Chapter 2:

Mikoto survived only because she'd been out training.

Training to get back onto the mission roster for higher ranked missions after being gone for so long.

STraining because she wanted to be strong enough to take a mission that would bring them together so Kushina could be 'Dragged back kicking and screaming'

If it hadn't been for that, she'd have been killed by her own son too. Maybe the whole clan would have been killed without that. Mikoto had been the one to return, discover the bodies and raise the alarm after all.

She'd cut the massacre short. Though not by much. A clan of over two hundred people brought down to little over two a dozen in a single night.

A massive, devastating blow to a village still recovering from a great war and the destruction of a rampaging Bijuu,

She didn't understand it.

Itachi had always been a quiet, thoughtful boy. She could even go so far as to say he was a kind boy. Though she knew many people wouldn't name that as a quality he had.

The question was simple.


That was always the question, wasn't it?

That was always what came to mind. What people wanted to know.

They wanted to know, but she knew better than anyone that he answer was never… sufficient. It would always be… inadequate,

Mikoto threw herself into the work of maintaining what little of the clan remained, to the point that Kushina worried for her dark haired friend. The political sharks could smell blood in the water and they were not slow to swim to it, looking to rip out a piece for themselves and fill in the power vacuum left by the Uchiha shaped hole in the body of the village.

No time for grief, no time for second guessing or what ifs. Mikoto worked day and night like a woman possessed. She worked for herself, her remaining clan members, for Sasuke and everything in between.

Perhaps that's why when Mikoto asked Kushinato move in with them, she didn't have the heart to say no.

She did many things she wouldn't have considered without Mikoto being the one to ask.

She trained sasuke, she used her own image, her name and her fame to spearhead a recruitment drive for the police force. She tendered her resignation to the Anbu spec-ops.

She did it because Mikoto asked her to.

She did it because they were both broken in different ways.

Because they were both grieving. Because they understood each other and because they were probably each other's last 'true' friends. And because she didn't want to lose her last friend.

But there was one thing she would not budge on. One thing Mikoto asked that she would not consider.

Stay away.

More than once her friend asked to petition Sarutobi, told her to demand for the order to be removed, hell, for Kushina to give Mikoto herself permission to adopt him, legally, if they really had to force the issue and get around the order.

Stay away.

She almost said yes; more than once.

She wanted to say yes.

Of course she did.

More than anything else in the world.

But those sweet dreams where she could hold her son in her arms again, where she could take care of him, teach him, provide for him, comfort him, pick him up after he fell and do all those things that mothers were supposed to do…

Those dreams always ended the same way.

They end with the sound of her fist striking a screaming baby with all her strength. Hitting him again and feeling the bone break beneath her knuckle, feeling the sickening give of his cheek snaking all the way up her arm and watching his eyes turn glassy, the red sputter out of his nose and mouth, hearing him choking on his own blood, as he tried to suck down a wet, ragged breath…

And her, feeling absolutely nothing.

Merely ready to hit him again so he would just be quiet.

Then she would wake up.

And she would say No.

Mikoto would scream, rage, even cry on one occasion. Tears of frustration and fury as she shouted that Kushina had punished herself enough for her mistake.

She was wrong. It might never be enough.

Stay away.

So she did.

She watched him. She had that luxury now. She got a full week of time before Kakashi caught wind of it and shadowed her once again. Or, perhaps it was a week before he slipped up and she was able to detect him.

Either way, it didn't matter. The Third ordered her never to approach him. To never speak to him.

But he never said she couldn't see him.

Kakashi could not keep her from watching.

When he failed the academy the first time, she expected him to cry.

He hadn't. He'd stubbornly grit his teeth, and choked down the tears that glimmered at the corner of his eyes. Even as some of the crueler children laughed at him. He clenched his fists and rigidly refused to sob.

That had been more heart-wrenching than if he had cried like a boy his age should have.

His second year was better than his first, with children closer to his age group. He made friends with two of his classmates, a girl called Tenten, and a boy called Lee.

They played often after class, with Lee being one of the few that could keep up with Naruto's boundless energy. Tenten made Kushina smile when she was around. She seemed to be the brains of their little operation, keeping both of them in line and not being afraid to boss them into line.

