Naruto Fan Fiction ❯ Training for the Job ❯ Volume 3 Chapter 28 ( Chapter 38 )

[ Y - Young Adult: Not suitable for readers under 16 ]
Volume 3 Notes: Erm... while most of the reviews for last chapter were generally positive, I apparently did something last chapter to really offend someone (who left an anonymous review), who said that it ruined the entire fic for them and he wouldn't read any more. Er... okay. Dunno what that might have been, but okay. Might have been nice if the guy explained WHY last chapter turned the first thirty-six chapters of the fic into something which was so, in his word, 'sucky,' but oh, well. That, and there was another person (whose anonymous review arrived suspiciously close to the first one) which said that my writing was 'sub-par' last chapter, again without explaining why (although he, at least, was willing to say 'his' (I'm assuming he means Kakashi's) characterization as one reason for not liking the chapter... despite the fact that I pointed out that Kakashi's actions and motives have yet to be fully explained, although that has nothing to do with 'writing quality.') it was so bad. If you're going to say something like that, I'd like to know just why you hated it so, outside of mentioning things I've already said will be further explained. I mean, come on, do you really think I'd have Kakashi that crass without reason? And, while I completely understand not liking my characterization of Kakashi so far, what does that have to do with my writing quality? I also had my first flamer who actually signed his name. I dunno if he'll actually read this or not, though, and there's not really much I can say to him. He says I made 'Kakashi so out of character he doesn't appear to be Kakashi any more.' Well, I can certainly understand that impression, even if he's basing this on a Kakashi who was obviously not acting normally before any explanation of his abnormal behavior could be given. He said I was 'bad-mouthing the character and data books,' which I will deny -- I think they're fun. I think the movies and some of the filler anime is fun, too. I just don't think they're reliable sources of canon material. He says I was badmouthing the translation of 'Yellow Flash.' I was... but only because the literal translation becomes a pejorative in some regional dialects of English, and would prefer a more idiomatic translation. As I said, before, the most correct idiomatic translation is 'Blond Flash,' because it was his hair color and his speed which were being talked about. Yellow Flash is the literal translation. I have no issue with either one being used by other people. I would prefer to use Golden Flash as a compromise between the silly-sounding 'Blond Flash' and the insulting 'Yellow Flash,' but no-one here seems to like that, so I (as I have already said) will use the insulting but literal 'Yellow Flash' in the future. He says I've made Naruto 'so overpowered, that even kakashi [sic], who is a GENIUS with the SHARINGAN, is subpar to Naruto,' despite me repeatedly explaining that while he has surpassed Kakashi (and really, I haven't even said that much, yet, story-wise. Perhaps in the author's notes somewhere...), he's still only on par with the Jiraiya-Orochimaru-Tsunade-Itachi-level elite (all of whom are beyond Kakashi IN CANON), as Jiraiya spent the two and a half years drilling Naruto into being better then he, himself. Finally, he says my 'Authors notes are even longer then the story itself.' While my authors notes are, indeed, long (longer then I would like), I have yet to write even a single chapter where the authors notes are longer then the story... but he might not have been 'literal' when mentioning that. However, I can understand all of his criticism. I just don't have anything to say to any of it beyond what I already have, so... tough beans, friend. Go in peace, and enjoy other stories where Kakashi is the overpowered one, there are no author's notes, there's never anyone who acts in a manner not of their canon nature at any point for any reason, and the data books are considered so canon the information in them cannot be ignored, even if Kishimoto himself does at some point in the future (for, as I said, at best their information is only reliable at time of publication, and all such information is subject to change). The funny thing is... I'm not sure the critics would have reacted quite so strongly if I hadn't had Sakura react so strongly. Possibly that's because the explanation would have been last chapter and not this one, but I had to have her react that way. Well, we'll see what people think after this chapter.
