Disclaimer: You think I own the rights to Naruto? What kinda budget do you think I'm working with here? Do you think I'm made of money? Look here at my expense report and I'll show you everything I can afford: a single bag of peanuts! That's all I can afford. Not any fancy ass rights or anything that prestigious!

Quick Note: Hey! Any of you like Avatar The Last Airbender? If you all do, my really good IRL friend just restarted posting on this website (and also posts on AO3), and they mostly write Airbender one-shots! They're an extremely talented writer and have helped me a lot with this story actually, helping me with some clarifications and helped me back in my planning time back in 2012! So... uh... yeah. Their username is itsmoonpeaches, so if you're at all interested, please give their work a moment to glance at it!

Thanks! Sorry about that! Onward to scheduled update!

'We're home. We're finally home.'

Jiraiya could not contain his joy as he, alongside his fellow shinobi, walked back into Konohagakure after being away for over a month. He greeted all the various citizens of the village that came to see him with a wide smile on his face. He moved through the village with a skip in his step as he made his way to his office, taking a deep breath every few seconds to just simply enjoy the air of Konoha.

'God, it's been so long since I've done so much time away from the village. Kumo's nice and all, and the mountains are cool, but nothing beats Konoha.' He told himself.

Upon arriving at his office, Jiraiya closed the door behind him and sat down on in his chair with an audible sigh, closing his eyes in relief.

'I know I'll have shit to do any minute now, and a lot of things to catch up in regards to the village's affairs while I was gone… but damn, I could use a good nap right now. Could probably sneak in a quick thirty minute one.' Jiraiya noted. A giggle escaped his lip and his cheeks started to redden: 'Ooh, maybe I could storyboard the next Icha Icha? It's been so long since I've gotten the chance to-'

Immediately, his blush disappeared as he sensed a presence in the room. He sighed as he pointed at the window.

"Is this necessary right now, Naruto?" He asked.

Naruto blinked in response as he just opened the window of the office. He chuckled, his hand going to the back of his head.

"How the hell did you notice me so quickly, Ero-sennin?" He asked.

"Kid, I've told you this before, but I did that shit all the time to Sarutobi-sensei in his office. You're going to need to be infinitely more sneaky if you have any hope of sneaking up on me here." Jiraiya snorted as he opened his eyes and looked at his godson: "Anyway, what's up?"

"Nothing really." Naruto said as he walked further into the office: "I just wanted to ask if you had anything planned for me mission wise anytime soon?"

Jiraiya groaned, leaning further back into his seat: "We just got back to Konoha and you're asking about missions already? Look, Naruto, checking available mission logs for anyone is not on my agenda for at least a day or two. I need to get readjusted back here, dammit!"

"So I'll have guaranteed time off these next two days?" Naruto asked, a smile developing on his face: "That's all I need to know!"

"Just because there's no missions yet doesn't mean you have the day off." Jiraiya noted, shaking his head: "Tomorrow morning, I am going to need you to come here with your team so I can do an official promote all of them to chūnin."

"Ah." Naruto's eyes widened for a moment as he nodded his head: "Okay, yeah, that makes sense."

"Also, just for your own understanding, I actually considered promoting your team to tokubetsu jōnin. I know they worked their asses and displayed great leadership and personal skills in how they handled the invasion, and actually completed an unrelated A-Rank mission by killing Rokushō Aoi and retrieving the Nidaime's blades-" Jiraiya stopped talking for a moment as he rubbed his chin in thought. He quickly shook his head: "Actually, when you go tell your team about tomorrow, can you tell Katsumi to stay behind when the meeting's over?"

"Sure." Naruto shrugged his shoulders. A grin developed on his face: "So, you think they should be tokubetsu jōnin, huh?"

The Hokage nodded his head: "They will be one day real soon, as well as most likely regular jōnin. Only reason I'm putting off on that promotion for them is that while they have the right personal qualities, I do think they need a little more strength. But I'm sure just giving them a little bit of time, they'll cross that hurdle soon."

"Yeah, all three will make great jōnin." Naruto's grin softened into a more sincere smile. He then raised an eyebrow at the Hokage: "So, after the promotional meeting, will you need me?"

"Uh…" Jiraiya closed his eyes in thought for a second before he shook his head: "No, I shouldn't. Why?"

"Just asking. I got something I'm going to try doing then." Naruto admitted as he turned back to the window.

"Do what?" The Hokage asked.

"You'll know soon enough. Hell, you'll be the one of the first to know." Naruto said, his grin returning as he jumped out of the window: "Later, Ero-sennin!"

Before the Hokage could ask anything else, Naruto closed the window doors and disappeared in a flicker. Jiraiya was still for a moment, staring outside, before he turned away and chuckled.

'Think you're slick Naruto. I think I know what you're going to do, and I can't wait to hear all about it.' Jiraiya noted. He then turned away from the window and back to his desk. A perverse giggle escaped his lips as he reached into his desk for a notebook: 'Eh, fuck the nap and daydreaming. Let's see if I can get any progress in the next Icha-'

His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a knock on the door.

"Hokage-sama?" Aburame Shibi spoke-up from the other-side of the door: "Since you just got back, it would be prudent to give up an update on Konoha's affairs while you were gone."

Jiraiya immediately slammed his head on his desk, gritting his teeth: 'Dammit… I just wanted to relax for just a few minutes by myself! Is that too much to ask?'

A few seconds passed by before a second knock sounded from the door: "Hokage-sama? You are there, yes?"

"… Enter." Jiraiya finally grumbled aloud.

It was not stressful situations like the Akatsuki invasion, but rather, these simpler moments that made Jiraiya wish he did not take the Hokage hat.

"Thanks for agreeing to come with me, Chōji." Shikamaru said, a small smile on his face as he looked at his friend.

The Akimichi nodded his head, a similar-looking smile on his lips: "Nah, it's the least I could do." He bit his lip for a moment as he shook his head: "I'm just glad you're going first…"

Usually, returning home was the first thing Shikamaru would want to do after returning from a long-term mission. It was also something he would want to do alone, so he could promptly return to his room and pass out. Today was the first time he would rather be doing anything else. It was not every day that he had to return home and break the news to his own mother that his father – her husband – had passed away.

Chōji felt similarly to Shikamaru and found himself in identical circumstances with his own family. The two were able to make an agreement that would benefit each other; they would accompany the other to their respective clan compound, where they could break the news to their mother together.

"How… are you feeling, by the way?" Shikamaru asked, pocketing his hands: "We didn't really get a chance to talk much in Kumo after the invasion."

"I… Well, I'm doing a lot better than I was." Chōji admitted with a sigh: "Talking with people helped. You, Ino, Shino, and Karui were able to help out a lot."

"Karui?" Shikamaru's eyebrow raised: "Isn't that the Kumogakure kunoichi your team was teasing you about?"

"Yeah, but it's nothing like that." Chōji said, shaking his head. His smile widened slightly for a moment before he sighed: "She also lost a good friend in that invasion, so we were able to talk about it. It… It helped. A lot."

"Ah. Good to hear." Shikamaru nodded his head: "Kurotsuchi was able to help me out a ton. As well as you, Naruto, Hinata, and Anko-sensei." He then sighed: "But it also kinda helps I've gotten to deal with this before. I had a bad mission in Kiri, and watched a lot of shit happen in Iwa a few months ago, that my perspective on things is probably warped." He shook his head, forcing out a small chuckle: "God, we see a lot of death in this job."

Chōji's smile disappeared: "When you put it like that, it kinda makes you wonder what the point of being a shinobi is."

"The point, huh…" Shikamaru grumbled, placing his hand under his chin in thought: "I guess it's just fighting to keep our loved ones safe. To keep our home safe."

"I guess, yeah." Chōji mumbled: "God, the world we live in is really messed up, huh?"

Shikamaru nodded in agreement: "Yeah, it's pretty fucked."

The two were quiet as they finally arrived at the Nara Clan compound. With a sigh, the two walked onto the property, moving through the courtyard towards the Main Family building.

"… You know, I beat my dad in shogi just before the invasion for the first time." Shikamaru mumbled.

"You did?" Chōji blinked, turning to his friend. When Shikamaru nodded, the small smile returned back to the Akimichi's lips: "You really have become a genius if you were able to take him down."

"It was only once." Shikamaru admitted, rubbing the back of his head.

"I mean, in battle, once is enough sometimes." Chōji said, closing his eyes: "Maybe… you beating him was sort of a passing of the torch."

'Was it?' Shikamaru frowned as he remembered Shikaku making one final move in the game, despite checkmate: 'Dad…'

"It's about damn time you arrived-"

Shikamaru and Chōji pulled their attention up as they reached the entrance to the Nara Compound's main building, where they came face-to-face with Yoshino. The woman's eyes were wide as her eyes darted back-and-forth between Shikamaru and Chōji, noting their expressions. Her hands began to shake slightly as her eyes then moved behind them, looking for any straggler that was supposed to be with them.

There was no one else.

