Introverted

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Kizashi Haruno had been a baker all his life. His wife had been a baker all her life and she, differently from him, came from a long and upstanding line of bakers who served bread since the times the first Hokage founded the village. Therefore, when their daughter had decided to become a shinobi, they had not put their foot down. In no way could she have the ability to mold chakra, since not one person in the family ever possessed it.

Of course, fate decided differently, and since molding chakra automatically enrolled you in the academy, there simply was not a choice.

Kizashi had thus watched his little girl grow up speaking about the Uchiha heir, about throwing kunai and tactics. He had watched her eyes lit up countless times whenever she mentioned Taijutsu, Genjutsu or Ninjutsu. He had heard her rant about her team not having Sasuke-kun and then heard her plead to them not to treat Naruto as if he were a monster or some sort of beast, because he wasn't.

He had watched Sakura grow from a young girl into a budding woman, and he truly held a large amount of pride in the fact that his daughter was indeed becoming a fine kunoichi.

He knew it was useless to just lock her up in her room —he hadn't even tried to, but his wife was simply scared. Sakura was their only child after all, and Mebuki had always been the worrywart.

"Ehi, Kizashi," one of his shinobi customers grimaced as he called for him. "Listen," he added. "I think you should have a talk with your daughter soon, before she ends up bad."

The Jounin who talked had spiky light blue hair and blue eyes. He wore the standard outfit of the Konohagakure shinobi complete with a flak jacket and a forehead protector on a long band that tapered off. He also wore his sleeves rolled up, and was holding onto a bag of bread he had recently bought.

"Sabiru-san?"

Sabiru just grimaced again, before shaking his head. "Don't tell anyone I told you, but I saw your daughter training with Anko, of all people…Mitarashi isn't supposed to be teaching anyone, much less a Genin. You'd be better off killing the girl yourself rather than let her suffer through that woman's training…"

Kizashi frowned. "I don't think I know of this…Mitarashi?"

"She was Orochimaru's apprentice," Sabiru shook his head with a heavy sigh. "I think the traitor turned some screws loose with her head. She was never the same when she came back…"

"I'll talk with my daughter tonight," Kizashi acquiesced.

"It might be too late by then," Sabiru murmured to himself as he left, leaving behind a puzzled Kizashi.

Sakura Haruno opened her eyes to the ceiling of the hospital, and more precisely to the stern gaze of a nurse who was treating her wounds with the utmost care. "She got you too, huh?" the nurse muttered. "Listen, if you're quick and smart enough you'll manage to hide for a week or two…generally that's all it takes for her to lose interest in you."

"Eh?" Sakura groaned as she felt her throat literally on fire. Did her tongue taste like alcohol? Had she drunk? How had she drunk? She remembered passing out…didn't she pass out?

"Don't try and talk. She probably got drunk and then force-fed you something too," the nurse snorted. "Probably sakè…poor child, what was your sensei thinking?"

"Ah…" she moaned as she felt a bone snap back into place. She was actually glad she felt light-headed —it eased the pain she was feeling. "Really, what does she think human bodies are made of? This will take at least three days to heal."

She nudged her left arm, apparently broken and in a cast before she had even realized it. "Yes dearie, your left arm is a no-no," the nurse was old and wrinkled.

"an…anma?" Sakura murmured weakly. She had wanted to say 'grandma', because she was seeing her grandmother floating behind the nurse, saying something like 'don't come over here, Sakura!' but really, that was impossible because ghosts didn't exist…

This had to be a hallucination due to alcohol. Everything was going to be fine when she woke up again…yeah…she felt so sleepy.

Sakura's eyes fluttered open to the night sky…that and the noise of a feral beast. This had to be a dream. She was wearing her hospital gown and her left arm was still in a cast. There was no way she had been moved to the depths of a forest…the training ground Forty-Four. There was no way they would…

There was a kunai on the ground, with a note pierced straight by its tip.

She hesitated for a moment, before using her right hand to grab it and read the note beneath the moonlight.

My sensei used this same training with me! Survive until you reach the exit! Oh, of course I asked a friend of mine to take away most of your chakra. So no running above the trees and escaping the feral and highly dangerous beasts that lurk around!

See ya soon,

From the Adorably Sexy Anko-sensei!

Sakura blanched. The silent steps of one of the training ground's tigers moved closer to its prey, as the pink-haired kunoichi just swallowed nervously. She held tightly onto the kunai with her right hand. It was her only weapon. She had nothing else. The nights were getting colder now, September was moving towards October and…and she was in the middle of the Forest of Death.

