A/N: OVER ONE THOOOUSAND REVIEWS! This story has surpassed that mark! You guys are the best! When I first created this story I never once thought that it would graduate to become the massive and phenomenal hit that it is to day! And to top it all off, this is my longest chapter to date! Reviews inspire me to write like this so I just want to say...

...THANK YOU SOOOOO MUCH!

Still I return again! Things have been absolutely crazy for me as of the last few months what with the surgeries and all, but now at long last, I feel I can devote my attentions to this fic anew as I've intended to do! Of course, now that they're not cutting me OPEN anymore to work on my heart I've also come up with a quite a few new ideas! I can promise ya'll that the next few chappys are going to be nothing short of absolutely brilliant! So sorry for the wait!

Now that we've addressed all those issues, I just wanted to say: Thank you. To all of you who reviewed and have yet to review, and especially those who noticed my improved writing style. I look forward to hearing more from you as we continue down the strange, convulted path that is this story. I honestly cannot believe I've already gotten more than 100 reviews for the first chapter alone and now its so damn high I could cry with joy! Hopefully I won't dissapoint you guys! And with that...

...onto the next chapter! =D I'm also going to address a slight discrepancy here; the matter of a harem. Yes, it is going to be one. No, Naruto won't abandon his ladies for one girl. I don't know why some people seemed to think that? As another note, I'd like to address a bit of confusion on the matter of the ages of the Ame Orphans. They're around twelve-thirteen at this point, little more than children. They've got some growing up to do under Naruto's wing!

Anywho, more epicness awaits us as we continue to address just how Naruto feels about changing the future...and at long last we get to see the beginnings of true romance! And as a warning, there is still M-Rated...so enjoy! Its a looooong one! And it is nearly one in the morning over here! So...enjoy!

"You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something in your life."

~Winston S. Churchill.

Faces Old and New

Tsunade had never know so much pain in all her life.

Every fiber of her being ached, her body crying out in near-vocal protest from where she sat on the stone floor of the cavern. It took everything she had just to keep her eyes open. Breathing itself was an effort. But it wasn't just the pain of chakra exhaustion and a beaten body. It was the knowledge that they'd failed in their mission. She had failed. Not only had they been unable to defeat Hanzo of the Salamander, but they hadn't even driven him off! In the end they were defeated beaten within an inch of their very lives by their superior opponent. But instead of ending them as any enemy might he had spared them bestowing upon the trio the title of Sanin for their efforts against him. He'd let them go, saying the battle was likely to turn in Konoha's favor.

Godamnit, he'd let them live!

Beaten and broken as Jiraiya and Orochimaru were, she'd barely managed to drag the two of them away from the battle and into the shelter of this cave. Nursing their wounds had driven her well past the point of utter exhaustion; it was only soldier pills and her own will keeping her from joining her comrades on the blessedly cool floor of their sanctuary. Perhaps she had her blood to thank for that. Her teammates might have been a pair of corpses for all that they moved, the slow rise and fall of their chests the only sign that they yet lived.

Honestly it was times such as these that she wished she could use her bloodline. It would've made a massive difference against Hanzo, might've even turned the tide. But she couldn't. She had trained for years to wield it since childhood, ready countless books on her grandfather's kekkai genkai-her kekkai genkai-examined every scroll she could get her hands on-but something always seemed to be blocking her somehow. At this rates Nawaki would learn how to unlock it before her! Ha! The thought of her kid brother wielding Mokuton was almost enough to draw a smile from the battered blond. He'd been a genin for nearly two years now-rumor had it was getting a new sensei to replace the one he'd lost int he war. Perhaps she might meet the man when she returned to the village.

But none of that would matter that it would matter if she didn't survive-

Tap.

What was that sound?

Tap. Tap.

There it was again.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

What the hell?

Slowly but surely the sound of footsteps tugged her up out of the own self-loathing, her hazel eyes wearily flitting toward the mouth of the cave. A figure could be seen there amidst the rains, striding forwards with unfaltering steps, and behind him, six others trailing in his wake. An enemy attack?! Had Hanzo decided to finish them off after all?! She bristled, bracing herself for the worst. If the Salamander meant to end them while they were weak at night, he would be in for one hell of a shock-

Imagine her surprise instead when a familiar face interposed itself amidst the gloom. A pair of bemused crimson orbs revealed themselves to her alongside a chiseled face that had haunted her dreams for the last week and tormented her nightmares. He stranger blinked but once in the dimness of the cave, pushing a hand through his rain-soaked hair to peer at the Sanin within. That did it; with the hair out of his face, she recognized him almost immediately.

Naruto?!

"Well, you guys look like shit." that serious expression lasted all of an instant before a cheery grin split his cheeks. "Don't worry, I'm here to bail your asses out. Feel free to thank me later, ya know." If Tsunade hadn't been so damned grateful to see him in that instant she would've clobbered the man silly for that remark. As things stood, she'd never been happier to hear his voice - wait a second. How did she know it was really him, and not some Ame assassin henge'd into him to make her drop her guard?! Gasping at such a thought the blonde's frantically fumbled for a kunai with her good arm.

"Not another step! If you are who you say you are, prove it right now!"

Naruto sighed, his brow pinching in annoyance.

"You're really gonna make me go there?"

Tsunade's glower must've spoke volumes; because he didn't step into the cave. Another sigh rang through her ears.

"Fine. In the Land of Wind I told you never to risk yourself on my behalf and-

"Alright!" Tsunade felt her face flare a bright cherry red at the mention of that mission. "Alright. You're the real deal-and I told you never to speak of that to anyone!"

"Ha!" Jiraiya snickered from somewhere behind her.

"Guess they fought Hanzo, 'ttebane." one of the six muttered ruefully, her voice readily identifying her as female. "They're downright paranoid-ittai!" she yelped as Naruto's fist ruthlessly descended on her head. "What the heck was that for, sensei?!"

"For not showing the proper appreciation." Naruto clucked dissapprovingly. "These three have been through hell and back; show them some respect."

"But-!"

"If you don't, no ramen for you!"

The poor girl whimpered like a kicked puppy. "That's just mean! Its cruel and unusual punishment, dattebane...

Tsunade's eyes caught a flash of crimson in the storm just then-there was only one kunoichi she knew to have hair such a lustruous crimson color. Kushina? She wasn't truly able to discern the other shinobi with him in the dim lighting but one glance at the children with him told her that the other three were doubltessly orphans. The oldest looked to be no more than twelve years old. Where had they come from, she wondered?

"Looks like you were right, Konan-chan." The Uchiha drawled, not paying attention to her sudden scrutiny. "They were here after all. I guess I can forgive them being a little crazy though, considering."

The bluenette flushed, her cheeks coloring a pretty pink.

"Ah. Thank you, sensei...

Tsunade frowned, another piece falling into place.

Sensei?! What the hell was going on here?!

Naruto was already barking orders to his followers, ordering one to seal the mouth of the cave-was that a wood release?!-setting another to light torches, and a third to get a fire going. The orphans trailed after him in stoic silence, like little lost ducklings without their mother.

"Kukuku...it seems the cavalry has arrived." Orochimaru's voice was barely a whisper as he propped himself up against a wall. He arched an eyebrow at Yahiko, and the others. "You just can't seem to help but pick up strays now, can you?" he mused, but there was no rancour in his words; a stark difference from their interactions only a month prior. Naruto had that effect on people. He seemed to bring out the good in people, even someone as twisted as her teammate. Ever since Naruto had started working with them there had been a marked change in her once-reclusive friend; he spent less and less time thinking of jutsu and more time being a sociable person in their prescence. It was...strange.

"Good to see you two, scales." Naruto clapped the man on the shoulder. "Guess you got beat pretty bad, huh?"

"Why am I not surprised?" Jiraiya didn't even bother to raise his head from where he lay; perhaps because he simply hadn't the strength. "Did Sarutobi send you?"

An unreadable emotion flickered across Naruto's face, gone an instant later.

"He thought you needed some help."

"For once, he's right." Grunting, his beaten body trembling with the effort, the whitehead hoisted himself up into a sitting position. "Even with your help, it'll take everything we have to bring down that old salamander-

The Uchiha pursed his lips as though he'd just sucked on a sour lemon.

"Yeah...about that...

Tsunade frowned as Naruto reached behind himself and dipped a hand into one of the many storage scrolls he always carried on his person. What the hell was he up to? This was no time for games-oh. Oh! She gawped like a fish out of water-ironic, given the rain-as the Black Death retrieved a severed head from within the parchment. Hanzo's grimacing visage gazed back at them, his face frozen in the agony of his last moments. The cave suddenly seemed colder, now that the grisly skull had entered into its confines. There was a silence. Finally, a single word stuttered past Tsunade's lips.

"H-How?!"

"Well, that's kind of a long story-

"It was awesome!" the orange-haired boy chose that moment to shout, his features bright with pride. "Sensei totally pasted him with that giant jutsu! And his eyes were just like-mmph!" Yahiko yelped as Naruto firmly clamped a hand over his mouth, preventing him from saying things that should not be said. A boost in reputation was all well and good, but he didn't want anyone other than the Ame Orphans to know that he possesed the Rinnegan. It would raise too many questions, questions he might not be able to answer.

"Ahahaha...kids these days." Glowering at the lad, he released him. "Quite the chatterboxes! Lets just say I got the drop on that old salamander when he wasn't expecting and leave it sy that. It wasn't easy, but as you can see, I managed somehow. Took down a couple hundred of his goons, too."

"That still doesn't explain the kids." Jiraiya pointed out. "What's the deal? You running a daycare or something?"

"Ah, yes! Almost forgot!" Just like that the Uchiha shifted gears, a genuine smiling warming his features as he was reminded of the orphans-draping an arm around the three youths. "Nagato, Yahiko, Konan? I'd like you to meet Ero-senin." he lowered his voice conspirationally. "He's a bit of a pervert, but he's a good guy, like me." And this is Tsunade. Don't let her pretty face fool ya; piss her off an' she'd break every bone in your body just to heal you and do it all over again!" Ignoring her growl, he turned to the last of the trio. "That fellow over there is Orochimaru. He may be rude sometimes, but he means well, really. Aaaaaand now you've met the Legendary Sanin of Konoha! Congratulations!"

"I like yours better." Nagato muttered, confunding everyone in the cavern.

"Huh? Why?"

"Its scary." Yahiko piped up, an understandably grim look in his young eyes. "Intimidating. The Black Death. With a name like that you sound like a plague to your enemies...

"Not someone to mess with, sensei." Konan chirruped happily.

Naruto flushed, his pale face coloring at their praise.

"Well, when you put it that way...

"So sorry we can't each have our own epithet!" Tsunade nearly got all up in a tizzy about that one. "But you didn't answer the question; why are they here?"

"They're coming back with us." the Uchiha said it as though it were the most obvious thing in the world. "I've decided to take them under my wing."

"What?" Tsunade balked at the assertion. "You can't just decide that on your own-

"Can't I?" something in his voice sharpened then, a hint of warning suffusing itself into the warmy honey that was his voice as he tightened his hold on the children. "I don't recall asking for a vote, but if its come down to that...all in favor of these brats becoming shinobi, raise your hand and shout, yes!" His own shot up immediately thereafter. "Hai."

"H-Hai!" Nagato was quick to second the man, stuttering only slightly as the Uchiha's free hand reached down to muss his hair. Yes, he was a Konoha Shinobi. Yes, Konoha shinobi had killed his parents and yes, such a thought still lingered deep within, although he'd quashed Hanzo as though he were no more than an ant in a malestrom. By all rights he was a dangerous warrior, someone with whom three children shouldn't associate, much less accompany back to his home village.

By all rights, these factors should've made Nagato fear Naruto. But there was a gentleness to the man's touch as those scarred fingers mussed his crimson locks, a kindness in those dark orbs that spoke of nothing but good intentions towards them. And those eyes. They were like his own, Rinnegan aside. Eyes brimming with power and pain. One need only glance in those onyx orbs to know that Naruto had been powerless once-that he had fought and scraped and clawed to become the man he was now. Surely a warrior of such calibre wouldn't bother to take interest in them unless he really cared?

So, he raised his hand.

