Naruto Fan Fiction ❯ Just Go My Way ❯ The Family Way ( Chapter 2 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

Author's Note: This story is set ten years after the start of the series. That means all the characters are ten years older than they were when first introduced (well, with exception of the characters introduced after the Time-Skip---but you get the picture). Since the canon story is far from concluded, I'm basing this particular story on canon as it stands right now, which is about Chapter 350. From there, I've made my own conclusions and advanced the story forward. Therefore, there are likely to be some things I will mention here that Kishimoto-sensei's future chapters of the manga will render untrue, so this may turn out to be somewhat AU.

I'm also taking some artistic license and liberty with Sakura's family. Kishimoto-sensei never really went into any detail as to what her parents do for a living, so I made some decisions myself... including names for them that I felt were suitable.

Disclaimer: I do not own any part of "Naruto" or its characters. It all belongs to Kishimoto-sensei. I'm just playing in the sandbox of this amazing world. And what a fun sandbox it is! I should thank Kishimoto-sensei for creating it, it's even more fun than Takahashi-sensei's Sengoku Jidai!

Also, this entire story was completed before I actually read Maldoror's phenomenal slashfic "Diplomatic Relations" which deals with Rock Lee as an ambassador in Sunagakure. Any similarities you find between that fic and mine are in fact strictly coincidental. I have been known to "ship" Lee with Gaara before, and that remains my favorite slash pairing in this fandom, which is why there are allusions and hints of that flavoring mentioned in this one. My favorite "ship" is Lee with Sakura, however, hence this fic. But I want it to be clear that I did not read "Diplomatic Relations" until after I'd already finished this story.



"Just Go My Way"
Part Two: The Family Way


"Damn," Kankurou muttered as he watched the match unfold from where he stood just behind Gaara's seat. "That runt Kai is going to get his ass beat within an inch of his life when I get a moment with him!"

Sanami frowned. "Kankurou, you're not his sensei anymore. Leave it alone."

"He's being a total jackass! A puppetmaster never tells an enemy about his puppet's hidden tricks! Did he ever listen to anything I taught him?"

Gaara smirked; "I always wondered if you were actually teaching that one anything. Apparently not."

"Grr," Kankurou growled. "I ought to pop you one for that, Gaara."

"Go ahead," Gaara said. "I could use the defense practice. This match is definitely boring; for all the hype Kai has been getting, this is humiliating."

Kankurou took the permission as a go-ahead and balled up his fist to bop his brother over the head with, but before he could do it, a kunai appeared at his jugular.

"Testing Kazekage-sama's defenses is my job," Sanami said coldly, pressing the blade against the flesh of Kankurou's throat. "Your job is to protect him. Do not confuse the two."

"Whoa," Shizune said under her breath. "Temari-san said that they're married, right? You'd never guess by those interactions."

Naruto grinned. "I guess Shikamaru wasn't so wrong after all when he commented about Kankurou being whipped."

Tsunade chuckled. "Gaara, you have some lively guards."

"They are entertaining at times, yes," Gaara said, idly petting his raccoon. "They are also highly useful. I had to leave Baki home in Sunagakure, to keep things running smoothly in my absence. I would have left Temari there as well, but she insisted on coming. She would not have stayed home even if I ordered her to."

"Teammates and siblings are funny that way," Tsunade said with a distant, fleetingly sad smile.

The match dragged on for nearly an hour before Kai, the Sunagakure puppeteer genin, conceded defeat after getting ruthlessly pummeled by a Konoha genin with outstanding taijutsu and ninjutsu integration.

As the janitorial crew began cleaning up the arena for the next match, Gaara turned to Tsunade. "Would you like for me to examine your jounin now, during the break? I cannot promise to be able to diagnose anything, but I can at least assess the situation."

"Only if you don't mind," Tsunade replied.

"I would not have suggested it if I minded."

Tsunade bit back a retort; it was sometimes difficult to deal with Gaara, because the Kazekage was so blunt without meaning to be rude. It took a lot of remembering that Gaara had grown up outside social circles, even more so than Naruto, and therefore had few social graces, in order to deal properly with him without blowing one's stack.

Instead, she motioned to Naruto to go get Kakashi. The blond jounin bounced right over the railing, rather than use the body-flicker technique. Sanami almost choked upon seeing that and ran to the railing, looking over it.

"He'll be fine, Sanami-san," Shizune said reassuringly. "Our Naruto-kun is very, very agile."

"He jumps like a fox!" Sanami said incredulously.

Gaara stiffened and Tsunade's eyes narrowed.

"Sanami," Gaara said coldly. "You talk too much."

"But he reminds me of a desert fox! It's almost like he is a fox!"

"Sanami!" Kankurou grabbed her by the arm, muscling her away. "You're going to make Gaara angry!"

"How? All I said is th--" Sanami was unable to speak further when Kankurou clapped a hand over her mouth and leaned in close, hissing into her ear.

"Naruto is the Jinchuuriki of the Kyuubi -- the Nine-Tailed Fox. Saying he's like a fox in front of Gaara is like saying Gaara looks like a tanuki, which is what Shukaku's form was. You know Gaara doesn't like to be reminded of that whole fiasco! Now be quiet! Gaara's blasted Temari before for mentioning he looks like a tanuki. I really don't want to see you get hit with his sand."

Sanami blanched at the warning. She looked over at the Kazekage, who was staring at her with icy jade eyes, devoid of any emotion or remorse. Abruptly, her stomach roiled and rebelled; she just barely managed to not throw up on herself..

Oh, not again! Why does this keep happening to me?

Kankurou looked over at his brother. "Um, Gaara... I think she's sick again."

"I can see that, idiot," Gaara said, looking away. "Get Temari to relieve you, and go take care of your wife."

Kankurou nodded once and reached into Sanami's vest, pulling out a small scroll from one of the pockets. With three quick hand signs -- horse, dragon, tiger -- and a small bead of sweat from his forehead (that was part of Sanami's brilliance -- she had developed a way to summon inanimate objects without sacrificing blood, by using other body fluids such as sweat) Kankurou summoned a small orb-shaped object that floated in midair. It was a tiny mechanical puppet that could travel distances away from Kankurou and out of his sight while still being controlled by his chakra strings. It made an effective messenger tool for him to summon someone -- in this case, Temari. He was pretty sure he knew were Temari was, but he didn't want to leave Gaara here by himself to go find her, and he was quite certain Sanami was in no condition to guard the Kazekage.



Down on the first level, Temari was enjoying watching the antics of the two Konoha teams she was most familiar with, Team Asuma and Team Kurenai. Although Sarutobi Asuma had been dead for almost eight years, his students still referred to their team by his name out of honor. Team Kurenai, likewise, was no longer headed much by Yuuhi Kurenai, but they preferred to refer to themselves by her name so as to not give any one of them more honor or precedence than the other.

Inuzuka Kiba and his longtime canine partner Akamaru had been the last to arrive, showing up halfway through the first match. He was currently being heckled by Shikamaru's teammates Akimichi Chouji and Yamanaka Ino, as well as his own teammate Hyuuga Hinata, who had migrated over with her younger sister to sit with the two teams after the start of the first match. Aburame Shino was aloof and stood off to the side, observing the antics with a stony expression.

"Do they annoy you?" Temari asked him finally.

"No." Shino raised his hand to adjust his dark sunglasses. "I am used to this. They are amusing."

"Oi," Shikamaru said from directly behind her. "What are you so smug about?"

"Nakimushi-kun, don't scare me like that!"

"Augh! Would you stop calling me that, you troublesome woman? Geez!" Shikamaru gripped the railing in frustration. "I swear, you keep bringing that old pain in the ass up... hey! What's the matter?" He noticed that Temari had gone a shade or two paler as a small golden orb floated toward her.

