New chapter out, and it's got a little bit of window into what Rin and Sasuke are up to, and a few things that progress stuff further.

As I've mentioned before, I have a Discord server now if you want to be kept afoot of what I'm up to.

This is the link, just remove the space: discord .gg/2XN2rzuFpM

(Copied this A/N from my Indelible chapter)

But two big things: By the end of the year, I'll probably have enough chapters saved up where I'll be having a proper schedule, like any functional ff writer should aspire to. People on my server will get access to chapters a week before I post them on FFN, and I'll likely also post chapters of fics I haven't posted yet on FFN or other sites.

Second: I'll probably be setting up a P-word-that-FFN-doesn't-like in late December.

Important: I'm going to do a poll on my server on releasing a chapter for one of my unpublished stories. The choice is currently between a Star Wars fic and an ASoIaF gamer one. If you want to read it ahead of time, hop in the server, drop a vote, and whichever one gets the most votes will be made available on my server.

But that's about it. Enjoy the chapter, everyone.

/

Obito ground his teeth as he traveled through his personal dimension to the next location, catching a glimpse of the constant reminder of another issue.

However Uzumaki Ashina got in, another Edo did the exact same thing. It was definitely a shock for it to happen again, but the Uchiha had managed. A Genjutsu on the reanimation that was already restrained mostly by familiarly made seals had helped him to keep it in place, but he didn't know what to do yet.

Enlisting help from it wasn't on the table, and dropping it off somewhere was risky. So he'd sit on it for now.

Shaking his head at the subject that never failed to fill him with vexation, Obito quickly made his way to the large tree that served as a landmark for the village of Taki to attend to some much needed business. Kusa had already been handled, creating additional pressure on Konoha's border, but the only village outside of the Big Five with a Bijuu was arguably the most important of the minor villages to handle.

After this, Iwa would be next.

To say he was confident would be an understatement. Madara may have been outed as a manipulative bastard who got Rin killed and twisted him into a lapdog with Zetsu as his proxy, but that would not stop Obito. He would achieve his dream and leave Madara to fester in whatever Hell he resided in.

Just before he reached the edge of the sensory overlap that consisted of longer range sensors sequestered in fortified buildings in Taki, Obito teleported once more to a building he had already scoped out as safe, appearing behind their defense with ease.

That would never cease to put a smile on his face.

/

Ashura... Ashura. Ashura!" A familiar voice called out, a hand smacking her on the head and jarring her awake.

"What?!" She asked irritably, grumbling under her breath as she looked at the brown haired boy that was familiar to her in an uncanny manner.

He reminded her of Naruto and Sasuke, especially Sasuke when she looked at his eyes. They looked almost identical in shape and colour to her Uchiha friend's.

"Come on, quit sleeping in and let's start training." The familiar but unknown boy said, pulling her up to her feet, "Tousan wants to speak with us."

She was completely confused at the scene, everything looking extremely detailed, down to the minute scuff on her brother's? chin. The cut looked partially healed like it was from a day or two ago for normal people that weren't Uzumaki.

Before anything else could be said or seen, Rin heard another voice. This one was definitely one she knew.

"Rin. Rin, wake up."

/

"I'm up! I'm up!" Rin groaned, waving her hand blindly at Sasuke as he kept pushing on her.

Finally opening her eyes after taking a few seconds to gather herself once the dark haired irritant stopped bothering her, Rin squinted at Sasuke, noticing that there was something off about his demeanor.

He looked nervous, or maybe it was just a trick of her vision since she was still thinking of the dream. It was definitely weird and stuck with her for a little bit.

I've never even heard the name Ashura before. She thought, feeling like it was important for some reason. And the one boy looked really familiar, his eyes identical to the same pair looking at her right now.

"Rin?" Sasuke said her name, drawing her from her thoughts.

"Sorry," She said, shaking her head. Then she groaned under her breath when her head shifted and a ray of light hit her directly in the face, "Weird dream."

'Weird' was an understatement. It was more visceral than most of her dreams, to the point where she could still feel like her shoulder had just recently been touched by Indra.

Wait, Indr-

"Weird as in didn't make sense or weird as in Naruto weird?" Her friend asked, pulling her from the strange thought. There was a faint hint of concern in his voice, but it was mostly overshadowed by his usual detached tone of voice.

"Both?" Rin said questioningly, honestly not knowing how to answer that. "Try making sense of someone with brown hair and eyes like yours reminding you of Naruto."

Sasuke's eyes widened at that and nearly recoiled at the comparison, not liking it at all.

"I'd rather not." He replied with a flat tone, his head turning as his eyes flicked towards her shoulder, specifically behind her, when a bird broke out into its morning song.

Rin looked around her as well, taking in the forested area painted In a pale orange light from the dawning sun. a side note, she also noticed that it was barely dawn and Itachi was already on patrol, judging by the ration pack eaten and his absence from their little encampment in one of the forests.

"Do we need to move camp?" Rin asked tiredly, yawning as she wiped at her eyes. She wouldn't be surprised, Itachi loved doing that every other time.

And it was annoying. She wasn't a morning person, far from it. Naruto on the other hand habitually woke up at daybreak and did whatever like an overactive chipmunk, but Rin struggled or outright refused to do that.

"Once Itachi gets back." Sasuke replied, his expression still conveying some type of discomfort, dispelling her initial thoughts that it was a trick of her drowsy vision.

Looking at him closely, the blonde voiced her thoughts now that they weren't as clouded from having just woken up.

"Is... something wrong?" She asked, pushing her hair back some to get it out of her face.

Her raven haired friend exhaled audibly, finally maintaining eye contact with her.

"You, uh, know what today is?" Sasuke asked, looking straight at her.

Rin did in fact know what day it was, and she'd rather forget it for the first time in her life.

It was October 10th, her birthday.

She and Naruto were 14 now, and today was the first ever where she didn't get to celebrate it with him.

So, she'd rather not at all.

"Yeah." She mumbled, "I know what today is."

Sasuke had at least had a rather pleasant one a few months back. From what he said, it was the first one he actually enjoyed since he turned 8. And it wasn't lost to her what the difference was between the latest one and all the others.

"Well, happy birthday anyway." He said, standing up the rest of the way and looking around.

Still in her cot, Rin silently looked at Sasuke, wondering what was going through his head. Naruto was easy enough to understand most of the time, but Sasuke was always difficult for her to gauge at times, and her having just woken up after that weird dream didn't make it magically easier.