"Hai." For Konan, it wasn't even a question; she already knew in her young heart that she wanted to be see the back of this land. With Hanzo dead, perhaps things would change? Naruto-sensei had been extraordinarily kind to the three of them when he didn't have to be, fed them when he could've just as easily ended them. It would've been so easy for him to dismiss Yahiko's demand that he train the three of them; when he already had three students to care for! But instead he'd taken them under his wing without so much as a second thought, promising them a home in Konoha.

That alone, made the choice very easy.

"HAI!" Yahiko's shout was the loudest of all; this man embodied everything he wanted to become. Powerful, yet kind. Wise, but not consumed with the ways of the world. Possessing a strength that would make his foes quiver in their boots at a single glance. It was slightly sobering to know they'd be leaving the Land of Rain behind them but just as Konan hoped for change with Hanzo's demise so too did he the boy believe that Naruto -the one he truly respected-had plans for their land. He'd spoken to them about his vision of peace in passing, a world which everyone understood one another. Yahiko didn't know how Naruto planned to acheive such a peace, but with that kind of power-the power to make the very earth tremble beneath your feet-surely he could make it a reality.

Really, there was no one better to learn from.

"Well now," Naruto grinned as he lowered his hand, quietly daring his comrades to object. "I believe that makes four votes in their favor. All opposed?"

"I would like to add my vote to sensei's, as well." Ibiki called from across the room. "Konoha stands for light and justice, what does that make us, then, if we just leave them merely because it is an inconvenience?" His granite gaze surveyed the three with surprising empathy. "These children are not much younger than Kushina and I. We cannot leave them."

"They're coming!/Here, here!" the voices of the Uchiha's remaining students were chiming almost before the future interrogator finished. Impossibly, Naruto's grin grew.

"Noted. So that makes it, what, seven, against...?"

The Sanin blanched. This man had just taken down a legendary shinobi and he wasn't even breaking a sweat. They were in no position to argue over something so minor as the number of students he wanted to train. A terse moment passed between them nonetheless however; his challenge too direct to simply dismiss out of hand.

"Hai, hai, that's enough kiddies!" Kushina shouted from the other end of the cavern that had at some point unwillingly become their impromptu base of operation, "Stop hogging him and help me with the fire." Eager to be of assistance, the trio scurried over to lend whatever meager assistance they could to the kunoichi. Naruto smiled slightly at the olive branch she'd just extended. Leave it to Kushina, to make friends in the strangest of places. This boded well for the orphans.

"Well...shit." Jiraiya muttered, turning aside, the tension broken. "Kids or not, they're gonna be singing praises our praises for offing Hanzo. You, especially."

"Don't remind me." the Uchiha blanched, cringing at the mention of the accolades they were bound to receive. As if he weren't famously enough! "Alright then, let me see your injuries." His eyes flared scarlet and black, searching for any lingering effects inflicted by the wily old salamander. He needed to be certain no one perished because of poison or worse, chakra exhaustion. Jiraiya got a clean bill of health almost immediately, he'd taken a bad fall, but with some rest and recuperation he'd be back in fighting shape by the end of the day. Had he a loose tongue, he would've called it the power of perversion.

Orochimaru's injuries however, were no laughing matter.

Fractured ribs, swollen ankle, shattered tibia, dislocated shoulder. Those were the major ones. The minor injuries were the more numerous, wounds from Suna having been there long before he'd been mended. That, or he was already experimenting on himself in this day and age. He bore bruises running down the length of his neck, the ugly yellow and purple blotches more than a few days old. And from the way he moved, one didn't need the Sharingan to see that he'd torn more than a few tendons/muscles in his left arm. It was appalling. Who left themselves in such sorry shape?!

"Apparently this guy." Yami groused sullenty; his darker half having been oddly silent as of late. Naruto should've rejoiced at that; instead...he felt disquieted. Because he still remembered that voice back in Konoha. Who had spoken to him back then? It didn't feel like Kurama, at least, he thought it hadn't. Was there still some trace of the fox's personality in him? Or, was it something more sinister? Could it be that he wasn't alone in this body? Had the Shinigami made a mistake? Was the consciousness of that man really still somewhere in here-

"Don't you fucking think it! The last thing we need is that guy in our head! Past, present, or future!"

'Noted.' The ex-blond suppressed the thought with a shudder. 'Now let me work.'

"This isn't going to pleasant, is it?" Orochimaru looked even paler than usual as the green chakra shrouded his hands.

"Ah, quit yer whinin' there scales. I'll have you fixed up in a jiffy."

Any experienced medic would've had a hissy fit at their patient beating themselves broken like this but Naruto-despite all of the mental maladies assailing him-simply rolled up his sleeves and went to work. First came those career threatening injuries-the less deadly injuries being triaged for later marking. The Sanin was relatively quiet at first, moving when told, laying still as instructed. It was only when Naruto popped his shoulder back in that Orochimaru's facade finally fell, collapsing in on itself with a pained hiss.

"Curses, that hurts!"

"Good." Naruto tapped his shoulder, drawing an almost venemous share from his patient. "You felt that, I take it? Wouldn't want the nerves to atrophy." For a moment he thought Orochimaru would bite his head off for that flippant remark; he'd killed subourdinates for less in the not-so-distant future. But Orochi mere frowned, his pale lips pursing together in confusion.

"You are an anomaly." the pale man muttered, sighing in quiet relief as Naruto mended his ribs. Evidently he hadn't started switching bodies yet; there was no heightened regeneration at work here.

"Hmm?"

"An Uchiha rarely shows such concern to those within his clan; even rarer to those outside it. That you continue to do so to both...confounds me." Naruto knew that look all too well; Orochimaru was peering at him like he was some manner of puzzle to be solved, something to be dissected and analyzed on a lab table. Th

"Why wouldn't I?" He blinked. "We're teammates. You guys are the closest thing I have to a family." Well, two of them were, but he didn't want to alienate Orochimaru. Not yet.

Ah, but the power of words were truly profound.

Golden eyes widened; just a fraction of an inch, but there it was. Naruto had no way of knowing that he'd struck a chord in the man. And how could he? Knowing Tsunade and Jiraiya was one thing, but he'd never even had a chance to know Orochimaru outside of combat. This man had already been an enemy of Konoha, long before he'd been born; their first meeting in the Forest of Death had done little to impart anything other than a lingering sense of dread thereafter. Perhaps had he known that the man had lost his parents, been orphand from a very young age, he might've taken pity on him.

As it were, he merely smiled.

"Something wrong?"

"No. But I...appreciate the sentiment, for whatever its worth." He stood and rolled his shoulders, smiling at the easy popping the limb produced. Additionally, your treatment was particularly precise." Orochimaru chuckled hoarsely at Naruto's baffled expression; it was a warm pleasant sound, so unlike the throaty rasps he'd use to terrify him in the future. "Had you wanted to, you could've easily maimed me as healed me. Thank you for doing the latter."

He was kidding, wasn't he?

Naruto blinked, his stride momentarily faltering at the thought as he walked away. It had never ocurred to him that he could cripple the Snake; damage his chakra coils and they'd be none the wiser. It would've been so easy, too. Now he was glad he hadn't. Because Orochimaru was changing. He wasn't sure which direction such change would take him in, but it was worth noting. Hopefully, he wasn't doing anything malevolent to the citizens of Konoha, yet. Should the man ever turn his experiments against the Leaf's enemies, then that could be tolerated. So long as he didn't harm the villagers.

Since when did I start thinking of Konoha as the pinnacle of society? More importantly, when did I start valuing her over the other villages? Frowning at the chill line his thoughts had suddenly taken, the eternal Uchiha turned his attention the last of the unlikely trio.

"Alright girlie, your turn."

Tsunade was the next to be subjected to the spinning tomoe of the copy wheel; but even under the soothing stare of his Sharingan she couldn't get the image of Hanzo's face out of her head. That Naruto had been able to do alone what the three of them couldn't do together...and now he was patching her up with the very skills he'd observed in the future.

"Where did you learn medical jutsu?" she asked. She'd seen him work on Orochimaru; his level of skill was quite high for someone who claimed not to be well versed in healing.

"You tend ta pick up a lot of things when you've been on your own as long as I have. Damn." he frowned slightly, bringing his hand to rest over her collarbone. If he hadn't been so clinical about it, she would've broken his face right then and there, chakra or not. "You really did get banged up out there...if I hadn't come along some of these fractures would've taken weeks to reset. This is exactly why we need more medics!" the words were spoken casually, but they earned an eyeblink from the buxom blond. She'd been thinking of suggesting the very same thing to Sarutobi-sensei once they returned from this godforsaken land. For all the experience her shinobi possessed, Konoha had very few medical ninja. If the war continued their loss of life would be staggering. For someone to actually agree with her, let alone Naruto...

"You really think that?"

"Of course." Naruto didn't even look up as he moved down to her right arm. "More doctors means less loss of life. Its elementary. Speaking of which-you've got a bad break here in your wrist." Tsunade grimaced; she'd hoped he wouldn't notice that injury. Apparently very little escaped the Sharingan. "I'm going to have to re-break it and set it. Unless you want the bone to grow wrong." She froze.

"No, don't!"

He wasn't listening.

"Its alright, I know how to mend the bone-

This was going to hurt and Tsunade knew that-it took an exorbiant amount of chakra to mend fractures, let alone regenerate broken bones, and neither could be called an pleasant proccess. She was one of the few that could do; and she very much doubted the Uchiha had any control near precise enough to mend an injury like this. That he apparently had the confidence to do so somewhat terrified her.

"Naurto, don't you dare-

Pop.

"FUUUUUUUUCK!"

Naruto cradled the back of her head and forced her mouth into his shoulder, even then the muffled shout caused everyone but the Uchiha to start. She jerked away with a sputter, silently swearing as he took her hands in his own. Slowly, a wolfish grin grew across his visage.

"You big baby. Its just a broken bone."

"I'm going to kill you!"

"Not after this you won't." the green glow engulfing his hand suddenly flared until it was almost neon white, a cooling numbness suffusing the firey pain consuming her arm. Tiny sparks of chakra flooded her system; no massive rush that would send her system into shock. Quickly repairing the damage and accelerating bone growth at nearly ten times the normal rate. Within moments the broken bones were all but molded together like they'd always been, sensationg rushing to the limb in a rush of euphoria. Tsunade balked. This came dangerously close to rivaling her Yin Seal. Perhaps it might. Unbidden, her respect for him rose another notch. Yes, a joker he might be, but his medical skills-and his empathy-were unmatched. And the way he was still holding her hand...

"Wow."

Bad! Bad Tsunade! Her mind ruthlessly cracked the whip. You let go of his hand now! Right now! It doesn't matter whether he knows medical ninjutsu or agrees with your philosophies or came riding in here to save the day like a night in shining armor or that he's holding your hand...and...looking at you like that in the dark...and...and...oh dear kami...

In spite of all those protest her hand refused to obey, stubbornly clinging on despite the fact that he'd since finished.

"You," she gulped, completely at a loss for words, "Are full of surprises." His hands were rough she realized; the calloused palms hardened and scarred from the many battles he'd taken parts in. What kind of life had he lived beyond the villages walls, she wondered? How had he survived on his own? Suddenly she found herself curious to the point of insanity, desperate to unlock the secrets within his head. Perhaps then she would truly be able to vanish his voice from her head, the image of him that haunted her dreams.

"Thank you." his voice dropped a few notches. "I try. So...still mad?"

"Not really, no." her voice hitched a bit on the last syllable. Gah! Kami! What the hell was happening to her?! She felt like a flustered academy schoolgirl! Her gaze cast out to Jiraiya and Orochimaru but the former was out cold, and latter seemed intent to watch her squirm. Bastard! Naruto's students even less helpful if such a thing were possible; Kushina could be seen chatting amiacably with Konan by their fire whilst Ibiki appeared to be giving Nagato and Yahiko a lesson on village politics of all things. No one was going to bail her out of this.

"Good." his grin-damn him!-made her heart skip a beat. "As cute as you are when you're mad, I'd much rather see you smile."

Stop! her mind gibbered frantically. Stop speaking, you fool! Are you trying to make me-

"Yup, sometimes raw talent trumps experience." He continued tactless, craning his head back towards the blocked off entrance of their refuge. "Ain't that right, Nawaki?"

Just like that, the moment was broken.

"Nawaki?" Tsunade gasped, her sensess still tightly strung from the healing hakra flooding into her arm. She almost didn't see the figure lingering at the edge of the torchlight, almost didn't hear his reply. Almost.

"Hey, sis."

