Summary: What if you woke up to a role so completely unfitting and with a future already made? With a contrasting mindset, knowledge in a convoluted mess and ambitions steered a different direction, this only completed the odd assembly that was the new Haruno Sakura. Welcome to her life. OC Self Insert.

Authors note: So. The last two years has been... rough. Considering the last few months in 2020, I think everyone will sympathize with that feeling. I understand that most thought this story was abandoned but nah, surprise! Here's another chapter. I wish I could have posted this chapter sooner but getting my teacher's license came first and afterwards I got really burned up from studies, economy, moving, jobs, and so on and so forth. Thank you all who have reached out and the well wishes. You know who you are! Thank you!

(And shame you author who published my story in full and actually claimed it was their own. You know who you are though I doubt you will ever read this. FYI, this story has only been published on FF under this penname. I might cross-post it on AO3... but not right now.)

Anyway. Finding Kankuro & Fighting the Ichibi mission start! I had a recap in the previous chapter, so I recommend reading that and then continuing with this one for a more smooth experience. Or you can just reread the whole thing. That's fine, too. I've polished the grammar some in the earlier chapters so why not. This chapter will be here waiting for you! You can even wait for the next chapter to come out, which shouldn't take more than a few weeks at most.

For all of you at home, studying or working. Hang in there! Enjoy!


Chapter 34

"Please don't tell me you're kidding." Naruto begged me. His steps were hesitant in the darkness but he continued to plow on, trusting me to lead the way while his eyes quickly adapted.

Sasuke snorted. "Hardly the place to be enthusiastic enough to joke."

Temari didn't answer, but her chakra whirled chaotically in preparation, showing that she had heard my words.

The noises of the shinobi sounded like they were on our heels, breathing into our ears and pressing their kunai over our throat. They had in fact yet to come to the intersection of tunnels, the echoes interfering with our ears. Probably how it had been intended to be built just for situations like these. Interestingly enough, the killing intent projected loud and clear across the gap.

I rubbed my throat. Tingles were racing up and down my body with the knowledge, "But, he's here."

A few steps more, and even my teammates could see the faint light in the distance. The glow came from a room at the end. Since this tunnel was curved, it couldn't be seen until you were already stumbling into it.

Temari collapsed on the doorstep.

The room was entirely rounded, low-hanging lamps with a yellow glow showing that it was one of the meeting places for evacuations underground. Considering how dusty it was, I doubted it had been in use until this day. Several people looked up in alarm at our appearance. Civilians from the looks of things, some rich and some not, their arms cradling valuables or their family as they huddled near the bent walls. Two others were already looking at the door before we entered.

One was a woman, or rather a teenager; blood was splattered on her cheek, the trail cutting off as it went into her hair. The bloody hitiate sat in her lap and her hands listlessly rested on top. I noted the distinct lack of an ear and no chūnin vest. Someone from the genin corps?

The other person was the owner of the porcelain chakra. Kankuro. He blinked dumbly at Temari, half raising up from where he sat but warily stopping himself when he saw us three. He was almost unidentifiable. Soft brown hair framing his pale skin. There was no makeup, hitiate or shinobi pouches. To his side though, there was a large wrapped puppet or else I doubt I would have recognized him with my eyes alone.


He finally sprang up at the call of his name, nearly stumbling where he dropped down to fold Temari in a hug. He quickly pulled away when she winced. "Wha– How –"

"Sorry to break it up guys, but now's really not the time!" Naruto rushed out the words, glancing over his shoulder. He spared a smile and added to Temari, "Good for you."

Kankuro looked, if even possible, more dumbfounded.

I felt jittery as I observed the shinobi down below with us. They had rushed forward, pausing when they noticed the right and left tunnels. Had we led the them into the evacuation complex so that they could slaughter the civilians? I frowned. No, not quite. There were blockades further ahead in the tunnel, secret entrances and areas that were entirely blackened to my vision. Besides, if nothing else, I knew that the Academy teachers had evacuated alongside the students. There were probably more shinobi inside. They weren't totally defenseless.

Still. I turned abruptly to Temari, interrupting her silent communication with Kankuro. "My side of the deal is done. Shall we go?"

