A/N: So, usually I would berate flames here, and explain how most of the shit they spit is answered in the story. But, I don't care enough about their opinion to speak on it, no, there is something I am far more stupefied by at the moment and we'll be discussing that. A perfect fucking tie, I shit you not, I even went back and completely recounted every single vote from each and every update. I was speechless when I finally found the time to write up the notes, but honestly I think you guys will like my final decision on the matter. Since, you fuckers have managed some form of black magic, or conspired against me behind my back to perfectly even the vote, I've decided that the only plausible route of action is to declare both kunoichi as the winner of our reviewer polls. I hope you perverts are happy, because not going to lie, I am a little happy with the outcome. As these two were the reason I created the poll in the first place, not being able to decide between the two and too stubborn to adjust my number of women cap for the harem. However, I did not see the inevitability that you smart little bastards would twist my arm in such a way, well done. Regardless, sorry for the long break, life has been reminding me how much of a little bitch ass whore it can be. But, I hope you guys enjoy the chapter, regardless of the short time skip that has taken place (like a week, so all you really missed were some council meetings, training and Mei's heartfelt farewell with Naruto and Naruto alone. But the buxom kage may be back sooner than I originally planned, just not back in Konoha.)

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The Wolf and the Fox

Chapter 28 – Rivalries that Strengthen

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The branch shifted almost unnoticeably, but Itachi didn't show any outward reaction, his scarlet sharingan continuing to scan over the late night activity of the village at the center of the clearing just ahead of their position. "Sai mentioned he had felt your chakra approaching, though I must say I'm surprised you've decided to join us here instead of continuing on toward Sunagakure," he voiced in the usual monotone, though the man returned his calm, starring at the village with his own sharingan activated.

"I dealt with three squads at the border, it won't be long before they discover their disappearance, and I'm here because Tayuya has given me information that changed the parameters of the mission," he answered in a strict tone, one that made the Uchiha heir raise a curious brow.

"In what way?" Itachi questioned, knowing full well that the assassination of both Kusagakure's village leader and Kusa no Kuni's Daimyo were integral parts of the plan to ensure Orochimaru's sway in the country was taken away.

"Our main objective remains to disrupt their command and provide the opportunity for our informants to take their places, but the girl that Tayuya has told me of may in fact be a descendant of the Uzumaki if there is any truth to the apparent Kekkei Genkai that has piqued the snake's interest," Naruto explained in his hushed tone.

"What Kekkei Genkai did the Uzumaki possess that would grab Orochimaru's attention so simply?" The Uchiha asked, not having been aware that his best friend's clan actually possessed any Kekkei Genkai, aside from their natural aptitude for the arts of Fuinjutsu.

"Numerous, though the Uzumaki of old were more secretive of their traits than even the Uchiha once were of the evolutions following the base Sharingan. My mother possessed one such trait, the Kongo Fusa, chains that had the ability to restrain even the Kyuubi's chakra – which is why she was the second Jinchuuriki of the Fox spirit. But, that Kekkei Genkai only scratches the surface of what the Uzumaki Clan Kunoichi could awaken as in some cases the Kongo Fusa can be taught, though there were rarer cases of males having such abilities innately – namely the first Uzumaki. Her specific trait however, is the ability to heal nearly any ailment through the bite of the possessor's skin, allowing the one biting to feast on their healing chakra," Naruto explained in length, only because of the trust he had in Itachi to keep such things to himself – just as Naruto had kept the secrets of the Uchiha to himself.

"I underestimated just how much you learned from your trip to Uzushio," the raven haired young man smirked, earning a small smile from his longtime friend.

"I didn't learn all of this from my trip to Uzushio, some of the knowledge actually came from scrolls Kaa-chan left me and some that Mito-baa-sama left behind," the blonde shrugged in response, though in truth neither woman had given as much detail to him as the scrolls passed onto him by Uzumaki Michio and the rest of the Clan of old.

"How long before they notice three of their patrols missing, do you think?" The Uchiha asked, choosing to focus on something else for the moment, outside of the minor history lesson he'd been given.

