Introverted

Chapter Eleven

Shimura-sensei was quiet, as Naruto slowly entered the kitchen the following morning. The bandaged man looked at him with his only eye, the silent question clearly visible behind it.

"I'm sorry —I overslept."

"Normally, in such an occasion, the first words would be something like 'how are you feeling?' or 'is everything all right?' but I will avoid them," Danzo spoke in a low whisper. "I will simply tell you this, Naruto: nothing you can do will change anything that has happened. Let it go."

The boy sat at the other side of the table with his fists clenched, gritting his teeth slightly.

"But if I hadn't—"

"Then I would have," Danzo acquiesced. "Eventually, someone would have noticed. She might have slipped once, Naruto. Would you rather she had poisoned one of your teammates by mistake? You did the right thing, never forget it."

"I ruined a family!" he yelled back, his eyes teary. "I ruined good people who—"

"You did not ruin a family and if anything, she ruined herself by trying to avenge what was but a mistake."

"What do you know about that?" Naruto sulked. "It was—"

"It was ruled a mistake and the perpetrator punished. One that would not have happened had you been controlled or with a guardian, but which happened all the same in your youth. You played a prank, the man saw you, and when he was about to hit you Teuchi Ichiraku intervened. The scuffle that ensued ended with the man dead and your 'victim' hospitalized. You had no fault in it."

"It's easy to say," Naruto whispered. "I don't remember any of it."

"Then who is to say you actually are at fault?" Danzo remarked calmly. "You were there, drenched in blood. You could have been a victim too: it is not such an impossible feat after all."

Naruto closed his eyes, wincing as he probably tried to remember what had happened…but failing miserably.

"No, I…I'm sure I was alone."

"If you say so…" Danzo's reply was a bare whisper, before the bandaged man merely returned to sipping his tea. The breakfast was consumed in silence, as Naruto then began his usual morning exercises under the watchful gaze of his sensei.

Strangely, he only had to do five laps rather than the usual six.

All the more strange was Aoba-sensei, who seemed positively thrilled because of something else. Sai too was surprisingly quiet, as he neared them and Sakura for their usual morning D-rank concerning finding a cat.

This cat in question was Tora, the Daimyo's wife's precious pet animal. It was surprisingly witty of the Daimyo to keep his wife 'hidden' within the Shinobi village of Konoha for her safety. At the same time it was extremely cunning of the shinobi: if the Daimyo betrayed them, he'd lose his entire family.

He wasn't the smartest student of the academy, but even he could see the weight of holding 'hostage' the family member of the ruling party of the country of fire.

The sun was warm and the clouds few, as Naruto's eyes narrowed at the sound of a meow reaching his ears. Sakura and Sai both stilled behind him, as he crouched beneath a chart and gave a quick peek. There the cat was —at least, he hoped it was the right cat.

An ink snake slowly slithered its way beneath the cart —courtesy of Sai, while Sakura crept on the other side. Naruto tensed, ready to jump if the cat ended up running away. There was a loud meowing, a hiss and then a small cloud of dust all from beneath the cart. Few seconds later, and Naruto jumped on the blur that tried to leave the safe haven of the shadows.

Tora the Cat spun around trying to claw at Naruto's face, but holding both of his front paws up and wide rendered the cat unable to strike.

"We have the cat," Naruto commented as he turned to Sai, who took out a bag and then dropped some herbs within it. Sakura looked puzzled as the cat was dropped into the bag, and then said bag was closed.

"What was that?"

"Catnip," Naruto and Sai quipped in at the same time.

Sakura frowned. "And where did you get that?"

"It grows near the Inuzuka compounds, Cherry," Sai remarked calmly. "They use it to train their dogs."

"Catnip is liked by cats, not dogs!" Sakura exclaimed.

"Precisely."

The pink haired girl blinked. What did Sai mean with that now? Why would growing catnip train dogs…

"Oh," she mouthed as she realized the reason. It was obvious in retrospect…and it made her a sick green. "They hunt the cats?"

"Well, there aren't any strays around here, are they?"

"And how do you know about that, Naruto?" Sakura remarked hotly. "Sai's strange and I'm not surprised, but what about you?"