It seemed like she needed a moment to parse my clipped words. Her eyes darted to her brother and then the direction from where our pursuers were. Her expression underwent an interesting array of complexions. "Does this look like," she hissed lowly, "a good time to rush forward? Are you joking?"

"I'm sorry. I think I'm missing something." Kankuro raised a hand slowly as if he was in class.

The humorous picture was entirely undercut by his hand hovering behind his back with chakra on his fingertips.

My jitters manifested into irritation, eyes narrowed. "Do you want introductions?"

When it looked like Kankuro was going to accept the offer, Sasuke snorted. "Hardly the place or the time for it." He glanced over his shoulder. "Come on, we need to –"

"E-excuse me, shinobi-san," a man broke in. One of the civilians had stood up, a child clutching his left leg and a family or two huddled close by. It was hard to identify them when they were all in a big group of different ages. "Are you our guide?"

Our nonplussed reaction made his expression more anxious, eyes flickering between us in something close to desperation. He opened his mouth to perhaps clarify but he jumped in shock when he heard the jeering echoes from the chasing shinobi.

I cocked my head and cast my senses out, confused. They had backtracked from the other direction and appeared more confident now that they had seen it was a dead end. It was an ANBU entrance and a shinobi fire-exit over there, not that they would know it, but they seemed cheered by the apparent wall, nonetheless. They had slowed down to a walk and had begun talking.

Intimidation tactics, I suppose. Either that or the shinobi at the back really had a fondness towards spinning his kunai.

"Are you H-Haruno-san? From the bank?"

I turned to the man that had once again spoken up. He had apparently taken on the role of the spokesperson for the families around him, because he mustered enough bravery to walk towards us. He had his hands open and a nervous smile playing about his lips. I nodded shortly to confirm my identity.

His tense shoulders relaxed. "Oh! Great. Is that our guide coming? We've been waiting here, but no one's come yet. And I fear... we fear that..."

His smile dimmed when we didn't immediately answer. Naruto looked troubled, feet shifting and jaw silently moving, but in the end, he stayed silent alongside us.

If the shinobi designated to this room had yet to come and pick up the civilians that had scrambled inside, then I severely doubted they were coming anytime soon. From the dimming hope of the civilian man, he knew it too. They weren't living in the middle of the Leaf's primary military establishment for nothing. In a way, my civilian teacher so long ago had said something right; everyone knew their roles.

It might be that the guide they were waiting for had already come and gone, since there were only a little over twenty people inside, but I doubted it.

None of my teammates looked particularly hopeful either.

The man seemed unsure what to say. His face paled, jaw working silently. Eventually, he whispered, "What about us?"

Someone in the room sobbed.

"Ah, no, don't –" Naruto flailed. His eyes darted around the people, equally as distressed. "Don't worry! We're here! We can help. Just –"

"What my teammate is trying to say," Sasuke cut in, "that if you give us some space, we will make a plan." His smile was thin and sharp. "Don't panic."

For some reason, the man looked over to me for confirmation. I raised an eyebrow but nodded in placid agreement.

He turned and headed back, murmuring comforts to the rest of the civilians. Kankuro and Temari stood awkwardly to the side and simply observed. Maybe they were thinking about their own civilians back in Suna and was comparing them. Or perhaps they were thinking about their, admittedly former, mission to slaughter them all. Who knew really?

The crawling sensation of enemy combatants coming closer refused to be forgotten.

"They're coming closer," I warned them needlessly. The echoes of their mocking could be heard quite clearly from where we stood close to the doorway.

"We just need to stop them, right?" Naruto frowned. "I can do it!"

Naruto yelped when both Sasuke and I snagged the back of his jumpsuit, yanking him to an abrupt halt. "Idiot. Think before you leap."


Sasuke shook the bit of fabric he had a tight grip on, rattling my poor teammate. "What were you planning to do, hm? You don't have any jutsu and your taijutsu is piss poor in these conditions."

Naruto gaped. His mouth opened and closed, offense written in every line of his face. Figuring that he had understood the general meaning of Sasuke's implorations to stay calm, I released my own grip and Sasuke shortly followed suit.