Shikamaru bit down on his lip: "Mom-"

"He's… He's drinking. Again. Right?" Yoshino quickly shouted, her eyes narrowing in anger. "He… He just got home… and he left to drink again with Inoichi and Chōza at their local bar, right? Right?!"

"Yoshino-san…" Chōji mumbled, shaking his head: "He-"

"P-Please!" Yoshino shouted, her eyes reddening and tears beginning to form. She quickly rushed to Shikamaru's side: "Tell me your Dad's being an irresponsible ass and just went drinking! Shikamaru, please! Th-That's why he's not here! Not because… N-Not because…"

She was unable to finish her sentence. Shikamaru shook his head in response.

"No… No… Goddammit, NO!"

Yoshino quickly closed the distance, pulling Shikamaru into a tight embrace as she wailed into his stomach. Her legs began to shake, prompting Shikamaru to tighten his grip on her so she would not collapse.

"Shikaku… Shikaku… why… why…" Her fingers dug into Shikamaru's flak jacket, nearly creating holes in them: "WHY?"

Shikamaru's eyes began to redden and, for the first time since he heard the news, he began to cry.

"I'm sorry Mom…" He mumbled. "I'm so sorry…"

Chōji quicky closed the distance, joining his friend in embracing the Nara matriarch, who continued to sob louder-and-louder every second.

As she had promised herself and the Seven Swordsmen of Kirigakure, the first thing Anko did upon arriving in Konoha was rush to Kurenai's house and break the news about Tsunemasa's death. The actual jōnin-sensei of Team Eight promptly started to cry as Anko explained how it happened.

Kurenai had remained quiet, tears rolling down her face throughout Anko's explanation. When she finished, Kurenai continued to remain quiet, as if processing the information. Anko brought her hands behind her back and waited for her to say anything in response.

Seconds turned to five minutes of silence before Kurenai finally spoke: "That's what happened, huh?"

"Yes." Anko bowed her head in response: "I… I don't believe there's anything I, nor anyone, could have done given they crossed paths with the Akatsuki's main shinobi. But I should have helped them get out of the exam stadium in general. That…" She bit her lip as she closed her eyes: "I take full responsibility for breaking the trust you placed in me. For breaking their trust. I am sorry."

"Apologies don't change anything, Anko." Kurenai mumbled, closing her eyes. "You know that."

Anko's lip biting grew harder, causing her to draw blood: "… That's true."

"I knew there was risk to them going. They knew that too." She said softly, bringing her hands together: "Don't feel guilty about this, Anko. If anyone should be held responsible, it's me for giving my team the greenlight to go on the mission."


"I just wish I had gone to Kumo to see him one last time before it happened…" The black-haired woman noted, opening her eyes and looking downward. Her right hand rubbed on her pregnant stomach, a bittersweet smile developing on her face: "Unlucky you didn't come a little earlier, Mirai-chan."

"Mirai?" Anko asked.

"That's what Asuma and I decided to name her." Kurenai answered, bringing her hands back together: "It's been thirty-three weeks. She's due soon."

"… That's good." Anko said with a small smile. "It'll be a relief to finally have her here."

"Mhmm." Kurenai nodded before looking up to her friend with a serious expression: "Once she's born and my body's recovered from giving birth, I need you to help me get stronger, Anko."

Anko's expression stiffened as she nodded her head: "Sure."

"The Akatsuki wasn't defeated fully, right? If that's the case, then I'd like to help take them down when the time comes." She said. "If… If you really share the same guilt and responsibility for Tsunemasa's death that I do, then I'd like to train together."

"Understood." Anko nodded her head again: "We'll crush them like a bug."


A knock on the door to Kurenai's home sounded throughout the room. The two jōnin immediately turned their attention to the door.

"Kurenai-sensei? Are you home?" Kazuo asked.

Kurenai's eyes softened: "Kazuo…"

"I'm sure Yūna's with him too." Anko mumbled before she shook her head and started to walk towards the window: "Let your students in. They have a lot to talk to you about. Privately."

"… Yes." Kurenai nodded her head as she started to walk back towards the door. Before she opened the door, she looked back towards her friend: "Anko… thank you. For keeping Kazuo and Yūna safe, at least."

"… I didn't do anything." Anko replied before disappearing with a flicker.

In Tayuya's opinion, the Uchiha Clan compound looked grim.

Sure, there was hardly anyone living in the area, but that was the case with the Uzumaki Clan compound when she moved in there initially, and the feeling back then was more akin to emptiness. The Uchiha, though, felt something much darker; it resembled the ruins of the smaller villages of Ta no Kuni that Orochimaru had taken over years ago.

'He really lives in a place like this by himself? The fuck is wrong with him-' Tayuya shook her head as she focused on the road ahead of her: 'Never mind that. Just find him already and get the hell out of here.'

With a groan, Tayuya continued to march through the streets of the deserted Uchiha compound until she finally reached the only building that was illuminated: the Clan Head's personal home.

She walked up to the front door and knocked on it. Minutes passed by as she continued to wait outside. Tayuya stood still waiting for a while before sighing and pulling out her flute, beginning to practice her chords while she waited. After nearly seven minutes passed by, the door finally opened up and Sasuke walked out with a raised eyebrow.

"Tayuya-san? What are you doing here?" He asked.

"What are you doing?" She asked, her eyes narrowing on him: "Do you have any idea how long I've been out here? Is that how you treat your guests?"

Sasuke shrugged his shoulders: "Don't normally get guests. The only people who visit are my team, and they all have keys to my compound if they need me." His eyes narrowed back: "So, what are you here for?"

"… I want to pay respects." She said, her eyes lowering slightly. "Can I see him?"

Sasuke was still for a moment before he nodded his head. He proceeded to walk outside and gestured for Tayuya to follow him. The two then proceeded to head deeper into the compound, not talking along the way.

A minute passed by before they reached a small garden with three marked gravestones. The first two, next to one another, were marked for 'Uchiha Fugaku' and 'Uchiha Mikoto'. A few meters behind their graves was the third grave, marked for 'Uchiha Itachi'.

Tayuya's eyes focused on Itachi's gravestone for a moment before looking towards the flowers around the area, as well as a tree that would bloom cherry blossoms when Spring came.

"This is a nice area for him." She said.

Sasuke nodded his head: "My mom took up gardening a few months before she passed. I don't have any skill with the hobby, but I can preserve the area pretty well. And I thought it would be a nice place for all of my family."

"If you're wanting to enhance the area, Naruto's got a pretty good green thumb." Tayuya noted.

"Seriously?" Sasuke blinked for a second before shrugging: "Huh. Maybe I'll ask him to fix the place a bit then."

"He wouldn't mind." She smiled in response before turning to Itachi's grave.

The two were quiet for a moment as they stood still for a minute. Tayuya then proceeded to pull out her flute and began to play a song.

Sasuke's eyes widened as he listened. He did not recognize the song, but he stood still as he watched the Uzumaki play elegantly, her fingers gliding between the keys of her instrument. What entranced him the most, though, was the emotion of the song itself.

There was a strong sadness to the song. It resembled his own feelings of loss but told in a seemingly different way. There was a familiarity in the melody that he could not properly place, but it comforted him to listen.

Two minutes passed by before Tayuya finished her song. Her eyes watered slightly but a smile developed on her face as she put her flute away.

"I'll see you on the other side." She said softly.

"… What was the extent of your relationship with my brother?" Sasuke asked.

Tayuya turned her head back to Sasuke: "It's… hard to really put it into words."

"Were you two a couple?" He asked.

"Fuck no." Tayuya snorted, a chuckle escaping her lips: "It's… I don't know how to put it. Itachi reminded me a lot of myself, I guess." Another chuckle escaped her lips as she crossed her arms: "Not in personality or interests or anything. Your bro would probably be offended if that's what I meant. But I guess… I just saw a lot of myself in him, and I think he did the same."

"… In what way?" Sasuke asked.

"Well… we had been alone, separated from our family from powers outside of our control." Tayuya replied. "Me, because of my parents' death and the overall Uzumaki and diaspora, and Itachi because of the attempted coup and his mission. I think he and I were both just lonely, and I think we recognized that about one another. But we also knew that we weren't letting our loneliness impede our own missions."

Sasuke was quiet for a moment, processing her words. He was still for a moment before he nodded his head. He then took a step forward and held out his hand.

Tayuya reached out to shake Sasuke's hand, but to her surprise, she was pulled close to him as Sasuke hugged her. Her eyes widened as he tightened her grip.

"Thank you." Sasuke mumbled: "For keeping him company at his lowest point."

Tayuya was quiet for a moment before she nodded softly, returning the hug. As her arms went around Sasuke's back, the Uchiha's eyes widened for a moment.

'Her arms… she's strong, but also softer than I expected…' He realized. 'This… feels nice…'

A few seconds passed by before the two broke apart. Both Sasuke and Tayuya were quiet for a moment before the Uzumaki rubbed the back of her head.

