Meanwhile, at the Hall of Justice…The SuperFriends receive a package from a mysterious source. The contents of that package? Chapter 17.

So here's Chapter 17 for my faithful readers. I promised to release this by New Year's Day if I got over 775 reviews, and we fell a little short, but the reason we came so close was mostly due to reader sgtvp, who read my entire story and left a review after every chapter. I would also like to thank fellow author OGAFazer89AC who took the time out of his busy schedule to read my story and make some observations. I'm dedicating this chapter to the two of you.

As always, I would like to mention fellow author Titokhan for helping me out, as well as my anonymous beta for his continued efforts and support. You guys rock! Thanks again for keeping me on the straight and narrow, as well as being a sounding board for my ideas. You have no idea how much I appreciate it.

So let's just give some shout outs to a few people:

Titokhan: I wanted to give credit where credit is due on this one. The idea for the group session between the remnants of the Konoha 12 (plus Temari) last chapter was his idea, and there are several others coming up that he suggested as well. Many thanks for helping me push through my writer's block.

Hektols: Credit to him for giving the idea of finding out the reaction from other villages when they find out about what Sakura had planned. I started it when I had Temari in the discussion last chapter, but you'll see where I take this over the next few chapters and it integrates nicely with the plot. Kudos to you, sir.

AP Samuels/bennie403: I'm going to put in a piece about visiting the toads somewhere down the line. Don't worry, it's coming. And I would like to give credit to bennie403 for his idea regarding the love interest for Kakashi. I'm using a variation of it, but the original concept was his.

Jtwhitev: I understand your reasoning, but there's a reason why it's not earth. You find out why next chapter.

Raja-Ulat: You just might get your wish.

And now that we've finished with that, we can get to what people have been waiting for – new stuff! I'm just giving everyone a heads-up, these next two chapters won't have any NaruHina fluffiness (because he's out of the village) or action sequences because I'm advancing the plot over a two month period. So just be prepared for it.

On with the show! Let's see who can guess where this chapter's disclaimer came from:

Disclaimer – I don't own Naruto, and I must proclaim my love! Oh Empress Nympho, I would do anything to gain your favor.

Empress Nympho – Would you truly do anything?

Disclaimer – Yes! Tell me…How can I ensnare you? What bait must I use to catch you? I am your servant!

Empress Nympho – Ah, but the servant waits…While the *master* baits! (+1 if you get the reference.)



Chapter 17 – First Month

The crackle of the campfire was the only sound that could be heard, as two of the strongest ninja in the elemental nations sat in relative silence around the flames, waiting patiently for their dinner to finish cooking. They had caught two rabbits earlier that day and Naruto was rotating them slowly over the fire. He might not be the best cook in the world, but at the very least he was sure he could manage to avoid burning something as simple as this.

Sasuke broke the silence and asked, "How much farther is this place we're going to?"

Naruto looked up from his task and said, "It's actually a few days travel past the western border of the Land of Wind. I have a Hiraishin seal located near there, and I figure once we get past Suna I can use some of Kurama's chakra to transport us the rest of the way. Normally I'd walk there, but that would take a week and we can't waste that much time."

"Then why didn't we just use the Hiraishin no Jutsu to get there from Konoha in the first place?"

Naruto sighed. "Because I've never used it over such a long distance before, and I'd rather not chance it. I'm still not positive what would happen if I tried transporting someplace when I didn't have the necessary chakra to do so." His eyes became distant. "It's times like this when I wish my dad was here. He'd have the answers I'm looking for – not only about the Hiraishin no Jutsu, but with everything else that's gone on in my life. It would have been nice to grow up having a 'normal' childhood."

Sasuke nodded. "I feel the same way. I often wonder how different things would have been if my parents weren't involved in the coup and Itachi hadn't been forced to kill them. I wouldn't have left the village in search of power, and the whole business with Orochimaru and the Akatsuki would never have happened."

Naruto rubbed his forehead and said, "Yeah. A few months ago Kurama said to me, 'Trying to unravel the mysteries of your past is a fool's errand. There will be many times you'll think about the choices you've made, but understand that the past is nothing more than a weight that rests on your shoulders, and the more you dwell upon it the heavier it gets, making you less capable of living in the present.' Now that I've been married to Hinata for a few months, the statement actually makes more sense."

Thank you for giving me credit for that, Naruto.

You're welcome, Kurama. I haven't heard from you since the fight with Anubis; is the reason why because you've been enjoying watching my life get turned upside down?

Kurama chuckled. A little bit, yes. However, in my opinion it's been turned around in a positive way. The only downside to what's happened has been your discovery of the pink-haired female's intentions in all of this, and her actions should come as no surprise to you. Neither of us trusted her from the day we returned.

Well, that's partially true. After thinking about our 'talk' on the Hokage monument all those years ago, I can honestly say that it wasn't necessarily her actions, but rather the depth of them that surprised me.

They sat in silence once again. After a few minutes Naruto noticed that the rabbits had finished cooking, and he handed one to Sasuke before taking the other for himself. Just as he was about to bite into it, he stopped suddenly and looked at his right hand.

Sasuke noticed the action and asked, "Something wrong, dobe?"

Naruto chuckled. "No, nothing's wrong. It seems that Hinata just read the letter I left for her, and despite my instructions not to contact me unless it was an emergency, she ignored me and did so anyway."

"What did she have to say?"

"Well, she really didn't 'say' anything. The seal doesn't allow me to read her mind; I can only sense her feelings. And based on what I just 'felt', she's telling me that she loves me and she'll miss me while I'm gone." The corners of his mouth turned up in a slight smile, and Naruto stared at the seal on his hand for a couple of seconds. "There. I sent back the same feelings, along with a little bit of disappointment because she ignored my instructions."

Naruto went back to eating his rabbit while Sasuke remained motionless, not eating his and staring into the flames of the campfire.

Sasuke suddenly asked, "What's it like?"

Naruto swallowed what he was eating. "Care to be a little more specific as to the 'it' you're asking about is like?"

Sasuke stopped looking at the fire to stare directly at his new brother. Naruto saw the curious look in his eyes, and it made him pause because it wasn't every day that Sasuke displayed emotions so visibly on his face.

"What's it like having friends?"

Naruto wiped his mouth on his sleeve and said, "That's a strange question. You have friends, teme."

Sasuke shook his head. "Not like you do. I mean, most of the villagers seem to like you and you're practically worshipped in Suna. Plus, you're on a first name basis with every one of the Kage, as well as the Daimyo."

"Well, you know it wasn't always like that because of Kurama. Most of the villagers were horrible to me when I was young, and I doubt they would have shed a tear if I left the village or somehow accidentally 'died'. But one day I decided that I'd had enough and that no matter what, I wasn't going to give in to despair, or their hatred. I was going to fight to my last breath to make them acknowledge me." He tilted his head in thought. "Maybe that's where my nindō comes from, and the reason why I never gave up trying to make them my friends." He looked at Sasuke and shrugged. "Maybe that's the reason why I never gave up on you."

There was silence once again as both men continued to eat. After finishing their meal, they threw the remains into the fire and watched the flames dance between them.

Sasuke decided to ask another question. "That seal you both have. How often does Hinata use it to let you know how she feels?"

