I'm extremely sorry for the delay. Turns out, I forgot to post it here after posting on AO3, where interface is easier for me to deal withYuujin - loyal friend.
Chapter 675 left me furious. No more manga reading for me until Naruto is the Hokage or the Leader of Shinobi Alliance.

Originally this chapter was intended to be rather short - about four or five pages. But I got so caught up in that new character and now it's twenty one!
Anyway, maybe the next one will be shorter, it'll resolve around Naruto again, then we'll learn what's going on with the rest of our adventurers.
Your feedback and kudos make me warm and procrastinate my work 3 keep on, please!Although this chapter is a disaster, I'm stumbling through my writer's block. Help?)

Inuzuka Hiro was a fascinating product of a fleeting affair between Inuzuka Yoshi and Nara Tamotsu. After giving birth, frivolous Yoshi had suddenly realized how much blood she had shed and decided to join the monks at Fire Temple, which decision she had carried out almost immediately, leaving a newborn girl to survive in a truly shinobi way.

The ever belligerent Inuzukas claimed the child, declaring that the mother's side had always been considered domineering in their customs. For obvious reasons, they met little to no opposition - Tamotsu had never expected to delve into that affair deeper than simple pleasure, and Shikaku couldn't force him.

So Hiro grew up in and outside the pack at the same time - one of their own, but without parents to guide and provide care. As a result of that strange half-abandonment and deeply rooted issues she had grown up an average Academy student, a moderate genin, a middling chuunin and an astonishingly competent jounin. Her mixed heritage gifted Hiro with deep insightfulness and highest levels of observation and strategical thinking, which she realized in madly energetic bursts of energy and feral force. Of course, such mix was making her next to be unbearable to any Inuzuka or Nara, so she had only her Yuujin and a small house at the edge of Inuzuka grounds.

She lived quietly, with only her traumas and occasional missions to entertain her when boredom attacked, so an order from Hokage took her completely off guard.

Students? Kids? Is he kidding?

Was she really supposed to teach?

Hiro tried talking with the Third, persuading him and even begging, but he was unyielding and in the end she had to accept the fact that being a soldier, even a high-ranking one, put her at the mercy of her general.

She was in a gloomy mood these sunny days and only looked at ever lively Yuujin and took pleasure from it. Hiro had always wanted to be left in peace and be accepted by anybody - then she had been given her precious, precious Yuujin and her place, and life had been so wonderful! In her opinion, kids were supposed to be taught by someone able to cope with their inner demons, which she avoided. Hiro was consciously avoiding a lot: any chance meeting with her father, any news about her mother, her relatives from both clans and even fellow jounins. She just liked to be herself, and the only one she trusted to be honest was her Yuujin.

Students graduated twice a year, to the rhythm of the Chuunin Exams, so that the best teams or craziest teachers had some time to get prepared. Hiro dearly wished it would have been happening rarer, maybe that way she'd have escaped that questionable honour.

Hiro puffed a breath and opened the first dossier. Rokuro Ishikawa, 12 years old, son of Naoki and Tomoko Ishikawa, the sixth of nine sons (well, didn't his parents have a fertile imagination!) in a family of merchants traders. Obviously, his relatives thought it would be better for him to become a ninja and provide for himself than to further divide an inheritance. Academy reports were not very promising; intelligence: average, taijutsu: average, basic ninjutsu: average, had seals: slightly above average, cooperation: prefers passive roles or to fade into background, quirks: keeping distance, avoiding contacts, ignoring which is possible, consciousness of the self: hard to distinguish, most probably is present (what kind of ninja teachers were there, Hiro bemoaned), self-sufficiency: present.

That last note drove Hiro out of her wits. What kind of dimwit had written that?! She needed a decent file, not that blubbering.

Next case shown her a slightly more pleasant character: a Shimura Sango. All marks above average or higher, very decent grades at genjutsu and cooperation, slightly dampened by a 'weak' consciousness of the self. Oh, well, that remained to be seen.

The third dossier Hiro didn't like, because she wasn't keen on the idea of having her hair painted pink or something else. Great. Uzumaki Naruto in her team - just great! Hiro let out a little howl and skimmed the contents: below acceptable, below, below, below, uncooperative, oh, whoa, wait.

The lines with 'consciousness of the self' and 'self-sufficiency' were crossed out and there was added with someone's very firm writing 'high, stable, adult-level'. That puzzled Hiro a little - who had enough nerve to spoil an official report? She skimmed to the bottom, where the same handwriting noted about 'taij.- good, shuriken - ch. level' and applied files.

Which turned out to be parts of ANBU reports. Seen on ANBU training grounds once, twice, eight times, caught twice; caught in I&T main facilities, evaded and ran away before interrogation, seen practicing… tree walking?

Well, that was interesting, the chance of the reports being someone's (Naruto's) prank were next to impossible; all in all, Uzumaki was one puzzling character, able enough to sneak into ANBU grounds on a daily basis and even escape chasing. Add to that years of neglect, teacher abuse (which screamed from every letter in report), chuunin-level shuriken skills and treewalking training and Hiro got one puzzle. And she hated puzzles for the sole fact that she had always been unable to resist them.

Alright, Uzumaki Naruto, we'll see-

Yuujin stopped and cocked his head a little, then jumped to his master in three funny, cautious steps; Hiro shot up straight, flinging out her kunai.

"Whoa, that's a greeting." a most unexpected guest mumbled, easily evading her attack.

Hiro looked at Hatake Kakashi and decided she needed to spend less time under the sun. Just to make sure she sniffed the air and came to the conclusion that her visitor was quite real.

"Hatake-san" she mumbled, moving away. Sure, his body language indicated 'lazy, incapable pervert' from any angle, but Hiro herself had spent many hours teaching her body and face how to reveal only lies.

"Inuzuka-san." the jounin replied politely. "What a lovely house you've got here."

"Please cut it, Hatake-san," the woman interrupted, "I'll gladly listen to whatever you have to say without unnecessary pleasantries."

That sounded a bit rude and dismissive, but Hatake didn't seem offended, in fact, he didn't seem to hear her at all. But then he shrugged.

"I've heard a rumour that you were assigned a team."

"I do not accept congratulations."

"Why, aren't you glad to have a trio of cute little genin calling you 'sensei'?" Hatake deadpanned without changing his posture or intonations.

Judziro growled.

"Ah, you're absolutely right, I digress." Kakashi shrugged.

That time Hiro growled slightly and met a cold, calculating gaze. Hatake's single eye bore into her, and although she had always been a brave warrior of her village, Hiro felt threatened and defenceless and what was worse, defeated under the scrutiny, .

Hatake turned away and everything ended; Hiro allowed herself to relax a little, her guest's stance did not change an inch.

"I just wanted to see the person who'll be in charge of such an interesting team."

Yuujin sat at her feet and nudged her knee a little. Hiro sank her fingers into the soft coat on the dog's neck and frowned. "What exactly do you find interesting? Boring boy, Shimura girl of the Kyuubi brat?"

Ah, oh, the gaze was at her again, only briefly, and despite its horrible threat, Hiro let her brain speed up.

What had caused it? Hatake was hardly one to be offended at possible coldness or rudeness, moreover, his body language still betrayed nothing. They met a few times and only briefly, but the jounin held a reputation of a rotten human being and an exemplary shinobi.

Could it be her remark about her potential students? If so, why the first stare?

