Auhor Note

Hello there and welcome to another chapter of Nidaime no Sairin.

Not much to comment right now, except that I'm planning on 6-8 more chapters in this story before I begin with the Shippuden Arcs.

Now, here's the chapter.

Nidaime no Sairin

Chapter 20 – Life as a Chuunin

Beta: Scheffinator

The negotiations with Sunagakure occurred smoothly, after it became known that Orochimaru was the true conspirator.

All the hostages were immediately released in exchange for due monetary compensation for the destruction. Also, Sunagakure was restricted from taking any missions in Fire Country for at least two years. The terms were harsh, since part of the reason that Suna went to war in the first place was because of the lack of revenue. However, their hands were tied in the end. If they didn't collaborate, then the Wind Daimyou would be within his rights to even disband the hidden village entirely, taking his businesses elsewhere. The Kazekage's children were a special item used by Homura to negotiate even further monetary compensation. Of course, Hiruzen was firmly against it in the beginning, but caved in the end.

It's not like he would lose any sleep over the subject.

Two months had passed since Naruto's promotion and things got hectic from here onward. Training, missions, training, missions and rarely did he ever have some time for himself nowadays. If right after the invasion he was complaining that he wasn't getting called for assignments, now he was itching for some time-off. As it happened, because Sunagakure's missions were reduced, Konoha's more than quadrupled and the Chuunin and above shinobi were working non-stop to lower the mission request pile.

As such, the newly promoted Chuunin Uzumaki Naruto got called plenty of times.

Missions with his teammates…following Asuma-sensei's directives to the letter in terms of leadership. Missions with Kurenai-sensei, either alone with her or with her team now full with Yakumo in Shino's place. Even missions when Naruto was nominated leader, either with fellow Chuunin or his Genin peers. One mission in particular where he, Sasuke and Kiba had to gather medical supplies for the hospital in a nearby village. The mission started as a simple C-ranked, but bumped into a B-ranked, as there was a missing-nin from Kirigakure involved, harassing the local villagers. Having a full assault team paid off in the end, but the Uzumaki Chuunin suffered having to exercise his leadership.

'I have found a newfound respect at Kakashi-sensei and Sakura for dealing with those two on a daily basis.'

The pink-haired Chuunin had gotten wind of this specific mission and couldn't help but concur how much of a handful Sasuke and Kiba were sometimes. Especially, when both were gunning to prove themselves in Naruto's eyes.

Aside from missions, once Naruto became a Chuunin, his training had also received a promotion.

Once he learned how to make weight seals, he had applied it to all four of his limbs. Every day, or on most days, he would get up early in the morning and do his routine which consisted of running around the village, agility courses and a couple of muscle-growth exercises. By fourteen years old, Naruto's body was on its path to become that of a well-rounded fighter. With well-developed muscles, but not too much that would hinder his agility, the Chuunin trained diligently in every aspect. His physical exercises were added by meditation in the end, when he would feel for his ever-growing chakra capacity. Because of this, his chakra training exercises were also a priority. As he grew in height, weight and skills, his chakra would follow its own growth as well.

Sometimes, he trained by himself.

Sometimes, some of his peers joined him. Sakura, Sasuke, Hinata and Shino were regular companions. While Sakura and Hinata were already used to training with him, Sasuke wasn't and ever since Naruto's display at the Chuunin Exams and the fact that Naruto helped him awaken the Sharingan, the Uchiha had firmly elected Naruto as his rival. They would fight in most shinobi skills as Sasuke was getting special lessons from Kakashi about his newly discovered affinity for lightning. While Naruto had the advantage with his wind and water combo, Sasuke used this disadvantage to his favor, sharpening his elemental control and even learning Kakashi's special technique called Chidori.

Naruto had to admit that it was a powerful execution technique, with the only downfall being that without the Sharingan, such a technique would leave the attacker too exposed for a counter-attack.

His Ninjutsu repertoire would never be as extensive as Kakashi's, for as the Nidaime constantly drilled in his head that mastering a short list of techniques from each element is always better than simply being adequate at a lot.

The Suiton Suiryuudan (Water Release: Water Dragon Technique) and the Suiton Daibakufu (Water Release: Great Waterfall Technique) were the techniques Kakashi used against Zabuza. Those two would represent the pinnacle of heavy offensive and grand scale techniques in water manipulation, but even though he decided to train in these techniques, it wasn't something that he saw himself using, unless he was in quite a pinch or one of his teammates. The Fuuton Kazekiri (Wind Release: Wind Cutter Technique), on the other hand, was much more subtle and much more efficient as an offensive jutsu. Plus, the more he practiced with it, the more he managed to hide the wind cutter, becoming quite the lethal technique.

Asuma-sensei had personally tutored him in learning the last one.

The Chuunin had also practiced many times with both Kurenai and Yuugao, in Genjutsu and Kenjutsu, respectively. The Nidaime's scroll focused more in Ninjutsu, space-time and Fuuinjutsu, so it was rather lacking in those other areas.