"Well, that's all I wanted to do. I'll see myself out-"

A small rumbling noise could be heard from Tayuya's stomach. Sasuke's eyebrow raised slightly while she continued to rub the back of her head, a sheepish look on her face.

"Hungry?" He asked.

"Maybe." She admitted. She then raised an eyebrow: "Know anywhere near here that's not shit?"

"Near here?" Sasuke paused for a moment before he nodded his head: "I know a place that makes good onigiri not far from here, if you'd like me to show you."

"Onigiri?" Tayuya snorted: "For dinner?"

Sasuke shrugged his shoulders: "They have other things too. I'm just vouching on what I eat."

"… Eh, what the hell." She shrugged her shoulders: "If you're offering, then lead the way.'

With a nod of his head, Sasuke proceeded to head towards the exit of the Uchiha clan compound, with Tayuya following right behind. As they made more distance, Sasuke turned his head back towards the graves of his parents and brother. A smile developed on his face as he, for a moment, saw an image of his brother's spirit, smiling back at him.

'Itachi… thank you. For everything.' He thought before turning his attention back towards the path. He then continued to move down the road, Tayuya right by his side.

'I'm late…' Naruto grumbled to himself as he knocked on an apartment door.

The Uzumaki stood in a dimly lit hallway with one hand in his pocket, with the other holding a small bag. He remained outside for nearly a minute before the door opened up, revealing Kinuta Dosu.

"Dosu!" Naruto grinned at the sight of the man.

"Naruto, it's great to see you again." Dosu smiled before he gestured inside: "Please, come in. The others are here already, and I just finished dinner."

Naruto's grin widened as he walked inside Dosu's apartment. He was then directed to the dining table, where Anko and Hinata were already sitting.

"Hey, Hinata!" Naruto greeted his girlfriend, who smiled brightly at him.

The two leaned closer to one another, giving each other a peck on the lips. As they pulled away, Anko snorted loudly.

"No PDA! This is a friendly-friendly environment, you motherfuckers!" She stated, a grin on her face.

"Well fuck you too, Anko-sensei." Naruto replied as he took a seat next to Hinata.

There was a pause for a moment before the two started to laugh loudly at one another. Hinata giggled to herself while Dosu shook his head, heading back into the kitchen.

"Now that you are here, Naruto, I'll get the table set. Everything is already prepared." He stated.

"We really appreciate you cooking for us, Dosu-kun." Hinata noted as she turned towards the kitchen. "If you need any help with washing anything, please let me know."

"No, don't worry about it. This is my treat for you all." He said, chuckling in response: "It's great to have all of you back, so I wanted to do something like this for you all."

"It's great to be back, Dosu." Anko stated as she brought her hands behind her head: "Oh, by the way, Misora wanted us to tell you hi."

Dosu, who was returning to the dining room with plates, immediately turned towards Anko, his eye wide: "Misora was there after all?"

"Yeah." Hinata nodded her head: "She's gotten a lot stronger."

"Damn right she has. I sparred with her, and it hurt like a bitch after." Anko noted. A smirk developed on her face: "She's also gotten hotter since the last time we've seen her, so you're in for a real treat when you see her again, if you know what I mean."

A slight pinkish tint dusted Dosu's cheeks before he shook his head, a scowl developed on his face.

"All the more reason to be irritated I did not get invited on this mission." He grumbled.

"Yeah, I'm sorry Dosu." Naruto said, shaking his head: "I'm sure you'll have an opportunity to see her soon, though."

"Perhaps." Dosu sighed in response: "Assuming her genin team is promoted, then she might have more free time. I'll see if I can get a mission in Kiri soon."

"If you have something you want to write for her, let me know." Anko noted: "I'm heading to Kiri tomorrow, after all."

"Tomorrow?" Hinata blinked, turning back towards her jōnin-sensei: "But we just got back home!"

"Yeah, but we're inducting 'Kamui' into the Seven Swordsmen soon. Kiri's finally going to have a contemporary generation of all Seven Swordsmen, so I need to go for the ceremony and the following party." Anko stated.

"Ah. Understood." Naruto nodded his head. A grin developed on his face as an image of Yagura entered his mind: 'I'm so happy for you, Yagura. Congrats.'

"I'll take you up on that, if you wouldn't mind. I was actually going to write to her soon." Dosu stated as he walked back into the kitchen: "Just make sure to remember to give her my letter, and not spend too much time with Zabuza-san."

"Huh?" Anko blinked in response: "Uh, I'll spend a lot of time with Zabuza, but why would that make me forget?"

"Oh no reason." Dosu chuckled.

The tokubetsu jōnin quickly returned back to the dining room with a teapot and poured his friends cups of green tea. He then brought out another pot and opened it up, revealing a large dish with saffron rice, green beans, capers, shrimp, mussels, chicken, and duck all mixed in together.

The aroma spread throughout the table, causing both Hinata's eyes to widen, while Naruto and Anko nearly salivated.

"D-Dosu-san, what is this?" Hinata asked, her eyes glued to the food.

"Something I learned on a mission, from a woman who traveled west of the Elemental Nations." Dosu said with a chuckle: "It's called paella."

"I don't give a fuck what it's called; I need a plate, immediately!" Anko nearly shouted as she reached for her chopsticks.

Dosu, again, chuckled as he began to serve plates towards everyone. He then took a seat next to Anko

"Should we wait for Shikamaru to come by, though?" Naruto asked.

"Shikamaru had to cancel for the evening." Dosu noted. "He said he did not feel good leaving his mother alone tonight."

"… Ah." Naruto nodded his head in understanding, frowning.

"I hope Yoshino-san is going to be okay. I…" Hinata looked up to Naruto, a frown developing on her face as she shook her head: "I could not even imagine what she's going through."

"Time heals all wounds, but I believe she and Shikaku-san were together for over twenty years." Dosu said, shaking his head: "I… I'm not fully sure how someone probably recovers."

"It must be hell." Anko admitted, setting her chopsticks down as she sighed: "I had to talk to Kurenai today, and while she took Tsunemasa's death 'well' I guess, I can tell it fucked with her."

The room grew quiet for a moment as everyone began to think about Shikamaru and his mother for a moment. A minute passed by before Dosu broke the silence by clearing his voice.

"The only thing we can really do, though, is be there for Shikamaru and his family in the future as they grieve. For now, I set a portion of my paella for Shikamaru to the side and will deliver later." He said. "For now, though, we should eat."

"You're right." Naruto nodded his head.

With Dosu's words on their mind, everyone turned their attention to their plates and began to eat. Immediately, Naruto's, Hinata's, and Anko's eyes widened in response.

"Holy shit!" Anko nearly gasped as she began to devour her plate: "It's so fucking good!"

"Dosu-kun…" Hinata mumbled out his name between bites from her plate before she finally swallowed and turned her attention towards him: "Please teach me how to make this."

Dosu chuckled in response: "The spices are a little difficult to get a hold of, but I'd be more than love to show you."

"It's so good." Naruto nearly moaned.

Conversation turned much lighter as the four focused almost exclusively on the meal in front of them, enjoying it and each other's company.

As the sun rose Konoha, Naruto met with and led his genin team into the Hokage's Office. Upon arriving, they were greeted by Anko, Kurenai, and the other genin: Konohamaru, Moegi, Udon, Kazuo, and Yūna. They all stood in front of the Hokage's desk, where Jiraiya sat down. On his desk were nine folded Konoha flak jackets, alongside a stack of papers that had the names of the genin written on them.

"Well, it was already made clear, but let's get the formality of the situation taken care of." Jiraiya said with a small chuckle before he brought his hands together: "All of you went on a mission that will go on your records as an S-Rank mission and risked your lives in a way that very few are willing to do so." A smile developed on his face: "The future of Konoha continues to shine bright, if the eight of you are representatives of your generation. You all have my thanks once again for taking part in the mission to Kumogakure."

Jiraiya pulled himself out of his chair and walked in front of the desk. He grabbed the first flak jacket and held it out, making eye contact with Hanabi of Team Nine.

"It is my distinct honor to promote all of you to the rank of chūnin." He stated. "Congratulations."

Hanabi smiled back at the Hokage as she walked forward and accepted the flak jacket. She gripped the jacket tightly, her fingers absorbing the feel of its material intently.

Kanji walked forward next, taking the jacket from the Hokage. He stared at the jacket in his hands with wide eyes of disbelief. He blinked several times, making sure the jacket was still there, before he seemingly accepted his promotion. A grin developed on his face as he walked back, joining Hanabi.

Katsumi then approached Jiraiya. Upon receiving the jacket, she quickly pulled him into a hug. Jiraiya's eyes widened in response as the genin tightened the embrace.

"You don't know how much this means to me… thank you…" She told him, her eyes reddening slightly.

"… Kid, I did nothing. You earned your promotion. This is all your doing." Jiraiya replied, returning her embrace, his smile widening: "Be proud of yourself."

