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RE: Flames of Resolve

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Tsuna blinked and immediately closed his eyes when bright light assaulted his eyes, sending a sharp pain to his temples and dotting his vision with hazy white spots. He groaned, nursing his throbbing head.  

"My my, Tsunayoshi-kun, what predicament have you found yourself in this time?"  

"Byakuran!" Tsuna exclaimed, looking at Byakuran in surprise.  

Before him stood, in all his glory, Byakuran, with a pack of marshmallows in his hand, cheerfully munching away. They were standing in what looked like a completely white space. He immediately noticed he had to look up to the other Sky and felt himself panicking. He reached for his hair and ran his fingers through the strands which were noticeably too short. He patted his hair to make sure and reached towards his face with wide eyes. This didn't feel like his face… Not only were his hands too small, his face seemed to have shrunk as well. He could feel the panic rising like bile in his throat. What had happened? What had Byakuran done this time?  

"No need to work yourself into a frenzy, my dear Tsunayoshi-kun. Marshmallow?" He held out his bag.  

Tsuna ignored the sweets, still feeling too unbalanced by the situation to pay attention to that. "What happened? How did I get here? And how do I get back!? Why am I so small!?"  

"Ah… Well, to be blunt… You died. That's your new body now, get used to it." The other smiled cheerfully. He leaned towards Tsuna and patted him on his head. If Byakuran was trying to reassure him, he was failing. If was trying to irritate him or to make him panic, he would get full points!  

"What?" asked Tsuna blandly. He tried to stay calm and wanted to avoid becoming hysterical. The other Sky was having enough fun with the situation as it was. It wouldn't be the first time Byakuran had made him panic because he thought Tsuna's reaction were hilarious. Though something told him that Byakuran knew exactly how he felt right now and the older Sky was clearly enjoying his sorrow.  
 
"Yes, you died, quite heroically as well, and somehow ended up here, in this world which is strangely parallel to your own." Byakuran peered through his lashes to watch Tsuna's reaction, chuckling softly.  

The guy was just waiting for Tsuna to start freaking out!  

Not wanting to give the other pleasure of seeing his fear, he shoved the casually thrown 'you died' to the back of his mind and focused on something else. He crossed his arms over his chest, mostly to keep them from flailing about hysterically.   

"How is this world 'strangely' parallel?" he asked sceptically, raising an eyebrow.  

Byakuran shrugged, not falling for his calm posture. "Well, it's nothing like our earth to start. One might almost think you got stuck in some sort Edo-period like Japan. With ninja; apparently, there are shinobi everywhere." He smiled brightly. "Somewhere along the way someone discovered chakra in this world and started teaching others how to use it. Flames are still something that exists in this world, but either no one ever found out about them or people forgot. Wars broke out, of course, so no one is really sure what exactly happened and when it happened." He shrugged again. "It was before my time, so your guess is as good as mine." The albino had the audacity to wink.  

"And why am I so small, exactly?" he asked with a grimace, dreading Byakuran's answer.  

Byakuran hummed. "Think of it as recycling. You're in the body of a child who died and whose spirit already passed on. This happened quite a few years ago, actually. You're only now remembering your last life." He said calmly, chewing on a marshmallow without giving any signs that he heard Tsuna sputtering at that blunt explanation.  

"Excuse me?" Tsuna yelled in shock. "Recycling? Did you kill someone for this?" Please no, please don't let him be responsible for the death of a child. He flinched violently at the thought.  

"You're such a bleeding Heart, Tsunayoshi-kun. No need to worry. The boy died, due to something that happened on the day he was born, no big deal. And I had nothing to do with it. Honest. The kid being dead is the only reason you are where you are right now. Think of it as reincarnation gone wrong. You've been 'reborn' for years now. You only remember being you now because you got hit in the head. It was a very hard hit."  

Byakuran looked way too casual when explaining this, even throwing in a wink at the end again, Tsuna could feel his amusement. He grits his teeth. "That does not make me feel better." He dead-panned while taking a deep breath. "At all!"  

Byakuran shrugged without remorse. "Nothing to be done about it. Those injuries killed him before he could heal the most important damage. I managed to shove your soul in his body before anything could happen to throw this world out of balance. The kid had quite the destiny ahead of him. He's not unlike you on that point. This, however, is a world he didn't survive in. We got lucky both you and the body accepted the merger."  

"Why would you do this?" asked Tsuna stunned. "And what destiny?!"  

Byakuran stopped smiling. The amused air around them quickly fell away as the other Sky turned serious. "You were dying, Tsunayoshi-kun." He started, looking more serious than Tsuna had ever seen him. "You were dying and even three Suns, including the Arcobaleno and strongest sun Reborn, could not help you. One of the three brightest Skies was dying." He paused briefly, as if he wanted Tsuna to grasp the severity of the situation.  

Tsuna gulped, his body hunching in on itself, as if to hide from the pain.  

"And you really think the other two Skies of the Trinisette would have done nothing? It's only thanks to Yuni seeing you die because of her powers, that we got to you in time. You were dying. You would have died." He paused again and took a deep breath to keep calm. "So, I did what I could to save you. There was nothing to be done in our world, so I did the next best thing. I did not get to choose where you would end up. It's a miracle I managed to get in touch like this. I won't be able to do it again. The chances of finding the right world again, are non-existent. I cannot take you back. You've seen what could happen."  

"Like what happened to Ghost." Tsuna gulped, remembering what had happened to Byakuran's alternate self as he was dragged through dimensions. The Mare Sky nodded. "Yuni agreed to this?"  

"Exactly. Together the three of us are the Skies of the Trinisette. We weren't going to abandon you. You've been given a second chance. Just like I did, in away… Yes, you're alone, for now. Yuni and I will take care of your family, but know that there is no way I'll be able to do this again. Your guardians will not be able to join you here but that does not mean you can't have guardians again. A bright Sky like yours could never be limited by one set of guardians. Whatever happens, Tsunayoshi-kun, remember you are a Sky, always and foremost. This world is different, but you'll always have that. Good luck! Oh, and just so you know, your name is Naruto now!"  

The last thing he saw before the bright white light blinded him again, was Byakuran's soft smile.  

He shot up gasping for breath. Still struggling to breathe, he placed his hand on his chest as he tried to calm his breathing. Dark spots were hindering his vision.  

He closed his eyes again to help himself focus.  

"Uzumaki?"  

He could feel himself slipping in Hyper Dying Will mode. It wasn't on purpose but it had become an almost automatic reaction when he started panicking, especially in unknown situations. There wouldn't be any visible flames, only his eyes might briefly change colours and while people around him couldn't see his bright orange flames, he could still feel them coursing through his body and the familiar feeling helped him calm down somewhat.  

He blinked as he tried to take in the foreign surroundings. A man in a strange uniform was crouching before him as he sat in the dirt. He didn't look that old, in his early twenties maybe. He wore mostly blue clothes with a bulky green vest. His hair was black and put in a high ponytail. He had dark brown eyes that watched Tsuna with concern. He had a strange horizontal scar on the bridge of his nose and a metal plate with a strange symbol was worn like a headband on his forehead.  

A bunch of children stood around them, watching him with wide eyes.  

"Uzumaki-kun?" the man asked gently.  

Tsuna flinched as a brief but bright memory assaulted him.  

"My dream is to become the greatest Hokage, that way the whole village will stop disrespecting me and treat me like I'm somebody. Somebody important."  

"Shut up! Why do you think we're fighting? Because we're still gonna have a snowball fight and watch fireworks together! That's why we're fighting! That's why we're getting stronger! I still want to laugh with everyone, BUT IF YOU DIE IT'S USELESS!"  

Memories from what could only be both his lives assaulted him. Even if he only felt familiar with some of those brief memories, and they had to be memories because he could recall that last one in detail, he knew they were real…  

He felt dizzy. His hand came up to cradle his head, but he quickly brought it back down before his eyes as both his head and fingers felt sticky. Blood… His hand was covered in blood.  

"Can you stand, Uzumaki-kun?"  

"Uzumaki, get back here! Stop causing trouble all the time!"  

"I consider everything that happened to be precious moments of my life. The pain. The suffering. The fun… And I am here right now, because everyone was there for me. I couldn't have accomplished anything by standing still, without anybody's help. I treasure every moment I have spent here. Unlucky? I feel pretty lucky. This is my resolve."  

He was going to assume Uzumaki was his new name…? Byakuran had mentioned the name Naruto, if he recalled correctly. Uzumaki Naruto? Was that him now?  

"Monster."  

"I don't need this kind of power. If you want me to inherit such mistakes then I will wipe out the Vongola!"  

"I don't want you around that child, son. Stay away from him."  

"W-what?" Tsuna stuttered, not completely sure what he wanted to ask. What was happening?  

"You got hurt during a spar, Uzumaki-kun." Replied the man before him.  

A spar? What? Why would he…?  

One of the children spoke up, but Tsuna couldn't make out which one. "Iruka-sensei, shouldn't you take Naruto to the hospital? He's losing a lot of blood…" It sounded like a boy and Tsuna turned his head to see if he could spot him.  

"Of course, Nara-kun." The man addressed as Iruka-sensei replied. "Once I'm sure of the gravity of the head injury your classmate received, I'll know if I should take him to the school nurse, or the hospital."  

Tsuna started blinked excessively, mostly to help clear his vision from the memories.  

"They never should have let that thing enter the Academy."  

"Do it with your dying will!"  

"Why isn't he answering, sensei?"  

Tsuna startled.  

"It might be best to take you to the hospital, Uzumaki-kun. Try to stay awake now." Tsuna felt himself being carried, but he still lost the fight for consciousness not much later.  

-00-  

Tsuna sighed as the last of the nurses left the room. They finally left him alone.  

Tsuna stared at his small hands. He was a kid again…Ten years old, if he could make sense of those memories he seemed to have. Ten years old, and a student in the Ninja Academy, where he had taken part in a spar with another student, and had hurt his head in an unfortunate series of events…  

A lot of different nurses – or had they been doctors? - had come in one after the other to put him through tests. Some had done tests he recalled from his last life, but other had used a green energy to examine him. Or at least, that was what he had assumed they had done. At least his headache was almost gone…  

They had taken his clothes and he had had to pull on a hospital gown. And what the hell had he been wearing anyway?  

Tsuna wearily eyed the outfit one of the nurses had cleaned of blood and laid in the cupboard with his other personal belongings. There was also a strange green pair of goggles and a green frog purse. Both had been gifts he had received for his birthday a while back. Neither packages had had a card, so he didn't know who had send them. But he treasured both items greatly. Even now, feeling more Tsuna than Naruto, he felt very attached to them.  

His clothes, on the other hand… were bright orange. Sure, he liked the colour. Since meeting Reborn, the colour orange had represented everything he had gained, his friends, his family, and the growth he had made as a person.  

But to dress completely in orange was a bit much even for him…  

The jumpsuit he wore wasn't damaged. There had only been a lot of blood on the vest.  

He wiggled his toes. Why had he been wearing sandals? He had started paying attention while in the room, and it seemed most people in this strange world wore them. Even the doctors and nurses in the hospital.  

"Uzumaki-kun? May I come in?" An older woman was standing in the door opening of his room. She wore a white lab coat, much like the nurses from before. It was probably some uniform. Her long white hair was pulled up in a high pony tail and while she was obviously old, she had a youthfulness about her. She looked serious but her blue eyes were smiling at him.  

Tsuna nodded. Going by the white uniform she obviously worked here, so he didn't think he could deny her entry.  

"My name is Yamanaka Yukiko." She started as she sat down in the chair next to his bed. "I have the preliminary results for the tests they did earlier."  

Tsuna wearily eyed the folder she waved at him. She smiled gently and opened it. "The speed at which your head wound is healing is exceptional, Uzumaki-kun. In every other case that would be a good thing, but head wounds are delicate. The scans show you have at least a severe concussion. Meaning your brain got shook around pretty good. Your healing seems to be that quick that your head doesn't find the time to get everything back where it belongs before the healing is done. This means there is a possibility that your brain will heal in the wrong way. Do you understand what I'm trying to say, young man?"  

Tsuna gulped. "Yes, ma'am, but what does that mean exactly? For me?" Was this going to cause permanent damage? The thought scared him.  

She smiled reassuringly. "You don't need to worry too much. You'll still be able to become a ninja. Time will show us what the consequences will be. Still there shouldn't be any lasting disabilities. You are very young and resilient."  

He noticed she used a lot of complicated words when speaking to a young kid… He wasn't sure if he would have understood a word of what she was saying if he hadn't remembered being Tsuna… Still he felt fine now, and aside from remembering a past life, he didn't think anything was wrong with him.  

"Your teacher did mention a slight change in attitude, and you might experience some brief memory loss, but for the moment that seemed to be the worst of it." She was still smiling at him. "There is however one more noticeable change and that is your eye colour. Have you looked in the mirror recently?"  

He shook his head in denial. He really hadn't dared to yet. He knew he looked different, but he hadn't felt brave enough to face the changes yet. Maybe later in, when he was sure he was alone. Still a change in eye colour could mean many things… As Tsuna he had had brown eyes, Naruto had... blue eyes? Yes, blue eyes, and in Hyper Dying Will mode his eyes became amber coloured to match his flames.  

"Mind you, the changes might go way again or you might be stuck with them. Only time will tell… We'll be seeing a lot of each other, Uzumaki-kun. We'll have regular talks, even when you get discharged from the hospital."  

So, they had assigned him a psychiatrist? Or this world's equivalent? It made sense that in a village where a large part of the population are paid assassins, a whole squadron of psychologists were always on standby. But still, it seemed a bit overkill to assign one to a ten-year old who got hit in the head.  

"How long will I need to stay here?" he fidgeted in the bed.  

"It's too early to tell. We'll keep you till at least tomorrow and depending on how you feel, you might be able to go home then."  

He bit his lip, not sure if that answer pleased him or not. He had never enjoyed the hospital, but going home would mean being alone… And while he could use some time to get used to the recent changes, being confronted by an empty apartment wasn't something he was looking forward to.  

"I'll be sharing the most basic of this news to your teacher. No details of course, but enough so they know what to expect from you when you go back to class."  

He nodded. That made sense.  

"For now, what you need most is rest. A nurse will bring you something to eat this evening and I expect you to sleep as much as you can. I'll see you tomorrow morning, but if anything is wrong, please don't hesitate to ask."  

He nodded again.  

He had slept most of the afternoon after Yamanaka-sensei left. He had been woken by a nurse to eat his dinner. She had left him alone shortly after and he had eaten the strange and formless mass that represented food. It hadn't tasted like much. Putting his plate aside he slowly stood up and walked towards the only window in his room.  

It felt strange looking out into the village. Part of him felt calm at seeing the familiar scenery and another part, a bigger part, wasn't sure what he was seeing. Houses built in what reminded him of an old traditional Japanese style, but with electricity poles all over the place. People were walking through the streets and Shinobi were jumping between rooftops. Ninja should be a normality for people raised in a ninja village, but somehow, when he thought of Shinobi he could only recall seeing Reborn in his ninja cosplay with his Leon headband.  

Thinking of his old mentor made his heart ache and his soul long. Shaking his head to disrupt those thoughts he turned back towards the village.  

There was a huge mountain side at one end of the village, with four faces carved in the surface. There had been a monument like that in his old world, but he couldn't recall where or what it was named. He had never seen it in person, but he vaguely recalled a teacher talking about it…This one was the Hokage monument, named for the faces of the Hokage who had ruled the village.  

He grimaced as he recalled the need of his younger self to become Hokage, to become a shinobi, a killer in the name of the village. They were ten and already starting to learn how to do that. It disturbed him that anyone thought it was okay to create what would be considered child soldiers in his old world.  

Ninja… Shinobi…  

In this world, apparently, he would be training to be an assassin for hire. He had been looking forward to it. He wasn't sure how he felt about that… After all, he had taken over one of the most well-known Mafia families in his last life. He hadn't been given much of a choice back then, but in this life, he had jumped at the chance. Not being a shinobi had not been an option for young Naruto.  

It should feel strange that he felt like two persons at the same time. It felt like the 'Tsuna' part of him was more in control than the 'Naruto' part. Maybe that was because Tsuna had more experience living in general or because in his previous live he had gotten used to dealing with weird situations, he wasn't sure. He didn't really mind being Tsuna more than Naruto. He had been Tsuna longer than Naruto after all, and all he could associate with Naruto was loneliness.  

He turned and went back to sit on his bed. It only took him a moment to gather his resolve before bright orange flames erupted around his hands and lit up his forehead. The feeling was familiar and brought him a sense of peace.  

He was so grateful he could so easily access his flames in this new life.  

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Through meditation, Reborn had taught him to delve in his core, where his flames were created. There was another energy there, but he barely noticed that. What hit him hardest were his bonds, or the lack thereof…  

After harmonizing with his guardians, he had created a bond with them. That bond had allowed him to feel their flames in his core even if they weren't physically with him. And now those bonds were gone, ripped apart! He could feel the empty hole left behind and he had never felt lonelier.  

Tears streamed down his face and he had to use his hands to muffle his sobs as he cried for his loss. He turned around and shoved his face in his pillow as he clung to it.  

He fell asleep again shortly after, exhausted.  

-00-  

Naruto had always been a lonely boy, Tsuna mused the next day. He had fallen asleep early yesterday, exhausted after all the change, hurt and stress of the day. He had gotten a good night's sleep and consequently had woken up way too early. He had enjoyed watching the sun rise, despite feeling depressed and wondered when the nurses would bring him breakfast.  

It hadn't been by choice, but he had been lonely none the less. Tsuna didn't have a clear view on all of Naruto's memories, but let's be honest, no one remembered their toddler years… And he had been/was only ten years old.  

Reincarnation wasn't easy. He still felt more Tsuna than Naruto and he wasn't sure that was ever going to change…  

Still, he could only gape in shock when someone decided to visit him while he was hospitalised. Iruka-sensei smiled at him as he stood in the doorway.  

“It’s good to see you’re doing better, Uzumaki-kun.” The man admitted.  

Tsuna bit his lip. “You’re my sensei, right?”  

The man blinked in shock, but quickly hid his surprise. “Yes, I am. May I come in?”  

“O-of course.”  

The man came in and sat on the seat next to his bed. Tsuna fiddled with his blankets, not sure how to react.  

“Your doctor told me.” He said after they sat in silence for a while. “That you have some trouble with your memory. My name, is Umino Iruka, but all my students call me Iruka-sensei.”  

Tsuna nodded. “They’re not sure if I’ll ever get back to how I was. I heal quickly and apparently in this case, I heal too quickly.” He rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly.  

“There is no need to worry, you’ll be just fine, you’ll see.” The man tried to reassure him. “Do you have to stay here long?”  

“They aren’t sure. Yamanaka-sensei wants to see me later in the morning to see how I am this morning. Since I heal so quickly they want to evaluated me every few hours, I guess.”  

“Well, I’m glad you’re doing better.” Iruka-sensei smiled at him.  

Tsuna felt a bit confused, because he hadn’t gotten the impression his teacher had ever paid any sort of attention to him. If anything, the man had always ignored him.  

“Oh, that reminds me, can you bring me my assignments for class, sensei?” Tsuna asked. He had never been an excellent student, and Naruto certainly wasn’t either. He wasn’t sure about being a shinobi, but he was absolutely certain that Reborn would find a way to travel to this world and kill him if he had but a vague suspicion that Tsuna was failing in school. So, he might as well try to pass his exams in a few months, and if he did decide to become a shinobi, these lessons would come in handy.  

His teacher watched him with wide eyes. “The change of attitude is going to take some getting used to. But I’ll be glad to help in any way I can.”  

End chapter: Iruka POV of the fight and Naruto getting hurt:  

Something wasn’t right. Iruka wasn’t sure why he felt that way, but he had been in enough trouble to know he should listen to such feelings when he had them. Years of playing pranks and being on active duty had honed those instincts. He might only be a chuunin, but that was only because he had chosen not to advance any more. He loved teaching, even if those kids gave him migraines more often than not.  

Still, there was no indication for trouble on the academy training field. He was supervising a spar between two children, just months before their graduation. Uchiha Sasuke and Uzumaki Naruto. The Uchiha was advanced, especially in comparison to his classmates. However, compared to the graduates during the war, most of these kids … Even the clan children seemed to play at being ninja instead of trying to become one. And he still wasn’t sure how he could make them understand.  

Uzumaki Naruto on the other hand… Iruka still wasn’t sure what to think of the kid. In his head, he knew Naruto was just a child like any other, but in his heart, he could still hear the horrors of that night, more than 10 years ago. The boy was full of energy and very loud, always trying to get as much attention as he could. And wasn’t that just a stab in the back to realise Iruka himself had acted just the same way after losing his parents?  

He was so deep in his thoughts, he only noticed what happened while it did, too late to prevent injury. Naruto… tripped? Or had lost his balance somehow while dodging Sasuke and had gotten hit by the kunai the raven-haired boy had clutched in his hand. Everyone around the training field could hear a crunch, whether it was from where Sasuke hit Naruto or from where Naruto fell to the ground, head first, Iruka would never be able to tell.  

He rushed towards the blond, easily making it there before anyone else moved, and gently lifted the boy from the ground in his arms. There was an ugly gash on his forehead, disappearing in his hairline, covering his face in blood. The boy seemed unconscious. Iruka briefly wondered how young the boy looked like this, before he checked his pulse.  

“Uzumaki?” He gently spoke to the boy while he checked the wound in his hair. The wound didn’t feel that bad, and while Iruka knew that head wounds looked worse than they were, he had heard that crack. The head was very fragile.  

“Sensei, is he alright?” asked the Yamanaka heiress suddenly.  

He looked up, his other students were gathered around them. “Alright everyone, back up a little. Ino, I want you to go get Mizuki-sensei to take over the class while I make sure Naruto is alright.”  

The girl pouted briefly, but turned and did as he asked.  

"Uzumaki?" he tried to rouse the boy again.  

The blond’s eyes briefly opened, and kept fluttering as he looked around. Iruka frowned as his eyes tried to focus on him. Did Naruto’s eyes always have that colour?  

Iruka f’s frown deepened when there wasn’t even the smallest hint of recognition in those strangely coloured eyes as they studied him. It was almost as if his student saw him for the first time… That couldn’t be good.  

"Uzumaki-kun?" He tried again.  

The boy flinched as one of his small shaking hands came up to cradle his head. Naruto stared almost curiously at his own blood which now covered his fingers.  

"Can you stand, Uzumaki-kun?" He needed to know how badly the child was hurt. But it seemed almost inevitable at this point that he’d have to take him to the hospital.  

"W-what?" the boy stuttered after a while.  

"You got hurt during a spar, Uzumaki-kun." Iruka tried to explain.  

The boy looked up at him with huge eyes, clearly asking him what was going on, and Iruka felt his heart clench.  

"Iruka-sensei, shouldn't you take Naruto to the hospital? He's losing a lot of blood…" asked Nara Shikamaru suddenly. The Nata heir frowned at his blond classmate.  

"Of course, Nara-kun." Iruka replied to reassured the worried boy. "Once I'm sure of the gravity of the head injury your classmate received, I'll know if I should take him to the school nurse, or the hospital."  

Naruto started blinked excessively, mostly as if he couldn’t see very well.  

"Why isn't he answering, sensei?"  

Iruka was really worrying now, he had never seen the blond act like that. "It might be best to take you to the hospital, Uzumaki-kun. Try to stay awake now."  

He was only vaguely aware that Mizuki had appeared on the training field as he gathered the boy in his arms and shinshuned away to the hospital.  

TBC.  

Chapter Text

He was released later that same day. He was glad he only had to spend one night in the hospital and thus he was very glad to leave. While Iruka-sensei hadn’t stayed long to visit, he still liked that conversation better than the one he had had with Yamanaka-sensei later on.

"I heard you had a visitor earlier?" Yamanaka-sensei raised an eyebrow as she smiled at him.

He nodded. “Sensei visited me, but he couldn’t stay long." His sensei did have a class to teach after all, but Naruto didn't mind. He was glad someone had shown up at all.

"Still, bonds are important, even if it’s only with your sensei." She smiled at him. Tsuna flinched as he was reminded of everyone that was left behind. The hole in his heart ached.

Yamanaka-sensei frowned as she noticed his reaction. "Did no one else come to visit you?"

"I… I don't think… I don't really have friends." He had a lot of trouble getting the sentence past his lips. It was a hard truth…

He hated how everything in this life seemed to remind him of his lost family.

Tsuna shifted uncomfortably as he walked through the village. It was starting to get dark outside and he could feel people glaring at him. Some were being subtle about it, while others couldn't be more obvious. It made him feel very small and miserable.

It also made him very twitchy… He was glad he could remember where his/Naruto's apartment was. It would have caused a lot of trouble and awkward questions if he didn't know where to go…

Entering his apartment for what felt like the first time only emphasised his loneliness. Again… The door hadn't been locked. He recalled never really bothering with that. With his heart beating loudly in his ears, he gently pushed open the door.

It was a small, old apartment.

He stepped hesitantly on the wooden floor.

"T-tadaima." He hadn't realised he had spoken.

Paint was cracking off the walls. He entered directly into the living area. There was a place to take off his shoes by the door. There was a square short-legged table on the left side of the room with some mismatching pillows. In the right corner he could see what looked like a small and old open kitchen, with lots of garbage… He would need to clean that soon.

A few potted plants were sitting on the window sill.

There was also an open door with a small hallway with two other doors.

Silently he went to see. The right door revealed a small single bedroom. A western bed, some shelves, a small wardrobe and a large window, showing a strange small, rectangular balcony. He took a deep breath to help him calm down, and made for the wardrobe.

"What the-?"

Orange.

The same jumpsuit. The same bright orange jumpsuit. Over and over again…

Was there really nothing else?

He liked the colour of his flames but this was exaggerated, and if it was anything like the one he was already wearing, these would be too big as well… He had known this, had contemplated this in the hospital yet still, what was the saying? Seeing is believing? He rummaged through the clothes on the bottom and found a pair of simple black pants and an orange shirt.

He really wanted a shower. He had washed at the hospital, but it really wasn't the same.

The other door revealed the bathroom, also old and in need of a good scrub.

It was small, with only the necessaries so he put down his nice clothes on the sink, quickly turned on the water and stripped. Without thinking he jumped under the water, only to shriek as the cold water rained over him.

He jumped back, hand over his mouth. He tried turning the water warm, but didn't find any other switch or button.

Only now did he remember that Naruto never had had any warm water… Something that should be obvious, that would be considered normal to anyone else, had been denied him. He sighed, squared his shoulders and took the quickest shower in his life. In both his lives.

He quickly dried and put on the clothes he had laid ready.

He didn't immediately find a place for his dirty clothes so he left them on the floor, for now. He stared at himself as he briefly caught his reflection in the mirror. He took a deep breath, steeled himself and climbed on the chair next to the sink to get a better look at himself.

He hated being small. It had been a miracle he had managed to reach everything in the shower.

He was blond! He watched as his blue eyes turned wide as he studied himself. Blond, short hair, that still stuck all over the place and a tan. He had six scars, almost like whiskers on his cheeks, but his skin felt smooth. Birthmarks then? They actually looked cool, if he could say so himself.

He was young, he looked like he couldn't be older than seven or eight years old, even if he knew he was ten. Little Naruto had never been taught how to take care of himself and had lived off instant and Ichiraku ramen for most of his meals as soon as the orphanage had thrown him out.

Tsuna himself was old enough to take care of himself, but as Naruto he had been an ordinary child and he was living by himself? What kind of abuse was going on here?

He mind flashed back to the looks the villagers had given him. All Naruto's life they had treated him like something that had been left by the side of the road.

He bit his lips. What on earth had a baby done to deserve such a treatment?

He felt exhausted. As Naruto he had known the villages behaviour had been odd, but now that he had a more adult perspective… That made it even more worrisome.

Righting his shoulders again and taking a deep breath, he left the bathroom.

He spend the rest of the evening cleaning the apartment. It was small so it didn't take too long. He felt quite proud of himself as he looked around the cleaned space. It was still old but the dust and garbage was all cleaned away. The kitchen and bathroom were spotless and he had thrown the entire contents of his fridge away.

He would need to go grocery shopping tomorrow. For now he was too exhausted to even be hungry so he changed and quickly snuggled into his bed.

He fell asleep as soon as his head hit his pillow.

-00-

He had spent his first hospital free day trying to get some groceries, and he quickly came to realise the shop owners in Konoha were a menace. They charged him extra, insulted him and glared at him. As little Naruto he had never known any different, but as Tsuna realised. They might not have physically hurt him, but it was abuse all the same. Still, he tried to get the most necessary stuff first, like good and fresh vegetables and some cheap meat. He stocked up on rice and noodles and bought some seasoning with the money he had left. Other stuff, like soap and other things for the bathroom were brought once a month by a courier. He really wasn’t in the mood to try a clothing store now, even if that meant he had to wear these orange clothes for a while longer.

Getting back in his apartment, Tsuna had fallen silent, with nothing to do. The last few days had finally caught up to him and he had started crying hysterically.

He had died…

He had lost his family, his elements, his mother, his friends… everyone.

He only hoped his family didn’t hurt as much as he did right now…

He wasn’t aware how long he allowed himself to grieve, but Yamanaka-sensei found him later that evening after he had unknowingly skipped their appointment and after a long talk she assured him he could stay home longer if he felt it necessary. Tsuna was going crazy staying alone in his apartment all day. Going back to school might do him some good. Even if he was alone, he had something else to focus on when he was surrounded by other people. He was exhausted when she left. Just as he let her out of his apartment, Iruka-sensei stood ready to knock on his door.

He had a plastic bag in his other hand, and looked surprised when he saw Yamanaka-sensei.

“Ah, excuse me, I hope I’m not interrupting.” He said uncomfortably.

“Iruka-sensei?” asked Tsuna, stunned the man had shown up.

“You’re not interrupting at all, Umino-san, I was just on my way out.” She turned back towards Tsuna. “Now, remember what I said. Take care of yourself, Naruto-kun, and I’ll see you tomorrow at six o’clock.”

“Good night, sensei.” He muttered, still eyeing Iruka.

Iruka watched as the woman walked away and turned back to his student. “I brought your homework and some Ramen to eat.” He smiled sheepishly. “I know you like that.”

Tsuna smiled back as he felt a little better. Maybe he really didn’t have to be alone after all.

“Thank you, sensei.”

The evening started a bit awkward, with neither of them being sure how to act around the other. As they started eating, the atmosphere grew less tense. Iruka-sensei told him about what he had missed in class, and Tsuna relaxed as well. He couldn’t help but savour the food. As Naruto he had loved ramen and suddenly remembering being Tsuna hadn’t changed that. That Iruka-sensei was here, and had gone through the trouble of getting his favourite food and actually eat it with him, meant more to him than the man could know.

-00-

He went back to the Academy the next day, feeling strangely optimistic.

Steeling himself, he entered the classroom early and greeted his sensei. Iruka-sensei smiled softly as the blond approached him. “Good morning, Naruto-kun.”

“Good morning, sensei. Thank you once again for yesterday. It was nice not being alone, though I haven’t had time to start the work yet.”

“No worries.” The man smiled. “You are still supposed to take it easy the rest of the week. If you want I’ll come by again to help you with it?”

“That would be nice, thank you.” Tsuna replied, relieved as he shot the man a shy smile.

Iruka-sensei had stayed a little after they ate their ramen yesterday and they had gone over the material. It had quickly become obvious that Tsuna was far behind his classmates, but he was determined to do better.

“Like we said, take notes, it’ll help you remember later on.” The man winked at him.

Tsuna gave a small smile.

“Go find a seat. Class will start soon.”

He nodded and looked at the rest of the class. The seats in the back were raised higher.

Several of his classmates were already seated, and some of them watched him from the corner of their eyes, but none made a move towards him. So Tsuna found an open seat in the front of the room, far away from the Uchiha boy and his crazy fan-girls.

Naruto hadn't been the kid to come prepared to class. Mostly he had just joked around, not paying any attention. Neither him nor Tsuna had ever been a star student, far from it, but Tsuna had had Reborn as a tutor. The man/baby had insisted harshly on him getting acceptable grades, at the least. Taking notes had become a habit he didn't want to shake off. It also helped that Iruka-sensei had recommended it to him and this way it shouldn’t be too far-fetched that he suddenly started doing so.

So he got his new notebook out from where he had stuffed it in his jacket together with something to write.

"Oi, Uzumaki."

Tsuna looked up. It was a boy, around their age, standing at the desk before him. His black hair framed his face but seemed to defy gravity on the back of his head. His skin was pale and his black eyes looked up at him as he leaned against his desk. Uchiha Sasuke. He looked unconcerned, but his eyes narrowed as he observed Tsuna intently.

"What are you doing with that?" he asked with a raised eyebrow.

Tsuna steeled himself. Knowing he had prepared an excuse didn't make it any more easy to bring it convincingly. "I'm having some trouble with my memories, so my doctor thought it might help me to write things down."

The boy flinched and looked away, even if he tried very hard not to. Tsuna tilted his head curiously. Why would the guy…? Did he feel bad about something? Or was Tsuna imagining things? The pose reminded him so much of Hayato's stance when he felt guilty or embarrassed. Had he been involved in his accident maybe? He did get hurt in a spar, but he couldn’t recall who he had been sparring with. That would actually explain why he was seeking Tsuna out.

"Get to your seat everyone! Class is starting!" Iruka-sensei reprimanded sharply. Sasuke took the seat in front of Tsuna, effectively abandoning his fangirls.

Class turned out to be boring. The theoretical lessons reminded Tsuna a lot of what college classes had been in his previous life. Someone at the front who monologue-ed for the duration of the lesson. He tried to take as much notes as he could about the current subject; the history of their city, but he felt his concentration wavering quickly. It was an interesting subject, but without any breaks and only Iruka's voice to fill the silence, he wasn't surprise that some students, mostly boys, quickly got distracted. Some girls were whispering to each other, or passing notes. A rounder boy was eating some snacks, one boy was sleeping on his desk and another one was … climbing out of the window?! Tsuna watched with wide eyes as a wilder looking boy made a successful escape. Their teacher only noticed when he yelled in triumph and then stormed after the kid, chasing him and effectively abandoning his other students.

Was this usual? He tried to think back and hid his face in his hands as he realised, that yes, this was just a regular day. Although, before Naruto had been the one to escape from the classroom in boredom.

In front of him Uchiha Sasuke turned his head towards the blond and smirked in amusement. Feeling childish, Tsuna stuck out his tongue at the boy and Sasuke's eyes widened. Sasuke's smirk widened and he turned completely, his eyes fixated on Tsuna.

“You’ve changed, dobe.”

Tsuna only smiled brighter, not at all bothered by the insult. He couldn’t really remember much about Sasuke. The kid had been a loner, and really stand off-ish, and he could recall was that as Naruto he had enjoyed fighting with the guy. He liked this a lot better.

-00-

Tsuna sighed in frustration. It had been a week since his head injury and they had just started learning about chakra today. After a long and boring explanation that didn't make much sense to him, Iruka-sensei had taken his class outside.

Chakra was the energy ninja used to fight. Ninjutsu and genjutsu could only be used thanks to this energy. Chakra could be used by moulding physical energy with spiritual energy…

While such a vague explanation could make sense to his classmates, Tsuna felt a bit lost.

Was that why this exercise was so difficult for him?

They had all started seated on the ground, and they were supposed to reach inside and grasp their chakra. He had been trying to reach for an energy different than his flames, but he didn't seem to find any. He vaguely recalled encountering an unknown energy when he had dived inside to inspect his flames and bonds. He really didn’t feel like delving so deep again, mostly because he didn’t want to feel the aching emptiness where his flame bonds used to be. He wasn’t afraid to admit, at least to himself, that he felt lonely enough as it was, the lack of bonds a constant pain in his heart. The thought to deliberately delve into those feelings scared him. They had overwhelmed him the last time. And he didn’t like hurting himself on purpose.

He opened his eyes again and looked around. The children born in ninja clans had mastered this exercise immediately and obviously had had previous training in the matter. Nara and Akimichi had long since wandered off to who-knows-where. Most fangirls had left as well, which was normal as their target, Uchiha Sasuke, had been one of the first to leave.

Once they were the only ones left, Iruka approached him with a worried frown. “Is everything all right, Naruto-kun?”

"Sensei, could you tell me what chakra looks like? I'm having some trouble with this…" he reluctantly admitted. “Maybe if I have a visual…”

"Well, everyone's chakra is different. Mine for instant is blue and almost feels like water."

Tsuna blinked. And frowned… That almost sounded like… He studied the man next to him. If he had to guess for his flame type, he would say rain. He didn’t know Iruka very well yet, but he was calm and serene. He could also explode in a way that reminded him of Squalo. Iruka could definitely be a rain… Rain flames were blue, he recalled, and have shimmers of some kind flowing through them, giving them an appearance similar to rippling water. Could chakra and flames be the same in this world? Or at least related? Intertwined maybe? He had been searching for his chakra while trying to ignore his flames.

He thought back. There hadn't been any visible flames on the other students, but neither had there been in his last life. Not without a flame ring or at least a weapon of some kind. Tsuna himself had been different, but he had been of Vongola blood. Hyper Dying Will mode and Hyper Intuition were unique to that bloodline. Every boss had been able to manifest flames without outside help and even he himself had learned how in the end. Hyper Intuition had been even more rare.

Hyper Dying Will mode and the uncanny resembles between Basil and his father had made him almost certain the boy had been his half-brother. He had never really had a good relationship with his father in his last life. The constant absence and later finding out his father had his flames sealed had strained their relationship. Tsuna's suspicions about Basil had only made it worse. Not that he had ever blamed the young rain, but his father on the other hand…

He shook his head free of those thoughts. Now was not the time.

But back to the matter at hand, Byakuran had said there were flames in this world, right? So he couldn't be the only one to have them? When Reborn had started his training, Tsuna had thought that flames were something unique to the Vongola family bloodline but nothing had been less true, especially once they had travelled to the future. By then he was convinced that everyone in the mafia at least knew about them and a lot of people could fight with them. They had been considered almost a necessity to battle, like a battle aura.

Why would shinobi be different? Maybe not in people from civilian families, but clans who could trace their shinobi ancestry back to at least the Warring States Era… Maybe there were some similarities between Chakra and flames after all.

With renewed resolve he closed his eyes and tried again. He briefly wondered if this was a good idea, but quickly dismissed it. Most of his classmates had already left after all. He couldn't really keep his flames hidden, not if he planned on using them in battle. Not in the long run, anyway. And not everyone could even see flames. This might give him an insight into who might and might not have any possibility of ever becoming flame active. So he reached inside, to his core, hoping to catch another glimpse of the strange energy that seemed to be hiding in his flames.

"Naruto!" Iruka yelled, shocked.

Tsuna tilted his head sideways, opening his eyes, and eyed the man confused. "Sensei?"

The man looked panicked, but as his eyes focused on the orange flames on Tsuna’s hand, the man visibly relaxed.

"It's like fire." Muttered the man. “But it doesn’t seem to hurt you.” He looked almost hypnotized. Tsuna saw him reach out, knew he should do something, but couldn't make himself move. Well, he probably could, but his intuition started nudging him like crazy not to.

They both startled the moment Iruka touched the bright flames. With his right hand, Tsuna grabbed his sensei's hand tightly. His other hand clutched at his chest. A movement Iruka copied as they watched each other with wide eyes. Iruka wasn't flame active, so they weren't harmonizing. Still a tentative bond was forming as Tsuna could feel weak but enthusiastic violet-blue flames brush against his own.

"Wow!" There was wonder in his sensei’s eyes. "What's happening?"

Tsuna didn't find the word to reply. He was too overwhelmed by the feelings that assaulted him. Mostly because he realised he didn't have to stay alone.  Byakuran had told him so, true, but in this case seeing really was believing. He had lost his guardians, his family once. But here was proof he wouldn't be staying alone. He could create a new family for himself! No, he would do so, he mused, determined. He didn’t even care if he stayed the only one with active flames, he would not stay alone any longer!

He shook as tears gathered in his eyes and he leaned forward, almost melting against the older man’s frame.

Iruka startled, but hesitantly put an arm around the younger boy. Tsuna gently released his hold on his flames and basked in the reassurance that he wasn't alone anymore.

"This feels … strange, and at the same time not." Muttered Iruka with awe in his voice as he tightened his hold on Naruto.

Tsuna couldn't help but laugh at that.

Iruka gently scooped the boy in his arms as he stood up. “We should go see the Hokage. He might know what is happening.”

-00-

“Jiji.” Tsuna greeted without meaning to. Iruka didn’t seem to able to stop touching him. Ever since they had formed a tentative bond, Iruka had kept Tsuna within hand reach. A hand on his shoulder, a gentle hand that held his arm to steer him the right way … Not that Tsuna minded. Once Tsuna had found the courage to detach himself from his teacher, they had made their way to the Hokage’s tower. He wasn’t surprised when Iruka tightened his grip again at the casual greeting. Tsuna realised that that wasn’t the usual way anyone greeted the leader of a military dictatorship, but Naruto’s influence in this case was too big. He couldn’t ignore it.

“Naruto-kun. It’s good to see you in good health. I’m sorry I didn’t find the time to come visit you while you were in the hospital.” The old man apologized with a smile.

Tsuna only had good memories of this man. Naruto had adored him, but now that he had more than one lifetime of memories to rely in, he found himself more cautious. This old man reminded him a lot of Nono, the leader of the Vongola family before him. The man had been kind when it suited him, but Tsuna would never forget that that man had once crippled a 5-year old for life. What had he been thinking, sealing a flame active toddler? Looking back the damage that seal had done to him, should have been obvious to everyone involved.

“So, from what Iruka mentioned in his report, he said something about flames?” asked the Sandaime.

Yamanaka-sensei snorted. She had joined them shortly after Iruka had handed his report at the Hokage’s secretary and now the three of them were alone in the office with their leader.

They all eyed her and the Sandaime raised an eyebrow at her. “You set yourself on fire.” She said blunted to Tsuna.

He flushed. "Not really, I mean, yes technically I did, but I … I wasn't hurt! Nobody got hurt."

"Did you mean to get hurt?" she asked sceptically.

"No! I just…"

"But you did set yourself on fire?"

"Sort off, but I…"

"You know you heal faster than almost anyone I know. Any burn marks you might have had, could have been healed before you entered the hospital. You are lucky your teacher didn't get hurt." She remarked.

He felt strangely calm and irritated even as she kept interrupting him. Kept assuming things. Did they really thing he was mentally that bad off that he would deliberately start hurting himself? Not that he had any clue to what he was going to say. He had no idea how to start explaining this. Sorry, it was a special power I had in my past life and I somehow still can use them because someone I know managed to screw up reincarnation? That would go over well. Though the thought of blaming everything on Byakuran was very alluring. A shame no one knew the albino in this world.

Iruka, who was sitting in the chair next to him, leaned towards him, and he saw his teacher was frowning at Yamanaka Yukiko. He probably didn’t like what she was insinuation about the self-harm.

The Sandaime stayed silent, content to watch where this was going.

Tsuna sighed for what felt like the thousandth time today and without saying another word, with a blink of his eyes he entered Hyper Dying Will mode.

She yelped in shock and fell out of her chair. The Hokage flinched back as well, but Tsuna was happy to note that Iruka didn’t startle.

"This is what I did." He said calmly. This stated of mind always calmed him down and helped him think rationally. "And my flames won't hurt anyone I don't want them to."

Yamanaka-sensei gaped at him with wide eyes and he felt the childish need to laugh at her. She really looked funny. It felt satisfying. Don’t get him wrong, he appreciated her help. Even if he couldn’t tell her everything, having someone neutral to talk to did help understanding this world better.

The Hokage on the other hand, had a calculating look about him. And was that recognition in his eyes?

Yamanaka-sensei shook herself, got back up and sat down in her chair again.

"Uzumaki, of course." She muttered with realisation.

He frowned lightly. "Excuse me?" He drew the flames back in, but stayed in Hyper dying will mode.

She shook her head at him and turned towards the Hokage, who nodded at her to speak. "There were rumours, once. About the Uzumaki clan and Uzushiogakure secrets. About a special ability they had. I don't recall all of it. Its' been a while…"

He pouted, feeling disappointed. "I have a clan?" Why had no one bothered to tell him about this? Were they still out there somewhere?

"Of course you do. Or at least, you did at one point. Most of them are dead. Still, Uzumaki is not a name used lightly, let alone a name freely given to just any orphan. What do they teach at the Academy these days?" She finished almost angrily.

Tsuna twitched uncomfortably. Had they covered this before he remembered? He recalled Naruto hadn't been one to pay attention to anything in class, so he might have missed it…

Iruka bristled beside him. “We teach what the village and the Hokage want us to teach. Uzushiogakure hasn’t been spoken about in the Academy since before I was a student there.”

"I think I have some scrolls on this that Kushina once lend to me." She mused absent-mindedly, not at all taken aback by Iruka’s tone.

"Kushina?" he asked carefully, hoping she would tell him more. He still couldn't believe he had a clan. Was this Kushina related to him? A close relative, maybe, if she had been/was in Konoha?

She narrowed her eyes at him. "Like I said, it's been a while. I'll see what I can find with your permission of course, Hokage-sama."

The Sandaime took a deep breath in his pipe and sighed. “Uzu was a small ninja village, most of their shinobi were of the Uzumaki clan. It was very different from Konoha. Before the village got destroyed during the second shinobi world war, the Uzumaki were known for their sealing, their huge chakra reserves, and some of them even managed to activate their secret bloodline. Not much is known, but there were rumours about Uzumaki who could set themselves on fire.”

Lots of thoughts were flashing through his head. The Uzumaki had flames? That was… strangely convenient? Was this Byakuran’s doing? He didn’t think the man could make changes like that, but he had started an revolution/world war across multiple dimensions once… So who knows what that guy was capable of…

Still…

“Is she my mother?” It might be a long shot, but Tsuna’s intuition hadn’t failed him yet. “Kushina, I mean?” He continued as the room fell silent.

“Why would you think that?” asked the Hokage.

Tsuna narrowed his eyes. “Well, Yamanaka-sensei mentioned she loaned her some scrolls about a secret bloodline. She couldn’t have done that if she wasn’t part of the clan. I’m guessing she’s somehow related to me, unless you have other Uzumaki hidden in this village somewhere that I don’t know about.”

The rest of the talk did not improve…

Sandaime’s POV:

He had never known Naruto could get this sassy.

Hiruzen sighed. Whatever had hit his favourite young blond, seemed to have knocked something loose or back into place depending on who you asked. Gone was the loud, obnoxious blond. Before him sat a smart young boy, who looked at him warily. A boy who had just realised the man he had called grandfather his whole life, had lied to him for just as long. He loved Naruto as his own grandson, but he was Hokage before he was a grandfather. This blond was mature beyond what he had ever thought possible of the blond. Hiruzen might have been able to fool the old Naruto, but not this one. This boy was sharp. To regain a bit of trust, he would need to make some concessions. Giving Naruto the information he was asking about would go a long way.

“Yes, Uzumaki Kushina was your mother.” He sighed, defeated.

A frown grew on the boy’s face. “You said no one knew who my parents were.” Naruto accused calmly, but Hiruzen could see the anger in those orange eyes. How strange they seemed to change colour. Was that part of that bloodline? A doujutsu of some kind?

“Your mother was a very powerful kunoichi and she made a lot of enemies during the last war. You weren’t told, to keep you safe.”

“About my father as well? And they didn’t have any friends or family who could take me in?” Naruto snapped as he narrowed his eyes.

Hiruzen narrowed his eyes in reply. He did not appreciate that tone. He was still the kage of this village, and Naruto or not, he would not tolerate such disrespect.

“That is classified.”