"Now? Already? Did something happen?" Temari held a hand out to the mechanical puppet and cupped it. Then she clenched her hand around it and climbed up on the railing, pulling a scroll out of her sash and using five hand signs in quick succession to summon her fan. "I have to go. Something must have happened, for Kankurou to want me to relieve him already after only one round."

She flipped the giant fan open with a rush of air and leaped on. Using her chakra and a lifting gesture, she brought a gust of wind up under the fan to raise it and her up and carry them to the top deck. She leaped off the fan as she reached the kages' platform.

"What's the matter, Gaara?" she asked urgently as she collapsed the fan and looked around. Gaara was sipping at a mug of water like nothing was wrong.

"Well, that's one way of doing it, Temari-oneesan," Sanami said in a strained voice as she leaned heavily against Kankurou. "I'm sorry. I need you to relieve me. I'm afraid I've gotten sick again."

"Again? That's the fourth time today alone!"

"Perhaps one of us can examine her while Kazekage-sama examines Kakashi-sempai?" Shizune asked Tsunade.

"Won't be necessary," Gaara dismissed. "I've already told Sanami what I think is wrong with her. She just doesn't want to believe me."

Sanami had turned a deep red by then and fled out the back door down the hallway. Kankurou started to go after her, but hesitated. "I... guess she doesn't need me?"

Right about then, Naruto returned with Kakashi in tow. "He was hard to track down!"

"What's this about?" Kakashi asked, warily noting that Gaara was standing up.

"Please have a seat, Hatake Kakashi," the Kazekage said calmly. "I would like to examine you."

"What for?"

"Just do it, Kakashi," Tsunade snapped. "I can't keep you on the sidelines forever."

Thus chastised, Kakashi stiffly placed himself in the chair vacated by the young Kazekage. Gaara crossed his arms contemplatively and studied Kakashi's face impassively for a full three minutes. He then leaned in close, analyzing Kakashi's right eye minutely.

"May I ask what brought this on?" Kakashi asked finally. "I'm not quite sure I understand what you're trying to find."

"Shut up and hold still," Gaara replied. "Now let me see the other eye."

"That's not wise," Kakashi said, just as Naruto said "Gaara, that's probably not a good idea."

Gaara looked over at Naruto; "Explain."

"The other eye is his Sharingan, and it's dangerous to look a Sharingan directly in... well, the eye."

"I cannot make an accurate assessment without seeing both eyes."

"Sorry, but no," Kakashi said firmly. Gaara's eyes narrowed.

"We can do this the easy way, or the hard way, Hatake Kakashi." The kage of Suna grasped a scroll from within his robes, flicking his thumb across his tongue to gather saliva, and running it down the scroll. With a trio of rapid gestures, he summoned his sand gourd. "The easy way entails you doing as I tell you without incident. The hard way..." The cork on the gourd popped out and sand came bubbling out of the mouth, swirling up and around the Kazekage.

"Let's just say you don't want to go there," Temari finished.

Kakashi heaved a sigh and reached up, slowly untying his hitai-ate and removing it. There was nothing overly dramatic about the incident, and yet Naruto found himself holding his breath. Gaara didn't react at all to the red iris or its three black tomoe. Finally, the Kazekage nodded his head once. "The mask too. I need to observe something."

"Now wait a minute," Kakashi protested. "I can understand if you need to see my eyes, I suppose, but there's no reason--" he was cut off when a fist made of sand clenched around his throat.

"I said we'd do this the hard way if necessary," Gaara said in a feral tone. "You're trying my patience. You're a burden on your village and an embarrassment. Your Hokage has asked me to see if I can fix you, since she's out of ideas. Personally, I wouldn't bother, but I owe Konoha a deep debt." This was a longer speech than Gaara was normally given to making, and as such he garnered some strange looks. When Kakashi didn't respond, the Kazekage resorted to a more direct approach.

"Hokage-sama, is this the best your village can come up with for a jounin? I should think Naruto alone is better than this... sorry piece of scrap. Retire him. He's useless now."

"Why you ungrateful little--" Kakashi's hands clenched into fists, but Gaara's eyes never left his. When the tomoe in the Sharingan moved, Gaara brought his hand up in a sign.

"Katsu!" the kage said sharply, forcing Kakashi to freeze mid-sentence.

"There's definitely something there," Gaara said after a few moments. "It appears to be triggered by emotions, violent emotions at that. I am not sure if this is a genjutsu or a curse, but it is definitely there." He stepped back a few steps and crossed his arms again. "This is complicated, Hokage-sama. I might be able to help him, but I will not be able to do it here in Konoha. I need the reference material at my disposal, and I need time, time I cannot afford to spend here in Konoha. I need to return to Sunagakure as soon as possible. The only way I'd be able to help him is if he comes with us to Sunagakure, where I will have time to observe him and make a better assessment of this ailment."

"Looks like the next match is starting," Shizune said. "Perhaps you should think on this a while, Kazekage-sama?"

"I think I will," Gaara said, motioning Kakashi to get out of his chair. The jounin did so with aplomb, retying his hitai-ate as he did so.

"For the record, Kazekage-sama, I remove the mask for no one," he added as he reached the door of the platform. Naruto tensed in anticipation of an explosion, knowing as he did that Gaara had an unstable temper. The Kazekage just smiled, a bloodless, mirthless smile that chilled the soul.

"I was trying to rile you up," Gaara said benignly, though his eyes flashed dangerously. "Genjutsu like the one suspected of being put on you react to emotions and you, as I recall, have a habit of repressing yours."

"Twenty-fifth rule of being a shinobi: kill your emotions, for they are a weakness. You of all people ought to know that," Kakashi retorted under his breath, knowing Gaara would hear him. However, the Kazekage just ignored him as he resumed his seat, abstractly placing the cork back into the gourd as he did so.

The second match started without further delay, and was over in five minutes.

"What the hell was that?" Kankurou said incredulously as the Konoha ninja stood triumphantly over the Ame-nin. "The Rain village is pathetic this year!"

Gaara chuckled... not a nice noise coming from him, either. "Unless I miss my guess, they've always been pathetic."

Temari looked slightly alarmed for a moment, flashing back momentarily to a moment ten years before when a rage-filled Gaara had wiped out three Rain ninjas with his cruel Desert Coffin and Desert Funeral techniques, all just because he didn't like the way they'd looked at him.

Kankurou balled up his fist and swatted at his brother, but a swirl of sand spiraled up and blocked the blow.

"Wha--" Naruto gaped at the sand spiral. "Where'd that come from?" He looked over at the gourd, still firmly corked.

Gaara looked over at the blond jounin, and almost smiled. "Now you understand why I have Suna with me? And why she is named for the village?" He pet the raccoon affectionately as it perched on his shoulder. "If I recall correctly, the main things Kyuubi gives you are accelerated healing and access to its limitless chakra, correct? Shukaku gave me an automatic sand defense and minute control over sand. Now that Shukaku is gone, I have to focus more chakra to control sand, and the automatic defense is gone. That's where Suna comes in. She has an automatic sand defense of her own. It isn't as strong as my old one was, but it works in a pinch and gives me time to react and reinforce."

"Which is why Gaara never goes anywhere outside Sunagakure without Suna-chan," Temari said.

Naruto grinned; "Gaara, that's awesome! I wish I had a pet like that! Er, familiar. Er, whatever she is. Partner?"

"Pet is fine," Gaara said with a mild smile. "People tend to dismiss a pet. And frankly, she is as annoying as a pet, sometimes. Would you like to pet her? I think she will let you touch her. I don't know about anyone else. It took three months to get her to let Temari and Kankurou pet her. But you are like me... perhaps she will let you."

Naruto glanced at Tsunade, who shrugged. "Kazekage-dono invited you. Who am I to forbid you?"

"Thanks, Obaachan." The kid grinned hugely and strode over to the Kazekage's chair. "Hello, Suna-chan. I'm Uzumaki Naruto. Gaara's an old friend of mine; we go way back. Pleased to meet you." He held his hand out for the raccoon to sniff. Suna curled her lips and snarled at him, but a tap on the head from Gaara convinced her to take a cursory sniff. She growled again, but another tap on the head, and she quieted down, lowering her head enough so that Naruto could stroke her fur.

