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Never Yield

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Never Yield (Chapter 1)-Homecoming

Third-Person P.O.V.

Itachi Uchiha has had simultaneously the best, and worst, month in quite some time.

It's the best month because he's finally been called back home. In a message from Lord Hokage (and apparently Tsunade and Jiraiya of the Sannin), he's been called to abandon his current mission of spying on the Akatsuki and to come back home.

But it's also been the worst month because instead of going home, he needs to do something first. He needs to get someone back – someone who is the second most important in the world to him, only after his little brother.

And that's why it took him an extra month to get home. Two weeks to go to Iwagakure to get her, and two weeks to get home.

And just before reaching the border of the Land of Fire,  Itachi finds a private spot and undoes a sealing scroll – with Mikoto Uchiha being released from it.

She has no idea who Itachi is. She doesn't even know her name is Mikoto Uchiha – she thinks her name is Keiko Nushi.

She's  terrified as she sees the stranger who abducted her.

“Mother...I love you.” He says as he activates his Mangekyou Sharingan, looking straight into her eyes.

It takes hours – long, painful, sickening hours, but he undoes the elaborate genjutsu he placed on her years ago when he got her out of Konoha during the massacre.

And when she finally whispers his name, “Itachi...” he knows he finally got his dear mother back.


 

Everything comes back to Mikoto Uchiha – her eldest son explaining his orders to kill everyone, but refusing to kill her and Sasuke. He says he has a way to make sure she lives so she can see him one day too – placing her under a genjutsu with a false identity. To live as a civilian refugee in another village.

She doesn't remember much of her life as Keiko Nushi. She remembers enough that she will miss some of her friends, but not enough that it matters.

But the fact that she knows everything now, with her son right in front of her, coughing and spewing blood from his mouth all while blood also leaks from his eyes, means that they are both going back home to Konoha...

...She can see Sasuke again.

She tries to help Itachi. She uses basic medical chakra to ease a little of his pain, and she helps him clean up. But there's not much else either can do – there's just too much internal damage from prolonged usage of the Mangekyou and some unknown illness.

“Mother...you need to go back in the scroll for now. I will release you when the time is appropriate, after meeting Lord Hokage.” Her son explains to her, and though she just wants to rush home and demand to see Sasuke, she knows she has to play by Itachi's plan.

“Just be careful, son. Please.” She asks of Itachi, because she doesn't want him to harm himself anymore than he already has.

“I will do my best, mother.”


 

Itachi had alerted his Hokage that he has arrived in the village. And after some time, he feels the burn on his arm from the ANBU seal he received long ago, he knows that that's the signal to go to the Hokage Tower.

“Welcome home, Itachi.” Hiruzen says as comes in through the window.

“Thank you, my lord.” The teen responds.

“And you should know this now, I am no longer Hokage. Tsunade is my newest successor.” Hiruzen corrects him, and Itachi is only slightly surprised.

“I apologize, milady.” Itachi corrects.

Itachi wants to let his Mom out. He wants to see Sasuke. He wants to know why he was summoned back. Itachi is an extremely patient man, but when it comes to his family, he is anything but patient.

But he holds himself back.

“Itachi, let's get down to it. I have made a lot of mistakes in my life and I am not about to let this one continue. I told Tsunade everything about what happened. Danzo is now dead – we learned he was responsible for your clan attempting the coup. I took you out of the bingo book. Officially, you are welcome back in the village.” Hiruzen says, not wasting any time at all, much to Itachi's relief.

And hearing that is almost enough to make Itachi weep right then and there.

Danzo was responsible? How did he die?”

“We executed him. He kidnapped and experimented on one of my jonin and was discovered by Kakashi Hatake. After interrogating Danzo, we also learned he was responsible for what happened to Shisui Uchiha.” Hiruzen adds, knowing how close Itachi was to his older cousin.

Tsunade just observes. She wasn't a part of this, but she has to deal with it now.

“Shisui...” Itachi whispers to himself. “If I am officially welcome back, I think it's time I tell you something.” Itachi says, and pulls out the scroll containing his Mom. “I need to unseal this scroll.”

He lays it on the floor and undoes it, and Mikoto Uchiha is there, standing tall with her Konoha headband on.

Mikoto!” Hiruzen gasps, utterly shocked. “You're alive?!”


 

Itachi and Mikoto explain what Itachi did. They explain the genjutsu, her civilian life, and then waking up again with Itachi sick.

“We had Mikoto Uchiha's body buried. How did you fake that?” Hiruzen questions.

“Before I left, I placed a genjutsu on whoever was there, making them believe that one of my aunts was my mother instead.” Itachi responds, and Hiruzen nods in understanding.

“What are your symptoms?” Tsunade speaks up for the first time since the meeting began, referring back to when Mikoto woke up.

“My biggest issue is that I am very nearly blind. Continued use of my Mangekyou has weakened my entire chakra and immune system. I have difficulty breathing, coughing up blood, hypertension, low white blood cell count, and dizziness.” Itachi responds, and Tsunade closes her eyes in thought.

“Sensei, what about the Kyuubi's chakra? Could we use that to treat him? Gekko hasn't had any relapses or issues.” Tsunade asks Hiruzen.

“Kyuubi's chakra? What do you intend to do to Naruto now?” She scowls at Hiruzen – not forgetting that she was forbidden to take in her best friend's son when she and her husband died.

“Naruto Uzumaki had donated Kyuubi chakra to the hospital for research. However, Danzo stole it and used it for experimentation on an ill captive – the one we told you about earlier. It has healing properties, and it's healed someone I have been unable to treat.” Tsunade explains, calming the situation down.

“I know he would be willing to donate some more. The procedure was painless for him and he was very eager to help someone.” Hiruzen adds.

“Alright. I'll send an immediate recall order to them as soon as we're done here.” Tsunade says, making a mental note.

“Will the boy want to help the man who killed his own, entire clan?” Itachi asks.

Itachi doesn't feel like he deserves to be healed. After everything he's done, he feels like he deserves to die and suffer. But only die after he's done as much as he can to atone for his sins first.

“That depends – do you want to be known as that? We have a plan for your reputation, so you can be freely allowed around the village again. So maybe your brother would forgive you, if you can deal with lying to him.” Hiruzen counters.

The shock to Itachi is evident on his face.

They have a plan?

“I have been lying to him his whole life. What's another lie?” Itachi asks, hopeful.

Itachi can deal with another lie. He'll hate it but he can deal with it. But what he can't deal with is not being able to be with Sasuke any longer. His misses his little brother so much.

“The only people alive that will know the truth will be us four, Jiraiya, and two of our most trusted interrogators. But the story is that Danzo is the one that killed the clan. You took the blame as an opportunity to become a spy against our enemies, knowing that it meant banishment. There was never enough proof against Danzo until now, and now that he has been executed for his crimes, you are free to come home with vital information that will make us stronger, especially after the recent attack.” Tsunade explains.

“That's what will be announced to the village. That's what our history books will read. That Itachi Uchiha suffered great sacrifice in the name of the village to become a spy, taking the blame for a horrible crime committed by the traitor known as Danzo Shimura, who was executed for his crimes by his old teammate the Third Hokage.” Hiruzen says, and Itachi and Mikoto stare at each other.

“I accept that plan. Now, when can I see my brother?” Itachi asks, his heart aching. His reputation doesn't matter to him if he can't see and talk to Sasuke.

“I'll summon his Jonin-sensei tonight and we'll have the meeting. But until then, I need to run a full physical examination on you and start treating you with the Kyuubi chakra we still have.” Tsunade says in a voice where it's an unstated order, and Mikoto and Itachi comply with their new Hokage.


 

Mom?” Sasuke asks. Itachi and Mikoto can't believe it – his eyes...the Mangekyou Sharingan.

Seeing his mother just activated Sasuke's Mangekyou.

Sasuke starts to move toward them, anger in his eyes, and he's held back by Kakashi.

“NO! LET ME GO! IT'S NOT REAL! SHE'S DEAD! WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME YOU BASTARD?” Sasuke screams in rage at Itachi, and Itachi's face remains plain.

But his heart is completely broken.

“Sasuke, calm down! I gave you an order!” Tsunade speaks up, and Sasuke turns to her, Mangekyou spinning but he calms down and his eyes return to normal. She continues to speak, unfazed by the disappearing Mangekyou. “I know it's hard to believe, but the truth is not what you think. Itachi did not kill your clan. It wasn't him. He only took the blame as an opportunity to become a spy. He saved your mother's life before she was killed too.” Tsunade explains, and Sasuke can't believe what he hears.

He starts breathing fast, looking around at everyone. Sakura and Shino gather him into a hug, trying to calm him down. All Shikamaru can do is apply pressure to his hand, and after a minute of hyperventilation, Sasuke's breathing calms.

Who...did it...then?” He asks.

“Danzo Shimura. We killed him the moment we had proof. We knew Itachi was always innocent, but  we didn't have enough proof to convict Danzo, and we couldn't pass up the opportunity to gain a deep spy either. Your brother has suffered so much for something he didn't do.” Tsunade explains, while Itachi and Mikoto just look at Sasuke and wish they could comfort him.

All Sasuke does is look at Itachi.

“Is she telling me the truth? Look me in the eye and tell me the truth.” Sasuke demands of Itachi, shaking, wishing.

Itachi looks him dead in the eye and says one word.

“Yes.”

Lying is the better option.

Big brother, Mom!” Sasuke cries and Kakashi weakens his hold on Sasuke, knowing he won't try to attack. Instead, he runs up and hugs Itachi, sobbing into his shirt.

Mikoto joins the hug, finally reunited with both of her sons.


 

Tsunade had left the room once the tears began – she doesn't need to be there for that private moment.

“I'm so sorry, little brother. I made you hurt so much.” Itachi says, and Sasuke just cries into him even more. “But I will never hurt you again. You are the most precious thing in the world to me. I love you, Sasuke.” Itachi swears out loud.

The rest of Team 7 and Shikamaru have no idea how to feel. They are of course happy for Sasuke, that his mother is alive, and that his brother was actually innocent.

But that doesn't excuse all the hurt. That doesn't excuse the fact that Sasuke is in tears right now after having his whole world up-ended again.

He was finally starting to heal.

“Oh, my sweet little boy You've grown so much. I'm so sorry I couldn't be there for you.” Mikoto says, the one now holding the crying Sasuke. She's crying too, but Itachi is just staring at the three other teenagers and his old captain.

After a few more minutes, Sasuke and Mikoto's crying both calm down enough for Itachi speaks.

“Is this your team, Sasuke?”

Sasuke turns a bit out of Mikoto's hug to look at everyone. Suddenly he's scared because one of them is his boyfriend. After this reunion...would his brother and mother accept him having a boyfriend?

“They are! Kakashi-sensei, Sakura, and Shino. They're amazing!” He says, pointing to each one. He hesitates before getting to the Nara. “And that's Shikamaru, my-” he's cut off.

“I'm his best friend – well as good as a best friend can be outside of a team, anyway.” Shikamaru says, noticing Sasuke's hesitation, and understanding it.

Though it hurts Shikamaru to have said that, he knows it's better than forcing Sasuke to lie about it or possibly get hurt for telling the truth.

“No! Shikamaru...it's okay. You don't have to lie for me. I'm nervous, but not ashamed. He's my boyfriend.” Sasuke says calmly, shocking not only the Nara but his...family?...too.

“Boyfriend? Oh, Sasuke, I don't care about that. Maybe your...your father would have...but I don't. Does he make you happy?” Mikoto asks her son, hugging him again.

“He does. Very much.” Sasuke answers, blushing. “Brother?” He asks, turning to Itachi.

“...I'm relieved. I was always concerned I had taken away  your ability to love or be loved. To see you here with your 'awesome' team and your partner, it gives me such relief. Of course I have no problem.” Itachi tells his brother, who visibly relaxes in his mother's arms.

And the thoughts that have been a non-stop onslaught on Itachi's mind for the past four years have finally come to an end. His brother isn't permanent harmed or stunted – if he's able to have a romantic partner, then he isn't completely destroyed mentally.

