Hey ladies and gents! Welcome back!

I was glad to see you all liked the chapter! Hopefully you'll enjoy this one just as much!

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LuxCranel000, Fgougeon, Warlock Kratos, Rango Cola, Tobi Odewale, Kotei no seiryuu, Forsaken Kensei, Rsteib77, Betsybugaboo, Twisting tempest, Bl4cksn0w, Crazedchef, .7, MGC-26, Jcvillanueva016, Axelwackers, Calmwinds, 13, Dontellthem, Reason2diekid1, The Black Superman.

Reviewers:

Darkvincent: I'm glad you're enjoying the chapter, as well as the romance. I was trying to make it come across as natural, hopefully I succeeded!

Nithi Velu: Both Itachi and Pein will make an appearance soon, brief at first. But I promise, Pein will have his time to shine ūüėČ(as will Itachi).

Danilek12: Back when I decided upon the NaruHina pairing, there was a lot of pressure from the readers. When I picked this story up again, I knew it would feel too forced. I'm also glad you're enjoying the friendship between Kisame and Naruto!

Alright let's start the chapter!


Chapter 43: Edging closer.

He slowly opened his eye. Slowly he turned to the alarm clock and saw that it was 1 in the afternoon. 'An actual full night of sleep.' Ever since returning from Suna, he had a lot of problems with getting enough sleep. The memories harassed him and earned him little to no sleep. It had affected everything.

It wasn't a coincidence either. It was because of Micheru. A small smile adorned his face. He hadn't expected him to fall for her. He always had thought that he'd be to busy in stopping the Reavers for him to worry about relationships. 'How wrong was I?'

Slowly he turned around and found that the spot next to him was empty. He knew he'd stayed with her last night. They had fooled around for a bit but didn't take it too far. They had gradually shifted to talking about the past, reminiscing of better days, and somewhere during that, had he fallen asleep.

Micheru knew that he had a haunted mind and couldn't sleep because of it. Now that he thought about it, she had been the one to start talking about it all. Distracting him from what troubled him.

He didn't expect her to still be lying about. She had always been an early morning person. Most likely already training.

Slowly he sat up, the cover sliding onto his lap. He looked around before sliding out of the bed and making his way over to the window. Last time he was here, he had completely broken down and had paid little mind to the room.

Now he saw that there were various pictures plastered on the wall, and on her desk. Taking a closer look, he saw that one of the pictures was a large city on a cliff. He didn't recognize it, but assumed it was the capital of Mirarca, from where Micheru came.

He looked to some other pictures, where Micheru was still a young girl, hanging out with her friends. 'Friends who are dead now.' He frowned. He had always known that Micheru came from a war-torn country where everyone had been killed, save for a select few. Seeing those pictures made him realize the hell Micheru must've gone through.

Turning to her desk he grabbed the picture standing there. He saw two young girls, along with their parents. The broken family of Micheru, with only her mother still alive. 'I can't believe she turned out the way she did. Having lost everyone…and still have such a positive outlook on everything and everyone.'

He had always respected Micheru. But this…It made him look at her in a whole new light. He put the frame back on the desk and reached for the clothing that lay draped over the chair.

He quickly got dressed and made his way downstairs, where it was absent of inhabitants. With mild surprise he headed outside, giving a nod to the guard standing outside.

"Uzumaki-san? I have a message for you." The chunin said.

He slowed his pacing but didn't stop. "What is it?"

"Your teammates are on training field 2, waiting for your lazy ass to show up."

Naruto nearly stumbled at those words. He slowly turned around. "What the?"

"Those were Hawke's words." It was clear he enjoyed it too much.

"Don't try and enjoy it too much…Kotetsu."

"It is amusing, and Hawke has a point its nearly two." Kotetsu looked at the clock that was hanging on a building down the street.

"You know what I find more amusing?" Naruto asked

"What?"

"That I can go about, and you're stuck guarding an empty building."

"Tsk." Naruto knew he had won and continued his stroll, satisfied with the result of the conversation.

He walked past the market square, where they were deconstruction the stage and other stands from the festivities of last night. He continued down the street towards the training section, paying little attention to the people around him.

"I can't believe we have to help at the wall again!"

"I just want a cool new mission!"

Naruto looked at the two complaining kids as they marched past with their Jonin sensei and their quiet third teammate. 'Genin will be genin.'

He followed them with his gaze, but once they were out of sight he didn't turn and continue his path. He stared at the spot he last saw them, his eye glazed over.

'I want to go to my mom.'


Sakura and Ino were watching as the remaining junk from the party was cleaned up. They had woken up, late in the afternoon and quickly had met up to talk about everything that had happened last night.

"Shikamaru continues to amaze me. It's past three, and he's still nowhere to be found." Ino muttered.

Sakura gave her a sympathetic pat. "Sasuke-kun's the same, but not because he prefers to sleep. He's somewhere training, most likely."

Ino gave her a mischievous smile. "I bet he prefers other stuff!"

"Ino!"

"Don't be such a prude! Let me have my fun. You already stole Sasuke from me." It was nothing more than a tease, and Sakura knew it. She couldn't stay quiet, however.

"I didn't steal Sasuke! You were already with Shikamaru when I asked Sasuke out!"

Ino waved it off, her nose pointed to the sky. "Unnecessary details."

"Unnecessary my ‚Äď"

"Hey that's Naruto." Ino interrupted pointed down the street.

Sakura found him easy enough, his blonde hair was a dead giveaway. What gave him away was his passive posture.

They came closer, noticing his distant gaze. "Naruto?" Sakura asked, slightly concerned.

Ino looked at him with worry. She had seen this countless times and knew that he was reliving the traumatic experience. "I don't think he can hear you."

She closed the distance and gently placed her hand on his shoulder. "Naruto-kun. Hey, can you hear me?" she lightly shook his shoulder.

