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TtH • Story • Pandemonium

Chapter Text

Warning!!! Character death!

Names, nicknames, family names, techniques, honorific, countries, towns, titles are written in Japanese.
It is a pet peeve of mine, if those are translated ... ever since I read pretty popular book where places and names were translated. It was like presing and pulling chalk over blackboard.


 

 

***California, Sunnydale - nightime***


Cold night air hit her face when she stepped into the school yard, walking the path, which lead her further in to the night. Casting her eyes upwards for a second, studying the stars, a blond teenage girl in a pretty snow-white dress smiled sadly before resuming her march toward…well, possible, almost certain, death. All she hoped, was that she’d take her would be killer with her.

Feeling a bit melancholic she resumed her musings that she had banished to a dark corner of her mind for nearly a year and a half.

No mater what people say, they always die alone. Now, being a teen, naturally she didn’t think about dying all that much. Of course, that line of thinking about death did pop up from time to time since after her fifteenth birthday, more accurately soon after, she received a death sentence. Naturally, when it first started, being the Slayer was a way to escape from home, from the fact that her parents were fighting over anything and everything.

But that did not last. Soon Merrick’s, and then Giles, her watcher’s words, trickled into her consciousness. One dies the other rises. For her to be called as a Chosen One, one girl in the world with the power and skill to fight vampires, and the occasional demon, another had to die. Her death would bring forth another girl somewhere in the world to take up the mantle.

Sometimes she forgot about it. Sometimes investigating murders in LA, Vegas and later Sunnydale, patrolling cemeteries and training and research and study sessions with Merrick; something Giles never did with her or even let her do, why she had no idea but she never brought up the issue after all both Giles and Willow were there so there was no need.

Understandingly, the thought of dying was suppressed as deep as possible, but sometimes, when she was alone and tired from the daily activities at school, her chores at home, studying, homework, and patrol, the thought popped up.

A prophecy in The Codex, foretelling that The Slayer would face the Master and die and The Anointed One would lead her to her unknowing doom.

Well that was wrong, she knew who the Annoying one was, a kid, and she knew very well what was foretold. So either way, the unmistakable Codex was wrong about that. Here was to hoping that it was wrong about more than that.

Her musings were cut short when she comes upon a small sniffling child, repressing an annoyed snort she thought back to the family picture she saw when she investigated a Prophecy about the rising of the Anointed One. The ruse that the ancient trapped vampire put forward worked for a while, but the fact that this kid, Collin, was the only one that was missing in the morgue…well it was a no brainier.

“Help me” he whimpered, raising his tear-streaked face.

Repressing the urge to just ram a stake trough Collins heart, turn around, and march back to the library, telling Giles to forget it…only the memory of the massacre in the AV room and the fact that somehow, tonight, The Master will be free, stops her.

“Its okay, I know who you are.” Collin holds out his hand, she takes it and he starts to lead her away to the Master.



***Cave below the town***


The raspy voice of an ancient vampire echoes through the dark cave around the frozen girl in white, paralysed by ancient vampire hypnotic powers.

“You tried. It was noble of you. You heard the prophecy that I was about to break free and you came to stop me. But prophecies are tricky creatures. They do not tell you everything.”

Even if he hadn’t held her with that pesky power of his, she’d freeze at that, figuring out what that means. Giles and Angel were wrong to assume that Prophecy is cut in stone, she wanted to kick herself, that in her fear and then panic, she forgot what Merrick told her, ‘Nothing is set in stone, Buffy, remember that, don’t follow the rules and you’ll do great. You will be great.’

Worst part was, those were his last words, right before he died sacrificing his life so that she could go away. And she forgot that! Her mind was whirling with information, an echo of a memory. In letting Angel and Giles insistence for what is written will happen, in forgetting Merrick’s last words when he told her to run, it had come to this!

“You are the one that sets me free.”

He was whispering, now of course the vampire would gloat. If she could move, or even blink, she’d roll her eyes at the evil overlord cliché line. She knew that when he finished his evil monologue he would walk away from this and she’d be dead.

“If you hadn’t come, I could not go. Think about that!”

What’s there to think about? Her only hope was that the next girl would kick his ass, but she’d need help. She wouldn’t be able to do it alone. Hopefully, the next one will be smarter than her and break the rules even more than she herself did.

She almost misses the bite at the base of her neck. She barely feels it. After half a minute or so, she is let go. She falls on to her knees, not from blood loss, he hadn’t taken that much, but her legs felt like they were not her own.

“Oh, God! The power!”

Oh god the irony. A vampire moaning about God. Now if only she could just stay like this until the paralysis let up, then maybe she’d survive this.

“And by the way,” she feels a light tap at the middle of her shoulder blades and pitches forward. “I like you dress.” Then she falls face down into the pool of water. He steps over the edge of his confines and pushes against the field again. Like before the barrier ripples in golden and red hues, resisting, but he forces his hand through and his confines break in a violent burst of light; energy rippling through the cave in waves, illuminating the otherwise dark cavern in shades of vibrant red.

In the tunnels two dark haired men stopped when the red light reaches them. Those two were no other than Angel, a vampire cursed with a soul, and Xander Harris, a friend that Buffy made her first day coming to Sunnydale. You know how story goes, boy meets hot girl, girl sees a goofy boy fall on his face, boy overhears something weird, then hot girl saves him from vampires dusting them. End of short story.

“What was that?” Xander asks his broody companion.

“It’s too late. He has gone up.”

They break into a run for the Master’s lair, Angel leading the way. He is the first in the cave and, as he looks around, a speck of white caches his attention. He scrambles down to the floor and rushes to the fallen girl just as Xander reaches the lair’s entrance. Xander stops and stares at Buffy, face down in the pool of water. Angel quickly pulls her out. He holds her, and tries to listen for breathing.

Nothing.

He looks up at Xander.

“She is dead.”

Xander looks down at them and swallows hard.



***Somewhere over the rainbow***



She didn’t know how long it had been, she remembered trying to hold her breath when she pitched forward, when that bastard pushed her forward, and she drowned and it hurt…and then warmth, she thought it would be cold but she felt warm, it felt like forever, yet no time, had passed at all before she was suddenly yanked into blinding light.

Only thing she could do was scream at the top of her lungs and flail her arms and legs while firmly clamping her aching eyes closed. She continued to scream until, suddenly, she felt her body wrapped into something soft and warm. Her now inhibited arms and legs felt weird, like they were much to short.

It didn’t take long to figure out that she was now a newborn. And since she could see colourful blurs, she figured that one was her mom and the other, bigger one, was her dad. After that she spent a lot of her time sleeping and eating and sleeping…and listening to the big blurs talk.

It was not English.

From what she could tell it sounded like Japanese. Looks like her little, very well hidden, obsession with subbed Anime enabled her to pick up some of the words.

When she entered the age of a toddler, her senses were better. She could explore her surroundings and, best of all, her parents took her with them into the market and their workplace where she nearly had a heart attack when she spotted Mitarashi Anko and Yuhi Kurenai eating dango.

When she first noticed that her mother had indigo, with a tint of mulberry, coloured hair, and her dad had white locks and amber eyes it made her wonder then, how did she look?

So one day she waddled up to a mirror and had taken a look…and well, it wasn’t too bad. She had her father’s eyes, and light lavender colored hair with a mulberry tint like her mother. So, all in all, not too bad.

“Ahh, Koyuki!” came the voice tearing Buffy from her musings just in time to gape at Uzuki Yugao who was waving at her mother.

“Yūgao! It’s been months since I saw you; ANBU is keeping you busy I see.”

“Yes. Is this my niece? Look how she’s grown! Just couple months ago she was no bigger then a loaf of bread.”

Uzuki Yūgao is my aunt, Buffy thought looking at the ANBU with big eyes. Well, guess that purple hair ran in the family then.

Said ANBU crouched down to her level.

“Hey there Kochō-chan.”

On her third birthday her mom and dad took her to the park where she made a friend. It came as a surprise to her, since, when she had watched the Anime series, that particular character did not appeal to her. She didn’t hate said character, like a certain two or three that she wouldn’t mention right now, but Buffy just did not think that much of her.

She was playing in the sand box when she was approached by none other then Yamamaka Ino. The blond haired, blue-eyed girl held a peony out to her.

“Hi, I’m Yamanaka Ino. Wanna be friends?”

Buffy giggled “I’m Shunran Kochō and yep” she answered, still smiling at the blond girl, taking the offered flower.

Soon Ino and her had become fast friends, who played hide and seek, playing dressed up, of course, playing ninja. Ino kind of reminded her of a strange combination of Willow and Cordelia. It made her feel nostalgic at some times. But, unlike Cordelia, Ino had shown a frightening amount of perspective toward others emotional state. Supposedly, that came from being a part of the Yamanaka clan, just as being intelligent and lazy came from the Nara clan, or being fat…sorry, chubby, came with being an Akimichi.

Speaking of those other two clans, she had yet to meet Shikamaru and Choji, but hanging around with Ino, Kochō figured sooner or later that she’d meet them; sooner rather than later. And while Ino shared Willow’s resolve and drive to prove herself, she was not shy. No wonder she was able to pry Sakura out of her shell…Sakura, hmm, Buffy had not seen the pink haired girl as of yet.

Come to think of it, she hadn’t seen the star of the show or the duck butt around either.

That means The Massacre hadn’t happened yet…could she stop it? Did she even want to meddle with this, since they were gunning for civil war? Should she meddle in the story at all…well, in a way, she didn’t have much of a choice. She was part of the story now.

She was here, right now.

But changing something so earth shattering, it would be like playing God. And she was not one. She could not predict the future. Saving Uchiha clan, assuming she somehow could do that, might mean destroying the entire village. After all, the flap of a butterfly’s wings could cause a tsunami or summer storm somewhere down the line. It was like the ripples in a pond. The more she meddled, bigger were the waves she might create.

She’d need to be careful how, and when, to meddle, since the possibility of catastrophe would be high.

A slight poke to her forehead brought her out of her musings.

“Hey, Kochō, you are spacing out.” Buffy blinked, then focused on her friend. They were at the park picking flowers and making crowns.

“Sorry, Ino”

“Mou, you are like Shikamaru when you do that.”

“Shikamaru?”

“Yeah, oh you don’t know Shika-chan do you? Come with me, you’ll meet the laziest bum in Konoha!” Ino dragged Kochō toward the large oak tree and, sure enough, under the shade, hidden out of view from just about everyone, was none other than Nara Shikamaru.

Laying on his back and watching the clouds, or perhaps sleeping.

Kochō didn’t voice her intentions of becoming kunoichi till she was six, when her parents mentioned to her that she’d start school soon.

And soon after she started at the Academy, the moment she entered the designated classroom she looked around for familiar faces and, yes, there was Ino, so she started walking towards her friend, while glancing around to see some very familiar characters…er, people. There was Kiba, with Akamaru on his head, and Sasuke, who was actually talking to some boys with a happy expression on his face. So it didn’t happen yet.

Unfortunately for Kochō, her attention on a certain Uchiha didn’t go unnoticed.

Ino followed her friend’s very focused line of sight until she found what interested her best friend so much that she had spaced out again and, when she did, she couldn’t resist.
“You like him don’t you?” she teased.

That certainly got Kochō’s attention back. She took a seat by Ino.

“Like who?”

“Uchiha Sasuke.” Was Ino’s smug reply. Though watching Kochō make huge eyes and blush very slightly, certainly made Ino’s day.

“What? No!” that was just great. Ino just had to see her gawking at some boy and spacing out, it didn’t help that she felt the heat rushing to her cheeks. She just knew that she was blushing like a teenager caught staring at her crush…now wasn’t that an interesting thought. She’d be going through puberty again.

Kochō groaned.

Great…maybe she should draw that fruit-punch-mouth-of-a-vampire who killed her and throw darts at the drawing.

“You were staring at him.”

“No I wasn’t.”

“Yes you were.”

“Nope.”

“Yep.”

“No.”

“Yes.”

Kochō then rolled her eyes at her friend, since she really didn’t have any other excuses for staring at the boy. It’s not like she could say, ‘I was staring at him because, in a few years from now, that boy will have his whole family massacred by his adored older brother then will turn all emo and crazy and will want revenge so much that he’ll willing join forces with the pedo-Snake Sannin for power’.

Her annoyance at the situation only increased during lunch break, when Ino dragged her straight towards Sasuke.

“Hey, I’m Ino and this is Kochō,” she greeted. “Wanna eat lunch with us?”

Sasuke grinned at us and gave an enthusiastic nod. “Yeah!”

Ino gave her a little, and very smug, smirk. Sighing Kochō gave in and asked a question herself, “So, Sasuke,” no way she’d add –kun to the name, “how do you like academy so far?”

Sasuke gave another beaming smile, which gave yet another shock to her system, much to Ino’s glee, when she noticed, and much to Kochō’s embarrassment.

“I love it!” he said with a cheer, “And I learned a lot of this stuff before from Nii-san.”

Ino giggled. “Yeah, we noticed, you never put your hand down.”

The three of them ended up chatting for the entire meal, mostly about Itachi. It felt horrible to Buffy knowing that Itachi would kill his entire clan, and that this now cheerful Sasuke would become the doom and gloom boy that she saw at the beginning of the Anime. She really wanted to preserve the innocence of current Sasuke, but Buffy knew that she could not. Not only did she lack the power to do so, but the consequences could be of the major bad.

Next day, finally, the missing person appeared. And seriously, that orange jump suit looked worse in real life than it did on TV.

But in general, as the days trickled by and soon the year passed, the academy was fun. Especially when Naruto pranked somebody, usually the teacher, which happened often. Or as often as said teacher could ignore the bundle of energy’s, which was Naruto’s, existence. Which was all the time.

It was strange however, when Iruka started to teach, that he ignored Naruto just like the other teachers before him. Sheesh. No wonder he had learning problems and thought that “chakra” was “katra” or something similar. Also this was the year that Itachi started to distance himself from Sasuke and she knew that the date of the massacre was closing in.

On Iruka-sensei’s second day of the job, he was pranked by Naruto but, instead of scolding him, Iruka told Naruto to sit on his seat and then preceded to ignore him all the time.

Kochō twitched in her seat in irritation when she heard snickers from Hibachi and his minions. Her bad mood carried over to lunch, alone, since Sasuke was with his friends throwing kunai, and Ino was home with a cold. She’d have to go and visit her after class ends.

All appetite waned when she saw Naruto getting cornered by Hibachi and several others because of Naruto’s failed attempts at doing better than Sasuke. How in the world could he do better when nobody cared enough to correct his mistakes? A slight tic mark appeared on back of her head. A she slowly stood from her sitting position and made her way round towards the bullies, an ominous dark aura surrounded her making Shikamaru, who was lazing by the nearby bench, mutter his trademark “troublesome”.

Without turning Kochō stopped, “Choji, I lost my appetite, you can eat my lunch.” Then she resumed her way towards the cluster. She arrived just in time to hear Iruka say to the bullies not bother with a kid like him.

As Iruka and the students turned around they missed the crestfallen expression on the blonde boy’s face. Fortunately, for the boys and the teacher, with that look on his face Naruto had just unknowingly saved them from the worst tongue lashing in history. The former head cheerleader and Siesta Queen knew how to throw just about anyone on their asses with a few well-placed words.

“You know, I wanted to say something, but it’s really not worth the trouble.” She stated calmly, watching the teacher and the boys, before proceeding to walk out calmly, albeit for a slight tension in her shoulders like she was holding something back. And she was. She really didn’t want to spook her target.

Iruka blinked, he could have sworn that he felt a heavy killer intent coming from the little girl who just passed by him and his other students and, judging from Hibachi-kun and his friend’s reactions, they had felt it too since they were frozen to their spots.

He turned to look at what could possibly irritate his other student so much that her annoyance would turn visibly palpable around her. Then, he just stared as the girl stepped only a foot away from the Kyuubi container.

“Hello, I’m Kochō. You are Naruto, right?”

A wary look met hers for a moment, searching and sensing out the girl’s lingering anger. He took a hesitant step back and, seeing this reaction, Buffy tried hard to rein in her still high temper.

“Don’t mind them when they’re being idiots. They’re just jealous.” She waved her hand back at the boys who bullied him earlier.

“Hey, no way I’m jealous of the loser that can’t even throw a kunai or make a bunshin.”

Reaching to grab Naruto’s hand so that he wouldn’t hightail it out of there, she slowly turned around to the boy who spoke and smiled a very unnerving smile.

“Well since nobody teaches him how to throw properly he is doing just fine, wouldn’t you say Hibachi-boo? Also, the reason he can’t make proper clones is because he has more chakra than this entire school combined, teachers included, and hasn’t learned how to control it. Now shut your mouth before I shut it for you,” she finished, hissing the last part through her teeth menacingly, smile still in place.

Then she turned back to the now wide-eyed Naruto, “See? Total jealousy! So, since Choji ate my lunch, do you know any good places….” before she could even finish that sentence she felt a tug as Naruto gripped her hand and started running towards the fence, which they jumped over with ease. And so, for the first time in this new life, Buffy ditched school in favor of eating ramen with an orange clad, goggle-wearing, son-of-the-Fourth-Hokage. Not that he knew about that little detail. Or about Kurama.

Could she do something about that…hmmm.

It was at the Ichiraku ramen stand that Umino Iruka found them.

“What were you two thinking?!” he screamed, startling the two seven-year olds with his big-head jutsu.

“That eating ramen with a friend is a very good idea and I would not miss it for the world, right Naruto?”

“Friend?” came from the kitchen in the back as a slender, slightly older, girl stepped by her father. “What is this, Naruto-kun?! You brought a girl?”

“Ayame-nee! Teuchi oji-san!” exclaimed Naruto, and then he waved toward Buffy, “This is Kochō-chan. Dattebayo.”

Buffy gave a little wave to the Ramen chef and his daughter.

“Ehh, well then, since our best customer brought his girl friend,” the man chuckled at the frozen expression on the girl’s face, while the boy was completely oblivious at the double meaning. The girl apparently caught on to it, but then, to his amusement, just resumed eating while muttering ‘yeah, she is a girl, and his friend, so what?’ so he continued. “the next serving of ramen is on the house.”

“YATTTA!!!!!!!!”

“Come on Iruka-sensei! Sit down, have a bowl, and get to know the student you don’t know.” Said Kochō, under Naruto’s loud yell, tapping their teacher’s forearm to gain his attention.

Iruka felt conflicted. Seeing Naruto so at ease with the staff at Ichiraku and their treatment of the boy come as a shock. And also, Kochō’s quiet words hit directly on the mark.

He did not know Naruto.

So then and there, Umino Iruka made a decision. He would ignore received advice from the faculty members and get to know the real Naruto.

He never regretted this decision.

Ino and Kochō walked home together discussing Sasuke and what happened to the Uchiha clan. And what they could do to help out Sasuke. Buffy had to endure a bit of teasing from Ino about the, now, last Uchiha of Konoha, but it wasn’t so bad. Kochō also introduced Ino and Naruto and after some initial apprehension on Ino’s part, the two blonds become friends as well. So all in all, Naruto was not as alone as he was in the canon.

As for the academy, Iruka started to pay attention to Naruto’s education. Soon, Naruto’s reading skills improved and, while yes he was still too hyperactive to stay still for too long, especially if the story was boring, and while he still could not make a clone properly or do genjutsu, his other skills soared; so much, that Iruka taught him that dolphin wave jutsu, or whatever it’s called. Surprisingly, or not surprisingly, since the length of a detection range depended on how much chakra you had, same as Shunshin no Jutsu and basic sealing (that he used in pranks, exploding paint when one sat down to be exact), Naruto apparently took to it as a duck to water.

Kochō herself roped the shinobi she knew, namely her aunt, to help her with chakra control and medical jutsu. Anko taught her about poisons, and some other things that were way too traumatizing to mention. Luckily, she knew what Anko was like before asking her about poisons. She knew that her teaching would involve snakes somehow and, boy, was she right. But hey, luckily before she approached her psycho sensei, she worked on her chakra reserves so that she could escape the snakes on the water, up the wall, or a tree, and the barriers were a lifesaver. See? Watching Anime could come in handy! Some things she could do, that were not in Naruto, took a lot of experimenting, a lot of failures, and a lot of sweat, tears, blood, and chakra exertion. But some things she could transfer to her new life. Soon Anko was joined by Kurenai, who was depressed by her inability to teach/save her student, Yakumo, who refused to see her. So Anko involved her in to torturing Buffy. And yes she meant torture.

Needles to say, she was regaining her old Slayer endurance and durability pretty fast. It also helped that she kept the ease that Slayers had at learning how to fight with various weaponry, which translated over to learning new jutsu. Though she could not for the life of her, do any earth, lightning or wind elemental jutsu’s.

But water or fire, now that was easy. And she specialized in using butterfly swords.

She was glad she still had some slayer reserves. Otherwise she would not be able to walk down the street right now with Ino. In fact, she’d probably be buried six feet under.

That was when they spotted a hunched over, pink-haired girl crying alone on the street. It only took a moment for Kochō to connect the dots. This was the day when Ino and Sakura become friends.

“What’s wrong?” Ino asked.

“They said my forehead is big.” Sakura explained through sobs; her voice coming out muffled due to the fact that she hid her tear-stained face being her hands.

“You always get called forehead girl and get picked on, eh?” Ino grinned, “I am Yamanaka Ino and this is Shunran Kochō”

“Hi, you’re name is Sakura, right? You’re in our class?”

Sakura nodded, “I’m Haruno Sakura, please to meet you.”

“Aha!” Ino exclaimed in triumph, holding up a red ribbon before Sakura’s eyes.

“What’s that for?”

“To hold up your hair silly.”

“But my forehead.”

Kochō gave the panicked girl a small smile, “You cover it up like that and it just brings more attention to it. That hair style really doesn’t suit you. Besides it’s going to be cute, you’ll see.”

Sakura looked skeptical.

“Look if Ino and I are wrong, which we aren’t, you can always not wear the ribbon.” Ino nodded and Sakura relented.

After that, the three girls were inseparable. And so time once again moved forward, and Kochō’s tenth birthday rolled over, where she invited all her friends for a party and sleep over.

She could not believe that only three years were left in the Academy. Time sure moves fast.

Even the infamous Kochō tantrum explosion in the family store that had landed her, her immediate family, and a couple of costumers in the Hokage office, which led to her blackmailing three certain shinobi in to training Naruto, was distant memory.

Flash back

Kochō and Naruto walked in to the Shunran mitarahi dango store where Buffy introduced her latest friend to her parents. Suddenly everything went wrong. She kind of thought that with her aunt being ANBU that they’d be accepting, even if four present costumers were glaring.

Words were exchanged and Naruto ran out, well, thrown out by Kochō’s father while her mother held her back.

Then her parents and the four regulars tried to discourage Kochō from seeing Naruto again. It didn’t end well.

“Why?” she had asked.

“Well he is a bad influence.”

“The only bad is his fashion sense.”

“Nobody likes him.”

“Nobody bothers to get to know him.”

“I forbid it.”

“Why, because the Fourth Hokage sealed Kyuubi in to Naruto? He would be soo disappointed to hear that his sealing ability was downplayed. In fact, I bet he’s rolling in his grave right now because of how Naruto is treated. It’s obvious that the seal is HOLDING IT BACK! Naruto is just as much a savior as the Fourth for JAILIING THE FOX!”

As soon as the last shout from the girl died down, the ANBU, and two jonins, appeared whisking away everyone present. When Kochō opened her eyes she, her parents and four costumers were standing before the Hokage.

“H…Hokage-sama…we…”

“At ease, I am well aware that none of the adults present broke the law,” he then turned to the girl. “But I’m curious to know who did, Kochō-chan?”

“No one. I kinda figured out after reading about Tailed Beasts in the library.” It was true, she did find a book about it, “I read there that there are other nations who had at least one, so from there,” she gave a tiny shrug before looking at late Hokage’s photos, studying the Fourth’s picture. “Naruto was born on October 10th, then the glares, the name calling, some of the teachers sabotaged him.” She made a show of looking more intently at the picture, not that she minded, Namikaze was an eye candy for sure, and then she smiled. “Though I hadn’t known how right I was when I said that The Fourth is rolling in his grave. He must be very angry at how Konoha is treating his son.”

“What!” came a shout from her parents and the customers. Then they started to study the picture more closely. Their reactions, after couple of minutes of intense study, were certainly entertaining. There were jaw drops, bugged eyes, sweat drops, and the best one was from the jonin named Shiranui Genma who just connected some more dots about the boy. Ohhh opportunity to be a smart ass.

“Hokage-sama is this true?” that came from Namiashi Raidō while the other, jonin Shiranui Genma, just adjusted his senbon.

“Well he does looks like him, but his dattebayo is just like Kushina’s…ah…Minato-sama certainly had courage there. Heh” he started to chuckle while his partner shot him an annoyed look.

“And you could not mention this to me sooner.”

Genma just shrugged.

“He could not tell you, because it’s a SS classed secret. So what you, all of you find out here, must remain here.” A puff of smoke “Now you can go. Kochō-chan remain for a moment.”

The room cleared, her parent’s left to wait in the hall. ANBU blended in to the shadows, but not before Kochō received a hair ruffling at the hands of a cat faced ANBU with long straight purple hair.

The only ones remaining before the old Hokage, were the two jonin and Kochō.

Flashback end


Waiting for Mizuki to approach her friend was hard for two reasons. One of them was because of what would happen in the clearing between the two teachers and the student, but also because of Tsubaki. She met the woman, Tsubaki, even helped her with reviving the bird. Maybe she should play matchmaker to occupy herself. Hmmm…now who would be the other victim? Maybe she should rope in some other people in do it? After all, Mizuki and Tsubaki were never officially together. And Mizuki became distant from her. So she should put her on a sort of a rebound guy.

Asuma is out because of Kurenai.
Kakashi is a possibility (her closet Kaka/Shizu shipper aside).
Genma, Raido, some other…oh Iruka too, and she could make it so that they meet. Now she’d had to rope Ino and Anko into helping her with it…

Kochō blinked in surprise. “What?” while Anko snickered in the background. “Care to run down this by me again?” she asked Ino, who just repeated the sentence that was giving her so much trouble…

“Kochō-chan you better watch your back.”

“Yeah I got that part, it’s the next part I have problem with.”

Anko give out another snicker, and then she waved Ino on, who had way to much fun on Kochō’s expense.

“Now that Sasuke is all mysteries and broody, lots of girls in Academy think he is hot.”

“Yeah and what has Sasuke being the IT at school have to do with me again?” Yeah, she had a suspicion on that, darn it. And while she managed to fool Ino, judging by the eye roll her friend was giving her, she wasn’t fooling a special jonin sensei, her one of two accomplices of the operation Annoy the EMO out of Duck Butt, ATEOODB for short, who was now clutching her stomach all teary-eyed. Dammit. It wasn’t that funny.

“Because you are the only girl he talks to anymore, and Naruto, but he is not a girl, and the others are getting jealous.”

Well that would explain the glares every time she’d get within Sasuke’s general vicinity. And the sudden tightening of the swarm of girls around said guy. Yeah, she’d seen that one coming. But she ignored the fact that Sasuke had fan girls. She had bigger fish to fry. Or snakes rather. But hey! At least Sakura and Ino were not fan-girling this time around.



***Konoha - Academy***


She could have shot herself for jinxing it.

A couple of days later, Sakura came to tell us the-oh-so-exiting news, about her crush on Sasuke. Poor Naruto. Though to think of it, Sakura hasn’t hit Naruto at all and Naruto hasn’t asked her for dates repeatedly, or at all really.

Huh.

She hadn’t noticed that. Weird.

Not as weird as Ino’s look in her direction at Sakura’s news of her crush. Honestly, Kochō thought, she really hoped that she convinced Ino that she wasn’t in love with Sasuke. Though she regretted losing Sakura as a friend, she also knew that rivalry would propel the girl in to being the second Tsunade.

And so with all that teenaged drama, though Kochō still waited for her second puberty to kick in, she was so looking forward to that, not, graduation rolled around.

She was finally twelve. And she was suddenly on pins and needles to learn which team she’d be. Oh, she knew she’d pass the Academy exam, but she didn’t know which jonin sensei she would have. She did know however, which team she wouldn’t be on.

Leaving Naruto behind, knowing he’d fail one lousy test, was hard, but it was essential that he learn the Kage Bunshin technique. Truth be told, she was a bit annoyed that none of the former Fourth Hokage’s shinobi guard squad taught him said technique.

Orientation came way too fast in her opinion. She hadn’t heard from her friends at all, so she didn’t know whether Mizuki had tricked Naruto. She really was nervous walking into the classroom.

When she saw her orange-clad friend, yeah, she had failed to convince him to drop the outfit so far, she was relived.

Only to be shocked stupid when the bandaged Iruka told his class that there would be one team of four. She felt her jaw drop at that.

Was that even allowed?

Looking around she noticed that none of the other students looked surprised, so it probably wasn’t big deal. She nearly missed Iruka’s further explanation that, an indivisible number had graduated, hence why one team would have four genin.

Another shock came when she was placed in Team 7. But then, the Hokage knew that she and Naruto hung out a lot, and that he spent a lot of time at her parent’s house. Mom and dad had practically adopted him. She knew about the Kyuubi, so maybe he had something to do with it.

And so only four of them were left, waiting for Kakashi. Sasuke sat down and resumed brooding, Naruto was scribing some seals on a scroll, while Sakura alternately glared at her while fawning over Sasuke.

And her, she pulled out a book on plants. An hour or so later we heard words, “My first impression is, you are boring.”

“And you are late, -ttebayo! Kai!” and with that seals that were put on the door frame by Naruto exploded in bright shower of glitter and orange paint, obscuring the silver-haired jonin in a puff of orange and shinny pieces of paper for a moment.

The introductions were slightly different from the canon as well. Well, Kakashi’s was the same, and Sakura’s. Kochō was added to her dislike column. Sasuke was more or less the same, only he added that he liked two people and would like to kill two. Naruto was slightly different too. He added she, Ino, Shino, Kiba, Shikamaru and Choji in to the like column, and annoying Sasuke in to the hobby column, which earned him a glare, a pop to the head from Sakura, and an irritated ‘hn’ from Sasuke.

And so team 7 was born.

End chapter.

Next: D-ran C-rank, C-rank turned B rank, C-Rank turns A rank, missions…and, ah, the Chunin exam of course, invasion, and an unexpected person pops up…etc
Will Sasuke go with Orichimaru? When will Buffy finally change the story entirely?




****Butterfly swords; The blade of a butterfly sword is roughly as long as a human forearm, which allows for easy concealment inside loose sleeves or boots, and allows greater maneuverability when spinning and rotating during close-quarters fighting, they are usually wielded in pairs.
The butterfly sword has a small crossguard to protect the hands of the wielder, similar to that of a sai, which can also be used to block or hook an opponent's weapon. In some versions the crossguard is enlarged offering a second handhold, held in this position the swords can be manipulated in a manner akin to a pair of tonfa. They may also be used as brass knuckles when non-lethal application of the weapon is desired.

Chapter Text

 

***Konoha***


Sasuke-kun was running late, which was odd, at least in Sakura’s opinion. It was weird waiting alone at the Team 7 training ground. Neither Naruto nor Kochō were there yet. Kakashi sensei was not here yet either. Sakura resumed her pacing. Her stomach rumbled. She was already regretting not eating breakfast, despite Kakashi-sensei’s warning the day before.

Sasuke-kun would definitely come and hopefully they’d be alone for a while. She found it strange that the last Uchiha would willingly be friends with the class clown…huh, maybe the boys were training together or something and they forgot the time—ahh Sasuke-kun all sweaty due to training…now there’s a nice mental image, she thought.

Meanwhile Sasuke was in the hospital intending to do something very strange for a member of the Uchiha clan. In fact, the thought would never have crossed his mind if he hadn’t had a very heated discussion with Naruto on the pier that had become their meeting spot.

Did he still want to kill Itachi?

Along with the people who helped him kill the entire clan, that was a resounding yes. He didn’t know who they were, but there was no way that one person no mater how talented, could have killed them all. Kochō was right about that and he was insanely glad that she was part of the team, along with Naruto. Sakura annoyed him sometimes more than Naruto did, except when Naruto decided that Sasuke needed to lighten up and would continually pester him. This was the reason Sasuke decided to join Kochō and Ino in their effort to, “get rid of the neon orange jumpsuit disaster”, but despite their efforts that suit was just too damn resilient.

Something good came from him forming bonds. At least, he did not feel that all-consuming anger when his brother’s name was mentioned. It had certainly changed his perspective a lot and it was all because he let two people in. They had become family to him, so now he had three goals in his life: become strong enough to kill Itachi, protect his remaining family, Naruto and Kochō, and restore the Uchiha clan, not necessarily in this order. Protecting came first, after all, he could not avenge his clan on his own so they’d have to help each other to achieve their goals in life. Naruto and Kochō already chose their fields; seals and Ninjutsu in Naruto’s case, along with surpassing all of the previous Hokages. Sasuke always smirked at that thought. After all, Naruto was both crazy and determined enough to pull it off. He had already created his own jutsu and, no, he didn’t mean the Orioke no Jutsu.

Kochō chose to specialize in poisons, barriers, and her butterfly blades. She loved diversity, that girl. Though it could be interesting or nasty depending on what might happen after, to see her being blindsided by Naruto, but that will probably happened much, much later. Hopefully Sasuke could be far, far away if it turned mushy.

“Uchiha-san?” Sasuke looked up from his musings at the nurse addressing him.

“Tsubaki-san will be seeing you now.”

And so he was in the hospital arranging with a kunoichi named Tsubaki, his training time table in medical jutsu.

Naruto was currently sitting by the table eating breakfast with the Shunran family.

“So,” started Masaru, while shooting a warning look at his daughter who was currently trying to sneak some more chocolate sweets made to her plate. “Kids, big day today eh?”

“Yep, Masaru-ojisan, we got Hatake Kakashi as a sensei, but I heard plenty from Genma-sensei about him and he is always late. And Kochō-chan found out from previous teams that Kakashi-sensei uses something called bell test and…” Naruto started to talk excitedly to Kochō’s father. Buffy was perfectly happy to let her blond loudmouth of a friend talk, she turned to her mom.

“Yeah, which reminds me kaa-san, can we get some food to go so we can share with Sasuke and Sakura?” she asked thinking that it would be good if they ate something before the exercise. Plus Kakashi had very good hearing. Besides his sense of smell it would be of the bad if their stomachs expressed their displeasure, as they did in the Anime. Speaking of the canon, Buffy thought in amusement, Kakashi wanted teamwork, huh? Well, he just might get that in spades. The only odd angle out they could not count on was Sakura. But Naruto pointed out to Sasuke that if he asked her she’d do just about anything. So it was decided that Sakura would be handled by Sasuke; much to his annoyance and Naruto’s amusement, judging by the foxy grin he was sporting at the time.

Koyuki glanced at the men around the table who were engrossed in conversation. Well, her husband was. Naruto just used his speed and clones to take chocolate cookies without her husband noticing. She knew where some of those cookies would end up in the end, in her child’s hands. Kochō had a bit of sweet tooth, at least where chocolate or cake was concerned. It was very sweet of Naruto to share like that.

Thinking over her daughter’s question some more she encountered a snag. She remembered Mebuki moaning about her daughter’s dieting habits.

“Sure honey, but what does Sakura like? I mean, I heard from Mebuki-san that her daughter is dieting again.”

Kochō looked surprised at that.

“Uhh…some apples and bread for Sakura I guess. Oh, and tomatoes for Sasuke! He is absolutely crazy about them. Kinda like how Ruto-chan is about his ramen and the colour orange.” She grumbled the last part. After all that time being Naruto’s friend, she still hadn’t found a way to get rid of that horrible colour. And it was not for the lack of trying. She swore the thing had a life of its own and it was somehow mocking her.

“Still failing to make that boy dress in something different, huh?” her mother remarked with an amused glint in her eye.

“100%. But I have others on my side.”

And she did. She had already roped Anko, her usual partner in crime of late, and Ino, who was there from the start, and even Shikamaru, who had started to think about it but thought it too troublesome. Eventually Sasuke joined the effort as well.

Koyuki chuckled at her daughter’s grumbles about boys with no fashion sense. Really, Kochō was so adorable when she started to rave about Naruto’s orange obsession.

And so the small family started to head out.



***Konoha's training grands 7***


“You’re LATE!!!”

They were greeted by Sakura’s screech. Buffy grumbled about a banshee while she covered her ears, Naruto just shrugged it off.

“Here you go Sakura,” he put a piece of bread and an apple in the pink haired girls hands who started to protest loudly only to get a loud protest back from her stomach. Blushing, she glared at the grinning Naruto.

“Seriously Sakura, you should eat that or you’ll end up unconscious or something.” Then his grin winded around his entire face while his eyes become half moons. Meanwhile, Buffy took an unconscious step back, since she thought that this could either be hilarious or…nah, scratch that, she knew this was going to be hilarious. “Just think, the tragedy of you missing duck butt’s arrival because you passed out from hunger.”

Sakura swung at Naruto only to have the still-grinning boy duck under her fist and come up behind her. “Don’t talk about Sasuke-kun like that Naruto-baka!”

Still grinning, Naruto ruffled her pink mane while Sakura angrily swung again, and missed, the spiky-haired blond, much to her growing frustration.

“Awww, does little Sakura-chan have a crush on Mister Broody? Oh the shame! She is so thin she can barely stand. Eh, maybe you should be this team’s designated bait? Damsel in distress suits you well,” he cooed at the angry girl, similar to that of grown up when their kid had done something adorable.

Sakura saw red.

Seriously, just who does this idiot think he is degrading her like that and mocking her Sasuke-kun?

Shannaro! This was unforgivable!

“I’ll show you barely standing you, you …” she growled.

“Hit a nerve did I, Sakura-chan?” He sing-songed, collapsing to the ground in laugher, which allowed the pink-haired girl to catch up and bash him.

Huffing, she walked away from the blond who was sitting on the ground clutching the lump on his head. Picking up the bread and apple she proceeded to eat them with gusto and, seeing that the girl’s appetite had returned, Buffy rummaged through her basket until she found two carefully wrapped bundles. Sakura saw her female team mate holding some more food out to her so, after some hesitation, extended her hand toward Kochō and accepted the onigri, which she then proceeded to eat as well.

Buffy watched her former friend, she would eventually renew that friendship, she informed herself quietly, eat. She chanced a glance towards her blond companion, who flashed her smile and a thumbs up.

Make sure Sakura eats-Mission Accomplished!

Now just where was Sasuke? She knew that the boys met on their own yesterday, but what was said she hadn’t a clue, since Naruto was unusually tight-lipped about the whole issue. He just said ‘you’ll see’ then changed the subject. Well fine, she just hoped that Sasuke would show up before Kakashi, so that the Uchiha could eat something before the bell test started.

Finally, the lone figure of Sasuke Uchiha joined the three. Naruto just wordlessly passed his friend some food, which the quiet boy took with a small “hnn” and then proceeded to eat while Sakura fan-girled beside him.



***



And that was when Kakashi decided to make his appearance; arriving beforehand, he took time to observe the unsuspecting Genin. In fact, he took the Saindame’s advice and checked on all four of his students.

Seeing Naruto train with Genma and Raidō came as slight surprise, to which Sarutobi had chuckled before explaining that the two Jonin took young Uzumaki in hand and taught him some things.

Sasuke apparently had decided to become a medic nin, something previously unheard of for the Uchiha, and all because the raven had, had a heated debate by the river with Minato’s orphaned son, which they had witnessed.

Sakura’s parents invited him to tea along with the Hokage, and then talked about their daughter.

Kochō’s parents were more reserved, but they made it clear that they expected Kakashi to teach their daughter and Naruto well, or they would sick Anko and Yūgao on him. He shuddered at that thought.

And now it was time to see if they could pass the bell test.

“Morning, kiddos!” he greeted them waving cheerfully with his single eye closed in his trademark Kakashi style.

“Kakashi-sensei!” Naruto jumped up along with Sakura who yelled “You’re LAATE!!!”

At this, Kakashi just smiled some more and shrugged his shoulders lazily. Buffy held back a laugh knowing what kind of excuse was coming next.

“Maa, maa, a black cat crossed my path so I had no choice but to take the long way around.”

Naruto stared at their sensei, then leaned toward his raven hired friend and hissed, “What kind a lame-assed excuse is that?”

Saskue’s response was an enormous sweat-drop at the back of his head and a nod.

Kakashi clapped his hands once to get the Genin’s attention. “So let’s get started!” he declared. Then pulled an enormous alarm clock from somewhere, that Buffy really didn’t want to know, and placed it on the trunk of the tree along with some lunch baskets.

“So, let me explain the rules. The timer,” he gestured at the alarm clock, “is set to ring at noon,” he pressed the button and the clock started ticking, “your assignment is to take these two bells from me,” he held up two small silver bells on the red cord then fastened them to bottom of his flack jacket, “if you can’t get them by noon, you go without lunch.”

He then pointed at four wooden posts in the middle of the clearing. “You’ll be tied to those posts and you’ll have to watch as I eat my lunch in front of you.”

“Kakashi-sensei,” Sakura said frowning. “Why are there only two bells?”

Kakashi smiled at her. “Well, this way two of you will end up tied to a post and ultimately fail the test.”

“How are we supposed to win that blasted test then?” Naruto exploded. While he knew, thanks to Kochō and Sasuke digging for information on their sensei from the teams that failed, the thought of not being on the team with them, or even Sakura, did not sit well with him.

“You can’t, at least that is the general idea of this test, to see which Genin are worthy of teaching.” Kakashi answered.

“So, no matter what we do, only two of us will pass this test?” Sakura asked fearfully. She knew Sasuke-kun would pass, he was an elite after all, but Naruto-baka was no push over. She knew that Kochō was sometimes taught by the Cat ANBU and that they were an elite shinobi as well.

Kakashi gave the girl a nod. “That’s correct, or all four of you can fail. Either way, someone is going back to the academy again.”

“So, we only have to get the bells, right, Kakashi-sensei?” Naruto asked with a grin. At the man’s nod he turned back to the others.

“Nee, Kochō-chan, Sasuke, Sakura this will be fun!”

“Idiot! Didn’t you hear sensei? Without a bell you go back to the Academy!” Sakura screeched and again attempted to hit him but just like before he dodged the punch which hit one of the posts instead, shattering it on impact.

“Hn.”

Sasuke raised one black eyebrow, while a corner of his mouth lifted. That was one impressive punch. It could be useful for their team effort to get the bells. Then he frowned, remembering that he would have to ask his fangirl to team up with them.

“Ok kiddos, start.” Saying that, Kakashi reached into his pocket and pulled out a very familiar, to Buffy, orange book and flipped it open to a random page.

“What are you doing Kakashi-sansei?” asked Sakura.

“I’m reading.”

Naruto blinked and titled his head, “And why is that?”

“To see what happens at the end of the book, of course.”

Meanwhile Sasuke ran through some hand signs, ending on the tiger seal, then took a big exhale,

“Katon: Gōryūka no Jutsu!”

A big dragon-headed shaped fireball was bearing down on Kakashi, who just dodged it, and when the fire died out his Genin were nowhere to be seen.

What a nice distraction, maybe…

“Oi, Kakashi-sensei, I am going to fight you fair and square -ttebayo!” hollered Naruto pointing at him.

Then again maybe not, Kakashi sighed, as Naruto performed a cross sign.

“Tajū Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!”

Kakashi’s eye momentarily widened at the hundreds of orange-wearing shrimps surrounding him. Still, for a jonin and former ANBU captain, they didn’t pose much of a problem. Using taijutsu and a couple of fire jutsus the numbers attacking him dropped considerably.

“Better watch out sensei, because I am going to get one of those bells dattebayo!” hollered one of the Naruto clones. Kakashi, spotting his target, used the Body-Flicker technique to come up behind Naruto in a crouch. Arranging his fingers in a Tiger seal,

“Konohagakure Hiden Taijutsu Ōgi: Sennen Goroshi!” he then thrust his hands forward, earning a loud squeal from the Naruto, who turned into a puff of smoke.

“Kage bunshin, huh?” Kakashi muttered then looked around. He was alone.



***

Kochō had to shut Naruto up by covering his mouth to prevent him from exploding into very loud curses. That would give away their position. Not that she blamed him. After all, he probably just received the memory of that very unfortunate clone which dispelled due to the One Thousand Years of Pain technique, if memory served her right which, looking at the angry and embarrassment expression on Naruto’s face, she’d say she was spot on.

What. The. Hell. Sensei.” Naruto hissed angrily, barely resisting rubbing his behind from the phantom memory. He is so unleashing a series of pranks on their sensei, for this stunt deserves nothing less -ttebayo.

“What’s going on Sasuke-kun? I thought we’d be a team?” Sakura whined when she followed after her crush to Naruto’s and Kochō’s hidey-hole.

Naruto crossed his arms and sighed. “What are you talking about Sakura? The four of us are a team.” He gestured at himself, Kochō, Sasuke and Sakura.

Sakura frowned thinking. It was true, Konoha took pride in their shinobi’s teamwork. She brightened when Sasuke-kun turned to her and put a hand on her shoulder, it was like electricity going up and down her arm.

“Its about team work, this test, Kakashi is pitting us against each other.” Sasuke told the pinkette seriously.

Kochō, at that moment, decided to pipe in; after all, she didn’t want Sakura distracted by the eye-candy Uchiha.

“That’s right Sakura, all the teams before us failed because they, for one reason or another, could not work together.”

“So we work together to get the bells and then what?” Sakura asked, turning to Sasuke. It was Naruto who answered.

“Then we break them in half, and we each keep half of the bell.”

Plans made, the Genin sprung in to action.



***Hokage's office***


Later, in the Hokage’s office, Sarutobi was puffing on his pipe, “You are late, even by your standards, Kakashi.”

“Sorry, Hokage-sama, I got…tied up.” Kakashi smiled scratching the back of his head a bit. And this time, he thought, that statement wasn’t far from the truth.

Hiruzen chuckled and Kakashi sighed. He just knew, knew, that somehow the Hokage, realized exactly what happened during the bell test.

“Certainly, Kakashi-kun, certainly. Maa, have a seat. You look like you need it. So how did it go?”

Another chuckle. Oh yes, he definitely knew what had happened. In fact, Kakashi would not be surprised if the Hokage had, in fact, predicted it.

But Kakashi was proud of his brats. Goodness, they were his Genin now, weren’t they?

“Lets start with Naruto, shall we? He is not dead last.” Kakashi stated, hissing the last part. He would be paying Mizuki a visit one of these days; they needed to have a nice little talk.

“He played me. He pretended to attack, only to use Kage Bunshin, hundreds of them actually, but they were really just a distraction. He has some astonishing stamina and chakra reserves. He is a Fūton user and has mastered nature manipulation as well. He also has some knowledge of seals, since he…ahh, managed to trap me in some sort of paralysing seal. His Taijutsu is efficient and unpredictable; he managed to cut me one time with his Wind Chakra.”

Sarutobi whistled. “Incredible, so being around Kochō-chan really did have a good influence on him. Good.” Then he chuckled at the memory of then seven year old that pouted, glared, and blackmailed two of his jonin in to helping Naruto.

“He can also plan on the fly. I don’t know how much of the planning he did of the plan that tied me down, because he, Kochō and Sasuke work well in tandem. It was impossible to make out which one is actually the mastermind. Though my cute little Genin did explain how they worked together after the test,” he finished, looking at the Hokage who puffed out clouds of smoke.

“Yes, well, Naruto-kun did paint the ANBU headquarters orange when he was six.”

The Hokage then gave the silver-haired jonin a gimlet-stare. “Tenzo is still annoyed at you for leading him to the building, by the way. How about Haruno Sakura? I was worried since Sasuke-kun knows the other two, that she’d be excluded.”

“Sakura, at the moment, thinks only of impressing Sasuke. However, her control over chakra is better than any of the others. She’ll have to work on her chakra reserves. Her book knowledge is also the greatest of the three.”

Taking a breath he continued, “To make sure she keeps up I’ll work with her to increase her chakra reserves, so I’d like to ask permission to borrow two special jonin.”

Puff of smoke, “And whom do you have in mind?”

“Inuzuka Tsume and Miterashi Anko. Neither of those two have Genin teams, but Anko owes me a favour, and Tsume, well, she always wants to help me.”

“Permission granted. Still, those two will work the poor girl to the ground. I assume you’ll focus in perfecting their teamwork?”

“Naturally. Now Sasuke hasn’t awoken his Sharingan yet, but he knows a variety of the Katon-jutsu. He also has an affinity for Raiton, so I’ll help him out with that. He is an expert at using wire-manipulation with Katon and fūma shuriken. He can also combine and collaborate with Naruto’s Fūton and Kochō’s Suiton jutsu. And that combo is very destructive. They leveled and scorched rocks and trees that were in their path.”

“Hmm, Naruto-kun straightened Sasuke-kun’s fire with wind so that Kochō-chan’s water didn’t extinguish the fire.”

“Yes, though Kochō can use water and fire in a way that is more in control than Nidaime Hokage-manipulated water. It’s like pure element manipulation, with chakra as a conductor. So I am sure her water wouldn’t extinguish Sasuke’s flames if Kochō didn’t want it to, I’ll have to test that though.”

“Now that is a surprise. I knew from Neko’s reports that her niece had amazing control of the two element affinities that she has. So much that Neko entrusted Kochō-chan with a pair of Butterfly Swords made from chakra - conductive metal.”

“Yes, and she is very proficient with them as well. I’d say she is a budding kenjutsu specialist, but she also knows poisons, which implies some medical training,”

The Hokage gave a short nod, “Yes, and genjutsu as well. Before Kurenai-chan took on her Genin team, she and Anko had a hand in teaching her. It gave Kuranai some much-needed confidence in taking on Team 8 since her fallout with Kurama Yakumo.”

He frowned remembering the girl, not much older than these year Rookie teams, who was sinking deeper and deeper into paranoia, resentment and fear.

“Well then, I suppose I’ll work on her sword technique some more with her, as well as genjutsu. Did you know that she could throw chakra ropes to tie up a person as well as encase said person’s foot in a barrier? While the barrier is still weak, it did distract me long enough for the boys to move in and for Sakura to grab the bells.” Kakashi then chuckled. “They passed the moment they started to act as a team, but I was curious as to what their answer to the test would be.”

Sarutobi raised an inquiring eyebrow at the chuckling jonin.

“Naruto said that they all passed,” he chuckled some more at the memory of the grinning blond teen, “and then he took the bells hostage. His words, Hokage-sama, either I pass them as a team, or he’d cut both bells in half and they’d share, and still pass, since all of them would be holding bells. Can’t say something like that ever happened at any of my other bell tests. Though it is within the rules, I never said they should be in one piece.”

“Yes, it is certainly novel. I wonder which of the brats came up with this ploy, probably Naruto; it is like one of his pranks.”



***


The next day, four newly-minted Team Seven Genin stood before the Hokage and Iruka, waiting for their first D-rank mission.

Iruka shuffled some papers, “We have cleaning the Inuzuka kennels, weeding Yamanaka’s garden, fixing the fence at the Nara compound, sweeping the floors, also at the Nara compound, and Tora the daimyō wife’s cat escaped again.”

“We’ll take,” Kakashi paused for dramatic effect, “the catch the cat mission.”

Later in the ally.

“Now, my cute little Genin, this might seem easy, but this is the most dangerous D rank in the whole village.” Kakashi said watching his disbelieving students. Sasuke looked sceptical, Sakura was watching Sasuke, and he really needed to work on that girl, Kochō looked apprehensive, and only Naruto looked disbelieving.

“Catching a cat?” Sasuke asked.

“I must advise you, my very young and naïve students, that you do not underestimate this cat. Catching Tora is a nightmare; you must use all your skills to succeed.”

Sakura tapped her chin with her index finger, thinking “So we are to use anything we can against it, except lethal means, because that the Fire daimyō’ would get mad for killing his wife’s pet?”

Kakashi nodded. “Exactly. That is why this mission is so difficult. You cannot kill the cat. And believe me, at the end you will want to kill it in most painful way possible.”

“Target in range,” Naruto whispered into his mike.

“I’ll try to use the wire-manipulation technique this time.” Sasuke relayed. Infusing the wire with his chakra he watched the metal tendrils creep towards the fat brown cat.

“Way to go Sasuke-kun!!!”

The cat twitched. Then jumped up and up before turning back around to look at the annoyed and flustered Genin below. Then, turning smugly away with his tail positioned high, he jumped down on the other side.

“SAKURA!!!”

“Sorry Sasuke-kun, but that was just SO cool.”

“Never mind that now” he says, waving her of. He then touched the mike “Naruto. Kochō. It’s headed back your way.”

“We see it,” came the reply from Kochō

“We do?”

“Naruto.”

“Just kidding.”

“Sorry didn’t mean to snap, but this is just taking soo long.”

“Yeah, hours.”

“Hey look, Tora is busy with watching that squirrel.”

“Let’s save the squirrel.”

Naruto yelped as Tora’s razor-sharp claws burrowed into his skin yet again. Granted, he was a fast healer, but this was ridiculous.

“This is not a D rank mission,” he said.

“It should be at least C-rank,” Sasuke agreed.

“Do we have a box?” he asked. Sasuke shook his head.

“No but I have a good idea.”

“I’ll flambé that cat,” growled Kochō while inspecting her ripped shirt, where Tora had caught it with his claws.

“Get in line Kochō,” grumbled Sasuke, rubbing his ear where Tora had managed to bite him while clawing at his face.

“I’ll flambé it, you electrocute it.”

“Forget Kyuubi, this cat is the real demon of Konoha,” muttered Naruto. Kochō slanted an eyebrow at the blond with a sly glance.

“Yeah, furball needs a better name,” a pair of shocked cobalt eyes met hers. Kochō just shrugged, “You are Naruto, not the fox, I know it, you know it, anyone that thinks different is a troublesome idiot.”

Groaning she slapped a palm to her forehead.

“I think you spend too much time with Shika -ttebayoo.”

“Shut up,” muttered Kochō, smiling slightly, glad that he finally figured out that she knew about Mr. Tall, Red, Angry and Fury. Now they could talk about it, which gave her some opportunities.

“Thank you,” muttered the aforementioned boy, and then said it a bit louder so that the other two would hear.

“I think we better pour some income together and get a cat carrier with reinforced seals.”
“Naruto, are there any paralyzing seals?” asked Sakura.

“What do you think I am using right now? Dattebayo!”

“Oh, so that’s why it’s so still.”

“Goodness, what makes this cat so feral? By the way, we still did not confirm that we got the target.”

“The daimyō’s wife, Madam Shijimi smothers it,” Kakashi said, making his students jump at his sudden appearance. “Good news, this is one of the fastest Tora-catching on record. Well done gaki’s.”

“Yay,” came the subdued and tired response from the teens. Naruto narrowed his eyes at their teacher who was smiling. Not that easy going smile, but that ha-ha, you are doomed, smile.

“There is bad news there somewhere isn’t there, ero-sensei?”

“Ero-sensei?”

“Orange book, Icha Icha, ring a bell?”

“Did you say something Naruto?”

“Not a thing,” came the innocent reply. “So sensei, what’s the bad news?”

“What makes you think there is one?”

“Karma is a bitch.”

“Naruto-baka, don’t curse. There are ladies present.” Sakura chided angrily.

“Yeah, yeah.”

“Well, as the only current active genin team to manage that speed, by the way thank you for that, it took a certain acorn-green man off my back. All Tora catching missions will be passed down to Team Seven.”

“Shit.”

“Sakura, there are ladies present.” Sakura became red as a tomato. Honestly, thought Kochō, she was putting Hinata’s blushes to shame.

“Naruto!!!”

Sakura got over it quickly though and went after Naruto, fists raised to hit the grinning blonde, who lifted the still paralyzed Tora as a shield.

“Ah, ah, ah Sakura. I have Tora and I am not afraid of using it.”

“Just you wait Naruto-baka.”

“Promises, promises.”

“We are so getting that cat carrier.”

“Hnn.”



*** Ichiraku's ramen stand***


Iruka was sitting at Ichiraku’s ramen stand with Naruto, as he polished off his 10th bowl of ramen.

“So Naruto, heard about Tora. Well done. It took my team a whole day.”

“Yeah, we are awesome, dattebayoo!” Naruto said proudly. “Kochō-chan will get a cat carrier, since we’re being be stuck on Tora duty -ttebayoo.”


End chapter.


Next: Slice of Genin life, Tora, Condor, and Sakura’s training...

Chapter Text

***Konoha, Hokage's office***



The Sandaime Hokage was enjoying the paperwork for a change. Why, one might ask, had such a strange thing occurred? Well, he was reading reports on his newest Konoha Genin teams. It was always entertaining guessing which of the teams would be fed up with chores and demand a C-rank mission.

And the reports from the jonin senseis were something hilarious. Well, the footnotes were.
Like this one from Team 7 and Team 10. He could always count on his son and Kakashi to lighten the reports up with sarcastic remarks, and Maito Guy's were always…colourful, to say the least.

Suddenly sensing a presence, Sarutobi tensed. It was as if the air had shifted in the room. Looking up from his paperwork, he met the eyes of his former teammate, Shimmura Danzō.

"Ah, Danzō. What…?"

"Spare me the formalities, Hiruzen," came the irritated response from the heavily bandaged man.

Sarutobi leaned back and lit his pipe, observing his old teammate, his rival at one time. He knew well enough of Danzō's little pet project, and one of the only things holding Hiruzen back from acting was partly sentiment—the man had, at one point, been his adviser and dear friend. The other reason was insufficient data. He had no idea what numbers ROOT held and the fact was that Danzō held considerable political power with the Council.

"Well, something is irritating you, my friend." Though the Hokage might have an inkling what irritated the other man.

Nobody knew how, but at the heart of Danzō's home, the place that was more heavily guarded than the Fire Daimyō's palace, ROOT, in the underground maze-like halls where security gave another name to paranoia, somehow someone had managed to deliver various books on home crafts such as Making of Origami, knitting, sewing, bead work, crochet, etcetera, along with a note that said:

Dear Danzō,
I urge you to take up some other hobby other then tending to roots. Might I suggest knitting? It's better for your health. - Natsu


"So you have no idea who could have done it?"

Ahh, so that's what it was. Hiruzen had to admit, while he did not know who the culprit was, he certainly gave him props for doing something about Danzō's ROOT.

"Ahh, no, but whoever got in should be awarded."

Danzō struck the wooden floor with his walking stick in anger. "Whoever the man is, he is a threat to this village!"

"Whoever it is, is threatening ROOT. Do not give me that look, Danzō. I know perfectly well you haven't disbanded it."

Danzō leaned back at those words, his facial expression unreadable. "I don't know what you mean."

The Sandaime Hokage leaned back in his chair and met Danzō's eye sternly, forming a last warning look to his once friend. If Danzō wouldn't heed his advice this time, he'd have to take steps. He could not let simple sentimentality lead his choices any longer. It was a mistake he had made with Orochimaru, although at the time he had suspected that Orochimaru's work was hidden, like his suspicions of the man before him now. As with so many things surrounding ROOT, he had no proof.

It was high time for him to contact Jiraya and recall him back to Konoha. The sooner the better. Ah, he was getting too old for this shit. Though Oonoki was older than Hiruzen and he was still going strong. Perhaps he should think about someone other than Jiraya to be his successor. It would free Hiruzen's time considerably and he would be able to spend more time with his grandson and surrogate grandson.

But that was for later. Besides, he had just the person in mind for Godaime Hokage, at least until Naruto was ready to take the hat.

"A word of advice, old friend. ROOT belongs in the dark, not the light. Only a leaf can function as Fire's shadow properly, not the darkness of roots." Then the Hokage smiled at the back of the ROOT commander.

"Maybe you should heed the mystery man's advice. He did send you books on knitting and other hobbies, did he not?"

Stiffening his posture, Danzō walked out. For the good of the village, he would find the man that was threatening Konoha. But he would have to accelerate his plans. It was a pity that ROOT was not at the full strength that it had been before he teamed up with Sanshōuo no Hanzō. That Akatsuki brat almost took him out and did take out most of his forces, so he'd had to postpone his plans in disposing of the Hokage until then.

But this time, yes, he had already contacted Orochimaru. Everything would go according to his plan. Soon his vision of Konoha would become a reality.


***Konohas academy grounds***



Naruto was walking towards the Academy. He still had time between his completed Capture Tora mission and the new one. It had only taken an hour to catch the cat this time. His team was getting better and better at cornering it, though this time Sasuke had had to heal the feline since both Kochō and Sasuke had went through with their threats of hitting it with both the Katon and Raiton. Granted, there was minimal power behind the jutsus, but at least they got a bit of payback. Even Sakura had not objected to the treatment.

Later, they would meet with Teams 8 and 10 at the training field to hang out; they sometimes played for a bit, or sparred, and in Shikamaru's case, slept or play shōgi with Shino. Sakura was usually attached to Sasuke—well, if she wasn't tired out by Anko and Kiba's kaa-chan. Kiba sometimes tried, and failed miserably, to pull a prank on him of all people. You did not mess with the King of Pranks -ttebayoo. Hinata was usually being weird. She really should go to the hospital and let some Iryō-nin give her a check up, since those fainting spells couldn't be healthy. Naruto sometimes sparred with Sasuke, Kiba, Ino or Kochō.

Sometimes they played group games and, funnily enough, every time that food was a reward Choji won.

Strategy games went to Shikamaru when he wasn't sleeping. If he was, Ino, Sasuke and Kochō pulled a win. Not to brag, but once he won and Shikamaru had played too, so Naruto had beaten the Nara once. He counted that as an achievement. However, the game that he won every time was hide and seek. It didn't matter if he was seeking. He found each and every one of them with his Saikuru Ekōrokēshon no jutsu that he had improved from Iruka's Ekōrokēshon no jutsu.

Anyway, he had time, so he decided to visit Iruka sensei. However, on his way toward the Academy, something made him turn around. A poor excuse for a disguise.

Naruto sighed, "Konohamaru, really, rocks are not square." When the last of Naruto's words rang out, a pink dust cloud appeared in place of the square 'rock'. When the smoke cleared out, three children struck various poses that were ruined by their coughing fits.

"Udon, you *cough* used too much *cough* powder."

Then the boy turned toward Naruto. "I, Konohamoru, the village genius and future Hokage, have arrived!"

"I'm Udon, the one who loves mathematics and chemistry," the boy with huge glasses piped up.

And lastly, the lone girl in the trio with orange hair in vertical pigtails said while attempting, and failing, some sort of seduction move.

"The one who possesses sex appeal, the sexiest kunoichi – Moegi."

"And together we are the Konohamoru corps!" they shouted together, making Naruto facepalm hard. But Konohamaru was already talking again.

"As expected of my rival to see through my perfect disguise!"

And right now, Naruto really, really wanted to find that closet pervert, Ebisu. What the hell was he teaching the brat? Yeah, he was conveniently ignoring the fact that Konohamaru wasn't that much younger that him.

"Anyway, Boss, I wanted to introduce you to Mitokado Udon." The glasses-wearing boy gave a small bow, though Naruto remembered thinking once before that the brown haired boy looked like he might fall asleep at any moment.

"And this is Utatane Moegi." The girl also bowed, and her two pigtails gave a wave of their own, kind of like bunny ears. And why were all three wearing goggles? Naruto had ditched his after a while since he looked kind of weird when he finally received his hitai-ate. The only reason he had even worn the goggles for so long was because they had been a gift from an Inu-masked ANBU, who had appeared a lot when he was little.

Naruto wondered briefly about what had happened to that ANBU

"Eh, Naruto-nii, can you play ninja with us?" Konohamaru asked eagerly, jumping up and down in his excitement and stomping on the end of his way-too-long blue scarf.

"Ne, ne, Boss is it true that you painted the Hokage Mountain without anyone noticing until it was done?" At Naruto's answer that yes, he had, the bespectacled boy looked more awake than he had before. "That is so amazing! You must be a really good tactician and stealth-type ninja, Naruto nii-san."

Naruto scratched the back of his head. "Heh, thanks, er, Udon." Then he turned to the still-hopeful Konohamaru. "Listen, as much as I want to play ninja with you, I'm on the way to see Iruka sensei…"

"You were searching for me, Naruto?" The voice came from behind, startling the three children who, at the sight of Academy instructor, tried to pretend that they were not there.

"I must say, what a pleasant surprise, and convenient too since I have something to give you. Wait a moment. It's in my office." Iruka retreated, back the way he had come from.
But before he disappeared completely, he began, "Oh and Konohomaru-kun, Moegi-chan, Udon-kun," – suddenly, he used his big-head jutsu on the three students, who frozen up, shuddering. "back to class. Now."

