A Girl's Mind is a Dangerous Place - Chapter 75 - clenastia (2024)

Chapter Text

It feels uncomfortably familiar, following Jiraiya through town, heading for the nearest inn. That Tsunade lady isn’t here, they’re just stopping for food and information and then going through the night, but.

He catches himself turning, catches himself wanting to tease Sasuke about the menu, aww, out of luck, no tomatoes in sight!, but-

Sasuke and Natsu aren’t here. He’s still traveling with Jiraiya, but it’s just him this time, no puzzles or onsen or…

He sighs, looking back at Jiraiya as the man flirts with the bar lady, tries to pay attention because he was so serious earlier, so it probably isn’t just random flirting, she’s probably telling him things and it’d be cool to learn how to do that, but.

Naruto doesn’t want to be here. It’s important, he understands why it’s important, he doesn’t even disagree, it sounds like he really is the best guy for the job, and normally that would feel so good, but.

He wants to be the best guy for the job with his team. Even if that’s not how it’s supposed to work, it feels wrong to be out here alone.

Solo missions are a thing, he knows that, Sasuke even grouched about how he’d only take solos for the rest of forever as soon as he hit jonin once, when he was really annoyed with them.

Naruto never wants to do one again. He tries to focus on the plus side - this will count as an official mission later, which means he’ll get really good pay, since it’s a solo, and of course he can tease Sasuke later about how Naruto got to do a solo first, which means he’s better, and he’ll get to meet a really badass shinobi and maybe even convince her to be Hokage - just until he’s old enough, someone’s got to keep that hat warm after all-!

But mostly he just really wishes his team was here, so he could roll his eyes at them and make exaggerated faces at Jiraiya’s flirting.

Jiraiya turns around, and Naruto freezes for half a second, wondering if the guy read his mind or something, as the sannin herds him to a table, two plates of food in hand.

Naruto eats, though he couldn’t say how much of it he tastes. He eats, and watches Jiraiya, and wishes he hadn’t left both his teammates in the hospital.

He needs a distraction, stat, but what can he even talk about in a public place like this?! Not the Kyuubi, or Danzo, or the attack, and he doesn’t want to talk about his mom, not here, and talking about his team will not distract him-!

Naruto stares unblinking at Jiraiya, chewing methodically. There’s got to be something they can talk about, ‘ttebayo!

Shikamaru’s arms tremble, clinging to their sign as he pours all his focus into stepping back.

Sasuke fights him for every single inch.

His father cries out, and Shikamaru can’t-

He grits his teeth, eyes narrowed to slits, until the only thing he can see is his shadow, tangled with Sasuke’s.

He steps back.

The Uchiha steps with him, chakra lashing.

Itachi, Shikamaru knows, can sever their clan’s shadows with a mere glance. His father pleasebealive- couldn’t catch the nukenin for longer than half a second, no matter how well he wove them.

The gulf between Itachi and his brother is wider than Shikamaru ever considered.

Sasuke’s never been a genius, maybe, but he’s always been something of a prodigy, and always willing to work hard to improve even on the things that didn’t come naturally. Fighting with him in the forest, Shikamaru had a chance to see how far he’d come, since awakening his dojutsu.

Sasuke’s good, for all that Shikamaru has never cared to tell him so.

Itachi is in another league entirely.

And so, step by step, Sasuke backs away from the fight, unable to break Shikamaru’s shadowy grip. Shikamaru’s dad is a hundred times stronger than him, and Itachi snapped his shadows like paper festival chains. Even his shark-faced partner struggled more than Itachi, even if not by much, and that man has so much chakra he burns the air itself.

Even cursing his name, Sasuke still takes another step back.

Shikamaru hasn’t heard his dad’s voice since he cried out before.

He trembles.

He doesn’t look.

They take a step back.

Jiraiya thought, somehow, that having just one member of Team 7 would be less exhausting than having the full set.

Logic dictates that it should have been.

And yet.

Really, he should have known he wouldn’t be that lucky. Naruto alternates between cold, uncomfortable silence, eyes boring into Jiraiya’s skull like he can read all the sannin’s thoughts, and loud, uncomfortable questions.

Highly concerning questions.

Natsu’s a good kid. Jiraiya spent long enough around him to be able to say that with certainty. He’s a good fighter too, and only a fool would deny it.

He’s a terrible shinobi.

Even in the small amount of time they had together, the kid made his opinions on the shinobi villages very clear. In some ways, Jiraiya knows, Danzo wouldn’t even be wrong to want to keep Natsu separated from the other genin of the village.

He’s not a threat, not directly, but he is dangerous. Against Naruto’s pointed questions about Danzo, and the village as a whole, and some of sensei’s decisions…

They may not be words taken directly out of Natsu’s mouth.

But they certainly are questions that fall rather neatly in line with the interloper’s own morals and viewpoints.

Morals and opinions that, even if his team haven’t fully adopted them, they’re certainly willing to consider at the very least.

Men like Danzo would call this treason.

On some level, Jiraiya knows they’d be right.

Natsu is… anathema to shinobi existence.

He fights well, and loves his people fiercely, and doesn’t linger over deaths in battle the way a civilian might. Intelligent, unpredictable, everything a good shinobi should be.

His moral code far more in line with a mercenary’s than a civilians, but it’s not the moral code that’s the issue.

Even without being present, Natsu’s impact is still felt.

No, it’s not his morals that are the problem.

It’s his honor.

It’s an uncomfortable thing to recognize, as Jiraiya fields Naruto’s questions as best he can. Natsu is everything a shinobi should be. Everything so many aspire to be, powerful and determined and unshakable, flexible and able to improvise at a moment’s notice, a whole boatload of tricks and a veritable powerhouse.

He has a code of honor more in line with the Samurai of Iron than with any shinobi Jiraiya’s ever heard of.

Shinobi and samurai have never really gotten along, always finding themselves just slightly left of being able to understand and respect one another. Finally having the chance to see Naruto completely separate of his team, Jiraiya’s finally come to understand why.

