Food exploded from my mouth when I saw just what Naruko was doing to get the almost somnolent Sakura to react. Instead of her usual red dress, she was clad in a brief dark green top that showed that she actually did have some development - if there was more up there, the bottom part would be bare - and a short black skirt, slit at the sides, with black gloves and mesh wire protection and some bandages covering much of her legs, shoulders and neck, leaving her thighs and most of her middle exposed. There was very obviously no underwear worn, as Naruko displayed when she lifted Sakura's skirt and started using her fingers, in an exercise of chakra I was intimately familiar with. In public!

Sure, Naruko was supposed to keep her sexed up and half-dazed on bliss… Still red in the face, I had to admit to myself that she was just following orders. In exemplary fashion, though it wasn't exactly helpful to the poor girl's ability to hold up her side of a conversation. And yes, this was an isolated area in the woods, and we were ninja with steadily improving sensory abilities, with a cordon of clones around me at all times. Perhaps I just felt a lot more daring in female form? Still red in the face, I couldn't really look away as I kept stuffing food into my mouth, groaning in sympathy as my new sex-toy shuddered and convulsed. Naruko winking at me and licking her fingers clean did not serve to calm me, not at all.

When the clones from the morning missions reported in, I flickered away to the top of my father's head, the last in the row of Hokage carved into the mountain overlooking Konoha and the great forest the first of them, Hashirama Senju, raised from the plains with his Mokuton, the bloodline ability of Wood Release. It was a place I rarely came to anymore, and only when I really needed to think.

I was almost entirely alienated from people. Just a few acquaintances were the sum and whole of my connection to Konoha. After my recent growth in skill, I felt older, wiser, even if the tens of thousands of hours I'd experienced over the course of the week were not tangible, or at least not entirely. The comparatively few hours I'd trained physically made an astonishingly real difference in me - stronger, faster, with even more endurance, and it showed on my body. There were no callouses on my hands, but the skin there no longer grew irritated, even after hours of practice. When practice kunai hit me where my dodging failed, there were no longer any bruises and it hardly hurt, even though I knew just how hard my clones threw them. I realized just now that I was breaking Sakura, and I didn't feel bad about it. Maybe I was a demon. Of course, people could be much worse than the mindless forces of death and destruction the nine bijuu were said to be, deliberate cruelty always was. Considering my intentions, plans and possible repercussions, the world I was aiming for was worth many sacrifices. I just had to make sure not to lose myself in the doing, which was difficult without anyone at my side.

Before making any adjustments, I decided to wait and see. Perhaps Sakura and if I could get her, Hinata, would be helpful. If not, there would be other possibilities, I was sure. There was no rush, but I still felt that everything was going too slowly, that I could do and be so much more. I'd gotten a good measure of just how fast I recovered from expending the massive amounts of chakra required for a training legion, and it occurred to me that having just two a day was a sub-optimal use of resources. Reading books on trade and finance was altering my perspective on how to accomplish things, focusing my thoughts on efficiency and optimization. I'd also found some useful books on making the best use of your time and scheduling. It was time to work not merely harder, but smarter as well. Ten thousand clones a day were ten thousand times me training, and as I trained smarter and better, the small improvement would be magnified by exactly that number.

For people, I'd wait and see. Sakura might be worth my time in a month, and I'd try to help Hinata at the end of this week. For now, I'd simply get better, at anything and everything.

The week passed almost too quickly for me to notice, I was constantly working and frequently exhausted, both mentally and physically. A few notable things happened that would shake things up.

First, I finally managed to transfer clone memories without destroying the clone, and the improvement was telling. I mastered the shadow clone jutsu to my present limits of control, and managed to make pure spy clones with comparatively little chakra expenditure.

Second, the blood clone jutsu went perfectly. It was a flawless duplicate with all of my skills and abilities, and it was connected to the memory network. Unfortunately, it could not regain its chakra from food, or even by receiving more of my blood. It took a day, but I managed to transfer chakra to it directly, and after two days, I managed a rudimentary chakra storage seal. For Konoha, this would do, but I needed something much better if I wanted my plans to work. Orochimaru's partial notes on his curse seal mentioned something called natural energy, and a further investigation showed that it was something sages could access. What I needed was a seal that would absorb natural energy and transform it into personal chakra for my blood clones, but I was completely stuck and flailing in the dark here. How the hell does one access natural chakra? I'd need a sage to help me with this, though I did set a regular clone group to experiment. Alone, it would probably take years to crack this puzzle, and coming up with an alternative might require decades, assuming there was one. Well, I could try to siphon chakra from captive shinobi enemies, but that idea did not sit well with me. A temporary solution would be sending off shadow clones to recharge the blood clones via Hiraishin teleportation. Okay, that was decent stopgap measure, assuming I ever managed to master that insanely complicated time/space jutsu. After mastering the Pulse Step, I'd started on the jutsu that earned my father the cognomen Yellow Flash and a flee on sight order in the bingo books after he slaughtered an army, but it was going very, very slowly, and not very surely.