Sighing as she did need to actually get up and do things, Rin rose from her comfortably warm cot and stretched, groaning as she felt her back pop as she contorted herself to get the kink out of her lower vertebrae.

"That can't be normal." Sasuke said with a grimace, eying her movements intently.

"You have the flexibility of a fridge, Sasuke." She reminded him playfully, leaning forward and touching her toes, before straightening up suddenly. "And Naruto isn't much better."

Given that her brother was physically stronger than her and was extremely fast, she had needed something else as a counter, and her being extremely agile and flexible did the trick... sort of.

Sasuke just rolled his eyes, a faint smile on his face from her lighthearted tone.

By the time Rin had completely woken up and called for her two clones that had patrolled throughout the night to pop, Itachi had arrived back at their encampment, releasing a high-pitched whistle to signal it was him.

Like a switch was flipped, Rin noticed Sasuke go from being pleasantly quiet as he had listened to the birds chirping at dawn to the same cold detachment he had when focusing.

I'm going to fix this. She vowed silently, looking between the two Uchiha as the eldest finally got within visual range. I don't care how painful it is, but Sasuke needs his brother back.

Her... Sensei? No, only Kakashi deserved that title. Either way, Itachi reached them and glanced between the two, before his gaze settled on her.

"We will be moving location." He said shortly, his eyes periodically tracing the area while his Sharingan was active. "Jiraiya-sama will be meeting us in the nearest civilian village to give you additional training related to the Toads."

Rin raised a brow at that, trying to tell if he left anything out. He'd done that before to 'teach' her to sniff out lies or misleading half-truths.

Giving up after trying to fish for anything, Rin shrugged and didn't wait for Itachi to tell her to break down their camp, her storage seals being needed to pack everything up.

With Sasuke's help, they sealed everything up in around five minutes and no evidence of their presence remained, save for the small burned section where the fire had been that was promptly covered with dirt and leaves.

"37 miles to the north. Flat plains from here to there until we reach a bend in the river at the outskirts." Itachi said simply, his right hand raising towards his chest to form a hand seal. "Follow me." He then disappeared in a flurry of leaves.

Sasuke and Rin followed suit, dashing towards the same direction and catching up with the former missing nin.

/

"Rin!" Jiraiya shouted, currently pushing through people as he rushed towards her from the bar. "So nice to see you again." The gigantic frame of her godfather made her stagger as he pulled her into a bone crushing hug.

"Hi." She squeaked, shooting Sasuke a glare from the side as he snickered under his breath at the treatment she received.

He and Itachi were currently under a full Henge, while she was only under a minor one to hide her whisker marks while Jiraiya was simply wearing civilian clothes and no headband.

"I already have a room booked and everything set up." Jiraiya said as he let her go, winking at the last part to clue her in.

He probably put seals all over the room to interfere with listening in and snooping.

The other people at the bar and tables didn't pay too much attention to them, most not being bothered to care about them while they either drank or played cards.

The four, led by Jiraiya, went upstairs to room number 6, which Jiraiya pushed open and gestured for all of them to enter.

Just as the three of them entered, Jiraiya shut the door and looked directly at her, smiling widely.

"How is the birthday girl doing?" He asked, grabbing ahold of her and ruffling her hair, much to the blonde's displeasure.

"Let go, Ero-sennin!" Rin twisted out of his grip, scowling up at him.

"I hate Naruto for coming up with that." Jiraiya huffed as he backed away, crossing his arms. "What are you looking at, princess?" The Sannin snorted as his eyes flicked over to Sasuke, who didn't seem to like Rin being harassed.

"Don't call me that." Sasuke muttered, his eyes narrowing.

"As prickly as some of the royalty I've met." Jiraiya scoffed, reaching into his jacket and pulling out a long and narrow object.

That almost looks like a sword. Rin observed, her eyes tracing the length of the wrapped object.

"Catch." Jiraiya threw it at Sasuke, putting enough force into it where Sasuke barely stopped it from hitting his face. Sasuke grunted as he caught it, his face scrunched in a grimace.

"Courtesy of your brother." Jiraiya explained, before turning to look at Itachi. "Make sure he knows how to clean and take care of it. Stupid thing was expensive."

Rin was proven right in her initial observation when Sasuke pulled the silk wrapping off to reveal a sword in a sheath, the marking of the Uchiha clan stamped into the side of the navy blue sheath.

"I..." Sasuke paused, looking at Itachi, then Jiraiya, then Itachi again.

He looked genuinely confused.

"You desired to learn kenjutsu and have been training for the last month." Itachi pointed out, his voice sounding like a normal person's instead of its usual flat tone. "You will need a proper blade to reach your full potential."

Sasuke glanced back down and unsheathed it, looking at the blade closely.

Is that… Rin thought, noticing how familiar the glint of it was.

"Chakra conductive steel." Jiraiya gave the answer to the unasked question, eying the sword appreciatively. "That thing should handle lightning and fire no problem."

I almost want one myself. She thought to herself, having seen how effective her brother was with his. But, she was content with her tanto, or Sunobi tanto as Sasuke had incessantly reminded her, the Uchiha being extremely technical about the correct terminology.

"It is too long to be a simple tanto. It's almost a short wakizashi." That obnoxious tone that never failed to aggravate her echoed ground in her head before she redirected her thoughts back to her friend's body language.

Rin could tell Sasuke didn't know what to say. He had that faint glazed look when he had no idea how to respond to something, mixed with discomfort at feeling the need to speak up.

"Thanks." Sasuke eventually settled on replying with, sheathing the blade and blinking suspiciously quick and pointedly avoiding eye contact with Itachi.

"Okay," Jiraiya clapped his hands together, focusing on Rin now, "I'm here to say happy birthday to you, yadda yadda, and show you a few tricks with the toads to streamline it. You follow?"

"Yeah." Rin nodded, paying attention to her godfather carefully.

"Good. First, you've practiced with summoning like I told you to?"

Rin nodded again. Gamakichi was the one she often summoned to both practice summoning and interact with because he was fun to talk with, unless Sasuke was present. Gamabunta's eldest made fun of Sasuke's hair the first time they met and the Uchiha never let it go, both of them trading barbs whenever they spoke.

Gamakichi's little brother though was downright adorable when she summoned him a handful of times, but she wasn't going to share any of her snacks with him. No, sir.