It’s easy to see, now, how all of Natsu’s shinobi-like traits make him easy to like and respect.

Which means, that when he brings out his own honor, he feels enough like them that his words immediately have a weight that civilians don’t.

There have been civilians in the past that called jinchurikki wrong, before. But their words are meaningless, weightless, because everyone knows that civilians are just. Not like them. They can’t understand, because they’re civilian, they’re too different to understand.

Natsu doesn’t feel too different.

Natsu feels like one of them. Fits in so easily, talks about missions and pay as easily as anyone, shakes off blood and death like any shinobi who maybe doesn’t see a lot of it, but certainly isn’t a stranger.

His words carry weight because he doesn’t feel like an outsider. He doesn’t act like a samurai, really, but it’s the closest Jiraiya can compare it to. There’s just. Something more principled about his morals, not civilian, but not shinobi.

Natsu’s a mercenary with something a lot closer to a samurai’s honor than a shinobi’s, and up close, one on one, with Naruto like this, it’s suddenly so obvious how dangerous it is to let someone like that run around.

And Jiraiya’s almost certain that no one else has noticed, yet. With his savage grins and bloodlust, his love of fighting and his thrill in battle, his innate chaos and his troublemaker attitude, it’s so easy to overlook.

Probably because the kid isn’t actually a manipulator by nature. Wears his heart on his sleeve, an open book.

Shinobi love their open books.

Everyone’s taken one look at the kid and known he’s harmless, because they could tell he meant them no harm.

Jiraiya is being viscerally reminded that those two things are not mutually exclusive.

Danzo would take one look at Natsu, and lock him up in a heartbeat. No hesitation. That old bastard’s paranoia would allow him to see in an instant what has taken Jiraiya far too long to figure out.

And that’s if the old warhawk decided it wasn’t worth the risk of ostracizing Team 7. Their minds literally connected as they are, Sakura-chan… well. Even if he’d disagree with it, Jiraiya would at least understand why if Danzo decided to just execute them.

As he goes back over all of their interactions while running around Hi no Kuni, Jiraiya… flounders.

Sasuke, he knows, is already a lost cause. Ever since the death of his clan, the kid has had so little to tie him to Konoha. His files are bold-red for how many flight-risk warnings cover it front to back. There are notes, he knows, that Sasuke has shown signs of improvement and bonding with his team, that perhaps pending evaluation such a label could be removed.

If Natsu chose to leave Konoha, Jiraiya knows to his core that Sasuke would not hesitate to follow.

Naruto… Jiraiya looks to his traveling companion, as they run through the night in hopes of catching Tsunade before she can leave her latest hideaway.

Naruto would hesitate, he concludes. He wouldn’t say no, but he would hesitate.

Undoubtedly, it’s too late to do anything for Sasuke. In all honesty, it was probably too late the day the massacre happened, even if no one wanted to admit it.

Natsu is an adult in a kid’s body, and the way both his teammates gravitate to and lean on him, it shows. Naruto goes to him for help, advice, comfort, and Sasuke listens to him even if the Uchiha is too proud to admit it.

Natsu isn’t mature, by any definition of the word, but there’s a weight of confidence, that only tends to come to people slowly, over time, as they find their place in the world, find their lines and limits.

How foolishly dangerous, letting such a person continue to live with Team 7. The young, soft face, still bearing traces of baby fat makes it so easy to forget, even among shinobi. It’s easy to see how everyone missed it, too. His personality, side-by-side with Naruto, they fit together. Both loud and boisterous, high-energy and prone to bold statements.

It’s so easy to miss.

Naruto’s bold statements and declarations come from a need to prove himself, a need and a desire to earn the village’s respect and rise above their expectations of him.

Natsu’s bold statements are just his honest feelings.

They look the same. On so many levels, they look the same. But unlike Naruto, Natsu has nothing to prove. Even when he acts like he does, complaining about jobs and his own performance, it’s not because he feels like he has to prove himself to them.

He’s just annoyed that he’s doing more poorly than he knows he’s capable of.

Yamanaka will probably brain himself if Jiraiya explains it. Natsu’s absence has made his impact obvious to Jiraiya, and they all missed it before.

They’re shinobi.

They should have been better.

But they weren’t. And now, Jiraiya has to decide.

If- if they let this continue.

The Uchiha is lost no matter what, he has too little tying him to the village, if Natsu goes so will he, but Naruto.

There’s a chance, still, to fix that. If he interferes, if they’re careful about it, there’s still a chance, now, that they might be able to keep Naruto from following if and when Natsu decides to leave.

If Jiraiya doesn’t say anything, though. If things go back to the way they were, Team 7 rejoins, working cleanup and running missions as before.

They’re going to lose Naruto too.

Maybe not immediately. Natsu’s proven himself willing enough to cooperate with Konoha, for as long as it takes to figure out why he’s stuck in Sakura-chan’s body. So maybe they won’t lose Naruto in body, not immediately. Sasuke’s still around, after all.

No. The problem isn’t ‘while Natsu is cooperating’. The problem is after.

Jiraiya doesn’t curse, doesn’t yank his fingers through his hair the way he wants to. Naruto would get curious, after all, and he’s trying very hard to set a pace fast enough to keep the kid more focused on running than asking questions.

No need to tempt fate.

Jiraiya’s skills as a spy master keep asking how they let Natsu get so much access but that’s the problem. He knows how.

The how is because he’s been honestly cooperative. The Yamanaka has walked his mind, and he offered little to no protest. He’s answered any question they’ve thrown at him honestly, and never once tried to hide anything more audacious than a prank. He’s cooperated with the restrictions they’ve put on him to the best of his ability, and even when he started chafing at them and acting out he still kept cooperating with them, even when he blatantly confessed to disliking their decisions. He’s someone who so obviously did not want to be here, and he has cooperated every step of the way, even when it was blatantly obvious that he didn’t want to.