"I had a cat once," he shrugged.

Didn't last. Went unspoken.

The girl seemed to understand, albeit she did get most probably the wrong idea…with the same result.

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be, it was a stray…didn't even think he knew I was supposed to be his owner: he just passed by every now and then —one day he stopped."

They hauled the bag back to the Hokage tower in silence, their sensei already waiting for them on the bench outside with a small notebook in his hands. He was scribbling furiously on it while murmuring 'contingency' and 'plan' mixed with words like 'just like planned' and 'plan omega-five'.

The moment they stepped near him, he stood up and stared at the three of them. "I got us another C-rank mission, this one is supposed to contain nothing more than a rough terrain: there's been an avalanche near the Konoha-Kiri border, and we're to escort a medic team to evaluate the situation. We are to meet with Yakushi Kabuto, their team leader, tomorrow morning. It will be a long three-week long mission. You should be prepared for it, which is why…" as he trailed off with his voice, he handed over the small booklet he had been furiously writing on to Sakura.

"Sakura, these here are the plans and the contingencies to enact. There is an index at the beginning. You are to read and memorize entries one through ten before tomorrow morning...and good luck, you're the Team Leader."

"Yes!" she exclaimed, before quieting herself at the glare of her sensei. "I meant…yes, sensei," she meekly whispered. "I'll do my best."

"See that you do: the lives of your teammates are in your hands, after all —eight o'clock, tomorrow morning, do not be late."

Then their Jounin was gone, leaving the three of them alone.

"Want to get something to eat?" Sakura hazarded. "It's nearly lunch hour."

"Where?" Sai inquired.

"I know of this Yakiniku shop…it's also a barbeque with fixed prices so…"

"Could work," Naruto shrugged. "Henge."

Sakura winced at the sight of Naruto's face literally changing under her gaze to resemble that of an indistinctive kid with black eyes, no whisker marks and his usual dark hair.

"Naruto…"

"It is better this way, Sakura," he shrugged. "I doubt they'd say anything, but I'm not in for poor service. After what happened with Ayame…I don't think they'd take kindly to me in their establishment."

"That's stupid," she blurted.

"That's people." Naruto shrugged then, as he gestured for her to make the way.

They did end up at the Yakiniku Barbeque. They also ended up sitting right next to Team Eight, with Aburame Shino and Hinata Hyuga looking at them with a surprised expression. Hibachi, the third student, was instead eating messily without much of a regard.

"Haruno-san, Saitou-san," Shino began, before turning his inquisitive gaze to Naruto's henged form. "…"

"Shou Saitou," Naruto blurted out quickly.

"Whe-Where is Na-Naruto-kun?" Hinata asked meekly, her pale white eyes settling on Sakura's form.

"He didn't make it," Sai replied calmly. Silence fell in the room, probably Sai expecting Sakura or the henged Naruto to add something, or maybe just finishing delivering his 'report' on the matter. Still, that didn't actually sound as if Naruto was alive, and if somebody had a very active imagination…

Hinata shrieked as she ran out of the shop crying.

"What just happened?" Sakura's gaze was perplexed as it locked with Shino's shades.

"I suspect there has been a linguistic miscommunication. Added to Shou-san's Genin forehead protector and the lack of explanation, it is highly possible Hinata believed Uzumaki-san to be dead."

Sakura began to splutter. "W-What!? No! He's fine! He's not here at the moment but he's fine! He had better things to do elsewhere, that's really all!"

"Bah!" Hibachi chose that moment to make his voice known. "What that girl sees in that bastard…"

"Hey, that's rude to my teammate," Sakura snapped.

"He's a monster, he deserves worse," Hibachi mumbled. "He tore apart my uncle with his bare hands, that's what he did! He's going to kill you too, that's what he's going to do."

"Apologize," Shino snapped curtly. "Uzumaki-san is a Genin of Konohagakure no Sato and he is not mentally unstable: logic dictates he would not have graduated otherwise."

Sakura's eyes trailed off to where Naruto was sitting, his body now tense and ready to depart.