The third was the most unusual and unexpected, my introduction to genin team nine, Team Gai. For a week and half, I proved to be the only shinobi sufficiently dedicated to training to run around Konoha in the early morning, starting at five. When they got back from an escort mission to Lightning Country, I learned that not all Konoha shinobi were lazy layabouts. Kami, they started training at four! Meeting Rock Lee and Gai sensei - anyone so willing and eager to teach me was more than worthy of the title - was quite the experience. It was actually amusing, I'd improved enough that it took an hour for our paths to cross.

"Yosh! A healthy training run in the morning! What dedication, what youth! Burning youth!" a tall man in green spandex with prominent orange legwarmers, his hair in a rather unattractive bowl-cut, shouted as he passed me in a rush of air. He had the thickest pair of eyebrows I'd ever seen and wore a jounin vest.

"Yosh! A healthy training run in the morning! What dedication, what youth! Burning youth!" a boy in green spandex with prominent orange legwarmers, his hair in a rather unattractive bowl-cut, shouted as he passed me in a rush of air. He had the thickest pair of eyebrows I'd ever seen and bandages wrapped around his arms and hands.

I was momentarily confused at almost seeing double, before putting on a rush of speed, soon catching up to the boy, who looked to be around my age. "There's someone else running, right? Who looks like you?" I shouted.

"Gai sensei! I must catch up to Gai sensei in my training, or I will run a hundred laps around Konoha on my fingertips! Yosh!" he shouted right back and increased his pace.

It was a good thing that this was one of the mornings I hadn't picked to increase the charge on my training seals, gravity and resistance, because even after an hour of running, I didn't have any trouble picking up the pace enough to catch up to both of them. It also served notice that I wasn't pushing myself hard enough.

We kept running at the increased pace for almost another two hours, both of them shouting out periodically about youth and fire, to my bemusement.

"Ah!" Gai cried out. "It would be most youthful to keep running, but I cannot keep the rest of my team waiting. It is a testament to the youth of Konoha's genin that another one ran with us! The fires of youth burn deeply in you! I'm Gai Maito, and this is Rock Lee, my dear student."

"Gai sensei!" "Lee!"

What followed was the most bizarre thing I'd ever seen in my life, as the two jumped into the air and hugged each other, and a genjutsu of a setting sun appeared behind them, waves crashing against the rocks. My attempts to dispel it were all for naught, and I instantly instituted a new project - genjutsu immunity seal. Illusion techniques manipulate the flow of chakra to the brain, and can be combated in three ways that I knew of. You could stop the flow of chakra in your body momentarily, pulse your chakra or receive an infusion of chakra from another, or the least desirable - hurting yourself physically. The first stage of the seal I conceived of would detect the activation of a genjutsu, activated by the intrusion of foreign chakra, and pulse stored chakra to counteract it. That one, I expected, would come easily to me once I learned how to reliably cast illusions - I was getting there, but slowly. The second stage, a perfect barrier to genjutsu, would intercept foreign chakra of that specific type, either to store it for my use, to power another seal, or merely dissipate it. Yes, definitely another team for that one.

By the time I finished theorizing, they were done, thank Kami. A brief explanation of my training routine, and I was immediately and cordially invited to spar.

"Ahem, well, I'd love to, really. It's just…," I was truly embarrassed.

"Ah, you require permission from your sensei?" Gai nodded.

"No, no, that's not it. You see, in the academy no one would spar with me. You're the foremost taijutsu expert in Konoha, I believe, and I… frankly, suck at it. I know the academy style, if barely. In fact, I was going to pick a few styles and start learning them this week. Kenjutsu too. Really, sparring with me right now would be a joke rather than a challenge," I squirmed at the unpleasant truth. "Well, unless I can use ninjutsu, I'm pretty good with that. And I'm studying genjutsu and medical jutsu and seals and…"

"What youth! Gai sensei, we must help Naruto learn the youthful ways of taijutsu! It is a sacred duty to fan the flames of his youth!" Lee shouted enthusiastically.

"I'll be happy to help with ninjutsu and sealing in return," I offered immediately. The chance to spar with Gai's team was invaluable.

"Alas, I cannot learn such things! I will prove that a ninja can excel with taijutsu alone! I shall be a genius of hard work!" Lee announced loudly, waving his fist in the air.

"Indeed, and I have promised my youthful student that I will support him in all things!" Gai responded. Which must be the only way he could have passed the academy, I quickly realized, as he obviously couldn't use the basic three jutsus normally required for graduation. Then I blinked at Gai's words.

"Do you mean to say," I looked at him and enunciated with precision, "that you do not use ninjutsu or genjutsu routinely because of Lee?"