Right now, Naruto was sparring against Yuugao as both parried their swords in the middle, before both evaded and Yuugao used chakra to approach him in fast succession. Naruto blinked once and his sword-sensei immediately appeared by his side, threatening to carve a hole in his stomach. Moving quickly, the Chuunin blocked Yuugao's assault and initiated a sequence of his own, keeping the sensei on the defensive. Summoning a couple of shuriken, Yuugao was surprised at the move, but deflected the projectiles with ease. Waiting for less than a second, she then saw her student Shunshin to her right and flipped her body, before landing a strong kick at his chest. The surprised Naruto went flying a couple of meters, before skidding towards the ground, as he observed his sensei.

"You appear slower than before, Naruto-kun. Your Shunshin still needs work as well." Naruto tsked at the provocation…he was still getting used to the weight increase in his limbs, which relied on his chakra.

Maintaining the seals activated as well as focusing on other tasks such as the Shunshin made its toll on his body. Still, Naruto merely nodded and vanished once more in a Shunshin as he this time coursed chakra to his limbs as well.

The metal noise of a sword parrying a sword made Yuugao's eyebrow lift slightly and her grip on her sword tightened as she supposed that her student had now taken things seriously.

"Much better…now, you'll have to keep this up for at least an hour." Naruto didn't complain. He never did…training was far too enjoyable to waste time complaining.

However, the look of complete apathy in her eyes still bothered him.

'Well, it's not like there is a specific timetable for grief, is there?`

Both Anko and Kurenai had often commented with him when the three were together either at Kurenai's house or at the Dango stand. When Yuugao was not busy in ANBU, she was drilling Naruto relentlessly in his training. As such, it was rare nowadays for the three girl friends to simply hang out together like they used to. Anko even asked Naruto to try and talk to Yuugao in one of his sessions, while Kurenai doubted that she would listen. So, once Naruto and Yuugao met in the middle, Naruto then felt her wrist relax, showing the end of their training.

"That's enough for now, Naruto-kun…rest for a bit." Releasing a sigh in relaxation, Naruto quickly activated one of the seals in his sword and passed chakra through it to fix the small dents on the steel. It still amazed Yuugao to see the chakra-conductive metal glow in a bluish hue. It showed that her student took good care of his sword, which actually brought a smile from the sensei. "Focus on easing your chakra now, Naruto-kun and massage your sore muscles." Yuugao had by this time returned her sword to its scabbard as she observed the post-practice ritual.

"Will do, Yuugao-sensei, thanks. Ah…" the ANBU sensed the student's discomfort suddenly and urged him to go on. "Anko did ask me to relay a message to you…"

Yuugao released a sigh in dismay at that. She knew that she had been distant from her friends ever since Hayate's death, but she also wasn't in any way ready for what her two best friends wished for her.

"Let me guess…she wants to invite me for lunch, dinner or some drinks to just talk?" Well, from her harsh tone, it appeared that Kurenai was right.

"Yeah, pretty much." Naruto replied, while scratching his head. "Well, they both miss hanging out with you, sensei. I know that Anko may be a bit much sometimes, but I bet that Kurenai-sensei could be easier to talk to…"

"I'll think about it, Naruto-kun. Now, I won't be able to resume our sessions throughout the week. My team has a mission starting tomorrow."

Naruto nodded, already collecting himself from the ground and bowing in respect for his sensei.

"Okay then, we'll continue once you come back." Yuugao merely nodded as she observed him leaving for the day, before using a quick Shunshin and heading straight to the ANBU Headquarters.

===At the Hyuuga Compound===

At the end of the day, the sun has begun its descent, bringing the soothing orange hue in the sky, while it was still warm.

At the Hyuuga Compound, it was a quiet atmosphere as it usually was. The clan members at this time were getting ready for their respective night activities, but the clan grounds were mostly empty at this point. Empty except for one Hyuuga Hinata, who was busy practicing her Jyuuken with as much splendor and tenacity as possible. The last mission her team went on was two days ago, so the reserved girl had decided to practice her Taijutsu forms in preparation for future assignments. With her Dojutsu activated and her chakra circulating throughout her tenketsu, Hinata went through the rigorous forms of the Jyuuken, added of course with some new movements that she had trained together with Naruto, more defensive ones.

So caught up on her training, that Hinata didn't know that she had an admirer looking.

Hanabi was literally awe-aspired by such beauty and strength at the same time. The drops of Hinata's sweat, somehow, lingered in the air for the orange sun to illuminate, making it sparkle. Her older sister's focused eyes closing the imaginary enemy's tenketsu points. It was times like these that little Hanabi remembered the days when they would play together. Before becoming a Genin with her teammates, Hinata often struggled to uphold the standards of the clan. Hanabi even remembered when her sister came to her room one day, completely bruised and battered, but still offered to play with her. Hinata was so tired that day that she just fell asleep soon afterward. Hanabi giggled at the memory of herself covering her big sister in a blanket and snoozing together.

When Hinata's hands then started glowing blue, while maintaining her Jyuuken strikes, it was perhaps the most beautiful image Hanabi has ever seen.

Her grace was still there, but...her strength…there was simply no way Hanabi could avert her eyes now.

'Nee-sama...back then, you had this beauty and strength…but the clan had tried to extinguish it…they couldn't, though…not you.'