Naruto stayed quiet for a little while. Hiruzen could almost see the steam coming out of his ears as his brain worked.

“Would it be possible to visit whatever is left of Uzu?”

“There is no way an Academy student is going to leave this village to look at some ruins.” He dismissed them all. From the way Naruto looked at him, he felt like he would come to regret having said that.

The changes the blond had gone through couldn’t have been bigger, or more noticeable. He knew that, and he had feared… Yamanaka Yukiko had reassured him that while Naruto’s head had been shook around pretty badly, the blond’s mind was still his own. There was no outside (or demonic) influence detectable, as she had told him after the mind walk she had performed while Naruto had been unconscious in the hospital just after his accident. That and Iruka’s suddenly close contact to the boy were reassuring.

This boy would be able to graduate soon. He would need to set some time aside to inform Naruto about his burden. Better it come from him than the boy finding out on his own. Hiruzen feared that would completely destroy any trust between them.

TBC.

Chapter Text

The months after his talk with the Hokage were mostly spent with Iruka. The man continued to come to Tsuna's place at least two or three times a week after classes. They ate together, Iruka helped him with his homework or they just sat around and talked. The more time he spend with Iruka, the more Tsuna began to understand why his primary flame type was Mist. The man blended in, everywhere Tsuna saw him, he merged into the situation as if he had always been there. He was friendly with everyone and everyone seemed to like him. He kept a low profile, not even ranking very high in the hierarchy but Iruka was smart, he could see that calculating glint in the man's eye when Iruka thought no one was looking. Iruka also sparred with him and the man was a lot stronger than Tsuna had ever suspected as Naruto.

The scrolls Yamanaka-sensei had given him were helpful. They didn't contain any information he hadn't known, but they did explain some of the stuff he had already known. Basic stuff; about the different flame types, which types were more common than others, how the bonds between elements and their sky grew, why such bonds were necessary… That kind of stuff. Still, they would come in handy should he one day have to explain why yes, the orange flames were called Sky flames and the blue ones were called Rain flames. People might declare him crazy if he said he had named flames after water… Now he could blame the scrolls.

Tsuna still hadn't made much leeway with his chakra, but Iruka had assured him he didn't need it to pass the graduation exam. After all, so had Iruka told him, the year before another genin had passed and he wasn't able to use chakra at all. Tsuna knew it might be cowardly, but he was relieved. Even with the bond between Iruka and him, he still didn't feel brave enough to delve into that ageing mass of hurt he could feel inside him. Until now, he had been doing his best to ignore the issue and he was happy he could continue to do so. At least for now.

Iruka reassured Tsuna he would help him train and study for the exam if the boy showed him he would take his learning seriously this time. By not taking the ninjutsu test, Tsuna would need to pass the other four tests and pass them with a pass rate of at least 75%.

Genjutsu turned out to be easy. He wasn't sure how well he'd do against more advanced genjutsu, but he had spent enough time around manipulative Mists (Cough*Mukuro*cough) not to be led astray by an illusion of this calibre.

Taijutsu wasn't as hard as he thought it would be. As Naruto, he hadn't studied any real katas, but he had been training up his body and his stamina. Even if he mostly used it to run away from other shinobi after a prank, the fact that he managed to lose his pursuers most of the time was a good sign. Not many people could say they outran chuunin while still in the Academy, and while wearing orange at that.

He had also finally gotten around to buying some new clothes. People still stared, but he had taken Iruka-sensei with him and the villagers hadn't dared to comment. He now wore an outfit that reminded him strongly of what he had worn when he was thrown into the future in his original life. A white and orange sweater and dark cargo pants. He hadn't been able to convince Iruka to let him buy boots, so he was still stuck with sandals.

He remembered Reborn's 'training' and recreating that training was disturbingly easy in this crazy village. He had heavily debated with himself, but in the end, and after calling himself crazy multiple times, he had climbed the first cliff he could find. Which, coincidentally or not, happened to be the Hokage monument. It had taken him hours, but he managed to get to the top without dying, so he counted it as a success. He still wasn't sure why no one had interfered, but at this point in time he didn't know that Konoha was used to crazy training tactics.

Shuriken and kunai handling was also a topic that he had paid attention to as Naruto. His aim hadn't been the best, but he had the basics down. It only took one study session for Tsuna to get the hang of it. He had also discovered that his weapons were able to withstand his flames. He would need to experiment with that later. For now, he knew how to coat his shuriken and kunai in flames without melting the metal.

The written test was the one he had dreaded the most but Iruka had been genuine with his offer for help and they had spent many evenings together delving into books. Logic turned out to be a trait that most people with supernatural powers (whether chakra or flames) sorely lacked. He had always thought of ninja as stealth masters, always hidden in the shadows. Shinobi, it turned out, were very flashy with their powers… Usually Iruka managed to answer all Tsuna's questions, but sometimes the man would need to retreat to the library in his search for an answer. After some questions like: 'It says here that Konoha was founded because a treaty between the Senju and the Uchiha clan but the Uchiha are afterwards never mentioned again, except for Madara's fight with the Shodaime at the Valley of the End. What happened that makes them not be mentioned in the Konoha history and why are they not considered one of the founding clans of this village?', Iruka would search every text he could find, but still not find an answer.

Seeing all the preparation Iruka insisted upon, Tsuna felt embarrassed as he recalled his last two tries to graduate. He hadn't really believed in preparing for his test at the time…

But his efforts paid of. As expected he aced the genjutsu and shuriken part. Taijutsu went very well, as he managed to hold out against his examiner in a spar. He had been most nervous about the written part, but he had felt confident afterwards that he'd done well. Iruka briefly had to intervene as Mizuki (another academy teacher) tried to make him take the ninjutsu test, but other than that, everything had gone as well as he could have hoped. He was still waiting until the last of his classmates took their ninjutsu test. Iruka had asked him to stay behind and wait, so he could give him his results.

The man had smiled proudly as he handed Tsuna his own headband and had cheerfully treated him to some Ramen.

The Hokage had send for him the same evening, after dinner time. Iruka-sensei went with him and waited outside the office as Tsuna went inside. The Hokage sat behind his desk. He was alone in the room and gestured to Tsuna to take a seat.

"Good evening, Naruto-kun." The old man greeted. "Congratulations on graduating."

"Thank you, Hokage-sama."

The man sighed. "I know our last conversation didn't go very well. I hope you'll be able to forgive me for keeping all those secrets."

Tsuna nodded cautiously. He did understand, even if he didn't like it.

"I'm afraid there is another secret that has been kept from you."

Tsuna couldn't believe his ears. So not only had the man kept his parents' identity from him, but also his clan and bloodline, and now this?

"Now that you've become a genin, I can finally tell you."

Tsuna eyed the man doubtfully. As far as he could tell, the Hokage was the one who decided when secrets could be revealed and when not. He was the most powerful person in the village after all, and he made the laws in Konoha. So it's not that he couldn't tell before, it's that he chose not to… Tsuna decided not to say anything and waited for the man to continue.

"On the night you were born, the Kyuubi no Kitsune attacked the village. As you well know, our Yondaime Hokage died defeating the creature."

Tsuna nodded again, fearing where this was going.

"That however is not totally true." Sighed the Sandaime. "The Kyuubi is one of the nine Biiju, creatures made out of chakra. They cannot be killed."

Tsuna gulped. "What happened then?"

"A jinchuuriki was created. The only way to stop a loose Biiju on a rampage is to seal them in a human being. The more powerful the Biiju though, the more difficult that becomes. To seal the Kyuubi away, the Yondaime Hokage sealed it away, in a new-born baby. That baby was you Naruto."

He still wasn't sure how he had gotten back home afterwards. There was a lot of commotion in the tower as he left, but he wasn't really able to process it at that point. He supposed Iruka-sensei had taken care of him because the man had still been there when Tsuna woke up the next day. Tsuna had been in shock, but talking to Iruka afterwards helped a lot.

Even now, he still couldn't understand why the Hokage had chosen to keep that secret from him, while most of the village knew and hated him for it…

Still, he hadn't spent all his free time worrying about the Hokage's latest reveal/ He got his picture taken that week and got his paperwork done. (A personal achievement. Reborn would be, not proud, but content with his work ethics. He used to run away from paperwork as Decimo.) He avoided the Hokage as much as possible afterwards, which wasn't very hard at all.

Meeting Konohamaru-kun had been something else. The young boy's appearance had hit Tsuna like a brick in the stomach thrown by Reborn. The child reminded him too much of Fuuta and Lambo to feel very comfortable around him. Konohamaru hadn't minded and had glued himself to Tsuna for the rest of the day, calling the blond nii-chan all the while.

He had felt like crying. Luckily any adults who saw him only thought he hadn't any experience with kids and thought he felt awkward around the kid. It didn't help that boy seemed to worship him!

Now, Tsuna was waiting with anticipation coursing through him in the back of the classroom. Because he had defaulted on part of his exams, he had automatically been rated last in the class placement. Seemed like all his hard work the last few months didn't weigh up against his abominable grades from the past few years... But he honestly couldn't care less. He had made it, he had become a genin. Uzu was one step closer now.

He still wasn't sure about being a shinobi, but the Sandaime had explicitly stated that as an academy student he would never be able to visit Uzushio. So Tsuna had done some research. Genins were put in teams of three after graduation and given a jounin teacher. After a minimum of 15 D-rank missions, such teams could, with the permission of their jounin-sensei and Hokage, request C-rank missions outside the village. If he could get to that point, he should be able to request leave to visit the ruins of the Uzumaki ancestral home. He wasn't sure what he'd find there, but he knew he needed to find out.

So here he was, waiting for Iruka-sensei to arrive and start with their team placement. The man never ceased to surprise him. Ever since he had first used his flames in this life, he had guessed the man was a Rain. (And didn't the scrolls Yamanaka-sensei give him come in handy when trying to explain why fire was named after weather phenomena? He was sure Byakuran was somehow involved in that. It was way too convenient…) Training his control over his flames had allowed him to delve deeper in the tentative bond that had formed between them. A bond that grew stronger every day. He had been shocked to find that the man was a Mist, with Rain as a secondary flame type. He wondered if it was possible for others to actually use their flames in this world?

"Oya, Naruto, you managed to pass?"

He turned towards the voice. Nara Shikamaru stood before him, rubbing his head with a bored look on his face.

"Ah, Nara-san. Hai, I did." He smiled brightly, unknowingly flashing what Reborn called 'Sky attraction' in the kids face.

The boy looked away with an uneasy look and a blush on his face.

"Who'd have thought you'd graduate, dead last?" Smirked Inuzuka Kiba.

Tsuna just smiled innocently, throwing the boy off guard.

"Oy! Naruto, move your ass!" A pink-haired girl yelled angrily.

"HIIEEE!" He yelled in shock as the girl tried to shove him out of his chair. He managed to remain seated without falling face first to the ground.

"I want to sit next to Sasuke-kun!"

"Huh?" He turned in surprise, and indeed, a bit further along in the row sat Uchiha Sasuke.

The boy stared broodingly at nothing in particular. Not wanting to cause any trouble, Tsuna tried to move to the side a bit to let the now giddy girl pass. Girls were scary… especially this one. Sakura could go from nice and bubbly to downright scary in less than a second.

"Sasuke-kun, can I sit next to you?" She smiled innocently as she shoved past Tsuna. He had to grab the desk not to fall to the ground. The raven didn't react.

"How troublesome." Grunted Shikamaru, annoyed, as he walked away.

"Sit down everyone!" yelled Iruka-sensei as he entered the room.

The man looked around seeing his students getting in their seats. "Starting today, you are all real shinobi, but you are still genin. The hard journey that lies ahead of you has just started. Now, you will soon go on missions to help the village, so today we will divide you in three man teams and assign you a jounin-sensei. You will follow your sensei's instructions in order to successfully complete your missions."

Tsuna fidgeted in his chair, eagerly awaiting the names of his future team-mates.

"… Ok, next team, team 7. Haruno Sakura, Uzumaki Naruto and Uchiha Sasuke."

Really? Tsuna wanted to bang his head on his desk. Why did he have to be paired up with mister anti-social and the fan-girl? Not that he himself had ever really sought out any of his classmates to get to know them, but he had at least made some small talk every once and again. He had no idea why Sakura seemed to hate him. He couldn't remember ever doing anything to her. True, Naruto had had a crush on the girl, but that had died the moment Tsuna emerged from his memories.

He would have much rather been on a team with Nara Shikamaru, the Aburame heir or even the Hyuuga heiress (even if she fainted when he tried to talk to her).

The girl next to him went from completely depressed to ecstatic in a few seconds. Those changes in mood and dare he say personality really couldn't be healthy…

Iruka-sensei dismissed them for lunch.

Tsuna turned towards his new team-mates but Sasuke was already leaving the classroom. Sakura, being the loyal fan-girl, ran after him. He sighed.

"Naruto-kun? Shouldn't you go eat something with your friends?" asked his sensei.

He shrugged. "Don't have any friends, and my team-mates already left."

Iruka bit his lips. "Did you bring lunch?"

Tsuna beamed, "Yes, I made it myself," and silently thanked his mother, Nana, again. She had insisted on teaching him how to cook once he started planning to move out. Never mind that he was moving into the Vongola mansion and had a team of chefs to cook for him. Still, him knowing how to cook had probably saved his live and his wallet these last few months.

Iruka smiled softly. "Hmm, you can eat here if you want. I'll keep you company."

"Thanks, Iruka-sensei."

"Mah, no need for that anymore. You graduated, Naruto-kun. I'm not your sensei anymore."

"Iruka-san then?" Tsuna tilted his head.

Iruka rubbed his chin. "Sounds too formal. I'd like to think we know each other very well by now." He winked.

Tsuna blushed. "Iruka-nii-san then." He muttered.

Iruka laughed. "You're cute when you blush."

Tsuna blushed bright red. He distracted himself by grabbing his bag for his lunch. Iruka smirked at him, clearly pleased with the reaction he got.

Yeah, that bond really was growing at a rapid rate. He couldn't help the answering smile from blooming on his face.

-o-o-o-

Team 7 turned out to become weirder by the second. Their sensei, one Hatake Kakashi, had turned up hours late. Everyone else had already left the classroom, even Iruka-nii, and when he finally arrived he briefly poked his head inside the door and told them to meet him on the roof.

Tsuna only got a good look at his sensei once they all sat down on the roof. The man had gravity-defying silver hair and covered most of his face with either a face-mask or his headband. Tsuna sweat-dropped just looking at him. Well, he had wanted to meet some 'real ninja'…

"Well," started the man, "Let's begin with introductions."

"What do you want to know, sensei?" asked Sakura.

"How about your likes, dislikes, your dreams for the future and things like that."

"Why don't you go first?" She asked again.

"Mah... My name is Hatake Kakashi, I have no desire to tell you my likes and dislikes. Dreams for the future? Hmmm…" He trailed off. "And I have lots of hobbies." He smiled brightly, at least, as far as Tsuna could see with most of his face covered.

"So all he told us was his name?" muttered Sakura annoyed.

Tsuna hummed.

"Now it's your turn, let's start with the blond."

"R-right, my name is Uzumaki Naruto. I like…Well, my likes and dislikes are tightly bound together and so is my dream. Which is to once again have a family and to be able to protect all those precious to me."

Kakashi-sensei blinked at him as if stunned by what he said. Even his team-mates looked at him with a frown.

"W-what?" asked Tsuna self-conscious.

"I don't think I ever heard you say that much in one go." Stated Sakura, bluntly.

Sasuke snorted and Sakura turned to him with hearts in her eyes. Tsuna rubbed his head uneasily. It was true he mostly kept to himself, especially when around people he didn't know.

"Mah, mah, next, pinkie."

What followed next was a giggle fest. She barely managed to speak a few words between giggling, squealing and making coy eyes at the Uchiha heir. Tsuna felt disturbed in the guy's place.

Sasuke's introduction was broody, swearing revenge against 'a certain man'. Tsuna inched away from him.

Their sensei dismissed them after warning them about their team's survival training the next day.

-o-o-o-

Their survival training was a disaster. First, their sensei showed up more than three hours late.

'Honestly,' Tsuna thought, 'was that going to become a habit?'

Then the man explained their training to them, which turned out to be another test in disguise.

Tsuna managed to hide quite well after this man, not his sensei yet it seemed, said start. He wasn't sure if he managed to hide from the jounin but the man allowed a few minutes before he moved. It gave Tsuna some time to think. He knew there were no two man teams in Konoha, especially not genin teams. The only way that had ever happened, was when one of the ninja died. He cringed as he thought that, but it was the truth, even if it was a bit morbid. Iruka-nii had told him quite a bit about the genin system when he had asked about mission ranks. He had asked about it in preparation for his, hopefully, future excursion to Uzu.

So he spent the next hour until midday trying to convince the other two to work together with him while fending of Hatake when he engaged him. The man was either clearly a genius or very experienced because Tsuna could feel him adapt his fighting style so that he didn't completely outclass the genin too much. Possibly both…

By midday Hatake had Sakura tied to one of the training posts and gave them some speech about failing them and Tsuna could feel his temper snapping. He had about enough of these three people.

"Fail us then! If this is what it means to be in a team, I'd rather go back to the Academy."

That stunned the three around them into silence, before Sakura opened her mouth to start yelling in denial. "Naruto-baka!"

"Why would I want to be on a team with either of you?" He took a deep breath to reign in his temper. "I spend the last hour chasing after both of you to explain that two man team are practically non-existent in this village and neither of you would even let me finish my explanation. Kami forbid you actually listen to what I have to say. Neither of you even attempted to help me, while I repeatedly tried to do just that for you."

The girl gaped at him and even Sasuke eyed him thoughtfully.

Still, Kakashi ended up passing them after the boys shared their lunch with the pinkette. What was that about? Sharing lunch suddenly meant they could work as a team? He really didn't understand that ninja logic… However, miraculously they had all passed. Kakashi gave a speech about teamwork and magically seemed to expect them to be a team the next day.

That didn't quite work out, as was proven over the next couple of days… Sasuke was too arrogant, thinking he could do everything by himself and all Sakura did was fan-girl over him. Talk about an ego boost…

Tsuna had tried to get closer to his team-mates but they continuously brushed him off.

Kakashi-sensei let them be, probably thinking they would sort their issues out with time, but for Tsuna, who had fought closely together with his guardians and friends, nothing could be further from helpful.

They spend most of their days waiting for their teacher to show up and doing D-rank missions. They needed training, they needed to train together, and he seemed to be the only one in this team who noticed.

He had tried to ask Kakashi multiple times to train them, or at least to give them some exercises to work on, but the man vanished before he could even formulate the question. Tsuna was beginning to suspect the man didn't like him, at all…

It was after another morning of D-rank missions that Tsuna approached his teacher again as he dismissed them.

"Kakashi-sensei!"

"Mah, not today, Naruto." And the man disappeared.

Tsuna sighed. He was getting used to this. The man seemed to be avoiding him… for some reason. He had been doing this every time Tsuna had approached him.

"Hn, dobe." Sneered Uchiha Sasuke.

Sakura frowned at him. "Baka, sensei clearly has better things to do."

"Better things to do? Instead of teaching us?" frowned Tsuna.

The girl faltered. "Huh?"

Tsuna shrugged. "I want to ask him some more exercises to improve. Nothing wrong with that. He is our teacher after all."

She blinked, confused, then shrugged. "Sensei dismissed us for today. He'll probably teach us later. He's a jounin, you know. One of the village's elite." And with that, she turned towards Sasuke. "Right, Sasuke-kun?"

"Hn." The boy turned away from his team-mates and started walking away.

"Don't you guys wanna… train together?" The blond shouted before he trailed off. He sighed. Always the same… So much for having a team, he could rely on.

He made his way towards Ichiraku ramen. Iruka-nii had asked him there for lunch after he was done with his team. The man had been a godsend these last few days. He had listened attentively as Tsuna ranted about his team and had given suggestions. They hadn't worked, but he had still tried.

Iruka had decided not to teach at the Academy this year. He had gotten assigned at the mission desk for now, and was training in his spare time to get ready to go back to active duty. He felt selfish, but at the same time he couldn't help feel glad he could spend more time with the man that way. They usually trained together in the afternoon, seeing as his team couldn't be bothered. Sometimes they sparred, sometimes they did their own training.

"Naruto-kun." Greeted Iruka with a smile as he waited outside the ramen bar. A shinobi Tsuna had never seen before stood beside him, dressed in the standard jounin garb, with a bandana over his head and chewing on a senbon. "This is Genma Shiranui, he's a tokubetsu jounin and has agreed to spar with me this afternoon."

"Yo." Greeted Genma with a smirk.

"Hello, it's nice to meet you." Greeted Tsuna politely.

Genma, Tsuna found out during lunch, was a nice person. He was calm, teased Iruka until the man was blushing brightly in his ramen, and most importantly, treated Tsuna as if he was just a normal genin. He really appreciated that.

He couldn't help but watch the two senior shinobi while they sparred later on. There was something almost magical about watching two people spar who clearly knew each other well. It was clear that Genma was stronger than Iruka. Even if the man toned down his abilities to match Iruka's, Tsuna was delighted to see that Iruka-nii managed to catch the other by surprise quite a few times. Iruka-nii could be very sneaky when he wanted to. Tsuna beamed before he turned back towards his own practice. He knew from his training at the academy with Iruka-nii that his flames could be applied to shuriken and kunai, but he had never actually thrown them. He glanced at the two older man training, and decided to try it. If Iruka-nii invited a comrade to their training, knowing Tsuna liked to use his flames when the opportunity provided itself, that must mean Iruka-nii trusted the other.

He briefly closed his eyes, took a deep breath and opened them as he entered HDW mode. As always bright orange flames sprang forward on his forehead and on his hands. The fingerless gloves he wore, had been a graduation present from Iruka-nii. They were chakra conductive, his nii-san had said and they had both been glad to see that Tsuna's flames didn't damage them. He grabbed a shuriken from his pouch, careful not to damage his clothes. The flames on his hands immediately covered the metal weapon and he studied it briefly. The metal didn't change, so that was a good sign. Long exposure to Dying will flames or a shorter exposure of highly concentrated flames did affect materials as ordinary flames would after all. He really didn't want to melt his weapons or burn any of his clothes. Not for training in any case…

He tried to apply a minimum of flames, took aim and threw the shuriken at the target before him. The shuriken hit dead centre, but there was a strange noise, so Tsuna made his way over to retrieve it.

The shuriken had buried itself halfway in the target and the wood around it had turned to stone and cracked open.

He raised an eyebrow. He knew Sky flames harmonized, he had seen them turn any kind of matter into stone. Even people on occasion… This was still an interesting development though. He smiled as multiple possibilities flashed through his mind.

It was about an hour later that Genma called for his attention. He had long since laid aside shuriken and kunai and had meditated while flaring his flames. He had started to try and recreate his flame techniques, starting with Zero Point Breakthrough both Revised and the First edition. He wasn't sure if those techniques could be useful in this world since he seemed to be the only one with flames. Both techniques affected his opponents flames, the Revised version absorbed their flames so he could use them, and the first edition version froze their flames. It would still be reassuring to have some of his strength back, so he tried never the less.

"Why don't you take a break, kid. I'm not sure what you're doing, but I'd like a word." Said the man as he approached Tsuna. He sat on the ground before him, clearly relaxed. Iruka-nii followed after him, gulping down water from a bottle while trying to catch his breath. Genma didn't even look winded.

"Sure," replied Tsuna. He sat down and pulled his flames back in. His orange eyes revealed he was still in HDW mode.

"Those flames look really cool." Complimented the man with a grin.

Tsuna blushed. "Thanks."

Genma's grin widened. Iruka-nii sat down next to them."Iruka told me you want to focus on your taijutsu at the moment. That true?"

Tsuna nodded. He smiled in thanks as Iruka-nii passed him a water bottle and took a sip.

Genma's grin became slightly disturbing. "I know someone who can help you with that."

00

"Oy, dobe."

Tsuna looked up in disbelief. He honestly hadn't expected to see Sasuke again today. They had gone through their team training (meaning D-ranks) for the day and the boy had quickly left after their sensei. As always Sakura had chased him and Tsuna had sighed in frustration. He was making his way to the training ground he used with Iruka, where Genma had promised to see him with his new teacher/sparring partner? Either way, he hadn't expected Sasuke to come back before he had left.

"S-Sasuke? What are you doing here?" It didn't feel right to call the Uchiha by his last name, especially since the other insisted on calling him dobe.

The raven shrugged. "You wanted to train together. What do you usually do?"

Sasuke looked relaxed as he stood before him, almost casual. Only a strange glint in the corner of his eyes revealed the other genin felt uneasy.

Tsuna briefly gaped in shock. This was the last thing he had expected. "Wow, I did not expect that…" he revealed honestly.

"Hn." Sasuke grunted impatiently.

"Right. Well, I usually go train on a training field with Iruka-nii. There's supposedly someone there today to help me with taijutsu. Do you want to come?"

Sasuke eyed him weirdly but shrugged and started walking. "Which training ground?"

Tsuna hurried to catch up. "It's just this way."

They stayed silent as they walked. Genma and Iruka-nii were already waiting for him, but they were not alone.

Tsuna blinked repeatedly and even made a show to rub his eyes in disbelief.

"What is that?" grunted Sasuke disgusted.

Tsuna couldn't really blame him. There were two other people waiting for them. Tsuna suspected a genin with his sensei. Student and teacher, who looked suspiciously like each other. Almost like the older was raising his little clone… They both wore very revealing, and disturbing, green spandex outfits with orange leg warmers. Both also had the same weird bowl haired haircut. And while one of them was clearly younger, they just had to be clones! They had to be… Even their eyebrows were the same. Tsuna twitched.

As if aware they had an audience, the two started yelling and hugging.

"Lee!"

"Gai-sensei!"

"Lee!"

"Gai-sensei!"

"Lee!"

"Gai-sensei!"

Tsuna blinked. "I must have hit my head today. There is no other explanation.."

The two clones were hugging the stuffing out of each other before a sunset background that came out of nowhere!

Genma snorted. "They are always like that. We still don't know where the background comes from."

Sasuke turned around and made to leave, but Tsuna desperately grabbed his shirt and refused to let go.

"Let me go, dobe." Hissed the Uchiha.

Tsuna hissed right back. "No way in hell are you leaving me alone with those weirdos."

"This is your fault in the first place!" Sasuke glared at him. "I never should've-"

"And who might you be?" asked Genma with an amused look in his eyes as he watched Sasuke squirm to get free.

Tsuna jumped to answer before Sasuke could, never releasing his grip on the other's shirt. "This is Uchiha Sasuke, one of my team-mates. He wants to join us for training!"

"Really now?" asked Genma with a smirk. The man obviously had an idea what was going on and seemed delighted by their reaction.

Iruka-nii smiled at his former student. "You're more than welcome to you us, Sasuke-kun."

"I'm Uzumaki Naruto." Tsuna introduced himself to the two spandex wearing shinobi, who had finally let go of each other and approached them.

"YOSH! It's very nice to meet you! I am Maito Gai!" yelled the older one as an introduction.

"And I am Rock Lee!" The genin tried to outshout his sensei.

Gai adopted a dramatic thinking pose. "Ha! Uzumaki Naruto? Where have I heard that before?"

Tsuna could only watch in bewilderment at the man before him, who leaned forward to look Tsuna right in the eye. His grip tightened on this team-mate's shirt as Sasuke moved backwards, bringing the blond with him. Tsuna's eyes widened as the man brought his face very close to his to study him.

"Ano, Gai-san…" Iruka-nii hesitantly trailed off.

Even Genma looked disturbed for a second. He looked ready to lung to the other jounin.

'Was this about the Kyuubi?' Tsuna thought. He didn't think anyone could have forgotten about that, but this man seemed very eccentric…

"AH! I remember!" exclaimed Gai as he straightened and pointed dramatically at Tsuna, who moved closer to Sasuke. "You're Uzumaki Naruto! And Uchiha Sasuke!" Tsuna felt Sasuke flinch as his name was mentioned. "You're two of my Eternal Rival's students!"

Silence fell and after a second Genma and Iruka visibly relaxed.

"Ha?" managed Tsuna in shock.

Gai held his chin in his hand while nodding wisely. "Yes, yes, I am certain of it! My Eternal Rival sure lucked out with such youthful students!"

"Uhm what is he talking about?" Tsuna muttered confused, not wanting to speak up and bring the man's attention back to him.

"Your sensei is Hatake Kakashi?" Lee asked Sasuke suddenly.

In reflex the raven moved back. Tsuna wasn't sure if Sasuke realized they were almost clinging to each other because of the two weird ninja. He nodded cautiously.

Genma sighed. "Oh boy. I forgot about that…"

"Really now? How could you forget … this?" Iruka-nii's whole face seemed to be twitching in irritation.

Tsuna felt even more confused. Genma saw his expression and explained. "Gai and Kakashi have this strange rivalry going. They challenge each other at random times to do the stupidest things. We saw Gai challenge Kakashi to a Jan-ken-Po contest once."

"Really?" Tsuna watched him with wide disbelieving eyes. Next to him, Sasuke grunted in shock.

Lee nodded enthusiastically as Gai laughed loudly in the background. Genma sighed again, clearly used to their antics. Iruka-nii face palmed.

"Oh boy indeed." Tsuna sighed, fearing this weirdness would become his new normal soon enough.

"How has Kakashi been doing? He's been so busy with his new team I barely see him around." asked the jounin.

"Uhm... I'm not sure? I mean I barely see him myself." said Tsuna hesitantly. Part of him didn't want to get his sensei in trouble, but on the other hand, he had only spoken the truth.

Sasuke grunted in agreement.

"Ha?" Gai blinked confused.

Tsuna quickly explained. "Well, yes, he always shows up late, give us a few D-rank missions to complete and then leaves again."

"What about training?" asked Lee with a frown, looking surprisingly serious.

Tsuna shrugged. "He always leaves when I want to ask him about it. Same with my team-mates. We haven't managed to really connect. But I've been training with Iruka-nii and now with Sasuke and Genma as well."

Sasuke startled in surprise but didn't try to get away from him at the moment, so Tsuna counted that as a win. Besides, he wasn't letting him team-mate go now that he boy had finally reached out, even in his own strange anti-social way. No way! He was finally making progress.

Besides, he would need some normal to balance out the crazy if training with those green shinobi was even the slightest bit as strange as this conversation.

"Nani?" asked Gai with a frown. He exchanged a look with the other shinobi around. A determined glint entered his eyes.

Tsuna blinked.

-o-o-o-

He blinked again the next day. He had just joined his team-mates at their usual meeting place when suddenly a green blur materialized before them in a shunshin.

"Good morning, team 7!" yelled Gai in greeting.

Sasuke took an instinctive step back from the man and after training yesterday, Tsuna really couldn't fault him. They might have called it training for the sake of their dignity, but both he and Sasuke had been beaten into the ground. Repeatedly. Even when working together, and they had only gotten to spar with Lee.

It had been eye-opening… and just a tiny bit humiliating. Sasuke had fumed the whole way home. Tsuna had known because Genma and Iruka-nii had had to help them home. Iruka-nii had carried Tsuna home on his back and he had basked in the man's affection. Sasuke had stubbornly refused when Genma had offered him the same but had accepted to be walked home. Well, accepted might have been an exaggeration… But he had only protested for the first five minutes.

Still, cursing out the green stamina monster had given both rookie genin something to bond over, and while Sasuke had been brooding angrily by the end of training, he hadn't contradicted Genma when the tokujo had asked them to meet again them the next day to continue.

Sakura blinked repeatedly at the man.

"Ohayoo, Gai sensei." greeted Tsuna back.

"Naruto-kun! Sasuke-kun! Good morning!" Lee yelled as he and his team-mates joined them. "These are my team-mates; Hyuuga Neji and Tenten!"

"It's nice to meet you. This is Haruna Sakura, our team-mate. I am Uzumaki Naruto and this is Uchiha Sasuke."

"Nice to meet you all. Lee told us about you two." The girl winked at them with a wide smile.

Hyuuga Neji just smirked at them. Sasuke immediately glared back and stepped slightly before Tsuna, ready to confront the Hyuuga boy. tsuna briefly wondered what that was about… Sure, Lee had mentioned his team-mates yesterday, and the fact that he had called Neji stronger than himself was something Sasuke wouldn't quickly forget. But it almost seemed as if Sasuke … was protecting him?

"What are you doing here? N-not that I'm not glad to see you but..." Tsuna trailed off.

"Gai-sensei decided we would join your team for training today." Tenten smiled brightly.

Tsuna blanched. Did this mean that they would not only train now but later today as well, like they did yesterday? They were going to die!

"Oi, Naruto-baka, how do you know them?" asked Sakura with narrowed eyes.

Tsuna flinched a bit at the nickname. Sasuke straightened up next to him and briefly glared at the girl, before focusing on Neji again. Sakura flinched.

"We're team 9. Lee and our sensei helped your team-mates out with their training yesterday." Neji replied to Sakura as if she should have known this.

The two prodigies continued glaring at each other.

Tenten giggled at all the testosterone flowing around. Tsuna sweat dropped. After his head wound, he had hoped to have left all the weirdness behind in his last life… With each day that passed, he was reminded that he was a fool to hope something like that.

"Yosh! Let's get some training done!" Lee yelled enthusiastically.

"Indeed Lee!" Gai gave them a loud thumbs up. "But first, where is my Eternal rival?!"

"Kakashi-sensei probably won't be here for another two or three hours." Tsuna explained.

Gai grabbed his chin and adopted a thinking pose. "Ah!" he exclaimed pointing a 'Eureka' finger up at the sky. "I'll be right back!"

And he shunshined away. Kami that man was dramatic.

"Let's start with 10 laps around Konoha as a warm up!" yelled Lee.

Tsuna groaned. He was still sore from yesterday.

Tenten grabbed the boy by his collar. "Lee, we should wait for Gai-sensei to come back. Let's just stretch for now."

"Good idea." agreed Neji. "Will you join us?" He threw an arrogant look at Sasuke and Tsuna could almost see his teammate bristle.

Sakura didn't join them, but Sasuke seemed to take everything Neji said as a personal challenge. Tsuna sighed but joined in on the stretching.

The Uchiha heir alternated between glaring at team 9, but mostly the Hyuuga boy, while Sakura inched closer to her crush.

Gai appeared again a few minutes later in another small tornado of leaves, carrying a knocked-out Kakashi tied-up with thick ropes over his shoulder.

Team 7 watched with wide eyes as the man dumped their sensei on the ground.

That seemed to have woken up Kakashi.

"G-Gai, what the hell are you doing?" The man asked, shocked.

"My eternal rival! I have decided to have my team join your practice!"

"Ha?"

"Alright!" Gai ignored his fellow sensei. "Let's start with 100 push-ups, 100 squats and 10 laps around Konoha!"

Tsuna paled.

"Ano, Gai-sensei?" Neji raised a hand and smirked at Sasuke. "Maybe you should start us off on something simpler. I don't think the members of team 7 are used to such a heavy workout."

"What did you say?" Lightning sparked as the two glared at each other.

"A-ano, sensei? We don't really have to do all that, do we?" asked Sakura hesitantly.

Tenten frowned at her.

"Gai..."

"No, Kakashi, we had a youthful challenge about this and I won!" The man smiled and a fiery background appeared behind him. "So I get to train both our teams today! Let's go, train with the power of Youth!"

00

"H-how the hell-" Sasuke gasped to breath. "Are you still... standing?"

Tsuna struggled to keep standing as he grasped his knees. "I just... have a lot of stamina."

Both his team-mates were laying on the ground.

It was noon. They had been training with team 9 since 7 o'clock in the morning. Sakura had passed out two hours ago, but Sasuke had been struggling stubbornly to keep up.

Tsuna felt like crying, especially if he thought they might have to start this again in a few hours.

"I don't remember that from in the Academy." Sasuke remarked as he closed his eyes, facing the sky. "How can you have that much stamina? Especially after all those spars yesterday."

"I tried to keep a low profile. Most people don't like me." Tsuna tried to explain.

Sasuke opened his eyes and frowned at the blond. Sweat shone on his forehead. The boy was surprisingly open at the moment and very chatty…

"Now, to finish today's youthful training, we will hold a sparring session." Exclaimed Gai, happily.

"He's nuts." Commented Sasuke with a dead pan look on his face.

Tsuna chuckled tiredly. "True, but at least we're getting some training."

Sasuke studied the blond before he tried to get up. Tsuna grabbed his arm to help steady him and was pleasantly surprised when the raven-haired genin didn't push him away.

"Yosh! Two volunteers! Tenten, why don't you spar with them?" Gai suggested loudly.

She nodded. The three members of team 9 looked tired but it was clear for everyone to see that they had gotten used to such extreme training sessions.

"Kakashi will oversee your spar. I'll go keep an eye on Lee and Neji."

Kakashi approached his students as Gai took Lee and Neji away to another training field. He had a strange look in his eye.

"Well then, ready? Start."

Tsuna reacted without thinking. He grabbed Sasuke and dodged.

"Hey!" the Uchiha yelped startled.

He had moved just in time. Tenten had unsealed a huge scroll and began throwing a mass of weapons their way.

Tsuna didn't manage to dodge all of them in time. He could feel small wounds opening on his body. Nothing serious but enough to hurt.

Sasuke began a series of hand seals and Tsuna turned them mid jump towards the girl.

"Katon: Goukakyuu no Justu!" Sasuke breathed a huge fireball at her, obliterating the next salvo she send their way. She jumped away to dodge the attack.

Tsuna released Sasuke and rushed towards Tenten. He knew he was fast. He always had been. He was actually just about as fast as Lee, as long as the older boy was wearing his weights, and he hoped he was faster than Tenten.

He engaged her in close combat. Tenten, he figured, was more of a long-distance fighter. At least that was what he had assumed when Lee had told them she specialized in shuriken-justu. This didn't mean she couldn't fight hand-to-hand. She had to, with taijutsu being her team-mates' specialization.

Tsuna relaxed. When he fought, he had learned to completely give in to his Hyper Intuition. It was a comfort to just react, read her movements and anticipate. He knew instinctively how she was going to move and countered. Reborn had pushed him in this fighting style, if you could call it that. Sure, he had taught Tsuna a whole lot of fighting styles and techniques, but he had honed Tsuna's Hyper Intuition so well that sometimes the now blond boy thought it had become paranoia.

Unconsciously he moved and adapted to welcome Sasuke's help in the fight when the raven rushed to join him.

He smiled at the smug Uchiha heir when they managed to immobilize Tenten. Sasuke held a kunai at her throat while Tsuna twisted both her arms behind her back.

The two team-mates made eye contact, triumph shining in their eyes.

'Training together yesterday already paid off' Tsuna thought with a grin.

"Good job you two. Nice example of teamwork." Kakashi praised.

They released Tenten, who smiled at them.

Tsuna smiled in delight as Sasuke nodded at him in acknowledgment with a smirk on his face. It might not be much, but for them, it was a huge step forward.

Kakashi's POV.

Kakashi studied his team thoughtfully. This wasn't what he had expected at all.

Gai had caught him by surprise, he was man enough to admit that much … If only to himself? No one else needed to know. He honestly hadn't expected the other man to jump him while he was paying his respects at the memorial stone.

He had been apprehensive when the Hokage had summoned him weeks ago. He knew he would get a team, even if he had been protesting for years that he wasn't a competent teacher. Give him a new ANBU member any day, he could deal with that, but little kids? Who would look for him for guidance? He shivered just thinking about it. He had managed to evade it for years now, failing the arrogant little brats. Most of the time he hadn't even needed to try too hard to fail them, they did most of that by themselves. But this time… With both the last Uchiha and the Kyuubi jinchuuriki on his team? The Hokage had taken him aside and informed him that he would not get to fail them. Sasuke was the last Uchiha loyal to the village, Kakashi was the only one who could teach him about the Sharingan. And to be honest, he didn't think he could ever turn the last of Obito's clan away. Sasuke might act nothing like his old team-mate, but they did look alike. He had to fight not to react every time Sasuke looked his way, and while Sasuke's overall attitude concerned him, he could not deny to be relieved the boy never sought him out.

Uzumaki Naruto on the other hand was a different problem. He had been beside himself when he had gotten back a few months ago from a mission to hear the blond had been hurt enough to earn a night's stay at the hospital. Especially since he could clearly see the change in attitude afterwards. Naruto had changed. Before he got hurt he had looked like Minato-sensei, and acted like Kushina-nee. That had been hard enough on Kakashi, but now… He wasn't sure if Naruto had really changed, or if he had just decided he didn't want to hide anymore. The blond wasn't stupid, no matter what his scores at the Academy said. Managing to evade trained shinobi while playing pranks, wearing a bright orange outfit, was not something a dead last could do, and Naruto had always been able to do it seemingly effortlessly. Now, it was almost as if the boy had decided to stop caring what others though and to show them who he really was.

Still, seeing Naruto like this only emphasized his resemblance to his father. And wasn't that another stab to his heart… Losing Obito had hurt him, but they hadn't been close. Now, years later, Kakashi could admit he had only started to value his team-mate during the mission that got him killed. Even today, he still mourned the missed opportunity. Loosing Obito had made Kakashi almost possessive of Rin, their other team-mate. She had been much the same. So losing her shortly after, had nearly killed him. Losing his sensei, the man who had practically been his father after his real father had killed himself… that had almost broken him. Only the knowledge that his sensei's child had survived had kept him going.

Seeing Naruto now, however, wanting Kakashi's attention, seeing him trying to interact with his team-mates… It was hard. Kakashi knew he shouldn't push the boy away, but the resemblance was too much. He cared for the child, but he could barely bare to look at him at the same time.

He sighed. He was so messed up.

'Maybe I needed this', He mused as he watched his two genin take on Gai's girl. This day had turned out to be eye-opening. His cute little genin had grumbled about the harsh training exercises Gai had given them, but they had tried their hardest. No one had been surprised Sakura had given up and passed out. What had surprised him was how stubborn she had been to keep up with her two team-mates. Sasuke and Naruto had struggled to keep up with team 9 and their crazy sensei and even now, when Kakashi had thought they would collapse and not get up again, they stood up and faced their opponent together in a spar. It was fascinating to see them fight together. Naruto was a surprising good team player. He seemed to almost instinctively adapt his fighting style to accommodate his partner. He raised an eyebrow as he saw Sasuke make room for Naruto. Before he had just charged into a fight, doing what he wanted, what he thought would work, with Naruto trying to support him. Now, it seemed Sasuke was more aware of his team-mate, even pulling him out of the way when he noticed the blond didn't react in time.

Kakashi rubbed his chin thoughtfully as he watched his two genin take down Tenten, both beaming proudly.

Kakashi took a deep breath and steeled himself. Mind made up.

Maybe this team could work out after all…

TBC.

Chapter Text

Tsuna had watched the circus before him in silence. He didn't know how, but somehow they had gotten a C-rank mission. Sakura had snapped earlier today. In the middle of the Hokage’s office no less… 

Tsuna supposed he could understand where the girl was coming from… Training with Gai and Team 9 the day before had been brutal. Especially since it had somehow shaken their sensei awake and he was starting to train them as well. They had just gotten back from some one-on-one sparring sessions that their sensei had overseen. She had been dirty and sore after the first session. Sasuke sure hadn’t gone easy on her… and when it had been Tsuna’s turn to fight she had thrown a tantrum. He still cringed as he thought back to it. She sure could scream… His fight with Sasuke on the other hand had been great fun. 

It seemed however that one day, and another training session with their sensei (this time working on their stamina) had done nothing to calm the girl down. She was probably desperate for something new to do, to break the pattern that was being created. It was like watching an accident happen. Tsuna was staring at the ranting with wide eyes. He knew he should probably interfere, but he couldn't help but stare.

"No! We've done enough of those missions! I'm tired of babysitting kids and weeding gardens! Or even worse, chasing that damned cat! We've had to collect it three times already! Three times! In as many days! We've been training really hard! Too hard! Give us something better! " She yelled at the Hokage.

Iruka-nii frowned angrily at the girl, while the Hokage raised an eyebrow at her.

"Mah, mah, Sakura." Kakashi urged the girl to calm down.

Sasuke sighed in irritation.

Tsuna had to stop himself from mirroring him. True, they had been doing a lot D-ranks, and she was right, they had ended up with the catch-Tora-chan mission already three times this week and it was only Thursday...
And Tsuna was very glad that  Kakashi finally seemed to have taken his job somewhat seriously.  The man was obviously awkward and not sure how to treat them, but at least he was trying now.

“I believe that’s quite enough, genin Haruno.” Interjected the Hokage sternly. Sakura immediately fell silent and watched the old man with wide eyes. as if she only now realised what she had done. “I understand that you are feeling frustrated, but do not forget who you are talking to.”

She gulped. Everyone focused on the Hokage. The man studied Team 7 with narrowed eyes. “What do you think, Kakashi? Is your team ready for a C-rank?”

Kakashi rubbed the back of his neck nervously. “I do believe we’d be able to handle it.”

The leader studied his jounin carefully. Iruka-nii pursed his lips, but didn’t say anything.

“Very well. Team 7 will accompany Tazuna-san home to Wave country and will provide security on their way there. You will leave tomorrow.” The man allowed with a resigned air. “You’re dismissed.”

Wave?

Tsuna hung back so he’d be the last of his team to leave the office. Just before he would pass through the doorway he turned back. “Hokage-sama, may I have a moment of your time?”

“How can I help you, Naruto-kun?” the Hokage asked with a gentle smile, as if their last talk hadn’t throw Tsuna’s life upside down. The heavy atmosphere from a few moments before seemed to disappear with the blink of an eye.

“Seeing as my team is heading to Wave, I wanted to ask for permission to visit Uzushiogakure after our mission is complete.” He held his breath as the Hokage studied him. Iruka-nii straightened and watched them with cautious eyes. Tsuna had talked about his wish to visit Uzushio with the man, and so Iruka knew what this meant to him.

“Have you found time to read those scrolls yet?” the Hokage asked, dodging the immediate question.

Tsuna nodded. “Yes, sir. It explains some things, basics mostly, but it would be helpful to get more information. I planned to request your permission after our first C-rank mission, but I had not thought that would be today. However, Wave is very close to Uzushiogakure. We wouldn’t have to make a long detour.” 

The Sandaime narrowed his eyes and studied the blond intensely. “I’ll send a note to Kakashi. I’ll grant permission, however he’ll have the final call. Once your mission is complete, Kakashi will be the one to decide, depending on how the mission went and how your team behaved.”

Tsuna smiled at the small victory. “Thank you.”

-o-o-o-

They had left Konoha the next day. It was supposed to be a simple escort mission but his intuition had been playing up ever since they walked out of the village. Kakashi had just finished answering Sakura's questions as the feeling intensified.

"You alright there, Naruto?" asked their sensei. "You seem a bit skittish."

"Something isn't right." The blond muttered.

"Hn." Sasuke raised a cautious eyebrow at the blond. He looked sceptical, but still walked a bit straighter.

Tsuna bit his lip, but continued to warily watch his surroundings. He knew better than to dismiss his hyper intuition after all. It was a habit that Reborn had beaten into him, quite literally.

They passed a puddle on the ground, in the middle of the road, and all hell seemed to break loose.

The first few seconds passed almost like in slow-motion. Everything in Tsuna was screaming for him to move, to do something. Anything! It was like a red alert was going off in his head. Feeling eyes on his back he turned his head around, just in time to see two shinobi emerge from the small pool of water.

He moved as they did. He reached out and pushed Kakashi out of the way as the two moved around his sensei, a spiky chain ready to envelop the older man.

However, seeing as Kakashi wasn't there to intercept the chains, they continued on, barely missing Tsuna as Kakashi had grabbed him after being pushed.

The others turned back at the first sign of a commotion.