Itachi feels like he could weep in happiness.


 

Team 7, Shikamaru, Itachi, and Mikoto all sit down and start talking. The two Uchiha get to know Sasuke's team and boyfriend. They were initially shocked to hear Sasuke is living with Shino and the Aburame, but are happy to hear he's being cared for and understand why he wouldn't live in the Uchiha clan compound.

But since this whole discussion began, one thing each has been on Sasuke's and Shikamaru's minds.

Sasuke was the first to ask.

“Why did that man – Danzo – want to kill our clan? And if you could save Mom and me, why couldn't you save Dad or any other the other kids?” Sasuke asks, wishing an answer could somehow change things.

“The police force – led by our father – was close to uncovering some of his illegal doings. Just one of the things he did was murder our cousin Shisui. He killed Shisui for his sharingan – and when father was about to corner him he decided to kill everyone, father first.” Itachi says, looking over to Mikoto to continue.

“Your father stalled Danzo long enough for me to be able to get away and meet with Itachi, who already made sure you were safe out of the clan compound. There wasn't any time to save anyone else. And I couldn't stay around or even say goodbye to you while Danzo was around. And your brother took the fall to become a spy.” Mikoto finishes.

Sasuke just takes a deep breath and accepts the answer wordlessly.

And then Shikamaru decides to ask his question, partly because it's relevant to this conversation and partly because it would let his boyfriend process that answer.

“A spy? So you were never truly with the Akatsuki?” Shikamaru speaks up, causing everyone – including Sasuke – to focus in on that,

Because nobody in Team 7 forgot about Akatsuki, and what they have done and tried to do.

“No, I was not.” Itachi responds, knowing where this is going.

When he heard that Deidara and Hidan had almost killed Sasuke and his friend, Itachi nearly killed them right then and there. But that would break his cover and he couldn't do that.

“Alright. Then, would you mind telling me exactly why there is a group out there hunting my teammate for the Kyuubi?” Shikamaru asks, needing to know.

What? Itachi – someone's after Naruto? Is he safe?” Mikoto interrupts, never forgetting the fact her best friend's son was forced to not only carry that burden but also forced to live in the orphanage when she begged to take him in. Shikamaru begins to answer her question.

“He is safe right now. I know you wanted to raise him after his parents died – I was with him when Lord Third told him everything. He's outside of the village right now on a mission with Master Jiraiya.” Shikamaru reassures Mikoto of Naruto's safety.

Mikoto takes a calming breath, accepting that answer.

“The leader is after all the bijuu as a way to have 'peace' between all the shinobi nations. But his idea is flawed. Pain wants to do it through fear, antagonism, and insecurity. To control all the bijuu is nearly infinite power – the power to force the world into uneasy submission.” Itachi answers.

“Did you say Pain? The one who killed Hanzo of the Salamander and took control of Amegakure?” Shikamaru asks in shock. He hasn't heard or even thought of that C-Rank mission in months now.

“You're familiar with him?” Itachi asks in mild curiosity.

“Our team encountered a rogue shinobi from Ame who was loyal to Hanzo. He would have completely ambushed us if it weren't for Hinata, our other teammate. We also learned about his 'angel' who is a sensor-nin.” Shikamaru follows up with the details of that encounter.

“Konan. She is his second-in-command, friends since childhood. That's all I know about them. They are very secretive – I don't think I even truly met Pain. I think he was controlling the body I did meet.” Itachi says, unable to provide any more intel about the group.

“Why did you talk to Orochimaru about Akatsuki, bragging how they almost killed Sasuke and Shino? He attacked Naruto during the Chuunin Exams and put a horrible seal on his neck. He said he did it to send a message to Sasuke about accepting his power to be able to defeat you.” Shikamaru continues the questions.

“I never knew Orochimarru did that to Naruto. But I had to keep the charade up that I was a traitor, and I had to give him details so he would share information with me. Information, that I have used to get closer to where he keeps his base of operations.” Itachi answers.

“So you know where Orochimaru is?” Kakashi asks, wanting to personally kill the snake.

“As much as I can when I was alone. Now that I'm back here, it shouldn't be that much of a challenge with a team.” He says, everyone trying to process everything that's been said.

Everything that they've known for years has been completely thrown upside-down. Itachi was never a traitor. He's a victim just as much as anyone else.

(Not all lies are bad, and many lies are based in the truth anyway.)


 

“...The real traitor was Danzo Shimura! Nobody goes unpunished for their crimes! Itachi Uchiha is a hero who endured great sacrifice, and he should be acknowledged as such!” Tsunade finishes her speech to all of Konoha, with Hiruzen's shadow clone by her side.

The gathered crowd cheers as loud as they did after her speech at her coronation. The villagers and shinobi alike believe the lie that the two Hokage came up with for everyone.

And the only people alive that know the truth beside Itachi and Mikoto are Hiruzen, Tsunade, Ibiki, and Inoichi, with the latter two sworn to secrecy.

After the announcement, Team 10, Team Gai, Hinata, and Kurenai are summoned and are surprised to see Shikamaru, Team 7, and the two older Uchiha waiting.

(That night, Itachi performed a genjutsu to finally undo the one that caused Sasuke's recurrent nightmares. Itachi and Mikoto encouraged Sasuke to continue living with the Aburame if he wanted, as it is still currently too emotionally draining for him to go back into the Uchiha compound.)

Everyone is told the information Itachi gathered about Akatsuki and Orochimaru. All four teams, all involved one way or another with these events, swear to protect each other and Naruto no matter what happens.

They are also informed that Naruto and Jiraiya were recalled from their mission two days prior and should be back in as soon as a few days, much to the excitement and relief of everyone. They all really missed the blonde Tokubetsu Chuunin.

“Hey, I have an idea. How about we all call ourselves something? Like a group name for all of us – because we're not just four separate teams. We are all one team!” Kiba suggests, an everyone there likes the sound of that.

“How about 'The Skulk'  - it means a group of foxes!” Ino suggests, the reason for foxes being obvious.

“'The Skulk! It sounds most youthful!” Lee announces, tears already in his eyes.

“It does have a nice ring to it...” Sakura agrees as well.

“I like how it makes us sound sly and secretive!” Tenten voices her opinion.

“Well, that settles it! We are all members of The Skulk!” Kakashi announces, and for a brief moment, everyone laughs and relaxes.

Everyone finally has an idea of what they're dealing with. Naruto will be home soon, and he will learn what was told here today. And everyone can't wait to hear what he learned about his clan and about his training in Whirlpool.

The Skulk, along with the now vindicated Uchiha, decide to all have a group meal to celebrate their group formation and friendship.

“May I suggest a toast? To the Skulk and to Naruto – as long as we're together, we will never yield or submit to those trying to hurt our friends.” Kurenai voices in honor of her student.

“To The Skulk and to Naruto!” They all, minus Itachi (though he loves his brother and is so immensely happy Sasuke is participating in this group activity...he just finds it so bizarre) toast their drinks.

Though on Itachi's mind is still one thing that hasn't been addressed yet since it happened – Sasuke's Mangekyou Sharingan.

Whatever happens, Itachi won't let it ruin his brother. The Mangekyou Sharingan is a curse disguised as a gift.

But for the moment, he can have this meal with his brother and his friends. He can be himself in the village, no longer a target.

It was worth facing all the pain he has had to suffer just so he can see his brother laughing at a joke the Akimichi kid told, leaning on his boyfriend, and being happy. And having their mother there just makes everything better – she loves both her sons and they love her too.

(Not all lies are bad.)

Chapter Text

Never Yield (Chapter 2)-Focus

Naruto's P.O.V.

We're almost back home. We left Whirlpool four days ago and we're only about another hour away. We crossed back into the Land of Fire a couple of hours ago and we aren't stopping until we're back at Konoha.

Sensei said that the Old Lady said to report directly to her office when we returned when he last contacted her when we went to sleep (when I went to sleep – does he even sleep?).

As much as I'm sad that we had to leave Whirlpool so suddenly, when I was learning so much and getting stronger, I am looking forward to being home – assuming that my team and my friends are alright.

I still have no idea why we are being recalled. But whatever the reason, they have to be okay. That's all I care about.


 

Sensei and I drop in through the Old Lady's window. It's just about noon right now, and as we dropped in she doesn't look too concerned.

I take that as a good sign.

“Way to not give us any details, Tsunade. You know how the kid is – he's probably been thinking his friends have been hurt. Just tell him they're okay so he can get that constipated look off his face.” Pervy Sage says, and I take that as another good sign.

Him joking is always a good sign.

“Nobody is hurt, no. All of your friends are safe, Naruto. You can relax. But I did recall you both because you are needed here. Jiraiya – remember the message we sent out?” She asks him, and I can see his face tighten up.

“He came back?” Sensei responds, and immediately I am so confused.

“Who came back? What message? What aren't you telling me, sensei?” I repeatedly ask, turning to him.

“Naruto, you know how I have business that goes deep. This message and the person it concerns, it's deep. Some things just can't be heard by people, even those close to me. Even my family.” He tells me, and I sort of understand.

Since he revealed to me that he is my godfather on my birthday, we've considered each other to be family. Sensei is just as much as my family as my team is.

And I know he would tell me things if he could. But why would the Old Lady bring it up now if I can't hear it? If it's that sensitive, why the fuck wouldn't she wait for me to leave?

“Then why the hell am I even were while you talk about this? I could be seeing my team!” I ask, not wanting to waste my time.

“Because it involves your team and your friends. There are some things you need to be told so you can be prepared. Again, nobody is hurt.” She reassures me, and I calm down. “What we are about to tell you is that everything you think you know about what happened five years ago is wrong.” She says, and I know the event she is referring to.

Sasuke, and the Uchiha clan.

“What do you mean? You said Sasuke's not hurt – but is he okay? Is anyone with him?” I ask, concerned.

The last time Itachi was brought up to Sasuke in front of me, he had a breakdown. It was just after the second exam when I had to reveal to him the curse mark and the 'message' Orochimaru used me as a proxy for...and not to mention the fact that Itachi is part of the group that is after me and that hurt Sasuke and Shino, too.

Sasuke needs support. Anyone would if they'd been through what he has.

“Yes, your friend is doing well. He is with his team and others supporting him. So I have to ask you, have you ever heard of Danzo Shimura?” She changes the subject.

“No. Who is that? What did he have to do with the Uchiha clan?” I ask, wondering how he was related.

Then she told me everything. About how Danzo was the traitor all along, and that Sasuke's brother was actually innocent and is back in Konoha. How he was a spy and never a true member of the Akatsuki. And how their mother  is alive too...

...that affects me personally. She was Mom's best friend and wanted to raise me. I need to talk to her.

And then she told me about how Danzo stole the chakra I donated for experiments on a kidnapped and unwilling shinobi – just like what Orochimaru did to those orphans.

And that Itachi is sick and is beyond healing jutsu and that the chakra I donated has actually helped him slightly.

I saw where she was going with this.

“Of course I'll donate more. He's a fellow comrade. As much as you need – it doesn't hurt the Kyuubi.” I offer, because the donation process didn't hurt Kurama the first time.

And until he says otherwise, I will not reveal Kurama's name to anybody. I will mention to my team that I know his name, but I won't say the name itself. Kurama deserves that act of privacy and this way, I won't be keeping anything from my team.

“That's good. Would you be willing to do the donation now? Your team and your friends have asked to all been notified when you return. You can see them directly after.” She asks, and that sounds good.

“Yes! Let's hurry up then!”


 

'Thank you, Kurama.' I try telling him in my head as soon as the donation is done. I'm not sure if he can hear it while I'm conscious, but it's worth a shot.

'Shut up.' Kurama responds after a minute of walking out of the hospital room where the donation took place, and I smile at the tone he used.

That's the first time we talked since I endured the seal removal from Orochimaru, and it wasn't quite what I expected our next words to be, but it wasn't bad so I'll consider that a win!

Sensei leads me back to the Hokage Tower, some meeting room according to the door label, and inside is...everyone!

“NARUTO!” I hear so many voices, and immediately Shikamaru and Hinata come up and jump into me for a hug.