"So, we have another Suna-nin up next, right?" Tsunade said calmly, glancing at the booklet in her hand. "This one looks like he uses a wind-based attack."

Temari grinned. "Trained him myself," she said proudly, "but he uses a sword to cut through wind and release it, rather than using a fan to push it. It's a lot more compact and dangerous, and it means he can fight close quarters too. His biggest downfall is he's even more arrogant than Kankurou was in his prime!"

"So far we've seen a puppetmaster and now another wind user. Is that all that Sunagakure can produce?"

"Well, the third one in this finals uses primarily taijutsu, with a little bit of wind-based ninjutsu. We are the Wind Country, after all," Temari said pragmatically. "I'm rather surprised there aren't more fire-based ninjas in your country. Nearly every ninja in the Water Country has water-based attacks."

"Most of the fire-based ninjas were the Uchihas," Naruto said. "Every one of them could do some pretty amazing and complex attacks. Since they were wiped out, you don't see it as much."

"Not necessarily true, Naruto, but a good theory," Tsunade said with a smile. "Fire and lightning attacks just take more chakra than earth, water or wind attacks. Lightning takes a lot of chakra to ignite, and fire takes a lot to maintain. Wind, water and earth don't take as much chakra to initiate or maintain. Or at least, that's the theory. You'd have to ask Kakashi for further information on that; he's the only shinobi I know of who can use all five elements in attacks."

"Ooh, they're starting! My money's on Neji's student though!" Naruto said with a grin. "Who are you betting on, Obaachan?"

"Hmm... Care to engage in a little wager, Kazekage-dono?" Tsunade glanced playfully at her guest out of the corner of her eye.

"I don't gamble," Gaara said flatly. Suna chittered at him scoldingly, and he relented. "Kankurou does sometimes, though."

"Um, not today, I'm not. I ain't got a coin on me." Kankurou held his hands up in submission.

"Too bad," Temari said with a grin, "because I really do think that Gatsuno has the advantage here. Looks like his opponent uses primarily taijutsu. Should be no problem."

"Naruto, I'll take you up on the wager then," Tsunade said. "I'll wager on the Suna-nin."

"Witnessed!" Shizune cheered brightly. "A wager between current and future Hokages -- that's a fun one! Now let's watch the match and see how it works out!"



Sanami sighed as she stepped out of the washroom and closed the door behind her. That had been quite unpleasant. She just hoped Kazekage-sama didn't voice his suspicions too loudly in her absence. She was pretty sure he had it right, but she was afraid to tell Kankurou yet. She wasn't sure her new husband was ready to learn he might become a father soon.

"You are such a goofy dog, Akamaru, I swear. I'm just going to take a quick wiz, you don't need to come with me to the toil--" Sanami looked up just in time to get walked into by a big, burly Konoha chuunin who was followed by a dog the size of a pony. The force with which the chuunin walked into Sanami, combined with her instability due to her violent stomach upset, sent her sprawling.

"Oh god, I'm so sorry! Here, let me help you up!" the young man stooped and scooped her up in his arms. "So sorry, there, miss! I'm afraid I wasn't watching where I was going."

She got a good look at him, and found that his eyes reminded her of Kankurou, strangely. Dark and pinned, and yet unlike Kankurou, the pupils and irises were elongated, giving him a wild beast-like appearance. Two blood-red pyramids of paint cascaded down his cheekbones, reminding her distinctly of Kankurou's face-paint.

"I'm alright, just... please put me down," she said weakly. "I haven't been feeling so great lately."

"Hey, you're from the Sand village, right?"

Isn't it obvious? Where the hell does he think I'm from? Sanami bumped her hitai-ate, displayed prominently across her forehead, with her thumb; "Yes. And I can see you're from here."

The dog nudged the chuunin, as if telling him something, and the chuunin blushed and set Sanami down. "Oh, right, sorry. Where are my manners?" He bowed before her. "My name is Inuzuka Kiba, and this is my partner Akamaru."

Now that she got a look at him, she realized this might not be a chuunin after all; he might actually be a jounin.

"Oh... er, sorry, my name is Fuuin no Sanami, or at least that's what everyone calls me." She grinned. "Until recently, my husband called me Sami-chan, until I boxed his ears one time too many for it." Almost immediately, she wondered why she had volunteered that bit of information.

"Husband? Aww, figures," Kiba said, dejectedly. "The pretty ones are always taken!"

Pretty? Sanami started. She didn't think anyone ever thought of her as pretty. Despite his affectionate words and clear devotion to her, Kankurou rarely complimented her on beauty.

"Okay, now you're just flattering me!" She blushed and looked away. "Temari-oneesan would so be all over me now too, to react to that kind of flattery."

"Temari? Your sister?"

"Well, sister-in-law."

"Whoa, no kidding? Are you serious?"

"Um... yes. I am married to her younger brother... why?"

"I had no idea the Kazekage got married! What a delightful bit of gossip no one has ever glommed onto!"

"WHAT?! Are you crazy? You think I married Gaara-sama?!" Sanami very nearly lost what little water she'd been able to get down in between bouts of violent upheaval. "You really are crazy, aren't you? You have no idea what Gaara-sama is like! Even his own siblings fear him, still!" She caught herself before she went too far off the deep end at this young man, and composed herself. "Nevermind. I can assure you it is not Gaara-sama to whom I am married. Now, if you'll excuse me, I imagine Kankurou is worried about me."

"Hey, listen, I'm sorry," Kiba caught her by the arm. "I wasn't thinking straight. Here, let me escort you back. A woman in your condition shouldn't be alone."

"What do you mean, 'in my condition'?" she asked suspiciously.

"Er," Kiba scratched the back of his neck self-consciously. "Isn't it obvious? The fact that you're violently sick like this? And you're married and all... and I can tell by your scent."

Sanami groaned and leaned against the wall. "Dammit, I was hoping Gaara-sama was mistaken. I was hoping maybe he was just too focused on the symptoms and book-learning... I mean, he has few social graces and all, so I thought just maybe he was wrong..."

Kiba shifted nervously, releasing her hand belatedly when she glanced sharply at him. "Um, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to upset you, Sanami-san. I... will you let me escort you? To make it up to you a little bit at least?"

"Sure," she shrugged. "Just... don't touch me. Kankurou gets a little protective of me. And Gaara-sama has been on a hairpin-trigger for a temper lately. One wrong outburst from Kankurou and we could have a big mess on our hands."

"Duly noted," Kiba said. "But please, allow me to at least walk with you?"

"I didn't say no, did I? Come on, I should be getting back." She started up the stairwell toward the top platform. Kiba and Akamaru hurried to catch up to her.

"So, you're married to Kankurou? Wow, I didn't know he was... you know, interested in women."

Sanami stopped. "What are you talking about? I've never heard Kankurou's preferences called into question. People have been speculating about Gaara-sama because of how close he and Rock Lee-san got while Lee-san was there, but Gaara-sama still denies anything beyond strict friendship happened. Truthfully, I think most of it was Lee-san's doing anyway, the friendship. I don't think Gaara-sama really understands how friendships are developed."

Kiba frowned slightly. "I don't doubt you, but I find it incredible that Lee is so forgiving of Gaara. Gaara did a right number on Lee a long time ago. Nearly ruined his life. Crushed his left side with that sand of his. I've seen that sand crush a human to death, and to think that Lee managed to escape with his limbs still marginally intact..."

"You're talking about the Chuunin Selection Exams from about ten years ago, right?"

"Yeah. I wasn't there to see the whole thing, because I got myself beat up pretty good by Naruto. That was the first time I saw how strong that kid really is, too. But yeah, Shino -- my teammate -- saw the fight between Lee and Gaara, and said that Lee just blitzed the shit out of Gaara, but in the end Gaara still managed to crush his left arm and leg. Though we still don't understand why it was that Lee was able to survive the attacks."