And because of that, sensei decided not to treat him like a prisoner. Maybe partially out of guilt, as well, over Naruto’s situation, not wanting to put Team 7 on functional probation until the problem was resolved, but.

In the end, that’s what it came down to. Natsu was just so honestly cooperative, even when what he was being asked to do went against his own nature and preferences, that sensei decided to respect him, offering him the mercy of being treated like a friend, instead of a prisoner.

And now here they are.

Here Jiraiya is. Stuck with the mess that none of them considered, because the kid was so gods-damned earnest and so blatantly mercenary that they all managed to overlook the danger until it was staring Jiraiya in the face with wide blue eyes and asking him why the villages even bother making jinchurikki if they hate them so much.

Jiraiya’s… given up a lot, for his village. More than he ever thought he would, as a child. But, then again, as children, everyone thinks the most important thing there is to give is their life.

The lucky ones, Jiraiya muses, probably do give their lives.

The really lucky ones don’t lose anything at all.

But the rest of them.

He chuffs. Sorry bastards one and all.

He can’t help but remember, though, that late-night conversation. Naive, Jiraiya thought. Foolish.

But… not without truth.

The founding of the villages, the end of the warring clans era, it gave shinobi a stability that they hadn’t had, before. An ability to find peace and safety that had been wholly lacking in the past.

And yet, it’s also true that, on some level, that stability was bought at the price of freedom.

Someone of Jiraiya’s skill, in that old era, where shinobi were far closer to mercenaries than an actual culture, would have his pick of jobs. Jiraiya could have lived entirely independent of any clan, his contacts and his power making him practically untouchable as people came to him for information, paid him by the job instead of-



Individual freedom, and when that conversation haunts him in the witching hours, and he plays with how he’d do it, it’s easy to see. Easy to know, from historical precedent and his own skills, how he’d carve out a little niche for himself and his family, and live a nice stable life as an information broker on his terms and his timelines.

Stability, for shinobi.

Peace, for civilians, and order.

Paid for by freedom.

If Jiraiya tried to leave, they would hunt him to death. Konoha can’t afford not to. Orochimaru, and Tsunade - because they already left, and with little consequence, if Jiraiya did too, it would. It would lose Konoha too much face. They can’t afford to let him go. Because sensei was too soft with Orochimaru, because everyone respected Tsunade’s decision, if Jiraiya left too, they’d be forced to see him dead. Otherwise, what sort of impression does it leave? That Konoha can’t even keep their most powerful, that their most powerful can just leave whenever they want without consequences-

Until Natsu, Jiraiya had done a great job of never thinking about it. That because sensei didn’t truly fight to keep either of his teammates, now Jiraiya can’t leave, even if he wants to, because the village would have to kill him, or risk even more defection.

Jiraiya knows that if he left, the only thing that would really keep Kakashi is Team 7.

Team 7, with Natsu.

Kakashi’s team-before-the-mission mindset is an oddity, a silly little quirk, because people equate team to village.

But he’s already lost so many of his loved ones, has danced the knife’s edge of his own death so frequently, that he was forcibly retired from ANBU.

Jiraiya’s pretty sure no one else has been forcibly retired from ANBU in the entire history of the village.

And Kakashi is well-loved, whether he admits it or not. If both Jiraiya and Kakashi left… would it schism the village?

Jiraiya can’t say for sure.

But… the more Natsu interacts with the village, outside of Team 7… well. A schism doesn’t get less likely, at that point.

Sensei had the right idea, keeping Team 7 separate from everyone else, if nothing else.

Natsu’s charisma isn’t obvious at first glance, but.

That just makes it more dangerous, not less.

The fact that Jiraiya’s thoughts sometimes linger on that hypothetical world, that could-never-be possibility, of being independent, the more he’s forced to acknowledge it.

On every single possible level, allowing Natsu to continue interacting with the village in any capacity is dangerous, a mistake.

And yet-

“He gonna be alright?”

A migraine pounds behind his eyes, and kami-sama but Inoichi is exhausted. He glances down, catches bright green eyes glinting with worry.

Kakashi doesn’t stir, even as Natsu rests his weight more firmly against the man.

Inoichi sighs, ruffling the kid’s hair as he pushes back the exhaustion. “So little is known, about the sharingan. The Uchiha clan kept their secrets close, and the truth is I just don’t know enough about their clan genjutsu to know how to unravel the echoes of it in his system. If it were Sasuke or Sakura-chan’s parents who’d been trapped like this, I’d mindwalk with you and ask you to burn out the remnants of Itachi’s chakra, but… you’ve never mindwalked with Kakashi before. In the state he’s in, since he’s not used to seeing you as your mental avatar, he could panic and lash out, and… it would cause more harm than good.”

Natsu chews his lip, fingers curling around Hatake’s wrist. “So… there’s nothing we can do?”

Inoichi glances to the door, chakra sharpening for a moment. “There are some medical techniques that can filter and forcibly purge foreign chakra from a shinobi’s coils. It requires hellish chakra control, especially when dealing with chakra that moves through the mind, it… I don’t know that Tsunade-sama ever managed to successfully teach anyone the technique. This kind of chakra invasion is so rare, only Uchiha genjutsu have ever been proven capable of this, and one or two chakra-laced poisons from Kiri. Kakashi’s chakra is uniquely thick, so it might be possible for one of the older medics who at least worked under Tsunade-hime in the past to help him without making things worse, but… if you wanted a guarantee, you’d have to wait for your teammate to come back. And hope he’s successful.”

It’s clearly not what Natsu wants to hear, but he nods firmly regardless. “Naruto’s not gonna fail anyway, so I guess we can wait. Shikamaru okay? He looked kinda…” Natsu winces, laughing, and Inoichi shakes his head in exasperation.

“Last I saw, he’d bullied his way into Sasuke’s room and demanded he play shogi with him to make up for the broken bones. Planning to speak to them anytime soon?”