There had to be a story behind this, she was sure of it. Still, any thought of thinking about it went astray when their meat arrived, ready to be cooked and eaten…or scarfed down, if one was hungry. She supposed Hibachi had renounced apologizing, because she didn't hear the boy again and by the time her eyes resettled on the nearby team, both Shino and the rude boy had left.

"What was he talking about?" she finally asked, her voice low.

"Nothing," he whispered back. Sakura's right eye twitched. Naruto always settled his gaze downwards when he lied, and his tone always became slightly softer. It was unnerving.

She knew she was going to hit the boy low, but on the other hand she did want to know what had happened: heck, for all she knew maybe Naruto was accusing himself as always of something that wasn't his fault to begin with.

"Aren't we your friends?" she asked then, Sai stiffening to her side. "We can help you prank him if he's—"

"No," he replied quickly, far too quickly. "No pranks —nothing at all. He's right and that's probably all there is to say on this."

"Naruto…"

"No," he snapped, abruptly and angrily. "Let it be."

Sakura flinched and then let her gaze return to the food, deciding to munch rather than eat while her brain tried to figure out why the boy was being so defensive. Hibachi had an uncle in the market if she recalled correctly…wasn't he the one heavily bandaged she had seen beforehand?

In any event, it wasn't as if there was something she could do now. Naruto didn't want to talk at all, and she couldn't force him.

So there she was, in the awkward silence, when Sai spoke next.

"Cherry: what's in the book?"

Sakura cocked her head to the side, before understanding reached her as she hastily made her way to grasp the book from her pocket. She carefully opened it, and after coughing slightly began to read in a low crisp voice.

"Members of a team should be denoted as 'TL' for Team Leader, 'RF' for right flank and 'LF' for left flank respectively. It is advised to possess Shurikens and Kunais, as well as a short-range blade for—"

"That's boring: get to the contingencies!" Naruto exclaimed.

Sakura sighed, before flipping a few pages of general advice and words of caution.

"Contingency Alpha: in case of hostile encounter unforeseen, whereas the enemy appears to not be a shinobi, stalling enemy forces is advised with two members holding the line while the third flanks from side or back."

"That's easy," Naruto pouted. "Something else?"

"Naruto!" Sakura chided the boy, "let me read…" she muttered, quickly scanning through the pages.

"Contingency Beta: in case of non-hostile but unforeseen encounter with civilian-armed forces, the shinobi should remain quiet and unseen. Refer to contingency Alpha should a scuffle ensue."

"I wonder why Sensei didn't ask us to memorize them too," Naruto muttered. "I mean, if you do memorize them, what's the use of yelling them out loud to us if we don't know them?"

Sakura blinked. "Naruto: you're a genius."

"Uh?"

"He wants us to memorize them, but he didn't tell us. Maybe he wanted to see if you'd let me learn everything alone or if you'd help me with it."

Naruto's face scrunched up for a moment with the effort of following Sakura's reasoning, before he actually grinned and nodded back. "Yeah…I get it!"

"Good, so we can start with contingency Delta as…"

The light-hearted groan removed the awkward silent tension at the dining table, as the tree Genins poured upon the ten contingencies to remember.

The next day, early in the morning, team Thirteen was ready to depart. They were waiting for their sensei and the clients when team Seven arrived, soon followed by team Ten.

Naruto frowned and flinched slightly when Sakura's blurred form squealed and jumped to grasp Sasuke's arm, while Ino did the same with the other. Shikamaru and Chouji moved closer to him and Sai, as Kiba seemed like a kicked puppy at the sight of Ami trying to fight the two girls off Sasuke.

"Troublesome…taking a mission out?" Shikamaru asked.

"Avalanche near the border," Naruto remarked. His voice was bitter, even though it shouldn't have been: it wasn't unexpected after all for Sakura to just jump on Sasuke at first sight. It was just…unbecoming of what the girl had become, he supposed.

"The same," Shikamaru muttered.

"Hey guys!" Kiba exclaimed moving closer. "You here for the avalanche too?"

"Seems so," Shikamaru nodded. "How's your sensei?"

"Good," Naruto replied. "Yours?"

"Nice," the dark haired Nara answered back, before sighing heavily again. "What a drag…"

"It's going to be easy then," Chouji commented between munching noises. "We're nearly all here —all of the rookies that passed…"

"Must be a pretty big one if there's all this get-together," Kiba said. "Reckon they'll need us for something more?"