When the two broke their hug, Katsumi rushed over to her teammates' sides, quickly putting the flak jacket on over the rest of her outfit. She then nearly tackled Kanji and Hanabi into a group hug, which caused Naruto to chuckle to himself.

'Wow… they're all chūnin now. Guess they won't be needing me as much anymore. Damn.' Naruto's eyes moved away for a second to Anko, who made eye contact with him. 'Is this how you felt, Anko-sensei? This… sense of bittersweet pride?' Anko nodded her head, seemingly answering his unasked question. He chuckled again as he turned his attention back to his team: 'God, I'm so proud of all you.'

After Team Nine, the Team eight genin walked up. Yūna received her flak jacket, followed by Kazuo. Jiraiya then turned his head towards Kurenai and held out another flak jacket towards her.

"I know won't mean much to them, but I'd like you to give this Tsunemasa's family. He will go down as a chūnin of our village, who helped successfully complete one of the most important S-Rank missions in our village's history." He told her.

"… I'll make sure to give it to them. And let them know." Kurenai bowed her head as she walked forward and accepted the flak jacket.

Jiraiya then turned his attention to the final genin team: Team Six. Moegi walked up and accepted her flak jacket. Udon then followed her. A few seconds passed by as Konohamaru stood still in his spot. Seconds turned to a minute before Jiraiya cleared his throat.

"Konohamaru?" He spoke softly.

"… I refuse." He stated sharply, turning his head away.

"You… refuse?" Jiraiya repeated, blinking in confusion.

The room all turned towards Konohamaru, with Naruto, Hanabi, Moegi, and Udon staring the most intently at him. Konohamaru's hands tightened as he shook his head.

"Th-There's… I don't need to take the role, y'know? There's precedent!" He stated sharply: "Maruboshi Kosuke is still a genin and refused many promotions from Jī-san! I don't have to take it!"

"That… Well, that's true." Jiraiya frowned in response as his eyes locked with Konohamaru's: "But are you certain of this? You have displayed all the qualities of a chūnin, Konohamaru."

"No… I-I didn't." Konohamaru shook his head: "Not to him…"

"Konohamaru…" Udon frowned in response as he reached out for his friend's shoulder.

Konohamaru did not brush Udon away as his eyes started to redden. Moegi took a step forward, reaching for his other shoulder. This prompted the boy to finally start to breakdown.

"Ebisu-sensei… I disappointed him before he died… And I can't take this promotion… N-not like this." He mumbled before shaking his head again: "I… I don't want to be a chūnin until I think I'm ready. Until I think he would believe I'm ready."

"… If you insist-" As Jiraiya began to place the flak jacket on his desk, Konohamaru turned around and bolted out of the office, slamming the door open as he rushed out. "Konohamaru!"

"Wait, Konohamaru!"

"Konohamaru, where are you going?"

Both Moegi and Udon shouted in near unison as they hurried off after their best friend. Naruto's eyes focused on the group as they hurried out until they were gone without a trace.

'Konohamaru… I'm sorry.' He bit down on his lip, shaking his head.

"… I suppose that does wrap up everything." Jiraiya said, sighing. His eyes stared wistfully in the direction his sensei's grandson had run off in before turning his attention back to the genin: "Inoue Katsumi, if you could remain here for a moment. The rest of you are dismissed."

With those words, Anko, Kurenai, Yūna, and Kazuo walked out of the room. Team Nine remained in the Hokage's office for a moment together before Naruto cleared his throat, drawing his former students attention.

"Before Katsumi gets roped into a meeting with Jiraiya and we have to go do a thing, you all are invited to dinner tomorrow night. My treat." He said, smiling brightly as he quickly reached out and pulled his students into a tight group hug, that they quickly returned: "I am so proud of you all."

"Thanks, Naruto-sensei." Kanji replied with a large grin.

"We… We wouldn't have accomplished anything without you, the most kickass jōnin-sensei of all time." Katsumi added, a similar grin on her lips.

"D-Don't say shit like that." Naruto mumbled, his cheeks reddening slightly: "You'll make me blush."

"Katsumi-san was just being honest. She's right you know." Hanabi added, smiling brightly. "Thank you for all your hard work Naruto-sensei."

"… Ahem." Jiraiya cleared his throat, breaking up the group hug: "As adorable and sentimental as this seems, I do have other things I need to get done today, as I'm sure you all do as well. So, if you all do not mind, I need to borrow Katsumi-san for just a moment."

"Of course." Naruto nodded his head as he began to walk towards the door: "Great work, guys. I'm proud of all of you, the most kickass chūnin in the village!"

Kanji and Hanabi smiled in response before nodding their heads and following their former jōnin-sensei out the door before the three parted ways.

"Konohamaru, where are you?"


Konohamaru shook his head, ignoring the voices of his best friends and hurrying through the village streets. Tears rolled down his face and his vision blurry, causing him to bump into people and knock them down. He would hear grunts of pain and complaints in response, but the genin could only mutter out a soft apology in his haste before continuing on his rush through the village.

The boy continued to run with no direction in mind until he reached a small forest within the village. He hurried into the woods for another minute before he finally stopped running. His legs began to shake as he fell to his knees and began to breathe heavily.

He laid still for a moment as he listened in the background. Another few minutes of silence passed by before he sighed in relief; he could no longer hear Moegi or Udon in the distance, meaning he was alone.

'I'll talk with them later…' He told himself as he brought his hands to his face. He then began to brush at his eyes, which were still wet with tears: 'Just… not now…'

Konohamaru continued to remain motionless for a moment, his breathing slowly calming down and his eyes drying. A couple of minutes passed by before he closed his eyes and began to relax for a moment.


That moment ended very quickly.

"Ahh!" The brown-haired boy's eyes widened.

His body jerked upwards as he came face-to-face with the source of the voice: Hyūga Hanabi.

"H-Hanabi…" He mumbled her name for a second in fight before his nerves calmed down. He cleared his throat for a moment as his earlier mood returned: "Please, just leave me alone."

"Konohamaru-kun, please." Hanabi shook her head: "It would do you some good to talk about what you're feeling."

"How the hell would you know?" He hissed in response: "Your sensei is still alive. Your family is still alive! What would you know about how to make me feel better?"

Hanabi's eyes widened in response for a moment. Konohamaru's redness returned to his face as his anger seemed to grow. Her eyes started to dart around the clearing for a moment before she took a deep breath in-and-out before her hands tightened.

She then slapped him on the cheek, causing him to recoil back slightly. He bit his lip in pain, resisting the urge to hiss further, as he focused on her.

"… My mother died giving birth to me, so I'd appreciate you not talking about my family life like that. Maybe her death didn't affect me the way your grandfather's death hit you, but it still dramatically impacted my family, so I think I can still talk about it." She said bluntly, crossing her arms: "And second off, while Ebisu-sensei wasn't my jōnin-sensei, I still knew him and he died in front of me."

"I… W-Well… Um…" Konohamaru stammered slightly, taking a step back.

Hanabi's eyes locked with his. Seeing his tears slowly return caused her to soften her demeanor as she shook her head and took a step forward. Konohamaru inched back, but the Hyūga continued to come closer.

"Please. Just stop." She insisted. "You keep holding your pain to yourself, and it's coming out against the people around you. Against the people who care about you."

The boy stopped moving back for a moment. He stood still for a moment until Hanabi was now directly in front of him.

"I… I…" Konohamaru continued to stutter for a moment before he began to cry once more: "Ebisu-sensei!"

He pulled Hanabi towards him, enveloping her in a hug. She yelped slightly in response and a small blush developed on her cheeks, but the redness vanished quickly as she focused on her former classmate, returning his hug and holding onto him.

"… Konohamaru-kun…" She began to speak softly. His sobs grew quieter slightly as he tried to focus on her words: "… One of Ebisu-sensei's last words were that he was sorry he was overstepped in his last talk with you."

"Wh-What?" Konohamaru shook his head in response: "I… No. He didn't overstep. H-He…" His sobs returned slightly as his grip on her tightened: "He was right!"

"Maybe he was right… but maybe he also knew he was speaking too harshly as well…" She replied: "He… He cared for you, Konohamaru-kun. He cared for you greatly."

"I…" Konohamaru tried to respond, but his sobbing grew louder.

The two were still for nearly a minute as Konohamaru slowly calmed down. He slowly broke away from Hanabi and brushed at his eyes again.

"I'm… sorry." He mumbled in response as he looked away from her.

"Please, don't be sorry." She shook her head as she smiled back at him. "Please… just open up about your emotions, Konohamaru-kun. I can feel your hurt; both now and back when were in Kumo. And it was affecting who you are."

"Affecting me…" He mumbled for a second as he forced a small laugh, shaking his head: "I… I said some really shitty things to Ebisu-sensei in our last talk. Maybe I am actually a bad person."

"But you know they were bad things." Hanabi shook her head: "That's how you know that you're not a bad person. Because you know they aren't how you normally feel about him. Ebisu-sensei knew that too. He…" She took in a deep breath as she poked Konohamaru's shoulder. He looked up, making eye contact with her again: "He cared about you. A lot. And neither he nor Sandaime-sama would want to see you beating yourself because of them."