"There is an additional exit from this room, so we're not wholly trapped. We could just run..."

"But the civilians would slow us down." Sasuke glanced to the side. Unheard but not unsaid, the Machiavellian approach to the plan would be to let the shinobi catch them while we escape. Naruto looked appalled, and I had to agree. If it ever came out, Konoha would not be kind. There's a reason why Kakashi's team motto became so prevalent among his peers. The higher ups liked to cloak themselves in kindness.

"We could cause a cave-in." Temari scoffed when we all looked at her. Including Kankuro, who looked surprised she had even contributed. "What? Why does Konoha even have caves like these? They can't be natural. And man-made structures are built to fall." She gave a nasty grin.

Either way, we didn't have enough time to plan this out properly.

I allowed a brief moment before I nodded decisively. "Let's do it. We need to get going." Remembering the cave-in at the Academy tunnels, I began to tick off, "We need explosives. Traps? Kankuro, please join the civilians. They're already looking at you oddly for standing with us. Besides, you're best at stealth protection considering your particular skills. Temari, join him. Don't overexert yourself. Your stitches might open again. Sasuke, prepare to flood the area with fire. Naruto, some clones will be needed to set everything off."

He made some clones at the drop of a hat, and I pointed at one of them.

"Go help the wounded genin. She might be paranoid, so be careful."

The genin in question blinked slowly, her eyes glazed as she watched us. The blood splatter covering half of her face just emphasized the paleness of her skin. The teenager didn't put up any sort of protest when a Naruto clone went over to her and began to help her sit up. I turned to Temari who had her teeth gritted. I raised an eyebrow.

She seemed to be debating with herself. Kankuro watched her, frowning, and then realization dawned. "Gaara," he said. Not a question.

Temari confirmed it. "Gaara."

The exhausted and defeated tone made Kankuro grimace. He turned to us, nodding, and looking into my eyes. "I have some leftover explosive tags. If you're really going with that plan, I think you will need them." From an inner pocket, he took out a wad of them. Naruto waited a beat before making grabby motions and taking them as his own when I didn't.

Temari added, "Aim for the weak spots in the ceiling. Bearing walls, odd pockets where air can leave... Anything that can make rubble..." Her teeth gritted. Hesitance.

"We had a deal," I felt the need to remind her once again. "I will get you out of here and then, it's your turn."

Her stare might be a substitution for Sasuke's fire jutsu considering the amount of heat she was putting into it. Temari couldn't refute, however. She breathed out heavily. "Gaara." She agreed.

She grabbed Kankuro's arm before he could comment, pulling him aggressively to the civilians. Since neither Temari nor Kankuro had their headbands on, none of them questioned their inclusion. Perhaps they thought they were tourists because of their appearance.

I looked back at my teammates. "Naruto, you're the best at destruction."

He puffed up his chest. Sasuke rolled his eyes.

"I'm putting you in charge." I leaned closer and he sobered up quickly. I wondered what kind of face I was making for that reaction to happen. "For some reason, these civilians have elected me as the kind face. And I'm the one who can see the way out. Your mission is to seal the entry. We cannot lead them further into the tunnel complex." I put a hand on his shoulder. "I'm trusting you with this."

Naruto nodded, face tight.

I glanced to Sasuke. He nodded, too. Somberly, he said, "I will get the idiot back."

The mood broke. "Hey! I'm not –"

A clatter from down the tunnel. Loud laughter.

"I'll leave it to you." I offered a brief smile. Squeezing his shoulder, the last thing I saw before I turned around was his narrowed eyes, his fists tightening.

We hadn't managed to shake the shinobi off upside and because they had followed us down the tunnels, I didn't think they were easy to distract either. It was with a lump in my stomach I took lead and ushered the civilian group out. They scrambled to gather their belongings and then hurried out the door when I indicated what I was going to do.

The civilian man looked incredibly relieved when I joined them. He kept an eye on his family even as he hastened his steps to follow. "Haruno-san. Not that I'm complaining, mind you," he started. He flashed a brief reassuring smile at the woman behind us before dropping his voice to a loud whisper. "The suddenness of it all has me... worried."