"More often than I care to admit. It started to become such a distraction when I went on missions that I had to learn how to shut it down if I needed to. Why do you ask?"

Sasuke smirked and said, "No reason – It's just that I can think of quite a few situations where it would come in handy. That seal is like the ultimate lie detector, after all."

"Is this train of thought because of what happened with Sakura the other day at the hospital?"

Sasuke let out a long sigh and rubbed his forehead. "Yes, but it's not the entire reason I'm asking. Look, I might not be the ultimate point of reference when it comes to relationships, but even I know that a marriage needs to be built on a foundation of honesty, trust and love. The conversation at the hospital revealed to me that Sakura isn't honest, can't be trusted and apparently never outgrew her fangirl feelings for me from when we were young. It makes me wonder if she truly loves me, or if it's just an obsession."

Naruto shrugged once again. "I wish I had an answer for you about that, but I'm afraid you're asking the wrong person since I have a somewhat…skewed opinion of Sakura. Maybe you can ask Saladin, though – he seems to have a way of helping people find the answers to questions they didn't even know they had."

"That's awfully cryptic, dobe."

Naruto rolled his eyes. "You have no idea, teme. Wait 'till you meet him." He stretched out next to the fire and said, "I'm going to get some sleep, and I'd recommend that you do the same. We've got a long day ahead of us tomorrow, and I'd like to be on the other side of Suna by the time the sun sets."



Two days later, Naruto and Sasuke appeared in a flash of light at the entrance to a cave, located at the foot of a small mountain range. Even though both men appeared tired and ragged, on the inside they were happy to be at their destination.

Sasuke looked at the opening and said, "This is it? It doesn't seem very…opulent. Or accommodating."

"Saladin has never been one for putting on airs. He believes the simple approach to be best, only taking what he needs and giving the rest to those less fortunate than him." Naruto became serious as he looked at Sasuke and said, "Okay, teme – there's a few rules you need to know before we go inside. First of all, when we're around any other Mienai Segi members you need to use my name within the organization, which is Gabriel. When you get a name, I'll make sure to call you by yours. It's a sign of respect as far as Saladin is concerned, and at all times you will address him as Master. Understand?"

Sasuke nodded and Naruto continued, "Okay, now this is very important. At some point, Saladin is going to ask you a question and you need to make sure that the answer you give isn't associated with a capital vice, such as revenge, power or greed."

"You've made me curious. What happens if I do?"

"Two years ago a water user from the Land of Rivers came to us. Saladin wasn't pleased with the answer he gave so he sealed off the man's chakra, opened up a hole in the earth one thousand feet deep and threw him inside." Naruto shuddered at the memory. "Needless to say, that guy is never coming back."

Sasuke turned pale upon hearing this. "So what's the question I have to answer correctly?"

"I have no idea, because the question is different for everyone. Just make sure your answer isn't something selfish or self-serving, because that will only earn you a swift and painful death. Got it?"

Once again, Sasuke nodded.

"Good, just follow my lead and everything should be fine. Now let's go meet Saladin. It's not a good idea to hover around the entrance, or to keep him waiting."

Naruto strode with purpose into the cave followed closely by Sasuke, who looked around at the surroundings with mild interest. Torches hung on the walls, lighting the tunnel as they walked ever further into the mountain. After a few hundred yards, it opened into a small, sparsely appointed cavern with only the basic necessities that one would need to survive. Along with an area for preparing food, there was also a bed, a couch and several chairs. However, the most important area lay at the back of the cavern, where a man wearing glasses sat behind a desk, intently reading a scroll. Bookshelves lined the cavern walls behind him, stacked with what one could only assume were dozens of scrolls from all over the elemental nations, and perhaps beyond.

As they approached, the man stopped reading and looked up. Sasuke could see that he was of medium build with a neatly trimmed beard, and he wore flowing robes similar to that of the Hyūga clan. As he recognized Naruto, a smile broke out on his face and he rose to greet them.

"Gabriel, it's good to see you again." His voice was quiet and reserved, but also gave the impression of great power and wisdom.

Naruto returned the smile, stopping in front of the desk and bowing low. Unsure of what he should do, Sasuke decided to mirror his friend and stopped next to Naruto, bowing low as well.

"Master. You honor me in your home." Naruto rose, and Sasuke followed suit as Naruto continued to speak. "I have brought a candidate, as well as news of great importance."

Saladin motioned to the seats in front of his desk. "Both of you please sit, so that we may talk of happenings within your lives, as well as this news you bring me."

The three men sat down and Saladin said, "So Gabriel, you sent me a missive several months ago, saying that you must return home without delay to help someone who is precious to you." He steepled his fingers in front of him. "Tell me, were you able to help this person?"

Slightly embarrassed, Naruto placed a hand at the back of his neck and said, "Actually, the answer is yes. However, the tree bore fruit of an unexpected nature." He reached into his pocket and removed a picture, handing it to Saladin. "I married the person who required my help, and this is a picture of her and my son."

Saladin took the photo and examined it. "The woman is quite beautiful – you have done well for yourself, Gabriel. However, I'm a bit confused. You have only been home for a few months, and yet the child in this picture appears to be seven or eight years old. Is he truly your son or do you only consider him as such?"

"No, Master. The child is truly my son. I discovered this fact only recently; details of his birth had been kept secret from me for quite some time, and apparently no effort had been made by those who knew to find me during that period."

"I imagine this came as quite a surprise for you."

"It was as a surprise to many people, Master. I've actually only known the truth a few days and would have preferred to spend additional time with my family, but recent events within my village forced me to make this journey and speak with you."

He handed the photo back to Naruto and said, "Yes, you did say that you bear news of great importance. Please enlighten me as to what it is."

Naruto hesitated for a moment and then said, "Paradise has been lost. There's a snake in the garden."

Sasuke didn't understand one bit of that sentence, but he saw the effect that it had on Saladin. His smile vanished, and the look on his face turned solemn.

"Tell me how you know of this, Gabriel."

Naruto took a deep breath. "Five days ago Anubis and the Minions of Set invaded my village, and personally threatened the life of my wife and son. During the attack, it was revealed that he was hired by Lady Kamira as an act of retribution against me. You may remember her; several years ago the Daimyo of Marsh Country asked us to eliminate her husband after it was determined that he was torturing innocents to satisfy his sick fetishes. There were no specific instructions as to what should be done with her, so in a moment of sympathy I decided that she was merely an unwilling participant and spared her life. It appears that decision came back to haunt me. "

Saladin narrowed his eyes and said, "I remember the mission, as well as your decision to allow Lady Kamira to live. But do not forget that showing mercy to those you believe are innocent – despite what the future may bring – is the true path to strength and enlightenment. However that being said and recent events aside, you know that I would never sanction such an action without cause, and we do not accept requests based solely on greed."

Naruto briefly nodded his head. "I understand this Master, and I hold no ill will towards you. What concerns me though is that during the attack, Anubis mentioned that you are no longer his leader, and he now follows another. He also said that this person promised him power and wealth to satisfy his cravings for lust and greed, and that even a person such as you isn't unassailable."

The look on Saladin's face turned dangerous and he asked, "And where is Anubis now?"