"An hour, at the least, so we do have some time on our hands," the blonde answered without much thought, having refreshed himself on the information sent by his informant within Kusagakure's council before embarking on his journey to the now hostile territory.

"I take it our own Daimyo took the bait offered for our forces to move on Ka no Kuni and Otogakure as a whole?" Itachi questioned, earning a nod from the blonde clan leader.

"It wasn't hard, we knew Daimyo-sama would take any opportunity to increase the power and influence of his Dynasty, and we're allowed the chance to neuter Orochimaru of a larger foothold, lessening the resources at his disposal to repeat what occurred a week ago even further than we will with this operation," the blonde answered, Itachi being the only one other than the Sandaime, and now Godaime, to know the full spectrum of their counter assault – it only made sense, given the Uchiha was his second-in-command. Charged with taking his place should anything befall him, just as Naruto was charged with taking the role of Hokage should another not be prepared to take the role, as the Sandaime Hokage had arranged for Kakashi – a legend in his own right – to take his position.

"You do understand how ludicrous your plan for Sunagakure sounds, even given the likelihood and understanding I have that you are theoretically capable of the threat you intend to hold over their head," Itachi decided to shift the focus once more, earning a sigh from the blonde haired shinobi.

"I've laid the groundwork to ensure that it does work, my only worry with that side of the operation is the meeting with my informant in Kawa no Kuni," he explained, earning a raised brow from the Uchiha.

"I wasn't aware of any meeting in Kawa no Kuni," Itachi cast a suspicious glance towards his old friend, not exactly a fan of being left in the dark – even by the man he trusted above all others.

"Some cards are meant to be played close to the chest, this is one such card," Naruto answered.

"So, how deep of shit are you swimming in on this one," the Uchiha questioned, the smirk the blonde shot him was all he needed to know for an answer, making the young heir shake his head in mild disappointment. "Less of a shit storm than what you've been doing with Kaa-chan then, I suppose," the blonde paled at that statement, looking to Itachi with a look of aghast horror that the young raven haired man hadn't seen since before their Gennin days. "You two should know better than any, how observant I can be, and you can stop with that look, it doesn't bother me that you've become romantically invested with the woman who birthed me, that just so happens to be the same age if not older than your own mother would be," Naruto's eyes narrowed lightly at his best friend's chosen words.

"The way you say that makes it sound like you are bothered by it," the blonde stated, not trusting his friend as far as he could throw him – though no statement was needed that he could actually throw him quite far.

"Says the man with mommy issues," Itachi joked, a smug grin on his face.

"Alright, daddy issues," the blonde knew he'd won that exchange, judging from the glare his partner shot him.

"Pervert," the Uchiha barbed back.

"Drama queen," the Uzumaki returned.

"Man whore," the childish display continued.

"Virgin," the Uzumaki was never one to back down.

"False," the Uchiha lowly growled back.

"Good ole Jill, doesn't count," Naruto chuckled lowly, holding his right hand up for emphasis.

"I will be the cause of your death, Uzumaki," Itachi glared lightly, hating the way his best friend wolfishly smirked in response.

"Yeah, yeah, go suck on your little candy di –,"

"They're sending out a squad," Itachi interrupted, Naruto pouting that he wasn't able to bring forth the greatest of insults in the eyes of the Uchiha – mockery of his most prized snack.

"I suppose any chance to be immature will never last," the blonde lamented tiredly, channeling chakra to the seal on his wrist, summoning forth an ANBU mask different from the one he used as an ANBU – looking closer to that of a Hanya than the wolf he was famed to be. Itachi himself brought forth his own weasel-styled mask – not exactly having the same critical acclaim as his partner – the two placing them over their faces and pulling up the hoods of their cloaks. "You handle the assassination as agreed, I'll look for our secondary objective."

"Hai," Itachi nodded, before the two vanished from their position in a flurry of speed, only reappearing when they'd made it into the village proper. "Stick to the shadows, it has been awhile since you've done this side of the job, ne, Hanya-sama?"