They were so fast that only the silhouettes of the three students lingered like a mirage or after image, making Naruto chuckle inside.

Kochō, meanwhile, was searching for someone, to nip a problem in the bud before it got out of hand. Well, more out of hand, considering the hints she had gotten from Anko regarding Kurenai, during their 'lets torture Buffy until she drops dead' time. It had made Kochō conclude that this filler character existed, but she was a bit iffy on the time line.

Now she only had to find that person so she could achieve it. She knew that in the anime, Naruto had found her while he was doing some solo training, sometime after Sasuke went to Orochimaru. She'd have to figure out how to prevent Sasuke from leaving. Kochō didn't know if she could prevent Orochimaru from sinking his fangs into the Uchiha, but hopefully giving him firmer bonds and Naruto giving Sasuke the talk that would taper Sasuke's revenge into justice, would be enough.

Heh, who would have thought that Manga Naruto had been right, in his wondering 'if I had approached Sasuke, would things be different?' It also helped that the boys sort of became friends before the massacre, and that Naruto didn't let Sasuke descend into his 'vengeance FTV' kick.

But only time would tell if that would be proven true or false.

Suddenly, Kochō heard movement and soon came upon a scene. While she hadn't been expecting this to happen, it certainly helped in doing what she had set out to do.

An ANBU, holding an unconscious girl. Now to get the girl from said ANBU.



***


That was surprisingly easy. Way too easy, thought Kochō, while she made sure that the drug-infused sleeping girl was sleeping comfortably after having gotten her away from her ANBU guard. Maybe the guard was half asleep or sick, but that was one pathetic ANBU who let a Genin, even one such as she, put a genjutsu on him.

A slight twitch on the pale face had drawn Kochō's attention back to her newest project, only to see two walnut orbs watching her with suspicion.

"Hi, I'm Shunran Kochō." Then she extended her hand toward the still girl. "Want to hang out? Or if you want to, you can return to that ANBU guard who was holding you like a sack of rice."

The girl scooted back, glaring fearfully. "W-what do you want?"

"To have fun. You do know what fun is, don't you?"

"…."

Sighing, Kochō pulled the girl to her feet. "So, am I going to learn your name any time soon?"

"…"

"Fine then." She tapped her chin for a bit, making a show of thinking. She knew the girl's name, but maybe having an alias would help her out. A fresh start as it were.
The girl just watched her companion strangely. Well, at least she wasn't looking at her with suspicion. "I know, I'll call you Asuka, because you are like a little bird that just escaped from a cage, and are flying now."

"Asuka?" the newly-named 'Asuka' murmured.

"Come on." Kochō pulled at the now-named girl's hand while the girl had a small smile on her face. Maybe this wasn't some plot from Yūhi Kurenai and the Sandaime Hokage.
Maybe she had made a friend. She had never had those. Kurenai was never that, she thought, and she had abandoned her, left her to die by that plot made by the Hokage that killed her parents. And her clan had never had any other children but her.



***Konoha- out of beaten track park***



Teams 7, 8 and 10 plus Kochō's new friend were assembled at their usual spot on the meadow, surrounded by trees, but with the Hokage tower visible.

Kochō stood up. "Everyone, this is Asuka." Said girl was holding on to Kochō's sleeve, watching the other teens with apprehension. She had never been in the vicinity of her peers, so Asuka was a little nervous. She practically jumped when a spiky blonde boy suddenly landed by Kochō's side.

"Ah! Naruto, this is Asuka. I found her with the ones you play hide and seek with." She hinted at Naruto's penchant for being chased by the ANBU which, come to think of it, hadn't happened for a while.

Well, with training there was no time for pulling pranks, and so Konoha was prank-free. Unless someone pissed Naruto off enough, of course, then all bets were off. It made some Chunin, and even Jonin, jumpy.

At the rising paranoia from the girl at the mention of ANBU, Naruto just hugged the surprised girl, who went from paranoid to embarrassmed. "Ahh, so you too have annoying ANBU tailing you. I know your pain." She wondered, 'Is this boy like me?'

"Okay, Asuka, let me introduce everyone to you." She patted Naruto on the head, making him glare at her. "This is Uzumaki Naruto, the most unpredictable ninja in Konoha, indisputable King of Pranks who has made the ANBU his personal playthings."

"And future Hokage! Don't forget that, Kochō-chan, -ttebayoo!"

"And future Hokage." Asuka couldn't help it, she smiled at the orange-clad boy and almost laughed when Kochō hissed in her ear, "It's a good thing for him that fashion sense is not a job requirement."

Then her friend waved a pale dark-eyed, raven-haired boy over. "This is Uchiha Sasuke. He doesn't say much except the occasional 'hn'." Said raven-haired boy was flipping her off, making Asukas eyes widen while she looked at Kochō to see if she was offended by the gesture. She wasn't, and what's more Kochō reached out and patted his raven spikes, just like she had done with the blond before. "You know its twue, Sasuke-kun," she baby-talked to the boy, who swatted her hand away. His lips twitched into a minute smile, which she would have missed if she had blinked, but what was impossible to miss, however, was the girl with pink hair glaring at Kochō.

Resisting the urge to return the glare at the pinkette for Kochō's sake, she listened as she introduced them.

"This is Haruno Sakura. She was the top kunoichi this graduation, and she likes ducky-butt." The last part was whispered for Asukas' ears only.



***


Back by the trees, away from the others, Team 10 was watching the scene. Ino was watching the interactions with interest. The body language of the brown-haired girl by Kochō's side wasn't lost on her; she didn't miss the flashes of distrust in those walnut eyes, but also hope, nor did she miss the look Kochō sent her. She knew that look—Kochō had had it when she'd said that Ino, Shikamaru and Choji should meet Naruto. She'd had the exact same expression when she'd dragged Sasuke out of his house with Naruto days after the massacre. It was the same look she was sporting now, that said, 'here is someone who needs special therapy, Ino-Kochō-Shika-Cho style.

A muttered "troublesome" was heard from her left. Apparently that look wasn't lost on Shikamaru either, and knowing that lazy ass, he was already making plans to help the girl.
Oh, yeah, they'd managed to make Shikamaru more active. She should have introduced Naruto to him sooner. Goldie was truly a ray of sunshine, judging by how he had managed to motivate the Nara.

"Shikamaru."

Shikamaru frowned at his chubby friend. "Troublesome, but…" He hated mysteries. They always begged him to be solved, and it was just insufferable to leave them be. They gnawed at him, ate at him in the corner of his mind, until he finally figured them out.
His first and, in a lot of ways, worst mystery appeared in the Academy. It was one he had yet to solve: Uzumaki Naruto. So at the Academy when Ino and Kochō dragged him to meet the blond boy, he hadn't protested much. After all, to solve a puzzle he had to be near said puzzle.

Nothing that troublesome blond did made any sense. First, he could not even do a Bunshin. Then he spawned Kage Bunshins like it was nobody's business. In class, Shikamaru had noted that Naruto had at least jōnin level chakra capacity, and when he'd heard Iruka and Mizuki arguing about whether he should pass or not, Shikamaru had thought that you'd have to be a total idiot not to let Naruto pass. With that level of chakra, he would actually find it easier to master higher level techniques. Who would turn down a student like that? But he hadn't passed; still, he'd appeared at orientation, with a headband.

Yeah, Naruto, the orange mystery that he wanted to follow.

Now this new mystery had appeared in the form of a cute girl. How troublesome.

"Yes, I trust Kochō and she is doing fine."

"Yeah, like I said, troublesome."

"You are going to help, Shikamaru." Ino cocked her head, making her pale blonde hair sway.

"Troublesome blond."

Team 10 jumped somewhat when an orange clad arm wrapped around Shikamaru shoulders while the other draped over Ino's.

"Ahh, ahh, Shika, don't be like that." Naruto waved with the hand that was holding Ino at Choji, who waved back, still munching on the ever-present bag of chips.

"And another troublesome blond appears," sighed Shikamaru, then he poked the laughing Naruto so that the blond let him out of his hold, leaving a grinning Naruto to trail behind him with Ino and Choji.

Still with his arm around his fellow blond, he turned his mirthful eyes to her.

"So, Ino-buta chan, how have you been?"

"Stop calling me that … fishcake!"

The two blonds started to poke fun at each other's names. Finally rejoining the others, Kochō introduced Asuka to the rest of them.

But something was bothering the sunglasses-wearing bug-user. Namely, that there was some weird thing tailing Naruto, which the boy ignored with a vengeance if the twitching eyebrow over his cobalt eyes were any indication. But once again, he could not tell him that. Why? Because Kiba had opened his big mouth.

"Er, Naruto, did you know that a rock is following you?" asked the boy with a white puppy on top of his head, who barked twice as if it was wondering the same thing. Ino watched the square rock for a while, then turned to Kochō when she made a strangled sound. She saw her friend duck behind Asuka, holding her hand over her mouth to repress her laughter.

Naruto rolled his eyes skyward and prayed for patience, hoping that Konahamaru would just go away. Didn't they have the Academy to attend? Oh, yeah, they had probably crept out after they'd run from Iruka that time. Damn, and he thought that if he ignored them they'd have gone back to school by now.

Silly him.

"What is that?" asked 'Asuka,' while pointing at the two holes in the rock.

Sasuke looked over, "Maybe we should use it as target practice, throwing shuriken or kunai." He smirked and almost laughed when he saw the rock twitch.

Kiba give a toothy smile, catching on. "Hey, Akamaru, let's try our new justsu on it too."
As soon as the last of Kiba's words rang out, there was purple puff of smoke, and Naruto palmed his face hard while muttering 'deja vu'.

"It is I, Konohamoru of the Konohamaru Corps!" the kids screamed while waving their arms around to ward off the two Genin that were threatening them. But no one could say that Sarutobi Konohamaru didn't recover quickly.

"How dare you mangle our entrance, you fleabag!" He pointed at Kiba angrily.

"What did you call me, you brat?" Kiba cracked his knuckles.

"Kiba, you shouldn't let children get to you," Shino stated. "Why? Because they were playing and they are still learning."

"There you go again with your weird logic, Shino."

"Kiba-kun, maybe you should f-forgive them. They are kids after all."

"Hinata is right."

"N-nnn, Naruto-k-kun…"

"…? Guys, you really, really should take Hinata-chan to the hospital -dattebayoo."
"Naruto, don't worry," intoned Shino "Why? Because Hinata will be fine. Just give her some time alone."

"If you say so. I'll put her in the shade since she is so red in the face…ah, she did it again -ttebayoo"

"Hnn, impressive since she was already unconscious. Didn't know that an already unconscious person could fall unconscious," muttered Sasuke, while running Shindan Yashi no Sukyan over Hinata.



***



"Let's play the Minefield game!" suggested Ino suddenly.

"I'll call the teams and keep the tally," said Shikamaru, ignoring the coughs of 'lazy bum'.
Kochō pulled the Konohamaru Corps along with Asuka to explain the game. "Shikamaru will put out obstacles while we will be divided into pairs. One of the pair is blindfolded while the other in the team guides his or her partner through the traps."

Shikamaru clapped his hands once, bringing attention to himself.

"Right, the teams are as follows: Team 1—Konohamaru and Hinata." Konahamaru pouted a bit since he was not paired with Naruto, but Hinata smiled at him timidly, so it was not a total loss. At least he was paired up with a cute, kind girl.

"Team 2—Moegi and Sakura."

"Team 3—Udon and Kiba." Kiba nodded. As long as he wasn't paired with that Konohamaru brat, now he just had to beat Naruto and whomever he would be paired with.

They played till the late afternoon, switching partners all the time until Shikamaru stopped the game.

"Alright, it's late and a lot of us are hungry, therefore I officially call the game over. Now Choji and Asuka had the fastest time going through the obstacles, so where are we going?"

"Barbecue!" came the immediate response from Choji. Then he looked at the brown haired girl beside him. "Ohh, sorry, you don't mind barbeque, right, Asuka?" He gave her a pleading look.

The slightly taken aback Asuka cleared her throat and shook her head.

"Yatta, barbecue, barbecue!"

"Alright, Choji, lead the way."



***Yakiniku Kyū***



With eleven of them, they had to put three tables together so that all of them were seated together comfortably.

"Hey , Kochō, Sakura," began Ino. "It's been a while since you two slept over. Think you can slip away from your family tonight?"

"Well, I have to inform my parents first, but it shouldn't be a problem. Besides, Naruto, you're staying over with my parents tonight. They were asking about you." At the blond's nod, since he couldn't talk because he was stuffing his face so that he looked like a hamster with puffed up cheeks, Kochō turned toward the pinkette that was eating normally. Huh, looks like somebody's diet went down the drain. "How about you, Sakura?"

"Sure, I have nothing to do today. I'll just notify my parents about the sleepover."

Kochō and Ino exchanged a quick look. "Asuka, you should totally come too, and Hinata! We'll make it an all girl's night," Kochō said with a grin.

Hinata was poking her index fingers together nervously. "R-really?"

Ino nodded, smiling. "It's no problem. Mom and Dad love when others come for a visit. So what do you think, can you make it, Asuka, Hinata?"

"I- I'm sure Otōsama won't mind," Hinata said, but there was a slight frown on her face. Probably thinking about her father, Kochō thought. Speaking of family issues, Hinata wasn't the only one.

"How about you, Asuka? Will you be able to come?" she asked said girl.

"Yes," was Asukas' immediate reply.

Kochō raised an eyebrow at Ino. That was strong agreement, something that Asuka hadn't done before. It looked like the girl had some spirit.

Speaking of spirit, she owed a certain someone for an incident in the bathroom, so when she saw that he was immersed in conversation with Shikamaru and Shino, Kochō got an idea in her head. Acting on impulse, she gives a wink to the girls and a gesture for silence. Slipping quietly behind Naruto, right as he raised both his arms in large show of gesticulation, she started to tickle him.

Soon Naruto's whinnying laughter ran through the establishment, "K…hahahahhahah! Kochō," he managed through his laughing fit. Who would have thought he was ticklish, heh. She was so going to have fun with that.

"Stop! Hahaha! "

"Nope, not happening." Now everyone around the table was openly laughing, even Sasuke and Asuka.

"S-hahahaha, Sasuke, hahaha, help!"

"Hnn, no. This is too entertaining to watch!"

"A-hahaha-asshole! Hahahaha, Shikamaru!"

"Too troublesome."

"Lazy bastard!"

"Hahahaha, help, Choji!"

"I cannot allow this food to go to waste, Naruto!"

"K-Kiba!"

"Alright, Akamaru," Kiba said, and dived in along with the puppy. "Oh no, Kochō is attacked by puppy power," said Ino, laughing as she watched Akamaru proceed to lick Kochō's face and Kiba fell over Naruto in his haste to get Kochō away from him.

"Oi, dog breath, you are heavy -ttebayoo."

"What did you call me?"

"Need to clean your ears, huh?"

And so another battle ensued.



*** Somewhere in Hokage's tower***



Unknown to the Genin, the Hokage was aware of Kochō's tangle with the ANBU guard over the Kurama clan heiress, Yakumo. "Unkai-san, it appears your fears about your niece being kidnapped have proven unfounded."

"It appears so, Hokage-sama," answered the kimono-clad, brown-haired man who was watching through a crystal ball alongside the Hokage.

"Well then, I'm going to collect Yakumo-sama now."

"Wait," came the command from his Hokage, in a voice that brooked no argument, a commanding voice that left no choice but to obey.

A puff of smoke from the Hokage's ever-present pipe lifted into the air. "This was unexpected, but we should capitalize on it. Your niece is, perhaps for the first time, among her peers and she's stopped being paranoid about everything a while ago."

"That is true, Sandaime. Well, how should we proceed?" Kurama Unkai rubbed his chin in thought. Certainly, by the looks of it, Yakumo-sama hadn't displayed her infliction, whether physical or psychological.

"Those brats down there with her, perhaps they can do what we failed to do. Now I think having a private tutor was a mistake. She should enter the Academy, but all of the students in classes now are much younger than her, therefore…." There was a knock on the door, which opened when Sarutobi called for them to enter.

"…ah, I've been waiting for you."

"You called me, Chichiue?"

"Yes, Asuma, how would you feel about taking on another Genin?"

"Huh?"



*** Yakiniku Kyū ***


As the night grew darker, the children started to break up into groups. Kochō and the rest of the girls, minus Moegi, who went home, went to the Yamanaka compound.

"Girls," Ino's father, Yamanaka Inoichi, greeted them with a smile. "It's been a while. And who are these two?"

"This is Hinata." Ino pointed at the Hyūga heiress, who give a polite bow as befitting of a daughter of Hyūga Hiashi. Of course, Inoichi knew which clan she belonged to and that she was the heiress of said clan. Crippling shyness aside, Hinata was a kind girl who would eventually get over her shyness. More interesting was the Kurama clan heiress that the Hokage had warned him about. Well, he would certainly do what the Hokage had asked and help the girl with her problem. After all, his clan did specialize in the mind.

"And this is Asuka," Ino finished her introduction.

"Well then." A woman's voice came from inside the house, and Ino's mother came up behind her husband. Unlike her husband, who had his long platinum hair in a high ponytail, her brown hair was wrapped tightly around her head, not a wisp out of place.

"Girls, come on in. Now, I already know Kochō-san and Sakura-san," – here she gave a polite nod of her head to the two girls – "since they've slept over before, but I am sure I'll get to know the two of you as well. Hinata-san, Asuka-san, I'm Yamanaka Wakana, pleased to meet you."



*** Hokage's tower : Mission desk***



"All right Hokage-jiji, no more D-ranks. We did them about fifty-ttebayoo!"

The Hokage glanced at the list of available missions, then his eyes returned to the waiting Team 7.

"Naruto, you have less than two months of experience as a ninja, "Iruka said from his seat next to the Hokage. "There is a reason why new Genin get sent on D-rank missions."

The Hokage smiled. "So, Naruto, you want a real mission, and I assume your teammates feel the same?" At seeing the determined nods from the other Genin and the slight nod from Kakashi, the Hokage smiled. It looked like Team 7 was ready.

"Fine, then I will give you a C-Rank mission. It is an escort mission." He then turned to the Chunin at the door. "Send the client in." Said Chunin opened the adjacent door, waving someone in.

A grey haired, bespectacled man with a large beard stepped into the room wearing a patched-up brown sleeveless v-neck shirt, sizing them up with his dark eyes.

"I'm supposed to believe that you're ninja? You're just a bunch of brats."

"Hey, Ossan, watch who you're calling brats –ttebayoo!"

"You can't honestly expect me to be safe when my bodyguards are pint-sized." The man grouched, and then took the sake gourd to his lips to take a sip, only for a gust of wind to shatter the pottery.

"Care to say that again, Ossan?"

Kakashi grabbed Naruto's shoulder, restraining him. "Naruto, you can't attack the client like that, no matter how insulting and rude they are. The rest of you," – he looked at his other students, noting the glares aimed at the old man – "stand down."

Said client shook his sake drenched hand. "My name is Tazuna. I'm a master bride builder from Nami no Kuni and I need you to escort me back to my county, where I am building a bridge."

Kakashi nodded, and then he turned to Team 7. "Alright, my cute little Genin, we are going to meet at the gates early tomorrow, so pack for a long trip."

 



End chapter.

Next: Wave mission, Haku, Zabuza, Gato, Demon brothers




Translation:

Ekōrokēshon no jutsu – Echolocation jutsu

Saikuru Ekōrokēshon no jutsu – Cycle Echolocation jutsu

Shindan yashi no sukyan – Diagnostic palms scan

Chapter Text

Kyuubi (or any of the tail demons really) talking

Sign language

Summon talking

 


 

 

***Konoha's main gate***



At dawn, Team Seven were at the front gates of Konoha, waiting by a check in/out booth, where two 'eternal' chūnins Hagane Kotetsu and Kamizuki Izumo were sitting and guarding the entrance to the village. They were always on duty, taking naps when no visitors came, or when no departing teams or merchants were checking out from Konoha.

Team Seven was kept waiting for about five minutes before Kakashi appeared in a puff of smoke.

"Yo, my little Genin."

"You…you are on time!" shouted Naruto, pointing at the grey-haired jōnin, "Who the hell are you and what did you do with our sensei?" The two chūnin in the booth snickered at a perplexed Hatake Kakashi.

"This is a mission, Naruto, so I am taking it seriously." The jōnin crossed his arms, and Sasuke raised his eyebrows. Deciding that he should add to this discussion, the dark haired team member of Team 7 added on to his blond teammate's comments.

"Still, sensei, it is surprising that you are on time, you are late to everything."

"Yeah, Kaka-sensei, you are late for anything and everything," piped in Kochō after Sasuke was done talking, grinning at their sensei. Sakura just nodded.

"Ha-ha, you, my little Genins, are such comedians," Kakashi grumbled, mock glaring at his students, and then sobering up as he switched to more serious matters.

"Show me your equipment."

Sakura rattled on, "Camping equipment, some extra kunai, food for a month, two if I ration."

"Good. Kochō, you're next."

"My camping gear, Butterfly blades, poisons and antidotes, bandages, some medical oils, explosive tags, food for a month, throwing starts, kunai and senbon needles." Then she paused for a bit before she added, with a slight blush dusting her cheeks, "And a sealing scroll that my aunt gave me, full of scrolls on all sorts of genjutsu." Not to mention novels, but she wasn't going to go into that. Mentally, she sighed. It looked as if that stigma she had imposed on herself in her previous life that of a blond ditz, remained deeply ingrained in her if she still felt such embarrassment at the fact that she liked to read now and then.

"Kochō-chan doesn't need to worry –ttebayo. I'll show you how to make basic sealing scrolls, so you'd be able to pack more."

"Really, thanks. It would be so much help with storing things."

"Sasuke."

"Hn, camping gear, kunai, ninja wire, Fūma shuriken, first aid kit, antidotes."

"Naruto, finish it."

"Camping stuff, instant ramen for three months, extra storage scrolls, my chakra blade, sealing equipment, I also packed extra kunai, dry food if we ran out, blankets, extra bandages and an extra sleeping bag."

"Ahh, the pleasure of having a seal user among us." Kakashi eye smiled.

"Now, as you have noticed, our client, who is late, is a bit shifty, so be extra alert. Do you remember the basic ANBU hand signs that I taught you?" At the four nods, he smiled again. "Good job. Now this will be our formation: Naruto, send some of your clones ahead of us. They are to dispel if they find anything. Sasuke, you are on medical support; Sakura, stay with Tazuna; Kochō, you will take point with Naruto; and I'll bring up the rear."

"Oh, there you are." Tazuna stumbled toward them, even drunker than when they'd last seen him. "Ready to go?"

"Maybe I should make clones to carry him." Naruto noted their client's wobbly steps. "He doesn't look like he can walk for more than couple of meters," he said, eyeing the bridge builder with a concerned frown on his face.

Kakashi eye smiled. "Naruto, the first lesson today is this…" There was a pause while Naruto looked up expectantly, before Kakashi suddenly smacked him on the head.

"Ouch!" Naruto clutched the bump on his crown of his head that was beginning to form where Kakashi had smacked him on the head.

"Don't insult the client in front of them. It looks bad. Now let's go, team, Tazuna-san."

"Wasn't insulting him," Naruto grumbled under his breath.



*** Path to Nami no Kuni***



The day was bright and cloudless, a perfect day for travelling. They set out towards the east, taking a well-travelled road to the port city. From there they would continue along the coastline until they found a boat which would bring them to Nami. Normally they would make this trip in two days, maybe three, but Tazuna could not travel with ninja speed, so they had to walk at his pace.

It allowed the teens to do some sightseeing; they could afford it because the clones were combing the road and its surroundings for any trouble.

But something was clear as day they walked along: Team 7 didn't like their client.

Or trusted him.

At all.

Kakashi thought that he was hiding something – he didn't like it when clients didn't reveal every piece of information. Lots of things could go wrong when the client lied or omitted things. Good shinobi had died on missions like that.

Naruto didn't like Tazuna because he belittled his team – he wanted to prove that Team Seven could do any job laid out for them. Also, something didn't feel right about Tazuna himself. Rude drunken old man he might be, but there was something in his eyes, a hidden pain that Naruto picked up on. The man was terrified of something.

Sakura didn't like that he was drunk – she didn't like drunken people in general. They could get so violent. Well, more than usual. Just look at Anko-sensei. Not that she'd say that to the Snake Mistress' face. She had some survival instinct, thank you very much.

Sasuke didn't like that the client was shifty – he hated liars.

And Kochō, she didn't like the feeling that she was forgetting something. Wave mission; it rang a bell but she couldn't remember what had happened. Well, it had been a long time since she had watched the Anime… hopefully she would remember in time.

For the most part, Naruto was on point, occasionally switching with Kochō, then Sasuke, while Sakura mostly stayed around Tazuna, quizzing him about Nami, the bridge, his family, etc. Kakashi brought up the rear, face buried in his ever present Icha-Icha book.

When they stopped for the night, they set up camp a short distance off the road, concealed by bushes. Sasuke decided that he should go hunting, followed by Sakura.
Sasuke thought for a moment, and then agreed to take her with him, much to Naruto and Kochō's surprise and Sakura's delight. Kochō and Naruto were setting up camp protection, and between the two of them they rigged a mini minefield of traps, with some really nasty surprises for would-be intruders. Kakashi prepared the camp fire.

After setting up watch sequences the fire was dosed. Naruto had first watch, since after walking he still had energy to burn, followed by Sasuke, then Kochō, leaving Sakura with the easiest dawn watch.


***



Tazuna walked slower than the day before, still drowsy and sore from sleeping on the hard ground all night, but they made decent time.

On the third day they spotted the port city, but instead of entering they bypassed it, veering off onto the path that would lead them south.

Kochō kicked at a pebble. She was still not exactly clear on what was supposed to happen, but she had a vague memory of something to do with ice. At least that was something.
Taking a calming breath, she tried to calm her nerves. They hadn't encountered any trouble on the road so far and she was beginning to wonder if she had mixed something up. After all, there were probably things that happened off screen, right?

Everyday life and such, for example.

Though with how much she remembered…now why hadn't she written down her recollections? That was careless. What if she forgot everything, like she'd forgotten most of the English language? French was gone from her memory. Even her mother, Joyce's face was blurry. As for the others, she had utterly forgotten how they looked like.

Suddenly, Naruto's hand shot out a series of signals. There is a puddle ahead, genjutsu, two chakra signatures about chūnin level.

"Now, my cute Genin," said Kakashi at that moment, casting a warning look at his students, "I understand that you never been out of Konoha or Hi no Kuni, therefore I am going to give you some pointers. If the water tastes funny, spit it out. If a vegetable has a bitter taste, do not swallow. An ideal situation would be to see if a herbivore animal will eat before you do."

They turned a corner on the path, and Naruto saw the small puddle in the middle.
"Dattebayoo," he muttered. That's stupid, he thought. Even if I didn't have sensing jutsu or clones running around, it hasn't rained in days. As they passed the puddle, nothing happened. Tazuna passed the puddle as well, and Kakashi was signalling them to stand down and let the attack happen. He signalled this while his nose was buried in his book, and when he stepped near it, it happened.

Two men materialized out of thin air. They wore dark clothing, with Kiri headbands that was crossed over. Kiri missing nin then, with half of their faces covered. They were armed with metal gauntlets which released chain shuriken, and they were attacking Kakashi in tandem, capturing him in their chains and shredding him to pieces.

And at that precise moment, Kochō remembered: Kiri, Demon Brothers, Zabuza, Haku…she felt like she should hit the tree with her head for forgetting that.

Sasuke put his hand into the tiger seal. "Katon: Hosenka no jutsu!" That quickly followed with Naruto's "Fūton: Sasu no Kaze!"

The two dodged the obvious attack, but had to stop when an invisible blade cut their chain in two.

"Kochō-chan stays with Sakura and Tazuna. Sasuke, let's get to business. Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!"



***



As the steam from the collision of the Demon brothers' Water jutsu and the combo from Sasuke's Katon and Naruto's Futon justu cleared, there was Kakashi, standing by the tied missing nin, putting some sort of seal on them that only Naruto could figure out with only a glance. He activated it and then additionally bound them to the tree.

"Our patrol will find them. I suppose we'll probably receive a bounty for those two, but first," –he then turned to their captives– "just who was your target?"

"As if we'd tell you."

Kakashi sighed. "I knew you'd say that. I really didn't want to waste time with this, but…team, take Tazuna-san and start walking."


"So Gatō, of the Gatō Shipping Company?" Kakashi asked Tazuna when he caught up to them.

"W-what do you mean, Kakashi-san?" the bridge builder asked nervously.



***


Meanwhile, inside a certain someone, the Kyuubi no Kitsune leaned on his front paws, red slitted eyes regarding the red bars surrounding him.

"Tch, this is boring," he said in the silence of his prison. "That human who blabbed to the brat about me, he is definitely on the list of people to eat. I could have tricked my jailer when he arrived here to set me free."
Then the black lips lifted, showing rows of large, razor sharp teeth in a terrifying demon fox grin.

"Then again, I am the nine tails Biju bigger, than any mansion. Even that idiot would not fall for, 'Human, come closer and peel off that piece of paper on the bars. No worries, it just ruins the décor of this room, nothing damaging to you at all." He chuckled, his booming laugh echoing through the spacious, flooded room.

"At least I can walk, sit or stand while being trapped in here, but I won't be here long now. The brat has used my chakra, and therefore the seal will weaken and let even more of my chakra in to the system…"



***

Kochō listened when Tazuna talked about the bridge, his family, money problems, and most importantly, Gatō.

"You could have spoken to Hokage-sama. He is a fair and reasonable man. You could have worked out a deal," Kakashi said softly. He sympathized with the bridge builder, but he had lied about, well, everything.

"You don't understand. This bridge is our life line. It's the only thing Gatō is afraid of. If I finish, it will break his hold on Nami no Kuni and our trade with other countries can start again. I have to finish that bridge."

"While your motives were…somewhat noble, Tazuna-san, you lied about mission parameters. We should return to Konoha as we are not bound to help you anymore. However, I'll let my team decide."

"Please, I have a daughter and a grandson! If I die, they…"

"Don't," Sasuke warned. "Don't beg, you lying old drunk."

"But don't let that sway you." Tazuna just continued talking, forcing a smile, "Sure, my eight year old grandson Inari will cry for months wondering when I'll come home. And my daughter Tsunami…"

The Genin tuned him out at that point.

Sasuke looked at his fellow Genin. "I say we continue. We've come this far."

"When I became a shinobi, it was so I could protect precious people in my village and help people in general dattebayo."

Tazuna stared at the teens that were huddled together with a sweat drop on the side of his face. "Are they ignoring me?"

Kakashi looked from his book that he had pulled out from somewhere after Tazuna started to talk about how his daughter would denounce Konoha. "It appears so."

"Brats these days. No respect for their elders," grumbled the bridge builder.

"He is a filthy drunk," continued Sakura, "but I agree with the boys."

Kochō give a nod. "So it is decided: we will help you, Tazuna-san."

Kakashi sighed. "There you have it, Tazuna-san. We'll continue guarding you, but you will make amends with the Hokage, right, Tazuna-san?"

"Y-yes, Kakashi-san."

So Kakshi – sensei, what happened to the Demon brothers?" asked Naruto, who was curious since the two men's chakra had disappeared.

"Hm, I almost forgot." Kakashi pulled a scroll in black wrapping from his pocket, and Naruto's eyes widened.

"That is a stasis scroll –ttebayo!" he exclaimed.

"Correct. A scroll that all jōnin and ANBU carry with them. Its purpose is the transport of living beings."

"I know, I made one at home," Naruto said while pulling out a similar coloured scroll, only that his had orange stripes. He waved said scroll before Kakashi's frowning face.

"That is great, Naruto, but why would you need a stasis sealing scroll?" asked Sasuke.

"Yeah, Naruto-baka, it's not like you could have managed to catch and seal a missing nin," added Sakura, while Kochō was holding back laugher, mostly because she had been around when Naruto had managed to make that seal. The boy had been bouncing from wall to wall and proclaiming at the top of his lungs that now he would have…

"….it's for Ichiraku ramen –tteabayo!" he yelled loudly, with stars in his eyes. "Now I can just order bowls of ramen-chan at Ichiraku and seal it in, and when I take it out…mmmm, it's just as if I were at Ichiraku dattebayo!"



***Nami no Kuni***



Later, the six were slowly making their way towards Tazuna's home in the same formation they had been in before attack of the Demon brothers.

They were approaching a wide curve in the road when Naruto launched a kunai into the bushes, surprising everyone in the group.

Kakashi moved towards the bushes to discover a trembling snow white bunny; he then glanced at Naruto, who signalled. Enemy ahead. Jōnin level chakra.
Kakashi then signalled all his students. Let me engage first. Protect the client, use Manji no Jin. Play fool.

"Naruto-baka!" screamed Sakura. "Why did you scare the poor bunny?" She then proceeded to hug the animal. Naruto, meanwhile, made a great act of being sorry and apologizing profusely to the rabbit.

"Get down!" shouted Kakashi suddenly, hearing a whirling sound, but the others were already on it, with Kochō and Sasuke dragging Tazuna for cover.

A colossal sword sliced through the air in circles above them, before embedding itself into a nearby tree. Then in a blur of a shunshin a tall figure appeared, standing on the sword.
He was shirtless, wearing baggy grey pants with a cow-like print and elbow warmers. His face was covered by bandages and his Hitai-ate was tied above his forehead with the symbol of Kirigakure crossed out, proclaiming him a missing nin from Kiri.

"Momochi Zabuza, demon of the Hidden Mist," Kakashi said. "Looks like I really have to get serious."

"Sharingan no Kakashi, the copy nin," Zabuza replied. "No wonder the Demon Brothers were defeated. I'm here for the old man. Give him up and I will let you and your brats go, unharmed."

"I can't let you do that," replied Kakashi, lifting his forehead protector. "Protect Tazuna and stay out of this," he ordered the genin. Jump in when there is an opening, he signalled.
"Using your ace in the sleeve so soon? I am honoured. Let me do the same."



***



Kakashi had Zabuza pinned to a tree, taking a stance to deliver his next volley of attacks that would finish Zabuza off, when two senbon flew past Kakashi and pierced Zabuza's throat.

"What. The. Hell," muttered Sasuke. He knew that Kochō hadn't thrown her senbon. In fact, throughout the whole fight she hadn't used anything but kunai, which was a bit weird. He'd have to ask her what was going on with that. She had been unusually reserved in this fight.

All of them turned in the direction that the projectile flown from, only to see the slender figure of a Kiri hunter nin.

"The fight is over. Momochi Zabuza is dead," the hunter nin said, then used shunshin to appear beside the downed Zabuza. It was hard to see if the hunter-nin was male or female, as he was wearing clothes that hid his body shape. What could be seen was white skin and long, black hair that was tied up in a white bun, save for two bangs that framed the nin's masked face.

"I have hounded him for a very long time," he said, then kneeled by the body, pulling a limp arm around his shoulders. "Thank you for slowing him down and giving me the chance to kill him."

He then flashed through hand signs one-handed. "Farewell." Then he disappeared along with Zabuza in a small wave of water.

"Mizu Sunshun," Naruto muttered, trying to recall the hand signs that the hunter nin had used, only for Sasuke to lightly tap his shoulder and give him a slight nod. Ah, Sasuke knew the signs already, and he'd show them to Naruto later.

"Be on your guard," Kakashi said, while slightly swaying from chakra exertion.

"Don't worry Kakashi sensei." He heard Kochō sooth him while he succumbed to the exhaustion.

"Chakra exertion," Sasuke observed, "due to using the Sharingan." Luckily for him, his sharingan doesn't require that much chakra. "He'll be up in a day or two. I'll make some of those special soldier pills to speed up his recovery."

"It's good then that Zabuza is dead, at any rate," Sakura said, "Now we'll only have to worry about regular mercenaries that Gatō employs."

"Ah, no." Naruto scratched the back of his head while shooting a look at Kochō, who was watching the direction the hunter nin had disappeared in. So Kochō-chan was suspicious about this situation too.

"That hunter nin was a fake."

"What do you mean baka…?" Sakura trailed off, then remembered that hunter nins when killing their prey always burned the body after severing the head of the missing nin as proof. As she was thinking, Naruto created clones and then henged them into woodland animals, scattering them around in search of the two ninja.

"What do you mean Zabuza isn't dead?" Tazuna asked, worried.

Naruto shrugged. "His chakra was still there. It was weak but there. Don't worry, Ossan. Zabuza will be out of commission for days."

"Probably a week. Hey Naruto, help me with sensei, will you?"

"Sure, Sasuke."

Naruto made some more clones that helped to carry Kakashi. "Hey Boss," one clone said. "Next time pack a stretcher, will ya."

"That's right, Boss, Kakashi-sensei is heavy. We'll get hernia ttebayoo!"

"Oh huh, smartass, there is always at least one," grumbled the original Naruto.

"Tazuna-san." Tazuna turned toward the lavender-haired girl. "We need to reach your house as soon as possible."

"I'll lead you," Tazuna said, and true to his word, half an hour later they arrived at a house that was surrounded by a moat.

A pretty, dark-haired woman that gave Sasuke a bittersweet walk down memory lane as she bore a striking resemblance to Mikoto, his mother, rushed out of the house to meet them, or more accurately…

"Father! Are you all right?" she asked.

Tazuna nodded, then indicated Team 7. "I am thanks to these Konoha shinobi. This is my daughter, Tsunami."

Sakura smiled kindly at the woman. "Tsunami-san, is there a place we can rest? We also need to put our sensei to bed to rest."

Tsunami nodded. "Yes, please follow me, shinobi-san."

A few moments passed as Sasuke and Naruto's clones manoeuvred Kakashi into the guest room and fussed over him a little, not to mention Naruto took off his mask and drew a moustache on his face.

Kochō was very pleased that the mystery over Kakashi's face was solved, though he did wear two masks, one over the other. Not that that had stopped Naruto, and by that point Sakura and Sasuke were curious as well. Not to mention Sasuke had had to give him a pill that would restore their jōnin sensei's chakra.



*** Tazuna's home***



The next day, Kakashi opened his eyes, feeling a slight weight on his chest. Taking a look, he saw his pink haired student taking a nap. Looking around, he noticed that all four of his students had decided to sleep with him, but luckily not all of them on him.

He then yawned to get their attention. It did, and they stirred, slowly getting up from their intertwined positions. He truly wished he had a camera. His cute genin were like a bunch of baby puppies all in one heap sleeping.

"He will come back," he said curtly to his students. At their nods of confirmation he continued, "Today we train. Zabuza's accomplice put him in a death-like state, so between that, chakra exhaustion and the wounds that he received fighting us, it will be over a week before he recovers."

"We should take out Gatō."

"This is not an assassination mission, Sasuke," Kakashi said sternly. He did not want any of his Genin to make their first kill as assassins, but as defenders. "We should not overstep our mandate."

"We are not," Sasuke disagreed strongly, watching Kakashi. "Our mandate is to protect the bridge builder so that he can finish his bridge, and Gatō is a real threat to our mission."

Kakashi sighed. Sasuke was right. He looked at the others; Sakura looked nervous and a little bit afraid, Kochō's expression was unreadable. Well, he could see telltale signs of someone who could do the hard thing, but who would ultimately need extensive help in dealing with the aftermath. Naruto just looked determined, but he knew that his sensei's son wouldn't take the aftermath of killing someone as an assassin well. Minato had been the same. He could mow down an army without problems, but later the backlash of his conscience was never pretty.

"For now, I have to rest. We also need to eat, and then training begins. We'll discuss this further at some later date." Kakashi then turned to Sasuke. "You should not talk so lightly of killing someone."

"Yes, someone who is starving this country for his own greed," Sasuke muttered. He hated people who were like that, who exploited others for their own sick pleasures, or who killed men, women and children just to test themselves.

"We could hit him where it hurts the most," Naruto said, looking at his sensei and Sasuke. While the idea of killing someone did not appeal to him, he knew that someday they would all kill somebody. They were shinobi after all, the epitome of the phrase 'Jack of all trades'.

"His power base."

"Nah, men like him wouldn't keep money in one place though. Naruto, you could have sent henged clones to map out Gatō's hideouts in Nami."

"Already on it, Kakashi-sensei. A few are looking for that fake hunter-nin and Zabuza as well."

"This could very well work. Well, we'll focus on guarding a bridge in the meantime, which means you'll need to master water walking. Luckily you've already mastered tree walking." He looked at Sakura, who paled at the memory of how Anko had taught her that. "We can also work on some other things you want to work on."



***



Feeling immensely better, Kakashi made two shadow clones and left them with his students while the original went to guard Tazuna at the bridge, and read Icha Icha of course.

In the meantime, the clones divided students two by two, with Kochō and Naruto together while the other clone took Sasuke and Sakura to work on water walking.

Clone Kakashi turned to Kochō and Naruto. "So before we begin on water walking, is there anything you two would like to learn from me?"

"I like using my Chakura Tō blade," Naruto said. "I'd like to have better control of the blade reach though."

"You've been trying to enforce it with pure chakra?" Kakashi asked, and Naruto nodded.
"You should add your nature affinity in the mix as well. That should do it. Anything else?"

"I would like to learn some other elemental justsu besides Fūton. Maybe Suiton and some Doton. I liked the one you used during the bell test, and Kenjutsu."

"Learning Kenjutsu will take time, even with your clone army; we'll leave that for after the mission. I'll show you the signs for some supplementary justu for Katon and Raiton as well."

"I know some Raiton and Katon. I was around Sasuke when he practiced -ttebayoo."
Kakashi chuckled. "Of course, I should have guessed that." He then turned to the girl standing by the blond. "Kochō, how about you?"

"Well, I would like to improve on my chakra ropes and barriers. Also, I have to practice infusing Yoruno Miyabi with fire."

"Yoruno Miyabi?" asked Kakashi with raised eyebrow. Kochō blushed.

"Kochō-Chan names her swords," Naruto answered for his still-blushing teammate.
Kakashi eye smiled. "That is a nice name for a blade."

"Thank you."

"So, Kochō, Naruto, let's start."

Meanwhile, in another clearing in the woods, another clone of Kakashi's was having a similar discussion with Sakura and Sasuke.

"Well," Sakura drawled out, "I'd like to find out if I have any elemental affinity, and since Kochō uses Butterfly blades, Naruto his short chakra sword and Sasuke-kun has Fūma-shuriken that he uses as blades as well, I'd like to learn to use some weapons too."

"Hm, well, I have some chakra paper. Here." He handed over a slip of white paper, which Sakura took, then looked at Kakashi expectantly. "Now, Sakura, channel some of your chakra through the paper."

Sakura did as instructed, and the paper hardened and fell to the ground in pieces.

"Well, it looks like you have an affinity for Earth. That's good, I know a couple of defensive earth jutsu. Also, since you've decided to specialize mostly in Taijutsu, you can enforce your hands and legs with Doton. It will increase your hitting power tenfold."

Sakura nodded happily. Kakashi regarded his student carefully, thinking of what weapons she could use to round out the team. Not counting jutsu, most of his Genin were close to mid-range fighters.

"Sakura, you seem to me the type who could use blunt weapons, so I suggest a spear or bamboo staff. Hmm, this will require some thought, but I think you should go with a spear. After all, you can use a spear as a staff. I'll show you where you can get the weapon and gave you some basic training."

He then turned to the silently waiting raven-haired boy. "What about you, Sasuke?"

"I like using my Fūma shuriken, but I'd like to improve my control of them as well. Is there any way to do it?"

"Well, chakra strings or wire, I'd say," Kakashi's second clone said. "Anything else you'd like to work on with me?"

"Yeah, do you know any Raiton justu that are long range and use little chakra? Oh and Katon Shunshin—I'd like to learn that as well. Some Suiton wouldn't hurt either."

"So, I gather that you haven't awakened your Sharingan yet."

"Hn," was the noncommittal reply, while Kakashi looked his student. Why would the Uchiha tried to hide that he had awakened his clan Kakkei genkai? Well he wouldn't push the issue just yet.

"Well, when you do, I'll show you Chidori."

"Hn."

"Kakashi-sensei?"

"Yes, Sakura?"

"What is Chidori?"

"Glad you asked, Sakura." The Kakashi clone smiled his trademark smile. Sensing interest coming from the boy, he continued, hoping to goad the Uchiha.

"It is a jutsu I developed, and perfected when I received my Sharingan. It uses nature transformation and chakra manipulation…"



***



Nami no Kuni, the land of water where shinobi must learn to water walk. Kochō and Naruto watched how Kakashi's clone demonstrated, and dramatically to boot, when he stepped on the surface of the lake. Taking a few steps, he turned to his two students, making a grand gesture.

"Well?"

"How do you do that –ttebayoo?"

"Channel the chakra to the soles of your feet as with tree walking, and go for it."

Naruto nodded excitedly while Kochō shot Kakashi a look that said, you are withholding something, aren't you, sensei? Kakashi just gave an eye smile to the suspicious girl.

Both teens stepped onto the shimmering wet surface, only to go underwater with a loud splash. Kakashi started to laugh at the sight. "Hehehe, this is why jōnin become sensei, the precious funny moments like these. Hehehehe!"

The teens surfaced with a loud gasps and coughing. "Kakashi-sensei!" came a yell from the blond one of the duo.

Kakashi chuckled at the glaring teenagers.

"Maa, I might have forgotten to mention that you need to constantly change the amount of chakra you use."

"Just you wait, sensei," growled Naruto through gritted teeth.



***


Kakashi decided while chuckling madly that this was something he would treasure to his dying breath: Sasuke and Sakura drenched and breathing heavily on the bank of the lake they were learning water walking on.

Sasuke looked like a drowned cat when soaked to the bone, and Sakura hadn't fared much better. Were those reeds in her messed up, soggy hair?



***

"Sensei?"

"Yes, Kochō-chan?"

"You are enjoying this far too much," she accused, while Naruto quietly seethed, which was never a good sign. Originally, Kakashi would have to take special precautions, or something very unpleasant would happen to him one of these days, but the duo had mastered water walking faster than he had anticipated. Well, it was water so for Kochō it had become like second nature to her. Hm, maybe he should see if she could negate an enemy Katon jutsu if it hit her. Naruto was walking on water on his third try, so now he was making sure that they had mastered the skill by…

"Throwing pebbles at my students?" he asked innocently, while throwing said pebbles at his wobbling students who were trying to stay on the water surface whilst dodging various objects being thrown at them from the hands of five more clones that Clone Kakashi had made.

"Why yes, I am enjoying this very much." Kakashi's clone chucked again, but stopped abruptly when he saw Naruto grab his head and fall backwards, almost in the water if Kochō hadn't grabbed him and started to walk toward dry land.

"What happened?" Kakashi's second clone asked worriedly.

"I think Naruto's clones dispelled."

"Some of them were hanged, right?" he asked Kochō, while picking up Naruto. At her nod, he shook his head.

"Wow, they certainly lasted a long time."



***



"Owwwww," Naruto whined, sitting on a couch in Tazuna's living room, waiting for others to come back. Well, the original Kakashi was with Tazuna and their Kakashi clone had dispelled, calling the other clone and letting the original know that he and Kochō-chan were done for today. Kochō-chan was with Tsunami-san in the kitchen, helping with making lunch.

"Memory backlash hurts like hell," he moaned, while rubbing his hand through his blonde spikes.

"You are going to die here, you know?" came a voice from behind him. Naruto turned to see a dark-haired kid around Konohamaru's age, perhaps younger, with a weird hat standing at the doorway.

"Don't think so, brat. I just got hit with way too much information all at once. Stupid clones picking fight in town in a bar, there is always one weirdo in every batch I make," he grumbled, then frowned when he noticed the kid's glare.

"No, you idiot! Gatō. Gatō is going to kill all of you."

"Whatever, brat," Naruto grumbled, looking cross. He was having a killer headache and this kid's whining didn't make the rhino stomping around in his head any better. "I'm going to ask your mom or Kochō-chan if either of them have any painkillers here."

He walked into the kitchen, spotting them at the stove discussing something. "Excuse me," he said. They turned, falling silent when they saw him. Yeah, okay, so he didn't have his beloved orange jumpsuit on, only a pair of black shorts and a red tee-shirt, but that didn't explain the two being all bug-eyed. He didn't look as good as he did in his jumpsuit, but he wasn't that bad looking in the clothes he had on now, right?

"Tsunami-san, Kochō-chan, do you have any painkiller medicine at hand? And are my clothes dry yet?"

Tsunami smiled at young ninja. "Of course, I have some pain soothing herbs at hand. Father has been using them quite frequently as of late," she said, going to the cabinet and retrieving two small paper envelopes. "And sorry about Inari, Naruto-kun, I just don't know what to do with him." She mumbled the last part, her head bowed in sorrow and helplessness for a moment. Then shaking her head to dispel her feelings, she poured the medicinal powder into small cup of water, which she handed to the waiting blond boy.
"Your clothes are still wet and are outside drying."

Naruto downed the pale liquid in one gulp. "Nah, I might just stay like this –ttebayoo, I'd just end up wet again. Kochō-chan, did you master water walking yet?"

"While Kakashi-sensei uses us as target practice? No not yet, but I'll rest for today."

"Man, I so wanted to train."

"There is no reason why you shouldn't; the house is by the water, after all."

"That's right!" he yelled excitedly, and then he immediately hopped over onto the water, only to sink in.

Tsunami and Kochō heard the splash and went outside to see Naruto pulling himself out of the ocean.

"You okay?" asked Kochō worriedly.

Naruto spat out some saltwater. "Gah, that taste is revolting. I'm okay –ttebayoo," he said to her before making another attempt at running and jumping onto the water, actually making couple of leaps before going under again.

"Are you sure this is possible?" Tsunami asked Kochō, not knowing much about what ninja did and how they did it.

The girl nodded. "Oh yeah, it's possible and he'll get it soon."

A "yo!" came from behind them as Tazuna and the original Kakashi returned.

"Kakashi-sensei! Look!" Naruto yelled while doing back flips on the water.

"Showy power house," Kochō muttered with a proud smile on her face.

Kakashi smiled. "Ah that is our Konoha's Number One Hyperactive, Knucklehead Ninja. Naruto, come off the water for the moment!"

"Yes, Kakashi-sensei!" came from the boy. Meanwhile, Kakashi signalled to Kochō to wait behind, while Tazuna and his daughter went inside.

"Your clones dispelled."

"Yeah, gave me a headache too."

"Yeah, you passed out like a light, Naruto."

Naruto scratched the back of his head nervously. "Sorry, Kochō-chan, didn't mean to worry you -ttebayoo."

"Naruto, did your clones find anything?"

"Not Zabuza and that fake hunter nin, but they did find out several hideouts that Gatō uses to stash money for the mercenaries."

Two days later, Naruto sat off to the side of the work area on the bridge, his clones working as sentries all over the building site.

"Do you sense anything suspicious, Naruto?" asked Kakashi, his nose in his ever-present book.

"No, Kakashi sensei, no clones have popped as of yet."

"Well then." Kakashi closed the book. "Since you have mastered the Doton and Raiton justu I showed you—your shadow clones' training is ridiculous, you know—it's time I taught you a new jutsu." Kakashi give an eye smile when he saw Naruto jump to his feet in one smooth motion, eagerly awaiting instructions.

"You are going to learn something a lot of genin don't get to learn, especially this early." With that, Kakashi put his hands in a ram seal and disappeared in a swirl of leaves and smoke, only to appear atop a crane a good distance away, before repeating the process and returning to Naruto in a matter of moments.

"And this is Shunshin no Jutsu," Kakashi said to the wide-eyed blonde, who looked like a kid in a candy store.

"Ano, Kakashi sansei, how did you do that?"

Kakashi couldn't resist; he messed up his student's hair with his hand. "Settle down. You have to channel chakra through your whole body enough to temporarily boost your speed. Your movements should be covered by a puff of smoke that usually follows this technique. When you get better at it you can make it flashier."

Eager to begin, Naruto put his hands into the ram seal. "Any advice before I do it?" he asked.

"Weelll," Kakashi drawled out," don't go too far, or to near."

Naruto nodded. "Okay then. Shunshin no jutsu!" His body was shrouded in a puff of smoke and he disappeared….only to reappear smashed on a bridge wall like some sort of weird fly on a widow.

Kakashi burst out laughing, while Naruto slowly slipped down the wall, twitching in pain. "Watch that, *snort* tunnel *giggle* vision, Naruto. Hahaha!"

Naruto rolled to his feet amidst laughter from the workers who had joined his sensei. Heck, even his clones had stopped working on the bridge to laugh at him.

"Ha-ha, laugh it up, stupid clones," he grumbled, then created two more clones. "Okay, you two, we will practice this move." Then he turned to the rest of Orange brigade. "And you lot, back to work on the bridge."

"Aye, aye, BOSS!" chorused the still-grinning Orange brigade, then they turned and started to work on the bridge again, since they'd decided that they would try to finish the bridge before Zabuza recovered, just in case they were unable to find him and his little helper.

"Yes, boss," the two clones chorused together, and then put their hand into the ram sign.



***


Come nightfall, Naruto was still at it. Kochō was watching him from her tree while he practiced Shunshin as well as Shuriken Kagebunshin no jutsu, in a way that was giving her pain just watching, as Naruto surrounded him with countless clones in a free-for-all battle.

Kochō slowly opened her eyes. Sometime during the night, she had fallen asleep. Blinking, she pulled down a jacket—wait, she didn't have a jacket. She also was on the tree branch. Ah, Naruto had gotten her down and covered her up when she'd dosed off. Though honestly that orange colour should have clued her in as to whose jacket it was.

Speaking of the blonde, he was passed out in the clearing. Hearing movement, she looked up to see a teenage girl with long black hair and dark eyes wearing a pink sleeveless yukata approaching amidst the trees with a basket in hand.

Wait, she thought, this is Haku and it's a he, maybe. He or she could have been deceiving Naruto at the time as well, or maybe not, but still….agh, never mind. She shook the thoughts away.

She watched as Haku slowly approached her orange-clad friend, setting the basket down and then slowly extending his hand, but just as the hand hovered above Naruto's throat, blue eyes snapped open and he grabbed the wrist in his line of vision with one hand and pulled, while using momentum to wrap his legs around the person's neck, pinning said person to the ground.

"Bastard clones," he grumbled sleepily. "Knew some sneaky ones had hidden from me again. Got me twice, would you, ttebayoo!" Then the information that he hadn't heard the telltale sound of a dispelling clone sank in, and he took a closer look.

"Gah, sorry!" he exclaimed when he saw a girl his age slowly turning blue in his chokehold. He quickly released her, but then Kochō was already coming at a run. She kneeled by the coughing dark-haired teen, whose colour had slowly started to return.

Kochō meanwhile pushed some healing chakra onto Haku's abused neck, soothing the pain away and covertly checking another curiosity of hers: namely, was Haku a boy or a girl? Suppressing a victorious giggle when she answered that mystery was hard though.
Haku meanwhile took note of both teen's appearance. The blond's muscles were tense, seemingly prepared to retaliate to an attack at a moment's notice, and the girl was no different. Haku knew that without any weapons and with the boy, who had bested Haku half-asleep, the fake hunter nin knew that the weight wouldn't go well.

"It's all right," Haku finally said. "You must have been quite on edge to attack me like that. My name is Haku, by the way."

Naruto smiled. "I am Uzumaki Naruto."

"And I am Shunran Kochō. Pleased to meet you, Haku-san. It's pretty early. Can I ask what you're doing so early in the morning?" She tilted her head, waiting for an answer.
Haku turned and pointed to the side. "I'm out here collecting herbs for someone close to me. He was injured not too long ago and I want to speed up his recovery."

"Well, then I'll help you –ttebyoo. Just tell me what I need to grab for you."

"I'll help too," Kochō said. "Is your friend sick or wounded?"

"Why do you want to know?" Haku asked cautiously, hiding the fact that he was slipping into defensive stance.

"It affects the herbs." Kochō didn't show that she had noticed the other slip into a hidden defensive stance. Naruto hadn't missed it either, judging by the slight narrowing of his eyes. "Some of them that you picked are good for treating stomach aches as well as wounds; on the other hand, you are leaving out some herbs that are for one thing or other and more effective at healing them."

"Oh," Haku said. "Um, my friend and I are not from this region." Then, coming to a decision, Haku continued, "He was wounded by a sharp object."

"Then you should use these." Kochō gestured to some slim, dark green leaves. "They are good for disinfecting wounds as well as speeding the healing process. You just crush them up and bind the wound with them. Then there are these." She then pointed to some small round white flowers. "These you throw into the boiled water for five minutes. The tea will bring down the fever as well as encourage replacement of blood loss."

Haku nodded, familiar with the last herb, though he hadn't know the last part. Then Haku turned to Naruto. "So, Naruto-san, what were you doing here and who were you fighting?"



***



"Haku is a good person," Kochō said while watching said person disappear trough the trees.

"Yeah, he is." Naruto nodded. "I am sending clones after him." At Kochō's surprised look, he elaborated.

"I think Haku is our fake hunter nin."

"Not that, how did you know that Haku is a he?"

Naruto shrugged. "I did hold Haku in a choke hold. I would have noticed if he was a she –ttebayoo."

"Ah."

End Chapter





Translation:

Hi no Kuni-land of fire

Nami no Kuni- Land of Waves

Katon: Hosenka no jutsu- Fire release: Phoenix Sage Fire technique

Fūton: Sasu no Kaze- Wind release: Wind stab (mine)

Manji no Jin- The Manji Formation is a very basic formation that is used to protect a central point, to defend against multiple attacks coming from multiple locations.

Yoruno Miyabi means "Elegance of Night" name of Buffy's twin butterfly blades.

Chakura Tō- chakra blade made from special metal that absorbs chakra, Naruto's chakra blade has an appearance of small leaf shaped broad sword, with Uzumaki swirl.

Chapter Text

***Gato's hide out***

Due to some bad luck that Gatō just could not figure out, his mercenaries kept disappearing, and what annoyed him even more was that the money he had in Wave Country was disappearing as well. Not that it put a dent in his business—he was, after all, a very wealthy man, but it just aggravated him.

Luckily, he had managed to contact a Kiri hunter nin before, so the bounty on Zabuza could pay expenses for the next batch of mercenaries and he wouldn't have to draw his money from other places all over the Elemental nations. Not to mention that girl would pay for hitting him.

So all in all, today would be a good day. He would let the ninja exhaust themselves, then Kiri would swoop in and take Zabuza and his little helper, and his recruits would take out Tazuna and those Konoha ninja.

Easy, Gatō thought, while his mouth stretched into a sleazy smile. He had been waiting for this moment. Well, the exploitation of the missing nin certainly was betrayal, but the dead didn't tell tales, did they? But that bitch had dared to manhandle him. HIM! That demanded a quick retribution after all. What would the world come to if some girl dared to harm him without payback?

So here he was, watching from a distance with some eighty or so men standing behind him at the end of the bridge. A bridge that was almost finished.

He twirled his walking stick and strode towards the quickly disappearing mist that led Gatō to see a very special view. Zabuza had been worth every ryō—that Gatō wouldn't pay him, of course. The bodies of the four Konoha Genin were lying on the ground, surrounded by their own blood, while a severely wounded and positively exhausted Zabuza was standing over the trembling bridge builder who was on his knees.

Eyes trailing around, he almost giggled with glee when he saw the masked figure, also wounded, sitting on the grounds.

"So I see you finally managed to do your job properly," he drawled, drawing Zabuza's attention to him, and by proxy the men that were standing behind him. Zabuza's posture stiffened, while the girl's slender frame positively radiated with fury.

"Yes," Zabuza let out an exhausted growl, "but the question is, what are you doing?"

"Hmm?" Gatō asked, feigning confusion in a very irritating manner. "Why, as it turns out, I am not going to pay you, Zabuza. You see," –Gatō waved his arm and four masked Kiri hunter nin appeared– "you are going to pay me, since these gentlemen are going to, well, do whatever hunter nin do to missing ones. Sorry about that."

"You are…turning on me," Zabuza said slowly, looking suddenly less bone weary. Why was he smiling?

"What an idiot," said Tazuna, his scared look shifting into one of stark amusement. That wasn't how this usually went down.

Little girl…Haku, meanwhile, put her hands into a seal and announced, "Kai!"

And with that simple word, the environment shifted: the blood and bodies disappeared; Haku's form shifted into that of a lavender-haired girl, who had the gall to grin at him; Zabuza shifted and turned into a silver-haired male with a mask that covered half of his face, with the Konoha headband covering his eye; and Tazuna turned into a boy clad in an orange jumpsuit. Gatō blinked. That was just surreal. He didn't even notice when the Kiri shinobi standing behind him, suddenly turned into Konoha ANBU, while the mercenaries behind him disappeared with loud pops and plumes of smoke.

***Tazuna's home***

Zabuza was sitting across from Kakashi, who was sitting under the window holding a open Icha Icha, and Naruto, who was nursing his crown while glaring daggers at the famous swordsman who was sporting a massive nose bleed, much to Team Seven and Haku's amusement, who himself was sporting a blush on his pale cheeks. Tazuna, however, was down, passed out right after he had been powered up by his nose bleed.

"Face it, you lost ttebayoo!" Naruto exclaimed, pointing at Zabuza, who growled and resisted the urge to hit the loud brat once again.

"You owe m, a jutsu!" Naruto continued gleefully.

"Sigh, fine, brat, fine. You drew blood from me, happy?" he grumbled. Zabuza couldn't believe that he had lost to this pipsqueak. What a dangerous technique that was.

"It is good thing you agreed to so quickly," said Kochō, glancing at the grinning Haku. Exposure to Naruto's Talk no Jutsu had done wonders for the two. "Otherwise you might have witnessed the upgraded version of that technique."

"There is more?"

Kochō snorted. Of course there was more.

"Yep, it's my Harem no jutsu, and I'm developing something that will work on women as well, but it's usually either a pony or a cake or roses -ttebayoo. So what you'll be? Some sword thing, water manipulation, what, what?"

"Suiton: Suiryūdan no Jutsu."

"That's the water dragon that Kakashi sensei copied from you –ttebayoo, he can show me that."

"Sigh, fine then Suiton: Bakusui Shōha."

"You didn't use that in our fight, Zabuza?" asked Kakashi curiously, wondering why Zabuza hadn't used this one during the skirmish.

"One: Kakashi, I prefer direct attacks; two: it eats lots of chakra, but orange traffic cone here has large reserves."

"Hey don't diss the power of orange –ttebayo!"

"Tell you what, kid: you master this in say…a day…" Zabuza smiled evilly. There was no way the brat would be able to do it in a day. "And I'll teach you Suiton: Mizu Kamikiri."

"It is a bet –ttebayoo! And when I win you'll bow to the power of Orange."

"Yeah yeah, kid. Now the hand sign for this technique is Snake. As for the jutsu, whoever uses it spits out a great volume of water from their mouth, swallowing up and crushing the enemy with the advancing surge. The user can ride the waves, allowing them to move at high speeds and attack the enemy, who is now swept off their feet, without fear of counter-attacks. The amount of water created is proportional to the amount of chakra used, so you should produce enough water."

"Got it –ttebayoo!" And with that, Naruto ran out to train at his usual spot, determined to win that bet. Kochō watched him go with amusement, and then promptly yawned since she hadn't been sleeping well. Stupid cryptic dreams, and why oh why couldn't she dream of unicorns and flowers.? But hey, at least she didn't dream of apocalypses, vampires and demons. Just some ruins made from red and green stones and childish rhymes coming from somewhere. And an arch, made from some metal, but instead of Kanji it was written with writing more similar to Celtic runes along with Greek-style wall frescos. She never could remember the pictures or the words of the song, though she did know that those ruins were important, and that Naruto and Sasuke just had to be there. It was an urgent, do or die feeling that translated into her waking hours, but she really hadn't known where to find the ruined city.

Kakashi meanwhile, unknowing of Kochō's problems, looked on with an eye smile, but felt compelled to warn Zabuza of his knuckle-headed pupil's tendency to be unpredictable…and of course, his sheer luck with betting.

"Well, Zabuza, I think you just…"

"There is no way that brat can learn this in a day. He is not a Suiton user, that's your other brat…"

"Hey, don't call me brat," Kochō grumbled, but she didn't shy away from Zabuza's glare. "If I am a brat, you are an ecchi old man."

"I am not a perverted old man," grumbled Zabuza with a sweat drop.

"Really? Those bloody bandages say otherwise," was the glib reply from the purple-haired girl, who finally could get to drink that Green tea garnished with Jasmine petals, which had her name on it, not to mention that tea would chase the sleep away from her. Maybe she should brave something that would knock her into a dreamless sleep when they got home.