"That's good, I didn't know to what extent you'd been playing around with summoning. It means you can move on to messaging people with them."

Rin tilted her head up at her godfather, realizing what that meant.

"I can send messages to Naruto now?!" She asked excitedly.

They hadn't been able to since she had left Konoha. Jiraiya and Itachi both had said repeatedly that the letters could be intercepted and be used to track them. But using the toads as messengers fixed that.

"Yep." Jiraiya nodded, but the man was abruptly charged at by Rin who grabbed him as best as she could and hugged him as hard as she could.

"Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!" She shouted so loud her voice almost squeaked. Ecstatic was too weak of a word to describe how happy she was that she could message her brother now.

Security concerns had been mentioned, but whatever test she passed that Jiraiya had set was more than welcome if she managed to get him to Okay her desire to directly message Naruto.

Jiraiya eventually pried her off of him as he grunted, grimacing at his goddaughter.

"Try not to kill me, gaki." He huffed, massaging his side. "I'm not as young as I used to be."

Rin rolled her eyes at him being dramatic. Naruto acted that way at times, so she knew how to handle it.

"But I want to hear how my amazing and brilliant goddaughter is doing in training. So regale me with your progress."Jiraiya sat down in his chair and gestured for her to talk, rubbing at his side discreetly.

Just as Jiraiya requested, Rin gave a long winded explanation of what she'd been learning for the last several months. Her chakra control had improved to where her Jutsu weren't as taxing, even if she had nearly endless chakra to burn. Her resistance to Genjutsu and skill at breaking them were improved from Itachi having Sasuke use her as a training dummy for his ocular Genjutsu, although the fox hated every second of it and nearly drove her up the wall from his whining.

Taijutsu had also been something that she skyrocketed in from having two Uchiha to spar with, although Sasuke's progress had kept pace with her every step of the way. And her Fuinjutsu techniques were improved from reading up on and testing some of the seals written down by Uzumaki Ashina.

But it was Ninjutsu that had been her greatest improvement. Whatever faults Rin could find in Itachi's character as a person or a brother meant nothing to how scarily smart he was with Ninjutsu, and that wasn't even his best skill.

She could actually consistently use fire now without the focus she had to put into it before, and she could blend her Futon Jutsu with it better than ever before.

"Hmmm, better than I expected." Jiraiya gave Itachi an impressed look. "I was predicting I'd need to help her with elemental release, but you seem to have it nailed down."

"She is a good student." Itachi responded shortly, not elaborating on what he meant. Rin frowned at that though. "Her use of Kage bunshin makes Ninjutsu training comparatively easy."

Jiraiya hummed to himself pleasantly, his fingers drumming against his thigh.

"Well, that's all I needed on my orders from Tsunade-hime." He chuckled to himself, before making a cross seal to spawn a clone. "Itachi, debrief the clone while I talk with Rin. It'll also fill you in on your newest orders."

"Uh," Rin glanced at Itachi and Sasuke, then back at Jiraiya, "where are we going?"

"Mount Myoboku." Jiraiya replied, biting his thumb and drawing some blood, "I'm going to show you how to message Naruto securely.

Ohhhhh. Rin had to fight the urge to fidget excitedly at being able to.

The white haired Sannin went through the proper hand seals and grabbed ahold of her, reverse summoning the two summoners to the home of the toads.

Rin felt her feet leave the ground and everything went black, then her feet found solid earth again and she squinted her eyes.

They were at Mount Myoboku now, and she still marveled at its beauty like it was her first time seeing it again. The sky looked bluer, the grass was greener, and even the water looked alive with a shimmer to it not seen anywhere else.

"I already have the toad that delivers most letters alerted." Jiraiya said from right next to her. "I'll introduce you to him."

The toad Sannin walked briskly towards the east, forcing Rin to quicken her pace from how massively different their strides were. She couldn't wait to get taller so she wasn't almost running to keep up.

Jiraiya was silent as they reached a bend in a creek that separated from the river that ran through this part of the toads' home and Rin spotted a smaller red toad around the size of Ma and Pa sitting on a rock. Looking closer, she saw he had a pair of goggles around his neck and his eyes were the normal yellow of most of the toads she had seen.

"Kosuke!" Jiraiya called out, getting the toad's attention. "Look who I brought." The man then set his hand on Rin's head, causing her to frown.

"Jiraiya." The now named Kosuke hopped off the rock and made his way to them, his eyes tracing up and down over Rin. "Is this the new summoner?"

"Yes." Jiraiya nodded, patting her head slightly. "Uzumaki Rin and isn't she the most adorable one yet?"

"Don't touch my hair." Rin scowled, pushing his arm off of her and glaring up at him.

Jiraiya just laughed, aggravating her further. "You need to work on that scowl. You look adorable that way, like a kitten."

Rin really didn't like how unflappable her godfather was. He enjoyed riling people up, especially her, and was basically an overgrown clown that could break her in half with no difficulty if he wanted.

"Now, be polite and say hello to Kosuke. I can't believe you didn't say hello. No manners at all."

You were tormenting me! Rin gritted her teeth, but didn't voice it aloud. Instead, she just turned to Kosuke, nodded her head, and smiled.

"Hi, Kosuke. I like your goggles." She pointed at the pair hanging from his neck.

"Thank you." The toad replied, a faint smile appearing on his face. "And I'm honoured to meet a new summoner. Jiraiya said you would want messages to be sent to someone other than from him to you?"

"Yes," She nodded quickly, already almost vibrating where she stood in elation at the prospect of being able to message Naruto rapidly, "My brother. He's in Konoha."

After she explained that, Kosuke pulled a small cylinder from the pouch he had strapped to his back and set it in front of them.

"Watertight to protect any letters from damage." He explained, glancing at Jiraiya for a moment. "Just put the letter in there and summon me whenever you want it sent. If I don't answer immediately, it's probably because I'm running a letter for Jiraiya."

Rin nodded along, understanding fully as she took the cylinder and set in her pocket.

" 'kay, I'll definitely see you soon, Kosuke." She said brightly, before looking up at Jiraiya. "I need a brush and some paper, Ero-sennin."

The imposing white haired man rolled his eyes at her calling him that and a suppressed snicker disguised as a cough came from Kosuke, who said a quick goodbye and hopped along towards whatever he had been doing before Jiraiya requested his being there.