Moreover, this time around, her teammates were not there.

Naruto's eyes shone with determination as his right hand brought out a torrential amount of chakra, forming some sort of micro cyclone that revolved around his palm.

"It should be a sphere," Jiraiya remarked. "Can't you bring it down? Revolving movements, Naruto, revolving movements…"

"Working on it," Naruto hissed out. As it was, he had a tornado in his palm that always ended up exploding before he could compress it. Jiraiya-sensei helped him a lot, giving him pointers and showing him the technique again and again but really…he couldn't actually feel what someone else was doing, and as such there was no way to actually manage a 'clock-wise and counter-clockwise movement of chakra' without practicing.

"Why are you trying to create a Bijuudama from your hands?" the Kyuubi snorted through his ear. "You can create chakra rays from the tip of your fingers, if you really wish for it…but the Bijuudama is generated from your mouth."

He had no idea what the fox was talking about, until he found himself watching as tiny streaks of red chakra flowed through his body towards his throat. "Just follow the instructions," the Kyuubi murmured. "Relax, let it flow."

Suddenly, Naruto's throat seemed to bulge slightly as the teen opened his mouth wide. A loud groan echoed before the boy's body convulsed abruptly forward, spitting out an orb of blue chakra that flew in the air before crashing up against a tree bark, detonating it to smithereens.

"That's the most worthless Bijuudama I have ever seen," the Kyuubi deadpanned. "I would feel ashamed if I were you."

"Naruto?" Jiraiya asked with half-narrowed eyes. "What was that?"

"I…ehm…" he shook his head and scratched the back of his neck, "I improvised?"

"Well," Jiraiya blinked. "I suppose that could work." The white haired man shook his head. "I doubt anyone else could compare that to a rasengan…whatever the hell it was."

"Bijuudama," Naruto said, closing his eyes. "Tailed Beast Bomb."

"You know," the old Toad Sage's eyes lit with something Naruto couldn't comprehend. "Now that you say that…your father came up with his rasengan by copying the Bijuudama of the Jinchuuriki of Kumogakure during the war."

"Really?" it was just a simple word worded as a question, but the underlying tone of need was something Jiraiya was extremely familiar with: the desire to know more.

"I know this story," he smirked. "I'll tell you while we go find a place to eat for the day," he chuckled. "Let them see you with me —that should put up quite a storm of rumors."

"Thank you, Jiraiya-sensei."

Now, if only he could manage to tell the boy he was his godfather…without eliciting some sort of internal feud between them…next time, he'd let Sarutobi-sensei handle it.

Yugito Nii was sternly grumbling to herself as she jumped from tree to tree. Her eyes narrowed as she flung one kunai against a snake whose only fault was to be taking the sun on a nearby branch, before taking another jump forward.

"Horrid creatures," she murmured. "What's taking you so long, Mabui!?" she snarled back behind her, where the Raikage's secretary was sweating profusely.

"Nii-sama," the woman answered. "We've been running for…three days."

"So?"

"I am not used to it."

"You're a Jounin of Kumogakure: act like one!" with another powerful jump, Yugito moved forward. It was nothing, three days of running. She had done much worse and much longer when she had been five, training to control the Nibi.

"The technique to send reports to the Raikage consumes a lot of chakra," Mabui tried to exclaim at Yugito's back as the Jinchuuriki just kept on running ahead.

Yugito did not answer the woman —those were all excuses. You could do something or you could not, and if you could not, then you had better be able to do it the next day or there would be consequences. She shuddered at the thought of the consequences for her failures. She wasn't going to fail.

The Raikage had given her a mission, and she was going to follow it through.

"Another snake, to the left, beneath a bush," the Nibi's voice was met with the swift and brutal execution of the pointed snake, as on more kunai flew from her hand to kill the beast. "Well done."

She didn't know why the Nibi hated snakes. She knew it had something to do with a 'great white snake' but anything more left the beast tight-lipped. Not that they spoke much, since on one side her instructors had been pretty clear that any words exchanged between them were usually poisoned with lies, and on the other the two-tailed beast was quiet and silent most of the time.

Still, if by killing snakes the Nibi cooperated smoothly, then who was she to say no to it? She didn't like snakes to begin with. There was also another thing she actually had to do to make the Nibi cooperate with her fully…but that one was something she felt too disgusted to think about trying it.