When he failed the second time, on the grounds that he couldn't do the Bunshin no Jutsu when Lee couldn't even use chakra to do any of the three basic academy Jutsu, her hackles and her suspicions were raised.

She found the culprit that very night.

One of the Chuunin examiners, old enough to remember the Kyuubi attack. Old enough to hold a grudge.

He'd fixed the score.

She didn't hurt him. Though she'd been tempted. She took the evidence to the Hokage, the Chuunin being none the wiser.

He didn't act as she'd expected. He didn't give Naruto the Hitaiate, place him on a team as he deserved.

Perhaps it would be too embarrassing politically. Perhaps it would cause too much of a scandal that the academy allowed the instructors enough control and too little oversight that they could rig test scores so brazenly.

But that Chuunin was fired the following morning.

And like a great cleansing flame Sarutobi's hand came down over the academy in the summer months in a way she hadn't seen in a long time.

An Uchiha Kunoichi was an instructor for his third year, along with another young chuunin, Iruka.

Sasuke was in his class.

It was probably because of Mikoto's encouragement, but quiet, shy Sasuke was the first to break the ice between the two. And Naruto made his third friend. Though he still considered Lee and Tenten friends, time and absence had forced a drift, though she had no doubt it would be mended quickly once they saw each other again.

As for his instruction, Iruka was not a bad teacher, all and all,. She could even go so far as to say he was a good teacher. And even though she could see moments of tension within the man, moments where she could tell he remembered exactly who Naruto was, she could commend his professionalism. He never took off one point or gave one extra to any single student. Not even Naruto.

The Uchiha kunoichi, Nanda, possibly because of Mikoto again, did go the extra mile. Offering tutoring for three hours every saturday morning to the students and encouraging Naruto specifically to take it

He passed that year, though he still couldn't do the bunshin to save his life.

He'd never looked so happy as he did the moment Iruka tied the headband around his head. His smile was infectious, she could feel it even where she hid and watched. Iruka himself couldn't help but smile back at the boy. Probably the first smile he'd ever given him in the entire year.

Mikoto took Sasuke to celebrate, and in that moment, barely waited for him to even pose the question before inviting Naruto herself.

It was a strange thing. Being grateful and at the same time feeling the hurt twisting her stomach into knots.

She took them to one of the more lavish restaurants near the Hyuuga district. Kushina had only gone once, with Minato, years ago.

He liked it because it was, literally, the best seafood in town. She liked it because the amount of food they served justified the considerable price tag. A bit. A very little bit.

Naruto was shy around Mikoto, quiet, reserved, but it didn't take long for Sasuke's poking and prodding to get him to his old self again, with both boys making bets as to who would beat who or get to chuunin first.

Then Sasuke asked a question.


"Yes, Sasuke?"

"Will Aunt Kushina come by?"

She froze where she sat, as if her name alone would make Naruto suddenly aware of her presence.

Her name. He knew her name now.

"Huh? You have an aunt?"

"Of course I have an aunt, idiot!"

She felt something in her chest petrify, turn brittle and break, the crumbling pieces of it falling away.

Mikoto answered him, but her voice wasn't really directed at him. "I don't know, Sasuke. Maybe."

It was a question to her, an open invitation laid flat on the proverbial table.

And in that moment the words she'd clung to for so long, the simple order that had been her guard rail for the entirety of his life stay away was suddenly absent, a distant echo in her thoughts, slipping through her fingers like water as she tried to grasp at it, keep herself from going in there.

She trembled where she hid a whimper choked down in her throat, a dozen emotions suddenly surging from within where she'd long since buried them in an effort to numb the pain.






They all came out in an instant, clawing at the walls of her thoughts to take the most attention.

And then, just like that it was all drowned out by overriding, overpowering thing.


Black and oily, it coiled around her mind like a snake, smothering the faint light that had broken through for just a moment.

Twelve years.

His entire life she'd been gone. Watching from a distance, never once helping him when he fell. Cleaning his scraped knees or teaching him things before he learned the hard way.

Twelve years of absence. Of distance and apathy.

She'd tried to kill him as a baby. Then she'd tried to kill herself. Now she'd tried to kill her feelings.

She'd failed at all three.

And now she wanted to hope… to walk in there and what… try at motherhood like she'd tried so many other things and failed at them?