Zabuza growled something about smart ass kids from Konoha under his breath, and how it was no wonder that Kakashi had grey hair, and how glad he was that Haku didn't cause so much trouble. Haku smiled at that.

"Did you say something, Zabuza?" came from the corner where Kakashi was perched, reading his ever-present book. "Besides, you made a mistake betting with Naruto yet again, because if memory serves right, you also said that he would be unable to make you bleed."

"That only counts because I didn't specify that he had to wound me."

"If you say so."

"Kakashi-sensei, where are Sakura and Sasuke?" intervened Kochō, after she sipped at her cup. While normally Zabuza and Kakashi's word play and ribbing of each other would have been funny, she was way too sleepy. Honestly, the way both Kakashi and Zabuza kept on needling at each other reminded her of a couple of old ladies bickering. Heh, now that mental image of them dressed as old ladies, with bonnets on top of their heads, brought a small smile on her face.

"Hmm, training. Sasuke still hasn't mastered water walking well. He sinks to his knees, and Sakura is working on her reserves," came the reply from said sensei, who had yet to look up from the book. Not that she was surprised at that. It was nothing new.

Zabuza growled at the giggling man who once again was engrossed in his book.

"Zabuza-sama, Hakate-san," Haku intervened, "if I may I'll take Kochō-san to look through the scrolls I have on Herbs and flora of Elemental nations to pass the time while they are in Wave."

"Mah, I don't mind, Haku-kun," Kakashi told the boy.

"Do as you like," was Zabuza's gruff reply. "And Haku," he continued, "after a while, check on the kid, will ya?"

Haku bowed politely. "I will, Zabuza-sama."

Kochō took the last warm sip from her cup and a contented sigh left her mouth when the last vestiges of her sleepy disposition disappeared.

Zabuza gave Kakashi a pointed look after the two had left and the men were alone, sans Tazuna who was still unconscious from the blood loss.

"Mah, too much of a hassle."

"Your lazy training regime aside," Zabuza said with a scowl at his fellow shinobi, "I held up my end of the bargain and you held to yours. I've received the money that Gatō owed us, so why are you still here?"

"Our mission was to stay until Tazuna-san finishes the bridge, so let me return the question: why are you still here?"

"Hmph, curiosity."

"Curiosity killed the cat, Zabuza."

"Tch, then I am fortunate that I am not a feline, then."

"So I guess you'll hang around our hyperactive knucklehead?"

"That, and spar with you."

"Huh?"

"For a legendary, you were a pushover."

"Eh?"

"I caught you in my Water prison."

"So?"

"Sharingan no Kakashi, a copy nin of a thousand jutsus, got his ass kicked by sphere of water. For shame."

Kakashi closed the book with a snap. "You want to go at it now?"

"Hell yeah."

***

Haku stopped abruptly after he and Kochō had retrieved a triumphant but slightly winded Naruto, with Sakura and Sasuke bringing up the rear. Sakura was barely walking, but she commented on the fact that her chakra reserves had gotten larger so it was worth it, and Kakashi-sensei's clone had taught her two Doton jutsu. So it was no surprise that when the boy in front of her stopped, she collided with his back.

"Huh, is something wrong, Haku-san?" she asked, then stepped around the shocked raven-haired boy, right between him and Naruto, who was holding his hand on his forehead, watching with an incredulous expression at the tableau before them. Sasuke's eyes were as large as dinner plates.

"Zabuza-sama?" Haku let out, though the other slightly younger teens around him could not decide if he was scolding, or just too shocked at his teacher's appearance.

"I am alright, Haku," wheezed out Zabuza, while Kakashi just waved from his spot, and then slowly lowered his forehead protector back over his Sharingan eye.

"I am fine too, in case my students were wondering."

Naruto just waved him away, causing Kakashi to drop his head back at the scorched grass, muttering about 'how cruel his students were'.

"What happened –ttebayoo?"

"It looks like something exploded."

Sakura just stared. "Ex... exploded…ack," was all that she could let out, because of the sheer destruction that surrounded her.

"Mah, my little students, no need to worry. It was just a little spar."

"A little spar?"

"Yep, we decided on terms and everything," Kakashi said with an eye smile.

"What terms?" Sasuke asked, his eyebrow twitching violently.

"B-rank and below jutsu and Tajutsu only. Well, that was until Zabuta used Mizurappa."

"It was at lower level."

"Really?"

"If I used it at full power you wouldn't be here right now. Besides, you are one to talk. You used Fire missiles along with your lightning attack." Zabuza snorted and made air quotes. "At the low power."

"And you still call this a little spar –ttebayoo! The house is destroyed!" Naruto exploded.

"The house can be fixed. Don't make a fuss, Naruto," Kakashi commented, while raising himself to a sitting position.

"What house, Kakashi-sensei? At this point, it would be better to blow up the house and build a new one." Kochō looked at their cool-as-a-cucumber teacher. Did they have to destroy everything during a spar? Their battle for their lives when they'd first met hadn't done this much damage. What the hell?

"What happened to my house?" cried Tazuna, looking at his ruined house, yard and surrounding area.

"Don't worry, Tazuna-san. My cute little Genin will fix it."

"We will?" muttered a still wide-eyed Sasuke, while Sakura could only stare in horror at the wreckage.

"WHAT? You lazy sensei dattebayoo!" shouted Naruto, pointing at the bandaged Kakashi and Zabuza.

"Haku, you'll help."

"Yes, Zabuza-sama."

"Well, brat…I guess I won our bet. It's sunrise."

"I am absolutely pissed off now. Dattebayo," muttered Naruto, not hearing what Zabuza had just said. Only the words of Kakashi were ping ponging around in his brain. Sasuke slowly inched away, followed by Kochō, who grabbed Sakura's hand and dragged her away. Haku just created Ice mirrors to hide himself and Tazuna.

And just in time for when the enraged voice of Naruto was heard once again. "Suiton: Bakusui Shōha!"

The Genin plus Haku and Tazuna watched in some sort of sick fascination as huge waves of water crashed down on the two jōnin level shinobi, washing them away in huge whirlpools.

"Well," drawled Sasuke, "we might as well just start building the house anew now, since Naruto has demolished what was left."

"That's alright. I'll make blue prints for the new house," commented a now-calm Tazuna. "We'll have to wait till the earth dries." Even if his house was gone, he was pretty sure that at least the students of that lazy jōnin and Zabuza's apprentice would manage to build his home back up with him. After all, they, well, Konoha's little guys, had helped to build the bridge while they were guarding it.

"No need." Kochō stepped forward, bringing both her hands to her face. "Katon: Kurimuzondoragon hōkō!" As soon as the words were out of Kochō's mouth, she slammed her palms to the ground. Crimson flames engulfed her entire body, then spread out from her palms, heating the ground and making the air dance, while earth and stone melted. When she stood up, the ground bore the appearance of a volcanic eruption.

Sakura then stepped forward and grinned at Kochō, who just gave a go-ahead motion. "My turn now. Doton: Doro Hōshi." At the command of the pinkette, a river of mud breached through the surface, mixing with the hot earth and causing steam to rise.

"It's not enough," muttered Sakura. Kochō nodded. "Sakura, can you help me keep an eye out? I don't want to go with too much water."

"Got it."

"Here I go." Kochō again knelled down. "Suiton: Haran Banshō." And so Kochō summoned a massive amount of water from the sky. The water then crashed in to the mud that Sakura had created, stirring it and aiding it in cooling and evening out the ground where Tazuna new house would be built. The reason why Kochō had chosen this jutsu was simply because if needed, the user could cancel the technique in an instant.

***

Meanwhile, thoroughly drenched and additionally battered by waves and various pieces of debris, two shinobi were lying on the ground in very uncomfortable positions, panting and heaving as they tried to clear their lungs.

"Cough, you, cough lost again, Zabuza."

"Shut it, Kakashi. I don't need any of that from you."

"Oh, touchy."

***En route to Konoha***

Week later, after Tazuna's bridge and his house were completed, Team Kakashi was returning to Konoha.

Said Jōnin of Team Seven was again walking behind his students, who were walking together before him talking about…who knows…leaving Kakashi alone to his thoughts or reading, whichever he preferred. But being a jōnin, he was perfectly capable of doing both well while walking too. It could never be said that Hakate Kakashi was unable to achieve the art of multitasking.

So he walked, read an …evaluated his students. After all, he would have to write a report for Hokage about their progress. But if their progress continued to proceed as well as it had till now…they would be ready for the Chūnin exams that would take place in Konoha in six months. So mentally going through their weaknesses and strengths, he also formulated a training regime. But something he had decided he wouldn't make them do any more was D-Rank missions. Let it be known that he did have some sense of self preservation and sanity. After all, four of his little cute Genin were also very vengeful and if he saddled them with a D-Rank after making them build Tazuna's house after he and Zabuza trashed it during their little spar…

Also, he would have to replace Sakura's wooden training sansetsukon for one made from iron wince her learning to use the weapon was coming along nicely. She had managed to burst Zabuza's water clone, although granted he had not been using a weapon either.

As for Sasuke's Sharingan, perhaps he had been wrong and Sasuke hadn't activate his bloodline limit just yet. So he supposed that he would have to postpone teaching him Chidori and teach him some long range Raiton jutsu instead. He would also have to work at the hospital, just as his late team-mate Rin had.

As for Naruto, he could work on seal theory, and perhaps he should ask Hokage to release information on Kushina-sama to Naruto and get her personal scrolls and such. After all, the Legacy of the Uzumaki clan, Fūinjutsu, was Naruto's birthright.

Kochō would spend her time in the library looking at plants and working on her element manipulation and illusions. Perhaps he could ask Kurenai to help her with that. Maybe between them, they could broaden her repertoire in illusions.

***Konoha - Shunran household***

Waking in her own bed again took some getting used to, Kochō thought as she stretched. Nami no Kuni seemed like a distant dream now and Team Seven had only been home for what…a week? And most of that week they had trained, learned and met with other Rookie teams. The only downside was that she had to make tea that knocked her out for hours so that she didn't have any weird dreams. She would have to figure out a solution for that, or insomnia would get her killed in the field.

Fortunately, she had read something in Merric's diaries that he hadn't sent to England before this new life. Luckily, she had written it down. It was a simple meditated ritual which brought dreams and/or memories to the forefront. A ritual called 'Iter apud nere somnia et memorias' was the incantation. She would also need black wax candles, which she would have to make; a crystal sphere, but she had a crystal paperweight somewhere; and some herbs that she had in her room.

Well, she supposed she would have to go to the forest and see if she could find some beeswax. She got dressed in a white yukata with green patterns printed on it, with a black and red sash around her waist.

"Good morning, mom."

"Atto, Kochō, it's not morning. It's already almost lunch time," came the call from the kitchen.

Groaning, Kochō turned from the door that she had almost walked out of.

"Kaa-san, why didn't you wake me?"

"Your sensei come by and told us you haven't been sleeping well. Everything all right?"

"Yes, don't worry. See!"

"You do look rested. Now wait for lunch before rushing out."

"Yes, Kaa-san. Need any help?"

"No dear, you just sit down and rest some more."

"All right."

Maybe Shino could help her out with getting some beeswax. Thinking of Shino, she thought of his team. Team 8 had taken over the Catch Tora mission, and Kiba was as proud as Naruto, viewing him as a sort of rival, always had. It galled him that his team hadn't broken Team 7's record yet. Much to Kiba's irritation, she'd heard that he had screamed his displeasure to the high heavens, but that might be because Tora had scratched Akamaru. After all, cats and dogs didn't see eye to eye, especially Tora and nin dogs.

She also managed to have some words with Hinata in the days following Team Seven's return home. Now that had been painfully slow conversation. Don't get her wrong, she liked Hinata. In fact, if she could have her as a little sister it would make her happy. Her stutter just wouldn't go away, but she had been doing so well when they'd had that sleepover at the Yamanaka compound. It had almost been non-existent then.

Maybe they should meet up and have another sleepover soon. Or perhaps a sparring session, just the girls. And maybe later a boys vs. girls kind of competition. Hmm, Kochō thought, perhaps she should talk with Ino about it. Come to think of it, Team 10 had left on their very own C rank today.

What amazed her was that after they had come back, they'd found out that Team Ten had gotten a fourth member as well. Somebody they'd met, or rather somebody she'd introduced to her former classmates.

One Kurama Yakumo, aka Asuka.

Kochō was glad that the girl was doing well. It amused her to no end how Ino took over as protective older sister to Yakumo, which made Yakumo more outgoing as well, not to mention Kochō thought that Choji was developing a crush on the Kurama clan heiress.

***Konoha -training ground six***

Meanwhile, Naruto was standing before his two on-off teachers, Shiranui Genma and Namiashi Raidō, waiting for their response.

Genma whistled. "Now that was an adventure, Naruto," he said, smiling and patting Naruto on the head.

"They were lucky it ended as it did," stated Raidō calmly. "Kakashi-san should have called for backup sooner than he did." And even then he had called ANBU only after he and his Genin had cleared out Gatō's mercenaries and money.

Naruto rubbed the back of his head, slightly embarrassed. "You know, Genma-sensei, Raidō-sensei, I kind of liked those two."

Genma shifted his senbon in his mouth, smiling. "Well, it wouldn't be you if you hadn't taken a liking to strays. Or being liked by them in return."

"Anyway, we'd better start. Now in six months Konoha will host the Chūnin Exams, and Hatake will probably nominate your team, Naruto." Though Team Seven and Team Ten would have to abide by the rule that only a three men cell could participate, meaning that one Genin from 7 and one Genin from 8 would be teamed up with some other Genin. Chances were that the Genin would be older than them. There were quite a few Genin in Konoha who hadn't made Chūnin yet.

Morino Idate, Ibiki's brother, was among them. Now that was an interesting development, thought Raidō, and he supposed that Idate was fortunate that Jiraya had stumbled on him and Rokushō Aoi, though that man had managed to run away, something that hadn't been repeated in Mizuki incident.

"Naruto." Genma voice brought Raidō from his musings. "Your fighting skill with Shadow clones is utterly pathetic."

Naruto slumped. "Now now, Naruto, no need for that. Since you did master the style of Taijutsu that I use, for adding Kage Bunshin, there is a need for adjustments."

"All right, let's get started –ttebayoo!"

"Not so fast," Raidō intervened. "After your Tajutsu practice, we'll do some Kenjutsu and Strategies you can implement in the Chūnin Exams.

"Like what –ttebayoo?"

"For starters, Clan techniques in Konoha and other villages."

"Uh?"

***

At the same time, near the Forest of Death.

"Oy, pinky maggot! Duck!" yelled Anko, while laughing like a maniac, while she hurled Kunai, Shurikan and the occasional Katon jutsu at Sakura, who dodged most of the projectiles. But scrapes that were dripping blood and various burn marks testified to the fact that some of them found their mark.

***Hospital***

Sasuke, unlike his teammates, was stuck in a classroom at the hospital taking an exam to be a Field Genin medic.

***Training ground seven***

Team Seven met a couple of days later after they had gotten rest from their respective training regimes for another C-Rank mission. For this one, Naruto's wish to escort a princess was fulfilled, but that was not the only reason why Naruto was on cloud nine. He had finally learned who his mother was, one Uzumaki Kushina, and the Hokage had released her scrolls to her son.

Not only that, but Kakashi had promised that on their way back from escorting Kurisutaru -hime from Mitsu no Kuni to Tsume no Kuni, where she would get married to the eldest son of a Tsume daimyō, they would visit the ruins of Uzushiogakure no Sato in Uzu no Kuni, the resting place of Uzumaki Ichizoku.

End Chapter.

Translations and what is what:

Suiton: Suiryūdan no Jutsu-Water Dragon Bullet Technique shapes a large amount of water into a giant, powerful dragon, which hits the opponent with formidable might, dealing physical damage.

Suiton: Bakusui Shōha-Water Release: Exploding Water Colliding Wave The user spits out a great volume of water from their mouth, swallowing up and crushing the enemy with the advancing surge. The user can ride the wave, allowing them to move at high speed, and attack the enemy, now swept off their feet, without fear of counter-attacks. The amount of water created is proportional to the amount of chakra used

Suiton: Mizu Kamikiri-Water Release: Rising Water Slicer This technique will create a fast jet of water running through the ground that is powerful enough to slice through solid rock. However, it can easily be avoided by jumping upwards. The water blades can also be sent above ground level to strike down jumping targets.

Katon: Kurimuzondoragon hōkō – Fire Release: Crimson dragon roar (this is mine) and description is in the text.

Doton: Doro Hōshi -Earth Release: Mud Spore This technique lets the user summon a river of mud.

Suiton: Haran Banshō- Water Release: Stormy Blockade This technique allows the user to summon a massive amount of water from the sky, crashing it onto the opponent. If needed, the user can cancel the technique in an instant.

Sakkaku: Burakkurōzu no Mai - Illusion: Black roses dance –Illusion that Buffy invented, it shows the target what caster wants, and it ensnares all five senses –six if we count chakra- meaning the target doesn't know or shows that he/she is in the illusion. But while powerful it has a time limit and it only works on one target. It was used on Gatō. Buffy is working on widespread illusion but so far there is no success. Neither Sharingan or Byakugan can see through it. Though for Sharingan Buffy doesn't know. Yet.

Iter apud nere somnia et memorias – Translates from Latin to: Journey amongst wavering of dreams and memories

Ryō- A Ryō was a gold currency unit in pre-Meiji Japan Shakkanhō system.

Sansetsukon - The three-sectional staff, triple staff, three-part staff, sansetsukon in Japanese.

Mitsu no Kuni- The Land of Honey

Tsume no Kuni-The Land of Claws

Uzushiogakure no Sato- Uzushiogakure

Uzu no Kuni- The Land of Whirlpools

Uzumaki Ichizoku- The Uzumaki clan

Chapter Text

***Uzu ruins***

Konohagakure no Sato was a fairly large village. Most people thought it a grand and secure place, but it had nothing on Uzugakure. Even destroyed as it were, the tall and vast structures still bore witness to a once majestic settlement.

Something that five figures walking through the desolate land knew well. After all, Konoha and Uzu had once been allies.

There were buildings. Lots of them, big and small, made from red stone and adorned with the Uzumaki swirl, but not one was whole. It was strange though, thought Naruto. The same thoughts were running through his companions' minds, who were also looking at what had once been Uzugakure.

What all of them found strange was that while buildings were damaged, it wasn't from the passage of time. In fact, the green paint on door frames and various other bright colours, orange among them, looked as if they had been freshly painted. They all looked frozen in time, with no birds singing or insects in sight. Dead trees with not a hint of green stood like skeletons on watch on the abandoned pirate ship. Burnt grass, cracked ground. Not even the air moved. The buildings, however, were a different structure from those of Konoha. However, only Kochō recognised the architecture as looking similar to that of a mix of Japanese and Greek, with Mediterranean arches. And were those frescos on the walls?

Truly the ghost town of Elemental nations.

If they'd been unaware that Uzu had been ruined decades ago, they'd have thought that there had been an attack on the village—no, city, since it was much larger than Konoha. Even the smallest building was bigger than the Hokage tower.

Soon, curiosity warred within Naruto and he finally reached out to trace the writing on the pillar. Just as his fingertips made contact with the cool surface, the seal array glowed into existence, and before Naruto could think to react, in the blinding florescent green light the five shinobi vanished.

Reappearing in a circular room, Kochō gasped. This was it…this was what she had been dreaming about since the Wave mission four weeks ago. Her shock was, however, put on hold when Naruto's voice was heard.

"Did I do that?"

Kochō snorted, Sakura introduced her palm to her forehead and Sasuke introduced his palm to the back of Naruto's head.

"Not funny, Naruto," he grumbled.

"Anyway, since we are here, let's explore –ttebayo!"

"We should look for an exit though," the voice of reason, Kakashi, added.

But then something strange happened—the Kanji and wall paintings glowed softly and suddenly…

***

Kakashi found himself standing in a clearing by a lit camp fire before a familiar, kind-faced man with dark eyes. There were deep lines running underneath them, and spiky, silver-colored hair that was tied into a ponytail reached to the middle of his back. His bangs hung over his forehead protector of Konoha no Shiroi Kiba…Hatake Sakumo, his father. His father, who had died of wounds that he had inflicted on himself.

"Hello, son."

***

Naruto was looking around at the weird place he found himself in…and an even weirder old man. A man that was way older than Hokage-jiji, though the geezer actually had horns. And he had closed eyes. In his right hand, he held a staff that had two big rings on either end. Only the ring on one end was in the shape of crescent moon, while the other was a full circle and had six smaller rings inside it. That was not all, Naruto noted. The geezer was floating.

"Your reaction … I had already partly predicted that you might react this way," the geezer said calmly, his eyes still closed.

"Gah, great, I got an old geezer who likes to lecture people -ttebayoo."

The geezer opened his eyes then and Naruto froze…that pattern—he was almost sure that he had seen it somewhere.

"Your eyes," he stated, watching the man warily. "Are they a health condition or a bloodline limit?"

"You are good at observing people. I hope you understand the condition you are currently in?"

"My team and I were in the ruins and I tripped something up?"

"Yes, Uzugakure's training seal, but it was yours and one other chakra that overlapped and brought me forward."

"And who are you again, dattebayo?"

"My name is, or rather was, Ōtsutsuki Hagoromo, but I believe you know me better under the title of Rikudō Sennin."

"Ah, yes." Naruto nodded. "I am Uzumaki Naruto. And that still doesn't tell me anything. I've never heard of you."

Hagoromo nodded. "Yes, well, youngsters are not meant to sit still and read dusty and boring scrolls. I am the one who created Ninshū."

"Ninjutsu? You are the one that…"

"Not ninjutsu, Ninshū! My Ninshū was created to inspire hope. Do not confuse it with ninjutsu, which was made to create war!"

He took a deep breath. Naruto, sensing an important but probably boring lecture ahead, sat down.

"I exemplified my teachings by distributing chakra meant to "connect" people's spiritual energies with one another. It would allow people to understand each other without communication and would allow them pray for each others' safety. However, people didn't use the chakra to connect with others, but to instead connect their inner spiritual and physical energies together. They kneaded their inner chakra to amplify it and transform it into today ninjutsu. In the end, they ended up using their chakra in battle, just as my mother Kaguya did."

"Your mother?"

***

Kochō was standing in a desert. Across from her stood a skittish, balding and bespectacled man in an old woollen suit. He was dangling two slices of cheese before Kochō's face.

With an eye twitch, the girl reached out and ripped the cheese out of the man's hands.

"I don't like cheese."

At that, the man pulled out a plate of American cheese and offered it to the irritated kunoichi.

"I made a little space for the cheese slices."

Once again, Kochō interrupted, but this time she slammed the plate, cheese and all, in man's face.

"Look, cheese fruitcake man, I am pretty sure this is some sort of vision quest or whatever, but one, I seriously dislike cheese. And two, what in blue hell does a cheese-wearing man in a tacky woollen suit have to do with a vision quest?"

"It does, but not for you," came a voice from behind. Kochō turned around to watch a young, sandy-haired woman in flowing Indian garb striding toward her. Shrugging off the sheer weirdness of this vision, she turned away from the man, who at the moment was acting as if nothing had happened even though he was still covered in slices of cheese.

"I wear the cheese. Cheese doesn't wear me."

Ignoring the nuisance for now, Kochō turned her full attention to the unfamiliar woman.

"For who then?"

"Her." She pointed toward a dune where a brunette girl in leather trousers and jacket was rolling with a tall, white painted woman in rags with dreaded black hair down the dune, kicking and punching as they went.

"Huh…?" was Kochō reply, while the cheese man dangled cheese yet again.

"These will not protect you."

A vein throbbed at the back of Kochō's head, and she slowly turned to the face the cheese man, wearing a thin smile on her face.

The man whipped another slice from somewhere and offered it to Kochō, which resulted in a falcon punch so hard that it propelled him across the space toward the two fighting on the sand, with a shout of "Get lost, creep!" from the irritated shinobi. With that taken care of, she turned back towards the speaker, coming to a realization of what vision she intruded into by accident.

"They are Slayers, aren't they?"

"Yes, as you once were, First and the last in the line."

"And I?"

"You are no longer; you are a shadow and a thought, a diversion of what you once were."

"But I am still connected."

"Yes."

"Aha, and why is that?"

"You weren't supposed to leave."

"Er, did you happen to not notice that it was written that the Slayer shall face the Master, and die for her trouble?"

"Yes, but it wasn't meant to remain that way."

"Ah, so not only did I, in a way, flunked the written in being reborn with all memories of Buffy Summers, but I flunked the unwritten. That's…" A giggle escaped her, then full blown laughter followed close behind. Once she had settled down, she looked the blond woman in her grey eyes.

"My name is Shunran Kochō, not Buffy Summers. I might have been her and this new life might be unplanned, but it is mine. And it will stay mine and mine alone."

"That is true, but you don't know who you are or what's to come. You are at the beginning."

Kochō nodded. That was the true. She did sometimes wonder who she was, especially when she had been younger. She'd had a mini identity crisis on occasion, and in retrospect she didn't know how much she had changed, or how things would turn out in the future.

"So oh wise one, any advice? Since I am no longer the Slayer, the cryptic is no longer necessary," said Kochō, with a slight upward tilt of her lips.

"You are no longer alone. Remember that."

"Okay..."

"Slayer walks alone, she lives in action of death, the blood cry, the penetrating wound, and she is destruction. Absolute. Alone."

"Even as a Slayer I wasn't alone."

"You were the Chosen one, and The Slayer doesn't walk in this world."

"Perhaps not, but I am no longer the one."

"No, you are not. Remember that."

"Anything else?"

"Yes. Choose your companion wisely," she said, while motioning around herself.

"What…oh, pretty!" Kochō observed a butterfly flying past, then she saw a mole or a badger, she wasn't sure what exactly it was, peek from the ground, and lastly, she looked up when she heard a cry from above and saw a beautiful snow leopard sitting at the top of the dune, watching her.

"Wait…companion? You don't mean I'll get a summons somehow, because none of those are in Konaha." Then she thought for a moment and added, "That I know off."

"Yes, you'll have to choose one and decide whom to give the other two to. You don't have much time."

Now wasn't that just great. Wait, she thought, she knew just who should get a mole—her teacher and friend who was blind, the guy she'd had a crush on when she was younger…hey, he might be blind, but he was cute even then and seventeen years old when she had fished him out of the river and used CPR. It did help that the guy knew about her previous life, but perhaps she should not jump the gun after all as she didn't have any contract just yet.

But then a bat could work too. Or maybe she should just give him both, and she could keep the butterflies. After all, Naruto would get a contract from his Godfather, Sasuke would get his hawk contract, and Sakura her slug contract from Tsunade.

***

Sasuke was staring at a very tall, pale man who looked far older than the Hokage did, with deep wrinkles and spiky, shoulder length pale red hair. There was a chain length braid hanging in front his left ear. What Sasuke found odd, however, were the two horn-like protrusions on his head.

"Hn."

***

Sakura was looking over a lake. She knew that this was some sort of test or something, but she didn't know what to do.

So she started to walk around.

***

With Sasuke, who was standing and listening to the Kono Yo no Kyūseishu.

"Yes, my mother Ōtsutsuki Kaguya. She came here to this land and since she longed for peace, she had eaten the fruit of the Shinju. So she put an end to all the conflict, and for this she was worshipped as the Usagi no Megami."

"Hn."

"You really remind me of my eldest. Indra was his name." Hagoromo slammed his staff into the ground, causing ripples as an image formed. Sasuke looked down as the image grew clearer and clearer, until the raven-haired boy could see the reflection of a man with long brown hair cut short on top, with two locks wrapped in bandages framing either side of his face. His eyebrows were cut short, a symbol of his nobility of old, Sasuke knew, and his eyes had blue markings around them, which were turned up at the corners. He wore a high-collared, light-colored kimono held closed by a dark sash. The collar of the kimono was adorned with magatama, under which he wore a black, full-bodied suit.

"And the other son?"

"You know the identity of the Transmigrant of Ashura, Sasuke."

"Hn."

***

Kakashi was sitting comfortably across his father. Seeing the man again brought many pleasant memories from his childhood back.

He gave a wry chuckle. He was so eager to grow up.

***

Sakura was watching wide eyed at the two children clinging to her legs as she walked. Suddenly, she was standing in a spacious room with nice furniture, and then the two kids ran in, calling her Kaa-san.

And she was a grown up…a jōnin, judging by her flak jacket…and a mom.

***

"Get to the damn point, Senin-jiji –ttebayo!"

"Hmm, the point is it's no use if you fret, therefore I will ask you," Hagoromo said, watching the irritable blonde before him. "Now you must ask me about my mother and sons."

Naruto made a face. "How can I ask you about that if I don't even know who my father was? I know Uzumaki Kushina was my mother, but they never told me who my father was dattebayo."

"Hn." The Sage gave a nod, understanding the youngster's dilemma. He hit his staff again, disrupting the image of Ashura, which was slowly replaced by the image of someone Naruto had seen before, the Yondaime Hokage.

Blinking, Naruto needed only a couple of heartbeats to put two and two together, and he really wanted to slap himself silly, and then yell at the top of his lungs at the general stupidity and blindness that plagued Konoha. How in the world did people miss the resemblance? He was like, mini Yondaime, with slight difference in the shape of his face, but come on!

"That's…"

"Yes, your father, Namikaze Minato, the Yondaime Hokage, who is and was and forever will be father of Uzumaki-Namikaze Naruto."

"Right." A deep shaking breath, then Naruto fixed his eyes on the Sage of the six paths. "Before I ask about your mother and sons, we should wait for Sasuke. After all, this concerns him as well."

"Hm, like I said, good observation. Yes, as you are the Transmigrant of Ashura, Sasuke is the Transmigrant of Indra."

"Well, we might not be blood, but we are family."

"He is already present, Naruto. You just need to reach to your left with your fist."

Naruto raised his hand, then make a fist, and then he shifted it to his left. "Like that ttebayo?"

"Naruto."

"Yo, Sasuke."

"Hm, unlike previous Transmigrants you seem to be close. Even Ashura and Indra weren't been like that."

"We are friends –dattebayo."

"And teammates."

"And family too."

"Very well, perhaps. Yes, I'll show you the sequence of events that drew my sons apart, as well as what happened to the set of Transmigrants that came before the two of you, Senju Harashima and Uchiha Madara."

***

Sakura blinked open her eyes, and then started when she saw a familiar figure sitting across from her.

"Yo."

"Kakashi-sensei."

"Well, it appears you are the first out of the Kako, genzai oyobi shōrai no ishidzukuri no āchi," commented Kakashi.

"What?"

"It appears that the Genin of Uzu went through different training, by facing the past, present and future, hence the name inscribed on top."

Sakura looked back and sure enough, there at the top in neon orange was the inscription 'Kako, genzai oyobi shōrai no ishidzukuri no āchi'. Then her eyes wandered back down to her three teammates who were still in a trance.

But what she found weird was that both boys were holding their hands in a fist bump, both emitting chakra that made their bodies glow.

Kochō, however, was standing still with her eyes closed, while circles of water and fire interloped around her.

***

Kochō was standing by a girl named Tara, or at least according to the Slayer in front of her, something that borrowed an image of Tara that the dark-haired Slayer knew.

"Make her speak," the brunette demanded.

"I speak for her."

"I don't care." Then she pointed at the Primitive circling them, sniffing the air around the Slayer and stealing glances at Kochō, something that both the shinobi and slayer noticed. But only Kochō had an idea as to why the First Slayer was curious about her, not that her replacement cared at the moment.

"Why are you following me around, and what did you do with my friends? And boyfriend?"

"You are asking the wrong questions," Tara stated.

"Make. Her. Talk." Every word came out deliberately with a slight threat underlining it, promising pain.

"I have no speech. No name. I live in the action of death. I am destruction. Absolute. Alone."

Brown eyes widening, Kochō could see that the older girl was no young woman. She was sure that she was in her twenties or late teens, and came to a realization as to just who was following her, attacking her and now circling in front of her.

"The Slayer," she whispered.

Tara nodded. "The First." The first slayer stood erect, standing defiantly between Kochō and the slayer.

The brunette looked at the picture she was holding, then held it up for all of them to see. Kochō blinked, then stared. This living room, and some of the people sleeping on couches were so familiar…she breathed in calmly, realizing that apparently time moved differently there. Her friends that she had made going to that hellhole were alive and apparently helping the Slayer that had come after her and her mom, or rather Buffy's mom was there as well. It made her feel…liberated, like a weight in her heart lifted. She hadn't even known that this had weighed so heavily on her.

"I'm not alone."

The First Slayer growled at the young woman, baring her teeth like some feral creature. Well, Kochō thought that she looked like those wax figures in the Natural Museum that showed how cave people lived.

"The slayer doesn't walk in the world."

"I walk. I talk. I ride a bike. I'm hungry. I'm horny. I'm going to be a pilot or a policewoman. There are trees in the desert since you moved out and I definitely don't sleep on a bed of bones. Now give my family and friends back!"

Kochō was startled when a raspy, scratchy voice sounded from The First Slayer's lips, struggling to break through.

"No … friends … just the kill … we are alone." She could say that she was faintly surprised as well as relieved that the Slayer after her had befriended the same people she called friends, as well as sort of adopted her mother…she stopped herself. No, Joyce. Then irritation surged forward, along with a twitch in her eye and a pulsing vein at the back of her head, for the Cheese Man leaned out of nowhere in between them, dangling slices of cheese invitingly.

Oh, hell no.

Before the two slayers could come to blows, and Tara or whatever it was disappeared as soon as The First Slayer started to talk, the twelve year old lavender-haired kunoichi jumped and kicked the cheese man so that he collided with the Cave woman, sending them spiralling to the ground.

"Enough is enough!" she snarled, flashing through hand signs, stopping at the snake seal.

"Magen: Samatageru no Teishi."

"Now that was awesome!"

"Thanks, but I think it is time for both of us to wake up."

"Yeah." The brunette eyed her warily. "So no cryptic stuff."

"Nah, I have no patience for it. Besides, this vision or dream or whatever has been a good learning experience for both of us."

"Ah."

"But—"

The slayer rolled her eyes, muttering, "Here we go. Cryptic stuff from a midget," and was rewarded by twitching eyebrow. "Don't take prophecies as gospel. Keep your loved ones close, and I am not a midget. I am twelve." muttered Kochō.

The Slayer smiled. "Sure, cutie pie princess."

Then she burst of into laughter when the purple haired kid in front of her blushed and puffed out her cheeks.

***

Before Sakura's eyes, the swirls of fire and water disappeared suddenly and her female teammate opened her eyes.

"Sakura?"

Sakura nodded, and watched as Kochō's amber eyes trailed over the words inscribed into the arch.

"Aha. So that was that." Then her golden gaze stopped at the still-standing and fist bumping boys then trailed to Kakashi, who was reading his book.

"Well, I suppose we have no other choice but to wait for…" She trailed off when the boys suddenly moved from the arch. "Never mind now."

"Dattebayo!"

And before anyone could utter another world, the familiar light enveloped them, and as suddenly as they had disappeared they reappeared by the pillar that Naruto had touched, triggering the whole thing.

***

"I am not going to ask what it is that you saw, but if you want to talk about it I'll be here."

"Well, Sasuke and I met an old geezer who liked to lecture -ttebayo." Naruto cast a quick glance at Sasuke. First, they would discuss what they had found out among themselves before possibly sharing with their sensei and teammates."

"I met a guy with an obsession with cheese." offered Kochō.

"Kids, meet kids." muttered blushing Sakura.

"Okay, my cute Genin, I think is time to get our C-Rank mission under way, don't you?"

"Hai, Sensei!" came from four teens. And so they were off.

 

End chapter.

 

Next: Call for help

Quiz question: Who is Buffy's blind friend?

Translations:

Rikudō Sennin- Sage of the Six Paths

Kono Yo no Kyūseishu- Savior of this World

Usagi no Megami- Rabbit Goddess

Ninshū- Shinobi Sect

Kako, genzai oyobi shōrai no ishidzukuri no āchi- stone arches of past present and future

* Slayer that has a fight with First Slayer in the desert is Faith. The time moves differently, like Buffy realized when she saw images of the people she once called friends and her mother.

Magen: Samatageru no Teishi - demonic Illusion: Standstill binding, that justsu belongs to me, its under genjutsu and it effects all senses, the victims perceive total binding around them, with no visible way out. Immobilizing them completely and rendering them vulnerable to physical attack.

Chapter Text

Chapter six
Disclaimer: There are scenes taken (and adapted) from Naruto Chapter 670 and Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 5, Episode Restless.

WARNING: Names, nicknames, family names, techniques, honorific, countries, towns, titles are written in Japanese.
It is a pet peeve of mine, if those are translated ... ever since I read pretty popular book where places, surnames and names were translated. It was like pressing and pulling chalk over blackboard. That said you don't have to go to the end of the chapter to see what word means it is just a name - like Uzumaki (Spiral) Naruto (maelstrom or fishcake). Or a title, like say Hokage (Fire shadow).

And now on to the chapter ....

 

***Uzu ruins***

Konohagakure no Sato was a fairly large village. Most people thought it a grand and secure place, but it had nothing on Uzugakure. Even destroyed as it were, the tall and vast structures still bore witness to a once majestic settlement.

Something that five figures walking through the desolate land knew well. After all, Konoha and Uzu had once been allies.

There were buildings. Lots of them, big and small, made from red stone and adorned with the Uzumaki swirl, but not one was whole. It was strange though, thought Naruto. The same thoughts were running through his companions' minds, who were also looking at what had once been Uzugakure.

What all of them found strange was that while buildings were damaged, it wasn't from the passage of time. In fact, the green paint on door frames and various other bright colours, orange among them, looked as if they had been freshly painted. They all looked frozen in time, with no birds singing or insects in sight. Dead trees with not a hint of green stood like skeletons on watch on the abandoned pirate ship. Burnt grass, cracked ground. Not even the air moved. The buildings, however, were a different structure from those of Konoha. However, only Kochō recognised the architecture as looking similar to that of a mix of Japanese and Greek, with Mediterranean arches. And were those frescos on the walls?

Truly the ghost town of Elemental nations.

If they'd been unaware that Uzu had been ruined decades ago, they'd have thought that there had been an attack on the village—no, city, since it was much larger than Konoha. Even the smallest building was bigger than the Hokage tower.

Soon, curiosity warred within Naruto and he finally reached out to trace the writing on the pillar. Just as his fingertips made contact with the cool surface, the seal array glowed into existence, and before Naruto could think to react, in the blinding florescent green light the five shinobi vanished.

Reappearing in a circular room, Kochō gasped. This was it…this was what she had been dreaming about since the Wave mission four weeks ago. Her shock was, however, put on hold when Naruto's voice was heard.

"Did I do that?"

Kochō snorted, Sakura introduced her palm to her forehead and Sasuke introduced his palm to the back of Naruto's head.

"Not funny, Naruto," he grumbled.

"Anyway, since we are here, let's explore –ttebayo!"

"We should look for an exit though," the voice of reason, Kakashi, added.

But then something strange happened—the Kanji and wall paintings glowed softly and suddenly…

***

Kakashi found himself standing in a clearing by a lit campfire before a familiar, kind-faced man with dark eyes. There were deep lines running underneath them, and spiky, silver-colored hair that was tied into a ponytail reached to the middle of his back. His bangs hung over his forehead protector of Konoha no Shiroi Kiba…Hatake Sakumo, his father. His father, who had died of wounds that he had inflicted on himself.

"Hello, son."

***

Naruto was looking around at the weird place he found himself in…and an even weirder old man. A man that was way older than Hokage-jiji, though the geezer actually had horns. And he had closed eyes. In his right hand, he held a staff that had two big rings on either end. Only the ring on one end was in the shape of crescent moon, while the other was a full circle and had six smaller rings inside it. That was not all, Naruto noted. The geezer was floating.

"Your reaction … I had already partly predicted that you might react this way," the geezer said calmly, his eyes still closed.

"Gah, great, I got an old geezer who likes to lecture people -ttebayoo."

The geezer opened his eyes then and Naruto froze…that pattern—he was almost sure that he had seen it somewhere.

"Your eyes," he stated, watching the man warily. "Are they a health condition or a bloodline limit?"

"You are good at observing people. I hope you understand the condition you are currently in?"

"My team and I were in the ruins and I tripped something up?"

"Yes, Uzugakure's training seal, but it was yours and one other chakra that overlapped and brought me forward."

"And who are you again, dattebayo?"

"My name is, or rather was, Ōtsutsuki Hagoromo, but I believe you know me better under the title of Rikudō Sennin."

"Ah, yes." Naruto nodded. "I am Uzumaki Naruto. And that still doesn't tell me anything. I've never heard of you."

Hagoromo nodded. "Yes, well, youngsters are not meant to sit still and read dusty and boring scrolls. I am the one who created Ninshū."

"Ninjutsu? You are the one that…"

"Not ninjutsu, Ninshū! My Ninshū was created to inspire hope. Do not confuse it with ninjutsu, which was made to create war!"

He took a deep breath. Naruto, sensing an important but probably boring lecture ahead, sat down.

"I exemplified my teachings by distributing chakra meant to "connect" people's spiritual energies with one another. It would allow people to understand each other without communication and would allow them pray for each others' safety. However, people didn't use the chakra to connect with others, but to instead connect their inner spiritual and physical energies together. They kneaded their inner chakra to amplify it and transform it into today ninjutsu. In the end, they ended up using their chakra in battle, just as my mother Kaguya did."

"Your mother?"

***

Kochō was standing in a desert. Across from her stood a skittish, balding and bespectacled man in an old woollen suit. He was dangling two slices of cheese before Kochō's face.

With an eye twitch, the girl reached out and ripped the cheese out of the man's hands.

"I don't like cheese."

At that, the man pulled out a plate of American cheese and offered it to the irritated kunoichi.

"I made a little space for the cheese slices."

Once again, Kochō interrupted, but this time she slammed the plate, cheese and all, in man's face.

"Look, cheese fruitcake man, I am pretty sure this is some sort of vision quest or whatever, but one, I seriously dislike cheese. And two, what in blue hell does a cheese-wearing man in a tacky woollen suit have to do with a vision quest?"

"It does, but not for you," came a voice from behind. Kochō turned around to watch a young, sandy-haired woman in flowing Indian garb striding toward her. Shrugging off the sheer weirdness of this vision, she turned away from the man, who at the moment was acting as if nothing had happened even though he was still covered in slices of cheese.

"I wear the cheese. Cheese doesn't wear me."

Ignoring the nuisance for now, Kochō turned her full attention to the unfamiliar woman.

"For who then?"

"Her." She pointed toward a dune where a brunette girl in leather trousers and jacket was rolling with a tall, white painted woman in rags with dreaded black hair down the dune, kicking and punching as they went.

"Huh…?" was Kochō reply, while the cheese man dangled cheese yet again.

"These will not protect you."

A vein throbbed at the back of Kochō's head, and she slowly turned to the face the cheese man, wearing a thin smile on her face.

The man whipped another slice from somewhere and offered it to Kochō, which resulted in a falcon punch so hard that it propelled him across the space toward the two fighting on the sand, with a shout of "Get lost, creep!" from the irritated shinobi. With that taken care of, she turned back towards the speaker, coming to a realization of what vision she intruded into by accident.

"They are Slayers, aren't they?"

"Yes, as you once were, First and the last in the line."

"And I?"

"You are no longer; you are a shadow and a thought, a diversion of what you once were."

"But I am still connected."

"Yes."

"Aha, and why is that?"

"You weren't supposed to leave."

"Er, did you happen to not notice that it was written that the Slayer shall face the Master, and die for her trouble?"

"Yes, but it wasn't meant to remain that way."

"Ah, so not only did I, in a way, flunked the written in being reborn with all memories of Buffy Summers, but I flunked the unwritten. That's…" A giggle escaped her, then full blown laughter followed close behind. Once she had settled down, she looked the blond woman in her grey eyes.

"My name is Shunran Kochō, not Buffy Summers. I might have been her and this new life might be unplanned, but it is mine. And it will stay mine and mine alone."

"That is true, but you don't know who you are or what's to come. You are at the beginning."

Kochō nodded. That was the true. She did sometimes wonder who she was, especially when she had been younger. She'd had a mini identity crisis on occasion, and in retrospect she didn't know how much she had changed, or how things would turn out in the future.

"So oh wise one, any advice? Since I am no longer the Slayer, the cryptic is no longer necessary," said Kochō, with a slight upward tilt of her lips.

"You are no longer alone. Remember that."

"Okay..."

"Slayer walks alone, she lives in action of death, the blood cry, the penetrating wound, and she is destruction. Absolute. Alone."

"Even as a Slayer I wasn't alone."

"You were the Chosen one, and The Slayer doesn't walk in this world."

"Perhaps not, but I am no longer the one."

"No, you are not. Remember that."

"Anything else?"

"Yes. Choose your companion wisely," she said, while motioning around herself.

"What…oh, pretty!" Kochō observed a butterfly flying past, then she saw a mole or a badger, she wasn't sure what exactly it was, peek from the ground, and lastly, she looked up when she heard a cry from above and saw a beautiful snow leopard sitting at the top of the dune, watching her.

"Wait…companion? You don't mean I'll get a summons somehow, because none of those are in Konaha." Then she thought for a moment and added, "That I know off."

"Yes, you'll have to choose one and decide whom to give the other two to. You don't have much time."

Now wasn't that just great. Wait, she thought, she knew just who should get a mole—her teacher and friend who was blind, the guy she'd had a crush on when she was younger…hey, he might be blind, but he was cute even then and seventeen years old when she had fished him out of the river and used CPR. It did help that the guy knew about her previous life, but perhaps she should not jump the gun after all as she didn't have any contract just yet.

But then a bat could work too. Or maybe she should just give him both, and she could keep the butterflies. After all, Naruto would get a contract from his Godfather, Sasuke would get his hawk contract, and Sakura her slug contract from Tsunade.

***

Sasuke was staring at a very tall, pale man who looked far older than the Hokage did, with deep wrinkles and spiky, shoulder length pale red hair. There was a chain length braid hanging in front his left ear. What Sasuke found odd, however, were the two horn-like protrusions on his head.

"Hn."

***

Sakura was looking over a lake. She knew that this was some sort of test or something, but she didn't know what to do.

So she started to walk around.

***

With Sasuke, who was standing and listening to the Kono Yo no Kyūseishu.

"Yes, my mother Ōtsutsuki Kaguya. She came here to this land and since she longed for peace, she had eaten the fruit of the Shinju. So she put an end to all the conflict, and for this she was worshipped as the Usagi no Megami."

"Hn."

"You really remind me of my eldest. Indra was his name." Hagoromo slammed his staff into the ground, causing ripples as an image formed. Sasuke looked down as the image grew clearer and clearer, until the raven-haired boy could see the reflection of a man with long brown hair cut short on top, with two locks wrapped in bandages framing either side of his face. His eyebrows were cut short, a symbol of his nobility of old, Sasuke knew, and his eyes had blue markings around them, which were turned up at the corners. He wore a high-collared, light-colored kimono held closed by a dark sash. The collar of the kimono was adorned with magatama, under which he wore a black, full-bodied suit.

"And the other son?"

"You know the identity of the Transmigrant of Ashura, Sasuke."

"Hn."

***

Kakashi was sitting comfortably across his father. Seeing the man again brought many pleasant memories from his childhood back.

He gave a wry chuckle. He was so eager to grow up.

***

Sakura was watching wide eyed at the two children clinging to her legs as she walked. Suddenly, she was standing in a spacious room with nice furniture, and then the two kids ran in, calling her Kaa-san.

And she was a grown up…a jōnin, judging by her flak jacket….and a mom.

***

"Get to the damn point, Senin-jiji –ttebayo!"

"Hmm, the point is it's no use if you fret, therefore I will ask you," Hagoromo said, watching the irritable blonde before him. "Now you must ask me about my mother and sons."

Naruto made a face. "How can I ask you about that if I don't even know who my father was? I know Uzumaki Kushina was my mother, but they never told me who my father was dattebayo."

"Hn." The Sage gave a nod, understanding the youngster's dilemma. He hit his staff again, disrupting the image of Ashura, which was slowly replaced by the image of someone Naruto had seen before, the Yondaime Hokage.

Blinking, Naruto needed only a couple of heartbeats to put two and two together, and he really wanted to slap himself silly, and then yell at the top of his lungs at the general stupidity and blindness that plagued Konoha. How in the world did people miss the resemblance? He was like, mini Yondaime, with slight difference in the shape of his face, but come on!

"That's…"

"Yes, your father, Namikaze Minato, the Yondaime Hokage, who is and was and forever will be father of Uzumaki-Namikaze Naruto."

"Right." A deep shaking breath, then Naruto fixed his eyes on the Sage of the six paths. "Before I ask about your mother and sons, we should wait for Sasuke. After all, this concerns him as well."

"Hm, like I said, good observation. Yes, as you are the Transmigrant of Ashura, Sasuke is the Transmigrant of Indra."

"Well, we might not be blood, but we are family."

"He is already present, Naruto. You just need to reach to your left with your fist."

Naruto raised his hand, then make a fist, and then he shifted it to his left. "Like that ttebayo?"

"Naruto."

"Yo, Sasuke."

"Hm, unlike previous Transmigrants you seem to be close. Even Ashura and Indra weren't been like that."

"We are friends –dattebayo."

"And teammates."

"And family too."

"Very well, perhaps. Yes, I'll show you the sequence of events that drew my sons apart, as well as what happened to the set of Transmigrants that came before the two of you, Senju Harashima and Uchiha Madara."

***

Sakura blinked open her eyes, and then started when she saw a familiar figure sitting across from her.

"Yo."

"Kakashi-sensei."

"Well, it appears you are the first out of the Kako, genzai oyobi shōrai no ishidzukuri no āchi," commented Kakashi.

"What?"

"It appears that the Genin of Uzu went through different training, by facing the past, present and future, hence the name inscribed on top."

Sakura looked back and sure enough, there at the top in neon orange was the inscription 'Kako, genzai oyobi shōrai no ishidzukuri no āchi'. Then her eyes wandered back down to her three teammates who were still in a trance.

But what she found weird was that both boys were holding their hands in a fist bump, both emitting chakra that made their bodies glow.

Kochō, however, was standing still with her eyes closed, while circles of water and fire interloped around her.

***

Kochō was standing by a girl named Tara, or at least according to the Slayer in front of her, something that borrowed an image of Tara that the dark-haired Slayer knew.

"Make her speak," the brunette demanded.

"I speak for her."

"I don't care." Then she pointed at the Primitive circling them, sniffing the air around the Slayer and stealing glances at Kochō, something that both the shinobi and slayer noticed. But only Kochō had an idea as to why the First Slayer was curious about her, not that her replacement cared at the moment.

"Why are you following me around, and what did you do with my friends? And boyfriend?"

"You are asking the wrong questions," Tara stated.

"Make. Her. Talk." Every word came out deliberately with a slight threat underlining it, promising pain.

"I have no speech. No name. I live in the action of death. I am destruction. Absolute. Alone."

Brown eyes widening, Kochō could see that the older girl was no young woman. She was sure that she was in her twenties or late teens, and came to a realization as to just who was following her, attacking her and now circling in front of her.

"The Slayer," she whispered.

Tara nodded. "The First." The first slayer stood erect, standing defiantly between Kochō and the slayer.

The brunette looked at the picture she was holding, then held it up for all of them to see. Kochō blinked, then stared. This living room, and some of the people sleeping on couches were so familiar…she breathed in calmly, realizing that apparently time moved differently there. Her friends that she had made going to that hellhole were alive and apparently helping the Slayer that had come after her and her mom, or rather Buffy's mom was there as well. It made her feel…liberated, like a weight in her heart lifted. She hadn't even known that this had weighed so heavily on her.

"I'm not alone."

The First Slayer growled at the young woman, baring her teeth like some feral creature. Well, Kochō thought that she looked like those wax figures in the Natural Museum that showed how cave people lived.

"The slayer doesn't walk in the world."

"I walk. I talk. I ride a bike. I'm hungry. I'm horny. I'm going to be a pilot or a policewoman. There are trees in the desert since you moved out and I definitely don't sleep on a bed of bones. Now give my family and friends back!"

Kochō was startled when a raspy, scratchy voice sounded from The First Slayer's lips, struggling to break through.

"No … friends … just the kill … we are alone." She could say that she was faintly surprised as well as relieved that the Slayer after her had befriended the same people she called friends, as well as sort of adopted her mother…she stopped herself. No, Joyce. Then irritation surged forward, along with a twitch in her eye and a pulsing vein at the back of her head, for the Cheese Man leaned out of nowhere in between them, dangling slices of cheese invitingly.

Oh, hell no.

Before the two slayers could come to blows, and Tara or whatever it was disappeared as soon as The First Slayer started to talk, the twelve year old lavender-haired kunoichi jumped and kicked the cheese man so that he collided with the Cave woman, sending them spiralling to the ground.

"Enough is enough!" she snarled, flashing through hand signs, stopping at the snake seal.

"Magen: Samatageru no Teishi."

"Now that was awesome!"

"Thanks, but I think it is time for both of us to wake up."

"Yeah." The brunette eyed her warily. "So no cryptic stuff."

"Nah, I have no patience for it. Besides, this vision or dream or whatever has been a good learning experience for both of us."

"Ah."

"But—"

The slayer rolled her eyes, muttering, "Here we go. Cryptic stuff from a midget," and was rewarded by twitching eyebrow. "Don't take prophecies as gospel. Keep your loved ones close, and I am not a midget. I am twelve." muttered Kochō.

The Slayer smiled. "Sure, cutie pie princess."

Then she burst of into laughter when the purple haired kid in front of her blushed and puffed out her cheeks.

***

Before Sakura's eyes, the swirls of fire and water disappeared suddenly and her female teammate opened her eyes.

"Sakura?"

Sakura nodded, and watched as Kochō's amber eyes trailed over the words inscribed into the arch.

"Aha. So that was that." Then her golden gaze stopped at the still-standing and fist bumping boys then trailed to Kakashi, who was reading his book.

"Well, I suppose we have no other choice but to wait for…" She trailed off when the boys suddenly moved from the arch. "Never mind now."

"Dattebayo!"

And before anyone could utter another world, the familiar light enveloped them, and as suddenly as they had disappeared they reappeared by the pillar that Naruto had touched, triggering the whole thing.

***

"I am not going to ask what it is that you saw, but if you want to talk about it I'll be here."

"Well, Sasuke and I met an old geezer who liked to lecture -ttebayo." Naruto cast a quick glance at Sasuke. First, they would discuss what they had found out among themselves before possibly sharing with their sensei and teammates."

"I met a guy with an obsession with cheese." offered Kochō.

"Kids, meet kids." muttered blushing Sakura.

"Okay, my cute Genin, I think is time to get our C-Rank mission under way, don't you?"

"Hai, Sensei!" came from four teens. And so they were off.

End chapter.

Next: Call for help

Quiz question: Who is Buffy's blind friend?

Translations:

Rikudō Sennin- Sage of the Six Paths

Kono Yo no Kyūseishu- Savior of this World

Usagi no Megami- Rabbit Goddess

Ninshū- Shinobi Sect

Kako, genzai oyobi shōrai no ishidzukuri no āchi- stone arches of past present and future

* Slayer that has a fight with First Slayer in the desert is Faith. The time moves differently, like Buffy realized when she saw images of the people she once called friends and her mother.

Magen: Samatageru no Teishi - demonic Illusion: Standstill binding, that justsu belongs to me, its under genjutsu and it effects all senses, the victims perceive total binding around them, with no visible way out. Immobilizing them completely and rendering them vulnerable to physical attack.

Chapter Text

***On the road***



The track back to Konoha, after the completed mission, was spent in near silence as the members of team seven finally had time to mull over their experience in Uzu.

Kakashi thought about his younger days when his father had been alive, and unlike in the past, he was able to think about it without any mixed feelings of regret and anger. Slanting a glance at Sakura, who looked torn between passing out and shouting. He watched her alternate between paling and blushing, it made him kind of wonder what the girl had seen to merit such an amusing reaction.

Whatever it was that happened, he was glad that she could put it on hold until mission was over and done with. After all, the pinkette had nearly walked into any tree that was in her path and he had to steer his student away a couple of times from what would have been a very painful kiss with many trees, not that she even noticed he did it.

Quickly checking ahead for any hazards with any plant ahead on the road, that would make painful meeting with Sakura, and finding non pending, his gaze then travelled to the other girl in his team. Kochō was staring dead ahead as she walked and while he was sure that she was paying attention to her surroundings, somehow without really seeing anything, he at least didn't have to worry of Kochō walking into any random obstacles on her path. He should really teach Sakura how to be more aware of her surroundings even if she is feeling any sort of emotional upheaval.

Naruto and Sasuke however they walked together a bit behind them, talking in very hushed voices, no doubt discussing whatever happened with them and whatever they witnessed together. He certainly won't pry at whatever it was that the two boys experienced, so he didn't channel any chakra to allow himself in eavesdropping on the conversation. If his students wanted him to know they'll tell him, after all the experience was probably as personal as his own was with him.

Though he himself did notice some things while he was watching his unmoving students while they were still under the arch. His first clue in that the arch did more that what was inscribed on top of it was, when he stepped forward after talking to his father, and found himself back in that room, with his cute genin still under the Arch, the arch started to give up pale blue light and humming vibrations. And then in the air above each of his students 3-D apparition of letters and pictures appeared.

The teachers in Uzu certainly knew what they were doing while they created that arch to test their genin teams. And Kakashi will certainly put his findings to good use.

Like the fact that Sasuke is hidden kenjutsu prodigy, waiting ready to emerge and when he finally manages to unlock his Sharingan he will advance in that area quickly. Possibly surpassing his brother in power, and if he read this right and he did, he will even surpass Senju Tsunade in the healing arts. Now wasn't that something, an Uchiha leaving a Senju in the dust in healing arts?

He couldn't help it at that point, he chuckled at the sheer irony. That and like Naruto he had some sort of additional chakra coursing trough him that was at the same time a part of him and not.

Well, his ANBU buddy was a kenjutsu specialist…he'll rope him into helping train Sasuke. Who knows, maybe Gekko’s girlfriend will lend a hand as well.

As for Naruto, while his main nature affinity was wind, but while his unpredictable blond student was standing he also saw that he possessed a possibility in mastering every element, in other words Naruto was a budding Ninjutsu and Fūinjutsu expert and he apparently inherited a possibility of unlocking Uzumaki chakra chains from Kushina nee-san.

Luckily Kakashi still had some scrolls that Minato-sensei lent him, and also some explanation of how to apply a seal without ink, but he himself never got that, yes as versatile as Kakashi might be, seals just weren't his thing. But it was apparent they were Naruto's thing. He'll have to make sure to tell Jiraya when he shows up in Konoha.

Sakura's chart shown that, as Sasuke in Iryō-ninjutsu, Sakura will surpass Lady Tsunade's physical power, and her knowledge and ability of Doton and Taijutsu will certainly make her a formidable kunoichi in addition to that, her chakra control could evolve in a direction not often seen in Konoha but Suna - puppetry. Now that was worth looking in to. And he did copy some of Suna's Kugutsu no Jutsu techniques.

Kochō, well, she certainly put new meaning too the words chaotic and multitasking. But the skill that stands out most was her barrier ninjutsu. Something that he admitted to himself was pretty impressive and extremely rare in shinobi world. To be able to throw barriers willy nilly, usually you needed four people to cast a barriers, or at least, barrier tags.

But Kochō could do it by herself, something that she had shown at the bell test, and something that he put on hold. Well not any more, as soon as they return to Konoha he'll use his Jōnin Library card to get scrolls on the subject, some of them were to advanced for a genin, but who cares.

Now since the Cūnin Exam was approaching he should step up their training to prepare them and some of their additional teachers will be out of the question, including both of Sakura's since Anko will be a proctor of the second exam and Tsume is a mother of possible participant, if Kurenai nominates her team. Gai will definitely nominate his, especially if Kakashi nominates his own. Now that was definitely pleasant thought, he just could not decide which of his students he should pit against one of Gai's in response to his youthful challenges.

Oh geez, Kakashi thought he actually thought that word, he really should make more effort at avoiding the eccentric spandex wearing man. He might be a friend and fellow shinobi, and self proclaimed rival to Kakashi, but he could only stand him in small doses.
Very small, yeah.



***Umi no kuni***




Unknown to Kakashi however, his self proclaimed rival and his Genin team were on the mission to Umi no Kuni, investigating sightings of a monster that was supposedly terrorizing the near by villages.

When they arrived they haven't seen a scale of it and searching for it they only encountered a bunch of fisherman tales.

"I think this mission is wild goose chase." Said a girl in the group, while wiping a bead of sweat, after all it was a very hot day and the constant running around hadn't helped much. Though she wasn't tired after all such ridiculous physical feats were normal for Team Gai.

"Hmph, it appears there is nothing more here, I agree with Tenten" a boy intoned flatly.

"Come on my rival!" came an enthusiastic shout from a boy with shiny short hair with round black eyes under very big eyebrows clad in green with orange leg warmers.

"Hm, I am not your rival, it is you fate to always loose to me, therefore you should find somebody more appropriate for you."

"Now, now Neji, that wasn't very youthful." came sudden voice behind them startling Tenten.

"Gai-sensei!" exclaimed the green clad boy rushing forward to stand by a man that was scarily similar to him in appearance only his eyebrows were even thicker than the boys and he wore standard jōnin flack jacket over green leotard suit. "We find no sign of Kaima."

"Yosh Lee, we'll run 20 more laps to make sure!" exclaimed their sensei with thumps up and blinding smile, making Neji close his eyes muttering about fate while Tenten looked downtrodden all f sudden.

"Yosh Gai-sensei! And if we don't find it I'll run 20 more laps on my hands!"

"What a youthful preposition Lee!" said Gai, while tearing up and smiling.

"Gai-sensei!" Exclaimed Lee who was also tearing up.

And then they suddenly embraced while a rainbow and crashing waves appeared out of nowhere
"Yosh, Tenten, Neji join in the youthful endeavour!" said Gai-sensei while dashing forward Lee right on his heals.

"Well Neji we better follow them huh?"

"Such is our fate."

As fate had it, soon the four found themselves in more trouble than they thought they would, when they come across a tableau that was both terrible and incredible. It all started when the two who were racing heard the sound of battle between shinobi, so team Gai veered from their path following the sounds, while Neji activated his Byakugan.

"What is it Neji?"

"Hai, sensei," intoned Neji flatly, while observing the scene that they'd yet to reach. "There are tree people and one pig…" he trailed off, and then shrugging of the animal wasn't important, so he continued, "Are on the side, one is lying on the ground, their chakra is not disturbed, possibly unconscious, the other two are together and one is trying to heal the other but…"

"But…" inquired Maito Gai.

"It appears it is fated for that person to perish."

"Yosh then let's hurry, Neji!" exclaimed Lee, "so that we might save them!"

"Haven't you heard a word I said?" Naji intoned, his tone never changing, but there was slight tick in his right eyebrow showing that he was not unaffected or amused by Lee's antic.

"Ano, what else Neji?" interrupted Tenten, who didn't want this to escalate. Not that her team-mates would come to blows, but she really didn't want to listen Lee screaming about youthful rivalry and Neji's talk about fate.

Luckily for her Neji decided to ignore Lee completely. So he continued with his report of the events he observed with his Byakugan, while he and his team were en course of collision and confrontation.

"Hmph, lastly one is standing in between those, possibly defending them from four others, though only one of them has a humanoid shape."

"Yosh, my students!" Screamed their teacher, "let's hurry with all our power of YOUTH!!!"

"Hai!" replayed the bun haired girl, while reaching for her scrolls so that she had them in hand when they assist.

"Yes Gai – sensei." intoned the Hyuuga, with a bored tone, while jumping from tree to tree.

"Yosh, lets us save those youthful people!" exclaimed Lee with fire burning in his round eyes, same fire that was mirrored in his teacher, a man that took him in, a man that Lee, himself admired and emulated in everything.

And so Team Gai speed up and jumped at the clearing where they saw the scene just as Neji had described it, only now they knew the details.

The man shaped person, along with four dark shapes- made of strings- with white animal masks, standing before a dark haired beautiful girl who was battered heavily but standing guard before a violently shivering blond women dressed in grass-green haori, who was lying on the ground, little back of the blonde, a dark haired woman was healing a man who was heavily bandaged, with a huge sword by his side while a small light pinkish coloured pig, wearing a pearl collar and a dark red jacket, was standing vigil by the medic.

So without more delay Team Gai flickered to the dark haired girl.