"Now, now." breathed their sensei, put out, as if this was a minor inconvenience.

Tsuna eyed him briefly with a raised eyebrow, before he focused back on the enemy.

The two shinobi rushed forward, completely ignoring Tsuna and Kakashi.

"Kyaaa!" screeched Sakura in shock.

Sasuke surged forward. He threw a shuriken and a kunai, accurately pinning the chain to a tree. He kicked both of them in the face at the same time. The chain was released, freeing both shinobi.
Seeing that Kakashi wasn't moving, Tsuna rushed to help his team-mate.

He ran forward to intercept the fastest of the two enemies, giving Sasuke time to pursue the other. Sakura jumped in front of their client but Tsuna was faster. He kicked the shinobi harshly in the side, sending him tumbling away from the battle.

Sensing both Sasuke and Kakashi more than seeing them with his back turned, he rushed forward to continue his assault. If Reborn has taught him one thing, it was to not show any mercy, and to not underestimate your opponent. Before the guy could get up, he harshly delivered a blow to a pressure point in his neck, rendering him unconscious.

He breathed a sigh of relief before he turned back to his team. Their client Tazuna had staggered back in shock. Sakura was shaking with wide eyes, clearly going into shock. Sasuke was frowning at him, though Tsuna couldn’t make out if he was worried about him or angry with him. Kakashi on the other hand, had the other ninja in a choke hold and was studying Tsuna intently.

"Finally decided to help out, sensei?" Tsuna asked with a light frown.

"Mah, mah, you and Sasuke seemed to have everything under control." The man smiled.
Tsuna eyed the man sceptically and he saw Sasuke mirror him. Kakashi approached them and he quickly bound the two men together to a tree.

"Tazuna-san, we need to have a little talk. These are missing nin from Kiri. Chuunin rank and above ninja who are known to continue fighting no matter what. These two were clearly targeting you. You registered this mission as a C-rank, meaning bandits and thieves at the most. Shinobi are not included in that. This mission has become a B-rank mission – above what rookie genin are supposed to be handling. Care to explain yourself?"

The man started sweating at Kakashi's narrowed eye.

"Ano, sensei..." Sakura hesitated, "Shouldn't we be heading back? I mean, you said it yourself, this isn't a mission for genin, so..."

Tsuna frowned. He looked at their third team-mate, only to see that Sasuke was standing next to him. The raven threw him a calculated look.

"Hmmm." Kakashi mused. "Maybe it is a bit much, but you guys managed this better than I thought you would."

Sasuke snorted but didn't say anything.

"Sensei, saying something like that doesn't really reflect well on you, especially since you left us to deal with it on our own." Tsuna dead panned.

"I'm sorry I scared you, Naruto-kun." The man smiled.

Tsuna raised an eyebrow at the man.

"Let's keep going." Sasuke said suddenly while he threw Tsuna a weird look. "These two weren't much of a challenge."

Kakashi stroked his chin. "Hmm, Sasuke wants to continue and Sakura wants to head back. Seems like we're at a stalemate. What do you think Naruto?"

Tsuna shifted nervously at all the attention. "Well, it's difficult to say, sensei. I guess it depends..."

"On what?" Kakashi asked gently as he smiled at the blond.

"Are you going to abandon us like that again?"

Kakashi grew serious. "No, I wanted to know who they were targeting. I would have intervened if it looked like it was going wrong."

Tsuna nodded. "Then I guess it depends on what Tazuna-san can tell us about the situation. We still don't really know what awaits us."

With that the shinobi turned back towards the poor bridge builder, who nervously took a step back.

-o-o-o-

"Get down!" Kakashi yelled at his students as he tackled Tazuna to the ground.

Tsuna had acted without thinking and he wasn't sure if he had responded to his sensei or his instincts suddenly screaming at him.

Something flew over them. A huge sword lodged itself in a tree. A strangely clothed shinobi was standing on top of it. Tsuna watched him with wide eyes. Were all shinobi this dramatic?

“Well, well, if it isn’t the Hidden Mist’s missing-nin Momochi Zabuza.” Commented Kakashi lazily. “Everyone get back, this one is on a whole new level.”

Tsuna took a step back towards their client.

“It will be a little tough, unless I use this…” started Kakashi as he lifted his headband from over his left eye.

“You must be Sharingan Kakashi.” Stated the ninja as he looked down on them. “Sorry but that old man is mine.”

Sasuke startled.

“Surround and protect Tazuna. Do not enter the fight. That’s the teamwork in this situation.” Kakashi commanded.

What followed was… Well it started as an awesome fight, even Tsuna could admit that and he had seen some awesome fights in his last life. Zabuza had used a jutsu to summon thick mist and both him and Kakashi had shown a masterful control and use of clone jutsu. After that, however, Kakashi had easily gotten caught in Zabuza’s water prison.  Which, if he had to honest, quickly killed any awe he might have held towards their sensei.

Zabuza created another water clone which he send after the genin.

“Hehe, wearing forehead protectors and acting like real ninja.” sneered the clone. “But you know what? A real ninja is someone who survived numerous brushes with death. Basically, once you’re good enough to be listed in my books, then you can start calling yourself a ninja. You guys shouldn’t be referred to as ninja.”

He disappeared, only to appear again before Sakura, kicking the girl harshly in the face.

“Sakura!” Tsuna ran towards the girl to help her back up. Her nose was clearly broken and she bleeding all over the place. He could already see the beginning of bruises forming around her eyes and cheeks.

“You guys!” Kakashi screamed with an undertone of panic in his voice. “Take Tazuna and run away! You have no chance of beating him! As long as he’s keeping me trapped in this prison he can’t move! The water clone cannot go very far from his real body. Just run away now!”

‘A bit late for that, sensei.’ Tsuna thought as he grit his teeth. ‘Like we would outrun a jounin…’

“Like I’ll let you.” Sneered the clone. He rushed towards Sakura again. The girl screamed in terror and flinched away from him.

“I won’t let you lay a hand on her.” Tsuna snarled.

She blinked in shock. “Naru-to?”

Tsuna had intercepted the clone. He had grabbed the man’s fist mid-strike. The clone jumped back in shock. Flames burned brightly on Tsuna’s forehead and hands. 

His team-mates watched him with wide eyes.

The man sneered. “Those flames are a fancy trick, kid, but that’s all they are.”

“We’ll see.” He rushed towards the clone, who didn’t try to dodge but simply raised his sword to the boy.
Tsuna however, could remember all the sparring sessions he had with Takashi and even Squallo, and dodged without a problem, grabbed the clone's arms and flared his flames brightly, soaking the clone in Sky flames.

The clone screamed as the flames slowly turned him to stone. It was too slow, so Tsuna punched the man with all his might in the chest. The stone shattered and the rest of the clone dissolved back into water. He studied the puddle of water and the debris briefly. Sensing no danger or chakra he turned back to the original.

“Would you mind releasing our sensei? I’ve grown a bit attached to him.” Tsuna’s eyes were blazing orange as he stared at the real Zabuza.

"Hm, cheeky brat." Grunted the Mist nin, almost amused after a moment of stunned silence. "Ninpo: Kirigakure no jutsu."

A thick mist once again appeared, obscuring their vision.

Tsuna jumped back towards their client. He nodded towards his team-mates, who had done the same thing. Sasuke looked determined, if a bit unnerved. Sakura looked scared out of her mind, her face still covered in blood and bruises.

Not being able to see anyone in the mist, Tsuna closed his eyes and completely opened up his other senses in the hope of figuring what was happening.

He moved without realizing. Zabuza burst out of the mist, sword thrust forward. Tsuna managed to push aside Tzuna and Sakura, but didn't manage to dodge quickly enough. He went down, biting his lips in pain and clutching his side.

Sasuke reacted quickly. "Katon: Gokakuju no jutsu!" A huge fireball hit the enemy and Zabuza dissolved into water once again.

Tsuna trembled as he got up and resumed formation.

A few moments nothing happened.

“Heh,” Zabuza smirked. “Not bad, brats.”

Tsuna thought - they needed to continue fighting now, no stalling allowed. Who knew how much time their sensei had before he drowned?

Tsuna knew he could use his flames to fly, but he hadn’t tested that technique yet in this life. Reborn would find a way to kill him over different dimensions if he thought to try it out now. Never try out new techniques on the battle field. They could save your life, but they could also get you killed.
Sasuke stood closer to the edge of the lake. 

They made eye contact and nodded at each other. Tsuna ran towards his team-mate, who grabbed him and launched him at the missing nin. Somehow Sasuke had known what he wanted him to do without them having to talk it though. Maybe this team would work out fine in the end. When he got within range, he tried to punch the man hard in the face.

Zabuza hit him in the head before he could land the hit and Tsuna's eyes closed as pain erupted in his head. If his arm had been a few inches longer he would have succeed. Still, his flames should have done some damage… He felt himself fall, but before he could reach the water he was gently grabbed. Someone held him close, standing on the water, still within reach of Zabuza and Kakashi.
It was quiet around him as if someone had hit the pause button. A calloused hand gently cradled his face and lifted it.

“Naruto!” Yelled their sensei in a panic.

Dazed, he opened his eyes. 

He gasped and tried to push the man away.

“Stop squirming, brat.” Grunted a new Zabuza clone.

Both the clone and the original eyed him strangely.

The man gently flickered his fingers through the flames on Tsuna’s forehead.

Tsuna’s eyes widened. The Kiri ninja didn’t get burned. What? Could this mean…? What did this mean?

“Huh.” Breathed the original. “Who would have thought…”

“Zabuza!! Your fight is with me! Leave my students alone!!” yelled Kakashi furious.

Zabuza snorted. “This fight is over, Hatake. I have no reason to fight you anymore.”

The silence that fell at that statement could almost be heard.

“W-what?!” Sakura screamed hysterically through her broken nose.

Kakashi sounded stunned. “What is the meaning of this?”

The clone who held Tsuna flickered briefly. Tsuna was gently hoisted up and cradled bridal style in the original missing nin’s arms.

Tsuna hissed as the wound on his stomach was jolted. The adrenaline was fading fast and he tried desperately to maintain his flames now that the exhaustion threatened to overwhelm him.  He was still bleeding.

“Damn it.” Cursed Zabuza as he saw the blood. “Haku!!”

Another ninja appeared a few feet away from them, but Tsuna wasn’t paying much attention.

“Now, Hatake, I’m going to let you free, you’ll behave and we’ll get your student somewhere safe to get treated. Do you know of a place-”

Tsuna didn’t hear the rest. His dying will mode finally left him and he immediately fell unconscious.

00

When Tsuna woke up, his whole body felt sore. He didn't even need to open his eyes to know he had overdone it… Training with Iruka-nii was one thing, and sure, it helped with his taijutsu, but he hadn't kept his flames active this long yet. Not in his new body and certainly not in a real fight.

He opened his eyes. He blinked a few time to clear his vision. He was laying on a futon in what looked like an empty room. He closed his eyes again briefly and took a deep breath as if it could chase away his fading headache.

"How are you feeling, Naruto?" asked Sasuke next to him.

Tsuna shifted, trying to see his team-mate, only to groan loudly from the pain in his abdomen.  That was pain worse than the one lingering in his brain.

"Stay still, I'll get the others." 

Tsuna didn't hear him leave.

"Naruto?" asked Sakura hesitantly as she entered the room. Kakashi and Sasuke followed her.

He opened his eyes again and tried to smile at the girl. "Good morning."

"Afternoon, actually." Smiled Kakashi as he sat down next to them. "How are you feeling?"

They sat around him.

"Like someone tried to cut me in half." Tsuna tried to joke half-heartedly.

"You've been unconscious for two days." Sakura bit her lip. "We were worried."

"Giving enough time, you'll make a full recovery. So no worries." Smiled Kakashi again.

Tsuna sighed in relief. "That's good."

Sakura held a cup with a straw at his lips. "Thirsty? I've brought you some water."

Tsuna carefully sipped a few times. "Thanks."

He studied his team for a few second. Sakura’s nose seemed completely fine, so…

“What happened? Where is Zabuza?”

“Ah,” Kakashi started with a sigh. The man scratched his gravity-defying hair. “Good question. I have no idea.”

“What?” He asked incredulously.  How lax could the man be? Wasn’t it standard procedure to keep a close eye on an enemy?

Sasuke rolled his eyes at the silver-haired man. “Zabuza stopped the fight suddenly. He hasn’t explained why.”

Sakura nodded enthusiastically. “Yes, and he had an apprentice hidden away. Haku healed my face! After he helped you of course. See!” She angled her face closer so he could see.

Tsuna looked a bit uncomfortable. “That doesn’t really explain anything…”

Sasuke grunted. “Zabuza said he’d explain once you woke up.”

This was like pulling teeth… “Yes, and where is he now then?”

Kakashi smiled at him. “Dealing with Gatou.”

Tsuna needed a second to register that. “Okay. Why?”

“No idea.” Kakashi smiled happily.

“And you just let him?” Tsuna asked incredulously. This was one of the strangest conversations he had had to date.

Kakashi’s eyes narrowed a bit and lost their laughter. “One of my clones is with him, and his apprentice is under surveillance in this house. I’m not that careless, Naruto-kun.”

“It is very confusing, sensei.” Sakura admitted. “He attacked us, threatened our client and tried to kill us and then suddenly he’s saying he’ll kill Gatou because he doesn’t want to hurt Naruto. It’s just strange.”

“He’s strange, that’s for sure.” Sasuke muttered, almost too quiet to hear.

“I’ll explain it now if you want.” Zabuza entered the room, a younger man following behind him.

Tsuna turned around and had to swallow a shriek. The man was covered in blood.

Kakashi didn’t seem surprised to see them but Sasuke and Sakura were startled.

Zabuza sat down at the foot end of the bed/futon and Haku (the young man who Naruto assumed was Haku) stood behind him. The younger of the two smiled at Naruto.

“How are you feeling, brat?” asked Zabuza.

“Sore.” Tsuna watched the two with wide eyes.

“Good. You’re on the mend but it’ll take a while.” The man nodded.

Tsuna eyed the man warily. “You’re covered in blood.”

“Just a minor disagreement with Gatou and his men, but that can wait. More importantly, little Uzumaki prince, tell me: How did you end up in Konoha?”

“What?” Tsuna asked stunned. A minor disagreement? The man looked like he had slaughtered half a dozen of people. And the look on his face reminded him of HIbari after a good fight… And what was that about Tsuna being an Uzumaki prince? How did the man know he was an Uzumaki in the first place?

“Prince?” Kakashi interrupted sharply.

Zabuza shrugged, while he looked Tsuna straight in the eyes. “Of course. It took me a while to recognize it; the Uzumaki have very distinct colouring after all. But those flames of yours? Something like those hasn’t been seen since the fall of Uzushiogakure in the Second shinobi war. What do you know about them?”

“S-some.” Tsuna stuttered, feeling uncomfortable with the lie. Still, he wanted to know what the other man knew about flames.

“Are they a bloodline?” asked Sasuke, suddenly interested. 

“Yeah, and why didn’t you tell us you could use something like that, Naruto?” asked Sakura, slightly reproachful. She fidgeted next to Sasuke as if she had trouble restraining the flow of questions she actually wanted to ask.

“It’s mentioned in my file.” Muttered Tsuna softly, but he wasn’t sure if anyone heard him. Only Kakashi’s sudden twitch made him suspect the man had heard what he said.

“It’s clan business, girl.” Said Zabuza with a sneer. “If he doesn’t want you to know, he’s not obligated to tell you anything.”

“Clan? What clan? Naruto is an orphan.” Replied the girl indignantly.

Sakura had never been good at being denied knowledge. Still, Tsuna winced at the reminder.

“What clan?” asked Zabuza stunned. He turned towards Kakashi. “They don’t know? What do they teach you brats these days.”

Kakashi frowned and turned towards his students. “Didn’t you learn about Uzushiogakure at the Academy?”

The three genin shook their heads. Kakashi sighed, looking troubled. “I’ll have to mention this to the Hokage. Uzushiogakure was a hidden village in the Land of Whirlpools. Its ninja were renowned for their fūinjutsu to the point that it led to their destruction in the Second great war. The Uzumaki clan was the founding clan of the village, like the Senju and Uchiha are for Konoha.”

“Really?” asked Sakura with wide eyes.

“Of course. Our Shodaime Hokage was married to an Uzumaki princess after all.”

“The Sandaime is aware Uzushio isn’t taught about at the academy. We’ve talked about it.” Tsuna asked in a small voice.

Kakashi’s eyes softened. “I’m glad you had someone to talk too.”

“Most Uzumaki are dead. There weren’t any known survivors when the village fell,” Zabuza commented, “and yet here you are.”

“Here I am.” Repeated Tsuna.

“Alright but how did you know Naruto is an Uzumaki?” asked Sasuke with narrowed eyes.

“The flames.” Shrugged the man again. “My sensei had them as well. In another colour mind you.”

“You were trained by an Uzumaki?” asked Tsuna feeling light-headed. What were the odds?

“No way. No Uzumaki would ever step foot in Kiri.” The man snorted. “Not after Kiri raided their village to the ground.”

“So it’s not a bloodline?” asked Sasuke sharply, trying to understand.

Zabuza scratched his head with a sigh. Haku giggled behind him. “Yeah, yeah, laugh it up.”

Haku wasn’t fazed by Zabuza’s gruff attitude. “You’re being adorable, Zabuza-sama.”

Tsuna couldn’t help but snort as Zabuza threw his companion a Glare™.

“Do you want me to explain, kid?”

Tsuna tilted his head. He wasn’t sure what the missing nin meant…

“To your team-mates?”

Ah, so that’s what he meant. Tsuna nodded. Anything to help him through a disastrous explanation of his flames. Flames weren’t… easy to explain, and with his lingering headache he was very glad someone else volunteered to do it. “It’s fine.” His team-mates seemed pleased with his answer.

“Now, I don’t know the details. My sensei only briefly explained it after all. Everyone has flames.”

“What?”  exclaimed Sakura in shock.

“No, let me finish my explanation first.” She was cut off by the gruff man. “Every human has flames. You can compare it to chakra, everyone has it, but very few people can use it. Chakra is easier to access, with the right training everyone can learn how to use it. Flames are more complicated. You can compare it to a bloodline in the sense that special circumstances are needed for them to activate. From what I understand there are different types of flames. Each type has it’s unique colour and characteristics.”

“What circumstances are needed?” asked Kakashi intrigued.

“There are two possible ways, each as unlikely to happen as the other. It could be activated the way other bloodlines get activated, under the right circumstances, most likely while cornered or almost dying in battle. Most people who try this method die, so I wouldn’t recommend it.” The man shrugged again. “At least that’s how the rumours go.”

Tsuna blinked. That made sense. In his old world the total percentage of the human population that could use flames was about 5%, if he correctly recalled what Reborn had told him. Also battle situations weren’t required to activate flames for the first time. Your determination, or dying will as Reborn had called it, had to be strong enough to break them free. Simply not wanting to die wasn’t enough… If it was, Reborn never would have had to use those special bullets in the beginning of his training as Vongola boss.  Regret and determination had to be balanced very carefully in one’s emotional being for it to work.

“And the other way?” asked Sasuke almost eagerly.

“It’s easier the other way.” Zabuza nodded. “But the chances of succeeding are about as high as the first method.”

Sasuke deflated.

“It’s also more time consuming. One of those types of flames are different from the others in the way that they attract the others to themselves.” Zabuza struck a thinking pose. “I believe they were called Sky flames. People with those flames ‘attract’, for lack of a better word, people with the other types of flames and form a bond with them. This bond makes it possible for those others to activate their own flames but it’s still not guaranteed.”

“What kind of bond?” asked Kakashi curiously.

Zabuza shrugged. “That depends on the individuals, I think.”

“Family.” Said Tsuna, joining the conversation for the first time since the start of the explanation.

Zabuza raised an eyebrow. “Really now? I can live with that.”

Tsuna gave the man a small uneasy smile.

“What do you mean by that?” Kakashi glared at the man.

Zabuza ignored him and didn’t break the eye contact he had with Tsuna. “During the fight, I don’t think you were consciously doing it, but you reached out to me.”

He placed one of hands on his chest. “I can feel it – the bond and your flames.” The man grinned arrogantly.

His face turned pale as Tsuna gasped in shock. He hadn’t realised he had reached out to the man.

 Zabuza shrugged in a what-can-you-do way. "It's not something permanent. See it as a chance, an opportunity for a bond to grow."

"I know what it means. You’re not the first I bonded with." Said Tsuna confidently as he raised an eyebrow at the man. He was not some ignorant child after all. “Why are you so interested in such a bond?”

Zabuza smirked, delighted to see the kid grow some sort of backbone.

"Hatake said you're required to stay here until that bridge is build, so we’ll have time talk. We'll see. There is no hurry. You get better first." He deflected the question.

The man awkwardly patted Tsuna's knee. Tsuna narrowed his eyes at the ninja.

"So wait, Naruto has these special flames?" asked Sakura with a frown.

Tsuna eyed the girl, not sure where she was going. 

"Sure, those orange flames you saw, those are Sky flames." Zabuza warily eyed the girl.

"Why Sky flames? It seems like a strange name… Why aren't they blue then?" interrupted Sakura them.

"The name has nothing to do with the colour, little girl." Scowled Zabuza.

Sakura flinched away from the missing nin. The man was scary after all. Still, she straightened, took a deep breath and spoke shakily. "I just want to understand."

Tsuna admired her guts. This mission seemed to be a real wake-up call for the girl and he was thankful she didn't seem to immediately relapse in her fan girl personality.

"You don't have to understand." replied Kakashi gently. "If what Zabuza said is true then this is all Uzumaki clan business."

She bit her lip, but didn't reply.

"You involved us in all this." Sasuke frowned, surprisingly supporting the girl. "It's only natural we ask questions." He had been very quiet since the beginning of this conversation. Tsuna wasn’t sure what that was about.

"Maybe, but you don't want people to stick their noses into Uchiha clan business do you?" asked Kakashi. "We are a team, so some knowledge is required, but we don't need to know all the details."

Sasuke narrowed his eyes at his teacher. "Speaking of Uchiha clan business, I think we need to have a conversation about that eye of yours, sensei."

"Of course we will, but-"

"I still don’t understand?" muttered Tsuna softly.

They all turned back to look at him, but Tsuna was lost in thought.

"Why would my flames reach out to you? Why not anyone else? I-" he stopped talking abruptly.

Zabuza sighed. "No idea. I only know a little bit because of my old sensei and he wasn't very forthcoming with the information." He shrugged. "What makes Sky's reach out to some people and not to others? Why me and not your sensei or someone else in your team? Why someone who was supposed to be your enemy?"

Tsuna frowned. He tried to remember if Reborn had ever mentioned anything about that. The at-the-time-baby had chosen Tsuna's family almost entirely by himself. Tsuna never had anything to say about that, but the people he had chosen... In the end, both Tsuna and his elements had gained something by becoming family. They had all been lonely, one way or another. Tsuna had never had any (real) friends, same with Hayato and Takashi. Kyoya hadn't wanted any friends, but seemed a bit more laid back after becoming a guardian. Or at least as laid back as Kyoya could be... He never would be a fan of crowds, but he had grown very protective of their family... Or just of Tsuna, if he had to be honest. Ryohei had needed some people to understand and treat him like he was normal, not some sort of weirdo. Same for Lambo, who just wanted someone to love him for who he was. Chrome and even Mukuro had been lonely, the older one lashing out after all the injustice done to both of them.

So why did his flames reach out to Zabuza. Why not someone else? Or had they reached out? And had Tsuna simply not realised? Apart from the bond he had with Iruka, obviously.

He thought about his precious people. The only one in this lifetime he could tentatively call precious was Iruka-nii. They had been training together for a while now... and the man had helped him when he needed it, had comforted him with his shock after finding out about the Kyuubi… the man had been a god-send these last few months. But his bond with Iruka-nii was obvious, they had both felt it click into place the moment Iruka-nii had touched his flames. He hadn’t really talked to Iruka-nii about it. He hadn’t thought it needed to be spoken about, it was a bond they both knew was there. Tsuna had never thought others would be able to become Active but if Zabuza was telling the truth about his sensei, and his knowledge of flames made that most likely, than he wasn’t the only one in this world who could actively use his flames. Others could learn to as well…

Iruka-nii was a teacher, and a good one. He cared about kids, and more importantly he cared about Tsuna. Tsuna didn't care if that was selfish or not. With time, and if Tsuna allowed it, Iruka-nii could be Family, even a guardian if they both wished it.  There was already a very firm basis for such a bond, and now… This opened possibilities he hadn’t allowed himself to think about. He’d need to talk to Iruka-nii as soon as he got back.

He glanced at Zabuza and saw the man studying him with raised eyebrows.

He turned away and studied his team. Logically they were top candidates as guardians, but Tsuna knew that his flames weren’t likely to reach out to them—at least not now, with the team dynamics as they were.

Sakura had never paid him any attention. She had been so focused on Sasuke all the time that she had been very hurtful. He wasn't sure she had realized it, but he didn't think he'd feel very comfortable around her for a while...

He winced as he looked at Kakashi. The man had been doing his very best to avoid spending any more time with him than was necessary. It hurt. It still did. Tsuna had reached out to the man, wanted to ask him for training, for anything... And maybe Tsuna had reached out to bond to the man, but he wouldn't be able to consider Kakashi family after that. Not immediately any way. And only if the man changed the way he treated him… The constant rejection had hurt.

And Sasuke… As Naruto he had always wanted to be Sasuke's friend. Mostly because the boy was also alone and Naruto had thought that could bring them closer. He was selfish that way. Huh, maybe even then his intuition had acted up... But the Uchiha was so standoffish, so arrogant and had always brushed him off as if he was invisible. Although, Tsuna had to admit that Sasuke’s attitude had changed since he had stayed behind to train together. Sparring against Lee and Tenten had brought them closer and the boy seemed to take him more into account now. So maybe? He wasn’t sure… He studied the boy intently, making the Uchiha raised an eyebrow in question. Tsuna shook his head. He didn’t think he’d mind, actually, bonding with Sasuke…

Maybe Tsuna's flames had already tried to reach out. More than he was aware…

He closed his eyes and concentrated. He felt his flames inside him. They felt weak, almost feeble—he really had overdone it earlier—but he could feel other types of flames if he reached inside them. They were barely there, and if he hadn't been looking for it, he never would have known.

Mist, Rain and Storm flames.

The purple flames gently washed over him, relaxing him until he felt almost boneless. Iruka's face briefly flashed before his closed eyes. The man grinning as he teased a blushing Tsuna, like that day after graduation and the team announcements.

The blue rain flames were violent, lashing out blindly around them but they calmed down as soon as Tsuna focused on them, gently touching them with his own flames. They shivered and the blood lust seemed to diminish. They... there wasn't another word for it, they seemed to bask in his attention, almost preening. Strangely enough those aggressive flames immediately reminded him of Squallo.

"Oh wow, didn't see that coming." A deep voice said from right next to him.

Tsuna opened his eyes almost lazily. Zabuza was sitting next to him, with Tsuna almost on his lap. He was leaning against the man, and couldn't bring himself to mind at all.

He felt overwhelmed by all this information and the realizations. 

"Naruto?" asked Kakashi warily. "Everything all right there?"

Tsuna turned towards the man.

Kakashi was crouching, alert and watching Zabuza suspiciously.

"Yeah, I'm fine." Tsuna sighed and snuggled into the almost-hug the missing nin was giving him. Zabuza's arm tightened around his shoulders.

"Maybe we should leave them to rest." Haku suggested with a grin.

"I'd rather stick around, just to be safe." Kakashi replied coldly.

Tsuna eyed his teacher, who was glaring at the other adult in the room.

He felt comfortable like this, but how would this look to someone who wasn't flame-active and had no idea what was happening here?

"Is there something to eat?" he tried to break the tension.

Sakura stood up. "I'll go tell Tsunami-san you're awake. She made some soup for when you woke up." and with that she practically fled the room.

"Tsunami-san?"

"Tazuna's daughter." grunted Sasuke. "We're in his house. His grandson lives here as well. The little brat's named Inari."

"Sasuke." reprimanded Kakashi lightly.

"Hn." he grunted.

Tsuna blinked. Alright then... Good to know.

Kakashi turned towards the blond. "Do you think you're well enough to go downstairs to eat?"

Tsuna shrugged. "Maybe not quite yet." He closed his eyes again, even as Kakashi insisted Zabuza put him back on the futon and he manhandled the man to take him downstairs. He was alone again in the room.

He still needed to take a closer look at those Storm flames, even if he could take a guess. He repeated the same process. He gently touched the prickly deep red flames. They felt nervous, and unsure. As if their owner was doubting himself. They shied away from his touch, as if unsure of their welcome. He tried again and they tentatively reached back.

Sasuke.

So he had reached out to his team-mate. He wanted to smile. He focused on his flames and tried to convey all the emotions he had and hoped to develop for his team-mate through their fragile bond. Hope, warmth, friendship, family…

The door opened again not long after and someone stumbled inside.

“Careful there, Uchiha-san. Let’s get you resting.” He heard Haku say. Tsuna jerked upright in shock, ignoring the pain that flared through his abdomen.

Haku was supporting his raven haired team-mate as they stumbled into the room. “Bring him here.” Tsuna croaked hoarsely.

Haku looked up with wide eyes. Something shifted in his eyes as he looked from Tsuna to Sasuke and he nodded in understanding.

Sasuke seemed to out of it to notice what was going on. Haku set the boy down on the futon next to Tsuna and Tsuna turned towards the boy. Sasuke looked at him with half-lidded eyes. The boy looked as if he had been drugged and Tsuna feared he might have overdone things earlier. Sasuke groaned, closed his eyes and went to sleep.

Sakura s POV:

She wasn’t sure what to think anymore. When her team had been announced, Sakura had been ecstatic. She was on a team with Sasuke-kun!! Sure, she had to take Naruto on as well, but she could live with that. Ever since he had gotten hurt in class, the blond had acted different, but she hadn’t paid too much attention to it. He was finally leaving her alone after all. So it was good news all around. She’d thought that would have given her the opportunity to make some progress with Sasuke-kun!

But the last few days had been eye-opening. First, she had thought her daily routine would change when she got a team, but Kakashi-sensei didn’t seem to be too interested in them. They did a few D-rank missions a day, and then she was free to do as she pleased.

She bit her lips as she laid a damp compress on Naruto’s forehead. There wasn’t much she could do beside dampening the cloth every once in a while. Haku, the ninja who had appeared after Naruto had collapsed in their enemy’s arms, had healed most of the damage her team-mate had gotten during the fight. It had been him that had discovered Naruto had been cut in the chest by Zabuza and under Kakashi-sensei’s watchful eye the nin had healed most of the damage. Naruto would feel sour and would most likely have a killer headache when he woke up, but he would be fine otherwise, and after that he had healed her nose.

She bit her lips again. Even now, hours after everything had calmed down, and most of the people inside Tazuna’s house had gone to sleep, frustration was threatening to overwhelm her. Bitter tears had been waiting, ready to spill over ever since they had arrived at the house but she stubbornly refused to let them.

She had done nothing, had been completely useless. In both fights, actually. Not just in the last one… The thought had slammed into her not long after the last battle, once the adrenaline had died down.

She had been the top kunoichi of their graduation class, and she was very proud of that! There were two clan heiresses in their class after all, and she had managed to outscore them both. It wasn’t a small feat, even if it was something that wasn’t important in a ninja’s career in the long run. Still, she had been so proud of herself. However now she realised, nothing in the Academy had prepared her for situations as the ones Team 7 had faced on the road.

Looking back, she could grudgingly admit that Team 7 had had two days of real training before this mission. The day they trained with Team 9 and the day after, when Kakashi-sensei finally seemed to take an interest in them. Or had he simply not wanted to look bad after they had had a taste of what other jounin could teach them? It sure seemed that way, because looking back, Naruto had often enough tried to ask their sensei for training…

She cringed as she thought back to the tantrum she had thrown in the Hokage’s office. It had seemed perfectly fine at the time, even if their leader did reprimand her for it. Looking back, she realised she had gotten arrogant. Arrogant, and annoyed that their sensei made them train that hard. Made her sweat, hurt her muscles and even made her pass out. Two days had been more then she could bare and she had thought to get away from that by asking (or rather demanding, she now realised) a mission that would take them away from the village and training for a while…

And then first their fight with the demon brothers, and later on Zabuza… She knew that the last fight could easily have killed them all. Maybe not their sensei, but Sasuke, Naruto and her? They had obviously been outmatched. If Zabuza had tried a little harder, or if those weird flames of Naruto’s hadn’t latched onto the missing nin… They would have died.

She eyed her team-mate again, took the compress and wrung it out in the bowl next to her. There was a lot she didn’t understand about those flames and the abrupt end of their fight with Zabuza. She hoped Naruto would wake up soon, so she could ask him about it. She had always been very curious and eager to learn, so this situation hit all her buttons.

She steeled her back, determination shining in her eyes. She would need to do better, grow stronger! She would find a way to contribute to her team and support her team-mates! Maybe she could look into medical jutsu when she got back to the village… Or, since they were stuck here until that stupid bridge was build, she could ask Haku if he’d be willing to teach her a bit? If this mission was anything to go on, both her teammates and sensei were the type to rush headfirst into a fight. This wouldn’t be the last time they got hurt, she wasn’t naive enough anymore to believe otherwise. She needed to get stronger, to help support them, to carry her weight on this team, and Why wouldn’t she be able to heal their injuries as well? Tsunade-sama of the Sannin had been able to do both, so why couldn’t she?

TBC

Chapter Text

The next time he woke up, Sasuke was gone. Only Kakashi and Zabuza were in the room. Tsuna decided he had rested enough and tried to get out of bed; he wanted something to eat. Zabuza tried to help him downstairs, but Kakashi not-so-subtlety manoeuvred the man away and steadied Tsuna gently. The missing nin grunted as he was pushed away and glared at the copy nin, but didn’t protest. Tsuna felt a bit uncomfortable seeing the two grown man act like this, but he was too happy with the sudden attention from his sensei to really mind.

Lunch was awkward. Tsunami-san greeted them all cheerfully and thanked Tsuna for his role in keeping her father safe.

Tsuna kept his head down, slowly sipping his chicken broth. Kakashi and Zabuza sat at either side of him and kept glaring at each other.

Sasuke eyed the spectacle and smirked with amusement dancing in his eyes at Tsuna. The little bastard was enjoying this, and he was seemingly ignoring the fact that they had slept next to each other. Huh… Tsuna had not expected that.

"So..." He tried to break the tension. "What happens to our mission now?"

"We are contracted to stay until the bridge is built to protect Tazuna. A clone of mine is currently with him at the site. We shouldn't be here longer than a week now." Kakashi replied.

"What about that Gatou guy? Is he going to send more ninja?" Tsuna bit his lip in worry. He remembered Zabuza had said he had gone to talk to the man and that they had gotten into a ‘minor disagreement’. Whatever that meant…

Zabuza's grin was terrifying and Tsuna instantly felt wary. "Gatou won't be doing anything anymore." He placed a blank scroll before Tsuna.

"What's that?" Tsuna asked, scared of what the answer would be...

"Gatou's head." The man smirked.

Tsuna gulped. He had not expected that. Should he have? Even now, violence made him a bit uncomfortable.

"We talked and had a... disagreement, so I killed him," The man shrugged, clearly not seeing anything wrong with that. ”and everyone in his ‘secret’ base.” He smirked as he laid a lot of emphasise on the word secret.

Wide blue eyes stared at the man from Kiri. Even with half his face masked by bandages Zabuza radiated pride, smugness and even amusement.

"Right." Tsuna nodded. "I don't think I want to know what happened."

Kakashi stood up. "Well I do. Let's go have this talk somewhere else." He smiled pleasantly at the other man, but everyone could feel the slight bit of killer intent he released. This wasn't optional.

Zabuza sighed. "They are shinobi, damn it, not babies."

With a brief glance at Tsuna, he left the room following their sensei. It seemed like the two adult still wanted to treat them like the children they were instead of the shinobi they had recently become. Tsuna wasn’t sure how to feel about that.

Both Sakura and Sasuke immediately turned towards him.

"Ne, Naruto, can we ask you some more questions? About those flames..." started Sakura.

Tsuna blinked at them, momentarily stunned. He wasn't used to either of his team-mates paying him any attention, let alone both at the same time.

"Um... Sure?"

"Why didn't you say anything about them?" asked Sasuke harshly.

Tsuna frowned. "I'm sorry, but I don't think any of us have actually had a real conversation before. Why should I have told you?"

Sakura flinched, but Sasuke only stared at him angrily.

"We're a team." muttered the girl hesitantly.

Tsuna snorted angrily. "I stand by my point. Why should I start sharing secrets with two people who on an average day, either pretend I don't exist or insult me? You want me to start trusting you with stuff like that? Fine, but trust goes both ways."

Sasuke sighed but didn't avert his eyes from the blond. "That might be true, but we never lied or hid anything about our personal abilities. That could seriously endanger all of us on missions. If Zabuza hadn't stopped when he did, who knows what could have happened. That Haku guy was also still around and none of us knew he was there! You-"

"You fell unconscious, Naruto." Sakura interrupted gently. "Zabuza could have done anything to you. We didn't know what was wrong with you!"

"I-" Tsuna stared at them both with stunned eyes. "I'm sorry. I didn't realize."

"Didn't realize that we care?" Sasuke sneered.

"Yes." replied the blond honestly.

"Hn." the raven turned away.

They fell silent for a bit, everyone lost in their own thoughts.

"We're not much of a team, are we?" asked Sakura quietly. "I'm sorry, I was... I'm so stupid."

She hugged herself, tears glittering in her eyes.

Tsuna reached over to pat her arm. "There's no point in pointing fingers now. I think we can agree none of us have been the ideal team-mate..." He smiled at her. "But we can work on that."

She sniffled and looked at him from underneath her eyelashes. He smiled encouragingly. She hesitantly smiled back.

"Hn." Sasuke smirked at them.

Sakura rubbed her eyes. "So how long have you had those flames? I mean, how long have you been able to use them?"

"Not long, a few months before graduation." He replied.

Sasuke frowned at his. "What happened? From what Zabuza said it must have been something... bad."

"Euhm... Not really, I mean, you all remember how I got hurt during that spar right? I got send to the hospital."

They both frowned at him.

"I don’t think anyone could forget that." Muttered Sakura. “You bled a lot and you’ve been different ever since.”

“Right, my doctor has since theorised the changes will be permanent. I feel different, I look at things different, react to them differently… I don’t think I could go back to the way things were before that accident, but ever since then I’ve been having trouble with my chakra. I still haven’t managed to unlock it, but somehow, in trying to do so, I found out about my flames.”

“So you have flames because you can’t use your chakra?” asked Sakura with a frown.

Tsuna shrugged. “I’m not sure. Anyway, I got called to the Hokage not long afterwards and he gave me what little information is known about these flames. I hope to be able to go to Uzushio soon to see if there is anything left that can help me.”

“And those bonds? What’s that about?” asked Sakura unsure.

Tsuna rubbed the back of his head. “Well, that’s a bit more complicated. First you need to know that there are 7 different type of flames known to the Uzumaki. All are named for aspects of the sky: sky, storm, cloud, mist, sun, rain, and lightning. Every flame type is different, both in colour, in appearance and they each have specific characteristics. My flames for example are sky flames, they are orange and their characteristic is Harmony. It allows me to synchronize with my surroundings. Almost like a chakra sensor. From what I found out, Sky flames are the rarest and the most comparable to actual flames among all the Dying Will Flames of the Sky, burning and releasing heat.”

They both listened attentively.

“I’m not sure about the details, but from what I understand sky flames seek to harmonize with at least one person who has one of the other flame types. At least one person for each flame type.  These people are traditionally called Guardians. However such bonds take time to properly form. What I have now with Zabuza isn’t permanent. But it could be, if we both want it to.”

He briefly hesitated. Should he mention the beginning of a bond between him and Sasuke? Or should he wait until he could talk to this team-mate alone?

“I’m sorry to interrupt, but I think it might be a good idea for you to get some more rest.” Haku, Zabuza’s associate, stood in the door opening as he addressed them. He smiled at Tsuna, and the blond awkwardly smiled back. “I’d like to give you a check-up as well, if I’m being honest.”

“Sure.” Answered Tsuna, who only now felt the fatigue settle in.

Sasuke stood up. “We’ll come with you.”

Sakura nodded and stood up as well. Tsuna couldn’t help but smile at his team-mates.

-0-0-

After a check-up and a much needed nap, Haku helped him back down the stairs. His team and Zabuza were sitting in the kitchen. The missing nin was currently having a glaring contest with Kakashi.

Tsuna cleared his throat, trying to defuse the tension.

Haku sat down next to him.

"Ne, I was wondering... Uzushiogakure isn’t located far from here, right?" Tsuna asked curiously.

Seeing as Gato was dead, their mission should be able to go on without too much trouble. He had permission from the Hokage, he just needed to find a way to get Kakashi-sensei to agree to go now. Something about that village... He wanted to see it, to know more about it.

He wasn't sure if it was his intuition acting up again or if he was imply curious.

Kakashi eyed his student carefully. "It's gone, Naruto. There isn't anything there anymore."

"There is still something left. It wasn't completely flattened." Zabuza interjected with a smirk in Kakashi's direction. "I could take you there, if that's what you want."

"No one is going anywhere, least of all with you." Kakashi glared at the man. "He's still recovering."

Haku leaned over towards Tsuna. "They are like two dogs fighting over a bone." The boy giggled. "Or two fanboys fighting over their crush."

Tsuna turned bright red and looked away. Next to him, Sakura flinched as if she had been hit.

"Huh? Are you talking about those old ruins?" Tazuna interrupted them suddenly.

Everyone turned towards him. The old man was standing in the doorway, having just entered the room.

"You've seen it, Tazuna-san?" asked Tsuna, suddenly excited again.

"Sure have. It's an island not far from here, just to the north. It'll take about a day by boat to get there."

"We'd be there much faster if we ran." Zabuza shrugged.

"Ran? On water?" asked Sakura interested, but slightly sceptical.

Haku nodded. "Of course, haven't you learned to walk on water yet?" He tilted his head, clearly curious.

She shook her head. "No way. Can you teach me?"

Sasuke turned towards them, studying the boy intently.

"Hmmm..." Haku grabbed his chin in thought. "Usually your teacher should be the one to..."

"You haven't taught them yet, Hatake?" sneered Zabuza, mockingly.

Kakashi glared at the man, but didn't reply.

Haku tuned the two supposedly mature men out and addressed the rookies. "Have you been practising your tree walking?"

"Our what?" asked Tsuna confused.

The two missing nin turned blank looks towards Kakashi.

The man shrugged. "They only graduated from the Academy a few weeks ago. This was supposed to be a C-rank mission."

The three more experienced ninja turned towards Tazuna. The man flinched and quickly left the room.

"Tch." muttered Zabuza angrily. "Nothing as bad as a client who's trying to save money on missions. Fucking idiots."

"Indeed." Kakashi sighed. "I was going to start them on tree walking once we finished this mission."

"You realized this could have been a disastrous mission, right? If the kid's bloodline hadn't played up, I wouldn't have stopped. Your kids would have died. I had you trapped, and they would have paid the price." Zabuza addressed Kakashi seriously.

"I realize." Kakashi grit out.

Tsuna watched the two men. The tension in the room was rising again.

"Can we go there? To Uzu?" He redirected the conversation.

Kakashi blinked at him, before his only visible eye softened. "Do you want to go?"

Tsuna nodded with certainty. "I want to see it. And... I feel like I need to go there."

"You feel...?"

"Yes, it's difficult to explain..." He trailed off. "But I need to at least understand more about this bloodline."

And maybe he would finally have a valid reason for all his knowledge about flames. He had gotten lucky the day he first activated them. Lucky that there was a way to explain it, but the scrolls the Hokage had given him didn’t have a lot of information. He didn’t really need it, he still remembered all Reborn had taught him in his last life, but he needed a reason to have that knowledge in this new life. It would look very suspicious if an orphan knew all that without being told.

Now that his flames were starting to reach other people, they wouldn't hold back. especially not with a missing nin like Zabuza involved. He would need to explain things properly to Iruka and Sasuke as well…

He cringed as he imagined Zabuza entering Konoha. Like he would simply be allowed to enter and stay there...

Assuming the man wanted to stay in Konoha...

"It's not far, right?" Sasuke interrupted suddenly. "One or two days more won't make a difference, so why not?"

Tsuna shot him a thankful look. The raven smirked at him.

"That's right." Sakura agreed. "Besides, we're still stuck here for a few days before our mission is done."

Kakashi rubbed the back of his neck and sighed loudly. "You guys... It's really not that simple. We can't just take a side trip without the Hokage's permission."

“But the Hokage already gave permission. He told me he would inform you of that and that the final decision would be yours to make, sensei.” Tsuna tilted his head in confusing. Had the Sandaime not mentioned it to their sensei?

Kakashi hummed thoughtfully. “Still, I’ll need to keep the Hokage informed about everything that has happened.” He threw a shrewd look in Zabuza’s direction.

The man preened visibly at their sensei’s displeasure and stood up to stand behind Tsuna. "If it makes it easier on you I can always kidnap this kid. That way you'd have to follow me."

He smirked wildly at their teacher, grabbed the little blond, threw him over his shoulder and ran out of the house.

"HIEE!" shrieked Tsuna in surprise.

Zabuza stopped in surprise just outside the house and rubbed his ears. "You've got a serious pair of lungs on you kid." he grumbled.

"Put me DOWN!" Tsuna tried to wiggle free.

Team 7 and Haku had followed after them.

"Please stop manhandling my student." Kakashi was leaking killer intent.

Zabuza shrugged and did as told. "Arrange it then. The kid wants to go."

Tsuna inched away from the man. The new bond made him reluctant to be far from the man, but he really didn't feel like being carried anywhere like that.

"You're a drama queen." Kakashi rolled his eyes as he placed a hand on Tsuna's shoulder.

The blond looked up at his sensei.

"Fine, we’ll go. Seeing as Tazuna-san is safely home, we completed our mission. However before we go, if Tazuna-san would allow us to stay a few more days, I’ll start teaching you three tree walking and maybe even water walking... If you three are interested of course." Kakashi smiled at them. “In the meantime, that would give Naruto time to make a full recovery.”

Sakura and Tsuna smiled wildly and Sasuke smirked.

Haku giggled as Zabuza threw a nasty glare at the white haired man.

-0-0-

Tree walking was awesome! Or at least it looked like it... Kakashi was smiling at them, hanging upside down from a tree branch.

Tsuna watched him with wide eyes. While in hyper-dying-will mode he could briefly defy gravity by crouching on walls or ceilings but nothing like this. It really looked cool.

"Now, while tree walking is considered a simple chakra exercise, it is a basic technique that comes in handy in all kinds of situations. By applying chakra to certain parts of your body, you learn to regulate specific amounts of chakra. Tree walking is the next step of the leaf sticking exercise you learned at the Academy and water walking is the step after this. For tree walking, you apply chakra to your feet to help you stick to the bark of the tree." Kakashi explained.

The three genin listened attentively.

"The tricky part of this exercise is knowing and getting used to the right amount of chakra necessary for this task. The only way to do this is to practice."

Upside down he threw them each a kunai, which landed before their feet.

"Some people feel more comfortable running up the tree and seeing how far they can go. Others like to go a bit slower. To each their own." He shrugged. "Just know that if you use too much chakra you'll be blasted off, use too little and you won't stick to the bark.”

Sasuke smirked at his team-mates and ran towards the tree. Sakura giggled and followed him.

Sasuke was barely able to take three steps up the tree before he blasted himself back.

Sakura made it up to the first branch, but she ran like she was stepping on a slippery floor.