Sakura watched Naruto snap back to reality. "Naruto?"

He looked at Sakura before his eye landed on Ino. "Sakura, Ino. What is it?"

"Are you okay? You were just standing here…staring."

"I'm…I'm fine." He slowly turned down the street, in the direction of the training field. "I'm gonna go…"

He slowly slid out of her grasp and moved towards his destination; his head dipped low.

"Naruto," Ino called out. A tilt of his head was the only indication that he heard her. "There's no shame in asking for help."

"Let us help you."

"You can't help me." Came the answer, an answer that sounded like a resignation.

He disappeared out of their sight, leaving them to wonder.

"Stubborn baka…" Ino muttered.

Sakura had to agree with her friend. To see her old teammate being reduced to a speck of his former self. It made her fear for what was to come. "I'm scared for what's heading our way."

"Can you imagine seeing the Reaver force standing outside the village walls?" Ino asked with lingering doubt. Doubt for that they wouldn't be able to win the fight.

"I heard that Tsunade-sama is planning on announcing the news to the village. Evacuations going to start not long after."

"Where are they going?" the blonde girl asked.

"Jiraiya's toad summon, Fukasaku has visited Tsunade-sama. Offered their region as a safe zone."

"It's really starting to hit home…" Ino's voice lowered to just above a whisper.

Sakura couldn't help but agree, her eyes roaming around, taking in the village as if it was the last time she ever could.


Micheru swiped the sweat off her brow. She lowered herself in a defensive stance and watched as Hawke resumed his advance. He was fast. Much faster than her, but her stance would help in dodging the coming attack.

She jumped in the air, dodging the low kick and retaliated with one of her own. She connected with his arm, and he jumped back.

A flame erupted from her hand and was sent soaring to Hawke who had no other choice but to dive to the right, where she was waiting, her hand aimed at him, a small light emitting from her palm.

"I got you!" she said with a big smile.

He sighed and nodded. "I can't believe you beat me."

She held out her hand and pulled him up after a moment. "That's because you're still holding back, and don't pretend you're not."

He dusted himself off. "Maybe just a tad. But don't underestimate yourself, Micheru. You're strong."

She furrowed her brow. After all this time, she was still being treated like a kid. "I want to fight you at a hundred percent."

"I have an assignment soon, some other time."

She pouted but nodded regardless. She reached for her towel and started wiping away the sweat. "I'll ask Kitase I guess."

"What about me?"

She almost immediately turned. Naruto gave her a wave as she locked eyes with his. He had a tiny smile on his face. "Naruto…kun." Her heartbeat increased and all she wanted, was to run over and kiss him.

"I wanted to see how you wiped the floor with Hawke."

She crossed her arms and fake-glared at her sparring partner. "He's still treating me like Mayu's daughter."

Hawke quickly focused his attention elsewhere and pretended not to hear her.

"So, fight me." He closed the distance. She noticed he was wearing a simple dark outfit. His gauntlet was missing, which was a rare sight. His pale hand clearly stood out.

She tilted her head in curiosity. "Are you going to hold back?"

"I wouldn't dare." Despite the joking manner in which he said it, there was honesty in it.

She moved the towel across her face before tossing it to the side. "I mean it, don't hold back."

He turned serious, nodding at her request. He lowered himself into an offensive stance, while she opted for an alternate defensive one, specifically designed to react to high-speed attacks. "If you can count us down, Hawke."

He slid his hand through his dark hair, trying to put it back in its proper place. With an exasperated sigh he counted down. "3,2,1…. fight!"

As she suspected, he charged forth with immense speed. She dodged the first attack and had to backpedal even more. He was attacking relentlessly. his fists were missing their marks, but barely. She knew that if he kept this up, he would get the first strike in.

Stealing a trick from his playbook, she aimed at his abdomen. "Chakra push!" Naruto had to twist to the side in order to dodge the attack. But he recovered almost instantly and closed the gap. He slammed his shoulder into her, and she came stumbling to the ground.

As she way laying there, she could already hear him approaching, and fast. She used her hands to flip back on her feet. She sent her fist where she expected he would be and wasn't disappointed. Her fist connected with his and he came to an abrupt stand-still.

She followed up with a low sweep, trying to get him off-balance, but he stepped over it and gave her an uppercut, sending her flying, again, and came crashing into the ground.

Despite the setbacks. She wasn't deterred. She pushed herself off and formed a massive fireball.

"Katon: GŇćkakyŇę no Jutsu!" Her eyes widened in surprise. She knew that they used hand-signs in order to form faster mani attacks. But the difference between the two attacks, had been staggering.

Jumping high into the air, with mani to enhance her jump, she threw the fireball to Naruto, who had to dodge the attack. Both fire attacks exploded, and a large cloud of smoke erupted from it, obscuring her sight.

She heard him coming for her once more. Taking a few steps back, she created a bit more distance from the smoke cloud. With a smirk she saw Naruto blasting through the smoke, feet first. She effortlessly dodged the attack and retaliated by slamming her fist into Naruto's face.

A poof of smoke was the only indication that she'd been had.

"That was a good fight, but you lost." Came from behind. She felt the tip of a kunai at the back of her neck.

Her hands dropped to her side. She gave a nod and slowly turned. Despite her defeat, she was still happy. She wrapped her arms around Naruto's neck. "I don't know…Still feels like winning to me." She planted her lips on his. "Thank you, for not holding back."

He returned the kiss and wrapped her in his arms. "Hawke's an idiot."

"Hey!"

She felt Naruto wave him off with one of his hands. "Very true," She giggled before slowly stepping back. "How did you sleep?"

She had been watching him sleep for the first hour. After she was certain he wouldn't be tossing and turning, she slowly drifted off to sleep as well. Once she woke up, she found him, still fast asleep.