And why was he at her place at all? Her team was a plausible explanation - after all, it was the only event in her life somewhat interesting to an outsider.

Hatake couldn't be interested in the merchant boy - too different lifestyles. Shimura girl? Probably; Hatake had been in ANBU, if rumours didn't lie, and Danzou was a well-known and a powerful figure in Konoha military society, he could afford sending a jounin just to check on a teacher. But in that case Hatake seemed to be an inappropriate candidate: the Hatakes had never been too close to the Shimuras, besides Hatake Kakashi was the Fourth's student, and Danzou's opinion about Yondaime was quite well-known.

And don't forget the Kyuubi brat. He seemed to be the most likely reason to the visit.

"So, is this about Uzumaki?" Hiro asked frankly.

The jerk didn't even twitch, only stared boredly at her. "Eh? Did Naruto-chan prank you or something?"

"Naruto-chan?" Inuzuka shot back and her nostrils flared at his (again) disinterested stare. "I'm sure he will soon, why, tomorrow he'll have a perfect opportunity."

Hatake nodded sagely, scratching his chin and looking somewhere above Hiro's head. "You're right, Inuzuka-san, although I think he may not be waiting until tomorrow."

"Do you know something?" Hiro perked despite herself.

Her guest shrugged and shook his head. "You never know with him."

"Right." Hiro frowned. "And you came only to enlighten me on that?"

Hatake still wouldn't look at her. "Honestly, Inuzuka-san, I just came to look at someone who got that unique team. Thank you for your hospitality."

"No need, I don't think I'll be able to forgive myself if I let my guest go without even drinking some tea." Hiro bared her sharp teeth. 'Oh, no,' she thought, 'whatever you came for, I'll find out.'

Another riddle. Her blood boiled.

Hatake bowed and gushed and refused and they spend another ten or so minutes only on formalities until Hiro won.

She just forced all that mess of fake smiles and sweet refusals indoors and locked the door.

Hatake made a properly shocked, scared face. "Inuzuka-san, I swear I give up, I won't ever refuse your without any doubt delic-"

"Cut it, Hatake-san." Hiro seethed through her feral smile. "I rarely have guests, especially as considerate as you, I just can't imagine - you decided to drop your without doubt important duties only to look at your fellow jounin." she smiled and Hatake beamed in return.

He was unbearable!

"Let's be frank, Hatake-san, I do not enjoy your company, and one of possible explanations I see is that you decided to check on me for someone else; then please tell Shimura-san that if he doubts me he can very well choose another, more suitable sensei."

Wasn't she a risky girl, Hiro thought with sudden dread, Her adrenaline disappeared, leaving her in a very unpleasant situation.

Hatake looked bored. "I think Shimura-san can also choose more suitable person to check on you."

"Then you are here because of Uzumaki."

Bored, bored, bored. Hiro would bet Hatake defeated his opponents by causing heart attacks with his uninterested stare.

"Spill whatever you want."

Hatake's mask stretched at the bottom - he smiled. "I don't like you."

Hiro raised her brows and stared. Yuujin, her brilliant beloved, cocked his head, catching the word's meaning but failing at interpreting the speaker's intention.

"Is that all?"

Kakashi shrugged and stared at her dog.

Hiro tried to be unaffected, but that coming from Hatake Kakashi was just - he was near perfection as a shinobi, and almost opposite as a person, she didn't know whether be wounded or offended.

She was an Inuzuka.

"You don't know me as a ninja, and I refuse to hear any criticism from someone with social behavior like yours." Hiro shot at him, nostrils flaring.

"Ah, but I was meaning you as a teacher." Hatake smiled. "Don't start, Inuzuka-san, I know I'm not a very good teacher material myself, but I'm just not interested, you know, in hopeless cases, not opposed to looking at potentially good comrades unbiasedly."

Hiro inhaled through her teeth and forced the air out through her nose, bewildered. "So this is about Uzumaki. Well, pardon me for not wanting to become an object for pranking."

"Of course of course" Hatake sang with the same bored stare. "That's clear, can I go?"

Yuujin barked questioningly at him.

Hiro did not like being threatened, and she felt threatened. Hatake wasn't someone to brush off without any concern, he most likely rivaled her in intellect and undoubtedly surpassed in power and experience.

"Tell me what got you so interested, Hatake-san, and I won't ever force you to spend a moment with me."

The jounin looked up at her again, the same cold, endless stare - why need a Sharingan, when that stare alone, without any killer intent was quite devastating. even for a veteran like Hiro.

"I wish I could trust you." Hatake said and Hiro choked at the insult; her calculating Nara part was battling the raging Inuzuka one. "But let's just accept the fact that even the ANBU gossip, and you can easily learn that I've been in ANBU. And watching Konoha's… best weapon is a job for Konoha's best. In fact, you can easily see them, that is not a mission for stealth, just a warning."

Suddenly, he seemed a little agitated, his breath slightly uneven and posture stiffer. So that was what got Konoha's Copy Nin so riled up - he knew Uzumaki, maybe spend more than a few tasks watching the brat and now felt protective. And obviously disappointed.

While Hiro didn't care about Hatake's acceptance, but the fact that someone as indifferent and as scarred as Hatake Kakashi had taken great pains to check on his former charge's teacher was telling. Hatake was interested, interested greatly, to the point of stating his displeasure.

It was time to switch her Nara side on - full force.

"Aah, I am sorry for my rudeness, then, Hatake-san." Hiro replied, not too sweetly, not rudely. "Maybe then you tell me about my possible student? So that I won't be biased."

Hatake gave her only one look, but it clearly indicated that her tactic was on the verge of failure. "I'm not extremely unbiased myself, Inuzuka-san."

"I heard bad news, you've got good, I think, let's make it even!"

Hiro's guest tapped his chin and gave her a cold stare. "Do ANBU records and Atsushi-sensei's recommendations count as bad news?"

Inuzuka frowned. "That was Atsushi's remarks?" Oh, well, he definitely had the guts and the right to write in any Academy records whatever he wanted. And now she really was interested.

"Ah, then please tell me, what's the boy's potential? Was he really as hindered in the Academy as I think? Does he have guts to not only act up but go against an enemy, face any hardship, obey a teacher or a team leader? He most likely strives for attention and acts up, that's understandable, his actions are easily explained that way. But if so, even ANBU can be indulging, especially facing their charge. That doesn't explain Ibiki, though…" Hiro frowned. Ibiki would be indulging no one until they proved worthy of him not smashing them with killer intent.

"Oh, you're right. Sometimes he was allowed to sneak away, or, to be precise, to think that he sneaked away, but as of lately, as far as I know, he managed to escape for real. And as for guts of potential - his family name has proved enough in creativity and bravery."

"Uzumakis? Is that his real surname? Ah, yes, it would be stupid otherwise, but the only Uzumaki Konoha had was Kushina-senpai, if I remember," was it even possible to forget someone like Uzumaki Kushina? "but I'd never have thought she'd have a child, she had always been alone, all boys were scared away by-"

Hiro paled and fell silent. She remembered bright, fervent, loud Uzumaki Kushina, and how many young men had been discussing her hot temper and trained, strong body. But no one would have gotten near her, because no one had been brave enough. Brave enough to face the man whose gentle nature had been disappearing as far as Kushina-koi's safety had been involved. He had been so smitten it seemed ridiculous - and Kushina had used it at every possible opportunity, and laughed at him, and teased him-

And apparently had given birth to the child with her temper but with her loyal admirer's coloring.