"You're not using the seal paper or my brush." He shook his head, his hair swishing faintly with the movement. "Just use a pencil and paper, you've got storage seals."

"Sasuke grabbed them, I think." Rin muttered, feeling slightly embarrassed by them mixing up their supplies.

At the mention of Sasuke's name, Rin noticed Jiraiya's demeanor changed slightly. It went from the normal laid-back kind, to the same kind of suspicion Naruto had at times; relaxed body language, but a faint narrowing of the eyes.

"How is Sasuke handling being around Itachi?" He asked, his eyes staring directly into her own.

Rin suspected that Jiraiya, Kakashi, Tsunade, and Jiji were wanting to know how the two were adjusting to the change in situation. Itachi was just as secretive about personal matters as Sasuke, plus the ability to hide whatever he was thinking about in a way Sasuke couldn't.

But it rubbed her the wrong way to share something about Sasuke. He was her friend, first and foremost. She'd only known Jiraiya for a few months in comparison.

"You should ask him." Rin replied, trying to handle it delicately and not cause an issue.

Suddenly, without any warning, Jiraiya's face twitched and his mouth twisted into a frown.

"Clone just finished talking with Itachi," Jiraiya explained after seeing her raise a brow at what he did, before continuing on the previous subject. "You're his friend and teammate," He pointed out, unfurling his summon scroll and preparing to head back to the inn where they had been previously, "And you would be able to talk with him best."

"I don't like telling people things that were said in confidence by friends." She crossed her arms, reciting word for word what Naruto said at one point as the blonde Uzumaki stared down her godfather.

Aside from a slight narrowing of his eyes, she couldn't glean anything from her godfather's expression.

"Work on making someone else's words sound like your own." Jiraiya advised, causing her to frown. "Naruto's words?" He asked mildly.

Rin's bit back a biting comment, keeping her arms crossed.

"Just keep an eye on him. There's only three Uchiha left, and one of them managed to kill your father."

What?! Rin glared at him, her violet eyes narrowed into slits.

If he was insinuating that Sasuke would become that...

" Don't compare Sasuke to Tobi." She hissed, stomping up to the much taller man and staring at him defiantly.

"Of course I'm not." Jiraiya deadpanned, rolling his eyes in a way that aggravated her immensely. "I just know that some people need friends for a safety net. Orochimaru's fell through, and you know how Naruto acts when he's scared for your sake."

Rin wanted to counter that, but she knew better. Jiraiya was right, Naruto was fragile to anything pertaining to her.

"So, you're just looking out for Sasuke… nothing else?" She asked suspiciously, raising a brow.

She was always a little suspicious of how Jiraiya looked at the two of them, and she couldn't understand why. So it wasn't completely out of the blue that she generally didn't take what Jiraiya said at face value concerning Sasuke.

"Nothing else." Jiraiya promised, sounding truthful. "Now, let's get back to your boyfriend and his brother."

Rin felt her face heat up, her eyes trying to burn a hole through his head.

"Sasuke's not my boyfriend." She growled, stepping away making the first hand seal to summon herself back on her own. "Find your own way back!"

"Wha-" Jiraiya began to say in confusion, but she kicked him in the gut as hard as she could without warning and grabbed the scroll, sinking her canine into the pad of her thumb and going through the proper seals to go back to the civilian village they were at.

"Later, Ero-sennin!" Rin disappeared in a puff of smoke, laughing at the shocked expression on Jiraiya's face.

That would show him what happens when he torments her about Sasuke.

Her glee didn't last for long, however.

With a loud puff, she appeared in midair and immediately started falling, a river just below her. She barely was able to scream in shock and fling the scroll onto the riverbank before she impacted the water with a splash.

She went completely under, getting totally soaked as she clawed her way up to the surface. Her head broke through and she kicked her legs out behind her, swimming to the edge to get out.

Rin started swearing in her and Naruto's personal language, using words that she never knew the definition of, only that Naruto would scold her for using them like he did.

Once she finally got out and dragged herself onto the grass, she pushed her hair back out of her face after it was caked to her forehead, scowling when she realized she lost her hair tie in the river.

"Of course that happens." The girl muttered irritably, kicking at the grass in frustration. It was bull! Jiraiya teased her with that comment, so she responded. She didn't deserve to accidentally end up in a river.

Glancing around to check her surroundings, she saw the village that was her target to get back to, so she began the trek towards there, holding the scroll while dripping from head to toe.

This is Jiraiya's fault. She cursed the name of her godfather, blaming him for her predicament.

/

After the clone of Jiraiya disappeared, Itachi turned to look at Sasuke, his brother quiet and more reserved than usual.

The gift he received was still clutched to his side, having been looped through the brand new belt that came with the sheath.

The conversation he and Jiraiya, or technically his clone, had just finished was related to a few missions that the three of them may need to take from time to time. Visiting minor villages, providing support to Kumo or Konoha ANBU on deep missions beyond the reach of reinforcements from either village, etc.

It wasn't surprising to Itachi. Tsunade-sama had said as much when the initial plans for him taking on Sasuke as a student was first conceived. His near peerless infiltration skills and deft touch for assassination made for an excellent deep cover agent that could evade detection to either slot in as a surprise reinforcement for a direct assault, or a knife in the dark when necessary.

But it hadn't per se been real to Sasuke or Rin. They had been aware of such a possibility, but only in an abstract sense.

"What are your thoughts on this?" Itachi asked his brother neutrally, the two completely alone once again.

Sasuke didn't look up at him, still staring at where Jiraiya's clone had dissipated. "I wasn't expecting it."

It never failed to make Itachi uncomfortable when his own brother oftentimes didn't make eye contact with him. But what else was he to expect?

"If we are to be conducting more… hands on," Itachi decided on that term over others, "missions, you will need to figure out what abilities you obtained from your Mangekyo Sharingan."

Just like he did whenever the subject was brought up, Sasuke's face twisted into a near snarl and his hands balled into fists.

But after several seconds of Sasuke staring at him, the younger of the two deflated and sighed dejectedly.

"Fine." He said, any evidence of anger bleeding away. "I will figure it out myself though. I don't want you attempting to help me by doing your typical idea of 'helping'." The last word was punctuated by Sasuke activating his Sharingan and glaring up at him.

Itachi felt his face twitch at the jab to his past actions. It also didn't help that what Sasuke said was 100% accurate as to what he planned on doing to help him before everything came to a head during the invasion.