Being released after a moment, I give Shika his own hug and then give my girlfriend a kiss before hugging her too. I feel her kiss my cheek a few times before kissing me again when our hug ends. Then I hug Shika again. Then I hug Kurenai-sensei.

I've missed them so much.

Then I'm surrounded by everyone! Team 7, Team 10, Team Gai all come up to welcome me back, give me some hugs, and to compliment my new jacket!

I notice the two dark-haired people standing back in the corner of the room, and I know who they are based on what I was told earlier. But I'll wait a moment to address all that and instead talk to my friends.

“Yeah, Pervy Sage made it for me for my birthday!” I tell them about my godfather's gift.

“No offense, your pants do not match at all. We need to go shopping soon.” Ino comments, and I laugh because that's exactly what I thought too!

Sasuke is the last person to come up to me and greet me back, and he does it with a smile, but he's clearly nervous.

“Naruto, um, I'd like you to meet some people. Lady Tsunade said she'd tell you everything before we met here, but I still wanted to introduce you personally like I did with our other friends too.” He says, lightly grabbing my arm and leading me to the people waiting in the corner. “I'd like you to meet my brother, Itachi. And my mother Mikoto.”

Oh, wow. I knew I'd be meeting them right now and all, but I didn't quite expect this personal introduction. And he said he did this for everyone?

“Um, hello. I'm Naruto Uzumaki. It's...nice to meet you...?” I say, this whole thing being awkward.

“Hello there, Naruto. It is nice to meet any friend of my little brother. I must...apologize for everything that's happened with the group I was spying on. I know Lady Hokage said you don't hold anything against me, but I must apologize.” Itachi tells me, bowing.

The clear showing of respect from Itachi is surprising, to say the least.

“Um, it's all a lot to process. But knowing you're a comrade is enough for me. I don't blame you for anything, not anymore. So, thank you, for being here for Sasuke. Thank both of you. I don't think I've ever seen him so happy.” I say, and Sasuke blushes.

But it's true. I've seen him happy before – on our Sunday meet-ups, on our double dates, and that kind of stuff. But Sasuke has never seemed this happy. He honestly seems like an entirely new person.

(I make no mention of the chakra donation I made earlier. Tsunade and Pervy Sage said that Itachi had not yet told Sasuke he's sick and wanted to wait until the treatment to see what the prognosis is before telling him.)

“Sasuke has told us a lot about you. You're a good friend for my son. Thank you for being there for him when we weren't. And I was told you know about me too. Kushina was my best friend, as if she were my sister. I know she would be proud of you, your father too.

“I would have raised you like you were my own son, and I'm sorry I wasn't able to. But I'm so glad you and Sasuke are friends – Kushina and I hoped you would be friends growing up. If you ever need anything, feel free to come to me.” Mikoto says, getting tears in her eyes at the memory of Mom.

“Thank you...for everything you just said. I always wonder if they'd  be proud of me. And I know you did your best. I don't blame you for not being able to raise me – I don't think I'll ever be able to forgive the Old Man for that, but I appreciate everything. And if Mom were here, I know you would be 'Aunt Mikoto'.” I say, and she only laughs before pulling me into a hug.


 

After meeting Itachi and (Aunt?) Mikoto in person, Kurenai-sensei says that everyone has something special to tell me.

So we all sit down at the chairs and tables in this room (all the food on them not escaping my notice either!), and Kiba stands up.

“Well, everyone said I should be the one to tell you because it was my idea. But Ino picked the name, just telling you that right now! Anyway, I said that we should all call ourselves something because by now, after all that we've been through, we are all one team. And everyone agreed that we should call ourselves The Skulk!” Kiba says, and wow!

I LOVE THAT NAME!

'Hear that, Kurama? My friends are calling us a group of foxes. Not all humans are bad!' I tell him internally.

“Haha, that's awesome! And great name, Ino! I was thinking the same thing before that we were one team, but I never thought of like being one group, you know!” I say, and everyone claps.

I can't even comprehend how good this feels. To be back home with my team and my friends...who decided we should all be one group with a name inspired by the one thing I was originally afraid they'd hate me for.

I really do have the family I wished I had back when I was in the orphanage. It took me until I was in Whirlpool surrounded by all those Uzumaki to realize it, but now that I know I will cherish it even more.

“I love you guys so much!” I say and we all start to celebrate with all of the delicious Akimichi food that's been sitting around!


 

“I guess now that we're all members of The Skulk, I should tell you all something. The day we all got our Chuunin promotions, remember how the Old Man asked you all to leave so he could tell me about my family? Well, I think I'm ready to open up to the rest of you know about what was told to me. I've wanted to, but what you'll hear...you'll understand why it never went outside Team 8 until now.” I begin.

I'm ready to tell them because The Skulk is more than just a name about accepting me being a jinchuuriki. It's a stand for all of us to protect each other no matter what. They won't back down even in the face of S-Rank criminals if it means protecting their friends or comrades. If that doesn't mean I can trust them, then what will?

So I'm ready to tell them about Mom and Dad. And now Pervy Sage.

...And Whirlpool. At least, what I would tell Team 8 about Whirlpool. And about talking to Kurama and him telling me his name – but not telling his name, at least until he is comfortable with that (I hope one day he could trust The Skulk enough).

“So, my mother's name was Kushina Uzumaki and my father's name was Minato Namikaze.” I begin and I can hear the collective gasp from most of the people in the room.

I proceed to tell them about what was told to me, but with some details redacted. I don't mention a lot of Kakashi-sensei's life back then, because that would be his story to tell, not mine. I only mentioned that Kakashi-sensei and others who did know weren't allowed to tell me, and I didn't reveal that they were threatened with death for it.

I then proceed to tell them about my trip to Whirlpool. First starting with how Gaara is practically a new person after sensei fixed his seal. Then I tell them about how it took me days to figure out the test (not giving the solution, though). I tell them about all the progress I've been making in my own fuuinjutsu training. I tell them about my birthday and how Pervy Sage gave me this seal jacket when he revealed he was my godfther.

Then I told them about the Uzumaki.

“The Uzumaki clan is still alive. The village...likes their privacy, so I'm not going to say too much about the village itself, but the people there are really amazing. They are so knowledgeable, and so kind. Oh! I guess there was so much to say that I didn't get to this yet. They helped us remove the seal!” I say, pulling down the neck of my jacket to show them my clear neck.

“They actually were able to remove it?!” Kurenai-sensei asks hopefully, and I turn to her. Her face really needs confirmation, now.

“Yeah! They taught Pervy Sage how to do it too!” I answer back, and she looks so relieved.

“That's wonderful! My best friend was infected with an early version of the seal many years ago, and I know she would do anything for even a chance to get it removed. I'm of course happy for you too, but she doesn't have the Kyuubi healing it.” Sensei explains, and I had no idea.

“If anyone can do it, he can. We both learned so much about sealing there.” I say, and Kurenai just looks so happy.

I can understand why she's so happy. The seal on me was, for the most part, just ugly. It hurt at the beginning, but the most it did was hurt Kurama. The seal on someone else is probably just awful, so the relief going through sensei for her best friend must be intense.

I know if it was any of The Skulk, I would be beyond happy to be able to help them remove it.

“The seal removal was painful, but it was worth it. I went through it because the seal was constantly hurting the Kyuubi. He doesn't deserve the constant pain that it took to slowly remove that retched seal. Oh, I don't think you all know this either, but...we talk sometimes.” I say, and I hear more gasps.

“You talk to the Kyuubi?” Neji lets out in what sounds like disgust. Then other people voice their shock and disapproval too.

That's not right at all.

“No, guys, calm down. At first it was unnerving, really. But trust me when I say he isn't bad. Look, he didn't ask to be sealed in me any more than I asked to be his jinchuuiki. He didn't ask to be sealed in Mom or anyone before that either. And I believe him when he says he didn't attack the village voluntarily.

“He...he said that on the night I was born, Mom's seal was weak and he was being controlled...by...” I stop talking for a moment, glancing to Sasuke and his family.  “...by an Uchiha. An Uchiha that wouldn't have died at Danzo's hands. He said that if we ever got near him again, he'd know.” I finish, glancing to Itachi for any sort of comment.

“I...have no idea who could possibly by strong enough to control the Kyuubi period, let alone one that would still potentially be alive today. I'm sorry.” Itachi says, and I figured as much. Doesn't mean it's still not a little disappointing.

“So it – he – really didn't choose to attack?” Sakura asks for confirmation.

No. Don't get me wrong, he's angry. But who wouldn't be for being trapped for so many years? But he isn't evil. In fact, after the seal removal, he told me his name. I won't say what it is, as I think it's his secret to tell and he should have control of that information, but I think he appreciates the pain I went through to make sure he wouldn't be in any more.” I finish, and I see everyone thinking about what I just said.

“Then...I guess The Skulk really is a good name for us! Like now we know the truth, and we'll help him too!” Ino says after a few awkward moments of silence.

“She's right. If you trust him, that's good enough for us! The Kyuubi is a member of the Skulk as well, now.” Shino states, and I can't believe it.

I am just so amazed at how awesome everyone here is. Like how could I have been so blind before and not realize I had this family?

Shika and Hinata come up to hug me, and  I feel a light kiss on my neck from my girlfriend. I hug them both back, just appreciating the moment.


 

Now that (mostly) everything is out in the open with everyone in the Skulk, I do have more thing I want to bring up that was not included in the discussion I had with the Old Lady or Pervy Sensei.

“Itachi, I have something I want to ask you. The Old Lady told me that you were a spy for the Akatsuki and that your leader calls himself Pain. And that Pain wants to create world peace through forced submission and fear through capture of all the bijuu. Obviously they have already tried to capture me once. What is the status of the other Jinchuuriki? Are they safe, hurt? How old are they?” I ask.

I  told Gaara and his siblings about the Akatsuki. After we visited Suna for the seal, I now consider Gaara to be a friend. Maybe not a close friend like The Skulk, but a friend that appreciates the help I offered and was given new opportunity at life.

“I stopped spying over a month ago, so my current information may already be outdated. But as of me abandoning the mission, no other jinchuuriki had been caught. No attempt has even been made to capture them either. Currently, the organization still lacks money. The attempt on you was one of opportunity only – they were only running a bounty-hunting mission for funds.” Itachi explains, and that's a small relief.

I want to be able to help them if I can. My main priority is my friends and my village. But these jincchuuiki are most likely just as innocent in everything as I am.

And, I realize that if we do help them, that could strengthen ties between villages and maybe get closer to real peace. Not this fake peace like Pain wants.

And hearing that Pain was the leader of Akatsuki brought me back to that one C-Rank mission when everything changed. That was when Hinata first discovered her sensor abilities. That was the first mission where we were in genuine danger as even Kurenai-sensei couldn't sense the rouge Rain shinobi that was fleeing from Pain.

And then I was told that his sensor-nin 'angel' was named Konan and was like his second-in-command.  And that's all we know about them, really. Except that Itachi suspects the Pain he has met is not the real Pain.

This whole Akatsuki thing is so much bigger than any of us here. It's bigger than just Konoha. It goes into every major village in every country because Akatsuki is after everyone.

I don't like being in the position I'm in. But thinking about it, it was going to happen anyway. It would have been Mom instead. Mom would be the target of the Akatsuki, because she was Kurama's jinchuuriki before me.

“Most of the jinchuuriki are teens around your age or a bit older. One is middle-aged. All the bijuu were put into young people all at once a long time ago, and when the jinchuuriki dies the bijuu is placed in a new young host. The ages mostly coincide for that reason.” Itachi continues to explain.

So I was right. Most of the jinchuuriki are kids my age, and they have probably faced the same shame and cruelty I have.

It makes me sick.

“I want to help them if we can. The other jinchuuriki have probably had childhoods just like mine. Hated by adults and always alone. I just...they don't deserve to die like this. I've warned Gaara, but he's just one. There are seven others...and maybe we can at least send a warning to their Kage?” I ask to Itachi and my sensei in the room.