"I slept great. First time in weeks…" He said truthfully.

She smiled at his answer. "I'm glad to hear that. I also wanted to say, thank you, for the amazing night. I had a great time."

He pulled her close again. "I should be thanking you, Micheru-chan."

"Alright, alright, stop hurting my eyes please!" Hawke shouted, his arms flailing about.

Naruto turned slightly, "didn't you have an assignment, or something?"

"Crap! That's right. Gotta go!" Hawke ran off, but not before bumping into Kitase and Kakashi.

"Hey guys! " Kitase said as he waved at them.

Micheru gently stepped out of Naruto's grasp, wrapping her arm around his. "Hi Kitase! Have you recovered from last night?"

Kitase hesitated. "Somewhat…that girl knows how to drink."

"Hmm, you do look a bit green." Kakashi said, not even bothering to look up from his small orange book.

"You're not even looking in my direction." Kitase grumbled, though he did look a bit sickly.

"It's a gift."

Naruto had to agree with his former sensei. His ability to notice his surroundings, despite having his eyes plastered on the orange book…it was something else. "How was your night, Hatake?"

He snapped the orange book shut and stuffed it into one of the many pockets of his vest. "I've enjoyed myself. Especially once Gai got hold of Tenten."

Naruto and Kakashi locked eyes with each other and muttered the same thing. "Poor girl." Micheru and Kitase merely shrugged, unsure what to make of it.

Kakashi looked at the training field. "This was our field, back in the day."

Naruto followed his gaze, looking at the tree posts. The image of him, Sakura and Sasuke shimmered in front of him. Him being tied to a post while Sakura tried to feed him some food. "I remember being tied to a post."

"Hmm. You were quite the idiot back then." Kakashi stated, scratching his chin as he thought back to that day.

Naruto snorted but nodded regardless. "That's true."

"I know you were part of Kakashi's genin team. But how long ago was that?" Micheru asked, leaning closer into Naruto.

"It's been years…8 I think?" Naruto said, looking to Kakashi for acknowledgment.

"Sounds about right."

He focused back onto the tree posts. "I must have been 12 when I became Genin. Almost a year later I left Konoha. I'm 21 now…so 8 years sounds accurate."

"Isn't it weird, to be back in the village, you left?" Kitase asked, intrigued by the whole story.

"It was…I've managed to adjust myself." Naruto hesitated.

Kakashi shrugged. "I'm not here to change your mind, Naruto. I've heard what you told the others."

Micheru looked between the two. "Told what?"

"That I won't stay in Konoha once the war is over." Naruto said, his eye still plastered on the tree.

'Team 7 starts his first mission tomorrow.'

'We did it! We did it!'

'Teme…'

'Who you calling a teme here, you-you Baka!'

"I didn't think you would, to be honest," She replied before another thought popped in her head. "Makes me think…What will we do when the war is over?"

Naruto scratched the back of his head, thinking it over. "I honestly have no idea, what about you?"

Her gaze grew distant. "I don't really know…I sometimes think about Mirarca, but I there's nothing there for me…But I still want to know if anyone survived."

Naruto gave a solemn nod. "If I were in your shoes, I'd feel the same."

She blinked and focused back on the group. "We still have a war to win though."

Kitase grinned. "Yes, we do!"

"Uzumaki Naruto."

The blonde turned and saw an anbu standing behind him. "What?"

"Your presence is requested at the Hokage tower."

He rubbed his forehead in mild annoyance. "I guess I'll head over there."

Micheru gave a sympathetic smile. "Let's grab a bite to eat later, okay?"

Leaning forward, he gave her a kiss on her cheek, a smile on his face. He turned and focused his attention on the anbu, the smile had dissapeared just as quickly as it had appeared. "Let's get this over with."


Walking in, he found the leaders of both the Hunters, and the Akatsuki sitting there.

The group turned to him. While Rome walked up to him, patting him on the shoulder. "Thanks for coming, Ghost."

A wry smile appeared on his face at hearing his old name. Some habits were tough to get rid of apparently. "What's the assignment?"

The bald man tilted his head, before shaking his head. "There is no assignment. We just need to discuss our course of action…With Kenpachi."

Red glowing eyes stared at him, and he had to shake his head to get rid of the image. "I figured this would come up sooner or later."

"You've fought him twice now and lived. You already told us that you, Itachi and Kisame would volunteer…But…what if?"

"What if we die?" Naruto asked.

There was a silence and Mayu shifted in her seat uncomfortably before she spoke up. "We need to have a back-up plan."

"Have another squad standing by, when we die." Naruto said with a shrug.

"IF you die." Tsunade corrected him, narrowing her eyes slightly.

His face twitched. "Expect the worst."

Rome gripped his shoulder. "You can't go in the fight expecting to die."

Naruto winced, gripping the frame of the door. "You of all people should know, Rome. But I'm not going to roll over. I'll give it my all. We all will."

Shikaku joined the conversation. "What do we really know about Kenpachi? The more we know, the better our chances are."

Rome sighed, rubbing his head. "Surprisingly little. What he told Naruto at Suna is really the only thing, if it wasn't a complete lie."

"He wasn't lying. I could see it in his eyes. Kenpachi met the Shinigami." Naruto said, crossing his arms.

"But the implications…That the grim reaper is real? That it needs souls?" Mayu looked appalled and terrified at the thought.

Tsunade locked eyes with Shikaku. "The Shinigami is real…Minato used it to seal the Kyuubi."

Naruto's eye widened in surprise. He had never known about the details regarding him and the Kyuubi. "How did he…?

"Summon the being? I have no idea," Tsunade answered. From what Jiraiya had told her. He and the Sandaime had spent months trying to figure it out. "Sarutobi had known though. He used it in his fight against Orochimaru. He will probably have notes of it."

"Does it matter? We don't need to summon it."

"But we do."