"Misery attracts misers," Shikamaru replied. "We're there as a show of strength, and since the area is close to the border, the extra Jounin are assigned for security against infiltration."

"So why the C-rank?" Kiba asked. "Enemy shinobi give it a B-rank!"

"It's probably not a choice," Shikamaru drawled out. "There are not enough shinobi of Konoha, normally Chuunin would be assigned for something of this magnitude, but after the war and the Kyuubi…we're barely scrapping by the numbers. Even the 'Will of Fire' is just another way to say 'keep your troops alive, because we don't have any more to send' and that's just plain troublesome." The Nara sighed again, turning his gaze to the skies.

"I could have been born a civilian," he mumbled. "Less troubles."

"Are you all ready?" a new voice reached Naruto's ears, as he turned to look at a silver-haired shinobi with a mask covering his face. He was the last one to arrive, even after the rest of the team had assembled.

"You're late!" Ami and Kiba both screamed at their sensei, as the man simply chuckled back as an answer.

"Hatake-san," Aoba stiffened visibly. "It is an honor to be assigned to your guidance."

"Mah, mah…no need for all this," the man —Hatake— replied with his right hand raised in a dismissive gesture. His other hand was busy with an orange covered book, and as he gave a careful gaze to the 'troops' he had been assigned…

The Jounin, ex-anbu, froze slightly at the sight of Naruto's cerulean eyes looking at him with something akin to distrust. He didn't know why, but somehow deep down, the only thought he could possibly make up to answer those eyes was simple and yet traumatic all the same. The boy knew.

It was usually referred to as 'mind-reading' by the Torture and Interrogation department, but in truth it was a mere looking for gestures and slight movements within the facial muscles. The Sharingan could memorize faces and their expressions, thus another reason why the Uchiha clan had been chosen as the Konoha's police force: you couldn't lie when they could recognize the muscles for 'liar' on your face. He had a loaned sharingan, but that didn't change the fact that indeed, the boy did not trust him.

Maybe it was the book, but that should have earned a perplexed expression —like the type the pink haired girl had— not one of concealed disgust and anger.

"Are we all here?" he asked then, before showing his slight eye-Genjutsu of the smile to the Genins.

"Kakashi, you're the one late." Sasuke snapped crossing his arms over his chest.

"You teme!" Kiba yelled too, "We're all here!"

There was a moment of silence, before the silver haired Jounin simply shrugged and decided to take point. Aoba remained slightly behind, deciding to compile the paperwork for the departure of his team…something which the other didn't do.

"Sakura, back in formation," as soon as their Jounin said those words, team thirteen was already flanking the man. Sakura was a bit recalcitrant, but in the end she dropped her head between her shoulders and obeyed. Naruto gave her a small glance, before schooling his features and returning to stare ahead.

Their clients arrived on time, a few Chuunins with the Konohagakure symbol on their forehead and a few scrolls packed with medical necessities on their backs. The man in charge had short silver hair, and a pair of thin rimmed glasses. Naruto had seen him a few times during his stays in the hospital as one of the Chuunins assigned there, but he had never exchanged words with the boy.

"We can go," their Jounin-Leader, Kakashi Hatake, commented after a few whispered words with the Chuunin-Medic.

"Finally some action out of the village!" Kiba exclaimed. "I'm going to show you, Uchiha!"

"Dream on, mutt," Sasuke retorted with a snort.

"What did you say!?"

The noisy banter of Kiba with Sasuke —the Uchiha ignoring the Inuzuka after the first few words— continued throughout much of the day. The fawning and then the slight bickering of Ami also reached Naruto's ears, as his eyes settled on the other teams. Shikamaru was literally dragging his feet, while the Yamanaka girl was whole-heartedly lamenting the state of her toes and the possible blisters. The Akimichi instead was quiet —albeit sweating quite profusely— and probably the only one with the stamina to keep on going.

Naruto was inwardly pleased.

His team was the fittest, and with Sakura's eyes roaming over their surroundings rather than at Sasuke, everything was right in the world once more.