Chapter 28
After one panicked squeal, Sakura was immediately off of Naruto and guiding him -- rather forcefully -- into a position on the floor that allowed the legendary ninja to examine him. "What can I do?" She snapped forcefully. The expression on her face, in her eyes, showed the same intensity which she must have been feeling as she'd casually snapped her former teachers arm into pieces. Jiraiya didn't want to tell her what he believed to be the truth -- that there wasn't anything she could do -- but perhaps he could get her out of the way.
"I don't know yet," he answered. "I need to get a closer look at the seal, to confirm my diagnosis."
Naruto winced as Sakura's hands unintentionally dug into his shoulders as she held him down. "Um, guys? I feel fine. There might be a small problem, yeah, but there's no rush -- I'm not in any pain, and I've been dealing with this for several days with no ill effect."
"Naruto-kun," Sakura said, shaking her head sadly. "There are illnesses you don't always know about until they kill you. I'm not going to risk your life, so don't even think about trying to get up."
"It's not that serious, yet," Jiraiya said softly. "But I would like to perform an immediate check-up, to see how long we have to wait."
Naruto sighed in defeat. "Go ahead. Sakura won't rest until you do, and I doubt she'll let me get much rest, either. And not in a way I'd enjoy, either." A slight squeeze on his shoulders reminded him that, while she was his girlfriend, Sakura was perfectly capable of shattering his bones if he teased her too much.
Jiraiya knelt down in front of him and started examining the seal. Frowning, he said, "Mold some of the red chakra -- actually perform a technique, any technique, with it -- will you?"
"Uh, okay," Naruto said, then made a seal that he'd never seen before. A red stream started flicking its way around the room. Suddenly, Sakura squeeked, jumping slightly.
"Hey! What... how...."
"What happened?" Jiraiya said, looking up in surprise.
"He... well, um, he... pinched me," Sakura explained, blushing. "I think. I'm not sure... especially since he couldn't have done it with his hands. And perhaps pinch isn't the right word...."
Naruto chuckled. "Heh heh... remember, Sakura-chan... Perverted ninjitsu."
An odd expression quirked on her face. "Naruto... might I remind you that I just destroyed the arm of our mentor with one hand? And that I'm holding you down with two?"
The fox-like smirk on his face didn't change. "Oh, I know... but I'd hope you'd wait until I deserved it before doing something like that. That was a very minor example of some of the things I've come up with, let me assure you."
A threatening squeeze on his shoulders accompanied her answer. "Naruto... I can't tell you anything about using them against anyone else, because there may be a time and place for the use of your 'perverted ninjutsu' against certain individuals... but if you ever try and use them on me without at least warning me, first, you're going to wish that I only treat you the same way I just did Kakashi-sensei, got it?"
"Uh... right."
Deciding he'd been warned enough, she gave a slight smile and bent over to whisper in his ear. "Maybe one day, when we have some privacy, I'd be willing to volunteer to be a practice dummy for some of them, one day, though...."
Naruto flushed. "Um... I..."
He was saved from having to answer by Jiraiya, who had been conducting his examination the whole time that they had been 'flirting.' "Naruto... we have a small problem."
"What is it?" Sakura asked, suddenly frantic, before Naruto could answer.
"Nothing we can't handle," Jiraiya said hesitantly. "When Naruto tried to access the kyuubi's chakra, I saw what was going on. You were right -- it is like filling a water balloon while trying to plug a hole at the same time. There is a way to fix it, but... we'll need a volunteer."
"I'll do it," Sakura said vehemently.
Hana, who had been staying well away from the trio but remained close enough to hear what was being said, coughed. "You don't even know what you're volunteering for, Sakura-chan. Wait until he explains, first -- it might be something rather perverted, knowing him."
"I don't care," Sakura growled. "If it helps Naruto, I'll do it."
Opening and closing his mouth for a few moments, Jiraiya finally sighed. "Well... I guess you'll do. In fact, since I happen to know you two are engaged, it's probably just as well you're so willing...."
That Sakura didn't even react to finding out that Jiraiya knew about the engagement -- and had revealed it to Hana -- told Naruto just how panicked she was about him. He was touched, but he didn't want her doing anything rash for his sake. "If Sakura-chan might get hurt because of this," he said, "Then I refuse."