“I'm pretty sure we can arrange that. We can let them know the information we have so far. You're right in that they are likely innocent, and even if they are in an enemy village we should try helping.” Asuma-sensei says, and that's a good sign coming from the son of a former Hokage.

“Alright, thank you.” I say, and that's all that needs to be said. Everyone understands my appreciation.


 

After that, everything calms back down and we go back to eating more food. I finally get the focus off of my return and I ask everyone what they've been up to.

To hear about everyone's training and missions is awesome! Sakura is doing excellent, Shino is getting into poisons and antidotes, and Kiba and Choji are working endurance and strategy.

I had no idea that Shika and Hinata and the other Chuunin have already had some solo-led missions! They mentioned missions in their letters but never that they were already leading them! That's so awesome!

I don't even really mind anymore that I'm a Tokubetsu Chuunin because the missions I've been on mean way more than some rank. I've been on a mission to convince the Hokage to come home, and I went on a mission to Uzushiogakure.

Rank and jutsu and even some missions seem so small right now. What I'm focusing on now are my friends, The Skulk, and the Akatsuki.

We will win. We will survive.

There's too much at stake not to.

Chapter Text

Never Yield (Chapter 3)-Ephemeral

Sasuke's P.O.V.

Naruto was right  - I've never been this happy!

It's been a week now since everything I thought I knew turned out to be a cover-up...and it was the best news I ever could have had.

Because my brother is innocent! And my mother is alive!

I never actually thought something like this would be possible. It took me a long time to finally accept that they were all gone, and I had lost hope that somehow, somehow it was all a mistake.

But here we are. I'm in the Konoha-funded apartment that Itachi and Mom live in (they didn't want to be back in the Uchiha compound if I wasn't comfortable going there).

They don't mind at all that I'm  still living with the Aburame. Shino and his family have been extremely kind and understanding, and they said that I am welcome to stay as long as I want to and that they consider me family.

Their apartment is small, but nice. And Itachi even says he just wants all of us to be happy and to move on, and not worry about the clan or anything.

“Sasuke, there is something we need to talk about. Mother and I wanted to wait until things calmed down a little to bring it up.” Itachi tells me as I sit down with them both.

Fuck, what now?

Every time someone says something like this to me, that I need to be told something, it always ends up going to hell.

“What's going on? Is everything okay?” I ask them, because I don't know if I can handle anything else right now.

I'm happy, but I'm still wary of everything and worried it will crumble all around me like it did before.

“Yes, everything is okay. But we would like to talk to you about your Sharingan.” Mom says, and that...

...Is unexpected.

My Sharingan hasn't been a part of any conversation since I unlocked the third tomoe. I have been training it and working with Kakashi-sensei so it doesn't drain as much chakra as quickly, and to learn how to interpret all the information it provides (including how to filter out the irrelevant information it gives me).

So what could they want to talk to me about my Sharingan?

“How much of your Sharingan have you unlocked?” Itachi asks me.

“I recently unlocked the third tomoe, during the Suna invasion. There was this asshole – sorry, Mom – who was attacking a mother and baby and it really got me angry. My friends and I saved them, but that's when I unlocked it.” I tell them, realizing that they probably aren't aware of anything that I or the rest of the Skulk has been through this year (except for what came out during that night).

“Then you don't know. On the night we came back and you saw us, you unlocked the next step of the Sharingan – the Mangekyou Sharingan.” Itachi tells me.

What? I unlocked the Mangekyou? The Sharingan that was believed to be a myth by the Uchiha clan?

“Are you...sure?” I all I can ask. I can hardly even comprehend that I may have this.

After Danzo killed our clan, when I thought it was still Itachi, I knew I needed to get a strong as possible to be able to kill him. And to do that, I needed my Sharingan to be as powerful as possible, and I knew I needed to get the Mangekyou if it existed.

But I also know the legends of it. How the power it grants is awesome, yet maddening. Like a double-edged sword.

And I didn't care about that part about it hurting me until I had my team. Because then I had a family that actually cared about me and who I cared about too. Until them, I only cared about killing Itachi and I didn't care about myself.

There was also another legend about it – the legend of the Eternal Mangekyou. It's disgusting, but it's incredible.

Legend says that implanting the eyes of a Mangekyou user grants the new user not only no chakra drain but also other enhanced abilities.

(Before...I always thought that if Itachi had somehow managed to unlock it, I would kill him and then steal his eyes...)

But the way Itachi and Mom are talking right now...it sounds bad. As if...that me having it is bad, if I really even do have it.

“Yes, we're sure. Sasuke, what you think you know about the Mangekyou is a lie. It is not a gift, and it is definitely not what an Uchiha should be aiming to get.” Itachi says, and I look at Mom, and she's just slowly nodding.

“What do you mean?”

“The power it grants is great, yes. But Sasuke, the physical and psychological drawbacks are even greater. It makes people go mad – it makes the user paranoid, blood-thirsty, and irrational. It sucks chakra exponentially from the user and it degrades eyesight. It makes you sick.” He says, as if he's...

...Speaking from experience...

“...Brother? Are you sick?” I ask.

No, no, no, no, no! He can't be sick now – not when our family is finally back together.

Please!

“Calm down, Sasuke. Yes, I'm sick, but I'm getting better. Your friend Naruto has been donating some Kyuubi chakra to help heal me. And I asked him not to tell you so I could, so don't get mad at him for keeping it secret. And before that, the Akatsuki medic was taking care of me.” Itachi tells me, putting his hands on my shoulders.

I'm only able to relax when I hear that he's healing.

And once again, Naruto is fantastic. Is there anything he can't do? I swear, he'll end up being the youngest Hokage ever, even younger than his father.

“What about Kakashi-sensei? Is he okay? And if it's damaging, let's just trade each other's eyes for the Eternal Mangekyou!” I counter, because Kakashi told us about his team and cousin Obito. I know Kakashi is capable of the Mangekyou too.

“Kakashi's one eye doesn't pose all the danger of being Uchiha with both. He can deal with the chakra drain. But it took me a lot of meditation and focusing to not succumb to the Mangekyou's mental effects. And the Eternal Mangekyou is a lie. It was a myth created to keep the feud between the Uchiha and the Senju alive – nothing more. Father and all the clan elders knew this.” He continues.

Why is everything in this village so secretive and lied about? Our clan's murder, our clan's history, the Hyuuga kidnapping, Naruto and his entire life...

 Everything is just one lie after another.

At this point, it seems like the only people we can really trust is just the Skulk.

“So what, I just shouldn't use the Mangekyou? I shouldn't even learn how to activate it on my own?” I ask, trying to process this now.

Fuck. So many lies. So many revelations. So much deception.

That's what being a ninja is like though, right?

“No – it can save your life one day. But don't rely on it. It's just one skill in your repertoire. But before I start training you in it, I have to teach you proper meditation. Unmanaged, it can lead to psychosis. Tell me, when you unlocked your third tomoe – did you feel different? Not like yourself?” He explains.

That's a good way to look at it. I have it, but it's not me. It is just one skill.

And to think of it...I did feel different.

That day of the invasion...I felt so angry at that man for attacking the mother and her baby. After we caught up to him, I wanted to kill him. I was about to – but Shino and Choji managed to talk me down.

But I have never come so close to killing before. And I have never felt quite like that since.

“Yes...we caught the coward and he was unconscious. But I was about to kill him – I just couldn't get over how awful he was for attacking an innocent mother. I was going to kill him...but my friends talked me out of it.” I explain, to the shocked face of Mom.

“Oh, my baby!” Mom says and comes up to me and hugs me tight. I return her hug – her hugs will always be welcome.

“That was just a small sample of the psychological effects that the Mangekyou has – and it isn't temporary like it was then. I will train you, and you will not be susceptible to this. But the Mangekyou Sharingan is a part of you, now. It's not a gift, but it's not a curse. It's part of you.” Itachi says, before coming up and joining the hug.

I know this training will be tough. And will likely hurt. But I will have Itachi and Mom to support me. Shikamaru too. And the Skulk.

It's a part of me.


 

One Week Later

Itachi has been training me in the meditation techniques, and he said I was ready to try activating the Mangekyou myself.

And to consciously do it once was easy, but everything after that was a nightmare – literally.

I was instantly hit with flashes of gruesome images...

First it was the old genjutsu Itachi placed on me when he was killing our clan, I saw blood and bodies everywhere. Then instead of Itachi it was replaced by an old man – my imagination of Danzo, but then he was holding up Itachi's severed head.

The next image I saw was Hidan tearing away at Shino limb by limb. Tearing his arms off, then his legs, all while Shino screams in absolute agony. Then after stabbing him in the heart, he does the same to Sakura.

Then I saw Gaara crushing Tenten, blood exploding out of his sand coffin as he completely kills her.

Then I saw him killing Shikamaru as he calls out my name for help.

I can't take it anymore!

I force my Mangekyou Sharingan to deactivate and I fall onto my knees, sobbing at all the horrible things I just saw in my mind.

“It's okay. You're okay.” Itachi says as he pulls me into a hug. “You lasted longer than I did my first time trying this.” He adds, and that doesn't make me feel any better.

Because...will it be like this every time I use it?

Will it ever get better?


 

No.

It does not get better. According to Itachi, the sights and images never get better. Because the Sharingan is initially unlocked through pain, pain is the power source. And the Mangekyou is so powerful that  it needs constant pain to power it.

And I have to keep training it. I have to. Because it will end up saving me or one of my friends one day, so I have to be prepared for that.

But I never expected it to be this bad. The fact that Itachi hasn't gone crazy yet is a miracle...

This may be a bad idea right now, but I really need to see Shikamaru after that training. I just need him right now.

So I'm walking to his clan compound, nearly there. I know he's keeping our relationship a secret from his clan because of politics, and I really don't want to put that into jeopardy...but I need him right now.

*knock* *knock* *knock*

I knock on the clan head's home door, and after nearly a minute, the door finally opens to reveal...Shikamaru!

“Sasuke?” He asks, definitely not having expected it to be me here.

“Hey...” I respond, not actually having thought of what I would say once I saw him...

“Are you okay?” He asks, and I can see he's examining my face.

“Yes, but...no, not really.” I say, because I'm not okay.

I'm just so used to saying 'yes' for years and years, that it's my first instinct to always say 'yes.' But as I have learned lately, I can admit when I need help and there's nothing wrong with that.

“Come in. I'll make you some tea and we can talk about it.” Shikamaru says, opening his door up all the way.

“But...what about your parents?” I ask, not wanting to potentially cause any more trouble.

“They're not here. And even if they were, there's nothing suspicious about having a friend over for tea. And even if there were something suspicious about that too, you're more important anyway.” He says, and I can't help but feel a little better already.

What I like about Shikamaru is that he's not like most people – he doesn't communicate through words, he does through actions. His words are used only to support his actions. Most people do things to support that they say – but with Shikamaru, his words just reinforce what he does.

I'm so lucky that I have him.

“Itachi and I were training my sharingan. The next level...” After giving me a cup of warm tea, we sit down and I start telling him what I saw.


 

I broke down again after I finished telling Shikamaru what I saw. Every bad thing that has happened to us lately was made worse by my Mangekyou Sharingan.

And when I started crying again, Shikamaru just..held me. He just held me until the images left my mind as I wet and snotted up his shirt.

When I stopped crying, he continued to hold me and then I felt his shadow-communication technique that he used on me during our training trip. Even now, that just makes me feel good. It's a small, subtle, unique feeling that only Shikamaru has let me feel.

“Thank you...” I say, for everything.

“Thank you for coming...I'll always be here for you.” He says.

And again, his words are only supporting his actions. Just by letting me in to his clan compound, when his parents or anyone else could walk in, shows that he really cares about me and that our relationship is really important to him.

“Me too.” I answer back, because I will always be there for him too.

I finish my tea and we kiss before I leave and head back home to the Aburame compound.

I'll tell Team 7 soon about this experience and the training. But for now, I think I'll just let myself calm down and relax and still feel Shikamaru's love.

Holy shit...

I'm in love Shikamaru...


 

Our meditation technique revolves around completely clearing the mind so there's nothing bad the Mangekyou can feed off of. Well...at least nothing to add to the feeding.