"Says the man whose codename is the same as his actual name, teme," the exchange was a short lived one, but each of their masks hid the smirks the brothers in all but blood wore. The two trained assassins once more disappearing into the night, this time splitting off from each other.

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"You heard the latest bit of scuttle," a chuunin smirked, leaning against the railing of Konohagakure's great wall. Her brown eyes focused on the spiky haired young man standing next to her, a bored look on his tired face.

"I swear to Kami, if this is more crap about your precious Uzumaki-sama, I'm going to throw myself off this wall just to get away from you," The young man griped, earning a soft giggle from the woman.

"Word has it that Uchiha-sama has proposed an arranged marriage between herself and him, isn't that wild," She explained regardless of his sour mood, smiling innocently at the deadpanned gaze he locked onto her playful orbs.

"Yeah, wild that the luckiest guy in the village has proven to be even luckier," he grumpily lamented, earning a pouty look from the young beauty.

"Moh, Juro-kun, quit being like that," she chastised him, earning a role of his green eyes. "This just means that there's going to be another huge wedding sometime soon, an event you'll need a very beautiful date forrr~," she leadingly purred, leaning up against his taller frame with a near pleading look in her eyes.

"Great, Taicho can kill me for trying to date his daughter, how else do you plan to torture me, Himoko," he retorted earning another giggle from the young woman.

"I don't know, maybe I could convince you to do something Tou-san definitely wouldn't be happy about catching us doing a second time," she purred, pressing her lithe frame further into his own.

"You've lost your mind; the last time we did that I didn't get off night watch once for an entire month!" The young man animatedly retold his punishment earning a bored look from the kunoichi. She rolled her eyes, beyond annoyed as he continued on; no longer listening to his complaining, she unzipped her vest, took his hand and placed it on her breast allowing him to feel her arousal through the thin fiber of her shirt. Juro, the young viral shinobi, utterly stopped himself midsentence, blinking owlishly as he looked at his hand on her chest. "W-Well, if you i-in-insist, Hi-Himoko-chan," he stuttered out with a blush burning across his still shocked features, earning a big grin from the young temptress.

"I knew you'd see it my way, Juro-kun," she purred before pushing his hand away and dropping to her knees right in front of him, fiddling with the belt that held up his regulation navy blue pants. "Kuso, do they have to make these damn things so hard to take off!?" She complained, growling as she struggled with the piece of leather.

"Here, let m-,"

Himoko made to scream as her young lover was interrupted, his head slammed into the metal hand railing before his unconscious body was sent falling over the outer side of the wall by his assailant, whose hand wrapped around her throat silencing her scream. His green eyes, darker than her lover's and absent of any emotion, stared at her blankly as she choked on bile trying to bring oxygen into her burning lungs. Trying anything, the young woman mustered all her strength to pull her arms above her head, joining them together and bringing them down in a hammering motion to attempt in breaking his grip. But, surprise filled her as pain erupted from her hands, feeling as if she had just tried to punch an anvil, the white haired assailant only continuing to look blankly at her.

"You're going to tell me where I can find Orochimaru-sama's chosen," he lowly stated, the epitome of calm as the girl slowly suffocated. "You do not have to meet the same fate as your friend," his monotone drawled, her eyes beginning to burn with tears as her fleeting fears were confirmed. Her hand weakly reaching to attempt and claw his uncaring eyes from their sockets, but her reach wasn't enough, her hands falling limply to her sides as her strength faded more and more – the reality of her situation coming to her. "I supposed that you would be of no use to me, I'll end your suffering here and now then," the mysterious boy continued with the smallest flake of pity coming into his dead voice as he channeled his chakra.

She felt her eyes widen as something sharp pressed against her throat, coming from the skin of his palm, before she breathlessly gasped as it stabbed into her wind pipe. The young woman's once vibrant and playful almond orbs losing any life long before the technique jutted from the other side of her neck, coated in her sanguine blood. The specter in the night dropped her limp body, looking at her lifeless form coldly before his eyes panned to slowly look over the sleeping village before settling on what was once described to him as the Forest of Death by his master. "It would seem I would've found him without your help regardless, I can feel him calling on the power of his seal even now," he whispered before vanishing from his spot, leaving the bodies as they lay, uncaring of the possibility of being found out – most of the true threats were outside of the village at this time, as his master had planned in contingency.