Her blond hair whipped behind her in the wind as she jumped a bit higher than normal to see beyond the treetops. The land of Hot-Springs was demilitarized, and the Samurai checkpoints —few and sparse— were usually ignored by the ninja rather than actually taken seriously…the Samurai knew that too, but that didn't stop them from insisting.

Maybe they could stop at a hot spring for a quick bath. The Raikage would probably be displeased if she left his secretary behind in the dirt.

There were rumors of course of what he and she did…but she just quashed them down. The Raikage was pretty much set in his celibate ways and his secretary…well, there were far prettier woman around. She wondered where she had been when they had assigned beauty. She had narrow cheekbones and a stern gaze, and frankly what little curves she had meant nothing when the other side learned of the fact that yes, she had a snake-killing and human-flesh eating monster in her stomach.

She only drunk-dated and nobody stayed around once they were sober enough to realize what they had done…it avoided the awkward mornings at least.

"Can you smell it?" the Nibi suddenly shifted. "It's near the coast, twenty miles from here."

She instantaneously tensed. "What is it?"

"It smells of turtle," the Two-Tailed demon murmured. "Such long time…it must be the Sanbi."

"Is it moving upwards to Kumo?"

"It appears so," the Nibi whispered. "I wonder why," she added with a frown. "He's not usually that reactive."

"Are you lying to me?" Yugito asked then, only to receive the mental image of the demon cat snorting and shrugging.

"Do I look like I care? I wonder what freed him. Doesn't matter. He's gone from my senses. He must have plunged deep in the ocean."

Yugito's eyes remained narrow for a moment more as she gazed at the horizon, before she finally stopped against the smooth surface of a tree. Mabui soon closed the distance between them, reaching her as fast as she could.

"We'll be taking a break here," Yugito said. "Five minutes, then we depart once more." She looked to the side. "We'll find a Hot-spring to rest fully for one day, and then we'll make haste for Konoha. We're already behind schedule."

"Yes, Yugito-sama."

Mabui exhaled slowly. She knew nobody enjoyed working with the Nibi Jinchuuriki —which was one of the reasons Yugito Nii worked alone in the special Kumogakure Corps— but she hadn't thought it was because she was a slave-driver. She was probably going to melt by the time they reached a Hot-Spring…if her muscles didn't give away the next morning, that was.

Sasuke Uchiha held contempt for little things. Disorder, chaos, general noise and bantering were on the list of things he didn't like. The fact he found himself sitting next to the Kusagakure Kunoichi, one day in the mess hall, meant nothing. It was just…a circumstance.

"Hn."

"Is that all you say?" the kunoichi asked him with a half-amused smirk. "I thought this…training regime, would be something to be excited about."

"They don't want me to stress my broken arm," he grumbled out. "As if it could snap again."

"Multiple fractures of the same limb aren't something trivial, boy," the kunoichi smirked. "But you're too young to know that."

He narrowed his eyes. He'd have to settle for Ami then, if this was the level of respect he'd get from the Kusa kunoichi.

"What would that mean?" he asked briskly.

"That you lack experience," she replied. "It's not something you can acquire like snapping two fingers together, and it makes the difference between life and death. Why else do you think Genin learn beneath Jounin-sensei? To make sure they learn from more experienced shinobi. A lot of Genin remain such for years, and that is why the three Sannin of Konoha are special: they passed together the Chuunin exams; all three of them at the same time and on their first try managed what many others could not."

"How can I get experience when I'm not training?" Sasuke bristled slightly as he asked that. "Our sensei won't even take us on missions any longer, since he's busy with the third exam coming around."

"You could spar with your teammates," she remarked. "But it seems to me you don't really like them at all, do you?"

"No," Sasuke shook his head. "One rants about defeating me, the other rants about marrying her…" he shuddered. "I don't like either of them."

"Well," the kunoichi raised her gaze up to the ceiling. "How about sparring against me, boy? Think you can take it?"

He raised an eyebrow. "You? Are you sure you will not go crying back to your sensei afterwards?"

"Hn," the kunoichi grumbled mock imitating his own verse. "Kunoichi don't cry…they have crocodile tears."

The girl then stood up from her seat. "The name is Shiore by the way," she said with a wink.

"Sasuke."

"Yeah…let's see how much your 'last Uchiha' bull is worth on the sparring ring."

He stood up quickly, following the girl out and towards the training area.

Maybe…maybe he could live with disrespect after all.