"Kankurou told me about that," Sanami said. "He said that the reason why Gaara-sama failed to kill Lee-san at the time was because Gaara-sama had run out of useable chakra for that attack. The Desert Coffin technique requires a lot of chakra to initiate properly, and Kankurou said that because of how long Gaara-sama had the Sand Armor in place, Gaara-sama ran out of useable chakra to initiate a proper full-strength Desert Coffin. Otherwise, your friend would have died."

Kiba frowned. "From what I understand, Gaara was on the way to surrounding him with sand to completely crush him when Gai-sensei intervened."

Sanami shrugged. "I wasn't there. I wasn't even a genin at the time. But I know that Gaara-sama's sand attacks are blindingly fast when he has chakra to spare. It's when he's on the defense and has the armor in place that it slows down."

As they reached the landing, Sanami paused. "Still, that doesn't answer my question of who calls Kankurou's preference into question. He was never an ambassador here, and he had little to do with the ambassadors in Suna; he was too busy working with Kazekage-sama's upper echelon teams."

"I said that wrong, I'm sorry. I meant that Kankurou has always been so devoted to his brother, that I never thought of him showing any interest in anyone. The short time period I served as an ambassador -- before the heat got to be too much for Akamaru -- it seemed like that was all Kankurou did, was serve his brother."

Sanami shrugged again. "What do you think I've been doing for the past eight years? Do you think it was my 'beauty' that caught Kankurou's attention. I developed myself into an expert scroll-sealer partly to gain his attention. As it was, I had to practically hit him over the head with one of his stupid puppets!" She giggled in memory. "Sanshuou is pretty good for bashing him on the head with! The scroll for Sanshuou is heavier than the other puppets' scrolls, so it was fun to bash him over the head with. But you're right, Kankurou's first priority is Gaara-sama, and that's the way it should be. Because Gaara-sama isn't just his brother: he is the life of the village. If we were to lose him, we'd really be at a loss. We were able to get through almost two years after the Yondaime Kazekage was assassinated, before Gaara-sama was appointed, because of Yuura-taichou and Baki-sama. But now that Yuura-taichou is gone and Baki-sama is getting old, we're depending more and more on Gaara-sama. Especially with the whole of Kirigakure about to declare war on us. You watch," she added, shaking a finger at Kiba to accentuate what she said, "before the year's out, we'll be at war with Kirigakure, if not the entire Water Country."

"I hope not," Kiba said. "Cuz then we'll get dragged into it. I don't wanna go back to Kirigakure! Last time I was there, I nearly got killed, and Rock Lee nearly died trying to protect us all while Sakura tried to save me. Akamaru's had a weird gait ever since we got back from there."

As they reached the platform, Kankurou appeared in the doorway. "Sanami, you're starting to scare the hell out of me with these weird episodes of illness. If I didn't know better, I'd think you were poisoned by something. This could be an act of war from Kirigak--"

"Kankurou, calm down," Temari said from behind him. "Now isn't the time. Besides, Gaara doesn't seem alarmed by whatever is ailing Sanami, and he knows more about medicine than either of us do."

Kankurou snorted; "Just because he spent years reading medical books because he couldn't sleep, doesn't make him an expert."

"Be that as it may, I don't see Hokage-sama overly alarmed either, and she is a medicinal expert."

Tsunade had balled up one hand and was pressing the fist against her mouth to keep from laughing aloud. It was really quite amazing to her how naive those two siblings were being, and particularly amusing how Gaara was humoring them by keeping his silence. Shizune leaned down and murmured in the Hokage's ear; "You're drawing the same conclusion, right, Tsunade-sama?"

"Of course," Tsunade said, her words muffled by her fist. "It's almost glaringly obvious. I can hardly believe they haven't realized it themselves."

"Obaachan, do you know what's wrong with Sanami?" Naruto asked, his head tilted in his classic "?" expression.

"Well, if I were to guess, I'd say she's in the family way."


Sanami had turned bright red again, and shrank away from Kankurou when he reached for her. Kiba, seeing the puppetmaster's frustration at his wife's bizarre behavior, hip-bumped her forward, so that she stumbled right into Kankurou's arms.

"I could smell it on her," he added, self-consciously rubbing his hand under his nose. "She about fainted when I mentioned it, so I guess even she wasn't sure."

"Sure about what, dammit?!" Kankurou demanded. "Would you all quit dicking around and tell me what's wrong with my wife?"

"Calm down, Kankurou. There's nothing wrong with her," Gaara said, not even bothering to turn and look at his brother. "These bouts of nausea are common in the first trimester of pregnancy."

"P-preg..." Kankurou's mouth hung open and he looked like he'd been hit in the face or upside the head by Temari's folded-up fan.

An explosion from below wrested everyone's attention to the match still going on. The Konoha genin, a member of the genin team Neji was the sensei for, had just unleashed a fiery technique at the Suna genin, who was apparently caught off guard. The match had been going on for almost fifteen minutes, and one of the two genin had to be running low on chakra by now, with all the ninjutsu that had been going on.

Saidan, the Konoha genin, appeared to still be quite fresh, for the amount of exertion he'd put forth. By contrast, the Suna genin, Gatsuno, looked pretty knackered.

Finally, after another ten minutes of trading blows, Gatsuno collasped, having run out of chakra. The proctor in charge of the match called the end of it.

"Hey!" Kiba said excitedly. "Neji's kid won! Er, student. Gah, I'm just really putting my foot in my mouth today!"

"Heh!" Naruto clapped Tsunade on the shoulder. "You know what that means, right, Obaachan? You lost the bet."

"Figures," Tsunade sighed. "Right, okay, you get a week off, unless I get an urgent S-rank that needs someone of your skills."

"Woohoo! Maybe Sakura-chan will let me take her on one last date, just for fun, before she gets all married off to Geji-mayu! But no fair giving my missions to Geji-mayu, Obaachan. He's still not up to his best level."

"I know that better than you, you little pipsqueak!" Tsunade said peevishly. "I'm the one who saved his life, you know! I'm the one who has to pummel Sakura when Lee-kun overtaxes himself. I can't very well punish him, but I can punish her for not keeping a tighter rein on him."

Naruto gave the Hokage his most winning smile and leapt over the railing again.

"Oi! Naruto-kun!" Shizune hollered after him. "You're supposed to get someone to relieve you before you take off like that!"

"I did! Kiba's there, ain't he?" came the jounin's reply.

"Er," Kiba said. "I was only being a gentleman and escorting Sanami-san back to her spot, but..."

"Well, you're a jounin, even if not a full-ranked one yet," Tsunade said. "I guess it'll do for now. If the daimyou wants to make something of it, I'll box his ears. Damned bloody paranoid rules."



In the Hyuuga box, everyone was slapping Neji on the back for a job well done with his first squad of genin. Saidan's triumphant win over the Suna-nin had proved that Neji knew what he was doing, even if his training methods were a bit unorthodox. (Though, really, he came by that quite honestly, since Gai's training methods could hardly be considered orthodox by any stretch of the imagination.) Even Tenten's boyfriend, an ANBU member who operated under the code-name of Yosho, had dropped in to congratulate Neji.

Just as things had quieted down a bit, there was a puff of smoke on the railing, and an orange-clad blond jounin crouched precariously on the steel rails.

"Naruto, you twit, what the hell?!" Sakura yelled when Naruto nearly fell backwards off the railing. She jumped forward and grabbed him by the jacket, hauling him off the railing and onto the solid floor. "Of all the places land! You could break your neck if you fall from this height, and even the Kyuubi probably wouldn't be able to help you then!"

"I'm, er, not very good at it, I guess," Naruto said with a sheepish grin. "Maybe when Kakashi-sensei gets back, he can give me some tips."