As Hanabi observed, she also couldn't help but admire the smile that appeared on her sister's face as she stopped training. She was looking down at her hands with so much pride. The elder sister, for her chance, wiped the sweat off her forehead and turned to walk back to her house when she saw Neji there, crossing his arms.

"Neji-niisan..." Neji, as per usual, just stood there, looking at her in scrutiny and before Hinata would eventually cower under such a stare, but right now, she just stood there, waiting for him to speak. "Is there anything you wish to talk about?"

Neji, for his part, remembered the fight they had at the preliminaries and how close the match was. Then, with a relaxed smile, to which Hinata caught on, Neji walked past her and then turned to face her with a Jyuuken position.

"Having a sparring partner helps us improve, Hinata-sama…so, allow me to be yours." Hinata at first wondered about the time, since she was supposed to meet with Yakumo-chan shortly to hang out with her, but this was the first time that her cousin had openly taken an interest in training with her…certainly her friend wouldn't mind if she was a couple minutes late.

"Hai, Neji-niisan…let's go!" Hinata responded with a smile as she had also fallen into her Taijutsu stance as both activated their Byakugan and charged.

===With Kurenai===

When night time came, Kurenai was busy fixing up a stew. The moon was full tonight and she has decided to camp for the night and travel back to Konoha in the morning.

She, along with two others, were escalated for a B-ranked protection mission towards River Country. The client was a wealthy merchant that traded silk all over the Elemental Nations. Her other teammates were composed of two Chuunin, one male and one female. The ravenette Jounin then heard three barks all of a sudden and sighed in dismay at having to feed them. One of her teammates for this mission was Inuzuka Hana, Kiba's older sister. Kurenai had admitted to enjoying the ferocious kunoichi's company, who acted a bit much like Anko, though a bit less sadistically than her snake charmer friend.

Though, in this mission, they were caught by surprise and a lone kunai ended up injuring Hana's leg.

The mission was successful of course, but because of her injury, they couldn't use the usual shinobi speed back home.


"Would you three cut it out already, your food will soon get here, jeez!" The hounds were salivating at this point and Kurenai once more exhaled. "Where is Naruto-kun with those fishes?"

Nearby their camping site, a small lake was seen, with the surface completely flat, before Naruto emerged from within, fully clothed and with his catch of fish inside a fishing net. He was dripping wet and his clothes were very heavy. With a simple ram hand sign, Naruto then expelled wind chakra through all of his tenketsus, in order to dry himself. When he was sure that he was completely dry and his clothes were as well, Naruto smiled and walked towards the camping site.

Quickly deactivating the Fuuinjutsu that created a barrier around their team, Naruto walked closer to the fire.

"Hey Kurenai-sensei, I just brought the-ah…hey!" Kurenai flinched knowingly when Hana's three hounds all but jumped on him and stole one fish each. "Hold on there, at least leave some for us, humans!" The Jounin laughed at the scene of Naruto wrestling to secure at least one fish each for the human members of this mission. "Damn, they could just wait a little bit." Naruto then approached the Jounin in charge of the mission and took a seat on a log nearby the place where they built the fire.

"Well, you did take too long...they were getting antsy." Kurenai commented while mixing her stew.

"Sorry, I had to jump in three lakes just to find enough fish for us six…how is Hana-san doing?" This was the second time that Naruto had teamed up with Kiba's elder sister for a mission. On their first mission, he had to accompany her and other members of the veterinary's office to secure a wild white wolf that was terrorizing a small village near Konoha. It was the first time Naruto had seen Hana's triplets in action to safely control the animal. Since then, Naruto could safely attest that he preferred her over Kiba. Of course, being the elder sister, she quite knew how annoying her little brother could be.

Plus, her dogs had taken a liking to him as well.

In the mission, they were ambushed by a couple of Iwa missing-nins and some thugs. While Kurenai rushed to secure the client from one of the missing-nins, Hana and Naruto had to handle the thugs and the other missing-nin. Fighting them became a pain, since they would always go underground. And going below ground, made Hana's hounds worthless and Naruto's sensor ability couldn't pinpoint the exact hidden location. Even so, both Chuunin moved the second that the enemy rose from the ground, except that he managed to graze Hana's leg considerably, before Naruto managed to injure the missing-nin with his sword, slashing the enemy's chest. Since Kurenai managed to kill her opponent, the thugs and the second missing-nin escaped, though with Naruto's attack, he doubted that the enemy would be able to live.

In the end, Naruto had to carry the injured Hana on his back, towards the end of the mission. Though, he at least learned just how inexperienced he still was.

A way to flush the enemy upward would be to learn Doton Ninjutsu, but he only had knowledge in Suiton and Fuuton.

He needed something to use against these types of situations.

"I had just checked up on her, she's resting for now. Why don't you prepare the fish for us, while I will take this stew for her, Naruto-kun." Naruto nodded and with a kunai, quickly cleaned his catch. With a nervous scratch of his head, Naruto supplied the parts of the fish that humans didn't eat to the dogs, which had already finished their own and apparently wanted more. When Kurenai appeared with an empty bowl, Naruto was just waiting for the three fish sticks to be done. She then took a seat next to him, as he took two and gave one to her.