All eyes turned to Naruto again. Slowly he explained. "We need to know why Kenpachi spoke with the Shinigami. We know that Kenpachi wants to 'cleanse' the world. But how does he go from, that, to meeting with the literal god of death?"

There wasn't an answer, just the inhabitants of the room looking at each other, looking to see if they had an answer.

Naruto scratched his chin as he thought it over. "I need to talk with the Shinigami."

"That's completely insane!" Tsunade barked back. "There's no way I'll allow this."

"Naruto's right," Konan spoke from the corner, giving a nod to Pein who had remained silent throughout the conversation. "Information is crucial, if from this meeting we can find a weak spot, we should exploit it."

Rome didn't say anything, but Mayu stood up from her seat and wasn't happy. "We're not doing this! Kenpachi himself said that the Shinigami wants souls. What's to stop it from taking yours, the moment you're face to face?!"

Tsunade nodded in agreement. "My point exactly!"

"Enough!" Naruto shouted, his voice morphing. His eye was blazing in anger and had a small red glow in it. "We're on the verge of complete annihilation! We can't just simply throw ideas out the window, because you don't like it!"

"WE'RE TALKING ABOUT THE GOD OF DEATH, NARUTO!" Mayu yelled back. Gone was her calm demeanor. "NOTHING GOOD WILL COME OF THIS!"

Naruto stepped forward and jabbed his finger at her. "AND THIS IS THE REASON WHY YOU LOST YOUR WAR! BECAUSE YOU DIDN'T HAVE WHAT IT TOOK TO MAKE THE NECESSARY SACRIFICES."

The room was dead quiet, but Naruto wasn't done yet and turned to the others. "YOU…YOU ALL NEED TO STOP THINKING IF IT'S THE RIGHT THING TO DO. THERE ISN'T A RIGHT OR WRONG ANYMORE. THERE'S ONLY SURVIVAL."

He breathed heavily and slowly calmed down. "Tsunade. I want those notes."

Pein stepped forward. "You would have made an excellent member of the Akatsuki."

Naruto dipped his head in acknowledgement. "Pein-sama."

"Micheru won't be happy." Mayu said angrily. Naruto's words had hurt her, but maybe there was a truth to it. They had never crossed their own self-made boundaries. Maybe that had cost them everything.

"I don't want her to know." Naruto said, his gaze drilling into Mayu's.

"What if you die?" Rome asked him. He was unsure what side to choose. He knew the extent of Kenpachi's power. But if the 'shinigami' existed…No one in their right mind should even get close to the creature.

"Then you'll have one less blonde to deal with." He said, his smirk widening slightly.

"You really want to keep this hidden from her?" Mayu asked.

He hesitated. He didn't want to keep it from her, but this wasn't something he could tell her. "She'll worry. I'll be fine."

"I've been hearing you say that a lot the last few weeks. 'I'll be fine'." The Hokage said, a frown on her face. She completely disagreed with his plan, but once again she needed to remind herself that Naruto wasn't a shinobi of Konoha. He was a rogue-nin who didn't consider what was morally right or wrong. He just cared for results.

He turned towards the door. "Send the notes to our barracks. I need them as soon as possible." And with that he marched out but paused. "Do we have any indication when they will attack?

Tsunade was the one who answered, a sullen tone in her voice. "Scouts have seen them marching towards our borders. Estimates are that they will arrive within the week.

Naruto's shoulders stiffened slightly. He gave a single nod before he walked out.

"This isn't right…" Mayu whispered, shaking her head, her mind on the Naruto's plan.

Rome looked at the door where the blonde had walked through, his mind conflicted.


Watching his village prepare for the battle ahead was interesting, to say the least. Lectures on the Reavers were being given. Extra training was well underway on the training grounds and foreign shinobi were slowly arriving in Konoha.

It was different than with Suna. There they had the clock running against them. Everything was done with haste and there was only so much they could do to prepare. Here, Konoha had been preparing, ever since the battle of Sunagakure.

Kakashi watched as the Jonin filed out of the assembly, many giving him a nod in passing, including Sasuke. He patted the Uchiha on the shoulder and stepped inside.

The teacher had been Hawke apparently, who despite his jovial attitude, was a capable instructor. "Hmm. Didn't quite expect you here."

Hawke looked up from his papers. It contained sketches and overall experiences he had with the Reavers. "Kakashi Hatake. I don't think we ever properly met."

Hatake's head turned from the left to the right, taking in the room. "Don't think we have."

"You were Naruto's old teacher, right?" Hawke asked directly, not beating around the bush.

"That's me."

"The absolute bastard that abandoned and left him to rot. Tsk." Hawke said it in a light tone, yet it was everything but.

Kakashi instantly turned to his gaze on Hawke. "I suppose I've earned that."

Hawke sat down and propped his feet on the desk. "I gotta know. What was so bad about the kid that you had to leave him in the rain? To have him face all that misery?"

Kakashi entertained the notion to shut down the conversation and leave. Instead, he answered truthfully. "Naruto was a great kid. I just wasn't the right man to teach him and Sasuke. I couldn't handle them, and the pressure from the Hokage office."

"Was a good kid? He still is."

"Naruto isn't a kid anymore. He hasn't been for years," In fact, Naruto eerily reminded him of himself, in his younger days. The weight of the seeming world on his shoulder. The pain of lost ones. "Not that it matters. I had a moment of weakness and it cost me everything."

Hawke watched Kakashi for a moment, before his eyes let up and regained that twinkle. "I'm not one to judge…Still you got a lot to make up for."

Kakashi nodded. "Have you seen him lately?"

"Spoke to him for a bit last night. He seemed to enjoy himself."