“What if I fill my head with good images, though?” I ask Itachi.

Why can't I let myself feel good before I use the Mangekyou? Why can't I remember Team 7, Shikamaru, the Skulk? All the memories with laughing, all the hugs, the dates and kisses?

“...” Itachi says nothing, and that makes me heart break.

His life was filled with so much tragedy and sacrifice...does he not have any good memories?

“Brother...” I whisper, and he's smart enough to know what I've already concluded.

“I'm alright, Sasuke. I'm making good memories now, here, back home. But I never did consider that. Yes, let's try it.” He reassures me.

So instead of clearing my head, I let myself just remember all the good things in my life:

Team meals, Sakura punching Kakashi for his porn novels, breakfast with the Aburame, playing with Akamaru, seeing Hinata and Naruto finally confess to each other, Shikamaru asking me out on our first date, his hair down, our own first kiss in front of the Skulk, hugging Mom.

I activate my Mangekyou Sharingan, and it hurts and it's hard.

The same images play as last time, but I don't let them continue on. I stop it before Itachi's head is held up, before Shino and Sakura lose any limbs, before Tenten is completely crushed, before Shikamaru calls out my name.

And then I'm staring at Itachi, everything red and so clear. It feels like time is standing still – like I can do anything.

Oh, fuck! My head!

I deactivate the Sharingan and fall onto my back, breathing hard. I hold my head – it's throbbing awful.

“Very good, Sasuke. It seems that your idea proved to be effective. And the headache is normal.” Itachi says, helping me up to my feet.

I can do this.

And I'm not alone. The Skulk is supporting me even when they're not here right now, and they are the reason why I was able to withstand the Mangekyou this time.

We can do this.


 

“Sasuke, wake up.” The light to the room turns on, and I open my eyes to see Shibi and Muta Aburame there in the doorway, with Shino stepping up to them.

“What's going on?” I ask.

“You and Shino have been summoned to meet in the Hokage's conference room. That's all the information for now.” Shibi says, like he knows what this will be about.

Shino and I quickly dress and apply our tools and we head for the Hokage's conference room – the room where the Skulk has been meeting. When we enter, we see all of the Skulk there. Itachi and Mom are there – they are part of the Skulk too.

“Okay, now that everyone's here, we have some news.” Naruto's godfather, Jiraiya, starts speaking. “Tsunade wanted to keep this secret, but I feel that if involves one of us, it involves everyone due to the pact you all made.” He says, referring to us forming the Skulk.

And it's true. If something is happening with anyone, I want us all to be able to know and support each other. I'm not quite ready to tell everyone about my Mangekyou training, but I will, and if something serious happened I would them all instantly.

I never thought I would get to a point where I could see all these people (who at one point not too long ago I didn't like at all in the Academy) as the most important people in my life...or as important people period.

We're one team.

“Basically, thanks to the information contained in Itachi's report after he returned, we have been searching and we have found Orochimaru's main base of operations.” Lady Hokage announces, and I immediately look over to Itachi.

“We are forming a small group to go after and kill him. The group will include Itachi, Kakashi, and myself. Tsunade has to stay here, but thanks to the information in Whirlpool, I was able to design a seal with Tsuande to be able to let me use her summons in the fight.” Jiraiya continues.

Both Kakashi-sensei and Itachi are going to fight Orochimaru. One of the strongest ninja alive.

I could lose them.

And Naruto could lose his godfather.

“And...we are asking Naruto to accompany us. He will not be part of the fight, but there is intelligence there may be an Uzumaki among them. And Minato's bracelet would help us detect that and he would be useful in possible discussions.” Jiraiya adds, speaking with worry in his voice.

Fuck.

Why is Naruto always having to be put in danger? Why is everything so fucked up?

Lies, half-truths, and dangers everywhere. The life if a shinobi...

“What? You can't be serious!” Kurenai-sensei objects – and I couldn't agree more.

It's one thing for our sensei and even Itachi to be going – they are all up to the task. Naruto is a Chuunin – no matter how powerful he is right now, the danger is beyond reasonable.

“Kurenai, nobody wants Naruto to be safe more than I do. He's my godson. But we need him – and someone else will be going with us to be with Naruto at all times. His name's Yamato – Kakashi recommended him.” Jiraiya counters.

“He's one of my best friends, and he knows me better than I know myself.” Kakashi adds, and Kurenai only sighs before sitting back down.

Because we all know that to even be brought up here means that the Hokage already approved of this.

“Naruto, I know this isn't fair to you. You're always being asked to do way more than you should have to. And you do not have to come if you do not want to." Jiraiya continues.

"I'm going." Naruto instantly says, and we all turn to look at him.

"Naruto! You can't be serious!" Hinata - his girlfriend - yells at him. He turns to her and grabs her hand.

"Hinata...I have to go. There may be another Uzumaki out there. Our clan is so small...and if they are out there, they are probably a victim just as much as I was. And they wouldn't have the Kyuubi to heal them or to remove any seals that the bastard may have placed." He counters, looking straight into her eyes. He continues.

"I know it's dangerous, and I know it's  not fair to you to have to keep seeing me leave and be in danger. If it was you, I'd be begging for you to stay. I love you Hinata, so much. And I know it's not fair - but if there was a Hyuuga out there, wouldn't you go if you could?" He says, and...

...I can understand that.

If there was another Uchiha out there, I would be begging to go to. I can see Naruto's point too well.

"That doesn't mean I have to like it." She says before hugging him and kissing him in front of everyone again. "Just be safe." She adds, and they hug tight.

"If I can promise anything, is that he'll be safe. Yamato - Kakashi's friend and Naruto's guard - will get him out of there if there's any sign of trouble. But if you're sure, then we have to leave very soon. Within an hour - enough for you to prepare and say goodbyes." Jiraiya finishes, and Naruto's eyes focus.

"I'm sure." He says, mind made up.

"Then we leave in an hour."

I'm still worried about Naruto - we all are - but I'm also worried for Itachi and Kakashi, too...


 

Third-Person P.O.V.

"I love you so much. I promise I'll be back. We'll all be back." Naruto says, kissing Hinata again and then looking to Sasuke, who just finished hugging and saying goodbye to his older brother Itachi. Itachi then moves and says goodbye to Mikoto, who understands Itachi's duty.

Naruto looks to the younger Uchiha because Itachi and Kakashi are going too. And those two are at even more risk because they will actually be fighting the traitor.

But somehow, though he's still worried, Sasuke knows Itachi will be alright. He's said he's healed up a lot since he arrived thanks to Naruto's donation, and that he's in better shape than he has been in years.

So, if anyone can make sure everyone comes back alive, it'll be Itachi.

(And Itachi has his Mangekyou as well - if he has to use it again to help kill the traitor who has hurt his brother and so many of his friends, it'll be a small price to pay.)

Everyone has already said goodbye to Naruto, Kakashi, and Itatchi. Naruto and Kakashi both hugged everyone to show that they understand their feelings.

Shikamaru is now holding onto Sasuke right now - now it's Sasuke's time to support him after his Mangekyou training began. They have to support each other.

Naruto is Shikamaru's brother - and both their brothers are going on a dangerous journey.

"I love you too. We all love you." Hinata says, walking back to us now. She gets to Shikamaru's other side, and she holds onto him like a lifeline.

"We'll keep you all updated as we can. But we need to go now. Come on!" Jiraiya says, and then the squad, including that Yamato guy (who Kakashi-sensei has never mentioned to Team 7 before and makes the three genin wonder why not) departs from the village as fast as they can.

The Skulk - students, sensei, and others - stare in the wake of the departing squad and just hope that they all make it back.

But in the meantime, life also has to continue.

Missions and training can't stop, especially with what they know now about the Akatsuki. It's bigger than any of them, bigger than Naruto, bigger than the Skulk, bigger than Konoha - it involves all the villages in the shinobi world.

But that won't stop them from worrying about their loved ones. Their teammates. Their family.

Chapter Text

Never Yield (Chapter 4)-No Coincidence

Third-Person P.O.V.

Naruto is scared - terrified even - but he knows that he has to do this.

To go on this assassination mission.

Naruto doesn't want to kill. He wishes he could prevent it, but even he knows that Orochimaru must die. There is no redeeming everything he has done - from experimenting on kids, to violating their bodies and giving them horrid seals, to killing other children, to killing the Kazekage, to trying to kill the Hokage - there is no other choice.

Orochimaru must die.

He's terrified because unlike the Chuunin Exams, the people he is with will be a real threat. Not some*toys like Orochimaru thinks most of the Skulk is.

And he's terrified not only for himself but for everyone there. No matter how powerful Kakashi, Jiraiya, and Itachi (and Yamato) are, there is a real chance of death on this mission.

"Where are we heading?" Naruto asks his superiors.

"We're heading to the Land of Onions. Itachi's intel led us to the nearby Land of Peppers, and we discovered a heavy base of operations in Onion Nation. His Sound village was a decoy to us - before Itachi came back we were nowhere near the right area." Jiraiya answers.

Jiraiya is extremely apprehensive for this mission - his godson Naruto and his grand-student Kakashi are both in danger. Itachi and Yamato too. And not only all that, but Jiraiya knows that he's going to be killing his ex-teammate, his ex-best friend.

He's spent over a decade of his life on this search, and it's going to come down to one final, bloody, fight to the death.

Jiraiya isn't looking forward to any of this, but he is looking forward to when it's all done.

"Is this where the Uzumaki is? How did you get evidence of one?" The blonde Chuunin continues to question.

"The is a smaller research facility near the base run by Kabuto Yakushi, Orochimaru's protégé . We will be going there after - knowing the bastard, he has some kind of alarm system that would take even me too long to undo. The evidence of the Uzumaki is the famous red hair. Not definitive, but very likely." Jiraiya continues to answer.

"Kabuto? That weird guy from the Chuunin exams? He was with Orochimaru the whole time? Fuck that makes sense actually. He was asking about Sasuke while he was injured just a few days prior and he had these weird cards that contained information about a mission that went unrecorded. We all should have said something!" Naruto realizes and then berates himself.

"Naruto, there's no way you could have known anything. You had only been a genin for six months, and we had just come back from a teamwork training mission. Don't even think about that - it'll just eat you alive." Kakashi tells his student from experience - he can't even follow his own advice with how much he still thinks about Obito and Rin.

"But if Kabuto is there and we go after, can't he escape or even kill the prisoners?" Naruto asks, having just realized this.

"There is a chance but we don't believe so. Our intelligence says he stays in the main compound with Orochimaru, but he only runs the other one." Itachi responds.

"Well then let's go! The sooner there, the sooner we can free those people!" Naruto says, and nobody says anything as they all go as fast as they can.


 

The compound is several days away. It's been two days of travelling so far, and all they have done is travel, rest and eat, travel some more, and then sleep. Barely any words have been spoken by anyone except for "We'll rest soon" and other such commands.

And the more this goes on, the more Naruto is getting anxious.

He's no stranger to non-stop travelling. But he's never travelled into such danger (even though he's supposed to be away from it when the time comes) without his team before. And when he was with Jiraiya alone, the older man always tried to talk to him to make him comfortable.

But on this mission, it's almost as if no words are being spoken since they left Konoha. Naruto is feeling so alone and isolated, but he's trying to stay strong.

"Naruto, may I ask you something about my brother?" Itachi suddenly asks him as they are setting up for the night.

The first words spoken in days by Itachi. And it's about Sasuke?

"Um, sure? I guess it depends on what, because I don't want to tell something that he may want to keep a secret or something." Naruto responds, trying to keep loyalty to his friend. Because he would never reveal a friend's secret if he knew about it, even to another good friend or family member.

"I understand. I just wanted to know if...how was he after Danzo's crime? I couldn't see him, and I knew he was going to be struggling. And I know you said he looks to be the happiest he's ever been now that we're home, but I need to know what that bastard did to my brother." Itachi says, conveying what he really feels about himself.

And even though it was Danzo's fault - he's the one that inspired the Uchiha coup in the first place - it was Itachi who was still the one who did the killing. And even though he was officially cleared, he will never feel better.