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"We're really doing this, ne," Menma questioned rhetorically as he watched his best friend's skin become marred by the black flame-like sealing marks of his cursed seal – ebon orbs glowing with an amber intensity that reminded him of their last trip to these training grounds. He'd had sinking suspicions when the Uchiha had shown up and interrupted the late dinner he'd been having with Sakura, Shizune and his grandmother – both Jiraiya and Naruto out on mission. But, he had expected this since the day nearly a week ago when the enigmatic blonde had given them the task of settling their mild differences – spurred solely by recent events.

"Itachi interrupted us last time, but Naruto is right we should settle this, and to do that we have to go all out – from the start," Sasuke returned, watching as those amethyst orbs focused on him hardened exponentially.

"You're not supposed to be using this power, Sasuke," the crimson haired boy countered, earning a frustrated growl from the Uchiha.

"You're not one to talk about using forbidden techniques on comrades, or should I take these bandages off of my arms to remind you?" Menma flinched at the truth behind the Uchiha's words, his eyes softening as they indeed traveled to the bandages he knew to cover most of Sasuke's chest as well. "We both went too far last time, and we both have to learn to control the powers we don't exactly understand, especially if we want to complete our own goals," the Uchiha continued on, his angry tone mostly a byproduct of the seal's effects on him. Though, he was annoyed with the crimson haired boy's thoughtless hypocrisy.

"What better way to do it, than with someone that can understand, ne," Menma agreed with a small, almost unnoticeable smirk – Sasuke proving once more that he understood the crimson haired boy better than many of their peers. The Uchiha merely nodded, his own small smirk fading from his lips as he took his clan's taijutsu stance.

"Don't hold a thing back, Menma," he barbed as the crimson haired boys posture sunk into his own stance as his unique vulpine features enhanced – his own stance very different from any that Naruto would use.

The Uchiha didn't receive a verbal response, instead being answered with the Uzumaki's latest mastery of the Shunshin allowing him to appear behind the dark haired boy – even leaving an after image that nearly caught the Uchiha off guard. But, Sasuke was quick on the draw, his eyes bleeding into the scarlet hue of the sharingan as he pivoted and caught the axe kick aimed at his shoulder with a forearm, parrying the powerful blow and hitting Menma with a spinning kick that took his planted foot from beneath him. Only for his eyes to momentarily widen as the boy disappeared from existence the moment his back hit the ground – proving his chakra control had increased, as his Kagebunshin could handle further damage than the initial blow. The quick replacement with a bunshin only providing the young Uchiha a few scant moments to prepare as three more Uzumaki exploded from the ground at his feet, one's hand lashing out to stop him from drawing his weapon and another lashing out with a sweeping kick that forced him to lightly jump lest his feet be taken out from beneath him. The third copy of his best friend lashing out with an opened palm strike to his chest, that he was able to perceive was laced with chakra, building for a pinpoint release that would've sent him careening into the forest had his hand not lashed out and grabbed the clone's wrist inches from impact.

His counter assault was just as fast, his body movement on par with the near impossible, as he lashed out with his own – paling in comparison – chakra laced attack, aiming a kick that took the clone still crouched from trying to deliver a sweeping kick directly in his temple. Then, as the clone was already sent into a sailing dispersal, the Uchiha used the momentum from his initial counter to acrobatically twist his body in a way that allowed him to flip around the clone's arm that he held – the force allowing him to yank and snap the wrist within his grasp. Finishing his rebuttal by sending the same kick that had dealt with the first clone into the third – now holding the drawn ninjato in his hand – in the crook of his neck, sending it face first into the dirt and allowing the Uchiha to reclaim his weapon and stab it into the clone now behind him, before he pulled it with a roar and slashed the neck of the clone on the ground.