Stupid, Worthless, Fool. Her thoughts hissed.

Their food had arrived, Mikoto had ordered the most expensive dish of fish and lobster for them. She didn't even see Naruto's eyes go wide with wonder before she stood up and walked away.

She wasn't sure where she was going, or what she was even doing. She just kept walking.

To be more accurate.

She fled.


She didn't return home that night, or the day after. When she finally did return, Mikoto was equal parts furious and apologetic. A curious dichotomy of emotions that ended with Mikoto bandaging Kushina's fists, caked with her own dried blood.

She found out the team assignments that night after Sasuke made it home.

He'd missed out on the top spot of the class by a mere handful of points, the title going to Aburame Shino instead. Sasuke was placed with Inuzuka Kiba and Hyuuga Hinata, Naruto with Shino and Haruno Sakura.

Sasuke's sensei was another Uchiha, one of three remaining in the clan with a fully awakened, three Tomoe Sharingan. Mikoto was the second and the third a Kunoichi making a bid to receive the nomination to lead the still rebuilding police force.

Naruto's Sensei was Hatake Kakashi.

Again, it was a curious thing. This mixture of gratitude and hurt.

No one would protect Naruto more diligently.

And no one would work harder to keep her away from him.

She didn't watch Hatake's test the day it happened. Too worried her presence might drive the man to do something rash, or that she would interfere in some way.

But she heard he passed minutes after Kakashi declared it all the same.

The rest of it didn't matter, all the conflicting, exaggerated or changing stories didn't matter. All of the speculation and deductions, none of it mattered. All that mattered is that Naruto had passed, and that he was happy.

She kept her distance for a time, for all their sakes, but truthfully, more for hers than anyone else.

Her last conversation with her late husband's last living genin had been… hard. The memories Kakashi dragged up for the both of them with that eye of his still rang clear as day in her head, never allowed to fade from her thoughts. He'd done it with rage in his chest and the sheer longevity of the subconscious command he delivered spoke volumes of how witnessing her actions had scarred him as deeply as it had her.

But even the fury of that cursed eye wasn't going to keep her away forever.

The day she watched the team in the training grounds he approached her almost as soon as she'd found a vantage to observe comfortably.

His feet touched down so silently, even another Jounin might have missed it.

She didn't.

"I thought I was clear enough." He said.

"You'll have to cut out my eyes if you want me to never see him again, Kakashi."

Despite the violent imagery of her words, her voice was soft, almost too quiet to hear.

"Shino has his insects frequently out in the surrounding area."

"He won't spot me," she declared, watching as Kakashi instructed the two boys sparring together. While Naruto's technique was lacking, the fact that Shino couldn't simply wait him out as his bugs drained Naruto of chakra was showing many flaws in the Aburame's own form when he was put under pressure.

"He better not," he finally said, disappearing in a puff of smoke, knowing he couldn't force the issue.


She could see it in the days and weeks that followed.

His team was good for him.

Chalk it up to Aburame's ingrained need for efficiency, or to view things logically, but Shino forced his teammates to train in ways that strengthened their weaknesses. With his suggestion that Sakura join in Naruto's morning training routine to increase her physical capabilities and that Naruto re-read everything from the Academy's combat practical curriculum under his and Sakura's watchful eyes- and in Sakura's case, head slapping stick so he'd concentrate- she saw her son's harsher edges begin to round out.

Even in social skills, as she saw when he noticed for himself when he was getting on his teammates last frayed nerve after a long day and curbed his habitual overeagerness in displays of self awareness and control, she knew couldn't have been easy for him.

Even so, Aburame's obsessive need for everything to be running to standard didn't stop with his teammates. Shino got into discussions frequently with Kakashi when he felt the Jounin wasn't pushing and challenging them all hard enough.

He was wrong in some instances of course, while Kakashi's pace was a bit more lax than she perhaps would have taken with the kids Shino's unique physiology did not allow him to fully grasp how much rest regular human bodies required between bouts of strenuous exercise to receive actual gains rather than increased risk of injury.

A blindspot Naruto wasn't really helping with.