***




Haku was in a pinch, the mission in the Wave had gone without a hitch, well after they were hired by Tazuna to guard Wave until they got steady militia made from villages and some samurai for hire, which was now over. But they did have new commission, when they were done with it.

And then they were hired to find Tsunade of the Sanin to heal the daughter of the damiyō of Umi no Kuni. As luck have it, they managed to track the Namekuji-hime and her assistant almost immediately, they were in a local casino, gambling.

And as rumours suggested…losing badly.

Zabuza-sama had a theory that all ninja of Konoha had to be nut cases one way or other, which made them interesting. Case in point, Kakashi and his Genin pack that they met in the Wave, they certainly made Haku's life more interesting as well as fulfilling, after all if they hadn't met, Zabuza-sama would still view Haku as a throwaway tool, and not a precious student as he was viewed now by Zabuza-sama after meeting Konoha' ninja.

Though Zabuza-sama didn't bequeath his Kubikiribōchō to Haku. Not that Haku wanted it, but he at least thought that next wielder of Kubikiribōchō would be Kiri nin.

It did appear that despite thinking of the next wielder to be immature person Zabuza still chose Konoha nin as next wielder of sword.

On the other hand Haku was not so much surprised when Zabuza told him about it, as well as he wasn't surprised when she finds out why they found her, convincing Tsunade to heal the girl wasn't that big of a problem and so they started the track to Yurameku shiro, but they never made it.

Since they, or rather Zabuza-sama, was tracked by a bounty hunter, which introduced himself as Kakuzu. Right after telling them all how much they are worth and he was pleased that Senju Tsunade was present as well, though he didn't say that she will be killed just taken somewhere.
And then he literally divided, in to five parts of himself…Haku heard about this technique and he did hear quite clearly Tsunade mutter 'impossible' when Kakuzu introduced himself not to mention that Tsunade and Kakuzu had an enlightening conversation, right before he used his Taki Hidden Technique, Jiongu.

And then …well, Haku was the last man standing.

Zabuza-sama was critically wounded, Haku thought, Shizune-san was healing him and she could not spare a moment to help Haku. The pet pig, Tonton was just a pig, not a summoning animal and Tsunade, she did fine, and she had even shattered one mask, before Zabuza went down with lots of blood and then her affliction revealed its self, haemophobia, the fear of blood.

"Never fear, Team Gai is here!" Exclaimed said person with a thumps up and a brilliant smile that nearly blinded Haku. With wide eyes the last of Yuki clan wielder of their Kakkei Genkai Hyooton. Watched as the strange green clad man was joined by a smaller clone of himself, an a girl with hair pinned in two buns and lastly a Hyuuga.

Then it clicked.

Hyuuga.

Konoha!

"Remove yourselves from my target." Kakuzu said calmly. "I have no business with you." One mask opened their mouth and spewed out flames toward the newcomers, but flames impacted wall of ice that Haku produced.

"Gai-san," Haku started, "Please take Senju Tsunade-sama and the others to safety, I'll hold him off."

"How youthful of you! Defending them like that!" The man started, "but there is no need for that, Tenten," he turned to the bun haired girl.

"Hai sensei!" the girl said then jumped toward Tsunade to pick her up and leaped away.

Then Haku had to lean back when he was faced with round eyes and very, very big bushy eyebrows on the round face, inches from his own.

"Yosh, not to worry my beautiful, winter flower of youth! We'll protect you to. Ne Gai sensei!" stated the boy, who was about Haku's age and Haku blinked, wait, he thought, the boy thinks he is a girl!

"That's right Lee!" yelled his teacher, his eyes lit with fire, "Young lady," he then turned to Haku, whose right eyebrow twitched in passing irritation, really his teacher too thought Haku was a girl, unfortunately Haku had lots of practice being mistaken for a girl, that's why he wore that porcelain mask in the first place and he really needed to focus on Kakuzu and ignore the babble.

"Hmm, so you took the Slug princess away, no matter I'll finish business with her at a later date." And with that all of the mouths dropped open.


***




Back with Kakashi and Team Seven who were still on their way back from very boring C-Rank that got complicated to say at least.

It kind of went like this…before they visited Uzumaki Kushina ancestral home, they escorted daimyō's daughter from Akimi Tsume no Kuni to Kawa no Kuni where she wed daimyō's eldest son Toshimaru. When they completed that mission the damiyō revealed that while they were en-route, he and damiyō of Tsume no Kuni decided that his second son will travel in two day time, as he has to prepare himself for the journey, to marry Akimi eldest sister Lady Tokine future damiyō of Tsume no Kuni… that they managed to squeeze their visit to Uzu in those two days that second son Chojirō needed to pack his stuff was a miracle in this mess.

And that was that, well and dealing with bandits on the way along with crooked antique dealer on the way but that was, it seemed, normal for Team Kakashi, after all having a normal mission without twists and turns would be a miracle for them.

But they still had mission success, thought Kakashi who as always had his nose in a book, and today was a good day; daimyō's son from Kawa no Kuni safely escorted to Tsume no Kuni, some more training in elemental nature, he taught Sasuke Chidori, Naruto is mastering Rasengan, Sakura's taijutsu is improving so much that she can make a creator with one punch and Kochō practically can throw genjutsu, of highest quality in great distances in fact her genjutsu rivals like of Kurenai and Itachi. He must been greatest sensei ever, at this rate nothing can go wro-…Oh Kami, no he did not just think that…


***




At this very moment The SOS turtle was speeding trough the air with almost speeds of light in general direction of Konoha. That is, until it sensed something:

Friendly chakra sources detected. Numbers: five, two Jōnin level, two high chūnin and one Genin level chakra source. Jōnin chakra source identified -Gai eternal rival. Other known name Hatake Kakashi


***




He promptly sweat dropped when something green zapped by his ear and hit a tree. It was one of Gai's SOS tortoises. Kakashi looked skyward for a moment as if looking for help, the turtle dislodged it self from the tree by the time he looked back at it.

By this time all of his students were watching him and then the turtle, then again him. "It is a summon turtle!" Exclaimed Naruto.

"Kakashi-sensei?"

"Yes Kochō?"

"Did you jinx us somehow?" she asked with a frown directed at their sensei, Sasuke turned his attention to the conversation while Sakura and Naruto crowded around the green projectile, examining it if by chance the turtle was injured.

"I'm afraid so." Eye smiled Kakashi making Kochō roll her eyes skyward at his blaze reaction.

Sasuke sighed. "Bummer."

"I think that's my line, Sasuke." Hissed Kochō.

"Hn, I don't see any stamp of ownership on that word."

Kochō grabbed at the fabric over her heart as if in shock, "Did you just make a funny?" she fanned her self.

"Shut it, butterfly." Growled the raven haired boy his eyebrows twitching madly with irritation.

Their snarky banter however was cut short, when Sakura brought the small green turtle to them, Naruto at her heals.

"Hatake Kakashi," started the turtle in a squeaky voice," immediate assistance needed on behalf of the Mighty Green Beast of Konoha Maito Gai."

Kakashi sobered up, this sounded serious, "What is the situation?"

"Request comes from Umi no Kuni, currently Maito Gai is likely suffering from chakra exhaustion, due to exposure of opening his gates for too long." answered the turtle.

Kakashi turned to his team, "Right, two choices," he knew what the choice will be, but he still felt the need to give his students a chance to refuse, not that they would. "We can either send Pakkun to Konoha for aid or we go there ourselves."

He left final decision for his genin pack to decide, after all they had close to no Intel, but they were well rested and in one piece while the other, albeit older genin team was in an unknown condition and with a sensei down for the count.

Naruto nodded, and then in his true prankster King fashion, simply because he wanted to tweak Sasuke for a bit, accurately mimicked their previous clients voice and said, "Today there will be sunny weather with minor spells of saving people." And was rewarded with Sasuke's reaction, the boy started to twitch and shudder violently while glaring daggers at his 'brother'.

Impressive accomplishment, Kochō thought while watching the myriad of expressions flicker over the normally stoic Sasuke. Well Naruto certainly won the 'lets screw with Sasuke's head' award today. And with that she stepped behind Naruto and lightly touched his back to get the boy's attention.

"Naru, stop," Kochō whispered, and then rolled her eyes when Naruto looked at her with a very evil grin on his face.

"Tch" Sasuke glared at his spiky haired blond moron of a team-mate, "Stop that. I had enough of that from that guy."

In fact, Sasuke thought, if there ever was a guy that he loathed more than Itachi, that guy was IT. Forget killing Itachi, he'll kill that guy and enjoy every minute of it.

Kakashi put a halt, before bickering would got out of hand and his students obviously decided that the’ll go help Team Gai, "Sasuke give soldier pills to your team mates, we are running to Umi no Kini, double time. Without stops." He commanded to his genin who shaped to attention all previous mischief evaporating and being replaced by four serious and determined faces.

"Hai, sensei!" the four of them chorused together, while reaching in the pouch that Sasuke was holding for soldier pills, which he made.

Now those were special, they didn't only give full nutrition that was equivalent of six full meals to their bodies; they also give a boost to muscles and prevented exhaustion. Lucky for their taste buds, Sasuke enlisted Kochō's help in creating the pills, since she knew more about herbs than him.



***Akatsuki hideout***


Meanwhile in hidden location at the border between Umi no Kuni and Bara no Kuni in a large cave holding a large statue six shinenha silhouettes an array of spectral colours, much like a rainbow. Seventh figure however was different, a man clad long dark cloak with red clouds, was tall, tan skinned, along with trademark Akatsuki cloak he wore a white hood and a black mask, with his unusual eyes, green irises, no pupils and red sclera being the only visible part of his face.

"We lost a member today, along with the Three Tails" said the white half of Zetsu. "It's unfortunate that we started out of line with Sanbi." grumbled Dark side of Zetsu.

"Zetsu, is unfortunately correct, Leader-sama" intoned Itachi his red eyes prominent in the fuzzy projection.

"Yes, it does postpone our plans, since we have to wait for Sambi to resurface." The Leader of the S class nuke nin declared. "Zetsu, you will monitor if there will be sightings of Biju."

"As you wish, Leader-sama." said Black Half. "We will keep the eye out." Added The White Half of Zetsu.

"Hmph, all this was waste of time," grumbled a hunchback like silhouette, "I hate wasting my time."

"Well Sasori, perhaps you shall give the reports of Orochimaru." Leader turned to the now named Sasori of Red sands.

"He is now in named Otogakure, a hidden village he founded." Sasori said shortly. "And before you ask I know from my spy from Suna that their Jinchūriki will take part in Chūnin Exams."

"At this moment we can't collect the Suna bijū." Black Zetsu interrupted, "But it pays off if we know the movements of the beasts." Only to be interrupted by his white half.

"Correct, didn't Itachi and Kisame been at go to the Wave to confirm Kyuubi's location?"

"Yes, well Itachi and I confirmed that Konoha's jinchūriki is in their shinobi forces now, Pain-sama."

"Well done." praised Pain, and then he turned to the only man that was physically present in the cave. "And Kakuzu, Zetsu managed to locate a partner for you."

"As long as he is not does not annoying me or prevent me from gaining profit, he'll do. If he does I'll kill him." Kakuzu said calmly to his leader.

"See this is why you are a lousy partner, ne Itachi-san?" said a large shark like man standing by Itachi.

"Hn." come noncommittal reply from Uchiha prodigy.

Zetsu decided at this time to flash out on the new possible member "He is from Yugakure and his name is Hidan." Black Zetsu continued, "He is waiting for you at the Kusa no Kuni border. Kakuzu you should head there." finished white Zetsu.

"Very well, as soon as I collect my bounty, I'll head to Kusa border to pick the new member up."

"Oh, are you going after that bounty in personal capacity or as Treasurer of Akatsuki?" asked Kisame.

"As a Treasurer, but if I manage to bag the Green beast of Konoha in addition to Zabuza's body I am claiming his bounty."

"Very well. That is all." Pain concluded and one by one the projections fazed out, leaving only Kakuzu behind.

"And now I have to find my bounty again." Grumbled Takigakure nukenin.


Next chapter: …we continue where we left off…we also meet Buffy's mystery friend in Konoha


End chapter




Translations and what's what:

*Encase you'd wonder two jonin lever are Kakashi and Naruto, Sasuke and Kochō are chunin level, while Sakura is Genin level.

Umi no Kuni - Land of the sea

Tsume no Kuni - Land of claws

Kawa no Kuni-Land of Rivers

Bara no Kuni- Land of the Rose

Kusa no Kuni- Land of Grass

Shinenha-thought waves- This technique amplifies the thought waves and broadcasts them to a specific location through illusionary bodies. The illusionary bodies differ from being mere reflections. The images were also transparent, save for the eyes. In the anime, the images were depicted refracting an array of spectral colors, much like a rainbow. Their bodies distort and flicker, as if receiving electronic interference and the members' voices are altered the same way.

*Akatsuki members- Nagato(Pain), Konan, Itachi, Sasori, Kisame, Zetsu and Kakuzu. The member that died is not important, fodder OC character. Hidan and Deidara are not members just yet. Tobi (Obito) is still somewhere, probably sulking about how RL sucks.

Kugutsu no Jutsu – Puppet Technique

Kaima-monster from legend

Namekuji-hime – Slug princess

Yurameku shiro – Wavering castle

Jiongu- The Earth Grudge Fear, which transforms the user's body into something similar to that of a rag-doll's, held together by hundreds of thick black threads.

Kubikiribōchō-Decapitating Carving Knife

Chapter Text

-Kurama talking-Naruto replying-

Summon talking

 


 

In Konohagakure no Sato, there was an old and very much abandoned training ground that was once used by a young man who was dwelling there in the times of a different Team Seven led by Jiraiya. This young man was once Jiraiya's student whom later became the Yondaime Hokage, Namikaze Minato.

But this training facility was so out of the way, the grounds were no longer in use, making it a perfect place for someone to stay hidden and lead a somewhat normal life.

As normal as a life can be for a blind shinobi, that is, said blind shinobi was currently brainstorming on exactly how he should improve THE situation – after all, lots of things were resting on his little sister. Ironically enough, said sister was older than him when she died in that other world and they weren't related by blood, but he still viewed Kochō as such. Reborn or not, she was only twelve now, and from an entirely different culture to boot.

She is also one of the reasons why he was still around and not drowning in the Naka river, as he had planned after making sure that everything was in order – the suicide note and not leaving his body behind, as was expected from members of his clan- not that it had worked since his cousin was still suspected by said clan.

Some day this would probably be funny. Well, it was funny in a crazy shinobi way. It was in the line of work; one day, you'd be sitting around, sharpening your shurikan and kunai, plotting to stop the Clan Elders and Head of your clan from doing something incredibly stupid, the next you are in fight with an old fart and his flunkies, who couldn't have waited for two days for him to try to save innocent peoples' lives. Yeah, he was a bit angry at certain people – he'd had a good life, been a successful ninja and police officer, nice house by Naka river… the thing about his bright shinobi life was, the young man thought, that it had a habit of crumbling right in front of you, so he lost his eye, gave another to his cousin/best friend and then jumped into the river to die.

Only he didn't die – he was pulled out of the Naka River like a fat trout and now he was on vacation, so he had gotten a fitting alias for himself. The irony was strong with this one, and after he turned the tables around, he would reclaim his name.

And at the moment he had no other things to occupy him, except training and brainstorming and imagining how he was going to kick Danzō across the length of entire Erementaru tairiku. Kuso ossan deserved more, but that would do.

His gleeful vengeful musings were interrupted by the rustling of soft silk.

"Did you rest well, Kyūka-sama?" came a young female voice from behind him. Sighing, the young man turned around, revealing the fact that even though he was wearing an eye patch-type blindfold across both his eyes and didn't possess his sight anymore, he still knew the general looks of his protectors/caretakers. He knew that both wore kimonos, had dark hair and eyes…and most importantly they were not human, no matter their appearances. After all, it had been five years since he had been fished out of the Naka River by a nine year old girl.

"I wasn't tired, Ran, but thank you for asking." It wasn't like he could do much. After all, he was blind, but he was determined to overcome it. After all, he was proud shinobi of Konoha and his little friend, who wasn't so little anymore since she was twelve now, had given him plenty of reasons why he should stick around, mostly the cluster fuck that Sasuke and Itachi could become but it was telling him a story about a blind lawyer by day and Daredevil, seeker of justice by night. So he, being a major pain to certain people was still very much possible. But first he would have to talk with his younger cousin and then the Hokage – if he made it that far.

That was the plan he come up with anyway. Preferably he should meet with Hokage before the second stage of the Chūnin Exams.

After he figures out what could prevent Orochimaru from sinking his fangs into Sasuke. Joint training the younger Uchiha with Hatake-san over the given month seemed like a great option in his head...but, well there's no sense in jumping the gun, as Kochō says.

"Ran, Yuri, get the training fields ready. I've rested enough," he declared, standing up and grabbing a thin, long staff made from Chakura-kō that he used to 'see' with. While he had some plans, he'd have to wait for Kochō to visit him, which she did once per month at random.

Smart of his Mizetto shimai. He would make sure to tell her that. Pity he wouldn't be able to see her face. After all it was a duty of an older sibling to annoy their younger one, and he'd always wanted a little sister. Amidst his little mental discussion, the two kimono-clad Shikigami bowed and took flight. After all, their mistress had entrusted this young man to them.



***

In a small touristic village called Ikusa o Wasureta Sato, filled with natural hot springs, a small monkey with brown fur was holding up a scroll, chattering angrily at a tall man with waist- length, spiky white hair that was tied back into a ponytail.

"Go away, shoo," said the man, waving his hand at the animal who, incensed, lowered the scroll carefully on the ground, then jumped at the man's head, scratching and biting with irritated screeches wherever it could reach.

"Ouch, stop that, creepy little monkey!" The man yelled, jumping to his feet and trying to grab the animal that had grabbed on to his horned forehead protector and had pushed the piece of metal over the man's eyes. Temporarily blinded, the man uttered loud profanities, and unfortunately for him the ruckus alerted the female population that the man had been observing while they were relaxing in the natural hot springs.



***


Kochō was looking at him funny while they were tree jumping, but Naruto supposed that was somewhat normal as he was quietly mumbling a counting song under his breath.

Sasuke and Sakura were ignoring him while Kakashi, well, he was up ahead along with Pakkun tracking. Tracking, evading, hiding and how to retreat from a fight undetected and unseen.

Sure, he had some experience from pranking the ANBU that Hokage-jiji had saddled him with all his life, but there was a difference between getting away from the enemy and pulling off a prank.

"Um, Naruto, what is that song you were singing?"

"Ah, Kochō-chan." He grinned. He had been wondering when she would ask him. After all, he didn't know how to bring this stuff up. "It's a counting song that, heh, I modified. Want to hear it –ttebayo?"

-Brat, stop that infernal humming- came the rumble that only Naruto could hear, which made him want to grin. –So you are awake fur ball -Don't call me fur ball, you pesky moron- Well, would you prefer Mr. Fluffy then, since you don't want me to call you by your real name?-

"Sure, why not?" Kochō answered, shrugging her shoulders, not missing a step while they flew through the trees, jumping from branch to branch. Naruto grinned then started to sing a song that was familiar to Kochō.

"First, dozing better than humans, Shukaku…"

Oh my, Kochō thought, he is actually singing the Bijū counting song! Now outwardly her surprise at that didn't show on her face, except for a slight wobble when she touched down on the branch and then propelled herself forward. What Kocho wondered, however, was how Naruto had found out the names of the Bijū. She suspected that the Archway in Uzu had had something to do with it, but she doubted that Naruto knew the other Jinchūriki names. To be perfectly honest she was not sure if she herself remembered them correctly.

Skukaku's Jinchūriki was Gaara. That reminded her that the Chunin exams were approaching, though she had no idea exactly when. She was pretty sure Iruka-sensei will have a problem with rookie Genin participating in the Chunin exams, especially his former students.

-He is also more irritating with his singing than you, Naruto, that tanuki- came the comment from Naruto's tenant, making him smirk and continue, catching the beat of that soothing song that he had heard that kind woman at the orphanage sing to him that one day. Perhaps he should pay a visit to Kaede-bāchan.

"Second, burning in fire, Matatabi…"

Blue fire kitty, Nii Yugito, Kumo kunoichi, Kochō thought. She'd liked that one; she liked cats in general. She even had a small fluffy white kitty at home that had one green eye and one blue. She was one smart cat, albeit a shy one, so she had named it Yanagi, after her smartest bookish first friend that she had found in Sunnydale.

-She is also infernally cute for a tailed beast- - Aww, does fluffy- chan have a little crush?- -Shut up, Brat!-I take that as a yes.-

"Third, leave the water to Isobu…"

Now that made her wonder if the Mizukage was already dead. She was almost positive that when Team Seven met Zabuza that he was still alive and under Obito's control. Now that kind of put a slight damper on her thoughts since she had no freaking idea what to do with that. Granted, her Shikigami could make themselves invisible, even to Sharingan and Byakugan – she had tested it on Hinata and her father and, to her vindictive crush's amusement, Danzō, when she had gotten her Bird Shikigami named Xander to deliver that anonymous message that had annoyed the fake one-eyed bastard to no end and kicked off Danzō's paranoia through the roof – ROOT had went through some serious purging.

The downside to Shikigami was that smaller ones like Xander had a small range, so she had to be in the vicinity of at least two miles. And people-shaped ones, they weren't small, so she could not use them for spying. At least, spying on Danzō; for caring and guarding, however, now that was another story. She did have two Skikigami on guard duty on a guy she was currently crushing on. Not that she imagined a 1,5 kids and white picket fence with him, she just thought he was hot. And he was. Pity he saw her as a little sister, even if he knew of her life as Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

-Stinking turtle can keep the waterYou are awfully chatty all of the sudden- I'm not talking to you-Well, no, but you seem to enjoy my singing - As long as you don't talk to me-You are talking to me now, fluffball -Argggh, go back to singing to your girlfriend!-

Kochō frowned at the sudden blush that spread over whiskered cheeks, but before she could ask what that was about, Naruto continued, albeit a bit more loudly than before, like he was trying to drown some other voice out. Heh, she stifled a giggle that bubbled in her, disguising it as a cough. What if Kurama was running a commentary? Kurama the song critic.

"Fourth, hot as lava, Son Gokū…"

-He wishes, that screeching show of a circus ape-

"Fifth, always running very fast, Kokuō!"

-I'd be running faster than her if I was part dolphin and part horse-

If she was right, Kochō thought that those two were Iwa shinobi named Han and Roshi, though she could not remember exactly which man held which Bijū.

"Sixth, not rushing and taking it easy, Saiken!"

Kimono-wearing and bubbles-wielding, what's his name, guy from Kiri.

-Slimy slowpoke slug-

"Seventh, the flying leaf insect, Chōmei,"

Kochō almost jumped up and down she remembered the Mint Green girl's name, Fuu. Fuu from Taki!

-It's a bug with armour, nothing special-You are jealous of that armour, aren't you?-Not any of your business, whelp!-

"Eighth, as always, it's 'Yeah!' Gyūki,"

-Hah, that ox head is as bad as Kokuō -Really?- Heh, yeah, only worst deal is he has the body of an octopus-Along with tentacles?- All eight of them-Bummer for him, though you didn't exactly come out … bunny ears, - WHAT?! I don't have bunny ears you insufferable human!-Someone is in denial Usagi-chan-

Octopus Rap man from Kumo, Killer-B.

"Ninth, the strongest, ancient and modern, Kurama."

-Hmph, not bad- Gee, thanks fluffy-I'm just surprised you came up with that yourself Yea. HEYY!-….-Oh no, don't pretend to be asleep, you -

"All the grand Tailed Beasts have come together. It's a bit hard, but they have nice names, they all have splendid names, they all have wonderful names."

"So…" Kochō paused, and then sighed. There really wasn't much other option than to just ask, "I take it the Kyuubi's name is actually Kurama?"

"Mhm." Naruto nodded. "I saw him too –ttebyoo, and the fur ball has bunny ears."

Sasuke slanted a side glance at his female teammate/friend talking with his reincarnated little brother, and wasn't that a revelation of the century, no wonder that Naruto irritated the hell out of him, but during their conversation with their so called Father about Indra and Ashura, Naruto pointed out some weird stuff that he noticed during their show and tell of their past lives as Ashura/Harashima and Indra/Madara, mostly that some mysteries entity was muddling the waters in the back ground from the get go. And it was targeting the Uchiha Clan directly and Senju and Uzumaki indirectly.

And after some consideration Sasuke agreed, and pointed out that the inscription in the Uchiha shrine was different than what their Father had written. Someone, for whatever reason, changed the warning and instructions on that tablet.

"Everyone!" came a deep voice from a small puppy upfront, cutting off privet conversations and thoughts of Team Seven. "We are nearing the location of Maito Guy and his team. I also smell that Missing nin from Kiri, and it doesn't look good for him…and Tsunade."

"Tsunade?" asked Sakura, while Kochō's eyes widened in surprise. That wasn't right; they should not be meeting Tsunade yet. But she supposed that maybe meeting the future Hokage early would be a good thing. Still, even that encouraging thought weighed somewhat heavily on her chest. After all, she had no idea what that early meeting would cause down the line.

"Senju Tsunade, the greatest Medic in the Elemental nations?" asked Sasuke with interest. The things he had read about her medical skills were legendary, and he would definitely ask her for tips.

"Yes girl, hurry up now!" barked Pakkun.

"Stupid dog!" Sasuke yelled. "I'm not a girl!" Then he cringed and spared a glance back where Naruto was.

"Not a word!" he growled.

Naruto snickered. "I didn't say anything."

"You better not." Grumbled Sasuke still eying the grinning Naruto warily before transferring a dark gimlet stare at Kocho who just shook her head.

"Don't worry, I'm too tired to be all over that opening." Kocho smiled, "for now." Then she giggled when Sasuke's glare intensified and Naruto burst into full blown laughter.

But what irritated Sasuke even more was the muffled snicker coming from the weakest of his teammates. On the other hand, he thought, perhaps that was the best thing that happened; maybe Sakura was getting over her tendencies to fangirl over him.

"Pakkun is right," intervened Kakashi. "Save all your questions and bickering like old ladies for later. Sakura, Sasuke, we need to hurry."

"Yes, sensei!" Came the reply from his students, as their travelling speed doubled.



***

The house, or more accurately, abandoned hovel, wasn't much, but as fate would have it, Neji thought as he stood guard, it would have to suffice.

He had also been right, he thought in grim satisfaction as he observed the scene with his Byakugan, which could see everything after all. He saw how torn up the tenketsu of his sensei was – well, he had opened Kyōmon, the eighth gate. If Kakuzu returned, and Neji was sure he would as he didn't strike him as a man that made idle claims, they would all be in poor condition. His chakra had been depleted, and the ice-user was low on chakra as well. TenTen's skills with weapons were useless against an opponent of that calibre, and so was Lee's since Kakuzu had effortlessly broken both his legs.

The missing nin from Kiri, Zabuza, was holding on by sheer willpower. Why he still clung to life, defying fate, Neji could not fathom. It was like he was waiting for something. Well, some old people had a saying that dying men could see the future.

And…Neji's eyes narrowed. There… 10 o'clock, the shinobi approaching along with a summoning animal.

Konoha reinforcements?

Or enemy nin?

He slipped in his Jūkenpō, veins around his eyes bulging out more prominently when he sharpened them to the maximum capacity; after all he was first line of defense. Only to relax when a team of ninja with leaf symbol on their forehead protectors jumped on the clearing. But the initial relief bleed out in a frown, while yes the team consisted of an elite, Jōnin Hatake Kakashi, former ANBU, the rest were mere Genin.

Rookie Genin.



***



Neji was decisively not happy with the team that came to help them. For one it consisted of rookie Genin, even if one of them was the last Uchiha the others were destined to be failures.

A Dead last who proclaimed to the world, with a very loud voice to boot, that he will become Hokage.

A pink haired useless fan girl.

And a quiet mouse of a girl who hadn't said a word yet, but giving him pitying looks that annoyed and infuriated him, last he needed is another Hinata-sama. Fate sourly hated him.

He glanced at his sensei, who was being healed by Shizune-san, the man Lee had attempted, but fated to fail, to emulate down to his horrific fashion sense who was proclaiming some nonsense about training and his inspirations to beat him, his 'Eternal Rival'. Seems like the fellow dead lasts claims fired Lee up. Was the difference of the capability between that of dobe's and elite like Hyūga or Uchiha that difficult to grasp? Lee would never defeat him, regardless of how much effort he put in his training. That was his fate.

Of course Gai-sensei started to cry fat tears while yelling about power of youth. While Hatake Kakashi just turned a page and ignored the antic going on around him. Neji envied his ability to ignore.

"Gai-sensei!"

"Lee!"

"Gai-sensei!"

"Lee!"

And there it was a sunset framing them, while Shizune-san ignored them and continued to heal Gai-sensei. Neji looked around. Tsunade-jouroū was talking with Uzumaki, the before mentioned dead last who foolishly challenged her because she rightly pointed out that he'd never become Hokage. And now they walked out, hmph Uzumaki is fated to lose badly, Neji thought he didn't even need to watch to know that.

"Eternal rival!"

Neji's head snapped around to look at Lee, who while he had both his legs in cast, not that he paid them any mind, apparently.

He ignored his injuries completely the fool. When their team first formed, he'd tried to ignore this behaviour, hoping that Lee would tire of his failed attempts to challenge or defeat him. Instead to Neji's utter horror, Lee would just yell louder about something 'hip' and 'cool' attitudes, similar how Gai-sensei refereed to Hatake-san.

"What now?" Neji snapped, making his trademark 'I really don't care about your foolishness right now' face. Not that it helped as Lee pointed his finger at him, smiling wide so that his white teeth abnormally sparkled before launching in to his utterly pointless babble. The same babble Neji listened to Lee spouting before for a,

Whole.

Damn.

YEAR!

Every … single… day.

He kept calm though. To display something as violent as anger or having a temper tantrum was not proper for a ninja, and it was unworthy of a Hyuga. So he did what he always had done, tuned out his surroundings.

After all once he becomes a Chūnin, which was bound to happen after the upcoming exams, he could ditch this failure and work with whom ever he pleased. Or even alone, yes some peace and quite would suit him perfectly while he completed his missions. Now if only TenTen could settle on specializing on one weapon and master it to perfection, instead going from one to the next like some child with a short attention span disorder, then he might even let her tag along.

All he had to do was stomach this for a little while longer.



***


Naruto's breath hitched, yeah he knew that Tsunade was not really related to him, but Harashima, but the sheer misery that radiated from the old hag was depressing. Fortunately he wasn't prone at getting depressed by the drop of the hat, like Harashima was. Or he'd be in a corner right now, hugging his knees under the heavy black cloud at Tsuna's life experiences. But that still didn't give her right to speak of Yondaime Hokage like that, heck Naruto himself had grievances to share about him, but he'll wait for it, it's not like he'll never meet his father or his chakra. He'll save his complains and love for then, and then he'll either punch him or hug him…or perhaps both.

"…being Hokage is fool's job, face it gaki." Tsunade finished her ramble, not that Naruto paid much attention at what she was saying. Despite any sympathy for her pain he might feel, he had no intention of pulling any punches. He'd rather eat saw dust than let her get the better of him.

"Tsun-babā," Naruto started to say, only to duck away avoiding a punch to the head.

"What did you call me you brat?!" She growled out, but stopped advancing when the blonde brat continued undeterred.

"You might be in pain, but get over it, the Hokages might have died, but they died protecting something they loved, something precious to them. To me if you have to die, you better die for something like that, it's a better death."

"Why you…" she advanced again but stopped, paling, when Naruto in quick move pulled a kunai and cut his palm, spilling blood.

"Tsunade-baa-chan you can not keep running from your grief, your grandfather didn't create a village so that you would be miserable, but to have a home. And Konoha is your home, being on your own didn't heal you grief or your fear of blood."

"I…" she swallowed, watching, transfixed by the blood that was dripping to the ground.

"It's all right to grieve, but it should not stop you from living, your loved ones, your brother Nawaki would want you to live on for his sake, and Katō Dan would want you to keep walking forward as well. Your grief would make them sad. "

Tsunade averted her eyes from the cut, closing her eyes as the happy and sad memories of her brother, Dan, and her grandparents raced through her mind.

The kid was right, loath as she was to admit it, her grief hadn't gone away and she felt hollow when she blamed Konoha for her losses.

But before she could answer, Naruto tackled her, pushing her out of the way of an earth spike that pierced the boys shoulder.

"Gah."

"Naruto!" Tsunade hit the spike breaking it, and then healed the wound.

"Well look at that baa-chan looks like you are not afraid of blood any more."

She couldn't help but smile, while she stood up with Naruto to face off with Kakuzu who rose from the ground with more ease than a sapling tree.

"So it does. And don't call me that."

"To late baa-chan."



***


A hundred orange clad bodies had been trying to get rid of a beating heart enclosed in sinister black forms that had been attacking and retreating and then attack again, along with Kakuzu. Not that they had any success, wind chakra sliced in to them and trees like a knife through hot butter, earth spikes stabbed through the landscape causing clones to vanish from existence.

Kochō rolled to the side avoiding a water dragon, then sending a burst of strong fire at it that vaporized it. After, she turned to the main body, yeah she was facing off with Kakuzu, lucky her, she thought sarcastically, now she only has to hit his heart.

Wait a minute.

Wait a god damn minute.

She almost froze when a thought zinged through her mind.

When Kakashi killed Kakuzu, or Hidan did, she was a bit fuzzy on details; one of the masks jumped in to him and revived Kakuzu. So 'killing the hart thing, not so good idea, if the guy will just pop back up like a demented daisy.

…so the solution to that, he had spare hearts, but he doesn't have a spare head.

A grin split her face, as she pulled Yoruno Miyabi out of their sheets, she had a plan. Kakuzu is so going down.

Course that was easier to think than actually do, as she soon found out, while she did have some skill, Kakuzu was still a High level ninja, so while Kochō did get some nicks in she could only defend her self.

Using barriers to trip him didn't work any more, though Kakuzu did lose altogether a bundle of three scrolls that she secretly picked up while hurtling whips of fire and water to keep him at a distance and away from herself.


***


Sakura hurled kunai with explosive notes attached. Only for the lightning chakra to cut them creating long and deep rips in to the earth.

The attack itself, Sakura thought, while avoiding the flying bid thing, despite Neji-san's Byakugan, had taken by surprise. Well, that was not necessarily true; Neji-san had let his guard down when he had gotten into an argument with Sasuke-kun.

So much for being able to see everything, was the parting shot from Sasuke-kun to Neji-san, right before all hell broke loose and the landscape was a cottage surrounded by a rocky waste instead of trees.

To be fair to Neji-san, Sakura thought, as she hefted her Gansetsukon - made staff, their opponent had used some kind of under-earth-walking technique.

It had been sheer luck that no one was harmed in Kakuzu's initial attack. That and they did manage to gather Intel on Taki's missing nin that was not listed in Bingo book – that he had five hearts he could obviously replace since he had replaced the mask that Senju Tsunade had shattered.

She winced when she saw the bun-haired girl, TenTen, get hit with lightning from one of the masks. Normally, that would not concern her too much, but she had fallen into a ravine that was filled with mud and earth spikes.

If she was unconscious, then somebody had to get to her quick, but no one was free. Kakashi-sensei was busy fighting Kakuzu himself along with one of his mask creatures, and even while wielding the Kubikiribōchō and Sharingan eye, he was being pushed back.

Kochō and an exhausted Haku-kun were busy keeping a demonic-looking tiger and bird away from the unconscious Naruto, who had gotten hit by Kakuzu's ninjutsu threads right in the heart, and Sasuke-kun was removing the threads and healing him.

Tsunade-sama was tending to Gai sensei, who was still incapacitated, luckily, her fear of blood had gone away, and Shizune-san was tending to Neji, whose eyes were damaged by shrapnel. Sakura hoped that Neji won't end up blind as a result. TonTon was nowhere to be seen; she hoped that little pig was all right. As for Gai-sensei's weird clone, he was trying to fight despite his broken legs, so she'd had to punch him out.

And she was facing the remaining water mask with lightning closing in…that was not good.

Sasuke was stoically panicking, not that he'd admit it to anyone. When all was over perhaps he would ask that Senju woman to teach him to be better a medic-nin, because his meager attempts to heal the gaping wound in this girls stomach was beyond pathetic. What was worst was that the girl, who had introduced herself as TenTen when they arrived at the place Guy-sensei and his Genin team were holed up at along with Haku, Zabuza, Senju Tsunade and her assistant and their pet pig, was now dead and buried.

Luckily, Tsunade had overcome her fear of blood thanks to Naruto's 'Talk no Jutsu', as was dubbed by Kochō, so she was useful in teaming up with Kakashi-sensei in taking out Kakuzu and the Earth Mask. It appeared that before challenging them, Kakuzu had acquired the Earth Mask so he had six hearts in all and his Earth style was doubled. Sakura and Haku took out the wind mask, while Kochō combined water and fire in some form of a dragon, and no, it was not made of hot vapor – it was a solid water dragon that breathed fire. How she managed that was a mystery. Unfortunately, Kochō went down with an open break in her leg due to Doton jutsu, which made Naruto pull six tail's worth of Fox chakra, which ended with the shattering of the rest of the masks and a decapitated Kakuzu.

To be continued…

Next: return to Konoha…




What is what?

Shikigami- are a kind of spirit summoned to serve a practitioner of onmyodo, similar to a western witch's familiar. Although most of the time invisible, shikigami could take a variety of human or animal forms, possess or bewitch people, or even cause harm or bodily death. Shikigami are said to be invisible most of the time, but they can be made visible by banning them into small, folded and artfully cut paper manikins. There are also shikigami that can show themselves as animals or birds- in Pandemonium, were created by Buffy and named after flowers.

Ran-orchid

Yuri-lily

Kuso ossan – old fart

Mizetto shimai – he also calls her Kawaī kobito no imōto – both mean cute midget sister, Buffy is not happy with him when he does it.

Erementaru tairiku- Elemental continents Naruto verse, fictional continent that is divided into a number of different countries, Countries operate as separate political entities and are presumably all monarchies, ruled by daimyō who stand equally in rank with the Hidden Villages' Kage. The Naruto world is similar to feudal Japan in many aspects; those countries maintain balance between them through nothing but power. Treaties are periodically signed, but they are generally not worth much more than the paper they are written on.

Kyūka- means vacation, it is an alias, that blind young shinobi uses, at the moment only SlayerandWereLeopard figured out who this friend of Buffy is, or at least told me about it.

Tenketsu- chakra points

Ikusa o Wasureta Sato- village that has forgotten wars formerly known as Yugakure no Sato; Literally Meaning "Village Hidden in Hot Water

Yanagi- Willow

Doton: Gansetsukon- Earth Release: Rock Section Cane
This technique allows the user to take a small chunk of rock and turn it into the shape of a staff. The user can then use it as a melee weapon or throw it with pinpoint accuracy at their opponent. A variation of this technique allows the user to create several staffs and launch them at the target, but with less accuracy.

Geta wa hentai-
Pervert in wooden clogs

Fūton: Shizen no ikari – Wind Style: Nature wrath –
large twisters can be used by both attacking and defending at the same time; thy can also extinguishes fire attacks that are weaker.

*In-case you'd wonder two jonin level are Kakashi and Naruto, Sasuke and Kochō are chunin level, while Sakura is Genin level.

Umi no Kuni- land of the sea

Tsume no Kuni- land of claws

Kawa no Kuni-Land of Rivers

Bara no Kuni- Land of the Rose

Kusa no Kuni- Land of Grass

Shinenha-thought waves- This technique amplifies the thought waves and broadcasts them to a specific location through illusionary bodies. The illusionary bodies differ from being mere reflections. The images were also transparent, save for the eyes. In the anime, the images were depicted refracting an array of spectral colors, much like a rainbow. Their bodies distort and flicker, as if receiving electronic interference and the members' voices are altered the same way.

*Akatsuki members- Nagato(Pain), Konan, Itachi, Sasori, Kisame, Zetsu and Kakuzu. The member that died is not important, fodder OC character. Hidan and Dierda are not members just yet. Tobi (Obito) is still somewhere, probably sulking about how RL sucks.

Kugutsu no Jutsu- Puppet Technique

Kaima-monster from legend

Namekuji-hime – Slug princess

Yurameku shiro – Wavering castle

Jiongu- The Earth Grudge Fear, which transforms the user's body into something similar to that of a rag-doll's, held together by hundreds of thick black threads.

Kubikiribōchō-Decapitating Carving Knife

Usagi-rabbit/bunny

Bāchan-granny

Jūkenpō-Gentle Fist Art

Jūken-Gentle Fist

Jouroū-noble woman/lady/mistress

Yoruno Miyabi means "Elegance of Night" name of Buffy's twin butterfly blades.

Chapter Text

Endless tears, that would be the title of the scroll containing the body of TenTen. Or so Maito Gai decided, much to Neji's irritation, but for once the young Hyūga made no reference to fate, as he had actually liked, ahem, respected TenTen. Or rather, he amended, even in his thoughts, her skills.

Luckily for him, all his complaining and musing was internal. If it hadn't been, he would have had a very painful lesson coming his way, because a certain ex-slayer was tottering on the edge of a dark abyss of rage and depression, not a very good place even for an ex-slayer, who despite being reborn had not lost that volatile edge that she had possessed in Sunnydale when her own were threatened.

Or the one named Neji would find out just how different the purple haired girl was from his initial assessment, or rather the slightly amended assessment he had made since seeing her fight, if he voiced a single word on fate in general at that moment...

The urge to get even with the monster that had taken something precious away gripped her, just as it had when Lothos killed Meric, her Watcher from so far way, and so long ago in LA, that had resulted in a fiery inferno on the school dance floor months later, and Lothos disintegrated into dust, with a silent scream of pain and terror, something that Darla was spared off, since her not at the time boyfriend, but very much a man/vampire she wanted to be her boyfriend, then … and in some capacity now. And wasn't that a startling realization? That she was supposed to have more mature outlook, but it was like she was emotionally and mentally stuck at the age she had died in.

Never changing, like an Angel was, or any human turned vampire was frozen in time, not growing, but that fact, while concerning, was a pale speck in her otherwise dark consciousness right now.

TenTen was dead.

Dead and gone from this world.

She was not supposed to be dead.

Sure, Kochō didn't know her personally, and unlike Naruto and the others she was in daily contact with over the twelve years of her life as Shunran Kochō, TenTen and her team were still somewhat seen as Naruto characters, constantly in the background characters, that Buffy Summers somewhat knew but didn't pay much attention to…well, she had paid attention to TenTen's weaponry.

But otherwise they were just there.

Until Neji died in the Fourth Shinobi war.

She couldn't help but think that TenTen's death was her fault somehow.

Maybe if she'd stayed out of the story completely, TenTen would be alive. She was certain that she'd be alive. However for the life of her she had no idea how her being there had altered events so much that Kakuzu became involved.

Or what event she had caused to change paths so that Tsunade was returning this early to Konoha; the Third was still alive; Orochimaru hadn't even made his appearance; or Itachi and that shark guy whose name she'd forgotten.

Things were spiralling away from the script, as she knew life often did, but this was her life now living in a world she only considered fiction before.

Things were spiralling away from the script.

As life often did, but she knew that was her life now, that she lived in a world she only considered fiction before. She had known that her just being there would alter things eventually. She had just hoped, a foolish and vain and arrogant hope, that the changes would be only for the better.

How naive, how stupid could she get, thinking that? She had been overconfident and TenTen had paid the price.

She had been overconfident and TenTen had paid the price.

Never again.



***


The Sandaime Hokage Sarutobi Hiruzen was smoking and staring into the distance. He had received a reply from Jiraiya, along with complains about the messenger monkey that he himself had apparently sicked on him. That comment from his former student had made him almost choke on his pipe from laughter. Hiruzen could just imagine how his order to Sarutachi, the messenger monkey, that he must ensure that the message was to be read by Jiraiya entirely, was received, especially if Jiraiya was ignoring the messenger.

But the news had been good; both of his students were on the way back to Konoha. It turned out that Hiruzen hadn't needed to bother with writing a message to Jiraiya via monkey mail to find Tsunade and bring her back home.

Along with causing property damage, Kakashi's team had managed to accumulate another high ranking mission after receiving an SOS from Maito Gai. The energetic jonin had encountered his wayward student, Tsunade, and her companion who were in some sort of trouble.

Knowing Tsunade, it probably had to do with some sort of gambling debt. And if not that, then it was definitely other money-related issues.

From there Jiraiya had stumbled, or rather the returning Team Seven with Tsunade's group had stumbled upon the Toad Sage who had still been wrestling with the monkey, this time because apparently Sarutachi had taken offence at something Jiraiya had said. Knowing his student it could have been anything that usually made a female rain wrath on him, no matter the species of said female, apparently.

As for Team Gai, they had decided to finish their mission and then return to Konoha before giving a full debrief on their status. That was a bit worrying. It wasn't like Guy to be so brief in his status reports. Hiruzen should perhaps inquire further with Kakashi as to what had happened to Gai's team.

In a pleasing twist of events, Tsunade finally decided to return home. Not to mention they picked up a survivor of Blood purges of Kiri from the Yuki clan, who had not been raised in Kiri or registered as that village's shinobi, therefore there would be no political problems in installing Haku as a Genin from Konoha. Less paperwork for him too, which was another bonus. That, and Yuki Haku joining Konoha as a Genin gave Hiruzen the opportunity to form another heavy assault/capture team under an experienced Jōnin. He just still needed to find a man or woman for the job, preferably before the Chūnin Exam so that the Jōnin could nominate them to participate if he or she so chose.

And all of it had been thanks to Naruto no less. Sarutobi smiled warmly when old memories surfaced of the first meeting/conversation he had had with Naruto.

He had been such a small, dirty, thin, little boy dressed in rags, with bright yellow hair which was desperately in need of a scissors and wash, bouncing from wall to wall over his new apartment. It wasn't a fancy place, but Naruto had loved it. It warmed Hiruzen's heart to see the child so happy, and saddened him at the same time.

They had meet in person the day before, not that Naruto remembered that Hiruzen had seen him when he was a newborn. The ramen vendor Ichiraku Teuchi, a retired ninja he had known many a year, had sent a message that he had someone at his ramen stand that he just had to meet urgently.

As a matter of village security.

When he saw that it was Naruto, whom Hiruzen had been assured was still living at the Orphanage by the matron who ran the facility, he was beyond outraged that a five year old child had been living on the streets for four months, scavenging for food to survive.

The fact that this situation had remained unreported in a ninja village such as Konoha was a cause of concern. But then again at least Danzō hadn't gotten wind of this, or Naruto would never had been found.

Danzō, now that was another problem he had accumulated in his later years. He had made the same mistake with the man like he had with Orochimaru. Yea,h he was getting too old for this job, to let such things slip. And now Orochimaru was accumulating power in Oto, and Danzō's ROOT…well, it had more numbers than his ANBU.

He hadn't expected things to spiral so out of control, like he hadn't expected or known that Naruto would be ignored to the extent which he was by the shinobi of the village. Granted, the civilians didn't have understanding in the way of the shinobi arts, but his ninja should differentiate between a demon and a child.

Perhaps his dealings with his shinobi had gotten too soft in past times. Neither Mito-sama nor Kushina-chan had went through half of what Naruto had been through, and shinobi had been aware of their status.

Granted, neither of the woman used its power in battle, just holding it in, jailed inside their respective seals. Jiraiya, however, told him that apparently Minato enabled Naruto in using Kyūbi chakra with Hakke no Fūin Shiki.

Perhaps he should take a closer look at just what the instructors in the Academy were teaching future generations of shinobi, and get Clan heads and his two students together, as well as jōnin, to get through the Academy with a fine-toothed comb. Tsunade would be glad if she could put mandatory medical classes in the curriculum. That was not a bad idea if every student had to know how to apply first aid.

Team seven was perfect example of that, where three of the four Genin could heal. Needless to say, Sarutobi had been surprised when Naruto had healed a scratch on Kiba after they fought as an apology.

Granted, Naruto was no medic nin, but he could heal minor kunai wounds and bruises. Later it turned out that the one who had taught him how to close flesh wounds was Kochō-chan, because Naruto had freaked out when he had accidentally harmed her while sparring. The boys of Team Seven definitely had mile-wide protective tendencies. Not that Kochō-chan was a slouch in that department. He had a suspicion that the girl had staged that first confrontation, or at least used it to gain an audience with him via lurking ANBU, when she proclaimed at the top of her voice how stupid it was of the adults to think that Naruto was the Kyūbi.

Not to mention saying that Minato was Naruto's father. He had made the girl child promise not to share that, to which she replied with her high-pitched voice that she wouldn't promise because Naruto needed to know that he was not abandoned as Mizuki sensei had said.

To pacify the girl he had promised to tell Naruto who his mother was when he graduated from Academy, and that his father was Namikaze Minato when he made Chūnin. She had agreed to that, but it appeared that he would have to break that promise and tell Naruto before the Chūnin Exams since his progress report showed that he was able to protect himself. Also, he was becoming more similar to his father as the years passed. There was only a matter of time before the resemblance was commented upon. And Naruto, while still naive or helplessly clueless in certain things, was not an idiot. He was bound to notice sooner or later.

But enough of this, Hiruzen thought. He took the Team Seven and Ten files from his drawer, and opening those two, he took out Shunran Kochō from the Team Seven dossier and Kurama Yakumo from Team Ten.

Now, depending on how the Yuki boy's interview should go with the I&T department, he'd join them, if not then Morino Idate who wished to take the Chūnin Exam again. Along with some other Genins he could pick from.

But personally, Hiruzen hoped that Haku would prove himself since the boy was familiar to Kochō-chan, according to reports from Kakashi when they took the mission to guard the bridge builder. And Yakumo-chan was comfortable with Kochō-chan the most as well. In the reports on the boy's gentle character, Hiruzen was sure that Haku-kun would get along with Yakumo.

Now the only thing left was to find the Genin team's Jōnin sensei. There were those who had failed their Genin teams and sent them back to Academy. There were four Jōnin instructors, Mimura Hamaki, Mokume Kunugi, Shiranui Genma and Ebisu.

Also, there was a possibility of Mitarashi Anko, Gekkō Hayate, Shirakumo Hayama and Kanden Tekuno.

That was it in terms of available jōnin instructors that could potentially take over as Jōnin Sensei to a team of Genin he had in mind, but Anko had expressed a desire to take on Haruno Sakura as an apprentice, whom she had began joint training with Inuzuka Tsume at Kakashi's request. And Anko was excited at the prospect of taking a student, the first time she'd expressed such interest to pass on her skills, and so Hiruzen was loath to take that away from her. So after the proctoring of the second stage of Chūnin exams was over, Mitarashi Anko would take Haruno Sakura as her full time apprentice.

Ebisu was out of the running as well since he was teaching Konahamaru now, and it was likely that he would take over as Konohamaru's team mates' Jōnin Sensei once they had all graduated.

Genma had decided to join back the goei shōtai after he flunked his team, and the Hokage had a sneaking suspicion that Genma had done that on purpose, at least partly. So he wouldn't suggest for him to take them on, even if he was almost positive that Genma would accept. After all, he did get on reasonably well with Kochō-chan and he'd train Naruto, still did from time to time, and had great fondness for the boy.

Genma had been fond of Naruto even before he found out that he was the son of Minato, or at least he found his pranks incredibly fun. It went so far that he sometimes watched Naruto set them up and made no attempt to either stop him or later catch him. Not that Sarutobi himself was any better.

Hiruzen leaned back on his chair, contemplating. Perhaps he should look at which of the remaining Jōnin were in Konoha at the moment, and which was most compatible with the aforementioned Genin.

Even if Yuki Haku joined or not, the Jōnin most characteristically compatible with that team would be Yamashiro Aoba, who was unavailable, Shirakumo Hayama or Kanden Tekuno.

Now, looking closely at the files on the two Jōnin:

Shirakumo Hayama hadn't had a Genin team before, but he had performed admirably leading Chūnin teams, along with occasionally leading Genin Troops along with Maruboshi Kosuke, the Eternal Genin of Konoha. Points in his favour were also his great sense of duty to the village and to his subordinates that he'd rather protect rather than ever think of sacrificing. Unlike many others, and Danzō in particular, he had his priorities straight.

Nurturing and protecting the young of the village was key to Konoha's strength. And not what Donzō was preaching about. It was also the reason, Hiruzen thought, why Tobirama-sensei hadn't appointed his old team mate as Sandaime Hokage. It wasn't lack of strength or skill on Danzō's part, but rather his heart that wasn't in the right place.

Shaking his head, the Hokage went back to the file. The most practical skill set of that particular Jōnin was that he was adept at Kenjutsu, which would benefit Kochō, since she used two Butterfly blades. Shirakumo-kun also used wind-nature transformation, and that would benefit Haku, since his Hyōton required the use of Fūton. And being a Jōnin his other skills were well-rounded, so he'd be able to teach Yakumo-chan and Idate-kun as well.

Putting Shirakumo Hayama's file aside, the Hokage picked up the file of Jōnin Kanden Tekuno. Unlike his quiet, calm and collected friend Hayama, Tekuno-kun was a very jovial, laid back and charismatic person, but similar to Hayama, Tekuno had a great sense of duty to both protect those lower in rank than him as well as the village, something Haku would need, as well as Yakumo.

As for skill set, it primarily revolved around the use of heavy explosive artillery and trapping. He was also a nin-gen type with Fire and lightning nature chakra. According to his mission information, he used wires with great proficiency, and often incorporated those into his traps, laying them all over the battlefield covered with Genjutsu, and then manipulated them in such a way that he could trap multiple enemies at once. And he was skilled in kenjutsu as well.

A difficult choice…

"Neko!" At the Hokage's call, a female ANBU guard appeared with a quick shunshin, and knelt before the desk.

"Hai, Hokage-sama."

The Hokage put Tekuno's file on top of Hayama's , then he refilled his pipe and lit it.

"Neko, summon Jōnin Kanden Tekuno and Jōnin Shirakumo Hayama to report the Tower immediately."

"Hai, Hokage sama," And as fast as Neko had appeared, she disappeared to fulfill the order given to her by the leader of Konoha.



***



Team 10, also known as Team Asuma, were on their very first C Rank mission. It was only ranked C because they were out of Konoha and escorting a 1000-head herd of cows.

Shikamaru loved the non-excitement of it, since cows walked ever so slowly while lazily grazing grass as they went. It was a perfectly set pace that meant Nara could enjoy cloud-watching as he walked in that agonizingly slow, slouchy way of his. Ino was complaining loudly at the pace as well, but Shikamaru was glad that her voice didn't climb to the shrill pitch Ino was so known for in the Academy, along with the banshee club that fallowed the Uchiha around, much to that boy's irritation. She was currently complaining of the dust that got in to her hair. If she found dust so troublesome, she should have such long hair cut shorter. But Shikamaru wouldn't voice that advice to his team mate. After all, that would take too much effort, and she'd just be troublesome about something else.

Choji was munching at his ever-present bag of chips, alternately offering a handful to Shikamaru and Yakumo. Somewhere in the past days, Asuka aka Yakumo, had told them to call her by her real name and was faintly surprised when none of them made a big deal out of it. They just switched names like that.

It made the girl smile.

Yakumo herself certainly had grown as a kunoichi and as genjutsu user. Well, she could now cast them without her panting, though they were weaker. Granted, if Asuma-sensei would be more of a genjutsu type like Kurenai Yūhi, she would be more proficient, but under Asuma-sensei's tutelage she had grown in other skills as a ninja despite her physical shortcomings. Apparently her weaker frame could be somewhat remedied by exercise, though she had tired more quickly than the others. But not significantly, as she observed that Ino herself didn't have great physical strength or endurance either. So Yakumo was content with her progress.

Ino was keeping her steady chatter to fill the silence that sometimes spread over the group. Normally she wouldn't be that much of chatter box, but Yakumo started to tense up when it was too quiet, animal noises not counting. So to keep up the girl on the same wavelength, she chattered. That was something she was good at, reading people and helping them come out of their shells. It was why she teased Kochō about Sasuke so much, despite knowing that she had no such crush on the guy. Granted, the Uchiha was hot, and perhaps she should join in the fun of chasing the said gloomy boy around. At least then he showed some sort of expression, and it would bring Sakura even more out of her shell. Who knew, perhaps she should do the same about Naruto, start a Naruto fan club. Now, while Whiskers was not as hot as Sasuke, he did have some sort of charm buried under all that orange, especially after he stopped eating only ramen. He certainly wasn't a runt any more like he had been at the start of the Academy; he was certainly catching on to the height department.

She wondered what reaction she'd get from him if she first glomped Sasuke and then made a jump on Naruto, declaring how she missed that rugged look of his…hmm, it might be funny seeing her team mates' reactions, and Kochō and Sakura's facial expressions.

Sarutobi Asuma was walking by the cows, smoking his ever-present cigarette and entertaining the thought of nominating his team for the Chūnin Exams. Well, his original Genin team. He'd have to talk with Kakashi about putting Kurama Yakumo with one of the Genin from Hatake's team.

But then he would have to find another Genin to complete the three-man cell. He was almost sure of his hunch that Kakashi would nominate his team, at least from the hints that been dropped from the silver-haired jōnin.

Perhaps that Genin, younger brother to Morino Ibiki, whom Jiraiya had rescued out of the mess that Rokushō Aoi pulled when he stole Raijin no Ken. He was about the same age, perhaps a little older.

Morino Idate was currently without a team, but he was in the shinobi force, more commonly known as Genin no Ryodan, though Asuma didn't know which number, as they numbered from Troops 0 to 13.

Then the kids would need their own Jōnin-sensei, but knowing his old man he probably had someone in mind already. Then they would have a month's time to work on their teamwork before the jōnin in charge of them would decide if they would participate in this year's Chūnin Exams.



***



Kurenai was returning home with her Genin Team 8 from their C rank mission, to catch thieving gang that had stolen a golden statue from the Daimyō's sister. They now had to return the artefact, which was a golden statue of a bear holding a fish.

They were dispatched to this mission after they returned from a week-long training trip Kurenai had insisted on, because she didn't intend for a pass/fail test for them. The reason for this was that you did not put a tracking-capture team together just to fail them.

Hinata she'd known from before. Her father had approached her, asked that she'd train her…and train her she did, even if she had been apprehensive at first. Her first time mentoring a Clan heiress hadn't bore fruit, and the child had had to have her memories and powers sealed. She did not know if Hyūga Hiashi was aware of this.

She remembered the words she had spoken to Hyūga Ichizoku head like it was yesterday. "I will be watching over Hinata from now on… but are you sure it's all right? Hinata is a member of the Hyūga main family… working as a Genin may cause her to be surrounded by death."

Unfortunately, Hiashi had taken this as acknowledgment of his elder daughter's weakness. Kurenai merely wanted to point out that Hinata would benefit more if Hiashi himself would spend more time training, and encouraging, his daughter.

Thank goodness that Anko had invited her prior to this to train Shunaran Kochō. Shunran Ichizoku was not overly large, or even well known outside Konoha, but they were of the same standing as Yūhi Ichizoku, albeit they were stronger in numbers. And while members of the Yūhi clan could be identified by their very unique eyes that were red in color, with an additional ring in them, there were no special abilities attached to this characteristic, at least no more than the Shunran's Clan amber eyes and white hair. Kochō-chan, however, had inherited her hair color from her mother side of the family.

Uzuki were not a clan native to Konoha or Hi no Kuni, they were a family of three, from Hoshigakure no Sato, neighboring to Oni no Kuni, the village that according to Yūgao's great-grandmother had moved to Konoha, which was founded a week before Hoshigakure. There had been some sort of fall out and the family had moved, since she was not a notable shinobi. Uzuki Fuyuhi and her husband, who was a civilian, Rairakku, brother of current Miko from Oni no Kuni, with their infant son. Not that Kurenai knew details; she knew however that Fuyuhi-sama and Kigiku-sama didn't like to talk about either Hoshigakure or Oni no Kuni.

Kurenai's trip down memory lane was suddenly interrupted by the yapping of Akamaru and a loud grumbling coming from his partner.

"That is so lame!" Kiba grumbled, while kicking at the slightly bigger stones on the graveled path, faint creases between his brows that somehow made the young Inuzuka even more feral looking.

"Kiba-kun…I…I'm sure…" came a quiet voice from behind him, trying to sooth the boy's agitation like Hinata was wont to do.

"It's a freaking teddy bear eating a fish!" Kiba gestured wildly at the case Hinata was holding, in which the aforementioned golden statue safely rested. They had left the gang of thieves bound behind there for border patrols to pick and throw in jail, where they would wait for trial.

"Kiba, you shouldn't make such a fuss," came from behind the high collar, along with the faint buzzing sound of Shino's kikaichū, like the insects were in complete agreement with their host.

"Why? Because it was our mission to retrieve the object, not criticize its appearance."

Kiba rolled his eyes, completely ruining his feral look in the process. "Here you go, Shino. Nitpicking again."

Hinata fidgeted slightly. She didn't like when her teammates were like that. "K…Kiba-hun, …Shino-kun doesn't…"

"No need to be nervous, Hinata." Hinata startled at the soft voice of her mentor and Team 8's Jōnin Sensei, Yūhi Kurenai.



***



Haku was pensive as they were walking on the road to Konoha, his new home. And while Kakashi-san ensured him that Konoha didn't persecute those with kekkei genkai, he was nervous at the prospect at living within a village. He didn't want to disappoint his precious people, his friends, all that he had left after Zabuza-sama passed away.

It was ironic in a way, he whom had no family after his father killed his mother and then tried to kill Haku because they held Hyōton Kekkei genkai.

He had been happy with his parents until his powers manifested. His mother had seen it and stopped him, and she had been so afraid that somebody would see, would know what ice out of nowhere meant. But somebody had seen – his own father. And that man had killed his mother. She ceased to be a woman, a wife and a mother to him.

She'd become a thing. A monster. An abomination.

Something to destroy.

And so he had killed her, and in fear, when a man who was once a loving person, a loving father, turned his face to Haku, his mother's blood still freshly splattered on his clothes and his face, glowing like rubies, Haku had killed him.

And then he ran.

Two years later, the path of the orphaned, starved and sick boy crossed with newly minted nukenin Momochi Zabuza, who was just leaving the town after he had failed to kill the Yondaime Mizukage Yagura.

It had just started snowing on that day – that was what he remembered the most. It had been snowing lightly, the green grass slowly touched with white crystals. The air was chilly and he was outside, alone in the world, nothing but snow, cold and hunger as company.

Haku had been living on the streets at the time, trying to survive his second winter, wearing nothing more than a ragged shirt, all too-short thin pants and no shoes. He had lost all feeling in his toes at that point; it was wonder thinking back that he didn't lose them to the bitter cold.

He had not eaten for quite a while, a week perhaps; he had eaten something that looked edible. So he was weak, he could barely open his eyes at that point. Haku knew that he was slowly dying, not that anybody cared. People were hurrying about, never sparing a glance at the huddled shapes that hid in the corners of the buildings, looking for shelter. Kiri had a lot of homeless kids and a lot didn't make it through the winters.

Then out of the mist a shinobi in a standard Kiri flak jacket had appeared. Their eyes had met, and Haku thought just as he slipped in to unconsciousness, 'they had the same eyes'.

When Haku woke up, he wasn't dead, but found that the shinobi had used his chakra flow to keep him alive and warm. They exchanged some words and he had introduced himself as Momochi Zabuza, then Zabuza-sama had asked Haku to become his weapon, so Haku gained a purpose and a precious person, and devoted his life to become the ultimate tool for Zabuza-sama use.

But the memory of a boy, with snow white hair and sad green eyes they passed when they left Kiri and Mizu no Kuni still haunted him. Haku wondered what had happened to that boy, even now.



***



Jiraiya was walking by his Godson, not that the orange clad boy was aware of that connection between them, or his parentage. He'd have to remedy that as soon as possible, but he'd have to talk with Sarutobi-sensei first. The thought of Naruto finding out filled him with equal amounts of dread and joy.

Just how would the boy react when he found out that Jiraiya was his Godfather? And that he had left Konoha knowing that Uzumaki Naruto was an orphan? He had fight Sarutobi-sensei like a maniac, wanted to take the newborn Naruto to find Tsunade and force her to raise her relative through Uzumaki Mito with him.

But Hiruzen had been adamant that Naruto was not to leave Konoha, that it wasn't safe, that the ANBU who had guarded Kushina when she was giving birth were killed by kunai. Likewise with Sensei's wife and the midwife assisting Naruto's birth.