As they camped for the night, his attention was caught by his sensei's gaze steady on him. He frowned slightly, but so too did the Jounin before gesturing for him to take the spot next to him. Naruto obeyed quietly, looking curious at such a development.

"Naruto, how are you holding up?"

Naruto blinked. He lowered his gaze on the ground as he clasped his hands together. "I'm fine."

"All right," Aoba nodded somberly. "If you want to talk about it, I'll—"

"I'm the one sleeping next to Sasuke-kun!" Ami yelled in that moment, breaking the silence of the night.

"No you're not!" Ino snapped back. "I'm sure he'd rather have me than—"

Sakura was already standing up, ready to go and give her own opinion, when Sai surprisingly grasped her by the arm and held her down with a gaze that could probably kill. The girl froze at such a serious look, especially when her emerald eyes settled on Aoba's own scowling face.

Naruto stilled like a rabbit caught in front of a snake, especially when he saw his Jounin-sensei stand up and quietly make his way towards the Jounin-leader. The other Jounin, a bearded man who had been lazily puffing a cigarette while playing shogi with Shikamaru, looked at the scene with a half-bored look.

The two girls squabbled, completely ignoring the gazes of disbelief settled on them by the Chuunin-Medics.

Both Aoba and Kakashi left the camp after a few terse whispers, leaving behind the two teenagers who were right then starting to pull each other's hair out. Sai remained quiet at his spot, his hands moving to grab his drawing book and a pencil. Silently, Naruto's teammate began to draw.

The Jounin-sensei returned a few minutes afterwards, Aoba visibly fuming while Kakashi seemingly impassible. Finally, everything quieted down as both Sai and Kiba took the spots next to the Uchiha, while Naruto stood with Shikamaru and Chouji, leaving the three girls to stay shoulder-to-shoulder. Between every three Genin one of the Jounin-sensei had placed his own sleeping cot near the fire, and with that done everyone fell asleep easily...

If with a bit of shoulder-pushing by the Kunoichi corner.

The look of disgust of the medic Chuunin however, that was something Naruto caught the moment he closed his eyes. He wondered why —especially since it wasn't settled on him— it unnerved him.

The next morning, Naruto woke up to the sound of Chouji stirring and standing up. The Akimichi's stomach was already grumbling so early in the morning, and the blond haired boy couldn't ignore it and go back to sleep. If he had heard it, then the Jounin-sensei had too.

Their departure happened at dawn, after a quick breakfast of mashed dry fruits and careful sips of water to avoid choking on the bar. They quickened their pace through the morning, stopping for lunch near the side of a clearing.

"Who knows how to climb trees?" Kakashi's voice rung through the assembled shinobi.

There was a quiet moment as everyone looked around, the Chuunins snorting as Kiba ranted out.

"We all know! They teach that at the academy!"

Naruto's ears closed off the rest of the dialogue, as apparently the silver haired Jounin had yet to teach his own students about the method in question.

Somehow he could feel there was some hidden meaning behind all this, but he'd be damned if he had any clue what it was about. He brought up his hand and earned himself a surprised look from Sakura, as even Sai did the same.

"Demonstrate," Aoba said.

Naruto bit his lip as he moved near the tree bark, before carefully taking a step and then another up the trunk. He felt the axis shift as the wood now became his new floor and his eyes settled on the tree's top and the sky beyond. He ran upwards then, reaching for the sky and jumping before grasping at a branch with his feet's soles and then pushing against it to gain momentum for a dive.

His feet slid alongside the bark as a sort of brake, and as he landed he looked to his sensei for some type of approval.

He did get a slightly twitching eyebrow as an answer.

The sensei was probably surprised.

"Naruto, what was that?"

"Shimura-sensei said that unless you master the basics you cannot advance," Naruto supplied with a hopeful tone. "Was I doing anything off-rhythm?"

"No," Aoba's reply was quick as the Jounin shook his head. "Not at all, Sai? Who taught you?"

"Private instructor," the boy answered calmly. Their Jounin-sensei said nothing more, as the silver-haired shinobi simply explained how to do the exercise before leaving the rest of the Genins to their own training. Aoba-sensei's face was now even more twitching, as if he had been wronged somehow.