Natsu laughs, shifting slightly to lounge against Hatake’s bed. “Nah, Sasuke’s gonna be tetchy for a while, he knows I’m right, he just doesn’t like it. Betcha Shikamaru’s telling him all the same sh*t I did though, so maybe once he realizes we all agree, he’ll accept it and stop trying to punch everyone in the face. Thanks for coming to check up on us. You look like you’d be better served sleeping instead, though. Maybe you should go check up on your pillows, old man.”

Inoichi snorts lightly. How he wishes.

“Unfortunately, my job is never-ending these days. Try not to have any more catastrophes until it calms down, ne?”

“No promises!”

Inoichi laughs again, offering a wave as he leaves the hospital room.

Outside the door, Shikaku leans heavily on his crutches, staring at Inoichi with one exhausted eye. “...troublesome.”

Well, that’s fair. It is at least partially his fault that the Nara had so much of their forest burn down.

“You have a better idea?” he still retorts, tired smile playing across his face. Shikaku rolls his eyes.

“I should know better than to let you be the plan guy. But fine. Good luck with that. Try not to burn anything else down while you’re at it…”

That’s up to Danzo, Inoichi very carefully doesn’t say as his friend and teammate limps away.

He checks the time, yawns, and heads for the nearest caffeine station. If he’s quick about it, he can swing by the shop and spend some time with Ino before he has to get back to work.

He wants a nap.

Viscerally, he misses when Ino was young, small enough that he could scoop her up and just pass out on the couch with her for an hour between tasks. Ah well.

Sleep is a small sacrifice to make, in exchange for his daughter’s smile.

Jiraiya’s always kept tabs on his teammates. Nominally, of course, it was his job to watch Orochimaru for threats, to stay aware of Tsunade in case of an emergency recall order.

Secretly, he knows, he sometimes kept tabs on them just to see when they might be in the same general area. So that he could go there too, and feel both their chakras brushing against the edges of his own, and imagine for one long moment that they were still a team. He’s never approached Tsunade, not close enough for conversation, or even casual hailing. Just barely enough to feel her, and no closer.

Twice, he tried to speak to Orochimaru.

Never again, not after the last time. That-

They were a team, once. As close-knit as the Team 7 of today. Closer, maybe, without the weight of Natsu’s otherness to hold them apart however slightly.

They know each other’s weaknesses to an unspeakable degree. Know exactly how to point the words, carving out each other’s hearts with ragged blades.

Jiraiya’s never been able to say any of those things to Orochimaru.

Those weaknesses he knows his brother still has, knows that no matter how immortal he’s become those words would still carve him up inside.

Jiraiya never had the heart to speak those sorts of things.

Orochimaru… proved that feeling wasn’t mutual.

Even remembering that conversation brings tears to his eyes, despite all his training, and Jiraiya shoves away Naruto’s questioning look.

“Not now kid.”


Jiraiya’s never approached Tsunade. Not once. She knew how to contact him, if she wanted to. But, he’s respected her decision. He’s never approached.

Never dared test to see if she’d carve those knife-sharp words into his heart as well.

He’s not-

On his worst days, he wonders. Wonders if he’s the only one who ever considered them like a family. If he’s the only one who looked at those weak points in his teammates hearts and declared them off limits no matter what.

And meant it.

No matter what means no matter what. Even if what is treason, that’s-

Orochimaru, clearly, didn’t agree. But… if it’s just Orochimaru, then… it’s not okay. But it’s not the same as if it was both Orochimaru and Tsunade. He may not have been enough for either of them to stay, and maybe his own departure, however brief, in Ame is what made them feel like he wouldn’t mind if they left too. Maybe that part is all his own fault, for being the first to do it, nevermind the fact that he came back.

But even if they didn’t stay, even if neither came back, as long as Tsunade, at least, agreed with him. That there were lines, that, when they said no matter what, they both meant it-

At least that would mean that he wasn’t wrong, what they’d had wasn’t a lie.

Jiraiya’s always been the people-person on their team. Orochi creeped most people out, even when he tried not to, and-

And it took so much, in those early days, from both him and Tsunade, trying to convince their friend that he didn’t have to keep trying, that if other people found him creepy that was their fault, and their loss. And Jiraiya never regretted it, never regretted volunteering to do all the talking for Tsunade too when he realized how much she hated it as a kid, always stuck feeling like everyone was comparing her to her grandparents and finding her lacking-

Jiraiya was the people-person. He didn’t mind, really, he’s always been an outgoing sort, always did the talking so his teammates didn’t have to.

So maybe that’s why it feels like it’s his fault that it all fell apart. He’s the communicator, and clearly they failed communication somewhere, so…

Jiraiya needs to know he didn’t misread everything.

Tsunade will be angry, he’s sure. She can’t appreciate him seeking her out after all this time, he knows she’ll be furious, but as long as she-

Well. Honestly, his real fear should be that she’ll just steamroll straight over them without even stopping to hear what they have to say.

Maybe he should scoop up Naruto and shove the kid in her face, might make her pause in surprise if nothing else.

It’s not the anger he’s scared of, he’s never feared either of his teammates’ anger before. But-

Orochimaru already proved that never apparently has a time limit.

So Jiraiya approaches the inn, braced for anger and fury, feels Tsunade’s chakra marching towards the door and thinks, yeah, sounds about right-

They both freeze.

Jiraiya’s heart near rips out of his chest, and she hasn’t even opened her mouth.

Tsunade looks at him, recognition lighting her face, chased by terror.

He catches it as it flickers past, fear, panic, even as her mask crashes down, shoulders slumping, not in relief, no matter how desperately he tries to read into it, but in resignation.

The glare she manages to pull up in the wake of that is a hollow thing.

It can’t fool him, no matter how desperately he tries to make himself believe it.

Jiraiya had- a whole speech planned, if she actually let him get one out. And here she is, letting him, but-

He expected anger. Bitterness. Blame, maybe.

Not fear.

Not surrender, no matter how well she covers it up in the moments after.

She’ll come back to Konoha with them.