"I'm not going to lie - he was pretty bad off. He practically hated everyone. He was rude, he was an asshole. But he was still Sasuke. He ate tomatoes then, he excelled in ninja skills, and he could be nice when he wanted to be. I still remember the day we got our team assignments, Sakura hit me for no reason - she's changed by the way! - and he apologized after. He was hurt, miserable, and alone, but he was so strong to still be able to come out the other side and be happy like he is now." Naruto says, after thinking for a few seconds.

Sasuke was damaged, but he wasn't broken.

"Thank you, Naruto." Itachi says and then turns away to think.

"No problem..." The bonde whispers, already missing the feeling of talking and wishes the Skulk was with him to comfort him.


 

"Yamato, take Naruto and go East at least three kilometers. We must split up now." Jiraiya says, after holding up his hand to command the squad to stop.

"How will you find us after?" Naruto asks, concerned for everyone because they are about to fight Orochimaru.

"Katsuyu - Tsunade's summon - is a sensor. She will help us locate you. But if none of us meet you in two days' time, return immediately to Konoha. Do not, under any circumstance, come looking for us. And Naruto, if something happens and you need to summon, do not summon Gamabunta if you can help it. I will need him in the fight." Jiraiya orders.

"I understand, sensei." The boy responds, but he sounds so nervous.

"We will be okay. All of us. I know we will be." Kakashi says to the boy.

Normally, Kakashi wouldn't make such a claim. He knows better than everyone that words are just words. But he has a gut feeling that things will be okay. Because after everything his team and his friends been through this past year, there is no way that this is where his story ends. Kakashi's story is only just starting now.

"I agree with Kakashi. There are three of us. We are some of the best Shinobi in not just Konoha, but the world. And you have helped heal me and I am better than I have been in years. We'll survive." Itachi speaks up, trying to comfort one of his brother's best friends and...the boy who would have been his brother if history had turned out differently.

Itachi doesn't normally see positive outcomes. But being here with them, being considered part of The Skulk with his brother and his friends...Itachi is finally starting to see good in his life. Even if just a little, it's enough that he believes what he said too.

"Let's not stretch this out any further. I love you, Naruto. Yamato, keep him and yourself safe. We all are needed back home." Jiraiya says, ending this long goodbye before it gets any more difficult.

"Alright...bye everyone. See you within two days." Naruto says, and looks to Yamato. The man puts his arm around the Chuunin as Jiraiya, Itachi, and Kakashi speed off West.

"Come on, Naruto. We need to go now." Yamato says, and the two speed off East like instructed.

Still, a few tears fall from Naruto's eye just out of worry. He finally has this huge family - so much that they named their group after the thing he was afraid of telling them most - and they are about to go into one of the most difficult, dangerous fights in their ninja career so far.


 

"Yamato...how do you know Kakashi-sensei?" Naruto asks, trying to ease the tension in their cave hideout as well as the tension in his heart.

"I was in Anbu with both Itachi and Kakashi. Kakashi is my best friend - he helped me at a very difficult time in my life when I was at my most vulnerable." The man responds.

"I'm glad he was able to help you. And I'm glad that Gai-sensei, no offense to him, isn't his only best friend..." Naruto says, chuckling slightly.

"Kakashi did once to tell me to put him out of his misery if he ever wore one of those green suits..." Yamato laughs as well.

"What are we supposed to do for the next day or two? I know we can't go and help, but we can't just sit here either." Naruto asks, needing some sort of distraction.

"Master Jiraiya did mention you were working on some kind of seal with water chakra?" The older shinobi inquires, and Naruto's head perks up at that.

"Yeah! Before we left Whirlpool we started working on incorporating elemental chakra into seals. The best I was able to do then was a small squirt of water. He said I had two directions I could try going in: increasing the amount of power of a small amount of water, or increasing the amount of water but with weaker force." Naruto explains, the distraction working.

"Oh? That makes sense that that would be the next path, as where you were is the starting point for both paths. What have you decided on?" Yamato summarizes, taking interest in the boy's assignment.

"Well I started to think about what would be more useful. They are both so weak currently so it doesn't really matter, but I would think more water would benefit my team because it would make them more susceptible to Hinata's or my summons' Lightning affinity." Naruto explains his thought process.

"I think that's a good choice. How far have you made it into the seal?"

"Not very far. I keep getting stuck. I work at it for like two hours and get one symbol added before I'm stuck again. This stuff is tough." Naruto explains, now sitting down and taking out his sealing materials.

"It is tough, I agree. But that fact that you are getting it just shows how skilled you are. When I first started training with my sword, I was practically gutting myself! I took a long time to really get the handle on kenjutsu." Yamato tells him, trying to help the boy's self-confidence.

"Wow, swords?! That's amazing! The only person I know is really skilled with weapons is Tenten! She was so awesome in the preliminaries!" Naruto tells the man, who laughs.

"Kakashi actually helped me with the sword when I first began. Your sensei is very versatile." Yamato says, to Naruto's surprise.

"Kakashi-sensei uses swords too? So awesome!" Naruto exclaims before starting to focus on his sealing - the danger of his teammates momentarily not at the forefront of his mind.

But this makes Yamato wonder: Is there anyone in the Skulk who could benefit from kenjutsu? There is a surprising lack of sword-wielders in Konoha as it is, and most of them are Tokubetsu Jonin who don't take on students. A very essential skill is will soon be lost in Konoha without new students.

So Yamato begins to think, and believes he might have someone in mind he can start training in the art of the blade.


 

It's been nearly eighteen hours since the squad split up.

Naruto's worry has come back, and he can no longer focus on his sealing work. He did make a little more progress, but he doesn't care about that at all.

He and Yamato are eating mission rations - avoiding cooking anything as that might give away their position.

"Naruto, you'll take first watch. I know there's no way you're falling sleep right now, and I'll be able to keep better watch than you in the dead of night." Yamato explains both reasons for his decision.

And for an hour Naruto tries to ease his worry by going back to his sealing studies, and just as when he thinks he is about to get somewhere in them, Yamato shoots up out of his sleeping bag.

"Naruto, there's an unknown shinobi near. Get behind me!" Yamato orders suddenly, and Naruto obeys and gets behind the older man, who is facing the entrance to their cave.

Yamato uses his Wood-style to block them off from the entrance, making the cave seem empty. This combined with the chakra-dampening effect of the Wood, Yamato believes this should be enough to conceal them.

They sit like that for nearly twenty minutes, as Yamato senses the enemy all around them. Naruto has no idea what is going on out there, except that he knows this can't be a coincidence.

And then the ceiling gives way over them, Yamato and Naruto both shoved  out of the way by Yamato's wood before being crushed.

Naruto's battle instincts kick in instantly as he jumps away from the sword being swung in his direction, biting his thumb in preparation.

But Naruto doesn't have time to do the jutsu with the constant onslaught of attacks by the quick opponent that Naruto is hardly able to dodge. Finally, a tiny window of opportunity appears when stalks of wood shoot out around the attacker, making him jump away and allowing Naruto to put his hand on the ground with a loud 'Summoning Jutsu', summoning both Gamahiro and Gamaken, the two toads who helped him during Suna's failed invasion at the hands of Orochimaru.

And as the attacker now dodges Yamato's attacks, Naruto is able to get a clear view of the person:

Someone they were warned about by Itachi's report... someone with a black cloak adorned in red clouds - an Akatsuki member...one much more vicious and dangerous than the ones that attacked Naruto and the other rookies before.

Chapter Text

Her name is Yuka Tsunowari.

Born In the Land of Bronze, she was recognized to be a complete psychopath as a child. She killed her older brother – age 10 – when she was only five years old because he put her in time-out while babysitting. She stabbed him in the heart with a knife and was fascinated as the blood poured out around the wound, and she found it funny as the boy was choking on his own blood.

When her mother came home and found her son dead, Yuka snuck up behind her mother and killed her too.

The child was taken into custody by the police force, and no amount of rehabilitation, child psychologists, or care would change her. Eventually, she was able to escape at fourteen years old through the use of continued and subtle genjutsu on a guard for months. She then killed the guard too as she escaped.

Yuka lived on her own since she escaped, surviving by stealing and killing. She stole food from markets, robbed people of their money, sometimes killing them and robbing them too.

Though never trained or taught in chakra control or usage, she was able to master it on her own. She was biding her time until she was finally able to escape from prison, and her mastery and practice never stopped as she continued to steal and kill.

A truly natural-born genius – and she uses it for only herself.

As she grew up, she started taking on certain kind of jobs for much higher pay than she could ever make by stealing on her own. Yuka took assassination missions, espionage missions, seduction missions; anything that required the skill of a gifted shinobi.

And then word of Yuka's ability become known and her reputation grew. She started appearing in bingo books, though still largely unknown with almost no known information about her except her sex, her (relative) age, and her extreme danger.

And this led her to be scouted out by a certain group, and the pay was just too good for her and she got to have some fun with the tasks assigned to her.


And there Yuka is, in front of Naruto and currently engaging in battle with Yamato, as part of the Akatsuki. She's smirking as she appears to effortlessly avoid Yamato's attacks.

Itatchi's report when he returned talked about the recruits. She was the second-best recruit, right after Hidan. Itachi warned everyone that because he left, his 'spot' in the Akatsuki would likely be filled by the next recruit in like, that being Yuka Tsunowari.

Her ruthlessness, her skill, and her lack of political ties made her everything the Akatsuki looks for in its members.

When Naruto learned of Yuka, he knew that this was another person who was irredeemable. Just like with Orochimaru, the world would be a better place if she was dead – she only brings pain and misery.

“Naruto, RUN!” Yamato yells to the young jinchuuiki.

And he does.

Naruto promised that on this mission, as much as he may not want to, he would obey an order to escape, with his summons following behind and watching his back.

Naruto doesn't want to abandon Yamato to fight this woman on his own, but he knows he would just be holding the other man back.

'Naruto...' Naruto hears – what seems like from a distance – after a minute of running as fast as he can...and it's the voice of his girlfriend.

“Hinata?! HINATA!?” Naruto stops and tries to search and call out to her, but she's not here.

But he can smell her. Her favorite body wash – that she always uses before they go on a date – is so clear in the air that it doesn't make sense.

“Uzumaki, we have to keep going.” Gamahiro tells his master, who is still looking for Hinata.

“But she's here! I can feel her!” He counters, confused and worried.

“It must be a genjutsu!” Hiro argues, knowing something is wrong.

“I already checked! HINATA!” He screams, looking around, frantically. “If it is a genjutsu, then I can't break it.” He tells Hiro and Ken. “HINATAAA!” He screams one more time, and nothing changes. He can still feel her around. He can still smell and hear her. 

And while all this is playing out, Naruto can't help but thinking of his times with her.

The kisses, the dates, the make-out sessions after Shikamaru and Sasuke have left for their own privacy too. How smooth her hair feels, how the light shines off of it, how soft her skin feels, how warm her hand is in his. How her eyes show nothing but love. The lone freckle on the right side of her nose.

'SNAP OUT OF IT!' He hears roared into his head suddenly by Kurama, and Naruto focuses.

“You guys need to lead me. I can't trust my thoughts. It's a genjutsu, and I can't break it. But where is she?” Naruto tells his summons.

Yuka is still back fighting Yamato – so how can there be a genjutsu all the way here?

...Unlesss...!

“She must be around here! Hiro, Ken – get in  position! Shadow clone jutsu!” Naruto realizes that somehow, Yuka is here and he needs to be prepared to fight.


Not one single hit.

Yamato cannot believe how this woman is dodging every single one of his attacks, yet she is dealing more than a few to him.

Yuka was reported to be good, but to avoid everything? Even Deidara and Hidan couldn't avoid that when they were fighting the rookie genin.

And she was the second-best recruit.

Plus, she appears to have some kind of bloodline that went unreported, because what she is doing with her hair does not seem like a normal jutsu.

But Yamato isn't at his rank and status for nothing – he has a plan to finish this in one hit.

'Naruto...please be alright. I'll be there soon.'