Still, Jiraiya had many regrets, most of them centered on his renegade rival of teammate Orochimaru, his student when he had taken his first and only Genin team Uchiha Naori, Senju Tsunade, his apprentice Minato, Mito-senpai's niece Kushina, and lastly his Godson Naruto.

He regretted that he hadn't dragged Orochimaru back to Konoha, even if he'd had to beat him to a bloody pulp. He should have, because then he could have knocked some sense in Hebi-teme thick head.

Jiraiya regretted not being there when Naori-himechi had needed him the most, when her husband had died, when she'd had to bring her friend Uchiha Naka from her clan Nikushimi no Noroi, the curse that neither her or Naori's own son Shisui, or her grandfather Kagami had fallen to. He didn't even know how she'd died; only that she had. Her body was never found.

He regretted not taking what Sango had offered, then leader of Nadeshiko no Sato, since Tsunade hadn't even acknowledged him as her love interest. Besides, she had been involved with Katō Dan at that time.

He regretted that he'd gotten so drunk with Gamabunta that he wasn't around to help much by the end of the Third Great War.

He regretted not being any help when Nawaki, Tsunade's little brother was killed, or when Dan had died. He came on both scenes far too late. With a hangover.

He regretted not been able to keep Tsunade in Konoha, or telling her that he loved her.

He didn't have the courage to tell Minato that he was the son he never had.

He didn't tell Kushina how much she reminded him of Mito-senpai and how much he respected her as both a shinobi and a person.

He didn't tell Naori how she reminded him of Tsunade and how he wished that he could hold her as a daughter.

He let himself be convinced by those three old farts in the Chōrōhyōgikai that he should leave Konoha days before the Kyūbi was ripped from Kushina's seal.

He was never there for Naruto. And perhaps that was his biggest, most glaring regret.

He was not there to raise Naruto as a Godfather should.

His own godson.

A grandchild.

Jiraiya, like many others, had failed Minato and Kushina's child. Looking now at his godson walking by his side, his emotions were in turmoil, swirling hand in hand with self loathing and gut-wrenching guilt.

A bitter smile pulled on Gama Senin lips when he remembered Naruto enthusiastic questions, when Jiraiya explained that the Yondaime Hokage had invented the Rasengan, and about Minato and the technique he had created. He didn't deserve a look of admiration and words of praise from Naruto, he deserved a punch in the gut and a chance to travel back in time.

He was a coward, one that ran away from his duty as a Godfather.

But no more.

He is going to make amends. At least to Naruto.

Starting by teaching gaki the Rasengan and giving him the Summoning contract with the Toads.



***


Tsunade was chatting with the Uchiha boy, but she hadn't missed how her idiot of a teammate Jiraiya was trying to corrupt Naruto, like he did that Hatake's brat. It wasn't working, much to her amusement. Naruto apparently had some aversion to perverts.

Good for him.

She smirked when she remembered Jiraiya's old Genin team; he'd tried to corrupt them too. It had flown over Namikaze Minato's dense blonde head, like father like son, as the saying went, or he had pretended that it did. She could never tell what path Minato's mind would take. He might have been a goofball child, but he was also a genius who put even Orochimaru and her uncle Tobirama to shame.

The Uchiha girl, Naori, she liked her, even if she displayed the typical Uchiha calm aloofness and cold facade. When she was around her teammates, Tsunade herself or Jiraiya, Naori become a completely different person. A girl that was so like herself in personality when she had been her age.

The last of the team, Mitokado Taika, son of Elder Mitokado Homura, was a quiet intelligent individual who like many, many others died in the Third Shinobi Great War, leaving behind a young son orphaned, save his grandfather, aka the old fart Homura. She had thought that she'd read from correspondence she occasionally received from Hiruzen-sensei that said old fart now had a great grandson.

Then her thoughts turned back to the Genin she'd met a couple of days ago.

She hadn't had much thought on Gai's team – he had a clone of himself, a branch Hyūga with a grudge towards everything and anything, and a girl that specialized in weapons and who was apparently Tsunade's fan girl.

Kakashi's brat pack, however, was a strange constellation of personalities.

An Uchiha who wanted to be an Iryō-nin that used fire, typical of Uchiha who were a bunch of pyromaniacs, but who cared greatly for at least two of his teammates, but considering that his third teammate was a banshee of a fan girl most of the time, Tsunade could somewhat understand the brat's irritation.

Haruno Sakura, the pink haired girl, was unfortunately a fan girl, but when she did get her act together, she showed impeccable chakra control and prodigious taijutsu skills. She had managed to shatter an earth wall that Kakuzu put up with single punch. Tsunade was reluctantly impressed by that.

Shunaran Kochō, now that family name brought memories to Tsunade. After all she had had both Uzuki Koyuki and Shunran Masaru on her Genin team.

She was also very familiar with the background of the Uzuki Clan, to the point that she wondered, when Kochō created that barrier and Tsunade noticed that it wasn't made entirely out of chakra, if it was closely related to Seishin no geijutsu that Miko of Oni no Kuni employed. She wondered if the little girl had been able to use the fabled almost gone from the world – Seishinryoku. Perhaps she should write to Miroku. Come to think of it, Shion, Miroku's daughter was about the same age as the brats. Perhaps it would be good if Kochō was to be sent to the Land of Demons, otherwise Seishinryoku would end up controlling her. In many ways that ability was as dangerous as Senjutsu.

What worried her, however, was the girl who was walking way behind them and by the worried glances Naruto shared with Uchiha…Sasuke. If she was to be his teacher she might as well use the gaki's name. And she was sure Harashima-jiji was laughing up a storm at the thought of an Uchiha medic. Madara, however, was rolling in his grave.

Anyway, the girl Kochō was reacting badly to that girl's death. She recognized misplaced guilt in the golden eyes that stared at the bloodied form. She would have to knock that guilt away if Naruto didn't first. By the looks of it there was a storm brewing behind those cobalt eyes.



***

Kochō was walking automatically behind everyone. Not seeing, not hearing anything that was happening around her, so she hadn't seen or sensed Kakashi-sensei circling casually behind her so that she wouldn't fall behind.

She also was blind to Sasuke, who was otherwise talking to Shizune and Tsunade, who had gotten over her surprise at the concept of an Uchiha medic, and Naruto, who was walking by Jiraiya with a water balloon in his hand, casting occasional worried glances in her direction.

And Sakura's altering between concerned to jealous looks she'd thrown her way.

But she was on pins and needles, and her thoughts swirled in vicious circles. Unfortunately she remembered the dream she had, which immediately added to her guilt; she had been so focused on the roots and the faraway hawk and the large black dragon's part of the dreams, trying to figure what they mean them, completely ignoring the little panda cub lying bloody on the rocky terrain, just like TenTen did.

She had an inkling that the leaves probably meant Konoha, black roots trying to overrun the greenery aka ROOT, Danzō's war hawk pet project. She knew that Danzō wanted to become Hokage, the seat symbolizing as a moving red shadow flame in her dream and that he would never succeed, if the fire burning the hawk's feathers away was any sign.

She hadn't had the foggiest what that menacing black dragon meant and she had completely disregarded the panda cub.

"Kochō-san?"

She blinked at the noise and focused on a pair of black eyes on a fair face under a fringe of black hair…

"Hai, Shizune-san." She patted her tights, attached to the leg which sported an open bone break. "Tsunade-sama healed the break perfectly."

"No pain?" Shizune insisted.

"No." And at the medic-nin's persistent look, Kochō heaved a sigh. "Just a twinge when I accidentally kick at some pebbles."

Shizune nodded. "When we return to Konoha, you should go to the hospital, just in case. The bone might be healed, but the blood vessels are still stained and the muscle tissue still a bit tender. You should also take a week off active duty."

Yeah, no … to the hospital, Kochō thought. However, a week of rest sounded great.

"Hai, Shizune-san, I'll rest."

"Good, I…Tsunade-sama!" Whatever Shizune wanted to say was cut out with an exasperated shout, when she saw that Tsunade had changed direction by the side road sign that read Casino, and made a beeline in the direction it pointed.

Chapter Text

Team Kakashi finally reached Konoha's gates early in the morning, but despite the early hour, they were greeted by a crowd. Apparently the return of two of Densetsu no Sannin at the same time was big news, even in the early morning sunlight.

Tsunade and Jiraiya left directly for the tower, closely followed by Kakashi, Naruto and Haku after Kakashi dismissed his team, sending Kochō to the hospital, and Sasuke and Sakura home to rest.

Kochō, however, had other plans. Besides, she loathed hospitals. Some things apparently never changed, and it didn't help that no matter the time/dimensional distance, the memory of her cousin Celia's sudden and violent death that she had witnessed was still haunting her.

With her training in healing, she had to memorize a lot of information about the human body, as well as the anatomy of animals, fish, birds, mammals, lizards, etc…until her eyes bled. But she did manage to become competent enough –not on the level of Tsunade, so she wouldn't be able to do any high-risk and delicate operations like Tsunade did with Lee after his sandy encounter, or Kabuto's for that matter. Her use of chakra scalpels was not that good….well, if she wanted to stab someone with her hand she could do that, but healing the damage that would cause was beyond her.

Now she was ashamed to admit but, Kabuto…she had totally forgotten about him and he was pretty important as he had done that massive Zombie no Jutsu, sans brain-eating dead people. Now if she remembered rightly, however, he was around during the exams, so he was still in Konoha…appearing to be a loyal little cockroach.

To top it off, she had an inkling or a sense of déjà vu that she wouldn't be part of team seven…and oh please whatever power that is listening, Kochō thought, do not put Kabuto on whatever team she'd be in.

Because she just knew, she would not be able to hide her feelings about that guy. Yeah, Danzō was worse and was partially to blame for Kabuto mental problems, but that didn't change the fact that without Kabuto around things would have turned better. Probably – she wasn't so confident about her making waves anymore, but then again without Kabuto there at least wouldn't be mass Edo Tensei.

Well, things would certainly be interesting…now if only she could get a clue how far the Chūnins were. But anyway she had to check on Shi…er Kyūka. Yeah, Kyūka. She should check on him. Better than go to the hospital at any rate. Besides, he'll get a summoning contract.

She had managed to sneak a peek at those three scrolls that Kakuzu had lost during their short fight, before she was double-teamed with Lightning mask, bird thingy and conveniently got her leg bone broken, badly.

Luckily for her, her leg was immediately healed by Tsunade herself.

They were summoning contracts, all three of them. She had already decided to give the Snow Leopard summoning contract to Hinata. It fit her, after all, as she had learned in mandatory kunoichi class in the academy not only about Ikebana, but had received high marks in anything with flowers. For example, she was second with Ino in Hanakotoba and Tanjōbana on top of the class, playing instruments, medical herbs, dances, and lastly what helped her decide to give the Snow Leopard summoning contract to Hinata, Tōtemu. According to that, Snow leopard people tended to be introverted, quiet, observant, and independent. That was loosely associated with sensitivity, camouflage, agility.

And that was Hinata, to a tee.

Definitely.

Even if she herself didn't see it, or her father, Kochō could see it just fine. Besides, even with her screw up with TenTen, may she rest in peace, she still trusted her intuition.

Just not when there was a life or death situation.

Then there was some weird animal depicted that looked like the badger, but wasn't. The kanji read, Anagumamoru, which meant badgermoles. Anyhow, that would go to Shu-nii.

And the last one, the one she would sign, was the Butterfly Summoning Contract. But later – she was in no real hurry to sign. She would give other two off to their new owners first.

After the visit she would go on a cleaning and cooking spree. And not to brag but everyone praised her cooking skills. Cooking and cleaning were perfect therapy as well, so it really was killing two birds with one stone.



***

Meanwhile, at the T&T department, in one of the interviewing rooms, where new candidates for the department were usually interviewed, one Morino Ibiki and Yamanaka Inoichi were in the middle of interviewing a young member of the Yuki clan, originating from Kiri.

When the boy was led into the room, Inoichi smiled.

"Hello, Haku-kun, please take a seat," he offered, while he seated himself across the boy. Ibiki, however, started to set up the standard interviewing equipment.

Haku carefully sat down, eyeing the heads of the T&T department. Inoichi gave the boy re assuring smile.

"Not to worry, Haku-kun, you'll go through the same questions as any ninja wanting to work at the T&T department. We have Genin, Chūnin, as well as Jōnin working at the department."

***

Sakura was walking towards her home. She could almost taste her mother's home-made Anmitsu.

Ah how she loved that dish. She could almost taste that ager red algae jelly, dissolved with apple juice, served in her special ceramic bowl with delicately painted images of cherry blossoms, with deliciously sweet azuki bean paste, boiled peas, and pieces of pineapples, cherries and strawberries.

Sakura almost swooned in anticipation and could taste it already…

"Shānnarō!" she yelled to the morning sky, "Anmitsu, here I come!"

"Nope, dango here we come," came a whisper from behind that somehow managed to carry just as clearly as the pinkette's shout. It froze Sakura up while sending shivers up and down her body. She knew that voice.

Swallowing heavily in indignation, fear and anger, she turned. Yes, Sakura thought, there she was in all her glory. Mitarashi Anko, Tokubetsu Jōnin of Konoha, with her customary tan overcoat with those two pockets that Sakura knew held snacks for her snakes, fitted mesh body suit with the orange mini skirt that always drew looks. Even Sakura sometimes stared tryi,ng to figure out how could the attire be so revealing and so unrevealing at the same time.

"Like what you see, pinky?" came the amused voice from the Tokubetsu Jōnin.

Sakura winced and looked away, then broke into a cold sweat when her light evergreen eyes meet with Anko's light brown, pupil-less ones, which shone with bloodthirsty mischief under her black, blue tinted hair.

"An-Anko sensei…" Oh no, she did not just stutter, Sakura thought, and barely repressed a flinch when Anko's smile widened.

Sakura fixed her gaze on Anko's spiky, fanned ponytail to avoid looking in Anko's eyes, so that she could finish the sentence without becoming a nervous mess.

"My parents are expecting me and …"

"Nope, pinky." At that, Anko leaned heavily on Sakura's shoulder, almost toppling the twelve—year-old. "Your folks are not home. For two days, I checked. So you and I –" With that, she started to steer Sakura away. "– are gonna have some bonding time at Dangoya before you become my apprentice."

"Wha…" Sakura's eyes widened, and Inner Sakura was fervently praying that they'd heard wrongly.

"I already asked the Hokage and he said 'Okay, Anko, you are awesome so you get an apprentice,' and that's you, pinky. After Chūnin Senbatsu Shiken, I am officially your shishou."

"Hokage-sama said…" Sakura could not continue. She was shell-shocked, walking beside Anko on autopilot. How in the world would she survive this?

Inner Sakura was crying and screaming inside, throwing a tantrum that would have scared even Ibiki. Sakura really envied her Inner right this moment. Inner was safely tucked away inside her head and could complain safely and freely, but Sakura wasn't so lucky.

"Yep, so now we'll eat some dango, then I'll show you what I do at T&T. Since I am the proctor for the Chūnin Exam, we won't be able to train so we'll bond this way. But after the Exam your training as my apprentice begins, so I'll be Anko- shishou," Anko stated excitedly while walking toward a short tan building with a green roof. The shop's sign was in the form of a stick with white-colored dango run through it. The hiragana for dango was painted red on it.

Sakura sighed, and then followed Anko dejectedly inside and proceeded to sit behind a wooden table under rectangular-shaped lights, casting her eye over the menus that hung all over the walls.



***

Haku was nervous as he sat in the circular room, hooked up on some monitors. He had been separated from the two Sanin, Kakashi and Naruto almost immediately after they had entered the Hokage Tower.

The Hokage of Konoha seemed very keen of clearing Haku as soon as possible, hence why the boy was now comfortably sitting by the table with Morino Ibiki and Yamanaka Inoichi.

"Now, Haku-kun, I know this is stressful, but just answer truthfully," a blonde man who had introduced himself as Inoichi said to him with a soft, kind voice.

It was calming…so Haku relaxed somewhat, but the fact that he was more at ease when he was just in the company of the head of Torture and Investigations Division, Morino Ibiki, than he was in Inoichi's presence was telling.

Or perhaps Morino-san reminded Haku strongly of Zabuza-sama.



***

Meanwhile, in the Hokage's office, a discussion between the Hokage, Kakashi and two of the Sannin began.

With a shout that made Nara Shikaku, the Jōnin Commander of Konoha's shinobi forces, mutter 'troublesome' under his breath.

"What's the big idea about that –ttebayoo!" When Naruto heard that Kochō would be on another team, he was speechless for about ten seconds before exploding.

"Calm down, Naruto-kun." The Hokage quickly placated the fuming boy. Yeah, he had expected that kind of reaction, so now he only had to calm the boy down and then explain his reasoning.

"So, Hokage-jiji, what is the big idea? Dattebayo," was a more quiet question, albeit accompanied with a narrowed stare, the same one Hiruzen saw when his successor was about to use Hiraishin when they were sparring.

"If I may, Hokake-sama," a grave voice interrupted, and Sarutobi turned to his Jōnin Commander.

"Shikaku?"

"It is troublesome, but giving a half answer won't do in Uzumaki's case." The,n turning to Naruto, he continued, "The main reason for separation is that the Chūnin Exams are being held in Konoha in seven weeks time, but the rule is that the team participating must be constructed of three Genins only."

"But doesn't that mean that Kochō-chan won't be in those exams?" Naruto asked curiously, watching the Commander.

"No worries, Naruto-kun." The Hokage smiled at the blond boy before him. "When Haku-kun is cleared and receives his Konoha Hitai-ate, he, Kochō-chan and Yakumo-chan will be in a team under the command of their Jōnin sensei, Kanden Tekuno."

Naruto nodded, then took a scroll out of his pocket and quickly scribbled a circular shape around it, a seal that made Jiraiya crane his neck to look at it closely. Noticing the man's curiosity, Naruto decided to explain.

"It is a communication seal," Naruto elaborated. "It works similarly to messenger birds, only not, so it's more like linked communication mics."

"Naruto-kun…" Sealing was in the kid's blood, Shikaku thought, but there was something that nagged at him. The boy was too blasé about the seal, and judging by Jiraiya's interest, it was not a seal that the Toad Sage was familiar with, so when questioning blue eyes meet with his grey ones, he asked, "You know that Uzumaki Kushina is your mother?"

At the blonds' sharp nod, Shikaku continued. "Do you know of Uzumaki Ichizoku's legacy?"

Naruto's eyes winded, and then he grinned; trust a Nara to figure something was amiss.

"You mean about Clan history of being seal masters and them being wiped out and scatted across the counties by combined forces of Kumo, Iwa and Kiri? And that the Hokage's wife was an Uzumaki? Yeah, I am aware of it."

Shikaku's eyes widened a fraction. Now wasn't that wording an interesting way to test his hypothesis. "And that leads us to the question, do you know of your father?"

"Shikaku!" came the sharp voice of his Hokage, which Nara expertly ignored. His eyes were glued on the Genin, and with a gleam in his eyes the Commander saw Naruto's eyes flicker upward to the portrait of the Yondaime Hokage.

"Yeah, I know," Naruto said, a soft smile curling the corners of his mouth. Then when the boy caught sight of the bug-eyed look on Kakashi-sensei's face, Naruto's soft smile turned into a full-blown grin.

Shikaku took a small, satisfied breath, especially when he noticed the flabbergasted look on Hatake's face, and he really stifled a grin when the boy produced a camera out of nowhere and started to snap pictures of the faces around him. Perhaps he would ask Naruto for a copy of those.

When the flashes from a camera died down, the Hokage came out of his stupor. "Naruto, how…you know?" Kakashi stood a bit straighter, while Tsunade looked on in interest – this was becoming more interesting by the minute – while Jiraiya felt a slight need to bolt or ask for the boy's forgiveness.

Naruto turned to his jiji in anything but blood. "I know," he reaffirmed. "I've known for a while now. More specifically, I've known since our visit to the Uzu ruins."

"The Archway," Kakashi murmured. "You didn't say anything, you never asked me…?" Kakashi trailed off, not able to finish.

Naruto expelled his breath. Yeah, he had an idea what Kakashi-sensei wanted to say, but could not.

"What could I possibly say? You were only a little older that I am now. How in the world could you take care of a newborn? And it's not like you haven't been around, ne Inu ANBU – san? Thanks for looking after me when I was a little, and thanks for that sleeping hat."

Kakashi observed his student for a while, then gave one of his U eye smiles, "You are definitely your father's son."

Shikaku snorted. "And his mother's. The pranks and that verbal tic are reminiscent of Kushina all right. It is too troublesome."

Naruto gave a foxy grin, puffing out his chest in pride "I am the King of pranks after all –ttebayo."

The Hokage smiled. "Now, Naruto, before we continue, Jiraiya here has something to say."

Jiraiya stepped forward so that he was a step away from Naruto. "You know who I am."

Naruto nodded, not really knowing where Jiraiya was going with this. "Yep, you are theToad Sannin that writes those books Kakashi-sensei reads all the time." Then he slanted a mischievous glance at the Hokage. "And that Jiji reads when he thinks nobody is around."

Jirayia nodded. "Yes, and I was also your father's sensei."

Naruto sighed heavily. Where was the old perverted going with this? "I know. That is not exactly an S-class secret."

Jirayia scratched the back of his head. "Naruto, I'm..." He trailed off, then continued strongly like ripping off a bandage. "I'm also your godfather." There, it was out. Jiraiya felt a bit lighter, but he found the frozen expression on Naruto's face a bit troubling.

"I see."

He sees, Jiraiya thought, watching with mounting apprehension at his godsons' still inscrutable expression. But Jiraiya's trepidation was cut short when Naruto's fist buried itself in his stomach, winding him.

There was silence in the room, except for the slight wheezing sounds coming from his godfather, though Naruto thought he noticed smirks on Hokage-jiji's and Tsunade's faces.

Jiraiya coughed. "That is definitely something Kushina would have done."

Tsunade laughed merrily, her brown eyes lighting up with unrestrained humor. "Probably Minato as well."

Jiraiya winced. Yeah, his student would have sucker punched him as well, for leaving his son alone for so long.

Naruto crossed his arms. "Don't tell me you didn't deserve that Ero, Getajiji." Then he stepped forward and gave his godfather a quick hug.

"Gaki, I'm going to teach you everything I taught your old man," Jiraiya said, while ruffling the blonde spikes.

Then the boy's words penetrated. "I am not a Geta-wearing pervert."

Naruto snorted. "Yes you are."

"No, I am not."

Tsunade muttered, "Yes you are." Shikaku's 'troublesome' went unheeded.

"Are –ttebayo!" shouted Naruto, annoyed at the Sanin's denial.

Jiraiya, however, puffed out, and he pointed at himself with his thumb, exclaiming, "I am not a pervert. I am Jiraiya of the Sanin, The Super Pervert!"

The only sounds that followed were twin face palms by Naruto and the Hokage respectively, a muttered 'troublesome' from the Nara…and then Jiraiya broke the window and took flight high in the air across Konoha's rooftops.

With a little help of Tsunade.

Or rather, her fist.



***

Kochō was slowly walking. She might not be going to the hospital, but she wasn't stupid. She wouldn't put too much strain on her healed leg.

Nope, not happening anytime soon.

Still, she did make a small stop at home. Nobody was in her house so she let herself in, took a shower, binned her dirty clothes and put new ones on. And of course ate something. And she still had enough time to get to her destination, even with the sedate pace she set for herself.



***

Uzumaki Naruto sat silently on his father's face, carved in stone into the mountains; he had been sitting there for two hours, ever since he had left Hokage-jiji's office.

Naruto stiffened, muscles tensing when he felt a presence nearby, but he didn't move from his position. He only turned his head slightly to look at his newly arrived companion.

Cerulean eyes met flat onyx ones.

"So I take it that communication seal works?" asked Naruto.

"Hn, if it didn't I wouldn't be here." Sasuke sat down beside the blond, watching the unusually solemn teen out of the corner of his eye.

Naruto give a tired sigh, and then he tilted his head back, casting his eyes into the distance. "I've been thinking," he said calmly, without his customary enthusiasm and gesturing.

"Should I run for cover?" asked Sasuke with a deadpan voice, startling a laugh out of Naruto.

"Haha, Teme, and no."

"So, you were thinking," Sasuke prompted the younger boy.

Naruto hummed. "Yeah."

"Hn."

"Yeah, I was thinking."

"About?"

"Stuff."

"Hn?"

"I was at the Hokage tower."

"Ah?"

The silence stretched a bit too much even for Sasuke's liking, and he just knew that Naruto was winding him up on purpose, just for giggles.

"Spit it out, Usuratonkachi."

"Geez, Sasuke, keep your pants on –ttebayoo." Naruto smirked when he saw that Sasuke's right eye had began to twitch. Wildly.

"Anyway, Hokage-jiji, Ero-sennin, Tsunade oba-chan and Kakashi sensei told me about Ka-chan and Tou-chan."

"Ah."

"Yes, and they gave me locations and seal keys of both my parents home and Uzumaki Ichizoku no Nōmendō."

"So?"

"Check them out with me dattebayo."

"Hn."

"Let's go now –ttebayo!" exclaimed Naruto, jumping up. Sasuke followed more slowly.

And then they both disappeared in Konoha-Shunshin.



***

After talking and crying herself hoarse, Kochō stilled, waiting, taking comfort in the soothing embrace her blind friend offered her when she started to relay everything that had piled on her since TenTen had went down.

"Don't bear everything alone." A deep very sigh left his mouth. "Or you'll lose yourself in what ifs and maybes."

Kochō gave a wobbly smile. "That is the saddest word in any language."

"What is?"

"What if."

"How bratty of you."

"The pot calling the kettle black, Shu-nii."

An amused snort and rustling of clothes was heard through the cave.

"Seriously now, Kochō-chan, I know that it hurts, even if you didn't know her personally."

"But I …" Kochō began, but was cut off by a hand on her mouth.

"You shush, your Aniki is talking life wisdom here."

There was a snort from the girl, but she stilled. Her eyes, however, were still haunted, but it had lessened since she had cried her pain out. Still, she was apparently still blaming herself.

"Anyway, shit happens, but you are a shinobi and whatever you have been before, Buffy Kyūketsuki Taijiya. You are not alone now. You are not enduring alone. So what if you didn't connect TenTen with the panda cub in you dream? You are not Kami. Mourn her if you must, but do not look back. Move forward."

Then he grinned. "And to use your words when you found out who I was and so decided to tell me everything, Canon Naruto verse has officially gone F.U.B.A.R. "

"RIP canon, huh," muttered Kochō, her hair over her eyes while she mulled things over with a more level head. Did she felt sorry that TenTen had died? Yes she did. Could she realistically have gone after her when she fell, electrocuted in that mud hole full of earth spikes? No, she could not; she had been backing up Haku at the time and couldn't afford to split her attention. Or Naruto would …

"A minute of silence." Shisui interrupted her train of though. "Okay, you're all right now."

"It still hurts." At his 'look' she quickly elaborated. "I know it wasn't my fault."

"Ahh ahh, Kochō– chan, say it again." He wagged a finger in her face, making her roll her eyes, but she was already coming to terms with it.

"It isn't my fault TenTen is dead," she stated, with slight hesitation in her voice.

The inhalation was so slight that normal people would have missed it, but he wasn't normal and he was blind. "Again," he commanded.

"It's not my fault." This time her voice was a bit more level.

"Louder."

"Not my fault!"

"Now mean it."

"I mean it."

"Good." He reached out and mussed her purple hair. "Now, I have devised a cunning plan."

"Should I run for cover?"

"Nah, just for Sasuke and Naruto. Its time I talk with my cute little cousin and his best friend."

"You sure?"

"Hey have some faith in me Fuji Imōto."

"Don't call me that."

"But you are like Wisteria, and it is your Birth Flower, isn't it?"

"Yes, but don't call me that." Then she paused in thought. "Do you call Sasuke by his birth flower too?"

Shisui hummed in thought. "I called Sasuke-chan Koneko-chan, but calling him bush clover has its merits."

The sudden image of a twitching Sasuke made Kochō double over in a fit of giggles. She supposed that being called Koneko-chan bothered him, but being called Hagi-chan. Then she remembered that Naruto's birthday was in October and his Birth flower was the maple flower, which would mean that Shisui could end up calling him Kaede-chan.

Naruto's reaction to that would be priceless, and the following prank war between the two would possibly be hilarious for spectators. Providing that they removed themselves from the line of fire, that was.



***

At the same time in Konoha, another duo was discussing important things about life. They were Kanden Tekuno and his best friend from his Genin team, Shirakumo Hayama, but it had been years since those two were Genin. They were both Jōnin now.

Kanden Tekuno was sitting at Shushuya, a large Chinese-styled restaurant/pub with pillars that supported the building's high ceiling. Considering that Tei Chi Yurrin and his wife Tei Shoukun came from Oni no Kuni, the style wasn't surprising. Thetables and chairs were carved out of polished oak wood, and there was a bar with stools that displayed most of their alcohol, as well as multiple wooden booths for Tekuno and friend Shirakumo Hayama to sit on, sharing a drink and a large platter of yakitori roasted on charcoal fire accompanied by bread rolls.

"So," started Shirakumo Hayama, his black eyes searching his friend's, who uncharacteristically donned a serious mien, unlike his usual jovial one. Brown eyes on the round face met his with resolution.

"I was tasked by Hokage-sama to take on a Genin team."

Hayama leaned back in shock, and then his thin, sharp face turned sad. "Which one of the graduated teams lost their Jōnin-sensei?"

"Huh?" amomentarily confused Tekuno asked, then realization dawned. "Oh no, no, heh," he denied, scratching his cheek and laughing in embarrassment.

"No sensei died," he started to explain to his friend. "I am taking the boy formally from Kirigakure Yuki clan. His name is Haku and he was just cleared to take Konoha's Hitai-ate from T&I department."

"Oh, that's good to hear." Hayama nodded – no deaths, but a new resident for the village and a new shinobi in Konoha shinobi force. "As for the boy's teammates, I know that Sarutobi Asuma and Hatake Kakashi both have an extra Genin in their teams, so I assume that the two will come from there?"

"Correct!" exclaimed Tekumo, grinning avidly. "I'll teach my students everything I know, and if I think they are ready, well, I can nominate them for the Chūnin Exams."

"Assuming the Genin will develop teamwork between them, I have no doubts that both Asuma and Kakashi did well in training them, and I heard that Yuki-kun was well-trained as well."

Tekuno nodded at Hayama's words. "Haku-kun was trained by Momochi Zabuza. And I'll get Shunran Kochō from Dainanahan and Kurama Yakumo from Daijippan."



***

"So, Kochō-chan…are we there yet ttebayo?"

Kochō resisted an eye roll, and she had to stop herself from snapping. "No, not yet."

Sasuke give her sideways glance, but didn't give any comments. She had said that she would explain later, so he was temporarily mollified.

Finally, they reached their destination, a small house. The entered, passing two childrens whom the two boys didn't see.



***

One week later, Naruto sat in the middle of training ground seven, enjoying the temporary solitude before Sasuke and Kochō arrived to go see Shisui. He really wanted to work on his chakra control, since Kurama had let some chakra in to his system, which Naruto then purified from the hatred of the Biju, turning red chakra in to golden, but he didn't dare, not on this training ground. He might blow up something.

That, and the fact that Kochō was not on team seven anymore. That bothered him greatly. Sasuke was bothered by that to. The only highlight was that Haku was on the same team along with Yakumo.

But their sensei would get checked out, just in case the Hokage had missed something. Sasuke agreed with that.

Heaving a sigh, he looked up. From the training ground, he could see all four heads of the past Hokages. Someday his head would be there, Naruto thought; it'll happen, tou-chan, kaa-chan, Hagoromo-jiji. Someday, the Monument will carry the head of Konoha's Orange Hokage.

Naruto leaned back against the soft grass and looked up at the clear sky, thinking, planning …

"… That's so mean." Kochō's voice penetrated through the fog that Naruto had fallen in to.

"Not my fault little Naru-chan looks like a drowned kitten when he is wet, and I like kittens." An unfamiliar voice with a familiar pattern of speech, like Shisui ….shit…

Naruto rolled away, narrowly escaping a splash of water…he came up in a fighter's crouch observing the three people standing before him…there was Kochō-chan, slowly shaking her head, Sasuke who was palming his face and muttering something, and the last person wore a grin way too big. He was old, like Hokage-jiji, with a curly snow white beard and short hair with a walking stick and a bucked…

"Finally awake, Naru-chan," the old man sing song-ed.

"Shisui?"

"Bingo, Naru-chan."

"Stop calling me that." Naruto pouted. "You don't call Sasuke, Sasuke-chan."

"Nah I call my favorite littlest cousin Koneko-boo."

Suddenly, Sasuke's muttering got louder, and then he exploded. "Can we just get on with it? I have training, and Kochō has to be with her new team at the mission desk in an hour."

Kochō nodded. "And with that, boys, behave."

"Not promising anything ttebyoo."

"Right," she muttered, then jumped away towards her team's meeting place.

"Now, now, Koneko-boo!" Sasuke hissed a breath, making his disguised cousin cackle like some sort of villain. "Don't be like that. But you are right, we should go."

"Let's –ttebayoo,mmm" muttered Naruto, while plotting sweet, sweet revenge. Oh yeah, he had no intention of letting Shisui get one up on him.



***

Team Tekuno was returning from their second C-Rank mission, retrieve a pet ostrich named Condor, which was needed to fulfill their Genin lower bar quota of missions required for participation in the Chūnin Exam.

Condor had managed to escape all the way to Mitsu no Kuni, so they had to first track him down in that land, something that Kochō's black butterfly Shikigami were more than capable off, then they had to catch him. Between Tekuno-sensei 's trapping skills, Kochō's barriers, Haku's ice and Yakumo's illusions, the poor ostrich hadn't even known that he had lost his freedom.

Something the animal was still unaware of, since the big bird was firmly under Yakumo's genjutsu.

The only downside of it was that the rest of them were very much aware that it was raining. Luckily, Yakumo thought, shivering slightly, Kochō-chan's Shikigami had spotted a building, a real castle, a while away.

In fact, just as they rounded the corner she could see the old style castle just behind the trees. It was perched on the raised stone foundation, watching from the added height like some sort of ancient guardian, like those fortress type castles of old that Yakumo saw in old prints in Kurama Ichizoku library.

"Zoinks!" she heard Kochō mutter. "A haunted castle." Just as the words left her friend's mouth, the downpour increased.

Tekuno-sensei looked pensive, and then shrugged. "While I do not recall castles in this area…" Then he smiled. "…at least we won't be wet."

Yakumo made a little noise when the front door opened automatically as they neared them. "Now that was just too creepy," Kochō commented. Then pointedly turning to her newish sensei, she caught the man's attention.

"Ah, sensei."

"Hmm Kochō-chan?"

"If this place is haunted, I want this to be classified as an additional A rank mission," she said, completely deadpan. She vaguely recalled that ghosts did make appearances in Anime. Come to think of it, undead or immortality-seeking appeared to be an actual hobby of every other guy, but mostly Orochimaru. Madara did prolong his life by playing Dr. Frankenstein with cells though. Then there was Aloe Vera man, the Zombie army, etc.

"There are no such things as ghosts, Kochō-chan," Tekuno soothed. "There is no reason to be afraid."

"I'm not afraid of ghosts, Sensei," Kochō replied. "It's just they can be so annoying." Now Naruto was afraid of ghosts, or rather the idea that invisible people were spying on him when he went to the toilet or something.

But Haku felt the need to point out a little detail. "But sensei, you said it yourself, this castle should not exist."

"True." Tekuno nodded. "Well, students, don't let your guard down."

"Hai, sensei."

They slowly entered, passing the entry gates to the entrance hall. Nothing happened…until the front gates slammed shut, making all of them turn and eye the area warily.

Haku hummed while looking around. "There is almost like …" He trailed off.

"The walls…" Kochō and Yakumo breathed, exchanging glances. "I didn't imagine that?" Kochō asked her teammate, eyeing the walls which were walls again, but for a fleeting second the very same walls had taken the appearance of something fleshy.

Yakumo shook her head, stepping carefully. "I think this castle is alive somehow."

"So not haunted," Takumo muttered. Kochō resisted taking that opening, but their sensei continued, "It's probably a summoning animal, like the toads of Jiraiya-sama's. We are inside it now, so we are probably trapped inside since the door shut."

He nodded. "Right, for summoning jutsu of this caliber, you have to break through it by rendering the summoner unconscious, or wait until the summon runs out of chakra, which judging by the size of this one is not very good idea," he lectured while they all moved slowly to the next room.

It was a dining room, with a long table made of polished wood, set with four dinner plates along with eating utensils, not the Japan style either but western, which came as a slight surprise for Kochō since she didn't think that Narutoverse had…wait…summon castle…ghost…. And it was at the tip of her tongue what it could be, but all she got was an image of that weird lizard with Rinengan. But this could not be connected with Pain and Akatsuki, could it?

Why would it?

The food, soup of some kind, was still warm and untouched, like the occupants had just come and sat down late to dinner.

Opposite of the doorway where they had entered the dining room was a hallway. Kochō, Haku and Yakumo peered cautiously and curiously down that hall, while their sensei examined the food on the table.

The hall itself was long and narrow, which restricted their ability to move, with many doors along it.

Kochō nearly broke into a giggling fit when she spotted several armored forms along the length of the corridor. Statues of armored figures and a thought zinged trough her brain of a cartoon she had watched with her cousin before she fell to illness. She will name the next Shikigami she created Scooby Doo, but this was not the time for such thoughts.

They had to get out of this trap they had fallen in to.

"Right," Takumo-sensei said from behind them, startling the three. "We should split up, the three of you will go down this corridor. I'll create a shadow clone to go with you, and I'll attempt to find out if our entrance point is barred."

A shadow clone sprang into existence and accompanied the Genin down the hall. Takumo watched while his students walked carefully. They were a good team and he would definitely nominate them for the Exam that would take place a week from this day.

Then he walked back into the hall.

With the Genin, however, things became more complicated, since apparently the summon had decided that they were a threat or something, since Yakumo, for a moment, had seen through the illusions.

The walls, floor and roof above them were pulsing, heaving and contorting. The floor was no longer solid stone. It raised and twisted. The shadow clone of their sensei was dispelled by what looked like toad tongues that lashed out of the doors that lined that corridor.

Haku summoned some ice needles, sending them to impact the walls. Yakumo yelled when one of the tongues pulled her through the floor somewhere below.

Kochō jumped, throwing arrow-like stilettos she had in her spring-loaded holsters on her wrists, pinning some of the tongues to the walls, then upon descent created a cube like barrier in thin air suspended above the floor, and using its surface like a platform and another as a shield. Just then, Haku's ice shattered, a fleshy tongue pulling the boy trough the door, leaving Kochō alone in the now-restored hallway with no tongue or walls made of flesh.

"Devour…" the voice came from all around. "All who enter will be devoured."

"Try that," Kochō muttered, "and I'll give you heartburn." She carefully jumped down, thinking over her options.

According to her sensei, they were trapped in a summon, so the castle was an illusion, but in the same vein the summon had to somehow be trapped here as well, unable to dispel and return home. The summon needed to dispel.

Now how could she do that?

Well, she would try Naruto and Sasuke's way. When in doubt, move forward. Pulling Yoruno Miyabi out of their sheet, she chanelled her fire chakra, making the blades glow red, and then slashed at the walls, making her own entrance.

The reaction was an instantaneous, hissing sound, and the smell of burnt flesh reached her nose. It was a good thing Kochō thought, when she encountered yet another wall, slashing at it again and creating another opening, that she didn't have a sensitive sense of smell.

Only to hiss in pain when a liquid that started to ooze from the walls and the roof made contact with the exposed skin on her hand.

Acid, huh, she thought. What was suspicious, however, was that the dripping acid was only on this side. Someone or something was making the effort to bar this direction…well, it could be another trap, but then again, what choice did she really have?

It only got worse from there. Everything tried to grab her, the curtains and the tapestry turned into tongues, walls became drenched by acid, and there was smoke coming from somewhere, making breathing difficult.

Then suddenly, everything stopped…and dispersed, revealing that she once again stood at the entrance hall, right below the portrait of a man in samurai armour.

Said man in the armour appeared, only this one had blue light dancing through him, around him, illuminating him…and then the man from the picture walked out.

Kochō shrugged and followed him. Well, the castle might not be real, created by the summon, she thought, but this was definitely a ghost.

She followed him to the top of the stairs right to an elevated dais…and on that dais … a small scroll.

The samurai ghost stopped, turned to Kochō, and bowed. "It has been..." he rasped, the sentences torn, like he was unused to talking. "So long. I am Kubisaki Kōza Daimyō of Kubi no Kuni. This was my castle."

Kochō cocked her head to the side, then mentally shrugged and decided to go with the flow.

"Shunran Kochō, from Konoha. Is this summoning yours?"

The ghost, Kōza, give a short but still formal bow. "Shiromari is loyal. He stood guard over my castle for over fifty years…I asked him to stay…to devour my enemies, and he did so."

Kochō nodded. "But the fight is over, your enemies are gone, and Shiromari won't leave because of the anchor, right?"

"Yes, it has been so long." Walking past the ghost, she picked up the scroll, unrolling it. It was a summoning contract. It was fortunate, however, that she hadn't signed any of those she had relieved Kakuzu off.

She unrolled it more till the name of Kubisaki Kōza, the last in line, showed.

"Return him home," the ghost implored from behind her. Kochō nodded absently, already pulling out a kunai and making a shallow cut across her palm. Then, making a fist and smearing the blood on her fingers, she quickly wrote down her name and then made a palm print at the bottom.

The scrolled pulsed like a beat of the heart, and the bloody letters glowed briefly. Cutting a glance to the now-still ghost, Kochō stood up and rolled the scroll closed.

"Hi, Shiromari, this is Shunran Kochō, your new summoner. Please return to your home and free the people that you have swallowed."

"I hear and obey Kochō-sama," the castle said.

"Thank you, Shiromari." She thanked the summon, before it dispelled in white smoke, leaving Kochō alone on the stone foundation. A night sky above with stars and the moon shining above the ruins of the Kubisaki castle become apparent after the illusions that Shiromari had created.

"At least the rain stopped," she muttered out loud. "Now I'll need to find my team and…stop talking to myself aloud."

Now what would she do with the Butterfly summoning contract that she had at home, but didn't sigh because she was busy getting acclimated to her new Genin team?

Kochō contemplated Aburame Shino. After all, he loved bugs, but then again, perhaps, yes, the other possibility might prove more compatible with that particular contract.

 




To be continued…

Next : Chūnin Exames are HERE!!!

Chapter Text

***Konoha – hospital***

 

At the entrance of the hospital, a full-figured female dressed in a plain light cream frock, a white apron with a name tag written in red that signaled her position as Chief Nurse, with a white short cap. She had brown eyes and dark brown hair neatly pinned at the back of her cap, two strands of hair reached below her shoulder blades and framed her face. Said brown eyes sharpened at the figure of Senju Tsunade, who had just arrived.

 

"Welcome to Konoha, Byōin Senju-sama." The nurse gave a respectful bow. "I am chief of nursing staff of Konoha Byōin. My name is Nanase."

"Call me Tsunade, Nanase-san," was the woman's short reply that brooked no argument.

Nanase blinked. "Very well, Tsunade-sama. Follow me."

"What's the structure of the hospital staff?" Tsunade asked, wondering if anything had changed, and worrying that it hadn't.

"Well," Nanase started, "since it's peacetime, there are a lot more nurses, of which there are four types: Bokenshi is a nursing specialty focused on public health. They assist Iryō-nin with operations, as well as act as medics for civilian injuries. The goals of public health nurses are monitoring the spread of diseases, keeping watch for environmental hazards, educating civilians on how to care for and treat themselves, and train for community disasters."

Tsunade smirked. "Good. Things have improved for the civilian section after the war."

I guess sensei took my advice before I left Konoha to take care of civilians as much as his shinobi, Tsunade thought. "And the other three types?"

"Josan-shi – after the war, the population soared and so did demand for skilled Obstetricians. This is also the reason that they are independent of any organization. A Josan-shi takes care of a pregnant civilian woman or kunoichi with special circumstances during labor and postpartum. They are educated to provide care not only in healthy pregnancies, but surgical and instrumental deliveries in situations which require them as well. They also educate young mothers in child care. To differentiate themselves, Josan-shi wear light green frocks, white aprons and white starched long caps, which cover much of the nurse's hair."

Tsunade nodded. She knew that sometimes pregnant kunoichi had complications – usually female ninjas suffered from uterine rupture or puerperal infections that were caused by their way of living. Not that every pregnancy had those problems. Care for pregnant female jinchūriki and civilian women should not be forgotten either. But Nanase continued with the third type, forestalling Tsunade's musings on pregnancies that she encountered in her life.

"Kankoshi, who often specialize in their field of practice, also assist Josan-shi with pediatric care and in Yamanaka's Psychiatric-mental health program, which was founded by Inoichi-san. They also help Iryō-nin when needed and do administrative work for various fields." Pausing for breath, Nanase continued, "And lastly, Rejisutādonāsu. They provide care for patients in hospitals and private homes, and others in need of their services due to effects of old age or disability. All around, they are labelled as personal care workers in the health services."

Tsunade frowned. "And Iryō-nin? What is their structure? Or I have to check in with the head Iryō-nin?"

"No, that is unnecessary." Nanase smiled sunnily, showing her cheerful personality that Tsunade knew put her patients at ease. "I made it my business to know everything about the hospital staff structure when I started working, so when I was promoted to Chief of Nursing I didn't need to waste my time learning the ropes in hospital politics."

Tsunade smirked. Atta girl, she thought. She had no doubt that Nurses were in good hands as well as the rest of the staff. If she read Nanase right she led the entire hospital staff, even those that didn't know it. Sneaky girl. She should be a shinobi and not a civilian nurse. As if Nanase had read Tsunade thoughts, she grinned at the woman, who returned it in equal measure. They were going to get along just fine.

"Chiryō Butai consists of mostly civilian doctors. Some use chakra and some don't – those that don't are highly trained in surgery, pharmacy, optometry, audiology, speech therapy, psychology, dentistry, podiatry, geriatric medicine, acupuncture, neuropathology or dietetics. They are stationed at the hospital full time." Tsunade hummed. "That is new. Not unwelcome, but new. How did Butai come about?" Nanase blushed in embarrassment.

"Um." She gave Tsunade a sheepish smile. Tsunade's hazelnut brown eyes glittered in amusement, and she give Nanase a 'go on' gesture with her hand. Sighing, the 22-year-old started to explain how the Chiryō Butai had come into being.

 

***Hokage’s office***

 

To say that the Sandaime Hokage was surprised when Naruto and Sasuke showed up – or rather, snuck in – to the Sarutobi Ichizoku compound with a strange old man in tow, was an understatement. The strange man revealed himself to be Uchiha Shisui, who was supposed to be dead by suicide. A very blind Shisui-kun then had a long conversation with his Hokage, while the two genin watched and listened without interruptions.

After Shisui's tale unfolded, Hiruzen forgot that they were even there, along with the fact that he had run out of tobacco for the pipe that he was clenching with his teeth. That his old friend Shimura Danzō had attacked Shisui, and stolen his eye on top of it – the shinobi that could have prevented the coup d'état cooked up by the disgruntled Uchiha elders and Fugaku. Meaning that if Shisui-kun had influenced the ones who were behind the plan, many innocent lives could have been spared, but Danzō had inherited his sensei Tobirama's distrust of Uchiha, just as Hiruzen had inherited Hi no Ishi from Hashirama-sansi. What was more, Orochimaru had implanted Senju Hashirama's cells into Danzō's arm, along with the Sharingan eyes of the fallen – or more appropriately, murdered – on orders backed with manipulations and threats by Danzō himself. Itachi was just as much a victim in this. As for payment, Danzō had enabled Orochimaru to run around unnoticed in Konoha. Orochimaru had also received updates on Konoha's security form their sleeper agents in other countries. Now the question was what should he do? No, he took the question back. He knew what he had to do. Danzō had crossed the line. He was aiding and abetting a known criminal in attacking Konoha, and doing so knowingly. Danzō might even be fooling himself that he was making Konoha strong by doing what he was doing, and Hiruzen might have turned a blind eye in previous years. However, that had ended. He was done doing that. Danzō had become a threat to Konoha, his village, the village that was entrusted to Hiruzen by Senju Tobirama, the Nidaime Hokage. One thing was obvious, however; he was way too old for this shit. So he'd solve the problem named Danzō, and then he'd retire. Hiruzen leaned back in his chair. And now he had another possible candidate for the position.

He smiled.

 

***Konoha’s main gates***

 

Kochō's team had just neared the gates of Konoha. In fact, the two eternal chūnin, Kotetsu and Izumo, were manning the reception desk. Haku frowned when he saw that one of the chūnin was slumped over the table and the other had propped his legs up on the table.

"Don't let it bother you, Haku."

"Kochō?" Rolling her shoulders, the purple-haired girl craned her neck a bit.

"They might appear lazy, but they are not chūnin level for nothing." Then she grinned. "However, they are bored out of their minds. Perhaps I should tell Naruto, hmm?" The last was said deliberately louder, and just as Kochō had expected, there was an instant reaction from Izumo. He appeared before her in a quick shunshin, waving his arms frantically about.

"EHHHH. No nope, no, no, no. There is no need; we are fine here, thank you, Kochō-chan!"

"Hey Izumo," interrupted Tekuno, who had turned around when he felt the familiar chakra presence appear in a shunshin. Then he turned back to the gates and greeted in a louder voice,

"Hey Kotetsu!"

"Tekuno!"

Kotetsu sat straighter from where he had been slumped over the table napping, while Izumo had been keeping half an eye on the entrance. Kochō lightly bumped Haku's shoulder with hers.

"Hence why he heard me and appeared so quickly," she murmured to the slightly taller boy.

Haku's lips twitched in amusement while Yakumo giggled behind her hand.

"Now that was mean, Kochō-chan," grumbled Izumo crossly.

"Hey, you are usually having fun when Naruto is about," replied Kochō defensively, folding her hands.

Izumo adjusted his bandana a bit.

"Why yes, but only when we are not the target."

Yakumo looked from her team mate to the chūnin like she was watching tennis match. "I do not understand. What did Naruto do?" she asked while looking at Haku.

"I don't know, Yakumo-chan," he answered with a puzzled frown between his eyebrows.

"Eh, the little brat pulled a masterful prank on some people. And a couple of chūnin were chasing him …"

"And you two rolled yourself off the roof laughing your asses off, where you were watching the whole thing," Kochō finished, smiling.

"Yep, and we hadn't even told the other chūnin. I think his name was Mizuki or something. He is in jail now anyway, just where the little blonde hellion was hiding."

While Kotetsu was telling Team Tekuno some of Naruto's exploits while he had still been in the Academy, Tekuno was chatting with Kotetsu. "Still sleeping on the job, Kotetsu?" Takuno smiled at his former teammate.

"Anyway, I haven't yet introduced my Genin teammates to my former teammates, have I?" he asked, scratching his cheek in embarrassment. Kotetsu's eyes widened so that they covered half his face.

"Eh? You have a Genin team?"

"Yes."

"Can't believe that?"

He was positively bugged eyed still. Tekuno almost rolled his eyes at his friend's antics.

"Really?" Tekuno grumbled. "What's more unbelievable is that strip of bandage across the bridge of your nose."

"No dishing my rugged looks. The ladies love it."

"Right," Tekuno drawled, while Kotetsu stroke a pose that he probably thought was alluring to the ladies, as he had said. Kotetsu's pose wilted.

"Why such surprised faces?" he grumbled. Then he shot a look at his fellow chūnin, who was having an animated conversation with two of Tekuno's genin and Kochō-chan.

"Nothing. Just…" Tekuno trailed off.

"What?" But instead of answering, Tekuno turned to his genin team and motioned them forward. His team and Izumo did just that without breaking their conversation.

"Like I said…" Tekuno started smiling. "This is my genin team." He put his palm on the only boy in said team. "This is Yuki Haku of Yuki Ichizuku." Then he put both his hands on his female students' heads. "And this is Kurama Yakumo and Shunran Kochō. Team, these two are my teammates from my own genin days, Hagane Kotetsu and Kamizuki Izumo."

 

***Shunran household***

 

"Mom, I'm home!" Kochō yelled from the doorway where she had just put her ninja sandals after giving them a quick clean up. Then she put her house slippers on and entered the kitchen.

"Oh, welcome home Kochō. Did your mission go well?"

"Very well. And mom?"

"Yes, dear?"

"I uh, signed one of the lost Great Summoning contracts, I think?"

"What?"

"Well, one summon was the size of whole castle, so I think it's a Great Summoning Contract, not one of the minor ones. I think?"

Koyuki sat down hard, thinking, first that conversation with Tsunade-hime and now this.

"Which animal, Kochō-chan?"

"Chameleons."

"Oh, who let you sign it?"

"It was a spur of the moment kind of thing." She really did not want to say a ghost had done it. She really did not want to freak her mom more than she already had just now. On the other hand, her mother seemed distracted and she was making more food than usual.

"I found it in a castle that the previous summoner set up as a trap, and to save ourselves from being eaten by said summon I signed it and sent Shiromari, the chameleon, home. Mom, is something going on?"

"My parents and siblings are coming to dinner."

"Oh," Kochō mumbled. She loved her grandparents, she really did, but that was not something that Kura-Ojīchan and Natsu Obāchan did.

"So should I tell Yakumo-chan and Haku-kun that they can't come to dinner today?"

"Ah no, that's not necessary. They are your teammates. Besides, I sent invitations to Hayate-san and Naruto-kun as well."

"This will be one of those formal things, right Hahaoya-sama?"

"Yes." She frowned at her daughter's use of the overly formal title, who just gave her a cheeky grin. Then she returned equal cheek.

"Chōjo-kun."

"Mommmmmmm."

"You started it."

"Nah, grandfather did, and I am your only daughter."

"Not for long."

"What?"

"Well, I'm pregnant. You'll be big sister. Chōnan ane."

"Oh."

After a few seconds, there was another wail from Kochō, along with Koyuki's laughter.

"No but seriously, Ka-chan, I'll be a big sister. Do you know already?"

"No, and I haven't told your Otōsan yet either. Or mine. I'll tell them after dinner, along with other things."

"What other things?"

"Just something that Tsunade-hime pointed out to your grandparents, me and your Otōsan."

At her daughter's worried frown, Koyuki hurried to reassure her eldest child. "It's nothing bad or really urgent. Just something that we were hoping would never come up."

"Is this, whatever it is, something to do with how Uzuki came to Konoha?" Kochō asked, then frowned, remembering. "Because I kind of remember Ojīchan grumbling about old coots of the relatives. But he is the oldest relative that I have in Konoha, so I figured that …" She trailed off.

Koyuki sighed. So much for thinking that her daughter would fail to notice. It was kind of endearing that despite her emerging birthright power, she was very much a kunoichi at heart.

"You are not wrong, and that is all I'll say about this. Now about the contract you signed, when you summon for the first time, it is better if there is another summoner that holds one of the Great Contracts as well."

"Oh? So if Naruto is with me, because he has the Toad Contract, that's all right?"

"Yes, Kochō-chan. That will be all right."

 

***Ame***

 

Meanwhile, on the balcony of one of the tallest buildings in Amegakure, a man stood in a billowing Akatsuki cloak under heavy rain and as ominous thunder sounded.

"Losing Kakuzu was a heavy blow to our plans," he commented to his two companions who stood behind him.

"We lost our treasurer," a woman with a light blue origami flower in her short, straight blue hair, commented in an emotionless voice, her grey eyes half lidded on her pale face. The first man looked at her from the corner of his eye, while thunder illuminated the swirly orange mask with one eye that he wore on his face, spinning tomoe on a red background pinning her in place. Not that it had any effect on Ame no Tenshi. It wasn't the first time that the supposed Madara had given her the Sharingan glare. Itachi-san was more impressive, she thought privately.

"Nevertheless, we won't change our plans," Madara stated.

"I never suggested we should. Pain-sama…" She turned to the other form, a puppet corpse of Yahiko, a sight that always sort of unnerved her. Mostly because she wasn't sure Yahiko himself would approve of what Akatsuki had become, in his name. But Nagato was so sure of their path and she had to, just had to, support him with all her being, her very soul and heart. He was all that she had left.

"A potential replacement for Orochimaru has been found, and like him, he is originally from Konoha."

"Oh?" Tendō turned to her, awaiting the rest. Konan blinked her lidded grey eyes, concealing the slight wistfulness that instead of the purple ripple pattern of the Rinnengan gaze, she met blue eyes under spiky orange hair. And heard his stupid laugh again.

"The nukenin's name is Hiruko. He is a former friend of the Konoha's Densetsu no Sannin."

"And the search for Kakuzu's replacement?" Tendō asked with Yahiko's voice, and so Konan continued to lay down the information she had gathered. She, not Zetsu, because he was currently busy with that Jashin follower, whose personality frankly repulsed her. Yet another she would have to observe quietly, just as she was observing Madara, as to how to defeat them for good if they showed to be a threat to Nagato.

Madara turned away like some sort sullen child. He was always like that, Konan thought, so unlike the other Uchiha she knew. Itachi was always hard to read, Madara not so much. Which made her doubt Madara's identity. And most of all, Itachi-san reminded her so much of Yahiko. Not their personality, no – they could not be more different in that regard. But there was something alike in them that she could not explain. Konan remembered her background check on Uchiha Itachi when he had joined their organization. She was always doing her own checks, independent of the ones Zetsu did. And something about Itachi bothered her, besides that 'something' not being the fact that he had apparently wiped out his entire Clan. No, there was something elusive.

"There is a kunoichi that goes by the name Fūka and is not currently affiliated with anyone; really, I'd hardly call her human, as she is more like Sasori."

"Very well," Tendō intoned. "I'll send members to recruit both shinobi. If they join, Hiruko will receive the ring of Kūdō, since Orochimaru hasn't returned the ring of Kū. And Fūka will get Kakuzu's Hoku ring." That will make their numbers – if the two shinobi joined – nine members. Meaning they would need one more. "Hoshigaki Kisame and Uchiha Itachi's whereabouts?" Tendō asked, turning to Madara. Madara went to the balcony his coat flaring dramatically as the storm raged outside. "Zetsu informs me that they have confirmed the locations of the Ichibi in Suna – I'll give that assignment to Sasori – Nibi and Hachibi in Kumo, the Sanbi will be reforming for three years since we tried to seal it prematurely, the Yonbi and Gobi are somewhere in Iwa – I'll look for our last member from there – and the Rokubi and Nanabi's whereabouts are still unknown. The Kyūbi is sealed in a 12 year old boy in Konoha."

Tendō nodded. "I'll reroute Kisame and Itachi to gather information on the Kyūbi, and apprehend him if possible." Konan give the Deva path a questioning look. "It'll be easier if we imprison the Kyūbi until we need to extract it," Tendō elaborated. Madara gave a short nod and command.

“Do it.” then Madara disappeared in a swirling distortion coming from his exposed eye.

Leaving Konan and Tendō standing alone on the balcony.

 

***Konoha***

 

Naruto was slightly panicking. He and Haku had been invited to a formal dinner at the Shunran family home. The clan was far too small to have a clan head, but Masaru-jisan did have a lot of say in the workings of the clan. It helped that the clan didn't glare at him as much as it did when he came around for the first time. One day the cold eyes were there, then they were replaced by some confused looks and some measuring, and then they started to treat Naruto like any other child. Anyway, the formal dinner meant that he had to pull out that one outfit that unfortunately had no orange. The outfit consisted of trouser wide blue hakama, with a wide white obi with black stitching, and black montsuki kimono adorned with white Uzumaki swirls atop white nagajuban and long white Haori on top. Haku wore a slate gray Karusan-bakama with blue and white obi, and slate grey kimono, but he had forgone a Haori. When Naruto and Haku arrived at the Shunran doorstep, Yakumo was already there, wearing a purple furisode with little white and gold butterflies and pink cherry blossoms. Her brown hair was pulled up in a side bun tied with kazeshini adorned with tiny silver butterflies and leaves, with only a thin strand of hair falling on her left shoulder, framing the side of her face. Haku, fought the urge to laugh at Naruto's expression when Kochō opened the door, her hair in a bun held by hairpins and wearing a pretty two-toned furisode of spring green that faded to a burnished orange weave pattern at the top. On the green bottom and sleeves fluttered tiny purple and orange butterflies between falling red rose petals.

"Hey guys, glad you made it," Kochō greeted them from the doorway, motioning the two boys and the girl inside with her hands.

"Oh, and you guys look great and snazzy. That is a lovely furisode, Yakumo-chan!" Yakumo blushed and hid her smile in her kimono's long sleeve.

"Thank you, Kochō-chan." Naruto blushed, and then rubbed the back of his head. "You too, Kochō-chan."

"Huh, you're just saying that because it has orange aren't you?" She pouted.

Naruto, however, totally panicked and started to fidget and yell. "Ehhh!!! Dattebayo!! Not that orange is not awesome -ttebayoo. Because it is -ttebyoo!" Then he forcibly calmed himself. "I meant that you look pretty, Kochō-chan, no matter if in you are in your ninja outfits or formal gear." Kochō blinked. "Wow …" She paused; she hadn't expected that quick turn from panic to suave.

"Thank you, Naruto."

Naruto smiled. "Well well, Kochō-chan, won't you introduce us to your special friend and teammates?" came a male voice from behind the teens, who turned to face an older couple from the Third Hokage's generation. The man wasn't wearing a kimono, Naruto observed, but some other kind of formal wear. He wore a crimson full length shimmering robe with side slits below the waist revealing black pants. It had wide sleeves trimmed with dark blue embroidery, rendering dragons in gold thread. He also wore his salt-and-pepper hair long, like a Hyūga. The old woman, who had less silver in her dark maroon hair, wore a blue hōmongi, decorated by sakura branches in a full bloom pattern that flowed over the shoulders, seams and sleeves. Kochō nodded.

"Of course, Sofu-sama." Then she pointed in turn. "This is Yuki Haku, Kurama Yakumo and Uzumaki Naruto. Everyone, these are my grandparents, Uzuki Natsunoyo and Gāoguì Kuragarimaru."

 

***Konoha’s hospital***

 

A clicking of high heels was heard on the sterile grey-colored hallways with rows of white doors of Konoha's hospital.

"And here are recovery rooms where heavily injured nin recover after surgeries or chakra exhaustion," a head Iryō joshu named Nanase said, her otherwise cheerful disposition schooled in a mien of professionalism. Tsunade was inspecting the General, and only, hospital of Konoha, seeing if they could spare a medic that could permanently teach Iryō-ninjutsu in the Academy. She had finally convinced her sensei to get her old program started.

That was good.

What wasn't good was that there were far too many Iryō-nin only by name, namely civilians that used chakra to heal and who could rattle off laws she had set up years ago, during war time. And none of them had even the capability to allow them to affect the third clause.

'Only those medic ninja who have mastered the Ninpō Sōzō Saisei — Byakugō no Jutsu and Sōzō Saisei are permitted to discard the above-mentioned laws.'

But perhaps Sasuke, who had already asked to be trained by her as her apprentice, would be able to. And if not, he would at least know the technique just as Shizune did, even if she was unable to use it. Then she would teach the technique to the rest of Sasuke's friends – after all, Naruto and Kochō could use it as well. There was also potential in those Haku and Haruno kids, but Haruno was already slated to be Mitarashi Anko's apprentice. Thinking about the brats, her thoughts went to the fight with Kakuzu that she had participated in, and her sequent discovery that one of Kakashi's brats had unknowingly used Seishinryoku. As a result of that, Tsunade had had a long talk with Kochō's parents and grandparents. And after a long debate, they had agreed with her plan of action. So she had written a message to Oni no Kuni Takai nisō of the emergence of a Seishin user in the ranks of Konoha shinobi who needed instruction. It had taken a lot of assurances on Tsunade's part that she personally knew Miroku well. And Tsunade's knowledge of that great old emotional wound that Miroku's great grandmother had inflicted by banishing her grandson because he had fallen in love with and, worse in the eyes of Oni court, married a kunoichi from Hoshigakure no Sato. Not that Hasuhime, the previous Oni no Kuni court Huánghòu, had wanted one of her twin sons banished from the country. No, it was all politics. During old Huánghòu Hasuhime's time, when she ruled, if the current ruler didn't have a daughter to inherit the power and the title, the son, or twin sons as the case was, had to marry miko of highest ability. Chakra wielders or kunoichi were out of the question. However, now that Miroku, the daughter of the twin brother, ruled Oni no Kuni, things were a bit different.