"That… that might be right…" Konohamaru mumbled in response before he shook his head and turned back towards the way he came from: "I… I need to talk to Udon and Moegi."

Hanabi nodded her head: "You should. They're really worried about you Konohamaru-kun. I think they're still looking for you."

"Ah… I should go find-" He then turned his head back to Hanabi: "Wait, how did you find me in the first place?"

Hanabi just gestured towards her eyes: "A Hyūga has her ways."

"… Ah. Dumb question. Yeah." He mumbled in response, rubbing the back of his head.

Hanabi giggled in response, causing his cheeks to turn a pinking tone for a second. The two former classmates were still for a moment before he started to walk off. He took a few steps away from the clearing before he turned back to Hanabi.

"Why… Why do you care?" He asked softly. His tone-of-voice lacked the aggression it had earlier in his voice and, instead, was replaced with a more curious voice; one filled with something akin to optimism: "You jumped ahead to graduate with my class, so you and I never really knew each other well. Why did you go out of your way to help me?"

"Just because we didn't talk much doesn't mean we don't each other." Hanabi shook her head: "You knew that I was the youngest daughter of the Hyūga Clan head, sister to one of the best rising jōnin in our village, and a 'prodigy' who graduated early, right?" He nodded his head in response, which caused Hanabi's smile to widen: "And I knew you were the 'honorable grandson' of the Sandaime Hokage. Sarutobi Konohamaru, a prankster and trickster who wanted to be Hokage, but someone with a big heart who made his name known throughout the academy and Konoha."

Konohamaru's eyes widened in response. He opened his mouth to respond, but Hanabi shook her head, continuing to speak.

"And even if I didn't know you, I'd still want to help you out. Because you are a good person, Konohamaru, and I don't want to see someone like you hurting." She said.

Konohamaru was quiet, processing her words. He stood still for a few seconds before he bowed to her. When he lifted his head, he had a large smile on his face; the first smile she could recall seeing since the Sandaime's death.

"Hanabi… thank you so much." He said, his smile growing wider: "I… I would really like to get to know you more later, if you would be okay with that."

Hanabi's cheeks turned red once more, but she nodded her head in response, her smile matching Konohamaru's: "I would love that."

"Then, that's a plan!" He exclaimed. He then turned back around: "Alright, I'm going to go talk to Moegi and Udon and apologize! Thank you for your help, Hanabi!"

With those words, he rushed off out of the clearing. Hanabi stood still for a moment, watching him run away, before she shook her head, a giggle escaping her lips.

'I hope that was enough to help you heal, Konohamaru-kun.' She noted to herself. 'Both Ebisu-sensei and Sandaime-sama still want to see you grow, from wherever they are in the afterlife.'

She remained still for a moment before she tightened her hands once more.

'… And I need to do the same. I need to grow. I can't let Katsumi or Kanji get ahead of me now that we're chūnin. I need to keep up with them, and maybe one day, catch up to Naruto-sensei and Hinata-nee-san…'

With that thought in mind, Hanabi hurried out of the clearing as well.

After a few minutes had passed since the other shinobi had cleared from the Hokage's Office, Jiraiya and Katsumi left together, heading towards the Hokage Mountain. After arriving at the base, the two took a seat at a bench directly underneath the mountains.

"Sorry for dragging you out here." Jiraiya said as he reached into a pocket: "I sometimes think better out here and thought it would suit what I wanted to talk to you about."

"It's fine-" Katsumi's words died as Jiraiya pulled out a small box of pocky. Her eyes widened for a second as he opened the box and held it out towards her: "… Can I?"

Jiraiya nodded his head, earning a grin from the newly-appointed chūnin as she reached and took a chocolate-flavored pocky out and quickly devoured it. The Hokage chuckled as he shook his head, taking one as well.

"Something about you kids and pocky." He noted.

"Says the guy who not only offered, but is eating one yourself." Katsumi retorted.

Jiraiya did not reply for a moment as the two began to snack on the pocky in the box. A few seconds passed by before Jiraiya's eyes focused on Katsumi.

"You want to become Hokage one day, right?" He asked.

"Mhmm." She nodded her head as she finished chewing on the pocky in her hands. She then reached for another one: "I've wanted to be Hokage for a few years now."

"Are you striving to be the Rokudaime?" Jiraiya asked, chuckling slightly: "If so, your jōnin-sensei's going to be your rival, you know?"

"God no!" Katsumi snorted: "I have no hope of competing against him, nor do I want to!" She crossed her arms as a smirk developed on her face: "He's gonna warm the seat up for me, then I'll take the hat when I become the Nanadaime!"

"Heh. Noted." Jiraiya said, shaking his head with a smirk of his own: "Why do you want to be Hokage?"

"Because I love Konoha." Katsumi stated, her hands tightening into fists: "I want to do everything I can to keep the village safe!"

The Hokage nodded his head: "And why do you think you'd be a good fit for the job?"

"For the same reasons." Katsumi repeated: "I'd do anything for this village. I-"

"A lot of people would do anything for Konoha." Jiraiya interrupted, crossing his arms: "Shimura Danzō, in his own messed up way, loved this village. He loved it so much he would do dark things for this village. That fact did not make him any better of a candidate." His eyes narrowed slightly: "So, is there any other reason you think you'd be able to wear the hat?"

Katsumi frowned in response, her gaze moving away from Jiraiya's. She focused on the ground for a moment, her fingers poking together, before she shook her head.

"I… I don't think I'm able to answer that yet, then." She admitted, biting her lip: "I… I'm just a newly appointed chūnin. The mission in Kumo is the extent of my life experience. I'm… probably not equipped enough to know what I can do or why I should be Hokage."

Jiraiya nodded his head, his eyes softening: "I appreciate the self-awareness. It's a trait more people in our line of work need."

"Hmm…" Katsumi hummed to herself for a moment before she finally met Jiraiya's gaze with narrowed eyes of her own: "But that doesn't change my resolve. If I find out I'm not the right candidate, then I'll stop trying, or if I find a better way I can help Konoha, I'll go with that too. But for now, my goal is to keep this village I call home safe, and I'll do my best to achieve that goal."

Jiraiya's eyes hardened again as he stared back at the chūnin. A few more seconds passed by before he nodded his head.

"You're a good kid, Katsumi." He noted: "I can see why Naruto always talks so well about you."

"Huh?" A small tinge of pink developed on Katsumi's face as she began to chuckle: "Wh-What did he say?"

"Heh. Ask him yourself." Jiraiya chuckled as he reached into his pocket: "Speaking of him, though, he told you were trying to learn kenjutsu. Is that still something you're pursuing?"

"Yeah." She nodded her head: "I know the basics Naruto-sensei was able to work with me on, and what I learned myself, but I plan on studying it further. And I hope to buy a good sword that I can really master!"

"Well, how about I help with that?" Jiraiya offered as he handed her a scroll: "I just so happen to have a sword lying around. Maybe it'll suit you?"

Katsumi's eyebrows raised in response, but before she could question him further on it, Jiraiya unsealed the scroll. A poof of smoke surrounded the area for a moment before it cleared.

Jiraiya was now holding the hilt of the Raijin no Ken – the Sword of the Thunder God.

"That…" Katsumi's eyes were glued on to the hilt for a moment before she shook her head. Her eyes widened as she turned to Jiraiya: "Huh-"

"Really, I owe you, Hanabi, and Kanji for getting this back and killing Aoi. I'll definitely add it as an A-Rank mission for your records." Jiraiya said, his grip on the hilt tightening: "Senju Tobirama's sword deserves to be back in our village."

"Y-Yeah, but you can't be implying what I think you are implying… right?" The civilian-born kunoichi nearly squeaked.

"Well, I'd rather the Nidaime's sword not sit in a museum or something collecting dust." Jiraiya answered, chuckling: "I'd much rather it be actually in the hands of someone who'll use it."

"O-Okay, but why me?" Katsumi shook her head: "I just said it myself; I'm still learning kenjutsu! It should go to someone more experienced!"

"Well, technically speaking, you were involved in killing the man who had taken it from our village." Jiraiya countered: "'To the victor goes the spoils', or so I've heard."


"I also think it should go to someone who wants to follow in the footsteps of its original owner." Jiraiya noted. Katsumi's eyes widened further in response as he smiled at her: "You want to be Hokage, right? You're not sure how you'll be able to fill the role uniquely, or be the best suit for the job, but you want to try for it, right? Then I think it's only fitting that you get a small taste of the weight that comes with the title."

Before Katsumi could reply, Jiraiya held out the hilt towards her. The chūnin was quiet, staring at the Nidaime Hokage's sword for what felt like forever, before she slowly reached out.

Wordlessly, she grabbed onto the hilt. She gripped onto it tightly and held it outwards, channeling chakra into her hands.

Instantly, the 'Sword of the Thunder God' arose, producing a blade of pure electricity.