But, he wasn't allowed any repose as he rapidly pivoted and blocked a lateral strike from the original Menma's own ninjato, crimson and scarlet burning into one another as the young Chunnin gritted their teeth. Menma however proved his higher physical strength by finally pushing the Uchiha back, only for his next strike to be parried allowing Sasuke to offer his riposte giving the Uzumaki little time to return with his own parry, the two becoming locked in a kenjutsu battle – each using every lesson their brother had taught them in an attempt to gain the upper hand.

For a time, whose length was lost to the young shinobi, this became the extent of their battle as the two danced across the forest floor, incorporating taijutsu and ninjutsu into their efforts only for the other to answer in kind. But, the flow of the battle changed drastically as with a roar Menma struck true, channeling his futon chakra into his short blade, allowing him to slice cleanly through Sasuke's blade.

The Uchiha's eyes only widened for a moment before he channeled his Raiton chakra into the remaining half of his blade and stabbed forward – intent on embedding his weapon into the crimson haired boys stomach. However, Menma answered – still channeling his strongest element into his weapon – and turned his final parry of Sasuke's weapon into a meeting of their blades that completely sliced any of the remaining blade from the tsuba. But, the Uchiha didn't let that stop him, almost instantly releasing the grip on his weapon, and without a single seal, channeling forth a chidori that burned with the indignation in his heart that his best friend had surpassed him in a field of shinobi study he'd once stood dominant amongst their peers.

Menma's own eyes widened, as he saw the assassination level technique inches from impaling his abdomen only for the moment of fear to pass as he used his shunshin to get away, reappearing back near where he had first stood with the Uchiha's glare focused entirely on him. "You're losing control of it, Sasuke," the Uzumaki growled, returning his ninjato back to its seal as the Uchiha ignored his words and charged forward with his impressive speed. Barely a second passes from the time the boy started and reached Menma, the crimson haired boy barely having time to block six rapid fire attacks, before the Uchiha used his over headed block of a spinning high kick as a makeshift springboard to flip back and flick through several hand seals.

"Katon: Goukyakyu no Jutsu!"

Menma was quick to answer, only needing two hand seals before he clapped his hands and pushed them forward, calling, "Futon: Reppusho!"

The torrent of winds summoned forth cut through the flames with an ease that annoyed the Uchiha, especially when the storm pressed on and threatened to push him back; had he not used chakra to anchor himself to the earth beneath him. But, his eyes widened as the predictive nature – heightened beyond that of the normal spectrum of others within his family – alerted him and Sasuke was forced to quickly pivot and deflect a blow aimed for his head, answering the clone's attack with one of his own; only to find his eyes widening as a quick shift happened and as his fist impacted the Kagebunshin swapped before an explosion of wind cut and bit at his skin. He'd not known that Menma had even been working on elemental clones, nor that he was proficient enough with them and the Kawarimi no jutsu to out maneuver the prediction of his eyes. The unexpected pain he was dealing with forcing his eyes to widen as another clone suddenly burst from the ground at his feet, landing a solid uppercut that sent him careening into the air. Knowing what the crimson haired boy had in mind, he made his first hand seal the moment two more clones popped into existence, sending synchronized elbow strikes with the same chakra behind them into his abdomen, Sasuke coughing up spittle of blood as he was launched further into the air. However, he wouldn't break his focus – knowing exactly how this combination ended – as he continued to mold his chakra and formed two much quicker hand seals. He was expecting another physical attack, but once more his sharingan presented a vision of the original Menma using a Shunshin to appear in the towering tree cover still above him, channeling his chakra into his palm and rocketing down with a blue sphere in his palm. Snapping back to reality, just as the sound of a thousand birds chirping once more filled the forest, Sasuke's opposite hand snapped out to the clone sent as a diversion – meant to draw the focus of his eye – and once more called forth a copy of the technique given to the Uzumaki brothers by Tsunade. Using the momentum of the brutal palm strike that dispelled the clone to flip his body in the air and give him a full view of the vulpine looking Uzumaki as he descended upon him.

"Rasengan!"

"Chidori!"