"Gets back?" Gai said with an arch of his eyebrow. "Is he finally getting an assignment?"

"That's what I came down here to tell you about, Sakura-chan!" Naruto threw his arms around Sakura and spun her around. "It sounds like Gaara can probably help Kakashi-sensei! They need to take Kakashi-sensei with them back to Suna so they can evaluate him more, but from the way Gaara said it, I think they can help him!"


"Really! Gaara made it sound like the chances weren't good, but knowing him, the chances have to be pretty good for him to even bother with it."

"That's wonderful news!"

"Even better, Obaachan lost a bet with me, so I get the week off unless something S-rank come through that requires me."

"So are you going to spend that week off looking for Sasuke?" Gai asked, sitting up from where he had reclined a bit on Ninkame's shell.

"Well, maybe," Naruto said, pausing slightly. "But I thought maybe I'd try to spend some time with Sakura-chan and Geji-mayu too. I've hardly seen much of them in a long time."

With Tenten in ANBU and Neji now in charge of his own team of genin, Lee had been left somewhat floundering for teammates. His complete lack of genjutsu and ninjutsu abilities meant that it was usually not wise to send him alone on missions. After Yamato and Sai had returned to their ANBU duties, Tsunade had reassigned Lee to Naruto and Sakura's team on a regular basis, even before Sakura and Lee started getting intimate. Now they were capable of working fluidly together, though Sakura was the lynch-pin in their teamwork, since Naruto had ten years of experience working with her and could react subconsciously to her actions. Sakura and Lee were a more recent pairing, of course, but they made up for it in their time spent together. Lee was helping Sakura to sharpen her taijutsu, and she was in turn trying to help him at least recognize and dispel genjutsu.

Gai made a face; "That reminds me, Lee. Tomorrow at sunrise. Training field three. I want to see if we can't get you up to the level to do Asa Kujaku. You're close."

Lee's face remained impassive, but Sakura could tell from the way his eyes glinted that he was looking forward to a sparring match with his sensei. "I will definitely be there."

"No sleeping in, mind you." Gai wagged a finger in gentle admonition. The slightest emphasis on "sleeping" was lost on no one, except maybe Naruto.

"Gai-sensei," Lee said with a nervous chuckle. "You know me. I will definitely be there promptly."

"Mmm," the older jounin murmured. "Neji!"

"Eh? Yeah?"

"Good work, my boy. I always knew you were a winner!"

"Okay, Gai-sensei, but I have no idea what you're talking about."

Gai's response was to disappear. Ninkame released a few heartbeats later.

"Typical," Naruto said. "Say, Sakura-chan, what say you to me treating you to dinner after this is over. Er, both of you. Sorry, Geji-mayu. Didn't mean to make it seem like I was putting the moves on your fiancée."

"I'm afraid we've got plans tonight, Naruto," Sakura said. "Maybe tomorrow?"

"Plans? What plans?"

"My parents want to celebrate my engagement."

"Ah, I see. Oops, that signal's from Obaachan." Naruto reacted to a glimmer of light from the kages' deck. "I've got to be getting back. Look, I'll see you later, Sakura-chan. Maybe not today, but definitely tomorrow, unless something major comes up."

Naruto flickered out of the box without bothering to wait for a reply.

"So, we have plans tonight?" Lee said curiously. "This is the first I have heard of them."

"I'm sorry, Lee, I meant to tell you that Mom and Dad asked that we come over for dinner tonight, and it totally slipped my mind! You didn't already have plans, did you?"

"No," her fiancé said with an amused smile. "I did not. I was wondering what we should do, if you wanted to celebrate."

"I can think of something you can do to celebrate," Yosho said suggestively, "but I don't think your parents should be anywhere nearby!"

Tenten cuffed him in the gut; "Hey!" Sakura threw a shuriken at the ANBU member, bouncing it off his shoulder armor. Lee balled up his fist and threatened to punch Yosho. Neji mimed going into his Eight Trigrams pose.

"Okay, okay, I'm sorry! Geez, you people are ruthless!" Yosho laughed as he held up his hands in submission.

"Neji-sensei! Neji-sensei!" a voice called joyously from the hallway behind the box. It was Neji's other two genin, Airi and Ryouta, barreling up the hallway. "Did you see that, sensei? Saidan kicked that guy's butt!" Ryouta exclaimed. "Totally owned his butt!"

"Yes he did," Neji moved to the doorway. "But he's not done yet, you know. He still has more rounds to go now. What are you two doing up here?"

"Saidan-kun said he was fine. He's meditating in the medic ward to regain his strength," Airi said. "We didn't know what else to do, since they wouldn't let us stay with him, so we thought we'd come find you."

"Good. Well, he's still got at least one, and possibly two, more rounds to go."

Sakura nudged Lee with her arm; "C'mon, I want to find Ino."

"But why do you need me?"

"Well, I thought maybe you'd like to come with me, but if you'd rather stay here..."

"Er," Lee blinked at her, trying to gauge her meaning.

"Lee-san!" Ryouta appeared in front of them. "I wanted to ask you a couple of questions, if you don't mind. Is that okay?"

"Go on, Sakura," Lee gave her a gentle nudge. "I will wait for you here."

"Alright," Sakura said with a shrug. "Suit yourself." She started to turn away, but he caught her hand before she could leave in a huff. Raising her hand up to his lips, he gave her knuckles a gentle, chivalrous kiss. Any anger she had building up at his stubbornness wicked away instantly at the sincerity in his eyes. She really couldn't stay mad at him for very long, though sometimes she tried. He was just so damned nice. It could be infuriating.

Once out in the hallway, she broke into a jog toward the stairwell to the first level. She was pretty sure she knew where her friend Yamanaka Ino would be. She'd meant to find Ino earlier, to give her the news, but it had slipped her mind in the chaos of the exam finals.

She very nearly ran into Shikamaru turning a corner. Shikamaru wasn't watching ahead either, apparently lost in thought, and it was only her sharp movements to avoid him that alerted him to her presence, and he instinctively shied, slamming into the wall.

"Gyah! Sakura, you startled me!" The jounin blinked owlishly at her. "The ladies' room is the other way, you know."

"I was coming to your box, I wanted to talk to Ino. She's there, right?"

"Eh? Uh, yeah, I think she's still there, unless she went to yell at her old man."

"Okay, thanks." Sakura sidestepped Shikamaru and continued on her way. Someone really should pummel him and Temari-san with clue-bats. The way they flirt with each other and yet don't realize that they're doing it, or that each other is doing it... As brilliant as he is, he's so damned dense sometimes! When even Naruto can see it, it's got to be obvious!


Sakura turned a little to see Ino approaching. "Found you, Ino!"

"I heard a rumor!" Ino said brightly, her cyan eyes glittering. "A little birdie told me that Lee popped you the question!"

"Good grief, news travels fast!" Sakura grumped.

"So it's true? You said yes, didn't you?"

"Of course I did! What, do you think I'm insane?"

Ino squealed with glee and threw her arms around Sakura. "Yay! I'm so happy for you, Sakura! Congratulations! When's the wedding?"

"Give me a break, Ino!" Sakura laughed, hugging her back. "He just asked me this morning; we haven't had any time to plan anything!"

Ino giggled as she let go and spun herself around gleefully. "This is awesome news, Sakura! He's such a great guy for you! I'm kinda envious. In the end, you landed the best guy in the village, just not the one we thought originally. You never change, Billboard-brow! It makes me so mad, and yet so happy for you at the same time, so what the hell, you know?"

Ino had been Sakura's rival in the beginning of their tenures as kunoichi. They had both set their sights on Sasuke and had alternated between archrivals and close friends during the halcyon days in the village before the Sandaime Hokage was assassinated by Orochimaru. Ten years ago now, already...



"You had this really serious look on your face. Is everything alright?"