"Thank you." They ate dinner quietly and Naruto grabbed the last fish to split with Kurenai, before the dogs could steal it, much to the blonde's complaint. Kurenai could only laugh at the scene. "It seems they like you."

"Yeah, I have the food, don't I…at least, Akamaru was more polite." At the mention of Kiba's dog's name, the triplets glowered and Naruto only lifted his eyebrows in wonder at that, before turning to Kurenai.

"So, another successful mission, huh, Kurenai-sensei…" The Jounin nodded in approval at that, though she wondered why he was smiling so much.

", why are you smiling?"

"Well, I did say I was hoping for the promotion, so I could start going on tougher assignments with you guys." The sensei understood as she noticed how fulfilled he was at being acknowledged in his missions. And she acknowledged that with his vast skills repertoire, in regards to Genjutsu and Fuuinjutsu, the missions were carried out much more efficiently. Certainly, the decision to promote Naruto for the Chuunin position was easy. Like Asuma said, he was indeed a natural. Naruto, for his part, also enjoyed the elevated pay that came with the missions that were a boon to his finances as well.

With enough money, he could even decide to move to a better place in the future. Then, he remembered something and turned to address the beautiful ravenette Jounin.

"Ah Kurenai-sensei…" Kurenai then turned to him. "Did Yuugao-sensei reach out to you…I talked with her about what you and Anko asked me to, but she was still reluctant."

"As a matter of fact she did…hah, she told me about how much of a nagging student she has, trying to make her reach out to her friends." Naruto blushed slightly at that, before Kurenai continued, now observing the fire. "She didn't want to talk much with Anko about it…well, not like she opened her heart out to me, either but I was more relieved to see that she has been trying to cope with her loss." Naruto and Kurenai both looked down at that as they felt for their person of interest. While Naruto was perhaps too young to learn what it's like to lose a loved one, Kurenai was no stranger to the feeling.

You don't get to be her age with her experience and not learn the feeling of loss. Everyone does in one way or another, at one point in life.

"Well, I really wished I could do something to help her…" Kurenai looked at Naruto from the corner of her eye as he continued. "But I just don't know what to say...or even if there is something that needs to be said in these situations."

"There isn't…"

Naruto then turned to see the red eyes reflecting the dancing fire as the sensei seemed introspective. "Words alone don't have that power, may open your mouth and try to be as comforting as possible, but it's not enough…it's never enough by itself. The best you can do for Yuugao right now is like I did…be there for her…grief has its own time…you can't rush it, neither can you pretend like it didn't happen. I'll tell you something, though." Kurenai now had a gentle smile as she looked at him. "She has told me how much effort and dedication you're placing in your Kenjutsu tutorship. Yuugao-chan respects that…she is investing in you, Naruto-kun. So, keep doing what you always hard and show her that you're dedicated to learning everything she's teaching you."

Naruto nodded resolutely at that, knowing that he could do at least this much, to honor Yuugao's time, just like he honored every teacher he had up to this point.

"Of course, well, that goes without saying…I always try my best, you know." That much was true, in her book. To this day, Kurenai was still due to meet someone with such an impressive growth rate. What was more impressive was that his growth was due to his work ethic and tenacity as opposed to others in the past who just abused their superior intellect. Many Uchiha, Hyuuga and even some of the Nara Clans came to mind. Because of this, Kurenai became rather curious to simply know what's next…what outstanding new skill will he display next for her.

"Oh and what are you working on now? Without a Jounin-sensei anymore, you're free with your schedule. I admit that I'm rather curious about what's next on Uzumaki Naruto's list of skills."

Making a thinking pose, Naruto relayed what he has been doing since promotion.

"Well, nothing much. Yuugao-sensei has been drilling me in Kenjutsu and its training demands a lot of physical exercises as well. So, I came up with a morning routine for physical training as well as chakra control exercises." The woman just placed her right hand under the right side of her face and crossed the other arm as she heard him relate his work ethic for her to marvel at. Still, she had noticed a pattern in his explanation. She knew about some side projects of his as he came to call them.

"Huh, still hiding things from me, huh…what, no new Ninjutsu, B-ranked, A-ranked…S-ranked…?"

Naruto learned not to flinch at such accusations with an eased smile. Perhaps, he would talk to her freely in the future, but for now…

"Oh, of course, I have practiced a couple B and A-ranked Suiton Ninjutsu and even one B-ranked Fuuton, but those were mostly to increase the repertoire…nothing major."

"Right, A-ranked, nothing major." Naruto laughed at her snort in derision. "Well, it's getting late, Naruto-kun, so let's…" Kurenai was about to get up from the log and retire for the night, when Naruto stopped her.

"Ah, if it's possible, I'd like to ask you something." Kurenai nodded and returned to her seat. "Back when you were saying about Yuugao-sensei and grief, for a moment there, you were lost in thought." The moment he opened his mouth, the eyes returned and Naruto saw it, when he asked. "I'm sorry if it's something you don't wish to talk about…but…ah, well, you know about my life, but so far, I know almost nothing about yours…it seems a bit selfish on my part." Kurenai then fixed her hair behind her ear and turned to him. In terms of training and counseling for him and the others, she was always open to talk to, but right now, Naruto could see how tense and closed she became at his mere question. He felt some apprehension to perhaps ask something that would risk losing their bond, but he really wanted to know about her.