But still, Kakashi was curbing the more oblivious suggestions he was giving (like allowing his hive to eat through all of Sakura's chakra reserves every morning so the girl would train without it and thus, increase her reserves faster) while adopting the more sensible ones, like teaching Naruto some high chakra requirement Jutsu since he seemed to have so much chakra that a percentage of Shino's hive had eaten themselves to death with Naruto being utterly oblivious throughout the day.

That thought brought a chuckle out of her.

She wondered for a time, what would have happened if Sasuke had been on Naruto's team instead. The boys were friends, but Sasuke's timid shyness gave way to a fierce competitive streak, especially with Naruto. She couldn't picture her nephew encouraging Naruto's rapid growth in the name of 'Team efficiency'

Then, one fine day they left, on a C rank mission outside the village.

In the following days it didn't take her long to find a wholly new 'strange' sensation to add to the list.

Anxious restlessness.

He's been out of her sight before. Not very long ago she had been absent for fourteen straight months without sight or sound from him.

But back then he'd always been within the village; he'd always been in a place where the greatest danger he could face was his own mishap.

Kakashi was, arguably the strongest ninja in the village beyond herself and Sarutobi. He would protect Naruto. There was nothing that should even come close to threatening him on a C rank mission.

Even beyond Kakashi, Shino could double as an effective sensor with his Kikaichu, very little could sneak past his insects, even she had trouble on occasion avoiding their myriad of eyes and ears.

All of this was credible in her mind, all of it made sense, and absolutely none of it made her anxiety levels any more bearable.

She paced across her rooms in the Uchiha compound when she should be sleeping, or trained til the sun was well beneath the horizon, walked the village streets like a wraith, all the while counting the days to their scheduled return. It got so bad Mikoto had actually started lacing her nightly teas with sleeping draughts so she would actually sleep. Not just close her eyes.

If they were late, order or not, authorization or not, she would march out of those gates and head to Wave herself.

They ended up being late by nearly a full day, she already had weapons and supplies packed and ready to go before word finally reached her..

The relief that sagged her shoulders uncoiled the tension through her body, and for the first time in what felt like forever she felt her ribs seemingly uncoiling from the crushing embrace they'd held over her beating heart and diaphragm. The deep breath she finally sucked down that expanded her lungs made her muscles ache pleasantly as they stretched and finally relaxed.

Still, it wasn't enough. It wouldn't be enough until she saw him with her own eyes looked at his smile and heard his laugh.

She resisted the urge to run, but it was not by much.

Either through luck, or providence, she arrived at the tower before them.

She hovered for a moment at the lobby entrance indecision warring in her mind before she reached a decision, hatched a plan.

She hid her chakra signature, marching up the stairs and lingering beyond the hallway that led to Hiruzen's office.

She sensed his chakra when he drew close, a little beacon of sunshine next to the little puffs of cloud beside him. Kakashi wasn't hiding his, he likely wasn't aware of her presence.


As they ascended the stairs she made her way across the hall and stepped into Hiruzen's office.

The older man turned at the sound of his door opening, eyes finding hers. She saw the lines of his face deepen, eyes turning sad and guarded.

"Kushina." He said, "What brings you here?"

"I was wondering if you had an assignment." She lied.

He raised an eyebrow, and in a second she saw his eyes narrow just a bit as he caught on.

Too late.

The door slammed open, and a loud voice called out as she slipped her mask in place, selling the thin veneer of serendipity as she hastily hid her face.

"Hey old man! We're back!"

His voice made her smile, loud as it was, but his appearance caused her to worry all over again. His right fist was bandaged, she could smell the faint hint of medical alcohol, sharp and sterile across her senses, his jumpsuit was damaged with numerous scrapes that tore the cloth; but his smile was brilliant, setting her whirling thoughts at ease.

"Naruto!" Sakura shouted behind him. "You're not supposed to talk to Hokage-sama like that."

"But Sakura-chan-" He whined.

"Please do not be so loud you two." Shino complained/requested.

Looking at the genin that had marched ahead of the man, she spared a glance behind her towards Kakashi.

He stood at the doorway, the picture of an unbothered jounin, save for the look in that onyx black eye of his. Even someone half as smart as him could have put two and two together.

"Mah mah." The man smiled at Hiruzen. "Team seven's completed their mission. But we can come back to give the report later Hokage-sama since you seem busy."

There was a moment between the three of them. A small brief window of eternity the bickering children seemed momentarily oblivious to.