"Very well then," Aoba nodded. "Naruto? Remain to assist your teammate and the rest of the Genins. Sai? You will scout ahead with me."

Naruto stared at his Jounin-sensei for a moment, before calmly nodding and then turning to look at the rest of the students.

Why were they looking at him now?

Even Sasuke was scowling at him —perfect, really. He took just a half step back, before flinching and then taking a deep breath. He could do this. Right? He just had to take this nice and slow.

"M-Move to a trunk," he stammered out. "I'll…pass around?"

He actually asked that, but while Shikamaru just shrugged and moved his way, Sasuke's scowl intensified. Kiba was already taking steps towards a tree, and as the Kunoichi moved too he was soon left alone in the middle of the clearing.

Sakura swallowed nervously, before carefully taking a few steps towards the tree. Her teammates had managed this exercise —even Naruto, who was the near dead-last of the class. It had to be easy then, something she could do with her eyes closed.

She actually managed to take the first step of the tree with ease, and bolstered by that she made a couple more before slipping on the bark and falling backwards with an eep.

He reacted without thinking, taking a few steps in her direction as she fell on the ground with a loud 'ouch'. He finished walking to stand next to the girl, before offering slowly his hand to get her back on her feet. It would have been far more embarrassing to just 'stay' in the middle of the clearing after all.

"It's more difficult than it looks like," Sakura murmured.

"Ha! Take that Forehead-Girl! I'm already here!" Ino exclaimed the next instant, puffing her chest out from the side of the tree. Maybe she was a bit too 'natural' to just have begun training. Naruto kept his thoughts for himself as he saw how the blond haired girl seemed to be looking more at Sasuke than Sakura's situation.

"Shut it Ino-Pig!" his pink-haired teammate snapped back. "I'll get up there before you!"

"Ha! Want to bet on sleeping next to Sasuke-kun!?" Ino shot back.

"You're—"

Naruto pulled her up as the girl had gripped his hand.

"On!" she finished.

In the next moment, Ino calmly walked all the way up to the top. She then smiled, winked, and jumped down with grace to land on the ground. To add insult to injury, she even went as far as 'slapping' her backside as she swayed her hips, while walking towards Sasuke.

Naruto had suspected as much. He should have warned Sakura, but he hadn't wanted to interrupt the two girls' bickering.

"She lied! She had to have known how to do the exercise, I'm sure she— aargh!" Sakura screamed to the sky before returning to the tree. She slammed her right foot against it, repeatedly letting loose a few choice words. Meanwhile Ami was actually reaching half of her tree's length, and was huffing and panting as she jumped back down gracelessly.

"Naruto, how did you do it?" Sakura asked then, her eyes zeroing on him. He felt mildly uncomfortable now. What if he gave her the wrong suggestion? What if he wasn't right with his method? Still…what did he have to lose?

"Concentrate your chakra on your hand first, and find the correct amount," Naruto muttered to Sakura as he moved behind her. "Take it easy, don't be emotional and keep your chakra tight."

"Touch the tree with the hand: if it sticks, you have the correct amount. Then try and get that same amount to your feet, and keeping calm reach for the top. Don't fret and don't lose concentration."

Sakura nodded, and then carefully moved her hand to press against the bark of the tree. After a while she pulled the hand back and smiled before taking the first steps once more on the tree. This time, Sakura reached the top at her second try, and as she girlishly yelled her success…

She fell.

Right on top of Naruto.

"Ouch," Naruto groaned as he felt the weight of Sakura on his stomach. What was it with the girl and his ribs!?

"I'm sorry!" Sakura blurted out as she quickly scampered away from his chest. Naruto breathed as he stood up, shaking away the dirt from his jacket. He shook his head, waving off the girl's excuses.

"Sorry, sorry! You're all right then? Should I get someone?"

The medic-Chuunin leader, Kabuto, was already walking towards them while pushing the rim of his glasses back at the top of his nose.

"Is everything all right?" he asked.

"The Jinchuuriki might be valuable study material," the cooing voice of the Kyuubi whispered into Naruto's ears in that precise instant. "His flesh would probably be wonderful to rip apart, his muscles could be torn and his bones broken —I shudder to think what I could do with such a body, if only Orochimaru-sama gave me permission…this mission would be his last."