Meanwhile, Orochimaru looked pleased. The little orphan had done five-hundred paper cranes as instructed. "What have we learned today then, my apprentice?"

The girl looked at him with wide eyes filled with fear. "To do paper cranes, Orochimaru-sama?"

The slap made the orphan's body twist in mid-air before landing on the ground —so strong was the blow. "No! Who cares about the paper cranes!?" Orochimaru snarled. "What was the true purpose of doing paper cranes? You don't really think I have a need for paper cranes, right?"

"Ah…I…to test…me?"

"Correct," Orochimaru smirked. "Now why would I test you?"

"B-Because I…" she gasped for air as the thought of answering wrong actually paralyzed her in fear. "I don't know."

The snake sannin's eyes narrowed to thin fissures. "You don't know?"

"Ah, please don't kill me, Orochimaru-sama!" Hebi was on the ground pleading for her life the next instant, as the snake Sannin just chuckled.

"Hush, child…it's normal…" he smirked. "Everything is fine if you don't know," he giggled. "You'll find out soon enough. We're moving out soon…and you'll understand."

Somehow, those words did not calm Hebi down at all.

The Hokage was calmly taking long breaths from his pipe's tobacco, when the door of his office swung open with fury. Yugao Uzuki walked in, followed by a sheepish Anko who seemed to be holding her head slightly low.

"What happened?" Hiruzen's tone was calm and collected, but he had half an idea what the problem was.

"She lost my student!" Yugao actually snarled that out with venom, which was far more than what he had ever seen the Anbu kunoichi do before.

"Not actually lost," Anko piped in. "Just…misplaced?"

"In the forest of death! She just had her left arm placed in a cast, her chakra sealed and you sent her in the forest of death!?"

"Well," the purple haired kunoichi winced. "She's going up against the Hyuga, no?"

"You sent her in the forest of Death!"

"Geez, calm down Yugao-chan!" the Tokubetsu Jounin rolled her eyes. "She'll be fine. I left her there at night: beasts don't usually prowl at that hour."

"It's the principle that counts!" Yugao yelled back. "You don't kidnap my students! Nobody kidnaps my students! They're my team, my soldiers, not yours! If I have to comply with the Hokage then it's fine, but they're mine! And you sent a civilian girl with no extra techniques or chakra in the Forest of Death!" the Anbu took a deep breath. "What the hell were you thinking, Anko!? What the hell!?"

Hiruzen raised an eyebrow. The Anbu guards hidden in the corners of his room actually watched the catfight with interest, grateful their masks could hide their expressions.

"Hey! It worked with me!"

"Orochimaru sent his potential Genin team in there, and only YOU came out unscathed because you were lucky!" Yugao screamed back at the woman, grabbing her jacket with both of her hands. "It was the bloodiest thing Konoha ever saw! The other two shinobi? They were traumatized for months!" coldly, Yugao dropped the hem of Anko's jacket. "If something happens to my Genin, Anko," here she narrowed her eyes. "I will find you, no matter where you hide. I will come to you in the night and I will slice your throat after torturing you until you beg me to kill you! Have I made myself clear!?"

"Ohh…kinky," Anko licked her lips.

"Ahem," Hiruzen coughed slightly. Suddenly, Yugao stood ramrod straight and with a slight blush on her face.

"H-Hokage-sama!" she squeaked. "I apologize!"

"Heya gramps!" Anko smiled as she waved at the Hokage. "Yugao brought me here! You've got any mission I can do to pass time?"

The Sandaime coughed once more. "So…I have a Genin lost in the forest of Death?"

"Not lost! Just misplaced!" Anko exclaimed happily. "Yugao-chan said I could train her to fight the Hyuga brat in the finals! I had no choice but to accept, really! Then when I went and saw that scrawny ass of a child, I thought 'sheesh! She has no muscles or pain tolerance! She's going to bawl over when the gentle fist starts hammering down on her!' and so I thought 'let's give her a pain tolerance crash-test! Just like what happened with the Uzumaki teammate of hers!'. And that's pretty much it old man!"

Hiruzen exhaled slowly. He could feel a headache incoming.

"Uzuki-san," the Sandaime locked eyes with the ex-Anbu. "Keep on training the remaining Genin. Sakura Haruno will pass off as a fully-fledged Mitarashi Anko apprentice for the moment, which will avoid forcing me to execute her for having stolen a Genin from another commanding officer," he raised his right hand to stop the barrage of protests the Anbu was about to give.