"Well, what do you wish to know?"

Naruto just took a couple of seconds, forming the words in his mind, so a dead silence ensued for some seconds, with only the burning wood making its usual noise.

"Is there a Yuuhi clan…I mean…do you have a family?"

"No..." Naruto looked at the fast response as Kurenai seemed to be in another world right now. "At least, not anymore. I was an only child…my mother died when I was very young and my father died, fending against the Kyuubi."

The image of herself as only a Genin trying to argue with her father, only for the man to trap them in a barrier so that her generation could not assist in the fight against the monster. Kurenai was so engrossed in her own world that she didn't realize the effect her revelation had on Naruto. Not another one…please, not her…not her as well. The dread he felt suddenly at the notion that the very creature he housed was responsible for her father's demise. If possible, it was like Naruto just housed the man's soul inside of him, haunting him…weighing him down…he felt like a ton of bricks was on his shoulder right now and his shoulder trembled.

"I'm sorry…" Kurenai had woken up from her own world in surprise at the pained gasp from him.

"Naruto-kun…" She was surprised and scared at the notion…no, he couldn't be taking responsibility for this, could he?

"I'm sorry that you have lost your father because of me." Kurenai now regretted telling him that, as she held his shoulder firmly.

"You have nothing to apologize for, Naruto-kun…" However, his constricted expression told her otherwise.

"No…I know that the fox's doing was its own doing, but it hurts…." Kurenai now looked at him with even more worry. "It hurts to know that the very being responsible for the death of your father is inside of me. I'm responsi…"

Whatever Naruto meant to say, he couldn't as Kurenai suddenly embraced him. He could feel her chin on his shoulder…he could feel her tender arms around his neck…but most of all, he could feel her tears. Kurenai's tears were for her father, for as she loved him more than anything. However, her tears were also because of the pain that Naruto must be feeling right now, carrying this burden, not only for her, but for everyone who lost a loved one's lif because of the Kyuubi.

"Stop, Naruto-kun…please, you don't have to bear responsibility, not for me, not for anyone whose life was altered by the fox." A little sob escaped as she concluded. "You were just born that day for heaven's sake!"

"But…" As Kurenai released the hug, they looked at each other's eyes and Kurenai could see the tears fall from his eyes as well.

"No buts…enough, already." She caressed his cheeks and cleaned the tears from his deep ocean cerulean eyes with a smile. "My father died protecting the village, Naruto-kun. That's the memory I have from him, my utmost memory of him…" The Chuunin wiped the tears from his eyes as he then listened to Kurenai talking about her father with such respect. "My father loved Konoha more than anything, he was a firm believer in the Will of Fire preached by Sandaime-sama and above all else he always believed that the current generation should learn to pass on the Will of Fire to the next. He is the sole reason I love tutoring so much. To see the next generation grow and carry on the legacy."

The way Kurenai described it made Naruto remember the Nidaime Hokage and his last words of wisdom before being released from Orochimaru's Edo Tensei.

"He must have been a man of valor, then." Kurenai smiled and looked up at the bright moon as the fond memories of her father resurfaced.

"That he was, indeed. And let me tell you something…" Naruto then looked at her, being mesmerized and transfixed by the sight of her eyes looking at the moon up in the sky. "My father would have loved taking you under his wing…"

"I really would have liked meeting him." The Jounin just nodded with a fond smile, while looking up above, wondering if her father was looking down upon her.

Then, both just stood there, observing the skies, before Kurenai went inside Hana's tent and Naruto resumed his guarding duties. The seals he had placed around the camp would alert him to any possible threats.

Later into the night, Kurenai had woken up and relieved Naruto to get some rest, before they returned to Konoha, carrying the wounded Hana.

===With the Hokage===

On the next day, Hiruzen Sarutobi resumed his workload as usual. Reports were flooding in with mission reports, inner-village communications and overall negotiations regarding the village's ongoing repairs after the war.

However, one subject now was many times more important.

His successor.

After his conversation with the Nidaime, Hiruzen had thought of two possible names for him to choose. Well, it was three, but Jiraiya would never take the job, so Hiruzen was down to two. Hatake Kakashi was a well-suited candidate, for sure. He had the respect of all of the Jounin and even the ANBU. In terms of age, Kakashi was at the same age as the Yondaime when he was appointed, so age wasn't the issue. However, there was something that still kept Hiruzen from fully nominating Sakumo's son for the position. Hiruzen still remembered talking to the Yondaime about what they could do to ease the pain of Kakashi's sorrows after everything that happened in his life. However, even after all this time, the aged leader still wasn't sure that the scarecrow Jounin had surpassed his traumas.

'Hell, it's not like she surpassed her own trauma as well…'

Hiruzen's second name was none other than his third student, Senju Tsunade. Hashirama-Sama's granddaughter and one of the heroes of the Great Ninja Wars, she had everything going for her to be appointed as the Godaime Hokage. Her set of trauma lay in her losing her little brother and her fiancé because of the War. Ever since then, she has been roaming throughout the Elemental Nations adrift, trying to make sense of her life. Still, in between Tsunade and Kakashi, Hiruzen was certain of his choice. Kakashi was already Hokage material, but he needed more time and more experience to overcome.