Naruto took a few steps back, shaking his head.

"I'm fine! Really!" he yelled out with a bit of fright and loud enough for everyone to actually stare at him. Couldn't they stare at someone else!?

"He was probably scarred already, can he not sustain physical contact with others maybe?" the Kyuubi whispered with a grim chuckle. "I wonder the tone of his bloody flesh; would it be firm or stringy? Can a Jinchuuriki survive brain damage, now that I think of it? Would plunging two digits into his brain actually impede him? Would splattering his brain cells? What about the Kyuubi?"

Naruto felt sick.

The fact the Kyuubi was actually providing him with mental images of the things the Chuunin was speaking of didn't bode well at all. He felt worse than sick.

He felt the need to retch.

"Uzumaki-san?" Kabuto's voice was kind.

His face was smiling.

He was showing good, soft emotions.

THEY WERE WRONG ON HIS FACE.

Naruto didn't know when his brain went haywire and he silently began to scream within the confines of his head.

"Hey, Naruto, you all right mate!?" Kiba's left hand touched his shoulder.

The next instant Naruto's sword was stilled three millimeters from the Inuzuka's left eye, as the dog-boy paled and blanched —before falling backwards on the ground, his breathing ragged. Naruto's wrist had been caught by Kakashi, who had apparently been keeping an eye out on what was going on.

"Calm down," the silver haired Jounin spoke firmly. "Breathe, slowly."

His heart was still beating erratically, his eyes trembling and looking around for escape routes. He felt like a trapped mouse. He wanted to run. He wanted to escape. He wanted to claw at the man and get out of there. He wanted to just…to just go away.

"Let. Go." He croaked out. He couldn't feel the fingers on his hand. He didn't know whether his wrist was cracked or not, but he knew he'd rather die than let that smiling teen look at it. Dying seemed a better option than anything that sick and twisted as fuck boy was thinking.

Anything.

"Is he prone to these…episodes?" Kakashi asked then, turning to Sakura while still holding his wrist.

"Ah…Ehm…No," the girl stammered out.

"I see," the Jounin remarked. "You calm now?"

Naruto breathed more slowly now —without realizing it, he had actually calmed down. He nodded.

"Good!" Kakashi remarked. "Now kids, play nice."

That said the man finally let go of his wrist. Naruto sheathed his weapon again, slowly inching away from Kabuto and towards the far end of the clearing.

"Nar—" Sakura tried, but he ignored her. He didn't realize it, but he was trembling and shaking like a leaf as he settled down with his back against the bark of the tree and with both his arms around his legs. He held his eyes closed as he pressed his face against his knees. If he did it strong enough, would the images go away?

Kakashi watched the literal breaking down of the boy against the tree, before seemingly returning to his orange book. In truth, he just needed to think and eye from the corner of his gaze everyone around him.

He could easily rule out the psychological breakdown because of the Genins. Heck, he knew enough war-torn veterans who were twitchy and ready to gut out anyone who came at them from behind —accidents still happened to that day, and those who survived learned never to 'surprise' a shinobi from behind pretty soon. But Naruto was young. He shouldn't have to deal with such a heavy load of stress and nerves.

He knew he'd have to talk to the boy, if not for him at least to make sure he could remain a functional member of his team. There were little of 'cold feet' involved now: he had gone through pretty much the same thing, only his father had committed suicide, and with the horrors of war who ever would adopt an orphan ready to gut you if you just as much tried to hug him from behind?

His sensei had all but adopted him instead.

Now he needed to make Aoba see the problem.

On the other hand, his gaze went for just a brief moment to the Chuunin in question.

Kabuto Yakushi was an average Chuunin. Nothing screamed 'evil' or 'enemy' in his features. He was actually worried about Naruto's sudden breaking down, and was showing all the correct signs of displeasure with himself and sorrow for the damage caused —if inadvertently. Even Sakura felt torn between being 'chastised' and feeling 'stupid' for not knowing of this quirk of her teammate.

Kiba had actually stood back up by then, but was remaining quiet —probably still shocked at the nearly lost eye. Sasuke instead…

Sasuke was a problem.