"I was just thinking about our first chuunin exams, ten years ago. How it all ended with the Sandaime Hokage-sama dead, and Naruto and I had to fight Gaara over Sasuke, because of that stupid curse seal. It's... not a nice memory. Especially when I remember what Gaara did to Lee." Sakura shuddered at the gruesome memory of twin tendrils of sand wrapping around Lee's left arm and leg and crushing the bones nearly to dust. "If Tsunade-sama hadn't returned to Konoha... I wonder if Lee would even still be alive? I can tell even now that the damage there was not fully reversed; it's entrenched too deeply, but Tsunade-sama's healing ninjutsu stopped the injuries from deteriorating further with time."

Ino sobered up. "Yeah, I still get chills thinking about what Gaara did. That was really horrible. I also remember that at one point, I wanted to hit Asuma-sensei for not stepping in, but then again, Gai-sensei was the only one who interfered. I sometimes have nightmares about that sand, if you want to know. Even though I know that Gaara's an ally now, and that he was driven insane by that demon in him. What amazes me is that Lee was able to forgive Gaara for that so easily, and developed such a close friendship with Gaara after all he went through."

Sakura toyed with a strand of her hair. "Lee says it's pointless to hold grudges, to hold a previous action against a person. He never looks back, you know. He has no regrets about anything. He sees every difficulty as a challenge, a hurdle to be cleared."

Ino snorted; "Well, that's all well and good, but I can hold a grudge. And I am holding a grudge. Naruto says he's going to bring Sasuke back to the village, and I hope he does, cuz I want to beat the shit out of him for all he put us through. Neji and Chouji nearly died chasing after him, Shikamaru nearly quit being a shinobi because of that disaster mission, and look what you've been through, just for his sake. Sasuke has a lot to answer for. I'm just glad you've moved on, Sakura. That asshole doesn't deserve you."

Sakura looked away; "I really don't think you should talk like that about Sasuke. I really think he's had a good reason to stay away from Konoha all this time. If you don't mind, I'd rather not talk about him anyway."

"Sorry. So, I know you've been with Lee a while now, but I don't know that you ever told me what first attracted you to him. Why Lee, of all people? What do you like best about him?"

"Wow, what a set of questions!"

"Sorry, I'm just really curious. It just seems so weird that you're going to marry Rock Lee, after devoting so much time to trying to win Uchiha Sasuke. They're so different."

"Well," Sakura leaned against the wall, bracing her foot against it to keep her balance. "I don't know exactly what it is about him, I just know that his continued devotion to me has been a big part of it. I mean, all the things I fantasized about Sasuke doing, are things that Lee would do. Sasuke would never even think of doing anything romantic like leaving flowers for me in random spots, or love notes.

"Lee's so damned romantic, it's almost annoying. I mean, I had a feeling he was going to propose, and frankly, I rather expected him to do it in public or something bizarre like that. I'm kind of glad he did it the way he did. He's always thinking of me. I swear he even dreams about me. And," she added a few seconds later, as a thought struck her, "he makes me laugh. I feel so alive when I'm with him. He takes great joy in living each moment as it comes, come what may, and seems to genuinely delight in simply being alive. Before I fell in love with Lee, I really don't know that I laughed much at all. I mean, Naruto's a clown and all, and Kakashi-sensei's got one hell of a warped sense of humor, but I don't know that I ever really laughed, not until I started spending a lot of time with Lee. I learned what it means to be in love with life. I mean, Gai-sensei is so damned ridiculous, but he enjoys whatever he does and he almost never has any regrets. I don't think he even regrets teaching Lee the Omote Renge or the Ura Renge. Both of them view life as something precious to be enjoyed at all times. When I'm with Lee, I feel loved and accepted, and so incredibly happy to be alive. I'm not sure how to explain why I love him. I just know that I never really realized how wonderful it is to be alive until he showed me. Am I crazy?"

Ino patted her shoulder. "It's okay, Sakura. You're not crazy, unless being in love makes you crazy, in which case there's nothing wrong with it. I was just curious. But wow. I wish I could find a guy like that."

"Well, Gai-sensei's still a bachelor," Sakura grinned waspishly. "If you want someone just like Lee, he's your man!"

"Eww!" Ino shrieked. "Are you kidding me? No way in hell! He's almost old enough to be my father! No thank you, I don't think I could put up with that."

Sakura laughed. "Well, just so you know that I'm not hogging it all. After all, if there's a jounin in this village that can do literally anything, it's Gai-sensei. His taijutsu is better than Lee's, and his ninjutsu and genjutsu aren't too shabby."

Ino waved this off; "He's an old fart as far as I'm concerned. No thank you." Then she brightened. "You must let me design your bouquet for your wedding, Sakura! I'll use a lot of daffodils, if you like."

Sakura blushed. The daffodil had become a flower somewhat symbolic of her relationship with Lee, since she had brought fresh-cut daffodils to him nearly every day he was in the hospital convalescing from the injuries Gaara inflicted on him. "Sure, Ino. If we even have much of a wedding. We may just do something very small-scale. I mean, the only thing we really need to do is sign the registry with witnesses, one of which has to be the Hokage. Anything else is just elaboration."

Ino snorted. "Well, even if you do choose to just do the basics, you can do it holding a bouquet I design especially for you, right? Of course!"

Sakura chuckled. "Sure, Ino, whatever you like."

"Hey! Ino! The next match is starting! Are you going to watch or what?" Ino's teammate Chouji hollered from the box.

"Coming with?" Ino asked Sakura, who shook her head.

"I told Lee I'd be back after I'd had a chance to talk to you."

"Ah, okay. See you later, Sakura, and congratulations!"



"Good grief," Temari said, her arms crossed bemusedly across her chest. "You really need to chill, Kankurou. She's not that fragile. Being pregnant doesn't automatically turn a woman into a spun-glass sculpture."

Sanami was balling her hands into fists, ready to pummel Kankurou in the chin if he didn't let her up soon. Shortly after Gaara dropped the bombshell, Kankurou had forced Sanami to sit down and drink at least a liter of water, and any time she tried to get up and return to her duties, Kankurou bullied her back to her seat.

Tsunade just hid her smile behind a hand. This was more entertaining than the matches going on down below. They were now in the final round. Neji's student Saidan had managed to pass his second match, versus the Konoha genin who had won the first match on the day. He'd lucked out because that genin had been low on chakra due to the length of match versus Suna's puppeteer Kai. Now he faced off with Sanada, the Sunagakure genin who excelled in taijutsu and wind-based ninjutsu. People were getting antsy for the whole thing to be over with.

Gaara in particular was restless. He didn't like being away from Sunagakure for very long, and even though he hadn't been in Konoha more than a few hours, it had been more than three days since he'd departed the Sand village.

His familiar Suna, named for the village he lived for as well as her own sand-shield defenses, cuddled herself up against his chin, making her happy little chittering noises, similar to Kankurou's cat back at home. Purring, it was called with cats. Well, this noise wasn't quite the same, but it meant the same thing coming from her that a purr did coming from a cat.

He could feel her rapid little heartbeat through her fur as she scrubbed against him affectionately. She was probably the only creature to accept and love Gaara completely and unconditionally.

"That genin is good," Shizune said. "I had no idea Neji-kun was that good of a teacher. That kid was a real screw-off in the Academy, I'm pretty sure. I recall Iruka-sensei really tearing his hair out over Saidan."

Tsunade grinned. "Well, Naruto had something to do with that, I think. I believe Saidan got stuck in the missions room with Naruto when Naruto was in a bad mood. I don't know how that happened..." She chuckled evilly. "Iruka says that ever since then, Saidan was an attentive student... which is why he managed to graduate. And it seems like he's blossomed under Neji's tutelage."

"He's a good strategist too," Temari said admiringly. "He's pulled a few really clever tricks to catch his opponent off guard. It takes a lot to overpower Gatsuno, and he did it with ease. The best way to defeat Gatsuno is to outsmart him, and that's what that kid did. And he's really holding his own against Sanada."