Kakashi had been keeping a close eye on the blonde, without being a nuisance too much. But it was clear to him that Naruto was still suffering from what had happened in Suna. He hadn't been privy to the details. But he had heard that there were some genin that had been killed, and that Naruto had been with them when it had happened. He had trouble letting go of the events in Suna as well but was coping a lot better than his former pupil had. Past experiences made it easier for him to process the traumatic experiences. "He's a mess."

Hawke had to agree with him and nodded. "Yeah…He needs help."

Kakashi knew all too well that it was difficult to accept help from someone. How could someone help with something as messed up as this? All they could offer was a listening ear. "One of our kunoichi's has already tried reaching to him. But he doesn't want any help."

"That's because she wasn't there. How could she possibly help him, when she doesn't have the slightest clue what happened? He needs your help, Hatake."

A soft chuckle escaped his lips. "Maa, I don't think Naruto would accept it from me."

"Despite your history. He's still holds you in high regard, you know," Hawke noticed movement behind Kakashi. Apparently, the next group was slowly shuffling in. "I think you're the only one who can help him."

The grey haired-nin turned just as the newcomers walked past him. "Good talk."

"See ya later, Kakashi."


Micheru watched as her fellow blonde leaned back in chair, stretching his arms before wrapping them behind his head. "You happy?"

"This isn't Ichiraku's, but that was some good food." Naruto yawned and looked around. People were cleaning up the last bits from last night. Construction workers were making their way to the wall, presumably to wrap up the final section, before it was ready to be used. It seemed work life was quickly gaining traction again.

She shook her head in amusement. She still couldn't see the allure of the small restaurant; Naruto was preaching on about ever since coming to Konoha. "What's your plan for the rest of the day?"

"Nothing much, you?"

She shrugged. "I was assigned to help out at the hospital. They're setting up medical hubs throughout the village for the coming fight."

"-Micheru Sun?"

She looked over her shoulder and noticed a chunin standing there. "That's me."

"You've been summoned by Hokage-sama."

"What for?" she asked, turning completely before resting her head on her hand.

"Some timetables have moved and wants to update you." The Chunin droned.

"I'll be there shortly," She turned to Naruto just as the Chunin left. "I guess that's..Naruto?"

The blonde was staring ahead. His eye glazed over. She looked at him worriedly. It was something that had happened lot over the last couple of days. According to Ino, it occured a lot to shinobi with traumatic experiences. She had seen it happen to a lot of people and had always pitied them. It had always felt far away. But now, with Naruto…it hit home, and hard.

She reached for his hand and squeezed slightly. "Naruto-kun. Come on back."

He slowly blinked. He looked her in the eye and gave her a reassuring smile. "Sorry, what were you saying?"

"Don't fool me, Naruto. Be honest…please." She slid her hand over his.

"Same old…same old, you know. It will go away." He broke away from her gaze, feeling uncomfortable.

"You need to talk with someone about this."

"I don't need help." Was the automatic response.

"Oh Naruto..." slowly she stood up. "I really gotta go. Once I get back, we really need to talk about this, okay?"

He looked at a few kids running across the street, playing with a bright orange ball.

"Naruto?"

He didn't look toward her but did answer. "I'll see you soon."

The last thing she wanted was to leave. Looking at him, she felt pity. On the outside he looked like the same as he always had. But she could see past the carefully constructed façade. He was still as broken as he was the day they had returned. As she walked past him, she ruffled his hair before planting a kiss on top of his head. "I'll be back as soon as I can."

Naruto let his fingers slid past her waist as she passed him, acknowledging her departure. His eye was still watching the kids that were now slowly disappearing behind the crowd. In his head the familiar sentence echoed through.

'I'll see you on the other side'.

"Uzumaki Naruto."

He looked up and saw Pein standing there. "Pein."

The Akatsuki leader sat down across from him and stared at him, unnerving the blonde. "You look troubled."

Naruto shrugged it off. "I doubt that you wanted to talk to me because of my troubles."

Pein was silent for a moment, his purple eyes unwavering. "You were with Jiraiya-sama when he passed."

A lump in his throat appeared almost instantly. Slowly he nodded.

"Long ago, he taught me and Konan the way of shinobi."

Naruto's eye widened, pointing his finger at Pein. "He taught you?!"

Pein simply stared, which to Naruto seemed like his way of raising an eyebrow. "Yes."

"I never would have expected it."

"He was a good teacher. It's unfortunate that he passed away."

Despite how neutral the voice sounded, it seemed as if there was more to it, under the surface. "He was a good man." Naruto quietly said.

"So are you."

Naruto scoffed at the thought. "Not really."

Pein leaned forward slightly. "You fight for peace. So did Jiraiya. It's a noble goal, a worthy endeavor."

"Aren't we all?"

"Perhaps. But everyone has their own motives, whether it is greed or something else."

Naruto thought back to the days, when Akatsuki was enemy number one. "What about you?"

"I desire peace."

"Others wouldn't see it that way."

Pein slowly stood up, his eyes turning elsewhere. "Sometimes you have to swim upstream to reach your goal, as is evident with the argument earlier."

Naruto let out a cold smile. "Someone has to."

"Once again, I find myself regretting, I haven't extended an invitation to you earlier."

Naruto shook his head in amusement. "Thanks for the compliment, I guess?"

"I have a task I need to commit to. I won't make it back before the fight starts. Make sure Konoha doesn't fall."

He frowned. "That's unfortunate. We really could use your help, Pein."

Pein stepped closer to him, his voice lowering slightly. "We're gathering all remaining shinobi forces. To strike at the back of the Reaver forces."

"Why keep this a secret?" Naruto asked, locking his eye with Pein's rinnegan, unnerving him slightly.

"You never know who's listening. Make sure Konoha remains standing." And with that Pein marched off.

Naruto stared at the retreating back, surprised by the sudden piece of information.


Later that same day, dusk.