The two yelled in unison, pushing their attack forward, where they met and caused a chain reaction – an explosion of chakra – that sent the Uchiha barreling into his own personal crater and the Uzumaki sailing high into the air where his back collided with one of the thicker branches that made up the canopy above them. The crimson haired boy just barely catching himself and allowing the momentum to swing him up to the top of the branch, panting as he just lay on its thick surface. Sasuke was no better, panting harshly as the effects of the cursed seal washed away from his skin, even as his scarlet orbs continued to glare into the canopy above – focused solely on the signs of crimson hair he could see. For a moment, his eyes seemed to play a trick on him, seeing his friend standing nearly unharmed and looking down at him pityingly. The anger that coursed through him was raw, but managed to break the false image, though not wash away the bitter taste rising within his mouth. In that moment, he understood why he had begun to look at his friend, his rival, and brother in all but blood differently. There was a gap growing between their power levels, where once he had stood above and then they had stood evenly matched, the crimson haired boy had finally taken the lead and it was apparent. No one else their age could do something like this, present such a threat to him, to out maneuver the predictive nature of his eyes, and act in ways that seemed unpredictable enough to trick them and his own knowledge of the boy's skill. There was however, a moment of clarity in the anger as his brother's words during their month of training together became an answer that lessened the bitterness of his mouth.

"You have to understand, Otouto, that the seal will take any chance it can to alter your thinking, to darken you in ways that turn you from our path, even against people that you'd never normally want to betray – you must overcome these implanted desires if you ever wish to surpass who you are today and become the man I believe you will one day be," The quiet idol in his life had said, as they spoke about the diagnosed effects of Orochimaru's seal, as described to the elder brother by Naruto. The words didn't stop him from gritting his teeth, anger still boiling as he forced himself up the moment he noticed Menma doing the same. Once more, he was presented with that image that played across his mind, but this time he only saw strict determination within the now amethyst orbs of the Uzumaki. He didn't know exactly why, but the look reassured him, even as he allowed the Sharingan to fade from his eyes and he once more began to mold his chakra as Menma did much the same.

"You've gotten stronger, Menma, you really have… but, that doesn't mean I'll let you beat me, not now…. not ever!" He roared up to his friend just before lightning once more arched into life on his hand, much more explosively than he had wielded it previously. There was a level of understanding that built into those amethyst orbs of his rival as a smirk played across his lips as another Rasengan spiraled into life just above his palm – also much stronger than the one he'd used previously.

"I wouldn't have it any other way, teme!" Menma roared back as they crouched, readying themselves to once more meet, allowing themselves to exchange determined glances as they each channeled as much chakra into their legs as they could spare. When the two young Chunnin exploded towards one another, bark exploded into the heavens and the earth coiled in on itself from the pressure of their launches. The blink of an eye being how long it took the two childhood friends to reach one another as they both once more roared the names of their now signature jutsus.

"Chidori!"

"Rasengan!"

Though, unlike last time, something strange passed between the two and for a moment – as an explosion of white swallowed the two – they each felt as if on some level they now understood one another better than they had previously. As they poured every ounce of their strength into their battling jutsus, the two – nearly blinded by the combined explosions of wild electricity and rampant winds kicked up by the spiraling orb of pure chakra – exchanged smirks that reminded them equally of the first time they had worked together in an effort to prank the brothers who both heavily impacted who they were today. Once more, an explosion sent the two flying away from each other, but unlike the last this exchange was felt for miles in every direction; a Hokage shirking his duties looking up from his dirty little book as he sat on the lonesome roof of the Hokage's mansion, a smile playing at the lips hidden behind his ever present mask.

"Fukuro, give the signal for the ANBU and Ne to move in on the Forest of Death, I'll be joining them shortly to handle our unwelcomed guest," Kakashi lazily ordered, only for the breeze to unnoticeably shift around him – signaling that his personal guard had left to enact his orders. Leaving the newly ordained Godaime to clap his book closed and stand, before pulling his headband up to properly rest across his forehead; revealing the gift left to him by someone that had drastically shaped who he was today.