No one would ever know that he had considered using the Tsukuyomi again on his brother, especially Sasuke or Rin.

"Understandable." Itachi finally admitted, rankled by how unpleasant it felt to say that. "More will need to be discussed when Rin and Jiraiya-sama get back from the land of toads."

Sasuke didn't offer a response, keeping silent. Even for someone who wasn't a conversationalist, Itachi found it awkward to be around Sasuke. He was an introvert to the highest degree, and Rin was the only one that could draw him out to have a decent conversation.

For once, Itachi actually wanted to hear the brash and outspoken girl rattle on about anything and everything, if only to offer a reprieve from the awkward atmosphere that he and Sasuke were both subjected to.

Fortunately, Itachi heard the creak of the stairs, signaling that someone was coming up to the room.

Unfortunately, it was only one set of steps and the sound indicated stomping.

Sure enough, the door was shoved open, revealing a drenched to the bone Rin, her eyes burning with an amethyst fire that had Sasuke visibly recoiling away.

Itachi gazed, unimpressed, at the girl, ignoring Sasuke's reaction as best as he could.

"Do I even wish to know?" He asked.

"No, you don't." Rin almost growled, stomping to the center of the room, before biting her thumb to draw blood and summoning a toad.

The toad that appeared in a puff was a red one with goggles on that Itachi didn't recognize. It wasn't the one Rin typically summoned for conversation.

"Jiraiya is upset that you stole the scroll." The toad said flatly, the voice denoting it as a male toad.

"My name's on it, Kosuke, so it's not stealing." Rin responded, pointing at the scroll. "Ero-sennin can have it back anyway, but he deserved losing it."

Deep breath. Itachi said to himself internally, already feeling a headache start to build from the usual source. Uzumaki Rin was a handful, even on good days.

"But I want you to transport a letter to Naruto, is that alright?" She asked, her attitude flipping from mild annoyance from whatever transpired, to quiet hope and optimism.

The toad named Kosuke nodded his head."That is what my job is."

"Great!" Rin smiled widely, turning to Sasuke, "Sasuke, you have the paper and brushes. Hand me some storage scrolls."

Itachi watched in silence as Rin, with all the elation and joy in the world, began writing a letter to her older brother, a dull and persistent ache in his chest revisiting him at the reminder of what he was likely never to have again.

/

Neji took a fist to the face like a champ and still managed to jab roughly at me as he stumbled, his hit missing the inside of my arm and deflecting off my bracer.

Even worse for him, my legs were still perfectly functioning and I drove a kick into his face when he was off balance and his arms were out of position, jerking his head back from the impact and sending him sprawling to the ground.

"Stay down, Neji." I said shortly, hissing as I flexed my arm from part of his Juken hit going through steel and leaving a bruise. "Take a breather."

I had sweat running down my face from what was now the third taijutsu spar I had for the day, and I wanted a drink.

Snow was falling down from the sky on this crisp December day and I could see my breath fogging in front of me, the cold air almost making my lungs ache.

Neji looked ready to protest and restart the fight, but considered differently when I had been landing hit after hit on him while he struggled because he still wasn't able to pierce through the steel armour I wore with his Juken yet.

"Very well." He said, pushing himself up and wiping at his face with the back of his hand. "Be honest with me, Naruto, between Lee or I, who proved more difficult to face?"

It wasn't even up for discussion.

"Lee." I said immediately, noticing a tic appear at Neji's temple from how quick I said it. "I can handle Hyuga better than people who can hit hard. But that's down to me knowing how your clan fights from experience."

Following that statement, I did exactly what I told Neji to do and caught my breath, looking at Shikamaru sparring with Lee while Gai watched intently.

The four of us were doing typical endurance and taijutsu training with Gai supervising us, and it was fun as hell.

"Yes, Hinata-sama is one of your close friends." Neji said, his eyes tracing Lee's movement as he noticeably held himself back for Shikamaru's sake as his hair was caked to his face and he was sweating profusely. "Unsurprising that you would have dissected aspects of the Juken from her."

I snorted at how he used the sama suffix, my action drawing his attention back to me.

"Hinata really doesn't like being called that." I remarked, exhaling and snickering like a child when the fog cloud appeared.

I'm a dragon. Rarghhh!

"Naruto." Neji said my name sharply, drawing me from my childish indulgence. "Did you not hear what I said?"

I shook my head. "Too busy fantasizing about being a dragon." A faint oof sound came from where Shikamaru and Lee were, the sound evidently being the Nara collapsing in a heap on the ground, gasping desperately.

The level of deadpan I put into my response made Neji roll his eyes, which was weird to see a Hyuga do. The expression was there, but the eyes only faintly shifted because the iris was almost the same colour as what surrounded it.

"I asked you whether you think Hinata-sa-... Hinata." He restated, frowning slightly when I gave him a look, "Would be receptive to me assisting her in taijutsu."

That was more than a little surprising to me. I knew Neji had helped her out in the series in the roughly three year gap between the original series and Shippuden, but it definitely wasn't this soon. And she actually beat him during the finals, so it was doubly confusing.

"I can see the surprise writ on your face clear as day," Neji said flatly, taking a slightly deeper breath and closing his eyes for a moment, "Contrary to what you might have thought after the exa-"

"I know you're noticeably better at the Juken and overall taijutsu than Hinata." I interrupted, feeling a bit insulted that he thought I couldn't see that. "You looked unbalanced during that fight, and she actually did the legwork to figure out a weakness via poisons and other crap."

I then took a short breath and kept on speaking, not letting him interrupt me like I did to him.

"I don't doubt Hinata would appreciate you helping her out, but why ask me about it instead of her? It's not like she's that scary."

It was more than a little confusing to me. Neji and I didn't really interact all that much on a one on one basis up until now. Taijutsu training taken to the nth degree with his Sensei tended to result in us seeing each other more often.

Neji didn't react to the sarcasm in my last statement, still looking at me seriously.

"It…" Neji paused and scowled, the expression muted by conventional standards from him being a quintessential Hyuga in facial mannerisms. "I would normally do so myself, but you will undoubtedly be able to explain it better than me."

Oh, exporting your sense of responsibility on me because you're an idiot. I thought to myself, deciding that I was going to blackmail the living hell out of him.