Weary as she was, the voice didn't truly dawn on Tsunade, not at first. Then she saw him. Nawaki. Her baby brother. The only family she had left. Somewhere in her head two fuses connected-a switch tripped. Nawaki, only a few feet away, guarding the mouth of the cavern, now sealed by layer upon layer of interlocking wood. Nawaki's bloodline. Her bloodline awakened. Because...he was here. With Naruto. Which meant Naruto was teaching her brother. When that thought hit the fan, so too did another. And he'd brought him here? HERE OF ALL PLACES?!

The sound of cracking knuckles filled the cavern, making both males cringe.

"Na-ru-to!" The Uchiha made no effort at all to avoid Tsunade's punch; stoically soldiering through it like a man, hissing only slightly as she clobbered him into a wall and unconcsiousness. Of course, he could've easily dodged the blow without even batting an eyelash. But he hadn't and that made her wonder; despite the fact that he'd had it coming after revealing her brother to her, wood-release and all. Unfortunately, each had all but failed to take into account exactly what would happen when the Uchiha went down; the result was utter chaos.

"Sensei!"

"Please tell me you didn't just kill him?!"

"Oh, shit!" Nawaki shouted! "Nee-chan, why did you do that?!"

"I wasn't thinking, alright?! I'm sorry! More importantly, when the hell did you learn to do that?!"

"Huh?" Nawaki blinked twofold; both realizing he'd accidentally called upon the Mokuton in his distress, and that his sister had never seen him use it before.

"Um...guys?"

"WHAT?!"

"Right here." Naruto waved from across the cave, perched upon a small outrcopping he'd created. Turned out Tsunade had only struck a well-placed mud clone. "So...are you gonna try to hit me again? Or are we going to call it a night? We've got a lot of ground to cover first thing tomorrow morning." Tsunade flung a stone at him from across the room to which the Uchiha dodged with a mad cackle, drawing grins from everyone as he skittered away. He'd only just begun to prank! So many ideas...

"Aw, your worry is touching!" the Uchiha cocked his head aside with a laugh. "You do care!"

"Aaargh!"

Served him right for bringing her younger brother into a warzone! Naruto laughed it off and turned in, rolling out a sleeping mat for himself, followed by one for each of his students. Ibiki forsook his so that Nagato and the others would have somewhere warm to sleep for the evening. Nawaki was swiftly consigned to sharing a with a now ecstatic Tsunade-a reward for having unlocked his bloodline. But Naruto...

He wouldn't be getting much sleep that night.


(Six hours later...)

Thump.

Blue eyes glided open as a weight settled onto his sleeping bag, stirring him from the most wonderful dream. Madara was sealed, Tobi had been butchered, and the world knew peace. Sakura was alive and well, better than ever, pregnant with his child. He was Hokage. All was right in the world. But it just a dream. And someone was sitting on his chest.

On. His. Chest.

But Naruto wasn't a genin anymore; he didn't bolt upright and start sqwuaking like some stupid student. War had hardened him in more ways that one, a warrior had emerged from the scathing conflict that'd taken his life, changed all his perceptions. For starters, he kept a kunai on him at all times nowadays. Especially when he was sleeping. He couldn't count those attempts by Madara and Tobi to murder him while he'd slept, more than once he'd woken to find a white Zetsu looming over his bed, ready to end him.

Without thinking, he lashed out, the business end of his knife pressing against soft flesh. Mangekyo Sharingan flared, the inverted black-red eyes leering angrily up at his adversary.

"Move and I slit you open. "

A tiny, feminine gasp greeted his words. Frowning, but unwilling to lower his guard, the Uchiha raised his head just a fraction of an inch. What he saw there made his blood burn in its veins-and not neccessarily in a bad way, either. He could see that familiar shock of red hair-it didn't take two brain cells to realize the identity of his would-be killer.

"Kushina?" his words were barely a hiss as he lowered the weapon. "What are you-

Her hand slid over his mouth, ushering him into silence.

"Sh." she whispered, crooning in velvet tones, violet eyes barely visible in the black. "You'll wake the others. I mean, I put silencing seals on the two of us...but still!" Indeed, Naruto sensed nothing, but peaceful chakra signatures surrounding them; indeed, everyone else was sound asleep. Everyone, but, the most troublesome girl in all the world. He almost wished it was an imposter but no-Nawaki's barrier of wood was still intact and that aside his Sharingan confirmed that this was in fact the real Kushina. You couldn't exactly fake having a biju trapped in your stomach now, could you?

"Who the hell is on watch?"

"Me."

Alarm colored his features. "Then why aren't you-

"Shadow clone." she huffed indignantly. "Give me some credit, sensei."

Naruto wasn't buying it.

"I never taught you that one."

"That right," those bright orbs twinkled mischeviously. "You didn't. I learned it just before you came back, actually."

"Ha? When did you-

"I...may or may not have borrowed something a few years ago. But I put it back when I was done! I swear!"

Her chesire grin was telling, and oddly foxlike.

'Oh. My. God.'

She'd stolen the Scroll of Sealing! Just like him! That was how she'd learned it! Had they been anywhere else, the Uchiha would've roared with laughter. As it were he managed a quiet shake of his head, almost in sheer disbelief that his mother would do such a thing-that he had unknowingly mimicked her by "borrowing" the very same scroll decades down the road. Well that explained how she'd managed to worm her way out of watch duty, but it didn't tell him why Uzumaki Kushina was still sitting in his lap, staring at him as she was.

"Was there something you wanted?" he asked at last. Her response was to edge forward. Too late, he realized what Kushina intended; what she was about to do. Soft lips brushed his in passing and he was suddenly reminded of a searing kiss on the back of a dragon. Instinct seized him in a chokehold, strangling his common sense. His hands locked around the back of her thighs and pulled her closer, uncaring of the quiet gasps that fled from her moutn and into his. Her next words certainly didn't help any.

"Sensei...I want you."

Well...shit.

The man visibly swayed. "Why?" A single soft syllable of utter confusion.

"I...I don't know!" she said, flushing a bright pink. "I just do, 'ttebane! Ever since we met you've got me all torn up inside, and whenever I think of you I can feel butterflies in my stomach. I think of you in the morning when I get up, and you're there in my dreams when I go to sleep! Don't act like you don't care, 'cuz I know you do! I saw what you did to Hanzo; you butchered him! Because he tried to kill me! And I can't get you out of my head because of that, damnit! Take some responsibility for your actions, 'ttebane!"

Naruto stared at her for a long moment after that outburst, his eyes reflecting nothing. Finally he groaned.

"Shinigami...why do you curse me so?" It seemed to be a rhetorical question than anything else, his hand coming up to pinch the bridge of his nose like a headache was on the way. "Sometimes I'm sure you're doing it deliberately, and then she looks at me like that and you make me feel like..."

"Like...?"

"Like I'm taking advantage of you." quiet words, but true.

"I'd never let anyone take advantage of me." she whispered, her lips nibbling at his ear. "I just...want to be with you. There's nothing wrong with that." Naruto nearly scoffed.

There were a thousand things wrong with this scenario. A million reasons why they shouldn't do this. A very small part of him-the part that was still Uzumaki Naruto at heart-gibbered that this was his mother, that he'd be damned to hell before he did something like this. The other half, a fusion of cold logic and searing desire, ruthlessly suppressed that tiny voice in the back of his head. He hadn't seen her as his mother for some time now-it was too difficult to recognize the mature beauty he'd seen with complicated girl making eyes at him. She could be stupid and selfish at times, yet at others so blindingly brilliant and overwhelmingly kind. She was like him in so many different ways, yet her own person in the same vein.

Damn, but he couldn't think of one this ended with her virginity AND her feelings intact.

"Loook,

"You think I care if this is my first time?" That did it. His mind was officially blown. He'd been fighting a losing battle all this time; now those words knocked the finall brick out of the wall of his resitance.

"No." And so, Naruto capitulated, if only slightly. "But I care."

His lips touched hers of his own volition for the very first time, their last kiss but a tiny candle compared to this flame. This was no mere act of desire, no base need that made his mouth mold over her own, he'd chosen to kiss his own mother, accept her feelings and come what may. There was no tangling of tongues nor groping of bodies in any measure; just a chaste almost exploratory touch, his head tilting slightly against her, hand rising to gently cup her cheek as though she were made of the finest china; as if she would shatter at the lightest touch.

"I hope you're happy." he sighed, lips brushing hers in midspeak. "Troublesome woman."

"Very...hey!" Kushina mewled in quiet distress as they pulled apart, hating that his eyes were still closed; because she couldn't read them. "What're you doing?"

"I'm not taking your virginity in some godforsaken cave," His breath was a throaty rumble against which she shivered; the back of her neck colouring as his words warmed her face. "If we're going to do this, then we're going to be proper about it. I'm going to take you out, we're going to get to know each other better, and then we'll see where this takes us. Until then, sex is off the table." Desire and sensation welled up deep inside of Uzumaki Kushina; and a spark of jealously. Why was he being so damned careful with her?! It took all she had not to knock him to the floor and jump his bones right then and there.

"But you and Mikoto...!"

"Were very, very, very reckless." Naruto replied, utterly unrepentant. "I care about her, and the others...just as I care about you," he swiftly ammended at her wounded expression. "But if I just go and knock up my student, words gonna get out, ya know? I know you wouldn't care, but its as you said, the village can be cruel." Without thinking-and with his eyes still closed-he reached a hand around to pull the red-head closer to him, as though he could somehow protect her from the chaos of the world. "I don't want any of this blowback to hit you. Unless you just wanted casual sex...?"

"I-no! God, no!" her cheeks colored at the impure implication; she didn't want a one-night stand! That was the last thing she wanted! "I don't want that." She nuzzled closer to him, quietly savoring the warmth of his body gainst her own, the rapid hammering of his heart of his heart the only indication that he was just as disqueited about this whole thing as she. He reached down around her back, idly stroking at her hair. Kushina purred like a contented kitten as he nipped her neck, his lips tracing a rough line across the pale groove between shoulder and sternum.

"Good girl."

...?! Her face flared seven shades of scarlet in a single second. Oh dear sweet kami, of all the things he could've said, he said that?! He shouldn't have said that. It was bad enough that his voice alone did funny things to her insides, without him speaking such unintentionally erotic words. Because good girls didn't fall in love with their teacher! Desperate to quell the the swarm of butter-flies in her stomach, she cast about the cavern for somthething-anything to distract her. That was when she realized something.

"Hey...why are your eyes still closed?"

"Ah. I've been having a bit of a problem with them since I killed Hanzo." Naruto admitted. "Damn things keep activating on their own."

A knife of dread plucked at the strings of her heart. "You're not going blind, are you?"

"Not at all. Quite the opposite. My vision's never been clearer. Its just...the way my eyes are right now...they'll frighten you."

"No they won't." she tried to make him face her, but he slipped away again. "C'mon, show me."

Naruto sighed. "You might regret that...

"I regret nothing, 'ttebane." she smacked his cheek lightly, smirking as he pouted. "Now. Show. Me."

"Alright...

He opened his eyes, then, and treated Kushina to a sight no one else had seen. They weren't the Sharingan, or even the Mangekyo Sharingan. Those orbs of rippling violet, passed down throughout legends and lores in time memoriaum. Mito had spoken to her of them once in passing, prophesizing that she would meet-and fall for-a young man with strong eyes. Of course, that had been before a certain Uzumaki-turned-Uchiha had all but wrecked the timeline; the poor girl had no way of knowing that Mito had meant strong eyes in the sense of someone with a strong will. Not strong eyes in the literal sense. Eyes like this. Like...

Rinnegan.

Kushina squeaked quietly.

"A-Are those...?"

"They are."

He looked older and much more mature than he had without his bloodline activated. When he looked at her with the Rinnegan his gaze was nothing like the mischievous and childish eyes he had so far possessed. They were the eyes of someone who had seen death, who had caused death, who had experienced war, and knew the way the world truly worked. In short, they were the kind of eyes Kushina would truly expect from a true Uchiha, not someone who pandered to the whims of others. Still, purple looked good on him. Almost...

"They're pretty." the words escaped her lips before Kushina could think to take them back.

"Pretty?" Naruto's jaw hung askew for a moment before he rapidly scraped up the scattered shards of his composure. "Oi oi oi oi, this is one of the legendary dojutsu here! Its deadly and dangerous! Not! Pretty!" That drew another soft laugh from her and by then it was already too late; he'd never be able to forget the Rinnegan being called pretty. Never again. That, was enough to break the ice-as well as the mood-between the two of them for the evening.