"She won't get hurt," Jiraiya sighed. "But she will be... changed."
"Changed how?" Naruto asked.
"I don't care," Sakura said. "Changed, hurt... killed. Naruto's life is on the line, right? I'll do anything to save him."
Jiraiya sighed. "The seal has been... damaged, and there is no way to truly repair it. There is, however, a way to turn the 'hole' into something else -- a 'link.' I can join the seal to another seal, on someone else, and some small part of the kyuubi can be 'shared' between Naruto and the other person... and there would no longer be a leak."
Sakura looked at Naruto, who seemed rather amazed but wasn't continuing to insist that she drop the idea right then and there. She grinned. "Well... I don't think I'd mind that."
* * * * *
"Kakashi-san," Iruka sighed as he watched a trainee medi-nin -- one of the administrative ninja Sakura was trying to teach basic medical ninjitsu to -- work on the silver-haired jounin-oyabun's arm. "I really don't understand what you even thought you might accomplish by saying that. Even if Sakura-chan hadn't... intervened, I don't know what you were expecting to get from Naruto."
Kakashi sighed. "Well, you have to understand something -- I had no idea it would effect Naruto-kun like that. I haven't been able to watch him deal with that tragedy, nor did any of the people I talked to mention that he's been so hurt by the incident."
"Still," Iruka sighed. "Why did you even mention it? I knew you were intending to debrief him on his time in charge, but I thought you'd be pulling out his amateur mistakes and things like that -- not going after things which we all know he had no control over."
"He... didn't exactly make amateur mistakes, from what I've been able to read," Kakashi sighed. "A few of his decisions were questionable -- for example, bringing a brothel into a ninja village or assisting the Rainbow in thier war with the Grass -- but they were just that: Questionable. Meaning his reasons might actually stand up to scrutiny, if asked. I'll admit, I haven't read all of the reports, yet, but what I have been able to read seems to indicate he ran a tight ship. That, and the people here like him in charge...."
"Which brings me back to the question of just what you were attempting to accomplish," Iruka reminded him.
There was a long pause. Kakashi gestured to the medi-nin, who was just finishing up, and waited until they were alone in the room. "The moment we arrived in Blossom, I sent word to Konoha that I had returned. I recieved a message back in reply, containing orders...."
* * * * *
"This... could get a little awkward," Jiraiya said, looking from Sakura to Naruto and back.
Hana, deciding to look after the young couple's best interest for them, stepped in front of him. "Just how awkward? You aren't going to be requiring that Sakura strip or anything, are you?"
Jiraiya flushed. "Of course not! Well... not completely. After all, she's a couple years too young for my tastes...."
"Hey!" Sakura protested.
Jiraiya coughed. "While this process might be... simpler, if you and Naruto were nude, all it requires is that you both expose your bellybuttons... and, um, try to get them to touch each other as close as possible."
Sakura stared at him blankly, while Naruto blushed like no tomorrow. "Er," he stammered. "T-touch? Touch bellybuttons? Uh... uh... how would you even do that?"
Flushing faintly, Sakura took charge. She reached across and unzipped his jacket. "I'll figure it out," she said, reaching slightly into his pants to untuck his shirt and lift it up enough to expose his stomach -- including the needed bellybutton. She untucked her own shirt to expose her entire abdomen and lay down perpendicularly over Naruto. "Um... this is about as good as we're going to get. Start... doing whatever it is you need to do, got it?"
Having just been a witness to what she could do when angry, Jiraiya did not hesitate to follow her orders. He formed a few hand seals, summoning some chakra to his fingertips. Wordlessly, he slammed the five fingers into Sakura's exposed back. Hana, observing the event, had to look away at the explosion of light... but Naruto and Sakura's combined screams were hard to ignore. They didn't sound quite... human, although the animal-like roars they were shouting apparently didn't attract the attention of anyone outside of the room. Hana couldn't see how not, but then remembered that no-one had come in when Kakashi screamed, either... which probably meant that, for one reason or another, there was no-one within shouting distance of the room. Come to think of it, she hadn't seen a soul since she got within eyesight of the administrative builting -- a rather odd thing, since Blossom was starting to thrive, and so its populace was often out and about even in more 'official' places like that.