He should be worried.

I did something close to a smile with my face while otherwise distracted with mapping out the tunnel system. There were a lot of dead ends and twists and turns that would inevitably lead us around in a circle. Even if I had the whole map before my eyes, I still had to take a few seconds to parse through the labyrinth. Luckily there were no locked gates in between us and a safe passage. "The meeting area wasn't supposed to be safe from pursuers," I said absently. I checked ahead and decided to take the left passage. They followed me. "We're just going where we always were supposed to go."

Instead of getting placated, he echoed, "Pursuers...?"

Something crackled in the distance behind us. I could feel Naruto and Sasuke moving around. Placing things on the ground? Faint chakra residue and somewhat round, so I figured they were bombs. Maybe even chalk bombs with something added to them. Not the most effective ones considering they were probably from Naruto's arsenal, but every little thing mattered. That's why Sasuke was there with him. Kankuro's explosive tags would be added help.

I resisted the urge to double back and instead trusted them to handle matters. Every second they gained for us would be a second more we could use.

The man looked at me and then back. He didn't say anything more. He gave a curt nod and slowed his steps, joining his family. The other civilians looked incredibly nervous but had that set to their face that I recognized belonging to any Konoha civilian born. They had all, except for the two youngest children, been alive during the Kyuubi attack. Maybe even during the last war. While probably not fond of the whole ordeal, they should be used to running for their life.

I led them in silence. The only sounds were the ones that reverberated from the fighting lower in the tunnel and the harsh breathing from some of the civilians.

We went up and down. At a longer piece of the tunnel, I quietly instructed the civilian man to continue walking forward while I slowed so that I ended up in the back. Temari and Kankuro paced past me, heads tucked close to each other and whispering. Their eyes flickered over to me and they subtly shifted their backs away from me. Fair enough.

I shifted, too, and saw them shift in answer.

The Naruto clone was there to greet me, giving me a grimace that was honest for all that it was fond. The teenager shinobi supported by him stared at me blankly. Her eyes weren't all there, though she did acknowledge my existence.

"Everything alright?"

"Yeah." He jostled her slightly and muttered a quick apology for the misstep. "I think she's bleeding, though. Not much, but... Can you check?"

I moved forward. Her eyes tracked me the entire way, but she said nothing. "Can you understand me?" She remained quiet. I pursed my lips. "Can you nod?"

Slowly, she nodded.

She wasn't entirely gone then. "I will begin checking you. Do I have your permission?" Which was code for; please don't stab me. She looked one wrong move away from paranoia. I would like to avoid that. The Naruto clone glanced at her in concern. Again, she nodded slowly.

The blood from her head was troubling and that's what I decided to check first. One of her ears had been looped off, and true enough, that's where she was bleeding from. Head wounds were always bleeders. "Your registration number, shinobi," I barked, hoping it would solicit a reaction. Anything to distract her while I bandaged up a very sensitive area. Necks, eyes, and brain were always popular areas to aim for in battle.

She blinked numbly before rattling off, "011901."

"Name, shinobi."

Again, it took a moment before she answered, "012601, part of the genin corps." She made an effort of straightening up, though all she did was move slightly and force Naruto to shift with her. "Sir," she added.

And then she threw up.

I jolted back while the Naruto clone yelped, hugging her waist as she bent forward. She wobbled to a standing and finished her introduction with a nod. Automatic and without any intent behind it.

Her eyes were blank reflections, and I grimaced when I moved to tighten the last bit of bandage, carefully wiping around her mouth with a spare bit. If we had left her in that bunker room, she would have remained there until someone had come to get her. If it were enemy shinobi or allies, I doubted she would care.

The Naruto clone shook his head but continued to support her. Past the puddle of sick and onwards.

"Probably a concussion." I sighed and took her other arm, helping her wobble forwards to the best of her ability. She was a bit too tall and gangly for us to accurately support her, and every foot forward was shuffled. "Not much I can do for emergency treatment. Probably trauma and shock, too."


He looked down and nodded glumly.