Oh, Kami, how many blue-eyed nordic blonds did Konoha ever have? The fear and prejudice ran deep and blinded well, no one ever made any connection.

When Hiro looked up she saw Hatake's narrowed eye and his stance had nothing lazy about it. He was watching her coming to an unavoidable conclusion, and his stare promised nothing good. Hatake was to blame himself, frankly, if he didn't mention Uzumakis, Hiro most likely wouldn't even connect the dots, but that was beyond the point - she did, and now she had a hostile, most likely desperate Hatake Kakashi in her house.

"I have always respected Kushina-senpai," Hiro said quickly, but not too rapidly, "I still do, and I also feel only respect towards… Naruto's father. As a Leaf ninja and their kouhai I have no intention to reveal his origins to anyone."

How could they do this to their child? It did seem unavoidable now; naming anyone Uzumaki was a risky step, not as risky as Namikaze, but still. And his temper, love for pranking and that unmistakingly bright wild mane… Naruto was Kushina's son, Kushina's and her hopeless admirer of a Hokage. And they had made him a Jinchuuriki?

"Does he know about them?" Hiro asked and smiled wryly at Hatake's raised eyebrow. Of course not: who would risk revealing it to Konoha's loudest citizen?

He couldn't be as bad as the Academy painted him. Hiro bit her lower lip and her nostrils flared. Even a tenth of Naruto's heritage would make him extraordinary, but she had seen only 'belows'.

Her Inuzuka side howled and blasted any logic aside. "They didn't teach him a thing! They most likely sabotaged his practical lessons and- ugh! And lowered his marks on written tests! Was he allowed additional classes? Or nobody bothered to tell him that they exist at all! Whose bright idea was that to reveal his status to the village?! Why was he chosen if his parents were at risk or… already… dead." Hiro stumbled and saw red. Why, it had been a perfect opportunity, because nobody would object.

"It was sensei's wish." Hatake said. "Both his and Kushina-san's. Because nobody else would agree, they had no time and, well, I still think sensei was too hopeful, but he really wanted for everybody to see Jinchuurikis in a different light."

Hiro shook her head in disbelief. "He was a fool to think that. His own son."

"His own wife, his own son." Hatake cut in and frowned. "After all, I seem to trust you, Inuzuka-san. Take care of him."

She nodded, then scowled. "Wait, can't you take the team? I won't object, I'll personally beg Hokage to do it."

After all, it would only be right - for Hatake to teach his sensei's son.

"I'm afraid that's impossible. I'm still on rehab after ANBU. And, in half a year, I think, graduates Uchiha Sasuke."

Hiro nodded and frowned at Hatake's somber expression. "Will you tell me about him? I promise not to poison you with my tea."

He flinched a little and then slowly assumed the same air of indifference and laziness. "Why, of course, I have very high poison resistance."

Only much, much later did Hiro frown and look at her loyal Yuujin. 'His own wife?'

Where did Kyuubi come from that night so long ago?

The first one to fight the Nine-Tails had been Hashirama Senju, he had fought all nine beasts and contained them with the help of his prodigious wife, Uzumaki Mito.

The Uzumakis were called 'the Seal Gods'.

Hiro raised her eyes at her small collection of books.

Tomorrow, she'll meet Konoha's wildest inhabitant ever.

Tonight, she'll dive into Konoha's history.

In the end, she dropped dead on the opened book and even overslept a little. In her haste, Hiro forgot to drink her usual oolong and felt her mood spiralling downwards. She was late for a few minutes and blamed Hatake for that. Kids, who were neither cute nor genin yet, was staring at her. She didn't like them, though Yuujin did: he sniffed the girl and gave a little noise of approval, and Uzumaki was met with a sneeze of acceptance.

Ishikawa, Shimura and Uzumaki were all staring at her, but with so different expressions - there were fear and stubbornness, awe and desperation and calculation and expectation. Hiro sneered at Uzumaki, who stood calmly next to the girl and studied his sensei. The boy didn't react, if only for the slight twitch of his right eye, and then Hiro smelt irritation, it appeared - and was gone.

"Alright, brats." she barked, moving to the teacher's desk. "The introduction. My name is Inuzuka Hiro, I like tofu and dislike carrots, my hobby is to sleep, your turn."

They blinked at her, but just when obedient Shimura opened her mouth, Uzumaki began, smiling charmingly. "I'm Uzumaki Naruto, I like lots of things, dislike very few and consider my hobby to be any new activity I like."

They stared at him. Damn brat, thought Hiro with irritation, that speech reeks of Hatake.

Shimura looked at him with a bit of fear and began. "My name is Shimura Sango, I like my cat and dislike fishing. My hobby is knitting."

Damn, what a homely kunoichi they had there.

"Name is Ishikawa Rokuro. I don't have any preferences and I dislike insects. My hobby is reading outdoors."

Kami give her patience, she was given one failure of a team. One knitting lover, one passive talentless jerk and one- well, although Uzumaki revealed even less than Ishikawa, he actually did that rather… right, acting as if he couldn't decide what to tell, not hiding anything.

Ah, well, as was said in one old ballad, a little less conversation a little more action.

"Okay, kids. Before everything, I want to know what you are capable of. So… you have four hours - and the whole of Academy grounds. Find me."

Hiro jumped out of the window and up, up, on the roof, pumped chakra to her ears and listened. Yuujin decided to bask under the sun in the middle of the training field.

Shimura was breathing fast and heavy, Ishikawa finally showed some emotions besides obstinacy and smelt of uncertainty. Uzumaki was sniffing. His bright chakra almost shadowed the other two.

"She masked her smell." He said finally, exited. "No doubt she won't move or will move silently, so I don't think hearing will help."

He was able to sniff her, wasn't he? Little exiting brat, Hiro grinned and ordered her heart to beat slower, slower.

"That leaves only sight." Shimura said, hesitating.

"For that, people have genjutsu." Uzumaki interrupted and suddenly started pacing. "she's an Inuzuka, a tracker, she knows firsthand how to find a person, so she knows how to hide best. Academy grounds are big, there are windows everywhere, searching for her is pointless."

Don't think you are such a smartass, kiddo.

"We can use the dog." Ishikawa said. Uzumaki stopped pacing.

"Inuzuka dogs don't betray their owners, or, no, friends, companions, whatever they think of Inuzukas. They are too smart and cunning - they are not pets."

Damn you smart, informed boy, that's even better than flattery. Hiro watched as Yuujin turned his nose towards the classroom and sighed, his tail twitching ever so slightly.

Uzumaki stilled, his heartbeat made two fast beats and the boy exhaled. "You are not serious, asshole!"

"That is as good tactic as any." Ishikawa said lowly, his irritation finally audible.

"Idiot, that dog will kill you before you even get near it. Him. He'll smell your intentions and attack first. Or just jump away, if he's not in the mood for chewing you. That's a jounin's dog, an Inuzuka dog."

Bullseye again, Uzumaki.

"If you are so clever, offer something better." Ishikawa hissed, obviously livid; his heartbeat drummed ferally, breathing was heavy albeit controlled and he stank of adrenaline.

Uzumaki's pulse kept its calm pace. "I say we better wander around and pray for luck. Or sleep here. Maybe sensei gets bored and finds us first."