"Silence!" he snapped. "And Mitarashi Anko? You will be bringing your apprentice alongside you on every single mission you do, and will be directly responsible for her health…" he narrowed his eyes, "Yuzuki, Anbu guards? Leave us."

Stiffly, Yugao nodded firmly before giving one last heated glare to Anko who just smiled back and waved 'goodbye' to the Team Thirteen sensei.

The moment they were alone, the Sandaime stood up.

"You're walking a thin line, Anko."

Anko shrugged. "You asked for results," she pointed out. "I'm giving them out."

"If a civilian kunoichi can manage to defeat an upstanding member of a clan," Hiruzen mused out. "Then the clan's inherently prejudiced system will have to fall apart," the Sandaime chuckled. "I would have preferred you to act more subtly, but as long as there are results…"

"Well, I've got to go now…my summons might just decide to eat the girl, rather than just keep an eye out on her." Anko winked at the old man before turning to leave, only for the Sandaime to exhale one last time.

"Anko, you know that…should the girl fail…"

"Yeah," she grimaced. "You'll have to get me demoted and placed somewhere in a faraway outpost because I went against the chain of command."

"Exactly," Hiruzen nodded. "On the other hand…succeed in this, in countering the Gentle Fist style…" his eyes glazed over, "And I might just strike out the Tokubetsu out of your title."

Anko chuckled. "All right, old man…you're on!"

With a flicker, the Tokubetsu Jounin was gone.

Hiruzen shook his head slowly, before turning to look at the village of Konoha in its splendor. "Care for them and protect them…for it is among them that one will rise to take your place," he brought his right hand to gently touch the glass panel of the window. "How could you think I was the right one for this job, Tobirama-sensei?" he shook his head. "Nobody is right for this task. Was the mantle as heavy on you, as it is for me?"

The old Sandaime grimaced. "You were supposed to be the first non-clan shinobi to become Hokage," his eyes narrowed to Minato Namikaze's portrait. "And what did you do? You ended up freeing the Kyuubi in the middle of the damn village! Do you know the backslash the village suffered because you couldn't keep your pants tight? Of course not! Look at you, smiling and being condescending from your spot on the wall!" the Sandaime took three steps towards the portrait, his eyes blazing with anger.

"I'm toying with the life of shinobi! Do you think I enjoy it? I hate using people! My sensei called me Saru for Kami's sake!" the Sandaime dropped the hat on the desk, bringing both hands to his hair as he breathed slowly. "I'm too old for this, Minato. I'm too old trying to soothe old wounds, to placate the clans' rigidity, to balance everyone and everything. What you're forcing me to do…this is your entire fault," he pointed the accusing finger towards Minato.

"You couldn't adopt a child, huh? No! You just had to fall in love with the Kyuubi Jinchuuriki and marry her! We warned you! We all did…and you didn't even care. She's strong, she'll hold it…I lost my wife and you lost your life. I lost proud shinobi and half of the village's forces…and you…you condemned your child to live the life of a pariah because of a crime he hadn't committed."

Hiruzen gasped for air as he felt his chest constrict slightly. "Not yet," he murmured, forcing his breathing to even out as he felt the telltale signs of a stroke coming and going. "Not yet."

The Shinigami must have heard him, because he did not die in the following minutes.

"I don't hate you for having followed your childishly naïf heart, Minato," Hiruzen whispered. "But I would be lying if I said I didn't resent you for all the pain you have caused in your selfishness," he groaned as he sat back down at his chair. "Wherever you are, I hope you are watching…because I swear…I can't be the only one in pain because of this."

There was a moment of silence.

"The world can't be so unfair, after all."

The noise of the pen scribbling on the parchment slowly filled the silence afterwards, as the Sandaime returned to his paperwork with a slightly sweaty eyebrow…but his chest emptied of a heavy load.

He should rant to portraits more often.

The thought made him smile. He'd have to get one of Tsunade and Jiraiya…and maybe also one of Orochimaru.

Maybe a double copy for Orochimaru's: the first one might accidentally burn after all.

It was late at night, by the time Naruto returned home. Shimura Danzo was sitting comfortably on the armchair of the library room, a book in his lap. Naruto exhaled once, and then stepped forward.

The old shinobi opened his only eye and looked with curiosity at his arrival. "Naruto? You caught me asleep, I suppose old age does that," he chuckled.

"Neh, Danzo-sensei," Naruto said in a forced smile. "Is it true?"

"What is?" he remarked, furrowing his only visible brow.