Finally, the light show was over. Sakura rolled over, turning to cuddle up to Naruto as they both seemed to know that the experience was done. They were breathing very heavily, and Naruto seemed to have passed out, but niether seemed hurt. However, there was something odd about Sakura's appearance...
It took Hana a few moments to notice. The seal, which she had managed to see a couple of times on Naruto during the months that they had been working together and training together, was now visible on both Naruto and Sakura's stomach. The seal on the boy who had been the kyuubi's container since his birth, however, seemed to be fading as it always did... but the new seal was not. It took Hana a moment to realize that it wasn't fading, and she immediately looked concerned.
"Was this... side-effect expected?" she asked softly, hoping not to disturb the couple. They both appeared to have passed out after moving to hold each other, and she didn't want to wake them. Sakura, however, stirred.
"What... what side-effect?" she asked weakly. Her eyes were barely open, but she seemed to be awake enough to talk.
"Several have appeared," Jiraiya sighed, explaining to the younger of the two girls while allowing the elder to listen in. "A couple of them I was expecting. You passing out, for example, doesn't surprise me -- this kind of seal technique has rarely been done, but when it has it always drains most of the energy out of the participants. You should both recover quickly, however, and none of the other side effects I thought might occur should last for very long. There is one I wasn't expecting, however."
"What is it?" she asked.
Hana coughed. "Um... look at yourself."
She cracked her eyes open enough to focus on her surroundings, and looked down at the exposed part of her midriff. It took her a few moments before she recognized what it was. "Oh..."
"Naruto still has his, of course," Jiraiya coughed. "But his is fading from sight, as it always does when he isn't actively molding chakra. Yours... is staying visible, at least so far. You'll have to bear this mark for the rest of your life, I fear."
A small smile appeared on her face. In a small voice, the lilt in it making her sound slightly intoxicated, she whispered, "Cool. His mark... proof that I'm his... and that he's mine, too, I suppose. I will wear it with pride..."
That thought finally out of her lips, she collapsed into sleep.
"Well," Jiraiya started to say, not noticing. "That seal isn't just used for Naruto -- it's actually the remains of the technique used--"
"Shh," Hana said. "Let her sleep."
* * * * *
Sakura 'awoke' inside a set of dusky, torchlit catacombs. She had never been in any place that resembled this, before, and she woke in an odd way, as well -- she was already standing by the time she'd become aware of her own consciousness. She knew she wasn't asleep, either, because she'd pinched herself the first moment she could, as suspicions had set in right away. However, she was fairly convinced she wasn't in the real world, either.
She felt herself being drawn down the seemingly endless hallways until she came to a larger chamber... outside of a sizable jail cell. A jail cell large enough to fit... well, some sort of creature taller then the trees, anyway. She hadn't seen many in her life, but she knew there were a few out there -- most of which were summoned by ninja's. This looked even larger then what would be necessary to imprison the Slug Lord (well, Lady... at least, Sakura assumed Katsuya was a female) she'd seen Tsunade summon all of once while conducting a demonstration of the technique. She stepped towards it, awe on her face, until she noticed something -- in place of a proper lock, there was a paper seal holding the doors closed. And there was something moving on the other side of the bars.
"Who's there?" she demanded, putting more courage into her voice then she really felt.
"Ah, it's you," a raspy voice growled. The thing moved closer, although it was still hard to make out many features. A wall of Reddish-brown fur was all Sakura could see of it... but that was enough to make a pretty good guess that this was the kyuubi. "Once I realized what needed to happen for you humans to repair my prison, I suspected you would become my second jailor, Mate of Naruto."