Suddenly, Jiraiya doesn’t really want her to. Not-

Not like this.

Not because she feels like she has no choice.


No. No, he thought he’d have to convince her to come, but even if she’d go through the motions of refusing, Jiraiya knows if he demands it, she’ll cave. Eyes like that…


He doesn’t- he doesn’t know what to say. How to say it. He can’t make her want to come back if she doesn’t want to, but-

The weight of resignation across her shoulders, that-

She shouldn’t come back like that.

Jiraiya scrambles, looking for words, every single thing he planned to say utterly useless, now that the fight isn’t where he thought-

“So, you that Tsunade lady?”

Naruto’s very reasonable question lands uncomfortably in the air between them, four sets of eyes coming to land sharply on him. Sheesh, what did ero-sennin do to this lady, she’s so pissed!

Though, even if he won’t admit it, Naruto’s pretty sure the pig’s glare is scarier. How does it feel like that thing is staring into his soul, animals are usually afraid of him! He fights back a shudder, crossing his arms and glaring up at the blond lady totally not ignoring the creepy pig, nope, not him-!

She glares back, and Naruto would definitely win a staring contest, he’ll show her, dattebayo-!

“Um, shishou, we’re… blocking the door.” The girl holding the totally-normal-totally pig says, smiling in a way that would be nice, maybe, if the pig weren’t clearly trying to figure out how to eat him-

The lady takes a sharp breath, stomping back inside. “Fine. No point leaving now, anyway. Oi, barkeep, two jugs to room 3!” she keeps stomping away, past the dining hall to the door, and that’s-

That’s rude, isn’t it?

Naruto looks at Jiraiya, but the man doesn’t say anything, just sheepishly greets the pig-lady.

“Shizune, it’s good to see you again. I see Tonton is as fiery as ever!”

They walk in, themselves, following the blond lady’s wake as Shizune answers. “Oh I’m sure she’s missed you, perhaps the two of you should spend some time together! Shishou’s certainly not going to!”

Oh wow, Naruto bites back a giggle, her words sound so nice but her eyes are practically sending sparks at Jiraiya.

He totally tried to peep on them, didn’t he. Naruto nods to himself. Ero-sennin’s hobbies really do come back to bite him, just like Sakura-chan said they would!

Of course it happens when Naruto’s stuck here alone, that means he has to do all the work, and he doesn’t even get his team to help! No fair!

He glares at Jiraiya’s back as they go up the stairs to the room, and the man’s shoulders twitch.


And then they’re there, door sliding shut behind them as Jiraiya scribbles with his seals that he’s going to teach them if Team 7 has to pin him down and make him, and-

The blond lady sets down her jug, a solid thunk as it hits the tatami, eyes fierce enough that her gaze feels like a kunai to the throat.

Naruto sits down hastily, gulping down the words he’d meant to say-

“Out with it. What sort of bad news are you here to dump on me this time. Don’t bother getting comfortable, you’re leaving right after.” Jiraiya freezes, half-moved to sit down, before he slowly settles the rest of the way. Somehow, the lady’s glare gets even sharper.

“Hime, I-” Jiraiya flinches, cutting off and glancing away, but she hasn’t even done anything, just stared at him-

Naruto glances between them, thinks about what little he knows about Jiraiya’s team, and-


He’s really going to have to do all the talking.

He believed Kakashi-sensei and Jiraiya when they said he’d be able to help, but he didn’t expect ero-sennin to chicken out-!

He doesn’t even know where to start.

Naruto tries, for a moment, imagines saying ‘we need you to become Hokage cause otherwise my team’s in trouble,’ but-

That’s not fair to her, is it? He’s- Naruto’s aware that he’s being selfish here. Asking her to do something that she maybe doesn’t want to do, at least not all the way. If Jiraiya knows her at all, if anything he said was right, if anything Naruto understood is right… she wants to go home. She’s scared to, because it hurts, it hurt her in the past and she’s afraid that it’ll hurt her again, but there has to be things she misses!

Even if there is, though, she wouldn’t need to be Hokage to get those things back. Helping her face her fears and come home, that’s a good thing to do, the right thing to do, but asking her to become Hokage is selfish. Naruto’s aware of that much.


The words choke up in his throat.

He can’t start like that. That isn’t fair to her.

But as the tension climbs in the room, her eyes narrow, the air growing colder, and Jiraiya just stares, jaw working over words he clearly doesn’t know how to say-

Naruto has to say something.

“Jiji died.”

He flinches, biting his own tongue in surprise. That wasn’t-

Jiji… for the longest time, for those early years, the orphanage and then that empty, empty apartment, before Teuchi and Ayame, before his team-

Back then, Jiji was all he had. And he was-

He was warm, when he’d come over, he’d let Naruto hug him, and sit in his lap and practice his reading with him, and maybe he didn’t come over a lot, maybe not as much as Naruto wanted, but he did.

He wasn’t there enough to be a dad, but sometimes, on the really bad days, like the time he got in a fight with one of the other kids at the orphanage and got himself kicked out and Jiji helped him find an apartment so he still had a place to live, and then just sat there, once they were in, and let Naruto cry it out-

Sometimes, on those worst days, Naruto clenched his eyes shut and pretended.

And now-

Everything’s so… tangled up, and confusing, because-

Jiji did a lot of things Naruto doesn’t agree with, can’t agree with, even though he understands, and it hurts, because things weren’t complicated before and now they are, but it isn’t fair-!

He didn’t even have a chance to actually sit down and talk with Jiji, he and Kakashi-sensei spent so long working on that, he put hours and hours into it, and-

First, Team 7 got sent out of the village before he could talk with Jiji about it, and then they made it back, but now Jiji’s dead and he’ll never be able to-

It’s not fair-

He sniffles, scrubbing at his eyes, he can’t cry here he’ll never convince her of anything if he’s crying, he just needs to go back-! Focus on finding a replacement Hokage, not on why they need one-

Why did he even say that, he was doing so well ignoring it-!