He knew that gaze. He had seen that gleam, that desire to challenge and to defeat. He didn't like it one bit. If Naruto broke outside, during a mission, so close to a dangerous border like that with Kiri…

He just had to pray the gods it didn't happen.

As he closed shut his Icha-Icha Cut and Squirm, Kunoichi Edition he came to a single conclusion.

Tomorrow, during travel, he would talk to his sensei's son and offer advice.

If Aoba failed to properly argument his case that night, of course. And if the problem didn't seem solved by tomorrow, once more.

Author's notes

And another chapter's done.

I think there is some sort of strange misunderstanding going on with the readers.

Where, exactly, does 'lack of Jutsu' means 'horrible and weak shinobi'? Is there some sort of… law? I mean…I know many believe sincerely that 'flashy jutsu' equals 'ultra-cosmic power'. I can understand that, mind you. Sending fireballs at the enemy or tearing him apart with a wind blade must be awesome. Then again, shinobis are humans and they bleed.

I know you are already replying with the 'but no jutsu till chuunin!? He'll be weak! What about Clans?'

And here you have the crux of the problem: reality.

Shinobi hailing from Clans have successfully proven themselves loyal to the leaf, and if they were to betray they would be hunted down ruthlessly.

We are talking of shinobis here, not public law enforcers who have to go around and can't fire without filing in their request in the office. Underhanded tactics is a must.

Since we are talking of shinobi, 'Trust' is the key requirement.

A Genin cannot be trusted with Jutsus. Unless someone vouches for them like their CLAN or their Private instructor (who then takes the BLAME in case of betrayal, mind you!) they cannot have jutsus. Furthermore, their Chakra Reserves cannot sustain jutsus. Is it better to fire a single fireball, and then die of exhaustion, or simply learn how to throw a Kunai in the eye of an enemy? You know, the kunai can kill you, flashy jutsu or not, if he gets you straight in the eye and tears your brain.

That said a Chuunin can be trusted with some Jutsus. A Jounin can be trusted with everything.

Chuunins can be ordered not only through the EXAMS (who are a replacement for war, mind you!) but also by the Hokage. Why?

It's simple. 'Exams' are Public Representation of Might of a Shinobi Village. They show-off the Clan Kids, and their surprising shinobi and Kunoichi.

But do they show you their very best?

No.

It's stupid.

It's like telling to the world "Hey guys look, we have the mythically powerful Genin X who can use fire jutsus like no tomorrow!" *Next day* "Hey I'm on the Bingo Book!" *Following day yet* "He was killed because the assassin they sent was a water-expert."

This, this is what doing the exams means. Clan child don't have that problem: their abilities are 'renowned' no matter what, which means that it is actually clanless, less known shinobi who do the great 'bulk' of the true missions for the leaf. Clan child deal with press and do the general 'good looking missions'.

So, there. I mean…take Asuma Sarutobi. Jounin right? Strong guy, right? Is it me or is his skill set limited to using his blades and throwing them with chakra enhancement and spewing out dust?

So really…number of jutsus learned or jutsu power =/= powerful shinobi.

Hell, anyone watched the Road of Ninja movie? How many 'jutsus' does Naruto use in that film? He runs and slams his fists more than usual too. (And that's a film Kishimoto looked after personally, meaning it's probably fan-pleasing that the latest Naruto chapters have all those flashy stuff like giant wood statues with thousands of hands and ultra-balls of destruction jutsu)

Now that this little (and hopefully final) rant on 'Why weak and strong mean absolutely nothing in a realistic Naruto-Verse' let us discuss this chapter.

Kabuto is creepy. And he is a Chuunin.

Because seriously, if you want to be a spy you don't remain a Genin for life. You move to Chuunin and start working in the hospital and around. You take long-term patrols with your teammates and then you drop off the radar when needed.

Now, Naruto knows who/what Kabuto is but…will he talk?

And if he does…how will he excuse it?

Ino did lie on knowing the exercise to one-up Sakura and get on with Sasuke. Considering her seemed to me the only jutsu requiring precise chakra control (mind-raping, ftw!) it seemed reasonable.

That and Shikamaru, but the latter simply lied to sleep off.

That's all for the moment folks!