Ishikawa's heart sped up further; there was one single step, Shimura gasped and stumbled into something, then everything became calm again. Strong, heavy smell of fear followed the silence. Yuujin sneezed and blinked.

Uzumaki jumped out of the window, neared the dog, fell on his ass and started talking. His words were mostly gibberish, with a few coherent thoughts, but Hiro watched him nonetheless. She didn't understand what had happened earlier; everything indicated that Ishikawa was ready to let himself loose; because of Uzumaki's reputation as a deadlast, or maybe the fact that someone denied and criticised him so boldly. But he didn't, he couldn't, he was ready and he scared Shimura, but then he became scared himself, so scared that he still couldn't move and calm down his body. What was it? There was silence from Uzumaki, absolute silence, no smell of hostile chakra, no feeling of killer intent, nothing, nothing, even kunai make a sound when taken out, but Hiro had heard nothing.

Shimura decided to join Uzumaki. She was still scared, but she feared Ishikawa more than her second teammate. Yuujin basked in their joined praises, although Hiro couldn't hear any trace of begging from them. Smart infuriating kids, did they really want to bore her to death?

"Aah, gomen-gomen, Sango-chan, I need to go." Uzumaki said sheepishly.

"Home?" Shimura asked with surprise.

"Nah, I just… for a minute." The boy scratched behind his neck and Shimura let out a giggle.

Ishikawa was moving through the Academy building.

They managed to miss each other while Uzumaki had his time in the bathroom, but when he went out they both halted.

Some of the teachers cut himself with a paper knife and swore, leaving Hiro's sensitive ears ringing. A boy entered the gates and the jounin briefly wondered if any additional classes were really held this late.

Ishikawa's adrenaline level was rising again, sporadically, although he continued on without saying a word. Uzumaki was sniffing the air again.

Then, mere seconds before the Kyuubi container reached the door to the training grounds - he was strangely calm and quiet and smelt funny - Ishikawa's heartbeat skyrocketed along with his smell of fear and something which Hiro sensed from frustrated people, unsatisfied with their lives but who saw no way out. He was nearing Uzumaki rapidly, for a newbie genin even silently, and Hiro heard his palm collide with the wall with a crack and felt chakra flare in something suspiciously like doton jutsu.

The killer intent boomed right that instant and Hiro jumped at its strength, ready to deflect an attack. Yuujin sprang on its feet, Shimura whimpered and scrambled behind the dog, stumbling for her kunai.

The heavy, suffocating wave hit Ishikawa a moment before Hiro landed before her dog and a body collided into the poor boy. Inuzuka saw the attacker and took a step back before hiding on a tree. Uzumaki was whipping his head back and forth, sniffing the air. Yuujin kept his head low, standing before Shimura.

Ishikawa choked on air, and Uzumaki hurried to him, grabbing the attacker's hand.

"Are you mad? Stop it, you'll kill him."

But Uchiha Sasuke kept on choking his victim, his lips pressed so tight together his face became a grimace.

"I said stop it." Uzumaki shot. Hiro nearly fell from her tree, Uchiha dropped Ishikawa as if hit and turned to the other boy.

They stared at each other for a few moments, then Uchiha turned away and his killer intent vanished completely.

"What are you doing here?" Uzumaki asked. Now he smelt irritated.

"Just passing by" That one smelt of anger, irritation and anxiety.

"Don't give me that! You're- what was it for?!"

Uchiha hissed. "Do you enjoy having holes in you?"

"I could very well defend myself!"

"Against that cowardly backstabbing trash? You?"

"Me! What are you doing here, I ask you!"

"Don't ask me idiotic questions, you retard, you know very well what, and I was right."

"You! You mule-headed-" Uzumaki gasped and fell silent, gaping.

Ishikawa was coming to life and gulping on air. Uchiha turned to him, crouched low. "If I ever sence you thinking about something like that again, I'll choke you with your own guts, you trash."

"Ow, cut it, you." Uzumaki cried, grabbing Uchiha's collar and dragged the boy back in the Academy. Where were the teachers? Was it normal for Uchiha to flare a jounin killer intent?

"I think I gave in enough, don't try to persuade me." Uchiha intoned. His heartbeat was uneven now, he smelt anxious.

"Gave in? Sasuke, you moron. It's a wonder nobody jumped on you with that burst."

There was a rustling of a cloth - Uchiha shrugged and asked "What's your task?"

Uzumaki grumbled something under his nose and yelped again. "No! Agh! That is a teamwork task anyway, now you almost killed one of my teammates-

Uchiha's pulse sped up

-and made Inuzuka-sensei suspicious. I saw her, she was ready to attack you! Agh, Sasuke, he couldn't kill me, that was beyond unnecessary!" He exhaled. "And don't even think about it. And don't help us. Me. Don't you have training?"

Uchiha made a strange, strangled noise, his pulse heavy and frantic suddenly.

"Oh, just- wait for me here, then, or wherever you like. In any case, I don't have patience to wait anymore."

Uzumaki went out again and looked at still ashen Ishikawa. Shimura was watching him with concerned eyes and moved away when Uchiha followed Uzumaki outside, leaning on the wall.

Hiro felt her eyelid twitching.

"Sango-chan, Sango-chan!" Uzumaki called and grinned. That smile promised nothing good. The boy whispered something to her, so close that even Hiro couldn't catch anything. Yuujin came closer, but Uzumaki only moved away, sticking out his tongue.

Shimura looked so bewildered and suddenly she slapped the boy so hard he stumbled around and back. Uchiha tensed, but the girl only rushed to Ishikawa and began gushing over him. Uzumaki blinked and inhaled a few times, his face so confused it looked like a child's.

And then he let the air out in one massive shout.


Yuujin jumped away with a short bark, Hiro stumbled and lost her balance and immediately had to dodge Shimura's kunai. Uzumaki was close when she jumped away, his hand nearly tracing Hiro's shoulder. Her ears were ringing.

Sneaky brat, she knew that smile promised nothing good.

Hiro jumped again and shunshined into the Academy.

"Atsushi-sensei." She yelped, taking a step back. "Where is your staff?"

"Busy not interfering with a jounin trial. Or hiding from the recent burst."

Hiro sputtered, "That wasn't me." and heard something resembling fast footsteps at the end of the hall. Uzumaki!

Atsushi shrugged "I know."

But she was leaping away. Pulse - calm, smell - at the lowest, speed - at the highest. How was the brat following?

Hiro was faster, but Uzumaki was just as stubborn and had a monstrous stamina.

"Sensei!" He cried at the fifth round. "That's just silly, if you stop now I'll tell you how I did it."

So she stopped. Not because of his reasoning, or because she agreed that it was silly, but mostly because his words of 'stop it' earlier still rang in her ears.

Uzumaki came closer, gave her a shining smile and opened his palm.

Little, impossible brat! He put a tracking seal on her!

Hiro grabbed his palm, already slightly rough and losing baby fat, and fixed her eyes on the seal - all right, a standard one, Hiro had seen hundreds of them.

"You," she managed, bewildered. "where?"

Uzumaki smiled wider and scratched the back of his neck. He felt like a satisfied and happy Kushina-senpai.

"Nevermind." Hiro growled and began tousling the boy's mane roughly. "you little sneaky punk, you knew the task, made them work for you, little gangster, you."

They stumbled to the training grounds, fighting and pushing each other.

"I decided to keep you for a while, whiners." Hiro announced and let Uzumaki's hair go, but immediately grabbed his shoulders and bent on one level with his eyes.