"Like this?" I asked, making a half seal and Henging as Neji, before getting on my hands and knees and groveling in front of him. "Oh, Hinata-sama, forgive this contemptible person's transgressions against you! Let me apologize for the stick trapped in my posterior by offering to assist you in taijutsu!"

Neji rose to his feet and glared down at me, his Byakugan active to enunciate the death glare leveled at me.

"Under no circumstances will I let you make a fool of me." He threatened, looking ready to get his ass kicked again by me.

"Then don't try and get me to do your duty." I countered as I dropped the Henge, spotting Gai in my peripheral walking towards us. "She's your family, so be the big brother you're supposed to be and help her."

"Cousin." Neji corrected, closing his eyes and deactivating his Dojutsu after he probably figured out why I antagonized him so blatantly.

"Have Tsunade-sama do a blood test, and she'll say you're her half-brother." I shot back, even though I genuinely disliked that term. Either they're your sibling or not, no half measure. "She wants a brother; always has. And you're falling short."

I then turned away, not looking at him as I started walking.

"We'll talk later." I finished, looking up at Gai while Lee was helping Shikamaru to his feet.

A faint chill from the air hitting the sweat on my face made me frown as I rolled my shoulders and gave Gai a grin.

"Ready for our little dance, Gai-sensei?" I asked respectfully, hearing Shikamaru groan next to me as he and Lee walked past me.

"Yosh!" Gai grinned brightly in response, giving me a thumbs up as I saw an almost imperceptible hint of steam rising from him wherever the snow landed on him. "I am more than ready, Naruto. My Youth burns hotter than the snow, and I am far from tired."

A groan came from my left, where Shikamaru was still being held up by.

"How can you keep going?" Shikamaru asked weakly, looking almost despondent at that harsh reality.

Normally, I would have teased him about how far he fell short of me in physical ability, but he was actually putting in the effort to be mildly competent in endurance and deserved credit for the last few months of work he put in.

"I'm weird, no need to think about it." I remarked, hopping on the balls of my feet and waiting until they were a sizable distance away before we'd start our spar.

"Are we going for a mutual workout or intensive spar?" I asked, wanting to know what pace Gai would prefer me to go at.

"Hit me with everything, Naruto." Gai shifted his stance and pushed his arm out in an opening stance for the Goken.

"Yosh." I replied simply, grinning at mimicking Lee and him.

"I wish for you to try for the third, Naruto." Gai requested, smiling reassuringly when I understood what he was getting at. "You have trained enough to manage it safely and you must become accustomed to it. I have faith you will."

I grimaced when he said that, my arms dropping to my side. He wasn't wrong per se, but I was nervous about opening a third Gate; a Gate I hadn't ever opened before in a spar. Sure, I managed to do it last week, but it made my chakra thrash around enough where I couldn't have possibly hoped to do any sort of Ninjutsu at all when I did.

And it didn't help matters that Kakashi had theorized that me being a Jinchuriki could possibly put a hard lock on how much I could fiddle with my chakra network, which was the textbook definition of what opening a Gate was.

Realizing I was just standing there and not doing anything, I shook my head and made up my mind.

No, if Lee can, I can too. Don't be a pussy.

After my quick inspirational speech to myself, I closed my eyes and made a hand seal, purposely putting more control into the movement of my chakra up to the tenketsu in my head, jabbing at the first one.

My chakra flared as the first Gate opened, quickly followed by a more potent flare when I opened the second.

I fought back a groan as the snow around my feet sizzled from the potency of my less restrained chakra radiating out, my hands still clasped together to form a hand seal to keep my chakra under control as best as I could.

"Patience, Naruto." Gai's voice cut through the familiar pounding in my head as chakra rushed throughout my tenketsu like a barely restrained tide seeking to tear its way out. "Slowly, but steadily. Focus."

Taking a few deep breaths to center myself, I looked at Gai and saw him give me another reassuring look. Then, I snaked my chakra to a specific tenketsu connected to my spine, and jabbed at it after forming another hand seal.

What felt like an electric charge shot from my sternum down to my crotch. My legs then seized up and my throat tightened as I fell to my knees.

My entire body was shaking and I couldn't see clearly in front of me, the air rippling noticeably from the amount of unrestrained chakra being thrown out by me.

All the snow immediately surrounding me had melted from my chakra flaring out, and none was touching me as it fell from the sky. But it was when I saw that my hand was almost blood red and the veins were bulged out that I realized I successfully pulled it off.

"Damn if that isn't a pick-me-up. Holy shit." I muttered in English, my fingers fidgeting and my entire body vibrating with energy.

Shaking my head as I straightened up, I saw my hair spiking out in my peripheral vision and looked at Gai, tilting my head when I saw something strange about him.

For whatever reason, my vision had doubled over for a fraction of a second, where in place of Gai, an armoured man with blond hair set up with Viking braids and prominent canines stood and grinned dangerously at me; and I lost my depth perception like I'd shut one eye.

Shaking my head again and blinking a few times, I ignored the phantom sensation of what felt like pain in my spine and made a couple of hand seals, trying to use a Jutsu.

It didn't work and I cursed, before settling for just taijutsu. Thankfully, my vision corrected itself and I saw Gai once more.

That was weird. I thought, seeing Gai signal for me to begin our fight.

With my entire body shaking with energy and a soft humming from my chakra flaring out in my ears, I shot straight at Gai, ready to rain unholy hell upon him.

/

"You have been quiet, Naruto," Lee said from across the table, looking concerned, "You shouldn't be upset that Gai-sensei defeated you, if that is wh-."

"It's not." I shook my head, furrowing my brow as I kept writing my letter to Rin while we waited for our food.

After I got my ass kicked by Gai, horribly might I add, Lee, Shikamaru, Neji, and I all swung by the steakhouse to get something good to eat, and I had been fairly quiet comparatively.

"Who are you writing to?" Neji asked curiously, rubbing his forehead uncomfortably after I had insisted that we remove our headbands for the sake of politeness. He was still getting used to having his forehead clear after having the seal ripped off.

"It's not Fuinjutsu scribbles, so it's definitely a letter. Probably Rin." Shikamaru commented, slouching in his seat from how exhausted he was.

I snorted at Shikamaru being able to notice that detail, even when tired as hell.

"Always perceptive, Shika." I replied, not outright confirming what he said.

Finishing up the fourth paragraph, I set the letter back in one of my storage seals and flexed my hand, before glancing around at the other tables around us that were currently packed with families and other customers just eating out.