Now, he would have to count on Tsunade's teammate to first convince her to come back to Konoha, which was a mountainous hill to climb in itself. An ANBU then morphed inside his office.

"Hokage-sama, we haven't found traces of Jiraiya-sama anywhere, sir."

Hiruzen had just nodded at his ANBU personnel. Jiraiya had ways of knowing when the Hokage needed to speak with him.

"It's okay Tora, knowing him, he's going to arrive shortly, dismissed." The ANBU then left the room, as soon as another smoke cloud erupted and Hiruzen observed the irritated expression of his wayward student.

"What the hell, sensei…I was busy." Hiruzen did nothing but snort at what exactly Jiraiya meant by being busy.

"I do apologize for keeping you away from this village's brothels, Jiraiya…" However, by the easy smirk on his face, Hiruzen was everything but apologetic. "The time has come for us to seek her."

" you finally decided. And you wish me to find her and bring her back, I take it?" Hiruzen nodded.

"If I were to send anyone else, it wouldn't be as effective…not to mention that right now, only you and I know her best. I would gladly go myself, but I can't, so that leaves you." Jiraiya laughed at that, it would have been an amusing scene of Tsunade being scolded by Hiruzen and being brought in by force. Still, he always kept tabs on her general location through his spy network. It would be fun to see her once again. Still, Jiraiya wanted to take this opportunity and take care of something important.

"Sure thing, sensei. Is the kid available to come with me?" Hiruzen lifted his eyebrow in question and Jiraiya smiled. "I've been meaning to teach him one of the Yondaime's techniques…"

Hiruzen frowned at that…the Yondaime Hokage was famous for two techniques, the Hiraishin was of course off the table, so that leaves…

"Jiraiya! I understand that Naruto-kun is showing more promise than I realized, but teaching him such a technique…" Jiraiya, however, was absolute in his endeavor.

"He needs it, sensei." Hiruzen still frowned at that, even if he knew what Jiraiya was alluding to.

"Huh, fine…he returned yesterday from a B-ranked mission. I'll call him." One look to the side and the hidden ANBU left to send Naruto the message for yet another mission.

"Appreciate it...oh and a Hyuuga would be a nice help…can't always keep up with Tsunade once she decides to escape."

===With Kurenai===

The day after Naruto and Kurenai returned from their mission with Hana, the Genjutsu specialist looked at the night sky from her apartment and truly wished to do nothing tonight, but take a nice hot shower, place her comfortable nighties and just sleep. Just moments ago, one Naruto clone rang the bell from her apartment and told that the real one had been called to the Hokage's Office for yet another mission, this time with the Sannin Jiraiya and Hinata. Kurenai just wondered when he had time to get some rest, but he did wish for more missions. Though, she did relay a message to the clone for the real one that they would continue their conversation when he returned.

On their way back from their mission, Naruto still wished to know more about her past and surprisingly some of her hobbies.

It was quite odd, but the conversation turned out to be quite nice. Now, what to do…

'Well, tonight, I shall just focus on myself…no training…no missions…no…

"Hey Nai-chan, open up! I know you're in there!" Kurenai visibly deflated as she was clearly about to hope that Anko wouldn't come and drag her for something.

Still, her annoyingly best friend kept pounding on the door relentlessly.

"Alright, alright, I'm coming." As soon as Kurenai opened the door, she was surprised to see Anko there with a huge smile and the reluctant Yuugao behind her.

"What did you do, Anko, storm inside the ANBU Headquarters and drag her away by force?" The snake charmer just nodded with a huge smile as she looked at Yuugao.

"Yeah, I got tired of waiting, so I decided to intervene in my own way…now, come on, put on some sexy clothes and let's get some drinks!"

Kurenai once more deflated at her friend's energy.

"I swear Anko, sometimes I don't know who has gotten more energy, you or Naruto-kun. Come in, I'll get dressed." Anko and Yuugao got inside as Kurenai went to her room.

"Oh, how's the golden gaki…you guys just returned from another mission, right?"

"Yeah, we did…" Kurenai yelled from her room. "But apparently Hokage-sama has sent him on another just today…which reminds me, Yuugao-chan, he asked me to tell you that he won't return for at least two weeks."

"Understood, thank you. It looks like Hokage-sama is investing in him." Anko could see that Yuugao's frown turned into a proud smile, just as Kurenai returned with her usual outfit.

"It seems so…now, let's get going, already. I was still due to take a nice relaxing bath and sleep, you know!" Kurenai then ushered the two ladies out of her apartment and closed the door, before following her friends towards the bar.

However, and much to Kurenai's dismay, Anko ended up dragging them to a rather crowded place and ordered them nothing but Dango and sake. Before long, the snake Jounin had abandoned them on their own, going Kami knows where with Kami knows who, leaving Kurenai alone with the slightly drunk Yuugao next to her.

"I'm sorry Yuugao-chan, but well, you know how she is…" There are times when Anko's approach made more sense, but Yuugao's wounds were still fresh for that sort of approach.