"I'll let you deal with your crazy pal, but-" his eyes were too serious, Hiro's brain whirled. "-not always. Now go and take him with you. Tomorrow, in front of my house, at nine."

Uzumaki nodded and jogged to his teammates. He smiled to Shimura, nodded to Ishikawa carefully and waved to Yuujin, little flatterer.

Uchiha was watching him carefully, and when Uzumaki neared him, took off, letting the shorter boy go first. Hiro raised her brows - Uchiha fell in step momentarily, slightly to the right and behind until Uzumaki glanced back and forcefully made his companion walk next to him.

One step behind, half a step to the right.

Uchiha was performing a classic and flawless flanking.

"That's good you're here." Hiro told Hatake when she spotted him hear her house. She almost began asking him about his former charge, but took a good look at her guest and decided against it.

Hatake's vest spotted a magnificent slash at the front, and jonin was sagging slightly and smelling of blood.

Was Uzumaki really that wonderful to drop everything and run check on him at the first possibility?

"Hatake-san." Hiro began, but her guest waved tiredly.

"I'm really too used to people calling me Kakashi. What's happened?"

Hiro shook her head and let him to her living room. "Uzumaki is talented, that's true. And extremely unpredictable. I'm not worried about him, really. I just have a scumbag in my team. But that scumbag was nearly killed today."

Hatake narrowed his eye.

"And by Uchiha Sasuke, no less! Kakashi-san, your possible student has very troubling killer intent."

He shot forward, eye intent.

"Do you know anything about it? He practically choked Ishikawa."

"What's happened?" Hatake asked.

"I don't really know. They had to track me, I listened to them. Ishikawa is no ninja, no potential at all; I mean, mentally. They argued with Uzumaki a little, though I can't say they really argued, just had a strong disagreement, and Uzumaki called his plans stupid. Which they were. And he - Ishikawa - didn't like it. And then he decided to attack Uzumaki. Really! And did it like a last coward, ugh, what shinobi sneaks on their own comrades?"

Kakashi shrugged, as if indicating that he had never been above sneaking on people.

"Anyway, before he could even hit Uzumaki, that lunatic appeared and started choking Ishikawa, but not before spotting a killer intent of an experienced veteran. And for Kami's sake he was flanking Uzumaki. Atsushi also - what did he mean with that 'I know'? What? Does Uchiha bursts into killing spree at any given moment?"

"There's a rather sad story behind it, Inuzuka-san." Hatake began without sadness.

"Out with it, I have a name too, you know. And I like sad stories. They are realistic."

Hatake looked ponderous. "You know Sasuke's childhood, I suppose. And can imagine Naruto's. They are not exactly alike, but very similar. I don't know what's happened to trigger Sasuke's behavior, but he considers Naruto to be reckless and easy to get himself killed."

Hiro frowned. "He's acting like an obsessed."

"That he does." Hatake confirmed, looking somewhere out of the window. "Naruto is very different to him, to a lot of people actually, and I think that Sasuke is just too afraid to lose such person. Although it's very interesting about flanking, who might have thought? Ah, yes, his behavior is not normal, but he is from an… abnormal family and the Uchihas always let their brains too much freedom."

"I don't like it. His killer intent I can explain, even if it's abnormal, but I can't have some Academy lunatic running around and acting as if Uzumaki is his commander."

Hiro stopped herself and furrowed her brows. Why would an Uchiha allow some punk order him around? Obsessive behavior did not include obeying and flanking. That flanking still did not seem right to Hiro.

"The problem is, Hiro-san." Kakashi leaned forward and was completely serious. "that ANBU have missions regarding Sasuke too, and any can tell that he is not suitable even for Academy lessons. But he will graduate and be allowed to progress further."

"Because he's an Uchiha." Hiro finished.

"An? He is the Uchiha, our last precious scion." Kakashi sang without bile. "He's not allowed to be a bad ninja. And as far as everyone is concerned his childish obsessions will end soon."

"But he's allowed anything else. Thank you. What will you do if he's in your team?"

Kakashi smiled and Hiro understood perfectly that his future team would function, regardless of obsessions.

Hatake left, satisfied with Naruto's behaviour, but Hiro was feeling uneasy. She did not like a lot of things: Ishikawa's behaviour and reactions, Shimura's general spinelessness, although, to the girl's credit, she managed to function under that sick bomb of a killer intent and even did a sound thing, then went Uchiha Sasuke as the whole concept and Uzumaki's calmness. He was too damn calm all the time; his heartbeat rarely sped up, breathing was controlled and very quiet.

But he was an orphan, not just any orphan, but one who actually had to survive and strived to become a ninja, making every possible feat for that.

She had two useless people and one unknown factor with a sick appendix in her team.

Hiro dropped her head. It would be the end of her.

Her team proved to be as Hiro expected: the no-ninja, the spineless and the wild.

Uzumaki complained about missions, Shimura came more depressed every passing day and Ishikawa oozed his dislike.

Sometimes Hiro caught a glimpse of Uchiha, when they were ready to make it to their homes after training or a mission, but he never got near and left with Uzumaki without a word.

A week came by, then another, and they made a month. That was a long time to learn even a little about anybody, but their team was cursed, it seemed, with disfunction. But any team had a leader for that reason - to make it work. And Hiro did not think it fair to create additional problems for the kids just because she wasn't able to deal with her own. Hatake said at that that she was too mature for him and should stop asking him how to deal with Uzumaki.

He was a ridiculous man.

Uzumaki lived in a vilest neighbourhood of Konoha; Yuujin was constantly sneezing at the trash people left in the streets. It was her best option: Uzumaki was the most determined and, strangely, open in her team. Even Ishikawa stopped stinking like crazy adrenaline generator every time the boys bumped elbows.

Hiro spotted no ANBU, Uzumaki was an adult now and was considered to be able to stand for himself. The smell led her to a thin door and Hiro frowned - there were a whole bunch of smells, most of them artificial, and somebody was breathing inside. She knocked, and the breathing silenced for a moment, then quickened. I wasn't Uzumaki's breathing, and he was always calm. Hiro jerked the door and came face to face with a horrified young woman in a pale blue worn out kimono.

"Who are you?" She growled. That door was more for show than for anything else. The woman was backing away with fear, someone was coming up in a hurry. Yuujin sneezed again and bumped Hiro's thigh slightly. She threw a glance at him - her dog whined and sniffed the air again, sneezed, sniffed and finally sat before the woman, turning his head round.

"Who are you?!" Hiro heard from behind and saw another woman, even younger, not even in her twenties, with a fiercest expression. She took a look at Hiro's vest and paled slightly, although did not back away. Yuujin sneezed again, her poor friend, and the girl looked at him sharply.

"Are you Naruto's sensei?" She asked, standing before Hiro as if ready to fight. The jounin smiled: if only her own student had even half of that boldness.

"I actually am."

"Oh? He's not here, he's training with- ah- one of his friends, I think."

Hiro smiled politely, not missing a stumble and a cover up. Those two were obviously prostitutes, and their smells were all over Naruto's flat, but there were even more, of another three women.

"Can I wait for him here?" Hiro asked politely. The woman behind squeaked, the girl smiled just as politely. "Of course, Inuzuka-san, if you don't mind our society."

Hiro gave an even sweeter smile. "Not at all."