"Precisely! It is…"

I cut him off, "Most unyouthful. If you don't show him what jutsus other than taijutsu techniques do, how will he learn to counter, dodge, predict or otherwise overcome them? Not to mention that in the field, not using the best technique you have for what is needed can bring harm to comrades and failure to missions. Most unyouthful," I shook my head in honest disgust. "Each path has advantages and disadvantages, and a true shinobi uses everything he has when it is needed or useful. Are you truly teaching your team some different way? If you don't fight him with genjutsu, how will he survive his first real encounter with one? Especially since he seems all too eager to mention his vulnerability. Teach him taijutsu, certainly, but teach him discretion and cunning. Youth and enthusiasm fail against old age and guile, as the shinobi saying goes. Youth, enthusiasm and guile are much more likely to win. There are a lot of things you can do without external use of chakra. Try to test things a bit more - have you tried using activating seals with your chakra-charged blood, for example? Have you mastered ninja tools and traps? Stealth, awareness and silent killing? The strongest ninja will fall to surprise, especially if you can mask your chakra," I finished, almost out of breath, still fuming with anger. It was just so stupid.

"That is… Gai sensei, that is so brilliantly youthful! Gai sensei?" Lee looked at him when he failed to reply. Gai was looking at, expression still and carved in stone.

"It is true, Lee, he is correct. I have failed you, failed my team…"

"No, you haven't," I cut him off again. "They're all alive, right? That's automatically success in most peoples' views. I'm betting you haven't failed many, if any, missions. What you haven't done is teach them in the best possible manner, which I'm sure almost every sensei is guilty of. Perfection is out of reach of mere mortals. All you have to do is better, every time, every day."

"Very youthful indeed, young Naruto! Of my team, Neji needs little supervision, as he studies with his clan in the ways of the Gentle Fist, and is reluctant to learn anything else. I would like to spar with you, and perhaps take you up on your offer! Tenten could use a tutor in ninjutsu, and in return she can help you with taijutsu. She is also very good with weapons. Come, let us test your skills!"

So we followed him to training ground nine, and I made sure to cancel my training seals. Even without them, I didn't believe that I had more than a third of his speed, at best, without using my trump card, but that was still very likely to impress him favorably. Strength-wise, I hoped to have a tenth as much, but I wasn't optimistic. I needed not to be hit, which playing with shadow clones and replacement was easier than he would estimate.

"Neji, Tenten!" Gai thundered at Lee's teammates, a long-haired arrogant looking Hyuuga, from the branch house according to the position of his headband, and a cute girl with her brown hair collected out of the way in two buns. "This is Naruto Uzumaki, I will spar with him and we will then begin our youthful training for the day." Both were obviously intrigued at the notion, though Neji was… acting in a way that reminded me of Sasuke. Ugh.

"Let us begin!" Gai announced and charged at me, fist extended. A loud explosion sounded as the great clone explosion blew him away. "Very youthful, your fires burn strong!" a badly singed Gai ran back into the clearing, charging again in the very same manner… until the earth beneath his feet softened to mud, then hardened to rock. "Excellent, elemental jutsu!" his fist shattered the rock, but he only took another two steps before I caught him in hardening mud again. This time, when his fist came down, the rock liquified before catching it as well - and I threw a kunai, multiplying it into fifty shadow kunai clones, which skewered a log. As a precaution, I exchanged positions with another explosive shadow clone, a bit annoyed that the lightning clone jutsu was on the study list for tomorrow. It was perfect against taijutsu maniacs, pinpoint disabling compared to area of effect blast I couldn't afford to overcharge in a mere spar.

Gai's earth clone was the only casualty of my clone's demise, and I opened my senses to locate him, releasing a great blast of wind to throw him away, the Wind Release: Great Breakthrough, before jumping down to the clearing and calling up three kill teams of five clones each, with enough charge for several area of effect jutsu. They lasted longer and did better than I hoped, but three minutes later a bedraggled, singed and bleeding Gai, clothes utterly ruined, joined me in the clearing. The memories showed exactly how strong and fast he could be, and if he was taking it easy on my clones, that was even more frightening. Only four of the fifteen got so much as a single jutsu off - admittedly, I didn't reveal my chakra shield or tried the earth armor jutsu I'd managed yesterday, but I was quite sure he wasn't showing everything off either.

"Enough," he announced with a wide smile, teeth sparkling in the light, "you have shown yourself to be a capable ninjutsu specialist, as is only to be expected of a student of my eternal rival! Tenten!" he called out, and I didn't have the heart to correct him concerning Kakashi's teaching.

"Yes, Gai sensei?" she jumped back into the clearing, staring at me intently.

"Naruto Uzumaki will be helping you with ninjutsu and seals, while you help with his taijutsu, which he has informed us is not practiced in. In addition, he has some knowledge of traps, stealth and ninja tools. I'm sure you will use your time together well."

"Ahem, Gai sensei?" I inquired hesitantly.


"What is Tenten's elemental affinity?"

"Fire, her youth burns fiercely!"

"Excellent. Shall we?" I sent a foxy smile her way.