"It's okay, it's not like I have anyone waiting for me at home, Kurenai…" The Genjutsu user nodded in sympathy, as the two ignored the excessive noise and even a couple of guys who tried their luck in asking them out. "In fact, could we leave…and I don't know…take a walk somewhere…otherwise the next imbecile who dares to approach me will have his balls sliced in half." Kurenai sweat dropped as she dully imagined the woman taking her sword and doing just that before the aforementioned male realized what happened.

"Let's go…I trust that Anko can pay for this one…not like we had much to begin with." Yuugao nodded and both women relaxed upon escaping from that awful establishment.

However, Kurenai looked briefly to the side only to see a distraught friend looking down, with empty eyes. The two walked casually throughout the rather empty streets of Konoha, until they climbed a long set of stairs towards a bench hidden beneath some trees.

"So…Kurenai…how was he in your last mission?" The Genjutsu user looked in surprise as Yuugao was still looking down with lifeless eyes, but she was choosing to talk about Naruto instead.

"Ah, you wish to talk about Naruto-kun, but…?" Kurenai then stopped talking, once Yuugao released a sigh.

"Talking about his training….thinking about his training…training him…keeps me focused, at least. Even throughout missions with my peers…I just perform them like I'm not even there, Kurenai-chan. Getting Naruto up to speed and developing him as a shinobi is one topic we share in common and something we can talk about. Aside from him and you two, there isn't much going for me, at least not anymore."

"What about Kakashi?"

"Senpai has his own demons to overcome as well and I had not talked to him once, since he left ANBU."

"I see…well, the mission went fine in the beginning…." Yuugao then listened as Kurenai delivered her report, especially about Naruto's contribution, since it appeared that Yuugao's interest was solely on him. A part of Kurenai enjoyed talking about her missions with Naruto, but she really wished that her friend would confide in her to discuss her feelings. After all, it was her and also Naruto's desire that Yuugao managed to overcome this with time. However, even if it's about Naruto, it was good that Yuugao hadn't shut herself off, entirely.

===Next Day===

It's been one day since Jiraiya left with Naruto and Hinata on their joint mission to find the other member of the Sannin, Senju Tsunade.

After walking a bit, the team composed of a Sannin, a Chuunin and a Genin appeared in a small village where a food festival was going on. No sooner had they stepped inside the festival, Jiraiya had ditched them, telling them that he would have to gather information, so Naruto and Hinata were free to do whatever they wanted. Hinata just blinked a couple of times as they watched one of the respectful Sannin walk away with a big and goofy smile on his face, slightly drooling as well. She was more confused when Naruto released a sigh next to her.

"Ah, Naruto-kun, is there something wrong?"

"Well, considering his hobby of peeping at women, I wouldn't be surprised if he would try doing just that…" Naruto then looked around and then looked back at his teammate. "So, Hinata, is there something you'd like to eat? This appears to be a food festival, after all. It's on me." Hinata then opened a smile at the offer as she followed Naruto around the vendors. They tried different kinds of food and Naruto realized in surprise how much of an appetite Hinata had. By the time they finished, the Genin was blushing terribly while holding a bag of Taiyakis and some cinnamon rolls.

"I'm sorry, Naruto-kun, but it's been too long since I've been to one of these festivals…and I wanted to try it all." Naruto only smiled though as he had three Dango sticks in one hand and tea in another. In the end, Anko had dragged him and Kurenai way too often to eat Dango and they oftentimes debated which food was better, Dango or Ramen, much to Kurenai's dismay on most occasions. It was best that the snake user wasn't here right now, or else he would have to see her smug face at seeing him eating her favorite food instead of his.

"No need to apologize, I did offer, after all."

"I appreciate it…everything was quite delicious." Naruto smiled at his teammate, before both stopped in front of an establishment, when both heard Jiraiya's laughter and voice.

"Ah man, I knew it! Wait here, Hinata." The Hyuuga girl blushed as she looked upward.

"Ah Naruto-kun, I don't think we can get in there…" Naruto looked up and then back at Hinata.

"Well, guess you're right, but we're on a mission…he just can't ditch us and goof off."

Hinata then looked as Naruto walked inside the brothel and heard Jiraiya screaming at him to scram.

"Seriously!" Hinata heard Naruto's screaming back. "Just what kind of information would you get from a brothel of all places? We are looking for a woman, for heaven's sake!"

"Ahhh, what do you know, you brat!" Hinata then watched as Naruto left the establishment with an irate look on his face.

Kurenai and Yuugao-sensei had indeed warned him about the pervert's true nature.

"So, what do we do now?" Naruto looked at Hinata and wondered about that himself, with a shrug. Before he could answer, though, Naruto and Hinata observed as two men wearing trench coats approached the brothel and started screaming at the still drunk Jiraiya. Naruto then went inside and looked just as Jiraiya focused chakra on the palm of his hand, a swirling sphere of amassed blue chakra and slammed at the gray trench coat man's stomach. As soon as the sphere hit, the grunt was sent spinning away and trashed the vending tent that was located in the back.