Tsuna winced. Yeah, no way was he going to try that!

"Naruto? Aren't you going to try?" Asked Kakashi with a frown.

He laughed awkwardly and rubbed the back of his neck. "I have enough trouble accessing my chakra as it is. I think I'll take my time with this." After all his extra training with Iruka-nii he had finally managed to get some grasp on his chakra, but he couldn’t use it for jutsu. It just felt very unnatural to use it. Molding it took a lot of concentration and when in trouble he immediately relied on his flames.

Kakashi tilted his head in contemplation. "Show me."

Tsuna fidgeted nervously. He went and stood before a tree. Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes and tried to focus some chakra in the palm of his hand. His fledgling bond with Iruka made reaching for his chakra easier. It certainly seemed to negate the negative feelings it had in the beginning.

It took a while before he could feel his chakra respond. Cautiously he placed his hand on the bark of the tree.

He lifted it again without effort.

Clearly it didn't stick.

Kakashi jumped down. "Come here and try to do the same thing, but against my hand." He held his hand towards Tsuna, almost as if waiting for a high five.

Tsuna did as asked.

"Hmmm..." His sensei assumed a thinking pose. "You'll need lots of practice. Molding chakra needs to become an automatic response – something you don't need to think about. Such a delay can be deadly. Next, it's not enough to just focus your chakra to a certain part of your body. You need it to actually do something. You gather your chakra correctly, but it's just sitting there."

His sensei gave him a serious look. "You'll need to focus on this for your training."

Tsuna frowned in frustration. To be honest, with the ability to use his flames, he had neglected practising with his chakra. He had hoped to train his body up to the level he could start practising his old techniques.

It seemed like Zero Point Breakthrough (both First and the Revised edition) would have to wait a little longer...

Training and running up trees took up most of his free time the following days. Sasuke turned out to be a loyal companion during this time. Zabuza showed up to observe them the second day as well. Haku was standing ever loyally at his side.

The man had looked at him blunder for about five minutes before he called out to him.

“Oi, kid, come here.” Tsuna looked up from where he was standing next to the tree. He still hadn’t made any attempts to climb it.

“Sit.” Zabuza pointed at the ground before him.

Tsuna raised an eyebrow at the man. He was not a dog!

The man rolled his eyes, sat down himself and patted the grass. Tsuna frowned but did as told. Kakashi came closer and hovered behind him.

“I want you to meditate. Try and reach inside yourself. You’ll find your chakra and probably some of your flames, but keep reaching deeper. And then tell me what you find.”

Tsuna raised an eyebrow. “I’ve done that a few times already. I always find the same. More flames then chakra.”

Now Zabuza rolled his eyes. “Then do it again.”

Tsuna sighed, but closed his eyes obediently. He reached inside, but didn’t try to grab either energy. He could still feel the agony of his lost guardians, but the pain had dulled enough that he felt good enough to briefly linger for a while. It seemed his three starting bonds really helped against the pain.

“Deeper.” Reminded Zabuza.

Tsuna tilted his head, but tried to reach past what he had already found. Only to find more of the same. He continued going. The his flames surged forward and wrapped around him. They didn’t hurt, they never did, but he opened his eyes to see what was making them react so protectively. They were literally flooding the space he was in.

He was standing in front of a huge metal cage. A simple piece of paper seemed to keep the gate close. He had to strain his eyes to see what was written on it. Seal? Really?

He tried to spy what was hidden behind the metal.

Something moaned behind the bars. Tsuna’s eyes grew wide as he saw the red furred creature.

This had to be the Kyuubi. It was huge! It’s head alone looked to be bigger than he was tall! It had red-orange fur, long almost rabbit-like ears and sharp teeth and claws.

The creature blearily opened an eye from where it was laying on the ground. A huge red eye glared at Tsuna and the creature began to growl. Without Tsuna’s directions, his flames surged forward and flooded the demon, who sighed blissfully, calmed down and ignored Tsuna completely.

Tsuna shifted uncomfortably and took a deep breath. It took a lot of willpower but he managed to force his flames away from the demon. He had never really seen this phenomenon happening before but it didn’t take long for him to realise that this was what Reborn had called ‘flame-drunk’. A surplus of pure sky flames could make other flame types seemingly drunk, or high, depending on your point of view.

He focused back on the outside world. Even a demon would need time to recuperate from that… And Tsuna really didn’t feel ready to confront a demon fox who had terrorised his village and whom he had unknowingly been drugging for who knows how long.

As he refocused on Zabuza, he felt his flames … unwind. Unknowingly he had had them focused so tight around that seal, that now, it felt like a relief to unwind them. As he felt them relax he could finally feel a small amount of blue energy slipping free, not a lot, but more than he had ever managed before.

He couldn’t help the smile on his face.

Zabuza smirked at him. “Better.”

-o-o-

Ever since that moment Tsuna was steadily getting better at using chakra. He wasn’t sure if he’d ever get rid of the reflex to automatically reach for his flames instead of his chakra, but he was making progress. Although he had to admit, Sasuke was progressing faster than him.

Sakura had completed the training at the end of the second day. Kakashi had sat his three students down and explained that, while Sakura had mastered the technique, her chakra reserves were small so she had an easier time with control in general. She needed more of a challenge to help her increase her reserves. He would start her on water walking the next day.

Tsuna was itching to get Zabuza alone to talk to the man. He wasn’t going to force the man into anything but he did want to know some things before he allowed their bond to grow. Unfortunately Kakashi seemed determined to not allow the missing nin too close or alone with his student. It was very frustrating, especially after being ignored for weeks by the same man.

So he approached the man one night after dinner. “Sensei, if you could spare a minute, I’d like to have a word.” Don’t let it be said he didn’t know how to be polite.

The man blinked at him, but stood up and lead him outside. “What’s wrong Naruto? Are you still feeling hurt?”

“No, sensei, nothing like that.” He reassured the man. “I just wanted to know why you suddenly decided to start fussing about me. I mean, you’re hovering, sensei, worse than any mother I have seen around their children. Before we left the village, you seemed to actively try and spend as little time as you could around us all.”

The man rubbed the back of his neck, and hummed a bit. “I’m just worried about my students.”

“We’ve been your students for weeks.” Tsuna dismissed immediately. “Plus you are not making the same fuss when Haku is teaching Sakura first aid in the evenings. Only around me.”

“Sakura is being taught?”

“You didn’t notice?” asked Tsuna with an emotionless look on his face.

“Haha.” The man laughed awkwardly but he didn’t reply to Tsuna’s questions.

Tsuna sighed as the silence stretched between them. “Could you at least give me some breathing room? I really do need to speak Zabuza alone before we leave here.”

“And why is that?” asked the man with a hard look in his eyes. “He is a missing nin, a shinobi who betrayed their village. That is not someone I want around my genin. He is very dangerous.”

Tsuna snorted, thinking about all the dangerous people he had met in another lifetime. “I know all that. But there is a connection between us due to my flames so I’d really like to talk to him.”

“What about? I’m not leaving you alone with him.”

“Sensei, what I talk about or who I bond with, is honestly none of your business. It’s private.” Tsuna steeled his spine and looked his sensei dead in the eyes.

The man wilted. “Fine, I’ll give you a bit of time tomorrow while I arrange for our transport to the ruins of Uzu tomorrow. But that’s all. Make it count.”

And the man shinshuned away. Tsuna felt a bit guilty for his harsh words, but he couldn’t help feeling giddy at the same time.

The next morning, once Kakashi left Tazuna’s house, saying he would arrange their voyage for the next day, Tsuna didn’t feel giddy anymore. Nerves were racing through him as he made his way outside to sit on the porch. His team-mates had just left the house to continue their training, and Zabuza was very quick to find him.

The man sat down next to him. “Your teacher finally left.” The man grunted.

“I asked him to. I wanted to talk to you, in private. Or at least, as private as possible surrounded by shinobi.” Tsuna shrugged sheepishly.

The man smirked, but didn’t say anything.

Tsuna cleared his throat. “I just want to know… Where do we go from here?”

“What do you mean?” Zabuza frowned.

“We’re not staying here forever. What happens tomorrow? Will you come with us? To Uzu or even to Konoha?”

Zabuza shrugged. “Or you could come with me.”

Tsuna shook his head, and thought of the Kyuubi sealed in his gut. “Somehow, I don’t think Konoha would let me leave. And besides, Iruka-nii is still in the village. I won’t abandon him there.”

“Iruka-nii?” asked the man with amusement.

Tsuna blushed. “My Mist. I haven’t really to talked to him about it, but… I won’t abandon him.”

Zabuza hummed thoughtfully. “Well, Haku could use some stability.”

Tsuna waited for him to continue. The missing nin didn’t. Tsuna grit his teeth. Why was it so difficult to get either Zabuza or Kakashi to talk? “And? What does that mean?”

“We’ll come with you. See if we can get asylum or something…” the man trailed off at seeing Tsuna’s bright smile.

They didn’t get much further than that in their talk as Kakashi-sensei came sprinting back. Tsuna briefly felt like hitting himself in the head from frustration. Clearly the man had been trying to break some sort of speed record to allow them the least amount of time for their talk.

-o-o-

Tsuna was quiet as they got off the boat. It was halfway through the afternoon, two days after they had left Tazuna’s place, and Kakashi was talking to the captain of the small fisherman's boat he had arranged. Their departure from Tazuna’s house had been quick and without much fanfare.

"He'll be back tomorrow, around midday to pick us up." Their sensei explained as he joined them.

Two of his genin nodded at him, but Tsuna only had eyes for the ruined city before him.

"Is this Uzu?" asked Sakura in a small voice.

It was a ruin. Buildings were completely or half demolished, the place was clearly abandoned and trees and other plants were steadily growing to seemingly try and cover up as much as possible. As if they were trying to reclaim the parts of the island humans had once occupied.

His intuition was screaming at him, so he took a first step...

And a second...

And another one...

Before he realized it, he had started running, up the hill and out of the small harbour where they had landed.

"Naruto!" Kakashi stopped him with a firm hand on his shoulder. "There is no need to run off. We have plenty of time to explore."

Tsuna bit his lip anxiously.

"Come on, dobe. Take it easy." Sasuke gently bumped against him in silent support.

The blond tried to give his team-mate a smile but couldn't quite manage it. The boy nodded once in understanding.

Sakura joined them, standing on his other side.

Kakashi smiled at them proudly.

"I believe this is only the port. Uzushiogakure should be a bit further inland." Kakashi observed as they reached what seemed to be the edge of the small town. A road gently swayed in between the hills surrounding the port city.

They started running on the road. They ran in silence, the sight of the port still affecting them. It was only when they noticed the ruined buildings on the biggest hill, or rather mountain, before them that they realized that was Uzushiogakure.

"This was a small village," Haku observed what was left of the village before them. "but it must have been spectacular."

They stood before a huge gate, not unlike the ones at Konoha. Or at least what was left of them.

Zabuza grunted. "It was, especially compared with the other Hidden villages. I believe the Uzumaki clan was the only big clan that settled here."

"Where do you want to go first?" Kakashi asked the blond.

"That way." Tsuna didn't hesitate as he pointed up.

Self-assured and guided by his intuition, he lead them deeper into what once must have been a remarkable village. Uzu had been built to match the mountain, with a lot of tall buildings.

He didn't know where he was going but his intuition hadn't led him wrong yet.

"That symbol is everywhere." mused Sakura. "Isn't that what Konoha shinobi wear?" 

Kakashi nodded. "Indeed, it's mostly worn on the chuunin vest. It's to honour and remember the alliance that once existed between Uzu and Konoha. They were our closest allies." 

"You know," started Zabuza as he turned towards Tsuna, "if you ever get tired of Konoha, you can come back here and rebuild this place." 

Startled, Tsuna blinked in astonishment. "What?" 

"You're an Uzumaki. This village is your legacy. Once you have some bonds, you could come back, become Uzukage. Rebuild this place." 

Tsuna bit his lip. Rebuilding these ruins did sound good, but becoming Uzukage? That gave him an immediate flashback to the mountains of paperwork he had to deal with as Decimo, and, while he had gotten used to all the responsibilities, like sending people out on missions, never knowing if they would come back, it wasn't something he felt like rushing back into. Though the Naruto-part of him, seemed to perk up at the thought of becoming a kage.

"I think I'm a bit too young to think about something like that." He sheepishly rubbed the back of his neck. He didn’t want to think about that yet.

They barely entered the main village as a voice called out to them.

“Well, well, I didn’t expect to get any company so soon. Good morning~” They all turned in surprise.

Tsuna gasped with wide eyes as a glowing, see-through Byakuran stepped forward. The other Sky smiled at them cheerfully and waved with one hand. He looked exactly like Tsuna had seen him last, which included him holding a bag of marshmallows to snack on.

Zabuza immediately moved closer to cover Tsuna, who couldn’t take his eyes of Byakuran.

“Who the hell are you!?” shrieked Sakura surprised.

“Correction, what are you?” asked Sasuke rudely with a frown.

“Hush now.” Reprimanded Kakashi as he stepped between Byakuran and his students. “Still, stranger-san, the questions both stand. Who and what are you?”

“I am a flame imprint, cyclops-chan~” smiled Byakuran innocently.

Tsuna wasn’t buying the act at all, he knew Byakuran loved nothing more than to mess with other people.

“I've been left behind by my original self to wait in this place until a little sky would come around so that I could explain some things. Would you like to go somewhere more comfortable or would you rather just stay here? What do you think, Naru-chan~”

Zabuza started leaking killer intent. "What did you just call him?" He clearly didn’t like how familiar the stranger was with Tsuna.

The albino studied the missing nin briefly and gave an amused chuckle before he addressed Tsuna. “Naru-chan, you really need to keep your Rain on a leach. My name is Byakuran. And you, little Sky, are Uzumaki Naruto.”

“How do you know Naruto’s name?” asked Sasuke suspiciously.

Byakuran shrugged. “I’m all-knowing, and he’s an obviously an Uzumaki, even if he is blond. I was left behind here, to aid any remaining Uzumaki that wandered here with questions. There was a small plaza a bit further on. Shall we go there?” And with that he drifted away, presumably towards the plaza he mentioned.

Tsuna followed him before any of the others could protest. He was certain that this Byakuran was in fact the same one that had explained to him months ago that he had been reborn in this new world.

It wasn’t very far, just behind the corner and Tsuna found Byakuran peacefully snacking as he sat on a big piece of debris. The man was humming cheerfully as he waved at them.

Tsuna went and stood before him as the others surrounded him. Sasuke stood on his right, having quickly taken the spot before Kakashi could, and Zabuza stood on Tsuna’s left.

“You were left here to help…me?”

“Bingo~!” smiled the man, and Tsuna felt his right eye starting twitching. “Now, I see you sure have been busy. You started three bonds already, three potential guardians, not bad, Naru-chan.”

“Three?” Kakashi turned towards his student. “Since when?”

Tsuna felt himself blush under his sensei’s accusing stare.

“Oh, it’ll go quite quickly now. Once an active Sky starts bonding, a full set is usually quickly completed. There are always exceptions of course, as Skies don’t just bond with the first element they find, but once they start, they usually find a full set within the year.”

“How do you know all that?” Asked Zabuza with a glare.

Byakuran chuckled again. “Why, I possess Sky flames myself. And us skies should support each other.” He threw a wink at Tsuna.

"Would you be willing to tell us more about those flames and bonds?" asked Kakashi business-like. "I'm afraid we never heard anything about it in Konoha."

“Of course, of course, it’s why I am here, after all. To educate you little people.” Byakuran smirked at the jounin. Tsuna was actually very surprised his sensei kept this calm in the face of this situation.

"Now, where to start..." Byakuran trailed off amused as he popped another marshmallow in his mouth.

"You said Naruto is an active Sky. What does that mean?" asked Sakura as the man didn't immediately continue on.

"Everyone has flames, little kunoichi. People discovered flames long before they started using chakra. Having an active flame, means you have access to them, that you can use them. It's much like chakra in that way. Everyone has chakra, some people just never learn to access it, like civilians."

"How would one make their flames active then?" asked Kakashi, interested.

"That would depend. They're called flames, but the correct name is Dying Will flames."

"As in the will to die?" asked Sasuke with a disturbed frown.

"No, just the opposite, Sasu-chan" Byakuran smiled at the raven who glared at him angrily. "It's the will to keep on living while you're about to die. Mostly through all the regrets you have in that moment... And the determination to do better. Once you activate them, you can learn to gain access to them whenever you want. Accessing them for the first time is very tricky. Even when this village was thriving, a fool proof way was never found." He sighed dramatically. Tsuna could feel his face twitching again. "Most people died trying. I think the village once managed to have seven flame active people at the same time, but that was in times of war, and two of those were civilians. That was the best they could manage."

Sakura gulped.

"The last Uzukage decided shortly after he became active to forbid those experiments."

"The Uzukage was a Sky?" asked Tsuna curiously.

Byakuran smiled fondly at the blond. "Always. Though they weren’t all active. Skies are after all born leaders."

"So, you have flames? Active flames, I mean?" asked Sasuke.

“Yes, as I said before, I am a flame imprint. That means, my original self left some of his flames behind in an image of himself with a mission in mind. He’s long gone though.” Byakuran lifted his right hand for everyone to see and lit the Mare ring he wore on flame. “As you can see I do have some flames, even if I can’t really interact with the word of the living around me. These are sky flames, much like Naru-chan has. I’m assuming Naru-chan has informed you about what his flames represent, yes?”

"Huh?"

"Naru-chan, you didn’t explain?” whined Byakuran as he pouted at Tsuna. The boy sweat dropped, but didn’t reply. He did explain, but maybe only to Sasuke and Sakura? He had trouble keeping track of what he mentioned to who… Besides, Byakuran was loving this opportunity to show off.

“You know about the different flames right? The Sky itself, Storm, Rain, Sun, Lightning, Cloud, and Mist. Each flame has a different colour and different characteristics. Take for example your Rain flames, Zabu-chan, their main quality is tranquillity. Should you ever go Active, you could use them to weaken a target by robbing their strength and their capacity of movement." 

"To become a blessed shower that settles conflict and washes everything away." Tsuna muttered.

"Right." Beamed Byakuran. “You seemed to have gotten a good grasp on that intuition that some Uzumaki inherit. Make sure you always listen to it.” He winked at Tsuna. He obviously knew that Tsuna already knew this, but he was having way to much fun pretending for the others.

“Intuition?” asked Kakashi as he tilted his head in confusion.

“Aah.” Byakuran nodded. “It’s something the main line Uzumaki have been passing down to their descendants. It’s an instinct they have, an extraordinary perception of situations and people. The first Uzukage developed it that well that some people considered him a seer.”

"Can you choose which type of flames you get?" asked Haku curiously.

"No, that depends mostly on your personality." The man continued smiling way too cheerfully. “Some people are known to have more than one type of flame, but it’s a real challenge to use more than one flame at the same time.”

"You still haven’t explained about those bonds." asked Kakashi.

"Of course. A Sky represents Harmony. Sky users search for other elements, whether consciously or unconsciously. They are incomplete without each other and to separate a Sky from someone they claim as their own is suicidal. Breaking such a bond is not recommended." Byakuran gave Kakashi a stern look. It always felt weird to see the normally so cheerful and childish man going serious… It usually didn’t mean anything good.

Zabuza threw Kakashi a smug look. The jounin didn't show any form of reaction.

"Skies can bond with multiple people, but they need at least one person for each flame type. This person per flame type is called a guardian. They have either the strongest flames or know their Sky the longest." He turned towards Tsuna with a broad smile. “You’ve already made some excellent progress gathering a full set, three more bonds to go. Don’t take too long now, Skies are usually fast to gather guardians after activation. It leaves you vulnerable...”

“You mentioned that before, that Tsuna has bonded with three people. But there is only Zabuza.” Kakashi frowned at the flame-imprint.

Tsuna tensed. He really didn’t feel like exposing those bonds here, and now. Especially since he hadn’t had the chance to talk to Sasuke or Iruka in private.

“Mah, mah, just because you are only aware of Zabuza doesn’t mean Naru-chan doesn’t have any other bonds.” He waved his hands dismissively. “However, if you are not an element in his Sky than it really doesn’t concern you. Bonds like that could possibly never fully develop, at least not until someone becomes Active. Now, enough talk, the last Uzukage left something behind in his office that you might find useful. Shall we go get it?” the man winked again.

Byakuran s POV:

He couldn’t contain his grin even if he tried. Tsuna-kun was just too cute right now. The little blond haired blue eyed boy, still looked a lot like his old self, except for his colouring and those whisker marks on his cheeks. And people had said Tsuna had resembled Primo a lot in his last life, but now he could pass as his younger clone!

He grew serious as he recalled how Tsuna had died. Some negotiations with another Famiglia that had turned sour. No one had expected something like that.

He would never forget Yuni’s frantic phone call after her vision. And to think he had contemplated not picking up the phone. That would have been a disaster… they had barely had enough time to rush to the scene, and in a way they had still been too late. Tsuna had been shot and had been dying. Fast. Their fellow Sky wasn’t conscious anymore and neither him nor Yuni had bothered speaking to the Vongola’s guardians before they did what they had to do. They had grabbed his soul and forced it (also with Mukuro’s help, who had experience with this and quickly caught on to what they were doing) to merge with his alternate self. They hadn’t searched too extensively to find the perfect fit in alternate self, they hadn’t had the time.

Still, everything had turned out fine. Tsuna was adapting to this strange world, forming new bonds, getting a new family in this dangerous world. He didn’t feel any remorse in what he had done, and he also wasn’t going to answer any questions Tsuna might have about the world he had left behind. It wouldn’t do for the young Sky to dwell on the past. There was no changing anything Byakuran might have wanted to tell him.

Besides this part of him, this flame-imprint he now was, was a part his original had left behind. He had no idea what had happened afterwards, so he wouldn’t be able to answer anyway.

He grinned in anticipation. He couldn’t wait to give Tsuna his new family rings!

TBC.

Chapter Text

After a long and, in Tsuna's eyes, much repeated discussion about flames (mostly between Byakuran and Kakashi-sensei) the other Sky finally motioned them to follow him. Finally, it was beginning to get dark.

They entered one of the bigger buildings and Byakuran took the lead, until they arrived at a stone door. It looked like it had once been made of wood... He leaned forward and knocked on the stone. Solid...

He recognized it, this was stone created through Sky flames. In the middle of the stone door, was an intricate seal array, carved in the stone.

"Feeding some flames to the array will be enough to unseal the office." The albino explained with a smile. "The last Uzukage sealed his office before he left to join his forces during the Kiri invasion." He threw a big smile at Zabuza.

The Kiri missing nin narrowed his eyes.

Tsuna stepped forward. He really wanted to open it—there was something important inside, he just knew it.

He briefly looked back to his team and Zabuza, but they were all just watching him.

Tsuna took a deep breath and entered Hyper Dying Will mode.

Byakuran hummed in delight while Tsuna could feel everyone's eyes studying him carefully. Seeing him use his flames outside of battle gave them a chance to really see the changes in him.

Carefully, Tsuna placed his hand just above the middle of the array, which briefly glowed orange, before melting away. The door became wood again and Tsuna gently pushed it open.

His intuition wouldn't be stopped anymore. Trusting both Zabuza and Kakashi to keep him safe, he entered the room, immediately zeroed in on the desk and gently lifted the flat wooden box that was strategically placed in the middle, with the Uzu symbol carved on the lid.

It wasn't sealed in any way, so he could open it without trouble.

He gasped. Inside were eight rings! A set of Dying will rings and a simple silver band.

Tsuna's enthusiasm melted away like snow for the sun as he immediately noticed these rings looked remarkably like his old set of family rings…

They were all identical, except for the colour of the stones. Red, blue, green, yellow, indigo, purple and … orange? The Sky ring was identical to the others, except with an orange stone. Which if he had to be honest made more sense than the blue stone he had worn on his ring in his previous live. He had never understood why that was. Especially since its counterparts, the Mare ring and the Arcobaleno pacifier, did have that bright orange colour resembling their flames.

The only other difference between both sets of rings was that these ones lacked the Vongola coat of arms. These were engraved with the Uzu spiral.

The eighth ring was a simple silver band. It didn't look like anything special…

"Rings?" asked Haku, curious.

"I think so. One for me and one for each of my guardians, I think." He pretended to be confused.

He put the Sky ring on the ring finger of his right hand. He focused his will and the Sky ring lit up with flames instantly.

"It's pretty." Sakura whispered softly as she stared at his flames.

"That's strange. What are you doing there?" Sasuke pointed back towards the box as he arched an eyebrow in Byakuran's direction..

"Huh?" Tsuna saw what his team-mate was pointing at.

On the inside of the lid was a drawing of a chibi figure that could only be Byakuran, smiling happily and giving a peace sign.

"This is unbelievable. I hope you choke on those marshmallows, you meddler." He muttered with irritation.

The Byakuran who was in the room with them grinned brightly. "Now, now, there is no need for that, Naru-chan. Also, you might want to try that blank ring while you're alone."

The albino gave such an obvious wink, Tsuna felt like face palming.

-o-o-

Getting back to Konoha was an almost boring journey, especially compared to their first trip. Tsuna had both been very glad and sad to leave Uzu and Byakuran behind. Glad because the other Sky had annoyed him to no end and sad, because the imprint had done all it could to make sure that Tsuna couldn't talk to him without the others overhearing. Byakuran had claimed feeling weak, as his flames supposedly ran out and had disappeared to 'conserve his strength' but Tsuna knew the other well enough to know that was completely made up.

Byakuran's parting words still haunted him.

"No worries, Naru-chan, you'll see me soon enough."

Now, they stood in the Hokage's office. After reporting at the entrance gate of Konoha, Zabuza and Haku had been taken into T&I, as Kakashi had warned them they would. Both nin would first need to be cleared by that department before they could be allowed to wander around in the village.

Kakashi had just finished debriefing and he had barely mentioned Tsuna's bloodline which was something Tsuna had not expected. After all, since meeting Zabuza, most days featured his flames in one way or another and a lot had changed now. He had two new beginning bonds and his whole team knew about his flames now.

Behind the Sandaime were three other people. Two males and a female. One of the males was covered in bandages and had a cross shaped scar on his chin. Old people... Either they were retired shinobi, and that meant they were good enough to retire in the first place or they were civilians. In any case, Tsuna didn't understand what they were doing here. Except maybe if they were trying to meddle…

Tsuna took a deep breath as he straightened up. Something told him he would thank Reborn for his lessons before this talk was over. Zabuza and Haku were currently under surveillance in another room of the Hokage tower, and Tsuna felt uncomfortable being away from his Rain... Luckily Sasuke was there, but as that bond wasn't acknowledged yet by both participants, it didn't have the same effect.

The Sandaime hadn't interrupted their sensei. He had linked his fingers together and rested his chin on them, studying all the shinobi in his office intently as Kakashi talked.

Now they were waiting in silence for the leader to talk.

Tsuna wasn't sure what would be said, but he knew he had to take responsibility now and address the Hokage himself. He could do this… He had faced worse, damn it! He steeled his resolve.

"Your sensei has stayed very vague when talking about your powers, young Naruto." The man started.

Tsuna narrowed his eyes. "My bloodline, Hokage-sama? Might I ask what sensei has told you already?" He didn't like how the man suddenly stopped referring to his flames as a bloodline. What was going on here?

The man eyed him intently.

"I merely mentioned that your bloodline is fire-based and binds people to you in a way that wasn't very clear to me yet. I said that it was strongly recommended to us to not try and mess with such bonds." Kakashi supplied as the Hokage didn't seem intent on replying.

"Indeed." The old man agreed.

Tsuna didn't know a lot of this Hokage. Same as before, when he saw the man his first reaction was to remember how much he had cared for the man when he was only Naruto. but as Tsuna the Hokage reminded him of a lot of Timoteo, the head of the Vongola family before him. While Timoteo had always given a grandpa-esque vibe, Tsuna would never forget some of the things the old man had done – sealing away his own flames and freezing Xanxus in ice for multiple years, to give a few examples. But he didn't know this man. Tsuna hadn't met or really talked to the man, except for when he had first unlocked his flames that one time.

However the fact that the Hokage reminded him of the Kyuudaime was not a good sign. What was the saying: the road to hell is paved with good intentions?

"As Kakashi-sensei just explained during our debriefing, we met someone who called himself a flame-inprint of someone long dead, like a ghost if you will, who confirmed to us that these flames I awakened a few months ago are indeed part of a bloodline known to be awakened in the Uzumaki clan." Tsuna calmly summarised.

"The man you met wasn't a Uzumaki yet he possessed the same powers." The Hokage raised an eyebrow at him. "And he confirmed that others outside of the Uzumaki clan could possibly awaken the same powers?"

Tsuna grit his teeth. He suddenly remembered why he hated all those political discussions – it always felt like pulling teeth...

Sasuke took a step closer to him.

"I'm afraid I cannot confirm nor deny that, as Byakuran-san never gave us a last name." Tsuna managed to dodge that bullet.

"That does not answer our question." the old lady interrupted.

Tsuna frowned at her. "I don't recall any of you asking me any questions. I also don't recall being introduced to you."

Sakura flinched behind him. Maybe he was being a bit too bold? Tsuna gulped, feeling his confidence falter. He squared his shoulders again. He wasn't sure what they wanted from him, but he would keep his and his (future) guardians well-being in mind. He wouldn't let some old people decide what would be best for his Family.

The lady glared at him, but it was the bandaged man who addressed him. "My name is Danzo Shimura. These are Koharu Utatane and Homura Mitokado. We are the Hokage's council."

"And might I inquire why you are present for a simple mission debriefing?" asked Tsuna with narrowed eyes. He had to fight not to react and take a step away from the man. His intuition was screaming at him to get away from Danzo.

He did suspect what the answer would be but hoped they wouldn't-

"We heard your mission took an unexpected turn, as well as a little trip to Uzu. We were merely concerned." the man smiled at him.

"I'm sure that I speak for my whole team when I assure you we appreciate your concern." He managed to smile polity at the man.

The man stopped smiling and eyed him briefly before smiling again.

"We would simply like to have an understanding of your abilities and an explanation to Momoshi Zabuza's presence in Konoha."

"I could show you." Tsuna entered Hyper Dying Will mode.

He immediately felt much calmer.

Homura watched the flames on his forehead and hands with wide eyes while Koharu's and Danzo's eyes narrowed. The Hokage, who had already seen these flames, merely eyed him curiously.

"These are my flames. From what we heard there are seven different types of flames. Mine are called Sky flames and are apparently know to try and attract other possible flame users."

"So there are others who possess those powers?" Danzo interrupted.

Tsuna frowned, fixing his bright orange eyes on the man. "Everyone has flames. It was explained to us that flames can be compared to chakra. Everyone has it, but only a select few can access them and while with enough training people can learn to access chakra, flames are much trickier. The last Uzukage apparently stopped the experimentations to learn more about this because of the high body count."

"To continue what I was saying," Tsuna eyed Danzo briefly, "It seems my flames have already starting reaching out to people to start bonding with, without my knowing. Zabuza is one of them."

"Who are the others?" asked the Hokage.

Tsuna's lips thinned. "I don't feel comfortable revealing that information yet. I haven't had a chance to talk to those people yet and I won't consider us bonded until we do."

"Your Hokage asked you a question, boy." Homaru glared at him.

Tsuna took a breath to keep calm and narrowed his eyes at the elder people in the room. "I was giving to understand that as part of the Uzumaki clan, clan law extended to me. My bloodline only affects me and the people I will bond with. I don't understand why I need to explain myself to you." He eyed the three council members. "I am willing to give the Hokage a basic understanding of my bloodline again, of course," he inclined his head towards the man, "though a great deal of this information was provided by him in the first place."

"One boy does not make a clan." The woman commented sharply.

"Really now? I was told otherwise." Sasuke interrupted suddenly as he sneered at her. Clearly there was some history there. He'd have to ask Sasuke about that later.

"Now now," Kakashi finally stepped in. "I myself can testify that exceptions have already been made on that requirement."

"Yes, but both the Uchiha and the Hatake are Konoha clans." Danzo parried immediately.

Tsuna shrugged with an innocent smile. "As far as I know, the Shodaime Hokage was married to an Uzumaki, so technically I think my clan would qualify as a Konoha clan, but if it's such a problem I can always resign as a shinobi and leave. Uzushio is a ruins, but I'm sure I can figure something out to have it rebuilt."

"You-"

"That is enough." Interrupted the Hokage as he frowned at his advisors. "Naruto-kun is a part of this village, just as some of his ancestors before him. I am sure that we can come to a compromise. I would like, however, to have a private talk with Naruto-kun. If you would all leave us."

The last part wasn't a suggestion. The council clearly wasn't happy but they left without saying anything. Danzo glared at the Hokage.

Once it was clear the elders had left, Kakashi ushered his two genin outside. "We'll be waiting outside, Naruto."

Tsuna nodded, not taking his eyes off the Sandaime.

"Now, Naruto-kun." the man smiled at him once they were alone. "How are you feeling?"

Tsuna blinked. "Huh?" He had not expected the sudden turn about in the man's mood.

He had a strange flash-back to their conversation in the Hospital a few months ago, with Iruka-nii-san. He had not expected his Mist to express concern back then and now this…? He was either surrounded by very good actors, or more people cared about him than he could have ever guessed, especially as Naruto.

Unconsciously, his flames dissipated.

"Kakashi mentioned you had gotten hurt during your first meeting with Zabuza-san."

"Ah, right." He felt so stupid right now, but still the sudden change in mood had thrown him off. "Haku helped and I heal fast. It was gone after a few days."

"Good, good." The man seemed pleased. "So, you managed to find out more about those flames."

Tsuna nodded.

"I will try to run as much interference as I can, but I fear you might get summoned a few more times by any of our councils. Sadly, it seems we have too many of those. I can only advise that you do not speak to any of them without me being present."

"I can do that." said Tsuna, relieved.

"Very good. Now, about your bloodline. I will need to know a few things, of course. I understand that you are not obliged to do so, but I hope you'll agree to accommodate me in this instance."

"I'm sure we can come to an agreement." agreed Tsuna reasonably.

"I would like to know who you bond with. I want you to talk to the people you had in mind as soon as possible and if they agree, I expect to be notified. I suspect my advisers, and more particularly Danzo, might try to influence you to bond to certain people."

"I will."

"Especially if you gather people from outside Konoha." he smiled wryly.

"What's going to happen to Zabuza and Haku?" asked Tsuna concerned.

"They'll both need to at least spend some time at the T&I department. Nothing too grave." He quickly reassured the blond at Tsuna's worried look. "The fact that Zabuza is a missing nin who tried to start a revolution in his village and Haku never swore his allegiance to Kiri plays in their favour. Still I'm sure you understand that as the Hokage the safety of the inhabitants of this village has priority."

"Of course. Can I visit them?"

"Of course. They'll be in interrogation for a while but, unless they give us reason to, they won't be harmed."

"Thank you." sighed Tsuna, relieved.

"Is there something else you think I should know about?"

"Well, Sensei told you about the box with the rings, right?"

The Sandaime nodded.

"As I said before, there are seven different flames types. I need to bond with at least one person per flame type. At least. For each flame type, I'll assign someone I consider a Guardian. They will each get a ring."

"Guardians? That's a peculiar name."

Tsuna shrugged without explaining further.

"Very well. I'll let you go now." The man dismissed Tsuna. "Rest up and tell your sensei I expect Team 7 in my office tomorrow morning, at 9 o'clock. No exceptions."

Tsuna smiled at that. Yeah, apparently Team 7 weren't the only ones Kakashi made wait for him.

"Will do. Thank you, Hokage-sama."

-o-o-

After informing his team of what the Hokage had said, Kakashi had dismissed them to get some rest. His team-mates had shortly after left for their homes.

Tsuna quickly went to see Zabuza and Haku to assure himself they were both fine, but as he wasn't allowed to talk to them, he didn't stick around.

But instead of going to his lonely apartment, Tsuna made his way to the Academy. While he longed to see Iruka-nii-san again, he didn't look forward to having to explain everything, again!

He sighed as he approached the building, barely managing to side step a young boy who ran out of the building at top speed.

"Konohamaru!" Iruka yelled as he chased the boy.

The kid yelped and continued running only to tip a few feet further over the long scarf he was wearing.

"Ah!"

He stayed down, face planted firmly in the ground.

Tsuna sweat dropped.

Iruka didn't slow down, grabbed the boy by the back of his shirt and looked ready to start yelling when Tsuna intervened.

"Nii-san, I'm back." He smiled at the man.

Iruka startled, his eyes widening as he saw the blond and started smiling. "Naruto-kun! When did you get back?"

"Naru-nii!" exclaimed Konohamaru happily. "You're back!"

Iruka shook the boy without taking his eyes of Tsuna. "I heard your mission went well. Can you tell me about it?"

Konohamaru was clearly getting dizzy.

"It was... something else. Ano, I think he's getting sick."

The boy looked green.

Iruka stopped shaking him but frowned at the boy. "He shouldn't have been trying to skip detention."

"Aha." chuckled Tsuna weakly. "Do you have some time? To talk?"

"Sure, let me drop this troublemaker in detention and I'm all yours." The older man smiled at him. "I'll be right back."

Tsuna only had to wait a few minutes before Iruka came back, Konohamaru-free.

"What did you want to talk about?" the teacher asked.

Tsuna gulped. "Can we go somewhere more private? My place or something?"

Iruka frowned. "Is everything all right?"

"Yes, it's just..."

"We can go to my place, if you want to?"

Tsuna nodded thankful. "Yes, that would be fine."

Iruka placed his hand on Tsuna's shoulder and shunshinned them into his apartment.

Not having expected such a sudden change, Tsuna barely caught himself before he fell. Iruka helped steady him.

"Do you want something to drink?"

"Some water is fine."

Getting them a drink, Iruka sat down at the table and looked expectantly at the younger boy.

Tsuna took a deep breath and started the whole explanation – how there were different types of flames, how they interacted, how his flames were reaching out to other people, how their last mission had become crazy complicated for his team because of it, and how his flames were probably the only reason everyone had made it out of that clusterfuck alive … the whole shebang.

He didn't mention Zabuza by name, only that he started bonding to someone he met while away.

He didn't feel like dealing with that headache just yet. Maybe he could tell Iruka by introducing him to Zabuza. That way, the Kiri nin would have to deal with chuunin. His nii-san could mother-hen like the best after all.

It felt evil, but he supposed Reborn had to have rubbed off on him somehow...

Iruka stayed quiet for a few minutes, clearly processing.

"That's a lot to take in."

"I know." Tsuna smiled wryly.

"Why did you tell me all that? From what you just said, this is considered a bloodline, and missions aren't supposed to be talked about outside of your team, so why...?"

"Because I realized my flames have already reached out to you."

Iruka looked shocked. "Is that what happened? When I touched those flames of yours that day at the academy?"

Tsuna nodded with a smile and held out his hand. Iruka blinked and then placed his hand in Tsuna's.

Tsuna closed his eyes as he felt the bond between them briefly flare to live and grow stronger.

Iruka gasped and placed his other hand on the center of his chest.

The feeling left as soon as it came. "Was that...?"

Tsuna smiled at the man. "Yes, those are your flames. Mist flames mostly and some Rain flames as well, I believe."

Iruka looked at him with wide eyes, full of wonder.

Then the man started smiling. "That felt... I can't describe it. But it's gone again. Exactly like that day in the Academy, and… also like a random day about a week or two ago."

"That would probably be the day I became aware such a bond existed between us." Tsuna laughed. "Like coming home, right?"

Iruka blinked. "Yes, that's exactly what it's like."

They smiled brightly at each other.

Now he only needed to talk to Sasuke… Maybe he could do that tomorrow? At least, if he could get the teen alone…

-o-o-

His apartment felt cold that night.

Colder than usual.

He sighed as he sat down at his little table. He had just gotten dinner at Ichiraku's with Iruka-nii, and now he was alone again.

He could still feel the three fledgling bonds, and it helped a bit, but he still felt lonely.

He shook his head and grabbed his travel bag. Time to think about something else…

He retrieved the box with the rings and opened it. Glancing down he saw that all the rings were still present, except the sky ring which he wore on his right hand.

"Also, You might want to try that blank ring while you're alone."

Byakuran's voice seemed to echo in his head. He carefully lifted the small band and slipped it in his middle finger, next to his Sky ring.

He felt hesitant. And strangely apprehensive…

What the hell had Byakuran done now?

But his intuition wasn't giving him a clear hint at what to do. Should he try the ring? Or not?

Could it hurt to risk it?

Knowing Byakuran, yes! Although it wouldn't kill him… Probably… the man had done too much to see him alive and well to kill him off now… right?

He took a deep breath and allowed his flames to gently course through the two rings. The Sky ring lit up like it usually did, but the other one started to shine brightly. It blinded him for several seconds and he felt something fall in his lap. Something alive…

It moved sluggishly as Tsuna blinked the spots away.

It was a small creature, not much bigger than a cat or a puppy. For a brief second he dared hope it would be Natsu, his trusted partner.

He looked down and blanched as he recognized it.

That was not Natsu.

A small chibi-fied version of the Kyuubi blinked up at him in pure confusion. They stared at each other for a few seconds, before Tsuna saw the shock leaving the biju and a look of shock and wonder cross the creature's face.

Kyuubi started to move away from Tsuna as his gaze sharpened and as the creature turned back towards Tsuna with a glare, opening his mouth. Tsuna panicked and sent him away, back where he came from.

Instinctively he had dismissed the Kyuubi like he did with box weapons in his original life and the Kyuubi disappeared.

Tsuna took a shaken breath and started laughing hysterically.

Trust Byakuran do come up with something like this! What was he supposed to do with a pet Biju?

Was that even what this was?

He waited till he got his breathing back under control and took a calming breath.

He eyed the ring warily. He could see the roman numeral for nine engraved in the previous blank band: IX

Nine for Kyuubi? As in Nine-tails?

He gathered his courage and tried the ring again. Maybe the first time had been a fluke.

Nope…

The Kyuubi yelped as it was dumped in his lap again.

The creature snarled at him with a deep voice. ""WOULD YOU CUT THAT OUT?! I'm trying to sleep here!"

In a reflex Tsuna did as he was told and dismissed the Kyuubi before he realised what had happened.

So it wasn't a fluke…

Great, this was just great… He sighed deeply and ran a hand through his messy hair.

Wait a second… he blinked in shock, and shrieked loudly as he realised the Biju had just talked to him!

"HIIIEEEE!"

No one had said the Biju could talk!

-o-o-

They met the next day, again before the Hokage, and all three genin were surprised Kakashi made it to the meeting on time.

Tsuna shifted uncomfortably. He should probably mention what happened yesterday right? With the Kyuubi? He'd better say something right? Or maybe wait until he could talk to the Hokage in private?

He wasn't sure what he should do. He had been thinking about it since the incident and he still hadn't figured it out…

"As you know, Momoichi Zabuza and the child named Haku are currently residing at our T&I Department." The Hokage started.

Tsuna studied the man, paying attention to what was happening to his Rain and his protégé.

"Preliminary exams have shown promising results, but we'll be keeping them a few days longer. If all goes well, they will be allowed to wander the village, under certain conditions, of course. Their chakra will be suppressed in the first stage and they will be under surveillance." The older man reached into his desk and withdrew a stack of papers. "Now there's something else I wanted to talk to you about. I am less then pleased about it, but my council went behind my back to ensure Team 7 would be admitted to the next chuunin exams."

A small amount of killer intent was released. Tsuna wasn't sure if that had been the Hokage, their sensei or both.

"They did what?" snarled Kakashi furiously.

"The what exams?" asked Tsuna, confused.

Sasuke answered. "Chuunin exams. It's what's used to promote genin to the rank of chuunin outside of war times, right?"

"That is correct, Sasuke-kun." the Hokage nodded. "They clearly didn't agree with their dismissal yesterday."

"They sure worked fast, to get that arranged in such a short a time." Kakashi hissed through clenched teeth.

Sakura frowned. "We've been genin for only a few months. Why would they do that?"

Tsuna grit his teeth. "Because of me?"

"Mostly." The Hokage nodded. "A new bloodline obviously makes them nervous. Count with that your other team-mates are the last Uchiha and the daughter of one of the members of the civilian council, and who your sensei is; people will have high expectations."

"No pressure." grimaced Tsuna.

Sakura blushed as Sasuke looked away with a glare.

"This is my squad." Kakashi-sensei inserted frostily. "Why wasn't I consulted on this?"

"As I said, they went over my head. Their applications were signed by the Damyou." sighed the Hokage. "The only reassuring fact is that the next exams will be held here, in Konoha."

"Yes, next week!" snarled Kakashi angrily.

The Hokage narrowed his eyes in warning. Kakashi straightened, but didn't look away from the man.

"Next week?" asked Sasuke with a raised eyebrow. "That soon?"

Tsuna frowned. "Hokage-sama, I mean no disrespect, but for your own council to go behind your back like that..."

"There's nothing I can do about that." The old man sighed, suddenly looking his age.

"Replace them?" suggested Tsuna bluntly. "When you think about it, a hidden village is a dictatorship. You're the Hokage. Your word is law. Fire them and replace them."

The man blinked at him. "It's not that simple..."

Tsuna narrowed his eyes at the man. "Why not? Did someone elect them? What they did here could be considered an act of rudeness at least, insubordination or even treason in the worst case. If you can't change anything about what they did now, use it to make sure this doesn't happen again."

They could see the older man's brain started working.

"But why would they ask something like this from us? We barely managed to complete one C-rank! And even that was a bit of a disaster. People die in these exams!" Sakura glared angrily. "Oh just you wait until I get home! My mom has a lot of explaining to do!"

"That's right. Do we even qualify to participate? We're rookie genin. I don't know about my team-mates but I don't feel ready to partake in the exam." added Tsuna.

"Exactly!" yelled the girl.

"Mah, mah, let's all calm down a bit." Kakashi tried.

Sasuke turned to glare at the man disbelievingly. "Seriously? That's what you choose to say right now?"

There was a knock at the door. They went quiet as the Hokage almost desperately called for the person behind it to come in.

"Hokage-sama? Is everything alright?" Iruka-nii's head poked around the door.

"Ah Iruka-san." The Hokage sighed in relief.

"What is going on here? People can hear the screaming from the mission desk." he frowned disapprovingly.

"We're being forced to enter the chuunin exams." Tsuna explained to his Mist. He guessed Iruka-nii must either have heard the commotion, like he said, or he could have felt Tsuna's (and even Sasuke's? Maybe?) unease through their bond.

Iruka blinked. "Excuse me? Could you repeat that?"

Tsuna did so with a smile. Iruka-nii-san looked calm but Tsuna wasn't fooled.

He could practically feel the torrent that was Iruka's flames crash into his, wanting to reassure himself the blond was alright, but ready to be unleashed on the ones who opposed his Sky.

He would need to keep a close eye on that. It seemed his nii-san was a lot closer to becoming Active than he had guessed.

"And who decided that?" asked the pissed-off Mist with a smile that bordered on creepy. Tsuna could suddenly see a very clear resemblance between Iruka and Mukuro…

"Yes, which council was it that went behind your back, Hokage-sama?" asked Kakashi frostily.

The Sandaime didn't answer immediately. "I will deal with this matter, I can assure you of that." There was a steel glint in the Hokage's eyes that wasn't there before. "For now, I want you all to concentrate on your training, and the coming exams."

Tsuna cleared his throat. "And if we decide not to go to the exams? Will they send someone to drag us there?"

He could see Iruka-nii bristle at the implication.

"I would appreciate it if all three of you would cooperate, at least for now. As I have no idea how far they would be willing to go in this."