They stared at each other for a while. The girl bowed. "My name is Ume, and that is Aimi. Nice to meet you." She entered the flat and closed the door.

"I didn't know that Naruto had roommates."

Ume laughed politely. "We didn't know he would have guests, we are sorry, and we do not live here, just help him."

"I decided to come unexpected."

"I hope nothing happened to your team, I heard only the best from Naruto."

"He tends to exaggerate sometimes, but nothing happened." Hiro replied and her smile froze in place. That girl dared to interrogate her! The nerve of her. But she liked that, if only for the fact that her own student didn't have that much fire in her eyes.

"Maybe I can help?" The jounin asked, watching as the girl took an old shirt and began darning countless little holes.

"Thank you, but you're doing enough."

Hiro was stuck between being offended and nonplussed. She didn't understand what the girl meant: that she was a good teacher or a very bad one?

Yuujin perked up and raised his ears. Uzumaki's voice rang through thin walls.

"That jerk doesn't know what he's doing! He just likes laughing at Brows-sensei and watch me running away from the shovel-face! Oh Aimi-san, I- Inuzuka-sensei?" He carefully called from his tiny hall.

"That's me." Hiro smirked and watched the boy enter with another woman, tall and almost regal in her bearing. She glanced at Ume and frowned slightly at Hiro.

"Something wrong?" Uzumaki asked again, just as warily.

"I became bored." His sensei deadpanned. "You are not behaving like cute little genins that you are, so I decided to get closer to you myself. Although I don't know if I'll manage with so much competition."

Uzumaki looked dumbstruck, then smiled joyfully and shyly at her. His smile was too infectious.

"Ah, well, welcome, sensei, you met Aimi-san and Ume-neechan, and that's Manami-neesan."

"They are your sisters?" Hiro half-asked.

"They are my friends," Uzumaki replied and became serious. "My very precious friends."

The women beamed at him at the same time, as if switched on. Manami put her hands on the boy's shoulders and squeezed them with affection. "You sit and spend some time with your sensei, I'll make some tea."

"Allow me, please." Hiro shot up, sensing that every diplomatic move she had was needed right that second. "So that we could create a perfectly idyllic atmosphere."

Manami looked at her and smiled in return, giving space in a small kitchenette. Naruto looked bewildered.

"They left us to fend to ourselves." He whined and Judziro whined in return, pushing the boy carefully with his nose.

"You are one amazing dog!" Uzumaki declared. "You are just unbelieveable."

His gushing and praising got him a happy low whine and a strong push of one powerful head.

"Ne, sensei, was he as small as Akamaru is?"

"Maybe even smaller." Hiro smirked and looked at the small, bright kettle.

She wasn't terribly surprised when a couple of women arrived; twins Kin and Gin, which wasn't very creative, but women in brothels rarely used they real names.

Uzumaki's tiny flat filled with giggling and smells of food. One of the twins was chopping down cucumbers in tiny transparent cubes. "I bet they didn't give you any food."

"Why, 'Maidofu-chan gave me an apple."

The twins frowned at him. "One apple is not enough."

"But sis!"

The second twin swatted the boy and took the plates from her sister's hands. "No buts, eat it now, or we'll confiscate your cups!"

Uzumaki gasped dramatically, but it was obvious that they performed in a routine show. The table was too small for all of them and Hiro explained that she ate with her clan early, which was a big fat lie, but it was the best she was able to come up with. Ume sat on a narrow window sill where was a small and thin cushion, and the girl seemed to occupy it often.

Uzumaki's flat faced south-east, and old buildings and maddeningly green trees outside were painted violet and cardinal. The air in the evenings was always fresher and lighter, wind had stilled and noises had died down. The girls went to work, hugging Uzumaki and throwing not-so-subtle glances at Hiro. The boy smiled and tried to evade them clumsily and wished them good luck and offered to accompany them to the brothel, which prompted more hugging, hair ruffling and even cooing. In the end, Uzumaki stood on a flimsy balcony which was his outer landing and watched them leave, chattering animatedly. When Manami, who was walking in the rear, turned to wave to him, Hiro caught his low whisper.

"Please, come at any opportunity."

He got no answer for Hiro to eavesdrop from spot (being so polite and sitting in the kitchen), but only sighed heavily and came back slightly downcast.

Honestly, Hiro had no idea why she hadn't become closer to the boy. She acknowledged her dislike for the other two, although it was more about contempt than dislike. She was a proud Konoha shinobi and she didn't want to waste her energy and time on someone who obviously was thinking lowly of their life. But Uzumaki was motivated, he was talented, attentive and had imagination to share. He was an almost ideal ninja material.

But he always was so calm, too attentive and unnaturally talented. His was not a talent of someone who masters stuff easily, it was more about knowing what he needed to do beforehand. Hiro couldn't make herself believe he actually had learnt everything due to his ANBU-sneaking tendencies. She saw too much trial and too little error.

And still she wasn't able to shake off her wariness of his calmness. He was a wild and random variable, and Hiro's Nara side was going wild not being able to define him.

Uzumaki was looking at her seriously and slightly guardedly from across his small kitchen. He looked tired and sleepy, it seemed cruel to bother him, but turning away now would probably only make the matters worse.

Hiro decided not to beat around the bush - she doubted he was bad at identifying a lie. "I saw you hanging around with Sango a few times, could you tell me a little about her? Because I seem to be not a very good sensei when it goes to people skills."

Uzumaki smiled. "At least you admit it, sensei."

He hopped on the windowsill - a black outline against farewell colours of the day. "Sango has a family full of jerks. Their leader is the mummy dude and wants everybody to be perfect shinobi." The boy huffed angrily. "He probably just hates everybody 'cause he is so ugly. And a mean bastard."

Hiro sighed at description because it fit perfectly. She didn't bother to scold the boy for his language - she doubted he was so very innocent given the usual behavior towards him and the fact that he had a bunch of prostitutes as his housewives.

"Wait. How do you know this mummy leader?" Hiro frowned. It was highly unlikely that Shimura Danzo would allow somebody like Naruto into his household; on the other hand, Uzumaki was the Jinchuuriki.

Her student shrugged. "I met him a few times at the Jiji's. He always looks like a giant mummy ass. And scoffs at me. Tried to scare me with his killer want once."

"Intent." Hiro corrected automatically and frowned. "When was it? Was it strong?"

Uzumaki moved to the table and shrugged again. "I dunno. I am often at Jiji's. And- I don't remember. Jiji came before I understood anything."

He yawned widely, sounding like an old hound. "And Sango-chan doesn't want to be a shinobi. She doesn't want to kill or do any harm, but she's afraid to tell her family. I told her - pass the Chuunin exams and they'll leave you be, but she doesn't even want to believe me! She can become a tokujou then, choose some- I dunno,- language studying or other and live as she wants. But no! She doesn't want to try, and she's very clever! And she envies me! Me!"

He huffed and punched the table. Hiro had never seen him so agitated; he smelt and felt aggravated and irritated, even angry.

"I don't wanna cheer her up any more, sensei. I think she is even more sad because of it."

Hiro frowned and felt her right eyelid twitching; her nostrils flared and the Nara side seemed to gallop into the oblivion under the coming of her wild half. Damn it, she was going to make their lives a living hell, except Hiro was sure Uzumaki would go mad with joy.

"You don't need to cheer her up anymore. In fact, you didn't. I'll talk to her myself."