Our hurried pace had slowed down considerably after a few minutes in these tunnels. That was fine, since Naruto and Sasuke were still occupied on their end. There were a lot of rumbling from that corner and since the chakra seemed intent on bouncing between the walls and obscuring everything, I could only get the vague impression of fire. A lot of fire, figures moving and some figures not moving. It wasn't a lot to go on, except it proved that the fight was still ongoing.

I wished they would hurry up.

I didn't like feeling the anxiety crawling up my throat. Really not the time for it.

"... Hey," the Naruto clone said quietly.

That made me pause. It was exceedingly rare any variation of Naruto and quiet ever came together in a sentence. But here it was. I shifted so I could see above the teenager, but he was steadfastly refusing to meet my eyes.

"What you did there," he said instead. Paused. Swallowed. "Thank you. It means a lot. Maybe I won't tell you, but... Um. Thank you." Words seemed to fail him.

I frowned. "For what?"

Naruto shuffled his feet even as he continued the pace alongside me. He was quiet long enough that I thought he wouldn't answer me. When he finally did, he looked up with such a sincere gaze that I immediately felt uncomfortable. "Your faith in me to handle the situation," he said simply. He smiled, then. "Your faith in me since the first day we met."

I stared at him.

He smiled wider, cheeks bunching up the whisker-marks on his skin. Even in the darkness I could see the way his eyes sparkled, catching the faint light of the emergency lamps. "Thank you," he said sincerely.

I ducked back behind the teenager's arm and cleared my throat. "You're... welcome."

He snickered.

"Oh shut up," I said irritably.

The ground suddenly vibrating underneath our feet had us pause, the teenager swaying in the middle. The civilians also looked back, and suddenly, Kankuro and Temari didn't look so confident being surrounded by dirt and sand. In contrast, I smiled, relieved.

This time I managed to meet Naruto's eyes. "You've memorized it all?"

He scrunched his face up but nodded. "Yeah. I have." He fidgeted and added on, "If not, I can always follow the smell." He gestured vaguely back where she had thrown up. "I'll get rid of it on the way here."

"Do you need help dispelling?"

"No... I think I got it." He gently removed the teenager's arm from over his shoulder and stepped back. "Take care, Sakura. We'll meet up with you soon."

"Take care."

And with that, he poofed himself away. Some of the civilians looked startled. Most of them looked anxious to be leaving. I sympathized with that feeling.

I took a deep breath and then let it out.

"Can anyone help me carry her? We're not far off our evacuation center, so let's keep on going."

I wasn't lying, per say. We were close. Relatively. The tunnels twisted around themselves and I had to really exercise my sensing ability to make sense of the three-dimensional landscape. There were probably faster and easier paths to take, but most short cuts were blocked, and I had to maneuver everybody past that.

Everything became just that little bit easier when I sensed Sasuke and Naruto making their way towards us. Sasuke and Naruto caught up with us barely a few minutes later. They had run here but had barely broken a sweat, which was a sharp contrast to the families flagging behind us.

Naruto bumped my shoulder with a smile. "See?" Sasuke nodded. He looked a bit singed and smelled heavily of sulfur, but that was alright. They were both alive.

I smiled and breathed out shakily.

Temari and Kankuro glanced back at us, slowing their pace until they were close enough to hear but not really part of the tangle of shinobi. "Cut short the reunion. We've wasted valuable time as it is," Temari mouthed, voice low. She frowned at us. Something about her chakra gave of the impression of skittering cuts, sharp but aimless. Worry.

I kept an eye out so our group of civilians didn't accidentally wander off the wrong path. When the silence stretched on, I glanced to the two Sand Siblings. "We will drop them off first, and then we will take another tunnel leading us out. We should get pretty close to... Gaara."

Temari shifted. Kankuro frowned. "Won't that take a long time?" Considering his lack of surprise, I think Temari informed him about the stakes at hand.


"No?" Kankuro made a strangled laugh. "What do you call the time we've been underground?"

I looked at him under my lashes. Silent. Waiting for him to understand.

While the tunnels were certainly a labyrinth, and yes, they were more confusing than any 3D puzzle, they were mainly built for emergencies. Their entire purpose was to get you swiftly from point A to point B. It didn't really make sense that you had to wander from one emergency shelter to another in darkness for that long. Stifling air, close walls and no windows were enough to make anyone's skin crawl. The tunnels would have been made with a bit more ease of travel considering all of this.