'It's beautiful.' Katsumi realized.

"It seems like a good fit to me." Jiraiya said.

A few seconds passed by before Katsumi stopped channeling chakra, causing the blade of the sword to recede. She placed the hilt at her side as she bowed to the Godaime Hokage.

"Hokage-sama… thank you." She said.

"Think nothing-"

Before he could finish his words, Katsumi reached out and pulled him into a hug. Jiraiya quickly returned the hug, a smirk developing on his face.

'You're gonna go far, kid.'

After separating from his genin team, Kanji returned home to celebrate with his family. As he arrived at the Yamanaka Clan Compound, he saw Yamanaka Fū waiting at the entrance for him.

"Fū-nii!" He exclaimed as he rushed towards him. He then did a dramatic about-face, showing off his flak jacket: "Check it out; your little brother is certified 'not trash' anymore and is now solidly 'mid'!"

"Wha-" Fū snorted in response – which after nearly a decade of ROOT emotional conditioning, was the equivalent of a laughing fit – before he cleared his throat: "Congratulations, Kanji."

"Thanks!" The blond grinned before he started to walk past his brother and into the compound: "Mom and Dad are home, right?"

"They are." Fū nodded his head in response: "I assume you want to celebrate with everyone?"

"Yep! My treat, too!" Kanji nodded his head. He then tilted his head: "Anything you want in particular?"

The former ROOT agent shook his head: "My opinion doesn't matter. It's your celebration."

The blond frowned in response: "Yeah, but I want you, Mom, and Dad to enjoy it too! And I know what they like, but I don't really know what you prefer or anything."

Fū shrugged his shoulders: "I can eat anything."

Kanji's frown deepened in response, but he nodded his head in acceptance. The two brothers walked through the clan compound, heading towards their house. Kanji's eyes were focused on his brother the entire time, waiting for him to initiate conversation.

A minute passed by before he sighed. Fū's eyebrow rose in response as he looked towards his brother.

"Are you troubled?" He asked.

"Don't worry about it." Kanji said with a shrug. His eyebrows then rose: "So… I take it everything worked out with your status, right? You're not on probation anymore, are you?"

"Not really." Fū shook his head in response: "The only thing I have to do is have meetings with Ibiki, Dosu, and Inoichi every week." He brought his hands to his pockets: "Those used to be daily, but not it's only once a week, and even then, they'll probably end soon now that Jiraiya is back and can make a full assessment based on their reports."

"That's good." Kanji's smile returned as he nodded his head: "So, you can return to normal life again!"

"Normal life…" 'Yamafū' pursed his lips in response: "I suppose, but I do not know where to even start with that."

"Well, that's what I'm here for." Kanji offered: "I'll help you find things you can do to kill time, if that's what you're looking for!" His eyes then lit-up: "Actually, Naruto-sensei could help with that as well! He can introduce you to his friends!"

Fū nodded his head in response: "I wasn't asking for 'friends', but I may take you up on that offer. I appreciate it."

"Of course." Kanji replied. A grin then developed on his face: "Anything for the fū-cking best big bro out there!"

Fū's eyes twitched in response as he resisted the urge to snort. Kanji chuckled in response. He was about to continue the conversation, but his brother cut him off.

"If I may ask, what are your plans now that you're chūnin, Kanji?" He asked. "Are you aiming for a quick promotion to jōnin? Know where you want to take your career professionally?"

"Uh… sorta, but I'm in no rush to promote yet." Kanji admitted, his smile fading slightly. He brought his hand to his chin in thought as he closed his eyes: "I'm just gonna focus on getting as strong as I can. I'd like to be ANBU in maybe four or five years, so I gotta get my shit together!"

"You're aiming for ANBU?" Fū asked, his eyes narrowing: "Why?"

"Because I want to prove a point. That someone like me can become one." Kanji replied, his hands tightening: "I'm not some clan-member shinobi destined for mediocrity. I want to be one of our village's power players. I want to be an asset to Konoha."

"ANBU does not allow for shinobi to be in the spotlight." 'Yamafū' noted: "Some former ANBU members, like Hatake Kakashi, can make a name for themselves outside of the mask, but in a general sense, your deeds and mission records will be locked away from the public view. If that is your motivation, are you sure you want to go this route?"

"Yes, I'm sure." Kanji nodded his head, his hands tightening into fists: "I want to do it for myself. I… I need to do it."

Fū did not reply for a moment as the two continued on their walk back home. Upon arriving at their parents' house, Kanji walked towards the door to go inside, but Fū cleared his throat, bringing his attention back to him.

"If you are being serious about it… then allow me to train with you, then." Fū offered. "Despite the morality of our actions, ROOT is just another side of ANBU. I am quite familiar with the physical requirements and the level of skill you will be expected to match."

"I… I wouldn't be in the way of anything you want to do, right?" Kanji asked, a frown now on his face: "I want you to be focusing on yourself, Fū, and figuring out what you want to do now that you're free. You shouldn't be worrying about me and wasting your time training me."

His brother shook his head: "I'm still indecisive about where I want to take my life, Kanji, so for now, it's the least I can do." A small smile then developed on his face: "If you were serious about helping me get a life back, then consider it my end of the bargain."

Kanji was still for a moment, processing Fū's words, before he nodded his head, a grin developing on his face as he held out his hand.

"It's a deal then." He stated.

Fū's smile widened slightly more as he reached out and shook hands with his brother. Kanji's eyes focused on Fū's smile, causing his own grin to widen further in response.

If nothing else, the two brothers had reaffirmed a desire to help one another out in the best way they know how. To Kanji, that was more important than any promotion, training, or anything he could ever ask for.

"Sorry about bailing last night, guys." Shikamaru grumbled, rubbing the back of his head: "Hopefully Dosu wasn't too pissed at me."

"Why would he be?" Hinata asked.

"He brought you food, dude. He wasn't mad at all!" Naruto added, shaking his head.

Shikamaru smiled back at his two friends. As a makeshift apology for skipping out on dinner last night, the Nara reached out to them to have lunch with another at Ichiraku's. While Anko was already on her to Kirigakure for Yagura's induction ceremony and Dosu was doing paperwork for the T&I Department, Naruto and Hinata quickly agreed to meet him for lunch, where they all quickly downed their first two bowls before hastily ordering a third serving.

As Teuchi picked up their bowls, Hinata turned to Shikamaru, her hand reaching for his shoulder in concern.

"How's Yoshino-san doing?" She asked.

"… Well, better than yesterday. She was inconsolable." He admitted with a sigh.

Naruto frowned in response: "I can't even imagine what she's going through." His eyes then lit-up: "Would she like some company later? Is there anything we can do for her?"

"She might appreciate that later, but today, she actually asked me to let her be by herself for a little bit." Shikamaru stated: "Said she wants to do some solo-training for a little bit and doesn't want to be distracted."

"Training?" Naruto blinked in response for a moment before he nodded his head: "I mean, that makes sense. I know that can help with pain and moving on."

"Yeah, but it's probably more out of a responsibility." Shikamaru said with a sigh: "She only reached chūnin rank, but she's now about to be the Nara Clan head, so I know she's trying to up her strength as fast as she possibly can."

"Nara Clan head?" Hinata's eyes widened: "But weren't you the heir, Shikamaru? Why does your mother have to take over?"

A bittersweet smile developed on his face: "Well, we don't really know how that's going to go. But considering I am currently in a relationship with the Tsuchikage, I'm probably not taking over the Nara Clan in the long term."

"… Ah." Hinata nodded her head in understanding.

"… Yeah." Shikamaru sighed again, bringing his hands to his pockets: "We both know it, but haven't gotten around to discussing it yet. That's a talk I need to have with her later."

The three friends were quiet for a moment. After a few seconds passed by, Naruto reached out and grabbed onto Shikamaru's left shoulder, giving it a squeeze. He smiled as the two made eye contact.

"We're here for you if there's anything you or your Mom need anything from us. Even if it's just to talk or shit." He said. He then brought his hands back together: "Not sure if it'll be a lot of help, but…"

His words started to trail slightly, which earned him a chuckle from Shikamaru as he nodded his head.

"Yeah, I know. I know I got you guys with me." He said, his eyes moving back from Naruto to Hinata: "God, I don't think I'd be myself if you all and Kurotsuchi didn't pull me out of that shit in Kiri."

"I mean, what are friends for?" Hinata offered, smiling back: "We'll always be there for you."

Shikamaru's smile widened into a smirk: "As I am for the two of you."

Before either Naruto or Hinata could reply, Ayame walked back with three new bowls of Miso Ramen. The trio immediately downed the bowls shortly after, prompting the server to giggle slightly and take them away, her father already making their fourth bowls.

"This is changing the topic, but it's something I just realized." Shikamaru noted before he quickly pointed at Naruto: "You need to show us what this 'Bijū Mode' of yours is like."

"Huh?" Naruto blinked.