"Eeh, Inuzuka-sensei, em, please, would you be, eh, like, I don't know, ttebayo, gentle? She cries often, and it's- meeh!"

Hiro burst out laughing and stood up. "Don't fret, dandelion head, I'll be attentive and gentle and extremely nice. And call me by my name, will you?"

Uzumaki raised his eyes and looked even younger than he was. "O-okay, sensei. Are you leaving already?"

"Don't pretend for me, I can see your bloodshot eyes. And no need to accompany me. Sleep tight and don't be late tomorrow. I have a surprise for you little genin." Damn phrase, Hiro sounded creepy even to herself.

"Now I won't sleep, sensei has a surprise." Uzumaki mumbled but obeyed and parted with his teacher at the door.

Hiro laughed loudly, like a true Inuzuka, and listened to him yawning and going to his bathroom. Pipes began to buzz lowly, and even the landing's floor was vibrating a little.

The skies were absolutely gorgeous that night - occasional fat clouds were gliding through them like giant silent black fish, they listened to the river chatting animatedly below and emphasised the deep rich colour of the sky. The stars were plump and winking at the stream, as if telling a shameful secret about the silent clouds from behind their backs.

Yuujin sighed and sniffed the air, as though feeling the air with his nimble nostrils; his fur seemed pitch black and silver under the stars.

Hiro felt strange apathy take over her, chasing away the tension of the last month. With a mood like that it would be great to lie down to sleep right in her yard, among gooseberry bushes and tiny flowers. But first, she needed to make sure she would be able to - she needed to feel less curiosity.

Hiro touched Yuujin's withers lightly and as usual, he understood her perfectly, lowered the muzzle and immediately picked up the scent.

Except for Uzumaki himself, nobody lived in the house, so it was no wonder the quiet disappeared when they moved away towards their destination.

Hiro was slightly surprised to find Manami-san walking towards her; it was early by the means of both shinobi and prostitutes.

The woman halted and squinted, so Hiro stepped as loudly as possible to not startle her more. "Good evening." She said.

"Good evening." Manami bowed slightly. "Is anything wrong?". It was so obvious she was referring to Uzumaki, Hiro felt a bit ashamed for her curiosity.

"I am afraid it is, with me. I am, unfortunately, very inquisitive by nature, and seeing today what I saw I couldn't help but feel that inquisitiveness rise." Inuzuka inhaled as if with regret, but she needed to get herself straight before making a very big step towards her student. "Naruto," there, she said it, great, her heart was flipping with unpleasant excitement, "looked too tired and I couldn't bring myself to question him."

"Oh." The other woman said. "It is about why we were there, isn't it?"

"If I'm not too impudent."

Manami smiled slightly - the brothel's dull lights made her look even more regal and poised. "Isn't it a teacher's right to know about their students?"

It sounded a bit like a reproof, though Hiro couldn't be sure, Manami was just so unbelievably polite and composed it was hard to get a hang on her true feelings even with shinobi experience and enhanced senses.

"About a month ago one of visitors of Konoha had a birthday. For him and his friends it looked like a good idea to celebrate somewhere besides their temporary residence. They didn't have much money and decided to stop at our place - there were seven of them. Kin was the first to approach them."

Manami suddenly fell silent and her thin eyebrows drew together in a frown. "I cannot tell what it was they wanted from her, but they weren't very friendly or gentle, and when-" she took a deep breath. "Let's just say that Kin was forced outside with seven inebriated men after her.

"We were very worried when she didn't return that night, only showed up the following morning and told us that she was hidden by- by him."

The woman heaved such a sigh Yuujin actually touched her thigh with his nose in reassurance. "I'd like to lie and tell you that we were grateful, but we weren't. We were scared, extremely so, and only Ume was brave enough to seek shelter from him the following week. She's very bold and reckless when she sees an opportunity to delve into the unknown, and what's more exciting than a place where the dreaded lives?

"Ume wasn't as scared as Kin was and I think she let her curiosity too much freedom, if I interpreted what she had been telling right. She actually came around two more times before making Kin come with her to thank Naruto."

Manami huffed lightly with amusement. "Of course, Gin went with them and later she told us the poor boy was mortified to have Ume demanding Kin to thank him. Probably it was when Gin saw Naruto as a little more than usual image. She told us when she thanked him and apologised for Ume he was so embarrassed she couldn't help laughing.

As for me- I have a client, they are adept at seals, I inquired a bit about the containing ones." the woman lowered her proud head, "I wish I have done it sooner. I have only told Aimi about what my client revealed to me - she's easy to get scared and was shaking every time Ume decided to visit Naruto - but she relayed the information to the twins, and Ume needed little more conviction.

"He's a very bright boy, isn't he, sensei? Like a small fire. At first we felt we needed to thank him somehow and his flat was so..." Manami's beautiful face scrunched up slightly, but she looked even more stunning; she made a smooth wide gesture with her hand.

"Like a boy's flat?" Hiro smiled.

"Exactly. Although Naruto is not very messy, but he says it's because he's a grown up now. We make sure he eats healthy food and does it regularly. Ume seems to have her maternal instinct awaken" the woman added wryly.

She lifted her face to the sky. "I hope he's making progress. I'd like to see him as a Hokage, I think - I've never had a person who made me feel so safe and relaxed. Accepted? Sometimes I forget Naruto is a boy yet."

Hokage? Oh, my, it seemed not only little Ume had her maternal instinct going full force.

"Please, take care of him, sensei, and forgive him if he's impatient. He wants to devour more than he's able to."

Hiro started and looked at Manami. She was a rare type of a woman - very beautiful, as if lit up from inside with a soft, warm light. Unfortunately, that kind of beauty created a cocoon with its perfection, and people dared only look. So lonely in her fine capsule, Manami stumbled upon somebody unafraid to come closer.

Yuujin sighed and looked at the prostitute when she looked at him wearing an open, inviting expression. Dogs are good for such people.

"Manami-san, if I may… have you seen a dark-haired boy with Naruto?"

"I've seen several."

"The Uchiha one."

"Ow." Manami said. "Yes, he's been at Naruto's a few times, but Naruto stays over at his place more often, at least once a week. He says they train together, but-" another sigh, "sensei-"

"I swear, I asked it not because of idle curiosity."

"He appears to be a very composed and lonely boy. He's more introverted than polite and seems to be focused entirely on Naruto."

"Is that so? I thought I was mistaken. He also appeared to me to have quite a quick temper."

The tall woman looked sincerely surprised. "I have never noticed that. Every time we met that child was very collected."

"Thank you for your help." Hiro said quietly. She didn't want to think about anything anymore. "Let Yuujin accompany you to your place."

Manami looked up in surprise.

"It's no bother, and I'll be able to look at Naruto tomorrow without any guilt."

The prostitute opened her mouth, but then only smiled and bowed.

Left alone, Hiro also looked up at the stars. It felt good to let go of her investigative side and just relax.

Her decision to make a surprise the day before was very spontaneous, and Hiro was rightfully afraid it might backfire badly. But she promised…

Sandaime looked at her, his face partially hidden behind light clouds of smoke.

"Your team is a very fresh one." He commented.

The woman shrugged. "Newly promoted shinobi take on dangerous missions all the time."

The Hokage narrowed his eyes slightly but gave his consent just as her genin arrived: she had come slightly early.

Naruto didn't even greet anyone. "Please no Tora-chan."

Hiro gave him a light punch. "You are so lucky, totty-boy, that the mission is already assigned."