The notes he received from Tsunade proved to be quite useful. It seemed that the Sandaime had never intended to use the jutsu. Regardless, his theories on the Shinigami and its reason for existing was spot on. Reorganizing the papers, he read it over once more.

From what I can conduct, Minato-kun had no idea of the real consequences of using the shiki fŇęjin. Having seen the the jutsu in action, it's clear to me that we never should've dabbled in this. It only craves souls. It makes me wonder just what happens with the souls he traps.

Regardless of my hesitations in using this jutsu, it is a powerful tool, should I ever need it. I need more research before I could even think of adding this to my repertoire.

Naruto shuffled the papers and grabbed a new stack. It looked like a follow up from the previous entry. He took a sip from his hot beverage and clicked the desk light on, now that evening was slowly descending.

I've experimented with the Shiki FŇęjin, using clones. The creature is as frightening is at always was. My earlier thoughts about his hunger for souls seems to ring true. But it doesn't add up. His job is to transition souls from this plane to the next, he doesn't consume them all, does he?

If he does…That would make death a frightening aspect.

The idea of Minato, being stuck in the Shinigami' stomach is deeply unsettling.

Naruto stared at the note. 'If that's true…No wonder some people would seek for eternal life. The idea of being consumed…Unsettling isn't even the right word for it.'

He grabbed another piece of paper and noticed it was a sketch. He shuddered when he saw how the Shinigami looked. It looked absolutely terrifying. White long hair, a pink skin and a demonic like face. The horrifying sight was completed with horns protruding from his head. He briefly looked at his gauntlet. 'Even more evidence that the Shinigami is linked to the Reavers'

Slowly he put the sketch away and reached for another note.

I may have found a way to summon the creature in another manner. I've named it the Shiki Kuchiyose. I have used the same seals with a normal summoning but so far with little result. The seal lights up in bright red, but nothing happens, and it slowly fades away.

I'm certain I can make this work, but I don't know if I'll like the result. Something to ponder over after we're done with the Chunin exams.

Naruto stared the name of the jutsu. The old man had done it again. He had once again shown why he was nicknamed the professor. Had he not died, he would've found a way to summon the Shinigami.

'But why was he so interested in summoning it?' Naruto reached for the final paper and the answer became clear.

If it's the last thing I'll do, I'll free you from the Shinigami. You deserve peace, not eternal torment. I'll find a way, Minato-kun.

Naruto stared at the paper. There were some more scribbling and notes, but nothing noteworthy. 'The Sandaime wanted to free my dad.'

Slowly he leaned back in his chair his mind in complete turmoil at the revelations. The sandaime had been on the verge of contacting the Shinigami, and there wasn't a doubt in his mind he would've found a way. "Thank you…Jiji."


Once more he found himself at his old training ground. It was pitch black outside and could barely make out the tree posts. He knew that he had to do it at night, away from prying eyes…and away from Micheru.

He glanced at the notes once more. He knew that simply summoning didn't work. The seal did react but didn't do anything else.

He slowly crouched down. He slowly went through the necessary handsigns before softly laying his hand on the ground. "Shiki Kuchiyose!" the seals spread across the ground and glowed bright red. It lasted for a few seconds before it disappeared altogether.

"Hmm…"

"Hmm indeed."

If Naruto was startled, he didn't show it. He slowly turned his head. "Kakashi. What are you doing out this late?"

"I was looking for you actually. I stopped by the barracks, but you were out."

"And it couldn't wait till morning?" Naruto asked, mildly annoyed.

"Well, it could…But I was curious why you would be wandering around at this time at night…And then I heard you…Well trying to summon…something?"

"I'm trying to summon the Shinigami."

Kakashi was taken aback, especially how casually Naruto said it. "You are what?"

"You've seen my memories, you know that Kenpachi has been in contact with the god of death. We need to know why."

"He told you why."

Naruto sighed and stood up, turning to his old sensei. "There's more to it. If we can find a way to undo what the Shinigami has done. We can win this war."

Kakashi gripped the blonde's shoulder tight. "Nothing good will come of this. It's the Shinigami, Naruto."

The blonde narrowed his eye. "We need every advantage we can get. You've seen Suna…You've seen what he's capable of."

Kakashi didn't answer.

"Are you going to stop me?"

Slowly the gray haired-nin shook his head. "No…I'm going to help you."

A rare smile appeared on the blonde's face. "Okay…"

He briefly gave Kakashi the bits of info he had on the Shinigami. "Problem is. The jutsu does respond but doesn't do anything else."

"Shinigami wants souls, that's all he cares for…Kenpachi's words." Kakashi murmured.

Naruto looked at the papers, see if there was anything he missed. "We're missing something."

"Hmm."

"Yeah…That's what I said." Naruto muttered. He was slowly getting more frustrated. It wasn't as simple as pouring a large chunk of chakra into it.

"What if…we need more than chakra?"

He understood what he meant with it but waved it off. "If you mean that he only responds to me handing over my soul, that's impossible."

"I've never heard of a jutsu that would require a soul…"

They continued discussing it back and forth. Trying the jutsu again, with more blood, and even tried it with a clone. Nothing worked. As the night progressed into the early hours of the morning, they eventually gave up.

Kakashi looked up from the papers and watched as Naruto stared into the dark forest. He hadn't spoken for a few minutes. "Thinking about them?"

He nodded slowly, never turning to meet Kakashi's gaze. "Always."

"Sakura's worried about you."

He reached for a twig on the ground, letting it roll between his fingers. "She should focus her attention on someone who wants it. So should you."

Kakashi didn't seem deterred. "I've seen your memories. Genin right?" he didn't dare mention the girl he had seen.

Naruto didn't respond, but his shoulders stiffened slightly.

"I don't know what happened. But I know one thing. It wasn't your fault."

"Yes, it was."