Tsuna bit his lip and locked gazes with his team. Sakura still looked pissed off beyond what he had thought possible, but Sasuke was looking back at him. He must have seen something he was looking for in Tsuna because he nodded determinately.

Tsuna sighed and turned back towards the Hokage. He gave a single nod.

Kurama's POV

He blinked in confusion as the warm and comforting warmth left him. It took a while to realise what was going on, but strangely enough the rage that had consumed him since decades didn't overwhelm him again.

All he felt was some minor irritation.

It was the first time in what felt like centuries that he could think, just think …

He had almost forgotten what it felt like, this calm and dare he say it contentment, that enveloped him right now.

Kurama sighed as he sat up. The strange orange flames, that reminded him so much of his fathers, had pulled back a bit. When they first had awakened they had overwhelmed him and Kurama had been taken by surprise.

Now, he felt irritated that they had left and taken their warmth with them. He felt cold in this wet sewer, so sue him for feeling grumpy.

He could feel his latest jailor had been by his cage recently, but he couldn't recall seeing the brat.

He sneered at the bars, hating the cage around him. Still it was relatively better than being locked inside the kid's mother. Not only had he been stabbed by stakes in multiple places but he had also been chained to a rock, so while this cage wasn't the freedom he dreamed about, it was still the better alternative. At least here he could sleep comfortably.

He blinked in surprise as the orange flames surged and enveloped him. Something that almost felt like a reversed summon later and he landed in what felt like someone's lap? What the hell was going on? He tensed and looked at the person. Since when did giants exist?! Or had he somehow gotten smaller? His legs felt less long, but…

He locked eyes with what looked like a mini Yondaime, who was watching him with wide eyes. Was that his jailor?

Wait…


Did that mean he had somehow gotten out?

Was he finally free?


No, he could still feel all his chakra trapped in that blasted seal, outside of his control for the moment…

He tentatively moved away from the child – and had he slept that long? He was sure it had been longer since he was sealed… or was the brat just that tiny?! – to take a look around and make a quick escape. No way was he sticking around to be sealed again, or something like that!

Poof!

He shook his head and blinked quickly with his eyes.

He looked around and sighed in disappointment. He waited, to see if it would happen again or if his jailor would come talk to him.

And he waited…

And waited…

He sighed. Seemed like the brat was back to ignoring him again.

He had just settled down as he felt the strange pull again. He cursed in irritation.

"WOULD YOU CUT THAT OUT?! I'm trying to sleep here!"

TBC.

Chapter Text

After their meeting with the Hokage, Kakashi took his team aside.

He scratched the back of his head as his three students watched him. Sakura was still fuming, Sasuke still wore a frown and Tsuna honestly couldn’t help but curse his life.

“Now, to be honest, before our C-rank I had thought to enter you all in the exams.”

Sakura screeched in outrage. “WHAT THE HELL, SENSEI!?!”

“Let me finish.” Interrupted their sensei, harshly. “Taking the exams here in Konoha is a lot safer than taken them in another hidden village. It would have been a good wake-up call for you all. Now, however, you have all had that wake-up call during our mission. You’ve watched a team-mate get hurt in a real fight and you have faced an opponent much stronger than you. Now you all realise we were extremely lucky that none of us ended up dead.”

Sakura deflated and both his team-mates eyed Tsuna openly. Tsuna himself took a deep breath.

“If I had a choice, I’d wait to enter you. I wanted to train you for the next 6 months so you’d take the next exams by storm. Now however…” their sensei trailed off.

“It would have been nice to have a choice in the matter.” Sasuke grunted.

Tsuna nodded. “What kind of exams are they anyway?”

Sakura pointed her finger up, as if she was reciting from a book. “The Chuunin exams are exams organised to promote genin in rank outside of wartimes. Right, sensei?”

“Yep.” Kakashi shook off his remaining irritation to smile at the girl.

“Alright,” Tsuna blinked in thought, “but what happens during them? Is it a test like our graduation exam or something?”

Kakashi hummed as all three genin turned towards him. “Not quite, most exams are in three parts. The first is usually something to test intelligence and strategic thinking, the second part usually involves survival skills and combat and the third part is a tournament. There are differences from village to village but that’s the most used model in Konoha.”

Sasuke smirked. “Are jounin teachers supposed to tell their students that? I remember my family never gave any details about any of the exams.”

Tsuna’s eyes widened in surprise. Sasuke had never spoken about his family, especially not after their massacre… He saw Sakura mirroring him, but neither felt the need to point this out to their team-mate. Still Tsuna was glad Sasuke was starting to feel comfortable with them.

“I don’t really feel like keeping to the unspoken rules after finding out my team is forced to compete, especially without having had any say in it.” Kakashi eye smiled, but this smile had another feel to it. Mischievous, bordering evil maybe? It was difficult to tell with most of his face covered.

His team smiled in return. Well, Sasuke smirked, but it’s the thought that counted.

“Now, I’ll cram in as much training as possible in the next week, so be prepared!” Kakashi warned them.

-o-o-

“He’s the devil.” Sakura was close to tears as their sensei left.

Kakashi-sensei had just dismissed them after the last day of training. Tomorrow was the start of the exams and he had just given them the day off to rest.

"One week is not enough to start training a new skill, so we'll be training to master the skills you already have." The cyclops had explained the first day.

By the end of the week, all three genin were sparring with their sensei at a rapid pace, three against one, on the top of the water of a river. Kakashi drilled them every day till they could barely walk home. They didn’t do any missions, which was something Tsuna was starting to worry about. Sure they made a lot of money with their c-rank turned A-rank, but now he had to make sure he could pay for his rent and food. And his landlord wasn’t the friendliest man… He hoped the exams wouldn’t take too much time or that they could do some missions between the different parts.

Now, it was dark out and Tsuna was not looking forward to going home. Mostly because that meant he had to peel his poor abused body off the ground. He was too exhausted to even consider crying now, that took way too much energy.

Tsuna had been used to spartan training techniques for years – Thank you, Reborn! - so he knew better than to speak up about it. Sasuke was not one to complain in the first place, but Sakura had quickly regretted opening her mouth the first day... Even if it had taken until the end of the day before she had started complaining, which had surprised Tsuna. He had expected her to say something way before then.

Seeing Kakashi finding pleasure in 'tortur- training' them, reminded him a very much of Reborn. Strangely, it made him more fond of the man. At least he was taking their training seriously now!

Sasuke grunted as he heaved himself up.

“Can’t we just stay here?” whined Sakura. “We can sleep here, no problem, and we need to be back here tomorrow morning anyway. To start this hell training again.”

“Wow…” muttered Tsuna in shock.

Sasuke turned towards him. “Hn?”

“Sorry, I was just surprised. I would have never expected you to change that much in such a short time, Sakura. Not too long ago, you were complaining how your hair got dirty during practice and stuff.” Tsuna shrugged.

She snorted, very unladylike. “I have to admit a shower sound like paradise right now.” She also shrugged. “I just… never want to feel that useless again.”

The boys knew she referred to their C-rank and, while Tsuna was grateful she was seemingly leaving the fan girl world behind (Sasuke was secretly thrilled by this), a part of him was sad for her as well.

Still, they had all chosen to become shinobi, so it was bound to happen at some point. Maybe it was better this was how it went down. After all none of them had been permanently hurt and no one had died…

“It’s late, and both of you live at the other side of the village-” Sasuke started before he abruptly stopped.

Sakura and Tsuna eyed each other briefly and focused back on their team-mate. They kept quiet, waiting to see if Sasuke would continue to talk. They raven seemed to debate with himself for a little longer before he sighed.

“I live nearby. You can both crash at my place for tonight.”

Tsuna felt a smile stretch on his face. This was another step forward. “Thanks.”

Sakura gave a soft smile. “Thank you, Sasuke-kun.”

Sasuke only grunted, got to his feet and held his hand out towards them. Tsuna’s grin only got larger as allowed his team-mate to help him up and as they walked at either side of him toward the Uchiha district.

The district itself reminded him a lot of an old Japanese village, mostly made out of wood and looking very traditional.

The smile left him quickly however as they walked through the abandoned streets of the district. The houses were surprisingly well maintained, but the place gave off a lonely feeling.

“You live here alone?” he asked whispering.

“Hn.”

Tsuna wasn’t sure what to say to that. It sounded lonely, but he was the last person who could comment on that right now… Still it couldn’t be healthy for Sasuke to live here. Certainly not alone…

The raven led them into the biggest house that was about five minutes walking into the district.

It looked a lot like the others they had passed, but it was clear someone important had lived here. It was bigger and there was a wall surrounding it.

They followed him inside and copied him as he took off his shoes.

“There’s a bathroom at the end of the corridor. You can go first, Sakura.” The Uchiha muttered.

The pinkette looked relieved. “Thanks, Sasuke-kun.”

“Hn, I’ll go see if I have some spare clothes for us all.” The raven turned himself away from them as he started on the stairs.

Feeling a bit awkward standing there, Tsuna quickly proposed something to do. “I’ll go look in the kitchen for something to eat, if that’s all right?”

Sasuke only grunted, so Tsuna entered the kitchen with a smile. He quickly found some vegetables and some chicken in the fridge. Together with the rice in the cupboard he could make some stir-fry.

He took off his white and orange hoodie, revealing a black t-shirt underneath and started cooking.

“You know how to cook?” Sasuke snarked in the entrance of the kitchen.

Tsuna tilted his head in confusion. “Of course. I can’t make anything too fancy, but I do know how to cook. I live by myself, after all.”

“Pity.” Sasuke smirked as he sat down at the table. “I’d have liked to see the elders faces when they’d have been told we couldn’t compete in the exams because of food poisoning.”

Tsuna burst out laughing.

“Something tells me they wouldn’t be amused.” He said once he regained his breath.

Sasuke schrugged, but kept smirking. “Is the food done? I’m starving.”

“Shouldn’t we wait for Sakura?” he asked while putting a plate together for his team-mate.

“No need.” The Uchiha answered. “Something tells me she might take a while.”

The raven looked smug.

“What do you mean?”

“She seemed very impressed with the bathroom.”

“And why is that?” Tsuna continued asking in confusion.

“If I understand her blabbering correctly, she didn’t expect the room to be that big.”

Tsuna frowned.

“She kept saying something about a onsen.” Sasuke shrugged carelessly. “She made me promise to check in about half an hour to see if she didn’t fall asleep.”

“Kami, that sounds about divine right now.” Tsuna sighed wishfully. “Here you go.”

Tsuna handed him a plate and sat down with his own food. Than he blinked as a thought hit him. “How do you think the council will react if we all fell asleep in that bath and drowned?”

Sasuke snorted with laughter. “Great! So we’ll die of food poisoning, which mean there is no one around to make sure Sakura isn’t drowning. We’ll all be dead before morning.”

“Speaking of, seeing that we will all be dead anyway, there’s something I want to talk to you about.”

Sasuke grunted with a smile as he concentrated on his food.

Tsuna gathered his courage and took a deep breath. His heart was beating like crazy from nervousness. Better to immediately cut to the chase instead of making a speech. “So I found out recently I’ve started bonding with you.”

Sasuke snorted in amusement. “That still sounds so wrong.”

Tsuna flushed and chuckled nervously.

The Uchiha looked up from his food seriously. “I had a feeling that might be the case. I’ve been … changing.” He shrugged. “I’m still not sure if I like it though.”

“Changing?” Tsuna asked completely floored. This wasn’t what he had expected. He had thought Sasuke would be shocked, and even angry, not calm, and even a bit amused.

“I’ve never been very sociable with people outside my family. And since I lost them… I’ve been doing my utmost best to not get close to people. I lost everyone. I’ll never let it happen again. Because I will never go through that pain again. Never.” Sasuke stared absent-mindedly into his food.

Seeing it didn’t look like Sasuke would continue talking on his own, Tsuna dared asking a question. “And keeping people at a distant is supposed to … Help make sure of that?”

“That was the idea.” Sasuke sighed tiredly. He shot Tsuna an unhappy frown before he focused back on his food and took a bite.

“But?” Tsuna encouraged him carefully.

Sasuke looked up with a hard look. “Don’t pretend to be stupid, Uzumaki. I’ve seen the looks you’ve exchanged with Haruno when you think I’m making ‘progress’.” He nearly spat out the last word with venom.

Tsuna felt his cheeks heat up again in mortification. He cleared his throat. “Does that mean you don’t want the bond? Because I can break it if you want.”

He had to put his hand in his lap, under the table, to hide the shaking appendages from view. Please no, he really hoped it wouldn’t come to that.

But he knew he would do it if Sasuke asked it of him.

Sasuke studied him carefully. “I thought the albino discommended that to Kakashi? That it wouldn’t be a good idea.”

“Mostly because it’ll hurt like hell.” Tsuna grimaced as he remembered the pain of losing his guardians. “It also helps to ensure that I get to choose who I want to bond with. Instead of someone else throwing ‘recommendations’ or even people at me.”

Sasuke nodded thoughtfully. “That makes sense. But… I don’t know. What do you want?”

“I’ve enjoyed being around you. I have since our first time training together with Gai-sensei. I think you’d be a great Storm guardian. From what I gather, Storms are very strong and destructive. And also usually in the middle of a fight when it starts.”

“Hmm.” Sasuke hummed deep in thought.

“There is no hurry, take your time to think.” Tsuna suggested as he turned back to his food.

Sasuke clearly needed some time to think, and Tsuna was determined to give it to him. After all, having to break the bond later in because Sasuke got overwhelmed or changed his mind, but would be harder on him than breaking it now.

“This food was actually very good.” Sasuke got up and placed his dishes by the sink.

Tsuna beamed brightly at him and Sasuke had to turn away with a blush at the sight. “I'd better make sure Sakura isn’t dead yet. After that it’s our turn to bathe.”

Tsuna nodded. He really looked forward to that. “I’ll take care of the dishes in the meantime.”

He was just putting away the last of the dishes when Sakura came in. She sat down in a chair, looking completely relaxed as Tsuna handed her a plate.

“You cooked?” she asked shocked.

“Not this again.” He rolled his eyes. “Sasuke already predicted we’d all die of food poisoning because of my cooking skills. You missed the joke.”

She gasped dramatically. “You’re kidding?!”

“Nope.” He grinned at her. “Enjoy the rice. I’ll go wash up now.”

“You’ll better give me all the details later!” she called after him as he left the kitchen. “And enjoy the onsen!”

Onsen?

His eyes and mouth fall open as he sees the room that Sasuke dubs his bathroom. His whole apartment could fit in the space. It was huge!!

Most of the room seemed decorated with wood except for the brown stone tiles that made up the floor.

There were 2 low showers with seats and a mirror each. And despite the fog from the hot water, Tsuna could make out the tub. Which could actually be called a small pool.

All right, he could definitely understand why Sakura called this an onsen.

Sasuke had clearly already washed up and was currently relaxing in the hot water.

Tsuna hurried to wash up and join him. He sighed in relief as the hot water enveloped him and relaxed his aching muscles. It felt like a lifetime ago since he had had a bath…

They sat peacefully in silence.

Until…

“I’m still not completely convinced,” Sasuke whispered contently from next to him, “but I’ll give it a shot. Let’s keep that bond for now.”

Tsuna flashed him a bright smile and while the pale boy was already red from the hot water, Tsuna could clearly see him turn red in response.

-o-o-

They entered the Academy side by side.

Sakura had had to yell both boys awake earlier and now they were running a bit late. Turned out, Sasuke liked to sleep in just as much as Tsuna and thanks to their abrupt sleepover in Sasuke’s living space, they had completely forgotten about setting an alarm clock.

They had rushed to make and eat breakfast before coming here.

A lot of genin were loitering in the hallways, but they quietly made their way up to the third floor.

Tsuna briefly waved towards Team 9 as he spotted them on the second floor, but he wasn't sure they had seen him.

Kakashi waited for them at the entrance of room 301. He sighed as he saw them.

"Well, the three of you trained hard the last few days. You have all grown a lot since this team was formed. I'm proud of you. Now go in and kick some ass! Don't disappoint me now, I've bet a lot of money on you three." he smiled at them and shun-shinned out.

"Why can't we have a normal sensei?" Sakura muttered with a sigh.

Tsuna smiled fondly. Kakashi was really growing on him.

Sasuke snorted. "Let's get this over with."

He opened the door and stepped into the room. He looked around, stepped aside and held the door for his team-mates.

Tsuna looked around. There were a lot of people inside... Mostly shinobi from other villages. He spotted the other genin from their graduation class.

Sasuke inclined his head towards the last group and led the way towards them.

"Well, well," Inuzuka Kiba exclaimed loudly as they approached. "I didn't think they would allow you in here, dead last."

Tsuna felt himself turning red.

Sasuke glared at the arrogant kid. "Shut up, mutt."

"Sasuke-kun!" screeched Yamanaka Ino as she tried to tackle Sasuke. "I haven't seen you in forever!"

"Nice try, Ino-pig!" yelled Sakura who intercepted the blonde.

Tsuna took a step back from what promised to become a cat-fight as the girls continued snapping at each other. Sakura had made a lot of progress into leaving the fangirl-world behind, but apparently Ino negated those efforts…

Sasuke stepped back with him, not leaving his side. He glared at the girls.

"So troublesome." muttered Shikamaru as he approached them. "So all the rookies are here."

Tsuna had to bite his tongue to keep quiet. He had other things he'd rather have been doing right about now. Team 7 wasn’t here by choice and he briefly regretted not having any of Bianci’s poison cooking recipes…

"Seems that way." grunted Sasuke.

Shikamaru eyed the Uchiha.

"So all nine rookies are taking the exam." Kiba smirked arrogantly. "I wonder how far we'll get, huh Sasuke-kun?" he mocked.

Tsuna frowned.

Sasuke smirked back, clearly not bothered. "You seem confident, mutt."

Kiba twitched. "We've done a lot of training and we won't lose to any of you."

"Keep dreaming." dismissed the Uchiha.

Hyuuga Hinata seemed very uncomfortable behind her team-mates. Aburame Shino, their third member, seemed indifferent.

"You guys make a lot of noise." A tall teen appeared behind them. He had silver hair, wore glasses and a Konoha headband. "You guys are just rookies, fresh out of the Academy. Stop making such a ruckus. This isn't a school trip."

The guy eyed them each briefly. Tsuna gasped softly, making Sasuke turn towards him. His intuition started screaming as those eyes studied him. Something felt strangely familiar about the guy.

The teen's eyes lingered on the raven.

Tsuna's eyes narrowed and he stepped closer towards his team-mate.

"Who are you?" asked Tsuna suspiciously.

"I'm Kabuto, but look behind you." The teen smirked at them.

The rookies turned back, but Tsuna didn't take his eyes of Kabuto.

"You seemed to have pissed off a lot of those genin. Everyone is nervous for this exam, so stop causing a scene."

They turned back towards him, but Kabuto simply continued. "Well, I can't really blame you, this is the first time you've participated." He smiled nostalgically. "I remember my first time."

"Kabuto-san, this is your second time?" asked Sakura curiously.

"Nope, my seventh. This exam is held twice a year, so this is my fourth year." He smiled at her.

Sasuke snorted. "You must really suck then."

Kabuto only smiled at the Uchiha.

"You must know a lot about this exam." remarked Ino.

"That's right. Hehe, I'll share some info with you rookies. With these nin-info cards."

Tsuna narrowed his eyes as Kabuto showed them the cards. Why would their competition share information with them, just like that? Something was definitely wrong here...

"Nin-info cards?" repeated Sakura, confused.

"They are basically cards which have information about other shinobi burned on them with chakra. I have four years' worth of information on here. Over 200 cards." he bragged. "They look blank and can only be viewed when I apply my chakra to them. Anyone you want some information on?"

"Subaku no Gaara." Sasuke replied immediately.

"Who?" Tsuna asked, confused.

"That redhead from Suna." Sasuke eyed the kid briefly, showing Tsuna who he was talking about. "I bumped into him and his team the other day while they were bothering the Hokage's grandson."

"It's no fun if you can tell me their name." Kabuto interrupted them, his eyes fixed on Sasuke. He showed them the card. "Subaku no Gaara, or Gaara of the Desert, is the third child of the Kazekage. His mission history: 8 C-ranks, one B-rank and even an A-rank. That's impressive for a genin. He's a newcomer from a foreign country so I don't have a lot of info, but apparently he's come back from every mission without even a scratch."

Tsuna tuned out the rest of his monologue. How on earth did that guy get such information? He couldn't imagine that a Konoha genin would be able to find out such mission history about one of the Kazekage's children...

The longer that guy talked, the stronger his intuition tried to warn Tsuna away from him.

A smoke bomb went off by the blackboard. Ibiki appeared, flanked by numerous other shinobi.

The man sent them a sinister smile. "Welcome. I am Morino Ibiki and I'll be your examiner for this first exam."

...

A written exam...

Tsuna started sweating. He should have seen this coming. Of course, any exam located at the Academy had to have been written. Why did he not see this coming?! He should have studied more... He should have studied either way! All their training would be for nothing if they didn’t pass this part of the exams…

That last thought made him calm down.

After all, they weren’t here voluntarily and who cared if they passed or not?

He immediately calmed down. He would try to pass, but he wouldn’t lose any sleep over it if they didn’t.

"Hi there."

In his panic he hadn't seen Neji sit down next to him. The Hyuuga gave him a small smile.

"Neji." He greeted.

"You seemed a bit nervous there. We haven't even started yet."

Tsuna smiled at the boy. "Thanks, but I'm fine now."

Neji studied him intently. "So it seems. Good luck."

"You too."

In the front of the room Ibiki had just finished explaining the rules; the 10 points system, the deductions when caught cheating, and the tenth question.

Tsuna titled his head in confusion. Why not throw people out when they cheated? Why would you give them multiple opportunities to do so?

'Be Proud Ninja'? Why did Ibiki end his speech with that? It's almost... Like they wanted them to cheat... But cheat at a ninja level, not like high school students.

God, he loved his intuition sometimes.

Next to him Neji had started writing. Tsuna didn't dare turn towards him to see what he was doing.

Okay, how was he going to get through this? He didn't have any special techniques that could help him here! Not even his flames were very useful.

With a sudden movement his head collided with the desk.

He almost had a flashback from all the times Reborn had hit him in the back of his head when he was doing or thinking something stupid.

"No reason to maim yourself." Ibiki grunted in the front.

The other proctors laughed.

But Tsuna didn't react to them. He could almost hear Reborn berate him. "Dame-Tsuna, use that big brain of yours, listen to that intuition! Think for a second. You get one hour to finish this test, but the last question won't be asked until the very last ten minutes? -"

"You alright?" whispered Neji next to him.

Tsuna grunted and lifted his head so he could rest his chin on the desk. He probably had a bruise on his forehead now.

Other teams were being dismissed left and right, and Tsuna still hadn't started his test.

The questions on his paper were difficult but maybe Reborn's tutoring could help him solve one or two.

Let's see...

There was one question, the one about the trajectory of a kunai, that he might be able to at least partially solve... It couldn't hurt to try.

He was just looking over what he had written as Ibiki spoke up again.

"Time for the tenth question."

Tsuna squared his shoulders. Maybe this question would be easier? Or at least more focused on the practical side of being a shinobi?

"Now, before we get to it, I'd like to go over a new and added rule for this question."

Huh?

"Finally." Ibiki snarked as a weirdly dressed genin came back into the room. "Was your doll playing beneficial?"

"Now, I'll explain: the rule of desperation..."

Ibiki would have been a great actor, Tsuna thought distracted.

"First, for this tenth question, you must decide whether you will take it or not."

"Choose?!" yelled a kunoichi, upset. "What happens if we choose not to?"

"If you choose not to, both you and your team-mates will fail this exam."

The genin started yelling.

"What does that mean?!"

"Of course we'll take the question!"

"And now... The other rule..." stated Ibiki dramatically.

They all quieted down immediately.

Tsuna frowned.

"If you take it and answer incorrectly..." - dramatic pause - "That person will lose the right to ever take the chuunin exams again!"

What? Tsuna thought stunned as the room exploded with noise. Could they actually do that? Maybe for Konoha genin, but for genin from other villages? Would their Kage really let Konoha have that much power over them?

Then again, that would solve Team 7’s council problem quite nicely. Tsuna wasn’t worried.

"What kind of stupid rule is that?" Kiba yelled over all the noise. "There are guys here who have taken this exams multiple time!"

"You guys were unlucky. This year, it's my rules."

Tsuna bit his lip. Ibiki's rules? Wasn't Ibiki... head of the T&I department? He had been introduced briefly to the man as he had chased Zabuza into the Hokage's office a week ago...

"But I'm giving you an out."

How generous... Tsuna dead-panned. Because that is not suspicious at all…

"Those that aren't confident can choose not to take it, and try again next year."

Can choose not to take it? Why would Ibiki say it like that? Why did he empathize on the word choose?

It was almost as if... Was this the tenth question?

In any case, Tsuna had learned – Thank you, Reborn, AGAIN! - to never back down from any situation. Even if you didn't have all the info, trust your intuition and keep going forward, and while his intuition hadn't reared its head since the exam started, it also had not tried to warn him.

It was like a leap of faith... And honestly, it’s not like becoming a chuunin was an ambition of his. He just wanted to be strong enough to protect his family. Gaining a higher rank wasn’t going to help with that.

"Now then, those that do not wish to take the question, leave the room. Your team-mates will follow immediately."

One by one, people were rising and loudly leaving the room.

Tsuna briefly looked back towards his team. Sasuke was frowning. They locked eyes and Sasuke raised an eyebrow, almost as if to ask what Tsuna wanted to do. Tsuna smiled reassuringly.

Sasuke smirked and settled down.

Sakura on the other hand seemed to hesitate and almost put her hand up. He made eye contact and smiled confidently.

She blinked, but didn't seem decided. She looked at him helplessly.

Was she leaving the decision to him?

He nodded and she was visibly relieved.

He turned back to the front.

The room was silent. Ibiki watched them all with raised eyebrows, almost daring them to stay seated.

The nervous energy in the room seemed to triple immediately, but no one spoke up, no one stood up, and yet Ibiki didn't react.

Tsuna had enough. He raised his hand. "Excuse me? I have a question?" He gently released a small and invisible wave of Sky flames through the room. He could almost feel the other genin un-tense a bit. Neji sighed in relief besides him.

Ibiki blinked. "What?" he barked.

"Are you done? I don't think anyone else is going to leave. So can you ask us the question already?"

"I'll ask again: Your life and your career depend on this, this is your last chance to quit."

"That was technically not a question, but no, I won't quit now. Ask your question." Tsuna smiled brightly but with resolve.

Neji, and some other people in the room he couldn't see, gasped.

What had he done now? He wanted to turn towards the Hyuuga but he didn't want to turn away from Ibiki.

The man smirked. "You asked for it. Now, to everyone here remaining..."

Tsuna rolled his eyes skywards at another dramatic pause.

His smirk widened.

"I congratulate you on passing the first exam!"

This was the bell test all over again... Were all Konoha jounin such drama queens? He sighed as the room burst into angry and confused exclamations.

Sasuke’s POV:

He sighed as the water relaxed his sore muscles. He was grateful Kakashi had let them go early today because he could use the rest and so could his team-mates. He was still surprised Sakura somehow managed to keep up with them, especially since he himself had trouble keeping up with their sensei.

Even Naruto with his large stamina had looked dead tired.

He frowned deep in thought. Speaking of Naruto…

Sasuke wasn’t stupid. He had felt himself change. Without realising it, he was allowing his team to get closer to him.

It was something he had fought ever since he had lost his family. He had willingly isolated himself, because he could never go through the hell again of losing people he cared about. Especially not all at once.

But what Naruto offered felt natural. So natural it had taking him seeing the blond around Zabuza to realise what was happening. Especially since he had felt very possessive of the blond. He had managed to hide those feelings well enough, at least he thought so…

It would be easy, to accept the bond Naruto was offering. Strangely enough, and he kept surprising himself with this, he sort of liked the blond. Naruto was strong, they made a good team, and even Sakura was making an effort.

Still, the thought of what his brother could do to them scared him to death.

He briefly ducked his head in the hot water to chase the cold shiver away that always appeared as he thought of Itachi.

He shook his head free of water.

Naruto was sitting next to him. He blinked as he only now noticed the relaxed form next to him.

The blonds eyes were closed and he was leaning back in the water.

Sasuke studied him from the corner of his eyes and grit his teeth.

He wanted to accept. It felt selfish, it would bring the blond to Itachi’s attention, but he really wanted this. He was sick and tired of feeling alone, of being by himself in this cold house.

Was it really so wrong to want this?

Itachi had told him to hate him, and he had. He did! But did that really mean he couldn’t live his life how he wanted to as well?

The blond was strong and if Sasuke by some miracle could unlock his own flames, that would give him an advantage against that man as well.

He allowed himself to relax again as he reached a conclusion.

“I’m still not completely convinced.” He whispered to the relaxed blond next to him. “But I’ll give it a shot. Let’s keep that bond for now.”

Naruto flashed him a smile so bright it surprised Sasuke that flowers and sunshine didn’t pop up behind him. He felt himself blushing and turned his head away.

He felt warmer than he had in years.

TBC.

Chapter Text

The proctor for the second exam was a Kunoichi named Anko.

She took them towards an area called training ground 44, or the Forest of Death.

Anko started giving them a little speech, but Tsuna wasn't really interested. Sasuke was listening and Tsuna trusted him enough to tell them afterwards what was important.

"Are you all right?" he asked Sakura.

She nodded. "Yeah, thanks, I didn't..."

"Ibiki is part of the T & I department." He reassured her. "I've seen him there when I go to hear about Zabuza and Haku. Don't worry about it."

"You didn't react like that and neither did Sasuke-kun."

"Maybe, but we're a team. We take care of each other. If something happened to me, I'd trust both of you to help me out. Trust us to do that for you as well." He smiled at her.

She smiled back.

"Let's go." Sasuke interrupted softly. He led his team into a tent, grabbed a scroll, handed it to Tsuna to hide and led them back out. "We're at gate 12, let's move."

The other two nodded.

Sasuke explained the basics of the test. It was pretty straightforward, especially for a shinobi exam. Every team had gotten one of two types of scrolls. They had three days to find the scroll they didn't have, make their way to the tower that was located in the middle of the forest and go inside.

Seemed simple enough.

What could possibly go wrong?

-o-o-

He had cursed them! He really should have known better than to think that!

It had started off well enough. They had encountered a group of rain nin who thought they could trick them, and they had been lucky enough that the other team had the scroll they needed.

Two hours into the exam, however, as they had been making their way to the tower, they had been attacked. And they hadn't been attacked by another team of genin, oh no…

It was a giant snake!

One who had managed to swallow Tsuna before it took off.

He had managed to turn it to stone by overloading it with his flames, but it had succeeded in separating them. Entering Hyper Dying Will mode, he used his bond with Sasuke to make his way back to his team.

When he finally found them again, both his team-mates were trembling in fear before a grass nin.

The other was alone, and Tsuna wasn't sure where the man had come from. All he knew was that this guy threatened his team-mates.

"My, my Naruto-kun, you've finally decided to join us. I must admit, I've heard so much about you and your talents the last few days, that actually seeing you turned out to be a disappointment. You look like you'll be blown away by a strong wind. Good to see you're at least strong enough to get away from my summons." The man leered at him.

"This generation of Team 7 turned out interesting. At least, most of you. Originally I had dismissed all of you as useless, except Sasuke-kun of course. The girl is probably still useless. You're from a civilian family, aren't you little girl?" The man leered at Sasuke and sneered dismissively at Sakura.

She flinched. He turned his gaze back to Sasuke, who tensed next to Tsuna.

"Oh, I had such delicious plans for you, boy." The man licked his lips.

"Who are you?" asked Tsuna, disturbed by the other's behaviour.

"Now, now, let's not busy ourselves with such formalities."

"Yet you clearly know who we are. You have us at a disadvantage." Tsuna couldn't help but interject.

The man burst out laughing. "O, Naruto-kun, I'm afraid that's not the only disadvantage you have. Let's be honest here, I outrank you in every way possible." He smirked at them. "Now, let's get to business. Originally I was going to test you myself, Naruto-kun, just like I had planned to do with Sasuke-kun, before I heard about your heritage. However, I have gotten instruction to make sure you survive this exam, at least. Nothing was said about the little civilian girl, but I do have a soft spot for Sasuke-kun." He eyed the Uchiha with hunger in his eyes. "I'm still not used to following someone else's instructions. It's what happens when you're a missing-nin – you get used to doing only what you want. However, I am curious what those flames can do. He said not to kill you, but he didn't specify you couldn't be hurt or maimed a little bit." He finished with an evil grin.

He studied both Tsuna and Sasuke for a minute. "Ah, right on time."

A red-headed genin appeared on a tree branch next to the grass nin. He wore a large gourd on his back and wore a Suna headband.

"Now, I get to make two people happy. I promised Gaara-kun here a good fight, and he's to be your present, Naruto-kun." The man had the audacity to wink.

The smirk had yet to leave his face.

Present?

Tusna felt himself tense. This whole situation was becoming weirder and weirder. But something about that redhead…

As the enemy turned towards the newcomers, Tsuna rushed towards his team-mates. Sakura seemed paralyzed with fear and Sasuke was only doing a little better.

He gently gripped Sasuke's elbow and send soft sky flames through their bond and he could feel the Uchiha regain control of his breathing. Tsuna tried to do the same with Sakura, but seeing as they didn't have such a connection, the effect was much smaller on her.

"You see, I've been told a lot about you, Naruto-kun. And of course, Sasuke-kun is quite famous as well. I had such delicious plans for you." He licked his lips as he eyed Sasuke.

Tsuna took a step forward to block Sasuke more from the creep's view.

"Such a pity I don't get to possess you but plans are not so easily changed. Especially at such late notice." He smirked in delight. "That means I do get to meet you, and I even got permission to test you. Let's see if you are as good as the stories say."

At this point, Tsuna couldn't be sure what the other was talking about. What stories?

The nin turned back to the Suna ninja. "Now, Gaara-kun, as we discussed, no killing or maiming if you please."

The Suna nin grinned, bloodthirst radiating of off him.

It was only thanks to his intuition that Tsuna managed to grab his team-mates in time to evade the sand attack that would have struck them.

Still, as he tried to dodge the next waves of sand, something was off here. Something about that redhead felt strangely… familiar?

"Go, go, Gaara-kun!" The grass nin cheered with a creepy smile.

The younger redhead next to him mirrored his smile. "Make me feel alive!"

That was very disturbing…

And where was all that sand coming from? Tsuna thought desperately as he kept dodging. There is no way all this fit in that one gourd on the guy's back!

"Watch out!" Someone grabbed him by the collar of his hoodie and yanked him back.

Trying to catch his breath after being briefly chocked, Tsuna looked up. Sasuke glared at him.

"Keep your mind in the fight!"

Tsuna nodded but the annoying feeling didn't go away.

"What the hell is this guy's problem?!" Sakura exploded in anger.

"Keep quiet, girl." Gaara snarled.

"She's no one important, Gaara-kun, just a little civilian girl playing ninja." The grass nin sneered at her. "She won't contribute much in this fight. Feel free to kill her immediately."

She flinched back, especially as the redhead snarled and his narrowed green eyes fixed on her. His killing intent burst forth and focused mostly on her, but the boys got a taste of it as well. It was almost as strong as the grass nin's, but this felt different. Wilder, and less in control.

Tsuna could feel the Kyuubi stir behind the seal, grumbling about something.

"I thought you were here for me?" Tsuna asked desperately to get the guy's attention off Sakura.

His eyes widened. Sand continued to pour out of who knows where and dodging became very difficult because they didn't have much space left.

"I've been promised a good fight." The redhead snarled as those vivid green eyes focused on the blond. "Now, die and help me prove that I'm alive!"

Even in HDW-mode, Tsuna couldn't help but gulp. There was something about those eyes… they were… Lonely?

"Naruto!"

He was yanked back again and tumbled down. He looked up just in time to see Sasuke being enveloped in a cocoon of sand.

Panic gripped his heart and accelerated his breathing. He rushed to stand up and get to his storm in time.

The redhead raised a hand and clenched his fist tightly. "Subaku Kyu!"

"Sasuke!"

The Kyuubi stirred again and the flames that exploded from himself were darker than usual. Tsuna didn't notice this however. He could only watch with wide eyes, as bright red flames made the sand explode away from the Uchiha.

Sakura screamed loudly in surprise. Tsuna continued until he could grab Sasuke. He winched as the storm flames burned him, but he didn't let go of his team-mate and jumped backwards.

As soon as his own flames touched Sasuke's, the storm flames calmed down and stopped attacking him. The two flames gently touched and Tsuna could have cried in relief!

Not only was Sasuke not hurt too badly, only unconscious, the bond was growing stronger. Full harmony was coursing through them, and it was only now that he had it again that he realized how much he had missed it.

Partial bonds just couldn't compare. They were fine for a while, but this was the real deal.

Only Sakura's exclamation of shock brought him back to his senses.

She stared at the enemy in shock.

"Now, now, Gaara-kun, let's not get too excited shall we?" The grass nin had the redhead in a headlock. Garaa was struggling to get free.

The scene the two made would have been quite funny if not for the fact that Sasuke had almost died.

"But that was quite unexpected." The grass nin eyed Sasuke's unconscious form in delight. "I love it when something unexpected happens."

Tsuna clutched him tighter to himself and glared at the man. Sasuke was his now, and he wasn't ever letting him go again!

The man laughed in delight as he observed Tsuna.

"No need to worry, Naruto-kun. I've got what I wanted, so we'll be leaving for now. Temari, Kankuro, come collect your little brother!"

The two other sand nin came out of hiding and seemed very reluctant to do as he said.

"Sakura, we're leaving." Tsuna said as he manoeuvred Sasuke onto his back.

She hurried towards him to help with that, and before the others could interfere they ran off.

Luckily, they didn't follow them.

"Naruto?"

He looked up. Sakura approached him a bit unsurely.

They had managed to get away without too much worry, as the grass nin seemed quite happy to let them go. Sakura had found them a temporary resting place between the roots of one of the giant trees in the forest.

They had laid Sasuke down and had taken a bite to eat from their provisions. Tsuna had just been busy whipping the excess sand from his storms face when Sakura spoke up.

"What happened back there?" She asked as she kneeled at Sasuke's other side.

"It seems Sasuke managed to unlock his flames." He replied calmly.

"But how?" She asked desperately. "I mean, I thought that was an Uzumaki bloodline?"

"Maybe," he agreed with her, "but obviously other people can use these flames as well. We already knew everyone has them, otherwise I wouldn't be able to bond with people, but I think Sasuke is the first non-Uzumaki to activate them in decades."

"This is insane." She whispered. "Those flames of his. They're scary. They burned the sand and the ground around him. I didn't even know fire could do that."

"It's not ordinary fire." He explained, surprised that she only seemed to notice this now. "Mine can turn things to stone, if I really want it to."

She eyed him with wide eyes. "I'll need some time to process this."

She got up and made to walk away.

"Can I ask you something as well? That grass nin? Did he introduce himself before I got there?" She shivered. "Orochimaru. That's what he said his name was." She turned away from him. "I'll stand guard, you take care of… of him."

She almost ran to get away from them.

Tsuna couldn't help but feel sad as he watched her go. He had thought she had accepted him, that they had grown closer as a team. It seemed like the destructive nature of Sasuke's storm flames had scared her off. Hopefully, she would get over it soon…

He flinched in surprise as Sasuke suddenly woke with a loud gasp.

Tsuna held himself very still as Sasuke gasped for breath and looked around in a panic.

"You're safe for now." He tried to reassure the shaking boy.

Sasuke's eyes focused on him and the raven immediately started calming down.

Tsuna rummaged into his weapons pouch to search for another ration bar. His water flask was right next to him.

He could give Sasuke a little while to settle down again.

Hearing the commotion, Sakura came closer but Tsuna was sad to see she kept more distance between them as usual.

After a while, Sasuke carefully tried to sit up. He groaned as he felt his muscles protest.

"What happened?" The Uchiha groaned.

"We were attacked by that grass nin, remember Sasuke-kun?" Sakura stared anxiously at him.

Tsuna gently presented their team-mate with a flask and helped him drink some water.

Sasuke shivered in a rare show of open emotion.

"I remember. Where is he? She?"

"Apparently their name is Orochimaru, but we never did find out if the enemy was male or female. It didn't seem like a priority." Tsuna replied calmly with a small smile.

Sasuke couldn't help snort at that. He frowned lightly at the blond, not having expected such a reaction from himself.

"They let us leave, after... How much do you remember?" Tsuna eyed him cautiously, not wanting to trigger a too emotional outburst. Sasuke's flames were still fidgeting.

"They were talking to me." Sasuke grit his teeth. "You had been thrown away, and somehow, they... I couldn't move. They said things to me, about me being a disappointment of an Uchiha for not having my Sharingan yet. That they could give me the power I wanted, that things had changed but that they would still help me grow stronger if I wanted to."

Tsuna bit his lips. How long had been away from his team-mates? It hadn't felt long enough for the creep to say all that...

Sakura left them to their discussion to keep guard again.

Sasuke eyed their female team-mate with a little frown. He too must have noticed she was acting distant. He eyed their surroundings warily.

"She's going to stand guard." Tsuna tried to explain.

Sasuke eyed him.

Tsuna became nervous. He should probably mention the change in their bond to Sasuke, right?

"What's wrong?" Sasuke questioned the blond. "You look like you expect me to run away from you like you're some sort of demon or something."

Tsuna bit his lip. "Remind me to have that conversation with you. But no, that's not what's troubling me right now."

Sasuke arched an eyebrow.

"It seems we've harmonized." blurted the blond.

"We've what?" Sasuke repeated with a frown.

"Harmonized. You're my Storm Guardian. Well, the bond isn't as strong as it could be yet, it's just a start, but with time and practice we'd-"

"Harmonize?" Sasuke interrupted as if he felt a rant coming. "I thought we were already bonded. We talked about it… yesterday?"

"Yes, yesterday, you were only out for about an hour." Tsuna grimaced and started fidgeting. "Harmonization isn't... the same as bonding… I couldn't have... not with them... I mean..." Tsuna started waving his hand around, frantically trying to explain but he kept interrupting himself.

Why was this so nerve-wracking? He already had a conversation like this with the raven? So why was he getting so worked up?

Sasuke, however, only smirked almost fondly at him as he reached out and grabbed his hands.

"Take a deep breath, Naruto, and try explaining that again. I didn't understand any of that."

The blond blushed. "Well... I bonded with both Zabuza and Iruka and you. There has always been the possibility of Harmonizing with me, but as things are now, it's impossible for the others. I didn't think I could possibly harmonize with anyone... I -"

"What's the difference?" Sasuke was being strangely patient with the blond until now. Seemed he still had a limit.

"You know the basic about flames right?" asked the blond.

Sasuke nodded. " Zabuza has a Rain flame and Iruka a Mist flame and that I bonded with them. Flame bonds are precious and in the end I will bond with at least one person of each flame type. You are a Storm."

"You've said that before. About the bonding thing."

"It's important that you understand the difference, bonding is the first step, the most basic step. Harmonization takes such a bond and makes it more... Just more."

Sasuke frowned at the other. "You're really not making any sense here. What's the difference?"

"Activating flames is considered an Uzumaki bloodline. I didn't think I could ever Harmonize with anyone here, because Harmonization requires both parties to be flame active."

Sasuke blinked. "Wait, you mean to tell me that I... I think I would remember setting myself on fire." he replied skeptically.

Tsuna chuckled shakily. "You did."

"No, I didn't."

"You clearly didn't realize you did, but you did. How else did you get out of that sand coffin? You couldn't control it, that's why I got burned." Tsuna motioned to his arms.

Sasuke only now registered the light burns on Tsuna's arms. He watched them with wide disbelieving eyes.

"It's not that bad. I can barely feel it." Tsuna tried to reassure him. "I can help you learn to control it later, if you want."

Sasuke nodded and relaxed again.

"So Harmonization... It's different from bonding? How?"

"At their most basic Harmonization and bonding are the same. I am bonded to Zabuza now, should he one day actually be able to make those flames useful, we could Harmonize and he could become a real guardian. Now, if I make him my guardian and give him the right ring, it would be a symbolic relationship. He wouldn't be able to use flames or that ring."

"Ring? Like the one we found in Uzu?"

Tsuna nodded. He took his own ring from his finger. "Try it."

Sasuke could almost feel the blond's tension in the air and carefully took the ring. He didn't put it on though. It just didn't feel right. This ring could never be his. Strangely, he seemed to instinctively know this.

"At this point in time, neither Zabuza or Iruka can use their flames, they couldn't... I don't feel like I'm explaining this right..." he growled in frustration.

"I think I get it. Those rings from Uzu are like status symbols. The people who get one, are called guardians, but only once guardians can use their flames, like you, can they use a ring as well. But how can you use a ring? What do they do?"

"That's right." Tsuna sighed, looking relieved. "I didn't show you guys what the rings could do."

"Rings mostly help you focus your will into flames. They make it easier to access them and flames are handy in a fight!" Tsuna scrambled to reassure him. "Storm flames are known as Highly Offensive Flames. Their special trait is Disintegration, meaning decaying and breaking apart anything they touch, even other Flames."

Sasuke's mind seemed to work in overdrive as he heard that. He felt himself smirking as he thought of the possibilities of using such a power in combat.

"How do I access them?" he asked eagerly.

Tsuna hesitated. "You should rest some more, you-"

"No! Please just..."

Tsuna frowned. "There isn't much I can do. It's all tied to your resolve. Your determination to do something. You need to focus, in here." He laid his hand on the center of his chest. "The storm ring is still in my apartment, so that can't help you right now."

Sasuke closed his eyes and concentrated. Tsuna wasn't sure what the other was thinking about, but Sasuke seemed to only become irritated, so he assumed it didn't work.

"It didn't work." Sasuke grit his teeth, trying not to snap at the blond.

"I-it isn't that e-easy." stammered Tsuna as he saw the look in Sasuke's eyes. "O-otherwise everyone could use their f-flames."

Sasuke took a deep breath and seemed to center himself again. "What's your resolve then?"

"I- I just..." Tsuna looked embarrassed and blushed red as a tomato, but this time he didn't shrink away from Sasuke. He looked the Uchiha right in the eyes.

"I just want to be happy, with the people I consider family. I would do everything to see them safe."

"So... Protecting people. That's your resolve." Sasuke asked with a frown.

Tsuna smiled gently at him.

Sasuke had to look away with a light blush dusting his cheeks.

"It is my resolve, but it doesn't have to be yours. Still, I think it's the same for most people. Like Haku said once during training: When you're fighting to protect someone precious to you, only then can you be truly strong."

Sasuke looked away, a blank look washing away all emotions from his face. "I don't have anyone like that." he muttered angrily. "Not anymore."

"You have your team now. And me. If you want, we agreed to try, didn't we? I can be your Sky. No one will ever be able to break that bond. Let me show you, just a bit of what we could have." He smiled brightly as he offered Sasuke a hand coated in soft orange flames.

Sasuke hesitated briefly, but his curiosity got the better of him.

He placed his hand in the blond's. Tsuna's smile managed to become even brighter.

There were no words for this feeling.

Tsuna's flames reached out to Sasuke's and gently cradling them, almost as if petting them. He could feel Sasuke's flames. He felt Sasuke's flames respond to his own.

Ssauke's eyes widened at the feeling and he studied their hands with heavy-lidded eyes. Almost as if he could see them, red flames seemed to spring forwards, intertwining with the orange ones from Tsuna.

Tsuna's eyes closed as he basked in the feeling. All he could feel was peace, calm and the feeling of coming home for the first time in years. He basked in the feeling. He craved it. He hadn't realized how tense and lonely he had always been the last few years, even with his bond with Iruka. No, he would never be lonely again.

Never again.