"He moves like Rock Lee," Gaara mused. "Not as fast, but those movements are distinctive."

"Well, Neji-kun was Lee-kun's teammate from the beginning, which means they received the same training," Shizune said. "Gai's influence is all over Saidan-kun, I can say that much, and I'm pretty sure that Gai hasn't worked with him directly."

Gaara's brow twitched with slight irritation, but he didn't bother speaking.

Abruptly, the match was over, when Sanada fell to his knees in fatigue and forfeited the match, having run out of energy, chakra, and strength.

"Whew!" Tsunade let out a relieved sigh. "My backside is starting to ache from sitting here so long. Kazekage-dono, I do insist that you and your escort take advantage of our hospitality. We have prepared some rooms for all of you. It's too late in the day to start a journey toward Sunagakure."

Gaara grimaced slightly. He really wanted to be back home, but he could tell that Tsunade wasn't going to be refused here, and Kankurou, Temari and Sanami in particular seemed quite exhausted. "Very well, but I want to be on my way home by early tomorrow. I should not be away from Sunagakure longer than a week."

"I understand. There is another matter I suppose we should discuss in the meantime. The matter of Kakashi."

Gaara paused to seal his gourd back into its scroll. After a few moments, he leveled his gaze at Tsunade. "I cannot spare any jounin to leave you in exchange for him, particularly as he is of little good if he is this unstable. What I saw in that red eye was enough to scare Suna." He hitched his shoulder to indicate the baby raccoon still clinging to him. "I suspect that if I still contained Shukaku, that Shukaku would have reacted. Whatever it is that has affected that eye, it is dangerous and unstable. Unfortunately, I do not know enough about this Sharingan to understand which parts of what I saw are normal to this doujutsu, and which are the potential infection."

Tsunade rubbed her chin idly as they walked toward the administrative building. "The Uchihas were very secretive about their kekkei genkai. Almost as closed-mouthed as the Hyuuga are about theirs. However, I do believe that there is some classified information about them somewhere in the archives. Uchiha Itachi was not the first Uchiha to become an S-class criminal missing-nin. Because of the varied nature of the Sharingan, some documentation was taken of the abilities and techniques, though Kakashi has stated that the research is only half complete at best, due to the evolving nature of the Sharingan. I'll see what I can find for you. That's the least I can do, if you're going to try and fix whatever's wrong."

"A question, Hokage-sama."


"Is Hatake Kakashi part of the Uchiha lineage?"


"Then how does he have this Sharingan, if it is a kekkei genkai?"

"His Sharingan is a transplant. One of his teammates from when he was very young was a young man named Uchiha Obito. On Kakashi's first mission as a jounin, they were ambushed by Iwa-nin, and in the fray, Kakashi lost his left eye. They were then caught in a ninjutsu-created cave-in, and Obito was crushed under the rocks. The other teammate was a young medic-nin named Rin, and Obito offered to give his intact Sharingan eye to Kakashi, because his injuries were fatal. Thus, Rin transplanted the Sharingan from Obito to Kakashi. However, because Kakashi is not of the Uchiha lineage, he does not have complete control over the Sharingan, and so he keeps it covered when he does not need it, to prevent it from draining him of chakra needlessly, since it consumes a substantial amount of chakra.

"Incidentally," Tsunade added, almost as an afterthought, "I know all this detail partly because I've made Kakashi tell me, and partly because I knew Rin. I was one of the ones who trained her in medical ninjutsu."

"I presume this Rin is dead?"

"Yes. She died years later, however; her death is not connected with Kakashi, other than she was his teammate at one time."

"So, this Sharingan of Hatake Kakashi's is a parting memento from a teammate."

"Yes. From what I understand, there is substantial personal guilt on Kakashi's part, however, though I am not sure it is entirely justified."

Gaara digested this for a few minutes as they walked. Their jounin escorts -- Shizune, Naruto, Kankurou, Temari and Sanami -- ranged silently behind them.

"Guilt, you say," Gaara spoke again after a lengthily silence. "So this Sharingan of his is a constant reminder of something that haunts him with guilt?"

"That is my understanding, yes. You could say he has survivor's guilt -- feeling guilty because he survived when his teammate died. But I think there's far more to it than that."

"That... complicates matters." Gaara frowned. "On the other hand, if it is primarily this guilt that is triggering this doujutsu to go awry, then perhaps the solution won't be as complex."

"So, you think you can help Kakashi-sensei?" Naruto asked hopefully.

"I will try, Naruto. I cannot promise that anything I do will be of any help. For all we know, I could very easily make it much worse. But I will try."



"Sakura, I really must insist that you use your head once in a while," Lee said gently, trying to steady his fiancée's erratic movements. "Next time, tell your father a polite but firm 'No.' Honestly. This is ridiculous!"

"Sorry," Sakura grimaced as she stumbled. "Wow... is it raining? Everything's all watery."

After the Chuunin Exam finals had ended, they had gone about their daily duties, and at six o'clock they had gone to her parents' house for dinner. Unfortunately, after dinner, Haruno Noboru had insisted that his daughter and future son-in-law join him in a celebratory bottle of sake. Lee had managed to talk his way out of it, reminding Noboru about his reputation with the "Drunken Fist" method, but Sakura had felt obligated to make up for Lee's teetotalling. She was really feeling it now. That sake had been really strong.

They were walking home... or rather, Lee was walking home. Sakura just sort of stumbled along beside him, too drunk to know exactly what she was doing.

"Wups, my bad," she muttered as she tripped over her own feet and nearly went face-first into the pavement.

"Good grief," Lee said finally, scooping her up into his arms. "I will just carry you. It will take less time this way."

"I'm sorry," she murmured as she snuggled against him. "I'm such a burden to you, aren't I?"

"I never said that."

The weather was nice. It had cooled down pleasantly after sunset, and the moon was nearly full, casting a glamorous half-light on the main street of Konoha. Lee was in no huge hurry to get home; he enjoyed a walk in the moonlight like this, though he would have enjoyed this more if Sakura were sober. It rather killed the romantic mood, smelling sake on her breath and feeling her sag in his arms from alcohol-induced fatigue. She will be hung over in the morning if I do not do something drastic when we get home.

"I don't deserve you, Lee, but I sure do love you," Sakura murmured as she pressed her forehead against the curve of his neck. "I dunno what you see in me, I'm such a lame twit who doesn't know what's good for her. Dunno why you'd wanna marry someone like me."

She has gotten to the maudlin stage, I see. Lee couldn't think of anything to say to reassure her, since she was being rather unreasonable as it was, so he kept his silence.

After about ten minutes of silence, Sakura shifted in his arms.



"Does it worry you?"

"Does what worry me?"

"The prospect of Sasuke coming back."

"Should I be worried?"

"Er," Sakura looked confused. "I dunno. But everyone keeps asking me if I'm sure I'm doing the right thing, cuz I spent so much time and energy on Sasuke."

"Put the thought from your mind, Sakura. There is nothing for you to worry about. Whatever will be, will be. If I must, I will challenge Sasuke to a duel for you."

She giggled rummily. "I'm sorry. I'm getting depressing, aren't I? Oh god I'm going to want to die in the morning. I can just see the hangover from here!"

"Not to worry, Sakura," he said reassuringly. "I will see to it that you do not get a hangover."

A few minutes later, they arrived at his home. As he snapped on the lights, he set Sakura down on the sofa and went into the kitchen. Sakura tried to gather chakra together, to see if she could somehow purge herself of the alcohol using chakra, like Tsunade sometimes did after a particularly strident bender. But she couldn't hold her concentration long enough to mold the chakra.

"Here," Lee thrust a large glass of water under her nose. "Drink this. Hangovers are caused by dehydration, so to prevent a hangover, I will see to it that you drink lots and lots of water."

"'m not thirsty, though," Sakura said.