"I decided that the lives of both Anubis and his followers became forfeit once they carried out an unsanctioned attack against my home without cause, and threatened the lives of everyone, especially my friends and family. Based on his actions and intentions, I burned his followers and scattered their ashes across the wind, and then eliminated Anubis using the Unstable Resonance jutsu."

After hearing this, the look on his face softened and Saladin nodded. "A bit extreme perhaps, but justified nonetheless. He became lost once he decided that his hedonistic appetites took precedence over a sense of nobility and morality." The corners of his mouth turned up in a small smile and he said, "But I get the impression that there are other reasons why you have made this journey, Gabriel."

Saladin rose and walked around the desk, placing a hand on Naruto's shoulder. His gaze became fixated on a point somewhere in the distance and after a moment his eyes glossed over, as if he could now perceive something that normally could not be seen.

"Ah. The pain within your heart has healed somewhat, and it has been the love and sacrifice of someone close to you that has brought about this change. You no longer suffer from the emptiness that threatened to consume you these many years." He tilted his head to the side. "And yet, there is still heartache within you, and anger and betrayal echo from the scars that still remain."

The look on Saladin's face became focused once again, and his gaze dropped to stare at Naruto, his eyes seeming to burrow directly into his soul. Sasuke saw this and was immediately reminded of his Sharingan. He knew that right now, the ability to hide the truth from this man didn't exist.

"What are you searching for, Gabriel?"

Naruto didn't even hesitate in answering. "I seek inner peace, Master. I have found the love I sought for many years, through a wife that loves me far more than I deserve, and the discovery of a son I never knew I had. But this knowledge also came with a price, as I learned how far someone I once counted as more than a friend went to keep this hidden from me." Finally able to, Naruto lowered his head and stared at the floor. "I cannot live with this anger, Master. Not only will it affect the relationship I have with my family, but I plan on leading my village someday and I know it will affect other decisions I make. I MUST be objective to lead, and protect my precious people. To do anything else would be a disservice to them all."

After a moment Saladin nodded at this, apparently satisfied with the answer. He then turned his gaze upon Sasuke and asked, "You say this person is a candidate, Gabriel. Who is he to you?"

"He is my brother, Master."

"I find that statement very hard to believe, Gabriel. Neither of you share any physical similarities, and it's apparent that he is from the Uchiha clan, which we both know you are not."

"You misunderstand, Master. He is my brother by choice, not by blood."

"I see." He turned back to Sasuke, and just he had done with Naruto only minutes earlier, Saladin reached out and placed his hand on his shoulder.

Immediately, Sasuke felt the man's aura wash over him, permeating into the farthest corners of his mind and heart. Under normal circumstances, he would consider such an action to be an attack on his person but somehow he got the sense that if he fought back, the resulting collision of their wills would shatter his psyche beyond repair.

"Your past is…turbulent and troubled. You were offered power at great personal cost, which you accepted without reservation, hurting those who cared about you in doing so. You wandered; a solitary figure bent on retribution against others who were responsible for the pain and suffering that befell you. Anger clouded your gaze and darkness gripped your heart." He tilted his head again. "You feel remorse for your past actions, but your soul is stretched between uncertainty and doubt. Recent events have given rise to questions regarding the life you chose, and you wish to make amends to those you have hurt. But for some reason, the path you desire to walk is laced with worry and fear."

He gave Sasuke the same penetrating stare as Naruto. "You wish to join the Mienai Segi, but to what end? What do hope to gain through our training?"

Sasuke hesitated a moment before answering. It wasn't that he was thinking of lying at any point; he reasoned that if he even entertained the thought, Saladin would somehow know and end his life rather painfully. He just wanted to make sure he phrased his answer correctly, because he didn't feel like being eradicated in an instant.

"I hope to find clarity, Master. You are correct; recently I have questioned many of the decisions I've made in my life – both in the past and within the last few days. I've come to realize that there is more to true strength than mere power; there is family, friendship and what my brother says is 'a desire to protect that which is precious to me'. I want to walk the same path he does, but…"

After watching Sasuke trail off, Saladin finished his line of thought. "But you are afraid that if you do, you will lose yourself to the anger and madness that almost overwhelmed you before, which also seems to befall almost everyone in your clan. Correct?"

Sasuke nodded and said, "Yes, Master. It seems to be an unavoidable fate, and I…I don't wish to repeat what happened all those years ago."

Saladin walked back around to the other side of his desk and sat down. "I am well aware of your clan's Kekkei Genkai, and how the power of your eyes is awakened. However, you seem to have been given some misinformation somewhere along the way." He turned and rummaged around in the bookshelves behind him, apparently searching for a something specific.

"Ah, here we are." Saladin said, pulling a very old scroll from the back of one of the shelves and holding it up for everyone to see. "This is a transcription of the stone tablets that are hidden beneath the Uchiha compound in your village."

Sasuke didn't even think to ask how this man was in possession of such information, let alone wonder who could have possibly translated it for him. He reasoned that some questions were best left unanswered.

Saladin carefully unrolled it on his desk until he found a specific section and pointed. "It says here that when an Uchiha knows the loss of love or experiences despair, it turns to hate and produces a change in their eyes – the Sharingan. This makes the person much more powerful, in addition to magnifying the feelings that brought about the change. If that feeling is hatred, then such a person would turn to darkness and evil, and redemption for that individual becomes an almost impossible goal." His finger traveled farther down. "However, it also appears that power can be channeled into something else. If a person experiences strong feelings such as love, happiness or joy those could awaken the Sharingan as well. And if those feelings are bolstered among many people, instead of being confined to a singular individual then it is possible to survive such a loss. These emotions become an overwhelming desire to protect that which is precious to them, while avoiding the descent into despair and darkness."

Sasuke gave Saladin a confused look and asked, "If that's true, then why…why did my clan believe that anger and hatred were the only keys to unlocking the Sharingan?"

Saladin smiled at him and said, "The answer is simple…because it is far easier to hate than to love. Hatred and anger will awaken the Sharingan at an earlier age, allowing the user to attain higher levels of power faster than love and happiness, but in my opinion the price you pay for doing so is rather steep. I'm sure you can personally attest to this fact, having experienced it for yourself."

Sasuke's eyes went wide; as such a simple yet profound statement rocked the foundation of his clan teachings. His gaze rose, and he stared at Saladin in shock upon hearing this revelation.

"I accept your candidacy to join the Mienai Segi, young Uchiha. Your training will begin tomorrow at dawn, however it has yet to be determined if you will survive the experience." Saladin turned to Naruto. "Gabriel, please show your brother to one of the bedrooms so that he can settle in, and then return to me here. I believe we still have much more to discuss before we gather for dinner."



***Time Skip – 8 days after leaving***

Knock, knock, knock.

"Hikaru, could you get the door for me?" A voice called from the kitchen. "I'm getting lunch ready for us."

"I'm changing my clothes, Mom!" Came a voice from upstairs. "But if you've got no problem with me answering it naked, then…"

"No! Stay upstairs and finish changing!" And then under her breath she mumbled, "Besides, I don't want to scare off whoever it might be, and have the ANBU show up at my house later asking why my naked son is greeting our visitors."