The realization came with widened eyes and a slight stumble to his steps. Temari wasn't any better. "Son of a bitch," he breathed.

I had made sure to distract them at key points. Walking closer to trigger their paranoia, talking loudly with civilians to incite their curiosity, staying deathly silent and making shifting movements that any trained shinobi would interpret as readiness for battle at any moment. If they had managed to ignore all of that and instead stayed focused on memorizing the path they had taken like the Naruto clone... well.

I would have had to applaud their stone-cold attention to details. I had needed to sooth my worries that if everything went south with the plot, at least I wouldn't be the reason Suna managed to slaughter all of our civilians.

Since Kankuro looked both faintly betrayed and admiring, I figured there was no need for applause. The emergency retreat would be safe for another day.

Sasuke looked between us. Slowly, he voiced out, "Gaara?"

I was surprised it had taken him this long to ask. Then again, he knew the value of secrets.

"Her third teammate. Coincidentally also the third sibling in their family. Youngest and a jinchūriki." At Naruto's confusion of the term, I explained, "A host for the chakra beasts, and in this case, the Ichibi."

He jolted. "Jinchūriki. That's the word for it? Jinchūriki?" I nodded, and Naruto nodded back slowly. "Oh..."

"So Gaara is...?"

Temari made a strangled sound. "Stop. Talking."

Kankuro chuckled. "I think the secret's out. Not that it was ever much of a secret." His grin was lopsided and tight, and his expression wasn't any better when he grinned at us.

"That's alright. We're here."

I sped up my pace, sparing a glance to the injured genin who was being carried by one of the burlier civilians, and took the lead once more. Having walked in somewhat of a circle, we finally took the left path in the fork that I had been ignoring for two times before.

The chakra inside was muted, but with such a large group and a bit of a wobbly authority these last few years, the chakra seals supposed to hide this room from senses like mine were weak. Small mercies, at least.

The chamber was almost an auditorium. Controlled chaos where nearly half of the Konoha population jostled for place. There was another room like this further away, though seemingly cut off from the rest with a lot more dead ends. The reason I had picked this one wasn't only because of its location. It was mostly because of my own inability to access the other, and it stung to admit.

I surveyed the room and resisted the urge to shrink back when I sensed the attention I gathered from a few sensors. Alert, but since I recognized them from the department, I think they did the same. Or at least I hope so. Enough not to raise any kind of alarm. The matter of disobeying Iruka's order was still unresolved...

Speaking of. The academy students were among the gathered. Teachers had formed a loose circle around them, seemingly holding an impromptu lesson. Patriotism, maybe? A few of the children looked dazzled. The youngest group of five-year-olds practiced standing in line with somberness that came from playing something adult.

I halted at the door, a few chūnin further in allowing my presence without a fuss. The civilians close to the door glanced to the chūnin and took their cue from them. I gave a few quick signs to give the shinobi a heads up on the group trailing up. They in turn signed to someone else, and then to someone else, and...

Something snagged my eyes, however. A particularly lurid shade of pink I could recognize everywhere. Among the Academy students stood Sakura. Or a Sakura? She was smiling, one hand on her lips as she laughed coyly. Her bust was... bigger? And her legs were longer.


No, really, what?

My mind blanked as I took her in. Sasuke abruptly shoved his bony elbow into my ribs. I jolted and when he hissed, "Henge, then, you idiot," I automatically rippled my chakra into a henge. Just in time, because as the first civilian dragged himself into the room with heavy breathing and alerted those sitting closest, people turned and saw a small team of shinobi being led by an anonymous chūnin proctor. The very same from the chūnin tests, actually.

When the entire group finally stumbled into the giant antechamber, a few other groups had shifted inwards, other had vacated beds entirely, and some had moved forward to receive them. A medic tutted and accepted the armful of dazed shinobi, taking the genin away and further into the chamber. Then there were the general hustle and bustle as the civilians welcomed more refugees into their fold and people found some of their family to rejoin. I continued to stare blankly at the version of Sakura that was standing with the Academy students. And happily talking with Konohamaru, Udon and Moegi?