Besides, the courtiers of the country didn't need to know that Shunran Kochō and Miroku's daughter, Shion, were second cousins. The Senju medic also warned Shunran Ichizoku that if steps were not taken to help their daughter control Seishin-ryoku, which would only grow stronger, that very rare power would end up harming her. This was confirmed by the girl's maternal grandfather, and so a messenger hawk was sent to Head priestess Huang-Yuèguāng Miroku.

 

***Sky above Konoha – training grounds***

 

As Tsunade tuned back to the Head Nurse, the scroll was being carried by Jinsoku, a messenger hawk. He was one of the few messenger hawks that could use wind chakra, and thus was a very fast flyer. It was beautiful day for the young raptor bird. Songbirds were chirping and the sun was shining through the leaves. Maito Gai and his student, the greatest fan of youth that Gai had the pleasure to teach – Rock Lee.

"Yosh, Lee. I have decided to grant my youthful student a youthful opportunity."

"Gai sensei!"

"Lee!"

"Gai sensei!"

And with quick beats of his wings, Jinsoku left that madness behind.

"Did you see that youthful hawk? Such speed!"

"Yes Gai-sensei! Let us run so that we may be as youthfully fast as that youthful hawk." Then Gai paused. "Lee, before we do that, I think it's time, my youthful student." Lee fell to his knees and pulled out writing pad and a pen, patiently awaiting his sensei's wisdom.

"As you know," Gai started, "my hip and eternal rival Kakashi has a summoning contract."

"Hai, Gai-sensei!" Lee nodded, while furiously scribbling Gai's words on his pad. "Originally I wanted to wait …" Gai trailed off, and then gave his student thumbs up and a blinding smile. "But you, Lee, are at the peak of your YOUTHHHHH!"

Here he teared up a little, along with Lee. "Gai-sensei!!"

"And so, sign this, Lee." Lee's already big round eyes went positively bug-eyed.

"This is..." Gai rubbed his eyes.

"Yes, Lee. It is a Ningame summoning contract."

Lee started to bawl happy tears, but he did sign the contract and pressed the bloody palm print on the scroll.

"Right, now the hand signs are Boar → Dog → Bird → Monkey → Ram." As he talked, Gai went through the hand signs, bit his thumb and slapped his hand to the ground. "Kuchiyose no Jutsu!"

But before Lee could try it, Idate ran into the clearing, "Gai-sensei, Lee, our team has a mission. C-rank escort from Mitsu no Kuni to Konaha. We need to get to the Assignment desk to receive our mission scroll."

"Yosh, I'll go grab Neji at the Hyūga compound. You two go to the Hokage's tower, and we'll do this mission quickly because I want to nominate my team for the Chūnin Exam." "Right, if we don't get there before you I'll do two thousand push-ups!" Lee exclaimed, while Idate sighed.

"You two do that." Gai sensei nodded, and Idate wilted.

 

***Shunran household***

 

Meanwhile the family dinner at the Shunran household was nearing its end. At least, as far as eating was concerned. "Kochō." Kuragarimaru interrupted his granddaughter's explanation to her friends about her summoning contract and how she would need the Uzumaki's help with it, but he really needed to tell the kids, even if the three additional ones were not related, since this did impact them as well. When he saw that all the teens had their attention on him, he continued. "And other assorted gakis at the table. Now is the time for a history lesson."

Cue the groaning and whining from the Uzumaki brat. Really, personality-wise even the slowest person should be able to figure out just to whom he was related to before even hearing the boy's verbal tic or family name. He still chuckled at the stupefied look his son-in-law had worn when he came out of the Hokage tower all that time ago. After that, Naruto was around more often, much to the Shunran civilian populace's irritation. To have some fun time, Kuragarimaru took it into his own hands to correct that. Since his son in law, Masaru, was too stupefied to shut the idiots down, he got the Yondaime Hokage's picture and started to yell 'Dattebanee!".

When asked why he was doing that, he answered, 'I am impersonating Uzumaki Naruto.' The silence that followed was deafening. Also, the people present had those entertaining expressions when they figured it out. Fun times. "Now, I am from Oni no Kuni, my wife is from Hoshigakure no Sato, and by Oni court law we are not even married." Taking in the round eyes on the small faces, he resisted the urge to cackle. Oh yeah, this would be fun.

 

***Tori no Kuni***

 

At the border of Tori no Kuni, a man stood overlooking a tranquil settlement where the daimyō Ōwashi ruled his lands. He was here, under the pretext of trade, he had travelled to this land with his servants, guards and his only daughter. They all were being entertained by the Tori damiyō and his twin children Saki and Toki, who were the same age as Karen, his daughter. But in reality his reason was information her received from his contacts: a clan of wandering Watari shinobi were hiding here.

Alamond shaped dark yellow eyes narrowed, "Hello, Hōki," he intoned when he sensed a presence behind him. Turning around slightly to behold the shinobi behind him made his messy layered black hair, pulled in a messy bun, sway with his movement. Hōki was, if you took the facial paint away, a pretty plain-looking man compared to his companion. He had an oval face with a bit of brown beard, short brown hair, and plain looking features. Even his ninja outfit was plain and forgettable.

"It doesn't matter who you are, stranger," Hōki said, "but you discovered something that doesn't concern you. Die! Katon: Gōkakyū no Jutsu!" With that, he expelled a massive orb of roaring fire from his mouth that barreled toward the black clad, black haired man. Yellow eyes narrowed at the fireball with masked contempt. "Futile," muttered the man, then drew his sword and repelled the fire technique with a swing of the blade. "I didn't come here to waste time fighting." He then sheathed his sword, his narrowed yellow eyes never leaving the now-surprised shinobi before him.

"My name is Hachimitsu Akuzetsu." He introduced himself, and then the corner of his lips twitched at the irony of his words. "And I am in need of the skills of you and your two companions, Hokushin and Nagare."

Hōki straightened. "Hachimitsu?" He muttered. Then his eyes widened, trailing over the black outfit. Sure enough, the man was wearing a black hanbok and not a kimono, but what drew the leader of Watari ninja was a hair stick in the man's hair, a Rose Gold Bee Binyeo secured in the messy bun. How could he have missed that, when it shined in contrast to the man's dark hair?

This bineyo, everyone in the outer countries knew what it meant; it proclaimed the man as a son of the current Hachimitsu Matriarch. What was more surprising, though, was that the man lacked the typical gold and silver stitch patterns on his black hanbok. In fact, he was sure the hanbok consisted of dark sleeves. This man just wore a long open black vest – a jokki is what they called them – and nothing underneath.

"From the Hachimisu Ichizuku of Mitsu no Kuni?" Hōki asked to confirm his thoughts.

"Obviously," confirmed Akuzetsu. "In exchange, and compensation, because you'll have to disengage from the scam that you are running here, I offer the position of Mitsukage to you as well as ten million ryo as payment."

"I see," muttered Hōki. This was tempting since he and his two partners were getting tired of wandering. Besides, Hachimitsu were all very rich, and with the money they could set themselves as damiyōs far richer than Ōwashi, damiyō of Tori no Kuni.

"I'll have to meet with my two companions to discuss this development," Hōki said, though he could feel Nadare's chakra in the ground. They still needed to meet and discuss it. Akuzetsu nodded.

"That is fine. I'll be at the Tori palace, you can contact me there."

And with that, he disappeared in a black smoke shunshin.

"Nagare," Said Hōki, and suddenly a shape separated from the rock formation, its texture no different than the stone from which that human shape emerged. As marbled chunks started to fall, it revealed the tan skin of a large broad man. Everything about his shape was square and broad. He had a broad and square face under the black hair, tiny black eyes, a square and wide nose under a very weird square hat that was tied under his chin. Even his clothes only enhanced his broadness. "You heard?" he asked the newly-revealed man, Nagare. Nagare give a short nod.

"Yes." His voice was gravelly, like pebbles rubbing on each other.

Hōki cupped his chin, thinking. On the one hand, they hadn't yet put their third plan of getting close to Damiyō of this land in action, to poison him and his son Saki so they could take over the land.

"Well then, I suppose it could not hurt. We can always return later, richer."

"Yes," Nagare agreed.

"I'll inform Hokushin."

"There is no need," a voice said.

The men turned around to see the third member in charge of wandering ninja Hokushin. As much as his companion Nagare and leader Hōki were plain and unremarkable looking, Hokushin's shoulder length, pale sky blue hair framing a delicately handsome face with black eyes, made for a striking appearance.

"So…" Hokushin shot a sly look at his leader "What was the third-born son of the Hachimitsu matriarch doing here?"

"You know something we don't?" Nagare asked, looking at his partner. He was always like this, so dramatic.

"Now that you mention it, yes I do."

While the Watari ninja were discussing their possible client, Akuzetsu arrived back at the palace gardens, where his daughter was having tea with Toki and Saki in the pavilion. In Akuzetsu's opinion, the Hanbok that his daughter Karen wore was far more practical and appealing than the jūnihitoe that Toki-hime was wearing.

Karen was always pretentious when it came to her looks. She made sure her hair was neatly braided and that the hair extensions augmented into her hair looked natural so that they could neatly hold her gold honeycomb binyeo with the pink, green and yellow gems. He had an idea that the tomboyish woman, Toki, regularly switched with her twin brother when it came to martial arts. He wasn't blind to it, but sometimes he wished Karen was more into training like Toki, and less into her looks.

Sometimes he really wished his wife would give him a son, someone to follow in his footsteps and perhaps set up with Toki-hime. This Toki-hime, he would have liked to welcome her into the family, as a daughter of course. Now if he had a son, she'd make a perfect daughter-in-law. He just knew it, something about Toki-hime when she was angry reminded him a little of Mi-hi.

 

***Konoha’s training grounds***

 

Four days after the dinner and history of Kochō-chan's jiji's revelation, Naruto was sitting with his former teammate, showing her how to summon. "See, bite your thumb like this, do hand signs…" With that, he ran through the seals, naming each and every one of them, while Kochō mirrored his actions. "Boar → Dog → Bird → Monkey → Ram!" And then both teens slammed their bloody palms to the ground, kanji spreading outward in web like patterns.

"Kuchiyose no Jutsu!" Two puffs of smoke appeared, and when they cleared, there was a horse-sized green toad with black spots, wearing the necklace with kanji for 'Ryōji'.

"Oh, hello Naruto."

"Hi Amachan –ttebayoo!"

While the toad and her summoner were greeting each other, the chameleon summon was observing Kochō, as much as she was observing the lizard, which was of typical chameleon shape but the size of a cat.

"So you are our new summoner," the chameleon said. "I must say, you are not formidable."

Kochō snorted. She couldn't help herself. She…he…whatever sex the lizard was, sounded so, so prissy, like that golden robot from that Star Wars movie, with the name she forgot. The chameleon cocked its head, its eyes observing the girl who was holding back laughter for whatever reason, but there was no malice coming from the girl and it appeared that their new summoner was on friendly terms with summoner of the Toads. Interesting, perhaps, but no, she still needed to be observed to see if she was worthy of their loyalty.

"So, ehm, what's your name?" Kochō asked when she had managed to control herself.

"Seihai."

"Pleased to meet you, Seihai." Kochō's lips twitched, then she frowned. After all, Kubisaki had wanted his personal summon to get home. Now what was its name … "Is," she started, hoping she'd remembered the name correctly, "Shiromari all right?"

Seihai's mouth dropped open in surprise. How did she know that name? In her surprise she asked that question out loud, and only realized that when Kochō answered. "From Kubisaki Kōza-kyou." She purposely added a very archaic honorific to the name, since Kubisaki was some sort of Lord, or was he a warrior type of damiyō?

"It was he who led me to the summoning contract. He said his last wish before his spirit, his soul moved on, was to send Shiromari home."

"Eh!!!!! Soul–ttebayoo!" squeaked Naruto, wide eyed.

"Well, yes. Kubisaki-kyou was dead for decades." Then she sighed. "Seriously Naruto, what is your problem with lost souls?"

Naruto tilted his head curiously. "Lost souls?"

"Ghosts," deadpanned Kochō. "Don't be scared."

"Who is scared dattabayoo." Naruto jumped to his feet. "Er, he is gone now, right?"

"Yes, Naruto." Then she turned to the amphibians and a lizard. "Ah, anyway Naruto, this is Seihai. Seihai-san, this is Uzumaki Naruto and..." She trailed off, not knowing the toad's name, but Naruto seamlessly continued.

"Amachan."

Seihai blinked. Now that was surprising. It appeared that their contract scroll was not signed because it had somehow been stolen. Well, that changed things.

"Kochō-sama." She called Kochō's attention to her, but the girl showed no reaction to her using the honorific. Curious, in a good way.

"I need to report my findings to Tokageroiyaru-heika. Please summon me again in an hour."

Kochō checked the position of the sun and then nodded, and Seihai disappeared in chakra smoke.

"Well, that went well," said Naruto, and then thanked Amachan, who smiled and puffed back to Mount Myōboku.

"Now I need to figure out to whom I should give the Butterfly summoning Contract," muttered Kochō, rubbing her hand tiredly across her eyes.

"My first thought was Shino, but I am unsure since I wanted to give the Snow Leopard Contract to Hinata."

"You could give it to Ino," suggested Naruto.

"Not that I'd mind, but why not Choji? After all, there is some sort of connection between the Akimichi clan and butterflies."

 

***Yamakaka’s flower shop – ‘Yamanaka Hana’***

 

Ino was watching over ‘Yamanaka Hana’ the shop her clan ran in the village. Now, while this was not the only flower shop in Konoha, it was by far the biggest with the largest pick of flowers and plants. But today was slow day, and she was absentmindedly flipping through a magazine when the doorbell chimed, signaling that a customer had entered the shop. "Welcome, Kokyaku-sama!" she greeted with a smile.

"Ah, it's you. Hi!" she said, slumping back to normal.

"Hi, Ino," greeted Kochō. Then she pulled a scroll from somewhere and gave it to her.

"What is this?" asked Ino, looking over the scroll.

"A scroll." Kochō smiled, earning an annoyed look from the platinum blonde.

"I can see that," She griped, and then started to unroll it. Kochō giggled when Ino's one visible eye widened and her mouth dropped open.

"Careful, Ino-chan, you'll catch flies."

"This is…" Ino stared at the now-open scroll, opening and closing her mouth and making some squeaky noises.

"Well," drawled the purple haired girl, her eyes darkening to amber color in mirth at her usually outspoken friend. "This is the first time something's rendered you completely speechless."

"A summoning contract?" squawked Ino, like some of those squeak toys that Inuzuka puppies were so fond of chewing.

Kochō giggled. "She talks!" she snarked.

"Why?"

"Why I am giving it to you?" Ino nodded, still staring at the scroll.

"Yamanaka Ino," she said sharply, and sure enough the pupil-ess green eyes snapped up to her golden ones. Then she grinned. "Meet Hisui." And with that a bright green little lizard with big red eyes, no bigger than Ino's earlobe, blinked into existence on Kochō's shoulder. Its mouth stretched in a smile that somehow managed to look cute, and it waved with its front foot.

"He is my Kyōhan." She smiled. Who would have thought that Chameleons operated differently from Toads, Slugs and Snake Summons? Kyōhan was sort of a familiar, a companion or as she put it to Hisui, partner in crime. That had made the little lizard laugh so hard that he had fallen over, and that was about the only sound he made. But his expressions and gestures spoke volumes. He could also summon others if she was unable to for whatever reason. "I signed the Chameleon Summoning contract a while ago, but I also found two others, and butterflies fit you."

"Okay, okay, geez, Kochō-chan, don't you need to breathe?" Ino smiled. "But thank you."

"You're welcome." "I am signing it now," Ino said, determined, drawing blood with a kunai and signing the contract. "Now what?" "Now you do the following signs …" Kochō instructed, showing and naming them, while Ino ran through them and then … Ino slapped her palm on the table and, "-no Jutsu!" There was a puff of smoke and a dark, vivacious brown butterfly the size of a plate appeared.

"Yo!" it waved with its antennae.

"Hi," Ino replied. "I'm Yamanaka Ino." "I'm Bara! Looking forward with working with ya! Give us a call when needed! Need to tell the swarms that we have a summoner! Bye!" And with that the insect disappeared. "Well, that went well." And after that successful summoning, both girls went in search of Hinata.

 

***Mitsu no Kuni***

 

Team Gai arrived in Mitsu no Kuni and were currently sitting before the Hachimitsu matriarch, who was decked out in a very formal Hanbok. Her dark red dangui jeogori shirt had white embroidered sleeves decorated in gold leaves. Her chima skirt was a dark black with the same gold leaves embroidered on the hems. Her golden brown hair, shot with silver strands, was held back in a large intricate bun with Gold Amber Honey Dipper Binyeo keeping the hair styled together. On top of her head she wore a gold flower pronouncing her closeness to the previous Matriarch. Beside Kisaki-mama sat a petite girl dressed in silk navy blue chima with gold flowers lining the hems. Her jeogori shirt was silk, soft light pink with gold on the sleeve cuffs. Her curious round honey-colored eyes on her fair oval shaped face searched the faces of Konoha's ninja, stopping over and over again at Morino Idate, like she could not believe he was there. Her name was Hachimitsu Hachiko, with hair of similar color to the matriarch, only hers was braided and tied off with a navy ribbon with gold designs. Atop her head she wore a headband tiara with gold flowers, honeycomb pieces with glittering amber gems and pearls, proclaiming her an heiress to Hachimitsu Ichizuku.

"So it is agreed upon," Kisaki mama said, watching the shinobi before her. "Yes, we'll do our utmost best to escort the Hachimitsu clan to their Konoha compound."

"Yes." They stood up. "Preparations for travel are complete. We can leave at once." Kisaki mama and her heiress turned and left the room.

"Yosh, we'll arrive in Konoha in three days," Gai-sensei exclaimed. Idate agreed with that assessment. After all, while they, ninja, could travel from Konoha to here in a couple of hours, civilians needed from two to three days to travel the path from Mitsu no kuni to Konoha.

 

***Oni no Kuni – Central Lotus-Jade Palace***

 

Pale pupils in lavender eyes were observing the palace guard doing drills in the courtyard. It was funny how she was a ruler, a priestess, but she was watching men and women warriors with various long and short swords, polearms, various chains and beaded weapons, projectile weapons from bow and arrow to Huǒchòng to various types of crossbows.

"Takai nisō," came a voice from behind. "Nǚshì Suisei is here."

"Let her in."

Dark purple silk rustled, and the woman turned away from the court and warriors at practice, walking to her room. A servant girl went to let Traveling Miko in, then left them alone. As soon as the door quietly closed, Nǚshì Suisei formally addressed the High Priestess and Empress of Oni no Kuni.

"Huang-Yuèguāng Miroku," she intoned, giving a formal bow, kneeling on one knee, right hand on top of the left so her clasped hands reaching forward, eyes lowered and head bowed.

Miroku just inclined her head. "Did your travels go well, Nǚshì?"

"Yes, I resided in Mitsu no Kuni with my Xuétú Hachimitsu Hachiko."

"Good, good."

She sat down on an ornate chair made of Purplewood, while Suisei stood up and took a seat across Miroku, and finally the two women could regard one another.

Miroku was wearing a full-length hanfu made from dark purple silk that appeared black, a cross collar tied to the right so that her snow white under garment was visible, the hems and wide long sleeves with wide cuffs that were decorated with flying dragons and bellflowers in golden thread. Her hanfu was tied with a white and gold sash. She wore her light brown hair loose. In contrast, Lady Suisei wore her traditional dress of Traveling Miko, a white hitoe with wide red sode-kukuri through the sleeves and open shoulders were attached to each lapel and tied in front to keep the garment closed, along with a bright crimson nagabakama with slits on the side. Her dark sapphire eyes were striking under her long, snow white hair, which was tied back in a low ponytail with a red ribbon.

"It's been years since we last saw each other, Suisei, ever since we were both novices at the Tàiyáng yuèliàng shéndiàn."

"Yes, well, I've been traveling. I live on borrowed time. That is one of the reasons why I came to see you."

Miroku was startled. Suisei, as a Miko, even not born with Seishinryoku like Miroku was, had a longer lifespan than normal women would have. Granted, she'd had a run in with the rogue Sanin years ago and had been run through with his sword, Kusanagi no Tsurugi. The only thing that had saved Lady Suisei then was the quick thinking of Kuroyama Duelo. In fact, Suisei taking on his daughter as an apprentice was partly her way of thanking him for saving her life. That, and together they took Kaguya no Hana, or Mūnfurawā, away from him. What happened to that rare, or rather nearly extinct, flower Miroku did not know. For Suisei to live on borrowed time, however, that meant that her summons were helping their mistress extend her life by collecting their remaining chakra in her dying body. There were couple of reasons for this to happen, sealing with one's life force. The same type of sealing that Miroku herself had used only a month ago on Mōryō and his Yūreigun.

"The being I sealed," Suisei interrupted her friend and High Priestess, "will stay sealed for four years, and then it will have to be defeated."

She heaved a heavy sigh, regretting her inability to seal Genryū completely.

"Because it will be impossible to reseal it."

Not that she had tried, but running and hiding before Otogakure no Shinobi Yonin Shū, plus the lone survivor of Kaguya Ichizuku, was not an easy task. Miroku nodded, and then Suisei sharpened to attention when she glimpsed the familiar starlight kaleidoscope pattern swirling in her now wide-open amethyst eyes. "It will happen in Konoha at the end of Chūnin Senbatsu Shiken, perhaps days after."

"I figured as much. Thank you for confirming it," Lady Suisei said, her eyes glinting like diamonds. "You do know it's not written in stone."

"I am aware, but … Yǒudú mányú," she spat the insult about the man who had sent those shinobi after her. "He has discovered me and I cannot escape him alive, but I will make sure that my summons will be ready one final time. All my spiritual power, chakra and all my knowledge and experience will be planted in Hachiko." Miroku shook her head, aware that there was some force after Seishinryoku and Seishinjutsu users, but they were not aware that there were and how to attain other users. It was unfortunate that they had found what they were searching for in her closest friend.

"As for Genryū," Miroku continued calmly, "he will be defeated. Or should I say all its power tamed in Kono Yo no Kyūseishu hands."

Traveling Miko hmmed in thought. "That means that the Great Conflict between Transmigrates of Ōtsutsuki is fast approaching."

"That and I received a letter from Senju Tsunade." Miroku smiled. "It appears my niece was born with the power of Seishinryoku. I'll hire shinobi from Hoshigakure no Sato to escort you and Nǚshì Shinjuko to Konohagakure and participate in the Chūnin Exams."

"I am assuming that Nǚshì Shinjuko will collect your niece?"

"That is correct." Miroku smiled again at the thought. "I am glad that my daughter Shion will have a cousin her age studying with her, even if Kochō will return to Konoha, once her study is complete."

 

***Two days later - Konoha***

 

To Chūnin Exam – 4 days

They had finally arrived in Konoha.

They arrived along with Kusa, Ame, Taki, Tsuki, Tanigakure, Getsu and couple of other smaller villages. Like Tsuchigumo village. Long ebony straight hair that almost was moving in a gentle breeze,the tall form of the girl stood still as stone. Large doe eyes were watching Kabuto, her round face devoid of emotion. She knew what she was supposed to do, as well as how lucky she had been till now. But then again, snakes did not notice ants, as her father used to say. He was dead now; he had died when Jūgo went on one of his rampages. Unfortunately, Kimimaro was in an artificial coma and he had not been able to stop their friend. She did have suspicions that Kabuto had made his illness worse than it was on purpose. She flittered her eyes around. Yeah, Zaku and Dosu were her teammates, but they were definitely not her friends. But they were loyal to Orochimaru-sama. Just as she was loyal to the Sanin she respected, despite his rather disgusting tendencies and girly giggling. But she had decided to carry on her father's work, and so she was here.

Watching and waiting.

For a chance. And now that chance had come.

Her team was in Konoha. The sanin had given her instructions, and she would follow it. And for good or for ill, she would succeed. After all, this would be her last mission as an Oto nin.

 

**To Chūnin Exam – 3 day**

 

They were holed up in Uzumaki Ichizoku no Nōmendō, their latest meeting place. The meeting was mostly to discuss the upcoming Chūnin Exams, since all the Rookie Konoha Genin were going to participate; their sensei had given them application forms to sign after all. Currently the girls were discussing how Sakura should wear her hair, since she did not want to cut it and wearing her Hitai-ate as a hairband was becoming impractical, as her hair tended to get caught by her opponents. In fact, Kiba and Akamaru usually went directly for Sakura's pink hair whenever they sparred. She did beat the boy to a paste every time, but it was still annoying. In the end it was decided that she would braid her hair in a fishtail braid, and tie her forehead protector as an armband, similar to Shikamaru. While the boys were teasing Sasuke for being almost mobbed by his fan girls, who had followed him like lost little harpies. Ino smiled and then slanted a look at Kochō, who at the moment had her hair twisted up in a chignon that was secured with Kushi with a blue and red rose motif.

"How about you, Kochō-chan? Will you ever decide on a hairstyle or clothes?"

"Nope, why do you think I wear my Hitai-ate on my right hip tied to a sash or obi or belt?" mused Kochō, and then she smirked. "And when will you stop wearing your hair in that boring ponytail?" "Hey, I'll have you know," Ino retorted, flipping her aforementioned hair, "I look fabulous." "Fabulously boring, you mean." The look that Ino gave Kochō made Hinata giggle and then blush scarlet when she noticed that Naruto was leaning over her …

"Gah! Hinata!"

"Oh boy," groaned Kiba, face palming. "Here we go again." Then he started to laugh when Naruto panicked about his team mate's health.

"Stop spazzing, Usuratonkachi," Sasuke hissed, and bopped Naruto's crown.

"That hurt, Teme!" Naruto pouted while rubbing his aching head. "And I only wanted to say that Kochō-chan has pretty hair. Dattebayo." He grumbled under his breath, only to receive another bop to the head from the irritable Uchiha. The boys of team seven were having their usual bonding moment, much to Kochō's amusement. "I sure missed this entertainment," she muttered to Sakura, who covered her mouth to stifle her giggles. Ino was rolling her eyes while pulling the Hyūga heiress away and applying a wet handkerchief to her forehead. Akamaru yipped with concern by Hinata's legs.

"Hinata?" Ino asked when Hinata woke up, still blushing.

"I-I'm f-fine Ino-chan."

"Can you re-join the meeting?" Hinata tapped her fingers together and nodded shyly.

Naruto exchanged a short look with Sasuke, communication zipping between the two boys like lightning.

"Anyway, fashion aside," Sasuke started, while giving a sidelong glance to Kochō, who just smirked at him and winked.

"Does anybody know anything about exams –ttebayo? And what of the competition?" he looked around. "While playing with Konohamaru corps, we met with some Suna nin. Well, Kono ran in to them. They are apparently the Kazekage's kids."

Haku nodded, noting it down on the pad of paper.

"So this is the fifth team from Suna, two from Kusa, oh and Kochō says that the redhead girl there, Karin, is an Uzumaki, so perhaps you should check that out?" Naruto nodded. "Right. Ah, there was also a team spying on us in the trees." Sasuke smirked. "Yeah, they had headbands with a music note symbol." "T- there were also two teams from Taki," Hinata said timidly. Ino nodded while Haku wrote it down.

"My father and I," intoned Shino, "ran into an Ame team, as well as Tsuki."

"So, what do we know about the exams themselves?" Yakumo asked.

"Iruka-sensei took two times to pass," Naruto said. "Kakashi sensei had a field promotion."

"That was when he became a jōnin." Sasuke shot into the discussion. "Besides, when sensei was a genin, it was war time, so things were different." Then he grunted when Kiba elbowed him in the ribs.

"Hana-nee mentioned multiple rounds," Kiba said, grinning at the Uchiha death glare. "I think we should focus on those who got promoted in Konoha. Hinata?"

"First exam is to test the mind, second is body and third is tournament," Hinata replied.

Kochō looked at Sasuke then. "Maybe we should tell them the rest now." Sasuke nodded. "There is something you all should know. Orochimaru wants to get the Sharingan."

"But you haven't awakened it yet, right?" asked Ino, recognizing the name.

Sasuke shoulders lifted in careless shrug. "No, but I don't think that'll matter."

Shino adjusted his glasses. "Does the Hokage know?"

"Yes, but he can't cancel the exams, and there is another party just as interested in what I'm up to, and that probably goes double for Naruto," said Sasuke, glancing at Naruto and then at Kochō. After all, she knew just who he was referring to, probably better than he and Naruto would. After all, she was the one who had managed to rescue his cousin Uchiha Shisui, even if that had been an accident. Shino, Shikamaru, Kochō and Ino gave short nods, while Sakura looked confused at the conversation. Hinata was quite as usual, what was unusual was how Kiba kept his mouth shut, not commenting a thing ever since they had stepped foot into the Uzumaki shrine. But it was Shino's one word that made the boy pause.

"Danzō," said the bug-user flatly. Now as logical as the Aburames were and a polite boy at that, there was a slight undercurrent of disrespect and quiet fury in that one word. In addition to that, Shikamaru looked more alert and even Ino was looking like she had just stepped on something particularly vile.

"You know?" Kochō asked, surprised. And then there was a memory, vague as it were, of a bug user with purple skin, but that didn't explain Shikamaru or Ino's reactions. Shikamaru shrugged his slow, agonizingly slow lift of his shoulders, but his gaze was sharp.

"It was a guess. Oya-jii kept dropping cryptic hints about one of the elders being troublesome and that I should stay away from him and not catch his attention."

Ino nodded. "Tou-san is the same. He believes an older cousin's disappearance, one who was becoming known as prodigious in his use of Shintenshin no Jutsu, is that man's fault."

Shino nodded. "He tried to recruit me. Why? Because I have a capacity, but my father was against it." Shino adjusted his glasses, and then continued. "Why? That is because the heir of the Aburame clan was not to be recruited in any of the ANBU divisions. But then Danzō decided on my cousin, Tourune, since his uncontrolled ability prevented him from living normally in the Aburame compound."

"Hn, there is more to that bastard," Sasuke spat. "Those are just abductions, but there is another atrocity on the long list of them, and not really what we are here for."

"Besides, Danzō is long gone for the time being," stated Kochō. "His view of things is so outdated that it's extinct."

Naruto nodded. "That's right ttebayo, this village was founded by m – Hashirama – for the purpose of making the lives of its ninja better, to make a safe place for kids, the entire point ttebayoo. How Danzo – teme, could possibly go from there to the idea that ninjas exist for the sake of the village. Dattebayoo! "The last was shouted in frustration as Naruto ran out of words to express exactly what he felt about this.

"Back to your question, Sasuke," Shikamaru interrupted. "You want us to help Naruto with the academic angle of shinobi life. Why?"

"Not that we don't want to help," Ino stated, "but how come you do not know this?" She turned to Naruto. The boy in question looked away, frowning. Sakura wanted to ask the same. While she hadn't liked the blond and her parents had warned her that he was a dangerous delinquent, he was a good teammate, surprisingly. Sasuke gave them a sharp look. "You should know the reason for that by now. You've all seen how many civilians in the village treat Naruto." Sakura nodded. She knew that Naruto had played many a prank on the village, and as result at being so poorly behaved and a hooligan he had been thrown out of respected shops. But Sasuke added the solemn atmosphere that had settled on the group of Konoha Rookie Genin.

"Like an outcast, criminal. They still call him names…monster, fox brat and demon." Kochō was looking at her teammates – Haku looked sad and Yakumo looked horrified. No doubt her teammates were drawing parallels with their life experiences, and then her gaze landed on Shikamaru, who was massaging his temples. Deciding to add fuel to Sasuke's fire, her quiet voice carried over to the group. "When is Naruto's birthday?"

"Goodness," Ino whispered, horrified, her hand covering her mouth. "Naruto is the holder of the Kyūbi, like Gaara is the holder of the Ichibi."

"Jinchūriki-power of the human sacrifice," Kochō stated, her voice flat. "In the olden days, ninjas were regarded as tools, weapons for their village and Jinchūriki were supposed to be the ace in the hole, human weapons meant to be used." She clenched her hands into fists hard enough to draw blood. "But thinking like that is flawed. Ninjas are human, Jinchūriki are human. They have hopes and dreams of their own. These so called sacrifices should be heroes, not pariahs."

"Kochō-chan." Naruto voice was soft and slightly reproachful when he grabbed her still-clenched hands, a soft blue glow coating his hand, and she started at the cold of healing chakra closing eight crescent wounds on her palms.

Shikamaru was frowning. "It is much worse than that, isn't it?" he said flatly.

Hinata was openly crying, while Kiba was growling threat after threat under his breath and Shino, Shino was quiet. Ino and Yakumo looked horrified, while Sakura was looking on with wide-eyed horror, torn between sympathy and the slight betrayal she felt. Haku laid a hand on Naruto's shoulder, offering his silent support, while Chōji, good old Chōji offered Naruto a whole bag of chips.

"How can it be worse, Shikamaru," Ino demanded, "than our entire village treating a guy who was nothing but good friend to us and didn't hurt anyone, except bullies, and keeping the Kyūbi from harming the village again, like trash?"

"Ino, guys, who was the only other person in Konoha that had Naruto's golden blond hair and cobalt eyes?"

Ino's eyes widened.

"And gravity-defying spikes. Gaara is the son of the Kazekage…" she said.

But Shikamaru continued grimly, like a force of nature that could not be stopped. Sasuke was smirking as he observed the expressions of his classmates when realization started to dawn. Even before Shikamaru finished speaking, delivering the truth to them. "Naruto is the son of the Yondaime Hokage. Our village has been treating the son of a man they worship as an unparalleled shinobi, the greatest hero of Konoha as a criminal, an outcast." Shikamaru bolted to his feet, pacing. "This is troublesome; the village sees the Yondaime's face every day, but refuse to see the resemblance." Sakura frowned, remembering something. The first year in preschool, Naruto had been there but he had been sent out suddenly. She had wanted to talk to him, but mummy had said he was a bad, bad boy, that he would hurt her and that the teachers would protect her and keep the monster away when they were learning…oh kami, she paled…

"They are trying to kill him," she blurted out, cutting through Shikamaru's frantic pacing, and she hadn't even realized that she had said that out loud. She lowered her suddenly heavy eyes to her feet, drawing into herself, pulling out memories that she had thought she'd forgotten, linking events, forming conclusions.

 

***Hokage’s office***

 

Meanwhile, a meeting of assorted Jōnin sensei, Jōnin Commander Nara Shikaku the Head of T&I Morino Ibiki, along with Mitarashi Anko and the Hokage, was taking place in the Hokage Tower. Kurenai, who had just returned from another C-Rank mission, was standing between Asuma to her right and Kakashi to her left. Beside Kakashi, who was, amazingly enough, not late, stood Gai. That came as a surprise to her since the kunoichi of the group had been killed in action a month ago. Had they replaced her that quickly with success? The way Gai was beaming, she guessed that he would nominate his team for the Chunin Exam. Beside Gai was Kanden Tekuno, whom she hadn't known had a team of Genin. The Hokage himself was seated behind his desk, lazily puffing away on his pipe. Surveying the room, Sarutobi put his pipe down.

"Let's begin, shall we?"

The Hokage turned to Chūnin Umino Iruka, the Academy Instructor who also served as an aid to the Hokage from time to time. "Let the record show that this meeting has been called to announce which Konoha Genin teams will be nominated for this year's Chūnin Exams." He looked at 30 of his Jōnin standing in the hall.

"Since most of the old hats have already signed up, I'll go down the list of last year graduates and rookie Genin teams. Jōnin in charge of those teams, step forward." Eight people stepped forward – three kunoichi, Kurenai among them. The Hokage took another puff, then his eyes looked from shinobi to shinobi, settling on…

"Midori, team one?" The kunoichi stepped forward, bowed to the Hokage and straightened. "Hai Hokage-sama, team one doesn't qualify for this year's exams."

"Raidou!" The scarred man stepped forward and snapped to attention. "Team three does not qualify." Sarutobi turned his eyes to the green-clad Konoha no Kedakaki Aoi Mōjū Maito Gai."Gai, your team?" Gai give a blinding smile and a thumbs up. "HAI! Hokage-sama, my YOUTHFUL Genins are ready and full of YOUTH! They are ready for the youthful challenge ahead."

"Very well." The Hokage nodded, then turned to a kunoichi with long curly hair. "Yamanaka Nori." At that, the blond stepped forward. "Team five consisting of Nohara Tomoe, Iburi Kogaro and Inuzuka Mimi is not ready for this year exams."

"Kakashi, Team seven?" Hiruzen had been waiting for this. He had been almost positive that Kakashi, along with Gai, despite the loss of TenTen, and Tekuno would nominate their teams.

"Team seven…hmm….yes, I nominate Uzumaki Naruto, Uchiha Sasuke and Haruno Sakura."

Iruka's pen paused above the paper as he hesitantly ticked off Team Seven. Was Naruto ready, truly ready? Worry twisted inside him, coiling deeply in the pit of his stomach. But the Hokage went forward without pausing.

"Kurenai, what about team eight?"

The red-eyed woman smiled gently. "I nominate team eight."

Iruka ticked off another Rookie Genin team. They are much too young for this, he thought, worry gnawing at him. Hokage turned to his son next.

"Asuma?"

His son smiled and slumped forward. Hiruzen smiled inwardly. The Nara's iconic laziness was rubbing off on his son.

"Those three are the new Ino-Shika-Cho. Of course they are nominated."

Mutterings were going around. Three rookie genin teams were nominated?

"Kohaku." The bandana-wearing, plain looking brown-haired Jonin stepped forward, giving the Hokage blank look.

"No."

"No?" the Hokage repeated, amused at the short answer.

"It's more like hell no, they are not fit for this," Kohaku reaffirmed. "I do not nominate team eleven."

"Tekuno."

A Jōnin with a robust build, wearing his flak jacket unzipped, stepped forward and gave the Hokage a short bow. "I nominate team fifteen, consisting of Shunran Kochō, Yuki Haku and Kurama Yakumo for the Exams."

Iruka had been standing with his clipboard quietly so far, but his mounting worry for his students was slowly taking over.

"Hokage-sama! You can't let four rookie genin teams enter; they….people die in this exam! They are not ready. Please reconsider, Hokage-sama." The Hokage smiled softly at the fretting man.

"Iruka-kun, I know how much you care about your students, and Naruto in particular. But they are not your students anymore. Besides, if their senseis think they are ready, they are. But if it will ease your worry, Iruka-kun, then test them yourself."



 

To be continued … Next: 1st and 2nd stage of exam, among other things …

Chapter Text

*Konoha: Shunran compound*

 

Kochō took a deep breath, running nervous fingers through her messy ponytail. Today was the day that the supposed emissaries of her aunt of sorts, who was apparently some sort of empress of Oni no Kuni, should come to talk to her parents and grandparents. But apparently they had decided to see her first, so here she was…waiting.

She had tried meditating to calm herself but it hadn't worked, so she contented herself with staring at their garden.

She stared so hard that she completely missed when the door opened. What she did not miss, however, was when Hisui patted her on the face, so she wasn't startled when a voice sounded behind her.

"Greetings, Nǚshì Shunran Kochō."

Huh, okay, whatever, Kochō thought. But she bowed and returned the greeting, then started to scrutinize the two women who entered the room.

The one who had spoken introduced herself as Nǚshì Haruko Shinjuko. She was a bespectacled young woman with dark purple eyes in a heart-shaped, and face red-violet hair that extended past her shoulders and down the upper part of her back, partly held from her face with a golden yellow hair clip on the back of her head. She wore a light blue hakama, a white shirt with swinging sleeves and a light blue jacket over it.

The other introduced herself as Nǚshì Suisei. She had snow white hair, pulled in together at the nape of her neck with a crimson ribbon that matched with her hakama. Like Shimjuko-san, she wore a white shirt with swinging sleeves, but no jacket.

They sat on zaisu chairs cushioned by zabuton seats behind a low table.

They quietly observed each other, or rather Kochō was being observed by the two Miko. Not that Kochō and Hisui, the little chameleon that blended into Kochō's purple strands of hair she had left to fall on and pass her shoulders to her chest, were not equally observing them in return.

"What does Nǚshì mean, Shimjuko-sama, Suisei-sama?" Kochō broke silence, figuring that she should get this show on the road; she didn't, contrary to popular belief, have time to size up the two women before her all day long.

"It means lady, in the language that is used in Oni no Kuni," Suisei answered the question, and then she smiled.

"You are a curious one."

Kochō cocked her head to the side. "How so?"

"You have some measure of control on your very vast Reiryoku. And you asked what Nǚshì means."

Kochō shrugged, and then narrowed her golden eyes. Now she had inkling what Karate kid felt when Myoga, no, Mawgly…whatever that Chinese guy's name was, was being all vague and mysterious. What in the blue hell did her asking what Nǚshì meant reveal to those two?

"Not going to ask what you possessing Reiryoku means for you, Nǚshì Kochō?" asked Shimjuko, opening her mouth for the first time since introducing herself.

"That I'll have to leave to Oni no Kuni to train it up?" was the answer posed as a question at the same time. Perhaps Takai nisō Miroku's worries in her niece not being able to navigate through the politics of the Oni court were unfounded, thought Suisei, but then again Miroku was having premonitions of her possible demise by Mōryō in a year's time. She had already taken her daughter Shion out of the shrine and forbidden anyone to teach her any Seishinryoku or Seishinjutsu, and she hadn't given a reason for that. Just what had Mironu seen that spooked her so?

Shinjuko nodded. "True enough."

More observing from the two miko, but Kochō had had enough. That, and she have a meeting again with a certain ANBU who had decided to take her on as an apprentice. All she did was point out some things, and that had made the woman suddenly like her enough to teach her. How weird was that? But honestly, Otter sensei had even more revealing outfit tastes than Anko ever did.

Otter sensei wore a tiny mini skirt with slits to the waist. What prevented her from flashing people were white bandages that she also used as a bra, because the tiny, tiny bolero like jacket could not cover her chest even if it tried. Anko, at least, wore a mesh shirt. The fact that the material looked like leather didn't help.

Heh, Otter sensei…she'd totally call her that as payback for sensei calling her Kochō-chama.
But first, Kochō needed to get out of this weird staring contest. "Is that all?"

"Children are in such a hurry," Shinjuko sighed, while Suisei smiled.

"We did come unannounced, and interrupted her, Shinjuko."

"Well, yes. You know, training with a sensei that Yūgao obasan set up since Tekuno-sensei will focus more on one of my teammates, so we will be ready for the Chūnin exams. The first part is tomorrow."

"We won't keep you then. Besides, I am here more to talk with your parents and the Sandaime Hokage about relocation of one of their shinobi for at least a three-year time period." Shinjuko nodded to her companions and they stood up.

Kochō bowed. "I am pleased to meet you both, Nǚshì Shinjuko, Nǚshì Suisei."

Before exiting the room, Suisei turned back toward Kochō. "I have a student who is staying in Konoha during the Chūnin exams. I'd like for you two to meet. You are about the same age as Hachimitsu Hachiko."

Kochō nodded. "I look forward to meeting your apprentice, Nǚshì Suisei," she replied, following them out of the room to where her parents were located.

"I'll send a note when we'll be expecting you."

"Otōsan, Kaasan," Kochō started to announce, only for her mother to interrupt.

"It's all right, we'll do introductions." Koyuki quickly pushed a weapons pouch into her daughter's hands. "You'll be late, you must hurry."

"Right." Kochō turned and bowed to the two visitors. "Sorry for the rushed manner of my departure." Kochō apologized, then left in a hurry.

Suisei smiled at her hosts. "You have raised a wonderful girl."

"Thank you, Miko-sama."

"I'm Suisei. My friend's name is Shinjuko." Then she sobered, putting Shunran Masaru and Koyuki on edge. "Things with Kochō are far more complicated than we thought. She has the largest build-up of raw reiryaku I've ever seen, and I can tell that her powers were bound at one point in time, but now they are free of those bonds."

There she stopped, hoping that the girl's parents could shed light on this mystery, but she was greeted by stunned and surprised expressions on both parents' faces. Apparently they hadn't known that. Perhaps she should talk with the grandparents. After all, Kochō's own grandfather was from Oni no kuni, and the son of the previous Shèng huánghòu Takai nisō - Hasuhime, Miroku's grandmother and Kochō's great grandmother.

Decision made, she continued with what she had observed. "Normally, she would simply leak wild spiritual power all over the place all the time, causing chaos, but your daughter is subconsciously containing it. I have no idea how."

Truly, it was a mystery, and one of the reasons why she wanted Kochō and Hachiko to meet. She was hoping that the two girls would form a senpai and kōhai bond.
But Shimjuko was already continuing from where she had left off, adding her observations as well.

"Seishin energy swirls and clings to her everywhere. Interloping with her chakra flow, separate yet not, it's like looking at the sun and the moon at the same time. She has dual nature type chakra, which is as opposing as that of Suiton and Katon." Miko shook her head making her reddish violet hair swish in her wake.

"I watched tendrils of power lash out before she pulled them back. It's a constant push and pull of energies. The sooner she begins her training in the art the better."

Suisei looked up, an idea forming. "Masaru-sama, Koyuki-sama, am I right to guess that Shunran Ichizoku head has already met up with the Matriarch of Hachimitsu Ichizoku, as well as received an invite for the gala event?" After receiving nods of affirmation, she continued.

"Is your family to accompany your clan head?"

"Yes," answered Masaru, exchanging glances with his wife. "That is, Kochō is the only clan child that is of Hachimisu heiress' generation. Others are either toddlers or in their late teens."

"Hachimitsu Hachiko is my apprentice," Suisei revealed to them, "so a meeting between the girls during the event has been recommended by me to the matriarch herself." Not to mention the feeling of urgency that the two should meet. Foresight was not her specialty but, as she pointed out to Hachiko,

'Chaos follows the miko with the mystical eye through her life if there is loss of balance.'

The saying applied to the situation for the both girls. Suisei had seen those symptoms that Hachiko had displayed certain seasons before. She knew what caused it, but the imbalance of power that Kochō suffered from should mute the effect of what ailed Hachiko, and Hachiko could siphon some of Kochō's build-up.

 

***Training grounds seven***

 

Narrow, ice blue eyes were watching out over the village.

The village of Konoha.

Her home, place of her birth. The birthplace of her parents, who had died in the third shinobi war.
The place where her dreams to be Tsunade-hime's apprentice had been crushed by the woman herself.

A bitter smile twisted her vivid pink-painted lips. She had been so furious then. She was still angry but it had lessened, all because of that pipsqueak of Yūgao's niece.

She really had to suppress a laugh then. Granted, it would probably have a slightly insane flavor, but she had been an ANBU for a long time from a very tender age, all thanks for her Kinjutsu Soulbane. In fact, she had made a narrow escape from one of the village elders' pet ANBU recruiters when she was a child. To save her, her own grandfather had given her to the regular ANBU troops for training.

That had developed a quirk in her way of dress. She hated the monotone life of ANBU, so to rebel she still wore a revealing red outfit, showing her midriff, arms and legs, with multiple tattoos that resembled flower petals on the left side of her face and midriff as well as her left leg, along with red high-heeled sandals.

She was aware that the same village elder looked at her in disdain, but then again he considered kunoichi weak in general, unable to kill their emotions. Yet he still found uses for them, uses that usually saw the woman dead in the end, sacrificed for the betterment of his elite shinobi.

The same had happened to the last kunoichi he used. She knew the woman well; after all, she was the one who had originally inspired her to strive to be Tsunade-hime's apprentice.
She remembered that she had cared for her when her grandfather left her in the care of the Konoha Minashigo-in when he wasn't in the village.

She still remembered that long, square building with its light brown walls and blue roof. She had forgotten the names and faces of the old man and woman that ran the orphanage alongside Yakushi Nonō.

She, however, remembered the kind and compassionate young woman. Her care had practically radiated off her like the sun's rays. She was very much loved by the other children as well; they even called her Mazā.

She could picture her walking through the hallways talking to the orphaned children and children who had nowhere else to go equally. Her shoulder length light brown hair covered by white coif, her long, black, loose fitting gown and white apron lightly smelling of cookies and medicinal herbs. Her eyes, behind circular glasses and later square ones, were always pools of warm green looking at her charges.

Her death was the turning point. That was the first time she had use her kinjutsu to hide her presence, so she was present when the dark, shaggy-haired man wrapped in bandages, with a cross-shaped scar on his chin wearing a white shirt, with a black or dark grey robe over the top of it covering from his feet, to just over his right shoulder, accompanied by two very weird and creepy men.

The revelations that those three revealed when Mazā and other two caretakers of the orphanage had left the room were shocking, but unfortunately as a child of seven years of age, she hadn't recognized its significance. Unfortunately, she had an eidetic memory, so she recalled everything in perfect clarity later in life and understood what she hadn't then. She sensed a presence approaching, a strange mix of hot and cold, raging water and blazing fire, she smiled her deshi-chama was coming.

She smiled at how the girl puffed up her cheeks when she called her that. She shook her head, making her multi-colored rope with two large round golden bells, sway with her white hair. The bells chimed.

"You are late, Kochō deshi-chama," she stated without turning. Good, the girl was learning to calm her breath so that her breathing, despite the relentless run from her home, was even. She had lightened her step so that no rustling of leaves and grass marked her passing. She was learning quickly. And she could just feel, even with her back turned, those cheeks get all puffed up. Adorable, like a little chipmunk.

"It couldn't be helped; we got visitors from Oni no Kuni, Shishō Kawauso." Her student answered. She nodded…wait, what did she call me? She turned to behold her grinning student.

"That is really cute, brat." She reached over and mussed her hair. "Now what was that with Oni no Kuni?"

Then she took her ANBU porcelain otter mask with pink markings. Kawauso indeed.

"Well, apparently I have a lot of…" Kochō trailed of, like she was trying to remember something. "Ah, reiryouku, and its making me go all wonky, so I'll have to leave to learn control over it."

"Ah, ah, you won't be rid of me so easily, Kochō," she said. After the girl had unknowingly helped her realize that she didn't need to be Tsunade's apprentice to avenge Mazā's death, that had also prompted her to march to Tsunade–hime and ask her why she had not take, her on.

The answer to that had not exactly been flattering, but when she explained why she wanted to learn, well, Tsunade decided that she could learn a technique called Iryō Mōdo, so she had learned it, though she had hardly mastered the technique. But she would learn enough of it to pass on before they left.

"When you go, I will go with you."

Kochō's eyes grew big in surprise. "Really, Kagura-sensei?" she asked. That was a surprise. She hadn't thought that ANBU would be allowed to just leave the village whenever they felt like it.

Kagura nodded. "I'll speak with Shizune-san and Tsunade-hime about it."

"Oh." Kochō was still looking a bit shocked. "Well, what about learning Iryō Mōdo from Shizune-san?"

"Already done. And guess who will be learning it too?"

"Er, me?" squeaked Kagura's student.

"Yep, but first…a spar, to warm up." Standing up, she jumped away to gain some space.

Then she smirked, and put her otter ANBU mask on. "Dance for me, Kochō-chan."

"Heh, just watch for your toes, Kagura-san."

 

***Next day: Team seven meeting place***

 

"Yo!" Kakashi saluted his students after appearing in a puff of smoke. As usual, he was six hours late to the training grounds, but now he only had three cute little students, since little Kochō-chan had went to another team for the duration of the exams. Normally he'd get his student back, but apparently this year the two Sanin had poached his students. Jiraiya had poached Naruto and Tsunade had nabbed Sasuke, then Anko decided that she wanted an apprentice and she kidnapped – reserved – Sakura after the exams ended, since she could not take her now when she was proctoring the second part of the exam.

So what did Kakashi do?

Take an apprentice, of course, before the Hokage decided to give him another Genin team next year.

And the lucky guy was….Inuzuka Kiba. Tsume had been thrilled when he told her.

But first… "Right, my cute students!" he called. Sasuke and Naruto disengaged their taijutsu mixed with ninjutsu spar, while Sakura looked up from the scroll she was reading.
When Sakura saw Kakashi-sensei motioning them over, she sighed and put down the scroll that Anko-shishō had given her to study. Anko called it 'How to obtain information 101', Sakura called it 'How to make a man or woman squeal like a little baby'. Still, it was a pretty interesting read.

"Sensei!" greeted Naruto, grinning, while Sasuke just gave a short nod.

"Right," started Kakashi watching one genin and then the other. "As I've already said, there is the Chūnin exam and I've nominated the three of you."

"Kakashi-sensei, when and where do the exams start?" asked Sakura, head slightly tilted. She knew from Anko's words that she would be proctoring the second portion, and knowing Anko as she did it would be probably done in Daiyonjūyon Enshūjō. As she had said in passing, 'Her home away from home,' while grinning, which was always bad sign. When shishō had that manic grin of hers on her face, it always meant trouble for someone.

What Sakura found on that day, she had shared with the other Konoha rookie 12 at that meeting only a day ago, where this training ground was, and Anko's pet name for it did not inspire a great deal of warm feelings.

Shi no Mori.

Separated from the other grounds by a metallic, electrified fence with forty four gates equally spaced around it. Inside was a river, and the forest had foliage so thick that sunlight had some difficulty penetrating throught to the ground at some places.

Haku speculated then that this was probably the survival stage that would be held after the written stage. The others agreed, and then dived into finding out what manner of critters lived there. The list was hair-raisingly creepy since the centipedes, spiders, leeches and other creepy crawlies were the size of…well, them, not to mention the tigers and bears and snakes. Lots of snakes.

"Ahh, three o'clock this afternoon," Kakashi-sensei stated, smiling his eye smile, and the three of them froze. No wonder it was one o'clock in the afternoon. That meant that they had an hour and a half to race home, shower, and gather their gear.

"Academy Room 301, third floor," he tacked on just in time, before his cute little students bolted to their homes.

He so loved being a sensei.

 

***Academy 1st Exam***

 

Umino Iruka was not violent person. He was composed, studious and, when occasion allowed it, playful. And when he was a kid, he had been a prankster. His parents had perished when the Kyubi attacked Konoha twelve years ago and he had been devastated, so he had done everything to draw attention to himself, similarly to his favorite student, Naruto.

He was content with his job, happy even. Iruka enjoyed teaching new generations of shinobi, so when Rookie teams were nominated he balked at the idea. In the end, the Hokage suggested that if he, Iruka, was so unsure if his former students were ready, he should verify if that was true.

So Iruka decided to test each team. He had plans to see if their senseis were truly right in nominating the rookie teams for the Chūnin exams, and how and when that testing would take place. But when the day for his personal testing arrived, Iruka overslept and now he was angry at himself. No, not angry, just upset that he hadn't set the alarm clock. But testing genin fresh out of Academy was very far from his mind, because his on-and-off girlfriend decided that they were on again and had dropped by for a visit.

Their activities after she barged in, carrying twenty sticks of dango, were mind blowingly amazing as always, and as always he was dead tired afterwards.

Hence him missing the chance to assess and, if possible, discourage his students from participating in the exams, which he lamented while watching Tekuno's team enter the Academy.

"Good old Academy," Kochō muttered, eyeing the walls. Still, she did prefer studying there than when she was The Slayer in Sunnydale. At least in the Academy it wasn't a daily fight for survival. Just the usual troubles of a child, not that she had trouble with comprehending material while living the life of Buffy Ann Summers. It was only after she was called that her grades dropped to barely passing.

Part of the reason for the drop was the training she'd had to do at the beginning, and then later she was already too far behind the other students. In Sunnydale, she'd had every intention to succeed and she did for a while. Willow had helped her to catch up with material she had missed and it had been going well, despite the nightly patrol of Sunnydale.

And then she had died.

Haku smiled. "I think I'd like to study here. Perhaps when I make chūnin I will volunteer to work here," he said, looking around. While he'd never regret not attending the Academy in Kiri, he was at times terribly lonely traveling with just Zabuza-sama.

"In that case, I think the kids will benefit a lot learning from you, Haku-kun," Yakumo said, smiling shyly.

Kochō's eyebrows rose. Now that was a new development. Yes, she had noticed that Yakumo was shy around Haku, but she was rather shy to new people, but with Haku it persisted to this day, and he was always polite and gentle to her. Granted, he was kind to everyone, but there was something in the way he looked at Yakumo.

"Oh my," breathed Yakumo, not that Kochō herself wasn't apprehensive, for inside the Academy was packed with shinobi from all nations, crowding the maze-like hallways. Luckily, Kochō knew where the test was and took the lead, navigating her team with ease after having spent years in this building.

On the second floor, Yakumo grabbed Kochō and Haku by their sleeves. "Genjutsu," she hissed in warning.

Haku nodded. "Where to?" he breathed quietly without moving his lips, so that only his teammates heard.

Kochō turned slightly to the left. "There is a side entrance to the stairs leading to the third floor."
"Let us go there, carefully," cautioned Haku. The girls nodded and slowly retreated to the hidden door. Kochō quietly opened the door, while Haku and Yakumo covered her back.

"You are taking the Chūnin Exams and you can't even get past us?" the voice one of the genjutsu-covered genin guarding the door scoffed at the green spandex-clad boy that he had just kicked away.

Yakumo frowned. The 'boy' looked like the younger version of the man their sensei had introduced them to, and so did the other. She let out a frustrated groan and facepalmed hard.

"Yakumo-chan?" Haku worriedly asked.

"Ah, sorry, but I just released the genjutsu. Those two at the door are from Tekuno-sensei's old genin team; they are under Henge."

Haku regarded the two supposed genin barring the door from Lee and his team, who were trying to put on a play that they were not a threat. Something every ninja worth something could and should do, deceiving one's opponent.

His musings and observations of the competition were interrupted by a barely-there click and Kochō's voice.

"The door is open, let's go."

"Right," was the whispered answer, and Team Tekuno quietly slipped through the hidden door.
They entered the registration hall without incident, looking around to spot any of their fellow rookies, eyes trailing over shinobi lounging on every available surface, feet propped up on chairs and tables, leaning against the walls. And all were staring someone down. Of course, at that time the door shut and conversation died.

"Man, there are a ton of people here dattebayo." Everyone's eyes immediately zeroed in on them. Well, on Team Seven, but Kochō, Haku and Yakumo were standing just in front of them.

It was uncomfortable having to face off with so many older shinobi.

 

***Later***

 

Several people were leaving. Some of them were from Konoha; however, the Rookie 12 of Konoha stayed seated.

Neji was looking annoyingly confident, and both Naruto and Sasuke found themselves hoping that he would fail, just so the two boys could see that arrogant fate-lover taken down a notch or two.

Then again, perhaps it was better if one of the others could take him down themselves. It's not like either of them had practiced counters for jūken.

When the room was much emptier that it had been when the Exams began, Ibiki looked around again, taking in the remaining participants – ten teams from Suna, one of them with the Kazakage's kids, four from Taki, six from Kusa, three from Oto, four from Kiri, two from Getsugakure, one from Tsukigakure, seven from Ame and twelve from Konoha – who stayed when the rest of the teams folded and left.

"The ones who stayed for the tenth question, you all pass," the proctor of the first exam, Morino Ibiki, announced.

Suddenly, there was quiet buzz of conversation when every young and not so young genin exchanged glances and questions, until a clear voice dared to question Ibiki over the buzz.

"But what of the tenth question?" asked the Kazakage's daughter. At the posed question, Ibiki took off his bandana in a slow and deliberate moment that caught and held every genin's attention in that room. And so all of them saw how their procto's head was covered in knotting scars that ran all along his skull, raised scar tissue cross crossing at some points. Ibiki looked around the room, noting the looks of horror on some faces with apparent satisfaction on his face.

"Power and skill as a shinobi are not the only things that matter, and so to become a chūnin you have been tested here if you have the mental state necessary for that rank. You have to be able to face missions that might be fatal for you and your team, and also face chance of capture and then torture for information." Then he cast another assessing look at the genin who had passed.

"All of you withstood mental torture, and now we will see how you measure up with the physical part…"

Ibiki was interrupted by a loud booming noise outside, then the glass window shattered. Ibiki was suddenly covered with colorful confetti and then hidden from the shocked genin's view by a large purple banner reading:

Introducing Mitarashi Anko: Sexy, beautiful (and taken) proctor for the second exam!

Most genin watched with amazement and surprise, while some were looking down on, the eccentric young woman who walked out behind the banner with a big grin on her face.
The Rookie 12, however, had looks of resignation on their faces. Wel,l Naruto was grinning and admiring Anko's bombastic personality. That, and Ibiki covered with glittering confetti was a funny sight.

The purple-haired woman smirked at Ibiki. "Hey, you got them good." Then her smile turned sadistic. "I bet I'll cut the number down by more than half."

"You are early, Mitarashi," he said sternly.

Anko shrugged. "So? You were done with the test. It's not like they'll go anywhere, and you monologue too much. You'd put the poor, poor maggots to sleep." Ibiki's eyes narrowed with irritation. Cheerfully ignoring him, Anko turned to face the genin still sitting.

"Hello, everyone!" Anko yelled, waving. "As the beautiful proctor of the second exam, I know that all of you are overcome by my sexiness, but unfortunately for you, I'm already seeing someone, and no amount of begging and bribing me with dango will give you any sort of chance!"

She ran her eyes over the stunned speechless genin and laughed loudly. "Anyways, it is my job to explain the rules and purpose of the second Exam, but I'll do that tomorrow at training ground 44 at six am sharp. Be late and your whole team will be disqualified. Dismissed."

The room emptied as the genin hightailed it out in a hurry, regrouping outside the Academy, where the sun was high in the sky, indicating noon.

"We did it –ttebayo!" Naruto hollered, throwing his arms around Kochō's shoulders and lifting her up for a bit, then abruptly dropping her and darting to Team Nine and Ten. He high-fived a yawning Shikamaru, chip-munching Choji and laughing Kiba.

"We all made it!"

Kiba scoffed at Naruto. "Of course we did, idiot. We are awesome. Ne, Sasuke?"

"You are an awesome fleabag," retorted Sasuke.

"Oi!"

Ino laughed, looking at her teammates and friends with bright, sea green eyes. "We all made it!"

Naruto grinned, pulling on her ponytail teasingly. "Of course we did, we are awesome –ttebayo."

"That is my line," Kiba growled.

Haku smiled gently. "We've got to look after each other, ne." Kochō nodded, while Yakumo returned Haku's smile.

"That's what friends are for," Choji said matter-of-factly,, while stuffing a fistful of chips in to his mouth. He looked up at the sky. "Man, it's almost dinner time. I'm starving!"

"We should totally celebrate –ttebayoo!"

Hinata smiled timidly, poking her fingers together. "I…I think that will be f…fun, Naruto-kun."
Ino grinned at her, then nodded. "It's a date then! Everyone has to come."

Kochō smirked and looped her arm around Sasuke, who was inching away from the group.

"Even you, Sasuke," she said teasingly, but with a steely glint in her voice that told Sasuke he wouldn't get away, and if by some miracle he succeeded Kochō would made sure he'd regret it dearly. Because while Naruto was Hell King of pranks, Kochō's payback schemes were bordering on sadistic, as he had learned when he had snapped at her after the Uchiha massacre. Granted, he had felt bad since she was one of the rare girls that weren't screaming fangirling banshees, but her retaliation still caused him nightmares to this day.

Sakura glared at Kochō, then brightened. A date with Sasuke-kun. Shanaroo!

Sasuke grunted. "Sounds lame." Then he glared at Naruto, who poked him in the ribs, while Ino and Kochō traded exasperated looks.

Shikamaru chuckled, shaking his head. "It is troublesome, but trust me man, don't fight them on this," he said, slouching forward. "It's impossible to stop them from getting what they want."

"Oh shush, Shika," said Ino, hands resting on her hips and sending her teammate a challenging look.

"Troublesome."

"You are troublesome."

"Nah, he finds everything troublesome –ttebayoo."

"Even himself?" Sasuke's lips pulled upward in a barely-there smile.

"Come on, you lazybones!" Ino used her shrill voice, making Naruto and Kiba wince, since their hearing was thee most acute of the Rookie Twelve.

"Troublesome blonds," grumbled the Nara, then he shot a look at the others. "You do realize that this evening it's also that troublesome event at the Hachimitsu estate?"

Haku, Sasuke, Sakura and Naruto exchanged puzzled looks. Kochō frowned. "You didn't get an invite?"

Shikamaru sighed. "They wouldn't, as they are the only representatives of their clans in Konoha, and Sakura is from a civilian family."

"Oh." Kochō frowned, and then she remembered a missive that Miko had sent to her, that she should come over to the Hachimitsu estate five hours before the event for tea with Nǚshì Suisei's apprentice.

"Well, apparently the clan heiress is..." she started to explain, but was interrupted when suddenly Naruto stiffened as a sharp phantom pain shot through the spiky blonds' heart.