"Off with you," He shooed her off his lap with a gentle nudge, ignoring the pout she gave him. "You need to get back on watch and I've got to get some rest and replenish my chakra."

"But-

"One must not overly rely on shadow clones." he quoted sagely, sussing her out before she could argue the clone counter. "This'll be good experience for you. Now, shoo!"

"Alright, alright, 'ttebane!" Kushina, determined to get the last word, stole one last peck on his cheeks before returning to her watch. Teasing him, was a mistake. Naruto hissed in the blackness and she suddenly found herself hauled backwards into his arms, his mouth meeting hers in a rough kiss that made her toes curl, his tongue curling and stabbing in such a way that nearly rendered her insensate-her mind exploding int blinding white as a lone hand took up residence on her right breast and squeezed.

Dearsweetkami!

Kushina had never considered her breasts especially sensitive before, but under his fingertips, even with a layer of cloth separating them, she felt her nipples tighten in anticipation. Damn his words, and damn him for wanting to wait. She needed him. Wanted him. Now, no clothes, no boundaries. She pushed down against him with a growl, forcing the larger man to the floor in a moment of weakness; nimble fingertips dancing over the plane of his chest as her hands threatened to peel his shirt off him-

And just like that, it was over. Kushina gawped at him as he arrested her arms with his own and rose into a sitting position, breathless.

"I...you...what?" she gasped, the words slow in coming to her, mind still adled from the searing passion of his kiss.

"Never tease a master," he whispered, dragging his teeth over her lips in a final kiss, Rinnegan boring into her violet eyes. "Back on watch. Now." He swatted her once on the rear, nearly eliciting a sharp yelp from the kunoichi as she rose. Despite that, she colored.

"Sensei...

...hmm?"

"Can I just call you Naruto, from now on?"

His eyes grew dark at that, a nearly impossible feat, considering the Rinnegan was still active. Kushina shivered, and not in a bad way. The way he was looking at her, undressing her with those eyes, as though he were trapped in a physical struggle not to leap up and drag her back to the sleeping bag; she'd never been looked at like that before. Part of her liked it; knowing she could evoke such feelings in him. Part of her was terrified realizing she had such power over him, having his heart in her hands like this. When he finally spoke, his words send her heart leaping.

"You can call me whatever you want, Kushina-chan."

Another shiver.

"Goodnight, then...

She turned away with a slight flush, her words the barest of whispers.

"...Naruto-kun."


"Why the hell do I feel so godamned dirty?" Naruto groaned blearily the next morning, rubbing at his sleep-gummed eyes and squinting against the light as it threatened to blind him. Wait. Light? This was the Land of Rain! There was no sunlight here! Ever! Frowning he drew himself up out of the bag-bemused to find that Kushina had snuck back in with him some point after her watch had ended-and approached the open mouth of the cavern with slow steps, wary of any sort of trap.

His dreams had been decidedly darker since he'd turned down Kushina's inital plea to, as he had put it "screw her brains out" last night. There had been so much fire and death it was a miracle he hadn't woekn up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night. Perhaps that was why he was on edge. Although a large part of him had decided to simply "go with the flow" and ride things out as it were, there was still that damned tiny voice in his head. The one that quailed at every bond he formed, every change he made to the timeline.

One of these days he would have to quash that part of himself entirely; he could ill afford regret after all he'd already said and done. But not now. Not when there was the possibIL

'Oi.' he probed inward, searching for the telltale taint that was his darker half. 'You there.'

"...god...what time is it?" came the groan.

'Early. Now shut up and tell me if I'm under a genjutsu or not!'

"Wha? No, you're not under a damn illusion! Now let me sleep!"

'You don't sleep!'

"Do so!" If anything, he sounded even grouchier than usual. "Now I bid you a gond fuck off and goodnight, sir!"

'Now wait just a damned minute-

"I SAID GOODNIGHT, SIR!"

Reluctantly, the former blond allowed Yami to slip away from him, retreating into the darkest recesses of his mind. Upon realizing that his other half hadn't been lying about not being under genjutsu, he allowed himself to take a good long look at the scene laid out before hi.

Now, Naruto always been an early riser even without this new body; but something in his Uchiha DNA naturally made him rise even earlier than normal. He wasn't happy about having yet another quirk to iron out, but at least it allowed him the chance to appreciate moments like this.

Sunrise.

Truly the Land of Rain couldn't rightfully be called thus after the events that had transpired yesterday. Not anymore...at any rate. Ever since the death of Hanzo the steady downpour that constantly drowned their land had become intermittent; now it seemed to have stopped entirely. Sunny skies greeted the man that emerged from the cave, warm rays of sunshine spilling down out out of a partly cloudy sky to greet his returns unto the wide and wondurous world. For a moment, it was almost enough to make him forget they were in enemy territory; that there was a still a war raging on.

"You just love defying expectations, don't you? I can hear them now: Uchiha Naruto, the man who made the heavens stop crying. The girls are gonna be swarming you when we get home."

Naruto craned his head at the sound of the voice, unsurprised to find that Jiraiya had woken shortly after him. The whitehead hadn't always been a light sleeper-many had been the time when Naruto had been forced to whack the older man awake-but it seemed in his youth he retained the werewithal to rise early.

"Not when they find out you're writing a perverted novel based on peeping." he retorted wyrly.

"Guh!" the older man flinched as though he'd been struck. "You're a sadistic bastard, ya know that?"

Sadistic didn't even begin to cover it. Naruto had done many things during the last years of the Fourth Shinobi War...many of which he wasn't entirely proud of. He'd sacrificed entire platoons to hold the Juubi at bay, to beat back the inevitable. He been nothing short of ruthless by the endgame -probably why he'd been fool enough to work with Orochimaru- with many of his troops dead or dying by the day he ceased to burden himself with such petty emotions as grief and guilt, even delved into forbidden justsu when it became apparent that the standard techniques wouldn't win the day.

Perhaps it was the sight of Ino, drowning in her own blood that first pushed him to that. Or maybe it was Shikamaru's decapitated head? Kiba's reanimated corpse? There were so many gruesome scenes trapped within the anals of his mind that he wasn't entirely sure what had first caused his mental collapse.

Looking back, it had been the death of Hinata, not Sakura, that truly drove him past his breaking point. Oh, he had mourned when his beloved bubblegum beauty first perished, but when the last living Hyuuga chose to kill herself rather than live with the pain...he'd simply snapped. With all his friends gone or worse, raised to fight against him, he'd finally succumbed to despair and Insanity. Mastering the Shiki Fujin and going out with a blaze of glory had been intended as a final "fuck you" to the two men who had taken so much from him. Except here he was, in the past, in this damned body...

"Kid?"

Naruto blinked at Jiraiya's voice, shaking himself from those dreary thoughts with a worn sigh.

"I do try...how goes it, though?"

Thankfully, the man was swift to switch gears. "Not as well as I'd like," he admitted, checking his notebook. "Its so hard to find good inspiration during a war!"

-yeah, death tends to put a bit of a damper on things." Naruto's deadpann could've but the hokage to shame.

"Phe." that earned him a scoff. "That aside, how's it going on your end?"

...I beg your pardon?"

"Lookin' after those runts of yours, what else?"

His smile collapsed as abruptly as it'd formed.

"Honestly?" Naruto sighed, biting back an urge go bury his face in a hand. "I have no idea what the fuck Sarutobi was thinking. Sometimes, it feels like I can barely take care of myself, let alone three teenagers. Really, I spent half of the trip here worrying if I'd be able to protect them or not." He allowed his gaze to stray back to the mouth of the cave. "And I nearly botched it. Hanzo was waiting for us; we were separated and he tried to take them out while I was distracted. If I had been a single second slower-

"-but you weren't-"

-but if I was, they would've been dead." A silent shiver wracked his body. "They've grown on me, ya know? I've barely had them with me for more than a few days here, and already I can't bear the thought of anything happening to them. But what makes a good sensei? The least I did was makre sure that they could at least work together-then I dragged them out into a warzone? What kind of teacher does that make me?"

"That's it, right there."

"Ha?"

"The mark of good sensei." Jiraiya grinned toothily, reaching over to pat him on the shoulder. "I worry about Minato all the time since he's made Chunin, but I trust that he's learned well; well enough to fend for himself when I'm not around, at any rate. You worry about your kids. That's fine. But you've got to trust them to handle themselves on their own."

"What I need is to train them some more and not make them face S-Class shinobi." Naruto muttered.

"Well my Minato's a bit of a prodigy, so you probably shouldn't, just to be safe."

Aaaaargh. There it was again. The mention of his father. What would he be like now, without Kushina? He'd barely said so much as two words to him since rescuing Kushina; Naruto didn't think his actions had maligned the future hokage in any way, but he couldn't be certain. His actions had already created far too many ripples in the timeline for his liking; the absolute last thing he wanted to do was cheat poor Minato out of his future seat as leader of the village. After all, Naruto couldn't very well change the future while being tied down to a desk now, could he? For all the power that would afford him over their village, he wouldn't be able to achieve his goals if he was sadled with the hat and all the responsibilities that came with it.

Oh, the bloody irony. The one thing he'd once wanted more than anything else, and now he daren't take the title!

"Still, its nice isn't it?" he sighed, gazing out at the rising sun. "We're so used to operating in the dark that we seldom get to see a sunrise like this."

"Now that's something we can agree on." that wasn't Jiraiya's voice!

Both men jumped at the intrustion, the hackles on the backs of their necks insinctively as a hand clamped down on each of their shoulders. Hard hazel eyes peered down at the two of them with enough force to almost make the latter jump.

Tsunade.

"Relax, baka." she sighed before either of them could get a word in. "I'm not angry at you anymore. Actually," And here her hand squeezed Naruto's shoulder with a surprising tenderness, "I wanted to thank you."

"Thank me?" Naruto cocked his head aside, smiling like the Kyuubi no Youko himself. "Why, whatever for?" He'd been waiting for this; there was no way in hell he was going to let Tsunade worm her way out of this one-not without a little squirming on her part. "I don't recall doing anything worth of your gratitude."

"Neither do I." Jiraiya was swift to hop on the band wagon.

"Moh, you two!" A light flush dusted the blonde's cheeks. "Fine! I'll be plain about it!" Her head jerked down, struggling to contain her rising blush. "Thank for keeping my brother safe, Naruto." Well. That was surprising and easy all in the same vein...

"Oho!" Jiraiya's grin was postively diabolical. "This is good stuff right here! Prime research ma-argh!"

His words ended in a strangled grunt as Tsunade dented his head in with one of her all-powerful punches.

"Urusai, kono yarou!"

"Was that really neccessary?" Naruto sweatdropped. "I mean, he probably deserved it and all but-

"Maybe you're right." Just like that, she capitulated, claiming the unoccupied space beside him. Alarm bells went off in Naruto's head. Tsunade...agreeing with him?! Had the world come to an end?! Was the acpoalypse nigh?!

"Well, if you really feel that bad about hitting the ol' perv-

"Not about that."

"Then, what?"

"About you."

Naruto blinked.

...alright, I give up. Ya totally lost me."

"I did some thinking, last night." she admitted reluctantly, looking square at him in the eye. "About what you said. I've been thinking about this for awhile now, actually. I owe you. A lot. When I thought you were just a cocky little shit, you proved me wrong, in so many ways." her words were telling, those brown orbs rooting him where he sat. "You told me not to risk myself. You helped negotiate a truce with Suna. Took my brother under your wing, and kept him safe. Killed a shinobi that the three of us couldn't even hope to touch. And instead of gloating about that-you were humble. Any other Uchiha would've rubbed their accomplishment in our faces, thumbed their nose at us, and been done with it. But you...you didn't. You stayed and treated our wounds-my wounds-despite the fact that we barely even know each other. There's something different about you I think, and it's not just your genes."

Shit. Naruto felt a cold sweat break out on his face. Shit shit shit shit! Alright...calm down. Just play it off as camraderie.

"Any Konoha shinobi would've-

"-not given a damn." came her cold counter. "In case you haven't noticed, the three of us aren't exactly well liked. We might be after this, but that's besides the point. I've studied the healing arts my entire life and I've never met anyone as skilled as you. Who taught you?"