"You're the Yami of shinobi…head of the counter-intelligence of Konoha?"

Danzo breathed in slowly. It had to have been Jiraiya. The man was as subtle as an elephant, and that was only during his best days. How he managed to uphold a line of spies across the elemental countries…that was beyond his ability to reason.

"I was that," he remarked. "I retired a long time ago."

Naruto just grimaced, before nodding. "You…you know who my father is?"

"I do," he whispered back.

"The Sandaime didn't want anyone to tell me, right?"

Danzo nodded. "That would have been bad…I take it Jiraiya of the Sannin told you?"

"It wasn't difficult to make two plus two," Naruto replied as he shook his head. "And it wasn't difficult to find out afterwards…really," he grimaced. "Hakashi Katake? Who would use that name as a substitute for his real one?"

A small smile spread on Danzo's face. "Very well," he nodded. "And you do not feel angered?"

Naruto shrugged. "Not much," he murmured. "I mean…he had to, didn't he? And I suppose I already screamed my anger a long time ago. It's just…well, it's not fair I suppose that I couldn't know."

"It was done also for your safety," Danzo nodded sagely. "Differently from…the Kyuubi's secret, your heritage was kept a secret to everyone but a selected few…and those numbers dwindled with the passing of time, until only old geezers remained and a few trusted Anbu."

"Neh, sensei," Naruto whispered. "Jiraiya-sama wanted to take me on as an apprentice," he looked sideways. "I didn't say yes."

"Uhm…a Genin your age would have jumped at the opportunity," Danzo said. "But I suppose you're more level-headed than others, Naruto."

The candle light flickered for a moment, as Danzo's single eye fixed itself on Naruto's twin cerulean orbs. "You know —if there is one thing that disgusts me, it is power without responsibility. Power should not belong to misguided fools, nor should it be free, cheap and available to all. The sweat of your own brow should be the minimum requisite to wield power, and responsibility in using it should be what truly distinguishes the man from the child."

He sighed. "Yet sometimes, clans end up teaching their children devastating techniques like the chakra fire ball, not caring if their precious spawns then use it to bully others… or the Hyuuga's ability of the gentle fist, drilled into their muscles since youth and that makes them able to kill by liquefying the opponent's inner organs with but a touch…" There was a grimace on Danzo's face. "Foolish, isn't it? Why should children barely of age be entrusted with mortal techniques?"

"Danzo-sensei?"

"You know that, in Root, I always made sure of their loyalty before entrusting them with anything worthy?" Danzo spoke calmly, "Many of them…they fought and bled with nothing more than a kunai and a Tanto strapped to their backs. In times of war things were different, but in peace…in peace you come to realize that handing over a technique to create a rock-slide to a schizophrenic shinobi is not the right way to go."

The old shinobi chuckled grimly. "I lost quite a bit of flesh after the war, rather than in the middle of it."

He grimaced. "War is…it's a terrible business, Naruto. It's horrible. It is heart wrenching. It guts you to the point where there is nothing left in you but a bitter old man who walks everyday through streets that are supposed to be familiar, but aren't, because you don't recognize the people who walk by…" his voice trailed off, before picking up once more. "And it hurts, to watch children grow into adults and then die because the enemy does not forget. It hurts to hear that your fellow comrades, your fellow shinobi, have died not of old age but of poisoning attempts, because the sons of those they killed came back for revenge."

He shuddered. "It is a vicious cycle, Naruto," his only eye moved back to his book. "A cycle that cannot be ended as long as someone perpetrates it… someone has to give. Someone has to fall. Someone has to give up. And nobody does," he bitterly chuckled. "Nobody ever does."

"Danzo-sensei? Why are you telling me…this?"

"When the Chuunin exams will come around," he looked at him firmly. "Your actions, all of them, will be recorded for posterity. Show yourself strong, and the enemies of Konoha will think twice before attacking the village. Show yourself weak…and war…war might come to the village within a week. That is… that is the extent of the burden you have to carry as the Jinchuuriki of the Kyuubi."

Naruto sucked in air sharply as his eyes widened. He clenched the sides of his jacket grabbing fistfuls of the fabric, before whispering back.

"So…I just have to win?"

"No," Danzo replied slowly standing up. "You have to do more," he said firmly. "You have to show your loyalty to the world, your disinterest, your might, your power and strength. You have to become the weapon that Konoha needs!"

"I…I have to?" Naruto's voice felt choked as he showered in a strange lulling sensation. Danzo-sensei's voice had something of…hypnotic, to it.