"Such hatred. There is someone down here," Naruto hissed, drawing his friends' attention. The Rookies quickly clustered around him, and Kochō hastily erected an invisible, soundproof cube barrier.

"Where?" asked Shikamaru.

"Below ground. Beneath us," answered Naruto, exchanging a look with Sasuke and then Kochō.

'From beneath you, it devours.'

Kochō blinked. Now why did that phrase come with a flash of images of an incorporeal presence and mutilated blind people with knives chasing teenaged girls? What did this mean anyway? And was that that tower in France where she saw the teenager was killed?

Sasuke's eyes were flinty black when they met the intense blue of his friend's. "Is that what I think it is?"

Ino's eyes widened as she figured out just what was lurking beneath their feet, and judging by the slightly paler completion of Sakura and the tensing of the others around her, they knew as well. They had all heard what had happened in Uzu, when Sasuke and Naruto's chakra had mixed. The boys had thought that it was important for them to know it, or at least a summary of the events that had caused the rift between the two Ōtsutsuki brothers. The rift caused with the help of Ōtsutsuki Kaguya's creation.

"I think so."

Shikamaru looked down, frowning. "That complicates things."

"It can't know what we are discussing now," Kochō reassured them, "and I don't think it would make any move now."

Naruto frowned in thought. "There is also something else. I've been, or rather furball was being restless and sniffing the air like he was in heat or something, so I cut off his senses to the outside." Then his eyes widened in realization.

"Don't you dare, brat!" came a roar from the fox inside. "You are actually in heat?!" asked Naruto, shocked. Yes, he knew that Kurama was a male, but he had never imagined that chakra constructs could actually be in heat."Hmph, I am the strongest of the Bijū and we…it's that smell.""What smell? I don't smell anything.""That is because your sense of smell is so puny. And because the chakra that Ojiji gave you is protecting you from Kaguya Hana.""Huh?""I'll tell you later."

Sasuke was watching him strangely, "What did the fox say?"

Naruto shrugged. "Something about smell and Kaguya's flower is making him go all hot and bothered."

"I'm not bothered, you orange eyesore!" roared Kurama, irritated at his host.

"And he is in denial about it," Naruto finished with a mischievous smile, totally ignoring the grumbling from the fox.

Sasuke frowned. "You know, I think we heard about Kaguya Hana from Hagoromo."

"We did?" asked Naruto curiously. "I don't remember that conversation –ttebayoo." Sasuke's eye twitched in irritation.

"I swear, Naruto, sometimes you have the attention span of a fruit fly."

"I agree with the Uchiha," grumbled Kurama.

"Hey, I paid attention…" yelled Naruto, "Mostly," was added more quietly, but he did have a lot of information about history crammed into his head, and it was because of that he that he noticed manipulation of Indra descendants along with Indra himself were victims from the part of Kaguya's creation.

"True enough," grumbled Sasuke, then took a deep breath, hating the fact that he would have to tell the others the history of that flower.

"While we were in that archway, we learned about that flower, that resembles the orchid. It…"

Ino squeaked in recognition. "I've heard about it. It is an legendary among florists. It's a flower that ranges from dark red to almost black, then fades toa slightly lighter, vermilion red color at the inner three petals." Ino's eyes were shining. She could still recall her mother's bedtime stories about this flower, a princess and an evil demon who was calmed and put to sleep by the flowers scent. "And it is said that Rikudō Sennin cultivated it to keep the bijū sedated."

Shikamaru frowned. "I remember it was in a bedtime story Choji's mother told us when I stayed the night. Supposedly, if eaten it was said to extend one's vitality."

"That is partly right," Sasuke allowed, "but not entirely. It wasn't cultivated by Sennin, but his mother. She brought it from the world she originally came from, and then she crossed it with orchids of this world, creating Kaguya's flower for the sole purpose of merging herself with Shinju, creating Jūbi to do her bidding and reclaim the chakra inherited by her sons, Hagoromo and Hamura."

"Troublesome. So you are saying that Kaguya ate a mysterious fruit, from which a tree would grow every millennium. Then she used the flower she created for an easier merge with the Divine tree, and become the Ten Tails in order to suck chakra from her grown up sons?"

"In a nutshell, yes," Sasuke confirmed, and Naruto grinned, then piped up.

"Kaguya created the flower by cross-pollinating the black orchid Murakami that she brought from her home world, local orchids and some pollen from Shinju." Sasuke glared at the cheeky blond, who only smirked at him, then continued.

"At first, Kaguya cultivated the flower for its unique, beautiful appearance. The fact that the flower scent was a magnet for bijū was an accidental byproduct ttebayo. Then Hogoromo-jiji grew them in memory of his kaa-chan before she went all power crazy and needed to be sealed."

Sasuke eyes began to twitch and his right hand to spasm, like he wanted to reach out and strangle Naruto.

"You knew all of this, didn't you?" he asked calmly, his bangs hiding his eyes.

"Yup-Dattebayo. After all, I garden myself, ya know." Then he tapped his finger on his chin, striking a thinking pose. "That, and I happen to like plants."

"Naruto!" yelled Sasuke, and launched himself at the laughing blond.

Pinching the bridge of his nose in irritation at the Uchiha and Uzumaki bickering and roughhousing, Shikamaru nodded. "Right," he muttered, and then totally ignored the wrestling boys. "As troublesome as this information is…"

Shikamaru then turned to Naruto, who was trying to flip Sasuke over. "You can protect Kurama from the flower effect?"

"Yes –ttebayoo."

"Oh, woe is me, I have to be protected by weakling color-blind moron," jibbed Kurama, making fun of Naruto. His host, however, was apparently paying attention to his jabs and made that fact clear."Hey! Don't be like that … it's not like you want to date a flower, right? Because if you wanna I can arrange the date dattebayo.""Shut up!""Geez, calm down. No need to get your fluffy soft tails in a twist.""….""Let's pretend I didn't say that last bit.""Agreed."

"So we will coordinate our next meeting after the survival part of the exam." Unaware of the internal conversation between Naruto and Kurama, Shikamaru turned to Kochō. "You wanted to say something before?"

"Yes, the Hachimitsu heiress is an apprentice of Lady Suisei, who is a traveling Miko from Oni no Kuni, and because I have uncontrollable rairyoku I've been invited to learn some control before leaving Konoha for Oni no Kuni for at least 3 years."

"What? You are leaving?" Ino asked, looking slightly alarmed. All the others except for Naruto, Sasuke, Haku and Yakumo looked surprised at the news.

"Kochō-chan is not the only one," Naruto said. "Ero-senin is taking me for a four year training trip."

Shikamaru shot him a grim stare, his eyes half-lidded as he thought information through.
"Does that have anything to do with Akatsuki?" he asked.

"Yes. With the loss of one member, or two if we count Orochimaru…" Sasuke shot Naruto a look when he muttered something about snakes and body-hopping. He really, really didn't want to think about the what Orochimaru wanted to ultimately do with him. "Their plans were to collect the bijū have been held back for at least a year until they are ready."

Shikamaru hmed. "Troublesome as that is, that doesn't mean they won't show up and gather information on their targets."

"Shikamaru is right," agreed Kochō. "They will probably send someone, most likely someone who is either familiar with Konoha, as in nukenin from here."

Sasuke frowned. "Itachi is allegedly part of the group, according to S- informant."

Sakura tilted her head. "S-informant?" Sasuke stilled when he became the center of attention.
"Mah, an S-class shinobi who is also an informant," Naruto piped in, hands locked behind his head. Then he grinned. "He is also S-class in some other things."

Sasuke grumbled. "Not important." Then he turned toward Kochō. "Better drop the barrier. The others can't see it or sense it, but they can feel it if they collide with it."

"Right."

 

***Konoha: Hachimitsu estate***

 

Meanwhile, at the aforementioned Hachimitsu Estate, Hachiko the clan heiress was suffering from a panic attack. Granted, she was resting beforehand after recovering from a long-lasting nausea, which was becoming worst with the turn of the seasons.

"Hachiko?" came the concerned voice of Mimori, Hachiko's grandmother. Hachiko's warm, doll-like honey-colored eyes opened to meet with Mim's concerned hazel ones, and then scrunched closed again. The doll-like frame started to shake even more.

Mim quickly turned to Yui, Hachiko's lady-in-waiting. "Yui, go get Duelo. Tell him his daughter is unwell. She is shaking too much." Yui left the room, her black hanbok rustling as she hurried down the corridor.

"Everything will be all right, Hachiko." Mim soothed her distraught granddaughter, stroking her head.

Hurried steps sounded, and a tall dark handsome man rushed in – Hachiko's father, Kuroyama Duelo. He wore black baji pants, a plain white jeonbok vest over a dark blue jeogori shirt and a dark blue belt with red lining in the middle. His long black hair was tied in a low ponytail that billowed behind him as he entered the room. Right at his heels entered Lady Suisei. Mim stood up and started to explain the uncontrollable shaking that shook the small frame behind them. Duelo and Suisei exchanged glances.

A bell jingled when Hachiko shook her wrist to gain the attention of those in the room.

'You know something.' Hachiko signalled in Konoha's standard sign language. 'You don't look surprised. What did you do?'

"You are not nauseous, right?" Duelo asked his daughter. Hachiko stilled and gave a hesitant nod.
Lady Suisei asked her apprentice the next question. "You can't sense a single thing either, correct?"

'What did you two do?' Hachiko signed.

"Have I taught you nothing?" asked Suisei sternly. "What was the first rule I taught you?"

'Know what you have on you.' Hachiko then started to observe herself. 'White chima, white jeogori, charm bracelet with mute character, two bells, a pink bead, and that is new.' Hachiko stopped signing while her fingers traced a small, dark brown glass bead that was larger than the pink one and had small gold characters all around.

'Why is there a seal on this bead, and what is its purpose?' she signalled, while more closely inspecting the tiny seal engraving.

"Think of it as your chakra suppressing seal, only it is not for chakra. What this particular seal does…" Suisei took a deep breath, knowing that this would hurt Hachiko greatly. Luckily, there was an additional solution for her apprentice, and that was the girl with the wild and vast amount of raw reiryouku. "It locks up your ability to use 'the third eye,' your sensory as you call it. Your father and I figured out that it is your 'third eye' that was causing your illness. It's developed faster than you can handle."

Hachiko frowned unhappily and Duelo let out a long sigh. "Hachiko." He knelt down and put a loving hand on the top of his daughter's golden head. "You have to understand," he said gently, "that we are doing what's best for you."

'I feel handicapped. My sensory made up for my lack of voice. Imagine my horror when I couldn't sense at all. I thought for sure that something else was wrong with me. Next time a warning would be nice.' Hachiko signed forcefully, tears of frustration threatening to fall.

"I know you don't like it when we do things concerning you without your input, but this was necessary. You've lost too much weight, and regaining your health is important at the moment," Duelo said apologetically, and Lady Suisei nodded.

"You need to be at top health when my times comes, Hachiko," she said, and Hachiko looked down, sadness welling up inside as she was once again reminded of Lady Suisei's upcoming death.

'I understand the reasons that you've seal my sensory. However, you still should have told me. I certainly wouldn't have had a panic attack,' Hachiko signed.

Mim glared at Duelo. "She is right; she had this attack because she panicked at her lack of sensory." Duelo looked down, clearly sorry.

"Well," Suisei interrupted, "it turns out that perhaps you'll be able to take the seal down faster than we thought before sealing you."

Duelo eyes shot up in surprise and Hachiko looked hopeful. 'What do you mean?' she signed.

"Well, here in Konoha there is a girl that has a no small amount of uncontrolled reiryouku. You could help one another."

'I see. I could siphon some of reiryouku away and relieve pressure on her, and at the same time the reiryouku that was siphoned away could be used as a shield and armor against whatever is affecting me, or my third eye as you call it'

Suisei nodded proudly at her apprentice's deduction.

"That is good to know," came a woman's voice from the doorway. Mim and Duelo stood up and gave a formal bow.

"Kisaki-mama." They greeted the warm honey-eyed, golden with strands of silver due to age haired woman decked in a dark red silk china skirt with gold embroidery on the hem, and a pink silk shirt with gold flowers around the neck, shoulders and down to the sleeves.

"Suisei," addressed Kisaki to the miko who was sitting before her great granddaughter. "I sent an invitation to the Shunran clan for Kochō-chan and Hachiko to meet at tea a couple of hours before the dinner party. They'll attend the event together, so Kochō-chan will dress herself in her formal furisode here with the help of Hachiko's lady-in-waiting, Yui."

'Will Shunran-san spend the night?' signed Hachiko curiously. The Hachimitsu Matriarch nodded.

"I thought it best for her to stay the night, yes. She is participating in the Chūnin Exams early tomorrow so she will also bring her shinobi gear."

'Does she know I'm mute?'

"Not to my knowledge," Kisaki-mama answered.

Suisei shrugged. "I doubt that she'll care much if you can't talk. She is proficient in Konoha's Standard Signing Language. After all, her first sensei was Hatake Kakashi." Suisei smirked at the blush that dusted Hachiko's cheeks. She was well aware of the crush the girl harbored for the famous Kopī Ninja.

'Isn't Hakate-san in charge of genin Team Seven?' Hachiko asked in KLS, then ducked her head again, hiding the blush that intensified when Kisaki-mama chuckled. Hachiko just knew she'd get teased again without mercy; it was good that her obasan Himitsu wasn't present.

Himitsu was the concubine of Hi no Kuni's Daimyō and mother of the Daimyō's second born son Mitsubachi, half-brother to the next-in-line to be Daimyō Shuji, Madam's Shinji son.

"Well, yes, but Kochō was the fourth genin member of Dainanahan," Suisei explained. "I am told that she has formed new team under jōnin sensei Kanden Tekuno, with two other genin, Kurama Yakumo of Konoha's Kurama clan, and Yuki Haku formerly from Kiri's Yuki clan. Hachiko, are you all right?" Suisei asked, alarmed at Hachiko's sudden pallor.

'I'm fine, but…' Hachiko signed hastily, then frowned and hesitated.

"But?" prompted Kisaki-mama, then her eyes so alike in color to her great granddaughter's widen in realization.

"Ah, no need to worry, Hachi-chan." Kisaki-mama sat down by her still frowning thirteen-year-old heiress. "Hiruzen tells me that Haku-kun checks out, even if he was trained by the now-deceased Kiri nukenin Momochi Zabuza."

Hachiko distractedly nodded, then froze.'Hiruzen as in Sarutobi Hiruzen, the Sandaime Hokage?'

Hachiko then watched in amazement when her teacher Suisei and her grandmother Mim grinned, and Kisaki-mama smiled.

"Why yes." Then her smile widened "And despite my son Jun's insistence that you are too young to know who his father is…"Kisaki-mama trailed off when Hachiko let out a soundless laugh.

'Jun-jiji is Sandaime Hokage's son,' she signed, amused. At their surprised looks, Hachiko elaborated. 'I met Sarutobi Asuma and his nephew Konohamaru. There is a resemblance to Jun-jiji right there, so plain and obvious in their eyes.'

"Ah yes," Kisaki-mama said. "While every one of my children have different fathers, Hiruzen was my first love. I still remember the day we met; I was in Konoha for business, making deals with Nidaime Hokage at the time to benefit Hachimitsu Ichizuku in Mitsu no Kuni. Hiruzen was assigned to show me around the village and we fell in love. Trowing caution to the wind, I became his lover during my stay, but that was short lived. You see, his friend and rival discovered us and he informed me that Hiruzen's wife had a child on the way. I didn't have the heart to tear a new family apart, even if his marriage was an arranged one, because I had a feeling that if I made Hiruzen choose me over them, he'd chose me. So I walked away, causing heartbreak for me and him." Kisaki-mama sadly finished her story of how she had met the father of her firstborn son.

Hachiko blinked, her face set in combination of 'awww, that so romantic' and 'eww, my great grandparents were together that way'.

'Do you think you two should get together now?' asked Hachiko dreamily, drawing the Matriarch's surprised gaze, which then turned speculating.

"Hachi is right, Kisaki. You and Hiruzen could still have a chance, even this late in life," agreed Suisei. After all, she had known Kisaki since she was a teen, and besides, Kisaki's own grandmother had had the same symptoms as Hachiko did now, and while Suisei didn't know the circumstances of how Hachiko had come by Kaguya Hana, she knew its effects. She also knew that both Hachiko and Kisaki were unaware of the flower.

'Both you and Hokage-jiji are single, so there is nothing really stopping you,' Hachiko added, and then frowned in thought. 'Not to mention it would solidify Hachimitsu's ties to Sarutobi Ichizoku, as well as a treaty between Hi no Kuni and Mitsu no Kuni.'

"That is true," Kisaki-mama noted, deep in contemplation of what her heir and Nǚshì Suisei had suggested.

 

***Elsewhere***

 

Meanwhile, at various locations throughout Konoha, genin were preparing for the exams. Some parents and clan heads were preparing for the gala event, with dancing and a late dinner that would take place at the Hachimitsu compound late this evening.

Naruto, due to Jiraiya abandoning him to do some research again, retreated to his apartment to brush up on his fūinjutsu, but not before spawning couple of clones to finish the exercises, kata that was basic for Kawazu Kumite, that the Toad Sage had showed Naruto, before abandoning his student for act of perversion, meaning peeping on woman at the bathhouse.

Not that Naruto hadn't planned for revenge. A pair of clones were hurrying to share information on the super pervert's location to Kochō-chan, kaachan, Tsunade-ba, Tsume-san and Anko. Yeah, revenge was sweet, and it sated Naruto's slightly sadistic streak that he had inherited from Kushina, according to Tsunade.

With that taken care of, Naruto turned to his newest project. Since Kurama was apparently sulking in the seal and still hadn't clarified what the deal was with the smell of some flower, knowledge of the name hasn't inspired any comfort to Naruto– Kaguya's flower.
Using the Art of Fūinjutsu during combat was touched upon in his mother's Uzumaki fūinjutsu scrolls that Naruto had currently open all over his apartment. The boy himself was lying down on the tatami floor in his apartment among the mass of scrolls, blank ordinary paper, ink pots, brushes and books.

"All right!" he exclaimed. "I am ready ttebayoo!" Then he scrunched his face up in concentration.
Soon, a set of spiked arrow heads sprung out of the boys hands, chains trailing behind when they embedded themselves in the targets on the wall, or wrapped and pinned down training dummies he had standing or sitting around the apartment.

"Yatta!" Naruto jumped up,then promptly fell down when his Kongō Fūsa chains restricted his movements as well.

"Aw, damn it, this combination of attacking and sealing chakra chains need more work." He pouted. It appeared that this wouldn't be ready in time for him to use in the Chūnin Exams, but it was an improvement. After retracting his chains back into his arms, he was capable of sprouting chains from his back as well. In theory, every member of Uzumaki Ichizoku could let loose Kongō Fūsa from every tenketsu point in his or her body.

Naruto himself at the moment had the easiest time to shoot chakra chains from his arms and legs, but there was a barrier seal that he had worked on that he would be able to use, and best of all he could set it up without tags or hand seals. He only needed to imagine the barrier seal, then use chakra in his feet, and that was enough to create a barrier seal on the ground, and when the unfortunate opponent stepped on the barrier seal, two huge stone statues of sitting foxes would appear in the sky and fall on the opponent, knocking them unconscious or squishing them like a pancake, depending on what Naruto wanted.

His mother Kushina had invented it and named it Ashimoto Chūitsu, only instead of stone fox statues hers were giant iron frying pans. The other seal he had mastered was one of his fathers Senshingu rokubōsei Fūin. The funny thing, however, was that it could be used for many more things than just sensing. Trapping, destroying, healing, temporary time stasis, his Tochan really was a seal master genius.

But Naruto really wanted to use something flashy at the Chūnin exams. Perhaps he should build up something new from the basics of sealing. He picked up Konoha's standard on seals book and started to read.

"The three main components of any seal are chakra storage, deployment and composition arrays, circled by the meridian line. The meridian is typically divided into 2 categories, the meridian channels and the collaterals…blah blaaaaaaaah," he grumbled, then threw himself to the floor and continued to read out aloud. It was, after all, the surest method that held his attention when actually reading.

"The twelve standard meridians, also called Principal Meridians, are divided into Greater and Lesser Yin and Greater and Lesser Yang groups. Gahh, this is boring!" yelled a frustrated Naruto, not for the first time, and he also whished, not for the first time, that the Uzumaki Ichizoku still lived. He threw the deck of playing Obake karuta that he was unconsciously shuffling in one hand, for the purpose of increasing finger dexterity.

His mother had learned under her parents while Kushina was still living in Uzushiogakure no Sato, and after arriving to Konohagakure her tutoring had continued under Uzumaki Mito. He figured that he would benefit far more if someone would show him sealing in practice rather than just the theory he was suffering through now.

Sighing, he stood up. Perhaps he should work on some of his taijutsu and bukijutsu, perhaps with some ninjutsu thrown in. Then he stared with interest at his apartment wall across the room.

"Heh, I didn't think I'd thrown the deck so hard," he mumbled, while looking at a ten card, embedded onto the wall of his apartment, with interest. Shitty walls aside, since the cards were just ordinary and he hadn't used chakra when he made that throw…but huh, he thought.

Idea.

"Dattebayo!" he yelled, then started to turn around to his parents scrolls, grinning madly. Finally finding what he was looking for, he started to cackle. Then he picked his deck of playing cards up and spread them picture down on the table.

"This is going to be awesome!" he yelled. "Now, let's see…basic weight seal at the middle of the card, sharpening seal to the edges, durability and stability arrays, and that is just for the cards themselves." He quickly started to apply the necessary seals that would transform the ordinary deck of cards into something awesome.

As Naruto was spazzing about his amazing idea in weaponizing a simple deck of playing cards…
Sakura was playing dodgeball – or dog – with Kakashi-sensei's ninken. While said sensei was sitting on the branch of the tree reading Icha Icha.

"Shanaroo!" Sakura yelled as she dogged Bul, the bulldog, as he was trying to pin her down, by substituting herself with Ūhei, the reddish brown greyhound. And just who was so lazy as to name a bulldog Bull…that's' right, Hatake Kakashi.

"Good, Sakura-chan," said Pakkun the pug, who in Sakura's opinion, was not cute, even if he insisted that he was and that his paws were 'soft and supple'. He sounded like he moisturized or something. "You are progressing in Kawarimi no Jutsu." Then he scratched behind his ear with his hind paw. "Soon you'll be able to touch my paw as a reward of lesson learned."

Sakura made a face while switching with the log when Urushi, Shipa and Bisuke tried to pin her down again. The bites they had inflicted on her were still bleeding, and she wanted to avoid receiving more of them. Still, she had to thank Kakashi-sensei, since his ninken were far more preferable than Anko-shishō's snakes.

At the same time, before a stone engraved by three moons depicting the bush clover of the Yamanaka, the butterfly of the Akamichi and the moon filled, presumably with oak branches, of the Nara. The lazy but highly intelligent Nara were ever so troublesome in clearing up just what their crest meant.

Anyway, the new generation of Ino-Shika-Chō were hard at training in their combination family jutsu while supervised by their fathers.

Inoichi was happy that his daughter was finally showing the drive to learn their family justsu, butut first his little girl had to work on her stamina, as well as enlarging her chakra reserves and improving on more on her chakra control. She had also expressed interest in learning some medical ninjutsu.

But today the fathers and their heirs were not here to learn family jutsu, they were here to find out their chakra affinity as well as weapon training, by their children's request, much to Shikaku, Chōza and Inoichi's amazement.

"Now then," started Chōza, slamming his arm-thick and several meters long bō staff, to the ground. "Chōji, most of our clan have used staffs, like me, your old man." As Chōza laughed, Shikaku picked up a kanabō, a spiked iron club four meters long to accommodate the Akimichi expansion ability, and handed it to Chōji, who made some experimental swings.

"I'll show you some moves in a minute, son," Chōza said with a smile.

"Hm, right, tou-chan," affirmed Chōji, still swinging the club around.

"Ino," he called next, and Ino stepped forward and took a three meter long rope made from light wire, the same type that mesh shirt armor was made of. On one end of the rope was a weight with the Yamanaka Ichizoku emblem, the bush clover, engraved on the flat surface, and a sharp spike on the other.

Inoichi clasped his daughter's shoulder. "I'm afraid I can't teach you to use this weapon…" he scratched his cheek, embarrassed, then smiled. "But Wakana used surujin when she was an active kunoichi." He almost winced at the memory when his at the time furious temporary teammate had tied him up in rope and smashed his head with the weighted end of her weapon. He had only commented on something and she had taken it too personally.

"So kaa-san will teach me?" asked Ino, inspecting the weapon curiously. Now this could prove useful if she had to catch someone and interrogate him or her with her family jutsu.

"Yes, but I can at least show you the basics," her father replied.

"Right. Thank you, tou-san."

Inoichi nodded, then picked up a long dark lacquer box and handed it to Shikamaru, who opened the box to see a tanegashima pistol. Shikamaru's eyebrows rose in slight surprise. Yeah, he recognized the box, but it was always way too troublesome to see what was inside.

At the Inuzuka training grounds, Tsume and her ninken Kuromaru were facing Kiba and Akamaru.

Suddenly, Kiba lunged forward. "Let's go, Akamaru!"

"Warf!" The little white dog jumped, and they twisted around …

"Gatsūga!"

But Tsume just batted them away, sending them crashing to the ground.

"Listen up, pup," Tsume barked at her son, who was lying on the ground, panting hard, with Akamaru sprawled beside him. "You won't be any use in the exam if you don't give your all."

At Akamaru's pained whine, she continued, albeit in a fractionally softer tone. "Listen, Kiba, it's not just you. You and Akamaru have to grow strong together."

Shino was currently working on hardening his kikaichū with doton type, as the chakra paper his clansmen Muta had tested him with had showed that he was earth natured, and so Shino found it prudent to enforce the beetles with a shield made of rock, or hardened earth.

 

***Hachimitsu estate***

 

Kochō managed to be on time for the tea party in spite of of Oni sensei's attempts to maim her. But she supposed it paid off, since she could do Iryō Hōno Mōdo kekkai. It was a jutsu that Kochō had accidently done when she fended off Kagura's assault, when the woman was forcing her young protégé to develop Iryō Mōdo.

Normally, this mode enveloped the user in flowing blue chakra and allowed them to constantly heal themselves in the middle of battle, and at the same time boosted their strength and speed. The downside of this technique that Kato Shizune developed, because she couldn't master Tsunade's Sōzō Saisei, was that over time this mode consumed the user's chakra until it wore off by itself, leaving the chakra-exhausted user on the ground and unable to move.

Her newly-dubbed technique resulted in red and dark purple colored flaming aura, which surrounded her body in silhouette. Healing her scratches and bruises as intended, however that flame like shroud also obliterated and acted as a barrier and defense shield for all of Kagura's attacks, genjutsu, ninjutsu and even weapons. Some of her stiletto knives had melted when she'd thrown them at Kochō.

Of course, the cost of this jutsu was very steep as it rendered Kochō unconscious. Oni sensei, of course, just left her laying there on the training ground.

And if there ever was proof that there was a more sadistic teacher than Anko, Oni sensei Kagura took the crown. She didn't even have time to change to her semi-formal kimono, so she quickly washed herself, carefully folded her very formal furisode and all she needed to dress up for that dinner, then quickly threw on a black short-sleeved tunic with silver clasps on the shoulders and pulled on black, form-fitting pants that reached her calves, pulled her hair back and tied it up, securing it with an amaryllis-shaped comb so that only two long strands hung in the front. She also pulled on a dark blue coat of medium length with a hood, with the Shunran clan symbol emblazoned on the back, three vermilion amaryllis blossoms in full bloom in a circle.

Of course, now she was sitting before Hachimitsu Hachiko, who looked like some fragile porcelain doll, with her honey-colored round eyes and pretty eyelashes, and her golden hair braided to the side and tied with a silk ribbon that matched the dark green of her chima skirt with gold flowers on the hems, which complimented and matched nicely with her glossy pearl pink shirt. About to have a traditional tea ceremony, she felt severely underdressed.

"It is nice to meet you, Hachiko-hime," Kocho greeted, giving a formal bow. Her hands slid over her knees until the tips of her fingers touched the floor in front of her body.

'Likewise, Kochō-Ōjo,' signaled the future Hachimitsu Matriarch, returning the bow in kind, then began the tea ceremony with graceful movements ,She ritually cleansed each utensil, including the tea bowl, whisk and tea scoop using prescribed motions, and placed them in an exact arrangement according to the particular temae.

When Hachiko prepared the thick tea, she took the tea bowl and, exchanging a bow, Hachiko passed the tea bowl to Kochō, who took the bowl in both hands and raised it slightly in respect for her hostess. Pulling back the tea bowl, she rotated it to avoid drinking from its front, then took a dainty sip.

"Hachiko-hime," she started in a well-known dialect that was signature tradition. After all, she had suffered through many, many a tea ceremony with Yūhi Kurenai, Mitarashi Anko and her two aunts, Yūgao-obasama and Hari-obachan. "The hint of jasmine in this lovely beverage is really gentle and gives the tea a very sweet flavour, and the paintings of sakura blossoms on the bowl are beautifully rendered."

A bell jingled. While Hachiko's hands signed, 'The tea is made from Mitsu no Kuni's own jasmine flowers that haven't yet bloomed, sweetened with tiny honey drops.'

After taking a few sips, Kochō took a small, rectangular piece of linen and wiped clean the rim of the bowl. then she returned the ceramic bowl back to her hostess, who cleansed the rest of the equipment and put it all onto the serving tray. Then, as if being called by the action, a serving girl entered with a tray containing a pot of tea, two teacups and a large plate of confectioneries.

With that, the formality was over and they were left alone by the serfs.

'Kochō-Ōjo,' signaled the golden haired girl, 'we should retire to the gardens. I hear from Yui-san that the roses are in full bloom.'

Kochō smiled. "I've would like that. Thank you, Hachiko-hime."

Hachiko, meanwhile, waved her hand in dismissal. 'There is no need for formalities any more.'

"Couldn't agree more. So Hachiko-san, what do you do?" asked Kochō curiously, while they walked through artistically-painted sliding doors to the gardens beyond.

'Just Hachiko is fine. I've had tea with every clan in Konoha.'

"And just Kochō is all right with me." Then she asked, since she knew that there were at least three clans Hachiko hadn't had tea with. "You didn't have tea with the Uchiha, Uzumaki or Yuki clans, right?"

Hachiko paused in her steps. 'That is correct. All three have only one representative in Konoha, so it was deemed unnecessary to invite individuals.' Then she let out a soundless sigh. 'I hope they weren't offended?' she asked.

"Ah, I see." Kochō nodded, and then she was quick to reassure the mute civilian heiress, "I am sure the boys didn't miss participating in a tea ceremony."

Naruto didn't have the patience for it, even if he did attend it at the Shunran compound. Sasuke could pull it off, but he had no interest whatsoever. The only one she was sure would enjoy it was Haku, but then he was over at Yakumo's house right now.

"So there is no need to worry, Hachi-senpai."

Hachiko stopped walking on the gravelled path and looked at the purple-haired girl in shock, and then she grinned. It was a relieved grin, which told Kochō a lot. It appeared that till now Hachiko was worried about something connecting to Kochō herself. Worry that was now somewhat lifted, and offhand she wondered what that was.

'Thank you, Chō – kōhai.'

"So I take it that Lady Suisei has told you about my not-so-little problem?"

'Yes, she also suggested that we help each other.'

"I'd like that. I think we…er, Hachiko, what's wrong?"

'Nothing, don't worry about it.'

"Hachi-senpai," she started hesitantly. That was definitely not nothing, and it was definitely something, Kochō wanted to say, but the fact was that she didn't know Hachiko well enough to be so direct. But the girl was acting…like she'd frozen in fear.

The thing was that Kochō had no idea why the golden-haired heiress' behavior had changed from happily chatting with her to freezing up and looking down at the grass under their feet. Kochō's thoughts trailed off. Could it be, could Hachiko actually sense Zetsu belowground? She had been trained by traveling Miko and she did sense emotions, so it was possible.

Now wasn't that interesting. What was more interesting, however, was why Zetsu was here, if it was indeed the Aloe Vera man. The jingle of a bell drew her attention.

'Kochō, I have to go. I forgot something. Could you wait for me in the gazebo over there?'

"Sure, it's not a problem." She nodded, then watched as Hachiko hurried between a labyrinth of bushes with green leaves and bright sunny yellows tiny flowers on vertical hedges. Resisting the urge to follow, she quickly grabbed small bit of paper from her hidden pouch and pressed the paper between her palms. A small trickle of chakra, a trickle of reiryoku, and was she ever so happy to put a name to this energy, and a fuchsia-colored glow peeked between her fingers. When she separated her palms, a dark purple butterfly took flight and started to tail Hachiko, while Kochō continued towards the gazebo that had been pointed out to her.

The gazebo was a beautiful, delicate wooden latticework painted white with a red brick base and a red tiled trianglular roof, with eglantine climbing over the lattice offering shade and an apple-like fragrance that this wild rose was known for. Kochō smiled when she saw them. She liked roses; the Shunran gardens had a variety of them, along with red Amaryllis, but that flower was the clan's symbol, so her featuring in the clan gardens was expected. Still, she was noting the differences: her compound leaned more towards water type of gardens, with large ponds with koi fish of all colors of the rainbow, while the Hachimitsu garden in contrast had more evergreens with occasional wild roses twining here and there.

Kochō's musings were interrupted when she sat down, only to feel something hard.

"Huh?" she muttered, and looked. It was book with a red hard cover. "What's this?" She flipped it open in a fit of curiosity, while sitting back down.

Hachiko, meanwhile, collected the tray of sweets, not caring to call a maid to help her, and was hurrying back amongst the hedges when she tripped, feeling sudden nausea, and fell, scattering the sweets that were on the tray.

She glared at the ground. 'I know you're there,' she signalled, glaring at the paved path, then she stiffened when all a white half-faced-humanoid shape with green hair and one yellow emerged without much effort from the ground like the soil and pebbles were made of water and not solid.

The white being grinned. "Ahh, black Zetsu is going to be angry at me," he sang creepily, "but you are just too cute not to show myself to you."

Hachiko pinched her nose as she felt another wave of nausea hit her, and a grin widened on the half of the white face. "Good, you are still sick," it said. "Now is a good time as any to take you."
Hachiko's eyes widened with alarm when one white arm reached for her. Panicked, she flared seishin energy all over her body in preparation to defend herself.

Only, it wasn't needed as a butterfly engulfed in fuchsia flames collided with the outstretched grabbing arm, engulfing it in a light mulberry blaze with loud sound, mixed with white Zetsu's screams.

"You," he growled, when the flames died down, leaving burned splotches on its otherwise white arm, "bitch." Only for a hard covered red book to bounce off the empty side of its head.

"Is wondering if you are flammable, twiggy," came a mocking voce from his blind side. He turned, his face a grimace of anger and pain, to see a twelve year old girl, her body framed in a vivid purplish red flame silhouette holding red flaming senbon needles in her hand.

"So, twig man," she said calmly, stepping forward with a sharp smile on her face, her hair flowing behind and around her face like she was under water. "Make. My. Day." She punctuated each word with a mocking tone and threatening step, accompanied with a blast of killer intent focused on White Zetsu, who did the sensible thing and dived into the ground, but he did not retreat fast enough to evade two senbon that hit him.

Hachiko stared, torn between amused, angry and scared as she stared at the spot that White Zetsu had disappeared.

"Well." Her kōhai interrupted her musings. Hachiko turned to see that Kochō was back to normal, the aura that surrounded her disappearing, leaving only an exhausted genin in its wake.
"That was definitely a million yen worth of hit, don't you think?" Kochō mused, making Hachiko let out a giggle. Kochō jerked, startled even as she sat exhausted on the ground. "Is it gone?"
Hachiko focused for a second, then nodded.

"All right, good, because I'm out of chakra, and by the way, did you know that you just made a sound?" And with that she sank to her knees, breathing heavily, trying not to lose consciousness again.

Hachiko stared, then slowly touched her throat. Kochō nodded resolutely, then she leaned over to pick up the hard red covered book that she had thrown at White Zetsu in the beginning. "Yep, you did. And this book is useful in repelling annoying weed, as well as having some very, ahem, educational picture stories."

'I only look at it because of the superb art,' Hachiko hastily signalled, while light rose dusted her cheeks.

"Ohh," Kochō drawled, smirking, "so it is your book. Must say that picture story of a young farm boy Kai sneaking in to princess Momo's room at night, where she was waiting for him, and the second panel where the princess was straddling Kai and kissing him was beautifully rendered. The colors themselves are amazing, the artist did good work. "

Hachiko turned fire engine red, while Kochō's smile widened and she giggled in glee. Who would have thought that the Hachimitsu heiress liked pictured stories about romance and light acts of lovemaking. Heck, she herself was enthralled by the picture story so that with her initial curious peek, she had flipped to the front and started from beginning, and was only interrupted by Shikigami's flash and bang, so that she hurried over with the book.

"Maybe I should introduce you to my former sensei, Hatake Kakashi?" At that, Hachiko became positively purple in the face, she was blushed so hard. "And you can form a Club together."

 

***Hachimitsu estate, evening***

 

Yui, Hachiko's Lady-in-Waiting, helped both Hachiko and Kochō dress in their respective outfits.
The golden-haired heiress of Hachimitsu was decked in a very expensive, formal hanbok. A heavy shimmering silk white chima, overlaid with royal blue see through fabric that had little pink roses with golden vines and leaves embroidered on the front of the skirt. Her skirt was paired with a light pink jeogori shirt that had royal blue cuffs and neckline. On the sleeves, pink roses trailed around with golden and green leaves trailing along the shoulders and around the back of the neckline. Her hair was plaited to the side and tied off with royal blue ribbon with gold and green design. On top of her head was gold flowered headband with pearls and amber gems.

In contrast, Kochō's furisode was coal black with golden obi, with red cords, imperial red amaryllis and monarch and swallow-tailed butterflies floating along the sleeves and bottom. Her purple hair were pulled up in complicated curls at the top of her head and held in place with golden decorative hair sticks and golden kazeshini adorned with finely wrought amaryllises from red glass.

"So did your grandparents," started Kochō, while the two walked toward the dining hall, with Hachiko's lady-in-waiting Yui, trailing behind, "invite an heir to Hatake Ichizoku?" Then she started to giggle into her sleeves when Hachiko blushed.

'Shush, you,' Hachiko signalled, trying and failing to suppress her blush, while poking Kochō in her side. Not that the other girl felt that poke because of the obi she wore.

"Fine, fine." Then she smirked. "So when is the wedding?" Then she grinned. "And wouldn't your granddad think that Kakashi is too old for you?"

'He's not that old! He is only twenty three.' The signed defense came from Hachiko, and then her chin lifted, displaying the lightly rose-dusted cheeks and shiny honey-colored eyes. 'Besides, the age and status of one's husband or lovers means nothing to the Hachimitsu Matriarch.'

Unfortunately for her dignity, Kochō totally ignored Hachiko's attempt to embarrass her kōhai by mentioning that she could, if she wanted to, have a harem.

"Aha, so you do think of Hatake Kakashi in that way." Then she struck a thinking pose. "So senpai, how many can you have in your harem?"

Hachiko blinked and then looked away. 'It's a scary thing. Right now I have crushes, but I'm afraid,' she signed.

"Of falling in love?" asked Kochō, voice quiet. This was not something a guest should overhear, even if they weren't at the dining hall yet, considering that they hadstopped in the middle of hallway and turned towards the oil paintings displayed on the walls.

"Getting hurt because of it?" She could echo that concern from both her lives. As Buffy she hadloved Angel; that was a starcrossed kind of love, similar to the likes of Paris and Helen, Romeo and Juliet, Amidala and Anakin, Arwen and Aragon. Funny only one of the couple had a happy ending. In this life, her original crush had been dead for twelve years, and married besides to a pretty awesome redhead. She was also heavily crushing on a mischievous Uchiha, who saw her as the little sister he had never had.

'Sometimes love can't win. Crushes I can handle, but love? I don't know. Marriage for Matriarchs is tough and rarely work out if it's a political marriage, which was the case for past Matriarchs,' Hachiko signalled, her face sad. 'Whereas being lovers openly gives a Matriarch the flexibility necessary to run the family and participate in politics in Mitsu no Kuni.'

"So keep your opinions open. Who knows, maybe you'll find love today." Kochō nodded, then tensed when she saw something white flash in the corner of her vision and relaxing when she saw that it was an approaching servant girl.

"Hachiko-hime, Kochō- Ōjo," she greeted, bowing low. "Mimori-dono asked me to bring the two of you, along with Yui-sama, to the garden to mingle with the guests, as the dining hall is not yet ready."

Hachiko nodded, and the servant maid bowed to them both before hurrying away. Then Yui stepped before them to lead the way to the largest garden located in the middle of the estate.
Most of the guests were clan heads and their close family members, along with heirs, some members of trading companies, rich merchants, civilian councilwomen and men from Konoha and Mitsu no Kuni, looking around at decorations made from expensive silk and rare flower arrangements.

"Oh senpai, you still didn't answer my question." Kochō's voice startled Hachiko from her observation of the guests.

'Which question?' signalled Hachiko, wondering which question Kochō meant.

"How many men, besides Kakashi-sensei, can you have in your harem?"

Hachiko blushed violently and then quickly scanned the vicinity for any eavesdroppers. Seeing none, she signalled in a hurry.

'Stop teasing me about my crush on Kakashi before somebody hears. And there's no limit to one's lovers. A harem...'

"Do my ears deceive me?" came a very familiar drawl from behind them, and a masked, silver-haired head peeked over Kochō and Hachiko's shoulders, giving the startled girls his famous eye smile.

"Or am I understanding that Hachiko-hime wants a harem?" Kakashi whispered as he stood behind the Hachimitsu Heiress, who turned rather red. He whispered next to her ear, but loud enough for Kocho to hear.

"Kakashi sensei," Kochō started, right after she calmed, after a fraction of second of being startled, making Kakashi smile proudly under his mask. His cute little student had learned well under Otter, his former ANBU comrade.

"What are you doing here? I thought that those who …"

"Mah, Kochō chan, yes, it is true that sole surviving representatives in Konoha are not individually invited, but we can come in one group. So here we are. Sakura is here too, since Kurama Yokumo took care of Haku-kun's invite." Then his sole eye narrowed when he noticed disaster in the making.

Naruto was minding his own business, being involved in conversation with Ino and Shino about flowers. When a shadow fell over him …

"What is the likes of you doing here?" came an arrogant voice from a tall man with long brownish gold hair, decked in a silk dark green men's kimono, stitched with golden and silver threads. Behind him there was a crowd of Konoha's merchants, all watching him with cold eyes.
Naruto nearly snorted. It figured that it would be merchants mostly that picked on him today. From the corner of his eye he could see Sasuke making a beeline toward him, his eyes for a moment spinning red, then back to his usual solid black
.
He shrugged. "As the only member of Uzumaki Ichizuku and Senju, I have to be here."

The man scoffed and sneered, like he had stepped on something unpleasant, but before he could say anything, Nara Shikaku and Yamanaka Inoichi stepped in.

"Uzumaki-sama." Naruto just knew that Shikamaru would tease him about this later, if that gleam in his eyes was any indication, but Shikaku continued in his same level voice. "I see that you've met Shiburi-san from the merchant's guild."

Then he turned towards the group and some curious onlookers that were ovserving the event with avid curiosity.

"Shiburi Hidako, this is the sole son and hair of Uzumaki Kushina of Uzumaki Ichizoku and distant cousin of Senju Tsunade through her grandmother Uzumaki Miko, who married our very first Hokage."

The faces of those assembled were priceless, and best of all this would not stay quiet and would spread around Konoha like wildfire.

"True enough. Hello, cousin." And now even the ones who doubted the most, such as Shiburi, had to face the facts, as the one who had said those words was none other tha …

"Tsunade-sama, it is good to see you again."

"Kakashi-san, I see even at a dinner party and in formal attire, you still wear this silly mask."

 

*** Forest of death***

 

They were gathered in the clearing outside the training field. Said field was surrounded by a very high metallic fence, covered with warning signs that promised death and pain to those foolish enough to enter. Tall trees with gigantic roots could be seen behind the fence, and projected a very ominous feeling about the place.

There was a little booth being set up, and several of the previous day's sentinels were milling about, while ominous animal shrieks and growls sounded in the distance.

"Kiddos!" came a sudden yell, and Mitarashi Anko appeared among them, making several startle.

"Welcome to training grounds 44!" Then a grin split her face. "Otherwise known as the Forest of death! Before you get the privilege of entering my beautiful playground, I have forms for you to sign. Come now, don't be shy!"

As the forms were handed out, Anko observed the genin. This year, she had a more invested interest, in one pink-haired genin in particular, but that didn't stop her from checking out the other Konoha teams.

There was Kure-chan's team 8. Aburame's kid was standing still, hands in pockets, facing the fence that separated them from the training ground. She wouldn't put it past the kid to already send some of his beetles to scout ahead. The Inuzuka was gesturing something wildly to the lazy Nara kid, who appeared not to be paying attention to anything, making most of the participants discard him as a threat.

Fools.

Getting in close quarters with a Nara, or giving a Nara time to plan, was just asking to be beaten and humiliated. The little Hyūga was poking her fingers together and stealing glances at Uzumaki's brat, who was in some argument with the Uchiha. Then she scowled when she saw Sakura hit Uzumaki for something he said to the other brat, while said other brat glared at Sakura, who was fawning over him.

It looked like she would have to work some more on Sakura's fangirling tendencies.

 

*** Aburame compound***

 

Aburame Shibi and Nara Shikaku were enjoying a quiet evening at the Aburame compound. That, and Shikaku was sort of hiding from his nagging wife Yoshino, something that would be nearly impossible when the Chūnin exams started. A small grey toad caught Aburame's eye. Adjusting his glasses, he stood up and walked out to the clan's garden.

Shikaku sighed, then slowly stood and followed the kikaichū user.

"I am quite surprised," Shibi intoned, when he came to a green-clad form sitting on a lower branch. "Why? Because I was not expecting you to show up here."

"And my day has just becomes more troublesome," the shadow user muttered, while pinching the bridge of his nose.

Jiraiya smirked at the grumbling Nara and the calm Aburame, then jumped down from the branch and leaned his shoulder against the same tree on which branch he had just been sitting on seconds ago. The he give his summoning animal a short nod, and the amphibian disappeared in a puff of smoke.

"It's a little less obvious then me approaching either of you on the street. Or me making an obvious house call."

Then Nara clan head give the spy master of Konoha a sharp look. "So, they are watching your movements, and Tsunade-sama's?"

Jiraya nodded, not at all surprised at Shikaku's deduction. "Tsunade is aware, and so is sensei. They can be very sneaky, but you can never be too sure. Besides, the situation is more critical than you may think."

"Shimura Danzō wants to be Hokage." The lazy shadow user shrugged. "That's something most clan heads and I, as Jōnin commander, won't support."

Aburame adjusted his shades.

"The old war hawk has recruited one of yours too many," Jiraiya sighed, and then a cold look settled across his features. "I would have killed him a long time ago, ever since that attempt at sensei's life with Tenzo, and then the chiha and Orochimaru business; there were leads connecting all of that. But Sarutobi-sensei thinks it's a bad idea."

"Accusing Danzō's as a traitor, without solid proof, may cause a civil war. ROOT is still in operation." Shibi frowned, a slight buzzing coming from his person; his hive held much contempt for the elder. "Why? Because after it was disbanded I offered clan mates that were recruited their place on clan grounds, but they refused and joined ANBU." There was a slight lull in conversation as a slight wind moved the branches above men.

"Danzō didn't succeed in recruiting any of the clan heads' immediate relatives, ever, but not for lack of trying."

"Who?"

"My son." Shibi didn't lose his stoic Aburame facade, but the Sanin and Nara heard the hive within buzz ominously.

"Oh, heh," Jiraiya groaned, covering his eyes. "Now sensei will have to deal with Danzō one way or another, or the brats will make killing Danzō one of their long-term goals. The old coot drew their attention when he meddled with that incident."

Jiriya paused, thinking of a conversation he had had with a certain Uchiha in hiding. "I take it back. Danzō has probably been on at least one of the brat's radar for years."

Shikaku nodded his head. "I've made sure that Shikamaru is aware of some 'nebulous' danger that comes from drawing the Elder's Advisory council's attention, and I know Inoichi and Choza have done the same with their kids."

Not that it had helped, since Donzō probably had used Kyubi's attack to kidnap some children he otherwise could not touch. Luckily, none were from the Nara and Akimichi clan. The Yamanaka had not been so lucky.

"On the other hand, there is another problem brewing." Shibi looked at Konoha's spy master.

"Orochimaru is somewhere in Konoha."

"With the help of Danzō."

"Most likely."

"But we have no proof."

"The old codger is too good to leave any proof or witnesses." Then Jiraiya smirked. "But his luck is running out, and so is Orochimaru's. With any luck both will be dealt with by the end of the exams."

 

***Forest of Death***

 

"Come on, work with me here," she muttered, beads of sweat glinting on her forehead while she sent tendril-like barriers of Seishinryoku to imprison the putrid chakra originating from the bite mark on Yakumo's forearm. She determinately pushed away the guilt she was starting to feel at the Yakumo's condition.

Orochimaru's target was originally Sasuke, who he had tried to bite, but Sakura had switched Sasuke with a leaf, of all things, so Orochimaru had overshot and bitten Yakumo instead.
Hinata, helping her with her Byakugan vision, pointed out when the 'poison' was escaping her grasp, and Naruto was working on a confinement seal nearby so that Kochō could hear and imprison Orochimaru's chakra.

Choji, Shikamaru, Ino, Kiba with Akamaru, and Sakura were standing guard before them, watching for openings, while Sasuke and Haku pelted the Snake sanin with jutsu after jutsu, while Shino's insect were racing to call for help.

Kochō nearly growled in frustration when the putrid feeling chakra slipped from her grasp, just a drop, but it was quickly multiplying after that, like it had mind of its own…
Wait a minute, she was treating this as a snake bite, and she never imagined that the thing was sentient, but considering that Orochimaru had been 'reborn' from Anko's seal in the manga, it made a creepy sort of sense.

Now that was interesting thought. Perhaps, if she'd gave Orochakra something it wanted, the host's chakra that it fed on, turning it….like a virus in a Resident Evil movie. Well, she could work with that maybe. Creating tube-like barriers and coating them with chakra, she sent those probes to meet with Orochichakra.

And sure enough, the yucky chakra went inside the tubes, going after the unaffected chakra, trying to convert it.

"Gotcha!" Kochō crowed, and started to wrap the gathered chakra in tendril barriers like one would a ball of yarn.

 

Next: Arrival at the tower, Tournament, invasions, lives saved, lives lost….

Chapter Text

Sunlight. Birds chipping outside. Waking up, I stretched and yawned, opening my mouth wide to show a glittering of sharp teeth. My partner mirrored my actions, right down to the scratching of our ears with our feet.

We quickly ate our morning meal, rice and steak … raw in the middle.

Today would be a great day, I could tell. My partner and I were full of energy and ready to show that we were alpha dogs to the other nin in Konoha and outsiders alike.

Well, me more than my partner. I’m much more an alpha dog than he is. He can’t do a thing without me.

He was given to me when he was five, and that makes him my litter-mate, so I have to take care of him.

Ever since Alpha heirless Mother, Tsume, brought me in to Kiba’s den, Kiba and I became a pack of two.

Tsume was the unquestioned leader of the Inuzuka, and yes we, the Ninken, are referred to under the same name of our Pack’s Clan.

The day I was partnered with Kiba I lost my pup name, Kensui, because my inuhaha told me that I was the only pup with floppy ears and so my name described me perfectly.

And so I became Akamaru.

That was the name my partner gave me. I don’t know why. My fur is white, like a cloud or snow, not red. Unless I eat a pill, then my fur becomes red. I also become stronger. Much stronger and together we can take anything in our way with this technique.

But I doubt that my partner, who unlike me is still a pup, had known that.

When we become genin the pack grew from two to five. And they learned a lot. I like how shy, timid Hinata is nice to me. Looking after me and my clumsy partner when we hurt ourselves.

She smells of something sweet, like strawberries mixed with honey, sprinkled with cinnamon, and she hints of the scent of a put out candle flame.

I like Shino and his little helpers, even if they freak my partner somewhat when we visit the onsen together. Honestly that startled me as well, but that was only the first time it happened, and maybe the second. Kiba reacts every time. It is funny, but it proves again that I have to look after my partner.

Shino smells of hay and earth, and just small hints of peppermint and parchment, also the sour tang of beetles. I should know, since by accident ate a beetle when I yawned once.

Their sensei smells nice, apples and flowers and tea. But underneath there is a more sharp, metallic scent, and a whiff of something salty.

Kiba and I learned a lot from her, so much that our pack of three was nominated by Kurenai sensei for the Chūnin exams.

We breezed through the written test. Nothing escapes my sight when I am sitting on Kiba’s head.

Then a loud lady, with spiky dark-purple hair, smelling of blood, snakes, sweet sake and sticky dango jumped in and took us to the forest. There we stood with the other packs of Konoha, as well as some from other villages.

It also gave me the opportunity to contemplate the scents surrounding my extended pack.

There was Naruto, with his spikes of yellow fur on his head and six whisker marks on his face. I don’t like those, too cat like.

However he doesn’t smell like a cat, thank Inukami. But his scent has changed, before he always smelled of storms and ramen, and sometimes of foxes, sweat and grass. Lately however the smell of the orange clad rival-of-my-partner has changed. The smell of foxes has somewhat receded, but other scents have joined in to the smell that is Naruto.

He still smells of storms, but the scent of something hot has joined into the mix. Like the scorching rays of the sun in the middle of a summer day. There is also the scent of toads and something sharp, like a blade of a very fine knife. If I and my partner should face our rival for alpha dog in our Genin Pack of 12, we better use our strongest jutsu to finish the fight quickly. Otherwise Naruto might defeat us.

Then there is Sasuke, he smells mostly of cats, as though there was a big, ugly cat napping on him all the time. I really dislike those sly little things. You can’t trust cats. They are ugly, and Sasuke was drenched in their stench. Other than this unpleasant smell he also smells like static, gathering of thunder strikes and bonfire.

But his scent has also changed; become stronger, more intense. Unfortunately, the cat stench has remained, so I don’t know the full truth of this newfound power or how strong he may be.

Stupid and disgusting critters the cats are.

If we face Sasuke, well, then we must use the same strategy as we would for Naruto. He needs to be put down quickly. Otherwise, I don’t know how long I’d be able to suffer the stench.

Sakura, contrary to her name, has never smelled like cherry blossoms. She does, however, smell like cookies and maple syrup. Now, under all of that, there is a slight hint of snake venom. An earthly smell clings to her like a second skin. She is a potentially strong candidate for being Kiba’s mate. She’d have to tone down the screaming though, it hurts my ears.

Their sensei smells like dogs and static. But mostly dogs. And as any proud ninken, such as I, knows: dogs rule. So Hatake Kakashi will get doggy snacks from me, or a chew toy. Any hairless pack leader that smells of dogs deserves it.

There are two new members of the pack. And unfortunately for Kiba, the female smells taken by Haku. So I am afraid, Kiba, trying to impress her just now didn’t make a good impression on the two new pack mates. If I judged their smell correctly, and I know I did.

Haku is one to be avoided. He might have a gentle smell of medicinal herbs, but he also smells harshly of winter storms, ones that can freeze through skin to the bone. I will have to warn Kiba to stay away from the female that Haku has chosen for a mate.

I hope he will listen to me better than he did when I warned him about the pack member that smells like hot camp fires and cooling brooks in the summer, mingled with the soft smell of an amaryllis flower. Not only was her refusal painful, as is becoming of an alpha type female, but our rival for alpha dog extracted a humiliating retribution for it.

Not that my stupid partner realized the delicate situation he found himself in.

He truly is helpless in such things. Hairless Alpha Tsume, laughed hard and long, when I informed her of her pup blunder with pack member with lilac coloured long fur, Kochō, and reassured me that it was all right, that Kiba will learn. I lament that he learns so slowly.

But I digest, the last three members of Genin Pack, smelled of deer and grass and open air for Nara pup, food for Akimichi I liked the smells clinging to round pup, I felt my lips pull up in doggy grin, sometimes I wonder if the pup could be used as a ball to ply with. The female with long pale blond fur smelled of dew covered moss, dry herbs, spices and flowers, especially bush clover. Their Genin leader smelled of tobacco, that always managed to make me sneeze - loudly, there was also smell of camp fire and wind.

Committing the new note to cent of Genin Pack I and Kiba belonged to; I turned my snout to scope the competition.

I turned my head and titled it to the side then took a deep breath, letting the various odours of pups stranding around MY Genin Pack.

There were a couple of note from the Konoha, the one with white eyes, not pretty white as my fur, but tinted with pearly pink sheen, like team pack mate Hinata's eyes. Only this one was male, he smelled of herring, which he probably ate before coming here, judging by other smells, light sweaty almond smell, he is bitter about something but that he also tries hard. The pup with giant eyebrows and glossy black fur, that currently was gibbering something to cringing away pack mate Sakura, green pup reeked of sweet and blood. Something that third male pup lacked, hmmm, this one is newer to their team pack, possibly Omega pup of this team pack structure.

Then there were three older adversaries that smelled of …. I take another whiff, all three smelled reptilian. The silver furred, with additional glass eyes on his nose most of all of them, that and a faint smell of antiseptics. Like he spent a lot of time in the hospital, he didn’t smell of illness trough. Come to think of it, this one approached them before written test sharing information.

A bit at the back, pups from the desert stood. Suna pups all smelled of hot sand, but there were differences and strong and faint undertones of other smells, that I could take apart way better than my partner.

There were six pups that stand out, one of them in dratted cat suit; I don’t like him, even if he doesn’t reek of cats, he smells of poisons and wood, he looks like a cat.

Freaking Cat lover! Besides Nekoteme stands female with four tufts of yellow fur, she smells of hot winds and wild flowers. She also smells a bit like Cat with make-up, so I think she is his litter mate, along with smaller pup, than smelled of blood, sand and raccoons, with short crimson fur.

A bit further another trio of sand smelling pups stood, they smelled funny, like rattlesnakes for pup with round bulging eyes, the smaller two females smelled of sandblasted glass and lemon grass. The female that stood in front, clutching a porcelain doll to her chest, stroking its wiry bristle hair, smelled of sandalwood and sap of lacquer tree.

I whined a detailed warning to Kiba, but he just patted me on the head. I really need to work on his vocabulary.

Then there was a team that had lingering smell of snakes, one of them attacked the silver furred four eyes before first exam started. I think it was sound, it really ringed in my ears after that. I tried to tell Kiba, but again, he missed on details. I’ll have to tell his shortcoming to Kuromaru. Besides him there was loud one that bragged a lot and a female of the pack.

Then there was female that smelled of strongly of perfume with white fur, like my own, purple eyes and darker tone to her skin, she had a moon shaped village symbol. So her team was from Tsukigakure.

The other two that smell strongly of fire were two genin from the same pack female of the two had unusual light grey eyes with circular pattern and of white fur, with four grass blades, etched in her Hitai-ate proclaiming her Kusa no Jitsu, same as the young one with coal black hair in same style as Mind walker, from my Genin Twelve Pack.

The smell coming from the two genin from Hoshigakure was strong to …also weird, I smell burnt walnuts? I don’t get it why would they smell so strongly of burned over walnuts. It was so strange.

But Kiba was already moving in to the boot, and Shino took the Heaven scroll from seated chūnin and tucked it in one of his inner pocket, or rather his helpers did.

As we moved to the our entrance to the forest Mitarashi voice came from sound system above us, “if you fail to retrieve the opposite scroll within time limit to reach the entrance for the second part, then you fail. Remember! By any means necessarily!”

“Countdown begins NOW!”

“5.”

Kiba tucked me under his jacket, so that only my head poked out.

“4”

Hinata shifted nervously, and I give her reassuring bark.

“3”

Insect spread out from Shino’s slews and flayed in the darkness of the forest.

“2”

“1.”

“BEGIN!”

For a moment everything was still, then Kiba lounged forward and we were flying, jumping from branch to branch. Or rather Kiba, Hinata and Shino did. I was comfortably nestled in the jacket.

“They found Earth Scroll.” Shino intoned.

“All right!” yelped Kiba excitedly; I must say I barked as well. I was glad that we’ll be among the first that will get the scroll.

“Maybe w-we should, collect some more, i-in case any other team n-needs it.”

“Bah Hinata, you are too nice, why should we do all the work?!”

“It’ll be prudent.” Shino stated, “Why? Because they are our comrades and we all decided on our meeting that we will cooperate on survival part of Chūnin exams.

“Tch, what do you think, Akamaru!” Kiba asked me rubbing behind my ears.

I give affirmative bark, “All right Akamaru, you right! They would be hopeless without Team 8 helping them. Because we are that awesome!”

Not what I meant, but whatever.

When we come to Amegakure genin team, Shino’s bugs already sucked their chakra dry so we easily took their scroll. And it seemed that they already encountered team with Heaven Scroll. So they had a spare Heaven. Then bugs went in search of the rest of Genin 12 Pack.

We found Team 10 first; I smelled the salty smell of chip, that accompanied Akimichi Chōji, and faint smell of deer, since he spend a lot of time with Nara’s hair, right away. He always ate that, round pup, but then again Akimichi Ichizoku converted food that they ate into pure muscle the rest was stored in reserve of chakra, so Chōji's yells that he is not fat, but "big boned" was true, since their bones, when they used jutsu Chōji’s body expanded, grown bigger.

Which reminds me I am kind of hungry.

“Troublesome,” came from pineapple head, cleaning his ear with his pinky finger. “So Team 8 found us.”

“Yes. Why?” answered Shino in his typical way. “Because that was the agreement, that there is strength in numbers.”

Ino absent-mindedly petted me on the head, now if only she gave me jerky. “We started with Earth Scroll …” she started, but Hinata threw Heaven’s scroll to her.

“H-here, we h-have spare.”

“Wow nice, Hinata. Thank you.”

“Che, you are lucky we are so awesome, isn’t that right boy.” Kiba smirked at frowning Yamanaka. I think he really, really should not antagonize a female whom can make him think that he is five year old girl.

“Right,” drawled Ino, then winked at my direction, sometimes I have a feeling she understands me better than Kiba. “If you say so, bird brain.”

I sneezed, good thing to or Kiba would realize I am laughing. And then he would give that sad look. Not as sad I can make, but points for effort.

“Hey!”

“What, Akamaru has more sense that you and he is cuter as well”

“You …!”

“Knocked it out, you two are such a drag.” Ah the voice of reason, not that I haven’t enjoyed being called cute by Yamanaka female, being called cute means petting and treats, lots and loads of treats. And possibly belly rub.

And so we went in search of the rest of the Genin pack. Soon I smelled unmistakable scent of Team Tekuno and Shino's helpers warned us that there will be incoming fight with some Kusa nin. Soon we were standing on thick branch, Haku, Yakumo and Kochō below in inverted triangle formation. Yakumo standing at the back, while Haku and Kochō in front facing the aforementioned Kusa genin.

Quick signals of hand movement between the teams and it was decided that they won't interfere until it won’t be necessary. Personally I thought as I observed six genin below, Pack members had this covered. Kusa genin might be older and taller and had obvious weaponry on display.

One of males carried a dark blue coloured, umbrella, with white show dragon twisting around its surface breathing freezing gusts of wind. The other male was holding chakra extendable whip.

“Look what we have here three little girls playing ninja.” the kunoichi of the group drawled, fanning herself with hand held battle fan. Other identical fan tucked at her waist. I winced and shriveled when the temperature went down a couple degrees. That won't end well. For Grass nin. Nothing rises this team hackles up more that condescending tones.

Sure enough a sketch book was immediately drawn upon along with charcoal, as Yakumo began to draw one of her genjutsu. I shuddered again, genjutsu users could be frightening when angered, and Team Tekuno was very proficient in this area, not that they were slouches in nin and tai aspect.

Kiba sat down smirking, others following suit, I was just happy that Chōji remembered me, when he distributed popcorn, giving me beef jerky to chew upon while watching the show that started below.

“Oh look the little baby girls want to play.” the one with umbrella said, “well then perhaps we should indulge them for a bit.”

“No matter, we will take theirs scroll too.” grumbled his teammate, shaking the whip tails, so that they grew in length. ”Do not worry; I have no intention to whip children.”

“You certainly seem eager to trough.” Kochō's voice came floating up, it sounded a bit wobbly, but none of us made any move to help, to the Kusa nin she sounded scared.