Then it was broken. Hiruzen finally spoke. "Give your report, Kakashi. My business with Anbu-san can wait."

The only hint to the man's anger was the minute tightening of the skin under his eye.

"Hmm." He nodded and then looked to the three. "Hey."

"Yes, sensei?" Shino asked.

"Why don't you guys head out to eat?" He asked, eye crinkling in a smile. "I know you're hungry, and I'd probably be able to get this done faster if it's just me."

"Huh? Whaddaya mean Kakashi-sensei?" Naruto asked, squinting up at the taller man. "I was gonna tell Jiji about the awesome part where Shino and me-"

"Shino and I." The Jounin corrected with a smile patting Naruto on the head with a chuckle. "It's all right, Naruto. Go get something to eat. I promise I'll not leave out a single detail about all of the team's heroics."

Naruto shrugged smiling as he usually did. "Alright. Let's get something to eat, guys!"

"We're not having Ramen again!" Sakura exclaimed.

"But I haven't had any since we left!"

She barely heard Shino mutter out a quiet answer before the three of them were walking down the hallway, the door shutting behind him.

"Should I be worried about you stalking my team now?"

"I came here for a mission," she shot back, feeling her lip curl.

"I'm sure."

"Stop." Hiruzen's voice made them both fall silent, stiffening where they stood as the older man closed his eyes, seemingly fighting off a headache.

"Report." He demanded.

Kakashi obeyed.

"The Mission was a success, as you suspect," he stated.

"What complications did you face?" Hiruzen asked.

"What makes you think we faced complications?"

"You're saying you injured Naruto in the village walls?" Hiruzen raised an eyebrow. "It's the only way I see him marching in here with anything less than a fully healed hand."

The copy nin took a breath. "The 'complication' is that the mission was never a C rank."

"The client lied then?"

"Quite." The Jounin nodded. "This mission should have been classified as an A rank escort mission.

"You faced an enemy ninja force?"

"We did. Four in total. Three Chuunin and one Jounin. All missing nin."

There was a twisting in her gut. A spike of something she could only liken to worry something that was barely appeased by the knowledge that she had just seen him, he was safe, and he was whole.

Kakashi went onto explain the mission, encountering the demon brothers on the road, spotted long before they'd physically reached them, the Aburame had slowly drained their chakra, by the time they realized they'd been discovered, it was too late, both Kiri's "Demon brothers" had tried to run, only for Kakashi to intercept.

He'd killed them both, and she was grateful to note he'd allowed the men to run far enough so that none of his team had to see the grizzly deed.

"Why did you not return to the village at that point?"

"I… made an error in judgement." Kakashi admitted. "I believed the Demon brothers, or perhaps some particularly strong Chuunin would be the worst we would face. Nothing I couldn't handle. It would give the team valuable experience. The only reason I even chased the demon brothers at all is because, even tired, they were too fast for Naruto, Shino and Sakura to catch up with, and I figured if they regrouped with anyone else that could be working with them, then we'd be in trouble."

Sarutobi took a breath and Kushina had to work to keep herself still. "I hope you realize how grossly negligent and downright reckless that was, Kakashi."

"In hindsight. I do. It will never happen again, I assure you."


"We proceeded with the mission. Nothing untoward happened until we moved crossed the body of water that separates Wave from the rest of the mainland, at which point we were ambushed by Momochi Zabuza."

"The Bloody Mist?"

"The very same. We battled, and honestly-" He smirked. "My team stepped up. Zabuza forced me into a bad position, things could have gone much *much* worse."

"What exactly did they do?"

"Sakura, surprisingly, is the one that came up with the plan, Shino provided cover for the team against the Mizu Bunshin and Naruto himself practically attacked Zabuza alone to get him on the back foot long enough for me to capitalize on the opportunity they made."

"Can I trust you to provide a full report?"

"I'll have them write their accounts to go with it later but yes. At the end of it, Zabuza was injured, as was I, he retreated with the help of his last accomplice, a young chuunin-level Shinobi."

"You proceeded with the mission even then?"

"We'd already crossed the river. If we retreated we ran the risk of being attacked by more mist ninja in a territory they would be strongest."

Sarutobi sighed. "You are not making this any better, Kakashi."