"You have to," Danzo nodded grimly. "You have to fight your enemies, and you have to fight your friends. You have to win the tournament with the utmost ruthlessness, without caring for the forehead protector of your enemy. Show them your strength Naruto…and in doing so, you will save Konoha from the enemy."

"I…I will, Danzo-sensei," he replied slowly. His right hand clenched tightly. "I will show no mercy to those who oppose me during the tournament."

Danzo smiled. He smiled as he felt the slight dribble of blood fall down alongside his left eye. He brought down gently his sane hand over the boy's shoulder and, with a comforting pat, he whispered then.

"I'm sure you will, Naruto. I'm sure you will."

The weeks passed with ease after that, in a sort of hazy dream. He trained, he learned some sort of strange Bijuudama, he trained with his Tanto against Hakashi…he felt strange, but he couldn't pinpoint why. It was as if he was missing something important.

The day the Chuunin exams started, Naruto Uzumaki was quietly standing in line together with the rest of the Genin. To his right, he could see Sai calmly standing as if the time passed hadn't changed him at all.

"Dickless."

"Pervert."

They nodded to one another as they spoke, before turning to face the proctor…Kakashi Hatake.

The rest of the Genin-hopeful Chuunin were present, some more nervous, some less…

Haruno Sakura, however, was still missing.

"She can't be late," Naruto muttered. "We have to pass the exam together."

"Dickless, stop being nervous," Sai quipped. "There's still time."

The Hokage bit down on his pipe calmly, as he watched the Genin in line down below from the Kage box. He had received enough complaints about Sakura Haruno's disappearance from her parents…and if now the girl didn't show up? That wasn't going to be fine at all.

Where had Anko brought the girl to begin with?

"Konoha ninja," Oonoki grumbled from his side. "Always lacking in something…be it quality, quantity…or punctuality."

"Now, now, Tsuchikage," the Takigakure Kage remarked with a low grumbling noise, "That is a serious offense."

The Takigakure Kage had long spiky hair, dark eyes, and a goatee. He wore a dark blue jacket, grey pants, sandals, and a bandanna that held his hair out of his face. The robes he wore weren't white as those normally of the Kage, but more of a dark green color.

His bodyguard was a young dark skinned girl, with dark green hair and a sort of tomboyish grin plastered on her face.

"Thank you, Suien-dono," Hiruzen replied calmly. "But there will be no need. I am sure they have merely been delayed."

"To be late is to be dead," the Kumogakure ambassador remarked dryly. The Nibi Jinchuuriki looked towards the Iwagakure Kage with a calm ease, before drifting her gaze to the Hokage and then the Takigakure Kage. "What Kunoichi can this…Haruno be, if she is late to her own graduation?"

"Be as it may," the Otogakure Kage answered calmly. "It is not our decision whether to proceed or not with the exams. They are hosted by Konoha, thus it should be their rights to decide."

His Kage clothes were a striking deep purple, which contrasted sharply with his grey eyes and hair.

"Indeed," the Kazekage added next. "Arashi-san, while young, is correct. And considering just who is supposed to be coming to interrupt this…spectacle, it is for the best we take as much time as possible…to grant more time to the civilians to evacuate."

"Is this why you are here, Kazekage-sama?" the Takigakure Kage asked with a slight smirk. "I wonder how you feel about your youngest dying at the hand of a Konoha shinobi."

"I am actually thankful," the Kazekage shot back immediately, with a death glare powerful enough to make Suien swallow harshly. "My youngest was a menace which cost me far many shinobi of the sand. The people are happier now than before, and we have already received reparations for the loss of the Ichibi which will bring both Konoha and Suna closer in the future."

"Indeed," the Hokage quipped before taking a deep breath. "I will now announce the beginning of the exams. I'll have to—"

There was a flash of light, soon followed by a giant scroll coming down from one corner of the arena as the words…

Mitarashi Anko's Sexy Apprentice arrives!

…were written on the scroll. Those soon followed a pink blur, which landed, with a vicious smirk, in the middle between Sai and Naruto. The blur's hands then shot out to grab both Naruto's and Sai's neck with her arm and hug them both while doing a victory sign and sticking her tongue out. One of Sakura's eyes was closed in a wink, even thought there was a nasty gash running across it as if a feral beast had clawed it.

Her sleeveless fishnet shirt showed off her arms, filled with small nicks and scars that could only result from forcefully parrying shurikens with only the bare flesh. Her hair was short, with streaks of purple and green running across it.