Naruto blanched. How could he tell her that he'd learned from her? Yes, he might've sucked at it when he Uzumaki Naruto but with Madara's knowledge, body, and chakra control, now he could mend-and-or-cure all the worst wounds and diseases. Now he was being asked how the hell he'd gotten that good.

...I'd rather not say."

"There you go again, being all secretive!"

Naruto frowned, refusing to be budged; indeed, his eyes were left glaring bloody red daggers at Tsunade.

"If your past was painful, would you talk about it?"

Now it was her turn to cringe, thinking of how she'd suffered living under the shadow of her grandfather. Everyone had loved him. Adored him; then her in his stead when her parents passed on. But once it had become apparent that she and her brother wouldn't be awakening her bloodline anytime soon, they'd dropped them like a hot potatoe. Granted, they were still konoha shinobi, but sometimes the looks she received...

"I guess not." she admitted.

"Thanks." Naruto was growing decidedly uncomfortable with this conversation; every second he spent under that penetrating stare was another he risked being made a liar, and unraveling all the precious progress he'd made in this era. "If we're done here, I should probably wake the others-

Her hand closed around his wrist, preventing his escape. Ice ran up Naruto's spine and into the base of his skull.

"That's all well and good," Tsunade continued, edging closer, "but last night you defied my expectations again. You've proven that there's actually a brain under that thick skull of yours, advocating the need for medical shinobi like that instead of most of the meatheads I've met. You stand up for what you believe in, and don't let anyone else tell you otherwise. I like that."

"Funny that you almost broke my arm over it." The Uchiha groused.

"Would it help if I apologized for that, too?"

Naruto actually considered that one for a second before nodding. "Yes, actually. It would."

"Then I'm sorry." her apology nearly floored him; she was being way too submissive all of a sudden and a seed of doubt was growing in his heart as a result. She was working her way up to something here, and he was less and less certain he'd be liking the result. What the hell was going on here? Had she really taken his words to heart? Or was it something else? Whatever it was, he didn't like the look of it...

"Just like that?"

"Just like that."

"Well, shit. That was easy."

"I guess it helps that Nawaki seems to like you, too." she punched him lightly in the arm-it still hurt like hell. "Look, I guess I just wanted to say that while I may be an ass to you most of the time, I just wanted you to know that for whatever its worth, I think you're a good person."

"Glad ya think so." It took every fiber of his being to keep his face in that expressionless mask and not flush. This sinking feeling in his stomach was only beginning to grow. "Now, we should probably-

But Tsunade wasn't yet finished. "If its alright with you, I'd like you to be with me when I speak to the old man about forming a medical corps when we get back. I've been badgering him for ages about it, but he keeps avoiding it and I think...well-maybe it doesn't matter what I think, but your word on the matter would probably help push it through."

"He's a stubborn old monkey, you know. Don't even get me started on Danzo." Naruto warned, knowing full well what had been the fate of that idea-it had been torn to shreds by the village council. Yet another item to be addressed on his personal agenda of items. Danzo and the council. Those bastards had far, far too much power in his era, but in this they seemed to have even more, what with martial law being issued in the village during times of wars. Whatever they didn't like, just didn't happen. Someone needed to cut the head off that snake and replace them with proper leadership.

"Maybe someone needs to replace him, then." Tsunade suggested tersely.

"Maybe-you mean me, dont'cha?!" his glower could've split stone-Tsunade's nod surely didn't help-for what it was worth, before he realized something.

"The monkey or the warhawk?"

"Danzo, you ass!" she slugged him in the arm with enough force to break a lesser man's bones. Thankfully Naruto was anything but lesser, cringng only slightly as Tsunade continued. "You're a hundred years too young to become Hokage!" Naruto actually considered that one for moment, not the remark about becoming Hokage, but, the idea of changing up the council. Removing the old warhawk from the equation would indeed make Konoha less militant in other aspects. But how to do it? He'd actually started to contemplate that matter when he realized Tsunade was still staring at him.

"But for whatever its worth...I think you might be able to do it, someday." Words could not express how relieved he was in that instant. For a second there, he was almost certain she was going to do something like-shit, why didn't you see this coming, fool?! Such were his thoughts as the blond leaned the rest of the way forward and pressed her lips to his forhead. Naruto froze, every fiber of his being turning to lead, his bones refusing to move despite all the thoughts ricocheting in his head. Little did he know that, had he not interfered, she would've done the very same thing to Dan a few weeks down the line. But now...now...

"I'm rooting for you."

Naruto could contain himself no longer; he burst out laughing. The sheer absurdity of it was too much for him to bear. Tsunade. Tsunade liked him! Liked! Him! In that instant the former blond wanted nothing more but to switch his brain off, but as tempting as that notion was he knew he couldn't risk it. So instead, he laughed.

"Hahahahahaha!"

"What's so damned funny?!" Tsunade flushed a fierce violet-red, her cheeks burning brighter than the Yin Seal upon her forehead. "I'm being completely serious here!"

"It's...n-nothing!" he gasped out between small snickers, nearly bending double with mirths. "Nothing...at all! It's just that...I never expected this!" Sighing, he wiped a mirthful tear from his eye. "You do know that I'm not exactly single, right?" Granted, Tsunade had already seen both Pakura and Karura, but he very much doubted she knew about Mikoto and more recently, Kushina. And that wasn't without even mentioning the small plethora of women he had attracted to him during his time in the village. Honestly, what did all these girls see in him?!

"I just told you I'm interested." the blond deadpanned, her hazel eyes narrow. "That's all. Doesn't mean I intend on letting you screw me silly or anything yet like those two. I'm not that type of girl."

Oho, I know exactly what type of girl you are, Tsunade-chan. Naruto almost threw those very words in her face, it was only a year of patience and training that prevented him from doing so. She was the sort who loved her sake, and secretly -at least when she was a shinobi- enjoyed gambling against insane odds. She'd earned the epithet of Legendary Sucker for a reason, after all! The reborn Uchiha quietly considered all these things and more, idly wondering why Yami wasn't piping up and demanding that he bang her brains out.

"S-So?" she asked, faltering slightly on the first syllable. "Are you interested, or not?"

As twisted as it might sound, Naruto was. The woman sitting across from him wasn't the once embittered kunoichi he'd convinced to return to Konoha. This was no old woman-not a Kage who was completely and totally off limitis in his mind, no massive age gap between thems. This Tsunade was a woman only just coming into her own, dealing with a war and years upon years of harsh scrutiny. Yes, she might still possess that freakish strength and yes her temper might be short and its fuse still shorter,but there was a spark there, one that reminded him of the woman who would one day become Godaime Hokage. And if he could fan that spark into a roaring fire by preventing her brother's death and keeping her from leaving the village...then who was he to refuse?

Not that he was willing to make it easy, though.

...just promise you won't break my bones when you hug me."

"I'm not that strong!"

Naruto didn't say anything; he just rolled up his sleeve indicated the already swelling bruise on his arm where she'd struck him. Two minutes ago.

"Wow." the blond blinked. "You're weaker than I thought." Naruto twitched. Leave it to her to find the one chink in his facade!

"What the hell does that mean?!"

Gradually, the rest of their rag-tag little group began to stir from their slumber at the hilarity; Jiraiya waking from his forced snooze, Orochimaru curious to find what the devil his comrades were up to, the rest of Team Naruto stirring shortly thereafter once they realized their sensei was indeeed awake-finally followed by the Ame Orphans themselves. Not a word was breathed of their earlier conversation, all words were snatched from everyone's lips once they realized it wasn't raining anymore.

"Wow...

Naruto couldn't help but snicker at Nagato and Konan's awe-filled expressions; these poor kids had probably never seen a sun-rise in all their lives and for them to see one as glorious as this. Yahiko was a touch sombre about it, but even then there could be no mistaking the smile on his face. And then a certain sage had to go and ruin it.

"Owowowow," Jiraiya groaned, rubbing at his still-sore skull. "Did she hit you too, kid?" He grinned when he saw the man's still-exposed bruise.

It was a true testament to just how many times this had happened that Naruto's only reaction was a slight twitch of his right eye.

Nawaki snickered. Ibiki's only reaction was the slightest of smiles.

"I'll say it again, I let her hit me."

Kushina hummed behind them, shooting him a sidelong glance. "You sure about that? I seem to recall hitting you when you weren't using your Sharingan-eep!"

Her words ended in a strangled yelp as Naruto seized her from behind and began mercilessly tickling her sides. The poor girl squealed and tried to wriggled away from him but to no avail; his grasp was an iron vice, and soon she was all but howing in uncontrollable laughter.

"S-Sensei!" she gasped out between giggles, "Quit it! I'm ticklish!"

Naruto's only response was to cackle madly; then they locked eyes and she was lost.

Now, the Tsukiyomi could easily be used to drive one mad with grief and loss; but it also had other uses. A clan as proud as the Uchiha wouldn't dare dream of using such perverse methods. But an Uzumaki? One who'd spent years training under the greatest pervert the world had ever known? Cakewalk. A trickle of blood slid out of Kushina's nose as her mind was subjected to the most pleasurable experience of her young life; a scene not met for green eyes to see, nor green ears to hear. The Ame Orphans quietly balked at the sight, Konan's cheeks coloring a light pink.

"What did you do?" she asked, curious as to why the redhear seemed to be staring off into space with that glazed look in her eyes.

"I have no idea what you're talking about." Naruto whistled innocently, his expression giving off none of the satisfaction he secretly felt.

...that's evil." Jiraiya shuddered, realizing what the former Uzumaki had just done. "And yet so brilliant!"

Tsunade whistled. "I don't know what you just did to the poor girl, but she seems to be enjoying it."

"I admit, it is rather effective." Orochimaru admitted. Shinobi were trained to guard against pain in genjutsu, not pleasure. The last thing an Iwa or Kumo shinobi would expect from an illusion. Just thinking of the applications for such a technique was enough to make him salivate. "Such a fascinating technique. I might have to develop my own...

...and done." Naruto released the Mangekyo, leaving Kushina reeling on her feet, idly touching at the bloody line trickling down her nose.

"I-you...that's not fair!" she gasped, thrusting a quivering finger at her mentor. "Not fair at all!"

"All's fair in love and war, Kushina-chan." Naruto simply smiled. "So?" he asked Orochimaru. "What're we standing around here for? Just summon Manda and we'll be on our merry way." Ordinarily he wouldn't have been opposed to walking but after utilizing such a large portion of his own chakra yesterday, he was feeling rather drained. Mastering the Mangekyo was one thing; wielding the Rinnegan was something else entirely. Even now, he could feel its power trying to tug him in six different directions, likely as a result of not possessing any Senju DNA and he wasn't even wielding the legendary dojutsu.

This would call for some much needed training once they returned to the village. He needed to be able to call out this newfound potential at a moment's notice not, as it saw fit. Not to mention his relatively untested an unused genjutsu and taijutsu. He couldn't afford to overly rely on his dojutsu prowess; he'd seen what the reliance upon the Sharingan and Rinnegan had done to shinobi like Sasuke and Nagato, it had made them way too reliant upon their eyes; take them away and they became weak.

He was determined to not have that happen to him.

"I'm afraid not." Orochimaru replied, surprising him. "Manda said if I ever use him as transporation again, he'd eat me. Funny thing is, I'm inclined to believe him."

Ibiki frowned at the remark. "So are we going to walk, or-

"Like hell!" Nawaki snapped. "Sensei, can't you just do that again?"

Now it was Naruto's turn to frown. "Well, I suppose I could but...

...but?"

"Ah, what the hell." Naruto grinned as he flicked through a set of seals and bit his thumb. "Everyone, step back a bit!"

Jiraiya blinked. "Oh? You've signed a contract?"

The Uchiha's only response was to slam a hand onto the barren plains.

"Kuchiyose no jutsu!"

"WHY HAVE YOU SUMMONED ME, WHELP?!" Bahamut erupted out of the smoke with an earth-shattering roar, his wings threatening to blot out the sun itself and plunge the land back into black. The genin of Team Naruto didn't so much as bat an eyelash at his arrival; their shock value had already worn off after seeing the prince of dragons twice. The Sanin and the Ame Orphans however had no such resistance. When faced with a creature straight out of myth, they and the Sanin, uttered one word. One word only:

"KAMI?!"

That morning, three children and three adults suffered massve anneurisms. And one Uchiha...