"Oh! Yeah!" Hinata's eyes focused on her boyfriend intently: "I'd really like to see! You talked about your fight with the Akatsuki, but I would love to see everything you, Han-san, Fū-san, and the others trained in!"

"Sure." Naruto rubbed the back of his head in response: "I'm down for it." A smirk then developed on his face: "But just warning, if this does end up going into a spar session, I'll probably kick your ass with it!"

"For as much of a big deal as the Raikage made it sound like, you better." Hinata replied with a giggle. Naruto chuckled in response, but before he could reply, she brought her hands together: "But yeah, I'd love to try fighting it. I'd like to test out some more of the things I've been working on with both my clan techniques and my Sage Mode."

"Same." Shikamaru nodded his head: "Need to figure out where my own Sage Mode ranks up to you both. I got to make sure you both and Kurotsuchi don't get too ahead of me."

The trio proceeded to discuss sparring plans as they started to work out plans to develop their fighting styles even further.


The first thing Uchiha Obito registered was a pounding sensation in his head, followed by an equally painful sensation in his chest. He could not recall the last time he had ever felt so much physical pain, other than the boulder that had nearly killed him years ago. He hissed to himself as he slowly pulled himself off the ground to his feet.

"Hey look! He's finally waking up!"

"About damn time."

The voices helped pull Obito out of his head, allowing him to properly focus on the world around him. He was still in the world of Kamui, now standing around in the distorted dimension. Standing directly in front of him were both White Zetsu and Black Zetsu, who were currently separated from one another.

"What happened?" Obito hissed.

White Zetsu blinked in response while Black Zetsu snorted back. It walked closer to the Uchiha, shaking its head.

"You really need to ask that? You don't remember shit this whole time, do you?" He asked.

"The last thing I remember was the invasion failing." Obito admitted, rubbing his head: "After that, I went-"

Immediately, memories resurfaced in the Uchiha's head: memories of confronting Nagato, memories of Kabuto's interference, memories of the Edo Tensei, memories of needing to retreat to Kamui…

Memories of Rin.


"Argh…" Immediately, the painful sensation returned to Obito's chest. He began to breathe heavily: "Rin…"

"No. Not this shit again." Black Zetsu snarled as it reached out, grabbing Obito by his outfit. He winced as the creature got it in his face: "Your friend is dead. That was not her. She was being controlled by Yakushi Kabuto, someone who you knew could do necromancy-related ninjutsu! Why are you being so irrational right now?"

"I… I know how Rin talks." Obito shook his head: "That… That was her-"

"Yeah, but that doesn't chance my other's point." White Zetsu spoke-up. Obito turned his head towards it, which prompted it to bring its hand to its chin in thought: "She wasn't supposed to hear about the world until the Infinite Tsukuyomi. You… You always knew that our plan required terrible things, but it would always be worth it. She… She doesn't actually mean those nasty things. She's being manipulated."

"Manipulated by that man." Black Zetsu nodded in agreement: "Just as Nagato has been manipulated."

"Rin… she's…" Obito bit down on his lip in response.

He was quiet for a moment as Black Zetsu finally let go of him. A few seconds passed by before Obito's breathing calmed down.

"… How long have I been out?" He asked.

"The passage of time is hard to track here, especially for beings like us who don't need food or water." Black Zetsu spoke, which earned a nod from White Zetsu: "I estimate two-and-half weeks."

"I've spent a lot of the time trying to keep you alive." White Zetsu noted: "Well, your cells did most of the job. Still, though, you're probably really low on energy. You should eat something."

"I'll… manage." Obito noted.

The Uchiha grew quiet as he processed the words of the Zetsu. Memories of Rin, both prior to her death and during his altercation with Kabuto, entered his mind. He grinded his teeth for a moment as he closed his eyes.

'Rin… I'm sorry. You weren't meant to see me like this. I'm so sorry I disappointed you…' He shook his head, resisting the urge to tear-up.

Taking in a deep breath, he pushed those thoughts to the side. An image of Yakushi Kabuto developed in his mind. His laughter as he and Rin met one another again, echoed throughout his mind. Obito's teeth grinding grew louder as his eyes shot open.

"He… He's still around, isn't he?" Obito hissed.

"I mean, we've been here in the Kamui with you this whole time, but I imagine he and the rest of the Akatsuki went into hiding." White Zetsu stated.

"Nagato has 'removed us' from Akatsuki, so I have no doubt that the organization is still functioning, but they are no longer allies of us." Black Zetsu added: "We need to come up with a plan of response."

"The plan is shelved until we get the Rinnegan back, right?" Obito asked. Both Zetsu nodded in response, which prompted Obito's hands to tighten into fists: "Then our first order of business is that. We… We need to plan this."

'Well, he's bounced back somewhat at least.' Black Zetsu smirked in response as he nodded his head: 'Good. We're going to need Obito at full force if we want to salvage things.'

With motivation high, Obito and the two Zetsu began to discuss in the safety of the Kamui dimension what necessary steps they'll need to take to move forward. As the strategizing began, Obito's mind was plagued by the merciless, loud, cruel laughter of Kabuto in his head. He would periodically bring his hands to his head, trying to block out the laughter, to no avail.

'Yakushi Kabuto… if nothing else, I will kill you.' He vowed: 'As the successor to Uchiha Madara's will… as the man who will bring the Infinite Tsukuyomi to reality… as the man who will fix this horrible world… I will kill you!'


Uzumaki Nagato had never screamed louder in his life. He had never experienced such pain in his life. Not even the emotional suffering of his parents' deaths, Yahiko's death, nor Konan's death compared to the physical pain he was currently experiencing.

"Nagato-sama, please, try and calm yourself." Kabuto spoke gently, a small smile on his face: "Your screams will alert the whole country."

The scream did echo throughout the repurposed 'medical bay' in Amachi's deserted laboratory in Umi no Kuni. The remnants of Akatsuki regrouped to the country and the surrounding shore village nearest to the laboratory.

The area was still under control of the Konjiki Brothers, who were more than willing to let Kabuto and 'his associates' come in with no charge. For now, the country would serve as a great temporary residence while the Akatsuki regrouped and grew, as well as giving them a deserted area for Nagato's operation and recovery.

Kabuto's hand gently grazed over Nagato's back, where there was a puddle of blood already forming on his back where one of the black receivers had previously been. Said receiver was now lying on an observation table, coated with Nagato's blood.

'I need to study that later. Perhaps Sasori-sama could help with studying it.' Kabuto noted. His eyes then turned back to Nagato's body. A frown developed on his face: 'I am aware that the receivers are buried into his back and had been for many years, but the amount of bleeding feels unnatural.' His eyes focused on the IV's pumping into Nagato's body, filled with blood: 'Thankfully, with Chino-san's help, I'll be able to keep him alive regardless, But still, this will definitely take a lot longer than I thought to properly heal him.'

As Kabuto's right hand moved down Nagato's back, briefly touching another receiver. Nagato's Rinnegan eyes began to pulsate as more physical pain rushed through his body.


Kabuto was repelled away from Nagato's body, his body struck by a Shinra Tensei. He crashed into a wall, choking out a little blood in response, before steadying himself. He adjusted his glasses, shaking his head.

"I'm not trying to hurt you." He assured: "You know this. I'm helping you."

"I… know…" Nagato hissed, his eyes shutting once more as he bit down on his lip, drawing more blood: "This… pain…"

"You know, this makes me even more curious about these receivers, I hope you know." Kabuto admitted with a chuckle: "When the surgery is done, would you be so kind to summon the Gedō Mazō for me? I feel compelled to examine it."

"When… I'm healed… sure…" The red-haired man hissed: "How… much… longer…"

"At the pace we're taking, this will probably take days." Kabuto admitted. "Keep in mind how long it took for me to even get one of those receivers out in a way that didn't immediately kill you."

"Damn… it…" 'Pain' growled out.

"Rest assured, I'll move this along with as fast as I can." Kabuto noted, a grin developing on his face: "And then, we can begin the physical therapy and rehabilitation process when you're ready-"

"Oi, who the hell is making all that noise?"

The door to the med bay opened up and Hidan walked inside with a yawn. A scowl developed on Kabuto's face as he shook his head.

"I'm still currently operating on Pain-sama, Hidan." He noted sharply: "So, may I have some privacy?"

"I'll give you all privacy when I don't have that guy's screaming interrupting my prayers!" Hidan hissed, glaring at Nagato's body. His eyes then moved towards the receiver laying on the operating table, his eyes growing wide: "You managed to get one of them out?"

"Yes." Kabuto noted, a tick-mark forming on his forehead. "And I might be able to get more out soon if I can just have some more-"

"Can I take it?" He asked.

Kabuto's eyes widened: "… I beg your pardon?"

"Can I take it?" Hidan repeated, a grin developing on his face: "The moment I saw his body and saw those things piercing his back, I thought they'd make a good weapon. I can convert one of them into a scythe, or at the very least a sacrificing spike. I don't know how to describe it, but I think I can perform a truly special sacrifice with a holy weapon made from that type of material."