He felt his body sag, almost melting in the blissful feeling.

He would never give this up. It might be selfish but he would never again go back to that lonely hell his brother had created for him.

He eyed Sasuke after taking a deep breath and re-emerging from in their bond. The Raven had sagged forward, a blissed-out expression on his face. It almost looked like he was high.

"Gently. Take deep breaths now, it can be a little overwhelming." Tsuna whispered with a smile as he gently hugged the raven to help him stay upright.

Sasuke obeyed almost without thinking. This feeling...

Through the blond's flames, he could feel his team-mate. He could feel the blond on an almost emotional level.

"This is what it means to Harmonize." Tsuna wasn't sure if Sasuke could hear anything he was saying like this, but he had to try.

"I want that ring." The raven muttered sleepily.

Tsuna chuckled. "Of course. As soon as we get out of this place."

Tsuna smiled at Sasuke as Sakura joined them again an hour later. Tsuna hadn't held on to their bond for much longer and the feelings had dimmed down again. Sasuke, however, seemed a bit embarrassed about his behavior, but mostly seemed to pretend that last bit hadn't happened.

He hadn't closed up again, so Tsuna didn't mind. They had been sitting in a very comfortable silence before Sakura came again.

"We should make plans to get to that tower." She said. "The sooner I'm out of this forest the better."

Both boys straightened up.

"We can't be that far from it." Tsuna mused, deep in thought.

"Night will fall in a few hours, we should use the darkness to make our next move. Do we still have the two scrolls?"

"I'm beyond caring at this point," Sakura confessed, "but that is a good plan. It also gives you some more time to rest, Sasuke-kun."

Tsuna took over guard duty after that so that Sakura could get some rest as well. He should probably feel tired, but he was still feeling high about this new development with Sasuke. There was no way he would be able to sleep right now.

He would wake his team-mates as night fell, and they would move out once it was dark enough for the night to cover their tracks.

They would reach the tower in the early hours of the morning.

Iruka ' s POV:

Something was wrong.

He felt agitated, and very worried, because the last time he had felt like this, it turned out later that Naruto had been fighting an A-rank nuke-nin! Kami only knew what was happening this time…

The worst part was, that the exam had barely begun when the worst of the feeling hit. If he tried to interfere, Team 7 would be disqualified. Personally, he saw no problem with that. He had been there to witness how team 7 had been forced to participate in the exams. But Kakashi, their sensei, had stopped him and said he was just worrying about nothing.

And that did make him hesitate and stop to think. He hated to agree with the copy-nin, but he knew he tended to worry about all his old students. Was he really exaggerating? He did have some sort of bond with Naruto…

Or was it because of that bond that he felt this way?

He smirked, vindicated as Momoichi Zabuza burst into the tower, demanding to know what was going on with their favorite blond. Briefly, he wondered at Naruto's abilities to gather the strangest people. But he had much more fun seeing Kakashi try to calm down the demon of the Mist. Said demon was having none of it.

Iruka knew he should probably help, but he didn't trust himself not to turn on Kakashi so he stayed away. He couldn't quite conceal his laughter when ninja of the T & I burst into the room. Apparently, Zabuza had burst out of their facilities while searching for the blond and they had only now managed to catch up with him.

Hokage-sama shot him a disapproving frown, but at seeing the twinkle in the old man's eyes, Iruka couldn't help but shoot him a cheeky grin.

His pager beeped, signaling Team 7 had entered the tower and he ran towards his designated area to be summoned. As he ran, he quickly shouted the news over his shoulder at the shinobi battling it out in the room.

Zabuza left the others behind so quickly it took the other shinobi a few seconds to realize what had happened. Iruka would have snorted but he was too focused on getting to the blond. He had barely entered the array as the scrolls activated.

He heaved a great sigh of relief as he saw them, bruised and battered, but Tsuna was smiling. Sakura looked as relieved as he himself probably did and even Sasuke smirked.

They were safe!

TBC.

Chapter Text

Arriving at the tower was a relief.

Seeing Iruka-nii as soon as they opened their scrolls brought a smile to his face.

Tsuna couldn’t help himself and rushed forward to hug the man around his waist.

Iruka probably hugged him back out of reflex more than anything, but Tsuna would take what he could get at this point.

Sasuke was visibly hovering at his side, while Sakura kept back a bit.

“Are you all ok?”

“We’re fine, sensei.” Sasuke grunted as his team-mates stayed silent.

“Well then,” Iruka-nii sounded doubtful but tried to hide it as best as he could. “Congratulations on passing the second exam!”

The three genin beamed at him (though each did so in their own way).

“Come on, you have three more days before the end of the exam. Let me show you where you’ll be staying.”

Iruka-nii led them through a corridor deeper into the tower when they heard a commotion.

“What’s all the noise about?” Sasuke asked.

“Oh, that reminds me.” Iruka-nii turned around and sent Tsuna a bright smile that managed to scare the crap out of him.

“When were you going to tell me about Momoichi Zabuza, Naru-kun?”

Tsuna froze.

“You didn’t tell him?” Sasuke sounded both proud and disbelieving as he asked the question.

This was going to be a problem…

He only barely managed to placate Iruka-nii with a promise to introduce everyone to each other as soon as the exams gave them some breathing room. The Mist was displeased, but seemed to accept it.

Tsuna didn’t look forward to introducing Iruka-nii to Zabuza.

--

“Hello there, Naruto-kun.”

Tsuna turned towards the voice. It was the silver haired genin from before the first task.

They had been in the tower for a while now, and Tsuna had spent most of that time asleep. They had reached their destination in the early morning of the second day of the exam, and now they had finally reached the last day of this blasted exam. The deadline would expire in a few hours and hopefully they’d all be able to go home.

They hadn’t been the first to make it to the tower and part of him didn’t care about that. But another part of him was strangely aggravated that the Suna team, Gaara included, had beaten them here. The redhead had lurked in the corridors since, and seemed to follow Tsuna with his eyes and a disturbing smile whenever he could.

Every time Tsuna left their room he had felt eyes on his back. Gaara hadn’t been around half of the time, so it was getting very creepy, very fast

Tsuna had spent most of his time in the tower in their room. Each team that passed the exam got one assigned to them and he wasn’t ashamed to admit he felt like hiding in there until the five day limit had passed.

“You seem to have gathered quite the possessive entourage. It’s difficult to get you alone.” The genin continued.

Tsuna had been alone in the room team 7 had been given when the other had walked in. Both Sakura and Sasuke had left earlier, to stretch their legs and get him some food.

The guy in the doorway smiled at him, seemingly harmless. Tsuna wasn’t going to trust that smile for anything. Was this the person who had been watching him yesterday? And what was his name again? Kaito? Kabuki? He couldn’t remember.

“Who are you?” Tsuna asked bluntly.

“You already forgot my name? That’s quite rude, Naruto-kun.” The silver haired genin smirked almost smugly at him.

Tsuna wasn’t sure he wanted to be alone with this guy. Even if he was a fellow Konoha nin, there was something about him that seemed familiar. His intuition was quiet, so he wasn’t sure what exactly was wrong here but let’s be honest, the guy was very shady. How did a genin get that much information on foreign ninja, and why would he have shared said info with his competition? Especially at the beginning of an exam…

And why would the guy approach him now, three hours before the official end of the second exam?

The genin entered the room and closed the door behind him.

Tsuna frowned at him.

“My name is Kabuto.” He was still smirking and for some reason Tsuna wanted to hit him in the face and he was not someone who punched first and asked questions later…

He was starting to worry about himself.

“Do you remember me now, Naruto-kun?”

“You’re the guy with the info cards.” Tsuna replied.

“Indeed, I am.” Kabuto seemed delighted. “Did you find my information on Gaara-kun to be accurate? I heard you encountered him in the forest.”

“Where did you hear that?” Tsuna couldn’t help himself but ask.

Kabuto’s smirk widened. “Here and there. A lot of people are talking about you. With that… unique bloodline of yours.”

“It seems like no one talks about anything but me these days.” Tsuna grimaced. “Who exactly did you talk to about that?”

Kabuto chuckled. “Most of the talk is about your newly discovered bloodline, especially about how you managed to ensnare a missing nin and bring him with you to the village. I hear he was here earlier.”

Tsuna didn’t answer him, but he did frown when Zabuza was mentioned. Were ninja really that big on gossip or was this guy special?

“My,my, you are gathering some very unique elements; a Rain from outside the village, a Mist that is happy being a school teacher while having potential for much more, and now the last Uchiha.”

Tsuna straightened in alarm. Where on earth was this guy getting his information!? While Zabuza might be easy to guess, he hadn’t told anyone outside his chosen elements, about Sasuke and Iruka.

Not by name.

Especially about Sasuke, that bond was too new to have informed anyone about, even the Hokage.

So how did Kabuto know about it? Why would he have wanted to know about it? What did he want?

“You are making fast work of gathering your guardians.” The guy continued as if nothing had happened. “It is why I send you a little gift. Imagine my disappointment when I hear you didn’t seem to appreciate it. That is considered to be very rude, Naruto-kun.”

And the guy had actually the audacity to scold him and pout at him at the same time?

He looked ridiculous.

Tsuna blinked as he realised something. “YOU?? You sent that lunatic after us??” he screeched in shock.

“Haha, I’m not sure who exactly you are talking about.” Kabuto snorted in amusement.

“BOTH?! EITHER?! It doesn’t matter which one! I don’t care!! And how was any of that a present?”

“Oh, my, no need to work yourself into a snit, Naruto-kun. Does that mean you didn’t notice?” the guy honestly looked a bit thrown now, which only frustrated Tsuna more.

Tsuna grit his teeth but didn’t answer.

“Oh dear, you really haven’t noticed. That is quite unexpected. I had heard so much about that famous intuition, but apparently it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.” He sighed. “That is a disappointment, I won’t deny it. To think I changed all our plans just because we were told you had so much potential. And now this…”

Such a drama queen…

“When you feel like making sense again, please, be my guest.” Tsuna couldn’t help but snark.

Kabuto sighed again, as if Tsuna was a very stupid child, before he rolled his eyes at the blond. He turned around to leave the room, before he turned back. “You know, I have barely started to fill up my own sky, and at the moment I’m not in any rush. That is why I send Gaara-kun your way; clouds are so very rare after all.”

Kabuto winked as Tsuna watched him with impossibly wide eyes. A cloud?

“He seemed so perfect for you too.” Kabuto walked away. “I do hope you’ll learn to appreciate it in the future when people send presents your way.”

And he was gone, crossing a suspicious Sasuke on his way back.

Tsuna wondered what the hell was going on here.

--

A few hours later, Tsuna sighed in frustration. Seemed like they still couldn’t go home, even though the exam was done. Apparently too many teams had passed the second exam and now they had to fight in some interlude exam to cut their numbers in half… because too many couldn’t possibly enter the third part… so they now had to fight in one on one fights, the loser would have to leave the exams.

Having to deal with this now, didn’t even give him the time to think over what had happened with that Kabuto guy.

Speaking of Kabuto, the suspicious bastard, he was the only one who quit before the extra round even began. And if that wasn’t suspicious, Tsuna would eat his headband…

But apparently no one else thought it odd (the team effort part of the exams was done after all) and so they let him go. The genin was smirking at him as he passed Tsuna.

Tsuna felt his eye twitch.

This guy was really starting to remind him of a cross between Byakuran and Mukuro.

Good grief.

When would he finally be done with those stupid tests?

The Hokage had been rambling on about how these exams replaced the war that could have been fought between their countries and Tsuna couldn’t help but snort at that. Sure, because adults would rather watched kids fight and kill than getting of their ass and actually resolving the problem like adults.

The guy who was meant to oversee the fight was a Konoha ninja Tsuna hadn’t seen before, but the guy honestly looked like he should be at home on sick leave. He looked pale and kept coughing harshly.

There was an electronic screen on the wall of the room that would spit out random names of two people who would have to fight… The electronics in this world were still confusing him.

And random… Like anything ninja did was random… Tsuna had real trouble believing that.

Uchiha Sasuke vs. Inuzuka Kiba

“Good luck. You’ll do great.” Tsuna encouraged his Storm.

Sasuke smirked at him. “You worry too much.”

Tsuna followed Sakura up onto the balustrade and joined the other rookie genin from Konoha.

Some adults joined them, Kakashi being one of them. Which made Tsuna guess that the other adults were most likely the sensei of the other teams.

“Ready mutt?” Sasuke baited the Inuzuka and his dog.

“Be prepared to lose!”

They glared at each other.

Tsuna felt exasperated. Did they really have to make such a show around it?

They trash talked a bit more until the proctor gave them the go sign.

Tsuna felt very proud when Sasuke beat their old classmate in record time, using taijutsu only.

Sakura sighed dreamily next to him. “Sasuke-kun is so strong. Scary strong even.” She looked thoughtful when she said that last bit.

“He sure is.” Tsuna smiled happily.

Kakashi hummed while his face was buried in his book. Tsuna felt a bit irritated on Sasuke’s behalf. Had the man even been watching?

“Your face is almost stuck on those pages, sensei. Do you perhaps need glasses to help you read? Are you that age already?” He asked with an innocent smile while clearly pissed off.

Sakura snorted very unladylike and Tsuna shot her an amused smile.

Kakashi briefly froze, and blinked at his blond student. He didn’t appear to know how to react.

One of the other sensei, the man that stood by team 10 (with a beard) burst out laughing.

“You sure got interesting students, Kakashi.” He said.

“Mah, mah, no need for that, Asuma.” Kakashi recovered quickly and smiled his famous smile at the man.

Sasuke re-joined them and stood next to Tsuna. The blond bumped their shoulders together and smiled proudly. Sasuke looked pleased with himself, even if he coloured a bit.

The next fight was Aburame Shino against one of the sound genin.

Who knew insects could be used that way? He knew Reborn had once told him he used them to spy on people, but he had been pretty sure his tutor had been messing with him…

Tsuna didn’t know a lot about Shino. He had never really talked to the other boy a lot, but the sound guy was bragging a lot and was being a general nuisance. So Tsuna cheered when Shino won.

The next fight turned out to be half a massacre…

Nobody died, thank god, but having Tenten fight that Suna girl was just a very bad match up… She lost, badly. The match had been in the Sand girl's (Temari something?) advantage though, so she couldn’t be completely blamed. It would be a good lesson for her, a weakness to work on.

The fight between Ino and Sakura on the other hand… It was like watching two academy students fight. Sasuke actually smacked his own forehead in embarrassment.

It ended when both girls were knocked unconscious.

Watching Neji fight his gentle hearted cousin was a shock. True, Tsuna didn’t know the guy very well – they had trained together a few times and there hadn’t been a lot of time to talk – but he never would have guessed this. Neji had seemed arrogant, but honestly so was Sasuke, and he had the skills to back it up.

Tsuna had looked forward to getting to know him.

This was different.

This was anger, bitter anger towards the world. Towards his family.

Tsuna had only seem such anger once before, in Xanxus. Where Xanxus had been a raging, burning inferno, Neji was cold as ice, freezing everything he touched or even glanced at.

“That guy has issues.”

Tsuna shot his team-mate an incredulous look.

Sasuke looked away, not comfortable at the disbelief his sky subjected him to.

Kakashi patted the raven on the head but Sasuke slapped his hand away and focused back on the fight.

The fight ended when Hinata collapsed, and she had to be rushed to a medic.

He wasn’t sure how seriously she was hurt, but it didn’t look good…

Finally it was Tsuna’s turn to fight.

Against another Konoha nin, a certain Yoroi Akado? If he remembered correctly, this was one of Kabuto’s team-mates.

His team wished him good luck and a few of their old classmates nodded at him.

He felt strangely touched.

Tsuna briefly played with the idea to lose on purpose, just to be done with these tests but his team would never forgive him for that and he was sure that that would be all Reborn need to find a way into this world to ‘express’ his dissatisfaction…

No way! Never again!

So he seized up his opponent. He could feel the eyes of the crowd burning on his back.

The silver haired genin was also watching the fights in the stands. They might not be participating, but he and some genin who had reached the tower but hadn’t passed had gathered at the other side of the field to watch the people who did pass.

The guy rushed him in a pure taijutsu battle.

Tsuna dodged. He could feel the eyes of the people around him observing him, burning in his back.

This could be a problem… Best not to use his flames. Especially with Kabuto watching and all those people from other countries.

But then the guy managed to get him into a choke hold. Unexpectedly his arms seemingly turned to rubber and he could wrap them multiple times around Tsuna.

The grip was strong, and Tsuna wasn’t sure he could simply break it…

“You have lost now! I’m draining your chakra as we speak. There is no way for you to win, so just give it up now!” The guy taunted him.

Tsuna felt his eye twitching again.

These exams were not good for his good mood. They were making him quite moody and irritated.

So this guy was draining his chakra, right? He smiled his innocent smile at him, and Tsuna felt the guy tense.

He barely used his chakra, so it wasn’t a great loss.

Still, if the guy was hungry for power… let's see how he handled Dying will flames.

Tsuna entered HDW-mode and burst into bright orange flames.

He was immediately released and the guy started screaming loudly.

He released his flames and turned. Huge burns covered the genin’s arms and the guy whimpered as medics rushed towards him. The proctor declared him the winner and Tsuna felt vindicated.

These exams really weren’t good for him. He had never before enjoyed seeing someone in pain.

He hoped he never did again.

He needed some sleep, a good meal, and his elements. Not necessarily in that order but that is what he needed to help him feel grounded again. To be himself again.

Harmonizing with Sasuke made him realise how empty his sky really was…

He blinked up at his team-mates. Sakura watched him with eyes so wide, Tsuna feared they would pop out of her head. Kakashi studied him as if he had never seem him before, but Sasuke smirked, pleased with him.

The fight between Nara Shikamaru and the sound girl was different.

Shikamaru didn’t use a lot of jutsu. In fact he kept using only one and Tsuna couldn’t figure out if that was tactical thinking of laziness on the Nara’s part. Probably a bit of both…

However this fight was the first one where the two opponents actually tried to out think each other, instead of purely overpowering the other.

Well, Shino had come close in his fight, but in the end the number of insects had had released upon his enemy had been overwhelming. So Tsuna didn’t think it would count.

This was a very tactical fight, and Shikamaru won, but it was a bit boring to watch.

The fight between Gaara and Lee on the other hand…

Tsuna felt torn.

On one hand he considered Lee something of a friend.

On the other hand, he was very curious about Gaara. Him being a Cloud actually explained a lot, like the familiarity Tsuna had felt during their fight in the forest. He wanted to hit himself now, it was so obvious if you knew where to look. He should have realised it sooner.

Gaara was just as violent and dangerous as Hibari Kyoya, his Cloud in his last life, had been. Tsuna wondered if the similarities between the two ended there or if there were more similarities for him to discover.

As he could have predicted, this fight was brutal.

Gaara’s sand was everywhere and now that he had the time to look, Tsuna finally noticed the purple flames amidst the sand.

He only noticed because he was looking for it, so how had Kabuto known?

Was Gaara actually aware of what he was doing or was he running on instinct?

Judging from the look in his eyes, the latter was the most likely. The redhead was doing his very best to crush Lee, but the green genin was putting up a surprisingly good fight. Especially once he took off the extra weight on his legs.

The Cloud flames weren’t actually doing a whole lot, except multiplying the sand, which was probably Lee’s saving grace. Strangely enough, the flames seemed to almost… bristle in indignation? Was that even possible?

It did seem to match Gaara’s mood however.

But seriously, how weird was this?

Finally, Gaara managed to capture Lee in a cocoon of sand, leaving only his head exposed.

Tsuna saw the panic in his friend's eyes and made to move to help.

To hell with this exam!

But Kakashi gripped his shoulder harshly before he could move.

Luckily Gai-sensei managed to get Lee out of the sand before he got hurt too badly and forfeited in Lee’s place.

The genin was bloody, so he had sustained some damage, but he was already moving again and trying to sit up.

The fight was over.

Or at least, it was supposed to be when the proctor declared Gaara the winner.

The sand had released Lee when Gai had interfered, but it was rushing towards the jounin now.

Kakashi’s grip was too tight for Tsuna to escape, so he released a wave of visible Sky flames onto the arena. Not enough to hurt or even affect people, but enough to snuff out the unconsciously used Cloud flames. It was enough to make the redhead lose control of the sand, however briefly.

Everyone turned around to stare at him, Gaara included. In fact, Gaara was the one who seemed most interested in him which was all Tsuna cared about.

The Sky and the Cloud were watching each other intently, sizing each other up.

Tsuna was in full HPW mode now. Gaara was smirking and the otherwise unemotional boy seemed curious and almost gleeful as he studied him. He had never looked more bloodthirsty to Tsuna, but the blond didn’t feel intimidated.

Next to him, Sasuke straightened and stepped closer to him. Gaara’s eyes moved to the Storm now, and Tsuna’s eyes narrowed at the redhead. Gaara’s grin widened.

That could be a problem.

Tsuna barely managed to pay any attention to the next two fights. The last remaining sand nin against the last of Kabuto’s team-mates and after that Akimichi Choji against a sound guy.

The sand genin won, and while Choji tried, but he was no match for the other shinobi.

Once the arena was empty and everyone had fought, the proctor called the winners back down, all at once.

Tsuna made sure to stand between Gaara and Sasuke at all times.

The proctor handed them a pot and they all had to choose a paper with a number on it from inside it.

Tsuna drew number one.

Their numbers were written down and arranged on a sheet reminding Tsuna of tournament sheets for sport teams in his last life.

“In exactly one month, the third and last part of the chuunin exams will take place. You will fight in one on one fights, tournament style before the public. I will now announce the first round match-ups. First, Uzumaki Naruto and Hyuuga Neji, second Uchiha Sasuke and Subaku no Gaara, third…”

Tsuna didn’t hear the rest of the explanations.

A haze fell over him.

He didn’t pay his own opponent any mind. It hadn’t fully registered in his mind yet that he would be fighting against Neji in one month.

All he could do was watch Sasuke and Gaara…

He only thought one thing as his face hardened in resolution.

No.

Never.

TBC.

Chapter Text

They had left the tower as soon as they were dismissed. Sakura left them soon after. She waved at both boys and strode away, determination almost visibly radiation of her.

Tsuna wondered where she was going, but Kakashi-sensei had asked Sasuke and him to meet him at their usual training ground. So that is where they were going now.

"This is going to be good." Sasuke smirked as they walked through the village.

Tsuna turned to watch him with wide disbelieving eyes. "Excuse me?"

Sasuke shrugged. "I'm just looking forward to fighting that Sand guy."

"Have you gone completely mad? We've fought him in the forest, remember? We were nowhere near strong enough to handle that guy, and that was all three of us!" Tsuna couldn't belief what he was hearing.

Sasuke frowned at him. "We have a whole month of training for that."

Tsuna felt like hitting his storm. Gaara was a ninja who fought with active cloud flames, whether he knew it or not. Even if he managed to teach Sasuke how to use his own flames in a fight, a month was nowhere near enough for Sasuke to win in a flame battle, and even not counting the flames, Gaara was still a very bloodthirsty opponent.

He tried to explain this to Sasuke as they entered the training grounds.

The Uchiha's frown deepened. "You don't think I can handle him?"

"That is not what I'm saying." Tsuna started getting frustrating. Why wasn't he able to explain himself? "It's just that in the forest he was clearly stronger than either of us. You might be training this month, but so will he!"

"You didn't defeat him either." Sasuke was getting angry. "So, what? I'm not good enough to fight him? I'm too weak?"

"I did not say that." Tsuna felt anxious to be fighting about this with his newly bonded Storm.

Sasuke opened his mouth, probably to yell at him now, when Kakashi-sensei appeared before them.

"Yo!"

Either the jounin was ignoring the tense atmosphere between the two boys or he simply didn't care.

"So, training!" Kakashi said cheerfully.

Sasuke straightened, while Tsuna just sighed.

"Here is what we're going to do. Sasuke, grab a bag, we'll be going on a trip."

Tsuna blinked in surprise. Wait… What?

Sasuke? Not Sasuke and Naruto?

"Hn." And without a look at Tsuna, Sasuke ran off.

"Sensei? Where are we going?" Tsuna asked cautiously.

Was the man really going on a training trip with Sasuke? What about him? And Sakura?

He was taking his Storm away? His newly bonded Storm?

"Ah," the man sheepishly rubbed the back of his neck. "Gomen, I'll only be taking Sasuke with me, Naruto-kun. I'm sure you understand."

"What exactly is it that I need to understand, sensei?" He emphasised the word, mostly because he hoped it might make Kakashi realize he had three students, and not just one.

"Sasuke will be facing a difficult opponent. I'll need to able to focus all my attention to his training." Kakashi explained.

Tsuna hesitated before saying: "I'm not sure if Sasuke fighting Gaara is the best idea, sensei."

Kakashi tilted his head. "Why would you say that?"

The blond fidgeted. "It's just, I found out that Gaara is like me. I don't know if he's aware of it, but-"

"Oh, no worries there, he is very aware." Kakashi smiled wryly. "But while this will be a tough fight I'm sure Sasuke will emerge victorious."

"What?" What was his sensei talking about?

"And honestly Naruto, that is no reason to be jealous of Sasuke getting all of your sensei's attention."

"Excuse me?" He asked incredulously.

"Now, now, it's not like I forgot about you. I've arranged a sensei for you as well."

He raised an eyebrow. "Really? And who might that be?"

"A tokubetsu jounin, named Ebisu. He'll be the best to help you with basic chakra control." Kakashi smiled as if he had just handed out a huge present.

"The basics? Do you really think that's what I should be focusing on right now?" Disbelief coloured his voice. "And what about Sakura? Are you just leaving her to help herself during the coming weeks?"

"Sakura has asked to be granted an apprenticeship at the Hospital. I just arranged it, so she'll spend most of her time there, and of course you'll need your basics fighting a Hyuuga. Their bloodline lets them see chakra, after all."

He couldn't help but stare at the man.

This didn't make any sense. Sure, he knew he'd have to catch up, and hard, compared to others concerning chakra, but it's not like he was defenceless without it and if Hyuuga could see chakra, why should he make it easy on Neji by showing him what he was up too? Wouldn't it make more sense to focus on his flames, the power Neji knew next to nothing about?

"Sensei, do you really think me suddenly knowing the basics concerning chakra will help me win my fight?"

"I'm sure you'll find a way." The man kept smiling, clearly not seeing the problem.

Tsuna took a deep breath and steeled his nerves. "You know what sensei? It's very thoughtful of you to dump me on someone else while you obviously can't be bothered, but I'll be just fine on my own. No need to bother your friend."

With that he turned around and made his way home in a hurry, fighting the tears that threatened to spill.

Kakashi didn't come after him.

That only made it hurt worse.

He opened his door with a shaky breath, ready to just collapse on top of his bed and to stay there until tomorrow.

"Naruto?"

He nearly gave himself whiplash as he hurried to look up.

Iruka-nii was standing by this stove, watching him worriedly with a spatula in hand and an apron on. Haku and Zabuza sat down at his low table.

His apartment had never looked smaller.

Iruka-nii put his spatula down, and wrapped him in a hug. "What happened?"

Wrapped in the warm embrace and feeling the worried Mist flames, Tsuna felt overwhelmed. He couldn't help sniffle and even a few tears escaped him as he told his Mist what had just happened.

"Che, playing favourites, is he?" Zabuza snorted in derision. "Somehow I'm not surprised."

Haku jabbed his partner/mentor/weird father-figure-? in his side, and Zabuza grunted in pain.

"It'll be fine, Naru-kun. We'll help you out." Iruka-nii smiled at him.

Tsuna sniffled and rubbed his face while his Mist led him towards his table.

"Thanks." He muttered as he sat down and eyed the three in his much too small apartment.

He might need to move to some place bigger, if this was going to become a habit.

Iruka-nii gave them all a bowl of fried rice and they ate while talking.

"So, why are you all here? I mean, I don't mind, but I didn't know you two had been released from T&I."

Zabuza grunted again. "We got out a short while ago, during the fights somewhere. Haku's good, but I need to go back every other day to check in with them, and we have Anbu following us around."

"I only need to go back once a week." Haku smiled brightly.

"Yes, yes, stop bragging, brat." Zabuza narrowed his eyes at the boy.

Haku flashed him an innocent smile.

"Anyway, I had expected much worse, so I don't really mind." The Kiri missing nin shrugged his shoulders.

Tsuna nodded in understanding.

"I saw them both on way over here and brought them along. Celebrating is much more fun with more people." Iruka explained.

"Celebrating?"

"Of course, you managed to pass the second part of the exams! That's worth celebrating. I made some food for all of us to enjoy."

Tsuna smiled grateful at the chuunin.

"So, are you ready to explain how you all met?" Iruka-nii's smile hadn't changed, but Tsuna still felt a shiver go down his spine.

He told his Mist about their first, and until further notice last, C-rank, and how exactly he had met his Rain.

Iruka muttered a lot to himself, but he didn't seem to expect an answer so Tsuna just continued on talking.

"Excuse me? Did you just say that your sensei got himself caught and left you to fight a jounin by yourself? What was Kakashi thinking? Letting three genin fight a jounin level nuke nin? What on earth was he thinking? Was he thinking? Does he ever think?"

Haku seemed to have the time of his life watching the chuunin, even while he cleaned the table after they were done eating.

Zabuza eyed the man warily, as if afraid he would suddenly bite him.

Tsuna wasn't sure what to think.

They sat in silence for a while, before Iruka sighed deeply and slumped. "That man is so irresponsible."

Tsuna opened his mouth to say something to protect his sensei, but found he couldn't actually say the words.

Having Reborn at his side for years might have left him a bit spoilt concerning teachers, but Kakashi's last actions had really hurt. This was just as bad as Kakashi's behaviour before their C-rank mission.

"I still don't understand why they even gave him a team." Iruka sighed again. "I mean, I do understand, it's only logical, but still that man has never had the most stable situation in terms of his teams. To just pick him out of the Anbu-corps and thrust three new genin at him… honestly…"

"He was an Anbu?" Haku asked curiously.

Iruka-nii nodded. "Yeah, one of the best they had."

Tsuna blinked in shock at that, not having expected it.

"Are you supposed to just reveal that?" Zabuza asked wryly.

"Oh, it's true that Anbu identity is a closely kept secret by its members but even in his Anbu uniform, everyone recognized that hair when he ran around town. It's one of Konoha's worst kept secrets. Everyone knows." Iruka shrugged, before a snort escaped him. "We have surprisingly a lot of those secrets."

Tsuna grimaced. "That's true. But sensei, why would it be logical for Kakashi-sensei to be our sensei?"

"Well, actually…" Iruka-nii blinked in realisation. "Kakashi was put on your team mostly because of Sasuke-kun. Your sensei is the only one in the village with an active Sharingan, even if he isn't an Uchiha. When Sasuke-kun awakens his Sharingan, Kakashi-san would be the only one around to teach him how to use it."

Someone knocked on his door.

"Did you expect anyone?" Iruka-nii asked with a frown.

Tsuna shook his head.

His old teacher got back up and opened the door. A red haired girl with glasses stood waiting at the other side. She wore a headband on her forehead, but because of her fringe, the symbol on it was hidden.

A genin from another village?

"Can I help you?" Iruka-nii asked.

"Euhm… Does Uzumaki Naruto live here?"

Iruka narrowed his eyes, and the two former Kiri nin moved in Tsuna's direction while staying seated.

He rolled his eyes at his Rain, very visibly. The man only grinned.

"I'd l-like to talk to him. My name is Uzumaki Karin."

Tsuna gasped in shock. What? Another Uzumaki?

Iruka eyed her for a second before he motioned for the girl to get inside.

"H-hi." She muttered as she came inside.

"Uzumaki, you said?" Zabuza eyed her with a grin. "Well, you at least have the right colouring."

Tsuna stuck his tongue out.

Zabuza's grin widened as Haku giggled besides him.

The girl hesitated briefly, but sat down anyway as Tsuna flashed her a smile.

"I didn't know there were any Uzumaki left out there." He told her.

She shot him an uneasy smile back. "I thought the same. It has been me and mom for as long as I can remember. She died a few years ago."

"I'm sorry." Tsuna told her.

"So I'm assume you're a genin from Kusa?" Iruka-nii asked with a nod at her headband.

She flinched.

"I'd heard rumours." Zabuza said with arrowed eyes while he studied her. "About a supposed Uzumaki survivor who had been killed off by the village who had given them sanctuary."

"Excuse me?" asked Tsuna with disbelief.

The other guys looked at the girl (Iruka-nii with disbelief that matched his own) and waited for her to talk.

And talk she did.

Tsuna could barely belief what he was hearing.

Her mother had been pregnant with her when Kusa had taken her in, but it hadn't been out of the goodness of their hearts. It turned out that both Karin and her mother possessed a unique healing ability. Kusa exploited the woman until she died from it and now, they were planning to do the same to Karin.

"Unbelievable." Iruka-nii muttered.

Zabuza snorted. "It's not that strange but Konoha has been considered the 'nice' village by the other Shinobi out there, so I get why you might be surprised."

"Is there anything we can do?" Tsuna asked the group as a whole.

Karin watched him with wide eyes.

"D-do you not want us to do something? To help, I-I mean…?" he asked her hestitantly, unsure of her reaction.

She spluttered. "I-I, I mean, sure! But I'm n-not sure you can do anything? Even if you want to?"

Zabuza hummed, deep in thought. "I think the brat just might, actually. Even without being present or without knowing about it, he sure helped us out at T&I."

"What do you mean?" Iruka asked the former Kiri ninja with a frown.

Zabuza shrugged. "It was actually much easier than I expected. When they started becoming difficult, all I had to do was mention I had entered a special Uzumaki contract with the then-last-known-Uzumaki. I claimed clan privileges. They seemed wary enough about that to leave it alone and treated me just fine afterwards. Even if it seems like Konoha thrives of off paperwork."

He grimaced and scratched at a seal that was situated on top of his hand.

Tsuna only now noticed he had that seal on both his hands.

Zabuza saw him look. "Basic chakra suppression seals. They are only visible when I try to use chakra."

He shrugged again, before turning towards the girl. "Well, if you really are an Uzumaki the brat should be able to help you."

"If?" Karin asked vaguely insulted.

The former Kiri shinobi shrugged again. "They like doing tests here. They'll want to make sure. Clan law is sacred in this village, apparently."

"I'll look into it. See what I can find about clan privileges I can find." Iruka proposed. "If you want me to, at least."

"Sure, that would be helpful. Let's hope the council doesn't interfere again." Tsuna muttered softly.

"Yes," Iruka-nii agreed, "they sure seem to like to stick their noses into matters that don't belong to them." He blinked briefly in realisation and continued. "Actually their involvement might also help explain some of your sensei's behaviour, Naruto."

"What do you mean?" he asked with a frown. He wasn't sure he wanted to talk about Kakashi right now.

"Well, as sensei of this year's graduation class it was my turn to write reports on all the graduates for the Hokage. It's something that happens every year. We give the most accurate description of our students strengths, the points they need the most work on and even our suggestions for team placement. One of the elder, Horuma, came to see me when I was busy writing this report and insisted I included a strong suggestion to have Hatake Kakashi teach the last Uchiha. I didn't think much of it at the time, because I had already done so. As I said before, it's only logical if you take the Sharingan into account."

Everyone listened attentively.

"If they continued pulling strings after I submitted my report, it would not surprise me if they approached Kakashi as well."

"What?" Karin tilted her head in confusion.

"So, what? They tell sensei he should only focus on Sasuke and that he should ignore his other students? And he just does so?" Tsuna asked sceptically.

"They just might." Iruka-nii grimaced.

"Are they really that powerful?" Haku asked confused as well.

Iruka-nii nodded.

"Konoha is so strange." The ice nin sighed as he scratched his head.

"Maybe." Tsuna wasn't sure what to think. "But sensei didn't have to go along with it, or he could have at least been honest about it. And while he supposedly found someone to take over his job, I'm not sure I like the person he found for me."

"Oh really? Who is it? I might know them. You didn't say anything about Kakashi having found you a teacher to help you train." Iruka reprimanded gently.

Tsuna flushed. "I, um… I can't remember the name."

Iruka sighed in exasperation.

"But, I honestly don't think that basic chakra knowledge is what I need right now!" Tsuna protested. "I mean, I know I need to learn that, I do, but now is not the right time. I need to get stronger to fight in the exam next month! Basic chakra control is not going to help me defeat Neji. He's really good you know, and I'm worried about that Gaara guy…"

"Hyuuga Neji? That's who you're fighting in the first round?" His Mist asked with a raised eyebrow.

Tsuna nodded.

"You mean to tell me, that your sensei send you off to work on basic chakra control? To help you defeat the one person in these exams who can, however temporarily, take your ability to use chakra away from you with just a few hits?"

Tsuna nodded again, a bitter smile tugging at his lips.

Iruka-nii banged his head against the table he was sitting by.

Zabuza smirked in amusement at the chuunin while Haku was chuckling again.

Karin, feeling a little forgotten, watched them all with wide eyes.

TBC.

Chapter Text

Iruka-nii made him an official appointment with the Hokage the next day.

His Mist had thought it better to go about it this way than to just barge in and hope the man was free. They would talk about important things, so it was better to follow all the written and unwritten rules.

The Hokage’s secretary gave him a stink eye but Tsuna was used to it so he didn’t pay her much mind. They were both waiting for the Hokage who was still handing out missions at the mission desk.

Luckily he didn’t have to wait too long.

The Hokage was punctual.

It was a nice surprise.

“Naruto-kun, what can I do for you?” the Hokage asked curiously after the blond sat down before him. “I must admit I am quite curious, since you went through the trouble of making an appointment to see me. Especially since you should be training hard for the next part of the chuunin exams.”

The man raised an eyebrow in slight reprimand but Tsuna tried to ignore it. He had been training very hard that morning. Even without access to his chakra, Zabuza was a monster when it came to teaching and even Iruka-nii was becoming a harsher taskmaster, almost as if he didn’t want to seem ‘soft’ next to the ex-Kiri ninja. Still, in preparing him a training schedule, they gave him the afternoon off to work on his flames and Tsuna had set today aside to see the Hokage before he started his flame training. Better do this first than to have to stop halfway through. This wasn’t something that could wait until after the exams, after all. Kusa still had ‘ownership’ of Karin at the moment, and they could make her leave the village whenever they wanted.

“Hokage-sama, I would like to know what exactly I would need to do to establish the Uzumaki clan here in Konoha. I haven’t been able to find any information about it in the public section of the library, so I’m not clear on the specifics.”

The old man looked at him in shock but managed to hide it quickly. “That is not was I was expecting.” The man sat straighter. “May I ask what brought this on?”

“If I may be so free, Hokage-sama, I’m finding more reasons every day to be wary of your council. They seem to have a very pronounced interest in team 7, especially Sasuke and me. Along with that, I have people to look after now, people who are still on shaky trust here in the village. I want to do everything I can to make them safe here.”

“Understandable.” The Hokage hummed with a smile.

Tsuna smiled back. He was being vague on purpose, wanting the old man to think he was talking about Zabuza and Haku. Of course he was, but Karin’s situation was more pressing and he wasn’t sure if the Hokage would be willing to get involved in that particular mess.

“Well, there is a lot of paperwork involved. Clan rights haven't been given to anyone since Konoha's founding, so I’ll have someone dig them up for you. There are, however, some conditions to be met. The paperwork alone is not enough.”

Tsuna inclined his head.

“First, for a new clan to be permitted, at least three members need to be registered as such. Meaning you need three people with the Uzumaki name.”

Tsuna frowned, even if he had anticipated something like this. “Do they need to be blood related, or does adoption count?”

“Adoption counts, but they need to officially change their name as well.” The man studied him carefully.

Tsuna tried not to give anything he was thinking away. This shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Karin was already legally and in every way an Uzumaki, and Tsuna was sure he could convince Haku, or maybe even Zabuza to take up the Uzumaki name.

“Your clan will also need to make an offer to the village. Every clan contributes to the village in their own way, and the same will be expected of you.” The third eyed him seriously. “Easiest would be that you present me with a proposal that I can submit to the entire council for approval. That means clan heads included.”

“I had expected something like that. I’ll need some time to work out something concrete but would teaching people to use their flames work?” Tsuna asked thoughtful.

The Hokage blinked in shock. “I thought those flames were an Uzumaki bloodline?”

“They are our speciality, but as I said before, everyone has flames. Most people just never learn to access them. At this moment, I know of two other people in the village who are flame active, as it is called. It seems likely that others will follow.”

“Good gracious, that at least is something my council will love to hear.” The man sighed deeply.

Tsuna didn’t think they’d be glad to hear that one of the people he mentioned wasn’t actually a Konoha ninja, but he wasn’t going to tell them that just yet…

“You’ll need to make a more detailed offer of course, but I don’t see them refusing such an offer. Especially if they finally get to see what your flames can do.” The Hokage added with a smile.

Kami, this double-talk really gave him a headache. It was so easy to get lost in, or to overlook a double meaning somewhere.

But Tsuna nodded. This message was received loud and clear. He’d have to rearrange his training a bit if he was to really show off his flames during the last part of the exam.

“And of course, you need to have a property that can function as clan ground where you can house everyone. This shouldn’t actually be a problem. Your mother wanted to establish the Uzumaki clan in Konoha as well. She’d already purchased a property even if she didn’t manage to fulfil the other conditions yet at the time. The buildings were however destroyed during the Kyuubi attack.”

Tsuna blinked in shock. “Does that mean I still own the grounds?”

The Hokage frowned at him. “Of course. While the village did build a new building on the ground, as is allowed in times of disaster, the building and its grounds do belong to you.”

“Really?” Tsuna couldn’t belief he didn’t knew this. “I never knew that. Which building are we talking about?”

The frown became more pronounced. “Naruto-kun, you own the building you currently live in.”

“EEEHHH?!” He asked while trying not to yell. “That can’t be right. I’ve been paying rent to live there for as long as I can remember.”

The Hokage tilted his head and blinked slowly. “Excuse me?” A stormy expression crossed his face. “It seems I need to have a long overdue chat with Yamada-san. Urgently.”

The Hokage got up, and stuck his head outside the door to talk to his secretary. Tsuna couldn’t quite hear what they were saying, but he had a feeling his landlord (or whatever the guy was supposed to be) was going to have a very bad day.

Good.

The Hokage came back in and sat back down. “I’ll be taking care of this issue and have this cleared up before the day is over but rest assured that building is yours to do with as you please. As Yamada-san was also supposed to help you with your inheritance, I’m going to assume he failed to do that as well?”

Tsuna nodded, not able to talk. His mind was reeling with so many possibilities.

“I’ll have all the paperwork you need, both for the building as well as everything containing your finances, delivered to you tomorrow at the latest.” The Hokage continued.

“So if not my landlord, than what was he supposed to be?” He dared ask after a minute of silence.

“He was appointed as caretaker and janitor of the building.”

“Caretaker? The guy who I’ve been complaining to for years because he won’t repair the hot water? Really? Whose been paying the guy? I hope not me, because one of his tamer replies is that a demon like me doesn’t deserve any hot water!” Tsuna couldn’t help but explode in anger.

Kami could this day get any worse?

Though he couldn’t help but feel vindictive at the look on the Hokage’s face. Looks like his ‘landlord’s’ day was going to be even worse than his own.

Good.

The Hokage dismissed him shortly after, with a promise to summon him in a few days with all the necessary paperwork (both what he asked about and his inheritance) and to keep him informed about the ‘landlord’-situation.

He left the Tower in a daze. This was not what he had been expecting at all.

He owned the building… Did that mean that the people who lived in there didn’t know that? Or had they known as well? Had his land- Yamada-san taken all the rent? Stolen from him at the same time as the mistreatment? How much had that guy taken from him?

Could he evict the other people living there? A small part of him thought that might be unfair towards them. After all, there was the possibility they hadn’t known. But on the other hand, they hadn’t treated him much better than the guy who supposedly owned the building. And to be honest, he’d feel more comfortable without those bigots around him.

He tilted his head. He wasn’t even sure he wanted to keep the apartment building. It didn’t really look like much, much less like a clan house, although it did give him the opportunity to house everyone in his family that needed it. Iruka-nii had his own place and Tsuna would never ask him to simply move, but he could offer him a place of his own if he wanted to stay over. Not to mention, Zabuza, Haku and Karin could effortlessly move in (once I&T had released the two males and once Kusa had officially no say in Karin’s life anymore).

So while his conversation with the Hokage had not gone entirely as he had hoped, this might actually be a good thing.

He straightened as he walked through the village, took a deep breath and tried to keep his positive outlook on the situation.

“There you are!”

Had he just jinxed himself earlier? 

Tsuna blinked at the weird man who appeared before him on his way to the training ground.

“You’re a difficult kid to find, Uzumaki Naruto!”

“You were looking for me?” Tsuna asked with a raised eyebrow, scepticism colouring his voice. How did this stranger know his name??

The man nodded emphatically. “Of course!”

“And who exactly are you?” Tsuna asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Thank you for asking!” The man took on a dramatic pose with a delighted grin. “I am known as the great toad sage of Mount Myoboku, one of the legendary Sannin of Konoha, Jiraiya!!”

This day was turning weirder and weirder.

“Toad sage?” Tsuna asked sceptically.

“That’s right!!” The man beamed at the blond.

“Yeeaaahhhh…” Tsuna drew out the sound in hesitation. “Okay … and what exactly do you want from me?”

“I am here to…” the man abruptly stopped talking and blinked in confusion. He tilted his head. “I don’t know…?”

“You came looking for me, but you don’t know why?”

What was going on here?

The man cradled his chin as he assumed a thinking pose. “Kakashi asked me to teach you, but I never actually agreed to that, and honestly, I’m very busy right now, so …” He said nonchalantly, but he kept a sharp eye on the blond.

“Well, let me make this easy for you then.” Tsuna grit out. Kakashi-sensei again huh? Really? And he had asked someone to teach him without waiting to see if they actually wanted to teach? “Thanks for coming all this way, but there’s no reason to waste your time. I’ll be just fine.”

Tsuna turned around and started walking again. He was fuming. Honestly?! Even when he was Kami-knows-where, Kakashi still managed to irritate him this much.

It didn’t help that Tsuna’s mood had been a disaster the last few days. Too much was happening at once and being separated from Sasuke was taking its toll on him. He felt honestly very vindicated as he imagined the mood his prickly Storm would be in right now. Served Kakashi right. Honestly, Tsuna could not know how Sasuke would react to it, but he himself was very easily irritated and if Gokudera-kun’s attitude could be an example… Yeah, last thing on his mind right now, was feeling sorry for Kakashi.

“You don’t want to be taught by one of the legendary Sannin?” The man asked in disbelief as he caught up with Tsuna.

“Doesn’t look like you want to be doing any teaching, so no.” Tsuna snapped at the man. “Beside, exactly how famous are you supposed to be? I’ve never heard about you.”

The man actually fell down to the ground in shock.

“You’ve never heard about me?!” He screeched.

“Nope.” Tsuna couldn’t help but grin at the man’s shock. “What was your name again?”

Poking fun at this guy was actually pretty fun.

The man got back up. “Seriously, you don’t want any training?”

Tsuna sighed and looked the man straight in the eyes. “I’ve already got two teachers who are trying to outdo each other, and like you said, you have better things to do.”

“You’re pretty interesting.” The man mused as he cradled his chin in the palm of his hand. “I wouldn’t mind teaching you a bit of what I know.”

“You sure you've got time for that?” Tsuna asked sceptically.

The man smiled. “I’m sure we could figure out a schedule with your other teachers.”

“What would you teach me then?” asked Tsuna, not sure if he liked how much the man seemed to suddenly want this.

“I will teach you how to summon toads!” The man puffed out his chest proudly.