...laughed his ass off!


The journey back was at least ten times more entertaining than the journey coming, especially when Bahamut proved willing to ferry the entire group home on his back. There seemed to be twice as much to talk about as he remembered, and if anything, it was less humid, the climate becoming more and more temperate as they drew steadily near the Land of Fire. It certainly helped that his eyes had settled down for the time being-the Rinnegan no longer activating sporadically unless he actively used his chakra. It was something he was certain to master, given the time and opportunity.

Yessir, life was starting to look up.

"Neh, sensei, why're you grinning?"

"Hmm?" Naruto blinked at Konan, momentarily drawn from his musings. "Just happy to be heading home, I guess." Out of the trio she had recovered first, becoming quite curious as to their mount. The idea of training Nagato and the other orphans to become guardians for good rather than misunderstood villains warmed his heart.

And if people hadn't noticed that he was a great deal more chipper than he'd been in the beggining, they'd probably noticed the smile– a smile that seemed as infectious as it was amiacable. Orochimaru was fascinated at the prospect of summoning dragons, and though the great beasts refused to allow him to sign their scroll, he was probing the great dragon prince for information on his seldom seen kind. Perhaps there was a reason Kumogakure had long since held this contract; their village being high in the mountains as it was, they must've often communed with the beasts at the dawning of the shinobi era. Whatever the case it was his now, and he didn't intend on letting them get their hands on it.

"So what's Konoha like?" Konan asked pressing him. "Is it as big as Amegakure?"

"Are there more shinobi like you there?" this from Yahiko.

"Are there others that can summon dragons?" Nagato inquired quietly.

"Whoa, whoa!" Naruto raised his hands in supplication. "Easy there, kiddies! To answer your questions yes, its huge, yes most of the shinobi there are quite nice and no, I'm the only one who can summon Bahamut and his race."

"Summon he keeps bragging about, dattebane!" Kushina added primly from her place a few scales down, though the words were without rancour.

"That's...amazing. Are there more like Bahamut?"

"Hrmph!" The great lizard snorted, the sound shaking them through his scales. "I'm only doing this out of respect for you and your clutch, whelp! Try to make me ferry you again and see what happens!"

"Whatever you say big guy." Naruto chortled. "Now where was I?"

"You were telling us about the dragons?"

"Ah, right!"

"Well, they come in lots of shapes and sizes and even then I've only met a handful in the time that I've known them." Naruto explained. "Midori and Shiro are nice and all but they're pretty weak compared to their older bretheren. Now, if you were to ask about Ophis, he's one of the nastier ones. Won't come unless he feels the foe is a worthy one. Then, there's Tiamat, the dragon of many heads. Crazy fellow, that one. Paarthurnax is one of the older dragons, wisest of them all, but even then he'd not their leader. Bahamut here's an old softie really, he'd have you think he's in charge, but he really isn't. The real dragon boss is-

"Remind me to ignore you the next time I'm summoned." the great dragon groused, interrupting him.

"Quiet, scales!" Yahiko snapped.

"SCALES?! Impudent brat, if you weren't under the Uchiha's protection I'd devour you for such an insult!"

"Kukukuku," Orochimaru chuckled, "That's all well and good, but I have some more questions...

Despite himself, the great dragon actually blanched. "You are...certainly strange...for a human."

"You flatter me, Bahamut-sama."

"Who the boss, then?" Nagato asked as the two continued their conversation.

Naruto seemed to consider that a moment; he'd accidentally summoned that one right off the bat, and nearly been devoured for it. He had a very tenuous agreement with the legendary Lord of Dragons; he was only to be summoned when complete and utter destruction was called for. Anything less and...well, the result would be veeery unpleasant. Konoha might have been destroyed that very evening if he hadn't managed to placate the creature with his vow to pass on his teaching to future generations. Dragons were proud creatures after all-they wanted to be feared by the world. To not take one of these majestic creatures seriously guaranteed a swift end for all but the most powerful of summoners.

At last he laughed, choosing a vow of silence.

"Ufufufufu...sore wa himitsu desu!"

"Hey, that's not fair!"

"Relax, Yahiko! Chances are you'll end up signing one of these contracts once I've trained you, anyway.

That got their attention.

"One of...?"

"Yeah, I've picked up a few in my travels." Naruto tapped a hand to the now unconcealed scrolls strapped to his back. "I've got three, counting this one. Dragon, scorpion, salamander. Ibiki seemed interest in the idea of summoning the second so he's already got dibs there. Kushina wants to sign the dragon contract and they only ever allow two at one time. Nawaki, well, he really doesn't seem interested in that sort of thing, so...I guess you'll get to sign the salamander tract, like Hanzo had."

"HEH?!"

Kushina laughed merrily, the bell-like tune of her merriment carrying even over the wind.

"Sorry, tough luck chibis!"

"Indeed." Ibiki made a solemn show of adjusting his headband. "First come, first serve, as they say."

Tsunade almost shook her head in disbelief as she watched the Uchiha suffer through his students and their bickering. Yet again he cotinued to amaze her. She marveled at his patience, the way he nonchalantly held all his anger and frustrations in when dealing with the younger generation. All the thing she'd said to him back in the cave had been quite true; in the short time that they'd known one another he, had both impressed, and made a mark on her. Attracted her. Now if only he didn't have that flippant attitude outside of battle...

"He's one of a kind, isn't he, Nawaki?"

Her little brother grimace, lips purisng together.

"Your not gonna make kissy faces at him, are ya, sis?"

"I-what-you were eavesdropping, weren't you?!"

"Guh! Sis, that hurts! You're choking me!"

"Bahahahaha!" Jiraiya could've wept from the inspiration he was receiving here; riding home on a dragon did wonders for the nerves! He hadn't been quite asleep last night as most would've believed and that had been a goldmine, but this, this...GOLD! It was pure gold! That aside, everything was well and good, so long as their wasn't any...


Fanfare.

Naruto was swiftly beginning to both loathe and abhor the word in all its forms and many meanings. The village nearly had a massive heart attack when Bahamut dropped the eleven of them off at the gates, said shock swiftly turning into joy once they realized the newly-named Sanin and the Black Death had returned triumphant from the land of Rain. The doors to Konoha swung free in short order and the floodgates opened wide; all four of them soon found themselves swarmed in civilians and shinobi alike with cries of "Naruto-sama!" and "Sanin-sama!" ringing out in equal measure.

"Aaaaand, that's my cue."

Naruto narrowly escaped their arms through extensive use of shadow clones, leading the populace on a merry chase aroud the village, but not before leaving a strict set of instructions with a certain redhead.

"Kushina, you're in charge! Make sure they get checked in, then take them back to my place! I've got to put in a word with the old man!" Just like that he was gone, vanishing in a black flash.

"Sensei's pretty popular, isn't he?" Nagato gawped.

Kushina giggled.

"Kid, you have no idea...


Naruto's hand slammed down on the desk hard enough to crack the laminated wood into fine splinters. His gaze was pure murder, no small feat when one considered whom he was staring down. Lesser shinobi would've paled beneath a glare like that, gone weak in the knees and begged for mercy.

"I NEED A VACATION, DATTEBAYO!"

Hiruzen simply blinked, baffled by the blackette's words.

"I...beg your pardon?"

"I said I need a break!" Naruto leaned forward, his hands still planted firmly on the man's desk. "A! Break! You've done nothing but send me on missions without so much as a day between! Its running me ragged! So I said it again: I! Need! A! Vacation!" Koharu and Homura daren't speak against him; there was a mad spark in the man's eye that promised pain-a lot of pain-if he didn't have a say in this mattter. Most shinobi would've been dismissed for speaking to their Kage so, but

Finally Koharu frowned, her lips pinching together in a stern line.

"You cannot simply take "a break" because it inconveniences you, Naruto-dono."

"Indeed." Homura seemed of a similair mind, his eyes narrowing at the prospect of the Black Death essentially taking a vacation from the war. "Your extended abscence from this theater of war could prove catastrophic in the long run. We simply cannot afford to-

"Oh, I'm soooo sorry!" Naruto replied snarkily, cutting the older man off with a slight snarl. "I wasn't aware that forming a pact with Sunagakure and killing an S-Class nin counted as menial labor! I'm half of the reason we're holding our own in this godamn thing!" Sharingan flashed in warning. "But if you want to insinuate that I've not been doing my part then-

"That is enough!"

Both men whirled as the Sandaime's amplified voice tore their arguement to pieces.

"I will grant you your request, Naruto."

The Uchiha's smile was beatific; Homura's was significantly less so.

"Lord Third, surely you cannot-

"It is already done." Sarutobi's sigh slipped between them with the ease of a practiced ruler. "I can afford you three days of rest, before I send you off to Kiri, Naruto-kun. But come Monday, I expect to find you in my office to lead the team I have assigned you. Will that be satisfactory?"

"Very." The Uchiha finished with a curt bow. With shadow clones, three days would be more than enough to whip himself into fighting shape. "I thank you for your discretion in this matter, Sandaime-sama." More than enough to get a handle on this body's taijutsu and genjutsu abilities, of that much he was certain. "Is there anything else you need of me?"

"Actually, there is." Hiruzen steepled his fingers, his eyes falling upon the lone piece of paper adjourning his desk. "I understand that you brought three children back from the Land of Rain." It was not a question, but a statement, one that demanded an explanation.

Naruto frowned; the Anbu had compiled that report rather quickly. "Yes, what of it?"

Koharu was the one to answer him.

"And what, exactly, made you think it wise to bring three interlopers in from an enemy nation? For all we know they could be spies-

Something stirred in the back of his mind. "If I may?"

Death.

Killer intent flooded the room in impossible measure, emanating from the Uchiha in icy waves as he made locked eyes with the council-woman; the latter sunk to her knees as an unseen pressure draped itself over her shoulders. Even an infant could read the unspoken threat in those onyx orbs, the gravity of his gaze speaking volumes in a single glance. Speak another word and I'll kill you. Just staring into those eyes made Koharu want to gibber like a mad woman and beg for Naruto's forgiveness. But there would be no forgiveness.

"You insolent wench." When Naruto spoke, it felt as though another was speaking with him. In him. Through him. "I put my career on the line to bring these three home, and you would question me? You have no right to make assumptions, you, who would hide here behind the villages walls while others fight and die in your putrid name! Filth! Get out of my sight!"

Despite the fear he felt, Homura managed to bluster a reply when his companion would not.

"Y-Y-Y-You have no right to assume-

Impossibly, the deathly aura grew even stronger.

"And you have no right to question my judgement, little flame!"

"Enough, Koharu! Homura!" Sarutobi snapped at his advisors. "We will have a Yamanaka inspect their memories, as we did those of Naruto. No further insinuations are needed." His gaze switched to Naruto, the Uchiha still staring bloody red daggers at the pair. "I understand your anger at being called into question Naruto-kun, but would you please refrain from killing them? I cannot afford the time needed to have them replaced just yet." The way he said he left little to question; he hadn't approved of the way his former teammates had handled the situation either.

"As you wish." Just as swiftly as it had come, the killing desire abated. "I would think that my judgement would be above reproach by now."

"Trust me when I say it is." The Sandaime nodded. "Now, I believe you were about to tell us the reason you'd requested to have them instated in the Academy?"

The Uchiha bit back a sigh. He'd been hoping to avoid revealing this, but it seemed he had no choice. Especially with that outburst just now. What the hell had that been? He'd been relatively calm, but the moment they had dared called his judgement into question, he'd lost all control over himself. That...that voice...that definitely wasn't Kyuubi!

"How could you possibly confuse ME with such an inferior being?"

Naruto bristled. There could be no imagining it; not this time.

'You again! Who the the hell are you?!'

...you honestly haven't figured it out yet? Fair enough, I suppose. You didn't exactly have that much tact when last we met, but your path -your ruthlessness- has intrigued me, thus far. Continue, and I might not take your body after all." Before he could ask, the prescence was gone, slithering out of his grasp even as he tried to pin it down. Shaking himself of the chill once more, Naruto allowed his eyes to drift shut. He woud figure out who this stranger was later. But for now Sarutobi had posed a question that needed answering whether he wanted to answer it or not.

"One of them possessed the Rinnegan, sir."

There was a silence as Sarutobi proccessed this.

"Truly?"

"Yes...