"I trust that you observed the technique I just used, huh, Naruto?" The Chuunin observed the injury from the man with the trench coat and then at the now sober Sannin.

"What was that…I had never seen anything like that…It was chakra shape manipulation, wasn't it?" The Sannin smirked, unsurprisingly. It seemed the apple didn't fall far from the tree, after all.

"I take it that you wish to learn it?" The giddy eyes that returned was also a boon as Jiraiya understood from both Asuma and Kakashi that Naruto enjoyed learning about Ninjutsu, above all else.

"What is this technique?" The Sannin hummed as he took a couple seconds to explain, giving the needed suspense.

"Why, this is none other than the Rasengan, one of the Yondaime Hokage's creations." As expected, the Chuunin's eyes widened considerably and his mouth started drooling at the prospect of learning a technique from the Yondaime.

After the entire debacle, Naruto, Jiraiya and Hinata were up on a hill overlooking the town where the festival was taking place. Though, both Naruto and Hinata wondered why the Sannin had purchased a bag full of water balloons.

"Now, there are three steps needed to learn this technique…though, I will only explain the technique once you master the first two steps…now watch carefully and then you'll have to replicate." Naruto and Hinata observed as the water inside the balloon started moving uncontrollably, without a clear pattern, but Jiraiya's hand didn't move at all. Of course, Naruto could sense the usage of chakra from the Sannin, though he couldn't see the pattern. Then the balloon popped and Jiraiya smiled, seeing that Naruto was observing the entire time.

"Well, carry on…I shall return to my information gathering mission."

Both Naruto and Hinata sweat dropped at that, before Jiraiya left. Naruto observed the water balloon for a while and began to focus.

"Ah Naruto-kun, just what should I be doing in the meantime?" The Chuunin looked at Hinata and cursed, seeing as the Sannin ended up focusing more on him, then Hinata.

Turning to think for a while, Naruto then observed Hinata and that alone made her blush at the attention.

"For now, I guess we are stuck waiting for him to gather the information of Tsunade's whereabouts, so we're stuck here for now." Hinata nodded, since that part was obvious. "So, perhaps, I can teach you how to rile your chakra." To her wondering look, Naruto explained. "I gather that your clan are masters of chakra control, but normally the Jyuuken does not require strong bursts of chakra, just small bursts throughout your fingers, right." Hinata nodded and then Naruto smiled. "Well, activate your Byakugan and look closely at my hand."

Using a ram sign, Hinata activated her Dojutsu as she observed Naruto's closed fist.

Her eyes then widened in surprise when Naruto's hands were encased in strong blue chakra, before his chakra began to grow, until it extended from his first and glowed stronger. Hinata even had to deactivate her Byakugan as Naruto's bright chakra almost blinded her.

"While I train the Rasengan, you can learn how to rile your chakra like I did. I know you tend to use your skills mostly for defense or counterpunch, but I'm certain that once you learn it, you can add a lot of new uses for the Jyuuken."

'Wow!' That was the only word Hinata could think of as she looked at the smiling Naruto.

Hidden from view, Jiraiya just observed the two and smirked, before truly leaving to truly gather information this time.

===In Konoha===

Standing over the walls that surround Konoha, two individuals wearing dark cloaks with red clouds overlooked the mighty hidden village.

It was surprising that the village had suffered so little damage, considering that it was invaded by two hidden villages.

"Oh, they did manage to avoid annihilation and it seems…" Said the taller one, though he was mostly gauging the reaction from the other guy.

"It seems Orochimaru's plans were foiled in the end…and it appears that his desire to kill the Hokage has backfired somehow. How pitiful." The taller one turned to gauge the other's reaction.

"Is that pride I sense in your tone? Oh what's it called…the Will of Fire, isn't it…kukuku. It was surprising to hear it from you." The smaller one responded with only a 'hn' sound, earning a chuckle from the other one. "So, should we go in and search for our target or what?"

"No…since Orochimaru failed to kill the Sandaime, it would be too much of a risk to face him in battle. Let's go."

The taller one then chuckled, before both vanished, but not before the full tomoe Sharingan eye revealed itself in the smaller one's face.

Author Note

Okay, I shall stop for now. Of course, with Hiruzen alive and kicking, Itachi would abort his and Kisame's incursion inside the village (well, I trust that those who know the story, will know to whom I was talking about in the end). Like I said in previous Author Notes, after the Chuunin Exams, some changes would occur to the story line, well, this was one of them. In the end, Akatsuki is only fully mentioned in the Shippuden timeline, so their only scene would be when Naruto and Jiraiya left to find Tsunade.

Not to say that Naruto won't get a taste of what S-ranked shinobi can do…but, yeah, you catch my drift.

Other changes will follow, so please stay tuned.

I saw that one review complained about the lack of action, so from here on out, there will be plenty of action.

Also…for those wondering just what Naruto showed to Hinata in the end, please watch the episode where the Nidaime riles his chakra to threaten Sasuke. It's a similar technique that Hinata later used for her twin lion style gentle fist.

Last but not least…the poll is literally on fire as two stories are still tied with 75 votes each.

I will keep the poll active for this month as I want to start the chosen story still in 2021.

Next update: Avalon Bond