The words make it feel so real-

It is real.

It’s real, and it’s not fair, and he didn’t even have a chance to show Jiji his totally awesome Training Hokage Proposal Decisions (cooler name pending!)-!

He sniffles again, drags his gaze over to stare up at Tsunade, as though the sight of her glare could maybe chase away the feelings that have decided to finally crash through everything-

“Th’re was… n’attack on th’ village cause that snake guy’s a jerk and he killed Jiji and everything’s a huge mess n’ ero-sennin n’ Kakashi-sensei agreed we needed you and you’re like my aunt or s’mthin so-”

Naruto scrambles, scrubbing at his eyes again. He- he’s trying to think things through better, trying to remember Kakashi-sensei’s lessons on the stuff Hokages do outside of being the strongest, but he just-

His Jiji is dead, and someone else has to be Hokage, but the only person everyone agrees on isn’t someone who’s going to like Natsu, and they’d probably lock him up, and Naruto doesn’t want to lose even more of his precious people and so he needs her to help but that’s not fair to her and- and he-

He can’t keep crying like this, no one will take him seriously-!

He scrubs the sleeve of his jacket harshly across his eyes, jerking his head up to glare so they don’t go betraying him again!

“S-so you gotta come back and be Hokage until I’m old enough to take the hat myself, and then you can do whatever you want forever!” he declares boldly, reaching for that confidence that’s been his shield for so long, don’t let me down now, ‘ttebayo!


She turns to stare at Jiraiya with eyes that even Naruto can tell are saying is this kid for real? And-

Rude! She can’t just dismiss him like that! Even if he’s still trying not to cry, that’s totally unfair!

Jiraiya sighs, scratching at his head in an exaggeration of sheepishness. “He’s skipping a lot, but I suppose that’s the gist of it. It… for a lot of reasons, there aren’t really any good Hokage candidates at the moment, since sensei never named a proper successor, and. Well. I guess… I’d hoped that maybe you… well. I suppose I’d hoped that maybe you’d at least come back for the funeral, even if you refused the post.”


It’s like being stabbed, almost.

Naruto’s never been to a funeral, before. No one’s ever wanted him at one. Even the yearly memorials on his birthday.

Especially the yearly memorials on his birthday.

And now his first one is going to be-

Naruto drags his thoughts away from there with a jerk, shoving himself into the conversation to keep them away. “Y-yeah, and I don’t know a lot of that old-timey stuff, ero-sennin’s useless at explaining things, but-! Even if things hurt a lot before, you shouldn’t feel like you can never come home again! It sounds like loads of people miss you, and think you’re super awesome and a kickass shinobi, even if you wanted to retire, and they’d probably be really happy to see you again too!”

“Do I look old enough to retire to you, brat?!” she snaps, swatting at him even though he’s too far awa-

The wind knocks him over.

Naruto goggles, rolling over to gape at her.

That’s so cool-!

“How do you do that, is it some kind of wind jutsu, or do you just make your chakra feel like wind when you hit people with it, does it use a lot, can I learn it, could you teach me, you didn’t even use any handsigns-!”

She grabs his face and plops him onto the mats, looking up at Jiraiya, and Naruto scowls beneath her hand but also holy sh*t she’s so strong that’s so cool-!

“Really Jiraiya? Hokage?”

Something furious creeps through her voice, something hurt, and there must be killing intent too because for a long, visceral second Naruto sees her fingers press against his head, popping it like a balloon before he shakes it off-

She lets go immediately, but doesn’t take her eyes off Jiraiya.

He sags, a split second drop of his shoulders before he straightens and laughs. “What can I say, you’re just the best, brightest, most beautiful-!”

She moves, snapping forward to pick Jiraiya up with a single hand, and launches him through the window.


The biggest guy Naruto’s ever seen.

He can’t help it. “Kami-sama Natsu would love you.”

Her eyes snap to him, fierce and wild. “You wanna get thrown too? Scram. I’m too tired for your sh*t tonight.”

“So we should come back tomorrow?”

Jiraiya lets out an oomph as Naruto crashes into him.

“Get a good night’s sleep? Kakashi-sensei says sleep is really important for Hokages, and that half of Jiji’s problem was that he didn’t get enough because he’s so old-”

“Do I look drunk enough to deal with you? Go away.”

“Oh wow, you left early this morning! We had to run to catch up! You’re some sort of kickass healer lady, right? Do you got patients or something you gotta take care of-?”

You’re going to be my patient if you keep yammering at this hour of the morning, do I look like I want to be awake right now?”

“So anyway then Kakashi-sensei was explainin’ about all the things the Hokages do, and it’s no wonder Jiji i-wa-sss so tired all the time, cause wow I thought it was all bein’ a kick-ass shinobi but there is so much work I bet I could run from here to Iwa and be less tired-”

“I’m going to punt you from here to Iwa brat, can’t you see I’m busy?”

“-n’ I’ve never been allowed to go to a funeral b’fore s-so it’s a little scary I guess, aren’t there fancy clothes, what if everyone thinks I hated Jiji because I don’t have the right fancy clothes it’s not f-fair-

“Kid- please. Not- no.”

“N’ Jiraiya had a lot to say about that Warhawk guy, he sounds like a real hardass, I guess he’s probably a great war guy, which is why he’s called a warhawk, haha, get it? But it sounds like maybe he’s not like, good at not being a war guy, which is why Jiji didn’t like him, cause a Hokage’s got to be both, except Jiji did like him? And I’m all confused, an-”

“Do you ever stop talking?”

Tsunade stops, arms crossed as she stares at him.

Naruto stops talking.

He’s not getting thrown through any windows or trees or ponds this time, nope!

She keeps staring.

He bites his lips.




“‘M not. Stupid. Even if I’m stubborn.” Naruto starts, glancing around but no, Jiraiya’s not here, still at the bar probably, he was when Naruto snuck out to wait for Tsunade.