Naruto chose that moment to open his eyes, finally releasing his tenuous hold on the bloodline that had been fighting its way back into activation ever since The Land of Rain. "As do I." He shot a smug smile at Homura and Koharu, quietly daring them to give him an excuse to Shinra Tensei out the window. The act of doing so might have severe repercussions, but it would be so worth it to see the horrified looks on their faces before a glassy death cut them to pieces...easy there, tiger. Don't get to excited.

"W-When did you awaken it?" Hiruzen's voice was only slightly strained. Those eyes were nothing short of legendary.

"Just recently." No harm in telling the truth, there. "In the Land of Rain. I should thank you for that mission by the way. It allowed my team to bond. I would, however, greatly appreciate it if this secret didn't leave this room. I haven't learned how to control them yet."

"You are most welcome. And your secret remains safe with me." He cast a smoldering look to his two advisors, though it was assured that neither would speak of this for fear of the Uchiha coming after them in a rage as he nearly had already. "Now, about these orphans that you've brought back with you...I take it you want custody of them, assuming they pass inspection?"

"Yessir." There could be no doubt about it; he wasn't willing to take anything to chance and with those three under his supervision he could be ensured that nothing went wrong in the forseeable future. He wouldn't let them suffer through the same fate ever again. It was with a smile that he watched the Third's stamp descended upon the paperwork, moving at speeds that would've made the Yellow Flash look like a crawling tortoise in the middle of winter.

"Done. Also...

"Also?"

"Interestingly enough, we received an offer of unconditional surrender from Hanzo's successor shortly before your return." A curious gleam shone in the Professor's eye, one that told. "Amegakure is willing to become an ally on Konoha, provided we help enforce their borders to make up for the men they've lost. I don't suppose you had anything to do with that now, did you?"

"Well, I did kill their leader and butcher their men." Naruto shrugged; inside he was celebrating. For the Land of Rain to willingly join Konoha as an ally...well, he hadn't been expecting that. It merely added just another ally to their ever growing list, alongside Suna and Kusa. Things were looking up! Speaking of which...

"Ah, yes. Your pay." Hiruzen handed him a letter, opened by his own hand.

Naruto stared at the opened envelope confused. "That's a lot of zeroes there, old man."

"Consider it a reward for a job well done."

The Uchiha fought the urge to balk at that. With this much money...how big was the treasury?! This was enough to buy a large house or perhaps even better, build one from the ground up! And Hiruzen had just handed the thing over as though it weren't worth a single ryou! Ah, that reminded him.

"If its not too much trouble then...I have a favor to ask. Two, actually."

"Hmm?"

"First, I would like to speak with you about the possibility of a medical corps." As expected, the aging monkey opened his mouth to protest such an idea. Naruto didn't give him that chance. "Tsunade told me she's brought it up many times before...and I would like to give her the backing of the Uchiha clan." Now this was a calculated risk on Naruto's; if this idea failed he had very little to loose in the way of face, but if the proposal fell through, countless shinobi would die to wounds that could've easily been quite preventable had they a medic with them. If it went through then inumerable lives would be saved. High risk, but the priiiiiiize...

"Surely you cannot speak for all of your compatriots." Sarutobi almost balked. The idea of the entire Uchiha Clan backing something like this bothered him. They'd never bothered to involve themselves in village politics before, and that they were doing so now...was troublesome.

"I can and I am." Naruto replied steadfastly, cutting that train of thought short.

"I have spoken with Tsunade before, and the idea of training medical shinobi just isn't feasible in a time of war...

"What if I could provide you with one in three days times?"

"I find that hard to believe."

Naruto grinned at such an insinuation-he loved taking on the impossible. It only made the looks of everyone's faces all that much more satisfying when he accomplished his task. And an assignment like this was nothing to him-once more he thanked kami for the benefits of shadow clones. It might take some doing, but for what he had planned...it was feasible. In a sense. "I merely ask that you have to trust me. Now, as to my second request...

"Yes?"

...I would like to speak to Danzo Shimura at the earliest opportunity."

"And what, pray tell, brought about such a thing?"

"I merely wish to meet the man who once challenged you." Naruto demurred pleasantly. "I feel I can learn a lot from him." Not that I'd need much to genjutsu his ass halfway into next week! But he daren't tell Hiruzen of his plans for Danzo; the old monkey might try to stop him, then. Sarutobi contemplated it for all of an instant, blithely unaware of the intentions behind that request.

"For the first, I'll call the council into session tomorrow afternoon. You and Tsunade may speak then. As to the second...I'll see what I can do."

Naruto's smile was utterly beatific, masking the cold intent he had toward an old warhawk.

"That's all I ask, sir."


"Ah! Look out, please!"

Hmm?

The Uchiha turned and came to a dead halt as he stepped out of the Hokage's tower, narrowly avoiding a collision with a fellow shinobi. Instinct kicked in, his body pivoting, hands closing around her shoulders, slowing her at the last instant before they could smack into one another. He received a very close look at a pair of pale eyes for his efforts, a quiet "Eep!" greeted him as he twirled her to a stop.

"Na-Na-Naruto-kun?!"

"Ah." he blinked, recognizing her up close. "Hoshi-chan. Long time no see! You're looking...well." He allowed his Sharingan to flash, subtly checking for any sign of injury in her chakra network. He found none. Good. It seemed, Hiashi had gotten the message then at the very least. That, or he was at least wary enough not to try the same thing twice. Still, was this really the same girl he'd rescued from him? She looked decidedly different in her shinobi Jonin attire and hitiate he decided idly; even though it was practicaly impossible to hide that bosom behind a flak jacket.

Her hair was a touch longer, too-shoulder length-not quite the jerky bob he remembered. It looked good on her, he thought.

"Just getting back from a mission?" he asked.

"H-Hai." she faltered slightly as he released her. "I was running a message to the border."

"Really? What did it say?"

"Himitsu."

Naruto blinked, briefly baffled. Secret? Did Hoshi just tease him?

"S-So, how was your mission?"

"Oh, mine was easy." he replied with a grin. "Nothing so flashy as delivering a message; just infiltrating an enemy land, killing some bigshot shinobi and half his cronies then making off with a scroll. Like I said, nothing too tedious."

...you're teasing me."

"No no no, I wouldn't dare." he laughed at her piercing stare, touching a hand to his neck, fingers brushing the leather cord there. "Still, your charm kept me safe. Do you want it back?"

"K-Keep it." She fell neatly into step with him, uncaring for the attention her prescence drew. "If it brought you fortune once, maybe it still will." An Uchiha, and a Hyuuga? Together? Walking? Talking? Such a thing was unheard of in Konoha! The two prominent clans had alwasy been at each others throats! To see two of them, potential clan heirs nonetheless, was enough to send the rumor mill spinning in a frenzy. "By the way, would you happen to be on speaking terms with Minato-san?"

Naruto suddenly recalled the glower the boy had given him back at the gate. It seemed like so long ago now...

"I wouldn't call them speaking terms, but yeah, I know the kid."

"My younger sister Nozomi, has expressed an interest in him." Hoshi confessed bashfully. "She's been trying to build up the courage to ask him out for some time now, but with the war on, she just hasn't been able to muster up the urge." Hinata's mother had a sister? Huh. Must've died during the war. Still, that was great! He'd felt a little guilty about wresting Kushina way from Minato as he had. It felt good to know that were was someone who cared about him, someone he would notice eventually. Maybe. Probably. Hopefully...

"Well, good for her. I hope she's able to tell him. Say though, don't you have a mission to turn in...?"

"Ah!" she blinked, then made a handsign, creating an flawless duplicate to do just that. "I'll just use a shadow clone." Unbeknownst to her, a muscle jumped in the blonde's jaw. After all he'd gone through to learn that jutsu as a kid, why did everyone in this time seem to know it?! Kushina aside, this was ridiculous! Its not fair, I tell you!

"Naruto-kun?"

"No, its nothing..." he pushed a hand through his spiky black hair with a snort, knocking his bangs aside. "Did you want anything else? I've had a long day, and its already afternoon, so...

"O-Oh." Suddenly, she seemed crestfallen. "I was hoping we could have that...

"That?"

"D-Date."

Urk! There it was, that look! He daren't turn to face Hoshi, knowing she had such a piteous expression didn't help matters any. Naruto groaned. Why me? Gods, he couldn't just leave her alone now, could he?

"You like ramen?"


As it turned out, Hoshi didn't like ramen.

She loved it.

Had he been a lesser man, back in his old body, he would've fallen in love with her almost immediately just for that. Ramen was after all, the food of the gods. Clearly, anyone -any woman- who loved the stuff as much as him clearly had to be a goddess in human form.

She had to be!

As it weres, he barely managed to keep himself from getting down on one knee once Hoshi proved she could eat more ramen than him. No on had been able to best him when it came to his favorite dish back in the day not even Chouji! And yet Hoshi had done so most easily, looking only slightly embarassed when she realized she'd devoured sixteeen bowls to his four. That settled it! When kunoichi ate, the food...went straight to their breasts! There was no other explanation! This had to be the truth!

"M-My eyes are up here." she squeaked.

"Ah, gomen!" Naruto jerked aside, flushing. "Sorry about that."

"It's alright...

"Hahahaha," Teuchi laughed from behind the counter. "You sure do enjoy bringing beautiful women into my establishment, Uchiha-san. At this rate, I'll have to name a dish after you!"

"You'll have to wait until I can beat Hoshi over here!" Naruto shot back, grinning. "She's gotten me beat by a mile!"

Hoshi colored quietly at his praise.

"Hehehe, its funny, right?" the Uchiha forced a chuckle. "The first time we met, I was here with my team. Maybe next time you can bring your students and I'll bring...mine?" his words trailed off as he saw the undying sorrow in those pale, lavender orbs, a sadness so deep it was almost a physical ache.

"...is something the matter?"

"I-I don't have a team." she murmurred, staring into the broth. "Father wants me to focus on my duties to the clan." Same old Hyuuga clan. Why was he not surprised? Clan, this, clan that. If he'd expected them to be any different in the past, he was now sorely dissapointed. In lieu of a proper response, he took a page from the playbook of a certain foulmouthed redhead.

"Fuck 'em."

"Nani?"

"You're a jonin, right?" At her nod, Naruto dared to continued. "Damn what your old man says! You have every right to train students if you want to! You're your own person-not a tool of your parents! Anyone who tries to say otherwise can go straight to hell!"

"But the clan-

"Damn 'em too!" He slammed his bowl down on the counter, causing it to shake and Teuchi to nearly jump. "Listen Hoshi, its times like these that you have to stand up for yourself and...

They talked for hours on end after that; the ice swiftly breaking swiftly between them. All manner of things were discussed from base items such as one's favorite color or food-the latter ramen in this case-even to what they thought of the war and when it would end. Laughs were shared, opinions traded and discarded like cards. Before he knew it, night had come and Ichiraku was closing. Five hours had vanished in the blink of an eye just like that. He'd ended up spending the rest of the day with her.

"Wow." he murmurred. "That was...quick."

"Hai..." Hoshi whispered, pulling herself off the seat beside him. "Thank you for the date, Naruto-san. I had a wonderful time."

"Yeah, sure, no problemmmmmph!"

Almost before he knew what was happening, she was kissing him. Her lips were little more than a gentle peck, a faint brushing of the lips, ghosting over his own. It was over almost before it had truly even begun, she was leaning away, her cheeks a rosy pink as she tugged her mouth off his.

"I'll see you tomorrow, Naruto-kun." she whispered.

Just like that, she was gone in a Shushin.


What a day! The adrenaline had finally worn off, leaving him utterly drained. Not that his "date" with Hoshi had been tiring-far from it-he was just so looking forward to falling asleep in his own bed. He'd been too wired up to fall asleep on Bahamut, and it certainly didn't help that the prince of dragons had deliberately drawn out their return trip because he didn't want to exhaust himself. Of course he was looking forward to seeing the girls again-who knew what Pakura and Karura had been up to while he was gone-but he wasn't exactly looking forward to that.

Not this time, at least.

Forget sex, in that moment the reborn Uchiha wanted nothing more than to stumble home and fall into bed. He sincerely hoped Kushina had followed through with his instructions and shown the Ame Orphans their new residence. In his mind, renovation was no longer an option. It was a priority. He couldn't afford to live in such an enclosed space any longer, not with three kids-not to mention an ever growing harem-under his wing at any rate. At least with this deposit, he'd be able to make those changes and still have money to spare.