Hinata wiped her hands clean and walked to the entryway, opening the door to greet whoever it was that had knocked. However, the words caught in her throat as she was startled to see someone that she never would have expected to visit her house. Ever.

"F…Father? What…What are you doing here?"

Hiashi stood there, his hands clasped behind his back and his robes looking freshly pressed. As always, his posture was rigid and he wore a serious look, but today there was another emotion on his face that Hinata was having a hard time identifying.

"Hello, Hinata. I realize that I am showing up unannounced, but I was wondering if you could spare some time to meet with me. May I come in?"

Stunned that her father had left the estate and was actually standing in her entryway, Hinata stared at him in disbelief for a few seconds before her mind snapped back to reality. She stepped aside and motioned for him to enter, closing the door behind him as he did so.

Hiashi slowly walked further inside the house, his eyes glancing around and taking in his surroundings. He lingered over various parts, such as the stone fireplace and enclosed porch, before proceeding into the large kitchen. "This place appears to be very unlike the compound; the overall impression is one that is…warm and inviting. Was this his intention when Naruto decided to decorate it?"

"Actually father, I was the one who decorated the house and Naruto-kun had no part in it. When he showed it to me the day before we were married, he gave me permission to decorate the house any way I saw fit and his only wish was that I made sure it looked and felt nothing like the compound. He wanted a comforting environment for Hikaru to grow up in."

Hiashi nodded, acknowledging her response and then asked, "And the kitchen? Was it also his intention to make this room so large?"

"Yes, father. Naruto-kun remembered that I liked to cook, so he made sure that the kitchen was built to exact specifications. He wanted to make sure I had everything I would ever need."

"I see. Then I would say that Naruto has fulfilled his vow to ensure your happiness, and you have done well with the task he gave to you."

Was…Was that a compliment? She thought to herself. Did he just say something nice to me for once?

"Thank…Thank you, father. But I'm sure you didn't come here today to finally look at our house. Was there something else you needed?"

He sighed, and a bit of his rigid posture seemed to disappear from his body as he did so. "Actually, yes – there is something else I would like to discuss with you." He gestured to the kitchen table and asked, "Could we sit down, and perhaps talk for a while?"

Still wondering what his motives for being here were, she nodded and said, "I can make us some tea, if you like. I only have Oolong or Jasmine at the moment; will either one of those be acceptable?"

"Jasmine tea would be fine, thank you."

While the conversation in the kitchen played out, Hikaru crept further down the stairs to continue to listen. He was worried about what Hiashi was going to say to his mother; during the entire time they had lived at the compound he couldn't remember one encouraging word Hiashi had said to his mother about anything she did. His personality had always been stern and unapproachable, and Hikaru was expecting more of the same during his visit today, despite the compliment he'd just overheard. Hikaru swore that if Hiashi made his mother cry today, he'd find endless ways of making his life as miserable as possible.

Back downstairs, Hinata had just finished making a pot of Jasmine tea and brought it over to the table, pouring a cup for both herself and Hiashi and then sitting down. Hinata watched as her father sipped his tea in silence, staring at it while his hands fidgeted with the cup.

As a Hyūga, she was trained to identify another person's body language but even without her Byakugan, she could tell that her father was clearly uncomfortable with whatever he wished to talk with her about.

"Hinata, I came to see you today because I wanted to discuss what Neji discovered last week. You know what subject I'm referring to, correct?"

She blanched and said, "Yes, father. Nii-san was outside the hospital room when Naruto-kun questioned both Sakura and me about the truth regarding Hikaru. He heard everything that was said between the three of us."

Hiashi nodded. "I've had some time to think about what I learned, and despite what Neji told me I haven't been able to wrap my head around some parts of it. I thought coming to you for answers to my questions would be the best course of action, since now that the secret has been made public there is no further reason to lie to me. I do not demand this as head of the clan, but rather ask for this as your father."

This conversation is taking a strange turn, Hinata thought. This is a side of father that I've never seen; he seems very unsure of himself and for once, he's acting like a concerned parent instead of being harsh, overbearing and critical. I wonder why.

"I understand, and I'll do my best to answer your questions. What would you like to ask of me?"

Hiashi hesitated a moment before asking, "As Neji informed me, you accepted the offer of caring for Hikaru from Sakura Uchiha under conditions of extreme secrecy. What I would like to know is why you insisted on keeping such a ridiculous promise, rather than informing the clan of the truth of the matter."

Hinata blinked a few times at the question. It hadn't been something she'd been particularly proud of, but the answer to this was relatively simple.

"Because I made a promise not to reveal the secret, father. And just like Naruto-kun, my nindō is that I never break a promise and I never go back on my word. I will say however, that since learning of some additional information where Sakura is concerned, I've come to regret some of my choices in the matter now that I know her true motives behind it all, and the pain she caused my husband as a result of her actions. But at the time I felt I had no other option in order to be able to adopt Hikaru."

"And that is something else that puzzles me, daughter. You knew full well that returning with a child, without revealing the knowledge of his conception would tarnish your reputation within the village, as well as cause you to be disowned by the clan. I'm having a hard time understanding why you would do such a thing."

Hinata smiled and said, "Because of Naruto-kun. As I'm sure Nii-san told you, I remember the stories Naruto-kun told me of when he was young and living in the orphanage. To say that he was treated horribly would only be an understatement, and even though I had no doubt that no one could possibly be subjected to the same treatment Naruto-kun had been, I held no illusions that life for Hikaru would have been difficult and that he should have an opportunity to know who his father is." Her smile vanished, and her gaze dropped as she finished, "It was only my cowardice up until now that kept me from revealing the truth to my husband, but thank Kami both he and Hikaru have forgiven me for my negligence."

Hiashi stared at her incredulously. "So despite it all, you were willing to sacrifice everything in your life, as well as your future for the sake of one child? Do you actually love Naruto that much?"

Hinata didn't even hesitate to answer. "Always, father. Before he was the savior of the shinobi world…Before he was the Hero of the Leaf…Before he was the one who defeated Pain, when an entire village couldn't bring the Akatsuki member down…I loved him more than anything, and despite the manipulations of both you and Neji with my life I couldn't be happier in the way things turned out. Naruto-kun is my one true love, and I'd gladly give my life for him. I'd have thought my actions during the fight with Pain would have convinced you of that."

Hiashi sipped his tea again as he thought about what Hinata just said. She watched him struggle with whatever he planned to say next, but when the silence finally broke, he continued to stare at his tea as the words unexpectedly came rushing forth.

"Hinata, I have to say that I still fail to understand the reasons behind your decision to take care of Hikaru, but perhaps this is because for the life of me, I cannot fully comprehend the depth of your love for Naruto. You may not believe so, but the only comparison I can make that even comes close would be how I feel about you and Hanabi. I won't deny that my past actions regarding the two of you have been rather unjust and more often than not, I've taken the position of what's in the best interest of the clan over what's best for this family. But setting that aside, it doesn't change how I feel about what you've done, as well as what I have inadvertently put you through."

"While I am a proud man, and very rarely if ever do I believe I am wrong, in this case the proof is irrefutable. You have suffered at the hands of the villagers and our clan, enduring eight years of unnecessary emotional torture and callous treatment based on unfounded assumptions and lies – even though the prison was mostly of your own design for accepting the onerous conditions of the Uchiha woman. However, even I can see the tremendous amount of courage and strength it took to accept such a burden, knowing full well what the eventual price would be."