"You were supposed to keep him safe."

She hadn't realized she'd spoken aloud until both men turned their eyes towards her.

"What was that Kushina?" Hiruzen asked.

A part of her told her to be quiet.

The rest of her smothered that part and then rounded on her husband's old student, a palpable fury making her whole body tremble with rage. "What the hell is wrong with you!?"

He faced her fully, this long standing hatchet laid down between the two of them was finally gonna be raised it seemed.

"Something to say?"

He got right in her face, sharingan eye on full display and before she even realized it she had a knife in her clenched fist. She barely even noticed Hiruzen standing from his desk, eyes watching them both.

"You were supposed to keep him safe. Not go off like you've got the biggest pair in the goddamn country. 'Nothing I can't handle on a C rank' the fuck class did you take? Because you had to learn how to shove your head so far up your own ass from somewhere!"

"You really wanna compare on a scale who screwed up the 'supposed to keep him safe' responsibility?"

"Yeah. That's right." She felt it now, a fire flickering to life in her chest, "You look at me like I'm everything that's gone wrong in his life. Maybe that's fucking true. But when you can't look past your own fucking ego to consider his or your team's safety. You don't have the right to judge me like you're perfect; Minato taught you better."

"Guess we're both pretty big disappointments then."

Her hand rose and before she even saw him move, something gripped her bicep with bands of steel, holding her still.

Hiruzen was standing behind her, his hand gripping her arm.


Kakashi's mismatched eyes swiveled towards her hand, and then back towards her. For the briefest instant, she could have sworn she saw his features flash with sorrow before they hardened to the familiar, quiet contempt. "What? Didn't realize you'd raised that fist of yours again."

She never in her life, ever believed she would have grown to hate Kakashi as fiercely as she did in that moment.

He looked straight at her as he spoke his next words "I want an order to keep her away from Naruto and my team. The last thing any of us need is him catching sight of her and asking questions that'll just lead to him getting hurt; Especially since it seems she hasn't gotten much better at controlling herself."

"I won't obey that order," she swore. It was treasonous, it was stupid to say it. But she didn't regret saying it for a single second. The flickering ember in her chest burned now into a full flame, rage driving her, making her feel a little bit like the woman she used to be.

Sarutobi made a noise of disgust in his throat, thrusting her arm down to her side and stepping between the two shoving them both apart with hard punches to their respective chests.

His lip curled as he looked between the both of them. "You will obey any order I give. And you will not try to manipulate me by knowingly pushing her buttons. The only order I am giving is that if you two start brawling in the streets you're to be arrested for a month and will face a steep fine of my choosing based on how pissed off I am the day it happens. Both of you get out. I expect a written report by tomorrow morning, Hatake. I've had enough.

They weren't happy, either of them. If she could have she'd have reached across over Hiruzen's head to rip his goddamn eye out and she had little doubt he was thinking the same thing.

He took a breath, vanishing in a swirl of leaves before she rounded to the door and shoved it open the old fashioned way. The massive oak slab nearly took down the walls, and whoever was stupid enough to be in the hallways quickly made themselves scarce.

When she got home later that night, Mikoto commented it was the first time she looked like herself again in thirteen years.


Ok before anyone goes off saying I'm bashing Kakashi, I can't stress enough how much that is not my intention.

Kakashi isn't a "villain" in this story. He's not the "One keeping Kushina away from Naruto" Please consider that the day Kushina had her breakdown and nearly killed Naruto... Kakashi was just thirteen years old.

A grown person, witnessing that would be shaken. Someone Kakashi's age, at the end of the very same year that saw him lose his best friend, his last remaining teammate, his sensei, nearly having his home destroyed culminating in what must have been an absolutely horrifying moment witnessing what Kushina did to Naruto... this left a very deep scar. One that, like Kushina he hasn't entirely gotten over and like Kushina isn't entirely ruled by cold hard logic.

So don't think I'm bashing the guy. I'm really *really* not. Though I know its easy for that impression to be made.

Also, another reader asked me "Is the fic going to slow down" The answer is yes. This fic is gonna have six chapters not counting the prologue. The first three chapters are gonna breeze through the stages of canon I would like to get past, and the last three are going to be much more slower paced and will have a more traditional format as things come to ahead.