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Itachi looked on coldly as their primary target slumped against the wooden floor of his living dormitories within the mansion set aside for the leading parties of Kusagakure, a detail of Kusagakure's own ANBU littering the room in various spots. Only for him to shunshin away without a single glance to any of the other bodies, reappearing in the same shadowed alley he and Naruto had separated at, finding the blonde to already be there drenched in blood and carrying a young red headed girl with broken shackles hanging from her visible ankles. The Uchiha glanced to them, and then to the blood that would be unnoticeable to anyone considering the dark clothing they wore, before meeting the scarlet mangekyo that burned behind the Hanya mask. "Mission complete, I take it you found resistance of your own," he calmly inferred, earning a slow nod from the blonde.

"Our informant had jeopardized her cover by trying to protect her, I ensured that it wouldn't be a problem later," he answered simply, earning an accepting nod from Itachi before the Uchiha calmly placed his hand on the blonde's shoulder and the three were gone in a flash. When they reappeared, Itachi was mildly surprised to find another blonde in a Hanya mask standing there with a dark haired boy in an ANBU mask depicting a raven, the clone turning into wood as it sunk into the ground leaving the now four standing just outside one of the northern border's check points. "Our mission is complete, and any entrance into Kusa no Kuni is strictly forbidden until further notice, not even a scouting party, understood?" The blonde ordered, his scarlet orbs directed toward the ANBU captain that appeared before them as he started speaking – the one in charge of this hidden outpost.

"Hai, Hanya-sama," the woman bowed before disappearing once more, likely to tend to her duties of over watch.

"You two will take Karen back to Konoha, travel as civilians and take your time explaining things to her, I was only able to introduce myself before she passed out," he instructed, eyes now focused on Itachi as he handed him the girl. "Head for Tanzaku Gai now, an informant will be waiting at the western entrance to see you to accommodations and provide new clothing for her. When you reach Konoha, ensure that you stay with her until an ANBU detail is provided to watch over my home, Tsunade-baa will act as her protection in the public eye until I return," he further went on to his longtime friend, before turning to the younger ANBU as he removed his mask, hand coming to rest on the boy's head. "You did your job very well tonight, Sai, I'm very proud of you," He smiled, showing his pride along with the kindness he reserved from the children recovered from Danzo's program. "I think it's safe to say I have nothing to worry about, trusting you to be her shadow while I'm gone, ne?"

"Arigatou, Naruto-sama, and I will ensure her safety until you order otherwise," he nodded, even if it was a little hard to with Naruto's hand on his head.

"I'll need to speak with you when I return," the boy nodded, and the blonde let his hand fall from his head as he looked back to Itachi, handing him the mask created specifically for himself after the Okami operative had become too well known and tied to him internationally – something he intended to make the sign of the one who led Ne. "Just in case," he smiled softly, despite the implications behind the gesture.

"I'll keep it safe until you return, try not to cause any more trouble than necessary, as hard as that is for you to do," Naruto snorted at the barb, gently clapping his friend on the shoulder – careful to avoid awakening his newly recovered clanswomen. "I'll be sure to tell Kaa-chan you send your regards," Itachi glibly added before the blonde vanished in much the same way they had appeared at the border.

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A/N: Yes, I know, it has been awhile and I'm sorry my return chapter isn't longer. But, I am happy to be back with an update for all of you, and I would like to formally welcome all of those readers who joined us while I was on break, thank you for reviewing, following and favoriting the story; and, also for giving your own votes to the reviewer poll. I hope you have enjoyed the story thus far, and advise you to keep an eye on the earlier chapters as I will be doing some rewriting to freshen up, as I feel like there is a noticeable difference in my writing between then and now. Shouldn't interfere too much with the already scattered writing I'm able to do, but I have also been working on some new projects – namely when I've hit walls with this story, purely in motivation unfortunately. But, that aside, no this story is not going anywhere and I have no intentions of letting anyone else do my work. Now, with that said and not much care to say anything else as I am having a sick day, you folks have a good day! Please remember to drop a review if you liked it and follow to keep up with any updates! You can also follow my account personally to see if I ever follow through with all this talk of starting other projects and actually post them! K BYE!

Poll Results: NARUTO X MABUI X YUGITO X HAREM (I still don't know how you fucks did this)