And with one final action to set his plan in motion, Yamato breathes a sigh of relief when the head  of Yuka Tsunowari is cut clean off her body by a rather sharp branch of wood, blood spilling out everywhere.

Then with 'poof' and cloud of smoke, Yamato is beyond worried because he learns that this whole time he was fighting only one shadow clone.

He immediately  takes off as fast as he possibly can in the direction Naruto went in.


“She's...tapping into my memories...” Naruto gets out, trying to ignore the flashes of his most precious memories with his girlfriend.

Yuka Tsunowari – this Akatsuki  member – is violating his mind and he hates it.

Naruto has no idea if she can see them too – as they are his memories and not something being implanted like the experience Kurenai had as a Chuunin – but just the thought that she may be able to see them angers Naruto.

Because not only is Yuka violating Naruto, she is violating Hinata as well – and nobody does anything to his girlfriend.

This is what Yuka does when she toys with her victims. Even when they are aware of her presence and her genjutsu, she just keeps on doing it to make them squirm and uncomfortable and angry and aroused and everything in between.

In the long run,it does aid her slightly in her job. After all, with all these different and conflicting emotions derived only from the victims' own memory, their mind is running in so many different direction that they cannot at all focus entirely on her – they are too focused with either trying to ignore the memories flashing, trying to control all their different emotions, trying to figure out a way to escape.

This does take a toll on their mind for when she finally does decide to go in for the attack. Not a huge toll, but enough of one that it just makes the attack that much more fun.

But Yuka's never had a target this young before. Usually her targets are older and have more distracting thoughts. The area of his mind that would contain more sensitive and intimate memories is non-existent. Though she expected this, this tells Yuka that this jinchuuriki is only in the middle of his first relationship and that it hasn't progressed to a point where she can really exploit it.

But that's okay, she thinks. She can still have plenty of fun with this as it is.

“Perhaps you should summon Father.” Gamahiro suggests, unsure of how to protect his master like this.

“No! Jiraiya needs him for Orochimaru!” Naruto responds, knowing that Gamabunta would be a huge help right now. But he don't do anything that puts Jiraiya, Kakashi, or Itachi at a disadvantage if he can at all help it.

Naruto is surrounded by his two toad summons and many shadow-cones, but these memories just keep coming and coming and coming, and it's making him even more nervous and unhinged and anxious.

'Damn it, boy! If you can't break it, then ignore it. Your mantra!' Kurama tells Naruto, and he immediately starts.

“I am Naruto Uzumaki of Konoha. I am Naruto Uzumaki of Konoha. I am Naruto Uzumaki of Konoha...” He starts repeating softly, eyes closed first then opening and focusing on the field on front of him.

As he keeps repeating this and looking at the field, the memories are being (slightly) less intrusive, but only just. Even still, it may be enough to be able to get out of here.

“Okay, let's go!” Naruto commands to his summons and shadow clones, and he resumes fleeing from the area now that he can focus enough that he won't get himself killed running without thinking.

But as they continue to flee, he continues to repeat 'I am Naruto Uzumaki of Konoha' over and over softly, keeping him grounded and alert.


Yamato can't believe that it was only a shadow clone.

He has never seen a shadow clone that durable, that skilled. Shadow clones just don't have that much chakra to do everything that it did to avoid and attack him.

What did Yuka do to those clones? A seal, perhaps?

Does she have more of them waiting?

“You have to be alright...” Yamato says to himself as he gathers chakra in his feet as he runs to try to use his bloodline to check for Naruto around...

...And he's barely in Yamato's range, but he can sense the boy moving further away from him at a steady pace – that tells him that he's retreating.

Yamato feels only a little relief, and even that goes away in only a few moments when Naruto suddenly stops dead in his tracks and someone else land near him. 

But Yamato can't go any faster.


Naruto spins in the air and lands hard on the ground, and he instantly substitutes himself with a shadow clone to avoid Yuka's next hit.

Without speaking, she continues to launch attack after attack after attack at him, hitting him sometimes and missing on others.

Gamahiro and Gamaken are focusing on attacking Yuka while Naruto focuses on dodging. If he had to be in charge of both, he would likely already be captured.

Because as good as he is compared to his genin and chuunin friends in The Skulk and the rest of his comrades in Konoha, he is good. But against Jonin or higher, he's just too weak.

However, most of Hiro's and Ken's attacks are missing Yuka and instead only hitting her hair, which falls in clumps all around the open field.

Naruto and the toads don't notice that Yuka is leading them into the center of all the fallen hair strands. When they get there and Yuka jumps up, they don't even have enough time to react to her lone smirk before she uses one of her self-created abilities:

Having had chakra strings connected to every strand of  her fallen hair, she tilts her head and the strands all turn harden as if they were senbon.

And all of them rush into the three targets.


Gamahiro and Gamaken's bodies are punctured and punctured and punctured by the hair strands. The two toads are forced to de-summon and return to Mt. Myoboku, as they are too hurt and wounded to continue. They can't even say anything else to Naruto as they are too weak.

Naruto was a bit luckier – his birthday gift jacket protected him from his entire torso from being impaled, and his arms protect his head from getting impaled. But his arms and legs look like they came out of a sewing kit – stabbed and impaled all over, all four limbs.

“AHHH!” The blonde screams. The pain is awful. The cries of agony only fade into the air, nobody around to hear them except for Yuka who is only amused that her hair couldn't pierce the boy's garment.

Naruto falls to the ground, bleeding from all four of his limbs and unable to move. Just as he is about to fall unconscious and as Yuka tried to pick him up, his entire body is surrounded by the orange-red cloak of Kurama's chakra.

Yuka jumps back in surprise and caution.

The chakra forces the hair needles out of his limbs and starts to close the wounds. Naruto slowly begins to rise from the ground, angry because how dare she hurt his toad companions.

How dare you hurt them!” Is all Naruto says before resuming the fight. “Shadow clone jutsu!” He snarls, voice deeper and wilder.

To Yuka's surprise, over 100 clones all with the Kyuubi's chakra spawn. And all 101 angry, berserk Naruto-bodies just want to hurt her and they jump in to attack.


Yamato's close.

The more he was able to see and not do anything, the more worried he got. He saw Yuka finally engage Naruto in battle and how he was able to hold his own until Yamato arrived.

But then the toads disappeared and Naruto fell to the ground and Yamato has a bad feeling that they fell to her hair ability. He managed to dodge it earlier from her shadow clone, but only just so.

'Oh, no! Fuck!' He thinks, suddenly feeling the Kyubii's chakra through the earth.

“Just two more minutes, please Naruto! Just hang on!” Yamato loses control and shouts to nobody.

He has no idea what the situation for Naruto truly is, but he's blaming himself. He should have realized he was fighting a shadow clone. He should have just ran with Naruto instead of fighting to begin with. He should have left a clone with him to help defend him.

His job was to protect Naruto – that was his sole reason for being out here on this mission to begin with.

And Yamato believes he failed...

...but he still can't give up.


Despite his still bleeding wounds all over his arms and legs, Naruto and his clones are currently managing to hold their own against Yuka's onslaught.

He loses clones, but he is able to replenish them fast enough so that Yuka can never get the advantage in. And he has enough offense that she is actually taking hits, though the enraged jinchuuriki has no idea how much damage he is actually doing.

Naruto's mind is a mess right now. With the fear from Yuka herself, anxiety for the squad after Orochimaru, anger over the violation of his (and Hinata's) memories, anger over hurting Gamahiro and Gamaken, and the infuence of Kurama's chakra – all Naruto can think of is to fight and punch and hurt the only thing he can do something about.

As Naruto finds an opening and knocks Yuka around and hard onto the floor, he is shocked to see a flash of brown come into view, grab her face, and drag her all around the ground.

“Yamato!” He is relieved to see his comrade.

“YOU!” Yuka screams, the first word she has said at all since any of this began. “I will NOT let you stand in the way of my payday. You DIE!” And then she makes another shadow clone and it begins to attack Naruto while she attacks Yamato.

Focusing on Yamato, Yuka starts to use her genjutsu on him like she did Naruto, but falters slightly (and takes a painful blow) when she finds that all the parts of his mind for romance and intimacy are all blank.

After all, a man who is asexual can't have those kind of intimate memories. And he hasn't found someone who requited any romantic feelings he has had, either.

And because of her modified shadow clone (filling it with chakra for weeks after creation, but with the consequence of severing its ties to her memories after dispelling), Yamato knows exactly how to defeat her and she has no idea.

But it will cost him more chakra than he has...but he promised to protect Naruto.

Setting her up like she did he did her shadow clone, Yamato decapitates her head with one sharp branch of wood, and falls to his knees in relief when the blood and body do not disappear into smoke.

And when the shadow clone fighting Naruto suddenly dispels, that's when Yamato falls unconscious due to chakra exhaustion.


“Yamato!” Naruto cries out, seeing the fight over but his comrade down. He runs over to him, only feeling a little dizzy after using Kurama's chakra. He has no emotion at all towards Yuka's dead, blood-spilling body and head laying a few yards away.

He feels the man's head, and it feels hot. He puts his ear to the man's mouth and hears only shallow breaths. He feels for a pulse and it's weak.

Fatigue, weakness, and his hands are burnt.

He remembers from what Shika wrote on his paper during the first exam – fatigue and overuse of chakra coils are two symptoms of chakra exhaustion.

“He protected me..now I have to be the one to keep him safe...” Naruto says to himself.

He picks up Yamato and runs further runs in the direction he was originally running in to get away from Yuka – the original cave they were in was destroyed by her.


“Summoning!” Naruto whisper-yells, and he summons Gamakichi.

It took two hours, but he was finally able to find another small and secluded cave for him and Yamato to rest. He is keeping the man's head cool to bring down the fever, and is able to give him some water so he's not dehydrated.

But there isn't much else he can do. He isn't a medic. The way Naruto sees it is that he has two options: (1) assume his two sensei and Itachi completed their mission and killed Orochimaru and wait for them to find him, or (2) recover enough energy so that he can carry Yamato back to Konoha.

Naruto decides that option one is the best one, because option two would come anyway if option one...

...he doesn't even one to think about that right now.

“Naruto! What the heck happened? First Hiro and Ken come back looking like a pin-cushion, then Dad comes back beat to a pulp!” Gamakichi yells at him.

“Are they okay? I failed protecting them – I'm so sorry. And did you say your father?!” Naruto responds, realizing what the final think his summons said.

“They will be okay. Mt. Myoboku has healing waters for us toads. And they said it wasn't your fault but couldn't say anything more. And yes, Dad said that he got through slaying a giant snake with Sage Jiraiya.” The young toad responds, not understanding what exactly that means.

“THEY WON!?!?!” Naruto exclaims, so relieved to hear that Orochimaru – the snake – was 'slain'!

But...did everyone survive? It seems the Pervy Sage did, but what about Kakashi and Itachi?

“I don't know what exactly you're talking about, but Dad seemed happy so I think so.” Gamakichi responds, glad to see Naruto's relieved face.

Thank you, Gamakichi. I summoned you to ask if Hiro and Ken were alright and to apologize, but you just gave me the best news. Please send them my apologies though, and that I appreciate them.” Naruto says, taking a deep breath and leaning against the cave wall next to Yamato.

“Will do! Thanks!” Gamakichi bis farewell to Naruto, not realizing at all the battle the boy just went through.

“Shadow clone jutsu!” Naruto makes three clones and commands them to keep watch and to wake him if anything at all changes in the environment or with Yamato.

Naruto is about to rest and sleep a little. But before he does he says one more thing.

'Kurama...thank you.' He tells the ancient fox, grateful for what he did in keeping him focused from Yuka's genjutsu and for his chakra healing him from her hair attack.

'Whatever.' And Naruto is finally able to rest.


“Boss, wake up!” Naruto wakes suddenly to his summons. He didn't sleep that much – only two hours – but he feels so much better than he did when he went to sleep.

“What's going on? Yamato?” He asks his clones, who only shake their heads but don't appear to be worried.

“Nope! Nothing bad! And something good finally – Jiraiya, Kakashi, and Itachi are all running back here!” One clone says, and Naruto hasn't heard anything so good in what feels like forever.

