and the two stared at him with something akin to awe. Naruto shifted uncomfortably.

Finally Kushina shook her head.
"Thank you. That was extremely risky, but you saved my life."

Kushina was still brash, but Naruto could see a glimpse of the strong and kind woman she would become. Although she would never completely lose her dangerous temper. He smiled and nodded.

His smile faltered a second later as Kushina returned to questioning him in earnest, a strangely excited gleam in her eyes.

"To be able to do that, you must be really good at controlling the Kyuubi's chakra. Do you have the same chakra as me? I was told I was the only one, but...Speaking of which, why haven't I heard of you before? Naruto's a unique name and you're older than me. But I don't remember anyone mentioning an Uzumaki Naruto when I was a kid."

Her face became a little sad at the mention of her lost country, but she brightened up almost immediately, insistent green eyes demanding answers.

Naruto stiffened even as Minato face-palmed at Kushina's lack of tact.

He couldn't help looking away as he answered.

"Kyuubi was sealed into me the day I was born. It was something that they weren't allowed to talk about in the village. Eventually, around the time of the invasion I met Jiraiya and he took me on as his student. That was when I was thirteen... you'll have to talk to the Hokage to hear the rest, but no I don't have the same chakra as you."

Kushina frowned and opened her mouth to ask more, but Minato's hand on her shoulder stopped her. He shook his head slightly. Perceptive as always, he had caught Naruto's discomfort and decided it best not to pressure him.

Naruto's emotional reactions since entering Konoha had been a little off- swinging drastically from relief and happiness to sadness and regret. The man had hidden it well, but he was clearly struggling with himself over something. Minato didn't know what was going on, but their questions would have to wait for now. He didn't want Naruto unbalanced when they went on their first mission together the next day.

Kushina pouted, but relented. Despite that her gaze never left Naruto's face once as Minato skillfully shifted the topic to Naruto's abilities, claiming to need to know in preparation for their mission.

She was a bit surprised to learn that Naruto was going to be a member of Minato's team. ANBU identities were usually kept secret, but Kushina spent enough time around Minato to be familiar with his teammates. Among close comrades, ANBU membership was more of an open secret than anything else.

Most of all she was shocked to realize that she still had a living relative. Naruto was an Uzumaki, probably no more than a distant cousin but still family. She had stopped herself from longing for the impossible years ago, but here he was, an Uzumaki besides herself alive and well in Konoha.

Of course the realization that she was no longer the Jinchuuriki- and the knowledge of what Naruto had risked to save her- wasn't far behind, but beyond all that there was a warmth growing in her chest as she slowly realized that she wasn't alone anymore.

She didn't even consider the possibility that Naruto was lying. The man's emotions were written all over his face and Minato believed him- she knew better than to doubt Minato's instincts when it came to people.

She smiled widely, staying still with only a concerted effort. She wanted to jump up and down, hug Naruto and drag him to Ichiraku, but she didn't particularly want to pass out right now. She didn't want to risk waking up to find that everything that had happened was just a dream.