"So," I started, glancing at Lee and Neji happily, "We're going on a mission with Gai, aren't we?"

Gai had mentioned that he wanted some backup on an escort mission, but that most of the Jonin were occupied with other missions or had limited time. But I, despite technically being a Chunin, was better than most Jonin in Konoha from being an A-rank and I had free time.

Neji nodded his head, his eyes not revealing anything about his mood as per usual.

"As atrocious and mind numbing as D-rank missions were, I now understand what Gai-sensei meant when he said we would grow to miss them once we did enough higher rated ones."

"Not Tora though." I countered, everybody at the table grimacing at the reminder.

Tora was a shared trauma amongst all the genin, and the stupid cat was an older one that had terrorized genin for years.

"Actually, the little beast loved Karin, come to think of it." I mused, humming thoughtfully.

"I would make a comment about how soulless beasts like soulless redheads," Shikamaru remarked, "but the thing despises you."

"She probably has ancestral blood memories of getting ripped to shreds by a fox." I countered, drawing a scoff from the Nara heir.

"Changing the subject," Neji said, not looking particularly enthused about the demon cat, "What are your thoughts on the subterfuge our Senseis are displaying concerning the accelerated missions and training?"

About as delicate as a kick to the junk. I thought as I fought the urge to scowl, noting Shikamaru's glance at Lee.

"Not exactly the best place to talk about this, Neji." I pointed out.

"I know, but I would rather speak without Gai-sensei, or the other Jonin, present."

Come to think of it, I don't think any of my former classmates had actually been told anything by their parents or the Jonin about what was likely going to be another war.

I could bring it up at the clan meeting at the end of the month… or I could just tell the three of them now.

Screw it.

"This doesn't leave the table, I'll be the one to tell the others." I said, not sensing any suppressed chakra signatures that would hint at ANBU or any Jonin monitoring us. I assumed Neji had used his Byakugan at some point, so I didn't bother asking.

Still, being paranoid, I pulled a sheet of paper from my notepad and scribbled on it, before tearing the sheet off and handing it to Neji first.

The Hyuga read the note, his hands clenching around it for a moment, before handing it off to Lee, who then handed it to Shikamaru.

War with Iwa is almost inevitable.

"Hand it back." I requested, which Shikamaru did shakily. I then sparked lightning chakra through my hand to ignite the paper and burn it to ash.

"How long have you known?" Shikamaru asked, voicing the thoughts of all three of them as they all looked at me.

"A few months." I admitted, "I didn't want to just flat out say it, but I didn't realize you and Neji were already noticing a pattern. What about you, Lee?"

"I, uh," The spandex clad teen looked uncertain on how to reply, "I noticed Gai-sensei was more distracted, and he has been speaking of training with Kakashi-san for some reason."

I blinked at that, thinking over how Kakashi had been more distant lately, aside from sparring with me like he was a man possessed. He was actually on time now!

I sighed and massaged my temples. "They probably don't mean anything by it, if that's what any of you guys are thinking. Better to train us up and end up doing it for nothing compared to scaring us while training us in the exact same way."

The worst part was that I couldn't blame them. For me personally, I prefer being in the know about stuff. But I actually expected and prepared to fight in a war that would kill thousands for what was going on 8 years now, a war that would center around Rin and me being hunted.

"It still doesn't inspire gratitude." Shikamaru muttered, Neji nodding in agreement while Lee looked conflicted.

"I honestly don't care." I sighed, deciding to be honest about my thoughts. "I got dealt a shit hand in life already, so it's normal for me; but it's actually a positive for me that you guys are getting trained up to not get killed."

Shikamaru just rolled his eyes, catching the familiar lilt at the end of my sentence.

"Not all of us can survive crippling injuries and walk them off."

"Just you wait, Ino will be skilled enough to reattach limbs." I remarked, catching a frown from the Nara.

"I don't get what you mean." He said, furrowing his brow.

Smart, my ass.

"Say something stupid to her, and she can legitimately dismember you with no permanent damage." I deadpanned, already visualizing Ino stalking towards Shikamaru with a sadistic grin on her face, fingers splayed out like claws with chakra emanating from them.

Shikamaru's face paled considerably, his eyes widening fearfully.

"T-troublesome." He scowled, glaring at me. "If you aren't talking about an impending war, you're talking about the most troublesome girl I've ever met."

"* Cough*, your mom, * cough*." I faux coughed into my sleeve, grinning at his scowl deepening. "Besides, like I said last week, I can see into your future. You're destined to be tethered to a troublesome blonde for the rest of your life."

All I got was an eye roll in response.

"If we could move the conversation to a more productive one, I would appreciate it." Neji cut in.

"Sure." I said, agreeing with that. "Actually, that reminds me; any of you wanting to incorporate a few Fuinjutsu seals into your fighting style?"

/

"You can't believe how much I love getting a letter back the moment you get mine." I read Rin's letter aloud, smiling to myself.

I was being kept up to date on how she and Sasuke were doing, which was fast becoming a much awaited pastime of mine to relieve stress.

Hinata was sitting next to me, reading over a book on Iryo-ninjutsu Tsunade had given her, but she was currently listening to me read out Rin's letter.

After I finished it, Hinata glanced down at my lap where I had a notepad and a pencil.

"You're wanting me to write to her too?" Hinata asked again.

"Yeah," I nodded, handing her my finished letter, "Just write whatever you want on this paper. It needs to be the same paper for security reasons though."

Hinata nodded her understanding, reaching for the pencil and beginning to write her share of the letter.

I just sat silently and watched how her hand moved across the page, being quite similar to how her wrists and fingers moved when she used the Juken.

Her handwriting was influenced by her clan's technique in the same way mine was by how I wrote out my Fuinjutsu seals.

Once she had finished, she folded the letter and handed it to me, which I then promptly sealed into the container with a seal on the interior.

With that done, I set it on the table and walked over to the fridge, grabbing some milk to drink.

I was bored out of my skull when at home alone, so I'd been randomly either inviting friends over or heading to their houses if they invited me. Currently, Hinata got to be the one I was talking with right now about different things, with today being marked for sending a letter to Rin.

After finishing the glass of milk I poured, I went back to the living room and decided to broach a topic with Hinata that I'd been pondering ever since Rin had left and the reality of how violent things were going to get sunk in.