He figured she’d try to leave in the middle of the night again. “There’s- there’s something that hurts, right? Not about Konoha, but about bein’ Hokage. It’s- You won’t say why, an’ maybe it’s none of my business, but- I know it’s- I know it’s selfish. To keep asking. But the thing is you don’t say no. You throw me around, and you say not now, but- you haven’t said no. S-so- It’s- Natsu’ll be in trouble, if that warhawk guy is Hokage, because Natsu’s. Not dangerous, he doesn’t wanna hurt Konoha, but. He’s risky. An’ Jiraiya and Kakashi-sensei, they say the Warhawk guy doesn’t like risky people, and that he’d rather lock Natsu up instead o’ takin risks. So I can’t give up! I’ll keep asking! B-but- if you really- if you really really don’t want to- if you say no instead of go away, then- I know I’m bein’ selfish. I gotta be, for my team. But respecting people is- it’s important. To respect what people want too. So if you say no, instead of leave- I’ll accept it. I- don’t tell Jiraiya- but- we can probably sneak Natsu out of Konoha, if- if we gotta. I’ll find a way. He doesn’t- if that guy tried to lock him up, it’d just end badly, so. Sasuke’n’I, we’ll figure something out. If you say no. B-but otherwise- I’m going to keep asking! No matter what! All the way until the funeral, and then more besides! So don’t get cozy, cause you ain’t seen the last of Uzumaki Naruto!”

“Shishou…” Shizune and Tonton both look up at Tsunade, and wow Naruto didn’t know that even pigs could pull off puppy-dog eyes-!

Tsunade turns away from them with a huff, arms crossed as she faces him. “Yeah? You’re that serious, kid?”

Naruto nods, head bobbing-

“Great. Keep up then.”

He yelps as she leaps, stumbling against the wind as she throws herself forward at a speed he can just barely see-

He scrambles after her, well aware that she’s leading him on purpose-

He trips and sprawls at her feet as she stops suddenly. “Yeah, this’ll do.”

The words are casual, but the grin she sends down to him is savage.

“Recognize this? You should. That road there, leads to Konoha. This one, away from Konoha, cuts through Tanzaku-gai. I’m walking this way. You say you’re determined? Prove it. If you can make me move even a single step towards Konoha before I reach that city, then sure. I’ll go back with you. If you can’t- well. Then I’m going to Tanzaku-gai, getting sh*t-faced drunk, and you sorry asses will have to crawl back to your precious village alone if you want to make it in time for the funeral at all. Got it?”

She turns and walks away without an answer, not the ground-eating lope she started with or the flying sprint she made Naruto chase her with, it’s-

Naruto’s not a math guy, but at that sort of pace, it’d take her all night to reach Tanzaku-gai.

…he has all night to make her move.

He can do this! Totally! He’s not losing to some granny, no matter how strong she is, dattebayo!

He pushes with all his might, digging his feet in, chakra clinging to the earth as he stomps forward, determined to drive her back-

A trench carves itself into the road, two lines one Naruto-legspan apart, her pace not faltering for an instant.

When he pulls his chakra in, he’s launched backwards with a yelp.

Holy sh*t.

A dozen clones nod in unison and leap forward with a war cry, grabbing her arms, her legs, digging their heels in and pulling.

If she notices their efforts at all, she sure as hell doesn’t show it.

…Shizune looks serene, but Tonton is definitely laughing at him.

They dive in, going for her knees, if they can break her stance they can pick her up and run, she isn’t fighting them just walking-!

They divebomb her from above, a hundred clones deep, surely sheer weight will stop her in her tracks-!

In the distance, a small bandit group makes a hasty change of plans at the sight of a roiling mass of orange sliding down the road like a living ball of yarn-

A dozen clones huff, carrying a massive tree trunk between them, too big to step over. Surely she’ll have to jump, and while she’s airborne the force of their brothers will tackle her at once, and drive her back without fail-!

A dozen clones stare in horror at the single, perfect foot print embedded in the great tree.

They gape at one another, she just- without even- how-

The trap is perfect, hundreds of clones have come together, truly their greatest achievement-! An entire ten-foot stretch of road has been dug up, they don’t have Sakura-chan or Sasuke to make a genjutsu, and there’s nothing to really cover it up with, but they did a really good job, Naruto looks on with approval, they can’t cover the entire hole but they did so well it looks like the hole doesn’t start as soon as it does, it’s perfect-! Cause she’ll see the hole and think haha they’re trying to off-balance me again, and she won’t realize that the hole actually starts just a little bit sooner than that, so she’ll step there thinking it’s fine, and then splat-!

Naruto rubs his hands, not quite cackling in glee-

She steps-!

The dirt crumbles, surprise in her eyes, one arm swinging for balance-!

The Narutos surge forward with a cry.

The very tip of her toe catches in the dirt.

She digs in, and walks forward.

An elaborate system of trip wires, rope traps, Naruto’s very best pranking supplies.

The ropes snap, the wires hold on a bit longer and so instead the trees snap, poor Mr. Slips’ head gets crushed in without mercy, Naruto even sacrificed his original it wasn’t even a cloned Mr. Slips-!

Naruto’s chakra coils have never burned like this before. For a long, long moment he wonders if maybe he’s drawn on the Kyuubi’s chakra by accident but-

This is-

This is what chakra exhaustion feels like, isn’t it?


He knows that there’s all sorts of strength, like how Sasuke’s always always been faster than him but how Naruto can last for longer.

He never imagined that strength could look like this.

His arms shake, fingers trembling as he brings them together for one last kage bunshin-

He can see the lights off Tanzaku-gai, he has to get this right.

It’s- it’s a long shot.

It probably won’t even work. But he has to try.

The clones are as tired as he is, some of them dispelling the moment they appear, too weak to sustain themselves. The rest nod, determination shining through exhausted blue eyes.

They grab the balloons Naruto hastily bought from an early-morning shopkeep in the city, and go to fill them with water.