"… I'll look into it." Kabuto acquiesced before glaring at the Jashinite: "But only after I finish with the surgery, so please let me be."

"Yeeesh, alright. Alright." Hidan waved his hand as he turned around and walked back to the door: "By the way, Isaribi caught some fresh fish and is cooking it right now. Think you'll be able to stop by for dinner in about an hour or so?"

"Don't know when I'll be at a stopping place, need to concentrate." Kabuto shook his head.

"Fair enough." Hidan shrugged hid shoulders: "Later, heretics."

With those words, Hidan closed the door to the med bay, leaving Kabuto and Nagato alone. The silver-haired man stared back at the door for a moment before shaking his head, turning back to Nagato's body again.

"Well, let's get back to business, shall we?" Kabuto asked as his hands moved back to Nagato's back. "Are you ready?"

Nagato's body tensed and his breathing grew harder. Nevertheless, he nodded his head.

"Yes…" He nodded his head: "Give… me… pain… give… me… my… rebirth…"

Kabuto grinned in response: "Very well."

Nagato's screams bellowed out once more. Nevertheless, he pushed past the pain, as both he and Kabuto continued in their steps on restoring 'Pain' back to normal and taking Akatsuki to its newest form.

"Ugh… I'm so sore…" Hinata groaned.

"Same…" Naruto nodded his head in agreement.

The sun began to set over Konoha as the two began to walk away from Training Ground Seventeen together, having just separated from Shikamaru. What began as Naruto 'showing off' his Bijū Form quickly developed, as expected, into a massive sparring session where the three friends showed off their newly developed skills.

"I can't believe that you ended up developing Scorch Release with that form." Hinata admitted, shaking her hands: "It's so cool that you ended up artificially creating the bloodline for yourself like that."

"Yeah, it kinda is." Naruto smirked in response, rubbing the back of his head: "Still gotta long way to go with it, though? Yugito and Bee showed us the ropes with it, but there's still so much more I need to learn how to do."

"Well trust me, if you want to keep practicing, I'm ready to train more." Hinata noted, lifting her hand upwards slightly and looking at her open palm: "I'm… I really need to get stronger myself. Shikamaru-kun mentioned this earlier, but I also can't afford to get too far behind you all either."

Naruto shook his head: "You're not behind at all!"

"Well, right now, I am to you." Hinata admitted. Naruto blinked in response, but before he could say anything, she continued: "I know you held back a lot more than you needed to in our sparring. When we still have enemies that can fight you on that level, I need to get stronger to be able to fight at your side."

In an instant, images of Obito, Pain, and Kabuto entered Naruto's mind. A scowl developed on his face before he shook his head, pushing those thoughts out.

"We'll both get stronger together. I know we will." He said. "I'm always down for training or anything. Or if you need a punching bag to test out new jutsu on. Just let me know."

"Heh, I'll be sure to take you up on that." Hinata smiled back. A small blush then developed on her cheeks: "By the way, you looked good in that form."

"Looked… good?" Naruto blinked for a moment before a blush of his own developed on his face: "In my Bijū Form? R-Really?"

"Um… yes." Hinata nodded her head, her cheeks reddening further.

"… Heh. Noted." Naruto chuckled in response, rubbing his nose slightly.

The two were quiet for a moment as they walked down the village streets, holding hands as they made their way into town. As they began to reach the path where they would separate, Naruto continued to tug on Hinata's hand, pulling her with him.

"Naruto?" She blinked: "Is there something you still want to do?"

"Kinda, yeah." Naruto admitted. "Mind coming with me for a moment?"

Hinata nodded her head as she allowed Naruto to lead her down the village streets. The two made small talk about future plans and training along the way as time passed by quickly.

After a few minutes of walking, the two arrived at Naruto's destination: Senpū Bakery, Hinata's favorite bakery in the village.

Upon arrival, the Hyūga began to salivate before she shook her head, a small frown developing on her face.

"Don't tease me like this!" She whined: "They closed an hour ago!"

"They did?" Naruto blinked in surprise: "I'm pretty sure I heard they were open."

"Naruto, I come here as often as you go to Ichiraku's by yourself." Hinata deadpanned, her frown growing deeper: "I stop by here almost all the time for a cinnamon roll before coming to meet you or to go to the Hokage's office. I know when they're open."

"Oh." Naruto rubbed the back of his head sheepishly: "W-Well, maybe they're still open today!"

Before Hinata could protest, Naruto walked up towards the bakery's door.

"Naruto, I told you, they're closed-"

Before she could finish her sentence, Naruto pushed open the door. Hinata's eyes widened in response for a moment as he walked inside the building after hours.

'Huh?' She blinked in response before following him inside.

The bakery, as she knew it would, was empty of all its workers and customers. Its lights were off, the floors were nearly swept, and the display counter was empty. The only thing in the room visible to her was Naruto, who was now standing in front of a table, hiding it from view.

"I told you they were closed." Hinata said, frowning: "Come on, we need to go. I'll see if we can lock up for them on our way out-"

"Hey, Hinata, remember coming here on our first date?" Naruto asked.

Hinata blinked in response at Naruto's question. She was quiet for a moment before she tilted her head in response.

"I… thought our first date was in Kibō Village in Mizu no Kuni?" She asked. "At the ramen stand where Jinin-san paid for our dinner?"

"That was our first time out as a couple, yeah, but this was our first date actually." Naruto said, a small smile developing on his face as he scratched the back of his head: "Remember? You invited me out right before the Chūnin Exams. Just you and me."

"… Ah!" Hinata's eyes widened in response before her cheeks reddened. A smile developed on her face as she nodded her head: "I… I did, yeah. That was the first time you and I went out just the two of us, right?"

"Mhmm." Naruto chuckled: "And even back then, I knew it was special. Love hanging out with Shikamaru and Anko-sensei, yeah, but there's just something special about being with you, y'know?"


It was at that point Naruto stepped to the side, uncovering the table his body was blocking, revealing a light brown cake with white icing on top of it with writing on it. Hinata's eyes widened in response as she took a step closer.

"I, uh… I actually had a clone go out to that meeting for the chūnin promotion while I worked on this all morning." Naruto continued to rub the back of his head sheepishly: "I was going to have you come over after having lunch with Shikamaru, but y'know… we had our impromptu sparring session and all…" He then shook his head: "But the owners were super sweet about it! Kept it safe for me all day!"

Hinata walked past Naruto towards the table and got close to the cake itself. The cake's cinnamon aroma hit her nose strongly, nearly causing her to drool on the spot. Her attention, however, was focused on the writing on the cake, with orange frosting. She stared at it for a moment before she turned back to Naruto, her cheeks growing redder-and-redder.

"Naruto…" Her began to speak, but the words quickly died on her lips: "Um…"

"… W-Well, I know we've kinda talked about it beforehand and stuff, but… well… the mission in Kumo made me think that I don't want to wait too much longer." Naruto admitted, his cheeks growing red: "I… don't want to wait any longer."

"I… I…" Hinata's eyes watered as a wide smile developed on her face. "I don't either!"

Naruto smiled back as he reached for her hands, quickly pulling her closer to him.

"Yes!" She exclaimed in his face, her smile somehow widening: "Yes, Yes, a million times yes!"

Naruto's response was to quickly pull her into a tight embrace as the two kissed for what felt like forever.

As the two focused more-and-more on each other, the cake left on the table was left alone. It would be devoured in a moment – as despite the sentimental moment, Hinata's sweet tooth was triggered and it did smell way too good to her – but, for a moment longer, it would be left undisturbed. The message printed on it in orange icing, 'Will you marry me?' remained visible for just a moment longer as the couple continued to say 'yes' to one another.

Author's Note: Hey everyone! Chapter 131 is finally out!

Jfc I was expecting to post this a lot sooner than I am, but April was a shit month for my productivity. IRL stressors are horrid and make life more horrid, THINK my life is calming down again so I can hopefully focus more and more on writing cause GOD DO I MISS REGULALRLY WRITING SO FUCKING BADLY!

But yes, after all the intensity of the Kumogakure Exams and the subsequent Akatsuki invasion, things are finally really calming down, and I have a mini-arc planned for now. It won't be a long one, but it will be hopefully a little breath of fresh air from just constant fight chapters! After all, I have a fictional wedding to plan! XD ... which is already infinitely more bearable than planning one IRL. Real life wedding planning is a nightmare! Just go to a court house and have dinner with family/friends after, people! XD

Unrelated side-note, but are you all watching Spy X Family? CAUSE HOLY SHIT! It's surreal seeing an anime for something I followed as a manga before an anime adaptation was even announced, but it's even more surreal seeing it done so damn good! I cannot believe how great the studios are doing with it, and if you all have not started it already, then PLEASE GO WATCH! And to the anime only's reading... you're in for a damn good treat the longer this one goes on :)

I guess that'll do for now. I'll try and get to work on Chapter 132 out ASAP! I'll see you all when it's done. Until then :)