Sakura blushed. "We... we aren't mates yet," she pointed out. "Although I suppose it's only a matter of time, assuming we live long enough."
"You will," the kyuubi laughed, his loud growls echoing all through the catacombs -- and Sakura's head. "I swore an oath to that boy -- if he ever took a woman I approved of as his mate, I would protect he and his own forever, even should our seal be broken. You are one of those few I approve of... and, I suppose, it was just as well. The boy would have died, taking me with him, before even considering an alternative."
"How do you intend to protect me from in there?" Sakura asked. "I'm certainly not letting you out."
"You can't," the demon growled. "Only the boy can -- at least, only he can from inside this world. But no... I will protect you as I have protected the boy. I will heal you when you are hurt, and give you chakra when you need it. I suppose I might even be able to help you fight on occasion, as I do the boy when he calls me out... but I'm not even certain I can. Your children will be able to, however... your 'bloodline ability' in action, even if it isn't really me fighting alongside them, but rather their... you call them 'overlay personas.' If the need arises, I will attempt to act, however. And the boy, my... my master, will always defend you."
She could hear the venom as the kyuubi said the word 'master,' but she found herself trusting the demons words nonetheless. "I... thank you, I guess."
"Know this, Mate," the kyuubi snarled. "I care nothing for your thanks. I am not human, and do not have a human's needs. I don't require your gratitude in order to do what I feel must be done. I do, however, expect other things from you. You must... I believe the word is 'train' with the boy. Learn how to use my powers, as he has. Learn the techniques he uses that I benefit him with the most. And... I know you are a healer, Mate. Never use my strength to heal anyone but the boy -- you can use my strength to support you while you drain yourself of your own, but to use my strength for most of your healing ways would affect the both me and the person you use my strength on poorly, unless they are already prepared for me like the boy -- and now you, yourself -- are."
"I will remember this," Sakura promised.
"Good," the kyuubi sighed. "Now... I find your presence bothersome in this form. You are a much more pleasant site to look at through the boys eyes. Rejoin your world, Mate... we will speak again."
* * * * *
"So," Hana began as she accompanied Naruto and Sakura through the hospital hallways while they made their way to Kakashi. Jiraiya returned to his home, citing 'exhaustion,' but Hana was curious about everything that had happened that day. Kakashi had said something about trying to provoke Naruto, but she wanted to know why and what he was planning to gain from it. Hana figured Jiraiya was just going off somewhere to peep on girls or something, since she was the one who had just returned literally from a war earlier that day and she wasn't even winded. The couple had awoken at almost the exact same moment Jiraiya left, fully recharged. Sakura, in fact, felt more chakra running through her then she ever had in her life, and all evidence of Naruto's health problem were gone. They had decided to try and find Kakashi, and to actually heal him, before he decided to run off to Konoha for the treatment after all. "When were you going to let people know that the two of you are engaged?"
"We weren't," Sakura sighed. "And I still won't, if you'll help keep the secret. Naruto asked me on my birthday, so I told him 'yes, but not yet.' I'm not sure when I want to get married, but it isn't now, so...."
"So, you want to keep it a secret so that people like me don't keep bugging you about when you two plan to set the date," Hana finished for her. "I understand completely -- one of my cousins had the same problem, only she was forced into an early marriage with her beaux so that she didn't trigger a certain clause in our clan's bylaws which might have forced her into an arranged marriage, otherwise. Considering the Haruno clan's own internal structure and the fact that Naruto is the last of his clan--"
"For now," Sakura muttered under her breath. For some reason, that seemed important to her -- that Naruto not be the last of his clan. She wasn't ready for children, yet, obviously, but she would be the one to ensure that he wasn't.
"--I don't think you'll have that problem."
"Sakura-chan, er, wasn't that the room we were supposed to be going to that we just passed?" Naruto asked.
Sakura blushed. "Oh, yeah. Let's go."
Kakashi's eyes widened as the trio entered his recovery room, and Iruka immediately stood in front of him. "If you're here to follow up on your prior attack," Iruka said. "Please allow Kakashi-sama the opportunity to explain himself, first."