Someone spluttering next to me averted my attention from investigating the chakra. Turning, I saw Kankuro gawping. Literally. Mouth hanging open and eyes open. "You!"

"Rude!" Naruto immediately rebutted. It said something that my teammates just rolled with the appearance of my henge. Sasuke simply glanced at me once and then nodded in approval.

"No, you're that man that, at the test..." Kankuro blinked. "Are you?"

Temari was looking from her brother to me, one eyebrow raised.

I let him wallow in his confusion for a few seconds longer. When he looked about to dismiss the whole thing, I slanted an eye to him and murmured, "You're very obvious when you cheat."

He spluttered. "You waved at my puppet," he said, the accusation so thick in his voice I nearly imagined having killed his first born.

"Yes. Yes, I did," I agreed.


Two different calls and waving arms came from the back of the area. Konohamaru had jumped up and was waving wildly. Sakura, too, was doing the exact same thing. There was an awkward pause when they caught each other and stopped, staring. Sakura looked away first and coughed, crossing her arms and making a deadpan face. Konohamaru blushed wildly even as he smacked a hand to his face.

Ah. That explained things.

I briefly feared Inner had run out, but no, she was still inside, fighting the losing battle of shielding the excessive chakra sensoring. I sighed.

This would make things more complicated.

I nudged Naruto and nodded at Konohamaru berating his clone henge'd into me. "Go and thank him for me, will you? Distract them for a moment. Talk to them."

Assure them that you're not out there in Kyuubi form, I didn't add.

He squinted his eyes. "You're not going to leave me here, are you?"


"We goin' out there to kick some ass together?"

"... Yes."

"You will come get me when –"

Sasuke groaned and shoved him forward. "Just go, dobe."

He snickered. "'Aight. Just making sure."

Sasuke sniffed and didn't deign to answer as Naruto headed to Konohamaru. I folded my arms, shifting back and trying to cloak myself from curious eyes. Sasuke casually leaned towards me. "Don't think I didn't notice the interplay there. Want to fill me in?"

I murmured, "Not now."

"Later, then." And it was a firm demand. I accepted the terms gracefully enough, and Sasuke only looked back out into room after he saw the acknowledgment.

Over the din and hubbub, my chūnin form eyed the Sakura clone and Konohamaru's attempt at mimicking me. A lot of deadpan faces and sighs, apparently. Iruka saw the arrival of Naruto and startled. He immediately trailed the path he had taken and saw Sasuke, and then, me. He caught my eye and, when I nodded, he smiled in relief.

I breathed out a sigh of relief myself.

Maybe I could escape the consequences of my rash decision. I wouldn't be sure until I actually talked to the man, but Iruka seemed amiable enough.

"Come on. It's time to go."

I whispered my directions to Kankuro and Temari, acting as their guides as we navigated through the throng and out another exit. Naruto acted as perfect distraction with his bombastic voice, carrying even over the voices of hundreds talking to each other. Sasuke doubled back for our teammate when we had managed to slip out once more.

I smiled grimly at the two Sand siblings, and they echoed my smile. "Let's go get your brother."

A/N The Invasion arc will soon come to an end. A chapter more, and maybe a wrap-up after that. The next update shouldn't take that long considering its half-finished.

My semi-hiatus was mostly because of health reasons. I'm happy to be back but don't expect fast updates because I've come to realize that's not really who I am as an author (or really, what energy I have to spare can't be used on fanfiction no matter how much I wish otherwise). Again, thank you all for your patience! The excited reviews babbling about this story just makes me melt, and really, I read every review I get. It's a motivation I take to heart. I won't ever abandon a story, just... I just need a breather from time to time. Thank you all for your understanding.

I've edited and revised the last 33 chapters (second time doing a sweep). Just noting this here for prosperity. And maybe for those of you who want to do a reread. Feel free to leave reviews on your opinion as you drop by.

Actually, I'm curious, how many are still sticking by this story?

Take care, everyone! Be strong in the pandemic and I sincerely hope you have a good day. An Artsome day!