Cries of the Forest @shiro1sora
Chapter 26

New meds, new me, am I right? I'm currently looking for a beta to help me reform some of the scenes that I was agonizing over, so look forward to yet another sequence of spam updates. Sorry I was gone for so long, life kicked me in the metaphysical dick. If any of you are still here after so long, thanks for waiting and here you go!

Sounds of stern steps (bordering stomps, really) interrupted their perfect morning, and as a unit, Naruto and Shikamaru resolved that it was finally time to face the music. The paper door flung open to reveal none other than their deceptively young Hokage.

"Why the hell have you brats been cooped up in here and—Woah." She cut herself off at the sight that greeted her: the whole room was covered floor to ceiling in green leaves with some flowers of various colors dotting color here and there. The floor had been overtaken with the moss Shikamaru had taken from Naruto's den, and most of the room's greenery had been nurtured to full growth from sprigs he'd found later. (Naruto said it was different, more real when they weren't completely his.)

"Greetings, Fifth Hokage," Shikamaru said after a moment to make sure she was both finished speaking and also wouldn't continue in a tangent of fury at the renovations.

"Uh-huh, explain yourself." A step up from the yelling, at least. Although she'd asked Shikamaru, he was uncomfortable with speaking on Naruto's behalf without reason. It was time for Naruto to step up.

He nudged his blond gently, letting his head rest on Naruto's shoulder for support and tipping his chin toward Tsunade in silent prodding. Naruto huffed, but thankfully obliged. "New den. Old things from the old den come to the new den." Satisfied with his explanation, he nuzzled Shikamaru and turned his back to the Hokage, shuffling both him and Shikamaru so they were comfortably entwined upon the protected bed.

Seething at the explicit dismissal, Tsunade flipped her top. "I don't care about the room, I'm asking why you haven't been training like agreed?!"

"Nothing was agreed by Naruto, only by you and the council." Perhaps he should have held his tongue, but there was simply no way he'd sit still and allow these delusions of consent on Naruto's part.

"Oh, he'd better agree if he doesn't want to end up dead or indoctrinated like a prisoner. Do you have any idea how lenient I'm being?! I need his cooperation to have reason in keeping him alive!" Although her words were harsh, he had to give her points for staying at the door and not trespassing into the abode.

"May I be frank, Hokage?"

"Oh, please do; I hate the runaround those old coots always try and put me through." Well, that was easy enough.

"Who's side are you on?"

"Boy, I'm on my side," she declared, glaring with no heat. Maybe that was just how she looked naturally?

"I'm glad for that, but how can I know that your and Naruto's sides are the same?"

Tsunade barked a laugh at that. "They're not; unless Naruto's side includes my apprentices, pet, and a buttload of liqueur?" Considering Naruto would rather eat her pet pig than keep it from harm, that would be a (soft?) no.

"Then how can we trust you?" Now here was the crux of the situation, spoken by Naruto himself. He'd rolled over again to give Tsunade his attention.

"You'll trust me because I'm the only one on that council remotely close to being on your side. And because just as you need me, I need you," she said, leaning against the doorframe.

"I was living just fine before I was here. I don't need you."

"You were living just fine before the village elders, opposing countries and a crime syndicate found you, but would you be fine after?" 'Crime syndicate?' She'd mentioned it last time too, but what exactly did that mean? Luckily, Shikamaru asked just what he'd been thinking.

"What crime syndicate and what's their threat level?" Poor Shikamaru looked ashen-faced, the questions trembling through the leaves as he sat up in alarm.

Tsunade huffed and bit her lip, standing straight and shifting with uncertainty. After a long moment, she rolled her eyes and seemed to make her decision.

"Before I go into classified information, can I at least sit down?" Two of the three inhabitants looked around but found no chairs furnishing the de facto habitat. Naruto was just giving her a dubious look due to their subject of conversation but eventually acquiesced. "Thank you," she said, lowering herself just inside the room to the plush floor with a stiffness that betrayed her age.

"Now, this is not something to be spoken of beyond this house, as I've seals installed here for privacy," she began seriously.