"The most interesting thing to me in all of this has been the discovery that these qualities only seem to manifest themselves when Naruto is involved. Apparently, he brings about the greatest and most positive change within you, and I know the reason why I never noticed this before was through my own disinterested attitude regarding your life. He truly is the foundation of your strength."

Hiashi raised his head to stare at Hinata, and what she saw in his gaze set her back at bit, as his eyes appeared haunted and lost. As far back as she could remember, there was only one other time she could think of when her father had looked like this, and that had been when her mother died.

"Your actions in hiding the truth regarding Hikaru and his parentage were wrong, but I realize that you did so to protect the son of the man you love, and not out of spite or to inflict shame upon our clan." He bowed his head. "You have been treated unfairly, not only by our clan but especially by me. I offer an apology for my actions, and I hope you can forgive me."

Hinata was shocked – she had just witnessed an event so rare that most clan members couldn't remember ever having seen one before – an apology from Hiashi Hyūga. She could tell by the look in his eyes that the apology was sincere, and perhaps extending an olive branch of peace might help improve things going forward, but she wasn't about to give in to the rest of his request so easily.

She walked around the table, forcing her father to stand and then enveloped him in a gentle hug. Hiashi awkwardly hugged her back, clearly unsure of what to do at her show of emotion.

"Thank you for saying that, father. You have no idea how much those words mean to me, as all I've ever wanted is for you to acknowledge me and see me as anything other than an embarrassment. I want you to know that I accept your apology, but I'm not quite ready to forgive you just yet. I believe this is something that you should continue to work on going forward."

"What exactly do you mean by that?"

"I mean that if you wish to make amends for your actions and earn my forgiveness, I'd like for you to spend some time with Hikaru and prove to me that you are truly sorry, rather than give the impression that you are apologizing only because you are uncomfortable with your feelings of guilt." The look on her face became one of sadness. "I've already been down this road with Naruto-kun over not telling him that he was Hikaru's father in the first place, and even though he says he's forgiven me I'll still do whatever it takes to once again earn his trust."

"Hinata, I hold no ill will towards the boy but you need to understand that he is not Hyūga. You did not give birth to him. He is not truly your son."

She pressed her lips together and gave him a hard stare. "I beg to differ, father. As far as Naruto-kun and Hikaru are concerned, I am his mother and not Sakura, who was eager to give him up to an orphanage in Suna at her first opportunity. I have given eight years of love, care and devotion towards raising him, and if for no other reason than that I have earned the right to be called his mother. He is OUR son, father – mine and Naruto-kun's. And you need to start thinking of him as such."

Hiashi looked off to the side, deep in thought about the words Hinata had just spoken to him. After a minute, he turned his gaze back to her and said, "I appreciate your honesty, Hinata. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to speak with you. I will take my leave now so that I may think upon your words."

Hinata nodded and politely showed her father to the door, closing it behind him. She rested her head against it and sighed; feeling happy that her father had finally acknowledged her in some way and apologized for his actions, but at the same time frustrated that he couldn't see Hikaru as her son. Even though she didn't want to make excuses for him, she knew that this was a long seeded Hyūga belief that those who did not possess the Byakugan or were born outside the clan were never truly considered to be part of the family. It was going to take some time for him to accept it, but she wasn't going to forgive him until he did.

"Hikaru!" Hinata called out. "Your ojii-san is gone. Come downstairs for lunch, please!"

She waited for a response, but nothing ever came. Concerned, she began to walk up the stairs and asked, "Hikaru? Are you okay, sweetie?"

More silence. Hinata was starting to get worried; could Hikaru have possibly overheard their conversation in the kitchen? She knocked on his door and opened it, only to find that Hikaru wasn't in his room and the window had been thrown wide open. He was obviously gone, and she could only assume it was because of what her father said. She turned around, ready to run out and search for him when she noticed a hastily scribbled note pinned to the back of his door which said:



I needed some time to clear my head. I promise I'll be back later; please eat lunch without me.



Not panicking anymore but certainly still worried about her son, she wondered where he'd run off to and when he would be back. More than likely he'd gone to one of the training grounds to work on his skills; he'd done this quite often over the last few years when he was frustrated or upset, and she knew he would be back once he'd blown off some steam and settled down.



Knock, knock, knock.

Konohamaru opened the door to his house, fully expecting Neji to be standing there. However, much to his surprise that wasn't the case.

"Hikaru? What are you doing here?"

"Hey, Uncle Kono. Is Aunt Hanabi here?"

"No, she isn't. Tenten is at the hospital getting a checkup, and Hanabi went with her."

"When is she gonna be back?"

"Probably not for a few hours. If whatever you need to talk to her about is that important, you're more than welcome to wait here until she gets back."

"No, that's okay because I'm really here to talk to you, and I can't do it with Aunt Hanabi around. Can I come in?"

"Umm, sure." Konohamaru watched Hikaru walk into the house, his mind still wondering what he was doing here and why Hinata wasn't with him.

"Now, what do you need to talk with me about, that's apparently so secretive your Aunt can't be around to hear it?"

Hikaru crossed his arms in front of his chest. "A couple of weeks ago when I was talking with the old lady, she told me that you were my Dad's unofficial top student when you guys were younger. Is that right?"

"That's correct, but when you say 'old lady' who are you referring to?"

"That Sannin lady with the big chest – Tsunade. Who else would I be talking about?"

Konohamaru smiled, struggling to keep himself from laughing. Old lady, he thought. A bit disrespectful, but still accurate and funny nonetheless. "Is there any reason why you're asking me this?"

"Did he also teach you all of his old pranks that he used to pull?"

He blinked a few times and hesitantly answered, "Yeah, he did. I got pretty good at them too, but your dad is still the reigning champion of the village by far. You're just an amateur compared to him. But I'd still like to know why you're asking me about this."

Hikaru then proceeded to tell Konohamaru about the conversation at the house between his mother and Hiashi, and how it ended with Hiashi saying that he didn't consider Hikaru to truly be Hinata's son only because she didn't give birth to him.

"So he basically apologized for what he did over the last eight years, but he still won't consider my mom to be…well, my mom. I'm not going to let something like that slide, so going to prank him until he changes his mind about me, and I want to do it EXACTLY like my Dad would have done it. Now, is this something you wanna help me out with…boss?"

Konohamaru grinned evilly and rubbed his hands together. "Kid, you just said the magic words. I'd love to help you make Hiashi's life miserable after everything he put me, Hanabi and your mother through. But you have to promise that no matter what, you'll never reveal that I'm your sensei because I'm positive that if she ever found out, your Aunt Hanabi would jyuuken various parts of my body that I happen to like very much."

"Various parts like what?"

"Never mind; you'll find out when you're older. Now before we get to the list of some of your father's more creative pranks, there's one particular technique I need to teach you that ties them all together, and it's called the Sexy no Jutsu…"




***Time Skip – 32 days after leaving***

Kotetsu Hagane and Izumo Kamizuki sat at the front gate of Konoha, in their usual capacity of guard duty. More often than not, their job was filled with long stretches of boredom and inactivity and lately, the weather hadn't been very cooperative either. A cold front had blown through the village, which in addition to making them feel more miserable, sent a chill throughout their bodies that made the days seem to last forever.