I knew my pack mate. She was amused. Haku was irritated ever since that crack from kunoichi that he was a girl and Yakumo was affronted at the Kusa nin' words.

“Enough talking!” exclaimed Kusa kunoichi, snapping her fan open, revealing painted bird of paradise in reds and orange on the metal surface of said fan.

“Oh shiny,” came a whisper from bellow, too low for human ears, even Kiba's, but I heard Kochō excitement and her next words were so typical of her, that I should know she'll say them. “She doesn’t get to keep those.”

I fought a snort, not only will the Kusa pups be relieved of their scroll; they will probably be looted for anything Kochō deems ‘shiny toy’.

Genin stepped forward, and then twirled his opened umbrella. “Hyōga Sairan!”

And a massive wave of ice erupted from the umbrellas tip, freezing grass in its wake. Huh well the umbrella did have a snow dragon painted on.

“Hi no Kekkai!”

A barrier made of flame erupted around three Konoha genin right on the white wave of ice path, red and white colliding and creating a thick mist in the clearing.

“I must give you thanks,” came from the mist. Haku's voice was a bit strained; it appeared that he was called a girl one time too many today. “You made my job easier. Hyōton: Tsurara Keimusho.”

When mist cleared with quick application of fūton, curtsy of Haku, I relay did snort then loudly, Kiba started to laugh so hard he nearly fall from the branch we were sitting on.

In the middle of the clearing there were three ice cubes, an inside trapped like insect in jade, in comical possess no less were Kusa genin.

“So did you enjoy the show?” Kochō looked up, holding two fans, one umbrella, one tube like object, that was probably deactivated chakra whip and Earth scroll which she somehow lifted from the trio before they were frozen.

Damn if I knew how she'd done that. Judging by puzzled expression of other pack members and surprise frozen on Kusa nin faces none knew answer to that question either.

“So,” Yakumo joined them, “do you guys need Earth scroll? Or Heaven scroll? We have spares now.”

Kiba abruptly stopped smirking, “Say what?” he barked, I whined in reassurance, not that my partner calmed down any.

“What do you mean spare!” he yelled grabbing at his fur on his head and pulling in frustration. Stupid move I thought, he doesn’t have much fur and he shouldn’t pull at it. He’ll lose that fur as well if this will go on unchecked.

Ino smiled and exchanged look with also smiling Hinata. “We are good.” Shino just gave satisfied nod.

“Troublesome.”

“Munch, how did you get spares?” Chōji asked the question that I was wondering about. As far as I knew none of this team was tracker ninja.

“We stumbled on older Konoha’s nin by the river.” Haku started, “they had both scrolls in their possession and wanted to open them. Yakumo-chan then created genjutsu with her painting and that was it and since we started with Earth scroll.”

“You had one Heaven spare.” Shikamaru nodded, “So now we have two Haven and one Earth spare scrolls. Good assuming that Team 7 hadn’t got their hands on the scroll they need we can cover any need they have.”

“Ahh,” Kochō drawled, gaining our attention at her. “I have picked up some toys.” She said smiling blandly. Haku let out a sigh then brightened. “I’m calling dips on umbrella.”

“Thought you might.” Kochō handed the blue umbrella to her new owner. “And Haku, I might be wrong but these babies feel… sentient.” She frowned at the ground concentrating. “I had nearly no training in Sainsin. But I can almost feel soothing there. So be careful.”

“So these,” Haku hefted umbrella closer inspected it, “ah I see it’s like Zabuza-sama’s Kubikiribōchō.”

At curios looks from his friends he elaborated. “All swords of the Mist are sentient in a way. One more than the other. Sometimes they absorb their last wielders personality, if welder didn’t have time to teach his or hers successor.”

“How about you Yakumo-chan?” asked Kochō.

“Aaa, I don’t need anything, Kochō-chan Haku-kun.” Assured Yakumo her teammates. Ino then stepped forward grabbed chakra whip and pushed in to the girl’s hands.

“Once upon a time, you’ll have to whip the ID demon in to submission, hence you need a whip.”

Yakumo frowned looking at the whip, “That might be so, but …it doesn’t feel right.”

“Well,” drawled Kochō, “then how about we switch it around until it does feel right?”

“Uh, right,” Haku frowned, when he got the fans in his hand, “just no, umbrella felt more right than this.”

Kochō snorted, “Yes well, whip apparently doesn’t like me at all.”

Yakumo however was holding the umbrella tightly a light smile lifting up her features. Ino smirked, “Ladies and Gentleman,” I barked, “and Akamaru,” Ino quickly numbered me in her count. “We have our first match!”
Haku smiled then swapped gave twin fans back to Kochō. “Well, whip is not so bad.”

“And I have my shines’ back!”

“Are we done with this, we still need to find Team Seven.” Shikamaru looked at us sharply.

They all nodded, I barked affirmative answer and then we were in the threes again. Well they were I was safely tucked in Kiba’s jacked. I cannot wait for the moment I’ll be big as Kuromaru.

When we finally cough up to Team Seven, they just finished tying up three genin from Ame. Who were dressed in tan jumpsuits and breathing masks and they were obviously clobbered unconscious, which means they somehow managed to get in close with Team Seven.

Now that was a suicide. I am impressed by Ame genin foolish bravery, taking on a Team Seven of Konoha, which is usually reserved for powerhouses of genin graduates.

It was tradition.

In fact teams were methodically put together. Or so Kuromaru taught us pups when Human Alpha Tsume is occupied with her own pups training or sparing, Kuromaru teaches me and Haimaru Sankyōdai.

Every generation we have tracker and retrieval unit, that was what my team specializes in this generation, then we have gen-nin-tai assault team, usually team seven if they pass and capture/interrogation team, that was Team ten and team Tekuno in a pinch, but I think they fit more Special ninjutsu investigation and diplomatic type of team, Konoha didn’t have this kind of team in a while.

“Hn, so the whole gang is here,” I’m usually not happy to see Uchiha pup, since ya know cat smell, but even I was happy to see him well.

Kochō looked around frowning. “It’ to quiet, not even birds … Hinata can you please activate your Byakugan?”

“What’s wrong?” Kiba asked, “do you smell anything boy?”

Ino and Naruto’s heads snapped at sudden shift in the air, I whined and give a bark of warning. Then a shower of wood splinters come flaying at us. One of them caches Shikamaru across the cheek leaving a thin trial of blood behind.

“Troublesome. We should-“Shikamaru froze when Naruto grabbed him. “Scatter!” he hollered and jumped pulling Shikamaru behind him.

Just in time as winds ripped through the trees, breaking them like twigs, winds were like a cone of wind blasting from a single point. Or like Inuzuka signature jutsu.

Then a woman’s voice sounded clear across the clearing where all twelve genin were scattered about.

"Alright, you two fan out into the woods and keep your eyes open. I'll handle this alone."

Luckily none of us was blown away by that jutsu. So we were together to face whomever. But considering the reason we decided to stick together for protection.

This is probably …

I hope Team 7 didn’t lose their signal flare tube, because if this is Orochimaru of the sanin, we’ll need outside help.

Good thing that we were prepared, well if it be up to Hokage, Slug and Toad Sanin we wouldn’t even know. It was good that Naruto and Sasuke told us about Orochimaru possible attack, so we did some of our own plotting.

Well mostly Nara Shikamaru, he did most of thinking.

"I sense your fear and desperation. It's only natural. The prey must never let down its guard, not even for a moment, in the presence of its predator, no matter the numbers!" came the creepy female voice from all directions.

Then suddenly the tall, pale Kusa nin, the one whom talked with proctor before this exam started, appeared in fast shunshin grabbed Hinata and with graceful motioned swept the girl into a nearby tree.

Hinata let out a strangled cry of pain, crumpling to the ground, by the trunk of the three she left a dent in. but Hinata was still concuss. So that was good.

“Hinata!” Kiba yelling out and gaining attention was not good I give alarmed bark, just in time for Kiba to jump away as a giant snake crashed through the place me and Kiba were hiding. Sanake meanwhile coiled around the tree speeding toward Team Seven that was huddled on the thick branch.

But suddenly Team Seven puffed out of existence, and trough residue smoke of dispelled Kage Bunshin a thin strings of wire shot through, one from higher ground the other in straight line, wrapping around the snake trapping it in place. Holding the strings were Naruto, on the branch, and Sasuke who was standing on the ground already holding a tiger seal, “Katon: Ryūka no Jutsu.” Breathing fire along the cord, fire rushed towards trashing snake.

"Fūton: Daitoppa!” Naruto shouted angling the strong blast of wind toward rushing fire. Two jutsu collided right as they hit their target.

I whine when a hot, so hot gust of wind hit me, but Kiba quickly shielded my and his eyes with his arms.

“Damn it’s hot!” Kiba howled as searing wind battled us, I barked, in agreement, then whined in comfort as Shino and Sakura touched down holding Hinata.

“She is all right,” Sakura soothed, “just a bit winded and bruised.”

I perked up my ears, there was strange rustling noise coming from charred snake corpse. Kiba turned.

“What the …”

I couldn’t agree more and I couldn’t help but cover deeper in Kiba’s jacket, as corps blackened and smoking skin began to ripple and crack and a sickeningly pale body with long black hair, began to climb from the corpse. Face of the woman melting away, revealing male features underneath. The man chuckled at their disgruntled look and lunged forward, body coiling and stretching like he was a snake himself.

Orochimaru!

This couldn’t be anyone else.

Sakura and Hinata were already moving by us, to assist the boys of Team Seven. Sakura running through hand sails, and jumping high in the air, "Doton: Doryūheki no jutsu!” she shouted spitting a torrent of mud from her mouth. That crashed between Snake Sanin and the boys, separating them, while Hinata shot at top speed her hands in her Jūken style, giving up soft glow.

“Shanarooo!” yelled Sakura descending down with a heal kick, but Orochimaru just twisted and turned swatting Sakura away with one hand, like a mosquito sending her crashing through the nearby tree trunk, causing said tree to topple over. Then he swirled around and sent Hinata flying in opposite direction, with a kick in her midsection. Then he straightened, the slithered, like snakes, eyes regarding the remaining genin.

“Well, well, well,” he tutted, then to my horror a tongue slithered out of his mouth, way past his chin, on dogs that is a sign of strength – long tongue- on humans, it is disgusting. More than cats are even. “A Kūby brat, Uchiha you two certainly made this fun.” Then he laughed and the shocked looks of surrounding genin.

“Ah, you didn’t know?” he asked archly, “how cute.”

“This is such a drag, but who are you?”

“Hmm, my name is Orochimaru," He replied, arrogance bleeding through his words. Sasuke sneered, “Never heard of you.”

I whimpered and almost covered my eyes with my paws; I could see Orochimaru's shoulders tighten slightly. Why was Sasuke goading the rouge Sanin, of all people, didn’t he have any sense of self preservation. And when will Team Kakashi send up signal flare. I mean Hokage gave them signal device, just for this situation, so why haven’t they signaled waiting team of ANBU who were waiting for it? And where was Team Tenkuno? Did Orochimaru do something to them, without me or Kiba noticing?

“Watch yourself,” Orochimaru’s voice dropped any pretence of geniality. It was a clear warning of a snake to the mouse. He made a step only to abruptly stop, a dark shadow connecting Shikamaru stopping the sanin in his tracks.

“Heh, Nara came out of the woodwork, but don’t think this will stop me boy.” He said smirking, and then he moved granted it was slow, but he was moving.

Ino shunshined to us, so that she was standing by Kiba, who angled his body just so that he could brace her body as she raised her hands in circle aiming it at Orochimaru.

“Shintenshin no Jutsu.”

Her eyes slid shut as she collapsed in Kiba’s waiting arms. Orochimaru twitched and shuddered violently, then, he exploded in long maniacal laughter. It, the laughter combined with Sanin’s facial expression, sends shudders through my spine, making my fur stand on end.

Abruptly the laughter stopped, “Fools,” he cackled some more but then a foot collided with his face.

“Sorry I’m late, you wouldn’t believe the traffic.”

“Kochō-chan that wasn’t funny!”

“Yes it was.”

“No it wasn’t. By the way what took you guys so long?”

“Mah we got lost in the road of life.”

“Kochō-chaa!”

“Cleaver, but you forget, child, that your little Yamanaka is still trapped within my mind. And any damage visited on my person it’s repeated on the girls, kukuku.”

“What?!” Kochō’s horrified gaze to Ino made Orochimaru laugh once more. Then her amber eyes unfocused, like she was listening to something, in the distance. Then she pulled a fan out her sash, snapped it open. While the other fan was metal, this wrought was made of colourful lace and snow white, almost translucent wood.

It looked delicate. Like a spiders webs.

“Kaifuku ijō ribāsu.” Kochō intoned waving her fan from left to right at Orochimaru.

Ino gasped awake, struggling from Kiba’s grasp, trashing wildly. Then when I lick her face she calmed down her eyes focusing on me, and then running up to meet with Kiba’s.

“Akamaru? Kiba?”

“Yeah.”

I barked licking her face again caching a stray tear that ran down from the corner of her eye. Sibilant killing intend rooted us to the spot, fortunately Kochō was able to resist by fanning herself with incantation, that I couldn’t catch, that she was able to move away from Orochimaru’s grip.
Then a wave of calm enveloped me and Kiba, we heard Kochō’s voice calling out “Kaifuku ijō jōshō.” and waving her lacy fan at us and we were not frozen anymore, we were able to move again.

Orochimaru hissed in anger. "Fools!" then he slammed his palm to the ground and there was an explosion of smoke, and as it cleared, Orochimaru was standing on the head of the biggest snake I ever saw, glaring down on us.

Ino grit her teeth as she struggled to her feet, gripping her aching side, Kiba helping her stand, while I watched the snakes and Orochimaru’s every move. Guarding my partner and wounded pack mate Yamanaka.

The snake lunged, fangs gleaming. Naruto and Sasuke jumped up the tree, of the way of charging snake, which rammed into the trunk of a tree, where the boys were standing just a moment ago, cracks splintering outward from where it hit, rearing up and lunging after retreating Sasuke.

But it didn’t reach the fleeing Uchiha medic, as Naruto shoved its head away, hard snake curled back, hissing angrily, while Orochimaru stood on its head not moving, just watching and waiting.

"Clever, aren't you?" He simpered, his voice taking on a high, delicate pitch. “But you won’t be able to make me back away from Sasuke-kun. That said,” he continued, voice soft, inviting.

I didn’t know which tone of Orochimaru’s voice was worse.

“Why are you running Sasuke-kun? Won’t you show me you’re Sharingan?” he called out.

“Yeah, no. Want the Sharingan?” Sasuke asked glaring daggers at the Sanin. “Go find Itachi!”

“That’s right Hebi teme!” yelled Naruto pointing causally at the Snake sanin. “Sasuke doesn’t even have the Sharingan. Oi Sasuke what is Sharingan anyway.”

“Uchiha’s Dōjutsu kekkei genkai, Usuratonkachi.”

“Enough talk.” Orochimaru moved, or rather his head did.

His neck was long and it was getting longer by the minute, reaching Sasuke, opening his mouth, only he wasn’t there anymore, since recovered Sakura substituted her teammate and jumped out of the way.

Orochimaru’s teeth sank in to the arm.

There was a scream. Yakumo returned and Orochimaru had bitten her in the arm. She was falling and we jumped and twisted performing Gatsūga.

Slamming ourselves at Orochimaru. There was pain in my back and my sight went foggy, I could barely see a stray leaf drifting by me. I could hear Kiba's voice calling me, I could smell dead leaves and dirt and grass.

And then...nothing ...

Chapter Text

***Somewhere in the woods***

 

Shadows jumped from branch to branch, the bone white color flashing from time to time through the lush green and dull brown. Bodies tensed for a second when two more shadows blurred beside them … muscles relaxing when they recognized the identities of their new companions. Mitarashi Anko. Jiraiya of the Sanin. Jiraiya's hand moved, drawing the attention of five ANBU agents, beside him.

-'What is the situation?'- The ANBU with a bird mask signaled back.

-'Four flares went up, with minute intervals apart.'- Anko smirked in glee.

It appeared that the little rookie brats banded together before that man attacked them. Good, she thought, individually would be easy prey for Snake Sanin, but together they might hold him off until they got to the scene. And with that thought the group was greeted by a sight of …. Approaching the battlefield …it looked like the brats had something planned, regardless, Anko's eyes narrowed; it appeared that they were a little late. Jiraiya's eyes narrowed and he signaled ANBU and Anko to dampen their chakra and slow the approach. They would interfere at an opportune moment.

 

***Konoha, training grounds 44 – Shi no Mori aka Forest of death***


 

"For the love of … hold still you damn snake so that I can turn you in ice cube!" Haku roared flinging another ice disc at the jumping Snake Sannin. Who ducked out of harm's way, only to be intercepted by a wind powered fireball courtesy of Naruto and Sasuke.

Orochimaru while being without serious injury, was full of bruises, and had a couple twigs in his hair, as well as some burns and some frostbitten injuries. But he had so much fun with the brats, even if he hadn't managed to give Sasuke-kun the curse mark because little Hyūga jumped in and struck his neck, making him miss his target while the pink haired brat pulled Sasuke-kun out of the way with Kawirami.

But that Kurama girl would do just fine as a consolation prize, well, if she survives that is.


"All right," Kochō muttered, when she tightened her little ball of yarn, making a curse seal chakra run through her tube like barriers that imitated chakra pathways. Now the only thing remaining was to seal it in place and to do that …

"Naruto!"

Naruto was having perhaps a bit too much fun stabbing the snakes that Orochimaru summoned a while ago with his fūton enveloped chakra blade.

"Naruto, Kochō is done. Need a hand there?" Shikamaru's voice floated towards him from his right. He pinned a couple of snakes with his Kage Shibari no Jutsu, while Haku promptly froze them over, and Shino's kikai sucked chakra from them making them dispel.

"Nah, I'm good. Dattebayooo!" yelled Naruto, flinging the tail tied smaller snakes into a larger one causing all three to poof away.

Then he ran through a series of hand seals, Sasuke close behind. They needed to create a lull in the fighting so that Naruto could switch places with Kochō in tending to Yakumo's curse seal.


Both stopping at tiger seal, facing Orochimaru's direction, they shouted in union "Suiton: Suijinheki!"

Water exploded from the two boys in a wide strong circle, breaking trees and unsettling even the rocks in its wake; it was a defence without openings for Orochimaru to exploit. Snake sanin cursed when he braced himself for impact, hiding in the earth was not an opinion; he'll just have to brave this attack.

But after this, he won't hold back anymore, Orochimaru decided, he could feel Anko and Jirayia approaching; he didn't have much time. He would have to mark Sasuke or retreat, for a while. It was strange though, that Sasuke-kun hadn't activated his Sharingan once during the fight with him. Then again, the rest of the Genin brats acted like little Uchiha didn't even activate his bloodline at all. 

Perhaps he should gather information first. Yes, he shall retreat. But before that ….

Wave after wave crashed on top of him, grinding the trees into splinters around him. Can't be helped, he'll have to utilize Orochimaru-Ryū no Kawarimi no Jutsu.

Naruto then quickly utilized the lull in fighting and shunshin to where Kochō was still holding barrier over Yakumo's hand.

"Hold the barrier a bit longer Kochō-chan," he muttered, and shrugged off his back-pack.

"Right. No problem with that whatsoever."

Pulling out a pre prepared stasis seal array; Naruto crouched by Kochō, positioning his hands with the seal tag over the purple haired girl.

"Now." He quickly applied it over the three tomoe mark the second Kochō withdrew l her hands; he had to work quickly now, since Kochō wasn't maintaining her barrier any more.

"Now we'll see if this worked, ttebayo," he muttered concentrating his chakra into the seal. "Fūin."

It spread over the pale sweaty skin like a spider web. Naruto gritted his teeth when the curse seal activated in response.

"Oh no you don't." He forced more of his chakra, overpowering the red glowing marks that started to spread, only for Naruto to force the marks back.

Meanwhile Kochō landed by Sasuke in a crouch; not wasting time she shouted, her eyes never leaving the currently unmoving broken and wet body.

"Kuchiyose: Yōki!"

When the smoke cleared Kochō was alone, Sasuke was safe in the Chameleon summoning realm, and she was standing only couple of feet away from Orochimaru. Soon she was joined by Hinata, Sakura, and Ino. 

Haku however opted to disengage from the fight with Snake Sanin and now joined in standing guard with Shino over a downed Kiba, wounded and unconscious Akamaru, and unconscious Yakumo, while Naruto sealed up the mark on Yakumo's arm.

"Don't let your guard down," Ino hissed, her solid eyes narrowing. Hinata activated her Byakugan and readied herself. Sakura cracked her knuckles.

And the broken body started to regurgitate … a new body, grossing the girls out. Luckily they were used to gross stuff, so they managed to fight down their gag reflex.

Still the girls managed to in union yell "Gross!" making Orochimaru turn to face them.

"Kukuku, that isn't nice ladies." Then he tilted his head, "Sorry to cut our fun short …"

"Hey!" Kochō interrupted, "make up your damn mind you on which you'll molest boys or girls you pervert!"

Orochimaru's mouth dropped open eyes wide. "W- What?"

"Don't try to deny it!" screeched Sakura, "What you were saying to poor Sasuke-kun! He is mine not yours!"

"…" Orochimaru just stared at them.

Kochō smirked, at stupefied expression on the man's face. "You were awfully familiar and suggestive, calling him Sasuke-kun."

"WHAT!?" Orochimaru screamed. "The boy is a child and I only need his Sharingan …"

"Which we told you he didn't have. And you still were all over him. Like a …"

"Like you are interested in dating him," a voice interrupted, a very familiar voice attached to a certain Toad Sage.

"Jiraiya."

"Hello snaky, long time no see, but seriously Orochimaru, people are starting to think you are…"

"Finish that sentence, dope, and I'll destroy every onsen I find!" yelled Orochimaru, solely focusing on his former team-mate and ignoring the genin and ANBU who were taking said genin away.

"Who started this rumor?" Orochimaru seethed, twitching when he heard a restrained giggle coming from his idiotic ex-teammate. "I swear I'm going to take over the idiot's body and make them do unspeakable things, before killing them horribly. Then I'm going to resurrect it and let my snakes play and eat him over and over again."

Now if Jiraiya knew an opening this was IT. "You did Orochi-chan, just now to a bunch of children. Or did you not say that you needed the Uchiha boy's body?"

"Jiraiya, well, well and Anko chan." Orochimaru slithered while observing the two, completely ignoring ANBU as they collected the genin and removed them from the sight.

 

 

******



ANBU put down their burdens a ways away to continue their exam, while they turned back to assist Jiraiya and Anko who were dealing with Orochimaru.

The genin watched ANBU disappear, and then exchanged glances. At least those that were not concussed. Yakumo was still out of it and so was Akamaru. But Kiba had his partner safely tucked away in his jacket.

"We better put in some distance," stated Shikamaru.

"Way to state the obvious." Ino smirked at her teammate, and was rewarded with a muttered troublesome girl from Nara.

And without further objections they picked up Yakumo and high-tailed away.

After a while Chōji, turned to Shikamaru. "Do you think Orochimaru will look for us again?"

Before Shikamaru could answer Naruto did, "I hope not, that would be troublesome –ttebayoo.” making Sasuke smirk. Kiba let out a bark of laughter and the girls giggled. Chōji however just ate his chip and patted Shikamaru on the shoulder, consoling him.

"Hey that is my line, stop copying," Shikamaru grumbled, well naturally. But any levity that was just gained was lost when Kiba signalled for an urgent stop.

"I smell blood," Kiba warned with a growl.

"That can't be good," Kochō muttered where she was running beside Ino and Sakura.

Chōji traded looks with Shikamaru. "Do you think that it's Orochimaru?"

"I don't think so."

Kiba shook his head, "The blood smells… it's still relatively fresh."

"And it is quiet," Sasuke remarked.

"All too quiet," Naruto nodded.

"Can we be less creepy and sneakier guys?"

"On it Kochō-chan." Naruto put his hands in a cross sign and with "Kage Bunshin no Jutsu," about thirty clones popped out.

"Scout ahead; see if it safe for us to pass."

"Right."

"I have something."

"One of your clones was attacked."

"No, he dispelled on his own, the others are holding down and guarding the area it is safe to pass."

"I sense, but there."

"Oh there is, but" Naruto turned his worried eyes at the other rookies. They straightened, alert, just because there was no immediate threat that didn't mean that the danger had passed. 

”There was a massacre ahead." Naruto then turned to Shikamaru.

"Right, Kiba, how is Akamaru?"

"He's still out."

"Right, then." Shikamaru's formed his famous thinking sign circle, "Naruto you take point, with your seals and Kage Bunshin you can react from any direction; Hinata step behind Naruto to provide backup if necessary, and most importantly Byakugan on, please, we need to see what's ahead. After Hinata; Kiba and Sakura as back up, and then Sasuke and Haku who will be carrying Yakumo. Flanked by Shino, could you please send your scouts to check out the perimeter for traps that might be missed." At Shino's nod, there was a small lull in Shikamaru's planning when a slight buzzing filled the woods, and swarms spilled out from Shino's sleeves.

"Right, moving on after Shino, who will be flanked by Chōji and Kochō. Kochō if we are attacked summon the chameleons and make them cart the wounded. Kiba, no arguments you will go with Akamaru and Sasuke and no troublesome bitching from you Uchiha, to the Tower." Shikamaru looked pointedly from the fuming Uchiha to the offended and sulking Inuzuka, "I'll be rear guard with Ino."

With their roles given to them, the Genin started to move carefully forward to the destination that now dispelled Kage Bunshin pointed out.

Shikamaru watched the scene, with slightly widening of the eyes; the small droplets of sweat trickling down were the only indicators of his state of mind.

"This is beyond troublesome." There was also a slight hitch in his voice.

"This is not a pleasant sight," Shino intoned.

"Ya think?" Kiba grumbled trying to take shallow breaths, if he smelled blood before, this clearing positively reeked of the smell of blood.

Haku's face was stoic; he had witnessed a lot of scenes like this in Kiri, and he could do without anymore scenes like that. He supposed that he should thank Orochimaru for knocking out Yakumo-chan, he thought. Her soul would be too scarred with this scene. Because like him and Sasuke who witnessed their family being massacred, and the other Konoha genin, whom were only shown dead bodies in Academy, Yakumo hadn't seen anything remotely similar.

"I did tell you ttebayoo," Naruto muttered, who hadn't spared more than a fleeting look, he already had this vision carved into his mind thanks to seeing the truth through the clones' eyes. 

"Ouch, what the hell woman ttebayoo!?" He rubbed his head, where his pink haired teammate hit him.

"Naruto, you could have warned us." She was glaring at him. Eyes wide open and a face so pale that it would make Orochimaru green with jealousy.

"I did," Naruto gritted out, "Stop that Sakura," he warned when he saw that she was raising her hand again; if Sakura hits him again, for this, she won't like the consequences coming her way after they get out of this hell hole. No way he'd risk his comrades and Sasuke's and Kochō's safety for petty vengeance.

But after, oh yes there will be hell to pay. But the raised fist never connected. Since a shadow attached itself to Sakura, paralyzing her in place, while a hand grabbed her wrist with a vice grip. And a face of the hands owner came into her line of sight.

"S - Sasuke-kun?" Sakura stuttered, since the solid onyx eyes froze her in place just as successfully as Shikamaru's shadow. They were so cold.

"Sakura, act as the genin kunoichi that you have the potential to be and not a stupid bully," he said, voice equally cold as he turned and walked away without any more words.

"W-wait Sasuke-kun!" the last part was shouted, since she was still being held in place by Shikamar's shadow. Sasuke disappeared from her sight and she panicked. What if something happens to Sasuke-kun?

What if Orochimaru catches him while she isn't looking?

"Sakura-san," Shino interrupted her thoughts which were becoming more and more erratic, "Calm down. Why? Because your voice could attract predators that live in this forest, or the perpetrators of this massacre back to us."

Kochō watched the clearing, golden eyes trailing away from the mutilated bodies to the blood drenched grass. Ino and Hinata, her Byakugan blazing, were standing besides her also watching, ignoring their fellow kunoichi meltdown, trusting the boys to snap Sakura out of it.

"I knew that joining shinobi would include death, both seeing and giving death," Ino sighed.
Kochō shook her head, and then rubbed her eyes with her hand as if to erase the images; she saw a lot of terrible stuff done by demons, corpses in various stages of decay, but this... "But not like this?" She waved her free hand to encompass the entire bloodied clearing. Blood and bits of body parts were everywhere, coating the trees, the leaves, and nearly every solid surface.

And then a girl's scream ripped apart the temporary silence.

The genin tensed, muscles coiled in high alert. But Naruto stopped them with a raised hand.

"My clones are on it. It's just a redheaded girl being attacked by the giant bear –ttebayoo. Unfortunately her teammates were killed. The clone is bringing her here."




******

 

Yakumo awoke with a dull pulsing throb in her temples. Slowly opening her eyes she found herself facing a manifestation of her Kekkei genkai. And despite the feeling that she had awoken, she knew that was not true.

How did she know this?

The grotesque figure that was standing before her was watching a fire that was licking away at the furniture. Black smoke rose from the flames; she had a clear memory of being in the forest. This was her memory that she was reliving for some reason. It was just as she recalled. The heat that blistered her skin, the way the dim choked her and the hands grabbing her and pulling her away.

But why was the Ido manifestation here now? It was not there when the fire happened. Was it?

Because as she was watching it, it appeared that Ido was willing the wire to burn hotter, brighter?

Yakumo fell to her knees, tears falling from her eyes, when she remembered, as due to Orochimaru's curse seal, the memory seal that Kurenai-sensei put on her disoriented her. She remembered … everything about the fire and the demise of her parents in it.

"No…that… can't…No!" she sobbed, while the ID smiled showing all its teeth.

But a hand on her shoulder jolted her … "Yakumo-chan," it was Ino's voice.

"You are not real," she whined, scrunching her eyes closed.

"Yes, I am, give me your hand and wake up Yakumo-chan. Haku is waiting for you."



******

 

In a clearing far away from there stood three armored teenagers.

"So how long will we wait?"

"As long as needed."

"Shut it, Kin."

"Make me, bird brain."

"Now, now kukuku," came from behind; the trio turned and came face to face with their village leader.

"Orochimaru-sama," the three greeted in unison as they sank to one knee before the Snake Senin. "We are awaiting your directions about the Uchiha Sasuke."

"Hmm there is a slight change of plans," Orochimaru said, and for a rare moment he was speaking the full truth, not a half truth or an outright lie.

"Change of plans my lord?"

"Why yes Kin-chan, you will resume with the exam without challenging the Uchiha, for now."

"Yes my lord."


******

 

When they finally reached the Tower, an hour later, without any further complications, they were relieved to see the building. The Tower was not impressive as buildings go, but at least they were out of the woods and safe from Orochimaru and his possible minions – well in any case SAFER than they were before.

"First thing I'll do," Ino said, while they walked, carefully, alert for an ambush. "It is to take a long shower." She pulled a twig from her ponytail in disgust.

Yakumo could only nod tiredly; as she clutched her hands around Haku who was carrying her. She was still so tired; even if Haku carried her on his back the entire time, even after Ino brought her back from being trapped within her mind with her Yamanaka family justsu.

Kochō turned to Naruto, "I hope you have - just in case the Tower doesn't have a shower …"
"Yup, portable showers, ready for use." Naruto nodded as they crossed the threshold and came into a spacious room with an inscripted riddle on the wall.

"Ohh, Naruto," Ino breathed. "I love you!"

"Easy there Ino, you troublesome woman." Shikamaru turned to the others, after he glanced over the written words on the wall. "Right, inscription on the wall says 'open the scrolls.'"


Kiba wrinkled his nose; Akamaru, who regained consciousnesses a while ago, gave a confused whine.

"It does not; it says…"

"Shikamaru solved that riddle and dumbed it down so that even a dog brain like you would understand."

"Ohh, all right - hey! Nobody asked you Uchiha."

 

Chapter Text

***The tower***

 

Sarutobi Hiruzen and his bodyguards surveyed the genin standing in the center of the arena where the preliminaries matches would be taking place. Mitarashi Anko and Hayate Geckko were standing in front of the genin waiting for the Hokage to give his speech. His brown eyes regarded the purple haired snake summoner – his student, who went to the bad side, hurt her badly with his defection.

To make matters worse, Anko was orphaned, and Orochimaru took over the parental role for young Anko, much like the way Hiruzen himself did for Jiraya, and as Jiraya later did for Minato. Orochimaru was in Konoha; now that was a troubling thought, that meant that his former student had supporters, or even high placed allies in the village itself. Jiraya suspected Donzo, and Tsunade expressed her support of that theory, and honestly Hiruzen agreed, no matter how painful that admission was – his best friend since they were genin, and his student was attacking his village, Konoha's children, one from inside and the other from outside.

Speaking of the Konoha children, they did well in the last three days in the Forest of Death. From the Rookie teams, Asuma's, Kakashi's and Kurenai's full teams stayed for preliminaries. Kurama Yakumo however bowed out – Hiruzen understood the girl, being marked by his former student Orochimaru; even with the quick sealing done by Naruto, Yakumo-chan had been unable to compete. Hiruzen was proud of Naruto's sealing accomplishment. And prouder still of the offering, as the officially re-established Uzumaki Clan Head in Konohagakure, Naruto had offered housing and protection to Uzumaki Karin. Formerly of Kusa now. They objected of course, but Hiruzen put his foot down – citing Konoha Uzu's kinship and the fact that Karin was of Uzumaki's Clan and was recalled back home by the Clan Head.

Grudgingly, Kusakage agreed and Karin-chan became a citizen of Konoha, she was just getting debriefed by Inoichi. Karin would later go to the Academy for a year, before joining the team. Or considering, Tsunade was itching to take the girl on – yes, she was training Uchiha Sasuke as her apprentice but she said that she had a time for the additional full time student.

Then yesterday a young lady came into the village, her name was Honoka, and she and her grandmother Mariko had previously taken refuge with some scientists, living on an island east of Hi no Kuni, who were researching summons. They wanted to create an ultimate summon according to Mariko. Tsunade tested them both and both were descendants of Uzu.

After that, Tsunade admitted that she went even further and sent a call out – that the son of Uzu-hime Kushina became an Uzumaki Clan Head and that any Uzumaki were welcome to come to Konoha. Hiruzen already got four responses from former citizens of Uzushiogakure. He received a letter from Rōran Sāra, which wasn't a surprise as most of the citizens of Uzu had found refuge in Rōran. Sāra-sama's mother Sēramu, who was the Queen of Rōran, wed Uzumaki. After Rōran's destruction at the end of Third Shinobi World War, the citizens of the kingdom became caravan travelers.

The entirety of Sāra's people were relocating to Konoha, along with some staggering Uzumaki families and individuals from the islands.

Hiruzen went from the expectant and antsy young face to a face of the genin, assembled in neat lines.
Besides Yakumo-chan, there were four other genin that quit – Yakushi Kabuto among them. That genin was a puzzle; he failed again and again – not due to his incompetence but because he just gave up.

Hiruzen decided to put Kabuto under surveillance and sent out a command for a background check – this looked suspiciously like Donzo's mind games. He would personally look into this after the exams.
Still, there was an unusual amount of genin this year; even with the five who bowed out of the Preliminaries, there were still thirty-one genin. That was too much, much too much. Ideally, at the finals there usually were a maximum of twelve applications.

Hokage stepped forward, he waited for all of them to quiet down before speaking.

"Congratulations on passing the second stage of the exam." Some of the genin flinched as his eyes passed over them. "However, your real test begins here. No longer are you with your teams of three. Now you'll be divided into two man teams, and those two man teams will fight among themselves. You will be forced to fight with other genin, as well as genin from your own village."

One of the Suna genin raised his hand. "From our own village?" he asked fearfully. Hiruzen well understood the child's fear; Suna's jinchūriki was unstable, like most of his predecessors.

"Yes. And from the other villages as well. Does anyone know why?" Hiruzen answered as he eyed the genin below.

"It's an excuse for war." Surprisingly, it was the quiet Shino Aburame who had said this.

The Hokage nodded at Aburame. "Exactly. We are in times of Peace for now. Konoha has treaties with each of your villages. But we still need to look after the younger generation's progress in shinobi arts. Anko?"

With that, Mitarashi Anko stepped forward. "All right, Maggots, line up two genin per team."

The young ones started to shuffle around and soon there were fifteen teams of two standing before the Hokage, with one of the Sound Genin, who climbed the stairs grumbling. Anko meanwhile distributed numbers to the teams.

"Now, the rules are simple," Anko continued, "the fight will last for five minutes unless your team surrenders or is knocked out. And one more thing, we are judging how well you fight together. So even if your team loses the fight, you can win the match. There is another exception, if both teams have one participant defeat the participant from the other team at the same time his or her partner is also defeated, then each winning individual moves forward. In addition, if one genin manages to get hold of the two opposing genin then that genin advances as well. Good luck."

"The winning teams will have individual fights among themselves tomorrow," Hiruzen continued. "Now the teams whose numbers get picked, stay, and the rest will go to the balconies."

The numbers started to spin …. until they stopped.


 

 

***Team 10 Vs Team 5***

"Team 10 versus team 15," Anko yelled, "the rest of the brats to the balconies."

Hiruzen sat down to observe the match between the four genin facing off. The fact that both teams were from Konoha did not surprise him – they after all had the strongest presence in the exam. Nevertheless, three genin would not compete today; Hiruzen wondered which ones, besides that lone genin from Sound, would be spared from the fight today.

Haku-kun and Kochō-chan squared off with Tsume's boy Kiba and Idate-kun. Well, Hiruzen had a pretty good scoop on his genin abilities to know that Inuzuka and Morino would not win this fight. In terms of ability, Haku was at least Tokubetsu Jōnin, while Kochō-chan skirted on the edge between Tokubetsu Jōnin and Chūnin. While Kiba was nearing a high genin ability, he was not quite there yet, and Idate-kun, Ibiki's younger brother was scooped out from the Genin Corps.

Anko stood between the teams, her hand raised … "All right, three, two, one start." Her hand fell down and she disappeared with a quick body flicker.

"Prepare to go down!" Kiba yelled as he crouched down on all fours – Hiruzen made a mental note that he should talk to Tsume about her boy's brashness; he was just as loud as Naruto still was, on occasion.

Idate-kun started by throwing kunai that multiplied – kunai shadow clones, not bad but not good enough. When cloned, the kunai dispelled when they impacted with Kochō-chan's barrier.

The barrier was solid, Kakashi-kun had mentioned that Kochō-chan was proficient with barriers which were mostly made from Chakra and Reiryoku. That was to be expected, she inherited chakra from the shinobi side of the family. Konoha's Shunran Clan and the Uzuki Clan originally came from the border with Oni no Kuni. The Reiryoku was inherited from the Miko side of the Uzuki Clan when the son of the Head Priestess and the ruler of Oni no Kuni married a kunoichi. 

Tsunade informed the Holy Empress of Oni no Kuni Miroku about Kochō-chan, and the leader of Oni no Kuni agreed to allow Kochō-chan to train with her daughter Shion. The fact that the two were cousins only helped matters.

While Kochō-chan took on Idate-kun with her barriers and twin blades, Haku-Kun used his Ice Kekkei Genkai to restrict Kiba-kun and his dog partner Akamaru's movements.
Just like that, Kochō-chan used her barrier to smack Idate-kun unconscious, and Haku-kun used his senbon on the Inuzuka duo.

It was over.

Anko appeared in the arena. "Team 10 consisting of Yuki Haku and Shunran Kochō wins! And they will fight individually tomorrow. Team 15 loses and won't continue."

The fight went much as Hiruzen expected it to go. Which did not surprise anybody watching either; it looked like Idate-kun and Kiba-kun would stay genin for a while yet.

 





*** Team 11 Vs Team 5***


"Would Team 11 and 5 come down," Anko intoned when the arena cleared again. Hiruzen leaned forward a bit and pulled the brim of his hat down – so that the competitors would not see how intently he watched them.

Konoha had a tentative alliance of no regression with both villages. Kusa was used as a base for Iwa's shinobi during the last Shinobi war. But Kusa's ninjas stayed out of it – Konoha respected their decision and surprisingly so did Iwa. But Hiruzen suspected that Iwa's cooperation was more due to the Hōzuki Castle – or Blood Prison as it was more commonly known where Iwa had some shinobi imprisoned.

"The match between team 5, consisting of Nenryō Ryuzetsu and Muku from the Fuiuchi Clan, of Kusagakure," Anko was saying.

Hiruzen watched as the two Kusa genin bowed, a kunoichi with white hair and gray eyes with a circular pattern, a holder of a rare blood-limit - Hiruzen had seen it done when he was young. But it always came with the cost of the Kekkei genkai holder's life. But in return, they could restore a life. Hiruzen's mouth twisted – pity that he doesn't hold this blood-limit; if he did, he'd have revived Minato or Kushina.

Hiruzen then looked at the boy – Muku, like most if the members of the Fuiuchi Clan, was as pale skinned as ivory, with ebony black hair and gray eyes. And he had proficiency with Fire Releases based jutsu, including Hidden Release; Katon: Tenrō the imprisonment technique.

"Versus team 11. Consisting of Hiboshi Sumaru and Hokuto from Hoshigakure."

Hiruzen was eager to see the genin from that village; he wanted to know if that rumor was true, that the shinobi of Hoshigakure received their chakra from a star that had fallen. Considering that their hidden village was in the crater made from a falling star, that lent credence to it.

The Hokage turned his attention to the two Hoshi genin – the boy, and Hiruzen had invested interest into Hiboshi-kun, as he was a distant relative, a cousin twice or thrice removed from Shunran Kochō through her maternal grandparents.

"Begin!"

Both sets of genin jumped back at Anko's proclamation to begin.

The Hiboshi genin slapped their hands into a hand sign along with shouts, "Kujaku Myōhō "– which was used for whatever technique they were about to perform, but sure enough, the lilac chakra manifested in the form of a feather-shaped array behind the Hoshigakure ninjas and spread out from behind them like a peacock's tail feathers, around the two genin. All together, the jutsu looked similar to the Akimichi Clan's butterfly mode – the clan member had gained that ability when converting the calories of his body into the chakra … shaped into butterfly wings on clan member's back.

Nenryō Ryuzetsu's hands blurred and then she called out, "Katon: Onidōrō," and large, as large as the genin herself, fireballs appeared. They were all shaped like demon heads and swarmed toward Hokuto, colliding with him. Hokuto managed to ward off some of the attack with that lilac star chakra, but some still collided with her as well, rending the girl unconscious and on fire. Hiruzen made a move to signal the Anbu to remove the burning genin from arena when Sumaru-kun formed his hands into another sign, "Kemono," and a large canine animal formed from Sumaru's feather chakra. Then it leaped toward Hokuto, dousing the flames, while the beast grew tendrils from its back that wrapped around the Kusa genin and slammed them into the wall.

Fortunately, both the Kusa genin used a substitution jutsu and only two logs fell from indentations on the wall. The lilac chakra beast then jumped and deposited Hakuto on the balcony section where Hoshigakure jōnin sensei was already waiting to receive the fallen genin. After Hokuto was safely out of harm's way – Hiruzen approved of the boy's actions -- he signaled Anko to allow the Hoshigakure genin to advance. Not that the Hoshi genin lacked skill – he did have to ward them away from the two skilled Kusa genin.

Suddenly, Anko appeared, just as Muku was thrown into his partner. "Time!" she yelled and the genin stopped the jutsu.

"Team 5 advances. Team 11, Hiboshi- kun, you are advancing as well," Anko ruled.

Sumaru bowed toward Anko, and bowed again, only shallower this time, toward his Kusa opponents; it was a bow that was returned.

"All right," Anko continued, "next up are team 7, consisting of Gaara and Mamushi of Sunagakure versus team 2, consisting of Konoha's Nara Shikamaru and Akimichi Chōji."

There was a whirlpool of sand, and the redheaded Suna jinchūriki stood there, soon joined by a genin with wide opened, bulging eyes with noticeable veins; he also wore almost floor length sleeves. Hiruzen knew that Gaara used sand, like his predecessor.

"Come on then... stop dawdling, you two slowpokes!" Anko called to … ahh Hiruzen shook his head, Asuma's students – and Shikaku's son had this calculating glint in his eye and had his hands in Nara 'thinking' seal.

"We forfeit," Nara Shikamaru called out while Akimichi Chōji nodded and while eating from a bag of chips. Wise decision, Hiruzen ruled.

The Suna genin looked murderous – but after a while, the unstable redhead walked back up the steps, while Mabushi followed a couple of steps behind him.

"Well then," Anko called out, "Suna genin advance forward due to forfeit. Next, team 6 versus team 14, come forward."

"From the Sunagakure genin, two kunoichis stepped forward, one of them was gray-green eyed with long braided light violet hair; she had no visible weaponry. The other had her long light blue hair in two side ponytails and yellow eyes were circled with red pigmented makeup – similar to the perfect Sage Mode, with bright red lipstick, and she was holding an old porcelain doll – the doll was dressed in a formal red kimono with wide lavender obi, with a round white face under black hair in a hime cut.

A puppet user?

With a child's doll?

Usually Suna puppets that shinobi used were bigger – sometimes they eclipsed the user in height and width. This kunoichi's puppet more resembled a noble girl's toy.

Hiruzen then turned his attention to the shinobi of Otogakure – the kunoichi was tall, black eyed, with long black hair that reached the ground and was tied with violet ribbon near the end – not very piratical, her opponent could grab at that, not that said opponent didn't have hair to grab at in return. Oto kunoichi had no visible weaponry.

Her partner however was covered in bandages, most of his face was bandaged – only leaving one eye exposed. The genin's body was clothed in a poncho, and there was some sort of metal contraption on his arm. His back was also hunched over.

"The fight is between Sana and Saya of Suna versus Kin Tsuchi and Dosu Kinta of Oto," Anko announced and jumped away.

 





***Team 6 Vs Team 14***


"This should be easy, ne Saya One-Sama?" Sana drawled, when the genin squared off. Saya was holding her doll and rubbing her cheek on its hair.

Hiruzen sighed – well trash talking, to rattle the opponents, was valid, but did Suna kunoichi have to be creepy with her doll? Granted, all puppets were always odd or eccentric. Sometimes downright disturbing.

"I'll take the ugly guy," Sana stated.

"No." Saya hugged her doll closer while smiling, her yellow eyes trained on the two Oto genin.

"Then I'll take the girl."

Saya raised a hand, and Sana quieted down. "No. I will curse those two victims before us!"

The doll suddenly grinned – its red painted lips pulled apart and it flew from Saya, guided by the kunoichi's chakra strings toward the Oto genins.

Dosu didn't wait for the doll to reach him, he attacked Saya –

"Kyōmeisen," Dosu shouted right before the doll reached him – the doll shattered and Saya screamed and slapped her hands over her ears, while doubling over and retching– Sound attack?

"Stop it, stop it!" Saya started to scream, "I will make you clean the toilets for hundreds of years!"

Dosu without words did a quick shunshin towards Saya just as the Suna kunoichi recovered for a moment, raising her hands into position similar to that of Yamanaka – while the doll's head collided with Dosu, tearing some hair from the genin.

Mind based Jutsu, Hiruzen heard about the Suna having something like that – this was the first time Hiruzen saw it in action though.

"Kugutsu Modoki no Jutsu! "

"Kyōmeisen!"

There was an explosion – Saya was thrown into a wall by the force of Dosu's sound attack, while Dosu crumpled to the ground, and he did not stand back up.

Then there was quiet.

"Oi maggots, you have two minutes left. Fight!" Anko yelled from the sidelines at the remaining kunoichi who were standing at the side.

Hiruzen watched as Kin threw senbon – she missed and was mocked relentlessly by the Suna kunoichi, but Hiruzen's trained eye noticed something at the end of each senbon. There was a tiny bell attached to it and was swaying; it was being pulled by the Oto kunoichi.

Sana appeared to be dizzy, throwing kunai at Kin but missing her.

"Having a problem?" Kin taunted, "this is my bell ring genjutsu, you cannot find me even if you are a sensor shinobi."

Sana threw a punch at Kin next, missing her and hitting a wall, where it opened and spilled a cloud of sand on the ground.

"Sunaarashi no Jutsu," yelled Sana, and a whirlwind of sand engulfed Kin and expanded through the arena.
That would disperse the sound based genjutsu.

Sana was breathing heavily, while Kin was coughing.

"Time!" Anko appeared between Sana and Kin. "Well done Sana of Suna and Kin Tsuchi of Oto. You are advancing to tomorrow's round."

As the two kunoichis rejoined the other genin from their village, and medic-nin carried off the unconscious genin, Anko opened her mouth again.

"Team 12 and team 9 come down."

 





***Team 12 Vs team 9 ***


"Team 9 consists of Temari and Kankurō of Suna," Anko announced. Kazekage's only daughter, and oldest of three children, Temari was carrying a folded Suna battle fan. The genin that followed her was her brother Kankurō. Hiruzen knew that Kankurō was a budding puppet master. He most likely had mastered puppetry.

"Versus, Konoha's Hyūga Hinata and Aburame Shino."

Hiruzen leaned back, regarding the genin as they faced each other. This could either be a short or a long fight, with an uncertain outcome. It depended on luck and whether Shino-kun could stop any of the poisons that puppeteers are fond of coating their puppets in.

Then his eyes widened as he saw the signaling between Aburabme and Hyūga – Hinata-chan would attack Kankurō, while Shino attacked Tamari with his kikaichū, draining her chakra. All of this was based on observations with a byakugan and information gathered from kikaichū.

"Start." Anko slashed her hand through the air, indicating the beginning of the fight.

Veins around Hinata-chan's eyes bulged as she activated her byakugan and unclasped her water canteen. Right, he was getting reports of Team Kurenai training with Haku-kun. And Kurenai did inform him that Hinata-chan had a water chakra affinity. It appeared she trained with that.

Hinata yelled, "Mizu Hari!" Water needles cut the chakra strings that moved Kankurō's puppet, and then Hinata-chan ran and delivered a juken strike straight at Kankurō's stomach. It was a good thing she held back a blow like that, if delivered by Hyūga, it could – and did kill. Either way, Kankurō-kun was out of the fight, and Hinata moved to aid Shino-kun.

Who was doing a very good job in draining the Suna kunoichis' chakra and his own, since Tamari-kun was proficient with her ninjutsu, and she was chasing Aburame and his kikaichū with her battle fan.
And with gentle fist strikes that shut down Temari's chakra coils, the fight was over.

"Kankurō and Temari of Suna are unable to continue. Hyūga Hinata and Aburame Shino win this match!" Anko announced.

Medic-nins rushed to the fallen Kankurō and put him on the stretcher and carried him off to heal him; his older sister was following close behind.

Now there were only two matches left. Six Konoha genin and two genin from Tsukigakure.

Tsukigakure was a funny village that always give strangers and newcomers warm welcomes because of an old ancient legend of the village. The legend went like this: "In a time of war, a wanderer from afar did happen upon Tsukigakure. Great were the trials he endured to drive off the destruction that placed the moon in such peril. He had a noble heart and a spirit bound by none. So was revealed our heroic savior. His name rang with the pureness of his soul. Like unto a gentle breeze."

They never joined a side during war, but they had very powerful defenses; in addition to that, they were located in the region that didn't hold any advantages for warring, and so the other nations left them out of the conflicts.


"Next match is Team 8 versus Team 1."
"Yooosh! My spring time of yooouuuthhhhh!" the green clad genin hollered while Hyūga Neji just shook his head and calmly went down the stairs.

"Can it, green mini brat!" Anko barked, "Right, next match is between team 8 consisting of Hyūga Neji and Rock Lee versus Uzumaki Naruto and Uchiha Sasuke from team 1!"

"It is your Fate that you'll lose," Neji-kun stated to Naruto and Sasuke. It appeared that the young Hyūga still held great resentment toward the main branch of the Hyūga clan.

"Here you are again with your girlfriend called Fate," Naruto remarked with his trademark grin, "When will we meet her, ttebayo?"

"Ouuuuuuuuu!" Rock Lee turned to his teammate. "You have a girlfriend, Naji-kun? How youthful!"

Then Lee-kun cupped his hands and yelled, "SAKURA-SAN! PLEASE BE MY GIRLFRIEND, MY SPRING FLOWER OF YOUTHHHH!"

"I refuse!" Sakura-chan yelled back.

"I don't have a girlfriend, and Mitarashi-san, can you please start the match?" Neji deadpanned.

"I'm unsure, Hyūga-san," Anko drawled; it looked like Anko was having a laugh at Hyūga's expense, "wouldn't you like to share some more about Fate?"

Hiruzen's attention however was on Naruto-kun who was shuffling the deck of cards and dropped a scroll that unrolled – the Hokage could not see what this scroll was about but he doubted that the scroll was dropped by accident. Sasuke however shifted slightly so that his right shoulder was almost touching Naruto's left.

Just what were the two planing? Hiruzen pulled his hat forward so that he hid the attention he was giving to Kakashi-kun's two genin.

"All right, all right," Anko laughed, "Begin!" With that, she shunshined away.

 




***Team 8 Vs Team 1***


Naruto-kun threw kunai, while Sasuke threw senbon, then both of the boys hands slapped into a very familiar hand sign, clone jutsu.

"Shuriken Kage Bunshin no Jutsu," both boys yelled, and the kunai and senbon multiplied.

Rock Lee evaded every impact by running, but Neji-kun stayed at the same place and then …

"Hakkeshō Kaiten."

Neji-kun's chakra spiked as he released chakra from every tenketsu in his body, creating a rotating shield of chakra that tossed away the thrown projectiles.

"Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!" that was Naruto – and then his clones swarmed the arena by the thousands – most of them slowing down Rock Lee, and no matter how many Lee-kun dispersed by punching and kicking, Naruto created more.

Sasuke-kun however disappeared– he used the transformation technique and turned into Naruto where he could.

"You are different than the others!" Neji-kun suddenly yelled then rushed at a Naruto that for some reason was wearing a black forehead protector.

Lee-kun, meanwhile, discarded his weights upon Maito's urging and approval and the made the arena shake. He was much faster now, and soon there were only three Narutos left …

"Thanks for the youthful fight!" Lee yelled, "but it's over!"

Both of Maito Gai's genin's fists connected with the bodies of their targets -

Neji-kun's palm strike met with freezing cold, that even Hiruzen felt, as it burst from the point of contact. The Naruto he attacked turned into some sort of seal made of ice, that wrapped around young Hyūga, paralyzing him in ice.

Hiruzen wondered if the clone swarm was meant to exhaust Hyūga's chakra by multiple rotations – after all, that was a pretty consuming chakra technique.

Rock Lee got pinned down by the real Naruto, considering that he could not disperse him by kicking – but judging by the bleeding from Naruto-kun, the kicks had still met the mark and Sasuke-kun knocked him out with a precise blow.

It was over.

Anko reappeared and admired the two genin's handiwork. "Right! That was exciting. Kakashi's brats win! Hey Gai drinks on you."

"Hey whiskers," Anko turned to Naruto-kun, who looked like a panda bear with bruises around both eyes, "thaw Hyūga, will you?"

Naruto just shrugged then attached a tag on the icy surface, which shriveled and then evaporated.

 




***Team 13 Vs Team 3***


"Right, now for the last match of the day – Tsukigagure's Tsukiko and Itsuko versus Konoha's Haruno Sakura and Yamanaka Ino."

Haruno Sakura, Hiruzen thought as he watched Sakura-chan twirl her bo staff, blossomed into a fine kunoichi.

"Keep it short, girls, will you? I have a date I'd like to get to."

 




***Two days later in Hokage's office***


Hiruzen was looking at the list of genin that passed the preliminaries and would be fighting in the grand arena for daimyō and other assorted villages, to showcase their skills, so their villages may be hired for jobs.

Konoha had two genin in the finals: Uchiha Sasuke and Uzumaki Naruto. Tsukigakure had one, the chief's daughter Tsukiko. Suna had Gaara, which was not a surprise. Kusa had the kunoichi Ryuzetsu, but Muku, her partner, was in the hospital, gravely injured. Tsunade ensured that he would live and still have his shinobi Carrier, but his opponent was powerful – he fought Gaara and managed to make the jinchūriki bleed. And the boy had paid the price.

The other genin that was in the finals was Kin of Kusa, and right now, she was standing before him with Jiraiya.

Hiruzen blinked. "Jiraiya-kun, doors exist for a reason, and why do you have Kusa limpet with you?"

"Sensei, windows are there for a reason too," Jiraiya said seriously, "for me to enter your office!" Jiraiya laughed and did that silly hopping dance. Then he sobered up and put a hand on the young girl's shoulder.
"Funny thing is, I had an informant without knowing that she was so young. Her mother was my informant but she died in one of Orochimaru's experiments. Young Kin here brought me some information. And she needs safety, since Orochimaru or rather his right hand man Yakushi Kabuto suspects her."

"Are you defecting to Konoha, Kin-chan?"

"Yes, Hokage-sama."

"Well then, safest place for you would be at the very heart of Konoha, the secured ward in the Hospital."
Hiruzen puffed out smoke. "Anbu, bring me my son's genin team, then discreetly shadow all of them as they escort Kin-chan to the hospital."



***Later in Konoha's General Hospital***


'Duelo-papa is going to be so angry when he learns I set off to follow the tug.' There was a minute hesitation when that thought flashed through her mind. But her steps hadn't faltered, regardless.
This was not the first time that Hachimitsu Hachiko felt that ever mysterious tug. The difference this time was that it was more pronounced.

Closer and stronger. Much, much stronger.

The young heiress played with her braid's teal ribbon nervously. Then firmed her resolve and removed the charm that blocked her sensory.

There were many things that hadn't made sense. Like her escorts, Team Gai was missing a female on their team, and instead, there was Morino Idate. Then there was that strange feeling in the air, telling her that something big was coming. Then her arrival to Konoha and the appearance of people that hadn't existed before, that she knew of. And Haku being a Konoha shinobi; she half expected to see Zabuza having a contest in drink with Kakashi or something equally silly. There was also her nausea, she had that every turn of the season, but it was never so intense as it was now. There was never need of her to have to be cut off from her emphatic sensory.

But now, however, there was one thing she could figure out and settle on, aside from the unexpected mysteries that cropped up.

The ever mysterious tugging on her very soul.

She had told her dad about it, but he wasn't happy hearing about it. In fact, he strictly forbid her from looking for it, but she let her curiosity win over, as it was so much stronger here at the hospital.
Hachiko, under her dad's persistence, had gone to the hospital to get another expert opinion. So far, her dad hit a dead end when it came to figuring out why she felt more nauseous and how to prevent it with modern medicine techniques. Lady Suisei had been helpful, but Hachiko had refused to wear a seal that would block off her sensory all the time.

She needed her sensory to keep track of a certain white stalker. She was lucky before that Kochō had been there, no matter how much the purple haired girl confused her. From her very existence to her … well everything. She never met a more chaotic and at the same time calming individual. She probably should include Naruto in that column, though he was still as unpredictable as she remembered he being from 'before'.

Suddenly Hachiko flinched and stopped walking; her sensory was warning her, something was seriously wrong with the tug. It … the person connected to that tug felt fragmented, broken with aggression; madness, desolation, and malice all rested at the edges of the breaks, leaking over, spreading …
The golden haired heiress had half a mind to go forward since she could easily purify those feelings, but she knew better than to move forward and face that person, who ever he or she was.

'I should go back to the waiting room before Duelo-papa comes back from talking with Lady Tsunade as I have nothing to defend myself with. I don't have any senbon on me, and I'm gonna trust my hunch and just walk away before trouble finds me. Of all the days to be without a senbon!'

Even as she thought this, Hachiko turned away from the hall, and she froze as her skin prickled and she felt something grainy harden around her ankle. She was about to pull up her teal chima skirt with the golden embroidery to see what the grainy hardening thing was but she stopped when she felt the tug again, only stronger now. There was a wispy and aggressive chakra approaching her from behind. She became terrified all of a sudden but tried to assure herself to calm down.

'It's not him. It's not. Black Zetsu wouldn't come out in the open and I can't even sense Black Zetsu's chakra so then this is… Oh no.'

She turned slowly to see a boy, a boy she didn't want to meet, not yet at least. Not in his current state of mind. His face was hardened in confusion but he was radiating desolation and anger. Her eyes widened as she saw sand wrap around her waist, and it strangely began to caress her cheek. She trembled in fear; this wasn't a person she wanted to show weakness to but she couldn't help it, this red-haired boy could easily finish her life if he so wanted to.

"Something about you pulls me, what is this?"

Hachiko slowly felt her face go pale as the boy spoke, his cold and empty seafoam colored eyes demanding an answer.

"Too afraid to speak?" he asked and walked forward to break the distance between them. Hachiko's face hardened; she felt other people approaching. Not large chakras, but, as long as it was others, she could try something and make a scene. Sure she wouldn't get away without getting hurt but it was better than letting her fear of Subaku no Gaara render her useless. Before she could sign, his face neared hers and he whispered into her ear.

"Fear is a good thing. Mother says you'll be easier to subjugate." Hachiko's eyes flared in anger and that got Gaara to back off a little. She could feel how amused he was by her reaction, could feel the chakra behind his seal, how Shukaku was so easily influencing his mind.

He raised his hand and the sand crushed her arms to her sides. The sand would for sure wrinkle her skirt and her soft, yellow jeogori shirt.

'Duelo-papa is going to have a fit, and it's this Tanuki's fault! Eh' Hachiko's thoughts died as Gaara stepped closer. Now they were centimeters apart. Hachiko stilled as she felt his breath on her skin, and she felt slight prickles as his bijū began to make the air dense in KI.

"My sand likes how you feel," he drawled then his eyes narrowed. "Mother wants to keep you. For what, I'm not sure but you're supposed to make me feel alive."

Hachiko shook in rage. The five individuals who were approaching before stayed just behind the corner, out of sight, waiting or watching she was not sure. But Hachiko could feel that four of them were very nervous but resolve shined through like banked ember. The fifth one, however, was very well collected.
She was certain that they'd have some sort of plan just like she had one too. Focusing all of her spiritual energy, she mixed it with the natural energy; she couldn't see her hands but she knew they were glowing pink under the sand. She focused the energy and fought against the chakra in the sand. Hachiko felt the soul that bonded Chakra to Gaara, and through the sand, felt his seal. The sand let her go and Gaara jumped back as three individuals jumped into the fray.

Nara Shikamaru was at the front with Akimichi Choji and Yamanaka Ino …along with dark haired girl with the musical note on her headband … flanking him. She filed the weird sight of Orochimaru's fodder girl away for future contemplation and focused on the here and now.

"I can't move," rasped Gaara, eyes wide in surprise … and with a bit of panic.

"Troublesome," muttered Shikamaru, his hands firmly folded in the signature Nara hand sign, holding the Suna genin in place with his shadow.

"Ino! Kin!"

"Right!" they coursed, then exchanged glares, while jumping into action. Or rather Kin started to throw senbon with bells attached around Gaara, while Ino went through some hand signs.

Hachiko wasn't sure what to do. She froze up until she jumped when she felt someone approach her. It was a soft but also an alert chakra. Her hands quickly moved up and defensively took a stance, not completely trusting who ever was approaching her in the midst of this... attack? Could she even call it that?

"Hey, relax. I need to get you out of here." She stared at Akimichi Choji and she knew he wasn't a bad person; he was helping her. Quickly nodding her assent, he had her follow him down a corridor until he got ready to jump out of the window. Hachiko paused and Choji looked back at her.

"Come on, they can't hold that guy off forever, and Shikamaru specifically said to get you out."

"I can't use chakra," Hachiko replied shyly, her one fault she was ashamed of. Choji seemed a bit taken back but he nodded figuring out her dilemma.

"Right, you're a civilian. Follow me, give me your hand." Hachiko hesitantly took his hand and followed him. He led her into a stairwell and they began to run down several flights. His speed was nothing compared to hers, but still, running down the stairs was a hazard all on its own and the last thing she needed was an injury to have Duelo-papa fuss over her or worse have Jun-jiji and Mim constrain her to the estate. It was bad enough that she could never go anywhere on her own.

Once the two tweens got to the first floor waiting room area, Hachiko had half a mind to let go of Choji's hand as they ran through.

'I never get to explore on my own; I'm sorry, Duelo-papa, but just this once, I'm going off on my own, besides, he might lead me to answers about that Sound girl, Morino Idate, and if I'm lucky, figure out the mystery that is Kocho.'

Not caring about the consequences that would follow her actions, Hachiko let Choji lead her through the village.



To be continued