Out of all the other genin/recently made Chunin, Shikamaru was probably the one most likely to hit S-rank when accounting for his intellect and improved drive to not be low tier in physical ability. With war on the horizon, and the conversation I had with Neji last week, I needed to make sure the rest could maximize their skills before everything went to hell.

"Hinata," I said, drawing the Hyuga's attention, "Has Neji talked with you about him helping you out with the taijutsu?"

If he didn't, she'll confront him now.

To Neji's credit, Hinata nodded her head.

"He did, and did you pressure him? He looked uncomfortable when he asked."

I grimaced at the slightly reproachful look she gave me, but I nodded.

"Sort of," I admitted, giving an iffy gesture with my hand, "He wanted me to float it to you instead. He was worried you'd say no if he asked, but I called him an idiot and to do it himself."

Hinata looked deep in thought, looking down at her feet. "I see."

"But since he did decide to ask, that makes this easier." I remarked, sitting down next to her and pulling a bound set of notes out with a few choice ideas for some Ninjutsu that Hinata might or might not find useful. "We talked about some ideas for elemental release being added in conjunction with taijutsu for your clan, remember?"

"Naruto," Hinata blinked, looking at the notes I was showing with wide eyes, "Are these…"

They were notes that I had carefully compiled over the last two years from meticulous study on how Ninjutsu could be wrapped around the user's hands or body, chakra draining, and a few other things, in order to figure out how Hinata made her technique that she used against Pein.

Twin Lion Fists.

Sure, the rough drawing I had of how such a hypothetical technique would work depicted me with a lightning analogue to it, but I already knew my chakra was a little too volatile, mixed with a lack of excellent chakra control, to be able to have the crucial draining aspect added in.

That and frying people with lightning became redundant to me when I could already manage the Chidori, Raikiri, and had my bloodline to slice through things.

"It'd be fire and not lightning for you, of course." I pointed out, flipping to where I'd gathered the necessary information to fast track Hinata crafting it herself. "This could be something that you and your clan cou-".

I was abruptly cut off from speaking further by Hinata hugging me tightly, her head pressed against my shoulder.

"Thank you, Naruto." She whispered, her chakra signature practically glowing as I twitched from how much it brightened almost instantly. "You didn't have to do this."

Even after years of helping her out and being as good of a friend as I could be, she still was grateful… A better friend than me, at the very least.

I just smiled at her saying that again. "Remind me what I say to that each time?"

"Friends help friends, I know." Hinata rolled her eyes, but still smiled brightly as she let go of me. "I'll remember that when I find a way to make this technique work."

"Are you sure it's doable?" I asked, already knowing that it was. I just wanted to hear how Hinata reasoned that out in her head.

"Yes, it can be done." She said clearly, still looking over the notes like she was looking for confirmation. "Where is i- here!" She pointed at the section I copied that talked about using fine tuned chakra control to redirect foreign chakra. "Tsunade-sama had mentioned that some Iryo-nin used chakra draining in taijutsu to weaken an opponent, but I didn't think of using the chakra to fuel Ninjutsu."

Even if I had a few lingering annoyances related to Tsunade, that made me very pleased with the inadvertent changes my presence caused. It wasn't just Sakura getting personal training; it was also Ino, Hinata, and Karin. My cousin would never be in the situation where Orochimaru was a necessary evil to be around, and her scars were healed.

My thoughts were soon pulled back to Hinata when she started speaking again.

"But I have some questions about what this part means." She pointed with her index to the section I recently added about my personal discoveries when working on my bloodline ability to pierce foreign chakra.

"Well, what I meant by that…" I began to explain to her, being as descriptive as I could be while getting the basics across.

It was probably an hour of explanation and helping her along before we got through it all, but she had understood it all thanks to me taking the time to help lay it out.

Hinata then sat up from the couch, stretching her arms and groaning as her elbow popped.

"Ouch." I japed, but the girl simply ignored that.

"It's almost dark, I need to get back to my house." She said, adjusting her jacket from leaning into the couch for a while.

"I can walk you back if you need to." I offered, before an idea entered my mind and I snickered. "It's wintertime and you need an escort, like all those wondrous years ago."

Hinata shook her head and laughed.

"I remember that day, and you scared those bullies."

Yep. I grinned to myself, remembering it like it was yesterday. Even if I was a little bastard as a kid, I wasn't that bad.

"I'll take you not saying no as a yes." I decided on saying, sitting up and heading to my room.

"Uh, where are you going?" Hinata asked confusedly.

"Foxy-kun won't keep me warm, so I'm grabbing a jacket!" I called out from the hallway, opening up the connection to Kurama as I did that. Hello, my adorable little pet, how is the great Kyuubi on this auspicious day?

I will use you as a toothpick. Kurama rumbled, before a faint grunt like he was wincing followed. Don't say i-

I'm not in the mood to make double entendre jokes. I laughed, feeling his relief bleed through the connection as I grabbed my favorite coat from the closet. You mind telling Rin I finished my letter and Hinata wrote part of it too?

The response I got was a huff.

I'm not a messenger boy, but I intend to watch how she fights against your Uchiha friend. I'll pass it along.

Thanks. I said, being genuine. And I'll get you to tell me what the Sage named you.

A flare of intense displeasure streaked across my mind, but it quickly dissipated when Kurama slunk back into the seal, likely to make the painstaking process of moving his consciousness into Rin's seal.

Yeah, Kurama didn't want to share his name, but I'd wear him down eventually.

With my coat firmly wrapped around me, I walked out of my room and back to the front room, where Hinata was patiently waiting.

"Were you speaking to the fox?" She asked. I could see that her Byakugan was active now that I looked closer.

"Yeah," I nodded, not breaking my stride as I walked to her, before opening the door, "He's still temperamental. Ready?" I finished, holding my arm out for her to take.

Hinata stifled her laugh and politely took my arm, the two of us exiting the apartment complex and out into the snow.

We hadn't even descended the stairs before Hinata asked a particular question.

"Naruto, do you mind singing on the way?"

/

End Chapter:

Just a chapter to push things along a little bit, not much of anything else. A quick view of Rin and Sasuke, and Naruto being a little more forthcoming with the other group of rookies.

Apologies for the delay since, reads when last updated, July. For those looking forward to Inevitable, I'm 9k words in and praying I can finish the last 1-2k without flatlining for months… again.

So, that's about it. Here's a new chapter and I hope you enjoy.

Raging.