“Thank goodness...” Naruto sighs in relief and falls back. “You're going to be okay, Yamato.” Naruto then says to the unconscious man.  And as they're all coming back to his location – Kakashi being a tracker, and all – that must mean their mission was a success and that Orochimaru has been killed.

Naruto decides to give Yamato a little more water and to make himself some ramen – after all, matches to boil water won't give away locations while in a cave – while waiting for his comrades to arrive at his location. It's best to keep Yamato still until they can help him better than Naruto can, and the food will help give him some more energy.

The world became a better place today. All of Orochimaru, Kabuto Yakushi, and Yuka Tsunowari – three people who only participated in evil and nothing good – have died. There was nothing that could redeem those three.

Normally Naruto would be upset at death, but with this he could only be relived that they won't hurt anybody else, especially the Skulk and the rest of Konoha.

But how did Yuka find them now? Was it another random chance like after the training trip, or is it something more?

Chapter Text

Naruto's P.O.V.

“Naruto!” I hear my two sensei call my name as they enter the cave with Itachi.

I felt them when they were nearer, it only took a few more minutes after my clones woke me and told me they were coming, when I had finished eating my ramen.

I'm so relieved that they are all here with me. They are all alive and now they can help Yamato, too.

Yamato saved me. I knew I could never beat that girl Yuka on my own. But I knew I had to keep trying because I knew that Yamato was going to come help when he could.

And when he came, he won. He may have nearly killed himself doing it, but he protected me.

And then it was all up to me to protect him in return. I'm a Chuunin now, and I didn't hesitate in taking him to a place where we could be safe while I recovered, treated him, and considered my next course of action.

“Guys, Yamato needs help!” I say back – because as much as I want to talk tot hem and ask about everything, my comrade is always the priority.

Kakashi-sensei runs instantly over to him – his best friend – and starts looking over him.

“Yamato saved me. He killed Yuka and then he passed out – I'm pretty sure it's chakra exhaustion. I've lowered his fever and been giving him some water, but I don't know what to do next.” I tell them, explaining what I've already done.

“You did amazing, Naruto. You might have saved him just by doing that.” Kakashi says, grabbing supplies out of his bag.

“Kakashi, let me summon Katsuyu. She's exhausted from healing us, but she can help Yamato too. And you too, Naruto.” Pervy Sage says, and...who's Katsuyu?

Grabbing a scroll form his bag, sensei activates a seal and then suddenly a giant slug appears!

“Katsuyu, thank you for all your assistance earlier. But we have an injured comrade. Would you mind?”


Wow!

That felt great! I've been healing up because of Kurama's chakra, but Tsunade's summon is so awesome!

She completely healed Yamato, and  finished up on me what Kurama's chakra hadn't (which...it healed several puncture wounds and left no scars, even before Katsuyu's help).

That makes me wonder, can Kurama's chakra heal scars, or only prevent them? Because on any other person, if Yuka's attack didn't kill, it at least would have scarred.

If it can heal...maybe Sakura and Ino would like theirs healed. Or anyone else, even.

And that also makes me think about Neji. If Jiraiya can remove Orochimaru's curse mark like he did on Kurenai-sensei's best friend...can he remove Neji's seal from being a side-branch Hyuuga?

I want my friends and The Skulk to be as happy as they possibly can be. And if healing scars or removing seals will help them at all, I want it to happen. My friends – my family – mean everything to me and I will do and/or make anything happen for them.

When Katsuyu finished on Yamato, he woke up but was exhausted. And he blamed himself for what happened.

'No way! You saved me from her. My clones were never going to beat her, even when I was using the Kyuubi's chakra. Just because it wasn't perfect doesn't mean you failed.' I had said to him after he apologized.

Nobody else blamed him either. I didn't know Yamato before this mission, but Kakashi-sensei did and said Yamato was his best friend. Being a comrade is enough for me to do anything for them, but knowing how close they are, I had to reassure him that I didn't blame him.

After getting reassurance from everyone, especially Kakashi, he went to sleep after eating some bread and drinking some more water.

“We're so happy you're alright, kid. When we got to that cave and saw it collapsed and Itachi said it was Yuka...” Jiraiya starts.

“I recognized Yuka Tsunowari's chakra when wen got to that cave. Then we tracked the trail to where you battled her.” Itachi says, the only person here who knew Yuka from before.

“We can only think that Akatsuki had Orochimaru's base scouted out. He was a member years ago, and we didn't anticipate they may still have contact or something with him.” Kakashi explains.

“I don't know either, but I'm just glad we're all okay. I don't care why she was out here, but at least she can never hurt any of us again.” I say, my Godfather smiling at me and taking out a book.

“Okay, so in a few hours when all of us, Yamato too, are rested, we'll all go to Kabuto's research facility. He and the bastard are dead, but we still need to be rested just in case there's anything else. But if there's an Uzumaki there, your bracelet should be able to tell us.” Pervy Sage says, already writing in his manuscript.

Oh yeah! With all the chaos and worrying about my comrades,  I actually forgot a bit about that!

I just hope that they're friendly...

“Okay, but tell me about the fight!” I say, only slightly shocked that I want to hear about how the man was killed.

...And I don't even feel too bad. There was no redeeming Orochimaru or Kabuto or Yuka. I'm not happy  that they're dead, but I am happy that they can't hurt anyone else.

Yuka can't hurt Gaara or any other jinchuuriki (or anyone else in her search for money). Orochimaru and Kabuto can't hurt Sasuke or anyone else in Konoha or Suna or anywhere.

The Akatsuki is still a threat, but they are a smaller threat now that Yuka and Orochimaru are gone.

“We should have had one of your clones with us! First I had summoned Gamabunta and Katsuyu, then he summoned Manda...”


One Day Later

Having to travel at a slightly slower pace due to everyone still recovering energy from our respective battles, it's taken us nearly a full day to reach Kabuto's research facility that we probably could have reached in about 2/3rd of a day instead.

Yesterday, as we were talking about the fight with Orochimaru, Itachi said something to me that has been making me think.

'With your chakra donation, I have felt better than I have in years. I had no idea how healthier I felt until my body was tested in battle. I convey my deepest gratitude to you, Naruto. For everything you have done for my family and me. I am honored to call you a comrade.' He had said.

'Oh! Yeah, sure! And thank you! I'm happy to help you and everyone I care about. But...has the chakra really helped that much? Has anything felt bad about it?' I had asked him, and he only shook his head.

'Like I said it has been years since I felt this good. And I continue to feel a little better each day. Again, thank you.' He answered me.

If Kurama's chakra really does help sickness and injury this much, and it doesn't hurt him to have me donate it...this could help a lot of people.

I can imagine it now – the hospital and medics having a supply of it for emergencies. What if it can help a medic enough that it prevents a death in the field? What if it can be used to develop new treatments for diseases that can be used all around the world?

I hope Tsunade has been doing some more research into all this. If it can help Itachi – who nobody has been able to help before – then I think this could lead to something big.

Especially if he hasn't experienced any negative effects yet.

“We're getting close to the facility. Another few minutes and we may be in the range of your bracelet.” Sensei tells me.

Yesterday, Kurama helped me big time. I was totally lost in Yuka's genjutsu and he pulled me out. And then he told me to use my mantra, which I couldn't even think about because I was still too dazed.

I've tried thanking him again, but I've only gotten grunts and snarls in return. At this point, he knows I'm beyond appreciative.

Whenever we talk to each other, it's hardly a conversation. He must trust me enough to have told me his name after the curse mark was extracted, but I just feel bad that we still can't talk.

Two things are for sure, though: One, I need to train more against genjutsu. Two, I can count on Kurama and that I trust him.

After another few minutes of traveling like sensei said, we start to see a building far in the distance.

“That's it, guys. Just a little further.” Kakashi announces. As we get closer, Dad's bracelet starts glowing red.

“Guys, it's glowing!” I announce to everyone. Another Uzumaki!

The trip Jiraiya and I took to Whirlpool was life-changing. I have no idea what we'll find with this Uzumaki – friend or foe, adult or teen or child, if they are even aware of their clan – but I know that if there's a chance at being allies, we have to take it.

The alliance between Konoha and Uzushio is still alive. We all talked about this before we left for this mission, but we said that if there is an Uzumaki, we would try to get them back to Konoha first and then contact Sikona back in Whirlpool before disclosing that information.

“That must mean our intelligence report was correct.” Itachi comments, and we continue onward, still on guard.


The bracelet is now glowing extremely fast.

We've entered what seems to be a huge, but abandoned, facility. As the facility is made out of metal, Yamato's abilities cannot be used to see how many people are here, or where they are.

We didn't split up. Though Kabuto is dead, he likely booby-trapped this place against any intruders. So, we are sticking together as to not take any chances.

Too many chances were already taken the past two days, as it is.

We continue to explore, there being seemingly hundreds of experiments, notes, and all that stuff just laying around.

There are...cages...in nearly every room we've been in, too.

That just makes me furious – how he could just use people like lab-rats, and that Sasuke could potentially have been one if Orochimaru had been able to get to him. I still remember how Kabuto was disappointed that Sasuke wasn't in the exams with us – they had something planned and I was the next best thing when it failed.

So yeah, I am pissed off. For all I know, the Uzumaki that is apparently near us may be trapped in one of these cages. And if we didn't come here...what if they all just died of hunger or thirst because Kabuto is dead and wouldn't be able to give them anything?

This whole thing is just too fucked up. No matter what, bad things will happen when it comes to Orochimaru and Kabuto.

(I wonder...does Jiraiya-sensei feel at all bad that he killed his teammate? I know I can never ask him. He wouldn't mind telling me if I did, but that is just too personal and too tough. At least he'll have Tsunade to talk with about it...)

“I don't understand! Where is the Uzumaki? Every single room we've been in has these fucking cages and knowing those bastards the Uzumaki and anyone else are trapped!” I say, frustrated at everything.

“Well we searched every room we've seen. The only thing I can think of is underground.” Yamato says.

“I agree, but we haven't found a way to get underground.” Itachi says, voicing what we've been thinking.

“Anyone else surprised that there hasn't even been any traps or seals? I mean, this was Orochimaru...and his research base is completely unguarded?” I ask, because this is really weird.

“Naruto...you're a genius!” Kakashi suddenly tells me and then uncovers his Sharingan. After looking around for a few seconds he returns to talking to us.

“I know it may seem impossible given our skill levels...but there's a genjutsu all around this place. My Sharingan can see through it. And before you use yours, Itachi, let me lead us. You're still recovering from your illness.” Kakashi says, and I can't believe there are genjutsu strong enough even for my sensei to fall victim too.

If the fight with Yuka wasn't indication enough, then that means I still have so much to learn and improve on. And when I become Hokage, I can never stop improving, too. Jiraiya was going to be Hokage (but couldn't because of his intelligence network) – so if he can't detect the genjutsu, then it really is on a whole other level.

We follow Kakashi-sensei as he leads us through walls that I can't tell at all were not solid. And these walls are in random parts of this huge building and there are so many branching paths and I am getting so lost!

But Kakashi-sensei is a tracker, so I'm pretty sure he knows where he's leading us...

As we navigate through this building – which at this point I would even consider a labrynth designed as a research facility, my brace starts to glow slower, then gets faster again. It seems that we're going in so many different directions that wherever the Uzumaki is, the building is even larger than it appears.

Even when we were on the surface of Uzushio, my bracelet was glowing despite everyone being far underground.

“What the fuck!” “Holy shit!” “Oh God!” We all yell as see something disgusting.

Kakashi led us into a more general room without these narrow hallways, and then through another door which has some kind of experiment in...

...This kid is strapped to a table, gut sliced open with their intestines slipping out...

And he seems to be alive still.

I can't move. I'm just staring at the table even though they have already freed him.

It takes a few seconds, but I regain focus quickly enough to see Jiraiya-sensei kinda just stuff his intestines back in his body and runs some medical chakra over him, trying to close up the giant wound.

“Itachi! Get my scroll and summon Katsuyu!”