Tsuna raised an eyebrow. “Sorry, don’t want to.”

“WHAT?!?” The man screeched louder than before and looked at him with open mouth and disbelieving eyes.

Tsuna only shrugged. “It’s not the end of the world. Besides, I have something else in mind.” His mind went back to the chibi Kyuubi he had accidentally summoned a while ago. He really needed to address that soon.

“Unbelievable.” The man muttered in shock. “What would you like to learn then?”

Tsuna considered this. “Well, sealing has piqued my interest lately, but I’m not sure it’s really something I want to pursue. In depth I mean.” Karin had mentioned seals had been a ninja art that had originated in Uzushio, but she hadn’t known a lot about it. It was something they had talked about studying further together.

 “I can help with that!” The man beamed. “I’m the best at seals in this village, I can teach you anything you want to know!”

TBC.

Chapter Text

 

Tsuna sighed as he was finally alone in his apartment. At least for a little while. While he absolutely adored having people around since they kept his attention far away from any issues he was having (and kept him from overthinking them), he did need some peace and quiet every once in a while to simply process.

And the last couple of days had given him enough to work through.

Good things had happened. It wasn't all bad. His whole team had survived the second part of the exams and a long lost family member had found him, when he'd thought he didn't have any blood family left. Karin's current situation, unfortunately, wasn't very good and needed to be changed but trying to fix that had brought him some very unexpected news, both good and bad. Good, because he wouldn't need to worry about allocations for everyone who wanted or needed a new place to stay (and he'd be able to keep them close this way and not at the other side of the village) and bad because of what his found out about his supposed landlord. Tsuna was never one for revenge, but he couldn't find it in himself to let the man just get away with it either. He really hoped the Hokage could provide a solution here that wouldn't make him hate himself.

Of course he'd need to talk to everyone to see if any of them wanted to be adopted into the clan (Karin already being an Uzumaki, he only needed one volunteer to be able to start establishing the Uzumaki clan.)

And minutes after that he'd been seemingly ambushed in the streets by a man who could as well have been made to teach him. Jiraiya had certainly started their conversation as if he'd rather have been anywhere but there. He had looked so insulted when Tsuna told him 'no', that Tsuna had wondered how long it had been since someone had told him that… The man had cheered up later on and had eagerly joined them all during their dinner to talk about anything and everything, so that reassured Tsuna a bit. Still, someone had clearly made him take the job. Was this the council again? Or was this the guy Kakashi had pawned him off to?

And yes, he was still bitter about that. But who could blame him. Neither his sensei or Sasuke had gotten in touch since their last talk (or maybe fight in Sasuke's case) which hurt. A lot!

The bond with his Storm was straining and Tsuna felt prickly all the time now. Their connection was still so new and Sasuke was the only guardian he had at the moment that was somewhat flame active. It was really taking its toll on him.

But, maybe it was time to change that? Time to step up and stop pretending he knew nothing about flames just to keep everyone from suspecting things that probably weren't true. (How many would guess reincarnation before spy after all?)

Maybe he could try and activate Zabuza's and Iruka-nii's flames? They trained together as good as every day now, in preparation for the third part of the chuunin exams. He'd never done something like that before, but he remembered Reborn telling him how Skies could coax other flames into becoming active, so trying probably wouldn't hurt. They were already bonded as Sky and guardian after all. Though he'd have to talk to them both about that before he did anything. He'd never force this one them. No way. But if they were willing… they'd both need time to train to use those flames. Time they were now dedicating to helping Tsuna train…

Not for the first time, Tsuna wondered if he could withdraw from these stupid exams.

But no, between the council's meddling and Gaara's presence… He just couldn't.

Still, his plans for Zabuza and Iruka and his own prospects of training himself to perform his old techniques (without any added technology), gave him a plan to look forward to the next few weeks. This helped him calm down a bit and honestly, he was so grateful he had those two bonds to counter the loss he was feeling in Sasuke's absence. Honestly, it would be so much worse without them. He could only hope Sasuke was faring better than he was…

He took a deep breath and focused on the last thing he'd promised himself he'd take care of before he threw himself into his training.

Talking to the Kyuubi...

Tsuna sat on his bed, taking another deep breath. He had postponed this long enough, so now, he would take the time to talk to his tenant. Last time he had accidentally summoned the Kyuubi, Tsuna had been too shocked to do much. Especially since he hadn't expected it to be able to talk.

And a talk between the two of them was long overdue.

He eyed the ring briefly, before putting it on his finger and channelling flames through it.

The same small chibi fox creature from before appeared just in front ofhim. It looked startled and flailed around for a second.

Tsuna couldn't help but smile. It was strangely adorable for a demonic creature known for causing natural disasters.

"What do you want?" The fox snarled in a deep voice as he sat down in front of Tsuna.

"I'm not sure, but since we're stuck together, I thought it might be a good idea to talk." He rubbed the back of his head with a sheepish grin.

"Why would I want to talk to a runt like you?" The Kyuubi grumbled in anger.

"Really? You're going with that?" Tsuna arched a sceptical eyebrow and a sarcastic tone. "You got something else to do right now?"

The Kyuubi muttered something he couldn't make out.

"Fine. Then what do you want to talk about?"

"What's your name? I'm Uzumaki Naruto." He smiled brightly at the Biju.

The Kyuubi looked at Tsuna had hit him over the head with a fish. "My name?"

"Well, yeah… Everyone has a name right?" Tsuna shrugged and studied the being before him. "I mean, I'm sorry, I sorta assumed you had a name when I found out you could talk. Talking usually means someone has some form of intelligence, though that can be debated in the case of certain individuals." He though at the majority of the idiots that inhabited this village. "But if you don't have a name, I could always give you one, if you want. Hmmm, Inari could be a nice name, or-"

"WILL YOU SHUT UP?!" the Kyuubi roared as he leapt towards Tsuna and clawed up the arm Tsuna raised in protection of his face. "Of course I have name, you brat!"

The Kyuubi jumped away again and Tsuna shakily took a deep breath, only now realising he'd held it in. His arm was scratched badly, but strangely enough, it just looked like a cat had taken its anger out on him. He'd excepted more damage from the Biju…

"Just tell me what you want..." The Kyuubi sighed tiredly.

"I just... I thought you might like some company? It seemed very dark and lonely in the seal and I just thought that you might want to come out, sometimes. You know, when no one else is around." He admitted sheepishly.

Of course, the fact that he missed Natsu, his cuddle buddy, probably had something to do with that as well…

"You would let me out? Like this?" The Biju looked stunned, before anger overtook it again. "Who do you think I am?! Some sort of pet?!"

"No it's just, I thought it might be nice. For both of us. We are going to be stuck together for as long as I'm alive. It might be nice to make the best of it." Tsuna shrugged. "And I assumed you'd rather be out of there, either way."

"And I don't suppose you want something in return?" Kyuubi sneered. "You're doing this out of the goodness of your heart, right?"

"Well, it would be nice if we could be friends, maybe even fight together, but I'm honestly not sure how much you could do in this form..." He gestured at his scratches.

The Kyuubi snorted and spoke arrogantly. "I'm the most powerful of all the Biju! Don't think that my looks influence the power I possess. If I really wanted to I could maul you without problems, even in this form."

"Oh, does that mean you care about me already? Since you didn't?" Tsuna asked with a bright smile.

The Kyuubi spluttered and Tsuna had to fight not to laugh at the adorable sight. Who'd have thought he'd ever think of the strongest of the Biju as adorable?

"Of course not you idiot!" The orange fox yelled in outrage.

For some reason all Tsuna could see was the Kyuubi's resemblance to Hayato when he yelled at Takeshi in an outrage. It only made the Biju more endearing to him.

Probably the opposite of what the fox had hoped for.

"You still haven't told me your name…?" Tsuna said hesitantly.

"And I'm not going to." The Kyuubi turned his head away in a huff.

"Fine, but I need to call you something, so how about I call you… Fluffy?" he proposed, feeling mischievous. "At least until you give me your name, a nickname only seems reasonable."

"Fluffy?" There was that stunned look again, like the Biju couldn't believe Tsuna had just told him the earth was flat.

"Yeah, why not? Your tails look very fluffy!" Tsuna declared cheerfully.

Maybe he could annoy the Kyuubi into sharing his name? he certainly seemed annoyed enough right now.

The Kyuubi stewed a few seconds, as if restraining himself, before he launched himself at Tsuna again with a roar.

This time though was different. Not only was he using his teeth as well, but something else had Tsuna straightening in attention. He grabbed the mini Kyuubi by the skin in his neck and held him away from himself. He eyed the Biju attentively.

"Those are Storm flames!" He realised.

The Kyuubi snarled at him. "PUT ME DOWN THIS INSTANT!"

"Will you attack me again?"

"OF COURSE!"

"Then sorry, but no." Tsuna reasoned logically. He gently reached out with his own flames and brushed against those of the Biju.

The Biju stilled allowing Tsuna to change his grip on the fox, so that he'd had both his arms under his front paws.

The Kyuubi fell silent. "You're a god-damned Sky." It whispered in stunned shock.

"Yeah, didn't you know?" Tsuna asked curiously.

The flames feel different than any storm flames he's ever felt. Wilder, which shouldn't be a surprise if he thought about it.

"Correction, you're the Sky that's been feeding me his flames for the past few months." Kyuubi spoke still stunned.

"Yeah, sorry about that. I hadn't realised I was doing it." Tsuna trailed of sheepishly.

"Unbelievable." Kyuubi muttered with an I-can't-believe-you-just-said-that look on his face.

The Biju wriggled in his hold.

"Well, what are you waiting for?" Kyuubi asked grumpily. "Will you set me down already?"

"Huh?" Tsuna blinked warily at the Biju as he cautiously put him back on his four paws.

"More Flames, idiot."

Tsuna couldn't help but smile at the adorable grumpy kitsune. He coated his hand in soft sky flames and gently dared to pet Kyuubi's head. The most fearsome of the Biju fell against him in pure bliss. If he could purr, Tsuna was sure he would have.

They sat in silence like this for what could have been hours, simply basking in each other's flames.

It was only when someone knocked on his door, that Tsuna gently shook the Biju to wake him up. He smiled brightly at the creatures grumpy muttering before dismissing him again.

He stretched as he made his way to the door, which honestly was only a few feet away. Yeah, his apartment was very small…

Turned out it was a random shinobi he didn't know. The man didn't speak to him, he simply handed Tsuna a folder filled with a lot of paper, nodded at him and walked away.

Tsuna blinked after the man, not sure what to think. In the end, he shrugged and took the folder inside.

Iruka-nii would be here soon, he saw as he looked at the clock, so he set the folder on the table and started going through the papers. He'd give it a read through while he waited.

But the more he read, the wider his eyes opened. Was this real? Because if so, then Tsuna didn't only own a practically empty building, he also had more money than he could ever need. What had his mother done? Raided Uzu before she moved here?

Oh, no wait… The Hokage was making his old 'landlord' pay him back everything he owed Tsuna, plus a very serious interest. The guy would be paying Tsuna back 'til he died… and while the man had spent most of Tsuna's money, he'd actually invested in into some popular businesses here in Konoha. So somehow Tsuna now as good as owned three shops and two restaurants and he'd get a monthly check from all of them…

Dear kami, he had enough money to bulldoze this old apartment building and build something entirely new! Wow…

He was still studying the papers when Iruka-nii arrived, coming into the apartment with the key Tsuna had given him.

"What has you so serious, Ruto-kun?" his Mist asked with amusement.

Tsuna couldn't get any words out, all he could do was hand his nii-san the papers.

A creepy smirk grew on Iruka-nii's face the longer he read. "Wow, this is very good news."

He actually almost purred out the word 'very'.

They didn't need to wait long before the others arrived. Somehow in the last few days, they had all made the unspoken decision to come over every evening for dinner. This evening wasn't different. Zabuza arrived with Haku and Karin. Apparently, the former Kiri duo had taken the girl under their wing.

Tsuna smiled brightly at them all.

Zabuza grinned ferally back, and he seemed delighted about the look on Iruka-nii's face. Tsuna's Mist still had a slightly disturbed smirk on his face.

"I bribed the Sannin into buying us take-out for dinner." Zabuza said as they all sat around Tsuna's little table. "He'll be here later on though. He still had an errand to run."

"Good because there is some stuff I want to talk about first." Tsune sighed and organized his thoughts for a second. What first?

"Ruto-kun got some very interesting papers from the Hokage." Iruka-nii started.

"True, that's part of what I wanted to talk about." He took a deep breath before he started. "I went to the Hokage to ask what needed to be done to have the Uzumaki acknowledged as a Konoha clan. Turned out, that wouldn't be hard to do at all. I'd need at least two people who'd agree to take on the Uzumaki name." He turned to look at Karin. "You already have the name, but I have no idea how closely we are actually related so it'd be best if you signed the papers anyway. As an official part of Konoha's Uzumaki clan you'd be protected against anything you wouldn't want to do. Kusa wouldn't be able to make you do things. They'd need my permission before they could force you and I'd make sure that Konoha held Kusa to that. If you want, they wouldn't even be able to stop you if you handed in your resignation."

The girl smiled at him with tears in her eyes, clearly feeling grateful and overwhelmed. "Thank you."

"Just to be clear, if you leave Kusa and officially move into Konoha, no one here would force you to be a shinobi either. The choice is completely yours." Tsuna wanted to make that clear because no one had ever given her the option of not being a shinobi. Whatever she wanted, he would make sure she had it.

"Of course that means we still need someone else to be adopted into the clan. Now, I don't want anyone to feel-"

"I'll do it, if that is alright." Haku cut him off.

Tsuna blinked in shock. He'd hoped the boy would agree, but he had honestly not expected this to go this quickly. "Of course, if that's what you want."

"It is. It would be nice to have a family again, especially after what happened with the last one. My father killed my mother because of Kiri's policy on bloodlines and I'd like to think I know you well enough to know that you'd never agree with or do something like that, Naruto-kun. Not to family."

"Never." Tsuna vowed with a dry voice, surprised to hear Haku's story so casually mentioned.

"Good." The ice user smiled at him.

Tsuna eyed him briefly. "I know I've said I see the people I flame bonded with as family, but just because such a bond or blood ties don't exist between us, doesn't mean I don't see you as family either way. You know that right?"

Haku's smile grew softer. "I know. Still having a name again would be nice."

Tsuna nodded at him and handed Haku and Karin the papers they'd need to fill out. "Make sure to read everything on there before you sign them. I haven't had the time to read the fine print yet, but it seems to be alright."

He turned to look at Zabuza and Iruka. "Also, it's not because I have the required two people to join that no one else can join as well. If either or even both of you want..."

"Yeah, yeah, we know." Grunted Zabuza. "I don't see the need, personally, except maybe if doing so will give me special privileges I'd want in the village." The man gave a very Squalo-eque grin.

"We'll see." Iruka-nii grinned at the man.

"Alright, next apparently I own this building and the ground it stands on. I plan on throwing the only other person living in it out." And yeah, he was. There was no way he wanted his old 'landlord' anywhere near him. "I plan to register it officially as clan property and you'd all be welcome here. However work needs to be done to make living in it better."

Zabuza gave a snort at that and Tsuna shot him a grin.

"I know but I wanted you guys' input before deciding what to do with it. As far as I see it, we have two options. We either bulldoze the whole thing and start building something new or we have some serious work done on it. It might be nice to make a communal floor on one story and then rooms or even apartments in the rest of the building."

"That last bit sounds nice." Iruka-nii's smile finally lost its demented vibe.

"Do you have enough money for all that?" Haku asked concerned.

Tsuna grinned. "Oh, money shouldn't be an issue. Except if you guys want the building completely done in gold, but honestly that doesn't seem to be practical at all. The glare from the sun alone would be bothersome."

Karin giggled.

Tsuna let out a deep sigh. "Though I have no idea when I'll find time for this."

"Well, if you want I can speak to a professional to see just what is possible to have done in this place?" Iruka-nii proposed.

"That sounds nice." Tsuna smiled relieved.

"I-if you want," Karin started hesitantly, "I'd like to help with that."

"Me too." Haku agreed. "Karin and I could come with you, Iruka-san. To help things move along."

Zabuza snorted again. "Yeah, give Haku any say in this and he'll have the whole building redone, decoration and furniture included."

"Really?" Tsuna asked with wide eyes. "Because that actually be something I'd agree to."

"You mean it?" Haku asked with a startled smile.

Tsuna smiled at the boy. "Of course, I have honestly no idea where to start or what I even want, so that'd be a great help. Maybe you and Karin can take care of making this place a home for all of us."

The girl had been fidgeting, clearly wanting to say something but not daring to. Haku turned towards her and smiled. "I'd like that. This will be so much fun. Let's do our best, Karin-chan."

She smiled and nodded in delight. "Un."

"Good." Tsuna smiled brightly. He was so glad they'd take care of it. That was one less thing to worry about for him. "Now, there is something else I'd like to discuss before Jiraiya gets here. As you know, I flame bonded to both Iruka-nii and Zabuza, as my Mist and Rain respectively. You might not know that I have a bond like that with Sasuke as well."

"Sasuke?" asked Karin softly.

"Uchiha Sasuke, my team-mate."

She nodded in understanding.

"Sasuke, however, managed to become flame active during the second part of the chuunin exams. Flame active bonds are tighter than non-active bonds. The strain of having such an active new bond is … making me very miserable the last few days. New guardians shouldn't be separated from their Sky, but Kakashi took Sasuke away without even thinking or asking what might happen."

"What is happening?" Zabuza asked with empathise and a heavy frown.

"The bond is being stretched thin. And there is a constant ache." Tsuna said as he rubs his chest where he could feel his bonds. "It hurts and it makes me moody and grumpy. The longer this goes on, the worse it'll get, ntil the bond snaps."

He really didn't want to think that might happen, but he had honestly no idea how long their bond could stand such a lengthy separation, and he had no reassurance that he'd see Sasuke before their month training was done.

"Is there anything that can be done?" asked Iruka-nii worriedly.

"We could hunt down Hatake and take the boy back." Zabuza suggested casually.

Tsuna shook his head. "No, we'd waste too much time trying to find them. Kami knows where Kakashi took him, but there might be something we can do. If you agree that is."

They all waited for him to elaborate.

"Having other flame active bonds could possibly ease the symptoms on my end. This would do nothing for Sasuke, who should be experiencing the same things I am. I feel bad about not being able to help him, but part of me is very glad to know that Kakashi is suffering because of his thoughtless decisions."

His two guardians smirked at that.

"But, getting both or either of you flame active would help me, and it would also help to show the village exactly what the Uzumaki clan can contribute to the village. It's all good and well to offer to teach people about flames and their uses but if no one else can use them, that seems a bit like a lost point, really, so…"

"But it would be mostly for you, right?" Karin asked.

"I'm in. Screw the village, I want to use those flames." Zabuza grinned, exposing his sharp teeth to them all.

Iruka-nii didn't say anything but mirrored his grin.

Those two would be even more terrifying with flames, but Tsuna honestly didn't see that as a reason to not do this.

Someone knocked on the door.

"That will be the Sannin with our food." Zabuza was still smirking.

Karin, who sat closest to the door, got up to let the man in.

"I have arrived!" Jiraiya dramatically waved his arms around as he walked in.

The bags that were draped over said arms dangerously danced around with him.

Both Haku and Karin immediately tried to grab the bags from him, to prevent their food getting spilled.

The group fell into an easy chatter as they sat down and started eating. Tsuna started drifting off, lost in thought. He was glad he'd gotten to address everything he'd wanted to talk about. And honestly, simply having his family around like this, relaxed and enjoying themselves, soothed the ache inside him from his straining bond with Sasuke a bit. Just enough to be able to pretend to himself that everything as it should be.

He did briefly look back up when he heard what Jiraiya and Karin were talking about.

"It's true that the best seal masters of the Hidden countries were Uzumaki, before the village was destroyed." Jiraiya explained her.

"But why?" Karin interrupted. "If they were so focused on flames and how to activate it, then…?"

"Ah, but they hadn't been very successful with that in the last few generations, now were they? No, no see, I've been told that the Uzumaki only started inventing seals as an alternative for flames. For those in the clan who didn't manage to go active. Over the generations, the people who did manage to unlock their flames dwindled and seals became much more important."

"So, they made seals to mimic flames?" Tsuna interjected in their conversation.

Jiraiya smiled at him. "To mimic the effect of flames, mostly. Like the Hiraishin seal. That one is ancient even if it made the Yondaime famous. It's a seal that supposedly makes the user teleport all over the place but it actually mimics Rain Flames and slows everything except the user down."

"Wow." Breathed Karin in awe.

Tsuna couldn't help but agree with her.

"Or another example…." Jiraiya enthusiastically continued on.

TBC.

 

Chapter Text

The rest of the month was mostly spend training. He worked on his flames, getting both editions of his Zero Breakthrough working again. He’d also tested it enough to know both worked on non-flame active people so that was a step forward.

Though, if Tsuna was honest, he didn’t care if he did well in the exam. That was far from a priority, and if Gaara wasn’t a competitor he might have just forfeited before the exam even started.

He’d gone from prickly to downright broody over the past month. Sure, the Kyuubi’s Storm flames had helped, but Sasuke was his guardian and he’d honestly tried to keep the Kyuubi’s flames at bay, mostly out of fear of accidentally replacing Sasuke’s bond.

So training had been fun; it had been a way to blow off steam and get rid of his pent up frustrations.

Iruka-nii had grown more and more concerned with him though, even if he understood what was going on. Zabuza… He had enjoyed it. Not necessarily that Tsuna was miserable, but he’d loved the chance to fight, even in training or as a spar.

Enough was enough though. Today was the day before the exams and they were finally going to try to get his other two guardians flame active.

“Are you sure you have time for this?” Iruka-nii asked gently. “You should be focusing on your training right now. The exam is getting closer after all. We can always do this afterwards.”

And he honestly looked like he meant it. Next to him Zabuza nodded reluctantly.

Tsuna was impressed, and touched as well, because he knew both men were anxious to unlock their flames and learn to use them.

“I honestly don’t care how well I do in these exams. As long as everyone I care about comes out of them alive, I’ll be very happy.” And he couldn’t help but think about Sasuke.

Not only was their new bond almost strained to snapping point, but he kept worrying about the Storm’s fight with Gaara.

“Besides, the exam is tomorrow. I did all I could to prepare so it’s best not to overdo it today.”

He smiled at them and both relaxed visibly.

“So, who wants to go first?”

The two of them watch each other.

“You go first.” Zabuza said reluctantly. “You bonded with him first.”

“I honestly don’t mind waiting.” Iruka-nii smiled.

“Someone will have to go first.” Tsuna remarked wryly.

Zabuza shrugged. “Like I said, you go first. No need to make the ANBU following me around twitchy.”

Iruka-nii chuckled. “True.”

Yeah, the Hokage would probably appreciate that.  Seeing as Zabuza still had his chakra sealed, it might be better to give Iruka-nii access to his ‘mystery’-flames first.

Tsuna opened the box he brought with him to the training ground and handed Iruka-nii the Uzumaki Mist ring. The man grinned again and put on the ring.

“So, now what?” he asked.

Good question…. Tsuna didn’t have any pills he could share with them (and if he had he couldn’t really use them. There would be no way to explain where he got them, after all.) So let’s see if he could coax those flames into becoming active.

He sat down and gestured his Mist to do the same.

“Try to focus on your Resolve. Something that makes you more determined to succeed than anything else.” Tsuna said as he held out his hand for Iruka’s.

He went into HDW mode the moment their skin touched and delved into their bond. He didn’t rush (he couldn’t) and gently started manipulating the Flames he found at the other end.

He wasn’t sure how long they sat there, but he refused to do this any other way than slowly and gently. It was a delicate process and he was afraid to make mistakes and possibly hurt his Mist, but their patience was rewarded when the Mist flames suddenly burst free.

Zabuza cursed loudly in surprise, but both Iruka-nii and Tsuna burst out laughing when their flames immediately latched onto each other.

Harmonization was awesome!

Iruka-nii grabbed him into a tight hug as they laughed in delight.

When they finally let go, Zabuza stood next to them, impatient and with a very Xanxus-like grin of delight on his face. “I believe I’m next.”

Tsuna burst out laughing again.

The wave of Rain flames that washed over him sometime later was absolutely glorious.

--

Today was the day. Today the third part of the chuunin exams were held and tonight, he’d have been reunited with his Storm and this whole thing would be over.

He was sooo looking forward to that. Less than 18 hours to go…

He'd gotten to the arena on time and the tournament had official started. Even if Sasuke still hadn't show up…

Tsuna could only hope he'd get here in time (knowing Kakashi though... the chances were small). His family was seated somewhere in the tribunes. He couldn’t see them, but he knew they were there. He can feel Iruka-nii’s quiet worry and Zabuza’s glee over their bond, and he knows at least Haku and Karin are there as well.

He has no idea where Jiraiya was though. He hadn’t walked with them all to the stadium and honestly, while there was a promise that it might change at some point, Tsuna wasn’t close enough to the man.

Not yet.

But there was a possibility there, so who knew what would happen…

He had checked, but his flames hadn’t reached out to the man on their own (yet). Maybe his flames were content with the bonds he had at the moment? He wasn’t sure, but either way, he didn’t have a bond with the man, so he couldn’t feel him out to check if he was present.

The other participants had left the arena to a special viewing area, and Tsuna had stayed down in the arena to fight Neji.

Their fight was supposed to be first, but honestly, not a lot of fighting was taking place.

Genma (and hadn’t it been a delight to see the man again?) had started the match a little while ago and Tsuna had wanted to hide (an instinct he still hadn't completely gotten rid of) but knew that to be useless against Neji's bloodline.

They stood facing each other and Neji had started talking as soon as the proctor had given the start sign.

It didn’t help that the crowd was also muttering up a storm, but they, at least, he couldn’t understand, though he could guess what or (rather who) they were talking about.

“You seem confident you will win. I’m sorry, because I quite like you, and while I won’t enjoy this, my victory is already guaranteed. Such is the working of fate…”

Tsuna felt himself twitch because… REALLY? This is how he wanted to start their fight?

He looked around, ignoring Neji’s monologue about fate and ‘why bother trying if I know you’ll lose?’. Which, it turned out, annoyed the genin enough to attack him.

He took a few blows getting used to the rhythm of the attacks, but once he got used to that and the speed, evading his strikes was easy.

After a month of dodging training with both his Mist and his Rain, it turned out that Neji fought very predictably.

It got very repetitive, very fast.

He hadn’t even gone into HDW mode yet, which always boosted his intuition.

Had he really improved that much in the past few weeks? Good.

Dodge.

Dodge.

Block.

Start again.

Honestly. Talk about predictable…

Tsuna eyed his opponent carefully. Their match had been going on for a while now, but Neji seemed more interested in talking than fighting.

He stopped every time he thought he’d landed a hit, even if Tsuna just blocked his strike with his arm.

Though to be honest, Tsuna had no idea how many hits Neji had actually landed on him. After that, they’d circle around each other a bit and Neji would start talking again. Fate seemed to be his favourite topic.

The guy seemed very frustrated. Was this Neji reaching the edge and just spewing all his grievances to the world to hear?

Tsuna honestly felt a bit exasperated and he was reaching the end of his patience. Honestly, he had started this day even more irritated than any other before (He wasn’t sure who to blame for that anymore; Kakashi or Sasuke, because surely Sasuke could have come to see him right?).

He was just so done.

He had to admit though, when Neji started talking about being a caged bird and a seal, Tsuna actually started paying attention. Hearing about Neji's story did make him wonder what was wrong with his family. Dear lord, the more he heard the less logical clan reasoning became. Sure he could understand a seal to protect their bloodline, but a seal to cause pain? That was used when they feared their lower-classed family might be getting ideas above their station?  What kind of family did stuff like that?!

Who the hell seal their own kid?

...

Wait...

He knew the answer to that one...

He sighed as he had to think back on the idiot that had once been his father. Right, he'd done that before. On the plus side, Tsuna could now rant and rave together with Neji about idiot relatives.

They had that in common now!

Oh, wait, did the same happen in this life as well? Someone had sealed the Kyuubi inside him after all, and he'd known his mother had been somehow involved, so... What exactly did that mean?

He shook his head. Now was not the time to think about that.

Really, Neji spouting all his childhood trauma for the whole village, and even the people from outside the village, to hear might not be the brightest idea though...

Tsuna should probably get him to shut up. He liked the guy and he wasn’t sure if Neji would end up regretting saying all this.

Maybe by attacking him? The proctor was giving them strange looks… He was probably being too passive to really call this a fight… oops?

He jumped forward, taking the Hyuuga by surprise and launched to hit him square in the face.

However, Neji managed to react just in time.

A blue dome appeared around him, while Neji spun around in circles, fast. Tsuna was thrown back involuntarily.

“What is that?” he asked.

Most shinobi, it turned out, loved to brag and explain their own techniques. Neji wasn’t an exception.

“Did you think you had won? That dodging would win you this fight? You’re not trying very hard, are you?” Neji smirked. “It’s called the Hakkeshou Kaiten. It’s a technique supposedly only taught to the main branch of the Hyuuga family, and an excellent defence. My Byakugan gives me almost 360° vision and I can detect all enemy attacks coming my way. The Kaiten allows me to intercept them, by simultaneously expelling chakra from my body’s chakra points.”

Wow, he really just explained his technique in detail… Tsuna wasn’t sure to feel grateful or exasperated.

Honestly, at the moment he had trouble feeling anything but annoyance and irritation.

“This is it. You are standing within the range of my Divination.”

What? Divination? What did that mean?

And then Neji adopted a very specific looking stance.

“Jyuuken: Hakke Rokujuuyonshou.” Neji smirked and launched his attack.

Damnit! Neji’s attacks actually speed up the longer it goes on. What the hell??

What followed is a barrage of very precise strikes that leave Tsuna breathless.

Those really hurt!

Tsuna was thrown back again and he groaned.

He could feel Genma’s eyes drilling into him, to see if he could conclude the match.

So impatient. Just give him a second. His muscles protest him trying to get back to his feet, but he did so none the less.

Then Neji just had to sneer at him, saying Tsuna could never understand what he was going through, about having a seal that could be triggered at any moment, blah blah blah... Honestly, he'd stopped listening just because of the audacity of it all.

After all, Tsuna had had this happen to him in both lives now!

“Excuse you? Are you honestly telling me that no one but you understands the pain of being branded by a seal? What about the rest of your family, for one? Or are you the only one the main branch did that to?” Tsuna interrupted him harshly, disbelief unmistakably colouring his tone.

Now he was really pissed off. Because seriously? He wouldnt know what that is like??

Neji blinked at him.

“Also, do you really think the Hyuuga have a monopoly on putting seals on people without consent?? Your little scribble is nothing compared to mine.” He snarled, angry.

Tsuna heard the crowd gasp as he lift his shirt and shows off the ink black seal that is etched into his stomach.

Neji’s eyes widen.

“This seal is the reason people chase me out of shops when I try to buy food, why people sneer at me, curse at me, in short, why this village treats me like I am a monster. So, no, it might not be exactly the same situation as yours, but I’m willing to bet I know how you feel.” Tsuna can’t help but bite this out, the words feel bitter on his tongue.

The crowd was in an uproar. Tsuna wasn’t sure how much they could hear of what they said down here, but they sure as hell had eyes.

“Now, are you going to try to hit me again, or is it my turn now?” Without waiting for an answer (Neji still seemed frozen in shock, his eyes still on Tsuna’s seal, bloodline active), he lets his shirt fall back down.

Bright orange flames burst forth and he closed the distance between them faster than Neji could react. His flames fluctuated and when he grabbed Neji’s arms, ice starts forming. First only on the places he put his own hands, but after another flare of flames, the ice started spreading fast, until Neji’s hands and a big part of his arms were completely covered.

Tsuna jumped back, recreating some distance between them. Relearning this technique was worth all the pain he’d endured during training.

“What is– What did you do?!” Neji shouted at him.

“This fight is done. That is a special ice that only I can melt, so unless you can pull off all those fancy Hyuuga techniques with your toes, you’re done.” He felt a bit bad for Neji for ending their fight this way, but he was honestly beyond caring at this point. The Hyuuga still looked at him with impossibly wide eyes.

He’d apologise later and talk to the other genin some more. Give him the option of a place away from his family. Might even offer to give him another family. Something told him the stoic teen would fit well with Tsuna’s little family. Maybe he could ask Jiraiya to do something about that seal of his. Should be easier to remove than a Biju seal.

“Winner, Uzumaki Naruto.” Genma shouted out.

Tsuna immediately went back over to Neji and started melting his ice while leading the Hyuuga out of the arena.

He insisted on staying with the Hyuuga until the medics could confirm the genin would not sustain any lingering damage.

He knew it should have been fine, he had sparred with Haku and used this technique against him multiple times, but it was nice to get the reassurance.

He didn’t want to stay too long though, worried or not, because Sasuke’s fight was next and he hoped to see his Storm before his fight started.

Neji shooed him away quickly though, so Tsuna made his way up to the competitors' area.

He arrived just in time to see the start of Nara Shikamaru’s fight against the blonde Suna kunoichi. Wait, what?

What happened? Wasn’t Sasuke supposed to fight after him? Before Shikamaru? Did they change it?

What was going on?

Wait, he looked around. Could it possibly be…? Sasuke wasn’t here either. Had he not gotten here yet?

Was this just Kakashi being extremely late or was something else going on?

The other competitors stayed well away from him and he didn’t feel comfortable enough to approach them to ask.

He worried through the entirety of Shikamaru’s fight, though he was very surprised when the Nara cornered the girl, only to then forfeit.

What was going on today?

“Hey, congrats on that win.” The Nara greeted him when he got back.

He gave an uneasy smile back. “Thanks.” He wasn’t sure what else to say. It’s not like he could say the same in return, so…

“Do you know what happened to Sasuke’s fight? I must have missed it.”

“He still hasn’t show up, so they decided to postpone it for a bit.” Shikamaru replied.

Dammit!

Sasuke POV

He was going to kill someone, preferably Kakashi.

Where the hell was the guy?? They needed to get going. The tournament had already started.

After a whole month of actually refusing to leave Sasuke’s side, now is the time he decides to disappear? He’d even had to convince the guy to stay outside the bathroom, thank you very much!

What? Like Kakashi had been scared Sasuke would escape out of the window??

To be honest he’d tried to find a fail-safe way to get out of there, but he hadn’t found one so he’d stayed put.

He’d had a bit of a fight with Naruto just before Kakashi had taken him away for training. He’d been hurt, more than he cared to admit, that his Sky had so little confidence in him. Sure Gaara was strong, but honestly… Was a little faith that much to ask for?

Still, their argument wasn’t nearly serious enough to want to be separated from the blond for a whole month!

Dammit Kakashi!

He actually missed the blond!

Who’d have thought? It hadn’t seemed possible a few months ago… His frustration had even gotten to a point where he didn’t care if anyone else knew about it!

He had actually tried to escape through the bathroom window a few days ago and when Kakashi caught him effortlessly, he’d started contemplating poisoning his sensei’s food with something. The longer this went on, the less he actually cared about what he’d spike his sensei’s food with… He’d seen some mushrooms of questionable nature yesterday. He’d been very tempted to pluck them, even if he had no idea what species they were. So he had no idea if they were deadly, perfectly fine to eat, or just enough to give someone a big stomach ache.

The reason he felt so… He wasn’t sure what the word for it was… Irritated? Murderous? Anyway, the reason was he could actually feel the bond he shared with Naruto all the time now, without the blond having to do who knows what with his flames to point it out.

It had felt strained shortly after they left to train and now, it actually physically hurt, and not just a dull ache, no, he was way past that stage now!

It hadn’t taken long for him to clue in to what was happening. He wasn’t stupid, even if Kakashi insisted he was exaggerating.

Honestly… he sort of wished he was at this point.

He’d imagined this is what it might feel if someone tried to spoon out his heart. (Alright, so maybe he was a little dramatic, but this stuff obviously hurt and left him… in quite a… mood?)

And this pain being so close to his heart and lungs really didn’t help.

Still the longer he didn’t see Naruto, the worse the pain became, and today was the day of the exams. He’d hoped, beyond hope, that Kakashi would pick him up early (He couldn’t really leave since the jounin had locked him in. Precautions he’d said) so he could spend some time with Naruto in hopes of restoring their bond and alleviating the pain a bit.

He was still so naive…

He sighed again and rubbed once more at his chest in hopes of relieving the pain a bit.

Dammit Kakashi!

TBC

Chapter Text

Everything happened very quickly after Shikamaru's fight. Shino's fight was next and he was fighting against the last of the Suna team.

The fight was quite exciting, but in the end Shino lost when the puppeteer poisoned him badly enough he couldn't keep going.

Which was a pity. For now, Tsuna was the only non-Suna shinobi who managed to pass to the next round.

The sound guy, who Tsuna had actually completely forgotten about, never showed up and the Hokage announced he was giving Sasuke ten more minutes to show up before they'd move on.

Sasuke didn't show.

The crowd muttered loudly again, but the Hokage was merciless.

"After rescheduling his fight once already, Uchiha Sasuke has still failed to show up. He is hereby disqualified. I ask Subaku no Gaara and Uzumaki Naruto to come down for the first fight of the second round."

Dammit Kakashi!

Tsuna cursed their sensei. He couldn't believe this! He knew the man was late everywhere and to everything, but this? Getting one of his own students disqualified?

"Good luck." Shikamaru said.

Tsuna looked up, shaking his raging thoughts away. "Thanks, something tells me I'll need it."

He tugged absent-mindedly at his gloves as he made his way into the arena.

Gaara was already waiting for him and had a slightly crazy smile on his face as Tsuna approached him.

Maybe this way was better. Now he didn't need to worry while Sasuke fought and he just needed to focus on getting out of this fight alive.

Easy…

He grimaced.

"Ready?" Genma asked them both.

Gaara radiated blood-thirst, while Tsuna only took a deep breath and nodded.

Genma raised a hand, ready to start when he suddenly froze.

Because both Kakashi and Sasuke had appeared in the middle of the field, just between Gaara and Tsuna.

Oh kami!

Now they show up?

"You're late, Hatake." Genma grumbled displeased. "Too late. Both of you, get off the field."

"What?!" Sasuke snarled.

Now that Tsuna looked closer, Sasuke looked extremely pissed off. In fact, he couldn't say he'd ever seen the Uchiha angrier than this.

His eyes widened. Were those… Storm Flames?

"I'm sure it'll be fine." Kakashi tried to placate his furious student with a sheepish grin.

What?

Kakashi had to dodge the kunai Sasuke seemed determined to use to take his remaining eye. And yes, around Sasuke's hands and kunai… Those were slight wisps of Storm Flames! Had he actually made a start in learning to use his flames? Or was his rage just that big? Kyoya had used his irritation to fuel his flames for the longest time when he had misunderstood Dino's explanation in the beginning. Could Sasuke unconsciously be doing the same?

Tsuna hurried forward and grabbed Sasuke's arm. Partially to calm the raging Storm down and to stop him from maiming their teacher (not that he blamed the Storm for wanting to), but mostly just to be close to his friend again. Close enough to start renewing their bond.

He wanted to hug his Storm but he refrained. Would Sasuke be uncomfortable with that? Maybe, but certainly in front of such a big crowd...

The moment they touched, Sasuke visibly deflated and let their sensei shinshun away. Genma quickly disappeared as well. Tsuna suspected they'd gone to talk to the Hokage.

He was sure they'd laugh at Kakashi's reaction to the kunai later, but for now both boys basked in the flames exchanged through their bond, and finally the strain they'd both been under eased a bit. Slowly but surely.

"You good?" Sasuke asked softly.

"Better now you're back." Tsuna admitted shamelessly, subtly leaning into Sasuke.

The raven blushed lightly, but a pleased little smile appeared on his face even as he turned his face away.

"The fights will continue as previously announced." The Hokage announced through the stadium.

Genma reappeared before them and gestured Sasuke to leave.

"I'm going to murder him!" Sasuke still sounded furious, but he stayed relaxed next to Tsuna.

Tsuna would never admit to being relieved. He didn't want to restart their last argument, but he had feared Kakashi would have pulled some strings to get Sasuke to fight either way.

He was very relieved to see that wasn't the case.

"Good luck. Kick his butt for me." Sasuke encouraged and left before Tsuna could reply.

The Sky couldn't help but smile widely.

Yeah, he just needed to survive this now, and everything would be alright.

"Get ready… start!" Genma announced as he jumped back a bit to give them space.

Immediately Tsuna was forced to dodge a hail of sand bullets that speed his way.

He quickly entered HDW mode to help the instinctive dodging. He was never more thankful his intuition followed him to this life. He really needed it...

The Cloud flames were visible on every bullet, but they felt strained again.

Tsuna got out some shuriken, coated them with flames and threw them. Each one hits one of the bullets, turning them to stone so they hit the ground before they could reach him.

Pity he wasn't fast enough to keep up with the amount of bullets coming his way… Not with Shuriken at least.

He blasted a wave of Flames outward at the guy, eliminating all the bullets and it gave him a second to breathe.

Now what? If Gaara wasn't letting him get close… Could he keep this up? The Cloud Flames would just keep creating more sand for the ninja to use…

And what was up with those Flames anyway? Why did they feel strained? It was almost… He couldn't recall, but this seemed a bit familiar… Like he'd seen flames behave like that before.

Where though?

His thoughts distracted him, and he got hit by one in his side.

Dammit!

"What on earth are you doing?" Kyuubi commented bewildered.

"Not now. Busy." Tsuna grunted as he tried to dodge another volley of big sand bullets.

They kept getting bigger and bigger the longer this went on. They'd started off as the size of snowballs, now they were big as footballs.

"Is that…? Hmmm… those Flames…" Kyuubi muttered to himself.

"You know what's up with those Flames? It's been bugging me since I first met the guy!" Tsuna asked desperately.

He might just be able to concentrate on the fight if he knew what his intuition was trying to tell him.

"Shush. I'm thinking."

The Biju shushed him. Actually shushed him…

"I'm kind of taking a beating here."

"You're fine." Kyuubi dismissed.

"Just tell me what's on your mind, Fluffy." Tsuna bit out, trying to stay polite while he felt very frustrated.

"I told you not to call me that!"

"Who do you keep talking to?" Gaara tilted his head and looked at him as if Tsuna was the crazy one.

"Just the voice in my head, nothing for you to worry about." Feeling cheeky suddenly, Tsuna blew the guy a raspberry.

Great, now he was getting mood swings.

"You are so weird." The Biju sighed before he turned alert again. "Don't move."

Tsuna froze, taking a frontal hit from several bullets. He was propelled back again and cursed the Kyuubi in his mind.

"I'm sure of it now. Those are Shukaku's flames." The fox sounded smug.

"Shukaku? And, did you just… make me take that hit?!"

"The one-tailed Biju. He's a jinjūriki, just like you." He spat the word jinjūriki out in distaste.

Kami…

That's bad news!

Tsuna gulped.

Gaara was watching him attentively, halting his attack for a moment. "Mother wants your blood."

Dear Kami, what did that mean?

"I think… And I so hope I'm wrong, but… is he calling Shukaku his mother? Because that is weird, even for a jinjūriki…" Kyuubi said, appalled.

The Sand nin grins creepily and more sand starts to pour out of his strange gourd. It envelops him, forming a body around his own from sand with black markings.

"Let's see how you deal with him." He could hear the grin in the Biju's voice.

Tsuna grimaced, but got into position before Gaara could focus on him again.

"Zero point breakthrough: Revised!"

The purple Flames left the sand and got absorbed by Tsuna, who had no idea if he could take enough of them. The flameless sand fell down to the ground, and parts of the sand surrounding Gaara started… melting? That was what it looked like, but it probably just lost its consistency without any Flames.

Gaara started screeching, but his voice changed midway through. The sand around him pulsed, and the mass grew bigger.

Much bigger.

It continued growing until it towered above the stadium.

"Dear Kami." Tsuna whispered in both awe and fear. So that was a Biju?

Kyuubi huffed.

An orange dome fell over the field, keeping the two jinjūriki inside and the crowd on the other side. He didn't dare study it closer, his eyes never leaving the huge… sand raccoon?

But he could guess the barrier was to protect the people watching, and maybe even to try and contain them here. Tsuna didn't want to think what would happen if the Biju got loose in the village.

"So I know we haven't talked terms yet, but would you be willing to helping me out with… what exactly is he to you? Brother? Cousin? Fellow Biju?"

"In some ways we could be siblings, but in other ways the term isn't appropriate at all." Kyuubi said as a matter of fact. "Those are a lot of Flames you keep absorbing. Sure you can handle it?"

"I thought about using them to summon you?" Tsuna tried to appeal to the other. "Get you enough juice to make you appear bigger than last time."

He jumped away, holding his hands as steady as he could to keep his technique going while trying to dodge the Tanuki as it swiped at him with a… paw?

He still wasn't sure about the terminology…

"What do I get for helping you?" Kyuubi asked.

"What do you want?" Tsuna realised this was a dangerous game to play, but he honestly didn't think he'd be able to defeat a Biju without help from his own.

"Well, freedom would be nice."

"Yeah, sorry, I'm not getting your help here just for you to kill me later."

"Oops, must have slipped my mind." Kyuubi audibly smirked at him."But true, I'd forgotten. You die, I die. No matter the seal, that is always the fate of a jinjūriki."

"And?" Tsuna asked impatiently as he dodges again. A giant appendage crashed in the see-through barrier behind him.

"Fine, then I want all the Udon noodle soup I can eat!"

"Udon, really?"

"You're not one to talk, Ramen lover. Plus you let me out of that seal at least once a week!"

"I was just surprised. Fine, Udon and play-dates it is!" Tsuna cheered.

"Now, give me all the Flames you can miss!" the Kitsune instructed with a wild grin.

"Uhn!"

Tsuna broke away from where he had been dodging and ran to another side of the field. He broke the seal his hands were in and the Flames on his head flared violently, grew bigger and immediately reduced in size again as Tsuna gathered all the borrowed flames. He grinned wildly, the Ichibi's flames having been assimilated in his own reserves. He focused them on Kyuubi, and summoned the Biju just as Shukaku shot a giant bullet of air his way.

"Fūton: Sasandan!" (Wind Release: Sand Buckshot)

Tsuna was shoved out of the way and raised his arms to cover his head.

He looked up when the dust/sand settled back down.

The Kyuubi was standing almost protectively before him, shielding him with his tails, and roared. He was magnificent like this. There were Storm flames at the tip of each of his nine tails, around his feet and at the tip of his long bunny ears. The Biju was big, about the size of a horse, and definitely taller than Tsuna.

The Biju grunted. "That took way too long, weakling. You'll need more practice summoning me."

"Sure." Tsuna managed with a strangled voice. He gently petted the bright orange fur

So soft!

The sand demon looked down at them, blinked in shock and started laughing hysterically, in a very shrill voice.

Kyuubi twitched in rage. "What's so funny, you overgrown Raccoon!?"

"You-you're tiny!" the Biju tried to say between laughter.

"I don't need to be bigger than this to kick your ass!"

"Oh really!? Let's see about that!"

"Futon: Sand Buckshot!"

He was nudged violently and he lost his balance. He fell forwards into Kyuubi and suddenly they were moving.

He blinked. Yeah, somehow he was now on the Biju's back, riding Kyuubi like one would a horse. Instinctively he threw his arms around Kyuubi's neck.

Wait, were they running on thin air? He took a brief look and yes, Kyuubi's hands? Paws? were covered in fleeting Sky Flames (his flames! Those were his flames!) and he was running on thin air. Not unlike how Tsuna could fly.

Damn, this couldn't be happening.

If it wasn't for the other Biju attacking him, he'd have laughed in delight.

"Got your balance back, brat?"