However, today offered a brief moment of respite as the morning was sunny and warm for a change, and it had been unusually quiet. Short of a troop of beautiful women walking through the gate and throwing themselves on the two men, they wondered how this day could possibly get any better.

It was at that point a woman walked through the front gate, accompanied by a small child. She was a bit taller than average; sporting long black hair that fell to the middle of her back between her shoulder blades, while two additional braids of hair framed her face. Her skin was fair; certainly not as pale as those from the Hyūga clan but still lighter than most, and while her figure sported feminine curves, she walked with a surety that Kotetsu and Izumo immediately identified as that of a highly skilled kunoichi.

The child appeared to be a girl around four or five years of age, approximately three feet tall with blonde hair that framed her face, stopping just below her chin. Her eyes were sapphire blue, and they shifted rapidly from side to side as she clutched the hand of the older woman.

Kotetsu and Izumo sat entranced as the woman walked up to the desk, her jade green eyes staring at the two of them. Her gaze clearly reflected confidence, and an aura of power.

Long story short: they both knew this was a woman who was not to be fucked with.

"Good morning, and welcome to Konoha." Kotetsu said to her. "Please state your name and the nature of your visit."

"My name is Freyja." She responded. "And I'm simply here to visit someone."

Strange name, the two gatekeepers thought to themselves. Izumo looked down at the girl clinging to her side and smiled. "Hello there! My name is Izumo Kamizuki, what's yours?"

The girl shyly looked up at Freyja, as if she was asking for permission to speak. Freyja nodded back and said, "Go ahead, sweetheart. He's just trying to be nice."

Her gaze shifted back to Izumo and she hesitantly answered, "I'm…I'm Reira."

"Reira, huh? That's a pretty name. I'll bet you're hungry; did you and your mom travel a long distance to get here?"

She nodded. "Yes…Yes sir, we did."

"Well, maybe I can direct you both to some nice places to eat once we're through." His gaze turned back to Freyja and he asked, "Is the purpose of your visit personal or business?"

Her face became impassive as she answered, "A little of both, actually."

"Ah, I see. You did say that you're here to visit someone, and my associate Kotetsu and I happen to know many people in the village. If you tell us this person's name, perhaps we can assist you by giving directions to their home."

"It's actually a 'he'. And his name is Gabriel."

"Gabriel." The two men looked at each other for a moment, and then Kotetsu answered, "I'm sorry, but we don't know anyone in the village by that name. Perhaps you could describe what he looks like for us? Does he have any distinguishing features?"

"Well, he's a little over six feet tall, with spiky blond hair and blue eyes. Oh, and he has three very faint marks on each one of his cheeks. If you ask me, they look a lot like whiskers."

That sealed it for the two men. A little over a month ago, right after the village had been attacked the Hokage had given them specific orders to keep an eye out for anyone else coming into the village using a strange name. And in addition to that, if they came looking for Naruto…

Izumo pressed a button under his desk, and within seconds the two visitors were surrounded by twenty ANBU. Frejya backed against the wall, placing Reira protectively behind her while she stared at the gatekeepers with hatred and contempt.

Kotetsu frowned and said, "I apologize for this, but we have orders from the Hokage on what actions to take if this situation presented itself. If you give me your word to cooperate fully, I promise you'll be treated fairly and no harm will come to either you or your daughter. Is this acceptable?"

Freyja thought about it; taking on twenty elite soldiers normally wouldn't be a problem but having to protect her daughter as well would make things far more difficult. She decided that taking the offer would be the best course of action at the moment, and nodded in agreement.

Kotetsu looked at the group of ANBU and shouted, "Captain!"

A man with a Tiger mask stepped forward.

"Escort these two visitors to I.D. with the utmost care, and place them in an interrogation room on sub-level D. Please make sure you feed them; the little girl said they've traveled a long way and they're both bound to be hungry." He glanced at Reira and smiled, hoping to reduce the tension in the air and put both of them more at ease. "Also, please send one of your men to tell the Hokage that 'someone special came looking for the fox', and where our guests are being held. Understand?"

Tiger nodded and dispatched one of the ANBU members to go see the Hokage, then proceeded to lead the rest of the group as they 'escorted' Freyja and Reira to the Interrogation Division. He wondered exactly what was going on, as sub-level D had the strongest chakra suppression seals and these two didn't look like they presented much of a threat. However, he also knew looks could be deceiving and if the Hokage wanted to be informed about this personally, then whatever this was about went far above his pay grade.

At that point, he decided ignorance was bliss and dropped his line of thought, before the Hokage put him on permanent duty assisting Lady Sakura until Sasuke Uchiha returned to the village.



"Which room are they in?"

Tiger pointed. "They're in Interrogation Room A eating lunch, Lord Hokage. I purchased food for the two of them as instructed."

"Good. Anything else I should know before I go in?"

Tiger shook his head. "I wasn't given any additional information from Kotetsu and Izumo, just the message and where to bring them."

"Thank you. I'll take it from here."

As Kakashi opened the door and stepped into the room, he noticed a small child with blonde hair slurping noodles from what appeared to be a bowl of Shoyu ramen, before his eye settled on to the other person sitting at the table.

One look, and Kakashi was frozen in place. Her beauty struck him full force; her long, ebony hair framed her perfectly curved face and contrasted starkly with her fair skin, giving her an exotic appeal. As far as clothing was concerned, she wore a beige overcoat with mid-length sleeves over a chainmail shirt, similar to what Anko Mitarashi used to wear. He was unsure what she wore from the waist down, but he was suddenly curious and for once, it wasn't from his more perverted tendencies.

All in all, Kakashi thought that she was one of the most beautiful women he'd ever seen.

The woman continued to eat her lunch without missing a beat. She either didn't care or wasn't worried about who had just walked into the room, which made her either mentally unstable or highly dangerous, and based on her name and who she had come looking for, Kakashi decided to go with the second option.

"Are you gonna stand there all day and stare at me, or is there something you actually wanted?"

The words broke Kakashi out of his stupor, and he shook his head to clear his thoughts in an attempt to refocus. However, through no actions of her own the woman was making it difficult for him to concentrate simply by sitting there.

He closed the door and sat down across from her at the table, at which point she raised her head to stare at him. The gaze from her jade green eyes sent a shiver down his spine, both from excitement and from fear.

Get a grip, Kakashi! He thought to himself. You're the Hokage, for Kami's sake! Man up and start acting the part, instead of like a lovesick moron!

"HeLLo, mY…" He said in a falsetto voice. Embarrassed at his nervousness, he cleared his throat a few times and tried again. "Hello, my name is Kakashi Hatake, and I'm the Hokage of Konoha. I apologize for the inconvenience, but we've had to take security precautions like this because of some recent events in our village."

Freyja raised an eyebrow. "I'm just an innocent woman traveling with her daughter, here to see a friend. I don't see how either of us could be a threat to you, so there's no reason we should have been arrested in the first place."