"I'm not here to attack him," Sakura laughed. "I'm going to fix him up, instead. Sorry, sensei, but I think I lost my head there for a moment. I would like to hear what you were thinking, though."
"I wasn't, obviously," Kakashi sighed as Sakura started gently probing his injured arm. "Ow!"
"Sorry, sensei," Sakura apologized, her face not showing any sincerity. "You may not have been thinking, but you surely had some sort of motivation for attacking my... for attacking Naruto like that, right?"
"Um, yes," Kakashi said, looking at her nervously. "I was acting under orders."
Sakura paused in her examination. "Orders? Whose orders?"
"When I arrived in Blossom -- and after figuring out just where the hell everyone was from a rather drunken sannin who was supposed to be on watch -- I sent word to the hokage about my return. I immediately recieved a letter in response: There were odd rumors coming to Konoha about something resembling the kyuubi appearing all over these region. I was to provoke Naruto's anger and see if there was any hint that the seal was at all slipping."
An audible crack was heard as Sakura worked on his arm. "I'm sorry," she said politely. "The trainee medi-nin who healed your wound also started setting your bone, but he set it wrong and I had to re-break it. So, you acted merely on these rumors?"
"Er," Kakashi hesitated, sweating slightly. "No. I was going to ignore it, but then word came in from your little action in Rainbow about how a 'kyuubi attack' had lead to much of the Grass ninja surrendering without a fight. Based on that, I felt there might be some truth to these rumors, and felt duty-bound to at least make the attempt. I was trying to get Naruto angry, not upset...."
"But my attack was the first time I'd ever tried that technique," Naruto protested. "And where else would I have used it? I've been stuck here, doing your job, for the past several months."
"I can confirm that he's been here the whole time," Hana agreed.
"Perhaps... perhaps there is a second kyuubi?" Iruka suggested tentatively.
There was an uncomfortable pause as they all considered that possibility before Sakura shook her head. "Not possible. There has only ever been one kyuubi."
"And how would you know?" Iruka asked. "I don't know that for certain, and I was taught about the kyuubi as a child. Knowledge of that particular creature has been restricted from you students since... well, since it was sealed inside of Naruto."
Sakura lifted her shirt slightly. "Let's just say I've got a pretty reliable source for information on him."
Iruka and Kakashi both stared at the newly exposed seal until Sakura started getting embarrassed and shoved her shirt back down. That shook them both out of there stupor. "So... when did that happen?" Kakashi asked casually.
"Shortly after you were taken off to the hospital," Sakura explained. "A kinjutsu Naruto used during the mission damaged the seal so that it risked both his and kyuubi's life. A... well, I suppose you could call it a 'release valve' was needed, and... um, I volunteered."
"Interesting," was all Kakashi would say.
"Actually," Iruka said, "I'm more interested in just where those kyuubi rumors are coming from."
A horrible suspicion came to Hana's mind. "Kakashi-sama... just who gave these orders?"
"That was why I was initially suspicious," Kakashi said. "The orders did not come from the hokage, but from the leader of the council."
Naruto stared at him blankly, but Hana already knew what had happened and was quietly cursing to herself. "Kakashi-sensei... who is the head of the council?"
"Traditionally," Kakashi sighed. "We use the head of the most populous -- though not necessarily the most powerful -- clan in Konoha. Coincidentally, both are the same at this time, as the Hyuuga clan is currently the most populous clan in Konoha. Hiashi Hyuuga has been running the private training facilities for their clan, so the clan matriarch is ruling in his stead."
Sakura took a deep breath, shaking her head. "Damn... is this because of Hanabi?"
Something about the way she said that caught Kakashi's attention. "Hanabi-chan? What's wrong with Hanabi-chan?"
"I guess you didn't read all of my reports, huh?" Naruto sighed.