She hummed a nice tune as she let go of her teammates, before stretching widely for a moment. She wore a short brown mini-skirt that came close to indecency, and beneath her fishnet shirt one could clearly see a one-piece black dress —the only sign of modesty somewhere on her body.

Her left ear had a piercing apparently, as a small green jewel was stuck in her earlobe.

"Ahem," Kakashi coughed slightly. "Haruno Sakura?"

The pink-haired girl nodded vivaciously.

"You're late."

Somehow, the deeply settled irony of the statement escaped everyone…except those who knew Kakashi Hatake's tardiness.

Sakura blinked once, and then… then she flipped him the bird.

Kakashi just chuckled.

Meanwhile, at the hospital of Konohagakure no Sato, Hinata Hyuga watched from her wheelchair the arena through the television settled in the common room. Her father had actually visited her and told what had happened…and what she had to do from there on.

She hadn't even cried.

She had just numbly pleaded to watch the Chuunin exams. She's entrust her feelings, her will…to simply watch Naruto-kun winning the tournament. She held no doubt the boy would win in her heart. Standing there with a wool sheet over her unresponsive legs, watching the first two contestants settling on the ring as a group of sick children awed at the two fighters…

She could have become a nurse, had she been born in a civilian family.

She could have…she could have been the kind lady talking to the elderly kunoichi who was looking with interest at the screen, or the burly and stern-looking matron who had a golden heart and held two small children on her shoulders to let them see the television better.

Yet there she was.

A cripple who couldn't use her legs.

A worthless Hyuga who was good enough only to be used as a political marriage piece, to then be discarded in a corner of the house like some sort of 'grown out of' vest never to be taken out again from the closet. She held both of her delicate hands to her chest as she bit her lower lip in pain, a pain that came from her heart and soul and not from her body.

Her father was a stern piece of ice next to her. She supposed he was so much beyond being disgusted that he simply didn't care if she actually died there or not.

"Father?" she whispered.

"Yes, Hinata?"

"I'm sorry."

Hiashi Hyuga took a deep breath and composed himself. He closed his eyes for a moment, a trickle of sweat running down his forehead. He could do this.

He just had to say 'it wasn't your fault'. Sure, it was to admit weakness and a Hyuga never admitted weakness, but as it was right now, there wasn't any reason to insist. Hinata was no longer a viable kunoichi. He didn't have to force her to grow up stern and tough. He could let her go. He could…he could act kindly if he wished to.

He didn't say those words.

He said others.

"You should be."

The girl just sadly lowered her head after that.

Hiashi would have kicked himself in the head.

And as the silence grew in the room, the announcer finally exclaimed…

"And the First Match of the Chuunin Exams, Neji Hyuga against Sakura Haruno will now begin!"

And with those words…

The Chuunin's final Exam began.

Author's notes.

Of course, the 'Anime-only' 'secondary missions' eccetera went on with a different ending…

There isn't yet an OC in here. (Except Hebi, but then again…)

I made the time-skip happen without revealing what Sakura went through, or what Naruto and Kakashi could talk about with the Yondaime out in the open, or what Sai learned from Kurenai, because if I have to let you readers suffer through the Chuunin Exam battles, I'd rather let you read of what happened in the following bouts.

And for whoever believed Danzo to be a nice, good, and cheerful guy…

Enjoyed his orders?

The Sharingan-Mangekyou ability is actually untraceable. (I already discussed this in Harsh Truth, not doing it again) And this *is* the first time he uses it on Naruto.

Little notes:

Chapter 26 has the Hokage give a speech similar to the Danzo one of this chapter, but their end results are different. Who caught on that?

Since neither the Hokage nor Danzo were present on the day of the extraction, it comes to term that 'the foolish Yondaime' could not keep his own promise.

'Shiore' is supposed to be the Kunoichi Orochimaru 'masks' himself as.

Suien is the bad guy of the Hero Water anime side.

The 'army' movement because of a single S-rank threat:

S-rank is Kage. Kage is 'one man army'. Orochimaru is thus an 'enemy army' who could potentially inflict as much if not more damage than a real one.

Anko acted in a sort of canon-naruto way with the Hokage.

Sabiru is another Anime Jounin. (Apparently he can separate your soul from your body and is in charge of the defenses of Konoha)

Yes, the Takigakure bodyguard is Fuu.

Otogakure's kage is Arashi. (Fuma clan)

Next chapter…

War! Violence! Death!