Tsuna grinned widely in delight. "I'm ready! What's the plan?"

"Good. I'm not as strong as I want to be if I want to take out Shukaku, but it'll have to do. Just keep feeding me flames will ya?! Think you can take him down if I distract him long enough?"

And Tsuna gave that some serious thought. "I can keep giving you some of my flames, and I do have a jutsu in mind that I could use, but I haven't really practiced it. It's very flame heavy which is ideal in this situation, but it'll take me a while to set up. I might not have enough flames to do both."

"Of course you do. I am a creature made out of Chakra and flames. It's different for me. Humans don't have flame reserves, right? Only one thing is required to get more flames, except for stealing them like you did earlier."

And Tsuna knows he's right. Flames are directly linked with a person's resolve. The more Resolve, the more and stronger the flames.

He gulped, but nodded with determination.

He'd find a way to pull this off.

"Get going then." And with that the Kyuubi took a sharp turn and Tsuna used the opportunity to jump off and fall back towards the ground. He landed lightly, aided by his flames.

Kyuubi stayed in the air, running around the Sand creature and breathing actual fire at it, like a dragon.

This was awesome! And completely different from fighting with Natsu!

No, now was not the time for such thoughts. He needed to concentrate.

He couldn't keep absorbing the Biju's flames. The amount of flames Shukaku had was enormous. He'd already taken a lot, and the Biju hadn't even reacted. As if the lost flames hadn't registered. His reserves had to be huge!

So no, Zero point Shiki wasn't an option. Which left him with…

Damn.

He hadn't thought he'd need such brute strength, or rather, he had hoped he wouldn't need it. Maybe that was naïve. Maybe not, but… he wasn't sure he could actually pull of a X-burner, never mind one that was strong enough to affect a Biju.

He grit his teeth. He didn't have any other choice but to try, even without his equipment. Without his lenses to measure the flame output… This could get ugly.

Still, better to try it from on the ground than in the air.

He held his left hand up behind his back and started gathering soft flames in it. Hard Sky flames gathered in his other hand, which he held in a fist before him.

Getting the balance right might be easier if he powered them up simultaneously.

He could only hope at this point.

"What are you doing?! Get started already!" the Kyuubi yelled suddenly.

Tsuna startled, but ignored everything around him as best as he could. He really couldn't afford to be distracted for this.

He steeled his resolve and fed the sudden influx of flames into both his hands. The output in his left hand had to be huge, but he kept his eyes closed to focus.

He kept increasing the flames until he felt he would explode from them.

He opened his eyes. Kyuubi had Shukaku pinned, teeth in his throat. The Ichibi was screeching loudly.

"Get out of there." Was the only warning he could give his own Biju, who luckily listened to him.

Tsuna extended his right hand towards the Ichibi, who snarled loudly and made to follow the Kyuubi.

"Oi!" He said loudly.

Shukaku looked in his direction. "Huh?"

"X-Burner!" Tsuna released his hold on his flames. The hard sky flames surged forward in a huge beam.

Shukaku screeched in pain.

Tsuna could only hold on for the ride. He grit his teeth, and dug his feet into the ground as much as he could, because the output wasn't equal…

It wasn't enough. Shukaku was still visible inside the beam of flames.

Kyuubi landed next to him, and breathed pure Storm Flames at the other Biju.

Tsuna steeled himself. The balance in his flames was already off, but he poured more flames towards the biju.

The beam grew wider.

This attack, his together with Kyuubi's, finally seemed to do the trick. In the sea of flames, Shukaku lost his solid form and dissolved into sand. With a last screech the Sand Biju disappeared.

Tsuna was thrown back. He blacked out as his back collided with something solid.

Kabuto POV:

Boy, were they making a ruckus.

Kabuto shook his head. Naruto-kun's friends (or maybe just classmates and family) were making a spectacle of themselves in the stands. He had joined them earlier, standing to the side and leaning over the railing. He wanted a good view and he was sure the genin hadn't noticed him yet. Their jounin sensei probably spotted him when he arrived, but they didn't pay him any attention now.

He found their ruckus during Naruto's fight with the Hyuuga more amusing than anything else though because part of him could relate.

He still has trouble believing how his life changed the last couple of months. While he had many strange and unorthodox things happen to him in his life, being visited by a spectre proclaiming to be him from another dimension? That easily topped the list.

Still, listening to his other self-had been very enlightening. Byakuran had been very fond of his Tsunayoshi, now Uzumaki Naruto and Kabuto couldn't blame his other self. He'd been sceptical at first, Orochimaru even more so, but meeting his fellow Sky…

He honestly wouldn't mind being on good terms with him. Kabuto had no love for Konoha (he owed everything to Orochimaru), but for Naru-kun… he was very curious to see who the blond ended up flame bonding with. He'd hoped for a bond with Gaara, to loosen Naru-kun's connection to Konoha and give him another option.

However Harmonization, as Byakuran had called it, was not as easy as shoving two people together. A pity.

He'd taken a chance with Gaara, by sending him to his fellow Sky in the forest. A chance, a really good one. It hadn't worked as he had hoped, but that didn't mean a bond couldn't still happen.

Naru-kun, as he'd taken to calling the little Sky in his mind, just activated his Flames. Kabuto watched in fascination. He couldn't get enough of seeing flames. Even with Byakuran's help, he barely managed to activate his own flames. It had taken way too long, and even now he was still learning, even though the spectre had long since disappeared.

He loved how people reacted to Naru-kun freezing the Hyuuga's hands. Shinobi needed their hands to form hand signs after all. Knowing that someone could so easily incapacitate a Hyuuga, of all people… Most were whispering frantically, a few were on the verge of a panic attack.

He smirked.

The next to fight weren't really anything special. He didn't pay them too much attention. It wasn't anything he'd anticipated seeing. Seeing whether Naru-kun or Sasuke would end up fighting Gaara though... now that was what tickled his curiosity.

He almost burst out laughing when Sasuke and their sensei appeared in the middle of the battle field, right in between the two jinjūriki. What a way to both break and create tension!

He actually couldn't help his snort of laughter when the Storm attacked the jounin. The other spectators shot him looks, but he ignored them.

Nor could he help but laugh out loud when the fight started and Naru-kun summoned the Kyuubi.

"What the hell has Jiraiya been teaching him?" Kakashi asked out loud in shock.

Brilliant!

And, oh, how glorious were all those flames! The people in the stands were sure getting a good eyeful now. Little Naru-kun, with bright orange flames that showed no sign of strain after his last fight, with the Kyuubi no Kitsune next to him. Almost twice as big as the Sky, with red flames as wild as a Storm.

Someone next to him gasped.

"Sasuke-kun! Those are your flames! From in the forest. That's the same colour!" the pink haired girl said in shock.

Kabuto's grin stretched. The last Uchiha looked very unhappy at the pair in the arena.

"Never mind that. What has Jiraiya been teaching him!?" Kakashi looked both shocked and disapproving.

"I didn't teach him much of anything. We both had better things to do." The toad sage said as he appeared behind the group.

The genin yelped in shock.

"What do you mean, you didn't teach him anything? I asked you-"

"You sure did, and I proposed it, but honestly, I wouldn't have had a lot of free time for him anyway, with the orders I had gotten and it was very clear the boy is done with teachers who don't want to teach him." Jiraiya said, unforgiving.

Kakashi actually flinched at that. Now that was interesting... The genin probably didn't notice, but Kabuto and the other sensei... Oh yes, Kakashi wasn't only on thin ice with the Uchiha, it seemed.

"My, you really don't like your students, do you?" Kabuto mocked the Hatake. "To separate them both, so soon after harmonization. It's a wonder they made it this far without any trauma. Honestly it wouldn't surprise me if Naru-kun started bonding with the Kyuubi instead. Dear, dear, I wonder if his bond with Sasuke-kun will survive that."

He did so love pouring oil on hot flames. Sasuke-kun bristled and his sensei had the good sense to inch away from him, without making any sudden moves that could startled the last Uchiha.

TBC.

Chapter Text

Dear Kami...

Shikaku couldn't help but watch with wide eyes as the fight progressed.

This kid... He was going way beyond their expectations. The Sandaime had requested he show off those flames of his, but this…?

Not only had his flames incapacitated a Hyuuga of all people, but now… Now there were two Biju in the arena.

Uzumaki Naruto had not only shown off his seal to everyone watching (and most people knew exactly what he was showing off), but he'd somehow found a way to summon the Kyuubi from inside his seal. He'd summoned it, talked to it and fought with it.

Who knew Biju could talk? He certainly didn't before today.

Panic had briefly gripped him when the Kyuubi had joined the battle field, but he'd managed to keep it under control, especially when he took a closer look.

The Kyuubi stood protectively in front of his jailor? And they worked together to defeat their enemy? Who was another jinjūriki/Biju?

Even after that spectacular attack, which had temporarily blinded him and rendered the kid unconscious, the Kyuubi didn't disappear.

That was worrying.

But it just sat down where it stood and sighed heavily.

They hadn't been able to understand the Biju in the middle of battle, but now the stadium was dead quiet.

Gaara struggled to get upright. His Biju had disappeared, but the boy was still conscious it seemed.

The Kyuubi eyed him, but didn't move.

Why wasn't Genma calling the fight to an end?

"Still got enough strength left to move? That is… not bad, for a human." The Kitsune commented as he looked at the Suna ninja sceptically.

"Why? He was stronger than me." The red-haired boy groaned.

"True, he is stronger than you."

Did the Biju sound… proud?

"It's not surprising though."

"How?! How is he stronger than me?!"

"Maybe if you'd actually used those flames of yours, you might have had a chance. Do you even know you have them? That you've been using them?"

"What flames?"

"Oh dear sage." The Biju sighed exasperated. "Talk to the kid about it. I don't feel like explaining. Honestly, falling unconscious and leaving me to deal with this. So rude." He shot his jinjūriki a look.

"Answer me!" the boy yelled suddenly. "How is he stronger than me?!"

The Kyuubi sneered. "Because you don't have any resolve. Sure, you're powerful, but all you are thinking when you fight is "I'll kill you, because I don't want to die." In an ordinary fight, that might be enough. But here? No, because MY jinjuriki's resolve is not about himself. He couldn't care less if he's hurt or worse… All he cares about is that you don't hurt the people he cares about. He's an emotional idiot like that, but when dealing with flames? That makes all the difference."

He stood up and sneered at the kid. "I'm done for the day. Bother the kid about it once he wakes up."

In a puff of smoke, not unlike a regular summons, the Biju was gone.

"Winner, Subaku no Gaara!"

There was Genma, finally, announcing the victor. Two nin, an academy teacher and the Kiri missing nin the village had been in an uproar about, descended into the arena and checked to see if Uzumaki was alright.

Shikaku released a breath he hadn't know he'd been holding.

"Nara-sama, Yamanaka-sama, Akimichi-sama, the clan council has been summoned. You are requested to make your way to the council chamber. Urgently." An Anbu appeared behind him.

Ah, so Danzo had made his move. There was no way the Sandaime had summoned the council. The man was still sitting in his spectator seat, talking to the same Anbu who had summoned Shikaku.

He gave a small smile. "I'll be there immediately."

Inoichi, seated next to him, shot him a strange look.

"Let's go. This should be interesting."

Shikaku kept true to his word and left immediately after.

He had to fight hard to suppress a smirk. Not because of all the work he'd have when this meeting was over and done with, but because he knew Danzo's face would be glorious.

The old councilman had called an emergency meeting the minute the Chuunin exams were done and everyone one of them present could guess what this was about.

Concerning this matter, Danzo was anything but subtle.

For years he had fought with the Hokage to get custody of the jinjūriki to turn the boy into a weapon for Konoha. The Sandaime had always refused, and now, the boy had somehow summoned the demon itself into the arena, to help him fight another jinjūriki. The Kyuubi had even stayed around while the Uzumaki boy had long since lost conscious.

Three guesses what pitch the man wanted to play now. First two didn't count.

Danzo started his speech.

"For years, I have pleaded with the Hokage, with all of you, to purposefully train our jinjūriki so he could be an asset to our village. For years, I have been denied. Today we saw what that lead to. I-"

"I don't see the problem. The kid seemed pretty in control. They fought well together." Inuzuka Tsume interrupted him with a shrug.

"The child somehow summoned the strongest of nine Biju out of the seal keeping it locked in. He summoned it in broad daylight, in front of delegates for the entire world." Danzo grit his teeth. "He did so, without anyone knowing he could do this. One can only assume, he has done so before."

"Obviously, nothing went wrong." Tsume snapped.

"But it could have!" he sneered at her. "Anytime in the last month, the Kyuubi could have been given free rein in our village without anyone knowing. Anything could have gone wrong and wiped Konoha from the map."

"It didn't though." Chouza tried to calm the elder.

"It could have. That boy risked the safety and the lives of everyone in this village. It is an outrage. Hiruzen, I propose he is immediately removed from his team and - "

"No." the Sandaime said.

"Hiruzen. Be reaso-" started Homaru in support of Danzo.

"No," he interrupted her again, "because this time, the decision is no longer mine to make."

Silence fell.

"What are you talking about?" Danzo barely suppressed a sneer.

"What I mean is that you three have undermined my authority as Hokage for the last time." Hiruzen shot them a chilling look. "Did you really think that I'd sit idle after you decided to submit a genin team to the exams behind my back? I assume you must have, because that is exactly what I did in the past in such situations. Well, no more."

"What did you do?" Danzo asked apprehensive, as if he couldn't believe what he was hearing.

"I did the same thing you did. I presented the Daimyo with some very nice papers to sign, without informing anyone of what I was doing. Sound familiar?"

He fell silent, giving the room a few moments to draw their own conclusions while he stared at his old council.

"Effective immediately, I am no longer your Hokage. It is high time I retire... again. Please pass your grievances to my successor."

"And who might that be?" Homaru asked with a sneer.

"Me." Shikaku spoke up with a smirk.

"What?!"

"Excuse me?"

"Really?"

The elders exploded in shock.

Shikaku made sure to memorise the look on everyone's face right now. Most looked shocked and a bit reluctant at the sudden change, but none of them spoke up.

The Hokage's personal council looked especially pissed off, though.

"Really." He answered them with an innocent smile. "Please take care of me."

His team-mates sat a bit straighter on either side of him. He knew they would support him, obviously, but seeing it was a nice confirmation.

"I find this extremely inappropriate. Such decisions should have passed and discussed by this council first." Danzo showed his displeasure.

"Not really." Shikaku stated nonchalantly. "I think some of you have forgotten exactly what it means to be Hokage."

And boy, had they forgotten. Sure, it's nice to have the approval of the village and the clans when decisions are being applied, but the Hokage was lord and master of Konoha. "Neither the Sandaime nor I needed your approval for this. The Hokage is a political and military dictator. I can do whatever I want now."

"The Hokage's council-"

"Isn't mentioned in Konoha's founding charter." He interrupts Danzo. "Neither the Shodaime nor the Nidaime saw a need for such a council, and thus neither included such an organisation in the procedure to appoint a new Hokage. In those times, it was enough for the Hokage himself to announce his successor. When the Hoakge's council was formed during the Sandaime's first reign, no one thought to add the clauses to give such council authority and responsibilities, to said charter. To Konoha's founding laws, you don't exist."

Two of the three councilmen turned pale. Danzo didn't budge though.

"After Hiruzen briefed me of the situation and his desire for me to take over his role as Hokage, the first thing I did was look into some old paperwork. It's surprising what people think will go unnoticed in such an extensive bureaucratic hierarchy." He lets a broad smirk from on his face as he stared Danzo in the eye. "Very informative. Thus I have prepared some mandates I will immediately put into place."

"Hokage-sama, are you sure that is wise? It might be a bit... quick. Shouldn't we announce you to the village first?" Hyuuga Hiashi proposed hesitantly.

"That's a mere formality. I will be speaking to a lot of people about changes in this village and I'd like to start as quickly as possible." He explained patiently.

He really wasn't looking forward to that ceremony.

Hiashi nodded gracefully.

Oh Kami-Sama, why had he ever agreed to this? Right, he'd been the only one Hiruzen saw fit to do the job. Especially knowing that Danzo was waiting impatiently to take over. That was the last thing this village needed. He hadn't believed his eyes when he'd seen proof of all the meddling the Hokage's council had done the last few decades...

"First order of business, I'm having Senju Tsunade recalled immediately to the village. I'll have a very lengthy chat with Jiraiya on this topic later today, but I will make sure he understands that I am willing to negotiate with her about her function to the village, but that she will come back."

"How will you manage that? I hear she refuses to have anything to with Konoha? " asked Tsume.

"She is still a Senju, and one of our Sannin to boot. Two of our three Sannin actively want nothing to do with this village. One defected, the other ran away. No more. If she wants to keep those titles and all the benefits that come with it, she better start taking her responsibilities serious or she might just lose both of those titles."

The room is dead silent. Tsume seemed pleased with his explanation.

"Next, the personal councilmen of the Hokage are hereby fired."

An uproar, primarily from said councilmen, and one woman.

"You cannot be serious. " Danzo said once his two companions quite down.

"Oh I am. The Sandaime couldn't or wouldn't keep you in line and had to resort to appointing a successor to deal with you. He's giving you more rope than necessary to do as you please, and now I'll hang you with it. Not keeping in mind everything you've been using, or rather abusing, your power for, did you really think I'd keep you around when the Sandaime himself didn't trust you anymore? That's... Bold. "

"Abusing their power? " Aburame Shibi breaks the very uncomfortable silence that follows.

Shukaku's grin turned malicious.

"Well, I think that is about all you can call it when, for example you order a clan heir to murder his entire family."

The room exploded. Not literally, of course, but from the sheer volume of outrage from the other clan heads present.

Hiruzen frowned at him, but Shikaku ignored him. The man had had years to clean up this mess in any way he preferred. He would not tolerate the man being judgemental now. He was Hokage and he would not let Hiruzen's disapproval stop him from doing what was necessary.

Yeah, he could learn to love this job.

"Godaime, please, would you explain?" Hiashi asked, looking paler than ever.

"From what I can gather, someone has been doing their very best to isolate the Uchiha from the village ever since the Kyuubi attacked. We all recall the rumours that went around; that the Sharingan marking had been observed in the Biju's eyes. Fugaku denied all claims that Uchiha were involved, and for this council, that was enough, but we all knew the rumours never stopped."

Some of them nodded.

"What is interesting is that ever since, less and less Uchiha were sent on missions outside the village. Their request for just such missions kept increasing though. Strange that."

He looked at Danzo.

"And then are the reports of both Uchiha Shisui and Uchiha Itachi concerning a whole clan of fed-up Konoha citizens and talk of a possible uprising. Reports that span over months. There is paperwork that suggested the Hokage tried to clear things up while the Hokage's council never intervened, except for the fact that the reports were delivered to them. Then there is the account of our Sandaime meeting Uchiha Itachi after he'd completed his mission to kill his entire clan. A mission that wasn't approved by our Hokage, judging from the lack of paperwork, and his surprise during the meeting. Did none of you know there is fuinjutsu lined in these walls, that record every conversation that takes place in meeting rooms and the Hokage's office? It's locked in this tower, and only the Hokage has access to it, but I assure you, it does exist."

He'd never seen the councilmen and woman look paler than now.

"It's of course, just the first of many transgressions I have found though. For example, I know that your Root program is still active, even though the Yondaime ordered it closed more than a decade ago. There are no orders to revoke that though. So, did you just never listen, or…?"

Danzo grit his teeth. "Everything I did was for the good of our village."

"Really? So helping along Hanzo's war in Ame was for the good of Konoha? You'll have to explain to me how that works."

The man stayed silent.

Shikaku sighed.

Yeah, he had so much work to do still. The last month, ever since Hiruzen had talked to him and gotten the ball rolling, he'd spend almost every waking hour in that record chamber. While he'd never guessed their village was this messed up, he'd barely made a dent in the mountain of papers.

He really didn't want to dig more and find new scandals, but he would. It was troublesome, but he'd get this village back on the right track.

"Given what I already know though, Danzō Shimura, Homura Mitokado, and Koharu Utatane, you are hereby under arrest. You will be locked up and sealed away until the depth of your transgressions has been discovered. Then, and only then, will you be dealt with. Take them away."

Multiple Anbu members appeared out of nowhere and apprehended the three.

"As we agreed, Captain." Shikaku nodded.

Tiger nodded back.

Together with Hiruzen, he'd had a very important conversation with the two leading Anbu captains. All members who had any possible Roots leanings, had been sent out of the village on missions.

It had been a shock, how little had been left afterward.

But it had to be done.

They'd need to do a village-wide scan. Easiest would be to find Root headquarters and hope Danzo kept writing records, but if that didn't work out, he'd need both Jiraiya and Tsunade to help clean out this village and rehabilitate those shinobi.

"It goes without saying that if I hear so much as a whisper about anything that has been said here in the village, heads will roll. This council has always been a confidential one, and I will keep it that way."

The clan heads nodded.

He dismissed them. Some of them tried to linger, but after one look at them, everyone left. Everyone except Inoichi and Chouza.

"Is this what has had you so busy the last few weeks?" Chouza asked.

He nodded.

Inoichi watched him with a frown. "I was very surprised. You could have told us."

"I couldn't risk any of those three finding out. I know neither of you would have spoken of this but after everything Danzo has done, I couldn't take the risk."

"Was it wise to reveal that much?" his blond friend asked.

He sighed. "The village needs to know what they have done. Informing the clan heads ahead of time was a courtesy. As soon as Uzumaki is conscious again, I'm having him and Uchiha Sasuke meet me. I don't look forward to it, but the kid needs to know the truth. I'm hoping that, by having his friend there with him, he'll have some support when he hears the news."

"Damn. I hadn't thought about that." Chouza said.

Inoichi grimaced. "I'm not sure having his friend will help. I remember the child, I visited him a while after the massacre. He was… there wasn't anything wrong physically, so I couldn't keep him in the hospital, but… he wasn't in a healthy state of mind."

"Yes, that is something I wanted your opinion on. Once Tsunade is back, I'd like you two to collaborate to put a system into place to help with the mental health of our shinobi." Shikaku explained. "What little is in place right now is not enough, especially since there will be who knows how many Root shinobi to rehabilitate."

Shikaku knew this had been a sore spot for years for his friend.

"You can count on me."

"Me too. Anything I can do to help, you just let me know!" Chouza chimed in.

"Thanks, you guys." He smiled gratefully.

"Hokage-sama?" The secretary came in. "Jiraiya-sama is here for you."

"Good luck." Inoichi nodded.

Chouza smiled and both left.

Shikaku took a deep breath.

"Let him in." He nodded at the woman.

Jiraiya let himself in.

"So what's all this about? I thought I was to see sensei?" the Sannin asked.

"Sorry to disappoint, but the Sandaime has appointed me as his successor. Everything you've been doing this past month has been on my orders. Your sensei is a retired man once more."

"Huh?" Jiraiya scratched his head. "Is the reason this has been kept quiet linked to the information I gathered about Danzo?"

"Yes. All council members have been arrested and are kept locked away, thanks to your advice on seals."

"Heh. About time someone did something about those three." Jiraiya sat down. "So, why am I here, Hokage-sama?"

The man grinned happily.

"I'm afraid I have a mission for you, one you might not be happy to take." Shikaku confessed.

Jiraiya only raised an eyebrow.

"I'm afraid I'll have to ask you to escort Tsunade back to the village."

"She's not going to want to come, you know."

"I never said you were to present her with a choice."

Jiraiya blinked at him. "Excuse me?"

Oh boy, here goes. "Senju Tsunade is supposedly one of our strongest shinobi, a Sannin in our village, she is even considered a princess, and yet she refuses to step foot inside our walls. It's quite the contradiction."

He took a deep breath. "If Tsunade doesn't want anything to do with Konoha, fine, but there will be consequences. I'm not Sarutobi. I don't have any connection to any of the Sannin and her hypocrisy has lasted long enough. Either she comes back, and I am more than willing to negotiate on what exactly she'd do once she is here, or I'll end all the funding she still enjoys from our village. Her research fund is still being paid to her, just as she still gets paid as an active shinobi, yet I haven't found a research paper in the last few decades and we both know she hasn't been an active shinobi since the second war. I'll retire her, cut off her access to any funds located here in the village and take back any titles we bestowed upon her."

Jiraiya sighed defeated. "I never thought this day would come. Can't blame you, but... "

"I'm not the Sandaime. We could use her help, but I'm not going to waste years sending you or any other shinobi after her to get her back. This is her last chance, if she declines now, it's over. I have a letter here, that recaps everything I just told you. Be sure she knows the consequences before she gives her reply this time."

"I don't like this. She doesn't like to be pushed into corners. She deals by-"

"Can you honestly tell me her manner of dealing with her grief is actually helping her? Don't get me wrong, her losses were hard, I'm not denying that, but she's not the only one who lost loved ones in war. Yet she is the only one allowed to run from her grief. No more. Either she comes back, or she's on her own."

Jiraiya frowned at him and then sighed deeply." I'll try. No promises though."

Shikaku eyed him critically. "I honestly expected more of a fight. "

The Sannin shot him a tired smile." I guess I'm tired of running after her as well. I've been doing it for decades, after all. Maybe it's time for something new."

Shikaku smirked at the man. "I'm sure I'll shake things up enough to make it interesting for you."

"Well, if that is everything, Hokage-sama?"

Shikaku nodded.

That was going to take some getting used to, being called Hokage.

Jiraiya stood up and makes his way to the door.

"Also Jiraiya, when you talk to Tsunade… Keep in mind that her return to the village might be the only way your godson ever manages to return to being an active shinobi."

"What?!" Jiraiya burst out before glaring at the Nara. "If you are threate-"

"The boy shattered parts of his spine when he propelled into that wall. The medics at the hospital are reluctant to try and heal it, out of fear of completely messing it up." Shikaku interrupted before the Sannin got the wrong idea.

Jiraiya took a deep breath. "I'll bring her back." He promised before leaving in a hurry, probably to check on the Uzumaki kid.

Shikaku grimaced.

What a mess…

Now, time to go home and tell his wife the good news.

He hadn't actually told her yet, about being Hokage…

It seemed like his very long day wasn't over just yet.

Troublesome.

TBC.

Chapter Text

Tsuna woke up, surrounded by his family.

He was groggy, disorientated and spend a few seconds blinking at the ceiling, before he realised he wasn't lying in his own bed.

Where was he? He didn't recognize that ceiling...

Sasuke was sitting on a chair next to him, close enough to almost crawl into the bed with him. He was nodding off, clearly on the verge of falling asleep. Iruka and Zabuza were sitting in a corner, going over some papers.

The room was an unpleasant white.

A hospital? Or something of the sort?

Tsuna shifted. A bolt of lightning-like pain travelled up his spine and he groaned loudly.

His guardians immediately surged forward and gently pressed him back into lying down.

"You've been unconscious for a week," Iruka-nii explained, "and you gravely injured your spine. They are waiting for some sort of expert to get to Konoha to treat you. Apparently there is too much room for error."

Sasuke squeezed his hand.

What?

"How?" He managed to say.

Zabuza frowned. "You launched yourself at that wall hard enough to completely shatter two vertebrae in your lower spine. Normally that would be the end of your shinobi career."

"Yes, but somehow, you were already healing by the time the medics got to you." Iruka-nii jumped in to explain. "Your healing, however, made things worse. Your bones had not been reset and were healing the wrong way. The medics tried to turn your advanced healing off, but it didn't work. Jiraiya was called and he put a strong stasis seal on your spine. For now, there is not much else they can do to help you."

"The work is apparently too delicate." Sasuke sneered.

"Indeed."

Oh Kami…

"What does that mean?" Tsuna asked with trepidation.

"There are rumours that Jiraiya has gotten orders to bring his old team-mate back to the village. Tsunade of the Sannin is still, to this day, Konoha's most skilled medic. She might be able to help."

"And if he can't find her?" Tsuna asked in a strangled voice.

All three looked grim.

Tsuna gulped and tried to keep his fear at bay.

"I'll find her." Jiraiya entered the room, looking just as grim as the people inside. "I'll find her and bring her back. I promise, you'll be fine."

Tsuna nodded. The man looked more serious than he'd ever seen him. Still, they'd gotten to know each other somewhat this last month, and he liked to think he knew the man enough to trust his word.

"I can't stay long, but I wanted to see you before I leave, kid. You just stick to that bed and rest. I'll be back before you know it." Jiraiya said.

Tsuna nodded and… Was that some green in the Sannin's eyes? Or did Tsuna imagine that.

Jiraiya nodded at each of his guardians. "Keep him out of trouble, will you?"

All three snorted at the same time.

"Hey." Tsuna pouted at them all.

Jiraiya threw his head back and laughed. The other adults joined him and even Sasuke shot his Sky a grin.

Now they were ganging up on him! Tsuna would be more upset if he wasn't happy they all seemed to get along.

The doctor ushered his family out not long after that, wanting to do some tests.

Turned out that being the Kyuubi's container gifted him with an advanced healing factor. Usually this would come in handy (this was probably why Tsuna couldn't remember ever getting sick), but this time, it actually made his recovery worse.

Who'd have thought?

He'd always enjoyed his lazy days, in his last life, but even then he'd walked around his room, played video games or read some manga.

He couldn't really do much of that here…

So his days were quite boring.

He got plenty of visitors though. That made up for it.

He didn't mind. It took his mind off his injury and the fact that he wasn't allowed to move. They had literally had to slap another seal on him, which made him unable to move anything but his face and his arms, mostly because Tsuna found it difficult to sit still like this.

So he didn't mind some company. Haku and Karin came by, both a soothing presence for his soul, even if Karin clearly had some sort of crush on Sasuke. They mostly spoke about their new house, the work they had already done, discussed some colour options with him, and that sort of thing.

Iruka-nii, Zabuza and Sasuke had practically taken up living in his room.

It was nice, and it was a nice bonding experience, even if the medics had to chase them out by the end of the day.

Tsuna just enjoyed spending time with his Mist, Rain and Storm.

Sometimes they were simply sitting peacefully, in silence. Other times they brought stuff to pass some time.

One time they'd brought a card game, and insisted, if Tsuna couldn't play himself, he brought the Kyuubi out to play in his place.

That had been a surprise to say the least, especially since Iruka and Sasuke were adamant for some reason. He didn't think much of Sasuke wanting to meet the Kitsune, but Iruka-nii… He remembered his Mist once telling him how he'd lost his parents when the Biju attacked so this felt like it came out of nowhere.

Yet they were insistent, so Tsuna talked it over with the Biju first. The bored kitsune had surprisingly agreed but only if he got his promised Udon.

So Iruka-nii and Zabuza had brought the goods and the chibi kitsune had looked rather cute holding his cards and looking focused.

Tsuna had spent hours with the fox on his lap, all the while holding Sasuke's hand. The Uchiha had taken to glaring at the Biju, and the two Storms had been insulting each other constantly.

"Weep and get ready to lose, you pathetic wastes of life!" the Kyuubi cackled as he held his cards.

The room was full of empty noodle bowls, and the humans in the room watched the cat sized Biju with wry amusement.

"I will not lose to you!" Sasuke said with fire burning in his eyes. Not literally, thank Kami, or they'd all have been thrown out of the hospital a while ago.

"No one can best me, you broody lowlife!"

"What was that, you oversized rabbit?"

"WHAT DID YOU CALL ME?!"

"You heard me!"

Zabuza was cackling and Iruka-nii didn't bother hiding his amusement.

Tsuna couldn't feel any real malice from the Biju, mostly (sadistic) amusement, so he'd taken to reassuring Sasuke by trying to always touch some part of him, and sending reassuring feelings through their bond.

A bond that was growing stronger and stronger by the day, even with the shaky start they'd had (no thanks to their sensei).

He was quite shocked when, after the others had been forced to leave, the Kyuubi turned towards him and sat down on his chest.

"You sure are something else, kid. Have you even noticed yet?"

"Huh? What do you mean?" Tsuna asked with confusion.

"Heh, you're bonding with a second Storm and you don't have a clue. I'm not sure if I should be amused or worried for ya." The Kyuubi snorted.

"A second…?" Tsuna trailed of.

Was he really? Like he'd once had two Mists? He hadn't known that was possible. He'd always thought he'd bonded with the two because of Chrome's and Mukuro's exceptional circumstances…

"Kurama – that is my name." The Kyu- no, Kurama said in a dismissive way, as if they hadn't just made some sort of significant progress. "Don't wear it out!"

And he dismissed himself.

Tsuna couldn't help grinning.

"There you are. I was wondering when I'd manage to get a hold of you."

It was that kid, the one that had come looking for him right after the second part of the chuunin exams. The white haired teen shot him the same knowing look he had back then.

Tsuna was alone in his hospital room for once. He'd sent his family away for a few hours, practically ordering Sasuke to get some rest.

"You sure got yourself in quite the pickle this time. I'm going to assume you don't have a Sun guardian yet? They should have been able to help you out at least a little bit."

"Kabuto, right?"

"Yay, you remembered me this time." The guy cheered, but Tsuna could see the shrewd look in his eyes.

Tsuna's intuition didn't speak up so he just studied the older teen before him.

"I'm sorry I didn't bring you any snacks. The nurses wouldn't let me enter with them." Kabuto continued to smile.

"Strange, my friends smuggled in a year's worth of Udon just yesterday without trouble." Tsuna remarked.

"Did they really?" Kabuto asked with fascination. "Never mind. I just wanted to tell you I heard about your health issues. I'm a bit of a medic myself. My friend – you remember him right? He introduced you to Gaara-kun – well, he is looking for someone to help you out with that."

Tsuna raised an eyebrow. "Really? Who? Because Jiraiya also left to go looking for someone."

"Oh my." Kabuto had to stifle some laughter. "Something tells me they'll run into each other, but never you mind that. As long as you get help, that is all that matters."

"Why? You barely know me? Why do you care?"

"I've been told about you. I got a visit from someone claiming to be me in another world. He had quite the story to tell. I got curious about you."

Tsuna blinked in shock. "Byakuran. You're Byakuran?"

"Now, now, I might be one possible version of him, but we are not completely alike. Still he knew how to make me curious enough to convince me to have my friend cancel his plans. It wasn't easy, let me tell you, but I did manage, and things seem to be turning around in Konoha; a new Hokage, lots of old, meddlesome people getting arrested. You sure have been busy."

"I didn't do anything." Tsuna protested.

"Someone or something convinced the Sandaime to finally take action." Kabuto smiled at him.

Yeah, how had Tsuna not recognized that Byakuran-esque smile? While true that Tsuna had made a remark concerning the council to the Hokage, was that really enough to… Wait… What had he said?

"We have a new Hokage?"

"Yes, the Godaime will be installed tomorrow I think, and quite the unexpected successor as well. Shikaku Nara. Who'd have thought?"

"I don't know who that is." Some family of the Nara in his Academy class?

"Doesn't matter. Both the Sandaime and Danzo are being taken care of. My friend is very happy."

"You seem very keen not to mention a name." Tsuna said with a frown.

Kabuto only continued to smile at him. "Don't you worry about that. A change in plans has been required. I quite like this though."

Tsuna narrowed his eyes at the guy. "What plans?"

"Mou, Naru-kun, so suspicious." His smiled only grew wider. "Suffice to say, I won't be around much longer and I'd like to part on good terms. It's always nice to have some friends you can count on."

The guy actually winked at him.

"Keep an eye out for me, will ya? I'll see you soon."

And with that, he left the room.

Tsuna felt very confused. What had that been about…?

The next day, Konoha was getting a new Hokage. Every shinobi and civilian with some free time was supposed to be present for the celebrations. And most were.

Not Sasuke though. While Iruka and Zabuza and everyone else in their little family were there, he had gotten lucky in the straw draw and he got to keep Tsuna company.

The sky snorted when he heard they had fought over it.

It was a big celebration in the village. The parties would probably last all day. This was only the second time a Hokage had been nominated without the previous Hokage dying on the job. Even if both times, it had been the Sandaime retiring.

Tsuna saw it as an extra opportunity to bond with his Storm without the others being around. He loved his family, but they could be a bit much, sometimes. He did his best to pay them all an equal amount of attention, but he had missed Sasuke – had had to miss him for a month – so it was nice being able to catch up.

He couldn't really move due to the seal that kept him paralyzed. Zabuza had snarked that it was to give him an idea of how he would spend the rest of his life if he didn't heal right, or if he rushed things and made his injury worse on his own.

The others, who had made fun of Tsuna's predicament, had sobered up quickly. Suddenly, it wasn't funny anymore.

The idea he'd be stuck to a bed like this for the rest of his life… Tsuna had quickly stopped complaining.

"I heard you taught Iruka and Zabuza?" Sasuke asked suddenly. "You taught them how to use their flames?"

"Yeah." Tsuna agreed. "I was going to teach you first, since you already had accessed them once, but you were gone, and that hurt. Literally. Our bond was too new for such a separation. I was always going to help Iruka-nii and Zabuza access their flames, if that was what they wanted, it just got sped up. Having them around and flame active helped ease the strain on our bond as well. I feared it might have broken otherwise."

Tsuna refused to feel guilty about that but he did want Sasuke to understand he hadn't simply been pushed aside.

Sasuke looked thoughtful at that, and grimaced. "Can you teach me?"

"Of course. We can start now, if you want. Just the basics, as long as I am stuck in this bed."

Sasuke nodded eagerly.

"Storm flames" Tsuna started as he took Sasuke's hand in his, "are very destructive. Their main aspect is destruction. They are much more powerful than ordinary flames. They can easily eat their way through iron and even stone."

He uses his own flames to coax Sasuke's out, just like he did for Iruka-nii and Zabuza. The Storm flames leaped forward, eager for any attention until their hands were covered in orange and deep red flames.

Man, he had needed this so much.

Sasuke let out a small chuckle. "This feels just... I can't describe it."

"I can. Home, family, belonging... That is what it feels like to me, anyway."

"Yeah." Sasuke looked down.

"It's not about replacing others." Tsuna said with a knowing look. He had an idea Sasuke was thinking of his own family, but Tsuna really did know. He had lost his family as well. He had lost an entire set of guardians once. "It's about adding to the family."

Sasuke blinked at him, thinking it over before he allowed a small smile. "I guess."

"Try to move them." Tsuna encouraged. "Hyper dying will flames are fuelled by emotion, so you need to allow yourself to feel. They react best to determination, but others work as well."

And indeed they did. Kyoya had spent their entire teen years convinced anger did the trick; anger, irritation and his desire to bite people to death.

Sasuke glared at the flames and it sure took a while, but they had all the time in the world. Tsuna enjoyed their time together and honestly, neither Zabuza nor Iruka-nii had gotten much further than that.

"Tell the idiot to relax. He's so tense you can use him as a plank to clobber someone to death." Kurama grumbled.

Tsuna had to stifle a laugh at that image.

"Relax, adrenaline is only helpful the first time you use them. You already did the hard part."

Sasuke grumbled but Tsuna ignored it. Learning to summon his flames after years of using bullets and pills, had been a huge pain. It had taken him a long time, mostly because he hadn't needed to learn. Reborn was always around in case of an emergency and those pills made it easy as hell. He couldn't exactly explain this to Sasuke though, so he just didn't start talking about it.

They kept practising until Sasuke managed a little.

Time had passed and there was a knock on the door.

"We'll continue some other time." Tsuna assured his Storm, as Haku and Karin came into the room and joined them

Karin immediately flushed when she saw Sasuke, but at least she didn't behave like the fangirls at the Academy.

Haku was carrying what looked like a small tower of paperwork.

"Hi, you two." Haku grinned in greeting. "I brought gifts!"

Tsuna watched with wide eyes as he dropped the tower on his bed. "Please, don't feel like you have to."

Haku snickered. "No worries, this is the finished version. Iruka-san, Karin and I went over it during our free time in the last few days. All these require are your signature and we can submit them to the new Hokage. Everything is here. The adoption papers once signed will make me your older brother, Naruto-kun."

He bowed dramatically. "Treat me well, otoutou-kun. "

Tsuna snickered. "Sure, I'll be in your care as well, nii-san."

"I have gotten hold of resignation papers from the Kusa shinobi forces. I've had them a while, but once the clan is established here, I'll have some support. No way was Kusa going to accept them without that. I hope the Hokage won't mind the extra trouble..."

"It'll be fine." Haku dismissed. "The Sandaime went through the trouble of accepting Zabuza-sama and me instead of throwing us out. This one will as well. Kusa is not that big a village to really pose a threat to Konoha."

"Either way, we also got the papers ready to declare your property clan grounds. We spoke to an architect about the work that could be done, and it looks very promising. The plans are as good as done. He did advise us to wait until the paperwork is filed. Konoha clans benefit from some financial benefits that other citizens don't."

"It works out as well. We designed some notices for the current... renters. The law requires they need to be given a month's notice before we throw them out. We had some letters printed and will distribute them later today."

"A month? That isn't unreasonable." Tsuna mused.

"You should have just thrown them out." Sasuke sneered in disgust.

Apparently, his family had caught Sasuke up on the topic.

"A month is fine. I'm sure it'll take a while for the paperwork to get through. Our new Hokage is just installed. He'll have other priorities." Tsuna said.

"That is our idea as well."Haku nodded." The architect is making plans with a contractor to get everything ready. The moment the papers are ready, they will be ready to get started. We might be without a home for a little while though, and we'll need to put everything into storage until after the biggest part of the work is done."

"Don't bother. You can all stay at my place and store everything there." Sasuke interjected.

Tsuna groaned. "Oh, I so look forward to a trip to that onsen of yours."

"As soon as your cleared from the hospital. " Sasuke smirked.

"You have an onsen?" Karin squeaked in delight.

Sasuke shrugged. "It's not actually an onsen, just a very big bath."

"It's an onsen." Tsuna disagreed with a smile, teasing his Storm.

Sasuke huffed playfully.

Tsuna grinned in delight. It was wonderful to see everyone get along. Finally seeing Sasuke relaxed enough to show it, especially in front of others, felt like a small miracle.

There was another knock on the door.

"I wonder who that could be? Neither Iruka-san nor Zabuza-san bother to knock." Karin mused.

Sasuke snorted while Haku got up to open the door. "Yeah, and practically no one else bothered to visit."

The absence of Kakashi was clearly not only bothering Tsuna. Whether they liked it or not, the man was still their sensei and they'd still be his team. They would do missions together still, as soon as Tsuna got out of the hospital.

The only reason Tsuna didn't mind his stay in the hospital was because he wasn't looking forward to it. Last he had seen the man, Sasuke had literally attacked him, and he had no idea how something like that could be punished in a Shinobi village... Surely that wouldn't go unpunished... Right? Even with the switch in Hokage, sooner or later...

And Tsuna still had mixed feelings about the man.

"Look who came for a visit." Haku smirked as he let their visitor enter.

It was Neji.

"My apologies, I only now heard you were still hospitalized." he apologized as he came in.

"No worries, I'm glad to see you. How are you?" Tsuna smiled brightly.

Neji raised an eyebrow and took his time looking Tsuna's immobilized form up and down. "I'm fine. Can't say the same for you though."

"They are optimistic I'll be fine." Tsuna tried to reassure them as well as himself.

"If that specialist gets here, yes." Karin agreed with a pout. "It's a bummer I can't help. I wouldn't have minded helping if it was for you.

"Don't worry, Karin. My own healing nearly made a mess of things. I do appreciate it though." he reassured her.

She smiled and ducked her head to hide her flush.

Tsuna grinned. "How are you?" he asked Neji again instead.

"My uncle came to talk to me. He explained some things. It changes things, and not, at the same time." Neji told them. "I'm not sure what to think anymore."

"It's important to take your time." Haku said gently, speaking from experience. "Talks can change so much in your life. You have time, take it to get used to it. I find sparring very helpful to clearing out thoughts that gather in my mind."

Karin nodded.

"You said... I mean, you know what it's like, right?" Neji asked almost desperately.

"It's not the exact same but... yeah. Do you want to talk about it?" Tsuna asked gently.

Neji hesitated. Haku smiled at him as he got up. "We'll leave you two to talk." he grabbed Karin by the arm and pulled her away, towards the door then throws Sasuke a look.

The Storm snorted and threw him a look back. "I'm not leaving."

Haku huffed, but turned away and left the room, pulling Karin behind him. "Be sure to finish that paperwork, Naruto-kun. I'll come by later to pick it up!"

"Hey, easy there." the girl protested, but she let herself be dragged.

Neji and Sasuke exchanged some stubborn looks, before Neji sighed and sat down.

"Ever since it happened, Hiashi-sama has told me the same story. My father was given up to Kumo so the Hyuuga clan could survive. The Kumo incident, you've heard of it right?"

Sasuke nodded, but Tsuna hadn't.

"Sorry, I don't think..."

"In short, during talks about a peace treaty, a Kumo shinobi abducted Hinata-sama. Hiashi-sama went after them and killed the perpetrator. Kumo claimed not to know anything about it. They claimed the shinobi had received no such orders and that a misunderstanding had occurred. They asked for the head of the shinobi who had killed theirs though."

Neji took a deep breath. "My father and Hiashi-sama were identical twins and to make sure the Byakuran didn't get into Kumo's hand, my father had to take Hiashi-sama's place. That is what I've always been told."

He took a little break, getting his thought in order. "After our fight during the exams, Hiashi-sama told me a different story. It was time I heard it, he said." he continued on bitterly. "Now he claims my father was the one who came up with the plan to make the switch. He proposed to take his brother's place and sacrificed himself. Now… I just don't know what to think any more…"

"And he couldn't have told you that from the start?" Tsuna asked resigned when Neji was clearly done talking.

"I'm not sure I believe it." Neji admitted with a wry smile.

"I can understand that. I wish for once that adults would just be honest with kids." Tsuna sighed, thinking back to Iemitsu's secrets, and everything the Hokage had kept from him. Why was it adults only talked when it was already too late, when the secrets had already been revealed? When all they could do was explain themselves, which was usually too late.

"Yeah, that would be new." Sasuke snorted, before he became serious. "I don't get it. How can a clan go on living like that? I mean, with most of them hating the few in charge?"

"Hate is easy." Tsuna said soberly. "It's easier to hate sometimes than to work on the problems and forgive others."

He thought back. He had hated Iemitsu, still did. He had worked hard on never showing this though. His mother had loved her husband, despite him never being around. Before the whole Vongola thing, Tsuna had seen his father exactly three times, and one time had been at his birth, so he couldn't even remember. He hated the man hurt his mother so. He could still remember her crying in her room because the idiot had missed an anniversary...

Still, he had only started really hating his father after getting thrown into the whole mafia business. If Tsuna had been in the conditions, so had Iemitsu. The least the man could have done, was explain things. No, he had had the gall to show up after six months of that mess, as if he had never been gone and nothing had happened.

So, yeah, Tsuna understood.

"Still..." Sasuke said.

"Not all families are happy ones. Look at Haku. His father killed his mother because she had a child who developed a bloodline." Tsuna tried to explain. "Most families are happy ones, where everyone loves each other, but not everyone is that lucky."

"I know." Sasuke said. "And my family was... far from perfect."

Tsuna took Sasuke's hand back in his and squeezed it. After making eye contact and making sure his Storm wouldn't drown in his memories, he turned back to Neji.

"I imagine you want a break from your uncle?"

Neji nodded.

"I thought so. Do you have anywhere you can stay?" he asked worried.

Neji thought it over. "Not really. I don't um... have any friends. Not really. And my team... Lee already stays with Gai-sensei and Tenten's place is already quite cramped. I had hoped… Well… " he trailed off while throwing Tsuna a hopeful look.

"Well, I am stuck here for a while, but you are free to stay at my place." Tsuna proposed.

"Are you sure?"

"I wouldn't say so if I wasn't." Tsuna shot him a bright smile.

"Thank you." Neji said relieved.

TBC