"I've only gotten through most of the missions as well as the information about your handling of the financial crisis -- nice work on that, by the way. I was sort of stuck in a quandary about how to solve that one. I'd have liked to have done what you did, but, well... I didn't exactly have the chance."
"So none of the reports about current events in Konoha have reached your ears?" Sakura asked.
"No," Kakashi admitted.
"The Hyuuga clan is involved in a civil war," Hana explained, deciding to summarize things for expediency's sake. "There are three factions. The current head of the council -- the woman who only goes by the name of 'Hyuuga-sama,' and who is the matriarch of their clan, has defied Tsunade's orders by recalling all of her clan she believes may be sympathetic to thier cause. Naruto directly intervened, pursuing Hanabi when she left the village and persuading her to remain here... as her father, the head of one of the factions, and Hinata-chan, the head of the third, as well as the hokage, requested. So far, Tsunade-sama is able to prevent fighting in the streets, but it seems as if it is only a matter of time. Hyuuga-sama blames Naruto for Hanabi's defiance."
"Crap," Kakashi sighed, leaning back in his chair and flexing his mostly healed arm. Sakura had been working the entire time they had been talking, and he'd barely noticed... well, he'd barely noticed since his arm had been re-broken, that is. "She was laying a trap, wasn't she?"
"Seems like it," Sakura sighed. "Naruto.. if this civil war hasn't resolved itself by the end of our year's service here, we aren't returning to Konoha."
"I know," Naruto sighed.
Kakashi grinned slightly. "That shouldn't be so bad, should it? If Hana-chan and Sakura-chan's behavior is any indication, you seem to have a bit of a loyal following around here... and it seems as if you've got a good handle on things around here. You did a pretty good job, actually, as the chief."
"Better then you did!" Naruto exclaimed.
"But now that I've learned what I needed to from my small folly in attempting to anger you," Kakashi said, flexing his arm once again. "Perhaps it is time we had a real debriefing, now...."
* * * * *
Notes: I said this chapter would have a 'partial' explanation of what's been going on during my preview last chapter. The part I explained was his odd behavior towards Naruto. The part I hid, in case you missed it, was any explanation for the odd financial situation Naruto found himself in when he took control. That explanation does come... but not until much later in the story, by which time most people in Blossom have forgotten all about it. It's too fresh in everyone's minds, right now, despite what's been going on lately. It's years away, fic time... sorry. (The mystery involves the incident which concludes Volume 3, so the revelation is going to be very near that end. I figure we're somewhere between two thirds to three quarters of the way through this volume, and I'm talking last two or three chapters, here.) There have been one or two suggestions that were downright frighteningly close to my intended 'joining' of Sakura to the seal. I have intended this 'joining' for quite some time, however. To prove I've been planning this all along and I was NOT drawing too heavily from my readers for ideas, I'll point out that I'd commissioned a piece of fan-art (from someone whose handle is Cambria-chan) which has been delivered, is visible on a certain NaruSaku centric forum, and will be uploaded to my user page on some time in the next few chapters. It was supposed to coincide with Sakura's eighteenth birthday chapter, as I pulled the fanart request from that chapter, but I may decide to post it sooner. That the kyuubi seal would be on Sakura's belly was the biggest spoiler that picture would include, but there is another minor one which is set that chapter, so I am a bit reluctant. And, believe it or not, Sakura's eighteenth isn't supposed to be THAT far away, chapter-wise. We're about to have a bit of a time skip which should make progress towards that pretty quick. I'll let you know when I upload that pic to my profile -- especially if I do it sooner, rather then later. Before I start getting complaints about Jiraiya's dereliction of duty being out of character, just as I received complaints about Kakashi from last chapter, I would like to explain that this is the start of a subplot involving him. Things aren't all what they seem with him, either. Of course, I WISH I didn't have to mention things like this, but since some people don't seem to get that people acting unexpectedly may have a reason for acting that way, I figure I have to mention it. Next Chapter: The chuunin exam approaches, and it is time for the genin to prepare to head out. But who will be allowed to take the test, and who will not?