Kakashi slowly rose to his feet and moved over to the blonde, blocking his sight, forcing Naruto to look at him. "I don't see you as the kind of man that would order genin to their death."

Naruto swallowed and looked away. His voice turned hoarse. "They should've left me."

"And they stayed to help you?"

Naruto snapped the twig in two before letting it drop to the ground. "I-I told them they should leave me behind…They-they" A quivering sigh stopped him from continuing.

Kakashi gripped his shoulder tight. "Listen to me. This wasn't your fault. They were shinobi. They wanted to help you. Don't put that on your shoulders."

Naruto shook his head, a sad smile on his face. "I failed them, Hatake. It was my task to bring them out alive…and I failed."

"I know you don't think very highly of me, these days. And I would never expect you to. But please listen to me…I've been down this road, Naruto. It goes nowhere. It will leave you a shell of your former self. You'll blame yourself for the rest of your life."

Naruto looked him in the eye. And he could see unshed tears in his former-sensei's eye. Back in the day he was too young to realize but thinking back on it now…All the times Kakashi had been late, his visits to the memorial site. "Who?"

"Rin…Obito…They were my teammates." He said quietly.

"What happened?" Naruto whispered.

"I used to be a real stickler to shinobi rules. Rin-she got captured during the third shinobi war. Obito wanted to save her. I wanted to complete the objective. Eventually I figured out that my teammate was more important. We ended up saving her…but Obito…he died. I've always wondered what would've happened if I had joined him from the start."

He sighed and he reached for his pocket, pulling out an old picture. He gave it to Naruto who slowly unfolded it. On the picture was a young Kakashi, with a girl of his age, her arms wrapped around him. it was clear they were together. Kakashi was waving his arms about, he had never seen Kakashi behave like that.

"She meant everything to me. She…got captured by Kirigakure. They made her into a Jinchuuriki. They wanted to unleash the power of the Sanbi in Konoha," Kakashi stared for a few moments, his eye glazed over. "She uhm…She wanted me to kill her, but I couldn't do it. She-she dove in front of my Raikiri."

"Kami…"

"I've never been able to forgive myself for what happened." Kakashi whispered. Even though his eye was red, there were no tears. He hadn't cried ever since.

"I'm sorry, Kakashi."

He cleared his throat and focused back on Naruto. "Don't go down my road. Don't end up like me."

Naruto's shoulder slumped. "I don't think I can."

Kakashi smiled sadly. "Neither could I. But I truly believe you can."

Naruto tried to push down he lump that was in his throat. "We should probably call it a night, huh?"

Kakashi stood up and held out his hand. "Sounds like a plan."

He let Kakashi help him to his feet, a rare smile on his face. "I'm supposed to hate you and let one of my remarks fly."

"Maa, Naruto. You know I can keep a secret." Inwardly Kakashi was happy. He had managed to reconnect with a student he thought would be lost to him forever.

"Makes me wonder, what the secret to this jutsu is…At least we gave it a try." He muttered, looking down at the notes that he held in his hand.

Kakashi nodded and took the lead, heading back to the village. "We'll try again tomorrow if you want."

He didn't hear a response, so he slowly turned. He could see Naruto staring at him. "Naruto?"

"We haven't tried. We didn't give it our all."

"Well…we did?"

Naruto shook his head. "No, you don't understand. We haven't really tried! We lacked the intent!"

"Intent?"

His eyebrow rose. "What do you mean?"

Naruto was already on his knees, dropping the notes to the side. "The Shinigami wants souls, right? And we tried summoning him. Normal summoning requires chakra and the intent of what you want to summon," Naruto looked at Kakashi, but he still looked unsure, so he continued. "I have two summonses. Toads and Hawks. I generally don't summon toads because of my desire to keep my identity a secret, or at least was. So, I always focused my intent on summoning Hawks."

Kakashi nodded and he saw where he went with it, but it still didn't make sense to him. "We have the intent to summon the Shinigami. He still doesn't appear."

"You said so yourself, he wants souls! So, during the summoning I need to have the intent to give my soul over to him!"

Kakashi's eye widened drastically. "That must be it! But what if he instantly reaches for your soul?"

"It's a risk that I have to take."

"Naruto-kun? What's going on?"

They both turned and saw Micheru standing there, concern clearly written on her face. "Micheru? What are you doing out of bed?"

"I didn't hear anything from you, Naruto. I wanted to check on you, see if you were alright. You weren't in your room, so I got worried and started roaming the village, trying to find you."

Naruto's eye darted to Kakashi before settling back on his girlfriend. "I'm okay Michu-chan. Why don't you get some sleep?"

Micheru wasn't a distrustful person by nature. But she didn't like being lied to. And she knew there was more than they were telling her. "What are you doing here?" her eyes went down to the notes on the ground.

Kakashi understood Naruto didn't want her to know, he could clearly see it on his face. "Just trying some stuff out."

"That's right."

Micheru crossed her arms, her eyes narrowed. "Please don't do this to me, Naruto. Don't shut me out."

Naruto rubbed his face. He was tired and felt conflicted about the whole situation. "You don't want to know, Micheru."

She closed the distance and crouched in front of him. "Haven't I earned your trust by now?"

He shook his head. "It's not a matter of trust. I trust you completely. But this is something you don't want to know."

"That's a pity, because apparently, I do want to know."

Naruto looked to Kakashi for help, but he had opted for a shrug and steered clear from the conversation. "Promise me, you won't try and stop me."

She hesitated, and he noticed, so he reiterated. "Promise me!"

"Okay, okay! I promise."

He reached for her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. "I' going to summon the Shinigami."

She pulled her hand back from his grasp. "You are going to what?!"

"He has info on Kenpachi. He might have something that could help turn the tide in this war."

She stood up and looked at him with disbelief. "You can't be serious Naruto."