"Drink it anyway. Trust me, Sakura, this will help keep the hangover away." To emphasize his point, he did his favorite "Nice Guy Pose." Sakura giggled as she took the glass and started drinking, though her stomach protested that it didn't need any more fluids.

Half an hour later, Sakura was sure she was going to explode. Geez, how many liters does he intend to force into me? Her eyes were getting so heavy from fatigue -- both alcohol-induced and genuine -- and she was ready to spit out any more water he tried to dump down her throat.

Instead, he scooped her up, carrying her to the bedroom and depositing her on the bed. In her sloshy state, she couldn't really follow what he was doing, but complied anyway. Adroitly, he stripped her of her usual clothes and dressed her in her favorite nightgown, then tucked her into the bed, and sat down on his side of the bed -- on top of the covers -- and just looked at her silently.

"Er," she said. "Aren't you going to... join me?"

"I will. But you need sleep. Drinking lots of water and getting lots of restful sleep should keep you from getting a hangover."

Abruptly, she teared up. She sniffled and wiped her eyes.

"Sakura?" He was alarmed. "What is it?"

"Damn you, Lee, you are so goddamned selfless, it makes me so... I don't deserve you, why the hell do you love me?"

Interesting twist. Now she is in the aggressive stage. She runs the whole gamut multiple times before the alcohol wears off, if I am recalling correctly.

He just smiled benignly at her. "Go to sleep, Sakura. Everything will be better in the morning."

"I sleep better in your arms, you know," she whimpered, changing moods again. Drunkenness was certainly entertaining, for a while, but mostly it was a hassle.

He leaned down and kissed her forehead. "I will be back in a few minutes. I need to pick up the house before I go to bed."

She grunted as he left the room to attend to the chores. By the time he was done, she had fallen asleep. He changed into his sleeping clothes and climbed into the bed as well, turning out the light on the nightstand by the bed. As darkness consumed the room, he pulled her close and curled around her, sighing contentedly into her hair.

"I love you, Sakura. If Sasuke comes back and wants you for himself, he will have to get through me first." Unless you want to go to him, he added silently. I would never chain you down.

"Pfft," she muttered sleepily as she snuggled against him, "I can take him m'self. Bastard deserves to be wiped along the floor."

She does not really mean that, Lee told himself. But it is nice to hear.



Coming soon: "Part Three: The Konoha Ninja Way" wherein Gaara and his escort depart for Sunagakure, and Lee spars with Gai, and things just get complicated.

END NOTES: Terminology, for those who are a bit rusty:
"Geji-mayu" is what Naruto calls Rock Lee. It translates as "fuzzy eyebrows" or as the English dub anime calls it, "Bushy Brow" and is Naruto's nickname for Lee. He doesn't mean anything rude by it, and Lee doesn't seem to mind.
"Ero-sennin" is what Naruto calls Jiraiya. It means "perverted hermit" or as the English dub anime calls it, "Pervy Sage" and is Naruto's nickname for Jiraiya. Jiraiya doesn't particularly like the nickname, but he seems to get used to it.
"Nakimushi-kun" means "Mr. Crybaby" and is what Temari calls Shikamaru, much to his chagrin.
Hitai-ate are the "forehead protectors" (headbands) worn by all shinobi with symbols of their home village. Because they can be worn anywhere, or not worn at all, I have chosen to use the untranslated word rather than the term "forehead protector" or "headband"
Doujutsu is performing a jutsu with the eyes, such as with the Sharingan or Byakugan, though there appears to be other forms of doujutsu that aren't kekkei genkai.
The word "Sabaku" in Gaara's name, written as it is with the kanji that it is, actually means Sand Waterfall, though there is a homonym (using different kanji/kana) that means desert -- hence the standard translation of "Sabaku no Gaara" as "Gaara of the Desert"
A kunoichi is a female ninja. It is often used in the series as a synonym for ninja or shinobi, when talking about a female. Thus it's used here sporadically much as it is in the series.
A kekkei genkai is, basically, a "bloodline limit" -- referring to a talent or trait that is passed down genetically. The Sharingan and the Byakugan are the two most well-known kekkei genkai in this series.
"Katsu" is a word spoken to bring focus (as demonstrated by Deidara in his fight against Gaara). However, here I use it through Gaara as a means of saying "Hold it! Don't move!"
A Jinchuuriki is a human host of one of the nine different tailed demons (called "bijuu"). Gaara was the Jinchuuriki for Shukaku, the Ichibi (One-Tailed) and Naruto is the Jinchuuriki for the Kyuubi (Nine-Tailed)

Hidden Villages:
Konohagakure: "The Hidden Village of Leaves" is the principle village of the Land of Fire (Hi no Kuni), and is headed by the Godaime Hokage, Tsunade.
Sunagakure: "The Hidden Village of Sand" is the principle village of the Land of Wind (Kaze no Kuni), and is headed by the Godaime Kazekage, Gaara.
Kirigakure: "The Hidden Village of Mist" is the principle village of the Land of Water (Mizu no Kuni), and is headed by the Mizukage.
Iwagakure: "The Hidden Village of Rocks" is the principle village of the Land of Earth (Tsuchi no Kuni), and is headed by the Tsuchikage.
Kumogakure: "The Hidden Village of Clouds" is the principle village of the Land of Lightning (Rai no Kuni), and is headed by the Raikage.
Otogakure: "The Hidden Village of Sound" is Orochimaru's creation. It has no kage.
Kusagakure: "The Hidden Village of Grass"
Amegakure: "The Hidden Village of Rain"

Attack names:
Asa Kujaku means "Morning Peacock" and has not yet been officially translated into English
Omote Renge means "Front Lotus" or "Initial Lotus" though the English dub calls it the "Primary Lotus"
Ura Renge means "Reverse Lotus" though the English dub calls it the "Hidden Lotus"

Honorific suffixes, for those who are rusty:
-chan is used mostly towards females, and indicates a long-term, close friendship. Generally one only uses it for someone one has known since childhood. From the outset in the story, Naruto has always referred to Sakura as Sakura-chan.
-dono is an antiquated suffix that is less formal than -sama but more formal than -san. It is often used to express either submission (when used in place of -san) or equality (when used in place of -sama). In this story, Tsunade uses -dono toward Gaara to indicate their equality in ranks.
-kun is used mostly towards males that are younger. It is a more informal, if you will, form of -san, but less intimate than -chan. It can be used towards girls, but is not usually. Rock Lee is well known for using -kun and -san for nearly everyone he meets, though I have him referring to Gaara with the -sama suffix out of respect for Gaara's office as Kazekage.
-obaachan is used to address someone who is much older. In this context, "baa" essentially means "Honorable old woman." It's sometimes translated as "granny" but is actually very respectful, as long as the addressee doesn't mind being referred to as an old woman. The male equivalent is "-ojiichan"
-oneesan is used to address a woman who is older than you and with whom you have a relatively close, familial bond, though blood relations aren't necessary. The word "nee" means older sister, "san" is a respectful suffix, and "o" is a modifier that adds respect to the word. Thus, saying "Temari-oneesan" is like saying "Big Sister Temari-san." The male equivalent is "-oniisan." Sanami uses -oneesan to express that she is a member -- by way of marriage -- of Temari's family and that she views Temari as a sister.
-sama is used to express great respect and humility. It's often translated as "Lord" or "Lady" though royalty or nobility have nothing to do with it.
-san is the most generic and safest suffix to use.
-sempai is used to address a superior within an organization. Rather like "brothers" or "sisters" within a cult or coven. This is the "big brother/big sister" term. Its counterpart is "-kohai" but isn't used nearly as much, because calling someone "-kohai" can be taken as offensive or demeaning if you're not careful.
-sensei is used to address a teacher, instructor, or an expert in a particular art. Also, -sensei is used to address doctors.
-shishou is used to address one's master in a particular art, such as martial arts, or in the case of Sakura, in the healing arts.
(paraphrased and interpreted from source: Wikipedia's entry on "Japanese Titles"