Kakashi sighed and pulled a paper seal out of his pocket, setting it on the table. He placed his hand over it and pushed some chakra into the seal, causing the symbols to spread throughout the room.

"What the heck did you just do?"

"Privacy seals. Now no one can hear or see anything that happens in this room."

"Is that so?" Her eyes took on a dangerous glint and she asked, "You plan on taking advantage of me? Because it's gonna take more than the chakra suppression seals you got on this room to keep me down."

Kakashi's eye went wide. "What? No! No, that's not what I planned at all. I just…" He took a deep breath in order to calm himself down. "Okay, I can tell by the tone of your voice that you prefer a direct approach, so how about this – I know that you're Mienai Segi."

"I don't know what you're talking about. What's the Mienai Segi?"

"Save the act for someone who's not an idiot. I'm one of only two people in this village right now who know about your organization, and you showed up at my front gate with an unusual name asking for Gabriel, which in and of itself tells me who you are." He narrowed his eye at her. "So let's try this again. My name is Kakashi Hatake, and I'm the Hokage of Konoha. What's your name?"

She gave him a hard stare as she thought his request over. After a solid minute of listening to nothing but the slurping sound of her daughter eating ramen, she relented and said, "Freyja. My name is Freyja."

"See? That wasn't so hard, was it?" Kakashi turned to the little girl. "Can I ask what your name is?"

The girl stopped eating and raised her head to look at Kakashi. She swallowed her food and used her sleeve to wipe her mouth before saying, "It's…It's Reira, mister Hokage person."

His breath caught in his throat as he stared at her. With the exception of her hair and eye color, she looks just like Rin. He thought. Although the blond hair and blue eyes remind me of…

"Where is he?"

Kakashi turned back to look at Freyja again. "I'm sorry, what was that?"

"Where is he? Where's Gabriel?"

"He left the village about a month ago to visit Saladin, and he took one of my strongest ninja with him as a candidate."

The dangerous glint finally left her eyes, and her gaze turned into merely a hard stare. "Why did Gabriel leave to visit Saladin?"

Kakashi sighed. "About a month ago the one you call Anubis attacked our village, and he did so because someone hired him to do it outside of the normal channels. Gabriel felt that Saladin should know about this."

"What happened to Anubis?"

"Gabriel killed him with some sort of sound jutsu. There wasn't much left of him afterwards."

After a few moments, Freyja closed her eyes and sighed. "Great. That's just great. He's already started to move."

"What's started to move? Who are you talking about?"

She opened her eyes and said, "I can't tell you."

Kakashi stared back at her. "I don't think I heard you correctly – did you just say you couldn't tell me?"

"That's right."

"Care to explain why, exactly?"

"Because Hokage-sama, you're not Mienai Segi. You might know a little bit about our organization, but you don't know everything. The only way I can talk with you is if Gabriel is here, so how about you just tell me when he's due back in the village?"

"I would guess in about a month or so."

"That's just fine; you can keep me here until Gabriel gets back. But do me a favor and find someplace nice for Reira to stay until then. I don't want her confined to a prison."

"NO!" Reira yelled. "No, Mom! I wanna stay with you! I don't wanna go!"

Freyja looked at her daughter with sadness and said, "Reira, sweetie I can't…"

"NO!" She yelled again, latching onto her mother's arm. "I'm not gonna leave you, Mom!"

Kakashi watched the interaction between Freyja and Reira, wondering if there was a way out of this. He certainly didn't want the girl to spend a month in prison with her mother, but the fact was that Freyja was Mienai Segi and he couldn't just up and let her leave…Although, it was obvious that she didn't come here to attack the village or Naruto, because if that were the case she wouldn't have brought her daughter in the first place.

Suddenly an idea came to mind. He raised his voice and asked Freyja, "I may have a solution to your problem. Would you listen to me if I offered you a deal?"

Freyja calmed her daughter down and looked at Kakashi warily. "What kind of a deal?"

"Swear to me on the life of your daughter that while you are in Konoha you won't attack, fight, maim or otherwise try to kill any of the villagers. You also promise not to go snooping around or attempt any type of subterfuge, relegating both yourself and Reira to prominent public areas. One training ground within the borders of the village will be provided for your use if you choose to utilize it. If you find these conditions acceptable, then I'll…I'll allow you to remain out of prison until Gabriel gets back."

"What about in the case of self-defense?"

"That won't be a problem, because I'm going to have my ANBU watching you 'round the clock. I'm quite sure they can take care of any problems that might arise. I didn't get to be Hokage by being stupid."

She narrowed her gaze at him and asked, "Why are you being so generous to me? For all you know, I came here to attack your village just like Anubis did."

Kakashi shook his head. "No, I don't think so. If that were true, you wouldn't have brought your daughter with you in the first place because she would only be a liability. And besides…" He looked at Reira and eye smiled. "…even though you offered to spend a month or so in prison, your daughter seems very attached to you. I wouldn't want to be responsible for keeping the two of you apart the entire time. So how about it? Do you accept my offer?"

Freyja thought about it. It WOULD be nice to spend the month waiting for Gabriel outside of prison, and this way she'd still be able to take care of Reira. The only downside was that she was giving up a portion of her privacy and the option of defending herself, but if she were to believe the Hokage's word he would make sure both of them were watched and well protected.

He was asking for a leap of faith and an extension of trust on both their parts, and Freyja reasoned that there was more potential upside than downside for her in this deal.

She nodded and said, "Fine. I swear on the life of my daughter and as a member of the Mienai Segi that I'll be on my best behavior until Gabriel returns and I've had the opportunity to talk with him."

Kakashi nodded. "Thank you. Please finish your lunch; I'll be back in a few minutes." He stood up and left the room, leaving the privacy seals in place. Once outside, he motioned to the ANBU waiting there and said, "Send someone to find Hinata Namikaze and have her brought here immediately. If she asks why, tell her I requested it and give no explanation. Understood?"

The ANBU nodded and disappeared in a swirl of leaves, while Kakashi waited outside the room for her to arrive. He hoped Hinata would be understanding about this, but if not perhaps he could offer her a bit of an incentive to do so.



Hinata arrived at I.D. about ten minutes later and was immediately escorted down to sub-level D where Kakashi was waiting for her. She walked up to him and asked, "Kakashi-sensei, what's going on? We're supposed to meet in about an hour for training; why are we here?"

"I'm sorry Hinata, but training is cancelled for today. Something more important has come up and I need your help."

She raised her eyebrows and asked, "You need my help? Why me?"

"You'll understand in a minute. Follow me."

He opened the door to the interrogation room and they both stepped inside. Apparently, in the ten minutes it had taken Hinata to arrive they had finished their lunch and Freyja had placed Reira in her lap, with her arms wrapped around her daughter protectively.

Freyja looked up at the sound of the door opening, and watched the two of them walk into the room. Wondering who the new arrival was, she glanced towards Kakashi and asked, "Who's she?"

"Freyja, I would like to introduce Hinata Namikaze. She's married to Naruto and is the only other person in the village who knows about your organization. Hinata, this is Freyja and the little girl in her lap is called Reira. Freyja is a member of the Mienai Segi."

Freyja asked, "Who the heck is Naruto?"