Maybe- maybe she’ll be like other girls, where when they get hit with water, step back in surprise. Maybe- maybemaybemaybe-

He blinks spots out of his eyes, shakes off the exhaustion, ignores his body’s screaming. His body can wait. She’s given him a challenge and he will not fail. Because Uzumaki Naruto doesn’t give up!


She almost gives it to him, with that pit trap. If he’d dug his hole even an inch deeper, Tsunade knows, he’d have won fairly, so for a moment, she actually considers it.


f*ck, she doesn’t-


That was Dan’s dream. Nawaki’s dream. Orochimaru’s dream. It’s never been hers. The Shodaime’s granddaughter, and somehow she found herself surrounded by people who wanted that title, but. She was just happy to live with them. Watch them and support them, but she’s never really wanted it for herself.

Now, that hat is just a kunai through her heart. Sometimes, she knows, people cope with the deaths of their loved ones by working to fulfill those dreams in their stead. But. Tsunade’s never-

Dan and Nawaki, they’d have supported her, might actually be cheering the little brat on from the Pure Lands for all she knows, but- the mere thought of it burns.

She still has-

That clumsy picture Nawaki gave her when he was just a brat himself, of his face on the Hokage monument-

The mere thought of it being her face instead-

Tsunade digs that singular toe into the dirt, digs into her heart to find that resolve that helped her walk away from Konoha even though it’s the last thing her loved ones would have ever wanted from her-

And she moves forward.

Shizune’s disappointed stare is an ache in her spine.

She moves forward.

The kid will win fairly, or not at all.

Shizune’s stare burns more and more severely with every trap.

Damn but what are they feeding those kids in the village these days?!

Tsunade’s shins burn from the trip wire that somehow didn’t snap under her strength, instead forcing her to uproot the trees themselves and holy sh*t. No blood drawn, but there’s an angry red mark across the front of both her legs and Tsunade will figure out how he did that later. She knows there hasn’t been a new kind of wire released at all, and she felt the chakra in it, so he’s clearly picked up something-

sh*t he’s clever.

She won’t admit it now, since it might make him run back and collect his wires, but if that rope trap had been made with his weirdly unsnappable metal instead, that would have worked.

Shizune’s glare is so furious-

Tsunade fights off a flush, forcibly redirects her chakra to prevent it.

She has nothing to be ashamed of. She set the kid a fair challenge no she didn’t and she damn well knows it- and if he can’t win, then that’s it. She has nothing to be ashamed of.

She freezes, for a split second, at the kunai trap. It doesn’t detonate anywhere near her, but-

f*ck, that’s clever. It’s literal shinobi instinct to leap away when a kunai trap goes off, and even for her she nearly gave into it. If he’d been willing to launch it a little bit closer, she probably would have.

…as determined as he says he is, the kid isn’t actually willing to try to harm her at all, is he?

Shizune resorts to verbalizing, a soft growl that Tonton immediately mimics.



No, she-

She has good reasons not to want to-

They have a fair competition and if he can’t win that’s his own fault, this world is merciless if he’s still wasting time being kind because he doesn’t want to risk accidentally hurting her, then clearly he doesn’t care enough and she will not be made to feel guilty for this-!

Her shoulders crawl up towards her ears, defensiveness in her spine, before Tsunade forces herself to relax, to stride through the next trap with casual grace.

In the distance, she catches the first glimpse of the lights of Tanzaku-gai.

Shizune’s chakra is frigid with fury, but she can feel the brat’s clones creeping around, she’s not going to stop now.

Something flies at her face, and Tsunade can admit she’s disappointed. Finally desperate enough to resort to violence, she supposes, but with none of the brilliance he had before?

She raises a hand to swat it aside-

Startlement, as something warm and sticky explodes across her wrist.

Teriyaki sauce…?

The second balloon smacks her in the face as Tsunade stops in her tracks, water, she idly notes, staring at her arm as a bedraggled gang of Narutos surge forward with more balloons and the most exhausted war cry she’s ever heard.

She shakes off the surprise, gritting her teeth, and steps forward.

Behind her, Shizune’s chakra spikes, anger burning so clearly that-


She doesn’t want to hurt Shizune- no, it’s alright, she can just tell her later that if Shizune wants to go back for the funeral Tsunade will wait for her-

She strides forward, the last of the clones giving up, dispelling with an exhausted sigh.

Where did they get the teriyaki sauce…?

She casts out her senses, but doesn’t find the real one, either.

Waiting at th-


Tsunade spins as something hits the ground behind her, hands up in a guard, checking Shizune-

The kid.

T- the-


Shizune surges forward with a cry, nearly dropping Tonton in her haste, fingers desperately reaching for a pulse-

She can’t feel his chakra.

Tsunade’s heart skips a beat-


There’s no- that’s stupid-

He can’t help anyone if he kills himself from chakra exhaustion-

But does he even know the warning signs…? A part of her whispers, questions-

She knows he’s the jinchurikki, knows-

f*ck, has the kid ever once in his life felt chakra exhaustion before-?

Does he even know how to tell when he pushes too far-?

Studies flicker through her mind, treatments, options, it’s risky to directly share chakra with someone suffering from exhaustion, rejection is a common occurrence, but jinchurikki do have a wider tolerance than most, maybe she can-


“D-don’t try to speak, Naruto-kun-”

One dazed blue eye looks up at her from the ground, not quite focusing, but the kid still fights to meet her eyes.

“T’k… st’p… so I… won…”

Tsunade freezes, staring down at the kid as his eyes flutter closed in a faint, and-


She really did-

She turned around when he fell behind her and-

Did he push himself to the edge on purpose? Did he plan-?


Shizune glares up at her with tears in her eyes, chakra-covered hands hovering uncertainly over-

…Over Naruto’s back.

Shizune’s never worked with a jinchurikki before, she doesn’t know how-


Right, she-

Tsunade grits her teeth.

And steps forward.

A Girl's Mind is a Dangerous Place - Chapter 75 - clenastia (2024)


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