He gave her a sympathetic smile. "Micheru…If we don't find a way to stop the Reavers…You know as well as I do, we don't have the numbers. Even if we all band together, we don't stand a chance."

"I've seen what Kenpachi said! The Shinigami wants souls. He'll take yours!" she grew desperate now. Her earlier promise had been forgotten completely.

"We don't know that. Kenpachi's soul didn't get eaten." Naruto knew the moment he said it, he had made a mistake.

Her face paled and she looked taken aback. "EATEN?!"

He tried to shush her, mentally slapping himself on the head. "I shouldn't have told you that."

"Naruto, please…PLEASE! Don't do this!" she grabbed his hand and held it tightly.

Naruto in turn looked to Kakashi and nodded, who came up from behind and restrained her. "I'm sorry. This is the only way."

Micheru tried her best to break free. "Don't do this, Naruto! He'll take you! PLEASE!"

With a heavy heart he turned his gaze on the ground. His hand flew through the handsigns, muttering along. "Inoshishi, inu, tori, saru, ramu... Shiki Kuchiyose!" his mind was focused on one thing, the intent on giving the Shinigami his soul.

The seals spread across the ground, it glowed bright red. For a moment he thought he failed, but then, the seal abruptly flicked from the ground and latched on this hand. He looked at it in shock, one that didn't disappear.

"Naruto?" Kakashi asked.

There was no response. And Micheru tried as well. "Naruto, please say something!"

Naruto remained frozen; his look of shock still etched on. Kakashi grew worried and let go of Micheru. She was instantly at the blonde's side and gently reached for his shoulder. "What is this?"

Kakashi crouched down next to her, his eye darting from the glowing seal to Naruto's face. "It worked."

Micheru turned to Kakashi and slapped him in the face. "How could you?!"

Kakashi didn't react to the slap. Slowly he looked at her. "Naruto's right. We won't win the war the conventional way."

"You don't know that!"

Kakashi turned serious. "Think Micheru. We've lost Kumo, Iwa and now Suna. Along with all their neighboring allies. It's only Kiri and us left."

She wanted to point out that there were minor villages that he left out, but she knew that the real power laid in the major hidden villages. And they were down to two. "And you think this," she motioned to Naruto, who remained as still as a statue. "Is going to help?! The monster is going to eat his soul! We need to get him out of here!"

She reached for the seal but was stopped by Kakashi's hand, who gripped hers tight. "Don't do that! We don't know what it will do."

"We need to do something!" She shrieked.

Kakashi shook his head. "It's far too late now. We need to trust in Naruto."

She bit her lower lip, looking at Naruto in concern. She was so far out of her depth with this that she didn't even have an inkling about what to do. "What now?"

Kakashi looked towards the blonde as well. "Now we wait."

It was the last thing she wanted, but she knew he was right. They had to trust in Naruto. Slowly she went from crouching, into a more comfortably sitting position. Kakashi glanced up at the sky. They still had a few hours before the sun would come up.

He sat down next to her and together they quietly waited for Naruto to return to them. No words were uttered, but both had the same train of thought.


thirty minutes passed but Naruto showed no sign of snapping out of it, and with every passing minute, Micheru grew more worried. She had her arms wrapped around her knees and looked between Naruto, and the seal that was wrapped around his hand. She shook her head at the sheer stupidity of this plan. A ghost of a smile appeared on her face. It was something Naruto would after all.

She gave Kakashi a side glance, and noticed his eye was locked on Naruto's still figure. "How…was Naruto before he left Konoha?"

Kakashi slowly turned, his eye was the only indication that he smiled. "An idiot."

She shook her head. "So, nothing's changed."

He chuckled lightly. "I guess not," his laugh slowly died out, but the smile lingered. "He was a good kid. Very active, and happy…Even when the village tried their best to make him suffer."

"I never understood why Konoha would do this" she said sadly.

"Jinchuriki always had a rough life, in every village, Naruto was no different.

"You mean a container for the demon, right?"

Kakashi nodded. "He-he didn't have a good life here. He was abused for years and treated like trash. I always had a feeling that he wanted to leave. His friends were the anchor that kept him here. When our betrayal happened…It was too much for him."

She felt terrible. She knew Naruto hated Konoha, that they had done something was evident. But she never knew the extent of his suffering, and still didn't. "Why didn't anyone help him?"

"There were a few…the previous Hokage, Jiraiya-sama…Sasuke and Sakura."

She felt her throat constrict. It wasn't hard to figure out that the Hokage, Kakashi mentioned was dead. Jiraiya had died in Suna. His friends had betrayed him. "No wonder, he turned out the way he did."

"Most would've given up, but not Naruto." Kakashi felt incredible proud at the blonde. Regardless of if they would ever go back how it used to be, he would never let Naruto down again.

She smiled and reached for Naruto's arm, gently stroking it. "He's like that."

At that moment, Naruto stirred before falling forward, his face covered by his arms. The seal unlatched itself from the blonde and dissipated.

"Naruto!" They both exclaimed and instantly closed the distance, watching him with worry. "Are you okay?!"

Micheru joined him at his side and rubbed his back. "Please tell me you're, okay?"

Slowly Naruto sat back up. His face was ashen with a thin layer of sweat on his forehead. He was breathing heavily, as if he had just finished an intense training session. He looked at Micheru, his trembling fingers reached for her face. "I'm, I'm okay."

"Did it work?"

Naruto only now recognized Kakashi. "It worked."

"What did it say? Did you find out anything that will help us?" Kakashi asked, his mind hopeful.

If it was possible, Naruto turned even paler, and his face briefly turned into one of despair. Micheru and Kakashi both felt their heart plummet.

"No."


You were hoping to see the conversation with the Shinigami, didn't you? ;)

A bit deep conversation with Kakashi and Naruto, something that was inevitable to happen, I hope I did it justice!

Let me know your thoughts and see you in two weeks!