An army of clones could make quite a few changes in three days! With this in mind, he half walked, half staggered up to the steps of his apartment. Yes, what a strange, beautiful night this had been indeed. Naruto was just about to turn the handle when he spied a shock of yellow hair a few blocks down. Hmm?

Minato?

Curiosity momentarily overtook his better judgement. He detached himself from the porch and spoke, his voice ringing out in the night.

"Hey!"

At the sight of him the blond seemed to fold in on himself. Those blue eyes became hard, the normally soft and smiling face almost distant in comparison. In a couple of years this man would be the Fourth Hokage. But right here, right now, he was merely a young man, only a few years younger than him. And he was being an ass. Now, Naruto had always respected his father, although he'd never really known him. Never had he seen him on a bad day, or at his worst. Not as he was now. Here, in this moment, the young Namikaze did not remind him of his father. At all.

"Uchiha-san." there was a coldness to his tone; it worried Naruto. "I see you're still alive."

Oh. That was cold!

"What're you doing out this late?"

"Practicing."

"Looked to me like you were following someone."

"Don't you have enough pet projects?" the teenager grumbled, glowering at him. "You've already got Kushina under your thumb, then you brought those orphans back from Ame just this morning...now you've suddenly taken an interest in me? Why am I not surprised?"

"Whoa now, no need to get so angry." He raised his hands, placating the younger boy. "I was just curious."

"You were trying to steal my jutsu, you mean." the blonde accused.

"Hey now, that's not nice." Naruto admonished lightly, drawing a growl from the young man. "I'm not trying to be rude to you here. I've heard nothing but good things about you, and I just wanted to talk. One Konoha shinobi to another, ya know? Where's the harm in that, hmm?"

"Fine." the blond deflated, but only slightly. "What did you want to talk about?" Naruto paused, considering. This might be just the chance he needed for his father to start his work on the Hiraishin. But how to go about it in any case? Both that jutsu and the rasengan were originally derived thanks to Kushina's help. How on earth could he-aha! Inspiration struck the Uchiha like a lightning bolt.

"Well, I'm rather interested in seals." he started, painting his most winning smile on his visage. "Not the storage ones mind you, those are simple enough. I was wondering, could a seal be used for instantaneous speed, such as teleportation? Or perhaps even, to enhance bodily functions? Thing such a speed, strength, stamina? That sort of thing."

Minato seemed to consider that one. "That's a rather interesting innovation. I'm working on something similair, actually." Abruptly his visage hardened. "Before you ask, no, I don't need any help." Odd. That should not be possible; he was fairy certain his father had used the Uzumaki knowledge of seals to create the Hiraishin. Since Kushina obviously hadn't fallen for him in this cycle, one could only wonder...how had he come by such knowledge on his own? In the end, Naruto filed it away for later and waved the Namikaze's concerns aside with the flick of a wrist.

"Perish the thought." Naruto smiled genially. "I'm busy enough with Kushina and my other students. They're a real handful, ya know?" It was the wrong thing to say.

Something seemed to snap inside the Namikaze, just then; his blue eyes becoming like glacial ice as Naruto looked on.

"...ina."

The boy muttered something unintelligible. Naruto frowned.

"Say again?"

"I said...

Oof!

Air rushed out of him in a surprised lunge, his father's fist sheathing itself in his stomach. He'd never seen it coming. One moment the boy was standing across from him-the next he body flickered and an arm was quite painfully sheathed up to the elbow in his gut.

"...stay away from Kushina!"

Naruto felt the hackles on the back of his neck begin to rise, his better judgement ceding in a wave of hot anger. The leash he'd kept on his self control, already frayed, chose that instant to snap. The sudden realization that he was sick of being talked to like this brought a wave of rage to his mind with the ferocity of a great and dark tempest. Sick! Of! His! Shit!

"Oi."

Minato froze as a hand of black chakra and bone materialized from nowhere, its bleak fingers lashing out to crunch against his ribcage.

Naruto slammed the teenager up against the wall with such force that he actually felt the boy's collarbone crack. For the first time, an expression of very real fear cracked across the blonde's visage at the sight of those swirling tomoe, bright and red and so very angry. Just like that their positions were reversed; the attacker had become the attacked.

"So you wanna play, huh?" he rumbled; just like that, Minato was free, the ghostly appendage vanishing into thin air and allowing him to draw a kunai. "Alright, Minato...

...let's play."

Minato didn't even have time to blink before a boot slammed into his stomach; catapaulting him across the street like an errant pebble. His body burst through a stands and kept going, barely having time to bounce more than once before the Uchiha was on him again, larger fingers wrapping around his throat as though it were no larger than a pipe cleaner, his hand arresting his momentum violently hoisting him high an forcing him into the air.

"Lets take this somewhere private." the Uchiha hissed.

In a black flash they were gone. Minato didn't even feel the motion; one moment they were standing in the darkened strees of the market district, the next, they were in a training field. Minato couldn't be certain of the number, only that the impossible had just happened. They'd just teleported. Halfway across the village. In the blink of an eye.

"How did you...?"

"You're not the only Flash in town, you little shit." Naruto threw him down, and this time, he didn't pursue him. There was something dark in him then, gloating as the Namikaze struggled to pick himself back up, those once black eyes blazing an eery violet. They weren't the Sharingan! Without thinking he flung a kunai; an invisible force swatted it aside as though it were no more than a stick. Smirking, the Uchiha stared towards him, a wry grin tugging at his pale features as he started forwards

"You know, I really didn't want to fight you at first." he admitted. "But know that I know you're a total prick, well...I'm going to beat it out of you!"

"HOLD IT!"

Naruto blinked in surprise, his senses returning to him with a vengeance as an angry red blur interposed itself between him and Minato, violently ripping them apart before they could come to blows. Kushina. She was wearing the same yellow-black vestments she'd worn on the day they'd met, but that was the least of his worries; he was more focused on the clawed hand locked around his wrist.

"What're you thinking, 'ttebane?!" she admonished him, her words slightly rough from utilizing her tenant's chakra. "Uchiha or not, you can't just go around striking shinobi! You'll get in trouble!" Naruto could've sworn that he heard a soft snicker from Minato in that instant; and he probably did, because Kushina promptly rounded on the blond.

"And as for you!"

There were few things Namikaze Minato feared at this point in his life. An angry Kushina was one of them. The moment the enraged redhead turned those blazing orbs on him he flinched, unable to meet those crimson orbs for more than instant before he found himself overwhelmed.

"How dare you touch him!" her very voice dripped with anger. "I told you once already, if you ever hurt him, I'd never forgive you!"

"Kushina-chan...

-don't you 'chan' me, Minato! You have no right! You attacked him first!"

...he's an Uchiha!" The Namikaze continued, pleading. "Think about it! As soon as he arrives, the village starts to prosper. Its too convenient! He can't be trusted!" In hindisight it was a valid arguement, anyone would be suspicious if things started turning up rosy once a stranger rolled into their village. But that was the crux, wasn't it? Minato's suspicion was proving his own undoing. He valued the village over everything else-those were the qualities that made him an admirable shinobi...and a complete dunce when it came to understanding the feelings of women.

"Leave." her voice was cold. Colder than he'd ever heard it. "I never want to speak to you again."

"Kushina-

"I told you to leave!"

Naruto turned aside and presented his back to the boy, unwilling to speak. This wasn't his place. Wasn't his right. This arguement had been coming ever since he'd unkowingly pushed himself between them; there was nothing he could say or do that would affect the outcome of this fight.

"Kushina, please!" Minato was begging now. "He's just a stranger! Don't listen to him! I love you!"

"Shut up! If that were true, then why did this stranger save me, huh?! Admit it! You care more about the village than you do me! You always have! I'm just a weapon to you, like everyone else!"

"...Th-That's not true!" Ah, but he hesitated.

"Baka! I never want to see you again! I HATE you! Let's go, Naruto-kun!"

"Whoa!"

Minato watched him go in disbelief, a muscle jumping in his jaw.

It was utterly impossible to miss her arm looped in his, the way she allowed herself to brush up against him in passing. You'd have to be blind to miss it. She liked him. Him, the outsider, the Uchiha, the one who could not be trusted, yet everyone in the village seemed to adore. It should have been him! It should be him on her arm! Uzumaki Kushina had never been one for subtlety - and now that came back bite her and her beloved Uchiha in one blow. Neither would know it at the time-although one would later grieve at it-but in that fateful instant they'd made an enemy for life, and even beyond.

"Uchiha...Naruto...!"

A/N: And there you have it! Naruto keeps changing things enmass! No one sees him for what he really is, and more and more he's losing pieces of himself. He remembers what he once was but more and more he's starting to see just how much a mess he's walked into. And now he has the Rinnegan. Ain't that lovely? I took a lot of liberties with this chapter, from Nawaki being able to use his bloodline, to the bell exercise, then Naruto's PASTING of Hanzo. Now he's a legend in his own right!

Granted it was a relatively fight until Naruto pulled out the Rinnegan; that is hard as HELL to fight against. But who is 'that man' to which Hanzo was referring? Any guesses? Hmm? And to answer another old question, YES, Fugaku was taken by something. I won't say what! I'll leave that for ya'll to guess! And Kyuubi's stirring up trouble for Naruto...

On the plus side our hero's attracted attention...and unknowingly started to ensnare hearts untold. Tsunade's basically admitted she finds Naruto to be a good person at heart, and he's completely flabbergasted over such an admission. Wonder what'll happen?

We've ENDED the Ame arc and jumped right into the Three Day Arc before we set out for Kiri, folks! Don't worry, the story's still far from over...after all, Naruto's gone and started a harem. Hope you enjoy it! As a note for the summoning dragons, I DID tell you they would be quite varied. But don't worry, the Dragon Boss will defy all expectation when he's eventually summoned I assure you. So you wanna guess who the Dragon Boss is? Hmm? Hmmmm?

We're off to Kiri soon! What fate awaits our heroes?! Find out next time on...Die Another Day!

On another note the pairing has officially been decided. Although I will gladly take any other recommendations that are offered. Kushina's officially fallen for him! So too have others. A harem was voted for overwhelmingly heres, so I'll try to keep it realistic here, folks. That's right, there will be multiple girls vying for Naruto's affection here! Whom will he meet next?!

So...in the immortal words of Atlas...

Review...would you kindly? And of course, enjoy the preview! Hope you brought your popcorn!

(Preview)

Naruto eyes slid lazily to the Anbu accompanying him in the room. Two for the door through which he'd already entered, three for the wall, and five more gathered around him in a loose semicircle, of which there were more than strictly neccessary. They smelled wrong. ROOT kind of wrong. These weren't the guards Hiruzen had assigned him for his personal guard; he knew each and every one of them by their scent and these were not them. That, and there were too many. He could see it in the way they held themselves, that and the fact that they were armed with more than just their standard katana and the odd shuriken.

Kurama might've left him for good, but the kitsune's latent ability to sense negative emotions still remained. And these Anbu stank of it. They weren't here to guard him until he met with Danzo. They were here to kill, end him before he ever met with the old warhawk. Of course. It all made sense now, albeit in a twisted sorta way. Danzo wanted him dead. Gone. And why wouldn't he after that business in Rain? He'd long since been affiliated with Hanzo, long enough to make a militant move like this once it became clear he was at risk of being exposed.

Naruto strongly suspected the man wasn't the one pulling the strings from the shadows, simply wanting to end him before his treachery against Sarutobi could be revealed. Naruto nearly facepalmed at the thought and he would've too had he not been in such rigid control of himself. 'I honestly did not see this coming...but, hey, at least it gives me a chance to test something out.' Slowly, he began to exude chakra, hardening muscles and tensing ligaments for the conquest that was to come. They thought they could kill him? In this body? They had a better chance of defeating the Shodaime Hokage in his prime.

Sighing, he rose from the couch.

"Before we get started," he began, the words low and deep in his throat, "I have just one question." Naruto allowed the smallest of smiles to grace his visage as he spoke the last words, a touch of killer intent suffusing his voice as though he were talking about something vaguely unpleasant, not contemplating the mass murderer of Konoha's most elite force. A terse silence accompanied those deceptively calme words, almost a dozen masked faces turning towards him in eerie unison.

...does anyone want to get out?"

Scarce had he spoken than the world dissolved into a blur of motion. Then he gloried in the majestic art...

...that was his Taijutsu.


R&R! =D