Kakashi gave her a confused look for a moment and then said, "Oh, sorry. I forgot to tell you that Gabriel's real name is Naruto."

She raised her eyebrows in surprise. "Naruto? As in, Naruto Uzumaki? That guy who saved everyone in the fourth shinobi war?" When Kakashi nodded, she chuckled and said, "Heh. That actually explains a lot."

Kakashi was about to ask what she meant, but then decided against it since he probably wouldn't get an answer anyway. He turned back to Hinata and noticed that she was staring at Freyja and her daughter, with a blank expression on her face which was very unlike her normal demeanor.

He decided to get right to the point. "Hinata, I called you here because we have a delicate situation which requires the utmost secrecy. Freyja traveled a long way to come to our village and speak with Naruto, but as you know he's out of the village right now and won't be back for another month or so. Whatever she has to speak with him about deals with the Mienai Segi, and apparently the only person she can reveal this information to is another member of the organization."

"Since Reira expressed her displeasure – and rather loudly I might add – at being separated from her mother that leaves me with two options. One, I can leave the two of them in prison until Naruto gets back which is not an option I'm very fond of. Or two, I can have them stay with someone in the village until then. In order to do that however, this person would have to know that she is a member of the Mienai Segi and keep that knowledge confidential."

"You're the only person in the village right now besides me that knows about the Mienai Segi, and you've kept this information a secret since you learned about it from Naruto five months ago, which means you can be trusted. Also, you have plenty of room in your house to accommodate the two of them for the next month or so. And as an extra incentive, if you agree to this I'll consider you taking care of them a B-rank mission and pay you accordingly, pulling you from all future D-rank mission requests until Naruto gets back."

"So what do you say, Hinata? Will you help out Freyja and her daughter by providing them with a place to stay until then?"

Hinata was silent for a few more seconds and then a slight smile appeared on her face, but Kakashi could tell immediately that it wasn't completely genuine. There was a slight bit of warmth behind it, but there was also something else…

"I would be happy to accommodate both Freyja and Reira for the next few weeks until Naruto-kun returns. I don't think he would forgive me if I allowed them to remain in prison, while I had the opportunity and means to allow otherwise."

Freyja stared at her curiously and her cautious Mienai Segi mentality kicked in, as she wondered if she was hiding some ulterior motive. After studying her for a few moments she decided against it; she seemed genuinely nice, plus there was the fact that Gabriel trusted this woman enough to marry her, so…

"Thanks. It'll be nice to sleep someplace with a bed and a shower for a change."

As Freyja stood up, Kakashi finally got to see what she was wearing from the waist down, which was a pair of knee-length black pants that hugged her figure rather suggestively, and a simple pair of sandals. As Kakashi watched her walk across the room a question suddenly popped into his mind and he asked, "Where are your tattoos?"

She stopped and looked at him out of the corner of her eye. "What was that?"

"Your tattoos. I was wondering where they are." He pointed at her forearms. "Gabriel has them, but either you don't or I'm missing something important."

"My tattoos are in a different place. That's why you can't see them."

"Would you be able to show them to me?"

Freyja shook her head. "Sorry. The only way you're ever going to see them is if you beat me in a fight. Other than that, you can just keep dreaming about where they are."

He did just that, quickly looking her over. "Has…Has there ever been anyone that's seen them?"

She smirked and looked him over as well before she answered, "Only two men besides Saladin have ever seen them."

"If you don't mind me asking, who might these two men be?"

"The first person is Gabriel – the one you call Naruto Uzumaki."

Kakashi nodded. "And the second?"

Her smirk vanished and she said, "He's the reason why I'm here in the first place."



A/N: And there you have it! When I wrote this, it didn't seem like a lot is happening and I struggled with parts, but my beta said that's what happens sometimes in stories. I've seen this with other author's works, and even though I enjoy what they write it still frustrates me because I just want to get to the end (cue the smallest violin in the world playing just for me).

So now we know what's going on with Kakashi, we got to meet Saladin and Konohamaru is going to help Hikaru become the great prankster we all know he can be. Hiashi needs to keep his wits about him. And we also got to see some interaction between Naruto and Sasuke. Hopefully this gives some hints about things to come.

A bit of information: The name Reira is a reference to fellow author ReiraKurenai. I really liked the name and asked her permission to use it for a character within my story. She was very flattered, and gave me her blessing to do so. I've recommended her works in a previous chapter, but if you haven't done so yet head over and check them out. She's a very good writer.

Recommendation time! Okay, here's the thing – there are plenty of great writers on this site for NaruHina – Kingkakashi, Brown Phantom, Third Fang and Hektols to name a few – but on occasion, I like to give a shout out to the little guy. Someone who's story is pretty good but needs a little traction, whether it be in the form of favorite/following a story or reviewing it. A lot of you who read stories on this site don't know how good those numbers going up make those of us who write really feel, and I'm glad that so many of you like my work. If I could hit numbers like Kingkakashi or Third Fang, I'd be in heaven. (By the way, those two authors just recently updated their stories. If you haven't checked them out by now you don't know what you're missing).

So if you get the chance, head over and check out Path to the Future by OGAFazer89AC. It uses some OC of his own design (they are related to Naruto) and it ties in nicely with some NaruHina moments which occur after the fourth shinobi war. Considering the fact that the author is from Italy, I'm very impressed with his story and it's translated and beta'd by another great author, Codaram. So do yourself a favor and check it out, and if you read the story and like it, put it on your favorite/follow list and leave a review. I'm sure the author will appreciate the support and frankly, he deserves it. His numbers are far too small for such a great piece of work.

Here's the link, as usual remove the spaces and you know what to replace the stars with:

www . fanfiction . *** / s / 8370558

IMPORTANT POLL! Okay, my last one didn't work out so well but this one is extremely important for the story. I have two options for when Naruto gets back from his training; the first is a long, hot and steamy lemon scene with Hinata. The second option is that I advance the plot and don't bother with the lemon scene at all (I'm not kidding around when I say that the input from my readers helps me write the story).

So head on over to my profile and vote; if you have no idea what to do then just click on my name at the top of this page and you'll be redirected over there…the poll will be right at the top. And with as many people as I have as favorites and following this story, the numbers for this one should be massive. For the love of Kami, please take ten seconds out of your life to do this. DON'T FORGET TO VOTE!

So what's coming up? The next chapter will finish off the second month before Naruto and Sasuke return home. There will be shocks and surprises dealing with Hinata, Hikaru, Sakura, Ino, Konohamaru, Hanabi and Tenten. And just for fun, a small twist for Naruto when he gets back (other than the lemon scene which may or may not happen depending on the poll).

Regarding reviews, I have to say that I'm probably not going to give myself a deadline on releasing a chapter ever again. My OCD kicked in and it gave me many sleepless nights thinking I might disappoint my readers, but I will say that I have about 1/3 of the next chapter already done. So let's set the bar high again and see if we can hit 850 on the review count…but even if we don't, please remember that leaving reviews may be the best way to let me know you appreciate my work and it would be a great belated Christmas present/ring in the New Year to me as well. And remember, the more reviews you leave then the faster I push out the next chapter - hint hint nudge nudge. It's in your hands, my fellow readers!

That's all for now. Take care and stay safe.


Serious Sam