The boy craned his neck and lit up catching a glimpse of light green field with a red stamp. "C-rank! C-rank!" Naruto hollered and tackled his sensei. Hiro gasped at the strength with which her ribs were squeezed. "What is it, sensei?"

She swatted him in the head with the mission scroll. "Wild boar hunting near one town. It's time you show me what all that bragging is worth."

As expected, the other two looked more mortified and disgusted than happy.

It was just one boar, one jounin would be more than enough for it so Hiro promptly informed her team of that and asked for their ideas.

Ishikawa came up with a decent plan: Naruto would find it, he had the best sense of smell after Yuujin, and then they would set a trap made of wire and explosive tags. After a short quarrel between disgusted Naruto and furious Rokuro they decided to go for Sango delivering the final strike with her wakizashi instead for messy explosions.

Everything went really well - Naruto picked up the smell and rushed to their target, Ichikawa set up the trap and as soon as crash and sound of heavy footsteps were heard Sango crouched on her tree branch.

And sit there, looking at the blade in her arms.

Naruto dived under the wire, rolling on roots and groaning slightly, the boar stumbled into it full force, his limbs were immediately tied together and the gargantuan beast fell down, inertia drawing it to the tree.

It was extremely fast and just as strong; the wire gave off after a few pulls and the boar charged at its bright target again, Naruto barely managed to jump on a tree in one chakra-powered leap. Before the aspen fell he ran higher and jumped on an oak, diving into his pouch. Losing its victim, the animal turned towards the second boy, who was unfortunate enough to not get far enough in time; Hiro jumped, blade ready; but before it charged properly, Naruto jumped back down on its back and with a few hand seals punched straight the massive withers.

Hiro leaped back on instinct and managed to escape the gore: the boar's eyeballs burst outwards along with the skin on the head under the assault of chakra. Rokuro threw up.

"Well," Hiro noted, looking at the giant body, "improvising is vital for ninja."

She felt fury taking over as she chopped the mangled head off to give it to the local authorities. Anger was rising while they were biding their goodbyes, going to a small river and watching Ishikawa wash off blood and vomit. But Hiro managed to keep her voice even. "If you are unable to carry out an order, you are to tell about it right away, not waiting until it's too late."

She didn't want to look at Shimura at all, only craved to shake the girl and shout about wars and fights and risks, about them being quite lucky Naruto escaped.

Speaking of.

"Naruto." The jounin called. "What did you do?"

"Eh? I saw ANBU and some chuunin guys doing it and then kinda sneaked into Academy library, and there was a scroll, about tree-walking, and I-"

"I know about treewalking," Hiro interrupted, barely holding herself together, "how did you kill it?"

Naruto scowled and raised his fist. A small seal was there, painted with a blue marker.

"I- eh, I also saw it in one of the scrolls. They are kinda cool - no need to chakra control and all that- ouch!"

Hiro patted the head she just swatted and shook her head. "Chakra control is vital, punkhead."

Dried blood partly concealed the seal and Hiro tried to wipe it off, baring smooth clean skin. The boy flinched and pulled his hand back, hiding it with other.

"Are you in pain?" Hiro asked.

He smiled, folding his hands behind his head. "No, sensei, all's fine."

"It's your blood, isn't it? Are you hurt?"

Naruto evaded her eyes. "I heal quickly."

Hiro scowled, sensing his unease, but noticing a peculiar look in Ishikawa's eyes changed the topic. "What does it do? Explode your chakra?"

The boy still looked uncomfortable. "Like that, yeah, it sorta for pumping chakra somewhere, I just added one triangle for exploding."

She had a true Uzumaki in her team, it seemed.

After that Hiro made their training downright torturous, or she was afraid she would kill them on a mission. The thought of that team being stuck with her forever made her want to weep. But at least they got to know each other better and spend more time together.

She got rid of one of her flaws as a teacher and dived straight into another, it seemed. It was inevitable; Uzumaki had become her favourite. He was cunning like herself and wild like herself and ponderous - like herself. And he was extremely caring - Hiro could relate to Manami when talking about being accepted. Naruto didn't judge. He didn't have expectations. It was a hard life that taught him that, but the result was astounding.

But most of all, especially compared to measured and placid life Hiro led, his was one of neverending motion: Naruto trained with his team, Naruto hung out with other genin teams, Naruto visited Hokage, had regular sleepovers all over Konoha and took care of the doting women from the brothel, he pranked, studied and went on missions, created new seals and mixed some paint which was impossible to wash off.

The Kages of the mountain now had properly coloured hair, although huge "not grey-haired" on the Second's forehead plate was unnecessary in everybody's

Naruto was lying in front of Hiro's house. She nudged him lightly and gave the boy a mug with some chicken soup.

"You're the best, sensei." He mumbled, sitting up lazily.

Hiro smiled. "I know. How are the girls doing?"

"Yesterday they were alright. Ume-neechan ran from some retard again, her new neighbour. She'll be staying at my place for a while, I dunno when I'm gonna sleep at home anyway."

"Why won't she move to your building?" Hiro wondered aloud. "And Manami too - it's unoccupied anyway and it'll be more convenient for everybody."

Naruto looked at her with interest. "I hafta talk to Jiji. He owns the place after the landlord, eh-" and he fell silent, staring into his impossibly orange mug - Hiro bought it for him - and sighed.

Hiro felt slightly cold: they had had those pauses before, usually when talking about Naruto's fast healing or him having to put on his not-henge-at-all to go shopping or in a library. It was getting harder and harder to brush it off and maintain an oblivious façade. She wasn't sure he'd be grateful when he'd learn the truth, and the thought hurt too much.

"Naruto, look, I know it's not fair, but, you know, people are generally very stupid."

He raised his head and frowned heavily at her. His blue eyes were serious and too intense.

"I just want to say, you did nothing wrong, just the previous Hokage- he had too much belief in people, and when the Nine-Tails-"

Naruto clamped a hand on her mouth and Hiro watched him watch her with wide, shocked and disbelieving eyes.

"I know, sensei."

And Hiro felt the ground sink under her feet, her pulse a mad beat, her brain a storm of whats and hows and no ways.

Naruto stood up, his hands in his pockets, tense and rigid. "Eavesdropped accidentally a few times."

"Who?!" Hiro asked, looking up at him, at her lonely student. "When?!"

Uzumaki shrugged.

"Don't shrug at me, Naruto, it's extremely important, it's against the law to talk about it."

"Sensei, you almost told me just now."

Hiro gaped at him. "That's another matter!"

"I know, sensei, I do understand." Naruto smiled and bent down to pick up his mug. "Thanks for soup and for the advice. I'll go talk to Jiji right now."

"Wait a second."

They looked at one another, Hiro reached out to take the mug. "Don't feel so down. With the progress you make you'll be the Hokage in no time, stupid people or not"

It was Naruto's turn to gape. Then his lips began to tremble. Then he sniffed. Then Hiro pulled him into her jacket and held close.

"When you and Manami-san are saying this-"

"Don't talk, you'll choke."

Naruto gurgled with laughter and hugged Hiro tighter.

I really enjoy bashing Sasuke ^^
Amaidofu - sweet tofu. That character'll star in future chapters.
And if you dislike the stories with a lot of OCs, well, I'm sorry, but rest assured, I have no intention to create Mary Sues, I just need new people to define our new hero and his companions.