"In Amegakure, their hidden village is run by a crime syndicate called Akatsuki that's run by high-level rogue ninja. Previously, they'd been doing spare missions and the like, but it seems that they have enough money to start acting on whatever plans they have. Recently, they've started capturing jinchuuriki, though we're unsure of to what end. This means that it's imperative you be here to be protected by our forces."

"...are they as strong as the males from the river?"

"Men," Shikamaru corrected before he registered the meaning of Naruto's words.

Tsunade sighed deeply before taking out a small bottle of which Shikamaru assumed was probably hellishly strong rice wine.

"Yes; those who you fought on the river without a head protector like the Nara heir were members of Akatsuki. I heard that you fought the duo of Itachi Uchiha and Kisame Hoshigaki."

"Well, they weren't that strong..." he pouted, being stubborn. If Shikamaru were older than he was now, he'd have had a heart attack then and there.

"If we're talking about those two, then that's a lie and you know it. It's a miracle you made it out unscathed," Shikamaru said, sounding a bit strangled. Naruto avoided his eyes with pursed lips.

"Yes, a miracle that will not happen again now that they know where and who the nine tails' jinchuuriki is." She...had an alarmingly good point. And now that their element of surprise was gone, that meant Naruto had to be strong enough to fend them off when, not if, they came for him.

"Alright, so now that we know that our days are more limited than we'd thought, what's the plan?" Shikamaru, dry as ever.

"The council, gods-be-damned fools that they are, are sure that brainwashing him to become an obedient, dependent child soldier is the way to go."

"And you don't think that?" Naruto demanded, catching on to the fact that he was the 'him' in question.

She snorted, then tipped back the remaining liquid in her bottle. "When has that ever worked out great? For Konoha or for the person in question? I'd rather children not fight at all, but it looks like war's on the horizon.

"Now, my plan is to give you the tools necessary to get stronger to serve as the first defense as they want, and so you can keep yourself alive by the end of it." That... was a plan a little too fortunate for them to hope for. There had to be a catch.

"Is there a catch?" Shikamaru asked, suspicious of her words despite the saying that drunk words are sober thoughts. (Not that a medic-nin of her grade would allow herself to be more than buzzed when the moment called for it.) Tsunade carried on, tipping the bottle completely to shake out what few drops remained in the porcelain vessel.

"Only catch is to be Konoha-affiliated and apprentice with both Jiraiya and Kakashi Hatake. We can't afford to spend much time in the education department beyond practical know-how and techniques, so he'll get to skip the academy curriculum for the most part."

"That's...fair." Suspiciously so. "Why Hatake, though?"

"Who else loyal to Konoha has a Sharingan?"

"Yes, but why does the Sharingan matter? If we're focusing on genjutsu or sealing, then Yuuhi would be better. She could help him on his chakra flow, too." The only reason he could think of Hatake being a better choice is his teaching lineage and chakra manipulation. Or maybe his summons.

"Think! He's to be a heavy hitter working with a lot of chakra. He needs big techniques and someone capable of reigning in the bijuu when he's training with its chakra. This is also classified, but the sharingan is one of the only methods of managing a tailed beast." That made sense.

"Oh, and while I'm here, here's your headband, twerp," she said affectionately, throwing a trail of fabric over the brambles separating her from the pair. It was caught midair and handed to the mokuton user via a winding vine of morning glory. As Naruto tied it around his neck like Shikamaru did, the Nara watched as a sunny trumpet unfurled and bloomed before his eyes.

He'd never seen this type of flower spring from Naruto's power before, so he plucked the bloom in hopes that Ino could preserve it practically somehow, (the color reminded him of Naruto's hair, and it'd be a nice keepsake to bring on missions).

Missing the private happenings, (or possibly ignoring them,) Tsunade haltingly rose from the floor and seemed intent on mastering balance for a brief moment, before speaking once more.

"Unlike you lot, I have a ton of paperwork to get back to. It's been a nice light chat, but we both have prior engagements to attend to now. Like, say, obligatory training at ground four?" Wow. Her subtlety truly was to be admired as the Fifth Hokage.

Hey! Sorry for the abrupt ending, but this entire chapter was painful and needed to be done and over with. I'm hoping to work with a beta now to help me out in revising past and future chapters, but first I gotta read Naruto again. (My knowledge is dusty from post-arc 1.)


Thanks, that's it. I gotta go to work now.

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